A bit about you …
What’s your name?
Where do you live?
Charlotte, North Carolina, US
What does your family look like?
I am married to David. We have been together for 28 years (since we were teens). We have two girls who are now 15 and 17. Our oldest led us to radical unschooling as a toddler. Thanks to John Holt and watching this amazing child, it was clear from the start that we were meant to explore the world together. When our second daughter came along—full of energy, creativity and joy—it was just further confirmation. Fifteen years later, I am profoundly grateful for this life and for every moment we’ve had together.
We are also fortunate in that eight years ago David was able to leave corporate America to be home with us. So, we are able to truly explore the world as a family.
The departure phase of the journey …
We discover and explore unschooling, and choose to begin.
How did you first hear about unschooling? What spurred you to begin exploring unschooling for your family?
My oldest daughter experienced a brain injury after birth and was given many dire predictions. As it turned out, she had other plans and began speaking in sentences before she was one and full, complete speech by 18 months. Being my first child, I didn’t really know what to expect and we just went with the flow.
When she was three she wanted to learn EVERYTHING about bones. I bought a 5th grade text book so she could learn the bones but it still said, “thigh bone” not “femur”. So, I found a college, medical text that met her need. During this same time we were on the playground and she pointed to a little boy’s chest and said, “That’s your sternum.” He looked down, saw the dinosaur on his shirt and said, “No, that’s a tyrannosaurus rex.” An argument ensued, neither willing to move from their position and I realized that school might not be the best spot for her!
Then I started to investigate homeschooling. It was, honestly, the furthest thing from my mind. I found the “Well Trained Mind” and thought, ok, this is what I’m going to have to do to “educate” her. THANK GOODNESS, I discovered John Holt soon after and it all started to fall into place. His ideas of trusting children and observing made so much sense. I watched my daughter and could see how much she was learning, how she had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and that what she really needed was a facilitator, someone who could help her pursue her interests and help her find the knowledge she was seeking.
I saw the same spark in her sister. Even though their personalities were completely different, their human desire to learn and understand the world around them was so strong.
I observed a lot during this time and read a lot too. I saw that it’s quite common to fully immerse ourselves in an interest, hardly coming up for air. The idea of “subjects” and broad, shallow learning didn’t seem natural anymore. I realized it was the same for me and for my husband. I was doing a crash course in learning and couldn’t get enough. I enjoyed the process and loved observing and helping my girls explore their world.
What fears did you initially need to overcome?
I think I was spared some of the common fears because my kids were little and we hadn’t entered into the “school paradigm”. I could see that they were learning and they were learning fast in all sorts of complex and varied subjects.
There were times I wondered if I was up to the task. I had never had a desire to be a “teacher” but that ended up being one of the things I love about unschooling. I’m not a teacher, I’m a facilitator. That role allows me to explore the world, sharing things that I love with my children, find out about things they love, chase them down rabbit holes and end up in all kinds of amazing places. It never looked like sitting at a table doing “book work” or memorizing what someone else thought was important. We didn’t use worksheets or things like that. We read a lot, all kinds of books, we watched shows together, we played outside, we went to museums and listened to music. It was a wonderful time of rich exploration and it was so fun to see the world through their fresh eyes.
Did family and/or friends try to discourage you from setting out on your unschooling journey?
We certainly had people in our lives who did not understand what we were doing. I found if I shared my joy about our time together and all that we were discovering, it was contagious—people loved to be a part of that energy. More often than not, people ended up wanting what we had.
I also didn’t invite outside people into our personal decision making. We were confident with our choices and that silenced many critics. That confidence came from my relationship with my children and the research that I had done related to learning and unschooling.
When you first started out, what were some of the things you were hoping to address by moving to unschooling?
We really always unschooled—the girls’ passions always lead the way. So, we didn’t have a time of moving away from something to unschooling. But when I did mentally commit to it for the long haul, I hoped that it would create an environment where they could find the things they loved, learn about things that interested them, and develop skills in areas that would serve them. It has done all of those things and much more!
The initiation phase of the journey …
We dive deeply into deschooling and our spiritual growth takes root.
What were some of your favourite ways to learn more about unschooling? Did you prefer to read about others’ experiences or ask questions directly? Or both?
I enjoyed reading books about learning in general and unschooling specifically. I take in information through written words, so this was a very important step for me. I also enjoyed meeting other unschoolers but that didn’t come until later. I got a lot out of message boards and interacting with others who were on this journey, others who trusted their children.
What allies did you discover along the way? What did you find helpful?
I loved John Holt’s books. But I read everything I could get my hands on. I was also very interested in our relationships and read a lot about relationships and did a lot of work to make sure that our connections were strong and that we were all working together, without unnecessary hierarchies.
I did enjoy messages boards. I got different things out of different boards. To this day, I have lifelong friends that I met through the boards. We have watched our children grow up together and those relationships are an important part of my life.
How did you choose to move to unschooling with your family? Was it a gradual process of exploring/implementing one aspect at a time, or did you make bigger leaps at once? Did the process work out reasonably well for you?
It was more just a realization that unschooling was the natural process that worked for our family. It allowed each of us to learn and grow as individuals.
How did you build trust in unschooling?
I saw how our girls were thriving. How they were passionate learners engaged in the world around them. I saw the spark in their eye grow. I had friends with children in school who were seeing just the opposite. Their children were losing their spark for learning and my friends felt like they were losing their children to the rigors and stress of conventional schooling.
Did you find that observing your children helped you build trust in unschooling?
I think observing is a great tool. It helps me quiet any outside voices and reconnects me with my children, allowing me to truly see them. This helps me know where they are and what they might need from me. That connection is the most important aspect to unschooling, in my opinion.
As you moved between the conventional and unschooling paradigms, did you feel more vulnerable to the judgement from others? How did you deal with that?
I didn’t feel vulnerable because I could see how much the girls were thriving. I could feel how strong our relationships were. I put my faith in that and in our family. That was the most important thing to me. If other people got it, then great, if they didn’t, that was ok too.
The return phase of the journey …
Having fully embraced the unschooling lifestyle, we re-integrate with the conventional world.
How often do you feel the urge to stay in your “unschooling bubble”? Are there common things that spark it?
We do enjoy our “unschooling bubble” 🙂 We enjoy finding like-minded friends and hanging out with people who respect children and are interested in learning in the world. If we are around people who are disrespectful to children, that could be something that drives us back to our bubble to recharge.
Do you feel comfortable moving back and forth between the two worlds? If you begin to feel uncomfortable, what do you do?
We do feel comfortable. We live in a fairly large city and there are many opportunities to be out and about. We do tend to focus on activities that are social in nature or related to a specific passion. That helps us find people with whom we connect.
When others ask you questions about your unschooling lifestyle, do you usually feel their curiosity or their judgement? Do you feel the need to defend your choices?
I enjoy talking about unschooling. There are times I try to not say anything but if asked specifically, I’m happy to talk about how much we love our unschooling lives. I don’t feel the need to defend but prefer to share the joy of our lives. I see how that transforms people, the idea that it can be joyful!
With well-developed sense of self, our children are able to pursue learning in any of its forms without getting caught up in the trappings of the conventional system. Have your children chosen more formal learning settings, like classrooms or structured courses? If so, what was their experience?
My children have not really chosen academic classes. They have attended classes like gymnastics, dance, voice, drama, etc. They enjoyed those and if they weren’t a good fit we moved on. We found taking classes related to passion or interest areas was a good way to meet people.
What, for you, was the most valuable thing to come from your journey to unschooling?
Hands down our relationships.
I have seen how our deep connection and respect for each other has served us through thick and thin. We enjoy being together, we know each other and we are there for each other. I am so grateful for the time. We have time to get to know each other, to let things unfold, to THINK, to play, to learn and to grow. It’s a rich, wonderful life! I stand today looking at these amazing young women, soon to embark on their own adult journey and I feel so grateful for the years and the gift of unschooling. It has truly shaped our lives and has been such a wonderful experience.
I have always believed in living in the moment, making each moment the best you can and before you know it you are looking back on years of wonderful moments that make up a lifetime of memories and experiences.
That has been a great gift of unschooling—so many amazing moments together with the people I love.
I first met Anna online years ago and found her perspective on unschooling to be grounded and her focus on relationships beautiful. I’ve since met her and her family in person a few times and love seeing them in action together. And she plays a mean round of Bananagrams. 🙂
So I was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few questions about her journey! If you’d like to read some of her articles, you’ll find them on her website, choosingconnection.com.
The road so far:
Departure phase of the journey
Call to adventure: We discover unschooling and excitedly imagine the possibilities.
Refusal of the call: The many implications of choosing unschooling hit. Do we commit?
Supernatural aid: Our children guide us on our unschooling journey