Unschooling – What is it?

When we first began our homeschooling journey, we started off going the traditional school-at-home route – a dedicated homeschool space with student desks, tons of curricula, extra worksheets, science projects, research papers, the whole nine yards. At one point, each kid even had their own backpack with school supplies. Don’t ask me why. As the years went by and we ALL began to get burned out, I slowly switched over to unschooling. (The “how” and “why” behind the switch will be a topic for another post.)

So what IS unschooling? Honestly, it looks different for every family. There are a wide variety of unschoolers, from “relaxed” homeschoolers all the way to radical unschoolers.

For a general definition, Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

“Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.”

So what does unschooling look like for US? What do we do all day? I’ve organized this post by the tools we use, instead of subjects, as many of the subjects overlap in each thing we do.


Yes, we do use curriculum every now and then, but ONLY when requested by the kiddos. Currently, the only curriculum we’re using is Math Mammoth, specifically the Light Blue series. The kids love that it’s not a textbook (they enjoy worksheets, for some reason), and it’s easy for them to understand. There is a short explanation for each concept then practice questions. Once they have mastered that topic, they’re encouraged to go on to the next. It’s not too repetitive and great for their short attention spans. There are tests and quizzes included, but we generally do not use those. Even if you aren’t into homeschooling, it’s a great supplement.

Space Baby lost in thought


As I mentioned earlier, my kids LOVE worksheets, so I try to keep several workbooks handy. For the littles, I mostly use the School Zone BIG Workbooks, and the older kids enjoy the Spectrum workbooks. Everything is covered at their own pace. One day, they may sit down and finish 10 pages, and then completely ignore the workbook for an entire week. I never push them.

Throughout the year, I will inevitably come to a point where I question if we’re doing enough, if the kids are learning enough. This usually happens every few months or so. To make myself feel better, I created our own unschooly journal with several activities for them to complete each month. It’s nothing that’s required or graded, but it’s fun for them to look back on, and it helps me feel like we’re “doing” something.


Besides their math books and workbooks, we also spend a lot of time reading, independently and out loud. What’s great is that you can learn about pretty much any subject through reading, print or online.

Unfortunately, my 8 year old Space Baby is terrified of libraries, so until we can move past that, we’re stuck with the books we have, ones we can borrow from friends, and those we’re able to buy. I am so grateful for Half Priced Books. We love to take our old books and trade them in. It’s also fun to pick up new-to-us books at garage sales.

We used to think my now 11 year old, Sparrow, hated to read. Then I finally realized it wasn’t reading she hated, but the books we were trying to force feed her. Once we started unschooling, she started to pick out what SHE liked, and she finally started to enjoy reading.

Rory working on math practice (Sudoku) outside in the sunshine


One comment I hear all the time is: “If it were up to my kids, they would just play video games or watch TV all day!” Well, some days, my kids do that, too. But guess what? My youngest learned his colors, shapes, numbers, and the alphabet from watching YouTube videos. Two of my children learned to read by playing Minecraft. One of my kids learned how to tell time from an internet game. And all of my kids have absorbed so much information from watching TV shows or documentaries. And they have retained that information far better than when I was trying the school-at-home approach. It’s been pretty incredible to witness.

Yoshi learning all about tornadoes on his iPad


In addition to everything else we do, I also like to teach the kids “life lessons” (which is really just a nice way to say “chores”). While I still don’t FORCE my kids to participate in chores, I am a bit stricter about it than other topics. When I was young, I was never really taught how to live on my own and ended up learning the hard way. Besides, with four kids, I can use all the help I can get! We are currently working on cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, and laundry. Just the basics.


Of course, the biggest question asked of all homeschoolers, not just those who unschool…

“What about socialization?”

I could go on and on about this one… First of all, my kids are pretty introverted and solitary, like their parents. So in general, they prefer limited social interaction. They do have many friends, however and we try to host frequent play dates, either at our home or at a nearby park. We’re also members of a few homeschool groups who plan different field trips and other social activities.

At various points, the kids have been in involved in sports, dance, drill team, science fair, gymnastics, art classes, drama, Girl Scouts, and piano lessons. There are even homeschool options for prom and graduation, although we’re not at that point yet. In other words, there are plenty of social activities for homeschoolers who are into that sort of thing.

Top left: Sparrow & friend after a band performance
Bottom left: Drama class for the little ones
Right: Our “First day of NOT school” party at a friend’s house

I understand that unschooling isn’t for everybody, but it definitely works for us. I plan to write several more posts on the subject, so if you have any questions you would like me to address, let me know! If you have advice for other homeschoolers or unschoolers you would like to share, please post those in the comments, too.