Moving away from a punishment/authoritarian parenting style when it’s literally all you have ever seen in your life is hard. It’s really fucking hard. When we first decided we would be parent peacefully and use only gentle discipline, I wasn’t prepared for just how difficult it would be to overcome my own programming from childhood.

My old toolbox of spanking and time-outs and yelling - literally the only things I knew how to do - was thrown out long ago. But I didn’t yet have the new tools to parent gently. I didn’t know what I was doing. I reverted back to yelling sometimes, because I simply lacked the tools to do anything else.

I have those tools now. Sure, there are still times when I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s still hard. But I have tools, and I’m beginning to really understand how to parent without yelling and hitting and punishing. I’m continually amazed at my children’s willingness to make things right, at how readily they apologize and take steps to fix things, at how willing they are to compromise. They are truly GOOD people, with hearts of gold, and I’m so incredibly proud of them and of myself for letting them shine the way that they are.

I know it’s hard to even believe that children can be good without being scared into it by punishments or coerced into it with rewards. But I’m here to tell everyone that it REALLY DOES WORK! Once you really get a new toolbox of ideas and learn the right language to use and figure out how your individual child responds the best, it works. And your kids will amaze you every single day, if you only let them. 

Don’t make your children feel like they owe you something. Don’t begin sentences or requests with phrases like “I put a roof over your head…” or “I’m keeping you fed…” because whether it’s your intent or not, this can be easily heard as a threat to pull the rug out from under your child as punishment for non-compliance. This can lead to your child distrusting you, as well as others on whom they should feel they are able to depend.

This is emotionally abusive behavior, and you should purge it from your parenting routine.

Table of contents for Life Learning Magazine’s November/December 2014 issue.

From the Editor’s Desk by Wendy Priesnitz
Learning by doing.

Learning by Doing: Lessons From My Inuit Teachers by Martina Tyrrell
Learning about herself, and about life and learning, while living in an Arctic community has provided some insight, years later, into how her unschooled daughters learn experentially.

One and a Quarter Pizzas by Holly Graff
An unschooling math adventure that explains how kids can learn both basic and complicated math concepts through everyday life.

Learning to Eat by Idzie Desmarais
A grown unschooler reflects on aspects of her upbringing that helped her and her sister to develop healthy relationships with food.

Age Segregation and Learning by Stephanie Williamson 
A young woman who began unschooling herself in secondary school discusses how, in stark contrast to school, the ability of unschoolers to interact with a variety of age groups creates many learning and social benefits.

A Toy-Free Learning Experiment by Saira Siddiqui 
Many positive lessons were learned when a life learning family left toys and other “time fillers” at home when they travelled, and instead created their own activities and trusted the kids to have fun and grow.

It’s Not School At Home by Ross Mountney 
Sharing what one family learned about learning while home educating beginning in the 1990s.

Place-Based Education by Wendy Priesnitz 
There is an education movement that focuses locally, with students using their communities as resources for learning by doing, often working on real-life projects; it’s also a good description of the way unschoolers learn. (First article of a two-part series.)

News and Resources 
Tools for families who are living and learning as if school doesn’t exist.

If you took a group of babies and said to their parents, “Today I’m going to teach them to walk,” their parents would think you were a crazy person and take their children away. If you took a group of toddlers and said to their parents, “Today I’m going to teach them to use the potty,” their parents would think you were a crazy person and take their children away. But if you take a group of 9 year olds and say to their parents, “Today I’m going to teach them fractions,” they think that’s normal.


Children learn different skills at different times because they’re individuals and they’re interested in different things. If they’re keen on baking or making change or working in the wood shop or something like that they may be ready to learn about fractions otherwise they’re learning about it in abstraction. It’s not going to stick. It’s going to jiggle right out of their heads. They’re going to retain it for the test, regurgitate it, and forget it. That’s if they’re lucky.

If they’re unlucky they’re going to do some of these things: struggle with it terribly, turn something they didn’t know about into something they hate, do poorly on the test, feel bad about their inability to do the work, meet with the disappointment of their parents and teacher, get laughed at by their peers or siblings, and develop a full-on mistrust of their own capacities, a desire to run away from challenges, a hardened heart, and the desire to explore, learn, and investigate will be deviated into the desire to just get a good grade and be done.

You don’t want this. Wait. Wait until the child has a legitimate reason to learn a thing. It will stick. The learning will come along faster and it won’t foster in the child the desire to appear to know what he doesn’t know just to escape the horror of not learning it when everyone else did.

The way I saw the educational system from an early age was that it taught you what to think, not how to think. There was no liberty, really, for free thinking. You were being trained to fit into a society where free thinking was a nuisance. I liked some of my teachers very much, but I had no interest in their subjects.
—  Joni Mitchell

Living Small a new documentary film by Stephen Hewitt @ilovetinyhouses

A common criticism of unschooling is that “those kids” will never learn to respect authority. My reaction tends to be well, if so, is that really a bad thing?

Automatic respect for authority shouldn’t be the goal

Why on earth should respecting authority, just because it’s authority, be a good thing? That type of attitude leads people to stand passively by while great wrongs are committed, because they’re being committed by people and institutions in positions of power. It’s an attitude that leads to the continuation of existing oppression and marginalization, a continuation of the current status quo, simply because it’s maintained by those with the greatest authority. It leads to individuals not speaking up when they feel they’re personally being treated unfairly, or when they have ideas of how to do things better. It leads to people sticking with the path they’re told is the best or only way to do things, instead of standing up to authority and building alternatives.

Basic respect for each other as human being is important. But beyond that, respect needs to be earned, needs to be built through solid relationships and trust. No one deserves widespread respect just because of the position they hold.

Change—positive, real change—only happens when people are forming their own opinions and making their own choices, and working with others to make their ideals a reality, instead of just following authority.