Formal schooling combined with unschooling

formalFormal schooling and unschooling don’t often go together.  In fact, they often are perceived as opposites.  However, I’ve found that formal schooling and unschooling can work well together.  For many unschooling is defined by the absence of formal schooling.  My definition of unschooling is somewhat different.  I define unschooling as an informal child-led learning experience.

You could probably say that I have unschooled my children since birth.  A young child is a little sponge eager to soak up the world around him.  Little conversations, playtime, and day to day experiences are valuable learning times.  But formal schooling has a place in our household too.  When my children were Kindergarten age I started them on formal schooling.  By formal schooling I mean teacher-directed activities of certain subjects like reading, math, and history.  Because they are teacher-directed doesn’t mean they are devoid of playtime and conversations though.  I like to mesh unschooling into our formal learning.  How?

I mesh unschooling into our schooling in a couple ways.  First of all I try to make our teacher-directed time full of hands-on activities, interesting books and videos, and conversations.  While this is a work in progress it has made our formal time a little less formal than sit-down-at-the-table-and-do-your-work type of schooling.  We do have some sit down work, but I try to keep that to a minimum.  Secondly, I try to mesh unschooling into our formal schooling by introducing interesting topics.  We explore topics in depth and find that when we do so, my children are more apt to study that topic on their own outside of formal school time.

For instance, last week we watched a DVD on viruses for our science class.  My son looked at the back of the DVD case and saw that there were more videos in the series.   My son requested them and a trip to the library solved that.  As I emptied the library bag I showed them the DVDs from the library and placed them on a table letting them know that they were available to watch.  While we were done with the topic for our formal school time, my boys have already watched two more of the videos in the series because they are interested in the topic.  We explored the topic in depth during our formal school time, but there is never an end to learning.

So I find that unschooling and formal schooling go well together.  They don’t have to be opposites.  In our household unschooling seems to help my children learn and develop interests than can be explored further in formal learning.  Teacher-directed learning seems to help my children develop new interests that they explore outside of school hours.  I don’t think there is one right way to do things.  Every child and every family are different.  For our family, both unschooling and formal schooling have been wonderful ways to learn.


  1. We do something similar. I just believe in taking an extra step in communicating the why to my daughter. So we work in partnership. I have some things I feel are important to teach her so I tell her so and why, and she shares things she’s interested in learning and together, with me making finally choices do school. It works well for now. It’s part child-led learning and part parent led-learning with a healthy open dialogue. To me the key is respect and making sure my daughter understands that her education is for her not something I’m doing to her. I suppose someday she may tell me she disagrees with what I think she should learn, and I guess whether or not we will be studying it will depend on her reason for disagreeing. LOL

  2. We do this exactly! I think both learning methods feed off each other. Only I called it part-time unachooling. 🙂
    Brenda @ Schooling a Monkey recently posted…Encourage Kids to Write: Start a Dream JournalMy Profile

  3. We are like this a lot too. There are times when even the basics that are typically more formal get unschooled too. Like right now he’s working on a paper to persuade his dad and me to let have a later bedtime.

    After 7 years of this, I’ve realized that we are an eclectic mix of formal, child led and even full unschooling. It works for us!

  4. THIS is exactly my homeschooling philosophy! I am having a hard time right now ‘defining’ our homeschool and figuring out the direction we are taking next year. Reading this reminds me that it is MY homeschool and we don’t have to fit in to one definition or another. I think I found this at exactly the right time as I struggle with ‘labels’ and what is right for us. This really made me feel ok with the fact that yes, we use curriculum and do formal school, but we can also do it in a fun way! Even if we are not complete unschoolers, the kids are having fun and that is where learning occurs!

  5. Love this post because we are trying to mesh formal school and unschooling. I always wanted to do formal lessons in the morning for math, language arts and foreign language in the mornings and unschooling free time in the afternoon and also science based on whatever the latest interest is rather than following a curriculum but we found we ran out of time because formal lessons took so long with all the procrastination going on. So recently we have been trying a week of unschooling after a few weeks of formal schooling weeks. We are trying to still figure out what will work for us but I do want to incorporate some of both.
    Elaine recently posted…Quelling My Homeschooling FearsMy Profile

  6. I think you just discribed what I have been trying to do. This really helps me but my desires into something that can be doable.

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