Why Every Parent Should Consider Unschooling


By Carolanne Wright

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

Gillian Lynne. Maybe you’ve heard of her? She’s the choreographer who did Cats and Phantom of the Opera. And she most likely would be diagnosed with ADHD if she was of school age today.

Gillian was fidgety. She couldn’t concentrate. And she was disturbing people. Gillian was considered hopeless by the school system. This was in the 1930s and Gillian was eight. As the story goes, she was sent to a specialist with her mother. After about 20 minutes of dialogue, the specialist told Gillian that he needed to speak with her mother privately. Before leaving, he turned on the radio. Once the pair were in the next room, he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” As soon as the adults were gone, Gillian jumped to her feet and began to dance to the music. They watched her for a few minutes before he turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” So began a wildly successful career in the arts.

Author and educator Sir Ken Robinson tells this story in his 2006 TED talk, How schools kill creativity. He’s considered the foremost creativity expert in his field and believes that we need to seriously rethink our school systems — especially in the U.S.

“We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says. We’re not only destroying the natural joy of learning with standardizing education, but the future of children as well.

An unorthodox approach to learning

With programs like No Child Left Behind (millions of children have actually been left behind) and Common Core (otherwise known as Common Conformity) in the United States, parents are finding the educational climate so unacceptable that they are willing to take a radically different path.

Homeschooling allows parents to hand-pick curriculum to fit their children’s learning style or religious affiliation. Children tend to be more engaged in the subject matter and often score higher than their public school counterparts. But some feel that even using a structured curriculum along with testing suffocates a child’s inherent creativity and love of learning. In those cases, parents turn to unschooling — the most pioneering educational philosophy around.

Unschooling is a method of homeschooling that puts the learning in the hands of the learner. Since unschooling is without structure, it’s difficult to pin down. Despite that, unschooling parent Leo Babauta of zen habits offers a glimpse into the potential of this unconventional method:

“The beauty of unschooling is in the search for the answers. If anyone had all the answers, there would be no search. And so what I’d love to teach unschooling parents and kids is that the search is the joy of it all.”

According to Babauta, unschooling is not:

  • Classes with subjects.
  • Goals set by teachers, the school system or a structured curriculum.
  • Knowledge handed down by a teacher.
  • A specific set of educational materials.
  • Learning at a predetermined pace and at certain times.

Instead, unschooling encourages:

  • Active engagement in subjects chosen by the child.
  • Thinking for oneself and making your own decisions.
  • Creativity, innovation and curiosity.
  • Self-directed learning at your own pace.
  • No division between learning and life.

Babauta feels the benefits of unschooling are vast, including:

  • Kids learn like entrepreneurs, instead of like robots following instructions. This prepares kids to make decisions for themselves and to be able to navigate through uncharted waters.
  • Unschoolers are always learning, unlike those who attend school where learning is limited to the classroom.
  • It’s a more natural way of learning, one that has been practised for a majority of human history. People like Leo Tolstoy, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein and Benjamin Franklin all learned in this manner.
  • Kids discover how to learn and teach themselves, helping to prepare them for any future. In our quickly changing world, it’s difficult to know what will be in demand a decade from now. For the self-motivated child who is familiar with how to learn anything, they enjoy a distinct advantage of being able to learn whatever is needed — without requiring a teacher.

When all is said and done, many believe obedience to standard educational systems doesn’t serve anyone, except those who crave absolute structure, mediocrity and conformity. Gillian Lynne is a prime example of how rebelling against the system can produce astounding results. Because of the risk her mother was willing to take, Gillian has been “responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, she’s given pleasure to millions, and she’s a multi-millionaire,” said Sir Robinson during his TED talk. “Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.”

How Schools Kill Creativity

Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, “How Schools Kill Creativity” 2006.

Article sources:

Previous articles by Carolanne:

About the author:

Carolanne WrightCarolanne enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years

Through her website Thrive-Living.net she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. Follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


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  • Liberty4ev

    You’ll probably find support and other unschoolers within the homeschool community, but having been an unschool mom, I have to tell you: there will NOT be mainstream support celebrating your decision. People will think you are nutty as a fruitcake. Expect some harsh criticism, and plenty of predictions of doom for your son. You will have to grow thick skin and do what YOU think is right for your son.

    Most unschoolers I know follow a limited curriculum so their child(ren) can pass their state required competency tests, and tell the public they are homeschooled which is FAR more socially acceptable.

    As for resources: the whole wide world around you, the internet, books, travel, family, mentors, work and volunteering, Mother Nature, discussions with your son on any subject, especially those on which one has to think and form an opinion (and back it up), exposure to and participation in things in which your son is interested (if he has a passion, immerse him in that), even mundane, everyday life things such as cooking, cleaning and organizing, mowing the lawn, gardening, managing money and so on are opportunities for learning. If you have a love of learning, I think setting that example is very helpful.

    I unschooled my son from 6th grade on. It was a gigantic leap of faith, and when I started, I had exactly 2 “cheerleaders” for support. All I knew for fact: traditional school was destroying my son (truly, a lot of children, especially boys) in every way possible, and I had to do something else, no matter how radical. And then the bullying…

    Over the years, and despite the obvious positive results, I STILL received a tremendous amount of criticism, and now that he’s college aged, I’m getting blasted for not “making” him go to college (he’s weighing his options with my limited input—he is quite capable of making his own well informed decisions).

    I could write a book about all the good things this journey has brought us, but suffice it to say, it was the best decision I ever made. My only regret is that I didn’t unschool my older children.

    Best of luck!

  • TheTutor

    For those seeking knowledge
    By going to college,
    Learning will be by rote.

    They’ll develop the skill
    Of the run-of the mill,
    And the world will change by their vote.

    But the powerful few,
    The eternally new,
    Seek a tutor that’s greater by far’

    Than those who pass on
    The conclusions foregone
    That prevent you from being who you are.

    Don’t let us be told
    By those who so bold
    Claim the truth with rhetorical bluster,

    To gain knowledge complete,
    You must sit at the feet
    Of the Wright Brothers’ flight instructor!

    © Peter Asher 1989

  • ThriveLiving

    Have a look at: “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling” by John Taylor Gatto — an educator with thirty years experience in the field. After reading this book, you will never question your unschooling approach again. =)