Where Do Unschooling and Homeschooling Differ?

You’ve done it! You’ve made the choice to homeschool your children. But now what? There are different methods of homeschooling: school-at-home, Charlotte Mason, classical, and unschooling, to name a few. If you unschool are you really homeschooling, or is it something else entirely?

Unschooling, as it’s often called, is one alternative to public school and even homeschooling. Also known as natural learning, independent learning, or child-led learning, unschooling is an approach that flies in the face of traditional thought when it comes to educating your child. So, what exactly is unschooling, and how does it differ from homeschooling?

The biggest difference between unschooling and homeschooling is in the mindset. Where homeschooling is basically concerned with your child learning what it normally taught in public schools, unschoolers have a completely different way of looking at their children and at life. Unschooling is based on mutual trust between parent and child and in finding what works best for them.

Homeschoolers might choose to use a specific curriculum as a base for their teaching. Unschoolers, however, may not even use a pre-planned curriculum at all. Unschoolers believe that children learn at all times, and that what they need to learn doesn’t necessarily have to come out of a set curriculum.

Another term for unschooling is delight driven. It’s not that a child is given complete freedom from learning; it means that the child is allowed to learn the things that interest them instead of what an institution says they should know. Most often those who unschool learn those things that they will be using in life rather than just what is in a book. Which is why some parents of special needs children may consider this type of schooling at home for their special needs child. When most brick-and-mortar schools are insisting that your special needs child need to be around their own aged peers as well as participating in the same general education curriculums, even though your child may not be there yet academically or emotionally. This type of schooling is very refreshing not only for the parent, but for the child or children who have specific academic and neurological challenges and don’t typically fit the ‘norm’ of brick-and-mortar school environments.

It may seem to an outsider looking in that an unschooler isn’t actually doing schoolwork at all. In fact, unschoolers believe that living life is the best education a child can get, so they aren’t quite as concerned about what others think. Of course, if you live in a state that has more requirements for homeschoolers, it might seem a little daunting to prove that actual learning is taking place.

Since homeschooling can take on so many faces, it seems that unschooling fits right in after all. All homeschooling parents want the opportunity for their children to learn in an environment where they are encouraged to grow, develop, and flourish. What better way than to allow your child(typical or atypical) to learn the things that interest them? In doing so, they’ll pick up the things that traditional education believes they need to know.

At the end of the day, children learn what they live, even those that are special needs.


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Book Recommendations


“Too many young people leave their formal education believing they are not smart, not capable, and that they can’t measure up to one-size-fits-all standards that define success so narrowly that most children are destined to fail. In The Future of Smart, Dr. Hansen reminds us that the challenges of education in America have their roots in a complex system of values. She challenges us to examine these foundational values and to imagine an education system grounded in a different view of the world. At a moment when America is seeking to reexamine its cultural narratives and transform public systems to meet rising expectations, this book is a must-read for thoughtful policymakers, advocates, leaders and citizens.” –Dr. Todd Rose, Director of Populace and author of The End of Average and Dark Horse


“Education has become synonymous with schooling, but it doesn’t have to be. As schooling becomes increasingly standardized and test driven, occupying more of childhood than ever before, parents and educators are questioning the role of schooling in society. Many are now exploring and creating alternatives. In a compelling narrative that introduces historical and contemporary research on self-directed education, Unschooled also spotlights how a diverse group of individuals and organizations are evolving an old schooling model of education. These innovators challenge the myth that children need to be taught in order to learn. They are parents who saw firsthand how schooling can dull children’s natural curiosity and exuberance and others who decided early on to enable their children to learn without school. Educators who left public school classrooms discuss launching self-directed learning centers to allow young people’s innate learning instincts to flourish, and entrepreneurs explore their disillusionment with the teach-and-test approach of traditional schooling.” – Quoted by Author Kerry McDonald