Thursday, January 31, 2013

Look here

Karen James wrote:

Living in the world peacefully and respectfully are good places to begin to focus when new to unschooing. The best advice I was given was to look at my son. Not at ideals. Not at freedom. Not at school or no school. Not at labels. Not at big ideas. Look at my son. Be with him. Get to know him deeply. And, then to read a bit about unschooling. Give something new a try. See how it goes in the context of our real day to day life.

I still do that. I'm still learning.
—Karen James
photo by Julie D

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ease into change

Instead of just going from lots of control to "do whatever you want," a really sweet way to do it is quickly but gradually. Quickly in your head, but not all of a sudden in theirs. Just allow yourself to say "okay" or "sure!" anytime it's not really going to be a problem.

If something isn't going to hurt anything (going barefoot, wearing the orange jacket with the pink dress, eating a donut, not coming to dinner because it's the good part of a game/show/movie, staying up later, dancing) you can just say "Okay."

And then later instead of "aren't you glad I let you do that? Don't expect it every time," you could say something reinforcing for both of you, like "That really looked like fun," or "It felt better for me to say yes than to say no. I should say 'yes' more," or something conversational but real.

The purpose of that is to help ease them from the controlling patterns to a more moment-based and support-based decision making mindset. If they want to do something and you say yes in an unusual way (unusual to them), communication will help. That way they'll know you really meant to say yes, that it wasn't a fluke, or you just being too distracted to notice what they were doing.
photo by Julie D

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Safety and communication

My children have no reason to dodge or manipulate..., because Keith and I haven't concocted any made-up arbitrary rules and their accompanying punishments. With safety and communication as principles and priorities, we've had safe, communicative kids.

page 46 (or 50) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd

P.S.: That probably only works only if you begin very early.

Monday, January 28, 2013


For good or ill, your experiences create you, change you, become part of you.

If a child will be molded or affected by his experiences, then unschooling parents need to provide great experiences.

NEW experiences
Repeat experiences.
Surprising experiences.
Comforting experiences.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 27, 2013

From Faith to Confidence

When people start unschooling, it's often very tentatively. After a while, instead of telling stories of what they've heard other people did, they have stories of what their own kids have done, learned, seen, known.

That's one kind of learning.

Sometimes people start unschooling and they're doing more chattering than looking, and more asserting than questioning (not chattery questioning, but soul questioning). It's not as good a beginning, and at some point they do start really observing their children, and really thinking about the why and what of learning.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sunrise and family

Those who went to school (and that's over 99% of those reading this) have based half their lives, give or take a decade, on school's rhythm and labels and categorizations. When things like "the school year" are as much a part of a culture as "family" and "sunrise," it's a radical departure to consider that maybe one of those three is unnatural. For many people, it disturbs the fabric of their lives. Some people's life-fabric is already kind of rumply, or they hated school and are glad to consider alternatives, but for those orderly folks who have life all neatly arranged in their heads, who do more accepting than questioning, unschooling is a disturbing thing.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pure gold

"So I invite you to try a little bitty bit of unschooling: say yes more. Not about everything all the time and not at random—question your "Nos" and "laters", your "have tos" and "shoulds" and rethink some of those. Find more options, more ideas, more ways to say yes. Just that. And life with your children gets sweeter and more peaceful. That's pure gold."
—Meredith Novak
photo by Julie D

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When you choose...

About how to take advice in unschooling discussions:

We can tell you what will help and what will hurt, but we can't give you any guarantees (except that hurt always hurts).
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Choose gratitude

Gratitude is about abundance. Resentment is about paucity. Choose gratitude. It is a choice.

page 185 (or 213) of The Big Book of Unschooling
bread pudding and photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Clearer and larger

Unschooled children can organize their knowledge in free and better ways. They never need to feel they are through learning, or past the point that they can begin something new. Each thing they discover can be useful eventually.

If we help provide them with ever-changing opportunities to see, hear, smell, taste, feel, move and discuss, what they know will exceed in breadth and depth what any school's curriculum would have covered. It won't be the same set of materials—it will be clearer and larger but different.
photo by Julie D

Monday, January 21, 2013

Just Say No

Sandra Dodd, response in 2000 to: Can anyone explain to me "unschooling"?

It's like "just say no."

Just say no to school years and school schedules and school expectations, school habits and fears and terminology. Just say no to separating the world into important and unimportant things, into separating knowledge into math, science, history and language arts, with music, art and "PE" set in their less important little places.

Most of unschooling has to happen inside the parents. They need to spend some time sorting out what is real from what is construct, and what occurs in nature from what only occurs in school (and then in the minds of those who were told school was real life, school was a kid's fulltime job, school was more important than anything, school would keep them from being ignorant, school would make them happy and rich and right).

It's what happens after all that school stuff is banished from your life.

Several Definitions of Unschooling
photo by Catherine Forest
__ __

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Honoring babies

"Look for ways to connect with them. There are biological ways. Smelling their heads is amazingly connective.... Look at them. Watch them talk or move or bounce or roll or whatever it is they are doing and marvel at the fact that they are."
—Schuyler Waynforth
an honored baby girl, in India, whose parents prefer for me not to identify her here

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Living and Learning

"Unschoolers live the paradigm of lifelong learning. Instead of envisioning childhood for learning and adulthood for living, they see living and learning as inextricably and beautifully linked."
—Pam Laricchia
The quote is from the January 2013 issue of Living Joyfully Newsletter.
The photo is an octopus at an unschooling conference.(more)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Options and choices

If the parent finds ways to present options and choices and the children can say "Yes, more!" or "No more now," then each child will learn every day.

Seeing Children without Labels

photo by Julie D

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Home and relationships

"'I'm working so hard on my marriage!!' doesn't mean a whole lot if you're putting your work in the wrong areas. And honestly, I find that all the 'effort' I put into my marriage is fun, and makes me happy. It is so good to know that our home is a place my husband wants to be, and that I can do things to help him be happy."
—Aiden Wagner
Aiden was writing in a discussion on facebook (linked below), about the importance of caring for marriages. Because many unschoolers have seen their marriages strengthened by the principles that make unschooling work well, I saw easily that it could be about parenting:
"I'm working so hard on my parenting!!" doesn't mean a whole lot if you're putting your work in the wrong areas. And honestly, I find that all the "effort" I put into my parenting is fun, and makes me happy. It is so good to know that our home is a place my child wants to be, and that I can do things to help him be happy.

Aiden's comment in context
(if you go there you will see I started the quote in the middle of a sentence)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Little things and little moments

Schuyler Waynforth wrote:

Most days I stop long before the switch goes. The thoughtful process was recognizing the grumpiness earlier in the day. Feeling a shortness that isn't normally there and doing things to respond to that like going for a quick breath outside or having a chocolate milk or a chai latte or something else that just ups my energy budget a bit. Taking five minutes to close my eyes and be still helps, too. Whatever works for you to buffer yourself is good. Come up with lots of little things. With an almost-four-year-old, little things and little moments are what you are most likely going to get.

—Schuyler Waynforth
switchplate and photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Learning that looks like play

Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

Learning that's pulled in will look like play. It will look like kids engaged with what interests them. That might be a video game or helping rake the yard or TV shows or getting a job to earn money or taking classes in college.

The unnerving thing is that it looks like very little is going in! But the important-to-learning part happens inside: kids pull in information to use it for reasons that matter to them. They use it to solve problems. They use it to create and test theories of how the world works. What you use, sticks with you.

—Joyce Fetterol
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kinder and gentler

"It's never too late to be kinder, gentler, and more respectful. It's never too late to be a better mom. But sooner is ALWAYS better."
—Kelly Lovejoy
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Roses and music

If your child is having a slow week or month or year, don't worry. If your child is having a zippy brilliant period
of life where everything's coming up roses and the backswell of music seems always to accompany his glorious exploits, don't expect that to last day in and day out for sixty years. It won't. It can't. It shouldn't. People need to recuperate from stunning performances.

Life is lumpy; let it be.

page 73 (or 80) of The Big Book of Unschooling
photo by Sandra Dodd, of a truck at a silo in West Texas, 2011

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Happy spiral upward

It can be a happy spiral upward, when feeling better about being a good mom makes one a better parent, and the child smiles and laughs, and the mom relaxes more.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of a spiral Rex Begonia

Friday, January 11, 2013

The mystery of the moment

"What's in there?" Even before children can talk they wonder. They want to look in boxes, suitcses, open drawers, look into cabinets. Life is a mystery—a puzzle full of wonder with things inside other things, surprises in disguises.

When I was a kid, I was curious about buildings, houses, garages and sheds in my home town. I had a goal of going into every house. I tried to go into every business. Visiting friends, selling cookies, trick-or-treating and Christmas carolling got me peeks into private homes.

Some folks are curious about how machines work, or similarities in the skeletons of different birds. Some learn how guitars are built, or what makes a soufflé rise. Notice what your children wonder about. Help them explore the world. Nurture your own curiosity. You can't know what will happen, or what you will find, and some of it will be wonderful.

A mom named Amy left a comment on a Just Add Light and Stir post:

I had always wanted to learn to live in the moment, but it seemed a great mystery. Having my daughter and becoming an unschooler, I finally get it! . . . We are living together, happily, every day. What a nice way to be.
Amy's comment is here
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The same and the safe

My favorite "new rule" has always been that learning comes first. Given choices between doing one thing or another, I try to go toward the thing that's newest for my kids, and most intriguing. "New and different" outranks "We do it all the time, same place same way." But there are comfort-activities, and to be rid of all of them would be as limiting as to only do routine, same, safe things. So we find a balance. Or we tweak the same and the safe, changing it enough to make it especially memorable from time to time.
photo by Holly Dodd

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Privacy and dignity

This regards the way I helped make peace between kids when they argued:

The reason I used the method of speaking to each child separately, and ME going back and forth, rather than summoning them to where I was is that I was trying to comfort them and help them be safe and to be better people—people they would be glad to be. They don't like it when they're all frustrated. If I can tweak sibling behavior and comfort the aggrieved child, and then go to the other one with comfort and ideas, each was better prepared, in private, without a witness knowing what he was "supposed to do" the next time. That was important to me, to give them some privacy and some dignity, and some time to think without other people looking at them or praising my suggestion, or criticizing them further.
There's more on the topic on Joyce's site: Siblings Fighting
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Learning is like a doorway

Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

Learning is defined not just as sucking in information about something the child is interested in. Learning is also figuring out the big picture and how things connect. Figuring out how stuff works, figuring out how people work, making connections, seeing patterns. This is a mechanical, biological process. It's how humans—all learning animals really—naturally learn, how kids are born learning.

Natural learning is like a doorway. We can't change the doorway but we can change the outside world so kids can more easily reach what intrigues them.
photo by Sandra Dodd, in PĂ©rouges, France

Monday, January 7, 2013

Their own world

Someone came to a discussion and assured us all that children under five were like scientists from an alien world. That sounds good at first, until you remember that they are natural parts of their own world. A sixty-year-old man is no more a human, no more a person, than a newborn baby.
photo by Trista Teeter

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How to help

On helping other unschoolers:

If we answer questions with "yes" and "no," and give people what they claim to want, or what they think they want, we are chucking fish out instead of providing information on how to fish, how to make one's own custom fishing equipment and when and where the fishing is great. Unschooling can't work as a series of yes/no questions.
photo by Sandra Dodd
It's a metaphor. Don't go fishing at the aquarium.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Seeing where a child *is*

For unschooling to work, parents need to stop looking into the future and live more in the moment with their real child. BEING with a child is being where the child is, emotionally and spiritually and physically and musically and artistically. Seeing where the child *is* rather than seeing a thousand or even a dozen places she is not.
From a July 2011 post in a discussion on Always Learning
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, January 4, 2013


Sometimes I get still. That's good, because sometimes I don't, and can't. If I were that zippy all the time, my body, mind and soul would probably wear out. ...

When I was younger and I would change, I thought something was wrong with me. I was under the mistaken impression that personality and mood should be constants. Life is better when I think of those fluctuations as tides, or as the weather of the soul.

"Cocooning and other stillness" (a blogpost from early December 2012)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Form and function can be portals to countless connections.

Form and function are the who, what, where, when, why and how of the design world. Those will lead to all other topics, and all the information is connected.
(That link goes to clothing design ideas, but automotive or architectural or appliance or furniture or landscaping design could be similarly expanded.)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Naturally nicer

Gail Higgins wrote:

As I became more aware of my kids' needs and responded to that it just naturally carried over to my husband. Our relationship is so much stronger now and part of it is just because I'm nicer now! 🙂

There are very few times when our lives don't seem in harmony these's the best bonus I could have every imagined.

—Gail Higgins
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


I don't make resolutions, and I think they're a bad idea. Deciding today what I want to hold important a year from now sets me up for failure.

Deciding that I want to make many good moments tomorrow, though, I can do with confidence and the expectation of success. I can't live a year at a time. I can't live a week, nor even a whole day at a time. I can only make a choice in this moment (or fail to remember to do so).
photo by Sandra Dodd (or someone with Sandra Dodd's camera)