Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Criss-cross trails

Do the best you can to survive the bumps and unexpected turns of the trails through the unschooling world, which will necessarily cross back over and through themselves, which is how learning works–a little now, a little more later to connect to what you've learned since, and detours that end up being short cuts.

The quote is from page 3 of The Big Book of Unschooling.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The more they get...

I often think back to the things I learned in La Leche League, from readings and other moms. If you nurse a child a long time does it make him dependent on the mom? Seems to be the opposite. If you hug a child every time he wants a hug, does it make him want a hug-a-day for life? You WISH!

The more they get, the less they need.
Photo of Kate Koetsier and her 10th Birthday cake by her mom, Cathy.
Quote from a very-early online chat for homeschoolers,
late 1995 or early 1996,

Monday, August 29, 2011


I wrote this in 1996, when my children were 9, 7 and 4.
As I'm posting it today, they are 25, 22 and 19.
So far so good.

Here are my goals for my children: I want them to learn something every day. I want them to greet the morning with joy. I want them to see strangers as potential friends. I want their lives to be adventures without a map, where there are innumerable destinations, and unlimited opportunities for “success.” I want their definition of success to include things they can see all around them, not just in Washington, not just at medical conventions, or the Olympics. I want them to wake up, look out the window, and be glad of the view. I want them to be content with their choices and their abilities. I want them to be realistic about goals and philosophical about failure. I want them to be happy.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Flowing and rich

Is it "child-led learning"?

This definition is probably the most common quick description, and one of the most harmful to the success of unschooling. It suggests that parents wait for children to decide what to learn. We have learning all the time; no waiting. Neither parents nor children need to "lead" learning, if the environment is flowing and rich.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, August 27, 2011


"Shelter doesn’t only mean a roof; it means a safe place of peace and healthfulness."
—Deb Lewis
photo by Sandra Dodd
__ __

Friday, August 26, 2011


Unschooling is about learning, exploration, peace and love. it shouldn't be about pressure, shame and failure.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bright, big and happy

If an idea piques your interest, keep reading and keep thinking. Think about your own childhood or those you've seen or contributed to. Think about arguments that seemed pointless in retrospect, and the damage done by them.

Picture and remember the difference between going to sleep content and crying yourself to sleep. Remember moments in your childhood when the world seemed bright and big and happy. Then the next time you have a decision to make with or for your child, lean a bit toward the happy contentment answer.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do a good job

If a family values love and relationships, unschooling can pay off in a jackpot of closeness and joy that could hardly be possible with school in the equation, and could never be bought back with a thousand hours of expensive therapy down the road. (Maybe factor in the time savings of not spending a thousand hours sitting and talking about what you could've done differently, in addition to the cost of it.)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Launching a child wildly (try not to)

With anything, if a family moves from rules (about food, freedoms, clocks, what to wear) to something new there's going to be the backlash, and thinking of catapults (or trebuchets, more technically, or of a rubber band airplane, or other crank-it-up projectile) the more pressure that's built up, the further that kid is going to launch if you let it go all at once.
another nice photo of the Rio Grande by Holly Dodd

Monday, August 22, 2011

Better Choices

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

My suggestion to you is to focus on making a "better" choice each time you can. I think that was the most helpful advice I got as a parent of younger kids—it was surprisingly practical and encouraging to simply consider at least two choices and pick the better one. The next time, try to think of the one you did choose and then one other—pick the better one. If you make a choice you're unhappy with, after the fact, think then about what would have been a better choice—have that one 'on hand' for next time.

Don't expect to be perfect, but expect yourself to be improving all the time.

—Pam Sorooshian
photo by Sandra Dodd, of something Keith Dodd carved

Sunday, August 21, 2011

If/then and other happy logic

Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

Some people, such as those who are naturally drawn to rules, who live under limitations accept the rules and stick to them. They live in fear and the rules are like talismans that will keep the boogeyman away. What happens when they are faced with new situations that they don't have rules in place for? People often extrapolate from the nonsense and extend the rules. But rational thought would reveal shoddy foundations for decision making.

If the reasons behind rules make sense, then there isn't a reason to make a rule. But people who follow rules aren't learning how to make decisions. They are only learning to follow someone else's rules.

If the reasons behind rules are nonsense, then people memorize nonsense and use that as a foundation for decision making.

—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A nicer person

Being gentle and honest and compassionate is as much for the doer as for the object. Being nice to the dog makes one a nicer person (regardless of the dog's opinion, I mean).

page 11, The Big Book of Unschooling
photo from the corner of Schuyler Waynforth's garden in Norfolk, by Sandra Dodd

Friday, August 19, 2011


Here is how to make yourself a safer, more peaceful person, before you even finish reading this post:

Just let your breath out, and don't breath back in right away. Empty out.
You can't talk without any air in you.

That will seem like five seconds, if you're full of adrenaline. But it will be one second or less.

Then your body will naturally fill back up, whether you want it to or not.
And the breath you breathe in will be all new oxygen. Not that dirty used adrenaline cloud you had built up before that. It might not totally dissipate in one breath; it might take three.

Hold it in. Top it off. Hold it. Let it out slowly—all the way out. Huff out the rest. Hold it out. Breathe in slowly...

There are a lot of people in prison for life who wouldn't be if they had known they could let all their breath out, breath back in, hold it.

And there are parents who swat their kids, or yell at them, or tell them something the kid might remember for life, when they could have breathed out, huffed out the rest, breathed in a deep breath.

Deep breaths will probably help. You don't have to do it formally, and nobody even needs to know you're doing it.

Quotes and paraphrases lifted from
photo by Sandra Dodd, of one part of Norwich Cathedral, from one angle, one moment

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Use your childhood memories

Just as the adult a child will be already lives in him, so the child you were still lives in you as an adult. If you have memories of childhood, examine them objectively sometimes when you're considering how to be with your own children.
. . . .
The list of things that marred your childhood can be your checklist of things to avoid or change or undo. The things that brought joy to you as a child can be things for you to do for and with your children, too, if you can.

from "Healing," on page 271 (or 313) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seeing Choices

We can't look at everything. Sometimes, choose the prettiest thing.

We can't examine every thought, so if you get overwhelmed, focus on a peaceful, hopeful thought.

We can't do everything, so when the choices come, try to choose beauty.

photo by Sandra Dodd, zoomed in from a whole different frame/view
shown here

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Learn by playing

Children learn by playing. Parents can learn about unschooling by playing.
Parents can learn about their children by playing, too. Don't try to control the play. Be the guest in your child's play sometimes. If you've forgotten how to play or he doesn't want you to play, just watch, then. See if you can help by providing more of whatever he might need: space, materials, a surface, boxes or bags or tools or a photo of what he's done so he won't feel so bad about taking it apart, maybe. Maybe he needs a light to keep playing outside at night, or maybe a darkened room in the house to play with something that glows.
photo by Sandra Dodd of flower fairies by a younger Holly Dodd

Monday, August 15, 2011

Full-time learning environment

Unschooling is a form of homeschooling; it's a way to homeschool. The method is to create and maintain a full-time learning environment in which learning happens at home and away, from as many sources as the family comes across.

from "Methods," page 109,The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the simple truth

"I have seen, again and again, the simple truth that the more a parent plays with, listens to, and includes their child, the better their relationship."
—Claire Horsley
photo by Holly Dodd

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Calm and Quiet

Please take time for reflection. Take time for your mind to be calm and quiet. Take time to be open to input, not busy creating output. Don't respond, think. Take the ideas and let them "be" in your mind and go spend lots of time with your children and consider and observe how the ideas might play out in your own home with your own kids.
—Pam Sorooshian
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unexpected discovery

My children have never asked, "Do we have to learn this?" They don't have to learn anything. So everything is equally fun for them. The joy of unexpected discovery is the substance of a typical unschooling day.

Typical Unschooling Day (Presidents)
photo by Holly Dodd

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stand with your child

In a discussion about limitations and choices, Joanna Murphy wrote:

People want to look at these issues as though there are only two options: free rein or limit. Black or white thinking. There is a whole world of conversation and relationship with your children between the two extremes.And that's where unschooling lives—a child exploring their world in connection with a parent.

Are you going to be a parent who enlarges your child's world and helps them to find their own power and hone their decision making and critical thinking abilities, or will you be a parent who limits and closes down your child's world and imposes your own ideas of right and wrong?

Stand WITH your child to navigate these issues, not in their way. The more you let them make important decisions, the more they will think them through and strive to make good ones for themselves.
—Joanna Murphy

Joanna Murphy, from Building an Unschooling Nest
photo by Sandra Dodd

(in French)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Treat your children as people first.

(a paraphrase of Dan Vilter, paraphrasing me,
and the whole story is at
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Extra Thinking is Good!

Public school discourages kids from coming up with off-the-wall responses. No bank shots, please. Just go directly from the question to the first sufficient answer—nothing tricky or dramatic, and nothing that makes you think, or makes the teacher think. If your answer isn't what's in the teacher's manual your answer is wrong. If you did extra thinking you wasted your time.

When learning is valued for its own sake, all thinking is good.

Photo by Sandra Dodd, of a dry-stone bridge made by Bruce Curtis, a home ed dad and a master drystone waller ("dyker" in Scottish parlance). Bruce made this particular bridge singlehandedly, to the specifications WWII engineers figured would hold an army tank. He didn't "have to." He wanted to. It's for golf carts and small automobiles. If you want to read more about drystone work click here, but remember it won't be on the test.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Consideration—more or less

"Children don’t deserve less consideration just because they’re small. They deserve *more* patience and kindness and consideration because they are young and still learning."
—Deb Lewis
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Getting Better

Don't expect to be perfect, but expect yourself to be improving all the time.
—Pam Sorooshian

Make the Better Choice
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I wrote this twelve years ago, but it's still true:

We keep a running commentary on one another’s lives, and so what I’m learning trickles down to them, and their questions make me think like crazy.

Crazy-thinking isn’t bad.
photo by Holly Dodd, of the stop sign, which is its own right direction

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sketch Books

Some families take sketch books with them on hikes and draw pictures of animals or plants, or maps, or take notes. They don't need to be great art, but if you practice recording what you see and think in ways other than words it will broaden your range of thought and abilities. And the updated version of the sketch book is the digital camera; the new field journal is the blog!

Maybe look at purses or wallets or shoulder bags. The shapes of intersections and overpasses and the railings on bridges. Public gardens and fountains. Street signs and traffic lights. The texture of concrete in different forms and uses. Wall coverings (paper or cloth; marble; paint; brick; tile…). Landscaping. Doorknobs and handles. Stairways and elevators. Waiting areas for the bus or train. Billboards and marquees. Clocks and watches. Hair clips. Key chains. Drinking glasses.

Even when more schools had art programs, they were limited. Unschoolers are not limited in their exposure to art in the vast everyday world.

Although it shouldn't be the starting or ending place, don't forget that the real world includes books and videos. There are museum sites online, too, with images of art you can zoom in on.

from "Art," page 84/85, Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What is substantially different?

People still look and sound the same before and after becoming unschoolers. The difference is in their beliefs and expectations, in their experiences and their positive attitudes.

from page 119 of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Love Life

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

Unschoolers focus on living a rich and stimulating life together. Seriously, that's it. We do not "school," but, instead, we concentrate on living a life filled with opportunities and possibilities and experiences.
. . .

I think, most of all, we want them to love being alive—now and in their future.
—Pam Sorooshian

I Live, Therefore I Learn: Living an Unschooling Life
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How many hours?

There are no hours of school, and there are no hours of not learning.

From a talk in Edinburgh (Q&A section of Unforeseen Benefits)
Sandra Dodd: Talks in Edinburgh on Saturday 21st May 2011
photo by Sandra Dodd, from a funhouse at a steam fair in England

Monday, August 1, 2011

Let him sleep

If a child is peacefully asleep and doesn't have to be somewhere at a certain time, let him sleep! If he stayed up late playing video games because it was the only time he could get a large block of uninterrupted access to the game, let him sleep as late as he needs to.

Going to sleep and waking up shouldn't be about the feeling of control the parent can gain from demanding and commanding.

from page 160 (or 178) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd