The Natural Child Project Parenting Site of the MonthThis is a collection of my responses (with a few gems from others) to questions about unschooling and parenting on unschooling lists and message boards.

This site is about unschooling. And it's about parenting more peacefully. But overall it's about living more joyful family lives. If I had to summarize it the message would be "Put the relationship first and then figure out how to fit everything else around that."

As you're reading the parenting answers, probably the most useful piece of advice is:

Don't drop all your parenting rules at once. Just say "Yes!" more.

One of the biggest mistakes made is after reading how conventional rule-based parenting feels and looks to kids and then declare: there are no more rules: eat whatever you want, stay up as late as you want ... The result is kids feel tossed into the middle of a storm tossed ocean without support and chaos ensues. While it works great to declare vacation from school and just plunge into unschooling, it works better to ease into applying the unschooling principles to parenting.

Despite the length to which I often go ;-) none of the answers is "complete." They're all a starting point. And the answers are all me. Some other great places where other people are saying the same things in different ways (and where many of these posts were taken) are:


UnschoolingDiscussion list - A place to discuss how to get closer to unschooling and let go of the mental scripts that keep us trapped in old thinking that gets in our way.

Unschooling.info message boards (replaced the Unschooling.com message boards) - similar in spirit to the UnschoolingDiscussion list.

Sandra Dodd's website that has Sandra's essays, links, an ongoing collection of responses to many of the issues in and around unschooling as well as many other things.

UnschoolingBasics list - a place for those new to unschooling to discuss, question, ponder and become deeply familiar with natural learning and how it affects our entire lives.

AlwaysUnschooled list - a space to discuss Radical Unschooling as it applies to the early years, from toddlerhood to around age 8 or so.

ShineWithUnschooling list - A joyful, positive, radical unschooling community that understands and celebrates each and every child for the unique gifts they bring to the world.

AlwaysLearning list - For those who have been unschooling for a while, a place to talk about learning and living.

No More Spanking list - Not unschooling but alternatives to spanking, leaning heavily to peaceful parenting.

Crazylifeunschoolers list - This is a support/idea group for those striving to radically unschool and parent respectfully within a less traditional family: singles, grandparents, foster families, adopted, divorced, nannies, more than two parents, one or more kids in school, etc.

I'm not the best at responding to personal email so if you have an unschooling question you'll get faster and broader answers by asking on one of the above sites. Otherwise you can email me.

What is Unschooling? What is Joyful Living?


The unschooling philosophy is that people will learn what they need to learn by living life freely and joyfully in an environment that supports who they are and is rich enough for them to both explore their interests and stumble across new interests.

Extending the philosophy of unschooling into all of life doesn't have a word so I'm calling it Joyful Living. (Among other things like: mindful parenting, peaceful parenting, aware parening, responsive parenting, extending the unschooling philosophy into parenting ... :-)

Are we there yet?


Conventional parenting focuses on the destination. Joyful living focuses on the journey.

Good parents have the goal of being better parents. But how do we know if what we're doing will get us where we want to go?

The problem is that when we focus on the destination, it doesn't help us decide which path to take. Basically it boils down to what sounds sensible and whatever works to get us there.

Conventional parenting, which gets accepted as good parenting, is destination oriented. It's getting kids into college. It's stopping the tantrums. It's making sure kids stay away from drugs. It's about getting kids from point A to point B. It's about molding kids into what we think will help them the most.

If there is one thought that will help you understand unschooling and respectful parenting it is this:

The primary goal is joyful living.
All other goals are secondary.

All decent parents, of course, want their children to be happy. But they assume that sometimes happiness needs to be sacrificed to get something better.

But for unschooling, peaceful parents meeting any goal must also meet the goal of living life more joyfully.

If meeting a goal means sacrificing joy, then find a better way to meet the goal.

It's simple to write, but not so simple to put it into practice! Our heads are full of "have tos." We're full of fears of what will happen if we don't do what we "have to." Getting rid of those "have tos" and fears is hard to do!

  • The first step is finding something that's better than what you have.
  • The second step is wanting to change.
  • The third step is figuring out how to change.

So, as you read along, you may wonder why I suggest that parents basically make life more difficult for themselves. The reason is because I believe it leads to a much better place. And that better place is a more joyful life for our children and our families.

Joyce Fetteroll

Last updated: April 2009