Define “Unschooling” – The Dad Hatter’s Unschooling Primer Part I

As Unschoolers, one of the questions we’re often asked, is what Unschooling really is. Sometimes it seems difficult to answer because of the preconceived ideas about education that nearly everyone brings to the conversation. It’s easy to offer disclaimers, qualifiers and justification for our choice rather than simply offer a succinct definition. In the same vein, when browsing blogs and books about Unschooling, its fairly easy to find long, rambling definitions of unschooling. Mostly they end up explaining what Unschooling is by telling what it is not. I’ll get into that sort of discussion in another post, but for now let me give you the simplest and most effective definition of Unschooling that I’ve ever run across.

This particular definition has been used by others and isn’t really original with me, but it is wonderfully simple. Only one word, in fact.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not being facetious. The best definition of Unschooling really is Life. That does not mean by any stretch that everyone who lives is fully Unschooled. We all learn to varying extents simply by engaging the world around us, but for Unschoolers, the way our children learn is by living. Instead of schooling them, or sending them somewhere to be schooled, we live with them. They do things they enjoy, explore what they’re interested in, talk and play with us, go places they enjoy and generally have a whole lot of fun. They are not schooled; instead they are allowed the freedom to live without the constraints of schools and schedules and curriculum.

In the process they acquire a wide array skills and knowledge that are meaningful and relevant to them. Babies and toddlers learn to walk and talk because they want to, and adults learn new hobbies or skills because they want to. Likewise, Unschoolers learn because they want to understand the world around them and pursue their passions, which is by far the most natural and effective way to learn.

In context of this definition, perhaps Unschooling isn’t the most useful term. It doesn’t explain very much in and of itself. There are alternative terms for similar approaches to learning that I like better in actual usage, like Life Learning or Worldschooling, but like John Holt I’ll probably just continue to use Unschooling for the time being as it has become a fairly well known term. That being said, not everyone who uses it means the same thing, and hopefully my writing can help clarify precisely what I mean when I use the term.


One thought on “Define “Unschooling” – The Dad Hatter’s Unschooling Primer Part I

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I’ve been wanting to know more about this topic and so I’ll be waiting for more.

    Your point about adults learning new things resonated with me. Just in the last few years I’ve taught myself about bees, chickens, astronomy, woodworking, cooking, and more (Thank you library). The best motivation for learning may be that the learner actually wants the information.

    Keep it up!


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