Unschooling Research: Podcast with Ben Greenfield

Listen to the Podcast with Ben Greenfield

Ben is a fitness expert at BenGreenfieldFitness


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What is Unschooling? Global Homeschooling Summit 2019 Session

Watch the Global Homeschooling Summit Session with Judy Arnall

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“Educated” is a Story of Resilience from ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences), and is Not Representative of Home Education

As the author of “Unschooling To University,” I read “Educated” with interest and know that the author, Tara Westover, is very much like many other unschoolers who ditch the school system and learn outside of it. Hundreds of thousands of children get educated this way in a self-directed methodology without using curriculum, teachers, classes or textbooks.  Many are self-taught using the resources they seek out or stumble over. Unschooled, educated children go on to successful careers after graduating post-secondary programs or become entrepreneurs. Learners do not need school.

Tara, however, was different than many unschoolers in that she was a victim of at least 5 ACES, (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and was the daughter of a man suffering from mental illness that severely impacted the health of the family system. She was physically abused by her brother, witnessed untreated mental illness, and was neglected by a mother that allowed emotional and physical abuse to continue. She was criticized and rejected by her family and community for leaving the church. Her unusual lack of access to information would also be considered neglect as well as her lack of family protection for her physical safety. Most young children do not get pieces of steel thrown at them by their father.

Her dysfunctional family environment intentionally impacted her access to knowledge. She grew up without books, radio, TV, internet, visitors, travel or the myriad of experiences that typical parents offer their children today whether homeschooling, unschooling or institutional schooling. She was deliberately kept isolated.

Research of brain science shows that children growing up with at least 3 ACES hinders a healthy upbringing and can cause toxic stress chemicals such as Cortisol and long term production of adrenelyn that can impair the brain’s healthy development and may produce lifelong health implications. The 10 ACES are: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, witnessing abuse, witnessing untreated mental illness, witnessing addiction, parental absence, acrimonious parental separation or divorce, constant criticism or rejection, and neglect of food, shelter and basic needs. Adults who grew up with at least 3 ACES may have brain impairment that can cause adult onset of addictions, depression and lifelong health implications such as heart problems, diabetes, anxiety and many auto-immune diseases. Tara managed to steer through the residual effects of living with ACES, with the help of her personality and spirited temperament. Some of Tara’s siblings, with different personalities, and temperament, didn’t fare as well.

This book is a shining example of resilience in spite of one’s horrific upbringing but is not an example of typical home education. Most unschoolers and homeschoolers (whether faith-based or not) have healthy functional families and do a remarkable job providing their children with access to information, love, safety and education.  This fact is why alternative education methods such as unschooling and homeschooling have not ever, nor will be considered an ACE by the medical or psychology community.

I hope Tara is happy and has now found peace.

To understand more about brain development and the stages of learning, visit part 4 of Unschooling To University, available at many bookstores near you. Chapter 16, Brain Basics, has information of the effect of ACES on learning and development.


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Letting Go When Teens Don’t Want To Travel


One of the hardest aspects of Unschooling is offering something that you think is wonderful/useful/educational to your child and they are not interested and refuse it. We recently had an opportunity to visit Washington DC and sight see for 4 days. We planned to see the beautiful monuments and all the museums of the Smithsonian. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in the middle of an urban neighborhood so we could live like the locals, eat local food and participate in the community. Residents sat on their stoops in the hot summer evenings and people-watched as we did. We saw many families with teens and younger children explore the sights. We were excited to travel as a family…except, well, the kids did not want to go.

Our kids are between the ages of 17 and 20 and although we travel frequently, they had no desire to take this trip. Whether it was because of the timing, or the location, I don’t know. But I do know that as an unschooling parent, I believe that one can’t force them to go. We tried that once and the whole trip was miserable. One can’t have a good time traveling if a child is homesick, defiant and unhappy. We had two big family discussions on why we thought this trip might be fun and interesting for them, but still they put their feet down and stayed home. So just my partner and myself went. Although the kids were keen to see our daily photos and observations we posted on our family discord channel, the kids didn’t express any regrets on not coming.

It was tough seeing all the families vacationing together. I thought of the kids as I read through all the museum exhibits and excitedly showed my partner tidbits that I found interesting and wished that my children were there to see and experience what I did. I came to realize that if some day in the future the kids want to see those things, they will make it happen. For whatever reason, now is not the right timing for them. I remembered that we had never taken our children to Disney and although I always felt like a bad parent for not giving our children “the classic trip”, I consoled my guilt with the fact that they can go anytime they want as an adult and be willing to wait in those line-ups and deal with the crowds as a willing, consenting adult. Sure enough, one child actually did go to Disney as an adult.

Just because children don’t want a particular experience at this point in time, doesn’t mean that it won’t happen and be more meaningful for them later. Forcing them to go would have made the trip bad for everyone. But leaving the decision with them will keep them open-minded to future possibilities.

Of course, it is more difficult to accept that children don’t want to come along travelling when children are young. One just can’t leave them at home without supervision. When the kids were young, I found that if I added some things to make the trip more enjoyable for them, and built in time and days that they didn’t have to join us sightseeing, they would willingly come. However, the teens just put their foot down and said, NO! I had to respect that.

In fact, I’ve observed that when I truly let go of my agenda, the universe seems to speak to my children and they pick it up (a book, a museum, a trip, a learning experience) in their own time, taking in all the good educational things that I would have wished for them. They learn when they are ready to learn, and then the absorption is so much greater than if it was coerced.  But sometimes the universe doesn’t put things in their path, and that is okay too.  They obviously didn’t need it at that time and might not ever need it.

Acceptance is the hardest element of unschooling. Whether a child refuses to watch a documentary, or attend lessons, or refuses to travel, means that they truly own their education. They know what is best for their cognitive, social and emotional growth. When they say “No” to one experience, they are saying “Yes” to something else more meaningful for them at that time. Who am I to judge that one experience is better than another? We can’t control what our learners take in; we can only offer and accept their response. Once I let it go, I had a great time in the Capital! And I’m looking forward to our family trip to Europe this Fall where everyone has agreed to go!


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The Secret of Motivating Kids To Learn Cursive

Handwriting, Cursive and Keyboarding Skills – When should kids learn them?

The short answer to when kids should learn the tools of expression, is when they need them to express themselves. As homeschoolers, we bought Mario Teaches Typing and cursive writing books and left them available for the kids to use. However, my kids never used them. They saw no use in practicing cursive or following a keyboarding program. As unschoolers, we let it go.

As toddlers, our five kids started out on keyboards handpicking letters but as they used a computer more and more often, they became very proficient and naturally started using the home keys to do a more coordinated and efficient way of typing. Nothing was taught. They picked it up on their own.

Cursive was another story. Much of their childhood writing was block letters. It was slow and painful for them to write and I have to say, a lot of their sentences were unreadable. When a child can’t write cursive, they can’t read it either. I had to recite the letters from Grandma to them. However, they still didn’t see a need to use cursive and rejected all my nudges and encouragement to practice. When they picked up the odd online course, they wrote all their letters, answers, essays, and email on a computer. They were truly digital kids that only used a pen to sign their name. Here is a sample from first year university:

And then they went to university.

Now they were in trouble! Some university professors are very old school. Unless a student has a documented disability, they can’t bring a laptop to an exam. All essays must be handwritten, even in the humanities. And all exams have time limits. My 4 kids were at a distinct disadvantage by being forced to write timed, handwritten exams (even in the sciences) by using block letters.

In typical unschooling fashion, they decided that cursive might be useful after all! They asked me for resources. I dug out the old cursive writing book from grade 1 and they practiced. They practiced by copying sentences from favourite story books like Cat In The Hat for about 10 minutes a day, and used their cobbled cursive for taking notes in class. At least they could read it. In about 3 months they had a readable cursive style that was acceptable for handing in lab reports and essays and they scored much better on exams. Here is a sample after 3 months of practice in first year university:

The moral here is that when kids realize they need a skill, there is no stopping them from learning it. Trust that they will know when that day comes!

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Push Back Against Unnecessary Government Regulation of Home Education


Like UBER, Amazon and AirBnB, home education is a billion dollar industry disruptor. The advancement of the internet enables students to be borderless and no longer constrained to their particular government’s provision of education.  Classes can be taken from other countries and knowledge is everywhere. Many children self teach. Education looks much different today than it did when public schools began 150 years ago. The days of the teacher being the smartest person in the village and the sole source of knowledge is over. Today, anyone can learn anything, anywhere and anytime. Every child has a right to an education, and with the internet, every child is automatically guaranteed one.

Governments are panicking with their lack of control, by increasing regulation, because they listen to powerful and well-funded unions that will re-elect them. When parents home educate, jobs are lost in an industry that is funded with billions of taxpayer dollars.

Yet, worldwide, home education is growing fast, and most of it is not funded. It doesn’t create jobs for anyone. Parents are acting in their child’s best interests and although many don’t wish to home educate, they attempt it in the desperate attempt to protect their child from bullying, sub-par curriculum, and mediocre instruction in a one-size-fits-all system. Who can blame them wanting the best for their child’s needs?

Increased government regulation comes in the form of wanting control over a segment of reality that the government should have no business controlling. The government doesn’t regulate the education of a baby, toddler or preschooler when brain architecture is developing the most in the first six years of life. Governments trust parents to do a good job and leave them alone. This is how education should be for the remaining 12 years of childhood.

Forcing families to register their home educated child is unnecessary as each child is already registered with a birth certificate. Forcing families to follow a government or school prescribed curriculum insinuates that the parent can’t do better at home, when research shows that home educated children perform much higher academically and socially than even private school children. Forcing teachers to do mandatory visits insinuates that children are being abused or neglected when 99.9999..% of parents are doing an excellent job. Most child abuse occurs in the early years of ages 0-4 in the form of Shaken Baby Syndrome.  School aged abuse is extremely rare and can be investigated under child welfare laws already in place.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26, states that parents have a prior right to choose the education of their children. This includes content and methodology. Governments must honor it. Children belong to their parents who know best, not the state.

How can one push back against government regulation?

  1. Join, form or support a legal registered home education organization that lobbies and advocates for parental rights first and foremost in their child’s education. Numbers matter so spread the awareness of the organization through social media. Network with other countries’ home education organizations to find out how they handle regulation. Be aware of upcoming laws and be noisy protesting them. Write letters, newspaper articles, sign petitions, attend stakeholder meetings and get in front of the news media.
  2. Make home education an election issue. Home educators and their children vote more than the average person. Home education is growing so much, that at some point in a child’s school life, a parent will consider doing it.
  3. Document research. Home education has been around and legal in most of North America for the past 40 years. There is good research on the effectiveness of it.

In Canada, there is the Fraser Institute’s two research reports and much more research here:


In the US, there is the National Home Education Research Institute


  1. Be visible. If your family home educates, tell people, answer questions and get out during the day. Dispel the common myths – it’s so much work, the kids won’t get socialized…it’s creating a 3 tier system….all not true.
  2. Challenge the effectiveness of existing regulation. Once regulation is in place, it is very hard to get rid of it, but try. Court challenges are useful in setting precedence.

Enjoy your children and enjoy home education.  It is your family’s right!




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Video Games Give Kids A Bigger Academic Edge Than Homework

Excerpted from Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content


Games are just another food on the buffet of learning

Children love their technology and parents know it. If you treat screen time like any other educational tool, it will not be elevated to “treat” status in the eyes of the children, and they will naturally find a balance between that and other activities. Leave lots of other play options lying around. Everything kids are curious about is educational and contributes in some way to their development.

Educational benefits of video and computer games

Are video games educational? Of course, they are! Any kind of toy or game is educational in that it teaches children knowledge and competencies. Not every game has to be labeled “educational” to be educational. Other than volunteering, travel, and reading, video games have been the biggest “curriculum” in our home education and have been very valuable in keeping the children engaged in learning, over textbooks and worksheets.

As a parent of five gamers of both genders, I learned early that my children hated the “educational games” that have primitive graphics, poor logic, clumsy interface, are non-multiplayer, and are just plain lame. These educational games seem to be marketed to parents who aim for productive use of time rather than plain fun.

When my kids immersed themselves in games like World of Warcraft, Nox, Spore, Gizmos and Gadgets, Age of Empires, Graal, Lacuna Expanse, Civilization, Garry’s Mod, Crusader Kings, Runescape, and League of Legends, they learned not only reading, writing, and math skills, but also social studies, mythology, history, and science. They learned the valuable social skills of cooperation and conflict resolution with other in-game players, and with buddies in the same room playing the same game. In (World of Warcraft) WOW, League of Legends, and Overwatch, they learned the personal skills of resilience during adversity, perseverance and the commitment to continue and finish for the team, even when they were discouraged. They learned how to deal with challenges, problems, team members, and competitors under time pressure. They learned how to win gracefully, and how to face losing with dignity—and without throwing a keyboard across the room.

Indirectly, games and toys teach some academic concepts in ways that are compelling to children, aided by the focus that is essential for gaming success. Parents who don’t play video games may not even realize how their children have learned these competencies. Have a look at the following impressive list of competencies that video games can help to develop:

Academic Competencies

Executive function planning and working memory skills: Games teach critical thinking, analytical thinking, strategy, and problem-solving skills. Think about the scientific method. Most games give clues but not directions. So, a player has to hypothesize to find a strategy that might work. The game developers withhold critical information, so players must use trial and error to discover what they need to know. The games are giant puzzles that stretch executive function and working memory and develop skills. Further, gaming teaches problem solving under duress because many of the tasks they have to perform have time limits!

Multi-tasking: Players learn to manage many forms of information and options, usually under the stress of time limits and encroaching competitors. Just memorizing the number of items one can obtain in a game is an amazing feat. Some games make a player battle in order to stay alive, providing a great training ground for the workplace! When juggling competing interests, players also learn about time management and setting priorities.

Literacy: Games that require reading, writing, and spelling build literacy skills both on- screen and in game manuals that are often written at a high school level, telling gamers how to play and offering insights for getting over rough spots. Children who can’t read certainly try to learn! Our kids learned to read, write and use grammar from playing Graal, Animal Crossing, Sims, Sim City and many other games. Children who hate workbooks and seat-work can practice literacy skills in a format that really motivates them.

Math skills: Games develop pattern recognition and use math operations, reasoning, and logic to solve problems. The kids were motivated to learn how to tell time. They wanted to know exactly how long a half an hour was and how many more minutes until Neil gets off and they get their turn!

Computer programming skills: They learned coding, Perl, C++, CSS, HTML, scripts, and many other useful computer programming skills by playing user-modifiable games. My son learned how to use Java scripts by playing Lacuna Expanse.

Art, History and Science: Games initiate interest in many topic areas in history, art, culture, and science that spur research and reading. My kids also learned much of elementary school Greek history from playing Age of Mythology, and science from Gizmos and Gadgets and Magic School Bus. Civilization and Crusader Kings were great for learning history. Kerbal Space Program was excellent for learning orbital mechanics, space travel, physics, and engineering.

Knowledge: Gaming allows the elderly, poor, isolated or confined person access to in- formation and communication that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Creativity: During our children’s heavy video game-playing years, they continued with their self-motivated art representations: they played mostly the Mario series, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Pokemon, and Kirby. They painted hundreds of pictures of the characters. In fact, the characters were represented in every medium possible—play-dough, Lego, wood, watercolor, markers, homemade costumes, stuffed figures, and many others. The handwritten stories of the adventures of Kirby and Mario, done by all the children, were equally impressive. They even made homemade board games featuring the characters. When Burger King ran a promotion handing out Pokeballs with characters inside along with their kids’ meals, we ate at Burger King four nights a week and acquired an immense collection of figurines! Although they wouldn’t touch those kids’ meals today, the figurines still represent many cherished memories of their imaginary play in which they set up scenes, built habitats, and invented stories and games with each other and with their characters. I am still amazed at the creativity that those video and computer games inspired. As the kids got older, their creativity moved from physical objects to a screen. They generated art, music, writing, and videos onscreen. The creative process was still there; it just changed formats. Once children reach school-age, mainstream parents tend to get rid of traditional creative items such as arts and craft supplies, paints, dress-up clothes, and drama props because “the schools can deal with the mess.” However, the schools become more academic from Grade 4 on, so very few children have creative outlets at home or at school. Hence the appeal of being creative on the computer, with games like the Sims, Sim Theme Park, and Animal Crossing, where children can create their own worlds. It’s not the children’s need for creativity that has changed, but the medium.

Social and Emotional Competencies

Connection: Children can easily stay in touch with family and friends around the world by playing games, talking, and socializing in real time over communication channels such as Discord or FaceTime. Grandparents love to connect with their grandchildren, regardless of how far apart they might be. My kids often would game with their siblings who were away at university or had moved to another city to work.

Entertainment: The internet and gaming provide limitless sources of entertainment in video and audio format. Name your genre and it’s available.

De-stressing skills: Gaming helps players to zone out, de-stress, escape into fantasy worlds, and relax. My friend is 45 years old and works as a realtor. To de-stress, she comes home and plays computer games with her daughter.

Delayed gratification skills: Players have to work their way up by levels and cannot shortcut without others’ help. Studies show that children who learn to appreciate delayed gratification at an early age tend to do better in life.

Executive function focus skills: Especially difficult in a background of music, noise, chattering, and distractions, gaming demands total focused concentration. This is a useful practice for many children. Often, children are diagnosed with attention deficits in school, yet can focus for hours on gaming.

Self-esteem: Games build self-esteem and confidence in skills that are admired by peers. This is especially important for children who don’t excel in academics, sports, or the arts. Being accepted and respected for a special skill builds self-confidence in other areas of their lives.

Executive function inhibitory control: Games provide a method of teaching and practicing emotional intelligence. Games give children practice in handling anger, frustration, and setbacks—especially when they lose an acquired level because they forgot to save!  It even teaches natural consequences and how to problem solve to fix a situation. Of course, children need an adult around to help them deal with those strong emotions, or else a controller will go flying against the wall!

Gender neutrality: The internet and gaming enable people to communicate without visual stereotypes. People are judged on their words and actions, not on age, gender, culture, or looks.

Commitment and work ethic: “My son doesn’t commit to extracurricular activities, but he is persistent in mastering a game, committing to a team of five in a game, or learning coding,” says Ellen, homeschooling mom of two.

Cooperation and collaboration: Multi-player games lend themselves to team building, cooperation, strategy formation, and group problem solving with other players both in the game and those watching the game. Players have to work together to develop a plan, achieve results, and cover each others’ backs. They learn to negotiate, compromise, and practice fair play.

Encouragement: As well, when one child plays and another watches, they both learn how to encourage each other to take risks, try another solution, and keep going. It’s wonderful to watch their “team approach,” even if only one child is at the controls. Often, my kids played as a team against other teams in League of Legends and it was lovely to watch how they bonded.

Independence: In a world of helicopter parenting, gaming and social media provide a playground for children that is not micro-managed by adults. Children make the rules or the game makes the rules, but not the parents. When children get together face to face, they speak a gaming language that is not understood by adults, but that bonds them together in a secret world.

Conversations: When my kids would meet up face to face with their friends, they spent non-gaming time engrossed in conversations, bragging about games they had and which ones to go for next, which characters they wanted to play, and what levels they had achieved—much like we used to discuss hockey stats, car enhancements, and movie stars. Teens especially like to differentiate themselves from adults in their form of dress, hairstyles, music, and activities. Gaming is one more avenue that helps them do that.

Family closeness: Many parents play video games with their children from a young age until the kids move out—then come back for Sunday dinner and a round of League of Legends! As a non-gamer, I personally found that taking an interest in my children’s gaming by sitting and watching them and listening to their descriptive adventures in the game brought us closer in communicating and sharing fun times.

Socialization: Minecraft Club! Computer Coding Club! Girls Who Game Club! As kids move into the teen years, they are not well practiced in initiating conversations because they are more self-conscious about what they say and do. They need an activity to focus on in order to relax. Gaming clubs provide that activity.

Social media has benefits too!

Social: Kids can easily connect to other like-minded kids who share their interests.

Writing: They can flex their debating and persuasive writing skills on hot topics in discussion websites, with other really good debaters.

Research: They can learn about people with different backgrounds, religions, and cultures as they make online friends around the world.

Create: They can create and share musical, technical, and artistic projects with others by writing blogs and making websites, videos, memes, podcasts, and webinars.

Collaboration: They can collaborate on projects without ever meeting each other in person. Several books have been published with such collaboration.

Citizenship: They can organize, volunteer, raise collective consciousness, and raise funds for charitable organizations and worthy causes.

Entrepreneurship: They can start and grow a business.

Health: They can access health information on any topic from sexuality to depression and get answers to questions that they would be embarrassed to ask an adult.

Because of the proliferation of smartphones and video games, which 80 percent of Canadian kids play, children as a school cohort are dating at older ages, having sex later, driving later, and moving out later, and have little taste for alcohol and smoking. (McKnight, 2015) These are excellent trends. The trade-off is that they spend more time alone in their rooms, connected to their mobile phones. Thus, inter-personal and socialization skills can take a hit. Family can counteract that by spending time together and scheduling outside family social time. Declare some screen-free zones and times, like meal time, to gather together, socialize, and enjoy each other’s company. Social media can also be brutal to children’s self-esteem, so open communication with supportive parents and siblings is critical in keeping peer stress tolerable and not toxic. Screens have value, but children also need face-to-face relationships in the three-dimensional, physical world. Like all technology, games and social media are tools and how we use them can be beneficial or detrimental. Balance is key.

Excerpted from Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content, By Judy Arnall

Available at Chapters, Barnes and Noble and a bookstore near you.

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