Q. My kids go to a family school. I spend a lot of energy
helping them learn about the things that they are inspired by. Am I
hurting my kids by letting them go to school? Why unschooling? They
seem to just love school.
A. I'm glad to hear that you're so pleased with your
children's school, and I'm especially happy that you are also helping
them to learn at home. You haven't given their ages, but my guess is
that they're still young. Even the best schools tend to get more
structured, and to move further away from what children really need,
as they move up in grades.
Research has consistently shown, for example, that in the early
grades, most of the questions are asked by the students, but by grades
three or four and on to graduation, most of the questions are asked by
the teachers. This is an important consideration for two reasons.
First, the best way to learn anything is to explore whatever we're
most interested in at that precise moment. If a child is asked a
question, it would be an unlikely coincidence if the teacher guessed
what the child's greatest interest was at that time, and even if the
teacher could, it would be very difficult for any teacher to cover all
of the students' individual topics of interest.
Second, we need to look at how learning works best. If a child is
asked a question, and she already knows the answer, what can she
learn? She already knows it! If the child doesn't know the answer, how
can she not feel a sense of failure (and in many classrooms, also
embarrassment and shame)? In such a stressful situation, and with a
subject they have little interest in at the time, they're not likely
to remember the answer later. This is why so many of us remember
little of what we were taught in school. In contrast, my 27-year-old
son Jason was unschooled from the beginning and now has an immense
knowledge base - including many details learned years ago - because he
learned them at the most effective time: the moment he wanted the
From my perspective as an unschooling parent and counselor, I would
ask the opposite question: Why school? I'm guessing that your children
love it mostly because of their interactions with good friends they
meet there. Yet with approximately 2 million homeschoolers and
unschoolers currently in North America and numerous local support
groups starting almost daily, it should be surprisingly easy for them
to find good friends in the unschooling community - and be able to
talk and play freely with them instead of having to wait for lunch and
recess breaks from class. In addition, unschooling children are among
the happiest and most mature children I've met and make exceptional
I would recommend finding a local unschooling support group and
attending some of their activities, so you can see firsthand what the
families are like. You'll also see that unschooling is far more than
just an educational choice - it's a way of living with children with
full respect, trust, and compassion. And, of course, unschooled
children have far more opportunities to spend time with people of all
ages, not just those within one year of their own age.
To help families learn more about all the benefits of unschooling,
Jason and I have co-edited and published The
Unschooling Unmanual, a collection of stories and essays by
eight writers, to help parents learn more about this approach.
I also highly recommend the short, eloquent book How Children
Learn by John Holt. It was our introduction to unschooling, and we
never looked back!