Unschooling and strewing

Why Are You Strewing That?

I adore our unschooling community. I can’t tell you how much. There are currently 35 kids, ranging in age, and the sight of them running free and enjoying life makes my heart so happy.

Unschooling and strewing

It took a while (and some deschooling) to work out what we wanted our group to look like. In the past, we’d tried to establish co-op’s where we focused on constantly providing experiences for the kids. As if meeting up in beautiful places and enjoying each other’s company wasn’t enough. There were many activities: sensory play, magnetism, craft projects, rocks and minerals, medical equipment, show and tell, light play, excursions, and more. Honestly, the kids couldn’t care less. They wanted to see their friends and play. At any time there were probably no more than 50% of kids actually engaging with the materials, and their interest never lasted long.

You can’t authentically provide for the interests of a large group of unique and individual kids. Isn’t that why we’d opted out of school in the first place? While children were respected and never forced or coerced, it was still a pointless exercise. Honestly, it mainly helped the adults feel like they were doing something.

We eventually realised our mistake.

Unschooling and strewing

There seem to be two views of what unschooling is (from people who are not living it).

  1. Unschooling is not educating your kids at all. Leaving them totally to their own devices and not helping or guiding them, or
  2. Unschooling is a more gentle and natural way of ultimately getting your kids to learn all the things you deem necessary.

Neither of these are what unschooling is about. Honestly, in the past, I have held both views. When I first heard about unschooling I probably reacted with the first opinion. Then when I initially started home educating, taking a natural learning approach, I was of the second view. I thought that it was still my job to ensure my child learned all the things that I thought necessary, but that I would do it in a less outright way. I’d now call it underhanded really. I thought I should set up activities to spark their interest in things I thought they should know about. That I should find ‘fun’ or ‘hands on’ ways of learning about things such as maths or reading. That I would use their natural interests to extend their learning.

I heard about the concept of ‘strewing’ as a technique that unschoolers use, and thought that was definitely what I needed to be doing.

I no longer hold that view.

Strewing: Deliberately and strategically leaving out items around the home for children in order to ‘spark an interest’ or encourage learning.

Unschooling is about living authentically with your children. Life is a learning environment, it doesn’t need to be artificially created.

Unschooling and strewing

I don’t have a problem with the concept of strewing when used authentically, but I fear that it is often not used in that way. It is not a way to secretly educate children, to try to control their interests, to influence their learning in the direction you are comfortable with, or any other means of control. Unschooling does not need any ‘techniques’ because you are not doing something ‘to’ your child.

Before you present something to your child, set up an activity, or enrol them in a class, ask yourself ‘why am I strewing that?’, ‘what is my motivation?’, ‘am I being authentic?’

Unschooling is a relationship between you and your child. The same as with you and a friend or partner. Would you do the same to them? If the answer is yes, then go for it! If the answer is no, then what is your real motivation? Do you need further deschooling?

You might surprise a partner or friend by leaving something out for them to find that you just know they will love. You might organise a trip to somewhere you know they want to go. You might buy them a book on their favourite topic and give it to them just because you know they will get pleasure from it. But would you organise a cooking class because you thought they needed to improve their skills despite their lack of interest in it? Would you be secretly looking for ways to extend their learning in the areas you thought they needed it? Would you be always trying to ‘spark new interests’ in them, or would you accept them for who they are and what they are already passionate about?

Explore new places because you are curious and enjoy each others company. Read books because you love to read together. Play board games because they’re fun, no matter if they encourage math skills or not.

Learn new things, find new opportunities, follow unique interests, read new books, do all of these things! But there’s no need to be underhanded or secretive about it. Learning happens by living life, you don’t need to be constantly trying to enrich it. Life is rich enough in itself.

Live authentically.

Unschooling and strewing


May 19, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Beautiful and a good reminder! Thank you for sharing!

May 19, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Oh, this is just lovely. And such a relief! Your two definitions of unschooling (and how you “debunk” both) apply equally well to all the “living” aspects of respectful parenting you talk about, as well as the “academic” ones. Does not forcing a bedtime mean I ignore the fact that my 6-year-old stays up until 11 and gets up at 7 and acts exhausted all day? Or does not making them eat mean I just keep cupboards full of pasta and candy because that’s all they say they like? Of course not; there has to be a middle ground, just like how we interact with a friend or partner. This gave me lots of food for thought!

May 19, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Exactly, do it because it’s fun! No agenda x

May 19, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Beautifully put. I went through similar shifts in my thoughts about how unschooling works. My kids saw straight through the ‘deliberately educational’ strewing I tried to do. Im so glad we made the shift to focusing on each others’ true interests and really enjoying them. The kids equally point out things they know I would like. It’s such a wonderful way to explore the world!

May 20, 2017 at 10:45 am

Thanks for the education!

May 20, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Love this! I’m still de-schooling myself on this front, although mostly the strewing I did was because I just get so darn excited about some of the things I wanted to offer them… and then they’d be totally uninterested and I’d feel like “but look at this cool thing!” Rather than going to look at the things they found cool… it’s just about realizing that it’s about them, not me!

Tallie Allen
May 26, 2017 at 4:01 pm

I’m curious about what to do about my kids interest in YouTube entertainment and video games. Always wanting to be on a screen of some kind. Do I honor that, or do I set limits? Is constant screen time a true interest that needs to be respected? It’s a constant inner conflict I have. My kids are 4&8.

    May 26, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Mine are the same ages and I wonder about this too (especially with the oldest). I do feel that it ebbs and flows though, and that if I offer other things and am more available that they choose less screen time (especially the youngest). Curious to hear Sara’s thoughts.

    May 27, 2017 at 2:31 am

    Same here with similar age kids. It’s tough to figure out. When I can, I watch with them so we’re still connecting. Or I try to offer other options that are with me, riding bikes or reading a book together. With mine there is also usually a theme to their watching, and it’s helpful to think of it as “learning about animals” or robots or whatever the theme is, rather than just lumping it all together as “screen time.”

May 28, 2017 at 5:44 am

It might be better not to use the term “strewing” at all than to discourage it. This came up in an interview Pam Laricchia published recently. It’s here, with her summary (and links to sound and transcript.

Because the term came from my writings, I with people would understand it well or just choose not to use it instead.


    May 28, 2017 at 8:03 am

    I had a look at the link and you seem to be saying the same thing. So I’m a bit confused as to why you would not want me to encourage people who come across the term “strewing” to examine their motivations and only do it in an authentic and natural way?
    It seems like that’s what you are saying you meant by the term?

    Nevertheless, “strewing” is out there now, and people have taken it to mean different things. Others ask me about it and so I wanted to address is with my views.

    June 17, 2017 at 4:00 am

    Just heard the podcast where you discussed this post Sandra, and I have to agree, I mean if strewing were manipulation, wouldn’t buying your children markers and crayons or buying a watermelon to eat because your 3 year old never had watermelon before and you think he may enjoy it, wouldn’t hay all be considered manipulation? Great podcast Sandra!

      June 17, 2017 at 11:49 am

      That was the point of the post. Consider WHY you’re doing it. If it’s not manipulative then great, do it!

      “Explore new places because you are curious and enjoy each others company. Read books because you love to read together. Play board games because they’re fun, no matter if they encourage math skills or not.

      Learn new things, find new opportunities, follow unique interests, read new books, do all of these things! But there’s no need to be underhanded or secretive about it. Learning happens by living life, you don’t need to be constantly trying to enrich it. Life is rich enough in itself.

      Live authentically.”

October 6, 2017 at 5:04 pm

How I loved your article!
We’ve learned through practice and very quickly came to what you’re explaining in this article.
It’s all very simple, beautiful, effortless. It happens naturally and requires our presence.
Respecting our children’s wholeness is the only guide we have.
Thanks you for writing this article.
I shared it with our community too.

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