Thursday, April 2, 2020

Being inside

If you can't go outside, look at the beauty inside. There are things you might have missed, if you didn't have time to sit and see.

Creating history
photo by Tara Joe Farrell

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Finding a social spot

Humans are social animals, and learn in mixed-age groups, when they learn naturally. A family can create that natural learning environment, or can fail to create it. :-/ Being around other people, though, IF AND WHEN a child wants to learn and is encouraged by parents to learn how to be considerate and sociable, can be a good place to learn "manners"—ways to behave politely.

In school, children are still social animals with the need to identify who might help them, and what their role is within the social structure. The social structure being unnaturally 20+ kids the same age, they figure out who are the leaders and the "young" and they act in accordance with their instincts in an unnatural setting. More adults to—teens, and young adults, and middle-aged, and elderly, behaving in natural real-world ways. TV is better for that than school is. Ideally, a rich unschooled life *IN* the real world is better than either.

photo by Julie D

I can't find where I wrote that, up there, but three people shared it in 2012,
and I still think it's true. —Sandra

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Be curious about life

Get interested in things yourself. Not interested in your child getting educated, but in learning for yourself. Pursue an interest you've always wanted to but never had time for. Be curious about life around you. Look things up to satisfy your own curiosity. Or just ponder the wonder of it all. Ask questions you don't know the answers to. "Why are there beautiful colors beneath the green in leaves?" "Why did they build the bridge here rather than over there?" "Why is there suddenly more traffic on my road than there used to be?"

Let your child know that all the questions haven't been answered yet and it's not her job to just keep absorbing answers until she's got them all.
—Joyce Fetteroll

Five Steps to Unschooling
photo by Pushpa Ramachandran

Monday, March 30, 2020

Nearly natural limits

Kelly Lovejoy wrote:

The world is FULL of natural limits. Our lives are FULL of natural limits. It's the way we deal with those limits that matters. Finding solutions and dealing with obstacles and knowing what limits are real.
—Kelly Lovejoy

From a discussion of Boundaries, at Unschooling Basics
photo by Ester Siroky

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A little peace

It doesn't take much to create a little peace, and then some more.
photo by Ester Siroky

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Priceless and profound

One of the greatest benefits of unschooling is the relationship with the child, and the changing attitudes of those in the family toward learning and being. Being a parent one is proud to be is priceless and profound.

The healing of one's own childhood wounds and the recovery from school are like little bonus miracles.

How Robbie saw unschooling in swans
photo by Nicole Kenyon

Friday, March 27, 2020

Laughter helps

Deb Lewis wrote:

Unschoolers sometimes talk about having tools in their toolbox. No, unschoolers are not all plumbers. They're referring to a store of good ideas to shop around in to help in this business of living. I have one tool I use more than any other. A pipe wrench! No, it's humor.
. . . .
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

Unschooler's Pipe Wrench, by Deb Lewis
photo by Jo Isaac

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Visions and knowledge

I didn't know how much children could learn without reading, until I immersed myself in unschooling and my children's lives.

As their reading ability unfolded and grew, I learned things I never knew as a teacher, and that I wouldn't have learned as an unschooling mom had they happened to have read “early.” Reading isn't a prerequisite for learning. Maps can be read without knowing many words. Movies, music, museums and TV can fill a person with visions, knowledge, experiences and connections regardless of whether the person reads. Animals respond to people the same way whether the person can read or not. People can draw and paint whether they can read or not. Non-readers can recite poetry, act in plays, learn lyrics, rhyme, play with words, and talk about any topic in the world at length.
photo by Holly Dodd, from inside an auto-rickshaw

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Music lives in the air

Music doesn't live in notes on paper, it lives in the air.

People can be VERY musical without knowing how to read or write music, just as people can be very verbal, tell stories, be poetic and dramatic without reading and writing.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Keys to knowledge

One of a child's best tools is to learn to ask "What's that?" It's one of a baby's keys to knowledge. "Sa-sat?" said one of my kids. Hundreds of times, pointing. "Sa-sat?" Another said, "Aht-dat?"
With names for things, categories form. Some small furry animals ARE "dog" and others are not. "Not" needs another name.

On naming, a researcher named J. Doug McGlothlin wrote, "A child possesses a natural desire to call an object by its name, and he uses that natural desire to help him learn the language. He receives real joy from just pointing out something and calling it by name. He never thinks it is stupid or silly to say something that others might consider obvious. For him, it is delightful."
photo by Cass Kotrba

Monday, March 23, 2020


Peace can be just contentment—to be happy where you are, to like your life.
(the quote is from the sound file at the bottom)
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Wouldn't change a moment

Karen James wrote:

"A good chunk of our days are filled with gaming, and I wouldn't change a moment of it. My son is learning so much, is healthy both physically and emotionally, and truly loves his life. What more could I hope for?!"
art by Jalen Owens

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Make the next moment better.

Moments, not days.

Don't think of "bad days." One terrible moment doesn't condemn the rest of the day. One bad moment? Recover. Apologize, smile, be sweet, and make the next moment better.
photo by Karen James

Friday, March 20, 2020

Living Sweetly by Choice

It seems to me the best you can do for your family is to choose to be with them as long and as well as you can be, mindfully aware that you have chosen to do this.

Live sweetly by choice.

From my handwritten notes for a 2004 presentation
that was pre-empted for a last-minute speaker.
photo by Sandra Dodd of the cloth from the article here

Thursday, March 19, 2020

First aid for scary, sad days of doubt

I wrote this on March 10, 2000:

Sometimes it's kids, sometimes it's parents.

Let's list ideas for cheering up, and de-funkifying.

I love "breathe."
Whether it's jogging or breath-holding, or laughing, or spinning or meditation—whatever causes a sudden more concentrated and less thought-laden intake of oxygen is relaxing.

I like happy music or funny, familiar movies—the stuff you already know and can put on as background, which reminds you subliminally of more peaceful and carefree days.

I like comfort food, playing with ice cubes, going to the store just to buy something cold (lettuce, apples, ice cream, a small soda for all to share, special juice or fancy tea in a bottle—something cold and soothing, and no doubt this works better in the desert than it might in Minnesota this morning).

Painting—not fancy elaborate painting, but big brush strokes on big scrap paper, or a sign for the dog, or painting on a playhouse outside or something that doesn't involve stress (if it's quickly available).

Mix it up: Wear something you haven't worn for a long time. To assist a kid to do this, get out the off-season clothes and see what's not fitting, or find some funky old thing of yours and see if the kid wants it, or stop at a garage sale and get a t-shirt for a quarter or something. A new color, a new picture, some soft cotton or silk. Marty got a silk shirt at a thrift store the other day for $3. He's thrilled. Wears it like a jacket over t-shirts. Touches the sleeves a lot.

While this stuff is being done/discussed/reviewed, the depressing problem is being dispersed, forgotten, avoided. Next time the depression comes (if it does, if it's a long-term thing) the kid or parent will approach it with a more relaxed mind and calmer body.

More ideas??
. . . .
What works at your house?

Read responses with other ideas here: Conversations with Sandra Dodd

photo by Alex Polikowsky

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Plus or minus

food scrap: egg shells, watermelon rind
Every little thing a parent does goes into the plus column or the minus column. Each parent is gaining credit or losing credit.

Everything counts—words, tone, patience, generosity, interest, kindnesses and thoughts. It takes more to build your credit back up than it does to waste it, so be careful.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Too good to be true?

It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Being connected is better than being controlling. Being interested is better than being bored. Being fun is more fun than not being fun!

—Melissa Wiley

stack of plastic bowls from India, different colors
photo by Sandra Dodd, of bowls I bought in India

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Peace is primary

Tara Joe Farrell wrote:

Peace is THE priority in unschooling. It's primary. No amount of dropping bedtimes or food/media restrictions, no finding the yeses, no rich environment can get a family to unschooling well until someone (the at-home parent, the keeper of the nest, usually the mom) understands how to scan for peace, see where it's missing, and then find a way to let peace grow in that space. That could mean simply planting peace, but it can also mean clearing obstacles (including ourselves). Learning only, ever, thrives where there is peace.
—Tara Joe Farrell

Becoming the Parent You Want to Be
photo by Gail Higgins, of a rainbow on a waterfall

Saturday, March 14, 2020

At peace, at home

Today is different.

Well every day is different, but this week the world is trying to figure out how to pause and wait. This affects us all. Some people got quiet. Some ran around.

Two important jobs have fallen on parents. Distract children who might be afraid, or sick or restless. Needy children.

Find and share beauty and joy in familiar things—in things you can touch, hear, see, smell, taste, drink from, eat from, sit on, sleep on, tell stories about.

The links below go to previous posts that might help you be at peace, at home.

Live lightly with patience
Arts and sciences
History at your house

photos by Sandra Dodd

Friday, March 13, 2020

Mushy happy everything

I've come to ask for a roll call on who's seeing, reading, caring. If you have this by e-mail, please respond, with at least a ping, if not a note.

The mailer-report says nobody saw this one: Constant flow of thoughts, which is too bad because there was a cool photo by Karen James of beautiful little plants growing in a crack in a lava flow. If you didn't receive that, I don't know why not, and I hope you'll take a look.

Some people object to "Mushy happy" anything, but I'm pretty sure it's better than dried-up cranky whatever, so if you want happy encouragement, stick around! If not, see if one of these guys has a daily blog for you, and best of luck.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Learning curve

The learning curve of unschoolers has a plateau in the middle, it seems. Don't worry.
photo by Belinda Dutch

Tuesday, March 10, 2020


If you think of controlling yourself, and of your children controlling themselves, it's still about control. If people live by principles their choices come easily.
photo by Holly Dodd

Monday, March 9, 2020

Even though it's natural...

There is a natural need in people to know the "us" and the "them." Those who want an inclusive, multicultural, liberal, accepting life will still have a "them." It's easy to revile "the enemy." It might be impossible NOT to have the idea of "other." But creating a "culture" or nation that is created of a combination of others won't save any individual from their own instincts.

Accept and try to accept what is a natural part of human nature. Then figure out ways to live peacefully, and kindly, and gently, for the sake of your children, and of others. (the first part is from there)
photo by Whitney DiFalco

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Constant flow of thoughts

Rebellion for the sake of rebellion is as bad as conformity for the sake of conformity.
photo by Karen James

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Lucky Kirby!

Kirby, my oldest, was born in 1986. I went to La Leche League (LLL). There I learned a crucial concept: my child and I were partners, not adversaries. What was good for him was good for me. At that time I had been going to Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings for a little over a year, and there I learned that we need to avoid repeating our parents' parenting mistakes, and that by raising our own children gently and respectfully, that we would heal our own hurts.

Lucky Kirby! 2002
photo by Ester Siroky

Friday, March 6, 2020

Active participants

"Unschooling is not child-led or child-directed learning — that makes it sound like the parent should just be a 'follower.' Not so — parents are active participants and part of the job of an unschooling parent is to keep the child in mind and to fill his/her life with just the right amount of interesting new experience, chances to repeat experiences, down time, and so on."
—Pam Sorooshian—Building an Unschooling Nest
photo by Nina Haley

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Invisible creations

Can a person create negativity?

If so, a person should be able to create positivity.

"Happiness Inside and Out" (quote from the notes)
photo by Jaspreet Boparai

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A little push

If you're trying to help push someone's car and it's not going anywhere, sometimes pushing harder helps. Occasionally, though, you just have to
say, "Is it in neutral or not?" If they say, "No, it's in first gear, push harder," what are you going to say? You stop pushing and say "You have to put it in neutral first."

So before anyone can enjoy the benefits of unschooling they have to "put it in neutral." They have to take off the emergency brake. Otherwise the car won't move. Too many people say "We tried pushing the car, it didn't move, we bought a new one. Pushing cars never works."

An analogy from 1997, with notes on the "have to" parts here:
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

What is "better"?

Approach "better."

But "better" is unmeasurable. Too much measuring, too much counting.
Better is perceptible.
Better is a relief.
Better is better.

Arguing with "better is better" is saying that better is not better.
Worse is certainly not better.

Happiness Inside and Out
photo by Tara Joe Farrell

Monday, March 2, 2020

Not all, but more

Connections won't be the same for any two people, but talking about those connections will help our children, and us, understand more and more of everything. We can't know all of everything, but we can know more of everything.
photo by Jo Fielding

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Bright and conversant

When I was a new unschooler, I sought out reports of college success and social ease. As the years passed, the social ease seemed so central to my children's lives that the college thoughts receded. As they reached the teen years, and their friends (schooled or not) went to the university (or not), they saw college "education" (and partying, and class skipping) as just another part of the infinite fabric of life. They haven't been channeled toward it in the dark, as so many millions have been.

It has been a long time since I worried about whether they would grow up whole and functional. They were whole, functional, bright and conversant all along. They surprise and impress older friends, co-workers and classmates (when those temporary relationships do arise) with their energy and joy.

2006, from "To Be Fascinating at Cocktail Parties"
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Shining light on it

Nikki Zavitz, interviewed by Pam Laricchia in early 2020, shared a mental model of unschooling, including deschooling. It's wonderful, and there's a link to hear it, below.
I always had this visual for unschooling for me, I picture it being this big giant house and it’s got like a million rooms in it. And there’s closets and doors everywhere. And for me, I’m walking around this house with this lantern and the lantern is like unschooling for me. And I have to open up doors and shine the lantern and look under the beds and look in the closet and I’m finding all these new, dusty things that have come from my life and have created this uncomfortableness and this kind of scary eerie feeling for me. And the unschooling is the light, like walking through shining light on it, considering it, asking questions, and eventually more lights are on, and the closets aren’t as dusty anymore, and the rooms are more open and free to go in and out of.

I kind of see that—I've always pictured my unschooling journey like that—and then everybody’s house is different. Everyone has a different unschooling house, and I just love that visual for me, I’m always picturing it like that. Like, "Oh, I found another room that I have to look in," and "I haven’t been in this room yet. I’m going to just step my toe in this room and then step back out and maybe I’ll come back again later," and I just love that.
—Nikki Zavitz

The million-room house image is at 43:26 in Deschooling with Nikki Zavitz,
Episode 216 of the Exploring Unschooling Podcast, by Pam Laricchia.
I think that link will take you right to it. You can see Nikki's face light up.
Let her share her visual with you!

I didn't add a photo this time, because the imagery is all in the words.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Attentive and sweet

Be attentive and sweet to your children. That might be one of your best healing tools.
Good person, good parent
photo by Janine Davies

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Learning what's important

In 1997, someone asked how unschooling moms stayed patient.

Other moms have told me they think I'm patient. It makes me feel guilty because I have the internal list of all the times I've blown it, but a few things have helped me.

The biggest was Adult Children of Alcoholics, an al-Anon group. I went to meetings for four years and learned a lot of calming and encouraging things. One of those is to remember what I wanted and needed as a child. Then I try to give those things to my children. I don't mean toys or books. I mean listening, and smiling, and joking, and letting them climb on stuff even if it made me nervous, and not making such strictly-to-the-minute rules like "be back at 5:45 or else" and other arbitrary control-junk. One of the quotes/sayings from that learning-time is "How Important Is It?" and thinking that little mantra can help a ton all by itself. If we waste our energy and our relationship with our children on how they wear their socks and where they keep their toothbrush between times, there's nothing left for important things. I try to save it for important things, and I try not to be the defining judge of what's important. There are things the kids consider very important, and I force myself (at first, until I calm myself and remind myself to give) to pay attention to their stuff too. No "That's nice dear" while I ignore them. When it happens, occasionally, that I've done that, I feel bad and I sometimes go back and say, "Tell me again about that game. I'm sorry. I wasn't really listening."

Next biggest influence was La Leche League. There I learned that children have within them what they need to know, and that the parent and child are a team, not adversaries. It reinforced the idea that if you are loving and gentle and patient that children want to do what you ask them to do, and that they will come to weaning, potty training, separation from mom, and all those milestones without stress and without fear if you don't scare them or stress them! Seems kind of obvious, but our culture has 1,000 roadblocks.
From having studied meditation and Eastern religion, I learned the value of breathing. I think what it does is dissipate adrenaline. I remember in the 1960's and early 1970's it was Big News that yogis could *actually* slow their heart rates at will! WELL duh. People had been doing it in church (those who cared to actually "be still and know") for hundreds of years, but nobody thought to wire up contemplative Christians. When people (parents or kids) are agitated and are thinking for a moment that something has to happen JUST THIS WAY and RIGHT NOW, breathing helps. Deep breathing, slow, and full-as-possible exhalation. This is, in Western terms, "count to ten." Calm down and let the adrenaline go. Some people have biochemistry that's not easy to control, and some people count too fast.
(read aloud as an intro, in the recording at the bottom of the page)

photo by Sandra Dodd of the neighbor's tree seen through an
inch-thick piece of ice from a bucket of water on a cold day

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Then ZOOM!

Like a bicycle not quite catching the sprocket, sometimes people are moving along, roughly, and they're unschooling, but something isn't quite smooth, and then ZOOM! The chain catches and they're really going.

Did your own unschooling ever change gears that way? Do you remember something that caused a leap in your knowledge or comfort?

"Getting It" transcript
photo by Rachel Cooley Green

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Our own real thoughts

We can't really think until we think in our own words without the prejudicial labels and without mistaking the voices in our heads for our own real thoughts.
photo by Alison Eiffe

Monday, February 24, 2020

Too hard; too soft; just right

Goldilocks and The Three Bears is an odd story, but for very little children what sticks is the "too hot; too cold; just right" pattern.

When it's hot summer, parents should provide a cooler place for children to hide. When it's cold, they need warmth. Parents can help children find "just right."

If you don't do it, they might sneak into the homes of bears. (Maybe that's not what that story means; it's hard to say.)

"Just Now"
photo by Pushpa Ramachandran
of stored, unused bricks, slightly softened

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sharing a moment, together

When we "give someone our time," what is it we give? Sometimes attention, or service. Maybe assistance, or advice.

Instead of thinking that I "give" my child my time, it helps to think of us sharing a moment, together.

"Being there for and with the family" seems so simple and yet many parents miss out on it without even leaving the house. Maybe it's because of English. Maybe we think we're "being there with our family" just because we can hear them in the other room. There is a special kind of "being" and a thoughtful kind of "with" that are necessary for unschooling and mindful parenting to work.
photo by Lydia Koltai

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Cool and cheery

Help them live without having things to be angry about. Promote peace. Be a cool, cheery cruise director.

Arrange for less anger to be around you. What they're angry about—avoid those factors.
from a chat on Spiritual/Existential Intelligence
photo by Meredith Dew

Friday, February 21, 2020

It's a good thing.

"Joy really is infectious, so it's a good thing to grab and share whenever you can."
—Sylvia Toyama
Still cheerful
photo by Cass Kotrba

Thursday, February 20, 2020

When you breathe...

When something makes you sad, breathe in a lovely thought.

When you're worried,
breathe in hope.

When you're afraid,
breathe in calm.

Let breathing bring you closer to better, for your family and for yourself.
photo by Jo Isaac

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

All that verbal stuff...

Pam Sorooshian, on writing:

Good conversation is really writing development. Sometimes I see parents who kind of shush their kids or get obviously bored when their kids are telling them a rather long drawn-out story (like retelling a movie plot). But retelling a tv or movie plot or telling everything that happened, in order, in a video game are really great for writing. In fact, all that verbal stuff—conversation, summarizing movies, persuading or arguing, playing games, etc.—is MUCH better for developing good writing than practicing writing in the artificial ways that schools do it.
—Pam Sorooshian

Other Just Add Light and Stir posts about writing
photo by Belinda Dutch

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Remember "partnership"

Being patient and compassionate with a child who is sad or hungry or tired or maybe teething or frustrated with his friends is good. Feeling good makes you calmer and more confident. It will give you stores of calm and clarity so that you can remember that your spouse might be sad or hungry or tired, maybe aging, aching, or frustrated with his co-workers and friends.

If you have come to feel adversarial in any way toward your partner, remember "partnership." Help him or her follow interests or hobbies or to take care of collections, or to see a favorite TV show. Support his interests. Being nicer makes you a nicer person.
photo by Joyce Fetteroll

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The horizon and beyond

"What you're dealing with is a very well-meaning person who is convinced the world is flat and is worried that you're so clueless that you want to head off across the horizon. It's a lot healthier and more useful to listen to the people who've been across the horizon than to the person who fears it." —Joyce Fetteroll

The Big Book of Unschooling
(The quote is not from there, but the quote and image both remind me of it.)
photo by Renee Cabatic

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Better, kinder, stronger

Robyn Coburn wrote:

"Everyone who is unschooling is on a daily journey of making choices based on unschooling principles that move them either towards or away from unschooling, towards or away from better, kinder, stronger relationships with their children. Life impacts us, emotionally and practically. Some days I think I was more fully connected to my daughter than others. But she is happy and fulfilled, and not hungry in any negative connotation of that word."
—Robyn Coburn

What Problems can Come?
photo by Cass Kotrba

Friday, February 14, 2020

A little separate time

The more people one's children know and trust, the easier it will be for the parents to find some separate time, but I don't think time apart should be a high priority.
photo by Janine Davies

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Approaching solidity

There is a danger when someone's own understanding and practice of unschooling is shaky, and she wants the approval of others more than the solid joyful everyday life of her family. I've seen a few of those.

Another problem comes when someone's reasons for unschooling are not about learning and family relationships, but about being way cool and out there, and cutting edge, and anti-this'n'that. But that sets the stage for lots of problems in insecure people, when they want to glom onto something that's wild and new and shocking.

Unschooling is...
photo by Alex Polikowsky

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Voices in your head

In your head, you have some repeating-loop messages. Some are telling you you're doing a good job, but I bet some of them are not. Some are telling you that you have no choice, but you do.
"Past Voices" is one good follow-up,
or Phrases to Hear and Avoid
Scanner image by Sandra Dodd (it's a link)


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