PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Holly Clark. Hi, Holly!
PAM: I have been following you online for years now and I am looking forward to learning more about your unschooling journey.
So, to get us started, can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody is interested in right now?
HOLLY: Wow! Of course. Thanks for having me on. Well, I’ll start with my boy. His name is Moss and he is 13. My guy is a digital native. He’s really into his gaming and he loves anime. What else? Oh gosh. He plays laser tag in a league.
PAM: Oh wow!
HOLLY: Yes. It’s a legit sport and he has just been asked to play for southeast Queensland tonight. So, I’m going to be dropping him off at 4:00 and he’s going to be with basically laser tag professionals. He’s been playing that for four years now, so since he was about eight or nine. And we used to just go to a little homeschool laser tag play deal that we would get for our homeschooling community. On the Sunshine Coast, it’s pretty vibrant.
And then, he got asked to join a junior league, which hadn’t been quite set up yet. So, they threw him in with the adults as a young boy, and he was much shorter. So, for safety, they set up a junior league and he has been playing and progressing through the different levels of league for four years, five years now. And he’s got a really strong friendship group from that.
So, he’s basically grown up with a whole bunch of kids. They’re all teens now. They get together and play Magic: The Gathering. They get together and play Dungeons and Dragons. That’s another passion of my boys. And he’s got quite a community around him, which is really cool. So, that’s one thing about my boy.
He loves anime, always immersed in an anime series and I love how he talks to me about it. In fact, he recommended me and my daughter watch Cells at Work the other day. So, we’ve been really enjoying learning about cells in the body together.
I would say he’s an amazing gamer in the way of electronic games and tabletop games and RPG games. And he’s such a strategist and I love watching him online. And I play with him, too, and he just decimates me.
I’ll move on to my daughter, who at the moment is often playing Among Us. So, we’re often on our devices, sitting on this big couch I have, and trying not to let each other know that we might be the imposter by our body language. She’s really into that right now and it’s been a lot of fun playing with my kids doing Among Us, which has just taken off. And I think there’s a lot of unschooling servers, setting up kids who unschool to come and play Among Us together, but we haven’t actually joined any. I’d be interested to, but we’ve just been having fun playing as a family.
My daughter is a real performer. You can find her conducting interviews between herself and herself, playing different roles. She just starred in this beautiful theater production called Trinity’s Tribulations. She’s been working with a theater group for a year on an amazing show. And she played a bad guy, a little kind of sidekick of the evil character. And she nailed it. She’s amazing! She just inspires.
And she recently, the week after, she did a monologue with her theater group for this big Broadway show they were putting on. And we got to discover that the acting youth group that we’ve been going to, the youth theater group, offers acting for the camera and musical theater, as well. So, she’s just come to me after that show and said, “Put me in everything. I am all about it.” So, we’re looking forward to 2021 and really exploring her world with acting and character development.
And she loves film editing. She’s constantly editing little things for TikTok. She’ll film herself gaming and then edit things together and have it in a concise minute that TikTok lets you put on. So, she’ll narrate herself playing games. She’s just really playing with that world. What else is she into?
She can be found constantly creating arts, in all sorts of different media and ideas. Like at the moment, there are lots of drawings of Among Us characters all around. But not only that, she plays in this group where they just get to explore all sorts of different media and I’ve got hundreds of art supplies here. So, she’s always free to play.
She likes to help me cook. And what else? Oh gosh. There’s so much.
PAM: I was going to say. It sounds so busy now.
HOLLY: Oh yes. She’s a really passionate roller skater.
PAM: Oh wow!
HOLLY: We have a really great little venue down the road called the Rollerdrome. And every Friday and Saturday night, they have big roller-skating social nights. And there’s lights and games and so, every weekend, you’ll find her there. We go to a little homeschool roller skating meetup. She’s got some real good besties there that she likes to skate with.
And then, another thing she dived into this year, which is relevant because I’ll link it in later, is that she started artistic skating. And it’s a very disciplined form of roller skating. And I’ll talk about that a bit later, but she’s been doing that as well. And they’ve got a big show coming up in December involving Christmas and Frozen and dancing and being snowflakes. It’s a pretty big life she has, but she loves it. And it’s such a joy facilitating these things for her and Moss.
PAM: That is. It is so much fun and when we drop that persona of, I’m the adult. I shouldn’t be playing things, when we actually just connect and engage with our kids, it is just so much fun.
HOLLY: And you learn so much about them, as well. Oh my goodness. We’ll go into that.
PAM: Oh yeah. That’s beautiful. Yes, we’ll get there. And I’ve just got to say, Lissy just took up roller skating. She got interested. She got herself a pair of skates about a month, month and a half ago, and she has just been in heaven, enjoying that. So, that was fun.
HOLLY: Oh, it’s the best time. My daughter has three pairs of skates. She was doing roller derby for a while. She didn’t quite want to jump into that world of the scrim. So, she gave it away and explored artistic skating for a while, which is a whole different set of roller skates. They’re very special, for the kind of movements they need in artistic form, and she’s got a big, lovely collection of casual skates that she wants to roll around in.
PAM: Oh, that’s fun.
HOLLY: Yeah. That’s a lot of fun. A lot of freedom. I love seeing her moving and dancing and playing with her skates everywhere. So, it’s a good time.
PAM: Yeah. It is. That’s part of it, too, because when they’re engaged in their interests, in the things they want to do, they have literally chosen them. So, it’s not that we’ve had certain things that we expected them to enjoy. So, they throw their heart and soul into the things that are interesting to them. That’s how we learn so much about them, as well, as to what it is that’s drawing to them, how they navigate it, what pieces they like. Like you were saying, she was trying different kinds of roller skating, and now she’s woven her way into artistic and you’ll see how that goes, as well.
But it is just so wonderful to see them following and tweaking their passions as they learn more and gain more experience and turn this way and that way. That whole world is open for them and seeing where they go is just so much fun.
HOLLY: Yes. Exactly. And being available to things that might come up that change the course for a little bit. Like I said before, she’s been doing youth theater, and suddenly, her world got bigger. And we just did this performance last weekend and she saw how much more youth theater is, and she’s like, “Bring it into my life,” and I feel it’s my privilege and my honor to go, “Yes. Let’s make it happen.” And I talked to her teacher and she said, “We’d love to have her. She’s a real star. We’d love to nurture her.” Everywhere I go.
PAM: I know!
All right, so let’s go back for a second, because I would love to know how you discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling looked like.
HOLLY: Sure. That’s a great question. I’ve been thinking about it, because I don’t know where the beginning of the thread is.
So, I’ll preface it by saying I’ve always radically unschooled. From the time I found out that was a thing, I was like, this is it. This is so it. So, I had my first baby in 2007 and I knew my baby sleeping on me, breastfeeding as long as he wanted, and it just melded into really just supporting their milestones as they came up, not forcing anything, being open to the way they played, learned to talk, all that stuff. It just was a seamless morph into radical unschooling.
And I remember from reading a book. I haven’t revisited it in 13 years, so please forgive me, but it was the Continuum Concept. And somewhere, I found on a board of people talking about that book, I found that Always Learning Yahoo group. And that, I just ate it up. So, Moss was a baby and between him sleeping and being awake, I would be devouring that info. And it just started to make sense.
Through that group, I found a book called Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life by Rue Kream and look how worn it is.
PAM: I’ve given it away and bought new copies.
HOLLY: And it just was like, this makes sense to me. I want to do this! I reflected on my own school experience, and I was a bit of a loner in school. And the one thing that really stands out to me was in grade nine, I had to do this thing where, previously I had been enjoying arts, drama, all the kinds of things that you get to explore at school, not very deeply, but you get a taste.
And it just made me so happy. And then, suddenly, I reached this point in my schooling where they were like, “That’s not on your stream. You can’t choose both, or the three things that you like. You need to choose one in favor of math, English, and science.” And so, I got to only explore one aspect of myself there and it didn’t sit right.
And I kept thinking to myself, what if we had an opportunity as kids to deep dive into what we love as much as we want, without having to cut it off after 40 minutes? What if there was a way we could experience childhood uninhibited by a timeline or someone else’s vision of what childhood should look like?
So, that was an advantage of really exploring that in my mind. And I can say, 13 years down the track, it’s been amazing watching these kids develop so many skills and learn to read and write and solve problems and investigate their world without anything inhibiting how deep they can go. Or if they want to skim over it, they can. And it’s been, again, that work of me to be available, to be supportive, to open their world up, be their buffer between the world and them, too, if they need that, and just facilitate that exploration.
So, that’s where I was coming from when they were babies and we just continued on. And they’ve never been to school and they’re just happy humans.
PAM: That’s amazing. And I love how that mindset that you came to unschooling with.
When I got in touch with you and we were arranging our call, I asked if there was an unschooling topic that you were particularly passionate about and everything you said there is summed up in your answer to me. And that was choices.
That was all you said. Choices. I loved that because it is a seemingly simple answer, but even from your earlier description, it is so incredibly far-reaching, because everything, everything in our life is a choice, isn’t it?
HOLLY: Definitely, definitely. And the big underlying basis of unschooling and radical unschooling is our relationship to our children and who we are choosing to be in every moment with them. Sandra Dodd sums it up by saying, you’re faced with a choice, have a look at two options, and choose the better one. And there might be a moment where I’m tired, I’ve come home with the shopping, and my daughter asks me something about, “Can I do this now?” And I need to eat or whatever. And there’s this moment where I could be like, “Oh, just wait,” or, “Hang on. Give me five minutes, honey. Let’s work this out.”
And for me, living this way has created this awareness or this mindfulness about how I’m reacting in each moment. And I think that is one of the main things to be responsible for as a parent, because our kids will get on with the work of learning and playing and joyfully experiencing things. And our work is here, being mindful of how we’re interacting with that whole world they are in.
PAM: Yes. And that moment that you’re talking about, just taking that moment, is the realization that there’s a choice in there, is that we can make a choice rather than reacting. I love that reminder to have two choices before you make something, at least two. That reminds you to take a moment and to see that that initial reaction that we’re feeling doesn’t have to be the answer.
Maybe it is the answer in the end, but at least I’ve come up with another one. Then it really is a choice. It’s not like this is my one reaction because this is just my first reaction.
But once you can make it a choice, then you remember, like you were talking about, the person that we want to be, the parent we want to be, and also respecting our needs and noticing, I do need that five minutes to grab a snack, or I do need that five minutes to put the stuff in the freezer if I’m just coming in with the grocery bags or anything like that. It’s like, “Come with me for five minutes while I have a snack and then we will go do the thing.” There are so many possibilities the minute you remember that there are possibilities, that there are choices, right?
HOLLY: Right. That’s right.
We don’t have to see in one particular way. Once you’re mindful that you have this whole world of choices in front of you and you have the power to choose something other than your normal response to things, or especially if you’re a new to this world of respecting kids and not being in so much control, that’s a whole other conversation. You start to see that there are choices that cause peace and calm and no one has to be made wrong, in a way.
So, as I’m choosing to support them to get their needs met while honoring my own needs, because sometimes we can perhaps think only about our own immediate needs. And a book that I read, I can’t remember the name of it right now, but it helped me realize that I can build neuropathways to have more options than only one choice. And I know unschooling and parenting has done that for me, as well.
I’m having a moment.
PAM: Well, I’ll jump in for a second. You jump in when it comes to mind.
But what that tweaked for me when you were talking about that is the shift that I found coming to unschooling to being more curious. So, I would be so curious as to what the possibilities were of all these different paths. So, I think part of moving away from control, and if control is the parenting style that you are quite used to, part of that shift is just recognizing that there are other choices that are just as valuable, meaningful, equal to the control choice.
HOLLY: Totally. Being able to experiment with other choices and see how that goes. And I’ve noticed the connection choice seems to always be the one that opens up dialogue, opens up love, opens up support. So, in that moment of hunger and hot and tired, there can be just being real with them about, “Hey. I’m hot and tired and need some food, but I’m there for you. Can we do this in five minutes?” That opens up understanding and empathy from my little one. And she’s like, “Yeah, sure, mom! Take your time.”
And the funny and most beautiful thing is, being that way with my kids has opened up their own problem solving to be able to confidently and calmly state what they need. Well, not always calmly. But confidently state what they need and they know that there’s going to be respect there. And like, “Yeah, sure. I’m getting that’s hard for you right now. How best would you like to proceed? Do you need food? Can I feed you? Will that help things?” And there’s more of a dialogue in the direction of problem solving together, rather than, “I know what’s best here. And I know what’s the best thing for you.”
I mean, sometimes I zip in with food, for sure.
PAM: And moving away from control, I think there’s a step sometimes we stop off and for a minute, it’s like, “I know what’s best for them. I don’t want to control them, but then I’m just going to subtly use my energy and my body language to get them to try and do it.” So, a little tag for people who may be finding themselves at that spot. It’s understandable. But keep going, keep going. Because, like you said, that’s where you get to those moments where you are real.
And so, you come home and you’re really hungry and they want to do something and you say, “I need five minutes,” and, like you said, they can state their needs. Sometimes they may say, “No, I really need to do this right now. Right now.” And then we can adjust, because we don’t think that they’re trying to take advantage of us.
At this point, you’ve got that connected relationship with them and that trust with them. They trust that they can tell you, “No, no, this is super important to me in this moment.” And they’ll get it. And we get that back next time. When we are in a spot where like, “No, no, I really need to do this.” I need however many minutes, or not now, or whatever, because we’ve gotten to that space where we’re all just honest with each other about our needs. And we work together as much as possible to find that path forward that works for the most part for everybody.
HOLLY: Yeah. No, I would definitely agree with that. And I think you’ve articulated what I was trying to say.
PAM: Oh, good. You laid that foundation beautifully, Holly. Because that’s what was bubbling up for me.
HOLLY: Okay. And so, another piece also might be supporting our children with what they’re choosing. And I know I mentioned artistic skating before and when that was offered to Lotus, that expanded her world a lot. That’s my daughter’s name. Sorry. I forgot to say that. It expanded her world a lot, and she was actually quite excited. And a few months into these private lessons and doing group lessons, she’s realized that it has taken the fun out of skating for her.
And I was noticing in myself, I was fairly invested in this choice she’d made to explore artistic skating. And after her first like little mini-performance she did with all the experienced skaters, Lotus came to me and she was like, “I want to do these solo dances that the big girls are doing. I want to do it.” And then I said, “Sure. Let’s do a couple of extra private lessons. Let’s get you on the road to that, if you like. She was like, “Yeah. Okay.” And then about a month down the track, she was not even getting out of the car. “This is not for me. No, no.”
And I had set her up with skates and invested into the lessons and we had this beautiful moment where we had to be quite authentic with the trainer and choosing to support Lotus in that moment, however, invested I was in that journey, because it’s just so beautiful watching these artistic skaters. I mean, they work hard and they’re disciplined and they have training routines that basically take over their life.
So, Lotus acknowledged to herself and me that she wasn’t ready for that and was supported in that. She was pretty clear that she was going to stop. And for me, being able to give her that freedom to choose, even though she was well down the path of going to her first level and that kind of thing, I sat with her and her trainer and I said to Lotus, “Would you like to talk to your trainer about how you’re feeling?”
And she said, “I need you to do it.” And so again, that’s my opportunity to be her buffer between the world and her. And so, I said to Marty, “We were on this road and Lotus has found that it’s not for her.” And he was so great. He said to her, “Lotus, I’ve noticed how you want to have fun. And so, I’ve pulled back on how hard I push you in the training sessions, because I noticed that was where you were at.”
And so, I really appreciated him in that moment for really being sensitive to that about her, but he said, “That can’t be the reality all the time. And I just want to be really honest with you about, if you continue there will be very disciplined training sessions where I’m going to push you.” And she said, at that point, “I’m not ready for that.” And he said, “Well, okay. My door is always open. Come to the social skates. We would love to have you. We really appreciate, we love you, and honor your choice to stop.”
And so, something that was so big for her, being really honest about how she was feeling about this big investment we’d all made into her, and then feeling supported and loved no matter what, was really huge for her. And I’ve noticed, we were close before and now she’s just even more open with me and she’s even more loving.
She’ll just come up to me and just hold me and cuddle me and say, “Mom, I just love you so much. I’m so glad you’re my mom.” And I think that’s one of the most beautiful aspects of this life is this connectedness we have with our kids as we trust them in the choices they’re making, even if it doesn’t go the way you thought it would.
PAM: I feel that is such an important point about just paying attention to how we’re looking onto their interests. Whether it’s something that we at first don’t think is a valuable use of their time, or if we get invested in it, we think it’s a valuable use of their time and they change their mind or they tweak their path. All those pieces, the realization that those are about us and doing the work to peel back, why is it that we don’t value that? Or why are we invested in that?
It’s even the disappointment if they’re choosing a different path, but that’s mostly because we’ve started projecting into the future. Started projecting that, oh, I’m going to be able to watch them do this beautiful dancing or whatever sport, interest, whatever that they’re interested in. “You’re going to be an amazing painter someday.”
It reminds me of when outside family would ask what Lissy was interested in and, “Oh, she’s still interested in photography? Oh, she’s going to be a photographer.” Everybody likes to jump to the future, like the interest is worthwhile only if it’s some professional thing or some stand-out thing in the future. And it can be hard for us to be honest with ourselves about that, but to just know that we don’t have to go around telling everybody.
But to understand it ourselves and then to use that to remind us to look at our kids and support them, because it’s a big thing for them. Like you talked about, she felt so empowered after that conversation. And hey, wonderful for the trainer who spoke to her and met her there and was honest himself, but also totally accepting of her choice and, “The door is open,” and all this kind of stuff. That was wonderful. And for us to be able to support it and to talk them through it if they don’t get as positive a reception, but they feel empowered because we are supportive of their choice. They feel seen, they feel heard, and they want to hug you a lot for a while.
HOLLY: And she knows I’ve got her back. And I’ve often said to her, “My love, no matter what you face in life, at nine or at 13 or at, or as you’re older, I have your back. I have your back. You can rely on me to help you solve problems and communicate things you need to communicate.” And that is such a huge piece of unschooling. I mean, it’s a huge piece of parenting.
But it’s been very magnified for me because of what I’m committed to in my family to be that person who they can come to and count on to listen and to give them a hand when they don’t know what to do or communicate something they haven’t yet got the confidence to communicate. Because they will have it.
And a lot of people who encounter Lotus are surprised by her confidence and her ability to just take on anything and really appreciate that about her. And I think it comes within knowing that I’ve got her back and behind her all the way. And so even if something doesn’t work out, we got this. We got this together. We’re a team. And that’s a huge part of this whole life, being a really big part of her team.
PAM: And supporting choices, back to those choices again.
So, has there been anything that you have felt uncomfortable with for a while that you did some work with?
HOLLY: Oh yeah. So, choosing something that we’re not comfortable with and when the work starts with us. So, I’ve got two things that I would say. The first is popping Lotus into theater when she really wanted to, without her really knowing how to read at that point. And thinking, will she be able to handle this? Because she would come home with scripts. And then being completely surprised by this young lady’s memory and her ability to be read the lines one or two times and remember them.
But not only her own, other people’s as well. And over this year, seeing her read more and more and more, and it’s just snowballed. And yeah, sure, she’s still asking me some words and that kind of thing. But it hasn’t inhibited her at all being in theater, doing live theater, and not reading everything there is to read.
I read somewhere on Always Learning once way back, that often there is this whole thing with unschooled kids, their memories are just incredible because they haven’t been told what you need to know when and, “Remember this for the test.” And then forget it. So, there hasn’t been all that noise. And so, Lotus just can go into something that she just loves and absorb it and then say it like there is nothing in between that. So, that’s been really cool.
So, I realized I didn’t have to be uncomfortable at all and all I need to do is keep supporting her as she asks questions and she says, “Could you read that for me? Could we read this book tonight? I want to play on Google Translate for a while.” There are just all sorts of ways that you can create a text-rich environment where learning just can’t help but happen naturally. And that’s been the coolest thing about the theater journey is really wordy scripts coming home and she just doesn’t bat an eyelid. She’s like, “Got this!” Amazing. So, that’s been really cool.
And my second one, I would say, is because Moss is quite a digital native, he’s always been immersed in media. It’s been a real big part of his life. And then, just bumping up against those things like, is he learning enough from this? Is he getting what he needs? And I really do think it meets a need for strategizing, leadership. I noticed now that he will put on the screen the backstory of games and read through reams and reams of words and story and information, so he can pull out what he needs in relation to different characters he plays with.
And having my son be supported in that, since he was quite young, he jumped into video gaming, the main thing I’ve found is, what if we have guests over that aren’t allowed so much access to digital media? And what does that look like? And my own fears about how people view my world I’ve created here.
We just got given a virtual reality headset, an Oculus, by a beautiful, very kind uncle. We’re just so grateful. It has been such fun. And even introducing the grandparents to it, who do have their own fears around media, and watching them play with virtual reality and be blown away by what’s possible, and that has really helped bridge a connection between grandparents and my darling little digital natives that I have here. And also, finding ways for grandparents to connect with the kids outside of the digital realm.
So, one thing Moss is into his jiu-jitsu. He’s got a really cool sensei. It’s not Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s another Asian-origin one. I forgot what it’s called. I’m sorry.
PAM: That’s okay!
HOLLY: Something that has really been wonderful for my dad is coming over on a Thursday, picking Moss up, taking him to jiu-jitsu, to the dojo. There’s always a great, wonderful message about personal responsibility from the sensei at the end, which my dad is all about. And then, they go to lunch. And so, they’ll have some time where they have this time to talk and share and be together, outside of the digital realm, because my son is really in the digital realm here a lot when he’s home.
So, that has been a wonderful way of connecting people who love him to his world. And I think that’s a really important thing. If people are facing any judgment from the outside about this radical unschooling life that embraces unlimited media use, that kind of thing, finding ways to be together, connecting passions and interests outside of that.
And it just came about through a conversation with my dad. He was like, “How can I be there more for you? I don’t feel very connected to the kids when they’re on their devices when I’m here, what could we do?” And so, I had a bit of look in our lives and said, “What if you took Moss to the dojo?” He would love it. And it helps me. I can go and do something with my daughter.
So, it’s been a beautiful way of nurturing a connection that otherwise might not have been so vibrant and loving. And I see them hug and they laugh and joke together. It’s really quite cool, because my dad hasn’t always been comfortable with Moss playing Apex Legends and Assassin’s Creed. And it’s a lot of blood. Well, pixel blood.
PAM: Yes, exactly. It’s not really blood, but yes. I love that story. What a creative way to look at it. I love that your dad approached you and asked that, that he was open to something different. And there were just so many little steps along the way, and you didn’t take it defensively like that you needed to fix something from that, but stepped forward and thought of the two of them. You thought of Moss’ interest in jiu-jitsu and how your dad might be able to be involved in that.
So, it wasn’t about trying to set up something that wasn’t connected to them. And if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out. But there’s no expectation on it. But it’s like, okay, I know these two people. How might I help them connect with each other in a way that both would enjoy? And now they’re meeting for lunch after the dojo and they hang up for a little bit and that is wonderful.
It’s like, what does my child enjoy that can be something that they can enjoy with someone else in their life, if someone else is looking for that kind of connection or asking, what can I do? How can I help? How can I hang out with my grandkids? Or aunts, uncles, whoever is in their life who is wanting to connect, it’s just so beautiful.
Again, back to choice, right? It’s thinking creatively as to ways that these two individuals may connect and trying to support that. We’ve been talking about supporting them in their choices. I thought that was just such a wonderful story. What a cool way to work with that. And then granddad gets to know Moss better and sees him as a whole person.
That conversation starts and they’ll talk about games and everything. So, he learns more and hears the excitement about the gaming piece and the laser tag piece and, and all those other bits of his life, he gets to hear more about them. And I think will probably end up valuing those pieces of him more, too, because he’s seeing the whole person. So anyway, that was just beautiful.
HOLLY: It’s pretty amazing. And I’m watching Moss, when he was nine and 10, Moss’ life, his awareness, wasn’t so much other people. It was really centered on himself and his own experience, gaming and playing these things. And we lived with some teenagers for a while who were homeschooled, distance education.
And they would be up late at night. There was a table at the top on the deck, and there were always games going on between the kids. And when Moss wasn’t playing those games, he was on his X-Box and he would bounce between these really amazing kids and him and his world was very much like that.
But now, Moss seems to have got this broader awareness of what’s going on around him. And so, when Granddad comes over, he’s like, “Hey!” and engages in conversation. And they talk and they hug and Lotus has this really big love of art. And my dad is an artist and a sign writer and in so many things, and she can already easily connect. And it’s been this beautiful thing watching Moss become more aware of what’s around him. And it would be okay if he wasn’t, too.
PAM: Yeah. No, that is all part of the individual developing, right?
HOLLY: Yeah. Yeah. He seems to have this way of really lovingly engaging with what’s around him much more.
And it’s pretty cool to watch this wonderful transition into teenagehood. So far, it has been an absolute joy. I find it’s a lot of the same. He’s got a Discord server with his close laser tag friends, and they are arranging picnics and they arranged to get together for Magic: The Gathering and maybe a swim. So, I’ve heard you say you became a driver a lot more at that point to connect kids to their activities they’d arrange and that kind of thing.
And this age we’re in where Moss can jump on their Discord chat and find out where everyone’s meeting. I can slip him over there. It’s just awesome. I’m finding it’s been a fabulous transition into teenagehood. I would definitely say remaining connected with your kids, supporting their choices and who they are, has this lovely continuum, as they get gigantic and grow.
And another piece I wanted to say, I don’t know if it’s related to anything, but when they come to you to chat or you’re in the car and they’re opening up about things, it’s such a privilege. And I definitely make sure I put down what I’m doing and listen in, because these moments are really precious. Very precious, very beautiful having this teenager come to you and talk about what’s going on in his world. It’s brilliant. And it’s not all the time. But when it’s on …
PAM: No, well, that’s why you need to be open to it.
And that leads perfectly into my next question or topic that we were going to dive into, which was basically the choices around parenting, around our choice of being the parent that we want to be, the person that we want to be within the context of the moment, hungry, tired, all those pieces.
But remembering that, like you said right there, when they are reaching out to connect, when connection is something that’s important to us, we realize it’s more important than the dishes, than the nap, than whatever else is competing in our mind. For me, it was just that moment to say, “Nope, this is the important thing.” When the opportunity arises for conversations, connections, fun, if they invite me to do something, those are going to be my priority and doing that.
HOLLY: And I’ve got a beautiful example of that. Yesterday, we dropped Lotus off at her art group and I had Moss with me. He usually goes and hangs with some friends in the afternoon, but it couldn’t happen. And he brought his volleyball. He found out about volleyball through an anime. And so, we go everywhere with his volleyball now, and there was a park next to the building and he’s like, “Mom, let’s go hit this between each other.” And we just had an hour of the most fun together. It was great.
And then we ended up researching portable volleyball nets that he could take over to his friend’s house, because they’re all getting into it, too. And I found a way we could get that. So, we had some time and we zipped down the road and we found this great volleyball net and we were able to purchase it. And so, now it’s just, again, that diving into their passions and being available to them and facilitating their world and taking those invitations to be together, really as the number one priority. Because he’s going to be 18 in five years.
I’m not going to have this wonderful kid too much longer. Not that we will stop being connected. Of course not. But these invitations to play are precious, I’ve got to say. Really precious. And they’ve got to take the top of the priority list over everything else. I was going to go grocery shopping in that hour, but it was so much better spent with him.
PAM: Yeah, exactly.
In my experience, those more spontaneous moments where there’s like an invitation or an idea, and we set aside the other thing that we thought we were going to do, the connection and the energy and the joy that happens in those moments is so often so much more delicious and powerful than any moment that we had planned, like, “Oh, let’s go to the park for an hour and do this.”
Because it takes a while to shift. Even if you’ve got something planned, you’re moving from something else at a preordained time. So, it takes some more energy to get there, but when you’re going in the flow of the moment, that’s where it flows and there’s an invitation there or an opportunity there. And you follow that flow. I don’t know. Somehow, it’s often so much richer than you could ever plan for, right?
HOLLY: Oh, absolutely. It was fantastic.
And these moments, I’m going to treasure forever. I got to be part of their world. They’re inviting me. Their world is so much what they’re doing with others or gaming or whatever. So, it’s, like you said, very enriching to put aside my plans and actually be with the child now. And that would be a real piece I would encourage busy moms who have a big to-do list, but things will get done. They truly will. They will. There will be time. But if you’ve got that invitation, just walk into it with a big yes.
And one of my mantras in life is, “Why not?” “Why not do this?”
PAM: That was a question I would ask myself, literally in those moments. If I was feeling the pull to do the dishes and I was planning to do the groceries and I was going to do this thing, and they come with something different. Change on a dime isn’t one of my strong suits.
But that was a tool that helped me with that transition. It’s like, “Why not?” And I’d be two or three answers in and none of them were really realistic, when again, it’s priorities. When that’s the priority. And then after a few times of saying, “Yeah, why not yes?” And off we go and we do the thing, it’s like, oh my gosh. That was so fun. I’m going to treasure that moment. So, it makes it easier in the future to keep saying yes to those.
HOLLY: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It was so funny last night, we went to the social skate. They had a big glow night, and she comes up to me and it was about a quarter til 9:00. She’s like, “Let’s stay out really late tonight.” And I knew she would get home and would just crash. And I was like, “Wow! What do you want to do?” And instead of putting my own ideas in the way of, “Oh, you might be tired tomorrow,” or whatever, I was able to just enjoy her enthusiasm. She was so caught up in the magic of last night. It was just so fun.
And she wanted that to continue when we got home. And we made snacks when we got home and we went to watch Cells at Work, because we thought we’d snuggle together and do that. But she was asleep in a second.
But being a “yes” in life to those beautiful little requests that just make a child’s life sweeter, it’s something I really treasure about being an unschooler. And it’s so funny, because conversations are so often about academics and what they’re learning and how they’ll get that. But I found really listening to where my child’s at, what they need in the moment, and being able to be a “yes” and not a roadblock is so much fun.
And I saw on Jo Isaac’s Facebook profile one year, she said Chief Officer of Fun, and it said that’s her job, Chief Officer of Fun. And I was like, I’m taking that on. That’s going to be my life. And it’s worked a treat being that, what it takes to be that. I mean, there’s tired moments in life. Everybody has them. My kids will come back from a busy day. Do you feel tired? And they just need space and need time and need food and that kind of thing. So, not all of it is like rainbows and unicorns, of course. But I find being in those moments where they’re not so alive is a nurturing presence for them and still inside of my commitment to be their ally.
And I think I have to tell you, one tool that I printed out was Joyce’s Unschooling Toolbox. I put them all on these pretty cards and they’re there in a bowl on my bench and I look at one or two of them every day. And they’re just the most inspiring things. And they remind me that presence with my children is the most important thing, presence and honoring what they’re choosing, and being with them as they choose it.
PAM: I loved your story with your daughter and her saying she wanted to stay up late. Your realization that it wasn’t really about the clock or the late. It was that she was having just so much fun. She was just enjoying this day and she wanted to bring that joy with her home, right?
HOLLY: Yeah. That’s right.
PAM: Yeah. In the moment, so often, it’s not about figuring out the logistics of everything. It’s going with the energy of the moment and seeing where it flows.
And not deflating that balloon. Not just letting the wind out of her sails. Being like, “Yeah! What do you want to do?” That’s her memories of me when she’s grown up. Like, “My mom was just so into whatever crazy idea I came up with and we just did it.” What a joy. I think that would be really nice to treasure.
PAM: And I think for people, too, is the realization that these things that our kids are drawn to, they are part of them. The choices that they’re making, the things that they’re thinking of in the moment, when we help them experience them, they learn so much about themselves in that moment. Your daughter came home. She was all excited and everything, and she fell asleep before you guys could actually start watching the show. And that was all awesome. There is no negativity in that, and she learned a little bit about herself, too.
“Oh man. After a long evening of skating, I’m pretty tired.” All of those pieces, every single experience, is just more experience that they are putting in their bucket. A little bit more information about themselves. They remember how much they want to do it. Then they get to know how much they enjoyed it, what parts they enjoyed, what parts they didn’t. It helps them tweak their path forward, helps them tweak their next choices.
If they get to experience the choice that they think is going to be the most exciting for them in the moment, the most fun, they get to experience that and they get to learn from that. They get to see what happens. So, even if it feels like, “Oh, they just want to do this, this, this,” they’re doing all the things, but when you take that moment to realize, all the things are helping them learn so much, not just about the thing that they’re doing, but also about themselves as they have now that experience under their belt to add to their view of the world.
HOLLY: I totally agree completely.
PAM: So, one last question.
What has surprised you most so far about your unschooling journey?
HOLLY: Wow. I have so many thoughts on this one. One thing I was super surprised by this year was we went to the Woodford Folk Festival, which is a six-day festival. It’s at the end of 2019 into 2020. And it was before all the COVID massive drama. But there’s a children’s festival there. And I was working as a face painter in the children’s festival, which is what I do on the side for people who are having little parties. And so, the children’s festival has heaps of workshops.
It’s the biggest play space you can imagine with all sorts of topics for kids. And Lotus did a stop motion workshop with her little friend and I never heard about it. She did not say much about the workshop when she did it in early January.
And one morning about three months ago, I think it was, she woke up and went, “I’m going to make a stop motion today. I remember this from the workshop and this, this, this,” and we got everything together for her and she made this wonderful little scene about a frog. And it was so colorful and there were clay characters and different things she pulled together from things we have around here. And she put music to it. She edited it. She did all the frames. She did everything and it was just superb.
And that’s, I think, leading into one of the main things I’ve found with unschooling is the connection might be born and when you just hold that connection with an open palm and allow it to marinate and allow it to just be what it is and don’t force more in there, just let the creative process do its work, and that applies to also reading, mathematics, and everything else, you will find that the kids make these links.
And that’s what I found with Lotus’ reading journey. It’s been this open, calm approach where I answer the questions she has. I surround her with an environment that has heaps of text, read to her when she wants, whatever she needs, and the connections are falling together just like little droplets. And it’s all creating this whole world of ability. And sure, she’s nine. It’s coming along great. But this is the thing that surprised me most about the unschooling journey is she won’t let something little, like not being able to read a whole script, stop her from acting a character, for example.
And she will find what she needs from life and pull it all together to create a result. And, whereas many people are stopped by maybe what they don’t know yet, “Oh, I can’t do that because I don’t have this skill.” We know as unschoolers and parents who make it our business to know how people learn, that we just learn by doing. We jump in there and we learn what we need to know on the way.
So, that’s a really big surprise for me about my own kids is they will jump into things, whether they have all the know-how about it or not. They would be like, “I don’t mind making a mistake. I don’t mind asking for help when I need it. And I’m going to find ways to meet this need, and have this outcome.” So, that’s been a really cool thing about my journey with them is watching them do the most remarkable things and not letting anything they don’t know stop them.
PAM: I love that. Yeah. That’s a beautiful example too, right?
They’re happy to dive in and mistakes aren’t judged. They haven’t been judged, so it’s just more learning. It’s like, “Oh, okay. I’ll do it this way next time. Or this, that, or the other thing. And I will pick up the things that I know, and I’m happy to ask questions and learn things.” It is so much different seeing them in action than what we remember from school. The fear of making a mistake, the fear of people seeing you make mistakes, needing to be perfect and know everything before you attempt something. It’s just a whole different way of living, isn’t it?
HOLLY: Oh yeah. It’s quite freeing, not being constrained by the fear of what people might think if you don’t know something in front of the class or getting something wrong or studying and still not acing a test, for example. All of that noise isn’t there for my kids. There’s just nothing between what they want to do and exploring it and maybe getting a good result, of course. But even if they don’t get a good result, even if it doesn’t work out the first time, they take what they learned from that and build upon it.
They have shown me so much, because they just do the work of living and learning. We are the ones that have to face ourselves. And everything we learned about ourselves during the schooling system process and that sort of thing. I remember after grade 12, I would have nightmares that I would have a teacher say, “You failed.” And it was really weird that that happened.
But what I do know is, my kids are growing up without this idea that they can fail. They’re just like, “Oh, that didn’t work out. What’s next?” It’s been a real joy to watch this all unfold and connections be made and build and build and build. It’s really exciting.
PAM: Exciting, exactly. Just a beautiful way to put it. Our days are just filled with people really just living. It sounds so simple, just living, but we’re all making our choices. We’re trying them out. We’re seeing how it works. We’re tweaking them up when things don’t go the way that we expected. Yeah. I mean, “failed” really, isn’t a word that we use in our vocabulary. Because we can learn from the things and make another choice.
I think it’s because we’re not trying to follow someone else’s path. When you’re trying to follow someone else’s path, then you’re judged as to where you are along that path. And then, that’s where more of the “failed” or “You did it wrong,” or that kind of stuff, but when you are creating and exploring your own paths, it is just beautiful and exciting to watch, isn’t it?
HOLLY: Yeah. And it’s fueled by curiosity and not the fear of getting it wrong. It’s just wonderful. It’s a real joy. And I think that would be definitely what has surprised me most is what they can create from just putting pieces together and what they know.
Oh my goodness. I was watching this movie with my son once and it had battleships in it, like all these warships and he was like, “That’s a TRXQ1,” “How do you know this?” He’s like, “Oh, I know lots about war ships. I played Battleship game and it had all the categories and what they’re used for in which war they were in. And he would just point at them and say, “That’s that.” And, “Oh, that’s a very modern one.” And it was amazing because I had no idea he was learning about that playing a video game.
And the other day we bought Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which is a new release from that franchise. And he said, “Oh, come in, mum, come in. I want to do some poetry with you. And laying around the map is these Norse poetry. So, we were reading them and exploring the meanings. And then he went up to a man in the game and he said, “Let’s have a poetry battle.” And it’s all about candor and timing. And so, we learned so much about people who they would speak in rhyme to one up each other.
And that was so fun to explore with my son. If I would put a workbook about poetry in front of him, he’d be like, “What are you doing?” But in this context, in the context of a game that is really based around a period of time and all of the nuances of that time, it sounds funny to say, but he’s getting quite an education about certain time periods because the different games he has are all based on history in some way or another, which I find a really amazing thing about games.
And if you need a reason to support your child’s gaming, find out backstories for the kids and go and research the game on your own just to discover something about it that they might not know. And when you’re chatting, you might want to drop that in there and see what they know about that, because I’ll pretty much guarantee they would know much more.
PAM: Once you’re connected with them enough so it’s not, “They’re playing games.” You’re actually with them. You’re seeing what they’re doing in there. And you start to see, for the games that your son is enjoying, you’re seeing their different time periods. And so that is probably a thread of interest for him, that history and all those different pieces. And for another child, they may be playing totally different kinds of games and have different threads of interests that are tying their game choices together. But if you just call them games and leave them to it, you’re never going to see those really interesting aspects of your child. You just learn so much more about them, don’t you?
HOLLY: Yes, you do. I know Moss has always been drawn to characters who have bows and arrows. And he has his own bows and arrows and things like that and he goes and plays with them. But it’s quite amazing to see the things he loves. I don’t know, how do you explain it? It’s like he’s drawn to certain things and he loves to play with the scope of them. So, he plays in the physical world with them, but he also plays in the digital world with them, and really enjoy the freedoms and limitations that different games offer.
So, the other surprising thing is how much video games actually teach and you learn from playing them. And I would say that it’s extremely difficult. If you just sit with your child and see if you can play a game with them, you’ll see really how much they are doing. And I think it’s a really important piece for people new to unschooling and their children are particularly drawn to gaming, to get there and get in and do it with them.
I mean, you obviously don’t have to be sitting there six hours a day with them, but spend a couple of hours really getting their world about it. Just listen to them or play with them and you’ll see how much skills are really being developed through gaming. It’s quite amazing.
PAM: Yeah, it is. It is like a window to the world. And it’s a window to your child, what pieces they enjoy, what they’re drawn to, exploring all sorts of different things. For me, one of my favorite things was being, for a few years there, I was the walkthroughs specialist. As they were trying to accomplish certain things, I’d have the walkthrough in hand. I remember collecting all the skulltulas with Michael. I think it was a Zelda game.
But anyway, yeah, just helping them with the puzzles. You see their mind at work. You see them trying all these different things to narrow and you see them managing so many things, from money and time and whatever the context of the game itself, like learning the history, learning the world, the fantasy world, maybe a fantasy language. There are just so many places you can go, depending on the different games. Right. And to see that in action, you’re just so much more respectful of the skill that it takes and the effort that they’re putting in to figure things out. Seeing them in action is just amazing.
HOLLY: Most definitely. Watching Moss and me play a game I’m completely unskilled at, sadly, the amount of different things that had to be achieved within one section of the game and that you have to think about at once and manipulate the character to do, and Moss would be doing all that, completely slaying all the bad guys while I’m kind of still working out how to shoot my little Nerf gun.
But he’s also reading my stats as well as his, and knows how to teleport all around the map to get a result. And it’s like, if he can navigate that much mentally within that tiny world of that game, imagine how many neuropathways he’s building to navigate different life situations. I mean, that’s again, projecting to the future, which we don’t really need to do because presence with our children is pretty much the key of unschooling.
But I do sometimes let my mind wander to how he might apply problem solving in the world in a situation where he’s working. And I can see he is acutely developed in strategizing and seeing lots of outcomes at once and taking in a lot of data at once. So, that’s kind of cool to think about.
And you really get to see that when you sit with your child and play with them. And I highly recommend doing that. If you’ve got anything inside you that’s saying, “Oh, I don’t like this. So much time on games,” really just being with them is a real insight into how much it takes to conquer a map, really.
PAM: Exactly. And I think you’re right. When you see them in action, so much of it is the critical thinking skills and the data management and all the different inputs. These are skills that they’re developing that don’t turn off just because they turn off the game. I mean, those thinking skills, that creativity to try and figure out a path forward. They bring those skills, that way of thinking, that way of moving through situations with them wherever they are.
HOLLY: Yep. That’s so true. There’s a YouTuber who does game theory and I don’t understand game theory too well yet. I’m still working it out, but Moss pairs a lot of his gaming experience with the theory within gaming and that’s quite a fascinating world he’s pretty fluent in that I’ve got a learning gap there. But it’s so cool, this world we’re living in.
Some time ago, I heard this saying of, our kids immersing in their passions is setting them up to live in a world where they’re working perhaps in jobs that they create or are created in the future. So, there’s no skill they’re developing as unschoolers living at home, living their passions, that is not going to be useful in their future, whatever it is. I’ve heard some of your grown unschoolers talk. It’s always very inspiring.
But I see often what they loved when they were tiny really informed a lot of what they do as adults now. And I just think, who am I to get in the way of that?
PAM: I love that. I love that. Because they’re not going to stop making choices, when they turn 18 or whatever that age is. So, their path is still going to flow and they’re going to find ways that they bring those threads of what they enjoy into adulthood.
Okay. Okay. Holly, I want to thank you so, so much for speaking with me today. Thank you. Thank you. It was so much fun.
HOLLY: You’re very welcome. I think I’ve got a workman here, working on the bathroom.
PAM: Yay! Working bathrooms are always good, right?
HOLLY: Yes, they are. Oh, that’s funny. Yeah, it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for having me.
PAM: So fun. And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
HOLLY: Yeah, I would say my Instagram. I document little things that we’re up to. And I particularly made that page just if unschoolers ever wanted to come there to just see what the unschooling world looks like. It might be lovely for them to come to my Instagram page and that’s actually called Holly Blossoming.
PAM: Yeah, I’ll put that link in the show notes.
HOLLY: Yeah, for sure. I sent that to you. And also, I’m pretty bad at this, but I did start a little page called One family, Unschooling on Facebook, and people can go there. But I actually have been a bit slack with it really. I’m really sorry, people. It’s just somewhere people can go and see my thoughts about things like boredom and gaming and I write little things late at night that pop into my head and I’m like, “Oh, there’s an idea. I’ll just see what comes out about it.”
PAM: What I love about it, is so much of it is evergreen thoughts. So, it doesn’t matter how old they are or whatever, it’s processing and thinking about those things. So, that’s wonderful. I’ll have the link to that, too, in the show notes. Have a lovely, lovely day. And I hope your bathroom fixing repairs, whatever, go very smoothly.
HOLLY: We actually didn’t have a shower for nine days while the guys were fixing that up. We are in quite an old house. So, it was getting a little bit rotten underneath, so that’s all been fixed up now. And I think it’s just the tiling on the floor of the bathroom needs a little bit of work now.
PAM: Yay. That’ll be so nice to have done. Thank you so much, Holly. Have a wonderful day. Bye.
HOLLY: Thank you. See you later.