Sunday, October 31, 2010


Each tree grows from a single seed, and when a tree is growing in your yard what is the best thing you can do for it? You can nurture it and protect it, but measuring it doesn’t make it grow faster. Pulling it up to see how the roots are doing has never helped a tree a bit. What helps is keeping animals from eating it or scratching its bark, making sure it has water, good soil, shade when it needs it and sun when it needs it, and letting its own growth unfold peacefully. It takes years, and you can’t rush it.

So it is with children. They need to be protected from physical and emotional harm. They need to have positive regard, food, shade and sun, things to see, hear, smell, taste and touch. They need someone to answer their questions and show them the world, which is as new to them as it was to us. Their growth can’t be rushed, but it can be enriched.

from Changing the World
Some Thoughts on Homeschooling

tree photo by Holly Dodd

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Feeling Peace

If we raise the level of peace our children expect, they will know what peace feels like.

Adults need to know what peace feels like too, though, and some feel it for the first time when they really start to understand unschooling.
I know I've linked to this page more than once, but I don't mind pointing to the important things a second, third, or fourth time. Peace is it.

photo by Sandra, in Old Town, in Albuquerque

Friday, October 29, 2010

Be your child's partner

Be your child's partner, not his adversary.

No child or spouse needs to go through life unsupported, because he has a partner! Maybe more than one. If a child can depend on a parent (maybe two, and maybe a sibling or friend) to help him navigate the world, he won't feel helpless or lonely.
Holly photo

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Part of creating a learning environment is creating a safe, generous, loving environment.
photo of Alex by Holly

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

History is infinite.

History is infinite, that's for sure. You've gotta start somewhere, and pretty much it doesn't matter where you start because it's all connected, like a universe-sized dot-to-dot you could never finish but you started when you were born. Or maybe before...

History can't be learned "in order," because it's never going to be orderly. It doesn't even happen in order, because often facts aren't discovered until years after incidents occur, and so the history of them unfolds and is clarified and expanded all the time. People knew zip about Pompeii until 1700-and-some years after it was buried. Someday people might know more about Amelia Earhart's disappearance or the assassination of JFK than they do now, after all who knew them personally will have been long dead.
photo of flower and map in my kitchen

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Choosing More Peace

There will never be perfect peace. We can't even define "peace."
There can be a closer approximation to ideal peace. People can come nearer to the way they would like to be, but only incrementally, choice by choice.

If you want to live peacefully, make the more peaceful choice.

Peace is all about choices.

To have peace in your house, be more peaceful.
doodly art by Holly Dodd

Monday, October 25, 2010

Patterns on patterns

Bricks, bars, sun and shade make patterns in an alley between shops.

Find and play with patterns.
photo by Sandra, Albuquerque, October 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Following directions

Years ago a school-at-home family visited us from another state for a few days. Holly and one of the visiting girls brought a "preschool workbook" to me (a coloring book with puzzle pages) and asked what the directions said. It said circle in red... something. I don't remember the puzzle involved. But she asked if she had to use red, and I said no, to use any color she wanted to, and that she didn't even have to circle them.

The other mom stiffened, and when the little girls were gone said, "We believe it's important for our girls to follow directions."

That coloring book had no authority, and there was no advantage to anyone of that page being done according to arbitrary directions.

Some directions are more important than others. Some involve safety and property. Games have directions. Kits have directions. Recipes are directions. People can decide whether to play differently, put the kit together in a creative way, or tweak a recipe in progress.

It's good to make a conscious decision about what kind of directions you will follow without question, and which are less binding on you and your family.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Big world

Here is a peacock in India. Hema Bharadwaj took the photo:

This peacock lives wherever it wants to, in Albuquerque, and was photographed by Holly Dodd. Where it wants to live is wandering around the zoo. 🙂

Below is a picture I took of Holly and another zoo peacock last year.
click here for more peacock images

What do you know about peacocks? What do you need to know? Does what you know touch geography? Art, biology, or animal behavior? History, mythology or fashion?

You probably don't "need" to know anything about peacocks, really, but I bet you already knew several things.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Look more closely

Sometimes the world is a busy, confusing place. With sounds, sights, smells and distracting thoughts, sometimes it's hard to choose one thing to focus on.

In the midst of years' of wiring and amendments (skylight diffused by poles and fencing) and current decorations (paper balloon, beer flags), hidden by fluff and color, is a bit of traditional architectural strength, in the way two vigas (the large crossbeams) are joined over a post and corbel (that wooden platform on top of the vertical post).

Some details of the world around you are more important than others to the strength of the structure of your life—relationships, needs of children and partners, safety, warmth.

In small ways and large, look for important details while enjoying the colorful swirl of the world around you.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Movement and Life

All around you is life. People, plants, animals, moving and growing. Thoughts, feelings and relationships, alive and changing. Remember that your child is, every moment, in various states of wakefulness, emotion, hunger/satiation, comfort, and those states change.

Click below to see the image above in a different way:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Joyful Attitude

A joyful attitude is your best tool.

It seems lately that more and more people want to know exactly HOW to unschool, but the answer is not what they expect. Looking back at these stories, in light of others like them, the best recommendation I can make is to open up to the expectation of learning. It helps if the parent is willing for a conversation to last only fifteen seconds, or to go on for an hour.

Remember that if your “unit study” is the universe, everything will tie in to everything else, so you don’t need to categorize or be methodical to increase your understanding of the world. Each bit is added wherever it sticks, and the more you’ve seen and wondered and discussed, the more places you have inside for new ideas to stick.

A joyful attitude is your best tool. We’ve found that living busy lives with the expectation that everything is educational has made each morning, afternoon and evening prime learning time.

Late-Night Learning
photo by Holly Dodd, downtown Albuquerque

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


A different approach to life yields a very different set of results.

You don't have to turn 180 degrees from the way you would have lived before you decided to parent differently. At first it might seem pretty close. But as you move further from the starting point, you will see what a difference a tiny change of course made.

Monday, October 18, 2010


See if you have a dial in your mind that says "everything" at one extreme and "nothing" at the other. It's impossible for anyone to do everything or nothing. Maybe label it "too much" and "not enough" instead, and try for the midpoint. Replace any on/off switches in your mind with slide bars or dimmers!"
(Thanks to Katherine Anderson
for quoting that on Always Learning!)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Finding yourself

I was asked recently, "When do you find time for yourself as an individual?"

When children are very young, their lives ARE the mother's life. The more time the mother spends with the child when he's young, the easier it will be for him to separate freely on his own. It goes against some of the assumptions of traditional parenting (although it might not in India, and my comments might be too western here), to suggest that fulfilling all of a child's needs will make him more INdependent, but when a child is needy and feels ignored, he will be more demanding, not less.

As my children got a little older, I found other families to trade time with. Their kids would play at my house while the mom shopped or something, and she would reciprocate. If a mother is encouraged to look for more and more time without her children, though, it can make her feel unhappy thinking she's doing something wrong and should "find herself." Rather than encourage mothers to feel they have lost their individuality, I've found that helping them become the sort of parents they're proud to be can make them feel much better than outside interests might have. As children get older, mothers have more time, until someday the children are grown. People say it and hear it all the time, I know, but when they're little it seems it will never happen, and when they're older, it seems it took no time at all.

The more people one's children know and trust, the easier it will be for the parents to find some separate time, but I don't think time apart should be a high priority.

The graph was created for this article:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"How should parents teach?"

Each family should live a rich life of thoughtful exploration.

Most people think of "exploring" as going to new places, but exploring ideas, music, foods, games and each other's experiences and stories, within a family or group of friends, creates an environment of learning. Exploring new places is good too, even if they're in your own neighborhood. Taking a different route or going to a different shop will spark learning in a child.

The writing above was in response to a question from a reporter,
and it seemed worth sharing.
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, October 15, 2010


Food and stress should never go together if it can be avoided.  My suggestion for today is:  Lighten up.     

Even if you feel that you've overcome all your prejudices and fears about where, when and how children MUST eat, there might be a few lingering concerns. Let one go. Maybe let two go. One way to think about it is that they will live for a long time and what they eat this week doesn't matter much, or they won't live much longer, in which case what they eat this week doesn't matter at all.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Confidence grows

Any child who has learned to read without "being taught" (and I have three of them) cannot doubt that he can learn other things without finding a teacher and following a prescribed course.

If a child is past this point when unschooling begins for that family, there might be another skill instead of reading that will fill the need to see natural learning. For those whose children are younger, parents and children together can learn things in ways that don't involve reading. Parents can learn to recognize learning in its natural habitat (outside of books), while children develop confidence in their own ability to decode and decipher systems and situations large and small.

Confidence in children grows from looking back at what they've learned. Parental confidence grows from seeing in their own children what they've only read about, or heard, of others' children.

Top quote from: The Deeper Effect of a Child Learning to Read: Confidence (

photo of Sophie, by Holly

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where are you?

How do unschoolers learn geography? Better than I did in school.

The world is all a-swirl with music and maps and photographs of interesting architecture, costumes and ancient weaponry and technology. Gypsy carts and camel caravans and steam locomotives have their places on the planet, and nobody has to memorize anything to sort them out into their times and cultures.

Some families travel. Some stay in one place, and come to know that place well. Consider your resources, histories, friends, relatives and where they live, and why. All those stories, images and artifacts, gradually gathered, will expand your child's view of his own personal world.
Photo of a Tapas bar I saw in Cardiff, in Wales. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

History in your hand

By seeing the same old things in new ways, you might discover a world of riches in the same old stuff you already had. Take, for instance, a deck of playing cards. What might seem too mundane and common to you isn't so common to someone else. And maybe your parents or grandparents thought cards were sinful, but playing dominoes or something else was okay. My dad's family was that way.

Playing card games has social benefits and leads to learning and all, but playing around with the cards themselves leads to dozens of things too! Compare aces and art from different decks. Consider the manufacture of cards, the traditional colors, the etiquette of card tables, shuffling, cutting, directions of play.

Cards connect to history, art, statistics, logic, geography, religion, law, entertainment, paper manufacturing, printing technology... well they don't connect to more things than everything else does, but they're an easy way to see how things connect!

Some of this is from
Image from a Wikipedia article.

Other images and fun trivia are here:
History found in Playing Cards, on the Thinking Sticks blog


Monday, October 11, 2010

Doesn't yet...

I don't think anyone should consider a child "a non-reader," just one who "doesn't read yet."

That came from this...
We've used this "someday you will" or "you just don't yet" about all kinds of things, from reading to caring about the opposite sex to foods. Holly doesn't like green chile yet. She figures she will ("When my taste buds die" she jokes), because her brothers didn't used to and now they do. Kirby lately started liking mushrooms. Marty still doesn't like spinach yet, but we haven't branded him "a spinach hater," and I don't think anyone should consider a child "a non-reader," just one who "doesn't read yet."
...which is at the bottom of Encouragement and Confidence about Reading.

Those aren't the mushrooms Kirby eats. These are in our back yard after it rains.
photo by Holly


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Media relativity

This was written about children and the internet, a few years ago, by me:
If a child has nothing else to do and no affirmation of wholeness, the internet can be an escape from what seems a lack of life. But when life is big and real and happy, the child will be there, in his own real life.
"There" where? There in his own real life. And perhaps also on the internet. Or perhaps playing World of Warcraft. Maybe watching a movie he's seen ten times before, or television re-runs. Maybe playing an XBox or a Wii game.

As long as you provide a variety of good options, you can trust that your child is choosing his activities by preference, desire, and interest, rather than out of avoidance and escape.

When life is big and real and happy,
the child will be there, in his own real life.

vaguely-related image, by Holly Dodd

The original post didn't have a link, but here are two later things:

link to a 2024 podcast / video interview

Again! The value of watching or listening or seeing again

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rainbows on cookies

I'm singing in my head, "Rainbows on cookies, and whiskers on kittens..." Not a good combination, perhaps, as sanitation goes, but I wanted to mention combinations.

People can be single-minded and see the world in a granulated form, as individual, unrelated things, but that limits learning. Sometimes two things meet unexpectedly, and happily, and new thoughts arise. Look for those connections and welcome them!

If you want to sing along with "Rainbows on cookies," here is a link to an interestingly illustrated version of the song, sung by Julie Andrews (with the original words).

Photo by Holly Dodd
Cookies by Sandra Dodd
Rainbow by a combination of the sun and a crystal in the kitchen window

Friday, October 8, 2010


When people begin homeschooling, that's a big bright morning, but you can have as many mornings as you need. If you want to change the way you're being or thinking, just do it. Don't wait for another year, another month, another day.

Good morning!
Sandra photo

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Take this lightly. Play around.

All my life I was given advice like this:
Be serious
Act your age
Don't take this lightly.
Now, though, that I'm involved with unschooling I say to adults and to children alike, take this lightly. Play around.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Customized, thoughtful choices

When you make the smallest of choices about what to do, say or think concerning your child, base it on your own child, in that moment. Think anew each time.

There is a danger in living an entirely reactionary life. If you do everything the opposite of what your mom did, it's as bad as doing exactly what your mom did without knowing why. Be discriminating and thoughtful. Don't chuck the ghost of the baby you were out with the bathwater of your emotional memories.

The second paragraph is from

Holly took the photo. I don't who is holding that flower,
but I know that that moment and that flower are long gone.

Sleeping as love

For the first MANY years of their lives, our kids fell asleep being nursed, or being held or rocked by dad or mom, or in the car on the way home from something fun. They slept because they were sleepy, not because we told them to. So when they got older, they would fall asleep near us, happily.

We never minded putting them in the bed after they were asleep. It was rare they went to sleep in the bed. They would wake up there (or in our bed, or on the couch or on a floor bed) knowing only that they had been put there and covered up by someone who loved them.

Going to sleep wasn't about "going to bed."

Kirby, four, fell asleep while playing.
photo by Sandra Dodd, 1990

Monday, October 4, 2010

The air...

Given a rich environment, learning becomes like the air—it's in and around us.

Holly Dodd photo

The quote is the last line of this interview:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Real People

For all the considerations of stages of development and maturity, it helps to remember that the small version of you was still altogether you. The child at your house is the small version of an adult, a parent, an old person.

A child is already a whole person.

Holly's photo of Xsenia

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Why does...?
Who will...?
When did...?
Where are...?
What is...?
Do you...?
Can I...?
I think...
Let's ask...
We can look...
As far as I know...

Treasure your child's questions and offer loving answers.
Relationships are built of these things.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Small gifts

Different families have different resources, but here are two gifts any of us could give to someone today:

1. A glass of water, to someone who is working, or playing, or just got home, or just woke up. A favorite glass, or a pretty one, or a special one, maybe. Perhaps with ice, or a slice of lemon. Present it with a smile or a kind word.

2. A gentle touch, for a child or partner. Fingertips on an arm, or brushed down the back, or a hand held for a second longer than you might have otherwise. Sit close and lean softly for a couple of seconds. Think one quiet, loving thought while you touch this important person.

photo by Sandra Dodd