PAM: Hi, everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Jody Lilley. Hi, Jody!
PAM: I’m so excited to chat with Jody about play, because I just love seeing her pictures show up regularly in my Facebook feed. It’s not so much that they’re always busy doing lots of things, but that she captures such joyful fun and engagement even in the ordinary moments like coloring or playing with their toys. Noticing those moments, rather than almost dismissing them as “the kids are playing” is a beautiful thing and seeing the immense value of play is an important part of the unschooling journey. So, let’s dive in…
Can you just share with us a bit about your background and your family?
JODY: Yeah. So, I grew up in Alberta. I did really well in school and I enjoyed it for the most part, so I finished high school and went on to university, and I loved it so much there that I actually stayed there for ten years and finished with my master’s in biochemical engineering. My husband, David, and I met in high school. He actually did really good in school as well. We used to compete for the highest marks, often bringing our tests up to teachers and trying to get a few more marks to put us ahead of each other.
We started dating in our second year of university and got married a few years later. Over the years, we’ve moved a few times. We have three kids. They’re all actually born in different provinces. My oldest is Nathan, he’s 11 now. He’s always loved games of all sorts: board games, card games, video games. He’s an avid video gamer now and loves exploring new worlds and to roleplay with his friends and has been excited about sharing that with YouTube. That’s kind of his newer thing right now. My oldest daughter, Kaneya, is nine years old. She loves creatures. Dragons and wolves are her favorite animals to play around with. She enjoys pretend play: Playmobil, stuffed animals, and also virtual worlds with her friends as well. My youngest daughter is Geneva. She’s five. She loves fairy tales and dancing and pets and she also loves pretend play and plays a lot with her Playmobil and with Lego.
PAM: Cool! You know what’s funny in there? When you mentioned biomedical engineering, that’s actually what I was looking at when I first went to university. I’ve never actually heard of someone who went through. I ended up finding nuclear, because we actually had a nuclear reactor on our university campus, so we got to play around a lot with that. Anyway, that was cool.
I love your description of your kids. It’s going to be really fun to dive into all that.
Can you take a quick moment to chat about how you guys discovered unschooling and what your family’s move looked like?
JODY: I think, unlike a lot of people that I’ve met on this path, unschooling kind of fell in our laps. We weren’t really looking for it. It just came to us. We had just moved to Montreal. My kids were only one and three years old. I was having a really hard time finding other stay-at-home moms and kids to hang out with during the day. A friend of mine had suggested that I look to homeschooling groups. She said there’s always lots of younger siblings and I would definitely find some like-minded attachment parenting families, so I found a group and I went to a park day across the city. After the introductions, I started chatting with another new family who had come for the first time that day and they had also just moved to Montreal. As it happened, they were only living a block away from us, so we made plans to hang out with them. They had a young family, just one daughter who was two at the time. They had been reading about unschooling since before she was even born.
I want to remind you that, at this point, we were like, no, we’re not homeschooling, we’re just looking for people to hang out with. We kept meeting with them over the summer and she kept sharing all these ideas about learning and parenting, and it just all really resonated with me. She started giving me books. We remember Parenting a Free Child and John Holt’s Learning All the Time she had given me and sent me to Yahoo unschooling groups and blogs. I just kind of kept reading it all and was fascinated. Because we had young kids, the actual moving to unschooling, once we thought, yeah, this is really the way we want to go, revolved more around learning to trust our kids and letting go of controlling certain things that had been kind of things we had been battling with the kids about.
One of the areas that we had set up what felt like a battleground at the time was surrounding food. Nathan was born with a lot of food allergies and he had eczema and he developed asthma. At this point, he was three, he was almost four. We had all these food sensitivity tests and we thought we had found this wonderful place of, if he didn’t eat gluten and didn’t at dairy and on and on and on, all these things, then he was good. His asthma seemed to be under control and his skin seemed to be somewhat smooth, so we thought this was a really great thing, but meal times were really a struggle. He had really restricted the food he would eat down to just a few things. It really was something that I knew I was not happy with. It was something that I knew we had to change something. I kept getting advice from other friends that was, “Well, he’ll eat if he’s hungry.” And that just didn’t sit right with me.
We continued to meet up with the unschooling family. This has become the story that I always refer to as ‘The Chocolate Story’. This was this kind of one moment that always stuck out in my mind. We had planned to go to a homeschool gym date we them. We had got off the bus and met up with them and were going to walk over to the gym and she just said, “Oh, just quickly, I need to stop off at the grocery store. Why don’t you just come with us?” So, we went to the grocery store and her daughter wanted this chocolate bar. I was appalled. I was like, this is going to be the worst thing in the world and my kids needed to eat lunch. I don’t know what. I had this picture of kids screaming and running with chocolate all over their faces and hands. They weren’t going to be able to listen because of all the sugar and yeah. I was holding on pretty tightly to that. In that moment, I said yes. I went along with it, because he wanted chocolate as well. The thing was was we went and we sat down for lunch and he opened up his chocolate bar all excited and he had two bites of it and put it down and ate his lunch. There was no like, “Oh, I don’t want to eat this. I don’t.” All the things that we had been battling with and everything seeming like a big deal over the few weeks leading up to this point. He was just happy that he had a little bit of chocolate and he was chatting with his friend. It was like, wow. I didn’t realize that this was how it was going to turn out. Yeah.
PAM: We build it up to such a big thing in our minds.
JODY: Yeah. That was really a moment where I kind of opened my eyes and saw how things could be. I had been reading a lot of unschooling points up and to that point, but it was really that moment when it really clicked and I went, wow, this is really something.
PAM: So cool. That’s, just going back to the beginning, I think that’s a cool story. That’s the first time I’ve heard of just going to a homeschool group, looking for friends, kids to play with, and someone found you.
JODY: Someone found me.
PAM: Yeah. That’s awesome.
There are, today, two aspects of play that I’d like to touch on. There’s the value of play itself and how we can support that. Then, there’s the value of parents engaging and connecting with their children through playing together. First, let’s focus on supporting our children’s play. As we come to unschooling, certainly, we know that play is fun. Soon, we discover that so much real, deep learning is wrapped up in there as well. Was the connection between play and learning something that you got instinctively or was it something that you figured out as part of your unschooling journey?
JODY: I wouldn’t say it was instinctive for me. It was definitely something where I’d already had a few experiences where I already knew that there was something not quite right about the whole school and learning connection. Like I said in the introduction, I spent a lot of years in school. While I was there, I did develop a lot of ideas about learning. I actually started out my degree in biological sciences. It was all memorizing. It didn’t sit well with me that you would go in and memorize all of these cycles and all of these things and come out with, “Oh, you got the highest grade in the class.” Or, “Oh, you did so well because you memorized.” That didn’t feel like real learning to me.
Then, I switched into engineering. Something like playing around with computer programming, where I could really learn about something and see the knowledge and be able to apply it, it was playing. I was having fun with it. There was that experience. I also learned that you could play the games in school to do well on your exam as opposed to actually learning and understanding the material. I learned pretty quickly that you could know pretty much nothing in the class and be able to do quite well on an exam by just knowing the questions that we’re going to be asked and know how to put in the equations and get the right answers and be done with it. I also learned that you could understand the material really, really well and not actually do that well on the exams.
That was eye-opening for me as well, but I think the biggest point for me was that, in my last year of undergrad, we had this design project. Most of the kids in my class were choosing a group and then deciding on a project. I had this specific project that they had. They given us a list of projects and there was one in particular that I really wanted to work on. I decided to work with some other students that I didn’t know so that I could get to work on this project that really interested me. One of the students in my group, he was, in my mind at the time, he was lazy. He was always late. He didn’t get good marks. He just frustrated me. He was late to our meetings. He’d bring donuts and be disruptive. He was really interested in cars. It seemed like it was all he would talk about: racing cars and smashing up cars. Every conversation is was, “Cars, cars, cars.”
I began to notice that he always came up with these really great ideas. We had a problem and it was like, “How are we going to solve this? This isn’t going to work.” He’d be like, “Oh, you know how a seat belt latch works?” It was like, “Well, no.” But, he’d explain it to us and be like, “So, I think if we changed this, then we could use this and this part and it would work. We would solve the problem.” We’d all sit there looking at him for a while. We wouldn’t understand. That just happened over and over. It was this thing where I realized that this was his hobby. This was something that he was passionate about. He wasn’t doing well in school, but he had so much knowledge. He understood everything so, so well because he played with it. He could explain it to us really, really well also because he just understood it. He had this true understanding of mechanics that a lot of us had more the book smarts and the ability to analyze something, but not necessarily the ability to come up with these really great ideas.
That was something that always kind of sat with me: don’t judge something just by marks. It doesn’t tell the whole story. I really held onto those experiences as we moved into unschooling. It really helped me to see that connection between real learning and joy. That was interesting for me.
I guess the other thing that really helped us out was our kids were really young when we started learning about unschooling. We got to see so much natural learning before we ever really felt that pressure of the academic bars and timelines that we would need to meet with school. I think we already were true believers in unschooling before we really had to worry about are we falling behind or getting into those sorts of thoughts.
PAM: That’s a really great story, Jody. I love all those pieces, how you brought them together almost like puzzle pieces as part of your deschooling, your part of thinking about learning and putting all those bits together. Yeah, that’s really cool. Next question.
I mentioned before and I’ll say it again, I had a lot of fun looking through your pictures on Facebook as I prepared for the interview. I was just wondering if you could give us a bit of an idea of how you’ve set up your home to support your children’s play.
JODY: I really love my home and we’ve moved a lot over the years, so we’ve definitely got to set up different homes and look at houses and see what’s important and whether we want to set up here. That’s been a great thing for us. We actually chose this home, and we seem to choose all of our homes, because they overlook some really nice green space. That’s really important for me. The house itself was actually bigger than I wanted. We almost didn’t even come and look at this house because I said, “No, no. It’s too big, not going to work for us.” We came anyway and we fell in love with it. It had three bedrooms, well, it had four bedrooms upstairs, so each one of the kids could have their own bedroom for the first time. They were excited about that.
What we did, because we just felt like there was a lot of space and we didn’t have furniture to necessarily use it the way it was intended to use was we actually took the dining room and we made it into, originally, the craft room. It’s since evolved into a craft and a computer room. We’ve got the easel always set up with felt boards and paints. We’ve got tons of craft supplies all along the one wall and it’s all organized and easily accessible by the kids, and a table in there. We’ve also got the kids’ computers, for the most part, are in there.
I just want to talk a bit about that side of things too. My kids love their computers and they love spending time connecting with their friends online, especially because we’ve moved a lot. They do have friends all over the place. I just want to say that we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure they’re connected with their friends on Skype, figuring out how to put servers together and multiplayer worlds so that they can play together, downloading specific worlds or them or specific Minecraft mods, even just helping them find information.
Just last night they were trying to create a world where they were playing with Chinese Zodiac signs and trying to put in their birthday and then it would tell them what their Zodiac sign was. Things like that. It’s not just computers. It’s big for them. It’s their big play worlds. They’re hanging out with their friends. Our living room is bigger than our furniture can take up. When we first bought the house, my husband said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to get some new furniture.” I thought, “Well, we don’t need more furniture.” Instead, what we did was we took a portion of it and we set it up as the Playmobil room. All of their Playmobil sets are always set up in there and they don’t have to be taken down and put back together every time they want to play.
JODY: Yeah, that’s pretty fun.
We also have another room that kind of became our collections room and our games room. We keep all of our hands-on science kits in there and board games and puzzles. We took an old kitchen table of ours and we put chalkboard paint on top of it and made that kid of a games table, so they can play Yu-Gi-Oh! on there and keep score using the chalkboard instead of getting paper and stuff like that. They’ve also built, the Thomas the Train set is in there. They built up sets and then draw on trees and flowers and whatnot in the background. It’s been pretty cool. My kids find lots of things outside and stuff like that. We found a couch, owl pellets, a bird’s nest in one of our Christmas trees. We’ve been able to find a space to put those on display, which is really fun when they have friends over and they get to show them these really cool things they’ve found. That room’s really fun.
PAM: I know, right? I think when kids come, when my kids have friends over, their friends usually spend up spending at least a half an hour just looking through our shelves and seeing all the cool things that are just hanging out, just for people to notice and play with for a bit.
JODY: Yeah. We’ve lived in so many different houses. We actually lived in a small apartment at one time, too. Even then, we made spaces. We had a space under the stairs that I think nobody would have used, but we actually were able to build in a little cover for it. We made it kind of a fort, then we built a shelf to put in that room to put their toys in. It was this tiny little space, but it was used as a fort. It was used for just hanging out. All the toys were put in there so they could easily get them, take them out, and play in the other areas. I don’t know. I think our houses have always been surrounding things that we loved and wanted to do.
PAM: Yeah. Our dining room rooms have never actually been dining rooms. They’ve had computers in there and couches and toys. We called one in the basement in an old house, we built what we called the toy closet. It’s a big walk-in closet. We just filled it with shelves. It was full of old ice cream containers where we had sorted all their different toys, so they could just grab whatever they wanted and pull it out. It made it easier, even cleaning up, too, right. There’s buckets for everything. They just got tossed in and put back on a shelf and we’re done.
JODY: Yeah, for sure.
PAM: Yeah. That’s fun. Going through your pictures, I noticed, also, that you guys go out to play. I saw pictures from your trip to the ski hill, indoor skydiving, tobogganing, and around the winter campfire.
I was just wondering if all of your children are usually up for going out or do you guys have some back and forth conversations to come up with a plan around the outing that works for everyone? How does that work for you guys?
JODY: I would say it’s kind of different in every situation. I mean, five of us in our family and we all have pretty different ideas about what we want to do on a given day. Nathan and Kaneya really love staying home and connecting with their friends online or having kids over to play. Geneva often is, “Let’s go swimming! Let’s go!” Sometimes, there is a bit of a challenge there, but I would say, well, I’ll just give some examples of what we have done. When we do come across an activity, we usually look to see if there’s options that would make it enjoyable for everyone.
My best example of that is that this past year, I really wanted to try out snowboarding and skiing with the kids, because it was something that I used to love and really hadn’t done since I was pregnant with Nathan. Well, we live in the prairie, so we it isn’t exactly an easy thing to just go out and do. Most of the hills are an hour or two hours away. There were a few different options. We found one. It was two hours away, but they actually had innertube rentals and a lift, so you could play around just on the innertubes over there. We proposed it to them. Nathan and Kaneya wanted to try out snowboarding, too, with me. Geneva wanted to try out skiing, but they did like the one lesson. Geneva actually just skied for about half an hour and they were done. They were quite happy to go with my husband to go tubing for the rest of the afternoon and I got to hang out and snowboard, which I had really wanted to try. We actually went back a couple of times over the winter. They didn’t snowboard or ski the next couple times, but they were quite happy to just go out and go inner tubing and play around on the ski hill. They worked out really well.
One of the other things that we’ve found is, when we do get into negotiations, a lot of it’s about timing and wanting to be home by a certain time or only wanting to be away from home for so long. That tends to be what our negotiations are around, trying to figure out if there’s a time that can work for everyone.
Something else, like I said, we drove two hours to the snowboarding hill. We found iPods and iPads and the DSs really do help to make the drive more fun. My kids are usually pretty open to, “Oh, sure. We can drive for two hours. Weren’t we listening to this audiobook? I was going to play this game on my iPad. We were going to watch some more of iCarly on our iPad.” I think that’s really helped, because I know there was a while when driving was something that my kids just didn’t want to do, so we didn’t do a lot of it.
I guess sometimes David or I will take one or two of the kids out. My girls absolutely love going to the zoo. I think that they’ll go every week, really. They’re happy there. They think it’s great fun. My oldest, Nathan, he likes the zoo, but once every other month or so is kind of good enough for him, so we do split up sometimes. Someone will take the girls to the zoo and someone will stay home with him.
PAM: We did that a lot too. That was really handy. You know, the kids, they learn about their siblings too. If I said, “Joseph or somebody really doesn’t feel like going out. Can we just wait until dad gets home from work and then we’ll have a bite to eat and go to the park,” or whatever it is they were looking into. Usually we could work that out pretty well, because they understood each other.
JODY: Yeah. For sure. I don’t know. I guess we’ve had times too where it just kind of worked out. I know you mentioned the campfire. The campfire was actually right in our backyard. Nathan had said, “I want to whittle.” It was just kind of this on a whim thing. “I want to whittle. That would be fun.” David said, “Okay, after supper, why don’t we go out in the backyard and we’ll do that.” He said, “Maybe we’ll build a fire because it’s cold.” It’s winter. It’s not warm. He thought that sounded great. Then, Kaneya was like, “Oh, we have marshmallows, right? I’m going to bring the marshmallows out.” So, she was out there. Next thing you know, my youngest was like, “Marshmallows?” We had built like a little, wouldn’t call it a hill, kind of a little thing that they could slide down on the sled. She was right out there too. We ended up spending hours out there just hanging out by the campfire and roasting marshmallows and whittling and singing songs. It was great.
PAM: I know, right? Some things you can’t plan.
JODY: You can’t plan.
PAM: Yeah, but as long as you stay open to it and let things flow, some really cool things happen. I love that picture of him whittling by the campfire. Here is my next question.
I think a part of the journey is taking the time to notice our children’s fun rather than just thinking, “The kids are playing. I’m free to go about my own business.” You have so many great pictures of your kids having fun and playing just around the house, from tie-dyeing t-shirts to drawing pictures. I saw the one about the ribbon battles and building a computer and making candy. Then, the other day, the stuffed puppy mud bath. Do you find that taking pictures helps you notice these joyful moments? Does taking note of them help you feel more comfortable with unschooling?
JODY: I think, for me, I’ve always loved pictures that capture moments and capture energy. I think even back to when David and I were looking for our wedding photographer, we found someone who really captured energy and captured moments and not necessarily some of the more posed things. I just love capturing that look of wonder and awe. When my kids are really entrenched in their play or maybe they’re doing something that makes you laugh and you just want a picture of it to remember it. I think, for me, it’s about remembering those things.
I actually have been making these family movies from our pictures. I go through our pictures at the end of the year. I’ve been doing this for about five years now. We pick out a song that everybody in the family loved over that year and we just do a slideshow to it that I set up on my computer. We just love watching those movies and reliving the moments and feeling the energy and the joy from those moments. That’s been, I guess, my motivation for taking those pictures is for that. I just absolutely love looking back on those pictures and those moments.
PAM: That’s cool.
JODY: I guess, in relation to unschooling, I do use pictures when we do homeschool reports here in Manitoba. I do go through my pictures, often, to jog my memory for things that we’ve done, things that they were interested in. There was a time when I used to try to keep a journal, just notes and stuff to be able to do my reports at the end of the session. I just found the notes themselves kept me in this constant state of looking for activities and checking things off and pushing to do more, really just this judging energy that I didn’t like. I found that photos could help me to capture the information that I needed and not really get the extra weight. I’m taking the pictures for me. I’m not taking them for these reports, right? It was about that different energy, focusing on joy instead of what we “should” be doing.
PAM: That’s a great insight because, yeah, when you’re doing it, taking notes just for them, you’re right. I can see how that would really make you start looking for things to tick off more than focusing on what people are enjoying in the moment. That’s a great way to shift, to just use the pictures to tweak your memory when you need it. Yeah. I love the way you described it as capturing energy, because, oh my gosh, you’re very good at that. It comes through. I light up when I see your pictures in my feed. It’s like, “Oh, what are they up to now?” Yeah. It really comes across. That’s brilliant. Your annual pictures to song, that’s very cool.
JODY: Yeah. It’s really fun and it’s really fun to look back on them. We started them, it was actually right after Geneva was born. David took some time off for parental leave, so that year ended up being this phenomenal year where he had a lot of time off and we did some really cool trips and we had a lot of fun. So, actually, that was why I did the first year. I called the video ‘The Year I Didn’t Work’. It actually played to the song of ‘I Never Go to Work’, if you know that song. It’s such a fun video to go back and watch, because we just had so many great moments that year.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. I love it.
Now, let’s shift to the value of us parents engaging and connecting with our children through play. I was wondering if you could share some of the ways you play with your children.
JODY: I guess the first thing that comes to mind here is that David and I have very different ways of playing with our kids. David tends to be the big kid that’s like back rides and wrestling and silly songs and wrestling, more physical play. That sort of thing. Nerf battles. I’m more of the, “I’m going to set up this cool project and we’re going to play side-by-side.” Cookie decorating or we’re going to do a cool science-y thing, even just mixing vinegar and baking soda and food coloring. Having fun with that side-by-side. I just thought of that right away with this question. We all still play hide-and-seek and dancing in the kitchen and all sorts of craziness. There’s a lot of craziness. We really love connecting with our kids, seeing their views of the world and of themselves and all their ideas. It’s really great.
I guess one of the things that also came to mind is I started playing Minecraft with my kids. It was probably a year ago now. I went mining with them and we were attacked by zombies and falling off cliffs. It’s this huge rush of adrenaline and the frustration of losing your things or getting lost. I actually learned a lot in that experience of getting down and playing with them. I learned a lot of being empathetic when they came to me and, “Oh, I died and I lost this really cool item.” You know, it’s not just a game. It is really important. It is this thing that you worked hard for. It allowed me to really be more empathetic with them in those kind of situations. It also allowed me to really understand when they came to me and said, “I got this achievement! I did this!” I knew what they were talking about as opposed to just kind of like, “Okay. You’re really excited. That must be cool.”
It also helped me to be able to help them to look up information, because I understood more of the game. “Oh, so is that something that you get when you’re making potions?” That sort of thing. It just gave me more background knowledge. I also really got, I guess, for me, I didn’t play a lot of video games as a kid, but the ones we did play were all single player. This ability to have other people in the same world with you, playing with you, and being able to come and rescue you when you get stuck, it’s just such a neat experience that wasn’t something that we got to do as kids. It was really neat to see Minecraft from their perspective and to play right with them. It was great.
PAM: Yeah. Actually, I did try Minecraft account for a bit, played a little bit. That one, I was a little more motion sick with that.
PAM: When my kids were younger and we started unschooling, those kinds of games weren’t really around, but certainly we always had all the full set of controllers and stuff. I’d be just trying to keep up with them when we’d play a multiplayer game and stuff. It was always very challenging. I love that aspect. They were always so helpful, trying, calling me, telling me where I was in the map. “Turn here, turn here. Oh, here you are.” “Yeah. I’m the one back there. Don’t worry about me.” I would just love even just sitting with them and watching them when they were doing some of the single player story games and stuff, because then I could keep up with story. As you said, I would know what was going on so that, if they needed some help or whatever, I could Google and look up answers. That’s some of my very happy memories is reading off some directions from a walkthrough, because we had the computer by the TV just for that kind of stuff because there weren’t laptops back then. I’m dating myself. Yeah. Just spending that side-by-side time with them. It’s just so important, isn’t it? It’s so valuable.
PAM: Yeah. There was one thing that crossed my mind I wanted to bring up I thought was cool.
Many of us learned growing up that rules are hard and fast and that changing the rules is pretty much cheating. It was something that made us very uncomfortable, like marks. We were very, very rule oriented. Changing the rules until everybody that wants to play something can play is a great way, not only to engage with our kids, but to learn even more about what makes them tick. What is it they don’t like? How can we kind of change things up?
You get to know them so much better. It’s also something that seems that children do it almost instinctively when they don’t have a history of fixed and unbending rules. I remember I was always so surprised at the inventive ways my kids morphed the games. Ways that seemed to me, in my more analytical mind, wouldn’t be fair to so-and-so who was playing, but they were all happy with it, because it just took everyone’s needs into account. That was one of the really big paradigm shifts for me as I came to unschooling and spending more time playing with my kids. The focus, it really isn’t about the rules. It’s about the kids who are there and what they want to play. From there, it just felt like this weight was lifted up and everything opened up, so I was wondering if you’ve seen your kids playing around with the rules.
JODY: Well, your question reminds me a lot, actually, of when Nathan when he was about five years old. He became interested in chess. He wanted to know the rules and how to play it, so I remember my husband sitting with him and telling him about the rules and how different players moved. Then, they started playing. They were about four or five moves into the game when Nathan all of the sudden starts adding his own rules about teleporting. “Oh, when you do this, the king can teleport to the other side of the board.” That was challenging for both of us at the time, because we were like, “But, no, this is the rule to the game. These are the rules. You have to play by the rules, otherwise it’s not going to work.” It was kind of this big roadblock for me. He was persistent that, no, this was how he was going to play. We just carried on and I started to see a lot of creativity and strategy. I started to see him really learning like, “Oh, if I do this, that move is going to be too powerful and the game’s going to end and I don’t want the game to end.” He would kind of readjust his ideas and his moves. I also found that he really liked to get a comfortable lead and then he’d let the other player catch up. Then, he’d let it go from there, but his comfort zone was, “I need to be in the lead for this game. Then, I’ll let you catch up and then we’ll see who can win from there.”
PAM: So cool.
JODY: That piece of understanding him and how he liked to play these games. That was really an eye-opening experience for us. I would say since then, we have a lot of board games, but we don’t even play by the rules. We just love the pieces. Qwirkle and Blokus are the ones that we definitely just play with the pieces and do neat things with them. I guess I also remember when all of my kids were younger and playing games with us. They didn’t like Snakes and Ladders where you’d have to go down the snake. They didn’t like that part, so we would generally play where one of the kids wasn’t going to go backwards on it and that was okay with everyone.
PAM: Yeah. Exactly.
JODY: Even things like musical chairs. We have a version of musical chairs where we don’t take away the chairs. We just all kind of pile on top of each other and it’s a really fun game and nobody’s out. It’s just about the fun. It’s not about the rules and whatnot.
PAM: Yeah. We had the same, all sorts of variations of Snakes and Ladders. Even switching them up, up snakes and down ladders. Then, trying up everything. Trying down everything and trying to get back to one. When we gave up on the game, whoever was the lowest would be the winner. It was just amazing the way their brains would just, in the moment, figure out what was comfortable for each of them and chat about it until they were ready to go ahead. I think your Chess was my Monopoly. I was like, “What?”
JODY: That’s not how it works!
JODY: We actually had a similar experience with crafts. I had these big ideas with Nathan, when he was little, of, “Oh, we’re going to do this cool craft activity.” I would put all the crafts out on the table and he would get up on the table and be so excited, because there’s all these cool craft things that aren’t usually out and accessible for him at the time. I was like, “This is what we’re making. Right? This is going to be fun.” He was like, “Well, can I use this to do this?” Then, he’d go and run and get something else and by the end he made something completely different. I remember being somewhat uncomfortable there too. It was like, “No. This is what we’re doing. These are my rules and this is what we’re doing here.” No, he was always coming up with his own really cool ideas and coming up with cool craft things that I never would have thought of, but it was definitely different than what I had set out to do.
PAM: I think that was a huge piece of my deschooling. Instead of seeing them as not following the rules and not doing it right, it was seeing the creativity and all the imagination that they brought to things. Eventually, after hitting that wall enough times, it was like, “Oh my gosh. I’m just going to sit here and be amazed.”
JODY: Yeah. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. That’s very cool. Last question.
I was wondering if you could share any tips you have for parents for ways to get more comfortable playing with their children.
JODY: I think some of the things that have brought a lot of joy for us, one of them is to share toys and games and shows that we, that my husband and I enjoyed as a kid. I know, recently, I showed the kids the old ‘Tiny Toons’ theme song and we all went about the rest of the day singing that and playing it over and over and over again. They just thought that was great. We have a lot of toys and some books and stuff that we just loved as kids. It’s fun to share that with them. Even if it doesn’t become something they’re really interested in, it’s still a neat connection and we’ve really enjoyed it. Another thing that I had a hard time with for a long time was this idea of wasting: wasting craft supplies, wasting bubbles, wasting food supplies like food coloring.
For me, I really had to think that through to kind of get over that hurdle. They were playing with the bubble mix and pouring it everywhere, then using it, and rubbing their hands in it. It’s like, they’re really learning. They’re really getting something out of this, but in the back of my mind, I’d be sitting there thinking, “I just bought that. That’s all I have.” That sort of thing. Sometimes I would just give them what I was comfortable with them using for that day to be okay and not have to be constantly like, “Oh, but don’t use that much of it,” or, “Be careful, you’re going to spill it.” That was something for me.
Another one is we really enjoy playing with science kits with our kids. We don’t follow the instructions. We basically get rid of the instructions completely and just figure out how to play with the hands-on things they’ve given us in these kits. An example I can think of recently is my youngest loves rainbows, loves rainbows. I thought to show her the ‘Magic School Bus’ show on rainbows the other day. We watched it together and they had prisms. They were talking about prisms and I thought, “Oh, yeah. We have a science kit with prisms in it. I’m sure of it.” I went looking for that and we started playing with it. They had this whole list of ten activities that we were supposed to follow. I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I just need to figure out how to make these prisms work properly.”
The kids spent hours playing in the basement chasing these rainbows around. That was how we played with the kit. It wasn’t about following the rules. It was about just playing and seeing what the kids wanted to do with them and what came out just naturally from these tools.
I think the last thing I would say is just jump in. I know there’s times where I sit there and go, “But I just have to wash the dishes. I just have to….” You know, but when they come and ask me to play, I try to just say, “You know what? That’s all still going to be there. I just need to take that step and jump in and play with them.” We have lots of fun.
PAM: That was a big one for me too, remembering to value that time just as much as everything else. When you take a moment to step back and think, you think, “Oh, of course! That’s the most valuable thing!” But it’s hard in the moment when you’re about to clean off the table or do a load of laundry or something like that. It’s hard to take that step back for a second and remember, “Oh, yeah. This is really, really important.” It always turns out so much fun, doesn’t it?
JODY: It always does.
PAM: It always does. I was just going to say about the prisms and not following the rules but just digging into it and how much they get out of that experience. I just flashed and reminded me to the story you opened up with, with that guy in your study group at university. That he was always playing with his love of cars and stuff. You could just imagine in his background all these experiences where he was playing around with stuff that he could creatively bring those kind of ideas to your group.
JODY: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. It was like seeing it in action there! There we go. I want to say thank you very, very much for taking the time to speak with me today, Jody. I had so much fun. I love talking about that.
JODY: Thank you.
PAM: Oh no, it was great. Is there a place where people can connect with you online?
JODY: Really just Facebook.
PAM: That the easiest place?
JODY: That’s the easiest place.
PAM: Cool. Well, I want to say thank you very much again. Have a great day.
JODY: Thanks. You too.