A Child’s Perspective on Unschooling

Today whilst driving in the car, my 13 year old son started to chat about how irrelevant he believes high school to be. He said something like, “Well, once you’ve learned the basics in primary school, why do you need to be in high school to learn all the other stuff? Why not learn what, how and when you want to learn? You don’t need to go to high school to learn stuff!” We talked about some of the possible reasons why governments and educators want teenagers to go to school and stay at school for as long as possible. We thought it was probably because they don’t trust that people actually want to learn, and that they thought it might keep them out of trouble, rather than “just wandering the streets”?

He thought perhaps primary school was more relevant than high school, because he can see the benefit of knowing the basics such as reading and mathematics, and wondered if primary school would be a quick way to learn those things.

I delighted, then, in telling him and his sister (who was also in the car) the story of the children who learned the entire primary school maths curriculum in 20 contact hours and we talked about how quickly you can learn something if you really want to learn it. 😉 He thought about it and agreed that primary school is as unnecessary as high school for learning things you want or feel the need to learn. (I’m not saying that unschooling is going to be the best choice for all families, but rather that school isn’t essential for learning.)

We went on to discuss the difference between learning something because you want to, versus trying to learn something because you “have to”, because you are being taught and tested on it, and we came up with a caricature in our minds to show the difference, as we see it, between schooling (either at school or at home, where the emphasis is on teaching rather than learning) and unschooling (where the emphasis is on learning rather than teaching). The picture was in two parts. Firstly, a school child with the top of his head sliced open (hence why it’s a caricature and not real life!), a teacher spooning in the information, and then the information coming out through the pen during testing time, possibly to be mostly forgotten forever after. The second half of the picture was of an unschooled child eating yummy “food” that is assimilated into his body and becomes part of him, which demonstrates a child happily exploring and investigating whatever he is interested in.

Tonight my daughter decided to draw a picture to represent her thoughts about what we’d been talking about. I figured it was pretty cute, so decided to share it. 🙂

A Child's Perspective

As Joyce Fetteroll so eloquently says,

“Teaching is putting information in; learning is drawing information in.”

Instead of teaching and testing, look for the learning! You will find it has been there all along! Instead of force feeding and over-stuffing, possibly ending up with a child who is simply no longer hungry, make delicious “food” and enjoy it together (or alone) and watch their eyes light up with delight as they savour the flavours of foods they have chosen.

A child who is force fed with knowledge she either doesn’t want, doesn’t see the need for, or doesn’t desire at that time, is a child who can sometimes decide that learning is “boring”, hard or irrelevant.

A child who is granted the freedom to follow his interests, learn what he wants to learn as he goes about his life, and spend an abundance of time with a parent who has eyes wide open to the abundance of learning that is happening, is a child who is likely to see learning and living as one entwined entity that is interesting, appealing and as natural as breathing.

Rethinking Population Growth


I love some of the insights into my childrens’ minds, that are brought on by casual conversation! My thirteen year old son, who has never been to school, is the one most often surprising me at the moment, with his comments, questions, observations and insights. Here is a current example:

Last night, on his way to bed, he came out with something like this: “I think that in a few years we will probably have exhausted the capacity of the planet to house our population growth. It’s too soon to send people off to another planet to live, so we’ll have to come up with some other ideas.”

Because he doesn’t go to school, there was no pressure to hurry him along to bed so that he could get up on time to catch the bus or whatever, so we were able to pause and chat for a bit about some ways of dealing with the problem.

His initial thought was that perhaps every country should adopt a one or two-child policy, like China. We chatted about some of the possible negative ramifications of that, and I was surprised to discover that he was quite aware of some things that people have done to enable them to comply with the law but still have the sex of baby they want, etc. Thank you Google/social media for expanding my child’s mind!

His next idea was that perhaps all people should live in cities, with REALLY tall high rise units, rather than spread out in separate houses with “wasted land” between the dwellings. He said that if the apartment buildings were really really tall, they could fit lots of people in it, and the saved land could be used for farming. He also thought that roof top gardens and vertical gardens up the wall would make a lot of sense!

Then he came up with some interesting ideas about how to make the farmland more productive, to be able to grow more food for more people. He had an idea of stacked garden beds, with each layer divided into cubed sections, each alternate cube planted out and the next one open to allow sunlight to get to the garden bed below. Then he decided it would be great to have angled walls of mirrors around the gardens to deflect sunlight into the beds from the sides, to  help things grow better.

Now I do realise that there are some holes in his ideas (not just in his garden bed design), but for a kid who says he “doesn’t like gardening” and who spends a major part of his daylight hours sitting at a gaming computer (NOT mindlessly, in case you haven’t noticed), I was quite impressed with the way he was thinking this type of situation through.

I don’t fear the future and I choose not to meditate on onerous tales of the doom that apparently awaits us all; I prefer to focus my energies on living as well as I can, learning what I can, and helping to create positive choice. My hope swells when I hear “young people” (yes, I realise that makes me sound like an old fogey) thinking laterally and coming up with creative solutions to current or projected problems. And I especially love it when those ideas aren’t given in response to a teacher-assigned school project, but are rather the workings of an imaginative, interested teenager, thinking things through just because it’s interesting, not because it’s on the test, or in the curriculum.

Whether our children and teens are at school, or homeschooled, or unschooled, our planet is in good hands while ever they are thinking like this. Sometimes it is the seemingly wackiest ideas (like stacked vegetable beds with holes in them and mirrors around the edge) that just might save the planet.

I love that unschooled kids aren’t afraid to push the envelope, to think outside the square, to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of being teased or ridiculed, because instead of having to put their hand up in the classroom, or submit an assignment that might not be what the teacher is looking for, they are free to be themselves, to explore crazy ideas, and entertain possibilities that the establishment might scoff at.

What surprising conversations have you had with your kids, that give an insight into the bigness of their thinking?