Why Unschooling?

I remember very distinctly having a conversation with a lovely group of like-minded folks about how I was concerned that GoGo may end up being too much of an “odd duck” among her peers.  (Being vegan, atheist, hippies in Westchester, NY has put us in a very slim minority.)  Someone commented, “Just wait ’til you decide to homeschool her!” and I laughed that, indeed, we were planning to do that, too!

But, then to add on to that the slightly odd and off-putting title of “unschooling” and now I’ve really doomed (blessed?) my child to odd-duckness.

Unschooling is… well, it isn’t school.  It’s child-led learning.  It’s the way GoGo (and all children) learned to roll over, sit-up, walk, talk, lie, sing, dance, etc.  It’s the way she has learned everything she has learned in the 2 1/2 amazing years she has been on this planet.  And it’s the way you, dear reader, probably learned the very things you are most interested in.  It’s the way we learn things for our whole lives.  If I have a sudden interest in, let’s say… vegan baking… Well, I will get some books from the library, or perhaps find a friend who is an accomplished baker to give me some tips, maybe I’ll even enroll in a class to learn from a professional.  That’s how unschooling works.  And we just see no reason to let school get in the way of that.


John Holt is the father of the unschooling movement and it was his book “Learning All the Time” that inspired me to forego a school-based education for my child.  I had the urge just then to write “a traditional education” but, quite honestly, our modern-day education system is new-fangled concept.  Traditionally, children were not forced to attend school by law.  Compulsory education has been around for less than 200 years.  A blip on the radar.

I have so very many feelings about unschooling and I can feel myself starting to get riled up a bit just trying to put them into words.  If you have young children, I urge you to read this book, and then anything else by Holt, because it is really so inspiring.  He convinced me that learning is “as natural as breathing.” Maybe he can convince you, too.

The man himself, with a little Life Learner


When I think about going to school as a child (and then as a teenager and young adult) I truly have many very fond memories.  I always liked school very much.  I thrill at the idea of making dioramas and writing book reports.  There were many things that I genuinely enjoyed about my public school education.  I also remember having nightmares about not finishing my homework.  In fact, I still have a recurring nightmare in which Jem and the Holograms are rollerskating in circles around me with marble notebooks singing about how I didn’t finish that night’s assignment.  This dream started when I was in elementary school.  I do not enjoy the thought that my child might ever feel that same stress.  And how much has the education system changed in the time since then?  I’ll just briefly mention the term “common core” here and then figuratively walk away from it, because I don’t want to get REALLY riled up.

I hope that GoGo does not miss out on the aspects of school she would have truly enjoyed.  That is part of the beauty of unschooling, after all.  If she wants to make a diorama; you’d better believe, we will make dioramas.  And we won’t have to stop making dioramas just because the clock says it’s time for math class.

There are other things I didn’t & don’t love about the modern education system.  I don’t love the idea that my child would be forced to sit in a room with children who happen to have been born in the same year as her despite the fact that they may have wildly different interests and capabilities.  I also don’t love the bullying that I know goes on in schools. I could go on, but I don’t want to be mistaken; I am not trying to put down schools.

I am a teacher and approximately 75% of my immediate family members are teachers.  So, I know there are dedicated and amazing educators out there.  I know that there are many great things that could come from sending GoGo to school.  But, to me the risks outweigh the possible benefits, and I see many ways we could reap those same benefits with unschooling.

None of this is to say that GoGo will never step foot in a classroom.  It could be that she asks to attend school and we would respect her wishes because this is about learner-initiated education.  If she has a desire to go to school, then we will do that!  I have taught children and teenagers, and I have taught adults and senior citizens.  And I will tell you, the main difference is that the latter group of students were there because they wanted to be there.  And what a difference that makes.

This is a journey that we are taking as a family and it will be a journey that GoGo is on for the rest of her life.  We never stop learning as long as we are living, and we are trying our best to help her find the right path, just like all parents everywhere.


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