The Unschooled Engineer


How does unschooling work when a child is a teenager and is beginning to choose a career path?  Many people are fine letting young children play away their day, but what about when the time comes to start thinking about their life’s work? And what if that passion is a STEM career? Good question!

Let’s take an example. Josh is 16.5 years old. He has had no formal schooling.  He loves spending his days with his cat, meeting up with other unschooling buddies for movies and lunch, reading all kinds of genre, tinkering with game mods and playing Fortnite.

He has decided on a career.  He passionately wants to be a software engineer. Let’s say he lives in Alberta, one of the most highly regulated home education provinces in Canada. Now what?

He looks up several Canadian university requirements for engineering and needs grade 12 level English, Social Studies, Math, Calculus, Physics and Chemistry for university entrance of a 4 year software engineering degree.

What he can do:

  1. Apply to a community college and get his first year humanities requirements now. They might transfer to his first year at university depending on the university. Enroll in distance education or an adult upgrading school classroom for Math 10 and 11 and science 10 and physics 20. Next year, enroll in math 12, physics 30, chemistry 20 and chemistry 30. Four courses per year is doable. He could take the calculus requirement in first year university. By 18.5 years, he is ready to apply to universities.
  2. Wait until he is 19 years old to get his humanities requirements. Read and study The Key Book for English 30 and Social 30. Practice writing essays. He has done extensive reading and discussions of social issues with his friends and he is already quite versed in literature, government and social issues. Write the diploma exams in both subjects for marks and credits. While he is waiting until he is 19, he can take the above sciences at an adult upgrading school, or online, or distance education. By 19 years, he is ready to apply to universities.
  3. Begin self-study now. Do all of number 2 above on his own. Work on his own through the textbooks and hire a tutor or check out Kahn Academy if he needs help. At age 19, write the diploma exams for English, Social, Math, Chemistry and Physics. By age 19, he is ready to apply to universities.
  4. Self-study. Write the SAT or ACT exams for all the above subjects. Make a transcript listing activities and accomplishments that would fit in the above subjects. By age 18, he is ready to apply to universities.

The science behind accelerated learning

When young people choose a career path, many people think that the unschooled kids have to catch up 12 grades of education.  However, we forget that the brain has been working all those years processing, acquiring and synthesizing information. By age 16, the brain is in the final stages (until age 25) of maturing the pre-frontal cortex. Late teen’s ability to reason, critically think, plan, make-decisions and implement self-control (motivation) is ramping to their peak performance. The kids have spent 16 years reading, theorizing, writing, learning and understanding science, history and math in the real world through experiential education. They may need some practice applying it to paper, but that is what high school courses are for. That may take 1-3 years depending on the province they live in. It goes by fast. Meanwhile, the love of learning and curiosity has been preserved.

I know what you are thinking…math is linear. How can Josh possibly do 10 grades of math in math 10? The answer is that Josh is not starting from grade one. Josh has learned 16 years of math experientially. He has baked, shopped, checked the weather, built a project, mailed a package and played Battleship. He has learned addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, measurement, fractions and decimals as well as integers and coordinates experientially. He may need a four month math 10 prep course to transfer that learning to paper. His brain has it’s abstract thinking skills and is ready to commit 16 years of math to learning how it works out answers when written down. Many parents look at their 6 year old and can’t imagine how capable and smart their child will be at 16 years. In fact, that 16 year old might be smarter than them.

Kids are not catching up on knowledge, but switching to a different track – one that requires more output/demonstration of what they already have learned, combined with new learning in subject matter that interests them. At age 16, never being in structured education, Josh is excited to try it, when quite a lot of his school friends are burning out from 13 years of coerced learning (possibly including 3 years of preschool). If Josh is motivated and software engineering is his passion, nothing will stop him. Nothing!

Judy Arnall is a child development expert and the bestselling author of Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content


About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Conference speaker, trainer and best-selling author Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery Judy Arnall is Canada's expert on non-punitive parenting and education practices.
This entry was posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Unschooled Engineer

  1. Claudette says:

    This is a great, encouraging post. Thank you for sharing!


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