Hand-writing Update 2019

The dreaded ‘handwriting’ has come up again in unschool groups (which, truthfully, often seem like groundhog day)…

So, I was searching through for an old post I wrote in 2017, this one, where I expounded on handwriting, it’s uses, how it’s learnt, and said Kai wasn’t handwriting, didn’t have a need, and I was sure that if he did ever have a need, he’d learn quickly and be up to scratch with his peers in a week.

Well, that kind of happened in the past few weeks! All thanks to Dungeons & Dragons. He’s been playing with his online gaming friends – they run a campaign over Discord. Sometimes I’m here to help with writing, but sometimes I’m not, and it was getting annoying for him being so slow and/or waiting for me.

So, I gave him a softer pencil, told him it’s easier to write on a hard surface (he was trying to write on a sheet of A4 on his lap!) and said to copy the keyboard if he forgot what a letter looked like.

After a few days, while his writing won’t win any awards, it was much, much improved, and his confidence in it, and ability to do it, had soared, too.

In the earlier post, I shared this picture of some of my students writing samples  (students who go to school 6 days a week, since Kindergarten):


The top one is from a student in Year 8 – a year older than Kai is now. The bottom two are from Year 10 students – 15 or 16 year olds.

These samples are Kai’s Spellbook from this month:


Like I said, not winning any awards for neatness or cursive, but it’s readable, and not too much worse than the school sample from a kid one year older, who has been drilled his whole life.

Background & Methods:

A survey of the reading age of unschooled children was undertaken (by me!) in 2016 (which you can find here). Parents were asked to give the age of independent reading – defined as: ‘The age at which children could read independently anything they wanted/needed without too much effort’. Data were collated and plotted as a normal distribution curve.

At that time the mean age of reading in 85 children was 8.4 years, the mode was 8, and median was 8.5 years. 32% of children were reading before the age of 8. Nearly 50% of children learnt to read between the ages of 8 and 10. About 17% learnt to read after the age of 10.

A number of parents however responded that their 10, 11, 12 year olds weren’t yet reading, so couldn’t be added to the data, so it was considered that average reading age was probably, in reality, older than 8.5.

In 2018, the survey was retaken, this time with a Google spreadsheet that parents could fill in themselves, in the hope more people would contribute data. The definition of reading remained the same, only always unschooled children were included.


The data currently stand at 109 children included in the result. The mean reading age is 8.7 years, the median and mode are 9 years old.

The data follow a normal distribution when plotted as probability against age (Figure 1). The extreme ends of the distribution are 2.5 years old and 16 years old.


Based on the raw data, approximately 44% of children learnt to read before the age of 9, nearly 50% learnt to read between 9 and 12 years, and almost 7% learnt to read after the age of 12.


The data are very similar to the previous survey in 2016, suggesting that this represents a fairly accurate picture of how unschooled children come to reading. As was suggested previously, the 2018 data do show a slight shift to an older average, median and mode, indicating this survey has picked up more of the children who learnt to read older than 9 or 10 years.

The majority of children learnt to read between the ages of about 8 and 12, though some are much younger and some much older.

There do not seem to be any similar data from schools or schooled children, but the graph shown below, showing the ‘functional reading age’ of schooled children, indicates that schooled children would likely show a very similar pattern.

They define functional literacy as: “A functionally literate reader is able to read well enough to operate in society, encompassing the level of literacy that enables a person to be trained in technical or trade courses.” So, similarly to the unschooled children survey definition.

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From http://www.kipmcgrath.com/about-us/functional-reading-age/

It’s a bit hard to decipher the graph, as it’s showing what can happen if a child is ‘behind’ at school and has ‘intervention’. But essentially the blue line shows normal reading achievement, and they are calling ‘functional reading age 9.5 years (which is pretty much what the unschooled child survey shows).

Also from the blue line it seems many of the schooled kids aren’t at ‘functional’ level until much older (12-13).

So, to summarise, the average age of independent/functional reading in unschooled, and schooled, children is around 9 years of age.

Q & A with Kai

Often, on unschooling groups, people ask for Podcasts featuring unschooled kids. People are interested in hearing about their experiences being unschooled and have a lot of questions.

There aren’t many podcasts featuring unschooled kids, though, unfortunately. A few with grown kids, but not so many with kids being unschooled right now.

So. In response to a recent question along those lines, Kai agreed (at a monetary price!) to be interviewed by me on his current experience being unschooled.

I did record it, but he didn’t want the recording shared, so this is the transcript.


Q1. Can you tell people about yourself – how old are you, have you ever been to school, what are your interests?

“Hi, I’m Kai, I’m 12 and I’ve never been to school.  I’m interested in gaming, dinosaurs and animals.”

People new to unschooling will usually all have some similar questions – so let’s start with those!

Q2. You’ve never been to school. Do you ever wish you had been to school or went to school? Do you think you are missing out because you don’t go to school?

(emphatic) “NO!”

(asked multiple times “do you think you are missing out” and answered “No” but didn’t expand!)

Q3. Can you tell people what a typical day looks like for you. Many people can’t imagine what you’d do if you weren’t doing school all day!

Sit on my computer all day. That’s it!” (laughs…)

“No, not really! I walk dogs – three different dogs. I play soccer and sometimes we practice in the afternoons.”

(pressed by me to expand on things)

On my computer I play games, I watch Anime, I watch YouTubes. I hang out with my online friends and talk and play with them.”

“In the evenings me and you sometimes play Just Dance, and we watch movies together. Sometimes we play board games.”

Q4. People new to unschooling, and also kids coming out of school, worry that they won’t have any friends. Do you have any friends? Where do you meet other kids?

No! [I have no friends]. I’m sad and depressed!” (Laughs hysterically!)

“Yes! Of course I have friends!”

(In answer to “where do you meet other kids?”)

“Online. On the Web. Some of them I have met in person, some I haven’t.”

(most of his online friends are other homeschoolers whose parents I know – we found them online, unschool groups, unschooling gamers, etc. )

I also have local friends. Although they aren’t exactly local, they live like an hour away. Oh! I also have more local friends and friends from soccer.”

We go on homeschool camps [with them]. Play Dungeons and Dragons. Visit their houses and they visit us.”

Q5. Other typical questions people have are based around schooly type learning. So, how did you learn to read? How did you learn to do maths (like adding, subtracting, etc.).

I think I was 7 or 8 when I learnt to read”

(note: he was more like 8.5-9)

I don’t remember how I learnt to read. I remember once I could just read a pamphlet about animals.”

(in answer to “what about maths?”)

“If you want to be able to do it, it’s easy to learn to do it”

(pressed by me “How did you learn to do things like add and subtract in your video games, for example?”)

“Naturally. Because we can all do it. And everyone has a calculator all day, although I don’t use a calculator. That’s a stupid question.

Q6. What do you want to do when you are an adult (if you don’t know, that’s perfectly fine too!).

I don’t know, I have another 7 or 8 years until I’m there, so I have enough time to think. I like animals. And games.”

Q7. Are you concerned that if you don’t go to school, you won’t be able to get into college (if you ever wanted to go)?

No. I don’t think so. If, for example, I wanted to pursue working with animals, I don’t think going to school and learning about Pi or Shakespeare will ever help me in the field.”

(me – clarifying “What I’m really asking though is do you think, if you wanted to, you’d be able to get into college if you wanted to become a zoologist, for example.”)

“Well, yes. Both my parents did that!”

(note: Brett and I went back to Uni as mature age students, so any previous schooling didn’t matter)

Q8. Other questions people will have about unschooling will be more about radical unschooling, or other aspects of your day to day life. So. Do you eat chocolate all day, stay up all night and play video games 24/7??

Jeez, how long is this interview?!”

(me: Only one more question!)

I mean, 24/7. That’s a lot of time! No. People do. Not unschoolers though! Marathon gamers – I don’t think that’s very good! No. I don’t.

(me: how much chocolate do you eat?)

“One bar a day!”

(me: What do you eat the rest of the time?)

“Whatever I want! I like Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian food”

(me: you like exploring different foods at the moment?)

“Yeah, it’s pretty fun.

(me: do you stay up all night?)

No. I go to bed around 10, sometimes a bit later. When I go into bed that’s around 10 – 10.30, then I read for a while.”

Q9. Is there anything else you want to tell people about unschooling or your life?

(initially said “no” – but then I asked more specific questions “Are you happy? Are you glad you are unschooled?”)

“Yes, I’m happy. I don’t think school is all that helpful. You can watch videos to learn anything you want. You can watch videos that explain how un-useful school curriculum is. Like the music video “Don’t stay in school” – that explains a lot of stuff. It’s by ‘Boy in a Band’ I think.

(me – okay you can go. Thank you!)

Link to the video he mentions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xe6nLVXEC0

A long, long time ago, in a state far, far away, I wrote up a blog entry on using Evernote to keep track of things we do, make, see and visit, as part of recording for when we had to write a yearly report in South Australia.

We don’t have to report now, but I still keep Evernote records – just in case there comes a time when we do. Also, I like doing it – they are fun to look back on!

The original post where I learnt about Evernote from Brie Jontry is here: https://freelearning-noorsblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/keeping-portfolio-with-evernote-and.html

The sign up scenario hasn’t changed much, nor has the general way you can use Evernote for homeschooling records.

My original post is here.

I wrote a more recent one, but more focussed on Victoria and new legislation, here.

But this one is going to be just about using Evernote.

Step by step Tutorial coming up!

1. Get an account and download Evernote here: https://evernote.com/.

It’s free. Very occasionally I’ve gone over my monthly data limit because…photos…but I just wait and then upload them the next month if that happens. I have never seen a need to get a paid account yet.

There is also an app in the App Store, which I have on my phone, which I do find useful. I think with a free account you are limited to having Evernote on two devices only at a time – so for me that’s my laptop and iPhone.

2. Set up! When we first started using Evernote, we were reporting in South Australia, so I made a Master Notebook with the year, with sub-notebooks for each ‘Key Learning Area’ we needed to report on in that state. That looked like this:

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So, you make your Notebook on the left, and name it (mine is “Kai’s Learning Portfolio 2013” in this case), then you can right click on that and “Create notebook in…” to make as many sub-notebooks as you want (ie: for each ‘subject’).

Every time we did something – baked cookies, went to the zoo, whatever, I’d stick a new ‘note’ with a photo and a few words in an appropriate KLA notebook.

3. What to record. If you are in a state that requires reporting, I’d probably do something similar to that – it’ll make it easier to write things up at the end of the year or whatever you need to do. If you DON’T need to report, you probably don’t need to be so formal on notebook names – you could call them ‘Cooking’ ‘Animals’ ‘Video games’ ‘Sports’ or whatever you like!

How much detail to record? Again, depends on your reporting regulations. For little kids with little regulation, just write – ‘made cookies’ ‘went to the zoo’..But if you have more stringent regulations you need to get around, and/or an older high school aged child, you might need to be more specific and relate the activity to a specific ‘learning outcome’ as specified by your States guidelines.

So, for example, now we live in Victoria and the Key Learning Areas are slightly different. If Kai were in school, he’d be in Year 6 or 7…I decided for our purposes I’d make it Year 7 (less more years to go! Ha!).

So, this is what our 2018 notebooks look like, which includes sub-notebooks for each Victorian Curriculum specified learning area:

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I relate an activity, in this case Kai was figuring out the best buy of Riot Points for his real money, to a ‘learning outcome’ as specified in the Victorian curriculum, then I literally just cut and paste from the curriculum document shown at the bottom of the note – where it says ‘Number and Algebra’ blah blah!).

As you can see, if I don’t have a photo of an activity or event, I’ll use a screenshot too (like the one above from Warframe).

I’ve chosen to share two ‘Maths’ notebooks in this tutorial, because I know maths is something people seem to struggle with in unschooling, so I hoped they’d help.  I’m happy to share images of other ‘subject’ notebooks too, though, if people are stumped.

Happy Evernoting!

Yesterday (here, in Australia) was Learn Nothing Day. In America, it’s still Learn Nothing Day some places…maybe.

I forgot to write up last year, but this year’s started out so hilariously, I decided to write up this, our 9th year. You can see some of  our other failures if you search the blog for Learn Nothing Day, we started in 2010 (though I don’t think I had a blog then, so try from 2011!).

It’s a holiday for unschoolers. A day off learning – since we don’t get holidays like those school peeps..The significance of the date is Sandra Dodd’s birthday – quite right Sandra would want a day off after spending 364 days a year helping others unschool and think critically about a variety of topics!

So. Kai’s Learn Nothing Day 2018…

He woke up around 9.30am. I was in the kitchen making breakfast (nothing new – I started off positively!) and said, in passing, ‘Hey Mom! You know the Mirror of Erised?’ and I said ‘Yep.’ and he said ‘What if that is an anagram for ‘Desire’?’ and I said ‘Holy S&^t! It totally is!’


Mind. blown.

Our family has seen and read the Harry Potter books/movies multiple times, and it had never even crossed my mind! My mind does NOT work in anagrams…but at this point, I’d forgotton the date, so I carried on cooking, and we talked about how that related to it being a mirror, as Erised was desire backwards…mirrored.

So. Then I came into the lounge and Facebook informed me it was Sandra’s birthday. And I realised it was Learn Nothing Day. And I realised we had already failed spectacularly!

Anyway. We had a birthday party later at a Trampoline Warehouse. over an hour away…we’ve been learning Spanish together on long car trips – we decided since we’d already failed we’d carry on…
At the party, Kai practiced jumping with the surfboard thing on his feet on the trampoline, and who knows what the tween/teens talked about, but I’ll betcha they learnt something…

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And last night we decided to watch The Goonies. We’ve been doing a bunch of classic movies lately – Stand By Me, THe Matrix Trilogy…

Which reminds me that – earlier in the morning, someone shared an amazing Lord of The Rings rap, which I shared with Kai…and we loved all the pop culture tie-ins (especially Mr Smith!)…watch it, seriously, it’ll make your day!

We had seen The Goonies before, but this time Kai dissected all the parts of it – was Sloth human? (yes!) Why do people think calling a person with glasses ‘Four-Eyes’ makes any sense, and why are people assholes anyway? Why would Chunk bother to save the others after they left him in a fridge with a dead guy!? Those kinds of things!

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Also, that Josh Brolin (who played Brand) has been not one, but TWO baddie characters in the Marvel Universe in the past year or so (Cable in Deadpool 2, and Thanos in Infinity War!), and that Sean Astin (Mikey) who was then Samwise Gamgee (tie-in back to the LOTR Rap!), has kind of turned into the new Sean Bean and seems to die in everything lately (spoilers – Stranger Things 2, and The Strain!)…and yes, we are super dorks.

Then he read some of his book before bed – he’s on Half-Blood Prince…his first read – there is a LOT different in that book compared to the movie, so he absolutely learned something new..

Next year will be our 10th Learn Nothing Day…I will absolutely record it…(at this rate, it’ll probably be my next post!).

I’m always in two minds about writing about reporting. On the one hand – some people have to do it, and I like keeping records, and I’m good at it, so I think suggestions are helpful for those people….

On the other hand, I know I’m weird. I know record keeping messes up most people’s deschooling – whereas it actually has (and still does) helped mine.

So.  I’m going to write this blog on record keeping in high school years!

But – firstly I want to get this straight – when I keep records, I work backwards to the way schools do it! Kai gets on with life, I take photos. Then, while he’s still getting on with life, I file the photos in my Evernote files, and find some learning outcome from the Victorian Curriculum to put next to the photo. The end.

Long long ago, I did already write a few posts about translating every day things into edu-speak for reporting purposes. That was when we did report, when we lived in a different state. There is access to one of our approved learning plans here, and some ‘unit studies’ here, and some other reporting ideas here.

But, translating day to day activities into edu-speak is pretty easy in the early primary years – cooking and board games = math – check. Drawing = art – check. Reading books to your kids = English – check.

But it can get more challenging translating things at higher school levels and making it sound sufficiently schooly to keep the department off your back!

First things first, if you are reporting, it (unfortunately) helps to be familiar with the curriculum recommended for your state. For me, that is Victoria Australia. Victoria is being weird in that it’s the only state not really following the Australian national curriculum – though they are similar. For the purposes of demonstration, I’ll use the Vic Curriculum jargon, though, and I’ll use Level/Year/Grade 7, as that’s what I’ve been using in my Evernote files this year.

So, for those in Victoria, if you want to see the ‘learning outcomes’ for each Key Learning Area for each grade, go to the ‘Scope and Sequence’ page for whatever subject you are looking for. For example, this links to the ‘Science’ page: http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/science/introduction/scope-and-sequence

Then click on the link of whatever ‘grade’ you want to align your child against.

You’ll see each ‘subject’ is sub-divided into different sections, and each with a learning ‘goal’ or ‘outcome’ against it (or more than one) – in some states these are numbered, for the Australian Curriculum and Victorian Curriculum, they are not.

So, let’s have a look at Science for Level 7-8 in the Victorian Curriculum:


If you’ve been to a zoo recently, a science museum, an animal sanctuary, done a Clean Up day, visited a recycling plant….or anything similar, file those under ‘Science as a human endeavour’ and both learning outcomes for it..

Your kid plays Niche, Sokobond, ARK, Spore, Plague Inc involved, Zoo Tycoon (or any number of other video games!) – tick them off against Biological Sciences and most of the learning outcome statements, and some of chemical and physical sciences.

Watched the blood moon? An eclipse? Use a star app? – tick off against appropriate learning outcomes in Earth and Space Science, and so on…hopefully you get the picture.

You can be more specific in your learning plan with more explanations.

Okay, so what about MATHS!?, I can almost hear you saying!?

Yep – you got that covered too…no workbooks required, I promise!

Here are some recent examples I have in my Evernote files against Level 7-8 maths (which is split into 3 different Scope and Sequence Documents..because…of course it is!).

This is an image from something Kai was doing in ARK: Survival Evolved:


I figured there must be something I can put that under – and lo and behold, in Number and Algebra I found ‘Given coordinates, plot points on the Cartesian plane, and find coordinates for a given point…’

Recently, Kai also bought a VR headset with money he’s saved up from dog walking – dog walking neatly went under ‘Economics and Business’ in ‘Humanities and Social Sciences’….

But while we were VR Headset shopping, of course we compared different types and how much they cost – right there in Mathematics we’ve got ‘Investigate and calculate ‘best buys’ with and without digital technology’ – TICK!

He also had to set up his room to make sure the sensor reached the head set and draw the room dimensions in the Oculus Rift program….I managed to file that under ‘measurement and geometry’, including using units of measurement, areas of rectangles and geometic reasoning.

So, hopefully you get the picture. It works for all the ‘subjects’ – and don’t worry about being a bit fast and loose with their definitions – schools do it all the time!

When I say I file something under a heading, or ‘cross it off’, I mean in my Evernote files. I don’t often really write anything else – for example here’s a screen shot of the most recent item I put in – last week Kai wanted to make honeycomb (thanks Masterchef!) – and I literally copied and pasted the learning outcomes directly from the Scope and Sequence document for Design and Technology..

If I *did* need to write a learning plan or report, it would be easy to use the Evernote photos and learning outcomes to put it together.




I don’t know. I feel like I should blog more…people don’t blog about unschooling tweens and teens much. Maybe because most of them have given up and put their kids in school? Maybe their kids chose school? Or they just aren’t as excited about things as they were when their kids were only just school age??

Maybe they don’t want to post pictures of kids playing computer games all the time? Ha! Maybe people just don’t blog anymore??

But I will try. I will try, to turn the tide of the many, many blogs where they are calling what they are doing ‘unschooling’ and it isn’t. Those blogs look lovely. Kids in nature. Doing art with felting needles. You know the kind. I liked them too, once. Now they drive me wild…they are confusing to new unschoolers, they are unrealistic. They can make you feel crap, too!

So. I’m going to post the truth of unschooling a tween/teen. Not all tween/teens…just mine! But I think he’s probably pretty typical, honestly…And i’ll try and do it semi-regularly..I promise!

General ‘typical’ days…

A lot of time, it looks like this…(probably 90% of time, if I’m realistic!)

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Kai games a large part of pretty much every day. Usually for the earlier part of the day with his friends from Canada and the US, on Discord…they are super back into ARK again!

When he’s not gaming, he’s watching YouTubes on gaming, and other stuff too – he likes Coyote Peterson and animal stuff, dinosaur doco’s…

Oh – and he’s also decided he’s learning Spanish, so he does a lot of Google translate to learn new phrases (and ask me for noodles in Spanish!)

However…in order to get that awesome gaming computer, earphones, etc….some of the time it looks like this:

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Kai walks 2 dogs, 5 days a week. He saved enough over 18 months to pretty much buy that whole set up himself (which is good, because we could never have afforded it otherwise!).

It’s also summer, so a lot of afternoons look like this:

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And those are our typical days right now….pretty much. But there are other things going on, of course…

Tween stuff

I don’t subscribe to any kind of Steiner nonsense about 7 year cycles and what-not…but I do certainly think from 11-13 is a huge and difficult time in a kids life. I know this from my own life, from my son’s life, and from watching his friends of similar ages.

Kai’s back to co-sleeping right now. He doesn’t want to be in his room – he’s scared of all.the.things…

But that’s okay. He’s sleeping with Brett in our bed, I bed hop where I can!

This temporary situation has also resulted in him reading before sleep again, which he hasn’t done in a while. I think it stops the crazy tumbling thoughts and he falls asleep faster and more peacefully….this is what he’s reading right now (and I’m looking forward to reading it when he’s finished! And we are looking forward to the movie, too!)

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Dungeons and Dragons!

This is a relatively new thing, and who knows how long it’ll last – but we are having a lot of fun with it right now…and have brought many friends into the D & D fold (and who knew I’d love being a Dungeon Master!?).

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I like making props – though not as much as some! And I love all the ages playing in that photo – that’s pretty awesome!

D and D is so creative, so collaborative. I love seeing what the kids do with the adventures – things I wouldn’t even have thought of to solve problems and fight monsters! Plus – we’ve never had that many people in our tiny lounge before!

So, there’s a quick update. If anyone still read this blog (or others, in fact!?) and has questions or ideas for a focus post…leave me a comment! I promise there will be no romanticizing the outdoors and felting needles here!

Hand-writing – that is all!

In response to a recent, lengthy, and at times, heated, discussion on Unschooling Q & A on Facebook, I am inspired to write a post about hand-writing.

Not ‘writing’, but the actual physical act of picking up an implement (biro, pencil, etc) and using it on a medium (paper, cardboard, whatever!) to make words. Hand-writing.

This card was written by my 11 year old a couple of weeks ago for Father’s Day. I have his complete permission to share it – he knows why i’m doing so.

(UPDATED – the card photo disappeared, and I can’t find the original – this writing is from Kai’s D & D character sheet, December 2017)



Does the level of his writing ability shock you? Are you newer to unschooling, thinking ‘Agggh! I couldn’t cope if my 11 year old wrote like a 4 year old on a bad day!’ Are you thinking, ‘But hand-writing is an essential skill!’.

If you are thinking any of those things, you are completely normal! And I certainly would have thought all those things myself when I was new to unschooling (probably a few years into it, to be honest!).

Our kids aren’t us!
I grew up in the 1970’s. I went to a private all girls school. We wrote with ink pens. Hand-writing was a BIG deal. There was always some unspoken competition about who had the best and neatest hand-writing in the class (it was never me, though my writing isn’t terrible!).

I still have that lump on the middle finger of my right-hand that you get from writing all the time. That’s a deformity that came in school and never went – not great, when you think about it! Most people my age have it.

Of course, with the advent of typewriters, then word-processors, then computers, laptops, iPads, hand-writing has become less and less used. Less and less important to every day life. I write my shopping lists on my phone. Even a lot of schools don’t focus on hand-writing skills anymore.

But, regardless, many people my age still think hand-writing is an important skill.

The person who wrote the post on Unschooling Q & A thought so for a variety of reasons. Her main argument was that people remember better when they write, compared to when they type notes (which, if it’s true, is only really important in school or college, and we are unschoolers…but still…). She referred to a study. I’ll get to that later.

She tried to convince us she used hand-writing in her real life all the time. But refused to give any examples.

Mostly, she was shocked at the notion that her son (11 – same age as Kai) might NEVER want to learn how to hand-write. This thought hadn’t occurred to her. She thought eventually it would just ‘come’.

The truth about hand-writing

In a house full of books, full of words, full of interesting people and things, reading will just ‘come’ – one way or another. Once a kids brain connects the words to their meaning and sounds – reading does just ‘come’ – and kids get better at it because they are surrounded by words, everywhere, all the time.

But, hand-writing isn’t like that. Hand-writing – to become neat and easy, requires repetitive use – linking the muscles and movement of the hand and remembering how to form letter shapes. This is known as ‘cognitive automaticity’ – the ability to make letters without concious effort. It doesn’t just ‘come’ without practice. Kind of like playing the piano. Or learning to skateboard. Or learning to swim. Or anything that needs a physical practice for you to become fast and good at it, and for it to be easy and ‘automatic’.

There are some studies that conclude that reading and hand-writing are linked. You can’t be good at reading if you aren’t hand-writing. I’m here to tell you (with my sample size of 1! But I know many other unschoolers too!) that that is bunk! Kai is a VERY fluent reader, and very good at spelling. He writes well, in complete sentences, and is using punctuation and correct grammar, all the time to his friends, texts, in game.

Not being able to hand-write has had no observable detrimental impact on his other literacy skills.

There are some studies that more generally say that kids learn to read when their manual coordination improves – when the left and right sides of the brain start talking to each other. That could be true, but that just comes with time. And hand-writing is not the only way of developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination! (we all know video games are awesome for that!).

But aren’t kids going to need to hand-write at some point?

The answer to that, honestly, is probably ‘yes’ – but not very often, and certainly not until they are older – maybe as teens? And, as we progress into a more technology driven future – less and less.

In the recent discussion, Jenny Cyphers asked people to list when they had needed to use hand-writing in the past two years. I have further split them into potentially ‘no other option than hand-writing’ and ‘could have used another option’ (like typing, printing, etc).

Here are some of the responses:
No other option

  • Doctors forms
  • Dentist forms
  • Immigration forms at airports
  • Application forms for licenses, etc (sometimes there is a ‘fill in online’ and print option, though)
  • Marking student work (tutors/teachers)
  • Signing deeds for new house, signing a cheque, signing credit card transactions

Could have used another option

  • Thank you notes, birthday cards
  • Grocery lists and other lists

None of the ‘No other option’ apply to kids. Possibly teenagers would need to fill in some forms – probably it’s likely a parent could fill it in, but the teen might need to sign.

A real life example that came up last year from our own lives – Kai’s passport needed updating. He last got one when he was 5 – they run out after 5 years. When we got the application form, it said he needed to sign it himself, or else we needed to get a doctors letter saying he was ‘incapable’ of signing.

So. We didn’t want to go down the road of the doctor letter. But…working on a signature was potentially going to be a big deal. After asking on Always Learning and getting some great ideas from Joyce, Sandra and others, we came up with a game plan for a signature based on his 3 initials.

He practised for a day or two, until he could mostly replicate it, and signed his passport application. We took it in to the Post Office. He had to sign again – in front of the Post Office guy – because some of his signature was out of the lines!


He used that same signature to open a bank account in his own name earlier this year. He says he can’t remember how to sign it now….but if he needs to, he’ll practice again.

So. We already know there are going to be instances when Kai needs to write, himself. Right now, they are very, very few and far between. In his 11 years, it’s only come up as a necessity twice, and we managed!

When and how will they learn to hand-write?

In the post that started all this – the Mom was looking for reassurance that her kid would eventually learn to write, the way he’d learnt to read. She wanted us to tell stories of how our kids had eventually come to writing.

Many people (myself included) couldn’t reassure her in that way. Some people with grown children also reported that their adult kids don’t really like writing, and find it hard. Honestly, i’m fairly sure we all know adults who went to school who are like that!

She said (in reference to when he’d pick up and/or need hand-writing) ‘I never considered ‘Never’ as an option’.

I get it. That is scary to contemplate! Especially when you went to school when we did and hand-writing was a big deal. I needed to deschool big-time around writing..and (shame, shame!) there have been times in the past where I tried to get Kai to write – cards, notes, shopping lists…

But I think, in reality, ‘never’ is NOT really a valid option. There will be times our kids, as they get older, WILL need to write for something or another. And they’ll manage. It won’t be fun. It won’t be easy. It won’t be neat. But they’ll do it.

And for some of them, for whatever reason, they WILL find a reason to improve. Maybe for a job, maybe for fun (calligraphy, etc), maybe just because they want to. And if they do, it’ll be fast. It won’t take 12 years of schooling and forced writing.

I currently tutor high school science (long-story – I know, I’ve been away a while!).

Here are some writing samples from my tutor kids – the top one is a 13 year old, the bottom two are 16 year olds.



These are kids that have been in the system of forced hand-writing for years. And I have absolutely no doubt that if Kai wanted to improve his hand-writing, in whatever way worked best for him, he could be at their level in days. Not weeks, certainly not years. He’d catch up – and fast! (and, of course, just think what your local GP’s handwriting looks like!)

What the research says

I honestly can’t find a lot of research on why hand-writing is or isn’t important. The Mom in the discussion cited an article that said they found college students retained more information from lectures if they hand-wrote notes, instead of typed them.

Firstly, even if that is true, it doesn’t apply to my 11 year old (nor hers!)…

Secondly, lets have a better look at the methods and data in that research (which you can find here, though it’s only the abstract unless you have a way to get the full text).

Their main ‘argument’ was that students using computers didn’t retain as much information when asked later as students who hand-wrote notes.

In fact, if you look at their results, the laptop users showed slightly higher scores (though not statistically significant) on factual-recall questions. The note takers did better on ‘conceptual-recall’ questions (which wouldn’t relate to performance in University as it’s almost all factual-recall in tests) – conceptual-recall was confounded by which lecture the participant watched also.

The rest of the results don’t really relate to any kind of memory performance, just a shonky correlation between number of words and type of medium (pen or laptop). So, in my opinion, I don’t think this is a well designed study, and I don’t find the results at all convincing.

Also, it was conducted in 2014, on then college age students – so an average age of about 20, let’s say. Those kids were therefore in primary school in the early 2000’s. Hand-writing would have still been predominant. There were no iPads, no iPhones. Computers and the internet were basically in their infancy. Those kids did NOT have the experience our kids are having.

I’m not the only one to question the study. This article examines the research and concludes ‘What can or should we tell students concerning laptop notetaking? We can say that based on a single study, in which students listened to short 15-20 minutes lectures on general topics, laptop notes tended to be more verbatim than handwritten notes.’

‘More verbatim’ is literally the only concrete finding. Laptop users wrote notes that were almost exactly the same as what they heard. Hand-writers didn’t have time to do that.

When I was at Uni, I took hand-written notes. But the only way I remembered what was in those notes, was to pour over them again the night before exams (and then promptly forget them again the next week!). I can’t compare because I didn’t have a laptop, but I can’t imagine the method of note taking in lectures made one jot (pardon the pun!) of a difference in the exam…it was revision the night before that did that!

Here is another article examining the same research.

Aside from this, I can’t find much else. If anyone still reads this blog and finds more, I’d love to see it.

Peoples highly romanticised personal opinions!
I can find plenty personal opinion though. Mostly from people my age (or even older!), reminiscing and romantacising hand-writing, the ‘good-old days’, and grappling at finding reasons why it’s still important.

Take this article in The Guardian, for example. The author states he had ‘posters of Debbie Harry and Kenny Dalglish’ – that makes me pretty certain we are of the same vintage, growing up in the same country! I also have old school books in my Mum’s house. I had a much less romantic reaction to mine, though!

To begin with, I thought we were on the same wavelength. The author said after he posted ‘why is hand-writing important’ on Twitter, “Everyone agreed that, yes, handwriting was important but few could pin it down to any one reason: and I think that is a problem when we are trying to convince our students.”

Then came …a paragraph of apparently ‘irrefutable’ proof that handwriting was important.

“it is ludicrous to say that teaching handwriting is irrelevant. There is far too much evidence out there which reveals the cognitive benefits. Handwriting improves the development of motor-skills and is absolutely crucial in enhancing hand/eye coordination. ….. the practice of slowing down and thinking about our thoughts in order to write them with a pen or pencil uses more brain power. Educationally I think the case is irrefutable.”

Yeah? Nope! There is little to no evidence that ‘reveals a cognitive benefit’. Hand-eye coordination can be developed in a myriad of ways, not least using a keyboard and mouse for various things (Kai’s also been doing a lot of whittling and wood burning…nothing wrong with his hand-eye coordination!). And I find no compelling evidence that writing things down with a pen uses more brain power.

But later in the article, it comes down to this – the author sees handwriting as a ‘very personal piece of art’. It’s a flowery view, clouded by his own upbringing and use of hand-writing in an age where he had no other choices.

Hand-writing can be quite beautiful. I love calligraphy (to look at – i’m not that keen on trying it out – though I do have pens!). But it’s not a good reason to force a kid to learn it when it doesn’t apply to their actual real lives.

It’s not the view our kids will have. They will probably see something completely different as a ‘very personal piece of art’ – their Facebook page. Their YouTube channel art. Their tattoo’s! Their piercings! Who even knows what they’ll look back on in nostalgia in 20 years!? But I’m fascinated to find out!

A brief Quora thread agrees with me, though it’s not particularly illuminating!

For another interesting view, and also some interesting history on cursive, from an educator – check out this piece in the New York Times.

Though she says handwriting doesn’t matter, she does cite the study I already critiqued, and another study involving only 15 kids, which isn’t even worth thinking about – that’s hardly even a sample size!

In the end – is it affecting my kid right now?

Kai doesn’t live in a vacuum. He’s out and about – with me, with his friends. He sees me write. He watches me fill in forms. He’s had to use his own signature at least twice already.

He KNOWS people hand-write and sometimes there are no other options. Right now, he couldn’t care less if you think his hand-writing is terrible! He knows it is…it’s unimportant to his life and his self-esteem – his self-confidence is good enough that he’s fine with letting random strangers see and judge his writing!

Not being able to hand-write isn’t affecting him …if it did, we’d figure it out. And as I said, I am absolutely 100% certain that if he needed to improve his hand-writing for whatever reason, he could do that in a day or two.

As an the parent of an unschooler – my goal is peace, joy and learning.

So, do *I* think not being able to hand-write RIGHT NOW is affecting Kai’s life so much that I need to force him to learn it? Even if it puts strain on our relationship, disrupts our joyful life, takes him away from the things he’s learning right now? No – absolutely not. I see hand-writing as about as relevant to his life as knowing algebra and balancing chemical equations – not relevant at all. And, similar to both those things, it’s something he can learn very fast, should he ever want or need to.

If anyone is reading – I’d love to know whether other people use hand-writing (with no other option) more often in their day to day life? And when and why has independant hand-writing been required of your kids?



Learn Nothing Day 2016

Our 7th Learn Nothing Day. Read that – 7th!!! Holy cow on a hill! I just went back through the blog (painful at the best of times!) and last year I missed reporting…so, hey, maybe we actually DID learn nothing last year?!

This year. not so much. I woke up to panic in the house. Kai had a virus pop up page come on his laptop. So – panic stations…download Malwarebytes, Avast, install adblocker, run scans…fail, then…in the non-learning department. Kai learnt that watching Kiss Cartoon is fraught with pop-up threats!

He then skyped with friends and played Overgrowth for a few hours. Maybe he didn’t learn anything…yeah, nah.

Then we decided we’d just give up, and make it a normal Sunday….so we went for a drive to a waterfall we hadn’t been to before (disaster right there!), hiked up it. Took photos. ID’d plants (my new hobby, to the immense boredom of everyone else!). Went back down to the coffee shop for hot chocolate and played some Pokemon Go (and caught our first Pikachu!)

Steavenson Falls – one of Victoria’s highest drop waterfalls – 122m (sorry if you learnt something new!)


Laccaria species fungi at the top of the waterfall (yeah, now I’m just showing off!)

It’s 7.13pm. Kai’s playing Overgrowth again – sorting his stats, resources, trying to level up. I’m about to watch Masterchef, so bound to learn something new too….Kai’s also reading Harry Potter before bed….and each night learning something different in the story that he’s seen a billion times in the movie (mostly that Dudley is even more obnoxious in the book, it seems!).

Oh! And we just played 3 rounds of TimeLine – I lost all 3, as usual…but learnt a heap…and so did Kai. We googled what started WW1. How foolish!? Surely that could have waited till tomorrow…

So. 7 years fail. At least we are consistent ;)

For now, I’m sharing this graph here as it’s the best place for everyone to see it.
Data is still coming in, and so it may change.

Reading age in unschooled children (from a survey on Always Learning Yahoo Group – currently n=85 children) spanned from 3 years, to 16.5 years. Reading was defined as ‘reading fluently -able to read anything they wanted to easily.’

As far as could be determined – all children included were always unschooled (Kinder/pre-school wasn’t counted, as it was unlikely to have hampered the reading process too much, but no children who had gone to school from first grade onward were included).

The mean age of reading is currently 8.4 years, the mode is 8, and median is 8.5 years.

32% of children were reading before the age of 8. Nearly 50% of children learnt to read between the ages of 8 and 10. About 17% learnt to read after the age of 10.