PAM: Hi everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Roya Dedeaux!
PAM: Hi Roya, how are you?
ROYA: I’m good, thanks for having me.
PAM: Yay! I’m really excited to chat with you today!
Just as a quick introduction, Roya left school at age ten and her family began unschooling from there. Now as an adult, she has a master’s degree in counselling and is a marriage and family therapist intern as well as a lecturer at California State University. She is also married with a wonderful child of her own and a busy life of fun and diverse interests, which I see lots of through Facebook! I’m really excited to dive into her unschooling experience growing up and how it’s woven its way into her life.
To start, Roya, can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
ROYA: Sure. I have two younger sisters, they are three and six years younger than me, my mom, and dad. We grew up in southern California. I did start homeschooling at the age of ten. It was an interesting experience.
I finished fourth grade and then my mom basically said, “Hey, let’s not go back to fifth.” I was not happy about that at all. I was looking forward to being one of the oldest people in school. (laughter) We got to do lockers the next year and all the perks. I was social, I had friends, all that kind of stuff…it was a change and what is my crazy mother doing now and all of that. So she asked if I would trust her for a few months and then I could make the decision to go back or not after that. The first day of official homeschooling she took us to SeaWorld and this was pre-SeaWorld Controversy so it was nothing but good times! She definitely played unfair because I thought, “Oh, if this is what homeschooling is, then…!”
When school went back into session and we didn’t go, we went to the beach every single day. I know now as an adult, did not know then, that the school was not actually on the way to the beach. We did not have to drive by the school to get where we were going. But lo and behold we did, every single day, drove past the school where all the kids were lining up about to go inside the classrooms and we would head on and have a great day at the beach. That was another little sneaky trick that my mom had. That was just kind of at the beginning.
I know my mom had been researching unschooling and various types of homeschooling but I’m fairly certain she was planning on unschooling, that’s what we were going to. But she didn’t just want to yank the rug completely out from under us right at the beginning so we said we were doing an ocean unit study that first month or so. Then pretty much were unschooling after that. So we did a lot of things. We were in various homeschooling groups. We did park days, theme park days, we did field trips, beach trips, all that kind of stuff. We were in Girl Scouts, on swim teams, soccer teams, we were in a Shakespeare theatre group. We did a lot of things. When I think about my first few years unschooling, not a lot of it takes place at home, actually. A lot of it takes place at parks and Girl Scouts and camping and things like that.
PAM: That’s awesome! So, you enjoyed going out and doing all those different activities and when she came back, did she officially ask you a few months later?
ROYA: I don’t know, I’ll have to ask her. I remember her telling us very clearly we were going to homeschool and the kind of cold shock that went through my body. (laughter)
Maybe not three months later, maybe more like a year she might have said, “So this is working out?” And I remember we talked about the things that I was really going to miss about it. I was worried about missing my friends. We made a pretty good effort that first year of staying in touch with them. And then my close friends, a couple of them moved, and by that point I had homeschooling friends and I had a very vibrant social life with homeschoolers and just didn’t have time to work within my school friends’ very, very strict schedules. I was afraid I would never get back-to-school supplies. That was one of my really big fears. So we took some trips to some office supply stores and that was all better!
PAM: Oh that’s awesome! I remember I mentioned that to my kids too. My youngest was only half-way through junior kindergarten when they left school so that wasn’t a big deal. For my older two, we talked about friends and made and extra effort to invite them over, like you mentioned, around their schedules.
The back to school supplies—that’s so funny that you mentioned that, because that’s true too! My mom would have—I think it started a year or two before we started homeschooling—she’d have all the grandkids (so, three of mine and two of my brother’s) to her house for a few days just to hang out and have fun. And we’d call it “back-to-school week” or whatever and we would go to the office supply store and the kids would pick out stuff. Once the kids left school we started calling it, “end of summer bash,” but we still definitely had that trip to Staples so everybody could pick up notebooks, and crayons, and pencils and whatever was interesting. That was so fun!
ROYA: That was my experience with the kids I work with and the teens I work with, because you hear a lot about families who homeschool and at some point their kid wants to go back to school or go to school if they’ve never been. I’d say nine times out of ten, if the parents don’t panic, if they stay calm and it’s not like, “Oh my kid is throwing away every single thing my family stands for!”, but if they stay calm and dig a little deeper, usually it’s about something really odd and specific like that. It’s that they want a backpack or a locker or go to prom, something really specific they saw a friend had or they saw on a TV show and they think they’ll never get that. So usually you can find a way to do that without all the rest of what school has.
PAM: I’ve heard from a few families too over the years that it’s the “riding on the bus” thing. So you take some bus trips and it’s super fun. Before we go much further I should probably mention that your mom is Pam Sorooshian, who we interviewed back in episode two. So if anyone is interested they can go back and listen to that episode as well. Next question …
The unschooling lifestyle is a pretty unconventional one. As we were talking about it, it can sometimes be totally awesome and sometimes challenging. Were there things that you found challenging over the years? If so, what were some of the things that you and your family tried to work through them?
ROYA: I was thinking about this. I left school at about age ten. Then when I was 13, started taking classes at Cyprus Community College. Originally I wanted to take some music and theatre and that kind of thing. Then very quickly got more and more involved in the ceramics department. I started taking english and psychology and other classes.
The ceramics department was a family. I stayed in that department for ten years. I lived there, it felt like. I worked there, eventually. All my good local friends came from the ceramics department. But they were all college students or much older—it was community college, so the age range was pretty big. I was the youngest by eight to ten years.
So that, I would say, was one of my biggest long-term challenges, being under age and having all these much older friends. They were wonderful but they’d all go hang out at a bar. Or they’d all go hang out somewhere else and either I didn’t feel comfortable or my parents weren’t entirely comfortable with that dynamic. And just that they were in different phases of life than I was. I couldn’t drive yet. All of that kind of thing, I remember being kind of tough. Then I just remember it getting easier all of a sudden. All of a sudden I was close enough in age that it didn’t make any difference in terms of the logistics of things.
But I remember having a lot of conversations, with my mom particularly, about how to enjoy the time I had and how to encourage people to hang out at the ceramics studio, how to manage all of that. But that was a challenge. I considered them all of my really good friends but definitely people who go to conventional public school have some preconceived notions about who a friend is supposed to be. I remember having to work my way through their prejudices about me as a younger teen. That was one.
And then all of my unschooling friends I met via park days that were local and then when I was 13 I went to my first HSC Conference, up in Sacramento, and met the person who is my best friend today. I met her in a poetry workshop at HSC Conference when I was 13. When I was 15 I went to Not Back to School Camp. All of my really “knew my soul” good friends were scattered all over the USA. That was hard, that was definitely hard, I would say.
PAM: That sounds familiar too. I know when Michael moved up to the adult class in karate he loved it like crazy because people were more focused, it wasn’t half of kids who’s parents wanted them to be there, who weren’t that excited to be there.
So he loved that aspect but once a week they all went off after class to go to the bar. So, we did spend some time, as he developed friendships with some of the teen kids in that age, we would have them over and do things with them so we found him some more connections rather than just when they all went out to hang out. So that was a piece of it too, yeah, it’s interesting.
I wonder what stands out for you as you look back on your unschooling years. What, from your perspective now, do you most appreciate about living an unschooling lifestyle growing up?
ROYA: I know later on, you’re going to ask me some things about my current career and everything but I’d say the preparation I had for what I’m doing now stands out. Of course, at the time I wasn’t thinking, “I’m preparing for this.” But looking back on it, I can see really clearly how I got where I am. I really credit unschooling with that in a couple ways.
One is the amount of support, that sounds cheesy, not just support but full-fledged, whole-hearted acceptance in our family of how in-depth we were going to take things and how involved we were going be with things. We didn’t go to Shakespeare class for half-an-hour, twice-a-week. We lived and breathed Shakespeare festivals and renaissance fairs. We wore costumes all the time and built the sets in our director’s back yard and went to Shakespeare in the Park for four days solid where that’s what we did.
A lot of it felt directed by me. I do have two younger sisters and my middle sister would have been very happy to not go out and do all those things all the time. Some of it she liked, she loved Shakespeare and was very into that. She loved theatre, for that matter she’s got multiple degrees in theatre, but I was doing it less for the Shakespeare and more for the group aspect.
My youngest sister, also very social but at six years younger, at that point she was definitely along for the ride in a lot of senses. I’m grateful, one of the things I always credited my parents for it but more and more I’m also finding myself thankful to my sisters for going along with the shear amount of time and energy I wanted to put into everything I did.
When I was invested in the swim team I would do practices three days a week and swim meets all weekends. My sisters were on the swim team for a little while as well. I kind of feel like that made my projects the “thing” that my family lived for a while. Maybe it was a month but very often it was a lot longer than that. I think that’s the thing that really stands out for me is how in-depth and how much we were able to live these things that we really loved so much. I know we’ll talk about this in a minute, but everything I do in my life now is trying to help people figure out what their interests and passions are and pursue them and feel good about pursuing them and I got that! I absolutely got that from my parents and my sisters.
PAM: Wow, that’s beautiful. I think that is such a huge piece isn’t it? The depth, and that you have the freedom and, as you said, the enthusiastic support to dive in as deep and for as long as you’re interested.
ROYA: Yeah. And it wasn’t only just spending a lot of time out at swim meets or in the Shakespeare groups. It was in the little projects too. I made a lot of zines for a while. I made those in, like, 24 hour chunks. I didn’t get up from the floor. So my parents would bring me in some apple and peanut butter. Or pop their head in and check on me to make sure I was alive. But there wasn’t a time when they said, “Ok, you’re done with this. You’ve made too much of a mess. It’s time to go. You have done this thing TOO much.” It was definitely a, “Do you need anything from me so that you can keep doing this thing that you clearly want to be doing.” So on big levels and a small scale, they were really helpful with that.
PAM: Yeah, I think that’s one thing that is so hard for people whose kids are in school to imagine. “My kids don’t like learning, they don’t like to do anything…”—but, no! If you give them the space and support to follow what they’re interested in, it’s incredible how deep they’ll dive into anything that catches their interest. And like you said, maybe you do that 24 hours straight, two or three times, and then you move on, maybe, maybe not. But, to have that support to help you dive in deep enough so that you can learn that, is just incredible.
ROYA: What’s so interesting to me, is that I think that people get scared of extremes. So they think, “OK, maybe two hours of this thing, they’re learning something. But 20 hours of this, oh no, there’s something wrong!” That’s so interesting because I don’t think that when I’m talking to parents about the amount of time I spent doing stuff, I want to go back and show them because I really, not figuratively, literally mean I did that for 20 hours straight. It didn’t feel like 20 hours. It was quantifiably 20 hours, or more, or whatever it was! There really, really was that extreme.
In my therapy practice I get parents who come in who are worried that their kids are spending too much time on something and I get parents that come in worried that their kids aren’t passionate about stuff, that aren’t delving into anything. I just want to introduce those parents to each other so they can have a conversation.
PAM: Over the years you see both, at least with my kids I know I saw both.
Lissy, when she was doing her first 365, or picture-a-day for a year, photography project, after a few months in she had really figured out how she was going to treat this as her work that year. She liked that structure for herself for learning. She would call her morning her time off and come noon, she would dive in and sometimes she’d be going right up until midnight before she posted her picture. The hundreds, thousands of pictures, hours of editing, just on and on and on. She was entirely diving in.
And then my son sometimes, people say, “I’m worried they don’t have a passion and interest” well, that really doesn’t matter in that now I can see all the time he was spending fruitfully, it was just through a whole bunch of different things. And when you give it time, you start to see the links, and the patterns, and threads that go through those things, even if it’s not diving deep into one particular thing.
ROYA: It’s so interesting, looking back, I see how passionately intense and diving deep I was into things. But I had a real fear that I wasn’t an expert in anything. That I couldn’t commit to anything and stay along in any one thing. Because I was really intensely interested in that thing but I hopped a lot. I wasn’t doing all of this all at the same time, although sometimes I know it felt like it to my mom who was driving us around, but I was worried that, “Today I’m really into knitting and tomorrow I’m really into crazy quilting and the next day I’m really into collaging. Then I’m abandoning all of that in favour of swimming.”
I definitely had some internal fear that I couldn’t settle on anything. And I think it’s so interesting because you don’t know when you’re in it, you can’t look forward at it, but looking backwards at it, I can see the through lines. I can see the patterns and the themes of the stuff that I was attracted to and what I loved to do. But it did worry me for a while when I was younger, that I jumped as much as I did.
PAM: Yeah! And you’re right, you can’t really see that until you’re looking back.
I thought we would touch a little bit on your relationship with your parents because the conventional parent-child dynamic is pretty steeped in power and control. But definitely with unschooling we encourage an entirely different dynamic. I was wondering if you could share a bit about what your relationship with your parents was like growing up and what it’s like now as an adult?
ROYA: Good relationships! Overall, wonderful! I definitely gave them a run for their money. Family lore and legend of baby Roya starts with two-year-old me taking off and stealing bowls of salsa and hiding them and going in the backyard and covering myself in mud from head to toe and painting the back fence with mud. That’s kind of the narrative that I have. (laughter) That didn’t stop!
We’d be coming home at midnight from a full day out doing something and my sisters are asleep and we’d pull up over the bump of our driveway and I’d say, “What are we doing next?” So, I think my mom spent a lot of her time and energy and relationship with me trying to figure out how to satisfy the things that I so clearly was yearning for.
My dad, when we were young, we played a lot together. We had a huge big garden. I remember hours and hours in the backyard with him while he was doing whatever he was doing and I would help or be on the edges of that. It’s so fun now to watch my son do the same thing with him, same garden, same deal. My dad worked full-time, same job that he’s had forever. He made our unschooling life very, very possible.
My mom also worked. She worked part time. She taught and she worked mostly evening classes. So I do remember a couple of times with them passing on the porch, kind of a thing. But we did most of our daily, field-trip kind of things, with my mom. Lots of the car conversations, things like that. When I was 15, 16, somewhere in there I know my dad and I struggled a little bit more because I wanted to go travel a lot by myself. He was not so thrilled about where I wanted to travel to and who I wanted to go stay with (and the lack of information I had about these people was really the issue). That was, I remember, a lot of finagling on both my parents parts, “OK, how can we get Roya what she wants and do it safely.”
So we did a lot more traveling then, my mom and I would travel together so I could do that with her before I took off on my own. And then, it’s funny, because I can’t think of any big conflict or anything like that. I remember butting heads with my dad a little bit but about that very specific thing. So, it’s probably, I’m blowing up one argument we had. (laughter)
Now, as we get older, I think we just get closer and closer and it’s so much fun to watch them with my son and understand so much more about what I put them through and what they were feeling. So, yeah, still, they’re the people I—I see them every single day. They babysit my son, Wyatt, when I’m working and I’m fully expecting my dad to coach his soccer teams, we’ll come swimming in their backyard and all that! Good, good, wonderful relationships.
PAM: That sounds beautiful!
ROYA: It’s pretty good. 🙂
PAM: That’s awesome. Let’s pop back a little bit to when we were talking about the threads and where it leads. You mentioned this as well.
Your bachelor of arts degree is in recreation and nature studies. So I was wondering if you could talk about what drew you to that and if you could talk a bit about how that grew out of which existing interests?
ROYA: It was actually a throw-back to the fact that I had so many interests and I didn’t know which thing I wanted exactly. I remember having some conversations with my mom about having all these interests and not knowing what to do. I knew I couldn’t just follow one interest and be one thing because I wasn’t going to be happy if I only did that.
Yes, I loved ceramics, but I couldn’t just go get a degree in ceramics because then what about all the other things I want to do. (laughter) And for a minute I would entertain a degree in marine biology and creative writing and child development. I could so clearly envision a future for myself in 500 different directions. In fact, so much so that I had a ceramic cup series that I made that were my “possible lives” and each one, I used glaze and wrote a different possible life I could have. I made a ton of them! I didn’t know at that point, when I was in it, I couldn’t figure out what was the “thing,” what was I going to go do? One thing seems like it closes off the options for everything else. My mom said, “You know, there’s this degree called recreation.”
So, I started looking into that and it really felt like I could have my cake and eat it too. It was perfect. I already loved event management. I was in Girl Scouts since I was five. I loved camping and organized camps and basically everything that recreation encompasses, I was interested in. I really, really liked that it was going to help me hone the skills for how to put those things on for other people. Because I had been trying to do that through homeschooling park days and art workshops and stuff, host these types of things for other people. I really liked that I didn’t have to pick an activity, I could just get better at producing them for other people. There weren’t, at that point, very many recreation programs available. So Cal State Long Beach and Humboldt were the two that existed.
My mom, grandma, aunts, everybody in the world, taught at Cal State Long Beach at some point so I had kind of vowed I was never going to go to Cal State Long Beach! It’s ten minutes away from the house I grew up in, I just didn’t want to do that! Of course, now I’ve got two degrees and I teach there, so…(laughter)…that worked out!
I had gotten all my transfer units and taken everything I needed and then wasn’t actually planning on going to college right away. I was going to go move out to the Midwest for a little while. On my way to do that, decided very last minute that I didn’t want to do that, and called my mom from a parking lot in northern California and said, “I’m going to come back home.” And she said, “OK, well the deadline for the Cal State Long Beach application is tonight. Is that something that you’re interested in?” (laughter) I thought, all right, what else am I doing? We applied as I was on the phone with her, as she was on her computer. I got in, and there’s the rest of my life right there!
PAM: See, that’s just it in a nut shell, right? That’s unschooling, that’s supporting, that’s helping your kids wherever it is that they find themselves in the moment.
ROYA: And knowing your kids even so much better than they know themselves. It was not the best of reasons why I was headed out to the Midwest but if she or my dad had ever said anything, I would be living there still. I had a little bit of a contrary streak in me. For them to be able to support that *and* support my decision not to go out there and to have all this all ready—I mean, she already had the application half filled out. She couldn’t have done it otherwise. But there wasn’t a whisper of that to me. We had years and years where I was talking about what it was I wanted to do and that that might be the place to do it. It wasn’t like she said, “OK, well here’s your path now.” It was, “All right, here’s this thing we’ve been talking about, that seems like it will work out nicely right now, do you want to try?” And if that hadn’t worked out I would have been supported in that too.
PAM: Yeah! I loved that piece you were talking about, how parents almost know their kids better than they do. Only because they have more experience and they’re looking at the bigger picture. You can share information and ask questions, but knowing not to share that judgement of the child’s choices, to really truly know and be comfortable with these are the child’s choices to make, because whatever choice they’re making, that’s where their head and their heart is in the moment and that’s where they’re going to learn the most from even if it’s just about themselves, right?
ROYA: Yeah. My mom was really good at planning for a lot of possibilities, for a lot of scenarios. I was on swim teams, as I mentioned, and I have this personality thing where, I loved it, loved it, loved it, but if I stop doing something I have a hard time going back to it. So on the swim team, we were gone for a couple weeks. I was injured at one point, it might have been because of that, or we were camping or something, and it had only maybe been two or three weeks. But I didn’t want to go back to my swim team. And I loved it! I lived and breathed this swim team! It was everything I wanted to do. But I was like, “No, I don’t think I want to do that anymore.” And my mom said, “OK, but you’ve got to go tell your coach. You can’t just disappear. Go tell your coach.” So we got in the car, drove to the Y, and as soon as I saw my friends, as soon as I saw and smelled the water, I was like, “I’ve got to be in that water! This is where I should be.” And she said, “Oh! Well, you’re bathing suit’s in the back of the car I’ll go get it.” (laughter)
PAM: Love her!
ROYA: So there I was, back on the swim team, everything was fine. I just had that little hurdle. It’s so funny because I think people new to unschooling would have been like, “Ok! Yes, fine! You don’t want to do it? We won’t make you do it!” And that’s not quite right either. But if I had gotten there and told my coach that I didn’t want to do this anymore, thank you very much, I loved it. Then she would never had told me she had the swimsuit in the car.
PAM: Any that’s something she knew about you, right? To know that, to do this one little thing along the way that would help verify for yourself that that was the choice you really wanted to make.
I just looked at my next question and we’ll just jump back a little bit to when you just started taking college classes.
I was curious about the shift between unschooling and college classes, what were the challenges and advantages of unschooling into that environment that you saw?
ROYA: Yeah, hands down, the absolute hardest, weirdest shift about unschooling and then being in a college class was the attitude of the other students. I was shocked and appalled and bewildered and in denial and still don’t quite believe with my students that I teach now, how apathetic some of them could be. And of course, now that I’m not 13 and just appalled by them, I see how apathy is created, from a systemic perspective more.
But I was SO excited to be there! Someone was going to read my writing and critique it? That was something I GOT? I was so excited! I got to write papers about things I was interested in and I got to delve in…again, I am intensely passionate about the things I was doing. So I was in this poetry class and I loved the teacher and topic but ended up dropping it one semester because I couldn’t deal with other people not loving it as much as I loved it. It was so hard for me! That was the biggest thing. Not all the students, that’s part of why I loved the ceramics department and the theatre department because they gathered people who also loved that subject. But I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how much they wanted to get away with, how little work they wanted to do. How little they were willing to invest. It wasn’t about learning, it was about getting through it. I had wonderful relationships with my teachers. Now as a teacher I get it, if you have one student there who wants to soak up every resource you have, absolutely I adore those students. Everything else was a breeze. It’s not a difficult world to navigate by any means. It’s kind of laid out for you if you’re willing to use helpful resources. It was definitely the attitude of other students that was the biggest shock. And I learned some things about myself and how I organize time and assignments. I did at some point learn how to prioritize not caring 180% about every single thing but where to spend my time. For the most part, just the attitude of other people.
PAM: That’s so interesting.
What drew you to pursue a master’s degree in counseling?
ROYA: From the time I was pretty little, I wanted to have an art camp. Then at some point I thought I wanted it to be a wilderness therapy/art therapy camp. When I was thinking about an undergrad degree I actually looked at some art therapy programs but they’re expensive. I didn’t have the fine art background exactly. I took ceramics, I took print-making, but I didn’t have any painting, drawing or illustrating. I didn’t have a portfolio and a lot of the art therapy programs seemed to want that.
So I thought I would get my camp first and do the recreation. My certificate is in outdoor recreation and nonprofit management through that program. Then thought after that I’ll go and get whatever I need for the art therapy part. And then I was just looking around at different programs and hey, guess what? Those art therapy programs are still expensive and I still don’t have a fine art portfolio and thought, well, maybe I’ll go the therapy route and lo and behold, Cal State Long Beach once again, ten minutes from my house, didn’t require the GRE, and I thought I would just go to their info day and just go see about this.
I’ve always been interested in psychology and families and how they work and all of that. I kind of just got hooked! But all along the way thought if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t do it. I was kind of taken aback by how much I loved it. I really went into it thinking I would use this for this other goal and have really been swept up by the therapy piece itself! I have a private practice that I’m building now. I still would not mind having an art camp but I’m really enjoying the practice of this. So again, if I don’t love it, I’ll stop—that’s still kind of my mentality—but I’m loving it, I’m really loving it! I found it kind of unexpectedly, trying to get at something else.
PAM: Yeah, that’s very interesting! That’s one way we approach things around here all the time. You just take the next step and see what’s up. It’s just step-by-step rather than feeling like if I open this door and take this step I’m locked here for the next five years!
ROYA: Right! I was genuinely surprised I got accepted because it’s really small, they only accept about 24 people per year. I had taken maybe two psych classes when I was 14, but most of the other students in that program had their degrees in psychology. I think it was because I was so specific about what I wanted to do with it and the population I wanted to work with—homeschoolers, and doing this art stuff—that’s the only thing I can think of, why I got accepted, because I don’t have the credentials for it on paper, or didn’t at that point, certainly. I really stumbled into the thing that has become my life.
PAM: That’s brilliant!
Along those lines there’s a lovely column that you wrote for The Homeschooler Post that is how this ties together. It’s called, “Honouring Your Child’s Creativity.” And in that article, you share a story about the reactions you get from your students when you ask them what they did for fun that week. And you also had some great tips on fostering creativity so I was hoping you could share that story and your suggestions?
ROYA: Sure. It’s funny, I went back and read it just to make sure I knew what you were talking about. (laughter) I teach in the recreation department, the same department that I got my undergrad degree from. And I teach really fun classes!
I teach a class called, “The Universality of Play” where we talk about play and its importance and we play. I teach “Intro to Recreation Programming” which is basically how to lead games, it’s not always games, it might be how to lead a kayaking trip. But it’s how to lead the recreation programs that are fun. I teach a class called, “Leisure and Contemporary Society” where we talk about how we experience leisure and recreation and play in our society today and how it differs in other societies. I teach really fun classes! So I just want to lay this out there as the basis for this because I teach fun classes! We play a ton! We go outside a lot. We watch cool videos. It’s a highly interactive class. We play Smash Brothers in class. You get extra credit if you go snowboarding. All this kind of stuff, we play, play, play.
So in this class, you would think that the students who are attracted to those classes would be the ones who are out recreating. And they are! I truly believe they are! They’re out surfing and playing League of Legends and they’re doing these things. But when I ask them and I ask them at the beginning of every class, I say, “What did you do for fun?” They don’t say anything. They sit in silence. They stare at me. And so I do the, “Ok guys, I’m not moving past this question, it’s not just idle small talk, I want to know, really, what is it that you do for fun? Because I like to know this, from a personal perspective and to get to know you as a class better and I’ll use those as the examples in the class and then you will have so much value placed on that thing. Please, tell me, what it is that you did for fun? What did you do this weekend?”
And every once in a while, someone will take pity on me after I ask five times, and they’ll say, “Oh, I went for a run.” Or they’ll say, “Oh, I went for a bike ride.” So usually what happens is we sit in silence for a while and then someone will say something exercise-based or outdoor recreation based. And it’s really clear to me that they say those things and not, “I played League of Legends for 14 hours on Saturday.” Because they think that is the thing I will find valuable and that they’re supposed to find valuable. And it’s not a valuable thing to tell me that they watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” seasons two-through-six this weekend, that I won’t find that valuable. Because they’ve been so conditioned to shame themselves for the things that they love to do. And to not recognize the value in different types of recreation activities. I think that that directly relates to anxiety and depression and low self esteem and self worth and big-picture world problems that we have. I think it’s as simple as if we go back to when our kids are little and, again, this ties in to unschooling philosophy completely, and really honour their interests, we will make happier, more resilient people, which in turn will save the world! I really, I truly believe this.
So this is where my unschooling, my recreation, my therapy, all of the things synthesize into this piece.
PAM: Aha, I’m there with you! That is beautiful! (laughter)
ROYA: So I do the things like my parents did, where they didn’t interrupt me. It’s a big thing, when you interrupt someone and say, “Go do this instead” you’re basically saying, “What I want you to do is way more important than what you’ve chosen to do.” So, don’t interrupt!
You can ask, again, you’re hopefully watching your kid and knowing your kid, so if you know at some point they’re going to get hungry and they’re going to not eat, then you can bring them some food or something. But don’t tell them to change something just because you want them to. Think really hard about what the message is from that.
We honour things in the rest of the world by putting them in museums or displaying them. So that’s one thing to do. Make a coffee table book about your kid’s art or talk really proudly about the level of that game that your kid got to. You probably remember now better than I do about some of the very specific things but I think that it really is all connected. That a person’s sense of well being really comes a lot from how their parents treated what they were interested in. If you love something and you get even subtle messages that it’s not something you’re supposed to love, than the message that you internalize is such one of then there’s something wrong with me. Why do I love that thing? I shouldn’t love that thing.
And that, unfortunately, gets internalized and generalized into other things. I had a client who was not homeschooled. She was a teenager and had pretty severe self esteem problems which was leading to an increasingly severe depression. And her mom brought her to therapy and she sat with her eyes down, silent, didn’t want to talk to me, until I asked her about TV. And she lit up! She looked like a different person! I wish I’d been able to take a picture or a video of that second-to-second shift. Because as it turns out, she was super into, I don’t want to say the show because I think she’s really like a superstar online about this one show, she runs fan sites and stuff. But she was super into this one show and that was her life. She found everything in this show, she loved the show. Her mother had never watched the show with her. To punish her, her mom took away her laptop so her access to this world of hers. They put it down, they did not help her raise money to go to the conventions. They not only didn’t support but they used it against her a lot.
I’ve had a lot of other examples of that type of thing in my experience of working with people but that one stood out so poignantly to me because I just think of what that mom was missing by not engaging in that part of that teen’s world. All she saw of her kid was a sullen teenager who didn’t want to talk to her about things and what I got from her kid was this vibrant, amazingly competent, so interested and interesting girl that just blew my mind! And that just really hammered it in for me, how important it is to support even things that we don’t understand or we don’t love but not to belittle it, not to put it down, not to shame them for loving it.
PAM: That’s such a profound, basic thing, isn’t it? Just to look at your child with fresh eyes instead of judgement or expectations or any of those things of our own that get in the way and see them as the real, unique, amazing person that they are. Because I swear, if you take off those blinders you will see such an amazing person.
ROYA: I think it’s such an issue because we do it to ourselves, even. That mom thought she was doing the best thing for her kid and that mom probably when she watched an episode of something, she probably thought of her TV as guilty pleasures. She probably felt like she should be doing more productive things. She has internalized shame about the things that she loves.
I didn’t work with the mom, but I would bet thousands of dollars that that is the case. We are now just getting to the place where people who were unschooled are unschooling their kids but there are still so many parents who had conventional parenting. So I think it’s so important for unschooling parents to really take a good long look at the baggage that they come to it with, at those blinders that they’re looking through and applying it to themselves too. I
was at a conference once and I was playing a lot of Bejewelled on my phone and I remember, I think I was talking to Sandra Dodd actually. She was in our hotel room, there were a whole bunch of us in our room playing board games. I was saying that I just wanted to go to my bed and play Bejewelled and I felt so guilty because I was at a conference and I was kind of spiraling that way. And Sandra goes, “Roya, maybe you need a break?” And I was like, “Oh! Right! Right!” (laughter) And so, instead of feeling guilty about playing Bejewelled for a couple of hours, I went and relished my little break from the conference and from so many people and thought, “Yep! This is what I need right now, how nice this is!”
So even, I had the best situation possible, the most supportive parents, I’ve studied this for a living, and I still do that to myself. So, when you had parents who gave you those messages blatantly, I think it’s even harder and more crucial that you really examine those things.
PAM: Oh yeah, that is such a huge, I know for me anyway, but for most unschooling parents that I’ve talked to, that whole deschooling process of questioning all the messages that just pop into your mind for everything, judging this and feeling bad about that. At least in my experience anyway, at first you do it for your kids. You watch them in action and think, oh look, I thought that wasn’t a good thing for them to do. But when I watch them doing it I see how much they’re getting out of it. You know, like that TV show and that teen you were talking about. And then the next piece was, well, they’re human, this is working for them, hey, what if I applied all that to me, because I am a human being too. And then all of a sudden my world was like, WOW!
ROYA: Absolutely! And it’s interesting, Jane McGonigal, who is going to be at the HSC Conference this year, she has done a ton of studies on the value of gaming and things like that. One of the studies she sites in her book, Superbetter I believe, is about how we actually reap more of the benefits of these types of play when we know that there’s benefits to be gained from it.
So, our attitude towards it actually makes them even better for us. I’ve always thought that was so interesting. If you’re playing, I keep using League of Legends as an example, because that’s what my husband plays, but if you’re playing League of Legends you’re getting some benefits from that anyway. Increased hand-eye coordination, recall, all these things that we know that video games help us with. But if you know that you’re getting all of those benefits, you’re getting even more of them. I just love that!
PAM: That is really cool! When you think about it, I guess it does make sense, because those things are happening but when you’re open to receiving them you do catch so much more of it too.
ROYA: And you don’t have the other side of, you might be playing getting these benefits despite yourself, but you also eliminate any of that internalized shame or guilt of I should be doing something else or what am I doing with my life, any of that judging. So you don’t have to fight against the detrimental effects that those have in order to get any of the benefits.
PAM: That’s fascinating isn’t it?! It will be really fun to have her speak this year, that’s awesome!
I did have one question here, I think we’ve mostly covered it, have you found that you’re unschooling lifestyle growing up has influenced your work as a therapist? Can you think of anything else to add to that?
ROYA: Yes, absolutely it has! I feel like I have the elevator pitch of, “Who I am as a human” and it totally impacts my life growing up and my career and the message and the mission I have in the world.
One thing that is interesting is that I have a few unschooling clients but I mostly have homeschooling clients. It’s because I think homeschoolers really want to do things really differently than conventional schools and try to do that at home and then come up against their childhood messaging. Or they’re trying so hard to do something better and they’ve hit some walls, they’ve hit some stumbling blocks sometimes. Or they don’t have the wonderful relationship they thought that homeschooling was going to create for them. Although I am completely an unschooler, I guess now people are talking about whether there is a difference between unschooling and radical unschooling and that’s a whole other podcast, but I can’t separate out unschooling from the fibre of who I am.
But in my practice, it’s very incremental. I don’t start out by being, “You should be an unschooler and let’s get you there!” It’s much more of a gentler, “Where’s your hang-up, where’s your trigger? It’s bedtime? OK, let’s talk about that. What are the messages around that?” Whatever the things is, reading, writing, it’s something. Most of the parents who come to me, there is some hang-up and it always gets traced back to the narrative they have of themselves or their expectations of them as a parent or expectations of their children.
So it’s interesting because although I have a lot of homeschooling clients, I don’t go at it from, “Here’s how we unschool better.” It’s definitely more a therapeutic piece, but everything about me is an unschooler so obviously that colours it completely. But I like to think that I meet my clients where they’re at and so it can be an incremental shift.
PAM: Yeah, when you’re meeting them where they are and trying to help them go where they want to go, by helping them dig into things, the unschooling perspective just helps you…I think when you’ve grown up unschooling there’s such a level of self-awareness that often people raised more conventionally don’t have the time or the range of experiences to figure out.
ROYA: Right, yeah. I think unschooling is such a dramatic shift from the normal that it calls to a certain personality type, a person who is willing to do a little more work or advocacy or experimentation. If you want to maintain homeostasis and status quo, you don’t usually leave school, you just keep doing that. So I think it definitely draws people, just by its nature, that are self-aware and willing to do that kind of exploration, which fits in really nicely with therapy. Because that’s what it is, it’s just such an exploration. Therapy only really works when you stay kind of curious about yourself and why you are doing the things you’re doing or feeling what you’re feeling. That’s the sweet spot of therapy.
I’ve done crisis management and things like that which is an incredibly valuable aspect of therapy. But in my practice it’s definitely a lot more of this: how do I make a pretty good life that much better? How can I feel better in it? It’s fun, I really, really love that.
PAM: That’s beautiful. Last question!
As a grown unschooled what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey?
ROYA: I would say, for unschooling parents who are just starting out, just to relax. Just completely relax. And if you need to give yourself a time limit of how long to relax, give it six months. Relax for six months. Just let go of anything you think is important, it’s not.
And I’m talking about brushing your teeth, eating the nutritious balanced diet, about going to sleep at certain times, anything. Just relax. Nothing irreparable will happen in six months, just relax.
And the next piece of that is, nothing is as important as the relationship you have with your kid, nothing. No piece of information, no degree earned, no job, nothing is as important as your relationship with your kid. So, when you are struggling with something, or trying to make a decision about something, or decide how to react about something, I would be thinking, “Which option connects me more to them? Which option improves our relationship?” As opposed to, “Which option gets them into bed. Which option gets them to brush their teeth?” Think about the relationship first is what I would say.
PAM: I love that piece about relaxing because you know what? When you’ve made this momentous decision either to not send your kids to school or to bring them home and it just seems so big it seems like you need to do something. That so much of their life hinges on this one decision.
But truly, to be able to relax and just let life flow for, as you said, at least six months, six months to a year. That is so important because all of a sudden you learn so much more about your child. Especially when, as you said, if you need something to guide you, the relationship, that’s the perfect place, right? As you have ideas, which one is going to help the relationship vs push us further apart. That’s really cool because that’s one of the hardest things is to realize, “Ok, we’ve made this huge decision, now we can just relax and have fun.”
ROYA: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s quite a dichotomy to walk that seriousness versus the levity of it. I know my mom talks about, she might have said this on your podcast, I honestly didn’t listen to that one. (laughter) It’s hard to listen sometimes to stories about me.
She tells at conferences that her guidance when she first started, was she was trying always to light our eyes up. That light of, “Oh that’s interesting!” or “Oooo, I like that!” or whatever that thing is that gets that little spark in your eyes. She said that was what she was going for. So if she offered something and we were, “eh” about it, then she would drop it. And she’d try to find the things that made us interested. That was kind of her pet project when she was first starting out as an unschooling mom.
And I like that. I like that a lot. I think it’s, “Relax” and the other side of that is, “Have fun!” If you need something, then think of this as a vacation and do all the things that you would do just to have fun. When I talk to parents and I say, “Really, when your kid is 80 what do you want for them in their life?” It’s happiness. It’s not for them to know every single math equation in the world. It’s not for them to have memorized history facts or even be very much exposed to these things. The reason they want them to get those things is because they think, that will lead to success and that will lead to happiness.
But when you go all the way to the end of that road, it’s happiness. So, why do you have to wait? Be thinking creatively about other paths to that. Then in therapy we talk about why they think math problems is, “the thing.” But it always goes back to, you can’t force happiness. Happiness doesn’t happen when you are desperate or when you’re scared. So, relax.
PAM: Yeah, that’s the other piece. The best learning, to see your kids, when you take your kids out of school, if they’re not doing workbooks or worksheets or whatever, that’s the point, is having fun. When they’re having fun, their eyes light up, and they’re learning like crazy.
ROYA: And there’s so much science that backs that we learn things when we’re having fun. If you want your kids to learn things, look at if from that perspective, than just do that (have fun).
PAM: Yeah! Because once they’re engaged—I love the book Finding Flow—your best learning? When you’re in the flow. When are you in the flow? When you’re really engaged. When are you really engaged with something? When you’re having fun with it! It all ties back to that.
Well, I want to thank you so, so much for taking the time to speak with me Roya, I had so much fun!
ROYA: I appreciate it, this is inspiring for me too. This is why I like to talk and speak and conferences stuff too is because it rejuvenates myself as well.
PAM: Oh I know, that’s one of the things I’m loving from the podcast too. I get just so excited about it every week!
And before we go, can you share where the best place for people to connect with you online is?
ROYA: Yeah, my website, probably. It’s royadedeaux.com. I’m also on Facebook, I’m Roya Dedeaux MFTI. I write for The Homeschooler Post as you mentioned. I’ll be speaking at the HSC conference, the Free to Be conference, and the CHN conference upcoming the next couple of months. And my email address is also royadedeaux at gmail.com. So, basically, if you put my name in, you’ll find me.
PAM: That’s perfect! And I’ll share links to all those things in the show notes as well. Thank you very much, hope you have a great day, Roya!
ROYA: Thank you, thank you! Have a great day too!