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Unschooling: the non-standard approach to learning

Now that we’ve covered just how different homeschooling really is, let’s talk about something a little less known- something a little harder to grasp.


In my last blog, I mentioned that I completely missed the mark on homeschooling our first go around. I gave a brief reason why, but I really didn’t go in depth.

When I started homeschooling Kane, I got all the curriculum, complete with 7-8 subjects for KINDERGARTEN. I sat him down for hours a day (because that’s just what you do, right?) and we argued it out. I was four months pregnant, had an 10 month old baby, and my son was punching holes in walls and throwing hairdryers at my head. On the rare occasion we finished work early, he would go outside and take a 2x4 to the dog or destroy something. There was absolutely no peace in our days, and he desperately needed help. But the rigorous schedule only made things worse.

It wasn’t until he went off to school that I started to reassess things. I spent the next few years following a couple of people who unschooled. It was then that it dawned on me...

I homeschooled two separate years as a child, and only one of them was enjoyable. Fourth grade my mom taught me and was very rigid and by the book. I have a vivid memory of her giving me a piece of paper back with the word “redo” written on it. My 8 year old mind saw “red-oh” and couldn’t figure out what that meant. But I was advanced for my age and she assumed I knew, and we fought for HOURS over it, with her refusing to tell me what it meant. Finally after a few hours I realized. But I think we were both scarred by the incident. It’s not so much that she did anything wrong, it was just her way. But we fought. A lot. And the next year I begged to go back to school.

Seventh grade came around and hormones were kicking in all around. I was miserable at school and needed to have some breathing room. I begged to homeschool. This year was with my dad. He bought all the curriculum, and left me alone in another office at the church while he worked. I did just enough work to occasionally ask for tests so he didn’t question me, and otherwise? I daydreamed. More often than not, I sat in there and did ab-so-lute-ly  NOTHING. And at the end of the year, when I took the test to go back to private school for 8th grade, I was still years ahead.

The ironic part of this was, at the school I attended, 7th grade (since I was in the advanced class doing 8th grade work) was CRUCIAL for survival. It was the basis for all the years through high school. If you didn’t grasp the concepts then, you’d be lost. And yet, I graduated high school with a high GPA. In fact, at the time of my graduation, my brother and I had the highest cumulative family GPA to EVER go through the school.

Clearly, that year didn’t completely undo me. I learned just as much breezing through as would have doing rigorous work.

So what does that mean? Does that mean we don’t have to teach anything for our kids to learn? No, not at all. But you don’t have to play schoolhouse either.

At this point I’m going to have all the schedule oriented people saying “WOAH.” So, let me step in right here and stop you before you can argue.

Seriously, stop.

Listen for just one second because this next statement will give you new perspective.

If you think that parents have been teaching children at home for THOUSANDS of years, and God suddenly gave YOU the power to mortally ruin your child by not picking the right curriculum, you’re wrong.

You. Don’t. Have. That. Power.

Do you see how ridiculous that sounds? But honestly, that’s where the thinking ends up. If you think that not doing rigid curriculum will somehow do some sort of disservice, then you think God gave you the power to ruin them. And you just don’t have that power. Never teaching them ANYTHING can cause problems. But not teaching a certain CURRICULUM can’t. Not being rigid can’t ruin them, either. Do you see the difference?

Now that we’ve addressed that, let’s discuss what unschooling actually is. It is not the complete absence of ever teaching your child. It is allowing your child to pursue the topics that actually interest them so they truly LEARN them. It is teaching them through LIFE. It is allowing them the privilege to enjoy learning.

Did you know that baking is one of the best ways to learn fractions? You don’t have to sit down and do a sheet of work over and over and over until they’re miserable.

The world honestly needs more tradesmen, business owners, leaders and independent souls. They need more people doing what they love so they can and will do it WELL. And a plumber does not need AP English. Not everyone NEEDS the same core skills. Basics, yes. Advanced subjects, no.

Let’s take for example my husband. He has owned his own business for much of his adult life. The jobs he has held, he’s worked his way to management very quickly and been able to do most of the jobs in the company. He has worked the electric company, water company, was best in the region for underground boring, built houses, ran a warehouse for a Fortune 500, ran cable, rebuilt cars...he literally built our house by himself and passed all inspections. He is a fabulous musician who taught himself by ear. He has worked horses in the west. And he was a professional rodeo star. He is easily one of the smartest people I know, and can do just about anything. All of this while he has severe dyslexia and isn’t fabulous at spelling. But it didn’t hurt him in life because none of what he does requires a great deal of spelling.

Take for another example my brother. He’s a biblical studies major who loves apologetics, is great with children, and fabulous at computer programming. But advanced math was never his thing. He does all of the computer tech work for the region at the boys and girls club. He is a writer, artist, and all around geek. He has installed sound systems. But I’m pretty sure he’d go back and skip every bit of algebra if he could.

Meanwhile, I love math, art, and English. I have held jobs in office management, finance, graphic design, and marketing. But I never really enjoyed science until I taught it hands on to my kids. But science wasn’t necessary to my career path, and in the end, I found a love for herbal medicine and homeopathy once I was allowed to pursue my own interests. Imagine if that had been allowed as a child?

I’m pretty sure we all can tell this story. We all have something that was forcefully taught that we have never used. We all need something different. So why should curriculum be one size fits all? Unschooling gives you the freedom to pursue your child’s unique abilities and tailor everything for them. It allows them to pursue a career path in their teen years and doesn’t limit them to an age bracket for success.

So why wouldn’t you want that?

To read my first blog on homeschooling, click here:

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