Anna Black is a former Montessori student and teacher, now an unschooling mom to two lovely daughters in Australia. We have a wonderful conversation, digging into conventional wisdom like, “kids need to do things for themselves,” and “fewer toys is better.” We also have a great chat about how unschooling children develop their own moral compass.
Quote of the Week
“One of the greatest things that I think unschooling has given me and our whole family is the idea that it’s actually okay to be nice to your kids.” ~ Anna Black
Questions for Anna
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and how you first came across the idea of unschooling?
You have a Montessori background, so I was wondering what you found appealing about the idea of unschooling at first?
What did the first few months of your journey to unschooling look like? Did you start out with some structure and then loosen up over time? Or did you treat the transition more like a vacation and not go back? What did it look like for your family?
I think one of the conventional ideas we wrestle with as we deschool is that, to foster independence, we should never do for the child what they can do for themselves. With unschooling, that logic doesn’t hold. We do things for them when they want us to, regardless of whether they could do it themselves. Can you share how you worked through that shift?
You mentioned to me earlier that one of your biggest shifts coming to unschooling was around general abundance. Can you explain what that looked like for you?
Again, you came from a Montessori background, which holds quite conventional views on children’s use of technology and the need to control access. Can you share a bit about your experience with that?
What are your children enjoying right now and how are they are exploring those interests?
How is your husband feeling about your unschooling lifestyle? Was he on board early or have you been helping him learn more about it? What’s his journey looked like to this point?
What has surprised you most about your journey so far?
Links to Things Mentioned in the Show
Canada has a La Leche League and Australia has the Australian Breastfeeding Association
Sandra Dodd’s website and Always Learning email list
Meredith Novak’s podcast episode, EU029: What Learning Looks Like with Meredith Novak
Jo Isaac’s podcast episode, EU035: Redefining Success with Jo Isaac
Joyce Fetteroll’s episode, EU014: Ten Questions with Joyce Fetteroll
Steve Jobs’ quote on creativity, from a 1996 WIRED magazine interview: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity.”
Facebook groups where Anna participates: Radical Unschooling Info and Unschooling Q&A
Follow Abby’s doll, Little Winifred Rose, on Instagram
I had an epic light-bulb moment listening to the part of this conversation when you were discussing allowing children to form their own opinions and being mindful as the parent to notice how much/often you are giving your opinion. It helped me make a connection to how this is another, quite surreptitious, control tool. Coming from a very controlling parent during my childhood, it has taken a great deal of time for me to realize the control in every facet of my relationship with my children, and then, focus on letting go of that way of relating to them. So thank you for that because it really helped me to peel back one more layer in this complex becoming. I am so grateful for your presence, Pam.
Pam Laricchia says
That’s awesome, Heather, thanks for sharing! That was a big realization for me as well, noticing the motivation behind what I was sharing—was it for me as a subtle tool of control, or truly for them?
And I love your phrase, “complex becoming.” Beautiful. 🙂
Fantastic podcast episode! Everything that was said means so much to me personally. I have a Montessori background too (a master in Montessori education plus a few years of teaching experience in a gorgeous Montessori 3-6 environment). There was a time before my firstborn was born when I thought I had most of the answers to everything regarding early childhood. That changed once I gave birth to this new life with a will of her own. She was born prematurely and only attachment theory could come close to giving me and her the relationship we needed to heal and navigate her first year in life. Since the time she turned one what she most of all wanted to do with the beautiful and expensive Montessori infant and toddler materials I had invested in or made was to use them as props in her imaginative play, if she wanted to play with them at all. For her dolls and imaginary play were the most important things in the world from the time she was 15 months and they still are at the age of 8. It didn’t make sense to me looking at it from a Montessori perspective. So I really had to widen my perspective. Waldorf helped me understand the role of play in early childhood and I have used quite a lot of Waldorf homeschooling resources with my daughter. That said, we are slowly steering towards interest led learning and unschooling.
Pam Laricchia says
So glad to hear the episode connected with you, Sophie! And thanks for sharing a bit about your journey as well. 🙂
The thing I want most for my children is for them to be who they are. To feel accepted and loved for who they really are, not held and judged to any other standard of the ‘ideal child’. Both Montessori and Waldorf/Steiner have an ideal child concept quite strongly woven throughout the philosophies. Unschooling, on the other hand, is focussed on supporting and celebrating the child that is right there in front of you at that moment. Not wishing them
So much of all the other educational philosophies are designed around what will make them good adults. What will they need when they’re grown up and – even more powerfully – what will damage their lives as adults if they are allowed access
as children. Vague future fears of dire outcomes if children are allowed to do what they are interested in instead of what adults think they need/should be interested in.
Frankly, not every child lives to grow up. What a terrible waste it would be if you lost your child tragically early and what you had to look back on was fighting over control and stopping them from doing or having things they love because of your adult fear. That was one of the thoughts that really helped me move away from trying to limit what my children loved and towards seeing them for the wonderful, valuable things they were and are.
Oh sorry! That should be “wishing them different or other than they are” at the end of the first paragraph
Carol Cox says
What crossed my mind as you were discussing giving things to our children, even if they already have one (i.e. the baby doll), is that people seem to have the idea that giving things to children will create a spoiled child who expects things all the time, will be ungrateful for what they do have (because they didn’t have to work for it, maybe, or they have so much stuff that they can’t be grateful – which sounds very illogical writing it out loud). I believe that visions of Dudley Dursley (from the Harry Potter stories) come to the minds of adults with this philosophy… and nobody wants a Dudley Dursley. You could do a podcast on this topic alone, Pam. It doesn’t get as much air time as “screen time,” but I think it might carry a similar amount of weight in shifting paradigms.
Pam Laricchia says
I like that idea for a topic, Carol, thanks!
I wrote a blog post about it back when I did a month on “mainstream mantras,” but you’re right, it’s a big shift that we could definitely dig into more deeply. 🙂
Here’s the blog post for reference: http://livingjoyfully.ca/blog/2013/10/unschooling-doesnt-spoil-your-child/
So I love your podcast and it is teaching me a lot about unschooling. My little boy is 16 months and I have recently started a group with local mums who want to unschool their kids. It is a very exciting time and you are my main source of information and inspiration at this time.
Today I listened to this episode and it was the first that I found confusing and challenging. In relation to gift giving and personal values, what I heard was that parents should not be themselves because this might influence heir kids. Am I getting this right?
Using Anna’s example of christmas gifts- if a parent chooses to gifts that they feel are meaningful, eco friendly, etc. what is the problem? If the parent buys plastic toys that go against their values, they are being inauthentic and their child is therefore not receiving good modelling here. As you often say, children sniff out inauthentic behavious from adults. An experience that I had growing up is that my parents ‘sold out’ of their values system and conformed to a more consumer way of living, it was easier to conform and fit in. In the context of gift giving and celebrations, they were not living their lives with their values. The message modelled to me as a child was to fit in and conform rather than do what I value. I so how does this sit alongside unschooling principles? I find myself pretty confused.