Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Able to see learning

young child playing full-size arcade Super Mario Brothers

The parents must be willing to believe that their children can learn.

Unless your children are given a real opportunity to show you how children learn, to show you that it works, you will not see it.

The parents have to be
   willing to see learning
      able to see it
         and desirous of seeing it.

You can kill unschooling on the vine with "That won't work."
photo by Lisa Jonick

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wonder what

Take a few more opportunities to share wonder and discovery with them. It will enrich you all.
photo by Julie D
see in wheelbarrow blog, too


Sunday, December 28, 2014

The good parts

Look at the immediate benefits of your decisions.

Look for the good parts of today.

Look for the value in this moment.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Making a family's life better

Some have written that unschooling made their family life better. In every case I've seen, making a family's life better is exactly what makes unschooling work well. So which comes first? Neither grew wholly in the absence of the other.
photo by Rippy Dusseldorp

Friday, December 26, 2014

Confidence and logic

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

I didn't get to observe radically unschooled kids before coming to the conclusions I did about how children learn. I'm sure it helps build confidence to see grown unschooled kids—that's why my kids and I make ourselves available. But it isn't necessary. For me, it required confidence in my own logical thinking ability. I reasoned things out and did what made sense to me.
. . .
My willingness to think for myself—to analyze, critique, to be open-minded, and to trust my own conclusions—that was how I came to understand unschooling.
—Pam Sorooshian

Understanding Unschooling
photo by Holly Dodd

Thursday, December 25, 2014

See good, be good

We can't live as we are forever, but we can try to live with fewer regrets, and with patience, and with gratitude.

Be as good as you can be as often as you can be.

Becoming the Parent you Want to Be
photo by Holly Dodd, of herself, in India

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hearts renewed

Yesterday's post went out in e-mail with the title "Light on light." It should have been "Bright and glowing." You might think "Same same—light is light," but there was a post called Light on Light already. I'm particular about light, sometimes. Okay, I'm more particular about words about light.

Here's a verse I wrote for a Christmas card twenty years ago, and today's the best day for it.
Abundant joy,
   a special toy,
      warmth and firelight,
         carols at twilight;

Memories of old,
   children to hold,
      comforting food,
         and hearts renewed.

Twenty-year-old Christmas card
art by Kirby Dodd and a team, in 1994
Light on light

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bright and glowing

 photo gingerbreadtrain2_zpsfd81cf17.jpg

"I am noting how happy and light (light as in gentle, and bright and glowing) our daily interactions are compared to the past."
—Dominique Trussler

photo by Julie D, gingerbread train __

Monday, December 22, 2014

Protection and enrichment

Each tree grows from a single seed, and when a tree is growing in your yard what is the best thing you can do for it? You can nurture it and protect it, but measuring it doesn’t make it grow faster.
large, old tree from below
Pulling it up to see how the roots are doing has never helped a tree a bit. What helps is keeping animals from eating it or scratching its bark, making sure it has water, good soil, shade when it needs it and sun when it needs it, and letting its own growth unfold peacefully. It takes years, and you can’t rush it.

So it is with children. They need to be protected from physical and emotional harm. They need to have positive regard, food, shade and sun, things to see, hear, smell, taste and touch. They need someone to answer their questions and show them the world, which is as new to them as it was to us. Their growth can’t be rushed, but it can be enriched.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Don't count, don't measure

Don't divide anything "fifty/fifty." Forget that concept. Give what you have. Do all you can do. Give/do 80% when you can, but only measure it vaguely, at a squint, and then forget about it. If you aim for half, there will be resentments. If you aim for 100%, small failures will seem larger than they need to be, so don't do that. You can succeed at "lots" without measuring.

If each of you gives as much as you can, your shared needs will be fulfilled more quickly, more easily, and more often.

cat watching a flaming fireplace, red wall, tea cup on a low table

That was advice sent to our friend Sadie, for her bridal shower. It works for roommates and other dyads, too. I quoted it here:
photo by Lisa Jonick

Friday, December 19, 2014


I can't really speak to any "end results," because they're still growing and experiencing the newness of many firsts in their lives. If there is ever an "end," the results won't matter anymore. But as long as life continues, the results unfold.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of baby Holly
who is now 23, and visiting India

Update 11/10/20: ... is now 29; finalizing a house purchase tomorrow.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Transformation through choices

Choices have transformed our lives.
Limitations do not transform lives. They limit lives.

ceramics in an antique shop
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not the same choices

"Happy, supported, trusted kids don't make the same choices as unhappy, controlled kids."
—Joyce Fetteroll
small cheese balls shaped like pumpkins, in a store display
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beautiful, vibrant and alive

hot air balloons, two nearest are shaped like the heads of Yoda and Darth Vader
If a child has a joyous excitement for music, or sports, computers, poetry, horses, golf or dance, nurture that without owning it. Smile at it without naming it something bigger than your child. Treat is as a butterfly, beautiful, vibrant and alive. Don’t stab a pin in it, label it and stick it in a display box to show everyone the details, and try to keep it as it is forever because then you take the life of it away. YOU own it, and not the child, then.
photo by Lisa Jonick

Monday, December 15, 2014

Improve life!

"It feels so much better to be doing something active to try to improve life than it did sitting around worrying about it!!"
—Cass Kotrba
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reading will happen.

Reading will happen, and if it takes longer for your child than you think it will, keep them happy and distracted in the meantime. As their experience and vocabulary grow, their reading will be that much more effortless the day they're fully equipped to understand the written word.
Three Readers
photo by Quita Gray

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Doing this deeply

Unschooling is not as easy as some people think it is. It can be fun, and simple, and life changing, if it is done deeply and thoroughly.
wall made of suitcases and trunks, stacked up, in a cafe in Chichester
Thanks, Marta Pires, for saving that quote.
photo by Sandra Dodd


Friday, December 12, 2014

Peace on earth

In a longer discussion, Joyce Fetteroll wrote that people should be focused on helping a child "peacefully co-exist with the rest of the planet."

Meredith Novak added:
I think this is really key. If you're focused on who's "right" or which "side" to take, that's going to narrow down both your perception of the situation and the options you can envision.
Helping maintain peace within families is a direct contribution to peace on earth.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 11, 2014

More patience

I didn’t expect unschooling to make things so sweet between me and Keith.
Partly Keith's just a nice guy, but principles that applied to the kids applied to the adults, too, and we all experienced and shared more patience and understanding.

The more I got to know Marty, the more ways I saw him like Keith, and because I was sympathetic to those traits in Marty which had bothered me in Keith, I became more sympathetic to and understanding of Keith.
photo at Marty's wedding

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


 family on roller coasterUnschooled kids should learn what they want to learn, and have fun doing it. If happiness isn’t even a goal, life is of little value.
auto-bot photo of the Dusseldorp family

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sparklers at midnight

Ren wrote:

When my children ask me to light sparklers up at midnight, my auto-pilot mode says "That's not something we do this late at night!" but that lovely little "why not" goes gently swirling through my mind, growing louder as I pause. Why not indeed?
—Ren Allen
photo by Andrea Quenneville

Monday, December 8, 2014

Full and open

Help a child be full of the world—full, and open, with experiences and connections flowing in and through him. At peace, curious, joyful.

If an unschooling family honors a child's interests, answers his questions, supports his curiosity, provides for him a place to sleep, and a variety of food and opportunities, it shouldn't matter what those interests and questions are — he will be learning and growing.
photo by Colleen Prieto

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Grow and thrive

We helped each other grow and thrive.
—Karen James

orchids in small pots in a windowsill
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Out the window

Friday, December 5 photo of a window that's not there anymore now. Marty lives in our old house and we got new windows installed yesterday.
All my early unschooling articles were written within arm's reach of that window. I especially remember looking out while thinking of phrasing for "Rejecting a Pre-Packaged Life" whose URL is

The new window is good.
The old window is history.
History is good, too.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beyond compare

Unschooling is the ultimate individualized learning situation, and comparisons are unnecessary.colorful connected houses along a canal in Holland
photo by Rippy Dusseldorp

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Frolic! Delve.

Frolic! Delve.
Catch it in your peripheral vision.
photo by Bruno Machado

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


"Sometimes the measure of unschooling's success isn't how much a kid meets normal expectations, but how much sweeter and easier life is."
—Meredith Novak
(original, on facebook)
photo by Sarah Dickinson

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For learning to really flourish

small indoor carousel called 'Excalibur'

"Being Ethan's mom changed me. I surprised myself in good ways. In learning to give to him, I grew to really like myself. The walls started coming down. I started to soften—to have compassion for myself.... I challenged myself to continue to do better, because I now knew I could. I had a found confidence in that new truth. Honesty and humility too. All good things for learning to really flourish."
—Karen James
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Strength doesn't need to be high-tech or glitzy. Plain, thoughtful underpinnings and principles can be enough to quietly strengthen a family for many long years.
The writing is new, but is a good match.
photo by Dylan Lewis

Saturday, November 29, 2014


As my kids get older...I'm seeing more vividly the results of parenting choices, not just in them, but in their more conventionally parented peers, as well. Generosity begets generosity.
—Caren Knox
photo by Rippy Dusseldorp

Friday, November 28, 2014

It's all information

Respect trivia.

For school kids, "trivia" means "won't be on the test."

In the absence of tests, where all of life is learning, there IS no "trivia." There is only information.

Principles of Learning (chat transcript)
photo by Sandra Dodd, of tile in Austin

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Safe, respectful and empowering

Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

Unschooling is the opposite of both authoritarian and hands-off parenting. It's neither about creating rules to remote parent nor about letting kids jump off cliffs. It's about being more involved in kids lives. It's about accompanying them as they explore, helping them find safe, respectful and empowering ways to tackle what intrigues them.
—Joyce Fetteroll
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Better life

Unschooling can make life better. Really, fully unschooling becomes more philosophical and spiritual than people expect it to.

(the original writing, on facebook)
photo by Lisa Jonick

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

For unschooling to work...

Parents who want unschooling to work should be positive, upbeat, hopeful, helpful.
photo and quote by Sandra Dodd

Monday, November 24, 2014

Round, coming around

Lisa Jonick took this photo in a park in Albuquerque where I have been many times. The shadow is round, but flatter than the tree is. Still, the big round sun and a round tree caused that effect.

The dome in the distance there is Explora, the permament home of a children's museum that used to move from storefront to strip mall to basement of a downtown building, while they raised enough money for a home of their own. Some of the displays are things we saw in other locations, as my children were growing up.

Things tend to come around again, in different forms, perhaps, and with different details. Small effects can build up to large ones. A snapshot moment connects space to earth, season to viewer, structures to history, memories to the future.

Find a comfortable way to relax into the flow of life, as often as you can, appreciating the sweet surprises along the way.

The writing above is new, but a good link is
photo by Lisa Jonick

Sunday, November 23, 2014

No doubt

Because my children learned to read without having been taught, they have no doubt whatsoever that they could learn anything else. Few things are as important or as complex as reading, yet they figured it out and enjoyed doing it. If I thought I had taught them, they too would think I taught them, and they would be waiting for me to teach them something else.
photo by Amber Stippy

Friday, November 21, 2014

A happier place

In helping to maintain the nest you have created for your children to grow up in, think of its components. Physical house, kitchen, food, beds, bedding, space to be alone, space to be together—but it's not empty space. It is a space you have chosen to share, and it is a space arranged around you. Have a hopeful, open presence. Be a happier place.

Becoming a Better Partner
photo by Sandra Dodd, of a long-ago Kirby

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A series of selves

Today is Marty's wedding day. I don't yet know how to be the mother of a married person. This is new to me. It is new to all of us.

Yesterday, we stopped for fuel as the sun was rising, in Holbrook, Arizona. I wanted a panoramic photo, but one lone bird was in the shot. I took another without the bird, but when I got a chance to look at them closely, the bird was the best part—repeated as if by magic. That series of positions made me think of Marty's first 25 years, and my gratitude for having aided and witnessed his early growth.

Marty views the world through his own eyes. He is seeing each moment with all his gathered knowledge and wisdom.

I see Marty in all his stages. I remember learning I was expecting a second child. His eyes, when he was a newborn, were full of thoughts. He was gentle, and strong, as he grew. He was patient, and sweet. In each of his stages and sizes, his newnesses seemed to create a new and different Marty. His face changed, his smile, his voice, his shape, and hair. In my heart I have been collecting the whole set.
The photo can be clicked to enlarge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Collecting ideas

Some people collect things. Even those who don't gather and store physical objects might like hearing all of one artist's music, or seeing all the movies by a single director. I used to want to go into every public building or business in my home town. I never succeeded, but I saw each building as "yes, have been inside," or "not yet."

It might not make sense to a parent that a child wants to save feathers or rocks or movie ticket stubs. That's okay. What's important is that the unschooling parent accept that there is thought involved that might not need to make sense to anyone else. If possible, the child's whims and wishes about such things should be accepted and supported.

Focus, Hobbies, Obsessions
photo by Sandra Dodd, of someone else's robots

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Doing without a "have to"

The story quoted below is from nine years ago and involves a sixteen-year-old.

Marty is twenty-five now and is getting married in a couple of days.

Marty has an orthodonist appointment at 10:30 this morning, and works at noon. He has gone to ortho alone, and has taken Holly before. I asked yesterday if he wanted to go alone or me take him. He wanted me to go. He asked me to wake him up an hour before. He likes at least an hour before, and usually an hour and a half.

I forgot to wake him up, but I heard his alarm go off at 9:31 (and remembered I had forgotten).

He was tired and I offered to put a fifteen or twenty minute timer on and come and get him, but he said no, he wanted to get up.

There is a snapshot moment in the "don't have to" life of a sixteen year old boy.

I'm not saying that every child given leeway will be Marty.
I'm saying that every person who claims that leeway will inevitably cause sloth is proven wrong by Marty.
photo by Sandra Dodd, of Marty, a different morning in those same days

Monday, November 17, 2014

An active experience

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

In my park day group, the unschooled kids with freedom of choice to watch tv really clearly have their critical thinking engaged when watching tv. They "work" to get the joke, for example, on the Simpsons. They ask questions—they make connections to other things they know. TV is a more active experience for them than other kids. I know this from listening to them talk about it.
—Pam Sorooshian
photo is a link

Sunday, November 16, 2014

One way or the other...

green garden hose, swirled, tangled, on carpet, with a cat standing on it looking up

So how do you choose? You decide where you want to go before you decide to turn left or right, don't you?

Just like that.

The way to know the right direction is to identify the wrong direction.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Avoid punishments because...

No matter how "peaceful" the punishment might be, it still involves power and judgment and has a loser. A winner and a loser. Ultimately several losers, because the parents lose out on the chance to undo it, and the grandchildren might suffer similar losses of choice, freedom and happiness if the children aren't shown a better way.

Becoming the Parent You Want to Be
photo by Lisa Jonick

Friday, November 14, 2014


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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Attentive, engaged, or zombified?

TV, its critics say, will cause a child to turn into a zombie. So does reading a book—they sit just staring. So does going to a concert, if they're polite concertgoers. So does attending a play—if they know how to go to a play, they will sit there for two hours with only one break, staring at the lit-up stage, not moving. Maybe laughing when appropriate, but going right back to that stony stare. Movie theater, same thing. Nobody says "I'm not taking him to the movies anymore; he sits there like a zombie."

Translation for Brits: "Cinema, same thing. Nobody says "I'm not taking him to films anymore; he sits there like a zombie."
photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to be

Unschooling works well when parents are interesting, positive, thoughtful, considerate, generous, passionate, honest, respectful individuals.
—Deb Lewis
 photo DSC00651.jpg
photo by Sandra Dodd, of some cows just being

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lots of factors

Once upon a time (in December 2003), there was a very busy day. My kids were 12, 14 and 17 or so:

Yesterday we had from seven to seventeen kids here, in various combinations and not all at once. It was a madhouse. Seven was my low count because there are still seven here at the moment. At one point two were gone and were coming back, one was half-expected (and did show up) and Marty wanted to go to the dollar movies to see "School of Rock" with a subset of the day's count. Holly didn't want to go; her guest from England did. Kirby half wanted to go; the girls coming back wanted to see him particularly. So the discussion with Marty involved me helping him review the schedule, the logistics of which and how many cars, did he have cash, could he ask Kirby to stay, could we offer another trip to that theater the next day for those who'd missed it today, etc. I could have said "yes" or "no" without detail, but it was important to me for it to be important to Marty to learn how to make those decisions. Lots of factors.

Is there a difference between a Radical Unschooler and just an Unschooler?
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, November 10, 2014

Choose to have fun!

"Choose to have fun! Fear will hold you back. Guilt and shame will set in to cloud thinking and stunt progress. Having the courage to have fun in whatever pursuit thrills you most will most likely lead you to places you never expected to go."
—Karen James
photo by Lisa Jonick

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Your present moment

Embrace your present moment instead of yearning for what you don't have. I love the saying 'the grass is always greener where you water it.'
—Clare Kirkpatrick
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The most important part

A mom named Maya wrote:

Living from principles, rather than fears, is the easiest way to grok unschooling, as far as I can tell. (But maybe it isn't easy, because it took me a long time to figure that out for myself, haha. I was all, 'what is all this rules vs. principles stuff anyway?' Now, in my unschooling, it seems like the most important part.)
The forum where the original quote lived is gone now,
so I'm glad I had saved it!
photo by Sandra Dodd