Living life without school means growing up
free from age segregation.
When we first considered ourselves to be unschoolers, my daughter was
four, and I knew dozens of reasons why we were choosing this path. In fact,
it seemed that we had already chosen it before it bore any kind of label.
But a friend and fellow life learner opened us up to the idea that traditional
schooling enforces the very unnatural practice of age segregation, and when
I first heard that, I thought it sounded a little strange.
“Well, sure,” I thought, “But doesn’t it make sense for her to play with
children her own age?” Like everything else in life, my answer soon manifested
itself simply enough through our day-to-day living.
I began to notice how my daughter would learn from a middle-aged person
at the grocery store, or from a baby we visited. The understanding that
we once, as highly social creatures, raised our young in this collective
community setting, that living and growing with your neighbors – perhaps
even apprenticing with them eventually, or caring for the babies, infirm,
or elderly – slowly glowed in my mind, and, once again, like anything else
in life, I started to see it everywhere.
A baby throws their binky down at our indoor play place. It is carefully
picked up and returned with a smile, and my little girl quickly learns
that this is a game she is now playing with the infant. The two-year-old
we babysit one summer is a fast lesson in sharing for my only child, as
well as one in helping and teaching. Once shown how to be nice to the cats,
or to stay away from their litter pan, now it was her turn to demonstrate
these concepts – and learn them all the more.
Death and dying were lessons frankly learned from the passing of loved
ones, the talk of wrinkled faces and medical equipment other elders carried.
So, too, were the tales of long ago, when radios took the prominent places
of televisions, laundry machines were futuristic fancies, and one knew exactly
where dinner came from, since it was usually in the garden. My little wood
sprite now naturally wants her own farm, and to expand our tiny patch into
a glorious full-grown garden for daily meals. We have also made our own
butter, bread, and other foods inspired by such stories, which she eats
with joy and pride.
The exuberance of the youth and the drive of the technologically advanced
generations are also not lost on my girl. Her aunts and uncles have shared
their passions with her – whether they include manipulating a new cellular
phone or a computer program, taking photos, or singing into a microphone.
These cyber-savvy singles have much else to share with her, too, from a
passionate love of Tolkien or Cardinals baseball to hiking the Missouri
trails in search of fossils and frogs.
Watching her quietly step into the shadow of several tween girls who
she admires in one of our homeschool groups, I can’t help but grin. Though
she may copy their movements and mannerisms, they copy her in turn, playing
her wild, imaginative games without the self-consciousness many would possess
at their age. They do not bat an eye when she asks to build a castle from
her banana peel, moss, sticks, and whatever else they find at the playground,
and when she wants to play alien invaders or monsters attack, they growl
and chase with zeal equal to her own.
I am inclined to believe that these people learn just as much from my
wood sprite as she does from them.
When I count my blessings, having the freedom to live life without school
is one of the highest on my list, each time, without fail. I don’t know
how many of these incredible life concepts, how many vivid life experiences,
she would have obtained from sitting in a classroom for the majority of
her day next to the same children of the same age for twelve or thirteen
years. I often feel so strongly that she knows so much more than I did at
her age that I find myself pitying the little girl I was – scared, detached,
an only child used to being around older adults and teenagers. That little
girl would have thrived in a life learning setting, as I believe many other
children would, as well.
But I shouldn’t pity that little girl, because she grew up to follow
her own passions, to live authentically and lovingly. She was blessed with
her own little one who would get to have such adventures of her own, who
is already able to find herself at ease with infant or elder, and all in
Even if every one of the reasons we chose life learning were suddenly swept
away from the equation, would this reason not be enough to make that choice
on its own?
Sara Schmidt is a writer, artist, activist, and unschooling
mom from Missouri. The former editor of YouthNoise, she has written for
The Whole Child Blog, Teaching Tolerance, The Institute for Democratic Education
in America, BluWorld, Ecorazzi, and dozens of other blogs, printed materials,
and nonprofit organizations. She loves mythology, fantasy and YA lit, and
generally making messes with her family. Visit her blog at