PAM: Hi everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Kelly Callahan. Hi, Kelly!
KELLY: Hi, Pam.
PAM: Kelly and her family have been unschooling for four years now and as unschooling weaves evermore deeply into their lives I’m really excited to chat with her about the kinds of connections that she is seeing. So, to get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
KELLY: Yeah definitely. We are a family of four. There is myself, my husband Kevin, and our daughter Raelin, who is fourteen, and our son, Liam, is eleven. I grew up here in Maine, but I went out to California to go to school and that’s where I met Kevin. We lived out there until our daughter was three months and then at that point he felt ready to move to Maine so we drove across country and we’ve been living in Maine ever since.
PAM: That is very cool. Moving by car with a three month old. That was a bit of a challenge?
KELLY: Yeah, one of us was always in the back seat and I mastered the hang-over nursing technique. She was great, actually. We took about a month so we had a lot of time. We stopped to see friends along the way.
PAM: That sounds awesome.
How did you discover unschooling and how did your family’s choice to move to unschooling come about?
KELLY: It’s interesting. You know, you can always go back and see the stirrings of where it started when you are far ahead, but I actually have a teaching credential—I did teach, but I really got into teaching through wilderness education and experiential education, so I was always more interested in the alternative forms of education.
I didn’t have a lot of exposure to homeschooling when I was in college and stuff, but I remember there was one young woman I met through other programs we were doing. She talked about rollerblading for P.E. She was just such a cool person; I was like, “Oh my God, that’s awesome.” I don’t know if that ever planted a seed.
I did teach. The first time I got into a real classroom I remember thinking, “I will never send my kids to school.” I felt so inadequate as a teacher for these kids. I felt like I could relate to them really well but it felt like just getting through the day. That’s what it felt like. I felt like I was doing them such a disservice it just didn’t matter how much I connected with them. I just thought, ‘This is terrible.’
I got pregnant with Raelin when I was teaching at a charter school and I thought, ‘I don’t know what we are going to do but I don’t want to send her to school.’ And then, of course, you have kids, and I remember thinking about homeschooling because I was so amazed with the way she engaged with the world and the way she would ask questions about numbers and adding things when she was little. I thought, ‘Oh my God, why would anyone put her in a math class? She is just curious about numbers.’
I saw all of that. It was funny. I never took the extra step of, ‘Well, let’s figure out homeschooling.’ I think because I had had a big Waldorf influence from someone who was important in my life and there was a Waldorf school here and so we started doing some of that early childhood education stuff.
We got started on that track, but we moved from a town here in Maine that was a small town, but more in-town, up to a rural property, which is where we are now. I had to make the decision then, because she was going to be in first grade, if we were going to homeschool or if we were going to put her in the local school. By that time Liam had been born and he had been in the Waldorf early childhood program. We just thought, ‘It’s a local school. We can walk to school through the woods. It was a K through 8, like one classroom.’ It felt like it had enough sweet features that we would try it. It was fine. She did really well. She didn’t have any complaints.
Then Liam started Kindergarten. Also during that time, I was starting to go to school for homeopathy and I’ll say more about this later, but it’s such an individualized approach to healing that I think it was starting to stir something in my brain that I’m doing this career about individuals yet I’m sending my kids to this place everyday where it’s not about the individual. Really, it’s about keeping them with the group.
I had a friend through my book group who unschooled her boys and we had always gone over to their house and I thought it was so chaotic. It was like, they were in the yard and they were in the house, and it was like art and bringing pans of dirt in to put on the stove and what happens if you cook the dirt? And it was always like, ‘Oh my God!’
But my son was friends with her boys and one summer we went over there and one of her sons is really into digging and excavating in their yard and he had dug this huge hole and then he wanted to build a fire in the hole and make a chimney to explore the whole idea of a chimney and airflow. So, I’m not kidding, for two hours my son and her boys played with fire, safely, in this hole. They were experimenting: What happens if we cover the hole? What happens if we put newspaper in? I just sat there and I thought, ‘Oh my God! He just never gets to do this.’
And it’s not that we wouldn’t allow that at all, it’s just that between going to school every day and trying to recover on vacations and camps and summer, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this kid is six and he doesn’t have this full experimentation, like open-ended play time any more.’
I went home and I said to my husband, “I think we need to think about pulling the kids out of school.” And so we talked about it, just him and I. I talked about my work and how I felt like it was hypocritical to be sending them to do this while I was trying to help people individually but I wasn’t putting the time into my own kids.
At the same time, he was shifting his work as well into coaching in the business world and also helping individuals and helping teens to thrive within a system based on what they needed. So we were moving in this direction and it just felt like, we can’t have our kids be doing this thing that feels antithetical to what we are putting our passions into as a career.
So, we posed it to the kids. They were not complaining about school. They weren’t asking to leave. There weren’t any problem. And they were like, “Yeah, yeah, we’re interested!” So, I suggested we keep checking in through the fall and see how it is at the end of the semester. I remember we went in for their final teacher conferences. My daughter was in fifth grade. We kept wanting to hear, ‘How does she enjoy certain things? What kind of questions does she ask?’ Just about how she was in the classroom. The teacher kept going back to the test scores. And then, in my son’s conference the teacher was like, “Oh, he’s great,” blah blah blah, but then she said, “Well, you know, there was this incident where he and another boy came in and they were wanting to play a practical joke.” They were doing something that was a little cheeky in the classroom, causing her problems. She said, “You know, and I told them I wasn’t going to tell their parents if they didn’t do this again, but I just want to let you know.” My husband and I were like, “We never ever want you to pit us against our son. Please don’t do that. Don’t ever say you are not going to tell us. We don’t have that kind of relationship with our kids. We want to know what is happening. We are not going to punish him.” I think she thought we would be punishing him at home or something. It was like this manipulative backchannel. We just walked out of there and we were like, “We’re done.”
So, it was Christmas break and they didn’t go back.
PAM: That’s awesome. What an interesting story.
I love how each of you were seeing in your own lives the way that you were most comfortable moving forward—working individually and seeing how valuable it is to deal with situations and people as individuals. Then noticing what you were trying to help your kids do within school, which was fit into that group.
That’s fascinating how you guys made that connection. It all came together at the same time, didn’t it?
KELLY: Yeah. I always think when I hear a lot of other people’s stories that sometimes it originates from the kids and then it spreads out from there but in our situation, there was always something about it with the kids but it was almost like we were looking at these bigger patterns and then we were able to see what in our life wasn’t fitting, what we were finding was valuable and school became a part of it.
PAM: That’s fascinating. I found that really interesting. You’re right, so often it’s kids who are having trouble and us as parents are trying to figure out a path forward and that brings us there. But you guys were seeing it yourselves in your lives and just trying to incorporate it more into your family. That’s awesome.
Now that you’ve chosen this path and they didn’t go back to school after Christmas, what did you find to be one of the bigger challenges as you were deschooling?
KELLY: I’ve thought so much about this question this week and how I wanted to talk about it because, despite the fact that it feels like it was this very natural thing for us, you know, there weren’t big problems, it has been really challenging for different reasons. So it’s been fun sorting through those threads.
I can’t just say there has been this one thing that has been challenging the whole time. In the early years, it was all the superficial things, and I think them to be superficial now, like screens, food and sleep. They were just these topics.
I know a lot people say they started attachment parenting and that led them into unschooling because it seems like this seamless transition, but actually, for me, something that was wound up in attachment parenting which we did do—we co-slept, we breastfeed on demand, we did all that stuff—was the way that it was married to a kind of natural parenting that has a fair amount of control in its point-of-view.
For example: “Yes, you’re going to feed your kid when they are hungry but it’s only going to be the foods that you choose, and it’s going to be natural, organic, no sugar.” You know, all that stuff. Which, I’ve always been into natural food and healthy living my whole life, so I think a lot of it’s me in what I gravitated to.
Also, the no screens and the Waldorf and the wooden toys, and so, a lot of that I had really absorbed quite deeply and so peeling that apart was a big challenge. That’s what it has morphed into.
I’ve realized that there is really nothing about unschooling that is challenging. It’s all about what you are attached to and how strong your attachments are and your ability to look at those. So, not to be super esoteric, but if you’ve ever watched the Matrix where he goes to see the Oracle and he sees the little boy bending the spoon and he says, “It’s not the spoon, it only yourself that is bending.”
I think that’s how I feel about unschooling now. I’ve heard you [Pam] say this over and over, when there are problems, “It’s not the unschooling.” I feel that now. The things that challenge me are never the unschooling. It’s really because I’m super attached to something—being someway or some idea I had about it.
The idea I had about what it meant for my son to want to play video games all the time or what it meant when my daughter really did want to be taking classes and keep one foot in the structured learning world when I really wanted to be full-scale unschooling.
The thing that makes it easier is when I take all of the things that I learned from listening to your podcast and the things that I read which is: giving space, seeing what’s really needed, not trying to rush in and control it, and trusting. That stuff is never about the thing, it’s always about how you approach it.
PAM: That’s a good point.
KELLY: I think the real challenges to unschooling are things that we don’t have in our life. So it’s like, if you have divorced parents and one parent doesn’t want to unschool: that’s a real challenge to unschooling; or there are state regulations where you have to do testing and stuff like that which creates an extra layer. Those are things that you have no control over so it is going to make what you do challenging but when you don’t have those issues, I feel like there is nothing about unschooling that is inherently challenging.
PAM: That is such a great point. I really love the way you pointed out that whole control piece. For me, when I think about it, that was one of the most challenging pieces. It was being able to separate my children as whole and individual people in their own right. I always thought that I was, but every time that you peel back another layer, when something comes up—when the screens come up, when the food comes up—to be able to own my choices and not impose them on someone else. It’s always, ‘For their own good’ or ‘I know better, I’m older.’
At first it doesn’t even feel like it’s a controlling way—I’m trying to help them, I’m trying to help them learn how to be in the world, how to be safe in the world, how to be healthy in the world and all that kind of stuff.
That was such a huge layer to realize that they, even as children, were able to make such great decisions that worked for them, when I gave them that space and realized that I wasn’t trying to mould this individual to the expectations that I felt were good. Because at first you feel like you are trying to be so helpful to them but every time you dig deeper, like you said, it’s not about the unschooling, it’s about how we are in relationship with our children.
Maybe that’s a good way to put it, right? That you realize how that control kind-of insidiously works it way into the relationship until you keep peeling it back and peeling it back.
KELLY: Yeah, and the fear. I feel like on the other side of it is so much fear. Whatever our fear is, is dictating how we respond.
An example I have is, we were going to a pot luck at a friend’s house, with a community of people in which a lot of them go to the Waldorf school, very limiting on screens and have a very controlled diet. This was recently, so it was interesting to think about a couple of years ago how I would have approached this versus a couple of months ago. We stopped at the store on the way there to get drinks and my son picked out a Mountain Dew energy-type drink and I could feel myself like, ‘Whoa. Ok. We are going to walk into this environment and he’s going to have this drink, which is not something none of those kids I know are allowed to drink this kind of stuff. Nobody is going to bring anything like this.” As somebody who is an alternative health practitioner, and they see my kids drinking something that is perceived as being not a good choice, blah blah blah, I was kind-of-like, Ok, I feel like that but be are going and I’m not going to manipulate this situation because of my fear of somebody else’s judgment.
So, we went, and it was fine. I was sitting at a picnic table with some people and my son came over and he said, “Where should I put my can?” and I said, “Oh, just leave it here. I’ll find the recycling.” And this one woman said, “Wait. What is he drinking?” And I was like, “Oh. I don’t know.” And then the conversation was interrupted, and then she went back to it. She said, “What is Liam drinking?” I said, “I don’t know. I think it’s like a Mountain Dew.” She said, “Is that the kind of thing I never let my kids have?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t really fight with my kids over what they drink.” And she said, “Oh God. I fight with my kids over everything.” And in that moment, there was nothing else to say. I was like, well, that ends that.
PAM: ‘That’s your choice.’ [Laughter]
KELLY: It was so beautiful because it was like, what was there to fear? Right in front of me was this living example of what the result is: fighting with your kids all the time. It’s like, no; I don’t fight with my kids over this kind of stuff. Not just this, but everything, you know!
PAM: Yeah, everything.
KELLY: Yeah. Having those experiences sometimes, they give me little windows into where the whole journey has progressed and I can see the difference. Two years ago I probably would have been like, “We’re not bringing that to the party,” or get him to drink it in the car. Something like that. Just because I would have felt so apprehensive about being judged or him being judged. And that’s the other piece, right, is maybe he wouldn’t care what other people think but I would have said, “Oh, you should care what other people think, so leave it in the car.”
PAM: That’s such a great point, yeah. That is part of the journey. That isn’t something that you can just tell yourself to get over and then expect yourself to just be ok with these moments. That’s why I love to think our lives as a whole unschooling journey with our children because there is so much processing, thinking, experiences and figuring this stuff out, so I loved hearing the difference between maybe two years ago and now.
We get to a place where we are more comfortable and then you are right—that’s another thing I love—when you’re totally comfortable just living our lives out in the world, you get these little glimpses. Because people are like, “Hey. Hey, that’s different than what I expected.” You have little conversations and you get insights like that, that reinforce and inspire us as well to keep living and enjoying the lifestyle that we have.
KELLY: Yeah. I wonder sometimes about the whole concept of deschooling—people always feel like it should be done sooner.
But I wish it was another word that encompassed the idea that it’s not just the subject because deschooling makes it sound like you are just getting used to what learning looks like out of school. Really there is a de-societizing. [Laughter]
I don’t know what it is, but it’s so much bigger than that. People write in and it would be like, ‘Well you have more deschooling to do’, but their issue isn’t about school at all, so I wonder if that creates… It just popped in my head.
PAM: That’s a great point because, like you say, there is that initial deschooling bit, like, ‘Well how will they learn when they’re not in school?’ and ‘How will they know what to learn?’ and that kind of stuff. There are those things, but those are dealt with pretty quickly and easily because children really do learn and when you stop, give them space and watch them for little while you’ll see it. You’re like, ‘Oh, okay.’
But so much of it is our own personal work and just the whole unconventionality piece. It’s the lifestyle piece, the living together, the relationships, the control pieces—all those pieces, like you said, really aren’t school related but are all part and parcel of moving to a thriving unschooling lifestyle. Aren’t they?
PAM: That’s really interesting.
Speaking of your kids, can you share a bit about your children’s interests and how they’re weaving into your lives right now?
KELLY: Yeah. Liam, my youngest who is 11, right from the get-go he’s been very interested in computers and games. It’s fun to think back when he was really little we got him a ‘my first digital camera.’ He was never actually interested in taking pictures, he just wanted to play tic-tac-toe on it. [Laughter] When he was three.
He got super deep into Minecraft and we ended up building a gaming computer and we’ve gotten into consoles. He does a lot of gaming and it’s been so cool to just embrace that once I got through a lot of the muck that I had to dis-assemble from myself around it. You hear him play Overwatch and take a leadership role with people he’s never met before and there are adults on the call and he’s directing this whole team, you know, things like that.
He’ll find games that meet an interest, so he’s gotten really into cars lately. It might run in the family. My dad was always into cars when I was growing up we had every kind of car. He buys cars and sells cars and fixes them up. So he [Liam] has recently gotten a game where you build motors and buy a car, it’s called Mechanics Simulator, I think. You can rebuild the car and you have to go and buy the parts and work within a budget and resell it and swap out parts and stuff. We don’t have a mechanic shop here at the house so it’s a really accessible way for him to start getting his hands on the idea of motors before he can go hang out with my dad and do it for real.
Another big passion of his is mountain biking. He and my husband do this together: downhill mountain biking. Like, taking the chair lift up ski-mountains. So they do that a lot. They drive pretty far to go a place in New Hampshire called Highland. It’s like his home away from home. Jumping, I don’t know. It’s just crazy what they do. He loves, loves, loves that.
He’s kind-of a spiraler: things come around and then they go away again for a little bit and come around. So cooking and food has always been a big interest to him. It’s interesting, it’s been a huge part of his life but he’s never actually wanted to get his hands on actually cooking until just recently. But for years he has been watching cooking shows and it’s just so fascinating to see the different ways that an interest emerges. And the spectrum that you can be interested in something instead of actually doing the thing and how that’s still so valuable: all the ways that you explore it. Then to have it come around and it’s like, okay, now he’s ready to get in the kitchen. He loves music and listens to audio books too. So that’s him.
My daughter, Raelin, is 14 and when she left school she said, “I’m going to learn everything through music.” She decided to go to high school this year because there is a performing arts charter school that she had the opportunity to go to so she has been doing that but in the three years that she was out she has continued playing fiddle and violin.
She did cello for a little while, singing lessons, piano, she self-taught guitar, she just really went deep into music and it’s been really cool to watch. She and my husband play together. She plays fiddle and guitar. She’s super creative. She loves to knit and spin and cook and sew and just create all kinds of different stuff.
She wanted to be involved in the co-op that we have here. She would teach some classes and she would take a lot of classes. She would do online classes. I always thought it was interesting that she kept returning to classes. What I’ve realized is that she has a huge interest in people and also in her own sense of leadership and exploring who she is in relation to other people. She is taking a psychology class right now so in hindsight it’s like: Wow! Doing those classes wasn’t only just for the class it was also, I think, part of this interest of exploring who she is in a group. But doing it on her own terms, you know, not having to do it, not having to go to things she doesn’t want to go to, be under somebody’s structure. You know, it’s all self-chosen. I’d never thought of it until recently as an interest.
There are some things she’s exploring through that. It’s not like, “Well, I don’t know any other way to do this so I’m just going to take a class.” That isn’t what I think it’s about for her. I think there is something she gets from being in that group and feeling out those dynamics that is a huge interest to her.
PAM: Yeah. Like you said, the big piece is that it’s a choice, right? That she is choosing these and to notice that pattern that she is choosing that kind of environment is really fascinating. It could be that, that is the kind of environment in which she likes to engage and learn things, right? But also, like you said, that might just be the kind of environment in which she thrives and likes to explore. Like you said, relationships and social dynamics and the leadership side of it, how she engages with people. So, she gets that piece on top of whatever the interesting topic is to her.
KELLY: Yes, and it has moved too. So, it started out in our homeschooling co-op and she had friends at school but I would not say that she found like a group of kids that she really clicked with, and that is so interesting; all the socialization things. That did not happen for her until she started homeschooling. And that is when she met a group of some of her best friends now, and she was all about socializing and being with these kids for a couple of years. Then she does this camp in the summer called Village Harmony where they put together a program and they sing all of these international songs and they tour throughout New England. That is this whole other experience where they are staying with host families and she is in this tight-knit group 24/7 for three weeks; she loves that.
And then there was a point as she got older where she was feeling like she was ready to move on from her homeschooling group, to the extent that she was—she is still very good friends with them. Something like high school started to look interesting, so it is like you could just see her going, ‘Ok, I have experienced this. I get this dynamic now; I have gotten what I need from it. Now I am ready to get this next thing.’ But in terms of being with people and being with the group. So yes, it is really fun to watch that.
PAM: Yes, and like you said, it is a totally different experience when you are choosing it and you know that you can change your mind, too. You know each day that you are walking in there, interested in engaging with the environment, not trying to avoid it.
KELLY: Yes, and we talk a lot about that, about what she is getting from going to school vs. what she is having to give up. So that is a lot of the conversations we are having right now, because it is a long commute to school and there is a lot of other things she wants to do that she has to say no to. So, weighing that is a huge learning experience, to sift through those priorities and choices.
PAM: And to choose a path and to try it out, and then see what happens. Each time something new comes up and she has to make a choice there, each thing is a new learning experience on the journey.
KELLY: Yes, and it makes me think that it is another way, like, with radical unschooling where after a time, you are so much further beyond just the school aspect. It is really about how you are living together and your relationships and how you approach things. So, if somebody chooses to go to school it does not matter.
In the beginning I was kind of afraid, like, ‘Are we still unschooling?’ And then I was like, nothing is going to change about the way that we are together or the way that we support her or the way we talk to her about her choices. It is just another possibility.
PAM: Yes, it is just another choice on the plate, right? That’s a good point, that it is further on in your journey when you get to that point where you know she is choosing that because she is interested in the environment, not because she has little voices in the back of her head saying, ‘You are not really learning unless you are in school.’
Like you said, you moved beyond all that and now it is just another choice with no greater power, for lack of a better word, than any other choice. It is just, “Which one do you think will work best for you in this particular situation?”
You mentioned earlier, and I would like to dive into it a little bit, that you have discovered some interesting connections between your work as a homeopathic doctor and unschooling and that was part of your decision to move towards unschooling.
I know as I continue to learn on my writing journey, I make connections and gain insights that feed into my unschooling journey and vice versa. As we were talking earlier, this is on the scale of life, not just school and so it seems like when I go deeper into one, it takes me deeper into another. I just had a great big insight in the writers group that I was in, and something someone said that was totally related to writing, but completely relates to what I learned further on in my unschooling journey. I think that you found that as well and I was hoping we could speak about it.
KELLY: Yes, for sure.
So, I got into homeopathy because I started using it when my kids were little because it was natural and that was usually the things I chose and I was just so blown away by how effective it was. So, it was like, ‘I really need to learn this.’
And what is interesting, one parallel that actually happens to a lot of people that I have talked to, is you kind of see the impact of homeopathy; maybe you have tried it for the flu or something like that, and so you want to learn more and it is not until you have actually committed to getting into a program and you are deep into study, that you realize how deep it is and how expansive.
People are kind of blown away, like, ‘I had no idea this is what we are doing,’ because it is such a dynamic and deep medicine and I feel like it is kind of like that with unschooling. You get into it and you are like, ‘Oh, I just want to give myself extra choice,’ and then you are like radically changing. I had no idea this is what I was getting myself into.
A lot of people know homeopathy is ‘like cures like.’ You know, if you are throwing up, you might take Ipecac, the remedy because syrup of ipecac would make you throw up. So, if you take it when you are throwing up, it can help you stop throwing up. It is a very old principle; it goes all the way back to Hippocrates.
What a lot of people do not know, is the thing that actually makes it really effective is some other principles too, one of which is the idea of a minimum dose; that you only give just enough to have an effect.
If you think about unschooling, it is like, you think about how little you have to do sometimes to support someone, to light a spark, to connect to ideas, and the way schools do it is, ok we are going to throw the American Revolution at you for nine weeks. Whereas one comment in a show or something that comes up on the news can totally snowball into this huge amazing interest, but it starts with something very little that just happened to hit the right chord. And that is exactly what we do with a remedy; we give just enough to stimulate the susceptibility, and the interest that is already there.
The other thing is it is individual, we have talked a little bit about that; 10 people could have the same diagnosable condition, but every single one would get a different medicine, because the way that our bodies express things individually is different, even though in the diagnoses world, we might call it the same thing, but everybody has the same characteristics.
In unschooling it is like, you have 10 kids who are all interested in music but they are all going to be interested in different ways, you know. I think about how my daughter plays fiddle and she is really into more traditional music and my son loves music but he is into more electronic and hip hop, things like that, but they still have this love of music. Or the way somebody approaches an instrument, but when it is individualized, it is so much more powerful because you are getting exactly what they need, and in school, of course, they cannot do that. You know, they try maybe some loose groups or something like that, but really, you have to keep up with the group.
Then, there is another idea of totality, so if somebody comes in and maybe they have stomach aches, when I am talking to them, I am going to talk about everything about their life. What are other symptoms they have, what are dreams that they have, how is their sleep, how is their appetite. We do not chop the person up into only treating their stomach. No, that is what your stomach is doing, but your stomach is not separate from the rest of your whole body, so we treat the whole person and with unschooling, we look at the idea of everything is connected. We do not isolate subjects, we do not say you can only learn math through doing equations. There is a totality to it all.
Then finally there is the idea of dynamism; that the healthier we are, the more dynamic we are, the more able we are to be flexible and to change course. So somebody who maybe goes out in the cold and they always get a sinus infection, as they get healthier, they will be less inclined to do that because their body has figured out other ways to adapt to that challenge.
I think it is the same thing with unschooling—we can be flexible, you know, it is all about somebody is interested in something and this doesn’t work; well ok, lets try it this way, how can we meet the need? It is not, “here is a rule.”
So those four things; giving just enough, looking at the individual, but considering the whole, and that you are going for the maximum adaptability and dynamism; I just see those as being so on point, and so much of what does not happen in schools, and also in the conventional medical world as well. I look at this little system and a lot of conventional medical approach is similar, because everybody gets the same treatment often, and that kind of thing. Which is not to say that in those systems there are not people who do very well, because of course there are. So it is not about saying that that is all terrible and does not work, because for some people it does work, but it is limiting.
Those are just straight-up principles but then there are things like the year after we took the kids out of school, I had already accepted to go into this international advanced training program in Sweden, so three times a year I went to Sweden for a week. That was challenging, trying to get the support at home while I did these trips, but it was so interesting to be diving deeper into this modality and this practice of homeopathy, while at the same time I was diving deeper into unschooling.
There were so many times, like you were saying with your writing group, like where I am sitting there listening to a lecture in a class and would be like, “Oh my god, this is totally what I just read on this whole thread and this is what Sandra and all of these people were saying.” The crossover in terms of how it is really about what makes life thrive. That is what it is, and one of them in an approach to healing on the physical and mental/emotional plane, and one of them is about our engagement with the world, and learning, and learning about yourself, but to me those totally cross over.
So, it has been really incredible and I have gone on to teach at a school here in Maine and the way that we teach is totally different. I don’t even go in for a weekend and plan lessons. I see what comes up in the questions they are asking and I am further enough now in my own practice that I can go home that night or I can pull things up on the fly. I am always trying to give them what they need at that time, based on the cases that we are seeing or the questions they are asking. I know that when you get what you need in the moment that you need it, it is going to be so much more powerful than if I just come in and say, “This is what we are learning about this weekend because this is what you need to know, to move forward.”
There is always some of that, but 80-90 percent of the time, I tread these unknown waters of being like, “Ok, I am going to go in and I have got bags of tricks and I know these resources and let’s see what comes up.” And I do not know that I would have had the guts to do that if we had not been unschooling and I did not have that understanding of how people learn backed up. And I think it makes us better practitioners for sure.
And it also impacts how I am with the people who come to see me, because I treat a lot of kids; I have a lot of kids who come see me, and families, and because I know my own experience through unschooling about how do we support people in relationships, I can offer that. I do not say that I am going to offer you this unschooling whatever, but I can bring it in in this very non-threatening but supportive way, like, “Oh have you considered this,” and, “You can support this way,” and, “This will also help while they are having the remedy and we are seeing that response,” you can do this, and so incredibly complementary in that way as well.
PAM: Wow, that is so interesting. Like you said, you start to see these connections when you start to dive deeper. That was really interesting, and I love the way that you have been able to bring those worlds together for yourself. Like you said, being able to make more holistic suggestions to your clients and then to people who are coming to you to learn.
I love your point about the questions that they are asking and the cases that they are seeing, because that is where their brain is right now. That is what they are thinking about, that is what they are interested in and that is where they are going to be able to make the most learning connections, rather than a random piece of information that you are throwing at them.
PAM: I love how you have been able to bring all of that together. It is just so interesting to me. Because it is about the bigger picture of life and how we choose to live in the world, right?
And my husband has really seen the same thing in his work. He works in the corporate world and he is going into these bureaucratic entrenched systems but he also went to graduate school, when I was going to school. He got his Masters in Positive Organizational Development and it is all about finding what is working and let’s expand from what is working, instead of what is not working, so let’s come up with some kind of solution to fix it.
His work is really about talking to people and finding out what their experiences are and getting people to actually talk to each other and hear each other. I cannot explain his work as well as my own, but we have a lot of conversations as we talk about unschooling and we talk about what we see the kids doing and our own work and it is like they all seem to be resonating on the same plane. I think it is because these are truths, they are the way that things thrive, it is not about any particular discipline.
You could even look at conventional versus organic agriculture; again, one of them says just “This is what plants need,” we are just going to spray everything, we are just going to do monoculture, and the issues that result from that versus an organic approach where you are like, let’s see what is actually needed and lets just give enough for what the plants need. You look at something to see what is actually needed and again, it is that individuality and that totality, and you just give it enough and you have a thriving situation as opposed to the mass everything gets the same.
PAM: That is great, I love that. As you mentioned, these are truths about being human and living and making choices. I love the way you are seeing that in just so many different disciplines.
Speaking of your husband, I understand that he has been travelling a lot with work, so I was wondering if you could share your experience with keeping him in the loop, and plus your trips to Sweden, and maintaining connections with the family while he is away.
KELLY: It was definitely a shift. One of the things that enabled us to move to Maine and up to where we are rurally, is that he worked from home from the time Raelin was born until she was 10 or 11, so he was very intimately involved in all of their baby and toddler and preschool years, which was fantastic. So, it was a big shift to having him travel more.
We have done lots of different things. Last winter he and Liam were playing tons of Overwatch together and they had the same team that they would meet up with. He would complain to the hotel about their wifi, and he would say, “I am away from my family,” and they have a lot of consultants who are away and for most of them, that is a lot of their midweek trade, and he said, “This is how I connect with my family, is that I game with my son, so lets figure out what you guys need to do to get the Wi-Fi going, so that I can actually connect with my family.” And they were so responsive to it. We would have people who were like, “Oh, that is so cool, you keep in touch with your son that way,” so there are very specific things like that.
And of course, the kids have their own devices, so they text him and we are not really big phone people. A lot of times he and I will talk on the phone, so I will share with him what is going on, and the kids are always welcome to call and talk to him, but a lot of the times people are into their own thing and so, it is on an as-needed basis, but it has never felt like he is unavailable.
If one of the kids says, “I want to do this with dad,” or “What do you think he will think about this?” And I say, “Oh well, lets text him. We can get in touch with him and see.” So just always having that open.
And then a year and a half ago, he was working just about an hour and a half south of us, in Portland and he worked really hard to get his company to put the money they would put into hotels, into a house. So, we actually moved temporarily down to Portland for the summer to be together, and that was really great. I just kept thinking about how grateful I was that we were unschooling, because we did not have to worry about pulling the kids out of school, or that it was some big commitment that if we did it, we would not be able to change our mind. We did all of it, we kept our house up here, we went back and forth when we wanted to, we experimented with life down there, and ultimately decided that the kids and I were more comfortable being at home.
So, we did it for three or four months and then we came home, but we are constantly trying to find ways to see what we can do to have more time together and more access.
But along with that, we do not put a lot of pressure or expectation on it; the kids are super busy and involved and if he does not hear from them for the week, he does not feel bad and likewise with them. It is just staying open and doing what we can.
PAM: I think that your point about them all knowing that he is available, to know that whenever that connection is wanted, it can be made, versus an expectation that we are going to make sure we sit down and talk three times a week or something like that—that puts a layer on top of it that starts to build a resistance, I think. To know that it is always available and that your husband responds when they reach out. That builds that trust for them as well, that that path is available whenever they want or need, so that is really cool.
And as you said, staying open to possibilities like going and trying out that house for awhile, and trying out different things as they come up. I think that maybe the most important thing is building that framework for support; that foundation so that then people have it there to use whenever they have a need or an interest.
KELLY: Yeah, and sometimes he has missed certain things, but the kids know the work he does. Raelin has had him come and facilitate group meetings with her co-op and he is going to do some guitar stuff at a big workshop she is planning at school, so I definitely think we have been really successful. While all of us would love for him to be home more, and it has definitely been a lot of times where it has been really challenging, I think we have succeeded in keeping the accessibility and the relationships really strong.
PAM: Connection, yeah. That is awesome.
Now, for this last question.
As I mentioned before, you have been unschooling for four years, and I think that a lot of what we have talked about has really worked well, highlighting the kind of unschooling connections and principles that have been weaving into all aspects of your life now. Like we had mentioned earlier, at the beginning it is all about the school stuff, but then it becomes a lifestyle. It becomes life things, so I was just wondering if there were any other ways that we have not mentioned yet, that you have noticed unschooling principles weaving into your lives?
PAM: Or did we hit it all?
KELLY: Well, the only thing that I was thinking about was—and this is something that I think is growing—I feel like the kind of work, like all of that is a really well-integrated, thriving life, like that feels like it is really on a roll, and the piece that is kind of starting to emerge is that I think more and more about applying the principles to my friendships or my relationships with my family, or things like that.
It has been interesting to see that sometimes that has been slower to come. Like, if I am feeling stuck around an issue with a relationship or something like that, and if I start to think about it, it does not feel quite as quick and natural to think about unschooling principles, as I feel like it is so easy in other ways. But I know that I have heard other people talk about how much it has enriched their other relationships and their family stuff, extended family, and so I feel like that is a piece that is still kind of gaining momentum and I am really putting attention to that. Really wanting to nurture that complementary approach.
PAM: Yes, that is interesting. Because those are extended family are another concentric circle outward of patterns that we are just used to and that is just the way we engage with them, right, so yes, that is really interesting to start thinking, “How would that look, if I were to bring this other piece of what I have learned about being in relationships with other people.”
One thing I have noticed too is that as we talk about how unschooling takes effort. This is not the lazy choice, “Oh, we are not doing school anymore, so this is going to be easy.” I can’t bring that level of engagement and effort into everything, you know what I mean? And so that becomes a choice of how much effort to put in.
I guess the other piece is, with some—acquaintances, is probably the best way to put it—but they also have their relationship patterns that mean something to them and typically they are more conventional. So, I am ok with conventionally engaging with them at the level that they want.
Sometimes I wish with some extended family that they would be more interested in engaging more deeply. But they want to keep it on that superficial level; “How is the weather?” “How are the kids?” “Anybody sick?” and then talk to you next month or whatever. But there becomes some relationships where if they are open to that level of engagement and thought, that there is some value to the relationship for bringing that piece to the table. It has really helped those relationships go deeper, I guess, but that is really interesting how you are noticing that piece and thinking about bringing that in too.
KELLY: Well, the more radical unschooling makes your life flow smoother and easier, those pieces where it’s not become more obvious.
PAM: Noticeable, right?
KELLY; Right. I want this over there, too.
PAM: And you know what, now that I think about it, one of those pieces that really help, one of those unschooling principles, that not trying to control people, or have expectations of people. That was further into my journey, being able to release expectations of an aunt or an uncle or a grandparent, the relationship that they would be having with my child. A lot of it was my work, again, to release those expectations and then all of a sudden those relationships seemed easier, but it was because I had done the work to release that and to just let it flow where it was going to go. To stop trying to control things.
KELLY: Yes, exactly right, and it is not about the unschooling.
PAM: It is not about the unschooling.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Kelly, I really appreciate it, thank you.
KELLY: Yeah, thank you, it was really fun.
PAM: Yes, it was a lot of fun.
And before we go, where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
I don’t do any blogging with unschooling, because I just can’t. I had to make a decision and I thought about it, was just like, no, I needed to do some self care and not overextend myself more. So concentrichealing.com and Facebook.
PAM: That is brilliant, thank you so much Kelly, have a great day!
KELLY: Thank you, you too.