Thursday, September 30, 2010

Art and Perspective

Usually the perspective people talk about with art has to do with angles and using size and color to show distance. This is about the moment, and the surroundings, and the contrast. As happens sometimes with the photos of tourists and amateurs, I did not plan this lighting and drama. I only saw it later, in the photo.

Just seconds later, the same angel, different angle, there are modern details the angel sees every day, plus Linnaea Waynforth, and across on the other wall, art by children.

This was in a church in Bunwell, in Norfolk, one town over from where Schuyler Waynforth lives. We were there to hear bell ringers practice, on a summer day in 2009.

That angel is still there, but I'm in Albuquerque at a table with a tessalations puzzle out, sitting in a wooden chair constructed without nails or screws—all mortise, tenon and peg. I have three I got at a flea market, and the ratty table that came with them. They were made in New Mexico, probably in the 1940's. They're not fancy, but they are art, and history. There's a rice bowl near me, left over from my dinner. I don't know where it was made, or by whom. There are no markings. My husband got it at a thrift store in Minnesota.

Art is where you are.

Those photos can be enlarged with a click.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


If you want your children to give generosity and kindness and patience to others, you should give them so much they're overflowing with it.
photo by Holly Dodd

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Unschooling is arranging for natural learning to take place. It involves having a rich environment and respecting children's ideas and interests.

That definition is from an April 2010 interview, Why I Unschooled My Three Kids
The photo is Holly, by Holly.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I asked my daughter for an idea for Just Add Light, and she said "water."

Holly has played in small water and large, and suggested I recommend water play for its soothing effects, and for being one of the least expensive materials for exploration and entertainment. Bowls, pans and measuring cups. Water in sand or dirt. Showers and bathtubs. Wading pools. Ice makes a good floating toy. Ice cubes, or ice frozen into a mold, a pan, or a plastic bag will not need to be cleaned up or put away later. Ice in a wading pool. Ice in a sand box. Ice in a toy dump truck.

There was a time when Holly took two or three baths a day, just to be in the water, playing with a wash cloth, a colander, a funnel and some cups. She would listen to music and sing.

When our kids were very young, we would put a thick towel on the patio, set out shallow pans of water, little cups and bowls, and let the baby pour and splash.

For older kids and adults, a float or a swim, if possible, or some new soap and a long shower can make a difference in mood and moment.

Letting water run over your hands, feeling the smooth, gentle flow can move you toward peace.

photos by Sandra Dodd (←that page is newer than this post)

Sunday, September 26, 2010


On a scale from dull and dusty to bright and shiny, where is your life? How much of the happy outside world is flowing in? How much are you and your children interacting with the bright, shiny parts of the world outside?

Unschooling should and can be bigger and better than school.

If it's smaller and quieter than school, more should be done to make life sparkly.

Let one thing lead to another for you. Explore. Not the parent pressing the kid to explore, but the parent exploring and connecting.

Note: Two parts were quotes, and I changed "the mom" to make it more general. Very often, unschoolers are writing to mothers; mothers are writing about children. I realize there are dads reading, and that not all unschooling families have mothers. References to "moms" is never intended to exclude or to limit the ideas.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Mathematics could use a better name. Seriously. School has gone and made that one all scary. In addition (she said mathematically), it's not called the same thing in all English-speaking places. "Math" in some places, and "maths" in others.

But it's about measuring and weighing and sharing. It's about making decisions in video games (buy the watering can? risk danger to collect coins?) and it's about how fast music goes and which ladder to use to get onto the roof. It's almost never about numbers themselves, and it's never about workbooks (except for workbook manufacture and purchase).

I went to look for a different word for "mathematics," and I didn't find one. One Old English word was "telling." For arithmetic: "cyphering," or sums. So I went looking for modern, philosophical definitions of mathematics that had nothing to do with school, and I have collected all these bits and pieces for you: Mathematics is a science dealing with the logic of quantity and shape and arrangement; structure, space, and change; logic, transformations, numbers and more general ideas which encompass these concepts.

Structure and transformations? I use those things. Shape and arrangement? That covers art, and music. Flowers in vases and books on shelves.

Unschooling is simple but not easy, and it's not easy to understand, but when math is a normal part of life then people can discover it and use it in natural ways and it becomes a part of their native intelligence.

Unschoolers and Mathematics
the image is a Holly photo

Friday, September 24, 2010


Image by Adrean Clark

In an online discussion a year and a half ago, an unschooling mom who's deaf asked what was the big deal about Susan Boyle, because people were excited about her appearance on Britain's Got Talent. I said her voice was really clear. There was some discussion, some later correspondence, and the mom who had asked, Adrean Clark, sent this image of the idea of a clear voice, from the point of view of a deaf artist.

Learning about abstractions is the same as learning about anything else—you build from what you know. If you know what "clear" means in reference to water, air and glass, you're a step nearer to understanding what people mean by clear thought, and clear communication.

Watch the words you use when you speak, because they're probably the words you use when you think.

Information about Adrean Clark is here, with some examples.

Some comics (updated link; old set was gone)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Which way?

Picture yourself at a familiar intersection of highways. Which is the best way to go?

People go all of those ways, or there wouldn't be roads. You've probably gone all of those ways yourself, many times. How did you decide?

I pictured the I-40/I-25 intersection, in Albuquerque. It's confusing from the air, so I chose another image, one in Georgia. Maybe someone reading this is in Georgia, and lives near the roads pictured above. But in my case, one goes toward the airport, south of town. One goes north to Santa Fe, and EspaƱola, where I grew up. One goes west toward the Rio Grande, and downtown. The other, though, the one that goes east, is the way to my house.

Picture yourself in a familiar situation with your family. Which is the best way to go?

It depends where you want to end up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Boredom as an emotion

Another homeschooling mom once wrote, "It's a valuable lesson to learn to deal with boredom, just like all other emotions."

Until I read that, I hadn’t ever thought of boredom as an emotion. I liked the idea. When a child comes to me seeking advice on how to deal with any emotional state, I'm flattered and glad for the opportunity.

Sometimes the real message behind "I'm bored" is "I'm little and feeling agitated and vaguely unhappy and I don't know what I can do to get over this uncomfortable feeling. What would you do if you were my age, in this house, on a day like this?"

The words above are straight from
"Bored No More", an article I wrote in 1998.
I just left out all the boring parts!

the photo is by Holly Dodd, of Jill Parmer

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


When we "give someone our time," what is it we give? Sometimes attention, or service. Maybe assistance, or advice.

Instead of thinking that I "give" my child my time, it helps to think of us sharing a moment, together.

"'Being there for and with the family' seems so simple and yet many parents miss out on it without even leaving the house. Maybe it's because of English. Maybe we think we're "being there with our family" just because we can hear them in the other room. There is a special kind of 'being' and a thoughtful kind of 'with' that are necessary for unschooling and mindful parenting to work."
photo by Holly Dodd

Monday, September 20, 2010

Empowering Others

Helping people learn to find their own answers is vastly superior to distributing answers on demand. . . .
Empowerment is a principle, not a rule. Learning to examine one's own life and needs and beliefs is necessary for unschooling to work.
These quotes were about unschoolers helping other unschoolers, but the ideas work with parents and children, too.

Younger Keith Dodd and his baby Kirby
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Any tiny moment can be enjoyed: the feel of warm running water when you wash your hands; light and shadow on the floor; pictures in the clouds; the feel of an old book....

If you practice noticing and experiencing joy, if you take a second out of each hour to find joy, your life improves with each remembrance of your new primary goal. You don't need someone else to give you permission, or to decide whether or not what you thought gave you joy was an acceptable source of enjoyment.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Little Choices

We make choices ALL the time. Learning to make better ones in small little ways, immediate ways, makes life bigger and better. Choosing to be gentle with a child, and patient with ourselves, and generous in ways we think might not even show makes our children more gentle, patient and generous.

long-ago Sandra and Marty

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Abundance of Beauty

Helping children discover and appreciate art can be difficult when the parents' idea of art has to do with galleries and oil paintings from other centuries. School creates a limited view of art, and culture reinforces that.

There is no topic or subject or pursuit that doesn't connect to or consist of art. Here's a linguistic example: "Artificial" once meant magnificently lifelike or cunningly wrought. It wasn't an insult until fairly recently (in linguistic time, which is slower than human time, but not as slow as geological time). I find beauty in the forms and histories of words.

For flat art, you can look at paintings, photographs and graphics at (and buy prints or posters if you want). For things for children to play with (children, teens or adults), there are many links here: (interactive online, or physical fun at home).

I hope readers will contribute to a list of places to look for art, or things to see as art. I will name five and give links. Please leave a blog comment, if you wish, and name as many or as few as you like, with or without links. If you want to create a clickable link, directions are here: I wrote them myself, so don't be afraid. It's pretty easy.

My five:
the dashboards of cars



holiday adornment

game boards

(the image above is an art card made and given to me by Erika Davis-Pitre)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Getting to Peace

There is a solidness in being in the moment, and in being at peace.

This moon and the note below are from last winter. Kirby was twenty-three, and the gate was built after he moved away from home.
When I saw Kirby in September even though it was a very busy several days, there were a few moments when I stood touching him or held his hand, or leaned on him, and felt how strong and grown he is. I smelled his hair and loved him, even though he's not a little boy anymore. I was at peace with my son. We got to that peaceful place by not screwing it up. We got there with love.
Peace, and Whether I Exist
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"What is this GOOD for?"

When I was a student I often asked why something was important to learn, but my teachers rarely had good answers.

When I was a teacher, I was asked those things too.

Then one day, the question came phrased a new and better way: "What is this GOOD for?" The answer I gave then changed my life and thinking. I said quickly "So you can get more jokes." I think we were reading a simplified Romeo and Juliet at the time. I could've gone into literature and history and fine arts, but the truth is that the best and most immediate use of most random learning is that it illuminates the world. The more we know, the more jokes we will get.

The larger paragraph above is from:
To Get More Jokes
"Thinking and Learning and Bears"
by Sandra Dodd, 2007

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


New unschoolers are often afraid. They're afraid to keep doing what they're doing; they're afraid to change. Sometimes to calm someone I have said "It's not like moving to Mars. You will still live in the same house. You'll still be sitting in that same chair."

Something that allayed my fears when I had babies still works years later. When I'm fearful or worried, it helps to smell the top of my child's head. If you find a natural opportunity to hold or hug or bend over your child, inhale the scent of his head, slowly. Don't worry if it's an unbathed eleven year old. Just do it with love and gratitude, and you might find yourself in that moment, touching your child gently, remembering who you are and where you are.

I don't have a page on fears. This one mentions the benefit of smelling a child's head, though:

2020 update:
Ten years have passed since I said I didn't have a page on fears. There are four, now, and all created to help people step past and rise above their fears.
Overcoming Fear / will lead to the others.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Learning to learn

Once upon a time a confident and experienced scholar went to the best Zen teacher he knew, to apply to be his student. The master offered tea, and he held out his cup. While the student recited his knowledge and cataloged his accomplishments to date, the master poured slowly. The bragging continued, and the pouring continued, until the student was getting a lapful of tea, and said, “My cup is full!” The master smiled and said, “Yes, it is. And until you empty yourself of what you think you know, you won’t be able to learn.”

Weird Al says it a different way in “Everything You Know is Wrong,” and Christians say “You must surrender yourself.” Before that Jesus said, “Unless you become as a little child…”

What it means in homeschooling terms is that as long as you think you can control and add to what you already know, it will be hard to come to unschooling. The more quickly you empty your cup and open yourself to new ideas uncritically, the sooner you will see natural learning blossom.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, September 11, 2010

When will unschooling happen?

Until a person stops doing the things that keep unschooling from working, unschooling can't begin to work.

It seems simple to me. If you're trying to listen for a sound, you have to stop talking and be still.

Some people want to see unschooling while they're still teaching and putzing and assigning and requiring.

They have to stop that FIRST. And then they have to be still. And then they have to look at their child with new eyes.

If they don't, it won't happen.

photo by Sandra Dodd

A state of curiosity

In early 2008, sharing some interesting connections that had happened at our house, I wrote:
That all 'just happened,' but it happened because we've been building up to it with our whole lives and our whole style of communicating and living together in a constant state of open curiosity.
. . . .
Once you start looking for connections and welcoming them, it creates a kind of flow that builds and grows.
Photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, September 10, 2010

Be careful with words.

Words have the liberating power to bring order to the universe, but they also have the power to harm, to limit and to sadden. So be careful with words. Use the good ones, the happy ones.

From Words, Words, Words, an essay on parents, children, and powerful words, by Sandra Dodd

Image by Sandra Dodd, with real pens on green paper.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Abundance in one person provides benefits for others. A child with all the trust he needs can trust others. A child with all the time he needs can share that time with others. One who has freedom won't begrudge freedom in others.

Most people have never known a kid who has experienced true abundance. Most have never met a child who had been given a full measure of respect, so that the child was respected (already) and full of respect (respectful). It is easy to respect someone who has that respect already, and who has so much that he can spread it around to others.

from "How to Raise a Respected Child"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Starting Places

When someone understands the depth and breadth of one subject, he will know that any other subject has breadth and depth.

. . . .

Unschooling allows free use of any and all bits of information, not just school's small set. A grid based first on cartoon characters or the history of ice skating can be expanded just as well as one built on a second-grade version of the discovery of North America and the made-up characters in some beginning-reader series. If the goal is to know everything, and if each person's internal "universe" is unique, then the order in which the information is acquired isn't as important as the ease and joy with which it is absorbed.

The time will come in your unschooling when you will forget to use checklists, but it won't matter. The child's internal grid will already have given them the need to know what things feel, smell and taste, and what they used to be or will be, and whether it's different in other places. Connections will continue to be made throughout their lives. The universe inside will grow larger and the universe outside will become clearer with every new experience.

There are starting places right here, right now.

The quoted passages above the image are from the 2002 article "Disposable Checklists for Unschoolers".

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Doing Nothing, and finding balance

Halfway between the past we can't change and the future we can only imagine, we find ourselves in the present. Not just the present year, but the present day; not just the present day, but the present moment.

From Balancing in the Middle Ground:
[Some families] had stopped doing school, and then stopped making their kids do anything, and now their kids were doing NOTHING.

Aside from the idea of the rich potential of their "nothing," the parents had gone from making their kids do everything, to "making them do nothing." And interestingly, it did make them "do nothing," at first. Or at least the parents couldn't see the new things they were doing.

Rather than moving from one edge of a dichotomy to the other, the goal is to move to a whole new previously unknown middle place.

Holly Dodd, and the false sea onion

Monday, September 6, 2010

Breathing and safety

Deep breaths change everything, for a few moments.

From Tiny Monsters, which deals with my firstborn being four, and one of my own early memories:
I have something of a monster antidote: breathing. Breathe deeply and calmly. Get oxygen into that part of you that fears the tiny monsters. Once you master calming your hurts and fears (or at least calming the adrenaline that would make you lash out), you'll have time to think about how to deal with them rationally and sweetly and compassionately.

Breathing (a later page)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Something Important is Happening

My kids don't mind following rules when they join clubs or attend meetings in places with rules. . .

I think one reason they don't mind . . . is that they haven't already "had it up to here" with rules, as kids have who have a whole life of home rules and school rules. They find rules kind of fascinating and charming, honestly. When Holly's had a dress code for a dance class or acting class she is THRILLED.

Maybe also because they haven't been forced to take classes or go to gaming shops (?!?) they know they're there voluntarily and part of the contract is that they abide by the rules. No problem.
. . . .

Something important is happening.

  from "Living by Principles instead of by Rules"

Friday, September 3, 2010


Music doesn't live in notes on paper, it lives in the air.

People can be musical without knowing how to read or write music, just as people can be very verbal, tell stories, be poetic and dramatic without reading or writing.

The first and best thing you can do concerning music is to have it in your lives, recorded and live, performed by others, performed by yourselves by singing, at least.

Images are links; singing-woman is me.

"Just Add Light and Stir"

The name of this project is lifted from an article on deschooling:

Remember school. Take a breath and picture your favorite, clearest school year. See all the elements of its form and organization. Is it vivid?

Okay. Here is how you learn NOT to overlay all that on your unschooling life where its structure and terminology will disturb the peace and hinder progress. I am asking you to take your school memories, add light, and stir.

Providing a rich life for one's child is a healing opportunity for the parent.

This first-ever post had images from out and about. Thereafter, photos were almost always by an from someone in an unschooling family. In retrospect (from 2024), seeing the original quote, I wish I had named the blog "Add Light and Stir." Retrospection can be irritating, but rearview-mirror photos are very cool. Click here to see some!

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Very First Post, and why

Alison Potter, of Glastonbury, Somerset, wrote:
We came to the London Unschooling conference in 2009. I loved listening to you, you were my favourite—you made so much sense to me and left me with a lovely warm glow. Thank you for your website full of amazing tales of wonder and discovery and for your love of life and children. Sometimes i need a paper reminder... Do you do daily email reminders too?
And so in response to Alison Potter, who already has both my books and who wants more input, I launch this series of frequent (perhaps daily) notes.

It is September 2, 2010, and I've been a mother since 1986. My three children are safely and happily grown, without school, and there are things I can share with others.