But Does Unschooling Actually Work?

As someone who was unschooled myself and now unschooling my daughters, I think this is my favorite post of this 3 part series from  Nikki Starcat Shields.

The most pressing of questions, does Unschooling actually work and was does it look like once they are adults?

P.S. We will be taking next week off from posts to enjoy the holidays, have a wonderful break everyone!


Okay, so you’ve read my two previous posts on unschooling, and you’re thinking, “Interesting. Sounds like a pretty good philosophy… But does it actually work?”

I’m here to say that yes, unschooling works.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not for every family. Some kids thrive in the environment of a “traditional” public or private school. Others do well with homeschooling, but need the structure of a more top-down approach. Some families are in situations where the time and resources to unschool are simply not available.

As the Mom to two grown unschoolers, and friend to many others in the community, I can attest that, for families who choose to unschool, it does work.

What does that look like, once these kids are adults?

I know several unschoolers who’ve chosen to take the traditional route of attending college once they turn 18. Almost universally, they begin by doubting their ability to function within the structure of academia. And almost universally, they soon discover that they excel.

In my opinion, that’s because they weren’t forced to sit in a classroom for twelve years, learning about things that may or may not have interested them. Unlike their public-schooled peers, unschoolers are not bored and burnt out. Also, they are choosing to attend college to learn something particular.

My son’s comment during his first semester sums it up. He took a sociology class, and remarked to me that he and one other person (who was an older, non-traditional student) were the only ones speaking up during class discussions. “I just don’t get it – the topics are really interesting,” he said. I pointed out that most of the other kids were probably sick of the classroom setting already.

In my son’s case, he chose to attend a local community college and learn a trade. He studied heating and air conditioning systems – also known as HVAC. When he finished his program, he immediately had several job offers to choose from. He’s starting his career with no debt, a well-paying job, and a growing savings account.

Other unschoolers have chosen to follow their own paths outside of the college setting. One young woman is working as a nanny and loves it. My daughter, who is about to turn 19, just embarked on a new adventure. She moved across the country with her boyfriend and his family.

She and her boyfriend are about the same age, and their plan is to work for a year and establish residency in their new state, then attend college. My daughter wants to do digital art for virtual realities, so while working part-time in retail, she’s also devoting time to her creativity, and plans to take some community art classes to prepare herself for art school.

At least, that’s the current plan – she’s young, and full of enthusiasm for her changing interests. Which to me is quite normal. One of the huge benefits of unschooling is the freedom to follow one’s passions.

She and the other unschoolers I know have learned how to learn, in a way that works best for them, and feel confident in applying it to their ever-changing interests.

Some of the grown unschoolers in my community are traveling the world, others are entrepreneurs, and a few haven’t yet found their niche. They are writers, chefs, activists, and computer programmers.

Their life paths vary widely.

But overall, they have kept their natural curiosity about life, get along well with their families, and are thriving. The unschoolers I know are happy and love to learn. They are willing to embrace the unknown and follow their passions. They are able to be themselves, authentically.

What more could a parent hope for?

Nikki Starcat Shields is Mom to two grown unschoolers, a published author, and a licensed priestess. She blogs at Starcat’s Corner and shares her callings at Feline Dreamers. Want to learn about how to create a daily spiritual practice that works in your life? Check out her It’s Your Time video.

Radical Unschooling: Kids Are People, Too

This week we continue understanding Unschooling with Nikki Starcat Shields.

Nikki explores radical unschooling and how you can raise your children with less instruction than you might think.

Join Nikki next week for part 3.


Have you ever really thought about the way we treat children in our culture? While we claim to protect and honor kids, often we treat them as second-class citizens. We spend a lot of time caring for our children, but how often do we focus on what they really want?

Last time we talked about unschooling as a way of approaching childhood education. The basic idea is that by following your child’s lead, she will learn more, be more creative, and will also be happier. Rather than a top-down, teacher-to-student type of learning, unschooling fosters discovery and encourages a child’s natural curiosity about the world.

Radical unschooling expands this philosophy into all aspects of your family’s life.

So, back to the way we collectively treat our children. Even the most liberal, caring, justice-seeking people tend to act like a dictator when it comes to their kids. We order children around, dole out punishment for transgressions, and generally act like we know what’s best for them in all aspects of their existence.

Why do we act this way?

We’ve been taught by our culture, and seen modeled in our own families of origin, that this is how you raise “good” children. It’s insidious. Even if we absolutely hated being treated that way when we were kids, once we have children we hear ourselves yelling things that we swore would never come out of our mouths.

We tend to default to parenting the way we were parented.

It’s understandable, in some ways. Parenting is hard work. It comes with a zillion and one responsibilities. And yes, when our kids are young, we are responsible for keeping them from running into the street or eating gross stuff they find on the ground. We have to keep them safe.

But there’s a huge difference between keeping your kid safe and dictating her every move.

Kids are people, too. Inexperienced people, granted. But like us, they have their own inner wisdom – and sometimes they are able to hear it much more clearly than adults, as they don’t have the baggage of a lifetime of conditioning. Our kids have preferences, passions, and dislikes.

Radical unschooling encourages us to partner with our kids around the way we live and learn together. If you’re familiar with attachment parenting, radical unschooling is a natural extension of that.

It requires a certain level of awareness, and more discussion than authoritarian parenting. Your role is to work with your kids on the tasks of everyday life – eating, bathing, sleeping, and yes, even the dreaded “screen time.”

Here’s a good question to ask yourself when thinking about your relationship with your child: “Would I speak to my partner or best friend the way I speak to my kid?”

If the answer is “no way,” then you have a choice to make.

You can continue as you have been. Or you can take a look at your relationship with your kids, and see how you can open things up. Do some reading about radical unschooling. Look at those areas of life that feel like a constant battle, and pick one. Start to bring more freedom into that part of your family’s life.

What if your child could choose his own meal, or her own bedtime routine? It would empower them, and take the pressure off you, as well.

If the notion of radical unschooling appeals to you, take a few minutes to research it further. In next week’s post, I’ll share how this philosophy has affected my own family’s life. Spoiler alert: my grown kids are awesome people!


Nikki Starcat Shields is a Mom, published author, Reiki healer, and licensed priestess. She blogs at Starcat’s Corner and shares her callings at Feline Dreamers. Want to learn more about how to create a daily spiritual practice that works in your life?

Check out her It’s Your Time video.

What is Unschooling? The Basics

Today we begin the first of a 3-part series from Nikki Starcat Sheilds.

Nikki will be discussing Unschooling and how it pertains to parenting.

Join Nikki in the blog post below and join us next week for part 2.


Have you heard of unschooling? It’s a type of homeschooling that focuses on each child’s unique talents, interests, and preferences. It is also a philosophy on how we, as parents, relate to our kids as people.

Let’s take a deeper look at what unschooling is, and whether it might work for your family.

The word unschooling, coined by author and educator John Holt in the 1970s, refers to the way you choose to handle your child’s education. You might have heard of child-led learning, which is very much part of what unschooling families do. The idea is that any given topic of interest – from medieval history to gluten-free baking to Minecraft – is a valid avenue to learning.

Think about it – we were taught in school to divide everything up into subjects, like math, reading, history, etc. But in actual life, when you learn about a topic, you’re encompassing all of those things.

Say you’d like to start a new hobby, like knitting. You’re reading about your new passion, calculating how much yarn will cost for that scarf you want to make, and perhaps learning which yarns to use and why certain ones are better for a particular pattern. Just from that simple example, you’ve used reading, math, analytical skills, and perhaps some history.

You are free to explore your new hobby on your own time, in a way that feels good to you. You practice knitting – because you want to – and gradually improve, learning more and more as you go. When you feel competent or satisfied, you move on to another interest. Or if knitting becomes a favorite activity, you continue to expand your skills.

This is what kids do naturally. Unschooling allows – and encourages – this type of organic learning.

Actually, the form of schooling we’re used to here in the western world, often called “traditional” schooling, is very new. In the scope of human history, people have been unschooling for the majority of time we’ve been here on Earth. Compulsory public schooling as we know it was put into place in the industrial revolution, and was designed to create compliant factory workers.

To clarify, unschooling doesn’t mean that kids never learn from a teacher in a classroom. Just as you might choose to take a knitting class, your child may find that she wants to learn a particular topic from a teacher. Some kids learn best this way, while others would rather experiment on their own.

The point is, classroom learning isn’t compulsory, and it isn’t the only method unschoolers use.

You, as the parent, become the facilitator, helping your child to find the resources, materials, and people he needs to learn the things he’s most curious about. In the process, he’ll be discovering the most basic skill needed to thrive – how to learn.

Through unschooling, your child’s natural curiosity, creativity, and drive to learn will be nurtured. She’ll also be happier, because she’s able to choose how she spends her time each day, listening to her own rhythms rather than having to work at the pace of a group.

Unschooling in the age of the internet – with a vast library of knowledge available at your fingertips – is easier than ever before.

Many families are finding that unschooling suits their child’s academic needs and makes for better parent-and-child relationships.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how unschooling can expand beyond learning into all aspects of family life.

Nikki Starcat Shields is Mom to two grown unschoolers, a published author, and a licensed priestess. She blogs at Starcat’s Corner and shares her callings at Feline Dreamers. Want to learn about how to create a daily spiritual practice that works in your life? Check out her It’s Your Time video.