What Makes Unschooling Successful? Advice From Grown Life Learners

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By Idzie Desmarais

I’m delighted to be sharing some words from fellow grown unschoolers today, something I’ve been wanting to do more of for a while now. For this post, I asked people to share either something they think their parents did especially well, or an aspect of their experience they found especially positive. The ten responses gathered below are thoughtful and insightful, a collection of anecdotes and advice that I hope will be helpful for parents and carers still in the earlier stages of this journey. I’m always really fascinated seeing what others who grew up with a similar philosophy as my family have to say, and I hope you find these tidbits similarly interesting and helpful.

“[My parents] carefully respected my privacy, especially in my teens, and let me and my brother spend a bunch of time playing video games, reading comics and watching cartoons even as it seemed like the whole world was freaking out. ‘Oh my god, your kids do WHAT all day??’ They just ran with it and looked for the good in whatever we were doing.” -Nola A.“My mother was completely judgment free about how I spent my time, never criticizing me for spending hours on my computer every day. This allowed me to cultivate many of the interests I hold most dear to this day.

[She] frequently offered my brother and I the chance to go to school if we wanted to, and supported me when I decided to shadow at local high schools as a teenager. I ultimately decided I wanted nothing to do with high school, but many of my unschooling friend’s parents had a lot of difficulty when their teenagers expressed interest in high school. Having parental support through considering what school had to offer empowered me to make my own informed decisions about continuing to unschool.

Going to conferences and connecting with other unschoolers was one of the best decisions my mom made. Having the support of other young unschoolers got me through some of the most difficult times in my life. It made me realize I wasn’t alone. Meeting grown/older unschoolers at conferences gave me a way to imagine myself as a successful adult- a thing that can be hard when you’ve never met anyone like you. Around my fellow unschoolers was maybe the first time I ever felt like I truly belonged anywhere other than with my family, like I was entirely celebrated for being myself, and like no one would question me or my right to exist.” -Emmett D.
“The best thing my parents did was let me sleep when I needed to. That meant the world to me.” -Rachel H.

“Follow your kids’ interests and provide them with resources to find more info. We were all into community theater so our mom would get us books about the plays we were in. When we did Annie Get Your Gun we learned about Annie Oakley, things like that. The trick was to NOT choose the topic for us, but to notice the topics we were already interested in (the plays we were acting in already) and then give us the tools to expand from there.Relatedly, a story about why you shouldn’t force kids to learn. I was late to start reading. My parents were new to homeschooling at the time and my mom got concerned and tried to push it, having me do this horrible reading workbook every day which I absolutely despised. It did not work, I made no progress, I hated it, and my mom probably hated it too, so eventually she stopped pushing it. Pretty much immediately I spontaneously started reading random things I’d see without any prompting. So we all learned that I am incredibly stubborn and that kids learn better when they’re not forced to learn.

Make a learning experience out of EVERYTHING. My dad is especially good at this. He actually built the second largest home owned aquarium in the US in our house (huge conversation piece), which requires a lot of upkeep and for many years we’d help him do the iodine testing. That’s how I learned, at like 7 years old, that saltwater life (as well as humans) need a very specific amount of iodine – not too much, not too little – to be healthy. He had to do the testing anyway, so he involved us, explaining why he did it, how the chemistry of the testing strips worked, etc.” -Jennifer L.

“The very best thing my mother (specifically) did was pushing us to do everything on our own. Calling to make doctor’s appointments, doing our own laundry, taking us to the grocery store and having us weigh the produce (okay, we weren’t forced to do that one!), etc. She never hesitated to step in to help if we asked or were really frustrated, but she always had us try before doing things for us. I think this is something a lot of parents are missing (I work in a daycare). Things like having your 2 year old put on their own pants after using the potty, for example, are more important than many would imagine. It not only teaches children real-life skills, it also builds self-confidence and mastery without constant praise (read Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn) or inflating self-esteem (which is different than true confidence).” -Casey H.

“Some things I really appreciate that my parents did during our unschooling years:

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