Late Night Learning

Stories of
Late-night Learning

Jen Keefe, 2022:
Until a few months ago I stayed up with Sydney and Owen until they went to bed. They go to bed late. Like, late late.

I never minded. So much goodness happened after midnight. Conversations, check-ins, snacks... connection.

As I was adjusting to give my career more attention, I shifted things. I decided that going to bed a few hours earlier to get up and be done working before they start their day made a lot of sense for our family. So that is what I did.

As I was making this decision I tried to articulate to Kris why it matters that I stay up at night with the kids but I just couldn't get any language around it. I tried. I just could not describe or put a valuation on late night living with my kids.

For the first time in a few months, last night I stayed up late with my kids.

It wasn't really intentional.I was up later than normal for me watching Firefly Lane (so good!) and Sydney came downstairs.

I got them something to drink and sat at the island with them while they drank it. As it so often does, a late night at the island turned into an important conversation. Eventually Owen joined us too. We talked for close to two hours about important things.

The value of staying up with my kids last night is not measurable—nor is it quantifiable.

But what I can tell you is that I know how much it matters. And even if I cannot measure or quantify the value of sitting on the couch late at night perusing my phone in case my kids come down, or laying in my bed reading with all the lights on in case one of them comes in and lays on the bed to chat, I know its value. Even if we do not have language to define it.

I know it is these very moments that make my family better. Make me a better mother. A better human. Literally change the world. Right from my own kitchen island.

I'm not adjusting my work focus. I am building my career for both my family and myself. But I have new data. A real time articulation of why I chose to stay up so late for so many years with my kids. Of what I have been trying to find the language for as I made the transition to going to bed earlier.

I can do what I want with this new understanding. I don't have to do something that works for everybody, or even anybody else. I can take the things that are important to me and keep building a life that works for my little family- tiny choice after tiny choice. Each new piece of information adding to the the pile of data that informs choices that feel better.

I feel like I should tie this into some sort of New Year's post and actually that is perfect. Because I gave up New Year's Resolutions a loooong time ago.

I learned that grandiose resolutions rarely add up to anything that matters. Now I know it is the little tiny intentional choices made moment after moment that are good for me and my family and make our world better. Not just my world. The whole world.

How do I know? I am living proof.
Jen Keefe, December 30, 2022, on her facebook page
used by permission

It was posted with this photo:

Shan Burton, 2011:
I have a late night learning story for you - happened just now. Jeremiah just came in, excited. "Mommy, come quick! You need to see it. It's that picture you showed me the other day!" He was watching a Teenage Titans video he got from his cousin, and recognized a scene set in the Escher stairs and ladders picture I pointed out to him at the bookstore, because he had the blocks as a toddler and I wondered if he remembered, and because I knew he'd be fascinated. Tomorrow, we plan on finding more Escher online. 😊

A couple of years after that, Shan posted:

If he had a bedtime, we would have missed our 2am chat about My Little Pony, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Shakespeare, cellular peptide cake with mint icing, the two Queen Elizabeths, the nature of cats in general and ours in specific, word play, fan fiction, Lord of the Flies,specism (like racism and ageism), Harry Potter, and Heinlein.

It's something I would never have known I was missing out on, and I love these conversations and insights, and how they change as he grows.

Laura Flynn Endres wrote on an unschooling page on Facebook, in January 2011:
Last night while saying goodnight to Jonathan, 14, he said, "Now about this Amelia Earhart woman... I've been reading up on her. Did you know the first time she saw an airplane she didn't think it was a big deal?" and went on to ask questions about everything from the World Wars to who in our family was alive during certain wars, about the Liberty Bell and Nelson Mandela, asking "who should I read about next, do you think... Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King?" He then mumbled, as I was tottering off to bed, "I'm going to need more books on these people." I just love the organic process and am realizing I'm going to need to change my sleep schedule because my kids are most inquisitive about the time I'm off to bed. And that just won't do.

Nancy Wooten:
My husband wasn't too sure about unschooling at first, and was also adamant the kids be in bed and stay there at a certain time. I'd just come home from a one-day conference—probably the first time I heard Sandra speak—with an armload of interesting toys and books and a head full of inspiration. One of the books was about finding Titanic, and included a paper model, which I decided Mommy should put together (I really like that kind of thing 😊).

I was working on it after the kids had gone to bed, but then-7-y.o. Alex got up. He looked at the book and we talked about it as I worked; we discovered what a fathom was, and that Titanic came to rest on the continental shelf, not the very bottom of the ocean, and I'm sure some more interesting things, but those stick in my mind.

About a half hour later, Alex went back to bed and I kept gluing. Dh came in and said, "So that's unschooling." He'd overheard the conversation. I said, "Yeah, that's unschooling." Never had an argument after that. 😊

photo (a link) by Jo Isaac

Heidi C. wrote:

My kids are all night owls, we have discovered. The other night, Katie stayed up playing computer quietly. They are so noisy when they're up together, but alone, each kid can be very quiet, and so while the other two went downstairs, she stayed up. We shut the door to our bedroom and went to sleep.

at 3:15, Katie paged the cordless phone. She was hitting the hay, and wanted to hang it up. (I did tell her not to call anyone! L) The phone was in my room, because I had been talking to my grown boy before I went to sleep. Brought the phone out, Katie hung it up, and I said "You winding down?" and she said "yes"...nestling herself into a blanket on the couch with an electronic language game in her hand.

I don't know how long it took her, but the next day (yesterday) she showed me a big piece of paper with over 100 words written on it. It was the list of words one can get when playing Word Mine (anagrams) with the name jrrtolkien. 125 words, three letters and above. She is very proud of this accomplishment, and I don't blame her.

The list was in order...i.e., all the words starting with ro were in the same spot on the list...and she was ticking off words as she noticed their patterns. Still...ARGH...wasn't reading them, but it is fascinating to watch this literacy burgeoning in my "Late Starting Reader Who Stays Up VERY Late"

blessings, HeidiC
(November 2003)

Kelli T. responded: Heidi,

This is cool to read. In real life, we have no friends that allow their children to stay up so....again, nice to read.

We also have night owls here and I am always amazed at what transpires in the wee hours of the night. They seem to get so philosophical at these times, its like their minds just open up. This is also the time that they seem to be so curious and inquisitive.

My challenge is to try and get my eyelids to stay open so I can also be part of this time. Not only to answer questions from them but also just to enjoy their company-- to hang out with them.

I suppose some people would say the day hours could be my time with them. Evening hours could be their time together.

But there is a different dynamics going on at night. I don't know what, but they are all lit up. I guess it does seem to balance out. Some days we spend time together during the day and less in the evening. But if we've been busy doing our own things during the day, we can reconnect in the night. 😊

I guess maybe I'm selfish for their time. I want it all! All the experiences!

Its just fun being with them.

A few years later, Kelli wrote again about late night activities and that's down below.

Erin, from an unschooling discussion in January 2003, quoting me and then commenting:

Sandra, [you wrote]:
But from my point of view and from my experience, if art and music lead a kid conversation to Italy, and they make this connection at 10:30 at night, my choice is to say "Go to sleep" or to get excited with them, and tell them the Ninja Turtles were named after Renaissance artists, and that all the musical terminology we use, and most of early opera, came from Italy. That maybe the Roman Empire died, but Rome was not through being a center for advanced thought. Or however much of that a child cares about. And some of that will work better with an art book out, and maybe a map of the world. Look! Italy looks like a boot for sure, and look how close it is to Greece, and to the Middle East. Look who their neighbors are to the north and west, and how much seacoast they have. Look at their boats.

Maybe the child is seven, though, and Italy isn't on the state's radar before 8th grade geography.

So I don't look at the state's requirements. I look at my child's opportunities. And I think the moment that the light is on in his eyes and he CARES about this tiny bit of history he has just put together, that he wants me to say "YES, isn't that cool? I was much older when I figured this out. You're lucky to have great thoughts late at night."

And if he goes to sleep thinking of a camera obscura or the Vatican or gondoliers or a young teenaged Mozart seeing Italy with his dad, meeting people who thought they would remain more famous than Mozart... I think back to the circumstances of my own bedtimes as a child and I WANT to fill him with pictures and ideas and happy connections before they go to sleep, if that's what he seems to want. I could be trying to go to sleep and being grouchy and he could be in another room trying to go to sleep and being sad, or we can go on idea-journeys and both go to sleep happy.

That was a great post! I was smiling and "seeing" the light in your son's eyes! Great word pictures, thanks!


photo (a link) by Colleen Prieto

Kim S:

My only child, Wes just turned 13, so my only teen, Wes, has taught me over the last four years that we've unschooled that learning happens all times of the day and night.

Some of my most memorable times and most profound bonding moments have been during late hours of the night watching movies or TV (or even when he was younger and I'd be reading aloud to him as he played dress-up or drew while listening.)

Just last night Wes and I finished the final episode of the now ended Six Feet Under series. We've had the most amazing conversations about LIFE, love, death, sex and more as a result of watching TV together. Last night I was tired, but Wes needed to watch the special features about how the show was made and how this show has possibly helped our culture to better begin to talk about death...I didn't want to miss this opportunity to hear Wes's thoughts and ideas about such important life issues--I stayed up and watched, listened, and talked AND I totally slept in this morning (DH was kind to be "extra" quiet getting off to work).

As I write this Wes continues to get the sleep he needs and desires and our day together will begin sometime early this afternoon when he makes his way from the comfort of his bed into a new day full of exciting possibilities! Always moving toward a WIN/WIN here on the quiet coast of Maine!

Kim Snyder Sterrs
2006, the forum at (the formerly available)

Kelli Traaseth, on the UnschoolingDiscussion list in November, 2006:

I felt like sharing some thoughts that I've had floating around in my head lately. 🙂

My oldest two kids are on the nightshift right now. I try and stay up with them, as late as I can, and then I get up early to see if they need anything (and to be up with my youngest). They also know they can come and get me and wake me up if they need anything. That being said, I'm usually fine with them being up, yet I still have little voices in my head telling me they should be sleeping when I'm sleeping.

I sometimes start questioning if I'm doing enough for them. Maybe I should be right by their side more? I make sure they have easy to warm up food, and snacks they like. I make sure I spend a chunk of quality time with them when they are awake, but I still worry. I'll ask them if they're happy (they look happy, but I want to make sure, my doubt again) and they'll enthusiastically answer "YES!". I ask them if they want to be doing some other things,,(I'm thinking,,, like stuff during the day🙂) and they'll answer "but Mom I'm doing what I want to do" and they laugh at my doubt.

So I go back and forth, being confident in what I'm doing and then also questioning it. I think because I'm not around anyone in real life who lives their life like this its much more difficult to remain confident. When I do question it I need to stop and look at my kids, see the joy and see the learning.

Ok, so what are they learning? 🙂 A few, off the top of my head things: yesterday Abbi HAD to find out if the poem "ring around the rosie" came from the Black Plague. She loves snopes and looked it up. She really didn't want to believe that a beloved kid poem would be associated with that. She was happy to find out that Snopes believed that that claim is false. She sat there for a couple of hours reading and researching.

Then this morning when I got up she was just bubbling over with enthusiasm, that's the way she usually is when I see her in the morning. 🙂 She comes to me and tells me that her new favorite word is Antidisestablishmentarianism. 🙂 Apparently some people were talking about big words and threw that one out there. She had never heard of it,, she loved it. She also told me that when people were throwing that word around someone said, "how about sesquipedalian?" (which means the use of big words, I had to google it, I had never hear of it 😉 So she had been looking up different words, reading about long words (she loves She also had to share this new word with her friends on MySpace and made a bulletin about her newly found favorite word.

She continued to talk about this and that, different things that she had done in the night, commenting that it was nice to talk to me because Alec (her older brother) had been in some raids last night (groups with other people on WoW) and not as talkative as she would have liked. Usually she has a couple of friends that are up with her on IM through the night and some will be on WoW (World of Warcraft), some not. Last night apparently her friends weren't around so she ended up doing some other stuff. So she's talking and talking and then she stops and says, "OH, I HAVE to ask you this! I've been meaning to talk to you about this then I get sidetracked." I'm thinking oh my gosh,, getting myself ready for something deep and serious. And she asks me "what was the Black Plague?" 🙂

So the research we were doing yesterday morning resurfaces and we get back on the computer and look it up. How many things can you learn when you look up the Black Plague/Bubonic Plague? 🙂 Wow! It's a lot. Tons of history, science, biology, toxology, pathology,,, it keeps going. Disease, geography of Europe and Asia, rat info, flea info, history of diseases, even warfare (they believe that it may have been spread by one army catapulting infected corpses onto its enemy, the disease spreading and those people leaving their country and it coming to Europe).

Finally after reading about the Bubonic Plague for about an hour she decides its time to lay down for a while. Its 8:00 and she wants me to get her up at around 2:00-3:00. I had told her about a couple of artists that are going to be showing how they do their artwork in one of the art studios in town. She won't be getting a lot of sleep today but she'll probably make up for it tonight. When its something she wants, she makes it happen.

I continue to be amazed at this life of ours. Even when I sometimes question myself or have people questioning me, I know deep down inside me that its the right thing. The energy, happiness and joy I see in my kids is so proving.


Sandra Dodd's original article on Late Night Learning

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Your house as a Museum

Conversation opportunities with kids