PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Lane Clark. Hi, Lane!
LANE: Hi, Pam.
PAM: Hi. I have really enjoyed getting to know you a bit over the last few months in the Network, and I am so excited to learn more about your unschooling experience. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family? And I’d love to hear what everybody’s interested in right now.
LANE: Yeah. So, we are a family of four humans and one cat. We have settled in northern Michigan where I’m from after a decade or so of traveling and being all over. I am for a former social worker. I’m now a business owner, book lover, tea drinker, and I’m currently very into British murder mystery shows, taking a deep dive on all of those. I’ve got a notebook where I’m ranking them and stuff.
My husband is Canadian. He is a retired professional hockey player and now has a regular person job and we live here. He loves being outside, campfires. He’s very extroverted, having friends over. And his current interest is golf, because golf season is starting up again and that’s one of his passions. So, this time of year, he’s always really excited.
We have a ten-year-old and she is an extroverted, friend-magnet, ball of energy, ball of emotions. And she is really into fantasy in general, Wings of Fire specifically, a lot of talking with her friends and making fan fiction and really going into that world.
And our seven-year-old is a little more introverted, gentle heart, and she is really into drawing, creating new types of animal hybrids with her drawings, and having a lot of quiet time for that. So, that’s kind of what we’re up to.
PAM: Well, that’s awesome. I love that. We’ll have to touch base about shows.
LANE: Yeah. I have a full list. I can give you my rundown.
PAM: My husband is literally at the golf course right now.
LANE: Yep. Mine would be if he could be.
PAM: So, that is lots of fun. And I love hearing just how your kids dive into what they love. So, it’s stories and then it’s fan fiction and it’s lots of conversations. And just seeing them approach their interests in the way that works for them, right?
LANE: Yeah. They love a deep dive. They definitely both are prone to phases of very intense interest and then, all of a sudden, I’ll ask about it and they’re like, “I’m not doing that anymore.” I’m like, “Got it.”
PAM: I know. And I think that’s something where parents can feel, “Oh, did I get it wrong?” or something, but, no. When we ask and they say, “Oh no, I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not interested in that,” it’s just a little bit more information. It’s like, “Oh, well, that’s really interesting.”
The thing I say to myself in my own head is, ‘don’t make it mean something.’ Because that is what I do. I read into everything. I’m an over-thinker. And so, when I get into that place, I just say, “Don’t make it mean something. They’re just done with that.” And often, they circle back around. I don’t know if your kids were like that, but it just kind of cycles in and out. So, who knows what’s next?
PAM: Right. What’s next? And then, two or three things down the road, even if it doesn’t fully cycle back, you can see there’s a piece of it.
LANE: Yeah. Absolutely. It is so interesting.
PAM: But, yes, you need to be open and patient and don’t make it a thing.
LANE: Don’t make it a thing.
PAM: I love that. I love that.
How did you discover unschooling and what did your family’s move to unschooling look like?
LANE: Yeah. So, I was conventionally schooled in public school in a rural setting and was this very classic “tell me what’s next,” star student, teacher’s pet. “What’s the next step? What’s the next benchmark?” So, I really didn’t have homeschooling at all or anything like that on my radar ever.
But we were living abroad and as my daughter approached kindergarten age, my oldest, I was like, “Well, I guess I have to homeschool.” And so, that sent me down the internet rabbit hole of curricula. And as soon as I chose one, and there’s lots of wonderful, really wonderful resources. But when I chose one that I thought would work for us, it immediately really didn’t. It was stressful for us both. We were both resisting it.
And so, as someone who loves learning, I started down the beautiful rabbit hole of books, blogs, podcasts, learning about how learning works. And that’s when I really started to untangle my own thinking about learning as a human activity versus education as a social construct. And that was a really new concept for me. Now it seems really natural, but 10 years ago, I was like, oh.
And eventually, I found the term unschooling and dove into some classics, John Holt, Peter Gray, and all the things. And what has felt good about it and supportive to our family, for me, is that it’s not a thing you can complete. It’s a journey. I call us unschooly or unschoolish, because I’m always untangling more and there’s no done. And other types of homeschooling, for me, felt too restrictive, because, in a way, the lack of structure of unschooling is good for my overachiever tendencies, because there are no boxes to tick off.
Whereas as soon as you give me any boxes to tick off, I will try to do it. So, other things that involved more curricula or more time-sensitive or ordered learning, I would immediately get sucked into that. Even though there’s nuggets and gems of wonderful things in every type of homeschooling, I know my own self. I get too stuck on the structure. And so, it just has felt really supportive to us in that way.
PAM: Wow. I love that.
And those are such helpful observations about the journey, because when we first come to unschooling and we hear what it looks like, we can, personality-wise, make it as a checklist of things. Like, I don’t teach them, we don’t use curriculum, and we tick off those boxes. And when I wrote the Unschooling Journey book, I wrote in there not to use it, even the stages inside the journey, as something to tick off. “Okay. Yeah. I’m through stage two.” That just won’t work, because you’re not fully present in the moment when you’re judging yourself as to how far along you are. And, entirely, each stage is all about us and the work we’re doing. So, somebody from the outside can’t tell you what things are important to work through.
I think that’s such a big piece of it. And to be able to release the idea that there are rules and that there’s a certain way that this should look. We talk about it often as a lifestyle as we embrace it. But the thing is that it is never done, even though maybe you’ve processed through the bulk of it, things will always come up.
And it’s sort of like the cycles we said where kids come in and out of interests. Everything is on a loop, in nature and in our lives. And I go back through similar doubts or fears or similar celebrations over and over again, but they’re felt differently after the experience I’ve had in between those two cycles. So, the fears might not be as poignant and the celebrations might feel bigger. It just changes depending on what happened between the times I’m feeling through those things, but it doesn’t stop them from continuing.
PAM: Oh, yeah. I love that, because we do loop back to things. And I think of it as peeling back layers, but you’re right. They come back as a loop and then each time, it is different. I’m finding something, a new aspect of it, or I’m finding a new connection to myself, because in that interim time, I’ve learned more about myself. I’ve peeled back something else, so that all of a sudden, now new connections are coming. So, even with stuff that we’re quite comfortable with, there are always more layers to it, right?
LANE: Always. Yes. It’s comforting and daunting.
PAM: Yeah. Exactly. Sometimes you just want to be done.
LANE: Sometimes you do.
PAM: Sometimes you do and that realization is where you get to, unschooling is a lifestyle. Unschooling is just living life and all this stuff is part of living as a human being.
For me, it doesn’t feel so much a part of my identity so much as just a frame that I’m using in terms of how I’m feeling or what my kids are up to or what our family might need right now. I think that some of what my resistance was initially to even look into homeschooling was this labeling thing that I didn’t feel comfortable with, because I don’t fit in any one box. But when I use it as sort of more of a lens, it doesn’t feel stressful or constrained to me. It just seems like a reference point.
PAM: I do love that metaphor, because my blog collection book is Life Through the Lens of Unschooling, because that’s it. It’s really just a lens. It’s a framework that helps you explore different things.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I love that piece.
I wanted to dive a little bit more into your deschooling journey. I wanted to look at deschooling in the context of learning.
Because when I look back at it, I kind of see two distinct phases to deschooling. At first, you’re really opening up how you see learning. At first, it looks like school. What’s in a curriculum? Those are the important things and all the rest of the stuff is just life and what we get to do after. Our interests and fun take a back seat to what is more academic. So, we come to expand our definition of learning beyond all that, to recognize all the learning and the important learning that our kids are doing as they’re pursuing their interests and just living life day to day.
And then, once we’re really comfortable there, we start to find that our need to look for that learning and to ponder where it might lead, that starts to fade away. At first, that’s a big thing, as they’re learning about this, maybe they’ll do this, or maybe they’ll do this. That starts to fade away. And we realize we don’t have to look for the learning. It happens naturally. We can just focus on the living, focus on the fun and the joy and the moment that’s right in front of us.
That’s actually more important, because when you’re connected in the moment, the learning is real. It has space for the learning to develop and unfold there. So, I would love to hear about your take on that. What was your experience?
It’s a really exciting feeling to shift away from the need to categorize my kids’ interests. So, it did definitely start where I was like, okay, I’m comfortable with them following their interests. And what do these interests mean? So, is this math? Oh, okay. Is this social studies? Oh, we’re taking a road trip. That’s geography. And that was internal. I wasn’t necessarily saying it to them, but it was a comfort to me. So, it’s really a next level relaxation when I can just see that the value in being, or being self-led, is it. That’s the end for me.
But, that being said, like we mentioned, everything’s on a loop. I definitely slip back into those moments, particularly as my oldest gets a little older and people outside of our unschooling circles are focused on more academic learning as opposed to whatever. Elementary learning might feel more relaxed to them.
So then, I do feel myself slipping back into, “Has she done anything that’s math lately?” or that kind of thinking. But I turn to the work I’ve done up to this point and my community support. The online world is amazing, but in person here locally, I also have some awesome friends who I can just text or when we’re together at the park, I’m like, “So, what about math?”
And then I can come back to the thought that what my questioning shows me is something’s going on with me. Something is unsettled in how I’m feeling or thinking or being. It’s not a deficit my kids are having. If my kids are happy and thriving and following their interests and are sharing with me that they feel supported and connected and fulfilled, then my issue of, “Do they know fractions?” is my issue.
And so, I can just deal with it internally with my own coping mechanisms and my own reminders to myself of how the time it actually takes to learn something when you want to is very little and that when they get to that point and if they want to learn something that we haven’t gotten to, that they’ll learn it. So, just reminding myself of how resourceful they are, how resourceful I am, and that those thoughts aren’t really indicating anything other than me needing to recenter or reconnect to someone that will remind me of what my values are instead of what boxes we’ve ticked or not ticked.
PAM: That is totally my experience, too. And I love that you’re pointing out how we are more prone to label things at the beginning, just to ourselves. And, absolutely, what a great tool to get us started down that path. Right?
LANE: Yes. It’s a great bridge.
PAM: Yeah. You can’t just leap to the other side.
LANE: No. I couldn’t, anyway.
PAM: No. I definitely couldn’t. What that does, too, is key us into observing our kids’ learning. So, it’s actually asking us to pay more attention. We see that stuff in there, and then we’re seeing all the other stuff. We’re seeing how it hits those pieces. And we’re seeing how maybe a challenging situation comes up and we spend the time to work through it with them and we see them learning those interpersonal skills and we’re like, wow, that’s really valuable. That’s how our vision of what learning means expands, because we’re actually engaged with them and we’re seeing what they’re choosing to do and what they’re learning through it.
LANE: Yeah. And I also have really noticed that as I’ve released the need to categorize academic subjects, it also has helped me make steps in releasing the need to really categorize ourselves at all, even in the way I describe my kids to people. “Oh, you have kids? What are they like?” I think I would have focused more on their achievements or their age or their grade or whatever, as opposed to now I’m more able to say, “Oh, this one’s a huge ball of energy and loves this and isn’t into that and jokes about this.”
It’s more about who we are and that there are actually many more ways to be than in some of the systems we’re in, school only being one of those systems. Some of the systems that we’re in constrain us in a way that make us think there’s these categories to choose from, when really there are so many more. So, losing those categories academically has also helped me tiptoe into realizing all the other categories we’re putting on ourselves in other places and other ways.
PAM: Yeah. Once you start questioning one kind of box, it’s like, what other boxes are out there that I took for granted? I used to love, and still do, coming up with different ways to describe my kids when people would ask what they’re up to or whatever. And it would just be so fun. The only important thing was that we’re sharing it with joy and positive energy and I never got pushback, but it was always like planting a seed that it was an unexpected answer, but it also made them think for a moment. That’s a totally cool answer, too.
LANE: Yeah. We had a really good laugh recently, because our library has been having virtual book clubs during the pandemic. It’s been amazing. And some of our fellow unschool friends are in there, so they’ll all be together in Zoom. And one of the librarians prompted them, “Oh, so-and-so, what grade are you in?” And she was like, “I don’t know. Like, second?” And one of the other kids was like, “Aren’t you 12?” And she goes, “Yeah, I was just saying something. I don’t really know.”
And then our other kids were like, “Yeah, it doesn’t really matter.” And I was just like, oh my gosh. How funny. And what was amazing is even the librarian was like, “Yeah, it doesn’t really matter.” She just went with it. Their confidence was just amazing. And behind the scenes, the moms and I were texting, like, “Oh dear. That was very interesting.”
PAM: That’s brilliant. But then, that’s wonderful that the library was like, yeah.
LANE: Oh, she’s amazing.
PAM: What a meaningless question, actually.
LANE: Yeah. She was just like, “I don’t know.” I mean, she was making conversation. And then she just let it go. She’s wonderful. Yeah, it was great.
PAM: Oh, I love that so much. So then, the other piece that you were talking about, I’m trying to remember here, when we get across that bridge and we’re giving them more space to just be, that comes with experience, too. That’s why when we talk to people as they come to unschooling, it’s like really, give it six months minimum, maybe a year, just to explore and let it unfold, because you need that time to get across the bridge to start to see what’s up and to give your kids that space to be.
Because it’s there, when you see them in action, you’ve seen over time some of those interests ebb and flow, and you’ve seen the connections from three interests back. So, you’re like, yeah, that stuff is really connecting with who they are as a person. And maybe they say, “Oh yeah. That’s not quite the way I want to explore that thing. I’m going to drop that interest and go try something else,” and how that’s great and beautiful for them.
And you start to see how their personality meshes with the things that they choose. And then you get really comfortable giving that space to be, because you’ve seen it work enough times that you can embrace that and not worry about the categorization so much. It’s just such a valuable experience, but it takes time to get there, doesn’t it?
LANE: It takes a lot of time and it also takes a lot of self-reflection, which can be challenging, because for our family in particular, our kids never went to school, so they didn’t have as much deschooling to do. Certainly, there are things around us in the world that they take in. But, for my husband and I who did go to school and he’s from a family of educators and I went all the way through my master’s degree, we have this very lifelong view of how to categorize ourselves and how learning works and what order things go in. So, for us, it’s a lot more effort than it actually is for them.
And so, the effort is just in us doing that work in a way that’s amongst ourselves, while still giving them the unburdened experience of just being and learning. And sometimes, especially now that they’re older, talking through things with them about, “This is why this is hard for me. This is something that I learned and then later learned this about myself that I didn’t need to learn that way. And that’s why I’ve presented these options to you differently.” So, it’s a lot of self-reflection while you’re crossing that bridge.
PAM: We laugh, but as you said, it’s not easy.
LANE: No. There’s crying, too, usually. That’s fine, too.
PAM: And it doesn’t go away. What happens, in my experience, is I notice my reactions to things. I can more quickly recognize if I tense up. I can more quickly recognize if I say something that lands a little off with them. So, recognizing that I have some work to do, I just recognize it more often than not more quickly now, but it doesn’t go away.
LANE: Yeah. You gotta revisit the bridge, too.
So, there’s another idea that I thought we could talk about untangling and that’s the idea of if our children choose what they want to do, we can think that they’ll never do hard things.
Because they could choose. Or even something that they just don’t find particularly enjoyable, they’re going to avoid that, too. Because, on the surface, that makes sense. And we could do that whole dive into the boxes and how we view children, all these frameworks, conventional frameworks on how we see children. So, it does make sense through that framework, but as we deschool and we dig deeper into ourselves and observe our kids in action, the story really is very different. Isn’t it?
LANE: Yeah. This particular topic for me has been a long, non-linear detanglement. And like with so many other parenting realizations and journeys, it’s mostly revolved around my thinking and rethinking my beliefs and re-framing my own childhood and learning experience, not to make an alternate history, but just to view it as an adult, looking back at it, versus the child experience I had.
And I can even still feel, I don’t feel them anymore, but I can feel the way I bristled internally when I was pushing through this thought, which gives me huge empathy when I’m talking about this with other adults and I can visibly see their hackles come up when I explain that our approach to learning with our kids is giving them space for their interests and the time they need with them. And there are no compulsory elements.
So, I know that some people associate homeschooling with school at home. And so, once I’m in a relationship with someone where they’re more curious, I’m like, “There actually is no element to their day that they have no say over,” and their response and my old response is like, “Life is full of things we don’t want to do.” And it is. It totally is.
I just did my taxes this week, for example. And I didn’t want to. But where it got to me eventually when I unwound the thinking is that doing things we don’t enjoy, like life admin is what I call it, because I don’t like it, to support a life we love is not the same as doing things we are compelled to do. And, “I don’t want to take this test, but I want to get into this program, so I take the test.” I don’t like cleaning, but when my house is clean, I feel really good. So, I clean it. There are endless examples.
And I will say to parents, particularly of younger kids, which I would still consider myself, that being in community virtually or in-person with unschooled families with older kids has helped me tremendously. I know we’re really trying as unschoolers not to be outcome-driven, but I also live in the world and reality, so, seeing my friends with teens that have never stepped foot a day in their life in a school and have been unschooled and then seeing them wanting to do a trade program, so then they figure it out.
These are the steps and then they have to take this course and then they have to take this test. They don’t want to take the test. Most people don’t like taking a test, but they do it because that’s a decision they made of something they want to do. Or they want to get into a certain college program, they find out what the pre-reqs are. We have one unschooler in our community who just signed up for his ACTs, because he wants to get in this certain program.
So, we do things we don’t want to do either way. It’s just a matter of whether we’re doing things we don’t want to do in service of what we do want to do. It’s a matter of whether we’re doing things we don’t want to do, but still being who we want to be. And that’s a big difference between being compelled into doing things we don’t want to do for no apparent reason to us, that doesn’t make sense to us when it’s not our choice.
PAM: I feel like the way children live in an unschooling family is actually amazing training, for lack of a better word, for doing those hard things, because they’re always choosing their goals. They’re always choosing the things that they want to get to. And they are putting up with the annoying things along the way. It could be something as simple as, “I want to beat this video game and there’s this puzzle or this boss or something that I’m having a really hard time with,” but they persevere through that. They choose to do it or they choose not to. And they’re like, “Oh, I’m not going to.” All of that experience informs them moving forward when their goals are just bigger things, right?
And I think it’s this idea that I’ve had to struggle with releasing, that I can prevent my kids from having regrets or that I can prevent them from making a mistake or having to change something later, which in reality, I don’t have that much control over anything. And when I think about decisions I’ve made, even the things I’ve done out of my own interest that I later felt like that was maybe not the best use of my time or resources, I’m trying not to make it mean something. So, it’s just something I did. It’s just something I learned. It’s just a thing that happened. And now I’m moving on from it with this new information.
So, I think some of this idea that we have to compel kids to do things that are unpleasant is unresolved pain we have from being compelled to do that. At least that’s a little bit how I feel when I think about, how much I devoted to getting straight A’s when, really? I’m 40-years-old now. Nobody cares what grade you got in middle school.
But also, just this idea that we can somehow make them not go the wrong path by having these life experiences that we think are the most necessary when really, no matter how hard we try, they are going to make mistakes. They are just going to. And they will probably have regrets. I don’t mean like serious, lifelong regrets, just like, “Oh, maybe I should have taken that course that I wanted you to get in that program. And now I’ll have to do it next year now.” That’s going to happen no matter whether we forced it on them or not. Those kinds of things are going to come up.
I love looking at it through the lens of our own experiences, our own regrets, the idea that it’s bad to make mistakes. I don’t even like calling them mistakes. I say, when things go unexpectedly. So often, even when you think back, it’s like, you know what? In that situation, I would make the same choice and I would end up having that experience and I’ve learned from it. Like we were talking about those loops. Now I’m a different person the next time a similar thing comes up. You’re just gaining more experience to bring forward with you.
And in fact, I learned that through watching my kids. Because things would go wrong for them. And then, then they’d move forward and make a different choice. It’s like, wow. I don’t have to have all this regret and feelings of shame and failure because it didn’t go right?
LANE: Yeah. And I mean, it’s amazing the empathy and patience I’ll give to my children when things go wrong for them and they want to just cry about it. And I’m like, yeah, cry about it. Let’s have a minute. Go do what you need to do. How can I help? But then when things go wrong for me, I can go to shame and blame of myself and, what did I do? Instead of meeting myself with that same patience and understanding that these are just actually unavoidable parts of life and not only something not to try to avoid, but that you actually can’t avoid. It’s a waste of energy to do that.
PAM: Which is exactly why we don’t need to put fake hardships on top of our kids, because there’s going to be enough of them anyway.
LANE: Yes. I guarantee it.
You can’t make a perfect life for someone and you know what? Maybe some people come to unschooling and at first it seems almost utopian. Do whatever we want to do? And we just go through our days however we want? But, yeah. You soon realize that life has these pieces, that our choices aren’t unlimited. We have the context of our environment. We have the context of a pandemic. There are things that come up and it’s actually working your way through the flow of all those things.
I was going to say balancing them, but that is not a useful image.
LANE: It’s really not. Yeah. And most people that I talk to about the way we live and learn are supportive and curious, but you do have people who are a little more not that. And I have had someone say, “Well, do you think you’re just shielding them from reality?” And their implication was specific to school, that they’re not in school. And they don’t have this homework and this grade and these expectations. And I’m not even mad at that question, because I’m sure I could have asked it 10 years ago or whatever, five years ago maybe. But also, it’s very hard to explain why I feel that that’s totally true when you’re embedded in thinking that that is the reality, instead of a reality.
Yes, my children will not, I suppose, know some of those particular hardships, like the homework thing or the being late for school or the lining up and being quiet thing, but they have other challenges that they’re navigating all the time, just like every person on earth. And they are going to have more of those every year of their life, just like everyone else. And they’re going to find a way through it, maybe a different way. But I’m not worried about their reality, if you want to use the word that person used, because that’s only a concern if your feeling is that the default of children is to be in school and that’s just not what feels true to me.
PAM: Yeah. That that is better. Often when they’re looking at that box as being better, more valuable, it’s because you’re looking at the adult box, a typical 9 to 5 job where you sit at a desk. School is training you for that.
LANE: Yeah. And I think sometimes when people give resistance, they’re expecting me to push back, to argue against school to them. And that’s actually not anything I do. I don’t feel against school. I feel, for our life and our family and what we’re trying to do, and I can’t tell you what the future will hold, what my kids will want to do, or classes they want to take, schools they might want to try. I’m just here to make it as possible and safe for them to find out what they’re interested in and how they best pursue their interests for us. I’m not really here to recruit anyone or dissuade anyone from anything else. It’s not up to me.
PAM: Yeah, because those are our values. That is what is working for us. For me, my kids went to school for a few years, because I hadn’t even heard of homeschooling. It’s just what worked for us as a family. I, too, went to school and it was a fine experience, whatever. So, I imagine I could have gone through that path, but by being engaged with my kids and watching them, that’s what tweaked me to start finding other possibilities. Because this actually, for them personally, wasn’t a great fit. So, for me, it’s more about having the choice, not that this is the only path. There are lots of other ways that you can do this family thing.
LANE: And we’re feeling it out as we go. That’s what we’re doing.
PAM: That’s where the difference is, too. It can be that I pre-choose this path and I work lovingly, generously with my family to walk that path. Again, it’s not a judgment on people who choose that path at all. And we’re just choosing a different one. So, for me, it’s more about opening it up and it being different choices for people and no one is more valued than another. It’s what works best for that family at this time, because things can also change. Your circumstances can change.
So, we have talked about a couple of deschooling pieces that you’ve worked through. I was wondering if there was another challenging aspect of your deschooling journey that we could dive into a little bit?
LANE: Yeah. I thought about this a bit. And it’s interesting, because what really came up for me, in my mind, is not so much a challenge in terms of our personal experience deschooling or my personal experience as a parent, but more something you mentioned before.
Once you see a certain box, the school box, as not being necessarily real or not the only choice, you start expanding that view and it applies everywhere. So, not a challenge for me, but it has made me challenge my view of the world. And the good news is that the challenge is realizing and learning and seeing systems that we live in and amongst, the systems being abstract, but the human beings in them being very real, and seeing a lot of ways that these systems don’t serve the individuals in them in the way that I started unpacking my schooling experience and the hopes I had for my kids.
So, I guess that just means that, even in systems that are intending to help us, sometimes they don’t work for how humans and people actually live. And so, deschooling my understanding of learning and education has led to me thinking more deeply about other systems, privilege, and even just the privilege that it is to opt out from school, racism, access to wellness and health care, environmental justice.
I think the challenge for me is that these are all things that were on my radar in life before, in my life social worker, my time as a person, but it has given me that lens, like you mentioned in your blog, to view them differently. So, it’s not so much a challenge, but that I’m being challenged all the time in a good way. But the challenge simply being how this thinking reveals more and more about how we as individuals function in systems that are all around us.
And so, I think the challenge can just be the fatigue of that sometimes and how to, as an individual, make small changes that can be impactful for not just my immediate family, but perhaps people on my block or people in my town. So, I think maybe the challenge is the Pandora’s box opening and that, like we said, there’s no end. And it’s, for me, an ongoing thing. I guess I flipped your question, that the challenge isn’t a negative thing, not that you meant it that way, but that it’s an ongoing evolution that can be really wonderful and really tiring. And it’s totally worth it, but there’s no end.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. Right back to what we were talking about, deschooling, how it is a wonderful opportunity for our own personal growth. And that it never ends. And, so often, when you start with the “school, no school, not school” question, you don’t realize that Pandora’s box sitting underneath there, waiting to be opened. But, yes, it is so worth it. And it’s so worth those questions.
And we were talking about this earlier on the Network, actually, because you were talking about how we process through ourselves and then how can we make choices that help with our neighborhood, maybe within just our community group, and how that can expand? And we were talking about that also in the context of our family. And how, when you’ve got younger kids and your hands are full, time-wise, just helping them moving through the day, a lot of it is more internal work. That was my experience, anyway.
It was a lot of thinking and it still is. Right now, my son and I are really diving deep into even how those systems came about, because I feel like there were good intentions at some point, but then, yeah, it grew well beyond on the individuals and even redefining the whole thing. So, it’s just a fascinating thing to look at and to think about the different ways that we can look at maybe dismantling them or just planting seeds around for the individuals that we can engage with or affect in our lives or online. There’s just so many possibilities.
And sometimes, I think we can beat ourselves up and run out of energy trying to do all this. But what I love seeing, especially in the unschooling community, is how certain things become passions for people. As human beings, we are a community and we don’t have to try to fix all the things, but if we can find what really connects for us, what we would love to bring out and work with, say we start with our family, but then our community, and then our neighbors, and all that, all those little pieces, it’s back to connecting with ourselves. And as we’re learning about these things and see what really strikes us, we can move forward with that. Does that make sense?
LANE: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s helped me. One of my personality traits is being really future-focused and when I’m not at my best, feeling future-fixated almost. And the tools I’ve gained through unschooling, which started in the “school, not school” conversation and then expanded so much are, what is happening right now? In the same way that I’m answering the question, “Will she be able to do calculus some day?” with, “Is she happy right now? Is she thriving? Are her needs met?” That can bring me back to reality.
The same goes for these larger systemic conversations, where it’s like, “Will this ever be fixed? Will it ever be better?” And instead, being like, “Today, this week, this month, what am I saying out in the world to my friends, to the internet, or whatever, that’s countering them in some small way? What am I doing? Where am I putting my money or my resources or my time today in a way that I might not even imagine how that affects the future?”
And in the same way that the point of supporting our kids in this way isn’t to make sure they can get into Harvard. It’s to not imagine what they want to do and instead let them do it. So, I’m trying to apply that same thinking to my hopes for these larger systems in the sense of, “What am I doing today that feels right, that feels like my ability to impact this with no real expectation for what that will bring in two, 10, 20 years?” Not that I don’t want to have hopes, but that I’m not tying those to my actions today, because that’s where, for me, in the micro part of raising my children and in the macro part of trying to be part of the solutions to problems, that will give me paralysis if I project too far in to the what ifs.
Because, as we know, I can do as many projections as I want, but there are variables that I literally can’t even fathom that could ruin my vision in a puff of smoke. So, I’m really trying to apply that same micro-thinking that I’m using on helping my kids see themselves as learners and capable people as giving myself that same grace and support to be a person who makes change no matter how small it is without grading it, so to speak. Without being like, am I Greta Thunberg? No. I’m just me here doing this one little thing today. And that’s enough. And tomorrow is tomorrow.
So, it’s really amazing for me, the way that this all started with me being like, “Oh, I’ve bought a kindergarten curriculum and it wants me to sing.” And that was a deal breaker for me. I don’t like to sing. I don’t like children’s music. And then now, I’m like, “Oh, my ten-year-old taught herself to read and she’s obsessed with dragons.” So, in that same way, I’m trying to apply that to a larger part of my being in community with the rest of the world and say, don’t project into what the future may or may not be and whether what you’re doing is going to fix everything. Just see if today this feels like the right thing to do.
PAM: Okay. So, that was brilliant. I have so many pieces that came up for me. That being in the moment, that’s where you ended off there. For me, I ask myself, who is the person I want to be in this moment? And that encourages me to make those bigger-picture choices in this moment. So, “Who do I want to be in this moment?” isn’t just in the context of this moment. It’s in the context of all those systems and boxes and all that stuff. Who do I want to be in this moment?
The idea that you had about not worrying about the future so much, because you can get fixated on an answer and then you can get fixated on a path to get there. And then, that’s when you can easily start judging what other people are doing towards that path. And that’s when we start stepping on each other’s feet. There really is space for lots of people to be trying to get to that vision. And all those different steps are valuable, all the different paths are valuable, because we’re all different people. We have different personalities, we have different strengths, we have different things as individuals that we bring to the story of moving through these challenges.
And there was one other piece.
LANE: Was it how I don’t like children’s music? I don’t. I’m so sorry.
But I was going to say, before I sound like I have it all together, I am still prone to this future worry. And I think what’s really key for people who might be newer to unschooling and are like, “How will I ever get there?” is you won’t and that’s fine. And what you need is, a one- to 10-person sounding board.
I shot off a text a week or two ago to some friends being like, this is what’s happening. This is what it makes me think. This is what I’m worrying. And they reliably were like, “These are real worries and please stop doing it,” in their various ways. So, it’s not something I’m done doing. I’m not always in the moment and totally present. I’m very much prone to this worry, but I’m just now more aware of how to bring myself back, which is a huge difference as opposed to just spiraling off into it.
I’m worried someone will listen to this and be like, well, she has it together. No. I’m very much not having it together. But the point is that if I have enough people around me to bring me back to the reminder of what I’ve told them my values are and where I want to be and how I want to be thinking, and then I can do that for them in their moment, it’s actually not necessary for me to fix that personality trait. I still get to have it. I just get to not be totally pushed around by it.
PAM: Yes, yes, yes. So, that did tweak me as to what I was about to say, because I was listening to a climate podcast. I think it’s called How to Save a Planet. But they were talking the other week about change and do individuals change? How much do they really have towards that future goal?
And so, they were talking about a few studies and they really said that, yes, it can feel that our individual choices won’t individually have a huge impact, yet what it is is living those choices with the people around you. So, other people are seeing them. Just like we have people asking about unschooling once in a while, “Your kids don’t go to school? What’s that about?” We always talk about planting those seeds. When people are curious, answering their questions so that they can just see that there are other ways and that can be encouraging for them.
So, that was really the conclusion they came out with. And I did feel good in that I was like, oh yeah, that has worked in so many different areas of my life. I can think unschooling is wonderful and why isn’t everybody doing it? or whatever, but it’s not about that. That’s not a useful goal to have or to try and evangelize unschooling to anybody. I’m not trying to convert a person at all. If anyone is curious, I love to share. And that’s what the podcast is all about.
And then your other point about surrounding yourself with community that have the same kinds of values and the same kinds of paths that they’re walking, so that when a challenge arises for us, when we have this little blip, we can have conversations with them that actually help us continue to walk in the direction that we want to walk. Because if we go to more conventional friends or extended family and we say we’re having a problem, nine times out of 10, they’re gonna say, “First, put your kids in school,” because that’s their lens. That’s how they’re seeing things. They feel that that will fix a lot of things that might come up. “Worrying about math? Send them to school.”
So, finding that community where you can ask questions and get answers through the framework and in the direction of the path that you are interested in continuing on, that’s priceless.
LANE: Yeah. It’s really, really valuable. I’m so lucky to have another parent who led the way in our community, paving this for us, having unschooling-minded families connected. Shout out to Cassandra. And also, I will add that when I was newer to unschooling, it was more uncomfortable for me to bring up these challenges with my friends whose kids are in conventional school or they don’t really know what it is, but as I became more comfortable or clearer what I was saying myself, I shared with them my values.
So, “Hey, this is what we’re doing and this is what I’m hoping for,” And truly, just saying this because I know a lot of people live in isolation from other unschoolers, physical isolation, is that once I gave them that lens and that those boundaries, like, “I’m not going to put her in school. So, that’s off the table.” Maybe I didn’t say it that clearly, but that way, they’re actually a super valuable resource. They’re happy to think through other ways of solving problems and being just unapologetic, but also clear, means that you could have these conversations with anyone who respects you enough to connect with you on what your values are and not on what their expectations for your values are.
So, I just say that because me being somewhere very rural, I realized that I’m in a very rare position to have this many unschooler or unschoolish families nearby. And other people I know are not as lucky. So, finding that my non-unschooly friends and family were actually really, for the most part, supportive and can answer my questions in a way that makes sense to me once I gave them the boundaries, might be helpful to someone.
PAM: Yes. And the point that stood out for me was when you had the language for it.
LANE: Yeah. That took me a bit.
PAM: That’s part of crossing the bridge.
At first, it’s really hard to describe what we’re doing. It’s really hard just to answer people’s questions about it. It really is about revisiting the words that we use to describe things and it takes a while until we understand and, like you said, gain that comfortableness. So, you can have this intellectual understanding of how unschooling works, but when you start to see it in action with your kids, you see it unfolding, that gives you that level of comfort and you also get much better at being able to describe it in words that connect with people who may not have that lens.
It’s fascinating how words can mean such different things, depending on the experience, life experience, that you bring to it. You learn how to describe it. Like you said, I probably didn’t say, “She’s not going to school.” You gave them a context for it. You were able to describe it. So, I think the whole language thing is really fascinating on the unschooling journey, as well.
LANE: Totally. That’s a whole podcast in itself.
I would love to know what is your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now.
LANE: Yeah. That, for me, is just generally being unhurried. So, I love a loose structure and a plan, but I also feel stressed by deadlines and being out the door at a certain time. So, for me, luckily I am able to work from home and our mornings are very rarely chaotic. I had to wake my kids up for a flight last year and they were like, “What’s happening?” They were excited, because it was a flight, but still, they were like, “How? What?” So, just feeling unhurried and having some time to wake up and be slow and get on with our day and prioritizing our time as we want to.
I live in a long-winter type of place. So, when the weather is good, I’m like, everything’s canceled. Not that we had that much going on, but just being able to have autonomy over our time, I think, gives my kids a lot of that unstructured play and exploration time that we know is so valuable, truly, to their brain chemistry. But also, as a parent, it gives me a bit of pressure release from always feeling like I need to be planning and keeping them engaged, because they have these skills to navigate that unstructured time.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah, that’s beautiful. That was something that I learned through coming to unschooling, how valuable that unstructured time was. At first, I came to unschooling and I thought, oh, we’re going to go to the science center. We’re going to do hikes at the park. We’re going to go to the art gallery. We’re going to do all the things. And then, to learn over the next few months that, oh actually, what’s been more valuable is the space and to just let those things flow in as they will, rather than to put them as a framework on top of our days.
LANE: Absolutely. Those are bonuses that we get to do during the week and non-busy hours. For me, that’s a huge bonus, because I’m not a huge extrovert. But yeah, just really realizing that I can see when my kids are in a growth spurt, whether that be intellectual or physical or whatever, they really need a lot more fuel and a lot more rest. And I’m just so grateful that we’re able to give that to them in a way that follows their patterns and needs, as well as mine. There are days where I just can’t leave here. I need to lay down. I need to hibernate. And there’s room for that, too.
So, I think the focus on family needs with individuals within that, instead of focusing only on our kids in a schedule and what they “should be doing” quote unquote.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That’s brilliant. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Lane. It was so much fun!
LANE: Thank you for having me, Pam.
PAM: Oh, it was my pleasure. And, before we go, where can people connect with you online?
LANE: My favorite place to connect online is on Instagram and I’m very active there sharing our unschooling days and our cat’s antics. So, I am @Liz.Lemonade and you can meet me there.
PAM: Yes. Yes. I really love following you. And I will put the link to that in the show notes.
PAM: Thanks so much, Lane. And have a wonderful day!
LANE: Thank you! You, too.