Home-Based Learning

The term “homeschooling” suggests a school-at-home approach in which parents or tutors replicate the instructional process of schools, including a set curriculum, traditional instruction, assignments, and so on. Many families start out this way, but a good number of them soon find that this approach is no more satisfactory than regular school—or worse.


But home-based learning doesn’t need to be like school; instead, it can be a continuation of how your family lived before your children became “school age.” This section shows you how and why home-based, self-directed learning can help you and your children. Under the legal umbrella of homeschooling, there is the option of following a more youth-directed approach, ranging from a young person selecting his or her own “Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.” — Helen Beatrix Pottercoursework, all the way to the pursuit of topics without curricula or textbooks (often referred to as unschooling—in other words, learning that doesn’t have to take place in the actual home, or resemble school learning).


Although the majority of homeschooling is still the school-at-home type, the self-directed segment is also growing strongly. Connecting with other families that practice home-based, self-directed learning is very useful for determining if this can work for your family. Conferences also provide social confirmation, as well as peer groups and diversity for parents and children. If you don’t “click” with folks at one conference or group, move on to the next one, or start your own! The Internet is another good source of support. Most states have several homeschooling support groups and online message boards. To connect with them, do an online search for: “[your city or state] homeschool support groups.” Home-based, self-directed learning is easy to initiate, because your primary mission is to create a happy home base from which your children can explore and learn about their family, community and world. You don’t need to be a master teacher in all your children’s subjects, nor some sort of “super parent.”


Your role is to be “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” Use the time with your child to work out family dynamics and relationships, and each child’s goals and dreams. Every family will arrive at different formulations for how they live and learn together over time. Moreover, embracing home-based learning doesn’t mean never being able to step foot in a class or other group learning setting. Some choose to take à-la-carte classes as they go along. And those that enroll in a full-time school after a period of home-based learning typically do well at their grade level (or above) after a brief adjustment period. Many go on to thrive in college. Home is merely the base; the community and the world are where much of the learning occurs.


It isn’t enough to just take children out of school and leave them alone with some books and a computer; parents need to consistently support their children’s explorations and growth. Parents who use home-based, self-directed learning for their children are not the sole instructors or only adults their children need, so a big part of their role is to provide their children with access to opportunities and people in their communities. Fortunately, as detailed in this and the Community Resources sections, there are many powerful opportunities and places for children to learn, including a growing number of local resource centers specifically catering to this group, where children can go and spend one or more days each week. This section also includes academic research, media reports, and other resources about home-based self-directed learning, to help visitors see the possibilities that exist for learning without school (click on the links that most interest you in the menu on the left).

“What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all.” John Holt



Support for this method comes in many forms, including research papers, articles in periodicals, entire books and magazines, websites and videos. These are some of the best sources on the topic.

Laws and Regulations

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, though its regulation is varied. Because rules and regulations vary from state to state and can change suddenly, and because some states don’t require any contact with homeschooling families, the best initial sources of information about what you need to do to homeschool legally are current homeschoolers in your state. But check the information you get from current homeschoolers against whatever information the state Department of Education or your local school district has regarding homeschooling; the state may interpret things differently than homeschoolers do, and it is good to be able to cite where the state is overreaching (this is not as uncommon as you may think). Also note that “unschooling” is considered a “method” of homeschooling by school officials, so if you are required to register, you must register as a homeschooler. Finally, you don’t need an attorney to homeschool in any state, but should a rare situation arise where you feel the need for legal representation, here is a list of groups you can turn to for legal assistance:

Books about Self-Directed Learning at Home

    • Andres, Suzie. A Little Way of Homeschooling: Thirteen Families Discover Catholic Unschooling (Christendom Press, 2011).Covers why Catholics can and should unschool, as well as a good description of how different families unschool.
    • Colfax, David and Micki. Homeschooling For Success (Hachette, 1988).Describes the concepts and reasons behind the Colfax’s homeschooling success, including book lists and other resources they recommend.

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” Isaac Asimov

    • Colfax, David and Micki. Hard Times in Paradise (Harcourt, 1992).A personal account of the family’s homesteading and learning by doing with their four boys in Northern California leading to three of the boys getting into Ivy League universities.
    • Cummings, Quinn. The Year of Learning Dangerously (Perigee, 2012)A funny book about a self-described undisciplined mother with big gaps in her knowledge who writes about the joys and anxieties of her first year of homeschooling.
    • Ekwa Ekoko, Beatrice and Ricci, Carlo, editors. Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education. This is a great collection that introduces unschooling and self-determined learning concepts in insightful, easy-to-read chapters to those who are new to these ideas. For more experienced natural learners, the book provides much inspiration and many real examples that you can use to support and expand your family’s unschooling.
    • Guterson, David. Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense (Harcourt, 1992).A strong, literate argument about the importance of family and personal bonds for learning and why there needs to be alternatives to schools.

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” E.M. Forster

    • Hern, Matt, ed. Everywhere All the Time: A Deschooling Reader (AK Press, 2008).A terrific collection of essays by homeschoolers and educators (John Gatto, John Holt, Ivan Illich, etc.) that presents an array of alternatives to compulsory schooling.
    • Holt, John. Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children HoltGWS, 1971/2013.A stunning exploration of the history of childhood and a strong argument for granting children the same rights as adults.
    • Holt, John. Freedom and Beyond. Heinemann/Boynton/Cook, 1972/1995.Holt’s analysis of the limits of free schools and how we can help people learn without compelling them to do so.
    • Holt, John. How Children Fail (Perseus, 1964/1995).A groundbreaking book by the man who coined the term “unschooling,” describing how students and teachers in high-powered schools of the 1950s and 1960s were engaged in putting on a charade of learning.This edition includes information based on his work with homeschoolers.
    • Holt, John. How Children Learn (Perseus, 1967/1995).Describes how children learn so much and so well before they attend school, emphasizing the importance of unfettered free play for children, among other points.
    • Holt, John. Instead of Education (Sentient, 1976/2003).The book that marks Holt’s turning away from school reform efforts in order to create alternatives to school.

“It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.” Jacob Brownowski

  • Holt, John. Learning All the Time. (Perseus, 1989).Published after Holt died, this collection of Holt’s writing from Growing Without Schooling magazine and other places, is a great tribute to the power of young children to learn on their own.
  • Holt, John and Patrick Farenga. Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling (Perseus, 2003).Holt wrote the original book in 1981 and Farenga revised and updated it in 2003. You can read all of Chapter 3, “Common Questions and Answers about Homeschooling,” on the John Holt/GWS website.
  • Holt, John. The Underachieving School (Sentient, 1969/2005).A collection of essays by Holt that appeared in major publications during the 1960s. Includes “How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading,” an often-reprinted essay of Holt’s.
  • Hood, Mary. The Relaxed Home School.(Ambleside Educational Press, 1994).How the Hoods developed their own style for homeschooling; Hood felt unschooling was too loose and school-at-home too tight for her family and came up with this relaxed approach.
  • Laricchia, Pam. Free to Learn: Five Ideas for a Joyful Unschooling Life (Living Joyfully Enterprises, 2012).The author explains five paradigm shifts her family experienced after leaving behind the world of school, and how these new ideas transformed every aspect of their lives and family relationships.
  • Laricchia, Pam. Free to Live: Create a Thriving Unschooling Home. (Living Joyfully Enterprises, 2013).This follow-up book explains what unschooling could look like on a day-to-day basis.
  • Homeschooled Teens: 75 Young People Speak About Their Lives Without School. (2015) Sue Patterson
  • Ricci, Carlo. The Willed Curriculum, Unschooling, and Self-Direction: What Do Love, Trust, Respect, Care, And Compassion Have To Do With Learning? (Ricci Publishing, 2012).A university professor writes about how his family unschools, and provides thoughts and interviews with educators about the limitations and possibilities of unschooling.
  • Weldon, Laura Grace. Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. Hohm Press, 2010.An experienced homeschooler provides essays, personal stories, and resources to provide you with everything you need to support free-range learners.


  • AERO The Alternative Education Resource Organization holds an annual conference aimed broadly at educational alternatives, but there are usually workshops and presentations that unschoolers find helpful
  • Northeast Unschooling Conference A Gathering in Wakefield Massachusetts.
  • Unschooling Circuit Riders A Yahoo group that lists the year’s major unschooling conferences in the United States.
  • The Unschooler Experiment A conference for unschoolers.
  • Unschoolers Waterpark Gathering Held at the huge Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, this is a friendly, weeklong event full of family activites, speakers, and workshops.

Videos and Movies

There are lots of family-generated and individually created videos about home-based self-directed learning on YouTube. Here are some of the more professionally created videos.

  • The Alternatives To Compulsory Education Conference Videos Pat Farenga, co-author of Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, speaks at The Alternatives To Compulsory Education Conference at Harvard University, in April 2013. The page also contains videos of presentations by Cevin Soling (The War on Kids), Dr. Peter Gray (Free To Learn), and Peter Bergson (Open Connections).
  • Class Dismissed

    Jeremy Stewart is working on a study of families who choose educational alternatives, particularly home-based self-directed learning. This link is a trailer to the film.

  • Grown Without Schooling Peter Kowalke’s documentary about adults who were homeschooled. The speakers are mainly in their mid-to-late 20′s, reflecting on how homeschooling and their unconventional educations affected their transitions into the world of work and adulthood.
  • Unschooled Jason Marsh created three portraits of unschooling families, each one featuring different backgrounds and ages. Parents wondering if unschooled teens will get into college will be inspired by the young man whose passion for blacksmithing and other non-school interests helped him gain admission to the University of California, Berkeley.
  • The Unschooling Channel Carlo Ricci, publisher of the Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, presents interviews and his provocative thoughts about learning.
  • The War on Kids Cevin Soling’s searing documentary about the mistreatment of children in our public schools, including ideas and comments about the situation from homeschooling and alternative school advocates.

Blogs and Websites

There is an incredible variety of support for this learning method online. This is an inclusive, broad list to help you find the support you need, and to inspire you to seek or create your own real-life activities, child-inspired fun, and camaraderie. It is meant as a starting point rather than an exhaustive resource. If you have suggestions for blogs and websites to add to these lists, please contact us.

“It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its ‘homework’.” John Taylor Gatto

    • A to Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling Anne Zeiss’ wonderful creation. One of the friendliest homeschooling sites, and one of the most extensive in terms of resources and free advice.
    • African-American Unschoolers ”African-American Unschooling is THE Internet resource for African-American Homeschoolers with an Africentric approach to learning all the time.”
    • BestHomeschooling.org A fantastic collection of articles and links curated by veteran homeschooler Lillian Jones.
    • Christian Unschooling A simple site that describes in personal detail a family’s growth into unschoolers.
    • City Kids Homeschooling Kerry McDonald writes about learning with her three young children in urban settings, and brings her unique background as a corporate trainer, author, and education policy consultant.
    • Crunchy Domestic Goddess Thought and wit about parenting and many other topics from an unschooling mother and environmental activist.
    • Dayna Martin Dayna writes about radical unschooling and her work as The UnNanny.
    • Do Life Right Lisa Cottrell-Bentley is a publisher, speaker, and unschooler who offers one-on-one email counseling services for people striving to live a vegan and/or unschooling lifestyle. Her family has written a fiction series featuring homeschoolers, which is available at her site.
    • Each One Thrives Meredith Collins, a former editor of Growing Without Schooling, writes a fascinating blog about “what we can do for each child until school gets better—or in case it never does—so that every one thrives no matter what or when.” Her thoughts about math are particularly helpful.
    • Free Range Learning Laura Grace Weldon’s website and book, Free Range Learning, will help ease your fears about letting your children learn naturally and introduce you to families and resources that advocate for a child’s right to learn naturally.

“School was the unhappiest time of my life, and the worst trick it ever played on me was to pretend that it was the world in miniature. For it hindered me from discovering how lovely and delightful and kind the world can be, and how much of it is intelligible.” E.M. Forester

  • Homefires Diane Flynn Keith, author of Carschooling, operates this witty “online journal of homeschooling.”
  • I’m unschooled. Yes, I can write. Idzie Desmarais is a 21-year-old lifelong learner who lives in Montreal, Quebec and maintains this interesting blog about her life and learning.
  • Interest-Led Learning Christina Pilkington writes about her family’s exploration of the world through community-based learning. She also publishes a useful daily newsletter, The Interest Led Learning Daily.
  • JohnHoltGWS.com News and information about the life and work of John Holt, self-directed learning, unschooling, and the complete collection of Growing Without Schooling magazine. Pat Farenga blogs here and operates the site.
  • Learn in Freedom A great resource for “how to use your own initiative in learning, so you can use schools and teachers just when they are helpful to you, and voluntarily chosen by you.”
  • Living Joyfully Author Pam Laricchia (Free to Learn and Live to Learn) writes about all aspects of her unschooling family’s life, including how they apply their life-learning paradigms to parent-child interactions about chores and other daily topics.
  • The Natural Child Project Many articles and resources about compassionate parenting and natural learning.
  • Not Back To School Camp Grace Llewellyn’s camp is a life-changing and life-affirming opportunity for many teenagers
  • Sandra Dodd.com Ideas and principles about unschooling that Dodd developed.
  • Sue Patterson A mother whose unschooled children are now adults writes thoughtfully on a variety of topics related to education and raising children. You can join the Unschooling Blog Carnival from her site.
  • Unschooling Adventures Blake Boles (author of Better Than College) provides international trips and retreats for people aged 14 to 22 and older.
  • Unschooling Summit Michelle Barone, a certified family counselor, offers support and ideas for unschooling.
  • Unschooling Catholics Their site’s tag line: “Where Catholicism and Unschooling meet.”
  • UnschoolingNYC Amy Brougher Milstein’s musings and descriptions about learning in Manhattan.
  • Wendy Priesnitz.com A long-time publisher and author about unschooling, self-directed learning, and green family living. Her blogs contain much wisdom and many resources.


  • Growing Without Schooling Magazine. All of the issues of the magazine founded by John Holt, covering the years 1977 to 2001, are now online. The site also contains articles, audio and video recordings of Holt and other pioneers of learning without schooling.
  • LifeLearning Magazine Published by Wendy Priesnitz, an unschooling pioneer in Canada.

John Holt — The Father of Self-Directed, Home-Based Learning

Dr. Peter Gray’s research has shown that John Holt’s books have had the most influence on people who follow home-based self-directed learning. Holt was a fifth-grade teacher in elite private schools during the 1950s and 1960s. His first book, How Children Fail, described how the students and teachers in these high-powered schools were both engaged in putting on a charade of learning. Holt’s descriptions of these classroom strategies, and his later additions to the book, based on his work with homeschoolers, provide a great basis for understanding authentic learning outside of school. Holt’s second book, How Children Learn, describes how children learn so much and so well before they attend school. In 1983, after years of working with homeschoolers, Holt amplified the importance of unfettered free play for children as an integral aspect of learning. Holt founded Growing Without Schooling magazine in 1977. It was the nation’s first publication about self-directed learning. Holt’s most popular books for homeschoolers include Teach Your Own, Learning All the Time, and Instead of Education. All of Holt’s books are about teaching and learning, though from the perspective of guiding and helping children as individual people growing up in the world, rather than as instructors molding generic students through years of processing in the school factory. More information about John Holt can be found at johnholtgws.com and in the new book, The Legacy of John Holt: A Man Who Genuinely Understood, Trusted, and Respected Children (HoltGWS, 2013).