Beginning Unschooling with older kids: A Candid Conversation

Any advice for our family? We are considering Unschooling but I am apprehensive. Our children, a boy (14), boy (13) and boy and girl twins (11), were in public school, then we were called to homeschool for the past 3 years. We have done mainly “school at home.” Is it to late to try unschooling at their ages?


Dana B –it is definitely not too late–welcome to the jungle Here’s a post by our own Heather about beginning unschooling, I think you’ll find it an encouraging place to start.…/
Hopefully some of our other folks who came to unschooling when their kiddos were older will chime in here soon. (Mariellen) Baby steps!

Heather Y — You can do it. Many do. The Teenage Liberation Handbook is great for older children to read and start to figure out what they really want. Heather G is our resident highschooler who dropped out and unschooled herself. We probably have others but Heather is pretty awesome and may be able to help you out.

Mariellen also started late with her girls. I “talked her into” unschooling when her girls were in jr. high I think? Mari? Been a few years now and they are doing awesome. They came straight from public school into unschooling. I think they were 14 and 12.

First start reading up on deschooling. Then focus on saying yes more, gradually remove arbitrary limits/rules/have to’s. and are great places to start with the actual “what do I do now” stuff.

Jen C — I started out trying to do school at home with my oldest. I never really stuck to any of the approaches that I tried. I finally gave up trying to have her “on track” with school kids when she was around 5th grade. After that I just shared with her the things I was interested in and ALWAYS brought home a ton of books from the library. Some subjects interested her while others didn’t. She’s 17 now and transitioned quite well to “owning” her education. I’m sure it will be an adjustment for your kids, but I really don’t think it is too late. If it doesn’t work out you can always go back to what you are doing now.

Gail P — Easing into it and especially with the older ones doing some goal setting may help them transition better. It is ok if their goals change. But going from structure to nothing may make them feel like a fish out of water.

Heather Y — A huge list of things they wanted to do, learn, try, really helped mine. We don’t need it any more but when we were transitioning it helped them come up with new things to look up/try/etc.

Heather G –Well hello! I hope I can help! I gotta say, I can’t stress deschooling enough. It is, in my opinion, the single most important thing you have to do in order to be successful when unschooling older kids. They’re gonna shy away from anything that looks “educational” for a while – maybe a month for each year they did school, which is the average. Maybe a lot longer, like me. Maybe a lot less time than that! Each child is different, and one of your teens might take twice as long as another one of your children to adjust. Just be patient and keep communicating with them, supporting what they DO want to do. Probably a lot of tv and gaming and internet. That’s normal. Even massive amounts of it. You should have seen the netflix marathons I had when I first started unschooling

Kara P (original poster) — You are all making me smile and laugh! We have done some “lists of what we want to know about” and yes, it does come easier to two of the children to know what they are interested in. I have to look more into deschooling since I have a masters and am always learning/teaching myself I must be carrying a double edged sword.

Heather Y –Autodidactism is awesome. My husband and I are both always learning. It is just getting your brain to wrap around all the other ways to learn, not just “textbooks/classroom”, not just traditional stuff. I am a former teacher and it took a bit for my brain to wrap around, longer than it would someone who wasn’t, and add in the family of teachers behind me and the “have to prove I am a great teacher” thing.

Mariellen M — Yes. My kiddos were 11 and 13 when Heather Y convinced me that we could give up the public school nonsense and thrive. I discovered that we were already, instinctively doing many “unschooly” things without even knowing the word. We were just ruining it by trying to throw public school into the mix. So we ditched public school and thrive we have done. They’re (nearly) 15 and 16 now and we’re not looking back.

I can’t even begin to describe how important deschooling is. In some ways we’re still deschooling although I think we’re mostly done at this point (except the hubs – he’s a slow learner )

The other important thing is to know that you CAN “ease into” unschooling. You don’t HAVE to just drop everything at once. I believe Sandra Dodd puts it something like “read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch.” I don’t know what that will look like in YOUR house but it might look like deciding to cut one or two classes from your curriculum in favor of allowing your kids to absorb those things from life or it might look like tossing the curriculum out the window once a week to do something fun or it might look like pitching the curriculum altogether. It might look like saying yes to something the kids want to do instead of “doing school” more often.

For us it looked like 12 weeks of messing about with halfway pretending to do some math and science junk because the hubs wasn’t ready to let go all at once and then he relaxed enough that we just moved on and didn’t mess about with school anymore.

Nowadays my kids spend their days in art classes with two different teachers, writing fan-fics with friends on the internet, playing video games (which mostly seem to center around those same fan-fics), reading voraciously, watching things on Netflix (all sorts of things from Doctor Who to documentaries to Dirty Jobs to the Barbie animated series *shrug*). They’ve branched into cooking on their own instead of “helping” me (which was mostly me giving directions and them following them). They take long “photo-walks” in the pasture. We play board games and work jigsaw puzzles together. Sometimes we read together. Somebody decides to undertake a project and whoever is interested joins in. Right now we have two projects underway: the younger girl and I are joining a fantasy baseball league (oh the MATH of it, my friends!) and we’re all working together on starting a square foot garden. We travel together and visit museums and attend lectures and explore our region and our country.

Pam C –What a gift you will be giving your whole family. Start slow. Say yes more. Go on summer break now, and never come off of it. What would your kids like to learn, like to do? What are their interests and passions? Let those things guide you. Options and choices are your friends. Trust and partnership will serve you all well. Read the great info on the links, look through previous posts, ask questions. Try, watch, listen, wait and enjoy.



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