An entrepreneurial couple with a successful business claim to have nurtured the “genius" in their nine children by “unschooling" them – but admit that their unique approach has sparked controversy, even prompting accusations of “child abuse."
Unconventional parents Megan and Michael Knorpp, both 40, of Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, believe that toiling in a traditional classroom would be like “pulling teeth" for their sons Elijah, 18, Andrew, 14, Peter, 11, and Asher, 10, and their adoptive children Daniel, 17, Esther, 16, Pearl, 13, Eve, 10, and Jude, six.
In contrast, their bespoke approach to education means their children are more enthusiastic about their studies, as they are learning about subjects that interest them, according to Michael, who said: “Unschooling is about child-led learning, and learning about something they've got an interest in."
Michael and Megan with their children (Collect/PA Real Life)
He continued: “We get a mixed bag of comments, a lot of people are excited about what we're doing, but then other people say we're ruining our children's lives.
“Some say what we're doing is a shame, or it's a bad idea and some people said it's child abuse."
As well as receiving online criticism, the couple, who began unschooling – which means they do not follow any curriculum and allow their children to decide what and when to learn – in 2014, after six years of homeschooling, with one year off, have attracted concern from family members.
Michael and Megan with their kids in Paris (Collect/PA Real Life)
Megan, who like Michael went to mainstream school, said: “Our way seems radical, because everyone is so used to the traditional school system.
“Everyone assumes if we hand over power to children, they'll just play video games all day and it will be a total waste, but that's not the case.
“Everyone knows toddlers like to put out the trash and bang pots and pans together, and those things are learning – children want to learn."
Everyone assumes if we hand over power to children, they'll just play video games all day
She added: “Some people have said our children are exceptional, but I don't think that's the case. I think all children are geniuses in their own way, but traditional schooling doesn't always bring that out, or support that."
“Some family members were concerned we weren't preparing our children for real life. But just last week a member of Michael's family said, 'Your children are proof unschooling works.'"
By unschooling their children, the couple – who have built a successful business through their YouTube channel, podcast and by distributing essential oils – have instilled their own strong work ethic in their offspring.
Megan visiting a museum in London with her children (Collect/PA Real Life)
Instead of following a traditional curriculum, the children – who are already learning about topics usually saved for university – are free to choose how they spend their days.
“We've made a very strategic decision to educate our children this way, we want each and every one of them to be prepared for their future," Megan continued.
“Andrew is currently writing his third book. He's already written a fantasy book and a sci-fi book."
Michael and Megan's children (Collect/PA Real Life)
She added: “Elijah is studying Japanese and photography, he got a photography internship with a local tourism board this summer, which is usually given to university students, but he was just 17.
“Esther is fascinated with hair and she wants to get her hairdressing licence before she goes to university. She's also very interested in human psychology.
“Pearl is incredibly artistic and makes jewellery, working with lots of cool tools.
We've made a very strategic decision to educate our children this way
“We always hoped that one day the kids would speak for themselves. We've had to be patient and dodge the backlash, but all our children are doing really well," she said.
Devoted to their family, the parents, who adore children and began adding to their own brood by adopting in 2013, say several of the youngsters play musical instruments, including the flute, guitar and ukulele. But, rather than attending lessons, they have taught themselves using the internet.
“Instead of learning science from a teacher who isn't that passionate about it, our children are learning from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) professors, using the internet," said Megan. “The best people in their field are teaching online now and it's free and accessible to anyone whose interested."
Michael and Megan Knorpp with their family riding camels (Collect/PA Real Life)
She added: “Our children have the best teachers in the world. It's a modern privilege and if they have the Internet and you can be there to look after them, it works."
Thanks to the family's fluid approach to learning, the children – who have a strong bond and often play together – have also been able to travel the world with their parents while they learn.
“It started off just one day a week, when we'd have what we'd call a family fun day, when we'd visit a park or a museum," said Michael.
Michael and Megan love spending time outdoors with their family (Collect/PA Real Life)
“We soon realised it was the best day of the week and it was how we wanted our kids to learn," he continued.
In 2016, the family made the life-changing decision to travel the world, packed up their belongings and moved all nine children into a camper van to drive across America.
“We travelled across the country three times in one year," said Michael. “We started off on the East Coast and went North East, then West and spent lots of time on the West Coast and then off to the Southern United States and back up to North Carolina."
We soon realised it was the best day of the week and it was how we wanted our kids to learn
He said: “But, with just a few hundred square feet housing 11 people, it was fine as long as we got out of the camper van every so often."
Selling their home on wheels in 2017, the family went on to live in Europe for a year, travelling to France, England, Ireland and Spain, staying in holiday rentals for about a month at a time.
“When we visited these places we lived like the locals – rather than just hitting the tourist spots," said Michael.
Michael and Megan riding camels with their family (Collect/PA Real Life)
“Unschooling is all about interacting. When you get to see countries first-hand you don't then need to read a textbook about them and highlight words," Michael added.
“When you see something in real life it makes sense in your head in a completely different way."
As far as their mum is concerned, their year-long trip was like an ongoing geography, geology, science, history and maths lesson.
Some of Michael and Megan's children (Collect/PA Real Life)
Megan explained: “The customs, the climate, the holidays people celebrate are different in every country.
“To be honest, when you're travelling internationally, even going to the grocery store is learning. The children learnt naturally, we didn't force it, it just happened."
The family spent two months in France and three months on the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, but it was Morocco that proved to be the most eye-opening experience, as they were able to see people living in an entirely different way to that they had experienced in the USA.
To be honest, when you're travelling internationally, even going to the grocery store is learning
Megan added: “We also spent six weeks in London in January, but it was too cold. We need to go back in the summer time."
In 2018, the family returned to the USA and recently purchased another campervan, which they use to travel around the country for around a week on average, every six weeks.
And they may still embark on another full-time adventure, as they firmly believe that, by travelling around the globe, they have given their children a head start.
The children admiring a view (Collect/PA Real Life)
“Instead of waiting until they finish school, we're teaching them important things now," said Megan.
“There's no doubt they've gained more from travelling than they would have from traditional schooling.
“Someone once said to me, 'Later down the line, won't employers be bothered about the children's unschooling.'"
The children have been able to travel the world (Collect/PA Real Life)
She continued: “My response was that we don't want our children to be the employees, we want them to be the employers. We want to teach them to be leaders, to be innovative, creative and problem solvers and we believe they are already half way there."
While their children have a free reign to choose what they learn about, Michael and Megan have the final say when it comes to extra-curricular activities.
“We read a book that said letting children choose what they eat and what time they go to bed was all part of the learning process," Megan explained.
We want to teach them to be leaders, to be innovative, creative and problem solvers
She added: “We tried it for one day and it was nearly midnight, we were asleep, and the kids were still up running around the house, so we decided that wasn't going to work for our family."
Instead, the couple – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – have created a structure for the children to work within.
Megan said: “The children have a structure, because we're such a large family -we're more like a crew on a ship. But within that structure there's a lot of freedom."
Michael and Megan have nine children – all of whom are unschooled (Collect/PA Real Life)
“We do limit the time they can spend watching things on screen, but other than that they're free to do what they want to do," she continued.
“We think some online games can be addictive, so we don't allow any non-educational screen time except on Fridays and Saturdays."
After being encouraged to be independent so young, the couple think their children will be at an advantage when they are older.
“Our kids have been self-sufficient from about 10 years old," continued Michael. “From Asher, who is 10, upwards, they know the drill – they can cook and clean and do the dishes.
“There's a culture created in our family and an expectation from the other kids too. The children know if they don't do the dishes properly the next person who comes along to do the dishes isn't going to be happy, or they'll hear about it from the other kids who don't have clean spoons."
Although Michael and Megan make sure everyone pitches in with household chores, it is not always plain sailing.
It doesn't come naturally to a 10-year-old boy to want to do the dishes effectively
“It doesn't come naturally to a 10-year-old boy to want to do the dishes effectively, so there is constant reminding," admitted Michael.
“I don't want to paint the picture that it doesn't require discipline from us. It's the culture of pitching in and everyone has a part to play."
Now the proud parents are preparing to say goodbye to their eldest son, Elijah, who is moving to Japan this month for two years as a missionary.
The family on their travels (Collect/PA Real Life)
Megan, who admits they will miss him, said: “By truly handing over the power to our children, we've put them in the driving seat, and empowered them.
“Other young adults who aren't used to making their own choices might flounder at first, but our children will already be used to thinking for themselves.
“I think because he's unschooled, and already self-sufficient, Elijah will fall out of the nest and immediately begin flying."
You can find Michael and Megan on their YouTube channel Knorpp and South