Anna Black, January 2015:
I've been wanting to somehow put into words how very thankful I am for this list, your website, Joyce's website and Pam Larrichia's email series. I wanted to reply to your end of year request for assistance with stories of the wonderful things unschooling has brought my family, but I couldn't sum it up to my own satisfaction. I still can't really but I'm going to write about our journey to unschooling anyway.
When my first daughter Abi was born, I was very focused on being the perfect Montessori mother and her being the perfect Montessori baby—calm, independent, confident and secure. I prepared a beautiful sparsely-decorated room for her with a floor bed, low shelves and Montessori-approved wooden toys. I imagined if I did everything "right" she would do everything "right"—sleep through the night at 8 weeks, go to sleep alone, self-wean at 9 months, play happily alone.
Fortunately she knew what she needed, which was me, basically. One by one, my baby expectations fell away. She slept with and on me, she breastfed until she was five, I carried and wore her, and was always with her. If she had been a more placid, easy-going baby, I might never have changed my rigid thoughts and expectations, so I am very grateful to my girl for knowing what she needed and not accepting anything less.
But I still had expectations built around Montessori (I'm a Montessori teacher, I probably should have said). My husband and I enrolled her in a 3-6 year old program and she started as a little three year old. She didn't enjoy it, but we persevered. I wish we hadn't. She finished up happily enough as a six year old, but I can see the damage that was done to her sense of confidence and joy and trust in me, and we are still working to undo it.
Along the way I heard about unschooling, then radical unschooling. I first saw your name on an Australian natural learning website when Abi was three or so, and thought your replies were too brusque and not flexible enough. At that stage I was frightened of technology and food, and controlling of both. The thought of unlimited video games, Internet and tv made me feel panicky.
But I read and read, all through the Always Learning archives and some other, less useful, lists. I began to question so much of what I believed. I began to say yes, try to make the better choice, loosen up control. And not only did nothing I had feared come to pass, wonderful things began to happen. I came to appreciate the way you, Sandra, never clouded issues with unnecessary words, or platitudes or unthinking "support". I saw what a staunch advocate you are for children, for the peaceful, joyful lives of children and how that is so much more important than protecting the delicate sensibilities of grown-ass adults. And I came to admire and appreciate enormously something I at first thought was so unnecessary and nit-picky—the way you never let the word 'teach' slide, the way you pick up and challenge every stock phrase or expression, the way you continuously pull the discussion back to what will help radical unschooling work. I STILL don't notice every, or even most, of these occurring but I'm getting better and I really (and probably selfishly) hope you continue this work so that I can continue to improve in clarity of thought and understanding.
As I make choice after choice, I sometimes look back and see how far my thoughts and actions had shifted from where I started and it was (and is) dizzying and exhilarating. Things that made me feel panicky five years ago are now so accepted and normal and joyful in our house. And I am still moving forward and trying to choose from more and better choices every day.
We have now been unschooling for one year. I still feel very much a beginner and that I am deschooling and will continue to deschool actively for a long time yet. But my daughters are blossoming. They are confident and loving and interested in so many things. My family is having so much fun, this morning we spent a couple of hours playing WiiU games together—all four of us, my husband and our two girls. The WiiU was a Christmas present, and it's so amazing to me that I have come from a position of NO TECHNOLOGY five years ago, to embracing everything possible the world has to offer without arbitrarily judging huge sections of it as unacceptable or not valuable.
My only regret about all of this is probably a predictable one—I wish I hadn't waited until this year to start. I even read through the 'if only' pages on your website a couple of years ago and I wish I hadn't squashed the feelings of apprehension the quotes gave me. I am glad I was able to give my second daughter a real choice about continuing preschool as a four year old this year, and happily accept her decision to stay home. At the end of last year I offered both my girls the opportunity to try school at the beginning of this year, neither wanted to, so we are heading into our second year of unschooling. They know they can choose to try school with my support and assistance at any time, and I will keep checking in with them at the end of each year.
I feel very very happy about the happiness and learning in our family for all four of us and I am so grateful for the way my relationship with my oldest daughter has grown in closeness, trust and communication this year. I will always regret the damage I did by separating her from home before she was ready.
This is way too long. If you think any or all of it would be a good contribution to any of the Always Learning topics please feel free to post it. But I mainly wanted to thank you personally so much for all that you do and have done, and I hope you can continue in the face of what must be very frustrating and repetitive questions and criticisms. Because without you and all the resources you have generated, my family would not even know the life we live now was even a possibility.
Thank you so much
Anna (and Dan and Abigail and Evangel)
I have seven children aged 12 and under. We have always homeschooled (now we unschool). I have not always done it in the right way. Long story short I was born and raised in a home that had many rules, spanked, and I went to regular school. It was the life I knew. It is how I began to raise my children. I won't go into all the details of our change, but know that it started with a quest for freedom, which led to the discovery of the non-aggression principle, which led to a totally new way of thinking.
I can remember telling myself when I encountered other unschoolers that I would NEVER teach like that. I used all the arguments I have read from some of the people in your book. LOL! I look at those arguments now and think they are ridiculous and dangerous!!!
I have read your book five times at least. My husband has read your book that many times as well! lol! We LOVE you! Your life is such an inspiration to me! I am SO SO thankful for you even though you don't know me!!!
I *schooled* my children for a long time. I had finally realized that I wanted to do things in a different way. I didn't feel comfortable with the feeling in our home. I was someone who did not understand unschooling. I told myself I was an unschooling parent, but I wasn't. I was still in the *teaching* mindset. I could not figure out how to *let go* of that way of thinking. When I read your book the first time, it was like the fog that I had been under just totally LIFTED! I implemented changes in my home and IMMEDIATELY saw the difference. I realized JUST HOW MUCH my children did not trust me!!!
In the last two years, our home has done an entire 180 degree turn. I am now a TRUE unschooling parent. I LOVE all the wonderful things that have happened in our family. I LOVE the relationship that I have with my children. I LOVE the relationships they have with each other and their dad, and the world. It is AMAZING! You are amazing!!
Thank you so much for helping to change my life. You have been one of my biggest inspirations, and I love you!! LOL! :D I don't know how else to say it!!!
The ONLY regret I have at all is that my oldest three kids have seen a side of me that I wish they had never seen. If I could go back and live this way from the beginning I would. Unschooling has even helped me release old feelings and bad memories from my own authoritative home growing up!! I do, however, feel good about that fact that my oldest 3 children aren't THAT old, and they will always remember how mommy changed the way she thought and lived her whole life so that she could make their lives better.
This is still an ongoing process for me. I had to re-train myself in a lot of ways. I had to learn a new language. I had to learn to SEE again. I had to learn how to communicate. I had to learn patience. I had to learn how to put others first. .....WOW! Sometimes an old thought will creep in. Sometimes I find myself answering a question in *teacher tone*...but it is so few and far between, and I am so quick to catch it that nobody ever notices except me! LOL!
So.... thank you again. I can't say it enough. You're amazing. Keep up the good work. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️