The difference between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling explained with cookie baking

Posted on Posted in Baking with kids, Unschooling, Unschooling Blog, Unschooling versus Relaxed Homeschooling

If you read about homeschooling and unschooling long enough, you’ll inevitably see cookie baking used as an example of natural learning.


Some people will describe it as an example of unschooling, and it can be. Other people say things like, “We use curriculum but do some unschooling” (and then talk about cookie baking). Or they’ll talk about using cookie baking instead of curriculum, but you can tell they still haven’t really “gotten” unschooling, because they try to turn even a fun thing like cookie baking into a lesson. Or they’re really concerned that their kids aren’t doing enough math, so they’ll force (or “strongly suggest”) that they bake more cookies so they “learn fractions”. Or they’re really concerned that their kids don’t read enough, so they make them research cookie recipes themselves, give Mom a summary of the recipe reviews, and look up any words they don’t know.

Examples like this can confuse people about what Unschooling actually is.

Because when you turn what could be a fun family bonding activity into a “teaching opportunity”, it stops being unschooling. When you force someone to do an activity you think that they should want to do because you consider it to be fun and “educational”, it stops being Unschooling.

It can be a beautiful example of Unschooling, or it can be one of those examples where Unschoolers shake their heads and say, “no, I know your lesson was more natural than what you usually do, and your kids enjoyed it more, and I know it was curriculum-free, but it wasn’t Unschooling. You’re getting warmer, but you’re not quite there yet.

It’s hard to describe why it isn’t sometimes, because it involves a deep knowing and trusting that learning will happen without teaching. It involves forgetting almost everything you ever learned about learning from school and school-like programs. But once you have the “feel” of Unschooling, it’s easy to recognize what isn’t Unschooling.

Here are two examples. One is pure Unschooling. The other is not unschooling. Can you “feel” the difference?

Example one-146653_1280:

Yesterday, I baked Christmas cookies with my son. He had specifically requested gingerbread. While we worked, we discussed a conversation he had with someone. The person had used a word he wasn’t familiar with, and he asked if I knew what it meant. We not only discussed the meaning of the word, but why the person might have used it in the context she did.

My other son was in the room, and they continued the conversation without me for awhile, discussing the conversation from the perspective of an article about a video game I knew nothing about.

We doubled the cookie recipe, something we have done many times throughout the years. When you double 1/4 to 1/2 so many times throughout your life, it eventually happens without much thought.

My other son was weighing a box for something we had sold on eBay. “I should round 2 lbs 3 oz up to 3 lbs, right?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, as I cut out out more gingerbread.

baking-925038_1920 (1)

One gingerbread man’s head was partially removed, and I joked that he had a lobotomy. We discussed what a lobotomy is. Another gingerbread man’s head completely came off, and I put it on his hand. We joked that these are supposed to be Christmas cookies, not Halloween cookies, and referenced The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

They talked about something Japanese (they’ve been very into Japan lately), and I said, “Hey, that reminds me. The audio book I was listening to said that the Japanese have a word that we don’t have an equivalent word for: kamiwaza, when a human acts like a mythological god. “Yes,” one of them said, “the Japanese have a lot of words like that.” And he gave me an example.

We continued discussing interesting things and using numbers naturally as we did an activity together.

Example two-146654_1280:

Yesterday, my kids learned naturally through cookie baking. I made them look up a recipe, made them read the reviews, and had them look up words they don’t know. We doubled the recipe, so I had them do math to show how the fractions double.

One of them didn’t want to make cookies, which I was fine with as long as he chose another educational activity. We ended up with tasty cookies and fit in reading, vocabulary, and math!

Which example is Unschooling? If you chose the first one, you are correct.

But did you *feel* the difference? In the Unschooling example, learning happened through conversation and math concepts that flowed naturally because everyone involved lived a full, interesting life that they shared with each other. It was easy. Parents and children were partners. No one was lorded their authority over another, *making them* research a recipe and *having them* look up words they don’t know. It was interesting people doing an interesting thing, respectfully and consensually. The other example *felt like* school at home. The only choice was between the parent’s preferred activity or another activity that the parent judged to be “educational” enough. They didn’t use a curriculum, but they might as well have.

If such a thing as school didn’t exist, which of the two examples would you be following? That’s the one that’s unschooling.

38 thoughts on “The difference between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling explained with cookie baking

  1. Sounds good, but I foresee huge gaps in knowledge. Not all children will ask about all the things they need to know in order to get a job later on in life. For example, if the child isn’t the least bit interested in math, is he/she going to vicariously learn enough math for an employer to credit them with knowledge of how to work out things like percentages, etc. What if the unschooling ‘teacher’ doesn’t understand how to do the math either? How then, are they going to guide the child into learning even a basic skill like that if neither of them is interested in doing it?

    What about ‘output’? If a child finds printing difficult and doesn’t want to learn it, does he or she never have to learn how to make letters? I realize they can use a computer, or a calculator, but those instruments aren’t always available, and, they need a power source.

    It seems that much of the unschooling idea is really about learning basic lifeskills—great in itself—but in order to survive in a world where people have to have a job in order to support themselves, how many employers are going to hire someone that has a great set of lifeskills, but a very limited field of knowledge? By limited, I mean, the child has only learned throughout life, that he/she need only do things that interest them, and that they feel like doing. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t run that way. We all have to learn and do some things we’d really prefer to ignore.

    I’m all for inductive learning, as much as possible, but I also believe people need some guidance and instruction—and even some memorization. Consequently, though I agree with home-schooling, and certainly agree that we should try to teach children through their individual interests, and using methods that the individual learns best by, I’m afraid that total ‘unschooling’ will leave many (not all) floundering in a world of challenges when these children reach adulthood.

    1. I have responded to this concern repeatedly, and I have taught (both homeschooled and as a teacher) many children from elementary through high school. So, I feel very confident, now that I have 20 years experience under my belt, and I like to reassure other parents as well. You are right that there may be some gaps in knowledge in the elementary years. But, that’s ok. The only reason your child needs to KNOW all that stuff is to perform well on standardized tests. In the long run, the student does ask about almost everything. They also see their own gaps in knowledge as they get older. And when they have a sincere desire to fill those gaps (usually around 12-14, but sometimes as late as 16), they learn very quickly. I know a homeschool boy who crammed 2 years of high school math into 6 months, because he decided he wanted to attend a college that required he be at Calculus level math for entry. He studied like crazy, but he did it on his own. It was grueling, but he wanted to do it. No one made him. And he succeeded. He scored well on the math entrance exam and was accepted to a prestigious college. There is nothing wrong with someone learning photosynthesis at 15 instead of in the 3rd grade. There is nothing wrong with someone learning the state capitols at 12 instead of in 2nd grade. Unless, of course, you want to plug them back into the system at any given point. In that case, then yes you probably need to practice a different method of educating your kids than unschooling. But if you’re committed for the long term to homeschooling, then truly natural, holistic learning can and will work in the long term.

      1. I’d love to unschool my daughter or maybe do relaxed homeschool, the thing is I’m not organized enough to homeschool. One of my big concerns is social. At school she says she plays alone at recess… I feel like homeschool/ unschool would be good to relive that, but I feel socially lacking myself, so maybe it would just be avoiding the problem.

        In addition I don’t have a giant vocabulary like in your example. I try, but I’m just not there. I can’t help but wonder if unschool kids do so well because it is extraordinary parents who choose to unschool. I’m a very loving, very flawed parent. I even have mental “illness” with mild bipolar that is more like occasionally bad depression. So what do you think about me unschooling?

        1. I’m a huge advocate of all children getting out of schools. If you are a product of a school, yet you don’t feel qualified to help your own children learn, what does that say about the education you received in school? And why would you want to keep your own child in the same system? πŸ˜‰

          As far as organization, right now you have to be organized enough to get your child to school on time, make sure they have lunch money, and get all their homework done. If your child is in something like soccer, you would get her to games on time and bring the snack when you’re scheduled to and have the uniform clean. As an unschooler, your child still might sign up for activities, or you might rsvp for an activity with your local homeschool group and you’ll want to show up when you said you would. You’ll want to find materials that are relevant to what her interests are. But you don’t have to be organized as far as planning a curriculum or doing lesson plans. You just have to live a full, interesting life with your child.

          There was a study done that shows that while the level of education the parents have plays a key part in how successful school children will be, that’s not true of homeschoolers. For homeschoolers, level of education of parents doesn’t matter at all. What matters is how loving and dedicated the parents are. One on one time is a key factor!

          I encourage all unschooling parents to be “interested and interesting”. Be interested in the world around you, let your curiosity lead you to do interesting things (often with your kids!), and talk about the interesting things you do with your kids. You don’t have to be brilliant. Just do interesting stuff.

          In my example of the Japanese word I shared with my kids, I only knew the word because I had an audio book playing while I cleaned for Christmas. And when I told them about it, I couldn’t remember exactly what the word was…I had to google a bit to remember exactly how it was said.

          You wrote your comment clearly. You don’t appear to have any deficits when it comes to vocabulary from the writing sample I see here. I’m a writer, so vocabulary is a strong point for me. But I have areas I’m not strong in as well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

          I have seen kids who were sad and lonely and bullied at school leave the school environment and thrive. You might want to check into homeschooling and unschooling groups around you. Some areas have more than others. Some areas have a lot of strictly religious groups, some have a lot of school-at-home activities like co-op classes, but when you find one that does informal get-togethers, children’s museums, tours, playground type things, you’ve struck gold. πŸ™‚ Search facebook, meetup, and google for unschooling and homeschooling groups in your state.

          Even without a big involvement in unschool/homeschool groups, though, there are karate lessons, music lessons, girl scout groups, 4H, if she desires to do any of those things. She might not! There’s also just hanging out at the playground, inviting kids over for playdates, going to the grocery store and library with you and talking to the people you run into as you do the necessary running around you have to do. She might be an introvert who desires a lot of time to herself, and that’s ok, too.

          You can do it! You obviously care a lot about your child, or you wouldn’t be reading blogs like this and asking questions. πŸ™‚

        2. My biggest concerns are any gaps. I going back and forth on homeschooling and if we do I have no idea how to structure a curriculum, but I want them to have life skills and adventures and exposure to different scenarios as well. As I feel these things are what give home school / unschooled children the advantage. Most people I know would love to homeschool but are too intimidated. This is why. You just took a big weight off my chest.

      2. Thank you so much for your post. I am going back on forth on the idea of homeschooling and this addresses my worst fears/ greatest concerns.

      3. Thank you for clearing this very thing up for me, Amy.

        Speaking with a friend yesterday she mentioned that a 15 year old girl was battling with math formulas and multiplication because she wants to go into Veterinary Science later on and that will require Math…

        I now understand that if she is diligent and really interested in getting Math concepts then she will put in the time and effort because she wants to and not because she is forced to.

        Thanks hey! Colette

    2. I highly recommend getting a copy of John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education. If you’re actually brave enough to read it, you’ll understand why unschooling actually does teach all children what they need to live wonderful adult lives. You are still thinking in the schoolish box when you believe children will not be motivated to learn what they need to learn whenever they need it. Of course, that’s what you’ve been indoctrinated with so you can hardly be blamed…but please take some time to educate yourself about reality instead of continuing to stereotype.

    3. Thank you for your thoughts! I have received some similar questions, so watch for blog posts that address some of these concerns soon.

      Unschooling isn’t about simply learning basic life skills. Rather it’s about learning what you need through simply living life.

      And you’re right that sometimes the information you’ll need won’t mysteriously float into your head, or you won’t know when you’re six that you’ll need a certain skill to do a job when you’re twenty-six.

      But, as an unschooler, you will learn how to pursue your passions, and you’ll learn that, while pursuing your passions, there are sometimes certain steps you need to take– little (or big!)things you need to apply yourself to learning– so that you can move yourself to the next level and are able to do more of what you love doing.

      For example–learning how to develop this website was a challenge, and as I develop it into an even bigger and better website over the next few months, I *KNOW* I’ll have challenges in doing so. I’ve never taken classes in web development. I’m sure I’ll get some help from my unschooled teens (who have also never taken computer classes but are so much more knowledgeable about computers than I am), I’m sure I’ll do lots of googling and youtube searching, and it’s possible I might even hire someone. But I know that I am capable of learning whatever it is that I need to learn to help me do what I want to do. That’s true whether I’m learning a new instrument, learning to do calculus, or learning a new language. If I want to do it, I take it one step at a time and “play” with it…mastering even the littlest of steps until I have figured it out. Unschooled kids tend to do the same thing.

      You might find this study of grown unschoolers by Peter Gray interesting, where he reports that 77% of grown unschoolers see a close relationship between their childhood interests and activities and their adult employment.

    4. I have unschooled two boys. They have gone on to do cert 3 courses they chose to do. They had no problem at all doing the work required of them and my middle son was told he handed in a much higher then required level of work. And he was the only one in the class to finish the course on time. My youngest chose also to do a cert 3 in his area of choice. He is the only one to never miss a day of class and to always be dressed right and on time. Unschooling has not limited my boys at all. They also choose to volunteer within our local community and love it. For our family unschooling was definitely the way to go and I know it works as we are seeing the results. Which is two young men who are motivated learners and do well in whatever pathway they chose to follow both as younger children and now as teens.

  2. I’ve been trying to decide if we are unschoolers or not, which probably means we are not. We learned reading without a curriculum. I would just say the names of the letters as we did his favorite ABC puzzle, not even sure if he was paying attention. He was. From there, he taught himself to read. I still read to him all the time, but if it is an easy book, I will refuse to read it. I don’t force him to read it, but I don’t believe in doing something for a child he can do for himself. We can just play something else if he doesn’t feel like reading, or I can read him a harder book. For math, we read counting books, played snakes and ladders, played war (like with cards; which number is bigger?), then on to games with two dice so you have to add them together, then monster surprise cards (missing addends), etc. So I have an agenda, but I don’t force him to do anything, and it’s always a game (well, until someone gave him a subtraction workbook he begged me to do with him every day for the first week).
    What do y’all think? How can I be more “unschooly”?

    1. Hi Shanna!
      I think the number one thing you can do is trust. Learning is as natural to human beings as breathing. You can trust that he will learn what he needs, when he needs it. Certainly, be there for him to show him things you think he might find interesting, to answer his questions, engage in meaningful activities with him, and to forge a close relationship with him.

      There may come a day when he says, “No thank you” to your suggestion of playing a game you see as educational and may choose to play a video game or build a fort out of blankets instead. If you’re trusting the natural learning process, you’ll be ok with that.

      As an author of children’s books, I’m a HUGE fan of reading to kids. You can trust that strong reading will come if he lives in an environment with lots of written words and language. The reading is important for your relationship, for the sheer joy and comfort of snuggling on the couch together, for the discussion and laughter that could come from sharing a story together, for creating a love of books as an enjoyable thing rather than a chore. It’s important because a young reader might understand a concept or absorb a meaning of a new word when he’s not distracted and frustrated by trying to get through figuring out how to read it for himself. And because when Mom joyfully smiles and says, “Yes!” to a request to read a book, even a simple book he could read for himself, it makes a kid feel like he is very valued and loved.

  3. Well done! I love the example you used and it’s a good reminder to just trust that we can unschool and still live full lives, actually being more educated than most in school. I appreciate your thoroughness, and definitely strive in a good way to be a free thinking person without a million rules and restrictions that limit my kids. I’ll definitely visit your blog again. Come visit mine as well, I write about parenting topics using LOA there.

  4. That is so beautiful…. I Un-school but no one understands me… Not even my children who are older. Everyone thinks I am causing my children to be “illiterate”, “uneducated”. I wish they could all just see how it is really meant to be… I you said it so eloquently.

  5. Well, I am unschooler that has not been able to embrace unschooling. When left to my own devices, 9 times out of 10, our days are like example 1. However I feel persistently guilty for not following a curriculum, so every once in a while I try to do “real”school. Kids are game but I can’t stay with the program. It just feels too artificial. I guess it’s time for me to accept what I perceive to be weakness as strength.

    1. We all have moments of doubt when we listen to the old voices that lectured us as children about all the reasons that school is (supposedly) important. Just keep those voices turned so low you can’t hear them, and listen to that wise unschooly truth inside of you!

  6. Very good examples and explanation of the difference. This comes up so often.

    The only critique I have is that sometimes it’s just cookies. Some days are not full of interesting and intellectually stimulating conversations.

    Mostly they are though. And that is the amazing thing. You become a family of people who enjoy discussing smart topics. Maybe geeky topics. Maybe something someone enjoyed reading. There’s a lot of “I’m going to Google that”. There’s intellectual curiosity that has not been stomped out. There’s energy enough to be interested.

    Elaine, you sound like you might be relatively new to unschooling. Deschooling takes as long as it takes but keep going. πŸ™‚

  7. I think you have made your two examples very black and white Sheila and after 20 years of homeschooling and seeing a lot of children grow up and become adults, I would like to propose example 3 – this is what I think of as Natural learning…
    You have noticed that there is something your child is interested in or something that you feel would be good for them to know more about at this particular time, say fractions, Japan and writing practice. You think and research ideas for activities that might help with these skills. You purposefully create an environment in your home that is going to be conductive to learning these skills by borrowing books from the library on the topics, placing some writing paper and envelopes on the coffee table, getting out the game that you know has fractions in it and leaving it on the kitchen table along with the cuisenaire rods, you buy a block of chocolate (our favourite fraction maths), and stick a map of Japan on the fridge. You suggest making some cookies and wonder out loud if perhaps there are Japanese cookies you could make. If the child shows an interest you look on the Internet together to find a recipe. You bake the cookies together but you purposefully suggest doubling the recipe because you want your child to have opportunities to practice doubling fractions, and as you do it you speak clearly about what you are doing, using correct terminology and challenging your child to work the amounts out – you are there to help and explain if they need it though. While the cookies are baking you might suggest a game and especially choose one that has fractions involved in it, but if the child isn’t keen you can swap to another one knowing that there is always something valuable to be learnt even if it’s not what you were specifically aiming for. You might read some of the books about Japan together that you picked up on your last trip to the library and have left scattered around the lounge room, or you might just clean up the kitchen together and chat. When the cookies are done you might suggest your child might like to take a photo of them and send an email to Grandma showing her what you baked, and then you can all sit around the table and eat cookies together and chat about whatever captures your interest. None of it is forced or compulsory learning. It is still about following the child’s interests.
    The difference I see between Natural Learning and Unschooling is that in Natural Learning you are being a facilitator of the child’s education rather than an interested bystander. You actually need to work really hard to make sure you provide the stimulating learning environment that is going to match what your child is interested in, and also what you as an adult can see they will need to know for the future. When my children were younger I was constantly searching for games, ideas, books, sporting equipment, circus equipment, science experiments, websites, workshops, activities in the community, people – any resources that I could tap in to to make sure I purposefully created those learning opportunities, so that my children could then choose their own activities from a rich selection. I was also constantly aware of the need to talk to my children in a way that would encourage thinking, questioning and experimenting. They were following their own interests, they were learning naturally – but in a facilitated way.
    While I have always been a passionate advocate for homeschooling, I have seen so many families now who choose unschooling and then think that the learning will just happen – and for a few very motivated children it does, but for many the children will have a major panic when they reach teenage years and realise they have limited skills and limited opportunities. I think this is especially the case these days where it is more than likely that the child will say, no thanks to the cookie baking and head back to their computer for another 10 hours of gaming!
    I must admit I haven’t read any of your other posts Sheila, so this is definitely not a comment about your homeschooling style, but just a comment about concerns I have with the unschooling movement as I have seen it grow over the last few years.

    1. I too have seen poor results in some young adults who unschooled where kids were never “forced” to learn lots of things and only chose what they liked to do. And yes, there was a lot of gaming going on, and surly teens uninterested in the homeschool network field trips-even to really cool places- and activities, etc. And I’m sure the author has seen great examples of success. Like any homeschooling style, if the parents aren’t superb at it, it won’t work out well. Same for structured education too of course if a school is completely remiss in providing foundation skills and kills the desire to learn. But to me, natural learning and unschooling are what happens all the time in our home in down time from school or after we were done Classical homeschooling while we did that. My kids have learned a LOT they would not have chosen on their own in strictly loose situations, and they still love learning in loose situations and structured ones.

      One observation I made about myself while homeschooling is that I was so passionate and thorough with the subjects I love like writing, history, art, and I did the minimum requirements (though I did do my best to be enthusiastic) with science projects and math lessons because they “needed to be done”. I firmly believe sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to, and that’s actually good for you. Left to my own unstructured devices and in my home, the kids would have done nothing but reading and art projects all day. Which doesn’t seem fair to them if they need different skills for future chosen professions.

      Also, a lot of the Classical material we covered was very advanced (yay) and unknown to me (as is a lot that they are learning in public school now since I don’t remember a lot of it from childhood) so I wouldn’t have taught it or worked it into our discussions naturally. It’s very hard to understand how the average parent can facilitate a thorough education with no guidance at all, which a main question unschooling skeptics have.

      1. I think there is a huge advantage to only doing things you want to do, or that you are doing because they will help you do something you want to do.

        One goal of unschoolers is to have kids who go after what they want to go after. Kids don’t need to know everything they might possibly need in the future. They only need to know that they can learn anything they find themselves wanting/needing to know.

        My teens are learning kanji, which I know nothing about. It’s difficult, and not something I would have ever thought to teach them if I were designing a curriculum. I also have no interest in applying myself to learning it. If they needed me to, I would learn it so I could help them, as I have with many things through the years. But in this case, they don’t need me, so I don’t.

        When we first started unschooling, my mom was concerned. “How would they ever know how to ponder what Milton meant in Paradise Lost?”

        I gave the standard unschooling answer, that they will learn exactly what they need, and that Paradise Lost is no more important than any other piece of literature they might choose.

        Fast forward a few years, and my daughter went through a time where she asked me what a lot of quotes and song lyrics meant. She read me the quote that was at the beginning of thechapter, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized she was reading me a quote from Paradise Lost. Then we sat and pondered what he meant. πŸ˜‰

    2. Thank you for this explanation of unschooling vs natural learning. I love the idea of natural learning. Sadly I live in a state where the law requires me to produce paper evidence of a high quality education. I will try to implement your ideas more into our days while also having a structured learning time that creates a paper trail.

      Best wishes Jen in Oz

  8. Some of what you’re talking about is known in the unschooling world as strewing. If your child loves Japan and you suggest baking Japanese cookies (and are fully okay whether he wants to or not), that’s strewing. Picking up a book or any materials they might be interested in is strewing. Unschoolers do it all the time!

    I would be careful, though, of focusing on things that encourage what *you* want them to learn instead of what *they* want to learn, if following the unschooling philosophy is important to you. Sure, if there’s a story you loved as a child and you’d love to share it with them, then go ahead and see if they’re game to read it with you. But I wouldn’t try to coerce things like writing a letter to Grandma ( or “strongly suggest” in such a way that they feel bad for saying no) just because you’re worried that they don’t write well (or often) enough.

    If they choose 10 hours of video games over baking cookies, that’s just as valuable. I wrote about that here:

  9. I am not sure that I understand unschooling. Children absorb skills that exist at home. These days the babies grow around tablets. mobile internet and computers. They will be quite skilled by the time they are ready for formal school. So there is something to be said for exposure without the stress of competition and time bound examinations that can be stressful.

    1. It sounds like you’re starting to understand it!

      Children do absorb skills that exist at home and in other places where they spend time (friends’ houses, ymca, playgrounds, libraries, etc.)

      They also tend to become interested in things, and they might not have all the resources to pursue their interest, so the unschooling parent helps them find the resources they need.

      All that curiosity that little kids have before they go to school–unschoolers keep learning the exact same way.

  10. I appreciate Sharee Cordes comments. Yes, it is quite a lot of extra work to strew, but it is worth it. And a book or activity certainly doesn’t have to be classified as implied coercion just because it’s a parent’s idea rather than the child’s. It’s sharing and learning together. If everyone is happy, then there is no need to wonder if you are obeying someone else’s philosophy of unschooling.

    Sometimes when you suggest something and they are not interested, you set it aside, and another kid comes over and expresses interest. Suddenly your kid is all over it. Sometimes you shelve those books and activities for the next kid, or they gather dust for several years and you end up donating them! And I, too, know several unschooling families who refuse to add to the rich selection of activities available unless the kid comes up with the idea themselves. To me, that is sad. These same kids are also known for shunning kids who choose to try out school, or want to go to college.

    Also a big thumbs up to Amy E’s comment, it is so true. I’ve been a homeschool mom for 18 years and my kids have never been forced into any academic work. Some kids show their learning in fits and starts (or are learning a lot of non-academic type things) and some are obviously strong learners all along. Some pick up the tools along the way and don’t use them till they are good and ready. I have one kid who did not read for pleasure very much (just enough so I knew they could read), and preferred watching movies, listening to music and playing sports. That was basically it. This kid suddenly turned it on the second half of high school and now makes straight A’s in college on full scholarship, and is going to be a doctor. Totally did not see that coming!

    One caveat regarding a kid who has no output until they want to catch up in high school: this is better for kids with no learning disabilities. It’s really unfortunate to discover one just when they are deciding to learn some really big things, because they feel more pressure about it, and plus that problem may have kept them from delving into something sooner, only no one knew. I have one kid I wish I knew sooner about their problem, but it will be ok, just stressful.

  11. I am just now learning about the unschooling method, and my main question/concern is this: how do I keep records? If the state should come knocking on my door one day for whatever reason and want to see my records, examples of work, etc. how exactly do I do that if I have no curriculum?

    1. It all depends on your state, April. Requirements vary so widely by state that I would recommend finding an unschooling group or an unschool-friendly homeschool group in your state to help you understand what kind of record-keeping is required in your particular state.

  12. We started our first year of homeschooling (repeating 4th grade) using the Abeka curriculum. We’ve come to realize that it’s far too complex and structured and decided to take the month of December “off” and try unschooling. My question is…how do we fill out our quarterly report when we’re now behind on the curriculum that we told the school we would be following? I’m so stressed out about it! My son REALLY struggles with math. We’ve tried so many things, including Khan Academy and several other suggested options, but nothing seems to “click” with him. We have been in tears amost every day since October and I’ve found myself threatening him with sending him back to public school, which is something neither of us really ever want to do. He always says to me “MOM. I WISH you could be inside my head and that I could be smart like you want me to be.” That really breaks my heart. We’re in NY State and I know that certain things are expected. I also know that we can opt out of any testing until next year, but how do I make sure he’ll meet the standards he’s supposed to meet? :/ Any suggestions and advice are greatly appreciated!

    1. Welcome to unschooling, Jeanie! I definitely have a blog post with thoughts on record-keeping in the works, but in your case, the best thing you can do is search for unschooling and unschool-friendly homeschool groups (as opposed to groups that are strict curriculum users and over-compliars) to ask that question. I have heard of many people successfully unschooling in NY.

  13. I finally got to read some of this. I love the flow in example 1 and how dreadful example 2 is……which is what I’ve done for too long. I am excited to learn about unschooling as I know I’ve done it without knowing, yet felt that type of learning was with much guilt. The more I learn the more I realize it is what I want for our family, our kids, and generations to come….free, relaxed, individual, creative learning. And…the main point that I am attracted to is that it doesn’t seem to squelch their own individualality, but enlighten, encourage it. Yay! Love this! Thanks! I went to my first unschool conference to learn more last September…Life Without Instructions. From the two out of week long session I learned so much, felt so much love, and met so many wonderful, creative people. I am changed! Thankful!

  14. I’m new to the world of unschooling and just watch the movie IndoctriNation! Eye opening! I’ve homeschooled for 7 yrs now but used different curriculum each yr. I love the natural aspect of unschooling and I’m sure we will face opposition. My biggest concern is how to unschool in a highly regulated state. What do you do when your kids have an area of interest? Do you go and buy a bunch of material to learn more? Go to the library to look up more information? Thanks for any replies!

  15. I appreciate this post overall. School often doesn’t work
    for every person.

    I’ve truly lost count of the amount of instances
    I have listened to a young person state school causes them to feel suicidal.

    If they could choose, they will be significantly happier.
    Their father and mother still have all the power, unfortunately.

    Mothers and fathers must be supportive of their kids’
    emotional needs, although unfortunately a great many don’t seem to be.

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