Thinking about Unschooling my son
November 23, 2021 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Where you unschooled, are you unschooling any of your kids, did you look into and not do it? I'm interested in how it went and what you thought of it.

I've got a son who is academically very capable, but doesn't fit into a standard schooling model. He is a junior in high-school. He is a self motivated learner and writer. He would like to go to college for an english degree and become a writer.

There is a new unschooling center in my town. They would help us run the home schooling paper work and then help him with his interests, keeping a log of his studies and activities, build a portfolio, find mentors in subjects he wants to study, etc. The person who runs it is skilled in helping this turn into applying and getting in to a four year college.

So far it looks like it could be a good fit for my son.

Were you unschooled, are you unschooling any of your kids, or did you look into and not do it?

I'm interested in how it went and what you thought of it. Also interested in anything we should be thinking about before we go ahead and give it a try.
posted by creiszhanson to Education (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your son is definitely old enough to participate in this decision with you, and so, for me, it would not be difficult to decide to let him do that if he wanted.

My younger three children were all unschooled. My youngest who is now 14, attended school until second grade when he found it too structured. He is a real self starter, independent from a very young age, and is the kind of unschooled kid that you hear about as super success stories. He trains dogs, and has since he was four years old, he started his own business walking dogs and dog sitting when he was nine years old I think. When he has wanted to get puppies, he has earned the money for them, including $600 when he was 11 years old. He is now planning to start distance-learning at Clonlara, which is a long established distance-learning program based in Ann Arbor. He is a diver, after a long and successful gymnastics career, and he wants to be NCAA eligible and so he is competing this year with the local high school diving team, and planning to get a credentialed high school diploma from somebody other than me to facilitate recruitment.

My 17-year-old isn’t as much of a self-starter, and he has had a lot of anxiety about his future. He’s aware that his friends know a lot of things he doesn’t know, like how to solve simultaneous equations in algebra. And he feels that as a deficiency sometimes. Part of the unschooling philosophy is that young people are capable of learning what they need to know when they need to know it, so, for instants, theoretically, my 17 year old, in finding that he felt self-conscious about not knowing math, would figure out a way to learn some math. This is what my 14-year-old has done, recently taking up the study of algebra via YouTube videos. But my 17-year-old doesn’t have that capacity, and that’s been really hard for him. Right now though he is in a place where he feels like if he’d gone to school there would’ve been advantages and disadvantages to that, and I assure him that we’ll help him with any goals he has. He is very smart in certain ways, a little challenged in executive functioning, maybe. He finds solving physical challenges difficult, like opening a package that isn’t obviously easy to open. One thing I feel like we might have missed out on by not having him in school, is that there might have been therapies available for him earlier, maybe occupational therapy or some thing, that we didn’t take advantage of because we expected that he would sort of mature out of some of that. But he’s at an age now where he and I are able to talk together about what his challenges are and what his goals are and what it is that he wants to do, and what are some ways that he can get there.

My 20-year-old would not want me to talk about her.

One of our kids did go for a year to an unschooling center someone was trying to get started about an hour from our home. Sadly, it didn’t attract enough participants to keep going, because I really liked it and so did my kid. My kid described it as feeling not like someone was there to like transfer knowledge from their brain to your brain, but that they were a community of explorers, and that was really true. I envy you having access to that for your son, if that’s what he wants.

One of my goals when I decided to homeschool my kids and then when we went more fully into ounschooling, was a desire not to waste my children’s time. For two of my kids who have things they were passionate about from a young age, there really was just this sense that they were too busy to go to school, that they had too much going on. For my 17-year-old, who doesn’t have a singular passion, it’s been rougher, but he’s doing fine. He has a group of close friends that he is on line with every day and goes out with most weekends now that we are coming out of the pandemic a bit. He feels anxious about his future, but I don’t really. I know that 17 is very young and he has a lot of time to figure out what he wants to do, and to explore what he wants to do. Two of his friends are taking classes right now at the local community college, and that’s some thing he might do in the future, to explore things.

It was a hard time for me when two of my kids were kind of angry at me about unschooling them. They were really conscious of what school kids knew that they didn’t, and they didn’t have the perspective to see that there were lots of things they know that school kids don’t. Or that even a very well educated person still has things they don’t know how to do. That school doesn’t teach you everything. But as they’ve matured, they are able to think about their experiences, and reflect on what they think worked well for them, and what they didn’t work as well for them, and they’re also seeing that of course there’s still a lot to be learned and there are ways to learn it. I told one of my kids my 17 year old about Tara Westover‘s book, Educated, and about how completely isolated her upbringing was, and yet she found a way to learn what she needed to learn and do what she needed to do when she was ready to leave her family. I told him, if someone like her can overcome those kinds of deficits in her upbringing and education, then surely he can fill in gaps as he discovers them.

My keyboard is broken, so I am voice dictating this on my phone and I’m sure there are lots of errors in it, and it’s also very difficult to scroll back and edit it. So please forgive me if anything isn’t perfectly comprehensible. I will say again though, if you’re talking about letting a teenager stop attending school, If that’s what he wants, I think that’s an easy decision to make in favor of taking him out of school. You might want to read up a little bit on the concept of deschooling, which just means giving young people who have left school time and space to adjust to the freedom that they have, to not immediately impose new structures and rules on them, and maybe even to let them languish for a while, doing nothing but watching Netflix or playing video games or making paper dolls or whatever it is that they do for downtime. A kid coming out of school especially if it’s been stressful, may need a rest, quite a long rest, before they’re ready to do things that require a higher drive again. If this is true for your son, be confident that, barring impediments like depression or anxiety, which some of my kids deal with, he will get hungry for intellectual stimulation, or to pursue things creatively. It may take longer than you expect. When I was hanging out on a lot of on unschooling list serves back in the day, people would talk about it taking about month for every year a kid had been in school,

Good luck. Your kid sounds awesome. So to you. Feel free to email me if you want to talk more, I can talk about this all day. And I’ll swing around and clarify things once I get my keyboard working, in case I’ve just take a bunch of gibberish here .

I was able to clean this up a bit using metal filters edit feature, But it took so long the editing window closed. I’m going to repost this and ask mods to delete my first comment.
posted by Orlop at 1:25 PM on November 23 [9 favorites]


That would be me us. We did it both ways: both parents and first born had a wide experience of schools in four different countries: free schools, fee schools; uniforms, civvies; small, large; trad, rad. We read a lot of books about unschooling in the 70s/80s: AS Neill, John Holt, Postman and Weingartner. After a long gap we had two more kids close together and bought a farmlet in the boondocks at about the same time. What happened over the next ~20 years was nothing like school. The kids taught themselves how to read at ~6 years and then read whatever they wanted /needed. If they wanted eggs to make a cake they had to go find some. We tried off-site swimming, music, ballet, drama and some of that stuck. The early years were internet- and TV-free, but we struck a deal with Dorling Kindersley Books/CDs. Much of the "education" happened at the kitchen table: practical math: cutting a 3-tin 2 egg cake recipe down to 2-tins; and talking round the houses over dinner. And more discussions and audio-books in the car on the way to artsie classes.

The experiment is "over" as they both left home ready to take on the world just before turning 18: the one covered in flour aged 7¾ is now working in the catering trade in one city; the read-all reader now works for the library service in a bigger city. In this country home-ed is not the exclusive domain of the religious right; so we met a diverse and interesting collection of families who were in the same process: maybe ⅓ bullied or failed to thrive in school; ⅓ like us from leftie principles / philosophical choice; ⅓ wannabe schoolmarms / zealots.
As Orlop says, the bug-out-of-school kids often needed space for days or weeks to adjust to the lack of school-bells and structure.

I'm a bit of a zealot myself for letting kids become their true selves and part of our program was to present opportunities and options for those two quite different [small] people. It was fun, at times hilarious, in spite of periodic bouts of 0300hrs anxiety about whether we'd failed as parents to make the best choices / decisions. A surprising number of 'normal' people took our narrative to be a criticism of their choices about schools, schooling, exams, curriculums and freedom. Enough already! I wrote a number of articles about [our] home ed for a quarterly newsletter for our [dis]organisation: MeMail if you want a copy.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:15 PM on November 23 [5 favorites]


We homeschooled K-12 with it being very unschooly in the junior/high school years. It's going to vary by kid, sometimes even in the same family. Both my kids thrived in the unstructuredness of unschooling. Other kids will hate it because they like/need the structure of schedules and assignments. If your kid is keen to try, go for it. You won't do any permanent damage if it's not working in a few months. One thing to check out is the path back to public school if it doesn't work out. I believe it's generally much more open today than it was when I cared 10+ years ago, but some jurisdictions have issues with homeschoolers wanting to rejoin the system mid-school year.
posted by COD at 2:18 PM on November 23


I sorta did this early by accident and definition of unchool. I did day-care through preschool at a church (mom was a church hen, dad an engineer) then plopped into first grade a year early with my friends. Doesn't really count that early I guess. Then second and third grade was at a different church where they had all of elementary grade kids in one big room in front of cubby-holes/desks around the walls and in the center was the cabinets full of home-schooling sorts of workbooks. Go your own pace, check your own quizzes (god is watching), so that counts as the really really unstructured-ish. Fourth grade was back at the old church and boring. Then it was public school and when tested they wanted me to skip fifth grade even though I was already a year too young for my grade. Mother wouldn't let me (witch). The rest of school was boring, all 8 years of it.

If you can, and they want to, let 'em. I also come from an area of the country where a lot of kids drop out at 16 or so to take up vocational work... like construction or cosmetology or welding or auto-mechanics or welding, etc. I don't see why writing would be any different a final desire.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:37 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


I've had to unschool my kid for health reasons, and so she's been attending a Sudbury school.

Mentally, it's been great for her, but because she is an extremely private person, it has been really hard on me and her dad because she refuses to tell us much of anything she does. So we have a hard time knowing how to support her. There have been fights and hurt feelings. And because unschooling means no grades or tests, the school itself cannot really give us any insight.

Honestly I have been tempted to put her in a more conventional setup many times, but there really haven't been better options.

It's hard to know if we are doing right by her. I know she is smart, because I have had her astonish me with things she has taught herself about a extremely random set of topics.

But I have no idea of what she really knows and whether she could get into a college if she wants to. She's 16 so there is time. I think.

But then, the paths to success I took mostly seem to lead to debt for kids now. What kind of education would be useful? I have no clue.
posted by emjaybee at 3:33 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


We are unschooling, though our kids are much younger than yours. I had to be convinced to go this route and Unschooling to University was a great resource to me (book, website, Facebook group). What you describe is exactly the sort of collective we will be joining when our kids are middle/high school age.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:06 PM on November 23


I was more or less unschooled, in hindsight. It was a mixed experience for me- I grew up in a large, multigenerational household, so I had lots of enrichment and social opportunities at home, but home was rural, so I had little contact with the outside world beyond church and the library. I ended up getting frustrated with the situation when I was 13, and enrolled in the local middle school. After that particular hell, I went to community college and then to two different universities, ending up with a PhD by the time I was 25. Now I have a fairly successful career in tech. I wouldn't trade my experience with anyone, but I also think luck, along with my particular disposition and upbringing has just as much to do with my path as anything, so I can't really recommend one way or another.
posted by Maxwell's demon at 8:58 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


This is an awesome choice. (We did it with one of our kids.) You should know, also, that your kid can enroll in community college classes at his age in whatever interests him.
posted by RedEmma at 1:07 PM on November 24


Regarding community college, they are a fantastic resource in general, and for this particular thing. However, I had quite a bit of trouble staying enrolled. When I first enrolled when I was 14, there was no rule against it, so I was allowed to start taking classes. After about a year, some new rules were found, and the administration said I needed to either be also enrolled in high school, or have my GED to stay enrolled in community college. I was too young to be allowed to take the GED, and ain't no way I was going to high school at that point. Eventually, an exception was made somehow, and I was allowed to take the GED, and carry on with my life.

I'm sure things have changed from rural Florida in the early 90s, but it is good to check.
posted by Maxwell's demon at 5:30 PM on November 24


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