Step by step is usually more effective than trying to leap across. More tortoise, less hare. —Debbie Regan, here

Gradual Change

Sandra Dodd

You made a sudden change. You tried to jump to where long-time unschoolers are [but] you tried to skip the process of getting there.

—Pam Sorooshian (the essence of a quote you will read below in its original context)

Here is something Joyce Fetteroll saved, and it's part of some longer writing about "bed times" and if/then contracts here.
With anything, if a family moves from rules (about food, freedoms, clocks, what to wear) to something new there's going to be the backlash, and thinking of catapults (or trebuchets, more technically, or of a rubber band airplane, or other crank-it-up projectile vs ...) the more pressure that's built up, the further that kid is going to launch if you let it go all at once. —Sandra Dodd

Eileen Mahowald saved something I wrote in December 2013:
Some people seem to hope that "becoming an unschooler" is like joining a church, professing faith, being baptized, and after that things are just different. No, it's a build-a-different-life situation that takes many years.

Pam Sorooshian, to someone whose child was "given food freedoms" and was eating everything in addition to "his meals."

You are having trouble thinking clearly and calmly about food, and you made a sudden change and adopted an extreme position. You tried to jump to where long-time unschoolers are in relation to food—you tried to skip the process of getting there.

A lot of unschooling is about parents being generous to our children. We don't have to be so generous. We can limit and restrict and control as much as we want—the law and societal norms are on that side. Previously, you were playing tug-of-war and pulling very hard at your end of the rope while your son pulled equally hard on his. Then, you suddenly let go and watched him tumble. You could have eased up a little at a time, instead.

—Pam Sorooshian

Move gradually into unschooling ideas—VERY gradually if your partner isn't interested.

Until you understand it better yourself, you can't explain it to anyone. And until someone is interested, he can't hear an explanation. Same as with kids. It needs to be related to an actual curiosity or interest for it to make any sense at all.

Sandra Dodd, in a discussion here

THIS IS IMPORTANT, oh ye who tried to get unschooling too fast, and told your kids "From now on you can do whatever you want to." Someone wrote thoughtfully (of the idea of kids jumping on other people's couches), on AlwaysLearning:
I think some people, in their journey to *get* unschooling and put it into practice, think it IS ok for their child to do just about everything. They believe if their child *wants* to do it, then they should go along with it.

There have been times in the past that I said nothing and held my breath and just waited for the visit to be over but never wanted them back.

It's a Very Bad Idea to "start unschooling" before you know what you're doing. The more rules a family had, the more gradually and sensibly they need to move toward saying yes.

The options, in an extreme and falsely dualistic way, are

A: to say "yes" hundreds of happy, surprising-to-the-kids times, about whether they can stay up a little later, or have another cookie, or visit the neighbors, or jump off the porch. Hearing "YES!" is a huge thrill to kids who have been told "no" thousands of times.

B: to say, to kids who have been told their whole lives that "NO" was good for them and was the only thing between them and hell or prison (or both), "Oh, I've changed my mind. Do whatever you want!"

A is months of fun, resulting in a growing mutual trust and joy

B is a frightening sense of "mom's gone crazy or doesn't love us anymore," resulting in a frenzy of "rule breaking"--doing all the things that were forbidden before as if there's no tomorrow, because the kids figure that as far as the freedoms go, there is no tomorrow-- the restrictions may return at any moment, so they stay awake eating and watching crummy TV shows for hours and HOURS because they've never been able to make choices before and they're crap at it.

Parents have come to this list and others and said some subset of this: "Okay, I told my kids we're unschooling now so there are no rules. Tell me again what unschooling is. They're jumping around like monkeys and going crazy and my husband wants to leave me and my mom is calling the county. I told them lots of people do it and it was perfectly legal. Now what am I supposed to do?"


FIRST read and understand and have a realistic grasp of the principles and start saying yes to your children for sensible and good and generous reasons you understand. SandraDodd.com/yes

Keep your kids off other people's furniture both during and after your deschooling process.


A comment on my writing abovefrom MarSi77:

Exactly. And yet if a family wants to unschool asap, before they can truly, and fully, put it into practice 100% *accurately* (because let's face it, it does take *time* to change ), I feel if they can say YES more and live with RESPECT for all, then they are *on their way*.

But some people think saying YES means kids can do anything and everything, but if they first look at it in terms of respect, they would be able to see the difference.


Lisa J Haugen, August 2014, on Radical Unschooling Info (here):
I didn't even know what gradual change meant, until I'd failed enough at trying to change too many things too quickly; and then slowed down so much I was pretty much at a halt for a long time. It's still like that at times. Sometimes my gradual is a little *too* gradual, where we're not moving toward better hardly at all.

When I see that, now I know to start making one or two changes at a time, not trying to change a bunch of things all at once, even if I see a bunch of things all at once (which is usually how my understanding works) that could use some changes. I breathe, I make notes, I do one or two things at a time, and see how it goes. I see that my process is still going through fine-tuning, I haven't found the balance point yet, between too fast and too slow. I'm grateful my kids are still so young.

At some point I learned to slow down or stop and think more and learned to pay attention better to the results of my choices. I started being able to see the connections between what I'd read and what was happening in my family. It got easier to be more mindful more often.

—Lisa J Haugen

Pam Sorooshian, with a follow-up by Leah Rose, on the Always Learning list in July 2010:
Pam: One of the phrases that helped me with this was to say, "Well, OR we could try ......." (fill in the blank). This was something I've said inside my head, to myself, over and over. It was a tool to get myself to think of alternatives as being okay to try out. Sounds too simple, but it overrode the other voices in my head saying things like, "Family dinner table is important." I'd respond with, "Well, OR we could try...." and then my brain would fill in the blank with something else - like "Well, OR we could try eating in the garage while he works on his car." (Or whatever he's doing in there.) Being open to experimenting was easier to do than suddenly switching to something new—maybe that's a fine line, but trying something new seemed way less risky than completely switching.

Leah Rose: Yes, this is something I've really begun to notice: how very subtle the changes are towards unschooling. The leaps I've tried to take always seem to leave me feeling shaky and uncertain that I'm on the right track. When I inch forward in baby steps the ground feels solid and I know I'm heading in the right direction. I know it's working when I'm at peace. That's the marker I look for.

Joanna Murphy wrote on Always Learning, in May 2009:
The biggest mistake I made in transitioning to radical unschooling was that I didn't transition. I thought I needed to make a pronouncement about bedtimes and food. I really didn't. I now, many years later, see that I just needed to make MY shifts in seeing how to support them and facilitate their lives—and then do it.

longer version on the page about sleeping: sandradodd.com/sleeping

We are still deschooling and very new to all of this, but based on what was shared I wanted to share our experience as well.

I didn't tell my children, "no more chores." I DID begin just doing some of "their" chores for them and wherever I have seen situations that they appear tense or stressed in, I've stepped in and taken the pressure off by whatever means necessary. The changes I have seen in such a short amount of time have been amazing. My son and daughter have also had their fair share of arguments and my son had been showing progressively aggressive behavior towards my daughter. My son hadn't hugged my daughter in months...maybe even a year or more. That is all turning around. He hugs her almost daily now.

Izzy told me just tonight, "Mommie, I'm really starting to like Darius' personality". The ONLY thing I can credit this change to is moving towards radical unschooling. I can tell they are so much happier and less stressed and this has affected everything.

Last night, we all worked together to get the house organized and clean for the evening. We didn't even think about what chores were the others responsibility or whose stuff we were cleaning up. We just all chipped in wherever we saw the need and it was beautiful. They really enjoyed working as a team. We are still so early, but I'm loving the peace and joy we are experiencing.

Christina Daharry on the Facebook "Radical Unschooling Info" page, March 2012
more on chores

This is most of something I wrote to a younger friend with four children and food issues:
Instead of just going from lots of control to "do whatever you want," a really sweet way to do it is quickly but gradually. Quickly in your head, but not all of a sudden in theirs. Just allow yourself to say "okay" or "sure!" anytime it's not really going to be a problem. If something really isn't going to hurt anything (going barefoot, wearing the orange jacket with the pink dress, eating a donut, not coming to dinner because it's the good part of a game/show/movie, staying up later, dancing) you can just say "Okay." And then later instead of "aren't you glad I let you do that? Don't expect it every time," you could say something reinforcing for both of you, like "That really looked like fun," or "It felt better for me to say yes than to say no. I should say 'yes' more," or something conversational but real. The purpose of that is to help ease them from the controlling patterns to a more moment-based and support-based decisionmaking mindset. If they want to do something and you say yes in an unusual way (unusual to them), communication will help. That way they'll know you really meant to say yes, that it wasn't a fluke, or you just being too distracted to notice what they were doing.

I might save this and put it where other moms can find it, because lately there've been a couple of instances of people saying "I used to control this (or that) and now that I don't, and I told them they can do whatever they want to..."

Too big a jump.

If your kids ask for another one (potato, cookie, peanut butter sandwich) I think it's helpful if you just say "Sure!" and make another one, even if you don't think they'll finish it, even if you think they'll be too full or whatever. As long as they're not eating someone else's share (and even so, if the other person agrees), it's not a big deal. If they don't finish, save the leftovers for someone else. If they do finish and they're "too full" that's how they'll learn their capacity (which will change anyway as they get older).

more on Moving Gradually toward less control of food

Pam Sorooshian, March 2013, to a question about how to transition:
Maybe talk about them only as they come up. If you have a rule about eating only at the dining table, you could suggest: "You could take your sandwich to eat in the living room if you want." If she says, "What about the rule?" then you can say, "It's okay - we can be flexible."

I wouldn't ever say, "No more rules," because it is confusing to the child - there really will still be rules in her life, lots of them. What you're going to be doing is looking at rules more sensibly and being flexible and not having rules just for the sake of having a rule.

Sometimes rules are for convenience of parents so they don't have to spend so much time talking about options, etc. One mom I know said she would absolutely not let her 12 year old watch a PG-13 movie, no matter if she actually thought the movie was fine, because then her son would argue with her over every other PG-13 movie. I think a lot of rules are imposed because parents feel overwhelmed and busy and don't want to spend their time working with kids on these kinds of choices. I get that.

And I think unschooling families DO have rules for convenience even if they don't call them rules. They aren't rules for the sake of control and they aren't enforced with the threat of punishment, they are more like, "This is how we do this in our family." And usually always open to questioning. So - my kids didn't eat food in their bedrooms because we just didn't eat food in bedrooms. Why? Because we had really big ant invasion problems and nobody would have liked sleeping in a bed with ants. When they were little I'd just say, "Eat it out here, not in the bedroom," and probably sit to chat with them or turn on the tv or something to make it more fun. They weren't kids who had experienced arbitrary rules so they were pretty much willing to go along with clear requests like that. There were a few times i can recall that a kid really wanted to eat in her room. I'd put the food on a big tray and remind her not to let the crumbs or drips get anywhere but on the tray. I'd go in and get the remains of the food right away when she finished. It wasn't a big deal - wasn't "breaking a rule" in the bad sense, it was making an exception to the more convenient way we usually did things.

So - make exceptions, be more flexible, stop talking about rules and breaking rules with regard to things that are really just ways of living. If she asks about a specific rule you could say, "Yeah, guess we don't exactly have that rule anymore."


I wrote:
It is scary at first. You're thinking of it as a ten-car pile up at high speeds, it seems!

-=-I am struggling with figuring out how to apply the "Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch," to this. Is it best to just stop talking about rules and start talking about principles as situations occur or is it best to talk about it with Grace? -=-

SandraDodd.com/gradualchange (that's this page)

Gradually, without fanfare, be more positive and more supportive of her desires and requests.

Here is an antidote to your no-speed-limits fear. It's called "The Beautiful Park" by Robyn Coburn. It's about people getting off bicycles to walk. I think it could replace your fearful background with something gentle and peaceful.

Read about why, and what others have seen.
Try it a little.
Don't expect her not to think you're crazy at first; wait a while.
Watch her reaction. Feel your own thoughts. Lay your fears out to dry in the air and sunshine.

Subscribe to this while you're waiting: Just Add Light and Stir

Sandra *

For New Unschoolers:

Would you rather listen than read? There are sound files free to hear here: SandraDodd/listen

There is another page on my site called "Do It," about not waiting too long. Now that you're all calmed down and ready to change gradually, gradually move toward doing it right now. 🙂 Halfway between "very gradual" and "do it right now" is the place to be, while you're learning about unschooling.

(Note added August 31, 2017, at the Free to Be Unschooling Conference, after I said "Gradually move toward doing it right now," liked it, and wrote it down.)