"If Only I'd Started Sooner..."

a collection of wishes and regrets

I can’t remember which article I read recently, an older one linked in Just Add Light. When I read it, I thought, “Oh, I wish I understood Sandra’s perspective back then.” I was feeling regret that I thought you were unkind, so I didn’t read your writing so much.

Then I was glad you saved so much of it, and I can read it now, and if the internet & books & the world keep existing, others will be able to read your writing, too.

Why Rush People to GET IT?

—Why can't they just take their time and come to unschooling gradually?

I wish I had known about unschooling long ago (we've been at it for a little less than a year) so that I wouldn't have to learn so much as I'm also trying to put it into practice. My son is 4 but I have struggled with my own frustrations and lack of patience as a parent and having to deschool myself. The more I learn the more I fall in love with unschooling. I just hope that the mistakes I have made along the way can be "corrected" and my son and I can both enjoy this journey! —Jessica Briele

photo (a link) by Megan Valnes

My only regret about all of this is probably a predictable one—I wish I hadn't waited until this year to start. I even read through the 'if only' pages on your website a couple of years ago and I wish I hadn't squashed the feelings of apprehension the quotes gave me.

Anna Black (more of her story of change, if you click here)

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!

Clare Kirkpatrick

The ONLY regret I have at all is that my oldest three kids have seen a side of me that I wish they had never seen. If I could go back and live this way from the beginning I would.

Sara P. —more at this link about how her family changed

I just keep thinking that we should have made this change sooner. The traditional teaching/learning methods did us no favors and I am stumped as to why I did not see that right from the start.

It sort of knocks the wind out of me how obvious it seems today. —Lea T.

If I could go back in time, these are some of the things I would have told myself. Most importantly, have fun. 🙂
The longer list of things Karen James would have done differently is in her summary of things to do, and not do, while deschooling, here:

Karen James on Deschooling

In a discussion where someone had said it was sad that I/Sandra wasn't nicer and more accepting of everything and everybody, Priscilla Sandstead wrote:
I'm not sad that Sandra won't change, because there are so many people across the country that would listen if she would just be nicer (paraphrasing).

Maybe they'll come back, maybe they won't. But you know what the REAL shame is? When you're the mother of a child who has turned 18 and you look back at all the times you stalled or dragged your feet on things that Sandra, Pam, or Joyce, et al were suggesting, when you could have been living peacefully as your child's partner that much sooner.

Priscilla Sanstead:
I should have added, for clarity, that I'm talking about me, not a hypothetical mom. My child is 18.
Chris Sanders: I wish I'd understood unschooling when my oldest was 6.
I'm still getting it—and only have a few more years left with my youngest almost 14!

Renee Cabatic: yes—if there is one thing I could change it would be "getting it" earlier.

(both of those from a chat called Cautions)

We've been unschooling, radically, ever since. That was 2.5 years ago and we haven't looked back. We've let joy find us. We welcomed freedom and mutual respect into our lives. We are finally living. Nic and I are still healing. I grieve the time I lost with him every day. I mourn the wasted time I spent living in fear instead of trusting and loving. I'm still angry at my ignorance because it cost us both so much.

From a longer post on the blog of Brianna, a.k.a. serendipitymama (no longer available—sorry)

Jenny Cyphers:

I wish things for our family had been different earlier than later, but it is what it is. Unschooling really helped make us better people. I can't even imagine, or rather I can, how different things would be with our relationships with our kids if they'd been in school all these years.

Kids absorb the good and the bad. Unschooling really focuses on the good, and that's, well, GOOD!

—Jenny C.

I regret that we didn’t come to the decision to homeschool the very first time our son had an issue with public school which was when he was in first grade and was very bored and found the days too long. His health issues began gradually that year and grew over the following years to one degree or another. I regret we didn’t trust from the very beginning that he would always know what he needed if we just followed his lead.


We discover new things all the time, and haven't done anything schooly in a long time. They are changing so quickly, and all in a positive way. It's weird to see the changes in them, since they haven't been in public school. I can honestly say that I wish I had pulled them out sooner, but I can't change that now. I have only the future to look forward to, and with my kids I know it will be exciting.

I wish I would've *gotten* radical unschooling earlier with Zach but I'm so glad that I didn't wait any longer than I did for his sake, Zoe's and mine. He's really one of the best human beings I know -- and I know a lot of good human beings!
zamunzo.blogspot.com/ 7/23/06

I just wish these lists and you had been around when I had my first baby.

I am awakened! I thought that my awakening had completely already happened. I WAS this Radical Unschooling mom. Now I know that I was in my dark space and that I had emerged from being a “school at home mom” years ago, but yet I have just been sitting strengthening my wings. I have so many places to fly and so many journeys to yet take. . .

I am saddened. I know, that is a funny one. I am saddened that I did not get it long ago. I saw all these amazing kids and teens and wish that Sorscha had what she now has years ago. I know that I cannot go back and change it, but I am dam sure that her world will never be what it was.

Crystal, on her blog (long-gone now, in 2020)

I do wish I had known about unschooling from the start.
Ann (Ann05), on UnschoolingDiscussion

Unfortunately, I came to it in the middle of raising my children. We have four grown that went through public school, and I SO wish I would have seen the light much sooner. I never realized the resources available to me.
Tina, on -Basics list

I have learned so much from you and the unschooling list and feel so confident in living life as unschoolers. I "get it". I only wish I had unschooled years ago.

I began unschooling my daughter (8 yr old) only 3 months and 8 days ago, and she has changed so much, she has gone from insecure, sullen, angry, to the child I used to have, she loves to learn, and we really have fun again. I wish I had done this earlier, but she didn't want to!! We are still deschooling (the whole family), but we are on the right track. Welcome to the list and the journey!!! It is amazing.

Melanie in Vt
(on Unschooling Basics, May 18, 2006)

Kelly Lovejoy, from her presentation "Out of School and Into the Real World" at a Live and Learn conference

I am green with envy of all the rest of ya’ll who figured this all out really early.

I wish I’d found the family bed,
I wish I’d discovered peaceful parenting,
I wish I’d not sent my kid…

We waited ‘til Cameron was twelve.

Then many stories of how they came to unschooling, and of its wonderful effects on their lives.
Nobody here is going to tell you “I wish I’d found unschooling later."

I could just kick myself for not pursuing it any earlier.

Kelly Lovejoy

I do want to thank you for your posts on the group and your web site writings as they have really helped our family on our journey (that is still progressing). The only regret I have is we didn't find this path earlier in our life, but better late than never!



I endured eight years of English boarding school. My older daughter aged 19 was in school for two years, tried two alternative schools and then was home educated like school at home but a bit more relaxed.

Only after my younger daughter was born did we move to an eclectic style of home education and she did attend (much to my regret) a year of nursery.

It's only in the last couple of years that we have moved to unschooling, it's been a very long journey. I have found mysefl talking to my older daughter a lot about how I feel and have told her I regret not knowing about unschooling fully when I was bringing her up.


For some reason most of my friends seem to think that if I truly cared about my kids then I would put them in school and in every extra-curricular activity. They can't fathom what my kids do all day as being learning. They simply think I am wasting their lives away and will regret it later.

My regrets are that I didn't unschool them in all areas of their lives from the beginning. I hate seeing others do what I have done in the past. I feel like I can give them insight if I am painfully honest with the harm I inflicted on my own kids.


Maggioncalda... (Olivia's mom)

Even if it's only one day of regret...

We've been unschooling for two years now and our house has become a more peaceful and a happier place to be. I've learned to trust my children and I am a better parent and a better thinker.

In the beginning of our homeschooling I bought a curriculum and our experiment with school at home lasted about day when I realized it was completely offensive to my older daughter (and to me!) Sarah (7 years now) wanted nothing to do with school at home but we did enjoy reading some of the books and using up the stuff that came with it. Otherwise it was an expensive ($500) lesson on stuff we don't need. Money we now spend on trips and museums and stuff the kids want or are interested in.

Anyway, this ... is to say how exciting life is when you trust your children and support them—and to say thank you to the experienced unschoolers who post here. I've learned so much but I do get frustrated with newbies who post and then seem to fight every bit of wisdom that is so graciously given.

Maggioncalda... (Olivia's mom)

A couple of anonymous comments:

Hi Sandra. . . . I have been following you. . . since my daughter was 3. Ohhh, how I wished I could have handled your advice to others on lists at that time. I was not ready, unfortunately for my child. Now my daughter is 7 and for the past year we have been unschooling. Our new focus is Radical Unschooling. We are definitely getting there. Thank you for all you do for this community and our children. My husband and I are very excited to receive your book and are looking forward to the many more you write.

I'm happy I found unschooling, but I wish I would have found it many, many years ago.The damage to my oldest can't be undone, but hopefully he will be better now, and his kids will be much better for it. (He said if he ever has kids he would love to unschool them.)

[Mercedes wrote, to someone who asked if anyone on a forum had homeschooled and then unschooled:]

I am not sure what you're looking for as far as before and after, but: I wish I had known about unschooling from the start, and never done anything else.

The net effect is (with unschooling), we're all happier. We're less stressed. We have our own schedule - or lack of schedule - not one imposed on us by school, or even homeschooling. The kids' relationship with their dad is better. MY relationship with their dad is better. *grin*

I have so many regrets.

My head knows that I did what I thought was best at the time and that if I had known better I would have done better (and whole-life unschooling is THE best), but my heart still feels so bad.

A friend suggested I needed to grieve for those lost opportunities.

So now, each time I remember something I did, I reflect on it and think about what I would do differently and I cry about it. I cry it all out as long as I need to. I do it often when I read here or on the lists.

It’s been better for me since I’ve allowed myself to do that.



I guess I finally get what people mean when they say they found Jesus and were saved. That's how I'm feeling about unschooling.

I am questioning so many of the old beliefs I carry that block joy.

I feel overwhelmed with grief when I think of the ten years I have been parenting my son from a place of judgment. I think that is a normal reaction because it is a loss. I feel inspired to parent from a place of unconditional love and acceptance (which I actually thought I was doing before). I could cry about the 10 years wasted or say "Thank God he's just turning 10" ! There is still time!

I feel grateful to all of you who contribute and share and especially Sandra Dodd whose writings have changed my life.

wintryspruce (beelight...)

This is an "if only I had…" of someone who DID unschool but might have taken another course. I know who wrote it, but am leaving it anonymous here:
My son is in every other month OT and PT (occupational therapy and physical therapy) with one visit each time but for gross/fine motor things vs sensory stuff. About the only advantage it really has given us is I have been told that now that he is "in the system" he can possibly get things accomodated for him even when he is alot older, like a special keyboard for use in university lectures should he choose to go to university some day....being he has never been to school other than his ot visits and documentation of them there would be no recognition of him needing accomodation for certain things. I do get financial assistance for certain things eg: a special bar for his bike. Things may vary where you may live.

Has it been worth it? I don't know...I have mixed feelings about it, as I have been given some good gadgets and ideas, but I would say looking back 90% of things I could have discovered on my own. I know there have been times he has gotten discouraged :( and as he has gotten older (he is 10 but has been going since the age of four) I really notice they are more "academic" with him and there was a shift...not so play based anymore.

I wish I had believed, when he was four, other experienced unschoolers who stated that what do alot of these things matter at home. I panicked too much about the future. Yes, he doesn't write as much as others do, and it's shaky and he needs a fat pencil and a pencil grip and a weight on the top of his pencil, but what's real for HIM in his out of school life is his writing his poptropica passwords down in his notebook because he wants to not dictation/copywork...he's not in school, he doesn't need that much writing and keyboards more due to his love of computers, and has managed the bit of printing he has had to do outside the home, like in scouts. Speech I had posted earlier today about, but the ot/pt I could have maybe done without a lot, ok maybe most of it. I am in the process of deciding how much i want to continue at this point.

I like the mention of the Out of Sync child book, PROVIDED you can read it with a "taking what works" view and look at it with a detachment from the schooly bits or the gearing of the child to the school environment. I had to put them away a long time ago when I first came across them as I just couldn't muster the detachment needed, but if you could glean some ideas from them they are good books.

What I wish I would have known before I started was how most of ot/pt is geared towards getting you on the track of fitting into school. :(

On the Always Learning list in June, 2007, a mom came back after ten years and reported on changes in her unschooling life:

Saying Yes (again)

"When we're helping new unschoolers, or those who are undecided about whether they want to even try to unschool, those who've been around a while, we see their responses and fears through the filter of what we know of other people's regrets, false starts, delays..."

Sandra Dodd, from a 2013 chat transcript about regrets (and tension—the good kind—and flow, and decisionmaking)