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 unprepared 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.

24 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!

  9. Angela says:

    Everything about this post is wonderful and a timely encouragement to me who finds unschooling the way forward for our two (but sometimes wonders if I’m screwing them
    Up). Thank you for your honest writings

  10. Angie says:

    So amazing. We took a similar path. My boys are thankful. They are now almost 21 and 24. They lead interesting adventure lives. Everyone comments on their personalities and character. I’d go back and do it over again should a Harris come my way and not change a thing.

  11. Ken Brown says:

    My oldest son had always done well in public school until he got to high school, where no one knew him or what he was capable of. He started getting into trouble, doing stuff he’d never done before, like unscrewing the plastic around classroom light switches, etc. Instead of dropping out, I told him about “dropping up”. He went to the local community college and graduated with an A.A. degree AND a high school diploma at the same time his classmates received just the h.s. diploma. He LOVED community college because you didn’t have to spend 35 hours in a classroom. You went to class for an hour or two, then did most of the work in the library or at home. He went on to Reed College, which is sort of an Ivy League college on the west coast. No, he wasn’t “unschooled”, but he did figure out the best way for him to succeed in a traditional educational setting.

  12. Libby says:

    Thank you for putting you and your thoughts out there. This speaks to me so much. We started homeschooling our 2 boys last year and this is what a I really imagine the journey to be like. It inspires me to let go more and just live and enjoy things with them. Less pressure on them and me. So excited to read more from you!

    • Jacks says:

      I’m here because the school shutdowns opened my eyes on how much the “government” schools were dumbing down my child. Since I pulled my child out of school, we both have expanded our learning horizons, and we both are learning together on this new journey. Thank you for sharing your story, and making me feel like I’m not alone because everyone thinks I’m nuts.

  13. Marie says:

    Excellent post. 100% this. My oldest homeschool graduated and now is 20. She is a CNA and lives independently, works with horses in her dream job, and no debt. My youngest is homeschooling Gr.10, with a part time job. First days of “school”, he kayaked and trekked 3 days with friends and a guide. We unschool/wildschool/live life. Homeschooling was the best decision ever. Never looking back. Sharing this post, a must read for all.💚

  14. Sarah says:

    I have a little secret that nobody knows, except my husband & children…we don’t do school work!! Yikes!! I said it! And i’ve worried about it so much,but you know what they are thriving, they are social butterflies!! We moved to the middle of nowhere when my oldest was 14 in 2008, and raised free range kids, climbing trees, making forts & playing in the foot hills of Appalachia!!! We’ve “graduated” 4 boys & have 5 girls still to go & when people ask them what grade they’re in, we all laugh & ask, what grade is a 14 yr old in??? My kids read when they are ready, then devour books by the dozen! They can tell you about clouds & forage for dinner! My twins daughters will be 17 next week and started a cleaning business this summer! When the boys were younger the few neighbors called on them to cut grass or plow!! No regrets!! Love this beautiful life!

  15. Cullenco7 says:

    I would love to do this, ❤️❤️but the education board are getting so strict with their requirements, how do you explain they are doing or learning enough for their age and for the officialdom? when you’re not and outgoing, motivated or financially stable family, its hard to know if its enough to keep them from taking over and putting the kids back in school.

  16. Janela says:

    I definitely agree that this idea of living and learning and growing in connection and bond with each other as a family is a real thing. I am living it myself with my two boys and feel so excited for others living it too!!!!

  17. Janeen Guynn says:

    Your pictures say, “Our world is perfect,” but your words don’t, and I like that. A fair and balanced review. My kids have only stepped foot into schools for their friends fairs and to visit me at work when they were little. People tell me all the time, “Well, that works for you because you’re kids are self motivated. My kids aren’t.” While I agree that unschooling isn’t for everyone, I disagree with this sentiment. Your kids might not be motivated to learn algebra at 10 – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t motivated. They are just not motivated to do what you think they should.
    Thank you for sharing this piece. My kids are youngish still- seven and ten. While I doubts occasionally about our path, the longer I do it, the fewer doubts I have. Our home and our choices give us the chance to build truly meaningful relationships and explore and respond to the world on our own terms. Something children seem to have less and less power to do in government run schools. (Not saying they are all bad or that people who work there are. I taught and many of my closest friends teach and I’ve seen children go through the system and come out like shining stars.) Having said that, any teacher can agree that government oversight of schools gets tighter and tighter each year. I’m grateful we’ve had the opportunity to do this. Even better, my friends and family say, “You rock. You’re so brave. Your children are lovely.” It’s a bonus gift.

  18. Kim McAlister says:

    One of my favourite posts on raising children outside of the school system.

    I love how it gives every reader permission to ‘do you’ while reassuring and promoting the positives of raising children without formal schooling.

    Whilst I have not had the privilege of living outside the formal school system with my children, I have always considered it, especially when I see and hear about the pitfalls they face at school (and that I see as I work in a school).

    I assist teachers and students within the system and it is my sincere hope that I can bring as much interest and joy as possible to both my students lives and my own children as well.

    Looks like you are on a fabulous journey and I thank you for sharing it with all of us.

Leave a Reply