Friday, February 6, 2009


or: The Lazy Mother's Approach to Educating Her Children

"Unschooling" is a term used by parents, most notably mothers, who supposedly homeschool their children without ever actually teaching them much. A favorite catchphrase of unschoolers is "Learning happens at all times."

In essence, unschoolers think that using any sort of curriculum (purchased or designed yourself) and having the child do book work or worksheets is at best useless and at worst stifles the child's natural love for learning. Instead, they believe children learn best by simply tagging along with a parent throughout the day, and then making their own observations. They will use the example of baking, and how it teaches the child about fractions while whipping up a treat, rather than having to sit down with a math book and practice adding/subtracting/multiplying/reducing fractions.

Among homeschoolers, it is very easy to spot an "unschooler" a mile away. In the general population, they may be mistaken for the product of public schooling, which tends to leave weak students behind. Some telltale signs that someone is an "unschooler" are:

- When asked about what grade level their child's studies are, they cannot give a simple answer.
- The parent neither buys any worksheets, nor makes up their own or prints them off the internet for free.
- Both parent and child are painfully compromised in the areas of spelling, grammar, punctuation, composition, etc.
- The child only has basic reading skills.
- The child has very limited knowledge of basic historical and scientific facts, and what they do know is self-taught.
- They are out and about most of the day, rather than staying home.
- When they are home, the child is mostly left to him/herself to play, watch TV, surf the web, etc.
- Unschooling parents often also fail in other areas of their responsibilites, such as keeping up with the housework.

First off, the Bible commands parents to diligently teach their children:

Deuteronomy 6:7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Deuteronomy 11:19 And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Since "unschooling" fails to fulfill these commands, it is an unscriptural concept.

There are several reasons why parents "unschool", such as:

- The parent has poor education themselves.
- The parent was duped into believing "unschooling" works.
- The parent believes it is their obligation to teach their child rather than put them in a traditional school, but they are too lazy/unorganized/unmotivated to do it.
- A lack of discipline on the part of the parent.
- In the case of daughters, parents often mistakenly believe that they do not need an education because their daughter will grow up to "just" get married and have children, and never pursue an outside career.
- A fear that educating the child will take up too much time and interfere with the child's spiritual growth, or make the child hate learning.

I do think that the main root of all these is laziness. Even an uneducated person could learn with their child as they teach him/her. Educating a child can be tedious work. It takes motivation, patience, self-discipline, time, and more patience. In the short run, it is not as much fun as bargain hunting at the thrift store, baking cookies, or going on a trip. But in the long run, you owe it to your children to give them a solid foundation for a love for lifelong learning.

It is not true that unschooled children love learning more than a child who is forced to finish their work even on days that they don't feel like it. Just the opposite is true. An unschooled child will be acutely aware of the fact that they have huge gaps in their education, which will make them feel inferior, and thereby even less motivated to learn. People tend to love what they are good at.

Children naturally are somewhat lazy, and will try to get by with doing as little work as possible. This is normal, and the child simply has to be taught to love to work much like they are taught everything else by their parents. Unschooling may lead to children who lack self-discipline like their parents.

Even girls need a solid education that extends past an elementary level. For one, just because they will "only" be homemakers doesn't mean their mind should be wasted. Mathematics is a wonderful subject that trains the mind unlike anything else, regardless of what your life's calling is. The same is true for science, history, and other subjects. Anyone sounds stupid when they have horrible spelling and don't know the first thing about punctuation. Nobody ever learned calculus by studying measuring spoons and cups while baking. Besides, said daughters will grow up one day, get married, and have children that she in turn will have to educate herself. What if she has a son, who will need to have the abilities to earn a living to support his family in today's world, but his unschooled mom never taught him anything because she herself had not been educated?

Nor does a good education stand in the way of one's spiritual growth. When Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took Judah captive, he wanted the finest and brightest of the children at his court:

Daniel 1:4 Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.

Later, the only people who stood for God and refused to bow down to the king's image were these same children. Hence, getting a solid education did not hinder their spiritual walk.

As far as the "learning happens at all times" goes, I would like to submit that yes, it does, which is exactly why making a child sit down to do his worksheets will not be detrimental to his schooling. I would think that if kids can learn without being actively taught, how much more would they learn if someone took the time and effort to educate them?

Summary: Parents are obligated by the Bible to teach their children themselves. Unschooling does not fulfill this command, and is therefore a wrong concept. Unschooled children more often than not will grow up to be uneducated.


  1. This is actually I really good post. I have disagreed with some of your writings in the past, but I found myself nodding along to this post. I have also read post from some other homeschooling bloggers that have come out against the "unschooling" practice.

    I don't homeschool because 1)I'm a single parent and it is not even possible and 2) I don't feel I have the education myself.

  2. I don't have kids, and I know I won't be homeschooling them when I do have them (for various reasons I won't list here). However, I didn't even know that there were parents out there who did that sort of "unschooling" thing. How entire generation of people who will invariably end up living on the "system" because Lord knows they cannot be even slightly prepared to hold a job with that sort of education...

    Kudos to you or anyone else who has it in you to homeschool your children. I think some of your views are downright....well I think they're different but they are yours and you don't make bones about them so kudos to that too.

  3. You must have met some pretty unusual unschoolers. The ones I know have very bright children who are active learners. My very good friend is an unschooler and her kids seem o be geting a pretty sound education. Granted, unschooling can take up a lot more time on the parents part because you have to maintain a certain atmosphere in your home. If parents allow things like tv and video games then those can inrude a lot on the amosphere and devalue the educational aspect. In my experience-I have been Hsing for many years (12yrs)-using a lot of worksheets and desk work is a crutch for lazy parents who would rather not have to do anything except pass out papers and make assignments.

  4. I wanted to say that I don't think parents who use worksheets some are lazy-I was trying to say that parents who only use worksheets without any active hands on learning which requires effort on the teachers part-are being just as lazy as some unschoolers you have met.
    by the way-my t key sticks-sorry for the typos.

  5. I have seen a family that "unschooled". The oldest child "graduated", but was unable to read! Your statement about "Unschooling parents often also fail in other areas of their responsibilites, such as keeping up with the housework." is true about this family. I am afraid to visit because of their filthy house.

    The sad thing about this family is the oldest child move to another state, got married and took his wife's last name because he wants nothing to do with his own family.

    "Unschooling" is not for me! From my own experience of being homeschooled by my mother, I would like to add that homeschooling is not for the lazy, unorganized, or unmotivated parent it doesn't matter if you are using traditional curriculum or "unschooling".

  6. I have worked in education for over 30 years, and I had never heard the term 'unschooling' until I read it here on your blog. Since I'm not familiar with the practice, I can't really comment on it one way or the other, but I do wonder how these families present their plan to the state where they reside.

    I personally don't think that children learn much if anything from completing worksheets. Worksheets should be used for practice and review after a skill has been taught. Often, they become busy work, a way to keep the child busy while the teacher (or mother) attends to other matters. I believe that children learn best through direct instruction, which includes carefully planned and organized lessons and lots of teacher/child interaction. I think parents who homeschool their children have a wonderful oppoturnity to accelerate their own children's learning through direct instruction.

    Like you, I have serious doubts about 'unschooling' and its effectiveness. Are you aware of any studies which have been done on the children who have experienced the unschooling method? I would be interested in seeing the results.

  7. The Bible commands parents to teach their children God's commands not their abc's. I agree with just about everything you have witten here and have enjoyed your blog however I really feel you took these verses out of context. I am thrilled you are teaching your children God's commands along with Jesus' teaching. From this piece I don't think it's wrong to assume that, right?

  8. I have some friends that are unschoolers and they are all very very bright. I remember asking them about unschooling and teaching reading. Most unschoolers say "just like they learned to walk, they'll learn everything else." I just can't help but remember how much effort it took to teach my son how to read.

    Also last year a talk show host featured homeschoolers. I never watched the show, but read a couple of blogs about it. The homeschool community was upset because the show featured unschoolers, and most homeschoolers are not unschoolers. Only 1-2% of homeschoolers are unschoolers and many in the homeschool community felt like the talk show host did not fairly represent homeschoolers.

  9. It has been my experience that a lot of unschoolers are just what you have said--lazy parents. True "unschooling" is not ignoring the fact that your child needs to learn things, but rather going along with the child's interests and doing things related to them, or doing what's called "strewing" learning opportunities in the child's path.

    One person I really respect who I believe classifies herself as an unschooler now is Melissa Wiley --however she is not the kind of unschooler you're talking about at all, as she actually makes sure her kids learn. I'm on a homeschooling email group with some unschoolers and some of the stuff is pretty scary. Kids not learning to read or do basic math by the age of 10 and 11 because they are not interested in it. My son isn't interested in learning subtraction, either....but he still has to do it!

    (And yes, we homeschool--we use Sonlight Core 1 at the moment.)

  10. FYI -

  11. I agree with the above comment that Deuteronomy 6:7 refers to God's Word not math, spelling and such.

    I do use curriculum with my children but we have also untilized the "unschooling" approach in some areas of schooling. It has been wonderful for my family. I do think; however, unschooling may work better for a smaller family because they may have more time to plan, explore, and find ways to learn through taking a hands on approach rather then through books alone.
    Some things that we must learn just can't be taught without traditional teaching methods. I haven't met a kid yet that has learned his multiplication facts without memorizing his times tables. Not everything we learn is going to be fun, that's life, but it has to be done.

  12. This is a thoughtful article, however the use of scripture is done in an inappropriate manner (albeit with good intentions).
    As mentioned, the Deut. scriptures refer to the learning of the Torah. The Daniel scripture refers to the selection requirements used by the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, given to leaders under him to pick and choose young men from Judah. Neither scripture ascertains any implication of teaching methodology.

    To call anything "unscriptural" implies that it is contrary to scripture. But there is nothing "unscriptural" here in this article. Every culture group in different eras, puts its trust in a certain method of teaching the next generation. The modern day Schools are very much a production of the last few centuries alone. But group learning has always existed in some form in many cultures. Historically many cultures, including ancient Israel, simply believed in transmitting skills to the descendants. Just as Jesus was a carpenter with his family, other families transmitted skills as well. But they had group learning at a young age too, with regard to memorizing from the Torah.

    I don't know much about Unschooling, but it sounds more like an attempt to go counter-cultural specifically against the school system. But in most countries today, families are not be given the option to choose an alternative type of education, and can be charged in some way if they refuse to let their children go to schools. [exceptions for those with physical or mental challenges exist though]

  13. Thank you for this post. I was scared that maybe I had a "unschooling " attitude simply because I believe that homeschooling should be about freedom and I believe that there is a lot to be learned from everyday living. But I know that I will have to purchase books and get stuff off the internet. I am not foolish enough to believe a child will learn to read or count on their own so naturally a parent will have to use worksheets or some sort of program.

    I do not believe there is only one right way to homeschool or only one right curriculum to use when homeschooling, but "unschooling" just sounds like a cover up for laziness in most cases.

  14. Hello,I didn't bother reading your post, probably will at a better time, however those verses in Deutoronomy ,I've noticed are always used by homschoolers,and I 'm all for homeschooling,but those verses refer to the word of God ,to teach our kids the word of God. My kids go to public school, and I know it is very good to have them homeschool, but how is your child ever going to know how to deal with the "world".JMO

  15. As an education graduate from the University of Illinois, I intentionally chose unschooling for my children. My son is now attending the University of Chicago on a full ride scholarship. He got a 35 on the ACT and a 2300 on the SAT. Unschooling works, and it is educationally sound. I have come to realize that the key element to success is a home environment that values a love of learning. I blog about my schooling philosophy and our experiences at All the best to you and your family!

  16. Well all I can say is you must have met some lazy sods in your time, to form such a one sided, opinion of the whole! Personally I know a lot of people who term themselves unschoolers and then a whole lot more who prefer the classical approach to learning! I happen to like and respect each and everyone one of them, no matter what style of learning they choose. Afterall life is about making choices, whether they be right or wrong is up to the individual. Its none of my business how others choose to lead their life.

    Personally, I don't like labels of any kind. If I had to choose what we do at our house, I'd call it Natural Learning. We do incorporate a lot of child led learning into our home but we also do "bookwork" on a daily basis! We do what comes naturally to us as a family and what works for each individual child. Lo and behold one of my children also goes to "real" school. (Its her choice just as the little ones choose to homeschool).

    Having worked in the school system for over fifteen years before homeschooling I can tell you this...Children, each and every one of them, are individual little human beings, with thoughts and feelings all of their own. They all deserve to learn in a way that works for them. Forcing a child to do something that is frustrating them is a waste of time for both them and the teacher/mother. Why on earth would you do that if you could teach them in another way, thats more fun for both of you and easier? Teach the concept then pull out the paperwork if you must.

    You are entitled to your opinion and so is everyone else, I would only hope that you take other peoples feelings into account before running them into the ground.

    God is the only one who has a right to judge my dear, how sad for you that you feel the need to judge others so harshly. Especially those you do not know. God Bless you, Have a nice day. I pray that your children benefit from your theories and achieve the best that they can in life. Afterall, thats all any of us can do.

  17. I am a dad, I take responsibility for my children's education, and I am not lazy.

    But my children unschool.

    Learning does happen all of the time, and it takes a lot of work to keep up with your children's interests, provide them the resources they need to pursue those interests, and to become a good resource for them yourself.

    Can I tell you what grade level my kids are working at? No. My six-year-old is studying the distribution of prime numbers using software I wrote for him, my four-year-old is drawing the flags of all of the countries in Africa, and they both know their periodic table. They both read and write effectively and are getting better.

    So what grade level is that? They are learning because they are interested, I respect their ability to learn at the highest level, and I let them strive for that.

  18. OUCH!!!

    Henry Van Dyke said:“Tact is the unsaid part of what you think; it's opposite, the unthought part of which you say."

    That would apply to this post. You must know a LARGE amount of unschoolers to make some of these sweeping statement! Homeschoolers have a hard enough road, should we be trashing each other? Are there bad apples in each bunch? Sure. As pointed out by this post, there are some not so great examples of unschooling, and some not so great examples of tact.

  19. I am not sure how to even begin my response to you. What you lack in tact, I don't think you make up in many other places. Your sweeping generalizations are now being held in high regard by people who probably already disrespect the world of homeschooling and you are making no apologies for this.

    As a homeschooler who is an unschooler at heart, I am not only disheartened by your lack of knowledge in this area, but also disheartened by the fact that you are throwing biblical commands into your words, as though they are one in the same.

    Sad. Well and truly sad. None of what you spoke about unschooling is truth. It really is too bad you are too busy to see this.


  20. Wow. I see a lot of sweeping generalizations in your argument. Can you back up any of what you said with evidence?

    I am a former unschooling Mom. My daughter who is now 23 has degrees in Chemistry and History from a well-respected university, is employed as a scientist, and now owns her own home. She is an excellent and voracious reader, owns a large personal library, and had read all of Dickens by the time she was 16. As are most "readers," she is an excellent speller and writer, and she has taken and passed advanced courses in science and mathematics (Calculus III and Linear Equations, Physical Chemistry) that only a small percentage of the population have taken.

    Of course, this is anecdotal information; it would be interesting to see the stats on your claims. I recommend that you read a book called Kingdom of Children which provides some.

    The statistical evidence suggests that a larger percentage of homeschooling kids, regardless of the method, are successful in higher education and have better academic skills than do those who were schooled in public schools.

    These data were taken from a few small studies, and I suppose it is always good to do new studies with larger sample spaces.

    Given this information all of us who have homeschooled ought to support one another, knowing that we have found a good path for our children's educations, although each one walks it uniquely.

    Finally, take it from someone who knows the verses you quoted from Deuteronomy in the original language: the part of the Sh'ma that you quoted means that a person should be teaching her children Torah by example as well as precept, and through all aspects of one's life. They didn't have worksheets in ancient Israel.

  21. Funny, of all the unschoolers I've had the pleasure of meeting none of them fit into your little description. Perhaps one needs to sit back, breath deep, and think about more than stereotypes and assumptions before trying to define a group of people.

  22. Well said, Rolfe, and all the other supporters of unschooling as a valid choice.

    This blogger has a severely distorted view of unschooling. Not surprising, perhaps, but regrettable.


  23. I am an unschooler. (Although I more commonly use the term homeschooler because it's more easily understood.)

    I am offended and saddened by your post. Unlike you, I understand that we are all on our own journeys, and although there may be many people who do things I do not agree with, I respect the fact that the choice was theirs to make and I CHOOSE NOT TO JUDGE THEM.

    If you believe what you are doing is the right way, then just do it. You do not get points for spitting on other people's choices.

    My house is not filthy, as you believe it is, although it may be messy. That is because I have spent a day reading to my children, playing with them, making music with them and doing craft with them. Like any form of homechooling, unschooling does take time, energy, patience, persistence etc. So I am definitely not lazy, as you believe I am. If I was lazy, I would have just sent my kids to school!

    I am also not uneducated, as you believe I am. My husband and I both have university degrees.

    My children's education is not lacking, as you believe it is. My oldest child has been able to read fluently since the age of four, and at 9 he is writing his own elaborate stories. My younger ones, 4 & 3 are also well on their way to reading and are currently enjoying basic mathematics.

    Part of my sadness is because you have given other people who are also uninformed the wrong impression about unschooling.

    As with any method, there are wide variations across the spectrum. For example, not all unschoolers use TV and some of us do use workbooks, if that is what suits the individual child. There are many other examples of differences between unschooling families, so much of what you have said cannot be justified.

    I wish you well, and I sincerely hope that in future you will inform yourself before making such harsh judgements on others.

  24. I know many, many unschoolers, and not one of them is as you have described. They are generally very bright children who are well-read and intelliget. Their parents are neither lazy or uneducated. I wonder how many real unschoolers you have met, and what information you have based your writings on. Would you consider doing some more reading into what real unschooling is like?

  25. I know a number of unschooling families (and started off in that classification myself) but only a couple that may fall into the category you mention.

    With all due respect I feel you have over-generalized and over-simplified. Also no one can really know what goes on inside someone else's home.

    I have myself loosened up regarding judging others after seeing my kids who knew something, act in a homeschool class environment like they didn't know it, not raise their hand, not be able to answer the question etc. It dawned on me the other adults and kids may assume my kids didn't know the info when they really did. So I try not to judge other homeschoolers (including unschoolers).

    I also know some homeschoolers who are so rigid with using boxed curriculums that they do not do any of the wonderful enriching things (hands on, museum trips, educational travel) nor use better books and learning activities. IMO they are being lazy to just consider homeschooling the lessons and do what some company tells them to do instead of being more flexible and doing some better things than a HS textbook or HS workbook tells them to do.

    Anyhow here is a blog post I wrote that may be of interest.

    title: Love the Homeschooling Lifestyle Not Necessarily the Lessons


Your KINDLY WORDED, constructive comments are welcome, whether or not they express a differing opinion. All others will be deleted without second thought.