Unschooling Fears: “I’m worried they won’t learn x”

I remember when I first started unschooling I would try to explain to people what we were doing. I’d tell them the kids would learn whatever they needed to know, when they needed to know it.

People often looked at me like I was bananas.

Obviously I’d missed the memo that children needed to be taught! Everyone knows that.

I totally understand their reaction. Truthfully I still have moments when I worry if they will learn something I think is important. We all do.

It’s not exactly that I disagree with humans being taught. It’s just that I think there’s a better teacher: life. And I think there’s a better time to learn: whenever they’re ready and interested.

But how do you trust in that process and forget the worries? Here’s some things I consider when a worry creeps in…

“What if they never learn something they need?” – 3 Things to Consider

Is it true?

Do they really need to know this particular thing I’m stressing about right now? Is it essential for being a functional adult? If it is essential, is it really likely that they will never learn it?

I can think of a lot of things I learned/memorised in school that ended up being a big waste of my time. The thing is, if something is essential to know for your life, then surely you will come across it at some point, and life will provide the motivation to learn it!

Is it urgent?

There is no expiry date on learning. What is the point of learning something before you need it? Before you see a use for it? Before you’re curious about it? Forcing learning before these things happen makes it boring and difficult. That’s what we all remember from school. Switch things around. Let curiosity come before learning. You have time!

“What matters is learning something when there is a need or interest, because that is when it will connect to what they’re doing and make sense to them.” ― Pam Laricchia

Do I need to deschool?

Deschooling is an ongoing process! We are constantly unlearning all the things we thought were true about education and learning. Sometimes when a worry appears it’s just a sign that I have work to do in that area. Am I valuing academics over creativity? Am I seeing my child through a schooled lens? Am I missing all the wonderful things they are actually learning because they look different to school?

What helps me get back on track is reading things that inspire me.

What next?

Sometimes a simple look at those questions shows me I’m worrying over nothing! In that case, it’s time to let go and relax. To take a look at my children and really see them. Are they learning? Always yes! More importantly are they enjoying learning? I’d much rather foster a love of learning than have them memorise facts they may or may not ever use again. Most times I look around and see my children passionately pursuing their interests and realise there is really nothing to worry about.

Other times I consider the above questions and I do decide that yes it’s true, and yes I think they need to know this now. Unschooling does not mean parents never have an opinion, or never take the lead. It means we are partners in learning.

There are things that I absolutely want my children to be aware of, history I want them to know, current events that I want to chat with them about. I might not be overly concerned about them ever memorising the quadratic equation, but I definitely feel it’s my job to educate them about issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. There are probably quite a few different topics I will feel are important at one time or another and that’s ok!

Now that doesn’t mean I throw out unschooling and tell them to sit down and listen because they have to learn this! Of course not. If I think something is worth knowing now I try to engage their natural curiosity about the topic by providing opportunities to learn, or simply just talking to them.

Providing Opportunities

Are there places we could visit, people we could meet, books we could read together, a documentary we could watch that will generate a discussion and spark curiosity?

There are tons of ways to learn about any topic, so there is likely a way to engage any child, no matter how they learn. Whether they want to talk to people, do something hands-on, or read about it independently.

Just talk to them!

Just being honest is always a good plan! Since I don’t force my children to learn anything, if I simply say to them ‘hey, there’s this thing I really want to talk to you guys about because it’s important to know, I want to hear your thoughts, and maybe we could learn more together’, they are very likely to listen! If I’m bringing something to them that I think they should know, they take me seriously! I’m not out here every day making them learn things that don’t interest them, so they don’t expect that to happen now either.

It’s ok to worry

It’s totally normal to worry! Choosing to unschool doesn’t mean we’ve given up all thoughts of education. Quite the opposite! We’re very interested in education. It’s schooling we’ve ditched. And with making big choices about how your child is educated comes worry. We all want what’s best for our children, and questioning what we’re doing from time to time is healthy. It actually keeps us on track! We can see when changes need to be made.

Unschooling means examining our motives and conditioned beliefs. That leads to letting go of a lot of things and embracing the fact that children will learn what they need to learn on their own timeline. But you are here too, and you are an important piece of the unschooling puzzle. If something is important to you and you think your children need to know about it, you can make that happen! And in a much more enjoyable way.


Zoe Raiden
June 7, 2021 at 12:58 am

Lovely and inspiring writing as always!

Joanne Winstanley
June 7, 2021 at 6:36 am

How would you approach the following – my 8yo doesn’t write yet, he just simply has no interest in it at all, he can’t even write his name?! Thanks

June 15, 2021 at 8:53 pm

I always enjoy your posts. This is a subject I blogged about recently but you’ve added many excellent thoughts so have shared this post to my Facebook page. 🙂 All the best.

July 28, 2021 at 9:15 pm

Nice idea! Every morning there are new learnings. Don’t let them feel worried. Just let us teach them kind and patiently.

August 2, 2021 at 11:09 pm

Thanks for sharing this kind of article. I hope every child doesn’t have fears facing. Just trust the process.

December 6, 2021 at 7:13 am

“There is no expiry date on learning.”

This is not necessarily true. Some skills have critical periods, and if you don’t learn them during the critical period, you’re likely to never be able to learn it as thoroughly as if you had. For example, there’s research showing that people who grew up without access to literacy, and learned to read in adulthood, have a fundamentally different and less efficient way of processing text than people who learned to read in early childhood.

    January 23, 2022 at 6:02 am

    That’s a very extreme example. Not forcing learning to read at 5 years old is not the same as not having any access to literacy. If there is a ‘critical period’ then children will be naturally led to learn at that time when surrounded by the resources and support they need. However, experiences of many many kids who don’t go to school show a much bigger age range for what is ‘normal’ when learning to read.

December 6, 2021 at 7:24 pm

trust the process. Theres no deadline on learning.

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