Unschooling: What is It? (From a Former Teacher Turned Homeschooling Mom!)

Have you heard of the term “unschooling” and are now wondering what in the world that could mean? Are you a homeschooling parent (And maybe even a former teacher turned homeschooling parent like me?? ๐Ÿ™ƒ) and are looking for a way to help your child develop his or her passions while getting a fantastic education at the same time? Read on, friend. See how unschooling (or interest-led learning) was the answer for us and can be for you too!

What Is Unschooling and How Does it Work?

This is a question that I get asked A LOT. At first, I was a bit “put off” by it since it often came with a snarky tone, but I have since learned that that is due to a lack of understanding and the fact that the term is, well…..unusual.

I’ve also learned that the term is broad and means different things to different people. Some say unschooling is a form of homeschooling. Others say it is not, but rather a lifestyle. To me, it’s both.

Unschooling, or interest-led learning, is how we learn in my family. (Although, admittedly, that was not always the case. I’ll do a separate post on how we came to find unschooling later!) So in that sense, yes, it’s how we homeschool. But it is also our lifestyle, where learning is incorporated into our everyday lives. Our interests dictate what, where, and how we learn. That is unschooling.

To learn about John Holt, pioneer of the unschooling movement, click here.

Homeschooling vs. Unschooling?

Let’s take a deeper look into homeschooling vs. unschooling.

I know quite a few homeschoolers, but hardly any unschoolers. It has been my experience that most often homeschoolers tend to recreate school at home. That is EXACTLY what I did when we first started. I mean, after all, I am a certified teacher who had been working in a traditional brick-and-mortar private school for 14 years when we began our homeschool journey. Additionally, I had attended the same traditional and private schools for my entire life. This was my arena! And this is what I see many other homeschool families do too; buy curriculum, separate it into individual subjects, complete workbooks, read textbooks….you know, do school.

There is a bit of freedom in homeschooling this way though. You can go at your child’s pace. Spend extra time on what he or she needs and breeze through what is easy for him or her. It can be completed in way less time than those kids attending brick-and-mortar programs. Field trips can be plentiful! Perhaps most importantly, so can family time!

Unschooling, on the other hand, does not follow a prescribed curriculum unless the student has an interest in that. Learning isn’t divided into subjects but is woven throughout life. Math, reading, science, and social studies are everywhere! Individual interests drive what is learned. In future posts, I’ll give real-life examples of how my family learned and is continuing to learn through unschooling.

Advantages vs. Disadvantages


As I am sure you can tell by now, I am an advocate for unschooling. I see plenty of advantages in this way of learning. I will do my best to outline some of them for you.

  • It is learner-centered. If we want children (or anyone really) to learn something, they must be interested in it. They must see the value in learning it. I once read a quote by Katrina Gutleben that resonated with me. She said, “Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” Spot on, Katrina. SPOT ON.
  • It does not require coercing. Since the learner is interested in the topic, they already want to learn it. You do not need to force the learning or bribe the student into doing the work. They WANT to learn. And you know what happens since they want to learn it…..it actually sticks. They don’t just memorize it for the assessment that they know is coming but they truly learn it.
  • It is rooted in freedom. The learner is free to choose. Free to go down whatever rabbit holes they see. Take deep dives into whatever topic they truly enjoy. In doing so they find their passions. They discover what brings them JOY.


Clearly, as an advocate for unschooling, I don’t see many disadvantages, though a few things do come to mind.

  • It can feel like you are doing it all wrong. I think this can be true for both parents and students. It can feel like you are cheating the system. Most of us have been traditionally schooled and our children will probably know many friends and family who have been or are being traditionally schooled. And since unschooling and traditional schooling are like night and day, it can feel like you are doing it wrong. When I get like that I revert back to my why. Why did I choose this for our family? What benefits did I see? And then I dig back into my favorite books and podcasts on the topic and get rejuvenated!
  • Paperwork can be a bleep-ity bleep. Maybe this is just a disadvantage for me with my teaching background. I am used to keeping detailed documentation in the classroom. Documenting unschooling is very different and is still a work in progress for me!
  • The feeling of “Am I doing enough?” This really goes along with point one. Since unschooling does look so different from what we have been trained to view as education, it can be easy to fall into the trap of “Am I doing enough?” That’s when I dig deeper and really look at all that we have been learning.
  • The Naysayers. Ah, yes, my favorite group. ๐Ÿคจ The naysayers. For this, I try to remember that not everyone will agree with this way of living and learning and that’s okay. Agree to disagree and move on!

Unschooling: Where Do I Begin?

By now you may be thinking, okay where do I begin? First and foremost, if unschooling is something you are serious about exploring, begin by digging deeper. Look up unschooling authors and podcasts. Immerse yourself in learning more. Read and listen to everything you can. Should you decide to follow an unschooling path, you will need first to deschool yourself.

Is Unschooling Allowed?

I can’t speak for everywhere, but I can say that where I live in the United States, yes, unschooling is a recognized form of homeschooling. To unschool in my state, it requires all of the necessary paperwork that all other homeschoolers here complete. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Wrap-Up: What is Unschooling?

I hope this post has given you at least some idea of what unschooling is and how it works. Each and every learner is unique, and so is his or her unschooling experience. Follow your child’s interest, and you will be on the right track!

Check out this post on how we followed our son’s interests in Gettysburg, PA!