8 Things You Need to Know Before Deciding to Unschool

There were some valuable lessons learned while we were in the midst of our unschooling journey.

Do you find yourself pondering the notion of disposing of all curriculum and simply allowing your children to learn from what life throws at them? Are you intrigued by fairy tale-like stories you read about families who live as if school didn’t exist?

Although I haven’t considered myself an unschooler for quite some time now, I still find myself drawn to writing about it from time to time. Despite the fact that I am now a bit more structured, I’m still very passionate about what I learned from this experience- the good and the bad.

Unschooling has in so many ways opened the doors to a new world of learning for us- a world free from the schoolish mindsets that so many of us grew up with and tend to not even question.

On the other hand, living in this world for a couple of years also made me realize that there are some important principles to keep in mind when making the decision to immerse your family in this style of learning.

It is this aspect that I choose to address today. 


8 Things Worth Considering About Unschooling


#1- Your child’s needs are more important than the “unschooling” label.

Unschooling is meant to be about freedom. It’s about giving your children the space to pursue their own interests without imposing overly coercive learning methods on them. That’s it. There are some people in this circle who are exceedingly purist in their thoughts. They are militantly against anything that resembles school and will not hesitate to call you on it. More than once I was made to feel like I was failing as an unschooling mom because we sometimes added a little structure to our days. After many months of feeling woefully inadequate, I finally became aware of this one thing:

My children’s needs were more important than our status as unschoolers.

Do not let anyone tell you how to unschool. That completely defeats the purpose. While frowning upon using any sort of coercion on children, there are some unschooling parents who will attempt to coerce you into doing things their way. Don’t do it.


#2- Children need limits. Remember that you are the parent.

It is common among some unschooling parents to extend this freedom beyond education and to give their children autonomy over everything they do. It is one thing to give self-directed learning a shot. It is quite another to say that you will not discourage your kids from trying drugs because it is their choice (someone actually said that) and that you would rather have your children’s teeth decay than have to force them to brush their teeth and make them unhappy (someone said that, too).

Freedom to follow interests is an outstanding path to learning. However, children are just that- children, and they need boundaries to be set in place by people who love them.

Speaking from experience, I urge you to keep the unschooling ideals within the confines of a homeschooling method. God made us parents for a reason.


#3- It is possible to go overboard.

As with the purists I spoke of in #1, there are some people who are so desperate to keep the label “unschooler” that logic seems to fly out the window. Sometimes a child may need help with learning something. While I don’t like to follow government-issued developmental charts because I think they’re ridiculous, there has to be a point when you are willing to concede that there might be a problem. If you are having to make up false diagnoses to explain to your adolescent’s coach why your son doesn’t know how to write, that should raise a red flag. I do have to admit that when something similar to that was brought up in a group I was in, even the uber-unschoolers were shocked.

Use your common sense. Let your kids develop at their own pace, but use some discretion. If you feel there may be an issue with one of your kids, work with them. If that doesn’t help, contact a specialist. I promise you that no unschool police will come knocking at your door. Your child’s well-being has to come first.


#4- Children need to learn responsibility.

I know that assigning chores is frowned upon in many unschooling circles, but this is truly a disservice to not only the parent who ends up doing everything, but also to the kids who grow up believing that making a contribution to the family is unimportant. Someday, these kids will be adults, too. It certainly won’t go well for them if they don’t even know how to run the washing machine. Life skills are crucial to growing up. Give your kids a head start by showing them from an early age how to run and maintain a household.


#5- Some children do need a push.

One of the most common sentiments in homeschooling is that children are unique. There are some children who are natural go-getters. They’re up at the crack of dawn to begin their day doing a myriad of activities. Think of Rapunzel in the beginning of Tangled.


Then there are children who would be perfectly happy playing video games and watching TV day after day after day. I’m not putting down either of these pastimes. My kids also enjoy doing these things. But…contrary to what you may read, not all kids self-regulate. This ties in with #2: Children need limits (and sometimes a push!) 🙂 It’s okay to tell your kids to take a break from the games. It may take awhile, but they will find other things to do!


#6- Your children need to be aware that the world does not revolve around them.

I know that “child-centeredness” is a big thing right now, both in unschooling and public school circles alike, but this lifestyle is really misguided. The world doesn’t revolve around any one person, and your kids need to know that. If your child doesn’t want to attend a party with you, please don’t stay home because you can’t find a babysitter! Make him go with you. Just because your child “feels like” running wild around the store, explain to her that this is not the place to do that. You are not doing your children any favors if you never teach them appropriate behavior.


#7- Some kids do not do well with unschooling because they need more structure.

My kids are great examples of that. During that time of our lives, since they had so much free time, my children spent much of it bickering and complaining that there was nothing to do. I knew it was time to add more order to our homeschool day when my youngest son came up and asked me when they were going to start “doing school” again because they missed it, which leads me to…


#8- If you end up choosing a different path, you haven’t failed your children.

You have not been defeated. You have not let anyone down. The beauty of homeschooling is doing what fits your family, and no one can know that better than you!


All things considered, I still look back on our unschooling years with fondness. So many truths about how children learn were revealed to me during that time, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. If I could give one piece of advice to someone looking into unschooling, it would be this:

Think of it as a beautiful approach to learning, but practice discernment in giving your children the guidance that all kids need and subconsciously long for.


If you’re interested in pursuing this educational path, here are some great resources to give you insight into the learning aspect without “going too far.”

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 “8 Things You Need to Know Before Deciding to Unschool”

  1. Pinning this as it is very helpful! We unschooled in the beginning, for most of my son’s elementary years and it was perfect for us, as he was a go-getter and would frequently choose subjects to study in depth. And then in 5th grade, we changed things up and added more structure and formality to our days and that has worked great for us ever since. We’re still quite flexible, though and that’s what I love about homeschooling. It can change and grow with us!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This was another one of those things I was hesitant to write about, but I truly feel that unschooling can be an awesome learning method if you don’t get caught up in listening to what others say it’s supposed to be like. That’s where the trouble starts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In this case you really need to know your children. My kids have passions but are the type to pursue research and learning in all areas when directed. Also, there are other ways to teach most subjects, but Math/Writing/Grammar/Reading Comprehension are a must teach. They are the basis for most all subjects.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I truly love the idea of unschooling and tend to think of myself and our family as unschoolers. Yet, we have limits and we use reason and logic. We believe very much in all members participating in the family, whether activities inside or outside the home. We also believer there’s a time and place for a few things, running around like a banshee being one of them. I don’t (really) expect our 3.5yo and our 11mo to sit still and listen and be quiet, (despite wanting it so often lol) so I try my best to remember to balance the sitting stuff with the active stuff.

    As with most things in life, I think any form of educating one’s child really is about balance and rhythm and moderation. Great piece! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Being that you are in PA, what did you tell the school district you’d be teaching when you unschooled? I am also in PA and I gave the school district very specific scopes and sequences for what I am teaching in an effort to keep them from intruding on our homeschool. I think I went overboard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did that at first, too, until I found out that they cannot turn down your right to homeschool on the basis of your objectives, as long as you have at least one objective listed per required subject. After finding that out, I wrote very basic things, like: frequent trips to the library, using math in real life circumstances, nature study, reading biographies, writing relatives, etc. I’ve made it even more simple lately by going on askpauline.com where there are actually very general sample objectives for elementary and secondary which you can print and use. I’ve used those for the past two years.


  5. Wow Unschooling, A term I have learnt Right Here on this Blog, I assume it is the same as Home Schooling! I believe our children need way more from the govt system sheep mentality. The system has failed many a child By creating employees rather than creative humas ready to undertake risks and build new things from scratch…thus avoiding the economic doom that seems to face the younger generation unless they embrace Risk taking and learn to create their own economies!

    Ta for sharing at the Pit Stop – Crew!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unschooling is a form of homeschooling in which no curriculum is used and all learning coms from life experience. You are so right about the school system. It has definitely failed us.


  6. OhMyGoodness, yes to ALL of these! I’m on several unschooling pages on FB and I have turned them ALL off (notifications) because they drive me absolutely BONKERS with their ridiculousness! There’s so much good to keeping an unschooling mindset, but my goodness, that doesn’t mean you stop using your brain! I am SO glad you wrote this post – and you KNOW I’m picking it for my feature this week! #FridayFrivolity

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, so great! We labelled ourselves as unschoolers for years until our child’s needs changed. Then we had to drop the level and go with what worked for him.
    I love this post so much!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. An interesting read, I’m an ex teacher and though we don’t have children I know there is no way I could have put them through the systems that exist as they go against everything I believe as a teacher. But like you at the same time I believe in teaching children to become great adults able to enjoy life and take their role in our society. With that comes rules and an ability to look after yourself. I can imagine it would be scary at times doing it all yourself, there certainly seems to be lots of conflicting advice out there. But from the sound of it you’re children are very lucky to have you as a parent. Thanks for sharing on Practical Mondays

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I LOVE this! You said so many things that needed to be said. Like this, “It is one thing to give self-directed learning a shot. It is quite another to say that you will not discourage your kids from trying drugs because it is their choice (someone actually said that) and that you would rather have your children’s teeth decay than have to force them to brush their teeth and make them unhappy (someone said that, too).” It is always amazing to me how some people take this kid’s choice thing to an extreme! I featured you at Finishing Strong this week at Starts at Eight! Thanks for linking up with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great advice! I definitely lean towards an eclectic/unschooling approach. My husband gets a bit nervous about it, but I’ve seen our kids do and learn some amazing things, spurred on by their own curiosity. I like your grounded approach to unschooling–no need to throw common sense out the window!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. In my reading of various comments from uncshoolers, it seems like the greatest issues come, (as they do in so many areas of life), from abandoning individuality, becoming an ideologue, and embracing an ideal that doesn’t fit who you are. A blind embrace of a definition without consideration of personal circumstance can sully almost any undertaking in any field.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I wrote a comment yesterday, but it seems to have got lost.
    Your first point says “do not let anyone tell you how to unschool”, then it is followed up by 7 more points telling people how to unschool .
    Unschooling doesn’t suit every family or individual child and I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rules on how to do it, but we are following a path that suits us at this time and for us, it is working. I am new to unschooling, but not homeschooling. I have 2 children who are 12 and 15, both have Asperger’s , my son is also Dyslexic and receives tutoring . I know some unschoolers disagree with using a tutor, but for us, unschooling is following not only our child’s interests but providing professional support when needed.
    We have done the formal curriculum and schedule, but it created stress for my children, they worried about not finishing everything, falling behind etc . Now we follow their interests, going along at a pace that suits them, our learning happens anytime.
    We used to require daily chores, but I had to nag and the kids did them grudgingly with a bad attitude. When we ditched the formal list, my children, gradually starting volunteering to help, sometimes I come home to a mopped floor, because my daughter feels like surprising me .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right. I might have come across that way. The point I was hoping to convey was that it’s okay to do all of those things (that I listed). I unschooled for 2 years and found that some of the people in the “support” groups were not very supportive at all, but could actually be brutal. I still love natural learning and think it’s the best way for kids to retain things, but in our family we needed a routine. We’ve found a happy medium right now as relaxed homeschoolers. We spend a couple hours on school work and use the rest for them to pursue whatever they’d like. We don’t really worry about falling behind on the curriculum because I don’t really worry about what schools think they should be doing, but I allow them to learn at their own pace. I’m not in the least bit concerned about finishing a curriculum. We get done what we get done.

      As for chores, I will say that when I first stopped making my kids do chores, my kids were also very helpful. After the novelty wore off, however, they grew very comfortable with letting me do everything. After a few months of shouldering all household responsibilities on my own, I assigned chores again and explained why. They’re still not thrilled about chores and do more complaining about it than I’d like, but I really think it’s important that they learn the responsibility of upkeeping a house. I actually wrote about my experiences right here- https://redheadmom8.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/the-unschool-experiment/
      I’m glad it’s working for you right now. I always feel that we’ve got to do what works for the child and the family. That is ultimately the most important thing.


  13. I love the unschooling handbook. We spent a few years being mostly unschoolers but my boys were always reluctant to take over the reigns and kept asking me “what are we going to do today?” I finally relented and just started planning a few lessons…. now 4 years later I can hardly remember what our unschooling roots looked like. It took me a while to realize that it was OK to give up and move on. As much as I loved the unschooling philosophy it wasn’t going to work for us. I still try to leave plenty of time for the boys to pursue their own interests but have learned that I need to plan enough to keep us all happy. This is another great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I truly love the idea of unschooling, but, like you, it just wasn;t right for our family. I did learn so much from that experience, though, so I do credit my openness to flexibility to our time spent unschooling.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great blog post! We just started unschooling but with a little structure. I still use a math curriculum and we do random worksheets now and then. Other than that we are always playing educational games, gardening, cleaning, loving life, exploring, being together as a family. This was a great list! 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi, Shelly – Just found your YT video, “Sometimes unschooling doesn’t work” when I searched, “Why we quit unschooling.”

    I’m commenting here b/c comments are disabled on your channel. The reason I did that search is that we just decided to stop hoping for a pie-in-the-sky miracle that our son would suddenly one day wake up and no longer want to spend his days watching YT and playing video games, and begin reading bks on his own so as to increase his reading level/fluency and decide to learn to write/type. And get interested in geography, begging us to teach him about the states and the different areas of the world.

    We’ve never been “radical” – I’ve always thought that was a bunch of extremist bull (and I know how critical good nutrition is to health, as well as early development of healthy habits) – but, like you, every time I felt like we should return to relaxed homeschooling (what we did with him ages 5-9), I remembered all those unschooling warm fuzzies that if you just have faith in your kid, he’ll automatically learn what he needs to learn, when he needs to learn it. And so we pressed on.

    A lot of unschoolers would tell us we weren’t “real” unschoolers, anyway, b/c we made DS take 2 30-minute breaks every day to get some exercise.

    The other day, the Lord impressed upon me to put “unschooling” into the YT search bar. I didn’t know why at the time. We were doing it, hello! But one of the videos that came up was a short documentary produced by an 18 yo who’d been unschooled his entire life. The title is something like, “Life is: an unschooling documentary.” Long story short, at the end he states that he wishes that when he was 14, his parents would have pushed him into doing things other than playing video games all day. At 18, he knows he didn’t procure as much knowledge as he might have, and heavily implies that he regrets that. That he didn’t think his parents did him justice by strictly unschooling him (zero structure, zero rules, zero parental input).

    When I heard that, I said to myself, “That’s what I’m afraid our son will end up thinking in six yrs!” I had DH and DS both watch that ending clip of the documentary, and we came to a decision and an understanding.

    All that to say, ITA with you: sometimes, unschooling doesn’t work. But you can provide your children with a lot of freedom and choice even while spending some time each day helping them learn things you know will help them become a more competent, and confident, adult.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and for helping confirm our decision. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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