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The Unschooling Series: How Learning Happens Without School

unschooling natural learning without school

As you all know, Pari does not go to school. It’s been roughly 5+ years that we’re unschooling her. She’ll be 11 on November 30. And Sufiana, who’ll be three on November 2, does not go to any preschool or playschool either. So, yes, we’re homeschooling our children. Actually, unschooling. Because, homeschooling is often (not always and not exclusively) about doing school-like subject studies at home; about following a curriculum and maintaining a structure or a schedule at home. Whereas unschooling means breaking free from the trappings of school. The traps being – learning from a curriculum, following fixed hours, categorizing learning into subjects – science, math, biology, history, geography; testing and grading; sticking to schoolish habits, expectations, fears and terminology.

What is unschooling? If you’d ask me to define it, there’s no one way to explain unschooling. For, unschooling is not a parenting ‘technique’, unschooling is not a learning ‘formula’, definitely not a modus operandi for ‘education’. As I’ve come to understand, education starts with an end date. Unschooling is life-long learning.


Because, unschooling is life itself.

Okay, so let’s see, what unschooling is. Let’s see how many ways I can define it, picture it, explain it. This is going to be fun and introspective for me because by doing this, I’d be examining and introspecting our family and our lives – so steeped in unschooling for years now. This opportunity to write about what unschooling means will make me look at our lives with more clarity.

So, why don’t I do this – why don’t I share one definition per post. That’ll give you all something to chew on in small bites, and will also give me the satisfaction of posting something new more frequently than I do right now. 🙂

Here goes the first thought or definition or way of looking at Unschooling:

The ‘learning’ that happens in unschooling happens because the learner wants it, it’s coming from within her. She’s pursuing it – either passionately at her excited pace, or gently at her simmering pace or haltingly at her solemn pace. There is freedom to learn what the learner wants, how he/she wants, when he/she wants, where and how much. The learner can quit when she’s done. Or, she can immerse in it for as long as she wants. The reign is in her hands and not in the hands of a teacher/parent.

The parent is a facilitator sometimes, a mentor at other times, or a co-learner once a while or often. This is quite unlike the ‘education’ that happens in schools and beyond, where ‘coercion’ plays an important role. Some authority figures pre-decide what’s important for the child to learn; they decide that 30+ kids will learn the same things at the same time. As if all humans minds and hearts were programmed the exact same way! The learner is not free to learn what she wants, when, where or how she wants. The learner (a human being!) has no right over how she’s going to spend her time. Others dictate it. 

In contrast to this, as an unschooling mother, I’m not my child’s teacher or her ‘decider’! I don’t have to be. My child is an avid learner, a curious seeker. Every human is. They’ll pick and choose what they are keen on learning. Learn they will. It’s their intrinsic nature. As my child’s parent and mentor, my primary role is to facilitate her interest/passion. And also provide a rich environment at home (and outside) that will stimulate curiosity and nurture creativity and non-linear thinking. At home, this environment is created by my own varied interests and curiosity to learn. When my children see me pursuing fresh ideas, pending ideas, passions and interests, they may join me or watch from a distance, or ask questions or offer suggestions. Or well, sometimes, just shrug and leave the scene. And, I do my own thing not because I want to be a role model (I may be) but because I enjoy learning and without my own projects and ideas, my spirit would be dead. 

So, new things they get exposed to – through conversations (a lot!), questions, debates (quite a lot!), festivals (all year round), people visiting us (conscious decision), we visiting their homes, museums, carnivals, nature treks (we moved cities just so we can do more of this!), evening walks, neighbourhood chit chat (we moved houses in a span of an year so we’ll have a thriving community). Unschooling, afterall is learning through living. Unschooling is life-in-progress.

The world is out there and I want my kid to tinker with a gamut of stuff. 
unschooling rich environment
But there’s another way through which we explore the world of learning together. And, that, for us (or for unschoolers in general) is huge. 
It is by looking at this world and exploring this world through the interest of my child. The child’s current interest is pivotal in driving his/her learning forward. And, that interest ( even if it is just one at the moment) will help form a plethora of learning connections for the child and the whole family – if the family (parents primarily) is actively engaged – as the child needs.
Often times, many unschooling kids just dive head long and deep within pursuing just one thing that they find meaningful. How they learn is not how we learned and wish them to. They want to learn something when they have a real reason to learn. My daughter, Pari (nearly 11) for instance is learning to tackle the nuances of a DSLR along with tripod and speaker and all the paraphernalia because she wants to make videos. She wants to be able to have her own you tube channel in the near future. As it is, she’s always been interested in creating videos. That’s what excites her. It’s her passion – digital things, gadgets, apps, mobiles. for the past couple of months, she’s been doing only this – all day long, late into the night and seven days a week. She forgets her meals sometimes, so engrossed is she in editing her videos on imovie. And, because she wants to create a rocking movie, she leaves no stone unturned. Will explore dozens of tutorials, will ask around, will whatsapp (my brother) people who may know. For a eight-minute movie, she’ll go over almost every second of the video to make sure nothing is out of place. She’ll reshoot a scene if she feels so. 
My point is, she’s ready to put the hardwork because this is what SHE wants to learn. And, while she’s into this, she’s least interested in going out to explore other things that we may want her to explore. Ha! So much for the ‘rich environment‘ that I want to offer!
My daughter has always learned this way. When she’s ‘into’ something, she’ll be engrossed in ‘just that’ for months. And then, when she’s explored and learned to her heart’s content, she’ll move onto something else and take that up. I find this way of learning quite fascinating. I feel these unschooling kids are able to do this because they have the time, space and support and no distractions or interruptions. I would have learned this way too, if the bells didn’t go off, if there wasn’t an exam hovering over me every so often or homework and school projects to get done with.
Basically, I feel that I as a parent can really do the needful of offering a rich environment to my child – by being a curious learner myself, my taking cues from her, by showing her and offering her something that I feel she ‘might’ be interested in, and most importantly – by exploring the world through her interest. 
And, hence there isn’t a moment when learning is not happening. You cannot NOT learn!

Read more Unschooling Stories, Thoughts and Experiences:

  1. When Parents Don’t Have Any Passions and Talents, Can They Still Offer Enriched Learning to Children?
  2. The Spiritual Aspect of Unschooling
  3. Mindfulness, Mothering and Learning
  4. Our Unschooling Journey: Seeing Value in What Children Want to Learn

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Tsmahalaxmi September 26, 2016, 4:10 pm

    Well-done,rashmi,u wrote it on Facebook.many of us had so many doubts about unschooling.g good.only thing is , about good friends to share her feelings.

  • aanchal September 26, 2016, 6:35 pm


  • Nidhi September 26, 2016, 11:19 pm

    Awesome!!!! What about kids who’s parents( like me) are not passionate about anything? I don’t expect my kid too but I really wanted to give this kind of environment to her. Sorry if you found it dumb. I know you and your daughter are talented…

  • Lilh September 30, 2016, 6:39 pm

    Is home schooling beneficial for my son who is 15 years old and is Downsyndrome.He is just going to school but has Still not developed writing and reading skills only taught Alphabets and numbers till 20 that all.How can I go about can u guide

    • Rashmie October 12, 2016, 1:36 am

      Sorry for the late reply. But, I’d asked a friend who has experience with homeschooling a child with Down syndrome to answer your question. Will go back and remind him to share his experience here.
      Thank you for your patience.

  • Rashmie October 12, 2016, 1:39 am

    Lilh, and there’s this FB group about homeschooling with down syndrome. It may help.

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