This is what unschooling is

My son asked me if I could make cookies with him.

I told him I was on a coaching call and to wait fifteen minutes.

He threw a fit and said I always tell him to wait fifteen minutes.

After the call I went downstairs and he was making his own cupcakes.

I thought, Oh my god he used the mixer without me. I told him that I’m blown away that he did it all by himself.

This is unschooling. If I laid out curricula for him then neither of us would be surprised by the choices he made. He would be doing my choices instead.

30 replies
  1. mh
    mh says:

    Homeschool is freedom.

    I love the photo. At my house, the child would be topless because they have this man thing of taking off their shirts when they paint or cook.

    Boys are weird and wonderful.

        • Nicolas Connault
          Nicolas Connault says:

          Really? Do you think we know anything about what the real world will be like for today’s children when they leave school?

          In my opinion, and I think Neil Postman would concur, iPads are mainly tools for entertainment, and that is mainly what one learns when using it: how to entertain oneself.

          But the lessons that are most vital for any future can only be learned by doing things that have a direct effect on our environment and our relationships.

          IPads, like TVs, disconnect us from the real world by taking all our attention and generating nothing of lasting value in return.

          I hope it’s just a fad, but past history suggests that we will continue to embrace anything new regardless of its moral implications, costs on the environment, or suffering caused by its production.

          • katie
            katie says:

            The modern cake is only about 150 years old. I’m betting 150 years ago, kids wanting to make cakes were told it had no bearing on the real world. ;)

            Things can be tools for entertainment, or learning, or usually both. If it’s neither, I doubt anyone would use it.

            I think people should have fun without guilt. There’s a sort of puritanism still going on that vilifies fun. I think that’s weird.

          • Nicolas Connault
            Nicolas Connault says:

            @Katie I make a distinction between fun and entertainment. Penelope’s son is certainly having fun making his cupcakes, but I doubt you’d say he’s being entertained. Therefore there’s a difference in meaning. His type of fun falls more under the “recreation” (see for a good description of the difference).

            Personally I think that permissive acceptance of any new technology without any evidence of its benefits or any knowledge of its risks is pretty weird too.

            @mh I’m unschooling two young boys. I have to protect them constantly from harmful influences. I study and read a lot about the effects of media on young children, and the research on TV consumption clearly shows that it’s harmful for everyone, but more particularly for children under 4.

            So of course I don’t jump around with glee and mirth at the sight of any new form of entertainment. I tend to be a bit cautious. Isn’t that important?

      • Joyce
        Joyce says:

        This sounds good. Children have more freedom to learn what they want and how to do it in these schools than in a regular public school. But there’s still more freedom in homeschooling and unschooling.

  2. Lisa S
    Lisa S says:

    One thing I love about homeschooling / unschooling is that there is little to no transition time from “the school year” to “summer.” We are home, we learn, this is what we do.

    • Nicolas Connault
      Nicolas Connault says:

      I agree! Even when I was trudging through school I used to wonder why we had nearly two months of “no learning” (in France) during summer! I remember struggling to write and do divisions when returning to school.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I agree, too. The years when we shifted from in school to out of school were so difficult to me. It’s a huge shift and it’s too much to ask families to do it so often.

      I think back to the year that I had two kids in school all day and they were both home for winter break. I was so panicked that I’d be home with them incessantly for two weeks, that I went to the emergency room on the second day and said I can’t face my life or my kids or anything and I need help getting through the two weeks.

      When I think about that now, how scared I felt and how unequipped I felt, it seems so sad, but also absurd. If I had just not sent the kids to school at all, I would have realized that I’m perfectly capable of keeping them with me all day.

      School convinces us that we can’t handle the kids all day long on our own, so when it happens that we have them it’s too big a change in family rhythm.


    • mbl
      mbl says:

      People frequently ask if we “take the summer off” and I don’t know how to answer. With unschooling, we either “continue” or never start and “take the school year off.”
      Actually, we reverse school. She is doing zoo, theater, writing, science, and humane society camps—and I am getting tons of free time.

      • Karen
        Karen says:

        I get this question all of the time as well. I just pretend that we are doing school at home and that yes, I use curriculum and they get summer holidays. I have found over the last few years that homeschooling is becoming more socially acceptable but unschooling is just incomprehensible to most people and that it’s just not worth the bother of trying to explain it.

      • mh
        mh says:

        I know. We just pretend.

        People who don’t get it won’t get it anyway, and people who do get it won’t ask.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The eggs and the cake mix remind me of an interesting article on the web site Snopes dot com titled “Something Eggstra” which includes marketing history. The next level in this cooking adventure is no box mix (scratch) and after that minimal use of measuring tools and the use of ingredient substitutions.

    “We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” ― John Holt

  4. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    What a great day! I it reminded me that today my son asked me yet again to make breakfast for him. I told him I wanted to take a shower but would cook for him when I was finished. When I finished, he had cooked some eggs, toast, and who knows what else, and was upstairs again. I was wondering for a very long time when he would start taking things into his own hands.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      Kristin, that is my secret weapon, too. I tell my daughter that I would be happy to do x in y minutes. Sometimes she waits and sometimes she does it herself, (or decides it isn’t really that important.) Yay!

      Mark, I try to keep John Holt’s philosophy in mind, but it challenging to remember that my preferred learning style is not my daughter’s. Today she wanted to apply mime make-up and practice being one. I said “great! let’s look up some youtube videos for tips.” She said that I was welcome to, but she was just going to figure it out for herself. So I waited until she was asleep to delve in.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        mbl, I agree that learning styles can vary widely and it’s easy to lose sight of that fact. Actually, I think the roles of teacher and student can be quite blurred when both are engaged in the learning process. They both offer different insight on the subject material being reviewed and explored. I learn things from my nieces, including the one in elementary school, only because I’m willing and believe I can learn from them.

        • Nicolas Connault
          Nicolas Connault says:

          I agree. The best teachers are those who are passionate about learning: not just about making other people learning, but about learning themselves. What you’re describing is a value rarely taught in undergraduate education courses: humility. Together with compassion and curiosity, I think they make the core of all great teachers.

          And the funny thing is: none of these are susceptible to measurement :-)

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            Nice post Nicolas.
            I think the concept of and the degree to which measurement is used to gauge the degree of learning is the most divisive subject between traditional school (public or private) and unschooling advocates. I think it’s a very fundamental difference determined by how people think how they and other people learn. I think people want definitive, easy to point to metrics for an individual’s intelligence, capacity to learn, ability to create, etc. However, I think learning can be a very and unpredictable messy process dependent on the individual. So unified and one size fits all models don’t make sense to me. It’s for that very reason I think both schools and homeschooling will continue to co-exist in the future. There are people that thrive in a school setting and believe they need that structure to learn most effectively. School and homeschool mindset people are at their core very different people. The bottom line is I believe people should have various options available to them so they can choose what works best for them.

          • Nicolas Connault
            Nicolas Connault says:

            @Mark The issue isn’t just how things are measured, but what is considered worth measuring. The complete absence of moral principles in school curricula is baffling to me.
            What is more important for living a satisfying, productive and meaningful life? Secular knowledge and professional skills, or honesty, compassion, integrity, resilience, creativity, reverence for the sacred, humility, perseverance, curiosity and work ethics?

            If my children learned the latter but were ignorant about geography, mathematics and biology by the time they’re 17, I would be far less concerned than if the reverse were true.

            My views are constantly evolving, but at the moment I feel that a structured school environment has great potential if built on sound principles, governed by parents and other local residents, and limited to those disciplines that cannot readily be taught or practiced at home or experientially. An “education department” should exist only to support such community action (as for libraries), not to police it and control it in autocratic and oligarchic ways.

            Parents, students and local citizens

          • Nicolas Connault
            Nicolas Connault says:

            … must ultimately be held responsible for their own learning. Government is there to ensure we all have the freedom to exercise this right to be self-determined and accountable.

  5. MissGoldBug
    MissGoldBug says:

    Do I spy a La Cornue range in that first photo?

    Tell me, do you LOVE it? And how did you choose the colors?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes! Thank you for noticing. I coveted this stove for three years before I bought it. It took that long to save for it, but also to pick the color. I have an old, classic farm house, so this one worked best.

      That said, really and AGA works best, in terms of interior design. But I couldn’t bear the thought of having it on all the time.


  6. Kim
    Kim says:

    So true, forced curricula and structured learning is simply there to infantilize kids and make them feel as if learning is difficult and unnatural, something they have to strive to achieve.

    The fifteen minute thing happens so often in my home. I say wait fifteen minutes, they get too tired of waiting and do it successfully on their own.I love those moments.

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