Why Radical Unschooling isn’t for me

Parenting is HARD! Children don't come with a guidebook – instead there are thousands you can buy all saying different things!  As parents, we just do the best we can & have to find what works for us.  While physical punishment doesn't work for us, I recently discovered Radical Unschooling doesn't either.  Now to discover what resonates for our family!

Why Radical Unschooling Isn't For Me

As a mom, I want to do what is best for my children.  I'm always reading about other parenting styles & Radical Unschooling caught my eye.  We aren't quite unschoolers, but we aren't quite your typical homeschoolers either. We practice what we call Child Led Learning.  Every month I sit down with the kids and they each pick out something they are interested in.  I build unit studies around those topics and cater to their individual learning style. We still do worksheets and have a schedule, but the majority of our day is spent doing activities instead of organized school work.

When I think about my ultimate goal for my children, I know I want to raise productive members of society. I don't care what profession they go into or if they go to college. I don't care if they are gay, straight, transgendered, etc. I don't care if they are skinny, average, or overweight – as long as they are healthy. I don't care what religion they follow or if they decide they don't believe in a higher power at all. I don't care if they stay single, get married, have kids, or never have children.

I DO want them to be hard workers. I want them to be independent. I want them to contribute to society. I want them to respect others & themselves. I want them to respect the environment. I want them to understand that while money is necessary to survive, there are more important things than your bank balance. I want them to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do (integrity) not because they are afraid of getting in trouble.

Radical Unschooling seems to have the same goal & involves raising children from a position of empathy and understanding. I was so excited to find something that had the same goal I did and felt right, until I kept learning about it. I joined a Facebook group & quickly realized it's not for me after all.  There were 3 major things that just didn't work for our family.

Why Radical Unschooling Isn't For Me


Restricting what your children eat by only stocking healthy food, I've been told, is NOT Radical Unschooling. “If you do that {only purchase food you are okay with them eating…i.e. no junk food or processed food} you are controlling them. To only give what you decide on in the kitchen cupboards is controlling and RU is not about control; it's about free choice and respecting their choices.”

It was also said that children may go a little crazy but will eventually put themselves on a healthy diet.  I'm sorry, but my nephew, my ex-SIL, and my BIL all prove that doesn't always happen.  My SIL wasn't forced to try new things and was in her 20's before she finally starting working on it on her own, because she wanted to have children & didn't want them to have the same eating habits she did.  My nephew eats apples, bananas, pears, and green beans, plus some meat & some pasta/bread.  That's it!  My sister has been trying to get him to explore new foods but when his dad only eats meat, potatoes, green beans, and grains, it's pretty hard to set a good example.

At 5 years old, I don't expect my twins (or my ASD 7 yo) to really understand that when they eat overly processed foods, it affects their body in ways they can't see (which comes out in behavior issues & upset stomachs later). They understand that if they touch something hot or sharp, it's bad because it's an immediate reaction. When they don't get sick until hours later, they don't really get the connection.

Photo Credit: bane bane via Flickr

Screen Time

Everything I've ever read says you should limit screen time before bed, both in yourself and in your children.  Shutting off electronics results in falling asleep faster and a better quality of sleep.  You may not wake up completely when you sleep with the TV or radio on, but sleep studies show it DOES affect your sleep. Your sleep patterns may get thrown off and you don't sleep as deeply as you should for as long as needed.  Plus, I don't care how much they can learn from apps on their Kindles, moderation is key when it comes to everything. My 7yo would live on his Kindle or the Xbox if I would let him. He may like to do other things, but those are his preference.

While writing this, I asked my children if I changed the limit on their Kindles (currently 2 hours with the first 30 minutes restricted to reading/audiobooks) what would they like. Garrett would play on his Kindle all day (and all night) with breaks to play on the Xbox and eat.  Gavin said “forever” and when I asked if he would want to play on the Xbox he said “all day” (and then he asked if I'm writing it on my blog).  Connor admitted he'd just play Xbox & Kindle until bedtime.  Cameron shocked me a bit.  He said he'd like 2 hours and 30 minutes, so he has 2 hours to play after his reading time is up.  When I asked why he wouldn't want to play on it all day, he said it would hurt his eyes.


This is a huge issue for me. To me, routines are important. I have a son with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (and suffer from it myself). We are both naturally inclined to stay up extremely late and sleep during the day, but that isn't healthy. Plus, I have one child that I had to train to lay in bed quietly until the sun comes up. He is on the Autism spectrum and would get up at 4 am before we started the “not before the sun comes up” which transitioned into “not before 7 am” once he learned to tell time. If I allowed my children to just go to bed when they felt tired (which is what RU recommends), I would literally never be able to sleep unless I slept while my children were awake – NOT an option! With a strict 7pm bedtime and 1 hour of quiet time after lunch every day, we were able to get everyone on the same sleep schedule.

Why Radical Unschooling Isn't For Me

Have you ever found yourself drawn to a parenting style that didn't end up working for your family? Did you try it out anyway, hoping it would live up to the hype, or look for something else that fits your family?

While physical punishment doesn't work for us, I recently discovered Radical Unschooling doesn't either.

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  1. I think that every homeschooling parent needs to decide for themselves what is best for their kids. We tried homeschooling (rigid), we tried child-led, and we tried unschooling. None of them worked for our daughter so she’s back in public school. It may not be the best option but it works for her and its where she learns best. If you’re content with where your own kids are and they’re learning where they are, I wouldn’t worry too much about what anyone has to say and keep doin what you do. 😉

  2. My homeschool process sounds a lot like yours. Radical unschooling isn’t for me either… a bit extreme. I definitely cannot see an upside to giving my kids junk food, that’s for sure.

  3. Very interesting post. WE have some very similar values. I agree with trying new foods, schedules and limited TV. I wish I had the ability to stay home with my kids.

    1. My husband works out of the state & country most of the time, so we can afford for me to be home with the kids, so it definitely has its pros and cons.

    1. We don’t have a super strict schedules, but meal times are the same every day (unless I do something silly like forget to turn the oven on like the other day) and bedtime follows the same routine every night.

  4. Wow- I totally agree. I’ve seen unschoolers thrive, really thrive – but you know what? Those are the ones that are , uh, not so radical. Unschooling where parents are still PARENTS and yes, they watch over food, screens and bedtime! Unschooling doesn’t fit for me at all- but I have seen it work and I think if the parent is of the right mindset it can be done. But to me, unschooling is for the ‘academic’ portion of life, not all aspects. We all need some parameters and I think health (food and rest) and screen time is a must. Not all kids will get up from a TV and say, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be a genius instead.” You know? Parental guidance is still necessary.

  5. I agree with you on those three points, too. For homeschooling, we found that we wanted to have some structure and also be as child-led as we could, while still making sure that our daughter got a solid education. We found Oak Meadow, which has a hand-on learning approach. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschooling families. Radical Unschooling did not work for us either.

    1. I think it’s so important to find what does work for you and realize that every family is different. Every child is different and some of mine are more child-led than others, because it’s what works best for them.

      I’ll have to look into Oak Meadow. A quick glance makes me think it’s something my 7yo would really like.

  6. Attachment Parenting. Before I had kids I thought that AP was so amazing. I wanted to be the baby-wearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping mama. Then I had kids and realized that I cherish my time with my husband, can’t breastfeed, and although I LOVE baby-wearing when it is practical, I don’t actually want to train my children to be attached at the hip all the time. I am an introvert by nature, and love that my two year old son is independent and secure enough to play in his room for hours without any complaints (I also spends hours of my day with him as a housewife and hours of quality time with him doing pre-school). I am definitely a WAY different mom than I anticipated being, but I love my kids, and am parenting the way that works for our family. Except our newborn, who ends up sleeping with us at least half of the night every night so I can sleep more…

    1. We’re always perfect parents…until we have kids & realize that it’s not a one-size fits all thing. I never did anything the same with the 4 of my kids, because they are all so very different. My oldest HATED all carriers/wraps, while with the twins, it was the only way I could get anything done & they loved it. Some of my kids are more cuddly (one of the twins demands 3 “cuddle times” a day) while the others just want a quick hug & kiss a few times a day. Some learn better with workbooks/sheets, while others love math manipulatives. They are all amazing in their own ways & I wouldn’t change it…except maybe to toss out my “big plans” I had before I ever had them & save myself a little frustration.

  7. I was drawn to the very strict lifestyle of having our kids in private school. I ended up pulling them out of school a month before the year was over! It was so not us but we tried public, charter, homeschool then private. With one with add and one with a new case of epilepsy which caused is math abilities to fall substantially…we were lost. Then I read a blog about unschooling. We started 3 months ago and so far it’s amazing! My kids are pursuing knowledge on thier own already! Radical unschooling I personally wouldn’t even try for the same reasons you listed here. But regular unschoolong so far is the only thing that works us! Private school was so intense the kids had time for homework and that’s it. They were always stressed and miserable. I don’t care how great their education may have been with that school it wasn’t worth the lack of relationships and stress! Public school I don’t like because of common core and homeschool just never flowed right! Thanks for the great read!

    1. We’re currently doing a combo of homeschooling and unschooling. I’ve found my 8yo can do math worksheets all day long, but doesn’t respond well to reading curriculum. One of my 6yo can sit down with a book, sounding out everything he can, but cannot stand worksheets for reading or math. I just adjust and readjust for each kiddo as needed 🙂

  8. I agree to your points. They do need to be taught to eat healthy, go to bed on time and have limits on technology. I also think there are certain things I for sure want them to learn. One is the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to know about God and prayer. They need to know about Jesus from me. If they choose not to follow the same religion, at least I did my best to teach them.

    1. I do believe it’s important to teach children (through both word & deed) how to be a good person & how to treat everyone with respect. I love that you consider that your children may follow a different path, when so many feel they failed or their children failed them if they do not have the same religious beliefs as an adult. My husband and I have different religious backgrounds, so we agreed to teach our children about all religions and let them decide what felt true and right to them.

  9. There is really no such thing as “Radical” Unschooling. Think about it. What Radical Unschooling parent has EVERY kind of EVERY brand of junk food in their home? NONE! So, they are restricting their children. Therefore, they are not Radical Unschooling. I could go on to each of your other points, but you get my drift. I have even heard Sandra Dodd say things on podcasts that indicate that she, indeed, restricted her children to some extent.

    There is no magic line that says, “Okay, now you are a Radical Unschooler!” because by default, no parent can provide their child unlimited opportunity in every aspect of life. Allowing children to gorge on junk food (which is not natural, by the way – it has only been around for about 100 yrs – I say this b/c Radical unschoolers also call themselves “natural” learners), watch TV all day, or otherwise engage in unhealthy habits that teach them they are the center of the universe has nothing to do with unschooling, really. It is UNPARENTING. So, why did you have kids if you’re not willing to parent?

    Thanks for letting me vent. We unschool our son. But…!