PAM: Hi everyone, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Rachel Rainbolt. Hi, Rachel!
PAM: Just to give everyone a little introduction, what I thought I’d do was share this from the “about” page from Rachel’s website, sageparenting.com. She writes “I believe in the power of connection, the radical principle that children are human beings deserving of respect and empathy, nighttime parenting that honors a little one’s natural needs, and allows for both connection and independence to blossom, and natural parenting through living a lifestyle of freedom and joy.”
I really love that so I thought, you know what, I’m going to use that!
RACHEL: Why, thank you!
PAM: Yeah, it’s beautiful! And, I’m really excited to dive into some of the details with you. So, to get us started, Rachel …
Can you share with us a bit about you and family?
RACHEL: Sure! So I live with my husband and my three children, who are now twelve, nine, and almost six. We live in the pacific northwest. I am originally from San Diego, and we moved here just over a year ago and bought a fixer-upper on the beach, knowing absolutely nothing about fixing up houses, which is so pertinent to this conversation, because we just unschooled our way through it all. Like, we had all kinds of gaps and were never taught any of this, and yet we had a need to learn it, and we had so much fun together, and tapped into the community and dove into youtube university and all kinds of things like that, and now we have a legitimate house with walls and power and it’s amazing what you can do when you’re motivated to learn something. And so now we are just having so much fun adventuring all around the Pacific Northwest together.
PAM: That’s awesome! Wow, and that’s only a year, right?- that, you guys threw yourselves into that one, didn’t you!
RACHEL: Yes we did! I think demo was the favorite portion for the kids, for sure. I mean, giving a bunch of kids some hammers and screwdrivers and just telling them to go at it is just a blast.
PAM: That’s awesome.
I was hoping you could share with us a little bit about your family’s move to unschooling and what that looked like?
RACHEL: Yeah, well we, I think we began our parenting journey from the attachment parenting mindset. And I know I’ve heard a lot of people on your show talk about coming into unschooling through attachment parenting. And that’s how it was for us.
And then when my firstborn turned four, we were kind of supposed to hand him over to the schools, and that just felt wrong on every level. But we didn’t really know that there was another option, so I was interviewing schools, and grilling principals, and just desperately trying to find a way to make it make sense in my mind. And I couldn’t find a way for it to make sense, and yet at the same time I didn’t really know that there was anything else, so we did it.
So, my first born was in school for kindergarten and first grade, and then once we got into second grade, we just couldn’t. I said, “I don’t really know what is on the other side, but we are jumping ship.” We left the traditional public school for homeschooling.
And we started with homeschooling through the district, with a very tentative, ‘let’s just try it’ mindset, knowing that we could always go back in if we really wanted to.
In the district we were doing the exact same work that he was doing in school. So, we did that for a bit, and then we did a homeschooling charter, and then homeschooling independently, and then unschooling. It was sort of this gradual evolution back to the natural learning and living that we had been doing before school came into the picture.
PAM: I love that. I love that idea of step by step. Because when you figured out that you didn’t have to go to school and that homeschooling was an option, it’s like, ‘Ok, I’m gonna take that one step away from that.’
But you had that connection with a charter school or online school or whatever, and then it’s just step by step. Because I took even longer before I found out that homeschooling even existed. But it was still step by step.
In that, when school wasn’t working, I was in with principals and teachers and all that stuff for years, but then we stepped to private school, because this was not working, and I would work with teachers etc. And a couple of years we had good teachers that I could work with and we could make it an amenable environment for Joseph.
But, when it finally didn’t, we took that step to private school. And I think that’s something that we work in our whole lives that, for all our different changes—when something’s not working, it’s like ‘ok, well, what’s one step that I can take that seems better?” Right?
RACHEL: It’s so true. It’s so true.
When we were in the system, you know, trying to be this fierce advocate for your kid, and then having that realization that, ‘I’m not going to be able to change this system from the inside to anywhere near to where I think that it would need to be in order for my kid to thrive.’
And then like you said, step by step, what’s the smallest thing that I can do today that feels like I can do it. And in hindsight—and you know, hindsight is 20/20—and sometimes I feel impatient with myself and I wish that just from the beginning I had been where I am today and knew everything that I know now, and saw things the way that I saw them now, but that’s just not the way life works.
You have to walk your journey. You have to learn things through experience. And I know—even though sometimes I feel impatient with myself—I know that having not walked that journey we wouldn’t be where we are today and where we are today is so amazing and wonderful, and so I try to just be grateful for that journey, even though sometimes I feel a tad impatient with myself.
PAM: I know. I do the same thing. I keep going ‘well you know, he was in grade four by the time I discovered this possibility, and I can always say “I wish I found it sooner, I wish I sooner”, but there’s also this piece, right, where there’s this connection, where, you’re ready for that! You know what I mean?
RACHEL: Yes. Absolutely.
PAM: You’re in a mindset, and that’s why the experience is so much a part of the journey. Everything up to that point has put you in this spot where now, you’re open to it. You know what? Maybe somebody had said the word homeschooling before.
RACHEL: Yes, absolutely.
PAM: I can’t say that that didn’t happen. But I don’t remember it, but maybe that’s just because it didn’t connect with me where I was at that moment.
RACHEL: I remember having a conversation with someone once and they mentioned the word homeschooling one time, and I just dismissed it right away. You know those platitudes that we sometimes give, like, “Oh, he’s way too social,” or “I don’t want to be a teacher.” Things like that. And I remember saying those words, which is so funny now from the position that I’m in, from over here on this side of the journey. But like you said, I wasn’t ready to hear that. I didn’t really know what that meant. You know, I just wasn’t there yet.
PAM: And that’s such an important piece to remember too, because it doesn’t help to always look back and try to beat ourselves up, because you can’t change that! But you can use where you are now to step forward, because stepping forward is where all the awesome things are, right?
So now that you’ve found homeschooling and you started stepping closer and closer to unschooling, as you were going through that kind of deschooling process, I was curious to know what you found to be kind of like the most challenging paradigm shift on that journey?
RACHEL: The deschooling process with pretty intense for me. My husband and both have graduate degrees and school, in the way that I was raised, was very much tied to—it’s like validation, and it’s your value and your self worth.
So, it was definitely a big process for me to get out from under all that baggage of control and power and competition, and trust was really the biggest piece for me, for sure.
When I gave birth to my first child, it took me a minute to shake out from under all of that baggage, and surrender fully to trusting my child and myself. And I found it was the same with unschooling—where that was kind of the last piece that clicked into place for me.
And I knew in my mind—you know, in my rational, cognitive center—I knew that trust was the way to go, and trust is like that intention that I held in all of my parenting and always talk about it and how important it was. And having that click in in the schooling area, in the education realm, was the last piece to like fully, 100%, through and through, click in place.
PAM: I love that. Because, just thinking back to my journey as well, and yeah, that seems to be that last piece. It’s the biggest piece—it’s kind of the hump when you can almost relax.
It’s like the deep breath that you didn’t even know you were holding, right?
RACHEL: Oh my gosh, yeah.
And it seems, you can say on the surface level, “I absolutely trust my children” and “I trust them to lead this journey.” But then in the back of my mind there’s these little thoughts like, “But, what about gaps?” and “but what about this, that, and the other?”
And when that 100% of the trust finally clicked, all the way even to the back corners of my mind, that’s when everything really started to soar and feel amazing and be wonderful. Like, I had to let go of those last societal expectations and pressures and just let those last ones go and then to be fully into trust with my kids, and then that’s when things really started to blossom.
PAM: Yeah. That’s beautiful and it’s so true. That’s the same experience that I’ve had, and you can’t really anticipate what it’s really going to be like at that point. It’s just, WOW, everything is brighter and more full.
And I don’t like to leave the mistaken impression that at that point it’s easy all of the sudden. I mean, life is still life. But that trust helps you sink into each of those moments, doesn’t it? So, you can totally be there with them and process things, and it quiets all those questions that were usually flowing in the back of your mind, doesn’t it?
If you are filling in all that space for them then there is no room for them to fill it in for themselves. If you are occupying all of their time, and telling them what things they are to focus on, then there is no room for them to grow into that space! You both can’t occupy it simultaneously. Once you have fully surrendered to the trust, there’s all of this space for them to blossom and to fill in and to grow into and take hold of, and then there’s just so much magic that comes from that.
PAM: I love that image. That is such a beautiful way to describe it! I just hadn’t thought of it that way. Because, once you are fully trusting, you are able to really let them be. That idea of space, for them to really let them be themselves,
I love that.
RACHEL: And it’s not distant! It’s just holding space. Like, you’re right there with them, but you are holding the space for them to grow and fill in.
PAM: And that leads very nicely into the next question, because in that space is going to be all this room for connection and relationship. So, the next question! You’re getting me excited, ahead of myself.
I really enjoyed reading your book, Sage Homeschooling, which is about your unschooling lives. And in it you have a whole chapter and about connection and how relationships are at the core of learning. See, you’re bringing this all full circle! So, can you explain what you mean by that?
Connection is the foundation from which all other wonderful things spring.
I like to think of connection kind of in concentric circles. There’s like this sense of self at the core. And you know, with unschooling, really knowing themselves in an intimate and wonderful way.
But then right outside of that is the people you live with, the immediate family—basically, the people we live with is how most people think of it. And it’s within those relationships that the archetypes are constructed in the brain. I mean, the brain is actually built through family relationships.
So, it is through these connections that we learn, “What does learning look like? What does love feel like? What is it to be accepted or not? What is marriage? Motivation? Help? Empathy?” All of these things, all of these principles of success for the future take root right here in the soil of connection. That is where it all takes root.
So, for example, I have one child who really processes and learns through conversation, and without it, things kind of fall flat for them. But then sparks fly in conversation, even in something as simple as conversation. They might read something in a book, or see something that they’ve found on the ground, and they will run over to someone in the family, and just talk all about it, just really fast talking, eyes wide. And then that stays with them and they bring it up and they build on it, and that happens through connection! And if someone is not available for them to talk to, I can see it in their eyes—they still see it and they still touch it, but then it kind of ends there, whereas if there is someone around to experience it with them or to talk to them about it, it just goes out onto this whole other level.
And then that connection extends out, after that immediate family, you have things like extended family, friends, community, the world. In my book, I talk a lot about mentorship as being a really powerful learning reality for a lot of people, and it just happens in the community. People who have passion and knowledge about the specific subject that your child is interested in, even all the way out to things like philanthropy!
PAM: I love that description of your son who loves to process things through conversation. When you are giving them the space to process things the way they want to, because they are following what they are interested in. What they are doing is that they are able to bring that emotional component in, and that, when they are sharing it however they like—whether it is through conversation, or whether they’re just personally immersing themselves in it—they are creating that spark of engagement, emotion, connection, that takes it up that level where it, for lack of a better word, it creates a memory. Embeds itself in memory, right?
That’s one of the big reasons I think why learning this way is so much more effective. Because that’s where their mind is, that’s where their whole body, soul, mind, everything is, in that moment, and that is the way the brain makes those memories, isn’t it?
RACHEL: Absolutely. And if your goal—I prefer the word intention—is to have another human being at the end of life, who feels whole, heartful, accepted, and loved, and satiated, then connection is the way to get there. And through that connection, all those other things that you care about are going to thrive and blossom. All those other qualities for success.
And things like learning—and this is something that we understand about how humans function, and even primates, like even if you go down to other, lower primates—they have to have that connection piece in order to learn other things.
If you deprive them of that connection, or pull them out of those primary attachment relationships, and then try to teach them something, they don’t learn it, they don’t learn it was well, they don’t learn it as efficiently and it doesn’t stay with them. This is a basic thing that we understand, and yet, when we want children to learn, we isolate them from their primary attachment figure. It makes no sense!
PAM: I know! I spent this week and last week putting together a talk for an online conference next year, and I’m focusing on that. One of the huge pieces is how, when you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and you look at where learning fits in that pyramid—at the bottom are your physiological needs for food and water and sleep etc. and a feeling of safety. But then the next is that level of psychological needs—the attachment, the connection. Those are just as important. You need that safety, you need that relationship with other people, before you can get to the learning level.
RACHEL: And as someone with a background in family therapy, I even argue, that connection piece is that safety piece. And that comes before all other things. Like, even if someone is hungry, but they feel held, and safe, and loved, they are able to do so much more than if they have food but they feel abandoned and unsafe and on their own at a young age.
And as someone who has worked with adults who feel broken in various ways, if their family didn’t have the money to keep the heat on or to put enough food on the table, but their family felt connected and full of love and that no matter what they were safe and they were held, they are so much more whole on the other end. And the other way around. Some people have loads of money and all the things that they could ever want, but they don’t have that connection piece, then they are just drowning in life.
PAM: That is such a great observation.
And absolutely, too, you can see that in so many examples around in our lives, can’t you? That emotional safety piece is, I think, is one of the huge pieces. Maybe it’s take for granted, or we don’t realize how important that is, because, you know, even when I was looking at, when you look at learning as engagement and flow, etc, that research too says that if that person doesn’t feel safe with the people that they have around, they can’t sink into it, because they always have one eye looking around in their environment, even in their emotional environment.
RACHEL: Yes. Such a great point.
PAM: Ok, next question!
In my experience, when we talk about the value of relationships to learning, and in our lives, parents sometime take that to mean more is better, and they focus on adding lots of social activities to the family calendar. But it’s not about quantity of them, is it?
RACHEL: Oh goodness, no!
Part of the work that I do is email coaching, and I coach families all over the world, and one of the things that we often focus on is this concept that I talk about of unbusy. Unbusying your lives.
It kind of comes back to that connection piece, where what you were getting at was that, we only have so many units of mental energy, if you will. And being social and performing in different social contexts uses up a whole lot of those mental units, as does conflicted family relationships, and things like that. But unbusying is, if nothing else, a place to start. Unbusying your life. I like to think of it as holding space for your priorities and intentions.
So, sit down and find out what your priorities and intentions are as a family. And I ask all of my families that I work with to do this. And they are pretty consistent, I have to say, across the board, when families get back to me about what their connections are. It tends to be things like connection and experiences and things like that. But is that reflected, then in your time and in your schedule, where you allocate your time and resources, basically, what are you spending your time on, what are you spending your money on?
And it’s different for everyone. I don’t think I want to use the word ‘busy,’ but I think the social obligation piece tends to be really big, especially for homeschoolers, because there tends to be that socialization question. Like, “Well, how will they be socialized?” And I think homeschoolers feel a bit of pressure to stack the deck in that department so that we can say, “Oh see, we do x, y and z and we are around so many other kids.”
But what that ideal balance is of that social connection piece is really different for everyone—it’s just about finding that ideal for each person and making that work for your family.
For example, for our flow and our rhythm, we plan to have one adventure day a week, so I will plan one day of some new experience or some social experience. I run a group called hackschool, which is like homeschool adventure club. We will get together with other people and have some cool exciting fun thing, and then I’ve learned that immediately following that we have to have two days where there is absolutely nothing in the calendar. So, one totally awesome adventure day, and then two days of just absolutely nothing. And we hold the space for that, because that is a priority for us. And what I see in that space is not only the kids decompressing and going inward a little bit more, but they also process all of the things that they experienced and learned on that adventure day.
The other day we went to like a wetland, wildlife preserve, and we saw this spotted seal that we didn’t even know lived in the wetlands, and then for those two home days, the kids are looking up interesting facts about the different creatures we saw, and where are the habitats for seals? They are playing with the little seal guide, and the learning just kind of goes deeper when they have that space to play with it, whereas, if the schedule is stacked and we are just going going and doing and doing, the experience ends and it just kind of stops there because there is just not the space and the mental energy there for them to really dive deeper there.
PAM: I think that was one of the most surprising things to me to figure out over those first like couple years, is how much down time, how much processing time, that they would want, that they would use, that would feel comfortable. It was such a big surprise, and I remember after a while, Lissy would be planning out her activities and her weeks, and she would be like, ‘Ok, if I’m going out here, then I need about three days at home, and then I can do this.’
They took that on and started to recognize that.
RACHEL: And most adults don’t know that about themselves yet. Like getting into how well do you know yourself. Most adults don’t know what their ideal balance in that department is. And they don’t know how much they can really thrive when they are in that ideal balance. A lot of adults have never even felt it.
PAM: Because, you mentioned earlier, we are so busy measuring ourselves externally. You know, that, “We did A, B C and D, isn’t that great?” Because we are so used to that busyness being a measure of success, aren’t we?
Busy does not equal successful. And that’s definitely a message that we have. You know, more is better and busy is more successful, that is definitely a message we have in this country in particular, and I assume it’s the same in Canada. The busier your family is the more successful your children will be, and that’s stacking the cards in their favor. But that’s not based on any actual data or facts or longitudinal research, because all of that stuff says the exact opposite.
PAM: Exactly. And, you know, I think you were talking about when you have clients and stuff and you first get them to do this—I love the idea of mental units. But it’s even just making that connection, right?
‘I value this time with my children, I value this connection,’ etc. And then, on the other hand, ‘We are running to X, Y, Z activity.’ And to make the connection that, if those are your goals—or, I like the word intention better too—to realize that it helps to choose your actions to match what your intentions are.
RACHEL: Yes, absolutely!
I’ll ask people “what’s your favorite day of the week? Why, what are you doing on that day?”
And it’s crazy how much that does not line up with how people are writing the story of their lives and who they are as a family. You know, you get to write your family’s story, and the easiest way to start with that is—it’s an important place to start because everything sort of whittles down from there—if your priority is to just be in connection in an inspiring environment, and to be able to say yes as opportunities and inspiration strikes, but then you’ve hashed out your schedule with so many things, no matter how wonderful they sound, there’s not room for that. There is not space for that, and you have to hold space for what those priorities are.
And I love forest school programs, but then your child is upset and tired and can’t hold the connection with any of your family members, and isn’t pursuing any of their own interests because they are just spent that evening.
No matter how wonderful a commitment is, in declining an opportunity, you’re not condemning it with a negative judgement, you’re not saying this opportunity is bad. You’re just saying it’s not in line with your intentions right now, and that’s ok!
PAM: That’s the other piece too is realizing that a choice now, too, is not forever. Right?
PAM: That that doesn’t fit now. We get so caught up in ‘We need to do this, this and this,’ but to realize that, ‘You know what, we all know this program or this opportunity or this place exists, and it can flow into our lives whenever.’ We don’t need to grab hold of it now and try to pull it to us. It may well flow into our lives eventually. Because eventually it will probably have more of a connection, right?
PAM: I think, having space for that flow to happen is really beneficial. But that’s where you are giving more priority to the flow of our interests and our days and our self-awareness, right? And gaining experience with how, when you follow those things, amazing things end up flowing into your life, instead of trying to keep grabbing them and trying to pull them into your life.
RACHEL: That free time component is such an essential component for natural learning to thrive.
PAM: It’s so much more than we anticipate. Because, you know, we’ve got curriculum, and there’s so much structure that we are leaving, that it can be hard to imagine that anything will happen if you don’t like structure it, right?
There is another topic that I would like to hit on, and this is a hot button issue for a lot of parents. And it’s technology, and especially as we move to unschooling, and we are talking about connection, right, they can perceive it as disconnection, as something that is taking away opportunities for connection with their children, and I was hoping you could share a little bit about your family’s experience with that.
RACHEL: Technology is wonderful in so many ways—our children have their entire body of knowledge at their fingertips, that’s something that we’ve never had in history. And it makes learning very self-driven; in specific ways just very easy and accessible.
And I can’t imagine how it would make sense to deny your children access to this amazing, amazing thing. In the past, I can see people having an argument for schools and teachers and textbooks being like gatekeepers to knowledge and information. But that’s not the case anymore. And now you can learn anything you want, it’s all just right there at your fingertips.
But then there’s this connection piece with others. I mean, my kids video chat with people from all over the world. So, there’s that connection piece that extends your reach so much farther, with technology. In the past, maybe you had only the people in your neighborhood or community to tap into, but now you can tap into the entire world community, and you can build friendships and mutually beneficial connections with literally anyone in the world that has access to an internet connection, which is amazing.
And then kids can also contribute to that. They can post something about an issue that they care about through an organization that is active in that issue. There are just so many opportunities for them to contribute and for them to be valued in ways that we all benefit from. And a lot of that can happen through technology.
So, we really think of it just like a tool that we put into the environment right alongside books and paper and pens. I think a lot of people are afraid of being out of balance. Balance is a word that I hear a lot with screens. Balance balance balance balance.
I have really found that role modeling is really, like with so many things in a homeschooling/unschooling lifestyle, role modeling is a huge piece. So, my kids see me, like right now, doing this podcast with you, this is using technology. I help families all over the world through my email coaching, and I get to write, which is something I’m so passionate about. And then convenience! I can pay bills. I can find amazing adventures for us based on their interests. All this amazing stuff through living an amazing life, and a lot of it happens through a screen.
And then they see, like I might say, ‘Oh, I’ve been writing for so long, I can’t process. Anybody want to take a hike with me?’ And so, they see that balance piece. If you feel like you are out of balance and there are too many screens, focus your attention on creating more life, because people escape into a screen when there isn’t much in the real world for them. Children who don’t have open and free access to the outdoors and might be alone for many, many hours a day tend to turn more to screens as an escape because they don’t have many other positive options. But if you feel out of balance, instead of focusing on limiting on that end, focus on building up more on the other end. Build more into your life on the other side.
PAM: I love that point, because, it really is when they have lots of valid choices and they are choosing it because they are getting something out of it—they are not escaping to it because they have nothing else to do. Just having those choices is a huge piece, and it’s kind of the foundation of unschooling, right? Because you can’t really be following your interests if you don’t have a lot of choices to pick between, because how do you know what you’re interested in?
RACHEL: So, my twelve-year-old, we were all getting ready to go out for dinner. And my twelve-year-old was Skyping with a group of friends from our last unschooling conference. And they had this google doc open, and they were all writing this screenplay together. And my kid like begged me, “Can you bring me back something?” So, I was like, “Sure, of course.” I think they are on page 12 of their screenplay.
All of these amazing things can happen just by having screens as an available option in their house.
My nine-year-old just built a very detailed replica of our house in Minecraft, and since he helped remodel it, he even knew what was behind the wall. Just this amazing engineering, architectural exercise. It took him days, and as soon as he was done, he closed the computer in a very dramatic fashion and asked, “When is the next adventure on the calendar?” He’d focused so much energy into creating this amazing thing, and then was ready to like blow out into other areas, you know, to sort of balance out. We normally do that as human beings.
PAM: You mentioned this too, and I just want to bring this out to make sure people notice. When we are talking about balance, we aren’t talking about equal, you know, equal time on screen and equal time outside. Sometimes people interpret it that way. But it’s really about the self-awareness, isn’t it? Just like you talked about your son knowing that he had put all this effort and energy and time into this project that he was working on, and then, when he was done and ready, then he was ready for that next adventure. It was him knowing himself, wasn’t it?
RACHEL: Yeah, and it’s less about screens, but more about just an intense and prolonged effort on any project. Like, had he been building it with Legos, as he often does, he would have had the same response as soon as he finished creating this amazing project.
Or if my older son had been writing this on a piece of paper with some friends sitting around him, I wouldn’t feel the urge to say, “That’s enough paper time, you need to do something different.” So why would I, you know, whatever, just because it happens to be on a screen.
PAM: Exactly, I love that. It is really about their choices. And if it helps to help with projects or whatever. Whatever the tool is, like paper… I think where people get hung up, and let’s take it back to connections again, because when they see a child with a—I’m not even comfortable with people calling them ‘screens’, because as you’ve said, there’s like a million different things you do, you’re not on a screen or off a screen—
RACHEL: Like if I’m reading an ebook or writing an article, there’s somehow this secret value judgement placed, and I haven’t been given the chart to know exactly which things are valued at which unit of measurement, but I feel from society like this exists somewhere.
PAM: When you see them, that doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, I need to go do something else.’ You can still connect with them! It may not literally be in that moment—they may be intensely concentrated on whatever it is they are doing—but when you don’t put that value judgement or that negative judgement just because that is the tool they are using, you can connect with them about whatever it is that they are doing.
To actually know whether they are playing a game or they’re watching a screenplay or they are watching a YouTube video about one of their most favorite things, but if you don’t connect with them, you won’t know what their favorite thing is right in that moment.
RACHEL: And if you don’t feel negative and resentful about it, they are more willing to come to you and include you in whatever it is that they are doing. Like my nine-year-old kept wanting to show me the different stages as he was building the house in this virtual world, and my twelve-year-old keeps coming to me with different ideas and wanting to run them by me and wanting me to help him with editing this certain part in that paragraph.
As long as when they come to you they aren’t feeling this negative, judgy, resentful vibe, then leave that door open and they want to include you in all of this amazing things.
PAM: Boom. That’s it. Exactly. When you are open to connection, when you are not judging, it can be so connecting. Again, that just happens to be the tool that they are using for whatever they are interested in. I love that. I love that.
You have spoken a bit about adventures a little bit, and I wanted to dive into that topic as well, because in your book you refer to them as micro-adventures and I thought that was such a great term, because I think the adventure mindset is a wonderful way to approach our unschooling days, because it evokes that open and curious approach to the moment.
That was actually the lens that we used a lot while my kids were growing up, we just thought, “What are we going to do today?” We just thought of it as an adventure, even if we were just going to the local park. What are we going to find today? Is the river high? Is the river low? Have the beavers been out? How many leaves have fallen?
There is always just so much to see and explore when you have an adventurous mindset, so I was hoping you could talk a little bit about how you guys find adventure.
RACHEL: Adventure is our jam! Our big family intention is adventure together—that is up on our big white board right now. Adventure is enthusiastic and experience-based, exploration; it’s all this open minded, curious approach. And the adventure mindset releases the expectation and investment in outcome, in favor of open-minded, curious fun, together.
And so, I think that if we say, “We are going to go to the science museum and we are going to have this tour of the prehistoric exhibit,” I have found there is definitely attachment to outcome that happens, and people tend to get kind of goal-ish about it, and then feel like, “Well, that was a failure. I asked him afterwards and he didn’t know when the paleolithic period began.” It loses the magic of learning through experience of that adventure lifestyle.
And I think the term micro-adventure releases a lot of the pressure. You don’t have to spend a month in Europe for it to be an adventure, but if you are living that adventurous lifestyle and thinking of these as adventures, then it’s just this self-driven, curiosity-based experience of fun together! And it allows them to pick up the pieces. Sometimes I think of learning as like bites, or they pick up these different pieces, and it sort of creates this ocean of understanding.
And in some spots it’s really shallow, and in some places it’s really deep. But as you build on these adventures and have more and more and more of them together, all of these different pieces connect, and some of them get really deep, but some of them stay really shallow, but that’s ok—they all kind of get connected together into this ocean of understanding. And when you can trust in that process, oh it just flourishes, and it’s this amazing thing to be a part of!
PAM: I love that. It’s so true. And that was such an important piece that you mentioned, that attachment to outcome, because you’re right, when you are looking for something in particular, then you are going to judge whether this is a success or a failure, right? And you lose those million other drops of water that also came up.
RACHEL: All experiences have value.
One time we had some friends, they were full time travelling and they came and they stayed with us, and we went up to Mount Rainier and we did the Junior Ranger program, went on this amazing hike, and then at the end, when they were getting sworn in as Junior Rangers, the ranger asked what his favorite part of the day was, and he said something like, “Eating cherries with my friend Avery,” and all the rangers were kind of giggling, you know. The other kids had these scientific answers, and I just smiled so big, and said, “You know, that’s perfect!” It’s these friends that we never see, and they were bonding over cherries, and if that’s what my kid took away from that day, I absolutely see that day as a success. I know that my kid got a lot out of it. He’s happy and he’s going to walk away with positive memories of this, and then, another time, if we see a black squirrel as we happened to do that day, things may pull together about other things, but even if they don’t, that’s ok! All experiences have value! And we take away from them what we need to take away from them, even if it may not be what a teacher in a traditional school might be able to give a grade to, it still has value.
PAM: And that’s what we find when you have the trust too is that, often you see these things looking back, right? You were talking about the black squirrel. You might see, so often, later on in the future, something happens, and they pull something from an experience out that you don’t even know that they remembered, right?
RACHEL: All the time.
PAM: But they are making connections and building that ocean, and you just have no idea! And so, to value something over another in someone else’s experience…um… is wrong!
RACHEL: It’s so wrong!
And now that I’ve had all of this time to really be fully deep in that trust piece, I see it! I see them pull these things up in the future that I didn’t even know they noticed, things that I didn’t know that like really sunk in for them. They pull them out at these most random times!
My nine-year-old does that all the time, and just makes me chuckle. We will be out walking around with people and a stranger will ask a question, and he’ll just turn around and answer the question all matter of fact, about these things that I never “taught him.” But they just come out! They just come out all of the time. So that really helps me to be so deep in that trust piece, because I get to see that all of these seeds that were planted, they do take root, and they do bloom, it’s just not in a sensible order or on anyone else’s timeline, But they really do all, they bloom!
PAM: I love that. That’s the point, right? The value of the freedom of time. When we kind of being unbusy, when we are not trying to put some sort of structure overlay onto their day. So even if it’s not curriculum, but keeping them busy with activities, etc.
It’s like when Steve Jobs talked about creativity and making those connections—it’s that people have had the time to process them and they have the time to bring those connections together. Which you don’t if you’re constantly trying to keep adding things, and keep moving and looking like you’re busy doing all these things.
Yeah, that’s such a great point.
RACHEL: And the adventure piece holds space for them to learn what they are interested in as well. Because we did them together as a family and I say, “What do you want to learn? What do you want to experience? What things do you want to dive into?” And we research different places and locations and people and activities that might tap into those things. And so, it’s not even like a top-down schedule with a list of places from up on high.
We sit down and brainstorm together, and then we have a big calendar, on a screen! I have a google calendar and the kids have access to it through their iPads, and, again, we sort of write our family story together and come up with these amazing adventures, and then I just work out the details for us. That’s a huge piece to our learning, and a huge piece to our lifestyle that brings us so much joy and so much learning.
PAM: Well for us, you know, because we didn’t have a google calendar when my kids were little, but we had like a huge calendar in the kitchen. The kids, soon enough, would come running to see what was there, and we would try to figure out what would work for everybody, and then people knew to anticipate it.
And I love your idea of, when you’re sitting with them coming up with all these ideas. The other piece that I always found fun and interesting for me, or that brought value to this whole adventure thing was just knowing, number one, knowing what the kids were interested in, but also knowing my kids and knowing myself, and maybe I was on mailing lists of things, or nowadays, with Facebook and with all the connections and the interesting unschoolers that I’m just connected with in my life, I see all sorts of things go by, so just being open to what’s out there in the world, right?
PAM: Just bringing those in. Like, “Hey, I found out this is happening nearby, and would you be interested in that?” And totally yes or no. To know about what’s out there, to bring different opportunities into our world.
RACHEL: Yes, exactly, exactly.
PAM: There was one recently too. Actually, because I can tell that my children have taken on that adventure mindset. Like Lissy, when she turned 18, she got a tattoo, and it says, “find adventure.”
RACHEL: Oh, I love that! I love that!
PAM: And then we were in Florida for a vacation last month, and anyways, when we were planning it, we knew the dates, etc. So Michael—John Greene is one of his favorite authors right now—and he noticed that he was on a book tour for his newest release, and actually noticed that he was in Orlando while we were there, and he was like, “Hey, look what I found!”
Because, you are just always open to the possibility, that curious, adventurous mindset. And we did. We ended up going to see his book tour date in Orlando and it was awesome, but it wasn’t something that you would say, “Hey, I’m going to Orlando, let me look for that.”
RACHEL: In that adventure mindset is so much flexibility and open mindedness. And it’s just this completely wide-open mind and sense of togetherness, and you are completely open to say YES, and like, especially when kids are young, that is a huge, open door for learning and connection. The power of the YES. And when you are in that adventure mindset, you’re just so free to be able to do that!
You might drive three hours away to see this amazing thing, and then stop fifteen minutes shy of that because you see something that looks awesome, and then spend the whole day there instead. And that’s fine too! Right, you know, that is also winning. If adventure is the intention, rather than a specific goal with outcomes, it always feels like you’re successful.
PAM: Yes, that’s beautiful. And it’s amazing how many serendipitous things just show up on the path.
RACHEL: It’s so true. Oh my gosh, it’s so true.
PAM: Oh, I love that so much.
Well, I want to say thank you so much for speaking with me today. It was so much fun! Thank you!
RACHEL: Thank you for having me!
PAM: It was great! And before we go, where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
RACHEL: sageparenting.com is sort of the hub for all of my stuff, and then I post a lot of our adventures on Instagram, under Sage Parenting. So, if you want to follow along on our adventure, you can follow along right there.
PAM: That’s awesome! Thank you so much, Rachel! Have a great day!
RACHEL: Thank you—you too!