Does Unschooling Work?

Hvalsey_ChurchRemember Erik the Red, an Icelandic Norseman?  He took some Norse people and settled Greenland, not as hospitable as its name suggests, at about 1000 years AD.  Fascinating story.  They brought Northern European livestock and farming practices.  They settled in, bringing their religion, steep tithes, and bishops.  Greenland’s climate eventually became a bit more inhospitable due to climate change.  Frozen water routes made European trade difficult.  The Norse’s farming practices, both crops and livestock, suffered.  It is believed that the Norse adapted by eating more like the encroaching Inuits, but evidence of severe starvation and stagnation exists.  For 500 years (which sounds short till I realize my descendents have only lived in the United States for probably less than 150 years) they lived in communities on Greenland. Then, their two main settlements KUH-POOF.  Disappeared.

Some scholars think that the Norse disappeared because their environment changed and they refused to fully adapt, choosing to hang onto European identities.  When the end came, they ate their dogs while carrion-hovering flies swarmed in their rooms.  Others believe they slowly migrated out when the rare ship that pulled in to port departed, unable to cope with Greenland and its separation from European culture anymore.

It is fun to think about, isn’t it?  Would you have left on a boat after 350 years?  Or would you have stayed and starved, eating your emaciated cow?  Or would you have befriended the Inuit, finding a life-long partner to hunt and gather with?

Greenland’s old Norse bones are long dry.  Archaeologists are digging them up, bringing us new speculations.  I can’t help but think of the dying out of the original Norse settlements and compare it to our current education system, which has been around far less than 500 years.  Far less than 150 years.  We hang onto our brief past and educational system, tweaking it here and there, while the environment calls for extreme change and letting go.

Why do some people think that school the way they knew it is the only way?  The best way?  Why does anyone in society accept shoving more and more kids into one classroom?  Can they not hear the buzzing of the carrion-eating flies?

Barley and ruminant animals were not suited for or suitable for Greenland.  The current education system is proving its unsuitability.  Drugs, gangs, and violence like permafost, are seeping in.  Teachers have resigned themselves to the mire, giving up.  Common Core won’t help.  Computer labs won’t help.  Offering college classes for credit to high schoolers won’t help.  An ice age has hit and it’s time to eat seal and fish, giving up our milk and barley for sustainable nutrition.

Snow fortLet’s trade in our huge boxes called “school” for real, lasting education.  Where is the fear coming from?  Where is the inappropriate clinging to past tradition coming from?  Why are people afraid of the homeschooling movement?  Take it further, why are most people, even homeschoolers, afraid of unschooling?  Failure shows us there must be a different way.  WHAT is so scary about doing it different?

Today is the final post contributed by Corinne Jacobs, an unschooler.  Click here for the first installment in the series and here for the second.  Does unschooling really work?  Let’s look at what Corinne’s final statements.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic master are not the only concerns about unschooling…

…People wonder whether these kids will ever be able to attend college or get a job, how they will learn to socialize with their peers and whether their parents are just being lazy. Peter Gray’s study (also linked to in the first post titled I Didn’t Teach Them That,) answers the first two questions.

Unschooled children often do choose to join college and they do so by starting at a community college or by merit of their interviews and portfolios. They hold a wide variety of jobs, many of them in creative arts and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields].

Unschooled children are by no means isolated from others in their community. They interact with kids their own age as well as those that are younger and older than them, and are therefore skilled at interacting with others in a normal social setting. (School kids on the other hand socialize in artificial settings where almost everyone is the same age.)

And finally, to the defence of those poor, maligned parents who choose to go the unschooling way – these individuals are incredibly involved in the lives of their children. As per the unschooling methodology, they take pains to give their kids exposure to a wide range of fields, foster a great learning environment and engage them in meaningful conversations. Whenever they notice their kids taking interest in a specific field, they go about providing them with the resources to follow their interests – whether through additional reading material, tools, classes, apps, and websites or interacting with experts in the field. They make themselves available to answer the questions of their children, and to look for answers to those questions they cannot answer. Any parent who does any less has either not understood the unschooling methodology or is merely using it as an excuse to be lazy about their kids’ education.  (emphasis is mine, Terri Fites)

Unschooling, when done the right way, does a lot more than teach kids to read, write and do math. Like the 8-year old who uses his free time making real clocks, and the 7-year-old who writes 1,000 word novels, kids who are unschooled continually show their parents they made the right choice in going the unschooling way.

Author BioCorinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning.



I think unschooling is a great tool.  I cannot see myself being a radical unschooler, but I definitely find that we leave large chunks of free-time in our days.  In this time, my children have taught themselves to knit, sew, make Barbie houses, make videos, and shoot bows and arrows.  Whatever your method of schooling, keep your mind open to the good, the bad, and the ugly of what you’re doing.  And, what do you think?  Concerning Greenland, would you stay, go, or integrate?


22 thoughts on “Does Unschooling Work?

  1. EmilyMaine

    I think like everything this will work for some and not for all. Not all parents (and I put my hand up as this) are motivated homeschoolers or unschoolers. Sure, if my son shows an interest in something I follow it up but he is going to need to learn some stuff he doesn’t show an interest in too and then what? I think if we all unschooled we would end up with many children with inadequate numeracy and literacy skills because of this. Some kids respond well to the current education model and some don’t. Sure we need to adapt to help those who don’t but the answer isn’t shoving them all into a new model. That would be as problematic as what we have now as some would thrive but others wouldn’t. Just my thoughst 🙂

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      You are going to totally hatchet me across all bodies of water. But pretend you and I are sitting over a glass of wine in my living room having a good debate here. Because we both like that feeling of getting heated, yet calming down, and walking around ideas to learn perspective. What if, pretend, what if, all schools closed as of today? What if, if you wanted an education for your child, you had to find a way to provide it? What would parents do?—On the idea of kids not learning something they need to learn. We all know of people that the school institution failed. Or did the child fail? Or did the parent fail? Regardless, people graduate from high school with C and D averages. That is not mastery by any means. Whether homeschooled, unschooled, public schooled, or private schooled, failures and knowledge gaps happen. I have a feeling many an unschooled child who didn’t learn at home and wasn’t required to learn at home would have fared just as badly in the school system.—I excelled in the public school system. Formal learning was my comfort zone. Thus the problem in realizing too late that fat-free and low-cholesterol diets were not going to benefit my heart and diabetic patients. That I’d been fed a line of bull for 12 years in health training.—Personally, I think many problems would be solved by a small teacher to student ratio, about 1:15. Putting kids of similar learning levels together, not necessarily age, although some allowance must be made for that somehow. Paying teachers much more while also requiring strong applicants like we do for veterinarians and other fields. Making schools smaller and backing off of things like gyms, swimming pools, and computers. Leaving cell phones in lockers. Somehow drawing in parents. That’s the hard part.—Here, we have drugs and violence in schools. Teachers are afraid to do anything and will tell you that what they teach now compared to 20 years ago has dropped in standard. Our system is broken. I don’t know other countries. But ours needs to step back and do better.—Those are some of my thoughts. But I honestly, truly love to hear all thoughts to better formulate my own. To think outside of my own view. I like that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I hope you’ll come back!—-Terri 🙂

      1. Corinne Jacob

        I completely agree with you on this point – ‘Whether homeschooled, unschooled, public schooled, or private schooled, failures and knowledge gaps happen.’ However, I also agree with the point of view that kids at times do need to learn some stuff they don’t show any inclination for, and it’s essential as well as helpful for them in the long run. For instance, my daughter detests math; and I’m pretty positive that she would have detested it even if she went through the traditional method of classrooms and schooling! There are several reasons why I prefer homeschooling and unschooling over the traditional learning methods: One, in school, you need to arrange the kid’s life around the school in question’s schedule – the time of classes, which subject is to be taught when, and so on, while in unschooling, learning happens all around and is contained within everyday activities around the clock which can be tweaked according to a particular child’s needs and capabilities, instead of just forcing or expecting him/her to go by the book. I personally prefer this flexibility and have seen my kids perform better and pick up concepts easily. Also, unschooling allows me to tell stories, come up with interesting activities, crafts and experiments which we do together at home; otherwise I imagine my kids just memorizing facts and standing for hours on end in a science laboratory at school and I end up feeling miserable just at the thought of it! In the end, well, to each his own I would say. Unschooling seems to be working for me very well though, touch wood. And hopefully, we’ll reap good dividends in future as well 🙂

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Hello, Corinne. Thanks for coming to leave such a detailed comment. To me, but I may be taking a broad view, unschooling also encompasses the homeschoolers who still teach math and grammar, even using books, but they watch their child for cues to know how to teach them best, what to repeat, what to skip, what to take them out to the garage and teach them with some old cut boards, what to teach them longer, etc. I think your article says it well, I don’t have it in front of me as I type this, but where it intimates that homeschoolers who don’t teach their children anything or who don’t foster a learning environment aren’t really unschooling. I think that’s an important idea. I did talk to an unschooled adult the other day, and she is homeschooling, but she says she’s determined that her children learn algebra. She did not, and she regrets that. But she says her relationship with her siblings from her homeschooling experience was spectacular. Always good to know the strengths and weaknesses, I think! Take care!

  2. Elisa | blissful E

    I love that you pointed out that gaps happen, whatever the education setting. When we grow up learning how to think, how to find truth (not just convenient “information”), and what our unique strengths are, we are equipped to contribute and continue to learn as needed in order to contribute more.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Realizing that I have/had gaps and all students do (the math teacher was on maternity leave and the substitute was sub-par; the school cut physics; the student was sick with mono for a semester, etc) helped me chill in my homeschooling. I became a lot less intense.—-You said it quite eloquently. Very beautifully, indeed. Thank you.

  3. Lindsay

    I didn’t really put two and two together about some of my own gaps until just now. (Does that imply a math gap, too? Hmmm…). The most obvious one: The high school chemistry teacher quit about a week before the start of my junior year of HS. They scrambled to find someone- a retired pharmacology professor. Awesome guy. Didn’t learn squat.

    Seriously. I knew vaguely what a mol was when I took my college placement tests and somehow placed into the higher chem class. Having ZERO chemistry knowledge while starting college chem classes was a disadvantage, but I made it work. It also helped that my friend had had two years of AP chem in HS… But all in all, we ended up with a similar amount of knowledge at the end of my Freshman year of college and we both got an A grade. I graduated with a chem minor.

    All that to say- I’m really starting to like the idea of homeschooling. Another argument against it bites the dust. To say that scares me a little is an understatement.

    1. Lindsay

      Oh! And I’m also nodding my head emphatically about the fat free, cholesterol free blah blah blah, etc. I feel like my pharmacy education was ticking off requirements to get a license. The critical thinking and research skills came later. And not easily.

      Looking back, I feel like my whole education was a scam on so many levels. At least I was good at it, I guess.

      1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Hindsight is 20/20. And when you’re in it, playing the game, you lose sight of lots of things. All your eyes see is the A on the next test. The high board score. That competitive adrenaline rush to get through the material. Then, you look back, years later, wondering how you could have missed “this.” How you didn’t think to ask “that.” Goodness. Did I really learn? Or was I just a goose for foie grois?

    2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      And I think that’s what happens in life as long as kids have drive, motivation, self-esteem, self-worth, goals, dreams, good examples to follow, a love of learning, a knowledge that THEY can learn (versus be taught), etc. I think they elevate to get what’s needed when the time comes. However, it is much easier if they’ve already seen it in “whatever” school it is they attend. And thus why I know unschooling is not my only tool for education. And why I think that even parents who to others look like they shouldn’t be homeschooling, may be giving their children exactly what they need to propel themselves forward happily in life.

      A pharmacology teacher for a chemistry teacher! Now that’s interesting! Did that influence your decision for pharmacy?

  4. Athena

    I wish I could unschool but I can’t – the only way hubby would agree to HS was for the kids to be enrolled in a homeschool umbrella school and it abides by government regulations. So we have to do tests and follow their curriculum (I choose my own syllabus btw) but I completely agree with many, many points raised here. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say my kids learn all the time even if I were to completely switch off my teaching hat. In contrast to my kids who went to school for 5 years prior to being HSed and who returned to school, my 2 HSed kids have a curiosity, appetite for learning and zest for making things from scratch and experimenting unmatched by their older siblings. Plus, they’re their own person(s) because they don’t deal with peer pressure all the time.

    Also, you know me by my wordpress blog. Here’s my homeschooling blog :

    Godbless on your recertification exam!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi, Athena! How are you? Your blog is lovely and made me stop for a minute from cooking, cleaning, and tending kids to actually think! 🙂 Very stimulating!

      Regarding homeschooling/unschooling, I know exactly what you mean when you say, “I’ll go so far as to say my kids learn all the time even if I were to completely switch off my teaching hat.” I don’t mean it to sound fake or flowery when I say my kids literally blow me away with the things they look up and learn–or learn by simply trying out an idea–or learn by observing others out and about. It is utterly amazing, and I feel so relieved. Like, really, kids will overcome weaknesses in education with their inner spirits, as long as their spirits are intact. It sounds like you are seeing that in action with the differences in your children, but just how amazing and great it is that you get to now homeschool all of them! Even if you have a set curriculum, it is “unschooled” to the extent that they’re allowed to do it in a home environment, maybe at the time of your own choosing, explained by you as needed in your way if they don’t understand, etc. I wish you all the best, and I wish your children success, peace, joy, contentment, and love their whole lives!

      It was good to correspond via comments! Thanks!


  5. Athena

    Ack! I was typing a long reply on one of your health-related posts and hit a wrong key and it went pfft! Anyway, thank you for stopping by my blog and liking it. Although I’m curious as to how it caused you to “actually think!” Writing is actually a time-consuming process for me (something always gives whenever I write and usually it’s the family’s nutrition that suffers) but yeah, it’s great to look back and see how far we’ve gone since we first started and to see how God has been faithful all this time.

    How’s the review coming along? I am all admiration for homeschooling moms like you who can combine HSing with a career (met quite a few when I was still a member of the Sonlight Forum). Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned about nutrition and health and your family’s experiments. About coconut milk/juice/oil, do you know that fresh coconut meat is very delicious and most nutritious (we use it in salads but it’s very very difficult to get). But most restaurants which serve fresh coconut juice do not bother to open the coconut but then again, it’s not fresh anymore. Also, I grew up cooking with coconut oil and I tell you, it’s so unlike most cooking oils in the market because it’s grease doesn’t stick. I cook with sunflower oil and heck, it’s a pain to clean up afterwards.

    About almond flour – I think you can make it if you make almond milk. The hubby makes 8 liters of almond milk at a time and I throw away a lot of almond meal because I’m lazy to turn it into almond flour (you’ve got to bake it I believe). Sometimes though, I use the almond meal in a cookie recipe that I’ve fine tuned. After reading how its tops when it comes to calcium, maybe I’ll bake more???

    I have yet to read your recipes but will definitely come back for more. Your blog is one of a kind! Thanks once again and I hope your children continue to find joy in their learning experiences at home and beyond!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Well, your July 11th post made me think. If Lot offering his daughters doesn’t make a person think, then what to say? (Although the whole post made me think.) I like to see how other people walk around issues/thoughts/ideas.—Yes, I agree. Writing is a time consuming process for me, too. And I try very hard to not let it intrude in my family as much as possible, as I didn’t quit one job just to get another. On the other hand, I do enjoy it, and it’s tough to do other things that I may enjoy so this is one thing that I can do and feel led to do.—The review is coming along adequately. Guess I’ll find out how adequately soon enough!—Interesting about the coconut juice and oil. We don’t do almonds too much anymore because I can’t eat them, and yet I can’t keep my hands off of them! So best to not keep them around. But when/if I can, I’d love to make our own milk and flour. I have a nice dehydrator that’d probably be great for that! Your husband makes a lot of milk! What a guy! And yes on the calcium.—Thanks for stopping back and the nice words. Things are good here. And I’d be right happy for that to continue.—And lastly, UGH on the loss of your first comment. I HATE that when it happens to me! Hate it.—Good night!

      1. Athena

        The hubby won’t buy me a dehydrator; says the oven is good enough. Ah well, whatever is thrown gets to the compost bin … Thanks for the compliment (the post making you think). Sometimes I think why bother to arrange my thoughts when I don’t have time to market my writing (iykwim) but then, guess what? just when I told myself “okay, you gotta concentrate on HSing and keeping everybody fed, clothed, etc …” one of my posts gets noticed – it was solicited by YouShare. Anyway, I really treasure your compliment. Hope your HSing is coming along nicely – sometimes I envy HSing moms who live where everything is so accessible but then living in a desert town does have its own perks (I just can’t think of any at the moment). Godbless!

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        LOL! Yes, I know what you mean on marketing and kind of what you mean on the desert town. (Let’s say you could get some “Sand between your toes.” like that’s a good thing in this situation—even if it’s not quite what people think of when they say that…) Big Magic is kind of fun to read about “our art.” [Our writing.] But do you have an oasis (library) in your desert town? And if you do, what language are the books in? 🙂

  6. Athena

    There’s a library at the Recreation Centre which receives the daily newspapers and some magazines but it’s currently closed for renovations. I buy books via the Book Depository, Rainbow Resource and once in a while, Sonlight. We’re actually travelling tom. to get a box I just ordered from RR – it’s been rerouted to another post office a 100 km + away (we just enrolled and I like American textbooks because they’ve got everything covered – no need for me to make up questions for discussions and tests). … Thanks for the headup on Big Magic! Btw, I bought Read and Understand Poetry as an ebook for my sixth grader because I didn’t want to buy it twice (and pay shipping twice) when the 2nd grader reaches 5th/6th grade.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Keep Big Magic in mind for someday. It has some good points that keep me motivated.—That’s a good idea to buy it (the poetry book) as an e-book to print off as needed.—And remind me again, what are the perks of living in a desert town? 🙂

      1. Athena

        I’m working on a post on the perks of living in a desert town, don’t know when it will be published (have tons of draft posts some more than 2 yrs old) LOL!

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