Why I Chose To Unschool As An Ex-Teacher
For those of you that are new to my community, as well as being a kick-ass business + life coach and author and alll the other things, I’m also an ex-teacher who has chosen to unschool our kids. Well, I share the unschool time with Rob; we split our time so we both spend half the day with the girls.
I was journaling this morning with the kids shouting as they were playing in the room next door to my office, so I wanted to share a little bit about why we choose to home educate the girls, and in particular why we chose to unschool.
What Is Unschooling?
Unschooling is self-directed, learner-supported education. The kids choose what they want to learn about, and how to spend their time. They are not directed or ‘taught’ by adults, but given complete freedom over how and what they want to learn.
We follow no curriculum – in fact we follow the exact opposite of a rigid routine, a life lived by the clock, certain things done at certain times in certain ways. This is why it is ‘UNschool’. Like undoing 🙂
What I love most about the unschool philosophy is the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn, and given the right support and materials, will learn all of the things they would do in school (and most likely far more),
but in a way that honours who they are and their own desires – honouring their ability, capability, joy and pleasure.
The ultimate goal with choosing to unschool, is that I want my kids to LOVE learning. Forever. And to never see themselves as failures by comparing themselves to their peers, or grades, or particular achievements.
To know that ALL human qualities, emotions and energies are valuable and powerful.
Aiming to enable them to grow up not to compete with one another but to do their personal best. To be creative innovators, artists, leaders, explorers, and self-motivated learners. Whatever that might look like for them.
Choosing to unschool my kids seemed like the only journey we wanted to take that would help achieve this.
That’s the goal anyway! 😉 But we don’t always manage to be able to achieve this, due to our own academic backgrounds and societal pressures. But I’ll talk about how I fail at this in another post 😉
This one is to share with you why I chose to unschool in the first place, and share a little of our journey and what unschooling looks like for us.
My Experience Teaching In Schools
I thought homeschoolers were weird. Growing up we had a few kids come to my primary school who had previously been homeschooled, and they were always the weird kids. I hadn’t even heard of the unschool movement when we started out on our homeschool journey, it kind of just evolved before I ever heard the term!
Before I had my first daughter I worked in schools for two years, teaching my own photography and art classes, supporting kids who needed extra help, and covering for teachers when they were away. My goal back then was to qualify as a teacher – but after two years I quickly changed my mind.
There had to be a better version of education (for those of you following the journey, part of the reason why I founded my startup back in the summer)! than this.
Teachers were overworked, underpaid, and spent most of the last few weeks of term counting down the days to the holidays. Nobody ever liked senior management and the amount of bitching that went on – how could that ever be the environment and energy I wanted my kids to grow within, and be nurtured by?
Not to mention the bullying (every day a child came to me crying). It’s not that teachers don’t do their best, a lot LOVE their kids, just like I did. I still miss my awesome year ten tutor group, and they threw me a party and cried when I left.
But generally, the system isn’t conducive to the growth and mental health of teachers either – so how can that ever truly support our kids?
But none of those reasons are what made me chose to home educate (and unschool) the girls. I still thought homeschooling was weird, our families thought we were weird for making the choice, and our friends did too.
Note – this was WAY before instagram homeschool accounts all showed us that homeschool life is beautiful, cosy, nurturing and supportive of the whole family! It was still massively weird back then, NOW it’s becoming as mainstream, as, well, mainstream education 🙂 and choosing to homeschool 8 years ago was still a pretty radical choice.
Now, everyone knows someone that homeschools, and even schools themselves are starting to provide a hybrid home / school model, which I LOVE!
Here’s why I chose to unschool our kids
1. The Education System Values Grades Above All
I have a feeling this might be shifting a little, but when I was at school, and definitely when I was teaching around 8 years ago, (yep, this is also when I founded my first business, alongside my teaching work AND running a bar)! and still now for sure at University at least – what matters is the GRADE.
Kids were constantly told to ‘pick their grades up or… ‘ and my entire class was told when I was skipping yet another lesson at college that ‘she is definitely going to fail, she is a waste of time and space’. So I was pretty happy when I got my A grade, not because of the grade but purely to prove them wrong! 😉
But that’s the point – why should a grade prove anybody wrong? Why should an A grade or any grade mark be of personal value in the first place? Why should my whole class be told I was ‘failing’ like I was some terrible person!? Like my entire life was a waste, purely because I might not get a particular test score!?
As an entrepreneur who is constantly putting myself out there, constantly failing, constantly having to reassess – it’s taken me a LONG time to see failure as a good thing. School taught me I had to make the grade, had to do better, get the grades.
However, as an entrepreneur, I’ve come to see it’s creativity that is needed in this world, the ability to spot and solve problems, and solving problems is always going to involve failure!
I love that Sara Blakely’s Dad asked her every night what she failed at today, and that she credits that way of thinking to her success – failure teaches you more than an A grade ever will, about winning.
Grades ARE valuable, if you want to be an employee, where you will be asked about your grades. But for me grades are not a reflection of innovative thinking and creativity, but your ability to recall information.
What if that’s not your biggest strength? What if you have other, stronger abilities that matter more? Should you be made to feel like a failure if you’re an amazing creative thinker, but yet don’t have the ability or desire to memorize facts and figures?
What if you don’t want to be an employee, or want to work within a forward thinking company who couldn’t care less about your grades?
As a base standard of aptitude, grades can be useful. At which point my kids can sit tests as and when they chose, if they are ever required.
And above all, reaching for higher grades says to me that society values the goal, over the journey. Well, what happens when you don’t meet that goal or grade? you’re made to feel like a failure (in a bad way) and like you are somehow ‘less than’ – as if that’s supposed to motivate you to try harder!?
The whole system of thought there is broken and wrong, in my opinion. Of course this doesn’t apply quite so much at primary school, but even there kids are frequently tested, and if they don’t get the grades ‘try harder’ and ‘how can we improve their grades’ is always the answer.
Valuing people on their ability to recall information is a poor judge of character. Valuing people on what school they went to is too and I see it as reflective of an outdated class system that is in desperate need of societal reform.
I think about the kind of people I want to work with, and the kind of people I hire, and I’ve been working with my assistant for eight months now and I only found out last week she was self-taught!
I never enquired about her education because I didn’t care – I wanted to know whether or not she could do the work, think creatively, be reliable and communicate effectively.
For families on the unschool journey, we find value in the journey. The JOY, the excitement, the challenge is in learning itself – NOT reaching a particular goal, set by someone else.
In fact the ability to set and motivate yourself to reach your own goals is to me, a more powerful thing to learn than how to jump for someone else.
And it’s beautiful when I sit down and look at the submarine that Summer built out of cardboard and cushions, that she spent all day roping together, because that was her goal but also because she has so much fun doing it, than concerning myself over what grade she did or didn’t get at the end of her year.
That speaks volumes about what she is learning – but grades tell us whether or not she is ‘fitting in’, along with everybody else.
I’m not so concerned with my daughters fitting in, and I don’t need the validation of a piece of paper which tells me whether she is like everyone else, or isn’t.
I simply don’t care enough about it, because I care that she is happy as my primary objective.
She is happiest when she is setting herself her own challenges. When she is setting her own ‘work’, throughout the day. When I see her immersed in creativity – every part of me celebrates that we chose to unschool. She is least happiest when being told what to do! just like I am 🙂
I value her happiness above a grade. Like I think most parents do too, but we have all been taught to value grades and so it’s really hard to step outside of that because nobody wants a kid that’s failing or ‘the troublemaker’.
Even if that troublemaker is the most creative and innovative and brave and getting into trouble simply by being themselves, going their own way, or because their creativity is literally exploding being stuffed into a box they don’t quite fit into!
When you choose to unschool, you are aiming to equip your children to be self-motivated individuals. To find joy in the journey, in the challenge itself. Rather than beating herself up because she isn’t ‘trying hard enough’ to get a grade in a subject she most likely doesn’t care about or need in the first place, but exist because school thinks that’s what the world needs.
2. Kids Can Choose What To Learn
We have chosen to unschool our kids. Unschooling means children make choices about what and how they learn. Our job as parents and educators is to honour their choices and support them within that. Of course, the best learning is done when they aren’t even aware they are learning, so we don’t really have conversations around what learning is, and what they’ve learned – we talk instead about what worked, what didn’t, what would be fun to try.
So to support them, each day I leave little things lying around that they can pick up and use if they are inclined to / crayons, pens, pencils, paper, and books usually – but more often they think of their own things they want to do / play / build / make.
What Our Unschool Day Looks Like
In school, all kids are taught the exact same thing in the exact same way. At home, Summer loves horses and could do any horse based activity all day every day. Istria is more varied and likes lots of different things.
Summer loves science based stuff and building things and figuring out how things work. Istria likes daydreaming, writing stories, and history based stuff.
I use the word ‘ stuff ‘ simply because as part of the unschool culture, we don’t teach lessons, we don’t teach anything in particular (or at all, really), unless they ask! So
one day she might be dressing up as Laura from Little House On The Prairie and a few minutes later she is building a land for ‘little people’ (playmobil) – it’s so varied from day to day, and almost always led by imagination, I rarely get involved except to do the odd activity with them! And I definitely don’t ‘teach’ anything, follow any kind of curriculum –
Unschool is a simple, nurturing, honouring way of the child’s full and expressive self. You simply let them decide what they want to do each day. Kind of exactly like I do in my own business 🙂 though we do try to fill the house with things they love and want to learn more about, especially books and art supplies.
The girls also love the Kiwi Crate subscription, but apart from that we don’t try to stimulate them in any way – their minds are so creative and curious by themselves! We try to feed and support that based on their own individual desires, rather than tell them what to learn or do.
I love that choosing to unschool means we get to support their individual desires and interests, all day every day!
And I believe this is teaching them that in the ‘real’ working world, they can choose work that supports them in the same way, rather than subscribing to the belief I did when I was younger.
That you have to do work that is boring, that you probably don’t want to do, or that your peers are doing. That you have to do everything the way everyone else does it.
Unschool teaches you to go your own way – what could be ‘harder’ than that in a society that tells you to fit in!?
Unschool Raises Self-Indulgent Pleasure Seeking Kids Afraid of Hard Work?!
There is a myth that homeschoolers baby their kids, afraid of putting them into the ‘real world’. This is mainly based in our own belief that you can’t do work you enjoy and that work should be ‘hard’ and what we really mean by that is boring.
Absolutely, I unschool because I believe my kids shouldn’t have to do boring work! I REFUSE to do boring work, but I never had the courage to do that in my early twenties!
Not that we don’t do the hard stuff – climbing to the top of a tree is ‘hard’, figuring out your change or how much you have to pay for something in a shop is hard to a child, knowing how to weigh and measure the ingredients for christmas cookies is ‘hard’ but the girls don’t see it as that way simply because they CHOOSE to do these things, without pressure to HAVE to do it!
Of course people fear we are raising self-indulgent kids who are afraid of hard work, but that’s just a fear and from what I can see in my kids, who spend sometimes DAYS absorbed in an activity and problem solving one particular thing, rather than being moved on from an activity simply because the teacher’s allocated time slot for that activity has finished – you tell me what’s more likely to build resourcefulness?
I LOVE being able to support and encourage individual desires. All I wanted as a kid was to be left alone to read all day every day, that would have been my dream, and writing, but I had to squeeze that in around school, and other things I didn’t want to do.
If I had been left to read and write all day every day, I wonder what kind of work I would be creating now. Would I have studied something different at University? Maybe I wouldn’t have revered university education in the first place. Could I have read more great works, be more literate, care more about grammar, be more creative in my writing?
I don’t believe all children should be taught the exact same thing in the exact same way. I don’t believe it honours their individual personalities, interests, energy, (how can we expect all kids to have the exact same, consistent energy throughout a day)!? and desires.
When you unschool, you choose to see children’s desires are as valuable and unique as our own – but maybe when we start honouring our own desires, dreams and wants more, we will be more likely to honour theirs more too.
3. Forced Learning Can Destroy A Love Of Learning
I definitely saw this happen at secondary school. Little eleven year olds would bound in, full of curiosity and energy. By the end of year 7 and in year 8, the kids transformed altogether – it was actually a ‘thing’ teachers talked about, the year 7/8 change.
I didn’t understand why everyone attributed this to age, hormonal changes, etc and didn’t for one second stop to think about how we were treating them and educating them, the system that was – or wasn’t – supporting them IN that change!
There was the big shift from curiosity and play to boredom, challenge, apathy and disconnection, and it was heartbreaking! I believe that homeschooled / unschooled learners will not go through anything like this shift, because they are fully supported in their interests and energy levels –
If my early teenagers want to stay in bed until midday reading books, because they are hormonally exhausted, they can, but I bet they won’t because something seems so much less appealing once they know it’s not forbidden or frowned upon. In fact I can’t WAIT for my girls to become teenagers and explore the world and life together in a whole new way!
Part of what I saw in the year 7 / 8 shift was that their entire environment had changed – whereas in primary schools kids were listened to, nurtured, and there was a bigger focus on play and enjoyment – secondary school was a lot more about shuffling around from lesson to lesson, ‘hard work’, and so much pressure placed upon tests and grades.
No wonder there was a growing disconnect – and I felt like kids were struggling to keep their natural love of learning as a result.
For me one of the things I love about the unschool philosophy is that kids are actively encouraged to learn without being told what to learn when, and what for.
free to explore, go deep into one subject or not, to question.
to stay on one topic or focus of interest for minutes or days or weeks at a time.
exploring what they love to learn about, engage with materials of their choice.
Learning is supported, not pushed.
The girls LOVE learning, like most kids. They want stories read to them, they love books, they get bored at museums like most kids, although Istria wants to draw things in them, (Summer finds it more fun to run through the long hallways).
As they go through their day they are constantly learning, like all kids are. The only difference is at home they are free to learn, rather than told to learn.
And I believe one way cultivates a deeper love for learning, and a natural honouring of a child’s own desire to learn, based on joy, creativity, exploration, problem solving and fun.
4. Homeschooling Gives You Freedom And Flexibility
One of the things I love most about choosing to unschool is that we have complete freedom over our time.
Unschoolers and home educators don’t have to pay over expensive rates for holidays. Family time isn’t only reserved for weekends, and we don’t only see our kids for an hour each night before bed, when they are exhausted from school and cranky. We eat three meals a day together, and it’s beautiful. We can stay up late if we want, without the pressure of ‘we have to be up early’.
I hated the morning rush as a kid, and we no longer have that. Instead we have an hour long breakfast and coffee together in the rays of the Mediterranean sunshine. It’s the family life I always wanted growing up.
But everyone says ‘ well yes, it’s easy for you because your husband works from home!’ which makes me kind of want to roll my eyes and scream a little bit. My husband CHOSE to work from home so we could live this life.
He had to leave the security of full time work, chose to do the thing that not many Dads do. To take half the responsibility for educating our daughters. To choose to spend half his day with the kids.
You think that’s easy?! It’s not easy to make the choice most of society will look at through the eyes of judgement. Because, you know. Educating the kids is a women’s job. Said with liberal dashings of sarcasm and fury.
He chose to actively look for employment which supported his goals for family life.
All, tough, hard choices.
And then I chose to place all trust in my business and faith and not return to teaching, I chose to also do the exact same as he did.
TOGETHER, we made those choices. So no, it’s not right for everyone, because not everyone is willing to or wants to make those choices. That’s fine, this isn’t for everyone!
It’s really not easy to make those choices if you live an easy, cosy, and secure life. Most people don’t like taking really big risks, and for most people this would feel like a really big risk.
For us, it’s not a risk at all. The other way would be the risk! So I guess it’s a matter of perception.
Of defining what you want, what you want your life to look life, and then making the tough choices everyone else thinks you’re a bit (or a lot) mad for, and then keep on choosing that even though it’s hard sometimes and scary.
There are times when I doubt that choosing to unschool is the ‘right way’, especially when I see Istria’s peers writing beautifully cursive letters, or playing the violin beautifully, but then I know that’s my OWN fear kicking in!
Deep down I know that as long as I follow the path of honouring her choices, and honouring her as a human being, I am doing the right thing for her, for me, for our family. And that’s why the unschool way is so beautiful – it truly honours the child and their development at every stage.
5. The current education system is outdated
The current education system was built about 100 years ago to provide essentially, both a babysitting service so parents could go to work, and a place where children could learn to obey, follow rules and learn the basics needed to become a good employee.
Of course, the subjects have changed, and there are some incredible things about school I LOVE (school trips? LOVE. Exposure to languages? LOVE. Beautiful teachers who love what they do? LOVE. Protection for vulnerable kids? LOVE. English lessons? My teachers? I loved many of them. School has so many great things).
But this is the foundation our schools were built upon. Is that the energy and ancestry and heritage of education I want to bestow upon my kids!?
Not for me.
This ‘system’, which is now so drowned in paperwork, hierarchy and history, has barely kept up with the changing needs of the modern workforce that it was designed to cater for. Sure, kids are taught business, music, arts etc. They are exposed to many wonderful things.
But it’s all taught within the confines of a particular and rigid timeframe, within socio-economic confines. Dragged down by the weight of a lumbering beast which simply cannot keep up with the current pace of society. So kids go to school, learn the stuff they’ll never need, and then set up their own youtube channel in their spare time and make six figures a year slicing balls in half and unboxing toys.
The kids with any spare time left, I mean, after all of the ‘activities’ are complete 😉
Kids need to learn to code, they need to learn entreprenership skills as an option (not ‘business skills’ I don’t think a single one of my classmates at school who took this class actually has their own business, ironically), they need to learn technology, and imagining the future, they need to read books like Why I Stopped Talking To White People About Race, how to decode truth from reality, and they need to learn what THEY need to learn and
Children need to learn NONE of it at the same time, first they need to learn collaboration, self-love and esteem, how to cope with adversity, and how to deeply love our natural environment beyond seeing it as a ‘leisure pursuit’, something to do at weekends or because the dog needs to be walked!
They need to see this earth as essential for human health and happiness, that all life is precious, to respect and honour their bodies.
They need to learn energy management, emotional management. What commitment to the self looks like, how to be happy. How to undo the myths so many of us have learned around money, sex, femininity, masculinity.
Not much of that is ever going to be found within a system that educates for ‘what do you want to do’ vs ‘who do you want to be’.
That needs to be something that’s so normal and natural for our kids to innately know!
So many people will read this and say, ‘well I did alright so it can’t be that bad!’
You’re right, you DID do alright. But what if you could have done and received so much better?!
What if you had been taught happiness as priority, how to earn money without working yourself 24/7, or how to find such joy in your work that you WANT to work that much anyway?
What about if we had a system that prized the person as valuable, and not the grade, would this help prevent the alarming suicide rate? if we all knew how precious and valuable we all really were?
How needed you truly are?
If we were taught to honour our bodies, honour plants and their medicine, would we all be less sick as a society? Would we all be able to cure ourselves much quicker and prevent illness in the first place?
What if we were taught to nurture one another instead of compete with one another, would we live longer?
We are all doing well, we are all doing our best. We are all capable of living beautiful and shining lives. But, we can do better for our kids than ‘Well, I did alright’.
And that’s going to need a radical upshift in the current education system. It’s why we chose to ‘unschool’ rather than follow one of the numerous online curriculum available online. For me that would be just like bringing school into our home.
I do think they are useful if you are just getting started though, and need more confidence yourself! I often think we need plans more than our children do!
6. Work Vs Play
I hate the distinction we currently hold as a society between work and play. For true entrepreneurs work IS play, we love the challenge, the problem solving, the creativity required, the people we serve. We LOVE what we do and cling to it no matter what!
So why do schools teach work has to be hard? Why does it involve punishment if you don’t do as you are told? And makes us feel like ‘less than’ if we don’t play by THEIR rules and THEIR way?
Is that the world we want to continue to build!? I remember being hauled into my supervisor’s office once during a Mcjob that I had, I was temping, and I had ‘clocked in at 3 minutes over 9 am three times this week!’
Nevermind the fact that most days I also stayed an extra 30 MINUTES LATE that I was not paid for. Those 9 minutes were worth a severe, humiliating punishment!
This wasn’t just one weird boss, or one bad company. This happened multiple times throughout the temp jobs I did through college and uni.
Be the good employee, turn up on time, don’t dare be late or rock the boat. Just turn up and do your job.
Well, you can guess how motivated I was to do that!?
Yet detentions, yellow cards, and whatever other ‘motivations’ are still handed out in schools like candy.
Guess what, you can beat a dog into submission. You can try dominance training. What you’re teaching your dog!? Violence and how to dominate. So of course, you end up with an aggressive, grouchy dog!
What do you think punishing a child is going to do to that child!? Yet this is the workforce and environment we built and contributed to within our education system. This is the workplace we have built with our own hands for our children, by allowing the current school system to continue in this way.
This is what our children believe they are worth – that it’s ok to be humiliated and punished for being late, or daring to write on a blackboard in some pale attempt at outletting some version of creativity, or hiding a chair or something.
Well, I want more than for my kids than that. I don’t want to contribute to the current culture of work to remain in this way. So, we need to raise leaders unafraid of making a little noise 😉 where they will not be punished for being themselves.
NOTE – Thankfully the workplace is changing. I read an AWESOME job advert the other day for a great tech company in the US. Benefits include – coming in and leaving whenever you like, as many work at home days as you like, as many vacation days as you like.
Literally no limits, as long as the work is done. I literally wanted to write to that company and congratulate them on being awesome when I saw it! 🙂
Things are changing in the working world, but we all have to be conscious of what we are contributing. Vote with your actions, the companies you support, and the lifestyle you choose to lead.
You can choose a life where there is no distinction between work and play, they are ONE. The unschool model does this beautifully. The kids are learning, while having fun. While enjoying every day. While embracing life and creativity and challenges.
7. Experience-Based Learning
In my maths classes we had to draw out coins and do ‘brass rubbings’ of coins. This was supposed to teach us the value of coins. Praise to my maths teacher for at least trying, but OMG so pointless, and boring!
If you want kids to learn what coins are worth, give them some coins. Tell them to go and buy something they want!
Tell me, and I will forget.
Show me, and I may remember.
Involve me, and I will learn
This quote sums up what unschooling looks like!
At home, they get involved in everything. They set the table, tidy away their things, help cook, clean, decorate, and so on. This is how learning takes place best – when they are actively involved in it! Not through books, or theory. Implementing for themselves.
Travelling around the world and living in different countries has really supported that. While travelling and living overseas, the girls make friends with children from other cultures, learn new accents and words, count in different currencies, hear different stories and myths from other cultures, etc.
Kids don’t necessarily learn best sat behind a desk. With children the same age with the same socio-economic background from the same area. Learning the same things, en-masse.
To be honest, this list could go on and on!
Ultimately home educating and the philosophy of unschooling aligns with my core value of freedom. It’s not going to be the right choice for everyone, and like I mentioned, it involved some hard choices. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to homeschool.
I didn’t believe I’d have the patience, the time, the money, or the desire. Plus, I thought homeschool kids were a bit weird and unsocial.
Absolutely sometimes homeschool kids ARE a bit weird, in comparison to most kids, but that’s actually a great thing! It’s just my own perception that saw it as a bad or negative thing.
But I look at my kids and see how happy they are. I see how much they are growing. And I witness how we are giving them strong foundations for self-belief and confidence in who they are.
Which all helps me to see I’m doing the right thing for me and my family.
Will We Ever Stop Unschooling And Send The Kids To School?
There is always the chance that one day my girls might want to go to school. I would honour that choice too. If my girls were in school I would still make conscious educational choices! I would choose not to focus on grades . Instead, my focus would be on the process. How they got to that point, the things they find joy in each day. What they failed at. What they learned as a result of failing.
You can cultivate a conscious learning experience even if your kids ARE in school. It’s not about ‘school vs non school’. It’s about making conscious choices around the learning experience.
I don’t judge anybody’s choice whether or not to homeschool or unschool as being right or wrong. It’s a personal choice. My choice is made as a result of my own perceptions, views and opinions.
I value conscious choice <3 mine, theirs, yours.
You might also want to read this if you’re wanting to live a more freedom-based life;