Monday, January 31, 2011


The fundamental core of science is learning, and by definition it should involve discovery! Learning directly and indirectly about what people know and how they know it and what they do with it that has been helpful and harmful to themselves and the planet is much more than just science. It's history, geography and ethics.
photo by Sandra Dodd
(click to enlarge)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

When everything is new

What do babies want? They want to learn. They learn by touching and tasting and watching and listening. They learn to be gentle by people being gentle with them, and showing them how to touch hair nicely, and to touch cats and dogs gently. They want to learn which foods taste good. They want to learn how to walk, but you don't need to teach them. They'll want to know how to go up and down stairs at some point. They will eventually want to know how to get things off shelves and out of boxes. They will want to see what else is in the house, and in the yard, and you can help them do that safely.

A baby doesn't want to look at and touch the very same things day after day after day any more than you would want to watch the same movie every day for a year, or sit in the same place in your house all the time. Sing different songs with him. Play different finger games. Change what he can see in the bedroom sometimes.

The quote is from page 59 (or 64) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Growing in confidence together

My confidence as a parent has come from seeing the growth and the robust emotional health of my children. Some of their confidence seems to come from knowing that they have confident parents taking care of them. We grew in our confidence together, as partners, and as a team.

As a link, I would like to offer a July 2006 blogpost from the last day all three of my kids were teens. It has photos from the first time they left home all together without a parent, the last time they left together as teenagers, and a photo of the family. Nearly five years have passed, and the confidence only increases.
Three teens! I have three teens!

The quote is from page 290 (or 329) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd, July 2009
when Kirby and Marty were already in their 20's

Friday, January 28, 2011

Humor as a warm-up

Humor is a great warm-up for any thinking. If one's mind can jump to get a joke, it will be easier for it to jump to synthesize any ideas, to make a complex plan, to use a tool in an unexpected way, to understand history and the complexities of politics. If a child can connect something about a food with a place name or an article of clothing, parents shouldn't worry that he hasn't memorized political boundaries or the multiplication table.
photo by Holly Dodd

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Elvis, Barbie and Rebellion

I started to name this post "Elvis," but up popped "Elvis, Barbie and Rebellion." When I went to search my other blogs to see why that was happening, I found "Elvis, Battle of New Orleans, Pinky and the Brain, Cavemen."

Those two sets of words, separated from their origins, are more interesting than what I had originally intended to write about Elvis. I invite you ponder for a moment what I might have been thinking.

If you get tired of that, you are welcome to explore the first one and the other one, at your leisure.
photo by Holly Dodd herself

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Look back at progress

[One day in 2006,] I dropped an egg on the floor. Just fumbled it, splat, and I looked at it. I remembered the first time I ever spilled anything and remained really calm. It was baby bathwater, when Kirby was just six months old or so. We were due to a meeting (LLL? Probably, or some appointment) soon, and I had given him a bath and had him all dressed to go, and wanted to pour the tub out. In moving it from the kitchen table over to the sink (a short distance at our old house—nobody who's recently been to our new house should bother to envision) it bent and like two or three gallons of soapy water went all over the floor.

I didn't cuss myself out, didn't stomp or yell or ANYthing. I just looked at it and thought the floor needed to be cleaned anyway, and I threw some rags or towels down on it so it wouldn't get away, and figured I'd clean it up better later. I never felt shame or embarrassment or frustration or the feeling that life isn't fair or that I was stupid. That was new to me, and I was 33.

A week and some ago, I dropped an egg calmly and realized it had been 20 years since I had to get angry and emotional over making a mistake like that.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unschooling as recovery

I rarely think about the sad parts of my childhood, because I've been able to share in the happy parts of my children's childhood.

The quote is from the AlwaysLearning discussion list.
photo by Sandra Dodd, and you can click it
to see it larger, if you want to


Monday, January 24, 2011



I recently saw how far I've come.

I knew that. Now I *know* that.

I am pretty sure I understand now!

Those quotes are from a collection of just a few of the unschooling epiphanies reported over the years. Not one of them is anything akin to "Yeah, I read that, but..." They're not about reading at all. They're about seeing, about realizing, about having acted in a new way after months or years of the percolation of ideas through a mind and heart open to learning.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Strength and teens

Once someone posted on a list I was on that "raising a teenager is like nailing jello to a tree."

HOW MUCH HAPPIER those families could have been had they dealt directly with one another as the actual people they were instead of taking on roles and spouting phrases they happened to have at the tip of their tongue (without thinking of where those bits of pre-formated dialog came from)...
I LOVE my teens.

When the story above was new, I had three teens. These days I'm down to one nineteen-year-old, my youngest. When the jello quote was posted, I objected and ended up leaving the group. I have continued to defend what I think is right and good, and I continue to have good relationships with my children.

Having teenagers grow up at my house was not like nailing anything to anything. They grew up like unharmed trees, and their strength and shade are a shelter to their parents and their siblings.
Warm, Safe Saturday
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Some people collect things. Even those who don't gather and store physical objects might like hearing all of one artist's music, or seeing all the movies by a single director. I used to want to go into every public building or business in my home town. I never succeeded, but I saw each building as "yes, have been inside," or "not yet."

It might not make sense to a parent that a child wants to save feathers or rocks or movie ticket stubs. That's okay. What's important is that the unschooling parent accept that there is thought involved that might not need to make sense to anyone else. If possible, the child's whims and wishes about such things should be accepted and supported.
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, January 21, 2011

What if kids watch TV all day?

It seems what will cause a kid to watch a show he doesn't want to watch is parental disapproval. If he's been told it's too scary, too adult, or forbidden, his natural curiosity might cause him to want to learn WHY. My kids, with the freedom to turn things on or off, turned LOTS of things off, or colored or did Lego or played with dolls or action figures during "the boring parts" (often happening to be the adult parts—what did they care?) and only looked back up when happy music or light or dogs or kids got their attention again.

from What if little kids watch TV all day? What can happen?
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, January 20, 2011

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.

Schools have a term for this preparatory, related stuff: Reading Readiness. And many of their six and seven year old students are "getting good grades in reading" because they're cooperative during reading readiness drills.

If parents are unaware of this, they will waste emotion and energy worrying or pressuring young children about reading. The problem is, reading is something that can take years of slow development. It requires some maturity of mind and body, neither of which can themselves read a calendar.

My recommendation to worried parents is to smile and wait and hold your child lovingly and to do no damage to his happiness while you're waiting for the day he can really read.
first photo by Sandra Dodd, of her own water calligraphy, in Albuquerque
second photo by Kelli Traaseth, of Kyra's writing, in Duluth


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You can have more.

"You can have more."

"I wish we had more; I'll get some next time I go to the store."

"Sure, you can have another one."

Those statements lead a person toward actually wondering whether he's still hungry or needy, and toward a feeling of contentment, of protection and provision, and of abundance. If someone has enough, neediness isn't likely to consume him.

The passage is from page 164 (or 184) of The Big Book of Unschooling
which is associated with Moving Toward Less Control, Concerning Food
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

word art love


orange peel message by Addi Davidson
photo by Jill Parmer, her mom
used by permission of both

Monday, January 17, 2011

Little things

Parents love big ideas, but one big idea is to go small. Sometimes go with one tiny change, in one small moment. Or pay attention to one small window of time. Once someone was asking how to peacefully move a child from one place to another, while being really present.

I wrote this:

Nobody's still and at kid-speed all the time. But if you can figure out how to do it sometimes, then you can choose to do it, or choose to go faster, but to bring him along in a happy way.

Instead of saying "Come on, let's go!" maybe you could have picked him up and twirled him around and said something sweet and by the time he knows it he's fifty yards from there, but happy to be with his happy mom.

On the page linked below, Schuyler wrote about little things and little moments. Little moments make big differences.
photo by Holly Dodd

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Much of what is considered "disorder" is just school-allergy.

When you bring your child home, leave all the labels and conditions at school.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Learning without Reading

I didn't know how much children could learn without reading, until I immersed myself in unschooling and my children's lives.

As their reading ability unfolded and grew, I learned things I never knew as a teacher, and that I wouldn't have learned as an unschooling mom had they happened to have read “early.” Reading isn't a prerequisite for learning. Maps can be read without knowing many words. Movies, music, museums and TV can fill a person with visions, knowledge, experiences and connections regardless of whether the person reads. Animals respond to people the same way whether the person can read or not. People can draw and paint whether they can read or not. Non-readers can recite poetry, act in plays, learn lyrics, rhyme, play with words, and talk about any topic in the world at length.

The second paragraph above is on the page
"Unforeseen Benefits of Unschooling,"
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Museum of Everything

When you're talking to young children who are figuring out their new language and their new world, avoid saying "always" or "never." Instead of making rules for him or dire predictions, explain your concerns and thoughts.  Give him some "why" to go with his "what" and "where" and "when." Even give him some "why" to go with his "who." Don't forget that he won't know what "aunt" and "cousin" mean. He won't automatically figure out "neighbor" or "co-worker."

You're like a docent in The Museum of Everything.

The quote is from page 63 (or 68) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nothing else

Nothing has ever made me feel better about me
than the feeling that I was being a good mom.

The quote is from page 214 (or 248) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How will they learn everything they need to know?

"How will they learn everything they need to know?"

Do the best of the high school graduates know everything they need to know? No, and at some point, ideally, they start learning on their own. Some fail to get to that point, though. Unschooled kids have a head start. They know how to find what they need to know, and they have not been trained to ignore things that won't be on the test.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

18 years old

How did reading the title "18 years old" make you feel? For some, there might have been an emotional response. I've had friends and relatives whose 18 year olds were required to either move out or start paying rent.

Some 18 year olds celebrate the occasion by doing things their parents had prevented for their whole lives up to that point.

It turns out that a person is just about the very same on the day of his 18th birthday as he was the day before. Unschoolers can live toward helping a child stay whole so that 18 is no particular landmark in his life, nor something to be feared or dreaded

The notes above were all new in 2011.
The page closest to it for linking purposes
was written seven years ago:
photo by Holly Dodd

Sunday, January 9, 2011


When school is gone,
life will be left.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Getting warm

If every conscious decision is taken with the intention of getting closer to the way one wants to be, then in a "getting warm / getting cold" way, it's not nearly as distant as one might have thought. You never even have to leave your regular house, car, family. It's right where you are, only the thoughts are different.

May you have warm relationships, warm feelings, a warm home, warm food and a warm bed.

The top paragraph is a quote from
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Music where it lives and breaths

A parent doesn't need to be a musician to bring more music into the house, or to take the family out to more music. Start finding music where it lives and breathes, and share stories about what you're hearing with your child just conversationally. Walk more slowly when you're around live musicians. Watch them. Listen.

The Big Book of Unschooling, page 83 (or 92)
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, January 7, 2011

Be where you are

Parents complain about children living in fantasy worlds sometimes, and not growing up and facing reality. I think probably in every single one of those cases, it was the parental fantasy of what the child ought to be doing that was really the problem.

Make each moment the best moment it can be. Be where you are with your body, mind and soul. It's the only place you can be, anyway. The rest is fantasy.

The Big Book of Unschooling, pages 72 and 73
(79 and 80 of the 2019 edition)
photo by Holly Dodd

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Holly took a picture of a reflection of me. I don't think I would have seen this, but Holly has an artist's eye. My face is on the hills, between the lake and the sky.

Marty can pack a car in a most efficient way, and remember all sorts of emergency or "just-in-case" equipment and provisions. He is helpful, funny, musical, and sweet.

Kirby has lived away from home for over three years now. He has a job with benefits, extra overtime, and nice, new gym. He has lots of friends at work. As he can wear whatever he wants to work, his desire to dress up was unfulfilled, so he bought a nice suit to wear to parties. He recently purchased a very nice car, without any parental assistance on financing. (We offered, but he wanted to establish credit.) He paid $5,000 down on that car, to the chagrin of the finance desk at the dealership. He has no student-loan debt whatsoever.
Is any of that "success"?

"Success" might be as ghostly and insubstantial as that image of me in the photo above. It can look nice, but how permanent is it? How warm? How strong?

Look at the immediate benefits of your decisions.
Look for the good parts of today.
Look for the value in this moment.

The ideas above grew too large for this format,
and have been expanded upon at
photo by Holly Dodd

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Old moon, new moon

That's last week's moon, as the sun was coming up, in our back yard. The same moon might've been in your back yard, but framed differently. Now, though, it's the dark of the moon, so this moon is old. Only they call the dark days "the new moon"!

It's really the same old moon.

Many things that are "the same old" whatever to you are new to your child. Or between spouses or friends, sometimes something one knows well might be interesting to the other. Maybe it wasn't, years ago, but it might be now.

Families with babies and toddlers sometimes find little time to gaze at the moon, but as children get older please remember that old things are always new to someone.

The photo above is by Sandra Dodd. The one below was taken by Rick Sanders, an unschooling dad and a professional photographer, during the eclipse on December 21, 2010.

© Richard Sanders, Sanders Photographics, Inc.; used by permission

Monday, January 3, 2011

Is unschooling too big a gamble?

Would school seem like less a gamble to you?
Would buying a curriculum seem like less a gamble?
Moving to a fancier neighborhood, or to a country not involved in any wars?

I cannot make my children's lives good. I can't ensure their success. I cannot make a tree grow. I can water it and put a barrier near so Keith doesn't hit it with a lawnmower, and ask my kids not to climb in it while it's young.

I could destroy that tree, all kinds of ways. I could do it damage. I could neglect it. But I can't predict where the next branch will grow, or whether it will double in size this year or just do 1/3 again of its height. Not all years' growth are the same.

I could mess my kids up and make them unhappy and keep them from having access to things, but I cannot make them learn. I can't make them mature. I can give them opportunities and room to grow, and food and water and a comfortable bed.

I can't guarantee anything for anyone else, nor for my own family. I know what does damage, and I know what might help.

from the page "Huge Gambles (or small gambles)"
photo by Holly Dodd

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Sometimes the thing to do is just to go to sleep.
photo by Holly Dodd

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I want to ask each person who reads this to do one extra thing... it will just take a minute.

Each day for a year, could you add one minute to the time you spend with a child? Any child. One extra minute. If you can infuse that moment with love or compassion, bonus!

I suppose that would be a minute you could be doing something else, but I doubt it would be something better.

Total request: 365 minutes. A little over six hours, out of a whole year. I'd really appreciate it, because it would make my own life, and my kids' lives better too. And I'll be at my house, or out where other people's kids are, trying each day to add one extra, special minute too.

The photo was taken at a pond near Ithaca, New York, by Karen James. When she gave me permission to use it, she wrote:
My son noticed the patterns in the ice. He dropped down on his hands and knees to observe and explore. I dropped down with him and was thrilled I did :) Through the eye of the camera, that four inch thick ice looked like an ocean, or a drop of water under a microscope. I loved the experience of looking into it!