Unschoolers Underperform Homeschool and Public School Peers

ZOMG!  Studies show that unschoolers – children with no curriculum or set subjects tend to be “below grade level” compared to traditionally homeschooled kids and their public school peers.

Well duh.

This “problem” is often trotted out by those afraid that unschooling is next to child neglect.  The study used 5-10 year olds and used a standardized test to rank kids.  Are you surprised that unschooled kids did not excel at this?

Of course they didn’t and here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Unschooled kids have little to no experience with “academics” – learning broken up into discreet subjects with abstract assignments and then tests of knowledge regurgitation.  Why would they suddenly excel at taking a LONG, BORING standardized test?
  2. Unschooled kids learn to read when it is right for them.  Sometimes that may be 9 or 10 years old. If any of the kids taking the test were not able to read then they wouldn’t do very well.  That doesn’t mean they won’t learn to read – unschooled kids read “late” by public school standards (and homeschool curricula) but often jump from non-reader to voracious, advanced reader in a short period of time because they were ready.
  3. Unschooled kids learn math when the time is right and in real world situations.  Being asked to do something purely arithmetic with no application doesn’t make any sense to them.  Maybe they should test the kids on their ability to build something, budget something, or solve a problem instead?
  4. Unschooling families are not raising 5-10 year olds that compare well to other 5-10 year olds.  They are raising adults with curiosity, learning passion, and critical thinking skills.  Where they are on an arbitrary level of “grades” compared to their same-age peers is of no consequence at all and NOT indicative of future success.  E.g. a 10 year old unschooler who isn’t reading yet isn’t doomed to be a poor reader.  He may be the next Hemmingway by the time he’s 20.

Unschoolers aren’t on the same track as public schooled kids or traditionally homeschooled kids and this can be scary.  For teachers, critics, homeschoolers, and for YOU.  As an unschooling mom it is hard not to notice when your child doesn’t know something that a kindergartener “should”.

Take a deep breath.  They will learn when they need to.

Homeschoolers and public school folks – you take a deep breath too.  My child is not neglected and will not end up “stupid” because he isn’t on your same time line.  We aren’t apathetic about education.  We disagree with the method and timeline.  Education is VERY important to unschoolers.  So important that we take our kids out of a system that we feel could stunt their learning passion.

You don’t have to agree and discussions are welcome but calling unschooling neglectful because my second grader isn’t writing cursive is missing the point.


4 thoughts on “Unschoolers Underperform Homeschool and Public School Peers

  1. I started reading your blog BECAUSE you homeschool. We areplanning and preparing to homeschool or 2.5 year old. We are VERY new at this, so if I offend you, please know it is not my intent to do so. WHY is any form of curriculum bad? What is the reasoning behind unschooling? How do you KNOW a child will catch up and can you see any validity in the concerns regarding unschooled children not being up to par, so to speak, with other homeschoolers?


    • I'm not offended at all!

      First, I want to acknowledge that homeschooling isn't for everyone and unschooling isn't either. I think every parent has to make the best decision for their family. I don't think curriculum is bad per se. It makes many people more comfortable taking the leap into homeschooling and I think that's great! Second, some kids in some subjects might like a curriculum. The point of unschooling is that it is passion driven. If a child finds a topic interesting and wants worksheets or something along those lines then I'd certainly buy it. The other thing that happens as unshoolers get older is they actually take classes at community colleges. So, even though unschooling is all about NOT doing "The classroom" experience it can be useful when chosen by the child.

      To understand my reasoning behind unschooling and why I don't like curriculum based learning, check out this posts and part I and II linked at the bottom: http://babydustdiaries.com/2012/05/my-homeschooli… That article also talks about the range of homeschooling options. I think a little unschooling mixed with a curriculum is a great transition.

      Based on the goals of unschooling I am not concerned with my children being on par with other children except for helping them deal with any criticism they may receive. My goal is that they grow up to be happy adults and productive people. Studies show that unschooled kids are very successful and happy adults. When they find a gap in their knowledge that they need to fill they know how to quickly bridge the gap and learn what they need to know.


  2. I agree with you! My daughter attends online public school (2nd and 3rd grades so far), we chose this route because we were told that she would be able to do the assignments as she saw fit. This was not the case, she has to complete the assignments by a certain date, and for two years in a row they have started her several weeks late. My daughter has always excelled in school, but she is easily board and would rather learn math on the register at our business than through the lessons. This year was a fight to get her to even open up the OLS. I firmly believe that you should allow a child to learn at his or her comfort level, and not every child is the same. But I also have a fear because I have seen it with other peoples children, that when you raise your child differently, others frown at your ways and can cause issues (extreme sounding, but I know a couple that lost their children for 2 years), and living in a small southern town, I keep on my toes. I just wish more people would look at this the way you have!!!


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