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Onward from Unschooling: Our Niche within a Niche within a Niche

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For most homeschooled students, the process of applying to college is complex yet rather straightforward. For a few homeschoolers who choose to “unschool” (the children direct the course of their own education), the task can be quite daunting. Our family has been faced with this job twice. Without a GPA, class standing or tons of traditional coursework, we had to find ways to document the fact that our children were, indeed, well prepared for college. No resources were available to help guide us. Everything we found just discussed how to write transcripts for homeschooled children who had grade point averages based on traditional coursework.

Unschooled children are children who do not use the traditional curriculum of public or private schools as the foundation of their learning experience. Instead, their unique interests become the foundation of all they do. Most often these interests aren’t the school subjects most of us are so familiar with.

We considered our situation and knew that we had no choice; we had to create a transcript that would truly reflect what our son had done during his homeschooling years so that he could go to college. From this experience, I published my first booklet, Writing Transcripts for Unschoolers. I took 50 copies to a homeschooling conference and was sold out at the end of a day. Comments I got from those wh*o purchased the booklet made me realize that it showed potential for becoming a good book.


Encouraged When Six Colleges Said Yes

Any questions I may have had regarding the potential success of a book on how to get unschooled children into college or the work force were quenched when our son gained admission to all six colleges and universities to which he had applied. At the time of his graduation, three years later, our unschooled daughter was having similar successes with her applications for college admissions.

The following year, I formed Bittersweet House and published From Homeschool to College and Work: Turning Your Homeschooled Experiences into College and Job Portfolios. That book, still in print with 1,700 copies sold, is the only one in the homeschool marketplace that is entirely devoted to describing the process of writing a high school transcript or job resume for students who are unschooled. With a slim advertising budget and by providing consulting services, I have successfully marketed that book to libraries, homeschoolers, and selected bookstores across the country.

As a result of public demand, I began to supplement my consulting services by writing articles and giving workshops to parents and teens. My contact with these families proved that unschoolers, who make up less than 5% of the homeschooling population, are sorely in need of materials directed toward their unique needs. Soon I was being asked to speak at homeschooling conferences, and my consultation work expanded beyond the familiar phone/face-to-face sessions to e-mail as well.


Reaching Out to Teachers

When requests for information about unschooling became more than I could handle, I increased my efforts to get the word out by writing a second book, Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves, which we published in 2002. The book is based on my personal reflections. It encompasses 27 years of experience in public and private educational settings and 21 years of experience unschooling our two children. I wrote it with a more general audience in mind. Its main purpose is to give unschoolers, and people considering becoming unschoolers, the courage to step outside of the box and take up the unschooling challenge. The book is also written for people interested in progressive approaches to education.

To reach the larger audience of people actively involved in education, I expanded my speaking engagements to include teacher-training programs. While this is a limited and specialized audience, it has been well worth developing. Professors of education are always trying to bring “the leading edge” of education to their students.

Libraries, Catalogs & More

I have also spent time trying to saturate the library market. Homeschoolers frequent libraries more than most other groups of patrons, and even though a single sale to a library may prevent several sales to individuals, I know from experience that some homeschoolers will “go without” if they cannot find the material in their library. When people are sorely in need of educational alternatives, I’d rather have them find helpful resources than continue to struggle with an educational system that may be failing them and their children.

In addition, I exert considerable effort to get books into homeschool catalogs and bookstores that cater to the homeschooling market or emphasize progressive ideals of political and social reform. I find that bookstores that cater to a wide spectrum of educational options are best for our books, which sell fairly well in the more general marketplace despite their apparently narrow audience.

Homeschoolers are always looking for ways to improve upon what they are doing and so they are always looking for opportunities to learn. Because they also want intimate contact with their “advisors,” my workshop offerings, conference presentations, and phone and e-mail consultations and contacts combine well to keep our books in circulation.

Alison McKee has been speaking, consulting, and writing about homeschooling since 1982. Neither of her children went to school until they decided to give college a try. To contact Alison, e-mail amckee@mailbag.com.

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