What Is Unschooling?
Congratulations! You're a Floridian who is considering unschooling their child. Whether you're moving your child from a traditional school setting, or you're starting your little one off with unschooling, there are some things you need to know in order to have a successful home education experience.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimated that in 2007 there were approximately 1.5 million homeschooled students in the U.S., and that number has been steadily on the rise. Unschoolers are a subset of homeschoolers, although no tracking exists specifically for unschoolers, it is estimated that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of homeschoolers use the unschooling approach to education.
So what exactly is unschooling? Basically, unschooling means that a child is getting an education by pursuing his or her interests in life. You may see this type of learning referred to by a variety of names: child-led, child-directed, interest-led, delight-directed, natural and organic to name a few.
Its basic premise is that children are innate learners, and that when allowed to pursue their interests and passions, learning will naturally take place. Parents act as facilitators to provide their children with resources and opportunities to support this type of learning.
How to Get Started
Unschooling is legal in all fifty states, and each state has its own set of home education requirements. As an unschooler in Florida, there are two specific things you must do to meet the state's legal requirements to start any home education program:
- Submit a written notice of intent
- Maintain a portfolio for your child
First, submit a written notice of intent to your school district superintendent that you intend to homeschool your child(ren). It is not necessary to specify that you will be unschooling. Include each child's name, birth date, address and your signature. Send in a return receipt or hand deliver it to make sure it is received. File this letter of intent within 30 days of establishing your home education program, especially if you are removing your child from public or private schools: this will avoid any issues with truancy.
Once you begin unschooling, Florida statutes require that you maintain a portfolio for your child. It should consist of two parts, a log of educational activities and a sample of materials.
The law's definition of the activity log allows the parent a great deal of freedom to choose his or her record-keeping style. The statues define the log as "A log of educational activities that is made contemporaneously with the instruction, and that designates by title any reading materials used." A very basic log could just have the date and a brief notation of the activity. Some people even jot their log on a calendar. Others provide more detailed notes about the activities, sometimes broken down by subject, while others maintain their log in the form of a journal discussing their activities. It's really a matter of personal preference and what fits into your lifestyle. Reading materials can simply be listed by date and title. Not each and every shred of material your child reads has to be listed.
The second part of your child's portfolio is described as follows in Florida statutes: "Samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student." For an unschooler, the sample of materials can be rich and varied. Written materials, artwork, projects, photos, videos, screenshots and computer files are just a few of the things you can use. Try to show a sampling of how your unschooler learned by pursuing his or her interests. Arrange your samples in chronological order to show your child's learning progression. Again, you do not have to show everything that your child has done, just a representative sample.
Who will look at your portfolio? Besides yourself, it will be looked at by a certified teacher if you choose that option for your annual evaluation (discussed below). Also, the school district can request to see the portfolio by giving you 15 days written notice, although this doesn't seem to happen often.
Annual Evaluation Requirements for Florida Unschoolers
Florida requires that you provide your school district with an annual educational evaluation which will demonstrate that your child is making educational progress according to his or her ability. A copy of this evaluation is due in the school district's office each year on or before the anniversary date of when you filed your written intent to homeschool. You have several options for your annual evaluation. Choose the one which best fits your child's needs and your family's budget:
- Evaluation by a Florida-certified teacher. A Florida-certified teacher can evaluate your child by reviewing their portfolio and talking with your child. Make sure that you "shop" for an evaluator beforehand and find someone who understands unschooling and is supportive of the concept. You may even want to choose someone at the beginning of the "school year" so that you know what things they will be looking for in a portfolio. Your evaluator does not have to live in your county. Also, it doesn't matter whether the teacher is certified at the elementary or secondary level - either certification can evaluate a child of any age.
- Nationally normed student achievement test. Your child can take any nationally normed student achievement test (also referred to as a standard achievement test) administered by a certified teacher. There are a number of different tests to choose from. This test can be given in a group setting or privately. You can decide what might work best for your child and your budget. Testing in a group setting can usually be done within a public school, private school, or homeschool group. If you want your child privately tested, you will need to make arrangements with a certified teacher. A copy of the results of this type of evaluation will need to be submitted to your school district. (Keep in mind that if your testing is done at a public school, they may forward the results directly to the superintendent's office without you receiving them first.)
- State student assessment test. Your child can take the state student assessment test - this is currently the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test). It will be given at a location and under testing conditions decided by your school district. The results will be sent directly to the district superintendent's office, who then forwards them to the parents. Remember that public school curriculum revolve around the FCAT, so if this is the evaluation route you choose, you may want to obtain practice tests to familiarize your child with the terminology and structure of the test.
- Psychological evaluation. Your child can be evaluated by a psychologist who holds a valid, active license pursuant to the provisions of Florida Statute 490.003(7) or (8). This could be a private psychologist or a school psychologist. While more expensive than other options, this may be appropriate for children with special needs, or children who learn in a significantly different manner from their peers.
- Parent/superintendent agreement. Your child can be evaluated with any other valid measurement tool that you and your district's school superintendent have agreed upon. Be sure to obtain this agreement well in advance of when your evaluation is due and obtain it in writing. Some examples of other measurement tools would be ACT or SAT scores or grades from classes taken at public, private or online schools.
Other Things Florida Unschoolers Should Know
There are a few other things that you should know if you're unschooling in Florida:
- No attendance register. You are not required to keep an attendance register. Florida statutes specifically exclude homeschoolers from meeting the requirements of a school day.
- Interscholastic extracurricular activities. Unschoolers are eligible to participate in interscholastic extracurricular student activities at their local public schools and also by some private schools. Check into your local schools and see what they offer - sports, academic clubs, art, drama, etc. If there are special programs for gifted students, some schools may allow homeschoolers to participate.
- Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. Unschoolers are eligible for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program which provides scholarships for postsecondary education. An unschooler will need to meet the eligibility requirements set out for homeschoolers, which includes certain SAT/ACT scores, registration in 11th and 12th grade in your school district and a certain amount of community service hours.
- Dual-enrollment program. Unschoolers are eligible to participate in a dual-enrollment program. Those who pass the qualification test can take college courses for free while still in high school.
- College Admission. Unschoolers are eligible for admission to the Florida College System and the State University System of Florida.
- Exceptional student testing and evaluation services. Unschoolers may receive testing and evaluation services at diagnostic and resource centers, which can provide medical, physiological, psychological, and educational testing and other services for exceptional students.
Resources for Florida Unschoolers
Here are some resources which will be invaluable for Florida unschoolers:
- The Florida Parent Educators Association - This group exists specifically to serve homeschooling families in the state of Florida. Visit their site for a lot of free information. You can join as well for only $30 and have access to their valuable "Guide to Home Schooling in Florida".
- Florida Statutes 1002.41 - Home Education Programs - This section of the Florida Statutes governs how the home education program works in Florida. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with this - it's not too long and there's not too much legalese.
Remember to check for local unschooling groups in your area. They are a great source of ideas for educational resources, co-ops, field trips, evaluator recommendations, and support for the unschooling philosophy.
Questions & Answers
Question: If I have already been homeschooling for the past year, can I still enroll my child in the unschooling program?
Answer: My daughter is twenty-three, so we've been out of unschooling for a while. However, I know that we switched from traditional homeschooling to unschooling after I realized that conventional would not work for her. There was really no enrolment process to go through. However, if you plan to enroll her in the Florida Unschoolers umbrella school, I would contact them for information. The main thing for us was knowing how we would have her evaluated at the end of the year, so that we could put together the appropriate documentation we needed.
Question: Is there a guide or curriculum for unschooling that we can follow for the sixth and seventh grade, and if so, where do I find it?
Answer: I think a good place to start would be to google the Florida Parent Educators Association for resources.
Question: Can an unschooled child get a diploma or GED?
Answer: You can make a diploma for your child, or, in our case, we participated in the FPEA graduation, where each child received a diploma. Your child would have to take the GED to receive that.
© 2011 Donna Fairley Huebsch
Shamika on August 27, 2019:
With unschooling high school, am I required to make my kids meet standard Florida high School graduation requirements with my teenagers if they are not State University bound? They are more vocational School bound to earn certificates and/or specialty school- bound. Do I still need to show the standard credit-earning requirements in order to issue their diploma in a couple of years?
Whitney Speight-Carlin on April 25, 2019:
Hi, this is all new information to me and very interesting. I'm wondering if anyone knows what the process would be to re-enroll a student after they have been unschooled for a few years, and would they be eligible for graduation and a diploma?
Donna Huebsch on October 21, 2016:
Camille, you can start homeschooling at any time. Also, check Gabby's comment above about an umbrella school for unschoolers...it may make things easier for you.
Camille on October 20, 2016:
I'm thinking about doing Florida unschoolers for my middle son who in 9th grade the schools starts really early in morning and he just is not an early riser it was OK for first month of school now I think this is one of only options so we both don't get into trouble he's only 15 and I really want to see him gradate at least high school I found out about this by calling the county school board they said Florida Virtual but don't take anybody till next semester and hopefully this option he be able to start sooner
Gabby on September 30, 2016:
I found that the state of florida has a nice umbrella private school. she doesn't charge admissions, just asks for donations to keep it running. https://sites.google.com/site/floridaunschoolers/ because it's registered in FL as a private school, you do not have to do the evaluations. All she asks is for you to turn in 'attendance' every quarter (because that's the only info she has to give the state) and you are free to teach your child how you see fit.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on August 07, 2016:
Carl, I was really worried about that too because I took my daughter out of public school after grade 5 due to her extreme anxiety. One thing I did was choose to have her evaluated annually by a certified teacher, as opposed to having her take the state standardized test. The lady was actually a former public school teacher who was a big supporter of unschooling. If you find an unschooling support group in your area, they can help you find a resource like this.
When my daughter was in high school, we bought an SAT prep guide and went through every chapter. Based on her scores, she earned a Bright Futures gold level scholarship and a scholarship from the small Christian college she attended part time.
Other than that, we let her do what she was interested in. She spend hours with her dad using a 3D home designer program. She helped do our taxes on Turbotax and understood everything. When she was high school age, I took her to a small Christian school for 2 classes a day. She took educational therapy plus a history class. As it turned out, she didn't benefit from the year of therapy, and switched to drama, where she found her passion. She learned many useful skills in drama, where she excelled in production.
She is now 21 and is disabled due to multiple medical conditions. I still hope and pray that she will be able to find something that passionately interests her, and that she can adapt to pursue with her conditions.
Good luck with your unschooling pursuits!
Carl Ross from Florida on August 06, 2016:
Great resources here ... thanks for sharing. I do have a question or two... I'm considering this 'unschooling' method to educate our children. In reading and learning that kids in Florida are eligible for college admission and scholarships, provided they score well on ACT/SAT, I'm concerned whether or not they'll get the proper math and english/language skills necessary to score well on these tests...
Perhaps I've been brainwashed since I'm a product of the public school system, but seeing how they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to teach these kids how to test and past the test, I wonder if our kids will meet or exceed those test results since the unschooling method is not pushing them head first into learning math in the manner schools teach.
I don't know .. I guess I'm concerned they won't be getting detailed instruction in geometry, algebra, calculus since their 'natural interests' likely won't have them seeking out how to do algebra and geometry. How do i ensure they get what they need so they are prepared to past these tests in the event they decide on their own to go to college.
Regarding 'Nationally normed student achievement test', and/or State student assessment test, my concerns here are the same as well. My 2 youngest are 7 and 9. If we're not spending hours each week on math and science, how can i expect them to do well on those types of standardized tests if our time is spent in museums, science fairs, learning a part in a drama stage play, etc...
I'm really interested in pursuing this. I think i can best guide my children in facilitating their hearts desires. Thanks a million.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on April 12, 2016:
Dorothy, thank you for your comment. I think that your son needs to be old enough to work unsupervised since you are working, and also have the motivation to work on his own. Some other groups which may have information to help you are the Florida Unschoolers (an umbrella school) and the Pinellas Parent Educators Association (PPEA). The thing to remember about unschooling is that basically you are allowing children to learn by immersing themselves in activities that they find interesting.
Dorothy on April 11, 2016:
This article was very informative. I have 3 children, 2 girls 1 boy. My girls both benefit greatly from traditional schooling. My oldest daughter is an upcoming freshman in high school and wants to be a doctor. She is a straight A student and benefits greatly from school except for the fact that she is at that age where she is realizing that a lot of what's taught in school is not used in real life. School also comes easy for my youngest daughter. She's an active child so sitting still can be a challenge at times but for the most part she's adjusting. My son on the other hand has a learning disorder which makes school very hard for him. Even trying his hardest he gets D's and F's and that greatly affects his self esteem. I want to try unschooling for him but I am a working mother. Is unschooling possible for my son when I am a working mother? How will that effect things? I am in St Petersburg, Florida.
DoReMiRocker on February 07, 2016:
I've always wanted to be unschooled/homeschooled(I'm in 11th grade in public school, and I hate it for may reasons, it's a shame my parents say I have no other choice), and I'm glad that doing this doesn't require much, because when I become a parent, I plan to unschool my kids. I really think it would benefit more people if they were put in unschooling or homeschooling instead of public school, because public school has become really bad(based off of experience), especially with it's common core learning curriculum and such. Public school has literally sucked the urge to learn and be creative and any sense of self students have right out of them, including me. I wish more people knew about unschooling and the benefits it has.
Shannon from Florida on December 16, 2014:
Thank you for the informative article! We homeschool in Florida and have a number of friends who unschool successfully in our area.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on September 16, 2013:
Nancy, that's a good point - an unschooler who enrolls in a private/umbrella school will have different requirements from the standard home education program requirements spelled out in Florida statutes. Here is a link for those who might be interested in this option:
There may be other private/umbrella school options for unschoolers, but I'm not sure.
Nance Confer on September 16, 2013:
Hi Donna --
An unschooler pointed me to your site. I would just add that unschoolers in Florida, along with all other homeschoolers, have the private/umbrella school option.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on May 07, 2013:
Daughter of Maat, thanks for visiting and commenting! My daughter is a senior, so these are our last few weeks of honeschooling - she started in 6th grade. We have always used an annual evaluation by a certified teacher...we have used the same lady each year. I checked around during our first year of homeschooling and found someone who supports the unschooling concept. It has really made the whole process relatively painless. Good luck with your unschooling experience!
Melissa Flagg COA OSC from Rural Central Florida on May 06, 2013:
What a fantastic hub! We started homeschooling our daughter in March and found that the Florida requirements weren't all that restrictive, so we decided to try unschooling. I keep a "lesson guide" for the week, and I have a huge binder for all of my daughter's coloring activities and workbook pages.
I bookmarked this hub specifically for the info on the annual evaluation. That's the one part of this whole unschooling thing I'm dreading!
Voted up and shared!!
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on July 13, 2012:
Thanks for visiting my hub Kathryn! I am truly grateful that unschooling exists an an educational option for my child.
Kathryn L Hill from LA on July 13, 2012:
I am amazed and surprised by this information! It is proof that our consciousness is indeed evolving! But, I think the internet has made it inevitable! Thank You, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates! They were the first true unschoolers!
Eliminate Cancer from Massachusetts on March 14, 2012:
We have a number of Unschoolers here in New England - some states are easier than others as far as assessment. Maine is Awesome!! I'm currently in Massachusetts, and the local districts oversee homeschooling, and some areas are a challenge. My kids are doing well, though, life is good, I can't complain :)
BTW - I have friends who drive the Unschool Bus around the country - if you see them, tell them Kate said 'Hi' :)
MonetteforJack from Tuckerton, NJ on October 19, 2011:
There are many positives gained from homeschooling. I learned this from experience. Of course, the success would depend on both child and whoever is assigned to homeschool the child. Although, I would say that unschooling and homeschool is ideal for a child who is intent in developing his own interest at his time, to specialize in that interest.
shea duane from new jersey on October 19, 2011:
I do agree. As I said, I've heard one wonderful success story. I think the failures fall at the feet of the parents; some people don't know how difficult it is to educate a child. You are certainly right: one size never fits all. great hub, by the way
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on October 19, 2011:
Shea, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I have to say I'm a firm believer that, while unschooling and home education are not for everyone, neither is a traditional classroom. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to education, and I think the best method of learning is the one that best fits the child. My child has been both homeschooled and in public school...I'm very thankful we had the option to pick what we thought was best for her at different times in her life.
shea duane from new jersey on October 19, 2011:
Although I've heard one success story re: home schooling, I've heard at least 50 failure stories that have negatively affected kids' lives. The best way, I think, is general curriculum and parent support, support, support. Interest-based is great for enrichment; every day can be a learning experience.