School’s Out Forever: Unschooling Explained

Image of brothers in bathings suits playing with the sprinklers in their backyard. The title, "School's Out Forever: Unschooling Explained" is written on top.

Every year, as she drove my brother and I home from the last day of school, my mother would burst forth in song:

No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks! School’s out for summer!

My mother is known to frequently belt out a single line of a song. I love that about her. As a child, I never felt I could truly let go of the pressures of the school year until my mom sang summer vacation into being.  

Several years ago, as my oldest son was finishing up kindergarten, I sang the line at the top of my lungs, carrying on the family tradition. My sweet five year old looked up at me with wide eyes and exclaimed, “What in the WORLD are you talking about?”

Image of a toddler's backlit hands playing with magnetic blocks on a light table.

We are an unschooling family. School is never out for summer — because there is no school.

So, what exactly is unschooling?

I am so glad you asked!

Unschooling is a form of homeschooling that puts aside traditional methods of education. It allows learning to happen naturally. Unschooled kids do not attend school and they do not do school at home either. They have the freedom to learn what they are interested in at their own pace and in their own way.  

While unschooling families share a similar philosophy, no two unschooling families look alike. In general, unschooled children lead the way in their own education. Unschooling parents simply supervise, support and — let’s be honest — fund their child’s interests and activities. Unschooling families have faith that children will be motivated to learn what they need to know to achieve their personal goals. An unschooled child might not follow the same timeline as a child in traditional school but, as proven by successful unschoolers time and time again, they will get where they want to go eventually.

Image of an unschooling three year old standing on a red stool at the kitchen counter and mixing up corn muffins for dinner.

“Unschooled” does not mean uneducated, unparented, or unsocialized.

These are the most common misconceptions about the lifestyle. Unschooling is only possible when the entire family is on board. I am fully present and attentive to my children’s education. There are also absolutely boundaries and expectations in our family; we simply choose to navigate those boundaries through cooperation rather than coercion. Lastly, my children spend every waking moment socializing! They can navigate the world with ease in ways even I still struggle with. They order their own food at restaurants, make fast friends with strangers at the playground, and join new groups effortlessly. Chattanooga is a great place to homeschool and also has an active unschooling community. We even have unschooling friends in our neighborhood!

Image of unschooling friends looking at Pokemon cards on a bench outside a coffee shop

Family time, community involvement, and childhood freedom are just as important as educational goals within unschooling.

There is time for reading, writing, and arithmetic. There is also time to play and daydream and build meaningful relationships. Above all, an unschooling family has to trust that, in a healthy environment, a child will learn to love learning. Through a continued love of learning, that child will be able to access all he or she needs to know to succeed in life.

When I first heard of unschooling, it sounded extreme. But as we fell into it, it proved to be the most natural thing in the world.

My oldest son just finished first grade. He is an avid reader and a master of science. He has a wicked imagination, loves Pokémon and Minecraft, and makes killer homemade tortillas. My four year old knows his letters and numbers. He is also an artist, drawing or painting every chance he gets. He regularly cooks dinner for the family, helps with laundry, and works hard in the garden. The baby is just along for the wild ride. When we decided to homeschool, I never anticipated that my children would teach me more than I could ever teach them, but I cannot imagine living life any other way.  

Image of toddler playing with a light table and magnetic blocks at a children's museum

Of course, unschooling will not work for everyone.

However, I do genuinely believe everyone can learn something from this way of life!
    • Free play has infinite value.

      Children need unstructured time. It is amazing what can happen when every minute of a child’s day is not spoken for. Creativity is born out of boredom.

    • Learning is life and life is learning.

      Education is not something that happens during designated hours. It happens every day in a million ways! Children learn while hiking mountains, reading comic books, watching movies, eating dinner, and even just staring into space. If you can train yourself to look for ways your children are learning, you will begin to see that there really isn’t time when they aren’t! 

    • Kids are capable.

      Kids are capable of greatness! With the right tools and support, a child can cook a meal, build a website, build a treehouse, grow a garden, or teach himself to read. Set high goals for your children and watch them thrive.

Image of an older brother reading to his younger brother on the couch. The book is titled, "A Tale of Two Daddies."

My kids will probably never understand the meaning behind the song that I fully intend to keep belting out at the beginning of every summer, but we do have our own fun summer traditions. One thing you will never see on our summer bucket list? A “break” from learning. If you suggested that to my kids, they would probably say, “What in the WORLD are you talking about?”

When learning is fun, why would you ever want to stop?

Interested in learning more about unschooling?

What is Unschooling?

The Master List of Unschooling Resources

Unschooling Book List

To connect with other unschoolers in the Chattanooga area, please join the Chattanooga Unschooler Facebook group.

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One Response to School’s Out Forever: Unschooling Explained

  1. Tiffany Merritt June 23, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Such a timely article, since my family is taking the leap into home schooling this fall! Thanks for sharing!