(We have provided time stamps e.g. [00:00:00] at the beginning of each question, in case you would like to refer to the audio or video version of the podcast)
PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia. From livingjoyfully.ca And today I am joined by Anna Brown to answer some of your questions. Hi Anna!
It was really fun to gather up some of your questions and Anna is going to get us started.
ANNA:[00:00:20] All right. So, our first question is around different personalities and households and that type of thing.
So, this mom is more of an introvert I’d say, she’s quiet, likes her quiet space. She aims for what she calls a minimalist house. She finds her son to be more sociable and outgoing and yet he talks about it being “tiring” to make new friends. They’re new to homeschooling and the mom is trying to get him involved in things and yet they live in the middle of the countryside and there aren’t easy opportunities to hang out with other kids and she kind of boiled it down to: I guess the question is how do I make a minimalistic quiet home dynamic enough for a lively and curious sociable 10 year old.
And for this I want to start with this is one of the big paradigm shifts I think with unschooling and that is learning that we’re all in this together. That we’re all on equal footing and that we all have desires and needs and learning to work those things out togehter. Me personally, I too, like a quiet, orderly house. When I had young kids that didn’t always work and there were four of us living in the house, we have two kids. So, I needed it to meet all of our needs, we needed a home that worked for all four of us. And you know I found ways in that time when they were younger to have my personal space orderly and also less sensory input because that can be tough for me.
So, I in my personal space that I carved out, I didn’t have TV, I didn’t have radio or music. But then we had other spaces that were full of creative energy and music and noises and things going on and a place where friends could gather. Also, my husband needed his kind of personal space. He like loud TV shows and he likes to work on his bike. And we needed the kind of spaces that worked for all of us. So, I think maybe that slight paradigm shift is helpful to consider as opposed to saying “I like a quiet minimalistic house.” What kind of house do we all need in order for this arrangement to work? Because it is very different when your kids are going to school.
PAM: Yeah, I think even that shift to instead of thinking of it as “my house”. It’s bigger, it’s our house, as a family, which doesn’t mean we don’t have our own spaces and our own needs for different things in particular spaces. So, it’s more like figuring out, “Oh, what kind of area do you like, how can we meet those needs?” And finding space even if it ends up being a corner of a room.
PAM: And it doesn’t need to be just the space itself. There can be things like headphones. Maybe I’m wearing headphones with waterfalls in the background or rain in the background. You know, natural noises just inside that space. So, there’s lots of ways to open things up for just brainstorming and you know that’s so much fun. That’s one thing we did, especially the first few years of unschooling, was rearranging the house so much.
ANNA: Yes. Because we had what would be considered a formal dining room of course we didn’t really need it. Or maybe it was a sitting room, I don’t know what it used to be but it was not a room that we were using properly. It became a playroom and a kitchen set and a diner and then a music room. I love when I go to fellow unschooler’s houses and the dining room has been converted into this really cool space or they’re using this in another way or they’ve brought down beds into this one sleeping room but then they have extra space for games.
So yeah, definitely just open up all those possibilities because I think that’s one of gifts of this life that we have. I am going to say this one story that is probably annoying to people with younger kids but I just have to do it because I was at a friend’s house last weekend. I went back to Charlotte to visit and her kids are still younger and it was a gathering with families and so there were lots of kids. I’m actually getting a little teary because the kids were running around and it’s the squealing girls and the running boys. I really caught my breath and I turned to a mom next to me whose kids are a little bit older too and I was like, “Oh my gosh, we don’t have that noise in the house anymore.” Because her girls grew up with my girls so they’re both you know 20s and off working and doing their thing. And when the four of them would get together it was a squeal fest and it passes so quickly you know? So, I’m grateful that we were in those moments and had that home where the kids were welcome and enjoyed and played because. Oh my gosh it’s gone now. And I love where we are. But still it was interesting to consider.
PAM: Yeah, I know that. That’s such a wonderful point too. I know when I’m out and about and you see the little kids running around it reminds you of that time.
There were a couple things I wanted to mention too because she was talking about living in the countryside. And not being too close to people. I know when we moved more rurally, I made a little vow to myself at the time. One of the things that goes along with living rurally is being willing to drive. So, they have friends and want them to visit. I’ll drive them in and then they can drive them back and you start to feel put upon from other parents. But no, I would always remind myself that this was important to me and to my child. It didn’t matter how important it was to the other child’s family. You know if I drove into town and picked up a friend and brought them back to our house where they had the stuff to play with, the space to play with, the okay to squeal and then I would drive them back home. Yes, I took that on as part of knowing this is our choice. When they get older maybe this is what I’m going to be doing, I’m going to be doing more driving, I’m going to be hanging out more in town while they’re doing things.
But I also didn’t take that on as weight or as something I had to do because you could always make it fun. I remember Lissy used to come with me for a while. While Michael was at karate, we’d go to the coffee shop next door and spend the hour.
That was a nice, really fun way where we got to just sit and chat and hang out or read. We didn’t even have to talk or anything like that. Longer trips we got into audio books over the years or maybe we were listening to their music. You know there were always ways to make it fun for everyone involved even if it involved extra driving.
ANNA: Yeah, we did a lot of driving too. Charlotte’s a big city and so to get to friend’s houses and other things it was just a lot of driving.
I was often the driver. So, I would go pick people up from all these different spots around town and then go to an event or bring them back to our house for a pool party or whatever. I did it all the time and I loved the chatter with all the kids in the car, that was fun. When it was just Raelin and I or Afton and I going somewhere, that time in the car was also really nice.
It’s that side by side where you can talk about things and it feels like a little less pressure. So, again I just tried to embrace that time and know that this is that phase of life where we are right now and we know where we live and why we chose it. We need it to drive a little bit just because that’s the way it was.
I thought of one other thing for this question before we move on, I know we have a lot of questions today but I’m also thinking it might be helpful for the writer of this question to realize that her son sounds to me like a social introvert. There’s just a slight difference, that I think’s important, so a social introvert, because I have one, loves to be around their friends. Honestly, they would like to be around friends every day. But it’s not always easy to make new friends. And so that can feel hard and not just any person will do. Whereas my friends who are extroverts just go into a group of random strangers and it’s fun, they can chat and do and whatever. But if you’re a social introvert while you like being with people, you like being with people you know and have a connection to already.
So, finding ways to connect in smaller groups. Consistency helps, seeing the same people so that if they’re slow to warm they can then become familiar with those people. And shared interests, hosting fun activities with shared interests or inviting people over to the house over a shared interest. That can help foster connection in a child that maybe has a little bit harder time making those connections. So, while she’s seeing him as sociable and outgoing it sounds to me because the way he’s describing making friends that maybe he’s that social introvert. So, I just want to throw that out there for people to think about.
PAM: Yeah, yeah that’s a great point. And shared interests was always, has always worked for us as a great opening connection. That helps with conversations when you’re just doing things together. The other piece to contemplate too is because he’s recently out of school. I think it was three months or so she said. Maybe he’s enjoying some decompressing time. So, yes maybe he might be social and active and that kind of stuff. She said she was already arranging him to meet up with existing friends that he already had. So maybe that is enough for him right now maybe he is just decompressing as well. So yeah. That’s the interesting thing. You just take those little pieces and see how they might apply.
Our second question is about a teen choosing to go to school. So, mom is feeling quite lonely on her unschooling journey. They’ve been unschooling for seven years, although her husband’s never been fully on board. Recently her 13 year old son mentioned that he’d like to try school mainly to meet more peers. So now his dad and the whole extended family is freaking out over his writing and how he doesn’t know the multiplication table and so on. And everyone’s blaming mom for not teaching him over the years.
Her question though is mainly about how to support him best right now and how to prepare him for school and her concern is mainly around bullying.
And now I wanted to say that I love that. Ultimately the question was around supporting her son because in the bigger picture the rest of that stuff is just noise and fear. There’s no value or information or anything helpful in that. And definitely it’s hard to hear but you know you can. It’s that not taking it on, this weight. It’s not taking on this judgment, letting it wash over you. Sure, that’s their perspective and that’s what they see right now. And they can see what they see. But she’s seeing her son which I loved. So. Thank you very much for that.
I think as you’re thinking about how to support him moving towards going to school, if he continues to want that choice, I think it’s really helpful just to continue to support his choices in each moment. So, she mentioned he was doing some prep with maths. Was that his choice? Is that something he wants to do? Does he enjoy learning with her mom? She said her mom is helping out with that. If so, that’s cool. This is him making some choices and seeing what happens. If he is not, if he’s feeling pressured to do this stuff from maybe some of those outside voices saying you’re not going to fit in or you’re not going to be able to do that, you need to do this, etc. If he’s feeling that pressure you don’t need to go there with that.
There’s so many other ways that he can start playing around with maths curriculum. So many ways, especially online now etc. There’s just so many other ways where he can choose to do that if that’s something that he wants to do. He may not want to do a lot of crap. He can go and he can see where things are and he can pick things up along the way at that time.
He’s been doing stuff that he finds interesting and enjoys and he’s been learning all that up until now. Right? For all these years. So, he’s got a set of knowledge and understanding of the world that the kids in school don’t have. So, if he wants to jump in and start learning from that perspective that’s OK too. It doesn’t nullify everything that he’s learned so far in his life. It’s just different. So, he’ll be learning different things in there, it doesn’t mean he’s behind.
I mean that’s the way everyone’s judging the situation because all of a sudden they’re taking him and putting him in a situation where yes, he looks behind compared to those people but only in this body of knowledge. If you were to compare them other ways, they would be behind. It’s just in the way you’re looking at it.
So, continuing to follow his choices and not put that school power over him now. That judgment, all that stuff does not need, certainly doesn’t need to come home and it doesn’t need to be on him now and you don’t even need to take it once he’s there.
I mean it doesn’t really matter what his grades are. Right? Is he getting out of the situation what he’s looking to get out of it?
So, keeping his choices and keeping your relationship strong with him so that when he does go and he does come across challenges, whether they’re grade related, learning related or if there are relationships problems or bullying.. All that kind of stuff that goes in there, you want to have a nice strong solid connected and trusting relationship with him so that he can talk to you about that stuff, so you guys can brainstorm what he might do, how you might deal with it.
So, I think still keeping the ethos of unschooling that choice, that support, that love, that trust and you’re just taking that into a new environment.
ANNA: I think what stood out for me that I think is worth examining is his reason for wanting to go back to school which was peers, so friends. Because wow, are there a lot of different ways to meet that need that don’t involve all of these other pieces.
She also mentioned that he had been bullied before and I think that kind of raised the mama bear and me a little bit. I wouldn’t want to put my child back in a situation where that can happen again and schools can be tough, especially if you have differences which she described. And I think, again, the focus like Pam talked about, keep the focus on your son and what he’s looking for and how can you meet that need.
Because there are so many ways to meet the need and really a school would probably say, “This isn’t the place to come to make friends, you’re here to learn and do.” And if he’s wanting to learn then we can learn in different ways also. So, I think maybe just stepping back and peeling back those layers just a little bit to see.
For the family, I would just express and try to calm them that those things can be learned. And like Pam said he’s been learning all kinds of things all of these 13 years. So, you have massive examples I’m sure of all the skills and things that he’s learned. Learning those few pieces that they’re talking about, he can do that. But protecting who he is and fostering that love and connection, that’s your goal. I think maybe there’s a way to communicate that to your family so that they’re seeing it. Because my guess is, they love him and are crazy about him too and I think they would want to protect that. So, those things will improve. But you know make sure that you are protecting who he is and what he’s looking for and talking to him and having those conversations. So, that was kind of what jumped out.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And I find too as I was talking about making sure if you still feel like he has choices. Not that he said I think I want to go to school and then all of a sudden, all this stuff came on top. Well then you have to do x y z and then ABC. So, if you’re supporting those choices and making sure that connection and conversations are ongoing that’s exactly where I imagine things might go. So it continues to be conversations about why they want to go, what they want to get out of it, what are their needs and what are other ways to meet the needs.
When choice is still there and conversation and connection is strong things morph and change, don’t they? They do so much because especially when it comes to school because school seems to be the answer for so many things conventionally, right?
I want more friends, I want to get good grades. I want to play football. Whatever it is so often the first answer we jumped to is school. Just because it’s ingrained even in our children because they see it everywhere. Friends make comments, friends go to school, TV shows it seems to kind of be the answer.
So, when you keep the choice and the connection is strong, you dive deeper into that. Just naturally, they’ll keep thinking about it because it’s their choice and they’ll start thinking, ‘Well, you know, is that the best way for me to do that? Are there other ways that I can try?’
That whole piece I think often comes up. That’s why the choice piece is so important because they can change their minds.
ANNA: And they’ll feel supported as you’re asking these questions, as you’re listening, as you’re brainstorming with them they’ll feel heard and supported. We don’t know how this played out but this I think maybe “I should go back to school to meet some friends.” And then suddenly, the family swoops in and we’re doing the curriculum and we’re doing this, I’m not sure that was his intention.
Maybe it was you but those conversations really help I think everybody feel heard.
Our next question is about mixing unschooling with other homeschooling methodologies. Basically, she’s asking can unschooling fit under the eclectic homeschooling approach. She loves picking and choosing the best parts of several different homeschooling philosophies rather than one ideology. She loves the idea of natural and self-directed learning but wants to know how to use unschooling alongside of other philosophy such as Charlotte Mason and things like that. She describes her children sitting down for table and book work for about one to two hours a day.
I think first, I definitely would not worry about any kind of defining or labelling. I don’t really know that it has a point. I think, do what works for your family. But what I will say is make sure it’s really working for your family.
For me personally, if we just want to talk about the issue with curriculum it’s that it is one view of a subject and it’s often very passive. So, it creates the idea that one needs an expert or a workbook in order to learn. And that’s just not true.
Over the course of our unschooling journey we used tons of resources but never once a workbook. The idea of sitting at a table and filling out a workbook to me is not unschooling. It’s not learning through exploring. And it’s really not even purposeful learning, where you’re really looking at some kind of specific thing I’m interested in, like the butterfly lifecycle or this thing or whatever and then things stem from there.
I think that’s one of the big differences. Kids might do it because it’s presented to them but they’re going to take that in as, ‘OK, now I’m learning. I’m sitting at the table to do my learning.’ And that’s a real danger, I think, because we’re learning all the time at midnight, at 5:00 in the morning and she talks about how they’re doing science experiments and other things throughout the day.
But there’s still just a piece of that to examine. I think the sit down, fill something out is really comforting to parents. I think especially starting out, it’s like, ‘Look they’re doing work, doing school, we’re doing this homeschooling thing.’ And so, I get that but I really would argue that kids do not organically want to spend hours at a table filling out workbooks or on someone else’s ideas. Neither do adults. I think you’d be hard pressed to find the person that really truly wants to do that with all other choices open to them.
But I think each family is different. And so, find your groove while this might be working great now, just be open to a time when maybe it won’t. And if that time comes, observe if you’re OK with that or is it a trigger? Because I think that’ll give you some good information—we’re just using this because it’s serving us now or no I’m triggered. I don’t want them to stop this. And so, then you can say, “OK maybe this is a little bit more about me than about them.” But it may not be. So, I’m just suggesting to keep that in mind.
She mentioned how they learned to read and do maths through their workbooks and curriculum and you know mine learned those things without that. And one of the things I found fascinating, I think I’ve talked about it before but was how much of a better grasp of numbers and mathematics they had because they came at it their own way. I was excellent at maths in school, all the advanced classes you know, blah, blah. I loved it. But their understanding of numbers has always astounded me. Their ability to manipulate them and use them is so organic and it’s easier. And what’s interesting is, had I jumped in and taught them the way I was taught and used a curriculum to do that because it’s the standard way, I think they would have lost their personal understanding. There’s a chance they might not have even enjoyed math, because the way I look at it, because the way I was taught is so different than the way their mind naturally wanted to go.
So, I think those are other things when she’s asking, “I don’t understand what unschoolers are talking about.” Well, we’ve seen this natural development and you can say the same for reading because you’ve got whole word and you have you know what is the other thing called. . . Phonics. You have these different approaches. And what I found with my kids, I had one who has a special memory and so memorizing whole words was really helpful for her when she was learning to read. Now we didn’t use any curriculum. I’m just observing how she’s doing it whereas what I found really for both of them is they actually used both things.
Sometimes they’re sounding things out, sometimes they’re memorizing words that they’ve seen in multiple places. And so, if you were to get a reading curriculum typically it’s one way or the other or at least somebody else’s idea of how it should be done.
And so, I think there are a lot of things to consider in this question because you know curriculum can be shiny and fun if you like that. I like getting the pencils at the beginning of school and getting my new notebooks. But that’s about me and I know it feels safe but it really isn’t organic learning and it’s shifting the focus of learning away from the learner to a book, to a third party. And so it’s focusing on what the author feels is important about that subject and what you and I both know and I know you can speak to this too is when we let our children explore a subject they may find something totally different out of same experience to focus on and pull out. So, it’s this idea of telling them what to look at versus watching what they look at and then going from there. Go ahead.
PAM: Well no, I mean that was great. I think the question boils down to, ‘Isn’t it OK as an eclectic home schooling to mix self-directed learning with teacher directed learning?’
But that’s what you were talking about. There is impact on the self-directed learning when you mix in some of that teacher stuff. Some of that curriculum style of learning. It creates a hierarchy of learning I think this is implicit learning. You’re not sitting there and telling them that but they figure out things. That see that when you do the maths and reading that you’re teaching them with the curriculum and then the other stuff that you’re doing, it’s less important.
Because I don’t trust you to learn on your own. This maths stuff and this reading stuff or it’s too hard for you to learn on your own, we need to use a curriculum.
Those can be very confusing mixed messages for them and they’re soaking that in. When they come across things in the world, they have to think—is this something I need to be taught how to do? Is this something I can learn on my own?
And even by doing that you’re still continuing like you mentioned before, dividing the world into subjects. And in that, you’re losing that layer of interconnectedness. You know the maths and the patterns and the sewing in the maths, the maths and patterns that are everywhere in the world. The things that they do and the games that they play, in everything. But that’s not maths because it’s not the maths that they do at the table, right?
So, it’s defining things. And with unschooling the question becomes what is the value in labelling this maths or in labelling this science?
Because we’re playing with science experiments, we’re doing the things, we’re looking at the butterfly life cycle. We’re figuring out how to sew this, this pillow that I want to make. We’re figuring out how to beat the boss in this next game. And maybe that’s literally a formula. But it doesn’t need to be labelled, per say.
When you’re in the moment and doing the thing and learning the things you need to know to get the thing accomplished that you’re trying to do, those labels really don’t add a lot of value. They don’t really add.
ANNA: And maybe they’re distracting. I think it pulls you out of the moment.
PAM: And then when you talked about, she certainly talked about they’re having fun and doing all this right now. There can be consequence though. And that’s the perfect question, “How do I feel about it if they start to resist?” You know if you start to need to convince them to come and sit down for that hour and do that curriculum work. If you do that, over a longer term that’s going to start to impact your relationship. They’re going to feel more controlled. They’re going to feel less free to make choices and then they’re going to also likely to come to you with their questions. Because it’ll be like, ‘Oh mom will remind me to finish my maths or you know I didn’t do well on the reading and she’s not happy with me.’
They start avoiding coming to us with questions and conversations and unschooling suffers that way. They’re learning in general suffers that way. When coercion and power and those kinds of dynamics start to creep into our relationships because we’re no longer working together and learning together. And learning it’s back to that hierarchy where this is the stuff that we have to learn this way and the rest of this stuff isn’t as important and you can learn that on your own time.
I think at the beginning there you nailed it. That to me is the most interesting part of this. This question is why the need to label some of your day unschooling. Right? So, it would be so cool to ask yourself, “What need would that satisfy?” How would I feel if I said we use an eclectic mix of curriculum in the morning and they’re free to play for the rest of the day? We get our schoolwork done in the morning and then they play, how does that feel to say? Why does it need to be called unschooling?
Because there are reasons why splitting it up and having some teacher directing stuff is going to get in the way of unschooling. Because they’re already thinking of it as play versus learning. With unschooling it’s all learning and all learning has value because they’re interested in it. Not because it’s related to maths or related to reading and stuff.
ANNA: And it’s without agenda, which I think is important because the other thing I think can happen and it’s kind of on the heels of what you just said, is that if we’re turning everything into a learning opportunity or we’re grouping it into subjects they don’t come to ask about why is that butterfly is looking so strange on the deck because mom’s going to then break out the butterfly kit and we’re going to have to do the thing and thing.
When really they just want to here, “Oh, maybe it’s about to die.” Or “Oh, it’s wings just opened up from the cocoon under there, see that?” And then you move on. That’s what I loved about our experiences, we would dabble in those things, we’d answer questions but it was never then becoming the learning or “teaching moment.” It was asking questions and then with that, they were so much more open and free to then come with all the questions.
ANNA: So, you think, ‘But now we’re going to miss this opportunity!’ No, you’re going to get so many more opportunities to interact and see what’s catching their eye and see what they love. And again, it’s just this organic process and it’s really the way that we do it as adults.
I think that’s something that helps people sometimes when they’re struggling with this because it makes perfect sense to them for adults to learn this way. But for some reason they have a belief that children need to learn in a different way. And so, I think just turn that around and say, “Do they really?” What changes at 18, 19, 20, 30, 45, because I’m not sitting down in the morning doing workbooks, I’m digging in and I’m learning new maths skills or rehashing maths skills that I knew long ago because I’m going to build a chicken coop or I’m figuring out how to wire this chandelier that I’m in the process of making that will be disclosed soon. But that’s learning for me, I’m figuring out the electricity of it and the whatever of it in that because it has value to me. That’s unschooling. That’s how we do it as adults. That’s how kids do it too. That’s how we all as humans want to learn.
PAM: I know. And I was talking earlier to someone else about how my blog posts would eventually always kind of end up with “unschooling as life” because it is how human beings learn. So, that’s why it’s so challenging to only do it part time.
It’s cool and you can see your kids. I think that eventually and even maybe that’s part of the transition to unschooling right?
PAM: But eventually when you deeply understand how it’s working, you start to lose the need to control the other kinds of learning as well.
Our next question actually connects back to the first question I think about unschooling with differing personalities. Mum would like some ideas about how to manage an unschooling household when one of the parents is highly sensitive.
So, for me it’s back to that. Talking with your kids. Not with an ultimate solution in mind, not that I need to talk with them and convince them that I need this. But to hear their ideas, to brainstorm ideas together, to bring your needs to the table even when they’re young. Her kids were on the younger side. I think four and a half and six and half. But they can have some really cool ideas. We talked earlier about maybe not needing a whole room but setting up a space to have a quieter and uncluttered space for you. I remember talking to Erin Human on one of the podcast episodes and she talked about some headphones or just earplugs for when you’re feeling more overwhelmed and that dampened the noise level. But you can still have a conversation with them on or maybe you’ve got rain going on in the background, just some nice white noise that’s soothing for you that cuts out the noise of other things going on. Or it cuts just the loudness level, the impact on you.
There are so many different things that you can play around with even things like having like a codeword with your kids. Where there’s just some funny word that you say that just lets them know that you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. “Bananas!” I’m going to go make a cup of tea and go sit in my corner for five minutes. I’m there if you need me kind of thing. It’s just finding what works for your family.
So that’s why chatting with them doesn’t have to be long conversations especially when they’re younger but just mentioning, “Oh you know I’m feeling overwhelmed.” Or suggesting a quiet activity. “Do you think a quiet activity would go?” Well, if I’m feeling the need can we watch a movie or play blocks or do a puzzle? What activities in your family does everybody enjoy that are quieter? Or I’m going to go do a puzzle you’re welcome to join me.
You know just having those kinds of conversations because then they’re seeing you trying to work something out. Noticing how you’re feeling in certain situations and explaining it to them and coming up with ways that you might meet that need or help that challenge. They’re seeing you do it for yourself and as well as seeing you react to their needs and interests and things they want.
ANNA: Yeah, I found the questions to be very similar and suggest the same type of things. Something that helped me was getting outside. So, if things were getting kind of chaotic and loud and I was feeling a little sensory overwhelm, just stepping outside, putting my feet on the ground, walking among the trees even just for a couple minutes just really brought it down for me.
So, that was helpful. Other things to consider are swapping with a friend, hosting a playdate at your house one day and a playdate at their house another day that gives you a little bit of extra time and gives them some time too. A mother’s helper is another idea where you can then really tune out if you want to read a book or meditate or whatever but you know they’ve got somebody playing with them, somebody they enjoy that’s fun.
I just tried to ground myself in the chaos, find little moments where I could recharge. And that’s what worked for me, getting in those little moments versus sometimes we’re conditioned to think we need long stretches of time in order to recharge or it’s a weekend or it’s whatever, that didn’t work for my family. So, I would find the little moments. And I found that was okay. And it helped me be present and enjoy those moments as they were happening.
PAM: Yeah, I love that because that’s the other piece, we’re so often conditioned that we need time to our self, to recharge. For me, I remember when they were running around the park and things were getting crazy and overwhelming, pushing them on the swing was something very zen. “Would you like to have a swing?” You know and just pushing them, it was repetitive and then and I could just totally relax into it. Legos was another one I would suggest when I needed a little bit of downtime. And we had a really cool like Lego table that was a wooden table more their height that had edges. Rocco built it. It had edges, so the Legos weren’t constantly falling on the floor. But I would sit there and I’d be the Lego taker a parter. And that was that was my role because they would have their imaginative play with the things that they built and everything and I would sit there and happily take all the stuff apart that they no longer wanted. So, they had more pieces for what they were building. And it was just kind of Zen and relaxing and repetitive for me and I’m still with them. But I’m I’m recharging at the same time.
ANNA: Yes, yes. I love that. OK so next question.
This is a mom that’s just starting out and she asks do unschooled kids learn reading, writing, and maths. And how does it compare to traditional school and what they’re learning in that regard? Or if they only want to play video games all day are they permitted to do so. And she ask if they are allowed to follow their bliss and their bliss is to sit and be lazy. Then what?
So… well my first thought was sometimes my bliss is to sit. (laughing) And relax, but lazy really isn’t a word I would ever use. But we do live in a culture that values busy and I challenge people to really examine that because how is that playing out in our culture with the stress levels, the illnesses, the anxiety. This value of busy, it’s just interesting to step back from that because we think busy means you’re productive, busy means you’re doing something of value, you’re this, you’re that. And the question is, “Is it true?”.
So, anyway that’s kind of an aside from this question but I think it’s an important question to consider. As for whether they learn to read and write and do maths, yes, yes they do. We are learning creatures. Words are everywhere. Math is everywhere. Writing, while less popular now in the age of computers and phones, still comes in handy.
So, I think what you see is that kids want to participate in community. They want to be a part of this world with us. So, they want to understand what these words mean. How does this work? What’s that? How do you know that? Well, I know that because I read this or we’d see this and we talk about it. And maths, it’s baking, it’s sewing, it’s making a garden, it’s building a chicken coop, it’s doing whatever the things are in your environment. Math is so handy. I mean the purpose of math is it helps you do things.
I think what frustrates me about school is that it takes these things reading, writing, and maths and separates them from the world. So, you’ll have kids in school wondering, ‘Why do I have to learn this? That is never a question that an unschooling child asks because they’re learning it for a specific purpose. Maybe they want to sew this cosplay costume so they’re trying to figure out how much fabric do I need and how much is that going to cost and what about this and I’ve got to add this trim. How much trim am I going to need? All of those things and you can say, “Well, this is a cool formula that will help you figure that out.” Well, of course I want to know this! It makes sense.
So, you never have this separating and the same with reading. So, you have to read this book and reading becomes drudgery. When you’re unschooling and you’re in the real world, reading is fabulous because it’s giving you information, be it information at the train station on how to get somewhere or it’s diving into a historical book because it’s giving you information about this thing you want to know more about or whatever the case may be. So, that’s one of the beauties and gifts I think of unschooling, this love of learning is there because it’s so useful. It really is.
And I’m just going to say we have a lot of resources about video games out there. So, I’m not really going to rehash that but just to say that video games are amazing, the art, the story, the challenges, the puzzles. They require quick thinking, cooperation, puzzle solving, critical thinking so many things. So maybe learn a bit more about videogames if your kids are interested and listen to some other things on Pam’s site. And I think you’ll find it’s quite complex and actually most parents are not able to keep up, at all, with what’s happening in video games. So, just going to throw that out there. Pam.
PAM: Yeah. No, I mean I don’t have too much to add, definitely unschooled kids learn all that stuff. I think what trips them up and you did such a beautiful job of describing what it looks like with unschooling because learning those things doesn’t look the same as it does in school.
PAM: So, I think that’s what trips people up as they’re new to unschooling and they’re trying to figure out how this might work. How does it compare to school?
It looks very different. In fact, you know what, I’ll link to the three blog posts. I did three blog posts many years ago on those three topics because you those are the three basic things, of course. [Here they are: reading, writing, and math.]
And how does that look with unschooling and how does how does it look different. So, I’ll link to those in the show notes as well. Same with video games we’ll put some links in there. And following their bliss to sit and be lazy. I love what you said about the word lazy and our focus on productivity when we talk about coming to unschooling and really hanging out with your kids and seeing what they’re doing and giving it time, you know six months a year, to just sink into it. You will start to see that those so-called lazy moments really have so much value. Maybe they’re decompressing from some sort of challenging or stressful thing that went on and it’s just like a reset. Maybe they’re processing stuff that’s going on and there’ll be a quiet time of a week or two or a couple of days or a month and they’ll come out and all of a sudden, they’re talking about different things. They’re bringing out these insights, they put stuff together there that you had no idea.
That was one of my biggest surprises when we moved to unschooling was how much down time they would choose to have. How much time was swinging on the swing, listening to music. Was walking around, was laying on the couch, was doing repetitive quiet things that they needed, that would look lazy from someone conventionally looking in but really, they weren’t seeing the value in that supposedly unproductive time. It really is so valuable.
ANNA: So, I want to say something along this line and I’m not sure this analogy will work for everybody. But with labour and delivery, when you’re having a baby, there’s this conventional idea that you are in labour like this, you know, that you’re just going to keep going in a steady line. So, if you’re not progressing at this certain pace, we’re going to do something or we’re going to change or we’re going to whatever. But the reality is during a natural birth, laboring, it stays here and then it jumps. You know, you jump along. And that’s exactly what happens with our kids because I’ve seen it too and you’ve talked about it in other forums.
So, there’ll be this kind of down quiet time and then there’s this leap. When they’re younger it would be this quiet downtime that doesn’t even seem to be related to anything and then suddenly, they’re reading this game that they weren’t reading two weeks ago or there is this new concept that you’re thinking, ‘Wow, where did this come from?”.
That’s just mulling time and it’s not even necessarily conscious. I think sometimes it is but sometimes I think it’s just the way the brain is taking in all these new things and then making sense of that. So, it’s leaps versus linear and I think school tries to say we’re going to learn a new thing each day and we’re going to add and add and add and that is not the way real learning works. I mean, it’s just you take things in, you step back, you leap forward and I found it fascinating and fun to watch just as a curious person to just watch it all unfold.
PAM: I love that analogy. That’s such a great point too. I remember my labours. Yeah. But yeah that’s a great way to describe the difference between the way school is expecting learning to look, very step by step by step a linear progression.
Learn this little bit today. Learn this little bit tomorrow, follow the syllabus. And that’s really not how it works you know and even kids in school can’t do it that way either. You know what I mean, because that’s just not how our brains work.
Our next question is about older unschoolers. Basically, the kids are all middle school age now with the eldest starting high school next year. And the question is how do unschoolers get a high school diploma? Or do they? And if not, how does college fit in?
So, really we’re back to choice again. Right? It really depends on where they’re going, what their aspirations are, what they’re trying to accomplish.
It’s great that the question recognizes that it’s a question, whether or not a high school diploma is needed. And it also completely depends on the regulations where you live, for your state or your province. You know some homeschooling families can issue a diploma. Others may use an umbrella. If there’s a need for a high school diploma. So many colleges and universities now have homeschooling admission policies because they know they want these kinds of kids, kids who are still excited about learning, still eager to learn and know what they’re interested in learning about.
They are so often much more engaged at the college level so they’re starting to create policies so that they can get in with the kind of background that they have. And so maybe a high school diploma isn’t even needed. You can just go in and take a few courses at a college level maybe as a younger student. You know 16, 17, take a few. And then you’ve got a little bit of a record there and then you can get in. There are just so many ways. So, there’s not one answer to any of those.
It really depends on the individual, it depends on where you live, it depends on what they’re trying to accomplish. You know maybe they do end up needing a high school diploma for whatever degree they want in the state where you live. And so maybe they do some distance learning or online learning to get it. Maybe they just need some Grade 12 courses to get in. You know it’s really not a question with one particular answer but it’s wonderful fodder for conversations with your kids.
ANNA: Yeah, I think so too and I just want to throw out a resource that we can put in the notes but I think Blake Boles book “College Without High School” is a nice start too because he really talks about all of this. It’s interesting because the book is written for teens and even for teens that are in school on why they need to get out because it’s better to get into college.
And it’s just for the reasons Pam said because colleges love unschoolers and self- directed learners because they want to be there and they have this self-motivation that is so key to being successful in college. So, college is not an issue. But keeping in mind that that’s just one path. You know, that college is not necessarily the best path for everyone, so to keep it open.
And for the diplomas, absolutely, it’s based on where you live. That’s a big piece of it. I mean one, do you even need it? But in North Carolina, I’m in Virginia now, but North Carolina is where my kids grew up and we were considered private schools. So, we actually did issue the diplomas.
I do just want to say at this point, I have a personal belief, feel free to research for yourself but I don’t think that GEDs are necessary for homeschoolers and unschoolers and I think it can be counterproductive because that tends to be what people do that drop out of school, and that’s fine. But unschooled and homeschooled children have completed their school so it’s a different, it’s a different view. And so, I would research that a little bit if you’re looking at it. I also love the idea that dual enrolment, that’s what they call it here in Virginia and in North Carolina. It’s where you do some community college while still in high school and you get that a little bit and then that helps, sometimes you can then opt out of other classes in college if that’s your choice. But again, college is just one path.
Also ask your local groups these questions because sometimes that can be really helpful as to how people did it in your locality and they’ll understand your laws a little bit more because it’s so different and we have people from all over the world listening.
PAM: Exactly. And yet again back to the kids and what they want to do and what are they trying to accomplish?
Because sometimes when we start thinking about that more conventional side, all of a sudden that’s all we see. Right? If they want to go to college well then, we need this high school transcript and we need this or maybe we need that GED or whatever.
It’s not about putting requirements on them before they’ve discovered their path, there can be so many ways to work around and to get through things rather than even just stated policies right.
And when you’re a kid and you have these conversations and do this research and find these things it’s just exciting. And it helps everyone just narrow in on which way they might want to do it because there are always multiple ways to do things yes, absolutely.
ANNA: It’s just a good thing to talk about openly. OK so our last question today is about allowance and money.
This mom has toyed with the idea of giving her kids a weekly allowance with no strings attached. Her oldest is six and she feels like it might make handling their requests for things easier though. Then she wonders. That would still leave the question of spending money on things that they want beyond that. So maybe not, she’s not sure. And what about offering to pay for work they do around the house. Might that lead to them only wanting to help if they get paid? So, she just has a lot of really rich, interesting questions about money and how that flows in the family and how to work out with the kids.
So, this is one of those things where I feel there are so many possibilities. It’s so unique to each individual family. We did, when my kids were pretty young, give them a very small allowance. I mean it was something like five bucks a week and it actually stayed like that forever. I know some people make it bigger as they age but they just enjoyed having that pocket change. And it was funny because one of them just spent it instantly every time. That was what she wanted to do. And the other one just saved everything. And so, what they were learning about their styles and about what they wanted to do, they found that really interesting. But it never really had a lot of energy with us.
We personally didn’t have a lot of issues with too many requests. We just kind of handled things as they came in and followed our interests and that type of thing. If it was something big like a gaming console or maybe a trip that we wanted to take as a family, we we’re very open about our finances and we talked about it together. “OK. So, we want to take this trip in January. What do we want to do about Christmas? What do we want to do about the birthdays?” We have a lot of birthdays around that time a year. Do we want to take the big trip instead of lots of smaller presents? We would just talk very openly about our finances how we were making choices to spend money, that type of thing.
We never paid for work around the house. We didn’t have chores. I don’t know, that whole idea just never really fit for us. I guess I wanted to foster an environment of just living together, helping each other, tackling things together as we could or needed it. I feel like money might change that dynamic some and just didn’t really make sense for our family. We did choose to set aside money in a fund for them and somehow that made it easier for us budget wise and thinking about things like, “OK, this is money for gymnastics.” Or those type of things and made those decisions different and easier maybe but again, I think it’s so specific to each family.
So, I’ll hand off to Pam but I just want to say I think the person that wrote the question is asking some really great questions. I feel like that process of her examining how it feels to her. How does she think it’ll feel to them? And coupled with talking to the kids and opening up those discussions, I think they’ll get pretty quickly to something that feels good to all of them.
PAM: Yes. Exactly. It really is. It is so individual and they’re wonderful questions to ask and they’re wonderful questions to play with. Yeah. So, it is chatting with them. “If we did a little bit of allowance, what do you think would that cover?” That would give you some money in your pocket so that when we’re out and about and you want to pick up a little toy or a candy bar or an apple or whatever it is, you don’t have to come and ask. Even though you know their parents are more than likely going to say yes. It gives them a chance to go pay for it, if that’s something that they’re interested in. That can feel very empowering. It can give them the opportunity to say, “This is this is my money. I’m going to pay for it. I’m going to get my change.” It’s all really exciting. But again, it depends on the individual. Maybe that’s not something they’re interested in doing it all. Maybe they don’t mind coming to say, “Hey Mom, can we get this as well?”.
That’s why it’s interesting to talk to them about it. I mean we did allowances for a while too and sometimes we gave out cash that they kept. Sometimes for a while we kept track of their amounts on a calendar. You know, we have this much in the bank/our bank. As soon as they were old enough, which was quite young, they got bank accounts for themselves too. So, they had their card and they looked online and there were always conversations about it.
For a while, when they wanted something bigger and they wanted to pay for it themselves and they wanted ways to make some money faster, we came up with a few things they could do. We didn’t use regular chores per say. But if there was some stuff around the house, “Hey you know I would like if we could move the wood.” Maybe I would hire somebody to do. At some point you know. Or that would have value for me. Like in our conversation it would be really valuable to me to pay to have that done right now. And it helps them. And I think that’s something you watch for in your conversations is it getting to a point where it becomes an expectation that things will be paid for. Because you know really for us it was only ever around a certain thing that maybe they were saving for where this came up. It didn’t become an ongoing thing because I wasn’t comfortable with it becoming an ongoing expectation.
But I was comfortable figuring out ways for them to feel like they earned more money for this because I wanted to pay into it, you know what I mean? So, it was really interesting in that our allowances just kind of fell by the wayside because when we were having lots of conversations, I just found as we move to unschooling, the requests for things naturally went away because they started to feel so supported and they knew that if we could, we would help them get something they wanted to accomplish, something they wanted to do. They knew we would do that.
So they didn’t have to ask for a whole bunch of things just to get something. They knew this so they didn’t have to ask for five things so that maybe we’d say yes once or twice. They could just ask for stuff they really want because they knew we’d say yes if we could and if we couldn’t, that it would still be a yes. But you know, let’s figure out how. As you were talking about trips and Christmas and everything. “OK. What is it that we’re really wanting to do here and how will that work for us in the bigger picture of things? You know there were Christmases where we hardly did anything. And then there were times before birthdays where trying to come up with the list to give to the grandparents was hard!
Because we’re not waiting for these moments to spend the money and again it’s completely within our budget. I mean I’ll link to some podacsts. I have Unschooling on a Budget a podcast episode where we talked about that because it is so personal for the family and their circumstances.
There are so many ways to do things and to accomplish things and to pursue interests that don’t need to take a lot of money. So, it’s really just how your family wants to pursue this thing. And again, conversations for the individuals and the people that are involved and what they’d like to do with money, how they’d like to learn about money and play. Now we’re talking about investing in stuff because our kids are older and these are the kinds of questions and things that we’re talking about. So, it’s interesting and they’re great questions and I think that open conversations make it feel less arbitrary.
ANNA:I’m wondering if that’s part of the moving to unschooling that changes the asking dynamic that she’s talking about because we are talking about how we make the choices with money and what money we have and when. And so, it’s not this arbitrary, I’m going to them they’re going to say yes or no. I don’t know why they’re going to say yes or no but they’re going to say yes or no. You know vs. these are how we’re making the decisions here’s what we have to pay each month. Here are the things we’re thinking about.
My husband is in finance so this is kind of his big thing. He really likes open communication about that. Like really talking about, if you save money now, you’re going to have a lot of money later. He shows them the charts and the things because you know that’s his belief and what he’s seen play out for him is saving money when you’re young, makes it so much easier when you’re older.
And so, these are just open conversations that we’ve had. And so, this is kind of unrelated but I feel like I want to say this every time this comes up and I’ve said it before but having kids who are moving out, we have one out an apartment and it has to do with what Pam talked about, getting them their own accounts very early. I think this is super helpful. And also, what we found is having their own credit card and you can get and it may be different in different countries obviously but you can get credit cards that are secured and so once they’ve paid it for a period of time then it becomes unsecured. But it gives them this credit history. And also, if you put them on one of your credit cards and it can be a side credit card or whatever, that goes onto their credit report. And so, then when they go to get an apartment, they have a credit score.
And what we found is even when they didn’t have a lot of income they had this great credit score and were able to then get an apartment without us having to co-sign and things like that. So, there are some things I guess I wish people had talked to me more about. Like when my kids were that middle school high school age because it was just really helpful and luckily, we had done some of those things already. But you know now looking back there are some things that make it a little bit easier for them. So, I think these conversations about finance and spending money and saving money are just really valuable and they don’t talk about it in school either. So, it’s that’s one of the beauties of being home in a family and working together is we can have these kinds of real-world important conversations.
PAM: Yes. I love that. And that’s one of the things I wanted to mention again and I think I mentioned of the last time we did a Q and A.
But that’s why every answer here was to have these conversations, have this conversation and our Q and A conversations here aren’t about giving anyone a right answer. There isn’t a right answer right. It’s about contemplating the situation, asking the questions, so many of them are asking great questions. These are wonderful questions to be asking yourself. So, playing around with the perspectives maybe we can see things differently thinking about what might be lying underneath the questions. What need are we satisfying if we want to go in this direction?
So for me I feel like we’re tilling the soil around the topic of the question maybe we’re pulling up a rock or two. Maybe offering a different way, maybe, “Hey what about this little crevice in here? What is this doing for you?” So, it’s with an eye to helping the people who are asking the question to see what comes up for them when they’re hearing how we’re looking at things in different ways. We might suggest they look at things and back to their unique family how might that look in their unique family, with their unique personalities. How are we going to find ways to move through this challenge together whether they’re individual personalities or whether there are different things that they want to accomplish or whatever the challenges that comes up?
It’s not ever about having a right answer even when you’re first unschooling or whether you’ve been doing that for 10 years. The great thing about these conversations is just it’s the inspiration for the brainstorming, the fresh look at things.
So, I want to thank you so much Anna for joining me to do that.
ANNA: You’re welcome I love doing it. I love that we always have so much fun.
PAM: Yes, we do. Thanks so much. Have a wonderful day.
ANNA: You too. Talk to you later. Bye.