PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna.
ANNA: Hi, Pam.
PAM: So, this month in the Living Joyfully Network, our theme has been Nurturing Our Children’s Learning. And no matter how long you’ve been unschooling, it is truly always helpful to revisit and re-ground ourselves in our children’s learning. And this was really fun for me for January. We’ve got that fresh energy. We really want to dive in. We’re unschooling! So, I am really excited to dive into this.
So, our first discussion topic. Let’s get right down to the basics.
With unschooling, we choose not to direct our children’s learning through using curriculum. We know what we’re not doing, but what do we do instead? We’re going to replace curriculum with curiosity.
Exploring the world through that lens of curiosity with our kids, by following their interests and passions truly does create a personally-tailored web of learning connections and knowledge that fits them so beautifully.
And as we hang out with our kids and observe them in action, we come to see how learning is not a goal in and of itself like it is at school. But it’s a by-product, really, of pursuing their activities. Or I like to say it just happens naturally. It just happens, because they are actually interested in the thing that they’re doing. They’re engaged in the thing that they’re doing. They’re having fun. They’re even pushing through frustration, because they want to do the thing. There’s so much intrinsic motivation there that it is just amazing to watch them in action and then just see the learning happen alongside it, because they want to accomplish X, Y, or Z. Right?
ANNA: Right. And I just think it’s so fun to observe this. You’re with them, but you’re not directing. And that’s the difference, too. You’re seeing what lights them up, seeing the connections that they’re making, supporting them as they’re following their interests, and that creates that web that we talk about.
And it won’t be linear. And that’s why I love the web analogy. Because sometimes we get stuck in the idea that learning is a linear process and it isn’t. So, the web analogy is so great. It will grow and it will lead to all sorts of wonderful places, but it’s really so valuable to step out of that role of director and move to the role of facilitator. Because I want to see through their eyes and support their vision as they explore.
And so, just like you were talking about with, we set aside the curriculum, it’s not a vacuum. We’re moving to these new tools. So, that role of facilitator is a new role versus the director of, “This is how we need to do things. This is what we need to learn.” And that role is pretty ingrained in us from our history and whatever. So, that’s the fun stuff to observe and to figure out how can I be a facilitator?
And so often, the big piece of that is going to them, watching them. Seeing what they’re doing. Pause just a minute. This is not separating from them. This is actually digging in and getting closer, but it’s just quieting that talking a little bit as you observe and see what’s happening, and then you’ll see the places to plug in where you’re enhancing their journey versus taking it over.
PAM: And when you think of that difference with team director and facilitator and giving that interest or whatever they’re curious about some space to grow, something to really consider, especially when you’re newer to unschooling, is not jumping in with more schoolish-looking solutions, because truly, learning to us, at first it looks like a teacher, even if it’s not in a school building. It’s like, well, they’re interested in the piano, so I should sign them up for lessons. Or look, they love dancing, so I should sign them up for lessons. Or a sport or stuff like that.
So, it is really important to give them that space, as you said, not you in the other room all the time, but space to just see how it unfolds for them and what it is that they are uniquely interested in. We’ve talked before about how, if they’re interested in ballet, there’s so many different aspects. Don’t just sign them up for ballet classes immediately.
Maybe it’s the music that they’re enjoying. Maybe it’s the costumes that they’re enjoying. Maybe it’s the exercise using supplements for testosterone. Maybe it’s the positions, poses. When you give it that space, you learn more about it. And then, like you said, you can better facilitate it, too.
ANNA: Because then you’re getting that information. So, you’re seeing, okay, it’s the tutu and the big tulle and whatever that they’re really loving. We can bring that into our lives. Or no, they’re really wanting specific instruction about this piece. Okay. Let’s check out YouTube. Let’s try a few different things. Let’s see how that progresses.
Or, no, it’s the music and how that works. So, that space, you get so much more information and then you are really facilitating their inner voice and what they’re looking for out of the experience, because we’re going to come into it with these preconceived notions about what they’re looking for or what they should get out of it. And that’s what we’re asking to set aside. That’s what we’ve found valuable to set aside.
PAM: And that helps us with all of our deschooling around learning, as well. Because it’s like, oh, we can provide this in so many different ways.
There are lessons, there are more formal things, but they’re not better than anything else. They definitely may be in the path along the way to where you end up, but it doesn’t need to be where you jump to at first, because it’s not better than exploring on our own and figuring things out. And then you see so much rich learning happening and you start to understand, ‘Oh, look, they’re curious about things. They’re learning things along the way.’ There are so many pieces that we can bring in and facilitate without having to rely on some expert.
ANNA: Right. That’s where I wanted to go with the expert piece just really quickly, because if you think about it, you can see how that really short circuits. So, if we have this definition of, when we need to learn something, we must go to an expert. The message is, we can’t do it ourselves. We don’t know ourselves. And so, that really quiets that inner voice.
And so, if we can leave space for that, what you’ll see is that our children and even yourself, because we can go through this process too, we’ll realize we have a lot of ideas. We have ways to explore things. And we may do things differently. We may create a whole new thing that doesn’t exist. And that can only happen when we allow that to come from within versus saying, this is the way to learn, top down, expert telling you what to do.
PAM: Which ties right back to that web versus that discrete path, that somebody else knows better for me how I should learn this topic, this interest, this subject.
And speaking of, sometimes I think people can get concerned, too, if their child is super interested in one seemingly small niche. And something that we’ve discovered over and over is it is phenomenal. If you’re able to stay with them and facilitate them, that one seemingly nice thing truly is a window to the world, which takes us back to the web.
An interest in baseball. Okay. They’re super interested in baseball. There’s math through all the stats. There’s geography through where all the different players come. There’s history. There’s social issues. And then there’s health. There’s the actual physical fitness aspect of it for which many use natural muscle gain supplements. There’s the physics of pitching and hitting and there’s everything inside baseball, right?
ANNA: Yeah. And so, when your child is going on about whatever their interest is, a game, a sport, a book, whatever, tune into that. Because sometimes we can tune out, because it’s like, “Oh my gosh, we’re talking about it again?” But tune in and you’ll see where they’re taking it. You’ll see that web stretching out.
In Minecraft, they’re looking at different gems and different rocks and different pieces, and they know all these alloys and all these different things and how to build things in the structure and what happens. And it’s like, oh my gosh, then you see it. But you see it by being present and quiet and listening and observing and really hearing them. And so, yeah, it’s just so wonderful to see how any little interest, like you said, makes their world bigger.
PAM: It makes our world bigger. And then it becomes another step, too, as they get a little bit older and they want to start connecting with others who are as fascinated about the thing as they are. And then there’s just yet another layer of growth and bigger world.
But I think this really ties in nicely with the next thing I’d like us to talk about which is that shift from that curriculum-based learning to interest-led learning.
It can be really challenging how we support that. We can start to feel sometimes that maybe we’re not doing enough, because they’re really engaged. They’re really into their interests. We are not used to all this facilitating. We’re more used to, okay, here’s the curriculum, whether they were in school and we were helping them do their homework and study for the tests and ticking off those curriculum boxes.
But even if they haven’t been to school, that’s what we grew up knowing. So, it truly is a paradigm shift to move from ticking off boxes to truly facilitating their exploration of whatever they’re interested in in the moment.
So, often people can come up against this, “Am I doing enough?” kind of question, right?
ANNA: Yeah. And I think, like you said, it’s so new. And even if the children have never been to school, that’s what we’re used to. So, it’s really creating a whole new dynamic. And I just want to say that, “Am I doing enough?” is a really valid question. So, that’s what we’re saying. It is a valid question.
And what I’ve found is that it often meant that I was a bit disconnected, that something was going on around that maybe pulled me away from them or I feel like they’re humming along over here and I’m doing something else, and so then I start having those questions. It was just that red flag for me. Like, wait, I might be a little disconnected.
So, it was just a great reminder to go dig in, go to them, not wait for them to come to me and not connect over my own interests. So, an example would be, instead of saying, “Hey, do you want to come take a walk outside?” which is something I would enjoy and that often they would enjoy, too, but, “Can I sit with you? What are you working on? What’s happening?” And change that filter, because sometimes when we think of connecting, we do think of that, “Oh, come in and let’s bake something,” or, “Oh, let’s go do this.”
And we’re pulling them away from what they’re doing to be with us. And sometimes they’re happy to do that. So, it’s not that that’s wrong or anything else, but when we’re feeling, “Am I doing enough?” I think it’s important to go to them. Because then we can see, okay, what are they interested in?
And then we can see what they’re up to. We can take an interest. We can learn the language and we can listen. Again, it’s listening. And I feel like that’s the fastest way to see if they do need more. And sometimes they do. Sometimes they might need a new resource, or a helping hand, or sometimes just to bounce ideas off of me.
I came in there and I would get the lots and lots and lots of conversation, because they wanted to be able to tell me what was going on and it helped them in their processing. And then, sometimes I’d find they were humming along and they had what they needed, but either way you put the question to rest.
So, it’s a super valid question and I feel like that’s the easiest way to get it answered, as opposed to going more externally, because when we have that, we can tend to pull back. “Am I doing enough?” Oh, I better read some books or look at whatever. It’s like, no, go to the kid.
PAM: It is so easy to say, okay, I’m worried. I have this question. I’m going to keep thinking about this question. And so, I stand up there and I worry and I think, “Oh, should I do this? Should I do this? Should I ask them? Should I offer more places to go? We should be out there or in there doing the things.” And then that’s when we can tend to pull them to us, pull them to us, so that we can prove to ourselves in our head.
So, the part I wanted to mention about when we go to them is, the other piece is it’s really helpful to look at those moments through their eyes, as in when we’re in that headspace, maybe I’m going to come and sit with them, watch them do their thing. And I want to see where the math is in there. Or I want to see whatever we think has value.
We can come with that lens and try to put our value onto what they’re doing, but we’re not doing it. They’re the ones doing it. They’re the ones we want to facilitate. So, when we look through their eyes, we see what lights them up, just like you were talking about. What delights them out of it. And then, that’s where we see them engaged in what they’re doing. That’s where we see their brains working. They’re figuring this out.
You have to be there to see them try a little something and it doesn’t quite work. And then they try something else and it doesn’t work and they try something else and they get frustrated and they process through that and then they’re really happy, like seeing life in action is also seeing learning in action. We get to the point where living and learning really are the same thing, like we were talking about before.
Learning just happens while they’re living and doing the things. So, it is important when we go and join them to also take a moment to just really come open and curious, without any preconceived notions or values that we may be holding because we’re worried, and really see what’s happening in front of us. Right?
ANNA: Yeah. And that’s always going to be our work, to quiet that noise and what we’re used to, to really see what’s happening with them and trust them along their journey. So yeah. I love that.
PAM: Yeah, exactly.
So, another challenge that can bubble up as they’re following their curiosity, they’re trying out the things, is the idea around quitting activities.
Because as they’re dabbling in things that catch their interest along the way, sometimes they will realize that, “This isn’t for me.” “I liked that for a little bit.”
Or, remember we were talking about with dance, the different pieces that they like? So, they think it’s this one thing that’s attractive and then they dive into that a bit more and they realize, maybe it really was a different thing. But, especially if you’ve ended up doing something more formal that you’ve paid for, like lessons or a season or something like that, it can be hard for us to be really fine with them choosing to quit.
We may find ourselves wanting to insist that they stick it out to be end of the season or to the end of the set of lessons that you paid for. But if we force them to stay in a place that they don’t want to be, lots of things can happen.
But a couple of big things. First is that we’re short circuiting that inner voice of theirs. We’re giving them the message that they’re wrong.
And another thing that can happen is that they will get that message that if we say, “No, you have to finish those 10 swimming lessons.” “You have to finish the semester of dance classes,” whatever the thing is, what they’re learning from that is, when I choose something, when I say yes to something, when I want to explore it a bit more, because I’m curious about it and I want to dabble in it, we’re telling them that you’re stuck with that. Like, you chose that. You have to stick it out.
So, what are they going to learn from that? Of course, they’re going to pick up soon the message that, “I don’t wanna just try that out because I am committed to this long foreseeable future that I’m going to have to do it.” So, now they’re not going to dabble. They’re not going to pick up that little thing and try it out. They’re like, “I have to really like this before I commit to something like that.”
And so, they’re really just going to not explore things until they are really committed. And what that short circuits is them understanding themselves better, is them figuring out what is really interesting to them, what really lights them up, because they can’t get those pieces of information. They can’t play around with it and see what happens.
So, it really gets in the way when we don’t let them make the choice about their activity and whether or not they want to continue pursuing it. They want to do a little left turn and we have a really hard time with that, don’t we?
ANNA: I mean, I feel like this is such an important paradigm shift, because I wanted my children to explore freely. They didn’t know what they loved yet. They’re trying these different things on, and that’s a great way to see what works and what doesn’t. And so, most often I found they actually would finish the activity or class or whatever it is, but when they wanted to quit, I wanted to hear that. And I wanted them to know that was an equally valid option.
Because quitting itself, like you said, it contains such valuable lessons, too. We’re learning so much. It is this chance to listen to our inner voice and to act when something isn’t feeling right. And to me, that is such an important skill at any age. So often, we’ll see adults that are stuck in situations or jobs or things they don’t enjoy.
But I would say it’s because this is a muscle that they haven’t flexed, this listening to their inner guide, knowing it’s okay to make a change, to pivot, even after we’ve moved firmly in one direction. It’s okay. We can change that up based on new information, new feelings. Our inner voice helps guide us to that point.
But it is a muscle to flex. I was definitely that kid who couldn’t quit a class in college, even if it was terrible. And all my friends were like, “Oh no, you just quit it. It’s fine. It’s in the first two weeks. It doesn’t matter.” And I’m like, “No, I signed up for the class,” and oh my gosh, that did not serve me at all. Because I had realized really early on in the class, it wasn’t a good fit for me and it wasn’t moving me in the direction I wanted. But I had signed up for it. I had been told. And so, wow. I mean, I just remember that so clearly, and that is what I did not want to happen. But around this, I’ve got a couple other things I want to bring up, because it’s such a big topic.
I do want to bring up money, and you mentioned it slightly, because that can definitely be a sticking point for people. And so, my husband was in finance. And he would explain it to me as sunk costs. So, this is a financial idea, I guess. The money is spent. So, making them stay for something they didn’t enjoy isn’t going to make the money return. So, he would just say, take the money out of the equation when it comes to the decision, because it’s already spent.
Because we wanted to be good stewards of our money as a family, because we would talk about all these expenses as a family, we would definitely carefully consider anything that involved a fee, and find ways, if there were ways to dabble in a different way before we jumped into the thing that was maybe more formal or had a fee. Those are all the things that are super valid and important. But for him, that sunk cost was just how his brain worked and it helped him understand it.
For me, the idea of paying for the opportunity is what clicked for me. We’re paying for the opportunity to try out whatever it is, not for a set number of times or a specific type of usage per se. But the idea of we’re paying for this rock climbing wall thing for a month, then we can go one time, we can go 20 times, whatever that is. We’re just paying for the opportunity to use it. And that made sense and felt very expansive to me as we explored.
And so, we would, again, talk as a family about how do we want to use the money to explore our interests? And are there ways we can do it without using money as we get more proficient with it or figure it out? And then maybe we hit a wall of, yeah, it would really be helpful to go to the real climbing wall versus just bouldering around here and that type of thing. So, those were ongoing conversations that were super important.
And then the last one, and then I’ll go back to you, is just that idea of letting people down.
So, we have this idea of, but you’re on the team! You’re gonna let your team down! But I just want to remind everybody that we have all been on teams and in groups where members did not want to be there. And it was kind of the worst, you know? So, I find it’s way more of a disservice to people who actually want to be there, who are actually passionate about that team or that activity or that idea, to hang out when we aren’t happy and don’t want to be there. Because I don’t know if it’s possible to give your all to something where you really don’t want to be.
And so, this idea that you’re serving the team by toughing it out is just really not the whole story. So, definitely peel back some layers about that if you find yourself in that situation to say, is that true? Is it really true?
PAM: Oh, I know. I love that one, because if you go back to baseball, you can just see them sitting on the bench there and one or two kids are just grumpy and sad and like dragging their feet and it’s hard to get excited and get the energy up when you know that they’re there, when you feel bad for them. Even the kids notice that, right? It’s hard to get excited. Some of them will try to cajole them into enjoying it a little bit. “Oh, but this is fun, but this is fun.” And some of them will try to ignore them. And none of that is good for the energy of the team as a whole. It just brings down the fun level for everybody.
But so many things came up while you’re talking. The first one was when you were talking about the conversations before to choose whether to spend the money in an activity. That is back to that space that we were talking about, like not jumping to more formal or paid kind of activities, that it’s totally valid and helpful and fun to explore things in our own ways first. To really get an idea. Maybe we satisfy the interest, picking up some tool, making a tutu and dancing around the living room. Maybe that is completely enough. And that’s great. That’s okay. So many of these ideas just all tie together.
So, I thought that was amazing. Thinking of it as an opportunity, I think that was really helpful. I know when we were with the dojo, some places are set up where you pay by the month and you go as often as you want. And I remember when Michael started, we did that and he just wanted to go once a week. You can give them that space to explore. He didn’t want to pile it all on at once, but after a few months, then he wanted to add a second one and then a third one, and then it became our life. It’s that space to let things unfold for them, because that’s how they’re learning about themselves.
He’s experiencing that. He’s like, “Okay, I am getting comfortable at this place. I understand how it works. I’m enjoying it. I want little bit more of that.” And in choosing to quit, they are also learning so much, aren’t they? So, they’re learning, “I freed up this time. What else am I going to do with it? Am I missing going now?”
Quitting something also doesn’t mean the forever end of it.
ANNA: Exactly. It’s a nuance. Maybe it’s that dojo had things that didn’t work for him, but, “What did I like? What can I take to the next dojo to see when I’m looking for that?” And so, those are so important, because swallowing that down, then you end up maybe quitting it forever as opposed to moving forward, in a way.
PAM: Yes. I remember saying before we went, because I had called and talked to sensei and said, “Can we try it out and see?” And I said to Michael, “We’ll go check it out. And if it doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, it may not be that you don’t like martial arts. It may just be this dojo. So, we can go and try another dojo and see what fits better. So, don’t worry about that.” Because that is another important piece. It’s not like, okay, we’re going to a formal setting. This is where we really learn. This is where the expert is. We have to change to fit into that.
So often, you have other possibilities, other opportunities, and it is just that dabbling, that playing around, that finding how you want to move forward. It’s not that straight path. We’re back to that web again. I love how everything connects.
ANNA: It’s so fun.
PAM: Okay, so I think we’ve really done a good job with curiosity.
So, I want to dive into the other aspect of learning that I think is a really valuable lens for looking at it. And that is creativity. Because I feel like curiosity and creativity weave together so naturally in support of our kids’ learning.
So, the first thing when it comes to creativity that I wanted to explore, is the idea of right and wrong. Because, for me, one of those big paradigm shifts coming to unschooling was around the idea that there is a right way to do something, because it was so interesting to see my kids doing things in their own ways and still getting to the same end place. It’s still done in the end.
So, it really helped me to start exploring the process, like how they’re doing it. And realizing that, for me, I have grown up and been taught to do it the most efficient way. What’s the fastest way to get this thing done? Because the goal is to get the thing done. But we’re not so focused on the end goals anymore. We’re really about the value of the process and how we’re figuring it out and what we’re learning along the way.
So, when I started to play around with looking at that process, I realized, there is the quickest way, but there’s also the safest way or there’s the most efficient way, or there’s the way that hits the most on the thing that they like about the thing.
ANNA: Right. Exactly.
PAM: I did want to share what Ken Robinson said about creativity in his 2006 TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? And especially if you’re newer on your journey and you haven’t come across that, I’ll put the link in the show notes if you want to check that out, but here’s something he said.
“Kids aren’t frightened of being wrong. And I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.”
I resonated with that so much, because I, growing up through the school system and all that kind of stuff, being wrong was just hard. I avoided that at all costs. And as I started processing that, I came to realize that, so often for me, the right way was really just my way. For my reasons, that’s the way I would do it. So, that’s the right way. And so, I would innocently try to help them get to the place that they wanted to go. I would jump in and do it my way, the right way. But that really short circuits their learning.
ANNA: Oh my goodness. I mean, to me, when we’re talking about learning and exploring, there is just no room for right and wrong, for exactly the reasons that he said. And let’s think about toys and games and sometimes we want to show the kids how to play and, “Here are the rules.” And, “No, hold it this way.” And it’s always well-meaning. We’re thinking it’s going to be more efficient. They’re trying to build this thing. It’ll be faster if they do it this way. But it’s just so interesting and fun to see how they want to interact with the tools and the toys around them. And they may use it in a way that never occurred to us. And maybe they don’t want the finished product. They just like how these pieces go together or how this feels when they do this.
There’s not one right way to play or explore. And just like Ken Robinson said, you will never create something new by doing it the same old way. And I feel that same way about math and reading and those are schooly kind of subjects, but I think they come up for a lot of people because they’re the bugaboos or the stopping points. But, as someone that went to school, we learned the one way to do multiplication and division. And I was so grateful that I had gotten the message to pause and observe my kids around that. Because they played with numbers in such an interesting way.
I had one that was very practical about numbers. They were very utilitarian. How many pieces does each person get? Counting her money. Calculating sales. She was super into calendars and dates because of her memory. So, she would do this wild calendar math that I could not even wrap my head around, but she would do it all with this calendar math. And I thought it was so amazing.
And my youngest loved everything about numbers, big ones, big computations, calculations, all of these things. She’d do all of this stuff. But what I saw is that they both had this really deep understanding of numbers, how they worked, what they stood for, how they could be used, how they helped us. And I had excelled at math in school. But I did not have that understanding to their extent still.
And so, had I sat them down and taught them my proper way to multiply in the way that we’re all doing it, it really would have stunted that and I found that so interesting, because they have no fear around math or numbers. To them, it’s, how do we use it? For one, it’s more of an art form of like, look at all the cool things that numbers can do. And for the other, it’s just, how do they function in my world? Both are super valid.
And reading was the same. So, you have the two schools, whole word and phonics, but what I found is that, for my girls, it was very different. So, the one that memorized things really liked the whole words as the foundation, but also sounded things out. And my youngest, who really liked putting things together, spelling, looking at how letters came together, that more sounding-it-out, phonics-type thing was really how she did it. But she combined it also with memorizing whole words that were simple words for things she wanted to learn.
And had I said, “Well, let’s sit down and do this system,” one of them, or even both of them, really would have been short circuited, because it’s not how they naturally learned. And I think it would have hampered their reading and again, made it something that feels difficult or is hard to do. And it was so natural the way it flowed in our family.
So, as just the observer person that I am, I just loved seeing this natural learning and process.
PAM: And as you were talking there, I was just imagining how thick their web of learning is. I just had this image. They had so many connections. It came up when you talked about, they understand it so much better than I do. I, too, took math right through university, did well. And yet, for me, it’s about, what’s the situation? What’s the process or the equation that I need to use for that? How do I solve it? Boom. It wasn’t about an understanding and seeing it out in the world. It was about seeing it on the paper.
So, I feel like I don’t have a strong web around it, even though I did really well. But as you were talking about them, imagine all the connections that they’ve made by exploring it, how it makes sense to them. And how that understanding is not only stronger. It’s what they bring with them into the world. It’s just amazing to think about.
There was another thing I wanted to touch on. A couple of years ago I was exploring creativity and I found that there’s two phases to it. That certainly makes sense to me. There’s this divergent phase. So, that’s the brainstorming piece that we talk about. What are all the possibilities in this moment? So, it’s not even about the thing. How do we do the thing? It can be any set of possibilities in the moment. Creativity can be part of our lives in any aspect of it. So, there’s the brainstorming piece, which is the more divergent piece, opening things up, what are all the possibilities?
And then there’s the convergent piece, where, of all these possibilities, let’s decide which one I want to do in the moment. And just think of all that goes into that choice. What’s the most important bit for me right now? How fast I want to do it? Just all the different pieces that go into choosing which way you want to go this time, in this moment. It’s very context-oriented.
But by choosing the thing that they want to do, the way they want to go forward in that moment, oh my gosh. Then they see what happens. And they learn so much through that entire process and through seeing what happens. They’re filling out that web of connections because they think, “Oh, that didn’t turn out quite as I expected.” Boom. Connection.
“Oh, that’s probably because of this. Oh, I’m going to try it this way now.” There’s so much learning in there. And there’s that space that we talked about earlier, that freedom to tweak things and make choices without it being judged as right or wrong. That’s how they can continue to learn versus, “Oh my gosh, that didn’t work for me. That must have been the wrong way to do it. I need to know what the right way to do it or the perfect way for it to work out,” all those negative messages that you can put on your kids.
I was amazed how my kids took in stride when things didn’t go as they hoped. So often, I was like, whoa, they just did another thing. I would have been in the corner and embarrassed and going, oh my gosh, I don’t ever want to try that again. But it’s amazing, isn’t it?
ANNA: Yeah. Oh, it’s so true.
And for me, this goes back to the web again. So, I love that the web is here with us the whole day, because we’re so used to seeing and really valuing linear learning, but that’s not how it happens naturally. There’s fits and starts, pauses, pivots, leaps. And creating space for that is so rewarding, because, as time passes, you start to see the dance of learning and how amazing it is.
And, specifically about the downtimes, I’ve found them to be so rich. Because, as you mentioned, all of these bits that they’ve been collecting in this brainstorming phase or exploratory phase, they’re tumbling around. And so, after the period of quiet that can be days, can be weeks, months, there’s this leap.
And then looking back, you can see the path, you can see the thread looking back. You can’t always see it when you’re right in the middle of it, but what’s important about that is isn’t the end point or even the leap, but learning to trust that learning is happening all the time and that sometimes it’s active and visible and sometimes it’s internal and it’s more about processing and both are valuable and both are important.
And so, that’s the piece that we just want to encourage everybody to see, because it was so beautiful to watch that unfold. And sometimes when they’re in that quiet processing piece, it can be like, what’s happening? What’s going on? But the more you see it, the more you’ll see that that is such a valuable part of this synthesis of information that then allows them to move forward in whatever direction they want.
And, I guess what I want to say there, too, is sometimes we’re putting together pieces. We’re thinking, okay, they did this thing and now they’re kind of quiet. I think they’re going to go here. And that’s fine to have the thoughts, but what you’ll see is, if you observe, they may go in a completely different direction and then you look back and see the threads. Oh, I can see how they got there, but that’s not where I thought they were going. And it’s fun and it’s beautiful and it’s just another reminder to not short circuit that, not to hijack it, not to only look through our lens.
PAM: Yeah. That has flowed beautifully into that last piece to talk about, because one thing we learned by giving that space to see where they take things, is we really learned that they are different people than us. We really start to see, oh, that was just me. To me, that logical connection between ABC and D. Oh, it’s A, B D, J for them. And that is where you learn so much. And paradoxically, you really want to support them. You get excited to help them on their path. Once you realize that this is about them. This is how they’re putting their web together, their understanding.
And just to go back to that space, that quiet space, those quiet times, because there’s where we can worry that they’re doing nothing. Oh my gosh. They’re just sitting around or they’re just doing this. They’re not actively engaged in an activity. They’re not here chatting with me.
But as you said, through experience, you will see such fascinating things come out of those times, but we don’t have control over the timing of it. That’s where that trust piece comes in.
And this is all linked to creativity. I want to share one more quote. So, this is from a 1996 interview in Wired Magazine with Steve Jobs. Everybody knows Apple computer, all that kind of stuff. So, he shared this insight about creativity.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty, because they didn’t really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was it they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. And unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity.”
So, his understanding that creativity is just about connecting things dovetails so beautifully with the essence of unschooling, where following their curiosity wherever it leads is encouraged is. That is what we’re talking about today.
Our children’s learning and creativity blossom as they build that unique web of connections. And that web grows so much further than that discrete, linear curriculum path. The web is what learning really looks like when you’re engaged in the things.
Back to what we were talking about, the one little thing can be a window to the world, that you can connect out to so many things.
The other piece that I love and that we’re talking about right now is his observation that creative people have taken the time to think more about their experiences. This is what’s happening in those quieter times when they seemingly look like they’re doing nothing. And you know what? You can’t walk up to them and say, “What are you doing?” “Oh, I am synthesizing all sorts of experiences of the last month.” We can’t even say that. Our subconscious is just bubbling all the time, which is why we talk about sitting with things for a while, not reacting, taking that moment to let things process for a while and bubble around.
And, like you said, so often, you see the leap after. You see the connections after giving them that space.
And Maria Popova talks about this, too. It’s this wisdom piece. It’s not about all the different factoids. It’s understanding the context. It’s putting things together. It’s connecting it. That’s what’s building a valuable web of understanding of ourselves and of the world and of what we’re interested in, how we learn things, a deeper understanding is the connections, is the context. It’s not the thing. It’s not the, “Oh yeah, I do it this way.” It’s not about the one skill or the one piece of information. It’s how it fits into their world. That’s where the deeper understanding comes. That’s where the wisdom comes. That’s where the creativity comes. All of it is in that space that we give them to be. I love that.
ANNA: And then it gives them all these things to draw from as they move into new environments and new pieces. And that’s what Steve Jobs was talking about. You may be drawing back from something way back here, from a game you played or from something you did, and then now you can pull it forward into this new thing. And again, we can’t control that. We can kind of see it sometimes looking back. But it’s there and it’s happening when we allow that web to go out from their specific interest or lots of interests.
PAM: Yes. And when he talked about how they’ve had more experiences. With unschooling, that’s what we’re cultivating. That’s the facilitation piece that we’re talking about. When we’re there with them, when we see where their mind goes and we’re there to bounce it off, or they’re like, “Oh, can you grab the scissors for me, please?” Getting the scissors to help them continue exploring. They’re gathering more experiences. It doesn’t mean we need to take them out every day unless that’s their interest.
But that brings it full circle back to the facilitation of their learning. It’s helping them have the experiences that they’re looking for. And that helps them build that web. That helps them have more thoughts and experiences to draw from when they’re putting things together, as they’re sitting there doing nothing. Maybe they’re watching a comfort show that they know all the dialogue to, but it’s great background, while the rest of their mind spins. So often, eventually, they went from, “They’re doing nothing,” to, “Ooh, this is very curious. I wonder what’s going to come out of this.”
ANNA: Right. To know that something’s bubbling there. And I think another thing I just want to throw out about the value of the Network in this process is, it’s been so fun over this month to see members sharing these experiences and these leaps and the new ways that their kids have used things. And these times that led to the leap or whatever.
And so, I think for us, as parents, it’s giving us more points of information along the web to see that there are all kinds of different ways that different children get there. And then that just helps us bring in the trust piece to just know that, yeah, I have an individual child. It’s not going to look like any of these people, but look at all the different ways that it’s happened. And so, I think that’s just a really nice piece about the Network and I’ve enjoyed it so much this month watching as this has kind of unfolded and sharing their stories, for sure.
PAM: Yeah. That’s great. That ties it right back to when we were talking about, especially when you’re newer to unschooling, a deeper understanding of how this works, how we can nurture our children’s learning and what that looks like.
So often, we want like the answer to our question and our situation. And sometimes we can come to unschooling thinking, oh, there’s rules. There are the things we should do and they’re going to work for everybody with unschooling. But that’s really not the case, because we are all individuals. We all have different styles. We all gather information in different ways. We process it in different ways. We’re all making our own unique connections in the web. So, that’s beautiful.
All right, my dear, thank you so much for joining me. It’s such a pleasure. It’s so fun to dive into these topics.
ANNA: Yes. Always so fun.
PAM: Thanks so much, Anna. Bye.