PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and I am excited because Anna Brown and Erika Ellis are joining me again to answer listener questions. Hello! Hello!
PAM: Now, before we get started, I just want to remind everyone that our Q&A conversations aren’t focused on giving anyone the “right answer,” because there isn’t a universal right answer for any situation that works for everyone. So, basically, we’re sharing some food for thought through the lens of unschooling.
And before we dive into the questions proper, Sabrina asked about unschooling as a single parent. She says, “I would find it very encouraging to hear from others in similar situations if you have any previously recorded conversations about this topic.”
Well, Sabrina, previously recorded conversations, we have. So, in episode 58, I spoke with Melissa specifically about unschooling as a single parent. And I’ve also spoken with a number of guests over the years who are single parents, though we didn’t dive into that aspect of the journey specifically. So, I have, or I will have by the time this goes out, put together a reference page for unschooling as a single parent with links to those episodes, as well. And you’ll find a link to that in the show notes and/or the episode description, depending on where you’re listening to the podcast.
So, Anna, would you like to get us started with our questions?
ANNA: I do. Okay. So, this first question is from New Jersey and just for reference, the children involved are five and two. So, the question is,
“I’m on the fence about homeschooling my daughter, who is entering kindergarten. I worked in the school system as a social worker for five years and was entirely jaded and horrified at lots of what I saw. My question, is how does one take your own personal doubt and guilt out and the speculative opinions about your decision to homeschool from family and friends and best trust yourself? Is it okay to feel a need to measure “success?” And what does that look like for you and seasoned homeschoolers?”
So, I think it’s definitely important to tune out the outside noise and really focus in on your child, your relationship, what you want out of the experience. Lots of people are going to have opinions, but in the end, they aren’t there day to day. And what was important to me was not the opinion of others, but my relationship with my children. And when I focused on being with my children, delighting in all that they were learning and how they moved through the world, it was nearly impossible to imagine handing them off to strangers for the bulk of their days. And I can say now, some 20 years later, that it is not a decision that I regret and one that they also are grateful for.
So, as for feeling the need to measure success, I think this is such an interesting question. How does one measure success? And is there any human that really wants a third party measuring them? And would doing so help or harm my relationship with that person?
I don’t know. If I were to look into your life and started to judge whether or not you did enough, knew enough, produced enough, how would that feel? And maybe it’s just me, but we know I buck against that kind of thing. And I definitely didn’t want to be judging my children against someone else’s standard.
Often, a litmus test that I use is, is what I’m about to say or do going to help or harm my relationship? I think we all deal with enough arbitrary measurements in life. They didn’t need it coming from home and family. I wanted them to learn to trust in themselves.
I guess I’ve also seen how damaging it can be and how people in their thirties, forties, and fifties are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do, largely because they spent their formative years being judged and trying to perform to please the people judging them, never learning what they wanted, what was inside of them, and what worked best for them.
So, perhaps that’s a bit of a tangent, but I think what you’ll see when you’re with them and engaged with them is how much they are learning all the time. Measurements in the form of tests or things like that are there for teachers and systems that don’t know the individual child. They don’t get to spend hours with them. They don’t get to see how their brain works, what lights them up, all the dots they’re connecting at all the different times during the day. They’re one in a sea of 20 or 30 other children. And even if they’re lucky enough to be in a small classroom, it’s not the same as living with someone and exploring the world with them.
I’d look at what you know about them now. What do they love? What have they already learned? You’ve most likely seen them learned to walk and acquire knowledge and beyond, and that’s what will keep happening. They will continue to learn all kinds of things. They will continue to explore, because we’re humans and humans are learning creatures.
So, my guess is you’ll find that you don’t need outside measurements that honestly are not that well designed and miss so much, thus, the endless arguments about standardized testing and its pitfalls. One-on-one individual facilitation is ideal and I think most educators would agree. It’s just not scalable in a school situation. So, there’s no need to emulate a less-than-ideal system if you’re able to provide the ideal.
But for me, it always boils down to connecting with my child, delighting in who they are and what they love and I’ve really found the rest takes care of itself.
ERIKA: Yeah. I love the question, too. I feel, first of all, really excited for you that this is potentially the start of a really amazing journey for your family. And I absolutely understand the layers and the complexity of coming from inside the system and being so thoroughly educated in that structure and the methods and the messages that we learn from living and working inside that system. And even just beginning to question things is such a big step and each step along the way from there is challenging, but it’s also so rewarding.
And I thought it was interesting that you asked if it’s okay to feel a need to measure success, because I think those feelings and worries that come up are okay. We can’t control them coming up. So, for me, I would say it’s okay for me to feel the need and to notice that need in myself, but then I would like to examine it and get curious about it, to see what it is I’m really looking for and what it is I’m fearful of. So, digging into messages I might have internalized and fears that might not be my own, but are really just a reflection of what others are wanting from me or judging about me.
So, I guess if you wanted to dive deeper into that for yourself, you could ask a lot of fun and interesting questions. Like, what is success? What does that word even mean? Do you know someone who you would term a success? And what does that look like? How do they feel about it? And if I wanted to redefine success for myself, what would it look like then?
And if I start peeling back the layers of almost anything I could hope for someone else or what success might look like for someone else, I find issues. Like I could say, “Well, as long as my kids are healthy and happy.” But what if they’re not? Is that failure now? Not everyone is healthy, but they’re still valuable and enough, and not everyone is happy, but their lives still have meaning and they, too, are enough. I could say, “I just want them to follow their hearts and be able to support themselves,” like all of these ideas sound good on the surface.
But when you recognize that everyone is different and everyone makes their own choices, you start to see that having intentions or expectations for your child or trying to measure their success from the outside will more than likely lead to frustration, disconnection, and resentment. Because we don’t have control over another person’s life. And I would say we also can’t judge it, because it’s not ours to judge. I think the school system would like us to believe that there’s this one correct path and that things that are meaningful are also measurable, but all of that is really flimsy once you start to dig into it, because there is not one path. There’s no one time table for learning. There’s no right way for a brain to work.
Success for one person means something so different than success for another person. And so many things about what makes someone’s life feel good to them are not measurable or testable. And so many things that are so important in our lives are not part of a curriculum and are therefore not really valued within the system. Things like communication skills, interpersonal skills, curiosity, interests and passions, relationships, different characteristics of different people’s personalities and how all of our brains work, and getting to know and understand ourselves. And that’s the kind of really valuable learning that I see happening when there’s time and space to do that, like we have in our unschooling lives.
And as far as those personal doubts and the guilt and all the messages that come up, opinions we get from others and all of that, that’s just what we call our inner work or our work to do. Like we say, so much of our unschooling is our work to do. We say that so much, because it’s a process of noticing those thoughts when they come up, noticing the feelings, and getting curious. Is this me? Is this coming for me? How does this feel? And then taking the time and effort to keep all of that separate from our children, because they’re already masters at living, at following their curiosity and their interests, at accepting and loving themselves for who they are. And if we can just keep our stuff separate and see them as the unique individuals they are without trying to judge or label them, it can be a really beautiful experience.
But that inner work is not easy. And the more entrenched we are and the more history we have of participating in the systems and buying into those messages, the harder it can be. For me, it was just like mind-blowing realization after a-ha moment after, “What!?” and it was this really incredible process, but I don’t want to downplay the intensity of that time. I know now that it gets easier and our children can really be the guides on that journey. Seeing them just being themselves and carving out their own totally unique path through life is a really great inspiration and a reminder of why I’m doing this. So, I think it makes complete sense that these are the things that are coming up for you right now, as you’re starting your journey. And I’m just really excited for where it might lead. Pam?
PAM: I’ve gotta say, I love these episodes because I love hearing what’s bubbled up for both of you, as you read the question. I get goosebumps just listening to you guys.
So, for me, the thing that made me smile was just, I could just feel the energy of the journey, of the decision that you’re thinking about right now. And what made me smile extra was the realization for myself that deciding to not send your kids to school feels like the end. It’s like, phew, I finally decided they’re not going to go to school. But actually, that’s the start of your journey, because now you’re going to be learning how to live and learn together. So, it’s so much fun. But yes, hard as well, as Erika mentioned. I love that piece.
And I don’t think you want to take your personal doubts out of the decision, which you guys both touched on. I think it can be more helpful to process them, to dig deeper, and discover their roots. For me, I discovered many of my doubts and fears were actually rooted in those outside voices you mentioned, the conventional voices, the opinions, and the expectations that I had absorbed over the years. And once I realized that, they really were easier to release, because I realized, oh, those were other people’s thoughts and ideas that I’ve absorbed. I could now start to explore what I actually thought and felt about those things, all that digging deep.
And so, that process also helped me quiet down the opinions of friends and family, because I could recognize now that their thoughts are rooted in the conventional expectations, paths, and outcomes, and measures, and everything that they have steeped in all their lives. So, it just wasn’t helpful information for me as I pondered whether or not to embark on this more unconventional path. So, it didn’t make them wrong. I don’t have to think, “Oh, you guys are wrong. I don’t want your information.” But to understand where it’s coming from, because then it’s like, oh yes, I see why they’re sharing that. I see why they’re saying that. But you know what? I am thinking about a different path that they haven’t spent time thinking about.
So, now I could just realize why that information isn’t applicable. So, it’s not like, I need to shut this stuff out. I need to let it in, process it enough to realize why it’s not something to consider. It doesn’t have a lot of value in the decision that I’m trying to make in this moment. What can be helpful is hearing from people who have chosen this path, so that you can get a feel for what it might look like both now, if you choose not to send your daughter to school and embrace deschooling, the start of this journey, and later, what life looks like in families who’ve been unschooling for years. Does that sound like something you’d like to walk towards for your family?
And it’s always helpful to remember, this is not a forever choice. Your daughter can go to school next year if you change your mind. We’re making the best decision we can make in this moment with the information we have and with the things and the constraints that we’re putting together. But this isn’t, I’m making this decision for the rest of my life. That’s a very schoolish method of thinking, that if you change your mind, you’ve failed. So, that’s another piece to release. It’s not failure. It’s, I’m learning more. I’m going to make this choice, see what happens, learn more, and I can tweak and change that choice completely in the future.
So, I would just encourage you, if you choose to try it out, to give it your all. Again, that’s that piece of, the choice isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. You want to learn about how unschooling works. You want to embrace deschooling. You want to focus on your relationship with your children. And I have a two-part podcast series called, “School’s out. Now what?” that could be really helpful. So, part one is episode 198. Part two is episode 203. And links will be in the show notes for those.
And I, too, wanted to touch on this need for a measure of success to guide you, because that’s definitely something that will come up on your unschooling journey. And you guys both mentioned that, exploring how you define success. I know when I took my kids out of school, my focus was on learning, because that’s what I thought I was replacing. I’m replacing school. And that’s how I figured I’d measure success for this venture. Are they learning the things that I thought they should be learning?
When I was fresh and had first made that choice, that’s how I thought I was going to measure this. Yet, that changed drastically over my first year of deschooling. And, as Anna mentioned, I came to see that learning was always and is always happening. I couldn’t stop it if I tried, really. And that what was more important was our relationship, our connection with and trust in each other. If that was strong, things were good. They were learning. They were feeling supported. We had trust in each other, all those other pieces of life that are just as important, which school does not touch on. Those are things we can move through together.
When we had that connection, when we could have those conversations, that deeper understanding of each other and the things we were aspiring to do and our strengths and weaknesses, and like all those pieces, things were good. Even when things were hard, we could connect and move through them together. So, those were the pieces that bubbled up for me. And yes, I, too, am very excited for you.
All right, Erika. Do you want to do our next question?
ERIKA: Yes. So, our next question comes from Joy. It is a bit long, but bear with me. She writes,
“We live in Ireland. I’m Brazilian. My husband and son are Irish. And our son is eight. My question is, to what extent do you allow/support children to follow their interests when it comes to content that may not be considered age appropriate by a child development professional. I try to gauge it by sitting down with Luke to watch together, let’s say the PG-13 movie or the extremely violent cartoonish game on Roblox or real war documentaries, which have been his favorite since he was four, until we know just how “bad” these actually are.
But my tolerance for screen violence is very different to my son’s thirst for explosions, machine guns, and decapitated heads. I sometimes feel torn about allowing him to watch these, even though he gets so much enjoyment out of it. I often tell him how I feel and remind him that age ratings were created to protect children, but he’ll calm me down by saying it doesn’t scare him at all and that he knows it’s all fake or not to copy what he sees on the screen. And he really doesn’t. He’s such a sweet, kind, and compassionate child.
We obviously steer clear of other types of inappropriate content, like nudity, domestic violence, and other mature content as Luke has mainly focused on action movies and research of historic events so far. He’s been picking up books about D-Day and World War II from the library since he was four. And he loves watching documentaries and YouTube videos about trench wars, dictators, wars in ancient Greece or Rome, or any battle really. Lately, he’s started watching videos about Napoleon Bonaparte. And because of the current war, he’s been diving into everything about the USSR.
I’ve managed to calm myself down when it comes to his deep interest in wars since I recently found out about the existence of polemology, which means the study of wars. It’s a real thing. And maybe that’s what he’s up to. Some kids are crazy about dinosaurs and their parents aren’t necessarily afraid of their little ones becoming paleontologists someday. How many actually do anyway? So, I will not worry right now, because maybe that’s all there is to it. Luke might already be a polemologist.
Another fear was, will he join the army someday? Listening to your podcast about accepting that our children may in fact die and that is part of the bargain of being alive has helped me with coming to terms with this one. Thank you, Scott Noelle, episode 84.
I’m uncomfortable, let’s face it, scared, however, of violence desensitization. This is not what the world needs now, but it is what my son needs now. So, what can I do? For now, I continue to have conversations to check in and try to understand what he’s getting from all these movies, violent games, and documentaries. And when I stop to look at it through his lenses, the answer is always the same: entertainment and a passion for history. I tell you, in the past four years, I’ve learned so much more about wars, weapons, tanks and aircraft, history, and geography than I ever learned about any hobby I had as a child myself.
But I would love to hear your insights about the whole PG-13 rating for movies, TV shows, video games and documentaries, please. Thanks so much and sorry for the long message. I don’t really have anyone else to talk about these things with at the moment, because my husband is not a fan of unschooling.”
Okay. Hi, Joy! And thanks for submitting your question. It was really fun to hear about Luke’s interests and how you’ve been able to explore and learn together. And I love your observations about how he knows what works for him and seems to have such a good sense of his interests and what feels good. And I think so much of what I would say in response to your question is what you’ve already said yourself.
The age labels that are assigned to media don’t really have to do with the experience of individual people. They’re an attempted shortcut to determine safety for everyone at once. And as I’ve seen many times, the content of a movie that’s rated G and deemed safe for all ages can be upsetting and even traumatizing to one child, while perfectly comfortable and fine to another. And the same is true of something with a PG-13 rating. Some people, kids or adults, may be disturbed by the movie while others, kids or adults, are not at all.
And we’ve seen that some children are really drawn to horror. Some are drawn to weapons, some like a spooky style, and some really like the strategy of war or doing fighting simulations. Some are drawn to history, even the very dark parts of history. People are so individual, but there is something out there for everyone. And when we’re so connected with our children, we get to see the things that interest them and maybe even see some of the reason why those interests are appealing. And it’s a really common experience for children to have interests that don’t resonate, or even that feel worrying to a parent.
The way you’ve labeled his interest as polemology is one of the ways we can help ourselves understand an interest that we don’t share. We can put it into a bigger picture and see that there are plenty of people who share that same interest and see that people make a living following that same interest and so on. It’s kind of like translating their interest into our language. And so, as long as we’re making these realizations without attaching an expectation of this being his future career or whatever else we may envision, I think these kinds of open and curious thought processes can be helpful to put things into perspective.
As far as sensitivity to violence and becoming desensitized, I understand your fear there. I think it’s something that’s talked about in a very dire tone, but the truth is that humans have a wide range of sensitivity. Some of that being pretty much innate and some influenced by the environment we grow up in, how we grow up, what we see.
And so, rather than focusing on or worrying about my child’s particular level of sensitivity, I think I would try to focus on our relationship and our home as a place of safety and support. That way, my children have the experience of what respect between people looks like, what being supported and loved feels like, and what it feels like to live in a consensual way with other people. Because then, they’re going to be reflecting and digesting all of the media that they see through the lens of what they already know to be true about their real life and I think that will help them recognize when things don’t feel right to them.
Whether we can understand why they’re drawn to something as an interest or not, we can be a resource and a safe place to talk about things, to share our thoughts and feelings, and to learn about being in relationship. I love how you’re trying to see it through Luke’s eyes. And when you’re there in that present moment with him, observing his experience, you see all that he’s getting out of his interest. And a generalization about what’s age appropriate can’t tell you nearly as much as actually seeing and listening to your child’s actual experience. So, that’s what I have for that. Pam?
PAM: Yeah. I, too, love how you found a lens for your son’s interest in wars that works for you. Maybe he’ll be a polemologist and he’s getting started early. The expectation proviso. Yes, that’s definitely worth it. But it is part of this exploration. Again, as we talked about before, it’s our work to do. Seeing through his eyes and seeing that he’s thirsty for this information and his eyes light up and he shines when he’s exploring it to find a lens or a framework that helps us start to understand that better, that is just so helpful. And that’s part of our work to do, to help ourselves frame it, or figure out a way that we can be more supportive, that we can help them as they’re exploring their interest.
And just through your whole message, it’s just so incredibly interesting to watch someone dive so deep into their passion, isn’t it? I just love all the work that you’ve been doing to see it through his eyes and to process it, to move through it, to ask these questions of yourself. I think that’s amazing. And just a beautiful example for everyone.
And it’s also extra fun that you mentioned how much you’ve learned on this journey as well. You mentioned, Joy, that you’ve never learned that much about a hobby that you had. But also in school, history in school, you wouldn’t dive in at that depth either. So, it’s just so fascinating to see someone digging into a passion, something that they’re so interested in, and how much they’re learning and how much we can learn with them when we don’t push it away or use our worry like a shield so that we want to step back a little bit, because we don’t want to seem too impassioned alongside them that they might get the wrong idea, et cetera.
So, for me, when it came to the “child development professionals” “defining” things as “age appropriate,” I had lots of quote fingers if you’re watching, I realized over time when this bubbled up for me, that they are necessarily absolutely generalizing. They’re sharing guidelines for the middle of the bell curve of schooled kids for busy parents to use. Absolutely. And it can be a helpful shorthand at some point, yet, as Erika was talking about, unschooling parents have much less need for these generalized guidelines, because we are actively engaged with the actual child in front of us.
We can watch shows, movies, documentaries, games with our child, pausing if things get iffy, asking if they want to stop watching for now, fast forwarding through certain parts, without any judgment, but in support of the child in front of us. We’re having conversations with them about whether they’re feeling scared or uncomfortable and why, because what’s important is how they are feeling, not what any guideline says. And then, through these conversations and experiences, we come to know them really well, getting a good feel for what feels scary or uncomfortable for them, and we can offer to preview content to give them a heads up. They come to trust us.
Then we can perform that function for them, help them through that. When you have that level of trust, they will trust that you understand them, that you could point out things. “Oh, there is a little something, but we can fast forward it.” Yet if that moment comes up and you say, “Oh, this is what I thought might bother you,” they can change their mind in that moment, too. That is the beauty of that connection and relationship.
And, as you mentioned, when you’re looking through his eyes, you see that he’s enjoying the entertainment and the historical focus. And when he feels that you’re on his team, helping him pursue his deep interest, he will also trust you enough to say something if he’s feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed, knowing that you’ll help him through that rather than insisting that he stop. Just feel the difference in that, because if they know you’re a little bit resistant to letting them, they will often push through their own uncomfortableness, because, “If I tell them, they might think they’re right. If I say, oh, I wanna stop watching this now,” “You see? I said you shouldn’t have watched this.” They can worry about that.
But when they know and they feel that trust and that you’re on the same team, helping them, that yes, you put it on, and yes, you’ll pause it, and yes, you’ll fast forward, all those pieces, when they know they’re working through it together, that’s when things really come to life.
And if they say, “Oh, this is uncomfortable, I want to stop it,” that doesn’t mean that it was wrong to even start it in the first place. It is all more learning. You’re learning more about them. They’re learning more about themselves. They’re learning more about the kinds of content that they want to consume.
Just so much learning is wrapped up in there when they feel competent and free and the agency to make the choice in each moment, whether to continue with something, whether to change things up, et cetera.
So, yeah, I loved the story, Joy. Thank you for sharing. And I think when you guys feel together on the team, you can feel more comfortable taking just another step with him and things will like just hit another level, I think. Anna?
ANNA: Yeah. And of course, you guys covered so many things, but one of the things that came up for me, which was similar to what you said, Pam, is that these ratings are really created with the child watching alone in mind. And it’s very different to have an engaged parent there, to talk through what they love and what they’re seeing, what feelings it’s bringing up for them, putting it into context. So different.
I’ve actually known several kids who were really into wars and weaponry like you’re describing, and they’re all grown now. And it’s interesting, because they’re all beautiful, lovely, kind, loving people. But they also have this really great grasp of global politics. And it’s interesting to have conversations with them now, because I think they just really have this really cool understanding because of this deep dive they did into all these pieces when they were young.
I do think it’s helpful, as Erika mentioned, to realize that our children are here on their own journey and that they may, and most likely will, enjoy things that are very different from the things that we enjoy and that that’s okay and that we can learn and enjoy from each other, from these different paths that we take. And that’s really a beautiful part of this journey that we have.
As for the desensitization piece, this just came to mind for me. Basically, if he’s watching and reading about war, especially documentaries, he will actually see the reality of war, which is very different from the rah-rah, skim over the reality of it, approach that most people take and that you’ll see out in the world. He will actually know what it means to send troops somewhere and what’s involved and what happens historically and then what happens to those nations. I feel like it’s kind of the opposite of the desensitization, that he’s really going to understand at a much deeper level. And that’s definitely what I saw with the friends that I’ve known.
And lastly, as Pam talked about, he’s talking to you. He’s telling you what’s working for him and not working for him and what he understands and how he’s putting it into context. And keeping those lines of communication open, I think that’s the really important part when we’re thinking about safety and growth and development, because it’s those relationships and that open communication that helps him process what he’s seeing and putting everything into context.
I think that’s so important, because I think when we’re talking about the ratings or the whatever, kids are seeing things in isolation, but when they’re talking with us about it and we have these open and curious conversations, we’re putting things into context and that’s where we gain a greater understanding.
So, I think everything that, Joy, you described, was just so beautiful and interesting. And so, I loved it very much. Thank you.
PAM: Okay. Our third question is from McKinzie and her kids are almost seven, four, and 20 months. She writes,
“We are very new to this homeschool journey. My kids are still very young. I have a vision of what I would like our homeschool and our lives to look like. I want learning to be organic and a beautiful, enjoyable experience for them. I was in public school and I was a third-generation teacher, which I think influenced greatly why I chose to homeschool my kids.
I want to unschool them and embrace the philosophy, because I think it is beautiful and more real. I wholeheartedly agree with what I read in here. I can see learning happening each and every day. I know it works. I know a big part of my struggle is my background. I have been working on deschooling and would like a little more guidance there. Also, I seem to have a struggle with letting go of specifically teaching math and reading. My thought process is often I don’t want to “leave it to chance.” How can I let go of this and really trust my kids 100%?”
Thank you so, so much for the question, McKinzie, and there is so, so much I want to say. And I think I’ll start with unschooling is definitely not about leaving it to chance. For me, that conjures up an image of leaving them on their own to figure things out. Instead, unschooling is about being with your kids, actively engaging with them as they pursue the things that they love to do. And in doing so, you’ll see the things they’re learning along the way, including around words and numbers.
That said, it’s not about taking that and comparing it with the conventional school-based time table of, they need to learn X by age Y, so that you can evaluate them and judge their progress. No, it’s not about that. It is more about seeing their learning in action, noticing the pace that works for them, realizing they’re not learning things in “curriculum order,” yet it’s still working for them. What?!
And eventually, coming to realize and to recognize how beautifully their learning fits with who they are as a human. It’s just so beautiful. It just makes so much sense and you see different ways. Curriculum is one way that works for some kids. That can be the way that their brain works, the way their brain wants to take in information, but not for the vast majority of kids that’s that particular style.
So, I do think it could be really helpful for you to explore what “leaving it to chance” means to you. So, is it more about the learning itself, thinking they won’t come across reading and math, words and numbers, if you don’t bring it to them? We live in word- and number-rich society, so I promise, promise that they’ll come across both. Or is it more about the path, the curriculum, so to speak, thinking there’s a certain path to learning how to read and do math that you need to encourage them to follow? Like, you must pick up skills, A, B and C in that order to reach the competency of level D or skill D. Many, many unschooling kids are lovely examples that this just isn’t true when given the space and the support to learn in their own way.
Or maybe it’s something else entirely that is tweaking you to this worry of leaving them to figure it out for themselves. As I mentioned in the first question, digging into our fears and discomfort so that we can find their roots can be so enlightening for us. And I am super excited for McKinzie to see where this digging can lead.
And I’m gonna share some links in the show notes to help you get started. There’s the Learning to Read in Their Own Time, episode number 23, that will help you explore the different paths to reading, maybe helping ease any discomfort that there is one right way or one right time table to learn to read.
There’s also a compilation episode of stories from various podcast guests. The Magic of Learning to Read Naturally, which is episode 171. There’s a conversation with a grown unschooler, Alec Traaseth, who is now doing postgrad work in mathematics with an eye to becoming a math professor, episode 141. And we talked about his unschooling math journey. And then, there’s a whole collection of links to podcast conversations with teachers turned unschoolers. There’s a compilation episode, 282, plus links to 23 podcast conversations I’ve had with former and current teachers who have chosen to unschool their kids. You are definitely in good company. And Anna, on to you.
ANNA: Oh, it’s so true. Aren’t there so many of them? I love that. I think it says a lot.
For me, it’s really just so much about leaning in and just being with them. It’s impossible to not see the learning when we’re with our kids. And when you keep the focus on the relationship, you know them. You know what makes them tick, how they like to approach things. You can provide this rich environment for them to explore and a foundation that will serve them as they do so.
I also think finding community could be helpful for you, just from something I picked up in the tone of it. I think you’d really enjoy the Network and seeing families all over the world that are living this way and how amazing it is. It helps to not feel alone. And I think, especially when you have so much experience in the school environment, so you have this third generation of school. And so, it’s hard. You’re really stepping outside of something that’s such a big cultural part of your family. So, I think when you see this amazing community of people all over the world, then you can really sink into that in a different way.
And oh, my gosh, of course this stuck out to me, too, like it did to Pam. It’s like, I would argue that you’re doing anything but leave it to chance when you’re being actively present and facilitating your children. I think it is a really common misunderstanding about unschooling. It is not a lazy approach.
I think it’s perhaps the most engaged and time consuming, because you aren’t handing over your learning to a system or even a textbook. You’re exploring together, engaging in the world in real and interesting ways, and making time for conversations. And it’s in those real and organic actions that learning is taking place.
And so, it is so rich and interesting and involved and engaged, which is very much the opposite of “leaving it to chance.” So, that’s kind of what sparked for me. Erika?
ERIKA: Yeah. I loved the question, too. And I was not surprised, but I thought it was interesting that it was another question from someone with a background in education and schools. And I have that background, too, and I think it helps in many ways, because we get to see what it’s like from the inside. And there are a lot of things we don’t want there for our kids. But at the same time, when you’re so steeped in the messaging and that environment, that culture, it’s a lot more to unpack than maybe someone who has just always disliked school and just got out of there as soon as they could.
So, as I was reading your description of your struggles, letting go of teaching math and reading, and not leaving it to chance, that part came up for me too. But I kind of went the other way around and thinking that by trying to control the things, you are also not not leaving it up to chance. That’s not an articulate way to say it, but first of all, there’s no such thing as being able to control the outcome.
So, if you feel like you are not leaving it up to chance by controlling these things and teaching these things and assigning these things, no matter what you decide to do, there are still no guarantees of anything of what they learn, of what they do with their lives, of what is hard for them and easy for them, or of anything else. And so, it can feel a little bit overwhelming or even upsetting when you first come to realize that you can’t actually control the outcomes, but then there’s so much freedom in not having to try to control the outcomes. Now you can just live your life together, make choices together.
And there’s no one way and no right way. There’s no set timeline and no one process that will yield a certain desired result. It’s just not how life works, whether your children are in school or not, despite all the cultural messaging that tells us otherwise.
And the second thing that bubbled up was just the amazing feeling, the almost magical feeling that I have gotten from observing my children learn how to read and figure out so many things about math without instruction. I almost want to say that they learned how to read on their own, because that’s kind of what it feels like, but it’s not really true. They’re not at all on their own. I’m supporting them, answering questions. Their friends are answering questions. They have tools like voice-to-text and subtitles that can help them. We’re just surrounded by opportunities to do things, and those things often could use some reading or some math. And so, over time they’ve learned so much.
I’m just really glad that I was able to release the need to try to control that process for them, because now, they have ownership of their own skills and ownership over their ability to learn, and just so much confidence in who they are. And I think that’s so valuable and just so cool to see.
There’s actually a bumper sticker in my neighborhood that says, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” And it makes me laugh a little bit because not one of us in my entire family of four learned to read while we were in school. Josh and I were both really early readers, just figuring it out at home before school even started. And both of our kids learned through wanting to read video games and books and wanting to send and read their text messages. So, all four of us have had the experience of getting to reading on our own terms, in our own time. And that feels really powerful.
I also thought that Pam and Anna’s mantras might help you when things feel scary. So, when fears pop up or when you notice a belief pop up that makes you want to control, that “open and curious” really feels helpful. That process of, hmm. Is that really true? I wonder what it would look like to not control it? What is it that I’m actually seeing my kids doing? What’s another way this could play out? What are my options? And just kind of staying curious about your kids and about life generally, and more open to what they show you they’d like to do, rather than looking for a particular thing that they should be doing.
And then another one is Anna’s, there’s plenty of time, because your kids are young and the things you’re hoping they’ll learn will probably come up at some point, like Pam was mentioning. And there’s no deadline or timeline necessary. There’s plenty of time for you to figure out deschooling, plenty of time for them to learn about themselves and the world. I know I’ve heard a lot of people remark that they wish they could deschool faster.
In fact, on the recent episode with Jae Williams, he talked about that, too. He was also a teacher before becoming an unschooler. And I think there’s this strong desire there to just really want to do an excellent job of deschooling and just get through it. Excellent job parenting and unschooling. But we really can’t rush these massive paradigm shifts, all that inner work. And thankfully, there’s plenty of time. So, you can be patient with yourself as you think, and learn and unlearn and grow in your understanding of yourself and your children.
And finally, I just wanted to address the idea of wanting their learning to be organic and a beautiful, enjoyable experience, because it’s such a wonderful image and I love that you’re envisioning that experience for them. And it reminded me of what I was talking about in the first question that it’s kind of this huge a-ha moment to realize that they don’t get that enjoyable experience by me trying to make it happen, or to somehow control the situation to create a beautiful experience for them. So, rather than focusing on making the beautiful experience that’s in my mind, which usually involves some expectations on my part, I can focus on keeping our relationship the priority.
So, then my effort is on communicating, showing love, giving attention, being intentional with my words and actions. And from there, they show me what their idea of a beautiful and enjoyable experience is. Because each person is different. And my vision of what beautiful learning looks like and feels like is totally different than what might light my kids up.
So, I’m just excited for you to be at the beginning of your journey. And I’m just remembering all of the learning and growing that happened for me during those years. It’s so worth all that discomfort to experience the growth and get to see my kids growing into the people that they want to be. And I couldn’t have predicted what our life would’ve looked like now, but it is so perfectly us.
PAM: I love that you mentioned that shift in how we look at things for those beautiful learning experiences, because yeah, when we can take it away from what we’re envisioning that looks like, because that’s what it would look like for us. But when we cultivate that space and environment and connection and relationship and all the stuff we’ve been talking about this whole episode, those moments unfold naturally. When we’re giving them the space to just follow and do the things that they’re interested in doing in the ways that they’re interested in doing them. And in that flow, these moments appear. It’s more about recognizing them rather than specifically creating them. It’s cultivating the environment, not cultivating or creating the moment. So, that difference is such a huge a-ha moment or a huge paradigm shift.
All right. Thank you both so much for joining me. It’s always so much fun to go through specific examples, people’s questions, and to see what you guys come up with, the different perspectives. We come to the same place, but I just love seeing how it bubbles up.
And if anybody would like to submit their own question, livingjoyfully.ca/question. But the link will also be in the show notes or the show description, episode description, wherever you’re listening to this or watching this. And we look forward to diving into some more questions soon. Thanks again!