How a certified teacher chose unschooling for her kids

How a certified teacher chose unschooling for her kids
Written by Marla Taviano

“Remember, girls,” I say to my daughters, looking them each in the eye (I actually have to look up at two of the three now—when did this happen??), “we do not say THAT WORD here in Cambodia. Got it?”

They nod.

Got it, Mom.

The next day, we’re out and about, and yet another stranger asks, “Wait, so … do they go to school …?”

The girls smile sweetly, turn their angelic faces to me as one, and let me answer.

“I used to be a teacher, so I teach them at home.”

marla3

This new line of mine seems to be working. Awkward situation averted. Moving on.

“Is it fine that you’re not really telling the truth?” my youngest (10) wants to know.

“Which part of that statement isn’t true?” I say, eyebrows raised.

“Mom, we’re unschooled. You don’t really teach us.”

“Excuse me. I teach you a lot of things. They just aren’t normal school things. Am I right?”

She shrugs her shoulders, presumably thinking of all the things she’s taught me today about Harry Potter and French (learning one new language at a time wasn’t enough, I guess) and peeling/cutting mangos just so.

“The Cambodians just don’t get the whole unschooling thing,” I say. “It’s way too complicated to try to explain.”

“Mom,” my 15-year-old says, “Americans don’t get it either. Nobody really gets it.”

“Nobody gets our family anyway,” says my 13-year-old, with a wave of her hand, “so it’s all good.”

Once upon a time, I taught third grade. When our first daughter was born in 2000, I quit teaching to be a full-time mom with plans to eventually homeschool her.

Turns out, by the time she was ready for kindergarten, I was more than ready to send her to public school, and I did. Her younger sister followed the next year. And four years later, baby sister did too.

The story of how our family evolved from public school to homeschooling to unschooling is a fun one, but a long one – (read my e-book, An Unschooling Manifesto, for the whole tale).

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So how about I answer a few burning questions you might have about how our family makes unschooling work?

First of all, what in the heck is unschooling?

Here’s the definition according to homeschooling guru John Holt:

“When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.”

Unschooling basically questions why we do school the way we do.

And then it goes a step further and questions homeschooling, too. It asks things like:

  • Who decided that all children need to learn a set curriculum of certain facts by the time they’re 18 no matter what field they want to explore as an adult?
  • And why is this set of ideas still the same when the world is changing so quickly?
  • And who even remembers half of what they learned in school anyway?

Stuff like that.

Aren’t you afraid for your kids and their futures without a “proper” education?

Nope. None of my kids are of graduating age yet, so I don’t have a true “success story” to share. But let’s take my 15-year-old for example. She is a gifted artist and has dabbled in writing.

We moved to Cambodia in January 2015 and, by the end of the year, she was fluent in the Khmer language (both speaking & reading/writing). She’s now teaching herself Thai using a free online app.

marla2

Her dream is to be a translator/teacher, and she’s already doing it.

She teaches two English classes a day to Cambodian kiddos and translates for various people on a daily basis. At age 15.

Does unschooling only work for really smart kids?

Nope. As their mom, I think all of my girls are smart. Yet one of them struggled with traditional school: spelling, math, test-taking.

She’s now thriving in an environment where she can focus on her strengths, not her weaknesses. And she’s one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever read when she’s not worried about whether everything is spelled correctly or not.

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Photo by Trey Ratcliff

So … do you really not do ANY schoolwork?? What do your girls do all day?

  • We really don’t do any “traditional” schoolwork.
  • Right now, they “work” from 7:30-4:30 Monday through Friday helping their parents (and two other staff) run a center for at-risk kids in a village in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

But we used to have a more normal, relatable life.

Before Cambodia, we lived in an apartment complex with 300 other families, most of them Somali refugees. When their friends were in school, our girls would: read books, play Minecraft, run errands with me, journal/write, shop for/cook food, do household chores, help our Somali neighbors with their babies, and learn stuff online when they wanted to know something.

Is unschooling legal?

I don’t know what the law is where you live. I used to live in Ohio, and in lieu of testing, I could have a certified teacher evaluate my kids at the end of the school year.

Two of their former public school teachers actually interviewed/evaluated them and gave them glowing reports.

Want to learn more:

So what questions do you have about unschooling? Ask away in the comments!

About Marla Taviano

Marla, her husband, and their three unschooled daughters live and work in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Read more here and follow her family's adventures on Instagram.

Comments

  1. Loved this! I’m intrigued by your move overseas and how you’ve unschooled your kids abroad.

    • Thanks, Becky! “Intrigued” is one of my favorite compliments. 🙂 I browsed your site for a bit and was intrigued as well! I really liked your post “6 things you need to know about your kids to unschool.” So, so good!
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  2. Elaine Miller says:

    We are a homeschooling family from Ohio! Because of my upbringing in public school, I have a hard time venturing away from the rigid learning I’m accustomed to. I can definitely see how each of my four kids would benefit from unschooling in their own way. My daughter is very big into birding. I’m trying to focus most everything we do around that but I still struggle to change my thought process.

    • Hi, Elaine! Where in Ohio?? We’re heading there a week from Wednesday for our first visit to the States after moving to Cambodia. Excited and nervous!

      Don’t force yourself to jump into unschooling right away. It was gradual for us too. Take tiny steps (something brave each day), and no pressure go all the way to the extreme end of the homeschooling/unschooling spectrum.

      I love that your daughter is passionate about birding. It makes my heart sing when kids know what they love. And there’s sooooo much you can do with this!! Like take lots of trips to see all the birds! (We have some awesome ones here in SE Asia!)
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

    • Great read for you would be ” Dismantling the Inner School”

  3. i’m a certified teacher but I have home schooled my son from Grade 7-12. He graduates this year. The schools only see “special ed” kids one way–get them in another room or another part of the room because “they can’t do this or that like everyone else.” I didn’t want my son to grow up with the idea all he could aspire to in life was “Welcome to Walmart” or pushing carts in the supermarket as a career. We still have a long road ahead but I am proud of both of us. Good luck and keep being different!!!

    • I’m proud of you both too!! What a gift you’ve given your son! (and I bet he’s given you lots of gifts too!)
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

    • How delightful, Dee! You have done the right thing and I’m sure your son has blossomed as a result. You’re right, SPED kids are not just neglected in traditional schools, they are actually harmed. I unschooled my Asperger son from 6-12 grades. He even took college classes as “concurrent enrollment” during his last 2 years. Then he went to UCLA and is now in graduate school. I burst with pride when I contemplate the love and bravery that lead a family to un/homeschool. These are parents who really care.
      Linda Dickson’s latest post: In The News: Hour of Code

  4. Katie Goggin says:

    We’re an unschooling/non-traditional homeschooling family in Ohio as well! (Columbus, to be exact.) I *always* get asked “is that legal?” And sometimes it’s all I can do not to just face palm. This will be our first official year of homeschooling but we’ve been at it for three years (I have an early learner). I always love hearing stories of unschoolers from our neck of the woods. Your journey sounds amazing!

  5. Best of luck and I hope you come back to the states and try to implement some of your ideas here. This situation works for but a very few people. The vast majority are anchored to their homes and communities and cannot afford to have a parent at home with children all day, every day. If these ideas are implemented under the economics and time schedules of Americans, it would be most remarkable.

    • It does work just fine in America, and frankly, it is “remarkable”. I homeschool (not unschool) my three children. I stay at home and we live off of my husband’s income. He is a teacher, so as you know, he doesn’t make very much. We make sacrifices and give up many of the unnecessary things people feel they need to survive everyday. TV? Nope. Smartphone? Nope. It can be done by most (granted I did not say all)…people are not just willing to sacrifice for it. We do not have the money to travel all over the world, but there are plenty of virtual field trips we attend, and there are plenty of sights and things to explore no matter where you are in the US. But we homeschooling/unschooling moms are used to be told it would never work! 😉

      • I have a lot of friends who can’t afford to do it (including several single moms), so I definitely get that. But, you’re right, for many people it just requires some sacrifice of things that really don’t matter all that much anyway.
        Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

    • We aren’t moving back to the States anytime soon, but we did unschool them there for 2.5 years. My husband and I were both self-employed and worked from home (he’s a web designer/photographer; I’m a writer/editor), so that’s how we made it work.
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

    • We do it at home in the states with one income. My husband is blue collar and works at a factory, so it IS doable for the average American. We even have a TV, smartphone, tablets, and have very little debt. You just can’t live outside of your means. AT ALL.

  6. I am a certified Waldorf teacher. I pulled myself and my kids out of our local Waldorf school when they were in 2nd and 6th grade to homeschool. At first we did “Waldorf school at home” but soon we see all miserable. The more I let go of what I thought they should learn and the more I let their interests lead our learning the happier we all became and the more they learned and took joy in it.

    You can read more of my experience in this guest post I wrote for Simple Homeschool:
    http://simplehomeschool.net/waldorf-homeschooling-learning-to-let-go/

  7. I thought this was a good article and I’m interested in the book as well. Very few ever question the legitimacy or usefulness of formal education. From the time the kids are 6 years old to 18 years old they are told to sit in a room, sit still at a desk, stop talking, listen, learn things they don’t choose, do activities they don’t choose…every aspect of their behavior is monitored, regulated…rules, procedures, punishments, force, lack of motivation, wasted time, teachers who aren’t really motivated (who can blame them), students who aren’t really motivated (who can blame THEM?). Education is an artificial environment, and the kids are not ready to function in the real world when they’re done with high school. They don’t have a work ethic, soft interpersonal skills to function in a job, decision making skills, relationship skills. All that doesn’t come from a classroom…it comes from life experience. They get out thinking that life is perfect and if you just try hard enough you’ll get an “A” and it’ll all work out perfectly. All they learn is “do what you’re told when you’re told to do it.” They’re like robots. Book smart but no street smarts, as are needed to be an adult. I spent a lot of time working inside public schools (and urban schools) and wondered why none of the kids wanted to learn (not true in just urban schools…students everywhere are unmotivated). I think it’s because they didn’t want to learn the worthless stuff they were being taught…where’s it going to get them in life? You don’t really care about learning until you see some benefit in it for you. Someone with the life experience of being stuck in a minimum wage job trying to support a family may jump at the chance to be a computer programmer and really appreciate an education, however. Our education system is incredibly outdated and doesn’t work anymore. I also have to say that keeping the kids home keeps them away from the bad influences of other kids; the behavior in a lot of these schools is nothing short of absolutely disgraceful, and it’s dragging our country down quickly. Let them be around the parents and adults and other kids with good values. They won’t remove bad kids in schools; instead, they let them ruin the education of the good ones; one bad kid can ruin the educations of the 25 other kids in the room with them and it happens every hour of every day. Teaching is 90% behavior management and 10% teaching. I’m saying this not from the perspective of a parent; I’m a 32-year-old man who’s been through public education, K-12, and I learned a lot, and I’m grateful for the effort my teachers put in…they had a tough, unappreciated job… but after teaching and going through school and college, I finally saw I could have done 10 times better if the education establishment would have gotten out of my way. There are benefits to schooling beyond which we can measure, but I always ask the question “what kind of bang for the buck are we getting with the way we’re teaching kids?” Is it really education (learning useful things) or indoctrination (learning how to shut up, sit still, do what you’re told, be submissive to your boss when you get older, etc…which the schools can’t possibly make them do because the kids fight them tooth and nail about behavior every second of every day anyway…and I don’t blame them). OK that’s my rant. I’m really interested in this movement now!

    • Hey, I think you just wrote a whole blog post. 🙂 This is my favorite–“Education is an artificial environment.” Yes. So true. I’m super-duper all for real life situations over sitting at a desk. Thanks for sharing!
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

    • Wish you would write a news article and share your intelligence with everyone….

  8. Jennifer says:

    I’m in the beginning stages of unschooling with a 6-year-old. I encounter many mothers interested in homeschooling but it is so hard to explain how much learning happens just by living in a book-rich environment with plenty of time outdoors and lots of loving attention and conversation with adults. When our “kindergarten” started, it looked just like the day before. Fortunately, PA (where I live) requires no documentation until age 8 and I’m already learning how easy it will be to document all the learning we do naturally and without coercion. Thank you for sharing what works for you. I have been so inspired and encouraged by other unschooing/child-led/interest-led homeschoolers!

  9. I don’t fully understand how 100% unschooling can get in all subjects that might be necessary for college (ie: calculus, physics were my weak points & def points I would have avoided at all costs, to my own detriment). But I do completely understand that most of formal ‘school’, especially HS is just so much busy work. Most of what we need to know in life we manage to ‘figure it out’, get the book, look it up as needed. Not to mention the pressure and stress put on students in subject areas they will never ever need again (at least not at a comparable level). I won’t bore you with the details, but I know more than one HS drop-out who ended up with BS/BA, Masters, Phd, many in the same time frame as the traditional HS, College, Post Graduate path. Some dropped out due to extreme boredom, some because they were essentially written-off by schools. All the hype about AP’s, SAT’s etc is just marketing for a thriving industry. Smart motived people get into good colleges and universities without benefit of HS GPA’s, perfect SAT’s, and 3 letters in sports all the time. All you need is either money (no student who can pay is left out of the game I can assure you!) or proof that you are capable (ie: a couple of classes as an unmatriculated student with great grades)

    The truth is that in this country we have one path for all students, even though not every student desires, is compatible with, or needs extensive ‘book-learning’. And we will always need mechanics, welders, carpenters, and even people to run the register at the supermarket.

    This insistence that everyone must attend college has done nothing more than devalue higher education. What does a degree mean when everyone has one? We now have degreed individuals working in lower management where in the past that type of position was open to motivated, skilled, hard working and ambitious people without an unnecessary degree to hang on the wall.

    Frankly, what motivated me to go to college in spite of the fact that I already enjoyed my work was the obvious fact that my bosses, with degrees hanging on the walls, completely lacked common sense and the ability to actually get anything done.

    • At this stage of the game, our girls have no desire to go to college. My husband and I both have degrees, but we earn a living doing something totally unrelated that we taught ourselves. If they decide later that they want to go, they can do some cram math courses or something. 🙂
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

    • Although we are not unschoolers, we are very relaxed homeschoolers. Our older children choose what they want to learn about. My daughter who will be graduating next year will be doing chemistry, physics, and quantum physics all in one year because she chose to, so kids do sometimes surprise you with what they want to pursue.
      Shelly’s latest post: Why Should We Homeschool?- Part 7- Focusing on True Education Instead of Mass Instruction

    • I did private school, homeschool, public school, and boarding school growing up. What i realized is NONE of them will fully prepare you for the real world. If you hate high school physics and calculus, why would you choose a major that required them in college? you already know you hate it! And even college is designed to “give a well-rounded education”. I know ppl who majored in a non-math-related course, but had to take advanced algebra. For what reason, I have NO idea.

  10. GOOGLE John Taylor Gatto
    An underground History of American Education PDF – this will answer your questions

  11. KansasGuest says:

    I imagine this is how the majority of civilization learned anything before the 1900s. They were called life skills. I stop short of saying this is a luxury today. As much as I value education in all forms, a child’s experience with education will largely be determined by how their parents experience life. If the family unit is not open to, or doesn’t feel like they have, the flexibility of doing anything other than traditional school, that is what their kids will experience. I also see the flipside – the immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. and being so grateful that their children can attend a school in a peaceful community, and have a “normal” routine compared to the horrible existence they’ve had in refugee camps or war zones in their native homeland. I have relatives who live in developing countries. It’s very interesting to me that their dream is to send the kids to an American-style school where they can just study & learn skills to have higher-paying jobs, & not have to work to support their family at the same time. Meanwhile, our first world country has families that no longer value in this kind of “traditional” education, and even consider it to be a burden to their children. The grass is always greener in someone else’s yard.

    • So true. We lived in a community of Somali refugees (in Ohio) for a year before we moved to Cambodia. All of our girls’ friends were in public school, and we cheered them on, excited for them to learn English and have a future in this country. We also helped them with homework (formally on Tuesday evenings, but really they came to our apartment all the time for help) and English practice.

      Here in Cambodia, we also want to see these kids get a good education, learn English, whatever they need to do to have a bright future.

      So, our girls are unschooled, but we value education as a way of empowering kids in other situations.
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

    • what you are talking about for third worlders is training, not education, and those in the USA, it is education they are looking for

  12. I agree wholeheartedly with the philosophy of unschooling. We did try it for about two years but found that the lack of structure was not good in a house with 10 kids. Right now we’re very relaxed homeschoolers. Some days we do book work and unit studies; other days we don’t do anything that looks like “school” at all. We just go with the flow. From my understanding, unschooling is legal in all fifty states because it’s considered a homeschooling method. The documentation needed may vary, but it is possible.
    Shelly’s latest post: Why Should We Homeschool?- Part 7- Focusing on True Education Instead of Mass Instruction

    • I love the freedom to do what’s best for our individual kiddos and families. I would love to peek in on one of your homeschooling days with 10 kids!! Sounds like a blast!! (I’m sure some days are more fun than others.)
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  13. Chris, As a retired teacher I feel I can verify everything you said. School used to be a safe place for most children to be. Not any more. Children were expected to behave in school…now, teachers don’t have any real support when dealing with difficult students. They are getting hung out to dry. Many districts and schools have implemented draconian inflexible “rules” in an effort to combat the rising tide of insurrection among today’s students. It’s backfiring. Common sense is no longer common.
    ….Today’s schools are remarkably different from when I went to school. We had music, art, drama, speech, even dance lessons as a part of P.E. In my district all students took home economics, not just the girls. And girls took shop classes. Students’ helped each other because they wanted to, not because they were forced into a group with the class bully. And bullying? Well, let’s just say there wasn’t much of it. Bullies got back what they dished out. The law of the jungle? To be sure. But that’s life. And what better time for a bully to learn about the consequences of his/her actions than when in school…before he/she takes his mindset out into the real world.
    …Curriculum…I’ve seen pretty much every iteration of expectations and methods. There is nothing new out there, just the same old stuff presented in some different way. Technology is both a great thing and a distraction. Cell-phones in classrooms? Why? Students today seem to expect immediate gratification and feedback for everything…and I mean IMMEDIATE! They typically can’t write well, often don’t speak their own language well, and certainly don’t spell well. True, a writer does not have to spell well to get his/her idea across, but lack of punctuation can change the meaning of what the writer wants to convey. And college? We wouldn’t want to hurt a child’s feelings by telling him he isn’t ready for college. So off the children go, unprepared, and the colleges are now doing remedial education for their students? What’s up with that? Why?
    …Jobs. They EXPECT to get a high paying job right off the bat. After all, they were promoted to the next grade without being ready, so why not get promoted to the best job without being ready? They just don’t get it. You have to FOLLOW THE RULES and be PRODUCTIVE to get and keep a job in your chosen field. And (this is almost mind-blowing), some workplaces even have DRESS CODES !! “They can’t tell me to pull my pants up and tuck in my shirt” or “who do they think they are, telling me not to wear that top that has my boobs practically hanging out!”….YOU’RE FIRED !!
    …Some of my grandchildren are home schooled. They follow a fairly typical curriculum but are encouraged to explore their own interests. They participate in organized sports, care for animals, grow a lot of their own food, and are at a minimum, bi-lingual. They don’t just listen to music, they play instruments and make their own music. They play individually and with groups. They do public speaking. They travel all over the world, meet and interact with people of all races and cultures. They have an appreciation for the traditions of the cultures and peoples they encounter. They know geography, geology, and map reading because they have found those things to be useful. They love languages because they understand that the more you know, the better you can communicate. They use math and math skills in their daily living. They are comfortable with and able to socialize with anyone they encounter. Their home-school activities only take up a fraction of their day, most of their day they are “unschooled”. That is as it should be. Primary subjects should not be the focus of any child’s school day. Sadly, what is supposed to be the core of the curriculum, has become the only curriculum.
    …As unschoolers grow and mature and begin to focus in on what they think they want to do with the rest of their lives, I think they will see the need for extended in-depth study of those topics that interest them most. Math is probably the one place where they may fall behind. Some students love math and will pursue that interest, but most do not eagerly jump in to mathematical pursuits. If unschooled children want to pursue a career that requires a college degree, they will have to push themselves to be prepared to meet the college math requirements. Only time will tell how well they do in the future. They are more prepared than most to meet the world and succeed in it.
    Donna’s latest post: How a certified teacher chose unschooling for her kids

  14. With you being a teacher and your children getting the basics before you started homeschooling it gives your children an advantage over many other “unschooling” kids. After being taught reading and basic arithmetic a child does have all the skills they need to continue their education especially if someone knowledgeable is steering them. Some unschooled children never learn to read which means their ability to learn anything academic is severely impaired – especially if their parents don’t feel the need to teach them anything.

    • This is true. Our family actually has all kinds of advantages (that I don’t take for granted). I will say though that our youngest taught herself how to read when she was four (her mama did the same–well, Sesame Street taught me!). She also taught herself how to read Khmer (the Cambodian language, which has a completely different script than English). And, once she could read, she was able to do quite a bit of math with minimal help from me. Just think of all the things we’re able to learn without someone actually teaching us.
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  15. Erik Hertwig says:

    Q Does unschooling only work for really smart kids?
    A Nope. As their mom, I think all of my girls are smart. Yet one of them struggled with traditional school: spelling, math, test-taking.
    R I do not believe you have enough information to answer that question with a “nope”.

    • Fair enough. I can only speak from my own personal experience. But, if a child is not “smart” (and there are so many kinds of smart), he or she will not do well in traditional school either. An alternative path, drawing on his/her strengths, will be the best bet for a successful future.
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  16. Shawn R. says:

    A very relieving read, as I’ve had a poor go at teaching. The public schooling system drove me to resignation, seeking alternative work. Educating others is still a priority in my life, I love gathering ideas from others all around the World, and yours is a perfect fit. Thank you, and keep on keeping on.

    • Thanks for reading! Some of my very best friends are teachers in public schools, and things just keep getting harder and harder for them. Breaks my heart. Best of luck in your future endeavors!
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  17. I unschooled my son from 6th-12th grade and then became certified to teach. He got his bachelor’s degree at UCLA and is now in graduate school, and I’m working at an independent study K-12 charter school that serves children who are unsuccessful in traditional schools for any of many reasons. It’s a public school so there is no cost–a terrific alternative for parents who can’t un/homeschool their children.

    • That’s awesome!! Then you’d be able to speak to how unschooled kids get into college. (That’s probably the number one question I’m asked.) (Have you happened to write a blog post about it I could share?) 🙂
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  18. kathy lellis says:

    Marla,
    I use to teach as well. I was teaching until my oldest was 4, and I too put them into my local public school, but pulled the oldest 2 halfway through 3rd and 2nd grade. My kids are 2e, and there educational needs weren’t even coming close to being met, and my son very “innocent” who went to speech therapy at 3, and was seeing a PT for gross and fine motor skills…he was teased, set up to get caught and blackmailed..all before turning 9. When I first started homeschooling we did go very traditional, it made sense to my kids, but as time as gone by that has changed. Number 3 attended kindergarten for a whopping 2 weeks, even my mother said that my daughter’s spirit seemed to go away. My oldest is set to graduated college with a degree in Micro-biology in June, and will start working on his master’s in Neurobiology in September. Number 2 is in college, works at a micro-school for 2e kids (very much an unschooling set up though, learning is kid directed), and she is planning to become a therapist for 2e kids. Number 3 has just started taking classes at our local junior college, she just turned 15, and her plan is to transfer to Cal as a junior when she is either 17 or 18.
    When people have brought up the whole socializing thing I point out that in the adult world, where they will spend most of their time, you don’t spend 6 hours a day surrounded by 30 people the same age as you. And when you look at schooling in a historical manner putting kids inside a building for several hours a day to learn is a relatively new thing. Our Founding Fathers learned at home, learned from spending time with someone older in a particular field; they weren’t in classrooms all day.

  19. Hema Lolla says:

    Loved your article. I have great respect for parents who homeschool/unschool their children. We homeschool our 12 year old son. He wants to be a film maker and to encourage his interest we too plan to travel and spend extended period of time in other countries. Right now we live in Chicago and hopefully one day we would love to visit your center in Cambodia and volunteer. Is there a way to get more details regarding your project?

    • Okay, that is just the coolest!! Have you heard about Angelina Jolie’s son (born in Cambodia) who’s helping her direct/produce her upcoming movie, First They Killed My Father? They did a lot of the filming really close to here (finished up in February, I believe). (Shoot me an email through my blog, and we can talk about volunteer opportunities.)
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  20. I began un-schooling just this past school year. My child is thriving, loves exploring his interests in his own way, and is not having to be exposed on a daily basis to peer pressure and bullying and all of that nonsense that goes on in the public school environment. So…I must confess that I am a school psychologist and I am certified in grades K through 12. I have “sort of” followed a curriculum that is supplemented by lots of traveling (during the school breaks I am fortunate to have) along with experiential learning. Like the author of this wonderful article, I involve my son in all aspects of running a household (budgeting, cooking, gardening, caring for pets, etc.). I am probably not evolved enough as a home school/un-schooling parent to say that this is for everyone… and it is actually a bit of work, but this is working well for my child. In just ten more days, I will be on summer break and we have many adventures planned for this time. When my son attended public school, he couldn’t wait for summer break and he didn’t want to do anything even remotely related to school during the summer. This summer, however, after his first year of our new way of doing things, he plans to research 65 animals indigenous to the African continent and give our family a presentation each Monday evening, he will be attending a robotics summer camp (his idea), and he will play on a summer league golf team where, somewhat coincidentally, most of his teammates are also home schooled. His long term goal is to be an anesthesiologist (again, his idea after researching careers all this past “school year”). I hope I don’t sound braggy as that is not my intent, but in addition to all of the above, my son has a video blog about Activision that has over 1000 subscribers and around 300 video entries. Could he do any of this if he had to spend most of his time at public school with “tweens with bad attitudes?” I don’t think so. And yes, we are very lucky that we have a few cents and can afford to travel, buy technology for him to use, and what ever else, but we are not super rich by any stretch of the imagination. Just super motivated to raise a child who doesn’t become destroyed and disillusioned by the public school system.

    • Oh my goodness. That’s FABULOUS!! And not braggy at all (I struggle with that too–learning to let it go and share honestly about our struggles AND strengths). I LOVE hearing about kids who are so motivated to learn!!
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  21. Thanks for your thoughts. I too am a certified teacher. I have my masters in education and feel like I have to give my resume after I explain that we homeschool our 3 children to everyone. Homeschooling is a choice and for me it’s an opportunity to create the kind of school that traditional school cannot ever offer. I am able to offer our children a space to learn and develop their individual strengths and interests. I applaud you that you have done that for your children. BTW my children ages 6, 8, and 9 have studied horse back riding and horses; weather; gardening; native american history; and so much more! We do cover traditional curriculum but allow ample time to explore their interests by incorporating a flexible homeschooling schedule. It’s not only so much fun, but my children are thriving and have a better understanding because their learning is meaningful.

    • Thanks for sharing. So happy to hear your success story! I love what you said about their learning being meaningful. That’s it right there. When we learn things because we’re forced, and we can’t really see how it applies to anything that matters, it just doesn’t stick. And it doesn’t make a lasting difference in our lives. Keep it up, Mama!
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  22. Glenna Sadler says:

    We have homeschooled our 4th child after three older children went through public school. This young man has ADHD that was diagnosed at 4, but evident at 18 months. We were aware of some of the signs of ADHD through our other son and me (although undiagnosed, I exhibit many symptoms). He is now 16. It has been the best thing for him. He learns very well. He requires a certain amount of structure or the chaos that can creep into his mind takes over. Therefore, we do structured classwork with expectations for each day. Still, we stay flexible. He expresses an interest and we do our best to make it possible for him to explore that interest. He also has learned that evenings and weekends are not about homework, but about helping out at home with family or spending time with friends. He is happy, well adjusted. He has learned failure as well as success. He understands responsibility. He has plans for his future as an adult. Life for him is very good.

  23. I am a teacher who unschools his kids too!!!!!!! I thought I was a rare breed so it is cool to read this.
    I started a blog about it, but it is very time consuming and I might have to give it up.
    YouJustGotHomeschooled.com

  24. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I just love your story. I do have a question for you, though: My kiddos are still young: oldest is 7. If I had to classify what we “do”, I’m sure it would fall into the unschooling category, although I don’t label it–we just sort of do what works at this point (i.e. play). But as my kids get older, my biggest fear is inadequacy. When I read this post, I think, “Amazing! But we won’t be spending time in Cambodia…” or whatever it is that sounds fascinating about the blogger’s post. I wind up thinking, “how can I inspire them (in a natural way bc I’m not a type A personality) without the obvious stimulation and acute learning that inevitably comes from yours (and others’) fascinating circumstances? And even without those circumstances, will this happen naturally for us or do I need to start DOING something now to set things in motion for them? I’ve read a lot of the books…John Holt and all of that, but I lack any real encouragement that this has any hope of manifesting on its own. I have this deep, nagging fear that my children will just grow and learn this and that, but never really BLOSSOM because I missed something BIG along the way. How’s that for some serious fear? And I’m not even sure I really asked a question… but I feel better now that I expressed all of that. I hope to follow your lead and release all this fear of inadequacy at some point. I’m just not there yet. CHEERS to you!

    • Thanks for sharing, Kel! I’ll bet there are lots of awesome things you can experience right where you live. Just start trying things, let them explore and find their passions. (Go for a hike, visit a farm, look for birds, learn a fun board game, start painting pictures, take something apart, climb trees, plant a garden, build something, plan a trip together…) You’ve got this!!
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  25. Inspiring in so many ways. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  26. Thanks for this post, Marla! And thanks to all those who commented, too. I listened to your podcast with Tsh Oxenreider a while back. This post was just the really quick version of all your family is doing in Cambodia! It was really helpful for me to read what people had to say on unschooling. I am also a certified teacher turned homeschooler. While we don’t prescribe to only one educational philosophy, life (and homeschooling) the way we know it was turned upside down 2 months ago when we had a fire in our home. We lost all of our books and homeschooling materials. While we are finally in a rental apartment until our house can be reconstructed, we moved 6 times in 6 weeks with our family of 6. It is helpful to think of what we’ve been doing over this period as unschooling, rather than thinking of it as putting everything on hold until we can figure it all out. Thanks for helping me remember that life has many more lessons for us than can be taught while seated at a desk. The power of those lessons should not be underestimated. Best wishes to your family!

    • I am so, so sorry for your loss, Cindy. That’s heartbreaking. And you are so right–your kids will learn and grow SO much through this. So so much. Sending hugs your way!
      Marla Taviano’s latest post: W.A.T. FAQs

  27. Shawanda Davis says:

    WOW that ius soi interesting. How did u come about to move to Cambodia if u don’t mind me asking. I would love to try this with my daughter.

  28. Hi there. Interested in knowing more about unschooling as I struggle to force kids to learn all the things everyone forgets from schooling anyhow. Do you anticipate your children getting a diploma or equivalent to American Standards?

  29. Anne-Marie says:

    Hi there! I am a homeschool mom of three. I have twin almost-9-year-olds and a three-year old. We are from the Columbus area (Reynoldsburg, actually.) I know that we don’t know each other but I feel so proud of your family! What you are doing with your girls is fascinating and such important work. My hope is to instill the values and work ethic in my children that you are in yours. I have always said that not everyone learns the same way and what you are doing clearly works for your family! I wish we could do something similar. My boys are incredibly curious and are constantly wanting to learn about a variety of things. Congratulations on your great success!:)

  30. Thank you so much for this post! I’m going to read your ebook for sure. I so badly want to do unschooling, though I think my husband would kind of freak out if he knew, as he’s a school principal (but I get to homeschool because we live in China). And I also feel scared of embarrassment if my kids can’t spell or do math (we have struggled so badly with math and I feel like such a failure, but I feel so sad that it should be such an unpleasant experience for them and I just feel there would be so much more happiness in unschooling). I have a question, and perhaps you could answer it, since you’re in a similar situation to us. We have lived in China for 4 years now (my kids are 8 and 7), but they do not speak very much Chinese. I’m so saddened by that, but putting them in Chinese school is just absolutely out of the question. We tried Chinese kindergarten for almost a whole year, and not only did they learn nothing, but it spoiled them for anything that has the appearance of school and made them terribly afraid of making mistakes. Even 2 years later. How did your daughter become fluent in Khmer? Do you have any suggestions? Chinese kids aren’t available for much of the day as playmates because they have so many hours of school and homework plus Saturday and Sunday classes, so that doesn’t help the language come along faster. We’ve begun listening to a Learn Chinese podcast, but I don’t see how that can lead to fluency. I’d love to hear your perspective on learning the language of the country you’re living in. And I cannot wait to read your book!!!

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