PAM: Hi Everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia, from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Heather Lake. Hi, Heather!
HEATHER: Hi, Pam!
PAM: How are you?
HEATHER: I’m doing great.
PAM: That’s awesome!
Just as a bit of an intro, Heather and her family began unschooling in January of this year, 2017, and she has been blogging about the experience at learningatthelakehouse.com. I thought it would be a lot of fun to chat with her about how the journey has been unfolding so far. So, to get us started, Heather…
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
HEATHER: Sure. My husband Zach and I live in Omaha, Nebraska. We have four children. We have Gavin, who’s 17, Brenna is 13, Hattie, who is six, and Logan, who is three. I’m a registered nurse, but I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for about five years now, and my husband Zach works in sales.
And like you said, we just started unschooling in January, so we’re very new to it, but really enjoying it.
PAM: That’s awesome.
Can you share with us a bit about how you discovered unschooling? I was wondering if there are any particular concerns that were behind your family’s choice to move to unschooling?
I really have my 17-year-old son to thank for being on this journey. He is really the one that sparked us to go down this path. From a really early age, he was just a really highly intelligent child. He was an early reader. And he was so curious about the world. He loved learning and seeking out knowledge. And when he was probably three or four, he told me that he felt like he was a “figurologist,” because he liked to figure out things in the world.
PAM: I love that. [laughter]
HEATHER: And he just was so bright, and, like I said, just curious about the world.
And I never suspected that he was not going to be a good fit for school. I think I thought because he was so bright that he was going to do great in school. But he really, from the very beginning, never had an interest in the school model or being in that school box. You know, conforming to the standards. He really just did not see a value in learning in that way. And I just was so confused by that, and wasn’t sure how to help him.
When I was in school—I’m an average intelligence person who was really, really good at school. I could jump through those hoops really well. I just got what they were wanting, and I was a great test taker. I felt like if I could figure out some way to get him into that school box like I had been.
In fact, at one point—I think he was in fourth or fifth grade—I decided, “I’m not going to micromanage a test or a project or something coming up. I’m not going to be involved. I’m going to let him fail at this test, because if he gets a bad grade, that will motivate him to love school and do the work that you’re supposed to do in school.”
I felt very brave in doing this. And he got a bad grade on whatever the test or project was, and I was all nervous to talk to him about it, because I was sure he probably was sad about it. And it didn’t faze him at all. [laughter]
He didn’t see a value in the grading system. And so that was one of the first moments that I had to start deconstructing my whole belief system around school, and really start to change how I looked at learning.
So that’s really when we kind of started thinking about school in another way. And it’s a little bit difficult to look back and try to think about what I was thinking at the time. I mean, I was working full time at the time, but I just never really considered homeschooling. It just seemed like something that wasn’t really for us. Or maybe I didn’t know enough about it. But we really had a lot of struggles.
Especially when we got into middle school, he just was not enjoying school at all. And we tried everything we could think of under the sun to motivate him. To basically, just get through school. We tried a lot of external motivations, like punishments and rewards, and we met with teachers, and we were emailing. I mean, every evening was spent in pretty much a fight, trying to get him to do his homework or to turn in things. We spent so much energy working on that. And it was really damaging to our relationship with Gavin. There was just lots of tears, and yelling, and losing our temper, and stress.
It was very damaging to Gavin, because his teachers really saw him, I think, as being lazy, and kind of treated like an annoyance. I would be in some meetings with his teachers, and the vibe that I got from them really hurt my heart for him. Because if they were talking to me like that, how were they communicating with him? And it was just very painful. Especially in middle school. So, we really started deconstructing from the school model. I see this kid at home, who is so bright and eager to learn, and I just started really realizing that school might not be the best fit for him. But I really didn’t know very much about homeschooling at all.
When he was 15, he fell in love with the movie-making process and writing. And it just all clicked for him, and he started diving into this interest he had, while he was still in school. So he started at home. He was just constantly writing. He started taking classes. He joined professional groups in our area. He was taking on leadership roles in these groups. It was like, all of a sudden, his eyes were just wide open. He was so engaged with this passion, and it was just awesome to see. And for these teachers who felt like he was lazy or not able to focus, I saw the opposite at home, where he was so incredibly focused on his interest.
The Omaha Film Festival has an academy for teenagers, and so it’s like a week-long academy. I would drop him off at seven o’clock in the morning and he would attend these classes all day. And he was meeting other kids who loved movies, and meeting mentors. And then they would attend some of the screenings for the film festival. Literally, he would be there from seven in the morning until 11 o’clock at night—the whole day. Every night when I’d pick him up I’d say, “Aren’t you exhausted from being here all day?” But it just excited him. I mean, the whole week. He was just like so lit up with excitement and happiness and joy, and so focused on learning about movie making. We just really saw this spark in him.
When he was 16—it would have been the fall of his sophomore year—he attended another film festival in a different city. And on the way home he just looked at me and he said, “I do not want to do school anymore.” And I kind of took a deep breath, and I’m like, “Okay. Alright. So, let’s talk that through.” I asked if he’d be interested in looking into homeschooling. And immediately he was like, “Yes, that would be awesome.”
I asked him to kind of sit with that idea for a while, and I needed to do some research to figure out what the state laws were, and how do you homeschool. I literally knew nothing. I said, “Let’s sit on this for a little bit, see how we both feel.” I really wanted to empower him in the decision making, and let that be a joint decision together. So, I said, “Okay, when do you want to get back together to see how we’re feeling about this, and to see how we want to move forward?” And he said, “Well, how about tomorrow?” [laughter]
And I said, “Well, I was thinking more like, maybe a month, but…”
So, we just kind of went through this process where he was sitting with it to see how he felt about it, and I just started doing a ton of research; basically, reading everything I could on homeschooling.
I went to Facebook and followed every homeschool model there is, and just started just absorbing information from what other people were saying. And the self-directed model, or unschooling, really stood out to me from the beginning. I started doing a lot of reading about how kids learn, how their brains work, and I just started feeling like maybe unschooling was the best way for my kids to learn, and experience the world.
One of the things I think that really stood out to me and really helped enter me into the model was—and I think especially Gavin helped me with this—the whole concept of grading. The intention of grading is to evaluate whether a child understands the material. But our system now is that when they demonstrate they don’t understand, or the test isn’t evaluating them correctly, then they’re really chained by having a bad grade. It’s not that, “Oh, this child doesn’t understand what we feel like it is important for them to know. How else can we help them?”
It’s just, “Here’s your bad grade.” And everything’s put on the child.
PAM: It’s your fault. Yeah.
HEATHER: Yeah. It’s not like, “Oh maybe we didn’t teach this in a way that works for them.” You know, it’s shaming the child. And that really bothered me.
But then it was really when I started breaking it down and thinking about, “Okay why do we learn certain things in school at certain times?” that you really realize that it’s just all arbitrary. Someone just decided that you’re supposed to learn algebra at this grade, or long division at this grade. A random someone just decided that—it’s not like that’s what has to be done. And once I thought that through, it really opened me up to unschooling.
And then I realized that kids are put behind a desk so early on in their childhood. From the ages of five to eighteen they’re in school all day, their evenings are so full with homework and other responsibilities, and it’s like their whole life is there. And I just felt like we just couldn’t do that anymore. It’s like they’re in this system, for standards that are just arbitrary, and then they’re kind of punished when they don’t understand. So that really opened up the door for unschooling for us.
And I wanted to make sure that my kids would be able, if they chose, to go on to college, or any of their careers. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t any sort of stumbling block for them. And I was able to talk to so many unschoolers, and read so many stories about the unschooled kids who were able to go on and do whatever they wanted to in the world. And once I kind of felt assured with that, I was really ready to jump into it. And, actually, that they can do what they want much earlier, if they choose. That they can start careers earlier, they can be out in the world—that school is holding them back often from getting into careers that they want to.
We had some friends in our hometown in Kansas who were unschoolers, so I had reached out to them. My friend Tracy—her kids were older teens—so it was nice because she had a lot of experience. And I had just always loved their family, and her children are just such great people to be around. They’re just happy, joyful people. And you could see that they were learning so much. And her daughter had babysat for us, and I just really respected her. So, we had this great example of unschooling, and
I messaged her and said, “Okay, so I bought in, but like, how does this work? What do I do?” She was just a great mentor to show me the ropes and give me some resources, and just be a really good sounding board for me as I moved forward.
So, we stopped school in December, last year, at the semester break, and we just got started. And it’s just been wonderful.
What I would recommend to new people, is to find a community around you. We have a great unschooling group in Omaha. We get together for field trips, and we have the best play dates ever. The kids get together and we play and play and play for three or four hours. And all the moms and dads in our group are just so kind and respectful of their kids, which makes it so nice to be around. And everyone’s treated respectfully. The kids and the adults—we’re all on the same playing field. We’re all learning together. And it’s just been one of the greatest groups I’ve ever been a part of.
We also have another group of friends where we get together once a week to play in the woods. Every week we get together and the kids literally play for like four hours in the woods. And it’s totally self-directed, uninterrupted play. And they run, and climb trees, and build dams, and they’re just so happy being outside and just playing all day. And it’s like, this is why we do this. So that our children can just be free to play and run around.
So, yeah, it’s been an absolutely wonderful year. We’ve just really, really enjoyed it. We’re so, so happy that we were open to this way of learning.
PAM: Wow. I so enjoyed listening to that, Heather. That is really cool to hear about that journey. That’s awesome. And way to go, Gavin!
HEATHER: Yeah, yeah. I thank him a lot for that, because I think it has to take a pretty evolved person. Just because someone tells you you’re supposed to learn X, Y and Z. I was the type of person that was like, “Okay! I’ll learn X, Y, and Z.” And he had confidence in himself to know that he had a different path. And I just think that’s really cool. So, I thank him a lot for bringing us to this journey.
PAM: Mm-hmm. Well yeah, and it was the same on mine, that it was my children—and so often we find that. Because we grew up in the system and we’re used to it, and there isn’t anything that’s inspiring us to challenge those thoughts, until we have a child who the system’s not working for, or we can see them changing from the person that we knew that they were. But also for us, being open to that—I think that’s awesome. To be like, “Okay, let me consider that for a moment, Gavin.” That’s great too.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about—since you guys began unschooling—how your relationships with your children have changed. Have you noticed much in that area?
HEATHER: It’s totally changed things.
It’s really helped heal our relationship with Gavin. And since we’re no longer trying to force him into a system that isn’t helpful to him, it eliminated so much stress in our family. We can just focus on positive things now, and it gave us the freedom to trust their path. And whatever they’re interested in and wherever their passions are, we just go into that. It’s like you’re constantly looking for the positive things; constantly looking for their joy and their happiness. And so, it’s just brought so much more happiness to our home.
And my husband and I have just really learned to be respectful about what they’re interested in, and have learned how much value there is in what they’re interested in. And we just get to spend a lot more time with them, which has been really nice. You know, I never really thought that I would have so much time with Gavin again, since he was a teenager. You kind of think once they’re in school, you’re kind of now separated from them. And I never really anticipated that I would have so much time to spend with him, and our other children, obviously. But that’s just been really nice to have that time together. And the sibling time together is really nice as well.
PAM: That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s true, that it’s kind of a surprise, isn’t it, when all of a sudden you get to hang out with them again, and you get to know them so well, and what they’re interested in. And they just become real whole people, don’t they?
HEATHER: Yes, absolutely.
And I think you don’t realize when they’re in school how much time constraint you have, because it just seems like that’s the way it is. When kids go to school, they’re just gone all day. But it’s been so nice having everybody home. So, if I just want to go have lunch with one of the teenagers or one of the kids, we’re free to do that, or we’re free to go on a trip. Our day is just completely freed up now, to just explore what we want to do. Or if we want to just sit around in our PJs and watch movies—that’s a real nice time too, to have with each other, and just have down days. It’s just been so nice, to have the time with them.
PAM: Yeah, you start to realize the value of all that time, that it doesn’t have to be, for lack of a better word, productive. You don’t have to be doing, doing something—that that time itself has value. That’s awesome.
You mentioned your husband. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about how the transition to unschooling has been going for him?
Well, it’s kind of funny because I talked about the car ride with Gavin. So, when we got home from that car ride, my husband’s sitting here in the living room and Gavin’s like, “Hey dad, I think we’re going to homeschool!” [laughter]
And he looks at me like, “What?!” So, he’s been a great partner in exploring homeschooling with me, and giving me a lot of things to think about. And it took him a while in the beginning to understand unschooling. He had a lot of questions. He didn’t really understand like, “Now, we don’t need to do school? Explain this to me again.”
I think for me, I’m following all these people on Facebook, and I’m getting that constant reassurance, and he wasn’t exactly getting that. But I think mostly he wanted to make sure the kids had all the opportunities available to them. And so, once he felt confident with that, it was easier for him to move forward.
And one thing that really helped him to understand it was, when Gavin was in middle school he was a wrestler, and at the beginning of the matches they all stand in order of their weight class. Gavin is a tall, big kid. So, he’s kind of on one extreme, where you have all the really big kids. And then it just stair-steps down, and you have 20 kids who are in seventh or eighth grade. And you have the few kids on the other side which are very small, much smaller boys, and could be drastically different in height and weight.
And he really started thinking through that. Here are these kids that are all the same age, but their physicality is so different from each other, so that they wouldn’t have Gavin wrestle a kid who weighs half his weight. We don’t expect their bodies to be able to do the same thing. So, he just started thinking about why do we expect kids who are the same age—you know their brains are going to be different, they’re going to be ready to learn different things—why are we just grouping them by age? When some kids you know do really well in one subject and they could really take off with that, but they need other help in other areas. We’re just kind of forcing that.
Once he kind of applied it to that, he really just took off with it. And really embraced what unschooling means individual for each child, so that they can just totally explore and go into whatever their gifts are and whatever their passions were.
So, it took him a little bit in the beginning, and we read lots of articles together, really examining, I think, just the whole school model. And once he could kind of see the issues and the problems with the school box, then he was very open to it. And we just continued to read more. And he really saw the kids blossoming, and exploring their passions.
And he just is the biggest advocate now for unschooling. He’s so happy that we decided to do this, and he loves talking to people about it. So yeah, he’s totally on board now. But it did take a while. And it took a lot of reading. And sometimes we would sit down and, even after we first started—when our home just looks different because we have kids doing all different kinds of things, or maybe playing on their iPad, or playing outside, or jumping off the couch—like, “What are we doing again?” [laughter]
So, it would just be a good time to just sit down and talk through that. And talk through what does learning actually look like, and what is beneficial to the kids. It just took a little bit, you know? But he got there, and he’s such a big advocate for it now.
PAM: That is so cool. I love the analogy with the wrestlers. That was really interesting. And I can see how that just kind of gave him an “a-ha” moment, to see just the physicality difference at the same age. It’s a great analogy.
HEATHER: Right. It’s so clear. Physicality, you can see. You know, brains and gifts you can’t see, but it’s obviously such a part of who a child is, even though you can’t see it on the outside. So, I think once he could apply that, it was a big game-changer for him.
PAM: Mm-hmm. That’s awesome. And so, would you be giving him interesting things to read? You said he did some reading, you guys read some stuff together, and then when he had questions you were kind of answering them for him?
HEATHER: Yeah. I mean, I tried not to be too overwhelming with sending like every article. (laughs)
Because, especially in the beginning, when you open up your mind to the possibility—there’s so many articles that I would read and they would just blow my mind and I’d be, “Oh my gosh, I’m just looking at the world in this brand new way.”
I would just send him articles or even break out little pieces of that article and later talk about it. Like, “What did you think about what they talked about in the article about? Let’s reassess. What did you think about that?” So, we just had some really good conversations. And he could see how important it was to me, and how passionate I was about it, so I think that helped as well. But yeah, it took patience. And sometimes he would be totally on board, and, like I said, there’d be days where he’d kind of need some reassurance or just to talk through what we were doing.
PAM: Yeah, especially since, like as you say, when we’re the one doing the bulk of the research, we have that engagement, right? We have that place to look up answers when we have questions. And we have that time, too, that they don’t have. I found the same thing.
We know our partners, our spouses, as individuals, so we have an idea of the mindset that they’re starting with, right? And living with them, we have an idea of what questions or concerns they are kind of grappling with in the moment. And then I would—just like I watch out for my kids’ interests and something that I might think would be cool for them—notice and send along snippets of information or articles that I thought might help connect for him, rather than bombarding him with everything I found, right?
HEATHER: Yes, yes.
And I think to start sharing in the learning experiences as the kids were doing things. I would share a lot of interesting things they were doing during the day. And he got really excited about that. Just being able to see the kids be engaged in what they were doing, and see it working, really helped.
I think another thing that was the advantage for me is: I’m meeting with all these other homeschool moms and dads during the day for playdates. I get to see other families that I respect, and who are obviously very loving and doing a great job with their kids. I get to see them unschooling also. So that’s another thing that my husband didn’t get to see every day. So, I think even just talking through some of those things about what we did on our play dates was really helpful also.
PAM: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think some groups will sometimes have gatherings on weekends just so that partners and spouses can come. I know we went to an unschooling conference, which was the first time my husband—well actually us too, way back then—but to meet other unschoolers face-to-face, so that they can also get the opportunity to see other families in action. That’s definitely helpful.
HEATHER: We had a camping weekend in the fall, so that was a really nice way for the spouses to come and meet each other and see all the kids’ playmates that they’re talking about all the time. And we make sure that spouses always know that they’re invited to any of our play dates any time. So, if someone happens to have a day off of work, or if they are able to come along—and they have; we’ve had several spouses actually come to some of our play dates—we want them to know that they’re totally welcome to come and join and ask questions and that sort of thing.
PAM: That’s awesome, yeah.
I was wondering if there is a question or challenge that you’re working through right now?
HEATHER: I would say the biggest challenge that I’m having right now is letting go of the time clock on Gavin’s graduation date. I would say when we first started unschooling, I really quickly was able to let go of this concept of learning only between certain hours and certain days. I never felt that tension during the day of like, “Oh, we’re supposed to be, like you said, productive, or we’re supposed to be doing something right now.” That transition came really easily. We let go of that time clock of during the day thing really, really fast.
But I would say for whatever reason, I still have this tension or I kind of have that internal clock about that Gavin would be graduating, not this May but next May. And he’s exploring his options and what he wants to do next, and I really feel comfortable with whatever he decides to do, whether he stays home or whether he goes somewhere. But I still have this internal clock, kind of in my head, running.
And you did a podcast recently, talking about that. And it challenged me to work on letting that go. And I definitely want to let it go, it’s just something that I’m kind of having to be very aware of, and very conscious of, and just kind of relax on that thought that he has to make a decision by what would be his graduation day.
So, I’m working on that. That’s just something that I have to be a little more intentional about. That’s the word I was looking for. I have to work on that one a little bit.
And I would say the other big challenge has just been the life practicalities. And when I say that I mean, we are having so much fun doing interesting things that it’s a little bit hard to balance with the real-world stuff I have to do, like cleaning and laundry and dishes and all that kind of stuff. And I have found it very challenging to try to balance all that stuff. Because I just have so much fun with the kids, so when they say, “I want to go do this or go do that,” I’m like, “Yeah! Let’s go!”
It’s hard to kind of find that balance of how to take care of your home and yourself and all of that. But we’re still so new into unschooling that I think it’s just going to take a little time. And that’s one good thing also about having some unschooling friends in real life that I can talk to, because everyone is dealing with the same exact thing. And it just helps reassure you, when you remember that everyone else is struggling with that too, and everyone else is trying to figure it out. So, it’s nice to be able to talk about those things and get reassured.
PAM: Oh, definitely, I remember those. And you know that life thing; that is an ongoing thing as well. As we get older, circumstances changes, phases change, sometimes we want to be more out and about, sometimes we want to be more in. So yeah, that’s always something that you’re playing with.
And the other interesting piece—you’re talking about Gavin’s graduation, turning eighteen—that it’s interesting because even if you’ve been unschooling for years, you come to a point, like when your oldest child starts hitting these milestones, it’s like, “Oh, I haven’t really thought about that.” Things will still come up, over the years. So, that’s something that people may find themselves visiting, no matter how long they’ve been unschooling. When you hit these kind of significant conventional milestones.
That’s really interesting; totally understandable.
I was wondering what’s been the hardest part of your unschooling journey so far, do you think?
HEATHER: Well, the deschooling process was very interesting to me. And obviously in a lot of ways we’re still deschooling and still working through that.
And I felt like Gavin was going to require a lot of deschooling, because I felt like emotionally he had gone through the most. School was exhausting for him because he didn’t enjoy it, he wasn’t engaged in it, and the way that his teachers had talked to him and communicated with him. I felt like he was going to require a long time to just hang out and chill and kind of like emotionally recover from that whole experience.
But what I found was, I think literally like the first day he wasn’t in school, he just took off. Like he just required very little deschooling. He just jumped off into what he was already so interested in. And it was just kind of like you told that kid, “You’re not going to school anymore,” and he’s like, “Awesome!” And he was just off to the races, just learning a lot. I mean he did have some things that we kind of had to talk through and work through, but really his deschooling process was much less.
And it’s really my 13-year-old who really needed a long period of deschooling. She had really embraced school. She was good at jumping through all the hoops. She was more like me; much more conventional thinker. I just didn’t anticipate—I guess I thought of deschooling more from an emotional standpoint. And she’s really just coming out of kind of an active deschooling process. She kind of struggled in the beginning with wanting to learn subjects. To me, I would think, “You’ll be so excited, we don’t have to do that anymore.” But for her that was kind of confusing. And it just took a long time for her to understand that whatever she’s interested in is as important as any of those school subject. So, it took her a long time to embrace it and to really start to trust herself.
Like, she loves making slime, and I think she didn’t hold a value to that. To her, that’s just something she’s doing; it’s just a fun thing. She didn’t realize that’s as valuable as anything else. If that’s important to you, then that’s great. Keep working on that. And she’s had a lot of learning that she’s gotten through things like that. But it just took her a long time to really trust herself. Because I think when you buy into school, someone’s constantly telling you, “You’re supposed to learn this, and you’re supposed to learn this.” And she really just embraced that. So, it took her a really long time to kind of understand that I’m not going to bring her a list of things she’s supposed to know. She’s not in school, so they’re not going to give her a list. And it’s really up to her to figure out what’s important to her, and what she values. And that just took a really long time.
I think it was hard for her too because her older brother has such a specific interest, and hers are kind of more general. Which is totally age-appropriate for her. I kept telling her, “You don’t have to figure out your life’s path.” (laughs) But that just took a while.
And even just a few months ago she was I think kind of feeling a little confused, or wasn’t sure where to put her energy. So, we were just having a heart-to-heart about that. Just trying to talk through that. And I just said, “What do you really want to do?” And the first thing she said was, “Travel.” And then she said, “But I know I can’t do that.” And I said, “Well, why can’t you travel?” It’s like, “Well I don’t know, can I travel?” And I said, “Absolutely!” And so, I just saw this light go on in her eyes.
So, she started researching different trips and different cities that she would be interested in going to. We put her in charge of a budget, so she’s budgeting all these things. I could just see everything started to click in that moment. I think she was limiting herself in what she thought that she could do. My sister actually lives in New York City, so she pretty quickly realized that, based on her budgeting, if she could stay in someone’s home, it would make for a much more affordable trip. So, she decided that she wanted to go to New York City and stay with my sister.
Actually, in just two or three weeks, she is going to be traveling to New York City, and will be staying with my sister for five weeks for a really in-depth trip to New York City. She has just been reading books about the history of New York, and she helped book all her flights, and she’s in charge of her budget.
And, actually, she wanted to earn some spending money, so she’s become a mother’s helper for some homeschooling moms in our area, and she’s been taking care of kids, and doing that all on her own. And she’s raised all of her spending money.
Seeing her dive into this has just been awesome. But it just took it took a while to get there. But now as a 13-year-old she gets to go to New York City for five weeks during the year and see what it’s like to live there. We got her a subway map, so she’s been studying the subway map. She’ll get to be with someone who lives there and gets to show her the ins and outs of the city. So that’s just been an amazing opportunity for her.
But definitely, that deschooling process just takes a while. So, I would just encourage anyone who’s new into it, to just really embrace the deschooling process. I mean it’s your really first opportunity to just let go of the control or expectations.
It was kind of nice for us because we started in December, so it was right around Christmas break. And I’ve heard a lot of people say that for deschooling just act like you’re on Christmas break or summer break, or whatever. And it was just a nice time to just be together and kind of be all cozy. That first day that they came downstairs, I really almost wanted to cry. It was just so nice knowing that they were home and we could just be together. I don’t know—that deschooling—I look back on it with such fond memories, actually. It just didn’t go like I thought it was going to go. [laughs]
It just was kind of swapped, I guess. But just to embrace it. Just go through that process where you’re just with each other, and there’s just no expectations, and you’re just hanging out together. It’s such a neat, neat thing. I would just encourage people to really embrace that time.
PAM: That’s awesome. I loved hearing those stories. And that is such a great observation—that you found that your daughter who had not been having trouble at school, had been working within the system pretty comfortably, that she (found it hard). When you look back at it, it’s, “Oh, okay, that makes sense now.” She would have more work to do than your son who was already rejecting those messages, right?
PAM: But yeah, because it was exactly the same for me. My son was oil and water with school. He was not enjoying it. So, for him, it was like ‘leash off.’ And I just remember when I asked my daughter if she wanted to stay home, I was shocked that she was the most dumbfounded. She was walking around saying, “I don’t have to go to school,” because she was “doing fine” at school. So, I thought it was just, ‘la-la-la just another day, but you’re not going.’
But no, it was a surprising experience for her. I thought that was great.
And I love the story of her travel! And she can see just through the experience how much she is learning and figuring out, and know that she gets to do that now. That’s so awesome.
HEATHER: Right. And she already has her trips for like the next four years planned!
PAM: Oh, awesome! [laughter]
HEATHER: We actually have friends in Ireland, so she really would like to go to Ireland. She wants to start now, so she can start saving her money, and really planning that all out. So, she has years ahead of her.
Just really cool, once those limits disappeared. I think that was the thing. When she said, “Well I’m interested in travel, but I know I can’t do that,” I said, “Well wait a second, why can’t you do that?”
PAM: Those are all the messages that we absorb, don’t we, as children—that we’re kids, we don’t get to do all that other adult stuff, but we can look forward to it.
But yeah, when you take those lenses, leashes, filters off, it’s amazing. And her figuring out ways to get some more money, to make money for spending, and figuring it all out, and even the subway map. Good luck with that. [laughter]
PAM: I just follow Lissy. I’m like, “Yay, I have someone to visit.” It’s like, “Okay I’ll just follow you.”
Okay, last question!
I was wondering what has surprised you the most about your journey so far?
HEATHER: A few things come to mind.
I am surprised at how much we love it and how much it’s added to our family. When you take an unconventional choice like this, it’s kind of like jumping off a cliff and you’re like, “Mm-hmm, I really hope we like this, and I really hope it goes well for us.”
And it’s been really amazing, to just let go and see where their interests are. And we’ve just loved it so much. And how quickly they’ve regained so much of their curiosity and them seeking out information from the world around them. I think it’s been surprising to see how much learning they totally do on their own. It’s like, you read it in theory, especially when you’re starting out—the kids will learn from the world around them—but it surprised me to actually see them learning totally on their own, with no direction or force; no force at all. I mean I knew it was supposed to happen but to actually see it happen, it’s amazing.
I have two stories I can think of on that.
My daughter Hattie, who’s six, she had gone to kindergarten and she had told me very specifically that she wasn’t good at math. And that was in kindergarten. She felt like she wasn’t good at that. And that really kind of broke my heart. I thought, “Oh gosh, how has she already gotten that message, that she’s not good at something, when she’s six?” But she was playing with those little story cubes that kids have—they have different pictures on them, and they can toss them around and make different stories with the pictures—she was playing with some of those and I was watching her playing with those.
She had them all in a row and she just was looking at them. And she just looked at me and she said, “Do you know that if I take two away from seven, that there would be five?” And she just looked at me with such curiosity about that. And it was such a beautiful moment for me. Because anyone can help a kid memorize what seven minus two is—I mean do drills on that all day. But to just see her little brain was just working on story cubes, to be like, you can see that concept was entering into her head. I love that it’s not memorization that you can just forget later on—that it’s the actual concept of numbers. And I just thought that was so beautiful.
And then we were with our people that we go to the woods with every week—we went on a hike the other day. And the kids had run up ahead of us, and they had come to a sign. And these kids were all six or seven, they’re all unschoolers. They were feeling the sign and feeling the letters on the sign. I came up after them and I said, “Okay, does anyone know what this sign says?” Because I didn’t know who could read and who couldn’t read. And none of the kids knew how to read. They said, “No, what does the sign say?” And so, I kind of put my finger underneath the words and I said, “It says ‘No Access Allowed Beyond This Point.’” And one of the kids said, “Oh so that means we can’t go this way.” And I said, “Yup!” And he said, “Okay.”
So, this little herd of kids takes off and they go running down another trail, and they climb up to the top of this hill, and I’m kind of right behind them. And it got to a fork in the road and the right-hand way had that sign again. And so, one of the kids looked at the sign and he said, “That says ‘No Access Beyond This Point.’” And it was like, just seeing them, how meaningful that was—reading to them was helping them on their hike. No one was forcing them to learn, or forcing them to learn how to read, but that was meaningful to them on that day, and they were just picking it up and starting to recognize letters and words. It just made me smile. I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is what we’re going for.”
So even though, like I said, you hear in theory that kids learn, it surprised me how much they do, just every day, learn totally on their own. With no one forcing them to do it.
And I think I’ve been surprised, too, with myself. Our paradigm has really shifted to where my husband and I are learning with the kids. I have learned so much this last year. I remember right at the very, very beginning of unschooling—I think we were cooking, and you know everyone always talks about cooking as a great way to incorporate real life math—and I think we were needing to add some fractions together. And I had this panic moment of, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to add these fractions together!” And my heart’s racing. And then it was like, “Okay, well that’s okay. I can learn with them. I don’t have to have all the answers.” But I think that’s kind of a school mindset that I still had, that whatever you know when you graduate from high school or graduate from college, your learning is now done. If you forget, or if you didn’t pick something up, then, well, you’re never going to know it.
So, it was like, “Okay, that’s okay that I don’t know how to do that. We’re going to sit down together and we’ll figure it out together.”
And just, oh my gosh, with so much stuff, the paradigm isn’t, “I’m up here and the kids are down here, and I know so much and you know so little.” It’s like they know a lot more—I mean Gavin knows a lot more about making movies than I do. They each have things that they’re so knowledgeable about.
Hattie—my six-year-old—she loves animals and she wants to be a veterinarian. And so, we’d seen something on TV about doing stitches—they were showing a vet doing stitches on an animal—and she said, “I want to learn how to do stitches.” I’m like, “Hmm, okay.” So, I just got on Amazon, and you can buy little suture kits on Amazon for very cheap. We ordered these suture kits, watched some YouTube videos together, and we got bananas—and you actually make a little slice in the banana—and we learned how to do suturing together. So, here’s my six-year-old suturing bananas on the kitchen counter. And we’re just learning together.
And it just surprised me how wonderful it’s really been for our family, and how much they’ve learned.
PAM: Oh my goodness. [laughs]
Thank you so much for sharing all those stories, Heather. That is wonderful. And for taking the time to speak with me today. I so appreciate hearing so much about your journey. Thank you so much.
HEATHER: Well thank you for having me. Your podcast has been a huge support as we got started.
And I would just encourage anyone who’s thinking about it or who’s new to it to just keep embracing it and keep going with the process and trusting your kids. It’s just a really beautiful path for a family.
PAM: That’s awesome. Thank you so much.
And before we go, where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
HEATHER: I’m on Facebook, at Learning at the Lake House, and that’s where I post a lot about what our family is doing with unschooling, and articles and information.
And if anyone has questions, feel free to message me and I can give you more information about what our journey has been like for the last year. And I’d love to hear from anybody.
PAM: That’s awesome! Thank you so much Heather. Have a great day!
HEATHER: Thank you!