PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from Livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Kinsey Norris. Hi, Kinsey.
KINSEY: Hi! I’m so glad to be here!
PAM: Oh, I’m so happy that you’re here, too. Just as a little introduction, I have really enjoyed being connected with Kinsey online. It’s been a while now and I really enjoy the stuff that you’re posting, your photos and stuff like that. So, I was really excited when you said yes. And we get to dig deeper into your family’s unschooling experience.
So, get us started, Kinsey
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what each of you are into right now?
KINSEY: Sure. So, I am a really extroverted person. Which means I process things outwardly. I love everything unschooling. I have really loved learning about unschooling and really diving deeply into how to unschool better and gaining a better understanding about it over the last few years. It’s been a very constant interest for me.
I’m a scanner type personality. I will dig deeply into something and then move on to the next thing. I have a lot of unfinished projects. But sometimes I’ll circle back around and come back to the same interests. Right now, I am really enjoying multi-generational stories, fiction and non-fiction. It’s funny because I never really considered myself a history person. I hated history. I’ve learned through these stories that I really enjoy learning about history and geography and things like that. But I enjoy it in the context of these sweeping stories. So, that’s been really cool for me to learn about myself. I am a former early childhood education teacher. I come from a family of educators, both my parents and my brother. Nick’s mom was also teacher and librarian and his dad has farmed his whole life. So, Nick, we met in college here in Lubbock, Texas. That’s where we live. We went to Texas Tech University. That’s where we met. And we’ve been married almost 10 years, this June. Still, I guess he still makes me blush. I’m over here blushing!
PAM: Oh, that’s beautiful.
KINSEY: So, he farms now, mostly cotton, some grains. We don’t live on the farm. We don’t have any farm animals or anything like that, although we kind of throw that idea around every so often. But his family has farmed forever. And I have a lot of family members who farm, too. We both grew up in really small farming communities around here where we live. So, we had all of that in common. So that’s what he’s doing now.
Aside from running our farm operation, he’s super, super passionate about football. And all Texas Tech athletics. So, sports are all year round here. He actually used to coach. He coached at the college level for a while at the beginning of our marriage and right up until about the time that Riley, our first daughter, was born. After she was born, we decided that staying closer to home and our families, the farming lifestyle might be a little bit more conducive to our needs as a family rather than coaching, which probably would have taken us all around the country. So, we’re happy to be home, closer to family. Other than that, he’s a really avid Call of Duty player. He’s been doing that, playing that for about 10 years. And he likes to hop on with some of our friends and play that. We’ve been watching some play throughs and stuff together here lately. That’s been really fun to do that together.
He reads all the time about all kinds of random things. I always tell him he would have been the perfect unschooler because he’s a really curious person and loves to learn. But he did not like school at all. And I think he sort of skated by on the bare minimum, his whole school career, with his charm. He’s very much a rabbit trail kind of guy. He’s a lot of fun and really just warm and funny. Let’s see. And then there’s Riley.
So, we have two girls, Raelin 8 and Emy Quay is 5. Riley, I would say, she’s been the guiding light for our family when it comes to life decisions that we’ve made for our family. Like I said, after she was born, we decided to stay close to home and change up our whole lifestyle to take care of her. So, in the beginning, she had some medical things going on and we weren’t really sure what was happening. Lots of extensive and exhausting medical testing and things like that, seeing specialists, having very unclear and inconclusive results. It was really traumatic for a while. The first six months of her life, I would say. So finally, we kind of we’re just like, “OK, enough of this. We’re done with all of this.” And we just embraced her for who she was and how she was unfolding. She had some really profound sensitivities. And as far as her global development, it was unfolding really quite differently than most other children. And we just embraced that and learned to adapt to that and her needs and to accommodate her. And we’re still really committed to doing that now. She is super kind and compassionate. She can’t stand for anyone to be hurt or sad. She’s goofy sometimes too. She really comes alive and shines late at night.
So, that’s a lot of fun. She is really passionate about everything Super Mario. So that started, I think with the classic Nintendo and then it kind of moved on to the Nintendo Wii. We got a Wii U and played that for a while. And then she ventured on to Nintendo switch games. She loves watching all kinds of play throughs on YouTube. That’s her thing. And she intently studies those and learns all about the game’s characters. So, that’s been really fun.
For a few months, we saved up some money and we were able to get a Nintendo Switch. And that has been so much fun. That’s probably the thing that we do most together as a family. Right now, we’re playing through Luigi’s mansion together.
PAM: I remember playing that with Michael, so much fun!
KINSEY: It is! It really is a whole family affair. And even if we’re playing, Riley might go back to her room to do something and Nick and I are still working on it. We get to a part where we don’t know what to do and we’re like, “Riley, come tell us what to do!” And she’ll be like, “Oh, you do this and that.” And it helps to have a navigator to tell us where to go. Because she has really studied these games through YouTube. It’s just really fun to do together.
She’s really into roleplaying. She likes several different YouTube channels, things that have role playing type scenarios and stuff like that. She really likes to use character figurines to pretend play and role playing like that, creating dialogue and stories. She likes for us to be there with her, next to her while she is playing. But she doesn’t necessarily want you to enter into play because she’s got it in her mind how she wants things to go. She likes to wrestle and roughhouse, which is really fun. And that’s something that she and Emy Quay and I, dad too when he’s home, do together, which is nice. Typically Riley is really more of a homebody kind of person. And typically she likes things to be kind of quiet and still and predictable, which is quite the opposite of what Emy Quay brings to the equation. So, this roughhouse kind of play has been really good for connecting us.
Her name is Emily, we call her Emy, Emy Quay. Oh, actually she’s changed her name to Unicorn right now. She is just this force of spectacular energy. She’s naked and rugged and rough one minute and then the next minute she’s, perfectly made up with full on makeup and dressed in a fancy dress, the nails painted and all. You never know what you’re going to get with her. She’s also really kind and compassionate. She loves to take care of the smallest creatures. Geckos, we find geckos a lot here and she loves to carry them around and puts them back out.
She’s persistent about the things that she wants to accomplish. She’s very in tune with her self and what feels good to her. She’s very playful and talkative. She’s interesting. She’s interesting to watch and to talk to. She has interesting things to say and to talk about. She loves light hearted jokes and pranks and stuff. That’s one of her interests, she likes to watch prank videos on YouTube will always tell knock, knock jokes or things like that.
We play Roblox together. She likes Roblox and watching Roblox play throughs. Let’s see. Oh, she’s constantly mixing up concoctions all over the place. She’s very much like a cause and effect type person. She’s always mixing stuff and freezing stuff and melting stuff, dissolving stuff, anything tactile she loves, like slime and kinetic sand or ooblick. Immersing her whole body into a box of flour, things like that. She says she’s into everything.
We have several pets. We have a dog River. We have four rats and lots of fish. And they love them. We all love our pets. And they love to help take care of them.
We also like to spend a lot of time with family, so with us still being here where we grew up, we have both of our parents nearby. Our grandmothers are here. We’ve got some cousins and stuff. They’re really close. So, we had a really tight knit, supportive community village around us. And we’re really grateful for that. The kids have really close relationships with all of them. And we spend a lot of time with family. Well that was a lot! (laughing)
PAM: But see, that was beautiful. As I was listening, there was something that I wanted to bring out for people because you spoke so beautifully about all of them. You shared, how they shine, how they enjoy being in the world. And I just want people to make sure that they notice, number one, and you mentioned it, how different they are, how different their personalities are. And you talked about those first six months with Riley and how challenging and traumatic that was, trying to figure out what was going on. And then that shift to just embracing her as she was and working with her, meeting her where she was and just working with that. Not comparing against more conventional timelines of childhood development and all that kind of stuff.
I think sometimes when people hear all these lovely descriptions of people’s lifestyle and their children, it can be easy to take that just on the surface level. That’s not really what I mean, what you’ll see is people saying, “Well, they have such easy kids or that’s because…”
But it really is our work to do, to make that transition to see how they shine, to accept how they shine, to get to a point where we realize that that’s more important to us. Because these are individual choices to make, we are choosing to value that over matching conventional milestones or over matching conventional interests or what we should and shouldn’t be doing together.
Because when we talk about them and when you’re speaking of them, it’s so beautiful. And we can see them, we can feel their joy coming out in this way and that way. Emmy just diving in, physically diving in, to all these concoctions. You can just you can see the mess. When you take a moment to think about it. So that’s all. I’m just encouraging people to realize, how much of that is deschooling work that you’ve done. To get to that point where this is what you value, where you see them clearly through their own joys, not through filters of things that we often bring to first having children. Does that make sense?
KINSEY: Yes, it does! And I think some of that was a little bit easier for me to move through because I was in early childhood education and I was with infants and toddlers as well. So as far as all this tactile sort of play and mess and things like that, that stuff was nothing for me because know that’s good stuff. As far as allowing them to get in there and really explore things and things like that.
Going back to Riley and embracing her for who she was and measuring against time lines and other children. You know, we did go in and out of that kind of thing because when I was teaching and the girls went to school with me, we were surrounded. We were still very much in that education type environment. It was a little different just because it’s different than your public school setting or something like that. They really embrace natural learning and stuff like that. But there are still milestones. And so, she was in and out of therapy for a while, in toddlerhood and a little bit later, maybe around three or something. But again, we got there. It’s like we found ourselves in all of this and we weren’t really seeing it help, what we experienced was that the stress and the anxiety of doing all that stuff was outweighing any kind of benefits that we were seeing.
And so, again, kind of like in her infancy when we were like, “We’re done.” We did that again. As she got a little bit older when we found ourselves in this just boxing kind of situation. She needed to be checking these boxes and she needed to fit in a box like this. This is what she should be doing now, etc. It’s been a journey like that with her, I think.
PAM: I love it. I love that description. And that’s the thing, too. I think what we lose is the have tos, right? You have to do therapy. You have to do this. It’s not like it’s bad, as you know, maybe it can be very useful. But the point is that you guys got to a point where you waited and you said, “You know what, the negative implications or environment is outweighing the benefits. So for us, this is the time when we’re going to say no more right now. Thanks.”
KINSEY: I think we noticed, even before she was verbal, she was taking on these messages about there is something wrong with you, that we need to fix. That is not at all what we want her to feel about herself.
PAM: I think that’s beautiful because sometimes people can feel like we’re against something. To me, it’s all about exploring the world and exploring our options and possibilities.
But like you said, it’s for them. It’s not about fixing them from the outside. It’s about helping them from the inside.
Seeing where it can help them. Versus being something we are more imposing on them. I think people can sense what the difference is there. And sometimes you need to try things before you can tell.
KINSEY: Oh, sure, sure.
PAM: But that’s awesome. Thank you very much for sharing that piece, because I think that just helps people see or realize that there’s a different way to look at things.
So often we get caught up in the expert paradigm, where other people know more and they need to tell us how to do these things. But I think part of deschooling is also regaining our sense of agency in our lives. That what we see is really valid. And these are our choices to make. We don’t have to just always do things because we’re told to do them.
I’m curious, then, through that, how you discovered unschooling and what your family’s choice and move to unschooling looked like?
KINSEY: OK. Where to begin! I was thinking about this and the seeds for unschooling we’re planted long before Nick and I were even together. I was thinking about when I was an undergrad. So, I think a lot of things happened in conjunction with one another in order to provide the environment for these little unschooling seeds to grow.
When I started to going to Tech, to school, I had already changed majors and schools. I think this was going to be my third major and my third school in like a year and a half or something. So, I all of my basics were done. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just didn’t but all of my basics were done so now, you’ve got to choose.
I was comfortable with the idea of education and being a teacher because that’s what I was familiar with. So that’s what I chose, and I chose early childhood education because I just thought I would enjoy being with young kids, as opposed to middle school or high school age. So, that’s where I went. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do.
But what surprised me was that when I really got into it, this passion for respecting children grew. And the connection to learning and treating them like whole people. This passion for this grew inside of me. I didn’t expect it at all. So, I really got into it. And so a couple of things were happening around the same time. While I was in school, I was working part time at a minimum standards day-care here in town. And then I also started my lab experience in my coursework at the lab school at Tech. And so, I was able to see and observe, would be a part of firsthand, the differences in how children were affected when you have a very, on one hand, supportive environment where children’s feelings were acknowledged, validated, they were supported, where they had guidance during problem solving situations rather than like this punishment and reward type situation.
In the other classroom, it was very much survival mode, behaviour management, assembly line type environment. I was witnessing and I was part of it everyday, it was so jarring. And life changed for me to be a part of that. And just to see the different effects that I was seeing with these children and they were about the same age group.
So, I got really fascinated and really passionate about the more respectful kind of environment, viewing behaviour as communication. This idea that behaviour has meaning. They’re not showing his negative behaviours to be bad.
So, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to be immersed in that more. And so, I started working part time at the Child Development Research Center at Tech there where I was having my labs. Then at the same time, I also started as a nanny for a couple of professors and their three month old infant. So, all the things that I was learning in my prenatal and infant and child development classes, I was making connections with what I was experiencing in the classroom at the center and then also now with this new infant that I was taking care of. So, all these things were connecting for me. And then when I was there at her house, she slept a lot, she was three months old. And that was before smartphones. We didn’t have Facebook or anything like that. So, I would peruse through her parent’s collection books. And one day I picked up Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way. I read through that and I was hooked on natural childbirth, pregnancy, a natural birth and labour and stuff like that and all of the biological processes. And things from that book we’re connecting with stuff that I was learning in my classes and with this infant and in the classroom, it was all just so wild.
KINSEY: I know! That’s why I was thinking where do I even start? Then I start researching all of that. That was the first time I ever heard of home birth. And so, I started researching that. And then, I mean, this was way before Nick and I were married or before we would even think about having kids.
But I was having moments from that time on. I was having moments. And then I just kept on researching, birth process and natural labour and birth practice and things like that. Neural biological relationships, between moms and babies, all of that was connected. So fast forward, we got married and then I became pregnant pretty soon after. And of course, my research continued and I came across natural weaning and bed sharing and attachment parenting and things like that.
We did have home births and we did very much adopt the attachment parenting type style of parenting. So, I think those are some of the little seeds that were planted because it feels like kind of a continuation of attachment parenting. So, I didn’t mention, I stayed home with Riley for the first 14 months of her life. And then when I went back to work, I went back to work at the CDRC, where I had all of these experiences in school. I went back as a teacher in an infant and toddler classroom. That was most of my early childhood education and the professional experience.
The culture there is very supportive of children. There’s not any kind of reward/punishment system. Everything is very conversational, conversations about everything. No time out. There’s not anything like that. They really helped to educate parents about respectful parenting. That’s how we’re living. So, the girls, when I start back to work, Riley was in my classroom. That was really cool. And she moved on in the center, then Emy Quay was in my classroom. So that was a really unique experience for them to be able to be at work with me and in my classroom. So, that’s what we did until about, it was about time for Riley to age out of the center.
It’s a zero to 5/6 classroom, before kindergarten. I started to look into what our choices were going to be for her and what was going to be the best thing for her, the most supportive thing for her. We started having concerns about her moving on to a school environment that was going to be very different from what she was accustomed to. So, I arranged a meeting with some personnel from the school district here just to sort of explore it. How they could serve her and how they could support her? And I was just really disheartened after that meeting. As a mom of a child who was likely going to need extra support and as an early childhood educator, coming from that point of view, too. And just hearing where the focus has gone in early childhood education.
So, after that meeting, we just kind of knew we could scratch public school off of the list. It just wasn’t going to be a fit for her, for us. Homeschooling was kind of an option in the hat, but we were trying to explore all of our school options first. There were a couple of private schools that we thought about, too, but everything seemed to be really worksheet driven and stuff like that. And that just really did not resonate with me coming from my background. I, of course, didn’t like all of the punishment or reward systems that are pretty much in place everywhere, it seems like.
So then, I just started researching homeschooling more and more and playing with that idea, what that might be like. So, I read a book or two and I made this rough schedule or flow of our day, how our days might go. And I even kind of threw around the idea of converting Nick’s man cave into our school room.
So, I just was thinking, I can just take what we’re doing at the center because I was already really experienced in creating plans based on children’s individual interest and stuff like that. I thought I’m just going to do at home, what I’m doing here at school. I felt really comfortable about that. And I thought, well, I know how to do reading instruction. I know how to do math instruction. And I’m pretty sure I can figure out later how to teach those other subjects. So, that’s what I’ll do.
Then one day, somehow I found Amy Childs podcast. And I heard Sandra Dodd talking about unschooling. And then I was like, “Oh, this is it!!” It made so much sense. And the relief because I was having some anxieties about how to keep these schedules afloat and are they really going to want to go out and do schoolwork in the school room? And so, when I heard her describing unschooling, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this makes so much sense. It’s like, duh.”
PAM: Especially thinking of all those other things from earlier.
KINSEY: Yes! And I’ve watched infants and toddlers, natural learning in front of my eyes for how many years now. Yes, of course! It was just such a foreign thing because surely you have to teach, you know. Yeah, natural learning is cool up until a certain age, but then you have to teach them how to read and you have to teach them how to do math and stuff, right?
But when I heard her talk about it, it made sense. And then I went through all of these episodes about each of the subjects, which was really helpful to me to hear how does unschooling cover basically all of these subjects? What does that look like? And that was really helpful to me. And I was like, all right. Sold. I was really excited about it.
I took that summer and we basically we’ve lived like unschoolers. I don’t know how much different, it was summertime after all. I don’t know how much differently we would have lived any other summer. But I just kept learning and stuff and it was just really exciting. So, we continued on the next year, I think we went one more year at the center altogether. And then we were trying to figure out how we’re going to make this all work financially. So, we decided after that year that I would stay home. But we were still considering things like having the kids be around other children, so maybe we’ll put Riley in this. We’ll go to this half day little small, perhaps a church kindergarten. You know, this next year and then homeschool full time kind of easing in homeschooling. Emy Quay could have gone to the center still part time. We’ll just ease into this homeschooling unschooling thing.
But then, after another summer, a wonderful summer of us spending it together, and the closer it got to school starting again, I was like, “Nope, we’re doing it.” We’re going to do it. We’re starting this unschooling journey. I think I just knew in my being that is where we would end up anyway. And so, I was just didn’t want to waste any more time. We’re doing it. And that was it.
And that was a really long story. (laughing)
PAM: I remember that moment too. When I had discovered it. And we talked about it and we had that same discussion. I’d talked about it before with Rocco about me leaving work all that kind of stuff. But once it had solidified as an option. We weren’t going to wait any longer. The kids were home for March break and we had just so much fun that week.
Why should they go back for a few month only to start later? We’ll just start now. Because once we had a taste of it, we didn’t want to go back.
PAM: That makes so much sense. And I love the way, thanks for starting that story that early. Because all those seeds that you were talking about, you could see the various little pieces that you were putting together and that when you found unschooling, it connected on so many levels. It connected to everything that you had been picking up over the years.
KINSEY: And I did teach one year. So Nick and I, when we were engaged a couple of years after I graduated. I taught one year in public school somewhere else. And, after that one year of my experience there, it was enough for me. And so, when we were looking at all these options and stuff. I just thought. Why would I want to send my child to somewhere that I don’t even want to be? Does that make sense?
PAM: Yes. Yes. Great point.
KINSEY: That was another piece. I had already felt that as an adult. And just thinking about her, individually, I thought, ‘Oh, I just think it’s going to be really overwhelming.’
PAM: That’s really interesting. So, as we’re talking about all this, you did a lot of the educational piece of deschooling just through your work. Through your interest in early childhood education and stuff. So that piece seems like it flowed well for you.
Well, and then looking at all the different topics. Right. And I’ll share a link to Amy’s podcasts. Unschooled life or unschooling life and An Unschooling Life, I think. I think it’s called. I’ll share that so that people can take a peek at that.
I’m curious what you found to be the most challenging aspect of deschooling.
PAM: As you found unschooling in your moving that way, embracing that more and more. You didn’t need the school room, Nick’s man cave?
KINSEY: He was so happy to find out he didn’t need to lose his room (laughing).
PAM: So, I was curious to hear what your experience of working through all of different aspects of deschooling looked like.
KINSEY: It was such a huge relief to me too because like I said, I’m a really kind of a scanner type person. I’m the epitome of unfinished projects. So, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, a schoolroom. I’ll never finish that!’ (laughing) Yeah, that was a really easy one to let go, thankfully.
You’re right, I think a lot of the natural learning part and things like that were pretty easy for me to move through because of my background. There’s been a couple of times in the past where I panicked briefly about reading or something like that. When I was first starting to purchase foods and bring foods into the house that I hadn’t ever brought into the house before, I had a little bit of, couple of panicky moments about things like that that. I was able to pretty easily peel back the layers there and move through those things.
So, I would say. This makes me feel really vulnerable, by the way. But that’s ok. It’s honestly the challenge. So, really I don’t feel like my challenge had to do much with the kids at all. My challenges were more really personal and internal, about myself. Really embracing, becoming the learner again after having been an educator about learning and being someone that others came to a lot of times for answers about children and learning and connection and things like that, for a good part of a decade. But embracing that role of being a beginner again and releasing that role of being an educator. I still very much wanted to advocate what was right for children and learning, even though I really was starting over with my own work. Does that make a whole lot of sense?
KINSEY: At the beginning of our journey, I was following several Instagram, Facebook accounts and blogs and stuff that depicted unschooling in this very perfect and pretty way. Or this really trendy, kind of wild and free way. And so visually that was shaping for me what I thought good unschooling was supposed to look like. So, that’s what I was trying to create for us. So, basically in my efforts to not have my kids shoved into boxes, I was almost creating my own box for our unschooling life.
PAM: Wow, that is such a great insight, Kinsey. Because it’s so true, I mean, really, really because when you’re first learning, you’re like, what does unschooling look like? What do days look like? And you’re really searching. I mean, everybody is. I remember those times, too.
And it is so easy, not so easy. But, you know, to see how it looks in other people’s families and to feel like that’s what we should be shooting for. And I do think that is part of the journey. So many people hit that spot and it is that moment, that realization, eventually as you keep learning about it. Like you said, this is something that you’ve been interested in and you’re continuing to learn about.
But that kind of aha moment when it’s not about the what that they’re doing. It’s about the why. The what they’re doing is what fits for their family. But it’s the why. The what can look very different in our own family.
Like you said, that box, that vision that we have in our head, because we see how it looks in other people’s families. And we’re like, okay. That’s kind of what I’m shooting for. We want to know where we’re trying to get to. And then we try to make it look like that for our family.
And eventually, so often, it doesn’t really work because we’re not the same people as that other family. And the realization, and it’s so scary as well to realize that that’s an open question. What does it look like in our family? And that we can’t really look outside to see that. That we are instead creating it for ourselves. I mean, that is scary.
That beginner’s mindset, too, that you talked about. I love that as well. It’s a total roll shift for us to that learning piece. But then in that learning piece, we see other things and we’re like, oh, that’s what we’re shooting for. And then we get to the point.
That’s what I love about seeing unschooling as a journey, because it’s all these little steps, all these little realizations and insights along the way and aha moments that we have as we peel away those layers like you were talking about before. Peeling away those layers and realizing those periodic kind of panic moments or anxiety moments where it’s like ‘I’m really trying to do this, but it’s not working for us. It’s not working for us.’ And then you wonder, is it the unschooling? Is it us? Is it something we’re doing wrong? And then when you’re peeling away those layers, you come to realize, ‘No, it’s not about us doing things wrong. It’s about. Those not being the things that fit well for us.’
You know what I mean? And the great thing is, the interesting thing is, talking to so many different people about unschooling and what it looks like in their lives, I hope people take away how it looks very different. Yet, you can hear the joy in all the guest’s voices as they talk about their family and everything. Because that’s the root of unschooling. That is the inner gooeyness that’s so lovely. But it looks so different for each family. But it takes a while to get there, doesn’t it?
KINSEY: Yes, it really does. And it has for me. And I think it’s continuous.
PAM: I mean, because we’re all growing and changing right along the way. We as parents are our kids are and the other thing is that as you figure out and get to a spot where everybody’s connected and relating and we can understand each other, but a good flow going in, it’s not going to stay that way.
KINSEY: You know, it was kind of doing that when I was in that, I don’t know, I still really wanted to share my passion and I wanted to really advocate for what was helpful for children and learning and connection and stuff like that. But when I was doing that in what felt like this platform kind of way. I was actually missing out on a deeper connection with my own actual children.
But as time went on, I began to just dig deeper and be more introspective. I began to make intentional choices about what things were moving us closer to real, rich unschooling, in our family. Reflecting on what was serving my relationships with my kids and getting more into this life, soaking into my bones kind of learning about unschooling instead of this surface level, kind of regurgitated, head knowledge.
PAM: For me, something that I find fascinating, is that the intellectual understanding of unschooling, that level—and that’s a great place to get to—but you can’t stop there. If you stop there, then it’s more like unschooling rules. Should I be doing this? or I have to do this and I have to say yes all the time. You know what I mean? You understand it intellectually, why it makes sense, why natural learning works and all that kind of stuff. But there’s that layer deeper where you feel it in your bones, in your soul, because that’s when you’ve gotten to the point where you have that level of self-awareness, that you’ve peeled back all that stuff and where you’ve come to value everybody as individual whole people.
And you’ve really spent that time connecting without that kind of judgment level. Without the rules framework on top of it. How does it really work for us? What does my child really enjoy doing? How do I really connect with them? Instead of sometimes maybe it’s easier to think of it instead of a role, because at first when we intellectually understand it, we’re trying to step into the role of unschooling parent. Maybe that could be one way to think about it. But the difference of actually just living it. You get to the point where you do feel it in your bones, it’s so much more than just an intellectual understanding. We’re digging deep here Kinsey!
KINSEY: My wheels are spinning. For me because I mentioned earlier that I’m very much an outward kind of processor, that’s my personality. So, I’m always feeling out from other people, what do you think? What do you think? You know, there is also this almost approval seeking or still needing to be validated or relevant or some way or something. And really what it took was me digging deeper and being with myself, which can be really difficult for me as an extroverted person.
But really digging deep into my heart and doing this tough inner work, in order to deeply sink into what true and good unschooling really feels like. That flow. When you’re in that flow, it’s just so all encompassing that I don’t know, it doesn’t even really occur to me to really even consider what other people are thinking.
PAM: When you were saying that, a way I enjoy talking about deschooling, because so often when you’re in that intellectual understanding level, you’re like, ‘OK, I’m deschooling, I need to go down this path and I want to get it done.’ When am I done? Deschooling.
KINSEY: Yes, am I done, are we there yet?!? (laughing).
PAM: And then at the end, though, once you’ve actually peeled away and done the work, it’s not even a question you ask yourself anymore. You’re not judging that anymore. You’ve gotten to that point where you’re just living and acting and being with your family and being in that flow and just living life together, and that’s where the value is. And you lose that intellectual look at feedback validation. Am I done? Am I doing it right?
KINSEY: Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I was going to say. It just kind of feels like we’re just getting on with things and we’re just living our lives together. You mentioned my posts. I do still love to share what we’re up to and what we’re enjoying and things like that. But I have a really different feeling about it now. There’s been this shift. It’s coming from a different place. And sometimes I’ll even share what feels more like journal entries almost. But I really enjoy doing that. That’s how I enjoy putting love and joy out into the world and maybe someone will see something and think, ‘Oh, well, whatever they’re doing, is this really cool or, Oh they have so much fun together.’ And, maybe it will help someone to have more fun with their kids or find more joy.
PAM: No, I think I like you were talking about earlier with those little seeds. It’s just planting those little seeds. Because it’s interesting to share, it’s fun to share and also I think too, part of it is also, nice almost journaling for ourselves. That we’ve also have that history. Because I also think it’s valuable to document those good times, too. I talk about that during deschooling. Remember the times when things are flowing, when things are going well, because that kind of becomes your light at the end of the tunnel, because when things aren’t going well for a while, it’s like you realize it’s part of the journey.
It’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is and this is the end of the world. We need to just stop doing this.’ No, that’s how you start to recognize the flow, the ups and downs of life when things go sideways, that things will come back. But, you know, it’s all it’s valuable stuff to remember and have in your back pocket or on your page or on your Instagram. And when things are going a bit sideways because it reminds you, there are good times we can get there.
KINSEY: That’s funny that you bring that up because the past few weeks here we were all sick and it wasn’t much fun around here. And I’ve gone through some emotional time. My grandfather just passed away. There’s been some of ebbing and flowing going here. And I had some of those thoughts even before, as we got closer to chatting. I’m just but our lives, I don’t feel very much joy right now. You know? But when you’re able to look back, you do see, well, things in life do happen. But you’re able to move through those things.
PAM: It’s true.
KINSEY: Being able to look back at those times, using them as a journal. Just a reminder that sometimes when things don’t feel all that great, you don’t stay there.
PAM: Yeah. And something I really enjoyed seeing, is your approach to these more challenging moments. And I remember as I was moving deeper into unschooling, it was a huge paradigm shift for me how to approach these moments when things were tough, maybe the kids wanted to do different things. Like you said, your kids have very different personalities. Or maybe I was uncomfortable with something one of my kids wanted to do.
The unschooling approach was such a paradox for me at first. I would be reading and learning how important it was to be open, that open approach, open minded, being creative and just opening up to whatever possibilities. That felt so uncomfortable for me because I had lived in a world where, ‘OK, there’s a problem, I’m going to narrow in on the best solution to solve it. And it was all like a boom, boom, boom, narrowing things down to find the right answer.’ Versus opening things up to all these possibilities. To me, that was so scary. It felt like just the opposite of what I thought needed to be done in those situations. Yet, through our experiences, we do come to see that it’s in those challenging moments when our creativity and our kids creativity really shines, doesn’t it?
KINSEY: Yes, it does. It does. And sometimes when you’re in all of that, if it feels not only scary kind to have all this open-endedness about it, but it also feels like a lot. Sometimes just I jokingly will tell Nick, I refer to it as like mental aerobics, throwing all these ideas around in your head. And I do, having two children that move through the world very differently, experience the world very differently, have very different needs. I do have a lot of opportunities of get creative about things like that. So, do they.
What’s helped me during these more challenging times is remembering. Well, like you said, that there are always several, if not endless possibilities for any given situation. I’m just trying to keep that openness to really be objective about things, assessing what the true needs are. To backup, slow down, assessing the needs of everybody.
PAM: Slowing down is important right? Because we feel like we need to rush because we want to get through it. We want to solve it as fast as possible. But so often it really doesn’t need that speed.
KINSEY: Right. And that’s what super cool about this whole thing, too. You’ve got the time for that. You don’t have to rush around and solve this problem right now. We have the time for this dialogue, these conversations with your kids. So, I was thinking. Something around here lately, Emy Quay wants to go outside and play and Riley doesn’t.
So, going through all these questions, like, ‘OK, does Riley not want to go outside because she’s just really into what she’s doing now? Is there something uncomfortable about outside? Is there a way we can help her be comfortable outside? What is Emy Quay wanting to do outside? Is there something specific? Can we move that thing, whatever it is inside? Can we do something similar inside? Can we make a plan to go play outside when dad gets home and maybe do something different altogether now?
There are all of these things to go through in your mind. I’ll bring the kids in to these conversations but I won’t bombard them with these questions. Some of them are just things I’m going quickly through my mind. But like the other day, Emy wanted to go out to use sidewalk chalk. She wanted me to go with her. Riley was watching something on the TV and of course I asked Riley, “Emy is wanting to go do sidewalk chalk, you want to come with us?” She said no but she also wasn’t comfortable with us going out without her. So, you start thinking, what can we do in order for everybody to be happy and everybody to have their needs met and to be comfortable?
So I said, “Emy, what if we get a big box and cut the sides and lay it out flat in the floor and bring the sidewalk chalk in? And we could use sidewalk chalk on the box in the floor and watched TV with Riley.” She loved that idea.
I feel like we are constantly coming up with stuff like that. Everybody was happy. We did it. Everybody was happy. Everybody’s needs were met and. There’s almost always something, you can just keep going until everybody feels comfortable with what you land on.
PAM: Yeah. Because I mean, if that wasn’t comfortable for Emy Quay then she would have said no because of something and that would have just been another seed for another question. Well, what if we did this or what if we did that?
And sometimes I think people can be like, oh, you’re doing too much to focus on working through that and to get to the point where everybody’s comfortable and happy with that.
But that is such a great skill to bring into the world, this is not spoiling or being taken advantage of. That’s work to do for ourselves if we’re feeling that way. Because it’s not about being marterly when we’re approaching conversations like that at all. We’re bringing ourselves into it. They’re bringing their needs. And this is such a valuable way just to approach life in the world.
This is just such great stuff to be doing with them right now. It’s these little things. But as they get older, it’s different things. And as they get to be teens, it’s different things again. And as a young adults out in the world, these are just amazing skills and abilities, not only the self-awareness piece, so that they’re taking just that moment, even Riley saying no, but I’m not comfortable with you guys going out like her understanding that about herself and being able to share that. Awesome, right?
PAM: To be able to get up with, ‘Oh, like how can we put this puzzle together that all of these pieces fit?’ I just I love that. And it is so creative and it’s so helpful, as a skill, as a way of relating to people, as a way of understanding. It hits so many buttons.
KINSEY: Now, even at times where we’re not even brainstorming about how we’re going to go about something. Riley will come to me and start getting her ideas. “Well, what if we do this and then you do that after?” I think because of all of these conversations that we’re having constantly, she’s picked that up and is using it, using those skills, how they’re meaningful to her from moment to moment, day to day.
PAM: Yes. That’s lovely. That’s lovely. Yeah. Now, you mentioned that where you are you have lots of family around you. And I was curious, with the holidays on the horizon, spending time with extended family members who may not understand us. So, I don’t know what your situation is but, I know I had a number of family members who were in education and teachers and that kind of stuff. So, it can sometimes be challenging when they don’t understand our lifestyle.
I was wondering if you just had any ideas or tips to share with the people on things that help you guys move through those moments.
KINSEY: Sure, as far as the holidays coming up and stuff. In our specific situation, we have a lot of family here, close family, well, extended family, but we’re very close to the people we see at the holidays. They are mostly the people we see on a weekly basis. So, it’s a little different for us, maybe than some people.
But I would say if you’ve got extended family members who maybe you aren’t around very much or do have questions or something like that. I mean, let’s be honest, you’re not going to be able to have this in depth, really effective conversation in the middle of a holiday gathering. So, I try to prepare myself or do things to help prepare myself before going to something like that. And there’s lots of resources about this, past online discussions. So, another episode from Amy Child’s podcast was actually a relatives episode. I think that you were on that one. I don’t know if you were reading a talk or one of your essays or something.
PAM: Yeah, I remember that.
KINSEY: It was a really helpful one, just kind of practical things you can do in these kind of situations where people have questions or something like that. Also remembering that each conversation is a choice. You know, you have a choice. That sounds like something Anna would say.
PAM: There’s always a choice.
KINSEY: She probably has, I stole that from Anna. (laughing) But really, every conversation is a choice. There are ways that you can move forward with the conversation. If somebody has a question and they’re coming from a really genuine, point of curiosity, that’s one thing. There are ways to pivot out of conversations too, if needed. If things feel a little bit more like they’re coming from a, I don’t know, point of concern or needing to pass judgement.
I try to get a feel for where it’s coming from, what the intention behind the question, then figure out more easily where to take things.
KINSEY: You know, if you want to get into things a little bit. Or if you want to sort of just get out of that.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. That’s a great point.
Understanding that because meeting someone where they are is really where you can connect with them. If they’re talking from one perspective and we just stay in our very experienced unschooling perspective, neither of you are going to really be able to make connections, which is where we learn. If we’re so far apart, nothing’s really going to make sense. We’re just kind of talking at each other rather than with each other.
The intention piece is very important too because you choose to engage. But if it feels like it’s judgmental, or they’re trying to lead you somewhere to make a point to try and trap you or whatever. It all depends on that. Pivoting out totally makes sense or I used to go and just say, “I’m going to check on the kids.” “I have to go the bathroom.” or, “I’m hungry.” There are just so many ways.
KINSEY: The bean dip maneuver. I might just briefly answer a question or something like that, but then just immediately ask the person something about what’s going on in their life or how was your last vacation or whatever. Excuse me, I’m going to go check in with the kids. And honestly, I really, I love being with the kids, especially at family gatherings and stuff like that. So, I’ll go hang out with the kids. We’ve taken games and stuff before, so we had some things we can do together. So, you’re not finding yourself in some of those conversations you don’t really want to be in. We take the Switch almost everywhere now and we share that, we have a lot of fun.
PAM: Yeah. That was another big piece for me. We would always because I always wanted the kids to also enjoy this time. And so often when we were going places, they didn’t have other younger kids, so they didn’t have toys or things for them to do. So, it’s important for me that they enjoy the time as well.
So, we would bring consoles and set them up and bring games that we knew everyone would enjoy playing together, stuff like that. I always came with a whole arsenal of stuff, plus an idea in my head of questions I could ask where I might even say to the kids, Oh, yeah. Remember last time Grandma was doing this? So, we can ask her about how that’s going or whatever. There were a couple of times, too, if the kids were into something like Harry Potter Clue or there was a Monopoly phase for a while. I would phone ahead and say, “Hey, if we bring this game do you want to play because the kids are really into it right now?” And that would set them up as well so they could be expecting it and it wasn’t a big shock to them. And because I found often, they wanted to enjoy that time, too.
The other piece, too, was it was funny when I was saying, “Oh, I’m going to go check on the kids.” Because in the back of my mind, even as I said that, I was thinking, most of the time I was already with the kids. (laughing) That was more fun than sitting around the table after dinner for an hour just chatting about who’s doing what. That kind of adult conversation, it was more fun with the kids.
KINSEY: Yes, politics and all kinds of things! If I do find myself in a conversation or with people in our lives who we are a little closer with my parents or Nick’s parents or grandparents and they’re asking about what the kids are up to and things like that, I really try to keep our joy at the focus, cool things that we’ve been up to. Things that the kids are excited about lately or things we’ve learned lately. And I hope that my excitement is evident, too. And so that, it’s hopefully sending the message that we’re happy and confident about how things are going right now. So, just keeping your focus on the joy and the excitement. It’s really helpful.
PAM: Yeah, I found that too. On my husband’s side who weren’t as familiar or curious about unschooling, after a year or so of me happily answering, just sharing what we were doing, having fun and everything, they eventually just stopped asking or at least stopped bothering sharing their concerns because they knew I was going to have an answer and a positive response to how we were approaching. Then eventually after a few years, they were all very happy about it.
But yeah, it just took time because that wasn’t a place where I wanted to discuss any concerns or questions that I had. Because, of course, the answers were going to come from a conventional perspective. They were going to be, “Well put them back in school.” And why would I set them up? Because they’re wanting to help. So, their answer is good and is coming from the kindness of their heart, from their viewpoint. And I know I’m not going to be taking their advice because that’s not the path I was wanting. So, it would never be a helpful conversation. We were both going to walk away maybe not upset, but not feeling heard. Because that wasn’t a conversation for us to have. So. Yeah. Being able to share the fun stuff and the joy, because that’s part of what they’re worried about.
At least seeing that we’re having fun, that the kids are happy, that the kids are actively doing things and just enjoying their lives. That was the piece that I was really happy to share with them.
KINSEY: Yes, totally!
PAM: Okay. Last question. I would love to hear your favourite thing right now about the flow of your unschooling days. Now that you’re all healthy!
KINSEY: Yes, yes, yes. We are feeling better now. Gosh, well, there’s so many things, you know.
So, I asked Emy Quay this question. “What’s your favourite thing about our life every day?” And she said, “Hanging out.” I loved that! She’s so right. We can simply hang out. And you know what? I think a really cool by-product of that to me is the discovery that happens. Discovering new interests, discovering new bits of information about places and people or things. Discovering things about each other and about myself.
I don’t think I could have ever expected or imagined how much more living like this would give us. Aside from the learning, it’s just really exciting and fun. All of those discovery pieces are really exciting and fun to me. I just love every minute and I’m really excited to keep on going to see what’s going to happen next. I don’t know. I’m just really filled with gratitude to be able to live this way with my family.
PAM: Oh, that’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. And I love that hanging out answer. It’s just that space to be together.
KINSEY: To be. Just being.
PAM: Yes. Oh, thank you so much. Kinsey, I really appreciate it. Our conversation, it was so fun to hear more details, to learn more about you guys. That was so awesome. Thank you so much.
KINSEY: Thank you so much. I appreciate you inviting me. Man, it’s been so great to talk to you. I love the podcast. I was telling my mom, there’s two hundred something podcast episodes. And I know I listened to every single one at least once. But that’s so valuable for us. And really supportive. So, I just really appreciate all the work that you’ve done. And that you continue to do, really!
PAM: Oh, thank you so much, Kinsey. That’s awesome. And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
KINSEY: So, I am on Facebook, Kinsey Riley Norris. If you want to connect with me there. On Instagram. KinsNorris I think it’s my username. Probably those are the best two places you can connect with me. I’m up for chatting. I love talking about unschooling. If anybody wants to chat, I’m totally game.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. And in the show notes I will share links to your profiles there so people can connect. That’s awesome. Thank you so much. Have a great day.
KINSEY: Thank you. Bye Pam, you too.