PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Jen Lumanlan. Hi Jen!
JEN: Hi Pam. It’s great to be here.
PAM: I first connected with Jen last year when she asked to interview me, and that was really fun. We connected again recently, and I thought her idea to deep-dive into the process of making that initial decision to forego school was a great one.
Looking at the survey I did last year, around 14% of listeners were in the midst of that decision, not having started unschooling yet. And while those particular respondents have probably made a decision by now, I imagine that that’s pretty representative sample of our listeners, so this episode is especially for those contemplating a move to home- and unschooling.
So, to get us started Jen …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
JEN: Yeah. Hi. It’s great to be here. I live in Berkeley, California. Lots of granola out here. [laughter]
I live with my husband and my daughter. Her name is Carys, which rhymes with Paris. It’s a Welsh name. She is four years old.
And my husband and I both have corporate jobs until now, where we’re sort of working on transitioning out of that hopefully, with a view to homeschooling and unschooling. So that’s in process.
We’ve been married for probably about 10 years now. The theme of our wedding was Hiker Marries Biker, and that’s kind of what we like to do. He’s the biker, and I’m the hiker. The hiker now bikes, although the biker does not hike.
PAM: Ahhhhh… [laughter]
JEN: And yeah. I sort of transitioned into backpacking with my daughter for a while. We actually did the Tour de Montblanc when she was eight weeks old. So it was 10 days around Montblanc, in France and Switzerland and Italy. I had her in a front pack and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, and since then we’ve done long distance hikes in a whole bunch of places, in Europe mostly and Colorado. So that’s kind of what I like to do.
PAM: I saw some pictures recently. You were away recently, right?
JEN: We were, yeah. Actually we went back to the start of the Tour de Montblanc trip. We have some friends in France, and they’re close enough to there that it’s just an hour away from there and you can just pop over and see Montblanc any time you like.
So, we went up there, and it was amazing. It was such an amazing feeling to remember and look back on that achievement of carrying an eight-week-old around that mountain, and now have her be four years old and hiking some rocky, rough trail by herself. And she got pooped at the end and I had to carry her in the backpack and she fell asleep. But yeah, it was a really awesome thing to look back on.
PAM: Yeah, that’s very cool. And the pictures remind me, because Mike just got home a couple of days ago, and he spent two weeks hiking in Norway, the mountains there.
JEN: Ohhh, that’s on my wishlist.
PAM: He loved it.
JEN: Yes. Some day we will hike there. I need to be able to walk a little farther by herself first, because she’s getting to the point where I can’t carry her for a long time.
PAM: Yeah. And that’s part of the whole flow, right?
PAM: That’s the awesomeness, how you adjust to all those little pieces of the puzzle.
As I mentioned, we are going to deep-dive into the journey surrounding your decision that homeschooling and ultimately, as you mentioned, unschooling, was going to be the path for your family. So I wanted to start at the beginning. School is definitely the conventional path for children and learning, so what sparked you to even consider that that path might not be for you guys?
JEN: Yeah. I should say that I went to school. I had a very conventional education. I think the seed was originally planted actually when my daughter was an infant, because I had a bunch of air miles expiring, and so Delta sent me a flyer saying sign up for these magazines, and so I was about to give birth and I signed up for a bunch of magazines so I would have something to read.
And one of them was Outside Magazine. It just so happened that Ben Hewitt’s essay was published in Outside magazine, and she was probably—I don’t know—a month old. And I’m nursing and reading an essay about his two children and the reason that he started unschooling, which was because he had learned, he had spent some time with these two children that he just thought they were the most amazing children. And he was talking with his not-yet-then wife about it, and she said, “Yeah, I didn’t know there were children like that anymore.”
And so that was what first opened my eyes to the fact that there’s this other thing out there you could do. And, of course, there were other things going on in my life at that point, and I tucked that piece of knowledge away and didn’t do much with it.
Fast forward I guess a year or so and I’m starting to think about daycare, preschool decisions, and looking at those different options. Do we go Reggio Emilia? Do we go Montessori? Do we go Waldorf? Or something else?
And so, because I’m a bit of a research nerd, I did a lot of research in scientific literature, and I actually got a master’s in psychology focused on child development. You know, as you do. When you want to be a better parent, you get a master’s.
PAM: You get a master’s. [laughter]
JEN: Yeah. Because I have no parenting instinct whatsoever. But I have really good research skills and I can kind of use the latter to plug the gap in the former.
And so I ended up going to Reggio Emilia initially, because the child-led learning seemed like it was the most intuitively appealing avenue for me. And so I went there on a study group to learn more about it, and we decided, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to go with.’ And got lucky—there was a Reggio-inspired school that had an opening, and she’s now in a Reggio-inspired preschool.
And then I kind of took a breath and said, “Okay, what happens after preschool?” And so I started reading about school and, as you do, you get a master’s in education so that you can learn more about school.
And so ultimately it just came down to, you know, I’m spending a not-inconsiderable amount of money in the San Francisco Bay area to send my child to this child-directed learning-based school, and at the end of it I’m then going to dump her in a school where she’s going to be graded and tested and, you know, all the rest of the things that happen in school, and somebody’s going to tell her what to learn and how to learn it. And I just couldn’t reconcile those ideas in my mind. So that, I think, was sort of the sparking process, as it were, rather than the spark.
PAM: That leads nicely to the next question I would think comes to you, as you mentioned.
What is it about schools that weren’t really going to work for you, as you were talking about? It was going to be a totally different environment for her. So what are some of those pieces that you wanted to leave behind?
JEN: I wish I remember how I first found out about John Holt, but it was reading John Holt that really sort of started to crystallize it for me. And it was just, you know, I’m reading and I’m nodding as I’m reading through and thinking, “Yes! I agree with this. It just makes so much sense.”
And I did very well in school. I think I graduated second in my class in England, and I started in community college here, transferred to Berkeley, ended up going to Yale for my master’s. And I did well because I learned how to play by the rules. So I’m good at studying, I’m good at learning, but what I’m really good at is reading a syllabus and an exam question and knowing what a teacher wants to get out of me.
And so is that really learning to the fullest of my potential? Maybe not. My husband comes from an immigrant family, hence the last name that’s almost unpronounceable.
His family wanted him to succeed in school. They came here to give him a better life, so they paid him $20 to get an A. And he got a decent number of A’s. And he now has basically no intrinsic motivation to learn anything for the sake of learning it.
And so, you know, I put those two pieces together, but I thought, “Alright, what if I’m missing something? What if things have moved on, things are done differently now?” So I got this master’s in education, because I really wanted to understand it. Am I really current on how teachers are taught what they’re taught? What I found when I did it was, I learned some of the best practice in formative evaluation, and how to really—if you’re going to assess children—how to do it in a way that provides them with useful feedback.
But what I found was, I was always the one pushing the professors. So the question I would have to answer in my paper would be something like, “Imagine the governor of your state asked you to develop a plan to save water.” Okay, well at least they’re trying to make it sort of interesting. But what if instead you took your children down to the local park and said, “Hey, do you guys need any help understanding your watershed, and can we contribute to a survey of what’s going on? Because we live here and it’s really important to us.” And this will be actual real work (laughs) that you can use. And the evaluation sort of happens as the park staff say, “Well, that’s not quite how we do it, and if you did it like this we could make even more use of it.” And so, I’m writing my essays from that perspective.
And I’m getting an A for it, because I can read a syllabus and I make sure all the required points are in there.
PAM: Yup. [laughter]
JEN: So, yes, I feel as though I’m ahead of the curve on this one. And so even if I don’t pay her, what’s the point of testing and grading? It doesn’t communicate anything of value to her. It’s not for her, it’s for the school really.
PAM: And for the parents, right?
JEN: And for the parents, yeah. They want to know their child is learning. Yeah.
And so, having done all this background on child-led learning, I sort of have come to the point where I reject the notion of a standardized curriculum. And the idea that anybody can know everything that another person should know. Because I look to how I have learned, since I left school.
And just as an example, I started doing consults to parents, to help them develop their relationship with their children, and parent more in the way that they want to parent. And so I wanted a little summary coming out of that report, for them to refer back to. And so I thought, “Okay, Canva is supposed to be a tool for this.”
I played around in Canva, couldn’t figure out how to get the bullets far enough spaced apart for me. So then I got InDesign, and so I had a vague memory of using it 10 years ago, but I would search InDesign, plus whatever the thing was I need to do. And I would learn just enough to do the task I wanted to do, and no more than that—because I don’t need a course on how to do everything in InDesign. I need to know these three things to be able to make my consult. And that’s how people learn these days.
And so I am happy for her to learn in that way as well. And not have to have her follow some prescribed list of things that she needs to learn to pass an exam. And so I looked around and said, “Okay is there a school that can do this?” I looked at private schools—they’re all following some kind of curriculum. I looked at Sudbury school—closest one is 45 minutes away from us. That’s an hour and a half in the car every day. Probably not going to work. Well then, what does that leave me with?
It’s called unschooling. [laughter]
PAM: Goddammit. [laughter] And here we are. I love that. I love that whole process that you went through. And I love the example you pulled out, InDesign and, “I need to do this little bit.” And maybe a little bit down the road there’ll be something else …
JEN: I will need more.
PAM: … that you want to do. And you look that up. And you’ll connect it. And eventually you may build a big picture of InDesign and be really fluent in it.
JEN: If it’s useful to me. (laughs)
PAM: Yeah! But it’s unnecessary. You don’t need an entire curriculum.
I remember when I was learning programming, computer programming, many, many years ago, for work. They would, of course, it’s work, ‘we have to send you off for a course.’ You go for a week, and everybody writes the Welcome, Hello World, in whatever language that you’re trying to program in.
And really, you’re just looking for those pieces because you know what you need it to do, right? So it’s so fascinating just to take the time to look at how we learn things, and recognize that that’s how humans learn things, right? It’s not just for adults.
And there are some topics where I want to be the expert. I have a podcast—Your Parenting Mojo—on issues related to parenting and child development. And for each of those episodes I do a deep dive into the literature on, for example, rewards or gratitude or tantrums or sleep. And I want to understand, ‘What do the different perspectives say? What direction does the overall literature point in? And how can I help parents to understand what they might want to do, what decisions they might want to make about raising their children, based on that literature? And so, I am capable of becoming sort of an expert in that topic if I need to be.
PAM: And you said it, because you want to be, right?
JEN: Exactly. Because I want to be. Because I have imposter syndrome and I don’t want to be called out as somebody who has not considered a major perspective that should be considered, if you’re trying to get a complete view. But yeah, so for topics like that, I know how to do it, I can do it, I do do it. But I don’t need to be an InDesign expert to create a consult summary.
PAM: Exactly. And that’s the other really interesting piece, is us deciding what it is that we want to dive deep in. Like when—and we see it in our kids too—but when we think, “Oh, well, if we’re not following a curriculum, if we’re not telling people what to do, or telling ourselves what should be done, we’ll just …
JEN: “How will they know what to learn?!?”
PAM: … sit on the couch and do nothing.” Right? [laughter]
PAM: That’s not how humans really work, is it? When there’s something that we’re interested in, and we want it, we dive right in there, don’t we?
JEN: Yes. We do.
PAM: We definitely do. And kids are human too. They do too.
My next question, which we went right into, was about …
Once we’ve looked at what it is about schools that we aren’t looking to bring into our lives, when we’re starting to think about homeschooling, we’re not doing school, but what about our curriculum?
JEN: What are we doing?
PAM: We need that curriculum, right? Is there anything you want to add to that?
I think I found it hard in the beginning, because when I first started looking at homeschooling, I think, ‘Okay, do I need to know everything that my daughter needs to know before I even get started?’ I mean she’s going to need to learn some math, right? At some point she’s going to find some math useful. Do I have to know all that now? And if so, how do I do that?
I think for a while there was a real sense of fear and panic that I might have to figure out the math that I don’t know. And then I kind of realized, ‘Okay, if we’re not following a curriculum—if we’re not going to school because we don’t want to follow a curriculum, we’re probably not going to follow a curriculum at home, and so no, I don’t need to know everything right now.’
And what I realized was as she started getting a bit older, she started asking questions. And that became the basis for the research that we do and trying to answer those questions—it’s something that we together find enormously enjoyable.
And just as an example, last night—we’ve actually started a learning journal where we write down her questions, and then we find out the answers to them—so we were just having dinner last night and she said, “Mom, how long is pasta?” (laughs) And I said, “Well, how do you think you could find out the answer to that question?” And she said, “With a tape measure.” And so, we thought, “Okay, we’ll do that after dinner.” And then they just kept coming. And she started saying, “How far does light travel?” And I’m thinking, “Okay, this is a bit of a bigger question.” And then she said, “When you push a book, what makes it fall?” She’s four and she’s asking questions about physics that I don’t know the answers to. I vaguely remember potential energy and when you push it something else happens. [laughter]
And so, we sat down and we looked up potential energy and kinetic energy, and we pushed a napkin—not a book, but a napkin—off the table, and, “Potential energy! Kinetic energy!” And what happens when it’s on the floor? Does it have any more potential energy? Does it have kinetic energy? And we talked about it.
And I’m finding that process so fun and so rewarding and keeping track of those questions and the answers that we come to together, so we can go back and revisit them later and say, “Oh, this is what we thought last time. Has our understanding evolved in this at all?”
And so now, I’m absolutely confident that we don’t need a curriculum. I know she’s not going to get the peanut butter spread of topics that she would get at school. And I am okay with that. I don’t see a problem with that. And actually I think the peanut butter spread doesn’t necessarily serve children very well, because it doesn’t allow them to follow their interests in depth the same way that unschooling does.
PAM: I love that answer, and three things jumped out at me and let’s see if I can remember them! [laughter]
First, well, the peanut butter spread thing—I love that image and absolutely—because, it just doesn’t capture the connections between things, right?
PAM: Between all the different questions and things that come up. It really—it does a disservice to it. It changes our view of the real world, right? It is so smooth, and it’s like there’s the peanut butter and there’s the chocolate spread, or whatever, the bananas. It makes it look like the world is so separate instead of …
JEN: And you know everything, right? Because you have this broad knowledge in all these different topics, so you must have covered the important stuff.
PAM: Yeah, you must have.
Second thing, I love that you write down the questions.
Number one, because, as you said, it’s so fun to go back and revisit them. And it just sparks conversations. And number two, because that way you don’t lose them. It’s so easy to lose those questions, and they’re curious about them. Now, maybe, when you manage like a day or two later, or an hour later, they’re no longer curious about that question, and it just kind of fades.
JEN: That’s okay!
PAM: Exactly. That’s totally fine too. That was just a little flash for a moment. But, you don’t lose those other ones that they want to come back to, right?
And even if you never end up answering the question, what writing it down did is convey to her that I thought that her ideas are important, and worth writing down, and worth considering finding answers to. And to me, that is as important as finding the answer—that she recognizes that her ideas are worth investigating. That they’re worth finding out the answers to, and it’s not just a, “How do microwaves make food hot?” “I don’t know. There are waves of some kind. They make food hot.” But by writing it down, she realizes that her questions have as much weight as my questions.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. I love that. I love that.
JEN: And if she wants to find the answers to them, we’re going to find the answers.
PAM: Yeah. And that third piece, I can’t believe I actually remembered it—wow!
I love when you first started talking about this; that shift from realizing, “I don’t need to know this ahead of time” to, “We can discover this together.” That takes a load of pressure off us, and it opens up our curiosity at the same time. It’s such a huge piece of deschooling, right?
JEN: Yeah. I think it goes back to the way that I parent as well. I don’t parent as if I have all the answers. And so a big portion of why listeners come to me is because they are having trouble with navigating relationships with their children.
And as an example, a child will have a tantrum, and the parent doesn’t know what to do. They don’t know how to prevent the tantrum next time. And the method that I have of dealing with that is, after the tantrum, at sort of a natural breaking point whenever you’re leaving for school or going to bed, or whatever, you say, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.” Not in a threatening way, but just in a, you know, “Let’s talk about this again.” And then the next day when you’re at a relaxed time, you sit down and you say, “Hey, can we talk about that thing, because it seemed as though you really wanted to do X, and I couldn’t let you do it because Y, but let’s come up with some ideas for how we can approach this next time it comes up.”
And so I’m not approaching parenting as if I know The Way. We approach it as if she has valued input. And it’s not a democracy. It’s not equal weight. I’m the parent. I have to keep her safe. But her opinions are heard and valued. And so I bring that perspective from parenting to learning as well.
PAM: Yeah, I love that idea. I talk about it as, like, “Let’s come up with a plan for next time.” And definitely, that conversation is really only valuable later on when they can actually …
JEN: Yes. Everybody’s calm.
PAM: Yeah! Everybody’s calm, people have had time for it to kind of process a little bit in the back of their mind, so that they have a little bit of insight to bring. Maybe you recognize that they might have been tired or they might have been hungry, and so you can bring those things to the conversation. In the minute, we can’t bring all that kind of insight to our conversation, right?
PAM: And to be able to just have the conversation about what might we be able to do next time. What would you like me to do? Or maybe I noticed a few minutes earlier that you were starting to get frustrated; if I did this next time, would that be okay?
JEN: Would it help? Yeah.
PAM: To try it out?
JEN: It’s not always her behavior that we have to fix.
PAM: Yeah, exactly! It may have been me, you know, not noticing how many times you tapped me on the shoulder before you got mad. Exactly. Giving them, “Next time tell me this, or do this, because, you’re right, I didn’t respond in time.”
Coming to the conversation open and curious about each other and curious about what they see and what they felt, adds so much value and helps you come up with such a better approach next time. And that doesn’t mean the next time it works out perfect or anything like that, right? It’s more information.
JEN: But it’s probably going to be a bit better.
PAM: It’s going to be a bit better, right? It’s the little steps each time. “Oh, gee, we tried this and this and it worked better. What can we do next time.” It’s living together, isn’t it?
JEN: Yes. It’s how we live, it’s how we learn.
PAM: Exactly. [laughter]
The next question that came to mind—as we’re thinking about this decision of whether or not to move to homeschooling and unschooling—it does seem pretty reasonable to ask, “Okay, this is why I’m not comfortable with school. I can see how curriculum won’t be helpful for us.”
It seems reasonable to ask next, “How do homeschooled and unschooled kids turn out?” Because then we’re starting to worry, “Is this going to be a disservice to my child if I don’t do all these things that seem to be so necessary in conventional society?” When you explored that question, what did you find?
JEN: Yeah. And I think the subtext of your question is, “Can my child get into college if they’re unschooled?”
JEN: And I think so many people worry about that. Actually, when I started talking to friends about homeschooling and unschooling, they would ask me the same questions over and over again. And so that’s why I created the course on helping parents decide if homeschooling is right for their families, because it seemed as though everybody’s asking the same question—we can systematize the process of answering these questions.
So in terms of how children come out, yeah, I looked to the research literature, which is what I always do when I want to understand a question. And it’s not an easy question to answer, because there’s no database of homeschoolers. So it’s really hard to answer it in an empirical way and say, “X percentage of homeschoolers are going to do this, compared to Y percentage of children who attend regular school.”
What I can say about it is that homeschooling is not a guarantee that your child is going to come out great. But, neither is school. So, unfortunately, there are no guarantees in child rearing or in education. And so, as a parent, you can deliberately shield your child and reduce their socialization and only expose them to certain ideas, if you want to. If that’s how you approach life and learning.
But I think as a parent, if you’re making a concerted effort to expose them to new ideas and different viewpoints and not just accept the text book answer, then not only do they learn the answer, but they learn how to learn. Not just the answer to the question. And to me, I think that’s one of the key skills that’s missing in school education. It’s not just what is the answer, but how do I learn. And so, through homeschooling you’re in a much better position to help your children understand that.
And so to answer the deeper question—can they get into college? The answer is, of course, yes. And the closest research we have on that is done by Peter Gray—he surveyed unschoolers; and separately, Sudbury Valley surveyed its graduates. And I think both of them found that unschooled children, and Sudbury graduates—which are essentially unschooled children—do go to college, actually, at a higher rate than children who attend regular schools. But, many of them do not, and many of them take a very untraditional path, and many of them are perfectly content with that decision. And it’s not to say they have failed or dropped out. It’s more that they see a path right now that doesn’t include college. And at some point their path may include college. And that’s fine with them.
So I think, ultimately, what it comes down to is—is the parent okay with that? Because when you’re raised in conventional society, I think there’s a real—particularly in America where there’s not really a good ultimate path for children that don’t fit well into the college mold. I think England, where I’m from, does a much better job of providing an alternate vocational type path. And so, it makes children who don’t see themselves going to college feel, “I can still make a valuable contribution to society. I’m not a drop-out because I’m not going to college.” So yes, unschooled children can go to college. They also may not go to college. And they may be fine with that. And you need to be fine with that as well, as I fully know that you are.
PAM: Yeah. I mean, that’s the big piece. I think part of it, as you talked about, it’s redefining what you see as success, right?
PAM: If you think that’s the only way, and if school is the easiest most logical way to get there, then you kind of want to use that tool that’s going to get you to the place that you think your kids need to be.
But once you’ve gotten to this point, like through all the other questions, I think your definition of what you are hoping for your children as they grow up is going to change. When you don’t see as much value in school the way it is, and you’re valuing more your child’s real learning in the world. You don’t need it march-stepped.
And how valuable it is that it’s related to things that they’re interested in and things that they want to do. It becomes a life-long learning thing. You don’t see college has to be a step in learning. You know that they’re continuing to learn no matter what. And if the learning’s there, that they want to pursue, absolutely it’s a choice, and absolutely they can get in there, right?
JEN: Yeah. Yup, there’s nothing stopping homeschoolers going to college, for sure.
PAM: Exactly. That’s kind of the representative question.
JEN: Yeah. [laughter]
PAM: Okay let’s take a little bit of a step, because the research that you’ve done is awesome, and I love that aspect of it. I read a lot of non-fiction and research, et cetera.
Intellectually, understanding that research is great, and it’s a huge step in the process. But seeing it in action with your own child, in my experience anyway, really takes that understanding, that trust in the process of learning, to a whole new level. Have you found that?
JEN: Yeah. I think through the learning journal process, sure. I think the basis of my trust—I’m a pretty intellectual person. So for my perspective, reading the research, having an intellectual understanding of it is sort of the same as having trust. That’s just how it works for me, personally. I know it’s not the same for everybody.
And so I felt as though I had that already, and what going through this process of keeping the learning journal and understanding her questions and answering her questions, I guess is building on that.
But I know that’s not the case for everyone, and so that’s a real reason why I created the course. Because it helps people to go through all the aspects of that decision from a research perspective, but also from that trust perspective. “What do you see about your child’s learning right now?”
And I think you helped us to walk through, in the interview that you did, the mind-mapping process, where you can take something that appears to be an activity that a person can really not be learning much from, like video games, and understanding all the connections between that and between other things that they are learning about. And you see that even if you think they’re just messing about, or not really doing anything, or wasting their time on something, then actually there can be, and usually is, really valuable learning going on there.
So the course kind of walks you through how does that process work? How do you figure out if it’s legal in your area? How do you choose a curriculum, and then I sort of skirt past that and say, “But do you really need a curriculum?”
PAM: “Well, by the way, you might consider …” [laughter]
JEN: Yes, it’s possible that you may find that this alternate approach could work for you. And yes, and how do children turn out at the end of it.
If your listeners are interested in learning more about that, if they go to YourHomeschoolingMojo.com, there’s a free seven-question quiz that you can take, and it returns personalized responses to you via email. So, it’s not just a canned, ‘here’s one thing you could do to make yourself ready.’ It’s more of a, ‘here’s how many children you have, so what does that mean for your readiness,’ ‘what kinds of things are you anticipating being struggles, well here’s some potential ways that you can address that.’
So that’s a resource that I created for other parents to walk them through this process of making that decision. And so for my perspective, I think the biggest issue in terms of trust, that I have, you know I see the curiosity in my daughter, I believe that we’re going to be able to support her learning.
The issue for me is believing that resources are going to be available. Because in the homeschooling / unschooling worlds, things change a lot. And something that’s there one day shuts down the next day. And you might get your heart set on sending them to some resource center that is totally designed to help unschoolers find and develop their passions, and now all of a sudden you hear on the grapevine that their website is still active but it actually closed. And so, not getting your heart set on those, but trusting that something will be there, and if it’s not there, then you’re probably going to be building something, is, I think, the part that’s most difficult for me right now.
PAM: Ahhh, ohhh, that’s really interesting.
So, as you had that trust through the research that you did, when you’re seeing it play out with your daughter, is that kind of more validation for you?
JEN: Yeah, it really is.
Because you always think, “What are they going to do all day? They’re just going to sit and not do anything?” And then you realize that they’re not. That yeah, they have moments where they say, “Mom! I’m bored.” And you say, “Well, it’s not my job to entertain you, you can go figure out something to do then.” Because I believe in the value of that process. It’s not that I can’t be bothered to go and help her with something. It’s that the process of being bored and thinking through what your options are, and sometimes it’s just the option is lying on the couch. I actually see that she is exactly like me in that regard, because she wants to do something. I can’t sit still for a minute. (laughs)
I’m usually doing two, or sometimes three things at once, and she wants to be doing those things as well. So I always make sure to offer the option, “You know, if you want to, all you need to do is sit on the couch. That’s perfectly fine to do that right now.” But she wants to be doing something, learning something, and so yeah, I absolutely trust that as long as I don’t get in the way, as long as nothing else like school gets in the way, that that process is going to continue. I believe that and I trust that.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. I love your point about being careful not to get fixated on resources. It’s part of the expectations too, what you hope your child will maybe become interested in or want to do—it’s part of the same question.
And I know, yeah, I started a conference for a few years because there was nothing kind of in the area and I wanted to try and make some connections with local people. And I know lots of people who just started up groups even in their home. “Let’s have a game afternoon and just invite people over.” Whatever they’re interested in, whether it’s Nerf wars in the park, or whatever. Absolutely, that piece to feel comfortable knowing that, ‘You know what? Even if what my child is looking for isn’t out there, or I don’t see it, I can ask around.’
JEN: I can make it.
PAM: I can make it. And you know what? You’re doing that with your child too, and your child sees that proactivity and it’s just a good way to approach life. No matter what. Even for ourselves.
PAM: Okay, so, now, let’s move to your ultimate decision, as you mentioned, to not send your daughter to school. You said she’s four. As she approaches compulsory school age. And you plan to embrace unschooling.
I was really curious if there was like a final question or a light-bulb moment that kind of tipped the scales for you—okay, absolutely, this is what we’re going to do? Or whether, as you talked about, whether it was an accumulation of that research and thinking about that research that you did that kind of convinced you to choose this path?
JEN: For me it was definitely the accumulation of the research, and that each time I had a question—you know, the socialization, the legal aspects, the “how do they turn out”—the question was answered in a favorable way, that yes, this is a potential path forward.
And so, she’s in preschool right now because it is a child-led learning program, and if the rest of school was like that I would let her go to school. But it’s not, and so I’m using these two years to set up our lives in a way that will allow me to spend a lot of time with her, and unschool.
And so I think that was the process for me.
The process for my husband’s side, I think, was a little different, just because of his personality. And so when I was starting in the convincing process, I would ask him if he liked school, and he would say, “Yeah! I loved school.” And I would say, “Well, what did you like about school?” “Recess.” [laughter]
And I said, “Okay…” And so, you know, he’s a bit more of a social person than I am, and he enjoys being around other people, and so he was finding it hard to imagine the idea that we would be sitting in the house all day every day, and I don’t know if he envisions flash cards in the picture or not, or worksheets, or whatever.
But he definitely didn’t have the full picture of what it means to be an unschooler and the fact that you use resources in the community, you create resources in the community. And so, having been with him for a while now, I know how to change his mind on things, and it’s really a process of sort of steeping him in the knowledge and when something comes up related to school I would say, “Well, but if school did this then it wouldn’t be like that.” And so he hears me explain it to other people, and we talk about it, and then I know it’s clicked when I hear him explaining it to somebody else. And I’m like, “Okay, we’re doing this now.”
PAM: I love that point though, it’s so important to understand how our spouse or partner, how they think, how they like to learn, how they like to bring in information when they’re learning about something. And, like you said, knowing how to give that information to him, the kinds of questions that he responds to, that’s so important.
JEN: Yeah, it really is.
And I actually think he had a big a-ha moment last night. It was our back to school night of preschool, and the teachers are kind of explaining what the different areas in the classrooms are for. And I usually go to those things, actually. But he went for the first time last night, so he hadn’t heard the pitch before.
And he’s listening to, you know, “Block play does this for their social-emotional,” and, “They do this when they’re learning how to write,” and, “These are the processes their minds go through,” and he’s thinking, “Jen already knows this stuff, doesn’t she? Wait. My home is like a preschool.”
He came home and Carys asked him, “How was parent-teacher night?” He said, “I learned that my home is a preschool.”
And I said, “I can’t wait to hear more.”
And so I think he now realizes that I have the understanding and the knowledge because I’ve done the research on this to make it work. And he wouldn’t mind if she went to school, if it turned out that that was the only option. He would be okay with that.
But he is willing to let us try this thing. And I am incredibly excited to see where this adventure takes us.
PAM: Oh, that is awesome. Can you speak a little bit—because, like you said, for the last couple of years now you’ve been preparing to do this.
Do you want to share a little bit about that journey? Because I bet a lot of people are curious and want to get themselves set up as well.
It wasn’t a linear process, let’s just say. It was a process of understanding what are my skills. Not just what commoditized, “what can I do,” but what unique skills do I have and how can I share those with the world?
And I know you’re interested in learning more about my podcast as well, and so I started that a couple of years ago. It’s called Your Parenting Mojo, and I started it when I was doing the Master’s in Psychology, to share what I was learning with others, basically, with no expectation of where it would go, or how it would impact my life.
And so, what I realized was, I’m really good at this research. I’m really good at sharing it with other people in a way that they can understand and digest. And people want this. There are so many resources on parenting where it’s just some study has been released and somebody writes a click-bait article about it that tries to tell you that there’s something wrong with your child, and there’s no analysis of how that fits in to the body of research, and should we shift our parenting approach based on this new study or is it in complete contradiction to what 20 years of research tells us about.
And so that’s kind of the service that I provide, and there’s a real appetite for it. What I realized is, this is something that I can potentially monetize. And so I’ve developed a couple of courses based on the research that I’ve done.
In the course to help parents figure out if homeschooling is right for them. And then I actually did another course for parents—because a lot of parents, when I talk to them about the homeschooling course would say, “That’s great, that sounds amazing. I can’t homeschool. We can’t quit our job. I’m invested in the school system for whatever reason.”
And I said, “Okay, are there things that parents who are committed to school can do to support their children’s learning? Are there things parents can do at home to try and not get the intrinsic motivation to learn squashed out of them, which school does so efficiently and effectively?” And yes, it turns out there are a lot of things that parents can do in that regard. And so I created a separate course for that.
And now I’m in the process of launching a membership group, because I surveyed my listeners, just like you surveyed yours, and it turns out they love the research but they’re struggling to apply it in their daily lives. And so, what the membership group will do is to say, “Okay, here’s what the research says. You listened to the podcast already, we’re not going to rehash it. But here are some things to think through, and here are some ways that you can apply that research.
And then, let’s get on a call and talk about it. Let’s talk about what problems you’re having, and then you go away for a couple of weeks and practice it, and then we’ll come back again, and we’ll talk about it, and we’ll fine tune. And at the end of this month, you’ll have a solid plan for how you deal with tantrums. And the incidence of tantrums that you see is going to be greatly reduced.” And so, people are willing to pay for that.
And so I’m creating this suite of offerings to parents based on my capabilities, my core skill set, that parents really find useful.
I think that’s a long way of saying to parents who are at the beginning of this journey, don’t just think about what commoditized work can I do. Yes, you can tutor children in China for $20 an hour on Zoom at five in the morning, if you want to help them improve their English. That’s available. That’s an option.
But what unique skills do you bring that can command a premium in the marketplace, that someone will really value, and how do you bring those to the world? From my perspective, starting the podcast—I really started it because I have learned, through living and learning as you do when you live, not because anyone taught me or because it was on a curriculum—if you put an intention out in the world, things will happen. And it’s not a Berkeley woo thing. If nobody knows that you’re interested in this stuff, then how can anyone help you? How can you figure out what value you can bring to the world?
And so I don’t charge for the podcast. I don’t plan to charge for the podcast. It’s a free resource available for everyone, just like yours is as well. But the connections that you make, and the people that you meet, and the things that you learn through doing that, you realize can form the foundation of something that’s much bigger.
And so I would encourage listeners to think through, “What are those unique skills and talents that I have? And how can I bring those to the world in a way that I can monetize that doesn’t require me to be at a place, at a time, on a consistent basis that can enable me to have this homeschooling unschooling lifestyle, and have my own thing that I’m passionate about and that makes money as well?”
PAM: Yeah, no. I love that. And it’s not woo-woo.
PAM: Having that out there, number one, you know, like how we connected, right? My podcast was out there…
JEN: Yeah, I wouldn’t have found you. That’s how I found you. Yeah. If you had not had that, I wouldn’t have found you. For sure.
PAM: Exactly. And the other thing it does, too, for ourselves, I think, is bring it to our top of mind. So that we see those connections out there. Like, you know, it was—you knew of my podcast, et cetera, but it was when you were thinking about the course and stuff, that connection came to you. Right?
PAM: Because you were thinking about that. And I have found that so many times with myself, too. When I’m thinking about something, wanting to do it, and now it’s top of mind. I’m talking about it more. And then all of a sudden, you see so many connections around you, and things that you can do. But not until you’ve brought it up and keeping it at the top of mind.
JEN: You’re focused on it. Yeah. And spend time on it, thinking about it, making it forefront in terms of doing research on a topic right now, but also just kind of having it there in your brain.
PAM: Letting our subconscious bubble away on those connections, right?
JEN: Yeah, exactly.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing how the brain works, basically, right?
JEN: It is, yes.
Once we learn to work with it and not tell it, “We must go this way where everything is linear.” Because everything is not linear. You don’t learn X so you can learn Y so you can learn Z. You learn as much as you need, you backtrack, you forget something, you relearn it, you make a connection that wasn’t there before because you didn’t know this person before. It would have been helpful five weeks ago, but you know it now, and now you push something forward and yeah, that’s life, right? We unschool to learn for life.
PAM: That’s how learning really works, right? It’s not—it jumps and it’s little steps and it’s hitting the wall and it’s going a different direction. It’s not step by step by step following that curriculum. [laughter]
And thank you for mentioning your podcast and how that came about. I will have links to all your stuff in the show notes for people.
I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Jen. It was a lot of fun!
JEN: Likewise. I’m so glad we were able to make this happen.
PAM: It was awesome.
And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
JEN: Yeah, the best place to reach everything that I do is at YourParentingMojo.com, which is the home of the podcast.
Pretty soon there’s going to be information up there on the membership group, if that’s of any interest, if you have parents who have younger children and they’re interested in how do I use scientific research and apply it to my relationship with my children in a respectful and child-led way. That’s going to be at YourParentingMojo.com/membership.
If you get podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher, that’s a good place to find it as well.
And if you’re interested in making the decision to homeschool and kind of having someone walk you through all aspects of that decision, that seven-question quiz to assess your readiness and also a whole bunch of information about the course is at YourHomeschoolingMojo.com.
PAM: That’s awesome. Thanks so much, Jen. Have a great day!
JEN: Thanks, Pam. It was a pleasure.