unschooling: defined

unschoolinglargeWelcome to Day 2 of 31 Days of Unschooling! Catch up on Day 1 here. I was super encouraged by your comments yesterday. Thanks for sharing a little bit about yourselves and what intrigues you about this crazy word: UNSCHOOLING.

I had to smile at the people who said (in the comments and elsewhere in social media land), “Pardon my ignorance, but what the flying heck is this unschooling of which you speak??”

Well. Today is your lucky day.

I have a definition. A very official, very scientific definition. And by that I mean, just kidding. Not official or scientific at all. In fact, I’m pulling it straight off the virtual pages of an e-book I wrote myself.

Here you go:

*Unschooling: student-led, interest-driven, mostly-fun, super-meaningful education that happens at home (and/or any other place along the way). Parents and other adults are valuable facilitators, but instead of lecturing, they’re sharing from experience and often learning right alongside the kiddos.

There’s no set curriculum, no list of things the kids need to know, no replication of school at la casa. Creativity and innovation and community (and all the important stuff in life) are encouraged and nurtured. Kids are celebrated for who God created them to be and inspired to become the very best grown-up version of that unique and amazing person.

Unschooling families think school cramps their style; childhood’s too short to spend cooped up in a classroom; and learning happens best in the context of real life. And real life starts right this very minute.

*Not an official definition. I just made it up off the top of my head. It’s yours for the tweaking. (t-w-e-a-k-i-n-g) (Name that awesome 90’s movie.)

I realize that, as scientific and precise as this definition is, it still doesn’t answer all your questions. Like, “what in the heck does unschooling look like PRACTICALLY SPEAKING?” We’ll get to that. I want you to stick around past day two, you know.

So, question for you. Two questions actually.

1.) Which sentence or phrase in this definition stands out to/resonates with you?

2.) Which part of the definition would you like me to extrapolate on (explain further) in upcoming posts?

(And 5 points for naming that awesome 90’s movie.)

31 thoughts on “unschooling: defined

  1. Micheale

    I love the aspect that children learn right along side of their parents, but what about when parents have to go to work? I am just curious. But I worry about not covering things they may need for college if they desire to become a professional within the world.

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  4. christine

    Affter reading your posts so far, Ihave to wonder if unschoolers have a misconception about homschoolers that don’t “unschool?”
    Personally, I think ALL home ed is unschooling of sorts. I often tell new homeschoolers things like “Home ed is an out of the box idea” “Life is school and school is life” “I want my children to learn how to learn, not just how to pass a test to promptly forget what they’ve memorized” If the kids are asking questions- that’s when learning happens. I tell them about how I hated history growing up- but I learned it wasn’t history I hated- it was time lines and dates. I also tell them “who says” especially at the high school level. Who says they need trig? Who says they must have state history in 4th grade (or at all). Most of the time I get an “aha” moment answer and I feel I’ve done “my” job 🙂

    I encourage new home educators to never just stick with their curriculum.but I do feel that some families ( in fact most) need a starting point- curriculun does that). I don’t know any home educator that tells their kids “no darling, you’ve done your school today- you’re not allowed to learn anything else until tomorrow” lol.

    I, personally, find it very hard to teach things like math and english without a curriculum. But then we show our children how it fits into “real” life- while we’re doing things like building a deck, stacking wood, etc.. Myself? I am terrible at math and suffer for it at 49. I wish I had been made to master it way back when.

    I think most home educators think this way. In all my years (and my husband was home educated starting in 1983) we have only met 1 family that has replicated a “school” at home. My husband is 40 years old and comes home from work almost every day with something new he’s learned.
    That, to me, is home education. (Btw, I volunteer with our state homeschool organization and talk to a lot of newbies and teach a highschool how-to class- biggest thing they need to hear- r-e-l-a-x, haha)
    Have enjoyed reading your 31 days so far- look forward to the rest.


    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Christine. I appreciate your perspective. It’s so interesting to me that, from your experience, most homeschoolers tend toward unschooling (or what I would call unschooling). I personally know many, many homeschooling families who replicate school at home. Lots of structure and curriculum and lesson planning and textbooks and workbooks, etc.

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  6. Dusty333

    i’m watching yours and the very first posters dialogue…that’s what I’m most interested in!!! I love direct conversation when adults actually pose a potentially conflicting view point….and BAMN ADULTS continue to get along and be respectful!

  7. Sharon

    The part that stands out to me most is this: “Marla will unschool your children out of the kindness of her heart.” What???? Oh, it didn’t actually say that? Bummer! Okay, here’s my real answer: “…learning happens best in the context of real life. And real life starts right this very minute.” But, I also really like this part, too: “…they’re sharing from experience and often learning right alongside the kiddos.” I LOVE to learn, myself, would be fun to learn along side my kids. I’d like to hear more about this: “There’s no set curriculum, no list of things the kids need to know, no replication of school at la casa.” How does it work as far as whatever the rules are for kids who are not going to a public/private school?

  8. Amy

    I have lots of thoughts – but am terrible at conveying them through writing…lots of things I have processed about unschooling and lots of things I still am processing…I think there needs to be a podcast on this…you could invite people to talk and share and ask questions. Love you!!!!

  9. Jennifer

    Resonates: “learning happens best in the context of real life.” After going all the way through public school, undergrad, graduate degrees this is SO true! When I have learned the best it has been in real-life context.
    Extrapolate: “no list of things the kids need to know,” I’m one of those people who goes back to this question: “How am I supposed to know what I want to know if I don’t even know it exists?” One of those questions that I’m sure you’ve been asked 1000x and will address in a later post. Many thanks. Much love. Peace. XOXOXO

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Okay, I need a tiny bit of clarification. When you ask, “How am I supposed to know what I want to know if I don’t even know it exists?” what do you mean? Are you saying that school is where people find out things exist? I will for sure address it after I figure out what you’re saying. xoxoxo

    2. valerie

      I don’t know if this is what Jennifer is asking or not, but what her question made me want to say is….exactly! We’ve discovered (through public schooling) that one of my kiddos LOVES algebra (I know, right?). Please nobody yell at me – I KNOW there are exceptions – but for the majority of us, algebra is not a subject we use in everyday life. So if unschooling is based on real-life experiences (here’s where I get back to what Jennifer’s question made me think), how would my girlie have ever discovered that she loves algebra in an unschooling environment? {And p.s., I agree with everyone else – so hard to ask these kinds of questions in print without making them sound critical. NOT critical at all! Just wanting to learn. 🙂 }

  10. Ann

    “There’s no set curriculum, no list of things the kids need to know” is where my more critical sounding questions start to fly….questions like “Does this mean they skip entire subjects? Will they only have an elementary understanding of certain subjects? Aren’t there certain requirements for what kids learn? How is this different from truancy?” I’m really more curious than critical, but it can be hard to convey tone with an impersonal computer. I hope it doesn’t come across as an attack.

    My siblings and I were all homeschooled. We had to meet certain state requirements and we were required to submit individualized home instruction plans (stating what curriculum/concepts) were going to be covered at the start of each year. How does this work with when you have no set curriculum and no list of things the kids need to know? Homeschooling was amazing for us. We were all interested in certain subjects and my parents catered to that. All of us are now grown and doing well in our individual fields of study. I don’t think we would have ended up in the places we are now if it weren’t for homeschooling fostering that love of learning and being able to spend extra time learning exactly what we wanted to learn….but we still had to spend time learning every subject regardless of it was one we were interested in. Can you explain more how unschooling compares with this?

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Great questions, Ann. And I’m going to ask you a couple of my own before I answer. 😉 When you say “skip entire subjects” or “only an elementary understanding of certain subjects,” what do you mean? Which subjects do you have in mind? And how much is an “elementary understanding” of them? How old are you now, what field of study are you in, and what do you still remember from the other fields you studied (but didn’t interest you)? A lot? A little? (and, just like you, these are curious questions, not critical–promise.)

  11. Kim

    “Super meaningful” (in our home that means God-directed and Biblical)

    “parents and other adults as valuable facilitators” (many see homeschoolers as cut off separatists, but we like to expose our children to many influential adults who help us guide them…many of these are missionaries, authors, and other Christian figures who are making an impact for Christ in our world)

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Hopefully it will be clear in the book that we are not only NOT separatists, but we’ve totally immersed ourselves in a very-close-together space with lots and lots of diverse people from around the world. I can’t put a price tag on the learning my kiddos have done this year at Abbey Lane (our apartment complex).

  12. Ali

    What I love best about unschooling (this is coming from a mom who has her children in public school, thankyouverymuch) is that I can unschool even though my kids are in public school. In other words, when I allow my kids to lead me on a backyard adventure to discover the biggest garden spider we can find, that’s unschooling. When we run back to the house to grab the ruler so we can measure the knarly creature, that’s unschooling. When we open up the computer later because it’s dawned on my 5-year-old that maybe the spider is poisonous, so we research the facts, that’s unschooling. Not one of these experiences were a result of a parent or school initiated curriculum. It was all a product of questions my kids were asking. And when spider curiosity leads to questions about other hidden creatures in our yard, we follow that exploration rather than forcing the issue about spiders for the sake of learning more about spiders.

    1. Ali

      Two things that just struck me.

      I think what I meant to say is that what I love best about unschooling is not that I can unschool and put my kids in public school. What I love best about unschooling is that there is no set system – it’s not going to look the same for everyone. So even though we public school, we can also be intentional with our kids outside of the traditional school environment, in essence, we can share in unschooling because it’s not an either/or. Unschooling does require intentionality. But it’s more of an intentional mindset, rather than a set of structures and rules.

      And two, I think what I’m realizing is that we’ve adopted an unschooling philosophy when it comes to the extracurricular pressures of childhood. Being in public school, we are exposed to so many families who have their children engaged in various activities outside of the school parameters. That has never set well with me. Without even realizing it, we have “unschooled” that part of our kids’ lives. Our kids just love to be home with us. They don’t beg to be in sports, etc. It doesn’t even seem to be on their radars, truthfully. But it’s not that they just sit at home after school and do nothing. No, we do art and we bake and we take care of the kitties and we help stack firewood after daddy cuts down a tree. And by default, my kids are learning and engaging the world.

      Geesh, Marla, who knew I had so much to say about unschooling. I’m eager to share my thoughts on the topic as someone who hasn’t adopted unschooling as our sole method of educating our kids. How exciting!

      1. Marla Taviano Post author

        Thanks for writing a whole blog post for me, friend. Seriously. This is SUCH a good point about the “extracurricular pressures of childhood.” I think we need to reeeeally question why are kids are in eight million different activities. Are we resume-building? Trying to keep up with the Joneses? What’s our motivation?

  13. Melissa

    I think this part resonates most with me: “Creativity and innovation and community (and all the important stuff in life) are encouraged and nurtured”

    As far as question 2, I don’t really know because what you said all makes sense to me lol. I get what you are saying.

  14. Bethany

    You’ve Got Mail?

    resonates–“learning happens best in the context of real life”

    explain further– “no list of things the kids need to know”–do you have another teacher sign off for you each year? Do you still have to cover all the subjects and just count real-life things as their math, history, language, etc.?

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