Homeschooling Styles: Unschooling

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This post is the first in an upcoming series of guest posts on homeschooling styles by the experts — those who have used these styles in their own home schools and have gone on to share their wealth of information with others through their books and/or websites.

I hope you’ll enjoy this series and be encouraged to discover what you can glean from the variety of style options. One of the nicest benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility to take bits and pieces from various ideas and sources and weave those bits and pieces into a style that best reflects your family’s unique personality.

Today, please join me in welcoming Sandra Dodd from Sandra is going to give us her personal insight into the world of unschooling.


I’ve been unschooling since my oldest didn’t go to kindergarten when he was barely five. He’s 22 now, and we had three children, all of whom chose to stay home, all of whom are now old enough to be out of school Holly is 17, Marty is 20 and Kirby is 22.

During most of that time I’ve helped other people understand unschooling, so it’s possible I’ve heard all the questions and objections dozens to hundreds of times. Unschooling isn’t easy to understand, and it’s not something someone can just try for a few weeks. It does take a longterm commitment and change.

Why would anyone want to do something that required them to change the way they thought and behaved and lived? It seems so much work. It is, but it can be fun work and joyful.

Because learning comes naturally to people, unschooling goes with that instead of against it. Children are curious about what they don’t know and excited about discoveries they make. If opportunities can be found for the families to explore ideas, objects, parks, architecture, music, art, movies, art materials, antiques, foods and events, the children’s need to learn can be satisfied, and the parents can begin to overcome prejudices and misconceptions they might have that learning requires teaching, or that there’s a small part of life that “has to be learned” and a vast other part that is wholly unconnected to what’s officially “important.”

There are many different ways to learn about a historical era or a city or a work of fiction, and memorizing three or ten facts from a textbook is unlikely to be the richest and longest-lasting way to learn. Connecting what one already knows with what comes up next, and connecting a new idea with two or three old ones, is the way adults learn; it’s the way children learn best.

When the complaint is that unschooling isn’t methodical enough, I say the method is enrichment — creating an environment in which learning cannot help but happen. When the complaint is that unschooling isn’t predictable enough, or the results aren’t guaranteed, I pause and wait to see if that complainant really wants to leave that chess move on the board.

NO results are guaranteed.

Predicting and depending on “results” is looking at a template and not at a child. What good is it for children to have their own particular parents if the parents are going to treat those individual children as generic pegs to be stuck into generic holes?

Living a rich life together and having learning as a focus makes learning easy to find and to encourage, once parents see what it looks like outside of school and schoolish methods. It’s not far away, it’s just a different angle from which to see the same world, the same materials and history and geography.

From the point of view of conservative homeschoolers, unschooling might look like disorganized unit studies. Unit studies have a beginning and end, though, and a family moves on to a new topic, a new focus. With unschooling, the assumption is that each human learns about those things that interest him from the first time he sees them until he dies, so the “unit” being studied is everything in the world.

No one ever finishes learning everything in the world, but if there’s learning happening every day, in fun, relaxed, real-life ways, each person knows a great deal about himself, his family and the world, without any danger of a cut-off point after which he “failed” to learn enough. There is always more to learn, and those who grow up learning for fun will have no reason to avoid or fear learning when they’re older.

Anyone interested in more about unschooling might want to look at the typical days section on my unschooling page, or at some of the introductory materials here: (corrected link — thanks, Sandra!). More information about my family and my experiences with unschooling are at


Thank you, Sandra, for sharing your thoughts with us.

Sandra has agreed to be available to answer any additional questions that you may have, so, if you have questions, leave them in the comments and check back in the comments for her reply. (You can easily be kept up-to-date with the replies to comments by subscribing to the comments for this particular post when you leave your question.)


This article was written by a Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers guest author. See the author's full bio in the body of the post.

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  1. What an excellent idea for a series! Sandra, thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts and insights. I’m sure you have already improved the lives of countless parents and children, yet you continue to give.


  2. Sandra is an eminence grise of online unschoolers. She’ll always tell ya straight up with no beating around the bush.

  3. Thanks! I am considering keeping my kids out of formal schools so I’m very excited to read about different methods!

  4. Thank you for such an informative article. I have always been interested in unschooling and have tried to get into it a couple of times over the last 2 years of home educating my children.

    We do ok for a month or so but then either myself or dh start to get itchy feet and panic that they aren’t doing as much and now that we are known by our education authority here in the UK I feel that I have to prove that we are doing stuff which is much harder to prove with unschooling.

    What would be your advice to someone struggling to keep up with unschooling and not slip back into habits of giving the kids work to do.

    I know that I need to deschool myself too for unschooling to be successful but I find it so hard to do.


  5. Thanks for the kind words, all.

    Emma, as you’re in the U.K., you might consider going to hear me in London on July 25! Others will be speaking too; I’m just an add-on down the calendar somewhere, but what I’ll present is how unschooling changed me and my marriage and my relationships in ways I never would have begun to predict, when I started unschooling.

    As to local requirements, are you in contact with Schuyler Waynforth? She’s active on the Always Learning list, is fearless, and in Norfolk.

    She’ll be in London, too:

    Other courage-boosting tools:
    (the link didn’t work directly to that up above)

  6. So does popping over from the blog party count if I have already been in the showcase?
    Anyhow, hey there. I am loving your blog so far and I am looking forward to thoroughly exploring!

  7. Thanks for that Sandra. I will definitely try to get down to London then. It sounds like that will be really useful to us and also help get dh more used to the idea that unschooling can work for us.


  8. Thank you!! We are playing with unschooling…if you can call it that. I love what you said, “No one ever finishes learning everything in the world, but if there’s learning happening every day, in fun, relaxed, real-life ways, each person knows a great deal about himself, his family and the world, without any danger of a cut-off point after which he “failed” to learn enough.” I guess this is what I am hoping for, but I’m still not quite over the typical schooling mentality. Thank you for this!

  9. Thanks for the great post! I love Sandra! Thanks for taking the time to provide some real insight into unschooling.

  10. This sounds like an interesting concept although I have to admit I don’t really get it! Thanks for posting I will check out the unschooling site and look in to this a bit more!

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