Apr 30, 2016

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Homeschooling and Unschooling for Beginners

Homeschooling and Unschooling for Beginners

Parenting is hard!

As parents there are so many choices that can alter the lives of these small humans who rely on us to get their needs met.

What do we feed them? How do we talk to them? What type of play is appropriate? Do we work or stay home? What parenting style works best for our values as well as our children’s temperament(s)? How do we get them to do what we want?

We’ve all asked at some point: How to we ensure their survival?! (a.k.a. not kill them)

The question I ask you now is:
How do we balance our desire for their long-term happiness with our kid’s desire to be happy NOW?

Education – The Buzz Word

Why is it that our society seems to be more concerned about “education” than learning? People can learn a lot without a formal education, and I have met plenty of educated people who know very little about life.

Often when older people meet me they comment that I’m obviously “educated.” Which is funny considering I almost flunked out of high school my senior year (and had more truancies than days attended) and dropped out of college after two months of music and creative writing classes. School never did it for me (despite testing in the 99th percentile in Kindergarten). Maybe what they’re trying to say is that I’m obviously intelligent… Can our society fathom intelligence without education?

Alternative Options

Thankfully we live in a country (and I live in a state) that has options outside of compulsory education. Because of this, my youngest child (12 upon writing of this) has never attended public school. He can read and write (though his spelling still needs some attention), and has friends of many ages, not just his own. His life has been so different than mine was, and I believe he is better for it.

Here’s a brief list of the stuff he’s either done on his own, or we’ve done together:

  • theater classes since he was 5, including musical theater and acrobatic theater
  • karate
  • archery
  • roller skating
  • monthly jump house
  • volunteering at Free Geek (local non-profit) for 24 hours to earn a computer
  • science museum visits often
  • weekly gaming meetups
  • space & aviation museum visits
  • watching his Dad fix cars and install things (like a water heater)
  • charted songs from Zelda: Ocarina of Time by ear while learning to play them on the piano

The Spectrum

Most people have heard of Homeschooling, but few have heard of Unschooling. While it is a type of homeschooling, it is also a way of life and parenting and learning that goes beyond what most people think of as “education.”

The way I explain it is that Homeschooling is like a spectrum: One one end is Homeschooling that looks just like school, but it is at home. Whether for religious reasons, germ avoidance, safety, or something else, kids get the same curriculum, have times of the day set aside for subjects, and test just like they would in school. On the other side of the spectrum is what is called Radical Unschooling (see below for links and info), where no curriculum is used, and there is no forced learning or testing. Kids experience much more freedom of choice, expression, and experience.

I’d say our family leans more toward the Radical Unschooling side of the spectrum.

What I love about this approach to homeschooling is that There Is No One Right Way, and each family has the flexibility to choose what works for them (Please see your state laws for specific guidelines around testing and documentation).

Parents Need to Learn

If we’re going to offer our children alternative options to compulsory education, we need to learn what they are, and – more importantly – what the benefits are to our children. While I have very strong opinions about learning, the public education (indoctrination) system’s history, and how children are treated, I find you’ll be more effective if you form your own opinions about what is right for your family and child(ren). What I can do is point to what I’ve studied so you can start your journey of deciding if homeschooling or unschooling are in your family’s future.

When I began looking at alternatives, it took me a while to soak in a new view, and yet at the same time I was hungry for it because of my horrible experience with school. Part of my journey has been grieving the loss of what I could be now if I was given a different choice than sitting in a classroom all day being told I wasn’t good enough. I’m still doing inner work – nearly 20 years later – to undo the damage to my sense of self that was the result of a system designed to churn out people who question themselves but not their teachers/bosses/masters.

Whatever you decide, I applaud you for being willing to look. When we’re told the One Right Way is public school, it takes a lot of courage to love our kids enough to challenge the status quo. Your kids will thank you. Start clicking and learning below!

Understanding Learning + The History of Our Schooling

For a completely mind-bending look at the way we treat our children (as well as mind-bending alternatives), I highly recommend reading The Continuum Concept.

I first read about Unschooling in the book My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It is a novel, but the main character is a 12 yr old girl, and her and her teacher (a telepathic gorilla) look at some really interesting purposes of education.

Anything by John Holt. A couple fav’s:

Controversial and on-point, John Taylor Gatto has a lot of perspective on the bigger purposes of school, and how kids really learn.

A Documentary: The Secret History of Western Education
Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt served as the head of policy at the Department of Education during the first administration of Ronald Reagan. While working there she discovered a long term strategic plan by the tax exempt foundations to transform America from a nation of rugged individualists and problem solvers to a country of servile, brainwashed minions who simply regurgitate whatever they’re told.

Our Education Model adopted from a Prussian model:

How To Do It

Radical Unschooler Sandra Dodd has a lot to say about kids learning, as well as a ton of responses to every typical (and a-typical) criticism of unschooling, and general parenting advice. Whether you’re just getting started, considering, or already in it, you can find information (and lots of opinion).


A list of laws by state for requirements:

The Teenage Liberation Handbook:
This book is not only packed with a ton of information, but it isn’t just for teens. Reading this book was a huge part of my own inner journey of seeing what public school took from me, and what I could give my kids by homeschooling/unschooling.
Another by Grace Llewllyn: http://www.amazon.com/Guerrilla-Learning-Education-Without-School/dp/0471349607/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Oregon Links

Since I’m in Oregon, I know more about homeschooling here. And I will admit that getting to unschool in an area rich with homeschooling and unschooling community has been a real blessing. I can’t imagine doing this on our own!

Oregon Laws:

Amazing resource for free & low-cost events in the Portland area each month:

Life is Good Annual conference for Unschoolers:

Facebook Groups for Portland area:

Yahoo Groups for Portland area:

Alternative “schools:”

Comment below with your thoughts, experiences, questions, or to add resources to my list. I hope you find what you’re looking for!

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