PAM: Hi, everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Anna Black. Hi, Anna.
ANNA: Hi, Pam.
PAM: Hello! Anna is an unschooling mom of two, and her family lives and learns in Melbourne, Australia. Anna actually helps with creating the transcripts for the podcast. After falling into an interesting chat about deschooling, I was excited when she agreed to share her experience in more detail on the podcast.
To get us started, Anna, can you share with us a bit about you and your family and how you first came across the idea of unschooling?
ANNA: Yes. Well, my husband and I met in high school, so we’ve been together a long time, but we didn’t have our first baby until we were 34, so it was a long bit of time there.
Before that, I was a Montessori teacher. I also went to a Montessori school, and my mother is a Montessori teacher. So, I’m probably about as Montessori as it’s possible to be, or I was. That’s what I was doing before my first daughter was born.
She was, I guess, probably a high-needs kind of baby. She didn’t sleep. She needed a lot of touch and comfort. So, we moved pretty quickly into an attachment parenting kind of way of being with her. She just exploded all my ideas of how a baby would be basically, like they do, I guess. I’ve actually always thought, if she had been an easier baby, we wouldn’t be here at all. It’s really because of her that we’ve even come this way at all.
I think probably from moving from an attachment parenting type of community, mostly online, although I also had quite a few friends. Do you have the La Leche League in Canada?
PAM: Yeah, yeah. We do.
ANNA: Yeah, we don’t have that. We have our own sort of version, which is the Australian Breastfeeding Association. I was a member of that, and I went to their meetings, so lots of attachment parenting of older kids, as well as an online community.
The idea of, not unschooling, but homeschooling, kept coming up in all of those. I’d always thought the kids would go to Montessori kinders and Montessori schools, which I still did at that stage, but that was probably the first.
Looking at all the online discussions was where I first saw—I remember when I first saw the words radical unschooling. It was in this magazine that’s not around anymore called “Kindred Magazine.” It was actually written by a father.
Looking back now, it wasn’t a very good description, but it was kind of a description of moving from a very controlled, particularly around food and technology, way of being with your child. Looking back, what they did is just opened up the floodgates immediately. I remember reading about how she was just allowed to eat 25 Caramello Koalas, which are these little chocolate things, and watch Dora for seven hours straight immediately. I remember thinking that sounds crazy and just sort of dismissing it. I remember that was the first time I saw the words radical unschooling, together in that magazine.
Then, I went from a home birth website here to their connected homeschooling site, and it was like a natural learning type site. Sandra Dodd commented a little bit. She must have had maybe a search engine or something where maybe she was notified about people discussing it. She came on and explained a bit about unschooling and radical unschooling. That’s where I first started to read the Always Learning lists and some of her other writing. It really all came from that.
PAM: That is really cool. I love that—maybe somebody got in touch with her. That’s the neat thing about the worldwide community, right? Somebody’s always pointing out, “Oh, there’s this over here.”
Just today I was tagged in something, and after we chat, I’m going to go because there’s a local question I can help with. I think that’s a really cool thing about the online community.
I was wondering, with your Montessori background, which is very interesting, what it was? You’ve heard of unschooling. You’ve had your vision of it straightened out a bit having encountered Sandra with a bit more of an idea of what it’s all about.
What was it that you found appealing about unschooling at first that you started looking at it in more detail?
ANNA: With the Montessori background, there are quite a few commonalities, really, particularly around general learning. I think, especially if you go back and read her original books, which I had done because I had started to qualify that. She focuses a lot on the power of children’s concentration and valuing that concentration and observing to look and see what’s drawing them in and what they’re interested in. Even if, as an adult, you can’t see anything of value in that, to trust that that’s what they need and that’s where the learning’s happening.
That philosophy base, I thought, was very easy to make a bridge into unschooling with that in mind. I think there’s a lot more, even though that’s a central tenet of that philosophy, there is also a lot more ideas around control and what children need to flourish and that sort of thing. Although, she was also hands off in lots of ways. She said, basically, if adults would just get out of the way, children would flourish. Some of it really connected really well.
I think, especially as years went on, and if you look at photos of her original classroom, she has sand pits, she has dolls, she has teddys, a lot of that was pruned away. It’s still an institution. It still has the negatives of all the classroom stuff that we see just in any classroom. Some of the ideas that I had held very strongly, I started to see, looking at my children, weren’t really true. They just weren’t true. It wasn’t true that they moved steadily through planes of development. Those sorts of things just stopped making sense, I suppose.
Plus, it was actually some scientific, I think Meredith talks about this sometimes, because she has a bit of a Montessori background too, the idea that there are super sensitive periods for learning and if you miss them then that’s it there’s no point, and I think that that has surely been challenged by neuroscience research. There’s that sort of thing.
I guess some of the things I believed pretty strongly were starting to fall away a bit, and it made me look at everything, I think. I just started to see how my children and all children, really, that they were less predictable and less one size fits all. I think that’s where I started to come away a bit and move towards unschooling, which is so much richer and less limiting.
PAM: That’s so interesting. It’s very cool that you found the commonalities in learning, but with your own experience with your own kids, there were some of the other aspects. I love that word, predictable. You were talking about how you could see with them that their learning wasn’t steady and predictable. Aspects of it you were questioning from your own experience now, right?
ANNA: Yes. I was really.
I think that started way back when my first daughter was a newborn. She just didn’t do what anybody said she should be doing, but when I gave her what I could see she needed just from being her mother, that was what worked.
That’s when it started, I think, my moving away from the idea of external predictability into really giving them what they needed and what they thought they needed, not what I thought they needed.
PAM: Yeah, yeah, and that it worked, right, like you were saying. So often, you get these messages. “You should be doing this. You should be doing this.”
If I look to him, because my eldest also started me off on this journey, right? When you actually just pay attention to them and respond in ways that will work to the messages that you’re getting, that works.
ANNA: It does.
PAM: I know! It’s like, “But, but, but, no.” He’s the one I’m living with, right? He’s the one I want to have the relationship with. So, it does, it takes a bit of fortitude to choose that over the conventional messages that you’re hearing around you, right? Or, even to question your Montessori background in that you had been to the school, and your mom and you had been trained. To be able to do that takes a little bit.
ANNA: Yeah, I guess it does.
I realize I forgot to say how old my daughters are. I’ve got Abby who’s ten now and Evie is seven.
ANNA: When I listen to podcasts, I always like to know how old everyone’s children are, so that’s how old mine are.
PAM: Very cool. Did they ever end up going to Montessori?
ANNA: They did. Abby went at three, because I was still very, by that stage, I thought, what I really want is I want is I’m still thinking homeschool at that stage for primary school and maybe high school, but I still very, very strongly believed in the importance of the Montessori environment between three and six because that’s where all her focus was and certainly that’s where my focus was.
I was still in that idea that there’s special things about their brain and the wonderful, beautiful equipment is very important to build those future skills. I was still very much in that. Most of what I was doing was focusing on what they would be like as adults. I was still very in that mindset at that point, when she was three. I really couldn’t let go. I really felt that I would be doing her a big disservice if she didn’t start on this beautiful environment.
There is a beautiful Montessori preschool nearby. I knew the teacher well. I knew her training. I really trusted the environment, because there’s a lot of bad centers out there. So, she did. She went at three. She didn’t love it, I have to say. She tolerated it, I’d say, most of the time. She made some lovely friends who she’s still friends with today. By the time she was five, turning six, which was her last year there, she had a great year. If you ask her, she’ll say she loved kinder, which is not true. It’s one-third true, I suppose. She didn’t like the first two years she was there, but she did love the third year she was there.
My other daughter, Evie, who is nearly three years younger, she did one year, so she just went as a three-year-old for a bit. She quite liked it, but by the time Abby was finishing and we decided we were going to homeschool, we gave Evie the choice. We said, “Do you want to go back to kinder or do you want to stay home with mommy and Abby?” That’s what she chose to do, which I knew she would. That how we did it. They did both do some, and Abby did quite a lot.
What did the first few months of your actual starting unschooling look like? I’m just wondering if you started out, because you were talking about homeschooling at first, did you start with a little bit of structure and loosen up? Or, did you just kind of take almost like a vacation for a while and then just not get into the structure? I’m curious to hear what it was like for you guys.
ANNA: No, because by that time I had really come fully to unschooling. I had a few things, recommendations saying just live as though it’s a holiday. I knew we would have some adjusting to do, but we were also about to move house, so that was another big change that was happening around that time.
We finished, because our school years are a bit different to yours, I think, we finish in December. We finished up and we had a six-week holiday, and we just kept going. We didn’t really ever have any kind of structure. I don’t do particularly well with structure. It doesn’t suit me at all. It doesn’t really suit either of the girls, which is handy. I’ve got friends where they’re more like me and their kids really thrive with more predictability. My girls are both a bit like me, so we like to be spontaneous.
I think my main goal during probably that whole first year, really, was finding new friends for my older girl, Abby, who has always been really social, even though she’s quite shy, or can be. Her friends are really important to her, and she had lost all of her kin friends, which she would have anyway, because they’re all going to different schools, but she didn’t really understand that. My main focus during the first six months, and I would say in the first year, was finding children that she connected with.
We were really lucky. We went to a couple of meets of a homeschool park day, and she made a friend straight away, which she always does if you put her in with kids. I just took her to a birthday party on Saturday. She only knew the birthday girl, and by the end of the party, she knew everybody. She draws people. She’s very charismatic. She’s a lovely, lovely kid. We found a couple of friends pretty quickly.
Then we went to, Sandra Dodd came out to Melbourne and other parts of Australia too, and she did a two-day seminar. I think it was in April of that first year. Yeah, that sounds about right. We all had our suburb names on our little name tags, which was a good idea on the part of the organizers. Somebody who saw my new suburb name, where we hadn’t actually moved to, and she heard me say we had a daughter of about her daughter’s age, and she lived nearby. We didn’t actually meet at the seminar, but she found me online later on Facebook. We met up, and we’ve stayed friends. The girls are really close. There’s a boy. She also has a son who’s about my other daughter’s age, and they get along fantastically as well, which is always really convenient. We’ve got a few.
Melbourne is lucky. We have a good homeschooling community, and actually a really good unschooling community as well. A lot of them listen to this podcast. You had one of my friends, Jo Isaac, as well, you’ve spoken to her. So, yes, we’re lucky. I know not everybody’s in that situation, I don’t think, but yeah, finding friends. I thought it might be a problem, but all my girls have got lots of great friends.
PAM: That’s awesome.
ANNA: That was our first year really.
PAM: That’s great. You went to the end of the school year, so you had your school vacation and just continued on with that, eh?
ANNA: Yes, that’s right.
PAM: That’s awesome. That’s nice to find local friends. We did not have a lot. This was many years ago now. We did travel to go to conferences to meet other kids who were unschooling, but the kids also got involved in activities that they were interested in and found some friends that way.
It’s fodder for lots of conversations about the differences in parenting styles and school and all that stuff.
ANNA: Yeah. I would say, certainly not all of our friends. They still have friends who are at school, as well, so we see them during the holidays. They have made a few friends from activities, but their best friends are all the homeschool kids. It’s a time thing as much as anything.
PAM: Exactly. They’re much more available.
I think one of the conventional ideas we wrestle with as we deschool is that to foster independence, we should never do things for the child that they can do for themselves. With unschooling, that logic doesn’t hold. I know, speaking of conventional parents, there was a lot of times where the parents would say, “Well, you can do that. You tie your shoes. You do this.” With unschooling, we do things for our children when they want us to, regardless of whether they can do it for themselves.
I was wondering if you can share how you worked through that shift.
ANNA: Yeah. That was probably one of the big shifts because that is a very Montessori idea. It is really seen as an important building block in children’s character and it helps them feel good about themselves. I think it comes from a really positive place, this idea of instilling independence. At least not in a Montessori classroom, it’s not a convenience thing. It’s really considered to be vital for the child’s integration of their personality, which is a much harder thing to let go of than, “Oh, it’s a bit annoying for me to have to tie their shoe.” If you think that something might damage your child by tying their shoes, that’s a little bit more difficult to let go of.
I think it was just reading. I remember I was letting go of all my ideas around the idea that children and adults were different. That was a big part of it. You know, that you have to relate to children in a completely different way to how you relate to adults. Not that I’d ever really spoken to them differently, but the idea that they were different, that their brains were different, that they needed different things, I think was a big part. I had to let go of a lot of that.
I think it was probably Joyce Fetteroll, has written a lot about, “Would you help a friend? Would you help your husband? Would you help your sister if they asked you to? Is it nice when somebody makes you a cup of tea even though you can make a cup of tea yourself?”
That was a bit of a lightbulb. Oh yeah, of course. It’s nice when people do things for you. Why would that be any different for children?
It just means that allowing them to be, if they feel like it, to be babies again, or be big kids if they want to be. Yeah, I think that was probably where I came from with that. I know that’s in the next part, but I think I’ll say it here. One of the greatest things that I think unschooling has given me and our whole family, I suppose, is the idea that it’s actually okay to be nice to your kids.
ANNA: You know? That’s fine. You don’t have to, I don’t know, it sounds so silly to say that, doesn’t it?
PAM: But it’s really, really true.
ANNA: Yeah. It’s not going to damage them if you are as nice as possible to them. I don’t know. It just seems like such a funny thing to say, but just everywhere, because that pervasive idea that it is not okay to be nice to them. It’s just everywhere.
That’s been so freeing, just thinking I can carry her if she wants to be carried. Or, I can go to sleep with her for as long as she wants me to. I can make pretty plates of food up, even though they can do it themselves. In fact, my ten-year-old is much better at that than I am now. You know? All those sorts of things, just nice little things that you can do for them.
PAM: It’s about the relationship. Right? I think people are always so worried. “If I do that for them, they’re going to expect me to do it forever.” Joyce always brings it back to adults’ relationships, right? If you do something for a friend, is your friend expect you to do that next time and next time and next time? No. It’s when you can help out and it’s appreciated.
To be able to change that and realize that kids are people too. That they don’t have to tie their shoes 300 times so that they’ll be able to do it when they’re adults or something.
I know, it does seem silly when you start trying to talk about it, but it really is a pervasive attitude that kids need to be able to look after themselves as quickly as possible, right?
ANNA: They need to have been doing it for ten years before they can leave home.
PAM: So that they can do it the next time, right?
ANNA: We have YouTube now. You don’t need to scrub a toilet for ten years to work out how to do it. Just look it up. It’s fine. They know how to look things up.
I think, also, it’s just more of that either/or, or black and white, type thinking. Because, of course, a lot of kids really want to do things for themselves most of the time. Or, they want to do certain things for themselves and not other things. My seven-year-old is like that. She is really fiercely independent about a lot of things, but then not others. You can’t say “yes” always or “no” always or “this is always good” or “this is always bad,” because it really just depends.
PAM: You know, that’s another thing that crossed my mind when you were mentioning that.
We don’t know what’s going through their mind at that particular moment when they want to be independent and they want to do it themselves. Right? We can use our patience to let them do it at their pace and their speed, because it’s something that in that moment they really want to do. Then, maybe in the next moment there’s something else and they would really like us to do it for them.
You know, we don’t need to know exactly why they want to do A and not do B, but there are reasons. They have reasons. Whether it’s our patience to do something for them that we know they can do but they want us to do it or us to help. Then, patience for when they want the time and space to do it themselves. It’s all about really respecting them as a person and helping them out as we can in whatever way they’re asking for.
ANNA: Yes, exactly.
You mentioned to me earlier that one of your biggest shifts coming to unschooling was around general abundance. I was hoping that you could explain what that looked like for you, because that was real interesting.
ANNA: Yes, well, it’s partly from that same idea: It’s okay to be nice to your kids. It stemmed from the topical stuff I had been working with as a Montessori teacher, and some of the things that she wrote and that other people wrote about her.
In a Montessori classroom, I don’t know if you’ve really been inside one, but there’s always one of everything. There’s lots of things, but there’s one of each of those things. The idea behind it is that it helps children develop, basically, self-control and waiting, as well as making it easier for them to choose things if there’s one clear thing. It works in a way. Certainly, the rooms still feel very rich because there’s still 200 different things to do, but it doesn’t translate very well to a house.
I remember I had very strongly taken on board the idea that children couldn’t bond to lots of dolls or lots of cuddly toys, so they should have one of each. I’ve heard this everywhere, especially in the natural parenting type circles where I did come from. The idea that it’s much more moral to have less things, and if you have fewer things, that leads to more meaningful play and meaningful activity and valuable interaction.
Do you know what I mean?
ANNA: That kind of idea. It’s really very strong in the natural parenting community, that they should just play with sticks or one toy on a shelf, one open-ended toy on a shelf. That those are the only kind of morally acceptable toys. If they’re not playing with those or they prefer to play with the flashing light thing with all the music and the buttons, then that’s actually a failure on the child’s part, because people have this image of the ideal child in their head, and it’s not the child playing with the Fisher-Price music table with all the lights. But they love those. My kids adored those things.
I think it was shifting away from what’s “good for them,” you know, “I know what’s good for them, and what’s good for them is one toy or minimal numbers of toys and only natural material toys.” So, all that. It’s like minimalism and non-materialism, and the idea that a two-year-old that wants ten Barbies is going to grow up to be a Monsanto executive.
PAM: Did that have something to do with … sometimes I hear that if they have too many things they won’t use their own imagination?
ANNA: Yeah. That’s something that comes. The toy does all the work, kind of idea. If the toy gives them too many ideas, it takes away from their own ideas. All you have to do is watch them for two minutes to see that’s not the case.
PAM: I know! Somebody had asked me about that a month or so ago.
They were talking about how their child was watching some TV and was acting out scenes and taking cues from the shows and playing with the toys that way, and it looked like she was losing her creativity. But, I said, actually, creativity is all about connecting different things in new ways. I shared Steve Jobs’ quote about creativity, which I’ll put in the show notes for people, but creativity is really connecting things in new ways, basically.
I said, that’s the epitome of creativity right there, because she’s taking a little bit of this and she’s connecting this toy and she’s creating a new story with these other characters. Just watch her! She’s being completely creative with all the different things that she’s got access to, that she has made connections with, and she’s making new ones like crazy as she’s playing with all these ideas and all these things in front of her. So, yeah, that’s cool.
ANNA: I think it’s just so much of it comes from the adults’ ideas around minimalism, really, and how that is just morally more acceptable to be that way. If they see their children not being that way and wanting lots of things, then they get worried and they think that that’s the person that they are.
Again, sounds really silly when you say it, but it’s definitely what people think.
So, getting back to how I moved away from it, I’m just trying to think. I remember, she wouldn’t have even been three. I don’t even think we had two yet. We were in a toy shop and she loved baby dolls at the time. It was near Christmas, and I had a baby doll to give her. I knew she was getting one from somebody, but she fell in love with this other one at the toy shop. She just loved it so much. She wasn’t talking much at that stage, but she was saying, “Baby, baby,” and cradling it. I remember I had this huge amount of internal conflict about whether I should buy this doll. I could afford to buy the doll. That was fine, but it was the idea that, should she get that doll? Should she have that doll when she was already getting another doll? Would that spoil her experience of dolls? I mean, it really does sound silly looking back. She was two.
Anyway, I bought her the doll. She loved this doll. We called it big baby for a long time because the other one she got was small, so we had big baby and little baby. Then, we just got more and more. I could just see. I started to remember back, because my parents were always very generous with us. Whatever they could get for us, they would get for us. Christmas was huge at our house. I just remember looking back and the joy of a new Barbie, even though you had a whole pile of other Barbies. I really remembered how sincere that was and how many happy memories I had around that sort of thing. I just wanted them to have that.
I basically just threw all of that out, and I started to look a lot more at what they were really doing. I remember I had to just talk with a friend. It was around Christmas. It often comes up around Christmas. That stupid poem that people say. That: “Something to wear, something to read, something they want, something they need.” You know? You get four things. Just, why? Why? I don’t understand. Do people think that children will do that and then they will take on the other morality behind that? How? They’ll just be resentful. It’s just imposing adult values on a child and expecting them to then take those on, and that’s not how it works at all.
PAM: Yeah. I was going to mention. You know, even if the parents are feeling minimalistic, maybe, if they find that’s their preference, but to not impose that on their children, because that may not be.
ANNA: They may not have those values. It’s not my job to get them to value what I value. It’s my job to support them in their own values.
PAM: Yeah, as they explore and figure out what those are. That’s the whole piece. There’s nothing wrong with sharing our perspective on things, but as long as, I always hesitate to say that, only because it’s so easy to share it with a lot of loaded expectations behind it. Kids are smart. They can figure that stuff out.
ANNA: Yeah. I also think it’s disingenuous to say, “Well, I want to share my opinion or my perspective. I need to be able to share my own thoughts and values as a parent to a child.” Because the power differential is so extreme. You’re not sharing with a friend. You’re sharing with a developing personality.
PAM: Who looks up to you.
ANNA: Who looks up to you. Even I hate it when my mother doesn’t approve of something I’ve done, and I’m 44. It’s not a fair transaction. It’s disingenuous to say it’s the same as sharing with a friend or a partner or whatever, because it’s not the same.
PAM: Especially if you’re bringing up the conversation. If it’s something that comes up in conversation and a word here or a sentence there. That’s when they’re interested. That’s when it’s information that they’re looking for. That’s when they’re curious about it, but for us to bring it up, that comes with more power, doesn’t it?
ANNA: I think it helps to, I do generally believe that there isn’t an absolute right usually. I guess there are certain instances when there is, but they’re not asking me if I think human trafficking is a good idea. They’re saying, “What if we don’t always recycle everything?” It’s that sort of thing. So, yeah, when my girls ask me things, I do tell them bits and pieces about what I think, but I also say not everybody thinks that and some people think this and what do you think. I don’t talk a lot about what I think, actually.
PAM: Yeah. That was something that actually was really important for me, that I found so helpful and freeing was not saying a lot, not offering up too much of my opinions, because to see them figuring out and making connections and that next step and that next step was just fascinating. They figured stuff out logically. They had reasonable and interesting opinions about things.
If I kept jumping in too much, they wouldn’t have the freedom or the space to make those connections on their own; if I kept jumping in, trying to put in my two cents all the time, right?
ANNA: That’s right. I don’t know if it’s just—I’m thinking particularly of my older daughter right now. I don’t know if it’s just her personality or because she’s had lots of time to think about things because she doesn’t have to go to school, but she has very deep thoughts and opinions about things.
One of the things most recently, we have a dog. He’s a purebred dog. He’s from a breeder who’s an excellent breeder, very ethical, but he’s not a rescue dog. He’s not. We didn’t adopt him from a shelter. Abby feels really guilty about that. She talks to me about it, has talked to me about it quite a bit. We’ve had all kinds of conversations about the different ways we can support animals. She’s planning, at the moment, to hold a fundraising stall. She’s done it before. She raised about $100 for a couple of different animal charities, but she’s going to do it again, but I never thought about that sort of thing when I was ten. The space that she’s having to develop her own moral compass, I suppose.
She’s said to me, “When I grow up, I’m only going to have animals from rescues.” Which is great. It’s obviously not how I feel because I bought our dog, but she doesn’t have to feel the way I feel. She’s also a vegetarian. I am too, so that kind of goes together, but she’s having the space to develop her own ethics. I’m not stomping all over her with mine.
PAM: It’s so true. I think that’s one of the huge pieces, because conventionally we worry so much that that is something we need to teach our children. Yet, they, if you can step back, not ignore, but give them that space, it’s amazing the ethics, the morality, the opinion, the everything that they will develop.
My daughter, she’s been vegetarian since, I don’t know, ten, eleven, maybe. Nobody else in the family was. She came up and said one day, “This is what I’m doing, and these are the reasons.” That was great and she still is. She’s in her twenties now. They will think for themselves, right?
ANNA: Yeah. Around that idea of abundance, I think the way I’ve looked at it is if we as parents, my husband and I, he’s always been this way anyway, but we give them as much as we can in every way, not just emotionally, but also materially. We really show them that what they want and what they value is important to us, which I think is one of the keys to an abundant mindset. Make is so that, even if you can’t afford everything, show them that what they want is as important to you as what you think they should want or what you want. Show them that you’ll try and get it, some way to try and get it.
Neither of my kids, especially my youngest, when she was about three, she loved to go and buy a toy. That was just her favorite thing to do. If she had a choice of what she’d like to do, that’s always what she chose, go and buy a toy. I was trying to say, oh, well, we could go over to, we called them op shops, you know, charity shops. What would you call them?
PAM: Thrift stores.
ANNA: Yeah, yeah. We call them op shops. It comes from opportunity shop, but we call them op shops here. I said we could go to the op shop, because they’ve always got lots of toys for one dollar. She said, “Hmm. I really only like toys that come in the boxes with the clear plastic front.” What she meant was new toys. I said okay, and we went and found her something. It was fine, but now I can’t get her to buy a toy. She’s done that. She’s really moved away from wanting to go shopping, for wanting to buy things. It might come back again, but yeah, that idea that if you give them everything they’ll suddenly become entitled and want everything, it’s just the opposite, or at least that’s been my experience.
Neither of mine are very interested in buying things anymore.
PAM: Yeah. It’s been my experience as well.
ANNA: It makes sense from the whole psychology of scarcity, of course, makes perfect sense. Absolutely, that’s what happens, but somehow, we can’t translate that. I don’t know why.
PAM: Well, we should probably move onto the next question. (laughs)
From your Montessori background, where they hold quite conventional views on children’s use of technology and the need to control access to that, I was hoping you could share a bit about your experience with that journey.
ANNA: Yeah. I’m certainly not as strict as Dina, for example. She actually never really said much about that because she was writing—well, no, no, no, that’s no true. She wrote when there was television, but there is definitely a feeling that until they’re six they should be dealing mostly with the real world, children, so the recommendation is certainly to limit. There’s never computers in classrooms, for example, under six-year-old classrooms. There are in primary school rooms.
There’s also, I guess, the focus is also very much on reality rather than in fantasy or pretend. That all goes together. I did move away from that because … I’m trying to think where it started. Something made me. It was specifically television at this stage. Something made me decide to look up all the actual studies on the recommendations for under two’s television. I read the ones I could find. I think they were the ones linked by the American Pediatric Association. I just wasn’t very impressed with the studies. They were small sample sizes and they weren’t really very well designed. They only had very small differences. They just weren’t very convincing as research studies.
I think that’s what made me think, again, maybe that’s just not true. “Technology is a problem,” maybe it’s just not true. I was reading a lot about all the people who radical unschooled who had older children, and the idea that it was fine, that they did great things with technology. There was never really a lot of conflict around that with the kids, because I had started to read and let go of my ideas about that when Abby was about three.
She really hadn’t been asking, so I hadn’t been saying no. She wasn’t particularly interested in television until she was older anyway, so that was fine. Actually, the technology, that was a reasonably easy let go. I would say because it’s less of a focus in Montessori than in Steiner. I think Steiner people have a harder time letting go of the idea of technology being evil. I still do have some little slip-ups.
I’ve still got a bit of deschooling to do, particularly around, well, the latest one has been around YouTube, because the girls love YouTube and they get heaps of great stuff out of it, but I was starting to worry a bit that there was a bit too much YouTube going on. Plus, it was very convenient when I needed to get things done, so I think I was moving a little bit away from being very engaged with them. I shifted that a little bit now, and I’m just making sure that it is an actual choice that they’re watching YouTube and not just a, “I can’t think of anything to do, and mom’s not paying attention, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
It is easy to watch, and that means I can do a lot of other stuff, but that’s not really how I want to do things. Things come up, still. They still come up, and you have to work through them.
PAM: Things like that that you mentioned, those are just good clues for us, right? So we can check in with ourselves. “Oh. Is this a relationship thing? Am I feeling a little bit disconnected? What can I do to fix it?” Because life. Those are just bits of life that come up, and we just want to be paying attention to them and digging in. “What does this tell us?”
ANNA: I find it particularly important with my younger daughter because, for her specifically, YouTube is a very private activity. She doesn’t want to share it, so she doesn’t want me to sit with her while she watches. She’s not watching anything that she shouldn’t be, so it’s not like watching a movie with her, that we can sit and chat and cuddle.
She’s my less verbal sharer, as well. My older daughter, I know everything that’s going on in her mind most of the time. Whereas, my youngest, she’s much more internal. She’s much more introverted, and I’m not. I talk a lot and I’m extroverted, so my younger girl and I are more different than my older one, so I always try and be very aware to make sure I’m staying very connected to her in different ways, in the ways that she likes.
So, yeah, it’s easy for me to slip out of connection with her. Well, no, that’s not true. I don’t slip out of connection with her, but I am aware of it, I suppose, as her personality.
What are your children enjoying right now? How are they exploring their interests? You’ve mentioned YouTube. Is that the main one right now?
ANNA: I wouldn’t say so. My Abby, she’s been loving The Sims recently. She’s played The Sims before, but she’s just got back into it. She’s found out how to download custom content, which is a big thing for her, so things that people have made, new things, and how to get that onto her game. She really likes making the people. I think that’s her favorite part of it, at the moment. She loves The Sims.
She loves making things. She loves making everything. She cooks. She’s a fantastic cook. She loves to make. Just yesterday she came out with something she got from YouTube she found. She wanted to make a bottle sock. She found a plastic bottle and put a sock over it and made bubble snakes. She like to felt, does little needle felting a lot. I would say she’s definitely a person who makes things. She does that lots.
She also is very skilled socially. You know the Gardener’s theory of the seven intelligences, or the eight intelligences, hers would definitely be interpersonal. Friends are really important to her. She’s very good at friends, which is great. We see friends of hers two or three times a week at least. They both do drama, which they’ve been doing for the last, this is their third year of doing this drama class, which they love. They’ve also both started horse riding recently, which they’re really enjoying.
My youngest is very physical. She loves gymnastics. That’s probably her favorite thing. For her seventh birthday, we set up our old converted garage as a little gymnastics room for her with mats and rings to swing on. We have a trampoline. She just cartwheels around everywhere.
PAM: I saw pictures of that. That was lovely.
ANNA: Yeah, she’s just a really physical child. She jumps on and off the couch all the time. She goes to a class once a week, which she loves, as well. She also—my husband did this as well as a child, he really remembers it—she spends quite a bit of time in dramatic play, I suppose, making up these games completely by herself and playing them in the backyard. Sometimes the dog is involved. I can just see her walking around in the backyard talking and gesturing and clearly playing something.
Again, it’s a bit like YouTube, it’s very private. I have to be a bit careful about watching. She’s not looking to be watched. Yeah, so she has lovely friends as well. She’s a funny thing. She really makes me laugh. Those are probably her main things that she loves. They both do love, they use YouTube a lot.
We go lots of places. We’re coming up to our term holidays, which will be quite nice, because all of their activities will go on break a bit now, which will be nice to just spend some time at home, I think, now.
PAM: That’s lovely. I love hearing about what the kids are up to.
ANNA: Yeah. They’re very busy.
I was curious how you’re husband is feeling about your unschooling lifestyle. Was he on board early on as you were transitioning to it? Or, what’s his journey looked like up to this point?
ANNA: Well, I remember when I first raised the idea of just homeschooling when Abby was a baby. He described his thought process as, “Homeschooling? Only weirdos do that.” Then, the next thought was, “Hang on, but I hated school.”
It’s funny, because he’s actually a university lecturer, but he didn’t like school, but he did love uni. He very quickly accepted the idea of homeschooling. That was no problem. I would say probably, especially when they were younger, he was the more natural unschooling parent. He never had any issues around things like abundance or doing whatever would help them be happy.
As they’ve got older, he’s probably had a few more worries. Both of them read really well, but neither of them read for pleasure, which he’s a bit sad about, I think, because he loves to read. Actually, I do, too. I think sometimes you just need to let go of what you thought they might like and look at what they do like. Apart from that, no, he’s always been on board. He listened to a few of your podcasts, though. I think the one with Roya.
PAM: Oh, yeah.
ANNA: He really enjoyed that, and it really kind of helped him feel good about what they might do as adults. One of the big things I have come around to doing is not constantly thinking about how what we’re doing now will affect what they’re like in ten years, because so much of mainstream childhood is just preparing them to be adults, and it’s not appreciating and making right now fantastic, because you’re worried about the effect it’s going to have on their adult character.
I think he’s probably a little bit slower to come to that idea, because he worries about them as adults, of course. He’s their dad. He wants them to have a great life, so yeah. We have had chats about that.
PAM: That’s awesome.
I’m curious. What has surprised you most about your journey so far?
ANNA: I made a little note here, and I just put, that it’s worked. (laughs)
I mean, I know my kids are still young, but they really do learn to read without being taught. They really are lovely people, I think, much, much better people than I am. The idea that, as imperfectly as I managed to do it, allowing them and supporting them to develop into who they are is working. They’re confident. They’re happy.
They’ve got fantastic relationships with each other and with both of us. They’re very different, the two of them, but they get along. They just adore each other, and they’re really connected and protective. They argue sometimes, but nothing like what I see some siblings, and with how different they are personality, I think that could easily have happened if they had had the separation of school. That’s something I’m really grateful for. So, yeah, I think how it really does work and it’s—I don’t know if it’s easy. It’s hard to quantify.
PAM: It is. I just, I loved that response, because when you first hear about it and you first hear about the lifestyle and other unschooling kids and everything, you go, “Wow. Is that even possible?” There’s that first trust. “Okay, I’m going to give it a try.” Then, “Wow! It does work!”
ANNA: Yeah. We’ve still got a long, we’ve still got many years ahead of us.
PAM: You’ve got that foundation.
ANNA: Yeah, yeah. They’re such amazing people. I’m glad I get to spend lots of time with them.
PAM: On that “easy” piece, I guess it all depends on whether you consider it work.
For me, I think of it as easy, as in, I’m always engaged with another person. So, it’s not me trying to figure stuff out on my own. So, in that way, it’s easy because I’m in relationship with them and I’m connected with them. We’re all figuring stuff out together. Like you said, they’re pretty brilliant. They have great ideas. It’s always a give and take and we’re in this together. I’m never all alone trying to figure stuff out, which seems harder.
If you’re expecting for your kids to tie their shoes and do that all on their own, and that from the moment they’re born, the whole point of being their parent is to get them to need you less and less and less. That could be hard, if that’s your goal, but when you drop that need and just connect with them and be with them, it’s pretty amazing and not so hard. It’s just time, but it’s time you’re choosing. That’s what you’re choosing to do with your time.
ANNA: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I don’t know. I have plenty of friends who have kids at school, and that doesn’t look any easier to me. It looks a lot harder in many ways.
PAM: Yep. Because you’re trying to get people to do things that they don’t want to do, even the parents. The parents don’t want to be standing over making sure the homework’s done. So much of it isn’t fun for anyone involved. At least we’re having fun with the things that we’re choosing to do, right?
ANNA: Yeah. That’s right.
PAM: That’s so cool.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Anna. It was so fun!
ANNA: Oh, it’s a pleasure, Pam. Thank you for asking me.
PAM: Before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
PAM: So, in those Facebook groups?
PAM: Okay. I will share those, and people can join and watch out for you if they’d like to.
PAM: Thank you very much, and you are starting your day, aren’t you?
ANNA: Yes. Yeah. We’ve got a few things on today.
PAM: Yay! Well, I am going to go have a bite of dinner and slowly make my way to bed.
PAM: Thanks so much. Have a great time.
ANNA: You too. Bye!