Sunday, May 30, 2010


Lately I've been thinking a lot about colleges that are a good fit for unschoolers. It's a little silly for me to be spending a lot of time on this topic because it will be several years before I even need to give the issue serious thought but nevertheless I find myself scouring lists of homeschool friendly and non-traditional colleges and then looking at admission requirements for the schools that seem promising. There are several factors which have contributed to this latest obsession... err, interest.

First, one of my best friends has teenage boys and college is on her mind. We've had some discussions about this and her concerns are my concerns because she's my friend and because I know we'll be right where she is in a few years.

Another friend from our homeschool group, who also has a teenager, recently posted a couple of lists on Facebook that highlight non-traditional schools. I was immediately intrigued and soon became fascinated. The idea that some institutions of higher learning recognize the benefits of free learning and have thrown off the shackles of canned course requirements and letter grades is exciting. As someone who loves to learn about learning I just can't help but to want to know more!

Finally I have become more comfortable with the idea of radically unschooling and have embraced it wholeheartedly. I feel as if I truly understand the path we are on now and I know that it is the best way for my kids to learn and grow. However I was worried that because parts of society don't recognize our choices as legitimate pathways to success that some of my children's choices might be limited. Not because they won't be smart enough, self-disciplined enough, or simply good enough to attend college but because some colleges might not accept the way they have learned. Armed with a list of schools that not only accept but welcome non-traditional learners I am able to rest easier knowing that we don't have to close the window on college in order to fully embrace unschooling.

I'll leave you with a list of some of the promising schools I've found during the course of my research...
Note: Most of these schools accept narrative transcripts and/or portfolios in place of traditional transcripts. However, you will notice in parentheses that some of these colleges do require traditional transcripts. They are included in this list because they accept homeschool transcripts from parents as opposed to some non homeschool friendly schools which require accredited transcripts.

Non-traditional Colleges
Hampshire College
Savannah College of Art and Design
Brown University
Sarah Lawrence College
Antioch College (Though the school closed its doors in 2008, it will reopen in fall 2011.)
Evergreen State College
College of the Atlantic
The New School
Bennington College(traditional transcript required)
New College of Florida(traditional transcripts required)
Wesleyan University(traditional transcript required)
St. John’s College

Homeschool Friendly Colleges in MO
Park University- Parkville, MO
Missouri State- Springfield, MO
Stephens College (women only)
Truman State College (traditional transcript required)
Mizzou (traditional transcript required)
University of MO- Kansas City
Missouri University of Science and Technology- Rolla (traditional transcript required)
Westminster College (traditional transcript required)
Central Missouri State University- Warrensburg, MO
Kansas City Art Institute
St. Louis University (GED required)
Missouri Western State University (open admission)

Friday, May 21, 2010

How Wikepedia and I define Unschooling

Yesterday at our homeschool playgroup the topic of unschooling came up as another mom and I were chatting. We are both unschoolers and were discussing some recent activity on an unschooling email group to which we both belong. As often happens when having discussions about unschooling the topic turned to the strict regiment that some people put on what constitutes unschooling. We agreed that often people are too narrow in their definition but that some people go too far in the other direction and have a definition that is so broad that it loses any meaning.

I understand that unschoolers are viewed as people who are bucking the system, challenging the status quo and living outside the parameters of conventional wisdom. I agree with all of those statements. I don't agree that this means there are no rules. I decided to begin with the agreed upon definition. Wikipedia seemed like a good place to look because it is held to the public standard and anyone who may disagree with the definition may challenge or change it. The fact that the definition is written as is means that the unschoolers who have visited the page agree with it. I have visited and I agree. (Emphasis mine)

Unschooling refers to a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child.

Learning through natural life. When you build a birdhouse with Grandpa you learn to measure. When you hear an unfamiliar word and Mom explains it you learn vocabulary. When you must share cookies with your friends you learn division. When you want to know why we have a holiday called Pearl Harbor Day you learn history. These things happen organically through living life with curiosity in an environment that supports and encourages that curiosity.

The question about Pearl Harbor Day may lead you to the library, The History Channel or the Internet. It may not. You may get all of the information which interests you from the person to whom you posed the question. If your natural curiosity leads you to the library that is unschooling. If your mom decides that today is Pearl Harbor Day and we must go to the library, find a book and read it together that is NOT unschooling.

This is the part where people get defensive, when you tell them what unschooling is not. But there are guidelines. It isn't a criticism of how you choose to do things, it is a statement of fact. I can call myself a vegetarian but if I then proclaim that I choose to eat meat three times a week then I'm not a vegetarian. There's nothing inherently wrong with choosing to eat meat (at least from my perspective) and stating that I am not a vegetarian isn't a criticism; its a fact. I can call myself liberal but oppose gay marriage, abortion, gun control and welfare while supporting large armies and school prayer. I can call myself a liberal within those circumstances but it doesn't make it true. The same can be said for unschooling. If you still have requirements for what your child must do, if you want to use a curriculum for just one subject, if you are still guiding your child's education instead of letting it unfold naturally then you are not an unschooler. Not a criticism, just a fact.

However, as I stated earlier, it is also possible to be strict in the defintion and squeeze people out. Leaving a book laying out that you think your child might enjoy is also still within the guidelines of unschooling, in my opinion. Making suggestions and bringing up interesting topics are all a part of unschooling. No one lives or learns in a bubble. My friends and I enjoy sharing book and movie titles with each other, filling each other in on the information learned in a magazine article, and just generally exchanging information. I do the same for my kids because it IS a natural part of life to do these things.

Furthermore I don't think unschooling has to reach into all areas of life to work. You can decide that tooth brushing is important in your house and that TV will be limited and still be an unschooler. You can even give your kids chores and be an unschooler. Demanding that these decisions are part of unschooling pushes people away who come to us seeking information and trying to learn about the philosophy. So let me be clear about my position- strewing books is unschooling, assigning book reports is not.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Big Book of Unschooling by Sandra Dodd

I received my copy of this new book in the mail a couple of days ago. It is a quick and easy read, well suited for new unschoolers. I didn't find a great deal of compelling or new information because most of the information can be found on Ms. Dodd's website which you can find by clicking on the title of this post. I am learning to tolerate reading from a computer screen because a) it's cheaper, b) it's more eco-friendly, and c) some of my favorite journals are only available online. For those who haven't made this transition and still prefer to hold a book in their hand then this book is a great resource. For everyone else, save your money and visit the website.

A few of my favorite gems found both in the book and on the website:

Unschooling is arranging for natural learning to take place.

Unschooling would be difficult to understand even if it were easy to define. From the point of view of the parent, it is creating and maintaining an environment in which natural learning flourishes.

I like both of the above quotes because they highlight that unschooling isn't passive and doesn't 'just happen'. It happens because parents are dedicated to ensuring it happens.

School as a small part of a rich, healthy family life can be bearable and maybe even fun. School as a guarantee of learning or success is a fantasy school; it's a myth.

I LOVE this! It is difficult to explain your reasons for unschooling to a person who has had great experiences with school. And of course there are those who like to point to people they know who have homeschooled or unschooled and the kids didn't do well. I like to remind them that lots of people in public school don't do well either. This quote sums it up nicely.

A few other interesting tidbits too long to quote include the pages on
strewing and book worship. I must admit that I'd skipped the book worship page before having the book in hand because I was irritated by the idea that books aren't special and wonderful things to be revered. After reading Sandra's logical arguments about other ways of exploring the world being just as special and wonderful I must admit I'm a convert. That doesn't mean I don't still love books, I just don't hold them up on a pedestal as THE BEST way to learn (aside from doing of course) and instead see them for what they are- one tool in my unschooling toolbox. Television, radio, computers and video games are just as valid and valuable for learning as books and it would be unwise for me to reject these tools and rely soley or more heavily on one tool.

I know some of my book loving friends will have the same reaction I had to reading that but I encourage you to look at Sandra's page on book worship before making up your mind. I also encourage you to think about the big picture. When we first began homeschooling, before unschooling, I used to require the kids to read every day despite the fact that they both read at a high school level. They didn't need the practice but I still worshiped books and felt it was important. I never thought of requiring them to use the computer on a daily basis despite the fact that their skills with it were rudementary (especially Kya's). But taking a step back and looking at the big picture I can see that the ability to use a computer is just as important in today's world as the ability to read well, yet I still placed more emphasis on books. I think it all boils down to a pervasive belief that tried and true is always better than new and innovative.

I'll leave you with a short excerpt from the page to ponder:

There was a time when the only way for a kid to get information from outside his home and neighborhood was books. (think Abraham Lincoln, log cabin in the woods far from centers of learning.) Now books tend to be outdated, and an internet search engine can be better for many kinds of information. If Abraham Lincoln had had full-color DVDs of the sights of other countries, of people speaking in their native accents and languages, and of history, he would have shoved those books aside and watched those videos.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I have been frequenting some unschooling forums and joined an active Yahoo! group for unschoolers. The topics, especially for newcomers, always seem to be the same. There is a great misunderstanding that radical unschoolers sit back and hope for the best for their kids without any direction or intervention. This simply isn't true- the direction and intervention look different than they traditionally do but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

I believe one of the reasons this is difficult to explain is because it happens in the small moments. Lots of new unschoolers want to know what a typical day looks like for an unschooler but even this is misleading. I can block out the activities of the day but it doesn't convey all of the little things going on that make unschooling work. So, I've decided to do a project that I'll share here, and perhaps a few other places, to try to convey how radical unschooling works for us.

The project is called "100 Little Things" and is precisely that. I will be keeping track of all the little things I do, from using TV as a tool to encouraging exploration. Most of these interactions are less than 2 or 3 minutes but have a big impact. Because they are brief they are often overlooked by those exploring unschooling and I think that's a shame because these little moments are the HEART and SOUL of unschooling.

I'll keep you posted as I gather the moments. :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Some days this life we've chosen is harder than others. I don't like to complain because I don't want to discourage anyone from pursuing this lifestyle but the reality is that no matter what path we choose there will be hurdles. My current hurdle is that Kya has developed delayed seperation anxiety and its making me a little, well... nuts!

I'm not really sure what's going on but she literally wants to be with me all the time- she sleeps in my room, goes grocery shopping with me, goes outside when I do. There are times when she'll get busy and will be okay playing in the other room but only if she knows where I am. She'll also go to my parents house next door or make a trip into town with her dad but only if she knows I'm going to be home- she doesn't want to do these things while I might be somewhere else. I have to accompany her on playdates and she's stopped sleeping over with friends. This is a complete 180 for her- she has never had any trouble sleeping over and has been doing so since she was about 5 or 6. She loved going places and I've joked before that she couldn't wait to be rid of me.

Honestly I was worried at first that something had happened to bring this on but we've had extensive conversations and she's still friendly and outgoing with new people so I don't think she's had a bad experience with an adult. My current theory is that this is somehow related to puberty and her feelings about her changing body. She knows she's growing up and is excited about that but perhaps part of her is also scared by it. Whatever the cause, she's just as confused by it as I am and will say that she's not sure why her feelings have changed.

In the meantime, I have no rest, no time away. I get lots of traditional advice but it doesn't fit with the kind of mom I am- ultimately I have to follow my instincts and feel good about how I handle this so I can't be the kind of mom that just walks away and lets her cry it out. I can't be the kind of mom that disregards her feelings as a phase that she'll outgrow.

So for now I appreciate my friends who understand and let me bring her along (with quiet activities to occupy herself) to adult gatherings such as luncheons and maybe coffee night. I cherish the times when she's happy to go to town with her dad or playing in the next room and I can get a few moments to myself. I accept her just as she is and know that ultimately her ability to express her feelings, even if I don't like or understand those feelings, is a good thing. Just yesterday I told her how proud I was of her ability to stand up for her feelings even when it was hard. I hope she always holds onto that.