Unschooling: No Tests, No Books, No Bedtime

There's a growing movement of no tests, no curriculums, no books, no classes.

ByABC News
May 31, 2010, 11:43 PM

June 1, 2010— -- For the Martin family, the usual morning ritual of getting ready for school and onto the school bus, is a foreign concept.

They live as though school doesn't exist. They're at home all day, but they're not being homeschooled. They're being "unschooled." There are no textbooks, no tests and no formal education at all in their world.

"Just picture life without school. So, maybe a weekend. We wake up, and we have breakfast, and we just start pursuing what we're interested in doing," said Dayna Martin, a mother of four in Madison, N.H.

Martin doesn't believe her kids need to go to school to learn their ABCs. It's part of a radical new approach to education and parenting.

"I just personally don't believe that humans learn best when they're trying to learn something that somebody else is telling them to," she said.

And she doesn't necessarily think they need to mind their Ps and Qs. Her hands-off approach extends to other areas of the children's lives. The kids are allowed to eat whatever they want -- even pasta with peanut butter sauce -- as long as it is in the house.

What's more, they make their own decisions, and don't have chores or rules. "Because we don't punish, we don't use the term rules," Martin said.

Dad Joe works from home making wooden toys. In this household, there is no bedtime, no alarm clocks in the morning. Eleven-year-old Devin often stays up past midnight -- and Martin does not object.

"I'm so happy that he does, and that he has that time to himself because his sisters go to bed at 9 or 10. He can have a nice three, four hours with Joe or just me," she said.

It's a philosophy that makes sense to a small but growing number of parents. Unschooling is legal in many states, and now there are at least 150,000 unschooled families nationwide.

Unschooling: A Day in the Life

Instead of waking up at 7 a.m. to go to school, Devin sleeps until around 10 a.m. "It's the same amount of sleep," he said.

Martin allows her children to decide what they want to learn, and when they want to learn it.

"I think sometimes people they'll come over and spend time with us, family or friends. They'll ask me, 'How do your kids learn if they're having fun all day?' Like, they so don't equate learning with fun," she said. "Whatever they're interested in, I try to bring as much of that into their life as possible with as many resources as possible."

"Nightline" followed the Martins on a rainy Wednesday to see how this learning through osmosis works. With spring showers keeping them cooped up, they decided to go on a field trip. First stop, the Weather Discovery Center. As the kids ran around and pounded on the wind simulator, it was not always easy for Martin to make her point.

Martin said she has "such a present-based mind-set" that she doesn't think about her kids' futures, and that she just wants them to be happy.

Martin has become a leader in the "radical unschooling" movement through YouTube videos and a book, "Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun." She even gets paid to go into people's homes to strip away the rules and do away with structured learning. She calls herself the "UnNanny" -- the opposite of the superstrict disciplinarian on the reality show "SuperNanny."

Erica Berg, a Massachusetts mother of three sons, brought Martin in to give her a lesson in how to ditch the textbooks and typical parenting paradigm.