Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The other things flow in around it.

(Below is most of my response to a complicated question about the balance of power and relationships, citing Bruno Bettelheim about A.S. Neill, and the assumption that unschoolers were libertarians:)

I've unschooled for over twenty years, and am not a "libertarian," and the unschooling ideals I've aimed for involved learning. They had little to do with Neill or Bettleheim (though I did like reading Bettleheim on fairy tales), but had to do with John Holt, attachment parenting, and observation of other families doing similar things.

Being a child's partner rather than his adversary makes the balance of knowledge unimportant. Nowadays my children drive me around, help me out, read small print and get things off high shelves. For many years, I did those things for them.



Learning first, and partnership and being present close after, and all the other things flow in around it.

photo by Sandra Dodd, of a well dressing in the village of Tissington

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sharing energy

If the parents aren't powering all decisions anymore, should the children take up the task of generating enough power to fuel their own learning? I wouldn't expect my kids to do that any more than I would stop feeding them and expect them to become hunter-gatherers in the back yard if they wanted to survive.

Energy is shared, and that's how unschooling works. Whether I'm excited about something new, or my children are excited about something new, there's still newness and excitement enough to share.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

To unschool, you begin with your child's interests. If she's interested in birds, you read—or browse, toss aside, just look at the pictures in—books on birds, watch videos on birds, talk about birds, research and build (or buy) bird feeders and birdhouses, keep a journal on birds, record and ponder their behavior, search the web for items about birds, go to bird sanctuaries, draw birds, color a few pictures in the Dover Birds of Prey coloring book, play around with feathers, study Leonardo DaVinci's drawings of flying machines that he based on birds, watch Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

But DON'T go whole hog on this. Gauge how much to do and when by your child's reactions. Let her say no thanks. Let her choose. Let her interest set the pace. If it takes years, let it take years. If it lasts an hour, let it last an hour.
—Joyce Fetteroll

原文链接 (Chinese and English both)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Keep choosing

You can't choose to be an unschooler once and expect that one choice to see you through life. You have to choose several times an hour.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, January 27, 2012

No conflict

In response to an inquiry about priorities among principles, and whether learning should come before safety, peace, kindness or a strong marriage:

For me, safety is big.

Peace doesn't conflict with learning; it aids it.

Kindness doesn't conflict with learning; it bolsters it.

Learning, peace and kindness make marriages better.


Photo by Sandra Dodd, of a spider in a window of the Winchester City Mill, in Hampshire. I was glad their priority wasn't to vacuum constantly, because seeing that dead spider was one of the best things of the day.
We were in the room over the millstream.
It was raining.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The playground of words

The playground of words is humor. I don't discourage my children from Monty Python, George Carlin, Weird Al Yankovic, and other linguistic athletes of that ilk. Laughter and commentary about people doing circus tricks with words is a world above and beyond vocabulary lists.

I do recall, though, my friends and I made even vocabulary lists fun when I was in school by trying to put all the words in one or two sentences, or by using the words as words, like "The word 'obfuscate' is rarely used," or "'Discrete' is a homonym of 'discreet'," without any hint we knew how to use the words in context (which we usually did).

Words, Words, Words
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Less stress; fewer scars

"Laughter has helped my own family through hard times. Sure we would have come through the hard times anyway, but we came through them with less stress, fewer lasting scars, and lots of great one-liners."
—Deb Lewis

photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oranges and water

There have been a couple of discussions in which people said strewing was manipulative and sneaky. I don't see it that way at all. If I know what kinds of things my children could use being exposed to to be more well rounded, or to "fill in gaps" in what they know, or to take them to another level of understanding, bringing those things up in physical or conversational ways is no more "manipulative" than bringing more fruit into the house if there hasn't been much fruit consumption lately, or bringing them bottles of water on hot summer days. I don't need to force them to eat oranges or drink water, but I can notice it might be good for them and make it appealing.

photo by Sandra Dodd
of a picture of a steam engine
on a steam engine


Monday, January 23, 2012

What is this for?

Years before we had children, I was telling my young husband-to-be that in school the only math I liked were the "word problems."
He said those are the only real math problems in text books. That was the real math. The numbers sitting already in equations and formations were the solutions to unstated problems, with only the arithmetical calculations left to be done.

I remember that moment vividly. I was in my late 20's and hearing for the first time what "mathematics" meant. I had asked my teachers all through school "What is this for?" and "How is this used?" and they rarely had an answer beyond "Just do it," or "It will be on the test."

photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 22, 2012

All around us

Humor is all around us, in art, hats, billboards, t-shirts, magazines, toys, songs, stories, friendly banter, cereal boxes and wordplay. What can make or break a day, or a moment, is whether people see it and smile, or see it and make a face of disgust. The direction parents take with humor can make the difference between a joyful shared moment or an uncomfortable, embarrassing stuckness. And each of those leads to the next moment.

To Get More Jokes
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 21, 2012

One interest can lead to...

"One interest can lead to lots of other exciting things."
—Adam Daniel

photo by Sandra Dodd, of a helter skelter in London

Friday, January 20, 2012

Do that THIS year.

The words of Kelly Lovejoy:

If you knew you only had a year more with that child, what would you expose him to? Where would
you go? What would you eat? What would you watch? What would you do?
If you had only ONE year—and then it was all over, what would you do? Four seasons. Twelve months. 365 days.

Do that THIS year. And the next.

That's how unschooling works. By living life as if it were an adventure. As if you only had a limited amount of time with that child. Because that's the way it IS.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Not learning

If a person's life is compartmentalized into learning and not learning, then they have a part of them that is "not-learning."

The phrase came up in a chat, but this page is a good match: SandraDodd.com/substance

photo by Sandra Dodd, of a beautiful Sheffield wall with delicate flowers
unfairly drafted to portray a harsh wall for the purposes of this post

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Live your values

"If we live our values, it's likely our children will value them too. If we impose our values, it's likely our children will reject them."
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd, of a little old retaining wall, with stairs, in France;
still working though not maintained

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It makes much more sense

Ben Lovejoy wrote:

When we learned how to ride a bike, we thought that first way that we learned was the only way that a bike could be ridden. There was just no other way. Having ridden over 10,000 miles of roads and over 50 bike trails in the past six years, I can tell you that my initial experience on a bike was nothing like I've had as an adult. As with my cycling, I've realized there is more than one way to live our lives. Living life based upon principles is a better way for me than living by rules. It's more honest, respectful, truthful, and makes much more sense. Principles have allowed me to figure out that music is a journey and not a destination that ends when I reached a certain age. Principles have allowed me to realize that riding a bike is a means and not an end. Principles have allowed me to think further about better ways to parent than using someone else's rules. Principles, in short, do not limit me the way that rules once did.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, January 16, 2012

Curiosity, wonder, fascination, and enthusiasm

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

Take them to the grocery store.

...While you're there, look at the weirdest thing in the produce department. Bright orange cactus? BUY one. Go home and get online and try to figure out what to do with it. Or just slice it open to see what is inside.

Or buy a coconut—shake it to see if it has liquid inside. Let the kid pound on it with a hammer until it cracks open. While they're doing that, do a quick google on coconuts so you have some background knowledge. Don't "teach" them—but if something seems cool, just say it as an interesting, cool thing to know, "Wow, coconuts are SEEDS! And, oh my gosh, they sometimes float in the ocean for years before washing up on some island and sprouting into a coconut tree."

How about a pineapple—bought one fresh, lately? Talked about Hawaii? Just say, "Aloha," while handing the kids a slice. Or, maybe you'll get really into the whole idea of Hawaii and you'll see connections everywhere—Hawaiian shirts at the thrift store, flowers to me leis, someone playing a ukelele, a video of a volcano exploding (maybe that will inspire you to want to make your own volcano with baking soda and vinegar).

I'm not saying to prepare a lesson on cactus or coconuts or pineapples. I'm saying that if you're not already an interesting person with interesting information to share with your children, then you'll have to make an effort to be more interesting. The way to do that is to develop your own sense of curiosity, wonder, fascination, and enthusiasm.
—Pam Sorooshian

Building an Unschooling Nest
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Geography without maps

As far as I know, the best way to know that deschooling has happened is that kids start asking you (or telling you) cool things, trivial things, that they might have learned in school if they had gone, or maybe that would be in books clearly marked "science" or "history," and they're no longer avoiding school subjects (if they went to school).

Or if the kids never went to school, it's when the parents can see math without numbers, and language without writing, and "writing" without handwriting, and history without kings and wars and dates, and geography without maps.

photo by Sandra Dodd, of a restaurant in a building that was once a fire station, in Albuquerque

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Turn toward joy.

Schuyler Waynforth wrote:

"Often if I'm stuck not being able to see the positive in something, I need to quit looking at it. I need to look at other things. I need to find something to move forward to instead of whirling and twirling around the angsty thing. Make the angry thing small and insignificant, turn away from it, look for bright and shiny things to distract you, look at tiny things that give you pleasure, look at large things that you didn't appreciate fully the first time around. Turning toward joy will definitely make it harder to feel stymied in the negative."

photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, January 13, 2012

Do what it takes

"Rather than worry that I'm not doing enough for my family, I'm doing what it takes for me not to wonder about that. Working to improve children's lives seems to ripple across generations."
—Sylvia Woodman

photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Too much "no"

One reason principles work better than rules is that they require thought every single time. The best answer to most questions is "it depends."

If a person is answering most questions with "no," that is putting trouble in the bank to collect interest.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A better three year old

"A three year old isn't a better three year old by being able to read. A three year old is a better three year old by being helped to do what fascinates her."
—Joyce Fetteroll

on the Always Learning list January 10, 2012
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A wonder post

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

"I don't think people who are negative, pessimistic, or cynical are going to make great unschooling parents and that if they know themselves to be that way, they owe it to their kids to work on being more positive, optimistic, and especially at not expressing even minimal scorn. They'll do better by choosing to be more child-like themselves, more filled with wonder at even little ordinary aspects of life."
—Pam Sorooshian

photo by Sarina Gray, of her son learning

Monday, January 9, 2012


Each journey begins with a single step, they say, but steps in the wrong direction don't get you to a good place. Milling around for a thousand steps without regard to the intended goal isn't "a journey."

photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Turning the negative to positive

Schuyler Waynforth wrote, a few years ago:

"Last night I was putting away clothes to get beds ready to be slept in. I was grouchy and tired and feeling put upon. It was only a burden, only a chore. But this morning when Linnaea got dressed she was wearing a shirt that I'd folded last night and put away. She wouldn't have known that she could wear that shirt if I hadn't taken the time to put it were it was easy to find. And so it changed from being burden and chore to being a gift that I gave her, which washed away all the resentment I felt last night."

photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Learning not to control

One wouldn't have to look much past a google search on bulimia, anorexia and overeaters anonymous to find stories of eating disorders.... We can see how controlling food is related to controlling education, sleep, playtime and other areas of our childrens' lives. 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.

Longterm Effects of Food Controls (or the lack of controls)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, January 6, 2012

Native competence

If we've been conditioned to believe that children are unworthy and inferior but we consciously step away from that place and see the wholeness in our children, then one of the easiest things to see is the lack of wholeness in ourselves. It can be frightening.

When we see the level of thoughtfulness and competence a small child can have when he hasn’t been belittled or discouraged or shushed, we can start to think that if we undo the discouraging, belittling and shushing voices inside of us, we might regenerate our own native thoughtfulness and competence.

Mindful Parenting
photo by Holly Dodd

Thursday, January 5, 2012


"Conventional wisdom" (those truisms that too-often aren't true) says "children need limits," and that good parents have lots of limits (the more limits the better the parent). We've all seen (and some have been in) families where stifling limits caused the very problems they were expected to prevent. But without a counter-mantra to "children need limits" it's easy for parents to fear that it must be true or people wouldn't keep saying it.

If by "limits" people mean "safe boundaries," sure! If by "limits" people mean "someone to watch and care," absolutely! But what people usually mean by "limits" is parents who say "no / don't / stop / forget it / when you're older."

When unschoolers discuss limits they're often discussing arbitrary limits, trumped up to make the parents feel good, or used as magical talismans to guarantee that their children will be creative, healthy and safe. What creates much more magic is to help children discover and do and be.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Economics of restrictions

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

What's your favorite thing to do? Watch movies? Read a book? Garden?
Go to Disneyland? Why don't you just do that all the time and nothing else? I mean — if it is your favorite, then doesn't it give you higher utility than anything else? Why do you ever stop doing it?

The answer is that as you do more and more of something, the marginal utility of doing even more of it, goes down. As its marginal utility goes down, other things start to look better and better.

When you restrict an activity, you keep the person at the point where the marginal utility is really high.
—Pam Sorooshian

Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


can help relationships
in all kinds of ways.

Broken relationships
can harm unschooling
in all kinds of ways.

Benefits of Unschooling when the Teen Years Arrive
photo by Sandra Dodd
__ __

Monday, January 2, 2012

What if a parent is afraid?

Part of my response to a request for advice to fearful parents:

Turn away from the school and look directly at your children. Look at them as individuals, rather than as students, or third graders or eight-year-olds. Look at their potential, their interests, their sweetness, and find ways to preserve and nurture those.
. . .

Don't do school. Do life as though school didn't exist. Live to learn; learn to live. If after really trying it as hard and as honestly and fully as you can for an extended period of time you can't get it to work, then you can always go back to a curriculum.

School has already taken twelve or more years of your freedom and individuality. You don't have to let it take your adult life as well. You don't have to let it have your child.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 1, 2012


"There is no such thing
as a waste of a party."
—Holly Dodd

Quote from Holly during a panel at the ALL Unschooling Symposium
photo by Sandra Dodd