How Do Unschooled Children Learn?

The question that we often get asked when someone learns that we are unschooling is “How does your kid learn?”. You see, in the case of home schooling there is at least a curriculum and everyone expects some teaching. They intuitively understand that home schooling means teaching subjects like Math, Science etc. What craziness is this unschooling where the kid is completely left to learn on their own?


Of course home schooling and unschooling have some things in common. And home schooling does not necessarily imply following a strict curriculum and time table. But most people do follow some syllabus and time table.


Why school is not conducive to learning

If you observe how children learn, you will notice that they learn by observing things. They don’t learn from teaching. Teaching is a form that we invented to deliver knowledge that we learned. Whether we learned something by intuition or text books, we like to teach it. The reason we teach is because we don’t want them to make the same mistake that we did. It will speed up the process of learning for them. That is what we think. But when you look from the kid’s perspective, they feel that there is this knowledge that is being passed on to them without context. And hence the learning becomes difficult.


Take for example the formula to solve a simple quadratic equation. We all (or most of us) know that the equation to solve a quadratic equation of the form ax2 + bx + c = 0 is

Now think back to the school days. How were we taught this? As a formula that we have to remember by heart. The rote memory is good when we are in an exam trying to solve problems as quickly as we can. But when you are trying to solve it for a home project, you lose the intuition. Wouldn’t it be easier to visualize the equation as a parabola? Then the solutions to the equation are the two roots that intersect the x-axis. If you are confused, watch the video below.



That sort of intuition is what the schools are taking away from kids. That is what I would like to avoid.


How do they learn then?

Kids learn by observing and then trying to solve problems that they encounter in life. Of course they don’t encounter all sorts of problems so they will not learn everything that you and I learned at school. But they will seek out solutions to their problems. If they can’t find it, they will eat your brain until you help them find it. The worst part is, if you are sloppy in explaining things, they will keep on asking why until you cannot bear it anymore.


That is what I consider as a child-led learning. They see a problem that they themselves want to solve. Then they seek the solution from first principles. It will certainly take much longer for them to solve a problem than any other school kid of that age. But I am sure they will remember the solution much better. Better yet, if they forget the solution, they can derive it themselves.


Can they make money?

Children learn by observing and experimenting with nature. They look at nature and make a bunch of observations. Then they add in layers of abstractions in the form of laws and equations that they either come up with or learn from books or other media. They will keep adding abstractions until they can build useful things and make money. If you feel like you heard this somewhere, well yes. It is from the video below.



I know this feels far-fetched, but you have to trust your kid to do it. Remember how we learned our first language. No one started off teaching grammar and structure of sentences. We just picked it up. And we speak in a very fluent grammatically correct form. The grammar part comes much later in life after going to school. So all I am saying is that self learning is always more fun and satisfying than learning for no reason. Finally, I will leave you with this video.



While I don’t agree with everything that he believes, I do agree on a lot of things. That’s life.


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