PAM: Hi everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Sue Patterson. Hi Sue!
SUE: Hi Pam! Thanks for having me.
PAM: It’s great to have you on the show. Sue is a long-time unschooling mom of three children, who are now adults, and is the author of Homeschooled Teens: 75 Young People Speak About Their Lives Without School. I’m excited to dive into what she’s learned through gathering the results from the teen survey that she sent out. But first, Sue …
Can you share with us a bit about your family and your unschooling experience?
SUE: OK! My kids are 21, 24, and 26. So they’ve all grown and flown the coop and are off on their own adventures. We started out as just a regular suburban family, sending kids to school, and I worked, and we just thought that was the way life had to go. But school just wasn’t working for us. We were a military family, we were about to move from Texas to Alaska, and I thought, “Well, why don’t we just make the break?”
I had picked the brains of a couple of people of what homeschooling was like. This was the early 1990s, and I was really only running into religious homeschoolers that were very structured—I hadn’t run into any unschoolers. I didn’t even know that word. (laughs)
We went up to Alaska and I looked through the big Mary Pride (homeschooling curriculum) book that had everything in it that you’d ever want to buy. They would have the little shepherds next to it and I was thinking, “I don’t think that I want that for math, but I’m not going to say anything to these ladies because I still want to pick their brains.” They would say, “You know, all kinds of people are starting to homeschool now.” I thought, “Oh, I am exactly who you’re afraid of, but, I’m not going to tell you!”
So I found what we needed and I thought that Calvert school-in-a-box was just going to be perfect! And why I thought, “School’s not good enough but let’s do school-at-home” was a good idea, I don’t know. So we tried a couple months of that. Katie had been in kindergarten and Michael had gone to kindergarten and first grade in school and then we did a little bit of Calvert and we ran into a bunch of unschoolers in Alaska. And it all just really resonated.
So, slowly, over that year, I started reading things like Mary Griffith’s The Unschooling Handbook and Growing Without Schooling magazine and Home Education Magazine (the Hegener’s lived not very far from us). So I could pick the brains of people that were looking at learning a lot differently and that saw it as a big adventure. Our real reason for wanting to do this was because we wanted more creativity and we didn’t want them to be so confined that they were going to be just like everybody else. They had these fabulous personalities that I wanted to be able to have them grow and blossom into whatever they were wanting to be.
So gradually, over about a year or so, all that kind of structure-y stuff started to fall away. The internet was just kicking off so it gave me access to a lot of other unschoolers and more things to read and more ideas to absorb. And really, just watching my kids and knowing that this is working was exactly what I needed to see—that they really could learn without somebody standing there telling them what to do all the time. So that was our transition from school to unschooling.
Then we moved from Alaska to California where, of course, we met even more unschoolers. That was about 1998 or 1999 and we got really involved in conferences and meeting other people as the kids were growing up. So, they were three different kids with three different (sets of) interests. It was a busy, fun family life but we just kind of took it as a big adventure!
PAM: That’s awesome Sue! That sounds quite similar to our journey as well. My kids were originally in school and that wasn’t working well and so, that sounds awesome! You mentioned your children’s interest and I wanted to ask about that. Because, in thick of things when you’re getting started with unschooling with younger children it can be really hard to imagine what their teen’s interests might look like.
As you said, your kids are adults now, so I was wondering if you could look back and maybe see the threads of interests and activities that wove together to bring them to where they are today?
SUE: Yes! You know, it’s really interesting to be able to look back, because sometimes things that you think aren’t connected, they are connected! It’s so awesome to see that! So my son, he’s the oldest, he was the kind of kid—I remember when he was about six and he said, “You know, Mommy, you know what I really want to be when I grow up?” and I’m like, “What?!” and he says, “A hero!” (laughter) And so, sure enough, he was really into community service. We found a 4-H group when we lived outside of Wichita Falls and we started a community service thing through his teen years where they coordinated a bunch of teenagers getting together to do different projects every month. When he was 12 we had an exchange student from Japan. It was a last-minute thing, they needed a family and Michael was 12 at the time and the boy was 12 and we were like, “OK, three months? We can do it!” It was fabulous! We learned a lot about his culture and had a blast with him and from then on, it really kind of set in Michael’s mind, “I really want to travel.”
And so, at 16, Michael traveled to Japan as an exchange student himself in the 4-H program. It was kind of this different thing that happened (I think that part of the program is gone now) but it was only like three months and you would go in the summer and you would have two different locations and one was in the city and one was in the country. So you had a lot of different (cultural) exposure. So he came back and of course wanted to travel more and he decided he wanted to join the Peace Corps. We didn’t realize that the Peace Corps requires that you have a college degree. We were like, (laughter) oh! We haven’t really done much of that! We’ve been busy travelling and community service. And so, he was like, “All right then!” and he just did it.
He went to community college and finished his couple semesters of community college and transferred as a sophomore to the university and was able to skip taking the SAT or ACT, a transfer student just comes right on in. So that was really good because he hadn’t done things like write research papers or book reports. The most he’d ever written was a thank-you note to Grandma. But he was such a story teller! He really liked to tell stories but the idea of writing was really holding him back. I learned that early on, just to go back to that idea of when we were using Calvert and they wanted him to write these little sentences that were so awful. They were like four words and three syllables. That’s not the kind of story that he wanted to tell and I realized they’re going to drive the stories out of him if we don’t get out of this. So we did. And I didn’t make him do any kind of writing but he told a lot of stories all the time.
So he ended up with a degree in journalism because he loves interviewing people and talking to people and then also a minor in anthropology because he loves other cultures. He went on a dig in Belize as one of the semesters and then as soon as he graduated he joined the Peace Corps. He went to Nicaragua for two years where he taught teachers in Nicaragua how to teach English. So his first time to ever set even foot in a public high school was in Nicaragua to teach the teachers. (laughter) So that was his thing. Now he works for the Boy Scouts and primarily with the disadvantaged youth in the program and it’s a starting place for what he wants to do. I think in the end what he’d really like to do is return to Nicaragua and set up youth programs where kids can come and hang out and play and interact. There’s just not a lot of stuff like that there. So you can kind of follow that little thread for him.
For Katie, her thread was super obvious in that she was an actress. She is an actress in Los Angeles now. She started out, she could memorize like nobody’s business. If she saw a show one time, she could do the movie lines constantly. And she and her dad still play this game where they text each other movie lines and they have to guess what the movie is. They used to do this at dinner time and they have continued it on! (laughter)
She can memorize and we started with backyard theatre where we got these scripts and had our support group come over and the kids couldn’t read so we made these big posters that had pictures that were prompts for what the next lines were (laughter). It was a blast! Then she started into community theatre. I used to always kid around that we had to wait until she was ten to do that because like every good actress, she really just wanted to direct. (laughter) And I thought, “Oh! You’re going to have to let somebody else direct you!” (laughter) So by ten, she could do that.
Once she started, it was one show after another and she was really into singing and dancing and acting. So it was lots of little classes or lessons or things like that that had to do with voice, etc. So she heard about Carnegie Mellon, that they had a fabulous program that she wanted to go to. But knowing how expensive that is, I said, “Could you take some community college classes? We don’t need Carnegie Mellon algebra. Let’s just do community college for that part.” So she took the placement exams to go into community college and she didn’t do very well. Because really, she was a just a lot of community theatre and then daily things like buying and banking. She had a job at 16, she learned basic, real-life kind of math but nothing that really translated well as far as the testing went.
So, since she didn’t do so hot on it, we set it aside for a year and when she was ready to go try it again we went back up there and the councilor said, “You know, you don’t really have to do it again. You could just take developmental classes.” She’s like, “You’re kidding me!” (laughter) She said, “You know, basically mom, I traded twelve years of math for three semesters.” And I think the writing she only had to take two (semesters) and the reading comprehension she only had to take one (semester). And so in three semesters total, she got it all. So that was cool.
In the end, she didn’t end up going to Carnegie Mellon. She ended up going to an acting conservatory in New York and went to New York for a year and then LA for a year and graduated with an associate degree in fine arts. She always laughed because she never thought she’d get a degree in anything (laughter), she’d go, “How’d I end up with a degree?” I don’t know, you never know!
So those were two that really knew what their paths were, they were kind of obvious. People would say, “Oh, it’s so clear with your kids.” But with Alyssa, it wasn’t that clear. When she was younger, she was so super into animals. We had pets, we had pet birthday parties where people brought their pets, the dentist came with a turtle, it was crazy chaos but very fun! So she knew everything there was to know about all different animals and that kind of stayed with her even until we moved to Texas we ended up buying a ranch and we had horses and chickens and cows and goats and guinea pigs. We had a lot! She was super into it and then puberty hit. And makeup and hair and pop music, she just did a total shift to that. And that was her thing. And I thought, “Oh, well, so much for animals!” And I didn’t think there was any connection.
So I was at a farmer’s market and there was a lady there selling organic makeup. And I asked if she had any makeup classes because Alyssa was in this Avril Lavigne phase with black eyeliner all the way around, she’s really blonde and really fair, and it was just an awful lot of makeup. And I didn’t really want to dissuade her, I wanted her just to start to figure it all out, and she was. So this lady said, “Yeah! Have her come and we’ll talk.” In the end, the lady hired her as an intern to help during the day because of her flexible schedule. She was about 13-14 at the time. She ended up learning how to put her makeup on really nicely and teaching Girl Scout troops how to do it and learning how business worked and how to do the invoices and even how to make the makeup. So that was kind of a cool year.
For her path, because she was the youngest and the house had been super chaotic and wild when everybody was here, once they all moved out and she was still at home it was a little bit quieter than she was used to, so she wanted to try high school. So we ended up going ahead and doing that. She went for just a year and a half. She wanted to be on the drill team and she wanted to perform at half-time at the football games, and she did it. Really I think what she discovered was that it is a very big price for your freedom. It’s cool for a little bit, it’s nice as an experiment, and then it’s time to get on with it. (laughter)
She’s got a lot of interesting stuff to say about her school experience, about how it really looks from an unschooler’s perspective to go in there and see how people act and what’s going on. But what I wanted to tell you about following their paths and seeing their different interests is that I didn’t think Alyssa’s stuff was connected. I didn’t think her animal stuff and her makeup stuff, because now she went ahead and went to cosmetology school and she works at a salon and is a hairstylist (and actually she makes more money than her brother and sister combined) but she is pursuing what she really loves. And how it was connected is that she saw that when she dove into what she was really really interested in, and got as deep into it as she wanted, and learned what she wanted, and could come and go with it then she did it with another thing when she wanted to learn more about the makeup. And it was like learning how to really explore your resources and your interests.
So the common thread was really just her and that she was really figuring it all out. So I think of those families that say, “Oh, well my kid doesn’t have a specific interest.” Well, you may not realize it now but when you look back you may be able to see that one thing really was leading to another and how they were learning how to operate in the world as young adults. It was just kind of interesting to me!
PAM: Wow, yeah, that is so fascinating! I have goosebumps listening! (laughter) I love hearing about those kinds of stories because I too can trace back now but you can’t see it when you’re deep in the middle of it. All you can do really is support them where they are. The joy is looking back later but if you get in the way in the moment you might end up pinching off threads that you don’t realize.
SUE: That is exactly right! And those families that are kind of freaked out, they get into that comparison thing. And you just can’t make those comparisons. For one, you’re often comparing somebody’s end-of-the-line with your start-of-the-line. Nothing looks the same there. Or you don’t know what’s happening inside them mentally, how they’re making those connections and how that’s going to serve them later.
PAM: I know, and, one of the things I loved and discovered was that you can’t ask them, “Well, why do you like this?” or “Why is it that you are so excited about this?” To expect them to understand and articulate that, but if they just follow their curiosity, their natural ‘what’s next, what’s next?’ in their mind, those things connect and it’s such a beautiful way to explore the world.
SUE: I think people are always thinking that there has to be a passion, that a kid has to be passionate about something. But really it’s that word, “curiosity.” It’s following one little curiosity after another and you don’t know where that’s going to take you but it will take you somewhere if you just don’t get in their way. (laughter)
PAM: I know, it’s hard! OK! So now let’s dive into your book!
I’m curious about what inspired you to take on this project, what it is that you found fascinating about unschooling and the teen years?
SUE: Well, I knew that when we went to those conferences—we spent a lot of time at conferences when the kids were teenagers and a little bit younger—every time we went to a conference, those rooms where there were teen panels, they were packed to the gills! People spilling out of the room, they wanted to ask their questions, they wanted to see how did these teens act, how did they deal with the questions, what are their answers? And then I would see it at park days when there would be a couple of teenagers around and parents just really wanted to pick their brains and see what was happening for them.
For some reason, in our support groups what often was happening was we’ve got a lot of kids up to about age ten and then it really starts to dwindle. It starts at first you have all these little young kids and everybody’s going to homeschool until school age rolls around, (laughter), and then they fall off. And so then you’ve got your people and they’re happy and they’re all playing and lots of fun and everything and then at about ten or eleven, they start to get worried about those high school years. And I found that our high school years, for want of a better term, was the most fun!
SUE: Every time it was something different from the time before and you don’t even realize how great it’s going to be! And so I wanted more people to be able to have this with their families, that it didn’t have to shut down and ship them off somewhere else. After having Alyssa’s experience in school I realized how miserable those kids are, how horribly trapped they are, and how really damaged they are. I know that’s a hard thing for people to hear because the majority of people send their kids there. But, if they were to get at the heart of what’s really going on there, they would find a lot of bad stuff.
Not just the bullying and the exposure to stuff that’s really really hard, but just the little things like not having the freedom to get up and leave the room. Or the humiliating stuff that happens that teachers sometimes do to keep kids in line because they have to do this giant crowd-control thing. I used to always say, “Oh, I don’t want to get into school bashing” and I don’t really want to get into school bashing but there’s a reason we didn’t chose it. If it had been an OK path, we probably would have been on it. But it’s not an OK path and more people need to realize it. And I’m not trying to convince families that are perfectly happy with their school scenario. If they like it, more power to you. But if your kid is miserable and you think you don’t have an option, I hope to reach those people. Because they do have fabulous options available.
So that was the reason for the book. I was really addressing two different kinds of moms. One was the mom who had been happily homeschooling all along but was panicky about the teen years and could they do it or would that close doors for them. Because that’s what they’re worried about, is this going to make it so they can’t go to college or they can’t get a job or they aren’t going to have all the opportunities that the school kids supposedly have. Or the mom or dad are doubting themselves and they think they can’t really provide what they need to provide.
So it was to address those kinds of questions and also to address those families whose kids are miserable in school and to let them know that they have a viable option. So what I did was, I took all these questions that I had always heard, the same questions over and over and over, it was about 25 or 30 questions and I decided to ask the teens. When I say teens, it’s really from 15-39 was the age group that participated in this survey that I created. I posed these different questions and then they just answered them.
I thought that we have enough of about moms talking about their kids. It’s time now for the kids to get to talk. They should be able to say what their life was like. And they’ll be able to do it with this clarity. And families that are trying to decide about whether or not to homeschool through those teen years will be able to relate. They’ll be able to say, “Oh that kid is kind of like my kid, my kid talks like that too!” (laughter) Because they were really candid in those responses in how they sound.
PAM: Yeah, that was one of the things that I really loved, really enjoyed as part of the book. With my kids being adults now too, at 18, 21, and 23, I could relate what I saw as their experiences through what I was reading in their responses. And about half the respondents that you got for your survey were identified, identified themselves anyway, as unschoolers. And the thing that you did on top of it that I loved was that, yes, the respondents were very candid and l loved that—seeing it in their language and from their perspective. The other piece though, is that most of them aren’t particularly interested in the philosophy of unschooling itself. So when we understand the philosophy we can kind of put their answers in context. These were raw snapshots and I loved that you extended the value of that by adding your own insights to the book as well to kind of put that all in context, that was great!
SUE: Originally I was just going to include just the question and their answers. When I was looking at it, I was thinking, “Oh, I don’t know.” At the time, Linda Dobson was my editor and I took too long for Linda, she had to go get a real job (laughter) but she was like, “No Sue, you have stuff to say, so you need to say it! Twenty years in this homeschooling community, you know, so you’re just going to have to take the time to batch them together and figure out how does it batch together.”
That’s part of what took so long was to figure out how is this going to help a reader. How are they going to get what they need? Even on those panels at conferences you have a panel moderator that kind of does a little bit of an intro, so to speak.
PAM: That was really valuable, I’m glad you took the time for that.
SUE: I’m glad you liked it.
So let’s dive into one of the questions. I thought we’d start with what some of the advantages are that they saw from not going to school.
SUE: I grouped them into different categories because they did seem to centre around certain themes. They thought they had a happier approach to learning. When they thought of their friends that were in schools or even their cousins at the holidays or when they run into them, they’re not happy about learning. They shy away from something that is “educational.” And these kids didn’t. They were happy, they loved to learn. My son’s experience when he went to community college was that he was so disappointed that they didn’t all just want to talk about it because he thought it was all so fascinating and they were like, “Well, what do I need for a B? How low could I get before it would be a C?” (laughter) He didn’t even know how to think like that! So homeschoolers in the teen years tended to deal with learning differently.
The other thing they saw was an exposure to real-world opportunities. People say, “Oh, are they going to be around mommy their whole life?” There are horrible things that people say. The truth of the matter is they are out in the real world. They are out meeting people, going to work, because they got a lot of jobs because they were more flexible with their schedules. They were able to travel way more than school kids. They were involved in a lot more activities in the community because they could pursue their interests and they weren’t confined by the school schedule. So that was a big thing.
Another one was that they felt that their freedom to make choices about their life was a huge advantage. And, when all your choice is: French or Spanish; or Math Models or Algebra I? You just have these limited choices when you go to a school because understandably they can’t offer a vast array, but the community can. The world offers as huge of a plate as you want. The teens and young adults really appreciated that they had freedom to make choices in their life.
They also saw that they could avoid a lot of unnecessary stress. When they got together with their friends that were at school they would hear about drama or bullying or busywork or as soon as they were starting to get into something then the bell rang and they had to go onto something else so they couldn’t really dive into something. So the kids would often share what their experiences were in school and they found it really stressful.
Something else I found when I was looking up information was the idea of sleep. And the idea of how sleep deprived teenagers who have to get up and go to school are and how counterproductive that is. If they have to get up at 6:30 to get on a bus to get to school and they’re having all that shift that happens in their body hormonally which is why teenagers go to bed a little later and want to sleep a little later too—it all kind of shifts. But high school didn’t shift; high school is the same time frame as when they were in second grade. So they’re working against a natural body clock. They just need more sleep and they’re not getting it. You can’t learn, you can’t be creative, you can’t discover stuff when you’re exhausted. And if you do your school all the way until 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, and then either you have a little after school job or you have some extracurricular thing and you’ve got to fit in a little bit of family time…
PAM: And homework.
SUE: …an enormous amount of homework…they’re just exhausted. The stress of that, the homeschoolers were able to avoid that.
They also noted that they had a lot better socialization. So often people are like, “Oh, well how will they make friends? How will they meet people?” They met people the way adults meet people. You run into people that share your interest and then you strike up a friendship. You kind of get to know them and realize you have common ground. And that’s how the homeschooled and unschooled teens met people and found friends.
Some of the comments from the kids were funny. I liked the one where, when I asked him how he met friends, responded, “Oh no, I spent my entirety as a social recluse…” (laughter) “…just kidding, just kidding.” I think it’s funny to have their real input in there. One of them, which I thought was the perfect one for this idea of making enough friends, is that somebody said, “Well, how many is enough?” And that’s so true. For some, enough is one. For others, enough is a couple. For others they’ve just got to be around people all the time. There’s a lot of flexibility. You can make any of those scenarios happen. It helps, it’s harder if you have an extroverted kid and an introverted mom (or vice versa), it’s going to take some negotiating, so you have to factor that in. It’s all very very doable. And the teens and young adults in this book explained all kinds of ways that they met people. And they were able to have a lot of good influences of people that cared about them and wanted them to succeed. It wasn’t the competitiveness that sometimes happens, that often happens, when they’re in school scenarios. So those were probably what I would consider the biggest advantages that they experienced.
PAM: That’s great!
The next question I wanted to look at was some of the ways that the unschooling teens learned outside of the classroom. There were some great answers for that.
SUE: Something that somebody brought up that I also want to talk about, there were some fabulous ways. People always think, “Oh, they’re just going to be sitting in the kitchen with their parents.” (laughter) And it’s not even remotely like that. A lot of learning does happen internally. A lot of learning does happen when they’re at home or riding with you in the car to the grocery store or looking up something on YouTube or things that they’re doing by themselves. So I didn’t really put a lot in there about that but I try to mention it because I think it’s a point that sometimes gets overlooked.
Some of the things that they were able to do out in the community that people that are thinking more that traditional school is the only opportunity that there is for teenagers, they need to have that (idea) busted open. So they can see that parents can facilitate and did facilitate clubs or activities that the teens would be part of, whether it was part of a group that traveled somewhere and went to see something, or even just a writing group. Sometimes parents that were good at certain things they opened their home up for either themselves to teach some different things for the kids that were interested or that they would expose them to tutors or things like that.
Some of the other ways that they learned out in the community or that homeschool support groups offered different activities for the teens to get together. They did some kind of group classes. Even some of the unschoolers participated occasionally in co-ops where they would be like one day a week where something would be going on. Primarily the unschoolers would participate in the art class or PE class or something like that.
Then there were community-based activities like the theatres or the museums or the science centres or the zoos offering internships or programs that they could kind of plug into based on what their interest was. They could go to camps, there’s a ton of camps, and we have that over at the Unschooling Mom2Mom website, there are a ton of teen camps that they can participate in. A lot of them started taking community college classes early. They were taking them as dual-enrolled students, which is where you are supposedly in high school and also in college at the same time and it meets both criteria for graduating high school but you’re also getting a head start if you were going to take classes in college. So a lot of them were able to use the community college system nearby. California and Texas were the majority of where the survey respondents came from. They had really easy access to the community colleges. That was an interesting way that a lot of them got plugged in to things outside. And they got EMT licensing, Alyssa got her cosmetology license when she would have been a senior in high school. So there are a lot of different opportunities that are out there it is just about being resourceful and finding things.
Where the unschoolers really shined, and it’s the largest chapter in the whole book, is the way they dealt with their hobbies. Where the school-at-home kids are really off doing their subjects, and then they have their small window for hobbies, the unschoolers were studying their hobbies as their job of the day. They were exploring and going really deeply into them.
Some of them ended up going off to college to study more about it. Others ended up going into careers based upon that hobby that they were able to really develop as a teenager. I think that’s so cool because, as adults, we tend to think, oh, you do your job and then you have your hobby. And lots of times, it takes a few decades for us to undo that thinking, where we’re realizing we’re really enjoying this hobby, there’s got to be a way to make a living at it! Well, they have this distinct advantage of having that early on, they get to continue on with their following from one point to the next point based upon their interest and their own curiosity. It’s really cool to see all the different things that they were able to be involved with. So I loved that part—the hobbies chapter.
PAM: Yes! Me too! I found that with my own kids, I see that with so many of the unschooled kids that I know through conferences and stuff. As we were talking about before, that thread that flows between things, it’s awesome.
I wanted to take a moment to talk about how they saw their family life. One thing that I loved was that 81% of all respondents reported a good relationship with their siblings and 96% reported being very happy with their parent relationships. That seems very different from the typical teen relationships that we see depicted in TV and movies and even see play out in many of the families around us. So what was their take on that?
SUE: I think that a lot of those kids that were home having these really good relationships with their family members, you know, good relationships come from shared experiences. That’s what homeschoolers and unschoolers especially have—a lot of shared experiences. So that allows parents to be more connected with them. It gives them time to be good listeners or to show that they have trust in their kid. They are around them a lot and they have this kind of a relationship.
So those were some of the comments that the kids made. They thought there was more trust because they knew each other better. They were able to talk about really in-depth issues with their parents. They felt like their parents were really good role models and supported their interests. All of those things led to really good parent-child relationships. It doesn’t surprise me that kids, teenagers that are off to school all day and then doing their thing in the afternoons and maybe there is an hour window of parental time. It’s just not really enough to be able to have—it doesn’t mean that you can’t have really good relationships—but it is much easier when you have these shared relationships, these shared experiences that the homeschooled kids are having with their parents.
That is translating into the siblings too. They never had that idea that I can’t talk to you because I’m eighth grade and you’re seventh grade. (laughter) Those things didn’t happen in their world and so they got along with each other because they liked each other. They got annoyed with each other because they were annoying, not because of some artificial thing that somebody said you can’t like those people and you can like those people. You weren’t worried that your younger sibling was going to embarrass you in front of your peers because you were all in there together. It was a completely different dynamic.
PAM: I think that with siblings too, you’ve got that time to work with them so they learn how to work things out. They don’t just leave it disconnected. You have that time to build those connections and figure out how to move through annoying moments and frustrating moment.
SUE: Right, and I think it helps with empathy. I think it helps when you’re there with them and you can see what hurt their feelings and what made them feel really good about themselves. Those are such great things to learn early on. It really bodes well for their young adulthood.
PAM: I’ve seen exactly the same thing.
One other thing that I wanted to ask you before we go was what it was that surprised you most when you were going through the survey responses?
SUE: I think two things were really surprising. One was that a third of the kids, more than a third, were international travelers. They weren’t just traveling for their one little vacation in the summer with their family to Illinois. (laughter) They were going on big trips all the time. It was incredible. And it was just a part of their life. As they got older, some of the teenagers had met people at conferences and then they would go and stay with them because the families had gotten to know each other at the conference as well as online. So that was a really neat opportunity for them to be able to go and expand beyond their little community. I thought that was really cool.
The other thing that was surprising to me was when I asked them would they homeschool their own children, because to me, that was the big decision of did this work or not, would they do it? And half of them said, “yes” and had all of the same reasons that most of us have had and the other half said, “maybe.” And I was like, “Maybe? What do you mean, ‘Maybe’?” (laughter) “You just spent the whole book talking about how fabulous your life was and now you’re a ‘maybe’?” And really, when I thought about it and stopped being all dramatic about it the reality was, they were real critical thinkers. They were examining the facts. They weren’t going to just do a knee-jerk, “be true to your school” kind of a way. They were thinking that it could depend on their location or depend on their spouse or depend on what their career was or maybe they’d let their child choose. They saw that there is some sacrifice, that their parents did some things differently. A lot of their families had switched to single-income families and that’s sometimes harder. They weren’t sure they wanted to do that. So they were leaving the door open. I think that’s really really good.
I think it does look good that homeschoolers are looking at this with an open mind of “maybe I will and maybe I won’t.” My prediction though … I’d love to do a follow-up with these guys and I think I probably will write another book. I’d love to follow up with them and see what happens because I don’t think, if they chose to put their kid in a school, I don’t think they are going to like what that is like. I don’t think the majority of them realize how much freedom you have to give up. I could be wrong. It could be completely a surprise to me. But I think they might not be able to do it.
PAM: It would be really interesting for a follow-up! I would look forward to that. But I agree with you that, even in talking to my own kids one of the things that I love is that they don’t presuppose what the future may hold. They’re just so used to analyzing what is going on now and making choices based on that, that they don’t assume things in the future. Like you said, they will take experience when they get to that stage, experience in school, and that will become a bigger part when the decision actually comes to them, I think that kind of information will play a bigger role at that time too, so that’s awesome.
Well, I wanted to thank you so much for speaking with me today, Sue! I really enjoyed diving into the teen years with unschooling because like you said, I really love those years, they are awesome!
SUE: Great! Don’t be afraid of them! (laughter)
PAM: Now, I wanted to give you a moment to let people know where is the best place to get in touch with you online?
SUE: The easiest way is suepatterson.com. I have a website. I have a coaching practice where I help families. A lot of the time it’s families that have just left the school system and they are totally overwhelmed and they don’t know what to do or that they can do this and I want to help them figure out a way that they don’t immediately jump into a boxed curriculum because they don’t know any different. And it really doesn’t even take very long for them to figure that out. There’s a lot of stuff there at that website, that’s where my blog is now. So that’s a great place.
Another great place for unschoolers is unschoolingmom2mom.com. About a year and a half ago we started a group on Facebook that’s also called Unschooling Mom2Mom and I think we’re going to hit the 7000 member mark by the end of this year, which is crazy! But a lot of people have a lot of questions. So that’s a good place to go get free information about unschooling. We took the top 12 questions that people have about unschooling and then we gathered articles, blog posts, TED talks, and things that had to do with deschooling, or had to do with how am I going to teach them to read or just the basic questions that people have about unschooling. That’s over at the unschoolingmom2mom.com website. That’s kind of a curated site where we’ve picked stuff for people to read that’s the best of the best. So those are probably the two places that you can find me. Facebook, you can find me on there.
PAM: That’s great! Thank you so much, Sue, for your time!
SUE: Sure! No problem, I loved it Pam, I wish we could talk more often!
PAM: I know, I had a lot of fun, thanks very much. Bye!