Monday, February 28, 2011

Messages from your stuff

My maiden name was Adams, and I remember being taunted by kids singing the theme song to The Addams Family TV show, but that line "Their house is a museum where people come to see 'em" stuck with me always. When I go to other people's houses I love to see what they have. The things they've chosen to keep, or collected over the years, teach me a good deal about those people themselves—their interests, their history, their sense of humor, and philosophy.

From Your House as a Museum,
written in 1999, before I so carefully avoided the word "teach."

Photo by Sandra Dodd, of a display
at the Bryn Athyn Church School; not my art;
not my "museum" sample, but it was fun to see.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

just a second

The sunset came into my yard this way for just a few moments. I could have missed it. I have missed most sunsets in my life.

You will miss much of your child's life. Try not to miss too many moments.

It only takes a second to do better.

Getting It
sunset photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Results of Unschooling

I can't really speak to any "end results," because they're still growing and experiencing the newness of many firsts in their lives. If there is ever an "end," the results won't matter anymore. But as long as life continues, the results unfold.
Are my children better friends and better employees because of the freedom they had? It seems so. What kind of managers will they be when they're in positions to make decisions about other people's employment?

When they marry will they be good partners? Would that be an "end result"? What kind of parents will they be?

What kind of neighbors will they be? How will their long-term health be affected by their early freedom to make their own choices? Will they be more or less likely to be binge eaters, substance abusers, or hypochondriacs? When they're old, will they still be active and interesting? Will their early freedoms affect their geriatric physical and mental health? I don't know, and probably won't be around to see.

In this window of time, though, I am satisfied. The peace and joy with which they live attests to the success of our attachment parenting and unschooling. Our lives are entwined and growing. The end result of twenty-one years of parenting as mindfully and as peacefully as I could is that I am content with the outcome. Someday I might report on the end result of twenty-five or thirty years of parenting, as life burgeons on., 2007
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, February 25, 2011

Playing for real

Playing with words makes them come to life.

The history of England, of math, of writing, of counting... all clued above and in all the histories of words. Any portal into the universe is as real as any other. If an interest in language or butterflies or patterns or water creates connections for that person to anything else in the world, that can lead to EVERYTHING else in the world.

A parent cannot decipher the whole world for her child, but she can help him begin to decipher it.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of a sign in The Mercer Museum
in Doylestown, Pennsylvania


Thursday, February 24, 2011

There goes the darkness

One of my guiding principles is that I want my children's worlds to be sparkly.

There goes the dull and the darkness. Easily not chosen, not an option.

Sparkly Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What we hoped to accomplish

A couple of times recently I said that Keith had once said of what we hoped to accomplish by unschooling: "We wanted them to grow up undamaged."

Tonight I looked for the exact quote. It is this:
We wanted our children to become thoughtful, intelligent, undamaged adults. —Keith Dodd
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, February 21, 2011

"The goal"

If I saw [unschooling] simply as a means to get them to college, I might be nervous. I see it as a way to live. I don't see it as keeping the kids out of college or hampering their opportunities for formal learning if they go that route, I'm not holding college up to them or me as “the goal.” The goal, for me, is that they will be thoughtful, compassionate, curious, kind and joyful. That's all. That's not asking much, is it? I think if those traits are intact in them, they will continue to learn their whole lives.
photo by Sandra Dodd
Words 1998; Image 2011.

New Improved Thinking!

In response to someone talking about her children learning "to self regulate":

"Self regulate" means to make a rule and then follow it yourself.
They're not self regulating. They're making choices.
It's different. It's better!

Weeding out terminology we would prefer not to mean improves thinking.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Better, wiser people

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.

Moving a Puddle, page 53
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, February 18, 2011

moments in days in lives

At your house it will be morning again within 24 hours, but it could be morning in your heart any second. 
photo by Sandra Dodd
(and it's a link)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Invitation to Bonding

Maybe it’s not physical need, but intellectual need. Boredom is a desire for input that unschooling parents should welcome. It’s a child saying “How can I add excitement to my life?” This can be a big opportunity to introduce a new subject, activity, or thought-collection.

Maybe it’s an emotional need, and the parent’s undivided attention for a little while will solve the problem. A walk, some joking, a hug, inquiries about progress on the child’s projects or plans or friends might serve many purposes at once. If after a walk and a talk the child is not quite refreshed, you still had that time together, which made “I’m bored” a useful invitation to bonding.

Bored No More
photo by Sandra Dodd

Mental Gymnastics

The way jokes usually work is that they cause you to connect two things in your mind that you hadn't connected before, and if it happens quickly and surprisingly, you laugh. Humor induces thought. Those without the information inside won't "get the joke." No one gets all jokes, but the more we know the more we'll get.

Over the next few days when something funny happens you might want to take a moment to think about why it amused you, and what you needed to know to understand that joke. (There are many studies and analyses of humor, but they're never funny. Some are written in such stilted jargon that THAT is funny!) I do not recommend discussing this with young children. They don't need to know how humor works. They need to have parents who appreciate their laughter and who can find even more things to amuse them and help them do the mental gymnastics necessary for that happy laughter to arise.

To Get More Jokes
Photo by Kirby Dodd by... someone who picked up the camera.
I will credit better if someone remembers.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nurturing confidence

We can nurture confidence in kids by becoming confident ourselves.

The quote is from an online chat on January 31, 2011 (lost, except for that quote).
More on confidence
photo by Sandra Dodd, in Minnesota in 2007

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

native curiosity

Unschooling is about learning, and not about teaching. Unschooling parents rely on their children's native, undamaged curiosity and on the interesting world around them.
photo by Sandra Dodd
(snake in captivity, behind glass)


Monday, February 14, 2011

the developing souls and minds of children

I think if people divide their lives into academic and non-academic, they're not radical unschoolers. I think unschooling in the context of a traditional set of rules and parental requirements and expectations will work better than structured school-at-home, but I don't think it will work as well for the developing souls and minds of the children involved. And those who are not radical unschoolers would look at that and say "What do their souls have to do with unschooling?"

If you wish this post had been longer and you want to take a five-minute detour, there is a song by Tracy Chapman called "All that You Have is Your Soul" (or you could listen to Emmylou Harris sing it).
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A squirrel at sunrise

Sometimes photos only take pictures of something that was and is no more. There was a squirrel standing beautifully on that snow, but he saw my camera move and was gone. Fortunately, the sun stayed.

I have photos of my children that remind me of an entire party, or of a trip, or of the visit of a friend. All I have is the flash of an image—that and many memories. It might be a picture of two of my kids, but I know the other one was there. It might be a birthday cake that reminds me of an entire party. Maybe ask your children sometimes for stories behind some of their photos or art, and share a bit about a favorite of your own.

photo by Sandra Dodd, Bryn Athyn

Friday, February 11, 2011

Easy choices

Practice pairs, for easy choice making:

photo by Sandra Dodd, Albany International Airport
(If that video isn't working, it's seven seconds of moving, foil leaves.)

a life change

If there is a method to unschooling it's certainly not a simple one. It involves changing one's stance and viewpoint on just about everything concerning children and learning. That's not "a method." That's a life change.
photo of "the rock house", from Sandia Tram, by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Fabric of Life

When learning is recognized in the fabric of life and encouraged, when families make their decisions based on what leads to more interesting and educational ends, children learn without effort, often without even knowing it, and parents learn along with them.
scanner art by Sandra Dodd; click it for more info

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thinking, Feeling, Living and Learning

How are you thinking?
How are you feeling?

How you are thinking and feeling is how you are living and learning.
Sandra Dodd; March 7, 2007
not in an unschooling context, that first time

photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Home Safety

When a parent learns to calm herself, or himself, many things happen. The home becomes safer. The parent becomes more reliable and more trustworthy. The children can make more choices without fear.

When a parent can learn to take one deep, calming breath while deciding what to do, the parent becomes wiser and more patient.

The quote is from page 205 of The Big Book of Unschooling, in the article on breathing, that links to this page:
[It's page 238 in the newer editions.]

photo by Sandra Dodd, of Holly with onion rings, when we went to Denny's because our wifi was down

Monday, February 7, 2011

Not lazy

Part of my response to a 2008 question about whether unschoolers will grow up lazy:

I've done resumes for LOTS of my friends. Kirby wrote his and just needed formatting, because he doesn't have Word. He wrote this in his intro:

"I am a long-experienced mentor and coach..."

Some people put stuff in their resumes I roll my eyes at, or hesitate to type up. Kirby is telling the simple truth. He's 21. Since he was twelve or so he's been helping teach karate, helping run games at the gaming shop. They hired him as soon as he turned 14 because he was already running the Pokemon tournaments for four hours every Saturday morning and it was against the rules of Pokemon gymleadermanship (!?) for it not to be an employee of the store. For over a third of his life he's been coaching and teaching and organizing people younger and older than he is.
photo by Sandra Dodd
at Denny's, with Holly

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Patterns in silence

Let us assume (with my house as an example, at least) that hyperactivity runs in families and that like attracts like. With extra energy, people can do two things at once. If one of those things is pattern-building and physical, that whole verbal part of the brain is still available. Working on patterns in silence allows one’s mind to whirl and twirl. Doing something non-verbal while talking has a special advantage: Silence is not awkward. Changing the subject temporarily to talk about the blocks or paints or puzzle is not really changing the subject. Fear and foreboding won’t cause people to leave the conversation or cry. It’s possible to pause, think, breathe, stall, collect oneself and come back to the topic in a minute. I have a near-teen here who sometimes needs to be with me a while before he gets to what he needs to say. That puzzle didn’t really need to be worked, but perhaps that child needed to sit with that parent.

From "Leaning on a Truck," 1999
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, February 5, 2011


In 1997, someone asked how unschooling moms stayed patient.

Other moms have told me they think I'm patient. It makes me feel guilty because I have the internal list of all the times I've blown it, but a few things have helped me.

The biggest was Adult Children of Alcoholics, an al-Anon group. I went to meetings for four years and learned a lot of calming and encouraging things. One of those is to remember what I wanted and needed as a child. Then I try to give those things to my children. I don't mean toys or books. I mean listening, and smiling, and joking, and letting them climb on stuff even if it made me nervous, and not making such strictly-to-the-minute rules like "be back at 5:45 or else" and other arbitrary control-junk. One of the quotes/sayings from that learning-time is "How Important Is It?" and thinking that little mantra can help a ton all by itself. If we waste our energy and our relationship with our children on how they wear their socks and where they keep their toothbrush between times, there's nothing left for important things. I try to save it for important things, and I try not to be the defining judge of what's important. There are things the kids consider very important, and I force myself (at first, until I calm myself and remind myself to give) to pay attention to their stuff too. No "That's nice dear" while I ignore them. When it happens, occasionally, that I've done that, I feel bad and I sometimes go back and say, "Tell me again about that game. I'm sorry. I wasn't really listening."

Next biggest influence was La Leche League. There I learned that children have within them what they need to know, and that the parent and child are a team, not adversaries. It reinforced the idea that if you are loving and gentle and patient that children want to do what you ask them to do, and that they will come to weaning, potty training, separation from mom, and all those milestones without stress and without fear if you don't scare them or stress them! Seems kind of obvious, but our culture has 1,000 roadblocks.

From having studied meditation and Eastern religion, I learned the value of breathing. I think what it does is dissipate adrenaline. I remember in the 1960's and early 1970's it was Big News that yogis could *actually* slow their heart rates at will! WELL duh. People had been doing it in church (those who cared to actually "be still and know") for hundreds of years, but nobody thought to wire up contemplative Christians.

When people (parents or kids) are agitated and are thinking for a moment that something has to happen JUST THIS WAY and RIGHT NOW, breathing helps. Deep breathing, slow, and full-as-possible exhalation. This is, in Western terms, "count to ten." Calm down and let the adrenaline go. Some people have biochemistry that's not easy to control, and some people count too fast.
(read aloud as an intro, in the recording at the bottom of the page)

photo by Sandra Dodd of the neighbor's tree seen through an inch-thick piece of ice from a bucket of water on a cold day

Friday, February 4, 2011

a hook to hang it on

Everything counts, and every connection made increases the depth and breadth of the map of the universe each person is building. It makes it easier to learn the next few things, because there are more places to hook the knowledge.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, February 3, 2011

There *will* be longterm effects...

We can mess them up early (which our culture applauds) or we can learn to let them grow whole and healthy and strong and free, not crippled in mind and spirit.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Big Deals

I found a note on my desk, in my handwriting, that says "How long do you think it will be before it's not a big deal?"

At first I couldn't remember why I had written it, but it was an idea for an interview I'm planning.

It's a good question for many occasions, though. How long before our school successes or hurts aren't a big deal? In hindsight, you might have personal worries or stories that once obscured the entire horizon, and now they're not the big deals they once were.

Click here and the photo for two sources of examples of once-big excitement.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Running in the fog

Once there was heavy fog at our house. Kirby was four or five. He had never seen it at all, and this was as thick as I have ever seen fog. He wanted to go and touch it. I yelled "Let's go!" and we ran up the road, and ran, and ran. About seven houses up we got tired, and I said "Look" and pointed back toward our house, which was gone in the fog.

I did not say "See? You can't touch it, really, it's touching us, it's all around us."
I didn't say "Let's don't bother, it's just the same wherever in there you are."

I let him experience the fog. He learned by running in fog and smelling it, and losing his house in it.

Learning to See Differently
photo by Sandra Dodd