PAM: Welcome! I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Joan Karp. Hi, Joan!
JOAN: Hi, Pam.
PAM: Just a little introduction, I first met Joan at a Childhood Redefined Summit—it has been three years, Joan! I am really excited to chat with her today and learn even more about her unschooling journey.
To get us started, can you share a bit about you and your family?
JOAN: Yes, thanks. I cannot believe it has been three years. That was a magnificent event.
My name is Joan and I am the mother of three children. A daughter who is twenty, a son who is eighteen and another son who will be fifteen within weeks. I have been married to a lovely man who is sole supports are lifestyle and unschooling move for about twenty-three years. We live in central Pennsylvania rural, rural, rural. We have had chickens and bees and bunnies and dogs and cats and gardens and blueberry bushes and elderberry bushes. So, it is very rural here which sometimes comes as a surprise to some of my other friends who alternative school in sort of different locations. I have a growing family, certainly not the chub-a-lub of toddlers of some of my friends who are just thinking about how they might school but ours is growing.
PAM: That is the perfect lead in.
How did you discover unschooling and what did your family’s move to unschooling look like?
JOAN: That is a really great question. This may seem like a bit of a nonsequitor but as I am thinking about this question, I think that my move to unschooling actually started—I birthed my children at home and I realize that this is not a home birth show. I birthed them at home and I think that just doing that outside of the mainstream or what is accepted as normal, without me even recognizing it at the time, set me up to be fully prepared to embrace schooling in an alternative fashion.
I really discovered unschooling though when I when to your Summit. I realized I was sort of dabbling in it. But, I kind of just thought maybe I was doing homeschooling wrong. I kind of thought I was doing it wrong and when I went to your Summit, which is really interesting, I have to just tell you how impactful and meaningful that was to me. I never spend money on myself, I just don’t. The fact that I saw that, that had come up on my social media feed and then I registered for it and then I went and then I met you and Anne and Anna and other parents. It was amazing. So really that was my first introduction to unschooling.
JOAN: But we had always been alternatively schooling even my kids were never in an actual public school. When they were little I started them off in a cyber charter school. It was a public school on-line and at the time, well my oldest is almost twenty-one so at the time it was brand new. It was sort of like you just got some cool curriculum and you got to play with it as you saw fit and that kind of model of using that curriculum lasted four, five, six years. As more and more people started to become interested in charter schools and on-line education tighter and tighter and more specifics, more regimentation came. I realized ew, that just didn’t feel comfortable that was not what we wanted at all. Then we sort of moved into, I guess, homeschooling, but again I jokingly say I felt I was doing it wrong because all of the other people I knew who were homeschooling had to some degree almost like a mini school within their home. I just thought oh, I cannot really be honest and tell these people we are doing things far more freeform, far more following what are kids are interested about or interested in. When I came to your unschooling summit, it was a massive aha moment. That is actually how I found out about it. For the last three years it feels like forever. It feels like forever because it is just allowed us to live so more fully.
PAM: So it sounds like it just became a little bit more intentional, rather that ‘I am not doing it so well.’ I am not doing homeschooling well, now I am intentionally unschooling.
JOAN: Yes. Maybe I needed the language. You all actually gave me the freedom and the encouragement to sort of live the way we had wanted to. But that I did not know there was a thing for that.
PAM: That is really, really cool. This next question will be interesting then.
What was the most challenging area of deschooling for you and how did you work through that?
So, maybe for even back then when after your home births and you decided not to go to public school and to start with the on-line school, which is really cool hearing the history of that. How it was originally, here is some stuff, play with it. Then as it got bigger they got more regimented with it, that was a really interesting history. Anyway, as you were going through those kinds of transitions, what was the area that you maybe found most challenging to embrace?
JOAN: I think this is where I have had the most growth. I do not know if my kids have, but for me it was letting go of a lot of “shoulds.” Letting go of the idea of shoulds. Relinquishing a sense of worry. I grew up in a family, very loving, but there was always shoulds. This is how successful people should, this is what smart people should, this is what people who care should. There was a lot of shoulds and then around that a lot of worry that if you make a decision or you take a path that is not on the “should” path then oh my goodness what will happen? Letting go of the shoulds and relinquishing so much worry have been my biggest challenges for deschooling in general.
Deschooling started maybe when I deschooled from birth and then in continued as I deschooled from literal school. It has been awesome. It has made me have to rethink and wrestle in a beautiful way so many things. I mean I a richer person for having adopted this lifestyle, mindset, philosophy. Does that make sense?
PAM: Yes, yes, yes. I often call it a lifestyle because that is it. After you thought through the shoulds of education right, of school and found another world, isn’t it incredible how everything else slowly opens up? Because then you notice the next time you go to do…it is a should that is totally ingrained in you but then for the first time you are like huh, I wonder… and just start to question it and then the next thing. It is like a snowball, isn’t it?
JOAN: It is a snowball, you are right. I wonder, I have always thought, I have always imagined but I wonder…Then suddenly an entire world of I wonder. It is both exhausting and exhilarating and I have to say that I feel like our lifestyle of unschooling has maybe impacted me more profoundly. In that I have needed to, or that I have had the opportunity to, let go of things in a way that will just be normal for my children. Which I am really proud of. Their normal will just be being open and following themselves as opposed to wondering who they really are.
PAM: Oh, I think that is such a big component of it. It really is so much of our work. Because we absorbed so much growing up, you know about all that conventional wisdom and knowledge without questioning it. Like that was one of the big things, right? This is how it is, we do not question it. This is what we do, this is what we should do. These are our paths, you know, pick one of these five paths. You know, that kind of stuff. Whereas because our children have not grown up, it is not like our children’s lives are easy or anything, but their challenges are challenges of reality, not a frame, an artificial framework that has been put on top of it, right?
JOAN: Right. Their challenges will be legit challenges as opposed to wading through fears of like I shoulds.
The other thing, I wrote a note here, the thing I think that has been the most challenging thing for me was trusting the reality that humans learn and grow without constant intervention and prodding. I think I just somehow had that ingrained in me. That to be a good and compassionate worthwhile and productive human, someone—a coach a teacher a parent—someone will need to be prodding, prodding, prodding, pushing, pushing, pushing, directing, directing, directing. That never did feel quite right to me, it certainly never did feel right to me but I still sort of somewhere was like, well, I guess that is what you do. Trusting that if you just kind of move out of the way, humans naturally learn. Wild. Is that not amazing?! Almost like when you plant a seed it just grows.
PAM: I know, it is incredible. I love that, I love that insight. Because I know you think that we think little kids as they grown they need to be told and shown what a good person does and how to learn, how to be a human being. Yet, when you can manage ton for a little while, just take that leap of trust and step back a bit. As in step back from the control, it does not mean step back from engaging, right? You are still with them. You are still living with them. You are still helping them do stuff, all that kind of stuff. But watching instead what their choices are instead of telling them what to choose. It is mind blowing, isn’t it? Really to watch them and to see how considerate and thoughtful they grow to be because they are learning in the moment. They learn like breathing. One of my favorite quotes, is oh I’m going to mess it up but really it is that to unschooling kids learning is like breathing, they do not even know they are doing it, it is just what they naturally do, right?
JOAN: Yes, right there is not a ‘now is when we are learning’ and ‘now when we are not learning.’
PAM: And you cannot even ask them to observe like, ‘what are you learning now?’ They cannot really answer that, they are just busy doing something, right?
JOAN: Right, they are living. That is it.
That has been the—I do not know if this really ties in the question—but that probably has been the most beautiful part of this. And for me, because as a forty-seven-year-old I have had to constantly, habitually overcome self-doubt and dig myself out of a pit. It takes a herculean effort to get myself out of a pit of ‘oh I wonder if I can?’ But think about how I was conditioned as a child and as a young person growing up. Always having to look outward for direction as opposed to what I hope I have helped foster for my children in that they can look inward. They can always follow their own compass. I think I might have gotten some of that language from you all at the unschooling summit. The idea that, yes I do not know who said it but it stuck with me and I am probably misquoting it as well, but something about having your own true north. Like following, maybe it was Anne who said it, I do not know. Having your own true north and following that compass and always knowing to come home to that.
PAM: And that trust right, to trust themselves because for years now we have supported and helped them as they are, we help them identify what they are feeling as like a true north (what do you want to do?) that is practice in listening to yourself and figuring out what that internal messaging or whatever, you know that internal feeling is I want to do this, I want try that. By being able to try that and seeing what happens and learning from that and adjusting and tweaking your direction. I mean think all the experience over the years they have over the years of doing that. Through that they learn to trust what they are feeling. Even if it does not mesh well with the messages around them. But they got practice talking through that too, right because we talked through that with them.
JOAN: Yes, you have practice, practice, practice. The stretch and use that muscle in does not become atrophied their muscle of knowing who they are and how to be constantly listening to themselves.
PAM: So let’s jump into the teen years.
PAM: Because that is an amazing time, isn’t it?
JOAN: I love teens.
PAM: I love the teen years.
JOAN: I love teens.
What has been your favorite thing about your relationship with your teens and how do you find you foster that?
JOAN: I love teens. I sometimes will remind my younger mom friends. I will just say, you know how you feel just so excited about how plump and convivial and jovial and red cheeked your little sweet tiny people are? It does not go away. Those same feelings of awe and wonder and excitement about who they are and what they are doing, it continues as they get older. It is just so much fun. I think the reason why I have such a great relationship with them now is because even though I did not have the language to know and I am not, I did not know I was unschooling and I did not know that I wanted them to have their compass unfetered by others. I maybe would not have been able to say that. I did not know that, you know.
Somehow I wanted it for them and so I guess everything about the way we have hoped, I do not know, I am sure we have made plenty of mistakes but everything about the way we have chosen to order our lives has been about this moment now. Where they are young adults starting to leave just home and go out to more fully become who they are. I feel like you set a ground work for that because you have always accepted them for who they are and not forced them to be a mini me or wanted them to just be a show pony. I sometimes, I fall into that sometimes, your kids are beautiful and talented and it would be lovely to be like, ‘look at my prize,’ but they must be who they are.
I just love them. I love laughing with them. We have a pretty ruckus sense of humor, we are always laughing. There is a lot of joking. Some of it is a little caustic at times. It is all in good fun because when we trust one another there is a lot of joking and laughter.
What I love about them too is all the varied interests they have which I think is one of the other beautiful things about not insisting that they just become an extension of you. If they were just an extension of me we would only love the things that I love more fully, maybe. But, my kinds have interests that I actually was not really, I would not have been interested in, I would not have chosen to take up on my own. So now, my world has expanded, crazily because of all of the things that they are interested in. Then well, I guess you are interested in it now we have to, okay, let us figure out how to facilitate this for you. Suddenly my world goes from being tiny to huge. Which I love.
PAM: We do not realize how tiny our world was before, do we?
JOAN: Oh my gosh, no! No and I wrote down this because this is what always comes to mind, that myth as a parent there is sort of this myth in our culture that we will teach them. There is this overarching cultural sort of you will be the teacher and they will learn from you. I kind of laugh at that. That is not really, yes, they have learned road safety and burner is hot and you know they have learned basic from me but like the bigger things I really feel like the opposite is true. These fascinating small humans now growing into larger humans have come specifically to teach me.
PAM: I so agree with that. I have that same mindset. I even wrote in The Unschooling Journey book, the section on guides on your journey, they were my kids. Instead of being the older mentor people who have been through the journey before. My “Gandalf” was my children. They have come into the world and they are not so beaten down or conformed to the boxes yet. Know what I mean.
JOAN: Yes, very much.
PAM: So, to be able to see them I just learned so much from seeing the way they engage with the world. And how they could be totally frustrated about something and ten minutes later, working their butt off to try it again and try it again. I totally learned through school that being wrong or getting something that is not working for me is bad. I would just be embarrassed, and I would be like okay that is not for me and I would go find something else that I am good at or that I can learn. I am just too embarrassed often when things do not come easily yet looking at them taught me so much about hey if I want something or if I am interested in something that has value for me and it has worth the energy and persistence to keep trying. That is not a bad thing. Because I was like I cannot judge you for that, look at you keeping going, and keeping going that is awesome. And like oh I guess maybe I should be doing that too.
JOAN: You are right though. I mean you are right I am assuming we both had pretty traditional public school upbringing.
JOAN: I do not have any beef with it, I survived it. But what you described there is true. I sort of would the embarrassment or the shame of mot being immediately good at something I think unfortunately led me to pursue only those things that came more easily to me. I see now in adult life that some of the things that presented me with challenges as a younger person, I am wildly fascinated by now still, but they just did not come easily so I let them go.
Ooh and before I forget, the other thing that I love about my teens is I actually really think we are friends. I really believe that we are friends. I know again, sometimes, in our culture there is that sense, well you should not be friends with your kids, you need to be the parent and parent. I get that. I grew up with parents who loved me, I have no question about that but they were definitely parents. They sort of, parents are parents, friends are friends. I actually think that if you lay the foundation you can be friends. I feel like we are very friendly. I mean, a friend I think is someone who loves and supports and encourages you and wants really great things for you that is how. I think my kids get excited for me when I overcome a challenge they are happy for me I am happy for them. We enjoy spending time together. What greater thing is there that when your kids says, hey do you want to go to the movies with me?
JOAN: Or hey let’s go do something together, that is awesome. So, I think that is one of my favorite things about this particular age too.
PAM: Yes, they do. They make wonderful friends. I understand where that mainstream thought is coming from but because the way that they are seeing friends as somebody who just blindly agrees. I think it just like whatever, whatever or they see friends and as people who are going to encourage you to do off the wall things.
JOAN: Or dangerous behaviors, maybe.
PAM: Yes, exactly.
JOAN: That is not a friend.
PAM: That is not the person they are, right?
JOAN: That is not a friend anyway. I mean if a friend is encouraging you to do something hurtful to yourself or others that is not really a friend, so.
PAM: Exactly. They are talking very stereotypical as a friendship. Because you know what, also I think you probably found this too, your children and they develop friends in their age range, more so or through their interests, etcetera, etcetera, they are not making or keeping friends longer term with people who are like that. You know what I mean, with people who are very flippant with people who are just encouraging bad behavior whatever you know how you judge that. Whatever is comfortable for them. They are not going to keep a friend who makes them feel uncomfortable. As we were talking about before their sold inside themselves, right?
JOAN: Yes, right. They already know really know who they are and I think the want that for other people. They want the people in their friend circle to also feel comfortable and confident in who they are. Those are who they seek out.
PAM: Yes, and they help each other through those challenges the same way we helped them. Their friends become great friends for us to kind of, don’t they?
JOAN: They do. I think that is kind of, I do not know it might not be in here somewhere but I feel like unschooling sort of not sort of, it creates a very compassionate, it is a very compassionate way to live. Because you are honoring yourself there is not shame involved with things you like as some things having a hierarchy of well this is way more valuable than this. Does that make sense?
JOAN: So there is this compassion because my children have not been judged and have been given license to make choices that agree with who they are. I think then they want that for other people too. I just feel like it is a compassionate world view actually at the heart of it.
At the heart of it I feel like it actually has maybe when someone hears the term unschooling, at first, they are really just thinking of it as school building versus doing a slightly less regimented thing at home. And on it surface I suppose that is what it is. But now that I have older children and I am a whole whopping three years into official unschooling, I just see it really as a fostering of a compassionate lifestyle.
PAM: That is so fun, Joan. You know, when I wrote The Unschooling Journey the words that came to me as like the ultimate kind of ending. Not ending at all because the journey keeps going but, you know once you have been through the bulk of it—compassion and grace. Those seem to be the two things that I discovered in the foundation of it all that were the most important things just for living our lives and moving forward.
JOAN: It is so beautiful, it is so beautiful.
PAM: We have been talking about interests and passions and even talked about when things do not go smoothly.
Can you talk about a time when maybe something didn’t go smoothly and how you approached those more challenging times?
JOAN: I am just looking through my notes here. Yes, of course we had some challenging times. Although I would have to say that maybe our challenges seem relatively benign. I mean I will say we have had a pretty sweet life. We have not had any major obstacles so our obstacles or challenges are maybe a little smaller. I am thinking again and I think your summit was just it empowered me, it gave the language, it allowed me to see hey other people are sort of thinking as you are thinking and it will be okay.
For example, my kids are all have been beautiful musicians. I taught them all how to play the piano which was fun. Then they were even in band with our local public school. My daughter a beautiful flutist, my second son trumpet, magnificent, and my second son ah he dabbled in the clarinet he did not dig it but they were all really proficient. It all came super naturally to them. I come from a relatively musical family. This is one of those places where it was really hard to, it was a little more challenging for me to say oh, but they did it for as long as they wanted to do it. Then one day, each a different times, they were like, it was fascinating, my daughter came to me and said mom, somebody asked me to tell them a little something about myself and nowhere in the telling them about who I am and what I enjoy did I mention playing the flute. Like that did not even come into it. She was a little bit struggling for how she best wanted to use her time and if she liked interrupting some of the activities she really enjoyed to actually leave the home leave the bunnies, leave the bees, leave the stuff and go to the physical school to take this band thing. In that moment it was just like I do not even define myself like this, I am going to let it go. And so she did. I do not know maybe this is not what you are really asking.
PAM: No, no that is great.
JOAN: What is the challenging part of that, well it was not really a challenge. You know, she has a good sense of who she is and I honored that. She must have learned whatever it was she needed to learn from and learn about it. She learned that and then she learned that it does not really mesh or align with who she was so she lets that go. She is not a quitter she is not oh use your potential she is now using that time and her potential for something else that speaks to her. Same with Sam and same with my son Isaac.
PAM: They released it when they were ready.
JOAN: They released it. I had read somewhere that when something speaks to you, you never have to say, “Hey, did you go practice your trumpet?” You would never have to say that. It is truly like if they want to blow into that trumpet you cannot keep it out of their hands. So why am I insisting they do this thing? Then I am imposing my will upon you sort of. Not sort of but I am. So anyway, those were sort of challenges.
The kids have been involved in all kinds of things like that where I guess again, and just because of the foundation of how we have chosen to order our family it could have been a bit challenge in another scenario but we just were supportive of them following what they want to do. It is not like they are suddenly lazing around graffitiing businesses, you know what I mean. Like the idea if you are not always instructing them, keeping them busy that they are somehow now being, I do not know, I cannot think of the word.
PAM: I know right, it is not in our language.
JOAN: It is not in my language so. I guess that maybe does not answer but I mean certainly the kids struggle with anything we are always there.
I was joking with someone that I would someday like to write book with the title “Looks Like Nothing” because I am sure to the outsider I am sure my mothering style looks like nothing. Like, ‘oh my gosh, Joan is not doing a dang thing.’ Look at her, she is not doing anything. But I mean I am, I am always available when the kids need to use me as a sounding board or when they need a hug, when they need to shed a tear.
PAM: I really love that. Because it is so true. It looks like nothing. And you know what, when they were a bit younger too I remember when my son he started karate and after a couple of years, he really enjoyed it. So, he was going often. He was getting very skilled. Then parents would hear that we homeschooled and they would be like when you are talking about practice, they would be trying to get their kid to practice. They would be coming up to me and they would be saying how do you get him to practice, how did he get so good? All that kind of stuff. They thought that especially since he did not go to school that I was even more controlling. That I was getting him to practice, that I was doing all this stuff.
Then at other times when they would see him making like, conversations would come up and he would be there and a parent would be asking me something that is about Michael and I would be like hey Mike, we will ask and talk to him and they would be like oh I thought I was supposed to ask you about this stuff. You know, and there was like what does she do? She is not involved at all.
Which over the years, different phases, but the impression was either I was super-controlling or I was doing nothing. Because they are not there inside and they cannot be, of course. There is nothing wrong with those impressions, those are just what we do. This is what it looks like from the outside when they just see us out in the world. They cannot see all the conversations, they cannot see all the support.
Like not even, they do not have to be long drawn out conversations you know unless something comes up. Being there and being supportive that hug here, that little pick-me-up, whatever, they do not see all that stuff that happens kind of behind the scenes inside the family, do they?
JOAN: No. What you said about your son with martial arts, that is so interesting because our children have all done martial arts some of them have wanted to continue and have been very successful. Others of them it came so naturally they were very successful really naturally with little effort then for others it required a lot of effort. But that is interesting that you said that because the outside perception is that I am forcing some sort of control, some sort of practice regimen or something, where it is not at all.
The other thing that when you mentioned that that I have noticed, one of the most striking things when we were interacting with things that require registrations or things that require some sort of parental involvement, is that we actually try to as often as possible, have the kids do that, make those decisions, do those choices, make those connections on their own. Because they are their own person. I am not them, they are they, they are who they are. People find that really weird.
PAM: They do. “This tournament is coming up, is Michael going?” And they are asking me.
JOAN: “I don’t know, you’re going to have to ask Michael.”
PAM: “When he comes out of the change room, I’ll ask him if we’re going.”
JOAN: “Those decisions are not really up to me. If you would like to know that, you probably need to go ask.”
PAM: The logistics that I am involved with comes after whether I know if he even wants to go to it. When he says yes, then we are going to do our best.
JOAN: Then I am going to make it happen.
PAM: But yes, if something comes up I am going to say something but still we work on that together to figure out a way.
JOAN: Yes. I always just thought that was the way you interacted with other humans.
JOAN: Like I would not be making decisions for another adult. I would not dictate another adult’s schedule or training schedule or preference schedule. But somehow there is the idea that you definitely should do that, should there is that should again, that you should do that when they are your child.
PAM: I know and you see it too, there are parents that want their children to compete and they are like no you are going. Even when they are saying I do not want to go or you know, so. It is there so you can certainly see where it comes from. I have so much fun just saying, let’s ask Mike.
JOAN: This might, maybe you want me to wait to talk to another question down below but as you are mentioning this do you mind if I interject?
PAM: No go ahead.
JOAN: This has just been a very recent learning curve for me.
My middle son is a very naturally talented athlete. He was involved, all the logistics, we live in a really rural area to get to a place to train for swimming is a challenge. So, he was traveling—oh, he has an apprenticeship everyday which is another thing that is really fun when you unschool you can do really cool stuff—but anyway, he was taking himself from his apprenticeship to his training. This was only his second year to do it and last year was his first year to do it and he was district champion. I do not say like that he is my show pony I just say it more like it was a spectacular achievement for a kid who just sort of tried. He was like, “I think I am going to go try this out.” It was so natural. This year he is going through it, some things changed—lots of things changed—and in December he came home from a swim meet and was just, “Mom, I don’t want to do this anymore.”
So in my mind 95% of me is like really on board with him following his heart but I will admit that there is like this 5% part that is like worried that ‘aww, you are letting this magnificent opportunity go,’ or ‘oh, this is your potential shouldn’t you…’ So, all I said was, “Why don’t you sleep on it? Then whatever you decide to do we’ll do.” He is 18, he gets himself to and from work, builds computers all the time. I said, “If this is not the thing I am going to sit in a stand and cheer for you about, then whatever the next thing is that you decide to take on I cannot wait to cheer you on in that whatever that next thing is.”
He slept on in a couple of days then he decided he did not want to do it. The long story of that is that other people might gasp and say you had a kid and he could have been a state champion but if he does not want to do it, what does it matter.
PAM: Yes. What is it for?
JOAN: Is it because I want or whatever, state champion or whatever the thing is. I realized that that little 5% of me was like ooh. Is still the me that wants to be able to show pony my kid to some degree. He had already learned whatever he needed to from the experience of competitive swimming. He had already gotten out of it what he wanted. I guess for my husband and I to say hey you need to keep doing something that is not still speaking to you, like what kind of message does that send to growing humans? That another human gets to tell you what makes the most sense for you. Is that too weird, is that too heavy? I do not know maybe that is just too weird but that has been my most recent like yea…And actually what it was, was no big deal for my son. He like happily went on, carried on life. And like for me, I still had that little bit like oh did we do the right thing. Isn’t that weird how my conditioning from wherever still had its tentacles in about aren’t you supposed to? But, anyway.
PAM: Yes. Well and that is the thing too we are going to discover all those little pockets. It does not mean we are bad people or bad whatever. You know, what is important is the work as we are thinking through it we discover that hey, there is that little bit of me that is feeling this. You know it is not meant for us to feel bad but it is a part of us to process, it is a clue. I have a little bit of work to do hear around this.
JOAN: I have more work to do around that.
PAM: Yes, I love that.
JOAN: I think again coming back to some of the earlier questions this is one of the most profound and unexpected gifts of unschooling that has occurred are the places that I feel some tension and then I need, I want I do not need to I want to figure out, what is that? And why, where did that come from? And how do I let it go?
PAM: Oh yes, those little bubbling moments of discomfort where you just notice it feels a little bit off. I figure those are going to be bubbling up all my life.
JOAN: I think so.
PAM: That is just part of being human.
JOAN: Yes. I kind of, once you kind of just start welcoming them instead of seeing them as oh here’s another thing I have to learn or work on. What is the next thing? What is the next thing, what is the next layer of the onion I get to peel off and discover something new. Like in Shrek.
PAM: Yes, yes, it is like I am totally stuck in there at first and I am like oh my gosh you know it is another one I do not know how I am going to find my way through this one. I love like kind of thinking three months down the road, it is like you know, three months down the road I am going to have all this figured out. I wonder what it is going to be? That is how I can get myself shifted to the curiosity which helps me dig into it rather than the initial grr, grr, grr, something is up.
I just wanted to say, you made a point earlier about your son and how it was not a big deal. He picked up what he needed to pick up from that right, regardless of how conventionally successful he was at it and is finding the next thing. I will always remember something that it was a comment from my daughter so she was quite successful conventionally as a photographer, younger. Somebody asked her when they found out that she was unschooled so that she had spent a lot of her teen years just really immersed in photography. The person said you know that now you are going to be a photographer as a career for your life right, because that was “all” she learned growing up. And she said you know what, I love photography right now and I may keep doing it but if I lose interest in that I know there will be something else that interests me later. I was like oh, yes that is it! You do not wrap up your identity in something that you do.
PAM: Right. They are still themselves and there are things that they love doing and those may change over the years.
JOAN: And isn’t that such compassionate way to see yourself.
JOAN: That is just a really compassionate loving way to just view yourself as you voyage on. That is just beautiful. I think your children are little bit older that mine.
PAM: Yes, they are all in their twenties now.
JOAN: It is really fun to hear you say those things, for you to share those things because man those are great gifts. Those are great gifts that you fostered for them.
PAM: I love seeing the connections because I see those that is one of those things I love about doing the podcast I get to talk to other people who are fostering the same kind of lifestyle, the same kind of respect and love and truth and compassion and grace with their families and with their children so I love it.
So, we should probably move on to the next question!
What do you appreciate most about having embraced unschooling?
JOAN: But I wrote it down in my notes. I wrote down three but I am going to write down a fourth word now.
JOAN: Agency. Agency that my children have like agency of themselves. Autonomy. Peace and Compassion.
PAM: Awe, yes. That is beautiful. Nailed them. It is the lifestyle, right? It comes back to how we choose to live together.
JOAN: It is the lifestyle. I sometimes liken it to stepping off of a treadmill. When you step off, things slow down and then you are at your own pace. You absorb that which calls to you as opposed to just what is coming on the treadmill. Sometimes I do not even know you know, I am not a particularly radical or crazy or outlandish individual. I am not really that unusual, I don’t think. So when I sometimes try to explain this, what I appreciate about unschooling if someone were to ask me who is not doing it, it is sometimes difficult for me to even find language that resonates.
PAM: Yes. To meet them where they are because you know if you say you are unschooling your kid. In their mind where they are is all about what they are learning, right? Yet we come up with agency and peace and compassion you know, and autonomy and it is like what on earth does that have to do with how they are learning.
JOAN: How are they going to take the ACT and get into a really good college?
JOAN: I don’t think agency is going to help them.
PAM: We can see it, we know but like you said, it is not the language. We have to really back up. To me, it’s the unschooling journey to get from where this is how they are going to learn stuff instead of going to school to where we end up. For me that is how I see the unschooling journey and it is not something you can just explain for somebody to understand in a couple of minutes. Like you said, there is a whole new language, words we use. Like when you say peace, to them they have a very different picture I imagine most people do that how we call it. That is why it is so hard for them to see how they are related but it is a, words have a whole new meaning as you go through the journey, don’t they?
JOAN: Yes. They do.
PAM: I love that.
I know you are very passionate about sports and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you found that weaving in to your unschooling days?
JOAN: So I am the kind I mean maybe, I don’t know I think what is fun, I guess what is fun is like I love doing push-ups. So, I do push-ups in my kitchen, I do push-ups a lot of places because part of my training mantra is that you do not need a gym, you do not need a sexy space. Wherever you are you have your body that is enough. Maybe I am unschooling even from the standard fitness model to some degree.
What is kind of cool is that without ever telling my children you have to do push-ups, you have to run, you have to blah, blah, blah, you can kind of see like if you model something and they see value in it, they will do it too. Or I guess if they do not see value in it they do not. I do not know if that is what you are asking me but yes, we are kind of an active family. We like to be outside, we like to hike, we like to canoe. We like to bike. We do some, you know, we are haphazard triathletes.
So, the kids have joined us sometimes when they are interested. If they would rather spend their summer doing something else with their friends it is not like we are saying you need to get out and triathlon train. You know what I mean, the invitation is always there for them to join us. I guess I treat the fitness part of it like I would any other friend. I am not going to force my friend to come with me on a hike because then that is not really joyful. Now I have just forced you to do something you don’t want to do. Again, I might not be answering this question as you’d hoped.
PAM: It seems like you are sharing your passion. You are living your passion for fitness. Like you said, in an unschooly way in that yes, it is just an interest, it is something you love so you are doing it, right? And you are doing it however it happens to work for you and you are enjoying it in front of them and you are inviting them along.
JOAN: It is sort of unschooly sort of approach to fitness too. Yes, we just invite them in to stuff we like and boy it is a joy if they want to join us and if they do not, they will invite us to do something we had not thought about doing in their world.
PAM: Yes, exactly and there is the part that we do not have or the part we sometimes need to work and process through is that expectation. Expecting them to do with us things that we like to do, right? It is part of that deschooling and learning how individual we all are as people.
JOAN: And honoring that. I think that just, I think I always of course I always wanted to honor people for who they are and their differences and their likes or dislikes and preferences. Being a mother and then adopting or having this beautiful light of unschooling shine down. I do not even know how, it is not like I chose it, I do not even know how, I just stumbled across it. It makes so much sense but then you just want that for everyone around you. You just want everyone around you to be joyful and you feel compassion for them. You want them to come on hikes with you.
PAM: It is so exciting to see people in general and definitely younger kids, teens, young adults doing things that they love doing. Like I get goose bumps, it does not really matter what it is they are doing but when you can see them so excited or engaged it, so in the flow of the moment of whatever it is it is an exciting part isn’t it.
JOAN: It is. My youngest son has completely taught himself how to front flip, back flip, side flip. He is all about parkour moves. He has completely taught himself everything. I never said you know what, you really need to learn how to flip. Flipping would make you a better person. He just wanted to do it. It is impossible to get him to stop, there is no stopping him. He is going to flip off of everything. So that rather that ever planting a seed of doubt I do not, I just trust that he knows what he is doing. I mean I am not letting him flip off of roofs and stuff.
PAM: My child flips off roofs.
JOAN: I mean, you know what I am saying. If your child loves it, you cannot stop them.
PAM: And you know what, that was something I worked through at the time. Because he knows his skill level and abilities better than I do. So, something that looks scary to me, you know, he has worked up to that over time. He has given himself a training plan get to a point where he is comfortable doing whatever it is that he is doing. I have even told him, sometimes when he is doing flips I’ll just kind of look the other way. But that is all about me for a moment.
JOAN: You know, you and I should not go out and flip of anything right now.
PAM: Exactly, right?
JOAN: But it is like you said, they worked up to it. Who am I to second guess their sense of who they are.
PAM: Because it is not like they want to go injure themselves.
PAM: And they have been making decisions and training and understanding their body intimately up until this point. It is not what they are about, like they just through that all out the window and hey I want to go do this crazy dangerous thing that I am sure I can not do.
JOAN: Right. It started out small and it just kept building.
PAM: Exactly. Years and years, isn’t it?
PAM: Yes, I love that.
I know you started a new business pretty recently. I would love to hear what everyone is up to and how you days and lives are flowing together.
JOAN: In case anyone thought I was drinking wine, I am not drinking wine through this video. This is kombucha and I have been making it for over a decade haphazardly for my family. Now in earnest as a legitimate business for the past two years. Again, not because I woke up one morning and was like I make such great kombucha I should do this as a business. That is just not who I am but I had given it to a friend who had some assorted health issues and he just could not say enough great things about how it helped him etcetera.
So, at his urging. Like eight months of urging, I acquiesced and so started. Anyway, I have this kombucha business and we now have a commercial kitchen at our home. What is fascinating is how without even, again I am not there is no force involved I am not dictating that my kids anything, but my oldest daughter is my order and delivery coordinator. She has just come into that. She has a beautiful way with people, she engages people with such an open joy. People love her and it suites her so well and she is thorough.
We are learning as we go. We have never been business owners before. I certainly was never in the beverage industry before so we are learning. She just manages that. I mean, I have not really dictated anything besides some basics like this is the information I need can you get that to me and this is the information you need. It is really cool. My middle son had an apprenticeship and IT apprenticeship that he has had for a couple of years. If he was in school he would be graduating this year. This apprenticeship had been super cool so he is not as involved. Though periodically if I have, I do home deliveries so if I have home deliveries near where his employment he takes them and does that.
Again, you know what I find fascinating too is people will often say oh teens do not know how to talk to people and teens do not know how to make change. I mean people just think teens do not know how to do anything and they are awesome. They waltz into new businesses and ask questions and introduce themselves and have composure and feel very comfortable with who they are. I think probably because since little people we have helped. Feeling comfortable with who you are is the goal.
Then my youngest son is here. He helps me tremendously. He wakes up and he has the things he likes. He likes to read or listen to audio books. He has this whole little regiment for what he likes to do. He sets the tone for his day. Then he helps me in the kitchen. He helps me sanitize things and even helps me with some designs and stuff. He has made a couple of little commercials for me where he has edited video.
So, everybody has their little—not so little, little sounds diminutive—they have their part and they enjoy it. It works out great. Maybe I could not have done this when they were teeny that would have been a lot but given their ages now, man they are just ridiculous help. Ridiculous in a good way help.
PAM: Yes, yes, exactly. My kids have also come at certain times and things that they are interested in and been so super helpful. It is just so fun, you know. Again, without the draconian direction, without the expectation, but they always seem to overdeliver. You know when it is something that they are interested in doing yeah, we want to help out, I would like to do something like this, you know. They have helped me from advertising to editing to social media. It is just so fun to see how it weaves in. It kind of flows with us.
JOAN: It does. I love too that they are not abashed in sharing ideas. They are not abashed at giving me feedback. They are not afraid to say, that does not make sense or that does not work so well. They are very confident in being able to articulate what they think is a better idea or efficient idea. I love that!
PAM: Yes, exactly because you can take that trust and relationship that you already have that is open, right? And they can say you know mom what about this, what if you did it this way and they are totally okay with saying yes, this needs some more work or whatever it is. It is so nice to have relationships that are at that point where there is not all sorts of other layers of subtext in there that you have to navigate.
JOAN: Precisely, and the other thing to is this business I am learning they are learning. They are learning maybe peripherally. There is stuff I am really learning but for them to see how businesses get started the ups and downs of it. I often thing starting a business is something everyone should be encouraged to try. Or doing something that requires you to put yourself out there and develop a different skill set. It is really wild. It makes you grow so fully. Well you know I am sure with your variety of pursuits. Business matters so much and yet normally for most teens you do not ever see that until you hit a college class or maybe you get to read about business or you get to read about marketing. You do not ever get to see it or apply it or even be a part of it until maybe your twenties.
I don’t know, I hope that this maybe will if they have an entrepreneurial spirit at all this inspires them to try something. Because certainly I am not the best and the most well read, you know there is nothing like in my resume that says oh she will be a wild success but that should not stop you. It does not need to stop you. So hopefully they will see that.
PAM: They are seeing, we are learning, again. They are seeing us learning. I am sharing.
JOAN: We are learning together.
PAM: Yes. That I am learning and they are commenting they are noticing or they are getting involved in different aspects over time. It is like I have discovered it is another growth journey. I talk about how the unschooling journey does not really end. I think there are growth journeys for us in all the areas that we choose to participate. If you get really into physical fitness there is a journey in there as well. On these journeys when we are learning about something that we are passionate about we are also learning something about ourselves. As we dive into it, right? So, everything that we dive into passionately is also a learning journey about ourselves. And who we are. It is so fascinating and interesting.
JOAN: It is.
PAM: Well, that you so much Joan for taking the time to speak with me today. It was so much fun, I really appreciate it!
JOAN: I really appreciate you asking me. It was really joyful to speak with someone else who gets excited and who maybe understands the language. I do not often get to have these sorts of chats with people so it was really nourishing to be able to be excited about what I do. And what we do, what we have created.
PAM: Oh, that is awesome. I am so glad you enjoyed it too. It was spectacular.
JOAN: Thank you.
PAM: And before we go, let’s let people know where they can get in touch with you on-line and your kombucha company for the people local to you.
JOAN: Oh gosh. That is very sweet. My business name, do you want me to give you my business name?
JOAN: So, it is Mount Nitanee Kombucha and I am in central Pennsylvania and Nitanee Mountain is a big deal here. If someone wanted to be in touch with me for that, we have a website, MountNitaneeKombucha.com. If you just wanted to chat with me about unschooling or taking hikes or doing push-ups, I do not know. You could e-mail me if you wanted. You could provide that if you wanted. I don’t know, however if somebody would like to be in touch with me that would always be fun to make a new connection.
PAM: Yes. That is awesome. Thanks, so much Joan, I have had a great day.
JOAN: Thank you, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much and thank you for doing that unschooling summit that really changed my life and my family’s life. I will forever love you all for having done that.
PAM: Thank you so much. We had so much fun with you guys that weekend. Bye.
JOAN: Yes, we did. Bye.