Category Archives: Homeschooling

Book review: Hacking Your Education by Dale J. Stephens


I am not arguing against school, I am writing in favor of choices. You – we – must learn that we can make our own decisions. We can take data, evaluate them, and come up with a solution. We don’t need our teachers to tell us the answer. We don’t need our parents to give us hints. We, as individuals, have the power and capacity to make our own decisions. Hacking your education is a lifelong commitment. A lifelong commitment to forge your own path and define you own values. Not accepting what others want for you, but figuring it out for yourself.

~ Dale J. Stephens in Hacking Your Education (Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will)

This is the sort of book that needs to get into the hands of every teenager.

In Hacking Your Education (Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will) the author challenges young people to ask “Do I need a college degree?” and if the answer is No, it attempts to answer the how of hacking (building, creating) an education through non-traditional means. Ultimately, it’s a book about choice. And choice is good. That’s why I want all young people to read it. 

Dale J. Stephens grew up unschooling, so I’m not surprised he rejected the private, liberal arts university in which he was enrolled. I’m sure leaving public school at a young age made it an easier decision for him to purse learning away from professors, textbooks and lecture halls. Stephens tells how he decided to leave the university to embark on a journey to educate himself in which he travels, starts a business (, finds mentors and builds a network of people to help him get to where he wants to go in life.

So how does one go about hacking your way through those traditionally college years instead of getting a B.A.? The advice in the book ranges from the basic to the brazen, from going to the library to research a topic of interest to getting into a keynote session at a conference without a ticket. But most of what Stephens writes is unique and clever.

Other practical tips on hacking your education:

  • how to email a potential mentor when you don’t have their email address
  • how to build a learning community
  • how to use coffee as a way to build a network

Dispersed throughout the chapters are simple “daily hacks” designed to give the reader a jump start for learning. In fact, quite a few of the ideas in the book can be used by the ambitious young person even before they are old enough for college.

I like the phrase hacking your education compared to unschooling. Hacking feels more proactive, geeky and digital friendly. I suspect the average 18-year-old would understand what the title means without anyone having to explain it to her. I don’t believe the same can be said of unschooling.

As the mother of my own unschoolers, I appreciate all this advice, but I believe the real strength of the book stands on the stories of other young adults who successfully have hacked their learning into careers and full lives without burdensome debt. Stephens’ stories alone are inspiring and make this book a welcome addition to the homeschoolers/unschooler’s library.

Be forewarned: hacking your college years is not for the lazy. Learn this way and you are embarking on an adventure that will depend much on your ability to discipline yourself to DIY and not waste your time goofing off. Hacking your education isn’t for wimps but it’s not beyond what the average college-aged kid can accomplish.

My eldest child is only 14-years-old. She’s hacking her way through her high school years now. Will she decide to attend college? Continuing with her way of independent learning may be what she decides to do. I’m glad to support her choice. I’m sure having Hacking Your Education on the bookshelf will help her make that decision.


A note for my conservative friends: There is a tiny bit of language (f*ck and sh*t). I wish the author left these words out, along with the quip declaration of his preference for “boys and champagne.” I’m thinking of all the book buying, Christian homeschoolers who will probably not see Hacking Your Education at their convention because of it.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


Unschooling and writing

A letter from my 7-year-old, unschooled girl.

Early this morning my youngest gave me this letter. I wrote back in April regarding my daughter unschooling reading and writing. Today is another excellent example of how a child with an interest will learn without being forced to “drill and kill” – exactly what I used to do as a classical homeschooler.

I clearly recall struggling to get my eldest to write a practice letter when she was about this age. I think my girl did great for only seven and never having been taught how to write a letter.

Of course, the content can’t be beat either. I got two “I love yous” and an Epic Mommy. All lovingly illustrated.

Lucy spends a lot of time with words. Online computer games with hours of type chat with fellow players is her favorite outlet for reading and writing. She draws and hang out with her word-obsessed, 14-year-old sister. She has pages of made up song lyrics in her bedroom. She’s reading street signs, store signs, the church bulletin and calendar.  I’m sure there is even more reading going on that I haven’t witnessed.

All without me having to convince her it was time to learn to read or write.

Next month, we start at a Community Bible Study class where she will be in a formal classroom setting with children her age. She’ll have her own workbook and Bible study. I’m curious to see how she takes to her first introduction to reading and answering the questions in her book.

Visiting Grounds for Sculpture

Last week we met up with other homeschoolers for a long-overdue visit to  Grounds for Sculpture. As a lover of art and long-time New Jersey resident, I’m embarrassed to admit this was my first visit to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey – a mere 52 minutes from my house. Now I can’t wait to go back, because even though we spent a good portion of the day, we didn’t get a chance to see all of the sculptures.

Here are a few of our favorites:

This first sculpture is “Summer Thinking” by Seward Johnson and it was one of the many pieces that we could touch. I had to laugh over this piece because I’m sure I wore this exact outfit as a teen as this young lady in bronze. Does anyone remember banana hair clips?

This was a popular sculpture with the group: “Sleeping Giant” by Eric Schlutz, made with all sorts of found objects like computer keyboards and vacuum cleaners.

I’ve always loved rocks, so any work involving big stone, such as “Cuckoo’s Nest” by Zoran Jojsilov, is a personal favorite.

Over the next few days, I’ll be adding more pictures to my Flickr account. Many of the images were taken by my 7-year-old. She already has a good eye, don’t you think?

Note to iPad and iPhone users: they have an app! I didn’t use it for this visit, because it was rainy and I didn’t want to get my shiny new iPad wet (I know! I’m over protective of my new “baby”) and we did have a wonderfully informed docent to guide us. Next time, the iPad comes with.

Lucy is learning : an Unschooling update

I played on my laptop this morning, drinking coffee, surfing the web, trying to wake up fully. Lucy, my youngest and newly 7-years-old, used my aerobic step as a desk on the floor next to me. I wasn’t paying too much attention to what she was doing. Like  I said, I was trying to wake up.

“Mommy, I want to read my story to you, ” she said.


And then she told me the story of the mermaid and the sea and “the girl cool and kind.” Cute, I thought to myself, still only vaguely paying attention. She’d been working in the purple notebook with her birthday Magic Markers since yesterday. She’s a girl who loves to draw, scribble, color and cut. And her big sister loves to tell stories too. I thought I had this conversation before.

Come have breakfast, I said.

“When I’m done, I’m going to write more of my story.”

Later, back at her makeshift desk, she worked again in the notebook.

“Mommy, I’m ready to read you more of my story.”

And she did.

But this time I had enough caffeine, and I’m not distracted by the web or my own goings-on that I give her my full attention. I noticed Lucy sometimes puzzled over what came next, like one does when up against messy handwriting.

Suddenly, her purple notebook and the Magic Marker smears on her cheek and fingers made sense. She’s not telling me a story – she’s reading me the story – written in her own 7-year-old hand, of her own will, for the love of writing and Story.

I’m astonished.

I looked over her shoulder to read what she has written. I pointed out a word missing an “e” and why it’s needed for the correct spelling. Carefully, she added the missing letter, then ran off to play in the other room.

It’s been a long time – over a year – since I gave you a proper update as to our unschooling. Why? Because some days I waver in my unschooling resolve and worry that unschooling is just too unconventionally weird and hit-or-miss to really work. Don’t kids need be taught ?

Like reading.

Like writing.

Apparently not.

Because here is the evidence from my own home:

My Lucy, with little interest in formal phonics instruction (I managed to get up to Lesson 33 in Reading Made Easy; mostly due to my adult, never-unschooled insecurities), yet with a love for stories, books, talking and communicating with others, is beginning to read and write.

How did this happen with barely any phonics or instruction from an adult? Probably because she spends many hours of her day playing on Roblox, Webkinz and Animal Jam, her favorite websites. For months, I’ve watched her use these sites as she tinkers with language. Reading, sounding out, typing a response, asking me how to spell, more reading simple words, then drawing on paper with markers.

She often asks what a word says or how to spell. Years ago, I would’ve attempted to make it into a lesson, telling her to sound it out. Not anymore. Now I just read or spell the word and try to stay out of her way. She refuses to let me type anything for her.

In fact, the story she wrote in the purple notebook is based on a Roblox game she enjoys.

She frequently asks me to read aloud to her from her favorite books. She watches me read thick novels and library non-fiction books. The three big siblings also spend hours engaged with written words, mostly online, so she has their example as well.

Even as I write this, I can hear her down the hall, talking to herself. She sings, grows quiet. Then that unmistakable sound of a new reader making out what the sound should be based on letters. These are the moments of unschooling that make me brave, encouraging me to keep on with this way of learning and life.

Lucy is learning to read and write.

And me – her homeschooling mother has little to do with it.

Learn to Read Homeschool Blog Hop

Read more stories of how unschoolers learn to read by following the above link.