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Understanding Unschooling

This article will help you understand unschooling. What is the difference between unschooling and homeschooling? Statistic show over 2 million children K-12 are homeschooled in 2002-03. What is the future of unschooling?

What is unschooling? According to Wikipedia(1), unschooling is a term invented by John Holt (author of the magazine Growing Without Schooling) that means being responsible for your own education. Unschooled children do not go to traditional public or private schools; however, these children stay home where parents act as “facilitators” and provide resources for their child’s learning needs.

The Difference between Unschooling and Homeschooling

According to Billy Greer(2), (author of Unschooling or Homeschooling?) unschooling is a specific type of homeschooling. Unschooling is a type or style of homeschooling that doesn’t use a set curriculum. While homeschooling tends to mimic traditional schooling with teaching techniques, text books, desks, etc., unschooling does not. Unschooling is often looked at as more of an attitude than a technique.

Greer states that unschooling is considered a more personalized approach to learning. While traditional schooling happens at a certain time (usually 8am to 3pm during the school season), unschooling happens all day every day. Because no curriculum is set, the knowledge that one will gain through unschooling is met only by the child’s eagerness to learn about a subject. For example, if a child shows an interest in ocean habitats, parents provide resources on that subject for their child. Parents do not assume the role of the teacher; however, they act as peers who are learning along with their child.

In Favor of Unschooling

Perhaps the most recognized benefit of unschooling is the freedom associated with self-directed learning. Those in favor of unschooling believe that the ability to have the time and resources to seek out knowledge that is important to an individual is priceless.

Other benefits of unschooling include:

  • Time spent with family
  • Safety from school violence
  • Safety from peer pressures (drugs, alcohol, sex)
  • Avoiding pressures associated with test-driven institutions 
  • A need for an at-home environment (military, disability, religion)

Opposed to Unschooling

Those against unschooling believe that those children do not get the resources (time and money) they need to build their knowledge-base. Some believe that the cost to effectively meet the demands of a curious mind is too high for some families.

Another subject that arises in the argument against unschooling is the lack of social interaction that a child has when unschooled. Some feel that it is vital for children to grow up amongst others their own age.

The Future of Unschooling

While it is difficult to find specific statistics for the amount of unschooled children in the United States, the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) published Facts on Homeschooling(3) in 2003 where unschooled children were grouped with an estimated 1,700,000 to 2,100,000 children (grades K-12) who were homeschooled in 2002-2003.

While it seems more parents are opting to homeschool their children; the number of African-American homeschoolers has raised the most. According to Brian D. Ray(4), Ph.D., in 2002-2003, an estimated 85,000 to 105,000 African American children were homeschooled.

Deciding Factors

Undoubtedly, a parent’s decision to unschool their child is not an easy task. Preparation of time and money is a key element to discuss with those who will be involved in the role as “facilitators” of their unschooled children.


  1. (accessed July 6, 2006)
  2. Greer, Billy. 1998. Unschooling or Homeschooling. (accessed July 6, 2006) 
  3. Facts on Homeschooling. (accessed July 6, 2006). 
  4. Ray, Brian D. Ph.D. (accessed July 6, 2006).