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The Not So Complicated World of Unschooling

Your child is struggling with their school work. They're easily frustrated or refuse to even try. Maybe they cry at the thought of going to school. Maybe they have an abundant amount of sick days and unexplained stomach issues. Maybe they just say that they hate school or their teacher sends you a concerned note. There is little worse than watching your child suffer through something that brings them to tears. For us, one of the reasons we ended up homeschooling off and on from 1st grade to 6th was when my son said, "I'd rather be dead than in school" we did something that might sound a little crazy. We believed him.

What did that moment mean?

Sometimes you read stories of parents who missed the signs even though they were there. Or of parents who didn't realize how serious their child's fears and anxieties and depression was. I don't blame those parents, how can you know for sure? In an abundance of caution we took him at his word and began a new part of our educational journey. We shifted what education meant. While we did do reading and math it was all centered around games, shows, and things that he enjoyed. He worked on coding blocks. He watched shows about cool science. He went where his passions led him. I'll admit academically he was behind but he was behind while in school too.

Our decision to Unschool

At first we tried to do some 1/2 day classes, half in the public school, half on the computer at home. We were still engaged in the typical school day just in a more relaxed environment, academically he did pretty well this way, but he wasn't happier and being at school still caused him a great deal of distress. The biggest thing I realized was that strict academics were not helping him, in fact, they were adding to his stress. We needed to custom create the education that he needed to be successful and happy.


What you focus on should be based on what your child needs. This isn't really based on what the schools or your family or your in-laws or your parents think that your child needs. You know them best but if you're not sure ASK your child what they need and want from their education.

Here’s how to structure your Unschooling adventure:

  1. What is your child struggling with? It could be academic or it could be emotional. For us it was emotional and social. He had undiagnosed autism and just couldn't navigate the seemingly unfair environment of the school system. A system that when another student hit him with a pop tart in the back of the head he was told by the administration to "Stop pissing people off." He was 7.

  2. Come up with multiple strategies to try and make them as engaging and fun as possible. Who wants to learn when things aren't fun? There is no reason that learning can't be fun.

  3. Try those methods out and let your child in on the process. Have them help you steer their education. For us my son was really motivated by earning money when he was younger. We spent 2 months going to random places and when he said "Please," "Thank you," or "How are you today?" I would give him a quarter. My goal was for him to earn $20 in quarters, enough to reinforce that skill. This really did help with his base socialization skills. For some of you this probably seems like an easy thing but for us it really was a fundamental part of his new education. We weren't trying to stop him from being autistic or being him. We were trying to help him navigate a complicated world filled with complex social situations.

  4. Your goals can change, grow, and shift as your needs do. We did art, history, writing, and science classes at a local park that had an indoor animal section. Since socialization was something I wanted and because no one was offering a class that had all of those elements included into one thing I created the curriculum and ran the class for him and opened it up to other local homeschoolers as well. While we sometimes had days where we would gather branches or flowers or leaves and similar from outside and then research, draw, and write about them we often focused on animals. We would draw them, research them, and write about them. We were able to focus on what many people would consider 4 separate parts of learning and make it into something much more organic and interconnected. We must have been doing something right because the program continued and grew for years.

  5. Listen to your child and be open to their feedback. I don't think that children know everything that they will ever need to know or that they really even know all the options available to them. However, when we try new things we should also make sure that we find out what's working and what isn't and be willing to shift and change as needed.

Trust Yourself

You know your child better than anyone else knows them and you know what motivates them. You know what they love. You know what their struggles are. Being an unschooled student or a homeschooled student doesn't mean that academics are not important it just means that we understand that you don't need to be in a classroom for an entire day to get an education and that education can be customized to fit your child's needs. Some students are able to go faster and advance more quickly because of the flexibility that homeschooling provides. Other students homeschooling gives them the chance to go at a slower pace so that they can deal with difficult for them subjects at a rate where they aren't left behind with a class moving on without them.

You've got this! You can do it! And if you're ever looking to supplement your child's education with fun classes the Academy of wonder if here to help.

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