This is one of the most engaging and well written books on self-directed education that I have read – and I’ve read quite a number!
I really enjoyed the emphasis on research and experience which this book gave, compared to other books on unschooling I’ve read which have often been more reactionary or from the gut.
I appreciated Kerry’s overview of what unschooling is, the history of this movement and what it could mean in practice for the reader. It’s engagingly written, not too heavy or preachy but full of history, research and evidence.
Some content was more suitable for an American audience, but I think that’s to be expected from an American author.
Overall a really interesting read, even for those who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves unschoolers but want to understand the reasons behind this choice of education.
I can remember the moment we decided to homeschool our three boys. It was late June 2009. I had returned home from picking up my oldest attending kindergarten at his art-centered charter school. I relayed the scene to my husband.
“He was a little over-excited about it being the last day of school. So I asked him if he was going to miss it over the summer – hoping to hear he was looking forward to returning. He thought maybe he’d miss his friends. But when I explained come September he could spend all day with them because grade one was ALL DAY, he threw himself down on the parking lot pavement and sobbed, “Nooo! I can’t do it all day! That’s too much!”.”
This was after a challenging spring of feeling finished and yet enduring through tears and pleas for days at home.
He had a lovely and nurturing Waldorf trained teacher whom he adored. The other children were lovely for the most part, he got along with everyone, he participated…they did Brain Gym every morning! The walls were painted in mosaics, the halls lined with beanbag chairs, they had an artist-in-residence that the kids could visit and see what they were working on without needing permission. Completely free and open. It was, by every standard, the perfect school. And yet he didn’t like being there so much. It seemed to be just too much.
I still had two little ones at home, and by April, the daily dance I had to go through to get him to go was becoming tiresome. He wanted to be at home with us. But he had to go to school. Right?
My husband noted at the end of my story that he didn’t like school either and I offhandedly said, “maybe we should homeschool”. He shrugged and said, “why not”?
The next month was spent flirting with the idea. He bought Blake Boles’ book “College Without High School” because that’s where parents’ thoughts go first. What about university? This wasn’t the first time I heard the term “unschooling” and thoughts of a previous encounter made me wonder if this wasn’t exactly what we needed. Why not homeschool? Better yet, why not unschool?! With the charter school set to start August 15th, surprised ourselves by we making the decision right then to keep him home.
I didn’t drag my feet – I did my research, found out what we was needed to legally homeschool in our province (Alberta, Canada), registered with a schoolboard and called to withdraw him from grade one all in one day. Done. The emotional work of our decision would take years to unpack, then question, then justify. We had a great support person (all homeschoolers in Alberta are assigned a facilitator who is a certified teacher and works for the board in this role only. Usually, they also homeschool their own children). That first year, she helped us understand how varied and family-specific home education is. She provided us with the tools to determine our own pace and rhythm. She was a source for everything and a gentle hand in guiding us towards the realization that we are the ones making all the decisions and no decision is a bad one; just a path we are on that can be changed on a whim as needed. Thank you, Cindy!
In the ensuing years we moved boards, and subsequently facilitators. But every facilitator for every school board we’ve had has been outstanding. Unschooling stayed our gold standard because we discovered that the more we interfered, the less they did. When we got out of the way and schooled “from behind”, waiting for them to tell us in one way or another what they needed to grow and learn, they flourished. From the beginning, we have not used curriculum in any form. Admittedly I did buy some, but they were still in the wrappers when I sold them years later. We have tried many things, but in the end, they have learned most of what they know on their own with no help or interference from us. If they wanted to take a formal course, we would get them access – whether that meant driving them to and from or buying the materials they needed. We found that they bring us answers to things they discover, more than they come to us looking for the answer.
Over the years our oldest went to public school for grades 9 through 11 for access to a unique sports program. The pandemic brought him home to finish grade 12 and graduate in April 2021. He found a tutor for Japanese and will be leaving, when borders open, to spend a year in Japan immersed in the language and culture he loves.
Our second child jumped a grade (because they don’t follow grades) and tried grade 10 for only a semester of public school at 14 years old. Despite straight A’s he deemed school was for people not interested in learning, but only there because they were compelled to go, and thus a waste of his time. As of February 2022, he is also a high school graduate. He’s adding higher math and chemistry to his skills over the next few months and looking at a STEM degree that will “get him to space”. Both completed the government diploma requirements.
Our youngest, and most unschooled, is bright, and full of hope and wonder. Not at all interested in being in school but looking forward to following his own dreams and passions. There is no doubt in our minds he will be successful at whatever he pursues.
It has almost been 13 years since the decision to home educate was made. There have been countless moments of genuine concern and intense doubt. But mostly it has been a joyous ride and an amazing journey of discovery. We love spending time with our boys – they are funny, smart and a pleasure to be around. We look back on that summer and are so thankful for every moment of freedom we’ve had since.
Stacey Piercey left the corporate world to teach her three boys at home in 2009 and is an active member of the home learning community in Canada. She has run various home-school co-ops and was chair of her home-school board’s parent council. In 2014 she started a home-school program supporting children ages 6 to 17 in starting their own business, ending in a Children’s Business Fair. It was so popular, Stacey began presenting it to students in community clubs and eventually to schools that heard about the program’s success. In 2019 she scripted her curriculum for on-demand delivery and eventually sold her online course to Galileo XP, an online school for at-home learners. Stacey continues to teach her program at Galileo and to local home-school co-ops in Canada.
“Do you remember when we learned all about the Sumerians when you were younger?” I asked my 18 year old daughter. “We dressed up, made different foods, and even did a puppet show?”
Looking at me blankly, she responded “No, I don’t remember doing that!”
We used to get together with a couple of other home ed families every week to cover different civilizations from history. The mums went to a great deal of trouble to prepare activities, and engage the children in a fun and positive way. But years later, I was to realise that even when a parent manages their child’s learning activities in what appears to be a meaningful way, if a child is not particularly interested in the topic, and their own curiosity is not driving their learning, it can have the same result as if the child had sat through a dry and boring classroom session. This was somewhat of an epiphany for me!
Further proof came during another conversation with the same daughter. We were talking about Ancient Egypt, and she made an offhand comment about Cleopatra being Greek. I didn’t recall us ever covering Cleopatra in any detail in our history sessions, so I asked her where she had come across that knowledge. “Oh, Horrible Histories!” was her answer.
One of my tactics to encourage the children to read was to leave a variety of different books in baskets around the house, hoping that they might pick one up occasionally when bored. This was how she had come to read about Cleopatra’s Greek heritage. This random bit of reading had stuck with her, whilst our very engaging and fun history session had not!
This is why as I have continued with my home educating journey (now in our 23rd year), I have become more and more “hands-off”. The non-negotiables remain “Please make sure you do some maths and some english every day”, but pretty much everything else is about noting the child’s interests, doing what I can to feed it (and fund it, in some cases!). We have attended home ed groups over the years, and the children have still participated in whatever activities were on offer, sometimes exploring more on those subjects after. We still have many educational chats, encourage our children to expand their horizons, and “go and look it up!”, but have abandoned most of what would be considered traditional schooling, particularly in the primary years.
Based on my years of home educating 7 children, my approach now is so very relaxed that I am barely involved, unless the children have asked me to be. During the primary years, I encouraged my children to learn to read and write by reading to them, and as they got older, giving them workbooks to do so that we knew we had covered the “need to know” stuff. We did the same with maths. I view these subjects as needing to be a steady building of a wall, row by row, making sure the foundations are solid. I didn’t tend to get too formal until they were around 8 years of age, and then we eased into it. Most of them were already reading by that age, learning fairly painlessly and as they were ready. But most of all, I wanted them to PLAY!
I believe that our society today vastly underestimates the great value of play for a child. Maria Montessori said “Play is the work of a child”, and it is how children learn and make sense of the world. For many home educated children, play eventually leads to interests, and developing of those interests can lead to a vocation. I would let my son have 3 day Lego or Duplo building marathons, watching as his building and thinking skills developed in huge leaps as he figured out better ways to build things.
Through play, a child figures out problems, comes up with creative and imaginative ways of filling in gaps, practices relationship skills through roleplay, comes to terms with feelings and emotions, and so much more that might seem intangible, yet lays the foundations for who that child will become as they grow older. And then of course there are other benefits like improving eye-hand co-ordination, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, etc.
Former CEO of the LEGO Foundation, Randa Grob-Zakhary, states in this presentation that play is essential for “whole child development”, and that some of the things which are developed through play in the preschool age are “more predictive of life success than your ability to read when you’re four”.
Through my now many years of home educating, my approach has gradually shifted from a more formal, planned format for my children’s education to a model that encourages my children to take ownership for their own lives and their own learning. My role as a parent is to keep them safe, guide them when necessary, but otherwise to not restrict their natural ability to learn, their natural curiosity. As a result, my younger children have benefited from my more relaxed but supportive approach, pursuing subjects they are excited about and planning their own route to chosen careers.
I sometimes wish I’d had someone to talk to back in those early years when I was starting out: someone who might’ve helped me to take a step back and consider learning as a far broader concept than “schooly” subjects. Home education offers so many amazing opportunities for giving our children freedom to just “be”, to discover the joy of mastery, and to have the thrill of heart, mind and body fully engaged in learning curves. If you haven’t taken that step back – I hope this story will encourage you to do just that!
I was so excited when I learned about Odyssey. My family moves around the world every two years, which usually means new friends, new house, and new foods! With Odyssey, my kids can now meet and stay connected to their peers, no matter where we are living. In addition to that, I also can meet and connect with similar parents to support each other without all the drama and fighting that can happen in Facebook groups. While enmeshed in Odyssey, I can forget that I’m not in the mainstream and can discuss openly the different ways to work, un, or homeschool without judgement. I do try to teach my kids good digital citizenship, but having a safe space where I don’t have to worry allows me to relax a bit related to screentime!
Review written by Elizabeth and submitted by Streams.
Disco and Circle are what every unschooling parent has been waiting for. Lucy Aitken Reed pours all her real life experience, learning and expertise as a coach and mentor into these courses and community.
Disco is a great course which covers consent, autonomy, respectful parenting and self directed learning, what it is and how to create a learning environment where the whole families learning needs can be met.
Circle provides ongoing community with other families and more specific coaching support. It’s full of compassion, experience, support, play and nurtures self love, acceptance and joy. It’s brought transformation and joy into our home like nothing else. It’s a wonderful space, full of fun and super empowering.