Erin Machado



Current Country

United States

When did you unschool?

Life-long unschooler

Where did you "graduate"?


Describe your childhood education (through age 12).

My parents didn’t know about unschooling until I was ten, but our style of homeschooling was basically unschooling. I played with my siblings all day every day, and I played with other homeschooled/unschooled friends. I went to a few homeschool classes (taught by my friends’ moms) that covered subjects like history, science, and forensics. I enjoyed the social aspect and I had fun focusing on the subjects. My older sister liked curriculums, but I never took to them. I enjoyed reading novels, playing computer games (including academic themed games), board games, and imaginative games. I chose some classes to attend, like gymnastics, dance, martial arts, and orchestra.

Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.

I had friends my age who were homeschooled, unschooled, and a few who went to school. I also easily befriended people older and younger than me. I considered myself to be friends with the parents of my peers just as much as I was with my peers, and I deeply enjoyed having conversations with adults. I always felt happy to include younger kids, and I felt confused as to why some of my peers didn’t want to.

Who made the decision to unschool you?

My father wanted to homeschool us. When my parents found out about unschooling they asked my sisters and me if it sounded good and we said yes. It was already really close to what we were doing, but officially declaring ourselves unschoolers took some pressure off my mother — she could let go of the pressure she sometimes felt to provide us with academic structure.

Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).

I was very much unschooled in my teens. I felt the autonomy of being an adult for the most part. I held jobs, spent time with my friends, pursued music more seriously, played video games when I wanted to, and learned how to code HTML, CSS, and PHP to create websites.

Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.

I interacted with Not Back to School Camp friends, and interacted a lot over the NBTSC site and chat rooms. In my mid and later teens I made friends with coworkers at Whole Foods, where I worked as a cashier. I also played in an orchestra from age 15-18, including intensive music camps in the summer. I’m still friends with some of the people I met in orchestra, and many from NBTSC.

Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.

I always loved interacting with people of all ages. I had long conversations with my friends’ parents. I volunteered at a petting zoo and interacted with children. I babysat the neighborhood kids. When I worked at Whole Foods I interacted with customers of varying ages. I made friends with one adult customer who is still a very close friend of mine. I also made friends with coworkers who were eight or more years older than me.

Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?


During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?

Music — violin, piano, theory, and composition. Also web design/coding.

How did you make the decision to go to college?

I considered attending college for a couple of years before deciding to take only the courses that interested me. I wanted to pursue music but I realized that a music degree has very few uses, none of which I was interested in.

What did you study?

I studied music — piano and orchestra. I did not take credit or get a degree.

What was the hardest part of the transition to college? What was the easiest part?

The hardest part was paying out of state tuition in the first year, as I had just moved from Texas to California. The easiest part was that I only studied what interested me!

Do you feel like your unconventional upbringing made getting into college more easy, more difficult, or both?

Considering I didn’t care to take credit or get a degree, my upbringing did not affect the process at all.

Did you feel pressure to attend college?

I didn’t feel any pressure to attend college. My parents did not have degrees (though my mother did go to college for a few years). My brother did not go to college. My family is big on entrepreneurship.

Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.

The main jobs I’ve had: 

  • Cashier and customer help desk at Whole Foods Market
  • Server at Black-Eyed Pea restaurant 
  • Self-employed web designer 
  • Self-employed music teacher

What is your current job?

I am self-employed as a music teacher. My business is called Music Quest. I offer private lessons for piano, violin, voice, and songwriting. I have been teaching since 2006.

Why did you choose your current job?

I enjoy it a lot! When I was taking piano lessons as a teen I remember thinking what a cool job it would be.

Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?

Much easier! Being brought up in an entrepreneur focused family, and being unschooled by parents who ran their own business from home, gave me the confidence I needed to know I could create any business I was interested in.

What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?

Follow your interests! Let yourself take some time to decompress if you need it. Be aware of any preconceived notions you might hold: the idea that learning should look a certain way (like schoolwork/academics rather than hobbies or everyday life), the idea that kids should read or hit other milestones by a certain age, etc. Be willing to deconstruct these preconceptions. Be curious.

What advice would you give to their parents?

Read a ton about unschooling. Ask questions — there are plenty of adult unschoolers out there who are interested in communicating their experience. Don’t try to be perfect, just be real.

If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?

I would want to raise them the way I was raised, with freedom, respect, and love.

Photo credit: Loni Lonzo

Published: October 2019