An inspirational resource where we feature outstanding stories of West River Academy students from around the world and publish weekly updates from our team.
“Ultimately, unschooling “looks like” young people pursuing their own dreams with assistance from those who love and support them!”
Author John Holt coined the term “unschooling” in the 1970s when he started to advocate removing children from school and educating them in a manner that would be the opposite of school: no compulsion, no prescribed curriculum, no bells to start and stop learning. Through the years, other terms have been used, such as interest-based learning, child-led learning and relaxed homeschooling.
West River Academy Director Peggy Webb stresses to people who call her that unschooling is a way of honoring children and their reason for being on Planet Earth right now. Allowing the child to continue his or her curiosity-driven interests results in learning that is valuable and practical to the student. The ultimate benefactors of a student that is engaged in activities he or she is passionate about is us; the world benefits from what this person will contribute to our global community.
As Peggy likes to say, “Think of it as putting the child in the driver’s seat of the car. The parent is in the passenger’s seat, making sure the car is not driven off a cliff, being the navigator with map in hand, letting the driver know what appears to be up ahead, etc. The child is then free to take the interstate or go off on a scenic byway, explore different places along the way or get to the destination as fast as he or she can. It’s letting the child drive the car while the parent offers guidance and assures safety.”
“What if I’m practicing unschooling and my child wants to go to public school?” is a question often asked. Peggy responds, “If your child chooses to attend school, then he or she is still in the driver’s seat, making that decision. Unschooling, then, takes on the form of going to school. The child knows that at any time he or she can decide to stop going to school; he has chosen to have this learning experience. It’s really no different than the child’s deciding to take ballet lessons. I gave my daughter, Rachel, the freedom to choose how she wanted to learn and she chose a variety of experiences during her childhood, including a part-time charter school, boarding school and full-time public high school. To me, it was all unschooling because she was in charge and I assisted.”
Ultimately, unschooling “looks like” young people pursuing their own dreams with assistance from those who love and support them!
Eden Mccoy is enrolled in our Graduation Program for the Class of 2018. In her Educational Biography she describes the balancing act that is her life as an athlete, student and actress.
“Homeschooling has been a fundamental part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has given me exciting opportunities along the way that I would have never been able to fulfill otherwise. I am beyond grateful for my parents’ decision to teach me of their own values and truths rather than subjecting me to the sometimes unproductive world of public school.”
Max Rollins, a lifelong West River Academy student, is now enrolled in the Graduation Program for the Class of 2018. In his Educational Biography, he describes his childhood as an unschooler in Colorado.
Our Home was built on sixteen acres of dense forest, consisting of sprawling gullies, arid meadows grazed down by cattle, and meandering streams, full of life. All of it seemed to be as infinite as the universe to my youthful imagination. I spent hours exploring every nook and cranny of the acreage with my closest of friends and even drew up fictional names and trails we’d discovered on to a map. I still, to this day, think back on how exhilarating it was to stumble upon a new stream or clearing in the woods and how obsessed we became to find all the secrets our plot had to show.
As I grew older, my parents started teaching me the art of gardening and cultivating the land. They showed me that a hard day’s work had more value in it than almost anything else in this life. I didn’t quite see it as a value at the time and just saw it more as a distraction away from the truly important things in life, my Star Wars action figures. But eventually, I started to see what they were all about.
When I was about 8, my mother and some other homeschool moms in the valley started a Thursday-school that I attended with many of my friends for a handful of years. We would participate in arts and crafts, conduct skits, and do other fun activities that hardly seemed like school, which was quite all right by my amigos and me.
By the time high school rolled around, my time of being taught by my mother was coming to a natural end, with my needing a more social outlet for learning and her not being able to teach me the harder subjects in school, such as Chemistry and Math. I started attending classes at Grand Valley Academics in the fall of my 8th grade year. It was a sort of make-shift school led by a handful of homeschool parents who were well educated in different subjects and fields. My first year attending, I took Creative Writing, Biology, and Literature all with the same teacher. Weird, huh? Thankfully, within a year they had upgraded from the youth room of a local church to their very own building with actual classrooms! I’ve taken classes with them for my entire high school experience and have acquired a wealth of knowledge from all of their brilliant teachers along the way. I’ve had many of them for my entire high school career and will be sad to see them go when I graduate. However, I’m still exuberant to be going on to college and excited to see where it takes me.
Homeschooling has been an incredible experience for me, and, if I could, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my education. It has given me the chance to wholly delve into subjects of interest that I wouldn’t have had being confined to an 8:00-4:00 routine. I’m so appreciative of the effort both my parents put into making my time learning as beneficial and enjoyable as possible, and I hope to provide a similar experience for my children one day.
As the end of the year rings near, we want to express our gratitude for your trust in West River Academy which has allowed us to support families all over the world.
West River Academy is expanding more and more every day, and we are so happy to share our experiences as an unschooled family with you all! Now that WRA is a family business, each of the sisters brings different strengths, yet we have in common the same goal, which is to provide a safety net built on freedom and individuality for the upcoming generations.
We invite you to read Our Story, which describes each of our very unique unschooling journeys. We are pleased to be able to offer you the perspectives of Karen, Stacey and Rachel as unschooled children as well as Peggy’s perspective as an unschooling parent.
The main topic of discussion at our Thanksgiving table was how we can now, as a family, serve you. So, please know that the West River Team has your back and truly wants the best for you and yours!
Warmest holiday greetings from all of us,
Peggy, Stacey, Rachel & Karen
Ayelén reflects on her experience as one of our recently graduated students from Río Negro, Argentina.
“I am very happy with this learning option as I didn’t only learn about core subjects such as math, language, physics or chemistry but I was able to develop other skill sets that I usually wouldn’t have had the time for. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to know and understand different cultures and learn in many different surroundings.
Being a Christian girl, I enjoyed having the time to practice mercy and love for others through my art (comics, pictures, etc) offering a faith message in the places I visited like nursing homes, small towns lost on the “map”, and preaching at the bus stop.
I would like to thank God for this kind of education because I am convinced that if I had not traveled this way, my life would have had another direction.
That is why I encourage all the kids and parents who are about to make this decision not to doubt it as long as they are united as a family, in good will to go through it.
I have included some pieces of my work.
Greetings from Dina Huapi, Argentina.”
Stacey Nishikawa, Peggy’s second daughter, joined West River Academy in January 2017 as our Administrative Director. She is the school’s Registrar. Her prior experiences include volunteering at a private school in Kenya, traveling to Australia, attending college, and working in customer service. She brings her warm heart and friendly spirit to helping families on their unschooling journey.
Rachel Nishikawa, Peggy’s youngest daughter, joined us in August 2017 as our Creative Director. She is a talented artist, and we are proud to display her artwork: the banner for the website, our new bird logo, and the letterhead on our documents. She recently graduated from the University of Hawaii with a Communications Degree, and then worked in a corporate management training program. Her cheerful attitude and ready laughter bring a spirit of joy to West River Academy.
Stacey and Rachel are happy to come full circle and be working with their mother, Peggy, and sister, Karen, helping to support a new generation of families who are pursuing their dreams outside of the school system. You can read more about their unschooling experiences on the Our Story page.
As the full family team, we look forward to serving all of our homeschooling families for years to come.
María Teresita is one of our senior students from Córdoba, Argentina. This is what she has to tell us about her educational experience these last months of her journey.
In the last months I made orientation tests, I’ve been looking into careers at different Universities, I started thinking about my university life and how would I be dealing with that. What courses to take, what career to pursue as a goal for my whole life. In the meantime, I want to help my family economically as a Project, selling our handcrafts.
In my spare time, I like to hear Padre Ángel Espinoza and Yokoi Kenji lectures from whom I will quote really important reflections.:
An anecdote of this speaker begins when he proposed to his father to cross a red light, saying that at that time were no cars and no cameras to see them. The father, in a tone of reprimand, shouted a phrase that left a deep echo in his life: “I am watching myself!“, Representing the conscience of each one, which can not be fooled.
To complete this report, I must pay tribute. I can not explain the feeling of gratitude towards this learning program, for allowing me to develop as a person, to learn according to my way of being, valuing my personal capacities and preferences. I really feel very grateful for my learning and for you for this educational adventure that we have shared. It has been rewarding!
We always enjoying hearing what our students have gone on to do after they have graduated from West River Academy. We received this lovely letter from a parent in Spain about the current activities of the 2014 graduate.
“I thought of you and would like to share what our oldest son, Sergio, who graduated with WRA, is doing.
He is studying his second year of a Psychology Degree and also, composing his music. His first song was recently recorded and produced. He wants to share this message about value and identity with the youth.
WRA provided the flexibility in his schedule to pursue his dreams, now coming true. He is grateful and so are we.
Enjoy your summer!!
Here is the video of his inspirational song, Diamond. Sergio Belmonte – Diamond
Teo and Zoe are students from our international program. They’ve been really busy this year learning all kind of things and here are some amazing photographs we would like to share with you.
They love reading, science and visiting museums among many other things. Let’s see a little piece of their year in pictures.
We are thrilled to introduce you to our Class of 2017 Graduates! We had 85 graduates from around the world, and 10 of them chose to participate in our Graduation Ceremony in Colorado Springs, CO on May 20, 2017!
Our Graduation Ceremonies are unique, because they feature the individual talents of the graduates, and the diplomas are presented by the parents. Rather than having one valedictorian speak for the entire class, our intimate ceremony allows each student the opportunity to share their unique passion.
This year, our graduates did presentations that included a violin and guitar performance, videos about world travels and competitive skiing, a monologue about homeschooling experiences, an art display board, and a live podcast demonstration!
The parents of each graduate spoke movingly to them about how proud they were of them, and acknowledged the individual journey and work that had been put into earning their High School Diploma. Many eyes were moist as we witnessed the love and pride on the faces of the parents and graduates, and heard the quiver in their voice as they spoke of the long road to this day.
The graduates are continuing on in directions as unique as each one of them: college, work, professional podcasting, traveling, and athletic careers are a few of the paths that are being taken. We are so proud of them, and grateful for the opportunity to support them and their families in their educational journey.
Here is the story of William, a West River Academy senior in Canada. Read his story of going from a difficult school experience to thriving in homeschooling.
The story of how I became a homeschooler/unschooler is, perhaps like many others, rather unique and filled with both joy and sorrow. I began my journey nearly ten years ago, in my hometown of Montréal, when I was eight years old and unlike many of my homeschooling friends, I attended public school until grade 4. Usually when a child is taken out of school in favour of a home education it’s the parents who initiate the change, however, this was not the case for me. In my case I was the one who asked my parents to homeschool me because my experience with the school system was so awful. At my old elementary school the teachers would use fear and shame tactics to keep the children in line, practices that would certainly get them in trouble today if they were found out. If you misbehaved, the teachers would take away your bathroom privileges, if you disobeyed a teacher you would have to walk down the long hallway and announce your misdoing to the other class. Crying was forbidden and your recess for that day could be taken away if you did, imagine telling a six year-old child if they cried they would be punished, or preventing them from going to the washroom. I suppose it was a very old fashioned way of discipline, going back to the days of dunce caps and getting the strap. One instance that stood out for me especially happened in art class, when I was about seven. My friend had found a paperclip on the ground and had artistically bent it out of shape, something a child might do in art class. When the teacher saw him with his bent paperclip she immediately started yelling and forced him to stand in front of the whole class and bend it back into form. As I stood there with my classmates and watched my humiliated companion try, without success, to bend this paperclip into it’s original shape I wondered how such an angry, unartistic, “inside the lines” person found themselves teaching a 3rd grade art class. Both my mother and grandmother were artists, so I grew up in a household where creativity was encouraged, which is why this moment in particular was so strange for me. I could talk for hours about the anguish I endured in school, and how it’s affected me, but I’ll just say that by my last year in public school I was livid with the system and grew a real hatred for learning. It didn’t take a lot of convincing when I asked my parents to homeschool me, as they had shared my pain and frustrations with the school over the years and thought that taking me out of it was the best course of action. And so began my journey.
Because I was coming from such a toxic environment it took some time after I was taken out of school to adjust to a new way of learning, a way of learning that wasn’t centered around fear or humiliation. I believe that every child comes into this world with a natural sense of curiosity and desire to explore the world around them, mine had just been taken away from me. I can’t explain how wonderful it was when I regained this thirst for knowledge which had long been so foreign to me. I don’t know what would have happened if my wonderful parents hadn’t listened and pulled me out of that horrible place. I believe that learning anything should be fun, even if it’s in the smallest way, and my mother helped make that happen. Because my father had to work it was mostly my mother who taught me during my first few years out of school. Deciding to homeschool your child is an enormous leap to take that requires a lot of change in a person’s life; a change many people cannot afford to make. I’m very thankful for both my parent’s devotion to my education. They ensured a graceful and smooth transition to this new way of life and it wasn’t long before it felt completely natural.
The rest of my elementary school years were a breath of fresh air. I found new ways to express my creativity that I had never even fathomed before. I met so many amazing people who I’m proud to call my friends. People who wanted to learn and have fun just like me. For the first time in my life learning didn’t feel like a chore. I finally enjoyed reading books, writing papers and doing projects. My mother also came up with lots of interesting and creative ways to make learning fun. The range of topics covered in my first year alone were far more diverse than anything I covered in school. We talked about everything from the paleozoic era to the historic 2008 U.S. presidential election, which was happening at the time. It was my first time ever discussing contemporary issues, something we would continue to do, and I came out of my first year at home with a far better understanding of the world around me, with both a historic and modern perspective. It was marvelous.
During my second year I started to get involved with my local homeschooling community, a community which I have been an active member of ever since. I think one of the most common misconceptions about homeschoolers is that they spend most of their time alone in their house, when in reality it’s the opposite that’s true. I would say that 90% of the things I do in regard to school takes place outside the home and involve other people. I also think the notion that homeschoolers are anti-social is another misconstrued idea. Some of the most outgoing, energetic and sociable people I’ve ever met have been homeschooled. One very unique thing about the classes put on by homeschooling communities is that the teachers are, more often than not, parents of homeschooled children. Since they don’t make their living off of teaching, many of the parents will work regular jobs just like everybody else which allows them to teach some interesting courses pertaining to the work they do. Alongside basic classes, like math and history, I’ve also learned things like 3D modeling, fencing, acting and animation just to name a few, all from people who have experience in their respective fields. It almost felt like an apprenticeship which is something most kids in elementary school don’t get to experience.
Before I knew it I was already graduating from my homeschool equivalent of elementary school and moving on to “high school”, a change that most elementary school students dread, I, on the other hand was very eager to begin this new chapter of my education. I think the reason that most kids in the system fear high school is because the age gap is so wide, something which I had already been accustomed to. From my first time taking courses with other homeschoolers I noticed the fact that people of all ages were often mixed into the same classroom. People weren’t separated on account of their age but rather their willingness to learn, I’ve seen eleven year-olds do presentations with sixteen year-olds and work together in perfect harmony. Often times I’ve found the younger kids who are placed into more advanced classes will outperform the older ones! This diversity of age in the classroom really makes your colleagues feel like family which creates a very special experience.
During high school I’ve expanded my knowledge of subjects that I had previously covered and also learned countless new things that have all been equally interesting to me. Things such as economics, piano and driving have all been new and welcome additions to my curriculum. I’ll never forget the day when I finally was able to play Fur Elise perfectly or when I passed my driving exam and went home with my license in hand. I almost felt spoiled, never before had I had such a wide variety of classes that I enjoyed taking. It was also during this time that I found a new sense of political intrigue after the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, and so I started attending city council meetings.
My high school years weren’t without their own challenges however. Those are the years where adolescence is at its peak and, as someone who has friends that aren’t homeschooled, I sometimes found myself feeling like I didn’t fit in, especially whenever my friends were having conversations pertaining to school, or going on graduation trips together. I would never be learning the exact same thing as they were and so when I didn’t know about something they were talking about I felt stupid. There was a point during these years where I even contemplated going back to school, as some of my homeschool friends had done, but in the end I decided against it and have absolutely no regrets.
Reflecting back on these past ten years and relishing in all the wonderful memories I have, has reassured me once again that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m extremely fortunate to have had such a unique education which I can look back on with contentment. Now as I’m about to enter this new stage in my life, I can only look forward to the future with great optimism. I hope to one day use my struggle with the school system and interest in civic affairs to hopefully get involved in the process of government, whether the level be big or small, and help prevent others from going through what I did. I’ve seen more and more people choosing to homeschool these days and it’s an incredible honour to serve as an example to them. I can only hope that their journey is as amazing as mine.
Developing autonomy is important for the healthy growth of children. The best way to do that is to let them learn by doing. Learning this way allows children not only to learn concepts; but also get skills that will last them a lifetime.
From Entre Ríos, Argentina; this beautiful family of three girls shares images of what they have learned by doing. From Crochet classes, English language, taking care of an orchard, selling natural made ice cream and toothpaste, to helping at home with the chores and visiting nana.
Their smiling faces say it all!