For this compilation episode, I gathered clips from twelve different episodes/guests where I asked some version of this question: “What has surprised you most so far about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?”
EU036, Lauren Seaver
PAM: We might have touched on this, but was has surprised you most about your journey so far?
LAUREN: For me especially, I come from that teaching background, and the biggest surprise for me about unschooling has been that unschooling is not really about learning. It’s not about education, and I mean that in a respectful way. I don’t mean to belittle the learning that River is doing and that I’m doing with our lives—we are learning so much more than I ever imagined we would learn—but it feels totally secondary: like a benefit that occurs along the way. To me unschooling is about living and about joy and about our relationships like you said before and that has been the biggest surprise for me.
When I was coming into it, I thought, “Oh this is how we are going to learn the things he needs to learn, just like he would have at school.” But instead, it’s “No, this is just our life and this is how we enjoy living.”
I was in a Facebook conversation with Anne Ohman and she wrote in a comment: “The Learning is a by-product of the Living.” And I was like “Yes, that’s exactly it!”
Just by living these wonderful, exciting lives—and you know we have our own issues and struggles at times, but living through all of life—we are learning so much. But that’s just a piece of it. It’s so beautiful and it’s so wonderful and it’s so rich and it’s so much about just us celebrating being together and our lives together and what we love. It’s about so much more than learning. That was a surprise to me.
PAM: Yeah, first we think of learning as the lowest common denominator. That’s why we go to school. For the learning, it’s for the learning. Yet once we start living it and seeing it in the wild, maybe you see there is actually more. There are roots to learning. There is a foundation of living and relationships and connecting and trust and everything that lies in the foundation beneath the learning. So instead of focusing on the learning, when we focus on creating that strong foundation, the learning is the by-product that just kind of bubbles up out of it.
LAUREN: It is so beautiful and I would never diminish the importance of that learning but it’s, like you said, the relationships. I’m just in awe of how close we are. It’s something I take for granted now, almost, how close we are. But it’s the by-product of unschooling and living this life. It’s so awesome! It’s so much more awesomer than I thought, and I already thought it would be awesome. (both laugh)
PAM: It’s awesomER!
LAUREN: It’s awesomer than I thought it would be, which is so great!
EU051, Luminara King
PAM: What has surprised you most about your unschooling journey so far?
LUMINARA: I love this question. This is a really good question. I thought about this. I think this relates to what we were just talking about, actually. I’m just amazed at how much our children are learning, considering they’ve been left alone. I find it astounding. And I see it in other children as well. They find how if they are left alone, they are, how resourceful they are, how fascinated they are in the world, their curiosity. I mean, it’s just never ending. They can go out there themselves, and they can find what they want. Again, because of technology, that’s really helpful. But it never stops. It just kind of constantly from one thing to the next thing, it all just rolls into one. I find that really fantastic to just stand and watch that unfold.
PAM: I know, It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s amazing, when you are not on top of them, controlling. Carlo Ricci uses a phrase, “children are capable,” and we don’t see that until we give them the space to be capable, to do things. To make some choices and to actually do things, and it is just brilliantly amazing how capable they really are when they are given the opportunity, isn’t it?
EU067, Anna Black
PAM: I’m curious. What has surprised you most about your journey so far?
ANNA: I made a little note here, and I just put, that it’s worked. (laughs)
I mean, I know my kids are still young, but they really do learn to read without being taught. They really are lovely people, I think, much, much better people than I am. The idea that, as imperfectly as I managed to do it, allowing them and supporting them to develop into who they are is working. They’re confident. They’re happy.
They’ve got fantastic relationships with each other and with both of us. They’re very different, the two of them, but they get along. They just adore each other, and they’re really connected and protective. They argue sometimes, but nothing like what I see some siblings, and with how different they are personality, I think that could easily have happened if they had had the separation of school. That’s something I’m really grateful for. So, yeah, I think how it really does work and it’s—I don’t know if it’s easy. It’s hard to quantify.
PAM: It is. I just, I loved that response, because when you first hear about it and you first hear about the lifestyle and other unschooling kids and everything, you go, “Wow. Is that even possible?” There’s that first trust. “Okay, I’m going to give it a try.” Then, “Wow! It does work!”
ANNA: Yeah. We’ve still got a long, we’ve still got many years ahead of us.
PAM: You’ve got that foundation.
ANNA: Yeah, yeah. They’re such amazing people. I’m glad I get to spend lots of time with them.
PAM: On that “easy” piece, I guess it all depends on whether you consider it work.
For me, I think of it as easy, as in, I’m always engaged with another person. So, it’s not me trying to figure stuff out on my own. So, in that way, it’s easy because I’m in relationship with them and I’m connected with them. We’re all figuring stuff out together. Like you said, they’re pretty brilliant. They have great ideas. It’s always a give and take and we’re in this together. I’m never all alone trying to figure stuff out, which seems harder.
If you’re expecting for your kids to tie their shoes and do that all on their own, and that from the moment they’re born, the whole point of being their parent is to get them to need you less and less and less. That could be hard, if that’s your goal, but when you drop that need and just connect with them and be with them, it’s pretty amazing and not so hard. It’s just time, but it’s time you’re choosing. That’s what you’re choosing to do with your time.
ANNA: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I don’t know. I have plenty of friends who have kids at school, and that doesn’t look any easier to me. It looks a lot harder in many ways.
PAM: Yep. Because you’re trying to get people to do things that they don’t want to do, even the parents. The parents don’t want to be standing over making sure the homework’s done. So much of it isn’t fun for anyone involved. At least we’re having fun with the things that we’re choosing to do, right?
ANNA: Yeah. That’s right.
PAM: That’s so cool.
EU093, Robert Gottlieb
PAM: What has surprised you most so far about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
ROBERT: Well, looking back it’s not surprising now. But, at the time, even though I was confident starting out, I wasn’t quite sure how all this was going to work, right? (laughs) It’s like this is all uncharted territory. Not completely uncharted, but as we’ve moved along in time, there’s more and more people unschooling.
But at the beginning, and same for you as you’ve mentioned, there were very few people doing it. Or it felt like there were a lot less than maybe there were, because we weren’t communicating as well as we are now, computer, social media and so forth.
But I think the big surprise for me was watching them grow and develop and my daughter asking me out of the blue all these different things.
Like the math problems I was talking about. But also, her ability to take context in English—our language is not one of the easiest ones to learn. And she’s never been officially taught anything about English; reading, writing, nothing. Well, writing—she actually asked us to learn how to write her letters, even though we’re all typers. But she did that. But as far as reading goes, she did that because of all of her online forums that she participated in, or the role playing, or whatever. And kids would correct her grammar along the way.
So, it’s kind of neat how that all just organically worked. But I think that was one part of the surprise.
The other was just her ability to put together concepts that I thought would take more—not that she wouldn’t ever be able to learn them, but that it would be later on, or it would be with help from me or my wife. But there’s just things that she comes up with, ideas of what she wants to do, or looking at the world around her and correctly assessing it. Just stuff like that, that I didn’t know she would even be paying attention to. I think that kind of surprised me.
PAM: That’s such a fascinating piece, isn’t it? Because we still have expectations on what we think kids can do, and we realize the value of having a human relationship with them. Not a power-based adult/child relationship.
But yeah, when you see what they’re capable of, just in thinking. Not even just capable in the things they can do but in the thinking that they can do, and the creative connections and the way they can see the world. It just kind of blows your socks off, doesn’t it? (laughs)
ROBERT: Oh, yeah. And the typical thing of most parents is to have this golden path laid out for their kids. They’re going to learn this, they’re going to learn that, they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that. And there’s all these things. And even as I talked about earlier how they’re dabbling in a bunch of different things, the big mistake that I would get into here and there—I learned not to now—is, “Oh, she’s going to be a ______.” You know, whatever. And fortunately, I never opened my mouth and said anything to her about it, but the thoughts were there, and that can cause problems if you’re not careful about it. So, the key is: she’s going to be a human being, and she’s going to be a happy human being that knows how to learn. That’s really all that matters.
PAM: Yeah, there you go! (laughs) That’s where the value is, right?
PAM: It’s amazing.
EU101, Heather Lake
PAM: I was wondering what has surprised you the most about your journey so far?
HEATHER: A few things come to mind.
I am surprised at how much we love it and how much it’s added to our family. When you take an unconventional choice like this, it’s kind of like jumping off a cliff and you’re like, “Mm-hmm, I really hope we like this, and I really hope it goes well for us.”
And it’s been really amazing, to just let go and see where their interests are. And we’ve just loved it so much. And how quickly they’ve regained so much of their curiosity and them seeking out information from the world around them. I think it’s been surprising to see how much learning they totally do on their own. It’s like, you read it in theory, especially when you’re starting out—the kids will learn from the world around them—but it surprised me to actually see them learning totally on their own, with no direction or force; no force at all. I mean I knew it was supposed to happen but to actually see it happen, it’s amazing.
I have two stories I can think of on that.
My daughter Hattie, who’s six, she had gone to kindergarten and she had told me very specifically that she wasn’t good at math. And that was in kindergarten. She felt like she wasn’t good at that. And that really kind of broke my heart. I thought, “Oh gosh, how has she already gotten that message, that she’s not good at something, when she’s six?” But she was playing with those little story cubes that kids have—they have different pictures on them, and they can toss them around and make different stories with the pictures—she was playing with some of those and I was watching her playing with those.
She had them all in a row and she just was looking at them. And she just looked at me and she said, “Do you know that if I take two away from seven, that there would be five?” And she just looked at me with such curiosity about that. And it was such a beautiful moment for me. Because anyone can help a kid memorize what seven minus two is—I mean do drills on that all day. But to just see her little brain was just working on story cubes, to be like, you can see that concept was entering into her head. I love that it’s not memorization that you can just forget later on—that it’s the actual concept of numbers. And I just thought that was so beautiful.
And then we were with our people that we go to the woods with every week—we went on a hike the other day. And the kids had run up ahead of us, and they had come to a sign. And these kids were all six or seven, they’re all unschoolers. They were feeling the sign and feeling the letters on the sign. I came up after them and I said, “Okay, does anyone know what this sign says?” Because I didn’t know who could read and who couldn’t read. And none of the kids knew how to read. They said, “No, what does the sign say?” And so, I kind of put my finger underneath the words and I said, “It says ‘No Access Allowed Beyond This Point.’” And one of the kids said, “Oh so that means we can’t go this way.” And I said, “Yup!” And he said, “Okay.”
So, this little herd of kids takes off and they go running down another trail, and they climb up to the top of this hill, and I’m kind of right behind them. And it got to a fork in the road and the right-hand way had that sign again. And so, one of the kids looked at the sign and he said, “That says ‘No Access Beyond This Point.’” And it was like, just seeing them, how meaningful that was—reading to them was helping them on their hike. No one was forcing them to learn, or forcing them to learn how to read, but that was meaningful to them on that day, and they were just picking it up and starting to recognize letters and words. It just made me smile. I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is what we’re going for.”
So even though, like I said, you hear in theory that kids learn, it surprised me how much they do, just every day, learn totally on their own. With no one forcing them to do it.
And I think I’ve been surprised, too, with myself. Our paradigm has really shifted to where my husband and I are learning with the kids. I have learned so much this last year. I remember right at the very, very beginning of unschooling—I think we were cooking, and you know everyone always talks about cooking as a great way to incorporate real life math—and I think we were needing to add some fractions together. And I had this panic moment of, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to add these fractions together!” And my heart’s racing. And then it was like, “Okay, well that’s okay. I can learn with them. I don’t have to have all the answers.” But I think that’s kind of a school mindset that I still had, that whatever you know when you graduate from high school or graduate from college, your learning is now done. If you forget, or if you didn’t pick something up, then, well, you’re never going to know it.
So, it was like, “Okay, that’s okay that I don’t know how to do that. We’re going to sit down together and we’ll figure it out together.”
And just, oh my gosh, with so much stuff, the paradigm isn’t, “I’m up here and the kids are down here, and I know so much and you know so little.” It’s like they know a lot more—I mean Gavin knows a lot more about making movies than I do. They each have things that they’re so knowledgeable about.
Hattie—my six-year-old—she loves animals and she wants to be a veterinarian. And so, we’d seen something on TV about doing stitches—they were showing a vet doing stitches on an animal—and she said, “I want to learn how to do stitches.” I’m like, “Hmm, okay.” So, I just got on Amazon, and you can buy little suture kits on Amazon for very cheap. We ordered these suture kits, watched some YouTube videos together, and we got bananas—and you actually make a little slice in the banana—and we learned how to do suturing together. So, here’s my six-year-old suturing bananas on the kitchen counter. And we’re just learning together.
And it just surprised me how wonderful it’s really been for our family, and how much they’ve learned.
EU105, Nick Hess
PAM: What has surprised you most so far about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
NICK: The most surprising thing would be how children teach us.
At first, I did not realize, when you are open and you have an open relationship with your children and you have a good relationship with your children, and you are your children’s friends—I mean, our children are our best friends—they truly teach you about everything.
There are some things that my son will come up to me and talk to me about something in World War II and he is only 11 and it’s like, “Oh wow, thank you for that information.” The knowledge they have, overall it is just amazing; just the facts and the things that they know. Truly I don’t believe that if my children were in school … the art, the creativity they have, I think it would be stifled. Because they would have to come home and do homework and then we would have to constantly be on them. The whole thing just allows them to be creative and let everything flow; just natural living.
PAM: I love that idea of flow, that is something that I was totally surprised by. Because before that, so much of our day is scheduled and organized and you think that being hands off and not having that schedule, you just kind of assume you will just sit around and do nothing unless we plan it, but that is so wrong.
NICK: Yes, definitely.
PAM: And you are right about how much they teach us, because once you are on equal footing as people, as human beings, and everybody is just sharing what they find interesting with each other, it is amazing all of the bits and pieces that they pick up and it is so lovely when you can say, “Thank you, I didn’t know that.” And that happens so often, doesn’t it?
NICK: Every day. Every day is something new, every day is truly about freedom to allow them to access things. To really access technology, to access the information on the internet. My younger kids; the little ones do not know how to read but they can talk to google and ask the little tablet anything they want in the world and that information is at your finger tips.
That is the amazing part, when they are curious about something like the election, we don’t really talk about politics, but they will come up to us and talk about politics or just a million things that you would not even think little kids would talk about, but that freedom and that flow is just so magical. Kids are interested in things, they are interested in the world, they are interested about a lot of things, and when you give them that freedom to explore the world, what it truly is, they explore and they learn and it is truly magical.
PAM: I love that word, magical, because it does seem like that, doesn’t it?
EU110, Alan Marshall
PAM: What has surprised you the most so far about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
ALAN: Well, there have been a lot of common surprises as far as how things are for the children. Learning things in ways that my wife and I grew up believing sort of tacitly, aren’t possible. Like learning to read in a week.
With our oldest daughter, something that was really surprising for me, even after doing research and understanding the principles behind it, the fact that my daughter just decided to set her own bedtime at a very early age, without being coerced or told or even had it mentioned to her, really, as I pointed to before, was just not on the list of possibilities. But starting at about age seven-ish, seven or eight or so, she just decided that she wanted to go to bed about nine o’clock every night and to wake up at about six in the morning every morning, and that’s what she still does all the time today.
The common point of view is that that’s really not possible, that if you let somebody, or a child, stay up as long as they want, they will just stay up late all the time, for their entire life, and then sleep in, unless they’re given a reason not to. But for some people, maybe that’s true, but for her, she prefers to go to bed early and to wake up early.
There were some humorous times that we had early on that we would ask if she would be willing to stay up a little later so that we wouldn’t need get up quite so early in the morning, back when we would need to get up with her to be safe, and you had the inconvenience of needing to get up at six in the morning with her, either my wife or I, because that’s what she preferred.
PAM: It’s so fun to see how they explore just all their choices, right? All their options and find what is unique to them. I always love hearing about all of the individual kids, because they’ve all hit on things that, like you said, totally unexpected, but they work so well for the individual, don’t they?
ALAN: Yeah. And it ended up working great for what she prefers to do and her priorities. It works perfectly for her. I’m kind of a night owl, so it doesn’t always work perfectly for me. We work that out.
You had asked what was surprising. Something else I think is surprising and continues to kind of surprise me is kind of how deep school-ish thinking and school-ish thoughts kind of run, for us as the parents. About the time that I think I really understand and really have it all down and feel like I know how unschooling should work—and it is good that I have some confidence having done it for a long time—but I always discover a new schoolish thought, or hear my father speaking, hear my father’s words coming out of my mouth, inadvertently, and have to rededicate myself to thinking differently and to doing things differently.
Again, you know, intellectually I knew that that would probably be the case, from having thought about it and read about it for a long time. But then something like that will happen and it’s a surprise, like, “Yes, indeed, it’s ingrained in me!”
PAM: That’s such a great point! Exactly, you don’t realize it. It’s buried really deep inside, and then things happen and all of the sudden it’s been chipped free and out it pops. Like you said, I know, you can realize it intellectually, but I think something that’s been helpful is to also be nice to myself when that happens, you know what I mean? You need to work on it and everything, but not beat yourself up. Because that gets in the way of moving through it, doesn’t it? That just adds yet another layer you have to work through.
ALAN: Oh yeah, absolutely. I don’t think it’s really helpful to feel like it’s not a big deal, like “All parents are like that. It’s just the way it’s meant to be.” That’s not good. But also, it’s not good to be so down on yourself that you made a mistake, that you don’t have the emotional ability to correct the mistake, to do better next time.
PAM: Yeah. You’re not like throwing up your hands, “I can’t do any better and this is just the way it is, right? Like you said, it’s amazing what you can find down there that’s like ‘WOW!’
ALAN: My oldest is 14, so puberty and the teenage years have recently brought out some of those surprising “Oh yes, here’s my dad, coming out.”
PAM: I know. And it’s true that as they reach different milestones, different ages, you just reach things that, in the context of unschooling, just haven’t come up before. Even as young adults, there’s so many conventional messages that we’ve grown up with that we all encounter along the way.
EU127, Ann Rousseau
PAM: I was curious, what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded for you guys?
ANN: I think for me, at this point in my journey, what I have been surprised about the most was how much I had to let go and then how much I had to also insert back in. Once I let go, there was also places that it was okay for me to get—I was almost afraid at a certain point to mess it up and insert myself too much. And what’s surprised me at this point is how I have inserted myself with my children—as partners with my children—and it’s sort of like I stepped way, way, way back, and then as I come back in I can do it with more partnership, or equality, or understanding, of, “Okay, now I really see you. I really see that you’ve got this goal, and I can come in and help you with this.”
My oldest son—I don’t know if he’s dyslexic, so we never would have had a diagnosis at all—but he has what I would think is dyslexia. Certainly, my brother did and my father did, and it runs in my family. And reading just was not coming easy to him. It just wasn’t coming easy. And here he was 11, and then 12, and it just wasn’t coming for him. And I had sort of, was like, “I’m hands off. I don’t know. I’m hands off.” And then he came to me and he was like, “I really want to try and figure this out.” And we found this program that was brilliant. I don’t know what they did, but I had never heard of anything like that before. They used these pictographs that represented sounds, and it just helped him decode in a way that was smooth and easy and comprehensible. And it’s something that I would have been, in the early years, like, “You’re going to have to do this, and blahblahblah, this is my idea.” And I had dropped all of that and I was like, “Okay, somehow, some way, by the time he’s 18, he’s going to read.” It was one of my big fears around unschooling.
And then, as we both approached the problem together, and I was able to research and find this program, and then he was able to put his mind and desire into doing that, then we came together in partnership, and it just started sort of magically unfolding for him. And that was one of my huge fears, was, “How are we going to get something to happen like that, if it doesn’t seem like it’s happening naturally or easily?” And it helped me look at reading with the other kids and realize that it doesn’t have to be absolutely completely hands off. If you look at what they are wanting and then supplement that with what you know, as a partnership, not as a dictator. And so, with the other boys I’ve been able to look at their style of wanting to learn to read differently, and support them in this easy and loving way, where always before it was me just being afraid. Like, “I don’t know if this is ever going to happen, arrrrrrggghhh, what do you mean you don’t remember what MM is?!?” (laughter)
You know, it was just so much fear on my part. And so, for me to come in at it like, I don’t need to be afraid. I need to be open to seeing what is right in front of me. What is the truth here, really? And the truth here, really, is that we can come together and be partners and solve a lot of problems and meet a lot of goals together. And keep fear aside. Put it on the table.
PAM: I love that. And you know, that ties back to that question we were talking about earlier too, right, about fears. So often when we’re fearful of something, we pull back from it, right?
PAM: Like you were saying.
And especially if we think, when we’re seeing things—as we do at the beginning—as hands-off, right? Because we need to get to that point because at first we thought hands-on, we should be directing everything.
So, to stop that, we pull back, right? We don’t know what we’re replacing that with yet. We’re like, “Okay, I know I’m not doing that. I know I’m not going to be directing them, and putting them through my paces to meet my expectations.”
I think that’s also a time when we’re learning a lot about unschooling and we’re more watching our kids than directing them. And I think what starts to develop there—because we react when they come to us, and we help them, and we support them—but I think what’s building in there is trust…
ANN: Aw, yeah.
PAM: …between us, right?
PAM: And with that trust, then we realize that’s when we can come back, right? Because when they trust us fully and completely, that’s when we can be partners.
ANN: Yes, I don’t know, this is hitting me, like this is a big, big, big deal.
ANN: And it’s not just in unschooling but in close relationships.
ANN: You know? So, there’s a huge coming around of trusting. Trusting. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah, and then, when you’re partners, then you’re just working with them. You’re just trying to help them meet their goals. And if it’s, “You know, I really want to figure out how to read if we can try and find something,” you know what I mean, if we can find a way. It doesn’t have to be some “thing.” Sometimes I know with my kids it was, you know, stages where we spent more time playing reading kinds of games and noticing reading words. It was just a time when we paid more attention to it in our lives, right?
PAM: But there are other things where there’s more other kinds of formal supports. You know, outside help, whatever it is. But, again, it’s completely different because it’s not us imposing it. It’s us saying, “Hey, I found this. There’s this possibility if you want to pursue it,” and we bring the knowledge that we have as much as we know about it, and then we can explore it with them, and have these conversations to see if it connects, if they’re engaged, if they want to keep going. And them approaching it and using it the way they want to, right? Like you said, he was so engaged with it and enjoying it. And maybe he didn’t and then you moved on to something else, but we’re never taking agency away from them, or control. But then more hands on, helping.
ANN: Right. Yeah.
Before, for me, it was like I was inserting my expectations, even though I didn’t want to. That was just my sort of mode of operation or old family pattern of, ‘How do you become a mother? How do you do this? You insert expectations and then show them how they’re not meeting those expectations.’ (laughs)
Which feels horrible in relationship. Nobody likes that. And nobody really likes being told what to do, to be honest. When somebody—even when I’m like, “Oh I don’t feel so good,” and then one of my kids even, or my husband is like, “Well, you know, you could do this or this or this.” I’m kind of like, “I just want to feel bad for a second. I don’t want to know how to fix this.”
PAM: Yeah, yeah, I just want to share that. I don’t need directions. I’ve gotten to a point sometimes with my husband or whatever, it’s like, “You know, I want to share something, but I don’t need help fixing it. I’ll fix it after.”
ANN: That’s really good.
PAM: Can you just listen? And he’s like, “Sure, go for it.”
ANN: Really good.
PAM: But it takes a while to get to that point, to realize that that’s something that happens and that you don’t like it, so it’s realizing what we want out of the moment. Because that’s part of connecting, too, with another person, right?
With my kids sometimes I’ll be like, “Well you could do this.” [They’ll say] “I don’t want to hear that right now.” And that’s something that when, if we’re out and about and more conventional parents hear that, they think that is a kid “talking back” to their parent or whatever. You know, and that’s something bad. But no. Because then you see where they are, right? When they’re sharing what they want and don’t want, or need and don’t need, in that moment, that’s more great information for us to help them in that moment. It’s not about control.
ANN: Yeah, and to go right into problem solving takes away that space that I was talking about before of letting some of the feelings arise inside of a space of discomfort, of unknowing, uncertainty. Of just that open space of questioning, it’s so valuable.
And I know myself as a mother it’s so easy for me in my fear to take that space away, say, “I don’t ever want you to feel that uncertainty. You want to know what some solutions are? Or how do you want me to help?” But like you said, this is brilliant. If I would just go in and say, “Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to help you problem solve right now? Which is most useful for you?” Is beautiful.
PAM: Yeah. That is such a great point about that space, because, like you were talking about how you don’t want your kid, your child, to feel sad, upset. You don’t want them in that space, right? And you don’t want to leave them there if they’re trying to get out. But there’s so much value in learning about being in that space. Because they’re going to be there. So, to be able to support their experience of it while they’re younger and you’re there to help them process through it, because it’s going to happen. It happens to—it’s life. There are going to be these moments, and to be able to be there to support them through it, and just to sit with them. Like often support is just sitting beside them.
ANN: Yeah, and you can feel those feelings. And just be there in that moment of, “Wow. This hurts.” To watch someone hurting, and there’s nothing I can do. That hurts. And just let it rise up and do what it does, which usually it sort of floats away eventually.
PAM: I mean even my kids know, they’ll be like, “I’m just going to sleep on it, because I know it’s going to look better in the morning.” But you know, they’re 12 and 13 telling me this. I’m like, “Yeah, you know, that’s been my experience too.” (laughter)
ANN: Yeah, yeah.
PAM: Ahh, that’s very cool.
EU134, Virginia Warren
PAM: What has surprised you most so far about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
VIRGINIA: What is surprising is the way it seeps into everything. Unschooling principles apply to much more than homeschooling. That feels just ridiculous to even say. Once you decide to look at see if what you believe about school is true or not and you find out that you have made some mistakes in your thinking, things you have not examined, things you have not bothered to—I don’t want to say have not bothered, that sounds dismissive … I’m sorry, I am trying to think of a better way—I think it is about bias. Unconscious bias; it’s normal.
There are positive biases and there are negative biases, and not all bias is bad. Being biased towards patience. Like, you think, everything else equal, I am just going to try to stay calm and see whether the application of more patience helps.
If you are not aware of your bias, you cannot compensate for it. If you do not know, it is very easy for bias to feel like absolute truth, like for people to feel like…the same thing that I mentioned earlier about people wanting to say, “This art is good and this art is bad.” That is bias, because what they are saying is, “The art I like is good and the art that I don’t like is bad.” And I believe that deschooling puts you into a habit of looking for bias and trying to overcome it, and also, looking for ways to try to form biases which actually make your life easier.
Like, say “yes” more, that is a bias. Other things equal, I am going to say yes. I am going to be biased towards saying “yes,” unless there is a really good reason not to. And once I started noticing how much of the attitudes that I had about school were part of unconscious biases—things that you learn like, “School is where learning happens,” that is a bias—I started applying that to other areas of my life, stuff that I had not really thought about all that much, and one of those things was how I choose or choose not to conform to mainstream beauty.
I had not really thought about it much before I had daughters, whether or how much it mattered if I decided to wear makeup or not wear makeup or remove body hair or not remove body hair. And I have come to much different position on these things now as a mother of daughters than I have before when I was just a daughter. And I do not want to do a lot of the beauty performance that is part of our culture anymore, but I also do not want to ruin it for my kids if they want to, because it can be fun.
And I am trying to figure out how to…I do not want to demonize shaving your legs or not shaving your legs. If they choose to remove their body hair or wear makeup, I want it to be their choice is what I want to say. All I am trying to say is that I hope that they will be able to do it for their own reasons.
I cannot tell you how many times a day I watch a video—I should say how many times in a week—but I watch a video on YouTube or something and there are young women talking about something or other and they use the phrase, “I had to shave my legs.” Nobody has to shave their legs, but it is okay to shave your legs if you want to and that is the path I am trying to chart and I do not know if I am doing a great job. Maybe I should be more strident. I’m still not sure what I should be doing on this.
PAM: I think it is interesting that we feel we need to be sure. And it is something that is so super hard to talk about because on one hand, our children are intelligent human beings and they are going to figure this stuff out. They are going to be living their lives. They are going to be getting input.
When you were talking way back to what this question was, what surprised you about how unschooling is unfolding and you said it is how wide it ends up reaching. So, we are not making their world smaller so that they only know what we tell them.
On one hand we are so deeply connecting with our children and we love them very much and we support them as much as we can, but we are supporting them in experiencing a larger world and they are going to have so many ways that they come across this information, and living in an environment where choices are cultivated—that we make choices for ourselves and we do not really need to know exactly whether we are doing the “right” thing, saying this or saying that, because that is one moment, it is one thing from us, and we already live with them in an environment where what we say is not the be all and end all.
VIRGINIA: Certainty shuts down learning also as you were saying. Being sure, you are sure? Well why do you need more information? If you are sure and you got new information, maybe you would not be sure anymore, oh no!
PAM: Exactly. And those are the unconscious biases. We’re spinning right around this—it’s beautiful.
Because it is the unconsciousness of it that makes things difficult, that makes us think we have a right answer. We can share what we think, because so often in questions and everything, people are like, “What do I do with my kids in this situation?” and so often the answer is, “Well, talk to your kids.” Have the conversations. There is no right/wrong answer for anything, it’s what makes sense for them.
EU149, Tatiana Plechenko
PAM: What has surprised you most about your journey so far?
TATIANA: What surprised me most was how much joy there is in being in my kid’s company. In helping them along in whatever need help with. In preparing yummy food for them. In creating the environment that everybody wants to be in. It is interesting that that environment that I am creating for my family then a lot of people love to visit and just to be in the space that we create.
The message out there is very different. People post on social media how happy they are that their kids are finally in school come the school year. And they are celebrating and how they want them to go to bed early so that they can have time for themselves. I used to think that too when the kids were so young. I had two kids under the age of two and I was thinking, ‘Oh, once they go to school, finally I am going to have a break.’
TATIANA: Yes. But it is truly surprising what a gift it is to share this life together. I think this life can be that joyous only after you have let go of all those issues. When you are not trying to control them. When you are just there in partnership to have fun together and just enjoy the life together.
PAM: Yes. That is such a great point. When you get to that. Like we were talking about earlier even in relationships. When you get to the point where you are equals. You are all human beings and you can connect with them. There is joy and fun. You are being with another person, it does not matter what their age is. You can connect and engage and have fun together.
TATIANA: That is it. Yes.
I think there was also some times when I would get stuck with, ‘What about me? What about me and my interests and what am I doing with my life?’ But I think that the equilibrium is really to work taking care of the kids when the kids are much younger; because there is that physical aspect of mothering. But as they get older, I find that me and my interests get very intertwined with our days and the flow of our days. Everything, everybody gets taken care of.
PAM: I love that observation. It is so true when you have younger kids it is a lot of hands on physical help, you know you are getting food and you are taking them here and there and you have to help them get coats on and boots on—especially in Ottawa.
So it is a huge revelation when you understand that when you start to notice that as you say, your interest just comes up because you are having conversations with them. You are doing, just hanging out together. The things we like naturally come up because they are often the examples we reach to when we are in a conversation. Oh you know, I had that happen when I was doing XYZ, or whatever. Like you said, it is so beautiful how the stuff that we love intertwines with our life. As they get older we are having more conversations like that. We have a little bit more space to do things. Maybe we are, whether it is art we are drawing or crafting or reading or whatever and they come and room and they see what you are doing and they share a little update. It is really fun. That is such a cool observation.
TATIANA: It is now both ways. It is not just us sharing, now they are sharing back and supporting us in some way. Like we went for a walk as a family and I was preparing for my very first Facebook Live interview. I was having all these doubts and I was not sure how to go about it. And the kids were coaching me through it because they have seen so many live videos and they were saying this YouTuber is doing this and you have to have an intro and you have to do this and that. I am like, “Wow, guys, how do you even you know?”
PAM: Right. Absolutely. Our lives can flow together so well. I think that is another big step, another layer, is opening up. Not thinking about our “adult stuff” and “kid stuff.” That is not it. It is OUR stuff, the things we are all as individuals interested in. It is amazing the connections and just the support and information that our kids can bring because they are awesome.
TATIANA: It is that support. It is so nice to have that support and have somebody truly care, right? It is, “Oh, you want to do this? Yes, well, this is how you do it.” And I really, really felt that recently like another aha for me, the kids went to a birthday party. We dropped them off Igor and I. Then Igor and I went for a walk—we have this beautiful botanical park. We went for a walk and we came across a lake with beavers. We could just stand there and watch them. They came so close, they were swimming around and we were like taking pictures, close up pictures. It was so beautiful.
On the way back, I was walking and it was a narrow path and I was walking in the front and Igor was walking in the back. I was saying, “What do they eat?” Igor was like, “Siri, what do beavers eat?” And then Siri would tell us. I was like, “Do they hibernate?” And he would look it up. He just kept looking up all my questions. I felt like so nice that somebody actually took time to answer my questions and I knew more. I was truly curious. And I thought, ‘Well, that is what I should be doing for my kids.’ Not, “I do not know,” or, “I will look it up later.” Actually, look it up. I do, but I felt it. That aha, that I felt.
PAM: Yes, like you were in their shoes again. Back to the Anna story, right? That feeling of having your questions be treated as valuable.
TATIANA: Like being seen, right?
PAM: Being seen. Yes. That is beautiful.
EU150, Sue Elvis
PAM: What has surprised you most about your family’s unschooling adventures?
SUE: Well, I guess that we set out to find the perfect way to educate our kids, and we were surprised to find out how unschooling took over our whole lives.
And, we have learned so much about ourselves. Not just our children, but each of us has learned a lot about ourselves and each other. And I think the thing we’ve learned the most about is unconditional love. How that has drawn our family so close together. That in accepting each other, accepting each other’s talents, each other’s goals, helping, encouraging, trusting each other, not worrying about mistakes, but forgiving each other. That type of thing. That we learned to love each other without condition. That has really brought us very, very strong bonds. We’re a strong family. And I think that is the most surprising thing. I never thought that when we set out on this journey 26 years ago, that the end product would be love. Would be, our family. I thought maybe well-educated children.
I didn’t think that we’d all get involved in our own learning as well. The things that we’ve all been able to achieve, and to see everybody develop as a person, so that the relationship’s there, but also it is so exciting seeing each individual person in the family blossom. To use their talents. To become the people they can be.
That’s sort of a lifetime process, but yeah—at school, growing up, I didn’t feel that I was anyone very special at all. I wasn’t popular. I was told I didn’t have any particular talents. I was clever enough, but nobody gave me the opportunity to discover what I was really interested in. Nothing that made me feel excited. And I feel that everybody in our family is excited about who they are, what they’ve got to share, and not only within the family but we want to go outside the family and see what we can do with our talents. Share them with other people.
And because we’ve got a strong family home base, we can go out there in the world, support and encourage each other, and who knows what else we will do. It’s just an exciting journey I think, and it’s one that’s not going to end, unlike homeschooling ends age 18. This unschooling journey’s just going to keep on going and going. And even though my kids are getting older, and I am no longer going to have children under 18 for very much longer—another four years and my youngest daughter will be 18. But, who knows what’s ahead. We don’t know, do we? The opportunities that come up, we cannot see. We go places that we have never imagined. And that’s what’s exciting, I think.
PAM: Wow, yeah. That was beautiful, Sue. And I love that it’s the excitement. It’s the openness. We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s an adventure. We’re just open to what crosses our paths that we find interesting.
And I love how you talked about how they are excited to be themselves. What a great story juxtaposed with your experience growing up. That when we’re in school, in that we’re doing the same things as everybody else, and we have to follow this path, we don’t have that time to discover who we are and what makes us unique and the things we find interesting. And one thing I love seeing over the years with my kids—the different things that they found interesting, but then noticing the thread of what’s uniquely them that flows through all of those interests. There’s just a little something in each one that’s like, that’s why that particular child found that interesting, and that, and that. You can see those connections, can’t you?
SUE: You can. And I think it’s very sad that we can be tempted to make our kids be who we think they are. And then when we let them be themselves, it’s just remarkable. That each and every one of us has so much to offer, if we’re allowed to be the people we are. Yeah, I think it’s exciting, but where will we all go?
And I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not that bad a person after all. That sounds terrible but leaving school, leaving uni, I felt like I was a disappointment for everybody. I mean I got the marks I needed, but I didn’t fulfill people’s expectations. People wanted me to do this, that, and the other, and I didn’t. And now unschooling I feel just like my children. That I have something to offer, and I’m not that bad after all. That I have a place in the world. Do you understand that?
PAM: Me? Absolutely! What a way for us to discover ourselves too, right? It takes away that measure. Because I remember even when I left work to stay home with the kids, that was one of the biggest pieces. Who am I now? Because I was just so used to measuring myself by that conventional yardstick of accomplishments, of that productivity.
But it was just amazing how we too, as we work through those layers, we can discover who we really are, and the things we love to do, the interests that we have, and the way we shine. And parenting being one of those interests that we discover. And ways to connect with our kids. And just appreciating and loving that we can just live with our kids.
Like you said, one of the most surprising things was how this was really, when we started, a question of how we were going to educate our kids. What were we going to replace school with, if they weren’t going to go to school? And that it grew into being how we choose to live our lives, right?
SUE: Yes, yes.
EU154, Jeremy Stuart
PAM: What has surprised you most, so far, about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
JEREMY: Yeah, that is a really good question. You know, it is interesting. As you know, it is a continually evolving process. And when I look at this process, the only thing I can really go back to is my own personal experience of it. Like, how has it been for me and what sort of road blocks and things did I run into along the way.
So much of this process has been about deschooling myself. Unravelling the conditioned ideas that I was given, either by my parents or through my traditional schooling, that I have to then, disassemble, in order to see beyond them. So, for instance, as I have said, I grew up in a family with wonderful parents, they did the best they could, but my father was very authoritarian, very strict, so you know, laid down the law, you did not question that. And that is not how I am, and yet, a part of that is in there still, I hear that voice come up in me. And that has been one of the biggest challenges I guess in all of this, when that comes up, when it raises its head, I have to catch it and go, ‘Wait, that is my parent’s voice, or my father’s voice, that is not mine.’ So, then how do I shift that? How do I let that go? And that is a constant process that is involving.
So, with the unschooling thing, because we are pretty loose about it. My daughter does not have set bedtimes and has never had set bedtimes and things like that. And I think that one of the things that comes back is she questions us, you know. And throws stuff back at us, which is sometimes really disarming, because I could never have done that with my father. To question him would you know, it just was not done.
So, every now and again she will do this. We will be talking about something, and she will say, “Well, I do not want to do that,” and I am just like, “What???” Part of me is just like….and then I go, wait, hang on a sec, oh, that is right, we raised you to have this autonomy. We raised you to have this independence and to have your own voice, and to be able to use your own voice, so okay, good, that is fine, let us talk about that then.
PAM: I know, that initial reaction, right, is just, “What?”
JEREMY: Exactly. My initial reaction is, “What the…how dare you question…I am the parent.” Then I am like, wait a minute, no, let us back off from that a little bit. So, I think the surprise, to come back to your question, I think the surprise is how often that still comes up, even though we have been doing this for 14 years, you know. There is still traces of that old paradigm that are sort of buried in me, that I just wish I could expunge forever, you know, just get rid of. But you know, that is part of my upbringing, and I think the way we are sort of conditioned by our parents and by our upbringing, and certainly we can escape that largely, but there are always little traces of that in there.
So, I think the surprises are things like that. And then the other one that I really like, is that when I am really paying attention, and I am really listening, and I am listening to my daughter and what she is saying, and what she is kind of putting forth as her interests or what she wants to do. And I step out of the way, and I back off and just go, “Okay, fine. That sounds great.” and then let her just run with it, amazing things happen.
And then it really always surprises me, I go, ‘Wow, that really worked out well.’ Why was I so hung up that somehow that was not going to work out, you know? Because I think trust is such a huge part of this. I think it is the central piece, like learning to really trust that somehow or other, these kids that are unschooled, they are going to turn out fine, right? If you provide a nurturing environment, if you are supportive, if you can connect with them and not put up barriers and do not impose your own authority on them, “Well, this is how it should be,” and just allow it to naturally unfold, incredible things happen.
So, I am really surprised by that, even now after 14 years, I still get moments of like, ‘Wow, that was amazing! That was just such an incredible moment, how did that happen?’
PAM: I love that so much. I am still amazed, even now, if I add it up, maybe we are 16 or 17 years in, and my kids are all young adults now, but I am still amazed at the value. I think once I was talking about not jumping in and adding my two cents all the time, because it was actually more valuable to not give my two cents. Stepping back and letting them run with it, and you are supporting them and helping them accomplish what they want to accomplish. When I say step back, you worry that people think, ‘Okay, I am not going to do anything, I am going to leave them to do their own thing.’ No, of course you help them, but yes, they take things in the directions that work for them, and they are directions that we could never have even imagined, right?
PAM: That is that trust piece, and why that is so important, right?
JEREMY: Absolutely, and it is so easy, I find, as a parent, as you said, to put your two cents in. Well, here is how I think it should be, here is what I think you should do…. why didn’t you do this?
PAM: Here is what I think will happen.
JEREMY: Right and then all of those, if you look really carefully at all of those statements, what is really behind that is my expectation. Here is what I think you should be doing. Here is why I think you need to do this. But it has really nothing to do with what they want, it is all about what I want. Or what I think they should be doing, right.
PAM: It is all part of our experience in the world. The way we have seen that play out, within our paradigm, and our expectations, and the way we look at the world, but they look at the world in such a different way, and even the things they are choosing to do, they can be choosing them for reasons that we have no clue about, you know. They are trying to get something out of it, that when they say they want to do something, our brain naturally jumps to, “Oh, well because they want to do this, because they want to get this out of it,” but no, it can be something completely different and when you give them that space and trust to do it, you are right, your mind is blown so many different times is it not?
JEREMY: Yeah, so I guess you know, it is a constant surprise, all the time, and it is a constant balancing act between knowing when to kind of step in a little bit and provide a bit more structure and guidance, and when to just completely back off and say, ‘Well, I am here and I will support this; I have no clue where this is going, and I maybe do not even understand it, but that is okay. I will just trust that it is okay, and it will either work out or not work out, and that is okay too.’
Because life isn’t perfect, I mean, you know, I’ve done many things in my life that I’ve failed at miserably, and it’s ok. I’m still here. I’m surviving. It’s part of my experience. It’s part of being a human being. But for some reason we get so hung up on wanting to control the outcome, getting attached to a certain situation, thinking this is how it should work out, it’s like, ‘Well no, we don’t know how it is going to work out, just go for it, trust the universe, trust your innate sense of self, and amazing stuff happens.’
But that’s a very, very hard thing to live in, a hard paradigm to kind of be operating from all the time, because I think we are bombarded with messages from society in general about what would be happening, what you should be doing, how you should be living, what you should be buying, what you should be pursuing, and all of that, and it’s just constant, constant!
PAM: Exactly. And how bad it is to be wrong, right?
PAM: That judgement of supposed failure is just everywhere, and it’s something that from very early years, like you were saying, the paradigm that we grew up in, the environment that we grew up in, is something that we are always working on, because that’s a huge thing, judgement and shame as parenting tools, and just as tools to judge other people, they are so prevalent.
JEREMY: Yeah, yeah.
PAM: OK, ok, we better move on.
JEREMY: I know, we could get pretty deep with this.
PAM: I know, I know, I could get going on just this one questions for like seven years…
JEREMY: It’s huge, yeah!