PAM: Hi everyone! I’m really excited to share this compilation episode with you! In most of my conversations with grown unschoolers, I ask them what advice they’d like to share with newer unschooling parents who are starting out on their journey. In this episode, I’ve woven together answers from eleven episodes and twelve grown unschoolers.
It’s so interesting to hear the things that they feel were valuable for them as they grew up unschooling. I think you’ll find their answers fascinating. And great fodder for you as you contemplate your family’s unschooling journey.
To get us started, Idzie Desmarais was the very first grown unschooler I interviewed back in episode 12. She went to kindergarten for a few months, but soon she was home. Their relaxed homeschooling style naturally transitioned to unschooling over the years. Here’s what she shared for parents starting out on the unschooling journey.
PAM: As someone who has grown up unschooling, is there a piece of advice you could share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey?
IDZIE: I guess I would probably want to go back to what we were talking about earlier. About how learning is in the fun; to maybe stop being so attached to looking for learning and to just focus on paying attention to what is actually happening—to the joy, to the exploration, to the struggle, to whatever it is. Just pay attention to what is happening, instead of trying to assign learning to things, or create artificial learning moments. To just focus on yourself and your kids and your lives, and just try to share a rich life together. That is where the learning really happens.
PAM: That is beautiful, yup that’s exactly it. It is hard though, isn’t it?
IDZIE: It is.
PAM: You know, when you first start, because you are still so worried about it, school is still so inextricably linked to learning in society’s mind, so that is a huge piece for them to give up.
IDZIE: It is, and I think even years later there can be moments of doubt and moments of “Is this right??” and moments where you kind of want to grab onto things that look traditionally educational and productive, and I think that is something that you never completely stop fearing, but just to be moving in that direction, letting go of these sort of expectations.
PAM: And looking at your kids, right.
IDZIE: Very much so. Or yourself; it works just as well when it comes to looking at yourself.
PAM: Yeah, as long as you have cleared that luggage away and you are not judging yourself.
IDZIE: Yes, oh for sure. That is what I mean; giving yourself the same. Look at what you are actually doing, what is actually happening instead of having these unfair expectations of yourself or of your children.
PAM: Yeah, that is a great point, thank you very much, Idzie.
PAM: That’s such a great reminder, to release expectations about what you think “should” be happening and pay attention to what is actually happening. When you’re fully in the moment with your kids, that’s where the unschooling thrives, where fun and learning flows.
Next, let’s hear from Roya Dedeaux. Roya is the oldest of three siblings and left school at age ten when her mom suggested she not go back to school for fifth grade. Here’s her advice for newer unschooling parents.
PAM: As a grown unschooler, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey?
ROYA: I would say, for unschooling parents who are just starting out, just to relax. Just completely relax. And if you need to give yourself a time limit of how long to relax, give it six months. Relax for six months. Just let go of anything you think is important, it’s not.
And I’m talking about brushing your teeth, eating the nutritious balanced diet, about going to sleep at certain times, anything. Just relax. Nothing irreparable will happen in six months, just relax.
And the next piece of that is, nothing is as important as the relationship you have with your kid, nothing. No piece of information, no degree earned, no job, nothing is as important as your relationship with your kid. So, when you are struggling with something, or trying to make a decision about something, or decide how to react about something, I would be thinking, “Which option connects me more to them? Which option improves our relationship?” As opposed to, “Which option gets them into bed. Which option gets them to brush their teeth?” Think about the relationship first is what I would say.
PAM: I love that piece about relaxing because you know what? When you’ve made this momentous decision either to not send your kids to school or to bring them home and it just seems so big it seems like you need to do something. That so much of their life hinges on this one decision.
But truly, to be able to relax and just let life flow for, as you said, at least six months, six months to a year. That is so important because all of a sudden you learn so much more about your child. Especially when, as you said, if you need something to guide you, the relationship, that’s the perfect place, right? As you have ideas, which one is going to help the relationship vs push us further apart. That’s really cool because that’s one of the hardest things is to realize, “Ok, we’ve made this huge decision, now we can just relax and have fun.”
ROYA: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s quite a dichotomy to walk that seriousness versus the levity of it. I know my mom talks about, she might have said this on your podcast, I honestly didn’t listen to that one. It’s hard to listen sometimes to stories about me.
She tells at conferences that her guidance when she first started, was she was trying always to light our eyes up. That light of, “Oh that’s interesting!” or “Oooo, I like that!” or whatever that thing is that gets that little spark in your eyes. She said that was what she was going for. So if she offered something and we were, “eh” about it, then she would drop it. And she’d try to find the things that made us interested. That was kind of her pet project when she was first starting out as an unschooling mom.
And I like that. I like that a lot. I think it’s, “Relax” and the other side of that is, “Have fun!” If you need something, then think of this as a vacation and do all the things that you would do just to have fun. When I talk to parents and I say, “Really, when your kid is 8, what do you want for them in their life?” It’s happiness. It’s not for them to know every single math equation in the world. It’s not for them to have memorized history facts or even be very much exposed to these things. The reason they want them to get those things is because they think, that will lead to success and that will lead to happiness.
But when you go all the way to the end of that road, it’s happiness. So, why do you have to wait? Be thinking creatively about other paths to that. Then in therapy we talk about why they think math problems is, “the thing.” But it always goes back to, you can’t force happiness. Happiness doesn’t happen when you are desperate or when you’re scared. So, relax.
PAM: Yeah, that’s the other piece. The best learning, to see your kids, when you take your kids out of school, if they’re not doing workbooks or worksheets or whatever, that’s the point, is having fun. When they’re having fun, their eyes light up, and they’re learning like crazy.
ROYA: And there’s so much science that backs that we learn things when we’re having fun. If you want your kids to learn things, look at it from that perspective, then just do that.
PAM: I love how Roya’s answer echoes what Idzie shared. Completely relaxing is about releasing expectations and seeing what happens when everyone is free to make choices and have fun. Find things that make their eyes light up.
Now, let’s hear from Brenna McBroom. Brenna went to public school for first grade, then they moved to traditional homeschooling. When she was twelve, they went to their first unschooling conference, felt like they’d found their people, and made the leap. Here’s what she shared.
PAM: As a grown unschooler, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey?
BRENNA: Well, so I feel like I’m not a parent at this point, so I don’t have first-hand experience or perspective on that. But as a grown unschooler, the way that I mostly interact with kids these days is they come into my booth when I’m selling stuff at a craft show. And most of these kids aren’t unschooled. And something that I see a lot is parents just being very, very controlling of their kids. Like, “Put that down. Don’t touch this. Back away.”
Or things not even related to what’s going on the booth. Just a lot of pretty controlling behavior. And I will just say that I’ve never had a child break something in my booth, but I have had several adults break things when they come to my booth. Kids come in and they’re usually very, very careful because their parents are often kind of complaining at them about it.
And so I think the piece of advice that I have is that, if you can work on relaxing your need to control things, even a little bit, it helps to move you in the right direction of unschooling and it helps to improve the relationship that you have with your child.
Because I think that that’s the big difference I see, is that sometimes parents come in and I see this good relationship between them and their children, and I see them really working with their children rather than trying to control them.
PAM: Yeah, that is such a fascinating point. Because, as you were saying, you haven’t had kids break things. I imagine parents jump in with control because they don’t think their kids know, but kids can definitely be attuned to what’s going on around them, and when we jump in and control, we take that power away from them, don’t we. Because they would be going in and being careful on their own, but we snatch that from them when we tell them that they have to do this, and they have to do that.
BRENNA: Yeah, absolutely. Ninety-nine percent of the kids who come in already are being careful. But then they’re getting this negative feedback from their parents as though they’re misbehaving or doing something wrong. And sometimes it’s kids who are quite old. Kids who are 11 or 12 or 13, who certainly already have the self-control and maturity to be able to come in and interact with me as an adult.
PAM: Yeah, when you look at it from their perspective, being told that when they’re already doing that, I imagine that they don’t feel seen. Because it’s like, “Well, can’t you tell I’m already doing that?”
BRENNA: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely.
PAM: Yeah, that’s really cool. That is a great first step. And one of the things that, when parents are coming to unschooling, to be able to open up and start to release some of that control and start to see their kids for what they’re actually doing, that’s a huge piece of deschooling. So that’s very, very cool.
BRENNA: Oh thanks, thanks.
PAM: I love that insight from Brenna! Starting to release some of that need to control and, at the same time, paying attention to what your kids are actually doing, is a big part of deschooling. Do you see a beautiful pattern weaving through Idzie’s, Roya’s, and Brenna’s answers? They are encouraging us to shift our lens away from expectations and fears to what’s actually happening in the moment.
The next clip is from episode 181 with Jack and Sean O’Brien. They grew up unschooling, with Jack chosing to go to high school. Here’s their answer.
PAM: I would love to know what piece of advice each of you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey. What would you say to them?
JACK: The first thing that comes to mind is trust your kids. Trust that they will find something.
I mean it only took me till I was 14 to really like find, to really start picking up speed and start finding things that I liked. But like Sean it took longer and but he’s on a path now. Yeah.
SEAN: Yeah, I mean I was 16 when I took the one class.
JACK: So, really do trust that they will find something.
And then also, see what they’re doing and try to find the value in what they are already doing. Because they might have already found it. And you just don’t think so, you may not be seeing that it’s valuable. This goes back to the video games. Even at the age of, we were kids maybe eight or twelve or something and we were playing video games, we were already starting to find it. I was getting in these online games and talking to my team-mates, “Let’s rally guys!” Working with these total strangers to complete this goal. And that was me finding it. That was me like slowly realizing I want to work with people I want to help people work well.
And then similarly with Sean, he was always more interested in the cool games with the beautiful art and really the more interesting stories. So, when we were like really young, we were already starting to find it.
So, if you can, as parents, really pay attention to what gets them excited. Chances are even when they’re kids, that’s some indication of who they’re going to become.
SEAN: Yeah. There’s already something there. Even when you are just playing video games. You’re just doing whatever sitting around. It looks like to a lot of parents you’re doing absolutely nothing significant. And they’re thinking, “Oh no! My kid is failing. They’re not interested. They don’t want to go to school.” It’s good. There’s something there.
Everyone has interests. I think we’re just drawn to find them regardless of what we’re doing whether or not we’re in school.
PAM: Is there anything else you would like to add to that Sean?
SEAN: Well something else that we were talking about before is don’t give up on it. I think unschooling is the type of thing that works really well if you’re able to go through the whole process where you start unschooling, you let your kid do their stuff, figure it out for themselves and then go and have the motivation to do something themselves.
If partway through that you tell your kid or someone gets worried that their kid isn’t or it’s not working or whatever and they send their kid off to school. I think you lose a big part of the benefit of it which is that the self-motivation. The fact that you’re choosing to do something, the kid loses that because now they’re being forced to go to school.
And now almost it maybe makes it worse. And I mean we didn’t have this happen, so I’m just sort of spit balling, I’m just guessing on what it might be like. But it feels like now you’ve had this breath of fresh air where you can do what you want and then suddenly you’re in school where everything is structured and you have to do certain stuff and it’s not your choice. It’s gonna feel really bad to have all of that relaxing personal stuff taken away from you.
PAM: Yeah it feels like that would be so hard. That would feel like that time was judged and that you failed at it somehow because now your parents have decided to take that choice away from you when it’s not, like you said, not on your timeline. So, it can be a double whammy.
JACK: And then also if you’re not, if you don’t have that motivation both the transition to the former education can be hard.
I mean like taking tests, it easy for us because we were like, “Oh, yeah let’s do it.” But if all of a sudden, you’re in eighth grade or something and you didn’t want to be, it could probably feel really overwhelming to all of a sudden have all these tests and stuff. If you weren’t expecting and ready to take on the challenge.
Yeah definitely. Stick it out if you if at all possible, stick it out. Give your kids as much time as they need, because they’ll find something.
PAM: I love their focus on trusting your child to find their path. It won’t likely be on your timetable, but it will happen.
Next, we hear from Katie Patterson. Katie grew up unschooling, leaving school after kindergarten. Here’s her advice for parents starting out.
PAM: As a grown unschooler, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey?
KATIE: It involves a lot of listening. Listening to your child, listening to yourself and figuring out our limits and, ‘Is this my discomfort or is this my child’s discomfort?’ It’s a lot of listening and also learning to let go and learning to let your child explore on their own. If they need help, they’ll come to you for help.
You don’t have to helicopter mom—or helicopter dad if you’re an unschooling dad. Understand that they can figure it out and if they need help, they’ll come to you.
The second thing, and I say this in seriousness as well as not so seriousness, the TV is not an evil entity. Do not fear the talking box. It is not going to eat you in your sleep. Because—a fun fact about me and why I bring it up and because it does tie into me as a person and me in my career and stuff like that—I didn’t really talk until I was nearly 4.
When I say I didn’t really talk, I mean I didn’t speak in full on sentences or speak spontaneously about how I feel and stuff like that. What I did was I would watch movies and if a line brought forth a certain emotion and later in the day if I felt that emotion, I would repeat that same line that brought forth the same emotion because that’s how I connected it. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn’t. And I was very grateful because my parents got it, they could have very easily been like, “No, don’t do that. That’s weird. That’s not a normal thing.”
Instead, we turned it into a game that we played at dinner where we would quote movies and we would have to guess what movie we were quoting. And we would just play for hours. We would have dinner and then we’re like, “Okay, it’s time to play with movie quotes. Who’s got the first quote? Who can out quote everybody else?” I won a lot of the times, but at the same time, because of that I was able to develop my memorization. At that very young age of about three and a half, nearly four.
And then it turned into my memorization of scripts as an actor and memorization of emotions and it’s learning how to push different buttons to bring forth the emotion organically or as one of my acting teachers told me, “living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.”
And that thing that could have been seen as a defect, that could have been seen as a great fault, ultimately turned into what I am now. I make a career out of memorization and attaching it to emotion.
PAM: I love that story, Katie! Thank you very much for sharing it. Because that’s the thing we were talking about before too, right? Being open to our kids and seeing our kids through their eyes instead of through our lens. Like you were talking about the judgment of thinking this is weird. This is something wrong. This is something we need to fix. Embracing the child for who they are because like you said you don’t know. And it doesn’t need to be that it turns into a career.
KATIE: That’s just what happened. That’s just what happened and we were open to the possibility that something that could have been turned into a detriment turned out to be one of my great strengths. It’s actually something I’m still really good with. I’m really good with memorizing stuff. I always remind my mom about things she has said. She doesn’t remember. I remember!
PAM: No matter what, if there’s something they’re interested in or some way that they’re seeing things, we don’t need in that moment to understand why. It may be 10, 15 years looking back where we realize what they were getting out of it.
And we don’t even have to know ever. But what’s important is that it’s really important to them in that moment. Right?
PAM: Yes. And that’s how they’re engaging with the world.
KATIE: And another thing and I’ll probably close out on this one because I don’t know how much time we have left. When it is something like my memorization and stuff added. Don’t look at it as like this is a big detriment. ‘This is a big fault. This is a red flag or that this is bad. This is wrong. This is not normal.’ Embrace it is a trait, this is who they are. This is what makes them a person. They may grow out of it. They may develop into something else. It may stick with them. Who knows? But really embrace that. It’s like OK this is what my kid is dealing with. We’re going to deal with this. We’re going to figure out if the kid needs help or if I just let it be or if I helped develop it into something else, into something that’s good.
Don’t always think the negatives. Try to make it a positive.
PAM: Yeah. And that’s all part of just supporting them and being with them because you know what, if at some point they are starting to feel like it’s a negative and they want more help. Absolutely.
PAM: The movie quote game is a great story, isn’t it? And a wonderful example of embracing who your child is. It started way back when Katie was a toddler, supporting her strengths, and is woven beautifully into the person she is today.
Next up is Kelly Nicole. Kelly left public school for greener pastures at the end of fifth grade and her family eventually settled into unschooling. Here’s what she had to say.
KELLY: Gosh, do not do it! No, I am kidding … turn back now!!
No, just, what I have said the whole time, that kids are people. Embrace them for who they are; they are not going to love everything that you do, and you are not going to love everything that they do, and that is ok. They are going to be into things that you did not care about, and you are going to try to get them into things that you cared about, and if they do not like it, that is ok. Just love your kids for who they are, and that is the most important thing, I think for anyone unschooling or not.
I see a lot of people who do not have that and do not do that, but kids are tiny people and your job as a parent is not to do things perfect, but it is to help them grow and learn; it is to support them, it is to lead them into a healthy life path. And that is all that you can do, because eventually, your kids are going to grow up and they are going to go out on their own, so if you are unschooling, at least you have that time with them to make that difference.
PAM: I love how that message has come through in so many of the questions, in all of our conversations, because that is what it comes down to, right? We are people, in a relationship.
KELLY: Yeah, and that is the huge difference for me in my life.
PAM: That was a wonderful reminder from Kelly to embrace your children for who they are. Did you notice how beautifully it connected with Katie’s answer?
And now, let’s hear from Alec Traaseth. Alec left school in the third grade and over the next couple of years his family made their way to unschooling. Here’s what he shared.
PAM: The last question I would love to ask you is, as a grown unschooler now, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on the journey?
ALEC: That’s a hard question.
Honestly, the best thing that my parents did for me was give me the freedom to make my own decisions. Kind of a universal freedom to make my own decisions—you know, within reason—but when it came to what I put in my body, what I spent my time doing, when I slept, I was given the freedom to do all of those things. And it allowed me to make some poor decisions at times. And learn from that and eventually become the healthy person that I am now, who I really feel like the self-awareness that I gained from that—the fact that I know my body so well, I know my interests so well, I know myself so well—I think that’s what it’s come from, that universal freedom I was given by my parents. So you know, it’s hard to let go, but it helped me so much! It helped me in so many ways! But I know that letting go is probably the hardest thing to do as a parent probably.
PAM: Yeah. I love that piece. And I love that you threw in there that, ‘within reason’ thing, and the—I was going to say, poor choices. But they weren’t poor at the time. They were the choices you had to make to learn!
ALEC: Oh no, I made poor choices! Are you kidding!? Was it a good idea to drink a gallon of Kool Aid a day? It tasted really good, but I didn’t feel so great. And then, “Maybe I’ll try more water.” And now at 25, I’m drinking nothing but water, and everybody around me has got their Diet Coke, or whatever. Not everybody, but the rates of drinking very unhealthy things is way up, and I got that out of my system and learned what that does to me on my own terms, and have been able to establish healthy habits for myself.
PAM: I know. It’s paradoxical, isn’t it?
ALEC: Having had the freedom to drink really terrible things, now I don’t want to!
And I feel like if I had had it restricted from age, you know, zero all the way up to 18, 19, when I was an adult, it would be much harder to form healthy habits because I want to be healthy, because the only thing stopping me from drinking it before would have been this restriction. Well, if you’re avoiding something because of a restriction, well, then it’s not for yourself. You have to learn to do something like that for yourself, and that’s what I was able to do that from a very young age.
Now, the within reason, of course, I’m not saying you have sugary snacks laying all over the house and they are eating nothing but that and there’s, there’s common sense stuff too, right?
PAM: But no, the within reason part, is having conversations that unschooling parents see…
ALEC: Conversations, yes.
PAM: It’s like when parents new to unschooling hear, ‘Give the kids freedom, their choices.’ It’s no, the within reason part, but it’s within the child’s reason. It’s having conversations with them, and it’s helping them process, it’s, ‘Oh gee, what happened after that?’ Maybe that stomach ache is related to all that. Just helping them learn from it, not leaving them to try and figure it all out in the dark.
ALEC: Exactly. And that is, you brought it up, but the only thing I would have said if I had thought of it myself first, is definitely the communication. Unschooling is not unparenting. They are unrelated. There is no connection between the two. My parents also always communicated to me and wanted to make sure I knew that yes, those unhealthy things I was doing were unhealthy and they wanted to make sure I knew that while I was doing it, but I still had the choice. And that’s what allowed me to choose not to do that for myself anymore.
PAM: Yeah, because if someone is telling you, when they take away that agency, when they take away that choice, then your choices aren’t about you anymore, do you know what I mean? Like if they were judgmental—if they were sharing information about, “You may not be feeling well because of X choice.” But if you could tell that they were trying to control you, your choice would be more in reaction to their judgement than would be to you actually learning, gaining that self-awareness, and making that choice for yourself, right?
PAM: I love Alec’s insight into the value of having both the freedom to make choices and open communication with his parents. Choices and communication. They weave together brilliantly, don’t they?
Now, notice how the freedom to make choices comes up again with our next grown unschooler, Max VerNooy. Max always unschooled—when he hit school age, his parents asked him if he’d like to go and he said no. Here’s his advice for parents starting out.
PAM: As a grown unschooler now, with years of unschooling under your belt, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey. Maybe they’ve got young kids, or maybe their kids are a little bit older but they are just starting out. What advice would you give to them?
MAX: I think giving your kids the option to make choices in their own life is a huge benefit to them, including allowing your kids to make the wrong decision, because I think making the wrong decision can be a huge benefit to growing your character, and to learning about yourself. And I think a lot of parents get too caught up forcing their kids to make the right decisions that their kids don’t even learn to make decisions.
PAM: I love that.
MAX: I think there is a big difference between, you can still be there as a parent to help guide your child—you can give them advice, be there to catch them when they fall down, but let them make that decision for themselves I think is a huge benefit.
PAM: Yeah, I think that parents can be so caught up in the way that we were raised and most of us went to school, “failure” in quotes, is such a big thing to avoid. It’s like “OH MY GOD,”, and so we want to try to save everybody we know, like our kids, our spouse, everybody. We think, “No, no! I know what’s right! I know what’s going to work out!”
That’s something I learned from watching my kids. And I used to just be so amazed. They’d make a choice, they’d want to do it, and it wouldn’t work out the way that they were hoping, and it wasn’t the end of the world! I’d have been totally ashamed and embarrassed and judging myself for having made the wrong choice in that moment because I didn’t get what I wanted out of it. But no! They just learned from it, and they just got right back up and were like, ‘Oh, hey, oops, that didn’t work. I’m just going to try this and try that…”
I think that this was something that I learned from my kids so much, and how valuable it was to just be able to make the choice. Because, you’re always making the best choice for yourself in the moment. Because you’re not thinking, “Well, this thing has the best chance of working out, but I’m going to choose something different.” Typically, no. But instead, what do you learn?
I was missing this piece of information. I didn’t understand how big the impact of that was going to be. There’re a million things, and like you said, you learn so much from it. And having your parents around to help you process it, figure out what didn’t work out as you expected, etc.
There’s just so much learning, again, about ourselves and about the situation and about how to make choices. I mean you think, ‘I didn’t consider this, or I didn’t consider that.’ There’s just so much in there. I love that.
Is there anything else from your unschooling experience that I didn’t ask you about that you think would be helpful for people trying to understand? I know so often, listeners enjoy hearing from grown unschoolers because, they are choosing this lifestyle, but their kids are younger and they don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I think that’s something that they really enjoy hearing. So, was there another piece of your unschooling lifestyle growing up over the years that you thought was really important for you?
MAX: I think just being respected makes a big difference if you want to raise a kid to be respectful, respecting them is the best way to do it.
PAM: That makes sense too, right?
MAX: It sounds obvious when you think about it…
PAM: It seems obvious, but we grow up being taught that, you just automatically respect your parents, like automatically, that’s just something that parents should expect from their children, rather than earning it, right? And by showing that respect toward them, and treating them as a real person, as a human being. That’s what helps them understand what that means, you know what I mean?
PAM: It’s almost so self-evident that it’s hard to explain…
MAX: Yeah, again, thinking of it, it seems obvious. But in every single little moment, it’s hard to remember to be kind and respectful in all that you do, because life is hard! Life is full of various things that you have to deal with, especially as a parent raising children. There are a million things you have to worry about, and sometimes being respectful to your kid is not one of the things that you think about, unfortunately.
PAM: I love how Max brought being respectful to your child into the picture. And how, even though life can be hard, taking that time to respectfully engage with them through those moments can be so valuable, cultivating both trust and respect for each other.
Next, let’s hear from Alyssa Patterson. Alyssa grew up unschooling, choosing to go to high school for a year and a half or so before returning home again. Here’s what she shared.
ALYSSA: I honestly, and I am not one to blow smoke or anything like that, but I just think it is one of the greatest things that we are lucky to actually be able to do. There are some states where it is a little bit more frowned upon and depending on where you are, obviously.
I think my advice would be, just because I have seen it, and I have had friends that go through it, is make sure when you are raising your kids, because it is a way of raising your children, that you are not putting your fears and insecurities onto them.
And by that, I have seen people be like (I have never heard anyone say it, but they have implied it), it’s not hard to miss, that they are not going to get asked to prom, or they are not going to get be popular, or they are not going to have all of these things. And you have to, as an adult, I think you have to acknowledge that those are your fears.
They do not know those things, and so I think our job, when they are little, to protect them from those things. And being popular is not that great sometimes, and there are a lot of negative things about it. I went to high school and I did not even get asked to prom; no one asked me. So, those are yours and like we were talking earlier about how they are their own individual person, whether it is a boy, it’s a girl, transgender, whatever. They are their own individuals, and so you have to accept that you are yours and they are going to have theirs.
And I used this analogy with my mom, she asks me questions every once in awhile, when she has people ask, she is like, “I do not know how to respond about this preteen situation.” I said, you have to think about this, social media, like I said earlier, has taken off in a way that they are constantly accessible, it is crazy how much access people have to each other now. It is insane. So you have to think about this, especially preteens, because I feel like I am noticing a lot of people pulling their kids out of school at 10 or 12, and I have talked to people that are really struggling with it, just because their 12-year-old doesn’t think they are going to make any friends or anything like that.
You have to be very patient and understanding, because they are literally going to war every single day. With their own insecurities that they are beating themselves up for, and they have people throwing darts at them all day long, because they have so much access. They are in a battlefield, essentially. So, I said the last thing that they need, is their parents throwing darts from the back.
It is very sad, but it is very true and the thing is that they are not even mean, malicious things that we are doing, but I think that you have to take a step back and acknowledge that maybe they do not want to be popular, maybe they do not want to go and be social, maybe they do not want to go to prom, maybe their sexuality is different, or anything. And I think it is very big to help them.
And a lot of people are like, it is my job to keep on the right path or a good path and I completely agree that it is your job to keep them safe and everything like that, but it is your job to keep them on THEIR path, because THEIR path is the good path for them. And so, it is your job to help them on their path, and just because their path might twist and wind a little bit differently than yours, it is theirs.
And so you have to just be really understanding and supportive and really listen to them, because especially in the system, I felt like a lot of kids were not listened to when they would say things. I have seen a lot of people go down some really dark paths, and some people not make it out, because they were not listened to. That is really hard and no one should have to go through that.
And so, I think it is very important to listen and I feel like, and I have seen tons of quotes about it, they listen to react, and not to understand. Or is it listen to respond instead of understand, and I think that speaks volumes especially when you are in a transition like this.
People think it will be easy like, who does not want to just stay home all day, it is very hard. It is very hard for your kids. And I know it is hard for the parents too because some of the kids get rebellious and they have attitude and they have got hormones and they have all these other things, but I think that is where the compassion needs to come in. You need to be more understanding and listen more, and especially in the transition, do what they want to do, why fight them?
Like if you are trying to do something and create something and help them build and stuff like that, help them and listen and talk about it, and really weigh their opinions, because they have a say, it is their life.
PAM: My goodness, Alyssa, that was wonderful. I love that. And that is such a huge challenging part of the deschooling process I think. It is that unwinding, that view of who we imagine our children to be, versus who our child is, right.
I think that it starts with the parent. You have to recognize YOUR views, versus THEIR views.
PAM: That piece is so important, right?
ALYSSA: Yeah, and once you do that, it is going to be shocking what kind of doors will open just from acknowledging your fears, your projections that you are projecting on your kid. They may not be scared or they might not be ready, or maybe do not pull them out right away and do unschooling. Unschooling is not for everyone. Like, I love it but it is not. I had one girl who was so in school, and she was so into it and I was like, why don’t you just go to a one-day academy? Why don’t you baby step and help them, do not just shell shock them, you know. And listen, if this is something they really want and they are really passionate about, then you need to compromise, because like I said, it is their life.
PAM: And it is their life. That is the entire point. With unschooling, we are trying to give that power to be fully engaged in their life. To be making those choices and learning from them and discovering themselves and what they like and how they like to learn and their personalities. We want to help them do it now, versus waiting until they are out of school, out on their own, and all of a sudden there are all of these other responsibilities in the world. While they are trying to figure themselves out at the same time because this is the first time they have ever been on their own.
I mean, I remember that first year of university and the other kids, it was crazy how unprepared they were to just be on their own because they had never had that or experienced that or made their own choices before, right. It was like that rubber band that you pull and just boom, off they go.
ALYSSA: Yeah, like slingshot out into the world.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that was spectacular, I had goose bumps listening, Alyssa, because that is such a huge aspect, but entirely worth it. That is going to be, I think, one of the most important parts, right.
Because once you can see your kid as the individual they are and be working with them to accomplish what they want, versus what we would like for them. Because sometimes, especially when we are first getting started, we cannot tell the difference between those things.
Like you said, it should be so easy for us to all be home, right. To leave school or to not go to school, and we have all this time so we can just do all the fun things we wanted to do, but who knows, were those fun things that I think we should do, because that is what families like to do? Of course, we should want to travel and of course we should always want to go out and go to parks and do these extra curricular classes and all of this kind of stuff.
This dream that we have in our mind about what it is going to look like if we do not have school in the future, can be very different from what our kids actually want to do. So, us teasing that out for ourselves, understanding what are our expectations, understanding what we have just absorbed of what we should be doing, and then discovering who our child is.
So often, I say spend those first few months just hanging out with your kids and discovering who they are and what they like to do, and they are going to be doing that too, right? Especially if it is shift in your lifestyle, especially if you are having a big change, coming from school, or even coming from a more conventional mindset, that they too are going to have so much adjusting to do, on the academic side maybe, but also on that parenting side and that shift to exploring and that shift to being able to express themselves when they are asked what they want to do.
ALYSSA: I think that is a big thing too, I am glad you said that. A question I feel like a lot of parents do not ask is, “What do you want to do?” And they say, “This is what we are going to do.” And there is a huge difference and you are going to see a huge difference just by changing those words. Because when you make them believe that they actually have a say, it is shell-shocking to them in that. And so they are just like, “Oh my gosh, I can actually say, I want to sleep until two?” Okay, that is okay. It is okay to sleep until two, and I see lots of people arguing about that. It is okay, I slept until two for a long time and I think it is a big deal when you start asking them what do they want to do, and I think that is a huge first step in unschooling, is because it is about them. What do you want to do?
PAM: Alyssa nailed the value of doing the work to be able to recognize and acknowledge our own fears so we can avoid projecting them onto our children. Remember to ask them what they want to do and help them do that.
This next clip is from my conversation with Adrian Peace-Williams. Adrian grew up unschooling and chose to go to high school when she was fifteen. She shared some great insights about that experience, but here are her thoughts for newer unschooling parents.
PAM: As a grown unschooler, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are maybe just starting out on this journey?
ADRIAN: I thought about this question and it is tricky because I think every parent and every kid and every community and every environment is different so it is going to look different for everyone.
I think what I came to, the things that I have valued the most from my experience of being unschooled was the tools that I have now. I think being an unschooler got me—and the parents that I have got me—those tools. Like how do I listen? How do I communicate my needs? How do I listen to other people’s needs? How do I know how to ask questions when I do not know the answers? How do I go into a new situation feeling okay and feeling that I can do this?
Even if I do not know how to do it, I know what next steps are; how to figure it out. Okay, this did not work where do I go from here? How to live and how to love too. How to love myself and how to love other people. How to figure my way around a city and how to take care of other kids. How to have a conversation with an adult when I am there. I think knowing how to learn is much more important than knowing math or knowing how to write an essay perfectly.
Because if you know how to learn then you can go into most any situation and figure it out. And know how to have the confidence that that is okay. You know, teach your kid that it is okay to not know something, it is okay to be wrong or make mistakes and it is okay to do these things. Those are the situations where you learn.
Because if you know how to learn and you know how to fail, then you can do anything, I think. Because if it is okay to keep failing eventually you are going get it and you are going to learn. How to love and work in a team.
And listen to your kids because they will tell you what they need even if it is not verbally. I think that yes, letting them be the leaders is really important too. Focusing on skills instead of specific things and then just following your kid, I think are important things.
PAM: That’s such a great point, isn’t it? If you know how to learn and you know how to fail, you can do anything. It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s often something that, as parents, we need to work through because growing up, making mistakes wasn’t okay—it meant a big red X, a lower grade, and feeling bad about ourselves. That work is deschooling in action.
PAM: And our last snippet comes from my conversation with Xander MacSwan. Xander left school in the fifth grade when his mom—an education professor looking at studies on human learning and child brain development—decided the best thing they could do for their kids would be to pull them out of school. Here’s what he shared.
PAM: As a grown unschooler, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey? I know we talked earlier about the cocoon phase, if that happens.
XANDER: I think it’s probably the biggest learning curve is having heard from our cultural paradigm that as a parent you’re solely responsible for your kid to be okay, and if they aren’t behaving like a kid on TV behaves, then you’re a failure as a parent.
A really big part of unschooling is slowing down and learning to trust in your kid and the relationship that you have with your kid. To let that kid blossom in exactly the way that they want to and they’re meant to.
I think the most powerful thing any parent can do for a kid, in my opinion, is to be there to stand as this smiling support and witness and watch the kid grow into their perfect expression of who they want to be in the world.
That can be really hard to do as a parent. That’s a huge request, to me. I haven’t heard research or stories that even come close to having as much of an impact in a kid finding happiness and meaningful engagement in their life.
PAM: I love that. I love the word ‘witness’ rather than ‘direct.’ That’s a great way to put it, to be there in that positive, trusting, supportive way. Be a witness to their lives and encouragement and acceptance of who they are. That’s that huge piece, especially when you come from school. There’s this model that everybody is supposed to get to: doing well, listening well, and doing what you’re told to. To give them the space and time to find out who they are—that was great.
XANDER: One of the projects I work on now is I volunteer in prisons helping inmates to get to know themselves and come into a greater sense of emotional understanding. It’s a huge part of what we’re doing there—giving this human the space to express themselves, be accepted, and learn to trust that they are safe in that room, that they are loved, and they belong. They deserve those things no matter what.
If you can give that to someone while they’re a kid before they make a mistake, I think, as humans, to have a sense of safety in our body is so dependent on having a sense of belonging and having a sense of family. I think to let a kid know that they are accepted and that they are loved no matter what, in such a tangible way as really being there to support them and them making their own choices, that can do so much to set a kid free.
PAM: I really love what Xander shared. Imagine, from your child’s perspective, feeling truly seen and supported for who you are. Knowing they are loved no matter what. How empowering!
So, in bringing all these together, it was fascinating to see the threads that repeatedly wove through so many of their answers. Things like, releasing control and embracing who your child is. The value they found in the freedom to make choices and to be okay with making mistakes. Listening to them respectfully and having open conversations without agendas. Helping them explore who they are and trusting them to find their way.
Those are many of the roots of unschooling. Build that foundation, and you’ll soon discover how everything else grows from there. Curiosity and life-long learning. Strong and connected relationships.
It’s amazing. And remember to have fun with it!