Unschooling is Taking Risks and Breaking Rules

by Wendy Priesnitz

Albert Einstein once said that it is a miracle curiosity survives formal education. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t. When my husband Rolf and I decided almost 40 years ago that we wouldn’t send our then-unborn daughters to school, we knew that curiosity was one of the precious traits we didn’t want to risk them losing. In fact, we knew many things that we wanted to avoid about a school-based education, but nurturing the alternative – ensuring they retained their curiosity and other self-directed learning skills – well, that was another matter. Here are some of the components that, through trial and error, we discovered were central to a successful life learning (unschooling) experience.

Ownership of the Process

When children are born, they want to learn about their world by exploring their surroundings in ever widening circles. And that is where learning should remain for a lifetime – in the learner’s hands. Learning is not something that is done to us, or that we can produce in others. An education is not something we “get”…it is something we create for ourselves, on a life-long basis. The best learning – perhaps the only real learning – is that which results from personal interest and investigation, from following our own passion.


Taking ownership of our own education and allowing our children to own theirs requires trust and respect in individuals and in the learning process. In the case of our children, that means having enough respect for them to expect that they will behave sociably, want to learn how to function in the world and eventually want to learn things of a more academic nature. One of the ways in which formal education often fails is by concentrating on negative expectations, on teaching people what their incapacities and weaknesses are, rather than their strengths.