12 Unschooling Misconceptions (and Why They’re Wrong)

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There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what unschooling is, how it works, what people mean when they use the term… So I wanted to do a post on the topic addressing some of the biggest misunderstandings that seem to crop up repeatedly.


Misconception #1: unschooling is just a synonym for homeschooling.

While unschooling falls under the homeschooling umbrella, it is its own unique approach, lifestyle, and understanding of how learning works and how children should be treated.

While “homeschooling” frequently means school-at-home, unschooling is delight-driven, interest-based, self-directed life learning. It’s children owning their own education, learning what, where, when, how, and with whom they want (within reasonable constraints).

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Misconception #2: Unschooling is just educational neglect.

Unschooling does NOT mean abandoning children to their own devices. Adult carers take an active, involved role in the lives of unschooling children, acting as guides and partners in learning, finding resources, and creating environments that foster exploration,. Their role is just collaborative, instead of that of “teacher.”

Misconception #3: Parents must just be sneakily “teaching” their kids, then.

Nope! As I said recently on Facebook:
“[That belief] seems to rest on the assumption that children directing their own learning is such an absurd idea that there MUST be a mastermind carefully crafting the process behind the scenes…

And while there is certainly a great deal of parental involvement, it’s not through subterfuge.

Unschooling as a philosophy is about respecting children, not tricking them into learning. They WANT to learn, they just need the resources and support to do so.”

Unschooling requires a shift in understanding about what learning is and how children should be treated. Trusting and respecting children is central to unschooling, and trying to manipulate children into doing what the adults want would completely undermine that.

Misconception #4: You can unschool part time.

The assumption behind this claim is generally that weekends and summer break can be for “unschooling,” after the REAL learning has taken place in school. But as I hope is becoming clear, unschooling is a lifestyle, it’s a whole different way of approaching living and learning with children. It’s not something you stuff into spare moments, and it can’t be done without challenging dominant ideas about schooling.

See Why Can’t You Just Unschool Part Time?

Misconception #5: Unschooling is just a way for parents to isolate their children from the wider world, to keep them away from the “wrong” sorts of people and influences.

I think it’s hard to convey to those outside of the community just how wide a schism there is between religious and secular homeschooling/homeschoolers. The ideology is NOT the same.

Members of the fundamentalist and evangelical homeschooling movement often DO want to isolate their kids. Unschoolers, though, tend to fall heavily on the secular side of reasons-for-homeschooling (whatever their personal beliefs or religion are), and do not want their children isolated at all.

I tend to make the distinction between those who want kids to have MORE access to the world than school provides, vs those who want kids to have LESS access. Generally more = good, less = bad in terms of the experience kids have.

See Homeschooling the Right Way: More of the World, Not Less 

Misconception #6: Unschooling means you stay at home all the time.

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