Intro to Unschooling


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Ever since I read Peter Gray’s Free to Learn last winter, my views on education have shifted. A lot. Gray presented an intellectually persuasive argument on how children educate themselves (which happens to be the name of his Psychology Today blog series on the same topic) that also resonates with me intuitively. I think anyone who has raised a child through infancy can recognize that they are truly and wonderfully designed to learn and soak up knowledge and new experiences. Even with having one child who has had a significant language delay, I see the way he has continually adapted to his personal challenges so that he can continue to learn and grow at his own natural pace.

I’ve continued to work on building a Sudbury school in my state, but the task is daunting. It keeps coming down to money. Not only the fact that we (the founders) don’t have any to spend on this venture, but also the fact that tuition will be prohibitive (even though competitive with other private schools) for many families. Too many.

So even though we have Miles enrolled in a traditional private play-based preschool for the fall, I have continued to explore alternatives and I have found myself ever more drawn to unschooling. And I have to chuckle at myself, because when I first heard of unschooling a few years ago, I thought it was THE dumbest thing I had ever heard of in my life. How could children possibly be prepared for adult life by sitting around the house with their parents doing nothing all day? But that was back when Miles was a little baby, or maybe even still a fetus, I can’t recall. I had yet to begin to raise a child, and I still subscribed to the “empty vessel” concept of childhood, in which kids are basically empty of knowledge, malleable, impressionable little lumps of clay that we have to teach, shape, and fill with facts to make functional. That’s not how I see them anymore.

Even though we’re still planning to send Miles to preschool, we have moved into a lifestyle that’s more aligned with unschooling, at least when it comes to parenting. What I have been calling Trustful Parenting here on my blog is more or less what some other families call Radical Unschooling or Whole Life Unschooling or Partnership Parenting. It is similar to the “Playful Parenting” that Peter Gray describes in his PT blog about Hunter Gatherer parenting. Not limiting screen time, not controlling meals, not enforcing a bedtime… all of these things are about getting away from controlling behavior through reward-and-punishment systems and moving toward guidance, partnership, and mutual respect. It’s not easy (in part because it requires a LOT of personal growth!), but in so many ways it’s made our lives better.

I don’t know what we’re going to do about school in the future, but the future hasn’t happened yet (one thing I’m trying to get away from is letting anxiety be my guide!). But I continue to read, learn, and think about this.

If you have any interest in unschooling, or maybe are just curious about how crazy I am (ha), here are a few nice places to start (other than all the Peter Gray links embedded in the post above).

Radical Unschooling Is Not Permissive Parenting¬†by Dayna Martin. The Martins are probably the best known unschooling family in the US (admittedly that’s a niche market!); this is a good overview of the difference between RU and what’s commonly known as permissive parenting.

Trust the Intensity by Dayna Martin.¬†Slightly off topic but I really love Dayna’s post about her daughter Tiff, who sounds similar to Miles. Avoiding fear-based parenting is especially challenging with kids who are emotionally intense.

I’m Unschooled: Everyone Knows How to Learn by Idzie Desmarais. Idzie is a woman in her 20s who was homeschooled/unschooled all her life and writes a smart, savvy blog about education and unschooling. This post nicely lays out why kids don’t have to “learn how to learn.”

The Ultimate Unschooling Socialization Post by Idzie Desmarais. Just what it says on the tin – a comprehensive essay addressing all of the usual concerns about socialization for homeschooled and unschooled children. Idzie knows her stuff.


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