PAM: Hello explorers! I’m Pam Laricchia and this is episode number 282 of the podcast.
This week, I want to dive into another question that I get pretty regularly, and that’s whether there are unschooling parents that used to be teachers. It’s interesting to ponder the possible motivations behind the question. Certainly, at first, we can see teaching and unschooling as almost “opposites,” so it seems like a strange leap to make and maybe they’re looking for some validation that it’s doable. Or maybe they’re thinking, “If teachers, experts in education, chose to unschool their kids, there must be something to it.” Looking for some validation from experts.
That said, the motivation isn’t a big deal, because the question is part of their journey. And whatever the reason behind the question, the answer is a resounding yes! On the podcast to this point, there have been 22 guests who were, or are, teachers or university professors, who study education at the post-secondary level, or even teach education courses.
In this episode, I’ve gathered a few snippets from teachers-turned-unschoolers sharing about their experience and how that journey came about for them. It’s so interesting!
Of course, I couldn’t pull from all of the episodes, but I’ll put a link in the show notes to a page on my website with links to all those episodes, and keep it up-to-date moving forward, as I imagine there will be future guests with a background in teaching and education.
Before we dive in, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has chosen to support the podcast through Patreon. I deeply appreciate all my patrons! Your generous support helps pay for the hosting and transcription, as well as my time spent creating new episodes each week. It’s instrumental in keeping the podcast archive freely available to anyone who’s curious and wants to explore the fascinating world of unschooling. If you’d like to join my community of patrons and scoop up some great rewards along the way, check out the Exploring Unschooling page on patreon.com.
And now, let’s start with Kelly Callahan and how her teaching experience eventually led them to unschooling.
PAM: How did you discover unschooling and how did your family’s choice to move to unschooling come about?
KELLY: It’s interesting. You know, you can always go back and see the stirrings of where it started when you are far ahead, but I actually have a teaching credential—I did teach, but I really got into teaching through wilderness education and experiential education, so I was always more interested in the alternative forms of education.
I didn’t have a lot of exposure to homeschooling when I was in college and stuff, but I remember there was one young woman I met through other programs we were doing. She talked about rollerblading for P.E. She was just such a cool person; I was like, “Oh my god. That’s awesome.” I don’t know if that ever planted a seed.
I did teach. The first time I got into a real classroom I remember thinking, “I will never send my kids to school.” I felt so inadequate as a teacher for these kids. I felt like I could relate to them really well but it felt like just getting through the day. That’s what it felt like. I felt like I was doing them such a disservice. It just didn’t matter how much I connected with them. I just thought, “This is terrible.”
I got pregnant with Raelin when I was teaching at a charter school and I thought, ‘I don’t know what we are going to do but I don’t want to send her to school.’ And then, of course, you have kids, and I remember thinking about homeschooling because I was so amazed with the way she engaged with the world and the way she would ask questions about numbers and adding things when she was little. I thought, “Oh my god. Why would anyone put her in a math class? She is just curious about numbers.”
I saw all of that. It was funny. I never took the extra step of, “Well, let’s figure out homeschooling.” I think because I had had a big Waldorf influence from someone who was important in my life and there was a Waldorf school here and so we started doing some of that early childhood education stuff.
We got started on that track, but we moved from a town here in Maine that was a small town, but more in-town, up to a rural property, which is where we are now. I had to make the decision then, because she was going to be in first grade, if we were going to homeschool or if we were going to put her in the local school. By that time Liam had been born and he had been in the Waldorf early childhood program. We just thought, ‘It’s a local school. We can walk to school through the woods. It was a K through 8, like one classroom.’ It felt like it had enough sweet features that we would try it. It was fine. She did really well. She didn’t have any complaints.
Then Liam started Kindergarten. Also during that time, I was starting to go to school for homeopathy and I’ll say more about this later, but it’s such an individualized approach to healing that I think it was starting to stir something in my brain that I’m doing this career about individuals yet I’m sending my kids to this place everyday where it’s not about the individual. Really, it’s about keeping them with the group.
I had a friend through my book group who unschooled her boys and we had always gone over to their house and I thought it was so chaotic. It was like, they were in the yard and they were in the house, and it was like art and bringing pans of dirt in to put on the stove and what happens if you cook the dirt? And it was always like, “Oh my god!”
But my son was friends with her boys and one summer we went over there and one of her sons is really into digging and excavating in their yard and he had dug this huge hole and then he wanted to build a fire in the hole and make a chimney to explore the whole idea of a chimney and airflow. So, I’m not kidding, for two hours my son and her boys played with fire, safely, in this hole. They were experimenting: What happens if we cover the hole? What happens if we put newspaper in? I just sat there and I thought, “Oh my god! He just never gets to do this.”
And it’s not that we wouldn’t allow that at all, it’s just that between going to school every day and trying to recover on vacations and camps and summer, I thought, “Oh my god. This kid is six and he doesn’t have this full experimentation, like open-ended play time any more.”
I went home and I said to my husband, “I think we need to think about pulling the kids out of school.” And so we talked about it, just him and I. I talked about my work and how I felt like it was hypocritical to be sending them to do this while I was trying to help people individually but I wasn’t putting the time into my own kids.
At the same time, he was shifting his work as well into coaching in the business world and also helping individuals and helping teens to thrive within a system based on what they needed. So we were moving in this direction and it just felt like, we can’t have our kids be doing this thing that feels antithetical to what we are putting our passions into as a career.
So, we posed it to the kids. They were not complaining about school. They weren’t asking to leave. There weren’t any problem. And they were like, “Yeah, yeah, we’re interested!” So, I suggested we keep checking in through the fall and see how it is at the end of the semester. I remember we went in for their final teacher conferences. My daughter was in fifth grade. We kept wanting to hear, “How does she enjoy certain things? What kind of questions does she ask?” just about how she was in the classroom. The teacher kept going back to the test scores.
And then, in my son’s conference the teacher was like, “Oh, he’s great,” blah blah blah, but then she said, “Well, you know, there was this incident where he and another boy came in and they were wanting to play a practical joke.” They were doing something that was a little cheeky in the classroom, causing her problems. She said, “And I told them I wasn’t going to tell their parents if they didn’t do this again, but I just want to let you know.” My husband and I were like, “We never ever want you to pit us against our son. Please don’t do that. Don’t ever say you are not going to tell us. We don’t have that kind of relationship with our kids. We want to know what is happening. We are not going to punish him.” I think she thought we would be punishing him at home or something. It was like this manipulative back channel. We just walked out of there and we were like, “We’re done.”
So, it was Christmas break and they didn’t go back.
PAM: It’s so interesting how their choice to offer their kids to stay home came, not from their kids, but from her and her partner’s growing discomfort. And the kids jumped at the opportunity to not go back.
Next, we’ll hear from Grace Koelma. Grace shares how she became disillusioned with the conventional school system and chose to leave teaching behind.
PAM: Let’s step back a bit in your journey. You mentioned that you studied primary school teaching at university and taught for a year.
I was hoping you could chat with us about what you discovered about children and learning through that experience.
GRACE: Yeah, so much. To start off with a bit of a picture of it all, I come from a family of teachers. My dad taught for 20 years and he was an amazing teacher. He actually taught me at one stage in his class, in sixth grade. So, I guess I saw how he was as a teacher, he was that sort of wild To Sir, With Love teacher, just to name one archetype. You know, all of those Robin Williams-style teachers that you get in the films. Just really inspiring and outside the box.
I saw myself as someone who loved learning and loved to see children learn and I didn’t have any kids of my own at that point, I was only 19 or something, so I thought I’d study teaching and pursue that passion. But I was very quickly disillusioned with all of it really, even just in university alone, just the way that education was presented to us as just being something that you tick off the list, a whole lot of rules and regulations, a whole lot of exams and tests, teachers were taught to be able to assess children.
And just the way my lecturers taught us about things was just hypocritical. They’d be teaching us about engaging students and they’d be doing it from the front of a lecture theatre with black and white slides and would be sending us all to sleep. They hadn’t set foot in a classroom for 25 years probably. They were very academic and it just didn’t feel like the love of learning that I’d experienced and I wanted to share.
So I stuck it out for the four years, and I did my practicums in schools, and I had some really … interesting teachers, let’s put it that way, as my mentors. I seemed to always land the assistant principal, so the person that was kind of the level of the principal in terms of responsibility, but still in the classroom. Which meant that they were constantly out of the classroom and just using me as their casual teacher to teach, and they were really jaded and the way they spoke about their students was just … yeah, I don’t know, it just didn’t put a lot of confidence in me that they were there to see their students thrive.
And let me just caveat this by saying I’m not at all against teachers. I have been one, I know how hard many of them work, I just happened to see a few of the ones that should have retired. So that was all pretty interesting for me and I was really starting to lose all hope in the education system, but I gave it a year, and I did some teaching.
I actually got my own class first year out. A year four class, so 9- and 10-year-olds in Australia. And the school I was in was a really different experience again, it was in Western Sydney, a lot of different cultures in Western Sydney, kids from all over the world. I got told on the first day that I had been given the hardest class in the school. So that was a great way to start my career with that knowledge.
And oh, I threw myself into it, I told myself it didn’t matter, I would love the kids anyway, and many of them were gorgeous kids. But the system wasn’t supporting me, and I had kids that were really violent to be honest, just came from a really violent upbringing or had seen a lot of violence. A lot of them had older teenage cousins or older brothers and sisters that were out on the streets. They brought that into the classroom and I felt unsafe, I felt I couldn’t keep the kids safe.
In the middle of a lesson I’d prepared and I’d thrown my heart and soul into and I really wanted to see the kids have those amazing moments where they understood things and learned things and loved a particular subject, and I would be constantly interrupted by a child strangling another child. It shouldn’t be on any teacher, let alone a first year out teacher.
I stuck it out, but I was slowly being broken down by it, and I guess the hardest thing, beyond seeing violence by the kids, was seeing kids who didn’t think they could do it, because they’d been told, because of the grading system, because of the assessment and the standards that they weren’t meeting, they were told a message that they were stupid. These kids didn’t think they could do things, and I would always be wanting to see these students discover that they could.
I remember repeatedly sitting with one girl, she was in grade four as I said, but she’d been told she had the reading level of a grade one child and she just never thought she could do anything with reading and we were sitting there reading together and she had this amazing breakthrough, she discovered something about words and connecting the dots and it all made sense, and her eyes just lit up. And I was in that moment with her thinking, “This is why I studied teaching.”
I love seeing that moment, which unschooling parents would get to see all the time, of course. The nature of the one-on-one or one-on-two interactions. And I saw that with her, and the split second where I saw it I was pulled away, I was called in to manage another fight happening across the classroom because I’d been focusing on her and the rest of the class had gone crazy, and that was the end of my patience with that. I just thought I can’t do this any more, it’s not for me. I need to invest in children on a much smaller ratio. 1:30 doesn’t work.
It’s not the fault of the teacher often, it’s the fault of the faulty system. So that was my journey with that, and I guess I learnt through that that learning, it can’t be boxed in, it can’t be scheduled, it can’t be time-limited. Otherwise children become either disengaged or if they think that they’re academic, if they’ve been told by their parents that they’re an academic child, you see those sorts of children memorizing. Rote-learning. Not truly taking anything in. What is the quality of learning if it’s not sticking with you, if it has no purpose? I really started to consider those things.
PAM: That’s quite the experience. I really like the point, well a couple of points there. One thing that has really stood out for me lately is how much they’re not even really negative messages, but just from your grades and the impression that kids get that they’re not good at this or they’re not good at that and how that really stifles them ever even trying it soon after.
GRACE: Absolutely. The love of learning is so quickly squashed when you put a test in at the end of it. And I think that’s even true for adults. So it’s not only kids that this relates to, I think that all of us want to learn and enjoy the process of learning and not be tested every single time.
PAM: I love Grace’s focus on cultivating a child’s love of learning and how the system can really get in the way of that.
Next, we’re going to hear from Sarah Peshek about her journey from teacher to unschooling parent.
PAM: So, I would love to know how you discovered unschooling and chose to follow that path.
SARAH: Sure. So, my oldest daughter, Rosa, went to kindergarten and first grade. I used to be, I’m a former school teacher. So, the year that she was in first grade, I was working at a different school. And in the spring, I was really trying to figure out what I was going to do with her for the next year, because if I stayed at the school where I was teaching, it was a private school and she could come there or she could stay at the public school where she’d gone to kindergarten and first grade.
I spent a month going back and forth and I would decide one thing and then something would happen and I’d be like, I can’t do that thing. I can’t bring her here to this place that I’m working, that’s just not going to work. And then I’d think, she’s going to stay at her school and then something would happen there and I’d say, ‘Oh, I just don’t think she can stay there.’ And back and forth and back and forth.
And then there was day where at my work, I had a mom emailing me about her son and he wasn’t getting the grades that she expected him to get. And it hit me that I didn’t have any answer I could give her that I felt good about, because he was a super smart kid, super fun.
It was this moment where I realized, I am taking part in doing all these things that I don’t feel right. A lot of teachers are doing a lot of great things, but I’m expecting these kids to do things that aren’t in their best interest. And I’m just having to, because of the system I’m having to do things that I don’t think are right. And I don’t think I can keep doing that. And I came home and my daughter said to me, she got home from first grade and she said, some kid had made fun of her Tinkerbell shoes and told her she was a baby for liking Tinkerbell. And she’s six years old. It was all on the same day. And I was just like, you know, “What if we do something totally different? What if we homeschooled?” And it was like, as soon as I had that thought, all of the stress I’d been having in going back and forth just disappeared.
It was just like, yes, that is the thing to do. That is what’s going to work and let’s just try it. My husband said. Sure. And so, that was it was, it was a very distinctive day when I decided to bring her home. We finished out that school year, because you know, I was under contract and all of that, but I knew that that in the fall, she wasn’t going to go back.
We started with a very schooly at home approach and because I was a teacher, that was what we were kind of going to do. We’d do all the things and it was going to be great. And it did not take me long to see that it was also not going to work. I tried and tried and tried tweaking things all fall and it was just not clicking and I could see it. I had my kids right in front of me and I could see that the time that I was spending trying to get them to do my ideas of lessons, the things that I thought were important, that goal that I brought into, well let’s keep her home where learning can really happen, it was not happening.
She was trying to do as little as she could to kind of get by and please me. I was sort of lost for a while and I just kept plugging. Then some stressors that were coming into our relationship, I started reading a little bit more about a peaceful parenting approach and this idea of being a partner, a coach and not being coercive at the kids and it all kind of went together there to help me develop. Then all sort of at once, the idea of the learning and just looking at what was happening and seeing that it wasn’t clicking. And seeing the contrast in when she was doing what really was bringing her joy and lighting her up, and I could see that that’s where the learning was.
And so, it was really just following her that led me to see, okay, I think this unschooling idea that seems really crazy at first, there’s really something there and I need to dig a little deeper to find out what that is.
PAM: Sarah’s observation that when her daughter was doing the things that she wanted to do, that brought her joy, there was so much learning happening resonates deeply! That’s unschooling in action.
Now let’s hear from Marcella O’Brien. She was a fifth grade teacher before having children.
PAM: I would love to hear a bit about how you discovered unschooling and what your family’s moved to unschooling looked like.
MARCELLA: Okay, well, my background is education. I was a public school teacher and I taught fifth grade until Sean was a baby. I worked one year when he a baby and then I stayed home. The plan was for him to go to school. But as it got closer, I started to question a little bit him going to school. But then I was also going to La Leche League meetings because then Jack was born. And so, I was picking up books around there.
I picked up a book, an unschooling book—I think was The Unschooling Handbook. And I read that. And just I thought, ‘This makes so much sense.’ And it was also fitting with what I was seeing with Sean, that he was just learning all the time. I wasn’t teaching, he was just learning and growing and I realized, “Oh, yeah, that does continue.” Just thinking about the students that I talked to, how they had their interests and they were learning and growing.
And I started to question also the negative parts that I saw when I was teaching and realizing that they were interfering with the learning, like the forced assignments and all that. And also, that we were shifting in Virginia to this standardized test, the SOLs, and things were getting worse. I mean, I guess it happened all across the country. But I was hearing from other people I knew who were teaching that it was, school didn’t look the same as it did when we were in school or even when I was first teaching. And so, I just I loved it. I loved the idea of unschooling.
I talked to Chris about it, and he was not too crazy about it. He wasn’t too crazy about homeschooling, especially not unschooling. He said, “Oaky, okay, if that’s what you want to do.” We did it. And it was the first few years where it was all fine, through kindergarten and first grade, I think if you’re unschooling or if your kids are in school, you can’t see that much of a difference. I actually thought Sean was learning way more at home and with unschooling than you would have been in the classroom.
Then when he was around eight, I started getting nervous because he was not, I was thinking in my school mind of what a second grader did and that he wasn’t doing those things on his own. Like he wasn’t sitting down and doing math, of course. But he wasn’t writing, he wasn’t doing this or that thing. So, I started thinking, ‘Oh, no. Now I’m hurting him. Now he’s falling behind.’ So, I kind of panicked and tried to get him to do some school stuff and that did not go well. It was like a month or so. It was really bad. He had violent tantrums. I mean, there was other behavior stuff going on then, too. But then it kind of came to this head, where Chris and I had to look at it and say, “Something we’re doing is not going well”. And so, we just kind of stepped back and looked at everything. And I joined the Shine with Unschooling list, and everyone there was such a big help. And I read a bunch, every book they recommended and everyone recommended.
And we realized, “Oh, it was our expectations, the way we were parenting and also the school.” He hit eight and I was like, “Okay, you need to act like this. You need to learn these things.” And he was just reacting to all that and acting out. And he said at one point, he said, “My life is 75 percent bad.” So, he was giving us messages that he was getting depressed and acting out, lashing out.
So, then we came together after reading all the books. And we said, “Okay. This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to take the pressure off. We’re going to really be unschoolers.” And that’s kind of when I thought, ‘Okay, now, now I’m unschooling.’ Before I was kind of like not really doing it. I don’t know, I wasn’t considering myself an unschooler. But at that point, I was like, “Okay, we’re doing this and we’re going to get support from each other.” And I had some friends here, too, that were going through some of the same stuff with their kids, actually. There were three other families. And so, the moms, we would all get together each week. The kids would play, we would get together. We read books and we talked and supported each other. It was so great. So, we’ve been unschooling ever since.
PAM: It’s so interesting to hear her distinction between “not going to school” and “embracing unschooling.” Because unschooling isn’t just about “not doing school.” There’s the whole piece of what we’re replacing that with, things like curiosity and support and connection.
Next let’s hear from Martha Delmore, who wanted to be a teacher from an early age and loved working at a high school.
PAM: I’m curious how you actually discovered unschooling in there and whether or not you felt that your days changed as your son reach school age?
MARTHA: Yeah, it was kind of a long journey for me. And there was a lot of judgment on my end towards homeschoolers. My background is secondary education.
My plan from an early age, like sixth or seventh grade was to teach high school English. And I went to college and I loved my education classes. I loved my English classes. I could spend days in the books. And I worked at a high school and loved it. And then I had a kid. And even at the high school there was a posture of, “Those homeschoolers or such, what idiots. Why would they homeschool their kids? I can teach them to write a great essay. Why would they think they could do that better?” To the point that even my husband who wasn’t really pro or against homeschooling would be like, “What is your deal? Chill out.” and I was like, “They’re just … Why would they do that?”
And then I had Max and I was suddenly like, “Why would I send him to school? Why would I send him into preschool? He doesn’t want to leave me. He’s three years old. Why would I send him the teachers who don’t even know him for three to six hours a day?” And then he got towards school age and I was like, “Why would we send him away for eight hours a day?” Which my husband and I still laugh about.
During that time, I also met a homeschool family and I knew the kids before I knew that they were homeschooled and I loved the kids. The way they interacted with us as adults was distinctly different than other kids. And so, I was a bit blown away to realize they were homeschooled, because it was so different than what I had been picturing. And that was probably a step in my journey as well. And so, when I brought up, I guess my son was about three or four, to my husband the possibility of homeschooling and he was totally on board with it. He kind of goes with the flow and a lot of ways. Although he was just like “Karma coming back to bite ya.”
So, I started looking at homeschooling and I read about all the different kinds of ways to educate your kids or a lot of them at least. And I was like, “I’m going to home school. But those unschoolers are super weird. I’m never doing that.”
And so, I met with the first family I knew who was doing a classical curriculum, and so I was like, “Well, this sounds fabulous.” And I met with them and I was like, “Wow it’s really intense academically. There’s so much memorization, how neat.” And then when I thought about doing it with my son, I knew this will never work. There will be so much conflict if I try and teach him this way. And so, then I was like well maybe let’s look at the Montessori method. And so, I did a lot of research and I thought, “This is perfect.”
And I met with a woman who was homeschooling her kids in the Montessori method and she was talking about her day and the different methods and how they looked and I was like, “Woo, I’m not sure this is all going to work.”
So, I went back to the drawing board and I was like “Waldorf. That’s it. It’s outside. It’s in nature. This will be perfect.” And then I met with the woman who was doing Waldorf with her family. Actually, a woman and her husband and as we went through what that looks like for them to really keep with the Waldorf methodology, I again was like, “There’s going to be struggles, just knowing who Max is.”
Finally, I just kind of tumbled into the unschooling realm. And I was shocked that all the things I learned in my education classes about how human beings learn melded beautifully with the unschooling philosophy. When we are engaged and when we’re interested, that’s where deep learning can take place. And all the things that I would try to make happen in my classroom, in a 50 minute time period. Trying to get the engagement, trying to get the interest, so that learning could take root and interest could be sparked, was just the life of the unschoolers.
And so that’s how we tumbled into unschooling.
PAM: Her story about meeting up with various families with different homeschooling approaches and looking at them through the eyes of her child is fascinating and wonderful! And her observation that all the things she had learned in her education classes about how human beings learn melds beautifully with unschooling makes so much sense.
And finally, I have a longer clip from a conversation I had with Daniela Bramwell about finding unschooling. Her perspective is so unique that I wanted to share it in full. Growing up, she attended a Montessori free school. Then she went to university, and eventually became driven in her self-described quest for “the best education.” She’s finishing her PhD in education and society, and she does a great job weaving together these various threads of her experiences and describing how unschooling has become her learning lifestyle of choice now that she has her own child.
PAM: You mentioned your interest in education, and that’s what we’re going to deep dive into today, which I think will be really, really interesting. I’m excited to learn some more about it, but I think it’ll be really interesting for people listening.
You went to an alternative Montessori free school growing up, so I thought we could start there and maybe you could share a bit about that experience.
DANIELA: Okay. I think I’ll start a little bit before that though, because ties into the story.
PAM: Even better. Okay.
DANIELA: So, in terms of schooling or education, my mom said I went to a nursery school or something in England, where I was born. And then, when I was four or five, we moved to Canada. And my parents had already read this book about this school called Pestalozzi in Ecuador. And so, it’s the kind of one-story freestyle school that you just mentioned.
So, the Pestalozzi was based on different kinds of progressive ideas about education, but mostly I guess free school is a good description for it. So, they had to read that book and they loved it, but that was Ecuador in South America and they were in England and their family was in Canada. They’re from Canada. So, they went back to Canada and they started looking for alternative schools.
And so, we were in Ottawa and my mom said that I went to, I think it was, five different schools. But I don’t remember all of them, because they were trying out these schools. I do remember one that my mom said that they were supposed to be alternative, but the only thing that was alternative about it was that we had this break that I do remember where we all went to this large gym, and we were supposed to lie on a mat. And they had us do meditation or yoga for a few minutes. But I think that was the only thing that was alternative about it.
The rest of it was regular curriculum and classroom work and things. And then, they didn’t like any of the options. And so, they tried homeschooling for a few months or something. I don’t remember that, either. But they said it didn’t work for them. They didn’t like it. But I think they hadn’t found unschooling. They were trying to somehow get curriculum in, but it was me and my sister three years younger, and my sister five years younger, who was a baby/toddler. My mom had her hands really full.
And so, my dad said he would come back from work really stressed and angry and try and teach me stuff. And he said that’s the reason I’m kind of freaked out with math, but I don’t remember that either.
And then, the school that I do remember was the last one, right before we moved to Ecuador. And that’s a kind of public school. Well, it was a Catholic school. But in Ontario, there are Catholic public schools. So, I remember going there and I don’t remember that much, but I do remember one thing that I really liked, the teacher had a game where each week, a student brought in a big jar of something.
So, I think I really liked it because there was candy in it a lot of times. And we were all supposed to guess how many items there were in it. So, like 214. And then at the end of the week, we’d count it all out and see how many there actually were. And the one who was closest to the guess got the contents of the jar or something like that.
I remember things like that, snippets. But I do remember that I learned a lot about competing and peer pressure and prizes and punishment for doing certain things. I remember in second grade, right before coming, there was some kind of math lesson. But I remember so clearly, because one of the children answered how he had resolved the math problem, but instead of doing the sum, he did the subtraction.
And the teacher was so proud out of him and saying like, “Look what he did. He managed to solve it in this way and that’s genius and you should all follow that,” and then gave him a prize because that teacher had set up a thing where he would give you points or tokens or something and at the end of the week, you could buy something like a teddy bear or chocolate or something with those tokens.
And I remember being so jealous of that child and just feeling all this envy and mean energy in me, like why does he get the answer and why didn’t I think of that? And just a lot of negative energy around learning.
So, I remember all of these little snippets and then, with all the things that I was reading, looking back and thinking, okay. I guess the school I was in and also the surrounding culture, that really had a big influence in what I think of learning and how I was also interacting with peers once I got to that free school and with my siblings, too, I just look back and there was a lot of competing. I always wanted to pick some game where I would try and win. And that did not bring me a lot of friends or a lot of happiness.
Oh, and thinking of books. There’s a really good book by Alfie Kohn called No Contest about competition. When I read, I was like, oh, wow. That just brings up so many things and helps me understand so many things.
But anyway, I have these amazing parents who a lot of people think are quite strange when they decided all of a sudden to move to South America, to Ecuador with three children under eight and one almost ready to be born. I think my mom was seven or eight months pregnant. I don’t know. Seven months pregnant. And they decided to move in February all the way to Ecuador.
They had never been to Ecuador, but they just decided that that was enough with the Canadian traditional school system. They needed something different. They were sick of the winter. I remember them saying that a lot. “Why am I putting on snow suits for three girls and then they need the bathroom?”
So, they actually moved to Ecuador, and that’s why I grew up in Ecuador. And they moved specifically, mainly, for the free school, for a different education for us, which is quite amazing.
PAM: So, they moved to that area in Ecuador specifically near the school, so that you guys could go there, right?
DANIELA: Yeah. Yeah.
PAM: Wow. And, I can understand wanting to escape winter, especially in February.
DANIELA: Yes. After, when I went to Canada as an adult, I was like, okay. I understand this. February is not good.
PAM: Thank goodness my birthday is in February. That’s the only thing that gets me through it.
DANIELA: I mean, February is great, but the winter can be harsh.
So, I remember they told us we’d be going to this school. They asked us, I think I remember them saying like, “Oh, it’s this school. And it has all of these things and they have rabbits and llamas and dogs and they have these amazing spaces and no winter.”
And I remember we were trying to learn Spanish and I knew, un, dos, tres, elefante because of that song of the elephant sobre en la tela de una araña. I remember that’s the only thing I knew about Spanish, from that kids’ song. And my parents didn’t speak Spanish, either. I think they took a month lesson. That was it. But my mom is French Canadian, so they both spoke French, too. So, I think that helped a little bit, and we did, too.
So, we arrived here and the Pestalozzi School had no curriculum. It’s closed now. There was no curriculum. There were no grades. There were no marks. There were no prizes. There were no things that you had to learn by a certain age. And it was a huge space. They had an amazing space that they had built, I’d say, Waldorf-style. They never mentioned Waldorf, but later when I read, it’s like those ideas of children need nature and things that are made of wood and natural materials.
So, for their kindergarten area, they had this huge building set up with miniature chairs, sized for children under five, made of wood, and tables and doll houses, but all made of wood and natural materials, and a little kitchen, and a music area, and a book area, and this huge area with water and soap, to play with water, and all these climbing structures, and even a carpenter area with all these different tools that kids could use, even two-year-olds, like a hammer and things like that. So, just an amazing space.
And then for older children, kind of the same, but more a functioning kitchen with a gas burner, from like six and up, and knives, and just a lot of trust in kids. And a carpentry area, arts area, lots of outside things, and everything kind of with natural materials and also lots of Montessori materials for math and for reading. So, there was the math area with all these materials. And they organized all kinds of trips, like to a factory and to the pool, and they had all of these amazing things going on. So, it was a really nice space and lots of amazing things about this school.
PAM: Sweet. So, you enjoyed your time there?
DANIELA: Mostly. I had a really hard time making friends there, so that was hard for me. And there were some things that I didn’t enjoy and some things that made me think, would I want Emma to go there? And there were certain things that I was not sure that I agreed with.
And at first, before finding unschooling and reading about unschooling, I thought the problem was that there weren’t any classes. There wasn’t a lot of structure. So, I remember seeing the chemistry area and thinking, I’d love to learn about chemistry. I have no idea where to start. So, there were some kids that would go in there and do experiments, but I didn’t know at all where to start.
And so, I was just like, I wish there was some kind of introduction or class or something that I could just join and somebody would guide me through the beginning steps. Or, my dad would say, “Oh, but haven’t you heard this? Don’t you know this thing about physics?” And I was like, “No, where would I even start learning about that?”
And when I wanted to go to university, it was difficult for me to do the entrance exams. I had to take all these classes before and I found the math so difficult, and I thought that was because of the school, like the way that the school was set up, that I wasn’t prepared. But then, I realized there were so many other students who were failing these tests, too, and had gone to regular schools.
And then, I did so well in university. I was the valedictorian. I got A’s for every single class and all the teachers loved me because I was so interested in my learning and so passionate about all these different classes.
So, at first, I blamed the school and also, I thought not having friends and not fitting in socially, at least if it had been a classroom setting, I would have been part of the class. I would have been part of the lessons and the outings and whatever. But in that school, everybody was doing their own thing and I wasn’t necessarily part of any class. So, that’s what I thought before reading all these things about unschooling. And then it changed everything for me.
I just thought, no, that’s not the reasons that drew me to studying education at university and just trying to figure out, what would be an ideal school for me? And I didn’t have Emma then, but what would really work? Because I didn’t find the Pesta, that alternative school, there were lots of things that I thought didn’t really work well. Like, kids not being able to read at age 14. And for me, that was scandalous. But with no background for saying, well, who cares if they don’t read at 14? What’s the problem with that?
But it was just all of these kinds of societal messages about what was right and wrong with learning, but without really being able to process it or getting teased by kids who were not at the school, like, “Oh, you don’t know multiplication tables, you don’t know this, that,” but with no guidance of how to think about that or work through it.
So, when I read things on unschooling, like, “Oh, but you could tell your kids that they could answer this way or that way,” I think, oh, that kind of guidance would have been nice. I guess the adults in my life didn’t know what to do in those situations.
PAM: That’s going to be really interesting when we get to the unschooling piece. Because it’s totally understandable from the way you described that experience and how you were experiencing that school, you weren’t having those kinds of conversations with your parents or with people at the school.
When you hear those external messages about multiplication, all that external stuff that we hear because they’re so predominant in society. You get those messages and, without being able to kind of process and talk to people about that, and the way you just were personally experiencing that school, as in, no conversations about helping you know how to engage with the chemistry area, if that was interesting to you, stuff like that.
So, it’s really understandable how you came out of that experience feeling like that wasn’t a helpful educational environment for you.
I love the piece, too, about how you were noticing, when you were writing your entrance exams, that so many people were finding it challenging regardless of their background. But this was your moment to lean into those. And, as you said, you leaned in well.
You did very well at university. And so, I imagine, was it that experience growing up with that school that got you interested in education? And we’ll go right into the next question, basically, is that you became very interested in studying education and, like you mentioned, your masters and teaching courses and your PhD.
I’d be curious to learn, were you trying to figure out what a good educational experience would be?
DANIELA: I think so. I’m just thinking. There’s a few more pieces about the school, but I wasn’t sure if I should mention them, because I’m thinking ahead of the order of questions. Further along, there’s a question like, how does it compare to unschooling? Or what’s different from unschooling? So, in my head, I’m in a muddle like, oh but I should save those pieces for that question.
PAM: I thought maybe we could talk about where your head space was at the time. Because at the time, you didn’t know about unschooling. You hadn’t heard about unschooling.
DANIELA: I didn’t know how. Yeah. So, a few more pieces about the school and how I felt at the moment is that, I felt also kind of frustrated because I wanted to take, for example, flute lessons or acting lessons or singing lessons. I wanted to learn those things. And I guess maybe it was kind of my school-ish mind still from my Canadian experience that I wanted a class for those things. But also, it was because I wanted to meet new people. I felt like that was a specific group of people, but I wanted to meet new people, other people, and go out into the world.
And also, I remember asking one of the teachers, oh, I really want to read music. And she kind of said, “Oh yeah, this means this, this means this. Now go off and learn it on your own.” And I was like, I need more than that! That wasn’t enough. That wasn’t enough. It gave me a clue, but I was like, okay, now what do I do?
So, I really wanted to go and learn all these things, but that was not accepted in that school. So, there was a very big belief of non-directivity. That’s not even in English, but not to direct children. So, not interfere. They never said not interfere, but that was the kind of feeling of it. And that was another thing that was, looking back, something that was difficult for me.
You were supposed to play with the kids. The adults were there to facilitate, but there was a lot of, I won’t interfere. So, there wasn’t developing strong relationships with us. It was more like, a bit observing, like, “Oh, okay. Oh, you need this thing? Okay. This is how it works.”
Or there was a lot of boundaries. So, we’ll set these rules and make sure that nothing crazy happens. That was the role of the adults, to make sure that nothing wrong happened or to help if someone got hurt or whatever, but not a lot of developing strong relationships. And I think there was a lot of that thing of not interfering, so you’d get in the way of the kids learning or direct too much and interfere.
So, that was the thing. They really didn’t encourage parents and actively asked them not to put them in any classes, not to get us in any classes, because then we would be getting directed instruction. If I went to like a music lesson, then I’d be told what to do. And I’d be given a traditional education and that’s the word they used, “directing”.
So, that was a no. And TV was a no. And screens were a no. And computers were no. So, anything like technology was also frowned upon. That kind of rings a bell, even now in parenting groups, all the natural parenting groups. There are things that I agree with about attachment parenting, but then screens are just this evil thing that is going to rot your brain.
So, that was one of the main things that drew me to unschooling. But anyway, that’s for later on. But that was another thing. So, I guess I felt like the world was a little small. There was that school and the people in that school and that was it. There was nothing else. You couldn’t go to any other classes or there were a few people I could meet in the neighborhood, but that was it.
And there was no anything screen-like, so no internet, no computers, no television, nothing. So, I think those were two major things that didn’t sit well. It didn’t sit well with me. So, those were two other things I was thinking for Emma, but would I want that for her? That seems kind of restrictive, or like closing the world instead of opening it.
And that message when you were talking about what I was being told about not knowing the multiplication tables. There was a lot of, and this kind of ties back to Rousseau, his ideas about education, that you should be stuck in nature and society is bad, they never talked about Rousseau as being part of their philosophy, but later when I read about him, I was like, well, that sounds exactly like my school. Nature is good and children’s innate inspiration is good, but society is corrupting. So, we need to keep children away from that corrupting society.
So, there was a lot of messages like that, like, oh, you don’t know your multiplication tables, but those poor kids in school, they’re sitting at these desks and they’re learning all these things by rote memory. But they’re not really learning them. And so, there was a lot of talk with the adults of like, poor these people from this corrupting society and we’re doing this wonderful thing.
And also, expectations from the adults at the school, but also from my family, that we would be great. So, there were all these stories about these great people, like Mozart, who was wonderful without having gone to traditional school. So, there was this expectation that we’d be doing these great things, but I felt these expectations, but no real support. “I want to learn music.” “Yes. These are the notes. Go learn on your own.” That’s the way I felt a lot of times, but other people from my school don’t feel like that, but it was me.
PAM: Yeah, no, it is very unique to the person. It is very individual, the kind of environments that are supportive.
DANIELA: Yeah, so I think my quest for the best education is also silly in a way, because it’s not like there will be one education that’s perfect for every single person. It’s more like, what do different people need?
PAM: So, how did you find it when you were in the university programs?
DANIELA: Yeah. Right. So, I went to university to study arts, multimedia animation, actually. So, drawing animated characters, and then bringing them to life in video format. But it was a liberal arts school. So, they had us do all kinds of courses like economics and math and biology. There was a range of requirements that we had to meet to graduate. And so, I was always curious about education courses because I had started to teach English as a second language when I was 16, first as a way of making money and I was really scared to teach. And then I found it really interesting, trying to think of all these games to make it more interesting for my students.
And then I started teaching in an institute, but then it was really regiment, so there was this curriculum and they already wrote the test for you. And you had to have the students do the test. So, there wasn’t a lot of creativity on my part. And I thought, oh, that’s education. I don’t want to do that. No way. But then I took a class at university and they were talking about all these different theories. So, I was reading about that bit of Rousseau. And then I was like, oh, that’s exactly like my school. And so, it’s so exciting to me, even now, to read all of these different education philosophies or views and try and understand them with the different schools I’ve been to, I guess. So, reading about all of those things.
So, then I started getting really interested with those courses, not with the mechanics that I had been doing at work. And some of the classes were like, you teach this way, you evaluate this way. And that I didn’t like, but I really liked learning about all these different education philosophies and also like psychology related to education, like motivation and things like that. And then, I guess I kind of thought, so the Pesta didn’t really work, I thought at the time, because there was no structure. There was no help, or the teachers weren’t trying to motivate us, like, “Oh, there’s this chemistry thing. Do you want to see this experiment?” There was no inviting.
So, then I got into all of these bits at university and all of the education theories and things. I was reading about psychology. It was kind of like, oh, well, the school structure works like this. There are these things you have to do. The whole coercion bit, with the grades and everything, but we don’t like that. So, we’re going to ignore it and we’re going to talk about all these wonderful ways that teachers can motivate students to learn and present these ideas in these cool ways and all that. So, I really liked that for a long time. But it also didn’t really seem to be working.
It didn’t seem to make sense in other ways, because, for example, we’d have all these cool ideas about like how to present something or how to engage students. But then there were these lessons on differentiated education, talking about all the ways that students are different. All of their interests and their learning styles and their gender and their culture and maybe neurodiversity and all these things. And I was like, okay, so I’m going to have 25 students that are completely different. So, no matter how engaging I make the lesson, it’s not gonna work for all these students.
PAM: You need 25 different versions of it.
DANIELA: Because I need to do 25 different lessons. This is not working, either. So, that’s a takeaway from my undergrad, where I was just still confused. Like, this doesn’t seem to be the answer, but this kind of traditional education even made amazing-sounding doesn’t seem to work, either. So, it doesn’t really work. And then for my master’s and now PhD, I’ve been studying. I am still a student at OISE, from the University of Toronto, and there, the focus is on society, education and society.
So, it’s a very different focus and also very interesting. How does racism play out in schools? And all these gender roles. And what happens if students are in this school that doesn’t reflect their culture at all? And what’s the relationship between culture and school? And it’s a very different lens from what I did in my undergraduate, which was mostly classroom-focused, like plan a good lesson and things like that. A really different focus and reading historically how schools have been used for colonial purposes. So, all of those kinds of things.
PAM: Cool. Yeah. That is very, very interesting because that bigger picture is so much a part of understanding how that system tries to fit in there. It just gives you a bigger picture idea of that and how much of it isn’t really about the learning.
DANIELA: Right. Exactly. Exactly. My graduate education has just opened up my mind so much about the different purposes of schooling that have nothing to do with learning. That’s a nice way to sum it up.
PAM: All right. Now we get to the super fun part. Let’s put all of this together.
DANIELA: Yeah. Let me try and see if I can pull it all together.
PAM: Yes! So, all those ways, it’s fascinating. It’s really fascinating to me what your experience was growing up in that school and the pieces that you found challenging. And then how that inspired you or had you thinking almost the opposite of it, but just more structure would have been more helpful. And so, now you’re participating in that structure, you’re questioning it.
And then you’re learning such interesting bits, like that piece where it is very logical that learning is in the context of each individual and their experiences and their styles and who they are and where they are in that moment is what you need to connect to. So, there is this kind of air gap between yes, make it personal, make it interesting and kids love learning. And you have to do it in this classroom with 25 kids. How do you bridge that gap? So, that’s super interesting.
So, how did you come across unschooling itself? And what are those pieces that lit up for you, that made you think, okay, now unschooling is hitting these particular pieces and that’s what I would like to do with my family?
DANIELA: Yeah. So, what happened? I guess as soon as Emma was born, I started to change some of my thinking because of who she is and her very strong knowledge of her own needs and the things that she wanted and not wanting to be directed or not wanting me to be leading her life or telling her, this is good and this is wrong.
She really knows what she needs and what she likes. And so that’s the big starting point for me of wanting to meet her and not to try and be in conflict with her all the time like, “No, actually this is good. This is the right thing. So, now I’m going to try and persuade you that this is the right thing,” and she’s not having it. And so, maybe it’s not the right thing. What’s going on? So, a lot of learning and everything starts with her and me trying to do the best I can by her. So, I started reading a whole bunch of parenting books and everything.
Let’s see. I was also in a bunch of Facebook groups and trying to figure things out because the kind of people that seem to match with me, from when I was attachment parenting, people who were breastfeeding and co-sleeping, but then they’re all anti-screens and anti-anything plastic and only wooden toys. And I was like, I’m not sure that I like that. So, trying to find authors that resonated with me.
And then, in one of the groups, they mentioned podcasts, which I’d never explored before. And somebody mentioned Sage Family, Rachel Rainbolt. And so I scrolled through her episodes and I saw an interview with Alfie Kohn. And I read Unconditional Parenting a bunch of times and started reading other books of his and I loved it. So, I listened to that interview, but then she had other episodes on unschooling. And at first when I heard it, I thought, that’s crazy. I don’t like the sound of that. That can’t work. That sounds too much like the things that I didn’t like about my alternative school. But then there was an episode on technology and there was an episode on math, like how people learn math, and it was so interesting.
I was just so amazed, like oh wow! The whole discussion on technology. I can’t remember if I listened to that episode first or there’s an article, Lucy AitkenRead. So, she has an article about the 10 Things That Are Worse for Your Child Than an iPad or something like that.
And so, one of my conflicts with Emma, starting very young, when she was about one and a half or two, and Marco—so my fight with both of them—was that screens were bad. So, all my life, screens were horrible. We didn’t have them at home. They were going to rot your brain and your eyes were going to die and your creativity was going to die and you were exposed to consumerism and commercialism and sexism and, oh my god, all these horrible things.
And Marco had none of those views and Emma loved watching all kinds of things, but especially, I just remember the Snow White videos that she loved. She doesn’t like princesses at all. She doesn’t care for Snow White, but she loved the dwarves. And she and Marco would watch Snow White and would sing the songs and would dance and would play. He found some little plastic figurines and would play out these amazing scenes.
And she was not even two, but she would make this voice for Grumpy that was so amazing. And she was just playing with modulating of her voice that she hadn’t done before. So, just seeing her. And they would draw Snow White and everything and she would dress up. It was just a world of joy and of learning and I was missing out on all of it. It was just so funny to remember. It’s almost as if she was playing with a live snake or something. The screen would go on and my whole body, I’d start sweating and my heart would start racing. I was like, oh my god.
So, I would be trying to get Marco to turn it off, like, “Okay. Only 20 minutes. You’ve got to turn it off.” And like, “The pediatric association, blah, blah, blah, says no screens before two. And blah, blah, blah.” So, I was traumatized by this thing. But I could see all of the joy that they were getting out of it. And also myself, I love watching videos. And once I was independent on my own, I spent a lot of time watching videos and a lot of learning on computers and everything. Oh, so it was all clashing in my mind.
So then, when I read Lucy’s article and I listened to Rachel’s podcast. And then I found your podcast, and then all of these different resources on unschooling and screens, for lack of a better word, technology, whatever, it just opened up such an amazing world and it just made so much sense. And the article of Pam Sorooshian on the economics of restricting, and then I realized how all my life, how it had affected me to have technology restricted and food restricted and all these different things restricted and how that still makes me binge.
I’m not allowed. I’m not allowed. And I won’t let myself do this bad thing, but if I do then binge on a Netflix series or binge on food or binge on these things because they are bad. And so, it just makes so much sense. And so I started doing all this reading and listening and then trying to get my emotions to catch up with my intellect, because intellectually I can understand all of the reasons and it just makes so much sense, but then emotionally, first hour, okay. Second hour. And then I’m like, my heart is racing. She’s been watching for two hours. I’m going to die!
PAM: No, you really need those experience. You can understand something intellectually, but then you need enough experiences and observations. It isn’t a switch. It really is a time thing before you can really come to trust and know it. You feel it in your bones, because you’re having that emotional, that anxious reaction, and everything. So, it takes time to work through where you’re not having that any more.
DANIELA: It took me a long time.
PAM: That’s why the idea of feel it in your bones works for me, because it is a physical thing, isn’t it?
DANIELA: It is. It really is. And it took me so long, but even when I was feeling in this panic mode, I never said, “That’s enough.”
I never said there’s only one hour. We never had any rules or prohibitions around it, but we did try and hide the iPad and interest her in other things. Or if she’d already been at it for two hours, I’d take out something that she really liked, like beans, like lots and lots of beans, throw them around and toss them down the slide, like just playing with things like that. And so, she’d often just leave it there and come and play. And then, since she was distracted, we would hide it. But then it started not working. She’d get angry that I was hiding it. So, I knew that the reasons made sense, but then I was like, but she’s too young. All these things that these unschooling people are talking about, the examples are seven-year-olds or older kids, but Emma was just two. And so, it’s not right. She’s so young.
Anyway, a lot of working through that. Then there was a period when we really said, okay. We’re just gonna leave the iPad there. And then, when we moved to Quito, we have this big TV right in the middle of her playing area. And that’s the way it worked out with the spaces. So now, her space has this huge TV and then a big couch where she jumps on and lies on and has all of her toys around it and the iPad and everything. So now it’s just one more toy.
And now we’re finally at a stage where it is one more toy, for me and also for her, because there was this little period where, when it was more available, she did spend a bit more time at it, but it quickly became just one more thing. So, some days she’s interested. Some days she’s not, and it’s just like any other toy or tool in her environment.
PAM: I imagine too, as you were working through it, even though you weren’t setting specific rules, she could probably sense your energy and the hiding and stuff like that.
DANIELA: Yeah. Even when we stopped the hiding and the stuff, it was still a while, I guess, where she was like, “Now what are they going to do? Now how are they gonna react?”
PAM: It’s that time again. It takes time for all of us to work through those different pieces. So, basically, that was time for her to develop trust again in you.
DANIELA: Yeah. And for me, I guess when she was rewatching the same things and was watching for three hours, or however long, but not all day. So, I started to calm down, but then there was one time where I found this iPad game that I knew she would love, because it had no prizes or levels or winning. It was just little animated animals that she loves, and you have them do different things in their environment.
And so, it’s role-play on screen. I found that a few months ago and I gave it to her and she just loved it and spent the whole day on it and I was starting to get panicky again. So, I remembered one other article that I read from Happiness is Here, Sara was writing about the Minecraft experience with her children, that they loved it for a few days and did nothing but and barely slept. And then, the novelty was over. And she said, it’s just like any other new thing. So, I was thinking, yeah, it’s like any other new thing. So, Emma loves deep dives. If she likes a book, she wants to read it a hundred times. That’s what she does with all the things that she loves. And so, she did this deep dive and learned every single thing about that game.
PAM: Well, you know, we do that as adults. That’s kind of a human thing, that when we learn something new and we’re excited, we want to do it as much as possible until we gain that experience.
DANIELA: Yeah. I do that all the time. It was just, I guess, there’s all these cultural messages, like, oh, it should be an hour a day, which just makes no sense. But it’s letting go of that, too.
PAM: So, that technology piece was a big part. From unschooling, it made more sense to you versus the way you grew up. You put that in context when you started learning about unschooling and you started moving through. Because I imagine as you’re learning about it, you’re putting that in the context of all your other experience: your university and education experience and your experience learning growing up. So, what were some of the other pieces?
DANIELA: Yeah, so some of the other things were related to just being open to the world, instead of trying to have this protected environment where it was all wooden toys and whatever, and all good, but rather than just being open to the world and open to whatever it is that she likes, or she wants, or she needs, rather than trying to have these things that are good and these things that are bad. So, I really liked that about unschooling, where I don’t feel that there’s the idea that nature is good and technology is bad, or the whole food thing, like these types of food are good and these types of food are bad or things like that. It’s just so different.
I guess I won’t try and summarize the unschooling view, because everybody knows it or will learn about it in another place. But it was just so different from my experience growing up and so refreshing and felt so right to have these views about being open to the world and open to what children need and like and want to explore.
DANIELA: There’s also other bits, like I was telling you in the alternative school, there was math, not taught in a sequence like in traditional schools, but there was a specific area for math, with specific Montessori materials for math. And there was this thing of, “You’re not doing math. You should be doing at least a little bit.” There wasn’t a specific thing, but there was a little push. And so what I really liked about all the things that I’ve listened to and learned about unschooling in relation to math is just, it’s really part of life. And so, it’s not like there’s a specific area or there’s specific materials or it’s a different thing.
So, I just really like that view too. And just thinking, okay, that’s a bit different from my alternative education. So, at first, in my mind, there were just two options, like what you were saying. It was the alternative school, where there was not really a lot of engagement with adults or invitation or that many options. And then there was this structured thing, where there were invitations, but there was also a lot of coercion, like you have to do it. And the grading thing and all these other bits.
And so, this third option just sounded so much better.
DANIELA: There’s also the main thing that we talk about in the Network, the relationships. And so, what I was telling you about, the alternative school and the way that the adults were interacting was mainly, as I said, you set up the environment and then kids are supposed to play with kids and you can interact with them a little bit, but be careful not to interfere.
And so, I see with Emma that she really, really seeks out adults and loves playing with adults rather than kids, for now, at least. And I think I was the same, but that was frowned upon. And just the developing of a real relationship, rather than the adult being the provider of the environment.
PAM: There is such a huge difference between directing and supporting. So, it sounds like they were so uncomfortable with the idea of directing that they stepped back from engaging in supporting, Like your music, “I’d like to learn how to read music,” example is perfect. They gave you a little tiny taste of it and then left you off to go and do it on your own, because they didn’t want to direct you.
But in that engagement, in that relationship, there’s just so many clues as to when it becomes a little bit more coercive, when we start coming at it with an agenda of our own.
DANIELA: Yeah, like when it all starts kind of pushing.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. There’s so much information and just joy that we can have through that connection and engagement of helping them learn it, whether we have that knowledge that we can share with them or whether it’s something new for us and we’re figuring it out together.
The value of a relationship in learning is vast, isn’t it?
DANIELA: And that’s what I’ve loved the most, I think, about your work, about what I’ve been reading and listening to, and all the things. So yeah, it’s been such a joy to really connect with Emma and other people in my life.
And going back to the beginning, when you asked me about learning to play, that was actually another piece that I had to peel back because it was like, oh, but I shouldn’t be directing. And sometimes I was even getting on Marco, like, you’re directing her too much. I’m like, don’t tell her this. And of course, that’s not helping anyone relationships, but that was another layer to peel back of, I can connect with her without directing or being pushy or having my own agenda.
So, it’s not like either I step away or I have an agenda. There is another possibility.
PAM: Daniela’s experience is just so fascinating, isn’t it?
And we’re going to leave it here. It was hard to choose just a few clips for this episode! If you want to dive deeper, be sure to check out the link in the show notes where you’ll find links to all the podcast conversations I’ve had with teachers turned unschoolers.
Have a great day!