Home Schooling, Unschooling, Radical Unschooling – What’s The Difference?

The options available to home educating families are wide and varied, and this can often cause confusion to people who don’t know where to start or which path would suit their family best. In this article I have outlined the three most common strains of home education, to give an idea of what each of them involves.

Home schooling

It is what is says on the tin – school at home. Schools vary wildly in their style and their approaches, and this is no different for home schooling. There are a wide range of curriculum’s that people may choose from, or they may come up with their own schedule and ideas for projects. There are also many different philosophies behind home schooling, from Steiner Waldorf to bible study, and there is the freedom to choose how and when to introduce a particular subject to a child.

Some home schooling families may choose to follow a strict schedule, mirroring the school environment, where as others will be more flexible and choose to do things as they come up, or in line with their child’s interests. Home schooled children can be assigned homework, asked to take tests and given grades on their work, and may have workbooks and set tasks to complete.

Who does it?

I have met a lot of home schooling families, and the people doing it vary just as much as the styles that can be used! From typical mainstream families who didn’t like the local school they were offered, to children who were not happy in the school environment, either not ready, not comfortable in big groups, or having issues with bullying. Parents who disagree with the curriculum, to parents who feel that their children are better off at home with them.

For some it is a temporary measure until a particular issue can be overcome, and for others, it is intended as a permanent choice. There is no right or wrong answer, and I think seeing how individual each families education style and reasons for choosing it are, serve to highlight how important it is to make the right choice based on your unique family and your child’s individual needs.


What is it? Simply put, unschooling is home schooling without the school part. The principals revolve around children learning from life experiences and being included within family activities. There is a huge emphasis on a child having the freedom to find their own interests and passions and as such, learn about topics at their own pace when they choose to do so. This means that because they are choosing to do it, and it is something they are interested in, they are far more likely to retain the information, than if they were being taught something that they didn’t have an urge to learn about.

Unschooled children tend to be able to self motivate and fill their time with that they enjoy. As always, each family has their own interpretation of the unschooling method, and will do things differently. Some actively avoid any sort of teaching, even for basic things such as reading or writing, preferring their child to pick these things up naturally, when they choose to, without adult interference. Others may notice a passion arising within their child for a particular subject, and come up with creative ways for their child to get more out of their interest, either providing them with the resources they need, or taking them on a trip to observe their passion in action.

Who does it?

Again, there are variations in the families who choose the unschooling path, but from what I have seen the families tend to be people who have begun to take a more open and mindful approach to life and parenting in general. They may have discovered attachment or continuum methods early in their parenting journey and see unschooling as a continuation of these practices, or they may have had a rough start to parenting and chosen to use unschooling as a means to reset their relationship with their child, and place some trust back in to their child’s hands.

Radical Unschooling

Radical unschooling is a step further from unschooling. In addition to allowing children the freedom to pursue their own interests and lead their own education, radical unschoolers, also known as the “whole of life” approach, extend these freedoms to include all choices involving the child. This means that the child chooses when and what to eat, when to go to bed and get up in the morning, how long to spend at a particular activity, and in some families this can extend out to cover things like personal hygiene, with the child choosing whether or not to brush their teeth, hair, shower or get dressed.

As I have mentioned throughout this article, there is no one firm way to do any method, and in the radical unschooling world there are some vast contrasts to be found. At one end of the spectrum there are families who shun TV and other technology, eat healthy diets, often raw, organic vegan based foods, spend a lot of time outdoors and live as naturally as possible. On the other end of the scale are families who allow their children to eat as much as they like of the food they choose, which could mean chocolate, cake or chips, use technology, sometimes playing games for hours and even days at a time, and may choose not to venture outside at all.

(I have tried to present each of these options for home education to you in as much of a non bias view as possible, however, for more on my opinion on the final example family seen above, you can read my article on The Importance Of Playing Outside.)

Who does it?

Again, there is no clear description of a radical unschooler, the families I have encountered are all very different, however they tend to have a strong trust that their children will choose what’s right for them, and a reluctance to force their own views and opinions on their child. Many whole of life families have been burned by the school system, causing them to take a path as far away from its methods as possible.

Often the parents will be following their own journeys in to unschooling or unlearning, rediscovering their own passions and needs as they learn alongside their children and get back to basics.

So there you have it, home education is not one straight path, it is as individual as the families that choose it.


Have you decided how your children will be educated yet? Perhaps you have learned more about the options available to you from this article and are considering a different path from the one you had settled on? Share your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to sign up at the bottom of the page to follow the blog, and get free updates straight to your inbox!

Image courtesy of  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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