Friday, January 11, 2013

Day 11 -We Are Unschoolers

(Disclaimer: I respect all parents’ educational choices. There are many alternatives to education. This article is not meant to be critical or even persuasive, it is simply our personal journey. Enjoy.)

“Unschooling?! Isn’t that just for the liberal, atheist, hippy type of homeschoolers?”

Or, at least, that’s what I asked myself the first time I heard about a conservative, Christian family choosing to unschool their children. 

But, I listened to their case, kept an open mind, and fell in love.

Unschooling, in short, is allowing your child as much freedom to learn as you can possibly bear. For us, it means no set curriculum, no assignments, no lesson plans, no tests– in essence, no school! My children learn what they want, when they want, and how they want, in the belief that education should be fun, passion-driven, and voluntary.

(Stop right there. I know what you are thinking: “But what about math? How will they ever learn math?!” I will get to the “math issue” later, in another article, but for now it will suffice to say that math can be found in the most surprisingly fun places, such as board games, cooking, music, building things – oh, and my favorite, buying things! In addition, I find it ironic that I usually get the “math question” from people who never use anything beyond basic, practical mathematics in their career or daily life. Strange. Oh well, moving on...)

When I first pulled my son out of public school we took the traditional approach to homeschooling, i.e. we did school-at-home. We bought packaged curriculum, had set school hours, a classroom, and all the works. Although I wouldn’t describe our initial homeschooling days as bad, we weren’t having the joyful, rich, and exciting learning experience I had romanticized about when first deciding to homeschool.

My older son certainly loved being home with me and little his brother, but he would sigh in dread as he sat down to do certain subjects and he would count down the hours until school was over. I didn’t pay this too much mind, as I assumed this was how homeschooling was supposed to be! I figured lesson plans, worksheets, buying curriculum, and long days battling over fractions or forcing my wild-at-heart, outdoorsman of a boy to read books like “Little House on the Prairie,” was the price a parent had to pay to be a good home educator – and I was willing to do it forever.

Until, that is, I realized there is another way!

I became enthralled with the unschooling philosophy and read every book, article, or blog post written on the subject. It was like a veil had been lifted – one of those major “aha” moments.

It’s funny because we have all said at some point that “learning should be fun,” but in reality that usually just meant we would find a way to teach something with a slightly more hands-on approach or try incorporating a game into our lesson, but it was never really much more fun and the children still viewed it as school work.

But with unschooling, school really is fun. Better put, life is really fun. Now that we have started unschooling, learning is not a chore that I have to force my kids to finish before they can go do whatever it is they want to do. Instead, learning no longer has a beginning or end because, for us, living is learning. We don’t disassociate learning from living by putting it in a set building, for a set time, with set subjects.

And again, I know what you are thinking, “But, as a parent, and especially as a Christian parent, isn’t it our duty to ‘train our children in the way they should go...,’?”

My answer is: definitely! As parents, we should certainly give our children covering, training, and guidance -- and unschooling allows us to do that in a less directive, prescriptive, or forced way. Instead, we guide our children with an approach that is more respectful, thoughtful, and relationship building.

Don’t confuse this approach with me “being a friend and not a parent,” because that is certainly not the dynamic in our house. We still have chores, we still require good manners, respect and obedience -- but under that umbrella -- we allow A LOT of freedom.

I have read articles and books that attempt to lay out scriptural arguments for homeschooling, but I will not do that here. Why? Because, frankly, I don’t think God cares if you homeschool your children or not.  (cue gasp from the legalists!) That’s right, I don’t think He cares whether your children go to public school, private school, homeschool or are unschooled. God only cares that you walk with Him in whatever path you choose.

That being said, even though I don’t think God prefers one method of education over another, I do know that he prefers joy and freedom over misery and slavery. I think it is a shame that so many people carry life around like a heavy burden. It doesn’t have to be that way – and choosing to unschool, for us, has been a burden lifter.

I choose to unschool my kids for five main reasons:

       1.)Our earthly life is short – and no one will say on their death bed that they wish they had done more calculus worksheets.

   2.) Because God created each one of us unique from the next and I believe that unique individuals learn best when they are not forced, but rather when they learn something out of personal interest or need.

   3.)Because people (and yes, children are people too) appreciate and long for freedom.

   4.)Because living out a principle is always a more effective way to lead than enforcing a rule. (Be the change you want to see in your children!)

   5.)Because I would rather spend time getting to know who my children are, than telling them who they need to be.

After all, my children are not really my own, they belong to God and He has entrusted me with them. This season of my life, this season of having children home with me, will only last but a moment.  I want that moment to be rich with joy, communion, adventure, love, trust, memories, freedom and most of all, grace. I don’t worry that allowing my children the freedom to choose what they learn or don’t learn will hurt their chances of “succeeding in the real world,” whatever that even means. 

In the end, the most important human skills, i.e., humility, courage, compassion, sense of wonder, ability to forgive, resourcefulness, or faithfulness, can’t be measured on a test but can only be lived out.  Some may call us radical, and I’d have to agree. We are radically joyful, radically passionate, radically adventurous, radically in love, and radically free. 

We are unschoolers. 


  1. Unschooling is wonderful, isn't it? :) Thank you for sharing! It also was so freeing when I found it. My oldest was three though, and we are "radical unschoolers" so I actually found the parenting part of it really appealing and then eventually came to believe in the educational part of it. I used to parent with the statement in mind "You're their parent, not their friend" until I read this: Now I consider it one of my primary responsibilities as a parent to be the best friend I can be to my children.

  2. Thanks for the Sandra Dodd article. I will check it out! YOu are not the first message I've got today concerning the "friend" comment! LOL. It's just that I grew up in a home where my mom tried to be my friend and didn't parent me much and it hurt me, I think. So, I'm leery of the purely friend idea. :-(

  3. I agree - I think using the model of God as our father and our closest friend should be our goal. But when our children are young, they need someone to be responsible and choose the best path for them. As they get older, we can begin to be more of a friend and less of a parent.