Any parent who looks into home education quickly finds a plethora of different educational philosophies that articulate how and what educating children from the home can look like. Unschooling is one such option, and anecdotes seem to indicate that it’s a growing movement within the wider homeschooling community.

Beautiful water lily, November 2011
"Learning to parent feels to me like a time-lapse photo of a flower blooming — you keep thinking it is almost done but there is more. If you froze the frame it would be a flower — but there is all this potential still 'ungrown'." — Pam Sorooshian

“Unschooling and natural learning unfold from the centre — our centres. Our kids’ centres. Our families’ centres. The question we need to ask each day is what is central to our needs, as individuals within a family, within a community, within a society, within the family of humanity.” — Beverley Paine

Unschooling as a home-education style needs to be differentiated from radical unschooling as a parenting style, as the term unschooling is used for a progressive pedagogy gaining credence as more unschoolers reach adulthood. Unschooling in home education is also known as natural learning, informal learning, organic learning, child-led learning, delight-directed learning, and auto-didacticism. As within every other movement on the planet, there are ranges of commitment to unschooling and no two unschooling families approach home education in the same manner.

“Perhaps both the greatest fascination and the greatest difficulty in studying informal learning is getting to grips with its sheer ordinariness… [I]nformal learning remains … a commonplace, unremarkable and yet astonishingly efficient way to learn.” — Alan Thomas

At its core, unschoolers truly believe that children are innate learners. Our society accepts the fact that children master many skills — including language — through immersion and imitation. Unschooling is a continuation of this concept through the traditional “school years”; children will keep learning the skills and knowledge they need in life if their interests are facilitated for and resourced appropriately.

“The act of placing the power over learning and life into the individual’s hands is both empowering and motivating. The ‘motivation’ people see in unschoolers is really a joy in learning that is seen far less often among the masses in school.” — Idzie Desmarais

As such, an unschooling parent’s job is different from other home-educators because the parent is not setting out the structure for the child’s learning pattern. Instead, as the child shows an interest in a topic, the parent provides resources that meet the child’s queries.

“When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” — Jean Piaget

Unschoolers may follow curricula, they may undertake bookwork. They may sit tests, attend institutional classes and pursue certification. The difference between an unschooling student and others is that the unschooler is given the freedom to establish their own structure, set their own goals, choose their own paths of study and follow their passions.

“It is… nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreak and ruin. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” — Albert Einstein

One of benefits of unschooling is that the stresses of a institutional school are not simply brought back into the home because no learning is forced upon the child. Instead, as individuals pursue their passions and grow in knowledge and experience, relationships are strengthened. A lot of unschooling children’s learning is experiential — they experience every-day mathematics, they watch science in action, they research topics they’re interested in and move onto a new subject once their questioning mind is sated.

“If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorise lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.” — Linda Darling-Hammond

Will there be gaps in an unschooling student’s knowledge? Perhaps. However, the unschooling student will be equipped for and confident in researching anything they need to know in the future.

“Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever must be learned.” — John Holt

The learning of unschooling children can only be measured against their own personal progress. Just as our society would find it absurd to compare the knowledge of two 35-year-olds, no two unschoolers would have the same knowledge sets. This is definitely different to children who are all tutored in a linear fashion from the same curriculum.

“It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.” — Alec Bourne

Grown unschoolers — even those who have never attended classes, taken standardised tests, or been forced to learn something — have sometimes chosen to pursue tertiary education. Many colleges and universities offer entry options for home-educated students who do not have a high-school diploma.

“There were no sex classes. No friendship classes. No classes on how to navigate a bureaucracy, build an organisation, raise money, create a database, buy a house, love a child, spot a scam, talk someone out of suicide, or figure out what was important to me. Not knowing how to do these things is what messes people up in life, not whether they know algebra or can analyse literature.” — William Upski Wimsatt

Parents who unschool their children may use the same physical resources as other home-educators. Workbooks, iPad apps, computer games, books and the internet are all wonderful tools in expanding unschoolers’ knowledge.

“Because schools suffocate children’s hunger to learn, learning appears to be difficult and we assume that children must be externally motivated to do it.” — Wendy Priesnitz

An unschooling parent must be wily and resourceful to meet their children’s desires — air-bending lessons, anyone? Above all, with unschooling home education, the parent is the primary facilitator and encourager, willing to support their children’s learning paths and trust the child to garner the information that is useful for them in the time they need it.

“All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” — John Holt

If you want to know more about unschooling as a home-education style, this is a good place as any to start.