Is Unschooling Just Lazy Homeschooling?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Ever wondered just what those unschoolers do all day? Sleeping in late, watching TV, playing a computer game and then counting it as a school day? Apparently, this is the view many people take on this method of homeschooling. But is that all there is to it?

While all of these activities do take place at our house (okay, I don’t get to sleep in :(), this is not an accurate picture of what we do. Today I’m going to discuss exactly that.

Firstly, the role of an unschooling mom is different than that of a school-at-home mom. Neither one is more important or involved than the other. They are just different. Instead of acting as a teacher as a more traditional homeschool mom, my role is as a facilitator. I am there to answer questions, provide a stimulating environment, and introduce, but not force, new concepts.

Another misconception about unschooling is that the parent has absolutely no involvement in the child’s learning activities. I don’t know about other families, but in our home this couldn’t be further from the truth! Are there things that I think my children would benefit from learning? Absolutely. But I am not going to compromise my children’s love of learning by making them do anything.

Speaking from my own high school experience, I can tell you that I really don’t remember anything from the required subjects that I had no interest in. Was I a lousy student? Actually, I was quite the opposite. I was a gifted/advanced placement student who graduated in the top 10% of my class. So obviously, I did learn lots of things…but after exams were over, it was like I opened a valve in my brain and let out all the information that I deemed as unnecessary. I have, however, retained all of the useful information from the classes I chose to be in.

This is exactly why I’m approaching my children’s education differently. As I mentioned before, while there are things I’d like to introduce to my kids, I will not force anything on them. So how do I do it? There are two methods I use that seem to work nicely.

– Strewing. Everyday I set different books and activities around the house that I think may interest my children. Today, I pulled out Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records books and laid them on the table. I also pulled out some paper and giant coloring books. Did everything get used today? No, but that’s okay. They have seen it and know that we have it. Oftentimes they will go looking for it at a future time.

Today was a great example of that. My kids kept themselves busy all day with items I had strewn last week even though they had no interest in them when I laid them out. Dillon spent two hours putting together a WoW lego set, Luke and Ireland played with clay for a long time, and Bailey spent quite a bit of time drawing, coloring, and then cutting out animals. Arianna painted for a while, and Caollin and London used some stuffed animals to play “crane machine.” (Their latest obsession since Daddy won them all animals out of a crane machine at Denny’s Diner last Saturday) Just because you introduce something to a child does not mean they’re going to be interested. Be patient. They’ll learn about it when they’re ready.

Another way I engage my children is…

– Family read-aloud time. I am very intentional about the books I choose to read to everyone. If there is a concept or a time period I think they would enjoy, I’ll look for a corresponding book. Over the summer we read Little House in the Big Woods. I can’t even begin to tell you about the flurry of activity that that started. I would find my kids outside everyday playing Little House. They dressed in pioneerish clothing, made their own “little house” with pieces of wood we had lying around the yard, and I could hear them discussing things like churning butter and making salt pork. They were interested, so they learned! We just finished Little House on the Prairie, which also brought some wonderful rabbit trails to our home. Today I started reading The Odyssey to them. I can’t wait to see what springs from this because we all love Greek mythology.

Hopefully, I’ve put to rest the idea that unschoolers, particularly unschooling parents, are lazy and uninvolved. We are just as involved and passionate about learning as other moms. We just do it in a different way.

How do you introduce new concepts to your children?

Linking up with



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Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

40 thoughts on “Is Unschooling Just Lazy Homeschooling?”

  1. The Little House series was one of my favorites and I introduced them to my children later! Glad to see its still around. What grades are all your children in if you don’t mind me asking?


      1. We were 1st, 2nd and 3rd when my mother homeschooled in 1960 in Alaska for one year. It was out of necessity though. Now it is done for completely other justified reasons. Yay for you! I could never had done that!


  2. Reblogged this on Alternate Tutelage and commented:
    There are many misconceptions about unschooling where people assume that the only thing you do is laze, sleep in, watch tv, play computer games etc. The reality is different. Yes, you get the school way of doing things out of your system but you also have to instill the love of truly learning. A thoughtful article by Rehead Mom


    1. We’re actually new to unschooling, also. We homeschooled for five years, and for the last three we were very relaxed. Finally, over Christmas break, we decided to give unschooling a go…so here we are today! It really wasn’t that big of a change for us. I just stopped doing the unit studies and started letting them use that time as they wish now.


  3. We homeschool, but I know I also do a lot of what unschooling involves………and my kids thrive at learning……I do guide them and have many expectations for regular work, but we really branch out to areas they like and encourage their “fun”. For example, a son who was interested in building, was allowed to help, then take over, putting in hardwood floors, building a deck, flagstone path, shed, etc. Another son’s interest was cars/vehicles so he was wonderful about researching vehicles and hunting for the vehicle we ended up buying and doing maintenance/repair on vehicles. A few weeks ago, the kids built a sled ramp down the deck stairs and added ramps and banked the sides – it was GREAT(yes, I rode it down)…..imagine all they learned of speed, angles, etc from that. There are SO many ways to encourage learning without it being the dull boring, “LEARN that date!” style of public school teaching that I grew up with. We are studying Geography this year…..from a book AND from life….so many good things to do. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂 Gentle Joy


  4. I love this explanation. I beat myself up over this, because I can’t seem to shake that feeling of “they have to be learning what they’re learning at the school down the road” out of my system. And we AREN’T doing it the same way they are, so I feel like I am failing or behind. I appreciate this explanation, and I love the way you’ve described “strewing.” How do you fit math in?


    1. Unfortunately, since we live in PA, which has very strict homeschooling regulations, so we do use a math curriculum. However, we do it very loosely- just about a page a day. We also incorporate math in other ways, such as measuring with cooking, geometry through Minecraft, and allowing the kids to manage their own money. The kids also love to play school, so math plays a big role there, too. Thankfully, I’ve found a much better math curriculum for next year- Life of Fred, which is a literature-based math curriculum. It makes math seem less like school work and more like fun.


  5. Shelly,

    I have a post all written in my head(!) about this topic. Someone once found my blog by Googling the words ‘lazy unschooling family’ or something similar. That amused me greatly and I wanted to give the true story by writing something. So glad you balanced the usual negative view many people have about unschooling. Unschooling is hard work! Oh but so much fun.


    1. The funny thing is that, although unschooling is still hard work- it’s FUN hard work because there’s no lesson plan to be completed. When I was homeschooling, I used to get so stressed out if I felt that we were falling behind. Whew! Glad that’s done with!


  6. I love the idea of strewing. I am definitely going to give that a try. If you have a moment I would love it if you took a look at my recent post. I would relish any feedback you have as to what I might be missing in the way of curriculum. I imagine you are going to give a giggle at my “over homeschooling”.


  7. I think I fall half way between unschooling and classical homeschooling. Crazy combination! I know, but giving kids access to materials that ignite an excitement for Learning rather than to complete an assignment is powerful.
    Thank you so much for your wisdom!


  8. We sent our son to a Sudbury school for half a year and we left. It didn’t work. Here is my thing about unschooling. Life is not always fun. There are things that you HAVE to do. Bosses expect things on time, there are time commitments and schedules. The kids go to college, and they will have to take tests. They will need to come in at 9 and finish the test – not on their own time through cooking in la la land, but with a paper and pencil.

    Just recently, I have benefited from the wide range of knowledge that I have acquired throughout all of my schooling. Yes, I may not apply calculus to my J.O.B. but the breath of my thinking is improved. Even in the bloggy world, being a cellular and molecular biologist has benefited me. Having received training in history has benefited me. You never ever know when you will need to call upon a skill to set yourself apart from the field.

    This is my issue with unschooling. What if you can’t find any work in a field that interests you? You can’t live with nothing – kwim? You have to be marketable.

    While unschoolers have been some of the most intelligent people I have talked to, I haven’t seen anybody who has been unschooled throughout go on to one of the upper echelon colleges or universities, you know? Like a Amherst, Williams, Smith, Yale, Harvard, swarthmore, etc. This world is changing. What was true 10 years ago, isn’t true today.

    Yeah, I think learning through fun is great. Learning through interest is great. Kids are kids and they should have fun. But they also need to be prepared for the real world. I worrry about college and life – and them having limitations.

    Plus, there is an added worry with me being African American – and being at a disadvantage not having a formal education. I wouldn’t want my kids to be perceived as lazy and stupid- you know? We already have to work harder as it is

    We are not unschoolers, but I do think it’s a good idea if it really works – and kids come out with the exact same opportunities and chances as everyone else. After all, in the future, everyone will be in the same pot.

    Sorry to vomit all over your comment section. I want to thank you for linking up with us at the #homeschoollinkup.


    1. I agree. This is one of the things that took me so long to finally make the unschooling decision. To clarify things, I’m not a radical unschooler. There are things that my children have to do everyday, even if they don’t like it. Chores, math (although I did just purchase a, hopefully, more interesting math curriculum), not all of my kids enjoy reading, but it’s important that they do it. And as for high school- that’s a little more structured, but still centers around their interests. For example, my daughter will be in 10th grade next year. She loves the show Sherlock, so we’ve designed most of next year’s curriculum around the subject of private investigation. Does that mean that she’ll sit around everyday doing nothing but watching the show? Absolutely not. While that show and others will add to her learning in the area, that’s not where it ends. She’ll also be taking Psychology, Logic, Kinesics (The science of body language, especially microfacial expressions), she’ll be reading the classic Sherlock Holmes books and will probably do some creative writing in the same genre. A deacon at my church is a PI, so she’ll have a go-to person for any questions. Now she’ll also be taking astronomy- not that that has anything to do with this subject- because she loves it, and I found a wonderful book for her to use which can be used as a supplement. This book teaches astronomy through art, combining 2 of her favorite subjects. Her main book for astronomy was specifically chosen because it doesn’t include the math so often in astronomy textbooks. She has no aspirations of being an astronomer, so why dampen her love for it with math that she’ll never use? Also straying from the curriculum is advanced algebra, which she is taking next year because she wants to go to college. I found a great curriculum that she’ll hopefully like. And, honestly, math is her least favorite subject, but she applies herself and is taking higher math courses because of college. Lastly, she’s also chosen to complete a Language Arts curriculum, as well, which really isn’t necessary considering the amount of time she’ll be spending reading and writing. Unschooling isn’t just about sitting around, playing all the time- especially as they get older. As the kids grow, they realize that there are certain things they’re going to have to do to reach a certain goal, and they do them. Unschooling is about taking what they love and expanding it so that a whole other world of possibilities awaits.


  9. I so wish I had been homeschooled for fourth grade when we read Little House! Instead of playing and having our own thing, we had this horrible field trip where this “pioneer day” teacher yelled at us all day so we’d get the authentic time. Building a log cabin in the house sounds a lot more fun.


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