My Answer to a Common Concern about Unschooling


Last week, I wrote a post entitled Is Unschooling Just Lazy Homeschooling? Today I received a comment that expresses a common sentiment about unschooling, and to be honest, was a concern I had about it, as well. The basic premise is that sometimes in the world people have to do things they don’t like, and everything about unschooling is all fun and games, so how are they going to learn how to do things they don’t want to do? Another fear expressed was that unschoolers will potentially not acquire enough knowledge in life to truly succeed. These are both valid concerns, and as I stated before, I felt a little anxious about the same things, until I actually started unschooling. Seeing this method of learning in action has completely changed my point of view, so I thought it was important to address this issue now.

Here is my response to this comment:

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 it 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.

Does this clarify things at all? What do you think?

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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.

46 thoughts on “My Answer to a Common Concern about Unschooling”

  1. It definitely makes sense. You guys are pretty structured, which I think is definitely a good thing. You guys have done a great job, since your daughter realizes that she will have to do certain things. Good for your for searching out the curriculum that will work.

    Radical unschooling is something completely different.

    Thanks so much for the clarification and for responding so thoroughly to my comment!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think misconceptions may come directly from the word “unschooling.” The term seems to have many meanings, perhaps even geographically. Your method is very different from that of the parents I personally know who “unschool.” They don’t follow any schedule or structure for learning. For them, it’s all games, projects, and extracurricular activities–whenever, wherever–all in the name of letting their children be “free to learn.” It’s unfortunate to see their now-20-year-old son struggling to complete remedial courses at the community college before he can enter the program he wants to pursue. He is now on the verge of quitting out of frustration. He has no learning disabilities, but he is having trouble with the class structure and text work he is now expected to follow. They have two younger children who are being “unschooled” as well. Their 7-year-old “hasn’t picked up on the alphabet” yet. Our children do need to realize that as adults, you don’t always get to do what is fun or what you consider interesting. And I believe it is only fair to them to prepare them for a smooth transition into college-level coursework if that is the path they choose to take. It sounds like you have found a way to incorporate individual interests into a love for learning. Good for your family!


  3. This speaks exactly to my concerns as well. “My son is a Math whiz, he is about to start Algebra and he’s 9, he’s reading skills haven’t shown up yet, but I’m sure that interest will spark soon.” That was a Mom’s response to why her kid couldn’t read. *shudder*


  4. I love seeing such clear examples of this. I consider myself an “unschooler,” but I have a hard time making that look like something that still seems to fill an “educational need.” Thanks for sharing!


  5. I really enjoyed this post! I’ve been considering unschooling and I found this informative. Thanks for posting!


  6. Those are some great post ideas. I’ll think about my views for a little and write about it in the future. Truth be told, though, I’m hardly an expert on this particular subject. I homeschooled for five years and just started unschooling in January. As for character development- having such a large family, we have to work on that all the time. I also think that some people confuse us with radical unschoolers who do not set boundaries or rules for their children. Believe me, we’ve got rules. I let them take the lead on interest-led learning, but it’s very clear that Mom and Dad are in charge. And if there is a subject I feel they would benefit from, I do find ways to incorporate it into their learning.


  7. This is really interesting, Shelley. As I read about your daughter’s school plan for next year, it occurs to me that you work hard to develop a curriculum around her interests. More power to you.


  8. Your daughter’s school plan sounds amazing! I do not use unschooling methods but I do admire you for doing so. Unschooling seems like a tremendous amount of work for the parent!


      1. Exactly. It works for the kid. That is what matters. It’s not about them running the show (heck no!!) ;), but about letting them be themselves instead of trying to fit them into a one-size-fits-all. Go homeschooling! Go unschooling!! Go YOU, awesome mamma!!!! 😀


  9. Hi Shelly, it’s Jackie stopping by from the Let’s Homeschool High School March Blog Hop.

    We are semi-eclectic unschoolers (I made up the label). My daughter has access to Time4Learning’s High School courses and the rest is based upon things she is interested in learning more about. I am a teacher, so “unschooling” was pretty hard for me to swallow in the beginning. It has grown on me though. I am amazed at the things my daughter learns about and actually retains. Do I still worry? Yes, from time to time I still get a bit antsy, but I know she is learning and enjoying it at the same time.

    Sounds like your daughter is also doing just fine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with all of us.

    I look forward to reading your post in the April Let’s Homeschool High School Blog Hop.



  10. You know, I think there is a huge variety in what people call “unschooling.” I actually would not call you an unschooler at all. You require math and reading… well all there really is to school anyway is the 3 r’s. But, I’m sure there are “super structured textbook users” who absolutely say you are unschooling. I do not consider myself an unschooler. My 7 year old is required to do a 5 minute set of math facts each day, 10 -15 minutes of reading out of a book to me, and a short page of handwriting/copywork ( takes about 5-10 minutes). So her school day totals about a half hour. She should be in first grade. Some people would say we unschool, but to me, those are highly structured moments of learning that accomplish a lot.

    Anyway, it sounds like you and the kids are happy and all enjoying life and learning lots. So, whatever you want to call it (or what anyone else calls it), it sounds like you are doing a great job mom!


    1. I do require math, but with their new curriculum, it only takes 5-10 minutes a day. As for reading, while I do want them to read, I’m terrible with forgetting to remind them at times, and most of my kids don’t like to read, so they conveniently “forget” on those days. 🙂


    2. Oh yeah, and I will add that the only reason I even require math curriculum is because of my paranoia about our state regulations. Send us to Texas, and we’d REALLY be free!


  11. Sounds fascinating! 🙂 I’d love to be able to watch Sherlock and call it school! –Do you know there’s another blog with the same name as yours? It’s about a family that’s adopted 13 kids from China. (The also have 5 bio kids.)


  12. Your post is really interesting as are the comments from other readers. It’s great that your daughter has specific areas she is interested in learning more about. My 10 year old actively seeks out new ideas too. I personally haven’t been able to completely let go of my kids education either, because I also feel the 3 r’s are too important to skip. We focus on them for the morning, and in the afternoon the kids have much more choice.


    1. I used to do the 3 r’s in the morning, also, but I’ve found that they enjoy writing more when it’s something they’ve chosen, so it’s not that we actually skip it. We just don’t use texts for it anymore, although, if they ever ask to use one, they’re more than welcome to. We do use math curriculum (Life of Fred), but it’s literature-based. My kids love it!


  13. Thanks for clarifying the way you Unschool. However, everyone does it differently as well as homeschooling their kids. In this there are positives and minuses as with anything else. My MIL is a consultant to many Elementary and Middle schools that accept a wide range of students. She notices that some kids that were homeschooled and Unschooled come to her school after the parents had a break up, finances dictated mom go back to work, or other circumstances puts the kids back in traditional school leaves her with kids that are well advanced and kids that are grossly behind in social and transitioning skills. I personally believe and preparing my kids for most all possible situations and in doing so I believe parents should allow their kids to make decision in learning but also make sure that the activity, exercise or self-directed learning is retained. Keeping the core subjects main part of the curriculum makes a difference for easy transitions (Math, Reading, Science). My own kids are NOT that motivated of learners. They actually thrive on the things I initiate them to learn that them as a child would never know about. They do have interest (my daughter wanted to learn Japanese and we did). However, I introduced her to computer programming which now she totally loves and absorbs while working on it independently with a curriculum I created for her. So with all that said, it’s your kids and your homeschool, do what is working for you.


      1. Thank you for posting this! We are in our first year ‘schooling at home’ but I’m trying to get away from that. Your post helps me to follow my heart and unschool while they still get an education :-). Keep up the great work!


    1. You’ve actually made a good point about the motivation of kids. While I do believe that, given enough exposure to things, kids will eventually begin to develop interest, there are times that I do things to ensure that they’re being introduced to things they would otherwise not have pursued. For example, my kids love science, so that’s not a problem, but they’re not too keen on history. So I make it a point to use our family reading time to fill this gap. I usually choose historical fiction and non-fiction as our readalouds in order to do this. So again, you’ve made a great point. I think the worst thing to do would be to completely avoid doing something just because it doesn’t mesh with the textbook definition of your chosen learning method.


  14. By reading your article I would definitely not consider you an unschooler compared to any other person I know who has chosen that title for themselves. Reading what you wrote, it sounds like I would nearly count as an unschooler and my kids have textbooks for each subject! I knwo many homeschoolers who would never want to be called unschoolers and do exacly what you are doing with your children. Before this article I was under the impression that unschooling was completely child-led learning with no curriculum involved and that’s been mostly held up by the unschoolers I know personally, although a few do supplement with workbooks in math. What would you say is the broad definition of unschooling vs homeschooling in general?


    1. Unschooling is, indeed, child-led learning in whatever method the child pursues to do something. In my daughter’s case, she is the most comfortable learning this way. She has chosen this path; I just helped find the materials she wanted. She will decide how she wants to use these resources. My other children do not use any curriculum, other than math because they’re comfortable with that. I think the reason my daughter desires textbooks is that she was in public school from 5th through 8th grade, while I was homeschooling my other kids, so the textbook method is still what she’s used to. She’s growing out of it and has gotten much more flexible with her day. So, in a nutshell, this is her way to learn. I probably would have chosen a different way for her. I actually touched on this last night in a post about labels.


  15. We unschool the same way! I think a lot of parents, when researching unschooling, get confused between “unschooling” and “unparenting.” A child still needs to be guided, taught, instructed, and then let fly (how much depends on their age.) I think it’s great that you know you have the freedom to choose curriculum (whether it be a text book or a tv show), homeschooling looks so different for each family and if we would just continue to follow our hearts, we could have a very successful homeschool career.


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