What Is Unschooling?
How Do Children Learn?

If you're wondering what is unschooling, you'll find real life answers from homeschooling families.

They will show you that for their children it's turned out to be the best way to learn and the happiest solution for all of them.

As you'll see, many homeschooling families move towards unschooling as time goes on.

And many of us use a mix of unschooling and other methods.

Here you can work out what would suit you and your family best.

Let's start by looking at what Dr Alan Thomas says:

Dr Alan Thomas home education research

You can hear Dr Thomas' talk in full in our page showing the effectiveness of homeschooling.

"Excellent! How I wish this man could've spoken at a recent Parliamentary Inquiry here in Sydney, Australia. We homeschoolers are under so much pressure to teach the curriculum set by the Board of Studies."

~ Nerine

This is what Lorinda says:

"I really enjoyed hearing Dr Thomas talk about informal learning. The thing that struck me most was his comment about how some families started out with a structured approach and became more informal. This definitely is our recent experience, and although at times it is an internal struggle for me (I was once a teacher!), one that is teaching me as much as my children are learning.

Although once adamant that I would never be an 'unschooler', I'm eating humble pie. It is a calmer, saner and far more fun way to learn:)"

~ Lorinda, homeschool-activities Facebook fan

Which doesn't get away from the fact that you may still be wanting to know the answer to exactly what we're talking about.

Just what is unschooling?

what is unschooling?

If you want a good definition to tell you what is unschooling, check out Wikipedia:-

"Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity...Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves."

"I'm still confused. What about all the stuff the world says they're supposed to learn like math and science? I don't mean that in a bad way I am genuinely interested I just can't process it. We're new to homeschooling and we start next week with Seton."

~ Annette, homeschool-activities Facebook fan

This is what Annette posted.

Thanks to all the homeschoolers on my Facebook page who replied and  helped unravel the answer.

"Annette in most cases they learn it through their own research. When you let your child lead the teaching they find their interest and do really good in it and find what they have to know. Such as in cooking. If they go to follow a recipe they soon find out they need measurements and because they want to do it they learn. We don't unschool but we are very laid back here. Very little seat work.....maybe 5 hours or so a week just reviewing things. The rest is project based, play and hands on. To make it easier when people ask me what curriculum I use I say all of it and the world.....LOL. We use time for learning for the little bit of seat work we do. She left second grade with a 68 score on the math State test....I printed out the 3rd grade one at the end of the year and asked her when she had time to look it over and let me know what she thought. One day while I napped she took it on her own and got 82 percent. So we must be doing something right. She improved her score, on her own."

~ Melissa

Following your child's interests is obviously an essential part of what is unschooling, because you will be going where they want to go rather than following a set curriculum.

Obviously that raises the biggest unschooling fear of all:


You can see my answer in my page on arguments against homeschooling.

What Is Unschooling?

Let's see what unschooling looks like in reality:

"My kids have learned much more since they have been home than when they were at school, we have no formal curriculum at all they just learn what they want to learn. It works out great and they are much more in tune to things than their friends are. In fact on hospital visits the doctors here let them see everything that they are doing with their Nan or even with themselves they don't hide a thing from them and the kids come home and look things up to better understand them."

~ Julie

"Unschooling = The world is your classroom! The best way I sum it all up is this: No walls, no limits, no definite structured routine. Interest led......"

~ Homeschooling East Orlando LearningAboutLife

I've made a list to help clarify what is unschooling:

unschooling versus public schooling

"Yeah, I'd agree with that list."

~ Lana

Homeschooling Methods

The truth is us homeschoolers use all sorts of different homeschooling methods - and we often change the way we're doing things as we go along!

"My homeschool is definitely a mix of both!"

~ Jamie

Have a look at eclectic homeschooling to see the choices different homeschool families make.

You'll find they run all the way from a traditional school at home approach to unschooling.

Quote from Rue Kream

"Make stuff! Glitter gel, green flames, cakes. Go shopping for the ingredients. So long as you're having fun/doing something interesting, they will learn."

~ Audrey

"My children are still small (4 &1) but they've gotten this far without formal teaching. I've read Alan Thomas and many others and this will be our approach. Obviously they'll be educational resources at hand. I've just starting sending off for free educational resources and we scour car boots but ultimately my children will learn what they want when its relevant to them."

~ Gemmima

As a family, we believe following your children's interests is the key whether you follow a set curriculum or not.

But I also believe very strongly that all children are different, everyone chooses the homeschooling method which suits their family best and we shouldn't get hung up on labels.

~ Sonya, homeschool-activities.com

You can see more about different homeschooling methods in my highly recommended book Homeschool Secrets of Success.

Homeschool Secrets of Success
Amazon review Homeschool Secrets of Success
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Whatever choice you make will be the right one for your family.

When Janis read Dr Thomas's research saying that kids would learn through day-to-day living, she commented:

"Mine sure don't."

~ Janis

Which goes to underline the fact that trying to find which is the best method is asking the wrong question.

All kids are different, so are we and what suits each of us will change over time - but we will each make the best choice for our family.

The Unschooling Method

Wondering what is unschooling becomes clearer when you look at more examples:

"Unschooling going well :)

  • This morning we did Geography by looking at google maps and discussing the relative sizes of countries as well as comparing our new home in the countryside of Cheshire to our old home in the city of Stoke on Trent.
  • We did math discussing the relative ages of our two dogs and what pi meant.
  • Bible study about being thankful for what God created for us, which led to a discussion about evolution.
  • He played on his guitar while we got ready for our local craft club.
  • We worked out the weight of our joint for tea and how to work out how much it cost and how long to cook it for.

What have I learned:
I think I've finally seen unschooling in action. Its a matter of perception, when you stand back you can see how much he is learning.

If you're stuck in the middle of it all worrying about it you can't see the wood for the trees."

~ Rachel

"My kids have done very little "formal work" and my oldest at age 16 is now taking community college classes. He has an A+ in statistics and a B+ in English 111. This is the first time ever that has ever had grades or formal classes. He has always been unschooled. ...Yet I have no interest in my children "progressing at the same rate as public school children". I understand the research and it's good to have that research. Yet, I want more for my children like to be allowed to progress at their rate which often means asynchronous learning. In other words, they may score way above grade level in English (and I only know this because NC requires yearly testing) and below grade level in math. And I am OK with that."

~ Gina

"I have a 10 year old and a 7 year old....my oldest went to public school for preschool and Kindergarten....my youngest never. We do reading, writing and math daily but encourage them to find creative outlets for most everything and you can turn even the most mundane normal-like everyday chore into a learning experience. It just takes time and creativity and care."

~ Anjie

John Holt quotes

John Holt is often seen as the father of unschooling.

You'll see lots of quotes from him on here because I think what he says knocks a gaping hole through much of the accepted educational wisdom.

Following your child's interests is the foundation to the answer what is unschooling, and when you do you'll be amazed  how much they learn!

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