A Relaxed Homeschooler’s Guide to Unschooling

The relationship between relaxed, eclectic homeschooling and unschooling is interesting.  A lot of families, myself included, come to unschooling through relaxed, eclectic homeschooling. As you relax more and more, straying further and further away from the sort of structure and style of a classroom, you realize loosening the reins has some unexpected benefits.  

  • Homeschooling is less stressful for you.
  • Homeschooling is more fun for you and your kids.
  • Your kids are enjoying their learning time.

As a relaxed homeschooler, you’re taking advantage of some of the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling offers.  You pick and choose your own curriculum, supplementing with books from the library and documentaries from Netflix.  You go through the lessons with your kids at their own paces, pausing when they need more time to master a section or accelerating when they have.  Maybe you even hit stop and take the time to go explore something particularly interesting in greater depth than the curriculum does.

Maybe you have a set time for schooling every day, or maybe you’re a more “go-with-the-flow” kind of homeschooler.  You’re keeping one eye on state standards.  You still believe there are certain subjects your kids must cover.  You expect they learn certain things. You’re just more flexible about how that gets done than teachers are in school.

Relaxed homeschooling works very well for a lot of homeschooling families I know because it combines the freedom and flexibility offered by homeschooling with some of the structure and subject-focused education most of us are familiar with.

Somewhere along the way...maybe after a vacation or an illness interrupts your normal routine, you figure out that your kids learn anyway...even if you don’t do any “school” with them.  Perhaps someone has mentioned unschooling in passing to you sometime.

Regardless, you're intrigued by the idea.  Curious about what it is and how it works. 

Unschooling confounds many of us because it flies right in the face of conventional wisdom about education.  It just doesn't make sense.  But, for some, its siren call is compelling.

You’re excited about the possibilities unschooling could open up for yourself and your kids...if you could do it.  So it happens, not infrequently, that relaxed homeschoolers ask questions about unschooling.

If that’s you, this post is for you.

This is a really long post.  Much longer than blog posts typically are. And I’m not going to distract you from the information with a bunch of images to make it look pretty. 

Additionally, this post does contain some Amazon affiliate links.  If you purchase anything from my affiliate links, I will earn a small commission - and you will earn my gratitude. Doing so won't cost you anything. You can see my privacy policy here. I do not get anything for promoting any of the other resources, materials, or blogs I mention here.

I’m answering, from my perspective, the questions most commonly asked by relaxed homeschoolers about unschooling.  I’m also providing you with links to other resources I have found valuable to use as you research unschooling at the end of each section.



WHAT IS UNSCHOOLING?

"Think back to when your children were infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  How did they learn back then?  Did they need a curriculum, a lesson plan, structured sit-down-and-learn time, and tests in order to acquire the staggering array of knowledge and skill all healthy human beings amass in their first three years of life?

What was your role in their learning process?  Thinking back to when my children were all small, I was a cheerleader, a guide, a mentor, a facilitator, and a resource provider.  

Everything I did originated with their unique stages of development and their personal interests.  I bought toys I thought they’d like playing with.  I borrowed or bought books I thought they’d like listening to or looking at.  I rented movies I thought they’d like watching. I took them places I thought they’d enjoy visiting.  None of that was ever forced, and I was always open to their feedback, doing less or more of this or that.

Incidentally, those are the same roles I fill as an unschooling parent to an 18-year-old, a 15-year-old, and an 8-year-old now.  I’m still a cheerleader, a guide, a mentor, a facilitator, and a resource provider.  

Miraculously - and really, if you stop and consider the enormity of the accomplishments children have made by their third birthdays, it is truly miraculous - all healthy children learn to sit up, to walk, to manipulate objects in space, to recognize themselves as separate beings, to feed themselves, to talk, and so much more.  

By three, children have developed interests of their own and have acquired additional knowledge and skill relevant to them simply by pursuing those interests.  Without a curriculum, a lesson plan, structured sit-down-and-learn time, or any exams.  

Additionally, if you were paying attention for it, you would have seen your little children choosing to tackle difficult, frustrating, boring, and unpleasant tasks if they saw those tasks as necessary to achieve whatever goals they had in mind.

Now shift to how you learn as an adult.  As adults, we first recognize a need or a desire to learn something.  Then we locate the resources to learn it.  With resources in hand, we study or practice until we’re satisfied, and then we move onto the next thing.

Our own lives, our own needs, and our own desires guide what we choose to invest our time and mental energy in.  If we have a teacher, a lesson plan, any structures sit-down-and-learn time, or any exams, it is because we have freely chosen that format ourselves.

When the end is personally compelling enough, we too will choose to do difficult, frustrating, boring, and unpleasant tasks along the way.

So what is unschooling?  

Unschooling allows children to continue learning naturally - as they did prior to age five, and as they will do again in adulthood.


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UNSCHOOLING AND RELAXED HOMESCHOOLING?

Hang around any relaxed homeschooling community long enough and you will eventually hear someone say, “I do a little bit of unschooling” or “I do a mix of (insert styles here) and unschooling” or “I unschool everything except (insert subject, which is usually math, reading, writing, or spelling, here)”.

People who make statements like that are relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers, not unschoolers.  

One isn’t better or worse than the other; they’re just different.  Supporting those statements are some very schoolish beliefs about education that unschoolers simply do not share.

Unschooling isn’t something you can “do a little of”.  

Unschooling is a philosophy about life and learning, freedom and empowerment, trust and faith that you either embrace or you don’t.

Unschooling demands that you reject compulsory, authority-led (even if that authority is you) education. Unschooling parents fully trust their children to learn what they need to learn exactly when they need or want to learn it.  Unschooling families don’t separate learning from life. Relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers haven’t (yet) embraced those beliefs and may choose not to do so ever.

The distinction between unschooling and relaxed, eclectic homeschooling can be a subtle one that is difficult for those new to the idea of unschooling to grasp.  The very best illustration I’ve ever read of that distinction can be found in the resource section below.

The easiest way to get a feel for what unschooling is and is not is to join an unschooling group or two, and just lurk for a while.  Read the questions coming in and the answers from veteran unschoolers.  Years into it myself, I am still learning from the other members.

This group is my favorite of all the ones I have joined.  Sue Patterson is one of the wisest and most experienced voices in unschooling that there is.

Complaints about unschooling groups being rigid or intolerant, especially from people who have not yet fully embraced unschooling aren’t uncommon.  Perhaps there are some unkind or judgmental people in these group, but for the most part, the reason admins are so quick to point out when a statement doesn’t align with the principles of unschooling is so newbies are getting accurate information about what unschooling is and is not.

Definitions matter.  Details matter.

RESOURCES

Sheila Baranoski

Sandra Dodd


IS UNSCHOOLING EDUCATIONAL NEGLECT?

I’m sure you’ve heard the stories: some lazy parents who just don’t feel like being bothered with their kids keep the kids home and call it homeschooling or unschooling.  

Or maybe what you’ve heard is worse.  Abusive parents who just want to hide the signs of abuse keep their kids home and call it homeschooling or unschooling.  

Either way, those poor children aren’t learning the knowledge and skill they’ll need in order to live successful lives from their parents - and those parents are the sort who give homeschoolers a bad rap everywhere.

Neglect and abusive aren’t just a homeschooling thing or an unschooling thing, though.  Neglect and abuse happen to kids in school as well.

It’s important to make a distinction between unschooling and educational neglect because they aren’t the same thing.  Unschooling should only be done in families with a parent or parents who value education highly, are very engaged with their children, and have the willingness to challenge deeply held beliefs about a lot of different topics, but starting with the distinction between schooling or teaching and learning, on purpose.

Perhaps it’s the “un” in unschooling that throws people off and makes them think unschooling means kids aren’t learning.  This misunderstanding happens because people think schooling or teaching and learning are the same thing.

People can learn through schooling or teaching, but just because someone has been to school or been taught doesn’t necessarily mean they have actually learned anything.

Don’t believe me?  Think about your least favorite subject when you were in school.

How much of the material do you use in your daily life now?

Even more damning, how much of it do you even remember?

Introduction to physical science, biology, chemistry, geometry, algebra two - I spent hours of my teen years in classrooms where I was being taught each of those subjects.  I did most of my homework.  I eventually earned passing grades in each of those classes.  

Surely I must’ve learned the material, right?

I’m willing to bet that I could not pass even the most basic exam in any of them right now.  So did I really learn anything?

I am much more concerned with having my children really learn than I am about making sure we check off all the boxes in the lesson plan.  To me, really learning something means my children have pursued knowledge or skill they’ve determined is necessary or important, and then internalized the knowledge or mastered the skill.  

That mindset led me directly to unschooling.

Make no mistake: unschooling is not for the lazy or disinterested parent.  While you aren’t lesson planning or actively teaching much, your job is:

  • to be engaged with your children
  • to support and encourage them as they pursue their interests
  • to follow them down rabbit holes
  • to help them define success on their own terms
  • to help them learn how to ask the right questions
  • to guide and mentor them
  • to provide them with the resources they need to keep growing as people
  • to show them how to effectively and efficiently locate resources on their own
  • to share your own endeavors with them

It’s very hands-on, but in a different way than a traditional or relaxed homeschooler who is lesson planning and actively teaching.


WHAT IS DESCHOOLING?

Deschooling has its place in traditional or relaxed homeschooling, especially when children have already been in a brick and mortar school.  Deschooling when you’re transitioning to unschooling, though, is really an overhaul of one’s thinking about education.  It’s the process of systematically dismantling schoolish beliefs about education.

The best piece of advice I can give to you if you are investigating unschooling is to give yourself permission to move slowly.  Do a lot of research.  Read blogs.  Listen to podcasts.  Talk to veteran unschoolers.

Click Here to Claim Your Free Copy of My Guide Full of My Favorite Resources for Unschooling, Entrepreneurship, and Success Principles on the Internet!

As you start looking into unschooling, you’ll likely experience some cognitive dissonance as beliefs about education that are deeply ingrained in the fabric of Western culture are challenged.  It can take years to fully deschool.  Just give yourself and your kids a lot of grace, and don’t give up too soon.  A lot of parents who say unschooling didn't work for their kids actually just gave up too soon.  Keep confronting your anxiety and facing your fears.  It’s worth it.

As you take action and release limiting beliefs, your confidence in unschooling will grow.

RESOURCES

7 Reasons Self-Directed Homeschooling Might Make You Uncomfortable

10 Ways You Can Stop Needing to See Structured Learning

It's Crazy to Allow Children to Guide Their Own Educations

How Do I Turn His Interests Into Lessons?

7 Ways School Has Imprisoned Your Mind

Sandra Dodd

An Unschooling Life

The Natural Child Project

Unschooling Mom2Mom


MY KIDS AREN'T INTERESTED IN LEARNING ANYTHING...AND OTHER FEARS​​​​​​

MY KIDS AREN’T INTERESTED IN LEARNING

For 99% of the folks out there, what you really mean when you say “My kids aren’t interested in learning” is actually “My kids aren’t interested in learning what I want them to learn or what I think is important for them to learn.”  You just don’t say that.  Maybe you don’t want to admit it, because, well, it sounds kind of controlling, right?

The distinction between “My kids aren’t interested in learning” and “My kids aren’t interested in learning what I want them to learn” is huge...and an important one to make.  The remedies for each are wildly different.

If you have children who genuinely are not interested in learning anything, those kids need medical or psychological help.  Those children aren’t engaging with anyone or anything.  You need to take that seriously because they could be suffering from depression, anxiety, or something else.

If, however, your complaint is actually more accurately represented by “My kids aren’t interested in learning what I want them to learn,” the problem (and therefore the solution) lies with you.  

Your children actually are interested in learning things.  You just don’t see the educational value in them.  You have more deschooling to do, and you can help the process along by doing two things.

First, just for your own enlightenment, quietly observe what your children are interested in and are learning.  It’s important to note that doing this is for the purpose of gathering information and calming fears, not so you can leverage or judge those interests later. Set aside your judgments and personal biases, and just observe.  Ask yourself some questions.

  • How are they actually spending their time?
  • Why do those activities seem to be so engaging for them?
  • What is it about these activities that ruffles my feathers so much?
  • What could they be learning in the process of pursuing these interests?

Oftentimes, the answers you’ll get to questions like these when you’re watching simply to observe rather than evaluate and condemn are quite eye-opening.  Children can learn an astonishing amount of information and acquire new skills from very unlikely sources.

Case in point, here: my son.  I remember him wowing me with a set of facts about Ancient Egypt when he was very young.  I asked how he knew all of those tidbits.  He replied, “Scooby Doo.”

Yep.  Scooby Doo.  Apparently, there was a movie or an episode that took place in Ancient Egypt.  I had written Scooby Doo off as mindless drivel that lowered my kids’ IQs a point every 10 minutes they watched...and then...that.

In that moment, I learned never to automatically dismiss the value of anything my kids were interested in again simply because I thought it was dumb.

Second, put yourself in their shoes.  My post, “Would You Do It?” covers this step in more detail.  I encourage you to go read it and ask yourself the tough questions.

Human beings are born with an innate curiosity about the world around us.   Look at any healthy child who hasn’t yet reached the age of compulsory schooling.  His love of learning hasn’t been snuffed out by someone else’s agenda for what he should learn (yet).  

Oftentimes we say that our kids aren’t interested in learning because we equate schooling with learning, and many kids hate schooling.  We have to bribe them with gold stars and As, or sticker charts and a prize box. Or, we have to punish them by withholding recess or leveraging something they love.  Or, we nag.  We have to do this because our kids aren’t intrinsically motivated by what someone else has deemed important.

And who is?  

More on that in a minute.  

The fact is that very few of us know what kids are like in pursuit of their own knowledge, where an authority figure of some sort isn’t guiding or directing their courses of study, where there isn’t a lesson plan they have to follow. We assume that kids aren’t interested in learning because that’s what we see.  But if we change the lens, if we look at kids who are unencumbered and empowered to live and learn naturally, an entirely different picture of children and learning will emerge.

MY KIDS AREN’T SELF-MOTIVATED

We’re back to that “More on that in a minute.”

So, your children aren’t self-motivated to do something they don’t want to do that you want them to do?  Am I the only one who sees the absurdity there?  Of course, your kids aren’t going to be self-motivated to do something they don’t want to do without a compelling personal need to do so!

Are you?

I mean, really?  Are you motivated to do something you don’t want to do without a compelling personal need to do so?

Yes, there are times in our lives when we all have to do things we don’t want to do.  Recognizing that is part of the process of maturing.  However, those usually come with a compelling personal reason to do them.

Maybe it’s money.  Maybe it’s keeping a roof over your head and your home out of foreclosure.  Maybe it’s safety and hygiene.  Maybe it’s maintaining your employment or striving for a promotion.  Whatever the reason is, I’m willing to bet there is one.

When was the last time you did something you didn’t want to do without a compelling personal reason for doing so?  I challenge you to come up with one.

I’m drawing a blank when I consider my adult life.

But let’s just say you can come up with one.

How do you feel about it?

How do you feel about the authority figure who forced, manipulated, or coerced you into doing something you neither wanted to do nor saw a good reason to do?  Now pause.

Is that how you want your kids to feel about learning?

More importantly, is that how you want your kids to feel about...you?

Rather than trying to force, manipulate, or coerce your kids into learning something they aren’t interested in learning simply because you think it’s important for them to learn, the unschooler's solution would be to wait.

If the thing you want them to learn is actually interesting, useful, or necessary in the real world, there will come a time when your kids recognize that.  Armed then with a personally meaningful need or desire to learn said material, they will.  And if that point never comes, did they actually need to learn it?  Was it worth the frustration, the tears, and the damage to your relationship with your kids?

MY KIDS ARE “BEHIND”

Behind what?

Seriously.  I’m not being facetious.

Behind grade level?  Behind what your neighbor’s child who is three years younger is learning?  Behind where you’d hoped to be in the lesson plan at this stage in the school year?

We in Western societies have been brainwashed into believing that learning is linear and sequential.  We’ve been brainwashed into accepting this absurd notion that somehow all children can and should learn exactly the same things at exactly the same time to exactly the same degree with exactly the same resources.

Relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers will reject the notion that they must use the same resources as everyone else does, and may grant some flexibility in when the material is learned, but still believe in the power and benefit of state standards for grade level education. Unschoolers reject the whole thing outright.

The mindset most of our society has makes sense inside of compulsory, institutionalized education.  It exists for the convenience of teachers and administrators as they heard children as a collective from one grade level to the next, not because it’s actually beneficial for children or because it helps kids learn better.  

Frankly, the idea is bizarre.  We don’t expect all babies to crawl or walk at the same time.  We don’t expect all children to be the same height, the same weight, or have the same IQ.  We don’t expect all people to have the same interests, talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

We don’t even expect all adults to share the exact same knowledge base.  And yet children are all expected to learn the same things at the same time.  If they don’t, there’s something wrong and that something needs to be fixed immediately.  It makes no sense to me.

Outside of schoolish settings, a wide variation in when children acquire new knowledge and skill is both normal and expected.  There isn’t anything wrong with a child who learns to read later than her peers. That child doesn’t need to be fixed with worksheets and phonics programs immediately.  Since homeschoolers are free from the shackles of institutionalized education, we can and should be embracing that diversity among our youngsters.

MY KIDS WOULD JUST WATCH TV OR
PLAY VIDEO GAMES ALL DAY

In the interest of full disclosure here, I don’t have that problem, so I will let the resources I share at the end of this section answer your questions and help allay your fears.  

My kids like TV as well as the next person.  They have days where they binge watch something and days when the TV isn’t even turned on.  None of my kids are big gamers, either.

That said, the one point I would like to make to you is to be careful not to disparage, demonize, or marginalize your kids’ interests - even if they’re TV shows or video games. There are real benefits to technology, especially in the world we live in today.  

Additionally, would you worry if all your kids wanted to do all day was read?  Write stories?  Bake?  Draw?  Ride skateboards?  Play board games?  My guess is probably not.  The question is why not?  Why are any of those any better than gaming?

I was the teenager who spent the bulk of her time at home in her room, door closed, in front of a word processor (yes, that dates me). I wrote short stories.  A lot of them.  It was my passion.  I’d have rather been writing short stories than doing anything else.  And it would’ve infuriated and frustrated me to have my parents decide for me that I should have been doing something better with my time.

I try to remember that every time I have an opinion about what my kids are doing.

RESOURCES

Gaps in Your Child's Education

Why You Need to Rethink Your Strategy if Your Kids are Asking "Why Do We Have to Learn This?"

Elements of Student Engagement and How Educators Have it Wrong

Rethinking Student Motivation

My Kids Talk About Doing Hard and Unpleasant Things (video)

Rethinking Motivation Strategies

Unschoolery - Motivation

Christian Unschooling - Doesn't Want to Learn

Joyfully Rejoycing - Learning

Unschooling Mom2Mom - TV and Video Games

An Unschooling Life - Electronics

Joyfully Rejoycing - Media


HOW DO YOU UNSCHOOL READING, WRITING, SPELLING, AND MATH?

The short answer is you don’t unschool reading, writing, spelling, or math.  

Unschooling isn’t a technique you use to get your kids to learn something you want them to learn.  

Unschooling is a mindset that frees people from the ideas that life and learning are separate and that learning is best done by segmenting knowledge or skill into discrete subjects like reading, writing, spelling, or math that is then taught by an authority figure.

Since compulsory, institutionalized education has become so deeply ingrained in Western culture, most people struggle to imagine how children might learn the sorts of things we’ve deemed important for kids to learn apart from the classroom-textbooks-and-teacher model.

Since the reality of adults having to prod, nag, beg, or bribe children to do their schoolwork is commonplace in such a model, many adults cannot imagine children choosing to learn worthwhile knowledge or skill on their own.  Many adults cannot imagine how children will ever learn to do difficult, unpleasant, or frustrating tasks if their childhood is not bombarded with such tasks.

Unschooled children learn to read, write, spell, and work with numbers because those things are all very useful tools for living full, rich lives.  At some point, not knowing how to do them will become an obstacle in their way of pursuing and achieving something else personally meaningful to them.  When the ends are meaningful enough, children will indeed choose to do difficult, unpleasant, and frustrating tasks throughout the learning and mastery process.

Unschooling is highly customized for each learner, so there are undoubtedly as many answers for how and when children learn to read, write, spell, and work with math as there are unschooled children who have done it.  

As I’ve done in the previous sections, I’ll share some of my favorite resources for your further research.  I’ll start with how it’s all worked in my family with my own kids, who are now 18, 15, and 8.

I started homeschooling officially in 2003, a few months before Jarrod’s fifth birthday.  He’d missed the cut-off to start kindergarten the year he turned five, so I thought I’d give homeschooling a shot.  

Suffice it to say, that I began with all the same schoolish fears that many of you are probably feeling.  I bought a teacher’s lesson planner and way more curricula than we needed.  I had a schedule and a little table to “do school” on...and it wasn’t more than two weeks before I felt overwhelmed and completely inept.  I was also killing my son’s natural love of learning in the process.

I backed off, and we became very, very relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers. We spent the next five years dipping our toes into unschooling and overcompensating back into brief spells of school-at-home when my fears got the better of me.  

It was the culmination of several years of research and the birth of my youngest child, who was a very difficult and demanding baby, that caused me to come out of the unschooling closet and embrace it fully.

READING

All three of my kids started asking me to teach them how to read right around their fifth birthdays.  To say that it wasn’t a smooth process for any of them would be an understatement.

JARROD, 18

After he asked me to teach him how to read, I dutifully bought a phonics program of some sort, and excitedly unpacked it with him.  He willingly did the lessons...until we reached words that were anything but phonetic.  Then, amid his howls of protest when “o-w” said “oh” in one word and “ow” in another, we set aside the lessons for a while.

I tried different books and programs over the next two years, all the while continuing the read aloud to him.  The year Jarrod turned seven, I gave up on phonics altogether.  Instead, we sat side by side and read together.  When he came to a word he didn’t understand, I’d just tell him what it was so he could keep his speed and fluency up.

Jarrod was at or above “grade level” within a year, and was reading adult non-fiction by the time he was 11.  He is my most voracious reader, who will read nearly anything he can get his hands on.

ERICA, 15

Fresh off success with Jarrod, but prepared for some bumps in the road, I hauled out the materials I’d used along the way with him.

Trying to teach her how to read was an absolute nightmare.  We started and stopped, started and stopped.  It was very frustrating for both of us.  Nothing was clicking or sticking, and I could not figure out why.  Somewhere in the midst of one of our stops, right around her 10th birthday, Erica figured out how to read.

I have no idea how she managed it.  Her descriptions of what it is like for her to read give me headaches.

It wasn’t until she was 12 ½ that Erica was diagnosed with dyslexia...and that diagnosis explained a lot.  After her diagnosis, the neuropsychologist recommended intensive reading remediation.  You can read more about why we have not done that here.

JILLIAN, 8

Following right along in the footsteps of her brother and sister, Jillian too started asking me to teach her how to read right around her fifth birthday.  And of course, it hasn’t been any easier for her to learn than it was for her siblings.

This time, though, I am more prepared.  I knew ahead of time that Jillian has problems with poor phonemic awareness, and that learning to read was going to be a challenge for her.  I don’t think she’s dyslexic, but we’re definitely working with some issues.

I’ve brought out the usual suspects again, and not surprisingly, none of them have worked well.  These days, Jillian is mostly working on her own on the computer.  She has subscriptions for Reading Eggs and Always Icecream. We also found some instructional videos on Ron Paul’s site that she really likes.

Jillian is free to work from any or all of those resources or to opt not to work on any of them.  I estimate that she chooses to work on one or more of them about half the time.

Guess what else she is learning?  She’s learning how to prioritize her time, her needs, and her desires.  She’s learning how to make conscious decisions about what she is or is not willing to do, rather than letting life or circumstance push her around.  She is learning that action and inaction both have consequences.    She is learning to “own” her decisions and take responsibility for them.

Click here to watch Jillian, at 7, explain how to reach a goal and persevere through frustration.

From my perspective, those life lessons are critical to success as an adult.  Having her learn all those lessons naturally in the context of pursuing an accomplishment that is meaningful to her is more valuable in my eyes than having her become a fluent reader right now.  Many of our conversations about whether or not she’ll do her reading lessons on any given day revolve around those factors.

WRITING AND SPELLING

Despite having had very little in the way of formal instruction or time spent on handwriting drills, all three of my kids have learned how to write their letters...by writing. Jillian, for example, is all of a sudden interested in being able to write legibly because her friend recently moved overseas and they want to be penpals.  So, I show her how to form the letters.  There’s no magic.

Insofar as composition goes, I waited on that too.  I waited until they figured out that knowing how to write a coherent paper was useful. Jarrod was 12 when a merit badge he wanted to earn at Boy Scouts required him to write a composition.  He wanted that merit badge more than he hated the idea of learning to write.  

So, I discovered IEW and I taught classes for homeschoolers (including my older two, since Erica had decided she wanted in on what her big brother was doing) for several years.  Jarrod is now an exceptional writer.  Erica is adequate, and if she decides she wants to improve more, I’m ready and willing to help.

Before I fully embraced unschooling, we tried a couple different spelling programs.  Each of those attempts were short-lived.  The only thing I learned doing spelling curricula is that it’s unnecessary.  

Jarrod’s spelling was awful as an elementary-aged boy.  It improved naturally and steadily as he got older, simply by exposure to print.

Erica’s atrocious spelling is actually what prompted me to take her in for an evaluation for dyslexia.  Her spelling has improved slightly as she has been texting her friends, but her preferred course of action with her poor spelling is to mitigate it.  If you want someone to proofread your paper, Erica is not your girl...and she’s fine with that.  We know lots of very successful adults who can’t spell worth beans.

MATH

I have two teenagers who absolutely despise textbook math, and one youngster with a natural affinity for numbers who absolutely loves math.

We’ve used math curricula at various points in time throughout my kids’ lives with mixed results.  We have learned to quickly abandon curricula that doesn't work well for them.  That said, looking back, the overwhelming majority of my kids’ mathematical understanding has come from manipulating numbers in daily living.  Jillian, in particular, is better with mental math than math on paper.

Math is rarely a linear, sequential thing in my house. Mathematical skills are acquired as each child recognizes a need or desire for them.

For example, Erica has amassed a large, intuitive understanding of a lot of geometry because she is an artist.  She couldn’t tell you on paper what she knows.  But without even realizing there’s math involved, she is using lines, shapes, shading, proportion, angles, and much more as she creates her masterpiece.

On any given day, Jillian is liable to have four or five tabs open on the computer, each loaded with one of the many math games she has bookmarked.  I’m considering a subscription for her to Prodigy Math. She loves Zeus on the Loose and Prime Climb, which are both games.

This summer, we’re doing a weekly math and science club with some of her friends.  We’ll be doing projects and experiments out of The Math Lab and Science Things to Make and Do

Let’s face it: textbook math is boring and most people will never use more than consumer math, basic geometry, and basic algebra in their daily lives.

RESOURCES

Creating the Perfect Reading Program

Unschooling Mom2Mom - Reading

Unschooling Mom2Mom - Math

Joyfully Rejoycing - Academics


HOW DO UNSCHOOLERS GET INTO COLLEGE?

My short answer to that is one of the same ways anyone else gets into college if they want to go.

Unschooled kids can choose to take a rigorous, college-prep academic load and ace the SAT or ACT during the high school years. That is the route most people take when going directly to a university after high school. Unschooling purists will probably say that those kids are no longer unschooling, which may be true, but from my perspective, the consent of the one doing the learning is the most important factor in education (and that is one of the reasons I titled my blog the Self-Directed Homeschooler, rather than using anything related to unschooling).

As homeschooling (and unschooling) become more commonplace, more colleges and universities are adopting increasingly flexible admissions policies and procedures for homeschoolers.  Many have homeschool liaisons in their admissions departments.  Contact individual colleges and universities for details.

Attending community college first and then transferring to a four-year university afterward is another option many unschoolers choose. The barrier to entry is low, and no SAT or ACT is required.

ASU’s Global Freshman Academy, the route my son has chosen to take, is yet another option with a very low barrier to entry.

One more thing to consider is there are other viable options out there besides higher education.  Not everyone wants to or even should go to college.  With rising tuition costs, mounting debt, and rising un-and-under-employment for college students and grads, it’s a good idea to rethink having college attendance as your kids’ default plan.

Click Here to Claim Your Free Resource List of 30 Posts Challenging the Need for College.

Mike Rowe is a staunch advocate of blue collar trades.  

Apprenticeship programs like Praxis and Apprentice University also offer attractive alternatives to college.

RESOURCES

I Don't Care Where or If My Kids Go to College

How Praxis is Expanding the Options Our Young People Have

Post-High School Options From Blue Collar Homeschool

Post-High School Options from Blake Boles

Unschooling Mom2Mom - College

Joyfully Rejoycing - College


CONCLUSION

So there you have it: my answers to what I have found to be the questions about unschooling most commonly asked by relaxed homeschoolers.  This was by no means an exhaustive list.  If you have one that didn’t get answered, contact me here.  I will either answer your question, provide you with other resources to answer it, or both.

I believe unschooling will work for any child because it really is how human beings learn apart from compulsory, institutionalized education.  It may not, however, work for every homeschooling parent - and that’s okay.  Each family needs to do what works best for them in their own unique set of circumstances.

I also recommend the following books as particularly good resources for people investigating unschooling.

One more thing: if this post was helpful to you, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below and have you share it with friends! Thanks!

About the Author Becky

I'm a married, homeschooling mama of three who is passionate about self-directed learning.

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