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What Are Your Thoughts on Unschooling?

I like to hear different perspectives on parenting — sometimes I am enlightened and other times I am left shaking my head. After reading an article by Joanne Rendell titled "Unschooling — Why my kid won't attend school this fall - or maybe ever", I was puzzled. An author married to a college professor, the two New York City dwelling parents decided not to send their five-year-old son, Benny, to Kindergarten for various reasons. Simply stated:

Unschoolers believe in letting a kid's curiosity, interests and natural hunger for knowledge guide their learning. . . But un-kindergarten for us means Benny can sleep late so I can write. It means we don't have to worry about bedtimes and can go out on the town with friends any night of the week. We can go to Europe and visit my family when the flights are cheap. Un-kindergarten also means we can pick and choose how we spend our days and who we spend them with. Benny can go to free classes at the Metropolitan Museum in the week when it's less crowded. He can read a book on sharks when he feels like it. He can experiment with bungee cords while eating his breakfast at noon.

As a mother and former teacher, my knee jerk reaction was to question the author's sanity and values. But as I try to do with most things in life, I looked at it from a different perspective and pondered her arguments for unschooling. While I still don't particularly agree with her notion of keeping her child up until midnight, letting him sleep until noon, taking him to bars and flicks like Juno, there are some valid lessons that I am sure he is learning through her "teaching" process. But what she described above sounds like the perfect weekend. Surely Benny could take advantage of schooling during the week while soaking up valuable family and exploratory time on Saturdays and Sundays.

How the child will adjust to "normal" life after a few years of home unschooling is yet to be determined. That is where I fear the tot could encounter his biggest challenges as sleeping until noon is not acceptable for grades K — 12 and bar hopping is definitely a no-no under the age of 21. Personally, it sounds like the wee one is living the life of a college aged pupil when he should be learning more structure and ABCs. But hey, that's just me.

Tell me, what do you think of Mrs. Rendell's unschooling perspective?

CoralAmber CoralAmber 9 years
I didn't really consider homeschooling until a friend of mine did that with her kids for a couple years. She did an excellent job and the kids had fun and learned a lot. I think kids do need to learn how to socialize and understand that a lot of life requires you to sit behind a desk sometimes. I love the progressive school idea. I read a lot of books on brain science and education through strengths and that school sounds excellent. I think the problem is that most people don't have a choice. There is one public school in your area and if you don't like it you either have to pay for a private school (if there is one) or do it yourself.
LiLRuck44 LiLRuck44 9 years
That sounds like a great school, missamay30. I've heard of another school in CA where it is half traditional/half homeschool. Monday and Wednesday are taught at a special school, and Tuesday and Thursday are taught at home. Too bad I'm on the East Coast =/
missamay30 missamay30 9 years
Whoops! Sorry for double posting. Also, I meant to say that the school is NEAR Los Angeles, not IN Los Angeles.
missamay30 missamay30 9 years
What about progressive schools as an option? My son attends a fantastic progressive elementary school in Los Angeles called Children's Community School (about 120 students in K - grade 6). It's a great, loving, nurturing place where kids are taught to question and explore and there isn't one set curriculum. The kids still learn math, science, history, english etc but the theory is that learning is most easily enjoyed and RETAINED by making all subjects relate to each other. The kids at this school are bright, inquisitive and excited about learning. And my little social butterfly still gets to be with other kids. My son hates to go home! Here is some of the philosophy of the school: "Children's Community School's curriculum prepares children for citizenship in a democracy. And so at every step, we relate study to life. We believe that children, just like adults, learn best when they are active participants in the world around them. We therefore begin each study with the children's knowledge and their questions. CCS teachers begin every unit -- be it history, biology, multiplication or creative writing - by asking students what they know about the subject. That inevitably leads to spirited classroom discussions from which the teacher compiles a list of student-generated questions. This list forms the basis for the unit itself: the children's own questions drive the study. And once we head down a path of study, we employ many forms of expression that encompass our students' diverse learning styles. Our children write essays and give speeches; they paint, weave, and mold clay. And they perform, sometimes in costume, everything from dances, songs, and stories, to sophisticated dramatic presentations." The website is if anyone is interested. I highly recommend progressive schooling as an alternative to mainstream education. BUT I do believe that all parents have the right to choose the type of schooling they want for their kids. I totally agree that this woman sounds beyond selfish and is doing a disservice to others who "unschool".
jessie jessie 9 years
i've been trying to post...and i keep getting booted off...grrr! along with everyone else...the author of the article does sound very selfish...concerned of nothing but having a good time...if thats what she wanted...she should of waited to have a child
Greggie Greggie 9 years
I agree with everything you just said anniekim. :)
anniekim anniekim 9 years
Seems to me that everyone commenting here can support/respect the idea of home schooling even if they wouldnot to choose it for their own children. It's the author's self centered stance that strikes a disturbing and worrisome note. I just checked back on this thread and the "ticking clock" Ellen Pompeo thread. Did anyone else notice how similar they sound? Except one speaker is a mother and the other is ambivalent about motherhood.
HeidiMD HeidiMD 9 years
I'm really glad I checked back on this post and read all the responses. I do think there is a difference between homeschooling and unschooling, though. My babysitter growing up was homeschooled (as was her sister) by her mom, and it was NOT like this. They had lessons, coursework and criteria they had to meet (by both the state, I think, as well as their mom) before they could "advance." Their mom was concerned about the quality of private Christian schools in my hometown, more than anything, and that's why she homeschooled them. Macgirl, you are completely right. As cruel as it may seem of me to say, school isn't supposed to 100% fun all the time. If you ask a five-year-old kid whether he'd rather play outside all day or sit in a classroom, I guarantee he'd pick the former. It's up to parents to teach their children that life isn't full of sunshine and rainbows and fun all the time. Part of that is school!
Jude-C Jude-C 9 years
I'm sure that there are truly great reasons and benefits for unschooling, but unfortunately the woman who wrote that article makes it sound as if she made the choice for very selfish reasons (like being able to go out on the town any night of the week she wants).
macgirl macgirl 9 years
As an employer my first thought when reading something like that is "that child will make the WORST employee someday". Where's the structure? Where's the rules? If Benny is kept on this path of "whatever goes" he will be ill equipped for the real world. The saddest part is the author doesn't even try and dress up her reasonings to be about her son.
kittyhill kittyhill 9 years
I think that the author is just being selfish & rationalizing away her desire to sleep late, bar-hop, & in short, everything that she did before she had kids. When you're a mom, be a mom. Take responsibility.
Greggie Greggie 9 years
In California, it's six and up but that still depends on the kindergarten cut-off date. They can be seven when they start first if need be, regardless of where they school.
Aimeelo Aimeelo 9 years
I think this does sound incredible selfish on her part, but it's not that big of a deal right now because kindergarden is not mandated by the state. Sure they have the 5 and up rule, but you can get around it by saying I don't think my child is ready for school and I am going to hold him back. My bro started school later and my mom thinks it did him a lot of good bc his mind was just not ready. I think we should start school later than 5 years of age. On the other hand, I think homeschool is a terrible choice for kids right off the bat. Let the kids try it out first, let them do it for a year or two, then if it's not for them you can try other options. Some kids are just to social to not be in school. If there are learning or behavioral problems than it could be looked at sooner.
LiLRuck44 LiLRuck44 9 years
I definitely support the right of each parent to school their children however they see fit, including unschooling. After reading the whole article, I think the mother is backing away from conventional school for all the right reasons. Her lack of structure is the shocking thing here, I think, not her unschooling philosophy. I suppose it works for her family, but letting a five year old stay up until midnight, join you on bar trips with friends, and watch movies like Juno, is not anywhere close to my personal parenting style :) She admits to not really knowing where it will take her though, and I think that's incredibly wise. Being open to anything is a wonderful way to be. I know of one family that unschools, but the parents are constantly doing things with the children and teaching them, they are always working on some sort of creative endeavor together, and the children are brilliant kids in so many ways. I don't think any child needs to attend school just to be "socialized", or because that's what life is like "in the real world". Children in school are learning things straight out of books, and repeating the information on tests.... not encouraged to challenge anything, just learn, spit it out, repeat. I'll be a homeschooler when that time comes for my little ones.
Greggie Greggie 9 years
I do think this article is a terrible representation of unschooling.
else411 else411 9 years
After reading this article, I think that this was a bad example of "unschooling". This would have been better titled a case of "Why I won't send my kid to Kindergarten now." He's 4, he has a year and some months before he's 6 and has to really attend school or be un/home schooled. I just don't see anything wrong with her keeping her kid home. My friend 3yo just started 1/2 day and the teacher already has issues. The 3 yo is very smart, corrects your grammer and will question something forever. Of course she's the product of two parents with 6 degrees between them UG,MBA,PHDs. As we rush to put our kids in these structure environments we also stiffle some natural learning that should occur at this age. Also while I personally went to a reg school, if I knew then I would have begged to be homeschooled. I was popular and all butI didn't leave HS or college knowing what I wanted to do like the crop of homeschoolers I know now. I know homeschoolers between 8 and early 60s who finsihed HS at 15/16 and went to college at 17/18. The two years in between help them know what they wanted and offered time to breathe. Long winded way to say I think this was a poor example of the benefits and thought parents put into homeschooling.
katedavis katedavis 9 years
skigurl & apma- I could not agree with you more. Leaving the merits of homeschooling and unschooling out of this, what bothered me were the mother's motivations. I think that when you become a parent you have to make sacrifices for the welfare of your child, not the other way around. Isn't that parenting 101?
death-by-chocolat death-by-chocolat 9 years
Lickety split- whatever you do, please don't let your children rely on the belief that "in real life, this isn't necessary". I would argue that the majority of things considered primary education basics (such as spelling and state capitals) are thought to be BASICS for a reason- they provide you with a basis for everyday experiences and allow you to think more critically about those experiences. For instance, being a good speller will help you see connections between words, so that when you encounter a novel word, you might find a "root" meaning in it based on its spelling. And you don't want your child to end up like the 24 year old in my class who made a great first impression by exclaiming "You're from New Jersey? That's really a state?! I thought it was just a city in New York!" :-)
Greggie Greggie 9 years
Homeschooling and unschooling are totally different concepts. I am a big supporter of homeschooling with input from the state and regular testing, not a big fan of unschooling. However, I believe it is a parent's choice and I can't tell them not to do it. How our children are educated is very important and we each need to do what we think is best for us and our children. If someone thinks this is best, then it is.
apma apma 9 years
When I first read this article, I could not believe what I was reading. This parent's disregard for her child's well being all so she can bar-hop and write is ridiculous. She's not keeping him out of school because she is against school violence or because she doesn't believe in the various districts' curricula. She does it for her. This article is not written to show how she is going to teach her child or help him teach himself. It is written as though she is doing it absolutely selfish reasons. I have no problem with homeschooling or "unschooling" in that your kid will learn that which he or she wants to know. I believe that parents should have an active role in their child's education and help them learn about things that they find interesting. I have a problem with the way this woman had done it and for the reasons she gives.
meandtheo meandtheo 9 years
living a carefree life and waking up at noon are exactly what summer break is for; this gives children a much needed break and time to "playlearn" which it sounds like the woman in this article would like. learning is always happening, be it playing with bungee cords or in a school environment, however, a structured learning environment lends itself to teaching outside of a child's playing. a child may see that if drop something out of the window it will fall, gravity, but can they explain it?? it is fascinating and enlightening to children to learn how things work. i personally could not explain beyond basic physics how most stuff works and rely on teachers/educators to provide this information to our children... i agree that our school system needs some major reform (which thankfully one of the candidates is offering) but still feel it is necessary and beneficial for our children to attend school, not only for educational purposes but also for socializing...
skigurl skigurl 9 years
it sounds like the mother in this story is selfish - she talks about going out with friends until late, and having her kid sleep late so she can write, and going to europe when it's cheaper for her...i see some value in this, but i think she's keeping him out of kindergarten because it helps keep her social life healthy it's ridiculous if you ask me
Spiderlove Spiderlove 9 years
For the record, unschoolers ARE homeschoolers. (at least where I live, in Florida). You must still be registered with either the state/county or a private school. You also must still provide proof of attendance, 180 days in my state. The difference where I live is if you are registered with the state/county school board, you must have your child tested yearly. Choosing the private school avenue eliminates that. I don't think there is anywhere in the country where you can just "keep your kids out of school", with NO explanations....
Dbtabm Dbtabm 9 years
While I do not agree with "unschooling" I do think the fact that people are even considering this as an option points to how broken the public school system in our country is. If I could afford not to work you better believe I would be homeschooling my kids. Not because I'm some crazy bible banger but because I believe the quality of the education in this country has been on a downward slide for years. When are our politicians going to wake up and solve problems that MATTER?
runningesq runningesq 9 years
And Heidi has an excellent point --- very few kids get excited about grammar, but it's necessary to learn!
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