Sierra Allen



Current country


When did you unschool?


In what state did you "graduate?"

Yukon Territory, Canada

Describe your childhood education (through age 12).

I went to a public school until I was eight years old, halfway through third grade. I became very unhappy with school, so I chose to stay at home with my dad and unschool for the next couple of years. These years were golden! I got to help my dad build a house, spend hours in the woods learning about edible mushrooms and plants, reading, art, endless long division, and almost daily spelling bees (my favorite thing!) After that, because of some pressure from my family and from society, I chose to do distance learning through a government program. 

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

After I left school, I still spent weekends with one very close friend. I grew up in a church community. I enjoyed great friendships with many adults and some younger children. I spent quite a bit of time at the local library and at neighbours’ houses. 

Who made the decision to unschool you?

I made the decision. My dad got on board with it quickly, but my mom was not so keen. She worked at the school I attended at the time so it was very convenient as a routine. She thought that my decision was a temporary overreaction and that I would eventually get over it. As time went on, she realized that my decision was well thought out and that I had no intention to go back. Soon after, she became ill from her work, took early retirement, and our whole family transitioned into a more alternative lifestyle.

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

I completed “middle school” doing distance learning with a teacher I really liked. As soon as I transitioned to “high school,” however, the distance learning system started feeling more impersonal and rote. The amount of books and papers I had to lug around also severely limited my ability to travel. At that point, I left formal distance learning and transitioned to a digital curriculum that I worked through in my spare time. My parents didn’t pressure me to complete it. I just did it because I thought it might be useful someday. I completed the curriculum, but I never gave it much weight. I was always acutely aware that my real education was all the learning I was doing in the rest of my life. 

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

Until I was 15, I was somewhat isolated from people my age. I had a best friend, and we spent as much time together as we could. When I was 11, my family and I started a small business called Wild Things making specialty food products from wild edibles. I helped run our roadside shop which put me in contact with lots of strangers regularly. 

When I was 15, I co-founded a learning center in a small village in Costa Rica called El Gimnasio de la Mente (The Gymnasium of the Mind). It was an experimental project borne from a desire to connect more with the local community and to respond to a spoken need from families we knew for learning opportunities that weren’t available through the public school system at the time. It was through that project that I gained a lot more friends my age and developed a very full and active social life in the local community.

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

I interacted a lot with adults through my family’s business. I also was part of a faith community with people of all ages. I worked in various leadership roles at the learning center in Costa Rica including facilitator, director, volunteer coordinator, etc., which had me interacting with people of all ages. I was active in the rock climbing community, where I helped run a small youth climbing team and went to competitive events. 

Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?

Yes. I created my high school transcript by connecting with a local high school counsellor who interviewed me and then translated my life experiences into subjects and grades. 

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

I spent a lot of time working in my family’s business producing specialty wild food products in Canada. That job included work like foraging, fishing, beekeeping, marketing, design, processing, etc.

I wore many hats at the learning center in Costa Rica: facilitator, English teacher, tech support, director, volunteer coordinator, event producer, mentor, etc. 

I was also big into fitness, rock climbing, physical training, healthy eating, and cooking. I dabbled in film, writing, architecture, circus skills, camping, survival skills, carving, and painting. 

How did you make the decision to go to college?

I was curious to see if it would be a fit for me. I got a scholarship and thought, why not try it out? Despite my hesitation and skepticism of the education system as a whole, I knew I had to experience it first hand to really know if I would like it or not.

What did you study?

I intended to major in computer programming. I ended up attending for only one year. In that year I studied some programming, but I also took a variety of other classes including biology, french, and math. I went in with a good amount of distrust of large, impersonal institutions and despite enjoying a lot of what I was learning, I was severely underwhelmed by the competitive and patronizing atmosphere. I realized that I could access equivalent programming classes that I was paying for and sacrificing my lifestyle for–online, for free. The classes I found online were taught better and would allow me the freedom I so valued. I also just felt trapped living in a big, dreary city through the winter so after completing my year and using up my scholarship fund, I knew that it was time to move on. 

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

It was very strange to sit in a class of 300 people and passively listen to a professor and take notes. In some ways it was relaxing and “easy,” but in some ways it felt overwhelming and painfully impersonal. 

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

I didn’t feel like it made much of a difference since I was able to get a high school transcript easily. 

Did you feel pressure to attend college?

Yes, I felt pressure from my extended family and from society in general. 

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

My first job was collecting and selling shed moose antlers. That led to entering into an equal partnership in my family’s specialty foods business, Wild Things, where I worked in beekeeping, commercial fishing, and mushroom foraging as well as in general business management. I’ve worked as a web-based contractor doing a myriad of web and graphic design type work. I’ve worked as a facilitator in an Agile Learning Center and in a Democratic School and I’ve independently run trainings, workshops and camps in support of the Self-Directed Education movement. Most recently I’ve been getting into filmmaking.

What is your current job?

I am the co-founder of EDiT (Education in Transformation), a video production initiative and media platform that amplifies the movement for Self-Directed Education and alternatives to school. So, I make videos, run a website, and manage our social media presence.

Why did you choose your current job?

It’s challenging, the learning I get to do is rich and multifaceted, I get to work with people I really admire and love, it gives me a sense of purpose, it’s a way to express my creativity and it is work that I hope contributes to a more beautiful world and…. it just brings me joy!

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

I’m not sure… There are so many variables. 

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

Surround yourself with interesting people. Trust yourself. Be yourself. Enjoy the journey.

What advice would you give to their parents?

Trust your children. Begin your own unschooling/unlearning journey. Make as much time as you can to do what you love and spend time with your children. Take your family on adventures. 

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

I would want them to have choice. I would want to provide them access to diversity in community. I would want them to lead the way in their learning journey, and I would support whatever they chose to explore. I would want to learn alongside them. 

Published: April 2020