Week 1 of My Unschooling Experiment: Deschooling

This was my first week of unschooling… which is a misleading statement in two ways.

Firstly, because there’s technically no beginning and end with unschooling because you’re simply “learning through life.” And secondly, because I realize that I’m not actually unschooling.

Unschooling is completely child-led. It’s learning that organically occurs through simply living and letting your child pursue his/her interests. It is not confined by “schoolish” concepts like curriculum, subjects, and schedules.

But being the tiger mom that I am, I’m not quite ready to go commando.

I’m not content for them to read Captain Underpants all day, so I’m the one deciding which book to read aloud to them.

I’m not ready for them to go without basic math skills, so I’m making them do math. And not just any math—Singapore math.

I really want them to be able to speak Chinese well since we live in China, so I’m hiring a Chinese tutor to come twice a week.

And I’m Chinese, so I’m requiring them to practice piano daily.

I think I’ve pretty much broken every unschooling rule there is.


Trying to unschool as a tiger mom is hard, y’all.


Few people have the courage (or folly) to go straight from traditional schooling to unschooling. There’s usually a period of adjustment called deschooling. This is when both parents and kids take the time to transition from a school mentality towards truly natural learning.

Since I just started this process, I’m okay with the fact that I’m not immediately jumping into the deep end of unschooling. I’m allowing myself time to get my feet wet first.

I’ve already dipped my toes in by avoiding curriculum, eliminating grades and exams, and ignoring the arbitrary standards set by government administrators. I’m stepping back in my role as a teacher and disseminator of knowledge. I’m encouraging my kids to be active learners and discoverers.

And I’m already seeing the fruit of this child-led, real-world, joy-filled learning. Here are just a few glimpses:

  • We were inspired to churn butter in a jar and make hard candy after reading Little House in the Big Woods. We learned the hard way that UHT milk cannot be made into butter, and hard candy should not be left out on a humid day.
  • My oldest spent 10 minutes asking our Echo Dot to tell him ant facts after receiving his ant farm.
  • My youngest discovered a new function on the stop-motion movie app all on his own.
  • They brought in their Minecraft knowledge about ores when we watched a science video about where metals come from.
  • They used their math skills to figure out how old they’d be for the next solar eclipse in Beijing.


The boys making themselves at home at the international school library.


And the benefits I’ve experienced are not just limited to education. I’m also really enjoying the new rhythm of our family life.

Gone is the frenzied schedule of waking the kids up before 7am and rushing them out the door, only to greet them 8 hours later with the promise of homework and piano practice.

Instead, this week felt like an extension of our summer break, with relaxed mornings and later bedtimes. With walks and rollerblading and games. With drawing and reading and making comic books. With a trip to the library and IKEA. With Minecraft, Xbox, and stop-motion movie making.

We still have a long way to go to fully unschool. But I think I like where we’re headed.

Come back next week for more unschooling adventures!




  1. BethE

    September 1, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Yah!!! Sounds like the perfect week!!
    We just ‘started’ ‘school’ today! On a Friday! Cause they wanted to!
    All the best for the year ahead experiment! Have fun!!! 🙂

    1. Iris

      September 1, 2017 at 8:57 am

      Oh, there were plenty of imperfect moments too 😅! But all in all, a good start! What does a typical day of “school” look like for you?

      1. ameribajan

        September 4, 2017 at 1:17 am

        Ha! Yes, the word “perfect” doesn’t belong in a sentence concerning anything related to parenting! 🙂 😉

        And “typical”? What’s that? 🙂

        But all humor aside, the kids and I all do better with some form of structure/consistency/predictability in place so we have a basic format that we build around each day/week. My thing is to hold it loosely, so we can be spontaneous as various opportunities or life circumstance arise.

        One thing I am very in-love with and make a priority in our every day is reading-aloud to them (or listening to audio books together). My hope is we’ll share this daily moment for many years to come even as they are reading confidently on their own.

        1. Iris

          September 4, 2017 at 2:17 am

          I love our read aloud time too! It’s one thing I really missed when the boys were in school and we didn’t really have time for it.

  2. Anne

    September 1, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Ack! I confess I’m jealous of your courage and the benefits you’re already experiencing. Thanks for sharing your journey! 🙂

    1. Iris

      September 1, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks, Anne! I think being an outsider to both the culture that I’m from (American) and the culture in which I live (Chinese) gives me more freedom to make counter-cultural choices. I’m already weird anyway!

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