Unschooling: Getting It

Zoe Thompson-Moore on principles and change:

"Focussing on being my child's partner is helping me to place my real life children front and centre of my attention and to think deeply and respond kindly and appropriately to their particular needs in this particular moment." (More at Seeing)

In June 2015, I complimented someone privately on a post she had written, and thanked her. She responded:

Thank *you*! I'm so delighted by unschooling now I feel like I finally get it. My kids, my family, our lives are really fantastic now - I only regret not getting it sooner!
In 2011, frustrated by journalists attempting to provide "balance" after interviewing an unschooler, I complained, somewhere, and was quoted. Kelly Lovejoy saved it:
"I understand that it’s difficult to understand unschooling," she said. "Even for those who want to understand it, it takes a while. I would never speak of something I had never seen, nor write about a country I had never visited, nor review a food I had never tasted."
—Michele Cox quoting Sandra Dodd
(final paragraph in this article)
Their idea of "balance" seemed to involve getting a single statement from an education professor who had never heard of unschooling until the interviewer asked.

Jenny Cyphers, on Always Learning:
Intellectually, I got unschooling all the way from the very beginning. The part that took more time was relationships and wholeness. When I got THAT, that is when things started happening in the direction that made unschooling work great!

The way I see it, often, is that there are multiple facets that make unschooling work best. The two biggest facets that go hand in hand for me are the absence of school and school think, combined with real working relationships with my kids. People can go and do one or the other and not let them overflow into each other, but it won't be as bright and sparkly, with the facet analogy.

Alysia Berman on Always Learning:

It took several years before I stopped having those fears creep into my thoughts every once in a while. I can finally say that after about nine years of reading about, thinking about and doing unschooling those fears don't enter my mind anymore....

I tell people that I'm amazed every day by what my kids know and learn. It seems miraculous. It's not, really. It's normal. I see it as miraculous because I was indoctrinated to believe that none of this could happen outside of school and without teachers.

Jane McLaughlin, on Always Learning:

I recently saw how far I've come when a friend of my daughter told her mum that she wanted join Charlotte in her ballroom/latin dancing classes. Her mum said "hmmm, okay then", but rolled her eyes at her, clearly letting her daughter know that "Oh crikey, not something else you want to try? Is this really necessary?" I thought how strange it was that she couldn't get excited for her daughter. Just think — the frocks, the make-up, that fabulous movie "Simply Ballroom," the music! It was just one small, slightly negative interaction, but boy, what an opportunity missed. The mum can recover the opportunity if she wants, but her daughter's excitement has been diminished, and there's probably been an erosion of trust, the door closing ever so slightly.

Angela Shaw, on Always Learning:
Over time and slowly, [my husband has] come to realize that the way I treat the kids works much better than the way he was treated as a kid (and when he was frustrated would treat our kids). It was slow at times but he steadily moved toward a more peaceful way of being with the girls and the other day when he called (works on the road a lot), he told me what a good mother I am and said that whatever I am doing it is working because when he talks to everyone else at all the different places he works they have nothing nice to say about their teens/pre-teens and he thinks ours are great (and they are!). We all live in peace and treat each other respectfully and we talk about our feelings and find solutions to problems that work for everyone.

Sandra Dodd:
Hearing his work associates talk about problems with their children gave Keith great confidence, too. Once at a party the others all started moaning about how lazy and unmotivated teens are, and Keith said something to the effect that our Kirby (15 or 16 at the time) had a job he liked and was good at. They didn't say "tell us more." The responses were more to doubt Keith and to treat it like a conversation-killing thing. They weren't really conversing for informational purposes. It was "support." It was a calm frenzy of teen bashing and commiseration. It was "poor us," but Keith felt lucky.

"I knew that. Now I *know* that."

"Advice is often earnest and bad." [a quote to which De responded:]

Ah-HA! As I'm reading, I'm thinking of how I feel and act when I "give advice" (self-important, more knowledgeable—kind of in a finger-pointing way) and how I feel and act when someone asks for advice after I learned that's not the best thing to do sometimes. Basically, a friend (in Jr. High) asked for advice about her boyfriend, took my advice as "instruction" then blamed me when things went badly. After that, I decided that when I was asked for advice, I would give a list of possibilities of "things that could be" and possible outcomes and let the *asker* decide-then, I should be off the hook. So, as thoughts are running through my head about how I feel and act when I do the *second* thing, I'm thinking I feel like I'm brainstorming ideas that sometimes someone close up to the situation might not (or they might) think of or "see"..... OH! Brainstorming ideas, treating your children like you would your spouse or friends, *OH!!*

I knew that. Now I *know* that. Or maybe I understand it with more depth. It still amazes me how a few words on a page-sometimes entirely (seemingly) unrelated-can trigger a massive door that I didn't know was there to open in my brain. It lets in the light and the fresh breeze of new thoughts.



You Can't Test Out

Part of deschooling is to stop expecting anything of him. You can't bypass that. You can't test out.

Lots of unschoolers think they can test out, or take an accelerated track to unschooling. It's not that way at all. It's something that has to be discovered, understood, created and maintained.

photo by Sandra Dodd; click to enlarge

A comment was left there, that day:

Karen James, October 15, 2011 at 11:01 AM

I have spent the past three years trying to get unschooling faster. It has only been this past year, where I have slowed down, that I feel like I am really starting to get it, or at least see more clearly where I am still stuck, and work out those knots with a bit more clarity. I love these daily thoughts, Sandra. Thank you.

Unscared Mommy

jbantau wrote:

For the first time, in what seems like my entire life, I am not terrified. Up until now, I have been wielding my alarm and anxiety like a sword and shield battling against the world. I thought that's what I was supposed to do. Isn't that what a good parent does? I thought that fear was a parenting tool that told you how to keep your children safe. I felt that letting go of that fear meant that I was a bad parent. My paranoia had spilled into every part of our lives.

I feared my children would grow up to be 'unacceptable', so I tried to mold them into the 'acceptable' type. My anxiety that people would judge my parenting caused me to parent in a way that didn't feel right to me. If I didn't "make" my children behave then I felt I was being an irresponsible parent. I was afraid of not doing it "right", but my eyes have been slowly opening to a new life and a new way of thinking.

My husband and I were talking about being put into the proverbial box (i.e. the 'school' box or the 'good little child' box or even the "good parent" box) and he made an analogy that was quite startling to me. He said, "It's as if people start lopping off pieces of the child, in order, to fit them inside that very tiny box." I had a disturbing image of pieces of myself lying outside my own box. I have been in that box since a very early age and only the label on the outside has changed. I was the Good Girl, the Good Student, and the Good Parent among other things. He asked, "What if the best parts of us are lying outside that box?"

I didn't even realize I was confined because I was put in there very early in my life. Even though the lid has been off for quite sometime now, I didn't know to get out. It makes me very sad to think that my fear has pushed me to confine my children the way I've been confined. I think of the pain caused by 'lopping' off parts of who they are just to fit some kind of 'ideal' that not even beneficial to them and I'm so remorseful.

So as of today, I am stepping out of my box, collecting the pieces of me that are lying about and I will try to make them part of me again. I will stop forcing my children into tiny little boxes out of fear. I will try to help them find the joy in being who they are regardless of what the "ideals" are out there. I've put up a banner in my kitchen that says, "I AM WHAT I AM!" I look at my children and repeat that mantra in my head, "She is who she is" or "He is who he is". (I was inspired by Anne Ohman's article "I Am What I Am".)

I feel like its okay to let go of my paranoia. I don't need it anymore. I have a lot of work to do, but I feel like I'm really beginning to get it. This forum, its many intelligent contributors and the links to the many helpful articles are, of course, invaluable. All of your thought-provoking answers and discussions have made me feel hopeful again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Paradigm Shift and thoughts on destiny and TV

What Meredith said about radical unschooling being a paradigm shift is so true in my experience. I just can't see it from within the old paradigm (of mainstream parenting). I can do the behaviors I hear described by the old-timer unschooling parents, but still, when push comes to shove, if I am still, inside myself, inside the old paradigm, the mainstream parent in me will show up and I will fall back on control or bullying or 'safety fences' or whatever tool is handy from the toolkit my Mom gave me as a child.

What does this thought have to do with tv?
There is a kind of 'enlightened mainstream parenting,' that tries to be kind. However, for myself, I've come to see that camp as a variation of the enlightened slave owners of 200 years ago who believed that slaves should be treated well, given education, allowed to marry, not beaten (so much) or worked to death, etc. The basic paradigm of slavery was not challenged by these free thinkers. And I believe, at heart, your extensively thought out tv post does not challenge the mainstream parenting paradigm that says "we must decide what is best for our children because they can't do so for themselves."

The [unschoolers], on the other hand, are saying "Free the Children!" They are saying we ALL (regardless of age) deserve to determine our own destiny, including tv—and that we all know what is best for ourselves—though we all make mistakes in figuring it out along the way, and we can all use buckets of help (when we want it, in the way that we want it) as we go.

In the moments when I am able to make the paradigm shift, unschooling becomes really really obvious and easy. My behavior flows naturally from within me. In all the other moments, when I'm stuck in the old box, RU is perplexing as hell! Either I'm faking it, or I'm working really hard to try to figure out what I should do, what's the right path, what the experts say, etc. I have found that, for myself to move closer to unschooling, putting less time in trying to figure out or prove what may or may not be what is best for my kids, and more time focused on making that shift makes all the difference.  — Maya (Unschooling Basics list, July 2007)

New Trust and far-reaching effects


I finally let go of my control issue around TV and video. In its place I found trust which created a deepening of love and respect in my relationship with my son and my family and everything else in my life. It is amazing how far reaching the effect was. Just wanted to share this.  —Dede

Tangible Examples


When I first started reading about unschooling, I understood the no school part of it. The Radical/Life Unschooling was intimidating and hard for me to swallow, but I couldn't stop thinking about how it could work and what the benefits would be. So here is a testimonial from a newbie who was very skeptical.

Yesterday Sophia (5) rinsed, dried and put away dishes & swept and vacuumed without being asked to, I said "Hey, thanks".

The day before that she she cleaned the toilet (after lifting the lid to check for spiders) because she thought it needed to be cleaned. I brought her the supplies. She had fun cleaning the toilet. I said "Hey, thanks."

She chose to wait four hours to go to the pool so we could be there when the slide was open because she trusted that I would take her just like I had said I would.

She tells me when she is ready for snuggles to fall asleep and goes to sleep every night (when she is ready) even though she has no bedtime.

She went our of her way to find the carrots in the refrigerator in our basement, then peeled and rinsed them for a snack when she could have chosen the cookies, chocolate, ice cream, or other so called *junk food* that were much more easily available right in the kitchen upstairs.

These are the tangible examples of how unschooling has worked in our family and are easy to describe. However, the most rewarding benefits to our unschooling are the ones that are so much more difficult to describe. The soulful gazes, all the giggles, the joy, the "being in the moment," the connections, the love, the peace (very noisy peace), the flow of life (looks chaotic unless you're in it), and soooooooo much more.

Thank you all who share your time and energy helping people like me *get it*.

Peace and Joy,

Getting it

When people say "I read [whichever] webpage last year, but..." and I say "Read it again," I think they might think I'm accusing them of not having read it, but it's that after using the ideas a while, the description makes lots more sense.

Whatever it is we're learning—crochet patterns, musical notation, using crutches, building a fire, making cookies—hearing instructions (or reading them) makes VERY little sense at first. Later it makes more sense. But after trying it and figuring out some things for ourselves, and then going back and looking at the directions, they come to life, in color, and they make 3-D sense.

Read a little, try a little; wait a while, watch
art and photo by Roya Dedeaux

From a discussion at Radical Unschoolers' Network (no longer available to link; sorry):

Tina B/canuckgal on September 8, 2008

Like you all we continue to come to this life bit by bit as well. I think for us it is an extension of attachment parenting philosophy, about what we believe about children and childhood and about our children as PEOPLE, not them as little beings who fall short and need to be prepped for adulthood while totally ignoring or negating the living and learning they are doing TODAY. I grew from family-bedding-nursing a newborn to extended nursing then tandem nursing and gentle discipline/guidance, with both my kiddos helping me grow so much in these areas (ie- trusting them and thier timing) and both of them in my day to day interactions with them bringing to light all the fallicies and false beliefs I grew up with.

Oh, and the internet has helped too! I think if I didn't have internet access I would have never been exposed to unschooling. By the time dd was about 3-4 ish in age and I was seeing her totally different learning style, her spark, that would NOT do well in a regimented sequential school setting and still wouldn't, I had already had inklings I would homeschool. The first homeschooler I met did Calvert and told me it was great, like School in a Box. Eventually, I came across the old unschooling.com boards (the ones before unschooling.info came about) and the rest as they say is history. The whole philosophy just resonated with me.

I think being a pretty unconventional non-mainstream parent in the first place from the beginning is what has made implementing whole life unschooling a bit easier for me than some people...as far as chores, bedtime, food, and such. I still have areas I am working on improving day by day! It was the academics that I struggled with, being an A student and going through college and all.

I actually have thought alot this week about how unschooling is so much more than a method of homeschooling and is a whole life philosophy. I too have read Rue's book, and Sandra's book, and Joyce's site, et al. and now can totally see where they are coming from the longer I "do" this. The more I live it, the more I can see the lens I look at EVERYTHING has totally been changed and I see things so differently than others I know... the big yellow bus taking kids to the big artificial compartment of a school building and out of a society, the nastiness of some parents comments to their kids in the grocery line, the fast pace of enrolling our kids in everything because we "should", etc. Things that others take for granted or as "the way it is."

I love how the whole philosophy (not just the "academic" aspect) has made ME grow as a mom and person, and I hate to think where our family would be had we not come across it. Yes, I have had my bad days and doubts, but certainly I would not be as happy as I am now.

originally from familyrun.ning, now defunct

In a post called lemonade and an unschooling moment, Mary wrote:
I was sitting down looking out onto the deck where I saw a half full glass of lemonade. I smiled. At one time I would've looked out and saw that same image and thought someone left that out there, it needs to be picked up... But, today I thought-someone enjoyed lemonade (made by herself) out in the warm sunshine. Change feels good.
Jenny C replied:
It's all about that mind shift isn't it? It applies to so much in how unschooling works or doesn't work. If you can't see the learning and the beauty, you will have a hard time unschooling. It seems to work best in all those small ways that add up to the bigger picture.

Amy (amylizkid1) had another example:

I love these moments. The other night I was making dinner, and dd (5) says "While you're up, could you get me my gummy worms?" The old me probably would have barked something about how I was in the middle of making dinner. But I said "Okay" in a pleasant way. She says "Mom, what's right and what's left?" So I look around the corner at her and say "Your left hand is holding the remote, your right is holding your head." ds: "Okay, they're on the left side of my cupboard."

It seems like such a little thing, but I was so happy that I had given her the space to figure out something that she was interested in, instead of shutting her down with my crankiness. Change does feel good, and I love all these lovely, simple moments we have now. I love that life is more fun now.


Laureen wrote, on Always Learning, March 2008 :

One of my proudest moments in mothering is when Rowan got kicked out of swim class, at age 4, because he kept dropping off the wall and swimming circles around the teacher's legs. She got angry that he was swimming instead of listening to instructions, so she threw him out of the class. I love being able to say that he got thrown out of swim class for swimming too much. =) And even at that stage, Rowan got how completely ridiculous the whole situation was. What's funny is that Jason and I were totally proud of him for the swimming he was doing, and the parents on the bleachers around us were seriously encouraging us to reprimand him and "make him go back into class." Um... if the point is to teach him to swim, and he's swimming, then what's the point? Oh yeah. Compliance. Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

That was also the absolutely definitive moment when I realized that there was no way school and/or schoolish environments were going to work for us.

Jenny wrote:
Thanks Sandra, I've had a lot of huge life changing things happen over the last couple of months, and somehow things seems different and I seem to suddenly "get" it, even though I've "got" it before.

A new enlightening of things that I've grown to understand, and re-understand in new and different ways.

Lissa responded:
I know exactly what you mean. There's getting (intellectual understanding) and GETTING (putting ideas into practice). Sandra, your onion metaphor is apt. I am getting to deeper layers of understanding all the time. It's a very sweet and savory onion and it makes life taste delicious.

Lissa in San Diego, mom of 5

Wanda, from the (now defunct) Unschooling Info forum (boldface added by Sandra):

I have been unschooling for nearly a year. I started homeschool the traditional way two years ago this past January, and homeschooling has been such an eye-opening experience for my daughter and me. She is getting older(9) and has become bold by doing some of the things she was too afraid to do before in front of others. I am grateful for that.

I also realized that I have changed as well. I finally got it one day when I was reading John Holt's " How Children Learn". I guess I never understood what it meant to be educated or what learning was all about. Education is basically "finding out how the world works". How profound! It touched me that I had to stop and stare for a moment. All the misconceptions that I had lived with for so long was now being replaced with something I could finally understand. I asked myself, what happened?

Unschooling is giving me a chance to reflect on my own life as well as seeing the changes in my daughter. We spend a lot of time together, and there are days we still have our little difficulties. I just never knew that I had to change as much or even more than she had to change.

Some days we don't do much but we just live and enjoy each other. I can not see myself without her, even on those days that we may have a misunderstanding. I just want her to enjoy life the way I did before I lost myself in those school years....


De in Ohio, on "getting it," on her blog.
I was reading an interview of Eva Longoria and read a bit about her mother being non-judgemental and always wanting whatever made her kids happy. I know this. I've wanted this as a parent, too. I *thought* I was "there" until I read this paragraph, set the paper down and nodded my head saying, "Uh huh." and then something clicked. more


Lisa in AZ wrote:
I've had a personally stressful few weeks (months, actually). The stress is unrelated to my children, in fact they are the joy of my life and make everything worthwhile. I bring this up as related to Unschooling as I could have (and would have without Unschooling in my life) allowed this stress to interfere with my children's happiness and joy in life. It would have been unfair to them and quite selfish and unsatisfying to me.

The greatest advice that I've read on this list over the years has really helped me a lot the last couple of days in particular (I'm paraphrasing):

*In the normal course of events, There should be no such thing as a bad day.*
I started out three days ago with a string of three bad things happening before I even made it to the bathroom. I started to become surly (to DH), but stopped—TOOK A BREATH—and declared (out loud): "That was just a bad event—just a bad moment, it didn't ruin the whole day. The rest of the day will be great." The rest of the day was great, despite the fact that every time I turned around something new bad event occurred (weird day that I don't want to happen again). In fact, about a dozen more bad things happened, yet I let them each be individual events that didn't ruin the day for my kids or me. I still don't know how it will all pan out, but my kids are happy and so am I (through the stress). I am proud of how they are seeing their parents deal with life being so unpredictable. I pushed through the bad parts and embraced the good parts. My children instinctively see the good parts, I've had to force myself to see them (it is worth it!).

This list, more than any other that I have ever been on, continues to inspire me to be a better mother every day. Being a better mother is the most important aspect of my life.

Thank you, LIST!
—Lisa in AZ
(on the Unschooling Discussion list)

After the Live and Learn Conference in 2005, posted to that list:

I thought I knew what unschooling was before we went to St. Louis, but it turns out I had it all wrong, or had been too timid to take that final leap to letting go of my childhood, my conditioning, my old habits. It's not that I heard anything there that I hadn't read before...it's just that seeing all the concepts and theories in practice made all the difference. My soul was nourished, my doubts were banished, my eyes were opened.
Jennifer Foltz
And another:

While I was looking forward to the conference, my main reasons for going were (A)hoping my husband would 'get it' about unschooling and (B)hoping my daughter would decide to quit school.

The best thing that came from the conference was the change I had to make. My daughter wanted to be in school because it was a better place than at home with her nagging, workaholic, neatfreak mother and my husband already 'got it' but was seeing my hypocrisy and doubting if I 'got it.'

I feel like I've finally come to understand what unschooling is. All these years, I kept thinking it was about not doing school. To me, it's not that at all. It's all about trust, which I could never understand before.

Thank you to every gentle mother and father that I saw last week. Seeing you trust and adore your children showed me that I was doing neither. I'm now trusting myself and doing 'one day at a time' and so far, every day since we've been home has been beautiful, peaceful chaos!

And to those of you who met my husband, Tony, you know how well he gets unschooling and know how lucky I am to have him!

Angela Barbera

After the same Live and Learn conference, Amy (arcarpenter) wrote:

I realized a lot about letting go of expectations, and how much I still need to work on that. I also made the connection about how essential it is to do this in order to unschool and parent the way I want to.
And I/Sandra responded:

That's the big thing that connects unschooling to parenting style, that makes some people really defensive and angry.

If you hold on to all your old ideas and fears and images of learning, every bit of that builds a curtain of "what should be" and you can't relax, see and appreciate what is.

When I got home there was a Netflix DVD waiting for me. I'd never heard of it, but it had James Spader and Susan Sarandon and I had picked it because of that. It's not for kids—all talkiness and relationships. But the opening scene was James Spader driving in St. Louis (where most of the story is set), and when the first non-local character shows up, she's from Albuquerque. That was fun. "White Palace."

The story is of a late-20's, widowed, successful, opera-loving Jewish man with a wealthy, successful intellectual Jewish social circle having a secret relationship with a poor hamburger-serving, bar-socializing, cigarette smoking woman in her 40's, who asks him if he doesn't have any Oak Ridge Boys in his car to replace the opera. Blah, blah, stuff happens, romance novel kind of stuff, but when he decides to leave his old life behind and commit to that relationship openly and fully, her psychic sister (from Albuquerque 🙂) says "You've given up resistence."

That made me think about how change really happens. As long as he saw the relationship through the lens of his old life, seeing how it couldn't fit in with the dinners and Jewish weddings and such, it simply appeared unworkable and embarrassing. When he saw what it was instead of what it wasn't, and made a decison based on what he felt instead of what he should feel, everything changed.

It's kinda sexy and thought provoking and sad and happy, as such stories should be. Good for any James Spader or Susan Sarandon fans. Jason Alexander's in it too, and Kathy Bates is in briefly.

The first part of my article on deschooling is this:

Once upon a time a confident and experienced scholar went to the best Zen teacher he knew, to apply to be his student. The master offered tea, and he held out his cup. While the student recited his knowledge and cataloged his accomplishments to date, the master poured slowly. The bragging continued, and the pouring continued, until the student was getting a lapful of tea, and said, "My cup is full!" The master smiled and said, "Yes, it is. And until you empty yourself of what you think you know, you won't be able to learn."

Weird Al says it a different way in "Everything You Know is Wrong" and Christians say "You must surrender yourself." Before that Jesus said, "Unless you become as a little child..." (Matthew 18:2-3)

What it means in homeschooling terms is that as long as you think you can control and add to what you already know, it will be hard to come to unschooling. The more quickly you empty your cup and open yourself to new ideas uncritically, the sooner you will see natural learning blossom.


The Heart of Unschooling

For me, its all about what kind of relationship I already have with my kid. We have built a level of trust, so that he knows when I am presenting him with an experience that is more traditionally "educational" (like a trip to the museum) that our primary purpose is to enjoy ourselves and have fun.

If a child is more recently schooled, or his mother has been schooling him and he has negative feelings about that, he's probably less likely to trust that the experience truly has "no strings attached." While I certainly feel that there are subjects I present to my child that I 'think he should know', he knows that he is free to pass, or express that he's not interested.

I think that it's easy to describe unschooling to people who aren't unschoolers, as going to the planetarium to learn about science, but I think that in order to really truly understand the heart of unschooling one needs to go beyond that. If the child says "Nah, I don't really wanna go to the planetarium, but can we go to the gaming store instead?" and the mom feels herself cringing inside and thinking "But we can learn so much MORE if we go where i want to go!" then I think she hasnt "gotten it" in the way that I know it can be "got."

Katherine (queenjane...)

Dreams come true, they really do

Carol wrote:

This is for all the newbies & all the people who have reached their dream & in turn are helping us realize our dream. We've come a long way baby 😉

When I came to this list (and another local list ) over a year ago, boy was I stuck. I was stuck in my way of thinking but also determined enough to change our lives for the better. I was the picture of "school at home". We had schedules, grades, you name it we did it. Slowly I began to go "eclectic." Not much different ~ same tears~ mine & theirs. Then came this unconventional idea UNSCHOOLING !

At that point our lives began to change. We deschooled big-time. Actually I think some of us are still deschooling (me especially). When your done you'll know it, for some its really quick and for others it may take years.

Control was a big issue in our family. For example food ! My mom was a member of the clean your plate club. The membership was passed down to me (my butt can attest to that ;). Over a year ago we would have had rules about the amount of Halloween candy they could eat all at once. We let go of that and although at first they ate "junk food" like crazy, last night we had a huge bowl of candy & other goodies we had made and they hardly touched it. They ate very little today. They now realize it will be there when they want it & if they want a piece or a bowlful ~ its okay ! We also have moved past the "junk food" label and kids can make great choices in what they eat. It may not be the same thing their dad or I eat but they definitely do not sit around eating nothing but candy either. Trust ~ what a concept !!!

My dh is very understanding. He does support us. He still has his doubts at times but he only voices them to me now. This is a major step for him but it took over a year for this to happen.

For all the people out here wondering if their kids will "ever do anything". They do !!! When they are ready. Even when you are deschooling they are still learning & doing something. My ds (13 - who has some developmental delays) hadn't really picked up a pen for almost a year is now in the process of writing a story about squirrels. He is doing research on the computer and writing rough drafts for me to read. He wants to make sure is spelling is right before he writes it in the journal he picked out.

It is so amazing to see him doing something like this. Public school & I squashed his love of learning in the beginning. Now he loves doing this because its what he is interested in, not what I or the school pushed on him.

And he is not the only one, my dd (10) has a dozen stories she's working on. She is very creative & I now see that side of her, didn't before as we were so worried about keeping up with the other kids - not just public school either. Some homeschool kids & parents can get pretty aggressively competitive.

My 15 year old son took guitar lessons when he was about 7 and hated it. Of course at the time, I said the old "you wanted to do this for music, you have to finish the year." Did he learn to play the guitar ? Duh, no ! What does he do every night now? He's teaching himself to play the guitar! I'm off Thursday to buy him a new one !

As for the younger kids ~ don't worry. Our youngest is 7. He has never been made to do anything "schoolish." No he is not an avid reader, but he picks stuff up from us reading to him, using the computer & video games. There are days he pulls out a workbook that's in the closet & does tons of pages, but only because he wants to. There are weeks that go by that he doesn't want to do anything like that and its okay. There are days I spend hours spelling things for him, as he wants to make a list of things.

Our two youngest have never been to public school and their perceptions of learning are so different then the rest of the family. Learning is something they just DO ;) They don't separate it from life.

I am learning to do this. But after 15 years of schooling it's taking me a bit to get my stuff together. I just last week discovered I love jazz & blues music. The kids and I went to the music store & bought all kinds of different music. It was great. Why did it take me so long? I couldn't let go of the path I had been on for so long. I was stuck with my wheels just spinning.

Thanks for all the advice. Thanks for making me question myself again & again. Thanks for not "babying" me when that's what I wanted but not what I needed. And most of all thanks for all the patience !!

So have faith in yourself & your children! Life is amazing when you let it be.

Carol (ccoutlaw)
on UnschoolingBasics, November, 2006

Susan's Story

Someone wrote:
That is my major goal right now, connecting with my kids better—but it is also something new, so it'll take time to unlearn old ways!

Susan McGlohn (wifetovegman) responded:

You can change right now, your lives can change right now, you can become unschoolers. You can let go of all that control and find out just how big your world can be, and how much better and more colorful and yes, sometimes it is more messy, but it is Real and Alive and True. And it can start today for your kids. Every day you don't do it is one day longer they are not free to learn and live unschooling lives. It is a choice you are making to live your lives the way you do right now. You can choose better. This moment can be better.

I used to be a parent like you. I used to control and coerce and bribe and punish and even spank my kids. We had rules and limits and restrictions and can'ts and won'ts and better not's all over the place. I didn't let them eat cookies before dinner, I didn't let them trick-or-treat or watch tv very much or draw outside the lines. I made them fill in the workbooks and I even picked their clothes out for them.

Four years ago I began listening to what they were saying. I read the websites and books that were recommended, I asked questions, and I started saying Yes more and No less. I questioned why I felt the way I did about things, looked at what influenced my decisions, and started changing. We've been living unschooling for three years. Not soon enough or long enough, but the last three years have been so much better than those years before.

It is probably better to listen to how these wonderful people who have been unschooling for decades live, and how it works for them, and figure out why it works than to start saying right away what you will and will not change. Don't decide before you even consider the possibilities.

It is probably better to start reading and thinking about the posts that are saying why certain ways are wrong, mean, authoritarian baloney than to reinforce the controlling, manipulative, selfish things that other people are posting by saying that you agree with them.

Ask questions rather than make absolute statements. Ask questions rather than telling where you draw the line.

If you really, really want to know, if you really, really want to unschool, if you really, really want to be a kinder, gentler, more respectful parent whose children reflect that in all they do, then ask questions. If you don't want to ask questions, then just read as these things are discussed by others. Let others ask and you read the responses and think about it and try it out yourself.

Trusting your Children

Sandra Dodd wrote:
"People are RUSHING to slow down and to look marvelous doing it."

Ren Allen wrote:
You can attend a thousand Zen classes at a University and still not understand it because it is something that is internal. You can have a bunch of nice meditation products and still be angry. You can make a big deal out of living simply and still miss all the beauty around you.

It's not about the accoutrements but the "seeing with new eyes."

Sorta like unschooling.
You can read all the books, you can talk to unschoolers, attend a conference and join some lists. But until you GET IT at the internal level, until there is trust and a willingness to extend that trust to your children, unschooling is just a nice idea or philosophy to discuss...nothing more. For those that decide to learn to trust themselves and their children, they soon find their lives a bubbly, interesting swirl of natural learning.


Parenting a Free Child

Aubrey wrote:

I can't help with scientific studies anymore than anyone else but I'd like to share our families' experience. My children (6 & 9) were in public school until last year. We started out with traditional homeschooling (the only way I knew). That didn't work for us even though we tried several methods (textbooks, unit studies, etc). We came upon unschooling through a list like this and I thought these people were nuts 🙂.

Then I picked up the book by Rue called Parenting a Free Child; An Unschooled Life. On these lists I was only getting bits and pieces and it didn't make any sense to me, but the book gave me the whole picture. In my enthusiasm, I jumped in with both feet. Best decision I have made since bringing then home from public school. We have seen a great change in our household and family relationships and the children themselves. Of course this is not a scientific study, to me it's better.

I don't know of any scientific studies saying that ANY homeschooling method is better than any other. I had often wished there was one, just like you do. It would have made the last year A LOT easier. I wanted someone to give me a magic word or phrase that would tell me which direction to go. It's just not there. Owning a local homeschool group w/ co-op myself, I can tell you that every one of the families uses a different method and it works for them. I think that's wonderful. Unschooling is more than a method to homeschool our children. It has more to do with parenting and how we see our children as whole human beings, worthy of our respect and unconditional love and trust. When I started to treat my children the way I treat my husband or mother, everything changed.

I would encourage you to get Rue's book. It's a wonderful way to see how all these pieces come together to make a wonderful picture of how life can be with children.


Nancy Wooten:
My husband wasn't too sure about unschooling at first, and was also adamant the kids be in bed and stay there at a certain time. I'd just come home from a one-day conference—probably the first time I heard Sandra speak—with an armload of interesting toys and books and a head full of inspiration. One of the books was about finding Titanic, and included a paper model, which I decided Mommy should put together (I really like that kind of thing 🙂.)

I was working on it after the kids had gone to bed, but then-7-y.o. Alex got up. He looked at the book and we talked about it as I worked; we discovered what a fathom was, and that Titanic came to rest on the continental shelf, not the very bottom of the ocean, and I'm sure some more interesting things, but those stick in my mind.

About a half hour later, Alex went back to bed and I kept gluing. Dh came in and said, "So that's unschooling." He'd overheard the conversation. I said, "Yeah, that's unschooling." Never had an argument after that. 🙂

Nancy Wooten

Note from Sandra: In 2022, I took out the phrase about it having 8-10 years ago, because I couldn't find the original to date it. This story is also in the
Late Night Learning collection.

One of "those" moments

Tina wrote: I'm just overwhelmed with the wonder of it all today. These children are so happy and so endlessly curious. My 13yo daughter—who just left school this year and claims she doesn't like to read— spending an hour poring over an article in the Smithsonian about Ken Kesey. "Oh, Mom, this is so cool! Have you ever heard of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? The livingroom floor covered in Star Wars Legos after my 10yo son watched the new DVD release with extras. Now he's doing something with string and a Batman action figure and the spiral staircase to the basement. Teaching Corrina new guitar chords. Talking about the History of Rock and Roll video we watched last week. Beethoven booming on the stereo. Listening to an audiobook of Animal Farm on the way to choir and talking about communism. Homestar Runner! Baking cookies.
"Why is it half white sugar and half brown sugar? I'm going to try it with all brown."
"Mom, how to you spell 'undaunted?'"
Going to the gym together and spending an hour without talking—everyone following his/her own program. Resting together.

This is just the sweetest way to live. It is moment after moment of pure grace. When I tell people I "homeschool," they give me kind of a sad, sympathetic look and say how difficult that must be. I tell them it's the easiest and best part of my life.

Just had to tell someone. Thanks for listening!

Tina (tjulrich)
October 2004, UnschoolingDiscussion list

Angela responded:

That's exactly how I feel almost all the time. We are SO lucky to have discovered this lifestyle and to have settled into it comfortably without all the worries that many homeschoolers have. (are they keeping up with their peers?) It just feels so right and good. I used to shout it from the roof tops, but no one understood what I was shouting about. 😉 We just happily go along every day and it feels so right and good. The parenting changes that I've made after reading on these lists have made our unschooling lives twice as sweet too. I am so thankful to all the people who participate here and on other unschooling lists. Life is good!

Angela ~ Maine

The Discovery Moment

By Carol Brown (Cally) on Thursday, February 26, 2004:

We have been homeschooling for almost 18 years, and one of my favourite memories is of a day shortly after I removed my 5yo from school, where he had spent a very long seven weeks. We were going home from a friend's, accompanied by her daughter, also five, who was going to stay the night. We passed a school, where arbourists were trimming some very large trees, hanging from ropes and chainsawing branches. We stopped and watched for about 3/4 hour.

This was when I truly started to realise what homeschooling was all about.

It was about learning all the time; it wasn't about learning being restricted to certain hours (all the school kids had missed out as they were long gone!)

It was about living with my kids and enabling them to learn - by stopping and watching, rather than going home to get dinner which was already going to be late.

It wasn't about curriculum or age-appropriate learning objectives, it was about observing and living life.

I was interested, they were interested, and when we went home, and had our very late dinner, it was wonderful to hear them excitedly telling dh all about it.

It's about living and learning joyfully.


Realizing *one has a choice*

Cat wrote: That was a great post! [Sparkly Unschooling]

But your statement about parental choice really made me think about attitudes toward choosing. As I learned during a noted train-wreck of a discussion on another list, there seem to be some people in the world who do not believe that they have choices—instead feeling that there are some number of things that they *have* to do. (And that their children will *have* to do).

The same people seem to me to tend not to think of "joy" as a sufficient goal, either—maybe the two attitudes are related?

Maybe until people realize that they CAN choose, they are already constrained and stopped—without even the benefit of having made the conscious choice to stop. I am coming to think that realizing that *one has a choice* a necessary prerequisite to ever "getting it" about radical unschooling.


Huge Changes in Perspective

Note from Sandra—I broke a big paragraph up to make it easier to read.
Jules wrote:

Hello, I am recently new here, and just want to share a loosely related experience, showing how I have been changing and how much I appreciate having others for support in unschooling... I am a mom of 3 boys ages 8, 6, 3yrs, homeschooling rather unhappily/ambivalently for 3-4 years, basically up a creek without a paddle was how I saw myself.

I was at the grocery store today, I normally don't go out on weekends because it is overwhelmingly crowded in Los Angeles, that was my reasoning... yet I had a really great time, which got me thinking about all the rules and expectations I have and don't challenge... one of the reasons I don't challenge my own thinking is that the perspective is just not there. I have no perspective of myself when I am self centered, which I am growing out of slowly and consciously... I am very good at reasoning for control and it has been a struggle for me to let things go, not be right, see things from a different side, a long windy road so far in this life... having babies really brought changes, because well it's impossible to be available for anyone else with my ego taking highest priority... so I have had a very hard time with homeschooling, and unschooling just seemed impossible though I wanted to understand it and get out of my mind trap...

I have been working for years to let many personal issues go and just get some peace for myself, and being aware of the kids as they are not how i want them to be... a very wonderful change and the best time of my life really... but what changed things very quickly and rather painlessly was to read the posts and lurk around in this group... there were many arguments and back/forth posts which I was really interested in due to the intensity of spirit and then the gentle release, to each her/his own... I never had such articulate arguments or conversations about my thoughts on unschooling... I was trying to think in a giant mushy tangle, I could not get a clear thought, but still did not see how I was having a tough time...

listening to all the ideas here has been pivotal for me, and I thought it was so great to go to the grocery store and challenge myself to start something and not know how it would turn out, I found out that my kids can and will shop in a TIGHTLY CROWDED store on a Saturday, are happy getting in and out FAST, and surprise, it was not as bad as I thought...

really I believe this experience came from losing the fear of the unknown, that I have too many expectations to meet, they are wholly unnecessary and even if it's worse than I thought, we can go in and find a way to deal with it...

this is the problem I had with unschooling, thinking too much for the kids who are fine and not wanting to be analyzed and today it just vanished when we changed our minds...

I hope this makes sense, the ideas came on top of each other... thanks to all who participate and allow me to follow the thought process with you, it's been such a great tool...

(posted on the AlwaysLearning list, September 2004 )

Editor's Note: The post above was soft, a little timid and soothing.
Brace yourself for the next one, then:

[Someone on UnschooingDiscussion had written:]
I'm just not that equipped to convince authorities that what we are doing is right and ok.. and my kids are ok..... I'm glad for those that are 'unlikely' to get into trouble... but what about my family..I'm still not sure we have what it takes to 'look good' or even it that is possible?

Kelly Lovejoy responded, enthusiastically:

I am armed to the teeth. I'm ready for any legal fight that would come about should we be targeted—and woe to the poor soul who who attacks us! 🙂

I'm pretty damned likely to be pegged as a target. Loud unschooling mom who puts on conferences, lets local homeschool e-lists know that they *don't* have to do worksheets or give grades or test. My car's a rolling advertisement for unschooling! Yeah---I'm high on the "wanted" list! 🙂

A huge part of my confidence is knowing that what I'm doing by unschooling is R-I-G-H-T! Unschooling is the only way to learn. I KNOW that in my heart. I have NO doubts. Not a one.

I also can read and understand the state law. I follow it, in that I document what I must document. I'm not required to test or grade, but I do have to keep a portfolio. I have a high school diploma. I'm on time with signing up with an accountability association. So legally, I'm covered.

I can't imagine not "looking good" to some ridiculous authority figures. Honestly!

And first, THEY'D have to prove that what I'm doing isn't working. They really don't want to tangle with ME!

I could simply compare my boys to their schooled friends and look sparkly within five minutes! I have children who are interested in life—who seek out new things to do and learn, places to go and see. Comparing one good day in school with one bad day unschooling—what's that bumper sticker? "A bad day fishin' beats a good day at work"? Even days we spend in pajamas watching movies is tons more sparkly than one school day!

There are days when we do little, but we only have to "school" 180 days each year. So on our "down days" we just don't document. That doesn't mean we aren't LEARNING—we're STILL learning! We just don't have to write anything down.

Do you REALLY have over half the year when you do NOTHING????
Technically/legally, you don't have to! But is that really the case?

OK, I realize that I'm a bit hyper and that we may do more than the average family. We have lots of interests. We like to travel. We surround ourselves with critters. We DO a lot. We DO.

Also, I know that, if I were to be called into court to justify what we do as "education," I could back up everything we do with well-thought-out answers. I even have a list of books and websites—and REAL LIVE PEOPLE I could call on to testify for me!

It helps, I know, to have one child I could "graduate" now. He's 17 and past the legal age for complusory attendance. But we'll just keep on doing what we're doing. At nine, my other son could be fodder for a legal battle. But I'm more than confident that I could take on the system.

KNOW what unschooling IS. Know what it isn't. Read here, at unschoolingbasics, at alwayslearning, at alwaysunschooled, at shinewithunschooling, at unschooling.com, at unschooling.info. Go to conferences. Start your own local unschooling group. Hang out with other unschoolers and those that understand how unschooling works and why. Discuss it. Make your mouth form the words; make your fingers. Get confidence! BE confident!

DON'T surround yourself with doubters and nay-sayers. Make a new circle of friends. A new extended family if you must. But DON'T be intimidated. The more confidence YOU have in unschooling, the better it will be for the whole family.

And I can't say this loudly enough: If you belive in unschooling, DO IT NOW! Don't wait! Jump in NOW! Your children aren't getting any younger. If they're IN school, pull them OUT. If they're just out of school, the healing needs to begin yesterday! If they're babies: well, GOOD ON YOU! I wish I'd discovered it so soon!

If you believe you can or believe you can't—you're right!

If you think you can't provide a rich, stimulating environment for your kids, maybe they *are* better off in school. Send them.

But if you know that the whole wide world is rich and stimulating, then GET OUT THERE! DO things, BE with your kids. Find cool places to go. Bring new things home. Quit bitchin'!

If you knew you only had a year more with that child, what would you expose him to? Where would you go? What would you eat? What would you watch? What would you do?

If you had only ONE year—and then it was all over, what would you do? Four seasons. Twelve months. 365 days.

Do that THIS year. And the next.

That's how unschooling works. By living life as if it were an adventure. As if you only had a limited amount of time with that child. Because that's the way it IS.

As my Aunt Ceilie used to say, "Enjoy it while you got it. You're going to miss it when it's gone!"


This comment was left at Just Add Light and Stir, on the post Is Unschooling Too Big a Gamble?
Thanks for that last sentence,"I know what does damage and I know what might help." I REALLY thought I knew what might help when I took my daughter out of school seven years ago. And taking her out of school was a huge START.

I joined and read some unschooling lists and couldn't believe what people were writing. It wasn't that I thought anyone was rude, but that what they were suggesting was so...different! It seemed pretty far out there, and I was still so school-y. She was OUT of school. I was away from all the volunteering there. We WERE going to radical unschooling. Soon. I was changing things as fast as I could. But deep down I was still so conventional about so many things.

I got off the unschooling lists because it was just too much to take in! It was radical! But I kept reading different parts of your site (and Joyce's) every few days. I printed things out to carry around when I was away from the computer. We were able to move to where there were unschoolers to hang around. But then we tried a really different kind of alternative school for six months, because I still was not quite seeing "IT".

Really seeing 'it' took a long time. I'm just, in the past couple of years, feeling mostly confident that I have left all (?) those old ways behind. I truly understand now what I fought earlier. I understand why you are saying what you SEE when people write to you, what their *words* are saying, what their actions are saying, and what is written between the lines.

I kept hanging on to dd's labels until I finally got it, that you meet your child WHERE THEY ARE. You don't look at anyone else's child or anyone else's parenting. You don't look at where any other child is, nor care what any one else thinks.

I'm happy for my almost grown child that I made the effort to change, to stop listening to the conventional world. I wasted time insisting it was okay to just do part of it (unschooling), or most of it for a while longer. And I held on to my exceptions because our situation was "a little different", and you people wouldn't quite understand if I tried to explain it to you.

Well, that was then. Now I can say that you (the list owners and the other really wise people who participate) - Thank You! You DO know.


The organizer of an unschooling group wrote this in 2006:

When I first begun homeschooling (yes homeschooling), I joined the AlwaysLearning yahoo group. This was about five years ago. I posted what now to me was a really ridiculous question. I obviously knew nothing about unschooling. About a month ago, I decided to look in the archives and find that darn email and reread it. With bated breath I found it, with embarrassed eyes I read it, with breath now caught in my mouth I read your response. You were kind and inspirational....yet there was a little note on the bottom that basically told me in a nice way that I did not get it! haha I immediately unjoined the list...way too embarrassed and way too offended to actually let anything you said sink in.

To this day, until I just reread it, that post has called my name. It called my name to detox myself, detox my kidlet, unschool myself and her. That post, even though I was offended really changed me. So I wanted to say THANKS. Thanks for helping me to become an unschooler. Now a RADICAL UNSCHOOLER!!!! yeah

I'm going to let her be anonymous.

In early 2007, the once-anonymous author above wrote:
I am soooo not ashamed! It is my / our journey. You are more than welcome to put my sorry-butt name on there! (heehee)

Why Rush People to GET IT?

Until a person stops doing the things that keep unschooling from working, unschooling can't begin to work.
Read the rest of that explanation here.

When someone came to Always Learning to criticize what she THOUGHT we were doing, Deb Lewis described beautifully what was actually going on, with the way unschooling was being discussed there, in 2002:

Deb Lewis:

Sometimes people who come to unschooling think they have it. They think they get it. When their child shows an interest in insects, they run right out and buy that unit study. They let their kid play all day except for those two hours he has to sit down with the math text book. That is not unschooling, and if a person wants to understand I don't think it's helpful to let them go on thinking it is.

I wouldn't know how to define unschooling so clearly and precisely that everyone would have real understanding. But it only seems reasonable to try to make it clearer for those who are trying to understand.

I always get in trouble with analogies, but I'm going to try one here. If I wanted to make a cake, and had never baked or cooked before, a cake recipe that just said "do whatever seems best to you, use your imagination" probably wouldn't be that helpful. If my friend, who always had lovely cakes (devil's food?) had given me this recipe, I would have to assume cake just didn't work for my family.

It would have been much more helpful to have an ingredients list and a plan for putting them together.

Ok, kids are not cakes, and maybe there's no ingredients list for unschooling, but I would hope, before I pour a bottle of vinegar in my batter, someone who knows about cakes would stop me. I would hope, before I add a text book or take away TV, someone who knows about unschooling would stop me.

. . . .

I think Sandra understands that unschooling is such a huge change in thinking, such a giant step, that people often need guidance. It's easy to get lost when your going someplace you've never been before. Having a guide, or even a map might mean the difference between getting there happily and not getting there at all.

Deb Lewis