What Unschoolers Are Not Learning

What Unschoolers Are Not Learning

I could talk forever about all the things the unschooled children I know are learning. I could tell you how in the photo above they were playing ‘wild survival kids’. They had built a fire, lit it with their flint and steel, whittled sticks and toasted marshmallows, started building a shelter, pretended to be animals, made a fishing rod to catch imaginary fish, and who knows what else. I could tell you how they also read poetry together that day, how they participated in research on pollinators in Australia, how they resolved disagreements, negotiated, problem solved, worked together. There were endless learning opportunities.

But people don’t care. All they see is children not in school. Not sitting behind desks, not completing worksheets, not being evaluated. They can’t possibly be learning what they are ‘supposed’ to be learning if they are doing it in any other way than the only way we are familiar with, right?

What Unschoolers Are Not Learning

Firstly, wrong. They are learning it all, and so much more. They are learning it joyfully, they are learning it meaningfully, they are retaining it because it is relevant, and they don’t have to give up their rights for this education.

Secondly, you are right. There are some things they are not learning that children in school learn. I think about it whenever I watch them together. But you are mistaken if you think I am worried about that. I watch them and I think about all they are missing, and I am so very grateful.

While the majority of children are sitting in school learning all they are ‘supposed’ to, our kids are missing so much.

What Unschoolers Are Not Learning

They aren’t learning to doubt themselves, that they are not good enough and always need to be better, that they must focus on the future instead of enjoying the present. They don’t worry about people constantly testing them, measuring, and comparing them against others.

They haven’t been led to believe that academics are more important than creativity, or that being different is a bad thing. They don’t know that learning is work to be avoided. They don’t believe that anyone knows better what they need to learn than them. They still think they are in charge of their learning, and that they have the ability to learn anything they want to. They ask their own questions and look for answers, instead of waiting to be told what they should do. They know there is more than one way to solve a problem.

They haven’t been conditioned to need bribery or coercion to learn. Their intrinsic motivation hasn’t been dampened. They haven’t even learned there is a difference between learning and play.

They don’t expect people to be unkind to them, to judge them by their appearance, or that they will be picked on for standing out from the crowd. They don’t look to others for validation, nor put others down in order to build themselves up. They’re not learning that their self-worth and self-concept is dependent on their grades or peers.

What Unschoolers Are Not Learning

They haven’t learnt that adults are more important, that their needs and wants don’t matter, that they don’t get a say in what happens to them. They expect to be taken seriously, to decide what they want to do, and learn.

Yes, they have missed a lot of the learning that comes along with school. But they are far from disadvantaged by it. They are empowered.

Just because it doesn’t look like ‘school’, doesn’t mean it’s not learning. In fact, without the restrictions of compulsory schooling, without spending every day sitting at a desk waiting to be force-fed information, the door opens to much greater learning. And even more importantly, they don’t need to sacrifice who they are or their self-confidence for an ‘education’.

What Unschoolers Are Not Learning

Unschooled children are inspired, passionate, self-motivated, confident, creative learners. The fact that their learning looks vastly different from schooled learning is a huge positive. School is incredibly limiting and detrimental, both academically, and socially. If you’re going to worry about children missing out on learning opportunities, you’re focusing on the wrong group.


April 27, 2019 at 9:14 am

I am a long time reader of your blog and find it very thought provoking. In your homeschool group, do you get many families joining who are new to homeschooling after attending school or are is it just families who have homeschool their entire lives. If you do get new families joining after leaving the school system, how do the children adapt to the change.

    Heidi Reams
    October 9, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    I just wanted to reply because my kids are new to homeschool. And this peice is right on point. The strive to be perfect is a huge challenge with my daughter. No matter how many times I have told her she doesn’t need to be perfect, mistakes are the door to knowledge. She is conditioned to test and NOT mess up. It is the saddest thing. They also taught my kids to guess read. I asked my 8 and 10 year old how things made sense if they were constantly guess reading. They said “Mom we just didn’t make sense of what we were reading. ” My heart is broken knowing I trusted the school system. I have a bigger job now giving my kids the fundamentals and the confidence back.

Mark Beaumont
April 27, 2019 at 1:15 pm

Wonderful piece.

It’s frustrating being an advocate of SDL while still slogging away in the coercive schooling paradigm.

I know one day the teachers and administrators who continued touting coercive schooling, especially compulsory, in the face of of self directed learning and freeing the kids will be viewed like the moms who resisted an end to foot binding in China… “how could they have done that to the children?” -Future Voices

I am, however, actually quite optimistic these days with the surge not only in SDL’s popularity, by in the research and academic powerhouse as well as the many authors contributing to the body of SDL literature… for example, the beautifully informative piece here.

Thank you,
Mark Beaumont

I often try to rationalize my career; I need the money and invested heavily into being an educator… Jefferson owned slaves and environmentalists drive cars and fly in planes to global warming conferences.

It’s not okay

John LeBlanc
May 1, 2019 at 12:19 pm

Very well put. I have tried to describe how we raised our boys through unschooling, what they are learning and what they are missing out on, but it so few can comprehend it. The two oldest are now in their twenties and the way they live their lives is an inspiration to young and old alike. People always give me credit for “all I must have done,” but it was all them learning in a natural way, while we supported it. It seems like this with all the unschoolers I’ve met. Thanks for sharing the magic of this in such a good way.

Jennie R Evans
June 6, 2019 at 10:37 pm

Love this write up. As a mom with an education degree, I unschooled my two kids and worked at an unschool for a few years. This says all the things I try to explain to traditional schooling parents. Thanks.

Kathy bethke
December 19, 2019 at 3:45 am

I’m just wondering what the answer is for parents who both work full time? How is this done if they cannot do it themselves.? I think all kids should be raised this way. It would solve so much social anxiety that crippled them when in school. Starting with the bus ride each day. What a way to start the day being bullied on the bus on the way to school.

    January 21, 2020 at 8:34 am

    My husband and I have made the choice for me to stay home with the kids. It means less income for us, to be sure (especially since when I worked I actually made MORE than he did), but it also gives me time to focus on not just our kids, but also our homestead. I know some parents who choose to work opposite schedules, so that one parent is working during the day and one is working during the night, or maybe opposite days. If kids are older and are ready to stay home alone, then that can be an option.

January 22, 2020 at 2:49 am

I loved this article!!! I unschool at home with my Son while my Husband works full time outside of our home as a very busy home builder. We live in an area that does not feel conducive to the life we would like. We enjoy our way of living (work, play, free-learning) but my Husband is burnt out from too much work, I have fibro and am finding winter in Canada extremely challenging and there just aren’t enough unschooled families to interact with if we so chose in our area. My Utopia would be a place where we could live as we do, stable warm climate for year round self production of food or locally grown and other unschooled kids that like to get together on their own terms a stones throw from their homes. Lofty expectations right?! I would greatly appreciate any insight you might have regarding area’s of the globe that are unschooling areas or intentional communities of this nature. Thank you!

January 22, 2020 at 10:56 am

I love you, I love you, I love you!

You spoke volumes to my soul, empowered me to keep moving forward on this journey, and my gratitude is tremendous!

Thank you!
❤️ Alisabeth ☝🏼

January 22, 2020 at 10:45 pm

needs of our family changed so I decided to enroll my children in Epic.

It’s a public school at home program so there were some adjustments; but, my son is thriving. 🤗 For reals, he can learn what he’s “supposed to” because he spent so many years learning his interests at his own pace. The only challenge was learning schooly expectations and procedures. Also coursework annoys him when “busy work” assignments or poorly written test questions interrupt the flow of learning. 😂 Anyway…..

Be encouraged, Mommas and Daddies!! Follow your instincts and ignore the haters. Unschooling is amazing.

    January 22, 2020 at 10:50 pm

    The top part of my comment cut off. lol

    Basically, my kiddo was unschooled through 7th grade and he’s doing extremely well in a more traditional school setting. Unschooling was preparation for higher learning!!!

March 19, 2022 at 2:39 am

I love this article! Traditional school didn’t work for my two kiddos and homeschooling is not working either. I’m going to try the “unschooling” approach now. Everything you said is so true. I just have a problem with how I was raised and I am a different kind of learner. I need to forget about my background because this is about my kiddos and not me…lol. They know so much more than I did when I was there age. You do learn and retain it better when you are interested in it. I have notice that with them. Its just hard for me because I have a degree in education as well as some of your other readers do. I want to say thank you for writing such a profound article on this.

July 4, 2023 at 3:19 am

Just stumbled across this and absolutely love this angle to debunk some of the common myths of “Unschooling”. Pinned it to my Pinterest board about “Unschooling”. Thanks!

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