Unschooling: An interview with children who have never been to school
When the older girls were just 5 and 7 years old I did a little interview with them to get their thoughts on unschooling. Back then it was all about play and learning what they want, when they want! Now the girls are aged 13, 11, 8, and 7, and I thought it was time to hear from them again; to see what has changed, or hasn’t changed. Are they still as happy? Do they enjoy unschooling? Do they see themselves going to school in the future?
To a lot of people, school is inseparable from childhood and they cannot imagine children being content to ‘miss out’ on that experience. Oh, there are a lot of assumptions! If they aren’t forced to learn will they be ‘lazy’? Will they be unsocialised? Will they be weird? Will they learn to do difficult things? Now that the girls are a bit older, I could also ask them what they thought about these kinds of misconceptions. I hope you enjoy their answers!
Me: Ok first, do you know what unschooling is?
Miss 13: What kind of question is that?
Me: Well, can you describe it?
Miss 13: It is not going to school, but it’s also not doing school at home. It’s like learning through life, that’s what you always say! Like we don’t really do written work, it’s learning through experiences and stuff like that.
Miss 7: And we learn to write, and we learn to read and stuff. And we have reading time, and project time, and morning tea time, and we go out to meetups together with all our friends.
Miss 13: We do all the stuff that’s important like socialisation, history, english, maths and stuff, but we don’t do it in a boring way.
Miss 11: Pretty much we learn everything the Betterman way.
Me: The what?
Miss 13: *laughing* It’s from a movie.
Miss 8: Unschooling is not going to school, and it feels a lot more free.
Me: How long have you been unschooling?
All: My whole life.
Me: How do you like to spend your day?
Miss 11: We do all the activities in the morning, and we read books in the morning, and then for most of the day we do project time and work on all our projects and stuff. And then in the afternoon it’s dancing until nighttime.
Miss 8: I like doing our day with going out for a walk to the tree park or the sit spot, and I like doing all of our normal day things like reading books in the morning, doing project time…
Miss 7: And in our days in the mornings we do reading time, then project time, and sometimes we do project time for the rest of the day because we’re having fun, and some days we have morning tea and lunch, and sometimes in the afternoon we go to dancing until night, and then we go home and it’s about bedtime and that’s basically our day.
Miss 13: Every day looks different. Some days we’re doing all normal stuff like a structured day where we do like this in the morning then this and this and this and this and we get a lot done. Some days we like to play the whole day and just have a break and spend the whole day playing. And Wednesdays and Fridays we go out with our friends. So we learn stuff but we also are socialising and having fun with friends and stuff, and every afternoon is dance.
Me: Can you tell me about how you learn without school?
Miss 11: It’s like you don’t even have to sit down and think about ‘I’m doing math right now’ to learn things. Like if you go to the shops you have to add up how much money it costs if you want to buy something and things. Pretty much everything you do is some form of math or learning.
Miss 13: My friends at dance are always asking me, ‘but if you don’t do written work, and you don’t do tests, how are you not dumb?’
Me: What do you think is the answer though? How do you learn if nobody’s making you learn? I think that maybe that’s the question they’re asking.
Miss 8: It’s more a part of life than having to keep on learning. Like if you’re trying to learn to read, if you look at something sometimes you just try and read it. And with math sometimes you can see other people doing math and then it helps you learn. Or you see in a book and you’re like ‘oh I think I know the answer’. And when you learn to count it helps you more with math as well.
Me: So there’s lots of opportunities to learn things? There’s books, watching people, doing things… is that what you’re saying?
Miss 8: Yeah, it’s a part of life. It’s more a part of life than a thing that you just learn.
Miss 11: Yeah, I feel like kids are less motivated to learn when people try to force them to learn. You want to learn and you want to know stuff…
Miss 13: Naturally you just want to.
Miss 11: Like you’re curious and things, but when people sit you down and are like ‘you have to learn this when I tell you to, how I tell you to’, it makes them less motivated to, and also you look into things that you’re interested in. If they force you to learn things that you’re not interested in, you’re most likely to just forget it all.
Miss 13: We have a lot of books. There’s a whole pile of books over there that Mum reads to us every morning, we have a bookshelf over there, we have a pile of books beside the bookshelf, another gigantic two piles on the other side, and another bookshelf over there.
Miss 11: The answer is books!
Miss 13: Mum has an obsession with books.
Miss 7: We don’t sit down all day, we can get up and we can actually get exercise and we can stop and have a play whenever we want and we can come back to it. And we don’t have to keep going, ‘ugh we have to do this all day’. We can do it whenever we want. Basically, it feels like freedom.
Me: Ok, I have another question. What do you like about unschooling?
Miss 7: We gets loads of freedom in our days and we don’t have to be like ‘oh we have to do this every single day and we can’t get to play!’ We actually get to do stuff that we want to do, we can stop whenever we want, and we don’t have to go to school on our birthday!
Miss 8: Unschooling is very fun because you can stop doing the thing whenever you want, instead of every day you having to do the same thing and sitting down in class all day with a person who at the start you hardly even know, and being away from your parents, doing school. I love being unschooled.
Miss 7: I like having freedom.
Miss 11: The thing I like most is you get to spend more time with your family and things because when you go to school you won’t get to see your parents all day, and you’d be in different classes to your siblings so the only time you’d get to see them is in the morning and at night. But in the morning you’re all rushing to get ready to go, and then at night you’re just so tired you just eat dinner and go to bed so you don’t really get to spend much time with them, except for on the weekends. I feel like you don’t have as good of a bond then.
Miss 13: What most kids would find strange is that we don’t like the school holidays. We don’t really have holidays, we can have holidays whenever we want, and if we don’t want to do something one day we just don’t. We just play. School holidays are the worst because everywhere is busy! Also, I was talking to my friends the other day and they were looking forward to being a certain age where they get to pick their subjects. They can’t do sewing, they can’t do cooking, they can’t do dance yet.
Miss 11: You know why they were so excited to do that? They get to choose what they want to learn.
Me: Is there anything you don’t like about unschooling?
Miss 13: I wish we did sports days.
Me: Oh you wish we had a sports carnival? Could we organise that if we wanted to?
Miss 13: Yes.
Me: Yeah, but we just haven’t yet.
Miss 13: If we want a sports day we could recreate it, and better because everyone would have more fun and we could do the events that we want to do, not the ones that nobody likes. It would just be better.
Me: Some people think kids have to go to school to learn, otherwise they won’t learn everything they need to know for their life. Is that a risk?
Miss 8: I think at school, they make you learn every day instead of just playing during life and you learn things.
Me: So if you don’t go to school and nobody’s telling you what to learn is there a risk that you might not learn everything you need then?
Miss 11: I guess some people could see it that way. You learn a lot of things in unschooling and also if you need to learn something when you’re an adult most people have a phone and they can just look it up and they can learn it when they need to learn it.
Miss 13: And when you unschool you go through more experiences than you go through in school. When we are just playing with our friends we learn stuff! We all tell each other things that we have learnt and stuff like that… I can’t think of an example right now.
Miss 11: As you grow up you just keep learning what you need to know at that age.
Miss 13: It’s great because, I didn’t start reading reading til I was 10, you started when you were 7?
Miss 11: Oh it was a bit younger than that, I started reading Harry Potter at 7.
Miss 13: I started learning to read younger too but I couldn’t actually read ‘properly’ until I was 10, because that’s when I was ready. Before that I didn’t really care for reading but then I really wanted to read books so then I actually started learning how to read. You get more freedom on when you want to learn stuff.
Miss 11: You know what? The thing I really hate about school is they try to force you to learn stuff really early. What if you’re not ready for it? And also, people always learn at different paces and they try to make everybody… like the way they do uniforms and things… they want to make everybody learn the same and look the same and I don’t like that.
Miss 8: Some kids want to learn maths before they want to learn to read sometimes. If kids like school that’s fine, they can go to school, but they should have every day they get to wear whatever they want.
Miss 13: At least with unschooling we get the choice if we want to do school or not. Like if I ever wanted to go to school you’d let me. That would never happen though, hahaha.
Miss 11: We’d be really sad about it though!
Me: Ok next question. How do you know what you need to learn?
Miss 13: You don’t.
Miss 11: You don’t. You just learn it when you think you need to learn it.
Miss 13: Say you’re reading a book and it has something in it that you need to work out, like in Aquilla magazine it had that murder mystery activity and it had different maths sums and codes and things, you needed to learn how to use those codes first. You’re just like ‘oh wait I really want to do this so I’m going to go learn how’.
Miss 8: It’s just a part of life. I can imagine nobody would love if their parents just said ‘come on you have to learn this right now and there’s no other chance to learn it’. I doubt they’d run up and be like ‘yay! I have to learn it right now!’ They’d probably be like ‘ughhhh can I just learn it whenever I need to learn it, or keep on doing it instead of learning the whole entire thing now and never getting to do it again’.
Miss 7: At the start of the day when you’re eating breakfast and your Mum’s reading to you, sometimes your Mum will ask you what you’re going to do for project time and then you’ll do that for project time and maybe you’ll say that you want to do maths that time or you want to write a blog post about unschooling! *everyone laughs*
Me: Should all kids learn the same things before they’re adults so they can be prepared for adult life?
Miss 7: No, they can learn whatever they want.
Miss 8: Ok, way too many questions about learning things. Look, it’s a part of life, you learn when you’re alive. You should learn what you’re ready to learn.
Miss 13: They say ‘when you’re 5 years old you have to learn this, and when you’re 6 years old you have to learn this’, but you’re still learning stuff. Like we’ll be reading a book and we’ll tell you what we’ve learnt and you’ll say ‘wow, I didn’t know that’. There’s some things you have to learn, like you have to learn how to do maths, and you have to learn how to read, but you don’t have to do that on a certain timeline.
Miss 8: If you homeschool and don’t go to school then you can learn whatever you want, even if in school it’s older grade stuff.
Miss 11: I feel like you can learn whatever you want, when you want to learn it, but there is certain things like the basics, like when you’re a baby you have to learn how to walk, but you get to decide it for your own body.
Miss 13: And what your mind is ready for.
Me: How can you tell when you’ve learnt enough about something? Like at school they have tests, but how do you know if you don’t do tests?
Miss 11: Well, I feel like when you know you’ve learnt enough, like I used to learn heaps about Ancient Egypt, when you get bored of the thing and you’re not enjoying learning more about it I think that’s when you know you’re done.
Miss 13: I got a book about fairies for Easter, and I read the whole thing in a day, and then I kept reading different pages and going back to it every now and then. I don’t really look at that book anymore. I’ve written some of it down in another book just so I can look at that but I don’t really read it anymore. I go on and off getting really really into it, and then not being into it and focussing on something else. I have a lot of things on the go. But it’s like, I will learn a lot about one thing and then when I get bored of it I’ll stop but I still remember those things and I know enough about it. And if I want to learn more of it then I’ll probably get back into it, or if I’ve just forgotten one thing I’ll go search it.
Me: So in our house every day you decide what you’re going to do, and there’s nothing you’re forced to learn. Is that right?
Me: Why should children be allowed to choose and follow their interests like that? Don’t adults know better what they need to know since they have more life experience?
Miss 13: Who said that?!
Me: Lots of people think this way. Don’t adults know better what children need to know?
Miss 11: No!
Miss 13: No! Never!
Miss 7: Kids should decide what they want to do.
Miss 13: Adults have to say ‘you have to eat healthy or you’ll get sick, you have to brush your teeth or they’ll fall out, you have to be clean or you could get sick’, it’s your job to keep us safe.
Me: How should I get you to do those things then?
Miss 13: Explain why it’s important and let us decide. If we still say we don’t want to then you tell us why you have to.
Me: So, maybe I haven’t explained it well if you don’t understand why it’s important?
Miss 13: Yeah.
Me: Do you learn all on your own? Or do you have help?
Miss 13: You help us sometimes.
Miss 11: We definitely have a lot of help.
Miss 7: If we need help then you will help us.
Me: What kind of help?
Miss 13: Like if we don’t know something we’ll say ‘hey, can you help me with this’, and you’ll come over. And if you don’t know either then we’ll go and learn about it together.
Miss 7: Like if you’re trying to learn maths and you don’t have enough fingers because you only have ten, you’ll need your parents to help with their extra fingers.
Me: Sometimes in life people have to do things they don’t really want to do. People worry that unschoolers won’t get any practice at that. How will you learn to do things that are hard or you don’t really want to do?
Miss 13: I think we’ve already answered that. We want to anyway. We just want to.
Me: Can you think of any examples?
Miss 11: Like if you go to dancing and you’re not in the dance straight away because you’re not the best you keep showing up to the classes because you are motivated to get better at it.
Miss 13: It’s really hard! Sometimes you really really want to do a part but other people are better than you, and you feel upset about it because you really want it, but then if you keep trying, and you practice, and watch people, and learn from them, and ask for help, then eventually you’ll get in.
Miss 8: You don’t go to dance and then if you don’t get in a part that you want you don’t just stop and leave. You have to keep going and maybe you’ll eventually get the part.
Miss 13: I made a huge macrame and that was really hard. I got halfway and was like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. I took a week off and then I came back and kept going. Then I stopped for a month and then came back to it.
Me: Do children need rules? Some people think they shouldn’t be allowed as much freedom as you have. What do you think?
Miss 13: You need rules to keep you safe.
Miss 11: Like look both ways before you cross the road, you can’t just run out into the street. Those are the kind of rules that are there to help you. But the kind of rules like ‘you have to do this because I’m telling you to for no reason because it’s benefiting me not you’… that’s the kind of thing that is not ok.
Miss 13: Yeah, there’s some rules but they don’t seem like rules. They’re like ‘it’s important that you do this’. Instead of just saying you have to, you’ll explain why and then we’ll understand why it’s important and we’ll do it.
Miss 11: Also, if that’s what the adults think, tell them to ask themselves would they like it if there was constantly somebody bossing you around and telling you what to do?
Miss 13: For no reason whatsoever and you don’t know the reason.
Me: A lot of people worry that children who don’t go to school don’t have friends or spend much time with other kids. Tell me about your experience.
Miss 13: *outraged face*
Miss 11: That is definitely not true!
Miss 13: *starts listing all her friends*
Miss 11: Basically, we go to meetups twice a week. They’re all day meetups and we play with our friends all day, but also another thing that’s really important is extracurricular activities and things. Like if you do dancing and sports, they’re a lot of good ways to be with people.
Me: And how long do you play with your friends when you see them?
Miss 13: All day.
Miss 11: 5 hours or something?
Miss 13: We go at 10 in the morning and we play all day until the afternoon or when we have to leave for dancing.
Miss 7: People who homeschool actually go out and see places and they don’t have to be trapped in school.
Miss 11: I don’t understand how people would think school is more socialisation? You’re sat in a classroom and often you’re not allowed to talk! And also, I think we’re definitely very socialised. Sometimes I meet people who have just started homeschooling and they’ve been in school and they’re not as good at reading people’s emotions and things. Sometimes you have to tell them to ‘stop, stop, STOP!’
Me: What is your friendship group like? Do they get on? Do you have arguments? Are they accepting of people?
Miss 13: You can have arguments sometimes. That’s good! Because it means you’re standing up for your opinion.
Miss 11: Also, I’d be worried if you didn’t argue. I’d be worried if people were all agreeing all the time.
Me: Is there any bullying or things like that?
Miss 13: No, no.
Miss 11: No.
Miss 13: Just disagreements, and you work it out. And if things get bad you can tell an adult and they’ll help because they have more experience.
Me: Do you think you’ll ever go to school?
Miss 11: I might go to University. But only if I want to get a job that I need it for. But, I’m not going to school.
Miss 13: Do we even need to explain ourselves? Read the blog.
Me: Do you know everything school children know?
Miss 13: Yes
Miss 11: Yeah. I know more.
Me: What would you like people to know about unschooling or how kids learn?
Miss 13: It’s ok if unschooling isn’t for you. It’s ok to try unschooling and if you would prefer school it’s ok to like school. We’re not saying school is a bad thing for everybody. If you like school, that’s great for you, but we just don’t. We prefer this.
Miss 11: I want to say firstly, homeschooling is not for everybody and also, you don’t have to homeschool exactly how you see us homeschool. You don’t have to have the exact same structured day as us, you can do what fits your family.
Miss 8: Don’t go to school.
Miss 7: Just don’t go to school.
Me: Ok last question! A lot of people think that going to school is part of childhood and that if you don’t do that you’re missing out on something. People think school is ‘normal’. What do you think about that?
Miss 13: Ok, it is for most people. It’s a normal thing for most people, but things are changing. It’s great because more people are becoming aware of homeschooling.
Miss: 8: No no no no.
Miss 11: School is normal for most people, but I feel like you’re not missing out on anything if you don’t go to school. Everything that happens at school you can recreate somewhere else. You do not have to go to school to have a great childhood. I think it’s better without it anyway. You get to experience a lot more fun things instead of sitting in a classroom learning things you’re going to forget.
Miss 7: You’re not going to miss out on anything. The thing is, you’ll make new friends if you homeschool.
Me: Ok that’s all my questions! Thanks, everybody!
We ended up chatting for close to an hour! Turns out they had a lot to say. I really loved hearing their thoughts. Highlights for me were hearing that they enjoyed unschooling, felt motivated, connected to their family and community, capable of learning everything they need to know, and if they need help they know it’s available. I’m always there to lend a literal hand for counting on, haha!
Honestly, watching them learn in this way is really inspiring to me. It’s hard to believe until you see it. I hope this little chat with four children who have never been to school allowed you a little more insight into what it’s like, and how they feel about it.
I loved this post! My 6yr old roadschooler was in total agreement with your kid’s answers. Great read.
This is great ❤️
Interesting interview. I’m glad it works well for these girls, but in regard to Miss 13’s comments about wanting to play sports, I wonder if she unconsciously desires to be on an athletic team with other 12 & 13 year old girls, like she might be on if she attended school, rather than just having a sports carnival with her sisters? I know in some schools they have girls soccer/football, volleyball, basketball, field hockey, swimming, track, cross country, etc. teams associated with the school district, starting at age 12 (or earlier) or 7th grade. Would there be similar athletic teams for Miss 13 to join if she wanted to, even if she’s unschooled, or do unschoolers not participate inorganised team sports?
Oh yes it’s easy to join a sports team here at any age. You don’t have to do them through school. Her younger sister played netball for a couple of years. Miss 13 is not wanting to play a sport, she does dance. She really did just want a sports carnival. Since I wrote this we have been to a big homeschool sports carnival and it was just what she wanted! Such great timing.
Its a wonderful post , loved the answers of the kids. Thanks for sharing.