Anne Ohman and Anna Brown join me to answer listener questions. Click here to submit your own question to the Q&A Round Table!
Quote of the Week
“The thing about thinking unschooling is about releasing parental controls, is this: I feel there is no release at all unless the parent believes they have the power to release control.” ~ Anne Ohman
Kelly’s Question [TIME: 5:22]
We have been unschooling for just over 2 years; with one year of project-based homeschooling before that. My kids were 7 and 10 when they left school. There were no big issues, we wanted to give them the opportunity to learn with freedom and choice.
Unschooling has been great for our family and a huge source of personal growth for me as I deschool and lift the layers of my beliefs and assumptions. It has been so much more inner work than I ever fathomed it to be, but so, so worth it.
But friends, please do help me peel back the last layers that I am harboring around FOOD and activity.
We definitely controlled our kids’ food pre-unschooling, and ate organic, raised a lot of our own food, rationed treats and sweets, etc. As we lifted the controls on food, my son—my younger child—really dove into all the things we never allowed him before. Soda, candy, commercial brands of processed snacks, etc. It’s been 2 years and it really hasn’t let up.
I have been breathing, and ‘yes-ing’ and buying. I know I still hold tension inside (sometimes less so than others) but I bite my tongue and ask open questions like, do you feel like salty or sweet food? hot or cold? and other questions to help him tune into himself when he asks for food.
Sometimes I try and give a little more nutritional information, but he is very sensitive to anything that sounds like it might be a lecture and I do not want to make him feel bad, or lectured to, so I have kept this to a minimum as he doesn’t ask for the information and tells me he’s done listening after I offer some unsolicited info.
He loves to come to the grocery store with me and pick out his snacks—cupcakes, chocolate bars, juices, popsicles, other candy etc. He also picks out fruit he likes, meat, seafood! and other things.
Here’s the thing—he has gained a lot of weight in the last 2 years. He stays up very late, into the wee hours, gaming. I wake up to cartons of ice cream and multiple popsicle wrappers or candy bar wrappers on the coffee table. While I do think some could be attributed to pre-teen weight gain, I cannot ignore the hours of sitting and abundance of sweet food and desserts as contributors as well. I do not care about him getting a little chubby except the weight has made it more difficult for him to be physically active. He gets tired easily. He avoids doing certain activities, because it’s hard for him. He loves mountain biking—next to gaming, it’s his passion, with his dad. This summer he has chosen to go to a week-long camp at his favorite mountain. He’s excited and we are excited for him.
He is not in shape for it.
He does a couple of activities during the week at the Y, and a martial arts class. These 3-4 hours of activity do not balance out the hours of sitting and gaming the rest of the week, especially when he sleeps until 1-2pm. He gets winded going up the stairs, or doing a rousing play-sword fighting match with me.
As the younger brother with just one older sister who does not want to play with him, he doesn’t have a regular active playmate. We get together with friends, but it’s only a couple times a month. I do as much as he wants with him, but when he gets up at 2pm, he wants to get right to his games and it feels like our time together is short by the time I am ready for bed, around 10 or 11.
I want him to have a great time at camp. We have had casual conversations about getting ‘ready’ for camp. We live in snow country, so it is not nice out yet, but hopefully within a month or so, spring will be here. I am hoping with the better weather, we’ll get out more naturally—on our trampoline, building bike jumps in the yard…
I’d love your advice on how I can best support my son to 1- maybe consider how eating affects our bodies and our ability to engage in physical activities we enjoy and 2- that conditioning will help him to take on big taxing activities like biking for 5 days straight!
How can I do this without lecturing or scaring him off?
Thanks so much—I never miss the podcast! I listen every week.
Clare’s Question (from Cambridgeshire, UK) [TIME: 31:05]
My question is a bit of a selfish one to be truthful! But here goes…… I am exhausted at the end of the day as two of my children (both boys) are very dependent on me to entertain them, one is 10yrs old and the other is 4yrs old. I have a 9-yr-old too but he happily amuses himself on his various devices. I feel I let them go on their gaming consoles all day so I can have some peace. I am just so tired if I don’t play with them they are constantly saying they are bored. How do I manage it all? Playing with them, cleaning and general housework I am just so tired. I am not sure what my question is really I’m just struggling to entertain my boys so they are not bored all the time. Crafts they are not interested in at all or reading it is constant action parks (I don’t sit down on the bench at the park but play with them) football, shooting games or imaginative play. They can’t seem to play without me! Its lovely but I’m so tired and find I am 100 miles an hour most days!
Jen’s Question (from Florida, US) [TIME: 42:33]
Hi Pam, Ann & Anna,
I’ve been listening to your podcast for about 6 months now. When my son was an infant, I took him to a parent & baby class—the parent education was very helpful & started me down the path of being respectful and responsive. But the child centered portion was so ridiculous—trying to “teach” infants—even to the point of stopping them from open ended exploration of the materials.
From there I realized he was in for many years of that… unless we unschool him of course! I have had (and still have) a lot of deschooling to do, but already there is so much more joy in our interactions & so much deeper communication between us. I couldn’t have imagined that a 20-month-old could communicate so many of his needs & wishes, and even understand and voluntarily respect my personal boundaries. Already it’s fascinating to see his interests develop and weave together and to grow myself as I stretch to find the excitement in things that totally don’t excite me but that he loves. (Like motorcycles—after spending months sort of unintentionally being dismissive toward this interest and sort of giving it as little attention as possible hoping it would go away, the first time I jumped in and actively pointed out a motorcycle he hadn’t noticed he gave me a smile like the brightest sun.)
I’m mostly writing because I know you get lots of questions about “screen time” and so I thought this might be of interest. I grew up with very tightly controlled screen access and thought during pregnancy that we would literally do NO screens until 2 years as recommended by the AAP. Well we ended up introducing videos in the car because it was the only thing that would keep him happy when someone couldn’t sit next to him in the back. And then we used the phone to show him photos of himself & long distance relatives. And then we used YouTube to show him videos related to other interests (real life trains, animal sounds etc) and pretty soon, he was actively asking to watch videos. For months I would try everything to distract him from watching a video and end up giving in when he would cry because I wasn’t letting him. I didn’t like that battle for control, so after many episodes of this podcast, I took a deep breath and decided to give it a few months of letting him watch as much as he wanted and trying to suspend my fears. I started offering more options to watch, things he wouldn’t know exist to ask for, and he started selecting videos based on what thumbnail looked interesting to him.
When my fears crept back in I would return to sportscasting, and guessing aloud what it might be that he liked about a certain video. Through this process his vocabulary has grown so he can now ask me to search for videos on an ever broader range of interests. Now I can see how excited he gets when he finds a video he likes and he points and calls out the exciting things he sees. And then when we are out or in other play, I see his excitement and pride in himself when he can name or recognize something he learned from watching a video. There is so much joy in our interactions and in all the relationships in our family. This is my very long winded way of saying thank you thank you thank you for all your work and for helping me see my little boy blossoming!
And lastly, a request. I would love if you could have an episode sometime talking about applying unschooling to very young kids. Since he isn’t able to have a full conversation yet or verbalize complex ideas & feelings, finding ways to meet both our needs or to creatively let him explore without letting him be unsafe (like running out into the street for example) as well as support him when he has strong feelings that he doesn’t know how to express feels pretty one sided. As in, it’s mostly me talking & he can’t really help find the solutions, though he does sometimes give a yes or no about whether something I suggest works for him. I try to approach everything with patience, creativity, and to start with naming what I see before trying to solve anything, but I would really love some more ideas & perspectives from more experienced unschoolers about what it looks like to apply these principles with very young children.
Stacey’s Question (from Idaho, US) [TIME: 54:23]
Dear unschooling mamas,
I love this podcast, Pam. My favorite part is the Q&A with you, Anna and Anne. You all inspire me to be the kind of mama that I know I can be.
You are all so positive and filled with joy.
Sometimes I am not. Somedays I am grumpy, tuned out and long to live on a desert island far away from my family.
Will you please talk about the hard days. The days you don’t want to be creative and joyful? The days you want no one to ask you for anything. I know you have grown children and the demands for your time and attention have now shifted, but please tell me about your days when you felt like this.
Thank you so much for the good work you are doing.
I honestly feel like you are 3 of my newest best friends.
Links to things mentioned in the show
The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron
Kids, Carrots, and Candy by Jane R. Hirschmann and Lela Zaphiropoulos
Karen James, on Boredom
Pam’s blog post, Attachment Parenting Flows Into Unschooling
Unschooling Mom2Mom’s Unschooling Early Childhood Facebook group
Anne’s website: shinewithunschooling.com
Anna’s website: choosingconnection.com