My 5 Favorite Unschooling Books

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Over the past 6 months, I have read from at least a dozen books, looking for the perfect unschooling book. Today, I will share my takeaways from my five favorite in descending order.

My 5 Favorite Unschooling Books - By Shelley

5. The Self-Propelled Advantage by Joanne Calderwood

I read this book in search of ideas to leverage my son’s desire to be in charge. By that I mean that I was looking for ways to foster and support self-directed learning. One story of the author’s second grader suddenly completing work on her own one day and beginning to do so more and more from that day forward really stood out to me. Beyond that story, I found the book to be more focused on the what than the how–more stories would have been nice. The book is entirely “schooly,” though an unschooling family whose child(ren) are older and desire/are ready for formal classes may get some ideas. I’ve noticed most unschooling success stories I’ve read tell of a self-directed child who grew up, knew what he needed to learn about to prepare for his career, and took college courses to that end (or perhaps even went to high school for a certain length of time). The true power of The Self-Propelled Advantage is actually tucked away in the chapter on parenting, in which the author says all your efforts are in vain if you don’t “have your child’s heart.” This certainly holds true for unschooling!

4. Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich

I read this entirely delightful book looking for more insight on the mindset behind unschooling. It was only the second book I read, and it is written from an educator’s perspective, much like the works of the famous John Holt. Unschooling Rules just feels right. Perhaps it would to any homeschooler, no matter the method that they use to pursue learning without school. One unique characteristic of this book is that it talks about the root of learning nearly without touching on the parenting aspect. Where the homeschool industry  community gets split on the topic of unschooling is where it collides with parenting. Unschooling Rules mentions the where and who of learning, but doesn’t dig deep into the parenting piece, which is really what shapes how homeschooling will look for you. For pure learning-focused insight, this book is my absolute favorite.

3. Project-Based Homeschooling by Lori McWilliam Pickert

Supporting self-directed learning was my motivation for reading this book too. What happened is that I literally got sick to my stomach. In fact, reading this book drew me down a path of realization that unschooling happens pretty much in the kitchen and in the car, and at the park, but probably not in my son’s room where his desk lives! Well, it does, but the more I try to get involved, the more frustrated I get! I have made a valiant effort to become  my child’s supply officer as the book suggests, and even started helping him create a dedicated project space in his bedroom. All I can say, is that I am beyond thrilled that his father has recently told me he plans to give our son space in our garage (which is essentially off limits to me).

2. Big Book of Unschooling by Sandra Dodd

Known for being the definitive book of unschooling, this book hits the parenting nerve, HARD. It is a fabulous read. I devoured it in just a few days. Although the same information can be found at her website, I found it easier to absorb all the engaging stories and thought-provoking narratives in one big feast. She absolutely convinced me to keep moral issues and academics separate. It is worth noting that some of the open conversations she had with her children and shared in the book are possible even if you don’t consider yourself to have a relaxed parenting style. I know this by experience. The striking lesson that I learned through reading the book is that mindful parenting and personal growth are the real things that make homeschooling a success, no matter what method you use!

1. Homeschooling: A Family’s Journey by Gregory and Martine Milliman

Only one other homeschooling book has elicited such a powerful emotional response in me. (It is Ignite the Fire by Terri Camp, and is the book that convinced me to take the plunge and just homeschool.) In this book, the Millman family made frequent references to the unschooling moments that happened while homeschooling their children. They literally showcased the “parenting makes the homeschool a success” principle. Their homeschool style rather defied method categorization and I’d like to think mine does too!


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