PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from LivingJoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Béa Mantovani. Hi Béa!
PAM: Hi. I have known Béa online in unschooling circles for quite a few years now, and she’s actually even translated some of my blog posts into French, right?
PAM: I really enjoy the glimpses into their unschooling lives that she’s shared, both on her blog and on social media. And to get us started, Béa …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
BÉA: Yes. So, I’m Béa. It’s short for Béatrice. And I’m from France. And my husband Tobias is from East Germany. We have two daughters—Linnea, who will be 13 in September, and Xsenia, who is nine. And we now live in Montreal, in Quebec.
How did you discover unschooling, and what did your family’s move to unschooling look like?
BÉA: Well, I discovered unschooling when I was researching home birth, when I was pregnant with Linnea, my first daughter. I can’t remember if I discovered unschooling or just homeschooling at that point.
But anyway, I was reading a book about alternative parenting, basically, and she went from home birth to attachment parenting and then alternative schools, and then at the end it was homeschooling—like different methods of homeschooling—and at the end of that was unschooling.
And so, I thought about it a lot—all of these appealed to me, but then I kept on thinking and thinking. Then I had my baby and I kept on reading. And I found unschooling yahoo groups and Sandra’s website and all that. And by the time Linnea was six months old, I was sold.
And it took a while longer for my husband to be sold, but since she was six months old, she was a baby, and he was already sold on attachment parenting and all that, so that wasn’t a problem. Then, you know, the proof was in the pudding. Once I was doing this stuff and she was growing up, as a toddler, and we were doing lots of fun things, and my husband became completely on board very quickly.
At first —he had a great experience in school—so he told me, “Well, why would you deprive her of school?” But then when he saw that she was developing normally, she was very social, and she was learning lots—he’s somebody who’s very confident, like self-confident, and I think this extends to his children. So, once he saw that it was great and his children were speaking and talking normally … [laughter]
He’s a huge advocate of unschooling. So, even though he doesn’t have the theory as much as I do, because he doesn’t read as much as I do—I tend to read everything, and maybe too much even, but that’s the way that I process things, is by researching and researching and researching—so yeah, he’s a big advocate even though he doesn’t get the theory as much.
So yeah, I didn’t really have trouble getting into it, because it evolved from attachment parenting.
And I think my biggest problem was I was impatient, and I was like, “Okay, so when does the stage of them asking me questions start?”
And I had to pace myself. I tend to be pretty impatient as a person, too. And I’ve had to be like, “Okay, it’s normal. I can’t expect results and I can’t expect them to grow up faster than they are. And everything will come.”
And I started my blog really early. And at first it was just me pondering how is it going to go, and am I doing the right thing, and all of that. And then by the time she was three, I was posting photos of what we were doing. And I felt like, “Okay, now I’m really unschooling.” Well, not really unschooling, but, you know, we’re getting there, we’re getting there.
PAM: Oh, that’s so interesting.
And you make a really great point, because that’s part of deschooling, I think, isn’t it? Realizing how individual our children are. And when we’re looking for things that we’ve heard about or read about, those can become expectations, can’t they? And we have to release those and see the actual child that’s busily living in front of us, right?
BÉA: Yeah, absolutely.
That’s actually always a difficult part for me that I’m still deschooling on, is that I read things and I have expectations. I mean some of them are expectations from what I read, some of them are expectations from other tapes I have in my head.
PAM: Yeah, that’s a big one.
And the other point that jumped out at me when you were talking about your husband’s self-confidence—I think that’s a cool observation. Because that helped him—not only did he recognize what was going on with his children, he was seeing that they were learning and talking, and they were just like normal kids, right? But to have that self-confidence to be able to say, “Okay, this is going to work too, even though it goes against the grain.” That might have been a big piece for him. Was it?
BÉA: Yeah, definitely. And the great thing about this is that now, I’m somebody who doubts, who questions myself a lot. And he really tends to, in my opinion, sometimes, [not have doubts]. But it’s good because it’s a balance. Because when I question myself, and he’ll come and tell me, “It’s okay, she’s doing okay. You don’t have to worry. It’s going fine.”
PAM: That’s great. Yeah, like you said, he’s more so of an advocate now, so he can balance you and help you talk through things. That’s really helpful, isn’t it?
BÉA: Yeah, and I’m really lucky that I have him, and that we have very different personalities. Because I think if I had had a husband like me, who questions himself a lot, it would have been a lot harder in terms of deschooling.
PAM: Yeah, because you would have gotten each other caught in that questioning spiral, right? Then it is harder to work your way out of it.
One of the common questions that people have as they learn about unschooling is: “But how will they learn how to read?” I have heard that really often and can totally understand where they’re coming from. “Once they learn how to read, then I’ll be able to fully unschool.” I’d love to hear your perspective on the process of children learning to read, both philosophically and how it’s playing out in your unschooling lives right now.
BÉA: It’s really interesting because, well, I have a brother who’s slightly younger than me. And I read, when I was in school, but I read very fast. When I was six, I went into the equivalent of grade one in France, and within two months I was reading and I was reading novels at the back of the class while the other kids were deciphering words.
But my brother had a lot of trouble learning to read. He repeated second grade because he couldn’t read enough. And then he really probably started reading fluently when he was around ten, I would say. So, I had seen the damage that it did to him. And I think because of that his self-confidence is still lower than it should be, because he’s very intelligent.
But I think he might be dyslexic because he has a lot of trouble spelling and stuff. But at the time, you know, especially in France, people weren’t diagnosed. But my mother was a teacher. So, she helped him and everything, and it still didn’t help. And you know, when he read, he read.
But I had already that experience, and in my mind I was like, “Well, obviously, kids in school don’t all read at the same time, and it creates a lot of damage.” So all that. But then, you know, I read really fast. So in theory I was all aboard, but I kind of expected my children to read early, like me. [laughs]
PAM: Yeah, yeah.
BÉA: So, my daughter Linnea was around seven or eight, she wasn’t reading and it didn’t bother me and it was okay. But then it started worrying me a little bit. But because Tobias is German and I’m French, I speak to them in English—my kids—which is another topic.
But people were telling me, “Well, you speak three languages.” We read to them in all three languages, though mostly in English. So, I was like, “Okay, fine.”
Then we moved a bit closer to my dad, and so when Linnea was eight, he started finding out. He doesn’t live in Canada, so we don’t see him very often. He found out that she wasn’t reading—because she’d come and ask me, “What does this say, what does this say, what does this say,” multiple times. It’s not like I advertised it, but, you know, he figured it out. And she wasn’t embarrassed about it because to her it was normal. So, he was concerned.
I explained it to him, and to my surprise—because I’m very nervous when I talk to my dad—I made a pretty articulate case. It’s not like I’m preventing her from reading. I’m doing all the things that I should do—well, short of giving her lessons. But I read to her all the time and I answer her questions and whatever. And I read lots of things and people. So, he said okay. And he stopped asking me. But I think because of that, I got nervous.
And when we got back to our house after the visit, I thought, “Well maybe I need to give her information.” So I sat her down and I started showing her “cuh-ah-tuh” is “cat” and “huh-ah-tuh” is “hat.” But she didn’t get it. It didn’t make any sense to her. I tried that for a few days and one day it just ended up in tears. I said, “Okay, that is not what I want to do.” So, I let it go.
And then a year later I went back to my dad’s house, and I don’t know what he said but when I came back to my house I tried a little bit again. And same thing, I said, “Okay, nevermind. Let it go.”
And then we did some traveling. We were in Australia at the time, and then we went back to Canada. We took a big trip. And in that time space, she figured out how to read. Not completely fluently, but she figured it out, enough that she could now chat with her friends online. So, it was like, “Well, that’s awesome.”
But I had read a lot of examples of kids who got it—like, didn’t read, didn’t read, didn’t read, and then they got it, and that was it. But she was reading, but not fluently. And again, it could be my expectations that were off. But I hadn’t any examples of people whose kids read late and it clicked, but it didn’t click all the way and then it took them a while longer to figure it out. And that was hard. And it’s still kind of hard for me, although now I’ve made my peace with it.
But there was another time after that where, because we’re in Quebec and there were new regulations going on, I was getting very nervous that I needed to show that I had tried something. Because by now she was 12 and she was reading, but she wasn’t reading fluently. And she loves novels, so I read to her a lot. Like, we read Harry Potter—we’re almost to the end of book seven. But she can’t read, or she doesn’t want to read that by herself. I don’t know, I mean, I think if she wanted to she could sit there. But it’s better, and I admit I like it—I like that we take the time and read together like just before bed, just before we go to sleep—we read together and it’s our together time. It’s awesome. So, it’s fine with me.
But still, because I tend to worry, and because of the political climate, I was like, “I need to show something.” So, I signed us up for a while for a program for dyslexics. But she agreed to try it, and it wasn’t something that I forced or anything. But the program was tedious. I think it helped a little bit; she did show some improvement. But after a while it really didn’t work that well, after the first initial lessons. And then sometimes it was frustrating for both of us. And then we left for France for two months, and we said, “Okay, forget it. Let’s stop the program.” So, we stopped.
And then, in the meantime—like, while we were in France, but I think even before that, when we weren’t doing the lessons (because it didn’t take very long; it was like an hour a week and then 15 minutes every day)—she’s really into drawing and she was on Deviant Art, reading lots of things. There’s these groups where you create characters, or groups that talk about characters, and all this very detailed explanations of how your character has to look, and it has to have prehensile tails, and whatever. And she was reading that, pretty much on her own, by that time.
It was like, “Why do I have to make her practice reading stupid sentences when she’s reading these things?” Even if she’s not reading all the words correctly, she’s getting information that she needs. When we were in France, she was still doing her art thing, and she started writing short stories too, as back stories for her characters. She started doing all these things. I have proof, anyway, that’s she’s reading, that she’s writing. I don’t need anything else.
So now, since we came back from France—we’ve been back for about a month—she started reading Harry Potter to me sometimes. And some days when she’s tired she stops at the words and has trouble figuring them out. But she’s pretty fluent, really. Except for big words. So that’s that.
But, I don’t know, I guess it was, and it still is, some days, a hard thing for me. Something that I need to deschool more on, and that I found difficult to not have anxiety about. But not at the beginning. It was because she read late. But because I tend to be an anxious person, I think anything like that would have made me anxious. If it hadn’t been reading it could have been something else I guess.
PAM: That is a great point. And I love that you shared that story in detail. My younger two were nine, 10, 11, hitting 12, before they were really fluent and comfortable with it at some points. But when you’re sharing little snippets, sometimes it doesn’t come across, all those moments when, like you said, when expectations maybe came up for you, or even frustrations for the kids.
Maybe you didn’t really have that with Linnea, but I remember when Michael at some point would be like, “I want to be able to read better.” And there were moments, like you said too, it wasn’t an overnight completely fluent kind of thing. Because I remember there were times when I would sit with him and just say, “Hey, can you read this?” And he would read it fine. It was pointing out where he was on the journey for himself, because he wasn’t at the end. So for him, he was defining it as not reading. Yet, there were so many steps along the way, so many things he could read. We didn’t even have a conversation, per se, about the definition of reading, but it was like, “Hey, but you can read that, or you can read that.”
So, to have such a great example of the whole journey. That it’s not about us stepping back and not being involved and just waiting for them to do it. Maybe, like you, some people’s brains are wired to just pick it up early and off they go. But even like we were talking about right at the beginning, we’re all individuals, we’re all so different. Recognizing our own stories and how different they are from how it’s going to work out with our kids. You think you understood that learning how to read is a whole process, and you’re totally okay with that, but your story was still kind of what you were expecting your kids to experience, right?
And also, I guess there are two things. The first is, what do people mean when they say “reading?” I know that school, they say they are reading but they’re not really reading. But I wonder, even in unschooling stories, when people are saying they’re reading, are they reading fluently every single word? And I think because I like things to be very precise, I was like, “Well, what do you mean he’s reading?” And I know that’s also one of my biggest deschooling points, is that I tend to compare too much. But, does it mean that they were done reading, they were reading everything fluently at whatever age? When were they reading like I’m reading right now, basically?
PAM: You know, one of the things that’s so interesting, because Harry Potter played a big part in our reading journey too, certainly with my daughter. So when we first started unschooling that first year, I was reading Harry Potter to them, like a lot. [laughs] At the time, the first four books, and the fifth book I think came out that year or whatever. And one of the fun things was when I’m reading it out loud, them seeing me struggle with some of the bigger and made-up words, and some of the Latin-based spells and all that kind of stuff. And even when we’d listen to the audio books, hearing how different people pronounce the words, right? And then reading articles where J. K. would explain how she pronounces the words, and it’s different from somebody else.
You know, to start really relaxing the hold of the definitions of reading and to realize, like the article I wrote about my daughter’s reading—I Can Read, You Know—that was a revelation for her. Because to her, her definition of reading was reading like an adult. Like you’re talking about, right? And that was one of the things I was careful with, with Michael, was not need to be trying to convince him, “Oh you’re reading.” It’s completely theirs to own, and their definition of when they consider themselves to be reading, or to be a reader. And to see me struggling was to say the definition of a reader is not “I can read everything perfectly and fluently forever and ever, amen.” You know what I mean?
PAM: There were just so many little components that make up that huge picture of reading. [Including] how other people define it. And then I would see my eldest, Joseph, who was reading before he left school. But, the teachers—I don’t think they felt he was reading very fluently. They just had those simple books for those younger grades. And I think he struggled more with those because he was bored or uninterested. Yet, when he came home at night, he was reading video game walkthroughs, like 80-page printouts that we got him off the internet. So, the malleability of the definition of reading became quickly apparent.
But that’s a huge piece of it, isn’t it?
And I guess—I mean, because, again, of the political climate that we’re in right now in Quebec, people were talking like, illiterate—I forgot the term now, but people who can read, but they can’t read enough to fill out forms. And I was, at some point, really worried that what if she ends up being one of these people? And part of me, especially now, because she can read enough, part of me was like, “What if that’s it?” And what if I don’t know but some of the other unschoolers are at that point? I don’t know. That was also my question that I had, to see it, and I kind of had to take deep breaths and be like, “Okay, well, we’ll see.”
And also I read a book—and I meant to look it up but I haven’t—about dyslexics. Well it’s about dyslexia, but it talks about some dyslexics who wrote novels. And this guy who’s so dyslexic that he can’t read but he’s going to law school, and he just has a reader. So, it was good for me to see those examples, to be like, “Well if she can’t figure out how to read, at least she can still do things like that, now, with the technology that there is.”
And I think part of it also, she still has a lot of trouble spelling, but even without me suggesting it she figured out a way to compensate for that by using Google. She dictates things on Google, and so it writes out. [She knows] enough to know if it wrote a word that she mispronounced or misheard the word that she pronounced. But then she doesn’t have to struggle with the spelling. So, she figured out tools to help herself. And sometimes when she can’t pronounce words, she puts them into Google and looks for the definition and then presses the speaker button.
So she figured out tools to help her with that. And so that was also helpful for me, to see, well, she’s figuring out things that work for her, that she can use, even if she can never read.
PAM: I think that is such a huge point, because here we are again, individuals, and how our brains work, and how we figure things out and find the tools that work well for us. Whereas with your brother, in school, who he was and how his brain worked was considered wrong and bad and deficient, and he absorbed those messages. And like you said, they impacted deeply enough on him as a person that you can see the effects of that playing out now.
Whereas, with unschooling, it’s not about being a different way to becoming a perfect student. It’s not about it being longer, it’s about understanding that they are a unique person, who they are, and helping them learn and figure out how they mesh with the world and finding the tools to help them accomplish what it is that they’re trying to accomplish. So, they’re becoming more fully the person that they are, with as little baggage as we can not pile on them.
Using these tools isn’t about a negative—it’s about them accomplishing what they want to, and they can do it this way and this way. I can use Google, and this can pronounce it for me, this can spell it for me. And off we go. And I do what I want to do. Like you were talking about the person in law school—different tools. Maybe I record lectures. Maybe there’s more and more audio books now. Maybe Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, where you say things and it transcribes it. Without feeling bad about ourselves, really, is the essence of it, right?
BÉA: Yeah, yeah.
And really I wish that I had been more relaxed, because I do think that she still could feel my anxiety. And I really wish that I hadn’t. And I feel almost like I knew all about this before, and I should have known better. But I think, well, that’s what it is.
PAM: It really is. It was a couple episodes ago with Maria, and she was talking about how really, for her, the big thing was control.
So, maybe for you the big thing was reading. But there’s going to be, for everybody pretty much, there’s going to be the ‘one big thing’ that encourages us to investigate, dive deep into ourselves and our self-awareness. It’s our journey. And realizing it’s so much about us and our work to do, and how do we move through our anxiety—dig into our anxiety and where it’s coming from and how it’s manifesting in our day to day lives.
And that’s all about our learning and growing, right? I mean we can’t avoid it. Because, like you said, they still absorb it, even if we’re trying not [to show it]. We have to do the work ourselves to move through it. There’s really no other path through it.
BÉA: Yeah, and I think that’s going away from the topic of reading, but, because I started so early, and because I have a problem with wanting everything to be perfect, I have this guilt that I should have known better. And I knew better but I couldn’t do better because I think some of it is just even if you know intellectually, you have to experience it and you have to make mistakes so you can evolve.
BÉA: And there’s no other way.
PAM: Yeah. There’s such a huge difference between the theory and seeing how it plays out in life and figuring it out. I talk so much about, when you come to unschooling, giving it time. Because it’s one thing to read it and intellectually understand the philosophy and how it works. But to see it playing out with the individuals in our lives, it’s why I can—what, we’re at episode number 133 here?—I can talk to so many different people and although the principles of unschooling are the same, the way it plays out in their lives is totally different and completely interesting.
That’s why I’m still excited and people are still listening 130-odd episodes in, because it’s fascinating to see how it plays out, and still, there’s nobody listening who it’s playing out in their lives exactly how you’re describing it, you know what I mean?
BÉA: Yes. Definitely.
PAM: It’s so interesting. Okay so yeah, we probably should move beyond the reading question. But I wanted to pull it up, because reading was this one particular question. But it applies the process of working through whatever concern or question, et cetera, is similar.
Okay, another area that people find challenging is technology: computers, the internet, cell phones. We were talking a little bit about how Linnea uses that. And other electronic devices that—they really are new to our culture, aren’t they? And that can be really scary, because change is scary for us. I’d love to hear your experience around this particular topic.
BÉA: Okay, well, that one was very easy for me. [laughter]
In that case, the theory really helped. But I’ve always been pretty computer savvy. When I was 12 years old my dad got an Apple IIc, and my brother and I played the Olympic games, where you have to press the space bar. [laughter]
I think he was excited about it too, and he got us that thing, and we played freely on it, although sometimes we’d play for hours. Although I don’t think it was hours the way that people play on this thing nowadays, because it was only this game, and you get bored after a while. [laughter]
As soon as I could afford to buy myself a computer—that was after university, but even in university I used the computer rooms a lot—I was on there a lot, emailing people and going on the internet, like, at the beginning of the internet. So, I was always really into computers.
I had more trouble with TV. Well, when Linnea was born we didn’t have a TV, and that was all my doing, because I didn’t want a TV in the house, and I kind of thought it was stupid or whatever. But Tobias is really into sports, so I kind of felt bad for him, although, I mean he’s also very sociable, so he went to sports bars to watch the games, it might not have been such a bad thing.
I was reading on those discussion boards and people were asking the same questions as they’re asking now, that I’ve seen years ago, and probably even earlier than that. So, I was reading, and at first I agreed with the people who were like, “It’s bad for you.” But, as I was reading, I could see the point of view of the other people. And because Linnea was still a baby, by the time she was a toddler I was already convinced that I didn’t want to restrict TV. But I didn’t go and buy a TV.
She was still not really into [TV, it wasn’t something] she could touch and play with, basically. But when she was about 15 months old she refused to get dressed. So, I found a little cartoon online and I put it on the computer, and while she was watching I managed to get her dressed. So that’s her introduction to media—so I could get her attention long enough to get her dressed.
But she watched and I got [her] all dressed and then we went out and we did other things. And little by little I found programs here and there that she could watch. So, she’d watch—like I’d be online reading on my computer and I’d have a little window on it with her cartoons. For a year about, that’s how we watched—even more than a year I think. I split the screen in two, and she watched with me, while I was reading. But we went to the park and we did lots of other things. It wasn’t like we were on there for that long, because she wasn’t interested in it for that long at this point.
And then it evolved from there. She really liked watching some programs. We’d watch Blues Clues, and so she wanted to draw. And then we watched Dora and Diego, and she wanted to dress up as Diego and go rescue animals in the apartment. So, I made her lots of costumes based on the shows she was watching, because she always wanted to dress up as something.
And then I introduced her to computer games, because I thought computer games are awesome. [laughter] I was never really a gamer, but I had a boyfriend at one point that was really into video games. And he was somebody who was really well-read and really intelligent, but he was really into video games to have fun. He got into video games and I could never really play them because I’m not that skilled, but I always thought they were great fun and educational, even the ones that aren’t made “educational.” So, I introduced her to video games. She wasn’t really into it, because I introduced her to video games when she was like three. She really wasn’t into them for that long.
Then gradually she watched a lot of shows while playing or bouncing on a trampoline or playing with animals or whatever. And then some of her friends were into Minecraft and she got into Minecraft, but that was maybe she was seven or eight. At first, she played Minecraft when we had play dates, and then she started using Skype so she could play Minecraft with them.
Another thing I wanted to say was—so I’ve always really been into computers. We travel a lot, but every time we travel I bring my computer. And then when the girls had their computer, I’d bring their computers too, so we’ve always traveled with our electronics, because I think it’s important for them to have their electronics wherever we go.
And then Linnea was really into drawing, and she watched YouTube speed drawings. And in the speed drawings, a lot of them, the people use Paint Tool Sai, so I got her Paint Tool Sai. And then I got her a tablet, so that she could draw more precisely. So now she’s really into drawing with her tablet, and she spends hours a day drawing on her tablet.
And the thing that I realize now—so she’s very sociable, and we’re pretty active. We like going out to do stuff. But she can spend hours on her computer drawing, and reading on Deviant Art, making up characters, and talking to people. So she’s on her computer a lot when we’re not busy somewhere else. And I actually make sure that we get big chunks of time when she has time to be on her computer, because she needs that time to draw, to think about her drawings, to look at other people’s drawing. It’s part of her creative process.
And I realized that the times when I worry because she’s on her computer too much, it’s not like the “screen time” that bothers me—it’s that she’s inactive and she’s just sitting there, and I’m worried that she probably should go and just get a break. But I remind myself that that’s part of her process, because there’s a huge amount of learning going on, and I can’t just be limiting her. Like I can’t limit her to one hour, and sometimes I can’t even limit it to three hours. I mean, not that I want to limit it, but like, when I start being like, “Oh my god we’ve been at home for three days and she barely went out for a walk.”
So yeah. That’s the thing that I see a lot of parents worrying about, is what you call “screen time.” And I think if you see your computer the front of the screen and you don’t see what they are doing with that screen, then yeah, you’re not seeing the really rich things that are happening, and it’s so limiting. So for me, it hasn’t been a problem. But I always try, when I see people, I talk really enthusiastically about what she’s doing and how it’s great and she’s learning so much from her time on the computer.
And Xsenia, who’s nine, she watches a lot of shows on her computer, and she gets a lot of inspiration from YouTube. But Xsenia, as a little child, would never stay in front of the TV. Sometimes I wanted her to leave me five minutes alone, but she would, after five minutes, she would get away from the screen. So, she wasn’t that interested in them. But now she’s really into Littlest Pet Shop—those little figurines—and she likes customizing them. So, she’ll watch YouTube for a while and get an inspiration and go get her paints and customize the pet shop, or she’ll get some craft things and go make some accessory for her LPS, and that’s how she gets her inspiration too. So again, it’s just a very, very useful tool.
PAM: It’s so true. It’s so important to see what they’re doing there. An artist years ago would be sitting around with their sketchbook for hours and hours, sketching and playing with their drawing that way. It’s just another tool that Linnea can use for drawing. And her community is there.
That’s something that the internet has brought to us, that we can find people who are as passionate and as excited about something that we’re interested in. [Maybe] it’s not a big enough thing that you would find a dozen people geographically near you who are just as excited as you. I think that it’s an opportunity to connect and really dive into the things that we’re passionate and interested and excited about. It’s really great.
But, like you said, you’re not going to see that if you just think they’re sitting in front of a screen. You’re not going to see all the interesting and different things that they’re getting into, and enjoying, through that. It’s such a versatile tool, isn’t it?
PAM: And the same thing when you think about your other daughter doing costuming and all those other things—and those same kinds of skills and that same interest, they would pursue through other things 20, 30 years ago. Maybe it was through dolls, and hopefully finding some other kids, even a bit older, who are still interested in sewing clothes for their dolls, making accessories, all that kind of stuff.
Kids are still doing what humans do, right? They’re just using the new tools that happen to be part of our culture now, to pursue them. It’s not like, “Oh my gosh, children aren’t doing what we used to do, we have this whole generation of screen-addicted children.” It’s not! They’re just using these tools to do the same kind of things children always do when they have the freedom to dive into and pursue the things that they’re interested in.
Does that make sense?
BÉA: Yeah, yeah.
And I think, like at first, when I was looking up crafts and stuff, I’d go to the library and get books. But then I realized that I could find all of that, and better, on the internet. And I think that’s what they would have done if they had lived before the internet, is go to the library. But this is much more useful. Everything is there and you can find so many more things, rather than being limited to your local library.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. And plus, you find people that way too, right? And you connect with other people, versus just you and the book.
PAM: So, you mentioned you are tri-lingual? And you travel a lot. Even just in your stories: “Oh we were in Australia, and we were here, and then we … Oh, okay, that’s where…” I definitely wanted to touch on those topics.
When we were emailing before the call, it was really interesting that you mentioned those topics together. Because, at first, I was seeing oh, they travel, and they speak lots of languages. Because you were translating [my articles] to French, I knew at least you were very fluent in two. I could imagine when you mentioned it that you’re traveling and there’s different languages where you’re traveling to, but it seemed like it was a little bit bigger than that. So, I would be really interested to hear how you see travel and languages weaving into your lives, and what the joys and the challenges are of all that.
BÉA: Okay, so, they go together in my mind especially, because the first thing that I read about unschooling was in that book that I told you about, about attachment parenting—Raising Your Child Differently, it’s called. It’s a French book.
PAM: Oh, okay.
BÉA: And it was the experience of a family who was unschooling in France, and they were bilingual, trilingual—like the mom was Spanish and the dad was French. So, they spoke different languages, and they traveled, and she mentioned traveling to learn history. Like they went to Rome and that’s how they learned about history.
My dad lives in New Caledonia, which is a French territory off the coast of Australia. And I grew up partly in Tahiti, because I moved there with my parents from France. And my brother used to live in Tahiti but now lives in New Caledonia. And Tobias is German. His parents are still in Germany. My mom lives in France. And I traveled a lot as well. After I moved to Tahiti I went to the US to study, so I have lots of friends in the US. Then I moved back. Then I spent a semester abroad in Argentina. And I lived in China as well. So anyway, I have friends all over the world, and family in different parts of the world too. And in parts of the world where they don’t speak English.
So anyway, in my mind, when I read that story, I was like, “This is perfect. This is exactly what I want for my kids. I don’t want to send them to school because I want to enjoy them. And I can make their life rich by speaking all the languages that we speak anyway.” And Tobias speaks a lot of languages too, and we are both really into languages. I was like, “This is perfect. This is what we should do.”
So, for me, unschooling was that: was having fun with the kids while traveling and speaking lots of languages. I mean it’s part of our life anyway, and we can afford it, and because we can afford it, we kind of feel bad if we don’t go see our family at least once a year. Well, sometimes less. But we try to go see them often.
So it’s part of our lives. And it’s something that, to me, was like, “Well, this is what it’s going to be like.” But then traveling with children isn’t always easy. It’s very different from traveling on your own. And the children don’t always—I mean my girls, because they’re used to it, like traveling. But sometimes they like being home too. And I think part of it was realizing—although I never wanted to travel full time—that there has to be a balance, and that I have to listen to them too, and we need to balance the needs of everybody. Even when we’re traveling I try to not go see lots of places. When they were really little we’d travel and then go to the playground. And that’s all we saw in the city, were lots of playgrounds.
And that was okay with me, because I’ve traveled a lot. I don’t feel like I have to go to places and do all the touristy stuff or whatever. I’ll just follow my kids’ needs, and I think it’s a great new way of seeing a country. And you meet kids at the playground, so that’s a great way of discovering a new culture.
One time we were traveling in New Zealand, and we were staying in a little city for five days, and they had a school fair. And we went to the school fair. Then Xsenia, who was eight at the time, met a five year old, and she ended up playing with her. And then her mom and her grandparents were there and they invited us over to their house. And so for the next two days we hung out with that family from New Zealand. And that happens when you travel for the kids. Well, I mean, we traveled for us because we wanted to see New Zealand. But then we did things that they kids enjoyed.
PAM: Yeah. So mostly they were pretty good and happy to travel, and for you the biggest thing was just incorporating their interests wherever you were, right? And considering what they wanted to do?
So, sometimes I’ve been not excited about traveling. Because it takes a lot of work for me. Part of it is like I feel like this is part of our unschooling, and so I want to say I force myself. But I make myself get out of my comfort zone and say, “Okay now we’re going to do this trip. We have to go see the grandparents and then we can stop there on the way.”
PAM: [That’s a great point about] your comfort zones. Because it feels like it would be something that you need to play with, and that would change over time—what people are getting out of the experience of traveling. And yeah, there’s part of, you know, “I feel like this time I want to stretch my comfort zone and, like you said, force myself to do this because I know I’m going to enjoy the experience in the end.” But also, like you were saying, you guys are also enjoying your home time as well.
And then, it was so interesting when you said this was part of how you were defining unschooling for your family, and the question of, is that going to change over time? And yeah, it’s a really interesting lens through which to look at life.
BÉA: There have been times when it was me who was fed up with traveling. And I had to be like, “Okay, well I want to stop traveling for a while.” But then be okay with that. Because it was so ingrained in me that this was our unschooling, that I had to be, “Well, it’s okay, we do lots of things when we are not traveling anyway.”
We really only travel maybe three months out of the year. Sometimes a month here and two months there or some time in a chunk of three months, or maybe four months if we put all the travels together. So there’s still something like 10 months out of the year when we’re home and the girls are doing regular activities and stuff. So I have to remind myself that it’s okay. It’s okay to have a normal life. [laughter]
And they’re getting lots of things too. And also, I want to take that into consideration too. Like not travel too much, so that they can have time at home, relaxed, doing regular activities, seeing their friends regularly. Especially now that they’re getting older. Xsenia, my nine year old, she likes traveling, but she really likes being home more than Linnea. Because she wants to have all her craft supplies so she can do stuff, and it’s not as easy. So being okay with being like, “Well, you know, we don’t have to travel that much.”
And you know, the girls also want to go see their cousins, so it’s hard for all of us to balance this desire to travel with desire to be home and relax.
PAM: That’s such a great point, too. And it’s such a helpful thing for everybody at all ages to try and figure out what is it that they want to do and want to do now. That push and pull of different interests, of comfort zones, of all those different things, just really challenges us and our self-awareness. We need to figure out what it is that we’re wanting in that moment. And even the push and pull of wanting to travel and wanting to see families, and having that part of their lives, along with having your craft supplies and your good friends close at hand and all those things. It really brings those into focus, doesn’t it? Different challenges?
And to talk about the other aspect—the languages aspect. So, I started out speaking English to Linnea because at the time we were living in Belgium, and I didn’t know where we would end up, and I wanted her to be fluent in English. And Tobias spoke German to her. And Tobias and I have always spoken French together. So that’s how the trilingual thing [developed].
And then we moved to Montreal and I figured she’ll speak French. But we met a lot of English speakers when we first moved to Montreal, and so she didn’t speak French that well for a long time. And I don’t even know if she understood it. But she understood German and she spoke some German. And then my mom and my brother and his daughter came to visit and she picked up French very fast. And then we had a French-speaking neighbor who came over to play, so she picked up French. So, she speaks it with a tiny English accent, but she speaks it pretty well.
But she really wants to—Linnea—be better at French. She’s always made efforts to speak and she was really enthusiastic about it. So every time we go to see our family in France or in Germany she tries to speak French or German. And last year she started taking conversation classes with a German tutor, and she speaks to my mom half an hour a week in French, to keep up her French.
And then we were in France recently, and they actually went to a democratic school for two months, because Linnea wanted to practice her French. Which was great, because she hung out with people for two months and her French improved a lot. So that was great. So, with Linnea, the languages part is totally, completely taking off and it’s great. And even though she speaks English better than the other two, she’s getting there, and she wants to get there.
But Xsenia is not interested in learning other languages. And she was really fluent in French because we had au pairs from France when she was little, but then the au pair that we had left. And I don’t know if it’s that or if her English started improving rapidly and her French was kind of left behind. But then she stopped wanting to speak French. And it was from that point on—she was about four—she’s been really resistant to speaking French. But she’s very social, so when we’re in France she speaks French to people who don’t speak a word of English. But if she knows the person can speak English, then she’ll speak English to her.
So the traveling helps because we go to places where she could—and I wouldn’t force her to, but she wants to because her desire to interact with people is stronger than her desire to only speak English. But that’s something that I have to let go of too, the “we’re trilingual” thing. I have to be like, “Well it’s okay. You can just speak English. You’ll get by fine.” And that’s that.
But yeah, that’s why I think it’s another balance. For me it’s in the same category as travel because it was in my big vision of unschooling. It was a big part of it, and now we’re at the point where I’m like, ‘Maybe it won’t be part of our unschooling but it’s going to be okay.’
PAM: I really think that’s such a big piece of it, because when we first learn about unschooling and we envision kind of what our life is going to be like—and that’s part of the process of deciding that this is something you want to do, right? I mean you have to think about “how do I think it’s going to play out, how do I see it playing out,” to even decide it’s a choice you want to try. But yeah, reconciling—it’s not even so much that you have expectations. Like, you know, you’re not expecting that they will all speak three languages and enjoy multiple languages and just have an interest in that. But still, it’s part of that movie in our head that has played: this is how it’s going to play out in our lives.
We need to take that time to come to terms with just teasing out what was our dream, and the children and the life that we actually have. And reminding ourselves how cool the life we have is and being grateful for that. And even sometimes it’s just taking the moment to pick out all the good things. I know so often when I was getting caught up in the swirl of things and starting to worry and things weren’t going the way that I was hoping they would go, to stop and hang out with my kids and see the reality of my kids every day and to realize, “Oh, this is good too. This is cool, too.” And to get to a good place with that helped me process. Because you know, those dreams were cool too, but this is just as cool.
And when you can get in there, sometimes it’s even cooler, you know what I mean? Because these are real people, and these are real people that we love, and the things that they are choosing are awesome, even if they’re different than what I was envisioning. But again, it’s our work to do. It’s not simple, right?
BÉA: Definitely not simple.
PAM: Definitely not simple!
BÉA: And I feel like if I don’t do this work then we’re not going to have the relationship that I want to have. If I don’t let go of these things, it’s going to influence our relationship, and that’s not what I want.
PAM: Yeah, it’s disconnecting, isn’t it? Because we keep almost trying to pull them, even if we don’t know that we’re actively doing it, but our energy, our reactions, our conversations—it’s like we are subtly trying to pull them closer to the path that we are envisioning. And that’s disconnecting. To do the work to realize that the connection with them is more important, and that that’s ultimately our main goal, is what keeps bringing us back to them, and to connecting with them, and to enjoying whatever they find interesting, the things they want to do, and not being stressed about the things that they don’t want to do.
If they don’t want to speak French unless they’re in a situation where that’s their only option if they want to communicate, like you said—it’s not a requirement but these situations come up. But then it’s like, “Okay I got to make sure I’m not creating those situations because I want her to make those choices.” Right? Not artificially creating them, but saying, “Okay they come up once in a while, but organically rather than manufactured.” You know what I mean?
BÉA: Well it was our recent trip to Paris where they went to a democratic school. I was talking about it with Linnea and she doesn’t feel comfortable traveling by herself yet. Which is another thing, if she wants to travel and now that she’s older—like I traveled when I was pretty young too, and I’d be okay with letting her do that. But right now she’s not. So I felt like I had to come with her. So Xsenia had to come with us. But Xsenia was excited to go to Paris, because it’s Paris—she’s heard about it.
And the democratic school, originally Linnea was the only one who was supposed to go there, so she could speak French. And then Xsenia went and thought, “Oh my god, it’s so cool, they have so many people.” And she found teenagers who spoke English, and of course they were so happy to have somebody that they could practice English with. But then there were other little kids who couldn’t speak English, so she ended up speaking French with them anyway. But I felt like, well, okay, she totally chose that. And then it worked out that she also got to use some of her French, but it wasn’t me pushing her.
PAM: That’s interesting. Well, I think we’ve talked about the challenges on your unschooling journey for a while now!
So, what is your favorite thing about your unschooling lifestyle right now?
BÉA: My favorite thing is just having time to let it all unfold, I think, and not to feel pressure. Even though I still have my own internal pressure, I can let it go and work on it. But the kids don’t have any pressure. And I see the school bus go past by my window every day at 7:30am, and every day I’m so grateful that they don’t have to be up. They’re never up at 7:30am.
They have the time to sleep as long as they want, and they have time to be at home and doing their own things like crafting as much as they want and drawing as much as they want, and really exploring their passions fully.
PAM: The time. Yeah.
BÉA: Yeah, the time. Yeah.
PAM: And I love the way you described it unfolding. Because that’s the word that, for me, reminds me to release the expectations—that I don’t want to try and control, even subtly try to control, where they’re going. But their lives are unfolding and it’s so exciting to see where they take them. Where they go.
PAM: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Béa! It was a lot of fun! Thank you.
BÉA: Thank you.
PAM: Sorry I made you dive into some of those areas, but it’s really interesting stuff. And it’s all part of the journey. It’s amazing, but it’s not simple, right?
BÉA: Well no, that’s the thing about unschooling. I get very excited about lots of things and I get also very nervous about a lot of things. So, I think it’s good to talk about all of that.
PAM: Exactly, exactly. I love that. Thank you so much for doing that with me.
Where is the best place for people to connect with you online, if they’d like to get in touch?
BÉA: I’m on Facebook a lot. I don’t post almost at all anymore, but you can get in touch with me there. Oh, and I have a blog, but I haven’t updated it very much lately. But I used to update it a lot, so it has our journey from like the time Linnea was little until last year, and maybe even longer if I update it again.
PAM: I’d love to share links to those blogs, because you have a French one too, don’t you?
BÉA: Yeah, I stopped updating that one a long time ago.
PAM: But it’s still there, right?
BÉA: I have a blog where I post about our life, but I also have the blog of translations where I posted your translations. That’s right, yes.
PAM: We will put all that stuff in the show notes for people. Thanks again so much, and everybody have a great day!
BÉA: Thank you! Bye.