PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Holly Johnson. Hi, Holly!
PAM: Now just as a little bit of an introduction, I’ve known Holly online for a few years now and I really enjoyed the glimpses into their unschooling lives and the connection that we’ve had that way. So, I’m really happy that she agreed to chat with me for the podcast.
And also, she has a children’s book coming out in the near future that has grown out of her experience unschooling. So, I’m really excited about that as well.
So, to get us started Holly …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
HOLLY: Yes. So, I’m Holly. I’m 43 years old. I used to be a nurse in theatre recovery and endoscopy but I didn’t go back after having kids. I love running very much and reading books, those would probably be my two favourite things. And I’m married to Corey. He’s 45. He was an asset manager for commercial property up till recently when he quit his job and we took off for a worldwide adventure with our family. He loves all sports and he’s really good at most of them. Particularly surfing, he just loves surfing. I don’t think he thinks he’s the best surfer and he’s probably not. But he loves it more than anything. He was a semi-professional football player which is Australian rules in, obviously, Australia. And we both were gymnasts together prior to that. That’s where we met. We both trained at the W.A. Institute of Sports. We’ve been together I think for 22 years now. Twenty-three years and we’ve been married for 15 years. We have two children. Our oldest is Finn. He’s 10. Shall I share with what they like?
PAM: Sure, yes!
HOLLY: His favourite thing to do is thinking. That’s what he tells us all the time. It’s an unusual thing but he loves it and he spends a big part of his day half running, half skipping and thinking. That’s how he likes to think and process. He loves creating creatures. That’s been a big love for a couple of years now. He started out using games to create them and now he draws them, still creates them on all sorts of games. And he is making his own book which is called “A book of Creatures.” He loves gaming, especially strategy games or physics games. Physics games where he can play with the physics. So, not necessarily what you would think but yeah he likes to play around with the physics and watch things that are slow and what impact things have. He loves theories. So, he’s watching theories on YouTube about gaming mostly but also he loves theories in real life and he loves learning about World War 2 and religion. He loves discussing those topics I should say. Yeah. So, they’re his favourite things too.
I have a daughter Teddi who’s 7 and I asked her what her favourite things to do were. And her number one was organizing. She loves organizing things. She loves toys. But I think a big part of her love of toys is really to do with organizing. She has these amazing set ups and spends hours organizing everything and she loves roleplaying. She’s quite interested in acting I think. But she’s very shy and has been painfully shy in the past. But she quite likes acting. She loves singing. She spends a huge part of her day just singing which is incredible to hear every day, just someone around you singing constantly. All the time, it’s just so lovely.
And she loves giving tours of her things that she organizes and she also loves Roblox and Minecraft. Because she’s been quite shy. She only has a couple of friends she plays with. It takes her a while to get comfortable, so she has a little friend in the US who she plays with. Hasn’t been able to play much with her lately. But she loves playing with her and she plays a lot with Finn. They play a lot together. They had a special game that they play called The Story. That’s what I call it The Story and it goes on for hours every day with these little characters. They just role play for hours and hours. So, on our trip, we had to bring a lot of these toys so they could continue playing The Story. So, it’s a little bit about them.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that snapshot. And so many pieces connect, the thinking and the walking while thinking. Some people that’s just the way they like to process it. My eldest is very much like that.
HOLLY: Oh really?!
PAM: Yeah. He will walk and think, and then what comes out of it later, can be mind blowing. That’s awesome. And the organizing piece too, and setting up the stories. I’m sure most people listening get that too. The kids have that space to just do what connects with them, do what feels right in that next moment. It’s amazing, the things that they can they can come up with and do and just sink right into.
HOLLY: Yeah. And that was something I learned from you. When she was really, really loving toys so much and every day she went to the shop to buy more toys. So, obviously that’s quite hard. Eventually as I got my head around it, we found ways for her to do it. She set up lemonade stands and we’d go straight to the shops. She’d make really good money and we go straight to the shop and she would spend it all. And on the way to the shop one of the most incredible gifts I got from learning about unschooling was the joy I felt in those trips to the shop. We would be sitting in the car and she would just be bursting with excitement over her own hard work. And I just felt even in myself so much joy taking her there and browsing the aisles and waiting to see what she would buy. It went from something that could have been seen as you know spoiling. And I’m sure lots of people around us thought we were because she had an incredible amount of toys at home. But it just wasn’t like that. It was a wonderful experience. I kind of miss it actually, going to the shops with her.
PAM: Oh, I know that the open endedness of it, just wait and the energy changes completely, doesn’t it?
PAM: Just browse and not worry about what your reactions are because so often at first, we’re worried that if we get excited with them, they’re going to want to buy it. And so, we are always tempering our actions and reactions through that lens until once you can release that. With that freedom too, you’re watching them completely with their eyes vs. our lens. You can see the things they are choosing make sense and are serving a bigger purpose for them. Rather than, ‘I just need to buy this,’ right?
HOLLY: Absolutely, yes. And the gratefulness. I just found the gratefulness. She just always had this look in her eyes after we had been to the shop. It just was a look of love like this gratefulness that I had made that effort to make that happen for her. It was the opposite of what you hear will happen if your child gets too many toys.
PAM: That’s such a great point. So, I know that your family’s journey started with your son in school, right?
PAM: As did ours. My youngest, Michael, had started junior kindergarten that last year.
Would you mind sharing some of your experience there? Because there are a lot of people whose kids are in school and they’re considering unschooling. So, I thought it would be great if you could share that.
HOLLY: Yeah. Finn started out going to a Montessori pre-Kindy. I didn’t know that much about Montessori but I thought it would be a way for him to explore.
So, we sent him to a Montessori Kindy. He was a different baby. We knew from the beginning that he was a little bit different. He wouldn’t conform from the beginning. Even as a baby, I could see I was going to have to change my expectations of how life would be. He was really strong minded from the beginning. And I couldn’t say no to anything which sounds really odd but he just had this way of just sort of looking straight through me and ignoring me. And I found that when I explained to him even as a young child he would understand. If it was a vase, if I explained you can’t touch that because it’s Nana’s vase and she’ll be sad if it breaks. He would just stop. And so, obviously for three years I’ve been parenting him that way and never telling him off. Never really say no without explaining why and then I sent him to this Montessori pre-Kindy that, unbeknownst to me, was very strict. I explained how he did things at home, they seemed quite responsive but that was not what was happening behind the scenes, unfortunately.
They began to view him, I think, as very naughty. He wouldn’t do what they said, obviously, and they ended up, well, they ended up manhandling him a little bit because they couldn’t control him. He just wouldn’t let anyone control him. And so, we left there after about five months, after a very bad experience. He only went one day a week but it had an enormous impact on him, enormous. He had no separation anxiety before he went there. He came away with terrible separation anxiety. And just something had changed. So, we kept him home after that for a while and then we found another school. And that was a really, really gentle school. That was a I think Reggio Amelia thing and that was the method they used. It was a very child centred, very loving very nurturing. And he went there and he loved it. Well he loved it as much as I think he could ever love a school.
The teachers were really kind to him. They were so loving and they could see all his wonderful qualities. He wasn’t like the other kids. He didn’t conform. He was so strong willed and he had interests that were vastly different to the other kids. They really tried hard to support it. But his separation anxiety at that point was so bad that I was at school till 10:00 every day. I was back at 2 o’clock. He would climb on the fences to try and get to me.
Yeah. It was quite extreme separation anxiety that then began. And so, I guess, he did a year of kindy and then we put him into pre-primary the next year because the teachers thought that once he was full time maybe that would make it easier separating from me. It didn’t but he started to become very withdrawn. He became very quiet and withdrew and instead of chasing me out of school and trying to climb up these really high fences he just hung his head and walked in and he stopped talking. The teachers thought that was a sign that he was doing really well, but that was much more worrying to me. I could just see that he was breaking.
The other thing that was happening was while he was at school was that he was starting to get a reputation from the kids as being naughty. So, we were in the playground one day and I overheard a little girl say to her brother, “That’s Finn, he’s the naughty one.” And when I approached the teachers, they were horrified. They tried to make it really clear to the kids at school that Finn wasn’t being naughty. He just liked questioning everything and he just had a different way of seeing the world. But they were very young kids, so, to them it was black and white. ‘If you don’t do what the teacher says you’re naughty. If you do what the teachers say, you are good.’ That’s it. And so, he was starting to say things like “I’m naughty.” And “That’s because I’m naughty.” That just wasn’t language we used at home, ever. So, that was concerning me a little bit, what messages he was getting about himself. So, we pulled him out and that was how we came to homeschooling. It happened quite suddenly. I spoke to my husband about it and within one week, he said “Let’s pull him out.”
PAM: It’s awesome that you found out. I know we were just weeks between when I discovered homeschooling was a thing and when we decided to try it. Because we’ve tried so many different things and worked with different teachers and did all those things and could see that affecting them, certainly my oldest. Affecting his thoughts about himself, how he saw himself. The huge difference between say, summers when we were off and we were all home together vs. when he was going to school.
I really like sharing other people’s stories of what that experience is because it can look very different for different kids and how they find it challenging. So, thank you very much for sharing that.
Let’s dive into how you discovered homeschooling and how that evolved for you guys into unschooling.
HOLLY: So, we started out I guess traditionally homeschooling. I suppose when he was young because at this stage Finn was five and a half. He was about to turn six when we pulled him out of school. And Teddi had just started a pre-kindy. She went for one term for three hours a week. So, that was her experience with school. She was still quite young and Finn as a young kid, he had already learned so much. His knowledge of science was in some areas greater than mine. So, when we start homeschooling I was really aware that all I needed to do was support him. He was super curious. He was learning so much already and it was just a matter of supporting that.
But I wasn’t comfortable not teaching. I guess I don’t know if teaching is the word but I can’t remember how I thought about it back then but I was not comfortable with him not learning to read, not learning to write and not practicing maths. So, although we didn’t have any curriculum for anything else, we certainly did sit down and try to practice reading, writing and maths. That was fine. He loved doing that so that was never a problem. All I had to do was find something he liked to do, that was no problem but reading and writing and that’s where we started coming on stuff. He hated it. He just, oh he hated it so much and I kept persevering for about six months. Each time I’d pull back because we were really butting heads. And that I suppose is the first time that we’d ever butted heads. To me, he was such an easy kid. I know other people were finding him challenging in those environments but to me, at home he was easy, he’d never had a tantrum. He just was a delightful, little happy boy. And that was the first time we butt heads when I wanted him to learn to read and he didn’t want to. And again, I thought, ‘This is not what I want to do. So, I’m not going to do it.’
So, that’s the path that ended up leading us to unschooling because his anxiety got so bad. He was not able to do anything. He was not able to brush his teeth. He was hardly able to eat. He couldn’t get dressed he couldn’t wear clothes because it was so uncomfortable. He stopped talking to everyone except Teddi and I. He wouldn’t talk to my husband. He wouldn’t let Corey touch him or get anything for him, not even a glass of water. He stopped leaving the house and he couldn’t have me leave the house either. He had to be next to me 24 hours a day. And so obviously when you’re in that state, it’s not possible to try to learn to read or write or do maths. So, everything just fell away.
I didn’t know what anxiety in children looked like, not severe anxiety. And so, Finn was very aggressive at times, his aggressiveness came out of almost like pain. Anytime anything went wrong, the smallest little thing, if he knocked something over or he couldn’t do something he wanted to do, it was almost like he was in extraordinary pain and he would just lash out at anyone. I think he was just, it was just so uncomfortable. He just had to get rid of it. So, our house became just a completely different place. We couldn’t have anyone come over. Not even my mom for a while. He couldn’t talk to anyone. And it could be quite violent at times. We didn’t know what to do. We sought help from professionals, but that actually seemed to make it worse. And one day I remember looking at my husband standing there and we were watching him and he was under his bed sobbing uncontrollably and I just I said Corey, “He’s all alone. He’s got no one. He doesn’t even trust us anymore. He’s just pushed us away and he’s got no one. This can’t go on.”
It may seem like an odd thing to do, but I booked a holiday for myself and I went on a yoga retreat with a friend who was running to Italy. I spent two weeks doing yoga, crying and learning about gentle parenting. So, I’d had this book for a while. It was Dr. Laura Markham. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her and I hadn’t had the chance to read it because home was just chaos. So, I couldn’t even read a book. And so, it gave me the opportunity to start learning about gentle and respectful parenting and I just didn’t stop reading that entire trip. And when I wasn’t reading or doing yoga, I was in the shower crying. I think I cried for seven days and then one day the tears just stopped and I felt enormously better.
On the way home, I just had this sense of just total renewed energy. And I came home—and thank goodness my husband is so flexible with this sort of thing—I walked in the door and I said “We’re changing everything. We’re changing the way we parent, we are changing the way we school, we’re changing our lives. We just have to do what’s right for Finn. We’re going to listen to him and whatever he says, that’s what we’re going to do. No matter what he does we’re going to love him. Whether he hits or yells or screams. We’re just going to love him. We’re not telling him off. We’re just going to love him unconditionally.” And so, from that moment on we just completely changed everything we were doing and changed our lives.
We really stopped pushing him to go out because at that stage I was still trying to get him to leave the house. And within a few weeks, I could notice a HUGE difference. He started reaching out to me. And I could feel that there was a little bit of trust. And he was letting me back into his world. And so, I knew within a very short period of time that we were on the right track. And so, we just went that way. And then not long after that I’ve got in touch with a lady called Jade Rivera who isn’t an unschoolers but is a big advocate for gentle parenting. And she actually runs a micro school now. So, helped me learn a lot about Finn and his reactions and what they meant. And then from there I met some unschoolers in Perth. They had a weekly meet up called Minecraft Club, where all the kids would go to this lady’s house, it was incredible. And she had all these tables set up with unlimited Wi-Fi for everyone. She’d organized it all. And the kids would play Minecraft all day long. And this beautiful, warm, loving environment of parents who totally supported their kids gaming. And so, as Finn started to feel better, that was the one thing we could do. We started going there once a week. Sometimes we couldn’t stay very long. And then I met a couple of really, really special friends there, who really helped me with my journey. They are extremely special and I honestly don’t think we’d be where we are without that support.
But everyone at this Minecraft club were just beautiful parents and you could just see unschooling in action. So, I guess around that time I think someone introduced me to your podcast. And I started religiously listening to your podcast and learning everything I could. Some of the things I found hard to let go of. But over time they all just dropped away.
And really it was almost easier that we had this anxiety in the background because the only thing that my husband and I cared about was Finn’s mental health. And that we ended up with a boy who could function because he hadn’t been functioning at all. So that was our main goal. Nothing else really mattered. So, it was quite easy to, in that way, stay on track.
PAM: Yeah. To let everything else go.
HOLLY: Yeah, just let everything else go. In some ways it felt like we had an easier journey than some other people who—for instance none of our relatives had seen what our home life was like. All of our family was incredibly supportive. We never had anyone who second guessed us in any way. So, we were very lucky in those respects. And it also helped keep me focused on what was most important.
HOLLY: So yeah. So that’s how we got here, in that long, long way.
PAM: Oh wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is such a, I love the way you put that, that everything else just fell by the wayside. When you’re focused on helping them where they are. And that you took that moment for you in the journey. You can see that as kind of a point where you needed something that was going to break the path that you were on. You know what I mean?
PAM: You do a 180, 90 however many degree turn in what you were doing. Because you realized that what you were doing wasn’t working. You had seen where you guys were. You took that time that you needed for yourself to figure it out. That was going to add so much value over the long term. Right? It wasn’t a running away piece it was I need, regrouping even, right?
HOLLY: Yes, yes!
PAM: Just let’s see where you were. And like you said, you were reading the other book, bringing in information, new ways of doing things, new possibilities that you couldn’t see where you were.
HOLLY: There was just no space at all. And it also helped me, Perth is quite a small city I suppose in comparison to many cities around the world, and we’re also very isolated and we just couldn’t get any of the kind of help that we needed. Every psychologist we saw, the first question was “Are you a permissive parent?” And I just couldn’t get the help. It wasn’t out there in Perth and so in going away I started to change the way I saw things. It just broadened my perspective and I started reaching out to other places in the world really looking for help. That was the first time I really had thought. ‘OK. I can’t get the help I need here. What else is out there?’ I haven’t really ever been in a position where I needed to do that before.
PAM: Joseph was nine almost 10. Yeah, he was nine when I discovered homeschooling. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. It was until I was on the Internet looking for more. I was literally researching how to help him at school. Gathering information that I would go over with teachers and principals and all that kind of stuff. It was then that I finally came across the term. In my family environment and in our neighbourhood, nobody had ever heard of such a thing. Nobody knew that it existed. So, it was once I reached beyond, that I discovered different possibilities.
PAM: So, for people who maybe are finding themselves trying to help their children with anxieties and fears and things like that. We’ve gone through some of that as well. For me, one of my kids didn’t want to leave the house and didn’t want me to leave the house and that lasted for quite a few months.
One of the big mind shifts was that shift where I could accept this, as is. At first, I was looking outside trying to look for things that felt safe enough to try and draw him out. But once I shifted and said ‘Hey, this is where he is. It’s OK.’ That’s when things felt easier.
We’re back to it’s OK to support it. Like going to the store. Whatever it is, something that seems unconventional. But when we can make this shift to embracing that, it changes things.
That was a big one for me when I actually started helping his cocooning. Like you said when you came home saying we are going to do whatever he wants. We’re not going to fight with him about any of these things and embrace that kind of cocooning stage. Because if they’re needing it. They’re needing it.
HOLLY: That’s it. They’re needing it.
PAM: There is a better way.
PAM: And we can embrace that and support that and help them find fun things to do in the house even if what they want to do is watch you the same shows over and over and over. We can build up lots of blankets and pillows and get comfy and bring toys, bring them food, whatever is supporting them.
PAM: That just made all the difference in our relationship.
PAM: That was a long winded way to say:
Could you share a bit about your experience helping him through fears and anxiety?
HOLLY: Well, the number one change was listening to him. It sounds crazy now given how far I’ve come.
PAM: I know the feeling!
HOLLY: The number one thing was going from listening, unfortunately, to experts and everyone or anything at the time, to listening to Finn.
So, that was my number one thing. Within weeks of just listening to him. He reached out. Maybe it was even quicker. I can’t remember now.
But listening to him “What do you need?” And then following through and what he needed was to not leave the house. He needed to not leave the house. So, in doing that, I found help online. So, that’s where I was able to get the help online from the lady in the US. And she interestingly backed Finn up completely. She said he’s in a permanent state of fight or flight. And so, every time you take him out it is incredibly stressful for him. It takes him days to recover from one short trip out. Well, we couldn’t go to the supermarket but just a short trip anywhere That’s days that’s days of recovery. And so, you’re putting him under enormous amounts of stress.
Finn knew exactly what he needed. I just didn’t know how to listen. I think I was afraid. I think I was afraid to listen because what if he didn’t know what he needed? Which also is crazy now. What if he didn’t know what he needed for himself? But that was scary. That was a big leap in parenting for me. Although fun enough when he was very young. That is how I parented him.
But then somewhere along the line, I got very confused, I think. The expectations of what society expects really clouded my view and changed my parenting. When we were home and he was young it was very easy for me to be such a responsive parent and do what worked for him. But as he got older and I felt like he needed to fit in, I felt like I was doing him a disservice by not helping him to fit in. Because no one was going to treat him like we were treating him home. So, then I started worrying that it was my fault I suppose. So, it was a shift back to that. Listening to what he had to say and you mentioned it straight away that absolutely, for me I like to call it unconditional acceptance.
I just unconditionally accepted what he said and how he was. I completely stopped placing any expectation on him at all. That was another shift. And it was a really important one.
Where he was right there lasted for probably two years. He was not able to do anything for himself for a very, very, very long time and that acceptance, that that’s OK. I don’t think I ever for a second thought it would always be that way but I did remind myself that it might be that way. And that was okay too.
Accepting that Jade had mentioned to me that sometimes these sorts of things can take years, all the way to a teenager. For instance, she knew kids whose anxiety had lasted that bad till they were teenagers. So, that was helpful knowing that that it could last for years and years.
Then it was about adapting at home to make it the best environment it could be for him but also for Teddi. I worked really, really hard on making sure our home was everything it needed to be for her. In some ways we were really lucky because she was very, very shy. So, she was very comfortable at home and all the things she wanted were home. She wasn’t really looking for friendships at the time. So, that’s when she got into toys and that’s how we ended up fully supporting that. I played with her for hours every day. Whatever it took to make that home happy.
I got really, really good at hacking everything. Completely hacking our lives to suit ourselves. Once I sort of shut our doors, I did have a period where I shut a lot of friends out because I didn’t really understand what we were going through and I didn’t know how to explain it. I just didn’t know how to explain it to anyone. So that was helpful. I didn’t have to justify anything to anyone. But we had some great times. We ended up hacking Christmas and had some of the best Christmases we could have.
Finn had problems sleeping and still unfortunately does have problems sleeping but because he would stay awake for such a long period we were worried about how Christmas would be for Teddi. She would want to get up early. What would happen with the presents? All those sorts of things and we couldn’t have anyone over. Teddi and I would spend weeks preparing the Christmas feast and decorating the house. And we changed Christmas to a Christmas Eve feast where we would stay up till midnight and we would open all of our presents on Christmas Eve. We would have this big dinner and then we would open all the presents after dinner instead of the next morning. And that way Teddi got to open her presents with everyone, she didn’t have to wait for him to get up. So, the majority of her presents were opened on Christmas Eve and we would have this, I think the first year it was just the four of us. And then by the next year I think we either had Corey’s family or my family over, just our parents. And we just celebrated it that way. And then the next morning they had their presents from Santa. And it was only a couple of presents and so Teddi didn’t mind waiting for Finn and also she slept in because she’d been up so late.
So, it was just a matter of working out, what’s the most important thing for Finn. What are the obstacles going to be and how is that going to affect Teddi? That was really important in making sure that Teddi’s life was still special and enjoyable. I guess more than special just enjoyable. Yeah. So, I’ve got really good at doing things like that and getting creative with changing everything and I just didn’t worry about what anyone else was doing.
PAM: Oh, I love that!! Because you were talking upfront about unconditional acceptance. I think there’s a vision that we have.
But I think there’s a couple of steps deeper that we get into that because when you think of unconditional acceptance for somebody it’s like, not contradicting what your child says. But there’s the step deeper of dropping expectations.
PAM: Right. Because that brings an energy to it. And the other piece is the timeline of it. That this could go on, maybe this is his life. Maybe this is the way it’s going to be. It gives us different lenses that we’re looking at them through. And so even though we’re accepting and not contradicting them at all, when we can get to the depths when we are accepting where they are without any expectations that it will be over soon. Or if this is just a phase. ‘I have to out wait the phase.’ There is that energy of embracing that comes when you can get rid of those filters, isn’t there? And you had such cool examples of embracing that creatively. All of a sudden, the world opened and we can find what works for Christmas. It doesn’t matter, we can do it. Birthdays, just regular days.
HOLLY: That’s another thing we hacked!
PAM: Nice. Yep. We can make it work. The world opens up when you realize it’s OK to release those expectations and that you’re not losing anything by doing that.
HOLLY: No. No. In fact, you gain.
I don’t know what changes inside you but something about fully accepting your children where they are and who they are changes the relationship so much that there’s just this enormous amount of joy. I don’t really know whether it’s just joy that you feel yourself. I still can’t really describe that joy when you really give them what they need. And that acceptance in that moment. It’s just so much joy.
PAM: It really is. It really is. I know and I understand the not being able to explain it. I mean, in my Unschooling Journey book I call it this undercurrent of joy that just goes through all your days. But truly it’s there. But it’s our work to do right?
HOLLY: It was all me and my husband he just doesn’t mind. I’m really lucky because he just goes along. He just doesn’t, I can’t really think of any time where he’s said “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” He’s just. “OK. That’s what we’re doing now. Fine.” So, that’s been great as well.
Just getting back to Christmas, I just have to tell you one funny story. I think it was two years ago now. I think it was two years ago it could have been three where I started to worry about the whole Santa thing. And Finn has always really not liked people lying to him. It’s always been such big a thing. And he got to an age, I think he was seven and I started feeling like he would be very upset at me when he finds out and he would really view it as though I had lied. And so, I decided to tell him.
I think it was a couple of months before Christmas. I posed the question, “If there was something that all the adults know that none of the children do, would you want to know? Even though it was a beautiful surprise and it supposed to be a wonderful thing. Would you want to know the truth?” And he said “Of course, you know I would want to know the truth.” So, I told him about Santa and he just straight away was fascinated. He wasn’t upset in any way. He was fascinated that people could hold this secret and none of the children knew. And the lengths that the adults went to, to create this story was just incredible to him. He just couldn’t believe it. He really saw it in such a special way. It was actually wonderful.
But then he said to me “You know you have to tell Teddi now.” Oh no, no. She’s too young. She’s too young. He wasn’t really a kid who was that into gifts. But she was so into toys. I just thought it would completely ruin it. We left it for a couple of days because I wasn’t sure how I felt. And then anyway he said to me “You have to tell her. She hates being lied to as well.” And so, he said “Can I just ask her if she would mind being lied to. The same way you ask me?” So, he went ahead and used the same wording and she said “Finn you know I hate being lied to.” And he said “I told you.” He calls me Holly.
So, he said “I told you, Holly. She doesn’t like being lied to.” And anyway, so then I was like, ‘Oh, where am I going to go with this? What’s going to happen? It’s just going to destroy it.’ So, I started to tell her. It became the most wonderful thing. So, she looked at me with these massive eyes and she said, “So, you and Corey are our Father Christmas and Mrs. Claus?” And I was like “Yes, yes we are!” And just loved it!
She couldn’t believe that everyone’s parents were actually Santa and Mrs. Claus. So, obviously that’s where we went with it. It just became this wonderful story about parents doing this beautiful thing for their children and they were the real Father Claus and Mrs. Claus and then what came from that is that Corey and I would dress up. And we started dressing up and delivering the presents. They would be in bed watching us. Peeking out at midnight. Waiting for the presents after our big feast. They’d go to bed and the first time we did it Teddi was so excited she was shaking. She’d covered up her head with blanket. She was just shaking underneath it. So excited at seeing the real Father Christmas and Mrs. Claus. And even now, Christmas for us is a beautiful thing. Despite them knowing everything and we are often just alone, the four of us.
PAM: That’s spectacular. I love that story!
HOLLY: So, I guess that comes down to trust. Trusting your children and yourself that something good will happen. I told them the truth and I trusted, I suppose, that it would be okay. And it was, it was better than okay. Christmas became better.
PAM: That’s wonderful. Yeah, it’s that trust piece. And it’s the trust, not knowing what direction it’s going to take. But the trust in knowing that you’ll work with wherever it goes.
HOLLY: Yeah. Yes.
PAM: You’ll make something happen from wherever people are in the moment. It’s hard to explain. Once you’ve been through that a few times that trust really develops and you know what, it almost becomes excitement ,doesn’t it? Curiosity.
HOLLY: Yeah. Where will this lead us?!
I would love to hear the story behind the children’s picture book that you are working on and where that’s taken you.
HOLLY: OK. That’s an interesting story. A couple of years ago, we were home a lot. And that’s when I started writing. I started writing my experiences. And I wrote a children’s story, which is not this one. This is my second one. But we were doing some travelling. Finn wasn’t comfortable leaving home very much but we decided to go on a trip to Bali. And once we got him there, we couldn’t believe how he relaxed and it was like this weight just lifted off his shoulders. We noticed it straight away, so we started trying to incorporate much more travel into our lives. Then one day I woke up and I said to Corey, “I think we need to get out of Perth. I think we need to leave. I just have this feeling that we need to go and travel the world.” And then the next day someone knocked on our door and offered to buy our house!
It was so strange! It was really strange. And anyway, we weren’t ready to sell. And Finn certainly was not ready to leave the house. But that was, just there from that moment on. It was a sign to me.
I think a year passed maybe even longer, and we went for a trip to Japan. While we were there, Finn said, “I want to travel around the world. I want to go and see all the countries there are to see.” And so Corey and I looked at each other, “Yep. We don’t know how we’re going to make this happen but let’s do it.” So, that was in January of last year.
While we were in Japan actually, that’s how is this the new story started. We found these little, resin cubes and Finn picked one with a dandelion in it because he loves dandelions. And mine had a little red seed but it was seed from South America and it was called a Happiness charm. Finn just loved these two little things, they had beautiful little meanings. And when we came home, we started talking about what they could mean and he’s quite a philosophical little fella. So, he really likes discussing what things could mean and we spend a long time doing that. And so, ww came up with a story about this seed and how maybe you could imagine that this seed is inside of our body and as it grows, it grows into all our interests and our loves and what would that feel like. And so, we talked about it every night in bed for a long time. We’d just snuggle up and we’d hold the seed and we discuss it. And so, I think from there something happened with Teddi one day and so Finn and I’d been discussing this little theory behind the seed. And so, I used the analogy with her. And it really worked. And I told her our analogy, it just it really helped her. And so, I sat down and wrote that into a story. And that was around April of last year.
And then it was the whole process of now I have to find an illustrator. That was very difficult because I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on it. And so, I just kept waiting. I had grown enough as a person by that stage where I realized that if it was meant to be something would come, something would work out. And I just trusted that. I didn’t really worry too much about it. And I spoke with a few people and it wasn’t really going to work out with them. They were great but I couldn’t afford them, basically. And then this girl popped into my life who was a friend of my sister in laws and she was looking to get into illustration. She hadn’t done it before and she was willing. She read the book and she loved it, really loved it and she wanted to work on it.
And she was willing to do it at a price I could afford because it was her first book. And so, she started working on that I think December last year. And it took much longer than she thought because she has two small children. And my whole philosophy was, take your time. Don’t put it before your two children. I wouldn’t be doing that, I don’t want you to do that. So, finally I think she has sent me the final copy yesterday. And she’s also been doing the layout and the formatting and stuff as well. So, turns out she could do everything, it was this amazing gift. She was also a graphic designer. And then the funny thing about the story was as I realized I was going to be able to publish it, we started really living it. So, it became really important in all of our lives including my husband. We talked about it so much and it became so important that we started really living it.
A few months before we left, we left Perth at the end of July, Corey had quite a stressful job and he was away in Melbourne every third week. They just asked him to increase that and we had a choice, do we go to Melbourne or does do we quit? And do we take this chance to go on this holiday? Finn already wants to travel the world so we’ll be supporting that. It was a dream of mine as well. And we can really grow our happiness seeds, so to speak. Let’s see where this takes us, imagine having a whole year together. What that would be like. And so, although that idea of travelling was in our heads for a long time. It was only about two months before we left. Well maybe three months, where we put the house on the market and sold it and he quit his job and so that story is a huge part of our family now.
We talk about happiness all the time, all the time to the point of we were walking down the road the other day and we’ve been doing a lot of reading on World War 2 and we were talking about religion and how that comes into war sometimes. And Finn said to me “I love talking about World War 2 and religion is so much that I get a huge heap of dopamine and I think it’s so much it’s probably equal to what people who are taking drugs.” That sounds terrible. But he said, “That’s how that’s how happy it makes me, so happy.”
Talking about happiness is just a huge part of our lives now and both the kids know how much we are supporting them in that way to grow whatever interests they have in any way we can find possible. And when we were at home, while Corey was working it was about the kids. You know I put myself in the backseat and I really focused on them. But since travelling, it’s been a much more equal. It’s been much more equal. We’re all very aware of everyone’s loves and the kids are really happy to help us.
Sometimes it’s hard but they’re really happy for us to sort of spend time doing what we want to do as well. They’re really supportive and say it’s a really easy way to talk about it because it’s such a big thing in our life right now this book.
PAM: To have that little external lens to bring to things, a framework, that can really open up conversations. Because it takes a little bit of that pressure off of it being so absolutely personal when you can relate it to something else.
HOLLY: Yes. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So, we’re all really excited.
PAM: Yep. Like you said, it’s going well so far. Where have you guys been?
HOLLY: So, we started in Greece. We did Mykonos, Santorini and Crete. So, we did two weeks in Greece and then we went over to Italy and then we went over to France for five weeks. Within that time frame, within that eight weeks, five of those weeks were with my parents, which was really lovely. The kids loved that. They really loved it. It’s been a highlight for them, having my parents with us for those five weeks. So, we did France for five weeks and now we’re in Ireland.
We’re staying at my sister in law’s dad’s house, while I finish doing the book. We’ve been here for a month. And it’s just funny what unschooling gives you. Everyone who is Irish says to us “What are you doing here this time of year?! It just rains. Are you crazy?” And all we can see is the beauty. It’s incredibly green and because it rains so much there are rainbows all the time. And we’ve been able to go caving and rock climbing and hiking and things that we can’t do in Perth and the kids are just thriving. They’re absolutely thriving.
PAM: Oh, that is wonderful.
At this point on your journey I was just curious, what do you love most—or let’s use the happiness meter—about having chosen to embrace unschooling?
HOLLY: This is hard, there are so many! But they’re all integrated. But I think I my number one is the joy that I am able to feel every day over the tiniest little things I do. I just can’t go past that. And sometimes I wonder if it’s because we had such hard times, we couldn’t go to the shop. So, now when I go to the shop and the kids run round, just joy.
So, Finn’s gone from—and this is one of the things that unconditional acceptance and love has given him—he’s gone from not being able to enter a supermarket to running into the supermarket where he has his own little trolley, collecting all his favourite foods and waiting at the checkout. So, it’s just incredible where we are now. It’s just incredible.
Like, sometimes I look at the things we are doing and I can’t believe even just a year ago we were still struggling to have people over to our house. So, those experiences of walking to the shop, shopping. Just the joy I feel every day. And I would not be able to feel that joy had we not gone down the unschooling path. I wouldn’t be able to appreciate it like I can now. That’s probably my favourite.
PAM: I love that so much, Holly. That’s awesome.
And I want to thank you so much for taking the time, finding a spot! I really appreciate it. So awesome, thank you.
HOLLY: You’re welcome, thank you so much for having me. I’ve already thanked you but thank you so much for all the work that you, Anne and Anna have done. I am forever grateful for the way that you have put that out there and how it’s helped my family on our journey. [ED: She’s referring to the Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit.]
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. Before we go where can people connect with you online, if they’d like to touch base?
HOLLY: Probably the easiest is Instagram. I have Facebook, but at this stage I hardly use it. So, my Instagram is wholeheart_living. I’m pretty sure.
PAM: I’ll double check it and put it in the show notes.
HOLLY: And my website isn’t up and running yet but I’m pretty sure it will be by the time this is aired. So that’s www.hollyjohnson.co.
PAM: Sweet. That’s awesome.
HOLLY: I’ll have that up that as well.
PAM: Well yeah because then people can follow and check out.
HOLLY: Yeah, people will be able to see my book there.
PAM: And be sure to let me know when it does come out so I can share it. So, people know. I love it.
HOLLY: I will. I will.
PAM: Thank you for sending me a little preview!
HOLLY: You’re welcome.
PAM: Thank you very much again and have a wonderful day!
HOLLY: Thank you. You too!