PAM: Welcome, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Jessica Kane. Hi, Jessica!
PAM: We have been connected online for a couple of years now, including the Childhood Redefined Summit and now the Living Joyfully Network, and I really enjoy getting little glimpses into your family’s lives. All that is to say, I’m super excited to connect with you here and learn even more about your unschooling journey. To get us started
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and a little bit about what everyone’s into right now?
JESSICA: Yes. So, I’m American and I came to Ireland where I live now on a semester abroad with the college that I was going to. I grew up in Michigan and this was my first stop on my European tour. It was also the last stop on my European tour! I’ve gone other places since then, but that tour never took place. I stayed here and I met my husband and it was not the intention, as so few things are. And I’ve been here for 23 years. It’s crazy to think about. It’s so long. I moved here when I was 20. So, I’ve been here longer than I’ve been in America, which kind of messes me up. I’m like, am I still from there?
So, we’re here and we have three kids and they’re all doing super fun things. We live on the west coast of Ireland and it’s absolutely beautiful. I love it. For a while, I wanted to go back home and I thought, I want my kids to see how I grew up. But it’s just so amazing here. I don’t have those feelings anymore. This is where we are. This is where we are rooted. This is it. And the kids don’t feel that way, either. They’re like, “No, we’re from here.” It’s just where we’re from. And I love that so much that they feel that way. It’s such a beautiful place. It’s just a special, special, special place here in the west of Ireland.
Let’s see, what we’re all up to. Well, I’m up to many things, so many things. I am a kinesiologist and I am a pranic healer. I am a vegan and I do a vegan food blog with my sister. It was her idea. She said, “You give me the recipes. I’ll do the blog part.” I said, “Perfect.” So, she does that every month. And it’s so fun. It’s just really fun.
And I started getting into organic growing. I have a polytunnel, like a greenhouse, and I call it my farm and I have to go down to the farm every day. And it’s amazing. I had a small little one and now it’s a much bigger one thanks to lockdown and my husband was needing things to do. So, he built it, and it’s wonderful.
I don’t really know that much about what I’m doing. I mean, I research a bit, but you don’t really know until you do it. So, now I kind of know these vegetables would be better over on this side and this one would be better over here. And it is so freeing, because I would have been a really big perfectionist for a long time and if I wasn’t going to do it right, I didn’t want to do it, where now I just put stuff in the ground and I hope it goes. If I don’t get potatoes, that’s okay. Whereas before it just would have been devastating. So, it’s nice to see my own growth along the way too.
And I love hiking and I love traveling and that’s me, pretty much. And the biggest one, the kids. I love being with the kids. I love being home with the kids. I love seeing what they’re doing and watching what they’re doing and watching them in their triumphs and their not so triumphant moments, because that’s where the real learning is. It’s just, it’s huge. And then I get to learn as well. It’s just, it’s fascinating. And I love it so much.
Let’s see, my husband, James, he, oh my gosh, he does all the things. All of the things there are to do, he does them all! I’m so serious. He started as an electrician and he is also a qualified plumber. He can install solar panels and solar tubes. He can install gas and refrigeration gas, and those are the things that he just does, but he loves windsurfing. He loves trail running. He loves mountain running. He loves adventure races where you run up a mountain and you go on a bike for too long, and then you’ve got to kayak or swim and it’s like, okay, he loves this.
But the best part, my favorite part about that is that he’s a real competitive person. I like to hike. I am not in a hurry. And this hiking has only come later in my life because I’ve watched him for so many years be so competitive. I don’t like that. I don’t want to be competitive. I don’t want to go fast. I want to go at my own pace and do my own thing. So, after a while, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to do it that way. I can do it my own way.’
But he is super, super competitive, but he’s competitive with himself. He has a lot of friends and they’re all into this and they all have been doing this and that. And whereas if somebody does a couple minutes faster than him or gets a little more speed than him and they’re all on their watches and they’re on the computer and everything’s mapped out and he will see that and he’ll be like, “Oh, I wonder if I can do that?” And he never has any sort of upset with somebody. It makes him push himself and he’s really supportive of them. He’ll tell me, “Oh, you should’ve seen so-and-so, his time. They did so, so well, and I’m going to try it tomorrow.”
And so, I’ve really learned a lot from him. He is amazing. He’s very competitive but with himself. And I think there’s something really great there about being really, really supportive of everybody else who’s doing it. And then thinking, well, I came in this place this time and I wonder if I did this now, I could come in a different place. And it’s never trying to get ahead of anybody, just trying to get ahead of himself. So, yeah, I love watching that.
Roisin, she’s our oldest. She just turned 21. She also loves the mountain running and hiking and running. She and James have gone off, since we’ve been in lockdown, they’ve been doing a lot of training together and they’re loving it. They love it. They both are so good. They’ve got this big thing planned where they’re going to have to, I think it’s called orienteering, where they have to look at maps and compasses. It’s a 24-hour thing. They’re going to have to sleep out. I don’t know. I’ll be at home, warm. That’s where I will be and cheering them on. I’m the big cheerleader. That’s where I go.
People say to me, “Are you going to do this?” “Yeah, I’ll be at the end. I’ll be clapping.” That’s what I do. Yeah, that’s her. She is also vegan. She’s very much into animal rights. And the Black Lives Matter movement right now, she was into that already, but it’s really spurred her on and very much into equal rights and climate change and all of those things and learning as much as she can about that. She’s very, very passionate about those topics.
She is also an actor. So, she went all the way through school. No unschooling for her and then she went to college, but college was not a good fit. And she finished there and she has been working ever since. She’s had a few jobs and she had a few jobs lined up, but now we’re on lockdown. So, that’s all postponed, but since then, she might have a few more in the pipeline. Also, because she is very, very much like James, she did some theater acting, she’s done some film stuff, and she is now writing her own short film and making lists of who she needs to talk to and what equipment she needs. And of course, she has friends now, through all of her contacts. There is a story she wants told and she wants it told her way and she’s doing it.
But with Roisin and James, they’re a very big energy. When they come into the room, you know they’re there. And so, with them, I tend to just get out of the way. They come in and they’ve got plans and they’ve got ideas. Don’t try and even say, “Well, I don’t know if that’ll work.” So many times, I’ve said, “There are not enough hours in the day,” or, “We can’t do all these things.” And yeah, there is. I didn’t know. Yes, we can. I was wrong, every time. Just do your thing.
Ronan is 15. He is the oldest boy. He is so different. He is very calm. He’s very introverted, but he is very introspective. He is very chilled out. He’s the most chilled out person. He does not get riled up even if something happens that he doesn’t like. I’m so amazed by him. He is so calm.
He is very much into Japanese games and Japan and the language and learning it. And he loves games. He’s big tech person. It used to be that I would call James if something was wrong and now, I call James and he says, “Well, did you ask Ronan?” I’m like, “Oh yeah, of course!” We ask Ronan now. Anything at all. “Ronan! Can you help? I don’t know why Netflix isn’t working.” He has to come down and he fixes it and he’s so gracious and he’s just the sweetest, kindest being.
He really, really does care very deeply about lots and lots of things. And he doesn’t talk a lot. He talks when he has something to say. And that’s so rare in my life, because I tend to blather on a lot. I just love that when he has something to say, he will tell you. He’s not shy about telling you, but he doesn’t say anything unless he’s really got something to say. He’s just very special.
So yeah, games, he loves consoles. He loves vintage consoles. He loves vintage, all the old stuff he wants to get, whether it works or doesn’t work, he loves looking at it and seeing it. He has all the different consoles. There’s a few he is missing and is looking to get. You wouldn’t even know what games he would be playing. He could be playing Animal Crossing. And then 10 minutes later playing Grand Theft Auto. He loves them all. He loves all of them. He’s not stuck in one genre. He likes the learning ones.
He was big into Kerbal Space Program there a while ago, so fun and he made a boat. He made a boat on a space program and he showed this to me, and I had to ask, “How are you doing this?!” So, he made this boat and he had to be very careful to get it to the water without breaking it. And then it could take off and fly from the water, but he could land on land or he could land in the water. “You just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s amazing.”
Then our little one is six, Lennon. He is very fun. I say he’s like a cartoon character. He’s very animated. He’s very expressive. He’s all arms and legs when he talks to you, he’s talking like this and he can’t stay still and his face is going and he just loves life always. Even if there’s something that he is sad about, he is very sad, but the drama of it. He enjoys the drama of being sad about it. He is interesting.
He really likes Lego and at the moment is very much into Minecraft. He loves it. He has all of his brother’s hand-me-down Lego and then his older cousin had a lot of Lego that we inherited. And so, he has it all. And one day, he will be so into Minecraft. It’s the only thing. He would die without it. And then the next day he could wake up in the morning and be playing with Jurassic Park Lego, or Star Wars Lego, or something else and just be so, so into that.
And I like to watch for the transitions, how it happens. And sometimes, he’s so deeply focused on this one thing, and then he finds a piece that’s in the Minecraft that goes to Star Wars and he remembers, oh yeah, Star Wars. And then he goes and gets the Star Wars toys. I love seeing how their brains work. He loves everything.
He just learned how to ride his bike. He had a new bike. He didn’t have any training wheels. I said, I’d hang on to the back. And within 15 minutes, he was gone. And hasn’t looked back since, and he said, “I don’t need you anymore. I can do this by myself.” All the words you wanted to hear, but at the same time, like, oh! That’s what we’re doing. I’m sure I’ve left out a load of things, but that’s just, what’s here at the moment.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. That is such a beautiful little snapshot. And I love the little pieces that you pulled out too. And especially, when you’re in talking about Lennon there, seeing the different connections, I could hear that in all of your descriptions of everyone. All those little pieces and what leads here and what goes here. And it’s so fascinating to see through their eyes for a little while.
JESSICA: It really is. And I really love that aspect of it, of getting down and being on the level and seeing what he loves and why. Why he loves things.
We don’t have any pets at the moment, but in Minecraft, he has all the animals. He can’t have any more cats, because the game won’t let him have anymore cats. And so, he gets the ocelots and tames them and he’s like, “Oh, it’s my cat.” So, he’s filling that need. Because he really, really loves animals and we travel a lot. Well, we’ve been locked down for a while, but we do tend to travel a lot. I travel back and forth home and I go for several weeks at a time and it’s not really fair on animals. And we have had animals in the past. We just don’t have any right now. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get away with that for much longer. We are probably going to need an animal soon.
PAM: It is interesting how things flow.
JESSICA: I love animals, too, but it’s hard to be gone for several weeks at a time.
PAM: That’s the whole bigger picture of choices, right? I mean, that’s something with unschooling that I think when we bring that lifestyle into our family, we have those bigger picture, wider-ranging conversations. It’s not all just about, “Are you going to take care of this pet?”
JESSICA: No. Not at all.
PAM: It’s so much more about the lifestyle and thinking even from the pet’s point of view and we’re going to be away and we go to mountain races, all that kind of stuff. Like all those pieces come into the conversation.
JESSICA: Yeah. Yeah.
PAM: That’s so cool. Okay.
I’m very interested to hear how you discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling looked like.
JESSICA: Yeah. I didn’t even know anything about unschooling. I mean, I knew about homeschooling when I was in school. There were people in my area that had homeschooled. They were very religious, which is fine. It was just that they were at home because they want their kids to be raised in that way. And that’s fine. I never thought about it again and Roisin started school, elementary school and she loved it, loved it.
And so, I just thought, that’s what kids do. I have one kid and she loves school. And so, we’ll have the other kids and they’ll love school and that’ll be great. It’s very rural where we are. Very, very rural. And the school is only three rooms. So, all the grades of the elementary school, there’s two to three grades in each of the room. So, you’d have the same teacher for a few years in a row.
And the school that Roisin went to, the way that it was designed, it was very, very hippie school with art and music. They had an organic garden, some of them were growing oysters in the sea. They had oyster beds. It was so much stuff going on. And it was an amazing time for that school. They had book fairs. They really celebrated the holidays and it was just all about developing children’s curiosity and very little to do with academics. I mean, they had that, of course. You have to, but it wasn’t only about that. It was about, are you interested in an instrument? Let’s get one and play it. And the school had so many instruments to loan to the children. There was a band and she was in the school’s traditional Irish band. I think it was just such an amazing place.
Then the principal retired and his wife who had been there the whole time. She was the kindergarten teacher, she also retired then very shortly after. As Ronan was going into that school, there was a very big regime change. Roisin was leaving that school and Ronan was going in and he really, really enjoyed it. He could do the work. That was not a problem. He didn’t do the work because he didn’t want to, but he loved the social aspect of it.
He loved all the social events, kids, and he’s playing with all the kids. And he really, really enjoyed that. But the teachers had a problem because he just wouldn’t do the work. And then that, of course, that led to them sending him home with more work. And then that led to me sitting with him at the table, going, “You have to do this.”
And it turned me into a horrible person. And I was like, there’s got to be a better way. So, he was in about fourth class, fourth grade and it was bad. And I said, look, we can homeschool. We can do this. I didn’t want to make him. I wanted it to be his choice. I wanted him to decide because it’s not going to work otherwise. So, I was like, “We can homeschool.” He was like, “No.” He loved playing with his friends. He loved having those social times. I said, “Okay. But that means you got to do this.” So, he kept going, he kept going.
And he was in a classroom at that time with a particular teacher. Oh, they did not gel. And that’s probably the nicest way I can say that, they did not gel at all. And I used to work at that school, because I taught art there for a couple of years. So, I was working there at the same time and I saw it. He was never one to over-exaggerate. And when he said things, I believed him. And then I worked there and I knew what he was saying was true.
So, he had this teacher and I thought, well, he’s going to go into this next room. So, we were waiting it out. So, he went into the next room and it wasn’t great, but it was better. And then his teacher was going to go on maternity leave, because the three teachers, they were all quite young, three or four teachers and they all kept going on maternity leave, which is fine. It’s just going to happen. But he ended up having about, I think I counted one time, nine or ten different teachers before he got to the third grade, because of so many maternity leaves. There’s no continuity. Each different teacher wants something different. And that’s a lot, they’re small, they’re young. They are very small going in there.
And so, anyway, he went into the other classroom. It was okay. Not great. And then she was going to go on maternity leave the next year. And we were really, really hoping it was this one substitute he loved so much, this very kind girl. Because I worked there, I found out that it was a different one who had also done a maternity leave in the other room and it was not good at all.
I had found out and I was picking him up from school and he got into the car and I said, “This is who it’s going to be, I found out,” and we both basically held each other and cried and cried and cried, the two of us, because I was so sad because he was going to be so sad. He was so sad and finally he said, “Okay, I’m done. I can’t do this.” And I was like, “Okay, let’s do something new.”
But you know, I’m a very structured person. And we were going to homeschool and work was going to get done, and we were going to get some books and have a curriculum, and we were going to do all this. I didn’t buy a curriculum because I was going to be very lenient.
So, here in Ireland, you buy your own books. You get a book list and you have to go to these school bookstores and purchase your books in there. They’re all workbooks. And I had the book list and I said, “Look, we’ll go. You can pick whatever math book looks fun, whatever English book looks fun, you pick which ones you think look fun.” And I thought I was being really generous here.
My goodness, they’re still in the drawer. I got rid of them. I may have just thrown them out. I don’t know. So, he agreed to that. That’s fine. And because he wasn’t going to go back in the September, we went home to Michigan for the month and Lennon was baby. And so, if you’re traveling with a baby, once I got home, I was like, I’m not turning around and going back after a week.
So, we were there for several weeks. When we got back, we started in October at the table every morning. Getting this worked on and I was creating the questions and he was answering them and it was great for about a week. And then, it wasn’t great. It was getting in the way of what he really wanted to do. He didn’t want to do that.
It was so in the way and I could see what he wanted to do and I could see there was value to it. But we plodded on. We plodded on, because my husband, I mean, I was going to be very structured, but I was the one there with him. There was a bit of fear there. My husband was not a hundred percent comfortable. So, you’ve got to take into account everybody in the family, how everybody feels about it. So, it was like, okay, well, we’ll just keep going. We had a very long Halloween break and we had a very long Christmas break and a very long mid-term and Easter.
My daughter who had gone all the way through school, she had loved her elementary, primary school experience. And she had a very, very bad secondary school, high school experience. It was bad and very defeating. She just lost any confidence she had and the girl was brimming with confidence and it was gone and self-esteem gone. Everything gone, the social aspects of it, the way the teachers speak to them not even as if they’re human beings and actual accounts of teachers screaming at children. And again, it’s a small community. When it becomes known that that’s what happens. I mean, they’re not all lying. No, they’re not. It’s what happens.
Anyway, she was graduating from school in May. My mother and stepdad came over for the month of May for three weeks. So, when they came over in May, we just stopped the whole homeschooling, because we couldn’t possibly do it if they were here and we had to go do things and Roisin was graduating. And so, after that, we just, we just never went back.
And I kind of knew we weren’t going to go back because all of that time that we were struggling with the homeschool book situation I was researching and researching and diving into anything to do with homeschool. And then, of course, you find unschooling. I’m like, “We’re not going to be doing that. No way. That’s crazy. We’ll never do anything like that.”
And of course, then I found your podcast and I was like, well, you know, there’s probably some merit there. Let’s just listen. Then I was starting to think these ideas are not that crazy. These are ideas really, really nice, sounds like an amazing way to be and live and have your family. And so, yeah, of course, you find all the ones, Sandra Dodd, and I latched onto your podcast and I think inhaled it until it got it. Constantly, constantly, constantly going to it.
And so, I knew after the graduation and after we had gone on our summer break that we wouldn’t be going back and I had said it to him and he was all for it. Because I spent every day with him. So, I was sharing everything that I learned with him and saying, “What do you think about this? And how do you feel about this? And is that comfortable to you? Or is this comfortable to you?”
We had this amazing relationship, because what had happened in school was that I had become this other home teacher. I was this authority and the relationship suffered. And he had such an amazing spark, that kid, that spark. And it was all but gone and I wasn’t having it. No. You can’t lose that. This is so amazing. What you are is so amazing. You cannot lose this. I will not allow it. Mother tiger came out and said “No. Big No.” But then we had to really rebuild. So, we spent a long time of me just really validating and I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew we needed to develop a relationship. And of course, everything on the podcast is all about relationship, relationship, relationship.
PAM: Oh good. That comes across.
JESSICA: It comes across, when I really needed it. So, at the time, Lennon was a baby. And so, he didn’t know what was going on. I said, I don’t know how we’re going to say this to your dad. I don’t know because he, I call it “the fear”. He does have the fear a little bit, and he gets uncomfortable and he wants what’s best for his kids. He’s not trying to be overbearing or dominating. He just really wants to make sure that they have absolutely everything in the whole wide world that they possibly need. And he didn’t know, because it’s not like we’re in a city. We don’t have museums. We don’t have great amounts of amenities.
We have nature and outdoors, but that’s not Ronan’s thing. And he likes spending time with his friends, but he wasn’t a big social outside of school person. He’s a home bird. He is an introvert. That’s just how he is. And so, he kind of led us there and we’ve been, ever since, slowly, slowly, slowly moving further and further and further in that direction.
PAM: Wow. Wow. I really loved that. And with your son, that sounds quite familiar to my son as well.
PAM: Oh, yeah, because it was grade 4. That was the teacher. And I remember even talking to other teachers about it. There was just something about that age, “Now we mean business,” kind of deal. He was there for three or four weeks. And then it was like, we have to find a different place. And I hadn’t found homeschooling yet, so we found another school. But yeah, just seeing this child, you know them and you see them in action. And you see that spark and you see that joy and you have so much fun with them. Yet that isn’t the person they can see in the classroom.
JESSICA: How do you not see how amazing this kid is? He’s so amazing. I mean, maybe I’m biased because I’m his mother. They did a unit on the Titanic, because it was the big anniversary, however many years ago it was. And he loved it. He was reading as many books as he possibly could on it. He wasn’t goofing off. And he got in trouble, because the next week, they had moved on to a different unit and he was still reading about the Titanic after he had done whatever the bare minimum of whatever he had to do. He was sneaking to read about the Titanic. And he was caught reading about the Titanic and he’s like, “Well, I had my book taken away.” I’m like, “What book?” It’s about the Titanic, he’s in it, you know? Then I’m thinking, “Well that doesn’t make sense!” “Well, we moved on to a different unit and he needs to follow.” He wasn’t ready to move on.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. I love that.
I think that’s a way that quite a few people come to homeschooling and unschooling is through that discovery, because they know their child and, as you said maybe I’m biased, but I think all children are amazing in their own ways. And the parents, the mom, or whoever spending a lot of time with them, can see that. And then when the environment’s not a good fit in school, you can really, really just see that spark disappear. So, that’s so interesting.
And, hearing about your daughter who thrived in that, it has to do really with the personalities and how they learn and how they like to engage in things and, does it mesh with the environment itself, versus one size fits all?
JESSICA: Exactly, one size fits all. And she went from this sort of arts-based school into the bigger school where that wasn’t the case. And she floundered a lot. There were a lot of issues there, big, big issues. And I had no idea that I could just say, “Get out of there.” I had no idea. And then when we did find it, she was in her last year and I said, “Do you want to quit?”
She’s like, “I’ve come this far. I have one year left. I’ll just do it.” And I’m like, “Well, just know from me, I don’t require anything. You’re there, choosing to be there. Do the work if you want. It’s up to you. You’ve got to find some happiness somewhere.”
PAM: Yeah, that’s right. And as you talked about with your son, too, that it’s his choice.
You were giving him that option, because certainly at that age and that age is young, but for them to know, that is a huge piece to know all of a sudden that they have control. Even your daughter, knowing that she was choosing to put herself through that last year to get it done, because she knew she wanted to finish since she’d gotten so far. I’m sure even that made a big difference to her.
JESSICA: I didn’t want with him to feel force. I didn’t want to say, “We’re homeschooling.” I didn’t want it to be a punishment.
PAM: Yeah. Like, “You did something wrong, you failed that. So now you have to do this.”
JESSICA: “Now you have to stay home because you can’t manage that.” And I didn’t want it to be that way because that’s not a good way to start.
PAM: Exactly. Well, that was it. I still remember the evening in March, when I went around and told the kids. I told each of the kids separately, so that they could really feel that it was their choice. Not like getting caught up in someone else’s excitement or whatever, but going around, “Hey, I found out recently that you don’t have to go to school. You can stay home and we can learn here. Would you like to do that? Does that sound interesting to you?” So, getting that level of choice, of understanding, of enthusiasm, that was really a big part of starting.
JESSICA: And each one I’d say had different questions. It would affect each child so differently, so, wow. That’s great.
PAM: Yeah, and I remember being surprised at how differently they reacted to it. They were all very enthusiastic, but over the next three days, a couple of them just dove right in, no problem. And then my daughter just like, “Wow! I can’t believe I don’t have to go to school!” It was just fascinating to see how they absorbed it.
JESSICA: Once Ronan was let go, once he did not have the dining room table anymore and he could just go, he’s gone. He hasn’t come back yet. He’s still gone.
PAM: Well, I mean, and that’s it. That’s the other piece I remember, too. You’ve started to find yourself saying, let’s just get a little bit done here and then you can go and then, wow. That feels weird to say. And then you start noticing that, oh, I know what I’m keeping them away from what they love and how much they’re learning from that. And it was really, really helpful in my deschooling process to see that.
JESSICA: We’re going through it too. I mean, this is all new for me, too. And I’m like, “Am I ruining him? Is Lennon going to go to school?” And that was a big question too. When Lennon, starts turning four, and then he starts turning five and people are like, “Well, is he going to go to school?” It’s up to him, but his cousins go to school that are his age and they make it sound like an amazing place. And it is fun at that age. Super fun. But all I have to say is, “Well, you do have to get dressed every day.” He’s like, “I’m out. Not for me.”
I would be very curious to hear, what was one of the more challenging aspects of deschooling for you?
JESSICA: The biggest challenge so far for me. And it is so far, because you keep thinking, I’ve got it now. No, you don’t. There’s another layer.
PAM: There’s always another layer.
JESSICA: Always another layer.
The biggest for me personally, the biggest challenge has been making sure that my husband is comfortable with the choices that are happening. I don’t want him to feel like I’m just taking over and this is what we’re doing, but also, I kind of want to take over and do this.
PAM: It’s because really, I want this.
JESSICA: If I’m honest about it, that is what it is. So, I really want to make sure that he is comfortable. So, when I did say, “I don’t think we’re going to do that again in September.” And I would of course share with him the parts of what I had been researching, but he hasn’t read any of the books and he hasn’t done any research and that’s okay because I’ve been doing it. And I’m the one who’s here and I would read him a few things that would make sense, or I would say, “What about your own schooling experience?” which wasn’t fantastic. He didn’t have a great time. He got through because of sports, but if it weren’t for that, the rest of it was not great.
So, I have to keep reminding him of that. But he had what I call “the fear.” So yeah, he gets the fear. Every time. Well, we all do it, but every now and then, I don’t know, was it on the Network a few weeks ago? I was like, “Lennon discovered YouTube—ahhh!” I felt the fear.
We’re good with that. Now I just flowed right through and that’s okay. But he does get it. And I think in the beginning, I was only new and I didn’t know the words, so I would get kind of defensive and I would get kind of like, “But, but, but…”
Now we’ve been doing it long enough that I can see it and I can just validate him and be like, “Yeah, it is a little bit scary sometimes. Sometimes it hits me, too.” And then I see that he was making a boat in Kerbal Space Program and see that he’s fine.
But one of the main things for him when we decided we weren’t going to go back to me doing the homeschool and we were going to start unschooling, was math. He said, “Well, he has to have a math class. He has to have math because then, when he’s 16, he can be an electrician because I’m an electrician and he can be an apprentice under me.” I was going, “What?” But that was his comfort level. At the time, Ronan was like 12. So, I said, “Ronan, how do you feel about this?” He’s like, “Oh, I don’t care. It’s fine.” He didn’t care.
And my brother-in-law, his uncle is this genius math computer person. So, I just set up a once a week class with him and he’s one of the kindest human beings on the entire planet. So, I’m quite happy to pay him 20 Euro. I don’t care if you ever learn math, just be in his presence, because he’s really kind and nice and patient. I’m like, yeah, do that. Learn that. Ronan already is that, but he is just a really, really nice man. And so we paid for that until lockdown.
But he is his uncle, my brother in law, he is a dancer. He does Ottawa Valley dancing. He’s from Canada. So, he dances with the Chieftains, a big Irish group, and they tour the world. So, there’s a lot of music in this family and a lot of touring the world with people. So, he tours with them. He would be gone five or six weeks at a time. And even though Ronan enjoyed spending time with him, they were only doing Khan Academy. That’s all they were doing. He could do it himself. And it made my husband happy.
Then when he was 16, he could take whatever equivalency he needed to, and then he could become an apprentice, but you have to be able to pass math or something along those lines. But then, so this is my big obstacle is like, okay. So, we’ve decided on this and in my head, I’m like, that’s not the way that’s going to work out, but that’s okay. We’ll deal with that when we have to deal with that.
And so, about a year ago, and Ronan’s 15 now, maybe a year ago, maybe less than a year ago, every now and then James will take Ronan with him to work, because he’ll need an extra pair of hands. If he can’t get one of the guys that works for him to help, then Ronan will go with him. And sometimes Roisin would go with him, but Ronan was with him one day. And he came home and he said, “Do you know that Ronan is color blind?” And I said, “Do you NOT know that Ronan is color blind?! Are you not aware of this?”
Because I’ve known this since he was four or five, six, and we were coloring and he didn’t care. Well, even in school when coloring, everything was either orange or brown. That was it. And I would ask him to pass me something and he would pass me a different color. So, yeah. I do know that he is red, green colorblind, and he said, “Well, he can’t be an electrician. You can’t be color blind.” So, I’m like, “Oh, darn. Oh well. What are you going to do? I didn’t know that you can’t be an electrician if you’re color blind. And I don’t know if Ronan wants to be an electrician.” He hasn’t really said anything since, but that’s our challenge. We’re not always on the same page.
We’re not always in the same place at the same time. So, that is kind of the big for me. That’s probably not for the whole family, but just for me, that’s my kind of my biggest obstacle is just making sure that everybody’s comfort levels are respected. It’s important to me that every member of the family, I don’t care what age you are, that your opinion is heard, that your voice is heard, and that there’s respect there. And that includes James, who is outside of the house a lot. So, he does get left out of decisions sometimes. Because it’s like, “Hey, we’re going to do this. Oh, you were at work. You don’t know.” So, I really try and make sure that he’s okay, because it’s not nice to have that anxiety and stress.
And I want that alleviated as much as I can, but then again, I can’t do it all. I’m not in charge of him, so he has to do that work himself. And he really is. And he’s called me up a few times lately, like when he gave Lennon a phone and I was like, “Why are you giving him the phone?” He talked me down.
PAM: Yeah, a couple of pieces really jumped out at me. The first was how, so often, we’re not in the same place. And I think that is so often true in relationships, too. We are all unique, different people and we’re all learning different things at different paces.
JESSICA: We are all on our own journey together. But it’s our own separate journey.
PAM: Yeah. So, I think it’s pretty rare, whether it’s about parenting or about whatever topic, that we’re all like completely in sync. Having that expectation can get in the way, too. Because the other piece that you talked about that I thought was awesome was when we’re first learning, we don’t have a lot of words. We feel more defensive, because we don’t yet have enough experience to really be able to explain and share examples.
But then when you got there, you were able to start to join him where he was and validate what he was feeling, what he was seeing, and being able to meet him there, to start to share little pieces and to understand where he might need some help. Like you were talking about, you found a way that your son could just hang out with his uncle for an hour that also helped your husband be comfortable. And that experience was working for everyone. And you guys were learning from it. The little bits of math were the least of the learning in there.
JESSICA: No, he doesn’t struggle with it. I mean, he picks it up. It’s the same story throughout any sort of actual schooling that he’s had. He can do it, he’s not interested. And if he’s not interested, good luck. He doesn’t have that thing where the teachers used to say, “Well, will you do it for me?” “No. I won’t do it for you. I want to go play.”
PAM: Oh, exactly. Exactly. And that was the part, too, that I saw, for how long can you still hold your own ground and be yourself? They made it through grade four.
JESSICA: Right. Trying to hold on, but everybody is coming at you. It’s a lot. And I think the other piece that I really want to make a point of is that I validate my husband as much as I can. And I had a real big thing where I needed him to be comfortable so that I can be comfortable and I’ve had to sometimes just let him be uncomfortable. And let him work through it. And if it was a major thing, I’m so happy to talk to you about it. I’m so happy to find a common ground that will work for you and will work for me, but to be able to realize that his feelings, the same way that my kid’s feelings, are not my feelings and they’re not mine to be in charge of. Sometimes you have to sit in it.
PAM: Yep. I love that. I love that point. Because what can happen, too, if we’re just quickly trying to react and get everybody comfortable, as fast as possible, we can just be shooting back and forth. And it’s just confusing and chaos for everybody.
JESSICA: I have enough going on in my brain, the age gaps between the kids. I have enough with making sure that all these things are happening. I’ve finally had to be like, I don’t know. I don’t have any more information.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And that was a really important piece, too, having those conversations and letting those conversations sit a little bit. You can validate, you can understand, you can have a conversation. We can share our perspective if they’re open to hearing it. And it can sit for a while. We can say, “Let’s think about this some more and see what happens.” Let’s think about this and watch the kids through that lens for a little while and then have a conversation a week, a couple weeks from now.
JESSICA: I can struggle with this, because I want everybody to hurry up and be happy.
PAM: I know.
JESSICA: My husband, with James, and I know this about him, he’s a deep thinker. So, if I want to plant a new idea, I can’t come at him and say, “So, I want to do this. I wonder if this, and this, and this …” It’s too much. So, I have to say, “This is what I’m thinking about this one thing.” If it’s, “I would like to travel here or travel there.” He makes money and he does the finances. It doesn’t mean he’s in charge of everybody, but he knows where we’re at and he wants everybody to do all the things they possibly want to do. He really, really does. He wants to make sure that everybody gets to do everything.
But I might say, “Well, look! This might be a fun thing,” and I have to stop talking. And let him go with that. And two weeks later, he will come back with, “Well, if you did this and you did that, then you could do that.” And his idea is eight bazillion times better than mine. Always, always so much better. And I think I’ve got all the details worked out and then he comes back and just blows me away.
So, I just kind of say, “What about this?” And he might go, “Oh yeah, right.” But he’ll come back and he’ll say, “Well, what if you did that?” It’s like, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. It’s such a better idea. Let’s do it your way.”
PAM: And that piece, we’re saying “that’s amazing.” It is important to acknowledge those pieces. To acknowledge what we do well, to acknowledge all the little steps along the way, and be open to changing. That was something I learned quickly, to know where I want to go or plant the seed in the direction I think I want to go, but not to name the destination and the path that everybody needs to take. It’s something I learned with my kids, but it works with everyone.
JESSICA: Yeah. Maybe I would like that to happen, but I don’t have to know how it’s going to happen. I don’t have to know.
PAM: It’s beautiful how it unfolds.
JESSICA: And it’s better and it’s in a better way than I thought would work. So, I like to just let things go now if I remember. Sometimes I get all caught up in myself and then I have to go put it down and walk away. Yeah. That’s my obstacle.
PAM: We are always learning and growing aren’t we?
PAM: I know I always just hope next time I’ll notice it faster than before.
JESSICA: Yeah. Catch it quicker. Catch is before I start going, “But, but, but, I wanted to …”
What has surprised you most about your unschooling journey so far?
JESSICA: The biggest surprise when I first got into this, I thought, this is going to be great for the kids. I did not realize how much I was going to get out of it. And how much James was going to get out of it. And how, by me loosening up and trying new things and not being perfect all the time, really allowed James to relax and be who he really is and for me to just watch the kids and watch how they just naturally do this.
I just love watching all of them, because they always surprise me with how they handle disappointments or even happy times, how things get handled, how they handle their reactions and themselves. And it’s just such a joy, but I am incredibly surprised how it’s family-wide as opposed to just, well, “We’re just going to do this for the kids now, and it’s going to be great and I don’t have to do anything except for deschool a little bit.” But it becomes so big.
And I think I appreciate everything more. I have so much more curiosity. I’m so much more interested in, what if we do this? What if we do that? If anybody asks me a question, “I don’t know. Let’s Google it. Let’s figure it out.“
It doesn’t even have to be something you dive into, it could just be, how does this work? And you look at it and go, well, that’s how that works. Well, that’s interesting. Okay. And you move on, just a small thing. It doesn’t have to be a massive big thing. But when anybody, no matter what age, gets to have the time to be interested and spend time in their interest, how many little pathways that don’t seem to match up open up. It seems like, where are you going? But they all do. It’s so great. I love it. I really do.
PAM: Wow. Yeah. I love that. The threads that you have no clue in the moment. But when you look back, you think, oh, that’s where you were going! That’s how that was connected. It is so fascinating.
JESSICA: Right? Since I was in my twenties when I came here, I’ve been very, very interested in health and helping people. And since we started the unschooling is when I really, really got into it. And that’s when I qualified as a kinesiologist and I was pranic healer. But I started working and doing it, because I had confidence of like, hey, I know how to do this. This works. This is fantastic. Energy. It’s great. And learning more and more about that. And then learning more about the kinesiology side, which some of it has energy, but there’s a physical side, a lot of physical things, too, which I hadn’t known anything about the anatomy of the body and then all the nutrition.
I don’t believe that one diet is right for everybody. Everybody gets to pick and I happen to be a vegan. I was a vegetarian for 12 years. And then I decided I would try being vegan, because I had an allergy to dairy. So, a vegetarian with an allergy to dairy just eats eggs. So, I’m done. I don’t eat any more eggs. I’m good. And then my daughter started getting into veganism and the plant based veganism, and then we both started getting into the animal side of it, the animal cruelty side of it, because that’s not why I got into it. I got into it through nutrition and animals weren’t even a thing. And then it’s like, ‘Oh wow, there’s this huge the other piece that’s massive.’ She dove in there. And my husband eats everything that I cook. So, he’s not picky at all. He’s wonderful. And he feels much better when he eats that way, but both of my sons eat meat and it is not a thing.
They can eat whatever they choose to eat. Ronan cooks for himself. Now I don’t ever cook anything for him. I would, but he’s quite happy. He cooks his own meals and has done his own probably for the past year or so. He eats at different times, like 3:00 AM. So, I would always make stuff and ask him if he wanted it. I still make stuff and say, do you want some of those? “No. I’ll make something.” But they eat meat. I mean, I think when I was first learning it, I would kind of harp on about it, but now it’s like, “You do you.” You get to pick. I got to pick. Everybody gets to pick. It’s a choice, so many choices. We have choices.
PAM: That one realization is so life changing. Isn’t it? Just to realize that everything really is a choice. And, as individuals, you really can pick what makes the most sense and feels better for us. And the other big piece is that it’s not a judgment if your choices change over time.
JESSICA: You get to change your mind. I love that. I love it so much. That’s a big one for me, because once I decided, I decided. That was it. But you get to change your mind.
PAM: Without calling yourself wrong.
JESSICA: Nothing’s wrong. You’ve just changed your mind. Try something different. Oh, my goodness. It’s so nice.
There’s quite a big age gap between your kids. So, you had one who went to school right through high school and one who left around grade four or five and one who’s yet never been to school. I found that really interesting, because you must have found yourself in distinctly different seasons of growing up with each of them, but all at the same time. I just was hoping you could share a bit of your experience with that.
JESSICA: Yes. It’s so interesting. I’m loving this. I just love watching what is going on. Because we had Ronan, who had had quite a bit of issues with his school, was very unhappy. And then he had a lot of healing to do and a lot of deschooling to do. And he has done all that and he knows himself. He knows what he likes. He knows what he doesn’t like. He knows he can say yes or no. He’s not apologetic about who he is. And it took him a while and he’s there.
Lennon was born into it and he has known himself since the day he was born. I think everybody probably does, but we lose ourselves. But yeah, since the day that kid was born, you aren’t telling him anything. And even now, sometimes you still have to do things, like if you have to get in the car and go home and you can be upset about it. And I completely agree that it’s upsetting that you don’t want to stop playing with your cousin or whatever.
But he knows himself and he knows, this is not what I want. And it’s so nice to be able to go, I know you don’t want this. I know this is the last thing that you want. We’ve stayed as long as we can and whatever it is. So, he is great.
We look at that, myself and Roisin specifically, because we’ve had all the schooling, we just look at him and think, ‘I wonder what that’s like?’ I wonder what that’s like to just grow up and be loved and get to do the things that you love. And everybody says, they’re good. It’s good. And you don’t have anybody telling you what you need to do, but you have to, but you should—you don’t have any of that. You just have people going, “That’s great, have another Oreo, go run around naked, play with your Legos.”
It’s just such a different start then she had. Pretty much, every single day, he has a treat before he has breakfast. “I want my treat before breakfast.” No problem. He eats everything, because nothing is taboo. Nothing is good or bad as he eats it all. Whereas, I mean, even I still struggle with, “Oh, I can’t have that until I have this.” I mean, I’m so much better now I’m having whatever I want.
PAM: The message is still embedded in there.
JESSICA: Right. I think it just doesn’t have that. I mean, I’m sure to some degree it will get there. We all are living in a society that is that way. But he doesn’t care. He’s himself. And I like that he’s unapologetic about who he is. I love that so much.
Roisin graduated and then she moved to Dublin, which is on the other side of the country. It’s a three and a half, four-hour drive. She was not at home for the big work of the deschooling. She wasn’t home for those first couple of years where the big work is done. She was off doing her things that she chose to do. And I was on the phone with her almost every day: “It’s your choice. You get to pick, you get to choose.” “Do I do this? Do I do this?” “What do you want to do? It’s not a wrong choice. There’s nothing wrong,” but she wasn’t living it, she wasn’t in our home with that.
So, now she has come home for lockdown. She got here in early March, I’d say. And that is what she’s doing. She’s doing that really, really, deep, deep deschooling of where you just sit in a bean bag and read your book for three days.
And she’s such an active person. She’s like, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me?” And I’m like, “Nothing.” I have that look on my face of like, “Oh, everything’s going to be really good for you. Nothing is wrong. You read your book.” I’ve had to say, I love this, because when we were doing the bulk of the work, it was me, was Ronan. Lennon was coming up. James was dealing with a lot of stuff. You’ve kind of got past the big, big feelings. So, now she’s doing this and I’m coming at it from a totally different plane.
I’m not questioning myself. I’m immediately like, “You get to choose.” It’s that simple. It really is. And she’s decided not to go back to Dublin and she doesn’t want to go back to her job that she had, because it was taking away from the acting which she really wants to pursue. And all these things are happening. It’s so nice that she can be here and have this time and decompress and really figure herself out and get that confidence back and get that self esteem and be able to then go back out into the world on her own terms.
So, I’m really excited, but it’s different for me too. I’m looking at this as like a different piece being that she’s older and she should help the younger ones figure out next steps. But it’s like we were doing it backwards. Lennon was born and was like, “Ta-da! I’m amazing.” Ronan got knocked down, but he got back up and they’re both like, “What’s your question? Do what you want.” So, we’re learning from them and it’s just so funny the way that life does these things, the way that it goes.
PAM: Oh, wow. Yeah, I found that so fascinating. That’s why I wanted to hear more about that, because what an opportunity for Roisin to be able to have this time and to hear how that’s going for her and her curiosity too, like, “Is this okay?” That is just so beautiful. I could just see you rubbing your hands with like, “Oh, I’m so happy for you.”
Just so happy for her to be able to have this space and to be able to see that, yes, it’s okay to not go back. Yes, it’s okay to choose to keep working towards the acting that is something you want to pursue right now, just being able to let her steep in all these possibilities and just the idea of making these choices, that she’s like, “Oh. That’s what I would love to do. Is that really something that I could do?” Yeah, that’s just so beautiful.
JESSICA: Yes, yes. Yes. She’s loves notebooks. She loves all sorts of like pens and notebooks. She loves all the notebooks and the papers and the school supplies and all those things. So, she always has her notebook and she makes little boxes, she makes the little things, and she checks off the boxes as should go every day. When she first came home, she’s doing this checklist.
And then she was at the end of the day, “I didn’t go for a walk on my checklist. I wanted to finish that painting. I didn’t finish that painting.” And I’m like, “I think maybe you’re putting more importance on your checklist. The checklist is a list of things that you want to do. Nobody cares if you do them. You’re not going to get in trouble if you don’t go for a walk.” Things on her checklists were like, cartwheels. “I forgot to do my cartwheels today.” And I’m like, really?
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. What a big difference. It’s not a ‘have to’ list.
JESSICA: And she’s like, oh my gosh. I could see her brain going, it’s become about the checklist and not even about the things on the checklist. It’s all about ticking the boxes. It’s very schoolish. Do all the things, be perfect. But it’s about you are doing these things because you enjoy doing them.
So, if you didn’t get time to do them, it’s because you were really enjoying this that you were doing. And that’s really good. It’s not just okay. It’s exactly what you should be doing. So, she still has her checklists and she does love a good checklist, but she it is fine if she doesn’t get everything done and they’re smaller, I think.
PAM: Oh, I love that. I love that so much.
What is your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now?
JESSICA: My favorite is that we do flow. Just flow. I mean, we’re renovating the house right now and you can see every Lego piece in the world is behind me. But new floors just got poured today. We had a leak. It was this whole big thing, how some of the floor was, had to be drilled up. We’ve been walking on planks for weeks and weeks and weeks because all the hardware stores have been closed. Everything’s been closed and nobody can work. My husband did as much as he could, but he couldn’t get supplies.
So, we had to wait for insurance. During a massive, massive renovation like that, in my head, I would just assume that, you have to make a lot of decisions. What kind of heating system are we going to put in? What kind of tiles? We have to repaint the walls and all these different choices and people have really strong opinions. And it’s just not been a problem. We have these huge, big holes. And so, we have to walk over these planks, we’re all just like, okay. Okay.
When people renovate their houses, I mean, things can come to blows. I want this color, I want that color. I want these tiles. Those tiles are horrible. And these things that are not important to become so important and they’re not important at all. And my husband keeps asking me, “Well, do you do it this way? Or we do it this way?” “You’re the plumber, I don’t know.” My answer is always, “Whatever way is less stressful for you, whichever way is going to cause you less stress.”
I mean, if you want it to be really, really nice and that’s the way you want it to be and it’s extra work and you want to do that, then do that. If you don’t really care about that part of it and think it’s not necessary, then don’t do that. Just whatever works. It’s a big thing. Our whole house is in uproar. We’ve had to move out. I’m climbing through windows to do this call. And it’s not just that we’re getting through it. It’s fun. We’re having fun with it. It’s exciting. And we had decided on tiles and he went to go and they couldn’t get those tiles, but he’s sending me pictures.
And there was one the hiccup when we were taking a window out and we’re going to make it into a doorway. And then that’s what I thought we were doing, but the sink would have to move and I’m like, well, he’s a plumber. He can move that. And, but in his head it was going to take too much of the insurance money. So, we weren’t going to be able to do that. And he was trying to make it the way I wanted it by making it like a smaller doorway.
And I’m like, why are you doing that? That’s crazy. We had our wires crossed a little bit and I think it was a little blip. I think it probably me being like, “Why are you being so weird?” And he was like, “Well, this is what you wanted.” It was all over, before anything. “Let’s just do it this way, the way we were going to do it originally.” And he was like, “Okay, okay, that’s done.” I mean, it’s not a thing, we just flow.
And I love that so much, because I have a lot of opinions. I have a lot of being right. Or did have, recovering from being right all the time. And it’s just so nice to be able to be happy and not be right. Because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. All those little things, they are so unimportant and what is so important is the relationship every single time.
I think that started for me when Lennon was born. It was quite a tumultuous birth. I had a car accident and rolled my car into a lake and I was fine. I walked away. I think I had a bruise. It was good, a miracle. And Lennon was fine, but they did an emergency C-section, because they didn’t know where the seat belt was. And so, we were in the hospital for a few weeks. And he was fine and I was fine, but still we were there for a while. When things like that happen, you just put it into perspective.
But it’s so easy to get swept back up into it. But when you have the unschooling, the learning and the deschooling that you’ve done and what’s important and you remember, and you get to it faster.
It’s just really compounded that flow. “”Can I take all these Legos and take them all apart and mix them all up?” Sure. And, but I do say, you’re not going to be able to find those pieces to go to this. And that’s that cause and effect kind of thing. But if that’s what you wanted to do, go for it. Do it. Who knows? It could be great. Could be amazing.
PAM: Right! That’s so amazing. Thank you so much, Jessica. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. It was so much fun.
JESSICA: Thank you so much, Pam, for this whole podcast. It’s really been great for our whole family.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. Thank you so much.
And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
JESSICA: Oh, my goodness. So many places. I’m online a lot. I’m on Facebook as Jessica Bartlett Kane and I’m on Instagram, @lennonskeeper, all one word. And I should probably change that name. It probably doesn’t sound very good. I made my Instagram account when he was a toddler and he was the first of my children to climb. So, at that time, I referred to myself as his keeper. Is he okay? Where is he? He had it. He was good.
But also on Instagram, I am @thediamondcookbook, because that leads to the blog. If you’re interested in some fun, plant-based, super healthy, but very, very, very yummy treats, then that’s the blog.
PAM: I’ve got my breakfast cookie recipe ready.
JESSICA: Oh, how exciting!
PAM: Yeah. I’m really looking forward to those.
JESSICA: That’s Roisin. That’s her big prize she made yesterday too. So, she’s keeping us fed. Appreciate it.
PAM: Awesome. Thank you so much again, have a great night.
JESSICA: Thanks. You, too, Pam. Thank you.