Coffee Cup

Unschooling? What's That?
Jeanne Love

For our family, unschooling is a way of life. It is homeschooling and learning in and from the world around us - learning with all the tools God gave us, instead of confining ourselves to someone else's scope and sequence.

We have some curriculum, but our policy is that the child has to want to do the books. The books are within the reach of the children all the time. I will gladly sit down with them and help them do a page or two or three, or whatever the child requests.

Unschooling is not watching TV all day (much to the oldest son's dismay). It is learning from the curriculum that God gave us. Look at the clouds and talk about science. Read a book and ask questions about that time period. Do math by buying a birthday present for a sibling or by buying groceries. Everyone buys groceries, don't they?

Unschooling is a lot like when the children were learning to walk. I didn't get out a bunch of workbook pages on keeping your balance and where to place each foot. I want our children to embrace the world God gave us and learn from the things around them.

Here is a sample of a "typical" unschooler's day. We played some games, and read some books. My 9-year-old finished a book, staying up most of the previous night to read it. ("But, Mom, it was too good to put down!") We watched some Fiddler on the Roof video for a little history and discussion for lunchtime. The children all made their own lunches. Then we got ambitious and went to the neighbor's deserted farm place and picked apples. Well, maybe picked isn't the right term; we climbed the trees and got some, we shook some branches and got hit on the head with apples. At any rate, we came home with four sacks of apples. The children asked to walk the mile home. Our road is one of the busiest gravel roads in Warren County, especially when school is letting out. It wasn't out yet, so I allowed them to walk, following them home in the van. The oldest boy came up to the van on the way home and asked if he could take a few apples to an older neighbor that was on the walk home. Of course I allowed him to make the delivery. I love to see that servant attitude coming out in the children.

This was a typical day, and not - all at the same time. Isn't all of homeschooling that way? Each day is an adventure, and I never know what God has planned for us next!

In the summer of 1996, I made plans for us to do a unit study on the states in the coming fall. Our oldest son was extremely caught up in learning all about the fifty states, and I thought this would be a time for us to learn more about them. By the time November came around, he was no longer interested in states, but instead wanted to know all about elections. It was a presidential election year, and that was what everyone was talking about. Neither of these is better than the other one is to study. I had a big fight on my hands every day, trying to keep our son interested in states, when he was dying for some information on elections. After only one or two days, I saw the light, and taught him elections.

My point here is that not always do the children need to know exactly the bit of information that we, the parents, or some curriculum company determines ahead of time for our children.

For us, learning occurs all the time. School doesn't stop at the end of the last page for the day. Our schooling is a continuous thing. The kids ask the questions, and depending on what I am doing, and my mood, I either answer the question or direct them to find the resource that will give them the answer.

Often, when people hear that we homeschool, they ask me if I like it. My standard answer is, "It is like any other job. Some days you love it, and some days you don't even want to get out of bed."

Now that we are unschooling, the loving days are far more commonplace.

We allow our children to determine what it is they want to learn. We don't allow some curriculum prescribed by an unknown person to do the choosing for our family. The kids know exactly what it is they are interested in learning. And if they don't for a day or two, that is okay, too. It will come. Have patience.

Think back to something you taught your kids that they could hardly wait to learn more about. Wasn't that one of the most enjoyable times you ever spent teaching your child? Now think back to a time when you were teaching something to the same child that you felt was important, but the child was not interested. In our case, not only were they frustrated, but so was I, and tempers flared. It is much better to step back and let things take a natural course. Unschooling makes it so that every teaching experience is as enjoyable as the first example. The children are on fire to learn more.

That is my ultimate goal is for my kids. Second only to a deep personal relationship to our Lord, I want them to enjoy learning. The first years of our homeschooling venture, when we were doing the workbooks, and I was a drill sergeant of a mom, we were losing that love. I know of no reason for learning to be a torturous thing.

"But what if the child misses something," you say? Well, I know for a fact that none of us know everything. Every education is lacking in some areas. No one knows everything. That is God's job.

Bible studies are accomplished by the evening bedtime stories that my husband reads to the children each night. They also go to church every Sunday morning and evening, and to Wednesday night services. On Wednesdays they have children's choir, too. On Tuesdays they attend Awanas.

Reading is covered by, well, reading books. Any books of their choosing, within reason. Goosebumps and some others are not allowed at our house; the children know it, and stay away from that section of the library. We read fiction and non-fiction of all types. The children all learned to read using some curriculum, but mostly by looking at things around them and asking questions. In the car is one of the best places my kids learn. They have me as a captive to answer all their questions!

My children learn math by playing games like Monopoly, Life, Chess, and Skip-Bo, plus tons of others. I make a trip to the grocery store one of our biggest learning experiences too. For example, I send the kids off to get something, perhaps a gallon of milk, making sure they are getting the right kind, and that it is the cheapest. To me, this is not only teaching them math, but stewardship too. They love to do this!

Science is covered with experiments we do, and some by watching TV. Shows on PBS are particularly great for this. Plus, there's usually a continual science experiment going on in the refrigerator. Art is done with drawing pictures and the occasional library book. Painting, crocheting, knitting, sewing, along with the craft kits we got from the aunts an uncles last Christmas all fall under the subject of art. Watching various videos and all the museums we visit take care of the history really well.

One of the biggest assets to our homeschooling efforts was getting a computer and using the Internet. Every subject is covered on there! We have found many different resources and free offers on the Internet. We have made friends from all over Iowa, the United States, and the World.

Unschooling allows the children to take their passion and pursue it to their fulfillment. When the children have learned all they want to on one topic, it is time for them to move on. Just like at the dinner table, I allow the children to tell me when their tummies are full. And, with learning, I allow them to tell me when they are tired of studying any one particular thing. A sampling of past things we have studied includes: geography, African animals, computers, slavery and the Civil War, horses, the Titanic, presidents, kittens, musical instruments, and many others that escape me right now! I never know what next adventure God has in store for us.

Use the resources God puts in your family's path and learn from them. He desires us to learn from things other than just the workbooks and curriculum. God is a wonderful teacher if we but open our eyes and hearts and look around. When He made the earth, He didn't put books on it, He expects us to explore, look around, and learn from LIFE. It is a great world He has made for us. Let's use it to His honor!


The first thing I recommend to people interested in unschooling is to let their children have lots of time to choose for themselves, and watch what they are doing. Write down in a notebook or journal what you see them doing. Observe them for a week or two, or even a month, then go back and decide what subject each activity falls under. For example, reading a book falls under "language arts," playing "Monopoly" falls under "math," looking up "electricity" in the encyclopedia would be "science" and "language arts" (for research skills).

There are many things that children do all day long that are educational - learning doesn't have to come from a textbook or a workbook.

Another important step in beginning this adventure is to keep in mind that unschooling is a long process. It will take the kids some time to decide what it is that they want to learn about. Afterall, either you or the public schools have been telling them what to do for a long time. That is why I don't recommend making subject notations in your journal any less than a week later. It is too easy to panic and say, "Oh, no! We didn't do anything in science today!" Wait a few days, science will happen!

Give this process time. Don't go back to the way things were if you think you are not seeing anything happen. The children may need a little break, or what I call "veg-time" before they really dig in. They have ideas and will take off on their own when they get over waiting for you to tell them what to do. Two or three months are what I would recommend.

Comparing your children to other homeschooling children gets in the way of success "big time." Your child's schedule is not going to be the same as Billy's nor as Billy's mother, nor as the curriculum Billy is doing. This is Satan's trap. Don't fall into it, unschooling or not.

I read a lot about different types of homeschooling. A good resource that I found helpful is the book "The Homsechooling Handbook," by Mary Griffith. Mrs. Griffith wrote another book called the "Unschooling Handbook" - it is a great resource for beginning unschoolers. Libraries and catalogs carry a wide variety of other helpful resources.

Trust the children to learn something on their own. Their minds are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by God, who is infinitely creative. Trust Him to guide you and the children into wonderful discoveries in the world all around.
(c) 1999 Jeanne Love

Jeanne is a single mom still homeschooling three children, now ages 14.5, 13, and 11, in Iowa. They have always homeschooled. Jeanne enjoys scrapbooking, and has a website called Love of Learning Center

coffee cup gif Back to BestHomeschooling Home
Copyright 2004 All rights reserved. Please feel free to link to this site, BestHomeschooling. org, but do not copy material and/or reproduce or distribute it in any way without permission. Authors of articles retain the rights to their own articles which may not be reproduced without their permission.