PAM: Hi everyone, I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi, guys!
ANNE & ANNA: Hello!
PAM: I am very excited that Anne and Anna are going to join me today to answer listener questions, but first I wanted to take a moment for the two of them to introduce themselves and tell us a bit about their unschooling experience. Why don’t you go first, Anne?
ANNE: I would love to, thank you so much for having me! I have two grown sons, Jacob and Sam. Jacob is 25 and Sam is 21. They have always been radically unschooled and that’s because when Jacob was born I felt immediately that he was here to show me things and I was here to follow him.
It was his kind of wonderfully obstinate refusal to be taught anything or to have any part of his mind or spirit be, I don’t know, hijacked by other people and what THEY thought he should be doing or learning or who he should be that resonated deeply with a truth within myself. We didn’t know unschooling existed back then, it wasn’t until he was about seven and Sam was four when the internet came into our lives and I realized that other people were living this life and what it was called. Somewhere in there I also found John Holt’s books, and that helped me to follow Jacob and his joy, and probably more important than his joy was following his peace. That is where we started and we have been doing it ever since.
PAM: That’s lovely. You want to take a turn, Anna?
ANNA: Hi, thanks for having me. I am Anna Brown and I live in North Carolina with my husband David and our two girls Afton and Raelin who are now 18 and 16. We have also always unschooled and John Holt was a part of our journey early on as well. I read his book “Learning All The Time” and it really helped me with Afton and understanding all that she was doing.
Pretty early on you could tell it was not what I thought it was going to be, and just watching her explore the world and dig deep into all the things she loved is what naturally led us to unschooling, and then when Raelin came along a couple of years later, she just fell right into that routine. It has just been a wonderful journey as all four of us have shared this life together, exploring what we love and the world around us and connecting with other unschoolers. So, it’s been great.
PAM: Yeah, I’m sure we will get to know a lot more about your stories as we dive into these questions. So, let’s get to the first one.
How do people successfully unschool older kids when there are babies or toddlers in the house that restrict the opportunities for the older one? For instance, I can hardly read to my five-year-old because my two-year-old constantly interferes.
You want to start, Anna?
ANNA: Sure. Thinking back, my kids were close in age so we only had a little bit of this, but for me it was just kind of going with the ebb and flow of the day. And also looking for opportunities for parallel play, so we would find toddler activities that would work for one if the other wanted some quiet time reading. We might have the sand box or the big box with beans we had inside that was good for scooping and dumping that would entertain my younger one while I could read with Afton. We would also go outside a lot because that would allow people to wander and do what they wanted, or stay close if they just wanted just more of a calming energy.
We utilized nap times and different bed times, as well as tag teaming with other moms and with David in order to give us one on one time. But really it was mostly about connecting and being aware of the ebb and flow through the day and not having a particular attachment to it having to look a certain way or that it had to happen in a certain way. We found that there were lots of opportunities for everybody to have their needs met.
PAM: I found one of the things we did quite a bit was, like you were saying, talking to the older kids, connecting, getting their input, and finding out what they actually want to do.
But when the younger kids are around, asking yourself, “What are some of the things that we can enjoy doing while the kids are here?” And then getting them involved so you create more moments where the younger ones are napping or busy with someone or something, which also helps them understand their environment, because they’re experiencing it.
ANNE: For me, I’d like to jump in and restructure the question, just because I feel like it’s important to be mindful of the words we are using when we have questions, or problems, or to tell the story of our lives. I have found that simply changing the words to this particular question allows for a pivot in perspective, and suddenly the possibilities to open up. So, if we look at the words “successfully unschool” and the words “restrict” and “interfere,” I understand why somebody would feel limited when those are the words that spring to mind in this situation.
For me, I would think about what is unschooling. It’s connection with our children, it’s celebrating our children and honoring our children for being who they are, and it’s trusting in them to know themselves. So, the question really is, “How can I connect with my children?”
I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old and obviously, they have very different needs and interests, so even just switching from those restrictive words to that, I feel uplifted, like there are suddenly so many possibilities in front of me. And I think that’s important, because anybody can offer suggestions but we know our children best, so framing our questions in that way allows possibilities to flow. We’re not saying, “We have this problem,” we are saying, “I want to connect with you and I want to connect with your sibling too, how can we solve that?” Then that invites the kids in even on a deeper level, to help you solve things, instead of just feeling negative about it.
PAM: That’s a great point, because one of the things I was going to add is that you are looking for the flow right then and there, in the moment. Whenever I found myself getting most frustrated being pulled in different directions, it was when I was trying to direct things. When I was looking at things only from my own perspective, and I wanted things to go my way, the way I thought they should go. Even though I was trying to look through their eyes I was still seeing it from my perspective.
ANNE: Right, and for me even with just two kids I felt torn when they both needed me and suddenly you’re in conflict with your desire to please everyone. If you can just step back from your frustration and look at it from a different angle, then that really just opens it up for me and allows the possibilities to flow.
ANNA: I think so too, because I feel like some of the wording, like “successful unschooling,” is pretty agenda-driven. So, it’s like, let that piece go. Let that piece go, because if we can get to that foundation of connection, if that is first and foremost—how can we meet these needs—it really flows and takes care of itself. Versus coming in with, “It needs to look like this; I want it to look like this; this is what it is supposed to look like.”
ANNE: It is not a pass/fail situation.
PAM: It also helps to remember that things change over time. When you feel stuck in a moment, you know that a month from now, two months from now, six months from now things are going to be different. When you are always looking for that connection, it helps you move through those times rather than feeling stuck.
PAM: Okay, let’s look at this next question, I think it’s similar in that it deals with multiple children but it is from a slightly different perspective.
How does unschooling work with three young children?
Now I think you can take everything that we said about the first question and apply most of it here, but I am going to go first here.
What jumped out at me first was that if you have got young children, sometimes—we were talking in the first question about the pressure of “successfully unchooling”—the pressure we can feel if we try to even label things as unschooling if the kids are younger than school age. At that point, really, what we are doing is parenting.
So, if thinking of it as unschooling is making you feel some pressure, that you have to do this or that or the other thing, it may help to just remember that you are parenting them and connecting with them.
ANNE: Yes, definitely. I always feel like people discount regular life as part of the learning experience, because every family has their own set of circumstances. Every family is dealing with something that could cause stress if you are feeling like you have to be a successful unschooling parent all the time. Yet simply by living our lives together and having discussions and shifting our perspectives, there’s so much that they are absorbing every second, and hopefully what they’re getting from the parent is respect and celebration and cooperation. That is life. Unschooling is life. That has way more value than anything in a classroom, in my opinion.
ANNA: That is what I wanted to say about this one too. Basically, unschooling IS living our life, and I think because the three of us have these grown children, we can say resoundingly that every day, every experience, there is learning in all of that. And it never looked like one specific thing. It is trusting that as life unfolds you are learning what you need to know and you are asking the questions. And if you have engaged people that are talking and answering questions and looking things up and figuring things out, all of that just takes care of itself. You are exploring the world and just living your life.
ANNE: That’s right, and it is literally learning all the time. You know, the title of John Holts book. And people might hear that and think, “Oh wow, they are learning math all the time.” NO! (laughs)
We are absorbing, and they are absorbing all that we’re doing. I just spent a couple of days with Sam, my 21-year-old, and I still see it happening with him because he knows how to be a life learner. He knows how to look at situations and learn and move forward. It’s just incredible to me to be a witness to all of these years and still see it going on.
PAM: That’s a great point, I’ve talked before about how you do not even notice the transition when you start unschooling if your kids did not go to school at all. That transition is seamless. They were not school-aged and now they are but days look the same. And I found that is exactly the same that my kids are 18, 21, and 23. Our days still look the same as they did when my kids were teenagers and even children because you are just living your days and following your interests and learning in every single moment.
ANNE: You are evolving together in this space of deep friendship and respect and that is just the most beautiful thing. I know so many people who wish their kids were toddlers and little again and I’ve never been in that space. I have always just loved who my kids are at any stage along the way because of this life we have built together, just evolving together.
ANNA: Definitely. That’s been our experience too. I think it’s what I love about it, it’s just each one of us learning from the other. It’s not top down, there’s no agenda, it’s just what we each learn from each of our experiences and our passions and our heartache and everything that is involved. It’s life.
PAM: That is another good piece which I am sure we will get into deeper, but you learn from every experience, that’s life. You’re not trying to get through those hard moments so that you can start living and learning again. No. You’re living and learning in ALL of those moments. Okay, so let’s move on to the next question.
I feel so much pressure and guilt knowing that family and friends would not understand unschooling so I hide it by saying we homeschool when I am asked. Is that okay? I feel so guilty and then that guilt turns into doubt whether I am doing the right thing, yet deep inside I know I am. How do I deal with this constant back and forth internal struggle?
So, why don’t you start this one, Anne.
ANNE: I love this question. It starts out, “I feel so much pressure and guilt,” oh my goodness. If there was one thing I wish I could remove from everyone’s lives, it’s feeling bad about themselves for anything. It’s something I’ve always tried to help my kids feel good about themselves no matter what has happened, and it is something that we adults really need to give to ourselves too, and we have a hard time getting there sometimes.
In our family we have always done what we feel we need to do to keep our unschooling lives free from negativity. I have never owned any guilt about it at all. It goes back to, again, the energy in which we are living, the energy we are conveying, and the energy we are carrying. If we feel guilt and pressure because we do not want to say we unschool then that leaves huge openings and gaps for people to swarm in and tell us what we should be doing and what we are doing wrong. Of course, when people do that then we start to doubt ourselves.
Even if you are not at a place where you are one-hundred percent confident in unschooling because the tapes in your head from society are still so strong that you can not get away from them, I still feel like we can act as if and trust that all is well. And this is a really beneficial tool to use because it helps us also to trust in our children.
It’s okay to say that you homeschool around those whom you feel would not understand, or question it, or make you feel bad about it. And then you just kind of joke about it with your kids, that’s what we always did.
Also, I would kind if feel out if you can say “homeschool” or “unschool.” When I would feel sometimes that it was okay to say “unschool,” I would almost also feel that they might need to hear that word too. So, it’s just a matter of listening to your instinct and going with it and not feeling bad about it at all. Because you are just, again, living your life, doing what you can to live your life freely without other people’s negativity coming into your space.
ANNA: For me, I found that people really take their cue from me. So, similarly to what Anne is saying, it is about that energy. I find if I am sharing the joy and the wonder of our lives, that’s what they see and can get excited too. I don’t feel the need to really define what we are do to everyone in a specific way, but I talk about what we love and new adventures and even just the quiet days at home. I find that my energy kind of sets the tone.
I’ll also say that if something feels like a struggle, I personally would probably examine that a little bit. That might be a red flag for me to dig deeper. “Am I feeling uncomfortable about something?” “What’s happening?” Because for me I find it’s rarely about the other person. It’s usually about something; those tapes are in my head so can I figure out those tapes, or what self talk is happening, and straighten that out and then usually the rest will take care of itself. If I can get my energy in the place I want it to be, then that’s what the rest of the world sees and gets excited about.
PAM: Yes, I think this ties both of those things together really nicely. Because I came to it a bit later too, my kids were in school so I was deep into that environment and there was not one person in my life who had ever heard of homeschooling when I heard of it and started doing it. I think it was you Anne that mentioned about not leaving openings for them and, Anna, you talked about it being your work to do often when you find a conflict there.
When I look back now I realize that, in our first few months at least, probably the first year after they left school, we ended up really cocooning a lot. I actively did the work to shift away from needing my family’s approval or even agreement in what we were doing. But I was not yet ready and confident to speak to that—I was doing all my work, I was deschooling, I was trying to figure out what I really felt about it. We were just busy often if it was “come over for dinner” and I was not comfortable with that, or the kids did not enjoy it or felt they were being questioned or whatever.
So, a lot of times we just did not go to those things for the first year or so. We cocooned and the kids played to their hearts’ content and I watched them and I learned more about unschooling. By the time we were ready to connect more, I was in a much better place and I found the same things that you guys were talking about. When we were together with extended family, I didn’t really call it unschooling for a long time, it was just homeschooling. But it was about sharing the joy, not giving them an opportunity to question.
Because if I had a question, my family was not the ones I wanted to ask, because they knew nothing. I’m not going to ask their advice, I am not even going to ask their parenting advice because I am looking for parenting that supports the unschooling lifestyle that I am trying to create, so they are not the ones to ask. I’m going to go and ask unschooling groups or other unschoolers that you may have living around you if you are that lucky.
But yes, that was a huge piece for me, giving myself the time and our family the time to adjust and shift and do that work, and then when we did meet with family more often, to share the positives and the joys, to share my kids excitement and joy in the things that they were doing, and not leave openings for them to start questioning, and certainly not asking them for their advice. Because then you are asking them to try and judge you.
ANNE: That’s exactly it, and even when we did go to family gatherings, you know, you get the standard school questions and my kids never fit into those categories, of course. So, we would literally take joy cheat sheets with us. I’d have it at the dinner table and when the conversation started going to someplace where we didn’t fit into, we would pull it out and I would have topics written down of things that my kids had been doing that they loved. Any one of them, if you spoke of it, one of my kids would light up and that’s what we wanted to share: my kids’ shine and have everybody witness that shine. And it was always something that everybody could join in on because it is an interest a lot of people share. It’s not a school thing where it’s the cut and dry conversation. It’s, “Oh, I started woodworking.” “Oh, grandpa knows a lot about that!”
ANNA: Something I’ve see with maybe newer unschoolers is they take those questions that may be, “what grade are you in?” or “what are you studying at school?” as an attack or as something specifically directed at them. And, honestly, it’s just that a lot of adults don’t know how to interact with children. So I was able to show them how we can talk about our interests by talking about their interests as an adult, just like I would talk about my kids’ interests. I think if we can just kind of give people that template of how we can we relate to each other as human beings that are enjoying this life, it helps. It doesn’t often have this negative agenda, it’s just really all that they know.
PAM: That’s true. Those are just the typical questions that they are used to asking. I know I used to have so much fun asking my sisters-in-law, “so what have you been doing lately?” and “what are you interested in?” It would really stop them up because that is not the kind of questions that they are used to getting or discussing. That helped along the way.
Okay, so let us move on the next question.
I’d love to hear about games that have provided family fun, any kind of game, board games, computer games, video games, waiting games, word games, etc.
You want to start with that one, Anna?
ANNA: Sure, we love games, oh my goodness we always play games. I guess I’ll just list off some of our favorites, but we can go around and then talk but we do a lot of card games because that is something we did with my family of origin. So, Canasta, Hand and Foot, Skip-Bo, Uno, those types of things. One of our current favorites is a tile game call Rummikub, which is a lot of fun.
When the girls were younger though, we enjoyed more computer games and Zoombinis was a really fun one, it’s kind of coming back now you can get it on Android and iPads and that kind of thing, but also we as a family loved Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, those kind of games. We had so much fun and both of you know about the endless hours of Animal Crossing. (laughs) And honestly it was so hard for me to let that go, I probably should not even talk about it. (all laughing) I may start thinking about my hybrids if we go there. But, oh my gosh, so much fun! And really one of the things that really, both the girls started reading because we wanted to play together and they were tired of me having to read for them.
We have liked the standards too, like Yahtzee, Clue, Trouble, those kind of things. Blokus, Pig Pile was a big favorite, Blankets, they are both kind of card games. So again, we love any kind of games, whatever I see on an unschooling list or even anyone talk about a new favorite game, I’m good at Googling. I think you put one recently on Instagram, Pam. I am googling to see what that is all about.
PAM: I am going to mention that. (laughs)
ANNA: Oh good.
PAM: Okay, I’ll go next then. That one was Hanabi, that’s a super fun game. The kids are older now, obviously, but I try to get some totally new game that we hadn’t heard of yet each Christmas just to have around. Lissy lives in New York City now and she’s home for the holidays. And Hanabi was one I had seen, I think it was probably in the summer, some good reviews I had happened upon and got it. It’s a cooperative game. What is super fun is it’s a tile based game—I think there’s a card version out now but we have the tile based one—and you have your tiles but your tiles are facing out so you can’t see your own tiles but you see everybody else’s. So, you are trying to give clues to the other players on which tiles to lay, to successfully pull off this fireworks show. (laughs)
ANNE: I saw that one at Target and almost got that one too.
PAM: Another one we have had lots of fun with lately is Fluxx. We have the card game, somebody gave us the game board version last week so we haven’t tried that out yet. But that will be soon. We got the original Flux game, I think that is what I got last Christmas, and so we played that tons and then this Christmas in their stockings I put in new versions, like there’s a Zombie version and then there’s a Star version which is like all Star Wars and Star Trek references and stuff and an Oz version. What was super cool is that it’s not that you just have different pictures and different words to describe the same thing, things change, the games change drastically between the Zombie version and the Oz version, so it is really cool the way they did that. We have had fun picking which one we are in the mood for.
When we were on vacation last fall, we went to LA and Lissy taught us a word game called Contact. We ended up playing that when we were waiting in lines, when we were driving around. That was a word game that was super, super fun. I was going to mention Zoombinis, which you did. It is available all over the place now and on Steam. Michael has spent a lot of time over the last year on Kerbal Space Program. That is super cool too.
Somebody just told me about the 2048 game so I’ve been trying that out. Whenever I want just a reset, when I just need two minutes of quiet to myself, I pull out Sudoku on my phone. Somebody asked me why I always play easy mode. “Try harder, try harder.” No, I play easy because I know the game will only be two or three minutes. And then I just basically kind of race myself when I feel like it. That is always fun.
What about you, Anne?
ANNE: My reset game is Bejeweled, it’s one minute. (laughs) It’s one minute if I don’t care about being the high score, which I always do so it is pretty long. (laughing)
A new game that Sam and I have just discovered, and let me tell you the benefits of your 21-year-old being in pain from a kidney stone is you get to hang out with them. (laughing) You get to play Bounce Off as much as you want. It is a tray and kind of like ping-pong balls that you bounce on the table into the tray. You try to recreate a pattern from the card that you drew. So much fun, any age can do it. When I first bought it, I thought, oh my god ping-pong balls are going to be flying all over the place. But it’s not, it is much more in control than I thought it would be. We are playing and playing and just having so much fun and I actually went and found Bounce Off “Max” or “Super” so we just got that yesterday, which is another level of it, which I didn’t like as much because Sam kept winning where I kept winning the first version. But that is a really fantastic game that we love.
We love Qwirkle, we love good old Dominos, and my family and I have spent so many, so many happy years playing Rock Band together. Even now when we hear a song that was a classic Rock Band song we just look at each other and smile and say “Rock Band Song!” because we have such happy connecting memories of that joy and I have a hard time not buying it again and starting it up all over again even though we all have jobs now. (laughing)
It was much more fun when we didn’t all have jobs. Settlers of Catan is one that we absolutely love with my kids being older now, and Tokaido. I do the same thing at Christmas time, Pam, I try to get a game nobody has heard of and my last success was Tokaido. Really wonderful thing, it is basically anything your kids are drawn to I would recommend go toward that. And then take their little interests and go to the Amazon recommendations and you find all kinds of treasures. You can tell by the reviews if it’s your kind of people, you know what I mean, that like obscure games and everything. That is what I always try and find but I love following the rabbit trail of games to surprise my kids and following their passion toward whatever they are interested it.
PAM: That’s it about the path, you just keep going and going until something connects which you know, “Oh that will light them up, that is going to be super fun!”
ANNE: That is how Pokémon started, I mean Jacob being drawn to creatures with his artist brain from when he was a child. We were someplace and there were pictures of Pokémon and we were like, “What is that?” And I noticed next time he was with a friend who had an old-fashioned Game Boy and Jacob would get really excited watching him play his Pokémon game. So, I got it for Christmas for them way back, years ago when they didn’t even know about it, or ask about it, ask for it. And now it is Jacob’s entire life. (laughing) Pokémon still at age 25. You just know your kids and you follow their little things that just leads you to the right path all the time when you hold who your kids are in your heart when you are looking out into the world. It is really cool.
PAM: And taking the time to appreciate it with them. When you were talking about Rock Band that just reminded me that our family video game has been Mario Party for years and years. So, whenever we are all here or somebody is over to visit, that’s the game that comes out. We’ve already played a couple games this season, this vacation as well. If you just open yourself up to the experience, just be open to it and have fun with it, just watch your kids. It doesn’t even matter if you’re good at it. The greatest time was when one of the mini games came up and the goal of the mini game was to be the first one to lose. Because I won that one. I actually won!
ANNE: And that’s it, the kids are so fair, they’re like, “Oh mom, you should be this character because you don’t need to do that much as this one.” And it’s just so joyful.
PAM: As long as you let yourself be open to the experience and not worry about having to win or having to “be the adult” or anything like that. You are on the same level with them and everybody is just having fun together and supporting each other. That is why games have been such a nice family thing for us over the years.
ANNE: Yes, definitely.
PAM: Okay I think that is it for today!
First off, I wanted to thank you both very much, I really appreciated you joining me today. I had tons of fun answering questions with you. Before we sign off, I just wanted each of you to have a moment to let people know where they can find you online. You want to start, Anne?
ANNE: I am not online anywhere really. (laughs) Well, I don’t have a website but I did start the Shine with Unschooling Yahoo list in 2004. That’s a wonderful unschooling space to celebrate our children and it’s a nice respectful space. It’s a very wonderful community and Shine with Unschooling also has a Facebook page and a lot of people tend to interact there in the comments of things I post and everything, and that’s really fun. I also have some exciting upcoming events happening, you can check Pam’s site for that because I will be doing one with her soon.
ANNA: I’m not hugely online but I do have choosingconnection.com which has some old writings and musings about this unschooling journey and choosing connection with the people in our lives. You will find me on Anne’s Shine List.
PAM: I will have links to all that stuff in the show notes so people will be able to find you there. I just want to let people know. Remember that if you have a question that you would like us to answer in one of these Q&A episodes—I think we will be havening them monthly—just head on over to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and send your question in.
Thanks, everyone, talk to you later and have fun!
ANNE & ANNA: Thank you.