Unschooling: An Educational Alternative

An increasing number of families are exercising their freedom of choice to the extreme when it comes to their children's education. They've decided to break with the system and look to other alternative trends, such as unschooling.Parents who choose this method have realized that there's much more to it than just abandoning the curriculum. It becomes a lifestyle of learning, where parents and children enjoy exploring their interests and passions together, while learning along the way.
Unschooling: An Educational Alternative

Last update: 23 March, 2023

We’re in drastic need of changing the way in which we view children and understand their education. That’s because children are already whole and, ideally, we should allow that whole to manifest itself. In fact, educating should mean extracting knowledge from them, letting it out, and allowing it to flourish, not introducing them to academic knowledge.

From the paradigm of alternative education, it’s believed that children are already connected with their inner selves. Indeed, it’s us, as adults, and the environment who disconnect them from their true selves. Unschooling is an alternative pedagogical option. It proposes to respect the genuineness of children: their interests, passions, rhythms, and even their motor needs. Let’s find out more.

Unschooling and its origins

The pedagogical trend of unschooling arose from the theories of John Holt.  He was an American author and educator. In his book, Teach Your Own, he proposed freeing children and adolescents from formal education which, according to him, inhibits and limits the creative capacity with which they’re born. Unschooling means respecting the natural learning processes of children and, above all, their intellectual and emotional rhythms.

The focus shouldn’t be on how well they do something but on what they do, what motivates them, what interests them, and what makes them passionate. Fostering their passions, not discouraging them, should be the real function of any adults in their lives. Identifying their talents is essential since we all have something to offer humanity.

The freedom of anyone, young or old, to choose why, what, when, how, and from whom they learn things is a key element in John Holt’s work. The concept of unschooling proposes natural or autonomous learning. Nobody directs the child from the outside unless it’s they themselves who show interest in something in particular or need it. One example is how children learn to speak their mother tongue. By being exposed to it, they learn it. It’s done by immersion, not by being taught by someone.

No matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used.”

-John Holt-

Unschooling tries to respect the genuineness of the learning processes that exist in children.

Implications of unschooling

Unschooling promotes permanent dialogue with children in order to define the topics to be discussed. Children are encouraged to play, explore, and ask without boundaries or schedules. They investigate on their own, with the conscious and responsible accompaniment of their parents.

Thus, reading, adding, or subtracting aren’t skills that are acquired at a certain age or from an overly structured system. In fact, they arise naturally, when each child is spontaneously interested in developing them.

Unschooling is a more radical educational method than homeschooling. It involves creating a learning environment based on the understanding that human beings learn best when they’re interested and engaged, and when they’re personally involved and motivated.

Giving the child a voice

Conventional schools are organized for the convenience of the daily lives of adults, not children. They don’t favor the development of creativity. On the contrary, they repress it. No one looks at the child or their true needs. For this reason, it’s imperative that they’re given more say.

Unschooling revitalizes parent-child relationships. It offers the possibility of living with joy and passion as a family and building healthy relationships in an environment where children are free to discover and become the people they were born to be.

The value of intrinsic motivation in learning

For a child to learn, their intrinsic motivation has to be awakened. That’s the kind that comes from within, from the heart, not the external motivation that depends on rewards, threats, and punishments.

We tend to think that to learn there has to be someone to teach. However, the true engine of learning is curiosity and intrinsic motivation. It shouldn’t involve someone deciding what should be learned, when, and at what pace. In fact, helping to learn isn’t the same as wanting to teach. In fact, with unschooling, the protagonist isn’t the one who intends to teach, but the one who wants, desires, or needs to learn.

From unschooling, the protagonist is not who intends to teach, but who wants, wants or needs to learn.

Children out of the system

Traditional formal education forces the child to repress their rhythms as they have to adapt to the group or the teacher. Everyone must do the same thing at the same time and in the same way. Teaching is directed and forced. This depersonalization totally distances the child from their true self. Furthermore, it ultimately disconnects them from their life purpose. Therefore, many children reach adolescence completely disconnected and without even knowing who they are, where they come from, or where they want to go.

Unschooling invites families and educators to trust, learn to be patient, and accept that each moment of true learning will come. That said, as adults, it’s difficult for us to trust true human potential since so few trusted ours. Indeed, the great challenge for adults is learning to trust that a child is capable of developing autonomously.

In conclusion, in order to have access to the essential being of each child and their innate talents, they must be allowed to connect with their own rhythms in a safe environment, emotionally speaking. In other words, they should be allowed to be who they are so they can get to where they want to go.

“A child does not need a school to learn, grow and develop. They need loving parents who accept them and love them for who they are.”

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Álvarez, T. (2020). Más allá de la escuela: historias de aprendizaje libre. Versal hacemos libros.
  • Dodd, S. (2009). Big Book of Unschooling. Edición online
  • Laborda, Y. (2019). Dar voz al niño: ser los padres que nuestros hijos necesitan. Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.
  • Laricchia, P. (2016). What is Unschooling? Living and learning without school. Edición online.
  • McDonald, K. (2019). Unschooled; Raising Curious, Well-educated children, Outside the Conventional Classroom. Edición online.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.