A Journey to Unschooling


Unschooling is a term that John Holt coined in the 70s, after years of extensive research regarding how children learn and what was causing them to fail. He determined that totalitarian school pushes many children to fail via a fear inducing sub-society and school as structured seemed to slow the learning process in most children.

One of his strongest beliefs was that children did not need to be forced into learning, that they are always learning, yet anything that resembled the rigid structure of school was actually counterproductive to their success. The theory has resonated, thus unschooling, or life-learning led by the child’s interests, was born.

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When I first heard about unschooling 8 years ago I thought it seemed crazy. I thought all the things that some of you are thinking right now. What about socialization, grades, college? My children need to go to school to be “on track” with everyone else. It seemed lazy and neglectful, and I couldn’t imagine going against the grain in such an “extreme” way.

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Flash forward to today and you see a very different philosophy in my home. I have spent the past 6 years homeschooling my oldest son. We have since had 2 more children, traveled with them extensively, moved to a foreign country, and experimented with almost every type of homeschooling you can imagine. Then I discovered the mind-opening experience that is unschooling, and now I can’t imagine living my life in anything but this “extreme” way.

My oldest son started out life in a mainstream fashion. He attended 2 years of preschool and then went on to half-day Kindergarten. We lived in a wonderful small town with an excellent school system and were lucky enough to get an award-winning teacher for his Kindergarten experience. She was fantastic, but through her own admission she could not provide the experience that she felt the students deserved. It wasn’t a bad experience but we wanted more for our son. What more did we want? For starters, more room for independent thought, creativity, an ability to question things without being in “trouble” – and the freedom to run our household without the demands of the school system intruding.

The nagging question that remained was what could I, as a parent, do? After talking to that very same teacher, and a lot of soul searching, I decided to withdraw my son from school. She not only encouraged this; she was almost as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. I found that there were many philosophies to choose from within the realm of homeschooling. Since I was still caught up in the “school” mentality, doing a canned curriculum at home is where we started. We tried this in many different ways for 3 years when I realized that we solved some of the issues but not all of them. Simply put, we were not enjoying it as much as we thought we should and thought more freedom and independence may be the cure.

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October 2, 2010