Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest Post: You Can Unschool with Limited Resources by Sara Schmidt

A big thanks to Sara for sharing her experiences here!  Enjoy, and think about sharing your own stories in the comments section.

I am broke. But I can still unschool.

One of the most common misconceptions about homeschooling and unschooling is that you have to be wealthy to do so. I actually do get this comment from both parents of children who attend public school as well as some curriculum-using homeschoolers, many of whom are quite well off and do not seem to understand if we cannot afford an expensive field trip or microscope.

This idea, however, is a bit ironic to those of us who consider homeschooling something of an ancient practice, the way all humans learned until the development of compulsory schools—which, in America, was only around 100 years ago. How on earth did our ancestors learn anything, I always want to respond, when they were too busy working the fields, caring for one another, doing chores, and, well, living every day? Funny how literacy rates were higher back then, too. 

But I digress. Of all of the unschoolers I know, many of them are in the same boat I am in. I was laid off in 2008, followed by my husband’s layoff last year. Together we went from an income of about $65,000 to one that was, until this month when he got a new job, under $18,000. This was very difficult (and still is, as we pay off debts such as student loans) and we have had to make a lot of cuts, but we are still quite happy and healthy—and we still unschool.

You don’t need any additional funds to unschool (or homeschool, really; if you want to use a curriculum, there are several free ones available). Unschooling is simply living with your child every day, allowing him or her to make his or her own decisions. No additional materials or programs are required; only your time and attention, if that. Unschoolers rely on experiences rather than overhead projectors and expensive curriculum sets. And now, with the Internet easily at your fingertips, there’s really not much you cannot learn.

Even so, many of us unschoolers don’t believe that money is all that valuable. Gasp! There, I said it. Sure, we need it for food and electricity and other essentials, but we don’t usually buy a lot of the same things our neighbors do—multiple cars or cellular phones, televisions, video games, cable, whatever. We do a lot of secondhand shopping (my daughter enjoys yard sailing very much!) and we buy what we need, usually nothing more. 

Our values tend to reflect this as well; indeed, our definition of success is does not include how much money or how big of a house you have, but how happy and healthy you are, how meaningful your life is to you, and how kindly you treat one another and the earth itself.

I am lucky enough to work from home, and my husband works very early morning shifts so we can both usually be with our daughter; but I know unschoolers who take children to work, swap childcare with other unschoolers, or even utilize a good childcare program for part of the day while they make their living. Your child is going to learn no matter where he or she is or what he or she is doing, so why worry? There are so many options available to you if you just look outside the box a bit—which is, of course, what unschooling is all about!

Please do not get me wrong: there is absolutely no reason for you to feel guilty if you absolutely cannot unschool due to finances and a need to work very long hours. So please don’t feel guilty! But that might not have to be the end of the story for you, either. If money and/or childcare are the only things standing between your family and unschooling, see if you can come up with a solution. Try brainstorming with other unschooling or homeschooling friends (or on this blog!) and with your family and maybe you’ll be able to come up with a creative way of life that is unique to your own family’s needs—one that will allow you to live life the way you always wanted to. 

(A note from the blog owner: just a reminder to please be respectful in the comments.  Each person is the expert on their own life, so if someone says they really can't unschool, please respect that!  Of course, if people are asking for suggestions in how to make unschooling work for them, that's something entirely different.) 

Sara Schmidt is an unschooling mom, writer, artist, activist, and intermittent graduate student from Missouri. The former editor of YouthNoise, she has written for The Whole Child Blog, Teaching Tolerance, The Institute for Democratic Education in America, BluWorld, Ecorazzi, and dozens of other blogs, printed materials, and nonprofit organizations.


  1. "You don’t need any additional funds to unschool.[...] Unschooling is simply living with your child every day, allowing him or her to make his or her own decisions. No additional materials or programs are required; only your time and attention, if that. "

    That's it ! Thanks for sharing !

  2. Thanks so much for this. Sometimes doubt creeps in because we can't afford to do this or that. But being able to afford to be together every day is the best unschooling asset there is. I'm so grateful for that.

  3. i wish there was a like button both for this post and for nettlejuice's comment :)

  4. Hi there...
    I am a homeschooling boy. My parents don't have to buy many things to educate my.They give me their time,love and guidance. What I usually use is my white board and computer.I learn a lot through internet.Thanks God!! Visit my homeschooling blog:

  5. I was in the shower this morning and my 5 year old was talking to me about The Little House on the Prairie and the bits that she remembered from it.

    I'm not American but I can't imagine people in those days thinking that living how the Wilders did was wrong or that the children were suffering in any way.

    Living as they did so far from other families they can't have learned to socialise! Heavens above!

    Only our world of ever increasing personal possessions and dependence on money and stuff has made this kind of life seem impossible or irresponsible.

  6. How right you are!

    We're on a low income and take a largely autonomous (unschooling) approach to our daughter's education. We regularly pick up resources in charity (goodwill) shops or at the UK equivalent of yard sales (car boot sales).

    When I tell my daughter she could have so much more materially if she went to school and I went to work she lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that home education is as much her priority as it is mine!

  7. Such a great post, thank you. We are unschoolers - my son is 5, and we are home most of the time. We don't get much involved with our homeschooling community (too cliquey)and neither of us like big groups. Sometimes I worry I don't get him out enough...but this just reminds me that I'm doing fine. WE are doing fine...and as April said - being home together is as good as it gets. Thanks for this reminder. :)

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