PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Susan Walker. Hi, Susan.
PAM: Now, we have been connected online for a while now, and I’m really excited to dig deeper into your unschooling journey. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now?
PAM: That’s always fun to hear.
SUSAN: Yeah, sure. Well, we live in Argentina, in the Patagonia part of Argentina. My husband is Argentine and I’m from the US. We met in graduate school, in the US and we moved down here 27 years ago. We’re both conservation biologists and we’ve been working on wildlife conservation in Patagonia for all these years.
We have a daughter who’s 26 and she went through 16 years of school here, because she had three years of kindergarten and then 13 years of regular school. So, she had a lot of school. And when she finished, she decided she wanted to go to college in the US.
So, she went up there. Graduated a couple of years ago and decided to stay, but she and her boyfriend are going to come down as soon as they open the borders and let them in. They’re going to come down and stay here for about a year. So, we’re all very excited about that, to have her closer again for an extended period of time. And we’re fixing up the garage apartment for them.
She is a storyteller and a writer and she has been from the very, very beginning. And now she writes young adult fantasy novels. Her third and fourth should be coming out pretty soon. And she also loves music and singing, and she and her boyfriend are really into Dungeons and Dragons now. And they’re excited about getting us into it when they come down here. So, we’ve got something really to look forward to.
And then we have a 13-year-old son, who is really a very special little blessing to us because he came along when we were in our mid-forties and we didn’t know if we’d be able to have another child. So, he’s 13 now and he’s really into what I’ve come to call economy games where he collects resources or currency, depending on the game, and figures out how to use those in the best way to reach whatever the goal of the game is. And he does that with video games and also board games and card games, like Monopoly is the one everybody knows about, but he really likes that kind of thing.
He also likes quest or adventure games that he can do online with his friends like Terraria. And he likes to take these really deep dives into big epic story arcs that could be a series of movies or TV shows or books. And this is something new for him, actually. He just started last year, I would say, but right now he’s in the middle of Harry Potter. He’s totally into Harry Potter, listening over and over again to thousands and thousands of words that are in the Audible books. So, that’s what he’s into now.
My husband, he’s still very passionate about his conservation work. And lately he’s been really busy with the construction of the apartment. And so that’s kept most of his free time, but he’s also really into gardening and plants and he makes the inside and outside look pretty for us.
And, I, in my time lately, what I’m doing is I spend a lot of time reading about neuroscience and psychology topics, consciousness, things like that, and health as well. And then, when the pandemic started, I got myself a ukulele and I have been learning to play the ukulele. And I have a lot of fun with that. So, that’s the sort of us right now.
PAM: I love that piece. Just toss that in there. You know what? Ukulele. It is so fun to just start something new, something fresh. Really starting from scratch. That’s so cool.
I love the Harry Potter listening. I remember Lissy, and it was in around those years, too, nine through 12, 13, 14, listening to the audio books and then reading the books and diving into forums. There’s just a whole world in there.
Some people are into the fan fiction piece. And at the time, the last few books hadn’t been released, so there was also getting into that anticipation and everything.
SUSAN: We did that with our daughter. Yeah.
PAM: That’s perfect. Yeah. They were actually teenagers. It’s so fun to see how that plays out for each one. And I love that you noticed the connection between all his different games, that economy piece, and seeing it in the video games he’s choosing and the board games and the card games. He is pursuing that genre through so many different lenses. And I’m sure getting different pieces from the different ways to go through it. So, that is super cool, too.
And your journey, because I know you had said you trained and worked as a conservation biologist for years. And you’re transitioning now to finding some new interests. I love hearing a little snapshot. It just tells us so much and it even says, it’s okay to change, to find out what we’re interested in, to move in new directions, no matter what our age. It’s fascinating stuff.
SUSAN: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.
PAM: It’s scary and really exciting. And I’m sure it is at most ages. I’ve seen it in my kids and I know I’ve heard about it, that transition time can be challenging, because you’re pulling away from something that you were pulling away from something that you were passionate about and deeply engaged in for a longer period of time. You just know that that’s not as exciting anymore, but maybe you don’t quite yet know where you’re going. It’s just a cocooning phase that often happens as you’re just exploring little things.
I remember the quote, I think it’s Leo Tolstoy. “Boredom: the desire for desires.” It’s that stage where you’d love to have something that you’re equally passionate and excited about, but sometimes it can take a while to explore and find where that goes. Does that sound familiar?
SUSAN: Yeah. And for me, it’s not the first time in my life I think that I’ve sort of remade myself. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this concept. I think it was a Polish psychologist, I think his name was Dabrowski, that came up with this concept of positive disintegration.
SUSAN: You read about that?
SUSAN: And I think that’s sort of what I’m going through right now. It’s interesting.
PAM: Yeah. It’s very cool. It’s hard sometimes in the midst of it, but when you can step back and give yourself the space to go through it, it also helps us do the same thing for our kids. And sometimes it’s the opposite. We’ve given it to our kids and it’s like, oh, I should give that grace to myself as well.
SUSAN: I think that’s what we’re going to talk about today with the questions that you told me you were going to ask me. I had thought about that to some extent, but yeah, it’s a process I’ve been going through with my kids and myself.
PAM: That’s so cool. So yes, when we connected about our call and what the things you might be interested in talking about were, you shared that there were four big paradigm shifts that were instrumental for you on your unschooling journey. And I thought it would be awesome to dive into those, because I love hearing what shifts, what pieces of the puzzle were larger aha moments for people on the journey. So, let’s start with learning.
What big paradigm shift around learning happened as you started exploring unschooling?
SUSAN: Yeah. I wanted to say at the beginning that nothing I’m going to say is some new thing. It’s my insights and my path and the takeaway things that I’ve gotten from all the digging I’ve been doing that have worked for me.
And of course, everybody’s path is very unique and different. That’s the amazing, wonderful thing about unschooling. So, I just wanted to share mine. And I’m not saying this is the way I think people have to do it or anything, because the thing about unschooling is there’s no one way to do it.
So, I’ll start with the learning, to see what we had to shift from. I am super schooled. I’m very schooly, because I really loved the academic part of school and I did very well, although I did drop out of high school, but that was for other reasons. And I went on to college and graduate school, so I was very indoctrinated in schoolish ways. And a lot of my self-esteem was wrapped up in school and how I did in school. And my husband was the same way. I mean, we met in graduate school. We were both very schooled people.
But in spite of that, I did have some doubts about the whole thing, because even though I liked the academics so much, like I said, I dropped out when I was 15. And then I went on and I did just fine in college and graduate school. So, I was like, what did I miss? Those three years that I should have done of high school, what was the point?
And then my daughter, she was also very good in school and didn’t have any problems academically, but one thing I noticed with her and maybe it was the same way of when I was in elementary school and I didn’t notice it, because I was so focused on just doing what they told me to and doing it well, but I saw that so much of what they were asked to do was just pointless, busy work. And sometimes she would ask me about it. I’m like, well, you just have to do it.
And she always had her own big storytelling projects, books to write and movies to make at home. And I just hated to have to send her to school every day, when so much of it didn’t seem like it was that relevant for her. But at that time, we didn’t see any alternatives and we had some rough patches, but we all slogged through and she made it through.
So, then the shift was when my son came along. But not at first. We already had these doubts, but we didn’t know there was anything else we could do. So, we just sent him to school, you know? And, fortunately he didn’t go until four-year-old class. He didn’t start at three, but anyway, we saw that he just wasn’t really happy in school. We were very fortunate that at that time there were several other families in the area that were also looking for some alternatives maybe, and we got together to see about starting something else or homeschooling.
And even though I have several advanced degrees now, none of them are in teaching or education, so I never dreamed that I could homeschool my kid, because I thought, well, I’m not qualified for that. But some of these other parents, they had seen some things about unschooling and got me started looking into that. And fast forward five years later, and we’re the only ones in town that are still homeschooling and we’ve been unschooling from the very beginning. We took him out after second grade.
But it was pretty rough at first, because I got it intellectually from the beginning, to some extent, but there was just so much deschooling that we had to go through. And my daughter’s independent projects and what she was into, they were kinds of things that everybody approves of. It’s in a schoolish framework. It’s like, oh, she’s writing a book or, oh, she’s making a movie, that kind of thing.
But my son, he was mostly interested in video games and YouTube videos. And to be honest, that kind of freaked me out at first. I couldn’t see or understand what he was learning from those things. And I was worried that he was falling behind or that he wasn’t doing anything productive.
And it was also really frustrating to me, because I couldn’t learn about unschooling the way I knew how to learn about things. There was no book. Your books, it’s been so long since I’ve read them. I can’t remember them that well, but those little short books that you have that have five guidelines or something like that, they were very helpful. But nothing just told you. I was used to being able to read and study about how to do something and then just do it, and it doesn’t work that way. It’s a lot of self reflection, examination of what you believe and where it’s coming from, and a lot of work like that.
So, I found this podcast and I listened to it faithfully. And I joined Sue Patterson‘s mentor group and every week talked with that group of people and with Sue. And I did your Childhood Redefined Summit, so I found lots of support online, fortunately, because I’m way down here. And I just had to hear over and over and over again about a different way of seeing things, different ways of doing things.
So, it was really fascinating to me, for myself. I noticed about a year or so into it, like, wow, I’m doing this. I’m learning in a very different way. So, that was one of the big ahas about the learning.
But at the same time, homeschooling here in Argentina is theoretically legal, but it’s not done much and there’s no regulation or laws, which maybe it sounds good to some people, but you’re living in a gray area, in a legal gray area. And you do hear stories, very rarely, about problems with that. So, I wanted to make a really sure that I could be clear about what we were doing and why, and justify it if anybody from the authorities came.
So, I also dug into it a lot the way I know how to do things like that, by researching learning theory. And I really looked into justifying learning by play and self-directed learning and the kinds of things you learn from video games, and even socializing. I was worried about that, because the bulk of my son’s socializing was online. And I was really surprised about how much research there is out there about all those things. There’s a lot that has been done. And I was able to put together an educational plan that’s documented with research the way I know how to do the things like that.
One of the things that was most interesting to me was to see about learning from video games. And in school, of course, we’re so focused on the content and subjects and you can’t really see that in video games a lot of times, although you do get surprisingly a lot of content, depending on what game you’re playing.
But they do teach these skills that most educators and people in the business world and everything now are thinking are really important that schools don’t touch. I wrote them down, because they’re things that we’re not used to thinking about, like decision-tree-style thinking, situational awareness, dimensional reasoning, things like that.
And in addition, the online games where you’re working with teams all the time, you have to build all the collaborating skills and carrying out a project from the beginning to the end. So, anyway, I got together this educational plan that I feel really good about and that also explains why we don’t have curriculum, a set curriculum, and how we do assessments.
I’m sure if you sat him down and tested him with standard testing, he’d probably be below grade level or not at grade level, but if you sit him down and talk to him, you would find a very articulate, very well-informed young fellow who is very strategic in his thinking and very critical.
All the books, the video games, everything that he consumes, the YouTube videos, he analyzes and puts them into context. And so, I had to learn to see how he learned in a different way and learn about him, sort of study him. And so, that’s been the other big, fascinating piece, to see that he learns differently, that he’s able to learn, and also, in my own learning, it’s been a big shift.
PAM: Wow. Oh, I love that, Susan. Thanks for sharing that detail. For me, it’s so interesting to see. I love the way you took what you were curious or unsure about and came at it with the lens of your strengths, because you knew how to put a plan together. And then, as you were putting that together, you came across each of these things, like coming up with educationese words to describe what he’s doing.
So, that was you hanging out with him and seeing what was going on with those games and realizing so much of the learning that was happening in there. So, through that, then you could take that back to your lens and put it in your language, a language that you were comfortable in, that if ever anybody had questions, I can now feel comfortable that I can describe this lifestyle in a way that they’re more likely to understand what’s happening.
And also, your piece about the difference between grade level and looking at him as a person. I’ve always found that so fascinating. And it’s that transition away from grade levels as the most important indicator of how well a person is developing. And the understanding, but even what you said from your experience with your daughter and with yourself leaving school for a couple of years, and it’s like, what did I even miss? All those pieces, I think, came together to help you realize that those grade level indicators were more a product of the system itself versus the person.
And when you sat down with your son and you chat with him and you just enjoy him as a person and you can see how important and valuable the way he’s learning is. Like you said, he has a very different learning style, but however it is, he’s pulling these things together and he is growing a picture of the world and very articulate, intelligent, just a real engaging person in front of you. And that’s so much more valuable than what scale on the grade level average thing, because he’s not living that life. He’s not in that classroom.
That is valuable because that’s the assessment scale for the classroom and the school system. But when you’re outside of that, it just doesn’t mesh when you try to bring those assessment indicators into the life that you’re living, and you have the opportunity to engage with your child, who’s standing there in front of you. And it’s just amazing, the person they’re becoming, right?
SUSAN: Yeah. Yeah. And those grade level things and the grades, you just see that they’re as pointless as the busy work that my daughter was having to do. It’s so irrelevant to where he really is and to who he is.
PAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s great. I loved hearing your journey through that.
Another big paradigm shift you experienced was around the idea that it’s okay to be who you are. And you touched on that with his different learning styles, but it is a much bigger picture shift. So, I was hoping you could share what that looked like for you.
SUSAN: Yeah. Well, when I was thinking about what the biggest shifts I had to make were, I was really surprised at what some of them were, because you think, really? That was a shift? So, this was probably the biggest one or one of the biggest ones. All the next three actually are pretty big.
You think, okay, it’s okay to be who you are. I mean, not only am I pretty sure I believed that before, it was one of my core values that I really believed that each person was individual and unique and that people should be respected and valued for who they are.
So, it was really, really shocking to me when I got to the realization of how much work I still had to do in that area, because that’s the one thing that’s a big defining part of who I was, I thought. And I started to realize that I was judging or sort of valuing some characteristics of my kids or behaviors and that that was based on this internal gauge that I had myself about what I had determined when I was little was valuable or bad about me, one or the other, and that I was projecting that onto my kids.
So, I realized that if I really wanted to honor and accept them, and especially because the things that I noticed that I was trying to control and change the most were the things that I didn’t like about myself. So, in order to honor and respect them, I had to honor and respect myself.
And, well, one of the things that really helped me, because of the kind of people that we are, was learning about highly sensitive people. My son was in kindergarten and there were a lot of things that he didn’t like about the kindergarten that the other kids liked. About that time, I discovered that book, The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron. And I read that and it was like, oh, okay. Not only was that him, it was also me, and my daughter.
And so, I had read, Quiet by Susan Cain a few years before that. And that started me to see that a lot of the opinions that I had about some characteristics of myself, of introversion, and to being a quiet person, a quiet, introspective person, that I was carrying some values about that that were common in our society that weren’t as valued. So, that had helped me start seeing that. But I really identified so much more with this concept of a highly sensitive person, because it’s not just introversion. There’s so much to it.
And so, seeing that, starting to read stuff about that, it helped me start to see and accept a lot of things about myself that I had seen as shortcomings or faults. And they are just part of who we are, and sometimes there are strengths. So, yeah, only about 20% of the population is supposedly highly sensitive, which doesn’t seem that small to me. But it is obvious that schools and a lot of other things are built around that other 80%.
And my son’s kindergarten, they started every day with this big gathering and assembly, where all the classes came together and they had lots of cheery music. It was supposed to be exciting and motivating for the kids, but for my son and also for me, it was so overwhelming. The music was too loud and the energy, instead of excitement, it was frenetic.
I mean, that’s the way I experienced it and I’m pretty sure that’s the way my son was experiencing it, too. And so, they would have all this thing together and then usually the parents stayed for that. And then, the kids would line up with their teacher and go to their classroom.
And the first few days, they let the parents go with the kids. And almost all parents would go first day and then every day more and more would drop off. And by the second week, most of them weren’t going. Well, I always sent my husband, because I wasn’t comfortable in that situation, either. So, I didn’t take Mauro very much.
But about two months into the school year, my husband was traveling and I had to take him and so, the assembly was over and we lived through it and then he wanted me to go with him to the room still. And I knew my husband was doing that. So, I went with him.
I felt a little awkward, because there weren’t a whole lot of other people doing that. But when we got to the room, there were three other parents in there and I had just read the book or had started reading it. And I did this calculation in my head there and it was just like, okay, there’s four. That’s 20% of the class. So, yep, that’s totally normal. But the teachers, they were really understanding about that first adaptation period.
But after two months, and not all of them, there were a couple that were really, really good and understanding. But in general, the teachers thought that if this was still going on at two months, that you were just sort of babying your kid. And to be honest, that’s what I was thinking, too, before I read that book. They couldn’t understand why any kid wouldn’t like the assembly, why they would be overwhelmed by it. I wasn’t really clear on what was going on in my head, either. And they could just think it was just a fault with the child or the parent.
And I realized, eventually, that even though I grew up on the other side of the world, that I had internalized these same types of judgements said to me. I just felt like a failure. I transmitted my own failures to my kids through either bad parenting or just my bad example. I realized that even though I was really accepting of other people, I wasn’t accepting of myself. And I discovered that I had some pretty deep wounds that I needed to heal and my son is really the one who’s helped me so much with that.
And excuse me if I get pretty teary-eyed in this part. But I was fortunate that I came from a family that was mostly highly sensitive people. So, at home I was okay. But out at school and in the world, you get these messages all the time, especially back then, maybe it’s changing now with those new things about highly sensitive people and Susan Cain’s stuff. People are more aware of these things, but back when I was growing up, it was just like there was something wrong with you if you were shy or something like that. And unfortunately, of course, highly sensitive people are just extremely sensitive to those social cues. So, it goes really deep.
And when I started seeing my little guy start to box up his spirit and put up those defenses and walls, it just broke my heart. It broke my heart for him and it broke my own little heart of the little girl inside of me. And I was in my mid-forties, like I said, when he was born.
I had a rocky adolescence and early twenties, but by the time he was born, I was successful on my own terms in my career and had a very nice, wonderful family and was a productive member of society, so things were okay. I wasn’t even aware that I had any problem, really. So, if he hadn’t come along, I probably would’ve gone on like that. And I would have been just fine.
I’m not saying that there was any major thing. But he did come along. And he showed me that there were these things that needed healing that have just enriched my own life so much.
My daughter, she was also highly sensitive, of course, like I mentioned. But she was more compliant and, at the same time, more independent in some ways. And I think my husband and I were at a different point in our lives, so it just didn’t generate any conflict that needed to be resolved at the time. We just tootled along.
Both my son and daughter are extremely perceptive, but he would throw everything back to me, and he always knew when that what I was saying didn’t jibe with what was inside. And he just made it so clear to me. It was very humbling.
When I decided to listen to him, he would always let me know when things weren’t in line with my values or when things weren’t jibing. So, he’s been such a teacher in that respect. He has exposed a lot of deep feelings in me and helped me identify a lot of motivations and things going on inside that I just didn’t know were going on in there under the surface.
And then, that we have in common that we’re both highly sensitive, but that’s only one part of our personalites, of course. And he’s got a lot of other parts that are very, very different from me. And that has sometimes been a challenge to accept or to learn that he responds differently, reacts differently to things, chooses different things to do than I do, but he’s a different person and that is okay, and is not less valuable, even though it’s not schooly.
And I think I got so much out of the Childhood Redefined Summit related to this. You guys talked a lot about acceptance and, I was thinking, this is sort of my take on that. I realized that saying that it’s okay to be who you are is the same as accepting who you are and who your child is.
PAM: I loved how you started the whole thing saying it seems like such a simple thing, that it’s okay to be who you are, that we are all individuals. That is something, I think, that most people believe, but there are so many layers to that. There’s an actual depth to that. I just love how you dug into that and shared that piece, because when we see it in our kids and, like you were talking about with the Summit, really accepting them.
But I think one of the big steps is not just saying, that’s okay. They’re different from me. It’s what you mentioned that it’s just as valuable for them as the way I am is valuable for me. That is another layer that we can get to that helps us dig into this idea of, it’s okay to be. Because when you stay on the surface, “It’s okay to be that,” we can still have those layers, as you were talking about.
But we learned growing up that being highly sensitive, it’s not as good. We get the messages that it would be better if we were something else. So, yeah, it’s okay, but it’s a disappointment maybe. “But if you could be this, it would be so much better,” but it’s okay.
But those layers, as we dive through them, we come to see how truly valuable each person’s unique makeup is to them. And for me, too, I learned that really just through my kids and through choosing to engage with them. And, like you said, through realizing that this school experience just isn’t working for him and being willing to try something else. It’s just valuing that enough.
And not to discount your daughter and her experience, because I loved your point that it was the friction. You guys had tools with your daughter and managed to make it through without having to get to the level of, this is so bad that we have to move to something else. All those journeys are completely valid for the people that were involved in each one of them.
So, your son bringing this piece into your lives is so fascinating. And, like you said, you would have been fine, yet now you have a depth of understanding of yourself that you didn’t have before. I love that idea that the reflection of accepting our children is really about accepting ourselves. Because so often, the things that we worry about for our kids are the things where we see ourselves reflected there and we’re disappointed in about ourselves, so we don’t want our child to go through that.
SUSAN: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I didn’t want them to be highly sensitive. I didn’t have the words for it at the time, because I hadn’t read stuff about that. But I didn’t want them to have those things, because they were painful for me.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And it just really encourages us. This is what we talk about. So much of the deschooling period is really our work. But it’s beautiful work. It is well worth the effort and the time and the space and the grace that we give ourselves to do this work, because not only does it help us see our kids better, but it is so helpful for our personal growth in our own lives.
And now we can show up more authentically as ourselves, because we’re learning more about us. And it’s just this kind of spiral of goodness. It’s not easy, all that kind of stuff, but it’s rich. It’s a rich spiral and it really helps us. That’s one thing I’ve learned. There are always more layers.
SUSAN: Exactly. Yeah. I was going to say that, too. It’s like, “I’m finished now.”
PAM: There’s never a finish, sadly.
So, a third paradigm shift that you mentioned centered on the idea that everything changes.
Now, again, this is going to be another “layers” conversation, right? Because, on the surface, it’s easy to say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everything changes. People change. Circumstances change.” But there is a depth to that that really helps us.
So, how did the paradigm shift about “everything changes” unfold for you and what did that look like?
Well, like you say, it’s one of those that seems so obvious. But it seemed to me that even though anybody would say that things change, that when it comes to our children, a lot of times we don’t behave like we’re aware of that reality. And I saw that in two ways.
One is that I think that a lot of people seem to think that they need to recreate their childhood, if they had a happy childhood, or just the happy parts of their childhood, that that’s what their child needs, that their child needs, the education that they had, when you’re living in a world that’s so different from what they were living in. And they have resources and opportunities that are completely different.
And the education that we were led to believe was necessary for our success or happiness, maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t, but because how much things have changed and how the rate of change has even increased, we don’t really know what they are going to need.
And I think this part of it wasn’t as hard for me, maybe because I was an older parent. And I’d seen so much change already in my life. When I was a kid, we didn’t have computers in the house. Nobody had that. My son always says, “Back in the day …” And also, I raised my children in a different country. So, I knew that their childhood wasn’t going to be like mine.
And I certainly shared things with them. I wanted to share things about my childhood that I really loved, customs or books or movies, and a lot of that doesn’t translate very well into their worlds. It didn’t go over well. But a lot of it does, and they’re interested in finding out more about what life was like for me.
But the other area where I think we have trouble and I, again, was just really surprised that it was that difficult for me, was to understand that what your child’s doing right now is what they’re doing right now. And they change. The circumstances change. They change. And it doesn’t mean what they’re doing now is what they’re going to do forever.
So, I don’t really know why that tripped me up so much, except for when I thought about it, it seemed like it was always related to some worry that I had about something. Like, “Oh, he’s only eating bread. He doesn’t eat anything but bread.” So, I start thinking he’s going to ruin his health or something like that.
But Sue Patterson, I have to give her credit for helping me a lot with that one. I was in her group for several years and over and over and over again, I had to hear her tell me or someone else who was worried about something and was getting into that space, saying, “That’s what they’re doing right now, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to do that forever.” And that just takes a lot of that weight off of the behavior. And when you can relax and let things unfold, they do. Or maybe there’s some things that may not change, that may be really an integral part of who they are, but, whether they change or not isn’t the issue.
The important thing is that, in the meantime, you don’t have that scary little voice in your head and you’re able to enjoy and make the most out of what they are doing right now. So, if he’s eating only bread, then you buy all different kinds of bread or make different kinds of bread or see if he wants to help you make it or put different things on it. And, of course, offering other things, not assuming that he’s not going to change.
We got caught up in that a lot, because it was like, oh, we learned this about him. Oh, he likes bread. That’s all he likes. You can’t assume that that’s all he’s ever gonna like, so you still have to offer things and respect where he is right now, but also understand that it’s just what he’s in right now.
And, I think that this shift is another way of looking at that thing about living in the moment, trying to enjoy the most out of every moment, instead of thinking that things never change and trying to recreate the past or control what happens in the future that may or may not ever get here.
PAM: Right. That is such a big one. It was a big one for me, too, because when we start to worry about something, we start to get in our head and it starts to spin. And we do just project it into the future. And it’s all what ifs. What if they’re doing this forever and ever? What if they never? Those are clues, when you start to hear yourself using that kind of language, to step back for a moment and realize that everything changes.
I love what you did with your bread example. There is a whole world of things inside something that’s very narrow. Trying out all sorts of different styles of bread and making your own, just exploring inside that window with him, instead of feeling like everything’s cut down. We’re just inside this narrow thing and he’s got this one thing that he likes.
I saw a thread in the network earlier today. Somebody is really interested in ice cream. Oh my gosh. There’s so many different ways to play with that, too. With different flavors, different styles, making your own. There’s a whole world in there to explore, as well.
So, once we can realize that we are getting stuck in that fear that nothing’s going to change, that they’re going to eat this one thing, or they’re going to do this one thing, or they’re going to act this one way forever and ever, that that’s just our mind projecting. Truly, everything changes. And then, that’s when you relax a little bit, that weight falls off your shoulders a bit, and you can start exploring in the moment, getting back to the moment, because everything’s okay in this moment. Everything’s okay in this moment.
And you mentioned too that some things are innate and maybe it will be something that’s with them. And I do find, too, over the years, that even the context of that changes. So often, even the way it’s expressed changes. So, something that’s innate, as their lives change, as they grow and change as people, even these innate traits can change over time in the context, in the expression. And also, how we understand it changes in figuring out how we tick. Sometimes we choose to push our comfort zones for a little bit and see what happens. And sometimes we embrace them and cocoon right into it. So, that is the really fun aspect of it, when we can pass that fear and embrace that everything changes and give it the space to change.
So, we’re not looking at the next couple of days, like it needs to change in the next couple of weeks. But when we start looking back six months, we start looking back a year or five years, then you really start to see the context that yeah, everything does change in really interesting in ways that we won’t know until we can look back.
SUSAN: Yeah. I like the way you said, “Give it the space.” Because you give the moment the space, but also the opportunity for change.
PAM: Yeah. And as you were saying, even within the bread, if somebody is really interested in one thing, it doesn’t mean you’re closing off the rest of the world. Other people are eating things other than bread. There are other opportunities you can offer to share. You can accept the moment and also be living your moment. You’re living your moment right there with them. And your moment maybe includes more than those other things. So, when there’s not a judgment of them for their choices, plus we’re living our own choices, they see that bigger world and they realize it’s their choice.
And when we’re not judgmental of it, they don’t feel defensive about it. That’s really what I’ve seen. And when they’re feeling defensive about it, they’re more likely to hold on tighter, because they have to show that power. It’s like, “No. This is me. See me.” But when they’re not defensive, then they know that it’s their choice. Without the defensiveness, they know it’s a choice and that they could choose something different tomorrow and nobody’s going to say, “I told you so,” or anything like that, right?
Yeah. That’s a big one.
The last paradigm shift that you mentioned was to seeing radical love as the foundation of your unschooling lives. I really loved how you described that. Could you share with us how that shift came about and the difference that you’ve seen?
SUSAN: Again, this seems an obvious one.
We all love our children very much and we want what’s best for them. And I think that’s what we usually think. We want them to be happy and successful on their terms, at least, but I think so many times our own egos and our internal internalized social judgments and the fears get in the way and we try to make them into what we think they need to be in order to be happy. And that comes out of love, of course.
But when we do that, we’re not really loving them and who they are as their own unique person. I want to say that this shift doesn’t mean that I love him or my children more now than I did before. I always loved them the same, but I feel like now I love them better in a way that supports them more as human beings. And actually, all my relationships I think have improved a lot in that way.
And the radical thing that I said came from reading that book, The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Taylor. I was reading it with the Living Joyfully Network. We had a book discussion about that and there, she presents all the meanings of radical and why she advocates for this radical self-love.
And so, yeah, I wrote down here some of the meanings of radical. It means foundational, referring to the origin, or something that exists inherently within a person or a thing. And so, the way she describes how transformative having that radical love for yourself can be in your own life, it just kinda dawned on me. It’s like, this is what’s been happening in our family, that this is why it’s the bedrock of the unschooling life that we have. And that this kind of love required a level of trust and acceptance that I hadn’t been able or willing to give before, because of my own worries and fears.
So, some of the work I did related to that, I would say, in the very early days with the unschooling, I did this online course by Akilah Richards called Radical Self-Expression. And that set me on that path, but it was so early that I was still sort of lost. I didn’t really know where I was going with it.
And then about a year later, I did the Childhood Redefined Summit and that helped me a lot with that kind of digging. So, I’d say that those two things are the two experiences I had that helped me do the most really deep excavating and learning how to connect with myself and my children. Or at least they really got the ball rolling.
So, back to radical love. Sonya in her book talks about radical self-love, and you guys in the Summit talked about radical acceptance, and Akilah’s course was Radical Self-Expression.
PAM: It’s a theme.
SUSAN: And also, a lot of people call this radical unschooling and they use the same adjective, radical.
And, to be honest, I think my go-to meaning for radical is extreme and that’s not what it is. And coming to understand the way Sonya was using it made me realize that that’s just the essence, it’s what brings it all together. It’s what’s helped me heal myself and my relationships, and what makes unschooling work for us, because it’s like when your love is radical, it’s the foundation of your relationship with your child. And it’s based on a love and acceptance of yourself and just an inherent trust and acceptance.
And I think when most of your daily interactions start coming from that bedrock or that foundation, then the unschooling flows. And I’m going to cry again now. And the learning just bursts out and takes off and your family is just more peaceful and fulfilled, and not perfect. But when that’s the foundation, for us at least, that’s what really made it finally start all coming together.
PAM: I loved the way you expressed that, Susan. The foundation, it helps us move through the bumpy moments that you mentioned. And it also feels like all the other paradigm shifts that you were talking about, and all those layers that we work through, that’s when you start to get into these foundational layers.
And we talk about how, in the end, it, it comes to be about the relationships. This love just bubbles up and through everything. And, like you said, the learning, it just bursts out, it just happens all around us. We don’t have to look for it. We don’t have to create it. We don’t have to test for it, but we see it happening around us just with such joy and dedication and determination, even in the frustrating moments, even in the challenging moments, but it just becomes part of the fabric of our life, doesn’t it?
PAM: I love the way you went through “radical”, too, and explaining that. Because at first, for me too, it just seemed extreme. It’s like, why do we have to be extreme? Because in the end, it really seems to be how humans function really well in this kind of space. But yeah, when you talk about it as the essence, as foundational, the love and relationships, everything just blossoms out of that, doesn’t it?
SUSAN: Yeah. You know, when I talk about the learning happens and I think some people might have a hard time seeing how that’s related, but until we got there, I think all these other little things were in the way that inhibited some of the things, approaches, or things that my son would do, because he always had in the back of his mind probably thinking, “Oh, what’s mom going to think about this?” So, you have to get past that and free all that up in order to allow that really self-directed learning to happen.
PAM: Earlier on, you mentioned, “I understood this intellectually.” But that’s the piece. And some people right now may think, well, that sounds crazy. How do we get there? Because you can’t just step there. You can’t just say tomorrow, radical love. That’s where we’re starting, baby. It literally is a journey, isn’t it? You need to find what for yourself are the big paradigm shifts, because we’re all unique. We come with a different set of experiences.
So, maybe some of the things that we talked about today were like, “I totally got that. But this thing over here is really challenging for me.” That’s what I love about the podcast and talking to so many different people about their journeys, because different journeys and different pieces of people’s journeys will connect with different people.
But the understanding that this is a journey that I’m taking, this is my journey. And to understand there’s value in giving yourself the time and space and putting in the effort to peel back those layers, to do that self exploration. In the end, and granted, there is no end, we had that conversation, too. There’s always more layers, because we’re growing and changing, because everything changes.
But we do eventually get to that radical of a place where we can see it. It’s not just an intellectual understanding, but it is a deep trust and something that we know in our bones, that when we focus on this love and this foundation and keeping that at the forefront, we see all the rest of the stuff bubbling up. But you can’t just step there intellectually tomorrow, right?
SUSAN: No, not at all. I loved your book, The Unschooling Journey. And when I read that, I identified where I thought I was at that time. And I was maybe about the middle. And I read the whole thing. And recently I went back to look, because I feel like I did go through the rest of the art, more or less, and I think it was really cool the way you identify framework. Even though it’s such a unique and individual thing, you managed to find a common framework, which was really cool.
PAM: Yeah. When I was diving into that, and I just see it now more and more, each time, each connection, that underlying framework, like we were talking about here, that foundation, it was just so fascinating for me. That was something that really connected for me, that framework, that underlying framework. And it was totally unrelated to unschooling. That was based on the hero’s journey. But as I was reading about that, because I was interested in story and character, hero’s journey. That’s how I first got there. Because then, I’m going, unschooling! Unschooling! It’s like, whoa! Look at that!
And so, yeah, that’s when I dove into that deep, deep hole. But yeah, it’s fascinating the places that our lives take us when you’re just curious about something. I started completely unrelated.
You picked up the ukulele lately. That’s so fun to be okay with, “You know what? I’m drawn to that. I have no clue why. We’ll find out later.” Some thread, it’ll be like, “Oh, that’s so interesting.” But again, it’s not until we look back and we start to see those threads through our lives.
And the whole point of curriculum and expectations is trying to put a path on somebody’s future. When we follow their curiosity and their interests, and they can truly choose, they make some amazing choices that you don’t see till later.
So, yeah. I love that. That’s so cool. All right.
What is your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now?
SUSAN: I think it’s that piece that I was talking about that, especially in this time right now when the whole world, there’s so much chaos going on because of the pandemic, we have our little peaceful island here. So, I really am thankful for that and being stuck here with the three of us here by ourselves and we are just fine with that. And specifically, like say for about the last month or so with the schedules that we’ve been on, they’ve been pretty opposite.
So, my favorite times of the day I would say are when we reconnect. And we have two opportunities to do that, because we’re on such different schedules. So, when we get up and then when our son gets up, those are reconnecting times where we find out what we were doing, even though it’s just been a few hours, or what we’re planning to do, what we’re thinking or feeling. And they’re really just beautiful moments. I just noticed the other day how much it filled my little heart to have those reconnects every day.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. Just those moments, they just fill us up, because it doesn’t even matter what it is, but it’s that engagement with them, just sharing what we’re interested in in the moment, what’s passed our plates in the last little while. It feels just so soothing, connecting, rich, even in the simplest things. That’s so beautiful.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Susan. It was so much fun.
SUSAN: Well, thanks for having me. I really enjoyed enjoyed it and it was really good for me to think these things through. So, thanks a lot.
PAM: I appreciate you doing that. I love the ideas that you came back with. When we were talking first talking about the call and these paradigm shifts, I thought that was just such a lovely approach. So, I really appreciate you taking the time to think that through. That was awesome.
And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
SUSAN: Well, I’m on Facebook and Instagram. I don’t post anything, hardly, but you can reach me through private messaging there if you want. Or by email.
PAM: I’ll get that from you. And I’ll put links to that stuff in the show notes for them.
SUSAN: And I’d love to connect with anybody who is interested in connecting, because I’m down here by myself.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Susan, and have a wonderful rest of your day.
SUSAN: Okay. You too.
SUSAN: Bye bye.