PAM: Welcome to another Q & A episode. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and I’m happy to be joined again by Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi to you both.
PAM: We’ve got a number of questions lined up for today so let’s get started. Would you like to start us off Anna?
ANNA: Sure. Ok so, question one was submitted anonymously:
I have been unschooling for a year and am loving it. Though my doubts and fears are creeping back since everyone around me is starting school again. I am a beginning deschooler and can’t help to want to be a step ahead in regards to what I can do to help my son in the future.
I was wondering if you had any insight in starting a student, digital portfolio. I have been keeping pictures of things my son does on Evernote but wondered if I should do something else on top of this. The year he was born I bought his first and last name dot com domain (I plan to give it to him as a gift when he is a young adult). I figure that is the future and that it will be a good idea to reserve it should he need it as an adult.
Oh, and by the way, my son is only six years old, haha. I may be over thinking this. LOL!
ANNA: Well, maybe just a little. I prefer to take the approach of living in the moment and making each moment count and just focussing on that, and suddenly then I have a day full of wonderful moments, then a week, and a month and a year, and lifetime. I feel like worrying about the future takes us out of this moment so we miss the only thing that we really know that we have. I do, however, enjoy taking pictures. I take pictures of the joy and beauty in our lives all the time. I’ve not really catalogued anything for the purposes of unschooling. I found that when my girls were young if I started to think along those lines of categorising and subjects and that kind of thing, it really coloured our interactions and I didn’t want that. I really wanted us to choose things because they spark joy. Not because they might check a box on an imaginary list. Looking back, it’s amazing to think of all the rabbit holes and exploration that led to new places, discoveries, passions, interests, all along the way. It really is a very natural flow, I’ve found. So while people are stressing about the first week of school, smile and enjoy the lazy morning or the trip to the park. Savour the time and space to be together and explore the world. I feel like that’s one of the many, many gifts of unschooling.
ANNE: I do love how you are laughing at yourself with your ‘ha ha’ and LOL and about over-thinking it. I have the same thing, Anna. I feel you’re losing this very moment with your son because of your over thinking. I have written down ‘overthinking equals not present in this moment.’ I did a talk at the 2008 Live and Learn Unschooling Conference that was called “Get Out of Your Head and into the Moment” and Anna actually gave me the title to that talk because I had called her up and told her how something was going wrong with the talk. I didn’t have anything to talk about. She’s like, “You need to get out of your head and into the moment.” I’m like, “That’s it!”
I feel like you’re doing what school does. You’re saying, “My child may need this in the future so I need to prepare him by doing this.” I’ve been known to call that ‘hijacking one’s being-ness’ only because people have done that to me and that’s what it feels like. You are already paving a path for him instead of allowing his own life to show him the way. His own desires, his passions, his interests, his likes, his dislikes, his fears and joys – those things are his very being-ness and if you’re envisioning something that you all may need in the future then you’re steering his course and that’s how you may be hijacking his being-ness. We obviously don’t want to be doing that.
I often say that ‘I am a student of my child.’ With that, I mean that I get to know them pretty, damn well by being fully present with them throughout his days, learning everything about him. As Anna was saying, it just flows beautifully from there, and because I am a great student of who he is, I have a deep trust in his life. I have a deep trust in my ability to provide him with what ever it is he will need in his life. But to project into the future is to cheat him out of this present moment, and Anna said, I have the exact words: “It’s all we really have. That’s all we really know.” What he is doing and what he is excited about right now. Also, my family and I have found this to be true: that when one follows their interests, their questions, their answers, their passions, then the doors open up where you may not have even known there were doors. That is a quote that I stole.
ANNA: (Laughing) Who said that?
ANNE: That’s not a Joseph Campbell quote is it?
ANNE: So if you are a step ahead of him, holding a door open for him, that you think he may need to go through in the future, he’s going to miss his own doors that were created by his own being-ness. He’s going to see you with that door and he’s going think that’s where he needs to go instead of listening to, trusting in and following his own perfect instincts, his own perfect path, his interests, his likes and his dislikes. So my thought when I first read your question is you don’t need to be a step ahead of him at all. You need to be by his side, basically holding the lantern for him as he explores his own path, ready to join him, joining him in his joy and his life and building up trust in that.
PAM: I loved your energy. I thought that was awesome enthusiasm and I love that you can laugh at yourself a bit. I think that’s terrific. Again, just to be sure to ask yourself that your meta-thinking about this whole process and projecting it into the future is not stopping you from engaging with your son right now, in this moment, as Anne and Anna have mentioned. I do think it’s cool to document your child’s days in whatever ways appeal to you. I don’t know where you live, maybe it might help you if you need to do some annual reporting but again focus on doing that documentation for your own pleasure: pictures, writing, whatever excites you, just to be able to look back on your child’s life and enjoy it, rather than thinking of organising it in a way to be a step ahead.
While Anne and Anna’s description of being a step ahead of your son were great, I was wondering whether you were thinking of being a step ahead of other kids his age, but that motivation is a clue that you are still comparing your son’s days against a yard-stick of other kids rather than appreciating them own their own. It’s really nice to try and think ahead and anticipate things for our children so that we can surprise them and be ready for the next thing they might ask for, but if we start to count on it and plan it, then, as Anne said, children often follow their parents rather than looking for their own doors, their own interests. You lose so much. It’s just amazing where our kids will actually take us when we give them that space and that room and that support to find their doors. I think that’s really cool.
Anne, do you want to do the next question?
ANNE: I would love to. The next question is from Forest.
My 17-year-old daughter’s dream is to just be the best gamer. She has had unlimited use of screens since her adoption from Cambodia in 2001 when Gameboys were the thing. I’ve provided her with latest versions of Gameboys as they advanced to two screens, iPods, iPads, gaming, and computers. She has built a mega-computer with multiple screens, learned on her own, with assistance from Google. She has travelled to Hawaii, to spend time with a gaming team she met online and they have a deep, sisterly connection.
My question is, how do I, at 73, not worry about the unlikelihood of her getting a paying job by gaming, when I realise the market is flooded? I’m not chewing my nails over this but the worry is lurking.
ANNE: Hi Forest. Your daughter sounds wonderful. I hear your concerns and I also want to give you a big hug for all of the trust and love you’ve obviously given to her already. Being 73, I hear your concerns even deeper, with you wanting to have her future secure. Keep on doing what you’ve been doing: giving her trust and love that you have been doing. You can validate her, encourage her and nurture her dream to be the best gamer. It sounds like she is doing fantastic on her path to doing that. She’s feeling really good about that, obviously.
Again, like in our last question, it’s really important that you don’t lose sight of this moment. I’ve said this before about worry: it’s simply creating, in your head, unwanted circumstances in the future. Doesn’t that seem really unnecessary when we see the truth of what it is? You’re creating unwanted circumstances, somehow in the future. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s really a huge detriment to your relationship and to her unschooling life because unschooling is based on trust. That’s what I said in the last question also.
So when you do start to worry, perhaps see that simply as something that’s trying to get you back into the present moment with your daughter and her life right now. Take a look at her. What does she like right now? How does she feel? Is she lighting up with joy? My goodness, it sure sounds like it from what you are saying to us. That’s where your focus needs to be because that’s where you build the trust, and not just the trust in her as a person but the trust in the flow of her life because it’s coming from her own joy, her instincts, her interests and her passions. We’re all here to follow that which we are drawn to following and she is bringing something completely unique to her passion that only she can bring to it.
Not only that, look at all the amazing things she is doing along the way: she’s travelling; she’s developing amazing connections and a community of people who shares her interest. She is learning and learning and learning. It’s an area that is only going to grow exponentially throughout the years. There will more opportunities available than we can imagine in this area. Also, because her world is so large and her life is so free, that she can follow her own path, she will most likely come across a paying job from all of her wonderful connections, an extension from the life that she is living.
My boys are 25 and 22. Every job they’ve had so far has been because of them following what they want to do and making connections and community. People have known who they are and what they are capable of. A job has not only opened up for them, but sometimes they have not even needed to seek out a job, it’s come to them. But, honestly, putting all of that aside, the truth is that right now, in this moment, those things don’t matter.
I made a meme last week for my Shine with Unschooling Facebook page that has a quote on it from one of my conference talks. It says:
“Perhaps nothing is more important in my unschooled child’s life than this: Every idea, everything that my child’s heart has been drawn to for all of his life, has been deeply respected, taken seriously, nurtured and encouraged without a single thought as to where it may lead some day… but simply because it brings my child so much joy in this moment.”
That’s what trust is. Getting caught up in your child’s joy, in your child’s path, in your child’s direction that each foot is taking at every moment and gathering evidence from her joys of yesterday and where they brought her and what doors and opportunities they opened up for her. Just taking that all in and saying, “Yes, I see you here in this moment. I see what you are loving. I’m here to assist you and be with you because I trust in you.” I think that this will become even more necessary as she becomes 18 and 19 and 20 and everybody else starts pursuing college or getting paid jobs.
You may feel more pressure for her to be doing something that feels more substantial to you. I’ve found that allowing our kids the safety and freedom to continue to live and do things in their own time and learn and expand in their own way just takes such a precedence over all of society’s ideas that they need to get out of the house and go to college or get a job. They have all of their lives to have paying jobs, so all of this again circles back around to you, releasing your fears, filling yourself up to the brim with her amazing shine and trusting in that shine. Trusting in the fact that all will be well and the right doors will open when she’s ready for them to open to her. So bring it back home again, focus on this moment and join her in her amazing, shining space.
PAM: I don’t actually have to answer now, do I? (Laughter) I think you’ve kind of covered it. (Laughter) But I will echo some of those pieces. I think your daughter’s age is definitely a part of the trigger as she is reaching young adulthood. Those conventional pressures, even when we haven’t thought about them for years, start coming again because the messages start coming in. People start asking what they are doing for this next stage etcetera. Those fears often give us tunnel vision; they close up what we see.
Maybe, Forest, you can remind yourself all those varied places that her dream of being the best gamer, as Anne mentioned, have already taken her: the experience with a wide range of technology; building her own computer; travelling; friendships and connections. Look at all those different things that branched out just from her concentration and focus on that singular goal.
So now take that and instead of that tunnel vision, open up your imagination, and apply that to her transitioning, at some point, when ever she’s ready, into that world of paying work that you’re getting all those messages from. Imagine all the possibilities that exist related to that huge topic of just gaming. There is just so many ways that she might go from there. And, what’s really cool is that she’s going to continue attacking all those things with the same gusto that you’ve already seen, that same determination. When you think of it, yes, the market may be flooded, but that that’s because there is a voracious audience there waiting. She sounds like a wonderfully tenacious person who won’t be deterred by having lots of other people. I suspect a lot of those other people will drop out when things get challenging because they’re not used to pursuing their dreams with gusto. I think maybe that can help you open up your view a little bit and get past the fear. I wish her all the best. She sounds amazing.
ANNA: I mean, again, just kind of echoing to a certain extent, but some practicalities too, because the reality is, there are just so many jobs in the gaming field, I think it’s really hard for a lot of people to even fathom how many jobs there are. The skills learned in gaming translate so well to all areas, so this is incredibly rich, valuable time that she is spending with something she loves and we don’t even know where that’s going to lead her. That’s why I like Anne’s: ‘Let’s just focus right here in front of us and look at what she’s doing.’ I have also seen over and over again in our community that the quote ‘unlikely’ happens all the time. (Laughing) We have really big examples on national television and we have wonderful examples in small communities all over the U.S. So, I mean, it happens all the time. When we looks specifically at the gaming question I think it’s interesting because the unschooled child who has the time to focus on gaming is at a huge advantage. My friend’s son just came in third at U.S. Nationals for Pokkén Tournament, which is the Pokémon game for the Wii. He’ll be going to Worlds this weekend. The time he is able to devote clearly helps with mastery. You know, most other kids are having to squeeze it in after school or they are dealing with arbitrary limits set by their parents. I think that’s why we see so many, quote, ‘extraordinary’ accomplishments in our community because maybe it’s not even so extraordinary, it’s just what happens when someone is given the time to pursue their passions with abandon. Be that passion, cooking, photography, music, art, engineering or gaming. Time is the friend of mastery. That is something that we can protect and offer our children. That’s my thoughts on it.
ANNE: That’s fantastic! I love that!
PAM: I know! Question three is from Flore.
I live in France with my husband who is American and I am a mother of a wonderful, two-year-old, unschooled-to-be son. I have a question regarding a place I take him to, a place that he loves but which is located in a nursery or kindergarten. It consists of a two mornings a week, session, open to kids and parents from birth to six years old. Kids play there and have lot of fun. There’s no curriculum or programming involved but it does take place inside of a school building.
What is concerning is that my son now associates this place with school. When we walk by during the week and he sees other kids playing outside he wants to go to school and play with them. Is it a good idea to take him to such a place? I really don’t know what to do because on one hand he loves it. He meets friends, I meet parents and it’s a nice atmosphere. But on the other hand, I don’t want to give him a taste of something he’s not going to have. Could you help me with this question?
PAM: That’s definitely an interesting question, Flore. I can understand that right now he’s associating the fun playgroup with school because it’s happening in a school building. That’s logical. But, he’s only two. He’s going to learn and grow and change so much between now and when he’s six so be careful not to project his two-year-old thoughts into his six-year-old body because that’s where fears and worries can take over and cloud the picture as we’ve been talking about before.
Fears and worries projected into future really get in the way of seeing and understanding what’s going on now. If he loves it, it’s a nice atmosphere and you’re enjoying meeting other parents, it sounds wonderful. Enjoy it for today. You know, maybe six months from now, he may no longer enjoy going or 12 months from now it may be cancelled. So many other things may happen. We can’t predict what’s going to happen with that group any more than you can know that when your son is six he’s going to insist on going to school because he went to playgroup when he was two. So, just try and keep your focus in the moment, in the present. Enjoy this wonderful situation that you have with him now. Don’t worry. He’s going to have so many new impressions about what’s going on as he gets older and older, so try not to get yourself stuck in that moment.
ANNA: Yes, I agree. I am seeing the theme of ‘live in the moment’ all the time, but it really seems to be coming strong during this Q & A. Yes, I think it’s ‘focus on right now.’ I would follow his lead. If this is something he enjoys and you enjoy—enjoy it.
But you might at the same time also look for other ways to hang out with friends and play and do in lots of different environments in your town to find out what works for both of you. Then he’s seeing it and you are too in a variety of different ways so there isn’t just one way. So we’re not only seeing friends on the two mornings a week at the school. A lot of kids that are in school think that we just learn at school, but with our kids we are learning all the time, at midnight, or at three in the morning when they wake up with a weird question, or in the car on the way to something. I think, as he gets older seeing this rich environment that you are providing, it will just flow more easily. There’s just no way to predict for sure, so back to the moment of enjoying a two-year-old, which is so fun because they love everything. They love to explore. I love two-year-olds. (Laughing.)
ANNE: Ok, I have to tell you what’s in my head after listening to everybody. (Laughing) One of those cartoons like when you see what two different people are picturing and thinking and it’s completely different. Flore, you said, “I don’t want to give him a taste of something he’s not going to have.” So what he’s seeing what he’s having is a really, fun time at this place. You’re seeing what he’s not going to have, school, but all he’s seeing is that it is a really fun time. So that’s not what’s happening when you say, “I don’t want to give him a taste of what he’s not going to have.” He’s going to have a lot of fun times and that’s all he’s seeing it as right now and that’s fantastic.
As we’ve been saying, you just keep following that and, oh my gosh, you won’t even believe all the shifts that will happen to (laughter) … to have that fear completely leave your head at some point because there are so many other things coming into your lives, all wonderful because you are following him and his joy and I think it’s fantastic.
PAM: That’s such a great point because you do want him to have going forward what he has now if he’s enjoying it, having fun, making friends.
ANNE: It happens to be in a school. That’s the one word you can put in there: ‘a.’ It’s at ‘the’ school. It’s not at school. It’s at ‘the school’, it’s in ‘a school’ – you know what I mean? That’s a big difference.
PAM: Lissy’s Girl Guide meetings were at a school, in a gym. You may in the future have other activities that he enjoys. They just happen to be located in that spot.
ANNA: We have question four which is also anonymously submitted. The writer of question four gave us lots of details about her family. The three of us have read all of it but I’m going to summarise the first part for the podcast time considerations. It was lovely to read about each of her children. The writer is a single mum of three girls aged 10, 12 and 14. The 14-year-old has chosen to be in school. The younger girls are unschooling but still in the deschooling process. They seem to be enjoying their time deschooling; they all have a lovely connection and many passions. Here is the question portion of her submission.
My question would be, how do I get my 14-year-old to relax and make time for herself to explore something else? When I suggest unschooling because she is already anxious about how overloaded she knows she’s going to be in public high school. Her eighth-grade year was so busy; we barely saw her head out of her books. She worked very hard on so much stuff that she just had to memorize to test well. This created a wedge between all of us with her because it was overwhelming for her in addition to the uncharted territory of my first teenager in the house!
I don’t want to lose her again for all of that nonsense. I want her to learn on her own. She is so driven, and interesting, and interested in everything—mainly theatre. I’ve explained that I’d do whatever needed to help her put serious energy into that passion as well as any other she has. I think the system has scared her from leaving. Local families had a hard time digesting that my middle daughter was unschooling. “What does she do all day? How does she learn?”
I worry too many derogatory comments got into my eldest’s head. Plus we live in a very competitive, affluent community. I’m swimming against a rip tide here! I want her home away from the influence of the rat race to nowhere (we watched Race to Nowhere). She’s on the fence, it’s obvious. Just afraid to hop down on her sister’s side. I want to be more connected with her and I fear the intense overload she is heading for is going to have an adverse effect. I’m a very joyful, positive, happy 48-year old just wanting to savour the time we have here on this planet. Minimalist, and never a follower of the herd.
ANNA: So, you know there was a lot in the original piece about the family, and also in the question and I don’t know that there is a simple cut-and-dried answer, but I feel like she is being really clear about what she wants and for now it’s to be in school. If you feel like there is a fear piece that’s affecting her decision then maybe think about some different exposures like unschooling conferences, meeting other unschooling families, talking to other unschooled teens. There are books like The Teenage Liberation Handbook or things by Blake Boles, College without High School comes to mind if she is interested in college. He has some other ones too.
Then she can see that there are people all over the world choosing a variety of paths to get to different places. Then she can be choosing what works best for her instead of believing that there is only this one path. But I feel like she knows you aren’t a fan of school and even in the face of that, she’s still making that choice. So I would just look to keep things open, look for ways to connect and support her, because that takes you out the equation, in that she isn’t having to defend school to you. You can be a partner and a confidant, leaving her open to making the best decisions for herself.
Keeping that connection open, for me, would be the priority, because it will help you get through whatever comes next. I think if you’re saying: “Oh, this is a waste of time. Oh, why are you doing this?” You know, that type of negativity, then she is having to defend something. My guess is she has some of those thoughts on her own but I think it’s human nature that when we get backed into a corner we just kind of defend, even if we don’t necessarily believe what we are defending. It’s just kind of this gut response, so I think if you can back off from that and just be supportive of her journey it will give her time to really think about, “Hmm, ok, how does this work?”
Oh, this actually reminds me of a story about Pam, but maybe I won’t say it because I don’t know what you are going to say Pam, but I may chime back in with it because it was important in the same way. So, I’ll end there.
ANNE, PAM, AND ANNA: (Laughter)
ANNE: I loved hearing about your family. I agree with Anna, of course. I hear what you are saying and I feel like your desire to unschool against her wishes is probably doing as much harm as someone sending a child to school against their wishes. I love how you say you don’t want to lose her again and you want to be more connected to her. Oh my gosh, my heart… when you said you don’t want to lose her again, I feel that. But make sure you’re not pushing her away by continuing to put something in front of her that she doesn’t want to do right now. Even more that that, jump into why she wants to be in school. Completely validate the reasons why she wants to be in school. Let her know you understand her perspective. At her age, maybe she’s afraid. Obviously you say you live in this area where people are questioning you. So her school peers are doing the same, I’m sure. I’m sure that’s a big fear of hers.
I thought of the same thing Anna did about gathering unschoolers. If you know unschoolers, hanging out with them, and an unschooling conference is a great way to show her…not that you are trying to convince her, but this is for your path also, because you are on the unschooling path. The energy of unschooling conferences is really amazing. Families tend to have much more respectful, joyful interactions with each other than the schooled people. She would feel that energy difference probably.
I’m just remembering, the Live and Learn Conference, I don’t know what year it was, maybe 2005 or 2003, there was a teenager there and her family wanted to go to the unschooling conference to explore it. Her younger brother was interested and she was not. She walked around clutching her school books at the conference. I remember walking by her in the hallway. She was sitting, just clutching onto her school books. It was the conference, just the people there and the energy that she wanted to be a part of. Now she has a beautiful life, making a living, living her passion and she is a strong, unschooling advocate also. But again, that’s not where you want to project and end up. I’m just talking about this one example.
It’s all where your daughter is. The other thing I suggest is to live a definition of an unschooling life with her even though she is in school. Have the connection with her, with what she loves to do, in her shine. Get in there with her and collect information on theatre groups, maybe unschoolers have a theatre group. Go see live theatre with her. Ask her if she wants to skip a day of school to see a show with you or something. To offer all this stuff also might take some time for you to build up trust in her also so she’s not thinking that you’re still trying to get her out of school.
Once you validate that she does want to be in school and you understand that, then you can start with these other approaches. Really, there’s a way to do school in an unschooly way because you know the truth of it. She knows the truth of it. As long as she understands that she’s playing a game by being in school, you know, that’s even better to be an unschooler and to choose school. So, basically, don’t push her away by focussing on what you want. Understand her desires and perspective. She will be handed little pieces of what an unschooled life looks like because that’s what you’re living with your other children.
PAM: Yeah, that’s very cool. A couple things before I forget. I know this question was submitted a little while ago so it was before the recent episode I did with Alex Polikowsky, that’s episode number 32. (And the transcript.) We talked a lot about unschooling principles and ways to actively support a child who is choosing to go to school. So you might want to listen to that.
I just wanted to emphasize what Anne mentioned, helping her continue to pursue her interests even while she’s in school. Don’t hold her current interests hostage, as in, “If you came home, if you unschooled, we could do all these fun things that you want to pursue.” I know she is busy with school, show her you are still trying to help her figure out ways to do all these things. Like, say, school is an interest of hers. If you treat it that way, and theatre is an interest and all the other things that she enjoys doing.
So, open up instead of getting caught in that school no-school question. I think that will be one of the biggest things right up front, is finding ways to connect with your daughter. Don’t think: “Oh she’s going to school. I’m going to lose my connection with her.” It doesn’t need to be that way. Yes, you’ve got less hours in the day that you are spending with her, but those don’t need to break your connection. It’s not one or the other. You can continue to stay connected with her. Meet her where she is without that overlay that you have of wishes for her. You know, you’re wanting to get her to relax. You can’t ‘get’ her to do anything.
You can be supportive of her choices for school. I talked about that with Alex. Don’t be calling school nonsense and belittling her choices because, yes, it’s human nature to feel defensive when someone is dissing something that you’re choosing. So even if you can just relax that pressure on her, she will feel that. She will feel you being behind her instead of trying to convince her to take a different path and when that falls away and she’s starting to feel fully supported, even when she’s including school in the picture like she is right now, that’s when she’ll start to feel like it’s really her choice. She’ll be able to start to consider what it is that she is getting out the experience and start really layering that with the consequences, the pressure, and the time. Those kinds of things.
But right now, I don’t think she can take that all in and feel like she is making a free choice. Right now, if she chooses to leave school, that’s about making you happy, not about making herself happy. So, I think if you can get there first, and don’t hide your unschooling life from her. Try and live both of them happily, side-by-side.
ANNE: And include her in it. I want to go back to the validation point because we talked about this in one of the previous Q & A episodes. I brought up about radical validation and parents are so afraid that if they validate a child’s desires and needs, that the parents don’t understand or think they don’t want in the house, that shit will hit the fan and it will get worse and worse and worse. It will be like, “Hi, you said school was great and everything.”
That’s not what we’re doing here. It’s her need to be deeply seen for why she wants to be in school and even it’s a fear that’s holding her there, that is really difficult for teenagers to articulate especially if, again, you’re trying to get her out of school. Maybe she doesn’t feel safe to voice her fear about leaving. Maybe she doesn’t feel there’s a safe space to voice her desires—what she is getting out of school, like Pam was saying. To see it from her perspective is the most important thing you can do first of all, at this time. From there, you’ll have to build up trust again and it’ll come as long as you are on her side and she can feel that you are authentically on her side with whatever she chooses. While you’re doing that, again as we said, live your unschooling life and have her join in because you are one family supporting each other. That’s what it’s all about.
PAM: Did I hit what you were thinking of Anna?
ANNA: (Laughing) No, I mean it’s a story from a while ago but it applies to this and it applies to other things but it was basically when Lissy first told you she wanted to move to New York City, and she was 17 or 18 at the time. Well, a natural reaction is like, “Oh my gosh! That’s another country. That’s a giant city!” (Laughing) But you were able to say, “You know what? I can just be here and sit with this and be supportive of this.” And it gave her the freedom.
What I loved about the exchange was that it gave her the freedom to then come to you and say, “But what about this? Do you think I’d like this part, or do you think I’d like that? Do you think this would be hard?” You know, she was able to come to you with those things, instead of you going, “Can you do that?” You know, blah blah blah. So it just really changes that dynamic. You became that partner, which of course you’ve always been, but just for this example for other people to see, that’s how it works. Then you’re the partner.
Where as, I think if Pam had gone in with, “You’re too young! That’s another country! We can’t do that. We can’t afford that.” Whatever the things might have been the blocks, then she would have been like, “Yes I can!” So you see this defence and also this separation. So that’s the beauty of the exchange that we’re talking about – like that deep validation of: you want to be in New York City; you want to be in public high school; I see you, I hear you, I’m here to support you. Even if it’s something we don’t understand. So, that was that.
ANNE: I was telling someone this past weekend about our unschooling life and how when difficulties come up, when a child becomes dissatisfied with something and our take on it is, “Oh that’s great. What’s this showing us?” You know what I mean? And it’s the same with when they like something. Our response is, “That’s great, let’s look into this. Let’s see how you can do this.” Instead of, “Oh God!” You know?
PAM: Yeah, that’s a great point. I remember that now. (Laughing) It was such a huge thing because at first you have all these things swimming around like the questioner does. She has all these reasons why she doesn’t think her daughter should be in school and I had all those reasons why my 17-year-old was thinking of doing this. It scared the crap of me, you know? But realising, “You know what? We have time.” There is always time in our days. Just letting it sit because then they get to let it sit. They get to think about it. And now she has all those skills for investigating, for considering, there’s a better word, for considering a big choice like that. So she’ll be able to take those skills and move them forward into the next big choice, and the next big choice. I swear, everything I was worried about, she ended up coming to me and we would have conversations about it. Once we were deep in conversations, I would bring more of my points but, I swear, in the end she thought of all of it. (Laughing)
Ok, let’s move on the last question. Would you like to read that, Anne?
ANNE: I would love to. It’s from Jennifer. She says …
Hi. We have two daughters, Talia, age 4, and Naomi, 16 months. We’ve been toying with the idea of unschooling for a while now and I’m excited by the possibilities. However, we wanted to check out the local public school and we went to the open house. She was enthralled and of course wants to go to school and be where all the other kids are. I fear, there’s that word again, she may resent us for keeping her away and yet my husband feels that as parents we are responsible to make the decision based on her best interests.
How do we decide as a family? We have had many conversations with Talia about homeschooling and what it could look like, including being involved in extra curricula’s that she is interested in, like gymnastics, soccer, singing lessons. She also enjoyed a half-day, summer camp for a week recently and we explained that these sorts of activities would be like school for her. She loves all these things and we only put her in activities she has shown she likes and she wants to be there. Yet, she maintains she wants to go to public school. When asked why, her response was, “I like the snacks.” We saw the school kids having their lunch during the open house.
Given her limited understanding of what school truly is and our responsibility as parents to help her thrive I’m unsure about giving her complete autonomy over this decision. However, that seems to go against unschooling philosophy of letting the child lead. I would love your insight and advice.
ANNE: Hi Jennifer. I love that you are excited about the possibilities of unschooling and I had to look back as I was reading this out loud and make sure Talia was only four as I thought she was. (Laughing) Gymnastics, soccer, singing lessons…wow! She has such a rich, full life, which is fantastic because it will help you with this.
I think it’s really sweet that she said she wants to go because she likes the snacks at school. It really does show how the surface of what she was shown at a school open-house is not revealing the truth underneath it, nor can a child of four years understand all the truth that’s beneath. You know, you go to an open house and this happy, shiny façade that the school shows to the kids and they think that this is what it’s going to be like. With an older child in this situation, who knows a little more about unschooling, and who knows the truth about school, there is the understanding of what they are walking into. Yet, what a does a four-year-old see? Fun and snacks. Everything about it looks completely different from the life she is living at home. She is maybe completely fascinated by that idea, which is understandable because kids are natural scientists. She see’s something interesting and she wants to learn more about it.
Personally I would go so far myself as to say that it’s almost dangerous to allow a child to go school at that age when you know about unschooling and you want to unschool. Mostly because I have known kids who have gone to school that young and it took them years to heal from even the shortest experience with school. A friend of mine had her child in school for two days because he wanted to try it and he was very traumatised and it took him literally years to get over that. Also, they’re handing young, impressionable children the incorrect definition of learning. The place is filled with people who think that building they are in is the place that kids need to go to learn everything. That’s just simply not the truth.
I would say to distract her with the best, damn snacks you can think of at home. (Laughing) And just focus on living the unschooling life that you were telling her about it. She’s four. She doesn’t need a meeting about it. She needs to see proof and evidence in front of her about this fantastic life that she could be living, and you already are living. The snacks, the activities, anything she likes, most of all she really needs a deep and meaningful and fun connection and relationship with you. Again, she’s four, it’s what we talked about before, that things will come up and life will shift and everything, and I’m wondering if she’s even moved on from it by the time we’re answering this question. (Laughing)
ANNA: (Laughing) That’s what I was thinking.
ANNE: Your excitement and enthusiasm are so beautiful, so just start living that life and don’t bring up the word “school” again. If she brings up the word “school,” maybe buy a workbook or something and have it in the house and play around with that. Then move on to the snack again. You know what I mean? It’s just going to be so flowing with her that I think you’re putting a lot of weight on this decision where the focus should just be your amazing, free, joyful lives.
PAM: One thing that caught my attention is when you talked about going against the unschooling philosophy of letting the child lead. I just wanted to point out that I don’t think of unschooling as letting the child lead because that phrasing just gives an impression that the parents are sitting back. That they’re less involved. Unschooling really is about actively connecting with them, being with them and helping them accomplish their goals.
So when you actually look at your question and what you said, her goal is those cool snacks, right? So help her enjoy them, as Anne said. Buy them, make them, find similar food, play with them and make snacks at home, with her if she’s interested, that she enjoys even more. Use that as your low bar. Use that snack comment, not as, “Oh my gosh! We need to keep her away from school.” But use it as a great clue to something that she might enjoy, something new and exciting you can bring to her life.
Over the next while, don’t mention school. If you keep bringing it up and trying to convince her that, “Oh, but if you don’t go to school, then this is what we can do, or this is what we can do.” Don’t talk about it, just do it. Do those things, because if you keep talking about it there’s a good chance that you’ll set up a power struggle that you’ll both be locked into, making this whole question of school/not school way bigger than it needs to be. Instead, pay attention to her. Listen to her. Play with her. Do those fun things. Eat those fun snacks. Find what catches her interest next week and the week after that.
Maybe she has forgotten about school already. Because that is what she’s interested in the moment. Satisfy that interest. Play with that interest. Connect with her over that interest.
There’s another point about her maybe losing interest already. We can get so caught up in things being life-long choices. As she gets older, and that becomes something that’s important to her, it can be a choice that she makes for a while, that she can leave. I totally get that this can feel like a huge, massive, life-changing decision right now. Just realise that it’s not a forever one. Release the pressure. Stop talking about it, because that kind of stuff is what clouds our vision, tunnel vision, locks us in. Rather than creatively seeing the possibilities of all the fun stuff we can do today, with them, to live their life and make it fun and enjoyable. School just kind of drops out of the picture. That’s what your goal is anyway, so dive right in with both feet, I think.
ANNA: Yeah. I think that’s a good sum up of some of the stuff we have talked about before. Children are so great at living in the moment. They can really be our guide to that, to bringing us right there, so my guess is she probably has moved on unless you’ve continued to bring it up, because it was something that was interesting. You know, “Oh mum took me to this place, and they did cool things and they had cool snacks, so I’m interested in that.” But, oh my gosh, then she’s going to be interested in whatever you’re exposing to her next and that she’s discovering on her own. That’s just the beauty of that age. I think, again, Pam really hit it, you know; don’t have this weight of this decision that’s being made for the rest of your life. It was something she saw and now move on and now expose her to other things. I think you will find that kind of diffuses it a bit. Yeah, that just my thoughts about it.
ANNE: Yeah, along those lines of exposing her to other things, that’s what I was thinking of, along your child-led learning thing. Here’s the size of her world where she’s had day camp and she’s had these activities that you’ve seen she’s been interested in, but this is why it’s not just child-led learning because now we can expand their world and we can be with them and expand their definition of life with us and everything.
When I was talking about her being drawn to school as a science-experiment-kinda-thing, so expand that to the larger world and fulfil her desires for something unique in that way. Hop on a city bus and go to a children’s museum. Go to a restaurant with her and order only snacks. You know, there’s really cool ways that you can expand her picture and definition of her world that shows the larger world versus the small world of school. It’s not like those are the only choices between school or what she’s usually been doing. There’s a whole world waiting for you and it’s exciting to me to think of everything that’s ahead of you with her being four years old.
ANNA: I know! Something Anne said really brought something else home. It may just be some kind of introspection, and for other people listening too, to think about. I think a trap that people fall into with kids early on is for example, a child says, “I like ballet.” And the next day they’re in ballet lessons. And it’s like, really, they might have just liked the pink tutu, they might want to dance with you around the living room. They might have just seen the neighbour kid walking by. Seeing that at four, she’s been in gymnastics, soccer, singing lessons, day camp. What I think is interesting about it is it really does teach children that the learning doesn’t come from us. We have to go to a place with an expert that then will teach us. So maybe just look a little bit of that and decide, “How can we become the explorers again?” That’s the beauty of that age. Let’s explore the world together. So that gives them the driving seat to their learning and to their life. So I just wanted to throw that out there after Anne just reminded me of that.
ANNE: An example of that is when Sam was interested in karate. We don’t just jump into classes. My kids never really liked classes but for some reason he did want to explore this. So I bought him the gi, is that what it’s called? (Laughing)
PAM: (Laughing) Yep.
ANNE: We took him to a class and, oh goodness, it’s a very strict environment. Nothing that he was used to and they had him start out running around the place. I could just see, little-boy-Sammy’s face deteriorate into tears and when they were done running, I took him outside and I said, “What do you want to do?” He said, “Go home.” We got in the car and never went back. You know, no word that I had prepaid or bought him anything, nothing. Just that it was too much, too soon. When we got home I looked on eBay and I found a Power Ranger’s karate video, and it was perfect because he loved Power Rangers. That probably would have been enough for him from the beginning. Exactly, a very good point, Anna.
PAM: Michael talked about karate for at least a year before he wanted to actually go to a dojo. He considered it. He was eight or nine years old, at this point too. When they were younger, they weren’t drawn to class environments.
I just wanted to emphasise that piece, that’s one thing I recommend a lot when people are deschooling, first learning about unschooling, is at this point, when a child expresses an interest in something I would specifically, not, for a while, jump to a class, because you as a parent are just starting to figure out different ways to learn things. If you jump to the class, you’re giving your child the message that the class is the best environment to learn, and it really isn’t true. Maybe you haven’t deschooled enough to see all the other possibilities, but this is the perfect time to challenge yourself to come up with more creative ways to satisfy that interest. I mean, maybe down the road, a more formal environment is where you end up, but it’s not the first place you need to start.
ANNE: I want to go back to the brilliant word you thought of when you were talking about Lissy, “considering” and you used it again with Michael. It is very appropriate for our unschooled kids, I believe because they are such thoughtful and authentic “considerators.” (Laughing)
PAM: Love it! (Laughing)
ANNE: Because they have this wonderful life, this wonderful, free life that is respected. They are seen. Anything outside of that, my kids always took great consideration before they went to anything. Most of the time we did not do outside classes or groups or anything because they valued their own space, they didn’t want to hand anything over, they valued owning things themselves and that’s huge. That’s huge for our unschooled kids. That they know this: that they own their time and they own their decisions and they don’t want to hand that over. My boys being 22 and 25, they still know this. It serves them greater and greater every year as they grow and get older and the decisions get more substantial. It’s something that they carry and I love that thought of them being the amazing considerators.
PAM: Write that one down. (Laughing)
PAM: And on that note, I think that is a great place for us to finish up this month. I want to thank you both so very much for answering questions with me. It’s always great to chat about unschooling with you!
Just a reminder for our listeners, there are links in the show notes for anything we have mentioned in the episode. And as always, if you would like to submit a question for the Q & A show, just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link. Wishing everyone a great day! Bye.
ANNE: Bye everyone!