We asked veteran unschoolers in our Christian unschooling groups to answer the typical “new to unschooling” questions. The following are their responses to the following question:

“What is unschooling? How is it different from homeschooling? And, how does it work?”

Unschooling is living life as if “school” did not exist, at least in the traditional sense of the word. We do not separate our lives into subjects. We see learning as something that happens everyday, all day, in everything we do. No learning experience is more valuable than another.

Unschooling is different from homeschooling in that homeschooling seeks to bring the idea of “school” into the home environment; “school at home” if you will. Unschooling is freedom, the opposite of school. There is no set curriculum, and learning happens organically from living life and following interests.

Unschooling works by trusting our children’s innate curiosity, creativity, and drive to apply what they learn. We encourage this by encouraging their individual interests, no matter how small, insignificant, or valuable we ourselves see these activities and interests. We understand that children learn best through what they enjoy. We provide what opportunities and means we can for them to follow their interests. We “show them the world,” present them with new things, offer to take them to new places, ask them what they would like to do and learn, and do whatever we can (within reason) to make it happen. ~ Vanessa P.

My 12 year old boy responded: ” Where you don’t go to school. You don’t do school work, you learn stuff on your own. Like when you have something you need to figure out you can look it up. You can ask questions – like to Dad or some of my friends. People think it wouldn’t work because they don’t think kids can learn things on their own.” He then proceeded to get flustered and said, “How do I word?” Then, “Isn’t grammar another way of saying how to we talk? So it could be “How do I grammar?” So there you have it. ~ Heather  Y.

Unschooling, Living life without constraints, and fear, but with freedom. It is different from homeschooling because there is no school at all. Learning happens naturally, and is a beautiful process, full of joy and trials, mostly joy! ~ Ann T.

Unschooling is education without arbitrary schooly things. It differs from homeschooling in that there is no set curriculum to follow and each child learns at their own pace as their curiosity and need to know drives them, using whatever is available and appealing to them as a resource.

I like to think of it as implementing the “three E’s” – Embracing, Encouraging, and Expanding your child’s interests. ~ Jenny F.

I agree with Jenny F. and would add seeing information in everything and knowing you/your child will learn from everything! I love seeing all the subject matter covered in just preparing breakfast. ~ Jessie G.

For our family, home education has always been about learning what a child has pursued rather than what an expert recommends. It’s about following a child’s natural timing rather than a schedule that is deemed appropriate. It’s always been about empowering the kids to own their education and to love learning. It’s about offering kids the world, and then helping them to get to the parts they choose to explore rather than telling them to follow our path. It’s been about watching them learn without pressure and having faith in the fact that I don’t have to control them. It’s about learning beside them, every moment of every day rather than sitting at a table with curriculum between 8-2. It’s forgetting that school ever existed anywhere, and just learning through life and organic happenings. It’s about letting them move on from something that they decide isn’t for them, so as not to miss whatever God has planned for them. It’s about celebrating their learning regardless of where it comes from or whose idea it is. It’s about rejoicing in play and childhood fun. It’s about recognizing that no day is wasted, whether it’s spent watching tv, playing baseball, or reading a book. It was what seemed natural compared to duplicating the assembly line method at home.

After a few years I gathered that some call this unschooling, and I’ve learned that this can be carried over into a family lifestyle rather than just an educational philosophy. It’s helped us to let go of panic over how our kids compare to others and how we are representing homeschooling over all. Knowing that there are others who learn like we do is comforting in a way because it helps us stay grounded in our decisions.

We, being Christian, have a second side to our parenting and education. We are accountable to God so while we are interest-led in topics we also pray out our decisions, listen for God’s leading and trust in His protection for our children.

All this differs from homeschooling in that there is no plan, no curriculum, and no expectations or consideration of what others might call accomplishment. ~ Traci P.

For us, life leads naturally to learning. It’s more about relationships and trust of our Lord and each other. It’s allowing the ebbs and flows of life to determine the “lesson” learned. Defining the objective learned is futile because it has many layers that are incomprehensible at each given moment but can be relatable. Having an environment to encourage curiosity and develop an interest can open more paths for the future of more to experience.

How is it different from homeschooling: I am not sure because I consider unschooling a form of choice as homeschooling. It is basically a choice of style. ~ Anna K.

For us, unschooling is allowing our children to learn how to live in the real world by letting them live in the real world. Allowing them to let them be children in areas where they are children but also giving them the opportunity to prove themselves capable of growing up in areas they’re ready to take responsibility in.

It is different than homeschooling because we don’t have an arbitrary set of facts and knowledge that we feel they need to learn. We can make use of homeschooling curriculum if we feel led to but, mostly, it is about encouraging curiosity and growth. We trust that our children will learn all they need to survive and thrive in this world simply by become involved in it.

Our boys are still little so this will change a bit as they get older and more able to do things independently. Currently, unschooling works by answering our children’s questions to the best of our ability and, if we don’t know the answer, we involve them in finding out. At this stage, it is more about teaching them how to gather information than it is about making sure they are retaining it all. And they retain so much more than if we were to pressure them to learn certain things. We are a lot more hands-on in their interests at this point and show them all the different options to help them run with those interests. Our guidance comes in the form of teaching them Christ-like behavior and Biblical interpretations of the world and all that is in it. ~ Tessa W.

To us unschooling is about allowing our children the freedom to pursue their passions even if they do not seem important to me or the rest of the world.

It is different from homeschooling in that each child is choosing what they want to pursue rather than me making them pursue something they might not be interested in just because I think it is important or that the school system thinks it is important. ~ Karlynné M.

Instead we pursue interests, all of us, sometimes together, sometimes not. I don’t do high stress. I can’t take it nor can the kids. Relationship first, everything else is gravy. So looks pretty different from what a lot of people think of when they say “homeschool.” ~ Heather Y.

It’s not school by any prescribed or tried & true (or untrue!) form or fashion, it IS what each individual requires & desires to learn about in their own unique way – no matter what the experts or grandparents or neighbors might think or say about it! It’s not about checking all the boxes in the right order to be able to prove they are being educated, it’s about trusting the children and the One who created them and helping them along the way to reach their full potential in their own timing.” ~Tracy A.

Unschooling is living a life without any connection to school at all – as if there were no such thing – because there isn’t in our world. It is different from homeschooling because homeschooling is known to mean school-at-home, where learning is blocked off into ‘lessons’ and ‘schoolwork.’ We don’t even use the terms in our house – they’re not forbidden terms, they just don’t fit what we do. How does unschooling work? It works like living life. I know that sounds so simple, but it’s the truth. Complications arise when folks feel the need to force or manipulate situations to ‘teach’ something that can easily be learned naturally if the environment allows. If you forget ‘schooling’ altogether and just live life as you did the first few months/years of your child’s life, learning keeps happening. ~ Dana B.

Unschooling is growing children without school. Learning happens at home, naturally, in an environment that encourages curiosity. With unschooling, Mom and Dad are mentors and help children find different ways to get information, etc. ~ Monica B.

Unschooling isn’t school – unschooling is life – you continue on as you did when your child is born, then a toddler – they learn what this God-given life is about from you, as you sit in your house, as you walk along the street, as you lay down at night. There is no special schooling time – your children walk with you through your life, learning how to walk their own lives as adults – each life is personal to each family – each life is a lesson plan in eternity from our loving Father God. ~ Maureen T.

I like to think of it as real-world learning. A child pursues his or her interests and when they have a question, hit a roadblock, or need some kind of instruction to move forward, they can choose when and how to move forward (or not). My job as facilitator is to help search out options and make recommendations (when asked) and I also keep an eye out for classes, workshops, movies, websites, books, etc., that she might be interested in. Since my daughter is a teen, I usually send her a link via Facebook or text her.

And I don’t equate unschooling with lack of curriculum at all. My recent request is a good example of why – my daughter is a passionate artist and story teller, but she asked me to find something that will help her take the stories from her head and pictures and put them into words. When I show her what I found in my search, there will be a couple of curriculum choices, several books, YouTube videos, blogs, and a suggestion to actually talk to a friend’s writer dd more instead of just stalking her on Facebook. Ultimately, she’ll decide how to proceed. ~ Elizabeth H.

I ‘home educated’ all three of my children who are now adults. My oldest has two children (so far) and plans to do the same. The first thing that comes to my mind that was behind my husband’s and my reason to ‘unschool’ was the word LIBERTY! Freedom to live our life with our children the way we believe the Holy Spirit was leading us! I did my due diligence to educate myself starting from the time my firstborn was 3 months old, attending many home education conferences and reading books by the Moores, Holt, Armstrong, Gatto and many, many others. Understanding differing learning styles and approaches to education was so beneficial. It was messy and so challenging at times, but absolutely worth it! But most important to us was following God’s will for our family. Trusting our Lord was the biggest part of our season of home education. It hasn’t stopped either. We enjoy our adult children coming to us for discussions on their life choices or other topics. One thing is for sure, we always encourage them to seek how God is guiding them and to trust in that. God is faithful and He shows us if we heard Him wrong. He always gently leads us back on the path with Him. Did we make mistakes? YES. Did we waste money on things we didn’t use? YES! Did we try things that didn’t work out so well? YES! Did we trust God? YES, but at times still questioned. What an incredible journey it has been and still is to see how our Lord faithfully works His miracles. If He is leading you to home centered education of your children He will faithfully lead and guide you in the process. Bless you as you trust in our Matchless Lord! ~ Kristen L.

Home schooling is a lot of different things but mostly it is a system that allows the parent(s) to be in charge of the education and learning under the supervision of the government and with a set program. It makes the parent(s) the teachers as if they were in school in most homes.

Unschooling on the other hand allows the parent(s) and the child complete freedom in how the child learns based on the WAY the child learns. Yes, if the child really does WANT worksheets they can use them and play with them but they are not made to do it by any outside force; it’s up to them. If a child wants to simply sit and play computer games all day they can because through doing that they are LEARNING. The only game in existence you probably won’t learn much from by accident is desert bus and even then you learn how far it is from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s letting the world AND the parent(s) to be the child’s teacher rather then the parent(s) and the government being their teacher. ~ Rachel Y. (age 16)

Following the interests, strengths, and God-given path of the child rather than what some institution or academia says is essential and appropriate.

Taking everyday experiences, the family dynamic, community and global resources, and passion for life – and calling that an education.

We’ve had to take a step backwards in our unschooling here in Korea – family things going on and we needed more structure. But even with using some workbooks and a light schedule (a list of goals for the week) I find that our learning is still radically different from when we were full-on, scheduled, grading homeschoolers.

So the difference I think between homeschooling and unschooling is a lot of trust. Trust in your kids – that they can learn. Trust that you can provide them resources WHEN they need them, not before because you fear for their future. Trust in God – that he has given our families every tool we need to grow and be mature in him without having to apply some formula to the education or faith process.” ~ Aadel B.

Doing what interests you when and how without being compelled to learn what others *think* you should learn and on their time table. Being able to learn the way YOU learn, and not having to follow the herd mindset. Being able to be a slow learner or a fast learner, or even a middle road learner. No one pressures you to learn on a curve for their own special interests. Unschooling means no public school thinking or happenings! Freedom to learn and grow at your own individual pace just as God created you.” ~ Lori M.

“Homeschooling is the term used for anyone educating themselves outside of a formal school. (So technically we are private satellite schoolers with home as our location since we choose the safety net of an unschooling friendly umbrella school.) Unschooling is a sub-category of people who choose to make relationship the focus and drive for their child education process rather then a curriculum or schedule.
It’s choosing to educate through real-life circumstances. When the child begins to recognize the need or developed the desire for the information or skill. It is trusting that your child is a naturally curious human being and won’t choose to never learn but will instead learn in an organic way that is best for how their brain works and their needs and goals in life are.

Unschooling doesn’t work if there isn’t a trusting relationship between the parent a child going both ways. It doesn’t have to be there to start unschooling because the relationship can be healed. But in the long run you must heal it and work hard for your relationship or unschooling will fail.

Unschooling can be but isn’t limited to using no curriculum, or a little curriculum. A lot of field trips or few. You don’t need a lot of money but it is nice. You don’t have to have one stay-at-home parent, though it does make things easier. You can do this as a single parent with the right support or job.

Unschooling is at its core abut trust, relationship, and living life now, not waiting until you’ve ‘learned enough to be useful.’ ~ Cyndel J.

Unschooling is the non-coercive realization that learning happens best through real life, and that no type of learning is more or less important than another. In practice, it’s different from homeschooling in that there aren’t “educational times” and “non-educational ones,” nor educational activities vs. non-educational ones. Everything that happens is a space for learning, whether that’s reading a book, playing a video game, painting, hiking, writing a story, Skyping with friends, or playing in the bathtub, and none of those things are held up as more valuable than any other. It requires intentional interaction and conversation, and above all trust, but it doesn’t require textbooks or workbooks or written proof of subject mastery.

It’s fluid, and while it doesn’t look the same family to family or day to day, there are elements that help you recognize it: Freedom. Saying yes whenever possible. Trust. Connection. Peace. And, yes, learning. Day to day, you might overlook it, but when you take a step back, you’ll be amazed at all that you and your child have encountered and realized about the world. ~ Joan O.

Unschooling is a misleading term, in that it has both a negative “un” and the reference to school, which of course implies there is some sort of formal, structured transfer of information. There is nothing negative about unschooling, and the only transfer of information is the normal flow from one person to another. Unschooling is life. My children are with me and naturally learn how to live life by living alongside me in the kitchen, at the store, in the laundry room. Of course there is transfer of information going on all the time, because that’s what life is. As the more experienced human in the room, there is necessarily a larger flow of information going from me to them; but at the same time they constantly surprise me by the things they know that I know I never taught them … and even more surprising, they teach me something I didn’t know.

Unschooling doesn’t mean eschewing all formal methods of education on principle. Rather, it means formal education is just one tool with which to approach life. As a grown woman, I know that if I want to learn macramé or differential calculus, I can do so using several methods, from taking a community college class to finding myself a tutor to surfing Youtube for helpful videos. Similarly, if my children want to learn something, we find the right tools to achieve their purpose.

Unschooling also does not mean never influencing a child or suggesting things to her. If I come across information of any sort that I think might interest my husband or another adult friend, I don’t hesitate to offer it to them. Similarly, as an adult with considerable experience of the world, I may point out or suggest things to my children, including information about why they might want to do or learn about something that I think might interest them. The catch is, I don’t impose it on them as teacher to student, but rather offer it as one human being to another. I know many people fear that such an approach will result in the child refusing all offers, but really the opposite is true. When the child has been constrained his whole life by the impositions of adults, he will naturally seek to assert his own will by refusing offers; but a child reared in an atmosphere of trustful respect, in which he has right of refusal, has less to prove by refusing to cooperate. At least, that has been my own experience, and I have an 18yo girl and 16yo boy who have always been reared in these principles and who are joyful, open, and interested – the exact opposite of what I hear from most other parents about young adults of this age. ~ Carma P.