It’s people like you who give the public the impression homeschoolers are wackos. Homeschoolers teach academics thus the word “homeschooling.” Unschoolers are just that. They don’t “do school.” (This comment was left for me on this post)

My kids learn at home. Some might call them life learners, home learners, home schoolers or unschoolers. Does being an “unschooler” simply mean they don’t “do school”? Case closed as if the unschooled children are therefore stagnant?

Many home learners learn at home because they believe there is something wrong with the way children are taught. Why would we then want to mimic a school setting in our home setting?

How absurd to think that learning only happens when structured teaching is involved. Learning happens all the time. In every moment. Whether we like it or not.

I wholeheartedly believe what my friend Anita has been quoted saying “I believe in education, I don’t believe in schooling.”

Unschooling is about following my child’s interests. When we watch a movie or read a book about Egyptians, for example and something sparks in her making her want to know as much as possible about this ancient civilisation, we look for more. We look at pictures and read books and search the internet. We find classes or mentors that work for my child to help her learn what she’s interested in learning. Her love for learning is not lessened because it’s not forced.

Recently we watched a documentary about a family from New Zealand who are living a very non-traditional life. (This Way Of Life. Check it out, it’s a must see!) An interviewer asked the father “what do you do for a living?” and his extraordinary answer was “I live for a living.” This simple sentence cut straight to the heart of this matter. Further significance was lent to his statement when the documentary cameras were turned to the children who seemed happy, engaged and well developed. There seemed to be little or no friction between the kids as a group or between them and their parents. The children clearly had an admirable grasp on the skills required to survive, and they were very focused on the happiness of the family.

Cam and I are both engaged curious people who are interested in new ideas and adventures. I think that the most important thing we could do for our kids is to imbue them with that same curiosity and sense of adventure. “Learning” will fall into place unnoticed if the kids proceed through their lives drawn by their interests and desires.

You can’t force learning. Recently, we had family visiting and they made some good natured attempts at teaching Lily to read more than she is learning on her own. This well intentioned “teaching” was more like forcing and what Lily really learned was how to give the “teacher” sounding-out sounds that usually had nothing to do with the words in front of her and to mimic a half second behind the “teacher’s” own sounding out. This wasn’t learning, it was placating. Lily didn’t want to read any books for the rest of the visit and for a couple days after it. She’d want to be read to but couldn’t trust that she wouldn’t be pressured into more than she was interested in. I can’t imagine how Lily would ever enjoy reading if she had “teaching” like this on a regular basis.

We all remember the school lessons where the biggest question in our minds was “What the hell do I need to know this for?”. The simple answer is you don’t need to know, or more accurately you have no application for the knowledge so it becomes something that is being forced on you. The point of this whole debate is that a person will acquire the same relative body of knowledge, and some would argue far greater critical thinking skills, if left to their own devices and interests. It is not credible to suggest that any switched on, engaged child will ever grow up unable to read for example. The necessities of daily life and natural curiosity will drive kids to learn to read and it will be their own motivation that gets them there. The most important thing we can do as parents is keep our kids engaged. My husband would suggest that a solid dose of fishing helps too! I couldn’t agree more- at least with the idea that it’s vital that a good deal of a child’s time is spent outside.

Eta. April at Flow of Love wrote a great blog post titled “School Sucks!” It’s worth a read!

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27 Responses to Unschooling = Unlearning?

  1. Hillary says:

    That video is amazing. Right there with you on all your thoughts.

  2. Debbie says:

    I’ve watched this video at least a half-dozen times – doesn’t get old. LOVE it.

    I’m really sorry about that comment you received. You handled it so beautifully though. I’m not sure I would have been so gracious.

    This has really been on my mind lately and I’ve been meaning to write about it. In the last few weeks we’ve had some strangers make a few comments to us. Like your experience, htese folks were “curriculum ihomeschoolers”- not life learners, or unschoolers. They were very clear about that. :)

    I so agree with you. Kids learn, what they need to know, when they need to know it. And while I could go on and on about the hows and whys of it all, you know this. Your readers know this. Learning happens when you are engaged in living your life. Bottom line. xoxo

  3. dawn says:

    I have never commented before, but i LOVE your blog. I guess i feel the need to comment now because i read the comment at the start of this post, which is just plain outrageous. So if someone is going to comment like that, i’d like to give a shout and make sure my voice is heard as well. I think you make homeschooling/homelearning/unschooling families look AMAZING (not at all ‘wacko’)! You and your family are seriously inspirational to a family like mine as we being our journey of not going to school (my children are 5 and 2 and have never been to school or daycare of any kind, but this will be the first year where all of my eldest daughter’s peers begin in the school system). Your children look JOYFUL! Your family seems healthy! I for one will continue to find ideas and a form of support just by reading your blog. I also agree that for me homeschooling will have nothing to do with recreating school at home, but rather learning at home – it is still a place of learning and that is why many homeschoolers use the word…. although MANY of them would actually be considered ‘unschoolers’ or ‘homelearners’ – it is semantics. Thanks again for sharing your beautiful words and wisdom – seriously awesome :)
    and nice to meet you.

  4. Annie says:

    I don’t know how anyone can read your blog and not see how your children are learning and thriving.

    My MIL was a preschool teacher for many years and she always tries to “quiz” Josh or get him to work on things like reading or numbers. It is funny because he is actually very interested in those things and we spend a lot of time playing with letters and numbers, but when my MIL approached the topic he picked up on the teacher mode thing right away. He actually had a lot of fun with this (I am amazed at the sense of humor a 4 year old can have) and pretended like he didn’t know the different letters and let his grandma “teach” him. After a while when he got tired of it, he started pointing out different letters on his own and showing her that he knows his stuff. It took her a minute to realize that he didn’t just suddenly start figuring it out but actually knew all along and was just playing with her. For a minute there I think she thought she had miraculously taught him his ABCs in one short session.

    You would think she would have learned her lesson, but the next time she came she was trying to teach him how to add and subtract (of all things, there were math problems on a children’s menu at the restaurant where we were at, really, 7hrs of school + homework is not enough? Now they have to do math problems when they go out to eat?). Anyway, he had a different kind of game going on with the numbers and she kept trying to get him to focus on the actual math. He’s 4!

    I would be interested to see how unschoolers who live close to family or friends who don’t understand unschooling deal with this. Since we only see our relatives a few times a year (due to distance), it is not much of a problem and we are able to laugh off these things, but I know that if it was something we dealt with on a more regular basis I would worry about the impact it would have on his desire to learn.

  5. Wendy says:

    So well put and well thought out! Glad you could take a negative comment and turn it into such a wonderful post! Love reading your blog.

  6. Hi – I just found you and hope to get in touch with you about a possible guest post for me at on unschooling.

    Sorry to hear about that mean comment – I have gotten a few recently on my post criticizing my daughter’s education. (I can even tell you how to block IP addresses if you need it.)

    I LOVE Sir Ken Robinson by the way – great post!

    Melissa at

  7. Annie says:

    That’s an amazing video, isn’t it?!

    I get comments like this from time to time. It’s easy to not take it personally since it’s usually just a drive by scolding- someone who’s found a post via an internet search with the intention of venting. At least it seems to be the case most of the time. In a way, it’s a gift because it sparks my thoughts for another blog posting. Ha. I sleep better when I get my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (so to speak).

    Thanks so much to all of you for the kind words! xx

    Annie- I love that Josh made the teaching into a game! What a sweet boy he is.

    While I miss some family, I’m relieved that I don’t live near any- and my family is more or less supportive of my choices. For many reasons, I’ve found it necessary to have boundaries with some family members, particularly on my dh’s side. There are some things I’m not willing to discuss and I never justify my choices, since it usually encourages some to believe a subject is up for debate. I ask only for acceptance and respect for my choices. I imagine this would be a lot more work if I lived in the same town as Cam’s family!

    I wonder if most of the time, extended families of unschoolers just get used to the idea. Maybe warm to unschooling as they see the children grow. I know my family feels more confident about our choices as my kids get older.

    Melissa- Thank you for the offer! I don’t think a guest post is something I’d be able to commit to at this time. Life right now is quite busy!

  8. ~Chelsea~ says:

    Eibhlin has been fascinated by letters and reading since she was 2. Her favourite things have always been books, and when she asks for help reading I help her, but have never sat down to ‘teach’ her, and when I see she gets frustrated or is done with it, so am I.

    Other parents are constantly amazed at how well she reads, will jokingly ask me to teach their kids to read, etc. I usually just laugh and say I had nothing to do with it.

    Her passion for learning is incredible. Her memory is insane. I love just watching and listening to her excitement in it all. I don’t know if home/unschooling will be a viable option for us and the thought of this love for reading and learning being squashed out of her at school worries me greatly . . . . I’ve got a bit more time to try and work it out, or just hope that what I do at home can outweigh the rest.


  9. Lyndsey says:

    What an amazing video! Very much appreciated!

  10. AnarchoMama says:

    It’s funny how people still think the best way to for someone to LEARN anything is through force and coercion….

    Love the video!

  11. Rea says:

    Thanks, I saw this on TED, probably on your reccomendation, but I loved seeing it again and put it on my blog too. Home-school or whatever term you prefer is illegal in Spain. I have no idea what we are going to do when the time comes for mandatory school.

  12. Nicole says:

    hello :) I’ve been reading your blog silently for months along with others of the same nature (lusa, soulmama, etc.) and have been totally inspired by everything you all write. I’m not a mama yet but everything I’ve read has shaped many of the ways I want to try to approach parenting and education with my future children.

    I saw that comment and the ones after that on the previous post, and wanted to say how disgusting I think it is for people to assert their opinion so boldly and rudely. I think the key of all of this isn’t the education that anyone is providing their children, but the love they are providing their children–and based on that person’s comments, I can assure you that the love you are providing your children is much more pure and without desire of return.

  13. Erin says:

    Annie, I noticed your graciousness with the commenter from that post as well. Sheesh! Methinks she may have some hierarchical and competitive attitudes.

    The trailer for that movie looks wonderful, I think I want to buy it! If a trailer evokes tears of recognition, that’s a good sign for me…;-) I loved the father’s reply, “I live for a living”. I think I may just describe my life that way to the questioners of my lifestyle…

    I am grateful for the way you and so many others are questioning, seeking, exploring, “myth-busting” and changing education right before our eyes! As I grow in my understanding of “learning through living” (the closest term I can muster for describing living an un-labeled life…I dislike a label for something so unique and broad as living one’s life!), I discover more and more that prevailing attitudes about education are changing, and busting out of the box. Thank you for being true to your values and for sharing the delight, the joy, the selflessness and wonder that I see alive in all of you! It inspires me daily, and is like a breath of fresh air, an open window in a stuffy, uptight, competitive one room schoolhouse.

    ~Erin xo

  14. Annie says:

    Chelsea- I imagine being aware and thoughtful is the best defence if your children are going school. I know that home learning isn’t something you could choose to do with ease, since you are a single parent.

    I’m guessing you’ve read Hold Onto Your Kids, Why Parents Matter. I think the point about parent and peer attachment is pertinent here. Whatever the choices we make for our kids, they (and us too!) are better off if the attachment is strong between parent and child. Your child will be less likely to be negatively affected by outside sources.

    Rea- I hope you are able to connect with other home learners if you choose to do the same. I know they’re out there in Spain, even if they aren’t obvious. I’ll keep my ear to the ground…

    I appreciate all the support about this less than kind comment! Warms my heart! Thank you!

    I’m not comfortable making too many judgements about “Eileen” because I know her less than she knows me- which is very little. She may not even have read the post she commented on and just had some vendetta with “unschooling”.

    Erin- We inspire each other then. I’m so grateful to know you.

  15. april says:

    Just wanted to say that it’s people like you that remind me we are not wackos, but open, heart-centered parents focused on the on supporting our children’s passions as natural learners with a love of exploring this life experience.

    LOVE the video!
    Thanks for sharing.

  16. april says:

    Sorry about the confused wording. That’s what happens when three family members start talking to you at the same time when you are trying to leave a comment.

    Love and light.

  17. Annie says:

    Your wording wasn’t confusing at all! I very much appreciate your thoughts, April. I couldn’t agree more. You describe what I admire about you.


  18. Juliette says:

    I’ve been following your blog for over a year and enjoying your creativity and willingness to share!

    I’m Canadian, married an American, and have been raising my children in the U.S. I have two boys, 7 and 4. The 7 yr old has been going to public school for 3 years and I’ve been unhappy as I watch the joy, curiosity and love of learning slowly drain from him.

    He is one of those children who can’t soak in enough, fast enough…always wanting to know more… just the pure essence of all children. I hear him say “yeah it’s the weekend” and that breaks my heart, mostly because it means he’s just bored (6 hours a day, 5 days a week!!).

    I want to unschool. I love the idea and the philosophy but I’m scared. I don’t care if someone calls me a ‘wacko’ but I feel nervous travelling down some alternate path. This sounds strange to me because my whole life I’ve enjoyed pushing the boundaries and stereotypes but here it is…my children’s future…and I’m scared.

    I don’t want to screw them up and yet the choice isn’t obvious…sending them to school might just do that…but leaving it up to me to provide them with inspiration and opportunity…for how long? when would they enter “main stream”? would it be difficult? Aaahhh!!

    I have several relatives and friends who are teachers and they don’t get why I would even consider unschooling (btw I don’t even say unschooling because it seems more shocking than to say homeschooling…I agree with a post above…it’s all semantics).

    I believe public school isn’t the right place for my son, but somehow I wish there was an “in between” choice.

  19. april says:


    My advise to you is to follow your heart. You know what you need to do for your children. It can be scary, and I understand about the relatives too. In the beginning, don’t use the word “unschooling”. You can say something like “child led learning.” That sound better to people who are not familiar with unschooling and may judge you at first. You can find lots of guidance on the sandra dodd website…
    It is a journey and requires a huge paradigm shift on our parts, but it is soooooooo worth it.

    Love on the journey,

  20. Annie says:

    I agree with April. It’s not easy stepping off the path most people take once you’re already on it. It takes a lot of courage, especially if real life support isn’t as available. There are so many places online that can offer support though!

    I found this old link I had saved from years ago about handling family in regards to choosing to homeschool. While it written from the perspective of homeschooling a deaf or hard of hearing child, I think it’s pertinent to a wider audience and touches on some of your concerns:

    I hope you find happiness in whatever you decide.

  21. Juliette says:

    Thank you for your kind words. We’re moving to a rural area in June so online resources you recommended will be extremely helpful. dh is not completely on board with this shift, although I think he’ll really enjoy Sir Ken Robinson. dh is very ‘left brain” thinking so logic based approach will appeal to him.

    btw I’m reading ‘slow death by rubber duck’…took me twice as long at the market today…reading labels etc..

    you inspire me to greater heights!

  22. Cheryl says:

    My friend sent me this post. I love your blog.

  23. Mary says:

    My sons unschooled in high school. Their choice with my blessings. They are now in college. Straight A’s, top 1%, majoring in physics. Why? They are curious and love to learn. By high school, the public school system had almost destroyed what I had tried so hard to nurture. It was the best decision we have ever made. Without curiosity, potential is just that.

  24. Juliette says:

    Love your comment Mary because just last night dh and I were discussing transition from homeschool to college…(we are both overly educated) and although our sons may choose a different path, we don’t want to limit opportunity down the line. Also, reminds me of a comment I heard recently with regard to getting a less than enthusiastic teacher at an “excellent” school…”just hope they [school] don’t ruin all the good we’ve got goin’ on at home”. I want to discuss ‘child led learning’ with my oldest (7 yrs) but worried I will place this burden on him…thoughts anybody?

  25. Annie says:

    Juliet- My husband is away right now but we talked a bit about this post before I published it. He sent me a note afterwards letting me know that it isn’t always so easy for him to make the choices that take us off the beaten path. Stepping off the beat path though is exactly what we need to do most of the time if we are keeping the health and well being of our family front and centre.

    Both my husband and I are anticipating our children wanting to go to college/university one day. We’ll see when we get there, but I don’t think it’s odd to imagine that path being taken down the road. Most universities (as far as I’m aware) welcome unschoolers with open arms. I can’t for the life of me find an online copy of an article I read and saved back in 2003 about a specific unschooler who ended up a successful student at UBC, offered scholarships etc. I’ll keep searching….

    My daughter (also 7!) and I have talked a bit about child led learning but it’s all she’s ever known so I doubt I have much to offer in this regard. Her questions about it have more to do with how her day is different from people who go to school.

    We are enrolled with an online school (Self Design) for yearly funding. It doesn’t have much to do with my daughter beyond talking about her interests at the beginning of the “school” year. We talk about it and I write it all down. Some of her interests this year are: ancient civilisations, rocks, painting, dancing, soccer, baking, reading, writing, taking care of the planet, ice skating, insects, herbs…. We don’t do anything with this list though, we just follow her interests as they come up. Questions naturally come up as we are busy and we find the answers. We spend a lot of time outside, walking and hiking. More questions come up. We go the museum or grocery store or dentist and more questions come up. We’re both always learning.

    I think talking about it with your son may end up looking more like just explaining what child led learning means and if you choose to unschool you’ll need to be patient as he lets go of a school learning mentality. You should look up “deschooling”. I think this is probably the hardest time for child and parent- especially parent, if it just looks like the child isn’t doing any learning because they’re still detoxing (ick, that sounds terrible, but best word for the moment) from the school atmosphere. Imagine it feeling like Saturday everyday all of a sudden!

    Mary- It’s so wonderful hearing about unschooled teens/adults. “Without curiosity, potential is just that.” This is such a great statement.

  26. Jacinda says:

    Yes, I have watched “This Way of Life” 3 times – we used to live in the area where it was filmed. I loved watching the freedom and the skills of the children but I did find the director got a bit distracted with the father/son issue. Freedom is a rare thing these days, it’s worth struggling to keep hold of.

  27. paxye says:

    Of course I completely agree with you…

    As you know, we are unschooling in a different environment… we get out less, we seem to have less adventures, less opportunities for such adventures, yet the learning is always there.

    I am starting to enjoy the questions that some may have because I can give them answers they may not expect. When someone asks me “How can a child learn to read without being taught, without having learned the names of each letter, without being read to (he hated being read to)…” Now I can just say, “Ask him” and his answer is “I don’t know, I just did”…

    We might “not school” but you can never “not learn”.

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