Learning to trust

Here's information about Unschoolers Unlimited. We are an informal network of people who are learning to trust our own and our children’s ability to choose the best ways to learn and grow.

Ned and I are parents of a 36 year old son. When Cassidy was a baby, we were inspired by John Holt, who said “Children do not need to be made to learn, or shown how. They want to and they know how.” We decided that Cassidy would determine what, when, where, how much and with whom he would learn. We never used school books or taught lessons. We answered his questions when he asked and helped him gain access to the real world when he wanted it. We called it unschooling.

When we went to homeschool support group meetings, the conversation was usually “How do I get my kids to do math, what curriculum do I choose, etc.” When we said we don’t “teach” our son, there might be one or two other parents who said “We don’t either, but we thought we were the only ones.” So we started a support group.

We hold family gatherings -- usually on the third Saturday of every other month. We come together to play and socialize, to support and encourage each other, to share ideas and information, and to reassure ourselves that we are not alone in believing that children and adults can be responsible for our own learning. We publish an occasional newsletter and a mailing list.

Our son celebrated his graduation (Magna Cum Laude!) in 2002 from Hunter College in New York City. After college he moved to Brooklyn and got into bicycle riding. He rode across the country to Seattle where he worked in bike shops and met the love of his life. Lucky for me, he persuaded Kim to come back to Brooklyn.

In 2009 he opened Bespoke Bicycles in Brooklyn NY.
Now he and Kim and their beautiful twins live in Philadelphia. Cassidy is managing Mainline Cycles

Ned died peacefully at home in July 2009 after a long illness.
I continue to do this group because I love talking to people about homeschooling and enjoy holding their hands as they make the leap into self directed learning.

Please call or write if you have questions. I look forward to hearing from you and meeting you.


Luz Shosie
Guilford, CT

Would you like to receive our contact list and occasional newsletter? Send an email to nedvare@ntplx.net
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CHILDREN’S NAMES AND BIRTH DATES (if you want them published)

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Sunday, June 6, 2010



John Holt: Teach Your Own, How Children Learn, Escape From Childhood, Learning All The Time, A Life Worth Living, Instead of Education, Never Too Late, Freedom and Beyond
Thomas Armstrong: In Their own Way and The Myth of the A.D.D. Child
Polly Berien Berends: Whole Child, Whole Parent and Gently Lead
David and Micki Colfax: Homeschooling For Excellence and Hard Times In Paradise
Linda Dobson: The Art Of Education and The Homeschooling Book of Answers and more
Patrick Farenga:The Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling and Teenage Homeschoolers: College or Not?
John Taylor Gatto: Dumbing Us Down and The Guerrilla Curriculum
Mary Griffith: The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child’s Classroom
Susan and Larry Kaseman: Taking Charge Through Homeschooling
Agnes Leistico: I Learn Better By Teaching Myself and Still Teaching Ourselves
Grace Llewellyn: The Teenage Liberation Handbook and Real Lives
Susannah Sheffer, Ed.: Everyone Is Able: Exploding The Myth Of Learning Disabilities
Matt Hern, Ed.: Deschooling Our Lives
Daniel Greenberg: Free At Last
David Guterson: Family Matters
Alfie Kohn: Punished By Rewards
Jean Liedloff: The Continuum Concept
Alison Stallibrass: The Self-respecting Child
Charles J. Sykes: Dumbing Down Our Kids
Nancy Wallace: Better Than School and Child’s Work
Cafi Cohen: Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook
Jan Hunt: The Natural Child, Parenting from the Heart
Luz Shosie and Ned Vare: Smarting Us Up, the undumbing of America
Laura Grace Weldon: Free Range Learning


Home Education Magazine - PO Box 1083, Tonasket WA 98855 1-800-236-3278 http://www.homeedmag.com
Unschooling.com -- Free online newsletter http://www.unschooling.com
Life Learning: the international magazine of self-directed learning PO Box 112, Niagara Falls NY 14304-0112 1-800-215-9574 www.lifelearningmagazine.com


*Home Education Press PO Box 1083, Tonasket WA 98855 1-800-236-3278 http://www.homeedmag.com
*John Holt’s Book Store/FUN Books, 1688 Belhaven Woods Ct. Pasadena, MD 21122-3727
*These free catalogs also include lists of resources, support groups, helpful organizations, and answers to frequently asked questions. Very helpful. Support them if you can.

http://www.amightygirl.com    hundreds of books, etc. featuring strong women and girls


National Home Education Legal Defense: Attorney Deborah Stevenson (860)354-3590 http://nheld.com/
Ct Homeschool Network info@cthomeschoolnetwork.org
Eli Whitney Museum: 915 Whitney Av. Hamden CT 06517 203-777-1833
National Home Education Network PO Box 41067, Long Beach, CA 90853 http://www.nhen.org
WPKN Radio: 89.5 FM, 244 University Av. Bridgeport CT 06601 203-576-4895 http://www.wpkn.org
The Alliance for the Separation of School and State: 1071 N Fulton St,
Fresno, CA 93728 559/499-1776 voice www.schoolandstate.org


Ned’s blog: http://school-is-hell.blogspot.com/
Legal information: www.nheld.com
CT Homeschool Network http://www.cthomeschoolnetwork.org
CT Shoreline Homeschoolers www.shorelinehomeschoolers.org
Discussion and support for unschoolers in MA, VT, NH, ME, RI and CT http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NewEnglandUnschooling/
CT Homeschoolers Inclusive has an email list with announcements & activities:
CT homeschoolers discussion group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CTHomeEducators/
Unschooling: http://www.unschooling.com

Unschooling CT Facebook page

 Ned Vare: The School Wars, a series of columns in our local newspaper: http://homepage.mac.com/luzshosie22/TheSchoolWars/Menu4.html
I Am What I Am, Anne Ohman http://www.livingjoyfully.ca/anneo/anne_o.htm
Greater New Haven Homeschoolers: Subscribe: GNHH-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
finding local and state groups: http://www.homeedmag.com/wlcm_groups.html
Parenting from the heart: http://www.naturalchild.org
John Holt: www.holtgws.com

 Khan Academy. http://www.khanacademy.org/   over 2,100 videos and 100 self-paced exercises and assessments covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history.   free   

Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn.     http://oyc.yale.edu/

get lucky!

R-E-A-L - L-I-F-E

"Children do not need to be made to learn, or shown how.
They want to and they know how."
- John Holt, author of How Children Learn

Holt spent many years teaching, observing, and learning from children, but any parent can see that children are born wanting to grow up to be part of the adult world. They are so curious and eager that it seems almost impossible to keep up with their drive to do and learn everything.

Then at some point learning gets separated from the rest of life and turned into schooling. We are taught that learning means sitting still, doing as you're told. Insatiable, passionate learners are turned into bored, rebellious, frightened or passive students. Loving parents become frustrated and burned out teachers. There must be a better way!

The good news is there are lots of parents and children who are growing without schooling -- living/learning in their own way, at their own pace, without text books, lessons, tests or coercion. And there are more and more stories of unschooled children who grow up to be happy, confident, competent adults doing meaningful and satisfying work. Ready to give unschooling a try? Here's my handy list of reminders for letting go of schooling and enjoying a REAL LIFE:

R - Relax. It sounds easy, but it takes practice. Being a parent may just be the most difficult challenge of our lives. When you start to feel stress coming on, take a breath, take a hike, take a nap; take up knitting or square dancing or scuba diving. Take it one day (or one moment) at a time.

E - Enjoy. The challenges of parenting are great and the rewards are even greater. The years go by so quickly -- embrace each stage and welcome the changes. If you take pictures, write a journal or make a scrapbook, you can enjoy it again when the children are grown and the house is quiet and orderly.

A - Accept and acknowledge the absolutely amazing, awesome and authentic
individuals who share your life. Allow them to "be how they grow."

L - Love is the greatest gift. Giving is receiving. One of Ned's last wishes was that he had told his kids more often how much he loves them. He said, “I want everybody to know that love is the most important thing!”

L - Learn from and learn with your children. Learn to play, learn a new skill, learn about yourself. Learn to trust, learn to let go. Look how your children are learning! Listen. Laugh lots. Living is learning. Teaching is largely unnecessary.

I - Investigate intriguing ideas. Interest leads to learning. It's an infinite and interconnected universe of ideas and information. One thing leads to another -- you can start anywhere, stop when you've had enough. Improvise. It's impossible to predict exactly which skills or knowledge will be needed in ten or twenty years.

F - Fearlessly forgive and forget. Schooling forced us to be fearful; unschooling encourages us to be brave. Have the courage to fail. We all make mistakes. Forgive yourself and forge ahead. "Forget everything you learned in school." Did your first boss tell you that? It's still good advice. Have fun. Have faith. Fool around. Be flexible. Fix something. Fourish.

E - Expect miracles. Encourage and enable exploration. Eschew ersatz
educational edicts. Embody the traits you wish to pass on. Empower your
children (and yourself) to experiment, to engage in a life worth living and
work worth doing.

The Uncurriculum

“To parents I say, above all else, don't let your home become some terrible miniature copy of the school. No lesson plans! No quizzes! No tests! No report cards! Even leaving your children alone would be better; at least they could figure out some things on their own. Live together, as well as you can; enjoy life together, as much as you can. Ask questions to find out something about the world itself, not to find out whether or not someone knows it.”
John Holt Teach Your Own

No school books? no tests? no grades? Well what, then???

Play is children's most important activity. It's the way they figure out how the world works, what part they have in the world. Cassidy and his friend used to say, “Let's betend...” and then spend hours being race car drivers, cops, robbers, parents, space cadets, puppies, babies, hunters, merchants, explorers.... Scientists play with theories, writers play with words and ideas, inventors play with materials & concepts, parents learn how to play again...

Work: No, I don't mean forcing kids to do chores, but allowing, encouraging (and having patience with) them to join you in your work at their level of ability and interest; helping them to find access to their own work in the real world when they choose. Real work. Real tools. Real responsibility. Volunteering, getting paid for some of those chores, apprenticing, starting a business...

Reading: Being read to (if and when you and they enjoy it); seeing others read for pleasure and curiosity; playing with books, letters, words, maps, puzzles, board games, comic books... No pressure -- some learn to read at 4, some at 12 & by the time they're 16, no one can tell the difference.

Math: Instead of math lessons, check out the fascinating and beautiful books in the library. Pocket money or allowance, getting & spending; blocks, cards, dominoes; sports & games; origami; cooking, gardening; building a model or a tree house, measuring distance, angles, heat, light, weight, speed...

Science: Humans are born scientists. Encourage curiosity & help kids go where it leads: mud, pets, rocks, bugs, stars, trains, bicycles, fishing, swimming, computers, dinosaurs, food, bodies, weather...

Art & music: real materials and instruments, lessons & practice (if kids choose) or messing about with piano, recorder, ukulele, drum, clay, paint; seeing art & artists, acting, listening to music, dancing, playing along...

Doing nothing: thinking, dreaming, watching the clouds, imagining... Often “doing nothing” means kids are not doing what parents think they should be doing. Which means kids are doing what they choose, which is the best way (maybe the only way) people learn. The point is, schooling, textbooks, and most “educational materials” are artificial, boring and limiting. Real life and real work are unlimited, unpredictable, fascinating. And kids know the difference.

Let the Children Play

Let the Children Play
Ned Vare

Parents seem to believe that a child's life needs to be completely organized and supervised by people who are supposed to be “experts in child development.” We do not believe that at all. In fact, we can make a strong case for the exact opposite: Leave children alone to decide what they'll do, with whom, when, and how; don't supervise or interfere unless they ask for it, and then only minimally.

What I'm suggesting is to let children PLAY. As our society becomes more psychotic, stressed, pressured, and fearful, what's missing is free-form living -- spontaneous, unplanned activities such as we did when we were young and simply left alone with a friend or two or more. I believe that many of us are unable to cope with today's demands because we did not get enough independent play while we grew up. Too much organization has made us conformist and anxious instead of creative and self-assured.

One of today's great tragedies is that most public schools have eliminated recess (my favorite class in school) for children above the fourth grade. That means children are even more limited in their opportunities to interact freely with each other. They are stuck indoors all day with those of the same age, the same abilities and a similar background. This process is artificial, coercive and unnatural.

I believe that the entire time spent on schooling is a total waste - compared to the value of allowing children to make their own decisions, learn to live with the consequences of their decisions, and enjoy the autonomy this process offers. Need proof? Watch all animals as they grow up -- playing (and being left alone) is essential and imperative training for successful life. Nothing can take its place.

Unschooling Math

A Few Words (and symbols) about Unschooling Math

Fingers & toes, pattern blocks, two by two, 4x4, tape measure, #, scale, $, save, interest, model, profit (loss), earn, spend, checkbook, recipe, batting average, Captain May I? third base, thirty-love, fault, par, birdie, strike, spare, first down and ten to go, penalty box, map, scale of miles, compass, Pokémon, Candyland, Monopoly, Go, Chess, Sorry! dominoes, dice, poker chips, Bridge, Crazy Eights,

charts, Origami, knit 1 purl 2, weigh + pulley, ratio, chances, statistics, average, more or less, even, odd, yards, N scale, area, score, speed limit, braking distance, fourth dimension, sixth sense, Indy 500, build, plan, rate, estimate. Predict, revise, depth, angle, trade, straight, spiral, high tide, low ball, tempo, %, quarter note, half pound, forecast, budget, half price, plus tax, longitude, light years, escape velocity, the precession of the equinoxes (oh Best Beloved!) π, range, set, Stitch, sort, size, plot, dozen, $, gain, lose, exact, income, allowance, loan, knots, beads, gear ratio, minutes, degrees, fathoms, grid, meters, Anno, The Number Devil, half pipe, quarter turn, full bore, turning radius, stacking, nesting,

measure up, @, scale down, abacus, debit, infinity, first class, equal share, short shrift, waxing, waning, rhythm, balance, cycle, value, graph, perigee, frequency, Pennies, double helix, £, time zone, millennium, program, binary, generation, epoch, era, nanosecond, code, puzzle, fiscal year, progression, midpoint, watts, lumens, Ω, horsepower, ohms, Great Circle Route, 52 Pickup, '55 Chevy, Hundredth Monkey, altitude, Lego, Tangrams, Fibonacci series, height, width, length, volume, output, Eureka! displacement, schedule, time limit, add up, count down, four score, last full measure, census, Are we there yet? a bushel and a peck, postage, efficient operation, elegant solution, gigabytes, google, increase, < >, decrease, supply & demand, links, contour lines, Great Divide, Bingo! count down, stock market, daily log, rent, discretionary income, arc, geometric proportions, geologic time, navigation, 16 mm, Stonehenge, crop circle ¢, grams/ounces, f stop, low bid, high yield, dot-to-dot, orienteering...

But what if...?

“If I don't force or motivate or bribe my kids, they'll never learn the basics.”

Most of us adults were carefully taught not to trust ourselves or our children. People who make their living providing "education" want us to believe that learning is difficult and unpleasant and it can only happen in their buildings and under their supervision. But learning is what we humans do constantly, naturally, joyfully -- unless we've spent a lot of time in those buildings. The difficult part is letting go of our years of schooling and trusting that we are all learning all the time.

For the sake of argument, let's just suppose the “experts” (and our worst nightmares) are right -- kids have to be forced or tricked or entertained or coerced into learning or they'll grow up illiterate, lazy bums who can't balance a checkbook or hold a job. We're gonna have to “teach them the basics.” How long will it take? John Taylor Gatto taught in public schools for 25 years and determined that the ENTIRE curriculum for grades 1-12 could be learned in 50 to 100 hours at most.

Math seems really mysterious to a lot of people, including me in my school days. But John Holt said you can learn it all in a morning -- when you're ready. It seems difficult and/or boring because we were force-fed in a classroom with 30 other kids. Maybe five of us were ready and interested one day and we got it. Five got it last year, five got it last week, five will get it next week and five next year and five in two years. But we all had to sit through it over and over again every day ready or not. Same with reading. And the thing is, it doesn't really matter if you learn it when you're five or when you're fifteen -- despite what some "experts" tell us.

Grace Llewellyn in the Teenage Liberation Handbook: how to quit school and get a real life and education says that the “experts” in charge of the GED (high school equivalency) exams recommend 30 hours of studying to prepare for them.

So. You do the math. You could afford to relax for a year or two and let your kids “learn absolutely nothing” and you'd still have a few years to get in those 30 to 100 hours if you must. But I'm betting you won't have to.


In June, 1998, our son Cassidy took the GED (high school equivalency test) and scored 97%. He received (in the mail) his high school diploma “With Honors” from the State of Connecticut. In the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), he scored 1390 (higher than half the high school valedictorians in the state). Where did he learn all that? We didn't “teach” him or even sweetly suggest that it might be a good idea to learn the basics. We didn't see him use school books or do anything that looked like studying. We didn't test him, although for his own reasons he sometimes tested himself. We learned to trust that he was learning all the time -- not easy for a couple of former schoolteachers!

During his “high school” years, he was determined that he wouldn't go to college. For three years he worked part time making jewelry for a small cottage industry nearby. Then he added a second job at a video rental store. Both his employers and his fellow workers were impressed with his knowledge, competence and responsibility. Soon he was promoted to assistant manager. For the first 16 years of his life he had pretty much followed his own rhythm and now this night owl was getting himself up and fed and off to work on time every day. Who taught him that?

And what about socialization? I must admit that's one thing we did try to impose on him, but to his credit, he resisted our efforts and found his own friends in the neighborhood and in the activities he chose. Even though he spent a lot of time alone, he does not lack “sociability” in any sense. He gets along well with people of all ages and as he says, “I can be quite charming” with customers.

When he was eighteen he decided to go to Hunter College in Manhattan. He always loved New York and wanted to continue learning about computers, film, and life in the big city. He found an apartment and roommates -- all without much assistance from us. I believe he got more education in that month of apartment hunting than he will in four years of college.

The day before Cassidy started college, he showed me his textbooks and predicted that he would make the Dean's List. I was glad to hear that he was so confident about his first experience with formal academics. He has taken to it like a duck to water, making straight As his first semester. In his sophomore year he was invited to enroll in the Honors Curriculum, which he says will allow him to skip some of the less interesting undergraduate requirements and take more challenging interdisciplinary courses with some of the best professors and smartest students. And, he says, “It will give you guys some more to brag about.”

What, me? Brag? I hope I would be just as proud if he had decided not to go to college but to continue working at the video store, or quit and hitch hike to California. Or learn a trade, join the circus, or the army. Now that would be a test for me! What tickles me most is that he studied Tai Chi with my beloved teacher, who says he's “marvelous!”

Homeschoolers fall into a trap when we define success in terms of grades, test scores, early reading, etc. I may be contributing to the problem, but my intention is to show that you don't have to do “school at home” in order to qualify for and succeed in college -- if that's what you want.

I asked Cassidy if there were gaps in his learning or things we should have done differently to prepare for college. He said there were some things he probably should have studied, but that he knows it was his responsibility, not ours, to determine how to go about learning them. And when he finds gaps he has no trouble filling them in. (Just for the record: I have a few gaps in my education.)

In 2001 Cassidy graduated with honors, moved to Brooklyn and fell in love with bicycles. He worked in a bike shop for a couple of years then rode solo to Seattle, met the love of his life and persuaded her to come back to Brooklyn. They had a glorious wedding in our back yard. A year ago he opened his own shop, Bespoke Bicycles and business is booming. http://www.bespoke-bicycles.com

It's just what we were hoping for! He is a young man who takes responsibility for his own life and education. He is confident that if there is anything he needs or wants to know, he can do it on his own or find help.

We didn't teach him responsibility or confidence any more than we taught reading or math. Like all children, he was born with the intelligence and the drive to grow into an adult and take his place in the world. What would have happened to the human race thousands of years ago if this were not true? It's a natural process, but parents and teachers thwart human nature by trying to force (or motivate, bribe, trick, persuade, cajole or coerce) children into ways of learning and being that go against their own innate, powerful, brilliant and unique intelligence.

Trust your children.

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling is trusting the learner to be in charge of his or her own learning. It is not a method of instruction we use on our children, but a process we adults go through to unlearn the lessons and undo the effects of our years of schooling.

Schooling taught us that learning only happens in a certain place and time, under the direction and/or force of a teacher, expert, or other authority.

Unschooling ourselves restores our child-like curiosity. It encourages us to trust that we are all learning all the time and that we are the experts when it comes to choosing what, when, how, where, how much and with whom we learn.

Schooling taught us that our interests were unimportant, disruptive, a waste of time, just play, not “the real world.”

Unschooling frees us to follow our interests wherever they lead. As John Holt said in Instead of Education: “We learn something from everything we do, and everything that happens to us or is done to us.... It is the quality of our experiences, the satisfaction, excitement, or joy that we get or fail to get from them, that will determine how those experiences change us--in short, what we learn.... (O)ur most rapid, efficient, far-reaching, useful, and permanent learning comes from our doing things that we ourselves have decided to do, and ... in doing such things we often need very little help or none at all.”

Schooling taught us that experts know when everyone should learn to read, write, do arithmetic. If we didn't fit into their schedule, the experts labeled us slow or dyslexic, ADD, ODD, ADHD, defiant or learning disabled.

Unschooling reassures us that we all learn and grow in our own way, at our own pace, and there is no hurry, no getting behind. At the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, no one is ever told to stop what they're doing and learn to read, do math (or anything else), yet all the students learn to read, write and calculate. Some ask for help, some teach themselves in mysterious ways. Some start to read when they are four, some when they're twelve, but by the time they're sixteen, nobody can tell who learned “early” and who learned “late.”

Schooling taught us that learning means sitting still, being quiet, obeying the rules no matter how stupid or harmful or unfair they are. And if we couldn't or wouldn't sit still we were “motivated,” coaxed, bribed, coerced, punished, shamed, even drugged into submission.

Unschooling allows coloring outside the lines. Learning is active, passionate, sometimes sociable, noisy and messy, sometimes lonely, silent and invisible. Learning happens all the time -- even while we're sleeping. All living beings want, need, and love to learn! It's almost impossible to stop learning, but we can slow it down by coaxing, bribing, coercion, punishment, etc.

Schooling prevented us from being responsible for our own living and learning, forced us to depend on experts, authorities, rules and regulations to make us do the right thing. This is a tough one to unlearn because nobody ever says it in so many words -- it is simply the underlying assumption of the schooling business.

Unschooling respects and honors our intelligence and our virtue. We were all born with the desire and the ability to learn what we need to know in order to be contributing members of our family and our society. Unschooling is unleashing, unfurling, unbinding our innate ability to choose for ourselves the ideas and activities that foster lifelong learning and growth.

John Taylor Gatto, New York City and State Teacher of the Year, said, “I don't think the world can afford well-schooled children anymore, whether they come from the factories of government, of church, or of private industry. We need a different kind of man and woman to tackle the future, the kind of young people who accept the obligations of living joyfully and with responsibility.”

Because most of us were so well schooled, we sometimes need a little help from our friends to unschool ourselves. Unschoolers Unlimited publishes an occasional email newsletter and mailing list so we can stay in touch and encourage each other. We send out a free information packet by email. Send to:nedvare@ntplx.net. We hold informal family gatherings so we can get together to play, socialize, share ideas, information, inspiration and good food. We hope you'll join us.