This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of California Homeschooler, the issue describing the "Adventures in Homeschooling" conference.

Little Tools for an Epic Life
Sandra Dodd

Seven is a magnificent number, in fairy tales and mythology. Another "story number" is three. This will be the seventh HSC conference at which I will have spoken, and I have three children who were exclusively unschooled and now are grown.

Once upon a time, I spoke in Anaheim in April and then in Sacramento in August of the same year. My kids were 4, 7 and 9. Kirby was ten by that August1996.

I'm going to speak about unschooling and parenting this year. I always do, every time. I have seen a great number of families succeed since 1996, and have seen a few fail to create a peaceful environment in which their children can learn. I have heard regrets expressed by parents who resisted change, and held out on learning.

How could those who chose to dedicate themselves to a life of learning fail to learn? I wish I did not know, but they have told me what happened. What could have been thriving, abundant change was stunted and abandoned.

One way or another, in nearly every instance, they failed to gain confidence and experience, because they tried to figure it out in isolation, without seeing good examples.

Frank Smith (who has also spoken at an HSC conference) said in his book Learning and Forgetting that to learn to do or be something, one should hang out with those who already had and valued that ability. So if you want to become a confident, mindful parent, hang out with confident, mindful parents. A conference is the perfect place to do that.

I have a collection of expressions of regret, from parents who stalled about really making a change in their parenting and homeschooling. It's "If only..." (SandraDodd.com/ifonly) They say, in various ways, "We should have made this change sooner."

Some people have said that they will go to a conference when their kids are older. It can happen that their kids end up in school because the parents couldn't figure out how to homeschool well on their own, and they gave up. Had they gone to a conference, they might still have their kids home today.

Each family needs confidence and experience. Those things don't come all at once, and you can't buy them or have them inserted, but a conference is an unbeatable source for building both of those. There is some cost, and there is some inconvenience, but if the state required parents to be certified to keep their children home, people would take that course, and pay for it; they would read the books and do the homework; they would probably need to get a babysitter. There is no such state requirement, but the HSC conference is like a course in home education and a family vacation. It's a place to see different homeschooling philosophies in action, and a time to make friends who are doing what you want to do.

Sometimes people say they can't afford a conference. Some of them are paying for therapy because they're not getting along well. A conference costs less than therapy and can be better for a family's peace and happiness, both immediate and long term.

If you considered private school, the uniforms and books would cost more than a conference, before you even get to tuition and fees. It might be worth borrowing money to attend the HSC conference if homeschooling seems worth doing—even moreso if you want to unschool, as there's no curriculum to buy and you and your children will be discovering the secret passages and magical destinations without a schedule or a map.

To help you prepare for or strengthen your own heroic adventure, there are three tools you need, and a checklist of seven nest-building items for you to collect and protect.

Equip yourself with:

confidence
experience
good examples
Build your nest with
food patience
shelter enthusiasm
love curiosity
joy

Sandra Dodd lives with her husband Keith (an engineer and part-time Viking guy) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their children are Kirby (25, living in Austin, working for a video game company), Marty (23, who takes math and economics classes for fun), and Holly (a 20-year-old yoga and local-music-scene enthusiast.

Creating an Unschooling Nest Notes from presentations at HSC conferences