Colin writingIt’s September, which means that we are in the throes of the not-going-back-to-school period that seems to be the start of a new year for most. This means that along with all the schoolers, many homeschoolers are writing about the new year, talking curriculum, talking methodology, new homeschoolers are asking questions and many terms are flying around. One of those terms is of course unschooling.

I have already wrote what unschooling is to me…

 ….it is an ideology and a lifestyle in itself. It is seeing learning in a different way, a way that happens through the learner instead of the teacher.

Let me explain again, unschooling is a lifestyle. It is trusting that children will learn what they need to learn when they are ready to learn it. It is a process of letting go of arbitrary expectations that children should learn certain things at exactly/or by a certain age. It is shifting from the idea that we must teach in order for someone to learn. Unschooling is entirely philosophy in itself and it is as different from homeschooling than it is from school.

To unschool, I believe, that you have to embrace the educational philosophy (whether you embrace radical unschooling/child-led living etc. is then another issue). You have to trust that children will learn everything they need to know and that it may not be exactly what you think they need to know. It is a struggle, yes, and I freely admit that I do struggle with it also,  as I still have all of my school baggage behind me and have outside criticism that at times penetrates the barrier that I put up…  but it doesn’t change what unschooling is.

And this is where my pet peeve comes in…

What gets to me is not that people don’t know exactly what unschooling is. To be fair, it is fairy complex philosophy and far leap from most mainstream views of learning and there are so many misconceptions around it. But, it is when they don’t know what unschooling is and then still use the term to describe what they are doing or part of what they are doing. Perpetuating the myth that unschooling is basically the time that you don’t care about what your child is learning.

Here are a few quotes that I have seen in the last few weeks just to show what I mean…

“I unschool until they hit about 4 then I start incorporating a curriculum.”


“I unschool kindergarten then add more structure each year.”

Um… that is letting toddler be a toddler…a kid be a kid…  it is not unschooling… it’s childhood…

“We do school work in the morning and then I let the kids unschool in the afternoon.”

So basically, you are teaching your kids what you think they need to know and then letting them play/or do unstructured schoolwork in the afternoon. I would define this as homeschooling… not unschooling.

“My kids go to school and then we unschool on the weekends.”

yes… I have heard this said and um.. no!!!  again… that is letting kids just be kids and that would mean that ALL kids are being unschooled.

“We’re unschoolers…  the kids choose the subjects and then we make a curriculum around that.”

I would call that relaxed or eclectic homeschooling…and it is a great way to homeschool, but it is still parent-led and is not unschooling.

Don’t get me wrong… it is not that I really care about what kind of labels people want use, I really don’t care if people don’t unschool and it is not that unschoolers feel elitist and don’t want people in their club. It’s just that there are already varying degrees of unschooling that using the term is these contexts just cause confusion. Unschooling is more than just a method, it is instead a philosophy and it simply can’t be done part-time.

If an outsider was to hear these statements they would most likely come away with the idea that unschooling is not a way in which kids can learn the “important stuff” and that is sounds like another word for unstructured learning or play.

I mean, the people who say they are unschooling in these statements are saying they believe in “unschooling” then are contradicting themselves in the same breath by saying that they will teach what’s important. Their definition of unschooling has nothing to do with trusting that children will learn on their own, it is just pointing out that their children have unstructured learning periods.

So, when unschooling is put in that context, hearing that people choose to only unschool is basically like hearing that they are choosing for their children to not learn the important things and setting them up for future failure willingly. It sounds drastic, but it is easy to understand that if this is the way unschooling is presented, it is the way that people will understand unschooling and it is understandable that their reaction will most often be  negative.

By only hearing such statements, they would never see the possibilities that unschooling provides. They wouldn’t know that unschooled kids can and do learn “the important stuff”. They wouldn’t know that as time goes by the learning that happens is more complex and that as kids grow they will learn more, and learn quickly.

Furthermore, and most important, though unschooling is all about self-guided learning instead of what is being taught, by only hearing the phrases above, people will never know that unschooling can also involve structure, taking classes, using curriculum, having tutors, and even choosing to go to school later on..

Unschooling is just so much more than just “not doing school”.

So I ask you, if you are a unschooler, what do you think? Is it s pet peeve for you also? Do you see the same problems?

What about the others? What is your notion of unschooling?