The Truth About Our Unschooling Journey

My Unschooling Book Series (9)

The other day, I was talking about how, when we first started unschooling, I failed to take an active role. Instead of strewing and sharing learning with our children, I stood back, thinking I couldn’t get involved because I’d interfere with the natural learning process. What I wrote is true. I distinctly remember feeling disappointed when my children didn’t produce any impressive evidence that they were learning. Also, I remember thinking, “How will my children ever learn about Shakespeare and poetry and other things I enjoy if I don’t share them? What if they never stumble across them on their own?” It was such a significant thought that I even remember where I was when I had it.

I’ve just reread an old post written about our first year of homeschooling: Undercover Homeschoolers. I thought the story would confirm that, when we started unschooling, I lacked the knowledge of how it works. But it didn’t.

Here’s an excerpt:

When we set out along the homeschooling pathway, we didn’t know any other homeschoolers, apart from my mother. So we went looking for people we could connect up with. We heard about a homeschooling conference and, of course, we had to attend. I couldn’t wait…

… I’d spent the day in the company of pioneer homeschoolers, those brave and forceful mothers who’d lobbied and fought to have the education laws reformed, the women who read John Holt and Growing Without School and whose children learned and played and discovered and were brilliant.

Words danced inside my head forming sentences: Children learn all the time not just between the hours of 9 and 3. They have a natural love of learning. Children don’t need to be bribed to learn. They don’t need to be threatened with punishment to learn. They cannot help learning when surrounded by a rich environment. Life is learning. Let children lead. Trust your children. Help them. Listen. Respect each other. Enjoy. Have fun. Follow passions. Learn together. Be a family … So much to think about.

We became unschoolers…”

Yes, I remember going to that conference. I did indeed come home with my head buzzing with new thoughts and ideas. And according to this post, after I’d met up with these incredible unschoolers, I also returned with the knowledge that was essential for successful unschooling. So if I really did learn all about how unschooling works, why did I think I couldn’t get involved with my children’s learning?

Thinking back 25 or 26 years and working out the true story is difficult. I went to the conference, and I did indeed come home feeling excited and inspired. (That feeling would be hard to forget!) But was this because I thought my kids were going to do fabulous things and they were going to do it all on their own? I probably didn’t understand that it was necessary to help my kids by enriching their environments and sharing learning with them.

So why did I add the word ‘help’ and ‘a rich environment’ and ‘learn together’ to my Undercover Homeschoolers story? Because it’s easy to get all the details of when and what and why in a muddle.

This story illustrates how difficult it is to look back and remember the facts exactly as they were. At the time, I didn’t write anything down. I didn’t analyse everything in detail. Life was busy. We just did our best to get through each day, seeing to the needs of everybody, including babies and toddlers. We didn’t homeschool thinking, “One day I’m going to blog about this. And I might even write a book. I’d better remember exactly what we’re doing!”

So I’m sitting here sighing. I’m thinking that writing books that are true in every detail is very difficult. Should I give up? Will you lose confidence in what I have to say if you notice little contradictions? I hope not. Even though there are hazy points along the timeline of our unschooling journey, I do know what is true, and it doesn’t really matter how and when I learnt it, does it? For example, I’m absolutely sure of this:

Unschooling parents need to get involved with their children. They can’t stand back and leave them to learn entirely on their own.

Image: As I’ve been talking about the past, I thought I’d add an old photo. This is Imogen. All those years ago, who’d have imagined that one day she’d be making music videos for her own Youtube channel?!

I’ll add Imogen’s latest video Bright Eyes just in case you’d like to watch it. Enjoy!

Today, I also spent a long time working on a section of my book that begins:

There is no doubt that our kids will learn if only they are given the freedom to do so. The success of unschooling doesn’t really depend on the child. It depends on the parent. We might have to change our ideas about what education is and how children learn.

Are there any ideas you had to let go of before you could unschool? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’d find them very helpful.

And I wonder if anyone else has trouble constructing the past. Do you ever get the details of how things happened in a muddle?

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    • Alison
    • November 11, 2017

    Hi Sue, I’m really enjoying your unschooling book blogging challenge. I think it’s great for you to share your stories, even though it can be hard to remember all the details clearly. I find it difficult enough to remember details from when my two girls were younger, but you have many more children than I! I think many people who write about their experiences don’t remember every single detail. I trust I will learn a lot from your book, even though I’ve read your blog for a few years – I am always learning more at deeper levels every time I read from it. 🙂

    Regarding ideas I’ve let go of in order to unschool, I studied early childhood education at university so I felt I had a lot to “unlearn”. I let go of the belief that children need to all be learning the same things at the same time. To me there is no such thing as “being behind”, as all children are unique and should be free to learn at their own rate, building on their current levels of understanding. Being a life-long, self-directed learner is far more important than passing tests for a few years.

    I also realised that the emphasis in my girls’ learning journeys should be on their learning, not on my teaching. Yes, I have a role to play as a mentor and resource-provider, but I came to see that learning with joy and being fully engaged in a topic or interest is far more effective than me teaching “subjects” which I deemed important. I am regularly amazed at just how much my girls take in, talk about and discuss with me and others about what they find useful and meaningful to them. I have learned to trust that they will know what they need to know (including what’s needed to function in society) when they find it necessary, and that is when what they learn will really stick in their minds.

    1. Reply


      I’m so glad you are enjoying this series. Although it’s hard work, writing posts evrey day is keeping me on track.

      My original aim was to edit my already written words, but I’m adding new bits to the manuscript because I keep having new thoughts. I think this is inevitable because, as you said, there are deeper levels to unschooling. There is always something new to discover about it. Isn’t that exciting? I’m glad we are learning about unschooling together!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on unlearning what we’ve learnt about eduction. Your comemnt is very helpful!

  1. Reply

    One of the hardest parts for me is knowing when to step in and when to step back. It is a beautiful dance when it works, and a tangle of arms and legs when it doesn’t!

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, unschooling is indeed like a dance. That’s a perfect description. I love your words very much!

  2. Reply

    I can rarely remember what happened last week, and constantly have to ask how we did things a few years back to reconstruct things. The lac of sleep with the little ones has muddled things in the extreme 🙂

    1. Reply


      Your words are reassuring. Yes, it’s not unusual to get the details in a muddle when we’re trying to remember the events of the past. If only I’d known I was going to write an unschooling book, I’d have kept a journal and written everything down!

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