Tales From an Unschooling Conference

unschooling conference

When I heard that the LTTL unschooling conference was going to be held twenty minutes away from where I live, I jumped at the chance to find out more about unschooling from the experts (like Sandra Dodd) and meet some real-life unschoolers.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the highlights of the unschooling conference.

I’ll start today with the speaker who inspired me most –  Cathy Koetsier.  Cathy has unschooled her five children since 2002. Two of her adult children came along to the conference and shared their perspective on unschooling.

Cathy inspired me to trust my children to choose their own learning paths. She shared many examples of how well this has worked within her family. Here are just a few of my favourites.


Prior to 2002, Cathy homeschooled her children in a more traditional way. At that time, her 8-year-old daughter was struggling with maths so much that she was becoming withdrawn and depressed.

When Cathy discovered unschooling, after much soul-searching, she took the courageous decision to allow her daughter to quit maths. She was delighted to see the little girl quickly return to her former happy self.

Fast forward nine years –  this same young lady announced to her surprised mother that she wanted to sit maths GCSE (the public exams English schoolchildren take at around age 16). With the help of a tutor and a short but intense period of self-motivated hard work, Cathy’s daughter passed the exam with a B.

I wonder how differently that story might have turned out – for the young woman, and her whole family – if Cathy had persisted in requiring her daughter to study maths in a way that wasn’t working for her, back when she was eight?


Two of Cathy’s children struggled with reading because of dyslexia. Her son who came to the conference was one of them. He spoke appreciatively of the many hours his parents had spent reading aloud to him during his childhood.

Then, when he was about thirteen, his desire for book learning began to exceed his parents’ read-aloud-availability, and he taught himself to read fluently and accurately. He didn’t find the task easy, but thanks to his parents, he had grown to have a deep love of books, and by thirteen he had the self-motivation to take the necessary steps to overcome his learning difficulty.

unschooling conference
Photo by Tim Pierce

My own son J(8) was diagnosed by an educational psychologist as having mild dyslexia and last year we used the Toe By Toe multi-sensory reading programme recommended by the psychologist. I’ve heard many good reports about Toe By Toe, and I’ve seen improvements in J(8)’s reading since using it. Mostly our sessions are fine, but there have been occasions when they have induced in J(8) tears of frustration.

Cathy’s talk has given me the confidence to trust J(8) to know what is best for him. He loves books and he loves learning. Next year I intend to respect his wishes if there are days – or longer periods – when he doesn’t want to do Toe By Toe. He’ll get there in the end. Our relationship is more important than the rate at which he learns to decipher phonics.

Oh – and, to Cathy’s astonishment, her other dyslexic child was inspired by a love of mythology to take Classics GSCE at age 16 – she  passed!

Unschooling and family relationships

Cathy’s two grown children contributed richly to the conference discussion.

Cathy’s eldest daughter was unschooled for the shortest time. She commented that when the family homeschooling in a more conventional way, she envied her schooled friends their relationships with their mothers. When her friends had a problem with their teachers, they could talk it through with their mums. But while her mother was her homeschool teacher, Cathy’s eldest couldn’t do that – there just wasn’t the room for a normal mother-daughter relationship. When the family began unschooling, she said, “I got my mum back”.

To find out more about Cathy Koetsier’s unschooling experiences, visit her website, Christian Unschooling.

In my next post in this series I’ll share about Joyce Fetteroll‘s Unschooling Toolbox.

unschooling conference
Logo by Holly Dodd
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10 thoughts on “Tales From an Unschooling Conference

  1. I’ve been looking forward to your thoughts on this conference. What I love most about what you have written here is that a debunks the myths surrounding unschoolers. It is not a matter of NEVER using curriculum; not a matter of NEVER taking exams or indeed NEVER doing anything schoolish. It is much simpler, much more fluid than a list of do nots. It is simply about letting the child have ownership of their learning. Period.
    Looking forward to your next post!

    1. Absolutely, Claire – perfectly put! And isn’t that freedom wonderful? I can see it in your children from your blog. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  2. It’s very interesting to read your highlights of the conference. I always find it comforting to hear from grown-up homeschoolers/unschoolers about their experiences and that they’ve turned out fine. I think respect for each child’s individuality (learning styles, interests, needs, etc) is paramount. Thank you for sharing with us what you’ve learnt from the conference. I’m looking forward to reading the forthcoming posts on this.

    1. Thank you, Hwee. Yes I was so appreciative that Cathy’s children generously gave up a day to come and speak at the conference. They really were such wonderful ambassadors for unschooling – full of grace, and confidence, and intelligence. A real inspiration.

  3. This is awesome. I read somewhere that kids who have NO math whatsoever can ‘catch up’ in very little time. If you think about it, they spend so much time going over the same things time and time again. I would love to go to an unschooling conference!! Thank you for this and I look forward to reading more of your impressions about it. 🙂

    1. Hi Karen! Yes I remember reading that too, so it was great to hear it from someone with direct experience. It does make sense, doesn’t it? The unschooling conference was so inspiring, I was very lucky to go!

  4. Lucinda,

    I’ve also been looking forward to hearing about the conference. Hwee expressed my thoughts perfectly. Wow! You met some big names in unschooling! Joyce Fetteroll will be very interesting, I’m sure. I love her website. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Thank you for your lovely comments about my talk.

    A few minor corrections:
    * The 8 year old daughter, Kerrin, took her Maths GCSE when she was 17 and got a ‘B’
    * The 14 year old daughter, Julie, actually took the Classics GCSE when she was 16, and got a ‘C’

    1. Thanks, Cathy – I’ve edited the post to reflect your corrections.

      And thank you again for all the inspiration you gave us at the conference. I often think about your wonderfully encouraging stories.

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