Life learning (which you may also see called unschooling, radical
unschooling, natural learning,
free-range learning, homeschooling, and autonomous learning, to name just a few of the
terms people use) is, at its most basic, self-directed learning that happens
without attending school and without using any of the methods used by schools
or conventional parenting – including coercion and extrinsic motivation. It is informal, active education
about all aspects of life that results simply from living as if school doesn't exist. As you will
see from reading the articles linked below and elsewhere on this site, it
is based on the knowledge that people are learning beings, and will learn
eagerly and well, based on their own intrinsic motivation.
- People don't need school to learn;
- School often gets in the way of learning;
- Kids and other people learn what they need when they recognize the
In my family, we have used the term life learning for many decades to
describe personalized, non-coercive, active, interest-led learning from
life – for people of all ages. Although John Holt coined the term "unschooling"
in the late 1970s, its use has increased over the past few years, often
by families wanting simply to differentiate their secular, natural learning
lifestyle from the more formal, religious, structured, curriculum-based
type of education that many people now associate with the word "homeschooling."
Life learning children generally live and learn, with the support of
their families, based on their own interests and their own timetables, and
without curriculum, tests, grades, or coercion. But that can be difficult to envision,
because most of us attended school, with its passivity, control, and artificial
motivation. So that limiting experience has become the norm, against which
everything else is measured. And anything other than school is considered
not to be education, or even deviant, scary, irresponsible, or "unparenting."
close to 500
articles from Life Learning Magazine that appear for free on this
website illustrate a reality that is different
from school (even democratic and free schools, many of which require
compulsory attendance). They also differ from the way some families practice conventional homeschooling.
This reality is one that is respectful of children and is based on trust
rather than coercion. It is personalized and interest-led rather than directed
by parents, schools, or other "experts." It preserves the curiosity
with which humans are born; and nurtures their independence and self-management
(with, of course, respect for their safety and health - topics that are,
admittedly, somewhat fraught with controversy).
As parents, our own experience with schooling has helped convince us
that learning happens only in a dedicated building on certain days, between
certain hours, and managed by a specially trained professional; that children
must be taught how to learn; that knowledge is sliced up and organized into
various segments; that testing and grading are integral to learning; that
children can't manage their own lives and learning; and that, if left to
their devices, children would "do nothing" all day and make poor
life choices. Hence, our difficulty with imagining life without school for
children, let alone ourselves in a life-long learning context.
Aside from that, life learning is not necessarily simple for parents
(and is definitely not "unparenting"), because it requires us to be partners
in our children's learning and growth. That means we balance care, guidance,
inspiration, interaction, behavior modeling, and communication with respect
for our children's huge ability and eagerness to learn about themselves
and the world in their own way and at their own unique speed. But the effort
is worth it, allowing children to remain whole, curious, happy, and empowered.
And it results in independent adults who love learning in the same way they
did when they were first born.
Some families use the term "radical unschooling" to describe the way
in which purely academic learning without school extends, almost
inevitably, into other aspects of parenting. In my experience with two
daughters who lived and learned without school in the 1970s and '80s, trusting them to learn reading, writing,
math, science, etc. led naturally to trusting them with decisions about
food, clothing, bedtime, and other things. We found that when trust in children
allows the boundaries between academic subjects to be erased, boundaries
between other aspects of life fall away if we let them.
So, for many people, questioning the institution of school leads to questioning
how we deal with our health, how we govern ourselves, the role of corporations
in our lives, and so on. I don't use the term "radical unschooling" in my
own writing, and we try to avoid it in the magazine, because I believe that,
in our culture, trusting and respecting children is radical, and the rest
is details, to be worked out, on an evolving basis, by each individual family
as they walk the parenting journey. I am also, personally, moving away
from the term "unschooling," since it is now also used by many people
who run schools and learning centers of various kinds.
Life learning looks a bit different in each family; it has a few basic
principles (trust, respect, dignity, non-coercion, autonomy, family
support) but no "rules."
I invite you to
read the articles on this site as a great way to develop a full understanding
of this way of living and learning. Or you can purchase one of our
books on the subject.
Meanwhile, we hope that the following articles will present you with
the beginnings of a sense of this joyful, progressive, and increasingly
popular way of living with children and young people (and of learning for