Saturday, December 31, 2022

Little tiny choices

Jen Keefe wrote:

I gave up New Year's Resolutions a loooong time ago.

I learned that grandiose resolutions rarely add up to anything that matters. Now I know it is the little tiny intentional choices made moment after moment that are good for me and my family and make our world better. Not just my world. The whole world.

How do I know? I am living proof.

That's the end of some sweetly powerful writing, about late-night learning. You can read it in full here:
Stories of Late-Night Learning
photo by Jen Keefe

Friday, December 30, 2022

Better? Good!

Ultimately, "better" and "good" will be seen in retrospect, or in realizations that things are WAY better than they used to be. That "better" is between children and parents, and happens when it happens, not because of anything anyone here says or thinks.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 29, 2022

"Seemed like overnight"

"I read for them as needed, then suddenly I realized they were reading these things without me. I've been amazed at how quickly reading progresses when they're ready — one of my kids went from barely reading to reading Harry Potter and the Little House books in what seemed like overnight."
—Kathleen W.

More name and text at Encouragement and Confidence about Reading (plus others!)
photo by Tiffany Bliss

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Learning informally and naturally

the backs of two children in an English forest, with walking sticks
If budding unschoolers will look at how they learned things outside the classroom, and use that as a model and a goal, that helps. They don't really have to hunt down other unschooling families, although it doesn't hurt. A family isolated from other unschoolers might do well to brainstorm examples of things they've learned informally and naturally, and to look around for other people learning things in the same manner.

An Interview with Sandra Dodd by Emily Subler, 1998
photo by Rosie Moon

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Learning is subtle

Karen James wrote: Real learning is a breath.

Becoming Confident
photo by Sandra Dodd

Monday, December 26, 2022

Lots of yes

It's sweeter to say yes several times a day, with the option to still say "not yet," than to have one big "anytime, anywhere" that then might need to be amended.
[But she's asking even though I've told her she doesn't need to ask.]
There are times it won't be a good idea. Say yes, sweetly, when she asks, instead of correcting her and making promises you might not be able to keep.

Too Far, Too Fast
photo by Roya Dedeaux

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Trees and toy trains

'Tis the season for miniatures and lights, of nostalgia and sharing.

Be warm, and help light up the world around you.

Every little bit helps.

Sun, or moon, or fire
photo by Shawn Smythe Haunschild

Saturday, December 24, 2022


Connections and parodies, comparisons and contrasts—learning is all about seeing what is like what, and how an image, idea or object can apply or fit where.

Don't be afraid of happy connections and rearrangements. Rejoice!

Webs, nets, connections
Robbie Prieto's nativity scene, once upon a time;
photo by Colleen Prieto, his mom

Friday, December 23, 2022

Two or three nice things

When I was a kid, if my mom had done one nicer thing a day, that would have been thousands of nicer things in my childhood.

What if a mom does two or three nicer things a day?

What if a dad were to do two thoughtfully nice things every day for each child?

Even after I got good at making choices toward what was peaceful and fun and funny and accepting, there were, and still are, times I wish I hadn't spoken or acted before thinking of whether there was a nicer way.

If you practice, the idea of doing only two or three nice things in a day will seem like much too small a goal.

Kindness and Rich Lives
photo by Janine Davies

Thursday, December 22, 2022


I thought of an analogy for distraction of someone of any age, and anyone who has had a baby should remember this. If you have a baby and you don't know this trick, here is a Big Gift:

If a baby is holding something dangerous or breakable and you want him to drop it, hold out something more interesting. He will drop what he has, to reach for the new thing.

And that is how distraction can work.

I don't have a page on distraction, but the original is on facebook and I got back to that 2017 writing from a link at
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Physical interactions

I'm not "a hugger." I avoid hugs, because they're not usually comfortable for me. I don't like massages. I'm not the only person who is that way.

I have a granddaughter who doesn't love "touchy" stuff. Luckily for her, I totally understand it.

Some people don't get enough friendly touch in their lives, and what might look aggressive to one person might be fun to another—arm-punching, back-slapping, hand-holding, pushing back and forth while walking, arm-in-arm walking, playing slap games or thumb wrestling—those are all touching, and life can be warmer and better WITH those things than without.

It's good for parents (and grandparents, and friends) to be aware that different people are different ways.

The third paragraph is from
photo by Cátia Maciel

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

"Real life"

Kids who are in school just visit life sometimes, and then they have to stop to do homework or go to sleep early or get to school on time. They're constantly reminded they are preparing "for real life," while being isolated from it.
—Sandra Dodd

Radical Unschooling
photo by Roya Dedeaux

Monday, December 19, 2022

Stories and penguins

In some corner of your house, on some shelf, or windowsill, you might have a few items about which you could tell a story or two.

I saw the penguin above, and its accompanying rocks and another mystery thing in Bristol, at Alison's house. I didn't ask her to tell me about it. Now I wish I had. She told me many stories, and showed me places, and things.

Our internet is called RealPenguin, because of this fun kids' story, acted out by their dads: Salesman.

Little stories are parts of bigger lives.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Embracing, trusting, learning

Alex Polikowsky, to someone afraid of "screentime" and electronics:

If you embrace it all *with* your children you will learn with them—more than you think is possible.

You will trust unschooling and learning because you will be learning right along your children.
—Alex Polikowsky
photo of child editing video, by Kinsey Norris

Friday, December 16, 2022

Photos of food

I understand why photos of food are popular. For years, cookbooks and magazines have tried for good food photos, but they're not always easy to create. They used to be improved by choices of serving dishes, backgrounds, table settings, and sometimes fake ingredients because the real ones didn't photograph as well under studio lighting.

Along came small digital cameras, and now we can see what other people have made, or have been served at a restaurant or a picnic. It's fun.

Food that takes hours to make and minutes to eat can be preserved and revisited—not in an edible way, but in a manner that might inspire us to make something like that again.

Find joy in momentary visions that were not always possible to capture and share.

Other food (fresh or prepared) at Just Add Light and Stir (some is for animals)
photo above by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Make things better

Marta wrote:

I used to feel very uncomfortable with guilt. And I would dwell on it for days, at times.

I'm glad I learned how to not let it take me down but instead to make things better the next time around (with all my relationships, not just with my daughter)... It seems like a small detail, but it has been so important for me.
—Marta Venturini
photo by Jihong Tang

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Compassion, for a minute

Yesterday I played with a stranger's five-year-old granddaughter in a waiting room. It helped the child, and her grandmother, it gave me something good to do while I waited, and she was quieter so it might have helped those in the room who weren't feeling well. The little girl was one of those, so the distraction helped her forget she was at a clinic. I gave her tissues and told her mine were softer than those in the box on the table. Her grandmother thanked me.

Looking for a quote for this post, I found something 11 years old. Part of it was this:
Each day for a year, could you add one minute to the time you spend with a child? Any child. One extra minute. If you can infuse that moment with love or compassion, bonus!

I suppose that would be a minute you could be doing something else, but I doubt it would be something better.

The longer writing, with another story: 1/11/11
photo by Sarah S.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Small part of a big deal

Your own dwelling place is a small part of the whole universe. The things you have collected, and that you use, are all part of the universe.

From the point of view of your family (especially the younger members), where you live is HUGE, and detailed, and familiar, but the outside world starts off vague and hardly real.

All these perspectives make sense, depending on the moment and the context. Go with what is sweet and peaceful and feels safe and good.
photo by Monica Molinar

Monday, December 12, 2022

Wonderful warm feelings

Brie Jontry wrote:

When we stretch beyond seeing more than only one or two possibilities, our children's worlds become exponentially larger, with more potential for laughter and learning and wonderful warm feelings of connection.
—Brie Jontry
photo by Cátia Maciel

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Reading minds; thinking thoughts

Sometimes I think I know what someone is thinking, or what my cat wants. Sometimes I'm right.

When someone, or my cat, thinks about something I don't know anything about, the eyes, face or posture can't give me any clues, and my guesses are all wrong.

People can think thoughts, but they can't really read minds very well.

Quiet enough to hear
photo by Gail Higgins

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Bridges and reflections

When I look at a bridge, I think of travel, of engineering, of safety, and of history. Even new bridges change history as soon as they can be used.

In this photo, the arches are reflecting and making a round shape. That's always fun. There is also roundness in the tree to the right, and in its reflection in the water. The bank of the river has a rounded edge, and is covered with rounded pebbles.

Others, seeing that, might be thinking of what birds live around there, or other wildlife. If it's someone familiar with the area, they will know where the road goes, maybe who owns the land, and who used to own it before that.

Kids, seeing it, might wonder first "Could we get IN that water?" Wild swimmers (people who like to swim in naturally occurring waters) probably had that thought before any other.

Any scene is many things. The knowledge and perspective of each viewer is different. People spot different things and make their own connections.
photo by Ester Siroky

Friday, December 9, 2022

Careful steps

Plans and hopes are wispy.

On the part of the path you can see, take a careful step when you're ready.

Running won't help. Be there, be aware, relax and appreciate what you see, and smell, and hear. Your family shouldn't rush into the unknown, but step together into the next moment.
photo by Gail Higgins

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Don't break the spell

Thoughts don't show. Provide opportunities and time. Watch quietly. Don't break the spell.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Stunning desire to learn

"A lovely 'extra' has been realising that academics absolutely come naturally, in different ways for different kids. It's really stunned me, how much they *want* to learn. And it's something I wouldn't have believed without walking the unschooling path."
—Hannah Megan Canavan

more here (and sweet)
photo by Roya Dedeaux

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Happy to be where he is

colored drawing of house and cabin, tree, by Kes when they moved
Peace is a prerequisite to natural, curious, intellectual exploration.

What is peace, then, in a home with children? Contentment is peace.

Is a child happy to be where he is? That is a kind of peace. If he wakes up disappointed, that is not peace, no matter how quiet the house is or how clean and "feng shuid" his room is.

Peace, like learning, is largely internal.

There is more at Contentment is Peace.
drawing by a younger Kes; photo by Janine Davies

Monday, December 5, 2022

Slack and choice

Feeling like a good parent is huge. The opportunity to be successful every day at something with immediate feedback (hugs and smiles and the little-kid happy dance) is rare in the world. But giving children more slack and choices creates more slack and choice for the parent, too.
If it's okay for a child not to finish everything on his plate, might it be okay if the mom only cooks what he likes next time? Or makes the best parts in new ways? Not every meal has to look like the centerfold of a cookbook. If children can sleep late, maybe the mom can too. If children can watch a silly movie twice, maybe the mom gets to be in on that. If a child (or a seventeen-year-old) wants to watch a butterfly for a long time, perhaps the parent will have the priceless experience of watching her own child watch a butterfly.

From "Changes in the Parents," page 268 (or 309), The Big Book of Unschooling which links to
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Individualized learning

Unschooling is the ultimate individualized learning situation, and comparisons are unnecessary.
photo by Holly Dodd

Saturday, December 3, 2022

How Learning Works

Pam Sorooshian wrote:

Unschoolers do not preplan a curriculum and we don't have predetermined lesson plans. What we have instead is an extremely rich environment for learning in which, for example, the globe sits on the living room coffee table and is regularly handled and part of our everyday life (not pulled out for a specific lesson). Learning is valued and constant. Connections are looked for everywhere and the whole family is involved and loves to explore ideas and gain new information and knowledge. Learning happens inside the learner's own head and is not always apparent to outside observers, but the proof, for me, is in the pudding. My kids think learning is what life is for. And I agree with them.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, December 2, 2022

Level up!

Once Heather Booth joked to me, at a symposium, that she was there to "level up," in unschooling. 🙂

Renee Cabatic was there, too, and I remember smiles and a realization that it was a legitimate plan and goal.

People do it, all the time. I guess she wasn't joking.
photos by Sandra Dodd, of Raghu, who is also mentioned at that link

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Doing real things

There is a sweetness about children having the opportunity to do real things that older people do. Having the patience to let them try things in their own way, and acknowledging their success, even if it's smaller than they had hoped, causes growth in all involved, and makes the relationship stronger.

That's true whether the child is a toddler, or any age. There are useful things that older people do all through life, that younger people watch, think about, and might eventually try.
photo by Roya Dedeaux

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Watch and play

child and dog on a rocky shore
Karen James wrote:

Play. A lot. Wonder. A lot. Listen. Observe. Smile. A lot.
If they like shows, watch shows. If they like video games, play video games with them. If they like water, make ice, take them to a splash pad, to a creek, to a lake, to the ocean, to the tub, draw on the sidewalk with a wet finger and watch it disappear.

More, and sweet:
photo by Cátia Maciel

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Comfortably and happily

Just like ALL learning, learning how to live comfortably and happily are really wonderful things. It takes a focus on turning away from what you know you don't like and turning towards something else—that something else that creates happy learning and living. Unschooling really is a shift in thinking and then acting on it.
—Jenny Cyphers
photo by Colleen Prieto

Monday, November 28, 2022

New eyes

Joyce wrote:
Don't teach. Just look at *everything* with new eyes....

Just live life amazed.
—Joyce Fetteroll

To read the long middle part I left out, go to:
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sharing the freedom you have

If I "give my children freedom" in a situation, it's because I had some leeway or rights myself. I cannot "give them freedom" that I don't have.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Peaceful choices

Schuyler Waynforth wrote some years ago:

It was hard not to turn to the quick solution that never solved anything and left everyone upset, me included, me, maybe the most. But it was amazing to have to expand into the vacuum left by not having that blunt tool in my toolbox. Both Simon and Linnaea grew to trust me. It took less time than I expected.
. . . .
My raging, my approach to problems didn't help anything.

I can remember talking about it, thinking about it, it was like a switch I could feel turning. I went from calm and in control to *switch* furious in no time at all. And I couldn't figure out how to not turn the switch on, to make the switch a thoughtful process. When it flipped the other day I felt it go and I stepped away and I turned it off. Most days I stop long before the switch goes. The thoughtful process was recognizing the grumpiness earlier in the day. Feeling a shortness that isn't normally there and doing things to respond to that like going for a quick breath outside or having a chocolate milk or a chai latte or something else that just ups my energy budget a bit. Taking five minutes to close my eyes and be still helps, too. Whatever works for you to buffer yourself is good. Come up with lots of little things.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Friday, November 25, 2022

Learning, exploration, peace & love

It's worth looking into the concept of process vs. product. People learn from figuring out how things work. One doesn't need to build a computer just to mess with computer repair or examine parts. Someone can play with yarn and needles and do a simple scarf without being made to feel like a failure for having no interest in making sweaters and socks.

Unschooling is about learning, exploration, peace and love.
photo by Sandra Dodd

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Unlimited gratitude

Gratitude doesn't need to be saved up for big things.
Abundance and gratitude
photo by Vlad Gurdiga

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Learning without instruction

Bob Collier wrote:

Before my son's years of unschooling, it would never have occurred to me that it was possible for somebody to learn to drive without some kind of formal instruction. Apparently, it is. If you don't mind plenty of conversations and events unfolding at their own pace, which my wife and I became very used to with our son and that enabled us to trust him on this occasion. I hope he'll always keep that determination to do things the way he believes is best for him, and his unhurriedness. I've learned a lot from it.
—Bob Collier

Learning to Drive Informally on my site,
and the original writing at Always Learning
photo by Sandra Dodd
and not a perfect match, because my kids did take driver's ed

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Taking a fresh look

Christina D. wrote:

I'm learning about unschooling and, as a surprise, now watching how it is working its way into so many other areas of my life. It is really causing me to take a "fresh look" at EVERYTHING! Sometimes, I am a bit overwhelmed at all the conditioning that I didn't realize I had, but I'm so grateful for the personal thoughts and stories shared through this list and on the websites. You are all opening my eyes (and heart).
—Christina D.
Always Learning, 2012
photo by Gail Higgins

Monday, November 21, 2022

Learn and share

Karen James, to a worried mom with a young teen daughter:

Try not to worry. I know that's hard. I'm a worrier, myself. But when we worry about another person, it becomes a burden for them on top of what they are already experiencing. Just be with her, as fully as you can. If she's telling you she's bored, she's inviting you into her experience. Join her. Learn about her. Share yourself with her too. You'll likely learn a lot about her (and yourself) in the process, and I'm confident it will be enriching and rewarding for you both.
—Karen James
photo by Sandra Dodd

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Who children are right now

Meredith Novak's words:
It was hard for me to realize I wasn't being kind or generous to my kids - I think of myself as a pretty kind person, in general, and I was certainly doing things I *thought* were generous... Part of the problem I had was that I wasn't thinking about Ray's interests and desires in the moment, I was thinking about the person he might become. I was being kind and generous to the adult I hoped he would grow into, doing things that were "good for him" so he could become that adult. Setting up life lessons for kids ignores who kids are as people in favor of theoretical adults - which isn't kind to who children are right now.
photo by Karen James

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Climbing mountains and baking pies

Cumbres and Toltec train, 2015
In response to someone saying her child would rather take the easy route than try something tough, Joyce Fetteroll wrote:

It's human nature to avoid what we feel is a waste of time, energy and resources.
It's also human nature to pour energy into what we find fascinating.

If someone is made to climb a mountain, they'll find the easiest path, and perhaps even cheat.

If someone desires to climb a mountain, they may even make it more difficult—challenging—for themselves if the route doesn't light their fire.

If it were human nature to go the easy route, I wouldn't be sitting here writing out a response! No one would write a novel. No one would climb Mt. Everest. No one would bake a cherry pie from scratch. No one would have kids.
—Joyce Fetteroll
Photo by Sandra Dodd, of Holly Dodd riding a steam train restored and largely operated by volunteers. The easy route would have been for them to stay home and read books and watch movies about trains.

Friday, November 18, 2022

"Prior"—what comes first?

Someone inquiring about unschooling once complained:
"You seem to be saying that the two priorities are mutually exclusive."
Joyce wrote:

When we're trying to achieve two goals there will be times when a decision will lead towards one but away from another.

I responded:

Priorities have literally to do with rankings. Two "priorities" can't be equal, or there is no "priority" (first-in-lineness, precedence). So if they are to be called "priorities" then I suppose one has to exclude the other at that point of decision making. But people can have two favorite causes or missions or concerns, and lots of times the precedence of them won't matter. When it does, that's when they learn their priorities.

Both of us wrote a bit more than that, at
photo by Drew

Older buildings are reflected in the window; Silver City, New Mexico, a few years ago.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Towards positivity everywhere

Janine wrote:

It's exhilarating to me, the transformative power of unschooling. It is the thing that has finally drained negativity out of my life and pushed me daily further and further away from it, and further and further towards positivity in every area of my life. When it does sneak in again it is more obvious and ugly and I see it for the poison it is. It was ever present through my childhood, my youth, relationships and early parenting.
—Janine Davies
photo by Tara Joe Farrell

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Permission and approval

Some advice on going gradually:

Just like getting lots of gifts instead of one big one, if you say "sure," "okay," "yes" to lots of requests for watching a movie late or having cake for breakfast or them playing another half hour on the swings and you can just read a book in the car nearby, then they get TONS of yes, and permission, and approval.

If you throw your hands up and say "Whatever," that's a disturbing moment of mom seeming not to care instead of mom seeming the provider of an assortment of joyous approvals.
photo by Cátia Maciel

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Learning without clocks

School schedules give the illusion that life should be divided into 50-minute increments. It's nonsense.

Our culture has this "hour" and "half hour" thing that is as unnatural and arbitrary as can be. It has to do with clocks, not with people. It has to do with salaries and billing.

Be wary of scheduling and measuring, while deschooling.
photo by Kinsey Norris

Monday, November 14, 2022

Everyday things; interesting things

We live in an everyday-thing world. People always have.

The only way to avoid the everyday world is to limit and control our children, to be separate from the world in ways that will keep our children from learning naturally about the things around them.
. . . .

The more time parents spend with their children, doing interesting things together, the less they will worry about other things.

from Always Learning
photo by Sophie Larcher

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Better and happier days

Caren Knox wrote:

The bulk of what was challenging for me was changing internally, not just in parenting beliefs and thoughts about learning, but acknowledging & feeling the very deep connection my sons and I share.

. . . . I found the more I trusted and allowed my heart to open to my sons, the better and happier our days were.
Do it Well
photo by Dan Vilter