What Type of Homeschoolers Are We, Anyway? Part 4

Unschooling has evolved from simply not being in school (John Holt), to life learning in the 1980’s, to child led learning in the 1990’s.  These days there is a plethora of radical unschoolers, who to be honest make me feel a little uncomfortable.

I am glad I have been looking into unschooling from a place of homeschooling confidence and comfort.   I have chuckled to myself as I have read strong, in your face (and sometimes downright rude) answers to innocent questions potential unschoolers have asked on various unschooling forums.  There seems now to be a very definite definition of what it means to be an unschooler, and if one does not adhere to it fully then one is not deemed to be a proper unschooler.  To be fair, I think it is probably the newer ‘radical unschooling movement’ which is perpetuating this ‘them and us’ situation.  Radical unschooling refers to where so much trust is placed in the child they are allowed to choose their own bed time, food and snacks, meal times, whether to be part of the chores or not and how much screen time to have.  My issue isn’t with the definitions or lifestyle choices per se (families should be free to choose their own preferred ways of living), it is the fury with which the followers attempt to push it onto others.  Anything taken to an extreme has the potential to become a place of judgement.

I like the educational philosophy of unschooling but as a whole life style choice it is not for me.  I love the idea of placing more trust in one’s children to choose what and how they learn, but believe it should always be with a supporting adult, advising and sharing their own wisdom, which comes from the simple fact of being around in the world longer.   I do not think, for our family, the whole life style choice of allowing the children to decide everything in their lives would be helpful or even healthy.  And I absolutely do not want to be part of a movement which on the one hand espouses trusting one’s child and allowing individualization yet on the other hand mocks parents who do not adhere to the practice in its entirety.  These parents allow their 5-year-old child the freedom to choose but do not extend the same courtesy to their fellow grown up home schooling compatriots.

No, radical unschooling is not for us.  We do not want to hand over a responsibility to our children and give them a load they are not fully old enough to carry.  From the many, many discussions I have had with them on this subject, I know they lack the full understanding to appreciate the long-term consequences of the choices they make now.  To allow them to choose whether to work or play; do chores or not; eat healthily or not (and yes all three have come up in each Unschooling book I have read) seem a little premature for my guys at the developmental stage they are at right now, especially the younger ones.

So I wonder is there a middle ground, and I am hopeful there is.  This is where is pays, I think, not to box oneself in with a label.  It seems I will remain a nothing homeschooler, and yet there are significant changes afoot in our home school.  I am certain that the road less travelled is the road worth travelling because it will make all the difference (to almost quote Frost).  I am still praying about how deep to take these changes, but I am excited about our new path even though I know not how far we will travel down it, or how fast.

I am coming to the end of my musings.  It has been incredibly helpful to make sense of them on paper, so to speak, and navigate the murky seas of my brain.  I have come full circle.  I was a nothing homeschooler at the start, I remain a nothing homeschooler now.  I like the freedom this non label allows us.  But things are changing in our little homeschool, and possibly even radically (!).  I’ll share these changes just as soon as I have consolidated them in my mind.  Thank you all so much for letting me chat for a few days.  I have so enjoyed your input into this great conversation called homeschooling.

We are blessed to have the freedom to be ourselves instead of a poor copy of someone else.  May we all enjoy that freedom and may all of us thrive as we seek to find the very best education for our children!


  1. Interesting post! I too have had experiences which have put me of being an unschooler. I don’t really feel I would be able to do it properly. We have an unschooling group near to us, but I don’t think our family were considered proper unschoolers. I kept being told what we did sounded more project led. In the end we left as we didn’t really feel welcome. I think you are right not to label yourself. Labels aren’t helpful in anyway.

  2. Thank you for this series of posts, it’s been really interesting to read, especially this one and your thoughts about unschooling and radical unschooling 🙂 I can definitely relate the the types of forum posts you have discussed here having witnessed a fair few rude exchanges myself.

  3. Glad that you’ve shared your thoughts in this series of posts. It’s been very helpful to read the posts and everyone’s comments. Freedom is one of the keystones of homeschooling, so it is indeed amusing to read about (as in your research and on forums) some who seem to use one set of standard of freedom to themselves while applying another set of standard to others.

    Anyhow, I’m glad you’ve sorted out your thoughts. I shall be very glad to read about the changes that you’ll be implementing in your homeschool! 🙂

  4. I like yourself I am uncomfortable with not giving guidance to my son. We came into home education after being bruised by the school system and started off with the idea of school at home but now do very little school at all. My son chooses what he wants to do, goes to bed when he wants, however he eats only healthy food and is a very respectful child to both myself and others. We do not watch tv and he has little interest in playing computer games so I am happy to let him follow his own interests. I teach him practical skills when he is in the mood for them or leave him be if he is not. Is this radical? It works for us and that is all that matters in the end.

    1. You’re quite right. When it comes down to it, if it suits you then that is all that matters! I’m so pleased you have something which works so well for you and your son. I’m hoping with a bit of tweaking I will soon too!

  5. I left this post to “think” and returned to comment, but after rereading your post, I think you summed it up best in your last paragraph:

    “We are blessed to have the freedom to be ourselves instead of a poor copy of someone else. May we all enjoy that freedom and may all of us thrive as we seek to find the very best education for our children!”

    There is really nothing more to add.

    I have enjoyed these posts, Claire. You are an inspiration and you stir my imagination.

    Have a blessed day. We are enjoying a little snow in Texas!

    1. Snow! How lovely. We’ve got yet more rain and flooding. Things are getting a bit dire in some parts of the country.
      I’ve been reading a bit more from the book you recommended (on line as my copy hasn’t come through yet) I love his writing, very thought provoking.

  6. I definitely would not have coped with a radical unschooling approach in my childhood, which I know for sure based on the way I get when I am left with an unstructured, self-directed week (like this one – it’s midafternoon and I’m not dressed yet…). Everyone has to do what is best for their own family, and it’s a pity when people think that they’ve found The One And Only Way and try to force everyone else to agree.

  7. I once attended a meeting at a local coffee shop, described as being for unschoolers and those interested in learning more.

    The RA crowd were so aggressive it was quite offensive – I’m talking about calling people “wussy” and “cowardly” for not embracing the full lifestyle that they felt went with it. As they pushed this plan, three of their children were literally swinging off the second-floor balcony railing. Suffice to say, I never went back.

    That being said, I agree that every family has the right to decide what works for them. I just object when they attempt to coerce others into doing the same. I’m sure that there is a middle ground that would work beautifully….isn’t tailoring homeschooling to fit one’s family one of the joys of it?

    1. It really is. I had done so much research that my head was frazzled so I though writing out everything I was learning might make it clearer in my head. It did!
      I’m sorry you had such a rotten experience. Their loss!

  8. I read this a couple of days ago, and I’ve been meaning to make the time to come back and comment. In our homeschool, we’re very interest-led and sometimes veer very close to unschooling. In fact, if it were not for so many RUs telling me that I was not a “real unschooler,” I would even say that we were unschoolers. I could definitely relate to the first part of your post 🙂

    I will say though, that if you choose an interest-led/unschooling path, I can guarantee that this path will change the way you parent. It has a tendency to seep over into your whole life. Even my hubby has not been immune!!

    1. I’ve heard that! The unschooling blog I referenced had a very interesting post about whether you could be a part unschooler. She thought not, because she said that unschooling becomes the way you live your life rather than just the way you school.

  9. I have so enjoyed this series on what kind of homeschooling family you are. It seems we have much in common, but I thank you for being the one to articulate it. I am grateful to unschooling books for challenging some assumptions I have held about children’s natural behavior and for also confirming that some of the unschooling tenets are not for us. We are Waldorf inspired. But we have spent months without lessons, following the children’s interests and “strewing” things about. I was amazed at where they went and what they decided to spend their time on. I also think it helped our relationships. But I miss the beauty we were introducing through their Waldorf curriculum. So I think I am coming to the conclusion to spend part of the year (about five months) with organized lessons and the rest of the year unschooling. At least that’s the plan for 2014. But their needs change and so I expect the plan to change too. I most definitely agree that my ultimate goal in home education is to have children who are eager to learn.
    In your research did you come across Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self Directed Learners? This gave me lots of ideas for documenting the work they are doing and validating their learning. I am still fumbling through the book.

    1. Hi Charis,
      I think your plan sounds grand – very well balanced. That is what we will be aiming for – a good balance between some structure and lots of freedom.
      Yes, I have read Lori’s book. I loved it!
      Good to hear from you!

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