PAM: Hi everyone, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Glenna McAulay, Hi Glenna!
PAM: It is wonderful to have you on the show. I met Glenna and her family many years ago now and we kept in touch through unschooling conferences and gatherings and Facebook. It’s been so cool watching her girls grow up through all these little snippets of life.
And this week Glenna has graciously agreed to chat with me about unschooling on a budget. In my experience, while it’s about the money, it’s also a mindset thing, so Glenna and I are going to dive into that, as well as brainstorm lots of ideas for low cost unschooling.
But to get us started, Glenna …
Can you share with us a bit about your family and how you came to unschooling?
GLENNA: Sure. Jim and I decided that our children, our future children, would not attend school long before we had kids. And then we didn’t think about it any more because it wasn’t relevant, right, because we didn’t have kids.
Then we had Persephone, and we were just living our life with her, but when she was three years old, everybody kept saying to me, “Is she going to go to school next year? Is she going to go to school next year?” and I panicked. I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is something I haven’t even thought about,” and I don’t know really what happened, we ended up forgetting our plan and honest to goodness we were researching international baccalaureate schools. From one extreme to the other, right?
And, all of a sudden, we were like, “Wait a minute, we’ve already discussed this…the kid is not going to school. Done.” And so we didn’t really think about it again until she turned six, which is the compulsory school age in Ontario, but nobody hassled us and so, at that point we had Olive, who was three and a half then, so they just continued to go on their merry way, and we now laugh about the IB incident, I mean schools! They’re so silly. [laughs]
PAM: I know, it’s so easy to just get caught up in this is what you do, this is what you do and then think, “Oh crap, this wasn’t what the plan was.”
GLENNA: I know, it was crazy! I don’t know, I have no idea, I’m going to claim temporary insanity there.
PAM: I always love to hear what kids are up to so …
I was hoping that you could share some of the things your kids are interested in and how they’re pursuing them.
GLENNA: Persephone tends to become what she’s interested in and currently she’s really into Mario Kart for the Wii. So after she’s opened all the courses and characters she’s started to race the Nintendo ghosts and beat them, so now she races her own ghost to reduce her time and it’s pretty cool to watch her figure out how wide to make her turns, or where the shortcuts are or whatever because she does keep beating her own time.
She’s often in the craft room creating something as a complement to her Mario Kart interest; she’s made a great Toadette costume which. If you’re friends with me on Facebook you may have seen…
GLENNA: Today she’s actually wearing her Luigi outfit, she rarely wears pants and she certainly doesn’t wear jeans, but she took a couple of pairs of pants that were too small for Olive, cut them up and sewed them together into a nice skirt and she’s got a purple shirt on and she’s made herself a little purple bow with the Luigi L, a gamma really. So she’s wearing that and doing her thing. Her Toadette outfit she made, again repurposing some clothes and stuff. It’s fantastic!
Lots of perler bead action happens in our house, so she adds a one-up mushroom to her clothes made of perler beads, she’s worn other perler beads related to the Mario universe have become part of her accessories.
She has a great collection of dolls. My personal favourites don’t have any facial features, which I think is very cool. They all wear handmade dresses, one of them even has a vest that she knit herself for it.
She’s always making stuff, but currently it’s Mario, so she’s into that. There’s a racetrack in our front yard right now made of a path in leaves, we often mulch the leaves in the fall but we never rake them up. We haven’t got around to mulching the leaves yet so there’s a raked path through them, it’s a course out in the front yard right now.
PAM: Like a little walking path …
GLENNA: Or racing!
PAM: Well, or running.
GLENNA: So that’s what Sephie’s up to. Olive this summer built a bike. Jim, her dad/my husband, had always wanted to build a car, so he finally did. It took him a few years, but he did it. Olive hung out with him during the production, she asked questions, she participated however she could and one of the things she asked was how did he get started fabricating, and he said, well, he built a bike. He had pictures of this chopper he built when he was a kid and so she wanted to do that too.
So they salvaged together some old bikes that were destined for the dump, cut them up, welded them together, made two-wheeled magic! It was very cool watching her figure out the rake angle, because too small an angle put the handlebars at a weird spot, but too wide meant she couldn’t take corners.
She’s always been a bit of a maker. She got her first set of real tools at four. Toy tools don’t really fix or create things, right? So we bought her real, scaled-down tools from Ikea. They’re perfect for small hands, but they’re not stereotypically girly, because she does not respond well to that at all.
So she’s been making stuff. She’s got in her room right now a collection of coin-operated lego machines that dispense treats. One is sized for Timbits, the other is Nerds, I think there’s one I’m forgetting. They have little hoppers where the stuff is loaded up and then when you insert the dime, that sets of a chain reaction that results in the treat being dropped out the little area…
PAM: She built those?
GLENNA: Yeah, and then you can retrieve the coins and do it again, it’s really great!
She built a step to go next to my bed because our tiny dog, Sharky can’t jump up on it, so the stair allows the dog to come independently into my bed, which is lovely.
Both of them enjoy stage productions, currently they are at drama class right now actually, its an all-day thing. Sephie likes to be onstage and Olive prefers back stage stuff. That’s what they are up to.
PAM: That’s very cool, such a wide range right? That’s really interesting to see how they have a totally different set of interests but they’re both actively pursuing them. Like, hands-on, actively pursing them.
GLENNA: We are fortunate to have the space, we have a dedicated craft room stocked with various supplies and it comes in handy.
PAM: Question 3; let’s take a bit of a shift here.
Unschooling families are definitely choosing to live a different kind of lifestyle, as you’ve just been describing, which is awesome. It’s one in which they prioritise spending time with their children, giving their children the time and space to do things. What that looks like definitely varies widely by family, maybe they’re living on one income, maybe they’re a single parent, they’re working at home, but typically what comes with that is often a lower family income. So I was thinking we could talk a bit about the challenges of that.
GLENNA: The first year when people have a baby often involves some kind of mat[ernity] leave income, but not everyone goes back to paid work, right? I know I didn’t. And I think that’s really cool. Because we actually never had two incomes once we had children. It was definitely an adjustment, “Hey there’s less money, but we have a baby!” But we never had two incomes and a child that got reduced to one income and a child. So it was just an entirely different situation than what we previously had.
There are challenges certainly, but I think it’s because, not so much that there’s one income, but the challenge is what can you do with an income of that size. We try to operate without judgement, just accept the consequences of our choices and work within that framework we created for our family. In our situation, we had both been working and I was pregnant, I had already arranged that I was going to be leaving at seven months and go on to mat[ernity] leave because I didn’t like being there, and I wanted to be a full-time mom, even a prenatal full-time mom. At that time though, the department that Jim was heading was closed. And then he was, okay, forget this high-tech business, we’ll go low tech, do what we’ve got to do.
And it was difficult. We kind of panicked a little bit and we sold our house to move further west from where we could get lots of house for not a lot of money, and we lived off the proceeds for however long. We were all together and it was great, we loved it. We’ve done it a few times, we’re on our fifth house now.
Jim will say he “unjobs,” we have something and then he will do whatever. Because he likes to make things and do things but he doesn’t do well with the typical 9 to 5 structure. All of us in our family are identified as being on the autism spectrum, so we kind of do things a little different and have different tolerances than typical people. So that is what we have found works for us, is doing what needs to be done when we need to do it and then kind of coasting for a bit, and then doing something else. Do you know what I mean?
PAM: Yeah, no, that sounds awesome. That sounds very aware of yourselves and your situation, right?
GLENNA: Yeah, years ago on television actually, we saw a woman who had written a book who actually encouraged you not to buy it but instead go and rent it from the library, and she was about 35 years old and completely retired. She had just made sure that she had no debt, and she would do temp work, stock up on some money and then quit until she needed some more. And I think we were actually really really inspired by that. You can just sort of take a step sideways and get off that crazy rat race, and she was doing it and it was amazing.
PAM: Yeah, that’s very cool.
GLENNA: Our situations are certainly different from this woman’s but that was kind of the same guiding idea, we’ll do what needs to be done. You mentioned a mind shift, there’s definitely a mind shift, because you are forced to look at what’s truly important. Where do you want your dollars going?
PAM: Exactly. It’s about being self-aware and knowing what you want. I’ll share a bit of our transition too. I was working and the kids were going to school. You were in Ontario and you’d heard about homeschooling, I hadn’t! So I went back to work but my mind shift was happening as I was seeing the kids in school and searching for something better and something better. I actually left work before I’d heard of homeschooling, it wasn’t working for me, I wanted to spend more time with my kids, even with them being in school.
As we were trying to work out how we were going to transition from two incomes to one income, I took a leave from work. I found out I could take a one-year leave. I basically had to say if you don’t give me the leave, I’m going to have to quit, but I’d much rather have the leave because then I knew I could come back, and I said to them, if it doesn’t work out I can come back and work and they were happy because they didn’t want me to leave in the first place.
So that’s what we did, we had that piece. And I was lucky, or whatever you call it, I worked for Ontario Hydro it was back then, and they were downsizing, and while I was on leave they offered a package for people who wanted to leave. So I managed to take a package about eight months into it. So we had a bit more of a nest egg. We didn’t have the back up of me being able to return to the job, but we had this back up. For us it was step by step, being aware of the transition and what might help us, back up plans A and B so that we had things that we could do so that we didn’t feel trapped…which leads us nicely into the next question:
In my experience, when money challenges arise, fears can quickly create tunnel vision, because our minds can shout no no, we can’t do that, we can’t do that, and all of a sudden we feel trapped in our situation. Every time that’s happened to me I found that I really need to actively shift from seeing things through that lens of lack so that I’m open and feeling creative about possibilities. When I feel stuck and fearful, I don’t see any possibilities, you’ve got that tunnel vision, oh my gosh, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to find a way out of this and that’s all there is. So I was wondering, have you found that kind of shift as well?
GLENNA: It’s a necessary shift. The knee-jerk no is really very easy, but it’s also so depressing. I mean, it’s really sad. So I think creative problem solving is super important. And that’s something I remember from my days at school, getting to go off on the special day and you’re in groups and you’ve been given a task and you quickly realise that each group independently is not going to be able to complete the task. You must merge together and that was always the goal. Creative problem solving.
I certainly know that lens of lack though. I find it helpful to think about it in terms of comparison though. Lack, compared to whom. It doesn’t really matter. Right? Sure, my life looks way different from my neighbours or whoever, but so what? Who cares? That is something that I have to keep remembering; it doesn’t look the same as everybody else’s, it’s not the same as everybody else’s, but does it matter? No, it really doesn’t. Are we homeless? No, that’s great, do we have enough food? Yes! Those are the things that I need to think about because it’s really not a great place to be when you’re stuck in the lens of lack and everything is terrible. That’s not productive at all.
PAM: I think often I notice when I look back on those times when I was feeling fearful, to me it was really like…remember when you said that at first, all of a sudden you guys started looking at the IB programs right? Because it’s that shame that comes when you are confronted with a conventional expectation, I think. And it’s really that shame piece in that “Oh, I’m not doing what’s expected,” and I find for me anyway that really closes me down when I’m feeling that.
And yeah, it’s that exact shift, remembering why I’m choosing this lifestyle for our family. Remembering I’m prioritising relationships and like you said, so what if I don’t have those other things, this is what I’m choosing to value more than that.
GLENNA: I think it’s hard to think of lack without it being compared to something otherwise is it even lack? Maybe that’s too philosophical.
PAM: It is a mindset thing! It’s crazy though, the difference when you can shift out of that, the possibilities that you see, it’s just amazing.
GLENNA: You feel so different, we are no strangers to financial stress by any means, and you know, your muscles get tight and it’s awful, but when everybody’s on the right page and we’re identifying what we want, what needs to happen, how we can get there—it feels so good.
PAM: I know, and nothing’s actually changed, other than your mind.
GLENNA: I know! Still sitting there in your living room, or whatever, yeah, it’s fantastic. It’s important to try and stay there always.
PAM: I’m getting a lot faster at finding myself. Noticing when that’s happening and shifting, so five minutes, but it takes a lot of practice to get there.
GLENNA: For sure. Because the messages are strong that we receive.
PAM: Next question…
When it comes to conversations with our kids, even with less income, it still doesn’t need to be about saying no. That comes from what we were talking about. For me it’s helped to remember not to use money as the first filter when questions come up, but as one of the last ones. Because as we were saying, just saying no shuts down the conversation so much doesn’t it.
GLENNA: Absolutely. It shuts it completely down. There’s in fact no conversation.
I certainly see that too many blanket noes because of a small disposable income might lead to feelings of inadequacy. Like, I really don’t think it would take too long to think, “Oh, no I can’t provide x,y and z, maybe the kids would be better in school.”
I’m really happy that government schooling is not the best environment for our girls, but if my convictions weren’t so strong, that would be a huge battle. I mean the whole conversation would play out in my head incessantly, I know it would. But it isn’t useful.
PAM: One of the things that I found really helpful to keep my mindset clear is that when I have conversations about money with the kids, or when we’re talking about stuff that we’re wanting to do or wanting to get, is that I talk about money very matter of factly.
Basically it’s just another constraint, like Joseph doesn’t like to go places with lots of crowds, if we go there Mike wants to be home in time for karate. It’s just one of those other things that meshes in as we’re figuring out our path forward. So, it’s never never about no, we can’t do that, it’s this is part of the picture, this is what we have to consider, so maybe the timeline would be different. If it’s something that they wanted to go to now, maybe it would have to be next time. But it’s never about nope, sorry, can’t do that. Ever.
GLENNA: Or maybe it’s something the kids themselves are going to need to pitch in for, simply because mom and dad don’t have the available funds for whatever it is. If it’s important enough, it’s something that they could consider.
PAM: Exactly. And discussing it as, you know, here’s what the constraints are, leaves that possibility open as things to consider.
GLENNA: That’s true, that’s true. I think it’s really all about conversation. I mean, we have conversations all the time. We have dad home so much of the time because we’ve chosen that. Now what that means is that we don’t have a huge ton of disposable income, so we have to make the choices, right, of what’s important to our family. We can do this, or this. Or we can do these two small things but not this one big thing. They are part of that conversation because it affects them. They need to be part of that conversation, I don’t think it’s fair otherwise.
PAM: Exactly, and you know, not only fair as in we’re these human beings living together, they also learn so much from those conversations, that they’ll be able to take with them for the rest of their lives. That’s a good skill!
GLENNA: Why not! They have to, they have their bank accounts, they have money at home and money in the bank, they can choose to spend that however they like. They’re free to save it. They don’t have bills, we do, fair enough, and we just all work together.
With my kids it sometimes helped to shift perspective from consumer to DIYer. As we come to know our kids more deeply and understand the why behind their requests, part of these conversations that we’re talking about, we can sometimes help satisfy that motivation more quickly, maybe while we’re saving up for the thing and we can continue to play with the possibilities in the interim, figuring out other ways to satisfy their curiosity, or what it is they’re wanting to accomplish whatever goal they have. And sometimes it’s super fun for them to work out how to make their own versions of things. That works really well with your kids right? Has that been your experience?
GLENNA: Yes, absolutely. And we are, I don’t know how different this is from other people, Jim has a background in manufacturing engineering and also fine art. So he can make and do so much, that’s just who he is. Left to my own devices, I’d probably just go without, but he’s always trying to figure out how he can make stuff happen. I love that our girls have him and all his resources and stuff. Want a new bike? Let’s make one! Oddly shaped gift to wrap? Let’s go through the recycling and make a customised package. That’s not unheard of, it’s quite common over here.
The girls have made their own board games, videos, Sephie did a DVD of videos to go with their original songs that they’d made. I love these sorts of projects, they’re really fun. Our family does go through an epic amount of perler beads, because we have melted plastic representations of all sorts of things around the house so they can carry it with them, or wear it, or get into it.
I don’t know how conscious it is, but it is how they stay connected to the thing, whatever the thing may be. Olive made a collection of Poke balls from styrofoam spheres and paint and they’re all lined up on her shelf in her room, and this immersion in her interest has always been present.
Although he’s not a licensed mechanic, Jim does stuff, I mean, he made a car, he fixes our cars. They see him change the oil, do the brakes, whatever he can do he does himself. That saves a lot of money. I mean, he does it because he can, not everybody can, but certainly that goes into part of the bigger framework. They see doing stuff for yourself rather than paying somebody else, if you can do it, why not do it yourself. Do you know what I’m saying?
So that’s just part of who we are, I wish I could knit better, I’d be knitting our clothes, right, I mean our sweaters. But everyone has their handmade scarves.
PAM: It’s all that balance of our time, our money, our skills and how we want to divide them up. I mean you could probably be a better knitter if you wanted to spend more time practicing it, and if somebody wants to learn how to change the oil in their car I’m sure there’s probably a YouTube video for their car.
I remember I used to do it when I was in high school, I would change my own oil and stuff like that. It all boils down to our choice, we can choose how to manage our time and our money and our skills every single day.
GLENNA: Yes and it does, for us anyway, it does certainly tie in to what that leaves available in funds. So buying a quart, a quart? of oil, I don’t know, not my department, but buying a quart of oil or whatever and some filters is far cheaper than taking a vehicle to the garage and spending the money to get it done.
And there’s also, hey look what Dad’s doing, you want to get in on this and see how it works? It’s all there for the taking.
PAM: One thing I wanted to mention here too, I thought, in the spirit of DIY, one thing to remember when a child expresses an interest, certainly when people are coming to unschooling, is it’s not to necessarily jump to lessons as your first response as the best way to nurture that interest. Because there’s just so many ways to nurture interests that don’t come with as much expense. Like I know, right now, for the last year or so Michael has been learning guitar through YouTube videos. And not because it’s a second choice, but because it’s a way that he enjoys and meets the needs that he has right now.
When the kids were younger, I remember I rented musical instruments from the local music store for a month or two, just for them to play around with and see if they were interested before jumping in. I think staying away from lessons for a while to help your creative juices start to flow is so helpful.
Like an interest in dance doesn’t mean you have to sign your child up for dance lessons right away. I mean, you could get videos, books, maybe all they want is just a costume to dress up in and dance around the living room. Those things aren’t second best because we can’t afford lessons right now. There’s so many ways to nurture an interest that don’t necessarily need a big outlay of cash right up front.
GLENNA: It’s true, I don’t know, go dancing? Have a party? It’s true, we have instruments around the house and Sephie has taken a shining to a keyboard. She absolutely resists formal lessons because that’s who she is, she doesn’t like that. Our keyboard has a little display, so every time you press a key it shows you where on the staff it is so she’s able to sit down and—we buy her sheet music, because that’s what she wants, Mario universe music for instance—she’ll look at it and figure out where the keys are and she’ll match it up to make sure on the little display, and she’ll play. She plays in an unorthodox style, if you ever have opportunity to see her play the keyboard, her hands go in weird ways. I don’t play, I don’t know how to read music so I don’t know how it’s supposed to go, but I do know your elbow doesn’t generally stick out in front of you because your hand is backwards. But it works for her.
Lessons, really, she didn’t want them in the first place and I think at this point they would be really hard for her because she’s so used to being in her own way. I can see that somebody might say that was doing a bit of a disservice to her but she’s quite happy and she plays music and what more do I want? Is she happy playing music? Great! If she wanted more we would look into it. I know people who could teach this, there’s always the phonebook, go and look them up or whatever. But that actually isn’t something she’s been interested in.
PAM: You know what I love throughout the call, it’s helpful for people to see how, when you say, her interest is Mario Kart and people can think, “Oh my gosh, she shouldn’t spend so much time,” but look at all the different things that she’s doing through the lens of Mario Kart. Music and arts and crafts and all sorts of things
GLENNA: I remember thinking back in the very early days that my job was not to teach her, not to give her the answers but to teach her how to find them. When we had…I don’t even know which particular game it was…Super Mario Bros Wii I think it was. She was stuck on a level and having a really hard time with something. And she was doing it over and over and over again. And that was fine, that’s great. And then I looked over and she was sitting there with the iPad and she was googling how to get past whatever the stumbling block was. And I thought, you know what? I did my job. She’s trying and trying, she tried as much as she could on her own and when she needed a little help she knew where to go. And I thought, really, that’s terrific. That’s it, right there.
We went on this little kick, there is a curriculum, a history curriculum, Story of the World. It’s actually kind of cool, there’s big activity books that go along with whatever. We have three of the books we don’t do anything formal but we like going through the activity things. And there was this race for Mesopotamia game, and I watched them, we were all playing together. They knew what was going on, talking about history “Oh there we go again, somebody thinks they can take over the world, and then it gets too big and then they lose power and then somebody else does the same thing” and I was like, you’ve got this, you see the patterns, you understand. This is all good. I just love when I’m aware of those moments that they’ve got the concept of something.
PAM: Oh I know. And again, we’re back to conversations. When you have conversations with them, I mean, the stuff that they know just floors you sometimes doesn’t it?
GLENNA: It really does! There was something the other day, for the life of me I’m not going to remember what it is, but I was just like, how do you know that? Persephone was like, I just know it. Okay, very good!
PAM: And seeing them put it together, right?
GLENNA: Yeah, it’s great, there are things that I’m like, I didn’t make that connection, I’m so happy we’re talking because now I know it.
PAM: I know, I learn all the time. Okay, we should probably move on to the next question.
I know there were a couple of conventional expectations that I needed to work through over the first couple of years, and one of those was that new is better. Which led me initially to judge myself as the failure if I couldn’t provide those shiny new things. We we’re talking about the shame a little bit earlier as well, and that’s definitely very prevalent in our society as well, isn’t it?
GLENNA: Absolutely. It’s prevalent, it’s manufactured and I think it’s unnecessary. Yes, we get all these messages that new and shiny and look at the advertising, we’re supposed to buy new stuff all the time do your part to keep the economy going and only the best and the newest will do.
But at the same time we’re encouraged to reduce, reuse and recycle. They don’t really go together.
PAM: Why don’t they see that? We get so many messages and yet they never seem to notice that they are at odds with each other.
GLENNA: I find, again, it’s a mind shift because I can feel terrible that I can’t go out and get whatever shiny bit of new shiny that we may come across, but really what’s the point of feeling terrible all the time? Because the situation we have chosen, because being together is ultimately what’s important for us, so we’ve chosen this, why choose to be miserable in it? That doesn’t make any sense.
So I’ve found it’s far more gratifying to not spend more money than necessary. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to go from feeling terrible for not being able to provide the latest whatever, to being really proud for being able to source what’s needed for the best price for quality. We live so far outside the norm anyway, we might as well embrace it.
Jim and I both grew up along the border in Niagara. We’re out in eastern Ontario right now, but we’re still really close to the border with the United States. So sometimes, even when the dollar is terrible, our dollar, sometimes things are still worth purchasing in the States. Even with the exchange, it’s better. And it’s not an inconvenience for us because we just happen to be here. It’s closer for us to get in to Ogdensberg, New York than it is to get to the next biggest city, which is only 20 minutes away.
PAM: One year we lived in Sarnia and we had the same thing, we’d just bip across the bridge. One time my dad came back with a dog [laughs].
GLENNA: For us, it’s really coming back to conversations and what is important. There are things that we really really want to do. We do our utmost to ensure we can attend an event like Camp Shine, for instance. There are certainly years when we haven’t been able to make it happen, and those times I really am sad. But we try our hardest because that is important.
Like, the girls would like a Wii U, and one has been desired for a couple of years, but it’s never made it to top priority. These are the conversations that happen throughout the year as things come up.
Interestingly I think, as they are getting older, they are almost 12 and 14, and at this point, it’s not even really stuff that they want, or lessons. It’s that they really miss seeing their people, their unschooling people especially. There’s actually quite a nice network of unschoolers where we live. But a lot of them happen to be really busy with activities that some are just out of reach financially and some my girls just have no desire for a kind of formal class, that’s just not their thing. But a lot of the people that we know from the greater Shine community, that’s what they’ve been craving.
This year has actually been phenomenal for visits with our friends. And it’s something for a while we thought was kind of out of reach because you know, it’s international and not everybody lives just right here in New York, but it’s actually hasn’t been that bad. It’s not that cheap to go and put someone on a train, it’s way cheaper to actually load the car up with gas and just drive and go visit. And now that we’ve realised that, it’s tremendous, we’ve had lots of fun visiting this year, and that was a really great thing to discover. Because it really can happen again and again.
So the shiny and new, it’s true, we can’t do everything, Christmas is coming, but what do we really want? All of us? So we have that discussion, all of us, and they know that and it’s just it is what it is. We could all be upset and miserable about it, we could change something, but that will necessarily shift the dynamic that we built on purpose. So until such time that we’re all on board with that, that’s not going to happen. So we just do our thing. And I’d say generally we’re pretty happy people.
PAM: But the shiny and new thing, I know I actually, a lot of my learning and thinking about that was actually from following my kids. Because even though I felt that, I didn’t place that on them.
I was careful to keep my prejudices to myself as I was processing them and thinking them. And to my kids, things were just things. It didn’t matter where they came from. They loved going to thrift stores and looking through things. Even just seeing what was there, seeing the old things. Seeing such interesting stuff.
We’ve had a great experience too with freecycling. Michael got a trampoline, we got a full size trampoline for him. There was an amazing telescope that we got from people who were given it as a gift I think when he retired, but they never really used it. A doll house for Lissy that was no longer enjoyed because their kids were older. And I know last year, probably around this time, a mom came here and picked up a bunch of our older board games and she had three or four young kids, and she’s like, “Oh it’s an early Christmas!” and she was excited. New doesn’t add value to those things, right? Being able to pass things around and exchanging things so that they always have value to whoever has them in the moment is great.
GLENNA: We get clothes passed to us from people, and that’s great. For instance, Sephie got a dress that she wore for quite a while and when she outgrew it, she cut it up and that became the vest on her Toadette outfit and that’s fantastic. We pass clothes on to other people and this summer I saw a little girl wearing a little two piece summery outfit that I recognised from Sephie. At this party I could trace the people that it went through. And it was really great!
Just a week ago I saw a Halloween shirt on someone that was Olive’s and it was fantastic! We get things, the things go, and I kind of feel like I believe when you pass stuff on, especially if it’s not for money, you open yourself up to receiving in the same manner.
All sorts of things have just come to us when we’ve really needed it, and I feel it has something to do with us passing things on when we don’t need them any longer.
PAM: It’s amazing what comes when you’re open. You need to be open to receiving those things or people aren’t going to offer are they?
GLENNA: Well, that’s true, but it actually makes me physically ill, the thought of having a yard sale. It’s a personal thing, it’s crazy. I feel judgement, I’m not going to pretend it’s reasonable, but it is something. I don’t like that, I’d much rather just give my stuff away to people who will genuinely enjoy it, and if no-one’s around, donate it, than try and haggle with someone over a couple of dollars here and there. And I do think that makes people open to, “Hey, here’s some stuff that we don’t need anymore, can you use it?” And it goes around. Bartering is really great too. For services, or things, or whatever. I don’t know how many people do that still. Babysitting I suppose, sure. Trading off things.
PAM: I find even with my business, I barter services and stuff back and forth, we help each other out, whether it’s through editing, transcribing the episodes, there’s that element of everyone working together. We just help each other out, there doesn’t need to always be a monetary aspect to it.
GLENNA: I think that’s great, and the more people can do that. We know people who grow food and I’m certain that by helping them out, you get some food. That’s just how it is. Olive liked for a couple of years on and off she’d been WOOFing at a farm, at a friend’s farm and she enjoys it, she really enjoys it and she does it because she enjoys it and she wants to learn about the farm. There’s animals, there’s also food, vegetables and whatever, and she comes home with food. And that’s not expected on our end at all, it’s a bonus, but to me it’s a recognition. You’ve come out here, you’ve helped, we’re not in a position to pay an 11 year old, but here you go.
So I think those opportunities do exist, it’s just a matter of finding them.
PAM: That actually leads me to the next question, I had written WOOFing in my notes.
The other conventional expectation was that as a parent I needed personally to meet all my children’s needs. That’s another of my mind shifts. Because at first that has me feeling like I’m failing too, because I have to do this, I have to do this, but then I realised that the things they’re wanting to do, especially as they’re getting older, are totally about them, they’re not about me at all. And I don’t have to satisfy everything, I can reach out to the community, to the online community as you were talking about earlier, and find all sorts of creative ways to help them find what they’re looking for or accomplish the goals and the things they want to do. So I was thinking we could talk about that a little bit.
GLENNA: How perfect, because that’s exactly where we are a little bit.
PAM: I know! I love how conversations flow.
GLENNA: A few months ago, my girls literally sat me down and said, “We want more. We don’t know what that more is, but we want it.” Okay! So up until this point, we haven’t really had to go outside of our usual day to day stuff, it just wasn’t necessary, but now they need more.
So I’ve been paying more attention to what’s been going on at the local Y youth centre activities, what’s happening at nearby universities or museums. But as it turns out, in our case formal things weren’t what they wanted, they wanted their Shine family. It’s been great to figure that out though, because we’ve gone through, do you want more sports? Because Olive recently gave up soccer, this summer was the first summer she hasn’t played in years. She didn’t want a formal thing. She had wanted, say, karate before, but she found it too loud with the acoustics, and even with ear plugs it was too much for her. So no, she’s tried that a few times, she doesn’t want to do that again. So, we’ve worked out they didn’t want to join in the dance class, we found all these things they didn’t want to do.
But it was people. That was fantastic, that I realise now, we can make happen. And I do feel bad that I didn’t realise how doable it was. Because we could have started that a lot longer ago. But I know now, so live and learn.
But I don’t have to do everything. I need to facilitate, I need to be aware of what’s going on, but I think that would be my job anyway. Unfortunately, our library is not fantastic where we are, it’s very small and it seems to hardly ever be open, but you know, they are a library, they do have passes for the museums to go for free, so that’s good, wandering around there there’s really no investment except for your gas and time, and that might spark something. Sometimes a change of location is helpful to figure out what they might want. It doesn’t have to be little lessons or whatever.
The only thing they have a drama that’s ongoing right now…a drama class I mean, they’re not involved in drama [laughs], and parkour once a month with some guys that come in from Kingston. And that’s really fun, but they have identified what they don’t necessarily need more of is one off things. Like, okay, today we’re going to do something special, we’re going to go to the trampoline park or whatever, for just one time. That’s not what they’re looking for.
But it’s good to know these things.
PAM: And that’s back to those conversations. You try a little thing, you try karate, and you see how it goes, and you try soccer and you stay with it for a while and that’s living. It’s learning more about ourselves, it’s enjoying what we’re doing, figuring out what we don’t like and moving on, and I think as they start to get a little bit older, sometimes you find community mentors.
Michael started spending more and more time at the dojo as he got older and there were adults and teens there, and I would be sure not to rush him out the door at the end of class. There’d be moms sitting there as the adult and teen class ended and they’d be, “Come on, come on, you gotta get home, I want to do this, that and the other thing,” but I knew for Michael the value of these connections and the personal contact and hanging out with them. So I would be there for 45 minutes after the class, just letting him have that time, not rushing him out. Because that was the thing I was supporting as well, not just the karate.
GLENNA: So here’s a funny little story, for years we had a local stitch and bitch group, and it’s rotated houses. Usually it’s whoever had the youngest kid, it would be held at their place, because you can’t leave a nursing baby. And one of the members last year, a year and a half ago, she started a restaurant in town. So on our usual stitch and bitch night at the beginning we met there, because she could come out of the kitchen and do whatever, and the restaurant would close and we were still there, and that was great.
Olive and Sephie, they were like, “Come on come on, you’ve got to come home,” they were coming to the restaurant, knocking on the door because it was locked, they’d come in and ask, “when are you coming home?” “I don’t know, I’m not quite done yet,” and Olive, who enjoys sweeping, she started picking up a broom and sweeping around in the restaurant and she really liked it. She said to me, did I think she’d be able to come back and do it some other time, and she managed to secure herself a job right there. Twice a week she would come in and do the floors, and they paid her. And that evolved to one of those nights a week, taking her into the kitchen and cooking with her. Now she wasn’t cooking customers orders, they were doing something else, but it was phenomenal! But it just made me think of that, the moms saying, we’ve got to go home, and here my kids were coming going, “Come on, are you coming home?”
And we are very sad because the restaurant closed and she misses that because she loved doing real work, just like she really liked her real tools when she was four. Certainly she enjoyed the money coming in, and we got a letter of reference from the woman who had the restaurant and researching how to do a resume for a kid, really, because there’s other places that she would like to check out. And that was all because of the parents saying, “come on, let’s go home.”
PAM: I love those connections that’s very cool, and speaking of connections, I’m going to tie this back, remember you mentioned the WOOFing on the farm, that was because one of the examples I wanted to share about keeping your mind open for possibilities if you have say, a child who wants to travel. Lissy was very into travel, I mean there’s just so many more ideas than just, vacations are expensive, we can’t do that, sorry you can’t travel.
There’s a whole world online for travel hacking, like Chris Guillebeau has got a site, and I’m sure there’s many more. I know a family from the UK that a few months ago they packed up their stuff and sold their home and they’re now housesitting through Europe and Asia with their unschooling daughter.
There’s WOOFing, I know a couple of teens who’ve done that, and as you’ve mentioned, just visiting other unschooling families, and maybe swapping back and forth for extended periods of time. Depending on what the kids are looking for, so that they can explore new cities and new places, just new environments when they’re interested in that.
So as we were talking about, trying those things out, seeing what they like about the experience, helps you narrow in to them and helps them learn more about themselves, more about what they’re interested in trying next, I mean it’s just fascinating, all the different places you can go if you don’t shut yourself down with the no.
GLENNA: It’s true, one of the things I really love now is when this family who has this farm gets new WOOFers I love going to meet them. I love that it’s convenient, that it’s summer and there’s birthdays in our family, so there’s always gatherings, because it is cool, we’ve met a lot of great people. And it’s helpful for me too, just in case this is in my kids’ futures, to see all the different people who come through and what it is to them to be WOOFing and it’s really great.
I think it’s phenomenal, I don’t really know a whole lot about it, I’m sort of on the outskirts, but I think it’s a great opportunity. Perfect way to travel.
PAM: I know Lissy, she looked at nannying too at one point, and she looked up circuses, traveling one summer with a circus. She didn’t end up doing those things, but she learned enough about them, there are so many possibilities out there if you start looking. Even finding out about one possibility and researching, and finding out you don’t want, but in the forums, in blog comments, people are always mentioning other things. So it’s like going down the rabbit hole, following the trail. And you might end up somewhere super cool.
GLENNA: Absolutely. Absolutely. The internet is phenomenal.
I thought we would finish up just by brainstorming a bunch of low cost opportunities, just to help people get their creative juices flowing. For things that they might be able to find in their community and online.
So I’ll start, one of the things, you mentioned it before, annual passes. They can be amazing for unschoolers. We get to go those places anytime, when it’s not busy, and stay for as long as we want instead of the buses all lining up at 2:30 because they have to leave.
GLENNA: And so many passes have a reciprocal agreement with other places. So my pass for Upper Canada Village is also good for Fort Henry. Or I know some of the museums here, their pass works for some in the States.
PAM: We did that exactly, we had our science centre pass in Toronto, and the kids loved science centres, and for two or three years we would go a lot, but when we would travel, we could always get into their science centre. So we made it a little thing, we’d make sure we visited the science centre in all the different places we visited, and we’d compare them.
And a local parks pass, for the provincial parks in the area.
GLENNA: I was just going to say, in our last house we lived three km from the provincial park and so every year we got a pass and that was so awesome. We would just avoid it on weekends, but there was always time before school gets out and after it goes back in when the weather is phenomenal and me and the girls would be the only three people on this beach. It was great.
PAM: Yes, exactly. We kept going back to one, seeing the river through the seasons, because it was empty when kids were in school. And our park pass in our area also included Black Creek Pioneer Village, so we’d go there.
That was one of the stories…I don’t know if I’ve shared it on the podcast…one of the things the kids loved to do was play hide and seek, so we’d take, this was before cell phone time, so we would take you know, those walkie talkies? You know there’s no cars in Black Creek right, so we would have walkie talkies and they would play hide and seek and we would try to find them.
And at some points, because this was in our first couple of years of unschooling and I was, “Well, you know, here we are, we’re going, and we’re not going to see all the presentations and all that kind of stuff.” But a few months in, they would be able to tell me all about these places, they would still pick up all this stuff about the pioneer time. So much fun. And they picked up tons of stuff. And it turns out, half the people in the buildings knew them.
So basically, those first couple of years, we had our pass to the parks, our science centre and that was it. We just kept ourselves busy—oh and Canada’s Wonderland. Because we could always go after hours there. The kids section, the parents would leave early to take the kids home, so they could just ride their hearts out. We were only ten minutes away.
So yeah, it’s finding that mesh between what your kids enjoy and there are so many passes and possibilities that way. And we talked about doing it off-season, off-time, outside of school hours you get so much more out of it.
GLENNA: There’s a Facebook group called My unschooler is interested in … and that’s really great, because you can post my kid, here’s the age, is interested in whatever, just response after response, “Oh have you heard about this weird little magazine that’s on archeology for kids,” or whatever.
PAM: That is very cool, because unschoolers know so many obscure things!
GLENNA: So that’s very handy, I like that one. We happen to do a lot with Autism Ontario, and that’s not necessarily for everybody but in a situation where you can join a group like that that’s applicable there’s so many opportunities and these are about 95% free and sometimes for bigger things like, Calypso, the water park that’s out here near us, in Montreal, it’s a reduced price on the ticket.
So we do a lot of things like that, and our homeschooling collective out here, some of them they’re like, ok, we’re going to organise formal classes, which is great. But it’s also okay if your kid has an interest in going to the trampoline park, this came up just today, you post it there because chances are there will be enough interest that you can go with friends and with a group rate. That cuts your cost down, so that’s handy. It’s also more fun, right?
I think a lot of stuff, Groupon, I guess, that’s helpful. We’re actually doing an escape room next week because of a Groupon.
PAM: I was going to say, online streaming services. We actually got rid of our satellite a couple of months ago. And we didn’t frame it as in, oh my gosh we need to get rid of it to save money, but more, you know what, we’re using more of these streaming services so let’s try it out. And see what it’s like without it. Without the pressure that, you can’t have this forever, you’re seeing it through a lens of lack, oh my God now I don’t have this…but oh, I wonder what it’s like without it. And playing around with it and that’s been fine.
GLENNA: I didn’t even think of that, but we got rid of cable a while ago and have just been using Netflix which was great. And then we actually ended up ditching Netflix and we got a raspberry pi, and so we’ve been streaming everything.
PAM: We have that too. See that’s my husband’s hobby, he loves that electronic stuff and figuring all that out. That’s where he spends a lot of his time, so we have a pretty fancy network and servers and electronic gadget.
And we talked about YouTube, and tons of free stuff online, TED talks and tons and tons of that. Ooh I was talking about as they’re getting older too, and you mentioned that, volunteering at places that they’re curious about that gets them some experience, and they enjoy their time, and people get to know them too and sometimes it turns into bigger opportunities.
GLENNA: Absolutely, that’s quite true.
PAM: My kids were amazing eBay shoppers. Very early on, they enjoyed the research and figuring it out and finding good deals almost as much as getting the thing.
GLENNA: You have to be careful, because we have a couple of desk tops set up side by side, that’s what the girls use, and Jim and I have laptops, but both of our laptops are currently riddled with viruses and we’ve just let it go, because we each have our phones, plus there’s two other desktops right? We’re not really short, we don’t really need four fully functioning…whatever.
Anyway the computer I’m at right now is Olive’s really, and that’s where a lot of stuff gets done, we had been, Christmas is coming, her birthday is coming and we had been looking at eBay things, shopping around, but of course, now it tailors all the ads for everything you’ve been looking at, so she can be doing whatever, and the other day she came and she’s like, I saw this thing, there’s an auction ending in two hours for a Pokemon thing…and I was, man, we’re going to have to cover our tracks. Use a different computer. We’re good eBay shoppers too.
PAM: I love that, I love that. One other thing I had here, we already mentioned thrift shops and freecycle and swaps, there’s so much out there. The other thing we had a lot of fun with over the years, talking about making, there’s a lot of baking and making foods and stuff, spending a lot of fun time figuring that out. I can still make really awesome peanut butter cups.
GLENNA: We bake, we do bake. And I’ve enjoyed that we’ve had a cookie exchange the last few years, so we get together and your making 12 dozen cookies to pass out and you get them as well, but I’ve never really though about that, see this is so good, talking to you. You’re saying things that we do that I’ve never even actually thought about. Yes, here’s your way to get some nice treats. It’s low cost, it’s fun.
PAM: That’s the thing, when you’re not seeing it as lack, it’s fun. So much fun.
GLENNA: And really, there’s a bit of a high when you get the thing and you have spent a fraction of what it is, brand new in whatever store. I really enjoy that. I mean some people might say, well you’re just really cheap, on the other hand, sure, but I still saved $350.
PAM: This is my priority right now, I’m meeting my goals in the way I want to meet them.
GLENNA: We have never owned a brand new car. We’ve never leased it, we’ve always had used cars which means we paid for them outright so we’ve never had a car loan ever. And I think that’s huge, because when I look at the ads and stuff, that’s hundreds of dollars a month people are paying for the privilege of driving a brand new car. Which depending on what you’re doing, that might be important, but for us, it really isn’t. It’s a huge expense that we don’t have and I’m really grateful that we don’t have.
PAM: That’s awesome. Well, I must say thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Glenna, that was so much fun.
GLENNA: Thank you for having me!
PAM: Oh no problem, thank you. And before we go, what’s the best way for people to connect with you online?
GLENNA: Oh probably Facebook actually. It’s my name, it’s me. I don’t think there are others of me with my name actually, I don’t think I could be mixed up with somebody else.
PAM: I don’t think so, and I’ll put a link in the show notes so that people can connect. Bye!