Unschooling: FAQ

Did you know there is a world-wide facebook group for Unschooling STEM?

Join Unschooling STEM


Why did you unschool?

I wanted my children to get an education and to love lifelong learning. I value education but not necessarily having it delivered by an institution.

In one sentence, what is unschooling?

Unschooling is education whereby the learner determines what he learns (content, pace, depth), when he learns it (any age, or not at all), where his learns (home, community, online or school) and how he learns (self-taught, teacher-taught, facilitated, classroom, apprenticeship, online, correspondence, book, video, game, experiential, lecture, volunteering, project, job, or travel).

Isn’t that giving a lot of control to children?

Ultimately, every child has this ability to determine what he learns because every learner decides what to remember and what to forget, whether they are homeschooled or institutionally schooled. Children who tune out, act out or drop out of school are already deciding what parts of their education they will keep and which parts will be dumped. Unschoolers are just more direct about it.

How do children learn if there is no teacher? How do you know learning has taken place with no exams or writing?

All humans and mammals learn whether there is a teacher or not. If one breathes, they learn. Babies learn to walk, toddlers talk, preschoolers learn to add and subtract, school-agers learn to read, all without school.

How do we know if our children are getting enough vitamin D? Observation. It’s a very powerful assessment tool. It takes time and documentation and is not used very much in schools. But it is useful in the home. Parents know exactly what their children know because they spend so much time with them.

The learning process works like this: When children read something in a book or off a screen or is told by a lecturer, some of that information is stored in short term memory. Most students use this information to pass the test, the course and finish assignments. The act of using the information and making associations strengthens neural brain connections and moves the learning into long term memory storage.

For society to know that learning has occurred, children need to produce output such as a written expression, graphic expression, physical expression or verbal expression so that it will move into long term memory. Many unschooled children do this. But it is not documented. Some children express learning through their play, and others through product production. Some expression will be invisible to others and only done by the child, such as reflection. Other times, the observers in the environment will see, hear, touch, taste or smell what the child has produced, as a teacher would see in a classroom setting.

Parents, as the education professional in the home, have great powers of observation. Teachers, as the education professional in the classroom, have to use many different assessment methods because they are managing 45 kids, not 1.

How is unschooling different from homeschooling and school?

Unschooling is a self-directed education. If a learner in school or homeschool is empowered to decide the what, when, where and how of his education, than he can technically unschool at a free-learning school or in a homeschool.

Is this new?

This philosophy of self-directed education is almost a 100 years old, beginning in 1921 with Summerhill school in the UK.

Every parent unschools their child from ages 0-6 years. The child is in the driver’s seat of what they learn and given a rich environment of resources, unstructured time, and an adult supervisor/facilitator, vast amounts of learning takes place during those formative years. Children learn to walk, talk in any language, learn to read, play music, do math, distinguish between colors, shapes and numbers before starting formal school at age 6. All children have a learning agenda. Schools tell them to push it aside when they turn six.

If Unschooling is so great, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Most people haven’t heard about it. Unschooling can’t be monetized. It doesn’t earn anyone money, or create jobs, so it is not widely advertised. For each dollar the government gives to the education industry, two dollars are taken from families and taxpayers, to pay for it. Families give up their freedom along with their taxes. School is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Many industry jobs are on the line if the public knows a child can learn from video games just as much as school attendance.

As well, some people want the government to take care of them from cradle to grave and are willing to outsource all their needs such as daycare, preschool, school, university, jobs, and homecare. That’s fine. Other’s want their family to be the centre of their life and will take care of their own needs at home including birthing, education, work, and even dying. Everyone should be aware of their options.

Does unschooling work for everyone?

Yes, unschooling can work for any child. Even if a child with lots of family adversity (poverty, isolation, parents with untreated mental illness), really wants to become an engineer, nothing will stop her. All it takes is grit. The internet is free. Kahn academy is free. There are no financial boundaries or limitations on education supply now, as most students are now borderless with the internet. There are loans and scholarships. One can’t force a child to learn and one can’t stop a child from learning.

However, if a child gives up too easily due to temperament, I can see how unschooling might not work. But institutional schools are not going to work either. The child has to want to learn.

Where is the research that shows unschooling works to educate students?

Summerhill School in England, and Sudbury Valley schools in the US, are some of the best examples of research.

The Fraser Report 2007 titled, Homeschooling: From the extreme to mainstream, and The Fraser Report 2015 titled, Homeschooling in Canada: The Current Picture 2015, are two very good sources of evidence.

Be aware that our culture worships scientific studies. We have a fixation on all things measurable and quantifiable. If it can be measured, it is treasured. Often, unless an issue or phenomenon is studied, and has a measurable outcome, it is perceived as not existing. We need to acknowledge that some things can exist even if they have never been measured or examined. Unschooling has existed outside schools for many years but not any wide spread studies have been undertaken on their effectiveness.

How many people unschool in Canada?

Most homeschooling families estimate that about 10 percent of homeschoolers unschool. There is no hard data because many provinces do not require homeschool registration and most provinces that do, don’t keep records on the education philosophy or methods chosen by non-institutional learners.

Why did you write the book, Unschooling To University?

Education is in crisis and the industry is in need of disruption. Just as every other industry faced new models, school today no longer serves a purpose other than employment support. Students today need a personalized education and human relationships. Parents and teachers. For example, publishing houses used to be the gatekeeper to publishing ideas, just as schools used to be the gatekeepers to learning. Neither is no longer true. With the internet, students can learn anything, anywhere, anyhow, and from anyone, including self-taught. They can use the skills and knowledge to obtain credentials.

Tell us about the book?

This book has three key themes:

  1. Adult relationships are more critical in this digital world than curriculum that is at one’s fingertips.
  2. Play is key to children’s academic success.
  3. Every person already owns their education from birth, and continually know best what/when, and how they need to learn. When a curriculum is forced on a person, without consent, they may act-out, tune-out and eventually drop-out of institutional schooling.

The book outlines what is unschooling, why it is a beneficial choice, and how to do it, as well as how it fits with different stages of childhood development.

The book is written for skeptics! It is written for the naysayers, in addition to families already unschooling.

The book focuses on post-secondary from unschooling and especially STEM careers, because there are already many books out there on how to unschool. I wanted to add how unschooling fits with brain and child development information. When people find out one unschools, the second most common question (after the first most common one about socialization) is, “What about University?”

When I looked around and saw 30 of our unschooling friends go on to post-secondary, I thought this information needs to get out there. And there are thousands of others we don’t know about. In the book, our Team of Thirty, had 12 kids in STEM careers (4 of those in engineering), 9 in humanities and 9 kids in the arts. 20 have already graduated with degrees, diplomas and their credentials from post-secondary schools.

One does not need to go to post-secondary to be successful.  There are many unschooled children who have began businesses and enjoy careers outside of higher education, but if children choose to take a post-secondary career path, I wanted to assure parents that it is certainly doable.

3 Benefits of Unschooling for kids – learning sticks when engaged, there are no bullies, and academic enthusiasm ramps up during the years that counts.

3 Benefits of Unschooling for parents – no stress, inexpensive, and family closeness.

About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Conference speaker, trainer and best-selling author Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery Judy Arnall is Canada's expert on non-punitive parenting and education practices.
This entry was posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Unschooling: FAQ

  1. Pingback: Unschooling is Growing Across The World | Unschooling To University

  2. Fantastic article! Thank you for that. Will share widely.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s