Zoe Vlastos



Current country

United States

When did you unschool?


Where did you "graduate?"


Describe your childhood education (through age 12).

My childhood education consisted of a mix of unschooling and homeschooling. The early years definitely trended more towards unschooling with lots of free time, learning through play, and general exploration. I remember doing some workbooks and educational computer games. I LOVED to read, and I spent most of my time reading, taking care of animals, playing piano, and running around the woods near our house.  We often visited the library, zoo, science museum, etc. 

We were part of a homeschool network/group in St. Louis MO where we took classes offered by other parents, went on field trips, hung out at parks, and generally just played and learned together. My mom was super involved in the homeschool group and in my siblings’ and my education. I had a lot of freedom and ownership over my education; I always felt involved and that I had a voice. 

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

I mostly socialized with kids in our homeschool group through classes, meetings, and playdates. We played at each others’ houses, in the woods, at parks, at museums, etc. We were very involved in classes offered through our homeschool group’s co-op. I was also in a choir that separate from the homeschool group, but I didn’t really make friends there. I felt awkward around kids older than me and I was more comfortable with kids my siblings ages. At 14 years old I went to Not Back To School Camp for the first time and made many more friends there. 

Who made the decision to unschool you?

Both of my parents, but mostly my mom. 

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

As a teenager I was homeschooled and attended some community college. I felt very involved in my own education. At the beginning of each semester, my mom and I would sit down to plan what I wanted to learn. I loved learning and got really excited about classes, creating my own curriculum, and making plans. My education became more and more structured as I got older and prepared to go to college, but I was the one creating and choosing this structure. 

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

I was still involved in our homeschool group, although my friends from early childhood shifted through my teen years. I made friends through Not Back To School Camp, which I attended each fall from ages 14-18. I stayed in contact with those friends through letters, social media, phone calls, and visits, since they lived farther away. 

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

I felt comfortable working with anyone younger than me. I was comfortable with adults, but I still felt awkward interacting with those who were slightly older than me in our homeschool group. I interacted with people of all different ages and I loved it! I taught piano to kids from our homeschool group and from the community at large. I was also a hostess and waitress at a nearby restaurant. 

Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?

My mom created a high school diploma for me and I had a one person graduation from “high school”! 

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

I played piano constantly! I loved learning and focused a lot on academics in general. I started to travel, especially to learn more Spanish. Earlier in my teen years I focused a lot on animal husbandry — horse riding, caring for farm animals, raising puppies, etc. Later in my teen years I decided I wanted to be a doctor so I shadowed my Dad a lot. I loved running. I continued to love reading! I also started partner dancing! 

How did you make the decision to go to college?

I seem to have always known I was going to go to college! 

What did you study?

I studied Music, Psychology, and Neuroscience, although I was interested in much more! I hold a BS in Psychology and Neuroscience with a minor in Music. I am currently in a Master of Arts in Counseling program. 

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

Honestly, the transition wasn’t that hard for me. It felt like a new beginning! I definitely had to work hard at school, but I’ve always loved academics so that did not bother me. I think that attending community college first helped prepare me for university. I made friends easily. The hardest parts were probably being far from my family (I went to college in CO and my family was in IL), and still being in recovery from an eating disorder. 

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

My homeschool/unschool upbringing allowed me to retain my love of learning. I loved the expanded ownership I had over my education in college; I was prepared for that after homeschooling and directing my own learning for so long. 

I saw many of my peers lose their enthusiasm for learning after years in the system. I felt a bit disappointed that my classmates did not feel as excited as I felt about learning and about being in college. I sometimes felt disconnected from other students socially because I was not interested in partying or drinking, and I had not had many of the experiences they had growing up. I still felt different and sometimes that was uncomfortable. 

Did you feel pressure to attend college?

It was just always expected that I would go to college. Because I thought I wanted to be a doctor, I knew I needed to go to college. I grew up with a privilege of college being an expectation. I never questioned it and I am happy with my decision.  

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

Through high school, I worked as a self-employed piano teacher, a hostess/waitress, and at a catering company. During college I worked at the school library in Interlibrary Loan. During the summers I worked in catering or in research. Later in college, I got a paid internship doing neuroscience and behavioral research in a children’s hospital psychiatry unit (where I continued working), and in a professor’s lab. Since then I’ve worked at Unschool Adventures, at Denver Children’s Home, as a Field Guide and Senior Field Guide at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy, and now as a nanny.  

What is your current job?

I work as a nanny while in grad school.

Why did you choose your current job?

I chose to work as a nanny because it offers me a flexible schedule and money while I am in school. Before this job, I worked in Wilderness Therapy to expand my experience in mental health and to grow as an individual as well as to work outside! I loved being a field guide!! 

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

I’m not sure if it affected me either way. 

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

Follow your own pleasure/bliss/excitement/joy/creativity! It will take you amazing places! Reach out to others who are doing the same thing. Create community! 

What advice would you give to their parents?

Trust that you and your child can explore education TOGETHER!! 

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

It will depend on where I am living. I want to be very involved in my children’s education while still allowing them to direct their own education. Perhaps I will unschool/homeschool them, perhaps they will go to school. I want to honor their desires around their education and to maintain open conversation between us. 

Are there any other thoughts you want to share?

I am extremely grateful for my upbringing as an unschooler/homeschooler/self-directed learner. There were hard parts, of course, and everyone has hard parts of growing up. Overall, the experience was magical, beautiful, and it made me who I am! 

Published: October 2019