Families who decide to unschool usually love the freedom that this educational style provides for their children. It allows them to follow their hearts, learn about the topics that genuinely interest them, and develop into the adults they were truly meant to be. You’re setting your kids up to be amazing, unique individuals who love to learn and who follow their hearts but the road ahead is not without its challenges.
Even the most independent children will need some guidance from you. Providing them with plenty of resources to investigate and delve into will give them access to every different subject that could possibly interest them. In this age of technology, information is all around us, but it can be incredibly helpful to create your own go-to collection of tools and information for your kids to easily access when they want to pursue a new idea.
This guide compiles some of the best resources for your child to learn from, as well as information that can help you, the unschooling parent, navigate your way through the unforeseeable obstacles and frustrations you may encounter. Kids will always thrive when given encouragement and reassurance, but there are times when parents can definitely use some too. Some of the resources below can also provide you with connections to other unschooling families. Seeing how other people are unschooling, reading their stories and ideas, and picking up some tips can usually provide you with just the confidence boost you’ll need if you’re having a rough day.
Excellent Online Learning Platforms
One of the best sources of information for unschoolers is the Internet. You can find almost anything there, in any format, designed for any learning level. You just have to know how to search for the info you want and where to look. There are some really amazing learning platforms that can be used by unschoolers, homeschoolers, kids who attend a school and want some extra help, and even adults who have a passion for knowledge. Many of these platforms are free, some have free trials or they might provide limited access, and other platforms are paid. Some educational platforms offer fun, interactive games, some are designed for serious study sessions, and some are filled with amazing project ideas.
The online options for structured learning are staggering. There are so many online schools, academies, and open learning organizations that it’s impossible to not find a source that suits your child’s learning level, their interests, and your budget perfectly. Khan Academy is a great place to go for free practice exercises and instructional videos. Udemy offers courses in a wide range of topics, including music, marketing, makeup, and interior design. If your little one loves to learn through stories and animations, head over to Poptropica and let them create their own custom Poptropican character to explore this virtual educational world with. For more suggestions on the best sites to check out, take a look at this list of online resources.
Fun & Educational YouTube Channels
YouTube is one of the most popular places that people will go when they want to learn a new skill or if they enjoy having an entertaining instructor explain new ideas to them. This is an excellent platform because you can access endless free videos and you can connect with so many amazing content creators from all over the world. You can even discuss ideas in the comments with your fellow learning enthusiasts. If your child wants to learn math but doesn’t like how one individual explains a concept, there are thousands of other instructors to choose from that will have a personality and a teaching style that is better suited to what your young learner is looking for.
As a parent, you might even enjoy watching some of the educational videos with your child. Some content creators deliver their material in the most amusing ways, making learning fun, exciting, and even a little bit addicting. Minutephysics is one of the best channels for learning about complex and thought provoking ideas but in an incredibly quick and concise style. It’s easy to start with one quick video and then find you’ve watched 20 different videos, totally unrelated, all on that same channel. The CrashCourse team provides 10-15 minute educational videos about everything from sociology to psychology to mythology, all of which are very engaging and super easy to follow. If your child loves science experiments then you’ve got to check out HooplaKidzLab and they’ll be hooked on watching these science demonstrations for hours on end.
Want more? Check out these other educational YoutTube channels for more great videos.
Podcasts for Unschooling Kids on the Go
Sometimes kids are just way too busy to sit down and watch a bunch of videos or study from a book. Others simply don’t like to learn that way and would rather be occupying their hands with one project and their mind with another. Regardless of what they’ve got going on with their day, kids can tune into a podcast and soak up some neat stories, informational interviews, or instructive audio lessons without needing to sit still for any extended period of time. Letting podcasts play in the background when you’re doing chores around the house or getting creative with the craft supplies is an excellent way to absorb a lot of great information without even taking the time out of your day to do it.
Young history buffs will love travelling through the ages with the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. StarTalk Radio is an absolute must for science lovers or Neil deGrasse Tyson fans. And for kids who just love letting their imaginations run wild, the What If World podcast will answer all the “what ifs” that are floating around out there in the most entertaining ways possible. You can check out these other educational podcasts for more excellent auditory learning options.
Strewing Ideas to Inspire and Motivate
Strewing is a really effective way to introduce your child to new ideas and interests while still allowing them to take the lead on their own pursuits. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, strewing is to leave things around the house that your child may find interesting and wish to pursue further. This could be as simple leaving a magazine out with an interesting article bookmarked. It could also be as complex as filling your house up with musical instruments, painting supplies, sculpting materials, lacrosse gear, biographies about historical figures, DVD documentaries that explore the wonders of the Amazon, and pretty much anything else you think your child could learn something from. There is no one way to strew, but providing plenty of options in a wide variety of subjects is a sure fire way to keep your child both inspired and motivated.
Strewing doesn’t have to just take the forms of objects being strategically placed around your house. Taking your child to art shows and musical events can kind of be a type of strewing. Introducing them to new activities by taking an interest in them yourself can accomplish the same thing. The main idea is to show them that there is more out there in the world than what they’re currently aware of. Anything that accomplishes this can open up new doors for them and may awaken passions that could shape their entire world view. Strewing intriguing items within your child’s environment is simply one of the many techniques that can inspire your child.
Helpful Books for Unschooling Families
There are endless resources to provide for your child to help them discover their own unique learning style, but sometimes parents need a little help too. Unschooling can be a wonderful, liberating experience that allows your child to pursue every passion and curiosity they have but it can also be a frightening, frustrating, or confusing journey for the unschooling parent. You will most definitely be sharing in so many proud moments of success and accomplishment but, as with anything in life, you’ll also have days where you question yourself, feel utterly exhausted, or just simply rethink your whole outlook on parenting.
Sometimes, all you need is a little insight into how the rest of the world is doing things. Some of the greatest unschooling books are written by parents who have gone through their own transitions from traditional schooling to unschooling and have lived to tell the tale. Others are written by professional educators who have seen the inner workings of the public school system and just aren’t impressed with how today’s youth are being educated through traditional schooling.
A few authors and titles to keep an eye out for include Sandra Dodd’s Big Book of Unschooling, John Holt’s How Children Learn, and Pam Laricchia’s What is Unschooling?: Living and Learning without School. For more tips, tricks, insights, or just simple words of wisdom, grab any of these amazing books about unschooling.
Kidpreneurs, by Adam and Matthew Toren, is another incredible book designed to introduce young minds to the world of entrepreneurial ideas and opportunities. Bookmark their Guide to 50 Creative Business Ideas for Kids for the next time your child asks how they can earn some extra money.
Unschooling Blogs From Other Unschooling Families
Similar to reading a published book on the subject, reading blogs by other unschooling families can provide you with some invaluable insight. Many people actually find that following along with a personal blog is much more relatable that reading a full length book. You can get almost real time snippets of the family’s successes, frustrations, and reflections on their day. Seeing pictures and videos of other unschooling families as they learn and grow can also provide a sense of relatability that you may find comforting while travelling along your own unschooling path.
Staying up to date on personal blogs also gives you the chance to get to know the habits of various different families, see new interests the children develop, watch the progress they make, and have all that extra knowledge and second hand experience when it comes to mentoring your own family. Everyone is going to have their own totally unique methods and every child is going to prefer their own style of learning, but the more tips your store in your memory bank, the more prepared you may be when tough situations arise. You may even pick up learning techniques you hadn’t thought of that your child may absolutely love.
The Unschooling Mom2Mom site is not only filled with relatable, helpful blog posts, it also has plenty of resources to help unschooling families find the structure (or lack thereof) that works for them. Sue Patterson, the author of this blog, also offers unschooling guides, private coaching, and links that can help you connect to other unschooling families.
The Unschooling Paradise bloggers are a roadschooling family of four who travel the United States in their RV and learn about the world from the road. They check out historical landmarks, roadside oddities, and the gorgeous landscapes that can be found in every state, all while learning about life, spending time together, and having fun.
For an excellent first hand perspective of what it was like to learn through unschooling, check out the I’m Unschooled. Yes I Can Write blog. Idzie Desmarais, author of this blog, is a grown unschooler who has been directing her own education since her kindergarten years. She also provides an excellent list of resources that are both for and about adult unschoolers.
If you want to read more about real people’s personal experiences, check out some of these other blogs. Some are written by moms, some by dads, and some by the whole family. You can read about other families’ experiences from all over the world. Any type of family can learn freely with an unschooling educational model, and if you want to find a family you can relate to, just browse through some of the different blogs out there and you’re sure to find someone who inspires you.
Self-Directed Education Organizations
Unschooling.com is a place where unschoolers from around the world can go to share their knowledge, experiences, and insights with one another. This is one of the best places to go if you’d like to directly connect to other unschoolers and get involved in open discussions related to unschooling. You can share your own thoughts here, find links to valuable resources, or stay apprised of current events within the unschooling community.
The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make Self-Directed Education available to anyone who’d like to pursue it. They work to make self-led learning an accepted and legitimate education path so that children can learn naturally and on their own terms. This organization sees the choice of self-directed education as a human right that every individual should have access to and strives to take the movement into the mainstream of today’s educational system.
The Foundation for Economic Education is a non-political and non-profit educational foundation whose purpose is to instill the concept of liberty as a life philosophy into as many young hearts and minds as possible. They provide free online courses, in-person seminars, free books for classrooms, and daily online content. Their mission is to inspire and educate our world’s future leaders about the principles of a free society.
The Natural Child Project exists to create a world where all children are treated with dignity, respect, understanding, and compassion. They provide articles, reports, and advice on everything from parenting to unschooling to children’s rights. They also provide one-on-one counselling for anyone that needs a helping hand with the parenting and unschooling issues they’re struggling with in their lives.
The Alternative Education Resource Organization was founded in 1989 with a mission to advance the student-driven approach to learning and education. They want to see that a learner-centered education is made available to everyone and to achieve this goal they provide information, resources, and guidance to individual families, schools, and other organizations.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) was founded in 1983 by two attorneys, Mike Farris and Mike Smith, who also happened to be homeschooling dads. They observed that families who wanted to teach their children at home often encountered opposition and legal problems by pursuing this education path and they aw the need to create a voice for those people. Their goal now is to bring homeschooling families together within this organization and provide a low-cost way to obtain legal defense and advice.
The purpose of the Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning is to create a community of scholars from around the world who can explore the intricacies, importance, and potential of unschooling and alternative learning. The accept submissions that discuss both the successes and the challenges that come with the various styles of non-mainstream learning. They also promote the discussion of the limitations that come along with the traditional schooling model.
Alternatives to School is another great resource for those pursuing self directed education. This site is possible through the collective efforts of a diverse group of private citizens from around the country. They encourage people to question the current state of mainstream education and to consider self-directed learning as an alternative to the traditional schooling system.
Ted Talks for Unschooling Families
If you aren’t familiar with TED, it is a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation whose purpose is to make great ideas accessible to everyone and to encourage conversation around these ideas. This organization creates TED Talks, which are short, powerful talks given by inspired minds. These talks are intended to spread ideas and to get people thinking. There are some excellent TED talks about unschooling and self-directed education that can definitely inspire people and encourage new ways of thinking.
Learning Through Unschooling, by Callie Vandewiele at TEDxCambridgeUniversity, is about Callie’s experiences with unschooling and the need for children to be at the centre of their own education. She unschooled until she was 16 years old and is now studying for her PhD at the University of Cambridge.
School is Optional, by Ken Danford at TEDxAmherstCollege, is a great talk about giving kids the option of self-directed learning rather than forcing them to follow the normal, mainstream educational path if it simply isn’t right for them.
The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools, by Will Richardson at TEDxWestVancouverED, discusses allowing kids to grow into powerful learners and how we can help them to achieve this.
Toxic Culture of Education, by Joshua Katz at TEDxUniversityofAkron, talks about the current culture of the school system and the damaging effects it can have on some students. He states that the interests of private industries are being served above the best interests of the students.
Everything I Know I Learned in Kindergarten (and SEAL Training), by Kevin Williams at TEDxSaintThomas, discusses identifying and developing character and leveraging fear and failure to build that character.
Stop Stealing Dreams, by Seth Godin at TEDxYouth@BFS, talks about the future of education and what we can do about it. Seth asks us to question what school is for, how we got to where we are, where we’re going, and how can we make the education system work again.
Prepare Our Kids for Life, Not Standardized Tests, by Ted Dintersmith at TEDxFargo, suggests that the main purpose of the school system has been lost within testing, data, and accountability. Ted states that the importance of educating is to prepare kids for life rather than teaching them how to pass standardized tests.
Inspiring Media About Unschooling
The Ultimate Guide To Unschooling: Top Tips To Create Free-Thinking, Resilient, Creative Young Humans Who Can Thrive In A Modern World is a podcast with Judy Arnall that discusses the origin of formal schooling and how the modern school system is failing us. She compares unschooling to homeschooling and makes note that children will absorb the skills and knowledge more fully when it has been gained through their own curiosity. She points out that unschoolers can still attend college if they wish and she discusses some unschooling success stories.
Self Taught Movie takes us through the lives and stories of six self-directed learners. It discusses what their education means to them and how it has affected their lives, goals, and careers. They share the belief that if you receive a true education you will enable yourself to create your own destiny rather than to simply accept what you’re given.
Self-Directed Learning, by Christa Flores, discusses the “maker movement” and the benefits of learning within problem-based classrooms. If schools provide children the opportunity to build, create, and invent inside the classroom rather than simply study and take tests, they will be more engaged and their enthusiasm for learning will be greatly increased. Preparing young minds to problem solve and learn through experimentation will help them pursue careers that are innovative or entrepreneurial, giving them the chance to make the world a better place.
This is What Will Replace K-12 Schools and Colleges is a great article by research professor Peter Gray that discusses the downfalls of the current educational system. He predicts its evolution into a more useful tool that is able to provide practical knowledge and training. He lays out the steps children should be taking in life to find a career that suits them best rather than them being subjected to a coercive educational system that cannot help them discover what they might truly want from life.
Self-Directed Schools and Resource Centers
Self-directed learning isn’t restricted to unschooling in the home. There are plenty of schools that have shed the rigid structure of coercive education and have adopted a more child centered approach to education. These schools, sometimes referred to as democratic schools, allow children the freedom to take responsibility for their own education. They can often choose their own activities, decide what they would like to learn about, and be in control of whether they will take a course that is offered or not.
In school such as these, children are not usually assigned to specific classrooms by age, rather they are free to learn together and interact with others from every age group. Assessments are often through the form of self-evaluation, removing the unfair comparison between one student and the next.
If you’re interested in learning more about the alternatives to traditional schooling, check out this list of of democratic schools, co-ops and resource centers to discover the learning facilities that are operating within your area.
Developing Emotional Intelligence
Learning about the world, collecting information on topics that interest them, and developing practical skills they’ll use in the future aren’t the only ingredients to raising a happy and healthy child. Helping your child to develop their emotional intelligence is one of the most important aspects of their education. Possessing emotional intelligence means you have the ability to identify and manage your emotions but to also be able to recognize and respond to the emotions of others.
There are three skills that should be learned when developing your emotional intelligence and the first is awareness. Being able to identify and name what you’re feeling is the first and most important step because without this you are powerless to control your emotions. Harnessing your emotions and applying them to a task such as problem solving or crisis management is the second skill to be honed. The third is to manage emotion, and this includes both your own emotions as well those of others.
Possessing a high level of emotional intelligence will allow you to assess yourself most clearly, identify how a situation is truly making you feel, and take positive actions in your life. For unschoolers who are trusted to follow their hearts and their passions, emotional intelligence is vital. Self-directed learners grow to be empowered, independent individuals who make their own choices rather than following the direction of an instructor. Being completely self-aware and in control of their own emotions will allow them to make the best choices while also following what’s in their hearts.
Developing EQ Through Homeschooling: Why Emotional Intelligence Is Important and Why Home Is the Best Place to Train It by Barbara Postma is a great article about the importance of a child’s emotional quotient. She states that a person’s EQ can be quantified by their ability to know their emotions, manage their emotions, motivate themselves, recognize emotion in others, and handle relationships. She goes on to suggest that the first elements of emotional intelligence that children should start developing are self-awareness, personal decision-making, managing feelings, handling stress, empathy, and communications. Her final sentiment that home is the best place to develop these skills could not be more true because when learning from home you’ll have the flexibility and time to discuss negative feelings with your child and the ability to practice empathy and communication throughout the day.
10 Ways to Foster Emotional Intelligence at Home, by Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, is a list of ways you can work with your children to help them to develop their emotional intelligence. She advises to practice identifying emotions, discuss these emotions and experiences, and put together a coping skills toolbox. She also discusses practicing positive emotional actions such as gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, and empathy.
Helping Your Child to Succeed
Providing your child with resources to learn from is not just helpful to their self-directed education but it’s actually vital. And while their education may be self-led, simply providing these resources isn’t where your job ends. You may not need to teach them directly, but they’ll be looking to you for inspiration, support, and encouragement.
Taking the time to communicate with them about what they’re learning and what they’re currently interested in is one of the most important roles you will play in their education. This will allow you to provide them with new tools to help them learn and new experiences to spark their interests. This back and forth communication about their studies and their passions will also be a stimulating experience for them, will help them to stay engaged and motivated in their favorite topics, and will teach them how to easily discuss their findings and convey their thoughts about a subject.
Some people think of unschooling as a process that the child figures out on their own but nothing could be further from the truth. The student may direct their own studies, but you’ll be there as a mentor, a facilitator, and a safe place to go to for advice when they’re having difficulties. The journey of education is a lifelong adventure that you and your children will take together.