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Christian Unschooling: How I Got It Wrong The First Time

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No matter how many times I try and bring our family into more structured/formal homeschooling, within in days or weeks, I drop it all to go back to what feels the most natural for us: unschooling.

Though I love how unschooling looks for our family, even though we’re still finding ‘us’ in this stage of life, I have really struggle with some aspects of it.

For one, the term ‘unschooling’ seems to trigger negative responses/emotions in some people. It seems to have so many negative conotations to it. People seem to not be able to get passed what is isn’t rather than what is is.
I have also struggled because the sheer breadth and depth of unschooling among families can make it hard to define. Unlike, say the Charlotte Mason method which has some firm principles and practices, unschooling – by definition, really – can look vastly different between two families. Allowing learning to happen through interest, conversation, experiences, books means the learning life for each child – and family – is unique. All I can say to that is, Yes!


But, if you’re like me, this can also be confusing. I like clear lines. Perhaps that’s why Charlotte Mason appeals to me in many ways – I know how to ‘do’ her philosophy. But unschooling? Where is the clear line? Is this particular practice unschooling-friendly? Am I doing it wrong? 
And the big question for so many, including myself –

What is my role as a unschooling mother? 

People can have very strong – and varied – answers to this question! Talk about confusing.
But let’s add in the whole Christian element, too. We’re not unschoolers who are Christian. We are Christians who unschool. Does this make us a whole different kettle of fish? Probably!
Many unschoolers believe parents need to step back completely and let their children choose everything, not just their education. But, as Christians, we believe that God wants us to carefully and actively train and guide our children, so parental authority is involved in our lives. Where is the line between freedom for the children to learn and the wisdom/experience/authority of the parent?

So, naturally, this got me thinking –

can I be a Christian, obey God as parents, and unschool? 

The short story is, yes! Absolutely! (I accidently deleted a post that shared books that helped me with this question, but I will post it again soon.) The style of mother-child relationship that typifies unschooling is absolutely Biblical, and the respect for the free-will of the child (with sovereign-like overhead by mother) is also absolutely Biblical.
But I only see this now – a year and a half down the track of much struggle. 
Boy, have I struggled. If there has been a question asked about unschooling, I have asked it and sought the answer to it within a Gospel-framework. I have ran back and forth between styles of homeschooling because of this internal struggle and confusion. 
But as we are always drawn back to unschooling, I have faced these struggles head on.

Unschooling and the Mother

Because I was wrestling and struggling with all the questions and theology and practicalities of unschooling as a Christian; because unschooling looks so different with no ‘clear’ principal for a mother; I became afraid and confused about my role.
If I suggested something to the children, I felt I was ‘coercing’ them.
If I just let them be, I felt irresponsible and lazy.
Either way, I felt like an unschooling/Christian mother fraud.
In my favourite book on Christian unschooling, A Little Way Homeschooling, a mother expresses her similar struggle when she embraced more radical unschooling:
Radical unschooling was very liberating for me. I could feel myself throwing away checklists, embracing thinking outside the box, becoming free to be me. Or so I thought. After awhile, I found that I tended to hold myself accountable to some idealistic picture of the perfect unschool. I’d ask myself, Isn’t this coercion? Shouldn’t I let the kids make all their own choices? Overthinking every little thing soon became wearying…” ~ Leonie Westenberg (emphasis mine)
I understand her so much. Though we aren’t radical unschoolers, unschooling is a life of liberty! Or, so it should be a life of freedom, until you start overthinking everything and worrying that a particular practice for your family isn’t ‘unschooling’ enough.
I believe in unschooling as a Christian so much because of the freedom we have been given in Christ. But, being a human, I can easily exchange the liberty we have as a family for a law that wasn’t given by God.

Unschooling ‘Rules’

When I’m thinking about this dichotomy of unschooling and rules, I’m reminded of the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees when they attacked Him about His disciples not washing their hands before eating (and thus, were being ‘defiled’). Jesus’ reply is so apt for me in this struggle I have:
[Quoting Isaiah] “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” ~ Mark 7:6-7
Though I believe the way of unschooling is so good for our family, I need to be very careful how I treat the ‘commandments of men’ about unschooling. If I am living in fear or confusion, I need to ask myself: Am I treating unschooling as a doctrine?

Unschooling is a beautiful way, a little way as Suzie Andres calls it, and it is precious to me. It is gentle, nurturing, and slow. But it is a way only and not a mandate. And, because it is education for the child’s sake, it will look differently from family to family. A mother’s role, therefore, will vary – especially a Christian mother’s.
I should not fear how it looks for us as a family compared to another. Nor should I fear rebuke or criticism from an unschooling mother who thinks I am doing it ‘wrong’.
As a Christian, I know my role as a mother. I will be a hands-on unschooling mother. That is a clear principle for me now. But what is even clearer to me is this: the Gospel of Christ is my doctrine, it is His commands I follow, and as He leads our unschooling/homeschooling life, I will obey Him, even if that lead our family down a different path to another.

And Leonie, the mother from A Little Way Homeschooling? Here is what happened after her struggle:
Just as I had let go of more formal homeschooling, so I had to let go of this concept of pure unschooling anf of my monolithic vision of the perfect unschooling mother. I decided, instead, to discard labels, to live with joy and to embrace what felt most comfortable for us and for our Faith.”

As an unschooling mother, have you had this struggle also? 


4 responses to “Christian Unschooling: How I Got It Wrong The First Time”

  1. Very glad you were able to find how to make unschooling work for you and your family. It does seem to cause problems for people who don't homeschool (or use a much more rigid method).


  2. You would probably enjoy the book God Schooling by Julie Polanco.


  3. Yes, I did enjoy her book very much – though, have never been a fan of the title!


  4. It is a massive mindshift, and as a Christian, being sure of how you implement it through the Gospel. Thank you for coming by!


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