How to Home School: Unschooling


This post is the fifth in a six-part series on “Teaching Methods.”

My first exposure to the concept of unschooling was through a book (that I didn’t read but was familiar with) that detailed the story of the Colfax family.  David and Micki Colfax “unschooled” their four sons in the ’70’s and ’80’s, three of whom received full scholarships to Harvard.  (The Colfaxes did not call it unschooling however – they simply referred to it as “home-schooling.”)

Well today, the popularity of unschooling has grown exponentially…as has the controversy surrounding it apparently.  Unfortunately, the controversy seems to primarily stem from those who really don’t want parents educating their children at all – whether through unschooling or some other method.  I’d like to give a little background on the unschooling “movement,” my thoughts on it, and some links that you can use to get more information in the event this method of home-schooling piques your interest.

John Holt is generally thought to be the “father” of the unschooling movement.  For many years he produced a newletter entitled, “Growing Without Schooling.”  The general philosophy of unschooling is that education should be “delight-directed” i.e., students choose how, when, why, and what they study.

I am going to go out on a limb here (maybe) and suggest that, for many parents, unschooling may seem counterintuitive.  Moreover, I believe that for parents who home-school long-term, the type of teaching method they choose to implement will be, at least in part, a function of their personality and temperament, combined with an understanding of, and adapting to, their child’s particular learning style.

All that being said, I want to acknowledge that I do believe unschooling is a proven teaching method that works.  As I am not an “unschooler” per se (though I do believe some of my methods would be consistent with those used by unschoolers) I am providing links that will give you the opportunity to explore this method yourself.

Before I do that, however, I would like to broach a subject that has recently come to my attention, that of a certain antagonism that some “unschoolers” seem to have towards “home-schoolers.”  My feeling, and I believe this has been the opinion of the home-schooling community for decades, is that unschooling is simply another type of home-schooling, not that there is a “home-schooling camp” and an “unschooling camp.”  (As I pointed out earlier, the Colfax family, widely considered to be unschooling pioneers, merely referred to themselves as home-schoolers.)

Without getting into a long discussion of how this antagonism has come to my attention, I will simply note that, for some reason, some unschoolers are making the assertion that home-schoolers are doing nothing except having “school at home.”  I have actually seen that wording in more than one forum and I have to say as a home-schooler that I find that wording to be, at best, misleading, if not offensive.

If you have been reading my series on “Teaching Methods” (this post is part five of that series) then you know that home-schoolers use a wide variety of methods to reach and teach their children.  I do not believe that because home-schoolers choose to be the ones who direct their child’s education, as opposed to choosing a “child-directed” approach, that it automatically follows that they are simply replicating the institutional system in their homes.  Given the fact that the right of parents to educate their children is constantly being challenged by those who ARE in the institutional system (especially teacher’s unions) I would hope that unschoolers and other home-schoolers would be supporting one another’s choices rather than denigrating them.

What follows is a list of links to websites and books that can help answer any questions you may have about unschooling:

Unschooling is certainly another option to consider as you educate yourself regarding the different teaching methods being used by home-schoolers today.  Are you an unschooler?  If you are I would love for you to share your experiences in the comments section.

  • Cheryl@SomewhatCrunchy

    Great post! I'm so tired of unschooling being vilified. Like most things, when done well with dedication it is a viable option 🙂

  • annegalivan

    Thank you for your comment Cheryl!

    I agree with you. I think it simply comes down to a matter of commitment. If the parents are committed to giving their child the best educational experience, unschooling can work very well.

  • Anonymous

    The first link is no longer valid:
    I’m not sure if the site exists somewhere else or not?

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for letting me know…I’m going to delete it for now.