Unschooling FAQ

or: Can Unschoolers Function in the Real World?

What’s the difference between homeschooling and unschooling?

I use homeschooling to refer to the vast variety of ways to learn outside a school setting, and unschooling as a subset of homeschooling. My personal definition of an unschooler is someone who is in charge of what, when, and how they learn. By that definition an unschooler may play with legos six hours a day, or teach themselves guitar, or work their way through an algebra textbook, or go on a solo sailing trip, or enroll in community college, or enroll in public school. If it is their choice to do so, if they are in charge of their own education, and they choose to identify as an unschooler, I will gladly consider them one.

Will my child learn to read?

Yes. They might learn to read later than you expect them to. I have several friends who were uninterested in reading until age 12 or so, and then skipped straight to long, dense novels. Take it as a lesson for unschooling in general: 1) your unschooler will learn on their schedule, not yours, and 2) this is a good thing. People who choose when and what to learn, learn quicker and more in depth.

Will my child learn math?

Do you use math in your daily life? If yes, then your child will learn math. If no, why do you think they need to learn it? Let’s say, so that they can use it if they happen to need it. Then they’ll learn it when they need it. See above re: reading; your unschooling child will learn math on their schedule, not yours, and by doing so they will learn quicker and more thoroughly.

Will my child want to do anything other than watch TV?

Do you want to do anything other than watch TV? If yes, you are probably providing an environment for your child that contains things more interesting than screen time. If no… well, that might be a different issue. Do also keep in mind that screen time can have value, especially if shared with a caring adult. Before you stress out about their screen time, sit down next to them and participate and see what happens. Without judgment. (More on screen time later.)

Do unschoolers get into college?

I did. (More on whether or not unschoolers <em<should try to get into college later.)

Do unschoolers get good jobs?

I have. (More on resume-building and defining “good” jobs later.)

Will my quirky child interact well with others as an adult?

Probably. Many quirky children I’ve known interact more easily with adults than with their own age group. (I still can’t figure out how to get along with schooled teenagers, but once they’ve been out of school for a few years I get along with schooled adults great. It’s true that not getting along with schooled teenagers has narrowed my life options somewhat—I will never be a high school teacher—but since all 19 year olds eventually turn 20 I don’t see it as a huge issue.) Schooled teenagers tend to look at how people do things and ignore the results; adults tend to be more goal-focused. Adults are likely to see your child’s passion and skill, and either find their quirks interesting or look past them. I think the best indicator of how your quirky child will get along as an adult is looking at how your child gets along with adults now.

Will you unschool your own children?

I’ve answered this question a variety of ways, ranging from “Yes!” to “If they want to.” I think my current favorite answer, though, is that like most people, I just assume my children will be educated the same way I was. For most people, they send their kids to school because they went to school. My kids will unschool because their parents unschooled—that’s what we’re most familiar with, and that’s what we’re sure works.

What did you dislike about unschooling? What do you wish your parents did differently? What will you do differently than your parents?

The interesting thing about unschooling is that you’re in charge of your own education. It makes it really difficult to blame my parents for any pieces I disliked, either at the time or in retrospect. Sure, I felt lonely as a teenager. But in retrospect I can see all the ways I didn’t put time into developing my local friendships in favor of developing my long-distance friendships. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing—fifteen years later I’m still very close with many of those people, including the man I married.

But I do think I will do one thing differently than my parents: I will be less scared. My parents were pioneers, experimenters. By unschooling, they were doing a thing they’d never seen anyone else do before. They were making it up as they went along, with all of society (and sometimes their own parents) telling them they were bound to fail, that they were screwing up their children irreparably. I don’t have that. My parents, my in-laws, my close friends, and, come to think of it, anyone who’s ever met me has proof that unschooling can lead to adults who are productive members of society. I’m not scared. I mean, okay, of course I’m scared I’ll screw up my kid irreparably. But not because of unschooling.

Use the “Ask me anything” form if you want me to answer other questions about unschooling!