Friday, December 31, 2010

Television and video media

There is a kind of magic thinking that says television can rob people of their imagination, but that if parents sacrifice televisions, children will be more intelligent.

. . . .
[A]mong unschoolers there are many who once prohibited or measured out TV time, and who changed their stance. Learning became a higher priority than control, and joy replaced fear in their lives. I can't quote all the accounts I have collected, but I invite you to read them.

The quote is from page 136 of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo of Holly and Orion by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Building a Nest

"Building an unschooling nest" is a phrase that has come to mean maintaining a safe, rich, happy environment in which learning cannot help but happen.

What will help to create an environment in which unschooling can flourish? For children to learn from the world around them, the world around them should be merrily available, musically and colorfully accessible, it should feel good and taste good. They should have safety and choices and smiles and laughter.

There is some physicality to the "nest," but much of it is constructed and held together by love, attitudes and relationships. Shared memories and plans, family jokes, songs and stories shared and discussed, all those strengthen the nest.

Quote from The Big Book of Unschooling, page 125
photo by Holly Dodd

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Peace and quiet

Inventory your own tools. What do you already know that can make you a more peaceful parent? What tricks and skills can you bring into your relationships with members of your family?
. . . .

As you move toward peace, remember you can't have all of anything in one move. Each thought or action can move you nearer, though (or further).
photo by Holly Dodd

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Process, not product

A disposable art material, intended for playing but not for keeping, is playdough. It's not edible, it won't keep for years, and baking it makes it brittle without extra strength. It's not an investment in permanence, which can be therapeutic in itself for some people.

Æsthetically, it's nice for children. It starts off warm (starts off hot), feels good, and smells good, especially with some of the additives Pam Sorooshian recommends here. The play is soothing and easily shared, It can all be saved in ziploc bags for a while, and eventually thrown away.

Meanwhile, children can discover color combinations from mixing bits of different batches. They can experiment with making coil pots and little sculptures, or just generally squish the dough through their fingers. If your children are older, they might still have big fun. If your children are grown, you-the-mom (or dad) might find some unexpected entertainment yourself.

The recipe is at the link below, and other notes about things to do with young children are linked from there.
photo by Holly Dodd

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Crippled by books

There was a time when the only way for a kid to get information from outside his home and neighborhood was books. (Think Abraham Lincoln, log cabin in the woods far from centers of learning.) Now books tend to be outdated, and is better for information. If Abraham Lincoln had had full-color DVDs of the sights of other countries, of people speaking in their native accents and languages, and of history, he would have shoved those books aside and watched those videos.

When someone thinks books are the one crucial step to any further learning, then books and school have crippled that person's ability to think expansively, and to see what's unfolding in front of them in the real world.
photo by Sandra Dodd, the other day in Texas

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Seeing differently

What happens when you see other people differently is that you cannot help but see yourself differently. When you choose to find opportunities to give other people choices, you yourself have begun to make more choices.

from The Big Book of Unschooling, page 192 or 222
which links to

photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, December 24, 2010

Turn and softly look

spontaneous delight

Turn and softly look at your child to see what is fresh and new. Look at your child with awe. See your child with curiosity. Admire your child. You will be amazed. Learn to be content with your own puzzlement, and to nurture the puzzlement around you. It's okay not to have all the answers, but to let the questions confuse you for a while as you move in new directions. Let new ideas and experiences astonish you. Find delight in small, everyday things.

Turn and softly look at the world to see what is fresh and new. Look at the world with awe. See the world with curiosity. Admire the world. You will be amazed.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 23, 2010

One benefit of sleep

Being alert and waking up ready to stretch and move and explore some more will help children to learn. If they're comfortable and healthy and happy, learning will come more easily.

from The Big Book of Unschooling, page 161 or 179,
which links to

photo of a cat with sunshine in her ear
by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trust and respect

I hope you find some unschoolers you can trust and respect to help you through the rough spots if you have any, and to share your joys and successes. I know that some of you will become trusted and respected helpers for future unschoolers.

Thank you for the honesty and clarity you might bring to the lives of others now and in years to come.

The Big Book of Unschooling, page 242 (or 282),
which links to

photo by Holly Dodd

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Designing a parent

Dark thoughts or light? Worms or sky?

If you're making a decision in some moment... will you take the low road and have a low-energy, Eeyore moment? How much energy would it take to have a Pooh moment instead, or even a Tigger moment?...

If you were designing a parent for your child, wouldn't "happy" be pretty high on your list?

The Big Book of Unschooling, page 193 or 223,
which links to

photo of sunrise in west Texas, December 20, by Sandra Dodd

Monday, December 20, 2010

Potato blossoms and other surprises

Because of my compost pile, I discovered that potatoes have beautiful blossoms. Very often, the best things I have discovered were accidental. Other people knew about potato blossoms, but they didn't know I would be interested.

The more things you're interested in, the more interesting things there will be.

other potato blossoms
photo by Sandra Dodd, out in the yard

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Arrivals and departures

I was asked in an interview recently whether I missed Kirby when he moved out. He knew he was moving just before he turned 21, and moved in August soon after his birthday.

Kirby is 24 now, and here was some of my response to whether I missed him:
No. I thought I would, but it's fine. I like to see him being so independent. I enjoy the excitement in his voice when he shares his firsts. First big purchases, first moving from an apartment to a house. He said he really appreciated that we always had milk and toilet paper, now that he sees that it's something someone has to think about and do.
. . . .
I think when the child leaves naturally and positively, for a good reason, and the parents were willing to have him stay longer, there are fewer regrets and frustrations than under other circumstances.
The rest of that interview is here: Feather and Nest Interview

photo of baby Kirby Dodd, by Sandra Dodd
a long time ago

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More of everything

Connections won't be the same for any two people, but talking about those connections will help our children, and us, understand more and more of everything. We can't know all of everything, but we can know more of everything.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Between "more" and "too much"

If your kids ask for another one (potato, cookie, peanut butter sandwich) I think it's helpful if you just say "Sure!" and make another one, even if you don't think they'll finish it, even if you think they'll be too full or whatever. As long as they're not eating someone else's share (and even so, if the other person agrees), it's not a big deal. If they don't finish, save the leftover for someone else. If they do finish and they're "too full" that's how they'll learn their capacity (which will change anyway as they get older).
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Learning at home, and in other special places

Learning isn't in fancy books or computer games, it all happens in the ideas children have, in the trivial facts they fit together to come up with their view of the world—past present and future. You don't need a lesson or a unit to show a child what's wonderful about woodgrain, ice crystals on the windshield, or birdsongs. Five seconds worth of pointing and saying "Look, these trees were not native to North America" might possibly lead to an hour long discussion, or a lifelong fascination. Bringing something interesting home, browsing in an antique shop, listening to new music on instruments you've never heard—all those build neural pathways and give you a chance to be together in a special place.

Quote from the 1998 article "All Kinds of Homeschooling"
photo by Holly Dodd
of line art by Holly Dodd
which happened to catch a rainbow


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seeing the light with your own eyes

Recovering from school is only part of a parent's deschooling process. Trust is involved, but it's an evolving trust. First one might read about or even meet some older unschooled kids and see that they're doing well. But it seems they can distance their own families a bit by thinking "Well that's fine for her kids—but mine might not be as [insert one:
                     sociable] as hers are."

The turning point comes when one sees the natural learning start to shine from her own child. Then she goes beyond trusting other unschoolers, and starts trusting natural learning.

A few years ago a mom wrote "Then I saw the light with my own eyes." That was a description of the dawning of confident unschooling.

You can read the rest of that, and also something by Ronnie Maier, here:

photo by Sandra Dodd, used with this thought:
It's one thing to see photos of sunflowers, or to read about sunflowers,
and quite another thing to grow your own.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Early, in the kitchen, a basket of light:

One side is white with dark holes. The other side is dark with pink morning sun. Had I used a flash, both sides of the basket would have looked the same and the soft spots would have been gone.

Downstairs, another light show:

Look for light, literally and figuratively.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

They sit, play and talk

Some families are less likely to play than others. Some adults have forgotten how. I treasure the moments when a recently-schooled older child has snorted at the “daily special” out on the table, but on seeing an adult pick up the modeling wax or the tops that are really felt tip pens and leave a pink squiggly trail, or whatever cool thing is out, they sit, play and talk.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Confidence and experience

I'm confident. I'm not guessing unschooling can work, I know. I've also seen how it can fail, through my correspondence and discussions with so many other homeschooling families. I'm not hoping that kids can still get a job without fifteen years of practice bedtimes; I know they can. (And they would've been "practicing" for the wrong shift anyway.) I don't conjecture that kids can learn to read without being taught, I know. It's happened at my house, in three people's lives.
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, December 10, 2010

Everything you know

Think about everything you’ve ever learned. Make a list if you want. Count changing the oil in your truck, or in your deep fryer. Count using a calculator or a sewing machine. Count bike riding and bird watching. Count belching at will and spinning with your eyes closed if you want to. Think about what was fun to learn and what you learned outside of school.

That's a quote from
photo by Holly Dodd

Thursday, December 9, 2010


For many families, this can be a time of stress and love and joy and exhaustion and fear of failure, concerning procurement and presentation of food or presents.

Remember intangible gifts. Remember to be kind and quiet and sweet, around and through the sound and swirl. Be grateful and express your gratitude to others, for help, for health, for being, for smiles, and for love. Touch and speak gently.

I'm grateful that I can leave my sewing supplies out, because we have no babies or toddlers in our home these days who could be wounded by pins or scissors. That might seem too small a joy, but for many years I couldn't start sewing projects I couldn't finish before babies awoke.

But maybe you need "a real gift" and you're out of ideas. Here's something I wrote a dozen years ago, when my children were... a dozen years younger (12, 9 and 7):

"Some people are just not cut out to cruise the Barbie aisles. Luckily there are alternatives and you were probably going there anyway. There are fine educational toys to be found at the hardware store, sporting goods store, auto parts store, and even grocery stores, but people usually go there with a mission and forget to browse."

There is more at:
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Beauty in onions

The other day I saw some beautiful onions. People would buy them even if they hadn't been arranged so nicely, but the produce manager had set each onion down by hand, with thought, and there they were in a pattern I helped to dismantle by taking some of them home with me.

Some of what we have used to be elsewhere. Some of what is at our house will be other places someday. Patterns come and go like cloud pictures, and we ourselves are part of that changing swirl of life and beauty.

click to see others

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Unschooling can prove itself

If both parents are enthusiastic and excited, unschooling can hardly fail.
. . .
It won't work unless people want it to work, and make the changes necessary for it to work.

Unschooling can prove itself if it's not thwarted.

The Big Book of Unschooling, page 30,
which links to
photo by Holly Dodd

Leftover Halloween Candy

Since my kids were little they could have all the Halloween candy they wanted, and since they were little that has been no problem at all, because by the time they gave away what they didn't like and traded for favorites, and saved it and shared it with kids who came over for the next few weeks, there was still candy left. I have very often found the sorting boxes (a Xerox box lid or cardboard Coke flat) months later, and one year when it was nearly Halloween again, Kirby threw out the last of the candy from the year before. (Ditto for Christmas and Easter candy, some years.)

We were confident that it was control, not access, that made kids eat, do and want "too much" before we ever considered unschooling. Others come to the idea the other way around—unschooling first and releasing other control-urges later.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of an autumn tree in the back yard

Monday, December 6, 2010

Full of themselves

If you find yourself thinking or saying anything like “You think you're entitled to things" or "You're so full of yourself," please consider the effect this will have on the image a child has of himself. Children ARE entitled to love, protection, and positive experiences within the parent's means. They SHOULD be full of self awareness and self regard.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spouses / Partners

I didn’t expect unschooling to make things so sweet between me and Keith.

Partly Keith's just a nice guy, but principles that applied to the kids applied to the adults, too, and we all experienced and shared more patience and understanding.

The more I got to know Marty, the more ways I saw him like Keith, and because I was sympathetic to those traits in Marty which had bothered me in Keith, I became more sympathetic to and understanding of Keith.
photo by Ashlee Junker (later Dodd)

Saturday, December 4, 2010


If you think of controlling yourself, and of your children controlling themselves, it's still about control. If people live by principles their choices come easily.
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, December 3, 2010

My child's mother

"Instead of being my mother's child, I am my children's mother."

The quote is from "Knowing Everything." The title refers to something Kirby asked me when he was little. The rest of the essay is here:

The story also appears in the book Moving a Puddle.

photo by Holly Dodd

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Food Freedoms

Because of La Leche League and natural weaning, and the idea that children will reach for food when they want some, so you don't have to schedule and spoon it into them, it was easy for me to see the smallest seedling-root beginnings of how our culture creates the eating disorders they bemoan. Letting kids decide what THEY think is good and bad, instead of labelling things good and bad in advance for them, allows a child to think spinach is wonderful but donuts are kinda yucky.

Without choices, they can't make choices. Without choices they can't make good choices OR bad choices. In too many people's minds, "good" is eating what parents say when parents say (where and how and why parents say). That doesn't promote thought, self awareness, good judgment or any other good thing.
Image by Holly and Sandra

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just right

When I was little, I always liked the musicality of the story of The Three Bears, with its "too hot, too cold, just right" and "too hard, too soft, just right."

Recently I was interviewed and responded to a question about what can be a hurdle for new unschoolers, and what advice I would give to beginners:
"Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch."

That's my new improved advice for anyone about anything. Some people think they can read their way to a change, or discuss themselves into unschooling.

It's important to find out what others have discovered and done, but nothing will change until the parents change the way they respond to the child. But if the parents change EVERYthing about the way they respond to the child, that creates chaos, and doesn't engender confidence. The child might just think the parents have gone crazy or don't love him anymore.

One solid step in the direction a parent intends to go is better than a wild dance back and forth. And if that solid step feels right, they can take another solid step.

the full interview, by Kim Houssenloge, of Feather and Nest
Photo by Linnea, with Holly's camera

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brighter than the sky

Yesterday my neighbor's tree was brighter than the sky.

Sometimes my kids are brighter than I am. The older they get, and the older I get, the more often they outshine me in many ways. I do not mind one bit.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A good question to ask

When people change directions concerning their children's lives and learning, sometimes they ask what they should do and how they should do it.

A better question to ask is "Why?"
photo by John Hooker

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Choosing to make choices

In response to someone talking about her children self regulating, I wrote:
"Self regulate" means to make a rule and then follow it yourself. They're not self regulating. They're making choices. It's different. It's better!
My friend Bela sent me the following story, which has a good description of mindful living:
One zen student said, "My teacher is the best. He can go days without eating."

The second said, "My teacher has so much self control, he can go days without sleep."

The third said, "My teacher is so wise that he eats when he's hungry and sleeps when he's tired."
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sources of light

Sometimes light is from an Aha!! lightbulb moment.

Sometimes light is more information, or seeing from a new angle, "in a new light."

Sometimes light is from the sun, or the moon, or a fire.

Sometimes light comes from just lightening up. (Not "lightning up," or "lighting up," so spelling will make a big difference, in those lights.)

Live lightly.

Real Learning
photo by Sandra Dodd, up high, in Maui

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Little things

It's not easy to tell the profound from the trivial as it's happening. Sometimes the profound slips into the "not so important" category when I'm not looking. Occasionally I remember one thing or another that seemed just a little goof at the time, but ultimately, somehow, changed my life.

"We all are preparing for our unseen futures."

quote from Art, Aging and Spirituality
photo by Holly Dodd

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"...don't have to know..."

My kids think math is a tool and a toy and a game. Why would they want to be saved from it?

"We don't have to know that" isn't anything I have ever heard my children say. Because there is nothing they do "have to learn," there is nothing that is off their learning list either. In artistic terms, without the object there is no field. In math-lingo, they have the infinite universal set. In a philosophical light, they avoid the dualism of learning and not-learning.
Holly photo

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Some people have snow while others have heat waves. Leaves turn red and gold some places while others have year-round greenery.

Some days are full of learning and laughter and others are quieter.

Expect the world to surprise you. Moments, days and years will have different kinds of weather, activity, and learning. The factors are too many to track, so flexibility and the ability to be easily amused or quickly compassionate will serve you well.
Elijah Trujillo grew the sunflower. Sandra Dodd took the picture.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Real Reading

Sometimes I've been criticized for saying that I won't say my child is reading until he or she can pick something up and read it. Not something I planted and that they've practiced, but something strange and new. If I can leave a note saying "I've gone to the store and will be back by 10:30," and if the child can read that, then I consider that the child is reading.

Others want to say "My child is reading" if he can tell Burger King's logo from McDonald's. I consider that more along the lines of distinguishing horses from cows. Yes, it's important, and yes, it can be applied to reading, but it is not, itself, reading.

I've just spent a month where there are many signs and directions I can't read, where there are conversations I can't begin to comprehend. I've also been hanging out where even young children know two or three languages. All my kids are grown, and it's been a long time since I couldn't read English. Being in India reminded me daily that hearing isn't always understanding, and seeing words isn't necessarily reading words.

The first two paragraphs are from photo is of especially beautiful Marathi writing, outside a shrine.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


A rich world for a baby is similar to a rich world for anyone else. A baby is a person. A lucky baby has an adult partner who understands that.
Holly Dodd photo

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Center of the Universe

It's your universe. You're the center of your universe. You see the world through your own eyes.

a bit of the universe
as seen from Holly Dodd's perspective one day

Friday, November 19, 2010

Random surprises

Sometimes it's hard to know whether to look at the flower or at the leaves or at what might be in the darkness behind, or up at the sky, or to turn around and ignore the flower completely. There might be a bird in a nearby tree, or an interesting sound coming from a window.

Plans change. It can be good, upon occasion, to just listen and look and explore. Sometimes it's fine to just see a flower and not say a word about it.

We could call those moments restless confusion and indecision, or we could consider ourselves being open to the moment, in a state of wonder and curiosity.

Keep a positive light on what's outside you and within you, and your world will be a better place.
photo by Sandra, at the direction of a little girl named Shree

Thursday, November 18, 2010



Where do thinking and knowing turn to learning? Right at the edges, where you think something new, or know something different. Learning comes from connecting something new to what you've already thought or known.


What scents, stories, emotions, visions do you associate with your mother? Your first pet? Your newest car? Ohio? Candy canes?

Each idea, object, concept, person, song, motion—anything you can think of—has personal associations for you. You have an incalculable mass of connections formed in your brain and will make more today, tomorrow, on the way home, and in your sleep.
photo by Sandra; Pune, Maharashtra, India

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


"Practice" is the actual doing of a thing. Some people practice patience, therapy, medicine, or Buddhism.

Sometimes a person will use the word "practice" when it would be better to use "experiment" or "drill" or "train." In that "experiment" or "work until it's right" way, trees never "practice" making leaves. Every leaf is for real.

And so it is with learning. "The practice of learning" is actually doing it.

Each bit of learning is real learning.

Holly Dodd photo

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Give, give, give

If you want to measure, measure generously. If you want to give, give generously. If you want to unschool, or be a mindful parent, give, give, give. You'll find after a few years that you still have everything you thought you had given away, and more.

Finding Yourself

The quote above is from "Precisely How to Unschool":

photo by Holly Dodd

Monday, November 15, 2010

Light and flow

This is picture of the sun shining on the Rio Grande. My daughter Holly took it and uploaded it to my collection of images for this blog.

This week I'm 9,000 miles from Holly and the Rio Grande, but I see the same sun. Some things are constant.

One can come to see that learning is as constant as the sun, if the proverbial windows are not figuratively blocked out. Darkness can be induced. Learning can be discouraged.

Be receptive to learning, and thought, and to possibilities. Let the light shine on the same old familiar things in a new way. Bask in the free, public streams of water and of light and of ideas.
photo by Holly Dodd

Saturday, November 13, 2010

In and out the window

When I was a kid we learned a game with a song that went
Blue bird, blue bird, in and out my window,
Blue bird, blue bird, in and out my window,
Blue bird, blue bird, in and out my window,
Oh Johnny I'm tired.
I liked the idea of windows that birds could fly in and out of, and I've seen many of those lately.

Windows, doors, and eyes, I'm noticing, are for looking into and for gazing out from.

photo by Sandra Dodd
Pune, Maharashtra, India
November 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Real food

One of the many stories at "True Tales of Kids Turning Down Sweets":

Marty had been running around outside in the sun for a few hours, and I offered to take him to Ben & Jerry's. He said he wanted to go home and have real food, not ice cream, but thanks.