Experimenting with unschooling

by Marilia Di Cesare on July 29, 2012

My kid is 5 years old, so I know it´s somehow ridiculous to call unschooling the fact that she is not attending kindergarten right now.

However, when you think of school as the primary place for kids to spend a part of their day away from the parents, than what we are doing is unschooling, because rigth now, my daughter doesn´t go to any institution or day care.

Why would I want her home?

First, we just left a Waldorf kindergarten in Costa Rica. There´s no way back to traditional schooling and there´s nothing like that in  our small town in Brazil. It was just kindergarten, there was no curriculum involved. And yet, the free play and all the respect for the child´s choices were there. The room for rest was there too. The whole approach to the children was very holistic and personal.

Second, I´ve been reading about unschooling for 2 years now. It looks that play is what matters in childhood and school spoils that. And if I want to give unschooling a try during the school years, once she turns 6-7 and has to be officially enrolled in school (it´s sort of illegal to homeschool in Brazil), I have to figure out how to be with her for most of the time now.

Third is that I want to spend the mornings with my daughter. I enjoy her company in the morning the best. I´m not willing to stay away from her in the freshest most beautiful hours of the day. I want to remember waking up with my 5-year old with no rush.

How can I do it? (economicaly speaking)

Thankfully I own my house, I´ll rent a room soon and I work a bit online. I´ll give some Portuguese lessons and have Luísa stay at a friend´s house when I have to. I spend money minimally and I´m starting my own vegetable garden.

Can I do it? (technically speaking)

It´s frightening to have the only kid in town that doesn’t go to school. I learned to tell people that I´m interested in homeschooling and that I´m trying it out.
Some people get annoyed. A friend asked: ¨But are you doing any homeschooling with her at all?¨ So I said:¨Yes, I sit on the floor and play  with her a lot¨, I replied, ¨She´s only 5.¨

But I learned a better answer, I can talk about my curriculum with Luísa: languages, swimming and growing a vegetable garden.

For socialization, she gets to play with our 5-year old neighbor a lot and other children here and there.

It´s been only one month. I plan month by month (going for another now). I might still enroll her in the local kindergarten if I think it will be the best. But for now, it´s really great that we can spend our time together like this.

Is this the best for my daughter?

I wonder about this ALL THE FREAKING TIME. For now, absolutely yes, it´s the best. We are still transitioning from a life in Costa Rica with the Waldorf kindergarten and lots of girlfriends in her life to our house in Brazil, where it´s like getting to a new place and we need to make new friends.

It´s best that now we find our rythim in this new place together. We start our vegetable garden together, stablish new eating habits, visit friends and develop a new routine.

I´m skeptical about school

After all that I read about the agenda behind schooling and how best it is to have a child led learning  (impossible in a traditional school), I don´t feel comfortable sending her.

Yet, the local school is quite ok. Luísa would be put in a group with around 17 kids (4-5 year olds) that stay for 3 hours in a classroom and 1 hour outside playing. I don´t like this math. If it was the opposite: 3 hours playing and 1 hour in a classroom, I´d like it more.

What if she wants to go?

One day, Luísa was asking to visit two of her friends and I told her they were in school. She ssemed interested, so I offered to bring her for a visit. And we went to check out the afternoon group.

The 4-5 year old kids were sitting in a circle in the class. One wall had a poster with the Alphabet and the teacher had another one with numbers. They were counting till 20.

The teacher and the assistant spent a lot of effort making sure the kids learned the numbers and didn´t start chatting or playing away.

I´m sure that´s not all the teacher teaches there. I know they sing a lot and play games too. In fact, another mom complained that when she saw the class they were ¨just playing with play-doh and not learning anything¨ But 20-30 minutes invested in couting till 20 seemed too much for me. I´m happy Luísa gets to play and do whatever she wants for a while longer (or a lot longer if we stick to unschooling).

Luísa wasn´t keen on staying there. She never mentioned school again.

I´m open to it though. I think unshcooling is the best for now, but I could send her to school (while it´s still kindergarten), even though they teach letters to 4 and 5 year olds.

I´d like her not to learn traditionally to read and write before she is 7. This is coming from our Waldorf background, where reading before the age of 7 (or before teeth start to fall off) is discouraged.

There´s a lot of philosophy  behind this. Very shortly I dare to say that it´s about leaving the children to build their bodies and use all their strength in it, while early reading or early intellectualization can steal the strength of the early years that should be used in growing the physical body.

As for an unschooling inspiration, there are tons of stories on how it´s best to let a child learn to read on her own (or with help) once she is interested in it. You don´t need to teach reading. There´s no need in pushing this, just the same way as there´s no need in pushing a child to learn to walk or talk.

If my daughter is interested in it, than I´ll help her out, but if not, we can just wait. We might wait for the curiosity to hit her or just another coupple of months if staying home with her doesn´t work well. In this case, I´ll put up with the stuffing of knowledge in her mind and send her to school.

We could also use school to make more friends, so we can arrange more playdates. I´m still considering our choices, but right now, having her with me is working just fine.

It´s a real priviledge to spend time with my daughter and I´m really enjoying it (even though sometimes we go through an excess of that :)).

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly July 29, 2012 at 10:18 am

I always tell myself to just let my son (3 years old) tell me what he wants to play with or learn but sometimes I still get caught in the text book development requirements. Or I question my parenting and education of my son when elders or friends ask, “he’s 3, shouldn’t he know the alphabets by now? Shouldn’t he start learning his numbers?” I thought I had it all planned out in my head how I should raise my kids but when it comes to going against social norm, it can be tough. In where we are living, kids as young as first grade stay in tutoring centers until 9 or 10PM on weekends because their parents are so worried that they are going to fall behind other kids. There is this big race/competition to see whose kids can memorize the most books or who can learn algebra while still in elementary school. I hate this trend!!! But I love the idea of playing and growing a garden with them. I’ve been doing a lot of baking with them. We’ve been going to a lot of museums and exhibitions and I feel that he’s learning just as much from just hanging out as a family than going to school. Anyway, once again, Louisa is a very lucky kid to have your as her mother.


Lizzie July 30, 2012 at 12:08 am

I just wanted to say firstly how much I love reading your posts. I love the honesty with which you write and they always make me think!!!
And wow I have been thinking about this very topic a lot this last week so I was really excited to read your thoughts on this. I’m a single mum of a boy who is nearly two (obviously we don’t have to think about school yet!) but I am trying to work out the best place to be based for us. So I’ve started to research various options for him and schooling. Where we are now (which is close to family!) only has very traditional schooling options, compounded by the fact that we also have a newly elected conservative government who want to change curricullums to be even more traditional. For example removing the topic of sustainability. So oh boy I feel really reluctant to put my child in that sort of educational environment. So my only other options would be to move to somewhere that has something I’m more comfortable with or homeschool. So of course I’m thinking about whether I could actually do that, would he miss out on a richer range of inputs if I was his educator as well as his parent….. Arghhhh big questions. Thanks so much for writing about this topic.


Marilia July 30, 2012 at 11:51 am

So many decisions to make. Living close to family, close to a better school or unschool either way?

Parents are the primary educators, but I do want my daughter to learn from other adults and to share a lot of time with other kids. I´ll see how we can do that without school.


Penelope Trunk July 30, 2012 at 11:25 pm

I started telling people I was experimenting too! I think it was a way for me to psychologically cope with the fact that I was doing something I never expected to do. But I found that once I started doing it — after about six months – it just seemed ridiculous not to do it.

Still, I don’t really believe that we will do no school until they are 18. It just seems so OUT THERE. I can’t imagine it. But I can’t imagine another way either. So this is why I still feel like I’m experimenting.

I love the tone of your post — how you feel sure about your instinct, but people don’t encourage us to parent by instinct.


Holly August 10, 2012 at 5:12 am

Hi Marilia,
Good on you!! You are courageous and brave for taking this step (even though of course it feels natural to you), and keep sticking to your gut and instinct with what is right for your daughter. It is so hard to fight the tide of deeply ingrained cultural (practically universal) beliefs about the necessity of school for our kids. Here in Italy as well, virtually no one homeschools. I think I have found a good place for my son to go to school – at least for a time – because it keeps him active, learning Italian, and making friends, which he wouldn’t do if he were home with me trying to work on the computer all day! But I also long for the Waldorf experience for him and hopefully, at some point, we will find it.

Best of luck to you!! 🙂


Marilia August 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Thank you Holly. It´s is tough making friends without the school, since all kids are in school. I´m thinking of maybe making an hybrid system and sending her to kindergarten a few days a week, if that´s possible. But not yet, for the rest of the month, she is still out.


Amy @WorldschoolAdventures August 12, 2012 at 12:12 am

Good for you for trying it out! It may be hard for you to unschool in a society that does not have a support system for you buy even if you only do it for Kindergarden your daughter will benefit from the extra time spent with you!

We also started with kindergarten and my thoughts at the time were “It’s only Kindergarten, how bad can I screw up!” We are now entering our third year and have no regrets.


Sanjee November 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Great ideas and courage Marilia, I am also in this phase of trying to un school my son who is in a ‘conventional’ preschool while he is in it. We are expats and need to move every couple of years. Arrived here in Namibia and did not have other choices in the English medium. The Waldorf school is in German and our child is already speaking two other languages at home.
There are so many things to worry about in schools. My son got thrown on the floor of a swimming club by a swimming coach (lessons organised by the school during school hours) and it turns out that the coach kicks people on the butt and throws them on the deep end to learn swimming from ‘sink or swim method’. Then I find that in the Dining room ( school insists on giving food and we are not allowed to send food) that they forbid children to talk while eating and there should be absolute silence. If you say some thing like ‘pass the Bananas’ you get punished and you have to stand in a corner. They repeat ‘numbers’ like you mentioned and you learn to learn like a parrot so many things. When my son took the ‘fairy tales’ book he had at home because they had learned about ‘fairy tales’ in school, the teacher told him ‘I am fed up with Goldilocks, take it home’. And after you write a letter to school about the swimming episode, you are branded as a ‘difficult parent’. The more we ‘think’ as parents, the more difficult it becomes to accept this kind of ‘conventional thinking’. I am waiting to live in a more progressive place again…


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