Book Review: The Unschooling Unmanual
Edited by Jan Hunt & Jason Hunt
Reviewed by Rita Brhel
In terms of education, I describe myself as a life-long learner.
My brain is always on the go. I'm always coming up with new
questions and searching for their answers. I love to learn - at
least I love to learn what I want to know more about. Coming from a
family where everyone has a college degree, often more than one, and
education is the result of a formal school system, The
Unschooling Unmanual, available through naturalchild.org,
presented me with a personal challenge. It gave me a look into a
branch of homeschooling where education doesn't mean memorizing
history dates, doing multiplication tables, and taking tests, but
where children are free to learn what they want, when they want, and
at their own pace.
For the attachment parenting families who choose to unschool, I
can see the benefits: You trust your child to make his own path in
life, and you're relying on your child's natural curiosity and love
of learning to guide him to make his educational choices.
"We had already experienced what attachment parenting could
do for our children and our entire family, and now we wanted to
expand that philosophy to their education," writes Nanda
Gestel, who has lived in the U.S. and Ireland, and now lives in The
Netherlands with her four boys. "The underlying philosophy
behind our decision was our holistic approach to parenting and
education. Unschooling allows each child to take their own unique
learning path. By following their hearts and pursuing their own
interests, they learn to take responsibility for their personal
Written for Parents by Parents
A collection of personal essays by eight writers, including API
Advisory Council member Jan Hunt, The Unschooling Unmanual strives
to both support parents who have made the decision to unschool their
children and inform parents who are considering it.
All the Big Questions Answered
An article by Daniel Quinn, author of the popular novel Ishmael,
answered many of the questions that initially popped into my head
when I think about unschooling:
- How will children learn without a formal school structure?
"It is part of the mythology of childhood itself that
children hate learning and will avoid it at all costs. Of
course, anyone who has had a child knows what an absurd lie this
is. From infancy onward, children are the most fantastic
learners in the world. If they grow up in a family in which four
languages are spoken, they will be speaking four languages by
the time they're three or four years old - without a day of
schooling, just by hanging around the members of their family,
because they desperately want to be able to do the things they
do. Anyone who has had a child knows they are tirelessly
curious. As soon as they're able to ask questions, they ask
questions incessantly, often driving their parents to
distraction. Their curiosity extends to everything they can
- But will they be motivated?
"...the desire to learn is hardwired into the human
child... It's genetic. ... Children don't have to be motivated to
learn everything they can about the world they inhabit; they're
absolutely driven to learn it."
- Will they learn the same things as children in formal
No, they won't all learn the same things, Quinn writes, but
most high school graduates also will not retain much of the
education they received while in school. "The people who
are horrified by the idea of children learning what they want to
learn when they want to learn it have not accepted the very
elementary psychological fact that people (all people, of every
age) remember the things that are important to them - the things
they need to know - and forget the rest." Quinn goes on to
write how he attended a very well-known prep school, graduated
fourth in his class, and today couldn't receive a passing grade
in more than a couple of the dozens of courses he took. He added
that although he studied classical Greek for two years, he is
unable to read a single sentence aloud today. What he has
learned and remembered is what he's doing in his life, not what
he learned sitting in a classroom.
Unschooling is Child-led Learning
The reason unschooling - also known as natural learning,
experience-based learning, and independent learning - works is
because it encourages a child to learn what she wants when she wants
to, writes Quinn. Learning doesn't become a boring experience,
because the lessons are selected by the student's interests. They
learn to read and write, do math, appreciate history, understand
science, and more as they explore their topic of choosing. For
example, a child who's interested in learning about the ocean might
want to visit the library for a book on sea life and if he needs to
learn to read in order to absorb the information, he'll do so during
his quest to explore the ocean. This idea of self-led teaching is
strange to people accustomed to formal schooling, because most
curriculums are not organized in such a way.
An article by Jan Hunt, author and director of The Natural Child
Project, answers another basic question:
How do you know if the child is learning anything?
Perhaps the top untrue assumption of unschooling families is that
there is no teaching happening, when in fact the teaching that is
happening is just not the same that would happen in a formal school
system. While she doesn't structure the school day or use a
curriculum, Hunt writes how she is continually helping her child
learn by answering questions, encouraging creative problem-solving,
finding resources and information related to her child's interests
at the time, demonstrating ethical qualities such as honesty and
responsibility, and modeling the joy of learning through her own
discussions, research, and reading.
"While it is not impossible for a conventionally schooling
family to pursue the kinds of activities I have described, it is
simply more difficult to do so when parents and children have so
much less time together, and when even after-school hours are taken
up by projects, homework, and other school-related demands,"
And how does Hunt know her child is learning? She is involved
with her child as he leads his own educational journeys, just as
"any parent of a toddler could almost certainly tell us how
many numbers her child can count to, and how many colors he knows -
not through testing, but simply through many hours of listening to
his questions and statements. In unschooling, this type of
observation simply continues on into higher ages and more complex
learning," Hunt writes.
The Unschooling Unmanual, A Great Introduction to
Much of the rest of The Unschooling Unmanual continues to
define exactly what unschooling is, how it differs from formal
schooling, and the joy that parents experience in their child, their
families, and themselves as they embrace natural learning as a
viable alternative to other educational opportunities available. The
Unschooling Unmanual is a great book to get an introduction to
unschooling as you explore the educational part of parenting your
"Unschooling isn't a technique; it's living and learning
naturally, lovingly, and respectfully together," Hunt writes.
"For parents who went to school, unschooling can be a
challenge, but it is also our best opportunity to learn to trust our
children's natural love of learning."
Reprinted with permission of the author.
This interview originally appeared in the
Family, an online magazine of