5 Biggest Misconceptions About Unschooling

Bohemian Mom
Activist Post

Since we decided to homeschool and eventually unschool our boys, I get asked a lot of questions.  It’s understandable, as the lifestyle we have chosen definitely goes against the grain of societal norms.  Even I had a lot of trepidation at first, and found myself asking some of the very same questions.

It took me over five years to fully reconcile the ideas and, truth be told, I still question myself at least once a year.

Over the eight years plus since we started to homeschool, my perspective through research and experience has grown considerably.  This perspective has allowed me to address the most commonly asked questions. 

What about college? 

This is probably the most commonly asked question.   The short answer is yes, homeschoolers can go to college. So can unschoolers.  And they do!  Millions of them in fact.  With the advent of online college courses one can simply continue with a homeschool model, or even attend one of several colleges in Toronto.  Otherwise a student can take tests like GED and SATs, put together a transcript or examples of their work and apply — same as anyone else does.  Prestigious universities such as Yale, Stanford, and Harvard accept and even seek out homeschoolers.  Oftentimes they are more prepared then conventionally schooled children to tackle the pressures of a higher education.

The longer answer to this question will be covered in the next installment of this series, so check back next Monday for my rather unconventional (but gaining more momentum) ideas regarding college, and if it really is the best path anymore.

How do children socialize and learn to work with others?

Some conformists actually argue that our kids won’t be prepared for the real world because they aren’t socialized in school.  Pardon me for any typos from here on out, but I can’t help but laugh out loud at this common misconception. As if herd pressure to look, dress, or behave a certain way is required to function in the world. Or that facing daily bullies is necessary to toughen somebody up for the “real” world.  Or that learning about sex or relationships is better taught by confused pubescent middle-school peers who claim to be experts because they’ve gotten to second base.  It’s nonsense.

And just because we homeschool doesn’t mean we stay home like hermits.  Even before adopting a travel lifestyle we were on what seemed like a permanent field trip.  Hikes, waterfalls, skiing, surf lessons, science centers, museums, and play dates of all kinds, etc.  Most homeschoolers use the world as their classroom and spend lots of time exploring and engaging with people.

Additionally, our children have taken numerous classes outside of the home from karate to cooking, Spanish to gymnastics where they have met many of their friends.

Finally, and most importantly, they learn to respect others because we respect them, not because they are forced by the threat of detention.   We spend everyday out in the world interacting with and observing people of all ages.

Our kids have more time to interact with people and observe the differences. Being cooped up all day in forced silence with 20-30 similar-aged kids is not what anyone should call proper socialization that translates into the real world. Homeschooled children typically gain a tolerance, empathy, and understanding of all different age groups including adults. Ultimately, I would argue the socialization that homeschool kids experience is beneficial, while what passes for socialization in school is, well, unnecessary to put it kindly.

How do you know they are “on par” with others?

I guess the best answer is who cares?  Do you realize that the mathematics concepts taught in the first seven years of school, drilled into children’s heads day and night under intense pressure to perform, can be learned by a 14-year old in a single day? Many of those concepts can be learned by playing card games or by managing an allowance.

“On par” with others? I don’t want my children to be like anyone else, and I fundamentally disagree with putting them in a box called “on par.”  Because par or even above par becomes the accepted level.  How many of us bragged that we barely paid attention in school and still got A’s and B’s?  As if that’s something to be proud of.

Children are developmentally diverse and have different interests just like adults. One of the most amazing things about being human is its beautiful diversity. The last thing I would want for my children is to see them morph into being the “same” as everyone else.  We should celebrate our children’s differences and help to ensure that they follow their own path in life!  How else can we cultivate the self esteem that so many schooled children seem to be lacking?

It seems to me that if children have the basic tools to learn (reading and mathematics) and are encouraged to pursue their inquisitive nature, they’ll likely excel at being happy and enjoying life no matter what a book says they should be like at age x,y, or z.  Part of home-or-unschooling is for the parent to be okay with where your child is at developmentally, and to unconditionally love the person who he or she is. 

When do you get any free time as a parent?

This question is most often asked by people with young children, and it’s the hardest to answer.  I understand the need for a break as much as the next person, but 8-10 hours a day?  Come on, no one needs that type of break from the things they love most in this world.  That is just an excuse!  It can be a challenge, don’t get me wrong, but most moments I just prefer to enjoy the precious time with them while they’re young.  Frankly, I have never understood the parents with the “yeah, thank goodness the kids are back in school” mentality.  Is that the message you want to convey to the people you love the most?

It’s true that I have less free time than most parents I know, but I do have free time, whether it’s a short walk, long bath, or just when the kiddos are in bed and I can snuggle up with hubby or a good book.  In my opinion, the thing that really needs to change to make homeschooling a success, is to change the way you view your child-parent relationship.  Reassess what you want out of your relationship with your children and question if you are doing all you can as a parent.  You need to take care of yourself, but making an excuse that you “need” 8-10 hours a day is just plain silly.  No one said parenting was easy, but it should be the most amazing and important thing you’ll ever do. Enjoy it, soak up their giggles and messes . . . it won’t last forever, and you will most certainly miss it when it is gone.

How will they be prepared for the real world?

Since when does anything about a school resemble the “real world”?  Unless you are planning to be in prison, or landing a brainless job with a dress code shuffling paper all day, then I do not see a correlation at all.  My boys are in the real world everyday, while schooled kids are stuck in one room, with same-age children, segregated from the “real world” and their family.  Homeschooled children are well prepared for the world they will face, because they have been preparing firsthand their entire lives.

When you see what goes on in school you wonder what part that plays in real life.  A family member of mine actually said that kids need to be bullied and picked on to be able to handle it later in life.  Really?  I just cannot remember when I was bullied anywhere but in school.

As an adult it just doesn’t happen unless you’re conditioned to invite it.  Likewise, are we so distrusted in our adult lives that even going to the bathroom requires permission?  No job I have ever worked has declined my right to use the bathroom.  Finally, how much of what you learned in school applies to your happiness and success now?  Think about it and be honest.  It’s probably very little.

In addition to these 5, I want to clarify that homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, homeschooling is not expensive or only for the wealthy, homeschoolers do have friends; and, finally, you are smart enough and more than well equipped to teach your own child.  Society likes to tell us that we are not a good enough option for our children, but we know and care about our children most, making us obviously the best option.

In the end we all need to do what works best for our families. But if you’re considering homeschooling, be sure to research it well to clear away any of the common myths before deciding.  Or, better yet, try it for a year; the worst case scenario is that they go back to school if it is not working.  If you go into it with flexibility, love, and encouragement then it will be a success.

Do you have any other questions you would like to have answered?  I am happy to give my experiences and advice.  Feel free to ask me anything in the comments below.

This article first appeared at the Bohemian Travelers family travel blog.

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1 Comment on "5 Biggest Misconceptions About Unschooling"

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this article. Thanks for writing it! Here is an excerpt that resonates strongly with me:

    “Frankly, I have never understood the parents with the “yeah, thank goodness the kids are back in school” mentality. Is that the message you want to convey to the people you love the most?”

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