Homeschooling vs Unschooling – The Difference

Homeschooling, or unschooling, is a lifestyle of playful personal growth with trust, freedom, and support.

The natural part means that we are working with the nature of our children, honoring the way the human brain has evolved to learn alongside their inherent way of being, while in connection with the natural world around us.

The homeschooling part means that we are opting out of the school system and taking ownership of our family’s learning journey. It is an educational approach, but the key part of this definition for me is in the word lifestyle.

Natural homeschooling is not something you do to a child, it is a way of being with a child—of living and learning (and thriving) together.

“Sounds wonderful . . . in theory, but I’ve got questions.”

Then you’ve come to the right place because even after living with this curriculum-based educator that’s been doing it for 10+ years. However I’ve been able to homeschool as a natural lifestyle for over a decade supporting thousands of families along the way, I’ve got answers! Let’s demystify everything from the homeschool curriculum to daily schedules.

What’s the difference between unschooling, self-directed learning, or natural learning and other homeschooling philosophies?

Essentially unschooling, self-directed learning, and natural learning all mean the same thing.

What makes them different than any other form of homeschooling? There’s no forceful learning. We enter into the role of ally or guide instead of manager or enforcer. Instead of telling our children what they must learn, we ask them what they are interested in learning.

Can we use curriculum and classes on the natural homeschooling path?

I have seen others on the internet define unschooling and natural homeschooling incorrectly as the lack of curriculum, but that is not true!

We do not impose arbitrary educational mandates through curriculum against our child’s will, but we can absolutely offer a curriculum as a tool that we believe might be advantageous to our specific child at a particular moment in time (that they are free to decline).

And our kids often choose to enroll in various classes that they find interesting or believe to be helpful. We look to our kids to identify their needs (not a government list or online chart) and offer resources. Think of it as extending invitations.

How do we start natural homeschooling?

On a practical level, the first step would be to investigate the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state or country. The HSLDA is a good resource for this but the best insider information comes from the veterans already homeschooling in your area.

I recommend joining local homeschooling or unschooling Facebook group (simply search your city’s name + unschoolers or homeschoolers) and they can spell it out for you in plain English (or whatever language your area uses). 

On a deeper level, the first step is deschooling, which means unpacking all the educational baggage you have inherited from your own upbringing and the culture around you. You have to clear away all the educational clutter, bravely question everything, let your kids be, and just observe with nonjudgmental curiosity.

How do kids actually learn? How does this specific child of mine thrive?

Am I qualified to homeschool my child?

Were you qualified to parent and teach your child when they were 2? 3? 4? Nothing mystical changes when your child turns 5 that suddenly change the way they learn or disqualifies you from being their guide. You are enough. 

That said, legal requirements do vary in every state and country so you may have to jump through a hoop to get the i’s dotted and t’s crossed—don’t let that intimidate you. In most places, simply being your child’s legal guardian qualifies you. 

How many hours a day does it take to homeschool naturally?

This is a lifestyle, so this question doesn’t really make sense to us unschoolers or natural homeschoolers. We’re always living and learning! Homeschooling isn’t something that happens between the hours of 8 and 2 at the kitchen table.

It’s happening when we’re hiking through the forest, playing a game, cooking dinner, or reading aloud at bedtime. It is a state of mind that is always primed for wonder.

In other words, you don’t need to set aside time in your day to “homeschool.” Instead, build your life around rich experiences, meaningful connections, and fulfilling days.

What is a typical natural homeschooling schedule?

It varies widely from family to family depending on how their minds, bodies, and souls thrive.

Close your eyes and imagine your ideal dream day. List out your family values. Collaborate with each family member around their needs and interests. Then build your rhythm based on those things.

Can kids learn reading and math naturally?

Yes! Kids learn reading and math the same way they learned to talk and walk.

What materials do we need for natural homeschooling?

Less. I help families set up ideal home environments for natural learning to blossom and a huge part of that work is simplifying the space.

Instead of a focus on acquiring every material that your child might ever have cause to use, focus on holding the open space for them to get to know what materials are helpful in this season and then feature and rotate those materials.

For example, if my child is passionate about art, I might have oil pastels set up on the table for a month, then trade those with a friend for watercolors that I set up on the deck with an easel, then donate those and layout sidewalk chalk, a bucket of water, and brushes on the driveway.

Are natural homeschoolers equipped to be successful in life?

The short answer is yes. We actually have a good amount of data to help us answer this question with studies showing everything from all 6 years of elementary math being easily learned by 9-12-year-olds in 20 hours when they wanted to learn it to valedictorians being remarkably unsuccessful in the workplace because the qualities that are selected for in schools are not the qualities that create success in the real world or in the job market to millionaires not particularly excelling in classrooms or on tests.

Let’s cut right to the chase: unschoolers can go to college and the data shows that they tend to be at least as successful though often more successful there than their traditionally schooled peers. 

The long answer is: How do you define success? And that is one of my favorite aspects of natural homeschooling—that my children are right now, today and every day, engaged in aligning their energy, time, and resources with their intentions, goals, and values.

They are learning how to create a fulfilling and meaningful life by living one. 

How do natural homeschoolers or unschoolers handle technology?

Nature and technology are not mutually exclusive.

Technology puts the entire world’s repository of knowledge at your child’s fingertips, which removes all of the gatekeeping that was at one time relevant with schools being a primary source for information. It can be a tremendous tool on the homeschooling journey.

But just like we’ve experienced as adults, we are best served when we bring intention to our relationships with technology and we can help support that with our children through collaborative partnership.

Is natural homeschooling possible with a neurodivergent child (ASD, ADHD, Dyslexia, etc.)?

Not only is it possible, but ideal! On the natural homeschooling or unschooling path, you can shift the entire context around your child to support their challenges and nurture their strengths.

This point is well illustrated by an Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Neurodivergent kids are fish. School is a tree. 

Natural homeschooling is a wonderful approach to living and learning together that, with a little creativity, can be tailored to your family’s unique needs.

Bottom line: you can do this (and it’s easier than you might think).

Not only can you do this, it’s gonna be great (and I’ll be here cheering you on). 

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