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More families are deciding that school's out - forever Add to ...

Mr. Day, an engineer who holds graduate degrees from Oxford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, lets his daughter's interests drive most of her learning. That may mean writing Artemis Fowl fan fiction, watching the pop science program Mythbusters or a trip to the Ontario Science Centre.

"It's awesome," said Brenda, a spindly pre-teen with sun-bleached hair. "I spend more time outside and I see my friends every day."

However, Mr. Day added: "I think potentially one of the problems with the unschooled kids is they haven't been prepared with the basics." So on top of her self-directed learning, Brenda follows a math curriculum and solves problems in graded workbooks.


There are other factions within the movement, from the radical unschoolers, who extend the philosophy beyond education to parenting, to those who reject the term unschooling altogether.

Some unschoolers will refer to the occasional exercise book for math lessons. Others will never consider a number outside a speedometer or a grocery receipt. Some are vegans, while the unschoolers who let their children eat more liberally quietly refer to them as the Granola Gestapo.

"There's everything from very earthy grassroots people to very educated professional people," says Judy Arnall, a Calgary-based author on parenting who has unschooled her five children. She is on the phone from Newfoundland, where she is dropping her 18-year-old son off at Memorial University.

"I think the one thing everyone agrees on is that we want our kids to foster a love of learning that's intrinsic."

"Unschooling is an acknowledgment that schools and education are in many ways contradictory, that there's an implicit tension between them," says Jason Price, an assistant professor at the University of Victoria.

"Education is about the production of more democracy, production of peace, production of happiness whereas schooling is often the production of global economic competitiveness."

In Orangeville this weekend, over campfires and potluck dinners, unschoolers will discuss ways of supporting their children's learning at Ms. Laricchia's Toronto Unschooling Conference.

Throughout the day, guest speakers will address quandaries such as the ways kids learn math without a textbook and how to transition your children out of the regular school system - a sort of psychological-detox process known as deschooling.

When the conference is over, Ms. Laricchia will return to collaborating on building an online business with her son, Michael, 13. Her daughter, Lissy, 16, is a photographer who was recently invited to participate in a show in New York. The oldest child, Joseph, has turned 18 and is no longer being actively unschooled. His mom happily admits that the change has had almost no effect on his day-to-day life.

Kate Hammer is The Globe and Mail's Education Reporter.

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