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.
toddler getting new shoes

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?"

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

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

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Flexible uses

Creativity and intelligence are seen in the ability to use a tool or an object for something other than its intended purpose. If you see your child (or your cat) doing something "wrong," set rules aside long enough to consider principles.

Sleep is important. Curiosity leads to discovery and to new connections. Shade can come from things other than trees or roofs.

Let your mind leap and frolic.

CONNECTIONS: How Learning Works
photo by Belinda Dutch

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The joys that come

We can't control or contain the world, but we can appreciate the joys that come.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

What lights them up?

Caren Knox wrote:

The most effective thing I did to help my sons be their whole, individual, unharmed selves was to support, encourage, and enrich their interests, choices, and enjoyments - even when I feared that their choices might have negative repercussions, or their choices made me feel uncomfortable.

           . . . .

Look at your kids, watch your kids. What lights them up? Do & support more of that.

—Caren Knox

original, on facebook
photo by Amber Ivey

Monday, August 3, 2020

Unschooling Discussion 2020

New discussion, on Facebook, as of August 1
Unschooling Discussion 2020
[Still there as an archive. —Sandra, 2021]

photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Piecemeal and serendipitous

"Every person's learning about the world will be piecemeal - so it might as well be serendipitous and interest based."
photo by Ester Siroky (while visiting Tuzla)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Closer to peace

We can't live in "how will I survive this?" time nor can we live well by pining for that past we've already lived through. The best way to get through must be to do a better thing. If a conscious thought about time passage comes, think of what will be an improvement, and make that choice, however tiny, however slight.

Avoiding regret, contributing joy...
time will flow as it will,
but we can move closer to peace.

original writing, a bit longer, at Time is Inconsistent, June 2017
photo by Cass Kotrba