Unschooling vs Deschooling: What’s the Difference?

unschooling deschooling

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If you’ve been around the homeschool community (or doing homeschooling research), you may have heard the terms unschooling and deschooling. Homeschool terminology can be confusing (even if you’ve been homeschooling for a while), so let’s take a look at the difference between these two.


An unschooling approach is also called child-lead learning or natural learning. With unschooling, parents allow the child to take the lead in what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.

Unschooling is a method of homeschooling supported by educator John Holt, who believes that children learn subject matter naturally. For example, instead of learning from textbooks and worksheets, an unschooling approach might incorporate a child’s interest of cooking as a way of learning science and math naturally from recipes. Cooking is great way for children to learn basic addition and subtraction when determining how many cups or tablespoons are needed, as well as a way to learn about more advanced concepts like fractions. Additionally, cooking is a fun way to learn science principals like chemical reactions and about liquids, gases, and solids. With an unschooling approach, it is believed that the child will learn those concepts naturally as they spend time cooking and reading recipes.

FUN FACT: Recently, PayPal and Tesla Motors mogul Elon Musk admitted to unschooling his children.


Deschooling is a term that is used to describe a decompression period that a child should be allowed when switching from traditional school to another method of education, like homeschooling. For example, if a child has attended traditional school, he or she has been conditioned to raise a hand to speak, ask permission to go to the bathroom, sit at a desk quietly for several hours on end, and eat lunch (or do other things) on a specific schedule. This is very different from homeschooling. Getting out of those traditional habits and disconnecting from the traditional way of schooling doesn’t just happen on the first day of homeschooling. Jeanne Faulconer, author of TheHomeschoolMom.com, states, “Parents who are new to homeschooling and have taken a child out of school should expect the first days, weeks, and months of homeschooling to be hugely affected by the process of deschooling.”




There is no set time for deschooling. For some homeschoolers, they may deschool for a week or two before moving on to scheduled activities. Other homeschoolers may find that one to three months is necessary for deschooling and becoming accustomed to learning at home. It’s up to you and your family to determine what works best for you because every family is different and there are no wrong answers.

Unschooling versus Deschooling

Remember, unschooling is a philosophy of learning outside of the norm that often allows the child to choose how and what he or she wants to learn; while deschooling is the process of decompressing from the traditional methods of education. During deschooling, you might let your child sleep in, choose his or her own books to read, and direct if they want to go to the zoo, a nature hike, or the museum that day. Or, maybe your child wants to watch some videos on learning to draw cartoons. Or, maybe during your deschooling time you travel to different areas and experience different cultures.

During the deschooling process, you may actually use the philosophy of unschooling. For example, maybe your child expressed an interest in learning more about birds in your state. During deschooling, your child may naturally gravitate toward library books about birds, or ask to see the traveling Audubon exhibit that he saw on a commercial, or maybe your child wants to go on a bird watching nature hike. Jan Hunt, of NaturalChild.org, writes, “Unschooling children, free from the intimidation of public embarrassment and failing marks, retain their openness to new exploration,” which is something that many of us lose during traditional schooling.

These facets of the unschooling philosophy are helpful during the deschooling process of switching from traditional thinking to a more open educational concept like homeschooling. However, after deschooling you may decide to choose another homeschool methodology that is not unschooling. After deschooling, you may decide that you want to follow the Charlotte Mason method or an eclectic method or even another method. Or, you may decide that unschooling is a good fit for your family.

It's Homeschooling, Not Solitary Confinement by Jacqueline Wilson (AFFILIATE)

Part of this post was excerpted from the book, “It’s Homeschooling, Not Solitary Confinement” — NOW AVAILABLE


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Check Out These Unschooling and Deschooling Books

NOW AVAILABLE: It's Homeschooling, Not Solitary Confinement (AFFILIATE)


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