Unschooling diaries – Self-directed learning

The little boy (3 and a half years old) determinedly shoves in baking powder, red food colouring, a dash of washing liquid and a squirt of vinegar into the hole in his clay mound. A thick, red gooey flow dotted with creamy bubbles spills out of the mound, staining the floor and filling the little boy’s heart with delight and awe.

“It is erupting. It’s erupting”, he squeals in delight, moving his dinosaurs dangerously closer towards the lava spewing mound. He is lost in the world of ‘Land before time.’ Yes, he is playing, pretending and learning.

The above is a real life adventure of my 3 year old, with whom we are ‘unschooling.’

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is not a method, but a way of life, based on trust, respect, compassion, freedom, and a shared passion for exploration and learning between children and adults. Unschooling children are free to learn sans the restrictive presence of standardized curricula. They are free creatures, with unclipped wings and their inner desire to learn unchecked by conventional schools or authority figures. But, it does not mean that the children learn without guidance. They learn together with caring, helpful and discerning adults.

How do unschooling children learn?

Unschooling children learn through living their lives in a free, nurturing environment that supports self-directed learning. They have access to resources, guidance and plenty of freedom to play. They do not learn maths, languages, geography and science through following a set and often limiting curriculum. Instead, life leads them towards passionately learning not only maths, science, languages, IT but also communication, negotiation skills and empathy.

Is play based learning similar to unschooling?  

Our own journey of unschooling and self-directed learning has led us to shapes, dinosaurs, learning letters, counting, marine biology and plenty of imaginary play. Speaking of play, one of the premises of self-directed learning and unschooling is that children learn through play much like wolf cubs learn necessary skills to survive in the wild in a similar manner. But, self-directed learning should not be confused with play-based learning which is still adult controlled learning.

“Mentoring self-directed learners is like rolling a hoop down a hill. You want to let the hoop roll on its own, only touching it when necessary to keep it upright and rolling., and even then as lightly as possible.”  Lori Pickert

The importance of community (and other children)

Even though self-directed learning occurs at home, children thrive amongst other children. And, we have been fortunate enough to find an education centre run by a couple of similar minded parents. At Kinder Republic, kids roam free, finding their own passion and growing into independent and curious beings.

Let us catch a glimpse of what a day of unschooling looks like with my 3 and a half year old.

A day in the life of an unschooling 3 year old

“There was light outside when I woke up. I was starving. Breakfast is my favourite meal.  Why? You ask. Well, I eat the ‘bestest’ and the most delicious food for breakfast. And, Amma and I read books afterwards. I had sweet potatoes. I only love the yellow kind. 

Then Amma and I read books. I can’t read on my own yet. Amma has to read. Sometimes, I cover some of the numbers with my hands (Amma calls them letters) and ask her to tell me the names of those. I can recognize the numbers ‘O’, ‘W’, ‘X’ and ‘A’.  We read a lot of books.  I wanted to read more. But, Amma said she was hungry and needed her breakfast. Can you imagine that?

I was mad and grumpy. I cried and cried. Amma just kissed me and said she will come back after her breakfast.

I sulked a bit. But, what can you do? I had to find something else to do. I took Christmas decorations and made a coral reef. I know a lot of sea creatures. This is my favourite song – ‘Creature Report, Creature Report – Jellyfish, anglerfish, octopus, sea star, and porcupine puffer fish.’

Then it was time to explore outside. I love making lakes and seas. I played the sink or float game today. It was splashingly awesome. I wanted to make an asteroid. Amma said we can make one over the weekend. And she wrote it down in our plan book.

After my bath and snack, it was video time. I watched OCTONAUTS….Calling all octonauts. Kwazi, Peso, Shellington, Dashi, Inkling, Tweak, Tunip.

Then we had lunch. If you ask me it is the most boring meal of the day.

Then we painted. Hey, I’ll share a neat trick. Did you know we could mix colours to get an entirely new colour. Dugee and the Squirrels taught me this trick.

Afterwards, I went on a rescue mission with the Octonauts. We danced, sang and ran around rescuing sea creatures. Such fun!

I was hungry again. I had my tea and snack.

Then my Daddy Kadiya came home.

The two of us read my science book. It is the best book in the world. There are so many pictures and new words in it. And, lots of sea creatures! Sometimes daddy Kadiya and I dance to music or build with blocks. But, today was a science book kind of day.

I had dinner. It was okay.

And, then I had to brush my teeth. Grrr, I hate this part. But, we have to brush away those pesky germs.

And, it was time for bed. It was dark outside and I went to my cozy, comfy bed with Amma and Daddy Kadiya.

 I am a freelance writer and an unschooling Mother. If you would like to connect with me, come and join me on Facebook.


  1. Thanks a lot for that. It was a lovely read…. It can’t be easy swimming against the tide , but I’m wishing your family a fun upstream ride! Looking forward to reading more of those unschooling adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks a lot for that. It was a lovely read…. It can’t be easy swimming against the tide , but I’m wishing your family a fun upstream ride! Looking forward to reading more of those unschooling adventures!


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