PAM: Hi everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi, guys!
ANNE: Hi, Pam!
PAM: I’m excited that Anne and Anna are going to answer listener questions with me again. Just to let you guys know, we have had quite a few questions submitted for today, so if we don’t get to yours, what we are going to do is we’ll just bring them forward into the next Q&A episode. We will be answering them in the order that we have received them. Okay. So, let’s get started. Our first question is from Dani. She asks how to deal with school kids.
“Our daughter was asked by one of her friends (both of them are nine) how she would learn without going to school. And she told our daughter there is important stuff in school she would need one day in her life. Then, she asked a question and our daughter couldn’t answer, so she said, “And that’s why you need to go to school.”
Our daughter got a little bit angry and my husband who was listening to the conversation tried to intervene without causing a bigger argument. The girls like each other and you can clearly hear that she was just repeating what her parents had told her. Neither my husband nor my daughter wanted to tell her that what she is thinking about school is not necessarily true.
We already had the problem that one of our neighbor’s sons was truly amazed when he heard that we are home educators and he said, “I wish I could be homeschooled,” but his mother said that’s not an option. So, how did your children deal with questions like that? I wish there would be an answer that says it’s okay to go to school and it’s okay not to go, without encouraging the kids to question their parents and without letting them question our way of living and learning.”
Okay. Who would like to start?
ANNE: I can start. Anna, do you want to speak up?
ANNA: No, no. You go right ahead.
ANNE: The question I love has so many parts with me, always, and I have to break them apart and take it by the pieces. First of all, the question for our family was always if it was worth it to be with these children who were confrontational. And Dani did say that the girls enjoy each other and that’s great. But I just want to let everybody know that that is something to ask yourself, because we choose to create our own worlds in unschooling and surround ourselves with people who make us feel good. And if somebody is confrontational all the time that might not feel good to our kids. And that’s something we want to look at, if we want to continue to be with them. So, I am going to assume that these friends are worth it for Dani’s daughter to be with.
When my kids were going to be around other people who were in school or whatever, we would always do what I called ‘briefing’ and ‘debriefing’. So, before we were with them, we would talk about what it might look like and how much they wanted me to be around in case something uncomfortable like that did come up. Then we would get a better idea of how to handle stuff, instead of just letting the kids blindly take these questions or whatever.
Usually when things like that happened, it was just because we were with family members and once in a while, they would test my kids. I would always be around with them so I could take the questions and not put pressure on my kids or have my kids feel bad from these kids testing them.
One thing that I did was turn it around and make a joke about it when they would test my kids and ask them if they knew something. Then I would kind of say, “What’s the answer?” And they would tell them. And I would say, “Now they know the answer and they did not have to go to school to learn the answer.”
Actually, it’s a light-hearted manner and I was joking but it is a really accurate way of showing how unschoolers do learn. We didn’t have to go to school or a book or anything. Somebody just gave us information and if my kids were interested in it, then it went into their bank of knowledge.
When Dani said she wished there was a way to show that each path was right, there is a way if you want to be with these kids to just focus on your common interests and just shift the attention to the reason you’re together, the joy that you’re sharing, your kids are having a good time. Talk about the good food or whatever. It’s just a bait and switch kind of thing.
ANNA: That’s really what I wanted to add was just that, is to help the kids have just some words or some things to say that just kind of switch that focus back to what they love doing together. And sometimes, you can even say, “Even though we do things differently, I love being your friend. Let’s go play in the creek,” or, “Let’s go watch this show,” just giving them words so they don’t have to engage in that necessarily.
We didn’t have this problem as much, because we live in the big city with a gigantic homeschooling community that’s like 26,000, so even the kids in school are very familiar with homeschooling. So, it’s not this, “Ooh! We’ve never heard of that.” But you can see, and Dani said it too, that basically this child has probably asked why she has to go to school and is being told, “Well, you have to go to school!” And so, she’s just trying to test that out. It kind of just helped me to let my kids know that, “This isn’t about you, this is about her trying to understand what she’s being told by her parents and other things. You guys can just focus on having fun and being together.”
PAM: Around here, homeschooling wasn’t as well known, so there were occasions where we would have kids, I remember I had a child come running up to me after she had met Lissy and she was like, “Really? She doesn’t have to go to school?” Just completely disbelieving, thinking that Lissy was telling a story or whatever.
So, one of the things that I did when we came across these kinds of situations was to just basically say, “Yeah, no. It’s okay not to go to school. It’s legal. It may not work for everybody, but it’s something that works for us and we are having fun with it.”
The other thing I wanted to point out is just to realize, too, that in the story of the neighbor’s son, it’s okay for him to wish that he could be homeschooling and it’s okay for his mom to say that’s not option for them at the time. This is reality. This is how, in our lives, people learned that homeschooling was even an option. Now they both know it exists. Now they both know that it’s a choice and you just leave it at that.
As Anne was mentioning, having some sort of a reply in the back of your mind helps. You mentioned, “Now I’ve learned this thing.” Another thing may be having a question of something that your child is interested in and somebody else probably wouldn’t know the answer to. So, they could light-heartedly ask that one. They might not be able to answer it.
Plus, other times I know my kids have said, “I don’t do tests. I don’t like tests,” or whatever and just moved on. That way they can close off that piece of the conversation and move on to something else. That’s always helped them, because then, no matter which way you go, the other child gets a glimpse. Whether they see, “Oh, you’re right. You learned something,” or, “Oh look. There’s something that I don’t know,” or, “Oh yeah. I guess a question is like a test and they don’t have to do tests, because they’re not in school.” So, either way, it was just a little snippet of homeschooling and then moving on to whatever the actual fun was.
ANNE: It just came to my mind, at the checkout at the grocery store, the kids always got asked questions there for some reason. And I would always say, “If they had known they were going to be tested, they would have studied.” My kids would laugh and they would laugh and everything.
And the thing about the child wishing that he were unschooled, we had that happen all the time and I just did my best to give our world to them when they were with us. That was a gift to them. To show, not contradicting what their parents had told them besides saying, “We’re fine.” Like you were saying, Pam, “It’s legal and everything. The kids are learning a lot. And here’s our world. Welcome to it.” They are choosing to be with us, because they can feel the difference. There’s so much going on without even words being said.
PAM: Let’s move on to question number two. This one is from Jamie.
“I have been getting the message that if I continue letting my kids play video games as much as they like, then they won’t have any imaginations or they will lose their creativity. Where is the proof?”
Now, I’ll start with this one because I was just curious, the question is where is the proof that they will be losing their creativity and imaginations? Well, I don’t agree that they will be. And I certainly don’t see any proof of that in my own children.
If anything, it was just fodder for all their creativity and imaginations. I think if you flip it, though, maybe the people that she’s talking to think they, too, are seeing proof of it in their own children, because their children may be using video games and TV and stuff more as an escape from all the expectations and things that they have to do with their days. So, they are using it to zone out. So, they may look like they’re turning off or they’re losing their imaginations and everything when they’re playing, from that perspective. But that’s not the mindset that unschooling kids bring to those activities.
ANNA: I think that that is a really important point and I think that is where people think they are looking at the same thing, but it’s really so different. Because what we saw is really what you said. I saw them engrossed in video games and television and then you would see how this rich play would develop from that. Outside, other places, in their writing, in things they would be doing, stories they would be telling, and was really just fodder. But again, they weren’t needing to escape from a difficult day at school or from other things like that, which, I’ve been known to use TV for that.
I love watching TV and it is a time of quiet for me. I’m just sitting. I don’t have any responsibilities. I’m engrossed in the story. So, I felt like my kids used it very differently than even I did, but yes. I thought that’s an interesting point.
ANNE: I’ve never been anything but in complete awe watching my children play video games. And if anyone took the time to nurture and encourage their child’s interest in video games and jump in and talk to them about it, look at the magazines with them about it, listen to their victory stories and their frustration stories, they would also walk away just feeling completely impressed with their brains.
I bring that up all the time, because, being a library director, I get parents dropping comments about stuff. There was child in yesterday with a hand-held and the mother said something about how he should put it away and everything. And I just always say, “I’m so impressed with a child’s brain that they can do what they’re doing on these games.” That’s one way that I always looked at it.
The whole proof thing, like you were saying, I’m not sure if she was just looking for proof that it was deteriorating the creativity and the imagination, or looking for proof that it wasn’t. There is no proof in anything besides what we see and feel in our own children. And that comes from a place of trust and being involved in their amazing passion with them and being a part of joy with them. That’s how we can see the full richness of it, instead of just the outside surface view of it.
Jacob and Sam are 21 and 25 and it’s still happening. It’s been happening their whole lives and every time they get together, it’s still their point of connection and they go off in this other world that is just amazing to me with their language and their conversations and everything. And most of all, for me, it’s a beautiful thing to see that this is how they connect to each other even as young adults. It’s beautiful.
ANNA: Yeah. And I have a friend, Pat, whose son is very into video games and Pokémon and things like that and one of the things I love about her, because this does come up a lot with people asking about this focused interest, be it a game or Pokémon, she is so excited about it, because she has spent that time and has engaged with her child doing that. She just suddenly telling them what an amazing world it is and how complex it is and how it’s impossible to remember all the things, but yet these kids know all the different Pokémon and all the different things. And her enthusiasm really sets the stage, I think. So, I think that’s a really helpful tool for parents to just realize, share that joy that your kids have, be involved with it, be able to share it with other people, and you’ll see other parents say, “Gosh! I never knew that about it,” or, “Yeah. I never really thought about that piece.” So, sometimes that’s a helpful tool.
PAM: And one other piece that I find really interesting is the idea of creativity, too, because creativity isn’t coming up with random ideas out of nowhere.
PAM: Creativity is taking in so many things from around you and then finding new connections, finding new ways to look at things. So, when they’re playing and when they’re watching and when they’re doing all these things, they are bringing in new pieces that are going to be fodder that they can use for their creativity, not dampen it.
ANNE: And because it’s coming into themselves and who they are, it’s going to come out as their expression of it. So much of Jacob’s art is inspired by video game art and everything. That’s what he always loved, first and foremost. So yes, I know no other thing that expands my kids’ imagination and creativity more than video games.
PAM: Yep. That’s awesome. I hope that helps, Jamie. Now there was a question that was directed at Pam Sorooshian from episode 2, where she was speaking to me. We did a ten questions episode. So, what I am going to do is post that question in the comments for that episode and ask Pam to take a look when she gets a moment.
Okay. So, now we’ll move on to a question from Deanna.
“Unschooling is such a misnomer. Given the experience of these veteran homeschoolers what word or words or definition would they give to this way of being with children? What was their overriding philosophy or mantra or specific vision that brought them most clarity about unschooling, that helped keep them on the path, that helped them during difficult moments?”
Do you want to start with that one, Anna?
ANNA: Sure. The term “unschooling”, really the only reason that I use it is it has been helpful in finding community. So, it’s this quick way to identify people that are also just living and exploring the world together. I feel like in our day-to-day life, that’s not really something that I’m thinking about. I’m just thinking about us living and learning and just enjoying this journey together.
I guess I really find that kids learn just like adults learn. It’s not really that strange or unusual. We have an interest, we pursue it. We may use mentors, books, trying things out. So, I guess I haven’t really been that fixated on having a definition of it. It’s really just been living life together and exploring. It takes us in all kinds of directions. But again, I will say that unschooling has helped me meet other people and create a community nation- and worldwide of other people who feel the same way about life learning.
And then mantras, I have talked about those before when you and I talked last week, but it was just, “trusting the journey,” “there’s plenty of time,” “we’re exactly where we need to be,” and just anything that brings me back into the moment with myself and with my kids and enjoying our life.
ANNE: For me, I never disliked the word “unschooling”. There have been a lot of conversations about it throughout the years. I recently read Blake Boles’ book, The Art of Self-Directed Learning, where he talks about how he thinks unschooling vilifies anything schoolish. He didn’t like that because he himself had been involved and benefited from teaching and from being a student. But, to me, that’s not school. That’s somebody wanting to learn something and seeking out a teacher. So, school is forced and kids are told they have to go to school, so in that way we are unschooling.
For even the word ‘self-directed leaning’, to me, that gives a specific vision of what our life looks like and it’s not the truth, because my kids are not going around, as Anna said, looking for things that they want to learn. They’re simply living life following their questions and their curiosities.
The three of us have been writing and talking about unschooling for a very long time. I have been since 1998, so there’s no easy summary of it. But what I love about the word “unschooling” is that it’s clear about the one thing that we do not do and that’s school. Where what we do do cannot be summed up. So, unschooling is clear about that.
To sum up what it is if I had to try, partnering with your children and utilizing the world to help them follow their interests and their curiosities and their questions. Living a rich, full, connected, aware, and really magical life together.
For a mantra, for me, it’s always been, because my Shine community is based on it, focusing on how the children are shining and what makes them feel good. That’s when they light up and shine. Even during the challenges, to understand that the challenges are not unschooling. They’re life. I was so grateful for unschooling, especially during the challenging times, because my kids did not have the added burden of all that school hands to you. So, that’s basically it. Focusing on what makes the children shine and following that.
PAM: Yeah. I’m mostly going to say the same kinds of things that you guys did. I’m good with the term unschooling, because, as Anna mentioned, it’s really just a label for me. I don’t think it’s possible to convey all of what unschooling is with just a word or a phrase. “Unschooling” does a good job of meeting other people where they are and what they know, which is namely school. And it’s the compulsory nature of school that we’re getting away from.
When I’m feeling challenged, what helps keep me on the path, and I mentioned it in the conversation with Anna last week as well, for me it was hanging out with my kids more. Usually that happened when I was starting to feel a little bit disconnected from them. That was it. I would see them playing, hear them laughing, as Anne said, I would see them shining. I would join them in playing and laughing and shining and that would always bring me back to remember that this is the entire point of it. So, that was what always helped me whenever I was going through some difficult moments with it.
Our next question is from Jenny.
“How does an unschooling parent apply principles at home successfully without getting in the child’s way? I am using the word ‘principles’ to describe things like respecting one another’s property and bodies.
For example, one of my kids likes to drag a chair across our hardwood floor and it leaves scratches on the floor. Another example, another one of my kids likes to aggressively grab my toddler and pick her up and swing her against her will. How can I gently enforce these principles in our home without making my kids feel bad for being inclined to do them in the first place?”
Would you like to start, Anne?
ANNE: Sure. I’ve always found that our children love, desire, and need information. And that’s part of our job as unschooling parents, to provide them with information as to what would happen if you did this or this or this. So, that is a conversation that you can have, maybe not in the moment of when something is happening that you are trying to convey your principles about.
As far as the principles, the dragging the chair and everything, yes the principle is to not harm anything that has value to someone else. For me, I always try to make sure to convey that an alternative choice was so easy! “Here’s another way we can do this! Isn’t this easy? And, look! It doesn’t hurt the floor.” Always have options to discuss and talk about and give information and making it feel to the child like it’s an easy thing to change direction, so that not only does he feel good about himself but everybody else can feel good also.
ANNA: Something I wanted to say about this is I feel like I like the idea of principles, but what I see often in the practice of this is really just rules and they’ve changed the name to make it softer. So, I think it’s important to examine that. And in her question when she’s talking about “enforcing principles”, really you don’t enforce principles on someone else. To me, that feels more rule-oriented. And we’ve just really found that it’s dealing with situations as they come.
We also have hardwood floors and we just talked about how dragging things would make marks. So, we thought about, okay, what do we need to do here? We put felt on the bottom of any chair that needed to be moved, so that it could be slid around. We had stools if the issue was you were dragging a chair to get to an area that was high. So, figuring out what that underlying cause was and if it was just wanting to push something or have some physical outlet, well there you go. Find something else. Like Anne is saying, it’s easy to find an alternative for that physical outlet of pushing and doing and big muscle movement, as opposed to having this rule about it. I think it doesn’t have a lot of meaning behind it and it doesn’t solve the problem, the reason they were moving the chair to begin with.
ANNE: I love your point, Anna, about expanding the parent’s own thinking about changing things in the house. Because we’ve done that so many times. Because a child might be doing something out of frustration, because something is difficult in the house. Instead of focusing on the child and the problem, think of the bigger picture. How can we make our home more accessible and easier to enjoy for our kids? So, that’s fantastic.
PAM: Yeah, because it really helps to not break things down to a yes or no. Do this or don’t do that. I think that’s one of the big differences that I know I struggled with a bit at the beginning. I can see through Jenny’s question, there is a difference between pointing something out and redirecting it with other options, et cetera, and shaming our child for having made that choice in the first place.
We are often doing that with an eye to try and change their future behavior. I don’t want you to do that next time, versus giving them a smorgasbord of choices so that they can make other choices in the future, next time it comes up.
That’s one thing I was always careful with is not to give the impression, by my reaction, through even just a physical reaction or my words, that I think less of them as a person as a result. That is the difference between making it the action and making it the person. So, if I am very matter of fact, “Oh look. Scratches. What did you want to do? Can we grab this? Would you like me to move if for you?” All your different options. Focus on the action instead of the person who made the choice.
The other piece, because she’s talking about “without making my kids feel bad”, sometimes that happens. They didn’t think of the other choice and they’re like, “Oops, oops.” And if my child is embarrassed after, I can certainly validate that and commiserate with them, because I’ve been embarrassed by my choices as well over my lifetime. So, that’s also something that we learn from. There’s never anything wrong with those moments. Those moments aren’t bad. They happen. We move through them.
ANNA: I agree. I just wanted to touch on the toddler piece, just since that was a part of her question, because something Anne said reminded me of this. I really have found that kids want information. They want to understand what’s happening around them. And so, with that example, something that we did a lot when the kids were younger is really talked about body cues from others and how it looked like they were feeling and talking and helping that younger child express how they’re feeling about it. And it just really set the stage for them to be watching how they were impacting others. So, again, I just think it was about information in the moment, it wasn’t about punishing or stopping a behavior, because most likely with spinning the toddler around, she’s just wanting to connect with the toddler. She’s wanting to be with her. She’s having fun with that.
ANNE: It’s a joyful thing.
ANNA: Right. It’s finding a way to make that joyful for both of them. It doesn’t have to be, we’re enforcing principles of not harming someone. It’s, let’s figure out how you can both have fun with this activity.
ANNE: With me, it always comes back to, as I’ve always said before, helping the child to feel good about himself, as Pam was saying and everything, and be in that place and information is the best thing to help them to feel good about themselves no matter what. That was part of our briefing and debriefing. The briefing was giving information. If we were going to a program at the library, it’s going to be expected that we sit still and watch the show and everything. If you don’t feel like doing that, let’s not go. And if you feel like you can do that, then we’ll go. And this helps them once they’re there to not be confronted by adult authority if they’re doing something wrong, because we didn’t give them information about it.
Then with our debriefing afterwards, it was, “How did that go? What information could you use next time to avoid something that made you feel bad?” But it always does go back to making sure the kids feel good about themselves and moving forward.
ANNA: And that they have the information they need to navigate their environment.
PAM: Because that’s our goal. That’s such a good guide as to how things are going.
Okay. Our next question is from Susan. She writes:
“I have a twelve-year-old ADD boy and we are in our second year of unschooling. We have been told that his type of symptoms are to do with his focus and that sugar has an effect on him similar to opiate drugs. We tried restricting his diet and he just stopped eating. We still continue to tweak his diet wherever possible, but no relief with the ADD.
It seems like everything in dealing or coping with ADD and ADHD is all restriction and rigid rules, which is the opposite of the unschooling lifestyle. Our boy has the energy of a sloth on a good day. Brushing his teeth can sometimes be an all day job for me. It is scary for us to see him be bored all the time and not know what he wants to do, so he just goes back to his computer. Just wondering if anyone has ever dealt with this type of situation before. Could unschooling actually hurt this child rather than help? Thank you.”
I guess I’ll go first this time. I’ll mention that my eldest was considered ADD when he was in school, before we discovered homeschooling and unschooling. So, I can totally understand the fear that Susan is feeling. But I do think that deep and active unschooling is going to really help your son. I don’t think that unschooling can hurt this child. I know it certainly helped mine.
Just for an idea, I think you’ll find a huge difference, not overnight but over time, after you drop the focus on trying to get him to do things. Don’t focus on trying to get him to do things, but also don’t just leave him on his own to figure things out. What will help a lot is to take that energy, I can tell that you’re feeling very energetic. There were lots of exclamation points in there, so that’s great. Take that energy where you’re trying to control and use that energy to support him in doing the things that he wants to do, places that he wants to go. Get him the games that he wants to play on his computer. Help him play the games. Talk to him about the games. Find the food that he’d like to eat and let him eat that food. Make it for him and bring it to him happily. Once it is not restricted and he is choosing it, then that frees him up to start seeing the relationship between whatever he’s feeling or not feeling after he eats these foods later.
So, if you can just think of the next few months as throwing yourself into supporting him, rather than worrying about what you think he should be doing and trying to control him to do that. I think you will find an almost new person and he’ll be in a much better place. While you’re supporting him, you can also take lots of time to read more about deschooling and unschooling, because I think you found yourself right smack there in the deschooling process. So, just a few more tweaks and I think you’ll start to see some really great things.
ANNE: Good. That was really excellent. This is another case where information is extremely valuable about, like Pam said, when food isn’t restricted, it frees him up to make connections between what he’s putting in his mouth and how he feels about it. When we give our kids information, then they’re able to give themselves information. They’re able to frame these things when we have conversations with them about such things where it is not, we’re not judging it. We’re just observing it and saying, “How do you feel? How do you feel after you have this?” and everything, to help them make those connections.
I think it also would be valuable, Susan, if you focused on who he is without thinking that he has ADD and ADHD, because I feel like that is skewing your perspective of his behavior. He is who he is. And he is who he is, because he’s been in school a lot and he’s just started unschooling. As Pam said, you’re still deschooling and everything. So, there really is no label for this except for who he is in his heart and his own very beingness that he so needs to have seen and validated and celebrated.
Rather than continuing to use labels and make judgments, you could just lose all those things and focus on that which lights him up and join him in that place, so that he can see himself shining in your eyes. That’s a way that he can start feeling good about who he is again.
ANNA: I agree, but I don’t know that I have a lot to add except the very same things. What does he love to do? And we’re saying, “Oh, he’s bored,” but then he’s turning back to his computer. Well, he does know what he wants to do. He wants to be on his computer. So, how can we help him with that and feel better about that and enjoy that with him and facilitate that? I think that’s important.
We handle food very much the way you just handled it. I give information and always have, since they were very little about why I am making the food choices that I’m making, how they make me feel, how I feel when I make different choices, and why I’ve done that. There has never been restrictions here and I’ve really seen that play out over the years.
When my youngest daughter was thirteen, she decided she was going to stop eating wheat, because she just felt really strongly that this was causing problems for her. Well, it’s been three years now with no wheat at all and it really was helpful for her. And I had an inkling that wheat was an issue for her, even when she was much younger and we talked about it. But again, it was just information with no have-tos around it. She got there and now, it’s not an issue for her.
So, I’m just big about providing information and trusting that everybody can make their own choices. That’s the one thing I want it is for them just to listen to their own body. Those are the decisions that are going to stick and actually help them in the end, because there’s not one diet that’s perfect for everyone.
PAM: Yep. And I just wanted to reiterate something Anne said as well, is that you can just drop those labels right now. You’ve already found out enough. You’ve already used the labels to gather information, to know that a lot of the information you find out there is all about restriction and rules. And you know that that’s not working.
I found very, very soon after we started unschooling, that I had only needed those labels for school. I didn’t even need them on weekends and summer vacation. This was a school thing and you discover who your son is and that’s who he is no matter what. So, that’s the person you want to support. That’s the person you want to help gather information about himself so that he learns how he ticks and all the things that help him in his days.
The labels aren’t going to give you any more useful information, I don’t think.
ANNE: One more thing, if I could, is that I’ve noticed with my kids that they tend to become how I am seeing them. And I need to make sure that I’m seeing them for who they are and not adding anything that is my own definition or preconceived judgments or anything, because they need to feel like they are shining in our eyes. That’s just how they will have the freedom to continue to be who they are and learn to love themselves, as they should, as they are, when that’s reflected in our eyes.
PAM: Yeah. That’s a great point. Okay. Let’s move on to our question from Stephanie. She wrote:
“We just started unschooling our two kids, son 13 and daughter 16, last March when my son had really been struggling for a long time in school and had a complete breakdown and said, “If this is what life is like, I’m not sure why I should live it,” among other heartbreaking and alarming things.
We have been deschooling since then and finding our way into unschooling. My son, who is very focused on one or two things at a time naturally, is really not showing many signs of curiosity or willingness to explore new things. I’m not sure if we are just recovering from the trauma of school, just uber-focused, or if maybe he’s not a good fit for unschooling. Any advice or suggestions? Do you see anything wrong with being so focused? How do I encourage his exploration of new things? He has a general attitude right now of, if it looks anything like school, he’s turned off by it. He didn’t used to be this way. He used to love learning and exploring new things.
I’m concerned that school really did deeply traumatize him and I’m not sure how to support him in his recovery.”
Would you like to start, Anna?
ANNA: Sure. To me, with this situation, it sounds like he is doing what he needs to regain control of his learning. I feel like it takes time to heal from a difficult school situation. I have seen it a lot in our local community. It sounds like his was even on the toughest side of that. For me, I think it’s more just about allowing and connecting and being with him and letting that unfold. I don’t really understand the focus question of this in that I think that he’s focusing on what he loves. So, in doing that, he’s going to gain mastery, and he’s going to learn more things, and he’s going to see what it’s like to stick to this thing that he loves until he’s tired and moves on.
We all have different learning styles, but I think of my husband. He tends to get an interest and he goes full force into that interest and everything is that interest for a really long time and then he’s done. And then we move on to the next interest. So, I think that is just a really common learning style that people want to immerse and focus.
With my nephew, who’s now a grown man, when my sister first took him out of school, because a difficult situation, he had that same kind of attitude of, “Anything that looks like school, I don’t want do it. I don’t want to go to a museum. I don’t want to do this.” And she just really honored that and let that unfold, and it did soften. But you don’t have to do anything school-like to learn. This child is learning from just pursuing the things he’s interested in, whatever those things he’s focusing on, which I’m not sure about from the question, but be it video games or TV or books or running outside or doing whatever, there’s learning in all of that.
So, I think it’s just trusting that and rebuilding that trust again in this family that, we’re here for each other and life is worth living and there are so many wonderful things to see and do, and model that herself.
ANNE: I agree. It takes such a very long time to recover from the trauma of school, especially when it has beaten us down. I am 53 and still recovering, learning from my unschooled kids. And, Stephanie, it’s so important to just wrap him up in goodness and just allow him to be, because that’s the very thing that school took from him, his very ‘beingness’. He’s just wanting to get it back again.
Honestly, this is our children’s only job as unschoolers is to be, to be who they are. When a child is recovering from school trauma, being who they are is going to look very different from a child who has always been radically unschooled, because they’ve had that beaten down and beaten out of them and told what to learn and what to do and what to say and what to think. So, whatever it looks like with him, being himself, just know that it’s really necessary and important and right. And it’s his job to do exactly what he feels like doing.
We talk about expanding our children’s worlds and I hear that that’s what you are concerned about, but the child’s inner world needs to feel secure and safe and trusted and loved. When that foundation is set, then you’ll find that he’ll be ready to expand in his own time and in his own way. The important thing for you is to not like look for that or wait for that and just think of this as a phase. It’s really important for you to see him for who he is right now and honor all of that, all of his healing heart, and be there with him and celebrate that which he is drawn to and wants to be doing.
So, yeah, just basically celebrate him right now as he is, a healing person that’s learning to be whole again.
PAM: Yeah. Well, I have goosebumps now. Stephanie, yeah. Exactly right, I love the point about his inner world, because that is something that he hasn’t had a lot of time to explore up until now. Him having this time to get to know himself, to not be expected to do things, to not be forced into doing things all day, a way of life that he was not interested in, that didn’t fit him well.
I’ll just say that when my kids left school, they completely avoided anything that looked school-like for more than a year. So, that is totally fine, totally normal.
The other piece about focusing on one or two things that they are passionate about is really amazing.
Their curiosity might not be for new things, but if they’re still diving into something, they’re curious about that. So, it’s not that he’s not showing any curiosity, it’s just that his curiosity is focused right now. One of the huge mind shifts for me was realizing that that’s not limiting. When I looked at my kids when they were really diving deep into interests, their curiosity about that thing still led them to so many things in the world. So, I’m going to link in the show notes to an article that I wrote about that, because you might find that interesting, as well.
And I’ll just say what Anne and Anna both said, support him by continuing to follow his lead, just be with him today. When he says he doesn’t want to do that, because it looks like school, validate. That sucked for him. You’re happy that he’s not there anymore. Whatever he wants to do now, that would be awesome.
Okay, I’m looking at the time here. I think we have time for one more question. This next one is from Danielle. It goes fast, doesn’t it?
ANNE: It does!
PAM: Danielle writes:
“Hi there. I have always been very child-led, but we’re quite new to unschooling as a concept and way of life. So, there may be somethings that I am still unsure of, but I have really enjoyed your newsletter as well. I have a battle in my head over a TV program my daughter likes to watch. We don’t usually have limits on TV, but she has started to ask for a program I just feel is quite conditioning in a negative way and not beneficial for her long-term.
It’s Lego Friends. I find the program to be influencing her in a negative way, like now she asks if she looks pretty. So, I feel uncomfortable with my daughter questioning her looks as she is only four years old. I like to make our home a “yes” environment, but the program is on Netflix so it came up as a suggested program. By forbidding it, I am probably making it more desirable. I am sure as the years go by, there will be many more programs that interest her that I am unsure about. So, I feel I need to really think about the best way to deal with this. Any thoughts would be appreciated.”
That’s great that you are thinking about that, Danielle. Would you like to start, Anne?
ANNE: Sure. I agree that it’s fantastic that you’re preparing yourself, because you know this will come up. The whole “pretty” thing, I was just thinking about today, because somebody had posted something on Facebook about how they were sorry they told a woman that they were pretty instead of saying that they’re brilliant or whatever. I think the word is what we make of it, and especially with our young children, this is still a way that you can jump into what your child loves, mirror her shine and enthusiasm, without having to you yourself conform to society’s definition of “pretty”. Because things are pretty. Nature is pretty. Flowers are pretty. We say things are pretty. Put a scarf on the dog or something, you say the dog is pretty.
I don’t think we need to villainize the word “pretty”. The other thing is, I assume that this isn’t the only thing going on in her life, that she is asking if she’s pretty. You’re focusing on it, because you are afraid of all the society connotations from it and everything. But I just think that’s giving it too much power in the very way you don’t want to give it power. I’m sure she’s shining in so many other ways. I’m sure there are so many other parts of that show that you can talk about. That’s the value of shows is the conversations and the information.
In fact, just the other day, I asked Sam, “What was that show that I hated that you and your friends used to watch?” And I said, “The name of the show was like the name of two idiots.” Sam goes, “Are you sure it wasn’t three idiots? Ed, Edd, n Eddy?” And I go, “Oh. That was it.” And I swore there was no redeeming value in the show whatsoever and yet one day, we were at the checkout at the grocery store, where all life happens, really, and the checkout person said something about a scam. And my boys knew what a scam was from watching Ed, Edd, n Eddy. And I remember that to this day.
But anyway, there’s just value in so much. You’re right that denying her of it will make it more valuable to her. So, again, like anything else, jump in and join her there. Have your world expanded and enlightened, as well.
ANNA: The only thing I want to say, because it really is similar things to what Anne is saying, but shows come and go. Just enjoy it. It’s hard to know what someone is getting out of an experience and a lot of times what we see with this kind of cultural filter on is not at all what they are taking away.
I’m brought back to my friend Pat again whose son was watching Dumbo, which I don’t know that we ever watched, but apparently it really has some ugliness in this Dumbo movie. And she was horrified by it, but instead of saying she was horrified by it and getting upset, she asked him, “Oh, what’s going on?” or, “What do you like about it?”
And what he saw were these beautiful things. He wasn’t focused on this ugliness and this hurt that was happening. He liked that he flew and he liked that he was a cute elephant and he liked these different things. And so, I think sometimes we just put too much on it. It is what it is. They’re taking things out of it that they enjoy. Be there with them in case there are questions, and sometimes it is appropriate to say, “Ew. I don’t like the way that feels,” and share those things, too. But I think making too much of it is never going to get us anywhere.
PAM: Yep. And I’ll just reiterate the same things, because that’s such a great point, that last one there, Anna, to make sure that you are still there with them. Not saying, “Okay. Well, you can watch it, but I hate it, so I’m going over here. Don’t ever talk to me about that show.” Because the point is that they’re jumping off places for wonderful conversations. We don’t know what our kids are taking in, because, absolutely, they’re not seeing the shows through the same filters that we’re seeing the shows through.
These are times for little chats here and there, “What did you like about that?”
Even sitting there with them and instead of watching the show if you do not enjoy it, watch your child for a while. And see what it is that they are reacting to, comment about that, some of the things that they find interesting can give you ideas for other things to bring in, because, yes, this isn’t the only thing going on in their life.
Even the things that we disagree with, like you said, those are pieces of conversation as well. There’s always lots of learning, much more than saying ‘no’. The only thing they learn when you say you can’t watch it is, no they can’t watch it, and gee I wonder why. And that’s where they are stuck. There’s nothing else in it.
All right. Thank you very much, guys. It’s been about an hour now and that was really fun. We got through most of the questions. I think we have four or five left. And we will start with those next month. Thank you very much. That was awesome.
ANNE: Thank you so much, Pam.
ANNA: Thanks, Pam.
ANNE: Thank you, Anna.