Incorporating Unschooling into a Project Based School

So, with the help of the children, I have chosen all our curriculum and am continuing to pursue project based learning whenever I can.  Yet everything which pulls me towards unschooling is still pulling, whilst everything in me which rejects unschooling is still rejecting it.  What’s a girl to do?  A while ago I read a thought-provoking article from Stories of an Unschooling Family which asked if one could part-time unschool.  Sue’s answer was an unequivocal no.  She explained that unschooling is a life style chose rather than a school option.  I’m sure she is probably right, and if there was ever an example of how I would want my unschool school to look it would be her lovely family.

I used to think that I couldn’t take the extra step required to unschool because of a lack of courage, or maybe even a need to control.  But I think it goes a bit deeper than that.  The decision to unschool is ultimately on mine and Gary’s shoulders simply because we are the adults, and therefore we make the decisions knowing the potential consequences.  As a Christian, I have learnt to listen to the small quiet voice of God.  Right now it is still not the right time to abandon the work we already do together.  That said I have been praying about somehow incorporating a bit more freedom in our school.

The result of this has been the decision to home school normally for one week, followed by a week of unschooling.  This means I have to be ultra organised in order to fit in as much schooling as I can during my time with them, followed by a week of making sure I remain hands off unless needed.  I think right now this will suit us very well.  The children love digging deep into subjects and were loath to give up their history studies anyway.  We are all by nature fairly hard grafters and I think we will all enjoy a week of hard, in-depth work.

Since I have started to sleep (six months ago) I have found it progressively harder to home school as we have done traditionally.  I do not have the hours in my day anymore for such extensive planning.  The one week on, one week off will enable me to spend the week off planning for the forthcoming school week.  We will be keeping our morning meeting and lunch time quiet time during both the week on and the week off.  The morning meeting is a great time to get together and discuss what will be happening during that day and the quiet time is just a lovely tradition we have and all enjoy – a bit of down time away from our work and each other.  It’s good and it’s healthy and therefore it is staying!

During the unschooling week I will not be requiring any (academic) work.  The children will be free to fill their time with anything they wish.  We have got together and they have each chosen some topics which they wish to explore further (T12 – photography, gardening, cookery & astronomy; L12 – home making, cookery, loom band creations/art & first aid; C12 – home making, child care, bible study & writing).  We have bought in the resources but they do not need to use them.  Basically they can pursue anything they want to during their unschooling week.  Maybe it will be their chosen electives or maybe it will be something completely different.

The children will still have their normal chores and I will still expect good attitudes from them during both their school week and their unschooling week.  The unschooling week will only be different in terms of school.  I hope it will be an opportunity to discover more about themselves and hopefully a chance to find out what their strengths are (‘Train a child up according to his ‘natural bent’ and when he is old he will not depart from it’ – Proverbs 22:6) and maybe an opportunity to experiment with what they might like to do in the future.

I hope I have found a way to incorporate coming alongside the children whilst they work on their weak academic areas (schooling week) and whilst they delve into history and science in-depth (schooling week) at the same time as being given the opportunity to explore their personal interests (unschooling week).  If this works well they will be able to experience the best of both worlds.


  1. Sounds like a great plan. I don’t think we should let anyone define what our home schools should look like. There are no rules about how unschooling works as far as I’m concerned!

  2. I can’t wait to see how it will unfold in your family. I know that every family has to discover their own style, as each family is different. I feel that your kids are hard working and self-motivated, so I think your plan will work beautifully. If not, I know you will tweak it until it does.

  3. This sounds like a brilliant approach! It’s somewhat similar to how I’m working on my degree; sometimes I have assignments to do, pre- or post-lecture reading and activities to complete or exams to prepare for, and other times I use my study time to go over things I’m interested in or need more time on, without anyone wanting to see evidence of my work. The fact that your children are learning these skills more than a decade younger than I did means they’ll probably be very successful if they choose to go onto higher education in any form.

    1. I hope so , May. I just want them to discover their strengths and interests to give them more of an idea of what they might like to do with their lives.

  4. I’m curious to read follow-ups on this experiment. It’s not too far from how we school – except more structured maybe. Unschooling has a tendency to wash in and out of our day, kind of like a tide on the beach…just not always for all the children at once. I use our really heavy unschool times as opportunity to put the house in order – it does make for productive times all around – so it should work for lesson planning. Here’s hoping for the best!

  5. Claire, I have often discussed unschooling with my husband and reached the same decision – it’s not the time for us to leap into it right now. I love that your plans incorporate everyone’s comfort level whilst still allowing a great deal of learning freedom! I can’t wait to see updates.

    1. I think it will either be brilliant and work well, or it will not work at all. It will be interesting to dip our feet into unschooling and see how we do…

  6. I’m rather curious to learn how all of this works out for your family! I think it sounds like a wonderful plan. I am about to start our midyear evaluation and you’ve inspired my thoughts for the rest of our term.

    1. Welcome Rachel!
      I’ll post a wrap up each Friday throughout the year, which hopefully will show a good comparison between one week of school and one week of unschool. I too am excited to see how it all unfolds.

  7. Claire,

    You found that post I had so much trouble writing! I upset a couple of people with my thoughts on unschooling part-time. I wish I could have explained things better. I really don’t think everyone has to unschool in the same way and my words weren’t meant as a criticism of families doing things differently to us. I was just delving deeper into how I am coming to understand the unschooling philosophy. I would never tell anyone how to homeschool. Did I say that relaxed homeschooling, that looks like unschooling, might give parents the confidence to take the next step? And it could be enjoyable for kids? I can’t remember. I should have reread the post except I don’t really want to. It brings back bad memories of upsetting a friend! That must be the only time I’ve exchanged such comments with a reader. Usually I keep myself out of that sort of trouble!

    Your post is very interesting. Much better than mine. I like your idea and will be interested to hear how things go for your family. Thank you for the link!

    1. Oh, Sue,
      You didn’t offend me at all with that post! I always enjoy reading your thoughts on unschooling because they are strong enough to make me question what I do. I love to be challenged. You should never feel that freely expressing your thoughts is wrong – it is what makes the world interesting and diverse. Keep doing what you are doing – it is all good!
      And I really do hold your family up as an excellent example of unschooling! Thanks so much for popping by. xx

  8. Sounds to me like a great way to adjust school to your own needs, and to the needs of the family. We are actually working on moving twords an unschooling style as well. Though, like you I’m working to adjust it to fit what I think will work best for us. I look forward to reading how it all works for you.

    I’ve missed reading your blog.

    1. Welcome back, Amber!
      It’s hard to find the right balance sometimes, isn’t it? We’ll see how it goes. The children are excited about having some time to discover their own strengths and I’m excited to have a solid amount of planning time. Hopefully it will all work out great!

  9. Great idea, Claire! I also struggle with the “unschooling pull,” but haven’t seemed to be able to make it work or ever feel completely comfortable with it either. Sue is so inspiring and has encouraged me to let go in some areas, although I’ve almost come to the conclusion that our lifestyle and personalities just aren’t as conducive to unschooling as others’ might be. Right now we are trying a schedule of about 1 1/2 to 2 hours of academic work a day followed by them pursuing their own interests. But I’m definitely keeping your planned schedule in mind. I’m really interested to see how it works out for you. Thanks for the wonderful blog. I missed you while you were recovering and so glad everything went well. Prayers are always going out for you and yours from over here in the States. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Tara for your lovely comment and for your prayers. I have recovered exceptionally well.
      We thought about morning school and afternoon unschool but thought the morning wouldn’t give us enough time to get stuck into history or science once language arts and maths had been completed. I guess I just want to do everything, including fitting in unschooling – this is my compromise!

  10. Wonderful insight and closely resembles some of my approach. There is beauty in finding what works for each family. . . . and then life throws ya curve balls with the unexpected 🙂

    1. Ah yes, and things then need to change again. Home school I think must be flexible because the children are growing and maturing so fast and with that comes change.

  11. I, too, read quite a bit on unschooling and gave it thoughts of possibility, but I just couldn’t quite get there. I like how you are merging unschooling with stucture. I am looking forward to seeing how it goes. I have found I do less and less as the children get older, but I still have the say when it comes to what they are learning. As in science, they have the book, an assignment schedule, and they know they are responsible for having it completed on time. I think it is a great introduction to college life. Getting behind is no fun when you have to spend your off time catching up on work. Math and language arts are the same. The only subjects we do together now are history and our fine arts. If I could start all over knowing what I know now, our home school would look very different. Home school is definitely an evolving process!

    Hope all are well and enjoying the approaching Christmas season.

    1. I often wonder if I change it too often, but honestly the children have changed so much over the last couple of years – turned from child to tween to teen in such a short time, I’m struggling to keep up with them. I thought maybe a shared responsibility for their education would meet their needs and assuage my concern of failing them educationally speaking. It’s all a learning curve…

  12. I’m excited to see how this works for you. You are always so willing to do what is needed to educate your children in the best way they learn and it’s inspiring. I really am interested to see how this new schedule works for your family.

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