Saturday, September 26, 2020

Perspective and math

Two responses to a newcomer's question: "How do you approach math?"
a brick wall viewed through the fork of a tree
I wrote:
The real answer is not to "approach math," but to learn how to see all of the patterns, measuring, relationships, weights, game play, sports stats, poker hands that are math in its natural environment.
Jo Isaac wrote:
The question you really want to ask is how do you deschool enough that you know you don't need to 'approach math' at all.
The longer answers are on facebook here.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, September 25, 2020

Pre-electric recordings

Before electricity, and even before wind-up/crank record players, there were music boxes, calliopes and player pianos. Music met engineering centuries ago, in many different places.

What is pictured here is a steam-powered calliope, in England. It has wooden pipes, that sound like loud flutes (because of the notch cut in them, and their sizes), and air passes through holes in a heavy card-stock board, fastened to the next and next. They are fed through, and refold themselves fan-style on the other side.

The history of science, the history of technology, and in this case art and music, too, can help fill in a lot of connections and timelines.

Today's link goes into the wilds: Some history of music boxes, with links
and info on Calliopes
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Three-phase appreciation

Sometimes sunlight seems to do a magic trick.

I suppose it always involves something between us and the sun, or the angle from where we're viewing it in a certain moment. It's more fun for me to think the sun is showing off, for fun.
First I need to notice it, though.
Second, I try to pause to think gratefully of what I am seeing.
Third, maybe I can share it by pointing it out, photographing it, reporting it, painting it...
Maybe one form of sharing is to remind my own self to look more often.
photo by Karen James

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Service as a gift

Schuyler Waynforth wrote:

It's amazing to see doing for others as a gift. It takes the whole angst about servitude away

There isn't any servitude in it when it's a gift.

—Schuyler Waynforth
photo by Amber Ivey

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The day it was picked

Sometimes people get the chance to eat food that was just picked that day. Those doing the picking might get to taste things right in the garden!

Life allows us to eat food all year that wouldn't have been available without trucks, trains, and ships. There's an upside and a downside.

I live in such a dry place that without import and transport, I would never even have seen most of the foods I can buy. I'm grateful for both—fresh local, for those things New Mexico can produce, and for those foods that needed different climates and seasons.

Live lightly and sweetly around food.

Joy / Live Lightly
photo by Belinda Dutch, in Brighton, England

Monday, September 21, 2020

Organizational skills

Most skills take more than one intelligence. The organization of tools and supplies probably requires nature intelligence (knowing which things are similar, in various ways), and spatial (seeing patterns and relationships in how things can fit, and be accessed).
People survive without being as organized as Tara Joe's kitchen, but it's good to appreciate the artistry of organizational ability.

If you see someone's desk, or sock drawer, or tools, or fruit bowl nicely arranged, maybe mention that you noticed.

photo by Tara Joe Farrell

Sunday, September 20, 2020


"Connection translates to trying to find more things that might tie into something that she might have liked before. Connection could translate to being excited about a bug or a thread or a cartoon."
—Pushpa Ramachandran,
part of Being means being

Thread literally is a tiny cord, but thread figuratively is a series of connections, and so it comes full circle.

photo by Nina Kvitka

Friday, September 18, 2020

Over, under, in between

Where we are in relationship to others changes all the time, with physical realities of space, place, size and age, mood, waking and sleeping. We move; they move.

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

"Unschooling is more like a dance between partners who are so perfectly in synch with each other that it is hard to tell who is leading. The partners are sensitive to each others' little indications, little movements, slight shifts and they respond. Sometimes one leads and sometimes the other."

—Pam Sorooshian
Being your child's PARTNER, not his adversary
photo by Jo Isaac

Thursday, September 17, 2020

All kinds of doors

Sometimes doors are open, and sometimes they're not. Sometimes it costs money to go through a door, or it's private, or it is so locked or sealed that it's just part of the wall.

Real doors open up to mysteries, beauty, food, something scary, or boring. All kinds of things have doors.

Metaphorical or figurative doors, ditto!

Sometimes the door is interesting even if it's not open to everyone,
Hidden secret rooms and magic doors
photo by Ester Siroky

Wednesday, September 16, 2020


Beautiful moments of stillness and calm are around us all the time. Sometimes we notice.
Look Quietly
photo by Annie Regan, who wrote "Possibly my favourite spot in the whole world.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania, just on sunrise in this photo"

(This is a re-run because the photo is so wonderful.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Same old appreciation

Same old sink, same old dishes. Same house, day after day.

But look how, randomly, the spoon and fork handles all pointed in different directions. Look how the light hits things. The sky reflected down into my sink!

I am grateful to have that sink and those dishes. My house keeps us safer, cooler in summer, warmer in winter, day after day.

A dirty pot means we had food, and a stove to cook it over. Dirty bowls mean people ate. That is something to be happy about.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, September 14, 2020


There were days not long ago when we did things that now seem problematical. Running in a bubble another kid would run in next. Hugging and kissing people in public. Crowding, laughing, into shared vehicles or public transportation to go and ride and climb and slide and explore.

I've lived past and through things that seemed terrible, but I knew my parents and grandparents had seen worse. In each and every case, the world went back to normal, and sometimes better, in one way or another, or in many ways.
Things can seem grim and limiting, but somehow, it will rain and shine and plants and trees will grow, and children will run and play in more and different places.

I'm impressed with every family staying home with children, when it's hard to do. I salute you. I hope you can live it one more day, and then again, in sweet, creative ways.

Make happy memories, however you can.
photo by Amber Ivey

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Tension of the best kind

The term "tension" can bring to mind "nervous tension," or "feeling tense," but there is a bigger, better concept to envision when thinking about relationships and of living well with children for years.

Uplifting forces should be balanced by weighty, anchoring, solid foundations. Both together are what can create a solid structure within which to live a safe yet expanding life.

Tension (the useful kind)
photo by Tara Joe Farrell

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Optimistic happy people

Alex Polikowsky wrote:

Surround yourself with optimistic happy people. Do not engage in conversation when people are complaining about their children or husbands. If a friend comes to complain about her kids I try to turn around and point out to them how that characteristic could be good or some other great thing about their children. Or I change the subject.

Look at what you have, not what you do not have. If all you focus is in negative things that is all you will see. If you always look for the positive slowly you will, more and more, see the positive and the beauty around you and that will become who you are.

—Alex Polikowsky
photo by Daniel Moyer Artisan

Friday, September 11, 2020

Listen, honestly

Robyn Coburn wrote:

How do we as parents show that we respect our children, that we are parenting respectfully? One big way is by genuinely listening to them. One way is by being honest with them about our own feelings, and telling the truth about events, or unexaggerated truthful reasons about why things can or cannot occur.
—Robyn Coburn
Thoughts on Respect
photo by Cass Kotrba

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Exploring, playing, relationships

Schuyler Waynforth wrote:

We have chosen to listen to our children, to pay attention to their needs and their wants instead of telling them that they must conform to our needs and our wants.

It means that for me if Simon (my 8 year old son) asks me to help him play Tales of Symphonia on the gamecube and I happen to be doing the dishes I may ask that he wait the 10 minutes or more likely than not I may just let the dishes soak and come and play with him. The dishes will be easier to clean when I empty the sink and refill it with warm water and I will have gotten to spend an hour with my son talking and exploring and playing and continuing to forge a relationship that makes me so happy I cannot begin to express my joy.
That was from an unusual (for Schuyler) rant in 2007.

Here are some newer words from this ever-thoughtful unschooling mom:
Schuyler Waynforth Interview

photo by Sandra Dodd, of Schuyler's cat in 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Simple, warm and homey

Any moment or memory that is simple, warm and homey is a success.

Peaceful moments can be very simple.
photo by Caroline Lieber

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Breathe like you mean it

People breathe all the time. People are not always conscious of it, though, and so their breathing simply keeps them alive.

Beyond basic function, there are heights of mindfulness and awareness you can reach up to with conscious breathing.

Breathe before you act. Breathe before you speak. Breathe before you play. Breathe before you work. Breathe before you sleep. Breathe when you wake up. Breathe when you think of your child.

Breathing and Safety
photo by Pushpa Ramachandran

Monday, September 7, 2020

A thousand or three choices

If there are a thousand choices, or even three choices, how do you choose? Some people like to live without choices, so they can say "I had no choice."

. . . .

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.
How to Screw Up Unschooling

original, on Always Learning, April 2009
photo by Karen James

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Invisible growth

You can't see what a child is learning. You can't know for sure what she knows.

She probably doesn't know what she's learning either, but all the little pieces will be connected to new information as time passes.

I don't usually know what I'm learning, until I look back and see how my thoughts and experiences crossed, connected and unfolded to bring me to today.

You can't see it all
photo by Elaine Santana

Saturday, September 5, 2020

An outpouring of growth

Schuyler Waynforth wrote:

"I am often struck by how much of an effective method unschooling is. Maybe effective isn't the right word, but it feels right, or apt. I don't know of any other approach to people that helps them to feel more themselves, more powerful, more generous, more capable, more loved. And what an outpouring you get in response. And I feel so much better as this parent than I did as the parent I used to be."
photo by Cass Kotrba

Friday, September 4, 2020

Travel, or memories

This is not the greatest travel season of the century, but some families are able to go, a bit, to camp or hike.

Memories, or sharing stories and photos, might be the best substitute for a while. "Armchair traveling" might make a return, though Facebook and Youtube, films and documentaries can make it more interesting, and vibrant, with music and voices.

Pleasant thoughts while only looking at photos of distant places are better than grumpy thoughts, no matter where. Happy travel will return someday.

The photo above was taken in Kansas. Scientifically, is Kansas flatter than a pancake? There is a graph here:
photo by Karen Lundy

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Something completely different

Business, an offer, excuses, a thank-you:

If you're expecting e-mail from me, ever, save this: and put Sandra Dodd on it, in your address book. Because of the dismantling of my old site, moving it all out of and away from yahoo small business and photobucket storage, my main/default e-mail is now my gmail address. Sorry.

To encourage people to save and try that out, if you want a Christmas card from me, or a post card (if you'd rather), send your mailing address to

I have finished ten years of Just Add Light and Stir. If you're reading this on the blog, there is a randomizer and it says

Another Good One
of over 3500 posts

Ten years mighta shoulda yielded 3,650 posts, but I'm short. I have 3,552. Sometimes I was traveling, or fell asleep, or both. A time or two I was sick. A few, I deleted because they were business posts a bit like this one (but not JUST like this one!).

Here is what I look like this week:

Several people sent donations, for which I'm grateful. I would like to send notes, but if they come from the e-mail address up above, they might go into spam folders so please elevate aelflaed to a known entity. Thanks!

I want to thank Vlad Gurdiga, again, for the time and ability he offered freely to rescue so much unschooling writing over the past year. He's a hero; remember his name. He moved my entire website to another hosting company, and found a way to enable me to edit online as I was used to doing. He figured out the mystery of how to move all my many photobucket folders (from three accounts) to my site, too.

When Yahoogroups said they would no longer maintain the archives of groups, Mr. Vlad Gurdiga, my hero, rescued archives from Always Learning, Unschooling Discussion, and Unschooling Basics. You might have noticed links to some of those, where they reside on my site, as I have come across great quotes in there to share here. It's too much to read through, and there's no good "next," but things come up in site search now. It is wonderful.

The entryway might be prettier someday, but feel free to poke around. Watch your step!

To lead you to peaceful things, here are some posts with photos of water in them.
I'll be back tomorrow with a regular post, most likely!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A good person

Someone wrote:

"I wanted to say that this blog, out of all the blogs in the blogosphere, encourages me the most. It lets me know, that my actually natural inclinations as a parent (to love, to focus on relationship, to care for the inside more than the outside) are what I should be listening to. It is so easy in this world to get mired down in how we *should* do something. I admit to falling for this time and time again. I just wanted you to know this blog to be a true inspiration for how to be not only a 'good' unschooling parent, but just a good person. Thank you."

That comment was left by "unknown," when the blog was three years old, in 2013.

Just Add Light and Stir is ten years old now.

Thank you for reading.

The comment was at Gradually Climb, October 22, 2013.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Climb up a notch.

Tina Bragdon wrote:

For all you negative people out there, you really can change, but you have to want to change. That concept of changing the next moment is so powerful, especially if you feel overwhelmed like I did at the thought of a total life overhaul all at once. You can chose to read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch, and "climb up a notch." And even if it is "just" a tiiiiiinnny notch at first, the positivity and joy builds on the next moment and perpetuates itself, an beautiful ongoing circle as you climb up out of being cynical and negative.

And, the view is great up here!

—Tina Bragdon

Seeing and Avoiding Negativity
photo by Renee Cabatic

Monday, August 31, 2020

Nearly ten years of this

When I started Just Add Light and Stir, I didn't think "And I'll still be doing this in ten years!" In two days, September 2, year 11 begins. I suppose there's a possibility I'll still be doing it for another ten.🙂

The past six months have been awkward and unsettling. After years and years of others looking askance at unschooling, though, and asking questions like "Don't you get tired of being together so much?" and "How can they learn without a lot of other kids around?" then all this happened. ALL the families were sent home to stay and learn.

Unforeseen benefits of unschooling are fun to collect, but I did not see this one coming. Unschoolers seemed to find that the transition from choosing to stay home to being told to stay home a while wasn't very difficult. Others, used to recitations about the crucial importance of school, of being around other people, and of scattering out every day, didn't slip as smoothly into being home.

Thank you for reading here, and for being examples others might be comforted or inspired by. Calm and peace are valuable resources.

This is my quieter-than-usual annual request for financial assistance. The main page of has a donation link at the bottom, but ignore this if you're not flush and comfortable these days. If money is short, put it toward your children's ease and stability.

photo by Jo Fielding

Sunday, August 30, 2020

No one can envision everyone

To tell a young child something disturbing will not give him a context for distance, nor for the possibility of the problem being solved by you, or him, or by governments.

And if a parent of a young child is looking outward, and collecting hurts and sorrows and bringing them home to sort through and bemoan, who is holding that child and touching him gently, singing to him and smiling at him?

That's the end of something longer, at
photo by Jamie Parrish

Saturday, August 29, 2020

What's in there?

Half-empty cups are substantially different from half-full cups. It's not just theoretical holy water in those cups. The half-empty cups hold a concoction of frustration and need and irritation. The half-full cups contain joy and hope and gratitude.
page 213 of The Big Book of Unschooling (or page 185, of the first edition)
photo by Karen James

Friday, August 28, 2020

Many homey, happy things

Part of what makes a house a home is the familiarity of the dishes, towels, tools and chairs. Easily, we can forget to look, but in memories of childhood homes and grandparents' and friends' homes, you might recall things that seemed special to you as a guest. Sometimes I'll see a bowl, or pot-holder, or cheese grater that reminds me of my granny's house, or my mamaw's. One of my aunts had house plants and photos of Elvis, intermingled on shelves.

Some things about your house will be memories for your children and grandchildren, but you can't know which things those will be.

Dishes (and peace)
photo by Karen James

Thursday, August 27, 2020

For one moment, or ten...

This post is from April 2013. It was called "Happy Monkey," the first time. It's a good time for a re-run.
I went to the grocery store alone. It was crowded and people were moving fast, but were calm and smiling. I saw three young children. Their relatives were being very sweet to all of them. In other families, older kids were being helpful.

On the way to my van, a man who was 35 or 40 was happily riding the back of his shopping cart down the hill toward his car, with the wind blowing his hair.

On the way home, I thought of the cutest thing I had heard. A young mom had been holding a toddler, and he said something and touched her mouth. She said, "Monkey?"
toddler getting new shoes

He indicated that she was right.

"You're a monkey?"

"Happy," he said.

"You're a happy monkey? Happy monkey!"

And he was. He was very happy.

So easily, we can tip two degrees over into the sorrows and fears of the world. Without trying, we can fall into a pool of despair and take our friends and families down with us.

Not everyone can be happy today, but if your child is whole and well, for one moment or for ten do your part to help him be as happy a monkey as he can be.
photo by Julie D

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Being glad

Sometimes when my kids were little I would express a positive thought aloud. "I'm glad we can afford to go out to lunch sometimes," or "I'm glad we have a car and enough gasoline to go to the mountains!" Or "I'm glad our cats are nice."

And don't do it to train them. Do it because it's true. It will be uplifting, in that moment to kind of put a blessing on it.

from the January 2013 chat on gratitude
photo by Amber Ivey

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A wonderful, surprising abundance

Megan Valnes, when her daughter was younger, wrote:

Today, while making my older daughter's bed, I was reflecting on the very act itself. The girls have a bunk bed and Lila's is on the top, so I have to climb up there and she has about 20 stuffed animals--it's what I would have used to think of as a pain. Instead of feeling overworked and underpaid as I made her bed, I found myself taking extra care to make her bed very nicely because I know how good it feels to sleep in a freshly made bed. I tucked the sheets and blankets in tight and cleaned off any food crumbs. Thinking of my sweet girl, I made the bed as perfectly as I thought she would like. Her stuffed animals are placed in their special places and her bed looks very cozy and inviting. Even if she never mentions it (which I doubt she will), I feel good knowing she will appreciate the gesture.

Is this the abundance everyone talks about? This fullness of heart that I no longer think of making beds as a chore, but as an act of service and gratitude? The feeling was such a wonderful surprise!
—Megan Valnes
photo by Cass Kotrba

Monday, August 24, 2020

Plain old playing

When it's in season, if it's available and conditions are right, mud is glorious.

If you don't have mud, but you have a sandbox and a hose, that's good too.

Remember some of the basic of learning by feeling and touching—textures, effects, the excitement of messiness—and try to be generous and patient. Childhood is brief.

photo by Roya Dedeaux

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Same for swans

Life has some inconvenient realities. Be happy anyway! Admire the beautiful birds, but watch your step.

Reality as an environment for unschooling
Seeing and avoiding Negativity (and poop)
photo by Sandra Dodd, at Oakley Court, on the bank of the Thames, near Windsor

Saturday, August 22, 2020

If you give a kid a camera...

Kes's mom wrote:

It’s the shadow of a piece of seaweed on a chalk stone. He took the photo because he spotted that it looks like a mermaid 🧜🏼‍♀️ (a steam punk mermaid perhaps). Taken at Holywell beach, Eastbourne.

Sandra says:

That's on the south end of England, halfway between Brighton and Hastings, for those whose map of England comes from history and literature. (← That was me, until I got to go and run around there some.)

The rock above the chalk mermaid is flint. There are medieval churches built of flint. It was mined, underground, by stone-age people.

photo by Kes Morgan-Davies

Friday, August 21, 2020

Flex your make-believe

Let children play, and build, and imagine. Encourage disguises and humor and moments of sweet escape. Welcome them back from their adventurous "journies" and elsewheres.

Be with your children, but don't expect their thoughts and emotions to always be with you.

Flex your make-believe.

Imagination, by Deb Lewis
photo by Elise Lauterbach

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Learning by being

If you touch your child gently, softly, lovingly, he is more likely to be gentle with others. He will have learned not from words, but from his own lived experience, from your example, how to touch gently.
more on touching gently
photo by Janine Davies

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Helping casually

No one needs an assembly line to make a single item, nor to educate a single child. Rather than seeing the curriculum and then trying to wrap that around your child, or insert all the parts, it works better to see your child and help him learn as part of a busy life, considering occasionally whether maybe you should introduce other topics into his life, or introduce him to other people, places and things. This can be done casually, though, and doesn't need to be scheduled or methodical.

page 121 of The Big Book of Unschooling (page 110 in first edition)
photo by Chelsea Thurman Artisan

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Three little things

Today, three times, do something a little bit better.

Are you cutting an apple? Slow down and do something unexpected, something artsy. There might be an animal outside (or inside) you could offer the scraps to.

If you're asked to help someone, add a sweet gesture or a kinder word.

If you succeed and it helps,
do it again tomorrow.

photo by Amber Ivey

Monday, August 17, 2020

Every bit of all the bits

Unschooling allows free use of any and all bits of information, not just school's small set. A grid based first on cartoon characters or the history of ice skating can be expanded just as well as one built on a second-grade version of the discovery of North America and the made-up characters in some beginning-reader series. If the goal is to know everything, and if each person's internal "universe" is unique, then the order in which the information is acquired isn't as important as the ease and joy with which it is absorbed.

The time will come in your unschooling when you will forget to use checklists, but it won't matter. The child's internal grid will already have given them the need to know what things feel, smell and taste, and what they used to be or will be, and whether it's different in other places. Connections will continue to be made throughout their lives. The universe inside will grow larger and the universe outside will become clearer with every new experience.

Disposable Checklists
photo by Cass Kotrba

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Peace, joy and learning

It’s not so simple and straightforward as any one educational or parenting or political theory would like people to believe. But still, no matter what else the parents believe or deny, the tone and mood they set make a difference, for good or ill.
. . . .
It will come back to peace, joy, learning, and parenting as directly and as sweetly as possible.

Natural patterns
The quotes are lifted out of context from
photo by Gail Higgins, in the southeastern U.S.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Springtime (southern hemisphere)

The internet makes the big world small. We can see new photos from a future day or an opposite season.

The internet allows unschoolers to get ideas from others on other continents.

Bigger, friendlier world
photo by Jo Isaac, in south east Australia

Friday, August 14, 2020

Framing the sky

From inside the house, windows frame the sky. That can be beautiful.

Outside, you might be where trees, or mountains make a border for a cloud show.

Perhaps you see the sun set on water, or desert plants. Maybe familiar buildings are what the sun goes behind, from your point of view.

Don't forget to look, sometimes, at the beauty you can view nearby.

The abundance of possibilities
photo by Janine Davies, in the south east of England

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Morning every moment

At your house it will be morning again within 24 hours, but it could be morning in your heart any second.

Somewhere in the world it is morning every moment. Somewhere, light is dawning.

When people begin homeschooling, that's a big bright morning, but you can have as many mornings as you need. If you want to change the way you're being or thinking, just do it. Don't wait for another year, another month, another day.

Good morning!
photo by Pippi Howard, of a flower in Santa Fe

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Sleeping is natural and necessary. Help children feel good about sleeping.

Sleep When You're Tired
photo by Colleen Prieto

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Moms and dads are big characters in other people's lives. How's your acting? How is your being?

You're famous in your family.

Don't disappoint your fans!

Better memories
photo by Cass Kotrba

Monday, August 10, 2020

Balancing gently

I called this "balancing gently," but I'm not sure there's any other way to do it.

People don't need to enact each extreme to find a resting place. Because we have the ability to imagine, and remember and to plan, here is an idea. Think of what too much noise would be—too much talking, too much background noise, too many wind chimes, too many power tools.

What would be too much silence? No running water, no bird song, no fan, no one to ask you questions, at all.

Too much talking can be as harmful as no talking at all. Approach the balance from the quiet side.

When to say how much about what
photo by Janine Davies

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Being gentle

Children whose parents are gentle will understand what that's good for.

Be the sort of person you want your child to be.

It's better for the cat,
if you do that.
photo by Amber Ivey

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Safe inside

If it happens that there are dangerous things outside the house, try to keep the inside safe and comfortable.

Happy, safe and comfortable
photo by Gail Higgins

Friday, August 7, 2020

Peace where you are

Resting is fine.
Waiting can be good.
Stretching out at home and being still might be the best response to much of life.

Find some peace
and calm
wherever you are.
photo by Karen James