Living a natural learning lifestyle with your kids is all about role modeling: reading, learning, and growing yourself! You can consider these 7 books your unschooling uncurriuclum or homeschooling home study. When I was diving deep into learning all I could about homeschooling for our own sake and then for writing the Sage Homeschooling book, I read all the books and these are the 7 that I believe to be most impactful for you.
Browse the stack or jump straight to your favorite.
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1. Sage Homeschooling
Sage Homeschooling: Wild and Free offers a natural learning path, for gentle parents who dream of living fully in joy and connection with their children while giving them all they need to be successful, with eight secrets to living a fulfilling unschooling life.
In this inspirational and secular guide, you will learn how to: deschool, shaking off all the educational programming that weighs you down, maintain your relationship focus on connection beyond the early years, trust in your children and their natural learning journey, embrace the freedom that fosters meaningful productivity and independence, utilize collaboration in respectful partnership to achieve self-directed growth, fully realize the environment as a valuable tool for playful learning, live a fun lifestyle of learning through rich, adventurous experiences, set your compass for growth and success in all the ways that matter most
If you are ready to take the leap into a lifestyle of passionate learning with clarity and confidence, then read this book!
“Natural learning is not something you do to your child. It is a way of living with your child.”
2. Free to Learn
Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray is a must read for every parent. We have become so disconnected from the natural child that we, as a society, need to peel back our own institutionalized upbringing and take a good evolutionary, evidence-based look at how children learn and thrive. This book helps us all to do just that. Peter Gray paints a thorough picture of how children learn (primarily through play), with well researched points and global/historical examples, within the context of his own family’s story and time at the Sudbury democratic school. The book reads not as inspiring and poetic but as meaningfully informative with the moral that freedom, opportunity, and trust are the answer. In other words, unschooling. You will put down this book armed with the information and perspective to make quality choices for your child’s education.
Be sure to listen to the conversation I shared with Peter Gray in episode 27 of the Sage Family podcast!
“… the result is a school-centric view of child development that distorts human nature.”
3. Home Grown
This man’s writing is so beautiful. In Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, Ben Hewitt speaks a language of warm, quiet vulnerability that somehow bypasses the busy noise of my brain to reach my soul. I don’t read each chapter; I sink into it. This man is so humbly wise, in all the ways that really matter. He paints a fulfilling picture of a life rooted in every modern definition of “unsuccessful,” that inspires you to look at the world around you and see a whole new bounty of possibilities off the main road: turn down a side street, explore an unpaved one, get dirty, and find your bliss. This book is simply the poetry of a life well lived and it leaves me feeling hopeful and spiritually renewed. I’m not going to be adding sunrise chore boots to my lexicon anytime soon, but I will be walking my chosen path nurturing my connection with nature and my people.
“I wonder if we have it all backward. And I wonder how the world might be if we viewed the very reason for our existence as being not about control and security but about surrender. Not to our fears and insecurities but to our sense of what is possible, to the belief that we all have the ability to shape the world as we imagine it, and that our actions reflect this imagined world until it becomes not imagined, but real.”
4. Project-Based Homeschooling
Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert was a wonderfully inspiring book. She brings the perspective of an early education “wizard” turned homeschooling mother to her project-based homeschooling approach, which she describes through a weaving of learning foundation, concrete examples, and colorful suggestions.
In a nutshell, project-based learning is supporting your child in diving deep in an interest through a process of self-directed planning, creation of artistic work, and self-evaluation. In action, it looks a great deal like what I describe in my Sage Homeschooling book, with a heavy emphasis on the environment as a facilitator of valuable work, self-direction, unbusying (holding the freedom and time for quality pursuits), and process-over-product with lots of layering.
I loved the book and highly recommend it but I will share a couple criticisms. She emphasizes art as the primary vehicle for project work and while I do value artistic work, I definitely wouldn’t call it our primary learning modality. This is the learning style of many people, though not everyone. She also seems to view being home and working in solitude at your desk as the full-time job, if you will, of childhood. Don’t get me wrong, she absolutely discusses the value of cooperative group learning (yay mixed age shout outs!), pretend play, and “field trips,” but they are presented more as a sometimes food to compliment the consistent diet of fine motor creation. Lastly, she frequently describes the role of the parent as documentarian, journaling each child’s thoughts, plans, progress, ideas, etc. I kept waiting for her to circle back to explicitly state the value of this but never really felt satisfied on that front. I’m going to live a rich and fulfilling life, working on my projects, in connection with my children, not strictly as documentarian.
Overall, I highly recommend the book! It’s an easy and enjoyable read that definitely adds to your homeschooling education.
“Family culture is the manifestation of your priorities—not what you say, not what you wish were true, but what you actually do on a daily basis. You create your family culture with your choices.”
5. The Unschooling Journey
The Unschooling Journey: A Field Guide is the definitive book on the deschooling process (the process of unpacking all of our inherited educational baggage). We define who we are and how we see the world through an internal process of giving meaning to our experiences through the writing of our story, or narrative. Pam Laricchia has taken the deschooling process and framed it in the context of the hero’s journey and in reading this book, I completely reinterpreted my own story in a tremendously meaningful way. She walks us through embracing the beginner’s mind, which is that mindset of bravely questioning everything and holding a default position of curiosity, emphasizes the role of guides that our children play for us, lays out some truths, walks us through sitting with discomfort without judgment, talks about living an integrated life (instead of compartmentalization), covers the struggle with feeling like we need approval and to be right, and the misconception of isolation as homeschoolers. This would be the book I recommend reading first in my unschooling (un)curriculum.
Be sure to listen to the conversation I shared with Pam Laricchia in episode 4 of the Sage Family Podcast!
6. The Brave Learner
As a homeschooling mama, it’s impossible not to know the name Julie Bogart and her company Brave Writer. Her passion, wisdom, and experience are so valuable but it’s her humility and warmth that keep me feeling inspired. I’m happy to say that her new book, The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life, captures her signature encouragement and guidance. She paints a picture of real learning through 12 “super powers”: surprise, mystery, risk, adventure, curiosity, collaboration, contemplation, celebration, mind, body, heart, and spirit. It’s a sweet blend of research and personal lessons and stories from days homeschooling her now grown children. You’ll walk away feeling confident and inspired.
One small note that I want to include for you to keep in mind as you read is that I find her conceptualization of unschooling to be narrow. We consider ourselves unschoolers and will use a curriculum, prepare a learning activity, or take a class as desired by the learners – we utilize anything helpful in partnership with our children. As unschoolers, we have less coercion and more freedom and trust.
“There are unlimited ways to get to where you want to go; I’m here to help you find your way.”
Be sure to listen to the conversation I shared with Julie Bogart in episode 26 of the Sage Family podcast!
Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom by Kerry McDonald is an academic read for us geeky mamas who are all about making informed choices. Kerry has a master’s degree in education policy from Harvard University and is the mother of 4 unschooled children, both of which come together nicely to fill in the “why” for all your natural learning questions while painting a picture of what unschooling can look like both on a family and society level. This book will set your mind at ease and show you iterations of unschooling that you may not have considered.
“School is as far from natural for a child as a zoo is for a zebra.”
Be sure to listen to the conversation I shared with Kerry McDonald in episode 47 of the Sage Family podcast!
8. The Self-Driven Child
In The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, Dr. William Stixrud (a neuropsychologist) and Ned Johnson (a test prep specialist) provide the hard science, inspiring anecdotes, and practical how-to’s to get you out of your kid’s way. Children need agency to live fulfilling lives, so don’t be a manager, be a non-anxious consultant. It’s a parenting book at heart, but one that is so relevant to the homeschool journey.
This book is a powerhouse that I enthusiastically recommend for homeschoolers, which is ironic since the book is written squarely from within a traditional schooling paradigm—odd since school is the biggest culprit denying most children and teens any meaningful control over their lives. The authors do go so far as to call school a “brain-toxic environment,” but never go so far as to explicitly consider an alternative like self-directed education. Really it’s a testament to how good this book is that it reaches across the educational aisle and applies to homeschooling so perfectly.
“‘It’s your call. I have confidence in your ability to make informed decisions about your own life and to learn from your mistakes.'”
The conversation I shared with both Bill and Ned in episode 53 of the Sage Family podcast is one of my all-time favorites.