We are unschoolers.
Up until a few years ago I didn’t even know what that meant.
It’s true that our children, ages five and eight (whom I often refer to as “hooligans”), have never been to a traditional school, but we aren’t homeschoolers. What we do is different. As unschoolers, we trust ourselves to discover the world and ourselves through living our lives together. That’s all. Learning all-the-things is just a side effect.
One of the greatest gifts I receive is that everyday the “hooligans” remind me of the wonder of life and how valuable play is.
“Aren’t robots amazing? Look at that bee on the flower!” They are so aware and connected to the world around them. “Here Mom, I picked you a strawberry!”
Above all, unschooling is a family affair and a lifestyle. However, to do something so different from the mainstream means there aren’t a lot of mentors, support, or general understanding. Most days we’re blazing the trail but that’s what it takes. Unschooling is not easy or easier than another way of “education.” On the contrary, it takes a lot of work, especially personal work on my part. There are no days off or summer holidays, there's just “today” and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to grow with my kids.
I’ve teamed up with Sparkle Stories to answer some questions around unschooling and share what it looks like for our family — and what it might look like for yours.
What is Unschooling?
It’s difficult to give a cut-and-dried answer to the question “What is unschooling?” The truth is, it’s not a cut-and-dried concept!
To help myself better understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into, I have read books, listened to podcasts, joined Clubhouse groups, and learned from webinars. It’s been so helpful as unschooling is a bit like jumping into the abyss. It seems to have so little structure and so much freedom, but really there are some guideposts that have helped me so much.
Our experience as a family is very different from most out there. Actually, every family experience is totally unique. By choosing to unschool, we are able to honor that uniqueness and celebrate it. Although we each have such different interests and ways of seeing the world, there is a place for us to come together: our values.
Our values guide us on our unschooling journey. As a family, we took the time to determine what is most important to us. We decided on two values — creativity and curiosity. Play is also high up on the list.
It’s hard to narrow it down but having this kind of focus has really helped us. That effort has made the choices we make everyday so much easier. (Brené Brown did a podcast on determining your values and has a worksheet on her website to help pick yours.)
How do Unschooling families structure learning?
As unschoolers, we trust ourselves to discover the world and ourselves through living our lives together. That’s all. Learning all-the-things is just a wonderful (and convenient) side effect. And most of that learning happens through play.
While we may not focus on lessons, they always seem to find us. Our main focus for each day is about relationships. Through this lens, our biggest lessons come up and are tended to. It always comes down to how we are getting along with each other. We are laying the foundation for all the days to come by being present with our kids and building trust now.
I love spending every day with my little ones. It is such an honor, but can be quite challenging. This process is as much for me as it is for them. It requires me to let go of all the conditioning I grew up with. I’ve also had to really question my assumptions and opinions about education.
Traditional Homeschooling vs. Unschooling
In traditional homeschooling the focus is often on replicating a conventional school experience at home. The parent becomes the teacher and the child is a student. As a result, each day is often determined by a schedule of some sort determined by lesson plans or curriculums.
For us, we determine what we’re going to do based on what we need as a team. Often, I simply assess their energy level. Or I may ask them what they feel like doing. There is no educational intention behind our choices — it’s just what feels good. And in the end we all usually end up learning a ton!
In unschooling, the children are as much in charge of their education as the parents. Education is not separated from everyday life. There is no particular time set aside for learning or their education. It’s ALL learning. Living our lives is an education.
I don’t consider myself a teacher but more of a guide. We are co-creators of this experience. We let life unfold and see what grabs our interest. I facilitate the learning process by keenly observing, understanding their interests, creating opportunities, driving the car, and buying the stuff. But sometimes we just play, or putter, each doing our own thing.
So how does Unschooling WORK?
As unschoolers, my kids tell me what they are interested in. Then, we can follow that lead with books, activities, or field trips. We call them “adventures” and we go on one most days. We love exploring the woods and beaches around our town. We have a vibrant downtown that has galleries, museums, and shops. We go to the library often.
Following BIG adventures, like camping or a big hike or ski, a shift in energy happens. These days we call “Jammie Days” where we lounge in our jammies as long as we like and just play inside the house, bake, read, Lego, and be cozy.
The greatest gift of this approach is that there is no schedule or curriculum. Everyday is determined by the rhythm of our own bodies and collectively deciding what’s best for us at that moment. This kind of freedom has really worked for us but it’s only because of the personal work I have done to “de-school” myself and really think about what I believe is “okay”.
Our Favourite Unschooling Ideas
We decide together what we’re going to grow. We prepare the soil, compost, vermicompost, collect seeds, grow starts, transplant, tend the seedlings, observe insects, harvest, prepare, and eat many things from our own garden. It’s such a rich experience for us all.
Cooking + Baking
I have a cooking background, so it was important to me to teach my kids to cook as soon as they could stand by the stove (on a chair) — and they have learned! Now they’re both quite proficient in the kitchen and can make most of their favourite recipes with little help from me. Knowing how to cook is a life skill that will always come in handy. Almost every subject is learned when you choose a recipe from a book, cook it, and then eat it.
Arts + Crafts
One of my favourite jobs is creating opportunities for the kids to jump into an activity. We have arts and crafts supplies set up and available all over the house and I believe this makes engaging so much easier. When inspiration hits everything is available. I also take the time to sit down and model the behaviour by sewing, painting, drawing, and writing. Often when I engage in an activity, it doesn’t take them long to gravitate towards me and join in.
We’ve had so much fun exploring our own town with the geocaching app. It’s on the ground engagement with the community — discovering new neighbourhoods and looking at familiar places with new eyes. And when we go anywhere else it’s always a quick way to get to know a new community. So many great conversations start when we’re out on a geocaching adventure as they process the experience.
Our Favorite Unschooling Resources
Robyn Robertson. Robyn is the creator of Honey I’m Homeschooling the Kids podcast. She is a coach, mentor, and homeschooling masterclass leader (visit her website to explore the offerings) and also hosts many discussions via Clubhouse rooms. Robyn is also the creator of the “How To Be An Awesome” Homeschooler Summit.
Peter Grey — author of Free to Learn
John Holt — author of How Children Learn
Julie Bogart — author of Brave Learner and Raising Critical Thinkers
Pam Laricchia — author of The Unschooling Journey, creator of Exploring Unschooling podcast
Leah McDermott — @mynaturallearner on Instagram
1000 Hours Outside — https://www.1000hoursoutside.com/
Unschool with Us! (LoveMaplerose)
I have a blog that follows our unschooling adventures. Subscribe to my weekly Maplerose newsletter!
As an unschooling family who loves to make art, I make sure that supplies are displayed beautifully and with easy access. I think children are drawn to beautiful things and great quality tools.They want stuff that lasts just like we do.
The products I choose to have in my shop are ones that we love and use. I love to provide ethically and sustainably sourced products and have many local authors and artisans (moms like you and me) who are selling their products in my shop. If you have any questions or suggestions please don’t hesitate to ask.
Follow our unschooling adventures by following us @maplerosestore on Instagram, subscribing to the Maplerose newsletter and reading my blog, My Maplerose Blog
About the Author
Maplerose is a home-based, family-run, online business located in Nelson, BC, Canada. Originally opened in 2008 as a storefront on our bustling, main shoping street, Baker Street, Maplerose is now run by me, Jenn. Mr. Maplerose is always here for support and our children, Walt and Charlotte, are expert product testers.
From first hand experience as a mother, I have found great enjoyment watching my kids engage in open-ended play. Providing them with the right environment and 'tools' is something I take great care in - and Maplerose can help you with that.
Maplerose is all about creativity. I want to support you in your own arts and crafts endeavours the best that I can - and that's by supplying you with the best supplies I can find. You can trust that all that we carry is sustaibably harvested, ethically-raised, eco-friendly, organic, and of the best quality we can find.