What it means to unschool?

The supermarket checkout worker asks why Ramona, 10, wasn’t at school. “We don’t go to school” she replies, nonchalantly, packing the bags. “Oh, you’re lucky to have your mum teaching you!” the worker says. Ramona pauses,  looks her dead in the eye, says “My mum? My mum doesn’t teach me a thing.”

Words crowd my mouth, we do a type of consent based education, there’s not curriculum as such, it’s self-directed, based on the child’s curiosity, I am their cheerleader really, their support person! A coach, if you will! … but I swallow them down. I don’t have to be some kind of unschooling evangelist every minute of the day. I leave the moment to Ramona’s sense of sovereignty.

What does unschooling mean?
We have been unschooling for twelve years now – in fact, neither of my two children have ever been to school – and in that time I’ve seen so many different examples of unschooling and types of unschooling. But the most basic definition of unschooling is:
“Raising children without school, teachers or curriculum”

But even then, there are unschooling schools! See below for “Types of unschooling” and also some unschoolers do use a curriculum – but the big difference is that unschoolers themeselves choose what they want to learn, it isn’t enforced.

Further more, unschooling is about far more than learning! It’s about raising kids without overriding their autonomy, about creating as much opportunity for them to self direct their lives, with self trust at the very heart. So if we want to go for a truer definition of unschooling it would sound something like:
“Raising children without school, teachers or curriculum and as autonomously as possible”

Unschooling Curriculum
Few unschooling families use curriculum, however some children love to learn this way and insist upon it! As long as it’s in an environment of trust and consent, children should be free to use curriculum and workbooks.

In a way, the main unschooling curriculum should be for the parents who have to go through a huge healing journey of deschooling



Types of unschooling
Unless you’ve seen unschooling in action it can be hard to picture it! I can remember first wondering about it and thinking how does unschooling work? The principles of unschooling can be applied in so many different settings.

Examples of unschooling
Every unschooling family looks completely different to the last! Examples of unschooling depend on the unique personality and passion of your children, the environment you live in and other very personal factors. Here is an example of our daily unschooling routine and how that has changed:


unschooling vs homeschooling
Sometimes when I am out and about and don’t have the time and energy for a big explanation I simply say “We are homeschooling” but the truth is unschooling vs homeschooling is like comparing my bedside table to the milky way. They are planetary systems apart! (And my kids always disrupt my easy “Oh,we are homeschooling” by saying “What? We are UNSCHOOLERS!” proudly, like it’s an identity.) Here’s the key ways homeschooling is different to unschooling:

Traditional Homeschoolers do School At Home
Unschoolers believe that school is the source of many wounds and any remnants of school-like thinking should be shaken out

Traditional Homeschoolers continue hierarchical relationships of power (ie teacher and learner, decision maker and follower)
Unschoolers try and subvert this powerarchy, raising children who know they matter, that they are worthy of rights and dignity

Traditional Homeschoolers believe there are learning subjects and non learning subjects
Unschoolers believe humans are born learning and that EVERYTHING is a learning subject

Traditional Homeschoolers live by the idea that there are strict boundaries around work and play
Unschoolers orientate themselves around joy and fulfilment, anything can be work/ play

Unschooling FAQs

  • what is the unschooling method?
    There is no prescribed method of unschooling. It is simply opening up to trust, giving your child as much autonomy as you can handle. I advise people to start slow, to allow your trust and confidence to grow. 
  • is unschooling legal?
    It very much depends where you are in the world! Here in NZ it is legal, you have to fill in an application form.In the UK it is still currently legal, with no application. In Germany it is illegal. In some American states you are free to unschool, in others you aren’t. Please ensure you look at your own country’s requirements.
  • how to register for unschooling?
    Here in NZ we apply via the governmental department the Ministry of Education.
  • Are unschooled kids successful? I answer this in greater detail here.
    But, just quickly, in
     this wonderful study done on grown unschoolers and where they are now it reveals that unschoolers are more likely to attend higher education than the average member of public. Plus:

    Question 7 of the survey reads, “What, for you, were the main advantages of unschooling? Please answer both in terms of how you felt as a child growing up and how you feel now, looking back at your experiences. In your view, how did unschooling help you in your transition toward adulthood?”

    Almost all of the respondents, in various ways, wrote about the freedom and independence that unschooling gave them and the time it gave them to discover and pursue their own interests.  Seventy percent of them also said, in one way or another, that the experience enabled them to develop as highly self-motivated, self-directed individuals.


    There are so many benefits to unschooling if you are able to do it and your heart says yes, DO IT! Not only do you get to design the life of your dreams but your children stay in touch with who they really are, without interference from an institution that cares not for their well being.


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