PAM: Hi everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Zach and Heather Lake. Hi guys!
ZACH & HEATHER: Hi! How are you?
PAM: I’m very good, thank you.
Heather has been on the podcast before sharing her deschooling journey, and in our conversation after she mentioned her husband has had quite the journey as well. And as that percolated in my mind, I thought it would be really interesting to have them on together to talk about their journey from both of their perspectives.
So, to get us started Zach …
Can you just give us a brief reintroduction to you and your family?
ZACH: Sure, I’m Zach, and this is my wife Heather, and we have four children, Gavin age sixteen, Brenna age fourteen, Hattie six, and Logan is three. We live in Omaha, Nebraska, and we’ve been unschooling for eighteen months.
PAM: That’s awesome.
If I remember from Heather’s interview, it was initially your son Gavin’s idea for homeschooling, right? I was wondering what each of your reactions were right at that very first moment.
HEATHER: So, just a little background.
Gavin is 17 now, He was always such a bright, curious kid who loved to learn, but never fit in the school-box very well at all so it was a very frustrating experience for him. And he was very bored and did not enjoy learning what other people told him he should. He loved learning what he was interested in, but he was not interested in that checklist of things that you’re supposed to learn for school. So, he’d always been very unhappy in school, and the teachers were very frustrated with him too because he didn’t fit in the box very well, so some of his teachers were really unkind to him. And it was really uncomfortable for us and really uncomfortable for Gavin. It just didn’t work well all the way around.
I think somewhere around middle school it got really hard for Gavin, because I think as they got older, some of the teachers had less patience for someone who didn’t fit in the box very well, and he was really, really struggling. At some point homeschooling might be a better option for him, but he wasn’t really interested at the time in that, so we kind of just tucked it back in our brains.
When Gavin was 15, he and I went to a movie together, and he just started falling in love with movies, and writing. He got really inspired to write movies and really get involved in filmmaking. And, at that time—I think he was a freshman in high school I think it was—I had looked around to see what kinds of opportunities were in Omaha for filmmaking, and there was this film festival coming up. He got really excited about that, and we took him out of school to do that, and they had this special academy. And we just saw him like just come alive during the film festival. He was so excited, and he’d be there all day, with a smile on his face the whole time. And we were just like, ‘Wow, he’s really found a passion.’
And he just took off with it, just was writing all the time, meeting people in Omaha who were making movies, going to festivals, and it really became like school started interfering with his learning about the movie-making process. So, he’d gone to a film festival, and I picked him up and we were on the way home, and he said “I don’t want to do school anymore.” It was just me in the car, and I was kind of glad I had that tucked back in my head, because I wasn’t entirely shocked I guess, or I could respond to that, so I said, “Ok, how about homeschooling?” and he said, “Ok, let’s homeschool!” He was ready to take off and go.
So, then we get home. I was going to get home and talk to Zach a little bit like “Hey, we had this conversation…”
ZACH: Kinda work me in a little bit.
HEATHER: And Zach’s like “Dad! We’re going to homeschool!”, and Zach was like “Uh, ok.”
So, I think like my initial reactions at that time, I was very excited for him. But there was also another side of me that was like, “What are we doing? Are we totally crazy to totally leave school?”
I kinda wondered if it was the right thing to do, But honestly, I had so much relief for Gavin because I felt like he had this passion that he wanted to pursue and now he’d have the time to just work on it all the time. And I was happy that he would be in a more nurturing environment, where, in school, the teachers weren’t nice to him sometimes, so I had relief that he was going to be out of that system and home with us. What did you think?
ZACH: My initial reaction was kind of fear, disbelief a little bit, not so sure how this was going to work out. Heather and I had talked about it, like she said, in the past, but it was just very surface, just thrown out there like, “Hey, maybe we can homeschool sometime.” “Yeah, maybe we can.” And then we’d talk about something else and not really give it a second thought. So, I was hesitant. I was the reluctant spouse, which I think is kind of the theme of this. Initially anyway, for sure. Fear was the biggest factor there for sure.
PAM: Well, that makes sense.
ZACH: It’s a big change.
PAM: Yeah, it’s a huge change, right? So, did you pull him out almost immediately?
HEATHER: That was in October, that film festival, so, actually at Christmas break—we stopped then.
ZACH: I was wanting to kind of tap on the brakes and push it through a little bit slower.
HEATHER: He was more interested in waiting, like, finish out the school year. But I got kind of excited. I was ready for Christmas Break. My teenager Brenna—it was just about Gavin at first—and then Brenna got kind of excited, and she wanted to try it too. So, at the winter break, we started homeschooling.
ZACH: And I was even more hesitant with her than I was him, because he didn’t fit in the mold. She fit more in the mold!
PAM: That’s really interesting.
So, between October and December Christmas break, Heather, were you busily learning about homeschooling?
HEATHER: Oh my gosh, yes. I just dove into it because I really had no idea about homeschooling. I had friends who homeschooled, and a friend who unschooled, but I really honestly didn’t know very much about it at all. So, I went to Facebook and followed every version of homeschooling there is. I joined the local Facebook pages and the local groups, and I just started absorbing information.
I have a friend who was like a longtime unschooler, my friend Tracy Simmons, and that was one of the best ways to get information, just person to person, especially since I knew her kids and how great they are. She had two at the time that were transitioning to college, and so that was nice to just talk about the long-term view, and she was really patient to me and nice, because I would just ask questions all the time, like, “How does this part work? And how does this work?”
PAM: All the early questions, right?
HEATHER: Yeah, yeah. The same questions everyone has in the beginning. And I just read a lot of articles, and I read Blake Boles’ book, College Without High School. I just started reading everything I could get my hands on.
And what about you Zach?
ZACH: Well, most of my learning actually came from Heather. She’s actually kind of being humble, because when she dives into something, she DIVES. Everyday she would fire off new articles or new quotes or whatever she learned. She would share articles and books and quotes and podcasts, all kinds of different things and different media for me to listen to or to read or whatever. And it slowly started making sense and things like that. She probably would send me five things a day, at a minimum.
It would slowly start to strike different with me—maybe this is a different way to do things, or maybe this makes a little more sense, I guess. I started warming up to it little bit at that point. That was the whole point. We had to get Zach warmed up a little bit.
PAM: Well, I would be interested in knowing from both your perspectives, how this information that Heather was sharing with you, how that learning process went for you. Heather, did you find, over the course of sending him stuff—you said you sent a wide variety, from books to blog posts to podcasts to all sorts of things—did you find over time that you kind of settled into certain things, or did you just continue to send everything that came across your path that you thought he might be interested in.
I was wondering how you learned how to help him?
HEATHER: I think the first thing I thought about, when I was thinking back on our process is, I just want to acknowledge that it’s really hard when one person in a couple gets really excited about a thing. And it’s just like, my mind was being blown every day, because school is something that just is what it is, and it has to be that way, and I’ve never questioned, really, the school thing so much. I mean, I knew it didn’t sit well for Gavin, but I thought he was just the outlier, and then when you start to read these articles and you start to reevaluate the school model, it’s just kind of mind-blowing and every day you’re just learning something new. And I want to share that with him.
Sometimes, you just have to be patient, because they’re not in the same place, you know, so you just kind of have to be patient and understand that even though you are really passionate and excited, it’s just going to take a little bit of time for your spouse. But I think that the biggest thing is that, because you do find so many articles that start to help you take a critical view of school, I would try to find one or two sentences, the heart of the article, the concept, and cut and paste that to a message. The best way, though, is the face to face conversations about those concepts.
ZACH: Absolutely, absolutely.
HEATHER: Because even if you read an article, even if it really blows your mind, then when you sit down and talk about it, it expands your knowledge of that even further. I think one of the best things that we did was to sit down and just talk about just the grading system. What does it mean to be an A student or a C student? Does that mean that the A student understands more, or is it because they can memorize really well, and they are being rewarded because they can memorize really well?
So, we would sit down and we would talk about that—“Oh my gosh, yeah, I never thought about it that way!” Just to see those concepts, and just to see the lack of outside play that even our kindergartener was getting, or real-world skills. So, really think about, wow! Kids go to school so early, and they are in that school setting until they are 18 and going to a college or career or whatever. We were excited for the kids to live life with us and to do things with us during the day and to learn that way. So, it’s really those face-to-face conversations about specific concepts that I think are really important.
I think that what advice I would give to a spouse that has a reluctant spouse is, you don’t even have to label it as unschooling. Or feel like you have to jump from public school or traditional homeschooling to unschooling. I think sometimes, for like a reluctant spouse, that’s too much to process. And I think until you’ve done some deschooling, I think even the word unschooling can be a barrier to some people, because the word sounds like not learning, because we are so used to school equaling learning. And so like, now that we’ve done a bunch of deschooling like, that word makes sense to us, but I think sometimes if you have a reluctant spouse, sometimes that word can cause concern…
ZACH: It’s scary. It’s a scary word, yeah.
HEATHER: Yeah, I didn’t even use that word for a long time. So, we focused more on what we called project-based learning. I think that word kind of conjures for people that kids are learning from doing, like hands-on. And I think it was easier to digest that word at first, because he could get a feeling for what that was, because our kids were going to learn not from worksheets or from someone lecturing them, but from doing. Really, what I’m saying is, if you are trying to talk someone into unschooling, I think your first priority needs to be breaking down school, and what school is.
ZACH: And what school actually is and things like that. What you actually learn from school, and are grades actually important, because they are there from eight to three, but are those the only times that you can learn, or do we learn after that? Do kids not learn after that because they’ve had the life sucked out of them for the last seven hours of the day? And stuff like that. I think that breaking down what school is helps tremendously.
HEATHER: Taking a critical view of school, because we just don’t do that, we just all accept school for what it is and don’t question it, and it really helps break it down. It makes it easier once you understand that school isn’t necessary, you don’t have to learn like that.
And then I think that an important thing to share with him was that unschooled kids can go onto college or careers or whatever they want to. I think we both felt that, once we could feel that our kids could do what they want to after the school years, it just helps you take a deep breath and relax and just kind of enjoy the process. So, we talked a lot about that.
We got together with other unschooling families in our area. We have a parents’ meeting that we have every month. So that’s been a nice way to see other parents who are doing it and get together and see how they interact with their kids and that was really nice. And just to share pictures and stories with their spouse from throughout the day about the interesting and fun things that you’re doing. It really helps them to see what a great way it is to learn.
But I definitely think that in the beginning it’s kind of a two steps forward, one step back kind of thing, for the person who’s excited and for the person who’s reluctant, person, because when you’re new to it, you have days where you are like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing! I love this so much!’ and then you have days where you are like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing. Is it ok to do this?’
I had a day like this in the beginning, and I actually turned on one of your podcasts, because I was like ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing? Are we just totally insane here?’ But not only for the enthusiastic person—he was getting, he was looking at school and understanding the issues and problems with school, and then he’d kind of get excited, but then there might be another day where he’s like, “Oh my gosh, what are we doing here?” And so, you just have to have a little grace for each other, but there’s gonna be things that you question in the beginning, and then there will be days when you are excited too.
PAM: I do love that word, ‘grace.’ To have that space for each other, to be free to express thoughts, concerns, everything like that. And I love the idea of taking on the fact that learning about unschooling and moving to unschooling truly is a journey, right? It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this,’ and then BOOM.
Just start to think critically about school itself. I mean that, that is absolutely a great place to start, right? Because that’s the whole point, first you have to try to understand what you’re not liking about that, and then start talking about what you’re going to replace that with.
ZACH: It’s such a foreign concept to people, and it’s like, unless you’ve been a homeschooled, unschooled kid, you probably have no idea what that even means. So, you really have to break it down to its most simplest forms. Like, what do you want out of school? What’s the point of schooling? It’s to learn how to function in society, right? And you can do that in a lot of different ways. You don’t have just do it the way, in this eight-to-three time schedule, nine months of the year. There are so many different times you can do that.
PAM: So, were there any times during this kind of learning process, especially up to where he came home, that you felt kind of resistant to the information? You were talking about how she was sharing things with you, and you guys were finding time for conversations here and there, to chat about the stuff she was sharing, I liked your idea of just sharing little snippets, right Heather? Not full long big articles, “Here, read these tomes before we talk.”
I was wondering if you could share if there were some things that were overwhelming? Were there things that you specifically felt brought up more resistance than help?
ZACH: Nothing that I think brought up more resistance.
I think it’s just such a process. It’s like, everyday we’d have a conversation, and we’d talk about whatever the hot topic of the day was or whatever she learned about today was and I would totally get it, and then the next day I would have to go back to her and say, “Wait a second! What about this? How does this work, again? Explain this to me, please.”
And everyday she would, and she had a lot of patience with me, and I think she had patience with herself as well. Because it’s such a foreign deal, it’s like her patience with me allowed me to get my thoughts in order and to understand more about what’s going on, and the differences that this could have in our lives and impact on our kids.
I don’t think there was anything that hindered that. I think you have lots of these times, when you learn something and you get all excited and then you feel dumb all the sudden again the next day, and that is what was scary. It’s like, ‘Oh wait, I totally understood that yesterday, but now I don’t get that again.’ And you just feel like it’s like, I dunno, like maybe you’re crazy…
PAM: I remember those moments, absolutely. Everyday you’re going back to the information, back to the information. Those connections, I think, at first, you have that kind of ‘ah-ha!’ moment, but it’s so new. They’re such new connections. You have to just keep making them over and over and over again, until they finally stick, I guess is the only way I can kind of describe it. But that’s learning in action, isn’t it?
HEATHER: And it’s like you kind of build this framework, and you just have to layer on top of it. I remember from a podcast you had done with Sandra Dodd and you talked about a polaroid picture—something about how the color develops in a picture as you get more into unschooling, and when I heard that I was just like, “Yes!” Because you just kind of start with this framework, and you just start to layer on top of it, and then it’s just kind of in theory and concepts, but then you start to live it out, and then you start to see it, and like you said, all of those connections are coming together and making more sense, and they are just building on each other, and it’s just a long process.
I mean school is something that almost everyone thinks is just the way it is, just the way it has to be, and so when you have a spouse who’s not exactly on board from the beginning, you just have to understand, it’s just going to take time to learn more about and to build on that. And really, the concern from the reluctant parent, they just want to make sure their kid is ok. They just want to make sure that their kids will have friends and be able to go on to what they want to do after school, whether its college or something else.
ZACH: And they’re not weird and they’re not like socially inept, and things like that, because that’s all the stigmas that we have about someone being homeschooled, and that’s so far from the truth, but that’s the stigma that we all have in our brain that’s what happens when your kids are homeschooled. That, “Oh, your kids are sheltered and they’re in this bubble and they can’t talk to adults,” when it’s actually like, they interact with adults more than they ever did before, because, yeah, they had a teacher, but not they are out in the world and interacting with adults on a regular basis. And being curious and things like that. It’s just shattering that thought process that there’s only one way and that’s the way.
PAM: Because, that’s what we’ve grown up with, right? I mean, we’ve had 20, 30 years of that being the only way. So, remembering that helps you realize how hard it can be to break through all those different paradigms that we just think is the way human beings learn, and the way they learn how to become a functioning adult, right?
ZACH: I think that you have to break through those paradigms for yourself, and then you have family and friends and coworkers and things like that all have those same fears that kind of feed the negativity back through to you, so it’s not like you’ve got to break through one time, you’ve got to break through it multiple times before it really sticks and stays with you.
PAM: You know, especially, I love that point, Zach, because, you know, as they say in order to understand something really deeply is to be able to share that information with someone else, to help them learn it, so you can understand one thing, but that is totally different than trying to explain it to someone else.
And if the excited parent is spending all their time learning—so often I find that the reluctant spouse is the one that’s out working, or even working at home, but they often have a lot of their hours dedicated to other things—so they also don’t have the amount of time that the excited spouse has to dive into all.
So, sometimes we can be so excited that we just want to pull them along and pull them along and, ‘Why is this taking so long?’ Well, they don’t have the time that we have to immerse ourselves in it as well, right?
HEATHER: Especially I think, as the excited spouse, when you join the Facebook pages and all that, you start getting a daily reassurance about the path, so the excited spouse is getting that a lot, whereas the person who’s not looking at Facebook pages all day is not getting that constant reassurance.
ZACH: Well, and contrary to that, we are getting a lot of negative feedback, if you go out into the world and explain it, this is something you’re thinking of doing, “Well, your kid is going to be weird if you do that.” “Well, nah, actually they’re not.”
PAM: Yeah, that’s a great point, because I remember that with my husband as well, he was just making the initial connections, and then he goes off to work or meetings, conversations come up or something like that, and then all the conventional messages come back. And then, like you say, it’s like starting again the next day.
HEATHER: And I would say to anybody who’s skeptical or reluctant, there’s just so many myths about homeschooling in general out there, and so I think for anyone who’s skeptical or concerned about their kids, just try to have an open mind or an open heart to it, because there are so many myths and misconceptions out there about homeschooling. I think if you can just be open minded and meet some other homeschoolers and unschoolers and some other families, and do the research, you’ll really learn that those myths are just not founded. Like the socialization question is I think one that is very concerning for families, and every homeschooler I know is like, “We have so much socialization, we are worn out.”
There are so many different opportunities. Like he said, ‘kids won’t be able to talk to adults’ or something, our kids are out interacting with people like all the time. There’s just so many things that even if you have a concern in your heart about homeschooling or unschooling, it’s worth it to do the research and meet some other homeschool families to really start to break down the myths about homeschooling, and I think that will help parents feel more open to homeschooling.
PAM: To at least be able to just learn some more about it, right? Instead of just letting the fears win and deciding, ‘I just need to put my foot down and not even open that door.’
What I’m hearing is that conversations were super helpful and watching your kids—I heard you guys talking about that, starting to see it in action with your kids—and connecting and seeing other unschooling families. Were those the extra helpful things?
ZACH: Is that for me?
PAM: Yeah, sure, for you, Zach!
HEATHER: What actually helped you to see that it was a good fit?
ZACH: Well, there’s actually lots of things that added to my belief.
But I think some of the realizations on that is that when I think back to my education and what I did through school and that I had roughly an hour and a half or a two hour bus ride, I’d do homework for that two hour ride, I’d get home late in the day, and I’d be exhausted, and we’d have these same conversations with our kids sometimes. You know, “Zach didn’t turn his homework.” Well, Gavin didn’t either. Brenna had tears in her eyes sometimes because she had so much homework—she had 47 long division problems because that’s what her homework was, and it was like, ‘Do we need to do that much?’
All of the sudden these synapses start firing and it’s like, maybe my childhood that I think was great, maybe it wasn’t as great as I thought it was, and maybe there’s actually a better way. A better concept on how maybe we can make that a better fit for my kids and make them more peaceful, and so the biggest change that we had was that, once we took off the eight to three type timeframe again, it’s like now they learn all day long. Now they go out into the world and they interact with everybody and do things that they really love.
Like Brenna loves to do art, so she takes an art class, she gets to dive deep into that. Gavin and his film thing—he’s just killing it in that. He does great. He writes scripts, he’s down there right now—I guess he’s probably not because we have his computer. He’s probably handwriting scripts downstairs, because that’s what he loves to do.
One of the things that stuck out the most to me though, was that Hattie, our six-year-old, wants to be a vet when she grows up, or I dunno, that maybe changes now, I think now she wants to be a princess. But, so she wanted to be a vet, so she would spend a lot of time watching these vet shows, and they are doing surgeries and things like that, and she’s just enthralled in that, and she wants to constantly watch that and have another episode of that.
And so Heather took it upon kind of herself to get a dissection kit for her because Hattie is interested in doing things like that. We get a cow’s eyeball, we get a sheep’s brain, and Hattie is just as close to these things as possible, she’s cutting open the eyeball, she’s looking at all the different parts of the eyeball, and, which, obviously that makes my heart sing that she’s so interested in it, and that there’s an opportunity for her to do that at age six—I mean normally people wouldn’t probably dissect until they are probably middle school age, is my guess.
But what was even better than that is that my three-year-old was sitting right there next to her, looking at the same stuff, trying to figure out what’s going on in all these different body parts, just being interested and intrigued and all that, and you can just see that flicker of a thought that turns into this fire, this flame you know, that just burns, and I dunno, it really cool to see that, like to be able to witness that specific thing.
HEATHER: Just to be able to see the kids be able to really dive into what they are interested in and learn so much was a big moment for him.
PAM: Yeah, I know. That was something that you know, really, Me and you were starting to talk about that earlier, Heather, that when you start to understand the theory and then you see it in action. When you give them that space to find what they are interested in and help them pursue it, and just see them, and I love the way you said that—the fire, the burning curiosity that you can just see them dive in with, that’s so fun.
HEATHER: Yeah, yeah.
And that that’s why it helps to break down the school model too. You start to see the world not in subjects, you start to understand that learning isn’t just divided into certain subjects, and that learning doesn’t just take place between certain hours, I think when we did the dissection it was a Saturday at 9’0 clock at night.
Breaking that down so that your expectations are different than what they are in school. We had kids in school for 15 years! So, we had those expectations, but when you break down what learning actually looks like, you can start to see it all around you. That it’s not what it looks like for school, but you can see it all around you. We got to share that together a lot, you know, the cool things that the kids were doing and how they were learning and just seeing their brains so engaged in so many things.
ZACH: Yeah, and that’s the other cool thing that happens too is that you as the parents get to start learning again too, because they start asking you questions and instead of just passing it off to a teacher or whatever, it’s like either you know it or figure it out, or you have to dive in there with them. But then you can do the same thing. You can like a subject as well, that maybe they’re not interested in, but just say, “Hey, we are going to have you pay attention to what we are doing here,” and just I think that when you as a parent set that example for your kids, that you like to learn too, and can learn at any age…
HEATHER: We really set the intention at the beginning was that one of our biggest goals was to have kids who enjoyed learning. Like that was one of our highest priorities. It’s not about we want the kids to be on this grade level or we want them to meet some standard, it was that we want kids who love learning and know how to learn. Like, if they have a question about something, how do we get the answer to that? Or, what’s the best way to get that information?
We just felt that that path for them would help them their whole life. Whatever they needed to know for their whole life, whether they are five or fifteen or fifty, that whatever they needed to know to make their life more meaningful or more enjoyable, that they would be able to get that information. So, we kind of set that as our intention.
ZACH: That they have the ability to do that, they have the ability to figure things out, have the want to a little bit.
PAM: Oh, I love that. It’s rekindling everyone’s curiosity. And then it’s just experience, together, figuring stuff out. I remember, it was like permission all of the sudden to be curious again. And to admit that I didn’t know something and to just try to figure it out with them. It was such a big difference! Because before it was like, ‘I’m an adult, I’m supposed to know everything I need to be an adult,’ and that’s it. There was no value placed on anything else. And now it was like the world kind of opened up again.
HEATHER: I definitely experienced that because I know that very early on, the kids had some question, and I didn’t learn it in school and therefore I don’t know the answer, and I was like, ‘Oh, ok! I can still be learning.’ Just because I graduated from college…
ZACH: You’re done …
HEATHER: … doesn’t mean I’m done with my knowledge. I pay attention to the kids, what gets their brain invigorated, but I started paying attention to that with myself, which I never really did before. If there is something that I’m curious about, or I can feel my brain getting connected, I pursue it much more now than I did before, because I just see how much value that has. Just to have a more joyful life.
PAM: That’s very cool. I love that.
Zach, I was wondering, you shared lots of little stories and reflections so far. Can you remember one that you haven’t shared that was a big kind of a-ha moment for you along the way, when that kind of unschooling piece fell into place?
ZACH: So yeah, I did think of one a-ha moment, because there’s lots of them actually, and that’s the wonderful thing about it: all the sudden something makes sense. ‘Ok, I buy that now.’
So, the one that I was going to share was that, Gavin, our 17-year-old, in middle school, he was a wrestler, he’s 14 years old, something like that, and he’s a big kid. He’s six feet tall, he’s 180 pounds, 185 pounds, something like that. And so he always wrestled in one of the higher weights—he wrestled against kids obviously his height and weight and everything.
At the beginning of the wrestling matches though, when they do the duels between the two schools, they line them up on the mat, and it’s kind of this triangle, going down, and you’ve got a big kid over here to the left, you’ve got the small kid over here on the right—so, we are talking about kids that are a little bit bigger than Gavin, so they are 6’3” 6’4”. And you go all the way down to the 4’5” kid who’s like 70 pounds. And the amazing thing is that they are all the exact same age, they are all 14 years old, but they are completely different sizes.
And so, it’s like, if you put this 80-pound kid against Gavin, he would squash him, because he’s twice his size and that wouldn’t be fair, and it’s kind of absurd for us to assume that that kid would have the same physical attributes that Gavin would at that age.
And if you start flipping that script to the school side, and you start thinking, ‘Well, ok, well, but we all need to learn at the same pace.’ Well, no because maybe we are more interested in something today than we will be down the road or something like that, so it’s like we have all this structure and things like that for our lives. We wouldn’t have that for the wrestling mat; why would we have that for school? Why force these kids to do something that maybe they’re not ready to do yet, or maybe some kids are way more ready to do some things that other kids?
We just put them all in this funnel and we want them all to come out the same way and it’s like, that’s not the way it works. It just doesn’t work out that way. It was funny. That was the one thing that really set it off, and I think I can describe that to other people, because I have that visual in my head, so that helped me.
PAM: It’s like, you can see the external differences all at the same age, but just because we can’t see the internal differences—how they think and what they’re interested in and how they like to learn—and just because we can’t see that, we assume everybody’s the same, right? Oh wow, I love that, that’s great. Great analogy.
ZACH: That just helped me make more sense out of everything.
PAM: And you know what I love, especially when I was learning about unschooling, just observing and being with our kids and hanging out and everybody’s learning together. But for that first while when I was heavily deschooling, comparing everything to how they do it in school how they learn and the time and all that kind of stuff. When you see what they do, what their next choice is, how they learn things—those internal differences that you don’t normally see, that’s when they start to become more obvious, right? That’s when they all come out as, ‘Oh, that’s how they personally put that connection together!’ And you can see how unique they are outside that system.
HEATHER: I think unschooling really helps you learn not to comparing kids to each other, especially based on age. And I think one of the big moments for us was really realizing how arbitrary so many school things are—you know, that like you are supposed to read when you are five or six, and the kids who aren’t reading by then, we feel like something is wrong with them.
When kids don’t have to learn to read when they are five or six, maybe they are going to be seven or eight, or nine, or ten. Or just the different subjects that you learn in school that you just like—when you sit down and realize that somebody just sat down and decided that were going to learn history this year, and you know, you really realize that somebody just sat down and decided that, and that’s not the way it has to be, and if your child is “behind,” and I say that with quotes, what the school system says, it doesn’t mean they’re behind, it just means that they’re just not where the school system is wanting.
So, I think that unschooling really gives your children the chance to just be themselves, and nobody is behind or ahead or anything, they are just learning what they are interested about. It’s really awesome to see.
ZACH: And to add on to that…talking about the you have to read at a certain level at a certain time. We are trying to catch all these kids up who are a little bit behind, and basically what you are doing is sucking the fun out of learning to read for them. You are making them feel inadequate, so they are not very comfortable in school, or maybe they are more self-conscious about where they are at. When you take the fun out of it because they have to be at a certain level, that slows down the learning process for everybody.
PAM: And really, like you said, the whole point, just that understanding how arbitrary it all is, and all you’re doing is grading them against something so arbitrary. So yeah, “behind” just has no meaning once you take that system out, once you’re not comparing. It really doesn’t matter if you learn about medieval times or how flight works at a particular age, or those particular years of history.
ZACH: I mean, I understand why they have these arbitrary lines in place, because teachers have to have you be able to read x number, or to be able to do the same math, but when you take them out of that element of school and you don’t put this pressure on them, it’s amazing what they can do. Kids are far more capable than we give them credit for.
HEATHER: And we were really interested, for our kids, like, we talked a lot about the memorization aspect in school, and how for school you are supposed to like memorize like what year the civil war happened, but what value does that add to your life to have memorized that when you were 15? It just sucks a lot of resources out of you to have memorize stuff, so we want our kids to be more able to discuss stuff, so if the civil war came up in conversation or it was on TV, we enjoy having conversations about these concepts. What did the civil war mean to our country? What does it mean now? We will get into these lively conversations and to me that is so much more important than what year it happened, or that they memorized x, y z. Having those conversations, we all learn that way. I mean, Zach and I, we will be looking stuff up together and we will have those conversations. So, that’s been a really great thing.
PAM: And don’t you find you learn so much from your kids these days too?
HEATHER: Oh yeah!
PAM: No, it beautiful. Just everybody learning together, right? OK, so, last question.
I was wondering, for each of you, how does unschooling feel for you now? Your comfort level with your lifestyle? How are you feeling when—I was going to say, when you are having a conversation with someone when you say you are unschooling or whatever—but really, just in your own days.
HEATHER: So, we’ve been unschooling now for 18 months. It just feels so natural to me now, it just feels normal. We are just so happy. The kids are so happy. They are just playing and having a good time. I just have no questions or concerns or any doubts at all.
Gavin, who’s the reason that we started out, this coming fall should be his senior year of high school, but he was accepted into the Seattle Film Institute, so he is going to be moving to Seattle in August to go to film school. And he’s going for like a 15-month, 13-month certificate program.
ZACH: 13-month program.
HEATHER: By the time his friends are graduating from high school, he’s going to be finished with film school and ready to move on to the next thing. So, it’s so cool to see it work out so well for him. Just all our kids are so happy and pursuing such interesting things. I feel really good about where we are at, and just so grateful.
ZACH: Yeah, I second all that, but I feel a lot of pride actually, just because I’m so proud of where they are at. I’m eager to see where they are going to flow in the next spaces of their life, and I like seeing kids as young as Hattie and Logan about what piques their interest and what doesn’t. Like I said, she wanted to be a vet, now she wants to be a vet and a princess! She can do both! I like to see these different ideas of what she can maybe be and what he can maybe be. It’s really cool. It’s really fun. We are totally bought in. We are pretty big advocates for it.
HEATHER: I think we both had said, we don’t understand why more people don’t unschool. It’s so cool! It’s such a great life! Just to be able to see your kids play and you know, not have any of that pressure anymore from school, it’s such a great thing.
ZACH: Especially that they play all day long, but they are learning so much all the time, and we have no fears of it. Like I said, now we have Gavin as proof of it that you can actually get into college and do fine, without having to deal with all the tears and the heartache of school.
HEATHER: The heartache, yeah.
PAM: And you’re ok now, Zach, when people ask questions?
ZACH: Oh yeah, I’m a big advocate actually. Like I said, I shout that from the rooftops, kinda thing. I use the term, ‘self-directed education.’ Like I was saying in the beginning, that kinda changed the terms a little bit just to kind of wrap your brain around it, so I use self-directed education a lot, just because it is easier to explain, but I don’t really shy away from unschooling either. I just tell them what it is.
PAM: It’s true. When I’m out and about in the world, from the time they were young until now, I don’t use the term ‘unschooling,’ I’ll say homeschooling. I love self-directed education, because that’s becoming more and more present—there are more of those opportunities coming up all around. And yeah, to talk to that person where they are, not drag them to where I am, that’s a very long process, isn’t it?
HEATHER: Yeah it is.
PAM: I love how that kinda came full circle.
I want to thank you guys for speaking with me today. It’s been so much fun! Thank you
HEATHER: Thank you so much for having us.
ZACH: We really appreciate it.
PAM: Now before we go, where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
HEATHER: I have a blog on Facebook called Learning at the Lake House, so people can just find me there and I share journals and articles.
PAM: OK! That’s awesome. Thanks so much guys! Have a great day!
HEATHER: Thank you!
ZACH: Bye bye.