One of the main things I wished for my children was the freedom and confidence to be themselves. As young children, I saw this in them every day, but as they approached school age I started to worry.
How would school change them?
What would they be like once the pressure to fit in hit them? When they were required to conform?
I absolutely loved who they were and wanted them to continue growing into the people they were meant to be. I had been to school myself, my husband had been to school. We all know what it’s like and that my worries were justified.
We wanted something different.
Now, my oldest daughter is fourteen years old and that tiny toddler seems a long time ago. She never did step foot inside a school. What is she like now? The same wonderful person, even more herself, sure of who she is, confident and competent.
When I look at her, I have no doubts about the path we have taken. Her three younger sisters are similar but in their own unique ways, her friends who have experienced life without school also similar.
We chose unschooling and it has made all the difference. I am convinced that this method of education plays a huge role in the self-esteem and confidence I see in the children around me, and I’d love to share my thoughts with you.
How Unschooling Empowers Children
Unschooling is a non-coercive method of education based on freedom, autonomy, respect, and interest-led learning. Children get an individualized education that is perfect for them!
Unschoolers have the support of their parents, but ultimately are in control of their own lives. They develop a strong sense of autonomy and personal responsibility for their own learning. Because they are making the decisions, they are incredibly intrinsically motivated and passionate. I feel like this is quite rare, especially as children enter the tween and teen years. My older children are as self-motivated as ever, while I hear complaints all around me that kids these days don’t want to do anything and must be forced to ‘learn’.
This autonomy flows over into all areas of their lives, of course, not just learning. This leads to people who have had a lot of practice making their own decisions, been supported through mistakes, and now feel confident and capable. They know what feels good, and what doesn’t. What they like, and what they don’t. They know themselves. I feel that this is super important in the teen years which often seem quite a chaotic time of testing boundaries, pushing limits, and dealing with peer pressure. To have always had the autonomy to do that in small ways, means you’ve had a lot of practice before the stakes are higher.
Unschooling allows children to find their true passions, and dive deeply into them, becoming experts in whatever lights them up. Is there a better way to foster a love of learning? I can’t think of one. People rarely become joyful or confident learners by someone else making the decisions for them about what they should learn and when.
“…to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”-John Holt
Having always been trusted, unschoolers learn to trust themselves; their abilities, intuition, self-worth, judgement, potential, and growth. Instead of spending years following directions and having their time micromanaged, they have had a lot of practice making their own decisions, managing their time, and finding their passions. They are in tune with themselves.
Unlike mainstream schooling, unschooling is consent-based. Consent is a big topic right now. Obviously, it is extremely important and people are trying to work out the best ways to teach the next generation about this concept and evoke positive change. The thing is, this is pretty impossible to do in a compulsory and coercive environment, i.e. school. This is a larger topic than I’m covering here, but I believe children are able to experience and practice true consent much more often in an unschooling environment. They are free to learn what they want, move their bodies when they need, eat when they are hungry, sleep when tired, wake when rested, have privacy when they need it, choose who they want to spend time with, and much more.
Parenting is a learning process, and parents with the best intentions will absolutely still make mistakes. Nothing is perfect, but unschooling has much greater potential for practicing true consent. There is no doubt that is empowering.
In school, you are told what to learn and when, and then you are judged on it. You don’t decide on the questions, goals, area of study, or even when you are finished with a topic. You have very little power.
Unschooled children get to decide all of these things. They are supported to set their own goals, formulate a plan, learn how to find answers to questions, problem solve, self-reflect, share their learning if they wish, and decide when they are done with a topic. By being the ones to judge their own progress, they naturally desire to improve, learn more, and try new things. This motivated and passionate mindset is more valuable than the memorization of any fact. Unschoolers become lifelong learners because they see learning as something they do for their own benefit and enjoyment.
The toxic socialization children are subjected to at school creates a hierarchy of social status. We all remember it. Without adequate adult guidance, bullying and exclusion thrive. Children must ‘fit in’ rather than stand out, or they’re going to end up having a rough time surviving school. This can lead to feeling unworthy, low self-esteem, not feeling accepted, and poor mental health.
So, are children just mean? Is this unavoidable?
No. This is a result of placing children together with little adult guidance and separating them by year of birth. We learn social skills from those more experienced than us! That’s hard to do when all your friends are exactly the same age as you. And when you have one teacher for every 30 students there is no capacity to effectively deal with friendship issues. Usually, kids are simply punished and separated if they do the wrong thing and there is little opportunity to work through and learn from mistakes.
I did not want this experience for my children. Thankfully, I have found unschooling communities to be completely different. Children are free to be themselves. To be the unique individuals they were meant to be! They are accepted, celebrated, and supported. They have opportunities to learn social skills together, from children and adults of all ages. Parents are often close by to support them if needed when disagreements occur. They learn how to work through issues from people with experience.
Unschoolers are able to have authentic relationships and interactions. Children are free to choose their friends and develop genuine connections based on shared interests.
To me, there is no doubt that socialization for homeschoolers is a lot healthier. It is so empowering to be able to be yourself in every setting and to not be in an environment from a young age where you must ‘fit in’ at the expense of your individuality.
Unschoolers live in the real world and have many opportunities to be involved in their community. They are able to feel a sense of meaningful contribution and importance through this involvement.
Ownership of Learning
Unschooled children are active participants in their education. They have the freedom to make decisions regarding what, how, and when they learn. This ownership over their own learning and progress fosters a deep sense of responsibility and self-assurance. They get to own their achievements 100%!
I think this is one area that people think unschoolers will miss out on… being challenged. Actually, I find it quite disappointing that most people have a belief that unless they are forced to, children would not choose to challenge themselves. This could not be further from the truth.
Maybe you notice schooled children seeming unmotivated and unwilling to challenge themselves. Maybe they do the bare minimum to get by in school. This is not a symptom of childhood but of the schooling system. There is a massive difference between a challenge that someone else has set for you, that you have no connection to, and a challenge that has come about naturally in the pursuit of your own interests. Unschoolers get plenty of experience with the latter. Even if they are in an environment where someone else is setting the challenge (e.g. an extracurricular class) they are there voluntarily and so they are still motivated as it is part of their own goal.
In unschooling, children are encouraged to take on challenges as part of the natural process of learning. Through this, they develop resilience, perseverance, a growth mindset, belief in themselves and their abilities, and positive self-esteem.
Unschooling is not only about academic learning. In fact, there is no hierarchy of subjects at all. Children pursue whatever they are interested in and parents consider emotional, social, and physical well-being and development as equally important. Instead of concentrating on one area, unschooling is more holistic. Every part of the child is valuable and valued.
Close Family Relationships
Unschooling is the perfect environment to foster close relationships between parents and children. And siblings too! Sending your children to school does not automatically mean you won’t have a close relationship with them of course. But when your approach to your child is based on trust, respect, connection, communication, acceptance, and unconditional love, the odds are good!
Close relationships and a feeling of belonging within the family are definitely protective factors for mental health.
Due to the nature of unschooling, children will obviously spend a whole lot more of their life doing things they enjoy. This is a good thing! Strangely, people will warn you about it. As if too much fun is a bad thing. I reject this ridiculous belief! I want them to enjoy their lives. I want them to be thrilled.
Unschooling is about freedom, autonomy, trust, respect, healthy relationships, and self-directed learning. That is exactly what I wanted for my children. They have the normal struggles that all people have from time to time, of course, but generally, they are empowered, confident, passionate, self-aware, motivated, and unique individuals who believe in themselves! I feel like that’s what most adults want to be, so why wouldn’t we start curating an environment that supported that from the beginning?