Success Without Schooling: Kayla Childs’s story


Kayla Childs, artist and speech language pathologist, flirted with school early on but was primarily unschooled. She now works at the Widener Memorial School in Philadelphia, where she supports children with disabilities (including children with complex cases) in learning to communicate. Read her story about how unschooling impacted her career:

“I was born in Chicago, then grew up in Philly until I went away to graduate school in Washington, D.C., two years ago. I just graduated with a M.A. in Speech and Language Pathology from The George Washington University, so now I’m Kayla Childs, M.A., CF-SLP! In my working hours, I help babies and kids with disabilities learn to eat, make sounds, communicate, and generally develop tactics for getting along in this strange and beautiful world. I love my work fiercely. In my free time, I like to garden, read, travel, cook, bike, sing / play my ukulele, draw, hike, carve, and dance.

1006025_10151578817391538_1932617809_nWe [my family] had never heard of unschooling when we started! We thought we were making it up. We called it “Essential Self School” and gave ourselves the express purpose of learning about our true selves. I thought of us as bandits, subverting the system.

I went back to school for the first quarter of 7th grade. My 7th grade teacher gave us lots of busywork assignments that really grated on me. Trying school again made me realize how much better I was at filling my own time with useful and interesting things to do than my teachers were. So, I chose to leave school again after the first few months of 7th grade. Unschooling took off a lot of pressure to be perfect. It helped me live a happier and more meaningful life, which I was into. I still see myself having that knee jerk reaction to avoid the possibility of failure, but now I can give a gentle nod to that part of myself and dive in anyway. Untying my actions from the fear of being wrong has given me the freedom to do big things involving LOTS of failure, like grad school!


Being an unschooler and a camper also helped me to grow more comfortably into my own skin, which gave the secure foundation I needed to feel free to explore. Not Back To School Camp has served as an example of the potential for inspiration, creativity, and freedom of expression that is possible in an intentionally created culture/community. Unschooling and NBTSC fostered my ability and willingness to sink my teeth into curiosity, which has been a major driving force in my adult life. Embracing the hungry, adventurous parts of myself has led me along a winding path to a career I had never heard of 5 years ago. Within that career, I have noticed how the curiosity and drive that blossomed at camp has made me a better clinician.

For example, when a 5-year-old nonverbal child on my caseload was staring up at the ceiling as we walked together, it was curiosity that led me to crouch down and look up from his perspective. I saw that he was staring at the numbers and letters painted along the ceiling, and I began to name them for him, counting numbers and singing the ABCs. Right away he began humming with excitement. Over the course of the next few months, I sang to him each day that we walked together. He soon began to join in, and those letters and numbers were among the first words he spoke in his life. Curiosity is a powerful force, and I am delighted by the unexpected moments it has opened space for, including the thrill of hearing those first words.”

Kayla will be joining us as a special alumni guest at Not Back to School Camp this year. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first ever Not Back to School Camp, we are hosting a handful of alumni as special guests who will connect with campers, contribute their perspectives, and share their passions. Additional special guests will be announced in the coming weeks.