What is unschooling? Part 3 : Myths and misconceptions

Welcome to part 3 of what is unschooling? Myths and misconceptions.

This post is the third in a 3 part series devoted to the question, what is unschooling?

In Part 1, we explored the framework of ideas that underpin unschooling.

In Part 2, we considered what these ideas mean for daily life – what unschooling looks like.

And in Part 3, here you are, welcome ๐Ÿ™‚ weโ€™re busting some myths and tackling some of the common misconceptions about unschooling.

Some of the links included in this post may be affiliate links, meaning if you click through and decide to buy thereโ€™s a chance I could earn a small commission from the sale, at no extra cost to you. I am super picky about the links on my site and only share resources I believe will bring value to your life, most of which I personally use and love. Thanks in advance if you follow any of my links, I hope you find them helpful. Read my full disclosure policy here.

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is a way of living and learning with our children, and looking at the world, inspired by a set of common ideas.

  • Learning happens naturally
  • Learning happens all the time
  • Learning is personal
  • Coercion creates resistance
  • Delight and purpose drive learning
  • Trusting children

These ideas are explored in more detail in Part 1. They offer a framework that informs and inspires how we live and learn with our children. And in Part 2 we took a peek at what unschooling looks like.

But maybe you’ve heard some rotten rumours and you’re still not sure about unschooling.

I know, when you first hear some of the ideas about unschooling, they can seem a bit wacky pants. We’ve grown up with the idea that learning is hard and that we have to make our children do hard stuff before they get to the fun stuff. And if we don’t, then we’re plain old bad parents.

Needless to say, I’m not buying that bag. But, it’s not easy to quiet those fears; years and years of conditioning roots pretty deep.

Enter : Deschooling. Phewie ๐Ÿ™‚

We’ll take a deep dive into the full story of deschooling in some future posts.

But a quick headline : deschooling is the process of confronting that conditioning.

Challenging our assumptions and questioning our ideas about learning and life.

For now, let’s have a look at some of the ideas floating around about unschooling.

Common misconceptions about unschooling.

Unschooling gets a bad rap at times. And yet the longer I live this life of unschooling – 12 years and counting – the more I marvel at how much peace and joy it’s brought to our family. And I want that for you.

If youโ€™re interested in hearing more about how we came to unschooling, the posts here and here give you a flavour of our familyโ€™s journey.

So let’s knock some of these common misconceptions out of the park, once and for all.

Unschooling is lazy parenting.

You might’ve got the idea that unschooling is simply a fancy way to dress up permissive, or neglectful parenting.

Yet, if you’ve read Part 2, you’ll know how important a role parents play in unschooling.

And if you haven’t read Part 2… go, now, we’ll wait ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s no wonder this is such a common misconception, as the term unschooling implies merely the absence of school. Job done, party on. When in fact…

Unschooling takes more, more presence, more guidance, more attention, more mindfulness, more connection, more thinking and questioning, more choices and better choices.

Alex Polikowsky

Parents play a pivotal role in unschooling. Creating the conditions for our children to flourish…

We can think of ourselves not as teachers but as gardeners. A gardener does not grow flowers; he tries to give them what he thinks they need and they grow by themselves.

John Holt

Nurturing an environment conducive to learning means much more than just providing papers and pens. It requires effort and energy and a whole heap of love and attention.

Unschooling is child-led.

Like the lazy parenting image, this is another common misconception about unschooling.

Perhaps, this is due in part to a false dichotomy about power. The idea that someone has to be in charge. And if it’s not school, and it’s not the parents, then it must be the children.

Unschooling is not child-led, nor is it parent-led.

Unschooling is much more of a partnership between parents and children.

Not necessarily an equal partnership, as we have responsibilities for our children that they don’t have for us – keeping them fed, clothed, warm and as physically and emotionally well as we can ๐Ÿ™‚

Unschooling is more like a dance between partners who are so perfectly in synch with each other that it is hard to tell who is leading. The partners are sensitive to each othersโ€™ little indications, little movements, slight shifts and they respond. Sometimes one leads and sometimes the other.

Pam Sorooshian

And this works because of the strength and nature of our relationships. Prioritising respect, trust and connection enables us to keep communication lines open, flowing and fully operational. As in, we talk. A LOT ๐Ÿ™‚

Unschooling is a rejection of curriculums, classes, checklists, routines, timetables…

Like forbidden fruit, we must avoid at all costs. Else we’re not real unschoolers ๐Ÿ˜‰

It’s not that unschooling requires us to reject these out of hand, more that our relationship with them shifts.

No longer do these take pride of place in our learning toolkit, or our life.

No longer do we impose these on our children, or on ourselves.

We use them as we see fit, dipping in and out, picking them up and putting them down as they meet the needs of our family.

Learning occurs as a natural consequence of living. Learning doesnโ€™t need a special box to live in, special time set aside or special materials.

We don’t need curriculums, classes, checklists, routines, timetables, even teachers and textbooks. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use them.

All of these can have a place in unschooling. Or not.

Unschooling isn’t so much in what unschoolers do as in their attitude towards life and learning and how they’re intertwined.

Joyce Fetteroll

These tools, like conversation and videogames – two of our personal favourites ๐Ÿ™‚ – can be powerful sources of learning and comfort*.

But the problems arise when we get attached to these tools, believing they are the way. That we can’t learn without them. Or that they matter more than our relationships, our children or other aspects of our lives.

When those sorts of feelings creep in, that’s when we know it’s time to double down on the deschooling.

*And by comfort, I don’t mean phew, we’re covering the National Curriculum/Common Core/or some other arbitrary set of standards or rules, now we can relax….

I was thinking much more in terms of comforting familiarity like knowing we’ll eat around noon, maybe while sharing some poems. Or mum will stay with us while we go to sleep. Or comforting knowledge like when we’ll go swimming, trampolining, or meet friends at the park. Or what might come up in a driving test or music grade. None of which we have to do, of course ๐Ÿ™‚

Unschooling leaves children ‘behind’, uneducated and unprepared for the real world.

Hmmm, we could go down all kinds of rabbit-holes here. What is this ‘real’ world we speak of?

The whole world contains a wide array of diversity, differing climates and communities, lifestyles and cultural expectations. For which, none of us could be wholly prepared for sure.

Yet if we scale it back and think about our local area of the world. Why would children from unschooling families be any less prepared for the world than their peers? Given many of those peers spend much of their time in, or preparing for school, a rather unique world of its own, the like rarely found elsewhere ๐Ÿ˜”

The question of what it means to be educated is an interesting one, and means different things to different people. #futurepost ๐Ÿ™‚

Be sure to subscribe to the blog in the sidebar if you’d like to be notified whenever a new post goes live.

And that leaves the old chestnut of being ‘behind’.

Behind what? And behind who? And does it even matter?

Let’s look at reading.

Undoubtedly, the pressure and priority to read is far greater in school, at a much younger age, than for those outside the school system. Although children at school don’t all conform to this, of course.

But, it’s fair to say that some children from unschooling families do appear to read later than their schooled peers. Sometimes, much later.

Yet this doesn’t stop them learning. And fast forward a few years, even months, and it’s impossible to tell the early-birds from the rest. Not only that, but there are well-documented benefits to this more relaxed route to reading.

Look out for a whole series of posts on reading in the coming weeks.

Worries about when our children walk, talk, read, swim, ride bicycles, can loom large in the moment but tend to be short-lived in the grand scheme of things.

Unschooling rules out university, being a doctor, a plumber or a candlestick-maker ๐Ÿ™‚

Unschooling isn’t a means to an end. Rather than focussing on the future and striving for specific outcomes, unschooling is about cultivating respect and relationships.

We care about our children’s future, of course, but much more than that we care about our children now.

Keeping our attention focussed on the present makes meeting the needs of our children much easier than when we’re distracted by an unknown future.

With that said, unschooling doesn’t rule out any of these, or any other possibilities.

We have a daughter in her final year of University right now ๐Ÿ™‚ And there are countless examples of grown unschoolers in a wide range of fields.

Indeed, unschooling offers the perfect preparation for our children to follow their dreams, knowing we’ll be right there supporting them whenever they need us.

Unschooling is chaos, disorder and disarray.

I can’t tell you that unschooling will never look or feel like chaos, disorder and disarray. We’re talking about families here. And family life can feel like chaos, disorder and disarray. Sometimes.

The default settings of any unschooling family are going to vary according to the personalities of the people involved, just like any family. Some will be quieter, tidier and more organised than others.

Learning requires a sense of safety. Fear blocks learning. Shame and embarrassment, stress and anxietyโ€”these block learning.

Pam Sorooshian

And given how much unschoolers care about learning, constant chaos isn’t gonna cut it ๐Ÿ™‚

But maybe this isn’t about chaos. Or about learning at all?

Maybe it’s more about the impact unschooling will have on our children’s character. And on the world. What kind of people are these unschooling parents?

So, let’s explore some more common misconceptions about unschooling that speak directly to these fears.

Unschooling spoils children.

Personally, I don’t see how spoiling children is even a thing. They’re people, not pastry.

But we can easily ruin our relationships. Luckily, unschooling offers a fantastic antidote for that ๐Ÿ™‚

Yet ‘spoilt’ children do seem to be a big concern for some. Perhaps our children will be pampered and lazy?

Often, people will confuse not *requiring* something (chores, reading, bedtimes) with the child not willingly doing those things. (Just because I don’t expect/require my son to clean, he quite happily does so. Just because I don’t insist my son have “good manners” doesn’t mean he refuses to say Please or Thank You. Indeed I have my suspicions that it is precisely *because* I don’t require, that I get so much willing cooperation from my son.)โ€

Katherine (QueenJane)

Perhaps it depends on your view of human nature. But the idea that our children won’t be motivated unless we make them, seems hugely unfair and disrespectful.

And isn’t borne out by the evidence. Not just in unschooling families, but throughout human history.

Maybe it’s the focus on joy that worries some. As if following our joy means only doing what’s easy.

Yet it’s often through challenges, and hard work that we gain the most. And when we’re free to choose where to focus our energy and attention, that’s when we’re most motivated to deal with the difficult parts, to push through and keep going.

And that brings us neatly to another common misconception…

Unschooling is selfish.

With no regard for anyone else. As if all unschoolers care about is their children’s freedom.

Unschooling is about respect and relationships, and these only work well when freely given.

As soon as we bring force into the equation, we weaken our relationships and real respect crumbles. Not to mention the impact this can have on our sense of responsibility.

But freedom is relative, not absolute. Restrictions come, not just from the laws of the land where we live. But physical, financial, social and time constraints all play their part.

And we don’t see the need, or value in limiting that freedom any further.

Instead, we choose to focus our energy on supporting our children to navigate the world in ways that respect them and others…

Respecting a child teaches them that even the smallest, most powerless, most vulnerable person is worthy of respect. And that is a lesson our world desperately needs to learn.

L.R. Knost

Unschooling is the answer to everything.

Some people come to unschooling under the mistaken impression that life will be sunshine and roses, forever more. No more problems and no more worries.

And if that doesn’t happen for them, then they must be doing something wrong.

Yet life happens and none of us know what’s heading our way.

Unschooling isn’t a panacea. It won’t cure you of all ills or protect you from heartache and tragedy.

Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

L.R. Knost

And unschooling is a beautiful way to live. It’ll deepen your relationships, and bring more joy into your life.

And when problems arise, we get to face them together from a solid foundation of connection and co-operation. Doesn’t that sound good?

So there we have it, some common misconceptions about unschooling.

I hope this post has helped lay some of your concerns to rest. If you have any questions on unschooling or home ed in general, please let me know in the comments.

If you’re new to unschooling and are looking for some more inspiration, you might like…

Supporting natural learning : A step by step guide.

9 Home education routines that brighten up our days.

Some of our favourite resources

A wonderful book all about unschooling.

Lots more fab unschooling books

Quick links to all the posts in this series :

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 – you’re here ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for reading x

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