Deschooling Vs. Unschooling- What’s the Difference?

What's the difference between deschooling and unschooling?

Of all the buzzwords that make their rounds in the homeschooling community, the two that are confused the most often are “deschooling” and “unschooling,” and with good reason!

Since they are both intended to be as unlike traditional school as possible, it really can be difficult for someone on the outside looking in to determine which is which.

The key is really all about intention. 

What's the difference between deschooling and unschooling?


So what IS the difference between deschooling and unschooling?

Glad you asked. 🙂

First, let me get into how they are the same, because they really are quite similar.


Both deschooling and unschooling are homeschooling terms used to describe an atmosphere of learning that is really the antithesis of the public education model.

In both settings, children are encouraged to spend their time pursuing their own interests, whatever they may be. In most cases, there is a complete lack of any sort of school-like structure at all. In fact, during a deschooling period, school-like structure is typically avoided at all costs.

The reason behind this is that many people, myself included, believe that the compulsory school model is not the ideal education technique for most children. Designed around a textbook-driven/standardized test model, it denies children the opportunity to learn about the world around them in a way that suits them best.

Anyone who’s had any contact with children has witnessed the never-ending curiosity that seems to emanate from them. Given a stimulating, rich environment, kids are natural-born scientists who will stop at nothing to discover new facts about anything that catches their eye.

This is the reason behind unschooling and the inspiration for deschooling.

Some things you may see an unschooling or deschooling child doing may include:

  • reading
  • watching TV
  • playing games
  • exploring outside
  • playing sports
  • doing arts/crafts
  • listening to music
  • writing stories
  • playing an instrument
  • doing nothing (which isn’t really nothing)

Learning through Life

To the person still holding on to a schoolish mindset, this may not look like learning at all. To those parents who have been deschooling awhile, or have adopted an unschooling lifestyle, the educational value of each of these activities is evident.

It’s all about letting go of what society believes “school” should look like.

Now let’s get into how they are different.


By now you may be wondering how they can be different at all since, so far, everything has been pretty much identical between the two. It all comes down to the one thing I mentioned earlier…


Deschooling is a process many new homeschoolers go through in order to help rid themselves of that public school mentality.

It can be HARD to let go of the belief that learning has to be boxed into subjects, constantly tested, done in a certain order, follow an arbitrary timeline, and be just plain BORING.

Most parents were raised in a traditional school setting, so that’s often the default method we use when we begin to homeschool our kids. Unfortunately, the results can be catastrophic.

Taking a period of a few weeks or a few months to deschool can be the best way for both parents and children to realize what real world learning looks like.

After this period is over, families may then move on to their chosen homeschooling method, which may or may not be unschooling.

After deschooling, it's time to choose a homeschooling method.

So… deschooling is a process used to transition into the homeschooling lifestyle, but unschooling is a homeschooling method.

Although deschooling is only done for a shorter amount of time, unschooling can be a lifelong journey for those who choose to partake in it.

Some people find that, after deschooling, they’ve grown so comfortable with natural learning that their household seamlessly evolves from deschooling to unschooling.

Do you see how intention fits in here?

Think of it this way:

Deschooling is short term; unschooling is long term.

Deschooling is a tool; unschooling is a lifestyle.

Both, however, can be life changing.

Now it’s your turn. How would you describe the difference between deschooling and unschooling? Leave a comment!








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.

9 thoughts on “Deschooling Vs. Unschooling- What’s the Difference?”

  1. Hi Shelley, Love your blog! I have a question in regards to unschooling, can I set it up in my home with some intentional learning opportunities? I was thinking that I could set up some displays of projects my son may want to investigate and just go from there.

    Liked by 1 person

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