PAM: Welcome, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Nikki Zavitz. Hi Nikki!
NIKKI: Hi Pam!
PAM: We have been connected online for a few years now, I’m really excited to learn more about your unschooling journey. So, to get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s into right now?
NIKKI: Sure. So, me and my family, we live in Ontario, Canada, in the Georgian Bay area. I’m married to my partner Joél , and he is a landscape architect in a town near us. And we have three daughters. Noa who’s 10, Ayla who’s 8, and Chai who is 6, but they all have birthdays coming up. So, we’ll have to like get used to saying their new ages. It usually takes me a couple of months to remember.
We live on our dream property. It’s just so lovely. Just a one acre. We live on a river and we have a big garden and chickens and we’ve dabbled in bees and yeah, it’s just quite a lovely place to live and grow up for my kids. It’s what I always wanted as a child.
I’m a hobby collector. I just love learning new things. And so, I have tons of passions and things going on all the time. My kids are really into skiing because we live near a ski hill, and you have an ice rink in the backyard, and we love playing board games together and my kids are just into so many things.
I could go on for hours about each of them. They’re always playing Minecraft together. And they’re always hooting and hollering at each other, and there’s a lot of excitement in the house when they’re playing mini games and designing, and they play with their friends and they could talk about Minecraft for hours and hours.
It’s usually most of our dinner conversation, Minecraft, what they’re building and what YouTuber they were just watching. They just love, love it. My oldest Noa, she is quite creative and she loves to set up Playmobile cities and they take up our whole family room and they’re on the floor for weeks and they go back to them whenever they want, and then it gets a little messy and we clean it up and they start over.So, that happens a lot. She’s really into drawing. She loves drawing characters, which actually just sort of snowballed into making stop motion videos. And she really got into writing a play with the character she was drawing. So, that’s been something new and cool.
She’s also really into, and I asked my children’s permission to make sure I can talk about them and they were so excited about it. Noa’s 10, so she’s kind of pre-pubescent right now and she’s actually really into talking with me about puberty and the menstrual cycle and she’s really embracing it because I am really into that stuff. I love learning about the cycle, and yes, we’re talking about that all the time. It’s wonderful.
PAM: That’s awesome.
NIKKI: And Ayla, my eight year old, she’s got so much energy. She loves gymnastics. Playing with her sisters. She loves to be silly with her little sister. She’s often playing pretend, like babies and house and teenagers. So she plays quite differently than my oldest. My oldest plays with little intricate characters. And Ayla’s more into pretending real life, which is really cool to see the difference there. And Ayla loves to also, since she was like four, she’s really been into watching birth videos.
PAM: Oh, wow.
NIKKI: Yeah. She’s really into birth and babies and pregnant women. We’ve borrowed videos from the midwives and stuff, and a friend of mine’s daughter is a midwife and she’s always asking me questions about her job.
It’s pretty cool. And I had a midwife for all three of them, so she loves hearing stories about them. It’s been pretty neat to explore that with her. At first it made me a little uncomfortable, ‘Oh my goodness, a four-year-old!’ But she’s so interested in it, so passionate about it. So, we just kind of roll with it.
My youngest Chia, she’s a little firecracker. She’s got so much energy too, and she is always making us laugh. She loves to draw and sing and dance, and she loves to make little paper dolls. She has at least 30 sets that she’s made, whole villages and characters. She gives them away as gifts.
They’re so sweet. So, there’s just always stuff going on, always things happening and it’s pretty great. There at really great ages right now. We’re kind of out of the drowning stage, you know, so it’s just kind of a cool, just cool worlds get opened up when you move out of the younger stages.
PAM: Wow. I really love hearing the wide range of things that are going on. I love that you went into depth with each of them because you mentioned first how much they love Minecraft and how often that’s a topic of conversation and that’s awesome. But sometimes people get stuck there too. It’s like, “Oh, that’s a big thing.” And they don’t take that extra moment to look at all the other things that weave through their lives when they get worried about a lot of time gaming or watching YouTube or whatever, whatever.
When you look at that bigger picture, that’s when you start to see the other connections, from what they’re watching on YouTube, to what, they’re interested in, to watching birthing videos, maybe how to draw videos. Just the wide range of how all their interests are maybe even just tangentially connected to each other.
I loved how you mentioned how they’re so very different from each other as well. How you can see their personalities and who they are as a person starting to shine through the things that they’re choosing, what they find interesting and how different it is. I love that piece because they’re all growing up. I saw with my kids too, and we can see that they’re really their own person, even at four, even at months old.
But when you give it the space and you support all the different things that they’re interested in, in the moment, you start to see how their personality is weaving in, and you start to really see them as their own wonderful being. Right? Does that make sense.
NIKKI: For sure. Yes, totally. And I loved answering that question and thinking about it, I took a few notes on it because they’re into so many things and I’ve never really taken stock of all the stuff they’re into right now. And it was like, ‘Oh, this is awesome!’
I forgot all of the stuff that they’re into because they do love Minecraft and they do play a lot of Minecraft and sometimes that’s in my view all the time. And it was really nice to be reminded when I wrote it out, and thought about each age child and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, man, they are just doing so many things. They’ve so many interests.’ And I love that I was able to know it all too. Off the top of my head, I was like, yeah, I just know so much about their interests and I had never really taken stock like that before. It was great. Thank you!
I’d be curious to learn how you discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling look like. Where’d you first hear about it?
NIKKI: Well, it’s so funny because I was a teacher and I taught for 10 years. I wanted to be a teacher my whole life. My mom gave me a book that I had written in kindergarten where I said that I wanted to be a teacher. And it was just something I had kind of guided my whole path on. I did have quite a different teaching style when I was teaching. I taught primary and I often had no desks. We had games all over and self-play centers. And I just tried to make it so much fun. I never assigned homework.
I just had a little bit of an unorthodox way of teaching. But when I started having kids, everything shifted for me and I did still teach between my first and second. I went, they’re very close in age, they’re all about 18 months apart. So, I did go back between them, but it just felt, honestly, torturous.
And I don’t mean that in a judgment way for anyone who is able to work, but it was so hard for me to have to, and maybe it’s even the profession of teaching, but to have to be loving and kind and patient and give all this energy to children all day while leaving my little ones. I shared a nanny at the time, so I didn’t necessarily have to drop them off anywhere. A nanny came to our house, but it was still hard. I felt like I was missing so much and it just felt wrong for me personally. And I wasn’t doing, I felt like I wasn’t doing my job a service or my kids. I just felt so torn.
That went on for two years and, and then we got pregnant a third time and when Chai was born, it was right around the time when I was supposed to be filling out paperwork for my oldest to go into school. She was just turning four and I had a little bit of a difficult birth with my third, and we had a little bit of a scary instance where I, something bad could have happened. So, I got a little bit of a wake-up call of like, ‘What am I doing? This is my one chance. This is my one life.’ I didn’t want to be half, excuse my language, but I didn’t want to be half-assing it here and here. I’m a hundred percent type of person and I wasn’t that, and I just was like, I can’t do it. I can’t send her away when I’m home on mat leave with my baby, my new baby and my two-year-old and I’m going to go send my just four-year-old off to this, and I was a teacher at this school I was sending her and I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it and I was like, “You know what? I think I’m just going to keep her home.”
I taught kindergarten. I was like, I’ll just keep her home and we’ll just do it on our own. We’ll keep doing our own thing here. And then at that point, homeschooling was kind of on my radar because my husband, some people he works with, their kids are homeschooled, but it’s a very, I think it’s more actual homeschooling and like a little bit of a religious homeschooling.
So, it was on my radar, but I definitely knew that I didn’t want to have the relationship with my children that I had with the kids I had at school when I was teaching. I knew I didn’t want to have this agenda for them and this coercion and because I know what it’s like. I knew what it was like teaching.
I knew what it was like with some of those kids who weren’t ready to be reading and we were pushing them so hard in kindergarten. That was the last thing I wanted, I just wanted to spend time with my kids and keep, keep living with them. And so, I just popped on the internet as I do research. And the word, the crazy word, unschooling came up, right?
NIKKI: What is this? It sounds crazy and amazing. What is it? And I just started researching. I found your blog, I found Sandra Dodd’s, I found John Holt books. I’m a research junkie, so I just dove right in.
It just was one of those things that just was like, ‘Heck yeah, this sounds, not only amazing, but it’s a continuation of what we’re doing.’ Because that’s basically what we’re doing before we send our kids to school. We’re just living and learning and supporting and it just sounded amazing.
Intellectually I got it right away. But it’s been a whole journey of seven years of actually practicing it. It made sense right away from me. My husband was so supportive as he always is of my craziness and my ideas. So, he just, he trusted me. I did get some resistance from the people in my life because I had a really good job and we were a double income family and it was making really good money. And ‘Oh no, I had to let go of the pension.’ All of the lectures I got about that. But it was an easy decision for me to quit teaching and just dive into my life being a mom and learning alongside them and so, I guess that’s the story of how we came across unschooling.
PAM: I was just going to say, so many connections that I felt along the same lines with my journey. My kids were in school by the time I came across it, but that feeling, the pull, between work and parenting, and to that point where I felt like I was not doing service or not applying myself the way that I wanted to in either space and I didn’t feel good about myself in either, at work or at home. So, I really related to that feeling and it was okay.
For me, it’s always questioning my premises, that’s what I’ve always done, a way I’ve approached something when things aren’t feeling right. What are the assumptions that I’m working with that have gotten me into a situation where nothing is feeling right? So that was definitely a huge part of my choice. And in fact, I ended up leaving work before I even discovered homeschooling, choosing to come home first.
And then it was more research and I was researching school. How to support them in school and came across homeschooling. That same, that moment I like “WHAT?!”
NIKKI: Yes. Wait, there’s another option?!?
PAM: And then very quickly, once you start searching online about homeschooling, you come up with various styles and then unschooling and then that big like moment where you go, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. And so cool!’ And then you just keep tumbling down that rabbit hole, right?
NIKKI: Yeah. Yeah. And I’m so grateful that, I don’t know if the word is brave because I actually feel like I was sort of being a little bit cowardly to not send her, but I feel so grateful that I was, maybe just aware is the word I’m looking for. Just aware enough to know that the voice was serious, that I just knew, this just does not feel right.
And what we’re doing right now is amazing. So, it’s not like we needed a different option. It was just arbitrary, that age hits and off they go. And it was amazing because I taught in that system and I worked my whole life to get there and I did love my job. But now looking back, I have a completely different perspective of my job and just the learning that I see now is just so different compared to what I was doing when I was a teacher.
But anyways, that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.
PAM: Yeah. No, and that’s a cool conversation too. We’ve had a lot of podcast guests have who come from being teachers and having that insight into that world and that insight into how learning is structured there, and then seeing how it unfolds in their own family and that being a pivotal moment for them and really understanding the value for them and for their kids of living and learning.
PAM: So, the other huge piece that you mentioned was, and I love this, it’s something that I have become more and more passionate about is that when you first come across it, it makes so much sense. And then we want to dive in, but understanding it intellectually to actually the process to living it, is huge. It’s like night and day.
NIKKI: It’s so huge.
PAM: It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, unschooling. That sounds wonderful.’ You think, ‘Oh, look, I’ve decided. I’m at the end of my journey.’ But actually, it’s really just the beginning. As you learn how to just live that way with your kids and you’re learning about everything. You’re learning about yourself. You’re learning about your kids. You’re learning about so much. It’s not that it ever stops, but the bulk of that is what we typically call the deschooling process.
So over those years, I’d be curious what one of the more challenging aspects of that deschooling journey was for you, and if you could talk a little bit about how you worked your way through it.
NIKKI: Yeah. I feel like we could spend the whole podcast talking about this because I think because of my background with teaching, my deschooling process, it’s just been so ongoing and very intense. I am so passionate about unschooling, and like I said, I read every book and I listened to every podcast and took notes and highlighted and we had discussion groups at my house and I run the Facebook page.
Deschooling, it’s flipped me upside down. Truly. I think the hardest part overall, and there’s so many connections off of it, was the fact that it was all about me at the same time as being not about me at all.
I was a student of unschooling. It was all me having to unlearn things and it was just so many things, and Anne talks about this and you talk about this all the time, so many layers, so many things I would bump up against that made me uncomfortable. And it was always about me. Meaning I had to definitely really dig into those feelings.
We’ve been unschooling for seven years and I still feel like I’m brand new at it, and it’s a really cool feeling, weirdly, because it proves how much unlearning I’ve had to do and how my kids are my teachers for it. It’s really incredible. So, I say that that’s the hardest part. And I mean that because it, it never ends. I think. And I’m the type, you know, type A, I really love things that are black and white, tick it off. Oh, I got that now I can move on. And it’s just never been like that. And I mean that in the greatest way, but the hardest way.
PAM: So true. I love that. I love that because that urge to be able to tick it off to like feel like, ‘Oh, it’s done.’ But then, you realize as well along the way that our kids are always changing. We’re always changing. And like you said, it’s the fun part too because it always means that there’s so many possibilities ahead, right?
Being open to where everybody is in the moment and where we’re all looking to go. We unschooled for 20 odd years and it’s totally not done that because it’s a lifestyle. It becomes about who we want to be as people, and that never ends.
NIKKI: Right. Right. It’s life.
And it’s so funny because, I think in the beginning, because I came from a teaching background, I wanted to study for unschooling, that’s what I was doing. I was studying it. I was reading the books and following mentors and I just immersed myself in it, which is really great, but I think I still had this idea that I could ACE unschooling, I could just be the best at it and I could get it right.
I’ve slowly started to learn to let go of that but still immersing myself in it, but without the outcome that I’m going to get this right.
PAM: But that is completely and utterly part of the deschooling journey. Because I think so many of us go into it that way. It’s our kids. It’s our parenting. We want to do it right. We want to do it well. And one aspect of the whole deschooling journey is questioning the expectations we set up for ourselves, the goals, what really is success, what value does having expectations really have? And then we work through it with regards to our kids. And then we realize this also all applies to me.
PAM: And questioning ourselves along the way, that becomes another huge piece. And it is at that point. And like you said, it is so valuable to immerse ourselves in it. To find groups that connect with us where we can have these kinds of conversations because it’s not something that, it’s still alternative enough that there’s no, I know you’ve got a local group, which is awesome, and you were having conversations in your home. I didn’t know people who were doing it. But it is so different than what we were used to.
For many of us, depending on where we come to it from, that immersion is so helpful for us to keep questioning things, rather than taking that first step. We think we’ve got the answer and then just step back and do it because really realistically that first level of learning about unschooling and thinking, ‘Oh, this is so cool.’ That’s like just the top layer of that onion. And if you stop peeling the onion, it’s going to be really hard to get where you want to go, creating that thriving unschooling atmosphere and your family is going to be so hard to get to if you’ve only looked at that first layer of the onion, right?
NIKKI: Yeah. And it brings up, I was talking about how knowing that it’s about me and also something that I think I am still learning to embrace is trust. And I feel like that’s the center of unschooling and it’s something I’ve had a really hard time with, to be honest. It’s just this thing that really puts a magnifying glass on me when I have trouble with trusting myself, trusting the process, trusting my kids.
That’s a major theme that I see when I’m struggling or feeling uncomfortable, it usually has to do with trust. I’m still reminded of this daily and it’s been seven years. I’m in the messy middle, Pam, like this is that. I was thinking about me being on your podcast and how I feel like I don’t have the gift of hindsight. I’m like right in the messiness of it. So that being said, I feel like it’s nice to hear stories from people like me too, because yeah, I’m in the thick of it and I’m struggling with some stuff, and I’m meeting all these major themes and it’s just important to hear that because, I love, I feel so inspired by you and your podcast and a lot of your guests, because you guys, you’ve gone through it, you have the beauty of hindsight, but when you’re in the messy middle, sometimes it’s hard and you don’t want to focus on it being hard. But it’s nice to talk about the things that you’re working through anyways.
PAM: I love, love, love, love that you brought that up. You know, part of me wants to say, that the messiness doesn’t go away. Life is messy, you know? And we, people who’ve been doing it for a long time or whose kids are older, we’re still in relationship with our kids, which is what unschooling ultimately boils down to. That trust and relationship, and we’re all going through hard moments in life, right.
NIKKI: For sure.
PAM: Things do get messy now, and so, we’re still working through it. There’s never that other side of the fence where it’s like, ah.
NIKKI: Yeah. Yeah.
PAM: It reminds me, because that was something when I used to blog a lot, I would work through whatever issue it was that I was talking about, I would eventually, I would end up with some, some sort of sentence where it’s like, unschooling is life.
And there was a time when I realized just where you are now, that I’m in this messy middle. I want to figure this all out so that we can get there so we can get to that. Graceful, loving, beautiful, trusting place, that’s candy and lollipops. The realization that that goal was not helpful and also not realistic.
That these messy days were—this is what it’s all about. These days are it. It’s not some goal because in that mess we’re learning so much. We’re figuring out so much and we’re working through it together. That I got to that point for the most part, because it’s not fun to stay in mess.
NIKKI: And I don’t mean to be venting about it.
PAM: That’s the other piece actually. When you’re feeling in the mess, it’s asking ourselves the questions, peeling back those layers for ourselves.
Finding that trust is something that keeps coming up for me. How am I, and playing with that because the message has changed and how we reacted and how we choose to sit with that discomfort a little bit longer, trusting that things will start popping up. All those pieces are the learning that happens in there. Doesn’t mean that 10 years from now a mess walks through the door and you’re like, “Yay” (laughing) I don’t know. It’s still hard. But yeah, I love, I love that point.
I do love having people on so many different points of the journey. It is so important and so valuable, I think, to hear voices at each point because so often I think people worry that when things are messy or messy for too long that they’re maybe not doing it right. And get down on themselves. It doesn’t mean you do nothing, right? It’s messy. You’re trying to work things out. You’re trying to figure out, but that’s the journey that’s you, not quite being somewhere.
PAM: Right. You’re exactly where you need to be right now. I’m going to link that Amy Steinberg song because it’s awesome.
NIKKI: And it’s so true. I think I mentioned this to you in the email, I even had a little bit of impostor syndrome with you asking me because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m definitely not a perfect unschooler. I’m still learning. I’m grappling with lots of things that continually come up.’
It’s been seven years. I’ve had all these thoughts of, I should be further than this, but then taking in and when you asked me all these questions, I had so much to say about it with our journey and what we’ve gone through and how amazing it’s been along the way and how hard it’s been too. I think it’s so nice to hear from all sorts, but also for me to express how much I appreciate hearing from people like you who, who’ve just had more practice pretty much.
PAM: And it’s a practice. I love thinking of it that way because it’s not, it’s not something that you accomplish and you’re done. It is a lifestyle. It’s a way of living. It’s a way of approaching your days.
PAM: That makes sense to you, that’s why you are choosing it.
NIKKI: I have known in my heart, I don’t know if I’ll ever be done, deschooling, and I am perfectly okay with that. That’s kind of what it is. I feel like that’s what it’s all about. You know?
You mentioned that we connected before the call, and you spoke then about being a recovering perfectionist and how that has guided you on your unschooling journey. ,So I’d love to hear a bit more about that.
NIKKI: Yeah, so this is very related to deschooling. So, I’m definitely right now in a place. I’ve come a long way and it’s really, I’m very comfortable now seeing myself as a recovering perfectionist and really having dug into that and knowing what that behavior was doing for me, it was a coping mechanism. So really digging into that has been very helpful, but if you’d asked me, if we had this call four years ago, it would’ve been a completely different take on my perfectionism. The perfectionism has been almost like a map of finding the things that are uncomfortable for me because it’s the opposite environment of how an unschooling home would thrive.
Because you want to be embracing the learning and the mistakes and the freedom and the comfort in the uncomfortableness. And perfectionism is avoiding all of those things.
So, yeah, and that’s what kept happening. I was bumping up against a lot of things. Excuse me, that were uncomfortable and it was just a great continual reminder that I had a lot of work to do, but not in the sense of trying to be better, more in the sense of trying to unlearn that behavior. You know? Which is a huge paradox, to think like that.
PAM: So much of it is a paradox, isn’t it? Did you find that it ties back cause it did for me because I learned through school, learned to pursue the good marks and to feel bad when I didn’t get them.
And for me, you mentioned earlier learning so much from your kids. And I think, for me, this was something in my deschooling process that I learned through watching my kids because they would try things and they wouldn’t work out. And so often it didn’t matter to them. They just kept trying again, they would just try something different and I would watch them and I’d like, in my head, I’m saying to myself, ‘If that thing went that wrong for me, I’d have run to the bedroom and hidden.’ You know what I mean?
That was something that I learned to embrace through watching my kids and realizing, because you’re questioning yourself. It’s like, ‘Okay, why would I have that reaction? What is it? How is it good for them? I see them moving forward and learning more and learning more. That was just more information for them. As I’m figuring it out for myself and why can’t I just use that as information? Why do I feel so embarrassed? I don’t think less of them for having something go wrong. I bet they wouldn’t actually be thinking less of me. It’s just me thinking less of me.’
You know that’s that whole kind of can of worms that you sit and kind of dig into when you realize something’s getting in your way like that.
NIKKI: Seeing my kids as, they’re amazing mirrors for me. I have three amazing mirrors all the time, just shining back at me.
The perfectionism too, I think in your summit, Anna maybe said it, she was talking about expectations being preplanned resentments. Which wow. It’s so true. When I have all these plans and things that I have in my mind, how it’s supposed to go, it never goes that way. Not really anyways, not freely and organically and with joy.
And that was happening a lot I really had to hone in and think about that, that behavior of mine and, and because I want to be giving my kids those messages that learning, that’s part of it, mistakes are so valued. Mistakes in quotes are so valuable.
And I spent my whole life avoiding them. So, and now I’m guiding my kids through this world trying to make mistakes all the time and risks and trying new things. And it’s not my personality or my normal behavior. So, it’s something I have to try to do all the time.
And my husband laughs because he’s like the opposite of me. And he’s always, he thinks it’s so funny how I have to try really hard to do things that come so easily to someone else. So, that’s the amazing thing about personalities. Everyone’s journey is different.
PAM: That’s, that’s awesome. And it is, it’s different for so many reasons. Personality is a huge piece of it. But then our experiences growing up, the things we like, how we like to do things. That’s what’s so fun and challenging about weaving unschooling into a family, right?
Because it’s going to look different with each of our own kids. It’s not going to look like the unschooling family down the street or in the town or whatever. And I think that’s part of it, at the beginning we are looking for those answers. We are looking how to do it because we want to do it right
PAM: And then we’re trying those things and it doesn’t look the look the same in our family. We do those things and they aren’t as happy with it, or I’m not as happy with it, or it’s not going as smoothly. That is all part of deschooling. It’s not that you’re doing it wrong, per se, but it’s digging that layer deeper to see that their choices were made with respect to their family or that child, whatever it is they’re describing.
What to take out of those kinds of shares of other people’s experiences. I love thinking about the idea of advice because it’s not, it’s not advice. It’s sharing our experiences. So, it’s, more about how did we come up with that choice that worked really well for our child. It’s because we figured out who they were there, what they were trying to accomplish, what their personality is. We communicate and we put all of that together to come up with this cool thing, activity or whatever, whatever that worked. We develop that relationship that’s working really well for us that we’re excited to share about. But it’s, it’s not about the action. It’s about all the stuff that wove together.
NIKKI: The process. The root.
PAM: The roots. Yeah, exactly. The roots of unschooling, so that as we’re immersing ourselves in it, that’s what we’re piecing together from everybody else’s experiences and stories, which is why I’m here at what is this episode 200 odd something, because it’s so different it’s so fascinating to hear everybody else’s stories because none of us, some of the stories will connect more closely with the listener and others. Absolutely. So, you may get more insight from particular episodes, particular family’s stories, et cetera, but there’s still not an answer. The answer, that’s still something we want but the fun and the fear of knowing we need to figure this out ourselves.
NIKKI: Yeah. I always had this visual for unschooling for me, I picture it being this big giant house and it’s got like a million rooms in it. And there’s closets and doors everywhere. And for me, I’m walking around this house with this lantern and the lantern is unschooling for me. And I have to open up doors and shine the lantern and look under the beds and look in the closet and I’m finding all these new, dusty, things that have come from my life that have created these uncomfortable feelings and these scary eerie feelings for me. And the unschooling is the light, walking through shining light on it, considering it, asking questions, and eventually, more lights are on and the closets aren’t as dusty anymore, and the rooms are more open and freer to go in and out.
I’ve always pictured my unschooling journey like that because, and then everybody’s house is different. Everyone has a different unschooling house, and I just love that visual for me, I’m always picturing it like that. Like, ‘Oh, I found another room that I have to look in and I haven’t been in this room yet. I’m going to just step my toe in this room and then step back out and maybe I’ll come back again later,’ and I just love that.
PAM: Wow. I love that image, Nikki. That’s beautiful.
And something else I wanted to touch on. We were talking about, we’ve been talking about the dance of unschooling relationships, right?
Often that includes sharing pieces of our personal journey, like we talked about so much, because it’s all about us and not about us at all. Sharing pieces of our journey with our children as it connects to what’s going on in the moment as it bubbles up in our conversations. So, I’d just be curious to hear how you see that unfolding in your lives.
NIKKI: Yeah, that’s been an interesting thing to think about as well, because we’ve had a bit of a tough year this year and a lot of things came up that were more obvious to the kids where there was a lot of conversations that were had about things that were new to them.
And they’re older. They’re at an older age now where we can definitely be having those conversations. I say all this with, I don’t ever want this to define me, but I have, I have lived with anxiety and depression since I was a child. It definitely doesn’t define me, but it is something that’s definitely been something I’ve gone through for a long time.
And having those conversations is an everyday thing in our home, talking about them because, and I’m learning more and more still about this. But I would never like hide a broken arm or diabetes if I had that. If I was struggling with that in my life and when I was a kid, no one was talking about mental health and I felt so different.
I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt like I was so different than everybody. I felt like I was the only one in the world that felt like that and I think that’s such a disservice for mental health because with silence and isolation comes shame. And, I definitely grappled with that.
If I had someone in my life who was like, ‘Oh, you know, I have those feelings sometimes, or, or I know someone,’ I just would’ve felt so much less alone. And been more opt to talk about it.
I’m always having those conversations with my kids because I want them to know that everyone has a mental health journey. For some people they have to be more present and on top of it, and for other people it is something that maybe they don’t have to worry about as much but mental health is for everyone.
It’s been really a gradual thing that’s just a norm in our home. Like my daughter and I, my middle daughter, we have very similar personalities. I really try not to project my experience on her though, because that can happen easily when you can relate to someone. But her and I generally have daily conversations about strategies for our anxiety and worries, and we talk about them together. She’ll remind me about a strategy that I could be using and I’ll remind her and it’s a normal conversation in our home.
For me, that’s been great because it’s just part of life. It’s not something that defines us but it’s not a shadow that’s in the corner. It’s kind of like in the house. We’ve shined the light on it. It’s can’t take us down. It’s part of our life. We sort of embrace it. I just want them to feel like they could talk to me about anything and that there’s, this is a safe environment for conversations like that and that kind of stems also into my oldest wanting to know about the menstrual cycle and we’re always talking about those things. I’m really into learning about how I am at certain times in my cycle, and the girls were always talking about that. They have so much knowledge about, we’re not always feeling the same way every day, and that’s okay.
Yeah, it’s been really great. It’s a passion of mine, learning and talking about that and having girls that are also interested in it and it’s become part of their life.
PAM: Ah. Wow. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. I really loved your point about everyone has a mental health journey and I think something that’s really valuable to bring out because when we learn about unschooling, so much seems wonderful, it seems healthy and I think sometimes people, I’ve seen memes go around, “So my kid doesn’t need to see us psychologist later.” And absolutely, an unschooling lifestyle where you’re open and you’re talking about things and you’re talking about strategies that help and you’re talking about how we feel different day to day is a big step. And you’re having those conversations openly. But it doesn’t mean that, our kids won’t have challenges down the road.
PAM: So, it’s not something to do for an acceptable result down the road, but it’s a way of life. I don’t want to be hiding mental health challenges at all. I want to be having conversations as it comes up. You can feel where it kinds of crosses the line. That’s the dance of relationship we have with our kids. When they’re starting to feel a weight from conversations that we’re having the, ‘Okay, I’m going to back up a little bit or I’m going to let them bring it up the next time.’ Because what we’re choosing in the moment is what feels right to us in the moment. That doesn’t mean that three weeks from now we’re going to be doing something different.
Because we are living in the moment with them. It’s such a beautiful thing to bring up, but this is about self-awareness, helping each other gain self-awareness. We’ve learned how things change over time, how things change day to day, and it doesn’t end when they’re no longer school age. This is how we live as a person, isn’t it? And a relationship you want forever.
And it brings up so many opportunities for them to ask questions, to walk away from the conversation, to not really be interested, to show empathy, ways to have understanding for others. Like it stemmed from conversations about even just me, I’m a very aware person. I’m educated. I have a wonderful family, an amazing husband. I have a roof over my head and food, and I still have mental health challenges. So, I had brought up conversations about, can you imagine how hard it would be for someone who doesn’t have all those things?
And that’s empathy at its best. It’s really taught my kids empathy and understanding, and, and to know, unschooling doesn’t mean they’re never going to have therapy, but to me it means that they’re open to be talking about needing therapy with me. Yeah. So, that’s amazing.
I feel like that’s part of the relationship and building of the relationships. It’s just been a really interesting way for us to get to know each other more and for them to, as it’s appropriate amount for their ages, but just knowing some things that I’ve been going through, and then also for them to be able to witness my husband and my relationship through that and how we support each other.
And ways that one of us has to pick up the slack more when the other’s feeling a little less. It just gives them the opportunity to be present during life.
PAM: Wow. That’s beautiful. Thanks so much.
So, I would love to know. What is your favorite thing about your unschooling lives right now?
NIKKI: Oh, my goodness. That’s hard .
NIKKI: Well, I absolutely love the richness and the deepness of our relationships. I know them so well, but I’m learning more and more about them every day. And them for me as well. Also just learning alongside them. It’s so amazing how much we’re learning together and we’re not even seeking learning, it’s just unraveling before us with our passion, my passions, and my thirst for learning, and they get stuff from what I’m learning and I get stuff from what they’re learning and we’re strewing for each other. It’s just such a beautiful dance. It’s so great! I love it!
PAM: That’s amazing. I love that. That’s just the richness of your lives as you’re living together and you get to that point where learning just weaves into your days without any thought per se, without any intention maybe. But the intention is to do what you enjoy doing, right? To follow all your passions, see what comes up and boom.
And I love when you get to that point where they’re bringing stuff that they think you’ll be interested in. You’re bringing stuff to them. Everybody’s just kind of living together. Joyfully, right.
NIKKI: Yeah, exactly. It’s a beautiful life. It really is with all the messiness of it too. It’s just quite wonderful!
PAM: Right. Right. Awesome. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me, Nikki. I loved our conversation. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
NIKKI: Oh, me too. Thank you so much for having me on. I feel honored. It was wonderful.
PAM: It was so wonderful for me too, like we were saying, I’m learning all the time. I’m making new connections; new topics are coming up. I just have so much fun chatting with other unschooling parents, so thank you so much for joining us. And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
NIKKI: So, I’m just a regular old Joe. I don’t really have a blog or anything. I am on Instagram as Nikki Zavitz. I run The Collingwood Unschoolers Facebook page and the Collingwood Unschoolers Instagram and we do like a Children’s Maker’s Market every year where I organize and the kids get to have their own booths and make stuff. So, that’s really fun if you’re a local and there’s an Instagram page for that.
PAM: Those are ideas for people to think about and maybe they are local. We are reasonably local to each other as the world goes. I mean, we’re only an hour away.
NIKKI: Right. I know. It’s pretty amazing.
PAM: That’s so wonderful. Well, thank you so much again and have a wonderful day, Nikki.
NIKKI: Thanks, Pam.