The Unschooling Movement: School's Out ... Forever

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True


If she is lucky -- very lucky -- Michele Darr-Babson can get from one end of a sentence to the other uninterrupted.

Mornings in her Salem, Ore., home are slightly, shall we say, chaotic.

"We're able to give our children ... Louis! Don't stand on that!" she tells ParentDish (and Louis).

What Darr-Babson is trying to say is that unschooling -- a movement where children get no education and basically teach themselves what they need to know -- gives kids more choices. Apparently, the choice for Louis to stand on whatever "that" is, is not one of them.

Darr-Babson has 10 children in her blended family. She used to unschool most of them, and it's a good idea, she says. In theory, at least. Most of her children are in traditional school these days. That's because attending school was one of the choices they were free to make. Darr-Babson's ex-partner didn't share her enthusiasm for homeschooling.


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But when unschooling works, Darr-Babson tells ParentDish, it can work magnificently.

"It enables children to focus what they're interested in," she says.

A growing number of parents are unschooling their children. ABC News reports there are 56 million American children in traditional schools, with another 1.5 million being homeschooled.

Of those, according to the network, about 10 percent are unschooled.

Unschooling is not homeschooling. In homeschooling, children receive structure, discipline and curriculum.

Darr-Babson explains that unschooling has no rules. It is all organic.

"It really promotes how learning is accomplishing in real life -- through experience," she tells ParentDish.

Her two oldest children, ages 18 and 20, are in Egypt. "Now that's a learning experience," she says.

But does visiting the Sphinx teach a person algebra?

Children can take care of that on their own, unschooling parent Christine Yablonski of Massachusetts tells ABC News.

"If they need formal algebra understanding, they will find that information," she tells the network.

She knows her kids will do what they need to do, she adds.

"They might watch television. They might play games on the computers. The key there is you have to trust your kids to find their own interests," she tells ABC News.

It doesn't bother her, for example, that her 15-year-old daughter Kimi Biegler stays up all night.

"She's getting everything done that she wants to get done," she tells the network.

What about Kimi? Does she feel prepared for college?

"No, not really," she tells ABC News. "I haven't done the traditional look at a textbook and learn about such and such."

When such and such becomes important, she adds, she'll study it.

"If I wanted to to go college, then I would pick up a textbook and I would learn," she tells the network.

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, there are no laws regarding homeschooling or unschooling in Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Connecticut or New Jersey.

All you have to do in those states is notify the school district that your child won't be attending classes. There is no testing or other requirements.

The rest of the states vary in the amount of notification parents must give and how much student testing is required. Colleges can set their own requirements for the admission of homeschooled and unschooled students.

"We find that we don't need a whole lot of rules," Kimi's father, Phil Biegler, tells ABC. "They will do what they need to do whether or not they enjoy it because they see the purpose in it."

Ann Pleshette Murphy, the former editor of Parents magazine and the current parenting expert on ABC's "Good Morning America," is doubtful.

"This to me is putting way too much power in the hands of the kids -- something that we know kids actually can often find very anxiety producing," she tells ABC News.

"And it's also sending a message that they're the center of the universe, which I do not think is healthy for children."

Related: German Family Granted Political Asylum for Homeschooling Kids

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.