For as long we can recall, getting a formal education has always been an integral part of life. From a very young age onwards, most of us have been enrolled in school to embark on a quest for knowledge so we can grow up to be smart adults with good jobs. After all, it is said that knowledge is power.
In America, it is mandatory in most states that kids attend school or be homeschooled, but to many people's utter surprise, there are some parents who have made a choice not to send their children to school and that's totally legal in some places.
Sisters, McKenzey and Isabelle McIntyre are two examples of children whose parents have opted out of the traditional school system and have chosen to "unschool" them instead.
13-year old McKenzey and her 12-year-old sister both attended a private school in Savannah, Georgia up until seven years ago when their dad found a new job in a different state. The family moved to Florida and according to their mom Chrissie, the local public school wasn't up to par.
"There was barbed wire around the whole area," Chrissie, 43, explained in an interview with Goodhousekeeping.com. "The principal or teacher took us around and we couldn't actually go inside the classrooms and talk to the teachers. She wouldn't allow it."
As a result, her and her husband Michael decided to homeschool their daughters. At first, the idea seemed to be working well. As a stay-at-home mom Chrissie loved the idea of spending more time with her kids and not having to worry about being on someone else's time.
"If I could homeschool my kids just as good as the teacher could, why not?" she recalled thinking. "That's what drove me to homeschool. I felt like I'd missed all of that time — they were in school all day."
However, after speaking with Chrissie's uncle, a former teacher and principal, the idea of following a traditional curriculum seemed less and less appealing. It wasn't long after that they started the process of "unschooling."
So what is unschooling and how does it impact the McIntyre girls?
The term "unschooling" was coined by author and educator John Holt to describe a form of homeschooling that doesn't require a fixed curriculum. The learning in this case is self-directed and driven by the child's interests. It can be in the form of hobbies, reading, working, traveling and even playing. Holt's theory is that when a child has an interest in a particular item or activity, it will naturally push the child to learn more about it.
The McIntyres are among the estimated 10% of America's homeschooling families who wholeheartedly believe in Holt's approach. According to Pat Farenga, an unschooling advocate, this philosophy is more than just about reading and writing.
"It's a matter of teaching the spirit," he argued. "You take control over your learning so that you feel like that learning has meaning to you, and that what you're doing with your life is more than just checking off a checkbox on somebody else's list."
When McKenzey and Isabelle were first pulled out of school, it took them some time to get used to their new learning system, but they've now fully embraced it.
"My oldest one was kind of upset. My youngest one was kind of excited. After about six months, they both really enjoyed it," Chrissie said.
Nowadays, the family can do things they've never been able to do when the girls were spending their days in school. They can just hop in the car at any given moment and go on adventure.
"At the beginning of the week I might say, 'We're in New Orleans. We could go to this museum, go to the zoo or do this. What do you guys want to do?'" Chrissie added.
So how much success are the McIntyres actually having with this system and how is it legal?
Chrissie said that although the choice of activities is ultimately up to the kids, the role of the parents isn't nonexistent. She offers suggestions and uses sites like Pinterest to draw inspiration.
"It's hard to set demands for the kids. I try to give them one idea they have to do every day," she confessed. "My husband and I have learned to ask questions and then help guide them through an answer."
Apparently both McKenzey and Isabelle have shown interest in certain fields since they've started this system of homeschooling.
"McKenzey, the older one, is interested in fashion. So I found an online fashion class for a middle school kid," Chrissie explained. "She got a sewing machine for Christmas. I'm trying to find online classes where she can learn how to sew because I do not know how to sew."
As for Isabelle, she's big on jewelry making and even sells her finished products on Amazon.
One subject they absolutely hate? Computer programming.
Although unschooling is not a new concept, there's only been a rise in the number of parents adopting it more recently and in a few states, it is legal.
"Unschoolers are no different than anyone else," said James Mason, the director of litigation for the Home School Legal Defense Association. "They have to file the paperwork that's required by their state and do it in the timeline that's required."
The McIntyres are part of a private unschool group that operated legally under Florida law as long as they have at least 180 days of learning and don't have unjustified absenteeism.
This doesn't deter other parents from criticizing their choice and Chrissie from worrying about the end results, but she believes that her daughters are faring very well.
"I worry constantly. I go through days where I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, they're never going to read. They're never going to be able to do math. How are they going to do if they decide to go to college? I'm ruining their lives.'" Then the girls finally sit me down and go, "Mom, you need to chill out,"' she confessed.
"My philosophy is that if you can read, if you can write and you can do math, you can pretty much do anything you need to," she explains. "I don't think there's anything missing, and if there is, I think we'll find a way to solve it."
"Kids are naturally curious. They want to learn if you just give them that opportunity," she added. "It's kind of hard for people to wrap their brains about we're doing. It's still learning. The kids are still being educated even though they're free to watch TV for three days straight."
What do you think of the concept of unschooling? Let us know in the comments!