Homeschool Methods – Life Learning with Interest-Led Unschooling

Homeschool Methods – Life Learning with Interest-Led Unschooling
This week, we’re continuing in our “homeschool methods” series with an exploration of unschooling.  Chime in if you’ve got something to add!

First, off, I guess I should admit my bias.  My heart belongs to unschooling.  I admire something about every homeschooling method and philosophy, but it was the idea of unschooling that really captured my attention in the beginning.  Whatever you want to call it, “Life Learning,” “Interest-Led Learning,” “Child-Led Learning,” or unschooling, the ideal remains the same: we never stop learning.  From the day we were born, we have been learning about life, developing necessary skills, and seeking information with a curiosity that would be astounding to any other species.  We were made to learn.  We were made curious.  And we were made receptive of, able to and desirous of, learning.

When I started reading about unschooling, I felt like I was coming home.  Like a lightbulb went on in my head.  The ideas around learning that I’d been formulating, the research that I already knew as a librarian, and my own passion for learning, all supported it.  We are learning all the time.  And the most wonderful thing was – I could share this desire, this love of, this lust for, learning, with my kids.

A lot of pieces fell into place.  For many years I had been suspicious of society’s reasons for grouping kids in schools, with peers of their exact age.  It just seemed weird to me.  What kind of strange, otherworld, were we trying to create, where people only interacted with others of precisely the same age?  The more I’ve read by authors like John Holt, John Taylor Gatto and Gordon Neufeld, the more I am thankful that I am not the only one who thinks that way.

I vividly remember many years ago, as a teen, thinking this rather depressing thought.  “Is this all there is?  We go to school, so we can get into school, so we can get a job, so we can work, work, work.”  Seems obvious, but it was a small epiphany for me.  I think I was looking at the system, and realizing that it had no heart.  That it was missing significant aspects in terms of motivation, and the true worth of human life and thought.  For me – a person who loved to learn – to be feeling this way, is telling.  I can only imagine what others may have felt caught in the trap of meaningless school work.

Now, I’m not saying school work is meaningless, per se.  I’m saying, it loses much of its meaning when it is forced upon us.  When we are subject to, well, subjects, that we aren’t engaged with.  Ideas that we are “supposed to” learn, without a context as to why.  Without being given the opportunity to explore and learn because we want to.

I’m lucky.  I had a good school experience.  I survived, and I thrived educationally.  And, I loved to learn.  Somewhere along the line, things came together for me.  I know many people who have succeeded likewise.  But, of course, there are those for whom the story is different.

And so, one could ask the question (I think, one needs to ask the question), could things be done a better way?

Enter: life learning.  A place where people can learn because they want to learn.  Explore because they want to explore.  Find out things, because they are passionate about them.  Do things because they have an aptitude, a passion, or just a tiny spark.  Approach learning differently.  Organically.  In the real world.

Imagine not teaching your child to read, but surrounding them with literature and reading aloud to them, and then, lo and behold, finding that they wanted to learn to read.  That, in many cases, they had already taught themselves.  That they needed your guidance, but not your pre-planned, pre-organized, predetermined timeline.  That they would ask you for help when they were ready.  That “lessons” could be integrated into everyday, and everything you did.  That you could share your passions with your child (and pursue your passions, too) and that this, too, would be a spark.  That learning could continue to be as easy (and as hard) as walking and talking.

When I read and thought these things, my heart sang.  As a librarian, my personal passion is to see everyone become a lifelong learner.  To see everyone become a reader.  Not because they love fiction (some do, some don’t), but because reading is the gateway to the world.  The gateway to life, and exploration of anything and everything a person could want to know, and then some.

When I think of unschooling with my children, I think of a world of possibilities.  A world where I support my children in reaching their potential, in experimenting (and failing), in growing, in learning, and in becoming better people.

If I had one criticism of unschooling, it would have to be the idealism that is at its core.  It’s scary.  Many people consider it a gamble.  A “cross-your-fingers-and-close-your-eyes” kind of game with their children’s lives.  Might work, but, if not… What then?  They conjure visions of children with gaping holes in their education (and they may be right).  But, they forget that these same children have amazing skills.  And the greatest of these skills will be the ability to self-motivate, and learn whatever is necessary or valuable when it’s necessary – or valuable.

I do not want to raise ignorant children.  I want to raise children whose knowledge is deep, whose hearts are full of empathy and whose passion for learning will serve them well.  I believe that “life learning with interest-led unschooling” could achieve this.

So, my heart belongs to unschooling.  But, there is a caveat.  I believe my children’s hearts need to be there with me.  I want and need them (when they are developmentally ready), to meet me there.  Because I don’t want them to look back and feel like they have missed out.  Like they have been the result of some misled educational experiment, at my whim.

So, for now, we’ll try to follow our interests as we can, and follow a “better late than early” approach, and allow for the learning that is going on all around us.  And look for opportunities everywhere (while realizing we don’t need to “do school” everywhere).  And we’ll approach each other with a good deal of respect.  In other words, more of what we are already doing.  But, if we need to make some changes, we won’t be afraid to do that, either.  And, if we want to try something different (Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, public school…), we’ll try that, too (do you see what I’m getting at?  That just about everything can be unschooling – and is?)!

Oh, the possibilities.  I do so love this life.

Now, for you.  Is it all too idealistic for you?  Do you unschool with success?  What about life learning do you love?  What makes you uncomfortable?  I’d love your thoughts.

We’re linking up with:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Of all the days to visit for the first time, I landed here today:) I’m so glad I did! We are life learners, interest led learners, relaxed homeschoolers, unschoolers…whatever you want to call us, we live a lifestyle of learning that encourages every member of our family to follow his/her interests and pursue them to the fullest. In the past, I worried about gaps in the girls’ education, but now I see that we all have gaps when it comes to what we learned in school. I believe it’s far more important for us to raise girls who pursue learning naturally and with enthusiasm than worrying if they’ve learned their multiplication tables by third grade. We love this learning lifestyle…no regrets here!!!

    Wonderful post:)

    • Thanks, Jenn for your visit and comments! I love how you describe your “lifestyle of learning that encourages every member…to pursue their interests to the fullest.” That is a beautiful, and simple way to put it. And just what I’m hoping our life will always look like, too. Wonderful to hear such encouraging comments!

  2. What We Do
    We are early into our Unschooling journey and in so many ways it fits perfectly with our family. Our days have a rhythm that comes from three people living in this world together. But the days are rarely the same. There was a month last November where every day we spent our time learning about domes, making domes, finding out about the math of domes, even visiting a few. That drifted into a lot of present making and math games and math books, because math is fun and my son wanted a “school book”. Coming up for air after the holidays we’ve been in the realm of on-line bridge building games and dvds. That was until today when we both turned off the TV and computer because it is what we meed right now. So we spent the day in the world of lego and books.

    On Concerns and also the Life We Live
    Every time I start to worry about some learning thing within a few days he comes to me asking about it. Not because I’ve said anything but because my concern really is my understanding of him. Really for me that is what Unschooling is about, connecting and understanding each other; through love, through projects, with the adventures we take and even with the time we spend apart. The way I look at Unschooling is that it isn’t the form of education we have chosen but the life we choose to live extending through all of our life.

    • Hi Stacey! I love that you say your rhythm comes from your family living together. That’s a great way to put it. I was thinking as I wrote this, that our relationship is much like that of lead and follow in a dance. As parent, I might be “the lead,” but it’s really a technicality, as we both have to work together, and there is room for both of us to innovate as need be. That kind of relationship respects both parties, as they both need to be on board with whatever learning is happening. I don’t know if it’s a perfect analogy, but, as a swing dancer, it’s something I can relate to.

      Our days, too, are never the same. Although we eat, wake and sleep in a fairly regular rhythm. I also love that your son asks about the things you are concerned with – intuitively. =) Sometimes I swear my son can read my mind. Perhaps it’s just being so close, and in tune with each other’s needs etc. Or maybe it’s just the magic of unschooling! I agree, connection and love are central to unschooling – which is why I love the term life learning. Learning about life together. It’s lovely, isn’t it.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  3. I can certainly see how unschooling and interest-led schooling can work and be beneficial, but I can’t do it…at least not completely. It doesn’t feel, um, comfortable. And my kids seem to need structure and knowing what they need to complete each school day. Perhaps it’s because I’m a certified public teacher who’s homeschooling? I am tempted to let my kids “take over” for a week to see what they DO, but haven’t tried it. Our philosophies range from traditional to Charlotte Mason.

    • Truth be told, I’ve never really let my kids “take over,” but they’re still young. It’s more give and take with us. Or exploring together. Which is easily done (at least for me) while my kids are young, and I don’t have any pressure from school or peers as to what they should be learning.

      I suspect your discomfort may have something to do with being a teacher, but then, it obviously has something to do with your kids, too. My son seems is a born explorer, and a master of questions. He also talks a lot, and can be all over the place. So, unschooling works really well with him, because he gets fascinated with everything, and I just find things that I know will interest him. And he finds things on his own, to surprise me, too. My daughter is still too young to tell, but she’s already showing signs of being a more methodical learner. So, we’ll see.

      Thanks for sharing. I love hearing other people’s perspectives!

    • Jessy,

      I don’t think unschooling and structure has to be mutually exclusive. I think the heart of unschooling and interest-led learning is working with your kids to find out what they want to learn and what they’re ready to learn. You could work with your kids to set out a plan for the week or month. That way you’d feel better knowing that each day had its own work, but it was work that everyone agreed with ahead of time. It would be things your kids looked forward to and wanted to do. I was a former public school teacher, too, and it’s strange, but I have a hard time planning out each days work ahead of time because I know from past experience that plans really don’t work that well, they don’t allow for deep learning or those very important tangents that take place where real learning opens up. I’d make lesson plans and they’d never get done because other more important things would come up. But every family is different. The key is to let your kids be very heavily involved in what they want to learn.

  4. Hey, Kelly! We are now officially leaving our Waldorf school & moving to ‘unschooling/enthusiasm-led learning’. My daughter will continue with her Waldorf school until the end of the year, but many things led our family to decide that next year (her ‘grade 1’ year) will be unschooled. I can’t wait! So much about this approach resonates with me & we are starting to introduce a lot of learning that isn’t mandated by her current curriculum. Lots to think about!

    • Wow! Now I’ve got tons of questions for you – like, of course, how this came about. We’re waiting till May and enrolling in Self Design for next year. Also, can’t wait. We’ve really been unschooling all year, and I’m always amazed how much Dylan simply absorbs from what we do. I’ll have to pick your brain on Waldorf / unschooling some time! Kelly =)

  5. Kelly,

    This really was a beautifully, written post. It captures so much of how I feel about interest-led learning. I’d just like to say that no matter where you learn, you’ll always have gaps in learning. You could live a dozen lifetimes and not learn all there is to learn in the world. This is the exact reason why schooling is so out-dated. It takes a very, very small amount of human knowledge and elevates it as the pinacle of what we should learn. Most of the school subjects are not as relevant as many other subjects and knowledge are in the average adults life.

    Also, you are right in that each family must do what works for them. But I think that if there is not peace and harmony in the home, if kids to not receive a customized education, and if they are not given sufficient time to develop their own unique gifts and talents, than something is not working right.

    Home education is wonderful because it will look different for each family.

    • Thanks Chris. It’s true. There is way too much information in this world for any one person to learn everything! I’m constantly faced with this whenever I work at the library. I catch myself lamenting the fact that I can’t read everything. And, you know, I am already “re-learning” so much with my children. And, if I wasn’t learning at home with them, I wouldn’t notice “the gaps” in my knowledge. I’m sure they’ll have the same experience with their kids.

      That is the real beauty of home learning, isn’t it? That it will, and can, look different for everyone. And that’s a good thing! =)

  6. I love this life of learning that we have chosen for our family. The freedom to enjoy each other, and our surroundings. The zest for life, that we see in our children. I would have to say, that if there were any down-sides to “unschooling….LifeLearning….” it lies with those that do not understand it. The constant questioning of whether we, as their parents, are doing them justice not following this method or that method. The fact that we are so relaxed and “un-planned” drives most people insane with concern that we are failing our children. How do you handle this kind of thing? How do you get these people to understand, that you are not being lazy as a parent…but giving your children the best life possible? :o) Very difficult, and it comes from sides that it really should never come from.



  1. a homeschooling carnival – February 29, 2012 :: Garden of Learning - [...] @ The Homeschool Co-op presents Homeschool Methods – Life Learning with Interest-Led Unschooling posted at The Homeschool [...]
  2. One Size Doesn’t Fit All – Homeschooler Information Needs and Seeking Behaviors | Finder Bee - […] educational approaches, such as Montessori, Waldorf, and unschooling in the form of “life learning,” explicitly involve everyday life learning in their…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *