homeschooling vs unschooling

Homeschooling Vs Unschooling: What’s the big Difference?

You’ve done it! You’ve made the choice to homeschool your children. But now what? There are different methods of homeschooling (or home learning as I like to call it): Charlotte Mason, classical, and unschooling, to name a few. Homeschooling vs unschooling is a debate and source of personal conflict for many families as they grapple with alternative education models. If you unschool are you really homeschooling, or is it something else entirely?

While labels can sometimes paralyze or hold us back, understanding basic educational philosophies can also help inspire, empower and grow our understanding of what will work best for our family and children, even if, ultimately, we choose to forgo the label. Flexibility is key in any homeschool so I hope you never feel tied to a particular approach, however, if one calls to you so perfectly, by all means, do embrace it.

Unschooling, as it’s often called, is one alternative to public school and even homeschooling. Also known as natural learning, independent learning, or child-led learning, unschooling is an approach that flies in the face of traditional thought when it comes to educating your child. So what exactly is unschooling, and how does it differ from homeschooling?

The biggest difference in the homeschooling vs unschooling debate is in the mindset. Where homeschooling is basically concerned with your child learning what it normally taught in public schools, unschoolers have a completely different way of looking at their children and at life. Unschooling is based on mutual trust between parent and child and in finding what works best for them.

Homeschoolers might choose to use a specific curriculum as a base for their teaching. Unschoolers, however, may not even use a pre-planned curriculum at all. Unschoolers believe that children learn at all times, and that what they need to learn doesn’t necessarily have to come out of a set curriculum.

Another term for unschooling is delight-driven. It’s not that a child is given complete freedom from learning; it means that the child is allowed to learn the things that interest them instead of what an institution says they should know. Most often those who unschool learn those things that they will be using in life rather than just what is in a book.

It may seem to an outsider looking in that an unschooler isn’t actually doing school work at all. In fact, unschoolers believe that living life is the best education a child can get, so they aren’t quite as concerned about what others think. Of course, if you live in a state that has more requirements for homeschoolers, it might seem a little daunting to prove that actual learning is taking place.

Since homeschooling can take on so many faces, it seems that unschooling fits right in after all. All homeschooling parents want the opportunity for their children to learn in an environment where they are encouraged to grow, develop, and flourish. What better way than to allow your child to learn the things that interest them? In doing so, they’ll pick up the things that traditional education believes they need to know.

Even within the framework of unschooling, there are nuances and variance of thought which cause debates as to the true definition of unschooling. Does the homeschooling vs unschooling need to exist or can we be doing both, perhaps? Is unschooling simply another educational philosophy falling under the larger homeschool umbrella or does it deserve it’s own separate recognition? Personally, I consider us to be an eclectic home learning family family, mainly because I am not quite as “laisser-faire” as many of the unschooling families I’ve met, but also because I appreciate and incorporate several ideas from other education models, and because I do loosely follow as few “curriculum”. That and the fact that I prefer not to limit our educational learning style with one specific label.

The more I read and learn about unschooling and the more I observe, document, learn, and adapt in our home learning, the more I realize, we may in fact be falling into an unschooling family, flexible in our learning approach, but structured in goal setting and learning (often beyond academics) hyper tailored to my son’s needs. Simplicity is important to us and I find, embracing unschooling a bit more has given me the freedom to “slow-down” and focus on only on what’s relevant now.

So, homeschooling vs unschooling (or neither)? What are you? Do you consider yourself an unschooling family? Why or why not?


To Learn more about unschooling, check out this resource from Healthline.

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