There isn’t one.
When I was a little kid, hanging out in the schooled world with both other unschooled kids and kids who went to school every day, I had no idea that there were different ways to be homeschooled. The critical difference was between being in school and not being in school.
Later, I learned that my family was probably doing everything wrong. Why? Because my mother had purchased a curriculum. That’s right. I was ten, and I was doing math out of a text book.
Good unschoolers, it turns out, never ever use a text book. They don’t depend on curricula. They aren’t weak-minded like that.
It was confusing. Because I also learned that my family was doing it wrong for not using more text books and curricula. We were doing it wrong because, as a child, I sometimes drew princesses all day long, on a Monday, without doing a single math problem.
(Who wouldn’t want to draw them all day? source)
Some homeschoolers thought academic structure was really important. They kept their children at the proper grade level. Some unschoolers thought that any type of formal structure was unhealthy and intellectually suffocating for children.
I wasn’t even sure how much I was an unschooler and how much a homeschooler. We were kinda just doing our own thing. It didn’t always work great, and sometimes it was perfect.
When I hear people laying down rules about unschooling, I get annoyed. I feel a little defensive. What if I am terribly flawed because my family didn’t get it “right”? I don’t believe in that.
Homeschooling is about trusting yourself. It’s about relying on common sense, rather than what the world tells you you should do. It’s about knowing yourself and your family. It’s about being brave enough to do life differently on a basic level. That might involve a curriculum, too. It might not. It might involve auditing classes at the local university, or it might involve reading all day long. Or both. It might change from week to week, from month to month, from year to year. Or maybe parts of it will change, and parts remain comfortingly consistent.
No one has the answers. No one knows the secret about exactly what children need and should have at every moment. Some people are pretty sure they know. But they don’t. Because everyone can only know what their lives have allowed them to.
I think the thing my mother did best, as a homeschooling mom, was treat me like she really, really cared. She was invested in my life, every day. I think the thing my father did best, as a homeschooling dad, was trust both my mom and me.
Beyond that, well, the rest isn’t so incredibly important. We all messed up and changed our minds and tried again. But we were willing to be different.
We were willing, even, to do it wrong.
Which, in retrospect, was practically impossible.