Unschooling Vs. Homeschooling: What’s The Difference?

July 10, 2023
7 min read
Contents

”

Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 03/03/23

Wondering about homeschooling vs. unschooling? This article covers the differences between these two educational approaches, which model might be better for you, and some FAQs.

With different avenues of schooling growing in popularity, you might be wondering what different options might be out there beyond traditional schooling. 

While there are different alternatives to the traditional public or private school curriculum, such as Montessori schools, accelerated programs, and more, homeschooling has become more popular, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increasing popularity of homeschooling has led to different schools of thought that fall under the umbrella of “homeschooling.” 

Here, we cover the difference between traditional homeschooling vs. unschooling to inform your understanding of how these educational methods can be a great alternative to traditional schooling, and which might be better for you.

parents teaching child

Unschooling vs. Homeschooling: Understanding the Difference

As mentioned, there are two different approaches to homeschooling. First and most commonly known is traditional homeschooling. Homeschooling follows the standard government-issued curriculum with requirements varying depending on the state you live in. 

Unschooling, on the other hand, is a type of homeschooling that follows a different philosophy. Unschooling operates on the principle that children should be able to use their innate curiosities to guide their learning—having the freedom to choose the tools they use for their education.

We’ll dive deeper into each method below! 

Homeschooling 

Homeschooling is the better known of these two methods of alternative learning. It is an educational approach that allows parents to teach their children the school curriculum at home. 

Parents are able to choose how the homeschooling curriculum is to be taught, giving them the flexibility to personalize the learning experience to their children’s needs and interests. 

While there are many sets of homeschooling curricula, parents are able to create their own curriculum, incorporating a variety of resources such as textbooks, online courses, and more.

Many states don’t require parents to have a degree in education—typically the only prerequisite for homeschooling is a family’s choice and desire to do so and the dedication to work with their children to facilitate meaningful learning experiences.

Presently, homeschooling is legal in 50 states and several countries. If you’re planning to homeschool your child, it’s essential to note that homeschooling regulation and requirements may vary depending on state and place of residence. Some places may have more rigorous guidelines than others. 

Parent teaching child

Unschooling

Similar to homeschooling, unschooling allows parents and students the flexibility to learn at their own pace, choosing how the curriculum is taught and what tools are used throughout the learning process. 

What distinguishes unschooling from homeschooling is that unschooling allows the child or student to choose how they learn rather than the parent or educator. 

This might be a bit of a challenging concept to grasp as it can feel a bit too freeform—you might ask, “what happens if my child just wants to play video games all day? Or doesn’t want to learn anything at all?” 

While this can be a valid concern for parents who are new to the idea of unschooling, proponents of unschooling rely on children’s innate curiosity to direct their learning.  

Unschooling focuses on the significance of autonomy and self-directed learning for students and does not follow a structured format and formal instruction. Rather, unschooling follows the belief that students should have the freedom to explore their interests and drive for exploration. 

For those who stand by unschooling, learning can happen at any time and any place; drawing their learning primarily from real life experiences and their interactions with the world around them. Depending on the child, unschooling can promote self-motivation, critical thinking, creativity, and a lifelong passion for learning. 

In practice, there’s no limitation to what unschooling can look like. While some learners do end up gravitating towards more traditional learning resources (i.e., online courses, textbooks, worksheets), while some might find a special interest in cooking, music, wildlife, or other things that they use to guide their understanding of core concepts. 

As a whole, alternative education through homeschooling or unschooling offers parents and children a more personalized approach to learning. 

With either method, children will learn core subjects such as mathematics, science, language, and social studies, and may also have the opportunity to pursue their personal interests more thoroughly than in traditional in-school learning.

parent and child learning

Homeschooling vs. Unschooling: Which One Is Best?

With a better understanding of what homeschooling and unschooling entails, you might be wondering, “which is best for my child?” While there is no clear answer to this question, we’ve put together four key considerations you can make to help you decide which is best for your child.

Let’s get started!

1. Overall Learning Structure and Curriculum 

As mentioned earlier, the overall structure of learning and methodology for homeschooling is a key difference between homeschooling and unschooling.

Where traditional materials, such as textbooks and worksheets, are readily available for homeschooling, unschooling differs drastically in that there is less of a structured learning process. 

For parents, unschooling might require more time and attention to their child’s interests. Parents will be required to come up with a specialized curriculum based on their child’s chosen medium of learning. 

While this can serve as a more holistic learning experience and frequently drives more motivation and passion for learning, it can be more hands-on and overall provides less structure.

On the other hand, homeschooling offers a much more straightforward and structured learning experience with set materials and clear guidance for parents hoping to educate their children at home. This means that it may be a better option for parents who want to focus on their child’s academic achievement. 

Unschooling may be best for parents who aim to drive their child’s passion for learning and help them explore their interests in more depth. Regardless of which, parents will have to keep their child’s time management and learning habits in check to maximize their potential of success.

2. Flexibility and Freedom

As an extension of the previous consideration, flexibility and freedom in a child’s learning is essential to note for both the child and the parent when deciding whether you should homeschool or unschool your child. 

Unschooling gives students the opportunity to explore diverse subjects within and beyond the curriculum. While each state has its rules and regulations when it comes to educational standards, unschooling will ultimately allow your child a greater opportunity to think outside of the box and truly explore their interests. 

Alternatively, homeschooling offers less flexibility when it comes to the curriculum. 

3. Learning Pace and Educational Gaps

It’s also integral to consider how homeschooling and unschooling can affect a child’s learning pace and potential gaps in their education as you make your decision. Regardless of whether you decide to homeschool or unschool your child, you’ll certainly encounter challenges in both these areas.

Homeschooling and unschooling provides a much more individualized approach to learning, and the latter even more so. 

Parents who choose to homeschool their children should be aware of the challenges they may face teaching certain subjects, as they can lead to gaps in knowledge for their child. 

On the other hand, parents who choose unschooling should be aware that their child’s learning pace may be different than other children their age. Ultimately, parents choosing unschooling are required to trust in their child’s drive to learn, which can prove to be challenging for those who are accustomed to more structure and guidance.

4. Socialization 

Homeschooling and unschooling also expose children to different levels of natural socialization that occur.

Socialization for unschooled kids can look different depending on their interests. Unschooled children often have a wide range of social experiences that occur naturally due to how they’re educated. They can be exposed to other children through camps or activities relating to their interests and individuals of all ages in their community. 

Homeschooling, on the other hand, has had a bad rap when it comes to socialization. While there are preconceived notions that homeschooled children tend to be socially lagging in comparison to children who are taught in traditional settings, studies have shown that this is not the case! 

Homeschooled children often seem to be well-adjusted in social settings–having sufficient social skills to connect with their peers and others. The only difference here is that homeschooling doesn’t allow for natural socialization as much as unschooling does. 

The lack of natural socialization for homeschooled children means that parents who choose to homeschool their children need to be diligent in ensuring their kids have access to social play and extracurricular activities to benefit their child’s confidence, emotional intelligence, and overall social development.

happy child

FAQs: Homeschooling vs. Unschooling

Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of unschooling vs. homeschooling and which might be best for your child, we’ll cover some FAQs to answer any lingering questions you may still have.

1. What Are the Disadvantages of Unschooling?

While the disadvantages of unschooling will be dependent on each case, unschooling is not as structured and may require more patience and attention from parent educators. 

Unschooling requires that children take charge of their learning. While this can help holistic learning in areas of critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and more, it requires much more attention, care, and commitment from parents to ensure their child is learning what they need to learn to set them up for success in the future (i.e., college and the workforce). 

2. How Do Unschoolers Learn?

Unschoolers learn core subjects through the lens of their passions and interests. Unschooling empowers the child to take charge of their learning while their parents guide and facilitate that process closely. It advocates for the belief that students should have the autonomy to pursue their interests and foster their natural curiosity.

Supporters of unschooling argue that learning can occur anywhere and anytime, drawing primarily from real-life experiences and interactions with the surrounding world. Depending on the child, unschooling can cultivate self-motivation, critical thinking, creativity, and a lifelong love for learning.

With this said, unschooling does not adhere to a standardized approach to education, recognizing that each child's learning journey is unique and cannot fit into a one-size-fits-all model.

3. Can Unschooled Kids Be Successful?

With the parent’s commitment, dedication, and attention to detail, unschooled kids can be successful both in academics and in their future careers–going into colleges and achieving great professional success!

4. What Famous People Were Unschooled?

Some famous unschooled people are George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Dickens, to name a few. Even some of today’s biggest names, such as Jaden Smith and Billie Eilish were unschooled!

Final Thoughts

With the rise of alternative education, it’s natural to explore what options are available for your children. Depending on your own capacity as a parent and your child’s strengths and inclinations, homeschooling and unschooling may work best for your child. 

Remember to assess your level of commitment to either method and think carefully about you and your child’s goals before making your final decision!

Book Your Free Assessment Today

We’re eager to discuss your needs and goals, provide expert feedback, and answer any questions you have about our programs!
Get Free Assessment