The ABCs of Unschooling
Okay, you've tried the prepackaged curriculum and it's just not working. What is wrong here? Where is the joy? Where is the excitement about learning that homeschooling is supposed to bring? The kids are miserable, Mom is frustrated and nobody seems interested in learning or doing much of anything. Face it, studying someone else's topics on someone else's timetable, with someone else's methods is, well...boring. You are ready for a change.

Unschooling sounds great, but there's a problem. You haven't yet completely figured out what to put in place of that curriculum. It's sort of like a meat and potatoes family starting a new vegetarian diet. It's dinnertime and here are the potatoes and there's the side dish, but there is a great big hole on the plate where the meat used to be. Learning to fill that hole will require getting back to the basics and learning a new way of cooking and eating. It's not difficult, just different. And it takes a little getting used to.

It's the same with unschooling. When parents first stop using a curriculum, they sometimes feel as if they are left with a big hole in their family's day where the textbooks and worksheets used to be. They know there must be thousands of ways to live a day, a week, a life on their own terms and with the unique recipes of unschooling. But where to start? And what exactly does an unschooler do all day?

Obviously each family's answer will be different. In fact, each person's answer will be different. But there are some wonderful resources, ideas, tools and activities that many unschooling families have used together on their journey of unschooled learning. Here is MY family's version of the ABC's of Unschooling.

A: arts & crafts, animals, acrobatics, acting, alphabet magnets, art galleries, art classes, Anime, archery, allowance, A&E, Animal Planet, American Girl, Aerospace Museums

B: board games, books, books on tape, bike riding, baby-sitting, balloon animals, Brain Quest, basketball, baking, building, beading, braiding, bubbles, Boy Scouts, baseball, bird watching, bowling, blocks, building toys, bugs

C: crafts, computers, computer games, counting, cutting, creating, collecting, collages, cooking, campfires, cuddling, coloring, cartooning, candle making, carving, charity work, Children's Museums, ceramics, castles, circuitry, camping, card games, car maintenance, costumes, calendars, crossword puzzles, Cuisenaire rods, chess, clay, crayons

D: discussions, doll making, dancing, decorating, designing, drawing, day dreaming, drumming, dogs, dinosaurs, diaries, daisy chains, Dungeons & Dragons, Discovery Channel, digging, disassembling old machines, doodling

E: exploring, exercising, experimenting, examining, electronics, earning, embroidery, email

F: field trips, fencing, 4-H, Fall Fests, forts, friends, flower presses, flower arranging, face painting, fishing, follow the leader

G: games, guitars, go-carts, Girl Scouts, gardening, grandparents, guinea pigs, geo boards, gymnastics, gel pens, glitter, glue sticks

H: hiking, horseback riding, helping Mom, helping Dad, hide & go seek, hangman, historical novels, the History Channel, holidays, hamsters, harmonicas, Harry Potter

I: instant messages, illustrating, inventing, investigating, interactive websites

J: juggling, jamborees, jewelry making, jump rope, journals, jobs, jokes

K: karate, knots, kickboxing, K'nex, keyboarding, kite flying

L: libraries, Legos, leaf pressing, lists, Lord of the Rings, the Learning Channel, Lincoln Logs

M: music, music lessons, maps, mazes, macramé, marching, munching, measuring, magazines, magic kits, mixing, mime, Mad Libs, mud pies, museums, magnets, maracas, markers, microscopes, magnifying glasses, Magic Treehouse books, marbles, marble painting, meditating

N: napping, needlepoint, nature journals, novels, newspapers, number games, Natural History museums

O: origami, observation, outer space, online chats, outdoor play, oil painting

P: playing, painting, pretending, piano, playgrounds, pools, ponds, paintball, pirates, pouring, pick-up sticks, plaster of paris, planting, pipe cleaners, political discussions, puzzles, PBS, popsicle sticks, poetry, paper chains, petting zoos, play doh, pet sitting, pen pals, postcard exchange

Q: questions, quilting, quiet time, Q & A games

R: reading, rollerblading, race cars, rafting, rabbits, recorders, recitals, repairing, reporting, rock climbing, refrigerator poetry, rock hunting, rock tumblers, road trips

S: sewing, swimming, singing, selling, storytelling, star gazing, sculpting, sand boxes, service projects, skiing, snowboarding, scavenger hunts, soccer, seeds, stilts, sign language, stickers, sleepovers, stamps, stationery, soap making, soap carving, sorting, skateboarding, sidewalk chalk, sledding, splatter art

T: tapes, tape recorders, tap dancing, typing, talking, traveling, tennis, tepees, television, thermometers, theater, tic-tac-toe, totem poles, trains, treks, trucks, trips, tie-dyeing, trampolines, twenty questions, Tinker Toys

U: unicycles, unifix cubes, ukuleles

V: videos, violin, vacations, visits, volunteering, vegetable gardens, VCR's, ventriloquism, video games, volcanoes, volleyball

W: wrestling, whistling, wishing on stars, weighing, walking, writing, websites, Wrap-ups, weight-lifting, walkie-talkies, word games, word searches, watercolors, woodworking

X: x-rays, xylophones, X marks the spot on a pirate map

Y: yoga, yodeling, yarn dolls, yo-yo's, Yahtzee

Z: zoos, zithers, Zoom

Playing is a natural way for children to learn, not to mention that it's FUN. When the kids are looking to you for something to do, why not pull out one of these games to play along with them? Some will involve number concepts, logic and reasoning. Many will involve reading, discussion and strategy. All of them are sure to bring your family together for an afternoon of joy and learning.

Board games:
  • Battleship
  • Candyland, Checkers, Chess, Chinese Checkers, Chutes and Ladders
  • Clue, Connect Four, Cranium, Cranium Cadoo
  • Dominoes
  • Guess Who
  • Hi Ho Cherrio
  • Labyrinth, Life
  • Mancala, Mastermind, Memory, Monopoly, Monopoly Jr.
  • Payday, Pictionary, Pictionary Jr.
  • Risk
  • Scrabble, Sorry, Stratego
  • Trivial Pursuit, Trivial Pursuit Jr., Trouble
Card games:
  • Milles Bournes
  • Old Maid
  • Pokemon (or most any collectible card game)
  • Quiddler
  • SET, Skip Bo
  • Uno
  • War Computer games:
    • Arthur's Reading Race
    • Disney's MathQuest with Aladdin
    • Freddi Fish series
    • Jump Start series
    • Logical Journey of the Zoombinis
    • Physicus
    • SimCity series, Spy Fox Adventures series, Super Solvers Gizmos and Gadgets
    • The Incredible Machine even more Contraptions
    Check out these fun books too:
  • Cat's Cradle String Games by Camilla Gryski
  • Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato & Ha Ha Ha — A Rulebook of Children's Games by Jack Maguire
  • I Spy... by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo
  • Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford
  • Word Games for Kids By Robert Allen

  • Top section originally published in Home Education Magazine, November-December 2002 issue.