Unschooling - what is it, how do you do it and do unschooled kids actually learn anything?

What Is Unschooling? How Do You Unschool & Do Unschooled Kids Learn Anything?


Today I want to tackle three big questions:

  • what is unschooling?
  • how do you unschool? and
  • do unschooled kids learn anything?

A year ago we were very much leaning towards the idea of homeschooling and there were so many things I didn’t know about homeschooling (there still are!), at the time I thought unschooling was just keeping your kids at home and not doing anything educational with them. It turns out I was so wrong. (That’s been known to happen a time or two.)

I don’t think I am alone in this initially inaccurate unschooling assumption and as we lean more and more towards unschooling I wanted to have a place to direct people if they were confused about the concept of unschooling.

If you are going to homeschool (unschooling or not), I believe that in order to have a successful year you first need to know your goal.

My goal for homeschooling is for my children to develop a love for learning and the skills to know how to learn on their own.

Once I knew my goal (yours may be different and that’s okay!) I realized that I could let go of my preconceived notions of what homeschooling is supposed to look like and actually unschool my children.


Unschooling - what is it, how do you do it and do unschooled kids actually learn anything?



Unschooling is really hard to define because it can vary so much, it’s not like the Charlotte Mason method where they very much follow the idea of Charlotte Mason. My favorite definition of unschooling that I’ve come across comes from Marla Taviano’s ebook; An Unschooling Manifesto:

Unschooling: student-led, interest-driven, mostly-fun, super-meaningful education that happens at home (and/or any other place along the way). Parents and other adults are valuable facilitators, but instead of lecturing, they’re sharing from experience and often learning right alongside the kiddos. There’s no set curriculum, no list of things the kids need to know, no replication of school at la casa. Creativity and innovation and community (and all the important stuff in life) are encouraged and nurtured. Kids are celebrated for who God created them to be and inspired to become the very best grown-up version of that unique and amazing person. Unschooling families think school cramps their style; childhood’s too short to spend cooped up in a classroom; and learning happens best in the context of real life. And real life starts right this very minute.

While it’s a pretty long definition I think Marla taps into all the right components of unschooling. Unschooling isn’t about kids not learning anything, instead it is following their interests and learning along side them and teaching them how to learn.


Unschooling - what is it, how do you do it and do unschooled kids actually learn anything?



Both my husband and I enjoy learning (about things we are interested in) and when I thought about the process I use to educate myself (Google, YouTube, books . . .) I realized how easy it will be for my kids to learn about their interests. It’s easy now to learn about topics using those methods and I am sure it will just get easier as technology gets better.

A big component to unschooling is taking the time to answer your children’s questions. We’ve done this from the get go and now our children ask really good questions, because they know we will take the time to explain the answer to them, or, if we don’t know the answer, we will try to figure it out (once again via Google, YouTube and books).

For us unschooling means exposing them to a diverse group of people, different ages and ethnic groups. After graduating school rarely will you ever hang out in a group of 20-30 people your age again. Finding this diversity is usually easy to do within your own community, but travel is another great way to do this!

Unschooling is about teaching your kids to be citizens of society now instead of being students now and citizens later. That means teaching them practical skills that they will use in the future, like how to cook, do laundry, clean, etc.


Unschooling - what is it, how do you do it and do unschooled kids actually learn anything?


Kids really do have their own interests and passions that they want to learn more about but if you are worried they will never want to do anything (which is highly doubtful), there are two things you can do:

First, invite them into your own interests and hobbies, teach them about what you love and the passion will probably be contagious.

Another option is something I do fairly frequently called strewing. In a nutshell strewing is just making resources that you think your children might be interested in available to them. You could request books on a certain topic from the library and leave them on the coffee table, or sign up for different subscription boxes like Groovy Lab in a Box or Little Passports), children are curious and it won’t be long before they start picking things up and you’ll being to realize where their interests and passions are.



To give an example, one of my passions is travel and while we can’t travel out of the country right now (we are currently waiting for Ephraim’s citizenship certificate and then need to get him a new passport), we are still learning about different countries and cultures.

I always get out a variety of books on this topic at the library (different atlases, wonders of the world books, books about specific countries, etc) and the kids flip through them at their leisure and some times I go through and read sections with them. We also have a variety of different maps around the house that are accessible to the children.

Mexico is a country of interest to us since my grandma was born there and only moved to Canada when she was in her 20’s and Raeca has a sponsor child from Mexico that she writes letters to. I’m slowly learning Spanish on my own (via Duolingo) and I’ll periodically introduce the kids to new words in our day to day activities.


Unschooling in our Home - using GeoGuesser to learn about countries around the world.


One of our favorite travel/geography activities right now is to play GeoGuesser together – it’s a free site that randomly puts you somewhere in the world via Google Street View and you have to guess where you are. We use clues around us to figure out where we are, things we look for are: the types of trees growing, whether it’s dry or lush, languages on signs, the skin color of the majority of the people, the types of vehicles and what side of the road people are driving on, etc to help us get an idea of where we are. (I use our ChromeCast and share my computer screen to our projector so the kids can get a better view of where we are.)



So, do unschooled kids learn anything? Well, unschooling is a student-led, interest-driving education, think about yourself, when do you learn the best; when you are in a classroom learning from an agenda a teacher has or when you take the initiative and research something you are interested in?

The truth is, when we learn about something we are interested and passionate about the information stays with us, which is the opposite of what so many of us do/did for school when the method was: memorize facts or information for a test, write the test, and promptly forget the information.

I have a feeling I’ve unintentionally started a whole series here on unschooling. Which is okay with me, unschooling is one of my interests and passions right now and something I am learning a lot about. I guess you could say I’m unschooling about unschooling šŸ™‚

I would love to hear any questions you have and your thoughts on unschooling
(whether you are for it or not!), leave me a comment below!

You can see all my posts about unschooling (thus far) here.


Really good books about unschooling you might be interested in:

An Unschooling Manifesto

Unschooling Rules


I’m linking up with the Mommy Monday Blog Hop.


Similar Posts


  1. I love Marla Tavianos book! I reread it regularly actually to remind myself why I do Unschooling, especially on the days I wonder if I’m doing enough. Love this post – we sound so similar šŸ™‚

  2. My background is in teaching in the public school setting and I’ve just now heard about this “unschooling” phenomenon. I’m so intrigued!! I’m someone that naturally likes to question the “system”, so working at an institution with very little freedom to do my own thing in the classroom was very disheartening. Now that I have a 6 month old, I’ve looked into homeschooling…although I don’t know how practical it would be for me or if I would even have the means to be able to do it without working full-time. Nonetheless, I’m really enjoying learning more about this.

    My questions are:
    If you ever choose to put your children in a traditional school in the future (middle or high school), do you fear there will be learning gaps?

    How do you make sure that your child is receiving “credit” in your state/province for going to school? Do you have to join a homeschooling accreditation program so your child can receive credit? I’m not even that familiar with how it works in the homeschool realm, much less this new way of unschooling.

    I’m a math teacher and am task-oriented. I like the “idea” of having so much freedom, but I don’t know how it would practically work for me unless I had a more set curriculum. I could see myself wanting to have the curriculum as a safety net, but then enjoy having the freedom to pick it apart and add/take away from it.

    I enjoy reading your blog!! šŸ™‚

    1. Hey Jessica, thanks for your comment, you’ve got lots of good thoughts and questions here! I’m a teacher by trade as well so I can totally understand where you are coming from.

      I do take a look at our provincial curriculum at the beginning of the year to see what is “supposed” to be covered in schools, plus we do need to submit a bit of a plan to our school division. You’d have to check with area and see what the requirements are for you.

      For us, when I look at our provincial curriculum it does not take much (at least this point) to cover what they are required to cover in school, if we decided we wanted her to attend public school we could catch her up wherever needed in just a couple of weeks. Though from our experience so far she is learning a lot more at home than she would in school.

      If you have any other questions I’d be happy to answer them the best I can!

  3. This is a great post. I am strongly considering homeschooling our kiddos, but I’m afraid of failing them… I worry that if I didn’t have a curriculum, nothing would get taught/learned, so this post was very helpful. I know that our state requires you present a curriculum at a review, but it doesn’t have to be a formal one, just the concepts that will be covered. LOTS to think about!

  4. By that definition, we unschool. Only we don’t. Certain things I’ve had to push, like learning to write properly. When it gets to the point where they can’t sign a passport form, because they can’t write, it’s time to take it in hand. My personal experience, and my kids are 10 and 13 now, is that most learning does happen ” naturally” so long as you have a very pro-active parent. But some things don’t. Also, that it all changes around the age of 11, natural learning becomes much easier with better and more obvious results. But I remember my first year of homeschooling, trying to get them to learn stupid things like telling the time, the alphabet,days of the week, all sorts of rubbish that they really didn’t need to know at that point. It’s rare for a kid to get to adulthood without picking that stuff up. Both mine know that stuff now, sort of, and who cares if they don’t? But they do know most high school chemistry and biology and are far better on a computer than me, sometimes. They also read, spell and use grammar extremely well, their vocabularies are superb, because they read endlessly ( we had to push that one a bit too, but not in a school way, that switched them off) and because they have adult conversations with grown ups constantly. They’re not treated like ” kids” segregated from the adult world, they are part of society, not kept in a box until the day they are pushed out into society and deemed ready. There’s never been a spelling list and it has 100% come naturally. But the writing thing was a pain! Anyway, we’re off to Egypt now to do some more ancient history šŸ™‚

    1. Yes, I’m pretty sure her definition of homeschooling isn’t the norm, but it’s definitely one of my favorites. We don’t unschool, we do for periods here and there but I like to introduce my kids to new things in a way that would not be considered unschooling (like signing them up for soccer because I know they’ll like it instead of waiting for them to ask, sometimes they don’t know what to ask). And we definitely have done more formal stuff when it comes to reading and math as well as some other subjects. I see a lot of benefits to unschooling though and we’ve slowly introduced a little more unschooling into our homeschool.
      Worldschooling is my absolute ideal form of homeschooling. It’s been awhile since we’ve been anywhere and I’m just itching to get going again!

Comments are closed.

This post may contain affiliate links, you can read my affiliate disclosure here.