PAM: Hello explorers! I’m Pam Laricchia and this is episode number 296 of the podcast.
This week, I’ve put together a compilation episode exploring deschooling discoveries. One of the many things I love about the unschooling journey is how unexpected it can be. I mean, so often when we start out, it’s all about the kids. It’s our answer to the question, “Should we send them to school or not?” We choose not. Sounds pretty simple, but then things get really interesting!
As we dive deeper and deeper into deschooling, we begin to question so many things! Things we thought were pretty much facts—about children, about learning, about relationships, about how the world works.
And many podcast guests have shared how surprised they were that the unschooling journey entailed a lot of personal growth and transformation. That so much of it is our work to do, not the kids—their living and learning soon flows beautifully as we release our need to try to control it.
So, in this episode, I’ve gathered some clips in which guests share their, often surprising, deschooling discoveries and insights. It’s so interesting to hear them side by side! I suspect new connections and insights will bubble up for you as you listen.
But before we dive in, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has chosen to support the podcast through Patreon. And a big welcome to new patron, Susan Myrick. Hi, Susan! I deeply appreciate all my patrons. Your generous support helps pay for the hosting and transcription, as well as my time spent creating new episodes each week. It’s instrumental in keeping the podcast archive freely available to anyone who’s curious and wants to explore the fascinating world of unschooling. If you’d like to join my community of patrons and scoop up some great rewards along the way, check out the Exploring Unschooling page on patreon.com. That’s P A T R E O N dot com forward slash exploringunschooling.
So, let’s get started with Jennie Gomes. This clip is from episode 88, titled, Deschooling — A Year Later. It’s the second conversation I had with her on the podcast, checking in again to see how her perspective had grown and changed in the past year.
Here’s what she shared:
PAM: What were some of your bigger fears or uncertainties as you first began unschooling and now what do they look like?
JENNIE: I knew that in order to do it right, I had to commit. I had to commit to unschooling. And that was really hard for me at first. So, I think the biggest hurdle was accepting that the schoolish ways or my schoolish definitions weren’t the only measures of intelligence.
For example, it was hard for me to accept that my kids wouldn’t be able to read or do math until they were older. Once I accepted that, and once I started to focus more on what they could do, instead of what they couldn’t do, it changed my focus completely.
That was when I really started to dive into unschooling and that’s when more doors started to open for me. The more I read, the more lightbulb moments that I had, and the more that I looked at them, the more wonderful things that I saw, and the more peaceful that I became because the more comfortable I became and the more we settled in just to day-to-day life. So that’s sort of how it went from being really hard to just stepping back, looking at it and settling into something a little more calm.
PAM: It goes back and forth, doesn’t it, right? It’s like, we take a step, then we watch and we see some things in them, and that gives us a little more confidence, and we take the next step and see how our new way of interacting—or even just our new way of seeing things—we see that reflected back in the kids and it’s just back and forth and back and forth.
JENNIE: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s amazing to just watch them grow and learn and take things in. So, it was finding comfort with that, and then my own ideas of schoolish ways, and stepping away from that not being the only indicator of intelligence or that not being the only important thing. And focusing in on what they learn, what they knew already, really helped me.
PAM: You’re right—committing to taking the time to widening how we define learning, I think that’s it. Because we are so trained growing up to that there is a specific way to measure learning and intelligence, right? And that’s the right way…
JENNIE: Like, it’s bonus points if your kid is three and knows how to read, it’s like, ‘Wow, you must be a great parent if your kid knows how to read that early!’
PAM: Exactly! It’s not only a definition of our children but it’s a definition of us and our role as parents.
JENNIE: Absolutely. So, stepping away from that I think was hard for me, but once I got over that, that really helped me dive into unschooling. Because the more I read about unschooling, the more sense it made. It’s like one of those things you feel, it’s like a thread in your mind that once—and it’s a quote you mentioned, you mentioned in one of your first podcasts—it’s like, once you see something, you can’t unsee it. And so, I remember that quote. It’s like, once you learn something, and the more I learned about unschooling, I couldn’t just avoid that I had learned that.
PAM: It’s like this seed inside you, right?
JENNIE: Absolutely, and then it starts to grow and the more you nurture it the more it grows, so that’s how it happened for me.
PAM: The quote Jennie mentioned is one I shared in the intro to episode 2 of the podcast and is attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”
Or, as Jennie describes it, once you see something, you can’t unsee it.
And I think her point is spot on about the importance of widening how we define learning, and the value of stepping away from defining ourselves as parents through our children’s accomplishments. It’s so commonplace in our society, yet it diminishes so much of our children’s agency and choice in the process.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Now, let’s hear from Kinsey Norris. We spoke about her deschooling journey in episode 206. She has a background in Early Childhood Education and it was fascinating to see how many seeds were planted along the way that ultimately grew into the amazing unschooling life they are living as a family today. Here’s what she shared about her deschooling discoveries.
PAM: I’m curious what you found to be the most challenging aspect of deschooling. As you found unschooling in your moving that way, embracing that more and more. You didn’t need the school room, Nick’s man cave?
KINSEY: He was so happy to find out he didn’t need to lose his room (laughing).
PAM: So, I was curious to hear what your experience of working through all of different aspects of deschooling looked like.
KINSEY: It was such a huge relief to me too because like I said, I’m a really kind of a scanner type person. I’m the epitome of unfinished projects. So, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, a schoolroom. I’ll never finish that!’ (laughing) Yeah, that was a really easy one to let go, thankfully.
You’re right, I think a lot of the natural learning part and things like that were pretty easy for me to move through because of my background. There’s been a couple of times in the past where I panicked briefly about reading or something like that. When I was first starting to purchase foods and bring foods into the house that I hadn’t ever brought into the house before, I had a little bit of, couple of panicky moments about things like that that. I was able to pretty easily peel back the layers there and move through those things.
So, I would say. This makes me feel really vulnerable, by the way. But that’s ok. It’s honestly the challenge. So, really I don’t feel like my challenge had to do much with the kids at all. My challenges were more really personal and internal, about myself. Really embracing, becoming the learner again after having been an educator about learning and being someone that others came to a lot of times for answers about children and learning and connection and things like that, for a good part of a decade. But embracing that role of being a beginner again and releasing that role of being an educator. I still very much wanted to advocate what was right for children and learning, even though I really was starting over with my own work. Does that make a whole lot of sense?
PAM: Yes, a lot of sense, yes.
KINSEY: At the beginning of our journey, I was following several Instagram, Facebook accounts and blogs and stuff that depicted unschooling in this very perfect and pretty way. Or this really trendy, kind of wild and free way. And so visually that was shaping for me what I thought good unschooling was supposed to look like. So, that’s what I was trying to create for us. So, basically in my efforts to not have my kids shoved into boxes, I was almost creating my own box for our unschooling life.
PAM: Wow, that is such a great insight, Kinsey. Because it’s so true, I mean, really, really because when you’re first learning, you’re like, what does unschooling look like? What do days look like? And you’re really searching. I mean, everybody is. I remember those times, too.
And it is so easy, not so easy. But, you know, to see how it looks in other people’s families and to feel like that’s what we should be shooting for. And I do think that is part of the journey. So many people hit that spot and it is that moment, that realization, eventually as you keep learning about it. Like you said, this is something that you’ve been interested in and you’re continuing to learn about.
But that kind of aha moment when it’s not about the what that they’re doing. It’s about the why. The what they’re doing is what fits for their family. But it’s the why. The what can look very different in our own family.
Like you said, that box, that vision that we have in our head, because we see how it looks in other people’s families. And we’re like, okay. That’s kind of what I’m shooting for. We want to know where we’re trying to get to. And then we try to make it look like that for our family.
And eventually, so often, it doesn’t really work because we’re not the same people as that other family. And the realization, and it’s so scary as well to realize that that’s an open question. What does it look like in our family? And that we can’t really look outside to see that. That we are instead creating it for ourselves. I mean, that is scary.
That beginner’s mindset, too, that you talked about. I love that as well. It’s a total role shift for us to that learning piece. But then in that learning piece, we see other things and we’re like, oh, that’s what we’re shooting for. And then we get to the point.
That’s what I love about seeing unschooling as a journey, because it’s all these little steps, all these little realizations and insights along the way and aha moments that we have as we peel away those layers like you were talking about before. Peeling away those layers and realizing those periodic kind of panic moments or anxiety moments where it’s like ‘I’m really trying to do this, but it’s not working for us. It’s not working for us.’ And then you wonder, is it the unschooling? Is it us? Is it something we’re doing wrong? And then when you’re peeling away those layers, you come to realize, ‘No, it’s not about us doing things wrong. It’s about. Those not being the things that fit well for us.’
You know what I mean? And the great thing is, the interesting thing is, talking to so many different people about unschooling and what it looks like in their lives, I hope people take away how it looks very different. Yet, you can hear the joy in all the guest’s voices as they talk about their family and everything. Because that’s the root of unschooling. That is the inner gooeyness that’s so lovely. But it looks so different for each family. But it takes a while to get there, doesn’t it?
KINSEY: Yes, it really does. And it has for me. And I think it’s continuous.
PAM: I mean, because we’re all growing and changing right along the way. We as parents are our kids are and the other thing is that as you figure out and get to a spot where everybody’s connected and relating and we can understand each other, but a good flow going in, it’s not going to stay that way.
KINSEY: You know, it was kind of doing that when I was in that, I don’t know, I still really wanted to share my passion and I wanted to really advocate for what was helpful for children and learning and connection and stuff like that. But when I was doing that in what felt like this platform kind of way. I was actually missing out on a deeper connection with my own actual children.
But as time went on, I began to just dig deeper and be more introspective. I began to make intentional choices about what things were moving us closer to real, rich unschooling, in our family. Reflecting on what was serving my relationships with my kids and getting more into this life, soaking into my bones kind of learning about unschooling instead of this surface level, kind of regurgitated, head knowledge.
PAM: For me, something that I find fascinating, is that the intellectual understanding of unschooling, that level—and that’s a great place to get to—but you can’t stop there. If you stop there, then it’s more like unschooling rules. Should I be doing this? or I have to do this and I have to say yes all the time. You know what I mean? You understand it intellectually, why it makes sense, why natural learning works and all that kind of stuff. But there’s that layer deeper where you feel it in your bones, in your soul, because that’s when you’ve gotten to the point where you have that level of self-awareness, that you’ve peeled back all that stuff and where you’ve come to value everybody as individual whole people.
And you’ve really spent that time connecting without that kind of judgment level. Without the rules framework on top of it. How does it really work for us? What does my child really enjoy doing? How do I really connect with them? Instead of sometimes maybe it’s easier to think of it instead of a role, because at first when we intellectually understand it, we’re trying to step into the role of unschooling parent. Maybe that could be one way to think about it. But the difference of actually just living it. You get to the point where you do feel it in your bones, it’s so much more than just an intellectual understanding. We’re digging deep here Kinsey!
KINSEY: My wheels are spinning. For me because I mentioned earlier that I’m very much an outward kind of processor, that’s my personality. So, I’m always feeling out from other people, what do you think? What do you think? You know, there is also this almost approval seeking or still needing to be validated or relevant or some way or something. And really what it took was me digging deeper and being with myself, which can be really difficult for me as an extroverted person.
But really digging deep into my heart and doing this tough inner work, in order to deeply sink into what true and good unschooling really feels like. That flow. When you’re in that flow, it’s just so all encompassing that I don’t know, it doesn’t even really occur to me to really even consider what other people are thinking.
PAM: When you were saying that, a way I enjoy talking about deschooling, because so often when you’re in that intellectual understanding level, you’re like, ‘OK, I’m deschooling, I need to go down this path and I want to get it done.’ When am I done? Deschooling.
KINSEY: Yes, am I done, are we there yet?!? (laughing).
PAM: And then at the end, though, once you’ve actually peeled away and done the work, it’s not even a question you ask yourself anymore. You’re not judging that anymore. You’ve gotten to that point where you’re just living and acting and being with your family and being in that flow and just living life together, and that’s where the value is. And you lose that intellectual look at feedback validation. Am I done? Am I doing it right?
KINSEY: Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I was going to say. It just kind of feels like we’re just getting on with things and we’re just living our lives together. You mentioned my posts. I do still love to share what we’re up to and what we’re enjoying and things like that. But I have a really different feeling about it now. There’s been this shift. It’s coming from a different place. And sometimes I’ll even share what feels more like journal entries almost. But I really enjoy doing that. That’s how I enjoy putting love and joy out into the world and maybe someone will see something and think, ‘Oh, well, whatever they’re doing, is this really cool or, Oh they have so much fun together.’ And, maybe it will help someone to have more fun with their kids or find more joy.
PAM: So good, right? With her education background, Kinsey needed to make a conscious shift in perspective from teacher to becoming a learner again. To being WITH her children in the moment, experiencing that sense of wonder.
And the essential deschooling shift from intellectually understanding unschooling to deeply sinking into the flow of what true and good unschooling feels like. Going from that head knowledge to feeling it in your bones. Beautiful.
Next, we’re going to hear from Nikki Zavitz in episode 216 about her realization that deschooling was all about her while at the same time as being not about her at all.
I’ll let her explain.
PAM: So, over those years, I’d be curious what one of the more challenging aspects of that deschooling journey was for you, and if you could talk a little bit about how you worked your way through it.
NIKKI: Yeah. I feel like we could spend the whole podcast talking about this because I think because of my background with teaching, my deschooling process, it’s just been so ongoing and very intense. I am so passionate about unschooling, and like I said, I read every book and I listened to every podcast and took notes and highlighted and we had discussion groups at my house and I run the Facebook page.
Deschooling, it’s flipped me upside down. Truly. I think the hardest part overall, and there’s so many connections off of it, was the fact that it was all about me at the same time as being not about me at all.
I was a student of unschooling. It was all me having to unlearn things and it was just so many things, and Anne talks about this and you talk about this all the time, so many layers, so many things I would bump up against that made me uncomfortable. And it was always about me. Meaning I had to definitely really dig into those feelings.
We’ve been unschooling for seven years and I still feel like I’m brand new at it, and it’s a really cool feeling, weirdly, because it proves how much unlearning I’ve had to do and how my kids are my teachers for it. It’s really incredible. So, I say that that’s the hardest part. And I mean that because it, it never ends. I think. And I’m the type, you know, type A, I really love things that are black and white, tick it off. Oh, I got that now I can move on. And it’s just never been like that. And I mean that in the greatest way, but the hardest way.
PAM: So true. I love that. I love that because that urge to be able to tick it off to like feel like, ‘Oh, it’s done.’ But then, you realize as well along the way that our kids are always changing. We’re always changing. And like you said, it’s the fun part too because it always means that there’s so many possibilities ahead, right?
Being open to where everybody is in the moment and where we’re all looking to go. We unschooled for 20-odd years and it’s totally not done yet because it’s a lifestyle. It becomes about who we want to be as people, and that never ends.
NIKKI: Right. Right. It’s life.
And it’s so funny because, I think in the beginning, because I came from a teaching background, I wanted to study for unschooling, that’s what I was doing. I was studying it. I was reading the books and following mentors and I just immersed myself in it, which is really great, but I think I still had this idea that I could ACE unschooling, I could just be the best at it and I could get it right.
I’ve slowly started to learn to let go of that but still immersing myself in it, but without the outcome that I’m going to get this right.
PAM: But that is completely and utterly part of the deschooling journey. Because I think so many of us go into it that way. It’s our kids. It’s our parenting. We want to do it right. We want to do it well. And one aspect of the whole deschooling journey is questioning the expectations we set up for ourselves, the goals, what really is success, what value does having expectations really have? And then we work through it with regards to our kids. And then we realize this also all applies to me.
PAM: And questioning ourselves along the way, that becomes another huge piece. And it is at that point. And like you said, it is so valuable to immerse ourselves in it. To find groups that connect with us where we can have these kinds of conversations because it’s not something that, it’s still alternative enough that there’s no, I know you’ve got a local group, which is awesome, and you were having conversations in your home. I didn’t know people who were doing it. But it is so different than what we were used to.
For many of us, depending on where we come to it from, that immersion is so helpful for us to keep questioning things, rather than taking that first step. We think we’ve got the answer and then just step back and do it because really realistically that first level of learning about unschooling and thinking, ‘Oh, this is so cool.’ That’s like just the top layer of that onion. And if you stop peeling the onion, it’s going to be really hard to get where you want to go, creating that thriving unschooling atmosphere and your family is going to be so hard to get to if you’ve only looked at that first layer of the onion, right?
NIKKI: Yeah. And it brings up, I was talking about how knowing that it’s about me and also something that I think I am still learning to embrace is trust. And I feel like that’s the center of unschooling and it’s something I’ve had a really hard time with, to be honest. It’s just this thing that really puts a magnifying glass on me when I have trouble with trusting myself, trusting the process, trusting my kids.
That’s a major theme that I see when I’m struggling or feeling uncomfortable, it usually has to do with trust. I’m still reminded of this daily and it’s been seven years. I’m in the messy middle, Pam, like this is that. I was thinking about me being on your podcast and how I feel like I don’t have the gift of hindsight. I’m like right in the messiness of it. So that being said, I feel like it’s nice to hear stories from people like me too, because yeah, I’m in the thick of it and I’m struggling with some stuff, and I’m meeting all these major themes and it’s just important to hear that because, I love, I feel so inspired by you and your podcast and a lot of your guests, because you guys, you’ve gone through it, you have the beauty of hindsight, but when you’re in the messy middle, sometimes it’s hard and you don’t want to focus on it being hard. But it’s nice to talk about the things that you’re working through anyways.
PAM: I love, love, love, love that you brought that up. You know, part of me wants to say, that the messiness doesn’t go away. Life is messy, you know? And we, people who’ve been doing it for a long time or whose kids are older, we’re still in relationship with our kids, which is what unschooling ultimately boils down to. That trust and relationship, and we’re all going through hard moments in life, right.
NIKKI: For sure.
PAM: Things do get messy now, and so, we’re still working through it. There’s never that other side of the fence where it’s like, ah.
NIKKI: Yeah. Yeah.
PAM: It reminds me, because that was something when I used to blog a lot, I would work through whatever issue it was that I was talking about, I would eventually, I would end up with some, some sort of sentence where it’s like, unschooling is life.
And there was a time when I realized just where you are now, that I’m in this messy middle. I want to figure this all out so that we can get there so we can get to that. Graceful, loving, beautiful, trusting place, that’s candy and lollipops. The realization that that goal was not helpful and also not realistic.
That these messy days were—this is what it’s all about. These days are it. It’s not some goal because in that mess we’re learning so much. We’re figuring out so much and we’re working through it together. That I got to that point for the most part, because it’s not fun to stay in mess.
NIKKI: And I don’t mean to be venting about it.
PAM: That’s the other piece actually. When you’re feeling in the mess, it’s asking ourselves the questions, peeling back those layers for ourselves.
Finding that trust is something that keeps coming up for me. How am I, and playing with that because the message has changed and how we reacted and how we choose to sit with that discomfort a little bit longer, trusting that things will start popping up. All those pieces are the learning that happens in there. Doesn’t mean that 10 years from now a mess walks through the door and you’re like, “Yay” (laughing) I don’t know. It’s still hard. But yeah, I love, I love that point.
I do love having people on so many different points of the journey. It is so important and so valuable, I think, to hear voices at each point because so often I think people worry that when things are messy or messy for too long that they’re maybe not doing it right. And get down on themselves. It doesn’t mean you do nothing, right? It’s messy. You’re trying to work things out. You’re trying to figure out, but that’s the journey that’s you, not quite being somewhere.
PAM: Right. You’re exactly where you need to be right now. I’m going to link that Amy Steinberg song because it’s awesome.
NIKKI: And it’s so true. I think I mentioned this to you in the email, I even had a little bit of impostor syndrome with you asking me because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m definitely not a perfect unschooler. I’m still learning. I’m grappling with lots of things that continually come up.’
It’s been seven years. I’ve had all these thoughts of, I should be further than this, but then taking in and when you asked me all these questions, I had so much to say about it with our journey and what we’ve gone through and how amazing it’s been along the way and how hard it’s been too. I think it’s so nice to hear from all sorts, but also for me to express how much I appreciate hearing from people like you who, who’ve just had more practice pretty much.
PAM: And it’s a practice. I love thinking of it that way because it’s not, it’s not something that you accomplish and you’re done. It’s a practice. It is a lifestyle. It’s a way of living. It’s a way of approaching your days.
PAM: That makes sense to you, that’s why you are choosing it, right? If you’re asking yourself, ‘Am I done deschooling?’ then you’re probably not done.
NIKKI: I have known in my heart, I don’t know if I’ll ever be done deschooling and I am perfectly okay with that. That’s kind of what it is. I feel like that’s what it’s all about. You know?
PAM: Yes! That’s what it’s all about. It’s life.
I loved Nikki’s insight that, with her teaching background, she felt like she was studying unschooling so that she could ace it. So that she could get it right and be the best. And what a brilliant deschooling shift, decoupling those two bits. Continuing to immerse herself in unschooling to explore how it works, without the expectation that “I’m going to get this right.”
And her discovery that trust feels like a central, foundational piece of unschooling. Lovely stuff. Keep that in mind for a bit later.
Now, we’re going to hear from Lane Clark. We spoke in episode 284 and I love her bridge metaphor for the process of deschooling around learning!
PAM: 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.
PAM: Yes, crossing the bridge includes a lot of self-reflection. And I love how she described doing our work while still giving our children the unburdened experience of just being and learning. And how, as they get older, we often choose to share pieces of our work with them to help them better understand us and our reactions and choices, and for them to see the process in action.
The other piece I wanted to highlight is her process when she feels a wobble. Wobbly thoughts are most often clues that we need to recentre or reconnect with our kids, which in turn reminds us what our values are, rather than looking at what boxes we have or have not ticked. The immense value of pulling up to the bigger picture.
Now let’s hear from Joss Goulden, in episode 261.
PAM: What has surprised you most so far about how this path has unfolded in your lives?
JOSS: Well, I’m always surprised by how people don’t understand what we do, because we’ve been doing it for so long now. I always just get confused when people say to me things like the whole socialization question or, “Oh, it’s school holidays now. Do you give your kids a break when they’re on school holidays? Do you stop learning during school holidays and things?” So, that was a bit of a surprise, but I’m used to it now.
I think I’m surprised and overjoyed at the beautiful quality of the relationship and connection that we have with our children. That just gives me joy every day. It really does. I think choosing to homeschool and spend lots of time together, just like you were just saying, it lets our kids know that they’re really loved and that we want to be with them and that they are free to just be themselves in all of their own unique awesomeness. And that we really delight in their company.
And, I think that our relationship is just amazing. I don’t know. I mean, I know plenty of people who go to school also have good relationships, but there’s something about the quality of the relationship when it’s really based on this idea where we are just allowing them to be who they are and they can bring anything to me.
And I’ve seen them in all of their rage and their frustration and their delight and their joy and everything is safe for them to be who they are. So, that’s something that I’ve really loved. I’ve really loved that.
And just trust, like we were saying before. I’ve learnt so much about trusting myself, trusting my kids, and then my kids do that, have learned to trust themselves. They’re so much better at trust than I am. I have to work at it, whereas it really just comes pretty naturally to them to trust themselves.
And it’s so important now that they’re becoming teenagers and they’re going out into the world and they’re starting to have relationships and go to parties and be exploring all of those things, to do that from a place where you really trust your own voice that’s inside you, is amazing, amazing for their wellbeing and for their happiness.
I didn’t have any of that. I had no inner guidance that I ever listened to and there was just no trust. The idea that it’s really hard to teach our kids. I think that’s a John Holt quote, as well, actually all we really need to do is trust our kids, but actually that’s really difficult because we weren’t taught to trust ourselves. And so, it’s a hard process. But it’s really important, I think.
PAM: Yeah. Wow. I love all those pieces. I don’t even want to talk now, because you said them all so beautifully. Those are the cornerstones and it is so surprising, the importance and the value of trust is something we learn through our kids. Because it isn’t something that we grew up with. We didn’t know how to trust ourselves. So often, our inner voice was squashed because other people were telling us what we should be thinking and the choices that we should be making. And all those pieces just weren’t part of our lives.
And it was just so interesting to me that I would learn them through watching my kids, through being with my kids. It’s just so beautiful. And having no idea when we started, because I pulled my kids from school and had no idea the relationships that were in store.
At first, it was just about learning. Learning in the classroom at school wasn’t working. We’re going to try this at home. And then, through that journey, the relationships that developed, letting them be, giving them the space and the support to be who they are as unique individuals, was just amazing. And I love your word delightful.
JOSS: Yes. Well, not always, of course. We have our moments where there’s nothing delightful in my family.
PAM: But the thing is, is what you’ve learned through those moments, is that those are moments, right? Maybe there are moments that last a few days, a few weeks, whatever. But that you come through them, that there is another side, even if you can’t see the light at the other end of the tunnel, that metaphor, when you’re in the thick of it, over time you see the foundation of those relationships that we built will carry us through.
And there will be another side, even if we don’t know when we’re going to get there. That foundation of those relationships and that trust and that understanding of ourselves just gets us through there each time. Doesn’t it?
And I love the fact with much of this conscious parenting, the idea of when it all goes wrong and it’s all horrible and you respond in a way that is not in line with your values at all to your kids, which we all inevitably do sometimes, but there’s this lovely skill that I learned about just rewinding and repairing and reconnecting with the children and just making it good again.
So even like you say, when those moments are difficult, there’s always gifts in that, too, even when it’s all looking ugly and yuck.
PAM: Yeah. And I think that’s something that is valuable, too, for people. And it took a long time for me to understand, too. Like you said, there’s good that comes out of those moments, but just knowing that those moments are okay. It’s not, we’re wrong and we’re bad because we have a moment where maybe we act outside of our values in that time. Because we can go and repair.
So much value is in the repair, not in the idea of trying to be perfect. And even temptations, those “should” times, those fear times, I’m not wrong, bad, doing things wrong because those moments happen. Those moments are going to happen in our lives.
It’s the understanding the clues so that we can more quickly realize when something like that happens, and we can find out what works for us to help us move through those moments again. Like we were both talking about, we found reconnecting with our kids to be so valuable to help us ground again in our lives and in what we’re doing.
JOSS: Yeah. Yeah. And again, the difference between forcing your kids to say sorry. We never made our kids say sorry, but now whenever anything happens, we will always come back to that and they will always want to reconnect and want to apologize, too. And it is that intrinsic motivation, again, I think, isn’t it?
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And just that foundation of relationships is valuable for all of us, right? They’ve seen us come back, reconnect, apologize when we feel an apology makes sense in that situation. We are sorry that those things happen. The whole sorry thing, it’s not an admission of guilt or anything, as in a judgmental thing. It’s a reconnecting thing.
Like, I know I did something out of character. I am sorry about that. They see it in action and they see the value of it and they so often take it on themselves. Because it makes sense. It’s not a thing that you have to do. It’s a choice, but it is a really valuable reconnecting choice.
JOSS: Yeah. I think the only other thing that I’m surprised about is how motherhood, I really see it now as a very radical act that’s going to change the world. And we’re in such a mess in the world at the moment.
And I really feel like conscious parenting and homeschooling, too, I mean not exclusively homeschooling, but I think that’s a really big part of it, is going to play such an important role in shifting the world to be a better place and to raise resilient, and balanced, and happy children who are able to bring pretty urgent change to the world, in terms of how they treat each other and how they treat the planet and everybody on it.
And I think having kids who are really connected to their authentic selves and they’re loving and they’re cooperative and they’re psychologically well, if they’ve been treated with love and trust and respect and choice and so on, it means good things for the world. And I think when we first started homeschooling in this way, there really weren’t that many people having their kids in this way and the same with conscious parenting. And I feel like it’s really growing a lot and that’s a great thing. That’s a really great thing.
PAM: That is such a wonderful point, too, because as our kids get older and you start to see them out in the world, you see the ripples with their friends and how they treat other people and how they engage with them just so much more openly. Yet, in their knowledge of themselves, their inner voice, all those pieces. So, yeah, I love that point. It is so different for our kids than it was even for us. What a shift in one generation you can make.
It’s a lot of work for us. It’s so much of our personal work to do that, but it is such a big change just between those generations.
JOSS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you couldn’t get a bigger contrast than my education and theirs. But, yeah, they’re so different and they’re so much happier and more balanced and intelligent and connected to their selves than I was. I was 40 before I felt even vaguely in that direction and they’re already there. So, yeah, it’s a good thing.
PAM: Nikki mentioned it earlier, and here Joss also mentions unearthing the importance of trust. How she’s learned so much about trusting herself and trusting her kids through deschooling. Interestingly, I’m going to be diving deeper into trust on the podcast next week with Anna Brown. I’m excited to share that too!
I also loved her point about discovering the value of repairing and reconnecting in our relationships. So valuable because we aren’t perfect. Things will sometimes go sideways but they don’t need to fester.
Next, let’s hear from Talia Bartoe. We dove deep into her unschooling journey in episode 281.
PAM: I would love to know what has surprised you the most about how unschooling has unfolded for your family so far? We’ll have to check in again another couple of years.
TALIA: Absolutely. I am so down. I guess I would have to go back to the healing, how much healing has happened for me on an individual level, by going on this journey.
When I started to look into unschooling, it had blossomed from practicing peaceful parenting and what is often called attachment parenting. It had blossomed from that. And I wanted that to continue, this connected, respectful thing that we had. I wanted that to continue.
I figured it would benefit the children and that they would grow up with new tools that I hadn’t had access to as a child, and that they would be healthier psychologically as adults, hopefully, with more tools to deal with various life things. And I believe it’s certainly doing all of that, but I did not know ahead of time when I was diving into this, how much I would learn about myself.
I did not know how much growth would happen. I didn’t know what I was in for. This path has pushed me to keep doing that growth work in an almost therapeutic way. This path has opened up my eyes to more self-love and more self-acceptance of who I am, to try to look at myself in the same light that I see my kids. It has helped me challenge beliefs that were limiting. It has helped me question those automatic thoughts that weren’t serving me or my kids or any of my other relationships.
And when I go through a challenging situation or I feel triggered by something my kid says or does or they’re going through, I have learned that that is just a sign of something in me that needs to be healed and that my automatic response to them, it’s not about them in the moment. It’s about this other stuff that’s been buried or hidden under so many layers.
And peeling apart the fear or the shame or all of these internal messages that we’ve received about ourselves or developed these thoughts about ourselves, peeling back those and replacing those with healthier messages to ourselves, it only benefits our family and it goes so much more than just the kids. All my relationships have been touched by doing this, by going down this path. And it gets hard sometimes. Growth is not always easy. It’s usually not, confronting these things about ourselves. But when I see the rewards, I see it daily, it’s worth it. And it reminds me all the time why I’m doing this. So, that would probably be it.
PAM: Oh, that is so beautiful, Talia. Thank you so much. I love that piece and that was one of the biggest surprises for me. At first, we really think we’re just teaching our kids another way. And what is asked of us on the journey, it can be such a surprise when we first start out. But where it takes us is unpredictable yet it’s just so beautiful. Like you said, it is just so worth the work that we put into it to get to that deeper level of understanding.
PAM: Talia describes it so beautifully! Many unschooling parents, me included, are surprised to discover how much deschooling is really about our own growth and healing. And it’s not extraneous work, it’s fundamental to understanding and embracing unschooling. Really, who knew?
And finally, let’s hear from the Beck family. In episodes 271 and 272, I spoke with parents Angie and Darren and their three grown unschoolers, Josh, Rylie, and Ellie.
I found it really interesting to hear what each of them found surprising about their family’s unschooling lifestyle!
PAM: Looking back now, I would be curious to hear what has surprised you most about having embraced unschooling for your family?
DARREN: I’ll offer up something again, just to kick us off. There’s this one moment I firmly hold in my mind. We were at a community center downtown and it was the annual dance that would happen in the spring. It was just joyful, because I looked out on the dance floor and this is something like preteens just coming in, maybe for the teens as well. And they’re there with their parents. They’re on the dance floor in the equivalent of what some might look at as a spring formal or a prom-like event, and they’re dancing with their parents. They wanted us to enjoy the evening with them. And I might’ve been looking from outside the circle at that point in time, but was quickly in there with Angie and the rest, as well.
But for me, that was the magical piece. That was a surprise. It was the piece I wasn’t expecting, but I now see all the time with most teenagers who are in a school setting that they will divert their eyes down. They will not connect with adults. Adults are not to be trusted, because they put them into a system under which their control has been taken from them. I’m reading deep. We can go long on that another time. But for this one, it was so fascinating to see that through this process, there is a family bond that was created and a trusting situation that not only began with Angie and I, but extended into the family as a whole to where there was a desire to share these experiences collectively.
And I’ll go one step further to say with that secular homeschooling group that we were a part of, there’s this kind of soft life skill that you just don’t get in school, which is a level of nurturing. So, you’ve got that family bond that goes a step further because your family, all of a sudden, becomes this wider community. And you see everything from breastfeeding happening in a setting where it’s just natural for everyone to see that happening, toddlers coming up, as Angie had mentioned, across different age groups.
It’s almost like brothers and sisters of all ages in this larger community. Someone gets sick, all of a sudden there is a dinner list circulating around and you’ve got 10 homeschooling families taking care of your dinners for the next two weeks. I mean, there’s a level of nurturing and caring for each other that just really doesn’t come out of the traditional school education that really, I think, sticks with you your entire life.
You see a level of maternal nurturing, parent nurturing, dads leaning in. How do you actively be a part of kind of this growing experience. The kids can speak for themselves, but I feel like for me, that was a bonus. It was a surprise. It was a bonus. I didn’t expect that, but it creates this level of empowerment for the kids as individuals, but for me, kind of this warm, fuzzy spot of knowing that not only did we do something that sent them on their own paths become who they are today, but nurtured and modeled for them what it means to have a family bond and to be a part of a nurturing community, if that makes sense.
PAM: Love that one. Angie, do you have anything to add about what surprised you?
I guess we started this as an education, a replacement for traditional education. And then, I guess for me looking back, unschooling didn’t end when Ellie graduated. I feel like we still are unschooling. We question things. We look at things through a different lens. I just feel like it’s become just our life and it’s no longer an educational choice. It’s a lifestyle choice that happens to encompass how your children learn.
Does that make sense?
PAM: Beautifully. Yeah. I love that. I love that. Ellie, how about you? What surprised you most so far?
ELLIE: I was born into unschooling. Like my mom said, she was pregnant with me when they decided. So, I’ve never known a life that wasn’t unschooling. I think, therefore, I didn’t really have any preconceived notions on what it might be, but I think I’m more surprised now having been in college for a while, having a lot of friends that all came through high school and came through the traditional education system, I’m more surprised that that exists.
It just sometimes amazes me when they say things and they’ll trauma-bond in a way, like, “Oh, you guys remember when we’d have those pizza parties and we’d get one slice of pizza that’s this tiny?” I’d be like, “Did you? They’ll say things that just genuinely amazed me that like, everybody experienced that same thing. You know what I mean? So, nothing surprised me about unschooling, because I never had any preconceived notions about it, but things have surprised me learning that other people didn’t have that same experience, I guess.
PAM: That makes a lot of sense. How about you, Rylie?
I think there’s so much to take away from it all, but I think just as an adult now, going through the experience, it’s just how I see the world. And I think how I see community and how I see family and feel connected to so many different things and so many different levels of awareness in every aspect of my life. But I think that that was really nourished when I was a kid going through that and now it’s carried on and it’s still being nourished through family and community and, like my parents said, the unschooling doesn’t stop when you turn 18 and you graduate. Unschooling is your whole life of deconstructing what people tell you to believe.
PAM: Beautiful. Yeah. I love that piece. It really does become a lifestyle. And Josh, how about you?
JOSH: Yeah, absolutely. No, I completely agree with what everyone said so far.
And I think for me, kind of along the lines of what Dad said about kids being able to have this relationship with their parents and with other adults in the homeschooling group, it was almost the reverse for me now that I’m older, to see how the parents treated kids in the group like people. And now seeing, being an adult, seeing how maybe some people treat kids in school.
There’s a total disconnect. A parent would be happy to have a conversation with you about something and they didn’t just treat you like you were just a kid who is running around being crazy and being annoying for them. They were all genuinely interested in what you were doing and would treat you like a person, which was fantastic.
PAM: So fascinating, yes? For Darren, it was the strong family bond that developed. For Angie, it was discovering that unschooling wasn’t just an educational choice, it became a lifestyle that continues to this day. For Ellie, it’s the continued surprise of schooled friends almost trauma-bonding around their school experiences. For Rylie, it’s how unschooling doesn’t end when you’re 18, you continue to deconstruct what people tell you to believe. And for Josh, it’s how connected and genuine the relationships between unschooling parents and children were as they were growing up.
I hope it’s been interesting to hear about some of the deschooling discoveries and a-ha moments people have experienced on their journey, especially if you’re deep in the deschooling leg of your unschooling journey.
Have a great day!