What Unforced Learning Looks Like

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

One of the biggest misconceptions about children is that they would not learn unless they were forced. When I look at our life, that could not be further from the truth.

We do not force learning. Our children don’t go to school and we don’t create a school-like environment at home.

We unschool.

That means we support their learning, we’re present, we’re there to answer questions, we provide an inspiring environment, we’re committed to exploring the world with them, but they are in charge of what they learn and when.

The majority of people seem to think that means that inevitably kids will end up watching TV all day or *gasp* ‘just‘ playing. Don’t even get me started on that.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

This week we’ve been home all week as there was illness going around our group of friends. We decided to cancel events for the week and get rid of it, instead of risking spreading it around more! So we really were pretty much ‘stuck at home’ this week. Despite the name ‘homeschooling’ this is actually a really uncommon occurrence for us. We usually have at least two whole days with friends.

Sometimes the best way to challenge assumptions is to live your life accordingly and show people a different way. And so, I wanted to show you what our week looked like. It seemed like a week with ‘nothing’ planned was the perfect opportunity to illustrate the point. Kids want to learn, they seek it out. With the help of a supportive and interested adult, they explore the most interesting things!

Here’s what they got up to just this week. Or at least, everything I can remember…

Went to the shops and spent some of their money on lego.

Built a lot of lego.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Made a weather station and checked temperature, precipitation, and wind direction daily.

Started an online cooking course.

Practiced cooking.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Worked out how to use a new microscope.

Made slides of saliva and hair to look at under the microscope.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Watercolour + salt paintings.

Completed some pages of maths problems in a book.

Swam in the dam.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Read aloud to others in the family every day.

Completed the online cooking course.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

More cooking.

Made a mechanical sweeper from a kiwico box.

Made an hydraulic claw and experimented, troubleshooted, and customised it.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Practiced dance routines.

Attended 10 dance classes.

Learned how to measure electricity with a voltmeter.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Went to Netball training.

Observed and cared for frogs.

Watched an online class on poisonous and venomous animals.

Finished an online watercolour class.

More lego construction.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Played minecraft.

Worked on designing a ‘club’ and writing a post about it to invite friends.

Researched the Grey Wolf.

Wrote a questionnaire about the Grey Wolf for club members to fill out.

Finished the audiobook ‘Nevermoor’.

Planned club activities like nature clean up days and raising money for conservation.

Researched the cost of printing club t-shirts, badges, or stickers.

Made up a schedule for working on flexibility.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Joined Jane Goodall’s roots and shoots program.

Big girls started reading The Secret Seven together.

Went to see a Netball match.

Designed, made, and served an original dessert.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

And the best part? When I sat down to make a list of everything I could remember, I was so shocked! That seems like a lot! And yet, our life feels relaxed and easy. It makes all the difference when all your activities are self motivated and self chosen. Then it doesn’t feel like obligation and commitment. It just feels like inspired kids living their life and it’s the greatest to be a part of that with them.

We live together, we’re interested in each other, we’re connected and supportive, and the learning just happens. Amongst all this was hours and hours of play, although they wouldn’t distinguish that from the ‘learning’.

The myth that children would not want to learn unless forced is untrue and offensive. Provide the right conditions (i.e. without time limits, coercion, testing, competition, standardization, and lack of autonomy), and learning is as natural as breathing. Children are passionate and inspired and seek to understand the world, unless something has come along to interfere with that natural desire.


March 10, 2019 at 11:07 pm

You are very inspiring! But I don’t feel like I have the money to spend on half of those things. Do you get that box in the mail as a sponsor and all the online courses too? I feel very non creative so although I want to unschool I feel like I don’t provide the best environment to do that? Do you sit down and plan out some ideas to get out for them each week?

    March 26, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    I share the same questions relating to this. My 3 boys are so incredibly energetic and while I love their highly spirited nature, they absolutely exhaust me!
    I can see a lot of the merits in unschooling but do not know how I would cope with having my children around me 24/7.
    Furthermore, I would struggle having to sacrifice my own career to be solely focussed on facilitating my children’s learning to develop, net alone not being paid to do it.
    How are you able to finance the resources that you buy? Lego and hydraulic kits are very expensive to purchase. I do honestly admire people such as yourselves who are so passionate about your children’s education and I guess you just find a way to make it happen but for me there are so many questions of how I could actually make it work with my own set of circumstances.
    It would be great if more schools within Australia could adapt to become less rigid learning environments that embrace kids creativity and foster more access to play based and interest led learning so the onus does not have to fall onto the parents.

    June 30, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    For me I think with home education you can spend as much or as little money as you want really. I do spend quite a bit sometimes on educational stuff for my kids, but am trying to do more free things lately. Things like cooking doesn’t cost much because you would have cooked anyway. If they have toys like Lego anyway then they can keep using the same sets continuously. For their birthdays and Christmas I try to buy some educational stuff (well anything can be educational but you know what I mean) and arts and crafts supplies, etc. since I would be spending money anyway. I think in another blog post on here she says that someone bought them the Kiwi Co. subscriptions as a present, so maybe that’s an idea if you can ask grandparents’ or somebody if they ask what to buy kids as a present. You can use the library for books and there is so much online for free, videos, classes, documentaries, etc. We have Netflix anyway so watch documentaries and stuff on there. We are growing some vegetables (costs money but could save money too). We do science experiments that don’t cost a lot, using things we already have or inexpensive things like vinegar and baking soda, corn flour, etc. Lots of arts and crafts, lots of playing. Going to parks or free museums if there are any near you. 🙂 I try to teach my kids about taking care of the environment, showing them how to recycle, trying to buy products with less packaging, or picking up rubbish with them doesn’t cost anything really. 🙂 I also use the money that I would have spent on school uniforms and books on just whatever books or other educational resources that my kids want to get. So I think it can be done more cheaply if you want.
    And I wouldn’t worry too much about not being that creative yourself, because kids are very creative and will think of things to do. And probably the more you do things like that the more ideas you have yourself. You don’t have to plan too much for them, because they’ll think of ideas too, if you encourage them, maybe suggest some ideas if they want to do them. I just ask my kids what they’d like to do today, or I ask if they would like to do some baking or a science experiment or something, and they usually say yes, but sometimes they say no and that’s fine too. They can do what they feel like. 🙂

Alainya Falk
March 11, 2019 at 12:26 pm

My biggest question is how, with unschooling, do you help the kids achieve success when it comes to college or university entrance exams such as ACTs and SATs? There is a certain division of learning, even a certain level, that cannot be reached by play. I know for a fact that I would not have completed algebra 1, let alone 2 if I had not been required. Even with that “minimal” amount of maths training I could have done far better on those portions of the ACT. If we want to prepare our children the best we can, how do we reconcile this?

    March 13, 2019 at 5:27 am

    I will be curious to follow Rachel as her kids get older, but I have a story that partly answers your question.

    I have gone to visit some extremely progressive project-based schools that are not unlike the environment Rachel describes and which go through high school. The kids at that school do very well on the entrance exams and they do it by using self study with tools like books, internet, and Khan academy. Of course the teachers are there for support to. For the question of *why* they do it (eg without force) the kids themselves told me simply: it was because they wanted go to college to study x and become a y and they understood the sat was a requirement.

    These were 11th and 12th graders, knowing themselves and what they wanted enough to decide this path and execute it. It was so inspiring.

    I’m not myself brave enough to go completely unschool with my kids (at least not yet) but I think the most important and inspiring thing that comes out of these methods is helping kids get in touch with their own interests, abilities, and agency asap. Rather than waiting until you’re out in the world to figure out what you want to do with your life, you’re learning about yourself, building confidence in your ability to learn and get what you want, right from day 1.

March 23, 2019 at 7:10 pm

I just wanted to tell you, Sara..you are so, so EXTREMELY brave to share all this info openly. First of all, THANK YOU, i have had so much support and inspiration going through your posts. Secondly, i tend to live in my bubble where i don’t always realise how negative and untrusting and non-sensitive people can be when presented with info outside of their little box or when challenged their ways of seeing the world. Thank you for not minding the ney-sayers and still posting, inspiring and sharing your world. There are those who do benefit and who find enormous support.

April 13, 2019 at 8:50 pm

This sounds like our home! I unschool my 5 & 8-year-old and I am amazed at what they do in a week. They are so far beyond their peers, both academically and socially. They learn and remember because they are interested and curious, which guides their learning. Your love and support far exceed what they would receive in a traditional school. Kids need time to play, create, and explore. I’m a public school teacher and school can be a sad place for lots of kids. This was my first year homeschooling/unschooling and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything!

June 2, 2019 at 5:48 am

Working on Parentification, I wish so many parents would make themselves parents.

S Robertson
October 14, 2021 at 8:38 pm

Sara, 2yrs on from this post and reply chain above looks like and I.d agree with lady above that you are and continue to be an inspiration, to me and also to many I meet in my own country, far across the world from Australia. Thanks so much.
On this subject and the comments above, yes a lot of us seem very reluctant to take on the role of full time parenting. The cost of stuff for our own kid we can handle, there is so much second hand out there and a little lego goes a long way and so much free stuff, as folk have said, from woods and rivers to museums and like minded groups. Also, for us, removing processed fructose almost completely (since pre conception) seems to help us all stay more calm, healthy and enjoy and engage with life more fully. We find there are enough challenges to deal with without adding that one.
Financially though, beyond simply buying kids stuff, someone has to earn the cash, to allow someone to do the full time parenting. We are at age 5 just now. No idea how long our full time parenting journey will last, but for right now, rethinking how finances work and rejuggling our lives around that so it might work for all is a current adventure!! Seems a worthwhile challenge 😊

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