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More than 2 million students are homeschooled in the United States. There are several approaches a parent can take to homeschooling, including a philosophy called unschooling.

Unschooling is an educational method that replaces a formal teaching with individualized learning through curiosity-driven experiences. It’s estimated that as many as 13 percent of homeschooled children learn through unschooling.

In this article, we will explore the philosophy behind unschooling, as well as the positives, negatives, and how to use this method with your child.

Unschooling is the idea that children can direct their own learning, at their own pace, without the rigid structures of formal education. Instead of following curricula, students are given a supportive setting that fosters their natural curiosity about the world.

It’s believed that this curiosity can develop into formal learning, even without formal schooling — hence the term “unschooling.”

The idea behind unschooling was first coined by American educator John Holt in 1977, with the released of his magazine, Growing Without Schooling (GWS). This publication focused on how children can effectively learn outside of a school setting through homeschooling and unschooling.

Holt produced many other professional works on non-traditional education, and his voice is widely revered in the homeschooling community.

The way in which a child learns is largely determined by their personality type and learning style. In a traditional classroom, personality and learning type are not always considered when the instructor is teaching. For example, a visual learner may be at a disadvantage if the teacher uses an auditory teaching style.

Unschooling promotes individualized learning by allowing the learner to make their own choices regarding what and how they learn. The role of the parent is to provide the learner with an environment that fosters their natural curiosity. This may involve providing activities and support that help develop this curiosity into learning new things.

Generally, parents who choose to unschool take a more hands-off approach. For example, unschooling doesn’t rely on workbooks or textbooks. Instead, learners may choose to use any of the following methods to find new information:

  • books they choose to read and explore
  • people they speak to, such as parents, friends, or mentors
  • places they visit, such as museums or formal work settings
  • interactions with nature and the world around them

There are no tests or grades to measure competency. There are no deadlines or goals set by the teacher. Any personal goals are decided on by the learner and are worked on at their own pace. With unschooling, the learner continues to learn naturally through interactions in their everyday life.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. However, each state has different laws regarding what type of structure is required when homeschooling your child. If these requirements are not met, you may be reported to the state for educational neglect.

When in doubt, there are legal professionals who can help answer any questions you may have about the homeschooling laws in your state and ensure that you are following the law.

finding the homeschool laws for your state

If you are considering unschooling your child, it’s important you’re aware of the homeschooling laws in your state. To find out the rules about homeschooling in your home state:

  • Visit the Home School Legal Defense Association’s website for a detailed map of possible state laws.
  • Visit the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s website for a detailed guide on how to get started with homeschooling.
  • After reviewing the basic information for how to homeschool your child, visit the website or office of your state’s Department of Education. They can provide you with a more in-depth look at what is expected from a homeschool curriculum in your state.
  • If necessary, consult with a lawyer in your state to determine if unschooling will meet the education requirements of homeschooling where you live.

Most states require parents to teach specific state-mandated subjects, use written curricula, and keep detailed records. While unschooling is not necessarily illegal, the relaxed approach may make it difficult to meet legal mandates.

There are many reasons why you might choose to unschool your child. The benefits of unschooling include:

  • providing a safer learning environment
  • improving learning outcomes with more effective teaching methods
  • teaching your child in a manner that is more in-line with your family’s values
  • providing a customized, tailored approach to your child

There are other unschooling advantages. For example, research shows up to 40 percent of children experience test anxiety. Academic stress can lead to depression, sleep disturbances, and substance use. With no grading or testing in unschooling, your child is less likely to experience these negative effects.

A study from 2013 interviewed 232 families on the benefits and challenges they experienced with unschooling. Researchers found that many parents believed their children to be more passionate and eager about learning.

Improving family closeness was cited as another benefit. Another benefit of unschooling was said to be a flexible schedule, which promoted a family-centered lifestyle.

What unschooling is:

  • Unschooling is the opportunity for a child to learn through their own natural curiosity. Parents provide the child with a supportive environment to learn about their passions at their own pace and through their own means. Learning is supported through natural interactions between the child and the world around them.

What unschooling isn’t:

  • Contrary to popular belief, unschooling is not a rejection of education but rather a fight against the restrictions of formal education. Unschooling is not an opportunity to forego necessary education. It’s considered a different method of educating a child that relies on a more hands-off approach.

There have been some concerns raised about unschooling. One possible disadvantage is missing out on crucial information because of the lack of an educational framework. Another negative is the potential for a lack of socializing if children do not have easy access to peers.

In the same 2013 study mentioned above, some parents found additional challenges with unschooling. The researchers found that many of these parents struggled with managing their beliefs about formal education.

These parents noted that the decision to unschool their child put them at risk for increased social criticism. The parents also noted issues with socializing, time and income management, and state laws regarding homeschool education.

Unschooling is a form of homeschooling that relies on a hands-off approach so that children can learn through their own natural curiosity. With unschooling, there are no formal curricula, learning materials, grades, or tests.

There are a handful of advantages and disadvantages to unschooling your child. However, there is a lack of formal research on unschooling outcomes, whether positive or negative.

If you’re interested in unschooling your child, it’s important to be aware of your state’s requirements for homeschooling before moving forward.