The way you look at education is a product of conditioning. The books on this list will challenge how you’ve been conditioned to perceive what education is, what school is, and what homeschooling or unschooling looks like (and results in).
The idea of the free play and the interest-led learning opportunities that homeschool kids experience have long-time inspired me, but there were two bigger reasons I said I’d never homeschool my kids:
We didn’t start unschooling (more on what that is shortly) because of COVID, but it was spurred from COVID sending the kids home. I quickly learned:
I CAN, in fact, keep working on my business, grow my creativity, and have quiet time to myself when the kids are home.
The first couple months were a total sh*t show. I put my work on a shelf, attempted to do their “e-learning” circus, and took on the role of entertaining the kids. This turned into an unexpected GIFT. Before, I’d easily spend 6 hours a day at the computer. Now, I was LIVING outside of working.
Slowly, we found a rhythm that just… works for us.
I don’t entertain them. I LIVE for when I find them bored, prompting those critical thinking + imagination skills.
I’m working almost as efficiently as before, with some adjustments.
I’m handling the “Mom!” commands, asks, and tattles almost as if white noise now.
I’ve found ways to “sneak away” for quiet—sometimes thanks to my husband, more often, from noticing when they’re immersed in their own thing or through bribes. Whatever works.
So reason #1 not to homeschool has been eliminated.
As for reason #2, not wanting to teach, these books illuminated “education” in a different light that proved I don’t need to play “teacher.” Thank God.
This is where unschooling comes into play. This is a lifestyle more so than a “homeschool approach.” It’s where your kids learn through their self-led interests. Self-led interests breed humans who are self-starters. They don’t do thinks for the A+, the gold star, the paycheck, or other reward. They do them for their own fulfillment.
It sounds ludacris, I know. Instantly, your conditioning is probably like, “Well, sure life is full of meaningful learning… and also they *need* to learn certain math, science, writing, reading, etc. skills. What if they’re not interested in them? They just SKIP them?! What a joke. No way. I want my kid to go to college.”
School creates products. Everyone is funneled like cattle. The autonomy in unschooling creates lifelong learners who have unique, experience-based perspectives.
Meaningful, interest-led education trumps what you’re told to learn. What you’re told to learn and you don’t care about, you memorize for a test. The knowledge is often fleeting. Meaningful education requires relevancy, interest, autonomy and is long-lasting.
I want to teach my kids discernment, how to learn, and how to be resourceful. This allows the learning to be up to them. I believe this will teach them to be self-driven.
I want my kids to be self-aware, self-starters. This is how they’ll avoid being afraid of risk. This is how they’ll avoid choosing the safe, “sure thing” options. This is how they’ll avoid 30 years in at the 9-5 stale job they go to only because it’s the only way they believe they can earn a paycheck, not because it lights them up. This is how they’ll get comfortable trying new things, taking risks, ENJOYING mistakes and failure. This is how they’ll be life-long learners who soak up every bit of LIFE.
All the core subjects: math, science, reading, writing can be learned through life experiences. That said, it’s ok to let go of the “curriculum” mentality and let them learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it (relevancy). Relevancy creates meaningfulness.
If all else fails, according to author and New York Teacher of the Year award recipient, John Taylor Gatto, it only takes about 100 hours for kids to learn the basics of core education.
Unless you want to go into a profession, such as in the medical field or law, then you don’t *need* college or university. And also, if you do need to go to college or university, homeschool kids get in just fine. It’s a matter of doing your homework to see what’s required for admission. These institutions don’t always want the cookie cutter, model high school students who have learned the game of pleasing the teachers and tests. They love kids who have wandered bravely down a unique road. These kids think for themselves, because they haven’t been conditioned how to think to please teachers and authority for years on end.
I could carry on with so many things, but you’re here for the book list….
These are my favorites, in no particular order. Start with these gems! 💎
I’ll return to this one over & over for reference.
In the beginning, I needed activity ideas and examples of how to spend our days. For example, the art table? Magical! The Brave Learner was everything for clear inspiration and it included several helpful idea lists.
I most enjoyed Bogart’s thoughts and ideas on staging the home for curiosity and learning opportunities.
The only thing I didn’t love was Bogart’s tone towards unschooling—it felt a bit condescending. Otherwise, The Brave Learner wildly inspired me and reassured our decision to NOT send our children to school.
The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️—LOVED. I’ll return to this one over & over for reference.
At first, it felt like a repeat of a lot of what I’d already read on the benefits and myths of homeschooling, but once I got to the middle my attention was held.⠀
I really loved her explanations of various styles (Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, and my pick: unschooling). She included questions to help you as you consider various styles & curriculums… but what I love most is that, really, she lets you define your own “wild + free” way. There is no one right way. ⠀
The section on finding your rhythm & her activity lists were GOLD! ⠀⠀
If you’re considering homeschool, this is a fantastic book that’s unbiased towards any one homeschool approach.⠀
Homeschool Gone Wild: Inspired Learning Through Living by Karla Marie Williams
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️—LOVED! Devoured in a single DAY! ⠀
Though our stories are vastly different, I felt seen 🖤⠀
They’ve got 6 kids, she’s a creative just like me, her husband is a marine… and they’re all in for unschooling / self-directed learning. ⠀
Plus, the way she describes unschooling felt like & nothing short of refreshing. Crazy loved that she included Chapter 26: Follow Your OWN Dreams. She also included a few other topics I haven’t seen in other books.
This is the book *I* needed to feel good about the big question, “But what if my kids want to go to college? Will they fall behind? Will I mess them up completely?”
The back of the book sold me, “This book explores the path of 30 unschooled children who self-directed all or part of their education and were accepted into universities, colleges, and other postsecondary schools. Most have already graduated.” I couldn’t add this book to my happy Amazon cart fast enough!
It lived up to it’s promise too. I feel 1000x more relaxed on digital learning (yes, even through gaming and YouTube!) and have even shifted my perspective on what “keeping up” looks like. I was worried about my son learning to read, for example. This book was the permission slip I needed to let the urgency go!
Arnall also included many lists that break down activities by school subject! This is beyond helpful if you fear the whole “learning through living” thing and feel a pull to need a curriculum.
A quote (not from the book) that fits here: “The children are the curriculum.”—Lisa Murphy.
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
For almost 30 years, John Taylor Gatto taught for the New York City public school system. He received the honor of being named “New York State Teacher of the Year” in 1991 and received the same honor in the city of New York three years in a row, in 1989, 1990, and 1991.
Ever heard of the carrot and the sick metaphor? For reward vs. punishment? (If not, Wikipedia explains it here) For me, this book was the stick. This book was all the downsides to traditional schooling.
I felt like I was already there. I already don’t love compulsory schooling and I needed to know I wasn’t going to eff up my kids through unschooling. So in that sense, I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks schools are a beautiful, wonderful thing…. and prepare to have your mind blown.
The chapter on hunter-gatherer families alone is worth this read! He gives us a brief history of education—why schools are what they are—and writes about “Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education” that resonated with me well.
He advocated for and painted an inspiring picture of the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, which is likely different than any other school you’ve heard of—including progressive schools, like Montessori. From there, his writing on free play, free age-mixing, and human educative instincts was enough for me to be like… “Yeah. Done with traditional school.”
Free to Learn included various statistics and stories on the decline of children’s freedom and the rise of psychological disorders. I loved that!
My only complaint about this book was Gray’s tone towards ADHD. Gray wrote (page 82), “Twelve percent of boys—one out of every eight—have been labeled as mentally disordered because of inability or unwillingness to attend for long periods to schoolwork that they find boring. That by itself is a sin. Today, we even hear, increasingly, of three- and four-year-olds being diagnosed with ADHD and drugged because they can’t or won’t sit still at preschool!”
You cannot acknowledge the increase in ADHD diagnoses in relation to the demands of school without saying, “And also, some kids really do have ADHD and need help—medication or otherwise.”
Without adding that in, you’re adding to the stigma that ADHD is overly-diagnosed, a lot of talk, or something not real and caused by rigid school expectations. Those beliefs can prevent parents from seeking our real help for children who actually DO need it. Those beliefs prevent children from getting help they, in fact, need in order to access themselves.
College Without High School: A Teenager’s Guide by Blake Boles
As a college dropout and a now an avid creative and entrepreneur for a living, I wish every parent would read this book.
I have a bitter taste in my mouth when I think of all the years wasted from traditional school that could have been avoided with this book.
The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson
This was written by a unique collaboration! One author is clinical neuropsychologist, Bill (William Stixrud), who has helped kids cope with anxiety, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems for thirty years. The other author is PrepMatters Founder, Ned Johnson, which serves as one of the leading tutoring companies in the country.
Reading this, all I kept thinking about was, “Yep, this is why I took naps in chemistry and only did the bare minimum, ever, in high school.”
This book fully examined autonomy, how kids aren’t getting the autonomy they need, and how we can give them more autonomy. This wasn’t an “unschooling” book, per se, but its teachings made unschool make more sense than homeschooling for us.
This was the very first book I read in my pursuit to unschooling and, much like Unschooled to University, was a giant permission slip to SLOW DOWN the pace of learning. As I write this, I see now how it’s the conditioning of school that had me in a hurry in the first place.
This is about a unique family who moved to a 40-acre property and developed their own self-sustaining farm. They’ve truly leaned into a lifestyle most people probably won’t, but the lessons they give us on living slow, leaning into community, and letting the kids be leaders of their learning is unsurpassed.
I loved Hewitt’s writing about hiring a mentor for their children. What a profound idea that was for me.
When you read about Hewitt’s young children building shelters and roaming 500 acres, you’ll get how there is no one “right school curriculum” that exists—except for that of what’s interest-led. Throw curriculums in the garbage (that is, unless those worksheets and textbooks are actually fun AF for your child).
Some of these books I read, some I haven’t. These are merely more options without a referral link.
Raising Free People: Unschooling as Liberation and Healing Work by Akilah S. Richards. #preordered Cannot. Wait. for this to come into print later in 2020.
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (haven’t read yet)
Instead of Education by John Holt (haven’t read yet)
The Unschooling Journey by Pam Laricchia. This one really wasn’t for me. If you’re into myths and fantasy, you’ll love how she drew from that world into this book / journal.
Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling by John Holt & Patrick Farenga (haven’t read yet)
How Children Learn by John Holt. I’m listening via Audible… having a hard time keeping my attention, but other people are fanatics of John Holt. John Hold is the man who coined the word: unschooling.
Free to Learn: Five Ideas for a Joyful Unschooling Life by Pam Laricchia. This was ok. I liked some of her points, but felt it wasn’t as comprehensive as books listed in my favorites section.
Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will by Dale J. Stephens (haven’t read yet)
Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree by Blake Boles. This felt too similar to Boles’ other book: College Without High School: A Teenager’s Guide for me to love, love this one, but I loved College Without High School. I say, pick one of the two. Reading both isn’t necessary.
The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education by Peter Hollins (haven’t read yet, but sure has fabulous ratings on Amazon!)
Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori McWilliam Pickert (haven’t read yet)
Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon (haven’t read yet)
Unschooling Works!!! by Using Self-Directed Learning Learning to Homeschool Our Children by La Nita Nash. Read it. Meh. Not for me.
Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun by Dayna Martin (haven’t read yet)
Rethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child’s Education by Susan Wise Bauer (haven’t read yet)
The One-World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan
Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education by Chuck Aldrich. This is great for you if you’re education outside of traditional schooling is basically foreign to you.
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto (haven’t read yet)
Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy (haven’t read yet)
The Unschooling UnManual: Nurturing Children’s Natural Love for Learning by Jan & Jason Hunt. Read it. Meh. Not for me.
Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn. This was ok. I say skip it and pick one of the books in my favorite’s section.
Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School: The Case for Helping Them Leave, Chart Their Own Paths, and Prepare for Adulthood at Their Own Pace by Blake Boles (haven’t read it yet)
There you go 🙂
If I’ve missed a book that needs to be on this list, do tell me! I’d love to read it. Comment below.