The term “unschooling” was coined by John C. Holt, known as the “father” of the modern homeschooling movement. It refers to an approach to homeschooling in which children are allowed to continue (or return to) the natural, curiosity-driven, discovery-mediated learning that all children engage in as babies and toddlers. As such, it is child-led learning rather than teacher- or parent-imposed lessons, although it is parent-stimulated to varying degrees. The role of unschooling parents is that of facilitators of learning rather than taskmasters. Unschooling is therefore not so much a “teaching method” as it is a “learning philosophy” and a lifestyle.
Actually, it might be more accurate to say it is a spectrum of learning philosophies, as different unschooling parents place greater or lesser value and emphasis on the different aspects of early childhood learning that come into play in continuing that type of learning through the school-age years. Some focus on allowing the child to lead, even if it leads to using textbooks and workbooks and other schoolish materials — unschooling as “child-led learning.” Others focus on encouraging the child to learn through real life situations and discoveries rather than textbooks — unschooling as “life learning.” Unschooling is also sometimes known as “natural learning,” “delight-driven learning,” “experience-based learning,” “independent learning,” “non-coercive parenting,” … Each of these phrases has a slightly different nuance and emphasis, confirming that there are as many ways to manifest unschooling as there are families living it.
Here are some resources on unschooling that will help you explore this approach in more detail (this list is far from exhaustive; you can find more by doing an internet search for “unschooling,” “child-led learning,” or any of the other phrases mentioned above):
- articles on unschooling, including selections from the OFTP newsletter, Home Rules
- magazines about natural learning
- books about unschooling
- websites dedicated to unschooling
- websites, books and projects by unschoolers
- unschooling conferences and events
- unschoolers’ forums, message boards and e-mail lists
- unschooling video clips and channels (e.g. YouTube)
- art celebrating learning in freedom
Articles on unschooling
on the OFTP website and in the OFTP newsletter, Home Rules
Learning How to Tell Time… the Unschooling Way
by Miranda Hughes, August 1999 issue of Home Rules
The author tells us about her 5-year-old daughter’s process in learning how to tell time, and what role she played as the parent and resource person in that process.
A Day in the Life of an Unschooling Family
by Catherine Pillinger, June 1999 issue of Home Rules
Having often been asked “so what do you all DO on an average day?” the author documented a real day in her family’s life. “– I actually carried around a piece of paper and logged in the activities of our 7 member brood — at least those activities I was aware were happening…”
A Perception of OFTP – Members Discuss the Organization
various OFTP members, April 1999 issue of Home Rules
Responses to a letter from a prospective homeschooler, whose viewing of the OFTP website [as it was at that time] led her to be concerned about what she perceived to be a dangerously unstructured approach to home education that would lead to a child being “left behind in the dust.” Some OFTP members focused on correcting her misperception that all homeschooling is unschooling or that OFTP promotes one approach over the other, while other members focused on explaining how unschooling does not result in the dire picture she imagined.
Schooling and Unschooling at Home
by Terry Stafford, October 1998 issue of Home Rules.
Reflections on unschooling compared to school-at-home, and how unschooling worked for the author’s children ? the older two were attending college and university at the time the article was written.
Working with a School Board: “Satisfactory Instruction” Gets in the Way
by Fred Schueler, March 1997 issue of Home Rules
In the context of describing the process of meetings with the Leeds-Grenville school board as they attempted to draft a homeschool policy, the author discusses satisfactory instruction from the point of view of unschooling.
by the Apple Blossom Contemplative Hermitage
Not really about definitions of homeschooling and unschooling, it’s more like a vision of how society could evolve if we start to trust in the learning process of our children and move from schooling past homeschooling to unschooling and beyond…
on other websites
What is Unschooling?
by Earl Stevens, 1994, reprinted on The Natural Child Project website
“Unschooling isn’t a method, it is a way of looking at children and at life.”
an article by Eric Anderson found at Jon’s Homeschool Resources
The author starts by saying, “Unschooling is a word coined by negating the idea of schooling; it starts off with a negative definition. What, specifically, is it about schools that unschoolers want to do without?” and then proceeds to list the aspects of school that unschoolers find problematic, under the headings of: The School Organization, The De-humanizing Aspects of Schools, Isolation from the Real World, Schedule Rigidity. After saying what unschooling is not, the author talks about what unschooling is in terms of the underlying understanding of how children learn naturally.
There are also many articles on the websites listed further down on this page.
in the news
A new chapter in education: unschooling
Controversial home-taught approach lets kids take the lead in learning
MSNBC article by Victoria Clayton, October 6th, 2006, with reader reactions in the form of comments and a poll.
No school, no books, no teacher’s dirty looks
CNN article by Traci Tamura and Thelma Gutierrez, February 3rd, 2006
Magazines about natural learning
Life Learning Magazine
Published 6 times a year by Wendy Priesnitz, author of Challenging Assumptions in Education and other books. Articles to inspire and provide information about self-directed learning and natural parenting.
Books on unschooling
Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path to Education
Author: John Holt.
Original Publisher: Delacorte, 1981
Revised and updated by Patrick Farenga as
Teach Your Own – The John Holt Book of Homeschooling
2003, Paper, 334 pages
A classic in the homeschooling literature, by the “father” of modern homeschooling. John C. Holt is the one who coined the phrase “unschooling” and his writing is insightful, common-sense, and easy to understand. The chapter on Common Objections to Homeschooling can be read on the Natural Child website.
Other books by John Holt:
- How Children Fail – the problem with schools
- How Children Learn – the way children learn naturally
- Learning All the Time: How Small Children Begin To Read, Write, Count, and Investigate the World, Without Being Taught – practical as well as theoretical
- Never Too Late – learning at all ages
- What Do I Do Monday? – practical tips
- Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better – self-directed learning and creating learning opportunities
- Freedom and Beyond – the difference between coercive and natural authority, the meaning of discipline; also explores why schooling cannot cure poverty and what deschooling would mean for the poor
Homeschooling With Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling
Author: Suzie Andres
Publisher: Christendom Press
Distributor: Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI)
2004; Paper; 132 pages
ISBN10/13: 0931888794 / 9780931888793
List Price: US $10.00
This Catholic author explores the household as the primary place of education and the role of parents as primary educators.
Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves
Author: Alison MacKee
As a schoolteacher, the author experienced many frustrations within the school system. She chose not to send her own children to school. In the book she shares her insights from both her homeschooling and schoolteaching experiences. John Taylor Gatto’s comment on the book: “An unusual and clear-headed examination of what children need?and why even well-meaning schools can’t supply it.”
[Website manager's note: I am including this book in the Unschooling section but am unsure whether or not it is specifically about unschooling. It may be that the word "unschooling" in the title is actually referring to what others call "deschooling": letting go of old, school-based ways of thinking about learning. If you have read the book, please let me know if it should remain listed in the Unschooling section. Thank you!]
The Unschooling Handbook
Author: Mary Griffith
1998; Paper, 230 pages.
Lots of information, including resources for different subjects, real-life examples of what people do, and lots of explanations. The book can help non-unschoolers understand the idea of unschooling, and perhaps give its philosophy and practice a try for themselves, while those who are already unschooling will find tips and insights into what other unschoolers are doing, as well as information that can help them explain and defend their unschooling choices.
The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
Author: Grace Llewelyn
1998; Paper, 443 pages.
This book is highly recommended in unschooling circles and provides a good explanation of the unschooling approach to learning. Although written especially for teenagers, it is also helpful for anyone who has ever gone to school and wants to know how to regain the natural ability to learn and be excited about it. Information includes ways of going to college, volunteering, apprenticeships, and more.
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
by John Taylor Gatto
New Society Publishers
106 pages, paperback
Websites dedicated to unschooling
Holt Associates/ Growing Without Schooling
information on John Holt, the now defunct Growing Without Schooling magazine he started in 1977, and the seminars and writings of Patrick Farenga of Holt Associates.
lots of articles by unschooling parent Sandra Dodd
OFTP member Pam Laricchia has contributed articles to Life Learning Magazine, has given a presentation at the Live and Learn conference, and was the organizer of the 2006 Toronto Unschooling Conference. Her website includes her own articles, information about unschooling, and also plays host to the writings of Anne Ohman until Anne has her own site up and running.
The Natural Child Project
articles by Jan Hunt, M.Sc. (author of The Natural Child: Parenting From the Heart and A Gift for Baby) and guest authors, on attachment parenting and unschooling. Jan also offers telephone counseling in these areas
Unschooling conferences and events
Live and Learn
Annual unschooling conference in the U.S.
Toronto Unschooling Conference
The first conference was organized in 2006. Its success has led to the possibility of it being organized again, so check out the website of the organizer to find out if anything has yet been planned.
Websites, books and projects by unschoolers
Grown Without Schooling
Video documentary in which ten grown homeschoolers (ages 19 to 31) discuss the influence home education has had on their lives. Produced by unschooler Peter Kowalke.
Peter Kowalke is the unschooler who produced the Grown Without Schooling video documentary on grown homeschoolers. His website includes interviews with unschooling proponents like Grace Llewellyn.
Unschoolers’ forums, message boards and e-mail lists
Yahoo! Group e-mail list. “This list is for Canadian unschoolers who believe in child-led/natural learning. It is a list for unschoolers certain of their choice, and also for those who are learning to let go of school-at-home and let their children lead the way. [...] This list is not for those wanting questions answered about what unschooling, natural learning, or child-led learning is — there are better forums for those questions to be answered. This list is also not for those who use the word unschooling, yet apply other than child-directed learning attitudes.”
Yahoo! Group e-mail list. “[...] thoughtful discussion and exploration of what Radical Unschooling looks like from birth and beyond for our ‘always unschooled’ children. Secular in nature, we welcome unschoolers from all walks of life. Our discussions focus on exploring topics like natural learning, respectful parenting, joyful living, freedom and autonomy, living by principles, single parent unschooling, convincing family, surviving panic and criticism, living without fear, resisting enrollment, non-coercive parenting, deschooling ourselves, and letting go of controls. [...]“
Yahoo! Group e-mail list. “Discussion for homeschooling fans of John Holt, whose books Learning All the Time, Never Too Late, and Teach your Own have made unschooling a sweet and viable option for thousands of families. [...] It’s an idea group and is intended to lean more toward pure unschooling than neutral, general homeschooling discussion.”
Yahoo! Group e-mail list. “A list designed for those new to the philosophy of unschooling. Ask experienced unschoolers all those niggling questions, and find out how unschooling works in real families.”
Radical Unschoolers List
Yahoo! Group e-mail list “for all families, regardless of religious affiliation, choosing to unschool. Unschooling is learning as a part of life. It allows the child to learn naturally, without adult-imposed “lessons”, schedules, or timelines. This list is to offer support, information, perspective, and enlightenment to anyone already unschooling or interested in unschooling.”
Yahoo! Group e-mail list. “This discussion list is the companion communications forum for the Unschooling.com website. [...] Generally, unschoolers are concerned with learning or becoming educated, not with ‘doing school.’ The focus is upon the choices made by each individual learner, and those choices can vary according to learning style and personality type. There is no one way to unschool. That bears repeating: There is no one way to unschool. On this list, in this forum, we’ll explore what that means and help you find answers to your own unschooling questions.”
Unschooling video clips and channels
Unschooling Channel on YouTube
This Unchooling channel is run by Dr. Carlo Ricci, a professor in the Education department of Nippissing University. He is also an OFTP member, currently volunteering as OFTP liaison with government officials and school board /school authorities.
Art celebrating learning in freedom
Live Free Learn Free
by Marian Buchanan
available through Zoetic Endeavours as an art card or letter-size print.