All our answers are relevant to our journey and to the country we live in. (England.) Here is a list of questions that I am asked on a daily basis and are not meant to discourage anybody from their chosen style of education but to explain how we do it as a family in the hope it will help you answer any questions that you may have.
What is unschooling?
Unschooling is a very misleading term. It suggests that we try to avoid anything that resembles school at all costs but it simply isn’t true. Unschooling, life learning or autonomous learning is simply educating your children in the things they most want to learn. For example, Fin is obsessed with Space. Therefore, each day that he reads a book, plays a game, writes, draws or creates he wants it to be about space. He can’t get enough of learning about it because it is his passion. So, we cover science, maths, art, music, geography, history, engineering, design, physical education you name it through space. “How many of our moons could you fit inside Jupiter?,” “What is inside the Earth?,” “How long ago did they discover Pluto was a dwarf planet,?” “Can you design me a new planet?,” “Let’s research on global warming.” These are questions I asked. When you look at it this way you will see that he’s not just learning about Space.
My daughter is not a huge maths fan or at least she wasn’t until we plotted on a graph the stuffed animals she had or shared her play-doh pizza evenly between her teddies. She loves paying for shopping, sewing patterns, lego symmetry, cooking, measuring and paint by numbers. To us, these are all real-life examples of maths. I guess in short, unschooling to us is a constant learning through life in the same way an adult does. When we are grown up we either learn through passion or through need. We ‘need’ to know how to put up a shelf so we watch a YouTube video or head to the local DIY shop. We ‘want’ to know how to bake the perfect cake or to take the perfect photo and therefore our ‘want’ propels us to learn these things. Our desire to learn these makes us research, read, learn and implement. That is how we let our children learn. We support their desires with our time, resources and experiences and we also give them new opportunities that they may never have thought of themselves too.
Is it legal?
Absolutely! Home education is legal throughout the UK and has been for many decades. However, the laws differ between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It states on the English government website that “As a parent, you must make sure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5 but you don’t have to follow the national curriculum.” It is recommended that it’s the parent’s responsibility to offer an appropriate education for your child’s age and ability. Unschooling is certainly all of those things as its a tailor-made education for the individual that is practised all day every day. Full time and relevant to your child.
Do you have to be a qualified teacher?
Certainly not! I get asked this so much and it always amuses me. Following your child’s interests and helping them learn new things can be educating for the whole family. Read books, use the internet or practice hands-on experiments to work out the answers to all of your child’s questions. I guarantee you’ll all know a whole lot more learning this way. Each day I learn something new. There is no difference between looking up how to knit a scarf to researching how Pi maths questions are calculated. If we require the knowledge then we find it out. You don’t need a formal teaching qualification to learn about anything.
Is it expensive?
It is really up to you. Unschooling can be hands-on, out in nature for hours on end costing not even a penny. Yet you could be submerged into a project and spend this, that and the other on craft supplies, days out and new resources. You can tailor make your journey to suit your means. Using the library is a great way to use books without the added expense and there are many home education discounts for days out. Charity shops and eBay are the perfect places to find new resources. Join your local home education groups on Facebook to find out about free and cheap events or arrange group gatherings for nature walks or lego parties! There are plenty of free choices to help keep costs down. I think the biggest expense is making sure you have access to the internet. All the rest is negotiable.
How do I get started?
I find the best way to start with unschooling is to observe your child. Play with them, have long walks and lengthy conversations to find out what interests them most. Learn what topics excite them or subjects that they are passionate about and start right there. If it is dinosaurs, Barbie dolls, animals or YouTubers they are crazy about then start your learning there. Start collecting resources to support their passions. Books, games, craft ideas and so much more. Don’t panic that it doesn’t look like school if they are painting all day or playing with trains, lego or makeup. The point, in the beginning, is to build trust in one another and to educate yourselves on what your child wants to learn about.
Once you have established the direction you’re heading and your child has that excitement to learn then you can begin to enjoy the ride. Submerge yourselves into their world and learn about everything from Harry Potter to water displacement, from William Shakespeare to video editing. Answer every question they have and if it leads onto 10 more questions then answer those too. You may spend just one day on a topic before they lose interest or they may want to learn about something for 6 months. Follow their curiosity and support them every step of the way with helpful resources, different perspectives and opportunities to practice their skills daily. Don’t be afraid to offer up topic ideas. They may bite your hand off and love the idea or it may fall on deaf ears and be forgotten. Either way, you are both working alongside one another and coming up with new educational ideas and teaching each other new things every day.
See all subjects as equally important. Why shouldn’t learning painting skills be as educationally important as maths? Why can’t dancing or climbing be an equal skill to learn as measuring or building? So long as you are covering all aspects of learning via your child’s passions then you are doing great. It doesn’t need to look like school at home. We can blur the lines between all subjects and learn maths at the same time as art and history at the same time as physical education. I truly believe that teaching your child to love learning and equipping them with the skills to teach themselves anything is the ultimate goal as a teacher. That way they won’t ever need ‘time off’ learning. They will have the passion to learn 365 days a year and have the ability to answer any questions they may have.
Do you radically unschool?
No, we do not. Radical unschooling is a practice of letting your child choose all aspects of their life. From bedtimes to the food they eat. We fully respect our children and will always, where appropriate, discuss with them and give them the right to their own opinions. We love them very much as individual people and will always do what we can to honour their choices and happiness. However, we believe as parents that if they had full choice on bedtimes, daytime activities and food eaten that they would spend most of their days on their iPads watching other children open surprise toys, be unable to sleep at night due to overstimulation and would eat more junk food than I care to think about. We have in the past spent the odd day decorating or working and the kids have had the luxury of an iPad day. Whenever I have asked them questions like, “Would you like to play with play dough?” they have said no but if I ask the same question when they are not on the iPads they screech, “Yes” with such enthusiasm. That tells me that they are not opening themselves up to other possibilities when they have been drawn onto their unboxing videos! They also do not sleep well at night if they’ve had screen time too close to bed. If they chose their own bedtimes then they would be tired and good for nothing the next day and I truly believe that good sleep promotes wellness in all its forms. From cognitive behaviour to your immune system, your body (especially small growing bodies) need the correct amount of sleep each night for that individual. In terms of food, we have chosen very carefully what we deem to be the healthiest diet in the world. We have done this to protect them from illness, help with their learning and memory and to support their energetic growing bodies. I feel it would be disrespecting them to take that gift away and allow them to eat less healthy food on a regular basis. (We do eat cake on occasions though, I’m not that mean!)
What are your thoughts on screen time?
I think screen time is very important. It is so amazing that at our fingertips we can learn anything. We can play games, take photos, relax to a favourite TV show or message an old friend. I do, however, like to limit the amount of time that both myself and my children spend with their screens. We use them when looking up something specific or for a small amount of downtime during dinner prep but other than that we choose as a family to invest our energies in different activities. From our experience when the children are given free rein with their screens they can spend a whole day watching other peoples children play with toys on YouTube. It disrupts their sleep and they shut down to other learning possibilities as previously mentioned. Great for fact-finding or playing educational games and on the odd occasion to have a little mind-numbing relaxation time but we limit it to that.
How do you teach a child that does not want to learn?
I once had a mum tell me that her child was only interested in watching YouTube videos and didn’t know where to start to get their child engaged in other activities. After discussing with her what the YouTube videos were about we found a way in for her to involve herself with her child’s education. She was into challenge videos. ( Eg. The three marker challenge, the makeup challenge.) So, after we discussed a way forward, the mum decided to set up her own challenges for her daughter to work on. Together they bonded whilst creating these funny challenges for everyone and eventually she helped her daughter teach herself to shoot and edit her own videos too. I have also had someone ask how to get their child interested in maths when they refused to learn about it. Again we discussed their passions and realised they loved baking. So, the parents worked on ways to incorporate maths into the recipes. Fractions and measuring as well as subtraction and times tables. My point is that there should always be a way into education, even if it looks very different to how you imagined. If your child has an interest in something, no matter what it is, this is your way in. Spend time making your child feel special by asking questions about their passion. Have no hidden agenda other than wanting to understand what your child enjoys in more detail. Play their computer games with them, set up your own YouTube videos or read books together on their favourite things. Whatever they love, learn to love too. Encourage them to hear about the things you enjoy or enjoyed as a child. Laugh at the difference between your passions and compare how different or the same you are. Keep the communication open as this is how trust will come. Always encourage days out, family games or creative projects and one day they may just bite. Keep positive and never make them feel bad for their disinterest. There may be an emotional reason for shying away from your offerings and until the communication and trust are built you may not understand what that reason is. Be patient as all will be well in the end.
How should I deal with negative comments?
This is a tricky one a I guess it depends on who is making the comments and how it affects you and your children. For the most part if someone else’s negativity is knocking your confidence or hurting you and your children in any way then I suggest you politely say or write to them and tell them that you are satisfied with your decision to unschool, you won’t discuss it further with them and the proof will be in the pudding when they see your child thriving. If their comments don’t bother you at all then ignore them as their ignorance isn’t worth the energy of a response. Please don’t let anyone (no matter who) sway you from trusting your gut instinct. Trust that you and your children chose unschooling for a reason and keep that feeling. People will always question what they don’t understand so if they are open to discussion then maybe try and answer their questions. If they are not then turn to someone who understands and can offer you reassurance. It is important to connect with like-minded people and as I’ve always said you always have a friend here should you ever need one. We want our family to grow into a community and safe space for everyone.
How do I take my child out of school? (UK)
Here is a link to the government website. It directs you to your local council to arrange the deregistration of your child from school.
What evidence can I show the education authorities?
This is up there with one of our most asked questions. I am very much of the belief that you should be transparent with your local education authority and offer them a large array of evidence of how you educate your children. Not only is this a great way to document your journey for personal reasons but ensures that you are fully understood and supported by your local education authority. Now, I understand that it is considerably harder to collect together evidence for unschooling as it is less about proof of what they’ve learnt and more about practising their skills. However, if you start collecting evidence at the beginning of your journey then it will soon build up to be a substantial amount.
We have found that using an app called Evernote is a really useful tool in collecting evidence. It allows you to link in books read, games played and resources used. You can also upload photos of achievements, days out, items made by your children and you can add captions underneath too. It is easily emailed to your local education authority and helps build up a big picture of the educational apps, YouTube videos, creative projects and days out for them to see.
If you (like me) shy away from anything technical then a simple folder to collect your items in will do the same thing. Perhaps grab yourself a photo album to pop pictures in with your own captions. We did this for our first visit and they were very impressed. We had completed a project on America and it had photos of cakes baked, days out, flag art and sensory play tables. Alongside this photo album, a few examples of works are also very helpful. A piece of writing, a painting or sculpture for example.
As well as this information I have found that the authorities like to know what your intentions are for the future. You could tell them what upcoming days out/holidays you have. That you intend to plant a vegetable patch or explore different languages. It shows intent to learn.
Let them know that you’re part of local education Facebook groups and that you are regularly told about opportunities for your children. Tell them what classes they’ve attended or friends they’ve made. All of these snippets add up to the bigger picture of how you educate your children.
Tell them what sort of child you have. Are they a hands-on learner? Are they obsessed with science or do they love dancing? Be open with your passion for your children and squirrel away bits and bobs throughout your journey to demonstrate things they’ve learnt, that way it won’t be such a big demand to find proof of learning right before a visit.
What are your thoughts on GCSEs?
We have always said that our reason for unschooling is so that our children can explore their passions and become experts in their chosen fields. We truly believe that if one or both of our children follow a path that leads them to fall in love with a particular job and they need GCSEs in order to achieve that goal then they will be inspired to want to take them. For example, if Pops wanted to become a vet then her desire to do so would encourage her to take any educational path or exam necessary to achieve it. This may be when she is 16 or it may be when she is 35. The point is if any of us have a desire to achieve something then we have the capability to reach those goals with a little hard work. On the flip side if their desires lead them to a job that doesn’t require GCSEs then they probably won’t feel inclined to take them. Either way, we will equip them with the relevant support they need to follow any of these avenues. Unschooling doesn’t mean they aren’t learning English, maths or science skills. It just means that they are not being practised in the same way. They will both be adequately educated should they choose to take their GCSEs in the future.
How do you teach your children to read the unschooling way?
Here is a link to a full blog post on our top 5 tips to teach your child to read the unschooling way.
What does unschooling maths look like?
We are asked this one a lot and in truth, each day can look very different from the next which is one of the reasons we started RFJ. To show people visually what unschooling can look like each and every day. We will be regularly uploading our maths ideas under the learn, play and craft sections of the blog and on YouTube. However, here is a list of ways to get started when practising unschooling maths:
measuring (tape measure, test tubes, weighing scales, time)
Here is a link to our ‘What does unschooling maths look like‘ video.
Why did you decide to homeschool/unschool?
We originally decided to home educate Pops due to her being so shy that she was crippled by the fear of being away from us. We were just going to homeschool her through reception in the hope that she would be ready later but in all honesty, when we started down this path we realised it suited us as a family to continue. It was after about 2 years of regular home education that we evolved into unschooling. It came about really from seeing the kids thrive whilst learning about some topics and not others. It became apparent that the drive to learn came from passion and curiosity. We simply began to let them pursue their desires and supported any learning that they could do via those outlets.
What do I love most about unschooling/homeschooling?
I get to be there for all of their firsts. They both read their first books to me. When they hurt themselves I’m there to support them. When they make friends I get to see their happy faces and when they achieve something I get front row seats for their beautiful proud faces.
I learn so much about who they are because they have the chance to be themselves. They can learn about whatever excites them and this allows me to truly understand who they are.
They get to be children for as long as they are children. Kids grow up too fast nowadays due to work pressures and friendship expectations. Unschooling allows my children to not be shamed or embarrassed for the things they like. They never have to feel like they are disappointing anyone for the way they learn or feel panicked about expectations put upon them. They can laugh, be imaginative, create and get messy as that is what kids do best!
What does a typical day look like when you unschool?
It is almost impossible to write down what a typical day looks like. This is why we created our YouTube channel. We regularly film day in the life videos to help show how wildly different each day could look. In one month alone we went to the beach, a lavender field, some caves, a ship museum, an art gallery, a science fair and a vegan festival. They both have attended homeschool classes in science, Spanish, art, ballet, street dance and pottery.
We draw, write, create, construct, cook, sew, count, measure, play, run, yoga, cinema, swim and so much more. One average day can have us reading, chatting and researching all in our pyjamas because we get too absorbed in a topic to come up for fresh air and another may simply be a day on a beach. We roll with the seasons, their passions and topics. We can honour the days when they are tired out by taking things easy or we can get so wrapped up in a project that we cover the same thing every day for weeks on end. There is something magical about waking up and not knowing where your day will take you!
Will you ever send your kids to school?
I think if they had their hearts set on going then, of course, we would discuss that option with them. However, they have such amazing social lives that I think they may feel that they don’t have time to go to school!
Do you cover the same subjects that school do?
Yes of course we do. We cover all of the UK curriculum subjects as well as so many more. For example, geology, ornithology, botany, typing, finance, mindfulness, survival, sustainable living, compassion, human rights, nutrition, first aid, household repairs, how things work and so much more. We just don’t follow a curriculum so they may learn these subjects via Harry Potter instead of world war 1!
Do your kids miss out on any aspects of regular schooling?
We have tried to make sure that both of our children get to have their version of all of the positive aspects of regular education. Eg public speaking, debate, show and tell, sharing, friend making, play dates, hobbies and days out. We even put on our own yearly pantomime or nativity which they help script, act out and film!
What about socialisation?
They have so many friends. They quite often learn in groups of other home educated children, in parks or with various friends and family. There are hundreds of home educated children in our area and the beauty about homeschool is that they get to socialise with all different ages and not just for short lunch breaks like they would at school but for full days if they choose. It always makes me smile when this question comes up as its exhausting keeping up with their social life! Join your local home education groups on Facebook, play in parks or take up hobbies. These are all great ways to make new friends for both kids and parents.
We hope we’ve answered all of your questions. If we haven’t then please feel free to contact us as we will happily update this section with any of your queries. We wish you all the best on your educational journey. Enjoy the ride and welcome to the family!