Meredith Novak

Meredith has been writing for years about unschooling, and is especially good at describing it clearly.

Some descriptions of her writing, behind her back:

Because some unschoolers know her only as "plaidpanties" (from her e-mail address) or as "Meredith," I wanted to increase her name recognition and to help others know that a lot of the things they have seen here and there are by the same author.

Someone was asking questions and missing the point. Meredith's responses are inspiring:


How do you go about exposing your children to things that you value, but that they don't immediately understand the value of--without burning out, giving up, or resorting to methods that don't feel quite right?
Meredith's response:
The biggest, most important thing to realize is that all the exposure, exposition and explanation in the world won't produce interest or a sense of value. Those things only come from within. You can't Make someone else care about what you care about, or learn what you want her to learn.

That's the problem with education itself - not you, not your kids, but education period.

Start someplace else - how do kids learn what they need to know if no-one is showing them what's important?

Kids learn because they are observant. I don't only mean modelling, I mean the human brain is designed to notice patterns and there are patterns everywhere - in speech, in social interactions, in shapes of things, in the relationships between physical characteristics. Some sets of related patterns we call "language" some we call "mathematics" some we call "music" etc. Kids can't help but notice those patterns and think about them because that's what our big convoluted brains do best.

Think about the things you're considering valuable in terms of education—they're Prevalent. That's why you want your kids to know them, so they're not lost and ignorant and helpless. I used to worry that my kid wouldn't know anything about religion because I wasn't "exposing" her to it in any kind of systematic way. But religious and mythological ideas are very prevalent—in books, movies, tv shows, puppet shows, random conversations in the grocery store. She can't avoid learning about a dozen different religions just from going about her daily life, observing the patterns she sees.

In addition, kids learn because they are full of curiosity and wonder. That's big. It's a marvel. Wondering is what takes people—including children—from observation to something else, to asking questions and looking for answers. To trying and finding out. Wondering is one of the reasons people push through challenges—climb real mountains and metaphorical ones. You can't Give someone that kind of motivation; it only comes from deep within. Sadly, you can take it away, and teaching someone who doesn't really want to be taught is a proven way of doing so.

More Question:
How do you go about exposing your children to things that you value?
More Meredith:
Step back from the word "children" and replace it with "friends" - how does the question change?

If you value something, make it part of your life. If you value music, play music, listen to music, dance and sing. Invite the people you love to join you - maybe they will. If you value scientific thinking, think like a scientist. If you enjoy math, play with numbers and relationships. The catch is to live your own values without trying to foist them off on other people - because that's not a very good way of sharing what you love, and because personality matters. All your singing and dancing won't make your kids musicians if they're not so inclined - but they'll know a few things about music. If you push music at them, they may associate what they know with drudgery and unhappiness - and then you've failed and failed more utterly than if you never sang a note in their presence.

September 2012 (original)

Meredith partipates sometimes in these discussions (and perhaps others):

Radical Unschooling Q&A, and
Unschooling Mom2Mom (facebook)

Minecraft and how much can be learned:

On food choices:
Health Food

Meredith's own blog "In our own time, in our own way"

Some of her articles at the "Enjoy Life" Unschooling blog:
Travels with a Conservative Eater

Peeling Back the Layers

Unschooling with atypical kids: would you care to explain?

That blog was not maintained, so I have hunted down copies as would a research librarian, and while I was digging I brought Meredith's bio from there:

Because that site was gone, I have lifted something beautiful, by Meredith, from that gently sunken ship:


What do you kids do to help out? That’s a question that came up recently on one of the email lists and people wrote lovely stories of gifts of housekeeping and organization, putting away groceries and laundry. They’re sweet stories, and I don’t want to diminish them, my kids do things like that too. But when I think about how wonderful my kids are and how much I’m glad to be their parent, I don’t think about housework; it’s such a small thing. What follows is a list of things my kids give and do for me, a paean, and an invitation to see your own family in a similar light, and share your joy with others you know.

My kids invite me to step outside myself, to see another viewpoint, a different perspective. They invite me into their lives, their worlds, they offer to play with me, read with me, watch tv, build and create things with me that fascinate them. It took some effort on my part to do that, I have a rather strong sense of self and sometimes that gets in my way. Fortunately, my kids are persistent.

My kids charm me. The offer me smiles when I don’t expect them, allow me to guard their treasures in my pockets, show me wonders I didn’t expect to find in everyday places. They light me up with their inventiveness. Some days, when I’m tired or grouchy or hormonal, it helps to be charmed, to allow them to charm me out of my blues.

My kids remind me to slow down and pay attention – to hummingbirds and cheesy cartoons, to the taste of ice-cream, and the way the light shines through a dirty window like fairy dust. They remind me, by growing and learning all the time, that life is composed of millions of fleeting moments, never to be revisited except in memory.

My kids challenge my expectations and assumptions. They aren’t me, darnitall, and they don’t see the world the way I do! They don’t always share my values or ideals. They persist in being themselves even when it’s inconvenient to me, and give me the opportunity to re-frame my worldview in the light of their different wisdom.

My kids push my boundaries. I have very good boundaries – they used to be practically armor plated, but they’ve softened over the years, with friendship and with my own willingness to become semi-permeable. My kids interrupt me when I’m focused on serious adult business, or serious Meredith business, and give me a chance to see through the gaps in my well-defended fortress of “self”.

My kids hold up a mirror and shine lights on things I’d rather not see. They keep me honest with their artless imitation of my ways and their ingenuous wondering. They allow me to be true to my vision of myself and to change that vision, too, sometimes, when the reality is less lovely than my imagining.

My kids remind me what’s good about humanity. That’s a feat. I’m a longtime cynic and it wasn’t easy to accept that I didn’t need to school my kids away from their human natures. My kids have shown me that human nature is Enough, that it’s the best that we have in the best sense of those words. They have given me a marvelous opportunity to see human beings as people, doing the best they can with sometimes limited resources; the opportunity to see everyone, not just the people I love, with compassion and grace.

Meredith Novak
July 23, 2010

On philosophy:
"It was in discussing unschooling that I discovered I have a liking for philosophy and started to dabble in it on the side. I'd always been intimidated by it, mostly because of the way traditional philosophy education is structured, but when I approached it in a natural way, letting ideas swirl around and take me from one thing to the next, it started to gel for me."

Meredith in Massachusetts in May, 2012 (in the middle, between Sandra Dodd and Joyce Fetteroll).
Sorry it's fuzzy. It's an action shot!

Meredith at Just Add Light and Stir

Other Voices (unschooling writers, collected)