We went rogue and didn’t school our kids. Here’s how it turned out.

This is a post about homeschooling (interest-led learning/unschooling in particular).

It’s not a post about how one parenting path or learning journey is better than another (it isn’t). It’s not a post that assumes all of us have the privilege to stay home with our kids (though I wish that we did). This post says nothing about the incredible teachers out there doing magical things all year long in our schools (but holy heck do I salute them and the life-changing work they do in the world).

And though we live in the country now, that’s new(ish) for our family, and much of our homeschooling journey took place in a little house in town (because learning happens everywhere).

Instead, this post is simply about homeschooling. It’s for parents and caregivers just embarking on this journey, or parents and caregivers already on this path but whose confidence is shaken in their decisions to keep their kids at home.

This is the story of our family’s experience, some 18+ years in. Here goes.

We raised two kids and never sent them to school.

We denied them the childhood rites of passage of school busses and lunch boxes; class bells and recess; homework, tests, and graduation.

And sometimes I worried: what if we got the whole thing wrong?

What if there’s a reason the path through childhood almost always begins and ends with school?

Because when you stay inside the lines and live life by the well-worn rules, you’re doing as you’re told. And if everything goes sideways, at least you did what you were “supposed” to.

But when you go rogue and chart your own course? If your child struggles and falls then the whole unbearable burden hangs heavy on you.

So, yeah, it was a little terrifying.

We did it anyway.

Straight out of the gate we charted our own course. No school, and hardly any “school at home” either.

Just two kids raised wild and true and free.

A blacksmithing forge, a (weedy) garden, and some unreasonably long road trips. A flock of sheep, a library card, and more art and craft supplies than we could jam into the cabinet.

We had math that looked like baking croissants, history that looked like an obsession with Norse mythology, politics that looked like protests, biology that looked like farm babies and foraging excursions.

I recognize the privilege of this freedom that we have and am grateful to have been able to make this choice for my family. Countless parents don’t have the privilege to even make this choice. Life, circumstances, poverty, or oppression have already made it for them.

To those in this reality, I see you. Know that there are as many beautiful ways to raise your family as there are families. And this is simply the story of the path we have charted. It’s not The Right Path. It’s simply our path.

So what has it been like?

Honestly, we’ve had so much fun.

My kids and I connected–deeper than my wildest dreams.

They had the space to grow up as slowly as they needed to while we chased fireflies, slept in the yard, and spent our days following the luminous threads of their insatiable curiosity.

Our life was built brick by brick of their wonder, curiosity, creativity, and dreams.

We healed what was broken and learned side by side. Day after day, year after year.

A friend (who works with children) once said to me, “Well, you know that your kids are exceptional. They’re not like ordinary kids.”

And I told him this:

“No, my kids aren’t like other kids, but they’re also not exceptional. They’re simply normal kids who never had to fit into a mold that didn’t suit them. They’re just kids, unbroken, who never stopped asking their questions and chasing their dreams.”

And I believe that.

Ordinary kids are exceptional if we just let them be who they are, and live their messy, beautiful, non-linear lives.

And suddenly here we are, all these years later.

They’re 14 and almost 19 now (where did the time go?). And I suppose the questions you’re asking are: was it really worth it? Do you have regrets? Did going rogue really work out for them in the end or are they hopelessly prepared for life in the “real world”?

I know when I first set out, I was desperate to see the kids who’d grown up outside of the box. Show me the grown ones! How are they now? They could be my hope as I, too, broke the rules and forged my own way.

So here is my answer:

At 14 and 19, my children are thriving.

They’re both chasing dreams that are true to their hearts and living the lives that they’re called to. They have passion and friendships and depth and insatiable curiosity and know themselves better than most adults that I’ve met.

And as for the “real world”, that’s where they’ve been all along. They never stepped out of it and into those rigid walls.

So yes, they’re ready to get out there and in it, because they truly never left.

Are their lives perfect and is our home always ringing with four-part harmony? Of course not. Because we’re human.

We argue. We make mistakes. Sometimes we say hurtful words or do things we regret. But overall, our home is more harmonious and caring than I ever dreamed possible.

We truly like one another. Perhaps because of how deeply we know one another. And I credit that to the endless hours we’ve spend in one another’s company.

Did they suffer from their lack of school time? No. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of suffering, they both truly thrived.

That said, this isn’t everyone’s right path, and that’s 100% okay, too.

Even if they have the resources to run with homeschooling, not every kid–and just as importantly, not every parent–is cut out for this ride.

You’ll never hear me say that’s one proper route forward. There are truly as many beautiful paths as there are people And for many, that path may shift with time. If you homeschool for a bit and then stop, that’s cool too. There aren’t any rules or litmus test you need to abide by. Just do you, and honor your kid.

Listen to your child, listen to yourself, then make the best of exactly where you are and what you’ve got to work with. I’m rooting for you, whether your path and mine are similar or not.

For those embarking on a similar path to mine, I’m rooting for you, too!

If you’re here for advice, I’d simply say this: stop worrying and start living. They’ll learn to read, they’ll develop social skills, they’ll become independent, they’ll follow their hearts.

Tell your neighbor that you don’t need a teaching degree to be qualified to teach your own; tell your mom that reading doesn’t need to happen at age 5 to be perfectly timed; tell your uncle that social skills are not tied to how much time your children spend with like-aged peers.

Hand out copies of “How Children Learn”, “How Children Fail”, and “Teach Your Own” like party favors to your nay-sayers.

And then get back to the business of living, playing, exploring, questioning, discovering, and learning alongside your kids.

I promise you this: you won’t regret it.

8 thoughts on “We went rogue and didn’t school our kids. Here’s how it turned out.

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you! My oldest is entering high school age, wakening the familiar “can I do this?” fears. Your update on the journey helps. i always enjoy reading what you write.

  2. ncfarmchick says:

    Thank you so much! My children have never been to school either and are just noticing (or having pointed out to them by other children) how they differ – in lifestyle, abilities, etc. I want them to march to their own drummer and not be concerned with other people’s opinions but it still hurts my heart to see them sometimes struggle with this. A new homeschool co-op and activities planned for the Fall will help, I think, but hearing these words from your path further down the road helps very much.

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you. I’m at the beginning of the journey with a 7.5 yo and I know all of this in my heart, but I love hearing it from someone who has been there with thriving kids. This message is so uplifting. Thank you.

  4. Anna says:

    One of my kids went to school for 1.5 years but we are continuing a journey toward something like unschooling and your post is so hopeful and beautiful. Thank you!

  5. Steve Pitkanen says:

    Thanks for touching on the internal struggles that often accompany any kind of non-traditional parenting. Rather than following a pre-planned route, it’s like an ongoing improv, full of decisions that often can’t be based on previous personal experience or even the experience of others, because what seems right for your child may be totally different than what another child needs.

    On that note, I would say this to other parents: I believe the most important aspect here is, as you say, to give kids the space (also permission and opportunity) to grow as they need. You don’t need to be organic farming, milking your own cows, or even unschooling to do this. It is about empathy in parenting. You can do this anywhere, and in any form. My kids started out in a Waldorf school; it wasn’t for them, so we pulled them out. Then they were unschooled for many years. After that they asked if they could go to school – they wanted to meet more people and have a difference experience. Sure. And now they are happy doing that. It’s an improv, but the core of it is allowing them to be who they are, trying to meet their needs and helping them grow into the people they want to be.

  6. Helena says:

    Thanks, Rachel. Because yes, sometimes we just need to see how it’s going for families further along on the homeschooling journey, and that their kids are turning out okay. My oldest is about to enter 7th grade (homeschooling, as we have since kindergarten) and with that comes a whole mess of uncertainty about whether we’re doing enough, what to do about high school, whether our kids will be prepared to live life as adults in the world, etc.

  7. Mina says:

    As a school teacher (30 years) who lives rurally and has friends who homeschool, I know that each day in the classroom I tried to make the hour I had with each student one that would expand their horizons, deepen their understanding of ways of being and seeing, encourage them to question assumptions and find joy in exploring. Working with 11 to 18 year olds, I know how challenging formal education systems can be for them, and spent time in my leadership role pushing for a more inclusive and holistic learning experience for my students. I get why parents may choose to homeschool… I support this choice – my own children went to schools and there are still times when I wish it could have been different; I was not in a position to be able to stay at home and not earn money for my family. I don’t think there is a ‘right way’ for each family… I know many teachers who care deeply about their students’ personal development and flourishing as a keystone to what they do in the classroom, as well as many homeschoolers. I think what was useful for my students was to have me as someone who offered ideas and discussions about life and learning through a well-informed and ‘different’ lens.

  8. Annie Coleman says:

    What a wonderfully inspiring topic. I am a grandmama and I think this is fantastic. When the pandemic hit and schools closed I thought ” Oh Wow, what a fantastic opportunity for kids and their family” but that did not seem to be the case as school became a computer and zoom classrooms. Parents seemed terrified of the prospect of teaching their kids, but in reality they have been doing just that since they brought the little one home. I applaud your courage, and dedication. Thanks for sharing!

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