PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with the Beck family. Hi, everybody!
BECK FAMILY: Hello!
PAM: Hey! We were recently introduced by a mutual friend and I’m so excited to learn more about your family’s unschooling journey. I’m so happy that you all could come together in this moment. I think that’s extra special.
To get us started, I thought we’d do just a short around the room intro. Who’s who? And what’s everybody up to right now?
JOSH: Absolutely. I’ll go first. I’m Josh. And right now, life’s been a little slower since the pandemic hit, but we’re excited to get ready for spring time. We’ve actually got a garden in our backyard that we’re working on expanding out this year. So, we’re planning that out right now. But yeah, just enjoying life right now.
RYLIE: I can go next. I’m Rylie. I am hanging out in the mountains of Idaho right now. We moved out here in October. Again, similar to Josh, slowing down in the pandemic, we realized that we had some extra time in our lives. And so, we moved out here. And I am currently teaching ballet at a local dance studio.
PAM: Sweet! Ellie?
ELLIE: Hi. I’m Ellie. I am currently surviving my senior year at KU and gearing up to start law school in about three months.
PAM: That keeps you busy, too. All right. Mom and dad?
ANGIE: Hey. I’m Angie. I’m mom. And obviously, they’re all in different places. We are empty nesters now. I actually still work in the education area. I tutor students with dyslexia and I do it all online. I was doing it online before the pandemic, and obviously through the pandemic still staying online. And that’s keeping me busy.
DARREN: Sounds good. I’ll round us out. I’m Darren. I’m the dad. We’re based here in the Kansas City area where the kids were born and raised. And I get the joy of working remotely for a company called Sustainable Brands. We work with companies, teaching them how to win through environmental and social innovation to make the world a better place and find a good way of differentiating themselves in the market, too.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. That sounds awesome. I’m really interested to hear more about what everybody’s up to, because I’m sure that’s going to weave into our conversation.
I would love to hear how you discovered unschooling and what your family is move to unschooling looked like back then.
So, I thought maybe we could start with Angie here figuring it out. I figure you took the lead there.
ANGIE: Absolutely. So, when Josh was born, I met a mom. We wound up in a playgroup together. We were first in a nursing moms support group at the hospital where our babies were born and she already was talking with a three-week-old baby that they knew they were going to homeschool, but they were going to homeschool for religious reasons. And I knew that we had no interest in that.
But it kind of planted that seed of, ‘Oh, people homeschool. Okay.’ Because I didn’t really know anybody that homeschooled growing up. I didn’t have any background with anybody that homeschooled. And so, as the kids got older, Josh was a very busy, busy, busy little boy.
And we just started wondering how this was going to play out. We just did the traditional path. He did three-year-old preschool. Loved it, had a great teacher, just played, and had fun, and made friends, and it was great. And then he started four-year-old preschool and I didn’t realize that four-year-old preschool geared children up to go to kindergarten. And we got a note one day from Josh’s four-year-old preschool teacher that he didn’t want to do his seat work. And we kind of looked at each other and we were like, we don’t see the problem in that.
DARREN: What is seat work?
ANGIE: He’s four. And she was like, “Well, you do know that he’s learning how to be in kindergarten here. And he has to be able to sit down and do the work in kindergarten.” And we had started a conversation about homeschooling, thinking maybe that’s a good idea, started to do some research, got a lot of books from the library. At that time, we weren’t online, I don’t think. I wasn’t online, I don’t think.
DARREN: Maybe just a little.
ANGIE: And so, we just started really, really researching things. And then, I think, that spring we had the little parent-teacher meeting time with the preschool teacher and she asked what our plans were. And I said, actually, we’re going to homeschool him. And she was like, I think that’s a really good idea. And I wasn’t sure at that point, if she was being supportive or being sarcastic or what was going on there. But I think she really did think it was a good idea.
DARREN: I’ll just say, sitting there, it was so interesting, again, four years old, first parent-teacher conference and I’m just staring down this future of, how many more parent teacher conferences are we going to have? In this particular case, Josh is the furthest along and I’m thinking, I want him to be a happy little camper. And am I going to have to go through this with Angie every time we sit down with our kindergarten teacher and first grade and second grade?
And at a certain point, school, in many ways, is about conformity. And at what point in time are they going to start asking for medication to come into play and all the rest? And for us, I think what we both had realized that had given us a sense, a catalyst for thinking about whether homeschooling might be the path, is that Josh could very easily sit down and focus for hours of time on the things he was interested in. So, it’s not that he couldn’t focus. It was just like, is he interested in what you’re asking them to do? And we thought, school is going to be a constant challenge in that way throughout.
So, are we going to try to force our kids into a system that’s going to want to just keep them honed in that way? Or might we take advantage of some of the things we’re already seeing as parents, which is that intuitively, kids will focus in where their interests lie?
Angie dug into the research and started checking out some local homeschooling groups. She started bringing books home on a regular basis. I’ll segue back to Angie.
ANGIE: So, that January before he turned five, so he would have started kindergarten that coming fall, he was still in preschool, I had found a local homeschooling group that was secular and it was the only one in town. And it was just our people. It was our people. And so, we joined that and started doing activities, but I was still not really unschooling yet, because I hadn’t made that leap. And so, I got the Five in a Row books and was like, oh, this would be great. These are great books, great activities, all these things.
And we sat down the first day. And at that point, Rylie was two and a half and I was pregnant with Ellie. And so, we sit down and we do the first day. We read Make Way for Ducklings and we do the activity and we have a great, great time.
And the next day, day two, it’s five in a row, right? Day two. And we sit down and I get the book and Josh looks at me. He goes, we read that book yesterday. And he hopped down off the couch and he went over and got his Legos and started playing Legos. And I was like, what do I do now? That’s not how they said this was going to happen. And so, I just kind of kept reading my books and going to the homeschooling meetings and met a lot of families that unschooled.
And I started seeing families with teenagers, young teenagers, older teenagers. And they were really interesting. People could carry on conversations, really deep conversations. And I was noticing that when we were at events that the kids weren’t age-segregating themselves, they were interest-segregating themselves.
DARREN: Right. Right.
ANGIE: So, if there was a six-year-old who was interested in something that a 14-year-old and maybe a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old were doing, those older kids didn’t say, “You can’t come and hang out with us.” They were like, “Come on, we’ll show you what we’re doing. And let’s teach you about this. And if you know how to play, then we’ll play,” if it was a card game or whatever, then well, hop on in. And that was just really eye opening for me in that it just seemed really like the way life should be it.
Nowhere else do we spend time with just the people who are our same age. And so, we just followed a path. We had some people in our lives tell us, “Oh, well, I’m not sure you want to do this.” And so, I read and we just gave the answer of, “Oh, we’re just going to try this for a year. We’ll see.” And every year, it was like, “Well, it’s still working, so we’re just going to keep going.” And then we just never stopped.
DARREN: You know, it’s interesting.
I feel like the first time I remember unschooling was when Angie had just finished The Unschooling Handbook and she handed it to me and goes, “I think we should try this. This really seems to fit a lot of what we value as a family.” And so, I read it and sure enough, I feel like we had been going through a process in our life anyways, just as new parents. There’s just so much new going on that we were opening up to being people who we were growing into, I guess, in some ways. We were kind of in a path of growth and how we look on the world and how we wanted to show up in the world. And it seemed to fit that nicely.
And what we have always been even before we had kids, is very family-centric. We had just super loving parents who just made so much possible for us that family was the core of our values and principles, anyways. So, I’m open to an uncharted path. It certainly was. It was an invitation to take life in a very free-flowing way.
And where I placed my trust, and I think that’s the important part when parents are first thinking about this, is I placed my trust in Angie, because again, she was really going to be helping to guide the kids through this. I knew that she was one of the most well-researched, thoughtful people I knew, and that she’s not going to overlook something. And I also knew how much she valued our kids. I mean, she wasn’t going to lead them down a path that she felt like wasn’t going to be fruitful in some way.
And I think she’s exactly right. We decided to give it a go and see where it went, and slowly but surely it continued to go well. And the nice thing about LEARN, which is the homeschooling group we were a part of, it stands for “let education always remain natural”, was it was so nice to be surrounded by people who were eclectic.
We had folks who were doing school at home. We had folks who were on the unschooling path, but you could see other families who were a few steps down the road. And again, as Angie mentioned, some had kids who were into their twenties and you say, hey, it turned out all right. So, just that validation, I think, was helpful in terms of having a support group around this as well.
PAM: Okay. So, I have so many things that I thought were awesome about that, but I want to ask first, so, Darren, you went to some of the LEARN meetups?
DARREN: I did. From the very first one, we made that a joint venture and it was fascinating for me. I mean, it was my first introduction into mama power. There were guys and dads in the room, too, but I would say 80% of the room were the homeschooling moms. And wow. Just, again, to see not only the leadership in the room, but I started very quickly understanding, I’m going to get deep here, that this was about systems change. It’s about doing what’s right for your family, but taking a risk, having the courage to step outside of the system, and to change it for the people who are the most important in your life.
It’s kind of like, there’s nothing more valuable than giving them a great experience and allowing them to become the people that they are destined to be. And I think that that’s really important to see so many moms prepared to make that investment, so many families ready to make that investment, and intuitively following who their kids were and building almost a custom education around that for each and every one of the kiddos. And for me, it was amazing to see that this group was going to move mountains. You could just feel it in the room. You could feel the empowerment, the nurturing, the enablement that was going on with so many of these folks.
And I think what I was kind of smitten by, too, with the group, is it was a range of free spirits. You would be hard pressed to pinpoint a certain belief that everyone shared collectively. That’s okay. I mean, for me, I’m all about if someone believes in a path and believes in it enough that they’re ready to stand up for it and share it and talk about it, I really value that. And those are the people I surround myself with, so that in particular resonated with me when I went to be a part of that group.
And we’d go in I think it was every Monday night and you’re going to have your moments of, did we choose the right path along the way? And Monday night kind of shored it up with a little bit of validation and you can do some problem solving with other parents if you were like, “I woke up this morning. I thought, what about math?”
PAM: Oh, I love that. There’s two pieces there, Darren, that really stood out. So, first was giving that trust to Angie, because she had started down this path and she was doing a whole bunch of research and found this group. And I think that is such a helpful piece, because it’s not like, yesterday you’re doing school at home and the next day you’re unschooling, and there you go. It’s a journey. It takes a while to bring this into your family and to understand that depth.
So, to give that space to allow things to unfold for a while, to give that trust that, “I know you have our kids’ best interests at heart. I know you’re thinking hard about this.” And that you’re trusting that they’re bringing their full selves to it. I think that is so valuable.
And then alongside, you also had that open and curious attitude, which, like you were saying, you had even before you had kids, that it’s what works for us versus what is that traditional path. You’re open and curious to see what else works, so that you also dove in and went to the group meetings. So, then you were also learning alongside.
And, for me, even if there aren’t groups locally that you can go to, there are now online groups. I think finding community, having people that you can talk to, it’s really valuable, isn’t it?
DARREN: Yeah, it was. I had a chance to grow. And shortly after that, I was working with Sprint, the wireless company, before that. And part of my work was, again, focused on corporate social responsibility, but we were in the communications group. And very early on, to support that work in the business side, we were going on Facebook and learning about Twitter. This was in 2007, 2008, and trying to get into understanding social media to leverage that for the company.
But what I quickly found is not only was I the “green guy” over at Sprint, but half my Twitter feed was the unschooling folks that I found around the country. So, I very early curated about 800 unschoolers across the country who kind of expanded beyond that. And they were only a subset of our local secular group. So, yeah, I very quickly found my niche, found my community, as well, even virtually.
I want to go back to what you said a moment ago about trust, because I feel like that’s so important and I’m going to talk about it in terms of concentric circles, right? The very first part you need to have that trust is with your partner. I’ve seen single parents unschool and pull it off, but if you have a partner, it’s that other person giving the space to say, yeah, let’s give it a try.
But then beyond that, the next concentric circle out is your family. And so, my mom, who I love dearly, is a lifetime educator, taught fifth grade for years. Most of the friends in our community we grew up with are teachers, principals. So, they’re coming from the educational system that they know and that they work within. And what I love is that folks like my mom show up and if you were ever blessed enough to have her as a teacher, you would have hit the lottery. I mean, she’s the one who brings all that love and nurturing into the system, but still bumps up to the constraints of the system.
So, I guess that next circle out was sort of like, I didn’t want the family to feel as if it was a judgment leveled against them in terms of what they have invested their lives in. And so, our decision is not passing judgment on where they’re spending their time or how we were raised.
And then, my father, who spent years in the social services side, oftentimes when he heard about homeschooling, in many cases, he was the guy who had to come in and pull people out of bad situations, where someone was using homeschooling as a cover for domestic abuse and neglect and so on. So, he didn’t have as wide an experience with homeschooling in the more positive since we had seen, too.
So, that next circle out, where if you can find the grace, if you can find the trust, is hopefully with your family. And it seems like the entire unschooling journey was navigating that.
And then beyond that, the final circle are just the people you bump into every day, the people who see your bumper sticker in the grocery store parking lot, the folks who want to quiz the kids as they come along. You hopefully find grace with your partner, then hopefully you find grace with the family, and then you hopefully find grace with the people around you in your community. But you won’t always, because what we’re doing is pioneering.
We weren’t the OGs back in the day, you can look even further back into the sixties and seventies for that, but very few of us were even doing it at that time. And what I’m pleasantly seeing is that we’re getting some growth and seeing more and more adopt this, but it’s still not the norm by any means.
PAM: Yeah. I love that. I love the idea of the circles and the grace and the trust that you can extend to those people, understanding where they’re coming from. I, too, had educators in my extended family and because we aren’t judgmental in our choice, this is just our choice. And I love the way you phrased it. It’s like, “We’re going to try this for a year. Oh, this is still working. We’re going to keep trying it.” It’s not like, “You guys are wrong. We’re right. We’re doing this forever.” That’s not the approach. So, I think that’s wonderful.
When you’re first learning about unschooling, that’s when I think the community is really helpful, because then you can steep in that ethos, in the families and the energy of people who are trying to live the way you’re wanting to live, especially in that transition period. You can pick up so much more, because if you’re still learning and you’re spending 95% of your time with people who don’t understand what you’re doing, it is more challenging at that point.
Every time, “Ooh, what about math?” comes up, if you say that to anybody else, they’ll say, “Well, put them in school.” But when you’re in the community and you say, “Oh, what about math?” They talk you through it and they help you realize why that came up for you, other possibilities. They’re not judging you for that, but they’re going to be able to give you answers that get you that next step towards where you’re wanting to walk.
ANGIE: And they gave us ideas like that I don’t think I would have thought on my own, to check with the local community college when my kids were 14 and 15 years old, when their thing is that you have to be 16, minimum, to start here. Well, no, not really. They don’t. But there are ways and there’s a path and there’s actually a liaison person there that will talk with you about the path. But it was just things like that all along the way.
We first started in the year 2000, so we have been connected and we still are, we have dear friends from this group, even though we’re not a part of the active day-to-day group activities. And I had no idea then, I just assumed, because we’re in a suburb of Kansas City, so we’re in a pretty major metropolitan area. I just assumed every bigger city in the country, if not other countries, would have homeschooling groups like this that were secular-based, that had a wide variety of types of homeschooling families that were supportive of each other.
And I found pretty quickly that once I did get online and found, I think unschooling.com was one of my first finds online, found chat groups and things online and realized that we were really, really, really lucky to have that group here. I mean, the things we did with that group were just amazing.
DARREN: Magical. Even to this day, I want to go back and recreate the memories. I long for it.
ANGIE: And we had some really great families that had lots of different interests and skills and we had a weekly co-op day of classes the kids could choose from. And even the classes that might seem schooly like biology or things like that, weren’t super-duper schooly. We other parents often took the classes along with the kids, we would join in. One of my favorites was when they took the the Billy Joel song, We Didn’t Start the Fire.
And they took all of those events in that song and put them on slips of paper. The kids drew them out of a hat or something and had to research that event and figure out why it was important enough to be added to the song, and then come back and tell the group about what they found out. And I thought it was so much fun. I don’t know. My kids may not have, I don’t know.
JOSH: No, I enjoyed that one. That was, that was a lot of fun.
ANGIE: But I mean, there were just lots of really unique things with parents who would jump in and offer things to share and kids would lead.
DARREN: Josh was doing electronics classes for folks and Rylie was teaching dance to kids. Everyone could contribute and bring what they were good at.
PAM: I love that, because that’s what we see in our unschooling families, too.
Once you get rid of the compulsory nature, it’s a choice. And once you’re away from that, it’s fun. Learning is fun. Learning just happens when you’re doing the things and everybody’s got the things that they’re interested in.
So, all those various things bubble up within our family, bubble up in the larger community if the community is structured that way, in the sense that you get to choose. Like, “I’m really excited about this. I’d be happy to show people.” Or somebody had the idea about the Billy Joel song. It’s like, “Oh, who would like to go dig into this?” And the people who find it interesting flock to that. And it’s such a different way of learning.
Because people can say, “Oh, well, we shouldn’t have anything structured. We shouldn’t be telling our kids anything.” But no, we can be excited about things and sharing them, too. And maybe they say, “Oh, that’s cool, mom.” And off they go. Or maybe you end up in a 20-minute conversation diving deeper into it. Both ways are okay. But just the energy that comes with people being excited about the things that they’re interested in. And it’s exciting to share about the things that we’re interested in. That’s so fun.
I thought now might be a good time to dive into unschooling from the kid’s perspective. I would love to know what stood out for each of you as one of the more valuable aspects of growing up unschooling.
So, why don’t we start with Josh?
JOSH: Yeah, absolutely.
So, for me, probably as well as a lot of other people who have grown up unschooling, for me, really it is the freedom to try all sorts of things, to pursue what you’re interested in, and the freedom to be a kid, as you’re growing up. You have the opportunity to go run around the backyard and look at bugs or sit inside and read a book all day, if that’s what you’re interested in, and really just have unlimited opportunities. And to know that you could pursue something that you find interesting.
You get a chance to try it out, but if it’s not really something that you’re really interested in down the road, that’s okay. You tried it out and it’s okay if you want to stop doing that and try something else. You’re not held into, “No, this is what you’ve chosen to do. You’ve got to stick with it.”
PAM: How are you going to learn if you can’t change course?
JOSH: Exactly. Yeah.
RYLIE: And adding onto what Josh said, as well, when he says, “We were given the opportunity to try what we were interested in,” we were given every opportunity to try something we were interested in. So, I remember Josh was interested in cake baking at one point, I think.
JOSH: Oh yeah.
RYLIE: And my mom found, or my dad, I’m not sure who it was, found somebody in the area that was a professional baker. And we went to that person’s house for, I don’t know how long we did it, but we would go and he would learn how to bake cakes and learn how to roll the fondant and stuff. And that was a thing for a while. And then it shifted to something else and there was this natural flow.
But anytime we expressed an interest, our parents would come to us and say, “Hey, we found these things for you. Do you want to try it out?” And we were given the option to say, “Well, actually that was just a spur of the moment thought. I’m not really that into it.” Or, “Yeah, let’s go for it. I really want to try it.” But I think the opportunities were endless there in our childhood.
JOSH: Yeah. Absolutely.
PAM: That’s so valuable. And that’s part of the work, like when parents are newer to unschooling, they’re like, “Well, if I’m not helping them with their homework and taking them to school and back, what am I going to be doing?” You’re going to be helping them find all the fun ways that they can explore the things that they’re interested in.
And also doing that with no expectation that they’re going to be excited about it and actually say yes. You’ve just planted a seed there. There is this possibility in the world. And maybe it’s six months or a year later and they go, “Oh, hey, you remember when you mentioned that? I think I’d like to try that out now.” There are just so many possibilities when you approach it that way.
DARREN: I think of Josh’s path around sports. When he was itty bitty, we were playing basketball and soccer and he and I were doing TaeKwonDo together for a while. And then, the nice thing, again, with the free range of experiences we were ready to go after, fencing was the next thing he was interested in. So, we we’re working around fencing, but what he finally landed on as his true love wound up being parkour and freerunning.
PAM: Right? It’s so fun to look back at the path, because you can see the connections. It’s really hard to see in the moment why this interest is a thing. But when you look back, you can start to see the threads of things and you start to see yourself unfolding in them. Don’t you?
JOSH: Absolutely. Yeah.
PAM: That’s so cool. That’s so cool. Okay. So, Rylie, what about you?
RYLIE: I think probably all three of us kids are going to have things that all tie into each other just as our parents will and just as you will. But I think adding on a little bit to what Josh said as far as interests and what we pursued in different moments, I think we were taught to question things. We were taught to question society. We were taught to question ourselves as far as what we want to do every day, just question why things work the way they do.
And I think that also brings in an intuitive aspect to our lives and we all are very intuitive human beings now and know when something feels wrong or when something’s no longer aligned with who we are and we need to move forward and past it.
But I think that there was this awareness that we developed as children that really honed in on this thing that some people spend their whole lives searching for. And we were lucky enough to receive, I could say, a conditioning in this way to believe, in this intuitive way of life, from when we were very young. So, I think that that’s a huge aspect that I’ve taken away from unschooling and the path is question everything. Always be questioning if the situation is good for you, if this is right for you, if it makes you feel the right way, and then also tune into your intuition and you’ll be able to figure that out throughout your questioning.
PAM: My goodness. I love that. I love that. And I love that you mentioned the word awareness, because through that questioning, the self-awareness that develops, our understanding of ourselves, that we can then bring in to the next time we’re questioning something. So, there’s the self-awareness piece, then there’s the context piece and understanding the world and the situation. And it’s like, how do these mesh together?
And then, the intuition piece, which is your inner voice, understanding yourself and seeing how they mesh. So, that helps you make the choices. And the biggest piece, which ties back to what Josh was saying about changing your interests, is changing your path when it stops feeling good. Thinking, I’m going to go back to my questions to see if something else might feel a little bit better.
ANGIE: Yeah. And I think that was one of the things that came up when the kids were in organized activities or organized classes and things or lessons, because Rylie did violin and Josh had fiddle lessons. Ellie did art lessons. They were welcome to continue that as long as they wanted to. But they were never forced to stay in something if it wasn’t working for them. It wasn’t just like, “Oh, well, we’ve signed up for the season of soccer. So, you have to stay in it the entire season,” when Ellie’s going, “I don’t want to chase that ball around.” It’s like, okay.
ELLIE: I think I quit on the first day.
ANGIE: Clearly this isn’t right for you. So, we’re not going to have to finish this out.
And a lot of people would question it. They would say, “Well, how are they going to learn to stick with something they don’t want to do?” The other thing was, “How are they ever going to learn to get up for a job if you don’t make them get up at a certain time?” And every single one of them has had no issue whatsoever getting up for anything that they put value on. And if they had a reason to do it, they all could get up at the crack of dawn and go do whatever it is they need to go do.
DARREN: Even though many days growing up, they didn’t start before 10 in the morning.
ANGIE: At the earliest. Yeah. And it may be that they may not enjoy getting up at 6:00 AM and going to do it, but they know that that’s going to get them to their end goal and they have to do that step to get there. Like Ellie wants to become a lawyer. Well, you don’t become a lawyer without going to college and then going to law school and doing the steps you have to go through to get that certification and degree. So, if that means that she has to take an early class, which she’s been fortunate not to have to do too often.
ELLIE: I take them later whenever possible, but I am a morning person.
ANGIE: But I think that allowing them the ability to say, this isn’t working for me. I don’t want to continue it. I want to try something different and letting them do that was important.
PAM: Yeah. I wanted to pop back to what you said about people saying, “When you let them quit something, how are they ever going to learn how to stick it out for something?” No. How they’re going to learn that is by finding the things they love so much that they’re going to stick it out because they love it. This exploration is about finding the things that they love.
So, even if there’s money involved, I found it really helpful and easy to frame it as what we learned with that money is that they really don’t like this thing, and that was worth it right there. We know this.
And my friend Anna likes to talk about it as a sunk cost. That money is gone. And why do I want to use my money to make my child miserable by forcing them to finish the soccer season or finished the swimming lessons or whatever it is? Let’s use this money to realize, look what we learned from this situation. And what you want to find are those things that the kids love so much that you can’t stop them. They are heads-down, at it all the time. Right?
ANGIE: Yeah. Yeah. We have a good friend. She was actually one of the two ladies that started the homeschooling group, LEARN. Her mantra was, find what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning. Explore lots and lots of things and then find what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you want to get out of bed.
PAM: Yeah. That’s beautiful. And that’s the other lovely thing with unschooling we find, foundationally, this is what works for human beings. So, you know, what gets you out of bed in the morning works no matter your age. I love that. All right. So, Ellie, let’s move on to you. What stands out for you as one of the more valuable aspects of growing up unschooling?
ELLIE: Yeah. So, I want to echo what both Josh and Rylie said. So, with Josh, the opportunity to really explore what we wanted to do. I can think of a million different times that my parents threw resources at me when I expressed an interest. Like my mom said, I did art lessons for a long time.
Well, I took one art class that was a very formal art class. And the instructor wanted you to exactly replicate the picture that she had. And I thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. I wasn’t going to just paint a random picture. And so, I quit that art class and she found me a new art instructor who I instantly clicked with and spent the next eight years studying under her and massively developed my knowledge and skills as an artist.
But also, I had always been very interested in cooking. That’s always been something that’s been a deep interest of mine. So, my parents got me lessons at the Kansas City Culinary Arts Center that we would all go to the farmer’s market every Saturday. I was maybe 12. And then, we’d go back to the kitchen and the instructors would teach us what to make with the things that we had just found at the farmer’s market.
But really, I think the biggest thing is one time, my cousin is a pastry chef and she does these amazing sugar cookies that are like gorgeous pieces of artwork, and so, I think I was like 13, 14. My parents flew me to Boston to go stay with my pastry chef cousin for a weekend. And she taught me how to make these sugar cookies. And I came home and made it a Midwest business and still to this day, I sell those sugar cookies and I’ve made enough money to fund travels that I wanted to go do and everything. And that was just from them sending me on a trip to Boston to learn what I wanted to learn. So, I think that has been invaluable.
But also, what Rylie said, I think each of us have a really deep self-awareness that, at least for me, people have mentioned before throughout my life at different times, like, wow, you are a very self-aware little child. But I think that that really does come from just at every instance thinking, is this right for me? Do I want to continue this?
But I think another thing that I would add for something that has been really valuable for me about unschooling is just the lack of limitations. Nobody’s telling you, “You can’t do this because you’re not at that grade level yet. You can’t do this because you didn’t do this one step that we have randomly deemed necessary as a prerequisite to this next adventure.”
So, even just for me, I was a bookworm as a kid. I never had my face out of a book. And so, I was never told like, oh, you can’t read these things because that’s an eighth grade reading level and you’re at a six or anything like that. So, that just really helped me as I’ve moved on to start community college at 15 and go to KU with sophomore, junior level credits at 18. And now, I’m about to start law school and I’m 20 years old. So, not being limited has really, really served me in my life.
PAM: I love that.
I love that, because when moving to unschooling, one of the big things is age just kind of fades away, alongside grades. We’re not tracking what grade we’re in and what bubbles up is the interest and how you want to pursue it. You don’t need those limits. And I found there were times where my kids wanted to do something and it would be out of the ordinary for a child of that age or for any child.
And so, I was just kind of connecting ahead of time maybe with someone who was running that class and just saying, “Hey, my kid’s interested in this. Is that okay? Can we make that work?” And nine times out of 10, especially when we’re following our interests and we’re diving into stuff we’re interested in, the people who are teaching that stuff are interested in it, too. So, for them it’s like, “Hey, yeah, if they’re interested, we’d love to have them.”
And so, I didn’t really find a lot of issues or artificial limits on what my kids wanted to do. But you had to just have that mindset that you’re going to ask, because in the book, it may say ages 16 and up or something like that. But taking that extra step to talk to them.
Did you guys find that, Angie?
ANGIE: Yeah. Each one of them actually has had that experience. Josh has always, always been super interested in anything with wheels and an engine, especially motorcycles. And so, when he was 13, our local community college would have these Saturdays where they would offer just unique one-hour classes and you could sign up. The community could sign up for different classes. And so, one of them was the history of motorcycles. So, Darren and Josh signed up, they went. They were the two people in the class. And so, they really connected with the instructor.
DARREN: Bill Brown.
ANGIE: You still remember his name.
JOSH: I believe he was actually the dean of the automotive department at the time.
ANGIE: Why don’t you tell the story, Josh? Why don’t you tell what happened?
JOSH: Yeah. So, we went to the class and, like Mom said, we were probably the only two people there. It was a very small group. So, we got a lot of one-on-one time with Bill Brown who was teaching the class. And after the class was done, we stayed and just talked a little bit and I think, Dad, you brought up that, “Hey. Josh is really interested in this stuff. What would be some more resources that we could look into to learn more about this?”
And to our luck, he said, “Well, you know, on Wednesday nights out at my big garage out here at my house, I’ve got a group of people that come together and they all work on their motorcycles together.” And he had a collection of probably 20-odd old motorcycles that he kept there and he said, “Why don’t you guys come by sometime and check it out? Just come on by and we’d be happy to have you. Come over and hang out.”
And it was a group of people who, some people kept their projects at his house, some people would just come over and hang out with the group for the night. And I learned a lot going to those. And actually, eventually, down the road, when I had a project of my own that we ran into some issues with, we took it out there and from the collective group, we were able to say, “Oh yeah, yeah, you should look into this being the problem,” and then I think that ended up fixing it.
But yeah, that was an amazing resource that I really think launched me to where I’m at now with the job that I’m doing. But, absolutely, reaching out to people and saying, “Hey, what would be something that we could do to get them more into this?” And I think that it never hurts and it opens up some amazing doors, too.
DARREN: I think I want to continue to go with the flow Josh has set for us here and go back to the limitations question, Pam. I think that there’s another limitation that parents on an unschooling path can run into or folks who are thinking about it. Which is, as a parent, I have limitations. I don’t know how to teach somebody something like this. Like with Josh, we skipped a generation.
My dad is all into things with motors and wheels, too, but I can swap out a radiator on a van to save me some money. I can do about anything YouTube teaches me how to do. It’s just not my passion. And so, it was great to be able to connect with Bill. But then about that same age, Josh was like, “Dad, I’d like to learn how to weld,” and I’m thinking, all right, well, all the vo-tech classes at the high schools, they’re not even starting it at 13 yet.
Bill had made it pretty clear that he can’t take a 13-year-old at the community college quite yet. So, I kept thinking, all right, now how do I do this? I don’t know how to weld. I don’t have the equipment in the garage, but fortunately, one thing leads to another. Through that group that we’d go over and hang out with on Wednesday nights for motorcycles, we got to meet Bernie.
And Bernie, at the time, he was essentially taking care of all the the maintenance and repairs for a number of apartment complexes by day. But by night he was a mad scientist. He was welding together a whole motorcycle frame around a diesel generator. So, the diesel generator was what was starting up the cycle. I don’t think he could get more than about 55. Maybe you could press 60 down the highway, but he made it work.
So, he was just fabricating all sorts of stuff in his garage at home. So, my question to Bernie was, “Hey, what about on Tuesday nights, what if I pop for pizza and Josh and I come out to your place and you teach him how to weld?” And Angie and I found this book that was something like, Cycles, Trikes, and Spinners, like the mad scientist.
And essentially, he picked a project out which would take a kid’s bike, chop it up, and then turn it back into essentially like a big wheel on caster wheels. So, you keep the front tire and caster wheels in the back. But that became an eight-week project where we go week after week, because I didn’t know how to weld. I didn’t have the facilities, but Bernie did.
And he liked Josh and he was a bit of an educator and teacher at heart. And he liked the pizza.
JOSH: It never hurts.
DARREN: You just get creative. I think that’s the thing you need to lean into as a parent is, we all have limitations. I don’t know how to tell Rylie, as she was going through her dance career, how to sharpen up what she needed to do to get that next level. But you go out and you curate within your community, whether it’s neighbors, friends, family members, folks you’re meeting through the local education system, frankly you turn over about every rock you can to find somebody out there who probably knows it and probably is interested in sharing that information.
And as long as you coordinate it with them and keep a careful eye on those relationships, you can put your kids in touch with folks who are more than happy to share some of that information and knowledge with them.
For me, that ended up being the most fun aspect of unschooling. I could be super creative. I could look for all those little rocks. I would have so much fun searching around and then excitedly running to one of my kids, “Oh, I found this. If you’re interested in that,” or, “This is coming up next month, are you interested in that?” And again, “no” is fine. But that was just that open and curious mindset. “I wonder what’s out there,” and, “I wonder if they’d be interested in this.”
And finding all those little bits, because the world is big and the world is fun. So, to be creatively finding all these little pieces, that just makes our world bigger. Even if their interest is something online, you can still find new and fascinating things online and make that world bigger, as well. It doesn’t literally need to be getting out of the house all of the time, just to make that clear for some families who are saying, “Our interests aren’t that way.” You know what I mean?
ANGIE: And like Ellie said, she spent lots and lots and lots of time with her nose in a book, reading a book up in a tree, and that’s fine, too. And it’s okay that maybe you just follow what works. Some days we were home all day and other days we were gone all day. And it just flows. When you’re not trying to fit it into, “Well, the curriculum says we’re supposed to be doing this today,” then life just kind of happens.
And one of the things I’ve used as an example, when I’ve talked to people about unschooling, is like, I grew up in public school. I went to public school all the way through. And I compare our life to my Saturdays when I was a kid growing up. I mean, there’s times where there’s things we have to do. We go to the dentist.
There are certain things we have to do. Or one of them has something that they have to go to. And there’s one driver, me, and there’s two other kids that are too young to be left home alone. So, we all go to something, but that’s how it was. Every day was different, it seemed.
PAM: Yeah. You can still bring a book when you need to go out. Right, Ellie?
ELLIE: Yeah, you definitely can.
ANGIE: A lot of times, the thing that Josh was at had other of his homeschooling friends who had younger siblings who were Rylie and Ellie’s age. And so, it all usually worked out. But I think Ellie got dragged around the most, because she was the youngest.
ELLIE: I do want to add one thing about like just the turning over rocks. It wasn’t even just the parents that had to do it.
I feel like we all got a crash course on networking as children, which sounds kind of ridiculous. But now, as a college student who just went through the law school application process and for the past two years has needed to find mentors and people to help explain that LSATs and people to help explain, how do I know what I want in a law school? I naturally knew how to network and find the people that I needed, because I’d been doing that my whole life.
PAM: I love that, Ellie, because I hadn’t actually thought of it that way, but when I think about my kids, absolutely. My photographer daughter is building that network and building it on both coasts and she’s in the US now with that, and my son in filming and he’s building that network.
And even my son who’s doing game development and stuff, the network that he knows online, the people and connections where he knows to find the answer. And the people that he brings up when we’re sharing stuff, “Oh, did you see this? Did you see this?” It’s just mind boggling, to me, how fast he finds and he finds just the right thing. So, I love that point, Ellie. That was really cool.
ANGIE: Also, I think we taught our kids how to learn. We didn’t teach them what to learn, but we taught them how to learn. And so, when they did decide they wanted to do something, I think it was Ellie wanted to do a formal math for a while. We weren’t telling her she had to do formal math, but then it was like, “Okay, well, how do you want to learn it? Here’s different ways, different programs to help you learn math. What seems to be a good fit for you?” And she was able to find the one that she wanted to use.
And so, yeah, we had a lot of questions from people about, how will they learn fill-in-the-blank? And it’s like, well, we’re teaching them how to learn so that when that’s important and they need to know it, they’ll know where to go and how to do that. It’s not that we’re saying, you can’t do anything that looks like school, because they absolutely did sometimes choose to do that. But it was their choice to do that. And not us saying, this is what you have to do.
PAM: And it’s an entirely different experience when you’re choosing. And you’re there to get what you want out of it, which may look different than maybe a teacher is expecting you to get out of it or whatever. But that self-awareness piece that we were talking about earlier, we bring that with us into all situations.
We don’t just all of a sudden choose something that’s a formal learning environment and say, “Well, I have to leave the rest of me at the door now, because now I’m here.” No, you’re bringing your whole self in there, because you know how to learn the way that you like to learn, because people learn differently. So, you pull in those resources the way they work for you. I love that piece.