Everything I Thought I Knew


At the end of 2008, my husband and I left behind the prepackaged life in the U.S. and moved to Senegal, West Africa with our two children, then three and four years old. Amidst skepticism from family and friends, we created a new life based on autonomy, self-reliance, and respect for the local environment. We built our own home using nothing more than the earth under our feet, a little water, and eighteen pairs of helping hands. We lived off the grid using the gifts of the wind and the sun, grew our own vegetables, and watched our children grow and learn without school.

“Our first six months in Senegal found our children with their hands in the mud, making and laying bricks baked by the sun. . . They discovered that propelling an old bicycle tire with a stick was a fine way to pass the time. They learned to fish in warm ocean waves, holding their catch over an open fire to be grilled and shared. They waded through high green grasses as pelicans, flamingoes, and heron migrated to the lagoon overhead. They shared cups of mint tea with their Senegalese friends under elephant-kneed Baobab trees, and spent afternoons with local artisans who carved and welded and beaded things into the world. With no common language between them and their new friends, they quickly adopted the root words of local Wolof mixed with an arsenal of hand signals. Despite differences in skin color and culture, they shared the commonality of childhood. What my children learned and how their world view expanded during that time was a joy to watch. And what they were learning had nothing to do with school. It had to do with life.”

This book is a collection of essays about the personal journey of accompanying my two children on their life learning path. It’s also about looking closely at my own formal education through a deschooling lens, confronting doubts, and embracing the joys and challenges of stepping outside the status quo. Woven throughout are threads of peaceful parenting, living with our sacred earth in mind, taking risks, redefining success and failure, and embracing vulnerability.

“Self-directed learning is a personalized and ever-evolving philosophy, a way of life, and an outlook that extends far beyond the notion of “education.” The beauty and, indeed, the essence of such a philosophy, is that all children are unique individuals who have the innate capacity (and I believe with all my heart, the intrinsic right) to learn according to their personal desires, talents, and interests without the imposed structures we typically associate with learning.”

“Everything I Thought I Knew” is dedicated to any parent or care giver who longs to give children the freedom to live and learn outside the constraints of institutionalized instruction and to trust in themselves to be a gentle guide.

For more information or to request a review copy, please contact: ellenrowland@yahoo.com

CLICK HERE TO OBATIN A COPY  or click on the book icon to the right of the blog home page.

What Readers Have to Say:

“A beacon in a sea of conformity and conditioning”  ~ Amazon customer review

“Our editor Wendy Priesnitz had the privilege of reading the book prior to publication and is sure that you’ll love this memoir-style group of essays by an eloquent and insightful writer and life learning mother.”  ~ Life Learning Magazine

“Some thirty years post my homeschooling years, along comes the book I should have had for inspiration and encouragement to push against the preconceived notions of how children learn.” ~ Debbie, Goodreads member review

“A worthwhile read for newbies and experienced home educators.”
~ Otherways Magazine, Home Education Network

“Ellen Rowland is such a beautiful writer, she catches feelings and emotions like the birds catch the air.” ~ Lehla Eldridge, Unschooling the Kids

“Essential for anyone looking for another way– in education or anything else” ~Amazon customer review

“In this insightful collection of essays, Ellen dives deep into the many dominoes around living, learning, and parenting that toppled when she and her husband chose to move their family from the US to West Africa. We journey with her as she is transformed by the challenges, triumphs, and miracles that transpired as she gave her children the freedom to live their lives with curiosity, autonomy, and purpose. And what a fantastic journey it is!” ~ Pam Laricchia, Living Joyfully with Unschooling

“Ellen’s story . . . was nothing short of incredible: incredible bravery, courage, humor, and humility.”  ~ Amazon customer review

“While the book is about “unschooling” . . . there is a bigger underlying theme: what happens when we let go of everything we thought was true and open our eyes and minds to other experiences and ways of thinking? .”  ~ Amazon customer review

“This is a joy-filled and thought-filled collection of short essays.”  ~ Peter Gray, Ph,D.,


Author Profile:

10461975_10204603683480471_677542185676930738_nEllen Rowland is a writer, translator, and avid supporter of self-directed learning. After spending 15 years in New York City, where she built a career in art and design and met her french-born husband, she and her family moved to Senegal, West Africa when her children were three and four years old. They built an earth house, lived off-the-grid, and began the journey of learning through living. Her writing has appeared in Life Learning Magazine, Natural Child Magazine, The Homeschooler Post, Otherways Magazine, The Washington Post online, More Magazine online, and Natural Life Magazine. She is a member of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and the founder of https://amuddylife.com. She and her family currently make their home on a small island in Greece.