Let me start by saying that I am relatively new to unschooling so this is my experience as a work in progress…
Unschooling is exactly what it sounds like: NOT ATTENDING SCHOOL. That’s it. Those are the only “rules”.
The world of unschooling, I’ve come to find out, can be similarly dogmatic to the world of real food. Yikes. So again I find it worthwhile to address what Unschooling is TO ME:
Unschooling is allowing the child to learn by doing and living, choosing their interests and actively creating. It allows the child to focus on their individual interests as opposed to a a curriculum determined by an education “authority”. Unschooling respects the child’s opinions and encourages them to think for themselves, question the status quo and live now rather than preparing to live.
Traditional schooling is often passive-picture kids sitting in chairs, listening (or not?) with their hand on their chin and looking out the window most of the time. In traditional school settings kids are taught to respect authority, to request permission for everything from going to the bathroom to choosing the topic of their next paper or whether you can play with the blocks on Wednesday or not. The curriculum is often well thought out and planned with the goal of preparing the student for the following year, and then the following and then the one after that.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been preparing for the next thing all my life and I’m pretty sure this learning gig is a life long process. I still don’t have it all figured out. Do you? How about we focus on now for a change?
I have to admit I was skeptical when I first heard of unschooling
I remember hearing the word a few times in my 14 years of parenting and not even being curious as to what it was. I certainly didn’t need one more thing to research. After all, I had moved to Santa Monica, CA with a lot of sacrifice as a single mom so that my child could attend one of the best school districts in the country! Don’t tell me I got it all wrong!
Our journey into unschooling started with homeschooling. We chose to homeschool because of big life transitions such as an international move and scoliosis surgery. Since I was going to be home with 3 kids on my own while working full time for 7 months (have I mentioned I’m a tad crazy) I wanted something easy in terms of curriculum so that Natalie could manage her education during that period with minimal help from me. Enter the K12 program that is sponsored by the public schools. Did I mention its also free and they lend you a computer for the kid to use?
Let me also mention that my husband is a teacher with a Master’s in education. He now stays home with the kids but it is possible some day he may go back to teaching and I am in no way anti-school or ant-teaching! I don’t know if those are actual terms or if I just made them up but hopefully I’ve made my point clear.
So, why am I writing about unschooling and what the heck does it have to do with paleo?
Unschooling ties in to our desire for simplicity, decentralization and breaking away from the
hamster wheel system.
I’m a problem solver, and we had a problem. When Natalie went back to regular school for a few months after life had settled down our days looked like this:
- Wake up a cranky, sleepy teenager
- Nag her if she doesn’t have time to eat breakfast and empty the dishwasher before leaving for school
- Fight Los Angeles traffic for 30 minutes to drop her off with or without 2 toddlers in the car, depending on the day
- Have her take the bus home which in L.A. traffic meant she’d be home around 4pm. Did I mention she left the house around 7:30?
- After dinner mad rush to complete homework which would often have her up late and eating into the time allotted for that often neglected event called SLEEP
- Rinse and repeat, for about 9 months
Add grades and testing to the equation and it was just not fun times. It felt like she was not really living with us, just coming home to eat and sleep. Of course, its just normal right? All of us went through that at that age! (uphill, both ways) Its a part of life! Suck it up, buttercup!
I’m known for asking that question a lot, kind of like an annoying 3 year old. In all seriousness I think its an important question in every aspect of life. Its what led us to the way we eat, our decision on circumcision, unschooling, political choices. Questioning everything. “Because we’ve always been doing it” is not a good enough answer for me.
Why does life have to be so hectic?
Why are school days so long and why do we have to study 10 subjects when there’s only 2 or 3 of those we really enjoy?
Why do kids have to shut up and listen?
Ultimately the decision was up to Natalie but we not only supported it, we encouraged it. And we’re trying it. And we’re no experts.
The hilarious bit? Her schooled friends still call her up for help with their homework.
Do I unschool all my kids? Do I think its right for every child at every age?
Actually Natalie isn’t even 100% unschooled because she goes to spanish school once a week. So does Sofia (age 4) who also goes to a co-op preschool in the mornings most weekdays. Milo (2.5) will also go to the co-op in the fall. They don’t always go. If there’s a morning where they’d all rather go to the park or plant things in the garden or go to the farmer’s market or just do nothing or read books at the library then that’s what they do. At preschool they learn a few things but mostly they play with their friends and have fun.
For now, that’s what is working for us. And who knows, Sofia might even go to regular kindergarten when the time comes. I doubt it but I guess it depends on what our work schedules are like and where we’re living.
One day at a time. That’s how we roll.
The book that really sold me on the concept of unschooling is The Teenage Liberation Handbook, by Grace Llewelyn, and yes, I recommend it even if your kids will not be teens for several years. (Grace also runs the Not Back To School Camp in Oregon and Vermont in the summers).
Would you be interested in Natalie’s take on unschooling? If so, comment below with your questions for her!
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28 thoughts on “What is unschooling and why is it awesome?”
Love the unschooling, my son is learning so much, this my first you, but not the last
It sounds like “debriefing” & of so, I could not agree more!
Hi Sylvie, I listened to your interview on the Balanced Bites podcast and that brought me here to your blog! I have “homeschooled” my kids since the beginning. I heard you say that your daughter just passed the California high school test! My rising 9th grader wants to go to school next year (he’s bored at home). My 6th grader and I are planning a more hack-schooling or un-schooling approach for her next year. My question is: What about grammar? Isn’t that silly? I know my kids need to pass the standardized tests, but I’m concerned if I’m not super intentional/involved then they won’t pass the high school test for all the stuff they test for (essays, grammar, etc.)when the time comes. Am I over-thinking this??
Thanks so much for your comment!
It depends on the age and also I suppose on the state and what their tests are like. Since my daughter was older it was easy to have her study from the practice material and sort of self teach any math that she hadn’t gotten yet in school and review some grammar that we don’t focus on too often in day to day life.
Honestly though, I was shocked, and sort of appalled that it’s not really that tough. My 10th grader already knew almost everything she needed to know for that test either from previous years of schooling or from living life.
For your 6th grader… my guess is she won’t take the test any time soon so don’t rush it if you can and just work on things as they become of interest to her. Luckily, grammar is one of those things that will come up no matter what she’s interested in learning since reading and writing will likely be a big part of that.
I’m not sure my answer is super helpful but I would try to minimize the “sit down and hit the books time” and save it for when it’s time to study in earnest for the test or when it’s necessary to complete another goal she has.
Have you read the Teenage Liberation Handbook? I think there may be some helpful tips there.
Best to you!
PS- you might be slightly overthinking it, but I totally get where you’re coming from 🙂
Why did you choose k12 and why did you switch to unschooling?
How do I unschool without the state having a fit. I live in Hawaii. Is it legal here?
It sounds like “debriefing” & of so, I could not agree more!
Love the unschooling, my son is learning so much, this my first you, but not the last
I just want to comment on what Christine said above about the unschooling family whose child couldn’t read at age eleven. That family could be my family. My eleven year old son is not yet reading. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t read or that he “will be uneducated, enable to read, write and do math”. I fully expect him to learn to read in his own time. His oldest sister started reading at age 13. She reads all the time. She volunteers at our local library. Both children have won awards at the library for their story-writing. Our children learn what they need to learn. They just do it on their own timelines and in their own unique ways.
I find this to be a lazy way at looking at things. Its one thing if your child had a learning disability but to not even try to help your child learn to read sounds odd. Most children start learning to read at an earlier age than 13 years. Did you read to them or try teaching them words when they were young?
My mother took me out of public school at my request. It was a terrible experience, working so hard, getting yelled at by teachers and picked on by other kids. When I left, she bought the books and let me take complete control over my schooling and it worked. I graduated home school on time, got very high scores on the entrance exams and went to college. There’s no requirement for proof of courses taken or credits received and the entrance test was easy. As for the real world, there’s no such thing as a fake world. Unschooling is teaching the child how to be time efficient, organized, disciplined and to have good work ethic. That is the parent’s job, not the teacher’s. It’s the best preparation for life I could have received. I got myself up early, scheduled my own study time, played outside, read leisurely, played an organized sport and got a job at the age of 14, which I kept for 4 years before going to college.
Sorry it’s so long. ^_^ I just wanted to share the child’s perspective on this, all grown up. Thanks for your awesome article, Sylvie!
Thanks so much for your comment Micayla! I agree it’s the best preparation for real life. School can be a bit of a bubble that eventually you have to come out of and start navigating the world outside of it anyway. 🙂
I wish you much success!
I’m so glad I read your post before just rolling my eyes and moving on! I saw a family on TV who were “unschooling” their children and it was a crazy mess. Their 11 year old couldn’t even read simple words. I was therefore immediately turned off by “unschooling”. I think freedom and individualism in learning is a wonderful idea and I believe that could encourage children to learn better. On the other hand, I feel it is cruel to allow children to be uneducated, unable to read, write and do math. However it seems they were on different unschool bus! 🙂 Thanks again for you thoughts
Thanks so much for your comment, Christine! I’m so glad it was helpful.
Hi Dee Dee,
I initially chose the K12 program as I mentioned above, because I thought it would be the easiest for my daughter to manage herself during a crazy year in our lives. We no longer use that curriculum. She is currently unschooled. I highly recommend the book at the bottom of the article. Hope that helps!
I just read your article! We are homeschooling our 11th grader this year, she is hoping to attend college in the Spring and is working on her ACT’s. I have two other kiddo’s (grades 3 and 7). Seriously considering homeschooling my 7th grader when he reaches high school (which is 9th grade for us). They are currently at a Charter school and I am very happy there but not so happy with our public high school options. Can I ask why you chose an online K12 program vs a homeschool curriculum? That’s where I’m stuck! Thanks!
Thank you Jennifer!
I loved your post too, and I have so many questions! I agree that the state of “education” in this country is abysmal (through no fault of our wonderful teachers), but there are two things in particular I’m confused about:
1. What about higher education? Assuming Natalie will go to college, how does she get in without having test scores/proving that she’s studied the required subjects, etc.
2. The fact is, most of us in the “real world” don’t get to do whatever we want all day, and while I agree that the school day is too long and the busy-work is pointless, I kind of look at things like getting up early when you don’t want to, being someplace at a certain time, sometimes having to do/focus on things that don’t necessarily interest you, etc. as necessary skills. For example, I’d MUCH rather go to the library today and browse for books, but I had to sit down and work this morning (and not on something that interested me overmuch, by the way 🙂 How do you allow for complete creativity and “destructurization” while still instilling in Natalie the ability to successfully function as an adult in a structured environment? I’m assuming you believe practice doesn’t make perfect?
I’m SO curious what your thoughts are on these…
Thanks for your excellent questions, Hilary! I will address the second one in an upcoming post since it deserves several paragraphs. As for the first, she cold go to college tomorrow if she wanted to by taking and passing the GED which I’m confident she would be able to to. She also may decide not to go to college, which would be find with me also. I can also discuss this in a longer post but in the meantime, you might be interested in the writings of Blake Boles http://amzn.to/12a9dsT The titles are provocative, no doubt. I can also recommend many more authors, blogs, and FB pages with tons more info (since they focus mainly on unschooling) if you’re interested. Thanks for reading!
Thanks for this post and happy unschooling! I just found your blog as I just started recently on Paleo. I am so happy I found your site.
My 2 cents on the #2 question: I just wanted to say we mostly unschool and my daughters have no trouble knowing that we have to get up to make an appointment and go places we really don’t want to go. If they have a dentist appointment, they know what time it is, when we have to leave our house so they figure how long it takes them to get ready for us to leave. I have 2 teenage girls who have to work around who gets the bathroom first and how long that one usually takes to get ready. I have taught them through life experiences that we should always be 15 minutes early for an appointment and now they freak out if it looks like we are not leaving in time. They also take martial arts classes so they know what time class starts and when we have to leave to be there on time. We also do a lot of online seminars and webcasts and those start at certain times. Its just life and to say that kids will only learn that stuff from “going to public school” is just not true.
For question #1: My daughter is 16 and has graduated high school and is looking at colleges and taking online courses. She knows what she wants and she focuses her studies on that (medicinal herbs and nutrition)
Thanks so much, Niki, for adding your experience!
After two years of research, we are finally moving our kids from what is considered an “excellent” LAUSD school to a charter school which is constructivist, project based and whole child focused. I have always been interested in home/unschooling but its not right for our family right now. I hope moving to a progressive charter school is a step in the right direction though.
I am lucky enough to know Natalie and know what an intelligent, thoughtful and graceful child you have raised.
Thanks for the compliment, Carey! Trusting our instincts is huge. Its great that you are so on top of the differences between each child and what works better for one vs another.
YES! This is a great summary of how you got into this and I can relate completely. I think homeschooling is a perfect gateway educational practice. 😉
From my article on the topic:
“If I hadn’t homeschooled Skylar for a year I never ever would have considered unschooling. If I hadn’t seen up close day after day what a waste the majority of his “learning” was – how it often made even the most interesting topics boring, how it drained so much of his time and energy leaving him with not much of either left to pursue his interests, how little the busywork actually reinforced his learning, how an “A” on a test didn’t actually represent any mastery of subject matter but rather mastery of test taking itself. It was so eye opening!”
The other catalyst for me was YOU. So, THANK YOU!!! 🙂
Aw, Mani. Thank you! Good point. The first hand homeschooling experience was definitely an eye opening one. Especially because when we started homeschooling I realized the only “problem” I had solved was the stressful commute. The rest of it, up late, lots of schoolwork all the same.
Hi Sylvie. I really loved this post. I’m a public school teacher in Los Angeles and, based on what I see on a daily basis, I think unschooling is the best option. We actually have (very tentative) plans to move to Hawaii one day and open a little “school” that is similar to the unschooling method.
Thank you Stephanie!
So glad you found it useful, especially since you’re a teacher, which by the way, the author of the Teenage Liberation Handbook is as well. 🙂