The myth of the uninvolved unschooler

The myth of the uninvolved unschooler
Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool also writes about motherhood at Steady Mom

I remember the first time I heard the term unschooling. I was standing on a street corner chatting with a homeschooling neighbor, who used the term.

“What’s that?” I asked.

While I can’t remember her exact definition, I remember my reaction–far from positive. It sounded to me as though unschooling parents ignored their children, not getting really involved in their education.

I knew it wasn’t for me since the idea of traditional homeschooling already freaked me out. But then an evolution occurred. And I now find myself parked most resolutely on the informal side of the homeschooling spectrum.

I’m not the type who likes being put into a box, so I don’t label myself or my family. We pull from a variety of influences in our homeschool–unschooling/interest-led learning, Waldorf, and leadership education predominantly. But basically, we just do what works and what best fits our needs.

Last year Jena wrote a post about the two foundational principles of unschooling–that children are born to learn, and that forced learning kills the desire to learn.

But what exactly do unschoolers do all day? That varies as much as individual families vary–in other words, a lot! But as I’ve come to know more unschoolers, it seems to me that we often have in common the following six focuses.

1. We focus on exposure, not mastery.

In my belief, the early years of life (up until age 12 or so) are about allowing my kids to fall in love with learning. I want them exposed to as much richness and depth as possible. Exposure to language, to words, to writing, to numbers, to art, to music.

But I’m not as concerned with the need to master this material according to an artificial timetable– believing instead that mastery will come later as the child’s development continues to progress and mature.

2. We focus on strengths and potential, not weaknesses.

Few adults have careers based on areas in which they struggled as kids. Typically the most satisfying careers are those with skills in which the person naturally excels and enjoys. Yet in our day-to-day homeschooling it seems so natural to focus on our kids’ weaknesses instead of their strengths. Why is that?

One day my children will, of course, need to know how to overcome their personal weaknesses. We set the foundation for that when it comes to the area of character development every day. But when it comes to academic achievement, these early years are about building confidence, not pointing out flaws or areas of struggle.

3. We focus on modeling.

At my kids’ current ages of 8, 7, and 6, I (along with my husband) am the most important influence in their lives. Just as toddlers follow us around wanting to “help” in any way possible, it’s only natural for a child to imitate what they see the adults in their life doing.

For that reason, I feel my writing career, the books I read, and the example I set to be one of the foundations of my kids’ learning. I’m not taking anything away from them by having my own life, instead I’m inspiring them to have their own.

My kids know what it means for their parents to have a mission in life, so they know it means they have one, too. Education is all about the process of discovering that mission and becoming equipped to achieve it.

4. We focus on relationships.

I completely agree with Renee when she wrote that all you need is love. One thing that unschoolers (and others, of course!) do really well is to focus on relationships. When love flows unconditionally, not based on whether or not you completed a worksheet correctly, the atmosphere is primed for learning.

I have always believed that nurturing is the greatest task I do as a teacher. For this reason cooking and baking with my kids have always been as important as math. When we nurture, defenses go down and everyone opens up to inspiration, ready to tackle new challenges.

5. We focus on time, not content.

Some unschoolers have a spontaneous lifestyle, where there are no set hours for anything and everything is up for negotiation. If that works and makes parents and children happy, I see no problem with it. But it isn’t the only way to embrace an interest-learning lifestyle.

Our home has a lot of structure because that’s what works for us; it’s what we need to have a peaceful home. My children know our daily rhythm well, and if you asked them what we do each day, they could quickly run down a litany of activities. But “school” wouldn’t be one of them.

Instead we structure time, not content. I make sure we have plenty of time planned in our day for learning opportunities and one-on-one time .

I may even have suggested activities that I think we could work on. But the final choice is up to my kids. I ask, “What do you want to work on today, and how can I help?” I serve as mentor, guide, and friend.

6. We focus on our conviction and faith in the path we’ve chosen.

It is faith and conviction that enables unschoolers to make choices that place us in the minority of the homeschooling minority. Courage to march to the beat of a completely different cultural drum, to step off the grade level path, challenging and pushing boundaries along the way.

I watch my children learn to read without formal lessons. I watch them learn to write and calculate numbers the same way. Not necessarily on my own timetable, but on their own. I listen to their declarations that they love books, they love math, that they can do and be anything.

I marvel at how they are made in God’s image, and that even this former perfectionist mama has learned to let go, to trust, and to watch each child blossom in their own perfect and lovely way.

It does a mother’s heart good–this releasing, this freedom, this struggle, this joy.

Uninvolved? Hardly.

Inspired? Completely.

How do you feel about the idea of informal, interest-led learning? What has your experience been?

This post originally published on March 26, 2012.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.


  1. Jamie,
    I loved these ideas and was pleasantly surprised that at this moment and phase in life, I’m going through almost similar reflections – about letting go, letting the child be, giving him/her time and space to learn, explore, find his/her rhythm. And most importantly – giving unconditional LOVE.

    An year back, when I had conversations with some unschoolers here in India, the philosophy sounded baffling to me. I thought the same thing – “What do Unschoolers do all day?” and today after an year or so of unstructured/relaxed homeschooling, I can safely say, I resonate quite a bit with the unschooling philosophy of ‘letting go’. It didn’t come the easy way due to my own conditioning of regimen-style schooling and of growing up in a society that seeks to ‘control’ childhood. And, yet, I’m learning to just be and let my child be, too..
    I can see that I’m finding peace in this unlearning…

    And, I couldn’t have agreed more with you about “having your own life”. Without it, I would be miserable and claustrophobic and that’s hardly the kind of example I would like to set for my kid.

    Interestingly, I wrote my reflections on How Children Learn, Parenting and Life and shared similar perspective, including – YOU are the biggest influence on your child. You may read here:
    Rashmie @ Mommy Labs’s latest post: 32 Reflections on Children, Parenting and Your Life. Learning Societies UnConference – Part II

  2. Great thoughts on unschooling! I am very drawn to unschooling, of course my kids are still pretty young – almost 4 and 19 months – so we aren’t really into a strict routine of we must do x, y, and z everyday. I am extremely drawn to the literature based learning, like Sonlight. I love reading books, and love reading books to my kids. It is something I want them to love when they start reading too. But, in the same aspect, I can see us reading about something and my daughter asking about trains, and then we go to the library and get a bunch of books on trains, until she finds something else she is interested in. I love reading about the different styles of homeschooling, it really shows how individualized it can be, which is one of the many things I like about homeschooling :-)
    Heather’s latest post: hanging laundry again!

    • Agreed, Heather! We started out with Sonlight as well, and still use many of their book selections, just on our own timetable–with plenty of room to jump ship and explore something new if we want to!

  3. We’re in our second year of homeschooling, and I’ve been surprised to find myself drifting more and more towards the unschooling camp. I thought stricter schedules and more defined curriculums were the way to go, but this is really working for our family.

    Unschooling suits my own personality much better, which makes for a happier mama and happier students!

    We’re still very rigid on math and grammer with our 1st and 3rd graders, but we’re drifting towards the informal side on everything else, and I love it. And so do my kids.

    THANK YOU for this piece of encouragement!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Spending Your Way to Happiness (No, Really)

  4. Great post, it really made me think. We too are in a place right now where I feel like we’re being called to slow down and see where things take us. It is important to do what works for you, and I like that you said you still have structure in your house because you need it to have a peaceful household. So many people think you can’t do THAT and be an UNSCHOOLER. I like your phrase “What do you want to work on today and how can I help?” And if you don’t mind, I think I’m gonna steal it. :)
    Amy’s latest post: no note needed

  5. Great post! I always say I’m an unschooler in the summer especially. Even if you do formal schooling, it shouldn’t really take that long. There is plenty of time for any homeschooler to discover new things outside the time they might spend with workbooks or textbooks.

    I like how you said that you still have a rhythm to your day. Many people think that unschoolers have no order or structure to their day. Of course, love is the most important aspect no matter what method you use to instruct your children :)
    Heidi’s latest post: Online College Courses for High School

  6. It seems that most long-term homeschoolers tend to relax more and more as they continue teaching their children. I think that is because you learn to trust yourself and your children, and realize that in a learning atmosphere, learning is automatic, like breathing, you don’t have to force it. One thing I do like to do is maintain a list of the books that my children read through the year. It is amazing how many “educational” books they choose! My thirteen year old picks out the classic literature she would be assigned in high school for herself, because she loves good books.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: March Marathon Training — Relay Style

    • I track books we’re read too – using LibraryThing, recommended by my librarian. Very easy to look up books and add to your list!

  7. I like this list! Definitely print-worthy for the homeschooling notebook. It will serve as a good reminder to stay the course with what is important. Sometimes I wander off the path.
    Pam’s latest post: Homeschool Convention Recap Part 2

  8. My daughter is only 3 and my son is 4 months old, but it looks to me like we’re drifting in the unschooling direction. As is right now, there is so much our daughter learned without any formal instruction, it’s amazing. She knows the alphabet for two languages, she has amazing memory that I could only dream of, more and more I realize she learns more when I just let her instead of force her. She comes to me on her own asking to explain things. I love it! It is so amazing to see her grow! Now… Not sure how this will fly with my in-laws or my dad, thankfully my mom is on-board :)
    Anastasia @ eco-babyz’s latest post: 2012 in 2012: Week 12

  9. We focus on relationships. Yes! That was probably the number 1 motivation in our journey toward unschooling.
    Jessica’s latest post: Social Media Burn Out is Okay.

  10. This is EXACTLY what I want for our homeschooling journey! My boys are 7 and 3, and we’ve tried a variety of methods over the past couple of years. No matter what we try, I always end up convinced that the only true education is one you achieve yourself. And Yeats’ notion about education being more about lighting a fire than filling a bucket is very inspiring to me. However, I’m really struggling with reporting and keeping records and such – we’re in a place where the gov’t requires this of us (NS, CANADA) and I just don’t know what to do! I’d love to hear from anyone in a similar situation – thanks!
    Joy’s latest post: The Race

    • I’m not in that situation, Joy, but I know that it is challenging. I would find out exactly what is required of you and then get flexible about how you meet those requirements. Yes, there may be certain things you have to cover, but you could still do the minimum on those and have plenty of free time leftover.

      • I’m not in the same situation either, but maybe find out the requirements and then let the children decide how to meet the requirements? For example letting them decide the order you cover topics or the projects that you do to cover them. You can offer a few ideas to the kids and let them make the final choice. This way you are doing what you have to, but giving the control to the kids so they have more ownership in the learning.

      • This is the first time I’ve homeschooled in a high reporting state, and I am freaking out more than a bit–I totally understand your struggle, Joy! However, I’ve connected with seasoned homeschoolers in the area who have helped me navigate the reporting aspects, and I am slowly, slowly calming down. Do you have a homeschooling group nearby?
        Fran’s latest post: Distracted Driving

  11. Absolutely beautiful and inspiring!
    Jenn’s latest post: Beautiful week- a collage:)

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. Before now, I have only heard about unschooling involving children with very severe learning difficulties, for whom the typical, mainstream working adult life may not be an option, so it is very interesting to hear from a different perspective.

    I was wondering how you address the possibility that any of your children might want to be a doctor, lawyer, or other job that requires a college degree. Is college an option with unschooling? So many of these things seem to require “written proof” of academic accomplishments.

    Please excuse my ignorance – I am new to the subject and am reading voraciously to try and find out more!
    Becca’s latest post: 20 Miles

    • I fully expect all my kids to go to college if they choose that and need that to fulfill their mission in life. So yes, it very much is an option!

    • We are unschoolers and my eldest is 21. She is currently in nursing school set to graduate in May. Going to college in an option for unschoolers, now my eldest son is graduating high school in June and will not go to college full time. However he will and is taking a few buisness managment courses at the community college while working full time for a construction company.(he works part time now) He wants to own his own construction company one day. I also have a somphmore in high school and a 8th grader. There plans are not set yet though my younger daughter wants to be able to homeschool her own kids someday and still be sucessful.

  13. “But I’m not as concerned with the need to master this material according to an artificial timetable– believing instead that mastery will come later as the child’s development continues to progress and mature.”

    LOVE! I have only been homeschooling two years and I have discovered this with my girls. It feels so nice to read that someone else agrees:)

    Have a great day!!
    Kimberley Byrd’s latest post: Our no good, very bad day

  14. I agree with a previous comment that homeschoolers tend to relax more as they go along. We are finishing up our 9th year and I have “let go” more this year than ever. To finish out this school term, I have decided to do “subject” days. Focus on Math one day, Science another, etc. Just play and have fun. Do all those things that we have wanted to do but did not have time with a traditional schedule and curriculum. Next year my 8th and 10th graders will be at a private school. I will have three boys ages 10,8, and 7 at home. If this new schedule works out well for us then we will continue on next year. I find myself leaning more towards unschooling as each day goes by. Thanks so much for this article and explaining what unschooling can be.

  15. Thank you so so much for sharing your musings on unschooling. I often feel like we’re the only family on this island, so reading your thoughts serves as fuel for my days.
    There are moments when I think we’re crazy for living so unconventionally…but there are more moments where I can’t imagine doing anything else.
    We have chosen to grow together as a family, watch our kids become friends, learn organically at our own pace, and find adventure in every day!
    While I appreciate all of the homeschool resources, it’s the posts about unschooling that offer the most encouragement…so thank you thank you!

  16. I really loved this article. It explains so well the way we homeschool too! Unschooling is so far from “not schooling” – it is rich and full and requires strong and engaged, present parents.

  17. I was raised unschooled with my siblings before it was a term. My mom just followed her instinct and our lead and that’s where we ended up. Now us four unschooled… 2 own their own successful businesses, one is working a mechanical engineering PhD, and I am happily unschooling my own little people and writing. All four of us are happy, creative, well-socialized individuals. Additionally, we are all very close. When we live with in driving distance we have dinner together almost weekly. And, because of the way we learned to learn, we are really enthusiastic about what one another are interested and exploring. My brother may be into scuba diving
    – something I wouldn’t explore on my own – but because we are all life-long-learners, we all get into learning what he is doing and why he is fascinating ated by it. I attribute most of that to our u schooling background.
    Taylor’s latest post: A Co-Sleeping Family

  18. Jamie, I especially appreciate your notion of structuring time, not content. I know you realize that this is something that I value as well, because you’ve linked to my blog post about it! I sometimes wonder whether all unschoolers would considered structured learning time as a very unschool-y way to learn, but it works great for us. Structuring in that time together for digging deep has always gotten my kids’ creative juices going. Thanks for sharing the insight!
    patricia’s latest post: connections

  19. When I first started researching educational options, I read some really extreme ideas by folks who claimed they were “unschooling.” More like “unparenting,” these books advocated not making their kids bathe and not “imposing their moral right and wrong on their kids.” It really turned me off of the idea of unschooling.

    Life has kind of forced us into an unschooling experiment this semester, and I must say I like it. Since January we followed my husband’s military career into a cross country move. We are currently living in a one bedroom motel room and we had to leave our home school textbooks behind in storage. For sanity’s sake I take my 5 and 7 year old daughters and newborn son to the library every day all morning. The time is structured (we are in the library for 4 hours a day) but the learning isn’t (we do bible together before we leave, but what we do at the library is up to the girls.)

    • Goodness, Cara! A one bedroom motel room? Totally amazed at your resourcefulness to make structuring time, not content, work out while in such tight quarters!

  20. I am glad I read this. We went from public school to online school and are now wanting to do homeschool… but mostly unschool. I have 5 children (16,14,13,10,7) When they were younger, they loved to learn. Now, they are forced to “learn” things they don’t care about, and in turn are struggling in school. My youngest, who has never been in a B&M school, has learned faster than the others. It isn’t because he is smarter, it’s because we have been very relaxed and let him learn at his own pace. I want this for my older children who have their interests. My oldest likes science, but struggles in Language Arts (but loves reading). My daughter loves language arts, reading, writing, but struggles with history and science. I know that they aren’t going to go to school and then get a job in those areas that they struggle in! So this year, we are going to change things. I want my kids to thrive and enjoy learning, and that doesn’t involve listening to a lecture that they are going to absorb about 2% of or to read it in a text book or to be sitting in front of a computer for 6-9 hours a day. I am so excited that I looked into unschooling!

  21. We have always schooled our oldest child this way, but now that he is 13 I have found that I tend to fear that not doing something more structured in content will hurt him during the high school years if he wants to go to college. There are so many blogs out there for homeschooling in a relaxed way with younger ones, but can you point me to some blogs that speak more to the middle school and high school years as far as being relaxed/delight-directed, etc?
    Aimee’s latest post: right now

    • Hi Aimee. I can understand what you’re saying. Jena, who used to be a contributor here, unschooled her three kids all the way through high school very successfully. (Two are doing well in college and one is doing well in a traditional high school.) She no longer keeps her private blog open, but you can read all the posts she wrote here:

      I also think that Thomas Jefferson Education is a great option for crossing the bridge from informal to slightly more formal (though still mostly interest-based) learning. You can read about that here:

      Hope that helps!

  22. You rocked it out of the park with this one Jamie.

    You know what my experience has been. Much the same but a teensy bit more mama-led instruction.
    Renee’s latest post: The Weekend Edition ~ Comes to an End

  23. I started homeschooling using a rigid curriculum style. Now my pendulum has shifted and I’m very interested in child-directed/interest-led learning. I’ve read a couple of books and sites but I’m still left with more questions than answers. Perhaps that’s normal? I agree with your post – more than anything I want my children to love learning and to never stop learning. Yet many days, I’m not sure how or where to start accomplishing this.
    Carrie’s latest post: A New Writing Age

  24. Thanks for this!
    We are very much “school at home” right now, but the more I realize how much my son learns outside the “classroom”, the more I wonder about unschool.

    I love your 6 focuses.

  25. I was reading Vanity Fair the other day, and was very interested to see this synopsis of a governess’s “unschooling” approach to learning:

    “With the young people, whose applause she thoroughly gained, her method was pretty simple. She did not pester their young brains with too much learning, but, on the contrary, let them have their own way in regard to educating themselves; for what instruction is more effectual than self-instruction? The eldest was rather fond of books, and as there was in the old library at Queen’s Crawley a considerable provision of works of light literature of the last century, both in the French and English languages … and as nobody ever troubled the bookshelves but herself, Rebecca was enabled agreeably, and, as it were, in playing, to impart a great deal of instruction to Miss Rose Crawley.”

  26. Hi Jamie! What’s surprising to me is that while I tend to fall into the relaxed classical camp (though I hate boxes and labels, too), we find ourselves doing much of these same six points throughout our days that you’ve beautifully written here.

    I wonder as homeschooling becomes more and more popular (and therefore a teensy bit more mainstream) that all these labels and philosophies and camps will become slightly more blurred? Because while I don’t really feel comfortable in the unschooling camp, I’m pleasantly surprised to find how freeing and flexible our classical approach has been, and how well that fits us as a family.

    Great post!

  27. I love this post! I am a school teacher by trade and when my 3 year old twins suddenly had an interest (pretty much begged) me to learn letters I was ready to go. Papers out, pencils sharpened, and the kids said “Not now Mommy, I’m too busy.” ….. a few days later we were building with their wooden blocks and suddenly they were both reciting the letters on the blocks as they stacked them! A few months later they started asking what letter their favorite words started with. Now, the day before they turn 4, they are not only recognizing all upper and lower case letters, but most of the letter sounds as well and we have yet to use those pencils I sharpened a year ago!

  28. This is one of the best posts I’ve read here! Very inspiring.
    I have been trying to loosen up more. I love the idea of unschooling and certainly we learn a lot that way naturally, but I still have a few curriculums I draw from for reading, math and inspiring extras. My eldest is almost seven, so we are still figuring it all out over here.
    My question to you is; You have mentioned having oak meadow as a resource. That is one of our resources as well, and I’m wondering if/how you bring those lessons to your children without it being forced?
    Thanks for all that you do here!

    • Yes, Gwynyth, we do use Oak Meadow (currently 1st grade), but in a very loose way. I love the stories and I draw the pictures myself, or any of the other “assignments” that are given. I do them and show the kids my work, tell them about it, read the story, etc. Then I make sure to leave the materials out so that if they are inspired they can do a crayon drawing, or something else.

      I also look at the weekly lesson plan and figure out which parts of it sound like things I want/need to do. Then as our week goes along, I’ll be on the lookout for times when I can mention/bring up a topic. Oak Meadow really encourages this, if you read their introductory materials to the teacher, which is one aspect I really appreciate about their approach.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks Jamie!
        Yes, that is very helpful. I remember reading that in the guides too, it’s been awhile though, (we are also using grade 1, but I purchased that and kindergarten a few years back ) so a good reminder to go through those again! My ideal would be to bring concepts to my kids in the informal way you have described, but first I need to learn to relax in the control department ; )

  29. Fantastic post!! As an unschooler, I have struggled with many of the “observations” that the outside world makes on us. This by far is the best post I’ve read on the subject yet. Thank you for taking the time to write it, and putting a voice to those who choose to do things differently.

  30. We homeschooled for 8 years, beginning back in 1998. One of the first questions I pondered was “What curriculum am I going to use?” I very quickly learned that I was not a textbook person and did not want to tie my children’s learning to textbooks. We did continue to use a modge podge of textbooks through the years, but only as a small part of our education. Their classroom was the world, and learning how to learn and explore.
    Bernice @ The Stressed Mom’s latest post: Where did the day go!?

  31. Awesome post! We have drifted from traditional homeschooling to relaxed Charlotte Mason. Now we have been unschooling for 1 1/2 years and it is just as amazing as you describe it.


  32. We’ve moved from traditional unschooling, to a fully aligned program, and then back to a blended program but my heart is in unschooling. Next year I will let go of funding benefits and get to what I beleive in. i might have to revist this post so that I can be reminded of the whys and hows of unschooling. It truly is amazing and it truly does work. I think I needed to follow ciriculumn to ge tot where I understood why it does not work – for my family, that it.
    Thanks for the post!
    Nicole’s latest post: Learning Through Snowboarding

  33. Hi, Jamie.
    This is my second year unschooling my children. I have 3 gorgeous little sponges. (7, 4 and 3)
    I often wonder, “Am I doing this right?” or “Am I doing enough?” “Maybe I need to schedule more and go-with-the-flow less…”

    I do have moments of clarity when I am positive I am doing the right thing. I’m having a hard time “letting go”. Since I came from a public schooled background, I can’t help but get that nagging, “You are ruining your kids because they don’t have a set curriculum or time table to focus on” feeling. I’m sure all publicly educated unschoolers feel this from time to time.

    All that to say, thanks for this article. I have gleaned a little more peace of mind from it.
    Cay’s latest post: D.I.Y. Silk Screened T-Shirts

  34. Interest-led learning is the way we all learn best. When we are interested and care about what we are learning, we remember it and come to truly understand it. I’m so grateful I can live and learn this way with my kids every day. If you came to our house on a Saturday and then on a Tuesday, you really wouldn’t know which day was which. We learn just as much any day of the week and hour of the day. We don’t place learning math on any higher plane than we do planting a garden or watching a movie. I like how you talked about exposure and not mastery. That’s why I stive to do…bring as much of the world as I can to my kids and then see what types of things they gravitate towars.
    Christina @ Interest-Led Learning’s latest post: How to Keep An Interest-Led Learning Home & a Clean House at the Same Time

  35. I love this. I unschooled my oldest until she decided to try public school half way through 4th grade. I thought school might only be temporary but she has been there a year and a half now and loves it. She had no trouble at all with the adjustment or the work. I now have a 5 year old and a 9 year old at home. My nine year old is dyslexic. I have been doing less unschooling with him because he is reading at about a kindergarten level. I wish there was more information out there about unschooling a child with a learning disability. For several years, I kept thinking he would want to learn to read but he has no interest. All the “experts” tell me I need to push him harder. We do spent most of our days focusing on his strengths and following his interests but it is SO different to unschool a child with special needs. My daughters love to read and spent much of their lives reading. Reading opens up a whole new world. I’m not confident enough that my son would catch up and not ever learn to read well without traditional tutoring.

  36. Loved this article! My wife sent it to me and made me read it 😉 We unschool our three kids (10, 8, 5) – and it is terrifying and awesome at the same time – coming from two traditionally schooled parents. This past fall we took the kids on a two-month road trip from the midwest out to California and through the southwest. It was amazing – and I was so grateful for the flexibility of our schedule to make it happen. Our three kids are all so different – so I am glad they have the ability to learn in their own way. I believe the child is born complete – and like Michelangelo sculpting David – we just help let them carve away the unnecessary waste :) I am also a professional improvisor – so I am helping them live their \”yes and\” – which is natural in all of us. Plus, I have committed my life to helping people live their own purpose – their own YES…and developed some programs to help: Thanks again for this wonderful article!!! Travis
    Travis’s latest post: A Moment of YES: January 1, 2013

  37. This is great and reflects our learning, even through we are not unschoolers, the only exception to the points you describe, is that I do bring content. With homeschooling there is so much for time for exploring interests deeply that the opposite is true for us and I suspect most homeschoolers, I have to filter out and sift through all the possibilities and opportunities for learning and exploring because there is so much for homeschoolers to take up because we do have the spaciousness of time.
    Lisa’s latest post: Winter Play on Mother Nature’s Playground

  38. Lovely article. I wish we did more interest base learning. My son (age 6 ) however would rather, have work sheets and projects with a begin and end. But, that doesn’t mean we are totally structured in our school. Their is plenty of time for play and learning outside of what we call school, and that is the time I put most of our focus on. Our biggest priority during our “school” time is to work on reading. The way I figure it, if he can read there will be no limit to what he can learn. We also spend time daily in the Word. and of course reading lots and lots. But outside of school we practice walking out our faith, applying what we have learned, researching new things, and of course play. I hope that they are learning to love learning.
    Rita’s latest post: Wheat Belly…litterally

  39. Hi,

    I had a question, I currently homeschool 4 of my 6 children ( ages:11-2). I do try to get to the “classroom” everyday to do as much school as possible. Most days it’s a complete struggle for me because there is always so much housework to be done, cooking, keeping the kitchen “at bay”, clothes to wear for that day, baths etc. I find I am just barely doing school. I do the typical math, reading, spelling, writing and a little history/science for my younger 2, but then my older 2 I have them enrolled in an online program which is a long day. My question is, because I love the idea of free learning is how do you do it- I feel like I am not doing school if I don’t get to the classroom to do math. When you say structured time not content, does that mean do school everyday but let the kids decide on what they want to learn for that day? I
    Am sorry if this sounds dumb, and its hard to express what I am trying to say in this type of manner but I am just am trying to get a handle on what exactly does the free learning style mean. Just the idea alone takes pressure off me. Would appreciate any insight, thank you so much!

  40. Oh boy, I loved this so much. Thank you for saying it so well.
    Rachel @ 6512 and growing’s latest post: the salve you gotta have

  41. Wonderful post! We are unschoolers here with three boys ages 7, 5 and 3! I shared this post on my local FB homeschoolers group. :)

  42. I love this post. After reading it I will have to start calling myself an Unschooling afterschooler. Unlike a lot of afterschoolers I don’t use a rigid curriculum or make my daughter do extra worksheets.

    We do follow a structure of doing afterschooling everyday but we focus on her interests at the moment and areas that I feel she is not exposed to enough at school. Mostly music, art, sewing, etc…

    I especially LOVE what you said about following your own interests and having your own life! So many times Mom’s are made to feel guilty if we take anytime for our own self fulfillment. But it is necessary for their development and our own mental health.

    I will have to delve more deeply into my thoughts on being an unschooling afterschooler. It would make a great topic since I don’t believe I am the only one.

    Thanks again for such great ideas and writing!!

  43. Elizabeth Johnsen says:

    I love this!!! It is so how I feel about our homeschooling/unschooling journey! :)
    I was like you in that I had a negative reaction to it when I first heard about unschooling! I thought I’d be a rigid bookwork person, but as our first year unfolded last year I soon realized that that was not going to work for our daughter or for me! I am finding so much freedom (almost no guilt feelings now!) and our children are happy and content! I’m looking forward to exploring our world together more and more as our youngest becomes more independent (currently 21 months).
    This post was so fun to read..and so well put! I will enjoy sharing it with other homeschoolers and unschoolers I know.
    Thank you for the encouragement of your blog….I’m loving following it!!
    Bless you and yours!
    Elizabeth from New Zealand

  44. What a beautiful description. I know I’m not an unschooler, but I see the value in all these things. Our difficulty has been that I need lesson numbers and checklists to really accomplish something. I’m driven by externals (sadly) and have needed to set that up so I do a good job. We generally have followed a CM/Classical approach. I do have a thought:

    – focusing primarily on strengths wouldn’t have been a good plan for us. With kids with dyslexia, they absolutely need a very consistent focus on good reading/spelling skills. Reading is nonnegotiable if at all possible. But additionally, we’ve tried to make a lot of time for helping strengths because that is so necessary for the future and for self-esteem. In theory, we don’t really work in our area of weakness. However, I spent some good chunks of elementary/middle/high school not enjoying math/struggling with math. If I were to have a career now … I would totally go for being a math teacher. I just can’t limit my kids by today’s weaknesses.

  45. Two years ago I would have said unschooling was a ridiculous idea. Two years ago both of my children at home were in public school. After the second year of homeschooling my 11 year old son I am much more flexible in my ideas. I am getting away from the idea that school has to be “school”. And leaning more toward the idea that yes we need the basics but it isn’t nearly so important to have all of it stored in your brain. The ability to have enough exposure to something that you know where to look to find the answer makes much more sense. Who know what we may be doing next year.

  46. Leigh Ann says:

    Love, love, love, love!!!! We are new to this journey. Post like this help me breath and call my fearful heart. Faith, not fear.

  47. I read this last year and I loved it again this year! This is exactly how I want homeschooling to look in my house. I haven’t quite managed it yet. My son will be five in August, so I feel like it’s ok that all we do is play. I would love to set up some sort of routine but my child resists that more than I’ve ever seen anyone resist anything. He resists anything if he sees that it’s my goal! I can see that it will be a struggle for me, former high school English teacher and current piano teacher, to be less “teacher-y” and go with the flow instead. I desperately need help figuring out how to have enough of a routine that he doesn’t end up wanting to play games on the iPad all day long!
    Lisa J.’s latest post: Why the Bean is a Preschool Dropout

  48. This was really helpful to read, as we took a long break midyear from any ‘school’ while packing, cleaning, moving across the country, and unpacking for about 6 weeks. We’re just settling in here (the start of our 6th week) and although there has been consistent storytime through that time, that was the only thing that ‘looked like school’, but the kids loved it. As we’re starting to try to find a routine (weekly and daily), I’m finding it really hard to go back to the structure we had. All this to say, I am one who really tends to swing the pendulum on going towards structure (like, 1-2 hours per day in the morning) and my kids aren’t. It has been really hard to find any sort of combination that we’re all happy with. I think these points helped me realize I AM doing these things, it just feels soooo ‘unlike school’, even though we have the freedom to do anything we like. I am going to remember “Exposure, Not Mastery” as that is where we are right now.

    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: homeschooling across the country, and how my niche comes easier, now

  49. Excellent article! After over a decade of homeschooling, I would say the “informal, interest led learning” was how my kids REALLY learned even when I did try to make it more formal. Thank goodness it didn’t work! I had 5 children under 8 and then a sixth who was a preemie. I just couldn’t keep up with all my ambitious structure, but the kids learned, because we valued them and learning! The three who have graduated are VERY successful in their areas of interest. One fulfilled his dream of attending a service academy and will be graduating this May with honors. Another got a perfect verbal score on the SAT twice and is pursuing a career in philosophy and writing. The third is a busy model, actress, and singer/songwriter. I don’t share that to boast, but to say that according to the culture’s paradigm of what it takes to successfully educate, my kids should all be “failures”. Instead, they are evidence of what you’re writing about. Now the three still home are benefiting from this momma’s “revelation” and trust in the amazing capacity God has put in our children to follow their interests and become all He has intended them to be! We are a family, not a school. And family is more than sufficient!
    Kim Hyland’s latest post: Winsome

  50. Jamie,

    I loved your post, as usual. I specifically loved the structure you put as to why we unschool (I prefer the term life learn).

    I think of the richness I would have missed out on if I hadn’t let my 8 year old son follow his passion for ancient Egypt last year (here he learned a lot of science, math, sociology, spelling in addition to history) or for superheroes which led to an in-depth study of Norse and Greek mythology this year. We too use Oak Meadow as a resource but I find myself going to that less and less as I get less fearful about what my kids will learn and by when. But Oak Meadow is such that we can just incorporate suggestions into our “life learning” day.

    I also thought you were right on when you stated that adults tend to follow careers that use their strengths, not weaknesses. And just think about how we help kids with their self-esteem when we allow them to build on strengths.

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