Freedom to Learn

The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning.

What Do Grown Unschoolers Think of Unschooling? IV in Series

Most of the grown unschoolers in our survey were very happy with their unschooling and said they would unschool their own children. A few, however, were unhappy, and their descriptions of their childhoods make it clear why they would be. This final report in the series describes the advantages and disadvantages of unschooling, in the respondents’ own words. Read More


As a homeschooling mother of four who is seriously contemplating a shift to self-directed learning (, I would appreciate gaining a better understanding of natural learning patterns. A little while back I read an article in which the author stated that unschooled children up to the age of 8 or so appear way ahead of their schooled peers. But then between the ages 9-13 (more or less), they seem to lag behind while their peers' heads are filling up with all sorts of intellectual facts. However, around age 14 or so, the unschooled kids suddenly start to make giant strides forward and quickly catch up (and sometimes surpass) their peers. Reading this breakdown helped to normalize some of the things I've observed in my children. I would appreciate knowing more about these patterns.

Also, I have observed that some of my children lack motivation or drive, mostly because they don't have specific interests. Is it okay/normal for some children to spend a couple years just reading, thinking, and helping out around the house? In these cases, what's the most effective parental response? How to best cultivate the internal drive to produce? Hearing other parents' stories of struggle and doubt and the (hopeful) resolution would be encouraging to newbies like me.

Many thanks for this thought-provoking and inspiring series!

I am interested to read about

I am interested to read about the few negative experiences of people who took part in your study. It seems to me that, given their lives, social opportunities & even learning were it seems completely controlled or limited by their parents (even neglectful & abusive parents), I would have thought their experience cannot really be classified as unschooling and therefore irrelevant to the study?


I would like to express my gratitude to those who so candidly (and probably painfully) shared their experiences for this survey.

Public School Option

I was wondering when and how one should present public school as an option for their children. It seems like when they're younger, kids might want to go to school because it seems new and exciting, and then by the time they stop enjoying it, they'd already be brainwashed into believing that they need school. Should you just let them enjoy staying home unless they start asking to go to school, or should you present that option to them as soon as they're old enough to go?

In response to Holly

Both my children started out in the public school system, and ended up making the decision that they wanted to be homeschooled mid first grade year (each respectively.) The big thing for me has always been talking to them. About everything. Listening to how they think and feel, sharing my thoughts, talking about and looking at things from multiple points of view, to give them context to develop their own thoughts. If they are exposed to ways of thinking different than mine, that is gives us a chance to talk about it, for their own thinking to be challenged, for them to feel confident that they can think independently and go through the hard process of figuring out what they think for themselves instead of just going with what others think (parents included) or only looking from one viewpoint.
The negative ways of thinking that they picked up in school (such as 'learning is about being compared') have been things that they have been stronger for figuring out their own values about, and having that context as a contrast. My kids know that going to public school is a choice and option available to them, and that we will support them and that I have confidence they can thrive in whatever decision they make about their schooling. I think it is important that they know they have real responsibility and say in directing their own schooling & learning, and they have our support. That's how I've approached it. Best wishes in figuring out your own path & journey with your kids!

So many variables!

I think it is virtually impossible to tease out the variables in somebody's life--"Oh, he lost his mom at age six that that explains why he was never able to form lasting relationships"; or, "Oh, she was homeschooled and that's why she became an astronaut, religious zealot, happy homemaker, or president of the US."
What can be done, and you have done well, is disprove the argument that unschooling condemns one to a life of unhappiness and failure as well as guarantees a life of joy and success. In the end, one must create and adjust: start with a positive intention and plan, then respond appropriately based on the results as you move forward. Walter Shewhart identified what he, and later W. Edwards Deming (the so-called father of the Total Quality Movement) called the "PDSA cycle: Plan-Do-Study-Act", whereby you continuously assess how things are going relative to what you want and make whatever changes you think are necessary to fulfill your original vision, or at least come as close as you can. Of course, this should involve all of the relevant parties--in this case, parents and youth--but even that should be a matter of experimentation and observation. Some young people are better at self-direction than others, especially at an early age; others need a bit more direction at times. Who's to know what your son or daughter will respond to best--or even if your #1 son will respond similarly to your #2 son, etc.? My point is that we must plan and respond as intelligently as we know how, being open to feedback and flexible as need be, not driven by ideology that fails to take individualism and individual circumstances into effect.

As the father of four grown unschoolers now in their thirties, I am convinced that having the freedom to begin with your own values (ss opposed to those imposed by any System, whether governmental, religious or cultural), and then proceed with the flexibility to respond in a nurturing way as your young people develop, seems to have as high a probability of success for all involved as anything I have seen. The overwhelming majority of unschooling parents that I know personally (in the hundreds) seem to genuinely like their own life and like being with, but not on top of, their offspring, and as a result their youths seems to be enjoying their lives as well.


keep on keepin' on

thanks so much for posting all the pieces of your research into unschooling and unschoolers. as the mom of an unschooler (his father is tagged with the primary educational responsibilities as he runs a business from home and I work in an office), your research makes me feel proud of our chosen path! thanks again!

Problems with unschooling same as with regular homeschooling

Thank you so much for publishing this awesome series! As a homeschooling parent of 7, I try to stay on top of this type of research.

What I find interesting here is that the so-called problems of unschooling also mirror the problems that can happen with any type of homeschooling, namely that there are a FEW parents who are unwell and give the practice a bad name. Of course, there are many parents who are abusive or who have social anxiety who send their kids off to school too! It's just that with homeschooling, it's easier for these rare families to slip through the cracks because they're off the radar.

Truly, it wasn't unschooling or homeschooling that was the problem. It was inadequate parenting due to emotional illness or other problems with the parents.

Freedom of Thought

The 3 respondents who didn't like unschooling were raised in Fundamentalist Christian environments. I was raised strict Catholic but got involved in the "Born Again" movement in 9th grade. I went on to join a Fundamentalist Christian cult at Boston University in 1983 called "Maranatha". There were many cults on campus at the time. In my junior year, my parents hired "deprogrammers" and basically kidnapped me to a safe house. I also attended a deprogramming camp called "Unbound" in Iowa City after the safe house. My deprogramming was skillfully accomplished, highly successful, and life-changing.

Even though I did go through formal education, my mind was still under the control of Ideological Totalism, described as "thought-terminating" by R.J. Lifton. What your 3 respondents experienced was similar to my experience which can happen in and out of ANY educational setting. They were denied freedom of thought. Freedom of Thought should be a civil right.

R.J. Liftons monumental work in the 1950s lays the ground work for Freedom of Thought. Please consider reading the short Wiki page:

"Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism"

I take the opportunity to share my story and Lifton's work when I can. Fundamentalism and Cultism might be on the fringe of human experience, but violations of one's freedom of thought are rampant.

Very Limited Conclusions

I'm assuming many of them are not married...

And only 8 had kids of school age?

I would discount almost everything they say until they all have kids....and the kids are at least 10 years old.

They just don't have enough life experience to pass judgment on well....just about anything of import.

There seemed to be a disproportionate (i.e. unscientific) amount of attention in this article to "3" out of 74 respondents.

I would wager that far more then 3 of them will, later in life, find religion and WISH they had been raised with a little more so-called fundamentalism than what their parents supplied them with. I know I fall into that category.

I found this statement:

"But when the dominant parent is truly dysfunctional, ....then unschooling can lead to resentment and, quite justifiably, to feelings of abuse and neglect" be meaningless. When the dominant parent is TRULY dysfunctional, the kids suffer no matter what path of education is chosen for them.

I personally would never heed outliers. And I definitely wouldn't try to extrapolate conclusions from them.

I'm a big fan of unschooling....but only for 75% (at most) of the day.

These respondents have been

These respondents have been unschooled for most or all of their own childhoods, so why would you discount their opinions of unschooling?


Thank You for all your great work. We gave public school a try so we could be part of our community (it is a five block walk from our home) but both the teacher and principal by December of Kindergarden had us leaving the school( they could not support his advanced learning) We played the game and got him in the advanced placement program for first grade( which had him on a bus for a hour each way and the building the kids were in was closed twice for mold and other health violation) The work at that school was just accelerated but not enriched. Again by December,when he had read all the books in the room and we offered to buy new books for the teacher we were told NO. This meant he would have to just sit for hours waiting for other kids to finish there work. With great effort and many days we just kept him out of school we made it throw that year. We are the ones who had him literate before kindergarden so let us try second grade. He was so happy, we had mostly use Monissorie style learning before and went back to that. We found that he was a great self directed learner and he was driving himself to more of a supported unschool( because he was finding coding on line and teaching himself, then blender a free 3d animation programs and with utube and online friends mastered that program. I believe the internet has changed much of how unschool,home school kids move in life and its looking more like the real world then ever. There are now website that let him use his skills to make money.( some one needs a header for a web page and he delivers it, how much more like the tribal teaching in your book of watching and doing then achieving!!! Its very scary to be out here alone as parents but we are both artist and as artist know the ground work he is doing is powerful for his future performance as an adult. I find reading your blog to be an amazing emotional support for all kind of independent thoughts on learning.

Academic research


I'm a Graduate Student in Education's Fundamentals at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and I'm planning to do the same kind of research but in an interview mode here in Quebec. I would like to know if you plan to publish this study in a scientific journal (I think it would be a good idea). I wonder too if you would accept to send me your questionnary, and if there is any theorical framework that you could share.

I thank you so much for your great work.
It is necessary and inspiring!


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Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College, is author of the newly published book Free to Learn (Basic Books) and Psychology (a textbook now in its 6th edition).


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