Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nuttiness is relative

Deb Lewis, writing in 2006, referring to 1999:

Spending time with Dylan made it hard for people to make an argument that he was missing something by not going to school. He was bright and articulate and lively. "But when he gets older," they started saying, "he'll need to go to school for the important subjects."

About this time some homeschooling kids were winning spelling bees and geography bees. Some public school kids were shooting up their classrooms. Suddenly, keeping a kid out of school didn't seem as nutty as it had a few years before.
—Deb Lewis
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, December 30, 2011

Trust and curiosity

Unless their joy and curiosity are snuffed out, your children will have interests and, if you're lucky, obsessions and hobbies. How negative do you want to be about those? Try to decide in advance so you're being mindful and aware when they show you their painted rocks or their plastic soldiers or their hip-hop video collection.

They will trust you as long and as far as you are trustworthy.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 29, 2011

High, low or average... (Don't ask.)

Of all the things I believe strongly, one that has changed my life as profoundly as any one other belief is my personal knowledge that test scores can and do (can't fail to) affect the treatment a child receives at his parents' hands. High scores, low scores, average scores—no matter. Parents cease to treat the child as his original, known self and color him soul deep with that number.

My life would have been different. My husband's life would have been different, without those 5th and 8th grade ITBS scores. I venture to say without even knowing who is reading this that your life would have been different, and specifically I believe your life would have been better, had not you been branded with a number on your "permanent record" (there's a big mean scary joke, the "permanence" and important parts) as a young innocent ten or thirteen year old full of potential, at some unknown point on a learning curve that might soon be at its settled-out level, or might just be beginning.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It may seem weird, but...

I had been unschooling for years before a few people suggested on a message board that requiring kids to do chores could be as bad as making them do schoolwork. I perked up immediately, and everything they said has proven true at our house. The first principle was "If a mess is bothering you, YOU clean it up." Another one was "Do things for your family because you *want* to!"

It was new to me to consider housework a fun thing to be done with a happy attitude, but as it has changed my life and because it fit in so well with the other unschooling issues, I've collected things to help others consider this change as well.

In the same way that food controls can create food issues, forcing housework on children can cause resentments and avoidances which neither get houses clean nor improve the relationships between children and parents.

Also, studies of separated identical twins have shown that the desire and ability to clean and organize has more to do with genetics than "training."
photo by Sandra Dodd
"That's a rad picture; I think I was eleven." —Holly

Live in a different way

Someone else's question, and part of my answer:

As much as I read,... I seem to slide right back into schoolish ways. How long does it take to really break that bad habit?


If you think of it in negative terms ("bad" and not just "break" but "really break"), you will just sit in that negativity, frustrated, forever. You will feel there had to be a winner (you) or a loser (you) and you will be angry with yourself.

The change you need is to live a different way. Step out of the grumpy dark into the calm decision-making choose-joy light.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I'm sorry I sent out a post that wasn't edited well and had an unrelated link instead of a photo.

Joyce Fetteroll is at my house!! We had people over to play games last night. I thought the post was finished on Sunday and didn't check.

If that problem is going to arise again, it's likely to be in the next few days, because of the Always Learning Live unschooling symposium. It officially starts tomorrow, but more people are arriving in town every day.

Thank you for reading Just Add Light and Stir! I'll try to be more careful, and I hope you'll forgive my excitable lapses.

The post that arrived without a picture is repaired now:

Happy New Year!


Ratchet up your quality of life

Here's an idea that will work with just about every aspect of life: Every time you make a decision, wait until you've thought of two choices and choose the better one.

It seems simple, but I was surprised, when I thought of that way to ratchet the quality of life up, to find how many times I was acting without really thinking.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, December 26, 2011

Creating memories

"Remind yourself that each moment we're creating memories. Think of those moments as photos in a photo album. We have no control over which pictures they'll keep. Ask yourself, 'Is this a moment I want my children to carry with them forever? Is this how I want them to remember me?'"

—Joyce Fetteroll

Techniques for Change, at Joyce's site
photo by Sandra Dodd (click to enlarge)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Finding yourself with your children

Being where you are, in a mindful way, with the potential and the tools to be still and know it, is the portal to a better life. Call it what you want to, finding yourself with your children will put you in a good place.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thoughtful giving

If someone gives you a blanket when you need a blanket, just because they know you need one and think you might like to have one, it's better than a hand-quilted show-piece given to someone who had blankets.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, December 23, 2011

A better nature

Glenda Sikes wrote:

I vividly remember there being a point several years into unschooling when I realized that so many of the things that had taken conscious effort in the beginning, had become second nature for me at some point along the way.

Be conscious of what you're saying and doing. Be more aware of your thoughts. If you act or react in a knee-jerk way that doesn't help relationships with your family, apologize to them and make a different, better choice in that moment.
—Glenda Sikes
photo by Sandra Dodd

Action and understanding

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.

Our parents grew up in a different time, with different pressures and realities, and there's no profit in trying to persuade them they should've had the sensibilities you might have now (or that you're developing or would like to have). If you focus on what you want to do with and for your own children and why, the rest of the family can begin to fade in importance. If you're going to let them dictate your every move, that's an easy and sometimes comforting way to live. If you decide not to do that, try to be clear on why and what you do intend before you announce your departure from the parade. It's okay to change gradually. It's okay to say "I'm working on something," or "We're looking into something," or "We're going to try this for a while." It's good to wade in and understand it before trying to defend it fullscale.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Portals that beckon

When books are an obsession, it's considered a virtue. When mathematics is an obsession it's considered genius. When history is an obsession, that's scholarly. When rock and roll is an obsession or folk art, or dance… maybe not as easily impressive to the outside world. But as all things are connected, let your child see the world from the portals that open to him, and don't press him to get in line at an entryway that doesn't sparkle and beckon.

from page 189 of The Big Book of Unschooling,
which links to Feed Passions
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Respect and admiration

On the topic of learning courtesy and responsibility from video games:

When a more experienced player helps a newer player, that rarely has to do with age. When an adult can take advice and assistance from a kid, or a teen can take advice from a young child, that's an all-new opportunity for humility, respect and courtesy, all three of which are lacking in many lives.

People have long valued the character-building sportsmanship and integrity involved in athletic games. "You never really know a man until you've played golf with him," I've heard. Tennis courts, swimming pools, public greens and sports fields all have rules and traditions.

Multi-player games provide opportunities to practice, improve and use one's interpersonal skills in many ways, with a chance to earn real-world respect and admiration.
from page 55 of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

like pulling a bouquet of flowers out of a wand

Sometimes my kids get bored, and I can light up a half hour by digging into some box or drawer and producing something they've never yet seen. Like a magician pulling a bouquet of flowers out of a wand, I pull out a little doll, or some Australian coins, electric curlers (for sorting, putting back on the rods, and discussing), muffin tins, poker chips, grandpa's bow ties, a hand-cranked egg beater to froth up soapy water (I wish I had a hand-cranked drill; my dad did). Whenever I pull these things out I tell the kids why I have them and what I know about them. I told about the gold strip in Australian paper money, about ties my dad used to have with cowboys and bucking broncos on them, about patterned muffin tins being pressed kind of like steel car parts are pressed, of getting my hair stuck in electric curlers when I was a teenager and crying because I was afraid my long hair would have to be cut off.
photo by Sandra Dodd

The photo is not of my house, but of a candy shop in the village of Tissington, in Derbyshire, which had an antique till ("cash register," in American parlance).

When I was little, there were a few little stores in northern New Mexico that still had mechanical cash registers that didn't take electricity.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Ahead" of what?

I saw an advertisement on the side of some webpage, aimed at me. "Homeschooling," I saw out the corner of my eye. It asked me whether I didn't want to make sure my child was ahead.

"Ahead" of what? Ahead of himself? That's considered a bad thing. "Don't get ahead of yourself," people say.

"Ahead" of other people? What's the rush?

When the traffic is slow on the freeway, sometimes someone will zoom along the shoulder and try to squeeze in. Why? It's not helpful. It's not polite. It's not safe.

My children are grown. They grew slowly, safely, politely, and I've always tried to be helpful. They weren't ahead. They were right where they were, all day, every day. There they still are, where they're used to being. They are themselves, here and now.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Last-minute gift idea (great for "re-gifting")

Decision time isn't about what you will do next year or for the rest of your child's life. Decision time is about what you will do in the next five seconds. I recommend getting up and doing something sweet for another person, wordlessly and gently. Never send the bill; make it a gift you forget all about. Do that again later in the day. Don't tell us, don't tell them, just do it.
Photo by Sandra Dodd, of a flower growing wild by the street in an old neighborhood of Austin; the paper behind it was a random piece of trash, but made a beautiful frame.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Comfort, Joy and Decision Making

When the parents are curious and can find joy in exploring and discussing common interesting things in the everyday world, unschooling can make a
lot of sense very easily. Optimism and positive attitudes help. If the children's comfort and joy can be a high priority and the parents can see the value of letting even young children begin to make choices, by the time the kids are teens they'll have had a great deal of real-world experience in making thoughtful decisions.
photo by Holly Dodd, through a dollhouse window

Friday, December 16, 2011

A million-piece puzzle

Today I'm quoting something Joyce Fetteroll wrote on Always Learning yesterday:

The way schools get academics into kids goes against how we're naturally wired to learn. It's very hard for humans to memorize someone else's understanding of the world and then make sense of it. That's why it takes so long in school. It's why kids can "pass" classes and yet still have little practical understanding of what's been pushed in their heads.
We're hard wired to pull understanding out of life. We're pattern seeking creatures. Natural learning often doesn't look like much of anything from the outside. But it's like working on a million-piece jigsaw puzzle. Kids are working here and there, jumping all over the place, spending a chunk of time in one area, then seemingly abandoning it for another. It doesn't look like progress. But by the time they're teens, the connections they've been creating between all the areas they've been working on shows. And it's not a bunch of memorized facts (that will fade) but a deeper understanding of how things work.

Whereas the kids in school have been told what pieces to put where and how to put them in, to drop that interesting piece because it's not part of the curriculum. By the time they hit middle school most are ready to slam the door on the puzzle and have nothing more to do with it.
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd, and it's a link

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Strewing is a little like at school, when they change the bulletin boards for different seasons, or museums when they change displays.

It's restaging the learning area.

Unschoolers don't need to wait weeks or months to restage, though. Something interesting might be set out every day or two.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Personal healing

I've accomplished a lot of personal healing and family progress by treating
my children the way I wish I could have been treated when I was their age. Instead of using a script from my own childhood, instead of saying what my mom or one of my teachers would have said to me, I really look at my own child and I try to say what they need to hear, what will make their life and learning easier and less stressful. (2/3 down)
photo by Sandra Dodd—fossil; limestone; Austin

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Joyful Living

Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

The unschooling philosophy is that people will learn what they need to learn by living life freely and joyfully in an environment that supports who they are and is rich enough for them to both explore their interests and stumble across new interests.

Extending the philosophy of unschooling into all of life doesn't have a word so I'm calling it Joyful Living. (Among other things like: mindful parenting, peaceful parenting, aware parenting, responsive parenting, extending the unschooling philosophy into parenting ... 🙂
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, December 12, 2011

The very best friend

Instead of "You're the parent, not their friend," substitute, "Be the very very best friend to them you can possibly be."

—Pam Sorooshian
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The best I can do

My mother did the best she could, I suppose. I need to do the best I can do. So I tell my children everything they want to know. I show them the world in words and pictures and music. While they're becoming better, wiser people, I am too. I wish I had learned these things before they were born, but I didn't have my teachers yet. I have tried to pass on to other moms the best of what works well for us, and to put little warning beacons near pitfalls.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, December 10, 2011

And then what?

Mindfulness is about remembering that what I'm doing right now is going to have an effect on what will happen next, not just in my own life, but in other people's lives.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, December 9, 2011

General happiness

Pam Sorooshian wrote, in a discussion on December 5:

Our goal as unschoolers isn't 'have fun'—that's not ambitious enough. That's good as a goal for a birthday party, but not for parents who have taken the responsibility for helping their children learn. We are aiming
for more than that—we are expanding our children's horizons and helping them deepen their understanding of all kinds of things in the world.
. . . .

Learning is intrinsically satisfying and so a child should feel generally satisfied and happy if his/her life involves lots of opportunities for learning. I think general happiness is a good gauge of whether things are going well...but to say that our purpose is to have fun is to vastly understate and mislead about what we're doing.
—Pam Sorooshian
photo by Sandra Dodd, of the peel of a little orange that came off all in one piece

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A philosophical shift

People don't become really good at unschooling without changing the way they see themselves and the world. At the core of it, I think there is a philosophical shift that has to happen. Because people want to overlay unschooling on same old business-as-usual life it doesn't really fit very well; you have to remodel the house a bit.

(Not literally a house; not literally remodel. That was from a recorded interview so I can't edit it now.)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Your role is...

"Your role isn't to set up a path for them to follow but to set up the environment for them to explore."
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Food for Thought

Starting from food, moving to learning...

There's another aspect past the fact that hungry kids are cranky.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs says a person who is hungry cannot learn, so for unschooling I think that could be the very first consideration.

When a family doesn't consider learning the primary goal of unschooling, things can disintegrate pretty quickly. YES, once you get it going kids are learning all the time. But if a family starts with the idea that learning is happening all the time, they might never quite get the learning part of unschooling going. And in that case learning will NOT happen all the time. It's subtle but crucial.

From a discussion at Always Learning, in 2011
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, December 5, 2011

God speaks through light

I got a daily calendar in India, each page having a different picture of Ganesha and a quote. One is:
God talks to His devotees through intuitive feeling, through friends, through light and through a voice heard within.
I really like that intuition and "a voice heard within" are separate. Having grown up Baptist, "friends" were often considered to be the devil for sure. But best of all is "light." Inspiration and clarity, no doubt, but things look different in different lights.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of figurines brought home from India last year

Sunday, December 4, 2011


No one could make a website, or a book, or a library or a university with all the history you will come across in your life. Frolic! Delve.

Catch it in your peripheral vision. Learn it in relation to cooking or automechanics or learning which plants came from other countries when, and why. Why were airplane plants popular with Victorian ladies and with hippies? And the Victorian ladies couldn't have called them airplane plants, so what did they call them? And why did they have them? And what does NASA think of airplane plants? They're #1 on NASA's list! But wait... that's not just history. It involves geography, home decorating, botany and the space program. Don't stop 'til you get enough.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The flow of words

Words are like all the oceans and rivers in the world, like the rain and snow. They are insubstantial in a way; they can become solid, as these on this page are, or they can be flowing, as in a song or rhyme, or they can dissolve into the air. They can come crashing against you or knock you down. They can erode trust and love, as water can erode a cliff. They can soothe and heal and cleanse.

There are always more words to choose from and rearrange as you wish, and you can produce more and more new combinations until you're too old to remember how to do it, if you live that long.

Make choices when you use words. . . . Speak from your heart and your thoughts, not from your hurts or your fears. Use your words for good, for nurturing. Use your words to protect the peace of your home. Keep your words to yourself sometimes, but other times be so courageous that you put some words out there as a warning and a fence between you and those who wish to harm you with their own outflow of dangerous words.

Don't waste your words.

Build gifts from words.

from "Words" in The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Jessica Sexton, of Gioia Cerullo and Kirby Dodd,
in San Diego, September 2011


Friday, December 2, 2011


Some mom reading here might look up and smile at her child, or touch his head softly, or turn off the computer and go watch him build with Lego, or go with him to the park to throw a frisbee for the dog. Maybe without this she would've told him to just go do something else because she had to fix dinner.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Your mind and your vision

Because John Holt was SO interested in children, every time he interacted with one, he saw a child interacting with a fascinated adult. THIS is one of the things unschoolers need to remember. When the adult brings boredom, cynicism, criticism and doubt to the table, that's what he'll see and that's how he'll see it, and it will be no fault of the child's whatsoever.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Be specific (more or less)

When other people ask me I say "We homeschool."

When other homeschoolers ask me, I say "We're unschoolers."

When other unschoolers ask me, I might say "We're radical unschoolers."

from page 32 of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"What about social growth?"

Concerning the "socialization" question...

It might be useful to ask conversationally, "What do you mean?" It's very likely they don't know what they mean. It's a question asked out of very vague fear. If they have an answer, say "Can you give me an example?" It probably won't take much to lead them to see that they haven't really thought much about the topic.

Some home educating families feel that they're on trial, or at least being tested. If someone asks you something like "What about his social growth?" it's not an oral exam. You're not required to recite. You could say "We're not worried about it" and smile, until you develop particular stories about your own child. It's easier as your children get older and you're sharing what you *know* rather than what you've read or heard.

These might help, depending on the way the questions are coming along.
photo by Holly Dodd

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kids want to learn.

I think the way adults learn is the best way to learn — ask questions, look things up, try things out and get help when it’s needed.

Kids want to learn. When people unschool their kids, the relationship with the kids becomes the driving force, and it becomes the environment for more learning and more happiness, which primes the pump and you can’t stop it. Try not to learn. You can’t do it.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No Need to Recover

All of my children have worked in jobs alongside college graduates. Mine did so without college loans to repay, though they might pick up some college debt yet. My husband didn't get his engineering degree until he was nearly 29, and he went through public school and then straight to college. He ran out of steam, tired of school and schooling, by the age of 20. It came back to him, though, once he had some time to recover. My kids won't need to recover from schooling.

Why I Unschooled My Three Kids (an interview)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

Just as we've thrown out school for something better that works, we've thrown out conventional parenting practice for something better than works! And just as throwing out school doesn't mean throwing out learning, throwing out conventional parenting doesn't mean throwing out parenting. We're there *with* our kids, helping them, talking to them about life, helping them solve problems.
. . . .
There's more to unschooling than just not doing school. To make it flourish we need to look at ourselves, our relationship, the way we look at the world in a new way to clear out the thinking that's holding us back.
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, November 25, 2011

Flowing and open

When parents and children can be partners rather than adversaries, communications will be flowing and open.

In families with punishments, criticism and shaming, children sometimes avoid the parents in social situations, and they will hesitate to share secrets or problems with their parents.

From a 2009 Interview called just "Unschooling"
photo by Sandra Dodd, of an irrigation ditch in Los Luceros, near Alcalde

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What are you storing up?

The really good thing about happiness is that it’s portable. It’s cheap. It doesn’t need a safety deposit box or an inheritance. You can give the same amount to all your kids, and they don’t have to wait until they’re 18 to claim and use it! Think about that. They can have it right now, and start using it, without taking yours away from you.

Do kids need to have their own room to store their happiness in? No. Do kids need to wait nine weeks to get a report card that says they’re doing well in happiness? No. Will working really hard now store up happiness they can use later? That’s the going theory, the one we were raised on, but I no longer believe it.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Sometimes when a mom is really frustrated with doing the dishes, it can help to get rid of dishes with bad memories and connections, or put them in storage for a while. Happy, fun dishes with pleasant associations are easier to wash.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A warm welcome

Deb Lewis wrote:

"If you could not have both or if it was rare to have both, consider which would be more important, having your daughter’s help with housework or having a warm and loving relationship with her. Which will serve her better? Children who do not have a loving connection with parents *will* look for one elsewhere. They may find it with people who don’t have their best interest at heart."
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, November 21, 2011


Harmony makes many things easier. When there is disharmony, everyone is affected. When there is harmony, everyone is affected too. So if it is six of one or half a dozen of the other, go with harmony instead!

How you live in the moment affects how you live in the hour, and the day, and the lifetime.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Where are you going?

If you don't know where you're going, it's hard to begin to get there. If where you want to go is a fantasy, then it's impossible to get there.
from page 25 of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Keith Dodd, of the Chama River,
near Abiquiu, New Mexico


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Principles sustain; rules constrain

Ben Lovejoy wrote:

Question the rules, and question the principles as well. But once you and your family have chosen the principles important to the family, you'll find that no one will want to change or break or get around them like they will rules.

Principles sustain a life; rules will constrain that very same life.

—Ben Lovejoy
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, November 18, 2011

Something so profound...

Just as the topic of food can be a hurdle or a brick wall to some trying to get unschooling, it can also be the source of the epiphany that sheds light on all other principles involved in natural learning and parenting peacefully. Consider a child who has been told what and how much to eat, and told how his body feels by someone trying to manipulate or control him. That is not about learning or choices. If a parent understands that a child can learn about food by trying it, by eating it or not, by sensing how his own body feels, the parent understands something so profound that all their lives will change.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Safe and simple

Someone fearful of "media violence" wrote, "I know this is a complex topic."
Joyce Fetteroll responded:

Only when it's mixed in with traditional parenting, school, disconnection.

In unschooling families it's simple: we help our kids explore what interests them in ways that are safe. And the side effects are that they find being loved and trusted and accepted for who they are is a whole lot more attractive than hatefulness and meanness. When their lives are full to overflowing with love, they don't need violence to get something they're lacking. All they need is to ask and they have a parent who will help them get it.

It's really that simple! Not complex at all.

Logic and Parenting
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Access to information

Little by little, years ago, I started to see that each little idea that had changed my own family had the potential, if I could explain it clearly enough, to change another family. Just a little was enough. As more and more families shared their successes and joys, the world changed. As more information was gathered and put where others could find it, the rate of change increased.

When I was first unschooling, we waited two months for a new issues of Growing Without Schooling. There was no internet discussion at all. When that began, a few years later, it was user groups, not even e- mail or webpages yet. Today someone can get more information about unschooling in one day than existed in the whole world when my oldest was five. I'm glad to have been part of honing, polishing, clarifying and gathering those ideas, stories and examples, and keeping them where others have quick access to them.

Interview with Sandra Dodd, Natural Parenting, 2010 (Section #5)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Unschooling is easy for children, once parents relax into it and come to understand it. It's a way of living with children in a life based on sharing a joyous exploration of the world.
photo by Holly Dodd (of Keith and me, at the fairgrounds one day)