Christian Faith Homeschooling Relaxed Homeschooling

How We Ended Up (Almost) Unschoolers

How We Ended Up (Almost) Unschoolers 2

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Of everything that has happened to me as a parent, perhaps nothing has surprised me and bewildered me more than the fact that we have ended up as (almost) unschoolers. Homeschooling was always on my radar. Unschooling was not.

I have a teaching degree. I was in a specialized program that focused on creating effective learning curriculum. How is it that I could end up basically unschooling my daughter?

In reality, it has been a slow process of me letting go of preconceived ideas, but if I could do it over again we would have fully embraced unschooling from the start. It’s how Caroline has learned best to this point and it would have saved me a lot of grief and angst and money. If you aren’t familiar with our homeschooling and parenting journey, there are zillions of posts that I have written about that under Home Education and Gifted/2e Children. I’m not going to rehash all of those topics again, but look at a bigger picture aspect of how we ended up here.

Along the way, I’ve come to the conclusion that unschooling is often something you grow into as a homeschooling parent. Once you start homeschooling you realize that so much of what kids are asked to do is mindless busywork – even from the best programs. Kids have better things to do with their childhood than spend half a year learning how to multiply when if you wait another year or two they will master it in literally thirty minutes. You can spend a month teaching them to write a five sentence paragraph when they are eight or you can do it in three days when they are ten. And so you begin to realize how much learning can take place without traditional structures.

Train Up a Child

As I mentioned when I wrote about discipling children in Christ outside of traditional church structures, our understanding of the power of unschooling has developed and evolved along with going deeper in our faith. In that post, I shared two videos. I’m going to share one of them again here. Wayne Jacobson is answering a question about what it means to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). He has an interesting take on this and I encourage you to watch just a couple of minutes from 27:57 to 30:40.

Learning to Live Loved: An Interview with Wayne Jacobsen, Part 1 of 2 from Wayne Jacobsen on Vimeo.

There are a few things he said that resonated loudly with me where my faith and my homeschooling world intersect (which is actually every place).

“Train up a child according to the way that he is and he will not depart from that. It’s not indoctrinating to a kind of standard or ethic, but rather raising a child true to who God has made them to be… It’s not the standardizing of behavior…”

When I listen to this, I think not only of trying to point Caroline to God as her heavenly Father, but also pointing her to God as the Creator of who she is. She is going to relate to God differently than I do because she is a different person. Yes, we want to instruct her on the basics of the Christian faith because we want her to have a framework to understand the Bible, the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc. But I need to be pointing her as an individual to God, not instructing her on a list of acceptable behaviors that will make people at church think she is a good little girl. Sometimes the behaviors that will make people think someone is a good little girl are in direct opposition to who God has created a child to be.

Jacobson describes Sunday Schools as teaching children morality plays that school kids in performance-based stuff. That makes sense to me because school is typically all performance based. That carries over into the traditional church as churches adopt school structures while attempting to help children in their spiritual growth – often in ways that don’t work for indiviudal children who don’t fit the traditional grade level parameters. Christianity ultimately becomes for many children about performance instead of walking with the Creator who made them unique and delightful individuals.

Unschooling, Faith and Relationships

Unschooling is above all about relationships. It has to be. When you unschool you have to be very in tune with what your child is thinking, learning, exploring, etc. so you can support her in those area. Unschooling doesn’t equal neglect which is what people often think when they first hear of it. It’s just the opposite of neglecting your child’s education. It’s being very relational and intentional with your child’s learning. But there is no doubt it looks and feels completely different than performance-based school.

Because unschooling is highly relational, it also fits well with Christian discipleship. As Jacobson explains elsewhere in the video, discipleship works best in close one-on-one relationships. Unschooling is the perfect vehicle for that.

When I was on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, my very favorite part of student ministry was meeting one-on-one with students to encourage them in their walk with Christ. It was never my intention to come in and tell them what they needed to do. I would talk with them, understand where they were on their faith journey, and we would try to devise a plan of something to do together. We might do a Bible study. We might read a book and discuss it. It was always driven by where they were and where they wanted to go or grow in their faith. I was there to encourage and bounce ideas off of. Their journey was their own. I was just someone sent along at that point of the journey to help equip them for the next step.

Discipling my child should be no different. Yes, I am the parent and there are some things I know she needs to learn. But if I am discipling her as the unique individual God has made her to be, our homeschooling journey isn’t going to look like anyone else’s. We’re going to make intensely personal and focused decisions along the way, refine our choices and keep going.

This is part of the reason why I don’t do extensive planning for our homeschooling. How can I? I don’t know what we’ll be interested in next November. I don’t know when I will sense a learning leap coming on and we can learn a bunch of stuff in a short and easy amount of time. I choose to focus on the relationship each day and know that the rest of it will fall into place.

We are (Almost) Unschoolers

So why is the (almost) in the title? We are almost unschoolers because I do require some work from Caroline. We do handwriting and math primarily, but not every day. We’ll do no formal math for quite some time and then we’ll do it for a few weeks. Most of the time when I ask her to do something she picks it up very quickly. I think oftentimes I’m more affirming she has learned something than I am trying to teach her something. I find that fits better with the unschooling model, but also gives me some peace of mind.

I expect how this all happens will change as Caroline grows. At nine and a half, I’m starting to see her take bits of initiative in new ways that lean toward the academic (something she has usually resisted). But I’m in no hurry to push her along. She’s only nine and she has plenty of time to focus on more formal academics in the years ahead if that seems prudent for our family. Will we always be unschoolers? I don’t know. She may surprise me and want to move in another direction at some point. But that will be because it is best for who God created her to be, not because I decided it was what I wanted. It’s her learning and faith journey. I’m here to point her to God, help her understand who she is, and find the best ways to joyfully bring that all together as her gift to the world.

Explore More About Unschooling

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural WorldHome Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural WorldFree to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for LifeFree to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for LifeWhat is Unschooling?: Living and Learning without SchoolWhat is Unschooling?: Living and Learning without SchoolThe Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's ClassroomThe Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s ClassroomUnschooling: A Lifestyle of LearningUnschooling: A Lifestyle of LearningBig Book of UnschoolingBig Book of UnschoolingProject-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed LearnersProject-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed LearnersThe Unschooling Unmanual: Nurturing Children's Natural Love of LearningThe Unschooling Unmanual: Nurturing Children’s Natural Love of Learningan unschooling manifesto: how one family found the freedom to live their dreamsan unschooling manifesto: how one family found the freedom to live their dreamsThe Beginner's Guide to Unschooling: Everything You Need To Know About Unschooling Your Kids And Why Should YouThe Beginner’s Guide to Unschooling: Everything You Need To Know About Unschooling Your Kids And Why Should You


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  • I absolutely love this! And really needed to read it right now! That video  extrememly inspirational to me! And helped relieve a lot of my worries about various subjects. I can’t thank you enough, and look forward to exploring your site and learning more!

  • Thanks for reminding us night owls that we’re not alone among the larks!

    I don’t hate morning people, but I get pretty close to just wanting to crawl back in under my rock at times, since they dominate the homeschool blogosphere with their amazing morning routines, cheerful parents and happy kids, perfect schoolrooms, and being done with school by lunchtime (I’m naturally generalizing here, but that’s the vibe I get. If my kids sleep to 10am, and I managed somehow to trick my husband to doing my farm chores before he goes to work, I’m sleeping in, too!) My own brain doesn’t seem to get off autopilot until after 2pm, and about 4 cups of strong coffee… We aren’t quite there yet with formally “schooling” with a 2 year old and soon (mandatory school starting age in our state is the day the kid turns 8), a newborn, but our mornings are never going to be “school time”, ever, even if we are already decided on homeschooling.

    Our family consists of creative night owls (my husband is in the IT industry, and goes into work on time for a 10:45 am meeting, and stays up late after getting home at 7-8pm), and my mornings, when I must wake up before everyone else, are dedicated to farm chores, an uninterrupted cup of HOT coffee, and if I still have time, reviewing my calendar for the day, then cuddle back up in bed for snuggles when the kids wake up…

    If we have a “field trip” planned, I plan it around predictable off-hours at the location, to avoid traffic and crowds. Sometimes it means going on my annual Ikea pilgrimage as close to 9 am as I can on a Tuesday (our local store opens at 10, but the restaurant serves breakfast before opening, so there’s parking, and a chance to eat a meal I didn’t have to cook, for $1 a person), or going to a museum or a zoo during times when local schoolchildren and other SAHM families with kids are occupied elsewhere (afternoon, but before schools are out works pretty well).

  • I was actually convinced I commented on the post on afternoon vs. morning homeschooling, not an unschooling (I didn’t see this post until my computer showed that my comment posted) post, but my computer isn’t the newest or best out there.

  • I just found your blog and I’m loving it. It’s refreshing to read the perspective of someone else that aligns with my own!

  • Oh how I needed this today. I have been struggling. By nature I am a free spirit. I have homeschooled since pre-k (for my now 2nd grader) + 4 year old. The pressure placed on me, by society and myself has become a constant tug of war. My soul says unschool but my mind has fought this idea since day one. We have yet to fall into a comfortable homeschool schedule and I think it’s because the concept of structured learning is foreign to our nature. I think this was the inspiration I needed to finally let go of public expectations and embrace how we learn best. Thank you for taking the time to share your personal journey, when you write you never know how many people you might inspire.

    • Hi Raquel,

      I’m so glad you found this post encouraging. My goal in writing has always been that the right person will find the right post at the right time. Sometimes that person doesn’t find the post for months or even years. But I’m always so happy to learn when they do. Thank you for letting me know!

  • I am so glad to find this post today. I was sitting asking God questions about this year homeschooling. What curriculum to use and ideas to help this year go as best as possible. Listening to the video was something that spoke very loud to what God is saying for my family this year. I’ve placed all of this expectations on my self and my children that has us completely burned out to say the least. I am so encouraged to take time to listen to my children and their needs. Thank you for your post 🙂

    • Emelina,

      THANK YOU for this comment. My prayer has always been that the right person will find the right post at the right time. It’s such a blessing to me when people let me know that has happened. You just made my day. Thank you!


  • I am in tears reading this today! I have a typical 8 yr old soon to turn 9- boy. My only child. We have been homeschooling since he was 5. Never went to school. This post could have been written by me! Every word. I am a big believer of delayed academics, a relaxed life of learning and most importantly, discipling my child in the way of the Lord. I have not seen any point in sitting down and making a schedule wherein he has to memorize the catechism or the memory verses from awana or God alone knows what else christian families enforce in the name of school. Well intentioned ofcourse but fear driven nevertheless. Don’t get me wrong, I have also fallen for all that Sunday school jazz, but it never sat well with my soul. We are not traditional unschoolers, as in just like you, we do work on maths and minimum reading in a day for example, however, interestingly, my decision to become relaxed homeschoolers bordering on unschooling came togther at an intersection of our spiritual journey. Me and my husband became ‘unchurched’. We read Wayne Jacobsen, Richard Jacobsen etc and realized what a dead place we had been all these years. How could we be authentic in our faith esp now that we are parents too! There’s much at stake! Briefly, I tied myself up with amblesideonline. And we were miserable with all that cloying schedules/methods/expectations etc. the curriculum is fabulous but we are made by God to follow him, not other experts, no matter how well meaning. Sure, it is all intended for our well being, but it’s easy to forget that only scriptures are Spirit breathed and are enough to guide us in every aspect. Most of it is fear, homescooling is a fearful journey anyway…. but I take comfort in knowing, my Lord is my ever present help. Sa? I am also grateful for writers like you. I don’t think it’s chance that I landed here. I have been anxious this week, trying hard and desperately to give up all controls and trust that He will keep my child, even after I am gone, school or no school. As of today and after reading this post, I am giving up deadlines, crazy schedules and anxieties that my son doesn’t yet know his tables!! A big Thankyou to you, you don’t know how much this post has done for me. I took a print out and tacked it on my fridge. God bless you and yours.

    Harshika, mommy to Yohaan, 8.5

    • Harshika,

      Your comment blessed me so much! I’m so thankful you found this post and God used it to confirm what you were already realizing about your child and your family life. I pray God blesses you much as you seek to trust Him and make those changes.


  • I first started reading Classical Conversations and why we didn’t join, then ended up here. We were in CC for 5 years, and most of our good friends are still in it. We ventured on our own 2 1/2 years ago, and have moved to Unschooling! In my world, no one is like us or thinks about parenting and education the way I do. I love my friends, but it can be lonely to feel like I’m the odd ball out. Reading your articles feels like you read my diary!!! It’s so encouraging to hear other people who have been on similar paths and have made similar conclusions. Thank you for sharing 😊

    • Kara,

      I’m so glad you were encouraged by the posts you read. It makes me happy to discover that something I wrote helped someone in their journey. Keep doing what you know is right for your family. That’s the most important part of homeschooling!

  • Thanks so much for this post! We will pull our son out of school next year and begin our unschooling journey! This post was so reassuring to me. Thanks!


Sallie-Schaaf-Borrink-060313-B-250x250I’m Sallie and I help people create a cozy life that surrounds them and their loved ones with peace, understanding, and joy. By cultivating a cozy home, we create a haven of rest and growth for every area – parenting, education, marriage, and faith. Welcome! ♥

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