Unschooling and the Unspoken Worry

Updated 9/28/2022
I think two words, unschooling and unparenting, need to be discussed. I’m writing this specifically for the parents who have asked for my regular guidance by enrolling in my school.  Of course, the rest of you are welcome to read too! ~Karen

Homeschoolers often don’t agree on the definition of unschooling, and I’m not sure it’s worth our time to even try. I’ve never worried much about it. If you’re not doing school-at-home or some other clearly defined approach, chances are your relaxed homeschool falls somewhere on the unschooling spectrum. I don’t think it’s a black and white issue, and there’s plenty of room for individuality. Not everyone will want to be what is known as a radical unschooler but they may still embrace many unschooling ideas.

For example, parents sometimes say they unschool except for math. Some might respond that they are not unschoolers. My thought is that this is what works for you now and you are on the unschooling spectrum. You’re looking for ways to homeschool your child the best way possible, and there are days when what you do does not resemble a school day in any way, and your kids are thriving and learning.

So, when you read something I’ve written that supports unschooling, that’s where I’m coming from.  Many of you left the schools for a reason, so trying something new might be just what your child needs, and I’ve encouraged many of you to try a more relaxed homeschooling approach. If you think of it as the unschooling spectrum, it may be easier to do it in a way that works best for your family.

Sometimes we can waste a lot of time trying to label ourselves. I’d put that up there with worrying about doing paperwork to prove you did something on any given day.  Just remember that as complicated as it seems sometimes, unschooling is founded on a very simple premise that kids learn best when they aren’t being taught as schools have done.  Hence the term UN-schooling.

I often forward links that promote unschooling.  When I talk to a new family, I encourage them to ease into homeschooling and give their children a chance to recover from school and rediscover their joy of learning. I suggest that they give them an opportunity to read without the threat of a book report, and that they ask their child what they would like to learn.  For many families, learning in a way that doesn’t resemble a typical school day is very successful.

For those who want curriculum, I suggest homeschool curriculum rather than the textbooks that were used in their child’s classroom, and I’ll suggest flexibility because it’s ok to skip a page when a child knows something. And even better would be “real” books from the library or learning some other way, but I recognize that shifting to that can be a process. Just deciding to withdraw your child from school is a huge step!

Use what works for you today and go enjoy your kids! Read the unschooling links I send on Facebook and post on our Pinterest Unschooling board, and perhaps incorporate an idea that would work in your family.

Unschooling can take more of an effort than purchasing a complete curriculum that tells you what to do each day. It’s customized for each child, and sometimes it can look like pure fun and games, which is why some think it’s irresponsible. I think it’s a lovely way for a child to learn whenever it’s used, and some school-at-home families incorporate bits of unschooling into their days too. Call it eclectic learning, relaxed learning, or anything else you want, if unschooling sounds too extreme.

Someday, perhaps we’ll find a better name that becomes widely accepted that honors the fact that the unschooling spectrum is huge and diverse. Or maybe we’ll stop trying to label ourselves and just consider ourselves home learners!

The Unspoken Worry:  Unparenting

There’s one more thing I think needs to be discussed. It’s the elephant in the room that may be keeping some parents from trying unschooling or even talking about it.

As is typical, the extreme of a spectrum gets more attention. Unschoolers who appear to have no rules or make no requests of their children are on one end of the unschooling spectrum. Sometimes their parenting style may unfairly be called unparenting.

I think there are a lot of parents who would be more likely to try out the unschooling spectrum if they understood that what they think of as unparenting is a separate issue. Homeschooling isn’t easily defined or pigeonholed. Each of us has our unique style, so don’t dump the whole idea of unschooling just because you ask your child to do chores or have a routine bedtime. Find your niche on the spectrum and do it your way.

Bottom line: You can find your place on the unschooling spectrum and use it to the extent that it helps your child, while keeping your current parenting style!  


Karen Taylor’s always homeschooled son attended a local community college after graduating from homeschooling. He transferred to UC Berkeley as a junior, and received a PhD in neuroscience from UCSF.  She shares homeschooling comments and links on Facebook, Pinterest, and this blog.

This might also be helpful:

My Experience with Stealth Schooling