A bit about you …
Hi! I Am Anne Elizabeth Ohman.
I live on 10 mountaintop acres in rural New York State.
What does your family look like?
I live in my home with my husband, our English Bulldog (Monty) and our Welsh Corgi (Roxi). My youngest son, Sam (21, always unschooled) lives in our nearby little college city (20 minutes away), right downtown, and walks to his job as Chef de Cuisine at the best restaurant in the city. My oldest son, Jacob (24, always unschooled) lives right next door to the library at which I am the director, in a little rural town 18 minutes away (10 minutes from Sam). He lives there with his lovely girlfriend. Jacob is an artist and is fulfilling his desire to learn about wines and liquors by working at a wine and liquor store.
Departure phase of the journey
How did you first hear about unschooling? What spurred you to begin exploring unschooling for your family?
I Am quite certain that unschooling was something that had been inside of me since I was a child. I feel like I was confused and misunderstood for my entire childhood because I didn’t understand this “life” that had been presented to me. I had always felt there was something horribly wrong with this awful thing I was experiencing called school (and yet the message to me was that there was something wrong with ME because I was just not fitting in to this awful thing I was experiencing called school).
Even before Dave and I had our children, the concept of NOT sending my (future) children to school was always present within me. I was drawn to people who had homeschooled and asked them questions about it. But I never allowed their answers to influence what I had felt deep within mySelf… I was really just asking questions to help piece together my own puzzle.
I remember asking my mother-in-law about her neighbors who were homeschooling their daughter. She told me that she was with their homeschooled girl one day when they saw a school bus pass by and Julie just STARED at the school bus and didn’t say a word for a long time. Dave’s Mom felt it was because Julie wanted to be a part of it, that she felt left out.
All I could think of, even then, was, “She was probably wondering why those children looked so sad… wondering why they had been captured and were being forced to go somewhere that was not of their choosing!”
(Sure enough, my speculations seemed pretty accurate when I saw that look on my own always-unschooled children’s faces when they saw a school bus. It was a look of horror and confusion, not envy in the least.)
When Jacob was born, he was so sensitive, so aware, so brilliant. From the time he was very young, I knew for sure that I would not interrupt the flow of his life and his amazing natural learning by sending him somewhere else. It made absolutely no sense to me to do that. It hurt my HEART to even THINK of doing that.
This is from my article I Am What I Am:
Our homeschooling method was painfully determined with my first attempt at “teaching” Jacob some “schoolwork.” He resisted. I insisted. He yelled. I yelled. He cried. I cried. And it was over. Our attempt at schooling at home had failed.
As a result, our unschooling lives were born, even though at the time we did not know that the concept even existed, let alone was in practice. But for us, it was just a natural extension of the life we were already living, the life that Jacob had shown us was best and most fulfilling for him, and it turned out to be the best and most fulfilling path for all of us. If we had never come across the word unschooling, we would have “invented” it for ourselves, as This is How Our Child Was Shining.
Did family and/or friends try to discourage you from setting out on your unschooling journey?
Right off the bat, my husband was with me on this, knowing that school would destroy our beautiful, sensitive son. We didn’t know anything about unschooling at the time (this was pre-internet days!), but he trusted my Mama Instincts and our child was happy ~ that’s all that mattered to him.
My own family was already used to me being the “radical” one and so to see me go against the mainstream in my parenting was really no surprise to anyone. They were probably just thinking, “Of COURSE she’s not going to do what everyone else is doing!”
Also, a very important part of the answer to this question is in the fact that I chose to create the world/community/life that I wanted my children to live in. I surrounded my child with those who could SEE and CELEBRATE him for Who He Was.
I basically never allowed any “space” in our lives for other people to insert their opinions/judgment about our choices… I just made sure our time with other people was so filled up with the Goodness and Shine of my children (for the few times we needed to be with family members who only knew how to talk “school” to kids, we would make a list of conversation topics to bring with us, as well as games, art, music or other activities that my children loved) and yes, people seemed so drawn to that and they wanted to be in OUR flow with THOSE good feelings!
When you first started out, what were some of the things you were hoping to address by moving to unschooling?
For us, because we didn’t know unschooling was a thing, it was more that we were deliberately creating a new way to live, deliberately creating our family life based on Joy. And that Joy always came from Seeing, Hearing, Honoring, Respecting and Celebrating our child’s Voice, his needs and his desires.
Were there any fears you needed to overcome initially?
When I try to think about the things that other people fear in unschooling, I can see that those fears were never a part of me at all. Fear that they’re not learning something, fear that other people will judge, fear that they won’t get into college, fear that they’ll be “behind” in some way…
My fears in life were ANSWERED by unschooling, and so I was able to eliminate my fear and just enJOY the journey. I didn’t project into the future… I Trusted where my children were In This Very Moment and I Trusted that what they were getting from*this* moment would lead them to the next moment… and that they would get all they needed from the world no matter where they were, no matter what they were doing, as long as they were following their own instincts and focusing on Feeling Good about themSelves.
I also think that because this was always IN me, a part of me, that I was more like, “YES! It’s about TIME someone showed me the right path!” I Trusted HIM, my child, and his needs and desires (if not mySelf quite yet), and that Trust in my child allowed my instincts to lead me to where we needed to go. I was swept up in this new, glorious life and just wanted to live it fully…
Initiation phase of the journey
What were some of your favourite ways to learn more about unschooling? Did you prefer to read about others’ experiences or ask questions directly? Meet up with other unschooling families in person?
Pre-internet days again: After Jacob had let us know he was not going to tolerate “being taught” anything, I still felt confused about some things. I went to the library with him one day, looking for answers (thinking I could find them in the “parenting” section of the library) and my hand landed on John Holt’s book, “How Children Fail” in the education section. There I was, looking for answers, and my hand landed on John Holt, without even knowing who he was at that time.
I ate up every single book he had written (and ordered old issues of his magazine), mourned the fact that he was no longer alive on this earth at the same time my child and I were, and that was it. I didn’t need anything else…I didn’t need anyone else!! It was me and Jacob and my husband on this exciting path, with this amazing man, John Holt, cheering us on, saying, “You GO, Jacob!! You show them the way!!”
We moved to rural New York in 1996 and I think it was 1997 when we actually got this amazing new thing called the internet!
That’s when I found unschooling.com. And I saw that people were actually LIVING this life that WE had been living and that it had a name. I jumped right into that online community ~ I read a lot, wrote a lot, cried in gratitude a lot and learned a lot.
What allies did you discover along the way? What did you find helpful?
It was helpful to read of other people’s unschooling lives and take away what felt right for my family. Because I wrote a lot at unschooling.com, I became well-known at that site. Kelly Lovejoy did an amazing thing in 2002 and organized the first unschooling conference ever, so that we could all meet in person. She asked me to speak at that conference and it was there that I really felt I had found my tribe, my community.
It was amazing to see my children IMMEDIATELY relax into the accepting, validating and respectful energy that was prevalent in a real-life unschooling community. And it has been that way ever since, even now, when they are 21 and 24 and they CHOOSE to take (unpaid) vacations from their jobs to attend my unschooling conference. Real life radical unschooling gatherings continue to be life-changing for them.
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?
My child’s very spirit REJECTED everything that mainstream society was handing to him. I saw that, I felt that, I honored that and I CELEBRATED that, as he was validating my own childhood confusion by not changing Who He Was in order to suit a society that didn’t feel right to him.
And so I grabbed a shovel and a lantern and we created our new path together by continuing to follow that which felt good and right to my child.
Yes, it has worked out reasonably well for us. (I Am Grinning So Big with the loveliness of this understatement!)
How did you build trust in unschooling? Did you find that observing your children—seeing unschooling in action—helped?
There was no option for me other than to Trust in my child (because it is the child that embodies unschooling itself). It felt scarier than hell to think about the alternative ~ forcing my child to do and be something that he was not? Trusting in my child’s needs and desires was just such a HUGE YES in my heart because I knew His Voice needed to be respected and his Glorious Uniqueness was to be Celebrated. The WORLD needed him to Be Exactly Who He Was and I was simply giving him a safe and sacred space to Be.
Being a witness to my children’s real-life-learning-in-action was very gratifying, but my focus was more on how they were feeling ~ this has been our compass that has always brought us to the right paths. My children’s *Thumbs Up* signs that came from Feeling Good about themselves are all I have ever needed to continue to put one foot in front of the other (and their *thumbs down* signs were an indication to look closer at our path and see if we needed to pivot in a new direction!), not only to continue living on this glorious path, but loving it and feeling so very grateful for it!
Return phase of the journey
Do you feel comfortable moving back and forth between the two worlds?
We deliberately created a community that felt good and right to us, one that allowed my children to Shine for Being Who They Are.
Our community is our nearby little college city and everyone has known us since we moved here (when Jacob was 6 and Sam was 2). We tend to share so much of ourSelves with our community, valuing our connection with various people, and we always knew these people were so happy to see us and that they enJoyed our Presence. The grocery store, the library, the liquor store, the restaurants… some of these are the very places where my sons have worked in the past and/or work now as young adults because the owners/employees of these places have not only had intelligent, interesting conversations with them from the time they were little, but have often sought them out for their thoughts on various topics (the librarian, in particular, would often seek out 6-[and-up]-year-old Jacob to ask what HE thought of a book she had read, and his very first job was at the library shelving books)!
We were also active in our community, creating and building connections in other ways. I began a Parent/Child Story Time at our little rural library and my boys (then ages 8 and 10) enjoyed working with me on that. The three of us also volunteered at our local Fair Trade Store. And when Jacob was 7, he wanted to do charity work, so for 3 years I was his driver as he delivered hot meals to homebound senior citizens.
We created the world we wanted to live in and yes, sometimes there were some people “out there” who were difficult to be around, but we would get re-connected and re-centered back at our home on our wooded acreage and then be ready for more connections with our ever-expanding world.
When others ask you questions about your unschooling lifestyle, do you usually feel their curiosity or their judgement? Do you find yourself defending your choices?
I am really good at sensing how much to say to people and how much to withhold! My boys have become very good at that, as well. One of the most satisfying connections in my life has been when I can sense that a person NEEDS me to drop the word “Unschooling.” So many times, I have literally FELT them relax into that word and because of their “Yes” reaction, I have known to continue to hand them more and more about it…
I haven’t ever wanted to be in a position where I would need to defend our life together and our choices and so I have not ever been in that position. Our unschooling life is not a battle that needs me to defend it. It is a Joy. It is a Gift. We focus on the living of it and we have seen how that is enough to spread Good Feelings to those around us. Living in that Joy doesn’t allow space for judgement and therefore, there is no need to defend anything.
What, for you, was the most valuable thing to come from your journey to unschooling?
This question brought tears of gratitude and Joy as I sit here now, age 52, breathing in those words, “Most Valuable,” having my grown children’s lives flash before me. It’s all so deeply beautiful and precious. I can’t even begin to answer this question, but maybe a little story about our lives now will be suffice.
When I was working at the library yesterday, I heard a lawn mower start up. I knew it was Jacob and his girlfriend (whom I love dearly), Hannah, next door. I went outside and yes, they were mowing their new lawn for the first time! It was really adorable (to me, anyway!).
However, the grass was very long because we had been gone the previous week to my unschooling conference. And it was wet because, well, rain. So it was difficult to mow. And the landlord had left them a lawnmower that was circa 1950’s, so it was no surprise that it broke down, leaving a the lawn that looked like someone with long hair had taken a razor and did a horrible chop job on one portion of their head.
Hannah came to me, feeling upset, feeling the judgment of the neighbors and the other tenants in their house about their lawn, feeling like they had let the landlord down by not mowing it in time… And now their lawnmower was broken and she and Jacob had very full work days coming up and also, it was supposed to be raining for the next several days.
She and Jacob went to their jobs. Dave and I were going to go out to dinner when I was done with the library. I met him in town and said, “Our kids need us.” I explained the situation to him. He called the restaurant, changed our reservation time. We drove to a hardware store, bought a lawn mower and a gas can. We bought gas, drove to Jacob and Hannah’s house and mowed, swept, bagged and fixed up their lawn so that it was beautiful.
I knew one thing and I needed to act on it: my kids were feeling bad about themselves. It has always been important to me to help my kids get to a place where they can feel GOOD about themselves again. With the lawn mowed (and a new mower that they are excited about), they wouldn’t be worried about what the neighbors or the landlord was thinking about them… and THAT frees them up to be following the paths that feel right and good, which hold even more Goodness for them.
This morning, Dave needed help putting the cap back on his pick-up truck. Even thought it was very early in the morning and they both had long days at work ahead of them, I texted Jacob and Hannah and Asked For Help. Jacob woke up Hannah and they were here within a half hour.
As I’ve been answering these lovely questions, appreciating you, Pam, for allowing me to share and to write, I have also been texting with Sam about his new Vision for his life… one that has become more important and necessary for him to follow ever since he got back from my unschooling conference where he was UPLIFTED and was validated, again, that living In His Shine is exactly where he needs to Be. Along with THAT conversation, there have been three other tangent conversations going on, about other adventures, other frustrations, other pleasure in life.
And It Is All So Very Good.
Thank you, Anne, for taking the time to delve into your unschooling journey and share your thoughts and experiences with us. I deeply appreciate it and It Is All So Very Good.
I first came across Anne’s joyful unschooling writing on unschooling.com (in 2002 as we began unschooling), heard her speak at Live and Learn, and was the first person to join her Shine with Unschooling email list back in 2004. A couple of years later I’d begun contemplating hosting a conference in Canada when Anne happened to mention that she’d like to visit the Toronto area. Thus the Toronto Unschooling Conference was launched in 2006 and continued for six wonderful years.
We’ve developed a wonderful friendship over the years and I love that she continues to share her unschooling experience with others, even though her children are now adults. She has such a beautiful, intimate, and powerful way of writing and speaking about unschooling and the deep love and respect she has for her children—for all children—shines brightly through her words. If you’re interested, you’re welcome to check out her Shine with Unschooling email list.
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.
Crossing of the first threshold: Confronting the guardians who claim to protect us.
The belly of the whale: Transitioning to a learning mindset.
Initiation phase of the journey
The road of trials: The heart of deschooling.
The meeting with the goddess: Seeing the value in all experiences.
Woman as the temptress: Accepting our nature.
Atonement with the father: Accepting others where they are.
Apotheosis: Moving to compassion.
The ultimate boon: Unschooling with confidence and grace.
Return phase of the journey
Refusal of the return: Will we choose to step back out of our unschooling bubble?
The magic flight: Finding a safe place in the ordinary world.
Rescue from without: When the ordinary world comes knocking.
The crossing of the return threshold: Integrating your new perspective into everyday life.
Master of the two worlds: Seeing possibilities everywhere.
Freedom to Live: Embracing the flow of life.