BookShark for the Unschooling Family

a young student holds books with a big smile and looks at coins during a science experiment

“All I’m saying can be summed up in two words: Trust children.” John Holt

In our home, we tend to lean toward unschooling. If you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s basically about trusting children to learn on their own, without being directed by an adult. This educational philosophy lets the child learn what he wants, when he wants, based on what he is interested in.

It’s really that simple. Now let's discuss what unschooling isn't because there are a lot of assumptions and misconceptions.

Unschooling Isn't Children Running Wild

Okay, there are days when you may walk into my house and think I have three children running around rather than just one, plus the dog and the cats, so maybe I’m stretching it a little to say that unschooling isn’t children running wild. That said, I appreciate structure. I appreciate a clean home. I have rules.

My daughter lives in this home with her dad and me, and respect is a mutual agreement between all of us and her adult brothers who come to visit us with their children. We are unschoolers, but our home has order.

Unschooling Isn't a Constant Mess

Did I mention that I appreciate a clean home? It’s something I require for my own sanity, and everyone in my family understands this. Messes are perfectly okay. We make messes to create, to cook, to play, etc. But we clean them up when we’re finished.

Unschooing Isn't an Absence of Learning

I find that my daughter is constantly learning. Even when she has free time, she is using her tablet to watch videos for making crafts or art pieces, or she’s making her own art, or she’s playing with her Barbies and creating stories and situations that she’s picked up in the real world. Learning happens naturally, and with children, learning is a constant.

Unschooling Isn't Helicopter Parenting

My daughter has a lot of independence. I don’t have to be monitoring her every move. She has my trust, and I have hers. It’s one of the things I truly love about the unschooling philosophy.  

How Does BookShark Fit with Unschooling?

Can I be totally honest? I bought the BookShark curriculum because as a former teacher, I was afraid.

  • I felt terrified that I might not teach my daughter enough.
  • I felt scared that she’d fall behind her peers.
  • I thought she’d end up wasting time on her tablet all her waking hours.

In short, I didn’t trust my child to learn. I wanted to, but I didn’t.

I bought the BookShark curriculum to ease my mind. The beautiful thing about my choice is that having a well-planned curriculum helped me to let go of the worry and fully embrace unschooling!

Before I bought it, I worried that we weren't doing enough, reading enough, learning enough. After being trained in schools for most of my life, I was thoroughly convinced that if it couldn’t be assessed and wasn’t happening in a classroom led by a teacher, it wasn’t learning I really wanted to trust my daughter to learn. I believed in her. I just didn’t trust myself or her enough to allow it to happen.

My worry prevented me from relaxing and enjoying the process.

BookShark took away that worry.

When we got the All-Subjects Package on Box Day, my daughter excitedly tore it open to look through all of the books. I remember that she almost immediately asked me to read her favorite book Charlotte’s Web. We sat on the kitchen floor, surrounded by a pile of math manipulatives, books, maps, cute little plastic bears and geometric shapes and started reading that book together. It was amazing.

How To Use BookShark with an Unschooling Philosophy

How To Use BookShark with an Unschooling PhilosophyAs I stated above, unschooling doesn’t mean throwing all the rules out the window. We have rules in our home based on our family values:

1. Nature is vital.
2. We read daily.
3. We use numbers daily.
4. We create daily.

Our entire educational model is based on these four values, and BookShark fits perfectly.


Recently, when working in our garden, my daughter asked about how we get clean water, so we read The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, part of Level 1 Science. I showed her the water experiments in the Science Activities 1 book and asked if she’d like to try them. She loved them!


Reading is something we do each and every day, and a literature-based program makes this super simple by providing a collection of books with discussion questions, timeline figures, and mapping activities. My daughter simply chooses which book she’d like to read for independent reading and for our read aloud time. Sometimes these books tie into other things we are doing, and sometimes they spawn questions and further exploration. Other times, they are simply for the sheer enjoyment of reading together.


We chose Saxon Math for our customized box, so each day, my daughter chooses a page to do. This has been really helpful, because some days she simply wants to do math equations and chooses a sheet with that. Other times, she has chosen pages further up in the book and has learned what she didn’t know and learned to choose an earlier lesson next time. Other times, it showed me that perhaps she needed to be moved up, like when we skipped the last half of Vol 1 and moved to Vol 2. The flexibility of the program makes it a wonderful fit for our unschooling tendencies.


Every day we create and again, BookShark helps because the activities we do tend to lead to more learning and exploring. With the resources, my daughter has had a chance to create a volcano, play with magnets, build a catapult, play dress up, make a compass to find north, and so many other things.

The key is to begin with an interest you see in your child. This is the beauty of unschooling. It’s about celebrating your child’s interests. Perhaps it’s a book or a trip you’ve shared together; perhaps it’s an activity your child is doing on her own. Maybe it’s a YouTube video she’s watching that has her asking lots of questions or wishing she could do that. Jump on these opportunities. As a teacher, I called them learning moments, but really all of life is one big learning moment. Now, I just think of them as opportunities for big fun and memories we can create together. And I’m all for seizing these moments.

For me, buying BookShark curriculum helped me to better focus on what my daughter was learning, rather than worrying and fussing over what on earth we should be doing. It took the load off my shoulders and helped me to truly be present with my child each day. That's the whole reason I decided to home educate her in the first place.

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About the Author

Resa BrandenburgResa Brandenburg is a former teacher who is now passionate about unschooling her daughter. She lives with her husband in an old farmhouse by the river in Kentucky. Her favorite thing to do is spend the afternoon with her family, including her grown sons and two grandchildren. Her hobbies include traveling, reading, and quilting.