PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Amy Milstein. Hi Amy. Oh, did I say your name properly?
AMY: Yes, you did.
PAM: Oh good! So, I am excited to finally connect with Amy because I’ve come across her work online over the years. That’s the great thing about having a podcast, it’s a great reason to reach out to people that you’ve seen around for years. So, I’m really excited that you said yes, Amy. Thank you so much.
AMY: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
AMY: Sure. So, we live in New York City. And my husband is from Israel originally. We’ve been here forever and we have two kids. They are now 19 and 15. Our daughter just started her sophomore year at Cal State Fullerton. Our son is 15 and is out in Oregon at camp. Kids never went to school K through 12. They were always unschooled. So, the college experience was the first time one of our kids have been in a completely structured school setting. And that’s it in a nutshell.
PAM: That’s a really interesting and we’re definitely going to dive into the college aspect because I think that will be really interesting for people to hear about. But let’s jump back a few years.
I’m curious how you discovered unschooling and what your move to unschooling looked like?
AMY: We had friends who always said they were homeschooled, before we had kids. I found out later that they were basically unschoolers as well. I was just impressed with these kids. Let’s look at them. They’re comfortable in all society. They’re comfortable with adults. They’re comfortable with older kids, younger kids. So, the social aspect of how comfortable they were in all social situations is what hooked me. Which is of course the myth, that homeschooled kids are not well socialized. That’s so not true.
I always thought about it because we live in New York City and I didn’t really want to go the public school route and I couldn’t quite fathom what I would be paying twenty thousand dollars a year for four or five year old in a Montessori school that I couldn’t do at home. You know? Hand me twenty thousand dollars and we’ll have a good time! So, I started looking at that, and decided we would homeschool. And that was before we even had kids.
When our daughter Maya was old enough to officially start reporting in New York.
We started with kind of a Waldorfy type curriculum. And that was fine but after maybe a year or so I figured out that what she really liked was just the sit down one on one time with me. And then it became a situation where she didn’t want to do some of the stuff that I had planned. I quickly thought, ‘Well I didn’t sign up for this.’ To sit and argue with my kid about schoolwork because if I’m going to do that, I’ll send her to school and we’ll argue about homework. That just wasn’t what I wanted. And by that time Ben had come along and he was very clearly not going to be a sit down at the table and do work kind of kid. His eyes would just roll back in his head if you suggested coming over and looking at something at the table. I thought, that’s not going to work for him. By this time, I was familiar with Sandra Dodd and Wendy Priesnitz and their writings and Wendy’s magazine.
So, I thought, maybe we’ll just ditch it altogether. And I suggested it and it was met with great enthusiasm. My thought was if we ever need to, we can come back to it. I always tell people; nothing is set in stone. If you need to jump in with something, if you need to change the way you’re doing things, that’s the beauty of it, you can. Nothing is forever. So, that’s what we did and we never came back to doing a curriculum as such.
Over the years my kids decided they wanted classes or they wanted to study this or that and they’d go seek it and took lots of classes. Well Maya took lots of classes through her high school years that she chose and she sought out. Which is also the great thing about unschoolers, they get to a point where sometimes they’re like I want to look into that and then they go do it. And it’s great. Ben is really my poster child for unschooling because he never had sit down lessons of any kind when he was little. Maya sort of started out with them and then we ditched them after about 2nd grade year because I wasn’t going to sit and argue with her.
PAM: I think that’s the catalyst. And for me that over the years always that’s been the measure of things, the clue that something’s not working here.
PAM: Whatever it is, if we start to butt heads over something, that’s my clue. Okay let’s look at that. Let’s see where are they coming from. What am I thinking it’s accomplishing? That’s when I want to dive in and look.
AMY: And what you just said what you think it’s accomplishing. I find this is often an issue with the parents. We all have in our heads what our kids will be like and what kinds of things they will like. I was certain, my kids will love this because I loved it. And then big surprise, they didn’t always love the things that I loved. And you know sometimes they did. But sometimes they didn’t. And I think parents have a really hard time letting go of, “Well they should like this because I do. Or I think this is important, so they need to think this is important.”.
I think that really, even amoung unschooling families, doesn’t matter if you’re in school or out of school or what sort of learning you pursue, that is a dynamic between parents and children that I find happens everywhere and is often the cause of tension and conflict.
So, I always say to the parents are you sure? It’s fine for you to suggest things but we can’t be married to this stuff because your kid is their own individual person and they are not going to always like the things that you like or want to do the things that you think they should do. And that’s part of the journey and the challenge, I think.
PAM: Yeah. I think that is one of the biggest or most helpful stages of deschooling, realizing how much of those expectations and dreams and everything are just ours. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong but it’s that stretch to realize, if this is something I want to do, that was something else I learned, is do it then do it for me. I don’t insist my kids do it.
AMY: Don’t try to live vicariously through your kids. And put those things on them because unschooling is all about, it’s not a method by which you educate your kids, it’s a decision about a life style. And part of that lifestyle is enjoying things with your kids but also not imposing anything on them, not imposing your own dreams on them. We don’t want to impose a curriculum on them but you also don’t want to impose your will, in any way, it should be more of a collaborative effort. And that’s not to say because some people then take that as abdicating the role as parent completely and I’m not about that. You are still the parent in the household and that means that you are the leader and you are, hopefully, the role model and the facilitator and all of those things. And I always say to people, “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my days where I just wanted to scream because it’s my decision!” And I haven’t been that perfect, let’s all get along kumbaya woman my whole time as a mom.
PAM: That’s part of everybody learning too. You don’t want to come across as perfect because that’s an unrealistic expectation for your kids too. Even if they think once I’m a parent I need to be perfect or whatever. So, it’s talking through these things. That’s the great thing about realizing when you’re seeing things differently than your child. That’s an opportunity to share where you’re coming from, what you’re seeing, what you’re thinking. It’s always turned out that I’ve learned more about them and now I’ve understood their perspective.
I’ve never gotten to a point where I felt I needed to impose my will but I can share my experience, my thoughts, my worries and we work together to figure out a path forward. Because they want me to be comfortable too. Like I was telling you earlier, my son’s not feeling very well, he’s out on a trip yet we’re working together but now it’s by text conversation instead of face to face conversation. What can we do to help you feel better? What are the symptoms? It’s just working together as a team when something goes awry.
AMY: And also being open with your kids. Which I think some parents have this feeling that they can’t be honest with their kids about why they feel a certain way. And I always use examples from when kids are little, and I would talk to parents and bedtime is always a big thing and they would be like, “They need to go to bed at a certain time.” And I was saying, “Why do you want them to go to bed at that time?” “Well because they’ll be tired” I would just look at them and be like, “Is that really why you want them to go to bed at eight thirty or nine? And then they’d be like, “Well, we’d like to have some time to ourselves.” That’s right. So, you can say that to your child. I used to say to my kids, “Look you need to be in your room and I don’t care if you go to sleep but I need some time to myself or I will be grumpy tomorrow. And none of us want that.” Kind of presented in this way like it’s coming from me because I find it insulting to kids for parents to say to them, “Well, I know your body better than you do and so you’re tired.” Even if they are tired and they probably are tired but I don’t like someone pointing at me and saying, “Hey you need to go do this because I can tell that you’re exhausted.”
PAM: You’re choosing to keep going, there’s a reason you’re choosing to keep going and doing something even though you’re tired.
AMY: Right. So, I would say be honest with your kids and say, “I need some quiet time in the evenings. This is why I would like for you to be in your room.” I always say, “You don’t need to go to sleep.” Because if they’re tired and they’re in the room, they’re going to fall asleep most of the time. Or they don’t have to be in their room but they can be somewhere so you can have some quiet time. This is what I always did.
I did the same thing with brushing teeth because I have real dental phobia. I hate going to the dentist. And so I used to get all anxious if they weren’t brushing their teeth. Then I finally realized that they didn’t know why I was feeling that way. So, I told them, “I had lots of cavities as a kid. It makes me anxious to think about you going through that and this is why I’m so hyper about this particular thing.” And then they were like, “Oh!” And it was never a problem again because they understood.
So, that translates into lots of things as they get older. As long as you’re clear about what you’re feeling, kids are really good about going, “Oh, OK. That seems honest.”
PAM: Absolutely. And I think that is one of the big things that people work on. I didn’t want to say struggle with, when they’re coming to unschooling because so often when they see something, they don’t know why yet. Like you said you need to ask, the “But why?” Because that’s when they “should” do this or right? And when you get to that why for yourself, that’s exactly what you were saying, you can now share it with them. Then they can understand you better, you can understand you better and then you guys can all work to find something that works. If the answer is, I need some quiet time on my own, if that’s workable with your kids, maybe it is quite time in the evening. Maybe you work together and realize we’re always busy later afternoon or whatever. It doesn’t have to be fixed on this bed time. You can open up more creatively.
AMY: Exactly. And whatever works. And that’s the other thing I always tell people, every single family is different. There is no one right way to do this because it’s whatever works for your family, which is the great and scary thing for people. Because even families they’re sort of used to, ‘Oh this is how you’re supposed to do it.’ This is what’s acceptable in culture whatever. And so, school is part of that but it’s not all of it. And so, when suddenly it’s all up to you. Isn’t that great? But also, terrifying. So, it’s all up to me?!
That’s what I always tell people. But that’s a great thing because it also means it can change and be adjusted. And as they grow it will change. Things don’t stay the same as they get older.
PAM: Yeah. It’s another great thing about talking to your kids about things as they come up. You’ll see over time that everybody’s reasons for things, everybody’s needs or wants change over time and they can gain that experience. They get that experience of not being so married to, to use your words, married to something. That is something that I think is so valuable to bring into adulthood too. Because so many of the conventional messages are, “Do this. Do this. Pick this and live it.”.
AMY: No matter if you’re miserable.
PAM: Yeah exactly.
We’re taught to believe that it’s a bad thing to change course or step sideways or whatever when really, it’s not.
AMY: Not at all. I have to say that’s one thing too. I know we’re going to get into the college thing but Maya’s enjoying college right now. But she knows and we’ve been very clear about the fact that if that would change, if she would find an opportunity that required her to leave school and pursue it whatever or if she stays and loves it for four years, all of that is good. And I told her several times, “Please pay attention,” because I would have pursued photography much, much, much sooner had I been paying attention or anybody said, “You know how you forget time when you’re in the darkroom and forget meals? You don’t do that for anything else.” That should have been a clue. But I was majoring in something else and I just didn’t have that ability to notice this other thing was really pulling my interest over here.
So, I’ve always said that my kids pay attention to those things that you keep coming back to, that you get so absorbed in that you forget everything else. That’s a real clue. And you should always pay attention to that.
So, I’m hoping that I sort of made it clear that they’re paying attention because that’s something that’s hard to do for them. I mean, I will say you seem like you really enjoy that or whatever but nobody really wants that.
PAM: That is the other piece too. Yes, we’re going to get to the questions but this is so interesting!
AMY: I know!
PAM: But that’s the piece to that, you can share your observations but it’s still their journey. It’s still when they decide that it’s important enough to take that step or not, right?
AMY: Yeah for sure. Yeah.
PAM: You mentioned earlier that you guys live in New York State and I know a few people there and that there is a standardized testing requirement for homeschoolers there. I saw on your blog that you guys found the process mostly easy and laid back. So, I know that’s the way you approached it. But I’ve seen more stressed emails go by of people worrying about it.
Can you share more about your experience unschooling in New York?
AMY: Yeah. So, there’s two things. We are fortunate in New York City to have a Central Office of Homeschooling. There are so many homeschooling families in the city that they opened this office and that happened to open I believe maybe when Maya was a couple years old, two or three. Before that and in the rest of the state you report to whatever regional person oversees your district. And quite often that person is not familiar with homeschooling, for sure they are not familiar with unschooling and will have a much more traditional idea of what you should be giving them. So, I want to put that out there first.
I’ve worked with people in other parts of the state and we have had to be really much more concerned with how they structure their reports and everything because I know they’re turning them into a person for whom homeschooling is not their primary thing.
AMY: Whereas here, we have an office and all they do is homesschool paperwork and thankfully my dear friend Elsa Haas, who passed away several years ago, she worked with John Holt in the 80s. She translated all of his stuff into Spanish and pretty much singlehandedly started the unschooling movement in Spain in the late 80s. She was trained as an attorney and her son is the same age as Maya. So, starting at a very young age, she marched herself into the homeschooling office and I’m sure they cringed when they saw her coming and she gave them an education about what is unschooling and how this works and the state regulations say this and that means we can do this. And so, they know what unschooling is in our office and they’re really great. Honestly, I would not want their job because they get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of reports and not one of them looks anything like the other. Nobody uses the standardized forms. These poor people have to wade through this paperwork. I would not trade places with them at all.
So, I really think they do a very good job, all things considered. And we are fortunate that Elsa pounded for years at them. So, they know what this is. So, standardized testing in New York State is required every other year from the fourth through the eighth grade.
However, you can take the fourth grade year as your off year which means you only do a test after fifth and seventh grade. Then you have to take a test every year, at some point during the year, every year in high school so nine, ten, eleven, twelve. But it’s not anything like the testing they do in schools. It’s not nearly as long. I don’t do test prep for my kids. I would just be like “Here it is.” And they would do it and that was it. You have to score on, at or above the thirty third percentile in order to be deemed OK to continue. And so those are turned in generally at the end of the year with your annual assessment.
Apart from that, you do your letter of intent to homeschool every year and your IHIP. The IHIP is where people freak out a little bit, especially unschoolers because they are like, “How are we going to tell them?” IHIP stands for Individualized Home Instruction Plan, for people not here. And so, for unschoolers, it’s obviously more free flowing. So, I always put together a list of things I think that will probably do. Classes I know they’re interested in, trips we might take. Whatever. And then I say, “This is all subject to change,” because we’re unschooling but I guarantee detailed quarterly reports of what we have done. So, the IHIP is sort of an outline for them so that they see you’re not just, in their eyes, doing nothing. Which, you can’t do anyway but that’s the whole Sandra Dodd, it’s the whole nothing day conversation that we won’t get into now.
Then in the quarterlies, what I do for myself is keep a draft email. Just in my drafts and every time something happens, we have a conversation, we go somewhere. I’ll throw it in the draft e-mail because I will not remember it otherwise. And then when I’m doing the quarterly reports, I pull that up and I personally plug everything in to certain general subject areas. Now, Elsa didn’t. Elsa would literally make a list in no particular order of everything Tyler had done and send it to them and let them sort it out. And I feel badly enough for them to do that. So, I kind of sort it out and I send it in. I put it in and that’s it.
And I’ve done it so much now that it takes me 20 minutes to do a quarterly report.
AMY: Elsa and I are of the opinion that our paperwork is our best defense here because we get that letter of compliance at the beginning of the year after you’ve sent in your IHIP. And as long as you’re in compliance which means you send them their stuff when they need it, no one can say anything to you about what you’re doing with your kids. “Why aren’t your kids in school?” ” What are they doing?” “Hey, I’m in compliance.” And that’s all they need to see. Now obviously, if there’s some extreme situation going on, I’m not excusing. I’m just saying for people who are too nosy and are curious about why my kids are at the playground in the middle of the day and clearly they’re school age. Which to be honest in New York doesn’t happen very often. But still, I always felt it was a good thing to have and I liked it too because I got to check into what we’d been doing which was really fun. So, I don’t see the paperwork as a bad thing. I know some people do and they can. And I always say to those people look if you want to change the regulations don’t harass the people in our office here. They do not make the regulations. They work for the state. They are trying to do their job and check off those boxes. If you want to change the rules, go to Albany and talk to your elected representatives. If that’s your crusade. If you want to do that, by all means feel free. That’s not my crusade. So, I’m happy to give them what they need in order to find me in compliance with the regulations.
PAM: Yeah and it sounds like you figured out a pretty manageable system for yourself to just gather over time the things that they would like to see.
AMY: And I usually have to cut stuff out because they don’t want to read a book. I try to keep my quarterlies under two pages, well under. If I could get it all on a page I would but I can’t ever quite manage it. Because they don’t want to wade through, again they’re getting hundreds and hundreds of these. They don’t want to have to wade through 10 pages of me waxing on about all the stuff we’ve done. I keep it short.
PAM: But you know and I love that idea of just taking a quick note when you have a chance throughout the quarter, whether it’s a daily or weekly or whatever but just because you’re right all those little bits that truly do fit, that are just life, you’ll forget about them.
AMY: Completely, forget. I would never in a million years. And I think that’s where stress comes from sometimes. People think they’ll remember all this stuff and you just don’t. So, it’s really good to have some sort of way. Putting a note on your phone or whatever it is. However you can keep track of it. I think it’s the most valuable thing you can do. It makes it so much easier on the day that you remember you have to send in that quarterly, to know that you have all that information there and you just sit down and transfer over.
PAM: And I feel like since you’re just noting everyday stuff that you’re doinga really cool journal too, for just the fun moments of your life.
AMY: Yeah. And sometimes it’s little things. People tend to have this idea that anything you put on the quarterly has to be something you’ve done every day for the whole time. No, because you know sometimes things that stick in our heads for years and we really come back to again and again weren’t things that were long, prolonged, deep dives into stuff. Sometimes it’s an hour-long conversation with someone. Or it’s something you see in a movie or on TV or whatever. And those things are equally valid and important. And so, don’t discount, don’t think, ‘Oh, we were just in the car talking.’ Great. My best conversations with my kids when we’re on long trips in the car. A lot of times. So, mark it down.
PAM: That’s a great point. And you can see how that’s totally valid because when you think of school, it’s just those little moments as they’re cycling through topic after topic and the amount of actual learning time that’s interspersed with all the management time, what’s important is that connection that learning connection in the moment it just happened to be sitting in the car was that moment or standing in the kitchen was a moment that you took that deep dive for half an hour or three hours whatever it was. But now they’ve absorbed that for real. That’s a connection you keep.
AMY: And those are the things they really learn. I’ve had conversations with people whose kids are in school and the conversation that comes up every fall is all the things kids forget over the summer. Right? So, this is why, don’t even get me started on this because if they don’t remember they never learned it. They kept it in their short-term memory for a test or whatever and then it was gone. And here’s the proof that kids do not just forget things that they’ve really learned and that is ask any kid about their favourite book, movie, game. They could have played it years ago. They will tell you in detail all of the elements and how it works and what they felt about it and who did this. They learned that because they were really interested in it. So, all this stuff that they’re forgetting…
PAM: It didn’t make a real connection for them right. It didn’t make a lasting connection.
AMY: Yeah. I don’t remember a ton of the stuff I supposedly learned in school.
PAM: So, you mentioned earlier that Maya chose to go to college last year, right?
I would love to hear the story about how that choice came about and how you helped her along the way.
AMY: Well, we’d always said we didn’t have any investment, they can go to college, not go to college. My husband, Joshua, didn’t go to college. He’s a super successful business person. My brother’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He also didn’t go to college, very successful life. So, I’ve never had this idea that you have to go to college. In fact, part of me was sort of like maybe backpacking across Europe would be a good idea. But she had decided that she wanted to go to school. For a while, she was thinking about a school in Europe, which I was also like, ‘Yeah, to that!’ Because I thought that I don’t care where you study, you’ll be in Europe, living in Europe and that’s the best education.
But in the end, she has a lot of friends on the West Coast that she met at Not Back to School camp and she’s always liked California. So, she decided she wanted to go to school in California. Now this decision, I think she had pretty much decided on college by the time she was into her official 10th grade here. So, then she decided she was going to take the ACT. So, I went with her and we picked out ACT prep books and she asked us to get her a math tutor because she felt like that was her weak area. So, we did. And then that was it. I never asked her if she was studying for the ACT. I never told her, “Maybe you should do a test.” She would be like, “I’m doing a test prep test. Don’t bother me for an hour.” So, she did all that and then I went with her to California in the spring of her junior year to look at colleges. We saw 9 which was way too many. It didn’t seem like that many, nine in twelve days that’s easy. And then by the end I was like ‘OK I could give this tour by now.’ The tours were all pretty much the same. It was just variations on a theme, our campus slightly different emphasis but mostly they were the same. And we saw all Cal State and UC schools out there. And then because she felt like she should, we went and viewed Binghamton in New York which is a state university in New York in Binghamton. And then she applied to Ithica, which we didn’t actually visit.
So, we did that and she narrowed it down to the ones she wanted to apply to. She took the ACT actually the first, she took it twice, that was her decision as well. We kind of messed up the dates. So, the first time she took it was when we were in California. So, she took it in California which I actually thought, ‘This is really going to be great in that she’ll be completely out of her head, out of her you know like headspace because we’re in a different the place or it’ll be a little bit too nerve wracking.’ and it was kind of the second. So, she took it again and did bring our score up which was great. She felt better about it after that. But again, this was all her. I didn’t say you should take it again. I basically just said “What do you want me to do?” And then I did that. And so, we saw the schools. And then she applied. So, you get a letter of completion from the Department of Education in New York and is not a diploma. It is, here is your letter that says you’ve met the required standards. It doesn’t say anything about where you are in those standards. It’s just, you’re done. She went on and Unschool Adventures trip to Southeast Asia with Blake Bowles the fall of her official senior year. So, we were doing college applications and writing up the transcripts and stuff and getting it all ready to go because it’s all submitted online. And then I actually submitted them while she was away and she’d text me “I got to submit tomorrow. So, here’s my login.” I just hit send. And so that was it. Her senior year it was not a year at all. She spent eight weeks of it traipsing around Southeast Asia with bunch unschoolers and it was great. It was awesome.
And by the way, a little plug if anybody is looking at Unschool Adventures with Blake. Do that, it’s great. He’s great. The trips are great. It’s an amazing thing.
So, she got accepted to Ithica right away which was upstate. So, that was kind of a relief. I thought, ‘OK good.’ Because again, I thought California could just be like you guys are really funny. (Laughing)
I would get this panic attack. What if they look at this and go ‘They’re so funny. They think that they’re going to get in here.’ Because I knew how The New York state system worked. I had no idea how California would look at this stuff. And when we were there, they talked about all these required tests that California high school students have to take if they are even considering going to college. And of course, we don’t have any of that. But she’d never even done Regents which are the equivalent tests in New York. I mean there were no APs. It was all just here’s our twelve years of unschooling and she got into all but UCLA.
She applied to six, I think, five or six and she got in everywhere. She got into UC to Cal State. It was great. So, I was like “Yay. That works.” And she chose Cal State Fullerton which was the very first school we saw and kind of had that vibe where I was thinking, this felt like the place that she would like and that’s where she went. She absolutely loves it so far. She did great.
She was on the dean’s list which I feel like, to me, that doesn’t mean anything. I wouldn’t care if she was or she wasn’t. But it’s one of those things that people go, “Wait she never was in school and then she was on the dean’s list?”
My whole feeling about it is she chose to be there. This was all her. This was not us saying we expect you to go to college. Oh, you need to do all these advanced courses to get into college. Because it was completely her choice and her motivation to be there. That’s her motivation to do well while she’s there. She wants to be in every single thing that she’s doing there. Some classes are more fun. Some are not. That’s not going to be any different. She has said a lot of the kids she knows there are really burned out. Because they worked so hard to get into college. They’re just like I don’t want to do this anymore. They’re burned out of all of that. And so, they struggle a little bit. Because they don’t want to do more work and more classwork.
PAM: They’ve been doing this forever.
AMY: I think they felt like once they got into college there’d be some sort of, “Oh, I made it.” And then it’s just like, ‘You made it. Here’s all your work.’ So, for homeschoolers and unschoolers they don’t have that years of just the grind. And I really think that’s part of the reason that she’s loving it because it was just her choice. So, that was the abbreviated, that was basically it. I asked her what she wanted to do and helped her do it.
PAM: It’s great to hear that. When you think about the interesting pieces it wasn’t, “Oh, you want to do this so therefore you need, like you mentioned, you need to take these AP courses, you need to take all these different exams, you need to jump through all the hoops that everybody else is jumping through.” But that’s not necessary. You don’t have to switch up your life because that’s a place that you’re interested in.
AMY: It’s really shocking to people when I tell them. Seriously shocking, people can’t quite wrap their head around the fact that we didn’t do all that. We kept thinking we were doing something wrong because we hear people talk about the college application process as I mean it is The Hunger Games man. I would say that about New York City high schools it’s The Hunger Games in reverse because everybody wants in. It’s a little bit like that when I hear talk about college applications. We did the whole thing in about four hours one Sunday afternoon. I sat on the couch while she filled everything out. She had a question like, “What do they want here?” I would look. And she wrote her essay questions for the UCs because they don’t do the Common App that most everybody uses. And she wrote her essay for the Common App.
We did it all in one day. And I keep thinking ‘Did we miss something?’ Because people talk about it taking weeks to do this. I was like I think I’ll look at this and just go, “Who you are?” No, they didn’t. And so, people just are really shocked. And sometimes a little upset. Because they feel like they’ve been duped.
PAM: Yeah. Well and it’s fascinating too. You mentioned, I hadn’t really thought about that before but how all through high school the goal is college. And that they can have that need for you know something, that’s different? You know, I’ve made it. This is ultimately the goal I’ve been reaching for, for years, what everybody wanted me to have. And yes, the place is different and the people you’re with are different. But it’s a lot the same too.
AMY: More school.
PAM: Oh, now I have another timetable full of classes and now I have another schedule of tests and exams.
AMY: And now, by the way, nobody cares what I did in high school.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. You’re starting from scratch again.
AMY: So, all this stuff that was supposed to be life or death. I mean it is presented as this is your only chance. Man, if you don’t get these grades. I get the feeling people, it’s presented like you will forever be looked upon as X, if your grades are lesser. The truth is no one cares what you got as a grade in any class. Once you’re no longer in that building. Nobody cares, you’re accepted to college.
They don’t care. It will never be mentioned again. So, all they care about is how you do now that you’re here.
PAM: Yeah, you got through that hoop. Now that’s behind you.
AMY: Yeah. So, I think kids are really sort of like, ‘I thought I was going to feel like I had achieved more.’
PAM: That things were going to feel different. I think you kind of answered some of the next question, I was just curious what the experience has been like for her this first year. And you said she’s chosen, happily chosen to return again.
AMY: Yeah. She just started classes again.
Anything else you wanted to add about that her experience there?
AMY: I think it’s been, you know obviously there are challenges to living on the other side of the country. She got a car. You know we live in New York City.
PAM: Car? (laughing)
AMY: Ha! yeah, what’s a car?! But you know in California, in the L.A. area you really need a car. So, she has a car. Fullerton really only has dorm space for freshmen. So, she was in a dorm last year with her roommate who luckily she got along with great, they had a really nice relationship. And this year she’s living in an apartment with three other girls and it’s not affiliated with the university but it’s like a block and a half away so they cater solely to university students. So, that’s a whole new thing. It’s also the first time she’s ever had a washing and dryer in her living place because we live in an apartment building and we have a laundry room. So, she’s like “Oh my God a washer dryer!”
So, things like that, it’s really funny that she just never experienced. And you know I think I really am trying to think of some negatives. I think she was overwhelmed at times but she really powered through it. I think she’s sort of been pleasantly surprised. I think she thought she was going to have a lot more catch-up to play. Compared to the people who’d been in school the whole time. And she’s like, “That’s not true. I don’t know what everyone’s doing in high school but…”.
AMY: She doesn’t feel like she’s behind. So that’s good.
AMY: I don’t know it’s just more life stuff really. Homeschool kids have an edge a little bit in that regard because they’ve been doing life stuff more or less, along the way. Some they don’t. But it’s not like a huge jolt to their system when they suddenly have to do it.
She has a job on campus. That’ll be a new thing this year. She didn’t have a job last year. So, she’s having now to sort of figure out how to get all of her studying and work done.
PAM: Yeah. That’s great and you’re right, I think it is more just managing what life looks like right now. And as you said that’s something they’ve been doing in their lives. I remember when I went to university, ‘Oh my gosh.’ That first year, people had no clue because they had never had that freedom. It was crazy. You know as I think back on it was really crazy and I lost my roommate at Christmas. She was gone. So many people dropped out at Christmas because they just didn’t know how to manage it themselves.
PAM: So, it’s the same thing, high school classes teachers tests and everything but without somebody standing over your shoulder. Yeah. Yeah.
AMY: Yeah. So, her time management is great. She’s really good at that. So, I think that’ll work out.
PAM: Yeah. That’s awesome.
AMY: And if she decides tomorrow to do something else besides college, that will be fine too.
I would love to know what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives over the years?
AMY: Well, I will say even though I knew my kids are different, I mean everyone is which is why one size fits all schools don’t work. Every kid is different.
I would continually be surprised at how different they were. But I feel like one of my favourite things about unschooling or just learning outside of school or self-directed world, is when I hear people with kids in school talk about how everybody is in school or parents or at work everybody’s in their own space. Then they sort of crash together in the evenings. They collide and there’s still in their headspace from whatever they’ve been doing. It’s really hard to get some sort of flow going in that restricted time. Then there’s homework. And so, school kind of takes over the whole family’s life. It’s really hard to find a rhythm.
So, what I loved the most and what I think I didn’t expect it. I don’t know if I could say it was a surprise because it came in to being gradually but when I look at it was how well our lives were in the mesh. Even though my kids have wildly different personalities and they have different interests. I was doing things and my husband Joshua was working but still because there was no imposition of an outside entity saying, ‘This is what you all need to be doing for eight hours, five days a week.’ It became this coming together and going apart and this really lovely flow.
Obviously, nothing is as we said, nothing is perfect. So, you do have those days where you feel like you just want to like throw everyone out. But I think there’s a lot less. People always say to me, “I could never spend that much time with my kids.” I get that a lot. And I think you know, ‘I think you could.’ I think the reason you feel like it’s hard to spend time together is because it’s this collision course. Whereas when you’re together all the time and obviously not all the time. Because we’re doing different things. But you don’t have that. Everyone is able to ease into their own thing while being around everyone else. I don’t know if that’s good explanation. But that’s the most unexpected benefit. I would say is that ability to have that. And then how much my kids learned without me. Really. Sometimes we’d wonder how does he know that?!
And then I have no idea. I hate to sound like that, but I really don’t know how he knows that. They know things that I didn’t teach them. That’s just the greatest advertising because kids learn things. They’re curious about stuff. And you don’t have to always be standing over them making sure it’s happening. It’s going to happen.
PAM: And that’s the fun thing. For how much we connected and flow, there is always so much they know that we have no clue.
AMY: Right. Right. We connect and we flow. But I don’t actually have to be overseeing every minute of their day. And now I’m even more confident that it’s all good because you know I was sort of taking it on faith that everything would work out, if one of my kids wanted to go to school. Now I can say for certain you know what? It works. It’ll work. The greatest thing about unschooled kids is that they know how to find out what they need to know. If they don’t know it right at this second. They know where to go look and that’s the best skill. That’s what we all do when we’re not in school anymore. We don’t have to memorize all this stuff.
We just have to know where to find it when we need it.
PAM: And find it in the way that we want to absorb it. Whether we’re looking for forums or we’re looking for books or we’re looking for videos or whatever it is. That’s how they’ve been finding their information all the time now. So, it doesn’t change.
AMY: Nobody says to you, if you say, “I never made a turkey for Thanksgiving.” They don’t say, “There’s a great cooking class that you should enroll in.” I mean you can do that if you want to, but people would be like, “Umm, you can do it.”
PAM: I was visiting my mom just a couple of days ago and she actually said that to me. She was telling me when I was talking about drying some herbs or something from the garden. And she said, “Just look it up online.” I’m like yeah Mom!
AMY: YouTube is the most wonderful resource for tutorials on how to do stuff. I know that it got to the point with my kids where I would say well, “Do you want my help?” And they’d be like, “No. We don’t need your help for this.”.
I also know everyone can’t have this lifestyle. I wish it was accessible to many, many more people. There are many reasons people can’t do it. That are valid and you know that’s also another conversation about how to really realistically make this sort of option available in some way or another to more people. But I think for anyone who’s thinking about it and can find a way to make it work, it’s fabulous.
PAM: Yeah. And you find out in the end that so much of it comes down to our relationship and our life style. Right. So even if school is in the picture, there’s so much of that openness and that trust and that connection that you can still bring to that.
PAM: There’s so much where school can just be a part, an aspect. You don’t need to be bring that whole system home which ties back beautifully to the other thing that you said that I wanted to bring up is because people say you know I could never be with my kids at home.
But it truly is with my kids within that system. Because you don’t realize. You think that’s kids. That is what society thinks kids are, our culture thinks, this is how kids are. This is how they act. This is how they behave. They don’t like to learn. You know these are all supposedly truisms about children but really, they’re about children in that system. So, the child that you are with and living with while they go to school is different than the child that’s at home.
But so much of that you’ll find is about the relationship and it’s about the relationship you’re trying to have them by bringing that system in. You know what I mean?
AMY: That is right.
PAM: It’s a cool tapestry.
AMY: This system wants you to bring it in. School is wide reaching. They make all these assumptions and they try to sort of get the parents on their side against their children. “Well you have to take our side.” If the kid is saying they don’t want to do this or whatever. So yes. So, if even if your kid is in school and you have this open communication and you are their advocate and you’re not advocating for the school, you’re advocating for your child, that is better than not.
PAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No exactly. I’d say, think a little bit more about summer vacation time. Things like that or when you go on vacation, when you don’t have an external schedule that you’re trying to meet so that you’re not trying to get your kids through this routine day in and day out. When that’s gone, then you might have a bit more of a glimpse of the child that you might see.
AMY: Yeah, I hope so. John Holt always said, “We’ll only change the system one family at a time.” You’re never going to, it’s never going to be a top down situation. And so, I always feel like if one person hears it and can institute even a little bit or think, ‘Oh, you know that could work for us,’ maybe not completely but at least a little bit. I feel like it will have long term effects that are good.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s lovely. And I love the vision as you talked about just the flow of your days. Because for me too that was really the beauty of it all in the end. As they got older too as they were flowing through their things and we were helping them figure things out and they were old enough, with enough experience and resources that they were helping us figure things out.
I was asking them questions and getting great help.
AMY: For sure!
PAM: That flow of unschooling is just beautiful isn’t it.
AMY: Yeah. And it’s really a given. It’s not just flow out from the parents to the kids. It really becomes this completely interconnected thing. I learn tons of stuff from my kids that I don’t know how they learned it but then they taught me, so it’s great!
PAM: I definitely go to them all the time! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Amy. It was so fun!
AMY: Thank you, Pam. I’m so happy we finally got to talk.
PAM: Finally, finally. Yes, it was awesome. Thank you so much. Before we go, where can people find you and your work and your beautiful photography work as well online?
AMY: Well they can always e-mail me, my Unschooling NYC website is still up. I don’t write for it anymore but it’s there and there’s tons and tons and tons of blog posts from the years that I was posting almost every day for like three years on there.
So there’s a lot of stuff they’re geared mostly towards younger kids. So, if people want to email me it’s just my name MilsteinAmy at gmail dot com. If you have any questions about unschooling or homeschooling or college or anything. I’m happy to answer questions and my photography is at AmyMilstein.com. And there’s a contact form in there too if you’re interested in photography. I travel. I’ll go anywhere. I have kids who are older, I can travel. So yeah, I would love to hear from people.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome and I will put links to all that stuff in the show notes for people. Thanks again so much. Amy and I will talk to you soon.
AMY: Thanks Pam. OK bye bye.