Unschooling - what is it and why?

Updated: Feb 22

I first became familiar with #unschooling at the turn of the 21st century.

As a mid-20 year old idealist, the concepts of allowing a person's innate curiosity to drive their learning and the maintained connection between everyday life and "study" is what spoke most to me about this alternative form of education. As a single woman and an educator - who one day wanted to be a Mother - I then spent the next 15+ years contemplating how I would raise children, before actually having them myself. Although I loved going to school as a young person, my enjoyment of being at school was directly proportional to the fear and disillusionment that came with living in my parent's home. So, my heart was committed to the idea of raising a unique child in a way that maintains and nurtures their innate, creative genius while empowering their individual desire to grow and expand. And, what an experiment it would be (and is!) for me to be able to do this within the context of unconditionally loving, parental relationships and a deeply empathetic home. Also, as a dance teacher, I have come to embody a democratic style of teaching in which I do not assert onto my pupils what I think, or assume, they "should" know. Rather, my intention is to be present to the moments at hand, what each individual body brings to our collective, classroom table and to trust in the tool belt that I have spent the past 30+ years developing. My teaching approach is to be open-hearted and to lead from the emergent field where latent possibility and unlimited potential exists. Ultimately, this is what I want for all children and all "classrooms" everywhere. Thus, my personal approach to both #worldschooling and #roadschooling is very much situated within the context of my desire to provide my son with an #unschooling lens to life. At some point - perhaps, when he turns double digits - he may decide that he wants a more formal, classroom experience. At that point, we will explore all of our options, including courses at junior colleges. At six-years old, he has already experienced the regular routine and structures that came with having a backyard cooperative at our home in southern California, which grew into a preschool-like environment (which wasn't, really, what I wanted. :( ) Fortunately, and in result, he is familiar with listening to and following instructions from parental-like figures (aka teachers) as well as cooperating and sharing with other children. Both of which his Dad and I both believed are very important, life skills for him to have. I must also admit that it is difficult to find the energy, time and resources to blaze a new path - especially when I need to work, (or when I have the privileged desire to do my sacred work in our world, such as when my partner was alive and supporting our family.) During our #worldschool experience in Ecuador, I was willing to enroll my son in a somewhat more conventional school program. I chose to compromise on things like his being forced to be inside of a classroom just to use crayons on coloring sheets that had absolutely nothing to do with 'real life' because I knew that the cultural and language immersion he was experiencing was greatly expanding his development, including his understanding of life on planet Earth.

On the other side, our #roadschool experience has looked extremely unconventional. Mainly, our time during this confounding year has been all about listening to our own internal rhythms, playing outside and continuing to make art and build Legos. We have spent a majority of our time camping in nature and riding our bicycles outdoors. (Which, in my personal opinion, has been one of the best, privileged ways for navigating this crazy year of Covid.) When my son demonstrated a high level of anxious attachment to me at the start of our #vanlife (which is natural), I contemplated enrolling him in a local school in Marin County where one of my best friends teaches. (I even applied to work there.) Not too ironically, all California elementary schools went to online learning due to our global pandemic. Since I don't believe it is necessary to sit a child in front of a screen in order to do "kindergarten" and, gratefully, my child's nervous system settled into our newest lifestyle, we greatly enjoyed seven months of exploring the west coast up to the Pacific North West, across to Montana, and then into the south and northeast via the southwest. Life experiences that, I believe, far surpass what enforced, inside learning that caters to a 'lowest common denominator' mentality can accomplish. Some further articles on this topic for your perusal can be found here: - "How do Unschoolers turn out?" via KQED and

~Plus more on What is Unschooling? Sincerely, a passionately opinionated Mama ;)


About these photos: Upper: In May, my son and I stayed at the home of (yet another) best friend. At a ranch-style home situated in the rolling hills of north-east San Diego County, her three, young daughters were home full-time due to Covid. For three weeks, my son thrived as he baked in the kitchen with them, as well as played dress-up and frolicked in nature. He has spent a lot of time working on his drawing skills. He has a 3" thick book of drawings he made during the first 2.5 months of quarantine. Bottom: Right before Halloween 2019, our school in Ecuador enjoyed a family camping trip during which we got to know each other as a community as well as enjoyed the local nature found in our small, mountain town. On the far right, my son is pictured with two children from our international school in Ecuador. He is also pictured alone on a bridge, when a massive storm front moved over us, as we camped during Labor Day weekend 2020, twenty-miles outside of Missoula, Montana, USA.

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©2020 by Cara H Cadwallader.