Responding to questions about unschooling

Someone wrote:
I'm dreading the next trip back when anyone from relatives to random strangers will want to know why my kid isn't in school!
Karen James responded:
Trying to remember to be mindful of what I tell myself has helped me so much. If I tell myself I'm dreading an interaction, that exchange will likely be much more challenging than it needs to be. If I can see the upcoming interaction as an opportunity to practice my skills or to share some of my own joy, the exchange will be easier for me, and maybe even fun for all people involved.

When I join people that I suspect will find what we do curious, I come with stories that share the joy and wonder of living and learning this way. Look for lots of little moments that you can turn into stories to share. As your own personal storybook grows, so will your confidence and peace of mind about your choices.

When questions come up about what to say to others who ask about what we're doing with our children, the answer is going to depend on who's asking and why. No one has an obligation to give a long defense of homeschooling to strangers in planes or elevators. Short answers can be the greatest. But because questions are phrased differently different times, and the relationships between the people vary, I'm going to provide several responses collected over the years. It might help to read them and adopt the best parts for your own purposes.

Sometimes it's a stranger, and sometimes it's a structured homeschoolers wanting to know why you're not using a curriculum.

Rippy Dusseldorp suggested some great responses, in 2012:

Q: The advice I am looking to receive is about how to deal with these people. They want to know how I'm going to do it and when I meet homeschoolers, they want to know what curriculum I'm going to use.

My answer depends on who is asking. I start with short, simple answers. If they ask for more information, I give a bit more.

If parents of school children ask, I usually say our homeschooling is pretty eclectic. I may give certain examples such as visiting interesting places, doing experiments, playing 'learning' games, reading stories, having conversations of events that happened in the past, talking about famous people, making things, hanging out with friends, etc. Sometimes I share with them a detailed description of an interesting day that we've had, especially if it has impressive signs of learning that they will recognize.

If I notice that a parent is particularly anxious with my answers, I might add that the children use Brain Quest workbooks (see note below). Or something else schoolish that we have in our house that the children have showed some sort of interest in. I usually don't tell the parent that I never ask our children to use workbooks. I don't tell them that sometimes the children cut up their unfinished workbooks to make other things. I don't tell them that sometimes the children pretend to be my teacher and ask me to do homework and fill out the workbooks. I let the parent fill in the blanks with their own thoughts and ideas.

Often a school parent will ask what hours we homeschool and I tell them we have slow mornings and then we do different things that the children find interesting - maybe working on an ongoing project or going on a little trip. I tell them that we have some really busy days, and some really luxurious downtime days. Most days are a mix of both. Some school parents ask whether or not our homeschooling is similar to Montessori or Waldorf. I tell them it can have elements of either one. It is more similar to the open classroom philosophy or the democratic Sudbury model. Sometimes it has elements of Reggio Emilia. Usually at this point, they suspect I may know more about educational approaches than they do, and they change the topic.

If it is a homeschooler that asks, I tell them we unschool. If they ask about curriculum, I say unschooling parents provide a rich and interesting environment for children to learn and use things like games, books, television, music, maps, art and craft supplies, computers, and much, much more to help create this environment. I tell them that we help our children follow their interests and passions by being a facilitator. If they want more information on curriculum, I direct them here: /unschoolingcurriculum

If the homeschooling parent shows curiosity or interest in unschooling, I direct them to Sandra's and Joyce's websites:



If the person asking is attached to the idea of 'real research', I often answer that our approach is natural learning. I suggest that they might want to read the work of Peter Gray (professor at Boston University), Alan Thomas (Visiting Fellow at University of London) and/or Carlo Ricci (professor at Nipissing University) if they would like to learn more.

No matter who is asking, I answer with confidence and matter of factness. I'm friendly and disarming. I smile 🙂 If there is a lull in the conversation, I smoothly transition into asking something about their child. Maybe something like - 'How is Susie doing? I saw that she has a brand new pink bicycle with a Barbie bell. She must love that'.

The way I've dealt with people's questions has improved with time and practice.

Q: In your experience, after the first year of everyone asking what we are doing, does the hub nub die down or do they keep coming?

Rippy Dusseldorp, continuing...

Our confidence in unschooling helped the hub nub die down for us. My confidence in answering people's questions dramatically improved after the first year. In the very beginning I was almost apologetic that we homeschooled 🙂

These days, if someone asks me a question about homeschooling, it's usually Gianluca and Gisele that bubble over with excitement and take over the conversation. They explain with great enthusiasm what homeschooling is for them and happily answer people's questions.

I didn't expect for that to happen. Something else that I didn't expect was that the people who asked us lots of homeschooling questions in the early days, began to make complimentary remarks about our children and started to notice different things that they were learning. Some things that people have said are 'Gianluca is a really logical problem solver' or 'Gisele is super confident' or 'you have really happy/helpful/friendly children'.

People see evidence of us doing all sorts of stuff. If someone comes into our house, they see a rich and nourishing environment where there are recognizable (to them) signs of learning - little family post boxes for notes that we write each other, a substantial library, craft projects and lego structures in different stages of completion, drawings, puzzles and more.

People see our children out and about in the world - having conversations with adults, teens, younger children and older children. They see Gianluca and Gisele go exploring in the neighbourhood with binoculars, magnifying glasses, nature identification cards, and other fun tools. They see them build things in front of the house, trade games, toys and cards with neighbourhood kids, bike around with friends, invite friends over to play wii and watch movies. People see the children come back from interesting places and witness them enthusiastically tell others what they saw, felt, heard, witnessed, smelled, tasted, and talked about. The children themselves radiate confidence in their happiness with homeschooling. Probably that helped most with the questions dying down.

(Gianluca 7, Gisele 5)

Note: For your family, the most important thing now is to deschool. Avoid anything schoolish, unless your children really want to use those types of resources. This is their rest and recovery time from their 6 years of schooling. It's important not to rush them and to give yourself plenty of time to deschool as well.


What is deschooling? (at Pam Laricchia's site)

More by Rippy Dusseldorp

Gaining Confidence

Becoming Courageous, by Deb Lewis