What Unschooling Looks Like in Our Pre-K Home |

What Unschooling Looks Like in Our Pre-K Home

admin August 15, 2012

A few years ago (yeah, my blog is almost three years old) I posted about unschooling, and how we thought it was a brilliant idea and we were planning to do it with our children once they reached pre-k age.  My audience, brand new and not all…sympathetic, shall we say, to the alternative lifestyle, was understandably skeptical.  What did we really know about schooling at that point, with our oldest barely 20 months old?

Well, in some ways, not much.  In others, some.  (If you didn’t know, my husband was homeschooled from 3 – 12 grade.  So we did have his experience to go on.  To those who like to mention socialization, which I think is a very silly argument, my husband is far more social and better adjusted than I am when it comes to interacting with others.  And I went to public school.)

Anyway…there wasn’t a lot of homeschooling going on when my kids were 20 months and 4 months.  It was all theoretical.  It was fascinating to us and we were passionate, but I couldn’t have said what it would actually look like in our home.

But now, with my oldest 4 1/2 years old, and my second 3 years old, well…things are a bit different.  My oldest is in “kindergarten” this year.  I know she’s technically a year away, but she’s familiar with all the prerequisite skills and she’s very eager to learn.  The beauty of homeschooling is not having to worry about how old your kids are or what “grade” they ought to be in; you get to go with their actual needs and desires!  My second is 3 and he is pre-k age.  I’ll be doing more with him as preschooler than I did with my daughter simply because he’ll be around while I’m schooling her.  Not that I’m really “schooling” her anyway, given that we are “unschooling….”

Things will be getting busy since, as you may have read on Monday, we’re expecting baby #4. 🙂  Which means I better get my act together soon so that I have a good plan in place before the baby comes.  Are you curious what it actually looks like in our home?

What is Unschooling, Really?

“Unschooling” means schooling without a formal curriculum.  But it does not mean schooling with nothing.  Schooling happens in everyday life, and it happens based on what the kids are interested in.

An unschooling parent must be very on top of a child’s skills and interests.  The parent’s job is to notice what the child has learned and discovered, and what the child is in the middle of learning and discovering, and bring him or her age-appropriate activities to help further that knowledge.  It’s not about leaving your child solely to his or her own devices; an unschooling parent must be involved in the child’s learning!

(This is important to understand.  People have said to me, “But what if your child doesn’t want to learn math?” or “What if your child just wants to play video games all day?”  You don’t just let them skip over entire subject areas forever or do nothing but play video games.  You entice and involve them in the learning process.  The vast majority of kids who have always been unschooled will not have these sorts of blind spots anyway, at least not in the long run.  They may go through phases where they don’t focus on a particular subject much or they do just seem to need a break from ‘learning,’ but it just doesn’t work that way.  These sorts of struggles are more typical in children who were in formal schooling at some point in time and have developed a distaste for a particular subject, usually because they struggled with it and were taught in a way that didn’t work for them.  Unschooled children have no such experience so usually do not have the same issues.)

So far I have found my children eager to learn.  Sometimes they don’t want to learn about certain things or in certain ways.  Other times they’re all about it.  But we don’t force — we find another way or we take a break.  We always circle back around to whatever it is they “need” to know.

What Unschooling Looks Like in Our Pre-K Home

How Do You Know What They Know?

I’m sure all unschooling parents have a different way of doing this.  And probably many aren’t really concerned at these young ages what their kids do and don’t actually know.  I, however, always like to be aware. 🙂  I like plans and charts and goals.  I like lessons and structure.  I just don’t like forcing kids into things because “it’s on the plan” or “the book says you need to know this” and I really don’t like fighting with them about activities they don’t want to do.  So I don’t.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t want some kind of record of what they’ve learned.

(Side note: in Ohio, you have to do some kind of formal assessment each year when you homeschool, to ‘prove’ your kids have actually learned.  This may be standardized testing — which I will refuse — but it may also be a portfolio assessment, which I choose to do.  About half the states have the same law as Ohio does, so this is something to consider when choosing how you will assess your children.  Doing what I do helps me organize activities and ideas in my head, but it will also cover my rear legally, when that time comes.)

Anyway.  So what I’ve chosen to do is create a chart of “skills” that I want them to have.  These are pulled from online general curriculum, as well as from simply skills or knowledge that I think is important to our family and lifestyle.  Some things are also skills that they have shown particular interest in.  I keep this chart on my computer, privately.  The kids don’t see it.  When I notice, through our activities and interactions, that they are consistently able to do or talk about or demonstrate a particular skill, I quietly check it off on the chart.  There are no tests.  There is nothing formal.

This has some benefits.

  1. True Mastery — I can be assured, since I am going based on a series of real-life interactions, that they have actually mastered the skills.  If they can demonstrate the skill(s) in real-life settings on a regular basis, without any knowledge that I am “testing” them or even paying attention to certain skills, then they clearly “really” know.  They aren’t just “memorizing for a test.”
  2. No Anxiety — Because there is no test, there is no anxiety over performance.  They are not trying to win or get a grade or looking for any sort of outside source of approval.  They have only the intrinsic value of having new knowledge or skills, which they are typically excited about.
  3. No Distraction From Art of Learning — When they’re learning, they’re learning because they want to.  Because they enjoy knowing new things.  They have no concept of a test or assessment of any type (and at least while they’re young and forming their learning skills, I don’t want them to).  Learning is just a part of life, and there is no beginning or ending to it, no units, no extrinsic ‘reward’ for having learned.  This is critical in the early years, to foster a love of learning and determination to continue learning “just because.”

Pretty awesome, no?  And great for kids who are naturally anxious about tests or performances of any kind.  Remember that they are learning just fine, they just do not have to ‘prove’ it formally!

You can take a look at my Homeschool Skills Checklist.  Feel free to use or adjust it as you wish.  Mine is also based on my kids’ current interests.  (No, they don’t *need* to know the names of planets, but they really like space.)  Also, the music section reflects the fact that I am a music teacher and want my kids to be involved in music!  My oldest has expressed a strong desire to learn violin and we may begin this year, so that’s what the ‘instrument skills’ is about.

So What Does It Look Like?

Not much.  We go outside and take walks, and we identify plants we see along the way.  We bake bread together, taking turns measuring, dumping, mixing, and kneading.  We color a lot of pictures (they have a 3-coloring-sheet-per-day limit, just to save paper).  We sit at the computer and they type the letters that they like and tell me what they are called, and what sound they make.  We watch Youtube videos on subjects they say they want to learn about (‘ladies having babies’ is a favorite, and so is “How It’s Made”).

They play with Legos a lot, and they build towers and design objects for their other make-believe games.  They play with dolls sometimes and they “take care” of them.  They also rough the dolls up and tell me that this is the way they treat pretend babies, but not real ones (sigh).  They climb everything in sight.  They use their pretend food in their pretend kitchen to cook and serve meals.  They pile up pillows and blankets to make forts or to jump onto from their indoor playground.  They read lots of books with us and ask us lots of questions.

They like to play these “games” with us.  And we can quietly hear what they learn, and what they know.  It’s fun!

Over the next few months as we do more “schooling” and more interesting projects, I’ll share our favorites with you.  Hopefully a little inspiration from our home will help in yours!

What does homeschooling or unschooling look like in your home?

This is the writings of:



  1. Very interesting. I like the idea of no pressure on the kids. Wondering if this is legal in Canada…


  2. I see you have k12.com curriculum. This was free to us because we took it as virtual public school. We have to follow the curriculum at their pace, follow their schedule, and take mandated tests. If you attend through your school district, it is free. They also sell their curriculum to homeschoolers.


  3. This is exactly what I did with my children when they were younger. I have always intended on homeschooling, but the term “unschooling” was completely out of my vocabulary. I was a public school teacher for crying out loud! (with a Master’s Degree in Education!) I thought there was no way I would ever do “unschooling” with my children. But here I am, with two 6 yr olds and and a 3 yr old and I have been homeschooling for 3 years with no curriculum. So even though it is a foreign word to my tongue, I guess I am unschooling.


  4. I understand that you are unschooling and do not follow lesson plans with your kids. But do you have a specific curriculum you use to guide you?
    We are choosing to not send our daughter to public kindergarten, but she will attend a small Waldorf/Outdoor school a few hours a week. I want to work with her on top of that in case we do end up sending her to public school at some point. I don’t want her to be behind if we do.
    thanks. mary


    • No, we don’t have a specific curriculum. I look online at times so I can get a feel for what basic skills a child is “supposed” to know at each age/grade level, and I’m sure I will do this more as my kids get older. Right now I’m more concerned with their interests than what the school thinks they should know.


  5. Hello,
    I live in Salem, MA and I wich to unschool my 4 years old but I like Montessori too !

    If you do not use the curriculum, where did you find the material?

    Is anyone want to share stuff ?

    I’m afraid not to meet a lot of people because I’m in wheelchair and accessibility can be an issue

    Thanks for your help

    Martine (French speaker)


  6. We just started our second year of homeschooling. We do unschooling for preschool but once we hit Kindergarten we move on to homeschooling with curriculum and such. (We use mostly Sonlight…or this year we switched to Heart of Dakota as it’s more Bible based…love Sonlight though and we’ll switch back in Jr. High) I don’t have any issues with unschooling, it definitely works as long as it’s done properly but I know it’s not the right fit for my family.


  7. I’m not really sure what kind of “schooling” I’m doing. I think it incorporates a lot of the “unschooling” method but with curriculum. I am starting my 4 year old with “Kindergarten” this year because I believe she is on this level from many of the skills she possesses. I do not push her to do subjects that she is not interested in, and I really focus on those subjects that she is super interested in at the moment. For instance, she has taken up a great interest in art, so we have been really focusing on all kinds of art (coloring, molding, painting, even oils and pastels) I try to challenge her but if I feel she is pushing back then I either give her a break or try something new. For instance, I was using Explode the Code for phonics but it was too many worksheets so I switched to All About Reading and she LOVES it. It has a lot of games with each lesson – very tactile.

    I don’t know if we do a form of unschooling or not, but this was a very intriguing post!!


  8. Maybe. Homeschooling kind of happens on a spectrum, anywhere from a parent (usually one who is new to homeschooling and nervous about “doing it right” and getting everything in) following a strict prepared curriculum, to parents using no curriculum or formal activities whatsoever. What you’re doing sounds like it’s kind of in the middle. The beauty of any homeschooling, of course, is being able to tailor the education to your child’s interests and needs. 🙂


  9. This sounds so awesome I really love the whole idea of unschooling. I would have never thought I would be one to be interested in unschooling but the more I learn about it the more I love it. As a kid and even teenager I hated school, the whole testing aspect of it. I was smart but would always get nervous and mess up, so inevitably I was always struggling in school. This is one main reason why I would want to do unschooling bc I don’t want my kids to feel the way I did. Just because you cant pass a test doesnt mean your dumb. The only thing I’m afraid of is my me time, which I know sounds so bad. I look forward to school like I’ll finally have a break to be able to actually get things done and do things around the house. To be able to clean, cook for my husband, or even start a project. I’m just afraid if I decided to go the route of unschooling I would feel consistently overwhelmed with hardly anytime away for myself. So I am always going back and forth with this. I have two boys. My oldest will be 3 in September and my baby is 6 months. I would like to figure it all out before he (my oldest starts real school) bc he is starting a mothers day out program next week, which is only two days a week. Any thoughts, ideas, or opinions are greatly appreciated! Thanks!


  10. So what’s in the boxes?? 🙂


  11. We unschool for preschool but switched to using k12 for 1st grade up. My son is the kind of kid who asks for structure and wants to see what is next on a list. Over the summer however, we let the kids pick subjects to research and do an unschooled theme then. I love homeschooling and watching my children grow. I hear so many parents say, “I could never do that! I need my children at school so I can get things done.” They have no idea what they are missing.


  12. First off, congratulations on your pregnancy!!

    I look forward to following your unschooling journey 🙂


  13. Katie, you have a great plan. This is what we did until my oldest reached high school. 🙂 (I have graduated two, the next graduates next spring!)

    Along the way, I discovered a couple helpful tools–
    http://www.howtohomeschooltoday.com/shop/the_checklist/ . It is your list, but you don’t have to keep researching it every year.
    http://www.howtohomeschooltoday.com/shop/the_checklist/ is what I started with. I still have the whole thing, printed in 1994 from my dot matrix printer. 😉
    Donna Young’s amazing website also has lists but the entire website is a wonderful resource! (direct link) http://donnayoung.org/forms/help/encyclopedia.htm

    I also love an idea I read about a long time ago. Go to the library once a week, let your children choose their own books (mine are subject to parental approval) but require “areas” for them to choose from (history/geography, biography, classic literature, science, and one free choice.)

    Children do learn on their own, if they are given guidelines and have access to the resources that will teach them–and they will often surpass us in their knowledge.

    Enjoy the journey!


  14. This week and the past week our unschooling has looked like this with our 4 y/o and 7 y/o daughters:

    – Lots of bike riding
    – Helping harvest garden vegetables
    – Learning to safely cut veggies
    – Learning how to add – primarily using household objects, toys, etc. – no worksheets
    – Learning how to read – using phonics curriculum, listening to stories, talking about letter sounds, using LeapFrog books, using online books, spelling, etc.
    – Learning to write letters
    – Learning to spell – using FridgePhonics, using homemade letter boards, using magnetic letters, asking us how to spell words and practicing it, etc.
    – Lots and lots of imaginative play – playing with dolls (Barbies, my old Dawn dolls from the ’70s, American Girl dolls, and baby dolls), playing restaurant, building “volcanoes” out of play silks and blocks

    What I love about unschooling is that every day is a bit different and every day brings about new experiences and interests. People ask me constantly if staying at home with the girls is boring and it honestly isn’t because rarely is the next day like the last. 🙂


  15. […] and we’re doing “kindergarten,” as it were, this year.  I’ve blogged about what that looks like in our home, as well as our “lesson […]


  16. […] what you want.  We are unschooling, so we choose our own items.  You can take a peek at what that looks like in our home, our plans, and the type of frugal, reusable curriculum we choose.  We found a bunch of really […]


  17. I am homeschooling my 3 year old and did not realize until today that I am unschooling. I do not use a curriculum but it is not because I think it is bad, I just know that it would not work. My daughter is really feisty and strong willed. If she even suspects I am trying to do much more than enjoy pkaying with her she can easily be lost. This is a good thing, because since she is all about play, play, play, and since play to her is just about anything she can do with another person, it turns out that for her puzzles and books are her major sources of learning. I can probably buy her a puzzle on outer space and she would enjoy it. I try to choose everything according to her developmental level…not age.

    I love going to the dollar store because there is so much available that she loves. Basically every day we paint, color, play house, do puzzles, read books and go outside. She helps when she wants with household chores. If not then she plays on her own with her doll house. Pretend playing house is her favorite down time solo activity, apart from squishing play doh and painting.

    We go to the toddler story times and relevant events in her homeschooling group. She also plays with other kids at the park and the play gym. She does just fine with other kids.

    She never tires of puzzles of any of the indoor activities we do. It is amazing how great of an attention span a child can have when she is not forced to do work books and “pay attention.”

    I thought about curriculums but my husband and I agreed that it would cause her problems she does not currently have….such as not wanting to learn. Right now she does not see abc’s as learning but rather as just another part of play.

    I think that it is hard to look past the parents who brag that their children learned to read at very early ages. But what does it matter if the child grows up and never ends up loving the act of reading a good book? I really want my daughter to understand what is going on in a book before she puts sounds to words.


  18. THANK YOU for the breath of fresh air! I have been increasingly worried that I am not going to be able to pull off unschooling or that I’m doing it wrong. It’s nice to be able to relate it to another parent who feels confident that it is enough! We don’t have enough support in this area in our families!


  19. This is encouraging and helpful. Thank you!


  20. The checklist you have linked to this blog…Is it for Kindergarten age? We’re unschooling but I’d like to have an idea what they should know by certain stages/ages. I found this helpful. My oldest is “in Kindergarten.”


  21. Hi, Kate. I stumbled across your article today, and it was just what I needed to start moving toward unschooling my oldest, who is pre-K age (3). I tried checking out the Skills link, but it wasn’t working. Maybe the link is old? I’d love to see a checklist so I could have some type of organization too, and to see how you’ve managed to categorize everything. Thank you!



  22. I wish I could gain access to your checklist, but it’s not working for me 🙁 I love that idea, instead of imposing a pre-made curriculum on the child, creating the curriculum based on what the child is learning. That’s what I’m trying to do with my early preschooler. I also need to have some idea of where I’m going though, even if plans change. So I see that list of skills to check off as an ideal solution to both needs 🙂


  23. […] you’re interested in unschooling, check out this blog post to learn […]


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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