How Do I Define Unschooling?

“Unschooling isn’t just a nonforceful way for kids to learn academics. Unschooling is a totally different philosophy based on respecting someone for who they already are and trusting that exploring what interests them in a rich free environment will provide them with what they need.” – fromΒ Joyfully Rejoycing

This Is Simply My Truth, Today

This is my personal definition of Unschooling developed over the years I have been learning about it, applying it and finetuning it as we go along. It may not be yours. It may not be the one held by other Unschoolers. It may not even by the one I hold next week or next month or next year, because the joy of this path is it creates continual expansion, reviewing of beliefs and ongoing growth. What I hope, though, is that it will help you wherever you are in your journey, to think about what it means for you, or to be inspired to look into it for your own family.

What Unschooling Is .. And Isn’t

To me, Unschooling is not any kind of ‘schooling at home’, effectively doing the same thing as teachers do, but in your own way, even if in a more relaxed way than a teacher would. It is living in a holistic way, as if school didn’t exist and children are free, just as adults are [if they choose to be], to follow their passions and to learn all the skills they wish to, as an *assistance* to exploring their interests, not as separate, abstract, separated subjects (unless that is what they choose). They can choose in-person classes if they wish, just as I did to learn ceramics at a local college night class, or like I am learning art right now via an online art course, or self-learn via any of a hundred different media and resources, just as I do every day using books, videos, audio recordings, TV programmes, blogs, conversations, observation and more.

Who Chooses What Is Important For You?

Ultimately, it is about human beings being able to live their life in the Now, not deferring it twelve years or however long school lasts, until someone else stops telling them what is important to them and lets them choose (when they can no longer remember how to).

It is about trusting that each of us came forth with a purpose that we know within our heart and will follow it from the start if allowed to tune into our own guidance and be helped in that by our parents as we learn about this world, instead of being coerced into someone else’s agenda of what they think is important or worthy ‘for us’.

Unschooling Is Not ‘Child Led’ Unless You Plan To Burn Out

Just to clarify, I don’t believe that radical unschooling is ‘child led’ at all; it is far more about being ‘family led’. That is, everyone in the family is treated with respect and everyone’s needs are taken into account so that often it’s not an either/or choice to be made, but a more creative, co-operative, inclusive path that can be found to meet the underlying needs presented by family members. whether child or adult. Unschooling is about dropping our concepts of how things are based on how they have been or should be and instead, being present to what is happening NOW and creating fresh in the moment, thinking laterally and creatively.

People approaching unschooling without this piece end up trying to do everything their children want, (or say they want, with their still fairly limited perspective of the many ways that their needs could be filled), without taking care of their own needs and may end up resentful or burnt out, which doesn’t model anything really wholesome for their children. Unless you are meeting your own needs as an adult, you simply won’t have enough energy or creativity to share with your children to forge these fresh paths. You also need to realize that there may be more ways to meet your child’s need than the one they have presented and it’s worth exploring, talking and creating options to meet their needs with them, rather than simply trying to do or get what they have asked for at your own (emotional) expense, or reacting against it, if what they have asked for is challenging for you.

What If My Children Want To Do Dangerous Things?

It also takes into account appropriate parenting, where you don’t neglect the safety of your children, but you have to weigh up the difference between stopping them from running across a road vs, say, eating pie for breakfast instead of what you think of as ‘breakfast food’ .. one really matters, but will the other really hurt? Is it really true that it is harmful, or is that only the belief of the parent, for example.

Your Child Is A Separate, Conscious Human Being

What if your child really *is* a separate person with their own, different needs to yours? It sounds so obvious, I know, yet, the way most of us have been raised in a fairly emotionally codependent society, it can be easy to miss this truth in the moment as we meet our own emotional needs through others and, however well-meaning, force our own agendas onto our children. At the end of the day though, you have to do whatever is right for your own family so that EVERYONE’S needs can be met in some form.

Children Are Very Capable

Discussion and guidance is a huge part of this process for me. If I had a foreign houseguest who was living with me, with their own mind and preferences, but not knowing my culture and what was expected by others in our society, I would spend a lot of time explaining things, sharing and guiding them, but coercing them and imposing my agenda over theirs would not result in a very harmonious relationship or home life! How useful this analogy is to you will depend on how capable (or not) you see children. I have realized, since my children were born, that they are extremely capable and the only thing that limits that is a) experience and b) my willingness to give them the space to get that experience.

Follow Your Bliss

Radical Unschooling has really stretched me as a human being; it has helped me question my beliefs, turn control into preference and given me a level of connection and joy and lack of power struggles with my children, while watching them flourish, than I ever thought possible. It has been one of the biggest factors in my developing a real sense of unconditional love in my life, not only for my children, but also my partner at the time, my friends and even people I have only just met.

Many people say live and let live, or follow a path of truth seeking or personal freedom, while still controlling almost every aspect of how their children live. I believe that radical unschooling shows the way to a world of true respect and acceptance where Joseph Campbell’s oft quoted words can be true for everyone, of any age:

Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.

For me, “Following your bliss” isn’t about a hedonistic path of fulfilling every day-to-day lust and transient delight or pursuing trivial actions at the expense of others, like so many adults seem to do when stepping away from being controlled and begin trying to find who they really are, uncovering their (lost) authenticity. True Bliss is when I am living in alignment with the Truth in my heart, when I am present to ‘what is’ and can see the beauty in all of life and what I am doing comes from my highest self and inspiration. Unschooling offers a way to that bliss, that authenticity, by keeping our children in touch with the authentic truth in their hearts that they were born with.


I’ll add that this is all a process for me.

Sometimes, it’s easy and flows and is amazing, other times, it stalls, I have my own fears or judgements come up and power struggles ensue.

But that’s life and relationships as we learn along the way, I guess.



However, I am continuously filled with gratitude that I have this path to explore and that my children have so much more freedom to be who they came to be than I had throughout my childhood. And I give thanks to my childhood for giving me the comparison!


I hope that helps you on your own journey with unschooling and exploring what it means for you. Please leave me your thoughts in the comment box below! I love to hear them.



photo credit: wester




  1. What a lovely post! I also have found unschooling to be more of a family affair rather than strictly child-led.

    • The Whole Mama says:

      Thanks Latrecia πŸ™‚ It was also great for me to re-read this post a year on and to find it’s still true for me.

  2. Thank you so much for expressing this so beautifully for those, like myself, that have a such a difficult time finding the words they wish to say (about unschooling) when approached on the subject. πŸ™‚

    I think for now on, I shall refer any inquiries to this post!

    I just came across your website today and I am *really* enjoying it.

    Thank you.


    P.S. Kate (a.k.a. The Secret Goddess) – fancy seeing you here! The Universe truly works in magical ways. I {{love}} going by the beat of my own drum and having the opportunity to meet such beautiful Souls along my way.

  3. I’ve been thinking about what it is to ‘follow my bliss’. To me it’s staying in flow, in my motivational talents, delegating tasks that aren’t my motivational talents. It looks like this will mean… delegating my child’s schooling to an actual school. That also means trusting that my daughter will have the experiences she needs for whatever her life path is to be, wherever she is. I think that unschooling is a wonderful ideal, but not so ‘flowy’ for me in practice.

    • The Whole Mama says:

      I know that unschooling isn’t for everyone, and I am grateful to have found it as one of the ways to that bliss .. though we do it largely because it is the path my children have so far expressed a preference for and it is true to me too.

      Being true to yourself is important and some people do enjoy school and some even find schools that more closely a match for what is true for them. There are many paths up the mountain! πŸ™‚

  4. I too have found that viewing Radical Unschooling as family-led to be of importance for peace and harmony. Whenever I lose sight of that and things become one sided (either for ‘my’ side or ‘theirs’) tensions and hurts erupt pretty quickly.

    I am so incredibly grateful for being on this path and the way it has made our lives bigger and richer and deeper <3

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