Interview with Sandra Dodd

Originally on a site called Natural Parenting Center
August 30, 2010

Sandra Dodd is a pioneer in the Unschooling world. Her website is rich with information and support for parents and children. She kindly agreed to answer some questions of mine. Enjoy...

1. What’s your perspective on rewarding kids? Alfie Kohn who wrote “Unconditional Parenting” and other authors warn against it because it can create a “looking outward” for approval in children and contribute to them losing touch with their own feelings, wants, genuine connection with others.

On your site, one of the items is "fostering self discipline (no rewards or punishment)."

I'm not in favor of punishments, but sometimes when a kid as done a really big thing--a twelve year old, or a teen, and the parents give them something they've been wanting as a congratulatory gift, that can be interepreted as "a reward," and your list says the big "NO" word. NO rewards. There's no benefit in that. It's a rule divorced from the principle. Sometimes if I've worked my butt off for something that helps others more than it does me, my husband or kids will very willingly take me to dinner, or not mind me zoning out with videos and pattern games for a few days. Some families could interpret that sort of behavior as "reward." (I think of it as recuperation.) We've done similar things for the kids.

I don't like "self discipline" either--nor the term "discipline," nor "self-control" nor "self-regulation." Ideally, no one needs to train, control or regulate anyone, not even himself.

What I prefer to all of that is choices. Parents can choose to provide their child with all sorts of choices in the moment, and when a child is an active part of deciding about his own comfort and activities, that in itself is more than most families would provide as "rewards."

It's not that I'm "pro rewards." I'm anti-"no rewards." It seems to be removing choices from the parents.

Alfie Kohn is not writing about homeschooling, and knows little about unschooling. He's writing about school and families involved in school.

When a child's parents dedicate themselves to living in partnership with a child, how could he lose touch with his own feelings or connection with others? If the parents help him get what he wants, he won't be needy.

I've written about the differences I've found in unschoolers and in children parented with more rules and "deal making" here:

How to Raise a Respected Child
2. What’s your perspective on non-violent communication?
I don't like the false overlay "NVC" puts on the world. I've seen people fail to have direct presence and mindfulness because they were mentally trying to label people and judge their expressions of feeling or desire. I prefer people be compassionate and flexible about communicating with others, rather than to pre-decide there is only one way they will communicate or accept being communicated with.

Although it can be a good healing tool for an adult who suffered years of verbal abuse and is in recovery, as a starting place, as something to impose on or require of others, it's unnatural. As for communication between a child and his parents, it's overkill and takes time that could be better used just listening to one another without wondering what a book or a coach would have to say about it.

Choices and compassion will cover that, in an unschooling family where children and parents live closely together as partners.

3. What about the mom who is committed to unschooling who has a child who really wants to go to school? What would you say to her?
It depends on the details and what the child hopes to gain from school. Some children should go to school. No mother should be "committed to unschooling" at the expense of her child's peace and happiness. She should be committed to and closely attuned to her child. If school is more appealing than the environment the parents can create at home, then school is the better choice. Or maybe the child wants band, orchestra, theatre, or sports and doesn't have other access to those.

One of the worst parts of school is the "compulsory" part. If a child has no choice about being homeschooled, he can grow to resent home and his parents, just as many school kids long to be anywhere but school. But an unhappy homeschooled child has no happy mom to go home to at the end of the day.

There are ways to detach from school even if a child attends. I have notes here: Public School on Your Own Terms I don't usually write much about school. This is the most for a long time. :-)

My best recommendation, though, is to create and maintain such a rich and joyful unschooling life that the child won't want to go to school. That's the direction "commitment to unschooling" should take.

4. Tell us about your book!
I have two books. Moving a Puddle is a collection of most of my published articles up to 2005. Some newer unschoolers have said they prefer that book, because there are so many stories involving younger children.

The Big Book of Unschooling came out in September, 2009. It has summaries of a few hundred of the pages on my site, with easy information on how to find much more on each topic.

5. How have you created such a successful presence/business while pouring your heart into family?
Gradually. It's not "a business" so much as it's a self-supporting mission. What started off as my gathering information and contacts turned into a hobby, and then an avocation. Not many people get the opportunity to change the world. After I started writing online when Kirby was little, I was invited to write articles and columns for various homeschooling newsletters and magazines. I was asked to speak at local conferences, and then in California, Texas and other places. I've spoken in a dozen states, two Canadian provinces, and in the U.K. This fall I'm going to visit unschooling families in India.

Little by little, years ago, I started to see that each little idea that had changed my own family had the potential, if I could explain it clearly enough, to change another family. Just a little was enough. As more and more families shared their successes and joys, the world changed. As more information was gathered and put where others could find it, the rate of change increased.

When I was first unschooling, we waited two months for a new issues of Growing Without Schooling. There was no internet discussion at all. When that began, a few years later, it was user groups, not even e- mail or webpages yet. Today someone can get more information about unschooling in one day than existed in the whole world when my oldest was five. I'm glad to have been part of honing, polishing, clarifying and gathering those ideas, stories and examples, and keeping them where others have quick access to them.

My husband, Keith, is willing to support my social work. By doing that, he too is helping improve thousands of children's lives. Often, when I speak, one of my kids goes with me, even though they're now 18, 21 and 24. Holly was with me in Montreal this summer. Kirby will be in Sacramento at the HSC conference. Helping other unschoolers has become a family tradition.

In 2016, the site on which that interview first lived is gone. When I went looking to see whether it had a new home, I found a brief e-mail exchange with the interviewer, and so will add that here.
Hi Sandra:

I'd like to post your thoughts on how to transition kids/parents who have been controlled/controlling around food to food freedom on the Natural Parenting Center blog. When you have a chance, would you send your ideas my way? People love the interview you did for NPC and I'm grateful for you.



I responded (in May 2011, when the question came):

-=-When you have a chance, would you send your ideas my way? People love the interview you did for NPC and I'm grateful for you.-=-
I just got to England today, and won't be home for two more months. Summarizing years' of writing doesn't appeal to me at the moment. If you want to ask a few specific questions I could respond to, or if you want to quote your favorite parts of SandraDodd/food, that might be better for now.

Here's my current plan:



She thanked me, but I don't know if she wrote anything up.

Its original home is gone, but click here to go to a saved copy at the WayBack Machine.

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