Today we welcome Mark Zeiger, an unschooling dad and Alaskan homesteader who blogs about his self-sufficient, off-the-grid family lifestyle at AKZeigers.com.
We started home schooling our daughter, Aly, when we moved to our “homestead” in Southeast Alaska. We recognized the limitations of institutional learning, and had always hoped for something better for her. The inconvenient commute from our semi-remote location to the local school gave us the excuse we sought. We “unschooled” Aly for five years. She scored highly in all required standardized testing. We issued our own diploma and transcripts in accordance with Alaska state law. She is now pursuing a college degree in her chosen field.
We wanted Aly to gain a high quality, self-directed education that would help her choose and prepare for her path in life, and qualify her for college to earn certification. We encouraged her development in the following skills and qualities:
- Critical thinking
- The ability to access and evaluate information
- A love of experiential and lifelong learning
- Practical life skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Civic awareness
- Self awareness
Aly could hardly have had a better unschooling environment. Our lifestyle demands a level of mental and physical discipline few Americans experience. Living beyond easy reach of most modern conveniences, safeguards, and services, we grow, gather, fish and hunt most of our own food. Our “utilities” are our own responsibility—no municipal power, water, or sewer connections reach us. Any maintenance, changes or improvements to our systems require our own ingenuity, the ability to learn new skills quickly, and above all, flexibility. Every learning curve on the homestead is a steep one.
Our environment offers incredible learning opportunities. Surrounded by forest and edged by ocean, we come into daily contact with wild animals, from shrews to whales. We’re surrounded by mysteries of the natural world that continue to elude today’s best scientific minds.
Satellite Internet provided valuable research tools throughout Aly’s studies, but much of her self-education came the old fashioned way, through reading. Our family’s books on a wide range of subjects helped, as did our excellent town library. We also received support from our community, particularly from the local school system. Aly had many casual mentors willing to share their knowledge and experience with an eager young mind.
We allowed Aly to direct the majority of her education, facilitating only when necessary. We guided her toward resources, and nudged her if she lost momentum or grew discouraged. We sometimes worked with her on standard coursework in specific subjects. We tried to stay out of the way, but reserved the right to insist that certain lessons be learned. As parents we have that privilege and responsibility.
The result of this unorthodox education has been an intelligent, well-adjusted, delightful young woman, of whom we are justifiably proud. We’re grateful that our lifestyle allowed us to be intimately involved in a learning process that continues to enrich the whole family. I can’t imagine us being able to facilitate her education had we tried to hold regular jobs outside the home. Our slower, simpler, more deliberate lifestyle definitely contributed to Aly’s success.
Mark, Michelle, and Aly Zeiger live on a forested, off-the-grid homestead on the shore of Alaska’s Lynn Canal, more than a mile from the nearest road. Mark runs a small publishing company over the Internet, Michelle works part time as a Behavioral Health Associate. Otherwise they live on micro-incomes and subsistence. Their life, including Aly’s unschooling adventures, are documented on the Zeiger Family Homestead Blog at AKZeigers.com. Mark also contributes to SelfRelianceWorks.com.