What is a good outcome for unschooling?

I want my kids to be self-motivated. I want them to do what they need to do without me bugging them.The problem is that I don’t even know if I’m self-motivated enough to write this blog. For instance, where was my post last week? I tell myself I’m committed to posting five days a week and then sometimes—actually, a lot of times—I choose to do something else besides write.

It’s not like I’m making money from this homeschool blog. I’m writing it because I want to have a conversation with people who are thoughtful on the topic. I want to take parenting risks with a group of people and not all by myself. But apparently I’m not as self-motivated as I want to be.

And what is the difference between self-motivation and self-discipline? I think they are very intertwined and self-discipline kills me. Every little bit of research about self-discipline makes me want to curl up in bed with ice cream and chocolate and The National Enquirer.

My son’s violin teacher talks about kids who play violin to get into college. I scoff. Of course. We have a love of music in our house. Of course.

But my older son is an INTJ. He needs a logical reason for doing anything. I think he might continue with violin because he likes the violin, or routine. Or maybe because he loves the violin teacher. But it’s probably also because I told him it would help him get into college, and he wants to get into a strong program for astrobiology. (Please: ask me about the possibility of other life in the universe. Did you know astrobiologists think there are billions of planets that could support life?)

So my son’s self-motivation to play the violin comes from his drive to go to college. Not exactly the type of music student an unschooling parent intends to raise. But I’m starting to think it’s okay. Lots of people do not like doing things with no goal. Being goal oriented is probably a harbinger of workplace success, actually.

It’s just that it looks like a sellout in the music world.  And the unschooling world. And all the other touchy-feely, make-life-beautiful parts of our civilization.

So it’s hard for me to admit that my son plays violin to get into college. I feel like I’m an unschooling poser. And it’s hard for me to say I’m teaching goal-oriented self-discipline when I am screaming at the kids right now to leave me alone so I can post because I haven’t posted in a week.

(“Why didn’t you post last week?”

“If you posted last week you wouldn’t be yelling at us.”

“You guys should both shut up and leave me alone.”)

What is the point of unschooling? I am not sure I even know right now. When you have a kid who is super goal-oriented, you help that child identify their own goals, as opposed to letting someone else choose them. And I’ve done that, even if I never intended to have my son to align himself with alien hunters.


50 replies
  1. BenK
    BenK says:

    This question should be rephrased: “What is a good outcome in life?” That reveals it to be the essential question of Greek philosophy, but also the essential question of ‘pure’ religion. Meaning.

    What is self-discipline? The ability to overcome inherent short-term internal barriers to achieve long-term internal goals.

    What is self-motivation? The existence of internal goals. Sometimes we distinguish this from simple appetites, but they are related.

    What is tenacity? Overcoming external obstacles to the same goals. Leadership? Motivating others to share your goals and achieve them.

    None of this tells you what constitutes a good goal, for example. But that is also part of education.

    What is a good outcome for unschooling? Same as a good outcome for any other education – a mature individual of strong character able to evaluate goals and equipped to achieve them.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I love the last paragraph.

      I think unschooling is for those who feel like any other option available is a hindrance to the goals they want to achieve. Plain and simple.

      What if a child is unschooled and realizes that going to school is more conductive to achieving his goals on his own time frame because he realizes he can play the game much more easily? I think that still qualifies. The parent may have a hard time with it but the child is using school as a tool. Because their character and their judgement have been formed for them to weigh pros and cons and make a decision like that.

  2. MBL
    MBL says:

    I hate responding via my phone, but I am lucky to be reading your blog because you are NOT a perfect parent.

    This post covers a number of things I have been mulling over and discussing recently, so I’ll be back.

  3. karelys
    karelys says:

    I think the overall point of unschooling is to get education your way and not have to decide between life and education.

    I felt like I had to do that for college. I had to decide between gaining experience, and earning money, or getting my paper saying I had a bachelor’s degree.

    My point for unschooling is to remove the barriers and let my children (and ourselves, the parents) pick the way we will learn. Pick the way we will reach our goals.

    I have an immense fear that I want to teach my children all kinds of things but that they’ll scoff at me and their father because the heart of everything we dream of instructing them in is….discipline. And we’re not like sage-status for discipline.

    Chris and I had a coffee/talk date yesterday and we talked about how I would roll my eyes (secretly or I’d get slapped for being disrespectful) when my parents would talk at me about virtue and other principles. It was obvious to me that they didn’t practice them. But I was much more receptive when they talked from a standpoint of “we’re trying. It’s hard for us too but we recognize how good it is and how much better life would be if we had a good handle on this.”

    So I think that if modeling fails I shall always adopt an attitude of humility and say “look, discipline is the columns that hold life together. I want it for my life and I am trying. Let’s try together!” I think it’s more respectful of the child and you’re not throwing rocks but trying to build together. Kind of like running buddies? I think kind of like that.

    I also like unschooling because the heart of it is to take charge and do it the way that works best for you. It’s hard for sure. There’s no delineated path. It’s always an experiment and you have to constantly adjust it. There’s no teacher or school system to blame if you fail yourself. It stings bad to say “I didn’t make it because I didn’t try like I should’ve” or “I tried my best and that was not enough either.” But that’s what life outside of school is. Why delay it?

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    It’s interesting to me that you feel like a poser for unschooling and in the music community.

    Yefet is obviously already making life changing decisions. Something that for no other reason than age and some arbitrary grade system, he would have to wait until high school is over to pursue his astro goals.

    That or unless he’s a genius. Then the system could open the door for him a little earlier.

    I think this is the beauty of unschooling. You don’t have to be wealthy, or a genius, or a risk taker, to pursue your goals on your own timeline.

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    I have been feeling like a total unschooling failure lately. My son will be turning 13 later this year and if left to his own devices he would do nothing but watch other people play video games on YouTube all day long. He seems unable to articulate any goals whatsoever. He takes piano lessons which he claims to enjoy but I have to force him to practice. He is interested in technology so we got him computer programming courses but again, nothing happens unless I force the issue and make him do them. We bought all the equipment he would need to make his own videos for him for Christmas and it all just sits there collecting dust. I am at the end of my rope and considering returning to formal curriculum or even sending him back to school this year which I swore I would never do.If anyone has any advice to offer it would be greatly appreciated.

    • lyndap
      lyndap says:

      This sounds a lot like my house. You are not alone. No answers here. I wish I just knew if everything would turn out okay in the end…I’m hopeful it will but not convinced…

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      He’s working on problems that you can’t see. That’s pretty cool, when you think about it. And even if he doesn’t produce something as tangible as some working code or a video, he might be learning how important it is to have perspective on a problem.
      Also, his brain is still growing. He won’t be like this forever.

      • Karen
        Karen says:

        Yes he does lots of chores. He’s a really great kid just about all the time – clever, interesting and cheerful. I guess that I am mostly confused by what my role is supposed to be here. If unschooling is interest based and eschews forced learning am I doing the right thing when I nag him to finish a computer course that he asked for but then lost interest in or should I just be letting him do exactly what he wants to? I don’t see the value in what he is choosing to do with his time but as Melissa indicates below, that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t any. It’s so hard to know what’s the right thing to do.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for this comment, Karen. I have similar experiences at my house.

      For example, I hear the Minecraft videos so often that I feel like I’m actually living with the YouTube personalities in my home.

      And we have so much equipment laying around, unused, leftover from my overly enthusiastic reaction to one kid’s glimmer of an interest.

      So I am very curious to know what people think of Karen’s worries.

      Is it ok what is happening with this type of boy. Not ok? All the research I read says that what Karen is doing is fine. But I worry as I do it myself.


      • karelys
        karelys says:

        My brothers are 3 years younger than me.

        We all went to school the regular way. And believe me, even in school, with everyone pushing and prodding to get them interested and using carrots to get them to move an inch forward…they just didn’t care. They were doing their own thing (whether playing music or fixing broken engines, whatever) but never what others wanted them to do.

        Most of the time they wanted to lay around and watch tv until 3 am. It was constant fighting.

        So I don’t think it’s an unschooling failure. I mean, it’s a failure if your goal is to have constantly engaged boys.

        I think it may just be a stage for certain people and personalities.

        I was a very hard worker in school. But my parents were frustrated nonetheless when I wasn’t interested in their ideas or what they thought was good for me.

        So even though we didn’t fight about school work we fought or both sides where disappointed when I wasn’t showing the character/attitude traits that they wished I did.

      • Teryn
        Teryn says:

        I’ve only met one adult who was unschooled all the way through. He is a brilliant musician who only plays for his enjoyment. He is largely unmotivated to see things through and switches jobs often. He dropped out of college which he regrets but it was a struggle for him since he was never forced to follow someone’s idea of learning before then. He would be the first to tell you he lacks drive and discipline. I had a discussion recently questioning if unschooling contributed to that lack of discipline or if he would have ended up that way no matter what because of personality. We didn’t really come up with an answer. I do find it interesting though that he uses curriculum for his own kids.

    • Stormclouds321
      Stormclouds321 says:

      I think boys are tricky because they tend to respond to different motivations than girls, and because most successful men do not teach or mentor children, since they are too busy being successful. I have found that many homeschoolers zap the enthusiasm by going overboard and indulging instead of treating these things like a privledge and making the boy earn it. Part of motivating my son is forcing him to plot and scheme his way into getting it, and by then, he is personally invested and wants to show me up.

      My daughters respond well to my enthusiasm. It is easier for boys to disengage and check out mentally and emotionally as a response because of how boys are expected to be. A certain subset of boys seems to find structure comforting, and they are often money/power/control motivated. They seem to want a hierarchy so they can try to claw heir way to the top. Their self motivation involves competition. If you remove them from it they seem to disengage and get depressed.

      • Lindsay
        Lindsay says:

        That is a really interesting point about boys and girls responding to enthusiasm differently. I like your idea of making them “earn it” when enthusiasm doesn’t work. Thanks for sharing.

    • Stephanie Thomas Berry
      Stephanie Thomas Berry says:

      I have unschooled my thirteen-year-old son (and twelve-year-old daughter) for five years, and Minecraft is a huge thing for him. But also other video games, too, which can be played with other kids, or adults, online. That’s a huge new development in gaming that has transformed the experience. Sometimes I think about what it might mean but then my head starts to hurt so I give up. What I do think about is how parents have this strong tendency to think about education in the way that they received it. It is very hard to think out of the box. That is probably why my head hurts when I try to think in new ways.

      Still, we’ve been doing the unschool thing for five years. And all the time I get compliments on my two kids. How they are so settled into themselves. I’m not sure exactly what that means but I think it’s a good thing. And the truth is, you can’t force inspiration or motivation onto someone. And isn’t that what we want for our kids? For them to find their path in life? Well, it’s one of the things I want for my kids. School will give them a path, but it won’t be their own.

      My son also takes piano lessons. Of course I have to force him to practice. But I’m OK with that. Because I think he will one day (maybe) internalize my harping on him to practice self-control and consistency. And sometimes he does do things without my forcing him. Chores and practice and such. Just sometimes.

      All of that said, this year he’s chosen to go to the high school. It’s where his formerly homeschooled friends are and I think that’s huge for kids his age. And I’m sad about it but also I feel like those formative years, and the freedom he had to be the author of his own life, will give him the resilience he needs to survive the bureaucracy of school with his unique spirit intact.

  6. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    You crack me up with your handwringing! You’ve done everything you can think of so your sons can fully choose their own way. If one son’s way ends up not looking like some pure unschooling outcome – well, then he made that choice eyes wide open, rather than because it was the societally accepted path.

  7. jessica
    jessica says:

    I want them to do what they need to do without me bugging them.

    Well, they are still children at the end of the day.

  8. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Unschooling isn’t content, or a process, or a product. It’s something you’re not doing. The outcome is that you’re not doing it. You have already won unschooling.

    Are you and your son pleased with his life and prospects? (Yes? Good!) That’s something else.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      what an interesting thought!

      I think I’ve been getting a glimpse of it and I’ve been trying to follow it but it still escapes me. I haven’t been able to form a full circle for that thought or concept.

  9. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I think unschooling is perfect for *me*. I love leaning this way, even though I am probably more eclectic.

    Probably need to think about this. But Karen, what is your measuring stick for success/failure? I never imagined that my oldest was going to have certain issues, so of course I have to adjust things for her. Even though I love unschool, she needs me to create a different sort of learning environment that still leans unschooly. I don’t feel like a failure! I recognize she is different and she isn’t me. It’s very different for my middle kid… she is such a people pleaser, naturally, things are so easy with her.

    Maybe this is just about boyhood, and not necessarily failing or being a poser. Are you still a failure if you adjust things a little? NO!!! I don’t think anybody here is a failure. That’s so silly to me. Maybe your kid needs more structure, does that mean you do what public schools do? No! Do your own thing, your own topics. Use minecraft as a way to learn things, there are several mods out there that teach american history and all kinds of other subjects. You. Are. Not. A. Failure. In fact, these discussions prove just how wonderful a parent you all are.

    Penelope, I don’t come to your blog for perfection! I come for the honesty, the realness, and the collaboration. I love that we can all grow and learn together as most of our kids are aprox. the same ages.

  10. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I know! You didn’t post last week because you were busy reading the FREE online John Taylor Gatto book that you turned us all onto? I figured you had to take a vacation sometime…

  11. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    You are raising decent human beings. That is success! How they get to their goals and what they choose to do doesn’t matter as much as the kind of people they are.

  12. Julie
    Julie says:

    I just took my son out of public 8 months ago, so this is all pretty new. Even when he was in public school, he wasn’t actively engaged in what they had going on. I think most of his learning has been outside of school for quite a long time. anyway he went through the watching others play video games on Youtube phase. It seemed like all there was for a year or maybe two. He still watches some of his favorites, but he’s much more well rounded now. I used to really dislike those videos. I mean if the game is that interesting, why not just play the game? but if you watch someone else play it first doesn’t that ruin it? But I remember Pong, so maybe I’m missing something somewhere. I started talking to him about the videos, what’s so interesting? who are these people? what are the games about? and so on. It lead to some interesting conversations. I realized there was a lot of learning going on I hadn’t even considered. My son is most interested in the story lines. I could see him becoming a science fiction writer or writing the scripts for video games. He has an amazing talent for story telling.

    On a different tangent…since I took him out of school we’ve been easing into full unschooling. I’ve always leaned that way, but for us it’s been a process. And what does my son want to when left entirely to himself? He wants textbooks and me at the kitchen table to sit with him while he works beginning promptly at 9 a.m. so ummm yeah…I guess that’s unschooling?

  13. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    My first thought is perhaps playing a musical instrument will be different for your oldest son later on in life, like stress relief after a long science day in the adult world.

  14. Liz Ness
    Liz Ness says:

    What’s awesome about homeschooling is the framework of flexibility that homeschooling is in the unique position to offer. We can study everything under the sun about learning and deploy an approach, reflect upon it, adjust it, and keep moving forward. The homeschooling lifestyle is a learning system itself. Frustrating at times–because the learning curve it involves–but, oh so worth it, I think. =)

  15. Derek Scruggs
    Derek Scruggs says:

    INTJ here. This may not be relevant in an MBTI sense, but I know that for me the joy of music comes in an ensemble experience. As a young drummer I never really cared about self expression, but I loved being in a drum line. It may be that he gets his rocks off in orchestra, not private lessons.

    Also, it doesn’t really matter what his motivations are now. He may seriously pursue music as a career or serious side project, or he may not. The main thing is to make sure he’s doing it for the love of the activity. Otherwise it’s just “work.”

  16. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    The point? We would not have been unschoolers if my daughter had been a more compliant child. We would have been kind of Waldorf at home. She was a Waldorf nature child but instruction created great resistance.

    The point of unschooling for us was that she was able to do or explore what she wanted when she wanted. That freedom allowed development of a strong feeling of optimism in overcoming obstacles, thinking skills and artistic sense.

    Unschooling was not an approach so much as, like another poster put it, not doing something.

  17. Linda
    Linda says:

    Unschooling is not about outcomes. It is not a reflection of how well you facilitated your children. Unschooling is about letting your children evolve with as little resistance as possible. The road, though, is not necessarily easy to navigate.

    You have at accept that sometimes the outcome will not be what you secretly hoped it would be (this is true for all parents, regardless of their educational choices.) And because you unschooled, society will blame anything that doesn’t fit into its definition of success on your choice to unschool. In the end, knowing that your child had a better experience by learning at home, is the only outcome you can really achieve. Everything else is ultimately up to him.

    If your children do choose college, after the freedom they have had at home, it will be a (sometimes sad) lesson in playing a game simply to achieve a goal. College is no more about learning than public schools. It’s just a prerequisite for a diploma, which is a prerequisite for a job. Homeschoolers see this pretty quickly. So your goal-oriented son should be able to cope well as he adjusts to the game. It’s what my children and all of the other homeschoolers I watched grow up and graduate from college did, too. The edge many of them had from an unschooling background was their entrepreneurial spirit. That’s what can come from freedom and joy in learning–the confidence to take control of life, not allow it to control you.

    For the parent, unschooling is about acceptance of who your child is, not about who you can make him be. Enjoy the moments. Believe me, that’s what you’ll value when their grown–the great moments you had because they were home with you. If you get caught up in outcomes, you’re headed for disappointment and resentment.

    • Stacie
      Stacie says:

      “You have at accept that sometimes the outcome will not be what you secretly hoped it would be (this is true for all parents, regardless of their educational choices.)” <– So true!!! I am glad I realized this with my oldest who just graduated high school and was schooled all her life. So many would look at her situation and say, "What a waste." I look at it an acknowledge that she is simply taking HER OWN path. No it's not what all of us envisioned, no it may not be the "best" or "easiest" path she could take, but what in life comes "easy?" I believe she is on the path SHE needs to be on to get to wherever it is she is SUPPOSED to end up. There are many 30+ year old adults stuck in ruts because they are doing what they think they *should* do or what others think they *should* do vs doing what they're really supposed to be doing. I feel like my daughter is getting to break away from that mold fresh out of high school. I believe her road will be full of challenges, but I pray that it only makes her stronger.

  18. MBL
    MBL says:

    There is an interesting article about a neurogame called Throw Trucks with Your Mind (you know you want to try it!)

    www. latimes. com/business/great-reads/la-fi-c1-neurogaming-20140731-story.html#page=1 Trying to keep it out of limbo land.

    The creator had done the often boring as all getout neurofeedback as a teen and wanted to bring the concept to the masses now that costs have gone down.

    A couple of lines in the article stood out about passion and perseverance.

    Regarding Ware (the creator of TTWYM) the creator of Guitar Hero said “A lot of times the most interesting products come from people with a deep personal passion for them,” Huang said. “There was something about him and his story that drew me to this. I don’t pick things like this just because of their commercial potential. I pick them because they are great products.”

    From the article regarding Ware
    This success has amplified Ware’s stress, which in turn made his ADD worse. Fulfilling his grand plans will require even more energy to maintain the calm and focus he needs to resist his brain’s ever-present urge to shut down, retreat and give up.
    “I’m always asking myself, ‘How much do I want it?'” Ware said. “And as long as I can quantify that I want it more than I want to shut down, then I can overcome it…. Yes, I am tired in my bones. But I want the game to succeed more than I want a vacation.”

  19. karelys
    karelys says:

    So I am a bit sad that there’s another post up because I feel that there’s so much to discuss under this post still!

    I wonder what drives and fuels motivation.

    Is motivation to do anything the same as sex, hunger, need for shelter?

    I’ve studied and tried to answer these questions because I was riddled with anxiety from a young age. That’ll happen to you when you’ve been poor for so long. It feels like nothing is ever safe. Even when you’re so much better off financially (and network wise) than before.

    I make it a point to discipline myself to not get my child everything I think he’d like/love for the fear of squashing motivation. There needs to be an unfulfilled need for someone to hate the pain of the unmet need more than giving up comfort or fun, right?

    So I wonder how much of this makes me right or wrong.

    It was definitely fear and unfulfilled needs that are my most driving factor. As I’ve had the opportunity to advance and “actualize” myself according to Maslow, I still have a big drive. Because I’ve recognized other needs that are really big for me. But before they were drowned by immediate need to have a paycheck for food, shelter, health, etc. Now that I have those things my other needs are easier to hear.

    My brothers grew up in the same household. You’d think that poverty would’ve affected them the same way. But it didn’t. In fact, I think that what they got out of it is that you should spend every penny you have on making life enjoyable because you don’t know when you’ll have more. Or that there’s no sense in working really hard because you never really get ahead.

    So here we have three people fairly close in age (3 years apart, they are twins), raised by the same parents that have been together since before I was born, and you have three different levels of motivation.

    I still believe that the answer to all these issues would’ve been homeschooling but that’s another can of worms.

    I just don’t know if having a seemingly unmotivated tween is that big of a deal. Or I don’t know if we should focus on what drives motivation.

    My first instinct is to say that need drives motivation. But my anecdata that I’ve collected over the years of watching people and reading (big example, Cuba!) tells me otherwise.

    Here I am, with more questions than answers.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      You can’t dismiss boyhood. My husband has said more than once unschooling wouldn’t have worked for him, traditional unschooling, because he would have played video games all day long, every day. No motivation to do other “less” enjoyable activities. This is where the line between unschooling/unparenting comes in to play in outsiders minds. I think you can still unschool boys during this time, maybe for some you need to give that structure even if it seems incompatible with unschooling.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I sat back most of the day observing my son with his friend. Sure, they sat and played video games, then they ran out to fly kites, then came back to eat, then went over to his friends to play beyblade battles, then came back to convince me to have a smores night after building pseudo power ranger swords out of cardboard box pieces. What I noticed is that they self regulate quite well given the opportunity and resources. He’s more stubborn in nature, but when I’m hands off like today- he’s quicker to quiet down when asked, more well mannered, and generally happier.

        I have a younger brother though who has locked himself in a room for 4 years playing video games. My husbands best friend has hilariius stories of his mom begging him to quit playing video games all day everyday in highschool to the point she was worried and took him to a psychologist. My H’s friend went on to Two Ivy leagues and works at google and is possibly the most charming person (besides my h of course) that I’ve met.

        My little brother doesn’t have parents that give a damn and I think that’s the difference.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          And I completely agree with you. My husband has been known to exaggerate while playing devils advocate so I don’t put too much stock in his video game comments. I think given the right atmosphere and freedom to learn how to self-regulate, even he would have done other things.

  20. Stacie
    Stacie says:

    I’m not sure why it would be an unschooling fail that your son chooses to do something to work toward his goal of going to college. I mean, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he worked every day or went out and somehow earned money every day so eventually one day he could go to college. There are many creative ways to get there and if he likes the violin path to college, why is that a bad thing?

    He’s already figuring out that sometimes, to get to a goal or to get something you want you have to do things, not necessarily for the “joy” of them (i.e. waking up at the crack of dawn to go to a job you like so you can afford a place to live/food/etc), but because you want something doing that thing will get you.

    When I see parents say, “I have to make my child practice” I worry. I have 7 kids. My oldest just graduated. In the area of sports, my oldest seemed so driven and motivated and fearless. Then there was my second daughter who seemed like she was more talented but “lazy” and “unmotivated.”

    That was until she got into a sport SHE wanted to play, the one that was finally HER thing. All the drive and motivation came pouring out of her like we’d never seen before She wasn’t “lazy” after all. She had just been involved in the “wrong” activity for her up to that point. Once she was doing HER thing, there was very little need to “make” her do anything.

    She told us of some big goals and dreams she had in this area. We told her some things that would help her get there. Just last year, she resisted some of it. Then earlier this week, less than one year later, she has come to US and told us she needs to do the exact things she was upset with us for trying to “make her” do last year. We let it go at that time. Now, at age 14, she’s come to make the decision for herself. I KNOW that she will get SO much more out of it now that it’s HER choice vs us making her do it from last year (she’d probably STILL be resisting or pushing against it today if we’d taken that road).

    My 9yo son LOVES video games. He has unlimited access to his Kindle Fire which is where he plays his games. Yet, he is NOT on it all day. He chooses to do other things with his time regularly. He likes to play outside. He likes to ride skateboards and bikes and other wheeled things. He enjoys going to flag football practice. He plays with his siblings. He builds with legos. He makes paper airplanes and flies them. Yes, much of his time on some days IS spent playing video games, but if I pay closer attention, I realize that while other people may think that’s “all he does, all the time” they’d be wrong. There’s a lot of other stuff he does (including offering to help me with things around the house from time to time).

    I think it’s easy to fall into thinking “all my child wants to do is_____ all day” when they spend any significant amount of time on that thing OR because other people would make that comment and, as parents, we don’t want to hear that from others.

    I have two teen daughters that are on their phone/mobile device a lot, listening to music, communicating with friends or checking instagram. But they also have quite a few other things going on if we look closely enough, plus they engage with me in conversation multiple times a day so long as I give them the opportunity. They also willingly come on errands sometimes. Other times they opt to stay home and relax and help watch their younger siblings. Whatever the case, while I can easily see someone on the outside say, “All they do is stare at their phone all day” I know it’s not true. In fact, if we were to measure how often I’m on my phone vs them, I may “win” for more being on my phone more when I KNOW I also make time to spend with my kids and clean up around the house and run errands necessary to keep a household of 9 going while expecting baby #8.

    All that to say, it often seems like our own fears as a parent interfere with our ability to truly see the value of our kids truly are or what they are on their way to becoming. Often times that fear comes from what we’re afraid others would think. But when you learn to see the beauty in our your own child, what does it matter what someone on the outside, who makes no effort to see what you see, thinks or says?

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      “I’m not sure why it would be an unschooling fail that your son chooses to do something to work toward his goal of going to college. ”

      Yes! This actually answers the question of how a person can get into college or a science field if he’s unschooled. He figures out a way and does it. There’s no certificate at the end that verifies that he was an unschooler.

  21. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    We are not unschoolers. We are classical homeschoolers, which is just about as far as it is possible to get from unschooling. Yet we share many of the same concerns.

    My older daughter is very bright. Because we’re classical homeschoolers, we started Latin in Kindergarten, and now in 9th grade she’ll be taking Latin II, studying the second half of a college textbook (Wheelock’s Latin). She isn’t fond of math, so we use the most unobtrusive math curriculum I’ve ever seen (Life of Fred). We read lots of classics — in the “very old stuff” sense — we read Don Quixote over the summer and we’re starting this fall with the epic of Gilgamesh. She started taking violin lessons three years ago because her grandmother gave her a violin; now she plays both violin and viola because she loves them both.

    And I worry about screen time, because she spends a LOT of time on the internet with far flung friends. And I worry about outcomes, not because my bright beautiful girl wants to be an alien hunter, but because just like unschoolers we have not focused on the practical, on career preparation, but on education for the sake of beauty and interest and itself. So what does SHE want to do? She wants to study Anglo-Saxon — a language even deader than Latin. And there’s one place in the world to study it: Cambridge. What in blazes do I know about going to college in England? At Cambridge? And what do you DO with a degree in Anglo-Saxon? But this is not something I am supposed to worry about. Because it’s not supposed to be about how you get money to live on, but about beauty and truth and choosing for yourself. Right?

    I’m not sure myself what a good outcome is, and you would think that of all the possibilities, classical homeschooling would give you those answers. If unschooling doesn’t give them to you, and classical homeschooling doesn’t give them to you, and public school DOES give them to you but we have rejected that… maybe we just need to chill? Is that actually possible for moms? To chill?

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      At this point I think that if a kid will be successful despite public/private school, then they will be the same kids that will successful (in our career and financial sense of success) through unschooling and classical homeschooling.

      It’s just something about the kid and how they are born. It’s that drive and need to go about a target they’ve locked in on.

      I think that you should start researching the how-to’s of Cambridge. At this point, even if she studies that and goes for full force, she’ll be in the real of people that somehow will be well employed one way or another just because that’s the bubble they are in.

      Even if by Harvard standards some kid is underemployed they will still be better off than a kid from a community college. Because they are swimming in a different (read: higher strata) pond.

      I would say go for it!

      This may seem grim but at the end of the day we’re all going to die and might as well have lived a life that you feel so happy about than making the right moves and just be “meh” about it!

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        Yep, we’re looking at how one goes to Cambridge. What else ya gonna do? She’s clearly ill-suited for a career in computer technology…

    • Pam
      Pam says:

      Google “Old English Online University of Texas” to discover just one place where Anglo-Saxon can be learned without actually going to Cambridge. Add Beowulf to the list of classics you’re reading, maybe? JRR Tolkien’s prose translation has just been published. Seamus Heaney’s verse translation is gorgeous.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        THANK YOU for the UTA link! I have sent it to my daughter! We actually own the side-by-side of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf (Old English on one page, Heaney’s translation opposite).

        She may be meant for a linguist. The child teaches herself languages for fun. I said something about the Russian alphabet one day and she corrected me; when I expressed surprise, she said, “I taught myself the Russian alphabet one day last spring when I was bored.”

        So, okay, languages.

  22. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Many times we do things and continue to do things without really knowing fully why. We know we enjoy the activity and we’re deriving benefit and gaining value from doing it. I believe it’s part of the process of self-knowledge. Your son has a healthy dose of curiosity fueled by logical and analytic thought. It appears he excels in scientific investigation and does just enough hands-on development work to understand and verify fundamental scientific principles. Research oriented. It’s hard to measure how much he’s really learning by using standard, conventional tests that may be administered in a school setting. I’m glad to hear he’s continuing to play the violin for whatever reason. It’s a skill that can be demonstrated to an appreciative audience. I would recommend that he attain other skills of his choosing that make it possible for him to be desired for entrance to a college or university. Skills that are tangible and he can point to as evidence. Schools have certified curricula, tests, and educators they can use to point to as evidence of the worthiness of the degrees they issue to their graduates. I think those people who choose not to attend school should work towards and retain their own evidence which they can show will prove their mettle and knowledge to any higher education institution they may want to attend.

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