The Ultimate Guide To Unschooling: Top Tips To Create Free-Thinking, Resilient, Creative Young Humans Who Can Thrive In A Modern World.

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what is unschooling
Education, Lifestyle, Mind-Spirit, Parenting, People, Podcast, Podcast-new, Self-Development

These days, traditional school—such as a public or private school—is only one of many options to get an education. You've probably heard of homeschooling (I was personally homeschooled K-12). But another method that isn't as well known is known as “unschooling”

So what is unschooling?

It's a method of education I've recently adopted for my boys using resources such as the book “Unschooling To University – Relationships Matter Most In A World Crammed With Content“.

Many parents are frustrated by the school system, perhaps because of bullying, crowded classrooms, and outdated, dull, online courses. Disengaged learners that have no say in their coerced curriculum tend to act out, tune out, or drop out. Education must change and unschooling is the fastest growing alternative method of learning.

Two decades ago, students registered with their local school based on their house address. Now, with the internet, students are borderless. Learning can occur anywhere, anytime, anyway and from anyone – including self-taught.

Self-directing their education, unschoolers learn through:

  • Play
  • Projects
  • Reading
  • Volunteering
  • Games
  • Sports
  • Mentorship
  • Travel
  • Life

In this scenario, it's then the parents' job to provide an environment rich in resources: books, videos, cameras, computer and video games, workbooks, textbooks, projects, jobs, museums, field trips, volunteer programs, atlases and maps, science centers, zoos, museums, theaters, TV, toys, concerts, musical instruments, board games, mentor and apprenticeship programs, music, internet, libraries, instructors, living history parks, art galleries and supplies, sporting venues and equipment, science equipment, corporate venues, parks, travel, and many more.

In her book Unschooling To University, my guest on this podcast, Judy Arnall, explores the path of 30 unschooled children who self-directed all or part of their education and were accepted by universities, colleges, and other postsecondary schools. Most have already graduated.

She outlines that what children need most are close relationships – parents, teachers, siblings, relatives, coaches, and mentors within a wider community, not just within an institutional school.

Educational content is everywhere. Caring relationships are not. Families that embrace unschooling do not have to choose between a quality education and a relaxed, connected family lifestyle. They can have both.

Judy is a keynote speaker and distinguished toastmaster who gives interactive presentations around the world. She specializes in non-punitive parenting and education practices, and regularly appears on television interviews on CBC, CTV, and Global as well as publications including Chatelaine, Today's Parent, Canadian Living, Parents magazine, The Globe and Mail, Metro and Postmedia News.

As a Certified Canadian Family Life Educator (CCFE), she teaches brain and child development, and family communication, at the University of Calgary, Continuing Education, and has taught for Alberta Health Services for 13 years. She founded the non-profit organizations, Attachment Parenting Canada Association, and Unschooling Canada Association.

She is also the bestselling author of the following print and e-books: 

As a parent of five children, who were raised without any kind of punishment, Judy has a broad understanding of the issues facing parents and the digital generation. She is the proud parent of several university graduates who self-directed their education.

During our discussion, you'll discover:

-When formal schools were first established, and why…9:00

  • Schools began around the time of the Industrial Revolution; was a means of keeping kids occupied while parents worked in factories
  • Critics claim it's simply to create factory worker mentality; obedient citizens, quashing critical thinking
  • It has transformed into a billion dollar industry; it's difficult to imagine life without institutionalized school
  • The brain interacts with its environment; it's not a bucket to fill up with facts and figures

-Where the modern school system has failed us as a whole…13:00

  • Schools have stress for kids as well as teachers
  • Teaching is a highly stressful profession
  • Kids experience stress via bullying, expectations, etc.
  • The big failure: a one size fits all approach
  • It does not encourage individualism; it can't because it's a bureaucracy
  • Technology has revolutionized many facets of life; formal education lags behind

-What is unschooling, and how does it differ from homeschooling…20:05

  • “Empowering the learner to choose what they learn, when (or if) they learn, and how they learn.”
  • It's a matter of control and ownership
  • With homeschooling, the parents control and own the process
  • In unschooling, the skills and knowledge are learned and embedded with the experience, applied through their curiosity
  • Self-directed, free learning

-The value of play and unstructured time when it comes to learning…24:40

  • Kids need a period of time to “deschool”
    • Approximately 1 month for each year they're in school
  • Their natural curiosity takes over and they embrace
  • We underestimate the value of play and downtime: it gives your brain rest and time to think about creative ideas
  • Research shows that play and daydreaming is a sign of a better-equipped brain (similar to meditation)
    • Overscheduling doesn't allow for this quality time
  • Unstructured play means it's not dictated by adults (soccer doesn't count)
  • Play mimics what they would learn in school, but on their own terms

-The conspicuous difference in testing and its results in unschooling vs. traditional schooling…34:30

  • Tests and essays begin to increase around the 6th grade
  • Teachers need to stick to the schedule; teach to the test
  • The emphasis is on accreditation/evaluation; but the journey to the destination is important
  • It's not as difficult to prepare for the standardized tests as one might think

-Yes, unschoolers can go to college too!…41:20

  • No benefits in year to year testing; ties students and parents to the local curriculum
  • Appropriate to do a standardized test at age 18 for college entrance
  • 13-year-olds can do 8 grades of math in one year because their brain is ready to understand abstract concepts
  • A strong homeschool lobby can influence legislation and enforcement of local education laws

-Creative ways to satisfy governmental education requirements…44:30

  • Unschooling is a methodology; many schools do unschooling within their schools
  • Look for skills that can be learned in video games, journals, etc.

-The concept of “Block learning” and why learning something every day can do more harm than good…47:35

  • If a child doesn't want to do a particular task, don't make them do it
  • Turn what they do naturally and turn it into a “subject” they need to learn: math, science, etc.

-What a typical day of unschooling might look like…50:00

  • It's relaxed
  • Lots of family activities, such as nightly family dinner

-Success stories and research on the benefits of unschooling…55:00

  • Team of 30
    • Survey of parents of unschooled children
    • All 30 of them got accepted into university
    • 1/3 in arts fields; 1/3 in humanities; 1/3 in STEM courses
    • 22 of the 30 have graduated from their programs
  • John Holt's website
    • John coined the term “unschooling”
  • Judy doesn't like the term because it sounds “anti-school”

-How unschooling compares with a Waldorf or Montessori method of learning…1:01:00

  • They incorporate unschooling in their methodology without calling it that
  • “What do you do if the child doesn't want to do that?” Is it coercive or not?
  • Most government schools are coercive
  • Much easier to unschool outside the school system
  • Templates or set curriculums lead children to a preconceived outcome
  • Kids are natural communicators and collaborators

-Why “time-honored” traditions like handwriting don't need to be emphasized in schooling today…1:06:05

  • It takes 15 years to change a curriculum in a government school
  • Instead learn coding, social media, blogging, youtube, etc.
  • Life experiences, world travel can replicate what is taught in university

-Resources Judy recommends learning more on unschooling and free play…1:16:30

-And much more!

Click here for a PDF version of the show notes for this episode

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

Resources from this episode:

-Book: Unschooling To University – Relationships Matter Most In A World Crammed With Content

John Holt's website

-Book: Free To Learn (and Peter Gray's other books on Amazon)

Books by Thomas Armstrong on Amazon

Episode sponsors:

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Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for Judy or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

13 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide To Unschooling: Top Tips To Create Free-Thinking, Resilient, Creative Young Humans Who Can Thrive In A Modern World.

  1. Alimuhamad says:

    It’s cool!

  2. Jessica Wilson says:

    I love the idea of opting out of the school system for my kiddos, but my major barrier is that both my spouse and I need to work outside of the home. What kinds of strategies do you think work for families who need a dual income but would like their children to engage in unschooling? Thank you for yet another great podcast.

  3. Children are *always* learning…whether we see evidence of it or not is what varies! That is great that your child is exposed to so many languages. He will keep them if he is exposed. Enjoy your children and their learning!

  4. Chad says:

    Sorry if this is repetitious or ignorant. I cannot see any updates on iTunes for your podcast since July 18th. Restarting, reloading and all other of my simple fixes don’t seem to help. Is there something Im missing when it comes to downloading your podcast?

    1. They're all showing up for me. Let me know if it's still not working for you and I'll have someone look into it.

  5. Debby says:

    OMG, I was so thrilled to see this topic come up! I have never heard of unschooling & it has been what I have been looking for the past 2 years. We were in a Montessori type school from pre-K to 7th grade. Then went to public school (in Arizona we rank anywhere from 45-50 in the US so its crap). Our daughter did more sleeping at school than at home. Budget cuts had the kids doing 8 hour days, from 6:50am to 3:20pm, 4 days a week. We went to online school, better for us as it offered more flexibility in when she did school work. But as 9th grade started & I was investigating a more true homeschool approach it all revolved around the same worthless topics. The idea of wasting 4 years on that I couldn’t stomach so I started creating our own lessons & she started learning Japanese on her own. (I am not an educator & have a full time job, so don’t think this was “easy” & let’s not even discuss all the crap I get from other adults about what she is missing not going to school.). This podcast really helped me see how we can be more unconventional in our schooling & yet still be effective. Thank you Judy for your years of work in this arena. Thank you Ben for sharing it & sharing what you are doing with your boys. Most impactful podcast in years.

    1. So happy you found it useful! There are many more ways to educate than our current system of one-size-fits-all. Even online courses isn’t for everyone.

  6. Kathleen says:

    I am not sure if this ends up being a problem, but what do you do if your child(ren) jumps from project/ subject/ etc. to another without completing the prior one? Like people jumping around different workout plans.

    1. Good question! Self-directed learners are able to jump, not finish anything or lose interest. However, learning (even in schools) is not linear. In school, a child that is forced to learn about a subject in a linear way just tunes out. Or maybe they can’t comprehend a concept because their brain isn’t that developed yet. Think long division presented in grade 5 or algebra in grade 7. However, if they can come back to a concept when their development is ready and they actually have a use to learn it, they will master it so much more effectively. The tools they learn in school are just tools without applicable problems yet. Why not experience the problems and then learn the tool needed to solve it on an as needed basis? People who jump around different work-out plans still get exercise!

  7. Damian Perez says:

    Ben – I listen to your podcast for all the health and exercise knowledge, yet this is possibly the best podcast I have listened to. I downloaded this for my Wife and this really struck a cord with her as well (the negative, I am out some money since after listening to she made me purchase Kion coffee for her!). From a cost perspective, there is no benefit to us (our kids go to public school and property taxes are at the highest in the country here, so you are stuck paying for public school whether or not you attend). My Wife and I have both grown somewhat disgruntled with the current education landscape (not only K-12 but also college). To date, all three of our kids have excelled in school (going on to 7th, 5th, and 1st grade). However, in particular for our middle son and his personality, neither of us feel that public school is the optimal option. We do think he would likely thrive in an unschool / homeschool environment. This does seem like a very daunting task, so even if we don’t go the unschool approach entirely, we may look for ways to incorporate in some fashion with all 3 kids. My Wife already ordered Judy’s Unschool book, so for right now we are both going to try and absorb as much information as possible. Big thanks to both Ben and Judy for bringing such an important topic to light.


    Damian & Sarah

    1. Thanks for posting! If you have any questions while reading the book, be sure to contact me!

  8. Mary Brown says:

    Great learning protocols and wish I’d had this opportunity. If boys like history and art check out Savanmah, Ga. Largest intact historical district in US from 1700s through civil war. Only city Sherman didn’t burn during civil war and was a “gift” to him to save it. Then check out Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), fairly well known art school. Only caveat is you have to let me know if you come so I can meet you. You’re my hero. Good luck home schooling

  9. Daniela Sauer says:

    Wow, I’m in! Thank you, exactly what I need to hear.
    We have decided for homeschool for our 6 years old boy Maxi, and I was happy, that it was possible in Austria anyway. He has to pass some exams though, at the end of the year. So that is a bit difficult, he speaks already 3 languages: fluent amazing English, German level for his age and Romanian. But now he doesn’t want to speak German, he choose to speek just English and I have to trick him a bit with German for his exams. Also I have noticed, that learning every day is sometimes not his thing, and other days he wants to know everything. His sister is already in a Waldorf school and we know the benefits of learning “on block” and not daily.
    Once again thank you for such a important topic and have fun with your wonderful boys.

    All the best

    Daniela & family
    (your longevity blueprint quest is absolutly amazing)

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