What is Unschooling? (Unschooling vs Homeschooling Methods)

While the definition of unschooling is quite broad, its educational uniqueness manifests itself in a student-led learning lifestyle. This means a lot of learning is interest-based, and children are not forced to learn things that don’t interest them. The movement completely rejects school as something that kills the genius of the mind, holding children learn how to do something (or find the resources to learn how to do it) if they wish to. In contrast, homeschooling is much more parent-led than unschooling. 

Rebbecca Devitt

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. If you want to do my course on how to homeschool, click here.

While recognizing the importance of interest-based learning, homeschooling holds that children are not always the best educational leaders.

Many homeschooling parents (depending on the educational method they’re following) believe children need a rough curriculum (if not a set curriculum) to learn the things that will help them through life.

Homeschools are usually more closely aligned with traditional forms of education, which is also why they don’t attract as much public hostility as unschools.

Indeed, unschooling parents face a lot of criticism, including the accusation that this form of education is neglectful, akin to unparenting, and fails to equip children for adulthood.

It’s important to note that unschooling is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Each family’s unschooling journey is unique, and it’s unfair to label every parent claiming to unschool as a ‘neglectful unparenter.’

This text aims to present a balanced view of unschooling, acknowledging both its potential benefits and challenges.

Unschooling vs homeschooling - the difference between unschool and homeschool.

The Unschooling Definition

A proper working definition of unschooling is:

Parents should allow children as much freedom to explore the world as they can comfortably bear.

This is a partnership between parents and children in which the children are not dominant over the parents’ wishes, and the parents are not dominant over the children’s wishes. 

This definition combines those given by John Holt and Patrick Farenga, the two pioneers behind unschooling and, therefore, authorities on the topic.

Unschooling vs. Homeschooling


Although homeschooling varies widely, some significant differences exist between unschooling and homeschooling.

In general, a homeschooling parent will:

  • have a curriculum; unschools don’t
  • usually like a set bedtime; unschooling parents trust their children with this and let them stay up to all hours, trusting their children know best
  • sometimes use standardized testing (although others reject its usefulness); unschoolers absolutely reject the notion of their usefulness and may say they’re harmful

More on Unschooling vs homeschooling - the difference between unschool and homeschool.

In general, unschooling parents:

  • reject the concept of traditional schools; many homeschooling parents don’t, and some even recreate a conventional school environment in their home
  • are free to forego learning things they have no interest in; homeschoolers are usually made to learn certain subjects like math and literature
  • hold children are capable of directing their own education; homeschooling parents don’t believe children will always make good decisions regarding their education
  • sometimes believe it is a right of the child to choose their own educational pathway
  • never force learning
  • believe unschooling graduates will emerge having all the knowledge they need in their life
  • don’t worry if their children aren’t reading at 7 years of age; many homeschooling parents teach them at age 5
  • believe children will teach themselves the things they want to learn and need to learn
  • think children will motivate themselves to learn something
  • don’t use punishments and rewards; many homeschools do
  • let children pick their own food and clothes; homeschooling families can be more strict and
  • don’t value one skill or subject over another. i.e., mathematics is no more important than carpentry

These generalities will vary widely among different families.


Given this long list of differences, there are some similarities between unschooling and homeschooling, including:

  • they value interest-based learning more than many schools and can facilitate interest-based learning more effectively than schools
  • an improved relationship between parents and children because of their more collaborative education compared to school
  • plenty of free time to follow hobbies and sports interests
  • more hands-on learning and field trip opportunities
  • encouraging more involvement of the community and extended families
  • the freedom regarding school terms, holidays, and so on.
  • (depending on the family and age of the children) parents are more helpers, guides, and listeners

Although not all unschooling and homeschooling families adhere to the above differences, it describes what is generally the case in a homeschool vs. unschool.

Freedom in Unschooling vs. Homeschooling

Unschooling focuses on freedom within a child’s education and lifestyle (something that makes it great for unschooling ADHD students).

How much freedom is envisaged in an unschool?

The answer is ‘as much as the parents can comfortably bear.’

But what if you can bear very little freedom, you think your child is making wrong choices all the time, and you step in continually?

It seems that while a parent might define their education as unschooling, perhaps their ‘comfort’ level is even more strict than that of a homeschooling parent.

In contrast to unschooling, homeschoolers often follow rough or set schedules or routines.

After their set curriculum is finished, homeschoolers usually have many hours of freedom to pursue their interests.

Indeed, I’ve heard parents talk about how they’ homeschool in the morning and unschool in the evening’.

Unschooling vs. Radical Unschooling

Education is a topic that sparks heated debates, and within this realm, unschooling is the most contentious.

Its radical form, in particular, is a subject of intense scrutiny, with some arguing that it’s tantamount to unparenting.

The extreme version of unschooling takes parents out of the equation.

Less extreme forms of unschooling, however, maintain that parents should provide their children with as much freedom as they can comfortably handle. In contrast, radical unschooling advocates for children to have absolute, unrestricted freedom, trusting that they will make wise and ethical choices when given the responsibility.

This means radical unschoolers let their children:

  • eat what they want (whether it’s healthy or not)
  • study (or not study) what they want
  • go to bed and wake up when they want
  • choose play activities as they want

As Wilke said, this assumes a four-year-old is mature enough to make those decisions. It also assumes children are good in their hearts and will make wise, moral choices.

I don’t know about Martin’s children, but my children don’t make good choices when left to themselves. If they do, it’s because I’ve probably drilled a good habit into them.

Meme about an unschooler doing math. I could choose to do math but...
Given a choice, I would never have done math growing up. But as a homeschool graduate, I made myself do the more challenging subjects to get into medical school. There you go!

Unschooling Criticism

Unschooling is a topic that elicits a wide range of opinions.

While many articles on the internet criticize unschooling, there are also numerous defenses of this educational approach.  

Lorraine Devon Wilke, for instance, is a vocal critic, as evidenced by her article titled The ‘Unschooling’ Movement: Good Parenting or UNparenting?

When does “unschooling” become “unparenting”? In my view, the Martin’s [radical unschooling advocates and influencers] broad-based strategy appears an abdication of their role as parents.

When Dayna says, “The kids come and go as they please, because who am I to tell them when they have to go to bed?” my answer to her is: you’re their parent, Dayna, that’s who. Their mother.

It categorically is a part of your job description to guide, mentor, teach, discipline, and show love by your involvement and investment in their decisions and learned responsibilities. Yes, even to tell them when they have to go to bed.

A four-year-old child is not mature enough to know that, any more than he knows that eating ice cream all day is not healthy; any more than a 13-year-old stepping into puberty has enough wisdom and experience to make all his own decisions without the guidance and wisdom of the adults in his life.

It’s swell to have loads of “weekend” fun with your unencumbered kids, but you’re the adult; the parent. Be one.

This one is from Huffington Post:

​…I wish the [Martin’s] children well. Their success as adults, however — assuming they achieve success as adults — will be no proof that “unschooling” works.

More likely, it will be evidence that the children survived, overcame, and transcended the deficits of their upbringing, as the children of many parenting-challenged homes do.

Unschoolers vigorously defend their position.

This is evident when you see Google’s first three pages filled with unschooling blogger diatribes against their critics.

For example, in response to a critic who claimed unschooling was unparenting, Sue Patterson said:

​Unschooling actually requires MORE from parents than other, more rigid homeschooling methods! It’s a 24/7 approach.

This statement assumes traditional schooling and homeschooling do not require 24/7 approaches.

Meme about unschooling. I'm unschooled but not unparented

The Intrinsic Goodness of Children

Today’s educational theories are stuffed with Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s idea that children are intrinsically good and noble.

These theories, stemming from Rousseau’s arguments, say that although children are good at heart, they are corrupted by the evil influences of society.

As such, they reject the Bible’s position that children are sinful at heart. Here are a few verses that illuminate the Bible’s stance on a child’s heart:

  • ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.’ Psalm 58:3
  • ‘Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.’ Prov 22:15
  • ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.’ Psalm 51:5

The biblical position seems to fit reality infinitely better.

I recently heard a friend jokingly say that anyone who believes children are intrinsically good must never have had one.

Unschooling vs Homeschooling: What's the Difference?

A Note on Christians, Christian Freedom, and Unschooling

Although I have not decided whether I love or hate unschooling, I don’t like it when I hear moms saying they unschool because they’re ‘free in Christ, a phenomenon I’ve seen not too infrequently on unschooling blogger sites.

The ‘Christian Freedom Wagon gets taken for a ride here.

In Justin Taylor’s paper, Why Christians Need to Stop Citing “All Things Are Lawful in Cultural ArgumentsTaylor explains why we should not cite ‘All things are lawful quite as much as we do.

Namely, the people in Corinth abused this line and their freedom in Jesus. They used it to justify their immoral behavior:

[T]he Corinthians had twisted Paul’s law-free gospel to justify bad behavior.

Thus, the phrase “all things are lawful is not an expression of Christian freedom from the apostle Paul but rather an expression of antinomianism from fornicators!

Paul’s aim in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 is to correct the Corinthians’ misunderstanding. [Denny Burk cited in the above article]

To see Christian mums citing the ‘all things are lawful line makes me cringe. I feel it anticipates a wrongful and liberal use of such a phrase to justify unschooling practices.

The Bottom Line

Unschooling seems the most relaxed of all educational methods – if you can call it a method. Compared to homeschooling, unschooling can be unstructured and relatively hands-off. But, there is a sliding scale between parents who heartily believe in the absolute hands-off philosophy of learning and those who are more moderate. For this reason, it’s difficult to say whether it’s a movement that should be encouraged or discouraged, followed or unfollowed. And it may depend on the children more than anything. This is a topic that’s stumped me, and I’m willing to be a fence-sitter in this instance 🙂

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Rebecca Devitt

Most adults don't particularly want to relive their schooling experience on a daily basis. They would gladly move on to a new life devoid of homework and teachers. Very, very few adults will passionately blog about their schooling some 15 years after graduating. This makes Rebecca Devitt somewhat unique. As it happens, she was homeschooled. And she loved it. Still does. And she wishes every kid could get a taste of homeschooling at its very best. Her website How Do I Homeschool, is a springboard for parents to see what a life of homeschooling could be for both them & their children. When she's not blogging Rebecca is still homeschooling her-adult-self by learning Latin, growing weird vegetables and most importantly looking after her two children Luke & Penny. She has a husband Tristan and is a participant at Wollongong Baptist Church. She's also written a book about why parents should homeschool called 'Why on Earth Homeschool'.

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  1. Please, use spell check. You have pdf pics of home school vs unschooling with glaring spelling mistakes. I bit ridiculous .