PAM: Hi, everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today, I’m here with Anne Ohman. Hi, Anne!
ANNE: Hi, Pam.
PAM: I am really looking forward to digging into the topic of reading with you.
ANNE: I am so excited, too. It’s all I have been thinking about, even though I have a hundred other things going on in my life.
PAM: I know. I really appreciate all the work you have done with me to set this up. I’m really looking forward to it.
As a bit of an introduction to those who may not know Anne yet, she has always unschooled her two boys, who are now 25 and 22. She has been writing and speaking about unschooling for many years, starting her e-mail list Shine With Unschooling back in 2004, coming up on twelve years. I heard her speak at the Live and Learn conference that year. I was the first person to join her list when she got home and created it. Over the years since, she has become a very dear friend. She has also hosted conferences and gatherings of the years and together, starting this year, we host the Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit.
Can you share with us a bit about your background and your family and how you came to unschooling?
ANNE: I would love to. I’ve actually been writing about unschooling since 1998 and I love to say that, because I love to pull out the 1900s. I was writing on the only online unschooling forum at the time, unschooling.com. It’s there where we got a core group of people. That was where Kelly Lovejoy was inspired to host the first Live and Learn unschooling conference in 2002 and I spoke at that.
So, I’ve been writing and speaking since way back then. I have also been a student of my children and how they learn through life simply by being who they are since the day they were born. Mostly because when Jacob when was born, he did not accept any mainstream notion of what a baby should be like. He did not read the manual that mainstream society was handing out. He let me know that he was going to be who he was here to be and I rejoiced in that and I was so grateful for that. I followed, listened to, celebrated, and followed that. When Sam came three and half years later, Dave and I had two amazing life gurus to follow and learn from.
PAM: That is a great way to look at it. Once my children were here and seeing them in action, they let you know what it is that they needed. It was so often so different, from all the messages that were coming from outside.
ANNE: Exactly, even from the gifts that I got at my baby shower, nothing stayed in my house, because it was all about how to keep your baby at a distance. So, it is cool to follow the child and the child letting us know.
PAM: Let’s shift to reading now.
School, and by extension, society, is very laser focused on children learning to read as early as possible. As a rural library director and unschooling parent, I would love to hear your perspective on how you have seen these reading expectations play out.
ANNE: Well, first of all, I love how you said rural library director, it’s like the hardest three words to say together. Of course, when we have any expectations on our children and we don’t trust in them to live and learn in their own way and in their own time, they can feel that.
So, here we are, an entire society, which does include school and libraries where I work, collectively holding this expectation about children reading early and often. And not only holding that expectation but creating programs and incentives and rewards and punishments around this expectation. If we back up to see why society does this, it’s really obvious: schools need children to read.
A quick Google search will tell us that children reading early has a direct correlation to academic success. Of course it does! How can teachers teach children what they’re expected to be teaching without children being able to read? The only method a classroom has of expanding a child’s world is by way of reading. There are lots of ways they do that: books, handouts, tests, what is written on the chalkboard. Do they use chalkboards now, still? I don’t know.
PAM: Some kind of board.
ANNE: Some kind of board. It’s all the written word. So, we see how this equation is necessary. The equation being, the expectation of early reading equals academic success. The cool thing is, as unschooling parents, we get to remove the academic success part of the equation, because that’s never our focus. Our focus is on the child, the whole child.
When you remove academic success, there is not an equation any more, so the expectation of early reading falls away as well. Now we can allow the child to learn and grow and perceive the world in their own way, in their own time and offer them the greatest gift we can offer unschooled children and that is trust.
My view of all of this from the library perspective actually began years ago before I was a library director. In 2002, when Jacob was 11 and Sam was 8, the universe put in front of me to start a parent/child library program in our little local rural library. I said yes to it because my kids were older and they didn’t need me as often. I wanted something I loved to do and I also knew it was something they could join me in or not and be involved with it as much or as little as they wanted to.
Yet from the very beginning, to fund the program, I had to apply for grants. Filling out the library grant forms made me want to just run back to my free, unschooled, ten mountain-top acres at home.
PAM: I can imagine.
ANNE: We’ve never been able to fit our unschooling lives and our visions into standard forms. It’s like making a resume, we have to get really creative but this form did not allow the space to do so. It had so much mainstream, schoolish vernacular. They wanted specific methods and specific numbers I would reach, how many would be readers at the end of my project. They wanted to see results. And it totally conflicted with my vision and desire to SIMPLY bring parents and children together in joy and in celebration of wonderful children’s picture books and simple, creative crafts. Therefore, my grant applications all got turned down, probably because I didn’t speak their language.
Then a friend of mine who was involved in watching me do all this, she lives in New York City and has a summer home here. When her husband’s mother died, she had left money to give to rural towns to promote literacy. She knew me and she knew my kids and she didn’t want to give me the money to promote literacy. She wanted to give me the money to do what I do, and that’s to share my joy and my appreciation of children and books. So, thankfully for many years she generously funded my parent/child library program. And because we were little rural library and the library director trusted me, I had the freedom to create a program without society’s expectations and pressure to make sure children were reading books or learning to read. So, I had all these wonderful things happening where I didn’t have any restraints placed on my vision according to society’s expectations, which was fantastic.
So, I walked into that library with my knowledge of how children learn through joy and through life and that’s what I manifested, my vision of joy. It was funny, because after my very first program, the local school supportive parents did not return because they were not happy that I did not make their children sit and be quiet and listen to the story. Instead, I, of course, encouraged children’s interaction. I encouraged their conversations. I encouraged them to get up and point things out in the book. When I finished reading a book, I always wanted to know how they felt about the book and they knew I wanted their honest opinion. Parents don’t want to hear that. They want to hear that the child liked the book.
Even for the crafts, when I made the craft I would say, “This is what I made from these materials, you are free to make whatever you want from them,” so that is the whole feel of the library program. As those disapproving parents dropped out, in through the doors would walk in parents who had driven over an hour away saying one or both of the following things: “I heard your story time was fabulous” and/or “I heard you homeschool your children without a curriculum and I want to know more about that.” That was so awesome.
And so, my library program was basically filled with homeschoolers and unschoolers and a couple of parents who were going to send their kids to school, too, but who appreciated my joyful connection with their kids. I had kids of all ages there, because it was so family friendly ranging from babies to Jacob the oldest at 11 and then 12, 13 & 14 as we continued the program.
What was so beautiful was how we created this fabulous community. Jacob and Sam would sit in back of the small children’s room in little kid chairs and play their Gameboys. And there was a young boy who idolized my boys and he brought his Gameboy, too. He’s 18 now. I can still see the three of them sitting in the back of the room quietly playing while listening to me read books, laughing at the books, and commenting on them along with all the little kids who were on the floor pillows. After the books were finished, you would see this community, the smallest of children being read to by older children, being helped out on the computer by the older children, all ages doing the crafts together, and helping each other, coming up with amazing things.
This is exactly why those grant applications and society’s conversation about getting kids to read was a foreign language to me, because this was all I needed to create. I knew this from our own home, our own free unschooling home, this space of joy and freedom and trust. Here I was with this early childhood literacy program and it was filled with kids who couldn’t read (even some of the older unschooled kids) and never was there one bit of focus placed on that. The focus was on their joy.
That was my first foray into library world. Fast forward all these years later when the universe put this opportunity in front of me in 2014 to be a rural library director. I wanted this job so bad that I knew I could take whatever reading regulations the library system had handed to me and make them my own. I knew that my presence there as an adult who celebrated children and saw them through the lens of joy would be valuable and so, I wasn’t dreading checking off the “literacy boxes.”
For a small example, this year’s summer reading program theme (there is a theme every year) is “On your mark, get set, READ.” After I groaned after I first saw that, then I did some work on it, I kind of held on to it, and I ended up making a fabulous flyer. Last week, I was showing my board of directors my summer program flyer and I pointed out to them that kids understand when we are trying to get them in the library to read and that’s has never been a goal of mine. I want kids to come into the library and simply feel like they are happy at the library, that they’re seen and heard.
My flyer does have the tag line “On your mark, get set, read” and that’s where I describe my very easy reading program, where kids can list any book they have read, even if it is just one book. And they put a thumbs up or thumbs down sticker next to it, because I want them to know that I care, again, about how they felt about the book. That matters to me more that simply the fact that they read a book.
On the flyer, I also have “on your mark, get set, create” and I list the events where we will be making things. I have “on your mark, get set, explore” and I list the times where we’ll be exploring cool science toys and games. I have “on your mark, get set, watch a movie”, “on your mark, get set, eat ice cream” for our annual ice cream social. And at the bottom of the page I say, most importantly, “on your mark, get set, have fun at the library,” that’s what matters the most. My board approved.
PAM: Wow. That is so cool, the way you were able to do something that we learn over the years: take the conventional perspective but see so much of the bigger picture for it. It doesn’t mean we have to erase or get rid of that, but we can expand the vision so much more.
ANNE: That is exactly it. I know it always takes an initial groan and then the expansion happens. Then I’m like, I can invite the rest of the world into this summer program, even though the library system is saying it got to be “this.” How can we not invite the rest of the world, that’s what we do.
PAM: Speaking of the kids that you are inviting into the library …
I know since you started there, I’ve really enjoyed reading some of the stories you’ve shared on Facebook about the schooled kids that come to the library and how you have seen their outlook on reading change over time. I was wondering if you could share some of those stories.
ANNE: I would love to and I have three. And they’re all about the same little girl. I’m going to call her Jay. These are from Facebook so I’m not sure of the order they are in but they are really cool.
This first one says, my nine year old foster care, after-school friend who can be very challenging at times in her quest to be seen, heard, and loved has been using our library’s search computer lately. She does not know what she is searching for. She types words into the search that she sees on the computer, like “search.” Yes, she will type the word search into the search. Then she’ll type the word “subject” into the subject search. She comes up with amazing things.
The other day she pulled every single nonfiction cat book we had off of the shelf. Her enthusiasm and excitement were so beautiful that it almost didn’t even cross my mind that I would have to reshelve all of those books. Do you know how she found every nonfiction cat book we have? She taught herself the Dewey decimal system. She figured out, on her own, what the numbers after the book’s subjects meant. She didn’t know how to look for them, it didn’t matter, because as soon as I heard her going to the shelves and saying the numbers out loud, I left my desk and my work and I went to her and I asked her if she wanted some help, and yes she did. We started to look for the books together.
Today, I walked by her on the search computer, again, she was typing “subject” into the search. I smiled. Then she started spelling things to me, asking me what they said. I just wanted to make sure today that she wasn’t looking for something specific so I asked if there was something she was interested in finding. She said, “I am interested in finding,” and then she took a scrap paper and pencil and wrote down these words and ran over and handed it to me. It said “Canada in Pictures.” She then said it is number 971. We went looking for it together. I pulled it off the shelf and she squealed when I showed it to her.
My second story, nine-year-old Jay brought a school library book to me today. Complaining, “I’m supposed to read this in twenty minutes or I’ll be in trouble and I can’t read these words.” I asked, “Who told you that?” Her foster mother. I looked at it. It was the most boring picture book in the world! It was about wild ponies, which could be interesting, but this book was not, at all. I thumbed through it and I told her it looked to me like it was a difficult book to enjoy. I pointed to a word and I said, “I don’t even know how to say that word.” I said, “The fact that you can’t read this has nothing to do with how smart you are. If you had a book you were interested in, you would be able to read it, because you would want to read it. What about if I read this to you?” Yes, that was fine with her, so I started.
It was just too boring. While I was reading, I started saying “blah, blah, blah, blah” and then I was skimming. When I read the words, they were just too boring and when I read the words Jay said, “Can you just say, blah, blah, blah there too?” So, I asked her, “Does it have to be THIS book?” She said she chose it because she was in a hurry and she doesn’t have another book. “Um, we are in a library.” I said, “Let’s go find you a book you will like.” We did. She took it, left my side, and went to the table to read it. She was back very soon, laughing. She said giggling, “I have to read this to you. It’s so funny!” There were words she didn’t now but she figured them out because she loved the story. She was so into it and she read the whole thing in less that twenty minutes and then read it again to me, laughing.
My third story is called “Discovering Madeline.” This one is similar to the other one and it starts, she showed me the book the teacher gave her to read for homework. She trusts me to be honest with her about such things. I said it looked long and maybe a little interesting but not very. We laughed. She opened it up and showed me a page and said exasperated, “Ugh, look at all these words!” I asked her if she had to read THAT book. She said “no” but she “didn’t have another.”
Again, I looked to my left I looked to my right, yup, we are both standing in a library. I suggested she start looking for another book. I told her I’d help her when I was done with my work. I wanted to give HER some space first. She came back after a few minutes and showed me her book. Mad About Madeline, the complete tales of Ludwig Bemelmans. Yes, all of the Madeline books in one big treasure of a book.
I expressed my joy that she discovered a book on her own. This a huge thing that I believe strongly in, allowing children the space to discover in a library. She most certainly did not notice that there were just as many words in that book as in the homework book and that’s because SHE chose this book. Her heart was drawn to this particular book and she was curious and enthusiastic about opening it up and reading it. She started reading on her own while I continued working.
She was incredibly delighted. She was excited. She was in love. She would run over to show me pictures, to read an excerpt to me. Then she would stop reading, pick up the book, and walk around the entire library, hugging the book and singing, “I love this book so much.” I was thrilled. I was laughing at her joy. I asked her, “Do you love Madeline?” I thought she was in love with the character and I love how clear she was in her answer. “No. I love the pictures in this book and I love the words in this book.”
She wanted to check the book out, but because of her home situation (she’s a foster child) it was not a good idea. We had special place to keep it there, at the library, where no one else would be able to find it and no one else would be able to check it out. And she knows her book is waiting there, just for her, whenever she comes in. The end.
I miss her.
PAM: I can imagine. Wow. What beautiful glimpses into the journey when it is in their control.
ANNE: Exactly. Just the simplicity of all we need to offer them. It’s so simple and it’s so downstream compared to schools just going against the flow and fighting and trying to get them to do this and this and this. Look at what I offered her and it was completely just taken over with joy and ease.
PAM: I wonder, why is it that we see society getting so caught up in reading by a certain age such that if they’re not the adults just seem to keep focusing on just that missing piece. They don’t see the whole picture of the child. They just see “not reading, not reading and not reading.”
ANNE: Exactly. It just goes back to their requirement of having reading be the only way they can teach basically. That gets ingrained in parents and even unschooling parents have trouble letting that go sometimes. Children learn from the time they are young when they are free and trusted. It’s the same with reading and yet, once kids get to a school age, parents start to panic and just go back to all they have ever known. School’s requirements.
I did a conference talk at your conference and at a Live And Learn conference called “This Is Where Unschooling Lives.” This is available on your website. I have a short excerpt about Sam and his journey to reading. I hate saying these words because it just sounds so negative and it goes against my whole focus, but Sam was a late reader. I talked a lot about it in that talk. There’s also my other talk, “What’s So Radical About Radical Unschooling,” has a lot in it about Sam’s journey to reading also, but this short excerpt here describes our entire family’s energy about it.
My son has been on this journey towards reading for years now and the focus in our family has never been to get to the end point where my child is reading. Our lives were, as always, focused on his strengths, his joy, his passions, all that he was, and all that he COULD do. In our family, we allow the light of our children to blind us to what society may define as a lack. We don’t see lack because our vision is filled with the glory of who our children are. That’s exactly how our lives have always been.
PAM: That is always such a huge piece, that lack that everybody sees.
So, let’s talk about how our kids have learned without reading.
PAM: Because it doesn’t get in their way, does it?
ANNE: Exactly. It’s just what I said, learning is in everything they do. I felt with reading, I always called it a puzzle. I feel like children are picking up pieces of the reading puzzle everywhere along the way. We’re surrounded by words, signs. The grocery store is filled with words and everything. So, they’re picking up these pieces here and there throughout their lives. They’re either holding on to them or discarding them if they’re not ready for them. They’re laying them down in a way that makes sense to them in that moment. They might not be at a place yet where those pieces fit into the bigger reading puzzle picture. So, they just continue to keep turning those pieces around like we get the pieces to fit into the puzzle.
I’ve witnessed that (and you probably have, too) that it really has not kept our kids away from doing what they really want to be doing. It’s because we have this environment where they’re celebrated for being who they are and we follow what they love that they don’t feel like it impairs them because they can not read. They will go to a video game or a game or whatever that has a lot of reading in it. They will just keep going forward, finding different ways to get the information they need. They’re industrious when they really want to do something. We haven’t told them they can’t do it because they have not followed society’s standard steps along the way to get there. We haven’t led them to believe they need to learn the alphabet before they could make words, you know what I mean?
Ask you know from your kids, our kids show us over and over how they are full-fledged participants in the real world. I laugh every time I think of this. Sam, he was such a little kid and wanting to play Yu-Gi-Oh! card game in tournaments. And so, we would drive him an hour away to these tournaments and there were all these older kids, really big kids, drinking two-liter jugs of soda as their drinks. There was little Sammy wanting to do tournaments with them. Nobody knew he couldn’t read and yet, he was able to understand what the cards said. Jacob would stand there by his side and Sam would just look up to him if he needed help and Jake would read the card to him. Those cards are very complex with very big words in it and because he knew what the cards would do, he would know what the cards said.
PAM: I love that. It’s that piece, because we don’t have the expectation and they don’t feel the lack of not reading, they just take what they want to do and use the skills that they have. They do things in such different ways than we would. When reading comes up, they know that we’ll help them if they need some help to read something. Like Jake standing there to help him out if he needed. They know that they have that support as well.
I always remember back when Michael was younger and not reading yet. He really loved to play the game Clue. Me, analytic mind, I’ve got the Clue sheets where you can tick of what people have, what you think people have. I would offer, “You want me to,” because I’m pretty good at forgetting as well. I will tell my kids they can spoil me for a T.V. show or whatever because by the time I watch it I won’t remember. Because THEY want to talk about it, I’m like no, sure tell me all about it, I won’t remember.
He never wanted me to help him out with reading there. He used skills that he had at the time. His memory was really developed, whether or not it was as part of not reading or whatever. Those other skills that come more naturally to them, those things are what they can rely on. Nothing is actually holding them back. Back to that “lack” word. He would win the games very regularly having just memorized and remembered what people have asked, what clues he’s gotten. I was always so flabbergasted by that.
ANNE: Exactly. I’m always in awe of their unreading minds. It just seems like a more clear picture of the world, where it doesn’t have all these labels on everything. They can interpret everything in their own way and in the way they want to see the world instead of having it labeled with words and knowing what those words say.
It’s so funny, because just yesterday at the library, of course, this is what happens in our lives as I am going to be talking about reading today, so I’ve gotten to tell patrons’ stories yesterday. One woman came in and bought children’s books from our book sale that were left over. She said to me, “Now, if I can only get my grandson to sit by me and read, that would be a major accomplishment.” I told her about how Sam never wanted to sit and read books, Jacob did. So, we would come home with a stack of children’s books and Jacob and I would sit and read and read and Sam would be nearby playing and creating and destroying and imagining, and moving and moving and moving. He was also listening.
This is something else, another piece of how they’re learning and absorbing that society tends to not see and forget about, the way some kids learn differently or hear differently and retain things differently. We also had audio-books going whenever we got into the car, because everything around here you want to go to is at least 20 minutes away. So, like you were saying about Michael’s mind, I felt the same about Sam’s comprehension and memory of every specific audio-book. He can still quote Maniac McGee and he was so young when we listened. I’m in awe.
PAM: That was one of the big challenges for Joseph when he was in school and his teachers really couldn’t get it. They were sure he wasn’t paying attention, because he would be busy playing with something, pencil, eraser, or something, he would be busy doing things. I remember the principal telling me a story of she walked by, he looked like he wasn’t paying any attention, she pulled him out, asked him what the teacher was talking about and he told her word for word. They were just like, “I don’t know what to do.”
ANNE: There was another little girl who is an unattended child in the library. I had pulled out the Thinking Putty, (this was the magnetic stuff). I love this stuff. I asked her if she wanted to play with it with me. Then this young adult walked by and he was drawn to it. It kind of planted some seeds. I’m like, I play with this when I need to listen to something and I feel like I’m going to get bored if I just sit there and listen and if I have this to play with, then my brain works better. I just wanted to instill these little things, kind of validating that they have to sit and listen when things are boring and let them know that it’s okay to feel like you want to be doing something else. The three of us are just playing with this putty and stretching it and everything and it was the greatest experience. They both understood that, yeah, doing this would really help with how my brain works.
PAM: Then there’s the other piece how society seems to value books and book learning over all the other ways. We would have so much fun going to the science center and museums and everything and the hands-on exhibits. What we talked about on the Q&A a couple episodes ago (“YouTube University” Anna called it) there are just so many ways to learn things beyond the written word. Not reading does handicap kids in school as they get older, because that’s the only way that information is given to them. Yet, when you have the world that you can explore, there are just so many other ways that that kind of information is available and it really does not put you behind.
ANNE: Such another important part too, is how we don’t place an emphasis on it. I’m surrounded by parents who are just praising their child when their child reads something at the library. Then, of course, the child get shamed when they are not reading. It’s so foreign to us in our lives. Not only is it not good, but it’s hijacking their own experiences. Where our children are allowed to own their own experiences and their interpretation of everything. We are continuing living our lives being surrounded by the written word and having conversations and there is so much more go on. Even with learning and all the other ways, there are still those pieces of that reading puzzle that they are picking up when they are ready to pick it up and placing it. Maybe the whole reading puzzle isn’t complete yet, but those pieces are constantly being picked up when they’re ready.
PAM: I know, it is so beautifully to watch over the years. I wanted to ask you about something, because this is something I have seen over the years. I noticed it when Joseph was reading by the time he left school. Although at a much more advanced level than they saw at school, because they have grade level books and they were not interesting. As far as the teachers were concerned, he was just barely reading, yet at home he was reading 100-page printouts of walk-throughs for video games written by adults.
I’ve noticed that unschooling children are more apt to call themselves readers once they are comfortably reading adult-level books versus those grade-level things. Have you seen that too?
ANNE: Most definitely. The excerpt from the talk that I did, I believe I say Sam is not reading super strongly right now. Like I’ve been saying, he has lots of the pieces of the puzzle there, they’re just not all there. Once the pieces are all there, they can dive into anything. Jacob was almost nine when the first Harry Potter book came out. We were in a bookstore and he was so drawn to it. I picked it up and I looked at it, knowing he was sensitive about cruelty in books. I was reading what it was about and I was like, I don’t know about this book, Jake. This boy is made to live in a cupboard under the stairs. I don’t know. So, I said let’s check it out from the library before we buy it to make sure you like it. So we did and there was no waiting list for it back them, because no one had heard of it before. It was like the day it came out.
We got home with it and I apparently was not available enough to read it to Jacob as much as he wanted me to read it to him. One time, I got up from reading to make dinner or whatever and he took the book and just kept on reading it himself. He didn’t know he could read and he just started reading that book. The first book I believe Sam read on his own was the graphic novel Watchmen, which is an adult book also. That was also really interesting, because it revealed a lot about how Sam’s brain worked and maybe why other pieces of the puzzle were not fitting. They weren’t the right pieces at all, he needed some visual with it. So, that was really cool.
PAM: That is fascinating. I will link in the show notes, because Lissy’s reading story is intricately woven with Harry Potter as well. So, that might be interesting for some people to read. Another question for you:
Have you had anyone judge your kids for not being able to read?
ANNE: As an unschooling family, as I’ve said so many times before, we’ve just lived our lives when we have been around other people and not allowed any space for judgment to be inserted into our lives. We’ve always focused on our passions, our interests, and what we are doing when we are around other people. So, for the most part, no, because there was no space for that.
I do remember one instance where we were kind of nervous about Sam being judged. I hope she doesn’t listen to this. The library director who gave me the job for the Parent/Child Library Program, she and I were such good friends and her daughter was older than Jacob maybe by four years or so. This was when they were all very young. We had become good friends and laughed together and everything and so, we invited her to the river to go kayaking once. So, she came to spend the day with us and after we had been kayaking, we were in our cabin. We were going to play Apples to Apples.
We all had a meeting before about how Sam might not want to reveal that he can’t read. I just said, thank you for telling me you are sensitive to that. I’ll work it out so that we can still play this game. I’m making food and they are setting up the game. We’re saying all these things, we’re talking, and I just say, someone needs to sit by Sam who can help him read his cards. Then I just continued to talk and create and didn’t allow any space for any judgment in that moment. But I know she probably was struck by the fact that Sam wasn’t reading his cards and yet she saw how it just flowed, went right along with just one simple thing about Sam.
She knew all these things about Sam having spent the day with him. Sam loves kayaking. Sam’s really funny. Sam’s hungry for lunch. So, this thing that Sam could read just went in and out as one of those things. That is how the game progressed. Sam got help reading his cards and she went home that day and her mother reported to me that Brianna had said it was the best day of her life. So, that’s how small that piece was in that entirety of the day, which exemplifies how small it is in our lives.
PAM: That’s been one of the biggest pieces for me, too, out and about, with extended family, with other people in the world, for those pieces that we know do not match up with the more conventional lifestyle is to live it in front of them, not leave the opening.
There’s an energy to it, too, where you say something, the way you phrase it, and then you sit back. People feel like you are expecting them to say something. Where if you come up and it’s just a fact and I am sitting beside him and I’m helping him with that and we’re all having fun and this is how we do it, you are showing them that this other way is totally fine. That has worked so well for me over the years.
ANNE: I had similar instant yesterday with that young adult in the library. He was talking about how he needed to do the five-hour driving class to get his license. I happened to have a poster in my foyer and I said, come with me to my foyer. I showed him the poster and I made a copy of it for him. Then I said, “Jacob might be in your class if you take this.” He was like, “What? Jacob, your son?“ I said, “Yes.” He goes, “How old is he?” I said, “He’s 25.” He said, “He doesn’t have his license yet?” I said very casually, “No, he hasn’t felt the need to. I know people have gotten their license when they are 40.”
I said, people drive him, his brain works differently. We talked about how people learn things differently. Jacob walked over from his house next door and we all started talking about it. Just the energy in which you say it, their shock value doesn’t go anywhere. It bounces off of us and we still stick to what is really important in seeing the entire person, not just this once small piece of what they define as a lack and we don’t.
PAM: We’ve had those same kind of driving things come up here and there too. Michael is in the process of doing his and he is 18. He’ll be 19 next month, versus 16 where everyone throws their kid in a car and says, “You need to learn to drive so I don’t have to drive you everywhere.”
ANNE: Then kids want to drive away from their parents, too. Unschooling, we do so many things together. I did not feel the need to list all the reasons to explain myself. I wanted to give him information, though, so that he could take it out and examine it the way he judged so quickly.
PAM: That’s it. If you start explaining yourself, then that can make the moment more confrontational. Then they feel the need to explain themselves. Just as things come up in conversations, because so often they’re curious, having a normal conversation with them. And Michael is my youngest and he’ll be the first child to drive. Lissy actually started. She did the first stage. It’s a graduated license here, but then she moved to New York City and there’s no need for driving there. It is not something Joseph has ever been interested in. When we drive him when he comes places with us, he gets motion sick and ten minutes into it and he is not feeling well, so, driving isn’t something that interests him either. It is all individual.
For our last question, I was wondering how you feel now when you look back at Sam’s journey to reading.
ANNE: Sam is one of the most intelligent people I know. I wish everybody listening here could hear Sam explain the entire Star Wars series to me. His brain is able to retain so much information, so many details. Something happened yesterday with a TV show that I watch that Sam doesn’t even watch and yet, had obviously been in the room when I was watching it and made a reference to it to something years ago in connection.
I honestly believe that the non-reading mind is a bonus. I don’t want to say that, because some people do read early, so I’m just going to rephrase that and say, trusting in children to learn when they are ready, because you can’t push that and you don’t want to push that. You want to look at that and celebrate it, celebrate the mind that can see things in its own way, interpret things in its own way. As we’ve been talking about, there are just so many ways for them to be in the world fully and still not have all the pieces together in the reading puzzle.
Right now, Sam is never without a book. Recently he started listening to audio-books again and we had a conversation about it and he was talking about how much a gift it is to have someone read books to him. That’s really cool.
When Sam was a chef and he had a job as a cook at a really nice restaurant in Hudson, New York, I found out that his favorite author Neil Gaiman was in Hudson with his wife Amanda Palmer. They were doing a tour of upstate New York independent book stores. I’m freaking out, I’m texting Sam, “Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer in Hudson! Leave work and go see them!” He is like, yo, Mom, I work in a restaurant, I don’t see daylight. I don’t have time. So, I’m like, I’m driving there right now. I calmed down about it and later on Sam texted me, guess who walked into his restaurant? Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer and a bunch of people. So, Sam got to cook for them.
The chef of Sam’s restaurant brought Amanda Palmer back into the kitchen to meet all the cooks. He said to her, your husband is Sam’s favorite author. You know, I think of that moment all the time when I think of the importance we put on reading. Do you think anybody in that moment cared on iota that Sam didn’t read when school and society expects children to read? It kind of puts it all in perspective, what really matters in the long run. What story do we want our children to own about their journey to reading? I think my kids’ stories are amazing. I think even if the conversation had come around to Sam talking to Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer about when he learned to read, I think they would have been fascinated and in awe themselves. So, I just love holding on to that perspective.
PAM: I really love that perspective, too, because the journey is what matters. The timing of it, the expectations form outside surrounding it, none of that really matters. The whole point is their journey and where they are and how they bring reading into their lives. Maybe it becomes a big piece of it, maybe it doesn’t. It’s all about their life and their wishes, their needs. That’s just beautiful.
ANNE: I referenced this before in the conference talk that is available on your website, the TUC Talk “What’s So Radical About Radical Unschooling,” I talk about a time when I had casually asked Sam if he was opposed to anything reading because he had groaned about reading directions on a box of brownies he wanted to make. That’s really a good thing if you want to listen to that talk, because maybe your kids don’t want to read and it doesn’t matter one way or the other. It’s not that they can’t read, maybe they just don’t want to read right now. Like I said, Sam is enjoying having audio-books being read to him. It’s just a matter of personal desire sometimes.
PAM: I know. It’s just our fears wrapped up in the expectations. We take the, “I don’t feel like reading a book right now,” and we are like, “Oh, my god, they’re never going to like reading.”
ANNE: That’s why we offer to help. It was just so funny that one day I was just joking and I talk in the talk about how I had to examine it myself, if it was a loaded question. Did I mean it to not be a joke? So, I looked at, as we should always do, what we are owning and what we are handing to our children.
PAM: As you mentioned audio-books, that has been something that Michael and I have connected over. I’m driving him into town (about 10-15 minutes away) to the dojo and we go most nights of the week. He and I listen to audio-books in and out. We are listening to Everything Is Illuminated right now. It is just something that we can connect over and share experience with. It doesn’t have to be about reading.
Yet, you know what, a few days ago, he likes to skateboard/longboard or bike into town every once in a while and he’s been hanging out at the library now. When they were younger we used to go a lot and I had a library card and we’d come out with tons and tons of books. Although at that time, he wasn’t reading, so he would come and hang out, because it was a fun place and he knew he might play on the computer, but books weren’t a big thing for him at the time.
The other day he was like “Oh, I spent an hour in the library, reading such and such a book.” I said, “Hey, you know, you could get your own card and bring it home.” The next time he went, he did! He signed up for a card and he came home with the book. It was pretty funny. He had almost finished it and did finish it about two days later. Then yesterday, he was getting a ride with a friend into town and he was like, “Let me grab the book.” He took it back and he came home with another one. Age doesn’t matter.
ANNE: My library is 18 minutes away from home. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I come home for lunch. I get about 80 minutes of somebody reading me a book in that one day and that’s fantastic. I’m also testing books that way, because I know my patrons and I know what they’d like. I am a library director who doesn’t read a book often (a physical book) because I fall asleep when I start to read it. My life is so busy with other things when I don’t have my library director hat on. So, the audio-books are just so perfect and I can talk about it with patrons, so I love having it read to me. It’s got to be the right reader though, you know.
PAM: I wanted to thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. We could go on forever and ever, but I just love talking about reading with you.
ANNE: I know. It’s been so fun, thank you so much for the opportunity. I loved it.
PAM: Me too. Before you go, where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
ANNE: I am always on the Shine With Unschooling Yahoo list. I have a Shine With Unschooling Facebook page. I’m going to have a Shine With Unschooling website up soon but I would love to connect with people in real life at our Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit. That would be fun.
PAM: Thank you very much Anne, hope you have a great day.
ANNE: Thank you Pam. You, too. Bye, everyone!