- 10 Reasons to Get the Degree (or Certificate or Diploma)
- Community Spirit Begins at Home
- STEM Classes for Kids: Do they help or hinder curiosity?
- Self-Directed Kids Don’t Miss Out on Learning Pro-Social Behaviours
- “Wait until they have to get up early for a real job; then they will be in shock by the real world.”
Judy Arnall, BA, DTM… on Elon Musk Unschools His C… Judy Arnall, BA, DTM… on Unschooling and STEM Care… Judy Arnall, BA, DTM… on Are All-Inclusive Vacations… Judy Arnall, BA, DTM… on Escaping the Peer Pressure to… TG Murray on Elon Musk Unschools His C…
Welcome to Unschooling to University!
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. When the time is right for them, they will often choose self-directed education to help themselves earn the requirements for admission acceptance. Parents do not have to be the teacher and “catch them up” unless they really want to. 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. 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 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.
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.
We know that not everyone aspires to go to post-secondary schools, and that is fine. We know that some families do wish to plan for that type of education and we aim to help them navigate the waters from unschooling and self-determining their learning during the “school-age” years to a more formal learning environment during the 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 Twenty Five) in the Unschooling To University book. Over half the 25 children profiled, attended university in STEM careers. Only half went the high school diploma route. We live in the most homeschool-regulated place on earth and have managed to secure adequate credentials for university acceptance in at least 15 universities across Canada.
We are not outliers. The gates to education are still there but the walls are coming down. 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 and free thinkers. We need thought leaders and world problem-solvers. Join us! #anyonecanhomeeducate
Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM
When I went to public school, I disliked it enormously. It seemed more like a maze to navigate intense social constructs, avoid bullying, constantly trying to fit in with peers, and mollify the teacher’s wrath. It was never thought of as a place of learning. I never fit in very well, but did my best to “get through it.”
I didn’t think I was going to try university, but when I was 25, I decided to give it an honest go. I didn’t have good marks, but in the 80’s I got in with a 62% average. What a surprise! University was totally different than high school. The difference was control. I could control what I wore because there was no peer pressure to look a certain way. I could control if I attended or not, what courses to take according to my interests, and what mark I wanted to earn with my efforts. I could drop courses, and take new ones. I could eat in class, smoke outside it (ok, it was the 80’s) and go to the bathroom whenever I wanted. I was treated like a customer, not a child. I loved it because I loved learning. I graduated with a 3.4 gpa.
As an unschooling family, I am dismayed to hear from others that post-secondary education is over-rated. It certainly may not be for everyone. And in this day when knowledge can be gained from anywhere, I believe that some rules in university must change, like the ability to challenge courses that learners already have self-taught knowledge in. But I do believe in post-secondary education as one way of many ways to learn and should not be discouraged. Here is why:
- Our world lives by credentials. We all have varying stages of learning, but everyone needs a benchmark – a standard that recognizes a certain level of knowledge and skills. I want the pilot who is steering the plane I’m sitting on to have a minimum amount of practice landing the plane safely. I want the financial advisor I’m hiring to have some knowledge of expertise to guide me in providing myself a retirement without depending on cat food for meals. I want my son’s neurosurgeon to be competent enough in putting his skull plates back together again after surgery so that my son is not brain damaged. I understand that people get their education through various ways, but we do need a standard way of measuring if people have acquired a level of knowledge and skills necessary for public safety. I’m all for people challenging those standardized measurements whether it is an exam, landing a plane or completing surgery. A degree is one standard measurement. We can get our information anywhere. But we need to prove a level of competency. We may not agree with the importance attached to credentials, but so far our world lives by them, and our job as parents is to prepare our children for the world they will live in.
- Post-secondary education is now the new high school, due to credential inflation. More and more people are getting education over and above high school graduation, so post-secondary education is becoming the norm. A degree does not make one stand out. If anything, it makes one blend in. Nowadays, people get a degree to be the norm. The Master and Phd degree is now what a Bachelors degree was 30 years ago.
- A degree may not always be practical knowledge, but the one thing it does show is that the holder has initiative, drive and determination to finish something, throughout all personal, academic and financial obstacles. That is a big deal to prospective employers and can open doors to careers not even related to the degree. Yes, there are many other ways to prove grit, but this is one of many and should not be discounted.
- Quite a few university professors have worked in the real world. They are the most interesting coaches because they are real. They impart knowledge through their unique experiences, stories, hardships, joys and failures. I agree that not much is learned from a person who translates their knowledge through books and has not truly experienced their field because they have lived in the sheltered ivory towers of academia their whole career. But those professors are few and far between.
- A degree is a sorting hat. Sad, but true. If two people have equal knowledge and skills to do a job, accountability to one’s boss, shareholders, company and the public at large demands that the person with the piece of paper (degree, diploma or certificate) will get the job.
- Many practical skills are taught in a degree now. Mandatory work co-ops, projects and practicums are ways that learners gain those skills with hand’s on experiences. The days of just writing, reading and bookwork are gone. It would be even more personalized if learners can challenge exams if they have the knowledge gained outside the classroom. Many secondary schools offer that option to self-directed learners and it would be nice if the post-secondary institutions would also offer challenges. Even better, if one didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for the assessment of their learning, or for the challenge of qualification confer.
- A degree costs about $40k in Canada. This can be offset by loans, scholarships and grants as well as working part time. Research shows that over a lifetime, the average person with a degree makes 1 million dollars more than a person with a high school diploma. That’s a pretty good Return On Investment.
- A degree can be earned while employed. I personally finished a degree in 8 years while working full-time and graduated debt free. It took sacrifices, but it opened doors that would be closed in areas I didn’t even know about then. I got a job teaching Mom and Baby classes for our government health organization. They won’t hire anyone without a degree. It could be a degree in geology, or engineering, teaching, or basket-weaving, but it had to be a degree.
- If we truly embrace the philosophy of unschooling, our child determines her learning goals and paths, not us. If she wants to get a degree, are we truly supporting her learning by denigrating her educational goals? We have to suspend our agenda and support her. That is what self-directed education is all about.
- Lastly, we parents and caregivers cry when we see our child walk the stage at graduation. They have done the hard work to reach *their* goals and we are so proud to support them in any way we can!
In this age, when many required core high school courses can be attained by writing exams to demonstrate self-directed knowledge, there is no barrier to post-secondary education. Loans, grants, scholarships, and part-time jobs can also help. There are many benefits to post-secondary education. Don’t rule them out. When the learner is truly ready, the education will appear.
Many unschooled children do not do “chores” mandated by parents. Instead, they live in a home environment where contribution and appreciation is freely given among family members of all ages, both within the family and within the bigger community. The result is children who *want* to help out and feel good about what they can do. Young children want to help their parents from the time they can walk. Welcome it by inviting them to help, and watch it grow! Feed their contributions by expressing verbal appreciation. By the teen years, they will be shoveling the neighbor’s walk, building the neighbor a lawn border, sorting food at the food bank, picking up garbage on the river bank, and volunteering in the community for no other reward than the good feeling of making the world a better place to live.
Someone posed this question to me the other day: “My daughter is showing increased interest in math and science. Should I enroll her in STEM day-camps, after-school classes, or extra-curricular activities geared to STEM?” Which got me thinking, do children really need to be taught STEM learning, and do formal classes in STEM help or hurt children’s curiosity?
When my son was two years-old, he loved those metal coiled, rubber tipped door-stoppers that went twaaaannggg. He would play with them while lying on his belly on the cold floor, and the sound drove us crazy, because he would do it over and over again. He needed to reinforce those learning pathways in his brain, and he was accumulating experience of the door stopper workings, so that twenty years later, he would have first hand knowledge of the sound oscillations in his electric engineering class when he had to do the paper calculations.
As an unschooling mom to 3 children who chose STEM careers, I would say that you don’t have to enroll him in anything. In fact, it may even be harmful to do so, in that the lack of experimentation could stunt his interest. Not all children take instruction well. Some children just want to follow their own agenda and experiment with their materials and ideas. Instead of prescribed classes, here is the best way to raise a child interested in STEM:
- Say “Yes!” as much as possible. If he wants to build a potato gun, say yes. If he wants to take apart appliances or take the lid off the toilet to see how it all works, say yes. If he wants to attend a Maker Faire, take him. If he wants to open up a potion shop in your kitchen, say yes. If he has 7 train sets and wants more, get him more. If he wants to set up a workshop in your garage, say yes. If he wants yet another science or building kit, say Yes.
- Buys lots of Lego, K’nex, Meccano and blocks. Let him combine toys. Nullify your need to sort and categorize. If he wants to put the playdough in sand or water to see what would happen, let him.
- Let him spend as much time on computer as possible. Kids need to play video games to learn to code them. Don’t limit screen time. Getting to know a computer and all that software can do takes time.
- Take him to science centres, zoos and aquariums all over the world when you travel. Buy seasons passes to the local ones so he can go as often as possible.
- Never shut down a question. Model, “Let’s find out!” and take the time to help him get what he needs to find out.
- Host special interest clubs at your home. Minecraft club, coding club, or a Beakerhead or First Lego League project can provide peer knowledge, fun, and social time as well as incredible learning from peers.
- Take him to Kids Project Days at building supply stores. Many are offered for free. Be sure to back off – let him build the project! Hammering in nails crooked is a great moment in learning physics and should not be taken over by the parent. STEM education embraces mistakes, not avoids them. Perfection is not part of STEM; the learning is in the process.
The only thing you have to practice with him in your parenting is problem-solving, because the world of STEM is all about creatively solving problems. This may involve risk and mess, but it is free and has unlimited possibilities. Don’t limit the exploration except for extreme safety issues. Even with reasonable safety issues, use the opportunity to teach about safety precautions and managing risk. Children are going to experiment with fire and water, and they critically need limits and supervision. Better they do it while you are around and not behind your back. (More about “The Power Plant” later!)
I am skeptical of all the classes and extra-curricular classes that are often structured and have very little creativity involved, popping up to cash in on parent’s homeschool funding, or childcare budgets, and/or their anxiety that they should do more to encourage interests in STEM. Many of the extra-curricular classes are just like “more school.” I was having a discussion yesterday with my engineering son and he said the one element that helped further his interest in STEM was having the “control.” In STEM classes, the control is not with the students; it is with the teacher. In order to experiment, one needs to have the control to manipulate things, make hypothesis and plans, and especially carry out plan B. Lack of control is a big turn off, and kids take back control by losing interest in formal, structured, and planned outcome classes.
As well, most classes are geared to under-aged kids and liability issues will limit all the cool stuff that kids want to do. In school, the most my kids ever did was experiments with baking soda and vinegar. Boring. Parents at home, can accept the liability and their kids can do much more under their supervision.
As one mom said, “I couldn’t agree more – my son who is now headed off to study physics at University hated his online high school physics courses but loves physics. I would like to think it might be because we owned balls and hot wheels and elastic and marbles and … and that I sat in the driveway (as the safety monitor) while he lit things and launched things and built things that rolled and put his little brother in them and pushed him down the hill and I let him jump in elevators and watch Youtube videos of other people doing crazy things for the first 9 years of schooling. It all made high school physics easy but very dissatisfying. He is now looking forward to being able to study at a much higher level and with people passionate about this area.”
If parents have a child geared to STEM, they will know it. Sure, some classes might be fun, but fund what the child wants to do, not what some advertisement says they need. This applies to any gender! If the class is awful, let him quit. You don’t want to turn him off of a STEM interest with boring, limited, mediocre, controlled classes that will stunt them instead of empower them. Get them access to what they need, supervise the scary stuff, show them how to clean up, and get out of their way! Einstein didn’t have STEM daycamps or extra-curricular classes!
By Judy Arnall, Excerpted from, Unschooling to University: How to impassion your disengaged learner. http://www.unschoolingtouniversity.com
Children raised in self-directed environments are kind, giving and empathetic. Just as school is a community, so is a family who unschools. They don’t shield themselves from the world, but do their part to make it better. The difference is that unschooling families can choose what areas they think need help, rather than what the curriculum or government dictates. Families who volunteer together, head out to vote together, and help their neighbor when-ever they can, entrench the practice into a regular family ritual and they do much good in the world.
“Wait until they have to get up early for a real job; then they will be in shock by the real world.”
So my son started his first day of school. He is age 19. He has his first experience of agendas, exams, deadlines, and a structured class. He has been unschooled for grades 1-12 and taught himself various high school classes through online and self-directed in preparation for a career in STEM. Last week, he began a 4 course load at university in sciences. He has to get up, take the bus, and attend a campus of 30,000 other kids. He has 4 courses and each has a lab which is a pretty full schedule. He went from sleeping in until 1 or 2 pm and playing video games with studying 1 or 2 courses at a time, to a full schedule outside the home.
You are probably wondering how he is adapting. Well, when kids need to do something that they want to do, they learn and adapt. I can’t say it was easy, but last week was okay and this week is hard with all the labs starting, but he is stepping up to the plate. He sets his alarm, gets to the bus stop on time and puts in a full day.
That is the key point in unschooling. I can’t tell you how many times people would say to me, “Wait until they start school (or work) then they will have to get up at 6 am and won’t they be in for a shock.” Kids step up to the plate when the time is right and it is required of them and they are motivated to do it. We don’t have to “train” kids in a work ethic when they are young, so they will have it later when they are older. This is the whole point of homework in schools, which is so misguided. Kids can learn when they need or want to learn and the time is right for them.
It’s always interesting to me that society, school administrators and the government feel the need to provide educational oversight in home education. They insist that parents must provide an education “equal to the education children would get in school.” Many home education parents provide an education that is not the same, and is far superior to what children might get in school.
That might include “unschooling,” which is so different from the classroom model and in many ways is so much better. It provides freedom, passion, choice, control, personal responsibility, creativity, determination, motivation and unequaled absorption of learning for the sake of learning, rather than learning to get marks. Children can’t get much of that in a classroom dictated by government rules and oversight.
The most important years for brain development is from 0-6. Children need 3D experiential learning to develop brain cell connections for healthy growth. Does the government intervene in parenting in order to provide children with the optimal conditions for development in those years? No. Why then for the school-aged years? If there is no government oversight in parenting, then there should not be for education either.
The other reason society wants to regulate home education is the theory that a teeny tiny number of children may be maltreated, and will occur under the daily oversight of teachers, coaches, bus drivers and school nurses. Yes, that may occur. But it also occurs to children in school. Abusive parents are good at hiding their child’s bruises in school. Many school staff people are too busy to notice the hidden signs of abuse. The percentage of children abused at home and attending school is far higher than the percentage of children that are home schooled and may be abused. We don’t make laws based of the .000000001 percent that might be affected by them.
Besides, the vast number of abused children are toddlers and preschoolers, not school-aged children. Young children have very little executive function (self-control) abilities and parents who don’t understand that their children’s “not listening” is a development issue and not a discipline issue, tend to use punishment to correct what they perceive as a defect. It’s wrong, it is misguided, and we have no government oversight for those children. They are essentially abused on a daily basis and nothing is being done for them. By the time children are school-age, they listen better and the rate of abuse goes way down. Just as for parenting, government oversight is not required for homeschooling, anywhere, anytime.