PAM: Hi, everyone. Today I’m here with Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi, guys!
PAM: They are here to answer listener questions with me again. And remember, if you would like to submit a question for a future episode, just go to livingjoyfully.ca/contact.
And just before we get started, we have had some questions about the upcoming Childhood Redefined Summit, so I thought Anne and I would take a minute to talk about it. So, do you want to say something, Anne?
ANNE: Yes. First of all, I am very excited, as you know. And Pam is excited, also.
PAM: Very much.
ANNE: And what is really exciting to me about the whole thing is that it is a brand-new kind of unschooling gathering.
When Pam and I first started talking about it together, we decided to call it an Unschooling Summit, because this is where we wanted the energy to be. We want the energy to be “up,” the highest point, the summit, and we both agreed on that right off the bat. Also, that is the place that we want to help people to get to, to reach for – their highest point in really getting unschooling, their highest point in their relationship with their children, their highest point in feeling good about themselves as unschooling parents.
And we also threw around the word “intensive,” because it really describes the weekend well. It is the reason why it is an adult-only gathering. Our time together will be utilized in a way that connects us to each other as we take this journey together. We will be deeply connecting to ourselves, taking an honest look at where we are, what we believe, what we are holding onto, what we can let go of.
Ultimately, the biggest payoff is how all of our time together, everything we are doing, the play, the conversations, the digging, and the climbing, it all connects us to our children, because it is them that we hold onto in our hearts as we take this journey. This Unschooling Summit is most definitely a journey to a new way of seeing and celebrating them, the children. That is our tagline, “Journey with us to a new way of seeing your child.”
PAM: That still gives me goosebumps.
I thought I would just give a quick overview of the schedule, so people would have an idea of what to expect over the weekend. Friday night is about meeting the tribe and connecting with the people that we are going to be spending the weekend with. Anne and I will be doing extended intros and setting up the Summit, so that everyone knows what to expect. And then we will be having a lot of fun together hanging out and making art for the night.
PAM: Yay! Saturday will be an amazing and, as Anne mentioned, intensive day. Anne is going to start us off with her session, “The Depths of Radical Unschooling,” where she will dig deep into how redefining childhood means moving away from society’s pre-determined agenda for our children’s lives and truly seeing, honoring, and celebrating them for being who they are.
Then I am going to dig into the flow of unschooling days, exploring how unschooling weaves into our lives by walking through an ordinary unschooling day. Children are wired to explore their world, curious, creative, and learning all the time. And when we don’t get sidetracked by conventional parenting paradigms, that delightful approach to living will continue into their teen and young adult lives.
Then in the next session, together we are going to dive into the things that can get in our way, the blocks that we bump up against that can make unschooling more challenging. Anne and I are going to share some of ours, and we will explore those that are shared by other attendees.
And then, in the last session for the day, “The View from Unschooling,” we will open up things even more, asking which aspects of unschooling the attendees still have questions about, to make sure that everyone has their questions addressed. In between those sessions we are going to be having snacks and a meal. There will be play breaks, and in those breaks we are going to explore fun ways to connect with what we are learning on an even deeper level. Then in evening, we are going to have our summit celebration. Yay!
On Sunday, we are going to focus on living what we have learned. In our morning session, we will be playing with an unschooling parents’ job description, so that attendees can take home concrete ideas for connecting more deeply with their family every day.
Then in the afternoon, we are hosting a Make and Play Expo, where we will have hands on activities for all attendees to have fun, because many of us have forgotten how to play, which can make connecting with our kids more challenging. So, after spending the weekend redefining the deep value of childhood, let’s see if we can ignite the joy of play in the safe space that we have cultivated together with our summit tribe.
Any families who have tagged along for the weekend are welcome to join us there, too. We wanted to let you know that registration closes at the end of day on Sunday, April 3rd, so if you are interested in joining us, do not wait. And if you have any questions, go to our website, ChildhoodRedefined.com. There are email addresses for Anne and I, and you are welcome to send us anything.
ANNE: I just got more excited.
PAM: I know!
ANNA: It sounds wonderful.
PAM: And you are going to be there, too, right, Anna?
All right. Let’s get onto the questions then. Our first question today is from Sonia.
“I am currently unschooling my five-year-old son and we are both enjoying it, though the thought of needing to go back to work in the near future keeps coming up. Any thoughts on what I can do to prepare myself to do both financially support and unschool?”
So, I am going to start with this one. Sonia did not mention whether or not she is on her own. If there is a partner, one thing that I have seen considered and done quite a bit is to choose shift work, so that one of you will usually be home with your son, or with the children, whether it is alternating shifts or one works more evening shifts. I know some nurses who take overnight shifts more regularly. So, if there is a way that you can get into shift work and balance that with your partner, that would be cool.
Then there is the option about working from home. If you have any digital skills or you are interested in picking them up, there are lots of freelancer sites out there now that help match people up with projects. I have used them. We used them for the Summit logo, right? I have used them for book covers and all sorts of stuff, like software developers.
There is a lot of project-oriented work out there that you can do on your own from home. Even if you find yourself needing some focused work time at home, you can look for another person who your child enjoys and hire them for the express purpose of playing with your child during those hours a week where you need some focus time, to be able to address any of their needs.
Basically, what I did there was try to think of this as another parameter in your lives that you are wanting or needing to accommodate and brainstorm tons of creative ideas. I know of lots of parents actually who try to work from home when they can. They take their child with them into work sometimes, when they need to. Maybe they make other childcare arrangements with friends, somebody coming in, family, for those unavoidable times when you need that.
The other thing is to look to your child for clues. That’s where you are going to see whether or not it is working well. And if it is not, that’s not the end of the world. You just look for other ways to change it up. You just try to brainstorm ideas, try one you think will work, see how it works out, and adjust along the way, because things are going to change over months and years, as well.
So, Anne or Anna, anybody else got anything to add?
ANNE: I think what you said is really perfect.
That is kind of the mindset you have to be in for unschooling anyway. You are just coming up with possibilities for your lives. And this happens to be your life that you need to come up with possibilities for, while everybody else has different things, so I think your suggestions are good. Just keep an open mind and be creative. The brainstorming thing means coming up with as many things as you can, because in there, there may be answers.
ANNA: I agree and really, I think that again, it is just about that connection. It is going to be making sure you are connected with your child to see how it is working, what do we need to change up, what can we do, what can we add? And I know that for the friends I have here locally that are working and doing unschooling, it is about that great community, too, finding those resources for yourself and for your child.
PAM: That’s cool. You may have community around you, too. And, that question leads nicely into this one. This is an anonymous question.
“I am homeschooling an only child. My son is almost nine. I work part time outside the home 30 hours a week. My husband takes over the homeschooling on the two days I am gone all day. My son is introverted and prefers to be home and play alone or with mom and dad, draw, or watch videos, most of the time. His seven-year-old cousin comes over sometimes and they play, but mostly he’s a loner and loves to be with me and his dad.
We do go on outings as a family, but he’s not interested in activities with other homeschoolers. As you can see, he is not very social but he is kind, considerate, curious, and happy. I don’t want to force him to interact with others, but do you have any suggestions of types of activities he might enjoy so that he could have friends?”
Do you want to start with this one, Anne?
ANNE: Sure. I would love to. I love your question and how it is so full of his shine. You are saying that he is kind, considerate, curious, and happy, and that is so beautiful. And you also have in there a bunch of “buts”, and so I do not think your question is so much what activities he might enjoy but maybe how you can shift your perspective to see it a different way, to use words that you can get behind and celebrate about him.
Again, that is what we do with unschooling. We are redefining everything. For instance, what is your definition of a friend? You say that you are good friends and that is absolutely perfect and wonderful. Society has us trained to call everybody else friends and not our parents, and in my family, we are best friends with our kids and we always have been. We enjoy each other’s company above anybody else, and that is our definition of a friend, and that is good enough.
What is your definition of a loner? There are negative connotations to that, because of your question, so take a look at that and see if you can drop that word. You do say that he is an introvert. And it is a really cool time to be an introvert actually, because it is like that up-and-coming thing that is getting attention, and people are learning to celebrate that and how our society does need introverts. We can’t all be extroverts.
And so, a shift into viewing that is really necessary, because with all of these things that you are describing as a part of who your child is, what we can do is create a life that celebrates these things instead of trying to steer the children away from them, because they are all wonderful things. When you look at that part of your sentence, “He is kind, considerate, curious, and happy,” so okay. What was your question?
ANNA: I mean, of course, I agree with all of that, because I think it is just so important to value. The only thing I want to add to it, and to really build off of what she said, is that I do think people have a lot of cultural expectations. It is the big birthday parties, or the big homeschooling groups if you are in a bigger city, or that type of thing. Those things are wonderful, and for some children they work really well, and for some children they do not work at all.
For me personally, they do not work at all. I am not a big birthday party person, and that was the way it was for my kids. I think that just realizing that we are different and different things serve us, so to let go of this picture or cultural idea and really listen to your child. Just like Anne said, “kind, considerate, curious, and happy,” like oh my gosh, who wouldn’t just be thrilled with that? That is so wonderful that he is feeling so comfortable in his own skin and he is enjoying the people in his life. I love all of that.
I guess just in terms of a practical situation, what we found, being a family of introverts, is where we really met people was when we were pursuing what we loved. And then those people came into our lives in surprising ways. People of different ages, people of different backgrounds, because we were just doing something we enjoyed, and that attracted people who enjoyed the same thing.
The one thing that I wanted to mention, too, was that often when I am asking myself questions or thinking there is something that I need to fix for my child, like I want him to have more friends or I think he or she should have more friends, I try to remember to flip the question around from their perspective. So, is your son interested in finding more friends? Is he actually looking for more friends? Or is this something that you are projecting onto him or wishing for him? It is always good to take your child’s perspective in those situations and see whether this is something that they are actually interested in.
I will agree that other than going to the odd unschooling conference here and there, my kids were not interested in activities that were organized for homeschoolers either. I think we went once, to a play. After spending 45 minutes waiting outside to get our tickets handed to us, because they were a group purchase, and then walking in, I thought that I can pay a couple more bucks so we can go when we want to go, when it fits into our schedule.
Because, as Anna alluded to, unschooling itself isn’t an interest of my children’s, it is just the way they live their lives, so connecting to other people who are homeschooling or unschooling does not mean that they are going to develop any sort of friendship or connection. When we were looking for those things, it was always better for us to do things that we were interested in, find people through connections and make connections with people through activities that they were all interested in. That was always a much more effective place to try to start a friendship.
ANNE: The thing about redefining her definition of “social” and everything, because I am sure he is very social with his parents and with anybody else he feels safe with. When I talked about creating life around these things, it is what you said. We don’t have to do it with the groups. You go from their interests and then you create the life from that, and what makes them comfortable.
PAM: Yes, exactly, and when you are always looking at it from their perspective, you are going to see whether or not they are interested in those kinds of things. I know my eldest, he has lots of connections, but they are online. And for the longest time, he was perfectly happy. With a brother and a sister and two parents around, that was a lot of people that he was in front of every single day. That was totally enough for him.
ANNE: And unschooling families have conversations about everything. We explore the world in our conversations and everything. For my kids, that was what they loved. And if somebody else made their world feel smaller, they didn’t want to connect with them at all. They already had these connections where we were talking about wonderful things and everything, so that is very satisfying and fulfilling for them and checks off being friends, basically.
PAM: That’s cool. All right, question number three is from Marcella.
“I am looking for tips to support my always unschooled 18-year-old. He is interested in art and has made a goal to work on his drawing skills every day. He is very introverted, and he’s not interested in taking any classes at this time. He took some community college classes recently and excelled in them, but decided not to take any more. My husband and I are excited that he’s passionate about art, and fully support how he’s spending his days now.
He is a happy guy and finds joy in video games, drawing, watching anime, and spending time with his girlfriend. I worry, though, that he’s a little stuck, or overwhelmed about taking steps to grow and learn. He’s never had a job and has not had interest in getting his drivers license. I don’t want to pressure him, but want advice and maybe reassurance about how to help him take the next steps when he’s ready.”
And, Anna, how about you start.
ANNA: I feel like we probably all have so much to say about this one.
ANNE: I have three pages of notes.
PAM: I know!
ANNA: I know! Because I’m thinking, this is Anne and this is everybody. I’ll just say that what immediately came to mind for me is the mantra piece that I have talked about before, which is just that there is plenty of time and there isn’t a certain timetable. It doesn’t need to look a certain way.
And what I have seen with my kids who are 16 and 18, is that it is an overwhelming time. They are figuring out who they are and all of these different things. And I think that culturally we kind of push teens past their readiness. I think that we see the backlash from that in the teens and young adults who are upset and don’t know what is happening in their life and have alcohol issues and all of those things.
What I love about our life is this beauty of unfolding, just letting it go. And what we’ve seen are starts and stops, these big leaps ahead and then, “Okay. I want to come back and think about what I have just done and process that,” and then, “Okay. Now I want to try this and come back,” and so, I love that beautiful dance into adulthood that unschooling has given us the opportunity for.
PAM: I’ll pop in next. There is something in society about this mystical number of 18. Because traditionally, parenting wisdom tells us that we have an 18-year window to mold our children into competent adults or we’ve failed. And this narrative is even bigger than school, so it does take a lot of work and reassurance, I think, to get through it.
So, I think it’s really great, Marcella, that you realize that it may just be reassurance that you are looking for. Coming to unschooling, we shift our perspective about learning from being focused on childhood, to being a lifelong activity. And it becomes glaringly apparent that we continue to grow and change as a person, even after we turn 18. I mean, look at ourselves at 50. Some children definitely will have a more concrete path at around that age or even earlier, and some will still be exploring all sorts of things well beyond 18. It’s a human thing. It’s life. It’s living. It’s personal. It’s not about school or even unschooling, per se. It’s life.
I want to ask if you’ve had a chance to listen to the podcast episode I did with Idzie, the last episode we had, we talked about some of that as well.
If you think he might be feeling a bit stuck, just make a little bit of extra effort to make sure he’s surrounded by people who love and support him, and you’ve got a nice comfy environment for him to cocoon in for this while, while he works his way through it and just make sure that you’re open, so that if he makes any overtures for conversation or, “Can we do this?” or whatever, that you are especially receptive so that you can help support him as he is putting feelers out and trying new things.
But either way, it’s good where he is. It sounds wonderful.
ANNE: I would love to dig in a little deeper if we could.
ANNE: My two sons, Jacob is now 25, and Sam is almost 22. Jacob is one who could always feel and express when he was stuck. In fact, so many times in his life, that word just would not leave his mind as he would do his jobs or whatever he was doing normally. He had a job at the library shelving books and one day he just came home and said, “I just had the word ‘stuck’ in my head all day long,” and so that was easy. Jacob knew he was ready for more and he was open to possibilities and they just flowed in to us with him, because he was ready to cross the threshold and that’s when things flow, when you identify that within yourself.
With Sam, he tends to stay in his world of familiar and safe, excelling at the things that he loves to do right where he is. Even though he may be ready to expand, it takes a big push from the universe for him to do that and to get outside of his comfort zone. It is never a push from his family. It all comes from within himself and his own fear and his recognizing that it is fear. So, these are two totally different kids and conversations that we’ve had. With Sam, it has just been honoring where he is, and yet validating his kind of antsy-ness and frustration and everything.
I agree with everything you guys said, that when the time is right, they will know that they are ready. I have never believed that we have had to jump on opportunities when they’re right in front of us, because honoring that we’re not ready allows that to come back later. An opportunity will come back later in a different form, something that is even more perfect, when we are more ready. When we are more ready, something even more perfect will show up.
There have been times with Sam that I have had to honor myself within what I am doing to help him and the biggest one was with him getting his driver’s license. I was driving him to his job at the restaurant and he was not getting done until 11:30 at night and I am a morning person. And not only that, I would sit there downtown in that college town, surrounded by drunk college students while I waited for him. It was very uncomfortable for me and I did it with love and to support Sam. And then I got to the point that I knew I was denying myself and I needed to talk to him about what I needed. So, that was what we did, and that was a very emotional conversation because I tend to wait too long before I speak up for myself.
It was the driver’s license thing and it was fear. And that fear is so understandable, because they are in this life where they are celebrated and doing what they love and being nurtured and encouraged and everything. And to cross over that threshold, you’ve got to take a test. You’ve got to do things that you are not used to doing, being judged by other people for your work and your performance. So, to validate that is really, really important.
Also, I believe with Sam, there are other factors. Again, he is not one to speak about how he feels, so I believe the factor that he would be responsible for driving himself to work, and we would not have the conversations in the car on the way home and everything. And so, that conversation led into agreeing that if I were home and he came home, I would be so happy to get up and go out and see him, which I did once he got his license and came home. It was such a great connecting time, even better, because he wasn’t just getting out of work, full of frustration or whatever. He would have time to ponder things on his way home.
So, basically, for me, it’s a matter of being students of our children and feeling out what they’re feeling and if they are not good at articulating their feelings, then we’ve really gotta just come up with possibilities and to open discussion and help them. I believe validation is just huge, because it’s totally understandable that there is fear there, too, to want to do something different, but staying in the place of stuck-ness, if in fact they are feeling stuck.
PAM: That was great. Okay. Question number four. This question is from Anne.
“How to unschool without it turning into watching cartoons all day? My daughter used to go to the library and we’d pick out books together, but now she’s nine and has figured out about DVDs. All she wants are DVDs of movies that I don’t really want her watching. Also, we don’t have a TV, but she can find any cartoon or show she wants on the internet and, short of turning off the internet, it’s hard, without immense power struggles, to get her to limit what she watches and how long.”
Okay. I’ll start off with this one. I think, first, it helps be clear on what we are doing. You mentioned that you are struggling to get her to limit what she watches and how. But let’s take on our own perspectives and really, you’re the one who wants the limiting to be done, not her. She’s not wanting to limit herself, I assume, from the way you have written the question. So, realize that this is just about you. It’s not about getting her to do something.
And then, I think it can really help to dive into yourself and why you want to limit something that she enjoys and why it is that you do not want her to watch certain things? This is all about digging into your beliefs and your understanding and your feelings. The things that she’s drawn to are going to help you learn more about the person that she is as opposed to getting her to be the person that you wish she was, by controlling her choices.
So, maybe you can do a little perspective switching here and see that your wishes and the things you are wanting to control for her are really a way to try to control the person that she is versus diving into these interests with her. I think you will learn so much more about her, and you will understand her choices so much better when you dive in.
So, it won’t be like, “Oh, she is watching any cartoon or show.” No. When you start seeing what particular cartoons and shows and stuff that she is watching, you’re going to start to see threads between them. You’re going to start to see what she finds interesting, so I think that could be really fun for you.
Seeing our children clearly and supporting and even celebrating them for the things that they enjoy goes a long way to minimizing those immense power struggles that you are talking about. If you can spend some time with her while she is watching, without judgment, not even in your body language, and see what she loves, and feel the joy that she is feeling, I think that is going to be a great place for you to start.
Also, in episode 2 with Pam Sorooshian, we talked about this at length, as well. The whole withholding TV or whatever it is, we had a great discussion about that there, so you might want to listen to that as well. Anna?
ANNA: Yes, I just want to say the same things, because I think, for me, it’s just that trusting. Being excited about whatever they are digging into, because I think it is really human nature to dive into something and explore it. And you’re right, when you’re looking up here, it’s like, oh, it looks like they’re just doing this watching thing. But, no, when you understand what they are doing and you watch the shows, you do see the connections and you see what they’re interested in. Maybe it’s the comedy of it, or the drama of it, or whatever it is.
And I’ve also seen in some local families where things were limited, be it games or candy or TV, there is some kind of binging that happens when it’s released, because there is a fear. There was a lack. “They’re going to take it away.” So, what I saw in those cases when people really changed that paradigm, the children began to trust and then they really were pursuing it because they loved it. Then sometimes they let things go, because they’ve done it and they’ve moved on. But I think when we set those artificial limits, we are changing that natural flow, and so I just really caution against that.
The only other thing that has come up a lot on the list that we talk about is really what Pam said, to look at yourself, to say, “What is happening here with me?” Maybe it’s that she is feeling disconnected, because in the question she said, “We used to go together to the library and read books together,” and so now, this is happening without her. I think certainly one answer is to join in with her and watch the shows, but it also might just be a conversation. “What can we find that we love, that we can do together still?” And it might be different than what it was, as our kids grow and change, but honoring that it’s about connection versus judging how the person is spending their time just really changes the whole flow of the conversation.
ANNE: Yes. Definitely.
And what I like to picture is the parents jumping in with the child in a really big way, not a tolerating way. Beyond accepting. Watch shows with her. Find out what she loves about it. Use that for your joyful connection.
And does she want a TV to watch her shows? Maybe expand on that, even. The biggest thing is your last sentence, “It’s hard without immense power struggles to get her to limit what she watches and how long.” Nothing in that sentence is anything we want to invite into our lives, or into our relationship with our child, so that is a huge thing to just watch out for, as Pam and Anna have said also.
There’s so much value that you are missing out on by wanting it to go away. And when you jump in, in a huge way, joyfully, and you get to that authentic place, you will see how one interest, even one that society does not define as having value, of course, we unschoolers do, because we’ve seen how they grow into so many other things, so many other interests. There are tangents everywhere and all of a sudden, you will see them everywhere and the learning will expand beyond this interest immensely. The key is to not look for or wait for that, because the key is to get to the place of loving and celebrating her for who she is in this moment. And what she loves to do is a part of who she is, so definitely start there and join her there.
PAM: Beautiful. Okay. Question number five is from Emily.
“I have a question about strewing, or the idea of bringing new, interesting ideas or interests into my kids’ lives. I feel like I do a good job supporting their current interests, but I’m not sure I’m bringing in enough extra to create opportunities to find new interests. How did this look on your unschooling journey?”
Do you want to start, Anna?
ANNA: Sure. I mean, it’s funny. As Anne was finishing up her answer to the last question, I was like, “Oh, it’s this too,” because really, every interest, a TV show that seems like, oh, it is just a TV show, no, it is never just a TV show. It always leads to so many discussions or there’s a history piece or there’s a comedy piece or something that gets us started and digging.
And I think something else we have talked about too, is how many discussions happen in unschooling households. We are talking about things all of the time, things we’ve seen, things we’re doing, things we saw on the news, things we saw on the internet, things our friends said, whatever, talking, talking, talking. And I think all of that just leads to the next interest.
So, I think as unschooling parents, it is really just about being open, and being available, and listening. When we have a big discussion and an interest is sparked, I’ll start looking stuff up. And I’ll say, “Oh look what I found,” and then they’ll start looking stuff up, and say, “Look what I found,” and it becomes this sharing with each other. So, I think it really is very organic, that process of new things coming into our life, because of whatever we are doing at the time and enjoying.
ANNE: Yes, I completely agree. I’ve found the best things to bring into my kids’ lives were those that were spring-boarded from the things that they already love, exactly what you said, Anna. And I always talk about expanding our children’s worlds, and that doesn’t mean it can’t be done within the framework of what they already love and what they’re interested in.
As I said before, there are so many paths from just one interest. Pam had a flow chart describing everything that came from one interest. Put that on the website!
PAM: Yeah, it’s up. I will put links to that in the show notes, because that was one of the things that I have here in my notes as well. I’m not sure that I brought much into their lives that was not at least tangentially related to an interest, or to them being who they were, things I knew they were pre-dispositioned to enjoy.
So, I think maybe it comes down to how wide you look to support their current interests. And, as you guys have said, I went pretty wide. So, let’s just give an example, a love of video game music. Joseph loves the soundtracks for video games, so that meant that when I noticed there was a concert of gaming music coming to Toronto, I mentioned it to him. Now, we didn’t go. That was fine.
I think, Anne, you originally introduced us to Flight of the Conchords, so when I shared that they were coming to town to do a show, I asked around and some of us did end up going to that. So, it’s tangential. It’s anything related to any little piece that you think they are enjoying out of it.
So, what I did to find out these local happenings that were going on around us, I would sign up for email lists and for websites of the things that they enjoyed. I am on the NASA mailing list now, for the rocket launches and stuff. We timed one of our vacations to Florida a couple of years ago around a launch at the Kennedy Space Center, and we went to that.
It’s just finding all of those little pieces. It’s just connecting myself to the kinds of interests that my children have, because most often I find them interesting, as well. When they were younger, it was things like browsing toy stores, or the Mastermind Store. We used to love that. Maybe I’d check out stacks of books at the library and bring them home and they would go through them or not.
We had a science center membership, so I would get emails from them about new exhibits. And if things came up that were particularly interesting, I’d be sure to mention those. Even searching eBay was fun for whatever they were interested in at the time, because often we could find things from around the world, whereas they weren’t in our local stores and stuff like that.
So, that was just the fun thing, just keeping my feelers out, knowing what was out and about in the world. But it was all connected in some way to some sort of interest that they had at the time.
ANNE: That is very true for us too. The other thing is that we do bring stuff into their lives that we love. They have gone to see Broadway shows with me that I’ve loved and other things. When we are living full lives ourselves, you can’t help but bring stuff in.
The funny thing is, it doesn’t stick with them unless they’re really wanting it to stick, and that’s not what we look for. I have proof right here that bringing stuff in and, with strewing things, we can bring in fun things that they want to play with and everything, but for the most part it’s from their interests.
I just had an example come to my head from when we went to see these Irish step dancers. I wrote about this in one of my conference talks. The woman who was step dancing had two daughters, also step dancing, and she had told us the story about how when her kids were little, she went to see step dancing and thought, “I want my kids to do that.” And I just could not believe that anybody would just come out and say that.
How can you look at something that you are interested in and think, “I want my kids to do that”? No. And that was obvious by the way the kids were acting during the performance because they were just off to the side, goofing around. You could tell they were not passionate about Irish step dancing, because they were probably forced to do it.
So, that’s the thing. And Sam knows all of the 70s songs and the words, and that is because I listen to 70s songs, but it has no value in his life except for having the reference. It’s a wonderful swirl of information and things coming into our lives because of what we all love to do. But mostly, if we’re strewing for the children, it’s exactly what you guys have been saying.
PAM: Yeah, that’s true, because we are not living in a vacuum. Each of us are also encountering what the rest of our family is interested in and extended family, too, right?
ANNA: Yeah, exactly.
PAM: And now, question six. It is a question from Lauren.
“I love listening to your podcasts. I am hoping this question can be asked during an upcoming roundtable discussion. I began unschooling my almost nine-year-old son this year, and I have been in awe of the unfolding happening in myself through the deschooling process. It is like I am seeing where my own thinking has been limited and I am opening to so many new joyful possibilities and ways of being with my son.
Unschooling for us, so far, is so much more about our connection and relationship than I ever realized before beginning this journey. And it is really just beautiful and exciting. In addition to witnessing learning happening everywhere and getting to see my son blossom through this process, our increased closeness and relationship has been one of the most wonderful benefits of choosing unschooling for me.
What have been some of your favorite aspects of unschooling that you maybe didn’t realize would be part of the process until you were living it? Are there any stories you would like to share of your unschooling joys and delights? And thanks for all of the wonderful work you do.”
Thank you very much, Lauren. And would you like to start, Anne?
ANNE: I would love to. Hi, Lauren. Thank you for the wonderful work you do. I was just listening to Pam reading your question, smiling, because your question shows the beautiful work you are doing and that is perfect.
For me, I knew from the beginning that this was my journey and that Jacob would lead me simply by being who he is and that I would learn from celebrating that about him. And my favorite part is how I have seen and proven and how I keep learning about how magical life is and how all we want and need is waiting for us when we’re living in that pocket of honoring our children and ourselves and following the thumbs up signs from the universe, which leads to more yes paths, which opens more doors.
I kind of always knew that life could be like this. And when I was pregnant and people would say stuff like, “Oh, aren’t you tired? Just wait until it’s born, you will be so tired then,” and then they would say, “Oh, wait until he is two, you will have your hands full then,” and then they would say, “Wait until they can talk back,” and, “Wait until they are teenagers,” and oh my god, I couldn’t believe how society had a negative connotation for every stage of our children’s lives. And even before I gave birth to Jacob, I just knew that our family would be different, and because I knew that, we walked into creating that and Jacob had his green light for showing us the way. The end.
PAM: The end. Anna?
ANNA: I just want that to marinate just a minute, because, oh my gosh, it’s so important. And that was always such a pet peeve for me, because I had a natural birth, and of course they were like, “Oh, well wait until you are in labor,” and then I thought, “Oh, that’s behind me now.” I had the natural birth. It was behind me. Then it was like, “Wait until they are walking and talking,” oh my goodness, so difficult.
So, I love that ability to celebrate each and every stage and all of our time together. And that’s really the one that stuck out for me, because it’s hard to pick wonderful moments, but I feel like it’s boiled down to time, our time together, our time to be, our time to explore and connect. And I feel like that connection has just gotten us through the ups and downs that come with life.
There is a story. It was many years ago. The girls were little and David was out of town, and we had had a rough day. And honestly, at this point, I don’t remember what the rough day was about, but we’ve all had them. It was bedtime and it was late already and tired and grumpy and just terrible energy all around.
And I glanced out the window and saw that it was this beautiful, crystal-clear, starry night. And I looked at grumpy girls and I said, “You know what? I think we should put the blanket on the roof and look at the stars,” and I was met with squeals of delight. And so, we did and we chatted and we laughed, and the day’s troubles really just melted away. And we went to bed super, super late that night and we all slept in the next morning.
And sometimes, I hear the bus picking up the kids across the street and it is often still dark outside. And that morning, I remember hearing it and seeing the lights flashing and I was filled with gratitude for our super late night and my sleeping girls that were tucked into bed next to me and I went back to sleep, too. I think it’s that. It’s that time to make the choice in that moment to connect instead of feeling the pressures of, “We have to get up in the morning. The bus is coming at 6:00 in the morning. I can’t do this. We’re tired. Let’s go to bed.” And just all that can melt away. And so, that is something that I just love about this life and it has happened over and over and over again.
PAM: That is beautiful. Yeah.
For me, as the one who took my kids out of school and dove into deschooling from there, I guess some of the big realizations I had were that my children were really amazing people as they were and I didn’t need to change them into some version I had in my mind, or the school had in their mind, or all of the conventional wisdom that told me I had to change them to some certain standard. As I spent more time with them as we were deschooling, I saw just how amazing they were, right now.
The realization that parenting isn’t about getting them to adulthood. It’s about building lifelong relationships with my family. Just as you mentioned, Lauren, the beauty of the relationships that you develop was a surprise to me, because at first, it was school and learning wasn’t working well. I was bringing them home to learn. And to realize so quickly that what was really at the heart of it was relationships, was beautiful.
And that if I just focused on building and maintaining the connection and trust in our relationship, absolutely everything else followed — all the learning, all the self-awareness, all the everything. It was just about the relationship.
So, stories that stick with me extra brightly, as Anna alluded to, are really just ordinary moments in our days. So many small moments from the months that I brought Lissy coffee in bed almost every day and we would chat for an hour or so, to the long and wandering conversations that I have with Joe in the kitchen and still do, to the calm, wordless connections with Mike that I have at busy karate tournaments.
And as Anna’s story said, the things that really stick out in my memory are often the challenging moments when one of the kids is having a particularly rough moment and I remembered to reach deep, to be there for them, and to actually be there with them. And I feel such joy looking back on those moments, because we felt our way through them together. So, that was a really cool piece of the deschooling process for me.
Okay. Let’s move onto question number seven. This one is from Elizabeth.
“Hi, Pam. Would you and your thoughtful panel share your experiences with parenting through your children’s transition from young child to tween? My oldest is 10 and I’ve watched him mature in some big ways during the past year. I’ve been enjoying having an abundance of time with him so much and watching him grow, thanks to our unschooling lifestyle.
I have noticed recently, though, that I’m missing him, as part of his growing maturity also means growing independence. He is old enough and mature enough now to choose to stay home when his younger sister and I go out. He joyfully calls goodbye as we leave and happily welcomes us when we return, and I am glad that he is able to have that quiet time to just BE by himself, but I miss him!
So, I’m not sure if you all experienced that beautiful mix of emotions, gratitude and joy and loss, when your children started transitioning from childhood to tweens, or if it was possibly later for you (or earlier!). But I’d love to hear about your feelings and thinking around this age and just about your children’s growing independence in general.”
I am going to start with this one and absolutely, I totally remember when Joseph began staying home as Lissy, Mike, and I would go out to the Science Center, to the Pioneer Village, to the parks, all over the place. And I remember specifically when I would feel his absence. The work that I would do to move through it was to remind myself how much he loved his time with the house to himself. And I looked back and remembered how much I loved that growing up when it happened, too. I loved having our place to myself.
It helped me to realize that the kids were all gaining energies in ways that worked for each of us, so he was so refreshed when we came back, when he had had some real quiet time in the home by himself. And he was learning what uniquely works for him and developing such a wonderful level of self-awareness that was going to serve him forever. Having the opportunity to experience that and to understand what it meant to him, was wonderful.
And then, when we got home, I would be sure to be open to any connecting with me that he might be seeking out. Maybe to regale me with stories of what he was up to when I was gone, or just how good he felt about how he loved when he was alone in the house, things like that, just to make sure that he did not feel like he was being left out or anything.
Anna, do you want to go next?
ANNA: Sure. I have so enjoyed being a part of my children’s day to day life as they grow into adulthood. It’s been such an amazing journey and I feel like it has happened so fast now that, to some extent, I’m looking back at some of that, from the days of constant togetherness to now independent travel and the rarely, but occasionally empty house that feels very strange. I think mostly it has been exciting for me to just watch them come into their own.
And like what you were saying, Pam, I do remember back to being a teen and how cool that felt and how fun it was to have the house to yourself and to go out driving by yourself for the first time and to pick up your friends and that kind of thing. But I think, like with other things we’ve talked about, there are these ebbs and flows and that is one thing I really like about the connections we build with unschooling. There isn’t this agenda or sense that, “Okay. Now you’re on your own.”
Instead, we have this foundation and we’re connected and there is this returning, this ebb and flow. Needing to go check things out and be on your own and independent and then wanting to come back and snuggle on the couch. And those moments are still there, even as we are approaching and into adulthood. And, of course, Anne and you can speak even more about that.
I do think for us and other friends that I have had, that the tween time can be an especially fraught time with hormones and big changes. There is a wanting independence and a not wanting it, and that back-and-forth changes kept me on my toes. But I am so grounded in gratitude for our lifestyle, because it let those ebbs and flows happen. It gave us all peace and time to work with that and feel our way through it.
Like you, Pam, it was like looking to see that we are all finding our way and finding what works for us. The time alone, the time with people, how that goes, this independence that we want, but then sometimes coming to talk to our trusted advisor and best friend about what we want to do going forward. So, I loved that time, but it is a time of emotion for all of us, I think, and just changes and all of that. But it is a wonderful time.
ANNE: What I love about what you two are saying is that it’s not about what they are doing. It’s not about their choices. You’re talking about the work that you’ve done to allow them to continue to grow and feel nurtured and encourage them to do what their hearts are telling them to do and that’s really important.
And part of that, I am sure is how I feel that I have never felt like I have looked back and missed my kids when they were little, young or anything. Because we are so into living and celebrating them for who they are now, that it would be discounting who they are now if we looked back and said, “Oh I remember when they were little and I got to hold them and everything,” you know. They are beautiful young adults and our whole lives are about living in this moment, so yes. This is our perspective that needs to be shifted about it. And to not make it what they were doing. And it is up to us to go through this process ourselves and figure out how we want to see it.
The other point is that, when they are home doing what they’re doing, and we do miss them, which I have done when we’re in the same house. And I have just grabbed a snack or whatever and brought it into their room while they’re playing video games and said, “Hey, I miss you. Can I hang out by you?” and that’s the connection part that we get when going into their space and their joy and connecting with them in that way.
Another thing, when they were so into what they were doing, and I had to go to the grocery store or something, we would always have conversations about if we wanted to do something more besides go to the grocery store, to include their possibilities of seeing the world. If they did want to get out, but didn’t want to go grocery shopping or whatever we were doing, we would say, “What do you feel like?” and maybe we would talk about going to see a movie or something.
The purpose, again, is not to get them out of the house and not to get them away from what they were doing, because that is all perfectly wonderful, but to expand our definition of what we’re doing when we’re out and offer possibilities to make sure everybody gets what they want out of the day, I guess. Out of the time that we have allotted for our day.
PAM: Yeah. It’s so much about possibilities, right?
ANNA: I think so. And something Anne has said, it is also just looking for those moments. It may look different at different ages how you connect and what that looks like. It may be the car ride or the folding laundry or the walking the dogs or doing these different things. And so, it looks different, but it is just finding those opportunities and they’re always there.
ANNE: Yes, I had written a note about our folding laundry thing, Anna. The whole time my kids were growing up, our favorite time of connecting is, like you were saying, when our hands are busy doing something, and yet our hearts are free to connect.
So, from when they were very little, I would say, “I’m folding laundry. Do you want to come up and hang out by me?” And to this day, they know that that means “Let’s connect. I want to hear what is going on with you,” and whether they fold laundry or not, which they usually do, it’s all about the connection. That’s the time when we get to talk and it’s really precious. And there are never any expectations in it from us, either. That’s the whole thing, too.
PAM: That’s right, because when you’re feeling like you miss them, you’re the one looking for the connection, right? There’s no expectation that they’re going to come to you, but you’re going to be looking for openings to get that connection with them and creating possibilities for it. That is so cool.
PAM: Okay! Question number eight is from Cheryl.
“Hi, Pam. My husband and I have been listening to the podcast and we have started changing our lives towards unschooling. While reading your book, Exploring Unschooling, I came across something that has been bugging me for a few days. In the chapter, ‘Will This Work?’, you say, ‘When done well.’ This implies that there is a wrong way to unschool. I keep asking ‘How do you unschool?’ Maybe what I should be asking is ‘How do you unschool wrong or poorly?’ Maybe in your next Q&A, you could answer that for me.”
Okay. Anne, would you like to go first?
ANNE: Well, sure. I would love to have a back-and-forth conversation, because there is so much to cover that I have certainly not written enough notes for. But what came to me first is how important it is for us to learn to gauge our lives according to our children and how we feel about our connection and use that as our compass.
So, I know somebody who thought unschooling meant getting her housework done while the kids did their own thing and that does not lead to the best parent-child connection, obviously, nor the best sibling connections. Our presence is necessary, obviously, and we have this inner mama intuition that can gauge if we are deeply connected to our children. And if not, then there are infinite possibilities of how to go forward and do that.
So, how is your connection with your children? Are you living your life as if it’s your job to be their partner, their advocate, their guide, their fountain of inspiration and information when they need and want it? Another guiding question would be, is your child’s world rich with joy and are you seeing that joy as the most valuable aspect of your unschooling lives? Are you actively and deliberately encouraging and nurturing your child’s joy and interests and curiosities?
Another thing that stuck out with me, is your home is filled with creative tools that your child loves to use to explore the world? When I am in a hotel room, I always think, “This is so boring.” Have you ever been in a hotel room where you have had to just wait for somebody or something to happen? And your spirit feels so stifled, because there is nothing of you in that room and there’s not much for you to be interested in or curious about? How many times can you read the menu?
So, your home should not be like a hotel room. Your home should be like a resource center for your children. Your conversations also rich, and passionate, and interested, and interesting, and world-expanding. When people would ask us about our unschooling lives, I don’t know how true this is, but this is one of my answers, that I always gauged whether my kids’ worlds were bigger at home than they would be at school, and the answer was always obviously and overwhelmingly, “Yes. They are bigger at home.” But if not, then there is a need to expand the world at home.
PAM: That’s great. That’s why, when our kids are growing up, traveling anywhere took so much luggage and everything, right? Because you were bringing things with you to make these rooms interesting.
ANNE: The minute I said that about the hotel room, I remembered when we were in Niagara Falls, checking in at the hotel and there was that amazing lightning storm coming over. And Lissy had her first camera and she was taking pictures of that lightning storm, and it was really cool and beautiful. And this is unschoolers in a hotel room, you know what I mean? It’s awesome.
PAM: Yes, I remember that. That was cool. Yes, a lot of what Anne said. One of the things that stuck out for me when you talk about unschooling being done poorly, I think that that can happen when parents get the impression that they should be staying more hands off, thinking that children following their interests to learn means that they shouldn’t be involved. Like, “I don’t want to interfere with my ideas while they are pursuing their interests. It needs to be pure.”
But as Anne was talking about that connection, that being together, that’s how they are going to learn even more. It’s not only about their interests and stuff that they’re learning. When you’re hands off, there is so much experience that your kids aren’t getting about interacting with people, talking with people, understanding other people, just learning how to gain someone else’s perspective and understand what they are feeling.
And all of that processing and talking helps their self-awareness grow, helps them understand themselves better. So, there’s just so much that doesn’t come out when you try to stay hands off, because you think you shouldn’t be influencing them.
If you’re over-influencing them, you’re going to see that. If you look at your kids, they’re going to be reacting to that. So, you’re going to get clues when you get too involved, because that happens too, but if you are scared of that happening and the repair work that you will need to do with your relationship, if you’re scared and you stay hands off, things are not going to go any better anyway.
Another piece that really helps is being curious yourself. Live the unschooling lifestyle with them. This isn’t something that you are doing to your children. Your children aren’t unschooling. It’s a lifestyle for your whole family to live. So, as we talked earlier in the questions, that excitement of bringing your own interests into the family conversation and everything, it’s all about the connection. And unschooling doesn’t thrive as well when you’re not deeply connected as a family all together.
Do you have anything you’d like to add, Anna?
ANNA: Yeah. Just a few things.
Not too long ago, we had someone joining the list and one of the quotes in their joining letter, was, “We started off homeschooling and then we got lazy and started to unschool.” It’s not the first time that I’ve heard this concept of unschooling is the lazy or the easy way out. And so, it is something that I talk about a lot when I am talking about unschooling or talking to new people unschooling, explaining that it’s really the exact opposite.
Unschooling is engagement. It is connection. It is time, creativity, ingenuity, all of that. And it takes a lot of time for the connections that we are talking about and it is not at all lazy and not at all this hands-off that you’re talking about.
Whereas I think really traditional homeschooling is, “Here is this curriculum. Sit at the table. You go do that,” really is that. You’ve given away that responsibility. But with unschooling, you’re working together. It’s an everyday thing. It’s a lot of work. Joyful, joyful work, but work to really be aware and listening to your children and finding opportunities and researching and doing and helping them reach those goals, so that’s an important piece when we talk about that.
And I think there’s also a piece of dropping old ideas or cultural ideas. So often, I see people who are talking about unschooling and their child will have an interest, like “Oh, look at that ballet dancer, that’s neat,” or Lissy, “Oh, I’m kind of interested in photography,” and then instantly, they’re enrolled in formal classes. I think what happens there is like, “Oh look, they have an interest. We are going to enroll them in classes,” we are showing that it has to be done this certain way.
Whereas what we’ve seen is that really, sometimes they just want to wear the tutu. Sometimes they just want to dance around the room, with you dancing with them. And sometimes, like Lissy, they just want to go out in the woods and create stories and take pictures of it and let that grow. And there may come a time when the child is really saying they want this next information from a formal class, but I think there is some letting go of, “Oh, this is what it looks like. This is what we have to do now. Look! They have an interest. We are going to turn it into a class.”
And I think it can happen, too, when parents set out to create co-ops. I think co-ops can be a beautiful thing, but we’ve also seen them devolve into a list of courses, where this parent is going to offer history, and this parent is going to offer this, and these kids are going to sit here an hour for this class, an hour for that class. It’s like, wait a minute. I’m not sure that the kids are saying, “I want to go sit in a class and listen to Susie’s dad tell me about art history,” I think that’s about the parents wanting it to look a certain way. I think it’s just that stepping back to see where the kids are leading us and what does that look like and what can we do to enrich their world around them at our home and in the world outside of our home?
So, I think there are a lot of those pieces, and I feel like so much of that is just letting go of this cultural baggage of how it looks. It’s certainly understandable, because most of us went to school. I certainly went to school, and so that is what I was taught learning looked like. Learning looks like sitting in a classroom and somebody telling me something and then me putting it back on the test. There is a lot to let go in that.
And what I’ve loved is just really stepping back and watching my kids’ natural process as we explore the world together and learn in a way that I think adults often learn. I think we do do it as adults, like when I want to learn about chickens, I go and read everything about chickens and I talk to people that have chickens and I get chickens and I do it. It’s kind of a natural way of learning, but school has gotten us away from that. So, I think that all of those things kind of come into play as we are thinking about what this unschooling environment looks like. For someone who has never seen it and doesn’t have friends doing it, I think it’s really difficult to figure out what that looks like, so I can understand where Cheryl is coming from as they’re just dabbling into this new world.
That’s a really great point and that’s something that I emphasize a lot when I talk about deschooling. I think that it really helps to avoid class environments during that time, because you need to see the natural learning in action and understand how it works. And then the classroom environment just becomes another option. It doesn’t hold that power anymore, like “This is the REAL way to learn,” as if in unschooling we’re escaping that or something. No, this is really fully a wonderful way to learn and classes are just another option on the big plate.
ANNE: And part of the letting-go process is to let people know to find value in the other stuff, you know what I mean? That’s where the focus is. The letting go is just one thing and then what do I do? I’ve let go. So, focus on seeing the value in everything in the child’s life and everything the child is interested in, even the cartoons that people complain about, and video games, and everything else. There is so much value in all of that.
Could I just say one thing about the “lazy” word? I laughed when you brought that up, and as you were talking, I was trying to get into the head of the person who wrote that. I’m wondering if what she was feeling was that doing school at home was so much work, so much work mostly because they’re going against the flow of the child. They’re doing school every day. They’ve got the schedule and everything. Oh my god. I can feel exhausted just thinking about it, let alone actually doing it, especially going against the child’s natural spirit to be free and play and learn through life.
To let go of that and to embrace jumping into the child’s joy, instead of fighting the flow and paddling upstream, they’re just flowing downstream with the child’s joy now, so hopefully that is kind of the connotation that they were saying.
That just made me think, too, that we’ve been taught, we’ve been trained that work is hard. Things of value are hard. You work, you toil, you do. That’s this cultural ideal. When really, the work that we’re doing is so joyful and exciting and wonderful and they’re thinking, “This is lazy. This is not right. It’s so different from what I have been told,” but we all know and so I forget that people don’t know. Oh my gosh. Work is joyful. Life is joyful. We can choose joy, and do, so I think that is interesting to think about how people feel about it at first, because it may feel so different from what they’ve been told.
ANNE: And the same thing for when people would say, “You’re so brave to not send your child to school.” Oh my god. I can’t even imagine putting my child on a school bus. I mean, to me, that’s not brave. There is nothing brave about it. I guess that’s why we are called radical unschoolers, because it is going against the mainstream flow, but yet it’s the flow of joy and it’s so natural, so for me it is simply life.
It’s life. It’s the flow. And if you haven’t been in the flow or you’ve been going against the flow, yeah. It may seem strange, but it’s really so beautiful. Come join us in the flow!
PAM: I guess that’s a great way to end.
ANNE: And we will see you at the Summit!
PAM: Thanks very much, Anne and Anna.
ANNA: Thank you, Pam!
ANNE: Thanks for having us. Bye.