Unschooling is an even better idea than homeschooling. In unschooling, the idea is not to bring school home, as the school systems are failing. Rather, the idea is to eliminate what doesn't work. This leaves actual method undefined, allowing a wide degree of freedom. See also Growing Without Schooling, the Not Back to School Camp, OHEN, Sudbury Valley School, John Holt, and Grace Llewellyn.

Unschooling is a term invented (I believe) by author John Holt My summary of some of the basic ideas: coercion hinders learning; learning takes place best when it is guided by the learner's interests; learning takes place best when it is integrated with "the real world." Another way to phrase this last point is: When possible, learn by doing. For some other people's writeups, see unschool and unschooler.


The only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school.
-- George Bernard Shaw


It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
-- Albert Einstein


Often people are skeptical about homeschoolers who claim to be able to become educated without suffering through hours of schoolwork. Sounds suspicious -- how can you learn without suffering? If you don't hammer math through their thick little skulls, how will they learn it?

I've been educated through unschooling throughout my life, and am now in a public college (and doing well above average, for what little that's worth). So I know some of the problems of unschooling. There aren't many.

I never have let schooling interfere with my education.
-- Mark Twain

My parents bought us good books, told us what we were expected to do, and then let us do it (or not). This may not be the most pure form of unschooling, but when I couldn't learn to spell or write, it was okay. When I decided not to learn geometry and algebra (after giving them a fair chance) it was okay. I was told what to learn, but not forced to learn it. I think that this can be safely called unschooling.

My parents still had to do a lot of work. Before we gave up on it, we spent an hour or so working on spelling each day. I needed every bit of math explained multiple times. I read on my own a lot, but one of the main reasons I bothered to read was because I knew that anything I didn't understand could be explained by my own personal tutors. I'm sure my parents could come up with a long list of other educational chores that they had to do. This is probably the biggest (if not the only) problem with any type of homeschooling. The parents really need to be involved.

I hated school so intensely. It interfered with my freedom.
-- Sigrid Undset

I can tell you right off that I had a good childhood. I am very glad I didn't have to go to a public school. I learned a lot, and I liked learning it. And I don't think I missed anything worthwhile because I was homeschooled. But it did mean that I came into college unable to type, write essays, do algebra, or spell words well enough for the spell checker to recognize them. I also wrote 3's, 7's, C's, N's, and Z's backwards.

All of this was a problem, but I handled it. I am glad my parents didn't try to force me to learn this stuff. Adapting to college may have been harder for me than it was for others, but being (functionally) stupid didn't slow me up a bit. The first semester I did only a little above average on my tests. After that, it was all A's. This is not because I'm smart; this is because I liked learning. While I was surrounded by classmates who thought the teachers were expecting us to learn too much, I was annoyed that we still covering stuff that I had read about in 'highschool'. When the professor tried to pass off a few facts as giving us understanding, I went and read what I need to actually understand. I liked learning, and apparently that's unusual. (I didn't like that I had to learn an insanely complicated spelling system and start writing my letters facing a certain direction, but I got over that).

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all.
-- Paul Simon

My main point being that, yes, unschooling may cause children to be unevenly educated (I overeducated myself in science and reading, and not at all in writing and arts. But it all balances out in the long run), but it doesn't matter. I would rather know what I want to know than what everyone else knows, and it's never too late to learn to read, write, or calculate.

Your parenting methods may damage your children emotionally, socially, or physically, but if you can avoid those, you did a good job! Really, there's nothing else to worry about. As long as you are willing to share what you already know with your children, they will take it from you, and their education will be at least as good as yours. Not because they are guaranteed to learn what you know, but because they will value knowledge as much as you do.


To be fair, I should mention that the public schools around here are terrible. But I would advise homeschooling anywhere in the world.

Unschooling is not exactly a method of homeschooling, but is within the same scope of concept. The child is kept at home and taught by a large variety of means.

The way unschooling differs from homeschooling is there is no set curriculum. The student is taught through more kinetic learning methods and are encouraged to be their own guide.

This is not to say that the unschooler doesn't have structure. We all find our own groove and sometimes that groove is very structured, even if it is non-traditional.

If you watch a young child before they are school aged, you will see them constantly learning new things. They are like sponges. That doesn't fall away and die as they grow. We have simply fallen into the way society has taught us that we must do things. One does not require a workbook to learn math. Apples and oranges can do the trick.

Information and support on unschooling can be found at www.unschooling.com.

I am an unschooler, and so is my family. Please, indulge me for a few moments while I explain.

I am an unschooler. I believe in my child's ability and desire to learn. I believe that she is an intelligent, capable human being, and I believe that when the time for her to learn a certain thing arrives, that she will learn it.

I am an unschooler. I do not believe in force feeding my child a bunch of useless facts and rote learning that will be forgotten next week, next month, next year. I am confident that when my child learns a thing, that it stays learned, because she chose to learn it and put her entire being into discovering what its secrets and mysteries are.

I am an unschooler. I refuse to force my child to grow up before she is ready. I will not put her into situations where she is forced to compete instead of play and learn. I cannot push her to achieve and in so doing lose sight of the child in the quest for rewards.

I am an unschooler. I encourage my child to be a self starter and self aware. I guide her gently and offer assistance when she requests it. I do not tell her that she is doing it wrong just because that isn't how it was taught to me.

I am an unschooler. I threw away the clock years ago. I do not believe that a child can learn to read only between the hours of 10 and 11, or 1 to 2. Our days are a crazy quilt of activity, ranging from a day doing nothing but drawing pictures or playing computer games to doing fifty different activities ranging from staring at a snail to counting the number of rice grains in a cup.

I am an unschooler. Our textbooks include old catalogues, junk mail, and encyclopedias. Our on hand science materials are made up of a beaker, some magnets, and a few goldfish. We create our learning materials and we buy them. We find them in fields and in flea markets. We see the educational value in everything, because children will learn from anything that you hand them, even a Barbie doll. Please don't try to force your curriculum on us. We don't need it.

I am an unschooler. Our family has its own moral values which we share openly among ourselves, and with those who are genuinely interested. We do not want to have our souls saved, or our lifestyle condemned. If you wish to be our friend and share our journey, we welcome you, no matter what your philosophy. All that we ask is that you allow us the space to be ourselves just as we will give that to you. Share with us, please, but don't ram it into us?

I am an unschooler. My child has many friends of all ages, and from all walks of life. She is not a person to be pitied for her "isolation". She is a person experiencing the best that life can give and enjoying it to its fullest. She is happy, healthy, and well adjusted. She is bright, eager, and intensely interested in her world and universe. She is incredible, and she is a source of amazing joy and interest to everybody who knows her.

I am an unschooler. And I am glad to be one.


Afternote, added July 28, 2005

I wrote this piece when my daughter was five years old. She is now 14. We homeschooled her until the beginning of her seventh grade year, when we realized I would be having to move out of California and nobody would be home to teach her, and because she wanted to experience regular schooling. Child led means child led. If they want institutional schooling, they should have the chance to try it.

I was sent a skeptical message that nobody can learn calculus by counting rice grains, and that unschooling may work at the youngest ages, but not the oldest. This is horse shit. No child starts out with higher mathematics. And as to older kids being able to learn through unschooling, I point to David Colfax's kids, all of them unschooled clear through their youths, no formal schooling ever, three of them with Harvard degrees, the fourth a farmer who chose not to go to college.

Additionally, my daughter spent two years in junior high school where the curriculum was what? Fractions and decimals. She is starting high school in the fall, with AP calculus as one of her classes. She learned geometry, algebra, trigenometry and pre-calc where? At home. With what method? Unschooling. Tutored by? Her high school drop out mother. Amazing. But you can't learn higher math such as calculus through unschooling, don't forget.

My husband is currently chasing his PhD in mathematics and is a mathematician of sorts. His acceptance list for doctorate programs is longer than my arm. He tells me that my daughter is a mathematical whiz and probably would not have been such if she had been forced to fit into some ridiculous mold early on. He also points out that calculus, being the manipulation of very small quantities is, in a lot of ways, much like adding up large quantities of very small things, such as grains of rice (integration), or dividing very small things by each other (differentiation). Finally, he mentions that he and Richard Feynman, among myriad others, learned calculus on their own.

Guess whose opinion I believe on this?

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