PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Daniela Bramwell. Hi, Daniela.
DANIELA: Hi, Pam. So nice to see you.
PAM: Hi! So nice to see you, too. We have gotten to know each other over the last few months in the Network, and I’m really excited to hear more about your unschooling journey. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now?
DANIELA: Okay. There’s three of us and one cat. Marco is my spouse and Emma is our daughter. She’s four and a half and I guess we’re a Canadian-Ecuadorian family. I mostly grew up here in Ecuador, but my whole family is in Canada. And Marco is Ecuadorian and Emma’s been in both places, lived in both places.
Emma is really into everything animated animals and things. So, like cars with eyes, but mostly plush toys. So, anything with eyes that talks that are things or animals, but mostly animals and plush toys. She loves them, loves them, loves them. And spends hours, mostly with us. We spend hours every day playing all kinds of imaginary games involving all kinds of mostly plush toys, but sometimes little figurines. And she also loves watching videos. So, Minnie Mouse, or she loves Doc McStuffins. It has all the animated toys. She loves iPad games that have animated animals in it.
And she loves drawing. She spends usually at least an hour a day, I’d say sometimes even four. It’s just amazing. She really, really loves drawing and she draws out all of these stories and scenes that she tells us with the animated animals. I’m just amazed by her drawings, because it’s completely uninhibited.
She just thinks about what she wants to draw and she just draws it. There’s no, “Oh, this is wrong. I’m going to erase it.” No. She just draws and she draws amazing movement. Like she’ll draw animals falling or flying or sleeping or sitting or crouched down or running. And there’s so much movement and expressions in their faces. It’s quite amazing to us.
And she tells us the story of what they are and her drawings are inspired by all kinds of things, I guess. The things that she likes to watch or iPad games, a lot of books also. So, she likes the animated characters in books, a lot of real-life stories. Even one time, there was a sticker that we found on an old toy of an animated skeleton and that inspired months of drawing skeletons.
So, she loves plush toys and then sometimes she wants one that we don’t have or we haven’t found to buy, and she’s wanted to, in the last year or so or more, we started sometimes sewing them. So, one time she said, “Let’s make Cat in the Hat!” And so, we sewed. So, we now have a kind of plush toy of the Cat in the Hat. And then recently it was the Knox and the fox, and then we made a box. And the blue socks, but we were playing. Oh, and with plasticine, also making all kinds of animated animals. Yeah, making all kinds of animated animals and figurines with, plasticine too.
And, what else? Oh, she really likes putting on her music tracks. They’re kids’ songs that also have stories involved. And so, we can dance around for hours, all the family, and we’re involved in these stories that are part of the songs, or sometimes she draws something that was on the song or she’ll take a plush toy and have him sleep and it’s part of the song. She has all of these stories that she’s always thinking of and acting or drawing or creating in some ways.
PAM: Yeah, it really sounds like she is just steeped in story and she’s just finding all these different ways of expressing those. That’s so wild. So, through acting them out, through drawing, through sculpting. Wow. That’s amazing.
DANIELA: Yeah. It’s really fun. And she does wordplay a lot. She’s also really humorous. So, she likes to make us laugh and she laughs herself about all kinds of things. But even when she was really, really young, I remember she wasn’t even six months old, she was dragging herself across the floor, like when they’re not crawling yet. And she knew that Marco got so freaked out if she picked up something on the floor to stick it in her mouth, because he was afraid to in choke. He wouldn’t get angry or anything.
He’d just be like, “Oh, oh, oh! What do you have in your mouth?” And so, she was moving along the floor and then she looked at us with this sparkle in her eye and this cheeky grin and took her fingers and started to act like she was putting something in her mouth. But she didn’t have anything in her fingers. We could see that there was nothing there and she was just laughing at us. It was so funny.
And before long she started talking, a little bit before one she could say words and by one and a half, she was saying full sentences and tons of word games and jokes with that. So, she gets such a kick out of it. Like if I say, “Oh, would you like something to eat?” “No, nothing.” And so, I say, “Here’s a plate with nothing,” and she just cracks up and then she’ll be laughing about it for ages. And she remembers old lines and brings them up for us to laugh about. It’s so fun.
PAM: Oh my goodness. Yes, it sounds like so much fun there.
DANIELA: So, we have so much fun.
And then, I’d say Marco’s one main thing that he loves is playing with her and with us. I learn so much about imaginary play from watching them play, because I can sometimes, but I find it a little bit more difficult. But I’m a lot better now, so I can spend several hours playing now, too. But, when she was tiny, I don’t know. She was two, one and a half, and they would already start playing with the plush animals, and she wasn’t answering much, but he was keeping on the game and then she was totally immersed and putting her bits in and they go into these wild, wild games pretty much every day.
Could you talk a little bit about how you got better with the imaginative play?
Because I know that’s something I had to learn when I had started staying home with my kids, finally, and being able to participate some. It is our own level. Some of us are more comfortable with it than others, but I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got more comfortable with it.
DANIELA: Well, I guess I was always very open to playing with her in every way that I could. So, I would play tickles or fly like a bird on my feet. She would fly.
And drawing things and reading and all these things came easily, but the interacting with little toys did not come so easily. And I think I mostly learned by watching him and the types of things that he would say, and then the types of games that they would play. And then I would play the same games. But also, I found that, at the moment when they started those role play games, I was really stressed because of a lot of things that were going on in our lives and also getting triggered from things in the past.
But in the end, I talked to a therapist. I looked for one that was kind of unschooling-friendly and I talked about mindfulness and not having my mind wander, because as soon as we would start, two seconds later, my mind was like, ‘Oh, and I have to do this and I have to do that.’ And even like inventing things almost like, ‘Oh, I have to wash the dishes right now’ and go running off to wash the dishes, when of course, the dishes could wait. But there was that urge to get things done.
So I was, I still am, trying to think about those ideas of productivity and getting things done and what my priorities are and learning more about mindfulness. And trying to choose to be in the moment. I guess it was kind of a mix of all of those things, but a lot of watching them play, a lot of watching them play and sometimes being invited and sometimes being told to go away and accepting that really gracefully and with a smile and not being hurt, and then being invited in again.
Because that’s another thing. Let’s say I’d be washing the dishes or doing whatever else and they’re playing, and then Emma will come running into the kitchen, hand me a plush toy, and that’s an invitation to play, but my hands are full of soap and maybe grease. And I’m busy. So, sometimes I would just say, “Oh, I’ll be there later.” But then Marco was saying, like two, three years ago, he would be busy doing something. And then he was like, “Oh, I’ll come later.” And then he, one night he just said, “No. We shouldn’t do that. It’s an invitation to play. It’s an honor. It’s the most magical thing. I dropped everything today. And every time she invited me to play, I just jumped right in.”
And so, I guess the story was like, I have these things to do. And, I’ll play later and you play alone. I don’t know. There are all these messages in my cultural sphere of, kids should play alone and it helps me to get things done and kids need to understand that and learn. And then I was like, no, no, no, no, no. That sounds amazing. I’m going to jump in, too, and accept every invitation I can. If there’s something about to burn in the frying pan, then I’ll ask her to wait a minute. But now, it’s just, jump in as soon as I get invited.
PAM: I love that phrase, that way of looking at it, that invitation to play. And I think a lot of what you were talking about is also learning to value play, as in for ourselves. It’s easy to value for your child, but your child’s playing and ‘I should be productive and doing these things.’ And there’s just so much messaging that, I need to get this other stuff done before I’m allowed to play. But realizing that invitation to play is that invitation to connect, that’s where our relationship and our connection forms.
DANIELA: Yeah, it’s the most connecting moment and the most fulfilling for me. Maybe I have all of these barriers in my mind preventing me from enjoying that moment, but when I can let go of that and really enjoy, then it’s the deepest connection with her and the biggest joy.
And one more thing I might add is that, I don’t know if you’ve read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen.
PAM: I’ve heard of it. I have not read it yet.
DANIELA: Anyway, I read that and I loved it and it’s really, really nice and he has all kinds of ideas about games. I also got ideas from there, but also, he’s a play therapist and so he kind of talks about ways to help kids work through things through their play. And so, I really loved it and I kind of latched onto it in the wrong way. Well, not in the wrong way, but just in the way that sometimes, if I would play with them, I would try and get her to work through things.
Or I would try and be like, “Oh, let’s play that we’re going on the train to visit my mom,” because that was a situation that was a bit difficult. And in a way it was helpful for her, but in another way, it was a barrier, because I wasn’t always following her lead and just playing for the joy of it. I had this agenda in my mind. And she does not like agendas. She can sense them a mile away since she was tiny.
So, then she would kind of look at me like, no, and go and look for Marco to play with. So, that was another piece that I had to drop. I’m not saying that the author, Lawrence Cohen, suggests that that’s the way you should play with your kids. That’s totally on me, but I’m just saying that that’s one of the things that I did. So, I stopped doing that.
PAM: But it’s a great and helpful thing to mention because, we’re bringing in new ideas and we’re processing them and we’re playing around with them, and you played with that. “Oh, that might be helpful.” And then you did and that’s not working for Emma.
DANIELA: It wasn’t working that great.
PAM: And when you observe when Emma is choosing, maybe, to play and work through those certain situations, so it’s on her agenda.
DANIELA: Yeah. If she brings it up, then that’s perfect. Then I try and just go with the flow and then just play. And for me, it’s important. I guess everybody is not like that, but for me, it’s important not to try and have an agenda or a plan because that’s a lot of what I constantly tend to do.
PAM: Yes. And I found often when I’m doing that, when I’m trying to even subtly direct the play, is that I’m not noticing the way that they’re subtly trying to direct the play. They may be trying to accomplish something and I’m so busy trying to accomplish my thing that I’m not noticing where their head’s at, basically. So, then they lose that opportunity. But it all bubbles up. We’re all learning and playing in those moments, but yeah, I’ll put a link in the show notes to that.
And, Bernie De Koven, I think is his name, is a play guide that I had read his book and stuff. So, we’ll put those links in for people to enjoy.
DANIELA: Okay. I haven’t read that one, so I could read that one.
PAM: We didn’t hit on your interests.
DANIELA: Oh yeah, I didn’t talk about anybody else. Okay. So, Marco loves lots of things. I think martial arts has kind of been a thread since he was young. And so, we met through capoeira. He started the first and the largest group here in Ecuador. Before that, when he was 14, he started Tae Kwon Do at school and was competing and he also has done boxing and MMA and all of these things. And I would never want to compete and I don’t like the fighting aspects, but I do like the movement aspects and it feels empowering to punch a bag. And so, I’ve done kickboxing, too, and boxing and we did Muay Thai lessons, too. And I did capoeira also for 10 years.
And so, he’s still a part of several groups and now, in the pandemic, has been training from home and also doing a few YouTube videos. I haven’t really been active for a few years, active in any groups or any kind of classes or anything. But I still like to sometimes do some kind of kickboxing videos or stuff like that on my own.
And so, he also likes physics and he’s an electric engineer. Like I believe you were in your past life. Anyway, he’s an electrical engineer and he likes his profession. And I asked him what I should say his interests are. And I listed martial arts and he’s interested in history and the history of weapons and airplanes and all different things. And so, I listed a whole bunch of things he was interested and he said, yeah, but you’re forgetting electric engineering. I was like, oh, okay. Okay. I’ll mention that interest. Sorry. Oops.
PAM: It’s nice to be interested in the work that you do.
DANIELA: Yeah. And I think that the thing that he loves the most, apart from our family life, is talking to his sisters, hanging out with them, and talking with them, and brothers-in-law, like family gatherings. They do karaoke and we have a lot of fun.
And then for me, also playing with Emma and our family life and chatting with Marco are my favorite things. I’ve been interested in education for a very, very long time. So, I worked in education. I started teaching English when I was 16 and did all kinds of things related to education and learning and psychology and relationships, and why the world is the way it is in terms of social inequity and, where does racism come from? And how does that happen? And how can we change it? And things like that.
I’m interested in questions like that. I’m also, as I mentioned, I liked capoeira. I like movement related to dance or martial art. I also love singing. So, that also drew me to capoeira, because I could do singing and instruments and dance and martial art movements.
And I also really enjoy doing things with my hands. Like, the things that Emma likes doing right now, like sewing and plasticine figures and drawing, I like that, too.
DANIELA: And reading. I’ve always loved reading. Always, always, always loved reading many hours a day.
PAM: Oh, that’s sweet. I love the way a good chunk of them weave together. That’s the thing, that we’re adults now. And we can’t be interested in the same things. I mean, if you were sewing or sculpting just for yourself, you would probably be doing different things, yet, what a fun way to enjoy time together. It’s the doing things with your hands, whether you’re sewing plushes and you’re sculpting Doc McStuffins characters.
DANIELA: That’s what we were doing.
PAM: Yeah. Exactly. But it still helps satisfy that urge, right? You can bring your joy to it, even when you’re making different things.
DANIELA: And I enjoy it, too.
PAM: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. And you mentioned your interest in education, and that’s what we’re going to deep dive into today, which I think will be really, really interesting. I’m excited to learn some more about it, but I think it’ll be really interesting for people listening.
You went to an alternative Montessori free school growing up, so I thought we could start there and maybe you could share a bit about that experience.
DANIELA: Okay. I think I’ll start a little bit before that though, because ties into the story.
PAM: Even better. Okay.
DANIELA: So, in terms of schooling or education, my mom said I went to a nursery school or something in England, where I was born. And then, when I was four or five, we moved to Canada. And my parents had already read this book about this school called Pestalozzi in Ecuador. And so, it’s the kind of one-story freestyle school that you just mentioned.
So, the Pestalozzi was based on different kinds of progressive ideas about education, but mostly I guess free school is a good description for it. So, they had to read that book and they loved it, but that was Ecuador in South America and they were in England and their family was in Canada. They’re from Canada. So, they went back to Canada and they started looking for alternative schools.
And so, we were in Ottawa and my mom said that I went to, I think it was, five different schools. But I don’t remember all of them, because they were trying out these schools. I do remember one that my mom said that they were supposed to be alternative, but the only thing that was alternative about it was that we had this break that I do remember where we all went to this large gym, and we were supposed to lie on a mat. And they had us do meditation or yoga for a few minutes. But I think that was the only thing that was alternative about it.
The rest of it was regular curriculum and classroom work and things. And then, they didn’t like any of the options. And so, they tried homeschooling for a few months or something. I don’t remember that, either. But they said it didn’t work for them. They didn’t like it. But I think they hadn’t found unschooling. They were trying to somehow get curriculum in, but it was me and my sister three years younger, and my sister five years younger, who was a baby/toddler. My mom had her hands really full.
And so, my dad said he would come back from work really stressed and angry and try and teach me stuff. And he said that’s the reason I’m kind of freaked out with math, but I don’t remember that either.
And then, the school that I do remember was the last one, right before we moved to Ecuador. And that’s a kind of public school. Well, it was a Catholic school. But in Ontario, there are Catholic public schools. So, I remember going there and I don’t remember that much, but I do remember one thing that I really liked, the teacher had a game where each week, a student brought in a big jar of something.
So, I think I really liked it because there was candy in it a lot of times. And we were all supposed to guess how many items there were in it. So, like 214. And then at the end of the week, we’d count it all out and see how many there actually were. And the one who was closest to the guess got the contents of the jar or something like that.
I remember things like that, snippets. But I do remember that I learned a lot about competing and peer pressure and prizes and punishment for doing certain things. I remember in second grade, right before coming, there was some kind of math lesson. But I remember so clearly, because one of the children answered how he had resolved the math problem, but instead of doing the sum, he did the subtraction.
And the teacher was so proud out of him and saying like, “Look what he did. He managed to solve it in this way and that’s genius and you should all follow that,” and then gave him a prize because that teacher had set up a thing where he would give you points or tokens or something and at the end of the week, you could buy something like a teddy bear or chocolate or something with those tokens.
And I remember being so jealous of that child and just feeling all this envy and mean energy in me, like why does he get the answer and why didn’t I think of that? And just a lot of negative energy around learning.
So, I remember all of these little snippets and then, with all the things that I was reading, looking back and thinking, okay. I guess the school I was in and also the surrounding culture, that really had a big influence in what I think of learning and how I was also interacting with peers once I got to that free school and with my siblings, too, I just look back and there was a lot of competing. I always wanted to pick some game where I would try and win. And that did not bring me a lot of friends or a lot of happiness.
Oh, and thinking of books. There’s a really good book by Alfie Kohn called No Contest about competition. When I read, I was like, oh, wow. That just brings up so many things and helps me understand so many things.
But anyway, I have these amazing parents who a lot of people think are quite strange when they decided all of a sudden to move to South America, to Ecuador with three children under eight and one almost ready to be born. I think my mom was seven or eight months pregnant. I don’t know. Seven months pregnant. And they decided to move in February all the way to Ecuador.
They had never been to Ecuador, but they just decided that that was enough with the Canadian traditional school system. They needed something different. They were sick of the winter. I remember them saying that a lot. “Why am I putting on snow suits for three girls and then they need the bathroom?”
So, they actually moved to Ecuador, and that’s why I grew up in Ecuador. And they moved specifically, mainly, for the free school, for a different education for us, which is quite amazing.
PAM: So, they moved to that area in Ecuador specifically near the school, so that you guys could go there, right?
DANIELA: Yeah. Yeah.
PAM: Wow. And, I can understand wanting to escape winter, especially in February.
DANIELA: Yes. After, when I went to Canada as an adult, I was like, okay. I understand this. February is not good.
PAM: Thank goodness my birthday is in February. That’s the only thing that gets me through it.
DANIELA: I mean, February is great, but the winter can be harsh.
So, I remember they told us we’d be going to this school. They asked us, I think I remember them saying like, “Oh, it’s this school. And it has all of these things and they have rabbits and llamas and dogs and they have these amazing spaces and no winter.”
And I remember we were trying to learn Spanish and I knew, un, dos, tres, elefante because of that song of the elephant sobre en la tela de una araña. I remember that’s the only thing I knew about Spanish, from that kids’ song. And my parents didn’t speak Spanish, either. I think they took a month lesson. That was it. But my mom is French Canadian, so they both spoke French, too. So, I think that helped a little bit, and we did, too.
So, we arrived here and the Pestalozzi School had no curriculum. It’s closed now. There was no curriculum. There were no grades. There were no marks. There were no prizes. There were no things that you had to learn by a certain age. And it was a huge space. They had an amazing space that they had built, I’d say, Waldorf-style. They never mentioned Waldorf, but later when I read, it’s like those ideas of children need nature and things that are made of wood and natural materials.
So, for their kindergarten area, they had this huge building set up with miniature chairs, sized for children under five, made of wood, and tables and doll houses, but all made of wood and natural materials, and a little kitchen, and a music area, and a book area, and this huge area with water and soap, to play with water, and all these climbing structures, and even a carpenter area with all these different tools that kids could use, even two-year-olds, like a hammer and things like that. So, just an amazing space.
And then for older children, kind of the same, but more a functioning kitchen with a gas burner, from like six and up, and knives, and just a lot of trust in kids. And a carpentry area, arts area, lots of outside things, and everything kind of with natural materials and also lots of Montessori materials for math and for reading. So, there was the math area with all these materials. And they organized all kinds of trips, like to a factory and to the pool, and they had all of these amazing things going on. So, it was a really nice space and lots of amazing things about this school.
PAM: Sweet. So, you enjoyed your time there?
DANIELA: Mostly. I had a really hard time making friends there, so that was hard for me. And there were some things that I didn’t enjoy and some things that made me think, would I want Emma to go there? And there were certain things that I was not sure that I agreed with.
And at first, before finding unschooling and reading about unschooling, I thought the problem was that there weren’t any classes. There wasn’t a lot of structure. So, I remember seeing the chemistry area and thinking, I’d love to learn about chemistry. I have no idea where to start. So, there were some kids that would go in there and do experiments, but I didn’t know at all where to start.
And so, I was just like, I wish there was some kind of introduction or class or something that I could just join and somebody would guide me through the beginning steps. Or, my dad would say, “Oh, but haven’t you heard this? Don’t you know this thing about physics?” And I was like, “No, where would I even start learning about that?”
And when I wanted to go to university, it was difficult for me to do the entrance exams. I had to take all these classes before and I found the math so difficult, and I thought that was because of the school, like the way that the school was set up, that I wasn’t prepared. But then, I realized there were so many other students who were failing these tests, too, and had gone to regular schools.
And then, I did so well in university. I was the valedictorian. I got A’s for every single class and all the teachers loved me because I was so interested in my learning and so passionate about all these different classes.
So, at first, I blamed the school and also, I thought not having friends and not fitting in socially, at least if it had been a classroom setting, I would have been part of the class. I would have been part of the lessons and the outings and whatever. But in that school, everybody was doing their own thing and I wasn’t necessarily part of any class. So, that’s what I thought before reading all these things about unschooling. And then it changed everything for me.
I just thought, no, that’s not the reasons that drew me to studying education at university and just trying to figure out, what would be an ideal school for me? And I didn’t have Emma then, but what would really work? Because I didn’t find the Pesta, that alternative school, there were lots of things that I thought didn’t really work well. Like, kids not being able to read at age 14. And for me, that was scandalous. But with no background for saying, well, who cares if they don’t read at 14? What’s the problem with that?
But it was just all of these kinds of societal messages about what was right and wrong with learning, but without really being able to process it or getting teased by kids who were not at the school, like, “Oh, you don’t know multiplication tables, you don’t know this, that,” but with no guidance of how to think about that or work through it.
So, when I read things on unschooling, like, “Oh, but you could tell your kids that they could answer this way or that way,” I think, oh, that kind of guidance would have been nice. I guess the adults in my life didn’t know what to do in those situations.
PAM: That’s going to be really interesting when we get to the unschooling piece. Because it’s totally understandable from the way you described that experience and how you were experiencing that school, you weren’t having those kinds of conversations with your parents or with people at the school.
When you hear those external messages about multiplication, all that external stuff that we hear because they’re so predominant in society. You get those messages and, without being able to kind of process and talk to people about that, and the way you just were personally experiencing that school, as in, no conversations about helping you know how to engage with the chemistry area, if that was interesting to you, stuff like that.
So, it’s really understandable how you came out of that experience feeling like that wasn’t a helpful educational environment for you.
I love the piece, too, about how you were noticing, when you were writing your entrance exams, that so many people were finding it challenging regardless of their background. But this was your moment to lean into those. And, as you said, you leaned in well.
You did very well at university. And so, I imagine, was it that experience growing up with that school that got you interested in education? And we’ll go right into the next question, basically, is that you became very interested in studying education and, like you mentioned, your masters and teaching courses and your PhD.
I’d be curious to learn, were you trying to figure out what a good educational experience would be?
DANIELA: I think so. I’m just thinking. There’s a few more pieces about the school, but I wasn’t sure if I should mention them, because I’m thinking ahead of the order of questions. Further along, there’s a question like, how does it compare to unschooling? Or what’s different from unschooling? So, in my head, I’m in a muddle like, oh but I should save those pieces for that question.
PAM: I thought maybe we could talk about where your head space was at the time. Because at the time, you didn’t know about unschooling. You hadn’t heard about unschooling.
DANIELA: I didn’t know how. Yeah. So, a few more pieces about the school and how I felt at the moment is that, I felt also kind of frustrated because I wanted to take, for example, flute lessons or acting lessons or singing lessons. I wanted to learn those things. And I guess maybe it was kind of my school-ish mind still from my Canadian experience that I wanted a class for those things. But also, it was because I wanted to meet new people. I felt like that was a specific group of people, but I wanted to meet new people, other people, and go out into the world.
And also, I remember asking one of the teachers, oh, I really want to read music. And she kind of said, “Oh yeah, this means this, this means this. Now go off and learn it on your own.” And I was like, I need more than that! That wasn’t enough. That wasn’t enough. It gave me a clue, but I was like, okay, now what do I do?
So, I really wanted to go and learn all these things, but that was not accepted in that school. So, there was a very big belief of non-directivity. That’s not even in English, but not too direct children. So, not interfere. They never said not interfere, but that was the kind of feeling of it. And that was another thing that was, looking back, something that was difficult for me.
You were supposed to play with the kids. The adults were there to facilitate, but there was a lot of, I won’t interfere. So, there wasn’t developing strong relationships with us. It was more like, a bit observing, like, “Oh, okay. Oh, you need this thing? Okay. This is how it works.”
Or there was a lot of boundaries. So, we’ll set these rules and make sure that nothing crazy happens. That was the role of the adults, to make sure that nothing wrong happened or to help if someone got hurt or whatever, but not a lot of developing strong relationships. And I think there was a lot of that thing of not interfering, so you’d get in the way of the kids learning or direct too much and interfere.
So, that was the thing. They really didn’t encourage parents and actively asked them not to put them in any classes, not to get us in any classes, because then we would be getting directed instruction. If I went to like a music lesson, then I’d be told what to do. And I’d be given a traditional education and that’s the word they used, “directing”.
So, that was a no. And TV was a no. And screens were a no. And computers were no. So, anything like technology was also frowned upon. That kind of rings a bell, even now in parenting groups, all the natural parenting groups. There are things that I agree with about attachment parenting, but then screens are just this evil thing that is going to rot your brain.
So, that was one of the main things that drew me to unschooling. But anyway, that’s for later on. But that was another thing. So, I guess I felt like the world was a little small. There was that school and the people in that school and that was it. There was nothing else. You couldn’t go to any other classes or there were a few people I could meet in the neighborhood, but that was it.
And there was no anything screen-like, so no internet, no computers, no television, nothing. So, I think those were two major things that didn’t sit well. It didn’t sit well with me. So, those were two other things I was thinking for Emma, but would I want that for her? That seems kind of restrictive, or like closing the world instead of opening it.
And that message when you were talking about what I was being told about not knowing the multiplication tables. There was a lot of, and this kind of ties back to Rousseau, his ideas about education, that you should be stuck in nature and society is bad, they never talked about Rousseau as being part of their philosophy, but later when I read about him, I was like, well, that sounds exactly like my school. Nature is good and children’s innate inspiration is good, but society is corrupting. So, we need to keep children away from that corrupting society.
So, there was a lot of messages like that, like, oh, you don’t know your multiplication tables, but those poor kids in school, they’re sitting at these desks and they’re learning all these things by rote memory. But they’re not really learning them. And so, there was a lot of talk with the adults of like, poor these people from this corrupting society and we’re doing this wonderful thing.
And also, expectations from the adults at the school, but also from my family, that we would be great. So, there were all these stories about these great people, like Mozart, who was wonderful without having gone to traditional school. So, there was this expectation that we’d be doing these great things, but I felt these expectations, but no real support. “I want to learn music.” “Yes. These are the notes. Go learn on your own.” That’s the way I felt a lot of times, but other people from my school don’t feel like that, but it was me.
PAM: Yeah, no, it is very unique to the person. It is very individual, the kind of environments that are supportive.
DANIELA: Yeah, so I think my quest for the best education is also silly in a way, because it’s not like there will be one education that’s perfect for every single person. It’s more like, what do different people need?
PAM: So, how did you find it when you were in the university programs?
DANIELA: Yeah. Right. So, I went to university to study arts, multimedia animation, actually. So, drawing animated characters, and then bringing them to life in video format. But it was a liberal arts school. So, they had us do all kinds of courses like economics and math and biology. There was a range of requirements that we had to meet to graduate. And so, I was always curious about education courses because I had started to teach English as a second language when I was 16, first as a way of making money and I was really scared to teach. And then I found it really interesting, trying to think of all these games to make it more interesting for my students.
And then I started teaching in an institute, but then it was really regiment, so there was this curriculum and they already wrote the test for you. And you had to have the students do the test. So, there wasn’t a lot of creativity on my part. And I thought, oh, that’s education. I don’t want to do that. No way. But then I took a class at university and they were talking about all these different theories. So, I was reading about that bit of Rousseau. And then I was like, oh, that’s exactly like my school. And so, it’s so exciting to me, even now, to read all of these different education philosophies or views and try and understand them with the different schools I’ve been to, I guess. So, reading about all of those things.
So, then I started getting really interested with those courses, not with the mechanics that I had been doing at work. And some of the classes were like, you teach this way, you evaluate this way. And that I didn’t like, but I really liked learning about all these different education philosophies and also like psychology related to education, like motivation and things like that. And then, I guess I kind of thought, so the Pesta didn’t really work, I thought at the time, because there was no structure. There was no help, or the teachers weren’t trying to motivate us, like, “Oh, there’s this chemistry thing. Do you want to see this experiment?” There was no inviting.
So, then I got into all of these bits at university and all of the education theories and things. I was reading about psychology. It was kind of like, oh, well, the school structure works like this. There are these things you have to do. The whole coercion bit, with the grades and everything, but we don’t like that. So, we’re going to ignore it and we’re going to talk about all these wonderful ways that teachers can motivate students to learn and present these ideas in these cool ways and all that. So, I really liked that for a long time. But it also didn’t really seem to be working.
It didn’t seem to make sense in other ways, because, for example, we’d have all these cool ideas about like how to present something or how to engage students. But then there were these lessons on differentiated education, talking about all the ways that students are different. All of their interests and their learning styles and their gender and their culture and maybe neurodiversity and all these things. And I was like, okay, so I’m going to have 25 students that are completely different. So, no matter how engaging I make the lesson, it’s not gonna work for all these students.
PAM: You need 25 different versions of it.
DANIELA: Because I need to do 25 different lessons. This is not working, either. So, that’s a takeaway from my undergrad, where I was just still confused. Like, this doesn’t seem to be the answer, but this kind of traditional education even made amazing-sounding doesn’t seem to work, either. So, it doesn’t really work. And then for my master’s and now PhD, I’ve been studying. I am still a student at OISE, from the University of Toronto, and there, the focus is on society, education and society.
So, it’s a very different focus and also very interesting. How does racism play out in schools? And all these gender roles. And what happens if students are in this school that doesn’t reflect their culture at all? And what’s the relationship between culture and school? And it’s a very different lens from what I did in my undergraduate, which was mostly classroom-focused, like plan a good lesson and things like that. A really different focus and reading historically how schools have been used for colonial purposes. So, all of those kinds of things.
PAM: Cool. Yeah. That is very, very interesting because that bigger picture is so much a part of understanding how that system tries to fit in there. It just gives you a bigger picture idea of that and how much of it isn’t really about the learning.
DANIELA: Right. Exactly. Exactly. My graduate education has just opened up my mind so much about the different purposes of schooling that have nothing to do with learning. That’s a nice way to sum it up.
PAM: All right. Now we get to the super fun part. Let’s put all of this together.
DANIELA: Yeah. Let me try and see if I can pull it all together.
PAM: Yes! So, all those ways, it’s fascinating. It’s really fascinating to me what your experience was growing up in that school and the pieces that you found challenging. And then how that inspired you or had you thinking almost the opposite of it, but just more structure would have been more helpful. And so, now you’re participating in that structure, you’re questioning it.
And then you’re learning such interesting bits, like that piece where it is very logical that learning is in the context of each individual and their experiences and their styles and who they are and where they are in that moment is what you need to connect to. So, there is this kind of air gap between yes, make it personal, make it interesting and kids love learning. And you have to do it in this classroom with 25 kids. How do you bridge that gap? So, that’s super interesting.
So, how did you come across unschooling itself? And what are those pieces that lit up for you, that made you think, okay, now unschooling is hitting these particular pieces and that’s what I would like to do with my family?
DANIELA: Yeah. So, what happened? I guess as soon as Emma was born, I started to change some of my thinking because of who she is and her very strong knowledge of her own needs and the things that she wanted and not wanting to be directed or not wanting me to be leading her life or telling her, this is good and this is wrong.
She really knows what she needs and what she likes. And so that’s the big starting point for me of wanting to meet her and not to try and be in conflict with her all the time like, “No, actually this is good. This is the right thing. So, now I’m going to try and persuade you that this is the right thing,” and she’s not having it. And so, maybe it’s not the right thing. What’s going on? So, a lot of learning and everything starts with her and me trying to do the best I can by her. So, I started reading a whole bunch of parenting books and everything.
Let’s see. I was also in a bunch of Facebook groups and trying to figure things out because the kind of people that seem to match with me, from when I was attachment parenting, people who were breastfeeding and co-sleeping, but then they’re all anti-screens and anti-anything plastic and only wooden toys. And I was like, I’m not sure that I like that. So, trying to find authors that resonated with me.
And then, in one of the groups, they mentioned podcasts, which I’d never explored before. And somebody mentioned Sage Family, Rachel Rainbolt. And so I scrolled through her episodes and I saw an interview with Alfie Kohn. And I read Unconditional Parenting a bunch of times and started reading other books of his and I loved it. So, I listened to that interview, but then she had other episodes on unschooling. And at first when I heard it, I thought, that’s crazy. I don’t like the sound of that. That can’t work. That sounds too much like the things that I didn’t like about my alternative school. But then there was an episode on technology and there was an episode on math, like how people learn math, and it was so interesting.
I was just so amazed, like oh wow! The whole discussion on technology. I can’t remember if I listened to that episode first or there’s an article, Lucy AitkenRead. So, she has an article about the 10 Things That Are Worse for Your Child Than an iPad or something like that.
And so, one of my conflicts with Emma, starting very young, when she was about one and a half or two, and Marco—so my fight with both of them—was that screens were bad. So, all my life, screens were horrible. We didn’t have them at home. They were going to rot your brain and your eyes were going to die and your creativity was going to die and you were exposed to consumerism and commercialism and sexism and, oh my god, all these horrible things.
And Marco had none of those views and Emma loved watching all kinds of things, but especially, I just remember the Snow White videos that she loved. She doesn’t like princesses at all. She doesn’t care for Snow White, but she loved the dwarves. And she and Marco would watch Snow White and would sing the songs and would dance and would play. He found some little plastic figurines and would play out these amazing scenes.
And she was not even two, but she would make this voice for Grumpy that was so amazing. And she was just playing with modulating of her voice that she hadn’t done before. So, just seeing her. And they would draw Snow White and everything and she would dress up. It was just a world of joy and of learning and I was missing out on all of it. It was just so funny to remember. It’s almost as if she was playing with a live snake or something. The screen would go on and my whole body, I’d start sweating and my heart would start racing. I was like, oh my god.
So, I would be trying to get Marco to turn it off, like, “Okay. Only 20 minutes. You’ve got to turn it off.” And like, “The pediatric association, blah, blah, blah, says no screens before two. And blah, blah, blah.” So, I was traumatized by this thing. But I could see all of the joy that they were getting out of it. And also myself, I love watching videos. And once I was independent on my own, I spent a lot of time watching videos and a lot of learning on computers and everything. Oh, so it was all clashing in my mind.
So then, when I read Lucy’s article and I listened to Rachel’s podcast. And then I found your podcast, and then all of these different resources on unschooling and screens, for lack of a better word, technology, whatever, it just opened up such an amazing world and it just made so much sense. And the article of Pam Sorooshian on the economics of restricting, and then I realized how all my life, how it had affected me to have technology restricted and food restricted and all these different things restricted and how that still makes me binge.
I’m not allowed. I’m not allowed. And I won’t let myself do this bad thing, but if I do then binge on a Netflix series or binge on food or binge on these things because they are bad. And so, it just makes so much sense. And so I started doing all this reading and listening and then trying to get my emotions to catch up with my intellect, because intellectually I can understand all of the reasons and it just makes so much sense, but then emotionally, first hour, okay. Second hour. And then I’m like, my heart is racing. She’s been watching for two hours. I’m going to die!
PAM: No, you really need those experience. You can understand something intellectually, but then you need enough experiences and observations. It isn’t a switch. It really is a time thing before you can really come to trust and know it. You feel it in your bones, because you’re having that emotional, that anxious reaction, and everything. So, it takes time to work through where you’re not having that any more.
DANIELA: It took me a long time.
PAM: That’s why the idea of feel it in your bones works for me, because it is a physical thing, isn’t it?
DANIELA: It is. It really is. And it took me so long, but even when I was feeling in this panic mode, I never said, “That’s enough.”
I never said there’s only one hour. We never had any rules or prohibitions around it, but we did try and hide the iPad and interest her in other things. Or if she’d already been at it for two hours, I’d take out something that she really liked, like beans, like lots and lots of beans, throw them around and toss them down the slide, like just playing with things like that. And so, she’d often just leave it there and come and play. And then, since she was distracted, we would hide it. But then it started not working. She’d get angry that I was hiding it. So, I knew that the reasons made sense, but then I was like, but she’s too young. All these things that these unschooling people are talking about, the examples are seven-year-olds or older kids, but Emma was just two. And so, it’s not right. She’s so young.
Anyway, a lot of working through that. Then there was a period when we really said, okay. We’re just gonna leave the iPad there. And then, when we moved to Quito, we have this big TV right in the middle of her playing area. And that’s the way it worked out with the spaces. So now, her space has this huge TV and then a big couch where she jumps on and lies on and has all of her toys around it and the iPad and everything. So now it’s just one more toy.
And now we’re finally at a stage where it is one more toy, for me and also for her, because there was this little period where, when it was more available, she did spend a bit more time at it, but it quickly became just one more thing. So, some days she’s interested. Some days she’s not, and it’s just like any other toy or tool in her environment.
PAM: I imagine too, as you were working through it, even though you weren’t setting specific rules, she could probably sense your energy and the hiding and stuff like that.
DANIELA: Yeah. Even when we stopped the hiding and the stuff, it was still a while, I guess, where she was like, “Now what are they going to do? Now how are they gonna react?”
PAM: It’s that time again. It takes time for all of us to work through those different pieces. So, basically, that was time for her to develop trust again in you.
DANIELA: Yeah. And for me, I guess when she was rewatching the same things and was watching for three hours, or however long, but not all day. So, I started to calm down, but then there was one time where I found this iPad game that I knew she would love, because it had no prizes or levels or winning. It was just little animated animals that she loves, and you have them do different things in their environment.
And so, it’s role-play on screen. I found that a few months ago and I gave it to her and she just loved it and spent the whole day on it and I was starting to get panicky again. So, I remembered one other article that I read from Happiness is Here, Sara was writing about the Minecraft experience with her children, that they loved it for a few days and did nothing but and barely slept. And then, the novelty was over. And she said, it’s just like any other new thing. So, I was thinking, yeah, it’s like any other new thing. So, Emma loves deep dives. If she likes a book, she wants to read it a hundred times. That’s what she does with all the things that she loves. And so, she did this deep dive and learned every single thing about that game.
PAM: Well, you know, we do that as adults. That’s kind of a human thing, that when we learn something new and we’re excited, we want to do it as much as possible until we gain that experience.
DANIELA: Yeah. I do that all the time. It was just, I guess, there’s all these cultural messages, like, oh, it should be an hour a day, which just makes no sense. But it’s letting go of that, too.
PAM: So, that technology piece was a big part. From unschooling, it made more sense to you versus the way you grew up. You put that in context when you started learning about unschooling and you started moving through. Because I imagine as you’re learning about it, you’re putting that in the context of all your other experience: your university and education experience and your experience learning growing up. So, what were some of the other pieces?
DANIELA: Yeah, so some of the other things were related to just being open to the world, instead of trying to have this protected environment where it was all wooden toys and whatever, and all good, but rather than just being open to the world and open to whatever it is that she likes, or she wants, or she needs, rather than trying to have these things that are good and these things that are bad. So, I really liked that about unschooling, where I don’t feel that there’s the idea that nature is good and technology is bad, or the whole food thing, like these types of food are good and these types of food are bad or things like that. It’s just so different.
I guess I won’t try and summarize the unschooling view, because everybody knows it or will learn about it in another place. But it was just so different from my experience growing up and so refreshing and felt so right to have these views about being open to the world and open to what children need and like and want to explore.
DANIELA: There’s also other bits, like I was telling you in the alternative school, there was math, not taught in a sequence like in traditional schools, but there was a specific area for math, with specific Montessori materials for math. And there was this thing of, “You’re not doing math. You should be doing at least a little bit.” There wasn’t a specific thing, but there was a little push. And so what I really liked about all the things that I’ve listened to and learned about unschooling in relation to math is just, it’s really part of life. And so, it’s not like there’s a specific area or there’s specific materials or it’s a different thing.
So, I just really like that view too. And just thinking, okay, that’s a bit different from my alternative education. So, at first, in my mind, there were just two options, like what you were saying. It was the alternative school, where there was not really a lot of engagement with adults or invitation or that many options. And then there was this structured thing, where there were invitations, but there was also a lot of coercion, like you have to do it. And the grading thing and all these other bits.
And so, this third option just sounded so much better.
DANIELA: There’s also the main thing that we talk about in the Network, the relationships. And so, what I was telling you about, the alternative school and the way that the adults were interacting was mainly, as I said, you set up the environment and then kids are supposed to play with kids and you can interact with them a little bit, but be careful not to interfere.
And so, I see with Emma that she really, really seeks out adults and loves playing with adults rather than kids, for now, at least. And I think I was the same, but that was frowned upon. And just the developing of a real relationship, rather than the adult being the provider of the environment.
PAM: There is such a huge difference between directing and supporting. So, it sounds like they were so uncomfortable with the idea of directing that they stepped back from engaging in supporting, Like your music, “I’d like to learn how to read music,” example is perfect. They gave you a little tiny taste of it and then left you off to go and do it on your own, because they didn’t want to direct you.
But in that engagement, in that relationship, there’s just so many clues as to when it becomes a little bit more coercive, when we start coming at it with an agenda of our own.
DANIELA: Yeah, like when it all starts kind of pushing.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. There’s so much information and just joy that we can have through that connection and engagement of helping them learn it, whether we have that knowledge that we can share with them or whether it’s something new for us and we’re figuring it out together.
The value of a relationship in learning is vast, isn’t it?
DANIELA: And that’s what I’ve loved the most, I think, about your work, about what I’ve been reading and listening to, and all the things. So yeah, it’s been such a joy to really connect with Emma and other people in my life.
And going back to the beginning, when you asked me about learning to play, that was actually another piece that I had to peel back because it was like, oh, but I shouldn’t be directing. And sometimes I was even getting on Marco, like, you’re directing her too much. I’m like, don’t tell her this. And of course, that’s not helping anyone relationships, but that was another layer to peel back of, I can connect with her without directing or being pushy or having my own agenda.
So, it’s not like either I step away or I have an agenda. There is another possibility.
PAM: And what I love in there, we talked earlier about that need to be perfect, to do everything right. And when we’re playing, like you’ve said, Emma will not put up with you directing.
PAM: And that’s okay. That’s not a bad thing.
DANIELA: No, I love that about her.
PAM: Yeah. And this is just us learning in the moment. It’s not a bad thing that we thought about that next thing, because that’s where we were. But if she says, no, that’s not a bad thing either. And we just go a different way. So much of the dance, again, back to that relationship, that she’s free to add that to the conversation or to the play, and to direct it in the way she wants to go.
It’s that fear of mis-stepping that I think can sometimes hold us back, which is exactly it. I don’t want to direct it. I don’t want to get in trouble for misdirecting it or anything like that. Yet, when we’re just in the moment playing, all that flows there, doesn’t it? It’s totally okay.
DANIELA: Yes, it’s all in my mind. And it can just go away.
PAM: The other thing that I thought was really interesting that I wanted to get back to was how the parents were encouraged not to let their kids do outside classes and stuff. And that is so fascinating, because, like you said, that does close off the world versus opening it up.
And yes, on one hand, I think it’s that fear piece of that traditional schooling area. You can totally understand that. When people first come to unschooling, we do encourage them not to jump to classes as the first thing. Because, so often, we’re in the mindset that the class is the right way to learn that. Maybe they just want to dance around the living room. Maybe they just want to kick the ball around.
DANIELA: Yeah. I love that piece, too.
PAM: Yeah. You don’t have to go do formal training. But there’s also, if that’s what they’d enjoy, if that’s what they navigate to, maybe they’re tired of kicking it around and they want to do it more. Maybe they want to do it with more kids. Maybe they want to have the game experience.
There are so many reasons why that’s also a cool thing, just another choice on the whole platter. And I think it’s our relationships and our connection with them that mitigates that fear of direction. We don’t have to all of a sudden adopt this authoritarian outlook from the classroom and bring it into our home. We can talk to our kids.
Michael left Scouts. It was in second or third year. We moved. He had a new troop. He didn’t like how authoritarian and controlling that group was. That was a choice, but we were having conversations about it and he weighed what he got out of it and what he didn’t like about it. And he’s like, there is just not enough good there for me.
But that also doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t have gone there in the first place.
DANIELA: Yeah. I love what you said about the conversations, because I think reading later on, it’s like, so maybe there is sexism in the thing that Emma decides to watch. So, is the solution to turn it off and shut it away and like, “No. You’re never watching that.” Or talk about it, because she’s probably going to encounter it again. So, back to those conversations about all of the different things that she might be interested in. I think that’s a better focus for me or I feel better about that.
PAM: Yeah. And ultimately, there’s just so much more learning there.
DANIELA: I think so. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. The world is bigger. I love that. I love that vision, just that vision of opening up our world versus closing it down. It’s always a clue to me, when I’m feeling like I need to pull in and close off a piece of the world, that it’s time for me to do some of that work, some of that emotional work.
DANIELA: Yeah. I guess the last piece that I had written down on my notes, trying to think of pulling the pieces together, about the alternative school that I went to, that I’ve also heard a lot of talk about in unschooling resources that I’ve accessed about rules versus principles, or boundaries and consequences. I found that in a lot of the natural parenting world that I was initially attracted to, because of the attachment parenting, but there’s a lot of the talk of the boundaries and the consequences and the natural consequences and the validating.
Anyway, so I’ll try and tie it to the story. So, when we first arrived at the school, fresh from Canada, we visited the school in the afternoon when there were no kids there, but it was the introduction of the place. And, as I said, my parents had sold the idea of the school being that there were animals there that we could see. So, we were directed to the kindergarten area because my two sisters were younger and not allowed in the primary area. And it turns out the rabbits were only in the primary school.
So, I was so excited and we all were because that was one of the reasons we had come to this school was to see these animals. And we were like, ahhh! And we could see right from the kindergarten area, the rabbits were right over there, like 20 feet away. So, I was ready to go running. And then the principal of the school said, “No, you can’t. Your sisters can’t go into the primary area. That’s the rule.” And it was such a shock. I still feel like a shudder right now because I was like, oh my god. We came all the way from Canada. They’re not going to let us see the rabbits.
And I was used to explaining or trying to reason what was behind the rule with my parents. So, I was saying, “But there’s no other kids here right now. If you’re afraid that other kids are going to see that we’re going to see the rabbits, it’s 20 feet away. It’s not even in the other building.” I was trying to reason my way out of this. And they were like, “No. That’s the rule. That’s what we do here.”
And that was the tone forevermore, because then my parents got into that. So, they wouldn’t listen anymore. If I talked, they were just like, “Nope, that’s the rule.” And that was earth shattering.
DANIELA: That was quite amazing. So yeah, that bit.
PAM: Again, that closes everything down, doesn’t it?
DANIELA: No more talk about the rules, ever again.
PAM: Wow. Yeah, that is fascinating. I mean, when you think about that from the child’s point of view, for you, you were having conversations. Like, “No more conversations about this. I don’t even care to hear what you think about it. I’m not open to it, because a rule’s a rule. And I darn well better not go back on a rule’s a rule.”
DANIELA: Yeah, there was a lot of talk and my mom even talked about it. She was like, “Oh yeah. So, things are pretty chaotic. So, we’re going to have these rules and we’re going to stick to them or else there’s going to be consequences. And this is what we’re learning at the school.” And for me, it was just like, ahhh! Horrible.
And I guess the other piece that happened when we just arrived the first time was, my sister was just three and wanted to get on the slide and she was asking my dad to help her. And they were like, nope. The whole fostering of independence thing, which is the other piece tied to this philosophy, like the Montessori, is that kids should be really independent from early on and that you should help them be independent. But it’s more framed as kids want to be independent and we shouldn’t get in their way. It’s framed that way, but it didn’t always work out that way. Because my sister was screaming on the floor, because they wouldn’t help her on the slide all of a sudden, because it was a change. Before, they would have, but here these alternative people are telling them, “No, no, no. If she can’t get on the side herself, you shouldn’t be helping her.”
PAM: Yeah. In that world, that makes sense. That’s within their framework. Because we were talking earlier about that support piece, whether it’s physical things or whether it’s things that they’re learning.
DANIELA: Yeah. It was minimal support, but trying to help kids be able to do as much as they could early on. And in some ways, it was nice. They had really tiny, low sinks so that kids could wash their own hands without assistance. And a lot of kids loved that, but then what if there’s a kid that does want help, then it’s no. So, that’s the bit that I still don’t agree with.
PAM: So, that’s a piece of unschooling that felt really good.
DANIELA: That feels good. Yeah. And then, you had also asked about my education. I think we already talked a lot about a lot of bits, but what I really liked about unschooling was the lack of coercion, because in my graduate education, reading so much about schools for the purposes of colonization or racism or oppression of different peoples and coercion is tied into all of that, and I really like the discussions of unschooling as a tool for decolonization in some groups that I’ve found. Akilah Richards mentions, how can you use oppression against children and then hope for liberation? She didn’t say it like that, but that’s the general idea. And I didn’t remember to write down the quote, but just oppression and coercion towards children, and what that does as a larger society.
PAM: And we talked about that last month, too, within the eyes of consent, right?
DANIELA: Yes. I love that topic.
PAM: When you’re coercing them, when you’re having these requirements, you’re not giving them those tools, but you’re expecting them to walk into the world as an adult. It’s like, okay, this life is for kids. And this life is for adults. So, kids don’t have the power. They need to be controlled. They need to be coerced into doing what’s right and all that kind of stuff.
But then all of a sudden, that’s not how they’re supposed to treat anybody else once they’re an adult.
DANIELA: That’s true.
PAM: But how am I supposed to know? All I know is the way you treated me, so I’m going to turn around and those are the tools I know for treating other people. We’ll have links for all that in the show notes, too. Zakiyya Ismail and Akilah have been on the podcast. They both do a lot of work in that area.
DANIELA: Yeah. I listened to those episodes and I loved them.
PAM: I love that stuff, too. That’s great. Okay. Did you have anything else on your list?
DANIELA: One last thing, I just remembered you had an amazing episode with Holly Johnson and she was talking about leaving her son at a Montessori school and how hard that was for him. And I listened to that episode, right when we were trying to decide whether we should try and find some kind of kindergarten program for Emma, mostly because of all the work that we had to do. But also, because of this idea that she should be with other children and all this push of, children need to go to kindergarten because of all these different things, while I was learning all about unschooling.
But I knew Emma would never want to stay anywhere without us, unless she had a long time, like months, to develop a very strong relationship with an adult there. But all of these places were just saying, “No. You drop them off and then, if they cry, that’s fine. That’s just part of it. Most kids cry for like two weeks. That’s fine.” And I’m talking to my friends that had also gone to this alternative school and have found these alternative kindergartens that they love because they’re similar or they have the same philosophy of this alternative school. So, they’re like, “Oh, it’s wonderful. And it’s even our previous teacher. You remember so and so? She’s so kind. And they have all these songs and games and things and my kids love it!”
And they’re telling me all these things and then I ask them, “Okay. But how was it at first? How did it first happen that you dropped her off and then what happened?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, lots of crying, but it lasted two weeks and it was fine.”
And for me, I don’t know how to express, just listening to Holly Johnson’s episode, I was thinking, that’s what’s going to happen with Emma. It just resonated so much with me and helped me so much work through that piece of dropping kids off and the whole “adaptation period”, in quotation marks, of kids crying their eyes out. Not all of them, but some of them, not wanting to be there.
PAM: Yeah. That was an amazing story. And I’ll put links there, too, so people can see that, if they haven’t heard that one already.
What is something fun that you guys have done recently that you don’t think you would have done before finding unschooling?
I just thought that would be a fun way to wrap things up.
DANIELA: Yeah. So, one night, Emma had put on Doc McStuffins and a few days before, she had found a little wireless keyboard that we had, and she put it right in front of this big television. Before, she was playing around with typing on it, and she was saying that she was doing her thesis, because she hears me a lot trying to finish this dissertation for my PhD. So, anyway, she was working away on her thesis. But then, she put it in front of that television, watching Doc McStuffins, and she laid down on the sofa, and she pretended to sleep.
She was like, “Oh, now I’m going to sleep.” I was like, okay. And she jumped up like a firecracker, right up off the sofa, ran to the television and started typing furiously. And then she started telling me that she was trying to direct the story.
So, it was going to rain and she was typing, don’t rain. And then she’d run her back to the sofa and lie down and pretend to sleep again. It was so funny. And she would just pretend to sleep. And it was really late, so I thought she might actually sleep. And she closed her eyes. And then she would jump up again and go tearing off to the television and start typing furiously, whatever part of the story she was changing in her mind. And she did that a whole bunch of times and it was just so funny. And there’s just so many stories like that, but I won’t go into a million of them, but all of the stories related to all of the joy that we’ve come across by accepting the horrible, terrible monsters that are screens.
PAM: Oh my goodness. That’s hilarious. I can just picture it, the story going through her mind. “I’ve got to change it!” Okay. That’s lovely. Thank you for sharing that one.
And thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Daniela. It’s been so much fun.
DANIELA: I loved it. I’ve been following the podcast for so long. It was so exciting to finally come on, too.
PAM: Well, thank you so much for digging up all those things in your past and trying to weave some of that together as you came here. It’s been so interesting for me. I really, really want to thank you.
Now, before we go, is there a place where people can connect with you online?
DANIELA: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Well, I’m happy if anybody has any specific questions for my email, I guess, is the easiest. I can write it to you to put in the show notes. I’m on Facebook, but I don’t check it much lately. And I don’t really post things yet. I have Instagram, but I don’t really post. For now, I like sometimes posting things in the Network, where it feels like a safer, smaller place, with people that I’m getting to know, so I like that. And I haven’t really much been into posting things to the wider world yet.
PAM: No problem. No problem. It’s not an expectation.
DANIELA: Maybe I’ll want to, maybe I won’t, but anyway, I’m happy to connect with anybody who has any questions. I’ve seen a lot of people very interested in alternative schools, so it’s always interesting for me the kind of view that people from outside have of it and then the view that I have from inside, from having been that kind of alternative school that is quite common. It’s getting more common.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. Thank you so much, Daniela. Have a wonderful rest of the day.
DANIELA: You too.