Exploring Unschooling

Exploring Unschooling

EU334: Q&A Deep Dive

October 13, 2022

In the intro, I share my new vision for the podcast: helping people figure out how to apply bigger picture unschooling ideas in their everyday lives. I want to help listeners explore how these big unschooling ideas work on a more practical level. In real life, with the real people that make up our family.

Here’s how the Exploring Unschooling podcast is changing in support of this shift in focus:

  • Anna Brown and Erika Ellis will be joining me on most episodes to bring more perspectives, experiences, and stories as we tease apart what unschooling ideas might look like in real life
  • they’ll be shorter episodes that deep dive into more focused topics
  • we’re moving to a biweekly release schedule
  • and you might also notice the new logo

Also, Anna and I are starting a new podcast!

What sparked the idea was recognizing how much of what we talk about on this podcast and in the Network isn’t actually about unschooling, it’s about life. So, in The Living Joyfully Podcast, we’re going to talk about life, relationships, and parenting without mentioning “unschooling.” We want to reach people who are curious about prioritizing the relationships in their lives, but aren’t sure what that looks like or how to go about it. AND we want to make it much easier for you to share this kind of information with your family and friends without having to get into the whole “unschooling” thing.

Find the new podcast in your favorite player here: The Living Joyfully Podcast.

And in this week’s Exploring Unschooling podcast episode, we’re diving deep into a listener question submitted by Joanna.

How can I convince my spouse that unschooling is right or good while I myself feel I am conducting a big experiment? When will I feel confident that this experiment will work out for the best?

As always, our Q&A conversations aren’t focused on giving anyone the “right” answer, because there isn’t a universal “right” answer for any given situation that will work for everyone. Instead, our focus is on exploring different aspects of the situation and playing with the kinds of questions we might ask ourselves to better understand what’s up. We’re sharing food for thought through the lens of unschooling.

Submit your question for a future Q&A episode, and if you’re a patron of the podcast, be sure to mention that.

Watch the video of our conversation on YouTube.

Follow @exploringunschooling on Instagram.

Follow @pamlaricchia on Instagram, Facebook, and her website.

Follow @helloerikaellis on Instagram.

Join Pam’s newsletter and get a free copy of her intro to unschooling ebook, What is Unschooling?

Become a patron of The Exploring Unschooling Podcast for as little a dollar a month (in a wide variety of currencies) and help keep the podcast archive freely available to anyone who’s curious and wants to explore the fascinating world of unschooling.

We invite you to join us in The Living Joyfully Network, a wonderful online community for parents to connect and engage in candid conversations about living and learning through the lens of unschooling. Our theme this month is It’s Not the Unschooling, and we’re exploring it through the lenses of curiosity and relationships.


PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca, and today, Anna Brown and Erika Ellis are joining me to explore a listener question. Hi, to you both.


PAM: Now, before we get started, I just want to remind everyone that our Q&A conversations aren’t focused on giving anyone the quote “right answer” because there isn’t a universal right answer for any situation that works for everyone. So, basically what we’re doing is sharing food for thought through the lens of unschooling.

So, Anna, would you like to get us started? 

ANNA: I would. Okay. So, I’m going to read the question.

“Hello. Thank you for your show. We have been homeschooling our kids since the beginning, but that was through a public school that offered enrichment classes two days a week. When those classes stopped because of COVID fear, I started unschooling. It had been dawning on me that, no matter how fun I tried to make school, I was always trying to get them to do something they’d rather not do, for the most part. They’d be much happier playing all day if I let them, so I finally did.

I love unschooling philosophy, but in practice it’s hard for me to relax into, even though I’m reading and listening and thinking about this for much of my time. So, I’m wondering how you convinced your spouse that this is right or good, while I myself am conducting a big experiment. When will I feel confident that this experiment will work out for the best? Self-doubt is always on the edge of my confidence, and so, it’s very hard for me to be persuasive with this. Any ideas? Resources? Thank you.”

Well, thank you for the question, first of all. I will say I am pretty clear with myself that I don’t want to convince anyone of anything, so I want to trust that they’re on their own path.

But I loved reading that you’re reading and listening and going to all the podcasts and all the things, and taking in all this information, because I think so much of the mechanics of it will start to sink in. And then next comes the practice, like you’re finding, the day to day where you feel it in your bones. And that comes from remaining connected.

So, during the times where I was wondering about our path, I would realize that I had drifted out of connection and I would just lean back in, go to them, see what they were up to, listen to the stories, play the games, watch the show, just be with them. And then the learning and the joy was so evident and that always brought me back to the present and kind of out of my head.

And so, while I think it’s really important to learn and to take it all in and to explore all those pieces of it, it’s just as important to get out of our heads and connect with our kids in front of us. And because I can tend to be that person that reads a lot and researches a lot, that was something that I had to relearn over the years. Because I would do that, I’d dive deep into learning about something, but realize I’d drifted away from the day-to-day connection with my kids.

And as for the spouse piece of the question, I really think that’s about tending to the relationship. Are you feeling connected to them? Are you sharing all the fun stuff that’s happening, all the amazing learning that’s happening every day? Because what I found is, as I was sharing that, it was sinking in for me, too. And if they have specific concerns, hear them, just take them in, validate. Let’s talk about that. And really validate, validate, and look for that to not get defensive.

Life is an experiment. Handing kids over to complete strangers to follow a process laid out by the powers of the moment, also an experiment, and one that often fails the individual. So, I don’t worry so much about that. I focus on connected relationships, knowing that, as we tend to the moment in front of us, we’re creating the future that we all want together.

So, Erika, what did you think?

ERIKA: Thanks so much for your question. I found it really interesting to think about, particularly I grabbed onto that word “experiment.” I love that you used that term, because I think it may be a great clue or a great place to start with a mindset shift.

I think we hear things like this a lot, something along the lines of, unschooling is this unsure, experimental, off-the-beaten-track, out-there option. Or maybe even that choosing school and a more mainstream, controlling parenting style will somehow be easier or more of a sure thing. And so, maybe that would be something to dive into and question a little bit. Is unschooling really experimental? Or is school more of an experiment? Because school is certainly a more recent invention. So, that’s just something to ponder.

And is there something guaranteed about the outcomes of schooling or mainstream parenting? I would say that there isn’t and so, it might help to recognize that there isn’t one way that will yield this desired outcome and another way that is more experimental. Either way, we’re dealing with people who are all different and we don’t really know where their lives will lead.

And so, really, what we’re looking at is just choices that have no right or wrong answer and no guarantee one way or another about how things will turn out. And so, for me, the most valuable places to look for guidance on making those choices were my own inner voice and my kids. My intuition inside would tell me when things weren’t feeling right, or when it felt like I was putting an external expectation on the children that didn’t seem to fit them or make sense if I really started thinking about he situation.

And then, if I looked to my kids, if I was willing to listen to what they’re saying, they would make it clear what was working for them and what wasn’t. And I think most people push against the kind of control that happens in school, and so, if I’m listening to my kids about that, they would say that they don’t want to be in that environment. And so, my intuition would tell me not to push past that message.

I really loved your observations about your experience of trying to do those schoolish activities at home. And it felt like you were pushing them to do things that they would rather not do. And so, I think those are the signs from our kids can prompt us to look at what’s really going on. What could life look like without those activities? Do kids learn without us deciding what they should learn or pushing a certain way or a certain time to learn?

And I do think it becomes more challenging when you have a partner who is not on board with the idea of unschooling yet. And I feel like we’ve talked about this a lot. It’s a really common issue. I know we’ve talked so much about communicating with partners on the Living Joyfully Network, but I’m pretty sure it’s been part of some podcast episodes as well. And I guess what I’d say to that aspect of the question is, like what Anna was saying, it would probably help to stop viewing it as trying to convince someone or trying to be persuasive.

For me, conversations tend to go more smoothly and our communication feels better and more effective if I’m starting from a place of being on the same team with my husband. We both love the kids. We want to create a situation for them where they have the life they want, to do our best to be supportive, providing what they need. I think most parents want that. And so, if you’re starting from that common ground, it can help us have conversations and help us make choices that are feeling good to everyone.

With my partner, we really both enjoyed reading some Alfie Kohn and some John Taylor Gatto at the beginning, to start questioning the school path. And then I shared Pam’s work and we talked about the visions that we used to have for our family and about our childhood and thinking about our experience in school and stuff like that. Those were a  lot of the conversations we had early on. And meanwhile, our kids were just living their lives, growing, amazing us with all of the learning that they were just naturally doing.

I had one other thought about a possible mindset shift that could be helpful and that would be to bring yourself into the present moment, rather than getting stuck in thinking about this big-picture, long-term view. So, I would say, at this point in my journey, I very rarely am thinking about ideas like, will this all work out? when it comes to my kids. Because it’s like, there’s no way to control for that outcome, one. And two, it’s pulling me away from what is happening right now.

I think probably at the beginning of my deschooling, I did think more about that, like will this all work? But it’s been more valuable now to treat each day and each moment as it is. I’ve seen enough times that my kids will surprise me with the ways they grow, learn, and develop. So, I can’t predict the challenges. I can’t control things in such a way that I eliminate challenges, either.

But I can meet their needs and I can keep open communication and that really has been a path that’s felt so great for us.

PAM: Yeah, I think that is such an important piece, that mindset set shift to say, well, is there a path that has a guaranteed answer? Is that something I can even seek out? Is that a question that I can answer? So, that’s a great thing just ponder for a bit, to realize that there is so much uncertainty in life, no matter which path you choose. But being in the moment allows this moment to work out as well as we can, and then the next moment works out as well. And you’re in the best place that you can get when you focus on the moments, because they build over time.

Anyway, of course I am going to visit that word “convince” and, with three different ways of saying it, we’ll see what connects for anyone. But, for me, it was really helpful and I absolutely remember the feeling when I was learning so much about it and I thought this sounded so cool and I felt like I needed to convince my spouse that this was a great idea so that we could do it. I totally remember starting there, but for me, the shift was, oh, instead of sharing my answer, which is unschooling, I could share the thoughts that I was having and the observations of my kids that I was making that were leading me in that direction and see what they think. How do those things come together for them?

There’s some trust in there and some uncertainty in there. Maybe they’ll see something different, but maybe it’s something that I’ve missed. So, it’s more information. It’s more heads. It’s working together on a team, like you were talking about before. So, you can share the things that you’re seeing in your kids as they relax into playing all day, as you mentioned. You can share the interesting things you’re learning as you listen and read about unschooling.

The energy of working together and sharing, instead of, I’ve presupposed this answer for our family, and I want to convince you that this is where we need to go. That can build resistance in another person. No matter what you’re trying to convince them of, it’s like, “You have an answer that you want. You’ve made a decision for me that I haven’t really had any input in.” There’s just resistance there. Like, “I’ve decided we’re going camping next weekend,” whatever it is. You have to get through that initial resistance to explain, why do you wanna camping? Where do you wanna go camping? What are the plans that you made?

And I love what Erika mentioned, the way to get to that “We’re a team together” can easily be like, these are our kids. We want the best for our kids. We both love our kids. The choice of school, homeschool, unschooling is about the kids. They can be involved. It’s observing them and chatting with them. It’s not that they’re not doing their curriculum, if it’s homeschooling, not doing school, whatever it is, they’re doing other things instead.

So, it’s about noticing those things, noticing them over time, seeing what they’re learning, seeing what they’re choosing, seeing the joy in their faces. As Anna said, get into the moment with them, because that’s where you’re gonna see all this stuff in action.

One thing that bubbled up for me, too, is when you’re feeling that need to show confidence and be persuasive to someone, that can be a clue that you’re feeling a sense of urgency around making this choice, making this decision to start unschooling in earnest. And that can add attention to the process that doesn’t need to be there, too.

Maybe you and your spouse can just decide to give it a try for six months and even better, a year. You can always go back to the homeschooling curricula, the school, whatever, because it’s not a forever decision. You’re not making a lifetime decision in this moment. You’re like, this seems really curious. It seems like it will be a really great fit. Let’s try it out and see. That’s where that experiment word comes in. It’s perfect. Like, let’s learn more about it. Let’s see what this actually looks like in our family, because I’m really curious. It sounds like it could be super, super interesting.

One thing I wanted to talk about too is that six months to a year kind of thing, it is really important, because giving it that time to understand how unschooling works and to see it in action, that practice piece that Anna was talking about, long enough to gain real experience with it, that helps build trust, that helps you understand the process and what learning looks like. And it looks different than a curriculum. The curriculum there, whether or not your kids actually learn it, follow it, et cetera. You can see, it’s very nicely laid out in little chunks. I always think of it as a ladder, bit by bit, the rungs are the same space apart. Each time you’re learning this bit. The timeline looks very consistent.

Yet real learning, when you see it in action, is really beautiful and can look very different. It could be like boom, boom, and then we can stay here for a while, not really noticing much learning happening. Then all of a sudden, it’s like this, off the charts. And then a few more steady steps, and then we get stuck again for a while, et cetera. So, you need a nice expanse of time to really see it in action, to be able to look back and say, “Oh look! A few months ago they were doing this and then this, and then, oh, they jumped over here.” And, oh look, when I look back, I can see how related that is. I can see the beauty of the learning in action, but it’s not something that I can predict.

So, to really get a feel for unschooling and how it works, it really helps to dive in for a nice chunk of time. And in that time, you’re also learning more about unschooling and you’re seeing it in action and you’re with them in practice with the whole process and sharing these observations with your spouse.

I just think that’s an important piece. It’s not like, we’re gonna unschool for two months and then we’re gonna decide forever whether or not this is the path we’re gonna take. That’s just setting yourself up for failure. So I just wanted to, to mention that piece.

ANNA: Some things bubbled up for me that I want to talk about, and it’s actually jumping back behind what you just were saying, which is so important, I think, to give it some space to breathe and to figure out.

But what you were talking about earlier really spoke to something we talk about a lot, which is having no set outcome. So, if you’re coming into that discussion with unschooling is the answer, it really shuts down all the options and even the critical thinking. Because this does come up a lot, some things that come to mind for me is, when we can honestly say, “I don’t know, Let’s talk about it. Let’s figure out,” then we can look really critically at all of the different pieces. Because I think asking yourself, “Is it really true that this path is predictable,” and like Erika said, “will have this set outcome of, everyone’s successful and everyone’s happy?” I mean, no. We know that’s not true, because we live in a society where most people are going to school, but also to really ask, is it really better or is it just that we aren’t responsible?

And I think that’s a piece that really is an internal piece to sit with. Because if I hand them off to school or whatever that institution is, then I’ve done what I’m supposed to do and that feels more comfortable. So, even if it is an experiment that fails that way, we don’t have to be responsible for it.

So, for me, that was a lot of work I had to do to be like, you know what? I’m okay with this responsibility, because I’m living with these children every day. I see how they would not do well in a school environment. I see how they’re thriving here. And so, I can take that responsibility.

But we have to do some of that work, to peel back those layers to understand, what is the appeal of the other? Is it that we think it’s certain? Is it that we are not responsible?

ERIKA: Yeah. That’s super interesting. I was thinking also about that first part, Pam, that you were saying about giving more of the observations and the information. That’s so huge, because if you’re coming straight to someone with the set outcome in mind of, I have the plan, I know the answer, I’m gonna convince you of the thing, just the energy that you have coming into that conversation is going to make someone want to put up a wall of defense, because it feels like a lot.

But if you’re giving the information that he doesn’t already have, the things like, “You know what, when I was doing these activities with the kids, they were so resistant to them. I could see. These are the things they’re doing in school and I’m watching the kids do them and they’re not enjoying it at all. They’re resisting this and then, I look over here and they’re playing this and they’re figuring out how to read these words,” or whatever it is, the real life observations of what you’re actually seeing that is showing you why you’re wanting to choose unschooling. But starting at that place, I just think that’s such a great idea. I love that.

PAM: And that’s where the urgency piece really comes in. It’s not urgent. We’re living our days with our kids. It’s not urgent, the timeline that we get there, to choose unschooling and then it’s not urgent to like, “Okay, let’s implement this and do this forever.” I mean, that’s something that we as human beings can be drawn to. It’s hard to sit in the nebulous of not quite knowing. We all love a path. And I shouldn’t even say, “we all.”E

ANNA: There are those of us who just like to jump off that path, Pam.

ERIKA: Many, many people love the path.

ANNA: Many people. The other thing I wanted to say that speaks to what Pam said earlier, too, because this came up on the Network not long ago, and it was funny how the discussion was about the two parents and how they were deciding about what was gonna happen. And I was like, hey, what’s the kid wanna do? What’s that little one thinking? And so, this is a family decision that impacts everyone and so, if you end up trying a school thing, it’s that checking in. Is that working for them? As opposed to this top-down, “You’re now set on this path, young children, and you’re going to stay there.” No, we can all be talking about it. What feels good? What doesn’t? What would we like about it? What would we want it to be?

And so, I think sometimes that pressure we put on ourselves to make the decision as parents actually can be really helped by this process of unschooling and the way that we’re talking about collaborating,

because you’re getting input from the people that are most impacted by the decision, and they’re telling you what they want to do and what works for them. And so, I like that piece of it, too, to not lose sight of it.

ERIKA: That’s one of my absolute favorite things about unschooling, actually. What it feels like is we don’t have to worry about this nebulous, mysterious future. It’s just like, what is everyone needing and wanting and feeling now? And then the things that are the issues present themselves, and then together we deal with that thing. I mean, Maya loves talking about future plans, so we do a lot of that too. But in this present moment, what are her future plans? What are the things that are getting in the way of what she wants to do?

All of all of the issues that are important to address become super obvious. And I don’t need to make up what the problem is gonna be in the future. And so, making choices become so much easier because I’m seeing the reality of what’s happening right now rather than these future worries.

PAM: Yeah. I love that piece. I love that piece of involving the kids. Because that can also take a bit of the edge off the two parents feeling they need to make the decision and pass it on. It’s like, we have more people we can get input from. Here are my observations and my thoughts and what are they thinking? What are they doing? What are they enjoying? That expands the team.

And that’s gonna be part of the deschooling. You’ll be reminded a lot to expand the team to include your kids. It’s like everybody working together, noticing what’s up in the moment.

And I love your point, Erika, about how being in the present moment doesn’t mean never thinking about the future. It’s more about not predicting the future, not trying to predict the future. We can absolutely have all sorts of thoughts about the future and what we’d like to do or how we might like to get there, all those different pieces. And those are amazing conversations to have in the moment. And then you have them a month from now and six months from now, and you see how things have changed. Maybe the context of the moment has changed. Maybe what they’re aiming for or wanting to walk towards has changed.

Understanding that human beings change is a wonderful piece of self-awareness for adults and children to have with them, right? Because then, every moment that you’re in, I can make this choice now. It’s not, oh, last week or last month or last year, I chose this goal for myself and I have to stay there even when maybe I’m not feeling so good about it now, but it’s a failure if I don’t.

But if we can really just embrace and chat about how things change over time, I think that’s another amazing piece that, that you can bring forward with you.

So, I did wanna mention, I have a blog post I wrote. I always have a blog post. It’s called, What to Do Instead of School, and it was big enough I put it into two parts and I know we’ll put links to it in the show notes, but I think that you and your spouse might find it super helpful, too.

For me, it’s part of sharing interesting things, it’s those mindset shifts that Erika was talking about. Just what do you do instead of these more formal things? Even if it’s like curriculum and you’re only hitting the school a couple days a week or whatever life looks like right now. It can be hard to envision how we might shift from one to another way of being, an unschooling lifestyle. So, there’s some interesting stuff about in there about the transition and thinking about a season of Saturdays and getting to know your kids and learning more about unschooling.

But also, that whole self-awareness piece too, the conversations and collaboration that Anna was talking about, all those pieces, they’re just laid out there just to give you an idea of what you can do instead of just kind of sitting back. Because so often, it’s like, Oh, I’m not supposed to do these things. We’re not doing this, we’re not doing this. The person can feel like, Oh, we’re not doing a bunch of things all of a sudden, but what are we doing instead? So, I thought that would be a great thing to share, as well.

All right. Thank you so much to both of you for joining me today. I really appreciate it. It was so much fun as always.

ERIKA: It was.

ANNA: Yes. Thank you.

PAM: Bye, everyone.