So, What is Unschooling Anyway??

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I have friends who are at the tail end of unschooling eight children. The eight of them are doing well in life and have been well educated in the context of their own vision and vocation.  Each has an entrepreneurial spirit through embarking on learning journeys that were uniquely tailored for them.  They did activities as a family that created deep family bonds and a commitment of trust for each other. 

One was right into electronics and made and flew drones.  He picked up a traineeship in a photocopier company, which eventually lead to working as a project manager in an education institution. The second did the family’s books and now works as a bookkeeper for businesses.  The third is happily married, having spent much of her time looking after the homemaking responsibilities around the house.  The fourth spent most of her unschooling outdoors making gardens, caring for goats, horses, chickens and ducks, and is now working on farms for a living, with an interest in becoming a mid-wife in overseas countries.  The fifth did lots of reading, did repairs around the house and property, took on an electrical trade and is now working on a commercial farm in Queensland. The sixth spent hours drawing plans as part of his unschooling, turning the plans into scale models, and is now completing a plumbing apprenticeship. The seventh is a reader and is on track for a more academic life.  The eighth is an expert whip-cracker and is still having fun with learning.

So, what is this ‘unschooling’, anyway?  It was John Holt (1977)[i] who coined the term unschooling. He committed the latter part of his life to help parents understand that education does not require a school to be delivered.  An education is obtained from interacting with the opportunities of life and learning the lessons of life from those opportunities as they come.  Wendy Priesnitz (2014)[ii] wrote that it is “simply not school.  It is school-free, informal, active education that results simply from living as if school doesn’t exist.”

Clark Aldrich (2011)[iii] identified 55 ways to unlearn what we know about schools and rediscover education.  Quite frankly, a good education is not dependent upon attending a school.  There are different ways to unschool, from homeschooling through to radical unschooling[iv]. Each of the variants along the continuum allow life to provide the scope and sequence of education, rather than a centrally-determined, state-mandated curriculum.

Some choose to unschool because of the wounding that their children have received in the context of institutionalised education (which is schooling)[v] – including, but not limited to, bullying, poor role models, being labelled and not being able to escape the label, inappropriate expectations, and such like.  Others choose to unschool because they believe that children are unique and require an individualised learning journey[vi].  Individualised learning is not possible in the context of age-graded, time-limited, centrally-curriculumed school classrooms.  Effective individualisation can only be fully delivered in the context of unschooling.  Unschooling creates independent thinkers, rather than sheeple.

There are many web sites that point you in the direction of beginning the journey of unschooling.  Many commence the journey by setting up school at home, which is the worst thing you could do.  I have spoken to children who hated their “home schooling” because they had all the negatives of school, without the relief of hanging out with their mates at recess and lunch.  The very best thing is to begin your journey with a season of deschooling – just hanging out and learning to love life again.  If you have to begin with a more structured approach, be open to watching and listening to your children and be willing to give up, where appropriate, the need for excessive structure. It isn’t necessary for an education.  Children are born with an innate desire to learn.  They simply need that desire to be encouraged, focused and expanded at different times, allowing learning to take its proper course.  Every young person has the potential to be an expert in something, and by enabling them to discover their passion, and then feeding that passion, you free them to become the genius that they were created to be.  

Unschooling is not un-parenting.  The next generation needs to be guided by appropriate family and community values. This means they do NOT need to be molded by bells and the rigor of lining up and putting their hand up to get permission to answer the calls of nature. Unschooling is co-learning as a family, and becoming a positive contributor to the local community, solving real-life problems as you acquire skills, knowledge and wisdom in the process. Unschooling is freedom!


[i] Holt, John. 1977. Unschooling and the Law. Growing Without Schooling, Volume 2, p. 5  

[ii] Priesnitz, Wendy 2014. Defining Life Learning / Unschooling. Life Learning Magazine. 

[iii] Aldrich, Clark. 2011. Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education. Austin, Texas: Greenleaf Book Group Press

[iv] Olsen, Nicole. 2014. Radical Unschooling:  What is Radical Unschooling? Downloaded:

 01/08/2014 23:48 from: http://unschoolers.org/radical-unschooling/ 

“Radical unschooling extends the philosophy of unschooling into all aspects of life. It involves partnering with your children, not just with regard to academic pursuits, but in daily activities such as eating, television viewing, and going to bed. The bedrock of radical unschooling is trust: a belief that our children possess an inner wisdom or intuitiveness far beyond what mainstream America gives them credit for. Parents act as guides and facilitators, helping children to connect with that inner wisdom. Rather than strict rules, unschoolers use principles. Instead of imposing limits, unschoolers work with their children to help them live in a balanced and healthy way. Instead of a strict schedule, unschoolers follow a daily rhythm. People may confuse radical unschooling with neglectful parenting. This is not the case. Unschooling is not “un-parenting”. Parents who live the radical unschooling life are very involved, mindful and intentional. It is not a free-for-all, or utter chaos, or children raising themselves, although mainstream media has tended to portray it as such.”

[v] Olsen, K. (2009). Wounded by School: Recapturing the joy in learning and standing up the old school culture. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

[vi] Rickenbacker, William F. 1974. The Twelve Year Sentence: Radical Views of Compulsory Schooling. New York, NY: Dell Publishing Company, Inc.

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