Unschooling: 7 things you need to know about enrolling in the School of Awesome

31 May, 2016

We have just returned from one of New Zealand’s brilliant unschooling camps. One of the conversations we had there was about how, as soon as your kid hits five, everyone asks them “What school do you go to?” It’s nice, you know, people just want to strike up a conversation with kids and this is the go to. Ramona is the kind of staunch kid who just puffs out her chest and says “I learn my own self!” but we were having a little laugh about the fun your kids could have with this, if you were to rename your home…

“What school do you go to, dear?”

“The School of Rainbow Laughter!”

“Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!”

or just:

“The School of Awesome”


(Guess you had to be there.)

I have only ever done a few personal sharing posts on unschooling, describing the very beginnings of our unschool journey and that sort of thing. And have never specifically said “Why not consider unschooling?” to readers. It seemed to me like a fairly extreme thing to do, something I just knew wasn’t for everyone.

But this current climate of diabolical education policy, appalling testing, and a real dis-ease with the schooling system is begging for an alternative. Millions of parents sense that kids should all get the chance to just be kids, and some of the best, passionate teachers are throwing in the towel. It might be time to ask:

Why not consider unschooling?

The more you do it, the less extreme it is. The more people you know doing it the more you think “why isn’t everyone doing this!”

I honestly think that unschooling could be for far more people than just the radical few. And I think that if more people were to do it then small, informal unschooling collectives could be formed, where neighbourhood families could get together and foster an awesome creative environment together.
Unschooling - 7 things you need to know
Here’s a few things you need to know about unschooling.

You set?

What is unschooling?

So I guess the first thing you need to know is what unschooling is. HA. It is not gonna be this basic all the way though, promise. In fact, I’m not even gonna count this as one of the things. This is just a little bonus.

I made this video at the recent unschooling retreat and I think it pretty much covers it all! Unschooling is about freedom, about enjoying life with our kids, about stepping back, about learning in nature, learning without the confines of structure, without a curriculum, learning anywhere, anyhow, anytime. It is about supporting our children to follow their passions, delving into curiosity, about having fun, about everyone living the life they love.
I talk more about what unschooling is for us here.

But, like, who are these people that do this crazy unschooling biz?

More like, who is NOT unschooling? ha! Oh, like, millions of people. Oh yeah. Okay Whatevs. Look, my point is that the unschooling paradigm is one that floats across all sectors of society. Turn up at an unschooling camp and you will find wealthy ones, feminists, hippies, doctors, families on the bones of their bums, entrepreneurs, lawyers, lefties, farmers.

Diverse experiences and perspectives on unschooling can be found at Radical Selfie and the Mahogony Way and Living Outside the Box 

Unschooling Curriculum is all around you.

It’s scrawled in graffiti on the walls of the city, it sounds like birdsong floating on the breeze, it’s in code in the Minecraft app…

Unschooling families don’t use curriculums but instead are directed by our child’s interest and inspired by the world around us. We see the spark of of curiosity in our child and then open all the doors and say “Peek in here and see if you like it!” Ramona has loved horses for years so over the last few months she has begun taking lessons in natural horsepersonship. We read all the books we can, and if she so wanted could potentially use her love of horses to incorporate history (how have horses been used in the past?), cultural studies (where have horses come from? How are horses valued in different societies?) plus the sciences (let’s check out the inner workings of a horse and watch some vet videos) – this way not only is our kid learning a WHOLE heap of stuff but it all comes from a place of fascination so it is fun and it is sticking and it provides a whole platform for leaping off into other interests.

Also, some days, you just laze around in the sun, learning about being present and falling in love with nature. (Which is worth an equal amount to all that brain stuff, when it comes to a life of happiness.)

Easy like Sunday mornings…. every morning.

My goodness gracious. Here is something I never banked on. Mornings are quite nice! We just hang around in our pyjamas eating breakfast one, two and three, with cups of tea dotted inbetween. Playing games and sitting around and with nothing to go to until 10:30 or until the mood takes us.

For a while last year Ramona went to Kindy and I got a brief chomp at the School Run three times a week. While I was in it I didn’t resent it, it just became the new normal. But since we have moved and we have found other ways of Ramona getting all her extrovert, social party animal needs met, I have realised how much that frantic rush around packing lunches and spare clothes and cramming everyone in the car to get to a certain place before nine o clock, how much it Wore. Me. Down.

Sometimes we go a whole day and we are still in our pyjamas and we have had the absolute best day ever. It is like Sunday Mornings all day every day.

More time with your kids when they are “at their best”

This is entirely anecdotal, but something I notice on Social Media is that unschooling parents generally have a lot of fun with their kids, while nonunschooling (??!) parents write things like “Staring Down The Barrel Of Six Weeks of Summer Holidays” alot.

Now, I don’t think unschooling parents are better people. No way. They loose their shiz too. And have anxiety and get bored and all that. But I do think they know how to enjoy their kids more.

And I think a lot of that is to do with spending a lot of time with their kids and seeing them in all their awesomeness. Whereas a lot of families get an hour of pre-9am stress together and then get their kid spat back at them after a long, arduous day at school when their kid is hungry and tired and fed up with following someone elses rules and has tomorrow’s homework hanging over them. Moreoever there isn’t enough time in the day for the kid to indulge their passions and hobbies so they seem a bit, well, lifeless. No one can enjoy each other’s company under those conditions.

So then summer hols come round and parents think “Ugh. I don’t really wanna hang out with my kid who is grumpier and more boring than me.”

Highly self-motivated and self directed adults

One of the things that first got me onto unschooling was wanting my children to be far less externally motivated than my husband and I! Very early on in our parenting journey I became aware that our kids have these deep down primal urges and that quite a lot of their development came down to giving them chance to follow up those urges.

I don’t really care about success, I just care about happiness and I feel like happiness lies in following your heart. Peter Gray and Gina Riley surveyed adults who were unschooled as children and seventy percent of them said that being unschooled led them to become highly self motivated and self directed adults. This is pretty much the main thing I would like to see in my kids. It is a really interesting piece of research, read it here. 

Unschooling is about support

One of the myths I want to address is that unschooling leaves kids floundering.  I have heard it said that unschooling, because of the value of freedom, is about letting your kids go feral/ get away with anything. I would say nope, nope, not at all. Unschooling IS about freedom, about granting autonomy over life and learning, but is about doing this in a spirit of support and connection.  This point is dear to me because I think one of the best things for our parent child relationship is maintaining our connection. Over on Rethinking Parenting Emma describes this as a partnership paradigm:
“An unschooling parent grows to know their child and has a relationship based on trust and understanding their child’s individual needs and personal preferences.

The relationship between parent and child has been described as like a dance:

“Unschooling is more like a dance between partners who are so perfectly in synch with each other that it is hard to tell who is leading. The partners are sensitive to each others’ little indications, little movements, slight shifts and they respond. Sometimes one leads and sometimes the other”. Pam Sorooshian” “

Unschooled children will be the ones with a deep connection with their parents, the ones who are resilient and emotionally healthy because of this robust attachment.

And, yeah, feral isn’t quite the word but they might be wearing pyjamas at the museum.

Whole Life Unschooling or Radical Unschooling will hunt you down

Radical unschooling or whole life unschooling is often where unschoolers end up. It is the realisation that freedom over learning processes is just the START of things! And that actually we can grant freedom over all those things that we are scared of. We can do this because we are connected and we are in a supportive, creative environment.

It took me a long time to become radicalised in my unschooling. I was so indoctrinated into control style parenting that I hung on tightly to some of those boundaries.

But eventually my desire to uphold child rights in the home, my ambitions to respect my children and my attempts to unschool them (and myself) all ganged up together and beat the control paradigm out of me! And when I pulled myself out of those badlands I discovered I was on my way to being a radical unschooler. (Or just an unschooler. Depending on where you are at.)

Ha. Every day is a learning journey though, every day I try to be better and fail and then discover the next day I am actually a little better at being a mama than the day before. (Read here for a day in the life of a family tackling adultism for a glimpse at that!)

Unschooling made me see that I often acted out of fear. It is unschooling that made me embrace technology, celebrate the things my daughters love and say yes a whole lot more.

*Please note: easing slowly into unschooling is a GREAT IDEA. Wise. Letting go of control, stopping our teaching habits, giving freedom over things you’ve been afraid of, all these things need to be done gradually so we don’t leave our children (and ourselves) in the lurch. If you are currently not unschooling and think you might please read this about gradual change and start by saying yes a little more.*

Unschooling Reading

There are so many resources out there to help us think outside the box about how children learn, and about life with children. I’d love to point you in the direction of some people I have found inspiring….
Rethinking Parenting Fairly new blog with lots of food for thought on unschooling life
Sophie Christophy Another quite new blog covering unschooling in the context of the patriarchy – and other goodness!
Our Muddy Boots– I love this radical, free family life blog.
Sandra Dodd– one of the very first people who ever put into words my instinct for unschooling
Joyfully rejoicing– be challenged and get excited about all the potential!
Unschoolery.com – short snippets of inspo

Unschooling Books I have enjoyed:

Natural Born Learners by Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko – my favourite book. Little essays by unschooly peeps, covering the whole miltary-industrial complex our school system has roots in, to the everyday life of unschoolers.
Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune – a nice little book to download, very practical.
How Children Learn by John Holt (anything by John Holt. He is often deemed the founder of unschooling and he has written a lot of books advocating for children.)
Free to Learn by Peter Gray. TOO GOOD.

Unschooling on Youtube

There is absolutely loads of amazing Unschooling resources on youtube. Use my Unschooling playlist as a spring board – filled with unschooled kids and Professors and inspiration:

Do you unschool? What is one thing you think people need to know? And, if you don’t unschool, do you have a question you’ve wanted answering? I have in mind to do an Unschooling FAQ…

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  • Debra 31 May, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    We are still early on in our unschooling journey (E is 5 and still attending outdoor kindy 2 days a week) but really loving it so far. I love following your blog (I’ve been in the UK for 15 years now but grew up in NZ) and find it very reassuring 🙂 Sometimes I wibble that we’ve taken such a radical step but articles like this remind me why I made this decision.

    • Lucy 31 May, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      Yes!! Unschooling totally not just for radicals but you only really discover that once on you are doing it 🙂 🙂 xx

  • Lisa 31 May, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    I love reading your blog! I just had to tell you that I also get so cross when I see people putting stuff like ‘oh no, it’s the start of 6 long weeks of holidays’ or ‘thank goodness school starts again soon’.

    I absolutely love the holidays. I love everything about it. I love doing stuff with my four or just lazing around at home and not doing stuff. It is my great sorrow that these weeks all together will be coming to an end too soon as my eldest is 16 now!

    I have one question on the unschooling that I’m sure you will be able to answer: what happens when the children reach the age when most sit public exams? How does that work?

    Thanks for your blog. It is always interesting and well written IMHO!

    • Lucy 31 May, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      Ah thanks 🙂 🙂 When it comes to school leaving age unschoolers can either sit exams they have studied for, or head to school for a couple of years before hand to sit them, or opt out of them and use other things to get into higher education (many uni’s will accept an interview and report on projects the unschooler has undertaken. Quite often they’ve done amazing things by age 16/17/18 🙂 🙂 And then of course lots of unschoolers just go off and get jobs doing things they like! X x x

  • James Dunn 31 May, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    My wife just found your blog and sent me the link, it looks like a fantastic resource and something we are both interested in and looking forward to learning more about for when our journey with children starts. So thanks for putting so much effort into this, it makes what might seem as paradigmatic and completely radical ‘shifts’ much less ominous and intimidating! One thing that would be really interesting for me at least would be to hear your thoughts on some of the advantages of ‘traditional’ schooling and how these are reflected as strengths in the (awesomely sounding) unschool’d world, or how unschoolers prevent these things from becoming disadvantages? I’m thinking of things like the comment above in terms of formalised qualifications to get into higher education institutes, of the potential difficulty in socialising your children with a broad variety of others, of them making and then having a broad variety of friends, dealing with the responsibility of becoming an expert in the different things they become interested in, of sometimes having a break yourself. That about exhausts my list of the strengths of ‘traditional’ schooling off the top of my head but I will speak to some teacher-friends and see what they think the advantages are and come back to you. It would be super interesting to flush the debate out and see both sides of the argument (apologies if this has already been done elsewhere, as I said I’m new to all this and this seemed like a great place to start). In return for all the references you’ve provided above I’d like to give one back, you may have already come across him but Ken Robinson has some really interesting ideas, he does a TedX talk which is a great place to start. Thanks again for all the info and resources!

    • Lucy 31 May, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Hi James great to hear from you – people who comment here are generally really on to it and will have some good answers!

      I tend to think that most of the disadvantages can be quite easily rectified. One of the big ones for me is the “mixing with diverse groups” one and we try really hard to get involved with lots of community stuff in order for the girls to have friends beyond those we might naturally gravitate towards. Once you look you discovers lots of community learning opportunities for kids 🙂 and in a way school is the ultimate age stratification! It’s just totally not normal or healthy to spend so much time with only people your age 😛

    • Catherine K 31 May, 2016 at 10:12 pm

      Hi James
      My children have never been to school or had any sort of structured learning at home. My eldest is 13 years old. The biggest advantage of sending your child to school in my opinion is that someone else is responsible for them for around six hours a day.
      Also it is easier to tick the boxes as far as ‘proving’ what the child has learned. Higher educaction isn’t the right option for everyone and for those who do decide to dive into the world of universities they are seen as being very self motivated and so universities want them as students. There are plenty of different pathways depending on what they want to study.
      The thing is they are only young for such a short time why would I want to miss out on spending time with them. Being with my children isn’t a hardship, I love being with them (most of the time). I just make sure I get enough me time.
      Schooling really is the best option for some families, I just love that here in New Zealand school is not the only option open to our family.

    • Anna 1 June, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      Hi James, to answer your questions:

      1)Formal Qualifications – there are many pathways for getting into tertiary education. Some teenagers might choose to sign up for correspondence courses or international examinations, others will take bridging courses or just sign up directly for various courses that don’t have strict entry requirements. Some universities require a special entry application where the student can demonstrate their experience and skills. In New Zealand, you can get into most courses at the age of 20 regardless of qualifications. Some unschoolers choose to go to school for a year to knock off the formal qualification. The few studies that exist about grown up unschoolers show they have a higher than average rate of achieving university qualifications.

      2) Socialising/socialization. Home educated kids usually have opportunities to socialise with a much wider range of people than they would in a classroom, where all the kids are the exact same age and probably mostly the same social class. They are out in the world all the time, talking to librarians, shop assistants, the lady with the dog they met at the park. Most areas have home school associations and support groups, which offer all kinds of playgroups, camps, swimming and other sports, crafts. My kids go to library bookclub, art club, a nature exploration group as well as various playgroups. Today they went to an art class at the museum, followed by social swimming and later they’re going to a community potluck dinner… we are actually too busy! Also, there is not much time at school to actually socialise and play – most of the time, school kids are not even allowed to talk freely to each other. Socialization means something different than socialising – it can be positive or negative, e.g Nazi youth were being socialized into conforming to Nazi values in their youth groups. So you have to ask yourself whether the school experience is really positive – read some John Taylor Gatto if you want the reasons why not.

      3) Parents having to become an expert… that’s not really how unschooling works. You don’t have to learn it first then teach your kids. Ok, you probably WILL become an expert but that is because your child will be telling you a million amazing facts about dinosaurs that they have discovered. You just have to guide them in the right direction to look for information. It’s not an ordeal though, it’s fun. We go to the observatory, go aurora hunting, watch meteor showers, watch youtube clips about black holes for my space-mad 7 year old.

      4) Getting a break for yourself. This is probably the most valid objection. If you don’t have much family and community for support, you may need to put some hard work into creating your own community and this can take time and can feel lonely for a while. But with all the facebook groups and other homeschool networks, it is not that difficult to find other families to share the journey with. In my local group, the parents take turns at organising fun days for the kids to get together and do activities, and we also have a kid-swap arrangement with another family, so we parents each get one day a week to ourselves. It is important to look after yourself and do what’s important to you, plus it’s great role-modelling for the kids to see that their parents are passionate about their own interests.

    • Karen 19 March, 2017 at 8:28 am

      I’ve read quite a few books on the subject of unschooling. This is a recent thing. In fact my family fell into unschooling by accident and because it seemed like a natural thing to do. My daughter, who is now 15, has been unschooled for the last 4-5 years. I encouraged her to write a Kindle eBook about her own experiences of it. She did and has ended up just publishing it on Amazon. In itself it was an educational project that she wanted to accomplish. But on the subject of unschooling, I would say not to worry too much about the end product. When children are enthusiastic and interested they learn all by themselves. They find ways, with parental support, of achieving their goals. After all, children who are keen enough to educate themselves, can find ways to live the lives they want as adults. Those who want to go to university or pursue a particular career path usually find the means to do so. If a child can be trusted with his or her education; they can certainly be trusted to find their way in life afterwards. I think it’s important not to get hung up on ‘socialisation’. Most people are naturally sociable and they find friends and mix all on their own. It’s not something that needs to be taught. My daughter has her own strong views on that subject. The book is called ‘Unschooling: A Teenager’s Experience’ by Maisie La Pine, by the way.

  • Angie 31 May, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    LOVE this! Our life has been turned upside down in the most positive ways thanks to Unschooling! My son is 16 and has opted out (in answer to previous query) He plans to travel, work jobs in areas he is confident in, and cannot possibly imagine why anyone would choose to study a forced subject(s) for a job you hate in adult life and live for your days off! However at any point knows his options and could choose to formally study/test if he was interested or needed to. I myself was a ‘mature’ student 🙂 Follow your passions he believes and a wage will fall into place <3 my favourite way to describe our journey is 'lifestyle design' I feel we carve and adjust our life now rather than be forced into moulds and timetables! Anyway, love love love this post! Much love!

    • Lucy 31 May, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Ah so amazing to hear from you and about your boy. Sounds super cool 🙂

  • SARAH ESAU 31 May, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    I imagine unschooling is the closest label to describe what we do, although the label I’ve always used for us is ‘eclectic’ because we didn’t quite fit neatly into any camp. The ‘radical’ stuff or whole world stuff I am chewing over atm. Interestingly I was chatting to my kids about their learning journey and they are both so aware of their needs as learners, which I think is amazing. My daughter likes me to give her formal maths, like a page of sums and has specifically asked for more structured ‘lessons’ (she is 10) which she would have hated even 6 months ago, whereas my son is 9 and loves active learning and hates structure (although he did ask me to teach him French, but insisted on standing on his head throughout). I have always been child-led, but it is fascinating where that is taking us as they get older. My daughter also goes to lots of ‘learning’ style groups now, but she recently quit one of them because ‘ the teacher only gave verbal instructions and I need to be shown, plus the class is all girls and I need boys energy around me to feel comfortable’. I thought it was so cool how insightful she was about her own needs. I’m sure that’s at least partly because we’ve been so child-led. Oh dear, bit of an epic message…………..

    • Lucy 31 May, 2016 at 8:54 pm

      Yeah I think eclectic and Unschooling can be super similar… The main difference to me would be that in most Unschooling communities there is somewhat of an effort to give freedom over more than just learning… Where as in lots of homeschooling situations a lot more parental control is exerted. (Not saying you do… You sound cool 🙂 🙂 ) what do you reckon?

  • Klara 31 May, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    Unschooling is fascinating and a commitment. Thank you for sharing. We are back in the UK and exploring the ‘flexi-schooling’ with 5 yo (elder part-time at local school, part-time child-led – what do you want to do? go into London to see the changing of the guard! bubbles! stay at home and do lego! drawing pictures of the guards! baking! doing picnics! using magnets! watching birds!) Flexi-schooling can be a compromise where unschooling or home-schooling aren’t financially viable, or the adults otherwise aren’t able to take it on. Have you seen this organization? Founded on the ‘statistic’ that working parents get only get 19 minutes a day with their kids: http://www.nineteenminutes.com/. Food for thought.

    • Lucy 1 June, 2016 at 8:01 am

      Woah! 19 minutes?! So sad. Is Flexi schooling only available in th first year? I can’t remember…

      • Klara 2 June, 2016 at 1:14 am

        No – in theory it is available throughout, but it appears to be at the discretion of the headteacher and easier for them to accept with younger ones, especially summer born. There are some useful facebook groups, linked to here: http://educationalfreedom.org.uk/flexischooling/.

        For many I think flexischooling is a compromise between ‘schooling’ and ‘unschooling’, for many of the reasons set out in response to James’ query in these comments.

  • SARAH ESAU 31 May, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Yes, I’d probably agree with that actually & it’s along the lines of what I’ve been thinking about a lot, it’s always a work in progress this home educating/unschooling thing and I am always open to new ideas:) My current ethos is just to embrace living, and I love that my kids teach me so much about how to do that.

  • ThaliaKR 31 May, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    Wonderful, Lucy! I have been wanting to write up a sort of intro post to unschooling, and now I don’t need to ! Brilliant! Such great links and resources.

    Thanks, love!

    • Lucy 1 June, 2016 at 8:02 am

      You do need to! It would be so different to this and so helpful x

  • Fiona Lynne 1 June, 2016 at 12:16 am

    Hi, great post! My daughter is not yet two, so we’re early in thinking about schooling options. But I wanted to ask, do you see anyone doing unschooling in a way that is compatible with one full-time job parent and one part-time? For financial reasons, and because I miss working outside the home, I will go back to a job in a few years. Is that then the end of the alternative schooling options?! It seems a shame if something as great as unschooling is the privilege of those who can afford it.

    • Tanya Grayston-James 1 June, 2016 at 12:30 am

      Yep, that’s our problem too. Money is the key obstacle to unschooling for us; my husband and I both have to work keep the roof and food so having our kids at home is very simply not an option.

      • Lucy 1 June, 2016 at 8:11 am

        I think there are some creative solutions to this out there…. I think I need to find them and gather them here! 🙂

        • Anna 1 June, 2016 at 2:10 pm

          We are unschooling two kids on one nurse’s salary. The main reason we can do it is because we chose to buy a house in a cheap suburb of a cheap city, so we don’t have much of a mortgage. We don’t have to pay extra for a house just to be in a “good” school zone 🙂 We have planted our 1/4 acre section with fruit trees and vegetables and we have chickens too, in the hope that in future, if we cut our food bill, we can live on one part-time salary and have more time for holidays together.

          In NZ, we get approximately $600-$800 per child (less for each subsequent child) homeschoolers’ allowance from the Ministry of Ed, which we use to cover things like art supplies, swimming pool passes, a few extras like field trips to plays and concerts. Apart from loss of income, the cost of unschooling is almost nothing because there are so many free activities and resources on offer – library clubs, museum workshops, kids’ clubs through environmental agencies.

    • Lucy 1 June, 2016 at 8:10 am

      Looking around at the families I know I would say most have one person full time and one at home, or two parents working half time (that is us) or a mixture… And yep, quite a few of these families are on the poor side. One family I know has a full time worker and a part time worker, but that part time work is able to be done at home so while the kids work on a project or in the evenings. (That would obviously be ideal if someone could do some work at home I guess hey?)
      We are also working on an Unschooling collective so that parents can get time by themselves to work each week…
      I do think you right, it is a shame something so good is only available to those who can afford it… But to that I would also say that people have varying levels of “being able to afford” … I mean I know a lot of people who have chosen to live in buses/ cabins/ without holidays or new clothes or lots of stuff considered “normal” in order to provide this sort of life for their kids. And they are happy and their lives are beautiful 🙂 It is really sad that we don’t have more support for alternative schooling, particularly thinking about how solo parents can make it work, financially… I know they DO but it would be interesting to hear how.

    • Philip James 1 June, 2016 at 4:27 pm

      In regard to full time employment and being able to unschool after researching the benefits (I used to be all for main stream school but have been converted lol) we realised how unschooling can create advantages for our children so we not only made changes with our schooling but took opportunity to re-evaluate our lives as parents and saw the possibility of an adventure unfolding. I worked in an office full time and my wife was doing part time work before we decided to hit the road fulltime in a bus (www.thebus.nz). I am not suggesting you need to move into a bus to be able to unschool but it did create an opportunity for us as parents to pursue some of our dreams. I had to start thinking outside the box to create an income for my family and retrained myself to see opportunity to earn a living outside of the office, good old 9-5 mentality. Maybe you could look at work in a new way where you can create a job that gets you out of the house but provides the freedom of choice at the same time. I now develop and host websites which is something we are able to do on the move. I think we almost need to see unschooling as something much bigger than our kids learning ability and realise it is much more than this as we have found it has connected us more as a family and my kids often remind me how nice it is that I don’t have to disappear every day to work. I don’t know if this helps but I would look at it as an opportunity to create a life that encourages a family to grow together and see a much bigger picture. As we have travelled we have found that the whole financial thing is always an issue. I think we just need to almost be re-educated ourselves as parents on how to do unworking lol. I am now looking at expanding what I do to helping others find ways to reach those dreams and understanding the process to get there including finding ways to pay the bills while pursuing life. Philip – lifeinjandals.nz

    • Angela 1 June, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      From my experience, almost anything is possible, but I do see that unschooling and home schooling is not a true “choice” for all families. There is an element of privilege that can make things easier, financial, land/space, family / partner support, creative problem solving, higher education, skill building for parents, or access to community and so on. There is a tangible difference between choosing to downsize, undergo hardship (lower salary while studying.. etc) where you know there is an end date, or that it is short term, you are saving for something…. and genuine, on-going stress and challenge to stay afloat.

      Our family journey has been up and down, varied and at times felt financially very tenuous. I think it’s part of the unsustainable economic climate, escalating living / housing costs etc. and part of creating a different way of life to the mainstream which requires effort and determination. We have had some very stressful times, just to keep our heads above water. Partly, such hardships were choices, like my partner doing 5 years full time study, part salary, while I have worked on and off since we started a family (8 years ago) others were massive rent increases, and health problems. We have had some great times too, we enjoy low cost pleasures such as going to the beach, working on things at home…we are very thrifty, love second hand (most of the time..) and are skilled and with planning manage to make all most all our food from scratch. So life is pretty good, some things, I wouldn’t do again or want to go through again though, that is life in many ways!

      It’s a challenge as I love my work too, and we are working to more of a balance in share of the income earning and child support, we have had to make sacrifices, like my having a tooth extracted rather than a root canal, because we simply didn’t have a means to pay. We have had good family support when we needed it with some basic things, like help buying a car when our old one completely broke down, if we didn’t have that, we’d be stuck, really stuck.

      We are very fortunate to have family to support us moving to a more affordable city, and better rental situation, if we didn’t have that, or if I was a mum on my own, or we had serious health problems, things may be different.

      I say this, because to claim that it’s not a privilege choice, and that all one needs to ‘lean in’ (work harder, get a better job, save better, downsize – in Auckland – perhaps a garage?) is like saying that people who experience sexism or racial discrimination just need to work hard or smarter. The class system is alive and well here in Aotearoa.

  • Rebecca Cooper 1 June, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Hi all! Just to address the idea that unschooling is only an option for the wealthy/privileged, I’ll share a bit about myself. My son is only 4 but we’ve embraced the principles of respect, autonomy, and enthusiastically following his insatiable curiosity & desire to learn from the start. He won’t be going to school (unless he chooses to) and although he’s not CSA (compulsory school age), I do consider us unschoolers.
    Do I consider myself privileged? Yes, every day! I’m also a (very recently) self-employed and (fairly recently) single mum. We’re currently living in a small flat after becoming homeless last year. So, a recently homeless, self employed, single mum – am I able to unschool because of financial privilege? No. I’ve chosen to create a life that works with unschooling because I believe it’s the best thing I can do for my son. There are always choices to be made: could you run 1 car instead of 2, or live without a car altogether? Could you move to a smaller/cheaper property? Could you shop at Aldi instead of Waitrose? Could you change your whole lifestyle and standard of living? And if by doing those things you were able to unschool your kids, would you?

  • Trudy Kessels 1 June, 2016 at 9:22 am

    We have had so many manifestations of “keeping a roof over our heads” – like the rest of our unschooling life, it has been fluid and organic and in response to the needs presenting them at the time. My husband works away from home for long stretches of time (6-12weeks) on his dream job, but for a while he took a not-his-dream-job which was 9-5 locally with a huge reduction in pay, just so that he could be here while we were adjusting to life as a family of four. Then, when he was totally miserable with that, and we were sick of scraping together money to put petrol in the car, he went back to his dream job and we re-adjusted to life sans-Papa for chunks of time. When my youngest was about 2yo and I got my brain back, I started going back to work (I am self-employed) and we found the most tremendous home-help person to come and look after the children while I did it. I think this is a huge misconception – that unschooling families Must Not Have Child Care Help. It took us about 9months between the home-help starting and me actually leaving to go to work – so that the kids and the home-help were comfortable with each other. Since then I’ve shut down that work, and had 9 months off while we did a lot of de-schooling, and then my husband decided he wanted to do less tours this year, so I got back in the job-hunting game and eventually found three jobs that I can space out throughout the week, which “keeps the roof over our heads”.
    We have a tremendously falling apart car, a house that needs a lot of work (rotten windows, anyone?) and second-hand clothes. We also have fabulous family holidays, never have to worry about holiday days, and a whole lot of fun at home with lego.
    Part of my decision to embrace unschooling, was a decision to embrace a way of thinking that questioned how things were done, and earning/spending/prioritising money is one of the ways that is constantly up for consideration with me.
    Most of the people I know who are unschooling are struggling financially. Choosing to struggle financially, so that their children get to live this life. I look around at our group of unschoolers and I really think we are living proof that unschooling is not elitist.
    But this question about whether unschooling is something for a privileged few – I don’t know about that. I do think we’re all (unschoolers) blessed with the ability to question – maybe there is some “privilege” in that. In not accepting the status quo… in having the audacity to do something different. I don’t know the answer to that question. I walk my whole life in privilege, so I’ll leave that to someone else to delve into.

  • Jacky Broughton 1 June, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Hi, we certainly don’t count ourselves as financially privileged, but have made certain choices that enable us to unschool. We sold our bigger house and downsized to a much smaller mortgage and much smaller house, we also have two old cars and often buy second hand clothes or furniture. We have an old caravan for family holidays and we don’t spend a lot of money on entertainment or material items i.e. going out for meals or activities you have to pay for. We like fishing, walking and spending time at the beach, and these are all things that you can do for free. My husband works full time in a low paid job (just above minimum wage) and I work one morning a week providing in- home childcare (I would do more, but we live in a rural area so there isn’t much demand for it). So far I haven’t met any unschoolers that are wealthy and they all seem to have made similar lifestyle choices to ourselves and live very frugally. It is definitely something that anyone can do if they chose to, but most will need to make some big changes in their lifestyle. For us it is all worth it.

  • Mel 1 June, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Where in the process of heading towards un schooling, it hasnt be hard its actually falling into place all on its own.
    5 kids full time 2 more every second weekend
    Stage one :down graded from an 8 bedroom house to an 8 berth caravan.
    Stage 2 : make friends where ever we are talk to everyone we can
    Stage 3 :prepare to un school simpy cut the the power and wait for the moaning to stop
    Kids have to be sooo bored they get un bored by assuming them selves
    Stage 4 file the papers ( this is where we are )
    We are yet to still work out how we will run the business and work but im
    Sure this will fall into place being in the caravan on site means we can take turns working , less needs for $$$ means less work
    A budget that works
    And the old saying
    ” Its not what you know its who you know”

  • Fiona Lynne 1 June, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    Thanks everyone for the comments addressing the work/finance/privilege side of this conversation! It’s given me lots to think about, and just good to see that unschooling is a pretty broad spectrum…

  • Madeleine 3 June, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Such an interesting topic. My son will turn four in two weeks and I am about to make the big transistion for us to unschool. For us it is a big deal as it is illegal in my country not to send your kid to school and it is considering a big social tabu to even talk about the school problems and the bullying and so. So I have to get debt free, find an other country me and my son and dog can live in and also in some way gradually get the unschooling process on the way. I have this idea of buying a cheap house in my country, rent it out during the months we are not here (has to be 6 months of a year to avoid that I need to send my kid to school) and then travel alot the rest of the time.

  • Peyton 3 June, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    I love this idea and I’m a primary school teacher! Unfortunately I need to work for financial reasons but at least in part time (for now).
    It would be awesome to teach a small group of kids that I could follow this concept with. Don’t know how the logistics of that would work though!

  • Becky 6 June, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    ah lovely lucy as always you have made me think

  • Esther Nagle 21 August, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Hi, I love this, thanks for for writing this. My ex and I have just agreed to take our son out of school, where he has been for the last 3 years, and unschool him. I am still trying to get my head round exactly what unschooling means…it totally speaks to me as a way of approaching life, but I still find myself thinking ‘oh, I must teach him’ and worrying how I can ‘prove’ it is working to my more cynical family members. Thank you so much for this article, it has been a joy to read, and I am now heading over to the gradual change article, I think that may be good for me!

  • Jo 15 November, 2016 at 12:54 am

    Loved reading this! So helpful and so non-judgey of people on different stages of this journey. We’ve been out of the school system for one year now and are unschooling kinda by default cause I got pregnant and sick with bub no.4 and unschooling seemed a much more manageable option than attempting to follow some curriculum that my kids may or may not be interested in. Up until last year I’ve been a teacher for 10 years so letting go of the controlling aspects of my teachery personality has been (and still is) a big journey! But watching my kids happy and playing and learning without my attempts to manipulate the situation has been encouraging! My biggest concern is with maths and reading. I can see reading happening slowly so I’m getting there with my trust of the process but maths I’m finding more of a challenge to trust that skills will come when they should. But it’s early days so I’m sure I’ll see interest soon!

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