Unschooling Is Exhausting The Questions

 Definitions of Unschooling 

Wander into any discussion about homeschooling vs. unschooling and you’ll find a host of opinions and answers. I have heard unschooling described as child-led learning, consensual learning and self-directed learning and free learning and all of these labels are further divided up by the nitty-gritty ness of, “Do you use a curriculum?” “What if your child wants to go to school?” “What about maaaaathhhh?” and “What if my kid doesn’t read?” 

 But I like the definition, from John Holt’s work, echoed by Patrick Farenga, in the essay, “The Foundations of Unschooling”. *Frarenga says, “unschooling is a term first coined by the John Holt to mean learning and teaching that does not resemble school learning and teaching”. 

 Against all the definitions about unschooling, I have heard and read, that one states it simply. 

Child-led learning, I struggle with because it takes the facilitation of the parent out of the equation. When I first read about “child-led learning” it brought to mind the image of a child walking up to a bookcase filled with books on all the subjects and saying, “I would like to learn about gravity today”, then taking the book to a quiet corner and reading it cover to cover.

 If that is unschooling, I’m definitely doing it wrong, we don’t have a book of gravity in our collection but my child can tell you how gravity works, what it is, why it’s useful and pull out his magnet set and demonstrate how gravity works. 

*Frarenga goes on to say, “I broadly define unschooling as allowing your children as much freedom to explore the world around them in their own ways as you can comfortably bear; I see unschooling in the light of partnership, not in the light of the dominance of a child’s wishes over a parents’ or vice versa”. 

My child did not learn how gravity works from a book. He learned about gravity by jumping, throwing all the things, asking questions, having experiences of hearing older kids speak about space, watching shows on space and the story of Issac Netwon, asking Dad what the – symbol and + symbol meant and experimenting with the magnets. The magnet set I picked up on a whim when he was a baby and had it on our shelf. He would play with it every now and then and as he learned more about gravity, he went back to the magnet set with new applications of what it could do and what it meant and delighted in telling us about his findings. 


Exhausting the Questions 

I have come to think of the approach of unschooling as exhausting the questions. The questions that come up over breakfast or while talking about our plans for the day or the questions that come to my children’s minds as we play Sleeping Queens or in talking out the day at bedtime. 

Recently, we were reading our joke book mentioned in the previous post and the joke was, “What was Beethoven’s favourite fruit?” the answer was, “Ba na-na-na”. I couldn’t help myself, it made me laugh out loud. 

And the question came from that, “Why did they write that?” 

I explained that Beethoven wrote a symphony, where the notes played on the piano sounded like “Ba na-na-na”. 

I mean, it sounds so clear cut here, but at the moment it was me grappling with how to get the idea across that notes make sounds that mimic language and  Beethoven was a famous music genius and the joke was wordplay and then my thoughts went to how to explain wordplay and my excitement about this being an example of wordplay because we are just getting there and it is one of my favourite things and I can’t wait for my child to wordplay along with me…all the tangents.

I took a sip of coffee and reminded myself that I don’t have to explain the entire universe in five minutes. 

 One of my favourite parts about mamahood is singing loudly and badly and not being judged, because my kids like me anyway and so far they don’t know how off-key my singing is and I take full advantage of this, so I brought up Beethoven’s symphony on my phone and sang out, “ba na-na-na!” loudly which had them giggling. 

From there, the questions came, “Why did he play the piano that way?”

“Where did this guy live?”

“And mama, how do they know that his favourite food was bananas?” 

The thing about questions I have learned, just like most of parenting, is to wait. Just because the question is asked, I don’t have to rush to fill in the answer. I often throw the questions back to them. 

“Why do you think he played the piano that way? How does it sound to you?” 

And then I’ll ask them if they want to further follow that line, “Do you want to Google where he lived now or save that for later?” 

“Later, but mama, how does the piano make those sounds?”

That led to us bringing up the Instruments of the World website and reading about pianos and string instruments and the kids running over to our piano to bang on the keys and we got lost in that and all the other questions about Beethoven were put to the side for another day, which means, I scrawled them out on the back of a receipt on our fridge, next to the other questions that are on the back of other receipts. 

The questions aren’t always taken from the fridge to follow, sometimes they are forgotten as something else comes up that has captured their curiosity. 


Living Life With Kids 

Another definition of unschooling that I feel gets right to the heart of it, is “Living life with kids”, i first read this from Jennifer Andersen on her website, Our Muddy Boots. I have used these words to describe our unschooling days.

It is living life with kids and being present with them, it is offering and facilitating and being open to where the answers to their questions can lead.

And as John Holt also said, it is to trust them.


*Farenga, P. (n.d.). The Foundations of Unschooling. Retrieved May 30, 202AD, from https://www.johnholtgws.com/the-foundations-of-unschooling#:~:text=Many of you are at,resemble school learning and teaching.



An unschooling mama witch, writing about finding magick in the every day.

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