Unschooling and Self-Directed Education: How children learn without school and homeschool

Welcome to the exciting world of learning called “Unschooling.” Many people also call it “Self-Directed Education.”

Based on the book, Unschooling To University, this video encapsulates how children’s brains develop, how children learn without teaching, and why self-directed education is the most motivating and individualized education possible.

Presented by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM, certified in brain and child development, and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices.  Judy is the bestselling author of 5 print books and has unschooled 5 adult children. 3 children have graduated university, 1 is presently attending and 1 is a Masters student.

The book, Unschooling To University, is now available at bookstores everywhere including Chapters, Indigo, and Barnes and Noble. If your local bookstore or library doesn’t carry it, just ask for it.

ISBN Print 97809780509-93

ISBN E-Book 97817751786-06

Order on Amazon.com

Order on Amazon.ca

This book explores the journey of the Team of Thirty, a group of young individuals (and are either friends of ours or children of friends) who unschooled anywhere from 3 to 12 years each and were accepted or graduated at university, colleges, and technical schools.  10 went into STEM fields (4 into engineering), 10 into humanities and 10 into the arts. 22 have already graduated. 2 have gone on to Masters degrees. Learn more about what unschooling is, why it is beneficial (61 benefits of unschooling), how to unschool and how unschooling fits with brain and child development stages. This 384 page book outlines everything one needs to know about unschooling and self-directed education worldwide.


Did you know there is a world-wide facebook group for Unschooling STEM?

Join Unschooling STEM


Second Print Run Celebration

It’s our second print run!  To celebrate this momentous occasion, we are offering a great deal!  Send $30 e-transfer to jarnall@shaw.ca (no password needed) and you will receive a copy of Unschooling To University and a bonus copy of Parenting With Patience, both signed by the author! And free shipping in North America! Please don’t forget to send us your address!


Many unschoolers/self-directed learners often get asked the second most common question in home education, (after the one about socialization) which is “What about university?  Aren’t you messing up your child’s chances of eligibility?” This blog’s sole purpose is to assure you that unschooled children can go to college, universities, trade schools or the post-secondary school of their choice, if they choose to go. And many do go on to STEM careers. When the time is right for them, they will often choose self-directed education to help themselves earn the requirements for admission acceptance.

Most parents can teach their children without curriculum until a grade 8 level.  They just need to regain their parenting confidence after 150 years of schooling giving society the message that only teachers teach. Parents are the first teachers and self-learners are the best teachers.  If parents don’t want to teach, they can let go and watch their children soar with curiosity, learning, problem-solving, and critical thinking at all ages.

Believe me, my “math skills” end at grade 8 and I had 3 kids get accepted into STEM programs at university.  Parents do not need high school subject matter expertise.  They just need to be present when their child needs them, and help the child find the resources if asked.  Parents help the child self-direct their education by facilitating what they need, not teaching the program. Most unschooled children reach an age that they wish to learn more and seek out tutors, online courses or simply teach themselves from the internet, Kahn Academy, and their jurisdiction’s textbooks.  Whether they learn the entire high school program, or just the final year courses to prove previously acquired learning, or even challenge the leaving or entrance (SAT) exams, children that are motivated are serious, focused learners and nothing will stop them.

As Dr. Peter Gray outlines in his 2013 study of 75 grown homeschoolers, those children with the least number of formal schooling years (either in a classroom or homeschooled), were more likely to go on to post-secondary learning.  That has been our experience in the homeschooling community as well.  The more time children had for play and self-directed learning, the more likely they were to continue learning and became motivated for greater stimulation outside the family. They were eager to self-teach high school content and were excited to go into post-secondary learning, at a time when many of their school friends were burned out from 16 years (12 grades and 4 years preschool) of institutionalized education.

The other myth is that unschoolers tend to choose more arts and humanities fields when applying to post-secondary institutions.  STEM options are also available to unschoolers. Many unschoolers find that the years of experiential learning from play, projects and travel help round out a solid background of understanding that numbers and formulas can build on when the child reaches their teens and acquires their abstract thinking skills from the development of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. They have real world applications for problem-solving with math and science tools. As they entered their teen years, they were more curious to learn about STEM from textbooks and online videos.

We know that not everyone aspires to go to post-secondary schools, and that is fine.  Many unschooled children start businesses, do research, learn trades, and master the arts as adults.  Most unschooled children are very successful because they are happy.  They are doing what they love to do.

Some families want their unschooled children to have a university education. We aim to help them navigate the transition from unschooling during the “school-age” years to a more formal learning environment during the late teen and early adult years.

Many of these insights come from our family of 5 children, in which we unschooled (self-directed education) the children anywhere from 8 to 12 years that they would have been in school. We had many family friends that also unschooled and I tell their experiences (The Team of Thirty) in the Unschooling To University book.  10 of the 30 children profiled, attended university in STEM careers. Some went the high school (and self-designed) diploma route and some did not.

We are not outliers.  The gates to education are still there but the walls are coming down. We now know that anyone can study anything, anywhere, anytime, and any way. School is only one method of many in obtaining an education. We hope you enjoy our experiences, thoughts and insights to help you make informed education choices. We also welcome your questions. Yes, unschooled children can go on to post-secondary education and they are excellent learners, free thinkers, employed and enjoy life.  We need thought leaders and world problem-solvers, but more than that, we need happy, contented, educated citizens of the world .

Many of these blogs posts are excerpts from the book but many posts are new insights from unschooling 5 productive and educated adults.  Welcome to this blog and inside our home-life!


#unschooling        #homeschooling      #unschoolingSTEM         #unschoolingtouniversity

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Home Educated Kids are Not Sheltered

Are homeschooled kids sheltered? No. Not at all. It is a question I hear all the time and it makes me roll my eyeballs. It is impossible to keep a child away from society their whole childhood. Kids are naturally curious and will seek out information, any way they can, made much more handy by the internet. Especially as teenagers, children want to learn about their world, and especially what is not in their world, and will actively obtain resources, information and education.

When children have to go to a specific school building six hours a day, five days a week for twelve years of their life, that describes the condition of being sheltered. They are not allowed to travel but must learn about other countries from books and videos. They are not allowed to go on field trips (other than 1 per year) to learn about industries, science and society, but instead, must learn from “classroom resources.” That is the condition of being “sheltered.” And children find it hard to interact with other children in school because they are age-graded and surrounded by the same classmates for the whole year. That also is being “sheltered.” Home education frees children from those artificial constraints.

Homeschooling is a word that describes an education outside of a coercive institution and an age-graded system. “Homeschooling” is not school and it is often not at home. It should be called Community-Schooling because that is what best describes an education with no boundaries of classroom walls, subject periods, age-graded classmates, and spoon-fed coercive instruction. Home educated kids are out and about in the community every day when they are not world-schooling. Even better, lets take that “schooling” word out of it – because this type of education has very little resemblance of school.

Home Education doesn’t have walls, peer-group learning, or even subjects. There are no uniforms, mandatory curriculum, bells, recess, detentions, bullying, exams and stress. There are 195 countries in this world. Instead of the government choosing which ones your child will study, you and your child get to choose.

Perhaps the best term to define learning outside of school is Community-Education because children are exposed to a more diverse array of people than their classroom buddies. They meet, talk with, and interact with people of all ages, genders, religion, race, and cultures. They have friends that are diverse, included and learn together equitably. This type of learning is much more like university than school is. The common unifying factor is interest in learning. There is nothing sheltered about that!

This Fall, consider Community-Education for your child. Personalized, meaningful, relationship-focused learning. Pure and simple.

Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Children Will Learn Calculus When They Really Need It

“How will they learn the things they need to learn like Calculus?,” was a question posed to me the other day when I was explaining unschooling to a person at a BBQ. It was a good question, because we have a child who at the age of twenty, actually needed a mandatory high school Calculus course to pursue the university STEM program that he was interested in. He was the second child in our family of five that needed the course.

Our child applied for a university program on March 1, and discovered this need in late February when he examined the program entrance requirements. It was a month too late to register for an online course as they all started Feb 1. We looked at our state requirements for the school course and purchased a textbook. Actually, two textbooks. One for our son to self-study and one for a tutor in case we needed it. Then the child went to work and everyday worked through the Calculus course as well as the Grade 12 teacher-taught math 30-1 course he needed to finish. He worked on math for three hours every day. He finished both courses in time for June marks, and wrote the final exams on which he did very well.

In the meantime, his parents were off traveling to other countries. My partner is good at math and offered help whenever he could, but math teaching is so different from the way he learned forty years ago, so he took that second textbook and would study up alongside our child in order to tutor and explain what he knew. Over Zoom and Discord, Father and son would each take the same problem, work on it, and compare answers, over two oceans – the pacific and the Atlantic, while we traveled to five different countries in five months and the child was at home.

Being unschooled his whole life was never a problem. The child was motivated. Taking the course was his idea and he knew he needed it for possible university admission. His first teacher-taught math class was grade 8 and then he took grade 10, 11 and grade 12 math courses, either self-taught, or online or through a teacher-taught classroom because he knew he would apply to university some day and wanted a formal high school math record. Like our other four kids and many unschooled children, he caught up 8 grades of “paper” math in one year because his brain developed his abstract thinking ability and although he was exposed to math concepts in daily life and play, he was ready to apply his experiential learning to paper math. “Caught up” is the wrong phrase. It’s not like he was not learning math through his play from ages 1 to 13. He was learning number theory, but not from a book, or lectures, but from his own observations through play and projects. In one year, he caught up on learning math calculations on paper at age 13, and had been experiencing math since birth. He never had time or a classroom of peers to develop a phobia about math, or think he was bad at it. Years of non-assessment built his confidence. It was fine to make mistakes, because he liked the challenge of working for the correct answer. Math was a challenging puzzle to be unlocked. Learning was doing and he liked math because it has definite correct and incorrect answers and is the same concepts studied worldwide.

I’ll be honest. When he started math in grade 10, his lettering was not the best. He didn’t have years of practice writing numbers in perfect proportion on paper. But again, he didn’t need years of practice to develop a nice neat math worksheet. It took only two months. When the brain is ready, kids can learn very fast. Here is a sample from the first day of school in grade 10 and a sample from 60 days later. There was much improvement.

Math Grade 10 Day 1
Math Grade 10 Day 60
Math Grade 11 Day 200

Not every child who attends school needs to learn Exponential and Logarithmic Functions in order to get a career, start a business or attend post-secondary education. Those that do need to know it, will learn it and be more motivated to excel. Teaching it to every child just produces anxiety and math phobias.

Our years of unschooling in math were very helpful in producing children who loved math for the tools it offered to solve problems. For example, we ordered a half a cheesecake from a bakery, and when we opened up the box, it didn’t appear to be half a cake. This was a great teachable math moment where I introduced the kids to pi. I showed them how to measure circumference and how to use the pi formula to work out how big the radius should be if we really did get half a cake. They saw the power of the proof on paper that we were short-changed.

We used pi to measure the cake!

This combination of experiential math and paper calculation provided our five kids with motivation to continue their math education through high school, grades 10-12 whether it was self-taught from a textbook, teacher-taught in a classroom or self-taught through online classes. Four of my five children went into STEM pathways in engineering, (read the blog post on the unschooled engineer) https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2018/09/10/the-unschooled-engineer/ bio-science, energy science/chemistry, and mathematics. Unschooling math served them well.

I replied to the BBQ guest, “When they need to learn Calculus, they will go at it with gusto!” She smiled with that polite, “I don’t believe you,” look and went to get another burger. We need to trust that children want to learn and there is no stopping them when they are ready to see the value for their future.


Read more about Unschooling to STEM careers in the book, Unschooling To University:



Here are some more blog posts on Unschooling and Math. Many parents are worried about letting go of formal math instruction and leaving children to unschool math. These posts may be helpful to calm worries!

Ways to Learn Math Without A Workbook https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2016/06/29/ways-to-learn-math-without-a-workbook/

Unschooling STEM https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2020/11/19/unschooling-stem/

STEM Classes for Kids-Do They Help or Hinder Curiosity? https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2017/10/30/stem-classes-for-kids-do-they-help-or-hinder-curiosity/

Play Enhances a Love for Science https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2017/03/08/the-door-stopper-and-unschooling-stem/

Unschooling and STEM-How do Children Learn? https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2016/02/07/unschooling-and-stem-careers/

Video Games Give Kids a Bigger Academic Edge Than Homework https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2019/03/17/video-games-give-kids-a-bigger-academic-edge-than-homework-2/

Create a Learning Environment That Teaches Without Textbooks https://unschoolingtouniversity.com/2020/10/27/create-a-learning-environment-that-teaches-without-textbooks/


Learn add and subtract fractions with a pizza game
Doors made a great angle measurer
Learning about faces, vertices, and edges
Measuring for carpets (area) and baseboards (perimeter) teaches measurement
Play with stamps to learn about place value
Cooking and baking teaches fractions and percentages

Lego teaches variables
Learn skip counting through body movements

Perfect squares teach the Pythag
Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Children Learn Grammar, Spelling and Vocabulary Without Being Taught

Let Kids Write Whenever They Want and Don’t Correct Them!

Curriculum can be so darn intimidating! All those workbooks on grammar, sentence structure and punctuation seem to be calling on your guilt if you don’t buy them. Will unschooled kids learn grammar even if you don’t directly teach it? You bet! Are workbooks the best way to learn it? For most kids, a big NO!

Kids learn to write by reading. We live in a world where children are exposed to language everywhere around them and see thousands of words and phrases every year. Kids see enough print in the course of their lives that they begin to copy it and use it properly through their own meaningful writing. Just think of all the things that kids copy, model and emulate from everywhere else.

Why are kids in school such bad writers even by high school? Well, for one thing, many children don’t get the chance to read very much while attending school. In school, the early grades attend the library for about half an hour once a week. They are allowed to take out one book or maybe two at most. (Can’t have those kids losing all those school library books!) The home educated child reads anywhere around 10 to 100 books per year. The average number from my informal poll of homeschooling parents was 50 books in a typical year that the typical homeschooled child read. Families would visit a library once a week and take out up to 100 books a week or the maximum limit the library would allow. With exposure to that much writing, how can a child not get used to proper sentence and paragraph structure.

In the later grades, children in school do not have time to read what they choose to read. They are ordered to read from a small list of titles provided. They slog through it if not interested. Keen readers will read outside school and they probably write well despite being in a classroom, not because of it. They will make time to read outside of school and activities because they love books.

Children eventually learn spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure, openings and closings, thesis statements, examples and essay structure just by writing, and writing when they are motivated to do it – when they really have something to say, such as writing an opinion letter to a newspaper or writing to a politician about an unpopular law, or contradicting a troll on Reddit, or even a letter asking for world peace (and the latest popular video game) to Santa. Motivation to write is key, just as I am writing this blog post now. Motivation has passion behind it, and when kids are motivated to have their views expressed, they are eager to learn how to express themselves in a manner that people will listen. Being ordered to write a book report in school on a topic they are feeling lukewarm about is not motivating, nor is producing an essay on a stance they really don’t care about is not fun either.

Good writing is something everyone progresses at. At first kids’ letters may be backwards, their word usage wrong and spelling bad, but with autocorrection everywhere now, they have a pocket electronic “teacher” telling them the correct way to use it. Nobody likes to be verbally corrected by a person, so don’t correct children’s writing. Encourage them to get all their thoughts out on paper and then encourage them to go through it again the next day with fresh eyes. They will self-edit and get better and better at it the more they do it.

Of course a small minority of kids are just really bad spellers and need a text editor, because no amount of direct teaching can retrain their brain if a child is not motivated to learn. The learning won’t stick, but the child’s ability to write might become non-existent because they are self-conscious about their spelling and grammar. For the most part, children’s brains are really good at picking up and practicing skills such as writing without being taught because the brain is always processing new information and progressing. As their brain matures, they naturally increase their vocabulary by participating in family and peer discussions, and playing word games such as wordle, Scrabble and Quiddler. Online conversations also help build vocabulary.

What children won’t learn is the names for grammar, such as an “Oxford comma,” or an “onomatopoeia” word. However, once kids get past grade school, no one will ever quiz them about that again in their lives. Even my child who is an English major learned them once and forgot about the “names” of various parts of speech and grammar. She uses them but doesn’t remember what they are called and doesn’t need to. Children can choose to use a possessive noun without having to know what its name is, just as they use fractions all the time without knowing which is the numerator and denominator.

Here is an example of my child’s writing at age 12. And here is her Master thesis:


Writing at Age 12

She only had one formal English class in grade 11 which was online and mostly self-taught anyways. My kids started learning how to spell by writing in cheatcodes while playing Starcraft. They got further in the game that way. Eventually, they learned how to spell because I quit typing in the codes for them every ten minutes. They had no formal English classes until the teen years. One of my kids took a grade 8 English class and my 3 other kids began their formal English Language Art education in grade 10 which is considered high school. One of my kids is not a big reader due to a learning disability. They were still being taught the five paragraph essay in Grade 12 through this “Essentials In Writing” book. All of them managed to write essays, reports and research abstracts in university.

I was a product of public school and although I was taught grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure through workbooks, I was still not a good writer. I am another example of what schools can teach, but it won’t stick if not useful. My first year English professor at university was the famous Canadian author, Warren P Kinsella, and he wrote on my first submitted essay, a huge D+ blazing in red ink, with the comment, “English must be a second language to you,” as he failed me in the course. I had to take a remedial English writing course which still didn’t help. I finished university and got better writing at writing in topics that I was interested in. I have now written five books and with two of them bestsellers, I have probably sold more books that Mr. Kinsella. I hire excellent editors. Not everybody needs to know everything or be great at everything. The big five North American publishers run every manuscript through four individual editors to catch 99% of the errors. In fact, it is not recommended that writers edit their own work. Everyone needs fresh eyes on their work to point out things not seen.

If your child hates grammar, spelling, and punctuation workbooks, have no guilt in throwing them away. Your child will learn to write and write well. And they might actually love the process without someone correcting them all the time! Trust in their desire to learn and their brains ability to progress to excellent writing. Write on!

Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Can Unschoolers Attend College or University? YES!

Can unschoolers go to college and university? Yes! They absolutely can if they want to. We have just attended our children’s fourth university convocation and now we have a Masters in the family. Our five children unschooled 8-12 years and received an excellent education by pursuing their interests, instead of attending institutional classroom schooling. Burnout, bullying, homework and lack of motivation is never a problem when children self-direct their primary and secondary education. Our family were unlimiters to screen time and we enjoyed all forms of learning whether it came from travel, textbooks, jobs, internet, volunteering, video games and play. Unschooling (self-directed education) is a fantastic way to get an education because learning is everywhere, everyplace and anytime. A child who loves to learn freely will have no boundaries to their education.


Interested in learning how we did it? Read our story and 25 other unschoolers who gained university and college acceptance in the bestselling book, Unschooling To University. http://www.professionalparenting.ca/unschooling-to-university.php

Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Terminology Matters: It’s Education, Not Schooling

“I will never let school interfere with my education.” -Mark Twain

Definition: “School”  – an institution for educating children.  -Wikipedia.org

Words matter in our society and the time has come where we all need to respect the uniqueness of parents teaching and their children learning in other environments apart from the institution we call “school.” Parents do not homeschool. They home educate.

School is only one way to acquire an education. Home and community, and travel are other ways. Combining the term “school” with other forms of education such as “homeschool” is just plain wrong. We don’t use the terms “church” or “mosque” to describe a “synagogue” or “shrine” even though all are places of worship. Common descriptions are worldschooling, gameschooling, online schooling, schooling-at-home, unschooling, homeschooling, all of which use the term “school” but has little to do with school.

Education is no longer defined by where it takes place but by who is responsible for it. When school is provided in the home by the school institution, it is called online school. When school work is imposed on children after school hours, it is called homework but is still school responsible for providing it. Education provided by the parent is home education, not homeschooling, and parents or the legal guardians are the people responsible for providing it.

Home education provided via travel or within the community was the normal, mainstream method of learning for hundreds of thousands of years, before school as a government institution became popular in the early-1800s. The pendulum has swung back. Home Education is growing worldwide as parents realize they are just as capable as anyone else to provide their child’s education. When they no longer feel capacity to teach, they procure resources from outside the government school system.

When parents do not hand over their children to an institutional school when the child has six birthday candles on their cake, they are retrieving their legal right to educate their child as they have been doing since their birth. Some parents choose to hand over that right to the school. We call that school role “in loco parentis.” When parents are not the teachers, but the child is learning, we use the term “self-directed education” or “unschooling” to describe learning via home, community and travel.

School should never be used to describe home education. Home education is the preferred term. Home is not a school. Home is a safe, personalized, and effective learning environment. School is a building, and an institution with strict rules, policies, goals, subjects, time compartments, uniforms, agenda, competition, hierarchies, group learning, exams, grades, and procedures, none of which may be present in the home or community while learning takes place. Many home educating families do not use those elements of school in their home. Yet, children progress. Learning and education occurs everywhere and all the time, and it is time our language acknowledges that simple fact.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged | Leave a comment

Home Education Only Takes 1/10th the Time of Classroom and Online School

Home Education is Best Delivered to Young Children Through Interactive Activities

Am I doing enough? That is the question I would ask myself and it’s the question many new and perspective home education parents worry about. They have experienced fighting with their kids to do school homework up to 3 hours a night and can’t imagine themselves fighting with their kids to do 6 hours of home-school work a day.

Like many unschooling parents, we started off doing “school-at-home.” We tried to replicate the classroom in our home. We wanted to be sure to follow the grade-by-grade curriculum so that if we quit this little experiment called home education, we could be sure the kids wouldn’t be “behind” if they went back to “real school.”

We partitioned out the year’s curriculum work and found that we could get the worksheets and assignments done in very little time. Of course, there were the days the kids refused to do the work and argued, dawdled, and cried. I was crying too, after moments of temper flare-ups threatening the kids with “I’m going to send you back to school and then the teacher can fight with you to get this done,” and of course, a lot of yelling thrown in. There were also good days that we did a science experiment, filled out the worksheet to cement their learnings, checked off the box on the school board outcome sheet, and two weeks later, the kids totally forgot the core concepts and the experiment. I was thinking…”what is the point if they forget it all? I’m wasting my time and energy teaching someone else’s agenda that they have no memory of because they are not interested in it.”  We slid into unschooling.

Why on earth would the kids go to school for 6 hours a day and have 1-3 hours of homework every night, when we were done in 30 minutes in home education? Was I doing enough?

Yes, and you are doing enough too! Even if you don’t unschool and want to follow the government curriculum, Home Education generally takes about 1/10th of the time that kids spend in school. How much time should home education take? Kindergarten should be play and learning social skills, so that would take all day, because that is life. Grades 1-6 should take about 30 minutes of seat work a day, not including reading for fun or field trips. Grades 7-9 should take about an hour a day. Grades 10-12 for high school diploma credit, should take about 2 to 3 hours per day for 2 core subject courses and 2 option courses on a September to January and a February to June semester basis. And no homework! I’m basing this on my 5 kids who started home education in grade 1, and 2 and then slid to unschooling but by choice entered and exited the school system through online and classes at various times in their childhood. All 5 kids received honours marks in their self-designed high school credit programs.

Why does home education take so much less time? There are several reasons for this:

  1. There is no busy work in home education. Parents give their kids pre-tests and if the kids know the concepts, they skip the assignments and move on to the next concept they don’t know.
  2. Unlike teaching in a classroom, there is no government mandated amount of time that parents are forced to “instruct” their kids, so they don’t have to stretch out the “instructional time” so that it is justified by taxpayer funding. Home education parents do not require school for their childcare.
  3. Unlike teaching in a classroom, or online, you can use experiences to teach which include fun activities like board games, videos, discussions, projects and field trips which bring learning to life. Ditch the boring worksheets and plant a garden, or watch “Don’t Look Up!” and have a thoughtful discussion after. There are lots of ways to check off the boxes of learning.
  4. In home education, you can skip things that you consider irrelevant, such as requiring every child in grade 10 math to learn how to use a micrometer. You can skip really boring facts, skills and activities that won’t stick in your child’s brain, but that they can truly learn when they really need it and it brings meaning to them.
  5. There is an incredible amount of waiting time in and around school. Imagine the difference between throwing a dinner party at home for thirty people, and just having a quick supper with your child. The difference in time and energy spent is just like the difference between classroom/large group learning and home education. It takes much less time to move 1 child through the day’s activities then it would 30 children in a classroom. A person planning a dinner party for 30 people needs to plan the guest list, menu, decor, wine, table settings, serving pieces, and a seating plan. They need to invite, shop, store, cook, serve, and clean up. It involves a lot of work and preparation.  Alternatively, a person eating alone or with a partner might slap together a sandwich and eat it over the sink or enjoy a quick bite at the table. Either way, everyone gets fed. That is what a home educator can do. Learning, just like eating, can be effectively done on a large or a small scale.

Why do school kids learning online have to spend so much time in front of the screen and in assignments? Because the school system is mandated and funded to provide 1000 hours of instruction during the approximately 200 school days between September and June. That means a lot of busy work and a lot of waiting around since the classroom kids are at all levels. This fulfills the instructional time requirement. In addition, online teachers can’t see how children are doing by visual assessment, so most of the assignments must be written and text-based for them to provide an evaluation of learning and prove that learning (and funded teaching) has taken place.

But you don’t have to do that at home when home educating. You can be efficient and provide a personal program for your child that takes more or much less time. You can enrich their learning with experiential activities. You can observe very closely their “AHA!” moments and you know exactly where your kids are at academically and socially by watching them. Yes, you are doing enough!

Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

No “Summer-slide” Learning Loss Because Unschooling Education is Year Round

Children who are empowered to read what they want never lose reading skills over the summer

Summer learning loss occurs only when kids are forced to absorb the system’s agenda and curriculum. Research shows that students regress and lose about one month of school instruction during a long summer holiday, and a study from Ohio State University found that test scores were no different for students on a year-round calendar. Year- round schools have only four weeks of summer vacation, and longer breaks during   the fall, Christmas, and spring holidays. (Cuthbertson, 2012) Reading comprehension and math skills take the biggest hit. The research tells us that children lose progress in content retention, but it does not test whether they were engaged or bored with the content. Children retain knowledge in areas they are keenly interested in; my children could recite all 150 Pokemon over the summer, but not the math times tables. Summer learning loss occurs only in the areas that children are forced to learn from the school and government agenda; but not in areas they want to learn such as their own agenda. They may learn many new things that are of interest to them.

In terms of brain development, this makes sense. Brains cement the pathways between neurons in areas that are well used, and prune unused pathways. The brain is always “filing” information into useful short- or long-term storage, based on need. If a child doesn’t need multiplication facts over the summer, it gets dumped in favor of useful information—such as the Pokemon stats for card game playing sessions!

Much of what children learn is invisible to us. How much knowledge they absorb and retain is directly related to their level of interest in a topic. When left to their own devices, children learn the new information and skills needed to accomplish a particular task or goal. And summer is for play. Children learn through play.

If you want your children to develop initiative, cooperation, and a passion for learning, you cannot foster that development by shoving worksheets at them. Instead, encourage their interests; listen to their questions and help them look for the answers. That’s what unschoolers do.

“The brain does not have ‘open’ and ‘closed’ hours. It takes in information, sorts it, draws correlations, makes connections and stores 24 hours a day and 365 days per year.” (Tracy R, 2002)

We found that summer learning far exceeded winter-month learning. I didn’t have to work in the summer and had much more time to facilitate their interests. All the most- desired books and videos were available in the library because schools had checked them back in. We spent many long, unstructured hours reading because most homeschooling classes, activities, and programs were closed for the summer. Summer was the most unstructured time of the year, and the most productive. My children’s reading progress flourished.

Indeed, unschooling in the summer produces abundant learning. When learning is continuous, there is no summer-slide learning loss.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Kids Want to Try School

Every homeschooler or unschooler parent has it happen to them. Their child wants to try out this mystery thing called “school.”

My daughter wanted to try school in grades 3, 7, 9, 10 and 12. She went. I had to fight to get her in, but she registered. For a certain amount of time, she loved it. At 8 years old, she wanted to go to school so bad, that she got up on her own alarm, got dressed, made her sandwich, packed her backpack and came to my bedside (I was still sleeping) to nag me to drive her to school. What 8 year old does THAT?

At the end of the period, or even partway through, school had lost its shine. She decided to come home and unschool again…until the next time she decided that she wanted to try it again…

But knowing she had the decision to go to school or return to unschooling was a game-changer. She got to see first hand the things she hated about school (waiting, waiting, waiting, group punishments, having to ask to go to the bathroom, no choice in what to read, waiting, waiting,….waiting…) and decide if she wanted to continue unschooling at home. She stayed anywhere from 2 days to 2 months in those grades.

She loved the social aspect but the free time trade off was just not worth it. She discovered that kids were friends in order to cling together for survival, not because they liked each other or had common interests, and for her, that was not friendship – it was peer-survival.

She didn’t like the classroom pace and liked the individual rate that she could go at home. In the end, she always chose homeschooling. But the key was she discovered that herself. Some things kids just need to sort out for themselves rather than parents warning them.

Yes, I worried if she would not have the staying power for university if she was “allowed” to drop out of school grades so many times – but it was so different and so much more like adult-school. She loved it and graduated. She even went on to do a Masters.

So let them go to school and experience it for themselves. The fact that they always have the option to go or not changes their experience unlike any of their peers. School is optional. That in itself changes how one views it – much more critically rather as some institution that needs to be survived.

Posted in Democratic Parenting, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Does More Funding Yield More Quality in Education? No!

Whenever major events such as COVID occur, the first cry of battle is “more funding!,” by various interest groups in education. But does more funding translate into measurable results? Let us look at statistics from the education ministry in the Government of Alberta, Canada.

The priciest school in Alberta is an independent school titled Strathcona Tweedsmuir School, which charges about $24,000 in tuition (2019) plus bussing, uniforms, field trips and other expenses on top. They also receive taxpayer funding of 70% of a fully funded public division student, which was somewhere around $7000 per student including CEUs and base rate funding. Their average diploma exam mark for 306 students writing in 2019 was 76.4% across 6 core academic Grade 12 subjects (Math, ELA, Social Studies, Chemistry, Biology, and Physics). To compare, another independent school, Trinity, holds the largest number of PASI coded 600 home education students, and has no distance education or shared responsibility students to obfuscate the home education students results. Trinity received $1670 flat rate per student in funding (2019) of which half ($835) had to be shared with parents to offset the cost of supplies. The average diploma exam mark for 138 students writing in 2019 was 74.4% across the same 6 core academic Grade 12 subjects.

These are just diploma exam marks – not school marks for the same courses which could be subject to grade inflation. The exams are only given in core subjects and the results above are only on the -1 academic stream of subjects. Exams are written at the same time, same day, at thousands of schools and writing centres across the province and no exam is to be opened until the start time, either by teachers, students, parents or administrators. Exams are always written in person with cellphones parked with administrators. All children must write these government exams if they want high school diploma credits for post-secondary entrance and high school diplomas. It is the most objective method of testing academic knowledge and testing-taking skills of students.

This is just a snapshot. It would be interesting to view the results if the government would publish the diploma exam results of PASI codes 600 (Home Education) and 611 (Home Education Portion of Shared Responsibility) students separately from distance education coded students (PASI codes 612, 620, 621). That would yield larger pools of student results in home education taught Grade 12 courses.

The mere two percentage points in objective results between the priciest education option and the most cost-effective education option, could lead one to think that other factors have a meaningful impact on education results, instead of funding amounts. Home education is not only provided by parents but can also include self-directed learning (unschooling) methods where the students teach themselves, and programs where the parents outsource teaching to third party vendors operating outside Alberta’s Education system.

The overall Alberta Education’s school average mark on all Grade 12 core course diploma exams for 2019 was 67% with 68,114 Grade 12 students writing.

Home education is the most cost effective method of education and now there is objective evidence that it is also one of the best methods for academics. Relationships make all the difference.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deschooling Ourselves and Growing Trust in Unschooling

Building our trust in the unschooling method of education delivery is a big issue and one that we just have to accept as something we all go through when wading into this new lifestyle, that is so different from what we have been programmed to know. Just like we have to accept sleepness nights when we bring our babies home, we have to accept distrust when we have those days when “nothing looks like learning.”

Building trust in unschooling gets better with time and close observation as we see, hear and engage in our children learning on their own. It was observation of my children on how much they were learning (especially while playing video games) and also seeing how little they retained in the year we did formal school-at-home. It’s experiencing how keen and motivated they are to learn what they want to learn and then trusting that when they need to know something, they will pursue it with a vengeance. Remembering those times that they absolutely nagged you to get them a part or to empower them to make something or do something or take them somewhere. When children want something, they will work hard to make it happen.

Here are some suggestions for you, that helped me develop trust in unschooling:

  1. Record those “Aha!” moments when your children produce an expression of their learning. When they write a poem or build a birdhouse or speak a thoughtful opinion, take a picture, write a note or record a video of these brilliant nuggets. Review this record during the dry spells when we feel they are “doing nothing.”
  2. Compare your child to themselves year to year through video and photographs of their projects. Be amazed at how capable and smart they are while growing up. Avoid comparison to children outside the family. Even siblings progress differently. Enjoy their uniqueness.
  3. Immerse yourself in a support group with mentors that can soothe your worries during the dry spells. (Thank you to the mentors I had! You might never know how much you helped me, but it was so appreciated!)
  4. Socialize with other unschoolers, especially those with older children and observe how mature and capable they are. Socialize with homeschoolers as well and listen to their stories of how difficult it is to motivate a child that rejects their homeschooling curriculum or assignments of online school.
  5. Avoid curriculum sales – this just feeds insecurity, doubts, and comparison with other children.
  6. If you are a Type A person (like me) that would like nothing better than to have children accomplish a measurable task like completing a worksheet every day, then channel your organization skills and need for measurables into other pursuits – like a job or volunteer work. Anything to take the focus off your child’s academics.
  7. Read books, listen to podcasts and webinars about alternative forms of learning. Write down the sentences that can be affirmations on your bad days. Put those affirmations on your fridge. If friends and relatives question your education style, ask them to read your chosen favourite unschooling book before you continue the “informed” conversation with them.
  8. Ignore the media that promotes untruths in education. In summer, laugh at the ads that suggest you must keep your child entertained in the summer and holidays. In Fall, dispell those ads that suggest children must start formal education at age 2 or they will be “behind” and disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. Ignore those tutoring ads that feed on parental insecurities. Refuse to buy in to the peer pressure to sign your child up for every class on every topic. Your child is an excellent learner from the day they were born. They will develop their interests with or without you, at age 5, 15 or 65. Question the whole notion of “behind.” Remind yourself that media is fueled by a billion dollar industry and school is a business. There is no money to be made in unschooling and thus, no incentive to research it. Remember that these industries don’t want it public knowledge that self-directed learning might be more effective than direct instruction.
  9. Learn how brains work and remind yourself that all learning is learning. Do this especially on days that you observe your child spending all day on Youtube or PUBG. No one living is “not learning.” Everyone learns all the time. It just depends on whose agenda is being learned and the best one is the learners internal needs.
  10. Notice when your teens are singing and skipping through their days filled with happiness and purpose. You have made the right choice. Relationships matter most. Your child will learn something new every day and you have each day to build your relationship. Your child can always learn fractions anytime, but you only have 18 years to solidify a friendship, trust, caring and love with your child. Build the relationship first and the resume will take care of itself.

These are actions that helped me build trust. Each day that I observe my children and smile at their progress, it affirms what I know in my heart to be true. This style of education is what fits for us. And now I have the gift of hindsight. With 3 university graduates, the naysayer relatives and friends have stopped questioning. But most of all, so have I. I know this method works. My job now is to support your doubts. Welcome to unschooling!

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment