PAM: Hi everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today, I’m here with Bryanna Royal. Hi, Bryanna!
BRYANNA: Hello, thank you for having me. I am so excited and honored to be here.
PAM: That is awesome, I am so excited to chat with you!
You have a pretty fun story to share. Just for people to know, Bryanna and her husband Craig are unschooling their four young children. As if that were not crazy enough, a few years ago they decided to sell everything and move into an RV.
I am really excited to learn more about your adventures, Bryanna! To get us started …
Can you share a bit about you and your family and how you first came across the idea of unschooling?
BRYANNA: Yes! I would love to share it.
So, traveling actually came second to the unschooling.
When we had our first child, when he was about two years old, you kind of start thinking a little bit more about the school aspect. My mom, who is a retired school teacher, and my dad, who is a retired school teacher, were actually the ones who came to us. My mom is like, “You are not putting your kids in public school, right?”
Again, coming from a school teacher. It was like, “Oh well. Yes, we have thought about a few things but we really have not dove too into it, we are still kind of in this bliss of like having our first kid and just, you know, enjoying that time and not really going deep down into it.”
So, we started the conversation and she presented a few different options to me that she had found, as well as a book on unschooling. I cannot even remember now which one it was. It might have been one of John Holt’s, I‘m not exactly sure, but it was a book that discussed unschooling. I read it and it really opened my eyes to this different philosophy and idea of what we could really do and give to our kids.
I was instantly intrigued by it but, when you have a two-year-old, it kind of becomes like, “Oh, that is really cool and intriguing,” but you are kind of like, “Yeah, yeah,” and you do not dive too deep into it. They are two. They do not even know how to say their name. They are happy, so like, whatever. It was not too much but it sat there.
Then we had twins after our two-year-old and then we got pregnant with the fourth. By this time, our oldest was a little over four years old. I actually sat down with my husband then on one of the kids’ first birthday: we have choice to make here, are we sure we want to do this? To go down this path?
We both kind of came to the realization that, yes, we wanted to give this—I am going to say alternative method—a go and see what it was all about, because we were definitely intrigued by it.
So, once we kind of knew we were going down this homeschooling route, we had also kind of started to say, ‘We do not have this school schedule holding us back so what does that look like for our lifestyle?’ That is where we then made this crazy decision to sell our house and everything in it and hit the road and just travel full time. We thought it was a great fit with this unschooling lifestyle and the life we wanted to live, along with, it just sounded like an awesome adventure to do together as a family. In a nutshell, that is what we decided to do, it was not quite that prettily packaged, there were a lot of tears and a lot of unknowns.
We had built our dream house like had this 2700 square foot house on half an acre with a pool and a playground. What we thought was like the “American Dream,” built. Basically, we said, ‘Nope, scratch all that,’ and literally almost sold all of it to move into this RV, to start this crazy lifestyle.
I will say one of the caveats for us that was a big component of it was that my sister and her family actually did the same thing at the same time as us. They had at the time, they currently have two kids that are right around the ages of my kids. So, we knew were not going into it alone they also were in the unschooling mindset, the same parenting focus. So, we were doing it kind of together with them. It made it another aspect of our journey that was really cool. Since then, my parents have retired and sold their house and bought an RV.
BRYANNA: Yes. So, they are actually traveling too. I like to lay that out there just to let people know we had a lot of support behind this decision. A lot of other people that were going to be coming on this adventure and journey with us, which made it a little less scary than what it could be if we were doing it completely on our own. So, yes, that is how we got to this place and just thought, ‘You know, I am unschooling,’ and traveling full time was a really good fit.
PAM: That is an awesome story and yes, that is a great point about having other people in your lives who not only understand the choices that you are making but are making similar choices alongside you. So, you are not completely on your own. I remember when we first got started all I knew was that there were people that I had seen on the internet who were doing it. (laughs)
PAM: That is great to be able to have that as well. Then you have all sorts of conversations and can bounce ideas and thoughts around with people—that is really cool.
Let’s dive in a little bit. You said your mom had given you these books and you and your husband had sat down and kind of decided, at least when your eldest was hitting school age, if you wanted to try out this path.
What were a couple of the reasons behind actually choosing unschooling as a part of your lifestyle?
BRYANNA: Yes, one of the main things for us, even when choosing this lifestyle as well, has always been our family. Our focus on our relationship with our kids and others was really the most important thing. We felt that this unschooling lifestyle would—and still does because I do not look at unschooling as a schooling component—I really look at it as a lifestyle as a whole. It felt like unschooling was going to give us the means and the tools in order to continue to grow our relationships. It was not going to put this eight hours a day that our kids were separated from each other, separated from us, it was this concept of having us be all together.
Then what I liked outside of the fact that it became that we were looking to dive into each other’s interests deeper. We were looking to understand each other better through this method and not have it be all about “you have to do this,” “you have to do that.” Instead it is this freedom that everyone in our family was going to have this opportunity to truly learn and dive into the things that they wanted to.
So, I think that was a big component of it. Then also, just the idea of giving our kids so much freedom. What I remember about school was, I was a good student. Got A’s and B’s all the time, did well—always did well on tests. The minute I took the test, I forgot everything I learned.
I had five years of French in high school and I can not speak a sentence. It’s crazy, I had many years of French and I can not speak a sentence of it. Just looking back on that and saying, sure I came out of high school, went to college, got a good job, but I kind of forgot the majority of what I did. What a waste of my time. How much more time could have gone into me really learning more of who I was and learning how to make my own choices and my own decisions even, as a kid.
That level of respecting my kids and them respecting me was so important. I just felt like this environment was going to give us a chance to truly show our kids that respect and allow them the space to become who they are.
Then the learning component of it, it was a hard step to trust in that, to trust that that learning is going to just come if you are in this environment. What we have seen over the years is, is it HAS just come. It has been amazing to see my kids start to read and we have never done phonics or you know anything like that, to see those things happening.
I know when some people start unschooling, their kids have been in school for a little while. The fact that my kids have never been in school, never been a day care setting, it was kind of like our life just continued on. We did not pass this young kid phase and then move on to the school phase. We just kind of continued with our life. I like the idea that our attachment parenting style could so easily roll into this unschooling life as our kids continued to get older.
I feel like those were the components that pulled us into it initially and now that our oldest is ten we are starting to dive a little bit further into some of those other components. That basis of the family, the freedom, the choices, is what really pulled us into and why we thought unschooling was a good fit for us and our family.
PAM: Yes, I really love the way you describe that. The point you made about how that first leap, and having to trust that, ‘Okay, they are hitting kind of this school age milestone but that they can continue learning the way they did when they were younger.’
How you need to have some trust in that happening but then over time you can start to really trust it yourself. You have seen that it is happening. Like you were talking about with reading, right? So, even though it is a huge step away, you can grab that first bit of trust and then actually see it happening for yourself.
BRYANNA: No, you definitely can. You know, I sometimes make the joke that I feel bad for my oldest because he is going through this learning curve with us. I feel like our five-year-old is going to come up and like, it is going to be golden for him, because by that time we have been through three other kids, we have seen it all, we are like, good to go. Our poor ten-year-old we are like, ‘Sorry buddy, you are trying this with us or trying that with us or we are doing this or whatever,’ and it is like, ‘Argh!’
But it is, I mean, that is all part of the journey. That is what it is, I don’t know if there is any other way around it but than to go through this. He is going to get something else out of that, different from what our five-year-old will get. So, I can see goods and bads to that for sure.
PAM: Exactly. When I think about my youngest, he was only in school for a few months, but you do eventually realize that, ‘Okay, that can look good or bad or whatever but it is just a different journey for every one of them, and ourselves.’ We learn from our experiences, full stop, whatever they are. That is really interesting.
Another point that I wanted to just jump back to, when you talked about how you would learn things for the test and then promptly forget about them, which was my experience exactly. I too had the many years of French, and that is one of my go to examples. When you were talking about it, what clicked into my mind was the whole you know, idea of imposter syndrome. Have you heard that term?
BRYANNA: Oh yes.
PAM: It is like you get more and more fixated on proving yourself on the tests and then never talking about it again because someone might realize that you don’t remember it, right? It is this whole protection thing that you then have to carry out throughout your entire school career, don’t you?
BRYANNA: Yes, well and I feel like imposter syndrome is a perfect way to look at it because, on paper, I looked smart but if you asked me to talk about something that I learned in school, I could not really talk about it because I never really understood the concept, I just knew how to get a good grade.
I was not fully learning it and investing myself in these things, and that was one of the things that just rubs me wrong about what the school system does. But on one hand I understand we need the schools for the kids that need to have it and that is the only option they have so, there is something that needs to happen there, I understand that.
But if I have this ability to give my kids this chance to really process things and understand them at their level and come about them the way they want to without this fear of this test or this cramming concept. I am trusting that this is a good route to go. Having people like you with grown to kids to show there is a reason to trust it. It is definitely a benefit as well in our journey.
PAM: Oh yes, no it is not easy to do unconventional things, is it?
BRYANNA: No. It is not.
But that is part of wanting to show our kids why you do those things and that is a good thing, to be outside the box. If you choose to be in the box more power to you, if that is what you are CHOOSING out of knowing what the other options are or what that other choice is. But it’s all about that, about our life having choices and being able to truly choose what we want to do.
PAM: I think that is a great point because that is entirely it: knowing that you have the choice.
I know my years as a school parent, I did not know that this was a choice, but I threw myself into that role to make it work as best as we could for our family. School is part of our lives and working with that to figure out ways that that can work best with your child.
We have talked on Q&A episodes and a few other episodes about how you do not need to bring that whole authoritarian aspect into your lives, right? You do not need to bring defining a person’s value by their test marks. Which is why we were so intent on doing well at school, because that is how we were judged by other people. We quickly learn to judge ourselves. There are so many aspects of that whole framework that you do not need to incorporate within your family, even if school is part of your lives.
BRYANNA: Yes, exactly. Or just giving less credibility to those things or putting that same amount of credibility on other aspects of what is going on: the relationships, the creativity, the conversations. Making those things just as important. Which is a challenge, obviously, but yes, I agree I think it can definitely be done.
PAM: Yes, it’s just an unconventional way to look at things. It’s all our journey to make, is it not?
BRYANNA: Exactly. And everyone’s is different and everyone’s has bumps and turns and curves. But that is the beauty of it too, though, that we do not want to live the way someone else is showing us or telling us to. We want to live our own journey.
PAM: Well, and you know that is why I am coming up on—I think this is going to be episode 92. (laughs)
BRYANNA: Awesome, congrats.
PAM: Thank you. It is so fun still to me, I get excited every single time to hear about everyone’s personal journeys because it is fascinating and it is interesting and we all have so much to share individually that I love it.
Anyway, we should probably move on to the next question!
Going back to what we were talking about before, we so we dove into your choices around unschooling, what about your decision to sell your home and move into the RV? The travel aspect. I know talked about how unschooling was about the relationship and the family aspect, but what were you guys thinking when you came to this decision?
BRYANNA: Yes, it was really again the family aspect of just wanting to spend more time together as a family with less distractions. So, knowing when we were on the road we were living in a small space together. We did not have a ton of different activities or different events going on in our hometown or things like that that were going to pull us away.
Instead, we would have this chance to really hone-in and focus on each other. So, that was a big component of it. But in all honesty, it has been difficult to continue to make that a focus. The older our kids get, the more personalities and opinions have come into play. I feel like, even though we have been on the road for three plus years, we are still trying to figure out what our ideal way of traveling is for our family.
Is that going someplace and sitting in the middle of a forest with no one around us and just hanging out? Or, is that going to national parks and going hiking and doing those type of activities that are getting all of our hearts pumping, getting us out there and doing things? Really kind of trying to learn what that is for our family.
But the reason that we decided to do this in the first place was one, there was so much in the country—in the world, really—that we wanted to see. And we were in (my husband and I) a nine to five job setting and the kids were going to be going to school, so the amount of time you have per year to really get out and enjoy your family and travel is very small. Then, if you add in activities, you are doing and this and that, the window gets even smaller.
So, a big part of it was, ‘Let’s go on this adventure as a family and if we really don’t like it, we can always go back and make a different decision or figure out a different path.’ That was kind of the first thing, let’s do this—our big house started to feel very suffocating.
We would have to, every weekend, go to Menards or Target and you know spend the infamous hundred dollars at Target on absolutely nothing, you just needed toothpaste. (laughs) So we were going down the path thinking, ‘Okay, this does not quite feel right,’ and then we had so much stuff, so many things. It was like, ‘This is taking so much of our time, it can never be cleaned.’ All of that brought us to this life of this freedom.
To just be able to minimize our stuff, live minimal, live simply, and yet still get out and live this amazing lifestyle and visit all of these amazing places. So, that was behind choosing to do the travel. And the learning curve came in when we started realizing, ‘Oh wait, we are not on vacation in all these places, we can not just go spend a thousand dollars a week doing all this fun and cool stuff; so how are we going to take that in to play and make that work?’
So, this has been a huge journey for our family to go through and to learn and to figure out what works for us and what is the best thing. I would think after three years we would have all those answers and we do not.
PAM: That is fascinating. I really love the way you brought that one back to relationships too. Thinking about just the everyday things that can eat at our time, really, is probably a way to look at it. How, by bringing the relationships and wanting to maximize the time that you guys had together, you came to this place. That is really fascinating.
I love the point that it is all a journey, we are always learning and adjusting and I think that is such a great way to look at things. Rather than having in your mind, you know, like here is our answer, our RV lifestyle and then doing all you can to make everything fit into it, you know what I mean? Instead, being open and understanding all these different messages and things you are getting. So, when you think of it that way, of course three plus years in you’re still figuring things out, because we are all growing and changing all the time are we not?
BRYANNA: Yes, for sure, and that, when you have younger kids, I guess they have an opinion. When we first started, our kids were six, four, four, and two and yes, there are opinions, but they are a little bit more willing to go with the flow. Whereas now, each year it has gotten a little bit more stronger opinions and we want to honor those. Figuring out how we honor those yet still do this lifestyle has been an interesting process to go through for sure.
PAM: Yes, that’s brilliant.
Traveling for three plus years, I imagine you guys are definitely gathering some fun and interesting stories on your travels and I was hoping you could share one or two with us.
BRYANNA: Yes, for sure. It is interesting, a lot of times people ask what is your favorite place? I mean, sure, we have places we enjoy going to but, what is ONE really good story I can share?
I don’t know if it is necessarily a story or if it is more just what we have done and what that has brought us. We did not start off on this traveling adventure being big hikers or big national park people, or anything like that but we realized once we got on the road and started doing these things how much joy we got out of doing them together as a family.
I always like to share the story from not long after we had started traveling, they may have been six months older or a year older than when we first started. We were in Yellowstone, and we went on a hike to the top of Mt. Washburn. Which is one of highest hikes you can do in Yellowstone, I believe at least a day hike.
It was three miles up to the top of this mountain and just doing that together as a family. Doing this hike and carrying the kids half the way and seeing mountain goats on the trail and the wild flowers. Getting up to the top and having it be so windy that we were almost blown over, we are holding on to the kids like, “Don’t let go.” You know, just doing those experiences.
Since then we have done the same thing now in Banff National Park and in Jasper National Park and in Glacier National Park. In Death Valley, walking on the sand flats, and just all of these experiences and doing them together as a family and having the kids say, “Mommy, what does this look like?” and you say, “I don’t know, I’ve never done it either, this is the first time for me too.”
We stayed in the Florida Keys for a couple months and out in Key West we took a boat out where we did some snorkeling in the ocean. This was when our one son was three and he is out there snorkeling and I am holding back my fear of a shark coming up on us, to try to help the kids enjoy it, doing those experiences together. Jet skiing with our kids—one behind me, one in front of me. I have never jet skied before and here we are going thirty miles an hour around on these things.
So, it has really been those experiences that we have done for the first time together as a family that I think is what keeps pulling us back to how cool this travel lifestyle is. And how we are all growing as people through these experiences that I never had when I was that young, and yet my kids have rode horses and rode jet skis and climbed these mountains and did rock scrambling and rock climbing. All these experiences as a whole, is what I think of when I think of our travel stories. It is not necessarily one specific thing, it is more just all of them kind of wrapped into one. The way I have seen my kids become so much more adventurous than they were when we first started.
Now to them it is not weird or different to jump on a jet ski or hours. Where originally it was like, ‘You want me to do what?’ and I was like, ‘Okay yes, let’s go.’ That has been really cool to see as well.
PAM: I love that observation that you are all doing these things for the first time. Is that not brilliant?
BRYANNA: Yes, it really is, really cool.
I feel like that is part of what makes it even more special is that we are not there showing our kids, like, ‘Oh cool, come see this.’ We are experiencing this all together. The emotions are so raw and real because it is the first time that we are ALL doing it. So, no preconceived notions or whatever. That has been a really neat thing. You know, a lot of “wow” moments.
PAM: When I think about the connections that you are making, seeing this experience freshly for all of you, like you said, those “wow” moments, just sharing that excitement together. There are your relationship connections as well. All sorts of experiences that you can bring into conversations, like you said, as your kids are getting older now. You will be processing things and talking about things, you will all have so many of these shared experiences to draw on and bring into conversations too. That is really fascinating.
BRYANNA: Yes, it really is. It is very full.
PAM: Now, I guess we are still talking about RV life here.
I thought it would be really interesting to know what you might have found to be challenging things about living in an RV that you did not expect when you first started out?
BRYANNA: Yes, for sure. There is probably so many that I could talk the whole hour on this but I think the biggest thing and what we have realized is the planning that goes into doing these things and finding these cool experiences takes up a whole lot more time that I thought. I don’t know why. That is, because of course now when I sit back and look at it I go, ‘What was I thinking?’ Of course, it is going to take a lot of time. But for some reason, my head was already at experiencing and seeing these cool things, not really the processes that were behind planning them and scheduling them, you know, making them happen and doing all that. So, definitely that planning component of it has been a challenge.
Then, like living in the RV itself, yeah, there are some challenges like, we have a small area for where our food can go, so, figuring out the right foods to buy. Not having much space to say, ‘I want some space so I’m going to go take a bath upstairs.’ Well no, we kind of had to give up that stuff, there really is not a place to go do that. But I feel like most of that has ebbed and flowed.
Maybe that has to do with the fact that we started when our kids were so young when they were always within maybe ten feet of me anyways, no matter where I was in the house. It did not feel that unusual to move into this small space and be so close to each other because it was what we were doing in this humongous house anyway.
So, that part of it was not as much as a challenge but the part that has—and I know we have not talked much on this and I am sure some listeners are probably curious and wondering as well—the financial aspect of how we make this work. What that meant was that my husband actually left his nine to five because he was sitting at the table from nine to five everyday and was missing out on all these fun and cool things we were doing. So, he actually decided to leave that and we started our own virtual business which is called VirtualPowerhouse.com and we also have our travel blog CrazyFamilyAdventure.com which we are monetizing as well.
The challenge has really been how to figure out how to continue to make the income we need to live the lifestyle we want to, along with spending the time with our kids and just hanging out the way we want to along with us getting our own personal time as well, for my husband and I and figuring out what that looks like.
And just meeting the kids’ needs outside of the travel. When it comes to them not caring about the RV and not caring about where they are going but just having a need—if they are really into Minecraft or if they are really into their dolls, you know something like that. Figuring out how to still meet those needs when we are in such a small space where we cannot just, set up like a whole doll bedroom that is going to be there for like the next couple of weeks. Instead, figuring out that we have to set it up then we have to take it down. Kind of figuring out how to fit those day-to-day needs that everyone still has into our RV and into this lifestyle has definitely been a challenge and continues to be a challenge and part of our journey of learning how to still meet those needs that everyone has.
PAM: That is such a great point. When you think about traveling and going places, that is always a so much in a vacation context. Where life is just kind of suspended for a bit. You go off even if it is for a month or whatever but you know you are going back. Yet, for you guys, and people who choose this lifestyle full-time, I can imagine it is a whole process, a whole mind shift, isn’t it?
To realize this is how we need to fit all these normal (normal is not the right word) but these pieces of our daily lives, like you said—the Minecraft, the dolls. To just realize that those are just as valuable. Those moments, those needs are just as important as the mountain hike or, you know, visiting this particular thing. Yet you do not want to lose those experiences either. So yes, the balance of trying to just figure out how to mash all these things, I can imagine that is quite the experience.
BRYANNA: Yes, yes. I don’t think we went into it knowing that. Of course, we knew that there were going to be down times. But, really knowing what that looked like, and what that felt like; our minds were so focused that we were going to be almost on vacation all the time. We knew we weren’t but that was so intriguing, more than the day-to-day normal stuff.
What we have learned to just process is that that is just as important and the snuggling with our kids and reading books to them and just doing those basic things IS that important. Our time is more limited if we still want to do these other things. We are trying to figure out what that looks like on top of travel days.
There are definitely times that I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, it would be so much easier if we just had a curriculum and we could just take a book out and, say, two hours every morning we do this and then we are done.’ That would make life so much easier but I don’t want to do that, so it’s interesting for sure to go through this journey and figure out.
I always tell people that first come to us, “Oh my gosh, that sounds like such an amazing lifestyle,” that it is, but it is not all rainbows and sunshine. It does not make parenting easier. It does not make school easier. That whole concept, like it does not make any of that stuff easier, it is just different. It is in a different way and yes, we have these really cool opportunities that we can do that I KNOW are very cool and special and unique. But, we do still have these normal day-to-day things that we are still figuring out how to do.
PAM: Yes, because you still have, in your mind, all these check lists. You still want to be on your unschooling journey, just figuring out how your kids are learning and wanting to know that your kids are learning. You need to make those connections and that takes a lot of time. Then you have your relationship things, figuring out relationships and personalities. Just like you said, all these bits of life that still need to come to the forefront, right?
PAM: I can see how you travel to a place and it might be nice to stay there for awhile because there is so much other stuff that needs to be processed plus experiencing where you are. I can see myself, ‘Okay I am here in this new funky place and I have got x, y and z that I really want to visit and experience and do and have fun with.’ Then there is this whole other handful of life things that still need to occur at the same time. Then all of sudden six months goes by. (laughs)
BRYANNA: Exactly! That is funny that you say six months but that is totally like and we have six days and you know like it is not at these places for that long. We have gone to some places where we have stayed maybe a month at a time, is usually the longest we have stayed somewhere. We have considered renting a house somewhere for a longer stretch in between some of this traveling to maybe get some of that in. Or, finding somewhere to stay for a longer stretch our RV set up right now would not really allow that because we downsized to like, a really small RV so it does not really work for that. But then again renting somewhere like that to do that in.
Part of what the challenge I felt like when it comes to the unschooling and the RVing is, when we started, I thought it was like this magical like, perfect fit. Like ‘Oh yeah, a lot of our schooling will just happen as we are traveling.’ It DOES but we lose a little bit, with the traveling, a little bit of that freedom of the kids having those choices I talked about. Which is probably part of the reason why we did this.
I do not know if I was reading one of your books or maybe one of your podcasts where talked about where if one kid did not want to go to the museum you maybe brought that kid to the grandparents’ house to hang out. Or you figure out a time to do it. Well, we really do not have that luxury in situations. It is like, ‘We are only here for this long, we all have to go to this museum together and experience it.’
We try to gauge our kids. Which one will really enjoy this section of the museum so maybe one—me or my husband—will take them and spend more time with them there. You know, we still try to fit in as much as we can but I feel like the unschooling component of it has definitely suffered a little bit because it is not our main focus because we also have this travel that is a focus and this business that is a focus. So there, it was not as easy as a fit as I initially thought it was.
But we are growing, we are at our journey, we are figuring out how to make it fun. There is that component I just like to share with people because it is not a magic bullet. It is not like, ‘Okay we are going to go do the travel,’ and everything falls in place. No.
PAM: That is an amazing point, I am so glad you brought that up too. Wherever we are, it always seems like something ELSE would be perfect.
PAM: Like it’s a fantasy life somewhere else.
Every choice that we make in our lives comes with constraints and implications and other things that do not work so well. So, you’ve got bonuses and great challenges that come with every single choice that we make in our lives. It is really about looking at our individual families ourselves to see when those constraints become maybe too much. When they are impacting—negatively impacting—enough that they begin to outweigh the benefits and then maybe we are going to shift.
I think that is one thing that gets us—I was going to say, in trouble—but, if we don’t do the work to realize that no answer is perfect, we are going to always diss the situation we are in.
BRYANNA: Yes. I definitely feel that is a big part of it. Like, the grass is always greener over there, when you see that picture, or you see this. Part of what this lifestyle has given us is the freedom to make a choice.
If we wanted to go homestead somewhere well, we could do that. Or, if we wanted to live in Alaska for a year, technically we could do that. Sometimes you have all these options on the table too, you are like ‘Argh, I do not know what do now. I do not know what works or makes sense.’
For one kid, one thing does, and for another, another does. Part of what I like about it, though, is I feel like our kids have become very flexible through all of this. My husband and I have both grown more as people than we ever thought we would have. Like, this was not the intention when we started this. But the fact that we are all growing as people through this process—I do like that. It is almost like my husband and I are getting unschooled in our adult life. You know, like having these freedoms and these choices and whatever. It is a wild ride, hence the name for our blog: Crazy Family Adventure. I knew from the beginning that “crazy” had to be in there somewhere. It is definitely still part of what we are doing.
PAM: Yes. That is awesome. Just making those choices, you kind of put yourself out on a limb. You are challenging yourself too. You are coming up against all sorts of questions, and also choices. You are just throwing the doors open and minimizing a lot of the constraints that are on you. That is what is really cool.
You talk about what you guys are learning, and growing as people because now you are realizing and experiencing all the other constraints that can be there. It is like I talk about sometimes how it is about removing road blocks so that you can really get to the root of things. Like you said, the grass is not greener at the bottom.
BRYANNA: Yes, exactly.
PAM: It is still a group of people living together and forging ahead, day after day. I like the metaphor of dancing, for relationships with people. Because we are all growing and changing and interests change and just everything: goals, aspirations, things we want to do. So everyday is a new day, you have to start from scratch.
BRYANNA: Yes, every single day is a new day with wide open choices. If we put our kids in school and got a house, life would be so structured. I would not have to think and it is like, ‘No, no, no, I do not want that.’
PAM: That’s the green grass, right? When you are steeped in so many choices and trying to make it work and then two, three, six months later you are going to have yet another set of constraints that you are going to be trying to figure out your way through.
BRYANNA: Exactly, I think of all the work and effort we put into this. It is like, ‘Nope, no, no, we just got to keep figuring it out, figuring out what is best for everyone.’
PAM: That is beautiful.
I wanted to talk about a post that you had on your blog about how unschooling works for your family. I really love one of the points you made that I wanted to bring out. You wrote that it includes, “Trusting our kids and knowing that they understand what is in their best interest and if we know they are not ready, instead of saying that they can not do something we do it with them so we can work it together so they are ready to do it on their own in the near future.”
You alluded to that when you talked about how you guys are doing all these new things together. I really loved that paradigm shift that you talked about. To realize that you are doing, instead of saying no, you are doing it with them until they are ready to do it on their own whenever they are ready to do that. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit more.
BRYANNA: Yes, for sure. I feel like that is such a good way too when you think of like, schools. In schools, when you are in first grade, ‘You need to be doing this type of reading or this level of math and you should not be doing this.’ You know, you are not ready for that yet.
I love that with unschooling, it gives the opportunity to say, ‘Okay, yes, if one of our younger kids wants to read like the book Lord of the Rings. If they are interested in that, then sure, why not? That is not going to be in a curriculum for a first grader but if they are into it, we know that we can read it to them. Then we can answer their questions and talk through it with them. Why would we not do that?
So, I feel like with the schooling, part of that is coming, but I also feel like it has a lot to do with physical aspect of stuff and that’s a lot of what we focus on. We were just camping this past weekend out in this forest reserve with no one around and the kids wanted to build a fire and cut logs. There we were, literally saws out with our kids sawing logs and trying to build a fire and set these things up. We were around, to kind of make sure they were doing it, and to let them do it.
I don’t know if it is us nowadays, or just in general, people think kids can not do a lot. Or they do not have the mind capacity to be able to take on reading or listening to a book above their level, or whatever. Part of what we want to do is to say kids are SO much more capable than we give them credit for. So, trying to just give them those opportunities and then support them in figuring out how to do them the way that they can, given their age or the size of their hands. To help them to do it and for them to have this confidence and this know-how that they can do anything they want to do and it is okay to ask for help. You really can do anything you want to do so let us figure out how we can do that.
When I was writing that it is around that, like trusting that our kids have this ability and capability and letting them experience that and not stifling them or stopping them until they hit an age or a height or a weight or whatever that tells them it is okay to do it.
PAM: Yes, I mean that was one of the huge revelations for me, how capable children really are. When you have that trusting relationship, when you can trust enough to give them the space to show their capabilities but they also trust you enough to know that whenever they want help or have questions or whatever, they can ask without any judgment, good or bad. That just opens up the space for them so much to more confidently to approach things.
Like you were saying, how confident your kids are at just trying something new, just checking it out. I can imagine that they feel so trusting to know that you guys are there to help them out whenever they need it or want it or point something out for them. That you give them the space to do it too, I think that is just such a beautiful picture on just the relationship and how they can approach their days.
BRYANNA: I feel like this part almost comes more natural to me as a parent than some of the learning side of it. Maybe it is because of the stigma of having cousins or friends that are in school and the levels they are at. Where our kids are physically advanced in most cases because that is just what we do. With the learning, we are doing all our learning at a different pace so maybe it’s not what their friend the same age is doing. Realizing though, that they have this instead and like, trying to match that into the learning aspect of it had definitely been a challenge.
I guess my recommendation is go with the physical, if that feels comfortable for you and then try to use that as a confidence builder, for us to say, ‘We can see it happening here so, why is that not also part of learning?’ Having that to go back to, to say, ‘It is, it is. Trust it.’
PAM: I think that is a huge shift in deschooling, realizing that all this other stuff that they are learning is just as valuable.
PAM: It can still be so hard to release the idea that the things they are learning in school are more valuable than anything else. That can lead us to comparing. When we start to compare, then we start to place value on it, and it is like, ‘Oh well, sure they do all these physical things or whatever, then they have all these experiences from our travel etc. but can they do division?‘
BRYANNA: Yes, it’s like, ‘Should they know that/’ Those are the things that are a challenge.
PAM: Exactly that is definitely all part of the process. For me it was part of that was the whole shift of realizing the whole lifelong nature of it. To be able to get to a point where I was truly comfortable with the idea that if there is something that, say, they would learn in grade four, or six, or ten, or whatever, is it okay if, in their lives, the point where that becomes an interesting or helpful or useful bit of knowledge or skill happens when they are twenty or twenty five? For me, that was a huge shift for me.
When we talk about life long learning, they can learn any bit at any time in their lives. If there is not a value for that piece of information even if we share it, even if we go up to our kids and say, ‘Hey, here is that curriculum that I am worried that you do not know x, y, or z, here it is.’ What did we learn from our school careers? We do not remember it. (laughs)
BRYANNA: No. That is what always pulls me back. We tried worksheets with our kids now and then and seen them do it—they are not enjoying it, they are not processing it. Sure, maybe they are remembering it at that time. That is what always pulls me back to say this does not work either. My fears, always knowing what works instead, and that is where I pull myself back and reading some of your stuff or listening to your podcasts or doing something like that to recenter myself. ‘It’s okay.’
PAM: Yes, I have talked about that and I still do that for myself too. That whole recentering when you notice that you are getting knocked off kilter—not you, just generally, like myself, like anyone. Things come up in life and they knock you off and yes, it is a whole process to get back to my center and to dig down and figure out what it is that is knocking off in the first place. So often there is a root underneath there, or two or three layers underneath there that is really what is doing it. The deeper I can get and process that, then the longer it is before I am knocked off again the next time. It always happens; things come up.
BRYANNA: That is a good point, though, about digging deeper into understanding what it is—that is a very key process. We have also noticed that with each kid, now that we are seeing how they are all so different and sometimes I have more trust in one of my kids that I do in the other about what they are learning and doing and that’s not what I want to be doing. It doesn’t sound fair but it is, again, taking your advice and having to dive in further and say, ‘Why is that? What is it that is off that is causing that to happen?’
That is what I love about unschooling. It doesn’t let us become people that just follow a process, it makes us continue to question processes and to dig deeper and to figure things out and I think that we need more people that are like that.
PAM: I think that is such a great point because it is not one thing. When people come to unschooling, they want one answer, they want one process: ‘Okay, well, what do I replace curriculum with?’ You know what I mean? They want an answer or a thing that that they can follow, a process.
Like you said, that is another other point, where it’s easier sometimes with one or two of our children just because they are more like us so we understand them more easily. Because their process for learning, the things that light them up, those are things we can relate to more easily because we already understand them from our own perspective. But other kids, it is more work for us because we have to dig through our own—baggage isn’t the right word—our own way of seeing things and now we have to discover a whole new way of looking at things; a whole new perspective. ‘Why is that interesting to you?’
BRYANNA: Or, ‘Why do you not get this?’ Or, ‘Why do you not want to do that?’ Yes, for sure. Which is a very cool thing, yet a very challenging thing to go through but well worth it, to see the outcome. Well worth the time and effort, just making sure we do make that a priority and that is just as important as the learning or as the physical or as traveling; is understanding our kids at that level. It can get tiring and exhausting. Trying to continue to keep that as a focus is very key to this unschooling journey.
PAM: I love that point because sometimes it’s like, ‘Okay, not another thing please!’ Sometimes we don’t have the energy for it. Accepting that in the moment too but, you are right, if you try to ignore it and gloss over it too long, it is just going to keep knocking you over the head until you do the work to figure it out.
BRYANNA: Exactly. It does not go away.
PAM: Exactly it will keep knocking. ‘Hello, hello, figure this out please.’
Earlier you mentioned a little bit about the financial aspect and I would love to dig into that a little bit more. I really love hearing about the innovative ways that unschooling families are making a go of things. I was reading through your blog as well and it was really interesting. I love those posts about the financial aspect as well because it is a combination both of making income and lowering expenses, right? And such a creative approach to it when you are not doing the old nine to five—and that’s not as available for anyone nowadays as the whole work environment is changing but, anyway—I was hoping you could share a little bit about how you guys are supporting your unschooling and travel lifestyle.
BRYANNA: Yes, for sure.
It is one of those questions that when we tell people, meet them for the first time and tell them what we do, that is one of the number one questions: ‘How do you afford it?’ ‘How do you do it?’
I feel like it is a little bit like, I can’t tell you in a sentence or a paragraph—even a whole day I will be talking to you. But I can dive in and tell you a little bit about what we do or point you back to the blog to kind of see actual numbers.
What a lot of it has to do with is really lowering what we call our burn rate. Which means the amount of money that we need to spend each month. So, some of the basic things are like our cell phone—finding the cheapest cell phone plans. We are on a straight talk plan where then it is fifty dollars a month for things, knowing that that is not going to get us all the bells and whistles as maybe another plan would get.
So, finding like those within our everyday things that we use and being content with the fact that we have old cell phones, or content with the fact that we do not have the best of the best. We are not keeping up with the Joneses at all. That has to be okay to live our life at that level. To not have to go out and buy all the new cool gadgets and things that maybe even sometimes could make our life easier in a sense. Just knowing, financially, it will not. Really just trying to draw that line about what we need in order to live and then what that looks like.
It has fluctuated quite a bit. We have had months where we are around, like we want it to be at four thousand a month for our lifestyle. I feel like it is more between like five thousand and six thousand to do things the way we have been doing them. Do I feel like that could be lower? Yes, I feel like it could. Is it sometimes higher? Yes, it is. But it is always, like the same thing with unschooling, it is a constant journey for us to figure out where we want to put the money we have and where we want to spend it. Being very conscious and aware of every single bill or membership we have or whatever it is that is going out each month, to know if it makes sense for us to have it or not.
Again, it is just another one of those things that is a priority of understanding our financials and where we are spending our money and how we are spending it. On the other hand, when we look at the fact of what we brought in last year which, I believe it was around sixty thousand. I like to be very open about that stuff so people know what it is. On our blog again, we lay out a lot of this. I believe it was around like sixty thousand or somewhere in that range. Yet we traveled a lot of the US on that. Which is like crazy to me still, to say how did we do that. But when you take away a house payment and electric and all those type of things, a lot obviously of what we are paying, like RV payment but that was obviously a lot less than what a mortgage payment would be.
Then, if you take that fact that our kids are not in activities. We are actually back in our home town for a little. While here, we did sign the kids up for some Jujitsu classes and gymnastics and that is going to be, with the four kids, almost four hundred dollars a month or something like that, going out for those things. We do not have those expenses so a lot of where we are putting our money into is more into the traveling and the experiences than it is into these classes or material things or things like that.
It is also when we go to locations, finding the free things to do. What can we do for free when we are at a location? A National Park is really cheap. You get an eighty-dollar national park pass and you can go into the national park and you can go to the visitor’s center museum, go on all these hikes, spend plenty of time out there doing things that, in some senses, are even better than attractions that you are going pay for.
So, trying to find those opportunities as well has allowed us to a lot of what we do. Then we also have our travel blog. Having a travel blog and by providing good content and really treating that as a business, we do get some opportunities. Places will give us free tickets to go do things if we do write about them. Sometimes I feel like that is more work than making money to pay for it. (laughs) You know, taking the pictures or video or whatever and writing the blog posts it’s like, ‘Aaahh, that is a lot of work when all is said and done.’ There is also that component of it.
In order to actually fund it, we started a virtual business where we do social media and blogging and email marketing and Pinterest and website design and things like that for small businesses. There are small businesses out there that have a need for all of that, so, it has definitely continued to grow and I am very happy and excited about that.
And nervous about being an entrepreneur, yet excited that we have learned these ways to make money on our own terms, in a sense. That in itself has been a very cool process for me personally to build this business and just to see that I have this ability and that there is this opportunity that is out there and that you can do this. It is pretty amazing.
PAM: That is awesome. Now are you doing that virtual business, virtual assistant business, are you doing that with your husband too? Do you guys kind of take turns during the day? I was just wondering how you balance that work with the kids?
BRYANNA: Oh, I hate that word ‘balance’. (laughs)
PAM: Yes, actually, slap me, because balance to me no longer means like equal or anything, it just means balancing the choices of the moment.
BRYANNA: Yes, that is a very good way to look at it.
PAM: Is that better?
BRYANNA: Yes, that’s better, and it always changes, right?
What we have done actually through this journey which, again, I have to talk about my husband and I growing. We have learned that being an entrepreneur is not his cup of tea. It is not what he enjoys. He does not enjoy finding the clients, the networking, doing all that, but I do. So, what we have decided is, he used to work for a college here in Wisconsin so, he is actually able to do some contract work for them on a pretty consistent basis and he really enjoys that work and the people he works with. So, he does that for a few hours a week—like, five to fifteen hours a week, he does that.
Then if I have clients who need a web site designed, I pass that on to him and he does that as well. He is a little bit involved in it but we kind of have two separate things going on here. I am a little bit more focused on growing my business and building up our financial picture and doing all of that is what we chose to do.
Then he actually stepped in and did more of the cooking, or doing more of the playing with kids on some days if I have a full day of work set aside. We have played around with the idea of me just working Monday sun up till sun down and I am gone and working all day, so I have more time during the week. That does not really fit with my clients, so I work two days a week and he works a day a week. Then, I work three half days and he works a full day. It is constantly changing and ebbing and flowing and we are still trying to figure out what that is.
I feel we are much closer to that now than we were six months ago but I still do not feel like we have it figured out. Yet that is the beauty of it—I do not dread Mondays because I got to sleep in until nine o’clock this morning. I could get up when I wanted to and I could set my meetings when I wanted to set them. There is benefits to it but again there is also, as anyone who is an entrepreneur knows, there are just challenges in that lifestyle and challenges between my husband and I figuring out how to make that work for us and for our kids.
To have the time to do the things we want to do so it is a constant balancing act to figure out what that looks like. Our goal has always been that we each work about twenty hours or so a week. Now I am a bit more probably in the twenty to thirty and he is a little bit more in like the ten to fifteen. So, kind of again ebbing and flowing with that when it makes sense but, yes, I’m currently trying to grow my business to where I am bringing on people to help me with some of the work I am getting. Because it just grew to a level where I could not really do it by myself in the timeframe I wanted to. Going down that path and just pushing my comfort level again to figure out what that looks like.
PAM: Thank you so much for sharing that depth, Bryanna, it’s fascinating stuff. I loved how your husband figured out the kind of work that he enjoys because this is so much about learning about ourselves and figuring out ways to make things work. So, figuring out that he enjoys the consulting stuff more and picking that up and just trying to mesh day by day into your lives. You know, I don’t think you are ever going to find an answer that works forever, so sorry.
BRYANNA: No, I think I have accepted that the ebb and flow forever and that is okay.
PAM: That is okay, exactly, but thanks so much. That is beautiful and I wish you all the luck in the world with your business development. That is awesome.
BRYANNA: Thank you, I really appreciate it.
PAM: Oh, no problem. And for our last question:
I was wondering if you just had some tips that you could share for the unschooling parents out there who are all excited to hear about your lifestyle and are considering picking up an RV?
BRYANNA: Yes, for sure, I would love to.
I hope you got a little bit of that through this conversation that it is by no means the magic answer. But, on the other hand, my husband and I were just talking the other day about how when we are out traveling and visiting these amazing places, the unschooling comes so much more naturally. Because we are at a national park, or we are at a museum or we are at somewhere where there is, oh we just read the sign and we did science for the day, it is done.
When you are able to bring your family to these just these cool experiences that are outside of the realm of what, I’m going to say, your normal is. If you are used to a certain area of the country or city or whatever and you take them and expand that a lot of that learning we really do see that happening naturally. It is a cool thing because we are learning right along with them. I would definitely say that part of it does fit well, with the unschooling and the RVing lifestyle as one.
The part of it that I would say, prepare yourself for is just these day-to-day things and making sure that you are setting that time aside to have that time with your kids. To just sit on the lawn chair and hang out together and keep that in your mind that that is an important part of this journey. They do still want that time, they do so want that down time. They do not want to go out and see and do everything they can possibly do in a week timeframe.
So, figuring out like what that balance looks like, you do not have to travel the whole US in a matter of six months. It could take six months just to travel California. There is something to be said to really evaluating the speed you travel with. Also, evaluating the type of rig you get. Do you want to spend a lot of time inside your rig just hanging out places? Do you want to be traveling a lot and what does that look like? Do you want to include like B&B stays or rentals in the process? Just really thinking through what normal life looks like when you are on the road, not just the glamorous pictures you see on Instagram of people that do this lifestyle.
PAM: And I will point people to your blog. I will definitely put all that in the show notes. I was reading around too and really enjoyed when you talked about why you guys chose to downsize and all those kinds of aspects; like the difficulty of traveling and getting around with the larger rig etc. I love how open you guys are on the blog and the information you share about it. I think that is so helpful for anyone who might be consider this.
Your point about the time spent, the down time with them, I think that is such a great thing to mention because that was one of the biggest surprises for me. When we moved to unschooling and I spent my time taking my cues from my children—as in not trying to direct them, not trying to keep them busy as to what I thought they should be doing—I was surprised how much down time they wanted; that they took when the opportunity was there. They did not need to be busy all the time doing x, y, z over and over. Keeping them occupied did not turn out to be my role.
BRYANNA: For sure. I feel like with traveling it is the same thing you might think oh, we will be finding all these cool places and they are going to love that.
PAM: So, we have to do this.
BRYANNA: Exactly and they are going to love that but they are also going to love just riding their electric bicycles around the campground or sitting and playing Legos at the picnic table or you know doing those type of things as well.
I think especially when people first jump into the lifestyle they go at it hard. Like, ‘We are going to go see and do everything we can when we get there.’ It is like, maybe for a couple of days and then a couple days not. It is fine what that looks like for you and people will figure it out on their own journey. But I like to just kind of throw that out there, let people know that that is the reality of this lifestyle too. We are not out there just seeing all these cool places and doing all these cool things every single day. That is not sustainable, especially not with kids. They need that time just as much as they need the time to go see these cool places.
PAM: That is awesome.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me Bryanna, I had so much fun!
BRYANNA: Thank you for having me, it was awesome.
I feel like you and I could talk for days, this was really fun. I really, really appreciate it and hope the insight is helpful to someone going through a journey maybe at some point where I am at the beginning or a different point or whatever but that some of the insights were helpful.
PAM: That is awesome. Why don’t you share your website, let people know how they can connect with you.
We also have a newsletter if you want to subscribe there you can do it through our blog as well. Also, our business, VirtualPowerhouse.com. By all means, check that out, and if that’s of interest, definitely shoot me a message. Always looking to help people with their businesses.
PAM: Thank you so much Bryanna, have a great day.
BRYANNA: Thank you, you too.