Forced vs. Natural Milestones

As parents, we hear what “experts” claim to be average ages that children meet milestones in our culture. We then tend to compare our children to these averages and push them to reach them out of fear that they aren’t living up to the cultural norm or standard. When many people first discover Radical Unschooling, in which a family lives in a partnership paradigm, they may become fearful when their children aren’t reaching milestones that children raised in an authoritarian paradigm are. This sometimes causes parents to drop the option of Radical Unschooling all together out of fear that their children will be left behind, or never reach their potential. The truth is, there is a very different curve to look at as parents who respect children in their natural learning and growth. Children raised in partnership have a completely different range of normal, or average than the cultural norm, and it is so important to realize this so you stop comparing your children to those raised in a paradigm that has unrealistic expectations of what is thought of as normal. 

I have compiled research, from over two-hundred Radical Unschooling families who I have worked with, to share what the averages for natural readiness for learning and growth looks like in a home where the child’s autonomy, choice and freedom is respected. The answers may surprise you!


Child Carried or Worn by Parent:

A baby’s desire to be held close by a parent is innate and strong. In our culture it isn’t generally promoted or respected. It is thought to damage a child and make them too dependent. However, this is untrue. In fact, a child who is worn until they are crawling or walking has their dependent needs met, and therefor become more innately independent once their dependent needs are respected and met . This is an average of how long a child is worn/held/carried in a parents arms, rather than spending their time in a baby seat/contraption.

Controlled/Authoritarian approach: – 3 days old – 3 months old

Natural/Partnership approach: Birth – 3 years old



Controlled/Authoritarian approach: 6 months – 12 months

Natural/Partnership approach: 3 years – 5 years old


Solid Food as a Regular Source of Nutrition:

Controlled/Authoritarian approach: 6 weeks – 6 months

Natural/Partnership approach: 12 months – 2 1/2 years old


Sleeping Through the Night:

Controlled/Authoritarian Approach (crying-it-out or other “gentler” parent-led methods) – 6 weeks – 4 months old 

Natural/Partnership Approach – 2  1/2 years – 4 years old


Using the Toilet /  Potty Training:

Controlled/Authoritarian Approach – 18 months – 2 1/2 years old

Natural/Partnership Approach – Birth to 5 years old


Needing Help Getting Clean in the Bathroom:

Controlled/Authoritarian Approach – 2 years old -4 years old

Natural/Partnership Approach – 5 years to 7 years old

*This is not to say that the children raised in the authoritarian group were actually clean. In my studies the parents refused to help them after these ages and the kids were left to do it for themselves.


Sleeping Alone in Separate Room From Parent :

In my research I found the biggest contrast in this particular comparison. Children left to cry-it-out, or with parents who used other methods of gentler sleep training were not respecting their child’s desire to be close to them at night. They in fact, ignored this need, often times out of fear of what others would think of them. 

Controlled/Authoritarian Approach – 2 weeks old – 6 months old

Natural/Partnership Approach – 8 years to 13 years old


Reading & Writing:

Controlled/Authoritarian Approach – 5 years old -7 years old

Natural/Partnership Approach – 9 years to 14 years old


As you can see, there are vast differences in ages that children reach milestones when they are respected in their needs/desires, compared to the cultural norms, or the authoritarian paradigm.

It is important to understand that when children are respected in the natural process, they DO reach milestones and grow – but it is when they are truly ready to do so. When forced or coerced into milestones and growth before they are naturally ready,  it is not without consequence for the child, as well as the parent/child connection.

When children are respected and supported in their natural learning curve, they grow up, whole, healthy human beings.

There is a large range of what is normal for milestones through a child’s various stages in life. If parents can support these stages with love, compassion and partnership, children will not suffer negative side-effects of forced milestones later in life. When we respect a child’s natural growth, it is truly an investment in their emotional and physical well-being. Yes, it takes more time and effort to work in partnership with our children to honor their natural readiness for each of these milestones, but it is an investment in who they become for the rest of their lives. When we follow the authoritarian paradigm and focus on the parents needs for ease, convenience and control, it does damage that the child will forever carry with them. Most of us are living examples of this! Let us take the time now, to honor the wide-range of readiness for each stage in a child’s life and in doing so, we give them the greatest gift we can give another human being – the gift of feeling whole and happy in adulthood.

When my children are grown, they will not need to spend their adult years healing from the first two decades of their lives.
~Dayna Martin

I offer one on one coaching to further assist and support parents who struggle with these issues. Contact me to book a coaching session. I use a sliding scale and no one is turned away who need support.  Please comment and post the ages that your children reached these milestone, naturally.





  1. Melissa Taylor says

    Thank you so much Dayna for this list. I have been trying to find information about the average age for unschooling kids as far as reading and writing. My “schooled” brain is constantly struggling with letting my daughter naturally learn reading, writing and math.

    My daughter didn’t start reading until she was 10. She still struggles with reading at times, but she really doesn’t enjoy reading even if it is something she is really interested in. She still wants me to read to her. She will turn 12 this summer.

    It has been hard to dumb myself down because I went through school myself, but when Rebecca was born my husband and I decided that we were definitely going to homeschool because neither of us remember school as being a positive experience. Then I heard about unschooling and I loved the idea of it, but at times I struggle with seeing kids half her age that can read and write better than she can. I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing the right thing and to stop comparing her to other kids.

    Rebecca still isn’t writing much at all yet, but seeing your age range has made me breathe a little easier. I don’t make her write. I keep hoping that someday she will want to learn to write on her own whether it is on paper or on the computer.

    Thanks again,


    • thank you so much for your ohnesty this is my bigest fear for my girls as my mum in law(ex teacher)is convinced im uterley wrong and any child not at school is being harmed and with particularley well trained cousins who read and right a lot the sublimnial testing has already started not sure what to do but stay away as much as possable what are you thoughts…….guess what she just came over to me and started righting letters and drawing pictures for me with no motivation from me she is 5.5 years thanks agian melissa peace nameste melissa o.

  2. Sharron Brazier says

    Thank you veyr much for this – my son is almost 7, and looking at this list, I’ve been using the natural approach since birth with him, which I’d never realised. It makes me feel much better about my decision to let him lead his schooling, as it’s what we’ve been doing forever!

    He’s an avid reader, but hates writing and arts and crafts, so I’m going to carry on in my happy way, content in the knowledge that I’m doing the right thing.


  3. Thank you so much for this interesting piece Dayna. Real life…we don’t see a lot of that these days! Just what I needed to read right now.
    Blessings to you and yours,
    Carly x

  4. mani malagón says

    Great list, but I think you miss some what some of us the joys that many of us have experienced with homeschooled children—playing violin (1/8. 1/4, 1/2 then full-sized) when most kids are in kindergarten, elementary and junior high school; swimming from infancy; verbal fluency; reading voraciously; mathematics in the kitchen, in the workshop, …. There are actually many other ways to measure milestones and the most important ones, in my opinion, are the self-confidence and abilities of children raised with adults instead of a “peer group” of idiots.

  5. This is such a wonderful post! I’ve been a bit worried – mostly due to comments from family & our doctor about my daughter having zero interest in eating solid foods. She’s 19 months old, and still gets a majority of her calories from nursing. She’s also in the 5% range for her weight, and the doctor recommended giving her Carnation Instant Breakfast to fatten her up a bit. Well, no shocker, she doesn’t like it. Thankfully, the hubby has heard enough from me to just trust her instincts, “When she needs to eat more, she will.” Thanks for this post, confirming what we suspected – that she’s doesn’t HAVE to be getting most of her calories from solid foods yet;

  6. Hi dayna, thank you so much for this….very very helpful. We attachment parent and I was wondering if your research found anything about social development. My son is 4.5 and is still very mummy orientated when around peers. He often would rather engage with adults or me than his peers, particularly in large groups of children. A lot of his school going buddies seem much more tuned in to their peers than my son…is this a product of my parenting? Will this develop with time? Many thanks xxxx

  7. Trisha Tinker says

    Thank you Dayna, this article validates our lifestyle! My 11yo daughter still likes to sleep in the big bed, even though she does have her own bed in her room. Without pushing her out, she has decided on her own she likes to stretch out in her own bed! She is quite independant and self confident!

  8. nothing in nature is forced, and a thought, that to compare oneself to another is vain,how important it is to go at a pace that allows us to soak up and apreciate the wonders around us,this childhood is not long,why rush it,lets strech it out hah?! sieze the moment,devour each day as if the last,thankfuly we dwell at home and “not a place,but a feeling”thankyou Danya for speaking out about what comes naturaly and yet so foreign to many,faith.

  9. It’s disingenuous to imply that this natural approach to letting children lead is incomparable with standard schooling though.
    My older children did most things in line with your natural/ partnership approach. Other than sleeping where they moved into their own rooms at around 3 years and reading which they again began for themselves with no prompting long before they started school.
    My younger children are not quite 12m. There’s a way to go yet on all your points, though slinging is harder with twins.

  10. Terri Clark says

    Early on with my youngest daughter I found myself naturally resonating to the philosophy of Dr. William Sears. My daughter weaned herself at around age 5, potty trained about that same time, co-slept in same room until age 7. (Almost 8) She went to public school for kindergarten and 1st grade and started homeschooling in 2nd grade. She is now 9 years old and has been homeschooled about a year and a half. I’m finding myself once again naturally pulled in the direction of unschooling, of letting go and letting God and trusting the process. I see no need to worry about “who she will become” because she already “is” the most beautiful human being inside and out. Thanks for this post!

  11. Dayna,

    Thank you for this list. It seems I’ve been following it without knowing. My children potty trained themselves miraculously after age 3. I’ve never worried about them using pacifiars or bottles.

    The biggest question I get though is “Why would you wait for your child to figure out how to read at age 12 when they are fully capable of reading at age 6?” I’m from a very anti-homeschooling family so the thought of unschooling would just send my mother and mother in law completely over the edge…however, unschooling seems to fit us better. It does make me feel like a lazy parent though because we don’t have scheduled activities.


  12. My daughter is 2 5/6. I’ll first comment about what she is doing and then I have a question. “Potty trained” at 2 and a few months, sorta. She said she wanted to wear panties, and since I was changing about one wet diaper a day and doing EC it seemed fine with me. Some days she is dry all day and some days she has two or three “accidents”. We still take her most of the time.
    She still breastfeeds. No idea when solid food became her regular thing, but certainly after a year.
    She does not sleep through the night, but did last night and one other day this week. So maybe soon? Or not.

    When is it letting a kid naturally develop and when is it limiting a kid that may be able to do something if they were given the space or maybe a little encouragement, very gently. I work with teens and sometimes I am amazed at what they can’t do and mostly because they haven’t been given the chance to try or trusted to do it. I know they are capable of so much and I often stand back and let them figure out something, so they can have the experience. And never in a rude way of “do it yourself” or “figure it out, kid” said in a harsh voice. But more of a I’m going to leave the three of you alone with this fruit and let you make the fruit salad (who wants to be watched) I will be over there if you have a question but there really isn’t a “wrong” way.

    So I bring these two ideas to my 2 (almost 3) year old. And want her to be able to develop at her own pace and not hold her back, but also not get in her way. Any thoughts? (Oh, and we totally don’t think just because yesterday she cut her pancakes that she must do it tomorrow, development is not linear. We just want her to have the opportunity to cut her pancakes.)

  13. How do you feel about elimination communication? It is the natural way children are toileted in other countries and in almost every past generation before the 20th century. I did it with my child and he was out of diapers during the day by 1 year old, i know others who were out by 6 months tho. To me I found it way more respectful than keeping them in poop bags and letting them forget their natural cleanliness impulses to pee and poo away from their bodies. It helped us communicate when he was a tiny baby… In the births you’ve assisted have you never had a newborn suddenly start crying before their first poop? I have heard of parents putting them over a “potty” (or empty yogurt container in the case of a newborn) from the first poop and the baby was much much happier, in fact I found with my son that needing to bathroom was the biggest reason for fussiness over the first few months, he would be so upset if I missed taking him to the potty too.. Do you have an opinion on this?

  14. Right on! Why on earth would I force my 3 yr old to potty “train” when 1) he’s not ready yet and 2) diapers are easier for me! I am so sick of authoritarianism of EVERY kind! Thank goodness there are other people out there that think it’s CRAZY to put your little kids in some locked down “school” with strangers who could be pedophiles, just to indoctrinate them into mindsets that many abhore. (my mom and sister are teachers, ok, not all of them are bad)

    I remember being anxious a million times at school, encountering endless situations I didn’t know how to navigate-i needed a parent or some loving guidance and got some kind of post-nazi era public “schooling”. FORGET IT!!! Keep on keeping on people! The revolution begins with all of us!

  15. Missy Lowry says

    Hey Dayna

    Some interesting points raised here. I’d love to take a look at the research you did, has it been validated/published or is it more like anecdata?


  16. nicole m murphy says

    Hi Dayna, thanks for this post. I actually just finished reading your book Radical Unschooling and loved it. I am a mom of four. I started homeschooling about 4 years ago, before that my kids went to traditional public school. I am now in my first year of unschooling and love it, so does my 8 year old son (he’s my youngest and last baby). He absolutely loves math, which none of my other children did, that actually cried every time the subject came up. Noah has never been forced to learn it a certain way and has developed a passion for numbers. Reading and writing are a sour spot for him, and I am so thankful for reading your book because I can now relax in my brain about letting it happen when he is ready. He is obsessed right now with the game Minecraft and at first i was hesitant to let him play too much because I thought to many video games would hurt him, but it is actually helping him, because I sit with him while he plays and we talk about what hes doing in the game and there is actually quite a bit of reading that has to happen, so he has been motivated to try. I have been helping him along the way and realized that my prior methods to parenting were not supporting who he is. I’m trying not to feel guilty over it, and move forward from here. I have noticed such a big difference just in the last few weeks since I adopted this new way of parenting and living. Thank you so much for all you do, my son and I are happier for it.

  17. My younger son weaned himself at 3 years and 4 months.
    He still likes to be carried at 4 years and 4 months.
    My older one is now sleeping through the night most nights in his room in his bed by himself at 6 years old.
    I still clean their bums… 🙂

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