PAM: Welcome! I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Maria Randolph. Hi, Maria!
PAM: Hello. I have enjoyed seeing Maria around in online unschooling circles for many, many years. Thank you so much, Maria. I am thrilled you agreed to join me on the podcast.
MARIA: Thank you, I am honored to be asked.
PAM: Thank you.
And to get us started, if you could share a little bit about you and your family.
MARIA: Okay. So, family of three: my husband David, myself and our daughter Davie (who is now 20). We live in the northeast part of the United States in a state called Maine. We have been here for about 15 years and, before that, my daughter was born and raised until she was seven, in Wisconsin and then we moved out here to Maine. So that is our story.
PAM: That is a very nice introduction.
I would love to hear how through that you discovered unschooling and what your families’ move to unschooling looked like.
MARIA: It was so round about. The most complete round about way. I had kind of known about unschooling a little, well, let me back up even further.
When Davie was three, we kind of knew that we wanted to homeschool. I had cousins who homeschooled their kids. Also even before we were married I knew homeschoolers. I just thought it was a really, really wonderful thing for kids to be able to be home and to be freely pursuing, or for the most part, freely pursuing what they wanted to do and where their interests led. So, we knew that when we had a child we were kind of leaning toward that.
When my daughter was three, we would go to homeschooling conferences. I think it was at one of those where I kind of heard ideas of unschooling and I was not too sure on the concept at that point. We caved into putting her into kindergarten—I say sometimes that it was pressure, like people saying “Oh, she should do just one year,” “Oh, she should just go to kindergarten”—but I think it was a lot of internal pressure too on myself. Like, just having a lot of fears. And I think both David and I agreed that we both look back and think yes, we were really unsure that we knew what we were doing.
So, she went to kindergarten; it was not a good experience for her. She cried every morning. Often, I would have to go—it was all day kindergarten—in the middle of the day and get her, so for the first six months she went half day and then she ended up going all day. The end of the year could not come fast enough. We were so happy when she was done.
We look back and there are pictures of her that I know, ‘Oh yes, she was in kindergarten that year because there are bags under her eyes.’ She was really stressed, poor thing. I look back and think, “Why didn’t you just pull her out, Maria? What were you thinking?”
So, we ended up then deciding definitely we were going to homeschool now. My personality is very enthusiastic and organized and so, you know, I brought out all the curriculum and this is how we are going to do it.
Really again, when I look back—I am totally digressing I hope this is okay …
MARIA: I don’t think you have a choice Pam! (laughter)
So, ended up moving from Wisconsin to Maine when she was about seven. That point, a lot of upheaval because we were moving, we were away from family, Maine was amazing to explore. I think before the internet broke, I admitted that we did not even register, because I had forgot, that I was supposed to do—it was a little different in Wisconsin at the time. It was January, I think, and I was like, ‘Oh, I think it was supposed to do that.’ I just got really involved in life and that was really cool.
But then I started feeling like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m failing her.’ So, I wanted to put together sort of like a box curriculum, I wanted to make my own curriculum which—you know, I look back and I am just laughing because I was spent so much time delving into the curriculum, I was not really homeschooling for about a month because I was immersed in, ‘What should I do?’ and ‘What is going to be perfect?’
So, we started school-at-home more, and I would say, it was probably more like relaxed homeschool, unit-based, sort of thing. Then we were butting heads a lot and the days that were really fun were where I said, “Let’s have a free day and go visit a light house!” Or, “Let’s have a free day and go to the museum or the beach,” or “Let’s just watch TV today.”
Those were the fun times, but meanwhile, we were butting heads and she was getting frustrated at me. I was getting frustrated at her and then, this whole idea of unschooling had kind of been in my periphery and so I am kind of leaning towards that, but not really understanding what it was exactly as we ended up practicing it. I just thought it was kind of relaxed unschooling—or relaxed homeschooling rather. So, we just relaxed a little more, and a little more.
And then I started understanding a little more what radical unschooling was and applying those ideas that natural learning can happen in every aspect of life—and that was another story that I might get into later, but that was a little harder for me to, being a little bit of a control freak, to understand. And to kind of let go that I really wanted the cute schoolroom. But that was not working so I kind of had to go through that process a little bit.
By the time Davie was ten or eleven, we were way more radical unschooling. I would say by the time twelve or thirteen we were like totally in the rhythm and not even thinking about anything—we were just living life at that point. That is my long story of how I found unschooling.
I feel like we have done it all. So, when somebody says, “I use relaxed homeschooling with Charlotte Mason and a side of Waldorf,” I go “Oh yeah, I know what that is,” because I feel like I know; I dove into all that to some degree. I feel like anybody who comes along and says, “How do I unschool after doing this?”, it’s like, “Oh, I can tell you because I did that.” At least for a month until I got sidetracked by some other great curriculum I thought was out there. It was interesting.
PAM: Yes, it does sound like a really, really interesting journey. That actually leads very nicely to our next question.
What was the most challenging area of deschooling for you? Let’s talk about one of those and see how you worked your way through it.
MARIA: I would say the most challenging for me—and for my daughter because we have been able to talk about this you know, since—was definitely my need for control. I am kind of a control freak. I can be easy going but I need a little bit more structure—which can actually be just a super wonderful quality, like, organized and structured.
I don’t know, have you ever seen the show Parks and Recreation?
PAM: I have seen some of that, yes.
MARIA: I am Leslie Knope. If you ask me which restaurant you should go to, I will have a folder for you, describing every restaurant in the area—I mean that is kind of how my brain works. Which can be a beautiful thing.
But, when it comes to raising a child, who your deepest wish is that they know themselves, that is pretty hard to allow them to know themselves when you are trying to control them. So, I think that would have always been an issue for us, but particularly trying to come into unschooling. I was now looking in the mirror a lot and having to realize, ‘Oh, that is doing damage. I cannot be that person.’ Which, thank goodness for unschooling, I probably would have figured that out when she was thirty, which is unfortunate. I think unschooling helped remove those layers faster.
That was my biggest challenge, honestly, just letting go of the ideal. I think a lot of people deal with that too. This “ideal” picture of how you are going to raise a child. Unschooling appealed to me on so many levels, but I had to face myself. I think that truly the biggest part of the challenge was ME. That need for the “ideal” and for control, so I still work on that, you know personality-wise.
PAM: That is so interesting. I can totally relate to that personality style where, if something comes up, I want to know and organize all around it, right? I mean, I am known as the planner.
If you are going on vacation, you want to know the route and the different places you might stop along the way, and all the different things you might want to do. I have a folder—even now—when we go on vacation, I have a folder where we’ve got the tickets for everything, I’ve got the addresses, the phone numbers—like, everything is very organized.
But yes, that is the huge piece. That folder becoming our resource, not our director, you know what I mean?
PAM: That is the piece: not insisting we still follow this. So, I can get my organizational needs met but then, once I am comfortable, that shift to, “Okay, now we are just going to do what comes up with the flow.” And I’ve got three different things that we might flow into, and being open to that fourth thing that somebody sees when they cross the street.
MARIA: You have nailed that. That was exactly it.
I still struggle with this sometimes, letting go of inflexibility. And that it’s okay, like you said, to have that binder and to have everything, but to allow for flexibility. You know it makes me super uncomfortable. I think maybe for me and just my personality maybe that is a safety measure, staying in my comfort zone. And going outside of that takes some adjustment.
Even now both David and Davie will, if they come up with an idea, they will just give me some space and some time, and they know that within ten minutes to a day—depending on what it is—eventually I will come back and be like, “Oh, okay, that sounds like fun.”
PAM: My family knows the exact same thing! At least my kids do. They are like, “Mom, do you need a minute?” “Hey, this thing just came up and I would love to do this,” and I’m like, “Do you need an answer right away? Because if you need an answer right away, it might be no, but can I think about it for ten minutes?” And they often give it to me.
MARIA: That little phrase, “Can you give me a minute?” was such an epiphany for me. When I did not have to come up with the answer right away, or we did not have to discuss it all right away. That I could just step back a little bit and that my family would accept it if I said, “I need a minute to just kind of process that a little bit—I’m not sure I like that, I’m not sure I’m comfortable, give me a minute.” And to sit with it a little bit and know that they would be okay and we could discuss it.
I don’t know. My personality—sometimes I get kind of all or nothing. I cannot come up with the answer now and I have to be totally comfortable with it on every level and everybody has to be happy. So back at different points at different levels in unschooling with Davie where I can see, ‘Oh yes, that was a real turning point.’ Where I kept my mouth shut more often after that.
Or, I could see that I was taking away some joy. Or, she is a very easy-going personality, so it would be easy for me to unknowingly walk over that to a degree. There were moments where I could see what I was doing, and I was like, “Oh, I cannot do that. That really made me feel icky and I could see it reflected in her face.” That is when I see these different turning points where I was like “oh I cannot do that any more, this is what it is doing.”
So, I think that Davie too, had she been a different personality where she was like “Oh, no way mum!” that might have been different too. It is interesting always to see the dynamic—interesting to talk about and compare notes with one another and kind of say, “Okay, that was what was happing there. I get it.”
PAM: Those conversations are so helpful when you have that openness and that trust level where people can say what they see. It’s when you get to that level where you are not taking things personally. You are not taking them on as an “attack” but as information—as just better understanding each other, right?
MARIA: Absolutely. I love that, that it is shared information. We talk a lot about that within unschooling, how we share information with our kids to give them the information so they can make decisions based on information they might not have had or they might not have known, so that they can have that available to use in a certain way.
And of course, that works with us too and when I am given information and just like at those pinnacle points where I could see what she was thinking or the look on her face and I thought oh, this is not a good direction I am going in. This was not a direction she agreed on going in or, “Hey, this does not feel good FYI.” It is just kind of been a beautiful thing to see all that happen.
PAM: Yes, it’s when you are paying attention in a conversation. When you stop trying to direct it, trying to say over and over what you want; when you’re plowing ahead, and you are not noticing all those clues. Those looks that pass by their face, the shuffle, the twist of the body, all those little pieces of information that don’t necessarily need to be verbal, do they?
MARIA: That is a really, really good point.
Just how you said that stopping—when you quit being the director and you stop to notice and be present. Being a planner, organizer, I am always thinking ahead, I feel like unschooling kind of helped me stand back and observe a little bit more; and to observe and think about my part in that. Instead of observing and directing, I am thinking about, “Well, where does that put me in connection with this person and what can I do differently to ease their path or to get out of their path?” Very often.
PAM: Yes, I loved your point about being more quiet and listening more. I remember times when they would be having this idea, and this idea, and this idea and my planning brain would be trying shift and trying to think of the implications of that choice and that choice and then I would be tempted to jump in with pros, cons, comments, etcetera.
When I could be quiet and just watch—because they were not done, they were verbally processing what they were thinking. When I just watched them and sat back and let them go through the work that they were doing, they got somewhere completely different. And then I could see how they got there.
Now you better understand why they got there, right because you could see all the different pieces that came together. Then you better understood why you were doing X in the end. Then we got to that place, like you said, without us putting our hands all over it, you know what I mean? Does that make sense?
MARIA: I do. It makes a lot of sense.
I was thinking about how you were saying how when they would come up with ideas and you were already thinking about something saying this is what you could do… I still, I struggle with that a little bit.
My husband just pointed something out to me the other day, that somebody might come up with an idea—whether it was him, or it is Davie, or even a friend—and might say, “Let’s do X, Y, Z” and my immediate out of my mouth is “Oh, well we could but we couldn’t go that way because there is a detour there and so then it is going to be late so we really can’t, you want to go the other way.”
I am thinking of all the “cant’s” instead of just stepping back and sharing the joy. I think I am doing everybody a favor, of course, because I am organizing it. Letting them know what is in their way; it is a gift. But it is taking away their joy. He said, “You know, they just want to talk about what they love, they are not ready to organize it yet and you already organized it for them and it takes their joy and takes the steam right out of them.”
I knew that is my personality a little bit, and I struggle, but, in this instance, I really did not see it. So, when he said that I was so appreciative because it was like, “Oh, oh right, okay. I do do that. I have got to think more, speak less, and let it go.” I think, like I said earlier, unschooling helped me do that in a way I am not sure I would have sooner.
I feel like it has helped my marriage in a lot of ways too because I was looking so much at the interaction with my daughter but, as experienced unschoolers will often say, “Would you do that with a friend?” And that was when I really started to think, ‘Would I?’ And if I would, is it right? Should I be doing that? How am I treating my mate?
So, I think that, in a way, with so many deschooling experiences it is a little bit of therapy for us because we are really rooting around our personalities and our motives. Trying to be the best person we can be for another person to grow and learn, naturally. What an experience. It has been so good to reflect on it too.
Since I knew we were going to be speaking, I have kind of all week, been thinking about “Yeah, what is that deschooling process really done for us and how does it continue to help me even though I have an adult and we are not unschooling anymore?”
It has continued to have a lot of benefits, so it has been a great experience.
PAM: Yes, it really does call us to learn about ourselves right?
MARIA: Yes and I was going to say, you can see how I just go dit-dit-dit-dit-dit, I just go on and on and on. (laughs)
PAM: No, that’s perfect, because it really helps. A lot of other people can connect to those feelings and that level of detail.
I mean, as an aside, that is what I love about these podcast conversations: we can get into a deep conversation with each person individually. It’s beautiful. Every single story is different, right? We talk about that everybody’s unschoooling lives look different because we are all individual and unique people. There are patterns to it. There are the things we learn about ourselves, how we learn that relationships end up being the most important thing over learning. Because we discover quick enough that learning happens all the time, right? We cannot stop it. So that is not really something we need to be concerned about now. Absolutely that is a part of deschooling—understanding how real learning works and seeing it happening all the time—but yes, no I love all the little details, so do not worry about that.
MARIA: I am very detailed.
PAM: I can relate.
We were talking about how it can take time to work through our issues—and I do not even like to call them issues—but understanding ourselves better. To understand how we tick and why we react the way we do, and why we make the choices we make. So, it can take awhile before unschooling really starts to flow in our lives. That can also leave us feeling some regret over maybe how long it has taken us, maybe some of the choices that we made and I was wondering if that was your experience and how you worked through that—or continue to work through that.
MARIA: Yes, continue to work through for sure. I was thinking a lot about this and thinking about the nature of regret and—I am not going to be very articulate. I think regret and guilt kind of go hand-in-hand.
So, that is what I have been ruminating on a little bit and I feel like regret—like guilt, to a degree—if we get too eaten up by it, it pulls us backwards. But we need it a little bit because it tweaks us and tells us where to go forward. I can’t remember if it was Sandra Dodd who actually said this or that I saw it on her website, and it helped me so much: “When we know better, we do better.”
When I look back and think of regrets, I think I’ve already touched on some of them. I wish we would have unschooled sooner. I wish I would have done that before kindergarten. I wish I had done that before I decided to become a curriculum junkie. I wish I/we would have done that out of the starting gate. But I did not know better.
When I started learning more about unschooling there was some resistance. I was kind of like, “These crazy unschoolers they are insane,” and “They are so extreme,” and “I could never do that; I will never be doing that.” I wished I had let go of my—I don’t know—my fear maybe. Maybe some pride. I regret that part. I wished I had done it all a little bit sooner.
I definitely regret instances I recall that I’m like, “Oh, I am that parent.” But again, I just mean guilt and regret is a good tweak, to a point where you can say, “Oh, I don’t want to do that anymore.” After that it can just really destroy you if you get too eaten up by it. So, allowing that to just move you and then go forward I think is a big component.
Maybe a difficult component sometimes, to do because there are things that I really do wish I could have done differently and I cannot get those years back—it’s gone. That’s why, when talking to people who are new to unschooling, there is almost—I hate to, because I know everyone comes to it differently—but there is almost this frantic, “Oh, hurry up and do it! Do it.” But, you know you can’t.
PAM: Yes, you can’t change somebody else.
MARIA: Natural learning is natural learning, even when we are learning naturally about unschooling. But yes, [there] may be some specific instances that pain me a little bit in my parenting, like, “Oh, that day and I was really mean. I think I was really mean that day.” And I might regret it. But I cannot do anything about it except talk to Davie about it now.
It’s funny, recently I said, “Do you ever remember that day, sometimes it just eats me up and I really want to apologize to you and the child in you that I did that.” and she was like, “Oh, really?” She could not even remember it. But it exemplified to me and added to what I was displaying overall at that time. So, while thankfully she did not remember that instance, I feel like overall I was displaying a particular attitude that that moment personified, and I regret having that attitude and any effect that might have had or still have on her you know over that period of time that I was showcasing a particular attitude or personality part of me that I wanted to get rid of. So yes, those are kind of when I think of regrets, some of the larger regrets that I have.
PAM: But I think your point that, what we can do is learn from them is, really that is the point well taken. As in, when I come to regret, because when I was making the choices that I was making in the moment and I can come to understand who that person was and where that person was at the time as to why they made those choices (well I) made those choices. Definitely using that almost as a reminder almost like motivation as to next time I really do not want to act or react that way. Even like okay so next time I am going to try this, I am going to try this and see how that goes.
So, it helped me that way but yes, then I needed to release it. When I know better, I do better. Different. When I know different, I do different. I can make a different choice now and not let it eat me up.
What helped me, I think, was when I realized that letting it eat me up was interfering with me now. Because I was not fully present. I was not making good choices, or I was taking longer, because part of my mind was always running this over. It was actually interfering with me now. I think that was finally when I could be like “Okay, I need to release this.”
MARIA: Right, and interfering with you now and you being present, thus interfering with your relationships.
PAM: Yes, and that is my whole goal and that was why I was regretting it in the first place because of how I treated them or how I was acting towards them, that was what I was regretting but getting caught up in it and beating myself up with it was recreating that problem in today’s moment.
PAM: That is how I could talk my way through. That was the way it made sense to me. That was the way it made sense to release that guilt and regret and just accept those choices that I made and that I have learned from them and I am going to make different choices and then letting that weight go.
MARIA: Yes and I think too, being able to look and see the relationship you have now. I think standing back in bogged down regret would not have helped us go forward. Like you were just saying. Now I love our relationship, but had I stayed back there doing what I was doing, or with the regret, it would never be where it is now. So, it is very important not to get stuck in it.
PAM: Yeah, I think so. I think so…
Now let us shift a little bit and talk about deschooling more in general. You were talking earlier about as new people come to unschooling and the types of questions that they ask, and a question that is very popular is usually phrased: “How will they do this?” “How will they learn this?’
It is a completely new lifestyle. It is a totally unconventional idea to them at first and it’s like, “If they don’t go to school how will they learn?” “If you don’t test them how will you know they are learning?” You know just a million and one little questions. So I thought it would be fun if we played around with a couple of them.
So here is one: “But how will they learn Algebra?” That is usually a big one. Or calculus.
MARIA: Whatever complicated math is. (laughing together)
PAM: So, when you see that, how do you answer it?
MARIA: Well that was me. I was at one time was saying, “But how will she learn math?” Because growing up in public school I was bad at math. Again, I was in public school a really long time ago, but now or Davie would probably have been [labeled] LD and/or discalcula maybe, or something like that. But I was bad at math and my teachers reinforced that and staying after school and classes and getting “Fs” reinforced that and so I was really scared and nervous about “How was Davie going to learn math?”
And really, speaking of regrets, that was one of my last hold-outs. Which, of course, did its damage, you know. She was aware that that was the last hold out and so there were a lot of fears with that.
But I think when we finally let go of it, I just completely let go of it. I was like I’m not doing this. I read a lot and then was like, “I’m not reading anymore, we are just not doing math or touching it.” Then watching how it played out. I think my answer to “How will they learn math?” is, “When they are ready to.” It is so simplistic and so bizarre. Somebody that knows nothing about unschooling and hears that is gonna be like, “Arrrghh,” but she will learn when she was ready.
She came home one day and wanted to get a job and needed to make change. So we sat down over the course of maybe four or five hours in one week, maybe it was over two weeks. She came home one night and was like “Ah, I’m scratching my head on this. I cannot figure this out.” And we went over it again and I don’t think she has ever asked about making change since. She still will get frustrated around numbers and really nervous around numbers and I don’t know if that is the baggage or just we do not see numbers or think of them in the abstract.
Here is the thing: she is 20 she has not used it. I am 50. I have a calculator. And there is kind of a neat story there to with this algebra question. When I was 40, I had a good friend who was going through nursing school (I think) and she had a course in algebra and I said, “Oh, math. I was terrible at that.” And she said, “Oh, I love it.” I asked, “Oh, really? What do you love about it?”
And she brought out her book and she was showing it to me. With her help and with her explaining it to me, I went through like, three chapters and I’m like, “Oh my goodness. I’ve got it, it makes sense. It is so easy.” Then I’d run and I’d ask her a question and she would say, “Oh. Well, think of it this way.” And, “That’s why they do that.”
“No way.” And I went through the other chapters—I was doing these tests in the back of the book and I’m 40. It took me two weeks to do that and I loved every minute of it. It really took away any fear that, well, I was not any good at it. But it took away any fear that a human being of any age can’t learn that when they are ready and when they need to learn it. So, I think my answer to that question is really my own experience and knowing that any person can to that whether you are 13, 16, 18, 40, 50.
When you need it, you can do it. I think that is hard for people that are newer to unschooling or people who are not familiar with unschooling to hear, and I have not come up with a good way to reassure them that. It is almost like you have to see it in action and feel it in action.
Have you come up with a good way to explain that? (laughter)
PAM: No. You know what?
This is why when I talk about people when they are starting unschooling, when they are new to unschooling I say, dive in for at least six months, ideally a year. Just try it. That’s the thing. You need to give some trust to the experienced unschoolers that you are hearing about it from and their experiences and how unschooling worked for them. Because, at first, that’s what you hear, that’s what you ask: what unschooling looks like. And you are like, “I want that.”
You really need that time to have those kinds of experiences—to see them learning math on their own. Having an occasion to make change or to add things up. To really see that it happens in the world. Because somebody just saying they will learn it when they need it—it does not make sense to you until you have spent some time…
MARIA: …watching your kids learning in the world and watching yourself. Right.
PAM: You noticed that in yourself when that occasion came up.
But, you need to give it enough time for these experiences to start to bubble up. Try to really dive into it for a year because, if you are still trying to control, you are still like, “What about math?” You have to widen even your definition of math. And that is all part of that deschooling in that first year and how you define learning. How are you defining math? If at first you say to somebody, “They will learn it when they want to,” they will be standing there waiting for their kid to walk up and say, “Okay, print me that addition worksheet please, I’m ready to learn something.” (laughter)
PAM: That’s not what you’re going to see, right? But, you’re going to maybe see them playing a video game and adding up their money in there so they can purchase something. Or figuring out how many hit points they need to beat a particular boss. Or wanting to bake something and needing to figure out the proportions and adding up how many tablespoons and teaspoons, etc.
There are so many occasions in life! Maybe they want to count their steps as they are walking into the mall or walking in the park. Then they count by twos. It is just giving yourself the time to see how math lives in the world.
Because it really does live in the world, doesn’t it?
MARIA: Yup. Yes.
PAM: That was no more concise than your answer. (laughter)
MARIA: It is not a concise topic though, and it is really hard to just put it in quick easy terms.
I love how you said, stay with it for a year. As we often say, look at your child. Look at your child—you need that time to do that and kind of settle. I wish I had done that a little bit deeper. I feel like the math component was rough for me and it took me a while and I started looking at it, as you say, in all of life. Just as Davie has gotten older and, you know, “Well, what is this whole thing with taking out taxes? How does that even work? Why do you even need to do that?”
And then the conversations that come from that and then sitting down and calculating gross and net and what’s the taxes and why do we do this and that. And how that is all math-related. It took me a while to understand that that was actually math and that that is what we were doing. Then, “Oh, if I want a car, how much money do I need? How much will I get at the end of the week? What are payments and how do you take out a loan?” All these math things we do in the adult world that I sometimes take for granted and don’t think of them as math. Until as she has needed them, I am realizing, ‘Oh, well, this is math. This is algebra. This is working with unknowns,’ and so on. So, it’s interesting.
PAM: It is. It is. Okay let us try another one that is not so academic. I was picking an academic-y one and a life one. Okay, so this one.
“But how will they learn to work in a group?” Because teamwork is a big thing.
MARIA: Okay. Yeah. Oh. Well I am pausing because I do not ever remember coming up with that one. Or having somebody come to me with that. But, I can answer it because Davie and I are both pretty introverted. We are very social—obviously, we like to talk. But we need a lot of downtime.
So, after we are with groups of people we need maybe days really, of just downtime. You would think that maybe that would be difficult to work in a group. Davie has always been fairly social and does not have a difficult time being in groups and has certainly learned the social skills.
We have a really nice community here. Davie has always just gone downtown, hung out, and people will talk to her; ask her about things. She has ended up working with different people in the community—the creative community here—and it kind of just dove tails naturally because she is interested and wants to, and the teamwork happens fairly seamlessly.
I think it is schools that give us the idea that teamwork is very, very necessary and has to be learned and can not be learned unless you are in school.
PAM: Yeah, I think that the big thing there too so often—especially with kids and through school, and even some of the organized groups is that—they are not really choosing to be there. So, they have no real internal motivation to make this situation work. Right?
PAM: That’s a huge piece, isn’t it?
MARIA: It is huge. So, when schools say they are not a team player or they do not like team-work, do they even want to be there?
MARIA: That’s the first question. The intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, and everything must come intrinsically. Any motivation—any long-lasting motivation to do anything, whether it’s teamwork or algebra.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. There are opportunities for groups. Like you said, she ended getting attracted to creative groups and she ended up participating that way.
It was the same with my kids. It is really the group. Often, it’s around an interest. It’s people who have all chosen to engage in this particular thing. So, everybody is trying their best to make it work.
And, the other piece you were talking about at the beginning: “Am I the person that enjoys that kind of environment?” That is an absolutely valid question and a great thing to learn about yourself because you will not choose to put yourself in situations that you know are not going to work well for you.
PAM: So, there is no “requirement.”
It is such a relief to me, I think, when it comes to unschooling. It is such a relief to know that there is no requirement here. You can just be yourself and follow what interests you. There is no “have to” hanging over your head and that is just super liberating to understand that. I think when I shift back, or I might hear somebody else talk about life in those terms, it just takes me back a little bit sometimes, like, “Oh yeah, okay.”
PAM: I think the other piece, when people get caught there, that they come to terms with—if that is the right phrase—while they are deschooling, especially in that first year, is the lifelong nature of it. Like, we are talking about life. This learning does not stop. So, it’s okay if they really figure out groups in their twenties.
MARIA: Or older.
PAM: It’s whenever. “But, that is something that they are going to need.” Well, when they need it or want it, then they can do it. Then. When the age does not become a factor, it just becomes about what someone is interested in learning, whenever. I think that is the other big piece of that puzzle of these “But how will they …?” questions. They will learn it in life when they want to. And they can learn it at any age, so there is no timeline.
MARIA: Yep. And isn’t that so simple and yet so radical?
The most simple thing in the world to just be like, “I will do it when I am ready or when I want to or when I need to, and then I will do it.” It is almost stupid simple that this is all there is to it. The difficult part is that deschooling and that leap of trust.
I love how you said that any of that can be at any age. Whether it’s learning something socially or academically, but also, the deschooling never really stops. I am constantly, through the lens of unschooling, looking at life and things I am enjoying and reminding myself of different principles of unschooling and, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to do this.” And constantly peeling [back] those layers in myself and in relationships.
I think Davie would probably say the same thing but she is constantly thinking or looking at the world through that lens. It has been one of the gifts of unschooling is that we can continue the rest of our life to do that. That has been so simple and so radical at the same time.
PAM: (laughing) I love that. I love that. Stupid simple, but so radical. Which leads very nicely to the last question that I have here. I think you were just touching on that.
With your official unschooling years behind you now, looking back what has been the most valuable outcome you think from choosing unschooling?
MARIA: I’m sorry, the most valuable what was the …?
MARIA: Oh, most valuable outcome. Oh my goodness. I have to pick just one? (laughter)
I would say the most valuable outcome to unschooling is that I was able to take my time and look at our relationship differently.
I think we have always had a fine relationship I really do. You know, I like self-improvement, but I had to do that at a younger age with homeschooling. I feel like because of that we had a stronger bond and a more respectful relationship between two humans than I think we would have had otherwise. Because I began to see her not as the child, but as a person who needed guidance but fully had her own ideas, her own thoughts whether she was verbalizing them or not.
I could give her the information and guide her in whatever it was she wanted to do and I think that has then played its part as she has gotten older. Just kind of has connected us on a level I am not sure we would have connected on before. Because I truly see her as a human fully capable of making all of her own choices and her own decisions.
PAM: And that’s when I lost my internet. I was so happy that Maria was able to answer my last question, and what a great sentence to end on: “I truly see her as a human fully capable of making all of her own choices and her own decisions.”
Thanks so much to Maria for joining me on the podcast, I had such a fun time chatting with her. We definitely share a few personality traits! And I thank her for her patience with my internet challenges too.
If you’d like to connect with Maria online, she is an admin for the Facebook group, Unschooling Q&A, and I’ll put that link in the show notes.
Have a great day!