Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything


When most people hear the word they can understand what it means relatively easily, or close enough anyway. The prefix ‘un’ added to the word ‘schooling’ means that it does literally mean ‘not school’.

Yep, no school. None. Zip. Nada.

Not school away from home. Not school at home either. NO school.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

I personally like the word unschooling because it very clearly says that school is not what we’re doing here people! It couldn’t be more different. However, I do think when people first consider it, the word UNschooling may tend to lead people to focus on the absence of school. On what we’re not doing, as opposed to what we are. As if unschooling is taking something out of a child’s life that would ordinarily be there.

But unschooling is not the absence of something. There is nothing missing which we need to replace.

Sure, there is a lot of negativity that you can avoid by taking school out of the equation, but when making the decision to unschool it might be more helpful to focus on the amazing opportunities that this life has to offer.

Instead of concentrating on what you won’t be doing, think about the numerous benefits you will enjoy!

What does unschooling bring to your life?

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means freedom. Something every child should feel. Freedom to decide for yourself how each day will go, listening to no one else’s schedule but your own. Freedom to grow and develop at your own pace. Freedom to be who you are and do what you want. Freedom from judgement, evaluation, comparison, expectation, and demands. Unschooled children can feel free.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means autonomy. Being able to make decisions about your own body and mind. From what you wear, to when you eat and sleep, to what you think about and are interested in. The choice is yours.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means time. More time to enjoy childhood with your children. It goes by so fast, I don’t want to miss any of it!

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst” – William Penn

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means connection. Deeper sibling and family connections as a consequence of more time getting to truly know each other.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means authentic friendships. Getting to hang out with friends all day long if you like, or not if you don’t want to. Being able to choose who you spend your time with.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means trust. Trusting children to learn what they need to learn, not pressuring them to learn according to someone else’s timeline. Can you imagine how affirming that feels?

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means following your passion. Whatever children are interested in is a perfectly valid choice, and unschoolers have the ability to learn about whatever they like. No wonder they love to learn!

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means individuality. Life and learning are not standardized. Children shouldn’t be either.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means ample play time. Children are suffering so much from a lack of play, which is vital to their development. Unschoolers get as much play time as they need! Perfectly preparing them for adult life, as nature intended.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means connecting with nature. While many kids experience ‘nature deficit disorder‘, unschoolers have plenty of time to reconnect with their inner wildness.

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means real learning. It’s recognising that learning is not restricted to different places and certain times. Nor does it happen the same for every person. Real learning is meaningful and self-directed and happening all the time, if we let it.

“Children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education. When they are provided with the freedom and means to pursue their own interests, in safe settings, they bloom and develop along diverse and unpredictable paths, and they acquire the skills and confidence required to meet life’s challenges. In such an environment, children ask for any help they may need from adults. There is no need for forced lessons, lectures, assignments, tests, grades, segregation by age into classrooms, or any of the other trappings of our standard, compulsory system of schooling. All of these, in fact, interfere with children’s natural ways of learning.” –Peter Gray

Unschooling Is Not the Absence of Anything

Unschooling means respecting children. Children are people, deserving of the same respect as adults, and unschoolers provide a respectful learning environment for children to thrive in. Adults are trusted to take charge of their own learning and ask for help and guidance when they need it. Children deserve the same.

I could go on and on. The list seems endless.

Unschooling is creating exactly the life you want, perfect for your individual family, and so the possibilities are boundless. Unschooling is not about removing something from a child’s life. It is about giving them more.


April 22, 2017 at 10:13 am

Hmmm… My oldest child has now graduated and he tells me he wishes he hadn’t been unschooled. He says he wishes I had made him do all of the things I thought I was protecting him from. He avoided math all during his teen years and doesn’t have the skills he needs for the science degree his dream job requires, for example. I’ve bought him all sorts of books to try to help him catch up with higher math but he just gets frustrated and says he’s hopeless because he’s so far behind. Now his friends are busy with college and work and he has no idea what to do in life and is very lonely.

We are in a small town and he grew up pretty isolated because the local kids were either in school or doing traditional homeschool. He feels different from everybody and doesn’t have the social groups that he would have if he had a more typical upbringing. Maybe unschooling really works better if you have a big support system nearby and the money to help them continue with the sort of charmed life that unschooling gives them into adulthood. He is a brilliant person, helpful, interesting, creative and fun, but he feels absolutely stuck right now. He’s still living at home, with no job and no idea what to do in his future.

My next oldest child will be graduating soon and I worry that she will never make it on her own because she has no work ethic and always expects everybody to do everything for her and pay all of her expenses. She’ll wake my husband up at 3 in the morning to make her food because she doesn’t like to cook and she sleeps all day. She’s beautiful, smart and creative but she is staggeringly self-centered and exhausting. She wasn’t like this as a child so this really took us by surprise.

My next oldest is very helpful around the house and a great teen, but he feels different and isolated. He has no friends nearby because all the teenage boys around here are into sports and hunting, and he’s a philosophical animal lover. He’s very smart but he always hated to write so he has terrible spelling, grammar and writing, to the point where it embarrasses him. I try to help him with it but he says no. My oldest son says I’m screwing up his future by not “making” him do all these things the way he says I should have made him do math and social things.

It seems sometimes you just can’t win as a parent. I have read so many parenting and unschooling books and blogs over the years and worked so hard at doing everything “right” and I feel like I’ve screwed it all up. It was so easy when they were young. Our life seemed so perfect. The teen years are brutal and I feel I’ve failed completely, and my little ones are going to end up just as doomed.

Unschooling *is* the lack of lots of things. You can say it’s worth it and you can say it’s better, but that’s the reality. I hear nothing but success stories about grown unschoolers online, but the ones I actually know are struggling and sad (except in the really rich families). I’m sure there are many who are super happy and successful, but I feel that I was given a sort of false sense of what to expect.

I thought it might be helpful to hear from a mother who lived this life and is on the other side of it. I don’t know if I would change anything if I could go back in time, but I wish I had at least known what kind of issues could be coming. 🙁

    April 23, 2017 at 7:21 am

    I’m sorry that you all seem very conflicted. That must be hard. Unschooled children generally feel very capable and responsible for their own education. I wonder why he believes that you should be the one to fix his problems now instead of confident that he is a capable learner if he has been leading his own learning all his whole life? Unschooling is also not about NOT learning or protecting them from schoolish subjects. It’s just about supporting them to learn it in their own way when/if they want to.
    I know nothing of your life other than what you’ve written here and I’m sorry things aren’t working out as you expected. I haven’t come across others who were unschooled that regretted it. This is a good article on outcomes https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201406/survey-grown-unschoolers-i-overview-findings

    April 24, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Hi Laura, it sounds like you are feeling lost because your children don’t have the drive and confidence you had expected based on all the unschooling stories. I bet it’s worrying to not know what to do and to feel regretful of your choices.

    You are not alone, although the stories often leave out the challenging aspects of unschooling. The truth is that it is very hard for young people to transition to independence and to figure out what they want to do as adults when they become adults for the first time. Regarding your oldest son, one day his friends are going to get out of college and enter “the real world” and they will face the same problems. A school that tells them exactly what to do will only delay the inevitable crisis of figuring out how to direct one’s own life. This crisis is challenging! But don’t be afraid of it. It is so hard that these young people will be tempted to find others to blame. It sounds like your children have chosen to blame their problems on their unschooling, which is easy to do because unschooling is so unusual. This allows them to get out of taking responsibility for their own shortcomings (a boy who wants to become a scientist but dislikes math; a boy who doesn’t like to write in a society that reveres writing). Ultimately they will have to face these aspects of themselves and find ways to cope. If you accept responsibility for their shortcomings, you will only enable them to delay the confrontation.

    Nothing you’ve done has been a waste of time. Growing up is difficult. Many challenges lie behind and many lie ahead. Remember that the goal is independence, not eternal dependence.

    June 9, 2017 at 4:33 am

    Laura, Your comments were very interesting but what confused me most was how your children can be graduating? If they have never been to school/college, or taken any formal school exams in what are they graduating?

    I wish you much luck and happiness and hope your children work out where their happiness lies.

    PS Here in NL going to school is compulsory, so we cannot even homeschool which is what I was looking at 🙁

      January 24, 2019 at 7:19 am

      Hi HP,

      Unschooling is also possible in NL! We will be/are doing so! Feel free to contact me about it.

      Surprise to come across fellow Dutchies here 🙂

    July 1, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    It seems that people trust their children to know what’s good for them, but they are children. They are not adults. Their frontal lobes, where they develop a capacity for fine-tuned judgement, will not mature until their mid to late twenties. There’s a movement today that romanticizes childhood as if these juvenile animals have all the answers. They don’t. A wolf mother would not trust her pup to make judgments for itself. She would teach it to be very careful, to be watchful, to hunt, to trust the group, and to do things the way she does them–not the pup’s own way entirely. It would more than likely die if it did that. It’s kind of interesting that some of the unschoolers I have known are very educated and intelligent; it’s like they think their children are naturally that way, too. But they forget that they have benefitted from traditional, and hard, schooling. Unschooling parents are typically not the way they are because they were unschooled. They are the way they are because of a more conservative take on education and upbringing. They do not realize the sacrifices their very flawed parents and teachers made to turn them into educated, productive human beings.

    September 15, 2017 at 5:13 am

    It is really good to read your perspective. I think the process gets very sugar coated .
    With that being said I did want to offer a simple reflection based on the very few aspects of your life and process you have shared with us inthis post.

    You mention a couple times that your kids do not know how to do much for them selves..even basic food when needed… and that they feel lost…
    TO me , parenting ( schooled or unschooled) is us preparing our kids to take care of themselves in this wild wacky world.

    Lets start with the simple things we need to consider-

    If they cannot feed themselves they will die.
    -We must ensure they learn to garden and work, food takes work one way or another…wether you are hunting/ gardening/ wildcrafting or paying with money someone worked for : food= work)

    If they are messy and dirty, that leads to disease and infestations.
    – We must ensure they learn by doing how to upkeep a home on all levels.

    If they do not learn basic first aid/ basic healing modalities and self care mentally then they will always be at the mercy of others.
    – We must ensure they learn basic body/ mind care.

    If they can not communicate peacfully and intelligently with others, then they will never know success.
    -We must ensure they learn how to read and write and talk in a way others can hear them.

    If they cannot read a map, set goals and make plans, they will not know how to navigate where they need to go.

    If they do not learn how to source peer reviewed scholarly material on the internet and in the library, they will be lied to all the time and not even know.
    – We must ensure they learn how to navigate the AGE OF INFORMATION.

    It is our job as a parent to make sure our kids know how to chop wood and carry water – figuratively and literally.

    It is basic survival in this wolrd.

    Again, this is how I view it all and I am just one perspective in the world. I hope my view was some food for thought.

    June 13, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    I know this thread is old but would like to know how your son is doing and the rest of the kids? I feel like a lot of kids feel that pressure to go to college or to go be something because you’re now graduated from high school. This is so sad. It can be simply seeing what a friend is doing or comparing what are neighbor, cousin, kids are doing right after graduation. So much pressure into having to all the sudden be grown up just because you reach a certain age. It kind of reminds me of parents who kids aren’t walking by 9 months old. He’s 14 months and hasn’t learned to walk yet, yet in the child’s own time when ready, they learn to walk. Same thing with your son. He will discover something that will be amazing for him. It just takes time. I would show compassion and offer any support (like you are doing 🙂) and say something along the lines of, ”I can see how you feel that way”. You don’t have to become a victim along with him doubting your unschool approach. It’s an emotional part of his development and things will work itself out. I understand emotions pretty well and totally understand what you are saying with your frustrations. We have a 24-year-old stepson. Who still struggles with this (and he went to a traditional school). It’s not that he doesn’t know math or a particular skill set but he lacks confidence. Everyone is unique and different. He works and helps but is still not there yet. He even admits that to us. With Patience, love, and any support he needs we are always there for him. I hope you and your son are doing. A lot better.

April 26, 2017 at 2:44 pm

I’m expecting a backlash when my children are teens, no matter what. Teens ARE brutal. They’re ungrateful and arrogant, just like my almost 8yr old boy but without the size. 100 years ago this was not the case. I was raised to believe that any problems were in my head. This was true, but I couldn’t get them fixed because I was being poisoned by stress and the common diet.
There are things you can do though.
If you help balance the hormones, and spark up the brain using diet (AIP paleo is a godsend for this and many other issues), and certain supplements like iodine (you could try reading ‘The Iodine Crisis; what you don’t know about iodine can wreck your life’, by Lynne Farrow and join the FB page ‘Iodine Workshop’) you can help balance the physical and mental deficiencies that you may be unaware are even there.
I thought I was really healthy before I knew anything of these two aspects alone.
It’s an understatement to say they have changed my life and frankly everyone else who finds these (and high dose vitamin C via ‘Linus Pauling’ and orthomolecular medicine) has everything in their life change for the better.
Brain fog is a cruel and frustrating and very very common affliction. It may be that your children have it in spades yet are bright (as I was) but incapable of seeing through the fog. Wheat, gluten, seed oils, dairy foods and general day to day chemical exposure causes utter chaos in everyone living in the west, on the standard diet of meat, fruit, veg., >bread and dairy< products. An elimination diet for one month to see the difference, to really realise the amount of stress put on a body from the junk we presume and are told is healthy will confirm this point.
Sadly, and frustratingly, it's not until one does try such a thing that they see how fogged up and stressed out they actually are. I refused to believe dairy could cause me any problems. It took three months of recurring mastitis with my infant son breastfeeding, to even consider trying it. It was SUCH A BREAKTHROUGH.
Some people use their illness as a crutch through life. It's up to them I suppose to see if they're truly hungry for a good life. If they're determined they can find a way. Hopefully it won't take a crisis. I really hope they sort it all out, it was and is such a tricky time. Best luck to you. X

    May 27, 2018 at 3:27 am

    I’m a bit surprised that your child feels like she can wake you up at 3 am to feed her. Unschooling doesn’t mean the parent is the slave. I tell my kids around 10 pm that I’m no longer available to help. If they want something in the middle of the night they are free to get something on their own.

September 5, 2017 at 11:22 am

I just don’t understand why people will not just send their children to a regular structured school????? What is the point of letting them play all day just so that you can spend more time with them because they grow up to fast? I look at this topic as the silliest thing I have ever heard. And thanks to people like you, my teenage son thinks its okay to not go to school and thinks he can learn everyday skills from video games and whatever else he can do while sitting on his butt all day. We are working parents and can not be home all day to supervise what he is doing. I wish this and all youtube videos of this never existed. I think that people that choose to keep their children home are selfish and don’t allow their child to become a better person though education and social interaction.

    September 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Because we like our children? Because we believe in them? Because school is not a prerequisite for life? Because school is disrespectful and violates children’s rights? How many reasons do you want? There’s plenty of info on the rest of the blog if you care to educate yourself.

    Congrats to your son for having confidence in himself even when others clearly don’t.

      September 5, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      Because I don’t believe in letting my teenage son sit in front of a television all day playing video games. This is what he would do when we are working. I’m not a stay at home mom like you probably are. We can’t afford to live that way! There’s so much you can learn in school that you don’t learn at home.

        September 15, 2017 at 4:47 am

        I think it is HILARIOUS, that you think unschool = sitting in front of the tv all day 😀 Lets put this in perspective, I have a teenager and we do not own a tv, problem solved.
        If you let your kid just sit around ..that is your fault not his. I would wager that when you take a break from your normal bizzy routine you sit in front of that same TV..so what kind of example or guide are you?
        Kids needs guidance, intelligent engaging discussion about meaningful topics that they show interest in, They need you to show them how to research and
        seek deeper knowledge on new subjects, they need to see your interest and enthusiasm to experience the world….this is not a ‘fast food’ culture way of engaging in life and learning..it is a wholistic dynamic approach to living a full life…..
        You must engage consistently and actively in living and learning …it is that sense of endless curiosity that seems to be the key to success in a full life learning experience- that requires some serious dedication mentaly, spiritualy and physically ( as in time commitment etc ) on the part of the parent/caregiver.. otherwise, people just end up sitting infront of a tv.

          June 12, 2018 at 5:38 pm

          This is brilliant! If you don’t have TV video games etc available, they will need to use what IS provided!

Renea Buchholz
September 29, 2017 at 10:09 am

Keeping kids home from school is selfish. That is exactly why I did it. They were mine. They did not belong to the state.
If I could do it over I would do it much different. I would toss the curriculum until they were middle school age. And then choose carefully. I do regret my sons difficulties in math. It is making things more difficult for him now, BUT he is rising above it and taking charge. I wish I had prepared him better in that way. But both my children are very much go getters and they love to learn. Remember “education is not the filling of a bucket, it is the lighting of a fire”

Jim Flannery
October 1, 2017 at 1:09 am

Hi! I came across your blog post via the Atomi.Ize /unschool feed. I wanted to share a useful resource for anyone looking to speak directly to a young person who is unschooling about their lifestyle. The Peer Unschooling Network ) is a digital community for teen unschoolers from around the world. If you want to make a direct connection with some real people, this is a great place to do so. Best of luck in your journey!

October 24, 2017 at 3:28 am

Do unschoolers eventually go to college? What kinds of jobs or career paths do they choose and eventually succeed. in? I get how unschooling is freedom from the rigors and schedules of the traditional structure. I just don’t get how it benefits the child”s future vis-a-vis providing for a future family/adult life. Income is generally a requirement for most people, and I can see how some unschooling kids could thrive and become very successful financially, but I don’t think that most could do so. I’m not saying it should never be done. I’m saying it shouldn’t always be done, right?

I like the idea of homeschooling, which i feel probably gives the best of both worlds (flexibility and structured learning), but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that unschooling is better than homeschooling because I feel like it loses a lot of the benefits of structured learning, and doesn’t provide much more benefits than home-schooling offers.

    January 25, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Way old, I know 🙂 — but to answer the question so far… my oldest graduated for a 4 yr private liberal arts college and is currently doing the young millenial – where do I want to live, how do I want to live thing. She paid for it all by herself (we covered much of an associates degree at a community college prior) through scholarships and loans (low double digits). She is a fully independent living, bill paying adult at 25.

    My next joined the Air Force right out of “high school”. At his request we graduated him at 17 so he could go to BMT the summer before the fall he turned 18. He’s over two years in and thriving in avionics, a technical field.

    My next graduated (participated in our group graduation ceremony) last year and will turn 18 in a few months. She takes some classes at a local community college, travels, and works retail at the moment. Trying to figure out what she wants to do next.

    I have 3 more at home (15, 11, 5) so we’ll see how it all shakes out. So far so good! (knock on wood lol)

February 4, 2019 at 8:29 am

What an interesting discussion,
I am from Germany and sadly home- or unschooling children is strictly forbidden here. There are ways to do so, but its illegal. I tried to first homeschool and now unschool my daughter and I like it, she is drawing and reading and playing and very happy. The problem is, we have just one other child around thats not at school, and my daughter is also afraid that somebody could tell the school office so she prefers to stay at home in the morning.
We now decided to try a very free school, an unschooling school there are other children and adult helpers to help if asked, they decide democratically and social learning by living half days in a group of mixed age students and adults is a big goal. They dont force to learn but try to encourage to do something.
I hope it will work out for us, the only other way would be leaving the country.

Barbara Jean Roberts
October 31, 2019 at 10:36 pm

I am so thankful to find your blog!! I have been praying and praying for God to direct our homeschooling journey, to show me how yo give our children what they need most from His perspective. Nothing has seemed to click. I’ve tried different approaches. And we’re only just beginning! I have four children ages almost 6 to 11 months old. When I found your blog, it clicked! And I am so thankful!! Looking forward to learning alongside my children the freedom God has given us to be who is created to be. God bless! Barbara Jean Roberts 💟

February 18, 2021 at 4:37 am

During this tough times Covid-19, Every individual has to focus on diet and little bit of exercises to come out of depression and Anxiety.

March 9, 2022 at 9:59 am

We are all aware that doctoral students have to remember a lot of things when studying. It has been observed in various instances that if memorization is practiced on a regular basis and in certain instances, the student may forget something, however, when we apply the method of scientific memorization, it’s very simple.

To help you, here is a fantastic mnemonic method site I discovered while researching.

June 22, 2022 at 9:46 am

To Mama,
I get where you’re going with your point, when Angelia guessed that her son would spend the whol day playing video games and watching ‘Mr Beast’-type videos on youtube all day if he unschooled, that was a likely accurate guess on what he might do if left to his own devices while hi parents were at work. Let’s say that her son is 13 and unschooled, but both mom & dad work outside the home during the day…or one works 11 pm – 5am and sleeps during the day, while the other parent work 9a – 5 pm….leaving the boy alone for much of the day. Wha do you think the kid would get up to during the day if left unsupervised and w/o moderate of household chores to accompish?

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