PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Erin Rosemond. Hey, Erin!
ERIN: Hi, Pam.
PAM: Now, I have really enjoyed learning more about you and your family over the last few months. So, I’m really excited to learn more about your unschooling journey and experiences today. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and maybe a little bit about what everybody’s interested in right now?
ERIN: Yeah, absolutely. So, just to give you some geography, we live in central Ontario, in Canada. My husband’s family lives about an hour to the west, in the city. That’s where he grew up. And mine is about an hour to the east, just in the country, outside of a little town where I grew up. So, we’re kind of situated in between, which has been really nice, because the kids are really connected with grandparents and aunts and uncles, cousins.
Actually, my sister homeschooled for a couple of years with her kids and they used to come here for part of the week, so that we could kind of hang out and do stuff and we’ve still kept connected with them. So, it’s just nice to be able to be sort of close to extended family. It’s been good.
My husband is a tech guy by both profession and recreation. Professionally, he does a lot of tech as well as administrative work. And then, just in his own time, he just dives in in all kinds of ways. And actually, he really likes research. So, he seems to like to predict what some of the technology changes are happening with certain companies and what other companies might do to respond and then what might that look like in the automotive industry. He just really likes to watch that evolution of technology.
I am more of an outdoor person, so I really like hiking and camping and gardening. So, we’re kind of different in those respects, but we both really love music and we grew up playing instruments and we just love listening to music, as well. And we have a really common interest in comedy. We like to watch stand-up comics. We love watching TV comedies, old ones, new ones, jokes flying around, texting back and forth. So, that’s where we have some commonality, for sure.
We have been home educating four kids for 18 years. I was just thinking about that. And I think in a couple of weeks it will be almost exactly 18 years since I went to my first homeschool park day, and got a feel for that. And I say home educating, because we did this decade or more of very much unschooling, self-directed stuff, and then 11 years in, we actually bought some curriculum for a little while and tried that out for a little bit, because a couple of the kids were really interested. And my older guys were doing some online credits for things that they were wanting to do. So, we sort of did a little bit of that for a few years and then moved back out of it. So, it’s been a little bit of a different dive.
At this point we have just two kids living here, my 18-year-old son and my 15-year-old daughter. And then the oldest, who’s 21, he is a couple of hours east of here. And he graduated college just as the pandemic hit and managed to get a job that he was really, really hoping for a week before school ended. So, it all kind of worked out.
When I think about what his interests are, working. He loves to work. He loves to put money together and manage time, so when he’s not working, he started some business contract stuff as well. He’s gotten really interested in the stock market. So, he’s been researching a lot, but it also gives him some extra money over and above his bills to participate in the stock market. So, he’s kind of getting into that. And I know very little about that. It’s interesting just to hear those bits and pieces. He’s also a really musical guy, so he writes music, both lyrics and the music part of it, and sports. He’s always really liked sports.
So then, the 20-year-old, he went into culinary management and his campus is actually not too far from us, so we’ve been able to see him a lot. It’s been really quite nice to be the food drop box, all that kind of stuff. So, that’s been really kind of nice. And so, in addition to food, obviously he’s interested in food and culinary, but he’s always really liked bikes. I mean bicycles, so cycling, yes, but even just the mechanics of bikes.
And probably his hugest interest is wildlife. Huge. And that’s been forever. We had some really interesting adventures. Learning alongside him was always coming out of the woods with fox skulls and I would find myself in the creek, thigh high, because he’d spotted a salmon skeleton. Probably the biggest adventure was returning a sea turtle to the water. Very long story about how that managed to get away. There I was in the van with a great big bucket and the sea turtle returned. So, yeah, lots of outdoor and wildlife adventures.
And then, my two that are still at home. I thought about this question, Pam, and it’s so interesting, because for them, the pandemic has been a big game changer for them. Because of the ages that they are, a lot of their interests had come to the point that some of the groups and materials that they were using, we actually don’t have at home. So, my son was doing a carpentry mentorship in a full workshop. Well, he has tools here, but we don’t have the level of tools that he was using. He was really involved in basketball and a Canada-wide skateboard community, which was just really cool, but a lot of those things, a youth group, a lot of those pieces just kind of shifted for him.
And similarly for my daughter. She was in a performance choir and art classes and ballet, and a lot of those pieces just sort of suddenly changed. And because we’ve had quite a few lockdowns here in our province and we were also being really cautious, we had some elderly grandparents that weren’t well, it really has been a different sort of a year. But, you know what? They’ve pivoted in some neat ways and are starting to see some things that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
So, my son took on an extra paper route. It’s pretty lucrative. He’s been able to save for some project stuff. He’s got customers waiting for him when he does get back to woodworking. So, he’s been able to invest in some stuff.
And for my daughter, having done art for so many years, and she can still do that at home, but again, it was different from being in a studio with a lot of the stuff that she was working with and the materials. She’s just found some new ways of doing things. So, last week or two weeks ago maybe, she started a storytelling through digital photography workshop. So, she’s been working on that this week and just through that one workshop, she’s started to look at more of that. So, you see that spark happen.
And the other thing she’s really into is languages, suddenly. So, she decided about a month ago, maybe two months ago, she asked me if I’d like to learn Latin with her. So, okay, cool. So, we’ve been really heavily into Latin and what I hadn’t realized when she was getting into all these languages, I knew she knew a lot of French, but I didn’t realize she’s been learning some Cantonese and Italian. She knows a lot of Italian and I had no idea. And when I’m thinking about it, I can kind of see that thread over the year.
Over this past year, she was watching a lot of YouTube. So, you’d have three different people, maybe one from Australia, one from Canada, one from the US or Britain, just talking about different expressions and intonations. And I’ve really been noticing a lot in the last few months that she’ll, I don’t want to say critique, but sometimes it feels like it. Like I’ll say something and she’ll say, “Oh, that’s interesting that you put the emphasis on that syllable.” So, when I’m thinking about it now, I can see that there’s been this kind of language interest for a while now. So, that’s that.
PAM: Thank you so much. I love that level of detail, Erin. It’s so fascinating. And it’s so true that so often we don’t see the connections between the things until we’re looking back a while, until it becomes much more obvious, like, “Let’s learn Latin together.” So, it’s like, languages.
And then through that, you’re picking up and noticing stuff that you had seen, but now you’re connecting them and building that thread. Which is why so often we talk about just supporting whatever they’re into at the moment, without projecting forward that they’re going to do something in particular with it, because you never know all the little twists and turns it’s going to take.
ERIN: So true.
PAM: And it’s so fascinating to look back. And the other piece that jumped out, too, is the wide areas of interest. It’s something we’ve talked about lots, but it’s just so fascinating how even in the same family, kids will be attracted to different things when they have the space. It’s not, in this family, the kids do this and the parents sign them up for the things that they feel a well-rounded childhood or whatever is, with all the best of intention. But it’s much more typical.
And when kids are free to choose uniquely what they are interested in, it’s just so different and so fascinating to see. It can be things that the parents might not even be interested in. Stock market stuff. And I know we’ve talked before about the skateboarding community. And we had talked about my son and his karate community and stunt community, how supportive and just really nice so many of those communities are.
And the pandemic stories, how a lot of that has shifted for them, but they’ve found other things that have caught their interest that they can do within the situation. So, it’s not like it’s fun, but that curiosity is still there. “Oh, gee, within the constraints that I have right now, what else can I do?” Because I find there are, so often, a lot of things that they would be interested in pursuing given the space.
ERIN: Absolutely. Yeah. And it makes me think, my daughter had kind of gotten back into sewing and learned a bit of quilting. And so, just shifting that artistic piece in ways that she might not have otherwise.
PAM: Yeah. That’s so interesting.
And you hinted a bit at the beginning about your journey and I want to dive into that, how you discovered unschooling and what that move looked like.
But I really liked that piece you talked about, how you were unschooling for a while, and then you brought some curriculum in, as the kids were interested and were curious about that. And it fell by the wayside, too, after a while.
It is so fascinating to see, when you’re not so worried about the definitions of things and, “Are we doing it right?” And, “Can we call it this, that, or the other thing?” When you’re actually focused with your kids and helping your kids pursue things that they’re interested in, in the ways they’re interested in, it doesn’t matter so much about what it looks like from the outside.
ERIN: Exactly. That makes a lot of sense.
PAM: So, how did you first discover unschooling? Because I guess it was probably around the same time I did, too, but I didn’t know anybody doing it.
ERIN: You would be a little bit ahead of me, maybe. Your kids are a little older, but I guess you didn’t start at the beginning, did you?
PAM: Exactly. It was 2002 when we got started.
ERIN: Okay. Yeah. And I think we were the beginning of 2003, maybe. So, it was around the same time. Yeah. So, I was thinking about this question and I think there were a couple of pieces that came together, as I’m sure it is with lots of people, and came into alignment.
And I think what actually set the stage, if I’m thinking about it from my own perspective, even I can see some threads starting back when I was really little and some observations that I started to make when I was in kindergarten. I have these vivid memories of things that didn’t make sense to me. But you don’t know there’s any other option.
Where I grew up, it was a rural community. We didn’t have junior kindergarten. And I actually think lots of places in the world don’t, necessarily, but here in Ontario we have two years of kindergarten. We didn’t have that, but we had this really little country nursery school and it was quite lovely actually. I remember there were goats and there was this lovely teacher. It was a lot of outside stuff.
And I went for about six weeks and then I think I got strep throat or something. I can’t remember, but I just decided not to go back. And there was no real reason. I think my parents said I just couldn’t see any reason to go back. It’s like, I had done that. It was over. I’d had the experience.
So, moving into kindergarten would have been my first school, being in a larger group setting. And it was still a small, rural school. But I remember my first assembly. And, to me, even though it was a small school, it was kindergarten to grade eight. So, there would have been nine classes. And that still seemed pretty big at that point.
And I remember all the classes filing in and then the teacher would sit at the end of each row with their respective class. And I remember asking my mom, telling her about the assembly, and saying, “Why do the teachers sit on chairs and the kids all sit on the floor?” And she said to me, “Well, there’s a lot of traffic in the gym. There are people coming in and out. The floor is very dirty. The teachers can’t sit on the floor. It’s too dirty for them.”
I wasn’t upset about it, but that was a really strong memory for me, that I was like, “Oh, but the kids can sit on the dirty floor?” And, thinking back, at that time, a lot of the teachers wore suits and skirts. I mean, it really did make sense for them to be in the chair for lots of reasons. But I think I just had a lot of observations like that.
I actually remember my first mistake that I made in school. And those kinds of things just had an impact on me and not in a big way. They just stuck in my mind. I think we were coloring produce and you were only to color the fruit. And I got in the flow of coloring and suddenly, I realized I was halfway through a potato. And I knew. I was like, oh! And I just remember it being a big deal. The teacher got called over to the table, because nobody was making a mistake on these sheets. So, it was just this sense almost of trickery, like I’m enjoying the coloring, but that’s not actually what they were asking us to do. They wanted to know something different.
And even reading groups, because there were a few of us who really were getting into reading in kindergarten. And I remember my teacher got in trouble, because she was letting us read and it wasn’t in the curriculum. And then, in grade one we had reading group one, two, and three, and it was very leveled. And I just remember, if you gave me a class list now, I could tell you who was in those groups. And that really stuck with me, the labeling of that, in a weird way. I don’t know why I was thinking about these things, but those kinds of things just really stuck with me.
And just a lot of the way that certain kids got treated, I just always noticed it. And so, finally, I guess I just remember riding home on the bus one night and my house was near the end of the route. And so, most of the kids were off and I can remember having this thought of like, oh, now I can be myself. So, I think it was maybe I was starting to realize I was an introvert, too. Didn’t have the language for it. And I would get home and just develop stories and write poetry. And I had all these things. I wasn’t writing, but I was creating it all the time.
And so, leaving school was just always the time when I was really learning. And I could see that somehow, at that age. I did fine in school. But it just was never something I really felt I could be myself. It kind of felt like there was a persona and the real learning happened when I got home.
PAM: Wow. That is so interesting. And it is valuable as we move to unschooling to really think about our experiences, because we notice those pieces that, at first, it’s like, yeah, I did fine in school and you move on to the next stage and the next stage as you’re just following the path. So, to take that time. There are definitely some times that stick out for me, too. There’s a kindergarten one. There’s a grade three one. You remember the grades.
I can see the faces and the judging of the kids just from the teachers, but yeah. We were still doing our thing and learning our things, but it is interesting to bring that lens back and look at our school years and just start to see them with a fresh eye. And just realize what was actually going on. When we were in it, there were these flashes of things, but then you have the next day and you have the next day. So, now we can start weaving the connections between those things and start to understand a little bit more the impact on us.
ERIN: Yeah, exactly. So, from the outside, it looked like I was doing fine, but even in my last year of high school, I fast tracked to get out. But again, I didn’t know there was another option. So, when my oldest was a baby, I was out for a walk with another mum and she told me that she was planning to homeschool. And I was like, “What? Sorry?” And then she told me she had been homeschooled her whole life. And so that was like, wow.
I had maybe heard the word, but I don’t think I associated it with people who were literate and had children. I don’t know what I was thinking, but it really wasn’t a word that I had much familiarity with at all. So, I was like, oh wow. And so, she described it and it didn’t take much for me, because I had always kind of been trying to navigate away if I could. So, I was quite interested and kind of tucked it away, because I think my son was only about three months and we weren’t there yet.
But then, over that year, it’s like so many things in life. We were at a family resource center and there was a mum there and her kids were older and she’d been unschooling for quite a while. So, she was telling me about that process. And then I went to, it wasn’t La Leche League, but it was kind of like an offshoot group. And there was a homeschooling mom there. And so, I was like, oh, okay. Here’s somebody else.
And then I had applied for a very part-time contract and the woman who hired me, she was an unschooling parent and she and her husband, they shared work and shared parenting. And so, I was really interested in that, because I thought, oh wow. You can navigate some things here. And so, it just kept coming up.
And I think at that point, I wasn’t so much worried about what we would do, I was just excited to have the choice not to go to school. What we did within that time, at that point, was not even that interesting to me. Well, not that it was an interesting, but I wasn’t worried about a label of any kind. I was just excited that there were people that were making a different choice. And I thought that was pretty cool.
So, I think even before school age, I could just see that learning in action. My son would set up big scenes. The whole room would become things. For example, if it was a NASCAR race, he would have this huge collection of cars set up on the race track. And there was so much story, even in the race. So, he would have all the different drivers, all the different NASCAR drivers were doing things.
And so, there was the big picture story, but I could see all the little academic things within it. So, it would be, he learned his double digits from the NASCARs. And then he’d be like, the 88 is overtaking the 55. He’s in fourth. No, wait, wait. He pulls back. He’s in fifth. And so, you could see the ordinal and cardinal numbers. It didn’t seem like the type of thing that I would pull back and say, oh, he’s interested in this? Let’s do a unit study about it. It was all just driven all the time from him.
And other times, it was animals and all these habitats. And so, I could just see that there were so many pieces coming out of each thing. And it really flowed pretty well from an attachment, connected parenting point of view. All of that just seemed to make sense to keep on that wavelength.
So, the big key for me, he was very extroverted and life just went better for everybody if he was able to fill his cup and really engage with people. And so, I was really looking for community. I tried a few different things and I did start to learn a little bit more about different styles.
But I remember going some distance away. We were invited with a family that had older kids and I remember being introduced to a 15-year-old girl and the woman who had invited me said, “Oh, this is Amanda and she’s 15 and she’s this and she’s this. And she’s never used a curriculum.” And I was like, okay, that’s great. And I had been doing some of the reading, but again, my son was little and I hadn’t even really been thinking about curriculum. I was probably not planning to use curriculum, but I wasn’t necessarily calling it anything in particular. So, it took a little while.
I remember going to the science center with another family, as well. And I just remember being really tired when we left. They were unschooling. But the way that they thought of it was like everything that child did was a teachable moment. So, it was like, oh my goodness. I don’t know if I could follow my child around like that. It was like they were the curriculum, basically.
So, it took me some time to figure out what was what and, in the end, I ended up connecting with a homeschool group that really had all kinds of people. It was about connecting with the kids. We really weren’t talking a lot about methodology. So, whether somebody did a math workbook didn’t matter. And so, that was perfect for us, because there were so many families and that was a really good sense of community. And nobody really cared what framework anyone used.
I remember one parent night, people were invited to bring their curriculum or share curriculum. And I remember being a little nervous and thinking, okay. And I just brought some books we were reading and some different things he was doing. I didn’t really bring too much, but a lot of people didn’t, and I realized that everybody was so different that it was fine. So, we were just doing our thing and not really worrying too much about what it was called, I think, Pam.
PAM: Yeah. And that’s it. When you’re just hanging out with your kids and seeing what they’re doing, like you said, you’re noticing the things that they’re learning. And then, I love the story of your experience at the science center, too.
You saw the difference where the other family still had a curriculum or a point in mind and that they’re trying to help their child get out of that moment what they think they should get out of that moment. That is one way to approach it, but when you step back and notice what they’re picking up, you come to value what they’re picking up, because that’s when the learning is so meaningful to them, because that’s where their mind is in that moment.
Maybe they go to some exhibit at the science center and what they love about it is the story behind it and they ask you to read the board or they’re reading the board themselves. That’s what they love about it. Whereas if we come in and maybe it’s in the space exhibit, I love the science center, too. But we’re going in there and talking about the physics of the orbit or what planets in what order and that kind of stuff. Yeah, sure, that may be interesting to them, but it’s not where their mind was in that moment.
So, that can easily be forgotten as you go to the next exhibit. Because it’s like, “Yeah. Right. Okay. Yep. They’re in that order,” but then it’s lost. It’s not weaving into their understanding and learning longer term, which is what happens when you’re just excited in the moment and you’re picking up what you’re most curious about. There’s a difference in those kinds of styles of learning, right?
ERIN: Oh yeah, absolutely. And it just felt like there was such an agenda and we just wanted to go and enjoy ourselves. But yeah, it takes some time. And it’s not about, this is unschooling, this isn’t. They can identify themselves however they like. Just for me, I was like, oh my goodness. I don’t know.
PAM: For me, especially in that first year, as we were moving to unschooling, it was so valuable for me. We got a membership at the science center and at the museum, because that felt right. And I would be holding myself back to watch them, because talking with experienced unschoolers, they talked about that, not jumping in and directing. And so, it was really helpful for me to realize what I was interested in, to jump in with.
And part of that process is like, oh, that’s what I’m interested in about that! See then, later when you can go without the agenda, you can excitedly go in and be part of the conversation and share and point out the pieces you love without the expectation that that’s what they should be learning. But they’re sharing the pieces that they love about it, too. And that’s when the conversations just get richer, when everybody’s excitedly sharing what is connecting for them. It’s just so fascinating to see.
But it was so valuable for me to hold back, because that was part of my deschooling and seeing, okay. Just because they’re not learning what I thought they should be learning from that exhibit, I could see all the other things they were, because I didn’t jump in with my agenda upfront. And that is where you start to gain the experience with how kids, people, humans really are wired to learn in a moment.
And when you can see that, that’s where your trust in the process, your trust in your kids, all that stuff starts to really develop when you give it the space to actually unfold more naturally.
ERIN: Yes. Absolutely.
PAM: So, your oldest never did go to school. So, when school-age came, you just kind of kept going?
ERIN: Yeah, he didn’t. We did attempt a private, two-afternoon a week school. The intention was certainly to homeschool. I think his friend was going and I was hoping that it might give me a little time with the younger kids, but he wasn’t having it. So, that was our only attempt. We made a little attempt like that.
Yeah. He decided on his own. He did his last couple years of high school. He wanted to do that, but certainly in those early years, no. And of course, then when he did want to go, I really didn’t want him to go in high school. There was no winning there. It was just the way it goes.
PAM: We learn so much from them, don’t we?
ERIN: Oh my goodness. Yeah. Absolutely.
PAM: So, I remember that as I was embracing unschooling that, just like I was talking there about the science center trips, so much of that work was internal, focused on connecting and supporting and engaging with my kids rather than teaching them. That was what I was learning as I transitioned there.
But certainly, it can be hard to imagine and understand what that actually looks like in practice. Like I said, it was experienced unschoolers just saying, “You know what? Just relax for a bit. Just see where they lead you.” But it can be hard at first, because you come with these intentions, all good intentions that we want them to learn these things, and we want to help teach them. What are we going to do instead of teaching them? How are they going to learn the things?
Anyway, all that to say, I would love to hear what the transition to unschooling looked like for you and how you approached your unschooling days.
ERIN: Sure. Yeah. And I just agree. It is absolutely our work. It doesn’t end, really. It’s ongoing. Each age and stage just brings new things. And I think to each new interest or aspect of an interest, I find there’s a little bit of work to do, because I think, for me at least, if I’m getting engaged in something that they’re involved in and then they move out of it and I’m still a little bit there.
For example, I had that happen with my daughter’s choir, for example. She was really excited to join and it required quite a lot of parent involvement. And I was like, okay. I’ll do this. I’ll be the choir parent and help supervise the sleepovers, do the whole thing. And then, over time you get to know the other parents and the kids and it even became part of my schedule. I would do some work while she was in practice. We made it work.
And then, when they say they’re maybe wanting to move on or thinking about moving on, it’s like, oh, but I’ve just worked to get here and now you’re switching. And so, I think I had described it in the Network, there are these little pieces of grief that I find. And some of them are maybe larger decisions like that, like really moving on from something that they’ve been part of and has maybe been part of their identity.
And then sometimes it’s just smaller things, like inviting them to do something, to watch a movie or to do something and no one’s interested in it. You’re just a bit disappointed. And then there’s bigger ones still where people are making life decisions that are really hard, as a parent. So, I do think that coming to terms with the fact that there’s just this work every day, just anticipating that there will be this work.
I remember we had a few years that were just really smooth. We were just really in our sweet spot and I think the kids, they were out of car seats, but they weren’t yet thinking about future plans. It was just this really good chunk of a few years. And I think I felt really confident at that time. I did. We were rolling. We’d been doing this for a while and everybody was kind of aligned. Different interests, but it was still working.
And then, we started to hit ages where people wanted different things. Somebody wanted to try some provincial credits and somebody else wanted to stay really free flowing. And I was like, whoa. Who are we? What’s going on? And it was a little overwhelming for a while, because it just felt out of the zone that we’d been in. And I think when we get overwhelmed, I don’t think I’m the only one, we feel out of control and we want to pull some control back.
So, for me, what that looks like, probably to my children at least, let’s say somebody’s really spending a whole lot of time on the iPad. And for some reason, they’ve given up something else and I’m like, what? They’re on the couch all day. What’s going on? What that can look like for me is suddenly, “You know what? We need to go for a hike tonight.”
Because, for me, going for a hike solves most of my problems. So, that’s where I go. It’s kind of like, okay, we’ll connect, we’ll get outside. But I can suggest that and quite possibly nobody is interested and usually, they have other plans for themselves. They’re diving into stuff.
And so, the very thing that I’m feeling overwhelmed about is often actually a real point of excitement for them, because they’re diving into something new. So, it’s like, I’m feeling out of control and they’re actually feeling a sense of autonomy and control about either making a decision to leave an activity they were done with or diving into something online. And I just don’t get it yet, what they’re doing. And so, there’s this mismatch.
So, I think what I have been working on the last few years is really just keeping anchored within myself so that I can have a little more clarity around, I guess, where I end and they begin, because I think it’s just when you’re spending time together and you’re trying to make things work for everybody and you’re facilitating stuff, my tendency is I can take things personally sometimes if they change or people aren’t interested.
So, I’ve just been trying to use one of your terms to stay open and curious about what it is that they’re shifting gears with and just being curious with myself. What is this feeling? Am I disappointed? Am I scared? Am I angry? What is going on that I’m coming in and going, “Okay! We’re all going for a hike!” It’s not quite that.
PAM: No. I get it.
ERIN: That’s the aggressive version of that.
PAM: Erin, that was amazing. There were so many great pieces in there.
I love that you said, I don’t know what they’re doing or what they’re getting out of it yet. That “yet” is really important to understand. Recognizing that when we’re feeling uncomfortable, which can feel like a loss of control, because we don’t quite know what’s going on yet, especially as our kids shift from one thing to the next.
When we’re feeling uncomfortable, that tendency to think about the things that bring us comfort and wanting everybody else to do that. That’s what brings us comfort and control and, “I know when I go out for walk, everything’s going to feel more centered. I’m going to be able to reset.”
And part of it is we want everybody else to do that, too, because we’re feeling out of control with other people in the family. So, without thinking almost, we just kind of feel like this will reset everybody. This will reset my relationship that’s feeling a little bit out of control or uncomfortable with my kids or with one or two of them. Here’s where we can get ourselves reconnected. Understanding that we’re wanting to reconnect on our terms and in a way that makes us feel comfortable is okay.
And understanding that it’s totally okay if that doesn’t sound good to them. And to realize that’s part of the work that we were talking about earlier, too. I tried to get them to do my thing. Reconnecting so often helps us better understand what’s going on. Even if we’re not literally talking about it, we’re seeing what they’re doing. We’re seeing what’s catching their interest. We’re seeing their eyes lighting up when they’re doing whatever the thing is.
So, it was so helpful for me to remember that just because they aren’t interested in coming here, that doesn’t mean we can’t connect. I can go to them. And then I learned so much more. And every single time I did that, the discomfort went away, not immediately, but I could process my way through the uncomfortableness, because I could actually see what was going on for them. It was like, oh yeah, look. They’re excited. They feel in control. They’re diving right in. They feel such agency. All that stuff, you don’t see when you’re standing over here going, “Jeepers, creepers. I just want to go for a hike.”
And I love the way you described understanding that boundary, like where they end and we start. Because we are dancing with them all the time, for me, the way you phrased that, that’s just a beautiful way to describe the walk versus connecting with them over what they like. Understanding that my interests don’t need to be their interests. Seeing where I end and they start and where I can choose to come and join them and I can invite them to come with me, but understanding that we’re still two different people, right?
ERIN: Yeah, exactly.
And I find that the more that I just engage in my interests, and there’s seasons of life for all of us. We have more time than others. There are some days when you have young kids, it’s really hard. But you can still be verbally showing them the things you’re interested in.
And I find that they’re very interested in the fact that I’m interested in things. For example, I’m just really obsessed with things. We’ve had the whole mating ritual of the cardinals and our rabbits are back and there was a fox in our backyard. So, I’m watching all this interplay all the time and I’m really the one interested in it. But they’re always calling me. “Mom! Your cardinal is back!”
And they are actually very interested in my interests for me. It’s not that they are being rude or won’t engage. They are. And they will almost strew stuff. They’ll bring stuff to me based on my interests. But it’s clearly my interest. And that’s the difference, I think.
PAM: Yes! We could talk forever, Erin, but there’s two pieces there that really jumped out for me. One is, just as we show so much interest and joy in their interests and we are happy to engage with them and stuff, that shows them how fun it can be to just share the joy of being really interested in something. There’s still that connection. It doesn’t literally need to be about the interest.
Sometimes, if our kid is playing a game or watching a show over and over or whatever, we aren’t so much interested, because, especially when they’re younger, we’ve seen it 10 times already. But, boy, we can sit there and enjoy their excitement. We can sit there and look at the fun on their face and just sink into that.
So, they really pick up that they’re just excited that we’re excited about something. And I think the other piece that that really helps is with the idea of lifelong learning, for our kids to see learning and enjoyment of life in action as adults. Learning is happening in our family, no matter what the age, no matter what it is that we’re really excited about, but it happens for human beings.
So, I think living it alongside your child and just being curious about the things that you’re curious about. You don’t have to force yourself, but it might take some peeling back, because we’ve grown up learning that kids learn and adults work, or you’re done. As an adult, you’re done. You should be able to answer all the questions. So, to get that childlike wonder and engagement with the world and being open and curious and just exploring the things that are interesting to us, living that alongside our kids is just so beautiful, because, yes, they are excited for us.
My kids will send me a video about something. They’ll call me to the window when they see the turkeys walking through the yard, because they know. And then that’s just another level, I think, of unschooling where the whole family is just engaged and living and learning together and just supporting each other. It’s another level where it’s not about adults and kids doing different things. It’s about human beings living together and enjoying what they’re doing.
PAM: Now, over the years, you have woven together unschooling and some paid work. You alluded to that earlier.
So, I thought you might share a little bit about what it looked like to navigate working and unschooling.
ERIN: Sure. Yeah. Sometimes I feel like I’ve navigated it better than others. So, I had started some very part time work, I guess a day a week and an evening a week, when my oldest was one. And at that time, it was very much around my husband’s schedule and my son’s schedule. And it was actually nice. My dad would come and ride his motorbike up and take care of him. It was good.
So, I continued to work part time. And then my husband’s company did very fast layoffs at a job that we thought had a lot of job security. And it was an overnight thing that happened in the company. And so, I expanded what I was doing very quickly. I was very thankful really to have that opportunity to be able to expand.
I work in social work and counseling and that’s had a few different faces over the years. For the most part, I do longer-term planning and coordination with families within the realm of neurodiversity, both children and adults, but very much people who are choosing to live individually. So, not group homes or day programs, but really working with their whole individual life, which I really enjoy. And then, I was also a prenatal educator and a doula for a lot of years. So, it was a few different things going on. And, you know what? I think we found some creative ways to figure it out.
For a couple of years, I really dove in until my husband got himself back on track. And then we had our own contracts and we both decided to navigate that. And that has worked actually pretty well for the most part.
But, yeah. I think it’s an interesting conversation, because I think it holds a lot of people back from either unschooling or homeschooling. I remember if I had board meetings, every basketball court and library near buildings, the kids would come and bring snacks and I would check in with them part way through. So, there was a lot of that kind of thing. And there was some trading off with another mom where I would have her crew for the day and then she would have a mine another day of the week.
But it can also be pretty hectic. I can remember one time, because some of these calls are quite confidential, so I try to have a quiet phone call at home. And the kids were fairly young and I remember it was a fairly intense call and I came out to the living room and there are huge bags of Oreos all over the place and big things of pop. Normally we have them, but not in the middle of the living room.
And I said to them, “Where did you guys find all these?” Because I think there were a large volume. They’d been put away for like an event or something. And my son said, “Well, you came out and threw them at us partway through the conversation.” I have no memory of firing bags of Oreos at my children, but sure enough, I went and there was a chair, because I can’t reach the top, because I had them stored.
I subconsciously was so much trying to stay present with this phone call and I was firing food at my kids. And so, as much as there were some really great workarounds, there definitely have been some times that have been tricky to stay present and stay focused, for sure.
And I think another piece that I needed to let go of a little bit, and I think I talked about this in the Network one time, I had this feeling that life began when I got home from work. So, I would plan everything so that everything had been done for the day and then I would work in the evenings. Or if I did have to work in the day, I remember just really trying to get home, because then we could start whatever.
And I started to find all these amazing photos and videos, so if it was a time that my husband was home with them, really cool green screen stuff, all this cool stuff he was doing. If it was a time we were both working, even just talking to my friend about the different things they were doing. I was able to let go a little bit of the idea that it has to be all about me and my time.
But I do think if in going online and looking it up, “homeschooling and working”, a lot of times, they’ll give you a list of hacks. “10 ways you can rock,” whatever, and I’m not specific. I’m just making this up, but it’s that type of thing. And so often, it’s about assigning seat work at a certain time while you’re doing this or coordinating this and the problem is, when you’re whole-life learning, it doesn’t look like that. You need to be there. You need that connection.
So, I think I’ve always gone back and forth a little bit in my mind with really trying to appreciate that there is good stuff happening when I’m not there, but also recognizing that it’s hard, because you need to see the big picture to feel comfortable sometimes. You know, Pam, I have no answers. It’s just something that I think is interesting to explore, because I think so many people, especially after this pandemic, are interested in trying some different things. But I think many people are held back by figuring out how to navigate that.
PAM: Yeah. I love you sharing that piece. The different views, different aspects of it, because, again, ups and downs and flows. I love the way you were paying attention to being able to say, sometimes you felt like you really needed to know that bigger picture.
For me, I didn’t try to do work outside the home or stuff like that while they were younger, it was finding moments to write the books and stuff that I’ve written over the years and hosted conference and stuff like that. I think something that can help is about feeling out how your kids are feeling and how you’re feeling with the arrangements. And then there’s the constraints, like when your husband was laid off quickly and immediately, being able to play with it.
Like you were saying, sometimes it’s a fear, like I don’t even want to start, because number one, can I even unschool if I’m working? One parent needs to be home all the time. But playing with that, knowing that there’s possibilities, knowing that there can be ways to figure out, creative ways to find. Maybe you’ve got some family close. You said sometimes your husband was with them while you were out. Sometimes you had your dad or whomever come over or the other family, or they came with you, there are just lots of possibilities of how things can unfold.
And then it’s really about checking in with ourselves. That separation, that layer you peeled back about how life can go on and they can be having fun and being engaged without me being there. So, getting to that level of comfort, but then also the paying attention to, how am I feeling about it? How did they feel? If they are consistently getting upset when we’re not there, that’s something to look at and play around with and talk with them about, have those conversations.
It’s not that one answer fits for everybody, right? It’s something that you play with that changes, as well, over the years. So, I love that you wanted to talk about this, because it doesn’t necessarily need to hold us back. And again, it’s more about the individuals involved. I know there’s been some unschooling parents whose kids, especially when their kids were younger, were not comfortable with them leaving, so they would make other arrangements. Maybe, if they could, they left work for a while.
Maybe they figured out ways to work from home more. A university professor who went and did online classes instead of going into the school. She shifted her work that way. There are just creative possibilities when you open the box and start being curious about it.
ERIN: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that it can be a lot and I think it’s really okay if you don’t need to, and it doesn’t work. I think there’s so much pressure for people to do all the things and maintaining a family and a home is a lot already, and that’s kind of been forgotten a little bit. So, yeah, I think there’s all kinds of ways to think about it. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. It’s just opening the opening the box up a little bit more.
Now, I wanted to mention your blog, Ever Learning, because I’ve had so much fun over the last few months reading around there. I went back there before our call, and one post that really spoke to me was Shining Our Light: Kindness as Mindset. I really sunk into it, because it’s not about the big, grand gestures, really.
The big gestures are fun and those are awesome, but that’s not the only way to connect. That’s not the only way to be kind. Those small moments of everyday kindness really do make such a big difference. Don’t they?
ERIN: Yeah, they do. And I think that post starts with my son and his paper route. I think it had to do with just those little pieces and the way that the customers were appreciating him or not. It’s interesting. I think we always think about kindness, but I hadn’t really thought about how it flows into our life and our families just in those little ways.
I think I find if I just make a point of really being intentional about just all those things, really saying good morning, bringing snacks, being in a store and seeing a new kind of food and thinking, I think so-and-so would love that. And it is all those little things and it’s just like loading up the front end of things. It’s just really bringing all this lovely energy.
There’s a blog, Taking a Kinder Path, Hayley. And she also writes a lot about home education and I started reading that and I thought, yeah, there’s such a connection here with attachment parenting and the way we go about our life with our kids.
And I can remember we’ve had paper routes for a long time and I would often be out there, especially if it was really hot or snowy or whatever. And we had a couple people holler out, “Whose paper route is this anyway? I wish my mom had done my paper for me,” insinuating that I shouldn’t be helping or whatever. And it just made me think, that isn’t the culture that I want to have in our family.
To me, if it’s snowy out, it was kind of like, “Hey, do you want an extra set of hands? It’s going to take a long time tonight.” Because I feel like that comes back to me. When I ask for help with something, the last thing I want somebody to say to me is, “You know, mom, you should have organized your time better. This is your job.”
So, it’s funny that the paper sparked that post, but that has been a symbol for me, the paper route, because I do know there are a lot of people on it who are like, “What? Why is the mom out there a lot of the time?” But it’s just been always something that I’ve enjoyed helping with. And it ties in, I think, to that kindness theme of just helping one another and not having a culture of tit for tat, or, “This is your job,” just being available.
PAM: I think those kinds of comments reflect this value that we have culturally of independence. That, if at all possible, our kids should be doing this themselves, that we are coddling them if we’re helping them. That is such a story to peel back the layers on and to realize that interdependence, relationships, connection, and helping each other out, what a culture! What a more helpful culture to have in a family, in a community, because then it just grows bigger and bigger.
And all those little acts of kindness show that we see them and show that we care to help them when they would like some help. Like you said, not only do we also get that back, not in an expectation kind of way, but just in, this is what we do as human beings, but also all of that kindness in those little moments, oh my gosh. Don’t they help those bigger moments too? Oh my gosh. The connection and the trust that are built in all those little moments just make those bigger moments a little bit easier to navigate, I think.
And I love that you used the word “interdependence” and I think kindness is so related to that. It’s just acknowledging, whether it’s with our family, whether it’s out somewhere and we’re seeing people and we give somebody a hand or whatever, it really is that sense of, “We’re all in this together. How can I help?” I think kindness is very linked to interdependence.
PAM: That’s not a bad thing. I think that’s really interesting. So many times, just out in the world, like you said, just seeing somebody that you’re passing in a hallway and catching their eye and smiling and saying, hi. Oh my gosh, what a difference it makes. People will be taken aback for a moment and I’ve gone places, even when it was just me or me and the kids, places that we would go to regularly, after a while, whether it’s a cashier or somebody who’s in that place pretty regularly, they’d be like, “You guys are always smiling,” or, “You guys are always having fun.” It’s just being out in the world.
And that kindness and a little bit of compassion for other people is noticeable, because it’s different, but it’s well received, isn’t it?
ERIN: It is. It is. Yeah.
PAM: So, when we connected, you mentioned your concerns about the accessibility of unschooling. And that came out, too, when we were talking about ways we might weave work together with homeschooling.
I would like to hear some more of your thoughts around ways for unschooling to be more accessible and affordable to more people.
ERIN: Yeah. So, I have so many thoughts with this. I don’t want to get too political. So, it’s something I’ve thought about, I think, probably from the beginning of the time that we’ve been involved in home education, but I don’t know. Some of it might be my work and just working with all kinds of different people. And even when I was working as a doula, I worked with a wide range of families and some of it might just be, I think, over the years in my parenting, coming across lots of different people and realizing that they were quite curious and were interested, but there are these barriers for lots of people.
And I know it’s a little frustrating, because lots of home educating people make all kinds of sacrifices. And there are lots of people who will say, “Oh, I wish I could do that. I could never do that.” And you know they’re making different choices. And so, that’s not really what I’m talking about.
There are just, I think especially for kids who’ve maybe been identified as neurodivergent in some way, certainly for children in poor families, there is this narrative that school is the savior. It’s the saving grace. It’s got the programs. It’s got the resources.
I’m connected with a few families who are new to Canada and it would be really hard to navigate taking your children out of that system and certainly to move in a self-directed, unschooling direction. Oh my goodness. That would be a red flag if you’re being watched by any kind of entity.
So, I think over time, I’ve just really been thinking about that. How does this work and what does this look like? I am slightly heartened by the fact that over the last few years, I think there’s a movement in community to make the learning hubs. Libraries have become learning hubs and community hubs in a way that they didn’t used to be.
And so, close to me, we have a few different maker spaces where they’ve got 3D printers and all sorts of building materials and families can come and take out iPads or use iMacs and those same spaces have like improv classes and Toastmaster, all kinds of different things. There’s also an art gallery that does a lot of really good programming, just community, free programming. And I’m starting to see more of that.
So, I think there is a shift toward almost community learning and certainly you see it online, but I don’t know. It is frustrating to see people kind of stuck under this, “My kids need to be in school, because that’s where the resources are and that’s where the programming is.”
I do know of a couple of unschooling families who don’t have internet and don’t have a car and they manage in really great ways. They use the library. They take out great numbers of books. They use the technology there. They go to the art programs. They go to the community events. It’s not impossible, but I think almost more than a financial thing, it’s almost more of that you have to have the personal resources to go forward and do that.
So, again, Pam, it’s one of those things where I don’t have any great answers, but I just I just wanted to bring it up, because I think it’s important. I think we’ve seen it socioeconomically, racially. Everybody should have choice. Everybody should have choice. And for some people, school does feel like a good choice for them. And so, that’s where they put their energy. And then there’s other movements toward things like democratic schools and that kind of thing and whatever is a fit for people, I think it’s just really important to have that choice.
For me, I just feel most comfortable in something that’s rooted in family and community. For me, that’s real life. And so, I’m just always thinking that through. I have connected with people individually sometimes and shared resources and done some different things, but it’s definitely something that I think about is how is there real choice for people? And I think it’s slow movement, but I do think we are moving. The world is moving toward more choice-based and I think that eventually that will trickle more widely. So, yeah.
PAM: Yeah. I love the question. I love that it’s something that you pondered.
ERIN: A lot.
PAM: I like that you kept mentioning choice there, because I think for both of us, that was the start of our journey, the realization that there was a choice. And for people who are feeling stuck for resources, they’re not really seeing the choice there.
So, as you’re saying, we’re seeing more and more spaces developing where you can see learning in different contexts outside of the classroom. And we also have more opportunity in those contexts to see our kids in action, versus them being in the school and we just see them at the end of the day. And, “What did you learn today?” “Nothing,” kind of conversations.
But when we’re taking them to the maker spaces and we’re seeing them do some things, or we’re going to the library, we’re availing ourselves of the programs that they’re interested in. Even if school is in the picture, we’re seeing other ways. And that’s how you start to see that there are real choices in there. And then you can start asking yourself some more questions about, would this be a good fit for my child? How might I make this work income-wise? All those questions can start to bubble up and we feel we can ponder them, versus the school is the only way, because we think that’s legally pretty much it, or resource-wise, we don’t think we could do anything but that.
To see the world a little bit bigger and to see that there are other possibilities, we can start to see that we might actually be able to make a choice. And once that lid starts to peek up, that’s when, like we did, you start reading more about it. All of a sudden, things start popping up in your life and you say, oh geez, here’s that homeschooling thing again.
All of a sudden, you start to see it everywhere once that little seed is planted. “Oh, that kid at that program, they don’t go to school and they’re still having fun. They’re still playing basketball like a normal kid.” It really depends on the history and the lens that each person brings to the situation as to what is going to connect for them, what’s going to be interesting for them.
But yeah, I think at the root of that is just growing the understanding that there are real choices out there, right?
ERIN: Yeah. That is such a good point. You’re right.
When you start looking for it, or maybe you’re not even looking for it, but you just notice it. So, I do think there’s some good energy around it, but it’s hard. If you’re in a situation where you have resources at school, it’s hard to leave the known for the unknown. It’s really hard. So, it’s kind of like, what do you replace it with? And sometimes you have to build that foundation first.
PAM: That is a great point. So, just allowing yourself to ask the question doesn’t mean you need to immediately change anything. Now you’re learning, well, what does that look like instead? And that’s where you start putting together that foundation that you talked about, starting to discover what other resources are out there that you may not have noticed before, because you weren’t looking. So, yeah. Oh, it’s so fascinating. I love that. It’s a great question. Keep pondering, Erin.
So, after all these years, I would love to know what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded for you guys?
ERIN: I thought about this one and it’s hard to come up with one. But what I’m going to say, collaboration. I think that’s what I’m going to say. I think the sibling relationships, but even just family and extended family relationships, there’s just so much willingness to share everything from money to ideas.
Maybe somebody is looking for a new piece of technology and they are slightly short of money and, all of a sudden, somebody else is partnering with them. And I don’t know if that’s directly related at all to this whole life, but I think it is. I think there’s just so much sharing of ideas and willingness to help out. And it’s really neat. It’s just like all this parallel living and people dip in and out. And I think until my kids got older, I really couldn’t have imagined how cool this is.
PAM: It’s that interdependence piece, right? You really don’t consider that. Like you said, especially when they’re younger, we’re more their hands, trying to do the things that they’re trying to do. But as they get through that stage and they can take care of those kinds of things for themselves, then you get more into the realm of ideas. You get more into the realm of connection and relationships and being able to help each other out, how that flows. And it doesn’t take away from independence at all. Everybody’s fully got their agency, their autonomy, and yet how beautifully that all weaves together.
ERIN: It’s like the independence you were talking about, right?
PAM: Oh, that is wonderful. I love that piece.
And I love the word collaboration for it, too, because then that’s like, everybody’s just trying to help each other out. Again, it’s not that everybody needs to get something out of it. Like what we were talking about before, they don’t have to be interested in our interest, but they’re interested in us as a person and a human being and they love that we’re interested in the thing. If they can help us do the things that we’re trying to accomplish, we all help each other trying to accomplish those things.
ERIN: Yeah, exactly.
PAM: That’s so beautiful. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Erin. It was so much fun!
ERIN: Oh, Pam. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
PAM: I’m so glad. It was such a joy. And before we go, where can people connect with you online if they’d like to get in touch?
ERIN: Oh, great. Well, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am not a huge social media person, but I did dip back in a little bit. So, I do have an Instagram account again. And I think that’s @ever.learning. And then the website is everlearning.ca.
PAM: I’ll put the links to all of that and we’ll make sure we get them all right. I’ll put those links in the show notes and that’s awesome. Thanks so much, Erin.
ERIN: Okay. Thank you, Pam.