One Family’s Unschooling Journey



A year ago I would never have imagined I’d be unschooling my three children. I was content with the public school system and the accredited preschool my children attended. I was looking forward to 2021, when all of my children would FINALLY be of age to attend elementary school. I felt I had earned that badge of honor.  

As a stay-at-home mom, I was ready for a bit of my own freedom. Then suddenly the course of life changed for the entire world. The global pandemic crashed into the lives of every human. It thwarted all routines and plans and shifted our ideas about how to thrive in daily life.  

One major lifestyle shift was the way children headed back to school. Instead of in-person classrooms, children and teachers switched to online classes. For my family, the shift to online classes gave me valuable insight into the varying needs of each of my children. 

The Realization

Previous to the global pandemic I had been curious about homeschooling. I liked the idea for various reasons, but I didn’t have the confidence to jump in. I relied on the ease and freedom that the school system gave my family. I trusted my kids would learn how to read and write within the classroom. I prayed math would make sense to them. I crossed my fingers and hoped they would make good friends. I also ignored my gut that told me maybe this system isn’t what my kids really needed.

Fast forward to the first week of virtual learning. We were a mess. 

I bounced from my kindergartner’s computer to my fourth grader’s computer to my first grader’s computer then repeated the same scenario over again. It was an all-day event and by the end of the day, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. So did my kids.

I watched as the hardworking teachers tried to reach out to each child.

I watched as each child tried to learn a concept at the same time as all of the other children.

Reading, math, art, etc. all boxed up and presented to each unique child, the expectation to learn at the same time in the same way. I saw my kids fidget, space off, and at times swell with anxiety. 

Watching my kids spend all day on a screen didn’t sit well with me. Not only that, but I realized that be it a screen or desk the curriculum and expectations were the same. There was my gut again! Maybe this system isn’t what my kids really needed.

The Leap

With some trepidation, my partner and I decided to pull our kids out of public school. I crash coursed on homeschool curriculums. I obsessed over various homeschool methods. I made a zillion example schedules. I was excited and nervous. I felt a freedom for which I didn’t know I yearned. My kids were excited too.

As we began our homeschool routine, I continued to binge homeschooling podcasts and homeschooling articles via the internet. One day I came across a podcast called Exploring Unschooling, hosted by Pam Laricchia. I had heard the term before and read a couple of blogs by families that unschooled. 

I remember making some snap judgments about unschooling families. It seemed to me like a hippie movement where kids got to roam free, doing whatever they wanted, and maybe they’d learn something along the way. At the time I distanced myself from the idea completely. But now I had fresh eyes and ears. This time, unschooling struck me differently.

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling, or self-directed learning (SDL) means allowing your child’s interests and curiosities to guide their learning process. Unschooling doesn’t involve a set curriculum or predetermined outcome. Rote memorization of information isn’t a part of the unschooling lifestyle.

To the observer, unschooling looks a lot like play, but that is the intention. With traditional instructor-led learning, a child often has little interest or ability to directly connect what they are learning about to the world or their own life. Because of this, the child may be apt to forget or never learn the curriculum in the first place.

With unschooling, knowledge is gained in the context of self-directed activities and with research into the child’s interests. Because of this interest, the child is naturally inclined to learn more about and then apply the knowledge they gain on that subject. The more interest a child has in a subject or activity, the more likely they will be to stay engaged and dive deeply. It looks like play because it is play.

Unschooling is organic in nature and weighs heavily on trusting in your child’s interests as a guide. As an unschooling parent, I must trust that my children have the desire to learn and evolve based on the very fact that humans desire to learn and evolve. The idea that children have their own unique set of interests and capabilities is what should be capitalized on while moving forward in the unschooling journey.

This doesn’t mean I become passive as a parent. It doesn’t mean I just say, “See you at the end of the day! Learn well, my child!” It’s quite the opposite. As a parent, I am quite engaged with my child’s learning process. I am there to observe and aid in their interests.

One day I was in the middle of ordering groceries. My son wanted to finish sewing a doll he had begun sewing with his dad a few weeks prior. I had locked that project away in my mind as his and his dad’s. So when my little boy came to me in the middle of my “to do” I felt a slight bit of irritation. The irritation wasn’t necessarily toward my son, but that I was being pulled away from grocery shopping. 

Then I said to myself, “I unschool now.”

Groceries could wait. I ended up saying yes to the sewing. Which led to all of my other children wanting to sew. Four hours later, the kids had collectively made four to five stuffies. I was there to aid in their creative process. The kids had learned new techniques and realized their broader abilities. I was able to bond with my children – a far greater achievement than ordering groceries. 

Unschooling involves a lot of saying YES!

Yes to the mess, yes to the project, yes to the games, the cuddles, the trip, the show. It’s getting uncomfortable in order to broaden your child’s horizons and growth. 

As the parent, we are the observers of our children. It is our job to catch on to their interests then open the door to those interests even further. We are their resource to the ultimate resources.  Unschooling, by its very nature, causes parent and child to ask more questions. It is a lifestyle choice and an internal journey to live in authentic alignment with the external world. 


Unschooling has been a beautiful gift to our family. I want to acknowledge my white privilege in this scenario. As a middle-class, white woman living in the Midwest, I understand the privilege I have within the unschooling movement. Socioeconomics and systemic racism can create barriers for families who choose unschooling as a lifestyle, while in reality, unschooling can actually aid in the destruction of white supremacy. The unschooling lifestyle has the potential to dismantle colonization on a large scale.

As unschoolers, I think it is important work to listen to BIPOC and LGBTQ unschooling families. We must also learn from immigrant and homeless families with regard to education vs. learning.

For a more in-depth read on these aspects of unschooling please read this article: “Is Unschooling The Way to Decolonize Education?” by Valerie Vande Panne. It is a thought-provoking read on the ways unschooling could benefit all families, and also how lack of resources and stereotyping make it much more difficult for various families to unschool.

Our Unschooling Life

To personalize the concept of unschooling, I thought I’d share a little snippet of our lives. I share this with one last acknowledgment that we have just begun the process. My husband, my oldest daughter, and I are de-schooling as well. We are relearning what it means to learn. We are replacing old ways of thinking with new ways of thinking. 

My children have so many interests. I bet yours do too! 

My oldest daughter is ten. She loves drawing, writing, and creating with her hands. She is a brilliant sculptor with a knack for the quirky. Recently, she has been directing short films, writing comic books, skateboarding, and cooking. Our daughter is in the process of starting a dog walking business and has many ideas for future businesses. Unschooling for her has been fantastic for her mental health. For a child who struggled with anxiety over the rigid nature and expectations of a traditional school approach, this decision to unschool has been a godsend.

My middle daughter is seven. She loves to play and pretend. LOL dolls are her favorite! Her imagination runs wild. Play is a big part of learning and she’s really good at it. She also loves to sing and dance and wants to take ballet classes. By nature, she is a caretaker and a peacemaker. She’s interested in the human body and often says she’d like to be a doctor. Sometimes she and I will look at photographs of women giving birth. The innerworkings of childbirth and childrearing fascinate her. She also loves to play card and board games, Legos, and Roblox. She enjoys reading to me in short stints, and I don’t push her further than that. She’s an observer which means she catches onto tactics and technique quickly.

My youngest boy is six. He is a comedian who loves to make us laugh and is the cuddliest in our crew. He is very interested in play and loves LOL dolls just as much as his middle sister. They pretend for hours. My youngest is also interested in math and money. He likes to count and save. He is a really organized person with a great sense for right and wrong and is also very helpful. Drawing and writing are two of his favorite activities, just like his big sister. His interests include cooking, skateboarding, ocean life, scary stories, numbers, hikes in the woods, hidden treasures, and adventure.

As my kids continue to navigate their interests, it is my job to fuel their resources and support them. I will outsource when necessary, say yes often, and get curious always. 

As my kids take action they learn, and as they learn they get to develop the skills for their own unique and brilliant life. For the present and, naturally, for the future!

Unschooling Resources



I have also created a Facebook Group called “Unschooled!” for Midwest parents to connect.  You don’t have to be an unschooling parent to join the group. You just have to be curious about the movement. We’d love to have you!

Hello! My name is Abbey Kennedabbey kennedyy. I’m a sober, enneagram four, unschooling femme raising three kids and a dog. I’m also a wife to a software engineer by day, musician by night. I love spending time with my family, my friends, and myself. Walks in nature, works of art, eclectic environments give me life! I also love a good oat milk latte, podcasts for days, writing, self-reflection, dancing, and laughing. Humor steals the show! You can find me on Instagram as @velvet_gazelle



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