PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Cate and Jenna Phillips. Hi guys. I was introduced to Cate and Jenna through Tara McGovern Dutcher, who was a guest on the podcast back in episode 221. So, I’ll put the link to that in the show notes too, but I am so excited to learn more about your unschooling experiences.
To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
PAM: And you guys can choose who goes first.
JENNA: We’re really excited to be here. Thank you for having us. And we love Tara. We’re excited to be introduced and be a part of this. So, we are a tribe of eight. Cate and I, and our, our six kids.
CATE: We’re a very eclectic group. I would say a wonderful, but very eclectic, sentient beings.
JENNA: Yes. Those are the humans. And then we have quite a few animals running around as well!
PAM: So cool. So, what are some of the things that you guys are into?
JENNA: We’re all into different passions. So, and we try really hard to respect all of our passions, including ourselves.
CATE: So, now you’re into art. We all enjoy hiking and nature. The kids range. We have an oldest who loves reading and then we have a middle kiddo who’s obsessed with Fortnite.
PAM: Yeah. We’ll dive into that a bit later, but yeah, it’s just nice to hear just a little bit overview of what everybody’s kind of touching on right now.
CATE: That’s really cool. Oh, sorry. I was going to say in the day to day, I’m usually working and Jenna is usually with the kids, but I kind of weave in because I work from home. I did even before all the COVID stuff. So, I kind of weave in and out as needed. There’s a lot of great flexibility that comes with that.
JENNA: And she joins us three days a week, when she doesn’t work.
PAM: That sounds like you’ve got a pretty good rhythm for your work going right now that meshes in.
JENNA: Finally got there. Yes.
PAM: Yeah, I bet that’s something that kind of flows, works for a while and then things need to change up a little bit. And then you find another kind of happy medium for a while.
JENNA: Yeah, exactly. We’re always growing, ebb and flow right?
CATE: And then, at different stages in life, different kid’s needs are different, whatever needs we have, the journey changes.
PAM: Well, that’s very cool.
So, how did you guys discover unschooling and what did your move towards it look like?
JENNA: That’s an interesting story. It’s kind of a two-part story. So, I was homeschooled and didn’t realize until about two or three years into our homeschooling journey when we discovered unschooling, that I was actually unschooled.
CATE: But the term was never used
JENNA: I went to a traditional school for a few years. My mom pulled me out. I was emotionally abused in third grade by a teacher who had flipped my desk over because I wasn’t writing correctly. I wasn’t making the letter P and I had spent six hours writing it and she told me, “You’ll never be able to do it because you’re lefthanded.” And she got really angry and flipped my desk.
PAM: Oh, my goodness.
JENNA: Traumatizing memory. And I carried that with me and always wanted to homeschool our kids. And Cate was hesitant. She wanted that traditional, schooling education for the kids. So, we put our oldest in 4k and we were told …
CATE: Almost immediately …
JENNA: Almost immediately, within the first week, that he was ADHD.
CATE: And he expressed that too. He would come home and his favorite word at the time was awkward. So, you would say, “How was school today?” And he’ll be like, “So awkward, awkward, I’m sitting on the ground and it was awkward with my feet. I couldn’t move around and they got angry with me and it was awkward because I was disrupting them. So that was awkward.”
It was such a clear view. I mean, hindsight is 20/20, but as we looked back, it was awkward for him. He went from this loving home environment where he could do anything he wanted at anytime…
JENNA: to a very rigid routine. He was labeled and from age four to age seven, his school career just declined. I was in and out of the classrooms. He had a teacher that was causing anxiety for him. It was…
CATE: His experience turned traumatic.
JENNA: Similar to mine. And at that point, I shared with Cate, what I had experienced. And I said, “We can’t continue it. We need to homeschool.” That was a Christmas break when he was in second grade and he was seven, he’s 15 now.
And we had a five year old who had just started K five. And we said at the end of the year, we’ll pull you guys out. And Christmas break was over and we got up to go to the school and they cried and said, “Mommy, please, please.” And you look at your child who was pleading. “I don’t want to do this.” And we just chose to respect their wishes.
We called the school and said, they’re not coming back. Which is history repeating itself because that’s exactly what my mom did.
PAM: Well, I got to say it sounds so familiar too!
JENNA: It’s sad, but we didn’t dive into unschooling. We tried a Montessori approach. we tried Waldorf themed approach. We really liked the Waldorf philosophy. We did some Charlotte Mason work. We were across the board and I was pretty Type A at the time. We only had three kids and so I liked everything to be organized. It felt good to have that control over it and our oldest still kept pushing, pushing, pushing he was the captain of the ship,
CATE: He was like, this is not going to work for me.
JENNA: He wanted to be outside and I wanted to be outside. And I realized, why am I controlling this? And I would call her at work just in tears, he’s crying and I’m crying and we both want to be outside, but he didn’t finish his writing. And then she said, “Go outside.”
CATE: We’re adults. We can do whatever we want.
JENNA: And it was slow. And so, we’d go outside first and then do the writing or I’d ask him what he wants to do. Do you want to write about Star Wars or whatever he was interested in? And eventually I think it took us about six months to a year to realize. Curriculum is not going to work for us. Let’s pick and choose. Let’s let them lead the way.
CATE: And then we did some major deschooling and then
JENNA: We discovered deschooling and we started doing research. and we focus two or three years on interpersonal relationship skills, how we coexist with one another and it was the best thing we’ve ever done. And now we are full on unschooling.
PAM: Wow. I love that. You came to it and you went to homeschooling and curriculum because that’s what we know. That’s what we think learning looks like.
JENNA: Yeah. And that’s where Cate was. She was very uncomfortable with homeschooling in general. She said, why don’t we take them out of this school and put them in the Waldorf school? And I said, it’s still not what they need. She said, “Well, I want to do the Waldorf approach.” And she was very hesitant because you had that traditional school experience..
CATE: And I love to learn. So, I saw in Oscar a love of learning too, that I was really concerned about if we continued on his journey, if we didn’t put stuff in his path, that he wouldn’t continue to love learning.
So, I felt like, well, you have to be learning. That’s what life is. But I am also a very flexible, open minded person to like the nth degree. So, it was soon like my only goal in life is to, to be loving yeah and happy. So, as soon as I could hear this the stress, and see this is not working it was easy.
JENNA: After the phone calls were happening, she would come home. And I would say, I think we have to ground him. He was screaming and then we would just talk and talk over a period of time every evening and just finally evolve to.
Let’s let them lead the way, let’s ask them what they want. And one time we went to an indoor garden and they were very interested in the cacti and the Dragon’s blood and they went home and we made an entire replica of it. They were seven, five and three at the time. And I thought, this is where it’s at. I’m enjoying my time with them. They’re enjoying their time with me. It’s passion driven. It feels great. And we’re learning.
And then you became the person that just kept pushing us. She just completely turned around and was like, do this more.
CATE: And then we discovered that it was a thing that it was called unschooling. So, we didn’t even know that we have come up with this thing. Why force him, like let’s have him tell us what he wants to learn and then we’ll follow that path and it’ll be really organic. That’s the terms that we used. And then we started doing this researching. Whoa.
CATE: We’re geniuses.
JENNA: We created this whole thing! (laughing)
PAM: I love that you got there because it’s how human beings learn. Right? I mean, your whole journey is brilliant because as you said, Jenna, you were, you basically unschooled growing up, but yeah, back then it was just called homeschooling. Because there wasn’t a whole industry doing homeschool curriculum and everything that you might learn English from, you were home and learning. That’s another really interesting piece of it because for the kids who have grown up unschooling, you’re just living your life. You’re not interested in that process or understanding how it works and why it works. You’re just living it.
And then, with Cate’s experience, you are also being super respectful of where she was coming from but the beautiful thing about bringing it home instead of the learning being in school, now you started to see it, started to see the challenges of trying to do the curriculum and how it was at odds with how everybody was feeling and what they wanted to do. And then you started seeing some great experiences, like you said, when you went out to the garden and you could see that learning actually happening when they were engaged in the moment.
JENNA: It’s just magical to watch a child absorb something and you see the sparks and where we are now. Our youngest son is five and he is really interested in learning to read at an earlier age than our other kiddos have been interested.
And, and I’m teaching him and he’s doing little lessons and because he wants to, and there was never an anxiety around it for him. So, now we’re seeing that magic again and it’s just, an amazing circle.
PAM: I love that. And that was it such an important distinction, right? That he’s curious. So, you guys are playing with this around reading with him and if he gets to the point of “I’m bored of this, I’m going to move on.” That’s fine too. It looks like teaching to read yet it’s a completely different experience with unschooling when a child is asking for this and is enjoying what you guys are doing together.
JENNA: We went through a point where I was really interested in education philosophies in other countries and found out that they don’t do early academic. There are plenty of other countries that don’t do early academics before the age of seven. So, I was a hesitant, “We can’t do so. You’re not seven yet.” I was still trying to control it for a while. That type A part of me and now you’re so right. He’s curious. So, of course I’m going to provide that.
That is my job because I’m the primary. But our job in general, as parents, the unschooling journey has brought us closer to attachment parenting and to gentle parenting and respecting our children’s wishes. And so, he is curious to learn to read at five, of course, that’s what I want to do with him.
PAM: Yeah, I wanted to bring up what a brilliant, brilliant thing to do, you guys spent a couple of years just focused on the relationships.
JENNA: We have a big enough family that there’s enough practice, there’s enough people to practice conflict resolution or to respect boundaries…
CATE: Different personalities that we need to learn how to work with in life, it’s all in our house because there are so many people. We spent, and we still, I mean, I would say if we are controlling about anything it is that. And it’s not I don’t know that control is the right word, but we just believe so strongly in respecting one another and being healthy in those communications. So, everybody gets pissed off everybody…
JENNA: We try to tell the kids, every emotion is acceptable. But it’s how you treat others when you’re feeling that emotion that counts. That’s what matters.
CATE: So, we worked hard, like really hard on the healthy communication of all the emotions, not just the negative ones, but of course those are the ones that are most impactful. but it was really, really key to our journey.
PAM: That makes so much sense because in the end, like when we’re talking about learning, as you were saying before, Cate, we’re doing things and we’re doing things together. You’re all a family. So, those relationships are the foundation of it all. So, to spend those times, that time focused.
Some people, when they’re first coming to unschooling, they’re worried that they’ll get behind and that kind of stuff, you know that, but. It really doesn’t happen. Just take people’s word for it when you’re starting, because soon you’ll discover that they’re learning all the time anyway, but these are also foundational skills for life, right? How do we engage with other people and work through situations in the moment and understand that? It’s huge to understand that somebody else feels differently, sees things differently and that’s okay.
CATE: And you can empathize and that everyone has their own perspective. But you don’t have to share that perspective in order to be respectful everybody has boundaries about certain things and everybody…
JENNA: It’s every day that we have to practice these skills in life, even Cate and I every day are still practicing, accepting that everyone is different and that we still need to love their journey. And love them for who they are. And that is something that will never change. We’re always growing with that.
PAM: Yeah, it is an always growing thing. It’s a human thing. And it’s also growing because we, as human beings, are changing and learning and growing ourselves. So, now we’re different people coming into those conversations, a few months down the road. So that shifts the conversations too. So, accepting people where they are in that moment? Not like, well, remember six months ago you said it was okay with you or “My loud music didn’t bother you before, why is it bothering you now?” and to understand that, and to learn that people grow and change over time.
And I think you mentioned empathy, I think empathy and just that compassionate understanding of other people, those skills are just so valuable for living in the moment in a house full of eight people. But even with three, with however many people living together is the point.
JENNA: The fact that we’re working together.
PAM: Yeah. And we talk a lot about being kind of a team, it feeling like a team approach, like we’re all in this together. We’ll all figure this out together. And that really cultivates that feeling. Doesn’t it?
CATE: Yeah. And we really focus on, instead of rights, ‘Well, I have the right to do this because it’s my gift or you gave it to me,” etc. Instead of having the right, we want everyone to feel that they have more of an obligation to themselves. Like instead of me saying “Well I cleaned the whole house, I have a right to sit in my room and read my book and Leave me alone.” Which is what I’ve heard parents say all the time. “I don’t want to be bothered.”
Instead, I’ll say it’s really my obligation to myself right now to take 20 minutes and relax. I’m feeling that I need some downtime. And they understand what that means because we model it constantly and they use that language as well, which I think is so much healthier than leave me alone or you get really frustrated.
While my body is still in a calm state, I’m able to say that to them. And then we stay at a calm state, they don’t get anxious that mommy’s mad. They just hear me say, I need this. So, it’s more about respect instead of rights.
PAM: Oh, I liked that. I liked that a lot. Because it’s about our needs and like you said, expressing our needs and that’s the point is instead of, rights and rules where we just announced things. This is where we understand better. So, we can explain, I need 20 minutes because I’m stressed.
And like you said, then they don’t think it’s their fault. It’s just win, win, win, win. When you go that direction.
JENNA: I truly believe that opens up their brain to just so much more absorption because their stress hormones are not being released and they’re not going into any depressive states there. So, they are able to still absorb what I’m saying. They’ll take that into further relationships in their lives and carry that respect for others.
CATE: And then we advocate for each other, so if the kid, one of our kiddos expresses that, or Jenna expresses that, the rest of us rally around.
JENNA: “Hey, so, and so said they really need, you may not have heard of it, but they need this time. So, let’s say out of their wing. They’ll come upstairs when they’re ready.” Nobody is like, “Ooh, let’s go through this.” Everyone was like, “Oh, okay. I hope they feel better. Do you think there’s anything we can do? Or should we just do our own thing?” Everyone is concerned.
CATE: If anything, now it’s like we have a couple of kids that are so sensitive and so sympathetic, they literally want to jump in and solve it. No, there’s no problem.
JENNA: I asked them if they need a hug, all they’ll do is listen. It took us a while to get to the radical unschooling part to where it was not just about education.
We are at a point now where it’s a lifestyle that we live. We believe in respecting children’s rights. There are people now. We’re not turning them into successful adults. They’re successful humans where they are right now, that matters.
When we first heard about you and your book is when we met Tara at our first unschooling conference and that was life changing. We sat in a very intimate group of maybe six or seven women for a couple of days at UNow, unschooling conference in Geneva, and just had our minds blown constantly, and our hearts were exploding.
We were still at a point then where we were disciplining, we were putting our kids to bed at a certain time, but we were unschooling. So, we had them lead the way in their education, but we’re going to control when they sleep and they needed to eat three meals a day and we weren’t respecting them fully.
And this was just like lights and sirens going off, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re doing it wrong. We were just listening and we thought we were doing it right.’ And we always thought it was funny. We were like, we’re unschoolers, but we put our kids to bed at eight. And now when it’s a two years out from that we’ve evolved even more.
And now we’re just completely radical. Our seven year old was in her room, she didn’t sleep all night. She stayed up doing art and dance and her room quietly while we slept. And our 11 year old is downstairs playing Fortnite and he woke up last night at 8:00 PM when we were going into our room to hang out.
So, we’ve definitely evolved significantly just in the two years from reading your book and hearing these other families speak.
PAM: I noticed that too. It seems to be, it’s a logical natural evolution as you see it working so well with the more academic subjects is to say, ‘Oh, what else are they learning?’
The realization that things like regimented schedules for eating and sleeping and all those other life things. Realizing this is a piece of learning about themselves and how they tick and their personalities and that those stricter schedules are more like curriculum in that they’re learning somebody else’s routine, what somebody else thinks should work for them.
CATE: I was bringing my triggers around food, into our environment. I had this strong belief like that I didn’t want our kids to be overweight. I really wanted them to be really healthy because I felt like it’s a burden later in life, but that was my baggage that was bringing into their journey.
When we made that realization, it was huge for us because it was like, ‘Okay, I can’t control that for them. I may want to, I can share my perspective. I can express myself in a healthy way, but at the same time, this is their journey and I need to support them where they are right now.’
JENNA: That was huge for us.
After that conference and after reading The Unschooling Journey, we talked about it for a very long time. We realized, we’d spent these two or three years, deschooling and working on interpersonal relationship skills and respecting everyone. But are we really respecting their existence when we tell them it’s dinnertime now and bedtime in an half an hour and they’re not hungry? No, we’re not.
So, we have more work to do. We have more work to do, and they’re teaching us that because they’re not telling us when to eat or when to go to bed. They’re showing us that they respect us more than we actually are respecting them.
PAM: That’s such a great point. It’s really true. And I love the way you, talked about it being, working with them because it’s not about, “Okay. We have no, no set dinnertime, no set bedtime off you go.”
PAM: Yeah. You’re working with them. Like you were saying Cate, you’re having these conversations, you’re sharing your experiences, because you’re making their world bigger by sharing that, but your sharing it without expectation that they feel exactly the same.
JENNA: Right, right. It’s more of a connection and it’s actually a stronger parenting level than just saying, I make sure you eat at eight, noon and five, and that you sleep eight to eight or eight to seven. I’m not taking on this role. She’s not taking on that. I pay for this or you eat it role.
We are connecting with them as humans and sharing experience, it’s not a dictatorship at all. It’s just the team you mentioned before, we’re all here together for some reason, and we need to figure out how to make that work. And for the most part, be happy while we’re doing it.
PAM: Well, yeah, that’s it, joy and feeling happy is a great lens to look at our days. Because we’re wanting people to feel comfortable where they are, but it is all about moving through those challenging moments. Those challenging moments aren’t failure points at all. This is how we learn to engage and live within our family. And then within the larger world, to think that our life is successful once everybody’s happy, it is a fool’s errand because then you’re really trying to ignore those moments.
JENNA: You’re trying to get through those hard moments as fast as possible, because you want more of the happy and you’re trying to think, what was I doing when I was happy? What was I buying? Where was I at? I need to recreate it. But what we’re doing, what we actually are embarking on now is, really just living with our heart instead of our brain and feeling.
And this has just started a few weeks ago. but our next journey, which is happening in the couple of weeks is we’re going to Sedona and we’re taking the kids on their first road schooling trip. And we’re going to learn a little bit more about living joyfully from our hearts.
That’s how you can approach things: rather than approaching it to find happiness, you just approach it with happiness.
PAM: Yes, yes. In the moment. We’re at talking about that in the Network right now, get out of your heads and into the moment, because no matter what’s going on in the moment. Like you said, with your kids, I found them to be such a great guide because if I can get out of my head and whatever swirling in there and just go hang out with them fully and there’s joy and fun there.
JENNA: Right? Of course, I can look at the house and think, ‘Okay, I have like six chores that I would like to get done before I felt good about sitting down, but all of my kids are in this kitchen. Well, let’s turn on some music because we do have to make dinner.’
And now because we’ve modeled it so much, just the other day, the 11 year old open up the dishwasher, the five-year-old jumped on the counter. He handed him dishes, they were putting them away. The 15 year old was chopping being a sous chef. And then I had the 12 year old just talking to me while they were on their phone.
We were all just together working and we weren’t hiking. We weren’t doing art, we weren’t doing something that costs money. We were just in the moment, but we were happy. And it’s about those daily living skills that you need. There are mundane things that need to be done, but you can approach them with joy.
PAM: Yes. Yes. Oh, I love that. I love that.
CATE: Yeah. The only other thing I wanted to quickly add is that you can, find a way to put, so I feel like something unschooling parents sometimes feel a little…
JENNA: drained at points because you’re with your kids.
CATE: It can be overstimulating to have all this energy around you. Right. But you can, if you follow your heart and you follow your own, boundaries, you can create what you need. So, we have no problem with telling our kiddos, “Hey tonight, we just want to chill with each other and have some time and talk and we’re going in our rooms.”
JENNA] Yeah. And they respect our relationship. And we try to teach them to respect their relationships as well. It’s not that we love you any less and that’s going back to needing the 20 minute break or whatever, we take it even deeper.
CATE: Like you don’t have to go to sleep, but …
JENNA: we want to watch a movie alone tonight. It has nothing to do with not wanting to hang out with you, but we miss being with each other. And they understand and actually ask, is that how all marriages are, is that romance? What does that mean? Why do you do that? What do you get out of it? We’ve had the kids ask, why can’t I be in here? What is the difference of me being in here or not, and were able to explain the love that we share for each other is different than the love we share with, you in a certain way. And we want to connect on that level to be better parents and sometimes that’s acceptable and sometimes we have to dive in for an hour before we get that time. But we’re willing to put in the effort instead of saying leave us alone.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. You figure it out together. This is our need.
JENNA: Right. You can unschool and you can practice this way of living, but it really doesn’t mean anything if you don’t respect your own boundaries and your own needs, because you’re modeling that to your kids.
So, if I’m constantly giving to them throughout the day and she’s working 12 hours, and then we’re stressed out because we gave to them, what are they really learning? Sure. We’re showing them that they can have whatever they want and we are dedicated to them, but they’re not learning how to treat themselves. They’re seeing, ‘Oh, my mom gives all day until she’s burnt out. That’s what I must do.’
PAM: Exactly. They’re learning. They’re always learning. Right?
PAM: And we’re modeling these things. And that’s what I love, the give and take because also they’re seasons. There will be seasons when the one or two kids need a lot more there. I mentioned they’re needing energy and we are not connecting as much with our partners maybe, or not having as much quiet time. But it’s also a choice we’re making, because we know a child is needing us in that moment. And we know over the flow of the seasons, we will also have times when we’re going to get it, we’re going to look around and like there’s no kids.
CATE: Yeah, just last night, our five year old said “I’m willing to go in my room and watch my tablet for a while, but I want to sleep with you guys tonight.” And we were like, that was not on our agenda for the evening, but you try,
JENNA: It was Friday night we were ready to hang out.
CATE: We looked at it and quickly yeah, makes sense. Thanks for letting us know. He just didn’t want to sleep alone.
JENNA: “I’ll go in my room until I’m ready to sleep and then I’ll just come sleep in your bed.” So, he did, he went in his room and he came in like two hours later and went to sleep and it was perfect. Yeah. And we were like, let’s go to sleep.
CATE: He respected what we needed and we respected what he did. And he’s five, it’s just natural now for us.
Your human emotions can take over and it doesn’t come out the way you want that to come out and you do get frustrated. And as long as you have a good foundation of respect, it’s easy to express. Whoa, I have this overwhelming frustration feeling and that’s not me. And I’m really sorry. And you explain it and you work it out and you’re not justifying it, but you’re explaining it and you’re apologizing.
PAM: I think to put that expectation on ourselves, that we’re going to be perfect all the time. That is just like way too much. Like you said, we’re human. But what again is that modeling for them. Because as adults with interactions with other adults, we’re not always perfect with this human thing. And to be able to apologize, explain again, it wasn’t your fault. I was stressed about this other thing, or I was really tired or whatever the real reason, if you understand where it came from, to be able to explain that, quickly apologize, it’s the reconnection after that’s the important piece, right? Because you’ve got that foundation, you can reconnect, they can understand in the moment. And again, it’s more learning about being human, that they don’t take that expectation that they’re supposed to be perfect as an adult, too.
And then again, we go back to stress and they’re not operating on that fight or flight level so, when they do feel it, they realize, Oh, that was just a stressful moment. I can go back now and make it right.
PAM: Yes. If they feel so embarrassed and horrible about it, then that stops them from reconnecting. So, to not vilify if you’re having a rough moment, but I apologize, explain and reconnect and move forward shows them that it’s okay. It’s okay. And when they know that’s acceptable, as they get older too, when they’re having rough moments, they are also more likely to come to us and talk to us about them because they know we’re not going to judge them as bad things. Because we haven’t gotten mad and judged ourself as a bad thing, it’s full circle.
PAM: Alright. We should probably move onto the next question, but, we talked about this quite a bit, connecting and supporting our kids.
So, I wanted to dive a bit more into supporting their interests because when you’re newer to unschooling, that can be a challenging thing because we’re still seeing learning through that kind of school-ish/curriculum lens. So, maybe we’re seeing it as field trips. We need to go to the Science Museum or we need to go here and we need to hit all these exhibits and that kind of stuff. It is really refreshing and kind of mind blowing to start looking at other ways to engage with our kids and to just be in relationship with them.
I was hoping you guys could talk a little bit more about some of the ways you help your kids explore the world and their interests. Tara said you guys are awesome at this.
JENNA: Yeah. Thank you. We’ve already spoken about how it wasn’t always like this. So, we’re talking about present day, like how we help them now. So, yes, field trips and everything are wonderful, in times of COVID, that’s not really our cup of tea. We really don’t like to do public places right now. We don’t have to, so we are finding alternate routes.
I’m going to dive into our 11 year old who’s obsessed with video games because that is a big stigma right now, it’s controversial. I see in a lot of Facebook groups, “All my kiddo wants to do is play Minecraft or play this.” Yeah. Let them and ask them questions about that. That’s finally what we did. It’s really hard because I don’t have interest in Fortnite.
When I hear someone talking about Fortnite for an hour and a half, I’m kind of drained but I really have to refocus and look at it with love and say, ‘This is his interest. What can I do to show interest and support? Because I love him and this is what people do for me when they love me. What can I do to show my support and how can this help him learn?
So, I go down in his room and I ask him what he’s doing. I asked him to describe to me what he feels when he is successful at a game. We’re at the point now to where he comes up and he says, come down and you’ve got to say hi to one of my friends and I’ll put on his headphones and talk to these people that he’s connected with.
So, I think what we do to help our kids explore their interest is we show interest in them.
We really put passion into it. So, when I have some of my downtime or I’m just hanging out with myself, I think, Oh, you know what? Oscar mentioned that he’s really interested in body movement. I’m going to look up different dances. And I found Parkour, which he already knew about. And I didn’t know, because he hadn’t shared that with me.
He just said I liked body movement and he flips around all the time when we’re outside. And so, I did some research and I said, “Hey, what about parkour?” He said, “I love Parkour, you’ll let me do that?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course it looks perfect for you.” And we connected. And then now he did some Parkour videos online and before COVID he took some classes.
It’s really just about having interest in your kids and what they’re doing and their passion. And then you can put anything in their path. That’s what I do with my wife. She says, “Hey, I really have interest in learning about this musical artist.” I look it up because I love her. And I want to know about the musical artist too and I find a concert and I take her to it because that’s what you do when you love someone. You show interest. So that’s what we do with our kids.
CATE: And we try really hard not to have hang ups on fleeting things. Because your interests change and your journey is ever flowing. Most of our kiddos actually do like to dive into, for a long time, but if they don’t, if they are like, “Okay, I tried it and I don’t like it.” We receive that. We try really hard, not to have personal hangups around that.
JENNA: Do you want to try it again, maybe in six months or a year when you have different skills, would you be interested in revisiting that? And if they say yes, because they don’t feel pressure or if they say no, this is absolutely not for me then it’s absolutely not for them, but who knows? Nobody can really say that. Maybe they’re interested in it in five years.
PAM: I’ve learned that never say never.
JENNA: Right, right. Going back to teaching boundaries and respect and saying what we need. So, our 11 year old plays video games all day long. He loves it. But we tell him, “Hey, we’re going on a family vacation. We’d really like you to come with us. You can stay home if you want.” My father lives with us as well. So, we actually have nine in our home right now. We say, “Papa’s going to be here, so you have the opportunity to stay home, but we’d really like you to come. These are things we’re doing. And maybe you can stay half the time Papa would bring you home.” And he thinks about it and he says, “I want to be with you guys when you’re outside. I want to see you having fun. I want to be a part of that.” And so, he’s really learned to embody that respect for others as well, but while respecting his own needs, he says “I’m only going to come for three days and then I want to come back and do what I want.”
And so, I think just really respecting your children’s passion. And even if that is a video game that teaches them so much more about life than saying, “No, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a game.” And then we work really hard to do research and put things in their path. Our five-year-old is interested in reading, so I showed him a couple of things, here’s what’s on phonics, here are some index cards, they’re YouTube videos. How do you want to do it? And he wanted to do it all. So, we did it all.
PAM: I loved that.
I think when you talked about having a passion for our child, to passionately support their passion, we don’t need to be particularly interested in the interest, but so much grows out of being passionate about them and what they’re into.
JENNA: Yeah. Getting to understand that their existence, how they see life, how they interpret life, how they feel life. If you are passionate about your family members, it’s easy.
PAM: It really is because you want to excite them. You want to bring more joy and excitement to it.
JENNA: It’s just like when you give a gift, I think you get more out of gifting than receiving. I received pure joy when I put something in their path, and they’re like, “Ooh. Yes!”
PAM: I think that can be such a small distinction, I think at first when you come to it, because it’s like, I’m going to put things in front of my kids path and I want them to be excited about it yet. We are not yet quite there. And we’re putting things in their path that we hope they will like.
JENNA: That *we* would be interested, or that we wish they would be interested in. If I was interested in race cars, I would want to do this. And they’re like, no.I’m like, but you love race cars.
PAM: It’s about really seeing it through their eyes. Because then you see what, because we know from any interest, you can take it anywhere. Race cars can be a window to the whole world. There’s math in there. There are speeds. There’s the physics of the race tracks. The history of it. Where all the different races are, so there’s geography, there’s everything. If race cars are your passion, you can go everywhere. Where would they like to go? Not, Oh, gee, I really hope they’re interested in the math part. So, I’m going to bring all this physics stuff and, and different speeds
JENNA: But their interested in the mechanical part. They want to know how it goes that fast. Huh? Okay. In the beginning of our journey, this was actually, when we look back now, the kids were teaching us very early on. We lived in Milwaukee, and there was a big building, the US bank building. And it was, at the time, the tallest building in Milwaukee or in Wisconsin.
And the kids just loved it because Cate worked downtown and they’d stare at it every time. And he said, “Mama, we want to learn more about it.” And so, I just looked it up and I said, “Okay, do you want to take a tour? You can walk around in it.” So, we did that and they got to go up to the highest point. And then while we were there, one of our kiddos, seven or five at the time said, “How did this get built?”
And I said, “Oh, so that’s called an architect.” And they were like, what’s that word? And we looked it up. Can any body be an architect? No. How do they do it? And we dove into the US bank building I’d stayed for three or four months, a seven, a five and a three year old. And we ended up building a U S bank building out of cardboard and they all wanted to be the architects.
CATE: It had the same level of floors. What is the term I’m looking for? Scale, it was basically scale. There was so much that I learned about U S bank building, different architects. And now we know about Frank Lloyd Wright and they want to go see those, and that was our very first experiences.
Our oldest was 7, he’s 15, now and eight years later, we’re still looking for who is the architect on VRBOs. “Let’s find a cool one to stay in.” There’s still some passion there.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. And when you’re open to it and taking those little clues, answering the questions, like this building’s really cool. But when they’re asking the questions, you guys took that. So, it is being respectful of what they’re curious about. And look where it goes, instead of just giving one word answers and move on.
But the point of unschooling is to really dive into, all the pieces of the world that our kids are curious about because they’re putting together their view of how the world works, which is just so beautiful. Like you said, even now this comes up, they’re still connecting things back to it. They really learn that stuff because they see.
JENNA: We really believe in learning through movement and some of our kids don’t believe that when you’re sitting down playing video games, you’re still learning, even if you’re sitting for 10 hours. But they were so physically involved in this and I think it just really helped them absorb it. And like you said, they’re learning about how the world works around them.
They now know that Frank Lloyd Wright was a passionate architect and they learned about someone else’s passion in the world and how that person took their passion and became successful. It goes back to fueling that the world would be magical if you do that, look at this architect, look what he did. Yeah,
PAM: Exactly. It just shows them how important you feel their passions are. Whatever it is, it had to help them feel seen by seeing other people too. Like how they, how they went through the world. I love that.
So, I was curious if you guys could share some tips about just navigating your days with six kids. There are people with larger families. I get questions pretty regularly about that because when you’re trying to meet your kids’ needs and you’ve got a larger number of kids. It can be hard to kind of figure out your way through that. That’s part of it is too, because you kind of see your kids as silos. I’ve got six kids and they’ve got six different interests, how am I going to fit that in day?
So, I thought it would be great if you guys could share a bit about life with six kids.
JENNA: Yeah, definitely. We’ve been asked this a lot by quite a few families who have embarked on homeschooling journeys. So, we kind of have the answers now and it’s really about teamwork. So, if say, the kids really want to go to them waterfalls for the day. Okay. I’ll wake you guys up at 10. I’ll make sure we’re out the door. This is important to you. And I wake them up at 10 and they’re just kind of, Oh, but they want to go, but I know before I go, I need to feed the dog or the dogs need to be fed. Not that I need to do it. The dogs need to go out. We have to take care of the cats or to do certain things.
And they’re all just sitting there, in any normal situation, I think a parent would say like, I’m doing all of this for you guys, so we can go somewhere and you’re doing nothing and you get angry and resentful and I’ve been there and she’s been there and it doesn’t feel right. So, we really take a teamwork approach.
The night before, if you guys want to go great, but this is what we’ll have to do. Just remember. And now you’ve done that so many times that. They tell us, so they’ll say, “Hey tomorrow, we all want to do this. They make a plan. Mom will wake you up at 10.”
CATE: Or “I’ll go to bed by midnight because I think I need hours of sleep.” Luca literally said this last night, “I like nine hours of sleep.”
JENNA: Yeah. But I want to be up and I need to be able to help, I’ll do the dogs. And they’ll say like, “Can you do the cats?” And it really is just focusing on that teamwork. And if we have a plan for the day and we need to do something.
If there’s not a plan and we’re just in the house, we just ask, what do you want to do today? What are you feeling? Because it’s really about some days you feel academic and some days you feel lazy and some days you want to go explore and when they have different avenues that they want to take, it gets a little tricky. But luckily, we’re really blessed that Cate works from home. So, when we have two or three kids that want to stay home, great, stay home.
Because she’s around if you need anything, but they’re pretty self sufficient. I’m going to take the ones that want to go out and we’re going to go do this. And maybe one of them that wants to go to the waterfalls and the other one really wanted to go to the museum. So we compromise, we’re going to go to the museum first and get some books about the waterfalls. And then we’ll spend like an hour there on the way home at the waterfall or whatever.
So, it really just, again, back to respect, trying to respect our own boundaries and needs for the day while giving what they need to them and having them do the same for us.
If it’s a day at home and I’ll say, okay, well, what do you guys want for breakfast? We all go in and usually one of us will make breakfast. One of us will do the dishes. We’ll sit down and eat, talk about what we’re going to do and just take our own paths. It’s just a well oiled machine this point, but it was, it’s never like you have to unload the dishwasher. It’s okay. Well, do you want me to make omelets, all the pans are in the dishwasher who wants to do that real quick? And then they want omlets. So, they raised their hand, like, I’ll do it. And then the little kids are really interested in cracking the eggs. So, they’re like, “Oh, I want to help.” And it’s just, it’s easy at this point.
CATE: But you have to not hold onto it too tightly. You have to release your expectations, unless they’re super important to you.
JENNA: If they don’t fuel your desires and you need to release them,
CATE: go with the flow because there isn’t another option, otherwise you’re just disappointed lot.
JENNA: And if you disappoint your kids and then you feel like a failure at that night, and then you go to sleep with that energy. It’s just, that’s a cycle that you’re going to have to dive into and you’re going to feel like a failure and most likely you’re going to fail and you’re going to be depressed or it’s just going to lead to somewhere, a dark place.
We really try to just live joyfully in the moment. So, if this is a day where I’m just exhausted, but the kids really want to do this, I tell them. I could probably go for a couple of hours. So, instead of taking the two hour trip to that hiking place, could we just go somewhere local? Yeah, I’m really tired and I’m going to sit under the tree while you guys explore. And so, I’m still getting what I need, but they’re getting what they need and if they have questions great, but they’re like, ‘Oh, mom’s tired. And she’s just resting under the tree. I’m going to answer my own questions now or save them for later.’ And just that respect that we’ve all have in our foundation.
PAM: Yeah. I think it really does go back to, like you talked about the focus for those the first couple of years on the interpersonal relationships. That truly does set the foundation where you can more easily navigate all these moments because respectfully and because everybody feels heard and understood and communication skills are up there.
Being able to share your needs and have them be part of the mix as you figure out a way through it, in how everybody is today. And that go with the flow thing was always such a big thing too. But you learn that by not going with the flow enough times and pushing through it and realizing how you feel at the end of the day, which is horrific. And nobody really enjoyed it anyway.
JENNA: And unfortunately we still have those times. I still have those moments that take over and Cate actually is a lot better at reading her own needs and my needs and saying, “No, you didn’t sleep well, you’re exhausted. We just got back from vacation. They don’t need to go today. They just want to, but they’ll be fine. Tell them what you need.” And I have a hard time stepping back from that role of giving. And that’s something
CATE: She’s like the ultimate caretaker, right? So, if she hears from to or three of our kiddos, that they want to do this, that desire to give them
JENNA: and push my own needs away is yeah, it’s there.
CATE: And I have to sometimes remind her like, “Whoa, remember, is your tank is that full right now? So yeah. Fill your tank first. And tell them that.”
JENNA: I think having a support person to do that is key when you are unschooling, whether that be a partner, a parent, a best friend, an older child that you’ve developed that relationship with, that can read you or if you’re really in tune with yourself and good at it. But if you are a primary caregiver, having someone telling you it’s okay. It’s okay to take this time, is key.
PAM: That role of caretaker, caregiver to including yourself in that mix. We see our kids and we want to do all we can with and for them. But that mental shift to put ourselves in that mix. It’s a hard one, sometimes. So, like you said, it is so good to be able to have someone else who can help point us point that out to us when it looks to them, like we are, are erring on that side. And even if we still choose to do it, taking it in that moment to realize that we’re getting low in energy or whatever it is and to realize, OK, I’m choosing to do this, but tomorrow I’m really going to need to take that down day.
JENNA: Yes. Expressing that and really respecting it for yourself. So, you don’t feel like a failure and so that your kids really understand, I’m giving this to you, but tomorrow I really, I really need this. And this is what I need to keep doing this, to keep thriving.
CATE: We’re just two humans, but I think it’s interesting. It’s an interesting aspect that we’re both women and we can understand, the ebbs and flows of being in a female body. Right? So, there is a difference in how our cycles and how our energies work, as females then as
JENNA: And we both identify, she, her, so that we really embody that female cycle, we strongly do.
CATE: So, we’re able to say to each other, I’m going to have my periods soon, so I know my energy is going to be down and we know exactly what that means.
JENNA: We’re teaching, mainly boys, we have four boys, we have three boys, two girls and a non-binary kiddo and so we are teaching all of them that even, if it’s a menstrual cycle or it’s, your energy is low, you need to say that and then respect that your body does take over sometimes, and you have to go with that. Yes. And so, we do teach the kiddos and they will say, “Mom, are you tired today or do you have your period, like what’s going on?” and really respecting the human body for what it is and what might be happening and that in the mental shift that you talked about, what else is going on?
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. So great looking at energy, right? They can feel energies. And to bring that out and talk about that, because those are real aspects in our lives. They’re all part of the flow of what we can do in our days. So, understanding that piece is so helpful.
JENNA: And really going back to that support person. And I do mean that, you don’t need to be married to a woman to be understood. You don’t need to have a partner. Our 12-year-old is at the point where they will notice my exhaustion level and say, I think you need to go in your room for a couple hours. I’m going to take, Xavi who’s five, out to play.
What were you going to say?
CATE: I was going to say that whole, I was going to go down a whole another train, but connected to our bodies. We just went through this really incredible thing where Jenna was a surrogate for one of our friends.
PAM: So, sweet.
JENNA: It was a traditional surrogacy, that we did at home for wonderful friends. It was beautiful, but it was very hard on my body.
CATE: It was a really interesting, so we have six kids and all from ages three to 15. So, they are in all of their own stages of life, but got to experience the pregnancy from a whole different level and be a part of it.
JENNA: And it was very, very cool, magical, and teaching them that sometimes we have to not do what we want to do that day. Like, you know, you said, how do you give them what they want every day? Sometimes you don’t have to do that. They have to do that themselves.
CATE: We embarked on that journey because one of the reasons why we embarked on that is because Jenna loved being pregnant. She had these three amazing pregnancies.
JENNA: We thought it would be like a walk in the park and it wasn’t.
CATE: We wanted—we have received this is a gift, right? So, we used donors for two of our kiddos and conceived at home. And, so we wanted to return it.
JENNA: So, the universe has a way of in the way, you can give back that energy in forms of respect and teaching the kids in our unschooling journey that it isn’t just about academics.
You can return to the earth what you’re given in multiple ways and so that’s what we decided to do, but it was a very big learning experience. We took it from, they learned anatomy, they were really interested in it. We know how we were made, two of our kiddos were made with donor sperm. But how is this happening? They call our friend, uncle and aunt. So it’s, uncle’s baby and your genetic baby, but you don’t feel connected. This is not our sister. And it really, we went from like conception to energies, to everywhere, the unschooling journey to respect my body, because it was so hard at the end.
I could barely walk. I had to have a couple of versions. She was breached multiple times. And to the point where I couldn’t give them what they needed during the day. And it took a toll on my mental health, my emotional, physical being.
CATE: And mind you, our expectations were completely different. So, we had talked this up. It took a year or so to conceive and so the whole process, we were talking us up, this is going to be wonderful. And then I was like, no, this isn’t wonderful, but came full circle. She’s four months old now.
They were able to see, wow, we gave so much and look what it produced. Our kids gave during that pregnancy, I can’t count the number of times that one of them cooked meals for the younger ones or me, or ran me a bath and watch the younger ones because I could not function.
CATE: And I still had to work.
JENNA: She had to work.
CATE: And she has my work schedule to accommodate, and talks to them so much about my life. And I think it taught us a little bit about giving and when it’s time to give to yourself. So, that was our ultimate gift to the universe. And now we are going to focus on ourselves and it’s a bigger scale of what we do during the day. We give and give, and then at night we say, okay, now we need some downtime or whenever we need that downtime. And this was bigger scale for us. We gave our biggest energy level that we could, and now we’re going to focus on our own mental and physical health.
PAM: I love thinking of it as seasons. Our lives really do flow in seasons. And that was a season for you guys. And there will be other seasons. When I’m thinking of kids and health issues, parents with health issues, whatever they are, whatever they stem from. And that we adjust as a family
And because you have those relationships with them. And you’ve never tried to manipulate them to get extra care or something like that. You know what I mean? It’s never been a thing that you, an expectation that you’ve put on them before so they can now choose to support you. It wasn’t an obligation. It wasn’t an expectation on them. This was just reality. This is how life is right now. And, let’s do the best that we can with the way it is.
JENNA: Right. Right. And they were learning, they were learning how to care for a spouse in the future or us when we’re elderly or a hurt dog we find on the side of the road, it’s all about that love and really approaching things with joy.
So, even though I couldn’t move and I wasn’t giving my kids what they needed and she was stressed about work, we felt joyful. In our hearts, we felt like this was love. This was just pure love and white energy that we were radiating out. And it might have been hard to get there and it’s, as with everything, you don’t just jump in and know exactly what you’re doing and you can’t predict how well it’s going to go.
PAM: I think it’s so important. One of the biggest realizations is that there are joyful moments in even the hard times.
JENNA: Right. Beautiful moments even in the hardest of our times. And when, one of our kids lost a pet and to this day that brings tears to his eyes. But teaching him, the emotion that it’s okay to grieve loss, is magical in itself is instead of, we’ll get another cat and just forget about it. Or it was just the cat or whatever you want to say, teaching him to respect that emotion that he’s feeling and to feel it and observe it and, and how to heal from it. Is learning. This is all about the unschooling journey
PAM: So much, so much. That’s beautiful. And yeah, I find so often parents, when they first hear about unschooling they’re like, but kids have to learn that life is hard and they’re like, why are you helping them do all the things? But truly when you step back and you’re really living your day, hard moments, come hard moments are part of life. You don’t have to create hard moments for them.
Right, hard moments come and I think we went through a very hard moment with that last pregnancy and we made it out wonderfully because we all respected what it was, it was a hard moment and yeah. Some people gave when they could, and then the others stepped out and stepped in and we just worked as a team.
And that’s what happened when my mom passed away three years ago, I had never been taught how to deal with a hard moment. I had never gone through that hard of a moment and it was a struggle and usually I’m the primary caregiver.
And I just was unable to do that. I tapped out mentally and emotionally. I was going through the moments, but Cate and the kids stepped up again and they were able to get me through that and they were my primaries, we reversed roles.
And I think that lesson that they learn is not just about the comedy movie we watch. It’s not just about the time we were all laughing and swimming. It’s about every moment in our lives. If that’s washing dishes, if that’s grieving the loss of someone, whatever that is, that’s our moment. And we’re supposed to be in it. Just learn from it, respect it, observe it.
PAM: I think something that we learn in those moments, as well as the others that they also learn from them is how capable they are. Tight at the beginning you said, my kids are full kids now, but I’m not waiting for them to grow into adults. They are capable of so much. And when we give them that space and that trust and that respect to step into what they choose to step into. And even when they’re choosing not to, that’s wonderful to respect because that’s how they feel in that moment. I can’t step into that and I respect that shows them that they are capable of making the best choices for them in the moment.
PAM: And that there’s no right wrong choice, but that they’ve got that space to step in and out. Both are capable. The idea of children are capable is not that they can do things. I mean, they can but it’s to the choice
JENNA: And that point about trust. That is a big key in unschooling.
CATE: Yup. It really is. And reminding ourselves that, just by the pure physics of it. And just by the ying and yang, you don’t know what good is, but that was the bad. you need that. You need it. Unfortunately
JENNA: You have to make mistakes to learn, otherwise what would be the point? You automatically know that’s how it works? Come on right?
PAM: Right. All those moments are valuable. All those moments we learned so much, we learned so much about what we’re capable of. We’re capable of saying I can’t handle any more of this. I need to check out for a bit. Seeing all those moments in action and participating in them is just so much valuable learning and growth and just knowledge that that they take with them. Not only to moving through the moment and seeing how they can be in those moments, in those hard moments, they can also see how other people have stepped up. So, they can also trust that other people will step up for them when they’re having hard moments. And they can make different choices next time. That’s the beauty of, of this being focused on living and our life. It’s not like, okay, you’ve got these 18 years and I need to stuff everything into you in these 18 years. No, there are so many moments that they’re going to be able to make different choices and see what happens and see how it feels.
JENNA: And see how I think that connecting that as people are listening to this, I’m thinking if I were listening to this podcast and I were even in my first year or my second year, I might be thinking like, this is for veteran unschoolers. This isn’t for me. But if you really listen, and connecting it to academics, our 11 year old is not a proficient reader yet, our five year old is better reader than he is, he’s never had any interest in reading, but has so much support from all of these moments in life where other people stepped up for him or he stepped up for others.
He’s been on a journey. He had a little bit of interest at age nine. I thought we were ready and I posted pictures like, ‘Ooh, look at us unschooling.’ And then he dropped off. He’s like, “No, I’m not, I don’t want to anymore.” And then we did it again a year later and now we’re back to doing it again.
He’s a problem solver and these moments of life, where you respect boundaries and you teach people that sometimes you have to give and sometimes you have to take and it’s okay. And, it teaches you problem solving. And so, this child that is not proficient at reading, he’s probably, if you were going say traditional, a kindergarten level, he can sound out some things.
He is a proficient video game player and so good at it that he had one of these like top name billionaires reach out to him and he was able to figure out how to navigate this on Instagram and so well, so he keeps dropping it because he’s so good at problem solving. He didn’t need reading to be successful in his passion.
It was just recently, I would say two weeks ago, that he finally came to me and said “I’m really frustrated. I did something wrong.” And I thought he was talking about a behavioral issue that he was worried about.
We talked about it and it turned out it was about reading and he said, “This person was really good. We were talking about Fortnite and they were following my live stream. And then, I didn’t know what it said and I responded wrong and I’ve been embarrassed. I need to read.” And I said, I could see you’re really frustrated. And I am here for you and let’s do it. Let’s read. But he said, which was the biggest awareness of our unschooling journey that I thought, wow, he really is taught to listen to his inner self, “I made it this far and I’ve been so successful that I really didn’t think I needed it, but I need it now. I need to go to my next level. So, will you help me?” And that aha moment of you need and you want it. And no one’s going to ask him when he’s 30, how old he was when he learned how to read or when he applies for a job.
So, I don’t care that he’s not proficient. He wants it now. He has a desire. He’s the ultimate self-lead learner that now he’s ready. He knows. Teach me.
PAM: I love, I love, I love that story because it’s so true.
In school being able to read is super important from the youngest grades, because that is the main communication. But when you’re out in the world, there are so many other ways to bring in information. Like he said, that was not something that was in his way. Not being able to read until 11, it has not gotten in his way because there are so many other ways to get what we’re interested in learning what we’re passionate about, ways to explore things.
There are just so many other ways than reading. And I love that. It was okay for him to even his understanding that I didn’t need it. I can be totally successful in the things that I was interested in. And now he’s coming across a moment when it’s like, you know what? I think this would be a useful skill for me. And now he’s coming to a point because brains developed so differently. Imagine in school, he would have been shamed for years at the challenge that it was for him, but maybe now his brain is ready for that. And it’s going to come together for him.
JENNA: We’re grateful he wasn’t one of these kiddos that had to sit in a classroom and develop these complexes and feel low self-esteem because his brain wasn’t developing the way the other 29 kids were. He is a different being and he always has been, and he just embodies this wonderful energy, and it’s just so different than anyone else we’ve ever met. And he finally was able to say, yep now I’m ready. And he didn’t care that his five year old sister at the time was sounding out words, and he doesn’t care now that his five year old brother can read sentences, it never bothered him because he didn’t need that skill. And now he does, and we have kids across the board. Our 15 year old is signing up for the free MIT lessons online and reads trilogies in two days, 900 page, chapter books. And we gave them books and books of books because that’s what he wants. But we don’t force that on everyone because that’s not what they want.
PAM: That’s the beauty of connecting with each other and learning about each other. It’s just this wonder at how different we all are as human beings and how cool each one of us is in our totally unique combination of all this.
JENNA: Yeah. And once we talk about that, they want to know. So how are we created? And then we get to dive into biology and chemistry and look at how the brain works and we’re all learning.
PAM: Yeah, that’s so awesome. Okay.
I would love to know what is your favorite thing right now? Just about the flow of your unschooling days, which your favorite thing about your life right now?
JENNA: My favorite thing right now is where we are, we are in a wonderful place on our journey where we are embodying everything that we’ve ever talked about, read and learned.
CATE: We’re just in a really blissful spot right now. So, we’re like sucking it up.
JENNA: Everyone is in their passion moments. I think it’s the time of year, fall is always a creative time of change in our family. We really taken from nature. It shows us it’s changing, but it’s beautiful and we all change around this time. Kids are usually really creative and successful with work around the fall. The kids are always interested in what could change. And so, right now we are changing our routine, which is interesting.
And it’s my favorite part. So, the kids do their own routine but usually every night, Cate and I go in our room around 8:00 or 8:30, we hang out for a couple hours and she goes to bed by 10, usually because she wakes up early for work and
CATE: I’m just naturally really a morning person. That’s just who I am.
JENNA: And my circadian rhythm is completely different, but I’ve adapted to her because we love just being together. And so, I’ll go to sleep early and recently we’ve decided to respect everyone’s circadian rhythms and, I will stay up with the kids until I want to go to sleep. And so, I’m doing some more creative work on my end, which is inspiring the kids to be creative. And Cate’s behind all of it because she said a few weeks ago, “I have to get up at 5:00am, I’m in a creative mode for work, and I have to focus. I’m sorry, but I have to go to bed early.” And I thought, I need to respect that. She’s so good at this. And she’s fueling our family and providing this. And I thought, what if we all did this? Let’s all use our creative moments for our higher purpose. So, that’s where we are right now. And that’s what I think we’re all really enjoying it.
CATE: Respecting our own rhythms and still finding ways to connect,
JENNA: It’s just organic and we’re all in really creative spots right now.
CATE: So, it’s been really fun.
JENNA: We’re doing lots of art and lots of traveling and I think we’re just at the point that we always wanted to be. We’re doing podcasts with you. We’ve reached the bliss, but like you said that in the very beginning, it’s not now everyone’s happy. So now what. We’re happy.
So, now we are at the point where we are ready to take it all in. We have expelled so much of our negative energy and got rid of what was the societal norms that were placed in our head. We finally reached that point of open.
PAM: Oh, I love that so much. I love that description. And looking at it just through the creativity lens, like you were saying, looking at it on an energy kind of level, really embracing where, typical night owls, early birds but through each person’s unique rhythm for that rather than defining it, how it goes, you’re feeling it out.
JENNA: I’m not forcing it, it’s just more evolution which keeps happening. First the kids were able to just focus on their own creative moments and their own circadian rhythm. And now I’m thinking, I need to do that too. I need to model that and I need to respect what I need and she needs to respect what she needs.
And so she can go to bed at nine, but I don’t have to, even though we love each other so much, and that’s been, we’ve done this, for over 10 years, we’ve gone to bed together at the same time. It’s okay. And it doesn’t mean that I want to be with her any less. And it shows the kids when we asked for movie night, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to be with them any less. It just means this isn’t the time. Like this is my time to do this. And you’re trying to do that,
CATE: But it created this really interesting routine where we actually have managed to carve out more time with each other. So, it’s felt the only time we were away from one another now is when we are asleep. It felt like, but if we don’t like go to bed at the same time, we won’t have as much time together. That’s really what fuels us and we need it. And now, we don’t have to go to the nitty gritty of the routine but we’ve managed to get even more time together.
JENNA: When she’s working, I’m sleeping. The kids are sleeping. When she’s done working, we’ve been up for a couple of hours and have dinner made and we’re all hanging out and, or a meal. We don’t really like to call them dinner and breakfast because when you wake up at 7:30 at night, is that breakfast? We call a meal. What are you going to eat?
PAM: I love, I love that so much. And that was something I learned time and again, when I was trying to create a schedule of something. So, whether it was more time for myself or it was more time with my husband or just something and I started getting tense and started to kind of schedule it in. It was so much harder. And yet when I released it and went back to the flow and I just kept my eyes open, all of a sudden, so often I found more time for the thing. It just wasn’t a particular time zone. But there it was.
JENNA: It just gives you a way of living in it. It just works out and it doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions. It doesn’t mean you can just, bully someone because that’s how I’m angry. So that’s what I do.
Really the meaning behind it is there’s some truth that it takes a while to find inner belief that you really, if you really do let go, it comes to you. You put it out into the universe, it will be returned, but just because you have that belief, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily always works because you’re still trying to control it. It takes inner personal work to get to that point, to realize how that is created.
PAM: And also, I think when we think about it that way too, what the challenge is we try to put a timetable on it.
PAM: Like that expectation that, okay, I’m doing that. Okay. I’m releasing, I’m going with the flow where the heck is my time. It’s being open to seeing it and not on your timetable.
JENNA: Right, exactly. Right. And say like, Oh, so you want to go to the museum? It’s only open from 10 to six. So, we would have to go to bed early. And everyone’s like, I don’t want to do that. Let’s just watch some YouTube videos with Smithsonian, then. It will work out.
PAM: That’s the creative piece. We can get stuck like a museum visit is a museum visit. But there are so many other ways. What was it that you were curious about seeing in the museum if the time isn’t going to work? And just where we are in the moment, there’s just so many other ways than the typical ways.
JENNA: And that’s what we focus on, the different avenues that we can just bring in to absorb life.
PAM: Oh, my goodness guys. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. It was so much fun.
JENNA: We really respect you and your work, and this was just lovely to talk with you and your energy is pure white and you radiate just wonderful, wonderful vibes. And it was reassuring. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a really good place, but when we went to that conference two years ago, we thought, Hey, maybe people are going to ask us questions and we’re going to teach them how to be unschooling with rules or whatever.
And, and this was kind of new for me, I came into this thinking, ‘Hey, we’re veterans, now we can talk about this.’ But as I was talking to you, you are the veteran, you were reassuring me. And thank you. Thank you for having us. This was wonderful.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. Yes. It was a beautiful conversation. I really loved getting to know more about you guys. It’s so much fun to hear a bit about your family too. And that is what I love about the podcast. I love, we talked a little bit before we got on the call while we started recording about the questions, and the flow of conversation. And for me, the flow of conversation is the most important part.
I spent a lot of time creating the questions just as a starting off point. I think of them as a jumping off point and you guys took the conversation in such beautiful ways. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Before we go, where can people connect with you online if they would like to talk to you a little bit more?
JENNA: Yeah. Wonderful. So, we have an Instagram page. It is Life is Our Curriculum and we also are on Facebook as Life is Our Curriculum and that’s probably the best place to reach out. People reach out often ask questions about attachment parenting, unschooling, gentle parenting, all the things that we have embarked on and are currently doing.
So, if you have any questions, we would love to chat with anyone.
PAM: That’s awesome. Thanks so much, guys. You have a wonderful day.
JENNA and CATE: Bye. Thanks Pam. Bye.