Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. There are some who find it controversial.[1] Unschooling encourages exploration of activities, often initiated by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child.

The term "unschooling" was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the "father" of unschooling.[2] While often considered to be a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically estranged from other homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling. While homeschooling has been subject to widespread public debate, little media attention has been given to unschooling in particular. Popular critics of unschooling tend to view it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children will lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their peers, especially in the job market, while proponents of unschooling say exactly the opposite is true: self-directed education in a natural environment makes a child more equipped to handle the "real world."[3]



Children are natural learners

A fundamental premise of unschooling is that curiosity is innate and that children want to learn. From this an argument can be made that institutionalizing children in a so-called "one size fits all" or "factory model" school is an inefficient use of the children's time, because it requires each child to learn a specific subject matter in a particular manner, at a particular pace, and at a particular time regardless of that individual's present or future needs, interests, goals, or any pre-existing knowledge he or she might have about the topic.

Many unschoolers also believe that opportunities for valuable hands-on, community-based, spontaneous, and real-world experiences are missed when educational opportunities are largely limited to those which can occur physically inside a school building.

Children do not all learn the same way

Unschoolers note that psychologists have documented many differences between children in the way that they learn,[4] and assert that unschooling is better equipped to adapt to these differences.[citation needed]

Developmental differences

Developmental psychologists note that children are prepared to learn at different ages.[citation needed] Just as some children learn to walk during a normal range of eight to fifteen months, and begin to talk across an even larger range, unschoolers assert that they are also ready to read, for example, at different ages.[citation needed] Since traditional education requires all children to begin reading at the same time and do multiplication at the same time, unschoolers believe that some children cannot help but be bored because this was something that they had been ready to learn earlier, and even worse, some children cannot help but fail, because they are not yet ready for this new information being taught.[citation needed]

Learning styles

People vary in their "learning styles", that is, how they prefer to acquire new information. However, research has demonstrated that this preference is not related to increased learning or improved performance. [5] Despite the lack of evidence, many continue to believe that students have different learning needs. In a traditional school setting, teachers almost never allow an individual student to be evaluated any differently than any other student and while teachers often use different methods, this is sometimes done haphazardly and not always with specific regard to the needs of an individual student.[6]

Essential body of knowledge

Unschoolers often state that learning any specific subject is less important than learning how to learn.[7] They assert, in the words of Aleck Bourne, "It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated", and in the words of Holt:

Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.[7]

It is asserted that this ability to learn on their own makes it more likely that later, when these children are adults, they can continue to learn what they need to know to meet newly emerging needs, interests, and goals;[citation needed] and that they can return to any subject that they feel was not sufficiently covered or learn a completely new subject.[citation needed]

Many unschoolers disagree that there is a particular body of knowledge that every person, regardless of the life they lead, needs to possess.[citation needed] They suggest that there are countless subjects worth studying, more than anyone could learn within a single lifetime.[citation needed] Unschoolers argue that, in the words of John Holt, "[I]f [children] are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than anyone else could make for them."[8]

The role of parents

The child-directed nature of unschooling does not mean that unschooling parents will not provide their children with guidance and advice, or that they will refrain from sharing things that they find fascinating or illuminating with them. These parents generally believe that as adults, they have more experience with the world and greater access to it. They believe in the importance of using this to aid their children in accessing, navigating, and making sense of the world. Common parental activities include sharing interesting books, articles, and activities with their children, helping them find knowledgeable people to explore an interest with (anyone from physics professors to automotive mechanics), and helping them set goals and figure out what they need to do to meet their goals. Unschooling’s interest-based nature does not mean that it is a "hands off" approach to education; parents tend to be quite involved, especially with younger children (older children, unless they are new to unschooling, will often need much less help finding resources and making and carrying out plans).

Criticism of traditional school methods

According to unschooling pioneer John Holt, "...the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don't know." Proponents of unschooling assert that individualized, child-led learning is more efficient and respectful of children's time, takes advantage of their interests, and allows deeper exploration of subjects than what is possible in conventional education.

Others[who?] have pointed out that schools can be designed to be non-coercive and cooperative, in a manner consistent with the philosophies behind unschooling. Sudbury model schools are evidence of schools that are non-coercive, non-indoctrinative, cooperative, democratically run partnerships between children and adults, including full parents' partnership, where learning is individualized and child-led, and complement home education.

History and usage of the term "unschooling"

The term "unschooling" probably derives from Ivan Illich's term "deschooling", and was popularized through John Holt's newsletter Growing Without Schooling. In an early essay, Holt contrasts the two terms:

GWS will say 'unschooling' when we mean taking children out of school, and 'deschooling' when we mean changing the laws to make schools non-compulsory...[9]

At this point, then, the term was equivalent with "home schooling" (itself a neologism). Subsequently, home schoolers began to differentiate between various educational philosophies within home schooling. The term "unschooling" became used as a contrast to versions of home schooling that were perceived as politically and pedagogically “school-like.” In 2003, in Holt's very influential book Teach Your Own, originally published in 1981, Pat Farenga, co-author of the new edition, provided such a definition:

When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.[10]

In the same passage Holt stated that he was not entirely comfortable with this term, and that he would have preferred the term "living". Holt's use of the term emphasizes learning as a natural process, integrated into the spaces and activities of everyday life, and not benefiting from adult manipulation. It follows closely on the themes of educational philosophies proposed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Paul Goodman, and A.S. Neill.

After Holt's death and the cessation of GWS, there was no longer anything resembling an authoritative voice of the unschooling movement. A very wide range of unschooling practitioners and observers defined the term in various different ways. For instance, the Freechild Project defines unschooling as:

the process of learning through life, without formalized or institutionalized classrooms or schoolwork.[11]

New Mexico homeschooling parent Sandra Dodd proposed the term "Radical Unschooling" to emphasize the complete rejection of any distinction between educational and non-educational activities.[12] Radical Unschooling emphasizes that unschooling is a non-coercive, cooperative practice, and seeks to promote those values in all areas of life. Catherine Baker and Grace Llewellyn emphasize unschooling as a process initiated and controlled by the learners (as opposed to their parents).[13][14] All of these usages share an opposition to traditional schooling techniques and the social construction of schools. Most emphasize the integration of learning into the everyday life of the family and wider community. Points of disagreement include whether unschooling is primarily defined by the initiative of the learner and their control over the curriculum, or by the techniques, methods, and spaces being used.

Complementary philosophies

Radical unschooling families may incorporate the following philosophies into their lifestyles. Each philosophy shares the ideals of cooperative partnership and mutual respect.{cite}

Home education

Unschooling is a form of home education, which is the education of children at home rather than in a school. Home education is often considered to be synonymous with homeschooling, but some have argued that the latter term implies the re-creation of school in the context of the home, which they believe is philosophically at odds with unschooling.

Unschooling contrasts with other forms of home education in that the student's education is not directed by a teacher and curriculum. Unschooling is a real-world implementation of "The Open Classroom" methods promoted in the late 1960's and early 1970's, without the school, classrooms or grades. Parents who unschool their children act as "facilitators," providing a wide range of resources, helping their children access, navigate, and make sense of the world, and aiding them in making and implementing goals and plans for both the distant and immediate future. Unschooling expands from children's natural curiosity as an extension of their interests, concerns, needs, goals, and plans.


Concerns about socialization are often a factor in the decision to unschool. Many unschoolers believe that the conditions common in conventional schools, like age segregation, a low ratio of adults to children, a lack of contact with the community, and a lack of people in professions other than teachers or school administration create an unhealthy social environment.[15] They feel that their children benefit from coming in contact with people of diverse ages and backgrounds in a variety of contexts. They also feel that their children benefit from having some ability to influence what people they encounter, and in what contexts they encounter them. Unschoolers cite studies which report that home educated students tend to be more mature than their schooled peers,[15][16][17] and some believe this is a result of the wide range of people with which they have the opportunity to communicate.[18] Critics of unschooling, on the other hand, argue that unschooling inhibits social development by removing children from a ready-made peer group of diverse individuals.[3][19]


Common concerns

  • Children may receive a sub-standard education from non-credentialed, uneducated caregivers.
  • Children won't learn the things they will need to know in their adult lives.[19][20]
  • A child may not learn the same things a regular-schooling peer does, unless an educational professional controls what material is covered.[21]
  • Because schools provide a ready-made source of peers, unschooling children will have to have other ways to make friends in their age group.[3][19]
  • A child's only opportunity to experience people of other cultures and worldviews would be in a religious community, scout group, sports teams, etc. If a child isn't exposed to anything "extra", they might not be exposed to other socio-economic groups.[19]
  • Fear that a child may be completely unmotivated and never learn anything on their own if raised in a non-manipulated environment.[22]
  • A parent may fear they do not have the parenting skills required to guide and advise their children in life skills or help them pursue their interests.[20][21]


A relatively new phenomenon is the unschooling, homeschooling, or self-directed learning center.[23]

Not Back to School Camp is an annual gathering of over 100 unschoolers ages 13 to 18. The camp is directed by Grace Llewellyn, author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education.[24]

Other forms of alternative education

Many other forms of alternative education also place a great deal of importance on student control of learning. This includes free democratic schools, like the Sudbury Valley School, Stonesoup School and 'open learning' virtual universities.

Prominent unschooling advocates

Adult unschoolers of note

  • Astra Taylor, filmmaker
  • Sunny Taylor, painter and disability activist (also younger sister of Astra Taylor)
  • Peter Kowalke
  • Alex Olson, professional skateboarder and model
  • André Stern, musician, composer, luthier, journalist, and writer
  • Allison and Catherine Pierce from The Pierces, and Michelle Branch, singers

See also


  1. ^ "Unschooling Controversial". http://www.singlearticles.com/is-this-any-way-a785.html. 
  2. ^ Billy Greer. "Unschooling or homeschooling?". http://www.unschooling.org/fun12_unschooling.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  3. ^ a b c "Readers share heated opinions on "unschooling"". 2006-10-31. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15148804/. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  4. ^ Vosniadou, S: How Children Learn?, The International Academy of Education, 2001. [1]
  5. ^ Pashler, H.; McDaniel, M.; Rohrer, D.; Bjork, R. (2009). "Learning styles: Concepts and evidence". Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9: 105–119. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x
  6. ^ Learning through home education Retrieved 2011-02-20
  7. ^ a b http://childledhomeschool.com/2010/08/14/planning-for-child-led-learning/
  8. ^ http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/X00046822/
  9. ^ Holt, J (1977). Growing Without Schooling. 
  10. ^ Holt, J (2003 originally published in 1981). Teach Your Own. 
  11. ^ "Unschooling & Self-Education". http://www.freechild.org/unschooling.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  12. ^ "Is there a difference between a radical unschooler and just an unschooler?". http://sandradodd.com/unschool/radical. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  13. ^ Catherine, Baker (1985). Insoumission à l'école obligatoire. Barrault. 
  14. ^ Llewellyn, Grace (1991). The Teenage Liberation Handbook. Lowry House. 
  15. ^ a b Bunday, Karl. "Socialization: A Great Reason Not to Go to School". Learn in Freedom!. http://learninfreedom.org/socialization.html. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  16. ^ Shyers, Larry. Comparison of Social Adjustment Between Home and Traditionally Schooled Students. 
  17. ^ Liman, Isabel. "Home Schooling: Back to the Future?". http://www.educationatlas.com/home-schooling-information.html. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  18. ^ Bunday, Karl. "Isn't it Natural for Children to be Divided by Age in School?". Learn in Freedom!. http://learninfreedom.org/age_grading_bad.html. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  19. ^ a b c d Common Objections to Homeschooling, by John Holt, originally published as Chapter 2 of Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education. New York: Delacorte Press, 1981.
  20. ^ a b Unspooling Unschooling, by Bonnie Erbe, in "To the Contrary" blog on US News and World Report website, November 27, 2006
  21. ^ a b A new chapter in education: unschooling, by Victoria Clayton MSNBC, October 6, 2006
  22. ^ Unschooling Leads to Self-Motivated Learning, http://www.homeschoolnewslink.com/homeschool/columnists/mckee/vol7iss2_UnschoolingLeads.shtml
  23. ^ Homeschool Resource Centers
  24. ^ Staff Bios, Not Back To School Camp, retrieved 2008-12-02

Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Unschooling — ist eine Form des Informellen Lernens. Der Begriff wurde von John Caldwell Holt geprägt. Unschooling ist vom Kind geleitetes Lernen im normalen Wohn und Lebensumfeld, ohne den Versuch, die traditionelle Schule und ihre Lehrpläne zu Hause… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Unschooling — Instruction à la maison Le terme école à la maison désigne une forme d éducation alternative, généralement dispensée par les parents à leurs enfants, en dehors du contexte scolaire traditionnel. Ce mouvement a pris une importance notable dans les …   Wikipédia en Français

  • unschooling — noun A set of educational philosophies which champion education outside the standard school environment. They include, but are not limited to, homeschooling …   Wiktionary

  • Dayna Martin — is a radical unschooling advocate, author, and conference speaker. She founded Unschooling United, a non profit organization dedicated to the radical unschooling movement. Dayna Martin was a La Leche League leader, a natural birth educator, an… …   Wikipedia

  • Homeschooling — Homeschoolingcite web |url=http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/0,,sid9 gci500600,00.html |title=What is home school? a definition from WhatIs.com see also: home schooling |accessdate=2008 03 15 |date=2000 12 05 ] (also called home education) …   Wikipedia

  • Sandra Dodd — (born July 24, 1953, Augusta, Georgia) is an unschooling advocate. Her articles have been published in homeschooling journals (particularly, Home Education Magazine), in her self published book Moving a Puddle , and are available on her personal… …   Wikipedia

  • Choice theory — This article is about choice theory in psychology and education. For choice theory in economics, see rational choice theory. The term choice theory is the work of William Glasser, MD, author of the book so named, and is the culmination of some 50 …   Wikipedia

  • Holistic education — is a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education… …   Wikipedia

  • Heimunterricht — Hausunterricht (auch Heimunterricht, Domizilunterricht oder Homeschooling) ist eine Form der Bildung und Erziehung, bei der die Kinder zu Hause von den Eltern oder Privatlehrern statt in Schulen unterrichtet werden. Die konkrete Praxis des… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Homeschooling — Hausunterricht (auch Heimunterricht, Domizilunterricht oder Homeschooling) ist eine Form der Bildung und Erziehung, bei der die Kinder zu Hause von den Eltern oder Privatlehrern statt in Schulen unterrichtet werden. Die konkrete Praxis des… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.