Labels may be unhelpful.
"Once you label me you negate me." — Soren Kierkegaard

Definitions are so problematic when labelling home-schooling styles. A label limits the flexibility, the spontaneity, the changeability that attracts many people to home-schooling in the first place. Add to this a religious term like “Christian”, and your definition becomes even more laborious as it is weighed down by centuries of cultural baggage culminating in the Westernised evangelical version of churchianity prevalent in English-speaking countries.

Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt my own definition of Christian unschooling. (For other excellent summaries, have a look here, here and here.)

Christian unschooling is embracing the opportunity to keep your children at home so they can learn in a natural way through life experiences. It is trusting that God will direct their interests so they are well equipped for life and godliness. It is believing that God will enable you with wisdom to provide encouragement, time and resources. It is deliberately avoiding any attempts to measure or force your children’s learning according to others’ schedules and standards.

When I eagerly attended my first home-schooling seminar in 2008, I sat close to the front and took careful notes. One presenter said very clearly: “Unschooling is not a godly way of home-schooling, for our God is a god of order” (which I think he may have got from here although it’s a bit of a theological contortion).

Naïvely, I wrote down his words, swallowing the speaker’s precepts. Nowadays, I would raise my hand and politely enquire which curriculum Jesus was taught with, or — for that matter — which program Christ used when instructing His twelve disciples. (Upon further reflection, I must also question the motives of the speaker, who is the director of developer and distributor of home-schooling curriculum.)

At the time I heard about the perils of unschooling, my mind could only envision a modified school-at-home method of instructing children. Our journey to embracing unschooling is not actually one that we deliberately set out on, but it is a path that God has laid before us with gentleness.

David’s and my personal history have made it easier to reject the notion that institutionalised learning is better or even necessary for life. Neither David nor I completed university degrees. We simply practised our trades and learned from the experts around us — me in desktop design and David in his floorcoverings trade. Our autodidactism enabled us to pursue the skills and knowledge we needed to advance in our careers. (This is not to preclude our children from pursuing university degrees.)

So after properly analysing our own lives in light of our research on home-schooling methods, our next step was to question the arbitrary testing and grading systems. (Institutionalised learning was unnecessary for many well-known people to “succeed” in life.) And what does a child truly need to learn for life? Is it something that can be taught by a book, practised on worksheets and measured with a percentage score?

To these questions, add the emphasis that we place on working out our salvation daily — crucifying the sin nature so that God may manifest in us — and our goals in home-schooling become abundantly clear.

We would like to be the ones who tell the stories that teach our children about life. We don’t want to give our children over to just anyone — however well-intentioned they may be. We seek to live so our children know Father first and then the skills for life which necessarily must include reading, writing and the ability to pursue knowledge.

In unschooling, we must learn to not impose the obligations of institutions upon our own children’s learning. In Christian unschooling, we must not impose religious obligations that focus on righteous living without understanding that Father is the one who turns the heart to Himself. To be successful in this, we must earnestly seek God first, so we manifest the life of Christ that we want our children to learn from.

In a real sense, unschooling means we throw away the lists of age-based assessments and instead watch each child’s progress as they pursue their own interests, develop individual learning styles, build strengths and grow in knowledge and godliness. We will smile in wonder as we see each child grasp new concepts that we did not force upon them. And we will seize each teachable moment, embroidering our days with stories, questions and conversations that lead to exploration and discovery.

This is hardly different to the traditional home-schooling parent — except that we eschew schedules, curriculum, tests and grades. As a result, we hope that our children will stand or fall on their real abilities in this world — not on how well they can meet the system’s requirements. Our prayer is that Father may lead them close to Him in the process.

Perhaps it’s risky, but so are the alternatives. And this glorious riskChristian unschooling — suits us (and others) just fine.