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At Ease With All Ages
By Sara Schmidt

Living life without school means growing up free from age segregation.

Unschooler socialization means being at ease with all ages.

When we first considered ourselves to be unschoolers, my daughter was four, and I knew dozens of reasons why we were choosing this path. In fact, it seemed that we had already chosen it before it bore any kind of label. But a friend and fellow life learner opened us up to the idea that traditional schooling enforces the very unnatural practice of age segregation, and when I first heard that, I thought it sounded a little strange.

“Well, sure,” I thought, “But doesn’t it make sense for her to play with children her own age?” Like everything else in life, my answer soon manifested itself simply enough through our day-to-day living.

I began to notice how my daughter would learn from a middle-aged person at the grocery store, or from a baby we visited. The understanding that we once, as highly social creatures, raised our young in this collective community setting, that living and growing with your neighbors – perhaps even apprenticing with them eventually, or caring for the babies, infirm, or elderly – slowly glowed in my mind, and, once again, like anything else in life, I started to see it everywhere.

A baby throws their binky down at our indoor play place. It is carefully picked up and returned with a smile, and my little girl quickly learns that this is a game she is now playing with the infant. The two-year-old we babysit one summer is a fast lesson in sharing for my only child, as well as one in helping and teaching. Once shown how to be nice to the cats, or to stay away from their litter pan, now it was her turn to demonstrate these concepts – and learn them all the more.

Death and dying were lessons frankly learned from the passing of loved ones, the talk of wrinkled faces and medical equipment other elders carried. So, too, were the tales of long ago, when radios took the prominent places of televisions, laundry machines were futuristic fancies, and one knew exactly where dinner came from, since it was usually in the garden. My little wood sprite now naturally wants her own farm, and to expand our tiny patch into a glorious full-grown garden for daily meals. We have also made our own butter, bread, and other foods inspired by such stories, which she eats with joy and pride.

The exuberance of the youth and the drive of the technologically advanced generations are also not lost on my girl. Her aunts and uncles have shared their passions with her – whether they include manipulating a new cellular phone or a computer program, taking photos, or singing into a microphone. These cyber-savvy singles have much else to share with her, too, from a passionate love of Tolkien or Cardinals baseball to hiking the Missouri trails in search of fossils and frogs.

Watching her quietly step into the shadow of several tween girls who she admires in one of our homeschool groups, I can’t help but grin. Though she may copy their movements and mannerisms, they copy her in turn, playing her wild, imaginative games without the self-consciousness many would possess at their age. They do not bat an eye when she asks to build a castle from her banana peel, moss, sticks, and whatever else they find at the playground, and when she wants to play alien invaders or monsters attack, they growl and chase with zeal equal to her own.

I am inclined to believe that these people learn just as much from my wood sprite as she does from them.

When I count my blessings, having the freedom to live life without school is one of the highest on my list, each time, without fail. I don’t know how many of these incredible life concepts, how many vivid life experiences, she would have obtained from sitting in a classroom for the majority of her day next to the same children of the same age for twelve or thirteen years. I often feel so strongly that she knows so much more than I did at her age that I find myself pitying the little girl I was – scared, detached, an only child used to being around older adults and teenagers. That little girl would have thrived in a life learning setting, as I believe many other children would, as well.

But I shouldn’t pity that little girl, because she grew up to follow her own passions, to live authentically and lovingly. She was blessed with her own little one who would get to have such adventures of her own, who is already able to find herself at ease with infant or elder, and all in between.

Even if every one of the reasons we chose life learning were suddenly swept away from the equation, would this reason not be enough to make that choice on its own?

Sara Schmidt is a writer, artist, activist, and unschooling mom from Missouri. The former editor of YouthNoise, she has written for The Whole Child Blog, Teaching Tolerance, The Institute for Democratic Education in America, BluWorld, Ecorazzi, and dozens of other blogs, printed materials, and nonprofit organizations. She loves mythology, fantasy and YA lit, and generally making messes with her family. Visit her blog at

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