At some point, maybe when I decided to let the kids spend their school days playing air hockey, I started to panic that my blog is mislabeled as homeschooling – it should be unschooling.

Finally I emailed my editor to ask if I should change it. He is used to these sort of crises. For example, I have another on-going crisis about what to do about how my bigger blog, or career blog or whatever it is,  has headlines without capital letters and my homeschool, or maybe unschool, blog uses conventional capital letters in the headlines.

We settled on the homeschool term because it’s much better SEO than unschool. And also I thought I’d attract more interest from corporate types. But I’m seeing that that doesn’t really matter. Because I’m lucky enough to have Federated Media selling ads on my blog whether it’s unschooling or homeschooling (I cannot stress enough how much they do not care about this debate) and the corporate types I have attracted have mostly been trouble. Read more

We spent three days in New York City. It’s amazing to me that we lived there for ten years, because I experience huge sensory overload when I’m there. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure if I was always that way or being at the World Trade Center on 9/11 made me that way. I think I’ve always been that way.

And I think my older son has sensory overload as well. He spent most of the trip playing with Legos underneath a slide in a playground in Tribeca. And when he came out voluntarily, it was usually for an animal.

The highlight of the trip for him was staying at my brother’s apartment, because he has a Labradoodle. My son’s second-favorite part of the trip was feeding the goats in the Central Park Zoo. No joke. You should have seen my husband, the Farmer, doling out quarters so my son could pay to feed goats even though his job on the farm is to feed goats every morning. My husband said, “Maybe I should charge you quarters for doing your chores at home and then I wouldn’t have to nag you.”

My takeaway from this trip is that kids know how to find where they belong. If you give kids the chance. Even in New York City, my son sought out the quiet places and the animals.

I had worked with a career coach once who asked me to think of my favorite time in my childhood. And it was clear to me that doing that exercise allowed me to focus in on what I should be doing as an adult. We all know what we should be doing—we know it even as children. But if we don’t practice acting on that knowledge then, as adults, we are scared to direct ourselves and we feel lost in the workworld where we have to make career decisions for ourselves.

I was in low track math. I remember when I realized it. I was in the front row, on the far right, and did not understand anything going on in algebra class. We had a tiered system in our school. I was in the highest track for most classes, and the lowest track for math. I remember wondering what the school would do with me when they realized that I couldn’t even keep up in dumb-kid math.

Amazingly, after that, I was moved up for geometry, into a higher track, presumably because in a class of 1500 students, I was in the top 10%, but I was in special ed math. Something was wrong.

But something was really wrong in geometry. I was so lost that I still have nightmares about walking into class and having no idea what people are talking about.

I never needed math again until I founded my first start-up. The guy who funded it hired a CFO-type person to show me how to build financial models. Using algebraic thinking. I realized that not only was he assuming I knew how to do math, but he was assuming I knew how to use Excel. So I hired a college student to teach me how to use Excel.

Excel is amazing. It taught me how to think algebraically. And as I got better at Excel, the formulas showed me how to think in terms of possibilities, and the columns and rows taught me how to look for patterns in business models to evaluate feasibility.

I’ve founded three start-ups and each time, my Excel skills have improved because it’s fun for me. I love building financial models, and in my last company I put an investment banker on my advisory board specifically so he could help me get better at using Excel.

So I am starting to believe the people who say that kids learn math when they need to know math. I’m believing the people who tell me that it’s okay that my son can’t do long division. My son has a goat business. It’s time to get the goats pregnant, and he can’t pay to rent a boy goat until he can figure out how much money he needs left over to feed the moms and the babies over the winter. So I know that somehow, he’s going to learn math this fall.


Here is my son at an empty pool. So many places we go are empty because we go in the middle of the day. This photo happens to be at the University of Iowa, where my brother is getting a PhD in chemistry. But the photo could be anywhere. As someone pointed out in the comments section here last week, people are not used to seeing kids in the world. At least during the school day. Kids are missing from the world during that time.

I never realized how creepy that is. Everyone notices us walking around because kids are not supposed to be seen during the day.

There are so many things I did not notice about the world until I started to notice school. Which reminds me of a study by Roy Baumeister. He had people walk with books balanced on their heads for a few minutes each day. And it turns out that making someone mindful for just a few minutes a day actually makes them more mindful about things all day long. Mindfulness snowballs.

I think this is true about school as well — being mindful of how our society teaches kids has made me more mindful about how our society does lots of things. And I’m shocked by how much I had been missing.

We are in NYC for the weekend. Usually when we come here, my preparations are finanical. For example, perparing for the inevitable $8 hot chocolate (pictured above).

But this time we were going to a wedding and I knew we had to prepare for the questions about school.

So, the first thing is, I’m done telling people I  homeschool. Because look, if you think worksheets, and national-non-customized curricula is best for your kid, then really, school is great at that. School is great at teaching to the test, and you don’t need to homeschool.

So I am unschooling. I am trusting my kids that they can figure out what interests them and it will be my job to help them learn what they are curious about. So we are doing self-directed learning.

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I have a six-year-old boy who absolutely loves being around people. He wants to run and play and be goofy. He needs other kids. And kids love him. Actually, everyone loves him, which has lead my ex-husband, for a time, to question his own paternity. (Reasonable, really. What are the odds of two parents with Aspergers creating a child who is always the most popular kid in the room?)

Okay. So I absolutely have to find my son kids to play with. And I don’t know where to find them. I have tried hard, though, and here is what I have discovered:

1.     The classes and clubs that are high quality are after school. Of course. Because that’s when most kids are free. And those kids have friends in school, so they are hard to get to be my kids’ friends.

2.     The families who homeschool seem to do everything as a family. It is very expensive to separate the kids each day. It requires money for a nanny or two parents homeschooling simultaneously. So families make friends as families, rather than a six-year-old making friends with another six-year-old. This is really hard for me because I have no interest in making friends of my own.

3.     Should we make friends in our neighborhood or in activities? We go into the city three times a week to get stuff we can’t get where we live (like violin, speech therapy, soccer teams). This leaves us only two weekdays to play with the rural kids who live near us. Maybe I’m imagining things, but it feels limiting.

4.     Homeschool groups are cliques. The moms have been homeschooling for ten years. They don’t need a newbie interloper. They are set in their routine. No one is mean to me, for sure, but there’s a wide gap between mean and available.

5.     There is a time gap. We have a lot of time and we would fit well with some families that have kids in school, but kids in school are always crunched for time because everything is scheduled after school.

Do people have suggestions? Am I not seeing things clearly?

Suddenly, so many traditional school subjects look totally insane to me. Here is a list.

Language Arts.
Kids learn languages themselves if you just put them among a bunch of kids that speak the language. The only reason we don’t do that is because classrooms are like antiquated, face-time-oriented  9-to-5 jobs where if you are not there you don’t count. So people can’t put their kids among kids who speak another language.

There is Spellchecker. I know, because I’m a terrible speller. The words like you’re/your and two/too are words you pick up if you read. Words like corollary (I needed Spellchecker for that) are words that if you misspell in a handwritten note, people will excuse the misspelling. So all that time you could spend learning to spell, you could just spend reading. Also, to learn to type you learn to spell. And kids should learn to type before they learn to write a sentence.

This is actually fine to teach – for art class. I bought calligraphy pens for my son. Many kids with Asperger’s love to write by hand, so I thought he’d love calligraphy. I imagined him have a signature worthy of the US Constitution. It turned out that I was right about loving lettering, but not the cursive. He took my Jelly Roll pens and wrote block letters. Fine. No cursive for him, and it’s still artistic.

If the kid is on the Internet all the time, the kid is already a world citizen. Anyone who makes a friend with someone in another time zone will want to have a sense of where they live. They will look on a map. The terrible geography of US students comes from being stuck in a classroom, overly focused on US history and US current events, instead of out in the world, reading International web sites, meeting people and traveling. Normal curiosity can lead to a knowledge of geography tantamount to a year’s worth of the topic in high school.

Home Economics.
There is a resurgence of home economics classes that mirror the trend that men take care of kids at home more and also, homesteading and eating local are hip, so homemaking follows, in the hipster category. The thing is that if your kid is home all day, the kid can make lunch for everyone, tend the garden, and do the things that actually need to get done at home instead of making up assignments at school.

My son is learning to use a potter’s wheel. The woman who is teaching him is a potter (is that the right word?) and working with her is phenomenal. When someone knows their craft so well, their teaching is breathtaking to watch — it comes from deep in their soul where their passion for the craft lives.

I wanted to write about all this. I wanted to tell people that finding the right mentor for the right project is what makes life fulfilling. In unschooling or in work. There is no difference.

But then I posted about this topic on my other blog and the discussion was mostly about should people homeschool.

Suddenly, I have no patience for this question. It’s like the question, “Should people job hop?” The answer is unequivocally yes. If you job hop, your work is more engaging, you make a wider range of friends, and you earn more money. On top of that, job hopping makes for a stable career.

But people don’t like hearing it. Because hearing it makes it harder to pretend that staying in one place is really okay. I don’t want to debate about whether the hard thing is the right thing when it so obviously is. I want to talk about how it’s so hard to do what’s right all the time.

I’ve been homeschooling for about two months. I remember when my first son was born, and I thought, after five days, “This is crazy. How could I possibly do this for eighteen years?”

Of course it gets easier. And the same is true of homeschooling – the first few weeks I thought I would never make it a month, let alone until they’re 18.

Mostly I have spent this month generating more questions than answers. A boyfriend in college told me that the process of learning is asking sharper and sharper questions rather than finding answers.

He was right. And I am learning a lot.

So I have little that I can tell you that I know. But I can tell you two things:

1. Each fall day when we walk in the pasture, goats trailing us like dogs, I’m thankful that my boys don’t spend the day in school.

2. Each day that I post a photo of my kids I am thankful that I started a blog about homeschooling, because I also started a photo album, which I never had before.

This is a guest post from Kate Fridkis, whose family did homeschooling when she was growing up. She blogs about body image at Eat the Damn Cake and she blogs about homeschooling at Skipping School.

When you’re homeschooled and interested in something, you don’t go to your mom and say, “Mom, teach me more about this.” You try to figure out how you can gain more exposure to that thing. You might ask your parent/s for advice on where to start. And then you go out into the world and learn some more.

If you want to be a poet, you contact the most famous living poet in your area, and you ask if you can hang out with him/her. You join poetry workshops and groups and you sign up to compete in poetry slams. You send your poetry out to magazines and competitions. You start a poetry club. By the way, by this time, you are learning a lot more than poetry. You are learning how to organize people, compete in a public arena, and manage what is beginning to resemble a small business.

When you learn naturally, on your own, it’s hard to cut the world up into subjects. If no one tells you that this particular thing is called science, and in science you learn biology, beginning with the parts of the cell, and then you learn about genes, and eventually you get to chemistry, then you might find yourself doing science by accident, for fun. Just because you want to.

Which no one ever believes, because people think that kids are lazy.

“If I left my kids alone,” they always say, “They’d just play video games all day.”

They would definitely do that some days. Because video games are fun. But if they were homeschooled, they wouldn’t have learned that work and play are two totally different things that you’re supposed to do at different times. And the part where you’re supposed to be learning is over on the work end of the spectrum, while the video games are all the way on the other side, under a big sign that reads “play.” Work is an activity that you can be bad at. You might fail at any moment. You know it’s work because it’s required, and because your progress is always being measured. Play is when you can relax and be yourself.

It’s sometimes hard for people who went to school to imagine living in a world where work and play are the exact same thing. But guess what? That’s this world. And for kids who grow up out of school, learning is the same as being alive.

You don’t exactly need a teacher for that.