When High Schoolers Create Their Own Educational Path

I happen to love the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  And maybe the title is oversimplifying things a bit, but I think I could say that the majority of the basic skills that I use day-to-day are things that I had learned by the end of middle school. So when my two homeschooled sons wanted to explore the idea of unschooling, I couldn’t think of a better time to begin than when they hit the high school years.

By the age of 13, each of my sons knew all their math facts, some basic algebra and geometry, the majority of English mechanics and grammar and had covered at least some aspects of every branch of science and every historical era. I felt like they had their “basics covered” and it was healthy for them to chart their own educational path for a while.

Like many homeschooling parents who consider unschooling for high school, I had my initial worries about educational gaps, college entrance requirements, and whether they would sit around all day playing video games if I wasn’t doling out assignments. And of course I had heard negative comments about unschoolers and how it could “ruin your children’s future.” But I had also heard just as many positive stories….successful entrepreneurs who had started building their own business when they were unschooling, dancers who had been able to dedicate themselves to their craft because they weren’t forced to focus on cosines and tangents, and grad-school students who credited their amazing success in academia to their ability to be allowed to think for themselves in an interest-led homeschooling environment.

When I actually let go of the educational reins on my boys, though, I was quite surprised by some of the immediate results, both positive AND negative.

Growth in personal responsibility

Example: My older son, who has never been on the athletic side (that’s putting it mildly), began getting up in the morning earlier than he ever had before in order to go jogging. He said he thought it would better prepare his mind and body for wherever his day might take him from there.

Frustration with lack of purpose

Example: My younger son quickly became frustrated with the fact that he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with his future, and therefore wasn’t sure what he wanted to learn about. I suggested that instead of thinking about unschooling as a time to “prepare for a career” (he was only 14 when he started) that he instead focus on spending time doing things that interested him, and perhaps see if one day a career bloomed OUT of his interests instead of the other way around.

Shift from procrastination to proactivity

Example: My older son has always been the world’s most successful procrastinator. What I hadn’t realized until our unschooling adventure, though, was how much of that was based in being assigned activities that didn’t stimulate him. Once he began working on his OWN projects, I was amazed at how quickly they took shape and were brought to completion!

The power of conditioning

Example: I was completely unprepared for how much my sons would compare their newfound educational freedom with those of their schooled friends. Instead of thinking I would be the “nervous Nellie” in this situation, I often found myself supporting THEM as they faced doubts about whether they were doing enough, learning enough, and generally “keeping pace” with their in-school counterparts.

By the end of  the first year of taking the unschooled path through high school, my older son had taught himself two different computer programming languages, was becoming proficient in Japanese and had read through more classic literature than I would have ever assigned him myself.  My younger son had taken every local first aid and CPR course he could locate, had watched enough hours of surgical video to teach suturing at a college level, and had signed up to be a summer volunteer at our local hospital.  I’m not sure what I had expected them to do with their time, but they had far exceeded my even unformed expectations!

If you have thought about letting your homeschooled child create their own educational path, or if they have been indicating that they’d like to focus more on their own personal interests, then let me share some of the resources that have been most helpful for us on this unschooling journey…








Kerry Jones is a guest author at LetsHomeschoolHighschool.com and the admin of the web's largest community for secular homeschoolers, SecularHomeschool.com., She is a "homeschooling alumnus", having graduated both sons who were each homeschooled from kindergarten. You can follow Kerry on Google Plus by adding her to your circles.

May 27, 2012


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