Letting Go: Our Journey to Unschooling

Autumn is slowly coming into itself here while most of the country is welcoming the chill and stillness of Winter.  Days are only reaching high 60′s and early mornings are met with blue orange glow of fire in white stone fireplace.  We spend these days deep in exploration and learning.  It seems fitting to me that as we really find freedom and settle into who we have been becoming, we are in the season of freedom, of shedding away of the old and preparing for the renewal of life.

I finally can say we are unschoolers.  I say it with no hesitation, no doubts, no mumbling of terms.  A long time coming, I have only been able to truly claim it in the past couple of months.  As last of oak leaves hang on to ancient branches outside my picture windows, I hung on to expectations and fears that my head could not let go of.  I wanted freedom, but… I wanted peace, but… I wanted my children to know that life was learning and learning was life and to love and embrace it, but…

Coming from a Charlotte Mason and Waldorf homeschooling background, I placed importance on certain things that I just couldn’t seem to let go of.  I told myself and my children that we could unschool as long as the kids read from great literature daily and as long as we only had natural wooden toys, Waldorf dolls and stayed media free.  Oh, and of course we needed to spend time outside, observing the natural world, daily.  Needed to at least do a bit of copywork or drawing in main lesson books.  And then of course, what were the Waldorf developmental stages again?  Were the kids learning too much too soon?  Maybe they should only study what the Waldorf curriculum decreed for their ages.  Circling round and round again, from freedom to fear, from unschooling to curriculum, and dragging my children along in the chaos.

Knowing my children were capable, I deeply questioned what my hang ups were.  Seeking advice from seasoned unschoolers and friends, spending time deep in prayer, study and journaling, I found my answer.  I was afraid of the unknown, of the mystery, of not having a part in everything.   I could see so clearly how my entire life I had been desperate to know the answer, to have a label, to be able to fit everything into a neat little box.  Even in matters of faith, I accepted answers, didn’t question, just needed everything to make sense.  Charlotte Mason and Waldorf were easy because I knew what to expect, I knew what would be read, studied, mastered and the results that would come.  They promoted the things that I loved and that I wanted my children to love as well.

I suddenly understood that these were my issues and I needed to let them go.  God had a plan for each of my children and had placed certain passions and interests inside of them and who was I to keep them from growing in those things, to tell them that classic literature and red-winged blackbirds were far more superior than computer games and rope swinging?  I didn’t need to be in control of everything, I didn’t need to know the beginning, middle and end of the story, I just needed to live each day, each moment and let my children do the same.

  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love and of a sound mind.”

I saw that I had been walking in fear.  Fear that if my children didn’t do these things that I deemed necessary, their lives would not turn out the way that they should.  I finally saw my fear for what it truly was, how it was keeping me from a life of trust in God and from the deep and open relationship I should have been having with my kids.  I finally understood this fear and how it had put a wall up and was keeping my children from developing their God given passions.  With eyes open I was able to find that power, that love, that sound mind, was able to see clearly and trust completely, was able to put to death that fear that had been strangling us for so long.  I was able to let go.

That is why this autumn things are different around here than ever before.  We don’t struggle to get going in the morning, don’t argue over books to be read.  We live.  My 9 year old has spent the past week creating and filming a stop action lego movie which is currently 5 minutes long and is not yet done.  He also has begun reading at night after we watch a show together, deep in story until late and he can no longer keep his eyes open.  My 11 year old daughter chose to study the Holocaust and World War 2, immersing herself in somber, heart wrenching stories and growing and maturing because of it.  One of my 6 year old twins decided it was time to start reading and has taught herself amazingly quickly, while her sister was uninterested but is slowly starting herself, probably motivated by a bit of twin rivalry.

We spend our days laughing, playing, reading, watching tv, using kindles, doing projects, running around outside, asking questions, finding answers, and most importantly, enjoying each other.  Outside there are still leaves hanging on, but this mama, she’s finally free.

About: Amy

Amy is a dreamer and a poet, a lover of candles and knitting, of cloudy days, coffee and books. She has seven children and one husband, twenty-two chickens, five ducks, an always full clothesline, a pine tree and a palm tree. Her days are spent unschooling with her children on the central coast of California. Amy blogs at http://hopeisthethingwithfeathersblog.wordpress.com


  1. That is awesome! Happy to hear you’ve found your groove. My kids are only 5 and 2, but I have to say I’m already seeing we’ll be/we are unschoolers. We just don’t like schedules, or to do lists, or predictability. I work from home and they love being here with me. It’s fun! Just living life together and learning bit by bit. It is harder in the sense that you have to take responsibility and not just veg all day. It takes initiative to find what you want to learn, to provide that for them. But I’ve witnessed how quickly my 5 year old learns in short lessons. We’ll sit down to read and I help her sound out letters and it clicks, suddenly she is reading simple words. Just because she is ready. I love that flexibility, to do what we want when we want without any constrictions 🙂

  2. Shelly says:

    I homeschool 7 of my kids, I yearn for the unschooling lifestyle. We use an eclectic approach, which is very flexible, but I find myself drawn to unschooling blogs and books over and over again. The two things holding me back are that I live in one of the strictest states, which requires detailed documentation, evaluations, and standardized tests, and the other thing is that I’m so afraid my kids would sit around watching tv and playing games all day- especially now that it’s colder out. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • Amy says:

      The laws are pretty lenient here in California so I’m not quite sure about that. Maybe someone who lives in a stricter state can chime in about how they go about things!

      With TV and video games, I am still letting go. That seems to be my most difficult obstacle. The funny thing is, I agree with the typical unschooling view that screens are just another medium for learning and that if those screens are available at all times they won’t be looked at as a treat, a reward, something to be desired so much. I agree and yet for some reason have had the hardest time just letting go with it, but I am finally beginning to. I encourage you to read Jennifer McGrail’s blog, specifically her posts about screens, they have been very helpful to me in letting go.

      • redheadmom8 says:

        Since writing the first comment, we have since become unschoolers. It’s still scary for me because of state regulations, but I keep telling myself to trust. As for electronics, I’ve established a period of time everyday that I call media blackout, during which no electronic devices are to be used. I do know that they’re still learning while on their tablets and phones, but it’s so important that they learn about the world around them by experiencing it!

  3. Jen Conner says:

    My husband and myself have really struggled with screen time as well. We see our kids learning so much from them but something about it really bugged us. I think we finally found the answer. We have 8 kiddos so there is so much work around here. There is a pile of cooking to be done, laundry, picking up behind the younger ones and taking care of the baby. We were getting tired of having to ask the kids to get off the iPod or laptop or Naby or DS to pick up something or put away their clothes. They would always get frustrated. I can sympathize with their frustration but I honestly can’t do it all myself. So, we implemented a new standard in our home. No electronics of any kind until all household chores are done. They now get up take care of themselves and our home then they are free to do whatever whenever. As long as no one needs the device they can use it until the next meal if they like. This is working out so great! They are all learning to work together on real life responsibilities. My girls even prepared our Sabbath meal yesterday for today! They aren’t getting frustrated with me for interrupting them any more. I’m not irritated at them for not pitching in around here because they are doing more now than before. My boys played World of Tanks together yesterday and the 10 yo gal worked on a typing course all afternoon. One of the kids finally beat Mario Brothers! Things are much more peaceful around here and I’m even seeing more fruit from their electronics time that would qualify as “schooling.”

  4. Pam Clark says:

    “Screen time” is so much more than what people fear. Break it down and look at it from another angle. What “screen” are they utilizing to learn from at any given moment. The computer screen? Wow, a whole world of information at ones finger tips. One can (and many of us do) spend hours a day/week researching, reading, blogging, seeking out more and more information in writing or game playing. Within games you have reading, problem solving, logic, math, history, science, communication and just loads of fun.

    How about a video game ? Again, reading, problem solving, logic, math, history, science, writing/communication and loads of fun.

    What about tv screens? Movies are loaded with learning. TV programs are loaded with learning. Obvious ones like Myth Busters, or The Magic School Bus, or _______ fill in the blank with any “educational” show. Reality is, there is something to learn from any show watched. Character development is accepted in book form, or on a stage, so why on on tv or in a movie? Plot, history, geography, science, just to name a few, are in shows we watch. How about logic? Fun to point out and pick out logical fallicies or something build upon good logic in shows and commercials. If you are watching with your kids more often than not, you can lots of time to interact and talk about things liked/disliked, errors caught (like an extra photo bombing a shot, or a car that was dented in one scene but not another, or a mix up of costumes…)

    Okay, phone screens, ipod, ipad, kindles… the list goes on with all kinds of “screen time” and very little of it is scary, or problematic unless one’s fears interfere with the reality that learning is taking place, that it is not harmful to the watcher/participant in whatever version is being utilized. It is a HUGE tool in our educational toolbox of opportunity. “Screens” are villianized, misrepresented, made out to be harmful in “studies” by “experts” who have an agenda. Most negative claims about the harm of the use of “screens” is now being proven to be incorrect. It doesn’t cause brain damage, it doesn’t cause one to become addicted. It doesn’t interfere with “real learning” as it is real learning.

    As with all things in life, there will be some who have troubles, there will be many looking for how it will cause troubles, thus blaming the use of electronic devices as culprits of some other underlying issue. Can one be addicted, sure, but they are rare and what most people label addictive is really a deep interest or passion in the interaction, learning, and enjoyment in the game/movie/tv program/subject matter. The medium is not the problem. The interpretation by the parent/other adult who has their own fears, their own prejudices, their own lack of interest/comfort zone is what the core issue usually is.

    If your child was passionate about dance, theater, hockey, reading, history, science, cars… would you see it as an addiction and limit their time in exploring, improving, enjoying their passion? Probably not. A body that appears at rest while playing or watching something on a “screen” is not harmed by the stillness and is definitely not being lazy and rotting away. The mind in that body is assimilating loads of information. Sorting, storing, building upon other ideas, peeling apart and analyzing, problem solving and creatively utilizing different parts of the brain, the imagination, learning and learning and learning.

    Chances are that if given plenty of options to choose from, that are interesting (to the child), that feeds into an interest of the child, that build upon or adds to something they have learned or want to learn, the child will do more than “sit in front of a screen forever”. Even if they spend hours a day using a device with a screen, they are also doing other things. If not, then create a home environment, and options outside of the home that offers them more and different possibilites. And if/when they choose the electronics, see it for what it really is – a world of exploration, not an evil to fear.

  5. Diane Smith says:

    Thanks for sharing, Amy. I’m in a similar place – educationally as well as geographically. I’m here in Central Coast CA and I’ve spent quite a bit of time feeling tugged back and forth between super relaxed/unschooling and more typical homeschooling. I spent much of my summer before God, ironing it all out. And now, I’ve found peace and joy in life and learning. In fact, I’ve finally found to time to update the blog I started about the whole journey if you care to stop by http://liveandlearnca.blogspot.com/ . I’m looking forward to checking out your site – I don’t know of many Christian relaxed/unschoolers and would love to hear the experiences of others who understand. Merry Christmas and Happy Unschooling!

  6. Sherry says:

    I enjoyed your post. We have just decided to unschool. Our children who are 12,10, 8 and 4(tomorrow) have always been homeschooled. I used curriculums such as Mystery of History/Story of the World, Apologia Science and several Simply Charlotte Mason texts for Language Arts. Now I am both excited and nervous about our decision. I need some encouragement. I know no one else who Unschools.

    • Shelly says:

      Sherry, I’m in the same boat! We’ve been eclectic homeschoolers up until this point. I’ve been researching unschooling and reading John Holt for about a year, and I finally decided last Friday to start unschooling. It’s a little scary because PA hs laws aren’t easy, but I figured that since my kids are naturally curious, creative, and active, this is a perfect fit. I also have 10 kids still living at home, so I will NOT miss grading all those papers!

  7. mummy2many says:

    HI Amy. We live in Australia and I am so glad I found your post. We have four children (agred 8, 6, 4 and 2) and we are Christians and have also come from a waldorf homeschooling background… at least I attemped to make it happen but failed miserably because ultimately it was too controlling for my girls. We have attachment parented and have come back to square one… unschooling is the only form of homeschooling that makes any sense. I am having lots of trouble with the screens and the food. Its SO difficult to watch them watching screens so much after its been so restricted for so long. And the sugar consumption is a bit wild. At the moment I don’t know where the sweet spot is. That place where everyone respects everyone and everyone can find their balance. I oscillate between completely letting them go to suddenly coming along with my controlling ways again when I freak out.
    Anyway, its a bumpy path for me. Thanks for your post, it was very inspiring.

    • Nicole Sams says:

      You sound just like me. I start to let go and then freak out. I am trying so hard to just trust that everything is going to be fine but it seems as if whenever I get to a good place something makes me question and then I go back to my old ways of controlling. Lord help me.

  8. jana says:

    I needed to hear this tonight! THANK YOU! This gives me a place & idea to start. I NEED THAT!!

  9. “I didn’t need to be in control of everything, I didn’t need to know the beginning, middle and end of the story, I just needed to live each day, each moment and let my children do the same.”

    This is it! What a wonderful post. I wish every homeschooler could read this (Hey-every parent for that matter!) Life can be so free and full of wonder, but people will eventually gravitate back to bondage. It’s got to be our daily, deliberate choice–>grabbing on to that freedom and sharing it. Thank you!

  10. Jacey says:

    This post was so helpful to me tonight. I’ve been struggling, going back and forth between unschooling and desiring the freedom and passion that comes from that and fear of the unknown, what-ifs and curriculum. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as I was putting my kids to bed just a few minutes ago they were telling me about their fears and I quoted a scripture to them to help encourage them and give them peace, and then I see this scripture here, encouraging me. Thank you for writing this. I really needed it.

  11. Tammy says:

    I am just beginning on this unschooling journey, and appreciate your candidness. Fear seems to block all growth until we see it for what it is, and begin to uproot the darn weed. I pray for grace to let the gardener of my soul help me uproot what is holding us all back. 🙂

  12. Annie says:

    I am leaning toward unschooling but I have so many questions. Does anybody know who I can ask?

  13. Meaghan says:

    I know this post is older but I wanted to say thank you for your honesty! We are coming from a Waldorf background but I’m feeling stifled by all the curriculum and demands. I want something different for my boys but am afraid to let go.

  14. Great post and well said. I think everyone struggles with the methods they choose. As you said, every child IS different and they each need to go their own way. I’ve learned to trust God, trust myself and trust my amazing children. Their lives are His and theirs…not mine.

    I too was apprehensive about video games. But, my daughter’s love of Zelda has led her to ask for a keyboard which she spends many hours at playing music. She makes costumes for herself of Zelda characters. To my amazement she knitted herself Link’s (guy from Zelda) hat on circular needles, which she’d never used before. She sculpts and draws the characters as well as creating her own characters and stories.

    So, what I thought was a passive waste of time was actually something very inspiring for her. We even try to make the foods from Zelda! I guess some would call that a unit study.

  15. Brenda says:

    This is all well and good when your children are young, but what about teens who have been homeschooled but still hate school? I always wanted my kids to LOVE learning, like I do. I never knew how to let go and just let them learn what they wanted to learn, especially as high schoolers, because how would I fill out a transcript of so many hours of math, science, literature, etc. if they weren’t doing it except once in awhile during a real life experience. I love the idea of real life learning, but how does it fit onto a transcript?

    • Erica says:

      Hi, Brenda. The straight answer is, you won’t be able to see all the hours until you let go of your pro-academic bias.

      The key here is not that you want your children to LOVE learning, but that you’ve qualified that by wanting them to love learning LIKE you do. I say that not as a particularly personal critique, but because this is a very commonly repeated objection and everyone who makes it, comes from the same place of having a limited view of what love of learning should look like.

      I apologize if that sounds blunt, but you asked an honest question and this is the honest answer.

      By way of example, I’ve adjusted my attitude over time to a belief that my teens don’t have to love school. They love understanding things. I used to struggle with the difference when they were younger, but over time I’ve let go more and more, and learned to trust their love of understanding more and more.

      After that, transcript writing is easy. 110-120 hours of study = 1 credit hour. But the homeschool transcript is a questionable standard to which to hold their lives hostage in the first place.

      More importantly, a portfolio of their projects and activities demonstrates concrete accomplishments and often also outside accolades, not just “Mommy’s opinion” of what they know and how equivalent it is to other high school standards.

      • Brenda says:

        I appreciate your honest answer. I hate being locked into the traditional learning mindset, but I just didn’t know how to transfer their learning into a transcript, which may become necessary should they go on to college. I also was trying to figure it out so I could better explain to my husband that yes, the boys are learning, even though it isn’t in the traditional way. I also needed to explain to my boys, who weren’t sure what they were supposed to be doing with mom’s new approach to school (unschooling). In the end it doesn’t matter, as my husband has put an end to my homeschooling and is registering them in the public school. He felt they were loafing and wasting their days and that I was being lazy and not wanting to teach. 🙁 I made a mess of unschooling. I wanted it to be freedom for the boys, but now they are going to “jail.” They seem alright with their dad’s decision, but I am devastated. I have always homeschooled my children, and feel like a failure. I wanted them to love learning so they would learn and their dad would see them doing so with joy, so he wouldn’t do what he’s doing now. I feel like I have lost my identity. Anyway, thank you for your help.

      • Whitney says:

        Brenda, this saddens my heart. I can relate as I also made a mess of unschooling!! The fear, though, that Amy speaks of, is what hindered me and brought chaos to our home. We are recupperating 😉 Hubby did bring up PS next year. Even though he doesnt really want that. He is as interested as i am in unschooling but, i struggle with “what does it look like?” ;-p is your situation different now?

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