This month, Anna Brown and I treat you to an extra long Q&A episode as we finish up the remaining questions! We dive into questions around the challenge of deschooling while holding tight to your fears, engaging with the unschooling community before having kids of your own, the decision to unschool, the transformational impact of shifting our mindset from balance to flow, the ideas of talent and practice, homeschooling regulations, deschooling around weight and physical activity, and the back and forth of being in the moment vs planning ahead with three little ones.
Anna’s Question (from the UK)
Hello! My name is Anna and I have 2 children, a boy aged 7 and a girl aged 6. We live in the UK. I am a primary teacher and my husband is a teacher, as were both my parents! I have read a lot about unschooling and REALLY enjoy your podcasts, and my husband and I really see the positive points of unschooling and feel drawn to trying it out, but it feels extremely challenging. We started our home schooling journey a year ago. My son did not do well academically at school, although he enjoyed some of it, and this is the reason we took them both out. He gets extremely focused on one thing (we think he may be ASD) and does not tend to be interested in anything else, for months and even years. Can an ASD child self-regulate? He spends most of his time sitting reading History books, is an introvert and also wants to watch a lot of TV which I am uncomfortable with. He often does not want to go outside at all.
My daughter however, is an extrovert (as am I) and loves activities and going out. They have always had a difficult relationship (only 13 months age difference) and this is getting worse. Son sits and reads and hardly plays with her any more and I think she misses playing with him. She was upset a couple of nights ago saying she misses school, more precisely playing with groups of friends and doing “proper learning” (her words), and she misses doing learning “like school.” She has asked if we can do handwriting and maths worksheets together. I tried this yesterday but when presented with the worksheets she doesn’t want to do them!
We live in a small house with a tiny garden and haven’t found many other home schooling families we are all keen on. I myself am feeling quite lonely and confused and am struggling to find joy in this journey. I can’t help thinking it would be easier with a dog, a big garden, etc but money is very tight on one income.
I am trying so hard but sometimes find myself getting so angry, for example I tried letting them watch as much tv as they wanted the other day, and they watch it ALL day. I wandered around feeling at a loose end and did what you recommend, sitting with them etc but it was just so boring! Then when tv had to go off for dinner my son had a tantrum. We were all left definitely NOT feeling joy. They ask for TV when they wake up, I tried that early in the year but it led to my son getting up super early and him grumpy and tired for the rest of the day, so now the first thing I say every morning is NO! I am not doing very well at this am I!! Please help, I have some much personal deschooling to do but it is so hard I feel I can barely do it and with 2 children who are so different and the associated guilt and feeling sorry for my daughter is very hard! Despite all this I am very sure it is ultimately the right path.
Thanks so much.
Loretta’s Question (from Philadelphia, US)
Hello! I have been an alternative educator of sorts my whole life. Either on the road or with my friend’s children, I always have people using me as a resource for finding interesting opportunities for their lives. Naturally unschooling was attractive to me for that reason.
As someone who doesn’t have children yet, but plans to adopt and/or have children in the future, how can I integrate myself into the unschooling culture now? I have always been a researcher and planner, and through my work I find that this type of schooling would fit best for my life and the skills I would like to pass on to my (future) children. As a child myself, I went to public school during the day and was homeschooled at night, so I can see both sides of the coin.
However, there are amazing new opportunities like world schooling and deschooling. I am almost obsessed with the idea of traveling with kids, especially teenagers. I want to explore and learn, but would it be weird for me to show up at these conferences or even sending you questions as a person without children yet? I’m not sure and don’t want to seem weird or out of place I guess. Otherwise thank you for being a great resource so far.
Talya’s Question (from Montreal, Canada)
What do you do when you know that unschooling is the best path for your child but you don’t feel like you have the emotional, financial or time resources to truly follow what is calling? I am an artist – a poet and theatre performer and creator and highly passionate about what I do. I have no desire to be a SAHM. I also have a teaching degree and went to an alternative arts school and am happy to follow intuitive, child-led, natural learning. But I can’t find the balance at this point.
My son is incredibly self-directed, knows exactly what he loves to do, but also has SPD (a sensory processing disorder) making all group settings and classes difficult for him (to say the least). He is highly intelligent, but when he tries to even take a music lesson (begs for violin lessons and has since age 3) he finds it terrifying and wants to flee. I feel like I am never enough to support him. And I feel like I am failing him. I want to walk this path alongside him, but quite simply feel I can’t. It seems to me like a full-time job to support a child this curious, alert, high needs and in some ways, special needs, and I am worried I will not be able to find a balance and make us both happy. He is 5.5.
Rachel’s Question (from Louisiana, US)
I am writing because I struggle with feeling like I am not present enough for my children. We have been unschooling for a couple years. I was a stay at home parent when they were both little. Then when my youngest child was 19 months I went back to work. I was exhausted physically and emotionally due to many, many years of sleep deprivation. Going back to work was a breeze compared to staying at home! However, being away from my kids all day made me realize that I missed that lifestyle (and them!) and I knew that I definitely wanted to homeschool/unschool with them for the long haul. Work seemed meaningless compared to the joy of being with them.
So, I decided to quit my job again and figure out a way to nourish myself enough that I could happily and energetically unschool with them. They are 4 and 7 years old now. I can see that things are becoming less demanding of my energy as my kids get older. They don’t wake up as much anymore, so that is a huge help. However I keep trying to find balance and focus. It would be much easier for me to find balance and stay present if I didn’t have this burning desire to cultivate my own passions. I am an artist and I also keep trying to work on writing some children’s books. Oftentimes I wonder how other homeschooling and unschooling moms or dads make sure to balance their own needs and desires with that or their children’s.
I don’t seem to be able to start working on something while my children are awake. I can’t find focus enough to break away and do my own projects. I will start doing all these mindless things like organize a room or clean something, when I really want to be painting or writing. I have played around with waking up early to paint. When I do that I can easily focus with the house so quiet and so little distractions. It can only be 3 minutes of creativity for me, but it sets the day up to be beautiful and present. I am so content and present with my children when I first have that time to myself. And I try to wake up early more to give myself that time, but then I am tired or someone woke me up at night and I just couldn’t find the energy to wake early again. So, basically I am feeling stuck because I found this great solution, however I can’t seem to realistically put it into practice. I need so much sleep to be happy and healthy. I have never been the type of person who can go with less than 8 hours of sleep.
Also, it’s not that my children require me to entertain them during the day. They have always been able to get deeply engaged in play. I think the problem is with me! But I can’t seem to figure out a solution. Thoughts? I get a lot of inspiration and guidance from your books and blog. I’d love to know how you were able to be present for your kids and devote time to your passion of writing as well.
LATER, SHE WROTE IN AGAIN:
I wanted to send in an update. A few weeks ago I sent in a question for your podcast. A few days after, I listened to one of your older podcasts as I often do. It was a q&a podcast, and the person was asking how to balance her two kids needs. Well, one of your co-hosts responded how she does not think about balance, but thinks about flow. I have started doing this and it has transformed me!! I am feeling so much better about our days and am really better able to see things more clearly. Thank you so much for all that you do for unschoolers!
However if you have anything to add about finding success with nurturing your own creative pursuits while nurturing your kids, I would be all ears.
Maddy’s Question (from TaiWan)
I am Maddy from TaiWan. My son has been a unschooler for 10 years. He is 16 now. I’ve been brought up in a very conservative education system and I didn’t like it, that’s the reason when my son asked me to unschool him at home when he was a first grader. I was afraid but I knew I had to do something to help him. We started from homeschooling and then to unschooling. He is interested in computer games and music. He’s got the talent in music. The problem I am encountered right now is that he knows that he has the talent in music and he likes his classical guitar teacher very much but he only practices the music spontaneously. When we talk about this and he said he knows that he has time-controlling problem, but he hasn’t found the way of controlling it yet. And he went back to his computer again. I know he has learnt a lot more than we can imagine through reddit, games, youtube…etc.
My question is: Most of the school students or those children who learns the discipline to practice for a certain amount of time. Even though they are not happy to do so most of the time, once they form the habit to do it, they will eventually experience the abundant fruits and have the chance to be the master of this field. That also brings them confident, isn’t it? But somehow when I do the research of the unschoolers’s when it comes to the achievement, of course they can live happily if they are satisfy with their life. I guess I am just thinking too much for their adulthood future cause we’re living in an eastern society. ><
Thank you very much for your time.
Dee’s Question (from Tennessee, US)
I just started homeschooling , and also just moved (TN) so we had to submit what we were going to school. But that isn’t working so, how do I start unschooling without getting in trouble?
I am firmly supportive of my kids and their choice of activities, I play with them, we are a radical unschooling family who has few if any issues with kids having agency over their choices.
One struggle that still remains even though we’ve deschooled so many over the years is how to create an environment that supports regular physical activity in all of our kids. Our daughter does an exervise class weekly and is quite active, one of her brothers is not as active but will get outside to do things periodically, but specifically we have a child who seems to be becoming more interested in eating foods that fuel him well, yet still tends toward high carb options more often than not and it’s made him overweight and a Dr would say obese. I have prepped foods he likes (cut peppers, broccoli, cut lettuce, fruits of choice) and he will eat those readily, but more often than not, he asks me to make calorie dense foods like Macaroni Salad, and Goulash, Chicken Picatta, Meatloaf/mashed potatoes, and Potato Salad. When these foods are made and in the house, he will eat them through in 1 or 2 days — that means 2 pounds of pasta in two days!!
He also loves Ramen, but has it only 1 time a week because we’ve discussed that it shouldn’t be a daily food. He only drinks sugar soda when we go to a restaurant these days and he recognizes the sugar content of soda. I am also asked to go out and get chicken fingers or tuna clubs, Chipotle burritos (of which he’ll eat twoO) or rice and refried beans. When he is eating, his hunger cues tend to be slow to signal as he can eat large quantities of food at a sitting (4 bowls of goulash, 2 chipotle burritos, etc.) Although he does mention to me when he is not hungry at times (outside of eating a meal). Over the years I’ve observed him having a sensory relationship to food and he has tended to food jag often – where he’ll be eating all of one thing and then be off it for months, then on to something else.
Snacking late at night is also an issue. He often has crackers and apple sauce and cereal, various bars, and chips in various stages of being eaten next to his bed – as he watches videos before falling asleep. My husband thinks that his odd sleep/wake schedule affects his circadian rhythms and really thinks we need to actively step in to help him control his behaviors. I know that I need to be better about providing healthier options and make them more readily available – but seriously the volume of food is large and it is hard to stock up for long and with the jags, I can stock up and essentially throw away all that food because he’s moved on.
FWIW, we live in the Northeast so winter tends to have us indoors more often than not. We also live just outside Boston in a neighborhood with few other children, so there is little daily incentive to jump outside for activites. The child of which I speak does not like to be over hot, so he only likes going outside in Spring and fall when it’s cool.
What we have done to make physical activity choices easy and accessible: trampoline, swings, offers of walks uptown in good weather, outdoor play stuff = zip line, swingset, local parks (although less interested in these now), park days (not so interesting), jump ropes, C2 Rower, med balls, weights, standing desks, ergo seats. We have yard games, bows and arrows, basketball hoop, fire pit, and I’ve started buying yard gems like cornhole and ladder ball, stuff like that.
I guess I’m looking to hear from parents who have had kids who when given freedom of choice have ended up heavier than just (a little fat here and there) and who may be concerned about the potential for diabetes. I am fearful to bring him into a pediatrician because of the potential to make him overly self-conscious of his body. I’m sure that they would suggest imposing a nutritional plan (diet) on him and I am not sure that aligns with RU (at least i have to understand how to present this idea in an RU way)
He is open to exercise, he is open to suggestions on food – but I don’t think he knows how to change his behavior and I sit in inaction because I dont’ want to create a worse issue by making him have issues around food, yet seeing the bad that comes from not having guidance here — overweight and incapable of sustaining walking or any physical activity for long out of fatigue or pain.
I would welcome any ideas as to how to approach this. I have place one of my favorite pictures of this son from when he was 3 yrs old and smiling on my computer backdrop so I could shift my energy when I see him to seeing that wonderful smiling kiddo full of vim and vigor… that has helped immensely in my interactions with him, but I still have no idea how to tackle this in a way that supports him vs. controls his choices seems to run a fine line.
Jane’s Question (from Johannesburg, South Africa)
From the start of our parenting journey, my husband and I have both been committed to instinctive, attachment parenting. Just before my daughter turned 1, we came across the philosophy of unschooling, which led us to investigate and start applying radical unschooling principles to our everyday lives. My daughter is now 2 and her little brother is 7 months old. We also share our days with our housekeeper’s son, who was born only 2 days after my daughter, so it’s almost like having toddler twins running around!
I listen to the old episodes of the podcast every day and I have found such amazing value from your perspective, especially with the Q&A episodes where you all give different opinions. The running theme of connection really resonates with me, and I see it playing out daily – whenever I experience conflict or frustration with the children, it is when I have allowed our connection to slip for a moment. I KNOW that the secret to connection (and joy in general) is mindfulness and being present to the moment at hand.
What I’m struggling with – and what I’d love to get your input on – is how to balance mindful presence with the necessary planning and preparation that is part of daily life with three little ones. I try to join them in their flow, and I’ve made a mind-map of sorts to help me figure out things we can do together, e.g. I can hang laundry when the toddlers want to jump on the trampoline. The obstacle I’m facing is that I need to think a few steps ahead (when to work in diaper changes/prep snacks before they get hangry/get the baby into a quiet space when he’s ready to nap/etc.) so that I can put things in place to help them do the next thing they’re interested in (prepare art supplies/keep an eye on them when they want to roam outside/etc.).
This constant thinking ahead makes it difficult for me to stay in the moment and connected to their perspective, because it seems like there’s always another thing that needs to be done (specifically for the kids, I’ve let go of my personal hobbies like sewing and such for now). The preparation is also often wasted – by the time I manage to facilitate what they want to do, their interest has been grabbed by something else. Any advice?
Links to things mentioned in the show
Join Pam, Anne, and Anna at the Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit
Pam’s blog series on deschooling
Podcast episode 120 with Erin Human
Check out Blake Boles
Pam’s blog post, What is Behind a Typical Unschooling Day?
Podcast episode 110 with Alan Marshall
Anna’s website: choosingconnection.com