Thursday, July 17, 2014

6 Reasons I'm Glad I Grew Up Unschooling

When I was five, I went to kindergarten. And while I was still five, I left kindergarten.

As a kindergarten dropout, my family started me out with some curriculum, but everything was always pretty flexible, and over the years we organically moved into something that looked more and more like unschooling. We lived and learned together as a family, reading out loud and by ourselves, endlessly discussing books and TV shows, writing, joining a variety of different groups and clubs and classes, and just generally building our lives around what was interesting and important to us both individually and as a family.

The result is that now, in my early 20’s, I look on the type of education I experienced with great fondness, and am continuing to learn in much the same way now as an adult. I’m grateful for having lived an unschooling lifestyle, and these are some of the reasons why.


I got to spend as much or as little time as I wanted to on different subjects
With a more traditional curriculum, either in school or out, how much time and effort is spent and expended on each subject is mandated and overseen by a teacher. Whereas I had the luxury of digging deep when I wanted to, immersing myself in something that fascinated me for as long as it held my attention, or simply doing a quick Google search and stopping after I’d finished a Wikipedia article or two (and maybe at least glanced at some of the sources).

The subjects I spent weeks or months reading about and researching and surrounding myself with were as diverse as World War II and the civil rights movement, horses and photography, Irish folklore and cooking and poetry. With many other things, way too many to count, the interest lasted a much shorter time.

But all of these things were meaningful, and fed a need I had at the time, whether it was a spark of interest at a passing comment made by a friend, or a burning desire to learn as much as I possibly could about a subject I was making a big part of my life. The lack of pressure to spend “enough” time to make learning about a specific thing “worthwhile” freed me to learn about a wide range of things without feeling guilt if I only wanted to learn a little bit about something, or pressure to stop reading about horses already and move on to something else.


I knew that all subjects were interconnected
For the most part, things weren’t broken up into individual subjects. Something that probably would have looked like English to someone on the outside bled over into and encompassed history, public speaking, writing, art… I didn’t learn by subject, I just learned, and a whole bunch of subjects were naturally involved in my learning.

This is something I’ve carried over into adult life, where I tend to recognize the interconnectedness of different subjects and areas of my life. I was never taught to compartmentalize things, so I value how much all different types of learning are involved in all different aspects of life.

We also valued lots of real life skills. Like, for instance, dog wrangling pet care.


I had the freedom to quit
For the most part schools, and all the classes you must take in schools, are not something you can choose to just stop going to (or at least, you can’t without some major repercussions, or parents willing to say they’re homeschooling you). This is regardless of whether a specific class or teacher is actually doing a good job at all of teaching their subject matter, and whether the information is relevant to the learner or hopelessly outdated and seemingly completely removed from real life application.

As a life learner, I was free to only keep things in my life that were actually adding value (classes I thought were important, subjects that had relevance in my life and future plans). If something wasn’t working, or was causing a lot more stress than learning, or felt like an unsafe environment, or no longer held any interest for me, I was free to quit.

While sticking with things can also be important, I think it’s really over-emphasized in our culture. People are shamed for quitting even for the most important reasons, and are encouraged to stay with things that are actively causing harm, and not adding any value to their lives. Thus I think that, along with persevering at difficult things, learning how to quit is also something everyone should be encouraged to learn how to do.


I learned on my own timeline
Everyone knows that there are certain ages children are “supposed” to learn certain things, milestones that are “supposed” to be achieved at certain points in life. This can cause a lot of shame for children deemed “behind” or “slow learners,” when really everyone just has their own timeline for learning. I learned to read when I was 8 or 9. If I’d been in school (or with more school-at-home inclined parents) this would have been considered a major issue. As it was, I just learned when I was ready to, and quickly went on to devour a huge amount of books over the next several years, and eventually go on to become a published writer.

Trying to hold children to an externally imposed timeline of what things should be learned when can cause a whole bunch of stress, shame, and unnecessary worry, for both kids and parents. Recognizing instead that each child is different, and will learn different things at different times when they’re ready to can free children to learn at their own pace and in their own way, stress and guilt free.

Sometimes I still feel bad or worried if I’m not learning things as fast as others, or don’t know some things that some others my age do. But for the most part, I’ve really internalized the message that learning is unique to the individual, and shouldn’t be compared to that of others.


I learned in authentic ways
So often things in school are taught in a way that’s really disconnected from a student’s day-to-day life, things that have very little relevance to them, or are presented in ways that simply obscure any relevance. Any work produced by a student is generally only ever produced to get a grade, and will only be seen by a teacher and perhaps some classmates.

My experience, on the other hand, was very different. The learning I did and the work I created felt genuinely meaningful, relevant to my life and goals, and truly authentic. It was learning and work I felt good about.

As an example, I started writing book reviews for a homeschooling magazine in my teens, and moved on to blogging in my later teenage years. Through blogging, my writing improved so much. I was creating content for an actual audience, about a subject I was passionate about, getting meaningful feedback, seeing my gradual improvement, having exciting goals to work towards, and getting other writing opportunities presented to me because of my work.

I still feel that way about blogging now, and credit it for leading to a lot of positive things in my life (both more tangible, like speaking opportunities at conferences, and less so, like connections made with others I admire doing similar work). I think all children and teenagers should have the time and opportunity, not to mention encouragement and support, to pursue their own personally meaningful learning, creation, and work.


My education was truly personalized
Without a pre-packaged curriculum, the education my family and I built for myself was truly unique and personalized. Tailored to my needs, desires, interests, and goals--as well as those of my family and community--the experiences I’ve had, the body of knowledge I’ve gained, my skillset, and my portfolio are all truly unique. I had, and am continuing to pursue, an education that is like no one else’s.

To me that’s one of the greatest strengths of life learning: that each individual has a completely unique education, based on their needs and the needs of their family and community.

As far as I’m concerned, a healthy community is best built by people with widely varying experiences, strengths, and skills, and it seems to me that home education, and especially unschooling, is in an excellent position to help do just that.

There are times I feel less secure in my experiences. Times of worry and doubt. Growing up, things certainly weren’t perfect, and they aren’t perfect now. But they were good, and the way I was raised has had such a profound impact on my outlook and how I’m choosing to live my life. Along with the positives I discuss above, I feel like unschooling really helped me develop and gain self-knowledge, and that the way I learned and the knowledge and experience I’ve gained has been invaluable.

And that’s why I’m very glad that I grew up unschooled.


  1. Sorry if this is a strange question, but if you were unschooled from kindergarten onward, how do you know how "schools" operate? I'm curious because I was also unschooled and almost everyone I knew growing up was home-schooled. I moved to Japan to teach English in public schools and often when I am raving about how great something is in schools here my Australian friends will say "yeah... we do that in Australia too..." Everything I knew about "school" (as though they are all the same) came from the negative comments homeschooling adults made and as an adult I've realised how little I really know. I'm not saying this to challenge your assertions about schools, I'm just curious as to where your frame of reference comes from?

    1. Before my teens I was part of homeschooling groups, but by the time I hit 12, they were no longer part of my life at all, which means I knew really no homeschoolers in my teens, and only spent time around schooled kids. So my frame of reference comes mainly from the very negative picture of school I got from schooled friends and acquaintances in high school growing up, from the emails I now get from teens in school who want to do something different, and from LOTS of reading about education!

  2. Dear Idzie,

    Greetings from Malaysia. :)

    Thank you for this write-up.

    It's definitely something which I've been looking for to inform people around me (family, friends, etc) about taking an alternative approach to learning / education.

    I'm a mom of two kids, both still under 5, and my hubby and I have been unschooling our eldest daughter.

    We foresee that justifying our decision to unschool/homeschool the kids would be a lifelong battle, well for as long as our kids are "supposed to go to school" anyway.

    It is articles and experiences such as yours that would give us the strength to stick with our decision and take on this wonderful route.

    Thank you again.

    Take care and God bless!

  3. Idzie, I am very interested in your writings of unschooling. I am 23 and I attended public school until Freshman year (age 15) So, basically I grew up in public school. It was then that my mom pulled my siblings and I out of public school and we started homeschooling. I homeschooled from then until I "graduated" and I couldn't be happier that my mom made that decision. I agree with you 100% on the fact that public school/education is negative and harmful. I found your website because I was looking for info on unschooling because I plan to unschool my children from the start! Thanks for the info! I will be referencing back in the future!

  4. I love this so much!! I love hearing how it shaped you. I especially love how you point out how subjects naturally converge. You are so right. I point the same things out at home. We are raising our girls unschooling. I really want out kids to have a hunger for learning that never diminishes.

    My husband and I were public schooled. We both had many bad experiences. My husband was actually very excited about school until the second grade. He was humiliated and bullied by the actual teacher. His mother went to the school about it. Although she did year my husband different after that the damage was done. Unfortunately he also heard later she never changed in how she treated her students. Things happened to us in school that shaped us in ways that I wish never had occurred.

    Since we've started on unschooling I've noticed my own personal interest for knowledge and education grow. I find it very healing. There are really so many ways to learn organically.

    Thank you again for your post!