Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More happy childhood

There are things I would love to go back and redo, but though I'm not completely satisfied, I'm not ashamed either. When I said "okay" to Kirby I was saying okay to the little Sandra inside me who might otherwise have built up some jealous resentment about this new kid getting to do things I never got to do. It was healing to imagine that if my mom had been fortunate enough to have other influences and better circumstances maybe she would have said yes to me more often too.

... By sharing my children's lives, there has been more happy childhood in my own life.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Any old thing

Ronnie Maier described strewing beautifully:

"Strewing involves making a wonderful variety of resources available to your kids with no expectation or requirement that the resources ever be used. These can be books, toys, or supplies left casually on tables or in bathrooms or presented quietly or with fanfare directly to your child. They can be posters hung on walls, craft or music or gaming activities that *you* start, Web pages left open on the computer, magazines subscribed to, alternate driving routes taken, etc. It is SO fun to do, and it creates an environment of discovery and fun in your house. The things you strew can be in support of interests your son has expressed or about just any old thing you think of."
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, February 27, 2012

Not so many rules

"Rules within the home tend to be entirely for the children to 'follow,' whereas Principles apply to everyone in the family, and to other people with whom we all interact. Principles are ideas like Kindness, Safety, Respect, Honesty."
—Robyn Coburn
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I was studying education in the early 1970’s, having wanted to be a teacher since first grade. The university was a hotbed of radical new thought about learning, spirituality, the value and valuing of the human life and spirit. I was in my late teens, and eager to take my turn at trying to change the world. We read all the then-current discussions of classroom failure—James Herndon, A.S.Neill, Jonathan Kozol and John Holt—and I lived and breathed in their hopeful vision of the future of free schools and open classrooms. I taught hard, and after six years I quit. I never did quit learning, though.

Newer John Holt books were waiting for me fifteen years later, when my firstborn son was expressing his distaste for organized activities and formal learning.

While I was making him little medieval costumes and taking him to feasts and tournaments where I set him down to play with his collection of could-have-been-medieval wooden and clay and metal toys, he being part and parcel of that ongoing work of performance art which is the Society for Creative Anachronism, I started to think that maybe school wasn’t going to benefit a child who was resistant to group control and already surrounded by learning opportunities which my distant impersonal gurus of education would have approved. Homeschooling seemed part and parcel of the respect for individuals and the attachment parenting which had flowed so freely from my previous experiences.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The full plate club!

"The empty plate club," referring to kids who successfully clean their plates, sounds so sad.

"Full plate" sounds much more nurturing.
the image is a painting by Pierre Mignard in the 1640s

Friday, February 24, 2012


Jenny Cyphers wrote:

I wish things for our family had been different earlier than later, but it is what it is. Unschooling really helped make us better people. I can't even imagine, or rather I can, how
different things would be with our relationships with our kids if they'd been in school all these years.

Kids absorb the good and the bad. Unschooling really focuses on the good, and that's, well, GOOD!
—Jenny Cyphers

"If Only I'd Started Sooner..."
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I worry that if our child does not go to school that he will be vulnerable to bullying when interacting with school kids at activity clubs like soccer or scouts.
School kids are vulnerable to bullying both at activity clubs and at school. The idea that practice with being bullied helps people to avoid bullying doesn't seem true. Do abused women stand up to abusers better than women who have not been abused?

With my kids, their tolerance for nonsense from other children was very low, and because they never had to be in a class or club, but it was always their option to leave, it made a huge difference. They knew they could stay if they wanted, or go home if they would rather.

Much of bullying happens because humans need a hierarchy to interact. They don't behave well in "equal" groups of equally inexperienced people their own age. First, they need to learn from older and more experienced people. And if they have no leaders or experts in the group, then bullying and gangs can develop, because people seem to have a need to know their "rank" in a group.

I think bullying is a natural side effect of people feeling powerless, and of not being in the regular world where people do have different ages and different levels of experience in a situation.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pattern blocks and deep thoughts

Of things to do that encourage conversation:

I have discovered the motherlode of two-for-ones, of tools for inspiring and sustaining conversation.
I suppose you have some of these things, or might want to put them on your wish list. My favorite is pattern blocks. There are some hardwood blocks stained in a few bright colors, available for $25 at educational supply stores and upscale toyshops. They are mesmerizing. We bought a second set after a while so we could fill the table with one big mandala pattern after another. And over those blocks my children have told their secret dreams, and we have discussed art and math, manufacturing, stain and paint, we have laughed and been silent.

While the blocks were still out our children have dazzled visiting adults with their dexterity and artistic sense, then they’ve wandered off and the visitors have talked to me, while making patterns with blocks, about things that might have been hard to discuss if we were sitting facing one another. They’ve discussed their fears and love lives and embarrassments, and made some really great patterns.

Leaning on a Truck
scan of blocks by Sandra Dodd; they're bigger in real life
__ __

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Who they are, where they are

My children are different from most of their schooled friends. They are more like their fellow unschoolers. They are comfortable with people of many different ages, they are kindhearted, and tolerant. Because they haven’t been shamed and molded by school life and expectations and "peer pressure," they’re more willing to appear different without adding value to that appearance. Some schooled kids conform to become invisible, and some rebel to become visible, but my children are who they are, where they are, now. They’re not embarrassed about their interests or hobbies, they’re not afraid to wear used clothes, or to play with younger children, or to hang around with adults. Because they are respected, they are respectful.
photo by Ravi Bharadwaj, of Marty and Zoya *

Monday, February 20, 2012

Seeing growth

"As with most kinds of growth, it's difficult to see the changes on a daily or short-term basis. It's when you look back over a longer period that you really see, and are amazed by, the amount of growth that has happened."
—Frank Maier
photo by Sandra Dodd, of a tree at Hampton Court

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Learning about natural learning

Let [babies] hear you speak, and find opportunities for them to hear others speak. Although there are justifications and theories about what babies like and respond to (high voices and sing-songy voices seem to appeal to babies), don't revert to a whole babytalk language with them. Some is fine, but talk to them about real things, too. Tell them what you're doing with them, and what they're seeing, when they're out and about. Don't quiz them, just talk. It's fine if they can't understand you for months and months. They'll be learning your tone and your moods and the speech patterns of the language even before they have vocabulary. You will be building a relationship that is not based on the meaning of the words, but on the sharing of the time and attention. You're paying attention to what the baby sees and touches and hears. The baby is paying attention to you.

If you can keep that up for eighteen years, you've got unschooling!
photo by Sandra Dodd, up into a little tree I sat under, in a gully;
not in New Mexico
(touch/click to enlarge)


Saturday, February 18, 2012

How much time do you have?

Sometimes people say to me, "You're patient with your own children but pushy with unschooling parents." I don't go door to door asking people if they know about unschooling, and whether they'd like to know more. If they come where I already am, though, I might press. And when I do, it's because of the possibility that they will run out of time.

My kids have their whole lives to memorize 7x8 if they want to.

The mother of a twelve year old has VERY little time if she wants to help her child recover from school and spend a few unschooling years with him before he's grown and gone. She doesn't have time to ease into it gradually. If she stalls, he'll be fifteen or sixteen and it just won't happen.

If the mother of a five year old is trying to decide how much reading instruction and math drill to continue with before she switches to unschooling, I would rather press her to decide toward "none," because "some" is damaging to the child's potential to learn it joyfully and discover it on his own. And "lots" will only hurt that much more. "None" can still be turned to "some" if the parent can't get unschooling. But if she doesn't even try unschooling, she misses forever the opportunity to see that child learn to read gradually and naturally. It will be gone forever.

That's why I don't say, "Gosh, I'm sure whatever you're doing is fine, and if you want to unschool you can come to it gradually at your own pace. No hurry."
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mindfulness in Unschooling

Once upon a time on the unschooling discussion list, someone seemed unhappy with the way I used "mindful." For years, some of the regular writers here tried to find a good word for what we were trying to convey—a kind of mothering that involved making infinitesimal decisions all the time, day and night, and basing those decisions on our evolving beliefs about living respectfully with our children, and giving THEM room to make their own decisions of the moment.
We finally settled on "mindful," in the sense of being fully in the moment. Though "mindfulness" is used as a term in western Buddhism, the word they chose when they were translating from Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, Vietnamese and whatever all hodgepodge of ideas were eventually described in English, "mindfulness," is an English word over 800 years old. It's a simple English compound, and has to do with the state of one's mind while performing an action. It creates a state of "if/then" in one. And IF a parent intends to be a good unschooling parent, a generous freedom-nurturing parent, a parent providing a peaceful nest, a parent wanting to be her child's partner, then the best way she can live in that goal and come ever closer to her ideals is to make all her decisions in that light. The more mindful she is of where she intends to go, the easier her decisions are.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What it takes

One doesn't need to be rich to unschool, but it takes dedication and focus, creativity and resourcefulness.

How much does unschooling cost?
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You don't need to break your bad habits

Leave the old habit to wither. Don't try to break it. Move to making better choices so that what you used to do and used to think will be left in the "choices I don't consider anymore" category.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Open the world up

Joyce Fetteroll:

Unschooling is a whole way of life not a method. That might sound like a quibble but it gets to the heart of why unschooling is different than other ways of homeschooling.

Homeschooling has a particular destination that the parents want to get the kids to. The destination depends on the method and the parents. (A typical destination is preparation for college.)

Unschooling is about helping kids be who they are and to grow into who they'll become. The destination is wherever the kids end up. It isn't predetermined by the parents. Our job is to support who they are and open the world up to them so they have opportunities to expand their interests.
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Joyce Fetteroll
of a lizard on a rock
in New Mexico
in January

Monday, February 13, 2012

The way we live, the way we think

Lyle Perry wrote:

I know how scary it is to think about letting go of what's 'normal', and I know it seems impossible to think about your kids learning on their own, but it's all very possible. More than possible. It's waiting to happen. It's happened for us, and we were as 'normal' as anyone else.

Unschooling has had an incredibly positive impact on our lives, and not only in an educational aspect, but in everything we do. It's changed the way we live, the way we think, and the way we look at the world in general.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of artistry by Irene Adams

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Saying Yes to Infants

If an infant can't even ask a question, why would a parent say "no"? But some of the first words many babies hear are "No!" and "Don't" and "Stop." Even without the words themselves, if a baby reaches out and the parent pushes his hand back or ignores him, that is a big "no." If a baby cries and the parent ignores him, or puts him down roughly, or leaves the room and closes the door, that is not even nearly in the realm of "yes."

When one of the partners is in pain, the partnership isn't doing very well. And it's not a fifty-fifty partnership; nor is anything in the whole world. In the case of a mother who can walk and talk, access water and maybe drive a car, she can't expect a newborn baby to do half the work. If she gives him everything she can, he will give back as much as he has, not just then, but for years to come if she doesn't screw it up.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Create and maintain a peaceful environment for your child, and share in it.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why thought matters

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

Lots of people go through their whole lives never feeling like they had choices in many many areas of their lives in which they really did. Just like it is useful for unschoolers to drop school language (not use the terms teaching or lessons or curriculum to refer to the natural learning that happens in their families) it is useful to drop the use of "have to's" and replace it with an awareness of choices and options.

How we think—the language we use to think—about what we're doing, matters.
—Pam Sorooshian
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Being a witness

Kim: What have you loved most about unschooling your 3 children?

Sandra: I loved being there when they were happy, and when they were sad.

I loved being a witness to so much of their joy and learning, and being a part of their lives in a whole, real way.

Feather and Nest interview
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How can you tell?

How can unschooling parents tell if their kids are learning?

They can tell because they're there with them every day. How did you know when your child could ride a bike? How did you know when they could swim? That's how you know when a child can read or count by fives or spell. They do it!

When they discuss current events with an understanding of geography and history, you know they've picked up that information, gradually and from all kinds of sources. It won't be in the same order kids at school or using a curriculum might learn it, but one reason that schooled kids can fail to learn something is that they have nothing to hook the new fact to. With natural learning, all learning is hooked into something the learner already knows.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Possibilities and Joys

To a mom finding it difficult to be present with her child, and to get him to leave when it was time to go:

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.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, February 6, 2012

Stop the cycle now (if applicable)

It's not a quote, but it's a summary/paraphrase by Brie Jontry of part of a talk I gave in 2010. I was really amused by it. There's nothing I didn't mean, though I don't think I phrased it quite this succinctly that night. 🙂

STOP the cycle of shitty parenting NOW.

Give your child(ren) the childhood you would have wanted.

Be the dad you wish you'd had.

Dads, unschooling, issues (a new page inspired by that "quote")
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Slowing down

When I had one baby Kirby, I tried to consciously slow myself down and go at his speed when we went on walks, or when he examined something he had never seen. It wasn't easy. I kept working at it and was more patient when Marty and Holly came along.

It was good practice for unschooling; I didn't know it at the time, though.

Mindful Parenting
photo by Sandra Dodd, but Johanna Smith's camera caught a better version
We were up hill from it, using zooms. It was beautiful.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Love, love, love

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

Parents do all kinds of things in the name of love….not all good for their children.

Love is not enough.

But there is a kind of love that is absolutely necessary for successful unschooling, and that is love of learning.

Unschoolers value learning. We look for it everywhere. We crave it.

But, love it gently. Don’t try to force it – not a good idea for learning OR love!
—Pam Sorooshian
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, February 3, 2012


I had a Shakespeare professor who said "Three trees make a row," to confirm a pattern when a student noticed that something had appeared three times. I remember thinking, but not saying, "Not if they're making a triangle." But it wasn't a math class, and I understood his point.
There's something strong and fun about three. Two parents and a baby. A tripod for a camera or a telescope. A three-legged stool (a tripod to sit on). Three versions of a song. A book or movie trilogy. Counting by threes with its elegant stops at 33, 66, and 99.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Some other images in this blog with three of something:
What do you hope for?

Museum of everything


Happy and glad

Calm and quiet

Leeway and freedom

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Without TV...

Joyce Fetteroll, a few years ago, when her daughter was in her mid-teens:

My daughter and I have done a great deal of interacting as a direct result of TV. It's tied into her other interests in story telling. Without TV she wouldn't have the huge collection of comics she's written. Without TV we wouldn't have discovered manga. Without TV we wouldn't being going to Anime conventions together (I even dress up).
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sparkly, bubbly, warm and effusive

Unschooling should be rich, flowing and mindful living where learning abounds. Too many people see "living" as nothing more than the absence of death. Let's encourage sparkly, bubbly, warm and effusive lives.
photo by Sandra Dodd