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

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

Teacher-Directed and Print-Based Programs are the Worst of the Worst of “At-home” School Programs

Asynchronous Teaching Has a 60% Drop Out Rate – Learners Need Accountability When Being Taught School Programs

Asynchronous Teacher-Directed and Print-Based Programs are the worst of the worst of “at-home” learning. Like online, Teacher-directed and Print-based programs are school controlled distance education school programs. But unlike daily online classes, which are synchronous (real time), your child rarely is overseen by a teacher in these asynchronous (not live) programs. A once a week check-in or worse, once a month check-in does not constitute teaching.

Parents Become Unpaid Teachers

The education system calls the parent’s role in these types of programs, a “support person” but in reality, for grades K-6 when younger children rely on an adult for direction because their executive function is not as well developed yet, YOU are expected to be the “meanie” that ensures the work gets explained and done with the materials provided by the school. This is unpaid parental teaching-not parental support. A young child is not going to email their teacher for help – they are going to come to you. A young child is going to need you to sit beside them and their print-based curriculum and explain what they need to learn. In grades K to three, children don’t know how to read yet, so these programs absolutely require an adult to teach. This is unpaid teaching, not parental support. There is not the same daily accountability of your child interacting with their teacher that keeps them on task as online schooling does. When a child is online in a synchronous program, a teacher can use pictures and voice to engage with a child who can’t read yet, much like a classroom setting. This is missing in asynchronous programs and parents are expected to provide it. Never mind that they may have other children to tend or a job to work.

Synchronous Programs are Better in Keeping Young Children Engaged

After a year of being forced to teach online, many schools now know more about online delivery with young children and this Fall are scheduling daily online check-ins and short teaching sessions with about 30 minutes online in the morning and 30 minutes online in the afternoon with a live synchronous class and teacher. After that, the child has an assignment to do for the morning session and afternoon session. Children are no longer expected to be online 5 hours a day because we know that it is developmentally inappropriate. Parents have been vocal to their school boards on how bad it was.

Parent-Child Relationship Most Important

With teacher-directed and print-based and other types of asynchronous (not live) programs, you are expected to “send your child to school in your living room” but you are basically handcuffed on what you can control. You can’t do what you want (as it is school) but the job of keeping the child on task with someone else’s agenda falls to you – which wrecks your parent-child relationship if you find yourself yelling and threatening your child too often to get the “school” work done. You have to supervise what the teacher/school dictates in your home. You are basically homeschooling but with zero control. If you are going to be in the job of unpaid overseer, teacher and task manager, why not go totally parent-led home education and do exactly what you want; not what the government requires you to do?

Who Has the Control?

On parent-led home education programs, you have 100% of the control. You pick the resources, delivery methods (like more hands-on ways such as unschooling,) and you control the assessment. You can decide that it is a nice day and skip the assignments and you decide that a curriculum is not working and your child needs more hands on. You decide your child is ready for the next grade and you decide to work more on a particular area or work ahead. Get off the rigid conveyor belt of “school in your living room” and embrace freedom, funding, fun and flexibility.

You don’t need a teacher-directed program to know what to do; you can get support, direction and advice from your home education facilitator (who is a teacher, but not in the driver’s seat of control because you are) to purchase curriculum for each subject that is perfectly “all laid out for you” but with 100% flexibility to ditch any part of it, or supplement it on home education.

If Your Child is on One of These Programs

It is now Spring. If your child has been on a Teacher-Directed or Print-Based Program and your child doesn’t have much assignments to show the teacher, DO NOT WORRY! Your school and the teachers are responsible to the government for your child’s progress. Not you. They are 100% responsible for making sure your child is educated because it is a school program, not home education. Be sure to remind them of that if they threaten you in any way. The program was supposed to teach your child – not you.

In planning for Fall, keep in mind that because these programs receive full government funding-to pay the teachers to teach, you may find certain school boards pushing you on to these programs instead of parent-led home education. Be aware that most curriculums do not do the teaching as a teacher would and you will end up doing all the teaching, that teachers get paid to do. If you are teaching, you might as well notify under Home Education.

Most parents are smart enough to teach content up to Grade 8 – even math! After that, kids can self-teach or go online with a teacher or hire a tutor. Take back control and build your valuable parent-child relationship with the flexibility you need – it is the most important component of a healthy childhood. Build the relationship and their resume will take care of itself.

Home Education and Unschooling gives learners and parents the most control

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

Unschooling Social Studies

Visiting the Vietnam War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

As unschoolers, I never taught my unschooled kids history, geography, politics, sociology or economics. We used no formal curriculum package until high school whereby textbooks were cracked open. The only well-used reference tool we had for Social Studies in grades 1-10 was a big world map on the wall and a homemade timeline on the living room ceiling. I didn’t see the point of teaching my kids names, dates, Capital cities and wars. If they needed that information to understand a concept, they could just look it up on the internet. As life unfolded, the children grew and asked more questions about the world, history, economics and politics. We visited the library weekly. We watched the news every day. Children can only absorb to the extent of what their brain development allows. My oldest was ten years old when 911 dominated the news. It was a time of answering a lot of questions and supporting their fears and understanding. We answered all their questions but with more ideas and ways for them to look things up as the internet and their interests grew.

As they became teens, they did their own research online in response to news or things they read. I continued to explain concepts and answered their questions when issues came up. We watched all kinds of drama, history, and action movies together. We had a lot of dinnertime discussions. Those discussions were the best kind of learning. The kids got to hear other’s opinions and we provided context for their learning that went beyond names, dates and places.

In the teen years, we world-schooled on the cheap and made a point to visit museums while traveling. We even discovered that museums have a lot of bias in recounting history depending on who was funding the museum. That was our social studies program until high school. The teen years are the best for visiting museums. Bringing younger children to adult museums just resulted in frustration because the kids wouldn’t read the displays nor absorb the information. When teens get their abstract thinking skills at age 13, they are more patient and take in so much more from museums and science centres.

When kids don’t get direct instruction, they do more self-directed research. The best questions and motivation for further study are those asked by the learner. Today, they vote and understand the world governments, politics and economies very well. They read Time, Maclearn’s and The Economist magazines. They read newspapers.

No matter how hard we work to take the bias out of curriculum, it is embedded deeply. Curriculum is debatable and social studies is country-specific. Schools pick and choose which topics to present. Some schools teach facts only and other schools teach ideology. The school curriculum will never suit every parent, but every parent can instill a love of “finding out” and the skill of critical thinking beyond the classroom. That is just good parenting. Ultimately, your children are going to learn beyond what is taught in schools and formulate their own values, beliefs, ideology and opinions.

Our world needs more countries where our children can ask the hard questions and have access to unlimited viewpoints and information to make their own judgements. A good school curriculum should support that. If it fails, there is always unschooling – self-directed research.

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 , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unschooling STEM – Learning Multiplication Tables

Unschooling STEM – Will they learn the times tables if I don’t teach them? – Listen to this amazing podcast that I had the honor of chatting with Robyn Robertson on her channel “Honey, I’m Homeschooling the Kids!”

Unschooling STEM at “Honey, I’m Homeschooling the Kids!”

It gives you insight on how children learn math symbolically and on paper, the power of video gaming and board games, and how math is taught in schools versus daily life problems. Also join our facebook group:
Watch the Unschooling STEM Presentation at AEROx Feb 2021
Watch the Unschooling STEM Presentation at Canadian Homeschooling Conference Nov 2020
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 , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go Ahead. Take a Gap Year in Grade School.

Unschooling gap year
Unschooling To University

We are almost halfway through this sh*t sh*w of a school year during the time of COVID.  This is why your kids could easily take a half gap year and just play for the rest of the school year, and they will not “be behind!”

Let’s talk Math, because it’s the one subject that parents worry about letting go the most. We are constantly told by teachers, principals, magazines, media, schools, tutors, and family, that it is linear, progressive and our children must learn it every year in sequence.


I have 5 kids – all different abilities, temperaments, learning styles, interests, genders, and talents. Some are learning diverse. We unschooled which means we followed the children’s interests – mostly play, projects and field trips.

Here is how their first experience of Math classes shook out:

All 5 kids did not take any math classes, did not do any worksheets or textbooks or any paper math and did no formal instruction in math from grades Kindergarten through Grade 6. They played. They had lemonade stands, baked cakes, and cooked kitchen potions, and played board games like Monopoly, Skipbo and Battleship. They logged way too much screen time and played many hours of video games.

When they became teenagers (age 13), two kids took an online grade 8 and 9 math course. They skipped grade 7. One kid took an online grade 7 and 9 math course and skipped grade 8. The last two kids took 1 junior high course in math, either grade 7 (skipped 8 and 9) and grade 8 (skipped 7 and 9). See how your kids can easily skip a year?

All 5 kids took grades 10, 11, and 12 math courses by either formal classroom teacher instruction or self-teaching at home from a textbook or screen. Their grade 10 math final marks were in the range of 75 to 88%. Their grade 12 math diploma exam average mark was 81%. This is not anecdotal. This is evidence.

How do kids learn 8 grades of math in one year when they are 13? They don’t really. They have been learning math experientially through solving daily life problems generated by play and projects.  They get a good grasp of math in their heads, even though they produce no paper evidence of learning math. When they get their abstract thinking skills, which we call the development of the pre-frontal cortex which accelerates from ages 13-25, they are able to understand and process how mathematics is worked out on paper through operations, rules, and formulas. By getting abstract math instruction in the teen years, they approach math with fresh gusto, instead of being burned out from too many worksheets shoved at them from ages 3-12.

There are a lot of other stories out there like ours, but you won’t hear about them in mainstream media. Do your research on unschooling and find out why your child can take ½ a gap year, or one year or perhaps you will gift them their entire childhood off from school and continue their education their way.

Developing Brain
The brain develops at different ages and stages
Posted in Why Unschool? | 1 Comment

If Your Child Doesn’t Understand a Concept, Let It Go!

let it go

Parents. Relax! Your child will get it! Last Spring I was teaching my teen the final grade 9 concepts in measurement – trigonometry in order to prep for high school math. He was unschooled until he was 18 and decided to enroll in high school math to get credentials for university. I had to learn sine, cosine and tangent ratio 6 times – once when I was in high school (which as a humanities major I never even partially understood) and 4 times to help my older children understand it in grade 9 or 10 to meet high school credentials. Each child that moved up, I forgot it (because I didn’t use it on a daily basis and had to relearn it all over again to help the next kid in line). Ugh.

My last and fifth child was not getting it. We tried and tried last Spring and he was in tears and I was frustrated. I tried to explain it in different ways as it was the 6th and last time that I would ever have to relearn it to help my kids with assignments!!! As the tears and frustration mounted, we took a break. As we usually do, the best thing we did was LET IT GO! Now it is December, six months later and he is taking it again in grade 10 math. He has progressed so much further ahead and IS GETTING IT!

The takeaway? If your child is not understanding, LET IT GO! The brain develops in spurts, not linear progression, and what they find so difficult last month, comes easy this month, without any outside intervention. Relax. Enjoy your child. If they don’t get it now, it doesn’t mean that they will never get it. It means the brain needs a bit more development that will come entirely on it’s own. The pre-frontal cortex does that. It matures on its own. You can relax. Your child will have many more opportunities to learn what they are not understanding today – they will not get behind. Let it go. Build the relationship and the resume will take care of itself. They can always learn trigonometric ratios, but you only have one chance to build a life-long loving parent-child relationship. Don’t let that go.

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

Evidence of Learning: If a child breathes, they learn

Assessment. Evaluation. Judgement. To a parent of a homeschooled child, it all means the same. A representative from a school is going to enter one’s home and make a judgement on the learning of their homeschooled child. It feels like being in school again and being called to the Principal’s office for some unknown matter. It is fraught with terror at worst and mild anxiety at best.  But it shouldn’t be.

In the past 15 years, since the invention of the MRI, science has gained much knowledge on how learning takes place. We now know that every person learns from the time they are born until the time they take their last breath. Everything they experience through their five senses and brain activity contributes to their knowledge and skill base. Every bit of learning causes neurons to fire neurotransmitters across the synapse (gap) between neuron axon terminals and dendrites of neighboring neurons. Neurons connect all the time and hence, learning occurs all the time. Whether it be through math workbooks or video games, neurons are constantly connecting and all children learn everything they need to be successful in life, whether they go to school or homeschool or unschool.

This video shows Learning in Action

The matter then becomes, are children learning the right things? And who decides what children learn? The parents decide in home education and the learner decides in unschooling (self-directed education). Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that parents have the right to choose their child’s education. So in the vast majority of jurisdictions, including Canada (except for Quebec) children can learn whatever their parents decide, or whatever the child decides if their parents use a delivery method called self-directed education. They do not have to follow the government dictated curriculum of topics.

This is where the problem of assessment or evaluation occurs. Standardized testing only works if the child follows the government curriculum. So standardized testing can’t be mandatory when the parent can teach the child whatever they want. The government wants to see the child “progress” which means that the child has learned more today than they did yesterday. Again, we know from brain science that all children do this. The government also wants to see “Evidence of Learning” which is usually defined as physical proof that the child is learning, since they can’t cut open their brains and actually see those neurons firing. Physical evidence of learning is what teachers assess in schools by giving marks based on it, and it’s also what governments want to see in the home. It is proof of learning such as a powerpoint presentation, exam result, written work such as workbooks, essays, or project results. It needs to represent in the physical world what learning has occurred in the invisible world of the brain. It’s not enough that a child knows something.  They have to prove that they know something. Or rather, their parents have to prove they know something. This is the most problematic part of homeschooling and even more so in unschooling when we don’t press our children for output. Perhaps the child has learned a lot but doesn’t wish to put together a powerpoint presentation of what they learned. Or perhaps their parents disagree with the whole concept of testing, and do not wish to have their child forced to write an exam.

The only purpose of “evidence of learning” is to satisfy the societal public interest that children are getting an education. It is not for the best interests of the child. So it really is unnecessary. If science tells us that all children learn and progress no matter what, then we as a society have the proof that children are learning.

In reality, parents constantly evaluate their child’s learning from birth onward. They are with their children all day, every day and know exactly what their knowledge and skills are. They see if their baby can crawl like others at 7 months, and if their child has 50 words like other children at age 2. They worry if the neighbor’s child is reading at 7 and their child hasn’t cracked the code yet. This is a normal part of parenting and studies show that parents, as opposed to the professionals, are most often the first people to suspect a learning or behaviour diversity in the child.

What constitutes evidence of learning? Choices must exceed essays and exams. For the reason above, it must always include Parental Observation in place of or addition to the following:

Parental Observation

Journal records of activities engaged in

Portfolio of work output

Descriptive reports including learner narration

Individual projects


Application of skills learned

Completion of work

Course certificates

Quizzes and exams

Chapter tests and questions

Standardized tests

In Alberta, regulation states that home education parents are required to meet with a certified teacher facilitator twice a year, on the school-supported programs, so the facilitator can talk to the child and make an evaluation on whether the child is progressing through the 22 outcomes of the Schedule (SOLO) in the Home Education Regulations. The child doesn’t need to master the 22 very broad outcomes until they leave funded education at age 20 so if some outcomes are hit and miss every year, that is fine. The facilitator then signs a report that they are satisfied, in their professional opinion, that the child is progressing. The parent and the government each get a copy of this document. Parents do not get paid for home education administration work and thus, are not required to put any effort into “presenting” evidence of learning. The facilitator is paid for the visit and must do the work of recording “evidence of learning.”

The facilitator can’t possibly evaluate all the child knows in a one hour visit twice a year, so they rely on what the parent tells them, and if they “presented an activity” to the child in order to enable learning to occur. If the parent says that the child went skiing, the facilitator then records that the child went skiing and perhaps a bit of what the parent observed that the child learned from skiing. That is pretty much all the facilitator can judge, especially when there is little physical output evidence of learning and certainly no formal measurement of progression. If the parent says the child is stopping better on hills this year, the facilitator records that. They have no evidence to make a different judgement.

Alberta Home Education Regulations “Evidence of Learning”

The parent is only required to keep at least one dated sample of work, (we kept all our “Letters To Santa”) and a general record of activities the child engaged in throughout the year, according to the Home Education Regulations and that is all the “evidence of learning” a parent is required to submit to the facilitator. A super easy way to do that is to take photos. All a parent needs to do is scroll through their phone at their twice yearly visit so the facilitator can see pictures of their child in play or activities, and that constitutes a simple record. The facilitator can then take the notes they need for their report. That is all the parent is required to do. Pictures are already dated by the phone software. If the facilitator wants a copy of the photos, they can photograph the ones they wish. Done.

The school has no right to demand to see the child’s essays (if there are any), test results (again if they exist) or any other typical schooly physical evidence of learning. The school has no right to demand that the parent fill out a report card or put together a powerpoint presentation so the school can put together a report card or presentation to give back to the parent. The school can’t put the “proof of learning” on the parent. They must make those evaluative judgments themselves. The parent has every right to say “No,” as it is not required by the regulations. All parents have to do is provide activities. This is Home Education. Not school. Parents can teach what they want. And they don’t get paid for admin work. Their job is to ensure their child gets an education, not to prove it.


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 , , , , , , , | Leave a comment