Trying to become an unschooler

I thought I understood unschooling. Although our homeschool is very laid back, I was sure unschooling was not for us. Too unstructured, too chaotic, too messy. Then it slowly dawned on me as our youngest child rebelled against structure, hated routine and couldn’t stand the idea of someone trying to teach him… we had an unschooler in our midst!

Our son isn’t motivated by rewards or threats. He didn’t like being told what to learn or when to learn it. Instead, he taught himself about computers, started to master 3D modeling programs like Blender and dabbled in video and audio editing – all before the age of 12. We didn’t each him any of this. In fact, we couldn’t teach much of this without learning it ourselves.

At the start of this school year, I was struggling again to get him interested in subjects and fielding questions about “Why do I need to learn this?” Sometimes, the best answer I could give was “It’s on the standardized tests.” Bad answer. Reminds me of things I read on unschooling blogs.

I am trying to become an unschooler. Old habits die hard. I worry about those standardized tests. I have questions about my home state’s ridiculous requirements for homeschoolers. And so many worries about how this all works.

I’d love some advice (or sympathy will do) in the comments. I’d also love suggestions for helpful unschooling blogs for a future post.

I am searching the web for helpful sites and have read or will read many books. Here are a few I found that might be helpful.

The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom

The unschooling movement is founded on the principle that children learn best when they pursue their own natural curiosities and interests. Without bells, schedules, and rules about what to do and when, the knowledge they gain through mindful living and exploration is absorbed more easily and enthusiastically. Learning is a natural, inborn impulse, and the world is rich with lessons to be learned and puzzles to be solved.

Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education

The most powerful new ideas in education are coming from the families that have given up on schools. Clark Aldrich distills a revolutionary manifesto of 55 core ”rules” that reboots our vision of childhood education and the role of schools.

See his blog: Unschooling Rules

A Fine Mess: Living Simply With Children

Through humor, trial and error, the Hogan’s have learned how to scale back, live frugally and have fun in the process. Between homeschooling, owning their own businesses and working at jobs they love, while on their Vermont farm, they learned how to stay debt-free and feed their family fresh organic foods for less than $400 a month.

Learn more at

The Unschooling Unmanual

Unschooling isn’t a technique – it’s living and learning naturally, lovingly, and respectfully together.The Unschooling Unmanual features 11 essays by 8 writers. Through engaging personal stories, examples, and essays, the writers offer inspiration and encouragement for seasoned and prospective unschoolers alike.

The Truly Alive Child: For Those Who Seek A Grander Vision For Our Children

Education and parenting are explored from a holistic point of view, including how all adults can play a conscious role in creating environments that promote inner peace and compassion. A visionary book that will change the way we think about education, what we are creating for the next generation and the future of our children.

Christian Unschooling : Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ

This book utilizes the essays of Christian, unschooling parents from across the United States and Canada to reveal a new way of homeschooling – one that is respectful of the child, the parents and the way God created children to be.

6 Replies to “Trying to become an unschooler”

  1. Thanks for the link to Unschooling Rules. I am an unschooler wanna-be. Sadly I have homeschooled for thirteen years, trying unsuccessfully to break free of the government school classroom pattern that I grew up with. I echo your concerns. All the “what if’s” have kept me from abandoning public opinion and my own expectations. How do we allow our kids to follow their hearts and minds and still comply with state laws? Should education really be 100% child-directed? And especially, how does one throw out the books and become an unschooler late in the game? We all love the “home” part of homeschooling, but my kids really hate the “school” part. Okay, I admit it, I do, too. Every year I say we need to do this differently next year, and we never change anything.

    Wish I could have given you some good advice. You at least have my sympathy. Maybe someone else will comment with something helpful for both of us.

  2. Thanks Sally. Sounds like a lot of the same issues here. Keep trying.
    Right now my son is learning some photoshop image manipulation. I had to stop myself from telling him to do the math and reading first.

  3. Gary, I can’t offer advice so much, just my experiences over the years. Our kids all went on to college with a strong interest in science. Besides reading, art and music and physical activities, those were the subjects I totally unschooled. But being an animal science major, it was also a subject that -I- enjoyed and felt comfortable. I’ve often thought there was a lesson for me to learn there. :) We never cracked a science textbook open, but did much hands-on inside and outside. (I used to save a dryer lint to make volcanoes. lol)
    Just like you’ve obviously been doing, I read a lot about different ways children learn. Another site I really like is this one:
    Lots to absorb and think about there. I also read Growing Without Schooling mags (they’re still available –
    Some of the experiences seemed absolutely bizarre to me when I first started homeschooling and then I found myself doing the same stuff years later.
    The best thing you’ve done is recognize what works and doesn’t work for your kids. Sounds like you’re on the right track for your son and you seeing what he’s passionate about and letting him run with it.
    I am SO sorry NY has those awful regs. Ironic that public school teachers hate those tests, for good reason, but NY and other states have saddled homeschoolers with that over their heads.

  4. Susan – Thanks for the advice and links.
    This past few weeks, I have been letting him spend the day exploring PhotoShop, planning a NYC vacation, creating his own business cards, and other self-directed activities. It has certainly NOT been easier on me as he asks many more questions now and can’t stop talking about his endeavors. But it sure is good to see him motivated. I cannot let go of reminding him to do Math, and some other “required” subjects. But maybe I’ll get there someday.

  5. I was a public/private Christian school teacher for many years. A back injury caused me to retire early, however, that was fine because it led to homeschooling my daughter.

    I will tell you I started out our homeschooling journey with my “teacher” hat on and quickly discovered homeschooling and the classroom are far from the same, as it should be. It took me a bit to comes to terms with allowing my daughter to explore her interests without me directing all the time. We slowly morphed into unschoolers. Like many of you, I still have the “what if” worries from time to time, but they grow smaller each year.

    My daughter is entering high school now, so there is much for me to take in at this new level. I did find a new site, Let’s Homeschool High School, that has great info for parents and students in grades 8-12. They also have lots of info about getting ready for college, or entering the world of work. I guess I found I really liked the site when I discovered they actually had a section of info about unschooling. :)

    Just want to thank you for your post; it is so nice to know I am not the only one who has questions or still gets scared from time to time.


  6. I think we all second-guess ourselves with our children, as I suppose it’s part of parenting. Like Jackie’s experiences, it seems like many homeschooling parents get more ‘relaxed’ with the educational pieces of our kids’ lives as we watch it integrate into our days.
    Homeschooling is such a ‘freaky’ thing to do in this society, let alone unschooling. Then trying to explain our lives to the curious, it’s no wonder we often review. (Guess that’s a good thing created from sometimes obnoxious people. )
    What I do believe is that our attention to our children’s learning styles is a good thing (to quote Martha Stewart).
    I had a daughter that assigned herself reports on her passion, dolphins. Another would doodle the most lovely drawings while I read books out loud. He also knew Jane’s Fighting Ships inside and out. Good Lord! I was so NOT interested in that, but checked out or bought every naval whatnot I could find for him.
    When I started paying attention to those passions and talents, we could start taking off. My youngest kids should be most grateful for the learning experiences my husband and I had with our older kids. :)

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