A more elegant, glossy, petite version of this interview will be published in the March 2013 issue of The HomeSchooler (known prior to that issue as California HomeSchooler). It was available only to members of The Homeschool Association of California but they have plans to make it a national publication very soon. (Not international, for postal reasons.) Now Available for subscription!

Unschooling in the World: " Unschooling is life."

Pam Laricchia, interviewed by Sandra Dodd

Pam Laricchia has something to give you. It's free and it could change your life. She has designed a ten-part series on unschooling to which you can subscribe. It's called "Exploring Unschooling." Installments arrive by e-mail, twice per week, and there are exercises to help you gradually understand unschooling. She's described it for us in some detail, and I'm glad to share that below.

Sandra:     Pam, I first heard you speak in 2004, at the Live and Learn Conference Peabody. You talked about the learning you had seen from your children's videogame play. That was eight years ago. Has anything since then caused you to wish you hadn't been so enthusiastic about video games?

Pam:     Nope. Haha.

The longer version is that video games are still a wonderful part of our lives. My eldest, Joseph (20), whose experience I was drawing from for that talk, still enjoys playing them. He plays some online games socially, meeting people from around the world and developing some friendships that grow into connection outside the game. Over the years his gaming interest has focused more and more deeply on the storytelling aspect and he's been drawn to visual novels and smaller, independently-developed games. We continue to have frequent conversations that cover an incredible range of topics within games and storytelling and that show his passionate and in-depth understanding of both. He's also developed his own extensive story over the past few years and is deciding how he'd like to move forward with bringing it into world.

My youngest son, Michael (15), though his passionate interest right now is karate, also enjoys playing video games. They have led him in a different direction, more into programming languages. In fact, he and Joe have been chatting about the possibilities of developing something together.

Video games continue to weave brilliantly through our lives and I'm as enthusiastic about that as ever.

Sandra:     I was excited about your book Free to Learn, and I still am.

Pam:     I'm glad you enjoyed Free to Learn! For those unfamiliar, Free to Learn is about the five ideas, or paradigm shifts, that were the most helpful to me as I learned about unschooling.

Sandra:     I think I'm even more excited about your recently-created e-mail series for new unschoolers. How is that going, and what inspired you to write those?

Pam:     There were a few things that came together and brought my introductory email series, "Exploring Unschooling", to life. For a couple of years before publishing Free to Learn I immersed myself in learning about writing, the self-publishing industry, and online marketing (not the smarmy kind!). One of the tools I continue to find really helpful for learning is the free newsletters / email series published by knowledgeable people in those industries: authors; editors; self-publishers; small business owners; copywriters etc. I don't mind exchanging my email address for the plethora of information and experience they share; and in those few cases where it hasn't turned out to be a good fit for me, I easily unsubscribed and we parted ways without a fuss. It is a smooth process and I love learning from people who are passionate about their topic—it's much more fun! So during that time I became comfortable with the technology and the process.

I've also been answering questions about unschooling online through email-based groups for quite a few years now, as well as answering them in person from time to time when parents I meet are curious enough to ask. I love seeing their eyes go wide as an explanation about our lifestyle clicks into place. And I love watching their mind busily at work, seeing how each answer leads to their next question. I realize that I really enjoy helping people walk through their journey of learning about unschooling! Putting that together with my positive experience with the newer email list technology for sharing information and the idea to create a email-based series as an introduction to unschooling was born.

I wrote "Exploring Unschooling" this past summer and thoroughly enjoyed the process. I imagined I was sitting beside my reader, coffee in hand, chatting with them about unschooling. I drew on not only my own experience about the thread of questions and answers and questions that informed my journey, but also the many learning journeys I've seen play out online over the years. For me, the goal is to help the person learning about unschooling discover their own understanding of the concepts and principles, not to just pass along mine, so the series is full of questions to ponder. That is the unique advantage of autoresponder technology: the ability to choose how to deliver the information to the reader over a period of time. That way I could build in time for the reader to really consider what they've read, to ponder the questions, and to incorporate their personal experiences into their learning, before the next email arrives in their inbox.

It can be found at LivingJoyfully.ca.

And there's an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email so hopefully nobody feels trapped. :-)

When someone signs up, as well as the initial introductory series of ten emails, they also receive two newsletters a month. In them I dig more deeply into the unschooling topic of the month on my blog, share personal snapshots of unschooling in my own family, and the occasional update on my current projects.
If you want to tell your friends about this, "Laricchia" is pronounced "La RICK ee a" and it's Italian.
If you think right now that you don't have any friends who need to know about this, just wait; you will.

Sandra:     You have run several conferences near Toronto in the past. Do you think you might do any more of those gatherings?

Pam:     I don't have any plans to run the Toronto Unschooling Conference again, but I have also learned to never say never!

I really enjoyed the six years I hosted TUC. I met some wonderful people that have become friends. And over the years as I evaluated the experience, I discovered that what I love most is helping interested people learn about unschooling. Yet the evolutionary nature of annual gatherings is that they become more socially-focused. As people return year after year they are more comfortable unschooling so their focus becomes less about learning and more about visiting with the lovely unschooling families they don't regularly see. That's not a slight at all; it's natural.

Alongside that I made another discovery: I love writing. The process of throwing down my thoughts and ideas about unschooling onto the page and then rethinking and reorganizing and rewriting and editing until I figured out both what I was trying to say, and the just the right words to use so that it made sense to the reader, was exhilarating. I wanted more of that.

So while I enjoyed being the catalyst for bringing families together, it no longer deeply inspired me. There were always some new people who got so much out of the conference, yet I began to feel that I could better help people learn about unschooling through my writing. So this year I finally decided to put the conference on hiatus. And right now I am having an incredible amount of fun writing about unschooling: the "Exploring Unschooling" email series, a second book, Free to Live, weekly posts on my blog, and twice a month for my newsletter. I hope my readers are enjoying it as well—certainly the feedback so far has been very positive.

At one point in our longer exchange, Pam said she felt her responses were becoming very philosophical. I encouraged her to go for it, and she wrote this beautiful gem for readers of The HomeSchooler:
"Unschooling is not an easy educational and lifestyle choice. It takes energy and dedication to do it well. But it is absolutely a viable alternative to the conventional system—even more so with each passing year. It focuses on each person as an individual and breathes life into the concept of lifelong learning. It also calls for developing strong relationships with your children—relationships that will last far beyond their compulsory schooling years. It's life."
Pam's three children have grown up in this environment. The youngest is 15 now, and Pam described what they've been doing lately (December 2012; they might be older when you read this):
Joseph, 20, is all about stories. He surrounds himself with them through video games (corporate and independent), anime, movies, TV, web series, visual novels etc. At some point most days he and I can be found in hanging in the kitchen hungrily discussing stories, often for an hour or more. Plot, characters, pacing, atmosphere, genre, show-runners, writers, art styles; we examine them all. He is deciding which vehicle he’d like to try first to develop the many stories of his own he’s fashioned over the years.

Lissy, 18, is a passionate photographer. This past summer she decided to spend an extended period of time in New York City to both explore the city’s arts community and see if she might enjoy pursuing a professional career in photography. She left on June 1 with plans to stay for two months and then play it by ear. She ended up staying the full six months she's legally allowed: she loved it and has learned an incredible amount! We're working on getting her back there as soon as we can. (UPDATE: With her mom's help, Lissy secured a three-year artist's visa, and is taking photos in NYC.)

Michael, 15, loves karate. He’s a brown belt and typically spends ten hours a week at his dojo, not only with his own classes, but also assisting in the kids classes. That interest has grown over the past year to include XPMA, extreme performance martial arts, and he has added trampoline to his weekly activities. Right now he has his eye on stunt work and we’re making arrangements for him to train monthly at a dojo about an hour away that specializes in those skills. This summer he really enjoyed filming an episode of YTV’s Splatalot which is scheduled to air in Canada early in the new year.


Free to Live is finished!

As of March 1, 2013, it's available electronically,
and around the beginning of April,
paper copies should be available.

The cover is by Lissy Laricchia.

I got to read the book before it was published, and here's my favorite quote:
Make a mental note of those times when you know in your soul that this is really working well. Those mental notes help you gain understanding, confidence, and ultimately build trust in the process of unschooling, and in your children. The deepest trust happens when you see it in action for yourself, when your understanding meshes with your experiences.
(page 93 of the e-book)

Read more about Free to Live here: http://livingjoyfully.ca/books/


Other Interviews and HSC articles More by Pam Laricchia Interviews by others