Is Unschooling Too Focused on the Individual?

This may come as a surprise to you, but I never ask my kids if they want to go to homeschool group. We are simply going. We are part of a community, so we are committed to showing up on those days every week, no matter what is planned or where we’re going. Just the same as any paid extra-curricular activity that occurs every week. So, unless we’re sick, we’re going to be there, and we’re going to get involved in whatever is happening on the day.

Maybe you think as unschoolers we do what we like when we like and are commitment-free. I once thought that kind of freedom was what we were aiming for too.

When I think back to my reasons for unschooling my children, the things that come to mind are all very much focused on my children’s individual needs. I wanted a different and very individual type of education, specifically tailored to them and their needs. I wanted so many good things for them: freedom, self-direction, autonomy, the ability to follow their own interests, to wake up each day and decide what they wanted to do instead of that being decided for them.

These are all great things, and no doubt reasons many people decide to unschool. When I think of our life now though, some of the greatest parts of unschooling are not so much to do with us as individuals, but the amazing things that come from being part of a community.

We attend so many amazing events, we go on regular excursions, we have collected years and years of shared memories, and we have strong connections and friendships in our communities.

When people tell me they are struggling with this part of unschooling, when they are having a hard time connecting to others and making friends, when the kids are feeling dissatisfied, I wonder if in some cases the reason is that unschooling can be a little too individualistic. Is there a risk that unschooling can lead to prioritising the individual over the collective in a way that ends up being limiting rather than freeing?

We have worked hard to build a close and committed community. Very hard. What I have observed over my time homeschooling and trying to grow communities is that it is extremely common for homeschoolers to flit from group to group rather than attach to one (or two), to pick and choose events depending on what they are offering that week, and to be pretty unreliable and inconsistent with attendance. We all know it, right? Homeschoolers are not the most reliable on the whole.

The good intentions are there. We just want the best for our kids! But, is the best for our children really always only being involved in things that are a 100% perfect fit for them?

There is so much value to be found in community and what I fear is that sometimes we are so focused on our individual wants and preferences that we miss out on some of that goodness. Maybe we give up on things too soon because they aren’t an instant perfect fit, maybe we don’t push through the discomfort of trying something new, maybe we don’t see a problem giving things a miss on days we don’t feel motivated. Things get out of balance.

There are certainly times when prioritising your own wants is important, but maybe we need to be mindful of finding a balance. Maybe we also need to remember all the things we have to give rather than just what we can gain from something. People need community, and the things you gain from being involved in a community cannot be found in other places. In my opinion, it’s crucial to long-term homeschooling.

Community can give you a sense of belonging, connection with others, support, a feeling of unity and being part of something bigger, acceptance, and so many great shared experiences. Feeling a sense of belonging to a community can lead to better mental health, resilience, healthy self-esteem, contentment, happiness, purpose, better physical health, feelings of security, and more.

I think that most parents want all these things for their children, but I wonder if sometimes interpretations of the unschooling philosophy may get in the way of achieving this. It appears that often people think unschooling means always being able to do the things you want, when you want to do them. But, that’s just not how being in community with others works.

To get along with others we may sometimes have to do things we don’t find fun, we may have to show up on days we don’t feel like getting out of the house, we may have to attend events at places that aren’t our favourite spots to play at. This is all part of the give and take of community. If we only opt-in for the highlights, we’re really not going to get all the benefits a community has to offer.

You can absolutely choose not to do this. You can only show up to a homeschool event when you feel like it. You can skip events you aren’t interested in. You can join in only when it perfectly suits you. You can decide what you’re doing day by day and not commit to things in advance! Unschooling gives you the complete freedom to do that. But, is this really ‘freedom’?

Is focusing only on your own needs serving you and your child? Is it helping you form connections and be a valued member of a community? To be valued, you also must value others. One way we show our friends that we value them and their time and effort is by being reliable and committed. We show up even when we aren’t overly enthused by something because maybe it’s our friend’s favourite thing this time and we want to show our support and share in that with them, knowing that next time might be something that we like and we want our friends to show up for us too.

If we always value individuals over community we miss out on forming deeper connections with people. If we practice a type of freedom that doesn’t regularly consider others, we will find it hard to become a valued member of a community. Having meaningful relationships with other people sometimes means minor inconvenience for great reward.

So yes you can absolutely have freedom to do what you want when you want, but that may also limit you. The freedom I’m after for my kids is one where they know they are ultimately in charge of their choices, but they are willing to make sacrifices to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I want them to know what belonging to a community feels like, and to care for others and themselves.

That’s where we’re at now. We’re part of an awesome homeschooling community. I don’t ask my kids if they want to go each week, because there is no need. Community is a regular part of their week and they are happy to show up because they are there for the people, no matter what’s happening. They have learned the benefits of community involvement and had a lot of practice at making space and time for others’ needs. They are part of something bigger than themselves and their lives are richer for it.


I’d love to know your thoughts! Can unschooling be too individualistic? Can this type of freedom to follow your own interests actually be limiting in terms of developing relationships and community? Do our beliefs sometimes contribute to our general flakiness as a community? LOL!

What do you think? Is this something we need to be more mindful of?


June 24, 2024 at 8:20 pm

I totally agree. Being self centred never makes us happy.
Some people’s love language is service so they feel loved when receiving an act of service and express love by helping others.
Even if that’s not our love language we feel great when knowing that our contribution has helped others.

June 25, 2024 at 12:00 am

I do agree with this; however, I’ve found a hard time finding a group we feel connected to. A lot of the groups around us are very liberal or very religious and we are neither. I thought we’d found a good one but then some parents showed their true colors and I just didn’t want us around that energy. That group was also exclusive which didn’t sit well with me. We are also a 2 parent working household so we often cannot consistently commit to the schedule of these groups. I’d say that is actually our biggest hurdle.

June 25, 2024 at 2:04 am

I think you are touching on a nuanced part of unschooling that I have often considered. I approach our Outdoor Home Ed group in this manner. We commit to others each Thursday, and others commit to us. We rely on each other to show up. We prioritise our little community and we miss each other when we’re not there.
I once heard that inclusion is being invited to the table, but belonging is being missed when you’re not there.
This is key for me in building community. This is the same for church for our family. We’re all in it together ❤️ It’s a very beautiful thing.
I see some home ed families feeling isolated and I think it takes commitment to each other (and sometimes compromise) to build real, long lasting friendships and community.
Great post – thank you!

June 25, 2024 at 7:02 am

This is a good topic to bring up. It has been near impossible for us to find a good homeschool community. My kids are only 5 and 3 though, so that could change. But I’ve gone to homeschool events over and over again, and either no one shows up or the event is too intense for my kids and they ask to leave. My kids are also not the most outgoing of people 😝 They thrive on 1-1 interactions, not group settings.

June 28, 2024 at 4:48 am

I’ll glom on with my kudos for broaching this topic. As a creator of community spaces, this is exactly the lingo I rely on. It’s often difficult to find new people who are willing to commit to a weekly gathering, but I require it now when interviewing new folk. Showing up is the hardest part + the most beautiful. If you don’t want to do that for us, we don’t want you here.

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