relaxed homeschooling parents walking in open field with two small children

Inside: Answering the question, “What is the difference between relaxed homeschooling and unschooling?”

When you first dip your toes into the homeschool world, you’ll quickly realize that there are these things called homeschool styles. It can be a little intimidating at first.

You have no idea who the heck Charlotte Mason is, didn’t even know unschooling was a word, and classical homeschooling sounds SOOO intimidating!

Eventually you find your tribe, the ones who understand your homeschool language and why you do what you do.

But one homeschool style you probably won’t hear much about is relaxed homeschooling, and that’s because it is the hardest homeschool style to actually define.

In fact, relaxed homeschooling is often not acknowledged as a legitimate homeschool style at all.

It’s time to change that.

Related: The 12 Best Unschooling Books for Rethinking Education

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There’s Not a Lot Out There for Relaxed Homeschoolers

Now, I’m far from an expert (in homeschooling or education), and while I may have a master’s degree in guidance counseling, that required all of one measly class in education (ED100).

The one thing I do have is a thirst for knowledge that is only filled by reading: lots and lots of reading.

When I first started homeschooling, I gobbled up everything I could get my hands on regarding homeschool philosophies, approaches, and styles in order to know the “why” behind my methods and my choices. I’m going on year four of homeschooling now and have finally planted my feet firmly in the relaxed homeschooling camp.

Funny thing is, very few people write about or both to define relaxed homeschooling at all. There are literally two books on the subject: TWO.

Given the sad lack of information and resources for relaxed homeschoolers or those interested in this homeschool style, I am attempting to explain and define relaxed homeschooling.

Related: The Best Homeschool Book I’ve Ever Read (So Far)

But Isn’t Relaxed Homeschooling The Same As Unschooling?


The terms relaxed homeschooling and eclectic homeschooling are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not always the same. Relaxed homeschoolers can lead toward a specific homeschool style (Charlotte Mason or classical, for example) and don’t always use a variety of approaches in their homeschool.

It is also possible for an eclectic homeschooler to be anything BUT relaxed. Variety does not a relaxed homeschooler make.

The most common misconception I come across about relaxed homeschooling is that it’s pretty much the same as unschooling.

Now, relaxed homeschoolers often draw inspiration and methods from the unschooling movement, and the two can look similar from the outside, but if you dig deeper, a single critical difference sets them [far] apart.

Related: Relaxed Homeschool Plans & Resources for 2021-2022 (Grades 6, 4, 2)

Relaxed Homeschooling versus Unschooling

When you consider how often you hear homeschoolers claim to admire “unschooling”, it may come as a surprise that radical unschoolers often shake their heads at this misunderstanding of their homeschool style.

In fact, the term “radical unschooling” emerged to distinguish their style from others who use the term so loosely. Radical unschooling takes learning autonomy and extends it to all of childhood – food, sleep, screens, etc.

At the heart of the differences between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling is this question: who is in charge of the child’s education – the parent or the child?

Related: Unschooling Pros and Cons (Some Brutal Honesty)

Relaxed Homeschooling: The parent directs the child’s education.

In all of my reading, relaxed homeschooling parents always assume some level of control over their child’s education.

Some perceive it as a partnership between parent and child, but at the end of the day, the parent is the bottom-line decision maker, the one who plans, directs, and guides the child’s education.

Do relaxed homeschoolers take into account their child’s interests and learning styles? Absolutely.

Are they far more laid-back than their “school at home” counterparts? Yes.

Do they use unconventional and creative teaching methods? Probably.

But at the end of the day, the vast majority of relaxed homeschool parents believe that certain knowledge is essential, and they will not leave it up to chance that the child will see it the same way.

What knowledge is considered essential and what is not does vary from parent to parent.

One relaxed homeschooler may view elementary school science as essential, while another may consider it a waste of time (they reteach it all in high school, anyway). That parent probably sticks with nature studies and science documentaries and calls it a day.

One relaxed homeschooler may view certain “classics” as valuable and necessary, while another simply wants her child to love reading. Therefore, she probably won’t require reading the classic novel on all the book lists just because someone at some point in history decided to designate it a “classic”.

Ultimately, 99% of relaxed homeschoolers agree that there are things their child needs to know, things that are a critical part of his education. They just happen to rely far less on formal curriculum and traditional methods to help their child acquire that knowledge.

Related: Why Homeschool? The Most Compelling Reasons to Give It a Chance

Unschooling: The child directs his own education.

In contrast to relaxed homeschoolers, unschooling parents place full trust in their child to determine what knowledge she does and doesn’t need.

Contrary to common perceptions of radical unschooling, unschooling parents do spend time teaching their children. If a child asks how to read, an unschooling parent will certainly support him in learning.

They also spend a lot of their time and energy exposing their children to the world and bringing home resources they think might pique their interest (a practice often referred to as “strewing”).

Just like relaxed homeschoolers, unschooling families frequent the library, take lots of field trips to zoos and museums and aquariums and historical monuments, and might even (gasp!) buy curriculum if it’s necessary to satisfy an interest or curiosity or answer an ongoing series of questions.

Unschoolers can sometimes put more hours into their child’s education than traditional homeschooolers (and sometimes spend more) because they work hard to answer their child’s questions in the moment and can spend a lot of time looking for the perfect resource to match her current interest.

Unschoolers have a “complete trust in their child’s ability to learn”.

The parent serves as a resource, mentor, and guide, but at the end of the day, the child directs her own education every step of the way.

Related: Why This Former Teacher Decided to Unschool

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The Sliding Scale of Relaxed Homeschooling

You can think about relaxed homeschooling as a sliding scale, with one end of the scale being an unschooling approach and the other end being school at home approach.

There is a LOT of room for differences on that scale, as is the case with almost any homeschool style.

Few purists exist in the homeschool world.

Nearly every relaxed homeschooler I have come across in my research values interest-led learning and believes that children are hard-wired to learn. These are both core tenets of unschooling.

At the same time, I have yet to come across a relaxed homeschooler who does not determine the course of their child’s education (even if that’s not apparent to the child himself <wink>).

So…What is Relaxed Homeschooling?

Now we circle back to the original question I set out to answer: what exactly is relaxed homeschooling?

You can see why it’s so hard to answer that question.

Because this term is so broad and used so loosely, it’s impossible for every relaxed homeschooler to agree on a single definition. However, I did find one definition that resonated with me the most: “Relaxed homeschooling focuses on preparing a child to fulfill his unique purpose in life, not preparing a student for college or a job” (source).

I love this definition because it leaves room for each child’s education to be unique, for an education to include all kinds of learning, and to address the needs of the whole child (not just their minds).

But I don’t think that definition is complete. Using that definition as a starting point, I came up with my own working definition of relaxed homeschooling.

Related: Unschooling vs. Homeschooling – What’s the Difference?

Relaxed Homeschooling Definition

Relaxed homeschooling uses a variety of educational methods, from the traditional to the creative, to transfer essential knowledge and skills to children, without concern for arbitrary benchmarks, timetables, or definitions.

Relaxed homeschooling uses anything and everything – yes, even doing ‘nothing’ at times – to preserve children’s natural desire to learn because being a life-long learner is a child’s greatest strength.

Finally, relaxed homeschooling gives children the tools they need to succeed in life – not just the academic world, the self-awareness to know what they can and want to achieve, and the passion they need to accomplish it.

So there you have it – my attempt to define relaxed homeschooling.

Do you agree with my definition? How would you define relaxed homeschooling?

Read Next: Relaxed Homeschooling Curriculum Choices {2017-2018}

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  1. Really interesting ideas explored here. The idea of schooling in itself is problematic in many of these contexts

    1. Author

      Definitely agree now! This was written many years ago when I was still wrestling with relinquishing full control of their education to them. A couple years ago, we transitioned fully to unschooling and haven’t looked back. It was really helpful for me to write this all out and realize exactly what I was wrestling with: who should be in charge of a child’s education? I wasn’t ready to let go yet. Several years later, I finally was.

  2. I fall into the relaxed homeschooling category. I was an A+ student from Kinder through college but I retained little of what I learned. In other words, I’m insanely good at the art of test taking. When it came to educating my own children, I asked myself one question: What DID I retain? The answer was easy, the things I still use every day and the handful of trivia facts I was intrigued by. That being said, my kids do minimal daily practice in the three R’s and the rest gets explored through their ever changing interests and/or mine. The important thing to remember is that learning never ends, it lasts a lifetime. Give them the basic skills they need to succeed the same as you would teach them to wash dishes, make a meal, be kind. Education is important but it is not the everything that you will surely be told it ‘must be’ at some point. Take it from someone who’s been there, when they’re lowering that pint-sized casket into the ground, the last question you’ll be asking yourself is if you should have spent more time on flash cards.

  3. I like that you put that parents are in charge of their child’s education in Relaxed. In Unschooling, it’s not so. That’s one part of unschooling that I didn’t like.

    I have been doing relaxed homeschooling for 10 years. It took me half that time to start seeing posts about it and to come to call myself a relaxed homeschool mom.

    My attempt at a definition for relaxed homeschooling is:

    You don’t follow any style and have no gurus whose rules or guidelines or definitions or approaches you need to follow. You do it how you want to and don’t take no guff!

  4. I love this definition of relaxed homeschool. My family doesn’t understand what we are trying to do. I am trying to mix my husband’s educational culture with ours and homeschool was the only way to do it without totally stressing the kids out. And I don’t think that the social structures taught in school are healthy for them or me. Thank you for the invite to not stress out.

    1. Author

      You’re so welcome! Finding balance is challenging if you and your partner have different ideas about what education should look like. My husband and I compromised for a long time, and now we are fully unschooling because he’s seen the results of making them learn things they don’t want to learn (my daughter now dislikes math strongly when she used to love it).

  5. Thank you for this!!! We are transferring my son out of Kindergarten public school to homeschool, and my daughter out of cyber school to homeschool and I’ve heard about unschooling and I thought that’s what we were going to do but based off this information we are doing relaxed homeschooling. Also can’t wait to check out your curriculum because that’s my current research. I’d rather NOT do workbooks however I’m thinking math and language arts I might have to because of the 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade testing. But everything else I think I can do without buying curriculum. We love to travel and be outdoors and hands on learning is everyone’s favorite way to learn. So anyway I’m looking forward to the rest of your blogs! Thanks again!!! Blessings

  6. THIS!! I too stumbled upon this on Pinterest. We have just wrapped up our school year and as others, especially non homeschooling people, congratulate us on our accomplishment, I tend to feel a little ‘guilty’ because I know they must think we do the full spectrum of so called “requirements and expectations” for the average school kid.
    I have been homescshooling my kids for the past 10-ish years now and have stressed myself and my kids out in the beginning as I battled to meet the expectations of others when it came to benchmarks etc. Over time, and especially in the past couple of years I have learned to relax and focus on the areas my kids need to work on, and I try to remind myself on a regular basis that God knows how He will use my kids and what they will need to know to accomplish those things. They are not going to be all A students and that is okay! My goal is not to have the smartest most advanced students in education, but to raise them to do their best whatever that may look like to be proud of their accomplishments and to trust God to lead them and fill in the gaps.

    I had never heard of the term ‘relaxed homeschooling’ before this article, but what a relief to know it exists and to know that is where we ‘fit in’. I have smart kids, and I am proud of their accomplishments this year in school even if ‘others’ may not see it the same way. I don’t need to feel guilty for anything. =)

    1. Author

      Yes! There is definitely such a thing as relaxed homeschooling, and you do NOT need to feel guilty for anything. 🙂 You rock.

  7. I stumbled across this on Pinterest. I was so glad to read it. I am in my 3rd year homeschooling. I had to deschool myself as a teacher. Honestly, I have son with sensory processing issues and formal school doesn’t work. Unschooling doesn’t work either. But Relaxed homeschooling does! My child needs direction but we try out all sorts of methods in part. I love Charlotte Mason and the nature elements. Copy work and narration though….not happening! We love Montessori because my son is a hands on and a visual learner. Themes and units work but aren’t too rigid! Thank you so much for defining what I have been trying to explain.

  8. I love your definition of relaxed homeschooling, and thanks to reading a few of your posts, I realize that this is my style, too! I had not used the term before to describe our approach, but as with so much in our brand new homeschooling life, I see that I am returning to the natural instincts, intuition, and values I’ve always held dear.

    1. Author

      I’m so glad it resonates with you Nada! We are definitely “unschooly”, but there are definitely things I want them to know, so I’m always waiting for readiness/peaked interest and looking for creative ways to work that knowledge into our days.

  9. I love this post. I needed this so much today. This is everything I need to say to my family that I didn’t know how to. It’s tough when none of them see it the same way. Thank you. Take care.

    1. Author

      You’re so welcome Tina!

  10. Exactly that. My daughter just started 1st grade and we relaxed homeschooled her Kindergarten year. She is barely in her second week of online school, and I’m already regretting it. Besides the fact that she already knows everything they’re teaching, it’s taking up an insane amount of time doing mindless work for the sake of work and not learning. I decided to go with an online school because she is very bright, and I felt inadequate. I felt like I might rob her of a proper education or future opportunities if I continued homeschooling her. We’re only one week in, but I don’t feel like this is better for her. I’m torn, not sure what to do. I guess I better figure it out soon.

    1. Author

      Hi Jasmine! At 1st grade, she will be just fine! The risk of “ruining her” is a common and huge fear, I know: I had it, too. But my oldest is now in 5th grade, and I 99% trust that what we are doing is working and that all the fears were unfounded. You can do this!

    2. Thank you for this! I have been trying to put into words so much of what you wrote here. In my close group of friends, there as many approaches as there are families, and I have struggled with guilt over how loose our learning seems to be, and some people scoff when I describe what/how we do it. I especially loved the part about parents who relaxed-homeschool choosing what they believe is essential knowledge. Thankfully, my husband and I agree on the foundational things our kids need to know, especially as younger elementary children. Children love to learn, and I love to show them the wonders the world. My own instinct is to teach at all times, and I think that has benefitted us the most.

  11. I call this “my kind of unschooling, which I didnt know there was a term for until now.” I know I want to unschool, but I also know I’ll need to find ways to sneak in Algebra 1 at least, and preferably physics and such as well. I was thinking of showing them videos from YouTubers who use science to make crazy stuff, and then help them do it, too, and encourage them to learn the math from Khan Academy. I also want them to learn programming. I was thinking I might find ways to require it but saying they can only earn certain related privileges once they learn the stuff on Khan Academy or something.
    So I thought I was planning on unschooling, but since I was planning to secretly direct their learning, I see I’m actually planning on doing relaxed homeschooing!

    1. Author

      So glad this resonated with you!

  12. Thank you for sharing! I love the way you defined “relaxed homeschooling”. I’d like to say we’re doing the same thing, but we’re bound by time because we’re using “boxed curriculum.” I like it but my daughter sometimes feels pressured and forced because she has to finish a certain lesson at a certain time. It’s our first time to try it this school year. She told me she liked the one we used to do before which was more relaxed, interest-led, and child-led… Anyway, thanks much again for sharing! <3

  13. Interesting. I’ve never looked at these definitions before ( my kids are now 14 and 12- been doing this a few years) because honestly- who cares? Just do what you do you don’t need to label it. I’m think though, that by your definition of unschooling being 100% child lead, worldschooling of any kind must never be unschooling because the parent is deciding which countries the child will visit and therefore learn about. I know I take my kids to places I want them to know about and consider important. Yet so many “worldschoolers” also consider themselves unschoolers. Just an interesting thing…doesn’t apply to me. I always just say we homeschool because that’s what you have to be registered as in Oz. Dont like the un or world terms much .

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Alyson!

  14. I stumbled across your post and thought you did an excellent job of explaining my method too, relaxed homeschooling. It was a bonus to notice that my book came up as the suggested reading. 🙂 Think Outside the Classroom.

    I have loved the relaxed method and you’re right, it’s difficult to define. And we change from one year to the next, depending on each child and season. But I think at the heart of it, for me, is trusting that God gave our children what they need to learn what they need to learn when they need it, if they are provided with a an environment conducive to learning.

    And remembering that what a child isn’t really motivated to learn probably won’t stick anyway. And how to make the important things relevant.

    1. Author

      Hi Kelly! So cool that you came across my post, especially since I loved your book. 🙂 There aren’t enough books written on relaxed homeschooling, that’s for sure. It definitely requires a lot of trust, trust that you know your children, trusting God that what you’re doing is enough and the right thing, and trusting that He’ll make up whatever their education lacks. And I absolutely agree that whatever they aren’t motivated to learn probably won’t stick!

  15. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been homeschooling for 6 years and have been feeling I need to change some things. I like a few concepts of unschooling, but not the whole thing, and I felt there had to be a happy medium somewhere and relaxed homeschooling is it! I was homeschooled from 8th grade until I graduated. My mom wasn’t able to buy us any curriculum, so she did the best she could, and a lot of my time was more like relaxed homeschooling. I thrived in that atmosphere where I could learn based on my interests, but with some guidance from my mom. I showed a lot of interest in writing, so she asked a friend to be my English tutor. Mentoring in that way was a great way for me to learn. So, I guess this is what I want our homeschooling to look like. I’m so glad you’re writing about it and I’d love to see more about how you do it. I’m finding it so hard to let go of the traditional worksheet model because it’s measurable. But it’s also boring!

    1. Author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Sarah! I’m so glad this helped bring clarity to your homeschool. You’re giving me new post ideas, especially about transitioning to relaxed homeschooling and how to do it with confidence. More to come. 🙂

    2. Thank you for this comment. I’m exactly in the same space! On some undefined place on the sliding scale ?and it’s usually so hard to explain to people, especially those who don’t homeschool.

  16. Thank you so much for this post! I have been searching for a definition for what I do schooling wise. It seems as though every homeschool moms first question upon meeting me is “what curriculium do you use?”. Followed by me feeling like a horrible mom since I have never found one I like and don’t plan to use one anytime soon. But when I step back and look at my kids they are thriving. I want them to love learning not feel like it’s a chore. Again thank you so much for this post!

    1. Author

      you’re so welcome! I’m going to have to write another post with “annoying questions relaxed homeschoolers get all the time”. The other one I thought of was, “How long does it take you to do school?”

  17. Ooh, I like this. Although I appreciate some things about un schooling, I do NOT trust my child to know what they need to know. I’ve been a kid. I was a smart kid, but I took the path of least resistance always and have some serious gaps because of it. I trust my kids to do the same! I’m more interested in making the things they need to know but aren’t naturally drawn to fun and appealing. Thanks for a great post!!!

    1. Your comment is so spot on! I was homeschooled by a more eclectic/unschooling method. I loved learning, but there are a couple things I didn’t have an interest in growing up, and now I wish I would have been encouraged to explore those things a bit more. Because of this, I am so glad to have come across this post. Relaxed homeschooling is something I can definitely consider.

      1. Author

        Hi Kelsey! Thanks so much for sharing – it’s especially helpful coming from someone with a background in unschooling. We are working on fractions this year with my oldest because her dad would like her to do enough traditional math that she can do college or other math fields later on if she wants to. She doesn’t love it, and it was challenging at first, especially encouraging her to try something out of her comfort zone, but now she’s doing great and the lesson in perseverance and working hard at something mentally-challenging was more valuable than the math.

        This is so confirming – thank you again for sharing!

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