What Kind of Homeschooler Am I, Anyway? Part 6

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”        – John Taylor Gatto

I was having a chat with Thomas in our new shed the other day.  He was struggling with all the writing required to do his Chemistry IGCSE work, and I could see his enthusiasm for the subject dwindling.  I was making sure he knew he could stop if he wanted to, that there was no pressure from either Gary or I to continue.  It was his answer which has had me pondering once more this whole unschooling thing.

He said, with a quiet determination in his voice, that yes he found the writing hard, but he realised that he needed to do the not so fun stuff in order to have the understanding required for the fun stuff.  He said that he wanted to be an engineer and in order for this to happen he needed to take all the sciences up to A Level standard, and that if he dropped chemistry now he would not realise his long-held dream of going to university to study engineering.

And, he went on, he needed to think of his future.  He wanted to get married, have children and have a job able to support his wife staying home and homeschooling the children if that is what she wishes to do.

I breathed a deep breath as I realised in that moment just how much ownership he has of his own learning.  I am not needed anymore in an authoritative capacity.

A couple of weeks later I was interviewing him and he referred to us as working in partnership.  I liked this at the time, and it triggered a memory of something I had read recently.  And it made me wonder if maybe we had become ‘real’ unschoolers without me noticing.  As I reflected I realised that L13 is spending in excess of seven hours a day creating, and Charlotte’s entire day is taken up with reading, writing and music (all her passions).

This got me a-pondering again.  I know, I do it every year.  This year I have been reading lots from John Gatto, the original homeschool enthusiast.  You probably know him as the man who wrote ‘Dumbing Us Down’, a damning account of compulsory education.  Something I read has stuck with me for the past few months, and I keep coming back to it as I evaluate our schooling for next year.

The following describes his ‘Gatto Guerrilla Curriculum’.  It contains his ideas for revolutionising the school experience, but I believe it may have much wisdom to offer our family.  I read this out to everyone at the dinner table and the response was very positive with ideas batting back and forth.

Gatto believes in every child’s learning experience there should be:

  • Substantial community service
  • Apprenticeships
  • Parent Partnerships on school time
  • Team projects (gardens, cross-age tutoring, talent shows, food co-ops)
  • Independent Study
  • Work/study (including starting a business)
  • Mentorship
  • Solitude (fishing, hiking, contemplation, silence)
  • Adventures/discoveries (mapping, exploration, meandering,challenge)
  • Field curriculum (furnishing an apartment, shadowing an employee at the job site, analysing the characteristics of good and bad swimming pools)
  • Improvisational play in groups without guidance
  • Flexi-time, flexi-space, flexi-sequencing, flexi-text selection

I want to unschool.  Completely and without fear.  I want to trust that we are in a changing world and that the education of my youth can not possibly do the youth of today justice.  I want my children to experience life fearlessly and courageously.

I am aware they already have an enormous amount of freedom in their education, but I have been reticent going the whole unschool mile because of that rectangular screen which seems to invade every part of our lives.  And you know what?  No matter what the die-hard unschoolers say, I can’t get past the fact that the screen is a temptation too far.  In the same way I do not want the schools of today to make my children into an academic carbon copy of the next child, I also do not want the screen creating an environment whereby the children are observing others live their lives instead of going out there and living their own.  The screen is my Achilles heel when it comes to unschooling.

At the heart of unschooling, according to unschoolers, is trusting your child that they will guide their life with wisdom, using the screen only when they need to find out something.  These unschoolers have never met my children, is all I can say!  Not that they spend huge amounts of time on their screens now, but I have observed that screen time has become their go-to activity when they have nothing else scheduled.  For example, if Saturday is a free day with nothing planned they would happily spend almost the entire day on the screen if I allowed them (I don’t).  Any time they finish their school work, the screens come out.  In general I am happy because they are all kept fairly busy and productive during their days, so I’m okay with them using their free time in whichever way they please.

And I think this may have to be the crux of our own unschooling efforts.  By that I mean offering so many alternatives to the screens that they choose for themselves not to use them.  Gatto’s Guerrilla curriculum fits the bill nicely.  There are twelve items on Gatto’s list, incorporating all manner of learning opportunities, of which school plays only a small part, in partnership with parents.

Over the next couple of days I will be sharing our thoughts as a family on how we will endeavour to include these elements into our family’s week.  If you wish to read my thoughts over the years, especially in regard of unschooling (something which has fascinated me from the start) do feel free to have a poke around in some of my old pondering posts:

My thoughts on what it means to be educated 

What type of home schooler am I, anyway?  Part 1

What type of home schooler am I, anyway?  Part 2

What type of home schooler am I, anyway?  Part 3

What type of home schooler am I anyway?  Part 4

What type of home schooler am I, anyway?  Part 5

Incorporating Unschooling into a project based home school


  1. I’ve wanted to unschool for years, but like you it scares me. I will look forward to hearing more of your thoughts. I enjoyed reading your other posts too. Thought provoking 🙂

  2. I have a suspicion that your teenagers would have some very mature, considered opinions on this. Very probably they’d come to their own conclusion on how much is a reasonable amount of time, and how best to get themselves to stick to that. Screens are addictive, and it takes self discipline to avoid being drawn in, but I think they’re better set up for the future if they can draw their own limits now and you can help them learn to stick to them.

    I struggle a lot to limit my own screen time (the internet is an almost irresistible draw for this 90s kid, especially now that I’m working so flexibly and at home so much) so I’ve set up a filter using LeechBlock which, after one hour in every four spent on the websites I know I waste most time on, redirects me to a Wheel Decide page with a list of things I’ve set that I value more than pootling round reading blog posts. The wheel spins and suggests I do one of those things instead – it helps! I can’t go back to the websites for at least another three hours, and usually I’m so deep into whatever else I’m doing by then that I don’t even notice I could get back online.

    1. I think it is that addictive nature of screens that concerns me. But reducing screen time is an ongoing conversation in this house.

  3. Screen time/computer time is what holds us back from complete unschooling, too. Well, that and math for the younger ones.

    We’ve been discussing a sort of “semi-unschooling” approach for fall, where we would set weekly academic requirements ( for example x pages of math completed, x number of 5-paragraph essays, x history notebooking pages, or whatever) but leave them to manage it themselves. M15 already does this with most subjects anyway, but I’d like to see how D8 handles it and give him a chance to learn how to schedule himself. That’s about as unschooled as we’re comfortable with right now!

    I’ll look forward to seeing what ideas you all come up with for this!

    1. I like the goal setting idea. Thomas and I are in conversations about a similar thing for his academic work.
      Lovely to hear from you Erin!

  4. Do you ever wonder if it is the labels that are the problem? What I mean is, if there wasn’t the term “unschooler” would you be worried about not letting your kids have enough autonomy in their education? In my area something called Classical Conversations is a huge trend – it’s pretty much the opposite of unschooling, in my opinion. I have no inclination to pursue that path, but because the label gets thrown around a lot I often catch myself wondering if my kindergarten curriculum is rigorous enough or if I am negligent for not teaching Latin to my 2nd grader or forcing rout memorization of human anatomy vocabulary on my 5th grader? When I look at our days together I am happy with what and how my kids are growing and developing and learning, but when I get caught up in someone else’s definition of a particular label I start to freak out. (Sorry, this has turned into a bit of pep talk for myself!)

    I’ve never read Gatto, but you certainly got me interested. I need to find a copy because regardless of the way I homeschool (let’s call it eclectic-cross-my-fingers-I hope this works) there are some good items on that list. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with the rest of us – it really is encouraging.

    1. Oh, I LOVE your eclectic-cross-my-fingers-I-hope-this-works homeschool! Maybe that will be the next ‘in’ thing!
      I think you are right. Labels are never helpful. I do this each year though because I really like the idea of letting go, and I think I do let go a bit more each year. I’m thinking by the time the children are adults I will have let go entirely, which is exactly my goal. The older children are changing so much, and I guess that means our little homeschool must likewise change in order to keep meeting their needs.
      Thank you for chiming in – I love hearing other people’s thoughts about education 🙂

  5. Hey Claire,
    Whatever you want to call it I would say you are doing tit Right! Your kids are right where we all hope to be. I would love my two to take charge fo their education to be brave, to hope and believe in what they want for the future. They don’t know right now, they don’t seem to have a direction or nothing has grabbed them like your kiddos have found. Thank you for this post, love it!

  6. Kids are wonderful at telling us what they need, appreciate – even when they complain. However, at the end of the day, we parents can only do what we hope is best since they kid that grows into an adult ultimately walk their own paths.

  7. I love to give my children freedom in their time, it is only then they begin to explore their gifts. I, like you, do not like to see them engaging in too much screen time, so, for us, this is a heavily monitored area. On the other hand, they have a lot of autonomy to pursue their interests and the less I suggest, the more they find the interests they naturally have. I agree that screens are so addictive that they can steal our time. There is often nothing wrong with them, but what real living and learning might children miss out on, if the lure of the screen captivates them? This week we have done little in the way of book work, but my children have written letters, made go-karts, written poems, drawn pictures and read a great deal. I know that these interests, because they are self-led, are probably more educational than anything I could teach them. You are doing a great job by allowing your children to discover their God-given gifts, whilst protecting them from their own natural desires to waste time on screens. I’d always rather see my children live life, than watch it on a screen. Of course there is a place for screen time, but, like sweet food, it can be enjoyed as part of a balanced ‘life diet’ and make up a small part of the diet.

    1. Hi Vikki, I missed you in church on Sunday – I blinked and you were gone! It’s funny, I was thinking about your C13 when I was writing this 🙂
      I love your ‘life diet’ analogy. Thanks for popping by and commenting. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts and learning from them. xxx

  8. Very interesting post and comments. I have to agree with Dana above about the labeling. I think we just need to be “what works for us” homeschoolers and quit labeling. I love Charlotte Mason, but we don’t adhere to everything in her approach. I just try to find what works for us and go with it. You have very well-rounded children and I think that they are on the path to complete independence. It is a natural progression if you allow them the room to grow. You have certainly done that with your children.

  9. Your son’s answer equals a job well done, mama!!! I’ve always been intrigued by your homeschooling approach. It seems to flow so naturally for you. I admit that I still struggle some days to find a comfortable flow, but when I follow my heart and embrace “heartschooling”, I feel right. I enjoy your sharing!

  10. Wow, Claire, you can certainly tell by the responses, this is a hot topic amongst us homeschoolers! Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s always a joy and encouragement to see how driven your children are towards their goals, and how dedicated you are to being the fire under them to start the discussions and help guide along the way to fulfill their dreams and motivate them to pursue lifelong education.
    I’ve written this Gatto list down and seeing which ones we can check off and which we need to ponder and pursue. You’ve given me a good deal to think about. And now’s the time to do it since summer has arrived, there hence time to plan out goals and change things up for September!

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