Whole Life Unschooling: It’s For More Than Just Kids

Always Running Ahead
Zeb: always running ahead for what he loves.

Always Talking to Giraffes
Justin: We watched him watch this giraffe for a full 20 minutes.

Always Reading The Signs
Me: They waited for me while I read every sign in the place.

There are so many definitions to unschooling. You can find them everywhere and they all do a perfectly fine job of explaining unschooling.

And yet, knowing full well how to define unschooling, I’m still not happy explaining it.


Because most definitions describe unschooling as a movement, a form of education or a belief on how we raise children. Our short answer usually sounds a bit like this:

Unschooling is hands-on, experience-based and interest-led learning. The world is our classroom and everything in it our curricula.

Oh, but it’s so much more than that!

That answer really only describes how our child learns. It doesn’t describe how we live, how we view the world around us, how we strive to treat one another or parent organically or what any of this looks like.

Unschooling As A Life Philosophy

We believe in unschooling as a whole life philosophy, not only a method of parenting or a view of the natural learning process.

It’s a method of living; how we view and approach life. We unschool ourselves, our relationships, our jobs…recently I’ve even begun unschooling my body. And it’s radically changed (and still changing) our lives.

To us unschooling is not only about our children, it’s about all of us. It’s about our life.

Unschooling your whole life means…

  • Seeing no division between child and adult, regardless of ability or experience. All should be treated with the same equal respect and consideration.
  • Trusting all people of all ages are natural learners, born with an innate curiosity and an earnest desire to learn, even if it requires a bit of excavating for some of us to rediscover.
  • Knowing that all people are inherently good. A learning curve on societal rules or boundaries, or a personal struggle due to past history does not make them “bad”. We all do the best we can with the tools we have.
  • Thinking all people, regardless of age, have a purpose and that that purpose may seldom, or often, or never, change. And the best determiner of that purpose is the person in question.
  • Believing in the wildly passionate pursuit of interests, supporting those interests wholeheartedly, and trusting when an interest fades.
  • Disbelieving that interests are only valid if they come with monetary or status gain. We do things for the love of what we do and trust how our needs are always met.
  • Not condoning the subjugation, squashing or criticism of individuality or diversity. We allow for difference of opinion, we see the underlying needs of others and we validate their particular experience.
  • Not creating division between various subjects or activities. All of life flows in and out of all of life. The subject of “math” doesn’t exist but we find numbers and patterns in everything.
  • Adamantly disagreeing that life should consist of unenjoyable work, that we should always follow all the rules or do things the same way everyone else does them. Feverishly questioning anything that tells us otherwise.
  • Trusting in ourselves first, each other next and all others last.
  • Respecting the boundaries of others and ourselves.
  • Taking responsibility for our choices and our life. It’s all about authenticity and empowerment.
  • Seeking our own life and not settling for someone else’s. Supporting others who do the same.
  • Building off our individual interests, creating a rich, diverse and engaging environment in which we can all thrive equally.
  • Respecting one another’s personal Truths or choices. But drawing definitive lines where the boundaries of another are being crossed.
  • Standing up for the little guy, especially the one without their own voice.
  • Knowing that life is good. Messy. Imperfect. Wonderful. Sometimes heart-wrenching. And loving it anyway.

How can you possibly explain all that in one short answer? It’s impossible to describe what this looks like when someone asks. Because unschooling is just life and although you can define life and you can explain it, it’s still something that must be seen and experienced to fully understand.

45 Replies to “Whole Life Unschooling: It’s For More Than Just Kids”

  1. We are currently a split family due to some medical issues with my family in CO where I am with the kids (boys 8 and 10) and working. My wife is MN trying to take of getting our stuff ready to move. We will be apart for about 1-2 months with her coming out 1-2 times to visit and school in CO starts in mid August, so I am trying to decide if I should try and home/unschool them in conjunction with working or out them in a public school. My job can be very demanding with lots of hours and unexpected calls (IT sucks by the way). Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    In Frith,

    1. @Devin, I sent you an email but I thought I had better post here too, in case anyone else is reading.

      I can tell you what we would do: ask your kids! Find a solution that works for everyone and if it turns out not to work, you can always try something else. πŸ™‚ Good luck through this transition! I’m sure it’s tough on all of you.

    2. Devin, I’m not sure if you have any interest in the Sudbury model, but if so, and if you are at all in the Denver area, I’d be happy to talk with you more about Alpine Valley School…
      buffygarber at gmail dot com

  2. I don’t have any short answer. I don’t have many long answers in life. I’m definitely unschooling every area of my life, I just didn’t know it until I read this.



  3. YES! YES! YES!

    Thank you so much for writing this post! We came to unschooling our children before even having children because this was how we viewed life for ourselves! Then it seemed like an amazing, empowering gift to give our children when we started our family. Except at that point we had no label or movement to define it by and in many ways we like to keep it that way.

    I’d have to say I think it’s more challenging to unschool your kids than yourself. Society sees me constantly learning and asking questions as “continuing my education” or being a “life learner” which is very much celebrated for adults. With the kids there is a bit more *gasp* but “what if”.

    1. “I’d have to say I think it’s more challenging to unschool your kids than yourself.”

      SO true! At worst people see our adult choices as eccentric. They allow for some level is “to each his own”, until it comes to kids.

  4. I love this. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve had to “de-school” from lots of things besides school and how I want to “unschool” myself in all areas of my life. Thanks for this post!

  5. Wow this is so powerful and inspiring. I think you describe unschooling in such an incredible way. Our children go to school for varying reasons, but we are “whole life unschooling” them when they are with us, if that makes any sense. We (and their teachers) are seeing how they are benefitting from our attempts to unschool (even though they don’t call it that) as much as possible, to be mindful in parenting them, to eschew commercial values, to follow their lead, to encourage independent thinking, etc). Your post gives me even more to think about! Thank you!

  6. Even though I do not unschool, everything you wrote can be applied to our lives as well, and many of the things that we strive for. Those are wonderful principals to follow!

  7. YES!!! Yay!!! Thank you Tara for spelling this out! I don’t know that there is any easy answer. I always get so frustrated with the lack of time to explain when people ask and then feel concerned if I got the important points in there so they don’t walk away thinkin’ someone should call Social Services and have my life examined! I also struggle with making this work in my/our life, but it may just be a life long lesson for me. My daughter asked me again this morning if she can go back to school, but her main concern is having time to play with friends. She is 6. I truly believe we are doing the best thing for our family and our children by unschooling. There are technicalities which need to be teaked, ie…having more time to play with friends, but at the end of the day I LOVE our choice and I think our kids do too.

  8. yeah – this has been on my mind – in various non-nonsensical ways – seriously, my mind is a jumble of thoughts and changes and re-examinations – and, i’m grateful and surprised to say, it’s not the least bit scary – just interesting and exciting to process through πŸ™‚

    1. @deb, I totally know where you are! Reprocessing and questioning and finding new answers. Definitely an exciting place to be! What’s even greater is the amazing metamorphosis you will witness in yourself and your life. It’s a completely different lens (or maybe it’s lens-less?) and so many cool, new things emerge from it.

  9. Thank you for this post!! My son is in public school, but these are the beliefs we raise him with! I never knew this is what un-schooling meant. I am also a leader of a Junior Grange, a youth organization with a focus on agriculture, family and community service. Our members ages 4 1/2 to 14 and this is how I hope to guide them. It is good to see it all written down. Thanks again πŸ™‚

  10. Having just quit my 9-5 (at possibly the most stupid time of major recession) to spend more time figuring out how me and my family should live, how we can slow down, how we can learn more and learn better, how we can love more, this post has come at just the right time for me!!
    So many voices tell you what you’re ‘supposed’ to do, it’s hard to tune into the real voices that speak to you in that intuitive way. I’m very scared of ‘unschooling’ my little boy (19 months old at the moment) but I know that deep down it makes the most sense to me. Family and friends don’t understand at all, so it’s great to have someone online to post about the positives. Keep your posts coming – I don’t always get time to comment but I do read and am massively inspired! Thanks!

  11. I feel like I am unschooling my life, though the word “unschooling” rarely comes to mind. I think it’s just something I have naturally felt the need to do, when recognizing so many many flaws in the accepted way of doing things. It doesn’t feel like any particular lifestyle…just living the way I want to live…believing in passions, dreams, following one’s bliss…

    It was being aware that the stressful job I used to have wasn’t something I HAD to have…and I was willing to do anything to get out of it…so that I could follow a passion instead. It is knowing that being a stay-at-home-mom doesn’t mean that I have to stay at home. We get to go where we want. I can give my child life experiences by getting him out. I only stay home and do the grunt work when I really want it to get done, or really believe that it should get done. It’s finding a balance that works.

    It’s knowing that one day, when I’m ready for it, we will buy a house with some land. Because that is my dream. And dreams happen.

    It’s respecting my son’s individuality. It’s encouraging my husband to do fun things when he gets the chance, but respecting the fact that he is just so dang practical. It’s not pushing my agenda on either of them. (Not that I have one.)

    It’s so many things. No wonder it’s hard to define. It’s…it’s…living in a way that makes SENSE, that brings us happiness.

  12. Yes! This is totally the way I see our lives, too! Even though this coming year I will be taking the reins a bit more in the education department, the rest of our lives rolls on in the same old unschooling groove! Really love this post!

  13. I’m so glad I have people in my life, like you, who are so articulate and able to put into words what I cannot!

  14. wonderful. πŸ™‚ saying yes to life, yes to each other, yes to our passions, putting our energy into what is meaningful TO US, being in the present moment, and trusting in the universe. πŸ™‚

  15. I read this list out loud to my husband on Sunday morning. I couldn’t help but get choked up at one point and he just sat there looking at me and finally said, “are you okay”.
    Your words are so powerful and thought provoking. They started a discussion between my husband and me – we are trying to figure out our next steps should one of us loose our job (a reality that could mean loosing the house). I keep telling him that as long as we have each other and the kids I will be fine- Trusting, knowing and accepting.
    Thank you for always putting out such amazing posts.

  16. Hi Tara,
    Am a new visitor and I have to say, I truly admire you and your philosophy. I am from India and things are very, very different here. However, I’d be sharing your unschooling way of life with my husband since I do think it would make a big difference to our quality of life. Life right now is very busy, my husband is dealing with TMJ pain, pressures at work, constant shift changes and our toddler is not dealing very well with all the changes. That leaves me feeling swamped with a whole lot of stuff. Unschooling can really help us, I think.
    Sorry about the long comment.
    A heart-felt “Thank You”.

  17. wonderful post.. great ‘explanation’. i wish we were unschoolers. We are ‘partially’ (can you be partially???) Anyway our son has special needs so there are things we do work on that are ‘structured’ but the dream for me is unschooling.. right down to the ‘on the road’ part. That’s a dream… But i’m afraid I’m the only one in the house thinking that way LOL.. so God would have to drive an RV up the driveway Himself for it to happen right now. really enjoy your blog

  18. i have always felt a connection with unschooling it just makes perfect sense! my issue/worry is, laws, “authority”. how do you deal with it? we live in massachusetts. MA is strict enough with homeschooling (they apparently want you to follow a chosen curriculum and will send people to check in with you at home (hello, what if we’re OUT learning, duh) and also require tests to be given/scores to be sent/paperwork to be filed, etc…) how does one work around that bull? move? i feel stuck on that aspect being a single mama of 3. my family does NOT support the idea.. *sad sighs* its terrible feeling the way i’ve been. “technically” i have a year to come up with a plan since my twins miss the age requirement for kindergarten– despite the fact they’ve been learning since they were in utero if you think about it. ) i dont have anyone to talk to about this..

  19. I was unschooled growing up. I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with it because my parents kept it a secret from everyone we knew. We were meant to be homeschooled but my mom neglected us due to her mental ilness and eventually physical illnesses as well. So, my education was based on how behind I felt with everyone else in school that I knew. But my perspective is very unique to other people because of this, so I’m grateful, and I’m still learning!

  20. Wonderful post! I have twins about to turn 2 years old. I plan on home schooling them. This post reinforces what I’ve always believed and known to be true and makes me excited about the years to come with my kids! The only way I can home school in VA without a degree is to give my kids a very traditional outline. But I plan on working through and around that. I think my number one focus will be to give them permission to follow their passions as they come and go.


  21. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This is the path we’ve chosen to take with our triplet daughters. Most don’t understand it. There is such a disciplined attitude about education, that the fun has been lost. Thank you!!! I’m so blessedly happy to find there are more like us out there!!!

  22. So if I am to unschool my whole life, I should think that parents’ and kids’ opinions and ideas have the same validity regardless of personal experience? So if my daughter really wants to climb on the roof because she can get really close to a birds nest she’s interested in, her opinion on the matter should carry the same weight as my experienced perspective that the roof is slippery and dangerous?

    The second question I have is with the unschool idea that people are inherently good. If goodness in inherent, then why does goodness need to be taught to children? Children don’t inherently share their toys, or filter their words so they don’t hurt people’s feelings. They learn these things (or in the case of many parents – don’t) from observing their parents, or having goodness demonstrated.

    Have you read the lord of the flies?

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad to see this idea has you thinking deeply on the matter. πŸ™‚

      Yes, your daughter’s desire to see the bird’s nest and your desire to keep her safe are both *valid*…valid meaning they are equally as important to each of you, respectively. Your role as her parent is to help her navigate the world, using your experience and knowledge to do so in a way that is safe. The roof can be dangerous, but with your help I’m sure you can use your wisdom and experience to help her meet her need for learning and satiate her curiosity in a way that is safe. That might look like helping her climb the roof or it might look like finding a different way to view the nest. Together you can figure that out.

      And yes, most definitely, your child is inherently good. When you looked into her newborn face the first time I’m sure you felt her inherent goodness and perfection. She was just born into a messy world. You’re not teaching her to be good. You’re helping her navigate the world and our social structure. And we work best when we do that with love and compassion for their learning curve.

  23. I would add something about redefining gender and allowing others to define their own gender and gender roles. And celebrating them.

    I do love that you put in a bit about being respectful of difference but also drawing clear boundaries. Boundaries are SO important, and so often forgotten in so-called ‘tolerant’ spaces, especially the more politically correct those spaces are. Ymmv of course, but that is my experience.

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