PAM: Welcome I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Michelle Morcate.
MICHELLE: Hi, I’m so happy to be here.
PAM: I’m so excited to chat with you. Just as a little intro, I was introduced to Michelle through Erika Ellis, who was a guest on the podcast in episode 201. So yes, I’m really excited to learn more about your unschooling experience.
To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s into right now?
MICHELLE: Okay, definitely. So, I’m Michelle. I live in Florida with my husband and my two kids. My son is 9 and my daughter is about to turn 12. My background is in educational and exceptional student education. I’ve always loved to work with kids and I especially love learning about the process of how we all learn. So, that’s one of my big areas of interests.
In our family, we’re definitely deep divers into our area of interest. Something I love about our family life right now is that we really get to each zone into our individual interests, and the joy that that brings each of us, but also how we get to enjoy each other’s interests. We get to really see the joy of everyone else’s interest and learn a little bit from everyone else’s interest, things that we might not have been exposed to or chosen to do on our own.
I asked my family, what does everyone like about like our unschooling life right now? My husband got to share that for him, he really enjoys the fact that we have this established, I mean, not super scheduled, but we try to do it as often as we can, a family time where we watch either a movie series or a show series that the kids are really into and want to watch with us.
He’s like, “I get to watch things that I might not have watched on my own. But I get to see it with the kids and it’s really fun. And I get to really enjoy that experience. And it’s something that we may not have done on our own, like a show that we wouldn’t have watched on our own.” We may not have watched Gravity Falls in our own or Star vs The Forces of Evil, but we really all love to have this time together and really share that experience together. And so, we’ve watched the series of Cora and The Last Airbender, I think three times and each time it’s still awesome.
So, we get to really enjoy that together and I think for my son, he’s really into animation and character development and he loves to make his own characters and his own worlds. And so, that’s super cool. And we get to really enjoy that through his imagination. I get to really see these worlds that he creates. And so that’s led us into, DnD or Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game, which I’d never played before and so he’s really gotten us all into that. It’s been so fun because now it’s a family thing that we do together. Sometimes he and my husband play, but then when we all get to do it together, it’s super fun. Just getting to like share that joy and that experience and that imagination is awesome.
My daughter’s really into the Sims, which is a virtual life game, like a life simulation game, and she’s also really into history. And so, seeing how she connects both of those within the game is just amazing to me.
She makes these awesome houses and they are historically influenced from different times and different characters and now she’s Photoshopping them. And so, it’s just so cool to get to jump into their minds and their imaginations and how they see things. That’s really awesome that we get to share that together.
My area of interest is really just enjoying this with them. And then also continuing to, I’m a big reader, I love to read about how kids learn, how people learn. I’m really into being an ally right now for different groups of people and specifically learning about how to be an advocate for neurodiversity and supporting how each individual person learns and that need that we all have to be accepted.
I just love how unschooling fits in there and just being able to be in that type of lifestyle right now and really wishing that I could share that with everybody. If everyone got to have that type of experience, how different our stories would be. If everyone got to have that chance to really find that joy in themselves and enjoying their learning process.
And so that’s where we’re at right now.
PAM: That’s amazing. And there were a couple of things that jumped out at me so beautifully. I’m trying to put them all together, but the first piece was, how it’s so incredible seeing how our kids individually bring themselves to what they do. Like when you mentioned your daughter and how she’s playing the Sims, if your son was interested in the Sims, he’d be playing it totally differently.
PAM: And as unschooling parents to see that, with your interest in learning and everything, just noticing that, I think, is a big layer of understanding to peel back, when we’re deschooling. It’s not just two kids playing a game. They’re both interested in the game. But to see how they bring themselves, their full selves and their interests and the things that they love and the things they’re not particular and just their strengths in the things that they like to do and how they like to do them. They bring their full selves into everything they do. That’s just so fascinating.
MICHELLE: I love it. You see their personality. You see them developing their interests and developing their understanding of what they like and how they like to interact with what they’re learning. And that’s just so, so cool.
PAM: Yeah. And the other piece was when you were talking about family activities and how you were watching series that you would never have chosen for yourself, but how you’re fully enjoying that. That was my experience as well. My kids would be interested in shows and stuff, and I’d say let’s watch some. We’ll watch some together. And I mean, I remember … Supernatural is still on, but that came from Lissy in its first season. So, it’s like 15 seasons now and I’m still watching it. She hasn’t seen the last few seasons. But for a number of years, it was a family thing that we did. And that’s another layer of deschooling is not being, these are the things that we’re watching for the kids. And then I have my own things. No, to come to it. And it ties back to like how they’re bringing their full selves and we can bring our full selves and find interesting things even in kids shows, right? There are fascinating themes and even if it’s not something that’s super interesting, maybe the topic to us, there is also, like you were saying, seeing their joy.
And we’re learning more about them just by the things that they’re choosing so we can get just a whole range out of it. So, it’s not that time that we’re giving up because we’re watching and doing the things they like and waiting for our own time, but we can fully be present and embracing that for ourselves. Can’t we?
MICHELLE: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we look forward to it. I look forward to that time. What’s happening next? What’s happening in this show? And that’s pretty cool now that my daughter’s a bit older, that she’s 12, we have more shows. I get to share some shows with her that I’ve watched.
And so that’s been really cool to share different series together and get to see how she experiences it and then experiencing it again, through the lens of also knowing that she’s watching it is it’s just a whole other experience, which has been really cool.
PAM: So, I guess I can bring a story that this doesn’t have to end when we get older. This is how we engage and connect and live together. So, Lissy is 26 now and she visited last month for the first time this year. And I had watched Schitt’s Creek recently. I said, I think you’re gonna love this. So, she was like, sure. I’ll try it, because she had heard good things about it, too. So, we started watching it together while she was here. When we had a moment, we’d watch a couple episodes or when it was later in the evening, we’d end up watching four episodes before bed and stuff like that. We ended up watching the first season and a half.
And so, as we’re recording this call, the Emmy’s were last night, the distance Emmy’s were last night and Schitt’s Creek won a whole bunch of Emmys. So we ended up, in Messenger, having an hour long conversation back and forth all about the … that we were diving more into that and learning more about who the creator was and what actor he was, what role, you know, the whole dealio.
So, these connections, just by passing things back and forth, like this happened to be one that I showed her. Like I said, Supernatural is one that she showed me years ago. It’s just about being in relationship with another person. It’s not so much about, parent-child right. It’s about enjoying each other and being in relationship and connecting and that thing doesn’t have to ever end.
MICHELLE: I love that. I love that. I think that’s such … I mean, just to hear that story from the future is wonderful. We’re more at the … I guess we’re not at the beginning of beginning. We’re maybe in the middle. I think in the beginning, when I had kids, I was always so scared of the teenage years. I’m like, that development time, and I’m like, oh, it’s going to be so scary and I’m not ready for it. And then, I think the more that we came into unschooling, and the more I learned about it more, I was able to really bring that relationship to the forefront. It’s so different. Now I’m so excited about this stage and it’s this whole new level that we get to develop and share together and just see where her mind does that, and her development is that, and the interest that we get to share and talk about now. It’s a totally different mind shift, which I know unschooling is all about, those mind shifts, but it’s a fun stage now that I look forward to versus before it seemed so daunting. So, that’s been really nice.
That leads very nicely into the next question, because I would like to hear a bit more about how you discovered unschooling and what your move to unschooling looked like.
MICHELLE: So, for me, I think I called it more like an unfolding. It wasn’t really this big, you know, boom. This is unschooling and we’re going to do it.
I found it along the way in different times. So, like I said, my background is in teaching, so that was my perspective. That’s how it was coming into parenting and schooling. Homeschooling wasn’t something I’d even considered before I had kids.
But I do know that, in the beginning, when my daughter was younger and people started talking about school … I found attachment parenting and that really resonated with me. And so, just being able to build those types of relationships with my kids was important. And then when it came time to school, I was kinda like, oh, but you know, these are really cool different environments, but I want to be part of it too. Why don’t I get to participate? We kept looking, we tried different kinds of preschools for her, some that were really neat. I learned about Reggio Emilia and all these … It opened my perspective of different types of learning and different types of experiences, but nothing fit just right.
I kept looking at all these environments and I’m like, yes, but not yet. I’m like, that’s not it. And that’s not it. And I was like, am I being too picky? And I’m like, okay, let’s keep trying. But I think that idea of homeschooling started to plant some seeds in my mind.
The first time I ever heard someone say unschooling, I remember we were sitting at the beach on the weekend and this mom, two young kids the same age as mine. And, she was really friendly and she said the word unschooling, and I was like, I’ve never even heard this term before. And I was so curious. She explained a little bit to me. I’m like, oh, that’s so cool. But you know, it still didn’t … It was just something I’ve heard.
And so, we went on with our different discovery of what was the right setting for us. I think going into kindergarten, I finally realized that it wasn’t really fitting us as a family. And I’m like, okay. We’re going to try more on a trial basis. Let’s see how it goes. But homeschooling was a possibility at this stage. And I just remember being in that setting with her. She had been this really joyful, creative little kid. And she was always painting. Her clothes always had paint on them and she always had a story or a song.
And I remember that in kindergarten, we were sitting for two hours doing homework and I’m like, this doesn’t feel right. This isn’t okay. And then I noticed that she just didn’t have time to be creative in her day. And I’m like, this doesn’t sit well. This isn’t us. And so, I realized this is it. Homeschooling, this is for us. We’re going to try this.
And so, we decided, this is what we’re doing. We’ll take it day by day, year by year. And so, we tried different approaches, different curriculums. And I think this is the process that I’ve always taken with my kids. I really learned what we needed as a family, through them. So for my daughter, I was clear that she’s the quietest rebel, like she’s definitely not the loudest person in the room, but she was a huge observer and she’s really taking things in on her own and showing us that, this is how I need things to be. And this is how I see the world. And this is a little bit different and let’s explore this. And along the way we tried all these different approaches and they weren’t fitting. It wasn’t us. It wasn’t a right fit for us.
And during that time, I kept hearing about unschooling from some of the friends that we met at the park that were becoming closer friends. And it just kept becoming a theme that I kept hearing. And then, my friends invited me to a book club that I know came onto a podcast with you about the book club. And we started reading Free to Learn. And for me it was just like, I thought I was just going into it because I was curious and I love a good book club and I wanted to learn how people learn and this approach.
And then I started reading the book, your book, and I was like, this speaks to me. This is it. Like, this is us. I found this rhythm that makes so much sense to us. And it was in a time where we were really trying to focus on relationship building in our family and connection and having that be the forefront of the focus of our family life.
It fits so nicely with us and what we wanted as a family and what the kids needed individually, and together. And so, we jumped into that journey of unschooling and it just made sense for us and from there, it really just unfolded so nicely, and all the pieces fell into place. I realized it was a part of what the core of just really being able to focus on our individual interests and our individual passions and our connection. That’s what I wanted from the beginning. I just didn’t know it had a name. It had an approach and had a style. And so, for me, it was just such a beautiful awakening.
PAM: I love the way you talked about that, because the way you were describing all the different things you tried. In there, I could see the core was, well, this doesn’t quite work for us. You were looking at your kids. You were trying to find what worked and fit well for everybody, you know? So, you already had that mindset, like you said. It was just keep exploring different things, trying different things, until one meshed better, you know?
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And I love the idea of just taking it a day at a time, a year at a time, when you dive in, we talk about how you often need to give it six months, a year, because for a lot of families, it’s a bigger change. Right? And there’s a lot of deschooling around even, how do you see learning?
MICHELLE: Oh, yeah.
PAM: But it doesn’t need to be a forever decision, just like going to school doesn’t need to be a forever. So, I think that sometimes that can help take the weight off of people. And you can get into that moment and say, is this working for us? Learning who your kids really are and seeing all the learning that’s happening, even when they’re playing the computer game.
MICHELLE: I love that.
For me, just from learning about unschooling, it was like just removing these blinders I had had, or that you tend to have, that you can only see learning in one place. And then, the minute you take them off, it’s everywhere. Learning just is always happening and in every situation. And combining how I love to learn about how people learn. For me, it’s like, oh, this is amazing. Now I can’t stop looking and seeing, what are we learning in this situation? And it’s so awesome.
PAM: That’s so true. It’s something you can’t unsee.
PAM: Once the mind is stretched by a new idea, it can’t go back to its original dimension.
I love too, because it feels so much like once I learned about unschooling and what it was, I couldn’t put those blinders back on. All of a sudden learning was everywhere. All of a sudden, it wasn’t a bad thing to be having these conversations with my kids and working through our challenges. It wasn’t that I was bad at telling them what to do anymore. No. We’re figuring this out together. And that’s good.
MICHELLE: Yeah. And it’s a process together and I think that, in and of itself, that learning of that process together, that is so much learning, figuring it out together. What a huge learning process and experience it is that you have now that you’re applying to later on in life. All the pieces of it are so cool.
PAM: I know! They are.
Now, one of the core concepts of unschooling is that it asks us to respect each of our children for who they are and meet them where they are, full stop. You were talking about that earlier, how you were respecting your child and trying to see how each of these things meshes and how once you discovered unschooling, everything began to unfold so much more smoothly, right? I think that’s because now you were able to meet them where they are without those expectations.
I think that’s why unschooling can work so beautifully for every child—and we’re talking about neurodivergent children, as well, today. I think it encompasses any child because, with unschooling, it really is all about them. It’s not about us and our expectations. That is such a powerful paradigm shift, once we get there, isn’t it?
MICHELLE: Yeah, a hundred percent. I loved this question and I loved how you explained it. And I love just the fact that you said, full stop, like no exceptions, all acceptance. I found that to be such a powerful message that I think so many of us and so many of our kids need to hear.
I think just as people, as humans, we’re naturally a diverse bunch, and neurodiversity, it’s just part of our natural human expression. But unfortunately, sometimes as a society, we fall under the pressure of these expectations and messages that we all have to fit in this certain box or this certain timeline or this certain expectation that we have. And whenever you veer out of that, sometimes it seems like something is wrong or not okay. Or this message that people hear that you have to fix something that doesn’t seem the same, or that seems different.
And I think that, when we take away those expectations of having to fit in this box, we can really let people see themselves for who they are and just really build on that acceptance of themselves.
And I think that in unschooling, the goal of it is building relationships and building these connections and that trust that you have in your children and in yourself really to just be those partners together in the learning process. It’s so vital and so important to our self-image of who we are. I think that if you can get to a point where you trust yourself, then you are able to really see yourself and accept yourself. And all these messages are turned on their head. Instead of not fitting in a box, we’re just who we are and that’s beautiful.
And part of our learning process is learning who we are. And if we’re able to learn who we are, then what we can do with that learning and who we can become and who we are is so much bigger than these boxes that we think that we have to fit into. And I just really love that part of unschooling and how it fits with neurodiversity and just really being able to just … that full stop acceptance, like you said, that that should be our message with everybody. And I love that unschooling brings that.
When I hear that, I’m like, oh, I want that to be everybody’s story. I want everybody to feel that radical acceptance of who they are and get to really discover who they are, because it’s so awesome.
Everybody is their own individual, awesome self. We all have different things that might be a little bit harder, more challenging than others, but that’s also part of the learning that we all have a different learning process. And when we learn from each other, it’s that much more interesting and exciting.
PAM: There is just so much in there. Yeah. I mean, number one, back to when we were talking about just engaging with our kids in interesting things and seeing how they bring themselves into all the things that they’re doing, all of their interests, the way they approach things, we see how we don’t need to fit everybody into that box. We learn how everybody’s boxes really are beautiful for them, where they are. And that’s totally okay. Because you see them shine in their spaces, right?
MICHELLE: A hundred percent. Yeah.
PAM: And we don’t need to tell them that there’s something wrong with their space and they really need to be over here. But, like you said, we can help them learn so much about themselves and maybe we can think of those spaces as their comfort zones. And we can help them over the years. We, as adults, are learning and growing and changing, right?
MICHELLE: Every day.
PAM: Exactly. This does not need to be done in their childhood. They don’t need to be finished. It’s yet another beautiful piece of this whole puzzle that we don’t need to … Back to when you’re talking about timelines, and curriculum, and timetables, and other people’s timetables for us. We don’t need to impose that on their lives and we can just help them explore their space.
That’s when we talk about neurodiversity and we talk about any physical challenges, there is a wide, beautiful spectrum of people and we’re okay where we are. And when we look through their eyes, we can help them. Maybe there are places where they’d like to stretch. Maybe there are things that they like to do that are more challenging.
I think people think that, oh, if we don’t expect them to do more, they will never do more. But it’s because we have spent so long putting children in boxes that they didn’t want to be in and trying to force them to grow on our timetable and on our path. But we didn’t get to see that there’s so many ways they’d like to grow. They just happened to be ready. Kids love to learn and figure things out on their own and to learn about themselves and to learn to trust themselves. It’s just when we can look at it through their eyes and help them, then all of a sudden, we can see them as real people in action.
MICHELLE: Right. Yeah, I think all of that, it’s beautiful. When you’re not stuck to this timeline, then you can see that learning can happen at any point. Like you said, just because it takes you a certain amount of time and someone else a different amount of time, that doesn’t mean that you’re not getting to this other learning place. It’s your process that you say you’ve got to trust yourself, your body, your experience, and that’s a huge learning process in and of itself, right?
What does my body need to be able to do this and to be able to grow in this way and if I can be attuned to that, if we aren’t in the school, I mean, it’s a partnership and we’re learning together, then I’m trusting your process. And then I’m trusting my process, too, to have this partnership together, to explore that, and that just leaves so much room open to grow together. And like you said, if there are areas that you need a little more support or you need a different type of environment to grow, then you can do that together. And there’s no restrictions around you that are impeding that. And then, what can happen from there is just amazing, so much growth.
PAM: We get to the place where it’s not a bad thing to need that support or to want or ask for it, even for us, because it’s funny how we can have expectations that our kids need to be able to do all this on their own.
PAM: You know, now that we’re adults, we can ask for help. I can ask my husband to phone XYZ and talk to them because I’m not in the mood to get into a phone call and go through all that stuff. Literally, he spent three hours with our cell phone provider on text and he chose that. He wanted to do the text. We can do that, yet we put it on our kids.
You were talking about the teen years coming up. Oh no, you should learn to be phoning and working that. It’s okay. We can support them. I’ll do that for you if you need. If you can hang by in case there’s a question or something that I don’t know … You figure out a path forward together, supporting each other, rather than you need to be able to figure out all this on your own and be able to do it on your own.
PAM: It’s just beautiful how we come back to your word unfolding. I love that word. I love that. It’s better to just be curious as to how things will unfold, rather than having your path and trying to morph everybody in it and have those expectations that way.
Their ability to learn about themselves and learn to trust themselves. I think that was another huge piece of what you mentioned, that they’re capable of figuring things out, even if in figuring that out it’s like, can you help me with this? And can you help me with this? But they’re getting where they want to go. They don’t need to do everything independently. I think that’s a message conventionally that has gone overboard and is getting in our way, that we need to be able to do it all by ourselves or else it’s a failure of some sort.
MICHELLE: Yeah. And as a society, I mean, we’re humans. Humans function by meeting other humans and working together in groups. We’re social group people.
And I think that so many times we’re stuck in that fear expectation of, oh, you have to be independent. If you’re not independent now, you’re not going to be independent later. And so it’s this pushed independence, all with the best intention, but it gets in the way of that connection and of actually being able to develop that independence when you’re ready, on your timeline.
Everyone’s timeline of being ready to do something on their own is going to be different. Like I said, sometimes we might still need other people and that’s okay, too. And that’s important for you to figure out how to have other people help us and how to get that help that we need.
But I think one of my favorites with my son, when he is doing that is, he’s always had a tough time with heights. Heights are not his favorite thing. And so, things that for other people might seem not as intimidating, for him, I know that through his perspective, it’s a bit intimidating if there’s a height. And so, it’s okay. Through unschooling, I felt confident that I could support him when he needed it and that, in his time, he would get there. And so, if he needed my hand or if he needed some help getting down from a space, I was there and always aware that this was something that was a challenge that he was working on, and all in his own time, no push.
And then, one day we were at one of these jumping trampoline zones and all the friends were climbing up and jumping down with a harness from one of these higher posts, and I’ve never pushed him to do it. It was, if he wanted to try it, you can try it. And in one of those times, I’m talking with the other mom and I look and he’s like, yeah, I’m going to try it. And he has the harness on him and he’s climbing up the thing and I’m like, wow, that’s amazing. You can see he was a bit nervous, but he’s like, “I’m going to do this. I want to try it.” And he did it. And he threw himself off the thing and he’s aware. He’ll say like, “Heights are not my favorite thing. They’re intimidating. But look, I did this and I wanted to do it. And so, I did it.” And for him, it was a huge thing and it was so awesome.
And there was so much learning that I could see in that process, understanding himself, understanding what he needed, learning to know when he could trust himself that he was ready and that was okay. And he could try it or he could not try it until he was ready. And it was a joyful experience. It wasn’t this huge fear or pressure. And to me, it was just so, so beautiful and so affirmative of, this is our process and look how nice it can unfold when the timeline is yours and the learning is yours and you can take ownership of that. And I think that’s so cool. So important.
PAM: Yeah. I mean, just imagine that experience from his perspective and how different it could have been if you said this was this time when we were there. So if all the other times, you said, “Try that. Try that. Go up. Oh, you can do it,” and then he would be taking on that weight and that would interfere so much in him figuring out when he was ready because he’d have all those other expectations mixed up in there and it would lower, I think, his ability to trust himself, to choose when he was ready for it. And that was totally okay. I mean, that is just a beautiful example of what they can do when you meet them where they are.
PAM: And that where they are in this moment is completely okay. That’s where you lean into first. You meet them there and you help them from there. And that’s one of the things I find so interesting with unschooling and neurodiversity right now is back to that core concept. It’s really not different how we treat a neurodiverse child versus a neuro-typical child, because we’re meeting them where they are.
We’re helping them figure out the things that they want to do and how to do them. We’re supporting them. And, I guess if you start looking at it from the things that you do and the things that you support, they may look different, but they look different for all individuals as well, right? It was a longer time than typical for him to do this particular thing and it may have been even longer. It’s not the point. But yeah, you met him where he was and supported him whenever he was ready for it. It’s their time table that’s important. Right?
MICHELLE: I think so. I mean, like you said, I think the concepts that we apply to neurodiversity, we apply them to everybody. It’s so promising. It’s so encouraging. It’s so, so healthy for us to accept ourselves and trust ourselves, because we all have those self-doubts or challenges and we can all use that view. Then, it’s just a cohesive view for everybody.
PAM: I think that’s what you’re saying. “I just want everybody to know about this,” right?
MICHELLE: Yeah. I think it’s awesome. I mean, I love watching that process for kids that you you’ve seen that have been experiencing that unschooling approach, that unschooling lifestyle, just that trust that they’re starting to develop in themselves, and that awareness, and that space to get to know themselves. I feel like so often, we all even reach adulthood and we haven’t had that space and that time to get to know ourselves, to trust ourselves. How many times do we get to college and now are like, oh, now we get to make choices. And now what do I do? And now who am I? I’ve talked to my husband about this so much.
College becomes this time that we discover who we are. And I’m like, imagine who we could discover if we’re able to do this from when we’re younger. If we’re starting out from the beginning with this freedom to explore ourselves and understand who we are, I think that that’s so cool, so empowering. Imagine who we are and what we can know about ourselves, if our journey starts from the beginning. Giving us that space.
PAM: Yeah, no. I remember the first year of university and the first-year students just exploding, because all of a sudden, they had all this freedom and really had no experience with how to manage their days, how they wanted to … Even if they’re choosing to be there, it’s like, whoa, I can do all these things that I could never do before. Yeah. That was pretty powerful.
You talked earlier about enjoying and looking towards being a diversity ally and in that area, I just want to go back to that, because this lifestyle and approach to living with them is so extra helpful for groups that are judged more harshly, typically. Just being able to bring to them that it’s okay, wherever they are, that you’re good, that we can meet you there. And we can help you instead of presupposing what your path should be, and the wonderful thing with unschooling of them following their own paths.
People worry, but they won’t learn this, won’t hit that. But if you’re following your path, you’re not going to all of a sudden jump six feet in another direction in a spot where I know absolutely nothing about this. Typically, you’re veering, and you’re taking sideways steps. You’re turning a corner here and everything. But they’re not going to become a different person completely overnight.
So, what they’re learning now relates to who they are and will always relate to who they are. So, the worry that, oh, but they’re missing all this other stuff, maybe their path will take them towards it, and maybe not, it doesn’t matter. It’s their path. They’re walking towards being more of who they want to be.
Does that make sense?
MICHELLE: A hundred percent. They get to find their authentic self. And their authentic self is the learning process. And like you said, they’ll find along the way that the things that they need to learn to be who that authentic self that they are, that they want to be. And I think that’s so, so important. I mean, the academic subjects, I think in the end, are really just a part of the learning, not really, essentially the core of it. The core of it is us learning how we learn and who we are and how we’re going to apply that to the world. And how are we going to interact with the world with that information?
And I think if we don’t have the space to know ourselves and to accept ourselves, then that’s where the real challenge comes in. And that’s where we don’t get to really explore our own story on our own path. And that’s why I love unschooling for everybody.
PAM: I love that point because, truly, learning about the world itself, the facts, and things like that, can be done any time. It really is more important to learn about ourselves and how we tick, and our strengths, our weaknesses, support figuring out just how we like to engage with the world, and exploring how that works for us, and how we grow and change over time so that we’re not like static and stuck in a view of how this is how we do things. That is, like you said, just so much more valuable information and skills to take with us moving forward, rather than the facts of this, that, and how we literally do this, that, and the other thing. Those can be picked up any time. Right?
MICHELLE: And I think this is for one of your other questions, but I think it fits so, so nicely here what you’re saying about absorbing all this different information or landing at these expected knowledge points.
I think a lot of times everyone has specific interests, but especially neurodiverse individuals tend to have really strong interests, like areas that they can really like dive into and explore. The places that that can take you and the amount of information and knowledge that you can acquire when you are diving into your area of interest, it’s just amazing. And you can cover so many things just from that one area of interest. Maybe it doesn’t even seem like something that you would expect to have so much information, but it can go into so many directions.
Like for me, my son was really into Pokémon and really dove into Pokémon. And so, his first real reading came because he was just absorbed in this Pokémon manual and just had to look at it all day and check out all the characters. And we read the names all the time. I tried to pronounce the names of the Pokémon and learn their names, but there are so many. And he knows them all. And it was so cool. He brought me the book and he was saying the names. He said, “I think I read the name of this Pokémon.” I’m like, yeah, that’s amazing.
And so, it just showed that joy and ownership in their learning when they’re really interested in it and really invested. And then, that interest in the Pokémon led to realizing that Pokémon are developed … The person who made Pokémon actually based them on real life insects and animals and reptiles. And so, now that interest has dived into reptiles and animals and birds and he has all these amazing insights and information about all these animals. And one of our fun things that we like to do is think up of an animal and see if there’s a Pokémon about it. And then if not, we’ll make a Pokémon up or something, because he wants to develop characters, so then we have to figure out how to make this character come to life.
But, it’s so cool. I’m looking at how one interest can go to so many different places and now it’s like, oh, where are these animals from? Where in the world does this animal come from? So, now you’re talking about geography and culture and environment, and it’s just so cool how you can span so many subjects on an interest if you’re really able to have that space to dive into it. I think it’s just so, so awesome.
And you know, people worry sometimes about neuorodivergent individuals, that they get focused and zoned in on the special interest, but I think that’s the amazing part is that there is this focus and intensity of attention that we don’t always give to subjects, and it’s when you give that intensity and attention to it that all these discoveries can come about and all this unfolding of information and knowledge can just happen.
PAM: Well, I love, as you said, how the conversation just flowed right through the questions. I will just say that was other ways in which unschooling supports neurodiversity. They tend to focus and really dive into something deep. Which yes, when you’re not trying to distract them and you’re actually meeting them where they are, you realize how amazing that is.
I think passions like that really can be a window to the whole world. And you shared a beautiful example, into the bugs and interest, insects and different animals, and then into the geography and then learning about those animals. And it can go so many places. Reading. And then, if he wants to participate in forums, it could eventually go to writing. And it’s just amazing all those life skills like reading and writing and communication and analysis and research, all those skills that will be helpful forever and ever, can come through any interest.
It’s just so beautiful to see how, when they dive into something, it’s totally okay. Because there will be so many different aspects to it.
MICHELLE: I love that. And I think too, when you get to dive into your interest and you’re so excited about it, that helps build connection too, right? Like that social aspect of finding someone else who’s also sharing that interest and that connection that happens, it’s exciting. And I think that that’s another piece that sometimes people get a little bit worried about, about that social connection and that communication piece. But when you’re connecting with someone over something you’re really interested in, it’s exciting and the connection and the relationships just flow from that. And so, I think that that lends itself to that too. So there’s just so many ways that it just comes together.
PAM: Yeah, no, I love that. It’s again, meeting them where they are. And they know we are talking to the network about this bit, about how, when we meet them where they are and we support them, okay, so now we want to help them engage more in the ways that they want to in the interest that they have. Like you said, then you start to find other people who are just as interested. Watching two kids or kid and adult, whatever, having a conversation about Pokémon is just beautiful. Isn’t it?
MICHELLE: It’s so cool. It’s so amazing. The Information and knowledge that they have about the topic, and the topics related to it, and the topics that come from it, it’s just mind blowing to me. I’m like, whoa.
PAM: Yeah. And, you know, maybe somebody has gone down one rabbit hole that the other one hasn’t. So, they’re like, oh, wow. I never even thought of that. And then they’re off to do that and they’re just bouncing off each other. And just think of how exciting that is. And it happens for us too, like with the podcast calls, talking about unschooling. It’s energizing. It’s inspiring. It’s just all those social things. And even if it’s online, right?
MICHELLE: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there’s so much connection that can happen there.
PAM: Yeah, no, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. Thanks so much. Were there any other pieces that you wanted to bring up with that question? That’s a huge one.
MICHELLE: I think it was that just being able to do that deep dive into your interests and your passions and where that can lead you. It’s such a huge part of neurodiverse people’s experience, that just having the space and the validation to be able to enjoy that and dive into that is just awesome. Because then when you feel validated, and when you feel accepted, and you learn to trust yourself, and you learn to have this confidence in yourself.
And then that’s just a domino effect of learning and growth that happens. I see the potential for this to go this route, if we could just combine these two worlds of neurodiversity and unschooling. I mean, I love it for everyone, but especially for this population that needs and deserves that validation, that acceptance, and that space to be them authentically. But I just think it’s a beautiful connection.
PAM: I have goosebumps, because yeah, that is their life. To celebrate their life and the way they want to live. Yeah. It’s beautiful. And then you’ll see over the years, various interests, various deep dives. They may last a month. They may last years, whatever. But the process is being validated. So then, when they go and they find the next thing, it’s beautiful to see and they feel validated and excited to explore. And this is a great way to explore something. The way that I love to do it is wonderful. So that is such a huge piece. Thank you.
What is it about unschooling that makes it a great fit for your family?
I think that is a huge piece of it. And we’ve touched on various things, like you were talking about the family time getting together and everything, but I just thought that would be a fun summary for you.
MICHELLE: I mean, I think I said, it just fits the rhythm of our lives. It fits who we are as individuals. It fits how we want to connect with each other and experiences that we want to share. It allows for that opportunity for those deep dives of interest, because we all have really big interests and then sharing that joy together.
One thing that I really liked, because when I asked the family and the kids what they liked about our unschooling life, and I thought it was so cool, my son was like, “Oh, that I get to have free will.” And I was like, well, that’s a huge concept. I didn’t even know that he was exploring that idea in his head, which is another cool part of unschooling is that there’s always these learning surprises that are happening. Things that they’re piecing together and picking up, even though you don’t have an explicit, sit down lecture, conversation about it sometimes. Just that they’re picking up on that idea that they have this autonomy and these choices and that they’re learning that about themselves, so that they can build that trust and that awareness and validation about themselves.
To me, that’s such a huge goal of mine so that we can explore that and really develop that. And unschooling, for me, has been super important. And part of what we love about how it works for us as a family. Aside from just, being able to have this joyful learning experience and that the joy is really in there in the learning process, and it’s more, the stress gets to melt away in that part. There are enough stressful parts of life. And I feel like this learning process, for us, this is joyful and happy and just so fun to explore together and that we get to really have that fun together through this time period. And hopefully as that changes, as we grow, then we’ll explore that too.
PAM: Yeah, no, I love that. I love the way you talked about it as in all of you together because, yeah. It really is the way that human beings operate. You know what I mean? Like that curiosity, that diving, that free will, the ability to make choices, to develop trust and confidence in ourselves. All those pieces are things that human beings want, and it’s so beautiful when we can all do that together without there being … There’s no age thing in that. We’re all human beings and once you start it and you live it for a while, you see how capable and beautiful it is in children too. We all just dive into it together. Right.
MICHELLE: That’s awesome.
PAM: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Michelle. It was so much fun.
MICHELLE: Thank you so much for having me, Pam. This has been awesome just to be able to speak with you and to chat about all these topics is just awesome.
PAM: So fun. Isn’t it? It is beautiful. And before we go, where can people get in touch with you?
MICHELLE: My email is [email protected]. I’m always available through there. And we’ve also started this homeschooling group to get the message out to families that homeschooling and learning experiences can be fun, and also inviting the neurodiverse population to join us on this journey. It’s called That Au-Some Homeschool Club. So, we’re trying to get a community going, so that we can enjoy that process together through all of our diversity.
PAM: Yay. That’s awesome. We’ll put links to that in the show notes too. Thank you so much, Michelle. Have a great day!
MICHELLE: You too. Thank you.