Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Good Stuff

There are probably things in your house that would fascinate your children but you haven't thought to offer or they haven't found the good stuff yet. Consider interesting things you have that might be of interest for being old, foreign, specially made or obtained under special circumstances:
dishes / pots /molds
silverware—even one old piece you know something about
egg beater
flour sifter
can openers (“church keys”)
old bottles or other containers
old clothes from the 60's or 70's
recordings—reel to reel, 45's, 78's, 8-tracks
manual typewriter
push mower
pre-transistor radio
More of that list, and the parent article are at
photo by Holly Dodd
(one of the cover images on the first edition of The Big Book of Unschooling)


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Live large

Unschoolers don't "just live." They live large. They live expansively, and richly and joyfully. Those are the things that make it work.

Shadow photos
photo by Sandra Dodd, of Holly

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

words, thoughts, and seeing

Speaking or writing without thinking is a little like driving a car with a blindfold. Others get hurt, we get hurt, the car gets wrecked.

Speaking or writing without thinking is like operating a relationship with a blindfold, with ear plugs, going "LA LA LA LA, I DON'T HAVE TO LISTEN TO MYSELF!!" all the whole time.

How can one see her own child directly without hushing, pulling out the earplugs, and looking at him?

If I let him...
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, March 28, 2011

Duck Hunt

Part of a story from when Marty Dodd was 14 years old:

The final day, graduation from the Junior Police Academy, they march in like soldiers, doing face drills and filing in and pledging allegiance (we briefed Marty on that this week; he said he knew it from a humorous version in the bathroom, just leave out the joke parts)...

Ceremonial this'n'that, certificates, pins, Marty was awarded a certificate as "Top Gun" (electronic target practice guns, F.A.T.S. and paintball guns) which also came with $15 gift certificate to a sporting goods store. Seven or eight other kids (of 32) got awards like most pushups, most improved, most physically fit male.

Of Marty, I thought "All that Nintendo Duck Hunt paid off."

"How Are They as Teens?
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Can an idea be a tool?

When I was a kid, humans used tools and that made us human, but that's no longer "the truth." Chimpanzees can use a leaf as a sponge to gather water out of a hole. They will lick a stick and put it down a hole to collect insects (termites? ants? I don't know what). They will move things to climb up on to get something they can't reach.

Marty says he thinks maybe elephants will pick up a stick to knock something down that's higher than their trunks. If they haven't, they should.

So what, these days, are "tools"? My computer? Google? Wikipedia? My new glasses? That electric teakettle I'm about to go and heat water with?

We talk about parenting tools, and people adding to their toolboxes, and those are all in the realm of thought (and action proceeding from thought, but without physical tools).

"Tools" (on the Thinking Sticks blog)
photo by Holly Dodd

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Surprising, trivial fun

Sometimes to understand a joke, people have to know three or four different things already. Sometimes a piece of humor ties together LOTS of trivia/learning in ways other things can't do. Sometimes the joke isn't uplifting, but it's still created of surprising and theretofore unrelated things. Some people won't get the joke (yet, or ever) and that only makes it more fun for those who DO get it.
photo by Holly Dodd (maybe)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Peace is all about choices.

If you want to live peacefully, make the most peaceful choices.

Peace is all about choices.

Choose to breathe consciously.
Choose understanding over ignorance.
Choose to make choices.
Choose awareness over oblivion.
And make choices based on the principles you live by.
photo and art by Marcia Simonds

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Waking up happy

If my children wake up in Albuquerque, happy to be who and where they are, I hope they can maintain that feeling every day until they wake up in the middle of the next century and look out—I don’t care what they’re looking at, whether it’s the Alps, the Rio Grande, the back of their own filling station or the White House Lawn—and they’re still happy to be who and where they are. Who could ask for more than happiness? Don’t wait. Get it today and give it away.
The quote is from an article written in 1996. My kids won't make it to the middle of the 22nd century. The oldest was nine when I wrote that. He's been waking up in Austin for most of four years now, where he moved for a job he loves.

photo by Sandra Dodd, of a little bit of a sunrise in Albuquerque

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How important is your child?

If your child is more important than your vision of your child, life becomes easier.
photo by Sandra Dodd of Marty (in front) and Kirby (in red)

2019 Update:
A second edition of The Big Book of Unschooling is available.
A wedge of the photo above appeared on the cover of the first edition.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One deep breath leads to another one.

When I was younger I lived too much in my head and would look through the lens of what should be, or could be, or might be, instead of stopping for two seconds to consider what actually, at that moment, was. If I'm not careful I can be cranky before I know I'm tired, and head-achy before I know I'm hungry.

Now, while I'm taking stock of how and where I am, I take a deep breath while I'm considering it, and that one deep breath leads to another one, and no matter where I started, I'm better already.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of a "dripping rainbow"

Monday, March 21, 2011

Two for One

Pattern tiles, magnets, puzzles, kits and other such fiddlin'-around stuff are good for children and adults both. They create opportunities for parents and children to interact in wordless or talkative ways, as suits the moment.

Wishlists for Unschoolers
Scanner art by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Everyday Art

Something you can see from your computer is at the point where art meets technology, or tradition meets function or something. Perhaps it's your computer, or phone. Chair. A nice felt-tip pen, or a lamp.

Is there a certain spoon or knife or mug that people in your family especially like because it feels good in your hand, has a good balance or something? What about favorite towels or sheets? Pillows? Maybe discuss where these things came from, who made what kinds of decisions about them, and how rich the world is in design artistry of all sorts.

Everyday Art (on the Thinking Sticks blog)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Range of thought

My children discuss behavior and social interactions as easily as they discuss Nintendo or their own cats and dogs. When I was their age, psychology, comparative religion and anthropology were far in my future. My kids might not have much formal terminology, but they're extremely conversant and certainly can think in those areas without knowing they're too young (by the book) to do so. They understand well that there are many versions of historical events. They understand that there are different ways to act in different situations, and with people who have particular beliefs and preferences. Some adults could use knowing that.
photo by Holly Dodd

Friday, March 18, 2011

Find the Best

Find the best in each moment, the best moments in each hour, and by focusing on what is sweet and good, you will help others see the sweetness and goodness, too.

The quote is from an e-mail yesterday, and was made a bit more general.
A good link for it is
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dads and unschooling

Usually moms find unschooling first, and understand it more easily than dads do. It does happen, though, that if and when a dad does find his way to appreciate the potential of unschooling, he can surpass the mom's understanding in no time.

What can help? Patience on the mom's part. No ultimatum. Ease in lovingly. Seeing other dads with their unschooled children has helped many, many fathers see a kind of relationship they had never imagined.

See words and images of dads here:
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Where parenting is concerned, logic can be short-circuited by emotion or culture (or both).

Don't do things that don't make sense.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An advance vision of homeschooling

I went to school. Most people reading this probably went to school. But most people reading this probably are not sending their children to school. Many of you are probably finding that your vision of homeschooling isn't exactly the same as the reality of your child's life at home. I know my own vision missed coming true.
. . .
I don't mind that my vision failed. The realities of longterm natural learning were not within the scope of my beginning-homeschooler imagination. If their lives had unfolded as I had predicted they would have been smaller and sadder. I'm very happy to report that their real, natural, unschooled lives are both bigger and happier than my imagination.

The quotes are the beginning and end of Books and Saxophones
photo of Holly and Veronique by Sandra Dodd

Monday, March 14, 2011

One step isn't really far enough

There are several sayings about the journey of a lifetime beginning with a single step and such. One step isn't the beginning of a journey if you keep one foot in the yard. You have to get away from the starting point completely.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A good nest

The nest I built for my children even before I knew we would homeschool was made of toys and books, music and videos, and a yard without stickers. It was a good nest.
(The quote is from elsewhere, but that's a good link for it.)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Respect for the wholeness of children

When humor exists at the expense of children's dignity and self esteem, when humor is an indicator of the jokester's true feelings about the wholeness and value and intelligence of chidren, that undermines children's worth and their chances of being seen, heard and respected as the full and important humans they are.
. . .

Yes, jokes are funny, and yes, people need to have a sense of humor, but people also should have a sense of their own beliefs and courage and the future of mankind. Is that overstating it? Maybe and maybe not.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, March 11, 2011

Live sweetly by choice

It seems to me the best you can do for your family is to choose to be with them as long and as well as you can be, mindfully aware that you have chosen to do this.

Live sweetly by choice.

From my handwritten notes for a 2004 presentation that was pre-empted for a last-minute speaker.
photo by Sandra Dodd of the cloth from the article here

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Follow a movie's leads..."

Movies touch and show just about everything in the world.

There are movies about history and movies that are history. There are movies about art and movies that are art. There are movies about music and movies that would be nearly nothing in the absence of their soundtracks. Movies show us different places and lifestyles, real and imagined.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Boys becoming men

Looking back, I think the best advice I can give parents of boys who are concerned that they might not become men is this: Consider them to be whole, no matter how old they are. Treat them with respect and find ways for them to be around as many people and situations as you can, and whenever possible let them make choices about how long to be out and when to go home; what to attempt and what to stall off on; what to start and what to quit.

A rich and busy life can lead to unexpected benefits, and even if nothing remarkable happens, you will have had a rich and busy life with your sons. Few parents have that. Few men grew up in the warmth of smiles and approval and opportunities to explore or to stay home.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Service as Affection

Even with grown kids who could absolutely take care of themselves if I died or if they moved away, I'm still doing laundry for them because I want to free their time up to do more interesting things. I started running out of ways to express my affection and to support their interests when they had jobs and cars, but this is a thing I can still do. If I decided it was hurting me, I could turn around and hurt them. Lots of parents do that.

If I decide it's a way to show affection, I turn around and show them affection.

photo by Holly Dodd

Monday, March 7, 2011

Just Say NO

If people want you to be disdainful of your children or to treat them harshly,
just say no.

The Big Book of Unschooling, page 46 (or something else later)
on the page that links to Logic
photo by Holly Dodd

Sunday, March 6, 2011

New Clouds

Recently, far from home,
I was looking at a "coffeetable book" of photos of clouds. The author had included contrails. Until that moment, I had always thought of them as pollution, messing up the sky. But Holly had no such aversion to them, and without knowing I had seen them bound up in a collection of images of beauty, she took this photo one day in Albuquerque.

Our children do not need to carry our negativity or our nervous fears. Clouds are temporary in any form, and behind them all is light.

photo by Holly Dodd

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Playful Attitude

Some people think of play as frolicking, or as make-believe, but it can be a pervasive mood and include the way people bring groceries in, and watch movies, and sort laundry and sing in the shower.

A light and playful attitude changes everything.

Mindful Parenting
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gentle Touch

When you touch them gently, you're experiencing gentle touch yourself.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Light from the TV

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.

What if little kids watch TV all day?
What can happen?

photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What proof do you have?

A response to this question:
What proof do you have that it is working? How would you suggest parents reassure themselves that this path is providing everything their children need?

Well starting at the end, there is no path that will provide everything for a child. There are some [paths] that don't even begin to intend to provide everything their children need. Maybe first parents should consider what it is they think their children really need.

As to proof of whether unschooling is working, if the question is whether kids are learning, parents can tell when they're learning because they're there with them. How did you know when your child could ride a bike? You were able to let go, quit running, and watch him ride away. You know they can tell time when they tell you what time it is. You know they're learning to read when you spell something out to your husband and the kid speaks the secret word right in front of the younger siblings. In real-life practical ways children begin to use what they're learning, and as they're not off at school, the parents see the evidence of their learning constantly. a
photo of a kaleidoscope (and Holly) by Holly

Holly was six when the response above was written,
and nineteen when she took the photo.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Contentment is Peace

For learning to happen in ANY situation, safety and some peace are required.

Can there be too much peace? For learning, yes. Learning requires mental arousal. If an environment is so still and barren that one's curiosity isn't sparked, then people might be closer to a state of sleep than of excited curiosity. Life can be too dull and quiet for learning to spontaneously happen.

Can there be too little peace? Yes, and in many ways. There can be too much noise, stimulation and chaos. So finding the balance place and the comfort level is part of creating a peaceful home.

Peace is a prerequisite to natural, curious, intellectual exploration.

What is peace, then, in a home with children? Contentment is peace.

Is a child happy to be where he is? That is a kind of peace. If he wakes up disappointed, that is not peace, no matter how quiet the house is or how clean and "feng shuid" his room is.

Peace, like learning, is largely internal.
photo by Sandra Dodd