Grown Unschoolers: A Candid Conversation


This conversation appeared recently on the Christian Unschooling Facebook group.

I would love to hear from parents who unschooled their kids from the start and now have young adults (age 18 and older). What are they doing with their lives? Have they showed any resentment for not being formally schooled? Anything you would do differently?

ELIZABETH: Good question! I often think of this as the ‘elephant in the room’ of unschooling. I have quite a bit of anecdotal evidence and it usually seems to be the oldest child or maybe couple of children in a big family that have this issue. I’ve seen the resentment often enough to think it needs to be addressed. The thing is, though, that these people in my mind are INCREDIBLE but for some reason they can only see themselves measured against the traditional world. It’s not every day and it’s not overwhelming, but it is there. Oh… and it’s almost always the oldest child! Which makes me wonder… it may have more to do with birth order than unschooling. 😉 The bottom line is that no one’s talking about it. Why?

"Woman and the Book" by Jiri Hodan. Photo in public domain.MICHELLE: My niece and three nephews were/are unschooled. They are 20, 19, 17, & 16. The eldest is studying a double degree in law & business (2nd year into it) and told his mum recently he wishes he could ‘home school’ university LOL (but he’s doing well). My niece is currently a nanny in England (she’s from Australia) and has been there for three months and is loving it (travelling heaps on weekends). The two younger boys have started their own business importing remote-controlled cars and selling them. One just went to china with his dad to meet his suppliers. They never want to do formal school. My sister-in-law was the one who led me to unschooling (I’ve started late) and her kids are my inspiration, happy, smart, free, independent thinkers … Everything I want for my kids 🙂

AADEL: Were you an oldest child Elizabeth? I was. I think the oldest child has to shoulder a lot of responsibility. They also seem to get the most attention discipline-wise. So maybe they feel more pressure to fit within the normal system?

VANESSA: I have also observed, at least in the limited number of unschooling families that I know, that the oldest may be more inclined to want to “try school” or other things. There may be suppression on the part of the parents in that situation, who tell them of the horrors of school, and maybe they don’t ever feel truly free to make that choice? Just a rambly thought. I guess I am curious, what are they resentful of?

V.A.: I’m the oldest child also. A HUGE amount of responsibility was heaped upon me and expectations were so very high. I grew up well before my time. I know I never really felt like I had much time to just be a kid.

LISA: I’ve got a 23-year-old daughter (always unschooled) who had no interest in college. She is currently the Operations Manager at an Old Navy here in Colorado, on the “list” to be promoted to Assistant Store Manager as soon as that position comes available. She loves the marketing aspect of retail and loves her job. She’s got a great work ethic, as well. Our 21-year-old daughter just got married in June. She will be beginning her third year of college in August (maritime archaeology is her area of study). She works full-time as the manager of a Starbucks in Denver. Our oldest loved being unschooled. Our 21-year-old balked a little bit when she was first getting into college as she felt that she lacked in math knowledge, although she knew that she wanted to go to college so she did Saxon Math the last few years of her unschooling. She always did well with it. I think that after having been in college for a few years, she recognizes the benefits of her unschooling. She’s a great writer and inherited my grammar/spelling Nazi tendencies (both of my two oldest daughters have, actually) and that has benefitted her greatly in college. Our 17-year-old son works at Old Navy as well and has saved and saved and eventually built his own computer (he is interested in film-making/editing). He doesn’t want to go to college, either. He’s into making enough money to support his techie “habit.” : )

ELIZABETH: I’m the oldest… sort of. I’m my mom’s oldest (of three) and my only other sibling that ever lived with us got married when I was four. That’s why I wonder if it’s an oldest thing… I think the parents aren’t as confident with the oldest, too, and maybe that plays into the picture?

I’m seeing a little of it with my oldest daughter (she and her bro are pretty much ‘twins’ although she’s the younger.) She doesn’t think she’s smart at all and is having anxiety attacks about college. Even though she got a decent ACT score, nearly straight As at home, and As in both her dual-enrollment classes. In her case, should I have given her a better picture to ‘compete’ against or maybe more interaction in a ‘class’ setting? Is the problem peer pressure (she has a lot of ps friends)?

MICHELLE: My eldest (14 yrs) had anxieties over college/university last week, Elizabeth. I had bought the Teenage Liberation Handbook so she’s started reading through that. I also found her lots of links, and I haven’t heard anything since so hopefully it’s helping. I guess there are also lots of other things that can impact our kids, eg. parenting style, family dynamics, etc, so that all plays a part. I mean, you could have unschooled kids with very punitive parents, which would have a very different outcome to those who might follow more ‘respectful’ parenting approaches.

ELIZABETH: One of my closest friends in real life was unschooled and also spent a few years in Mennonite school. She sees herself as a ‘failure’ because she doesn’t have a college education. She thinks her brother didn’t live up to his potential because he was unschooled. *I* see this wonderful, talented, jack-of-all trades who has the most BLESSED family I have ever met (and they treat us like we are part of it! :’)) I see a grown man who has succeeded well beyond what would have been possible had he been stifled by a public system that would have labeled him dyslexic and shoved him in a box. He owns his own business and also works at a factory if his business gets too slow to support his family (not often these days!) He is a super daddy, the example of a good husband I want my son and daughters to see (my husband is also like this – but it’s good to see others, too, KWIM?), and is so much fun to be around. In other words, I see them as wildly successful. 🙂

AND… she did homeschool her children for several years. She only has a problem with UNSCHOOLING, not homeschooling. I wonder, too, of it was the extreme isolation that caused the issue, at least in her case and that of a man I saw in a documentary that has some of the same thoughts. (It was about an unorthodox surfing family… NOT Christians, by the way.)

AADEL: I’ve seen that, Elizabeth, and I think those kids had more of a problem with their dad’s militaristic control over them than with never going to school.

ELIZABETH: But the younger kids really didn’t – were even homeschooling their own kids. I need to watch it again… It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it. :p The connection I see between them and my real life friend is the extreme isolation from the ‘real’ world. I’m going to have to tell her we’re talking about her.

VANESSA: That makes a lot of sense Elizabeth. As unschoolers, homeschoolers, we can tend to wall ourselves off from the rest of the world because we do things “differently.” I see a lot of traditional homeschool families do this as well, and just as many homeschooled adults resent the way they were not a part of society at large.

Maybe the key is not separating ourselves just because we approach learning differently, but mingling with others, inviting ourselves into their space, and them into ours … it’s late, I hope that made sense.. night night! LOL

VICKIE: Vanessa – exactly. Well said: “Maybe the key is not separating ourselves just because we approach learning differently, but mingling with others, inviting ourselves into their space, and them into ours.” Very good point! We as a group does this actually very well as so many different levels of homeschooling and unschooling are a part of this group. A lot of us take what we need and we also give what we have learned in hopes it may help others. If not, that’s ok too. We can’t expect others to see the great rewards of home/unschooling if we stay away! We need to be a light! I never let go completely when I [changed from] homeschooling to unschooling. I have so seen the light after being a part of this group. To have the chance for a re-do…hmmm. But, I keep learning, sharing with kids if interested and great discussions come from it. How they will homeschooling, etc.

V.A.: I haven’t followed this conversation very well, so I don’t know how well this fits into the direction it went. But I was still thinking about birth order and then about how my child is an only child. I remember my daughter has told me over the years that she would never ever homeschool her children. I asked her why and she said she did not have the patience to teach them all day. That was when I was having her do curriculum so I understand her point on that, hindsight. She also said that she wants her kids to be able to be w/their friends all day.

So I explained to her that the only time anyone really gets to socialize w/kids at school is before/after school and at lunch. That during classes, you are stuck at a desk mostly & really there’s no interaction except as a group with a teacher. I reminded her that she sees her friends before and after school now. So what difference would it make on whether or not they were in the same building or not all the hours in between? She had to think on that one a minute. LOL

Now that we fully unschool, she is more on the fence about it and is now considering homeschooling (we still call it homeschooling in our house, simply because we are closet unschoolers and I just don’t need attention brought upon us w/all the truancy laws changing around here. IYKWM). I asked her what changed her mind and she basically said that it was my change in how we learned and not forcing her to do worksheets or learn about things she had no interest in. And that pointing out her life is really not all that different socially speaking. Sure, all the public school kids are in a building all day long, but she still sees/talks to her friends just as much. I think that being an only child and not having that dynamic of siblings while unschooling made her feel like she was missing out. But when I further explained things, I think she is coming around to the idea that her unschooling life is so much more free and hopefully by the time she’s an adult with her own family, she’ll see that it really is the best thing that ever happened for her and will choose it for her kids.

Sorry for my rambling. I don’t even know if I made sense. I’ve been up since 4am and I can’t think straight this early in the morning. So if you made any sense of what I’ve said and it ties in w/the conversation… someone please explain it to me… LOL

ANNA: I know an adult who was very much UNschooled, and she really does resent her mother for doing so. She feels uneducated and that her mother was selfish and lazy. HOWEVER… I don’t think her mother was very intentional with unschooling. I think her children saw themselves as failed homeschoolers rather than free wheelin’ unschoolers. And the daughter (my friend) does NOT see how truly intelligent she is. She will look you straight in the eye and say things like, “Well, I only have a 5th grade education.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth, she is one of the most interesting, enjoyable people I know. The answer? To me I think letting our kids know that we’re confident in them and in this educational choice. Talk about why you’re doing it. And get their feedback. Ask them if there are any subjects they want to learn by following a curriculum. Talk about what they want to do as a career choice, and some of the subjects they’ll need to know because of that. Then tell them that you are confident that they will be able to learn all of those things, as they need to, but if they need an accountability partner, you’re available. And one thing I did, was talk to my son about how ultimately, he is responsible for his education if he wants to do it this way. That he’d have to communicate to me what subjects he was interested in, and that he would have to follow through with them, or not. At the end of the day, there won’t be a school system or a teacher, or a lazy parent to blame. (I did have a self-described radical unschooler whom I respected, tell me that I handled that wrong, so hold my advice lightly.)

HEATHER: I think what Anna said makes all the difference. If you are intentionally unschooling and making sure you are paying attention and discussing things with them (not just letting them go their own way completely, unparenting, but really involved and helping them go the way they should go) then they will have the tools they need and will recognize they do. My 14-year-old often says thank you for unschooling her. She was 8 or so when we stopped with the traditional school route and was barely reading, etc, so it is not like she had all the tools already at that point. The younger two have always unschooled (except for about a month.) We talk regularly about where they are and where they want to go and what their interests are and how I can help them get where they are going.

ELIZABETH: Anna – your friend sounds very much like mine. 🙂 She doesn’t think her parents were lazy – her mom is a doctor and her dad was an OTR truck driver – just afraid of the world but too busy to, as she says, “do unschooling right.”

I think my older two have more struggles, too, because *I* wasn’t as confident as they went through high school. As I’ve become more confident over the years I’ve talked more and more about the WHY of our homeschooling. That’s where my first theory why it’s always the oldest one or two who aren’t as confident. :p I did ask all of mine to read Real Lives when they were around 13, but didn’t completely let go until my son was a senior and my daughter (18) a junior.

TRACI: My 22-year-old niece was basically unschooled from about 4th grade on. She is really smart and her self-teaching continued after finishing school. She got a job at a great bakery and took some decorating classes so she is now really irreplaceable there, although now that she is married she plans on staying home once pregnant. If you ask her about her schooling she says it always frustrated her and borderlines with resentment if she lets it. She is a jot and tittle person, likes people to straightly tell her how to do something, keeps neat little lists and schedules. The relaxed education frustrates her. She claims that her mom unschooled her because it fit her mom’s learning style, not hers … and she wished she would have just bought her curriculum and taught her.

From my side of the fence she’s completely capable of learning anything. From her side of the fence she sees her peers able to register for college classes and be up to speed while she has very little math or science background so she would have to attempt once more to teach herself, which she claims she’s already tried. She’s really extremely intelligent though, and from my side of the fence she is an unschooling success. On her side of the fence not so much. She plans on homeschooling but in a traditional sense I think.

By the way, she also has four brothers. One is fluent in three languages because of his military training; is a self-taught musician; is very educated in regards to natural health, politics, and government; and is probably one of the most sensible and capable people I know. A younger (18 yo) brother works construction for a great contractor and plays in two different worship bands in his spare time, is truly musically gifted. There are two younger ones coming up still. The boys have seemed to flourish in the unschooling style. The girl was the only one who has truly shown any discontent, although my nephew and his wife are rigidly following the Sonlight plans and materials, mostly because of his wife’s choice though I think.

ANNA: The friend I spoke of who doesn’t appreciate her unschooled education, has homeschooled her kids as well. But she does so with an online curriculum. I think someday her kids could accuse her of the things she accused her mother of. So, information and choices is KEY when communicating with your kids about your style of homeschooling of any sort.

C.D.: The thing that was difficult for me was going from unschooled since kindergarten–totally free to be myself and explore the world and talk to anyone of any age–to a stagnant, cliquey, tiny rural junior high where I was one of only six girls in the Grade 8 class and they had all known each other since they were three years old. Suddenly, if I spoke to anyone outside my immediate age, I was weird, and if it happened to be a guy, I was teased double for it.

The girl who had moved there in Grade 1, they treated as an outsider because she hadn’t been there “since the start,” and it was even worse for me in good part b/c I refused to join the club by joining them in picking on her. Thanks to the bullying, I was nearly a teen suicide statistic within a year.

Looking back, my regret isn’t unschooling, it’s that I chose to go to public school because I believed it was the only social option available, instead of figuring out how to tell my parents “I want more social interaction.” (We are ALL introverts in my family.) That reflection is unique to my circumstances as an arts geek stuck in rural jock land, and somehow in a graduating year that remained legendary among the teachers for years upon years after as one of the cruelest groups of kids they’d seen in their careers. For me personally, I look at high school as the regretful thing that did the most damage to my adult life, and I wish my parents had been more proactive about helping me find and embrace different options.

L.M.: Thanks to everyone who has answered. I especially like the personal experiences, (like Lisa’s kids) because I know these aren’t “pumped up” for media exposure like some YouTube and blog posts sometimes seem, although I really enjoyed a lot of the links you all posted! I just get nervous when all my 12 yo does for months/years on end is play video games and watch YouTube videos! Lol, I know, I know 😉

MICHELLE: Oh my, C.D., thank you for sharing that. My 14.5 yr old daughter was thinking of heading back to school next year (she did do all of primary so has only been unschooled for 2.5 yrs) but she finally decided this week that she won’t be going back (I gave her the Teenage Liberation Handbook to read). We have worked hard on ‘social interactions’ for her and we are doing much better in this area so hopefully it will keep her connected enough to not get sucked back into the ‘myth’ of school.

V.A.: I found it funny the other day when my daughter had a friend over (friend is 13) and daughter was sitting over w/the neighbor lady (who is well into her 60’s). Daughter’s friend left because ‘she didn’t want to sit w/some old lady,’ but my daughter stood her ground and told her friend, ‘I like talking to my neighbor.’ She will sit out there for hours talking w/the neighbor while the public school friends think she’s weird for doing so. I love that she can ‘socialize’ with any age, any walk of life. I just don’t see that with public schooled kids unless their parents actively make that happen. Whereas with my daughter, it seems to just come naturally. What I also notice is that when I do see other teens talking to adults, they suddenly become someone they aren’t. They change how they talk, what they talk about, etc. But with my daughter and other homeschool/unschool teens we know, they are just who they are w/everybody and don’t feel a need or a peer pressure to be someone they aren’t.

SAMANTHA: My oldest is 18, and she has been basically unschooled. She has probably done 80 hours of “schoolwork” type stuff in her entire life, but even that was only reading and writing about what she read. We hardly watched television when she was younger, but in this age of Netflix streaming she has become a huge consumer and dissector of television. She sometimes spends most of the day watching, and she also spends a lot of time on the website She really enjoys looking at life through the lens of fiction constructs.

She has been involved in theater for the past year and a half, and is currently in her third show (second one with her younger brother who is 12). That is a pretty time-consuming thing for about 3 months, with rehearsals 5 nights a week and then performances 3 nights – that goes on for about 12 weeks. Right now she is also taking a two-week intensive workshop for musical theater.

She is a pretty good photographer and enjoys dressing herself and others in costume and doing photo shoots. She taught herself to use Photoshop Elements. She also likes to make films, and has taught herself all she knows about that, as well.

She is planning to attend the community college next fall. She took the entrance exam last year and did extremely well except for algebra. She doesn’t want to have to take the math class they wanted her to take, so she is going to brush up on Algebra (she only went all the way through pre-algebra) and see if she can get a score they approve of next time. I have no idea what classes she wants to take, and no idea what she wants to do “with the rest of her life” (like any of us really know that!!!).

She has a positive view of her schooling or lack thereof, but like anyone, has both positive and negative character traits. I really enjoy having her around, though. She is pretty much like another adult for me to talk to.

ELIZABETH: I have made a conscious effort to keep my children connected. Our situation is complicated because we live so far out, too. I don’t know if that’s one of the issues that causes resentment, but it concerned me enough that I let go of a lot of my preconceived notions about raising teens… letting them have cell phones, FB, email, lots of sleepovers and often for more than one night, sacrificing so they could play sports and take classes, … I know there are other things we’ve done that I’m not remembering right now.

[Editor’s note: These posts have been slightly edited for publication. Brief side comments that did not add to the discussion were removed; shortened words and abbreviations were expanded for clarity (such as US for unschooling or DD for dear daughter), and names may have been changed at the original poster’s request. All links were removed from the conversation and included in the Recommended Resources below.]



I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write.

Grown Unschoolers Discussion Panel (podcast)

Eli Gerzon’s Worldschooler Links to Successful Unschoolers

Blake Boles Dot Com

Growing Without Schooling: John Holt’s magazine; later issues had articles from grown/graduating unschoolers

Yarns of the Heart


Looking Back on Unschooling: Kate Cayley

From Homeschool to Unschool (excerpt from Unschooling: The Movie)

Worth (excerpt from Unschooling: The Movie)

Free to Learn: A Radical Experiment in Education (documentary)

Astra Taylor on the Unschooled Life


The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education, by Grace Llewellyn

Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don’t Go to School Tell Their Own Stories, by Grace Llewellyn

Homeschooling for Excellence, by David & Micki Colfax

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