Unschooling FAQ – Academic Concerns



Can kids really “catch up” on 12 years of schooling when they are teenagers?

Children are not catching up on knowledge but switching to a different track – one that requires more output/demonstration of what they already have learned. They have the knowledge.  Through their play, projects and field trips, they have been picking up all kinds of information, skills and knowledge, but they have little requirement to prove it. When they reach the teens years, they learn the “proving” requirements such as how to take an exam, how to write an essay, how to present a powerpoint, how to speak a debate. They learn the output required to “demonstrate” learning, but the input is already in their brains.

Some people suggest that unschooling is neglectful child abuse. Families should be regulated; required to register with a school, have certified teachers visit, and children must be made to follow the government curriculum and be tested.

Teachers are education experts in the classroom. Parents are education experts of their children in their home. Teachers receive no mandatory education in the uniqueness of home education or unschooling in their degree programs.

There is no government academic, social or emotional oversight of parenting children ages 0-5 when critical brain development sets a trajectory of health and education for life, so there is no reason for academic oversight when a child reaches their 6th birthday. There is no need for certified teachers or government to interfere in home education. 99.9% of parents have their child’s best interests at heart and we must entrust them to do the best for their children as we do in the early years as set forth by the Declaration of the United Nations.

Kids don’t know what to learn unless you don’t introduce them to.

Children are natural born learners. Curiosity begins at birth and never ends. How would a five-year-old know what they want to study? When kids play, they are already taking control of what to study. We just need to get out of their way.

How will they know they like poetry if they are never exposed to poetry? How can a child never be exposed to poetry? Do they not listen to music? Advertisements? Jokes? I don’t know one child that would go through 18 years of childhood without touching on the subject of poetry.

A love of any subject is exhibited at a young age by finding it in everyday life, and not segregated as subjects. Life gives way to learning opportunities and further exploration.

I don’t think we have to worry about exposure thanks to the internet. There is no information out there right now, that we can possibly shield from children. We don’t directly teach sex education and somehow the kids figure it out!

Some parents do facilitate an education, but what about parents who just let kids do nothing all day?


I have to say that there were times that I was NOT interested in facilitating my child’s desire to learn something (like the second world war) and it was NOT my decision to further his education or not- my child would pester me for resources and eventually found them on his own when I wasn’t forthcoming- great training practice for future university research.

We seem to think we are the gate-keepers to knowledge, but we are not. We are facilitators when we choose to be – but if we are not, our children will find out what they want to know anyways in spite of any obstacles in their path. It is arrogant of ourselves to think that we can stop a person from learning. You can’t force a child to learn and you can’t stop a child from learning. I keep thinking about the poem by Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s (learnings) longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

Kids need a broad education. How can unschooling provide that?

With the internet, kids can easily go as broad as they want. School is becoming the narrow filter in that it can only cover so many topics. Options in junior high are limited to 6-10 subjects. In high school, they have 10-40 subjects depending on the funding of the school. Of all the information available in the world, schools can only focus on a few topics. They go very narrow and shallow in order to be as broad as they can. With class sizes of 30 children, a teacher cannot individualize learning according to a variety of interests. They must choose a narrow topic that all children will be standardized graded on and study. Why can kids only study Brazil in grade 8? Why not other countries or them all? Not enough time.

With unschooling, kids have a chance to go deep and narrow according to interests and wide and shallow on topics they are not too interested. Children don’t want to waste time learning things they really don’t want to know about. Ultimately, we all must go deep and narrow at some point in our lives as we choose careers. But even that is open; the average adult changes careers and may have 5 in a lifetime.

What about math?

Math is problem solving issues in daily life. A child learns fractions by baking and cooking. They learn decimals from shopping and allowances. Not everyone is going to need linear equations and polynomials though. Why do we need to drill it into 100% of the population when only 30% might use it? Sure, it is good training for the mind – but so are a lot of other skills that the student might enjoy more. The 30% of students going into a career that requires higher level math will be motivated to learn it, when they decide they need it.

Education is so competitive today. Isn’t more school better in order to give kids an edge?

Research shows that the quality of education matters, not the quantity. More academic and earlier school entry leads kids to early burn-out. When school kids start winding down their educational drive, around grade 8, unschooled kids who never had formal learning start engaging and ramps up their enthusiasm for learning during the high school years when marks really count.

Rich resources, engagement from the learner and competent facilitators make for a quality educational experience. Not the name or rank of the school one goes to.

What’s wrong with toddler school, preschool, tutoring, Saturday school, and homework?

More and earlier formal learning in school for the general population is not better. It may have small beneficial effects for targeted, disadvantaged groups, but not for everyone. The problem is that kids burn-out from 16 years of school (age 2 to 18) before they even get to university. Is it no wonder they party and mess up that first year, out from under parent and school thumbs?

One study shows that the more years children spend in formal school or formal homeschool programs, the less likely they were to pursue post-secondary education. (Dr. Peter Gray, 2013)

Kids will forget things not drilled into them.

Yes, if it is not relevant or useful to children, they will forget it. Even now in school, retention is lost over the summer because most of what is learned is forgotten. It’s deleted from memory because it is not relevant. Most people who don’t use math for their careers lose it. Until their children get to high school and they want to help with homework and have to relearn it to help them.

There are some things kids just have to learn.

Unschoolers do not force continued exposure on children who demonstrate a dislike for the idea or activity, like is done in school. Without coercion, many children will try the activity again, perhaps later and find they like it then. Much like forcing vegetables down children is a guaranteed way to get them to dislike them.

Won’t a child have gaps?

Yes. Children in public school have them too! Public school is designed to give kids a broad, general education with little room or time for depth in any particular order. Children that are not interested tune out. They lose that knowledge from their long-term memory. Perhaps that is why so many children graduate without knowing what their passions are or what they want to do as opposed to what their parents, society and friends tell them they should do. They have been listening to other’s opinions of what is good for them for all their lives.

How do unschoolers get to university in Canada?


Very few post-secondary institutions in Canada require a high school diploma to go to university. There are at least 13 different ways to get in to university that do not require a diploma.


How do post-secondary institutions know that unschoolers have a benchmark of knowledge before admittance?

Most unschoolers present a portfolio of work or write the same government grade 12 diploma exams that all other students have to write. They also present SAT, ACT scores or other equivalents. Because Alberta Education courses are based on outcomes, how a student acquires the knowledge and skills required is irrelevant. If students have the education needed for good exam marks, they can bypass the entire grade K-12 system and still be accepted for post-secondary education.

If kids have content at the touch of their phone, what are we teaching them?

We are moving as a society from content to competencies. It is not just what you know, but what you can do with what you know. That involves relationships. School does not have a monopoly on teaching children competencies. Children can self-teach competencies or learn them from parents, coaches, grandparents, neighbors, siblings and friends if they wish.

Taking initiative, perseverance and mastering a topic area are all competencies. Committing to doing something because you gave your word is a competency that can be taught in so many other ways besides school – family chores, volunteer work, jobs, or even a computer game guild.

Are you suggesting that kids will just play video games all day?

Children learn from everything and anything. Video games are educational that they teach content and competencies and spur other interests. As well, certain types of kids are drawn to them and some are not. If a child chooses to play via games, chances are he/she will choose a career in computers, art, etc. Video games are just as valid on the “education buffet table” as “math workbooks”.

If a child is given a choice between reading a book and playing video games, surely, they would pick video games?

No. Not if we don’t sort the choices into bribes or punishments. We tell parents in “Picky Eating” classes (I’m a Family Life Educator) to start putting desert on the same plate as the meat and vegetables. Parents reluctantly try it and are surprised to find out the child gives equal preference to both. If the broccoli (math) is given equal status on the buffet table as the chocolate (video games) the child will pick what they need at the time, giving no thought to its status of desirability.

How do you deal with a child who is cranky about learning? A teen?

That teen has probably had “school” shoved down so much that they are burned out of learning. They need to de-school and find their passions. By the teen years, they have been drilled that learning is not fun. It is an activity they do out of fear of punishment (truancy charges, detentions, class humiliation, bad marks) or bribery (good marks, pizza coupons, sports awards). They are burning out when they really should be gearing up because those courses are what is going to get them into the schools of their choice – post secondary.

How will they adjust to university if they have never had a school “schedule”?

When children go from taking no courses, or a single course in the high school years, to a 5-course load in post-secondary, there is a few months of a learning curve. But they do fine. They adjust when they need to. They get up and get out the door for 8 am classes, even if they have just spent the previous 12 years sleeping in until 2 pm. They learn to juggle multiple final exams in one week and they learn how to study. Adults need 21 days to learn new habits. Universities have many workshops on study skills and time management because many kids still don’t learn that in school.

How do you prove they are learning?


How do you prove that they are not learning? It is interesting how questions always focus on the perceived inadequacies of unschooling and not the real inadequacies of the school system.


About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Certified child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. Keynote speaker and best-selling author of "Discipline Without Distress", "Parenting With Patience", "Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers to Teens", and "Unschooling To University."
This entry was 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? and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Unschooling FAQ – Academic Concerns

  1. Macey C says:

    Appreciate this blog postt


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