Follow-Up to MHA conference

New Brighton, Minnesota, September 29, 2007

Sandra Dodd responding

What was the cool game you mentioned in your keynote?


(Original link still good from a computer, but not from a phone)

College diploma—school district wants to see it for homeschooling! (That's one time we need it.)

I had mentioned nobody ever asks to see a diploma.

So a SCHOOL wants to see it, huh? Are you sure you couldn't just list the high school and year of graduation on the form? This is really outside my experience, as I don't live in Minnesota, but maybe locals know what's really required. Schools and districts have been known to ask for all kinds of things the law doesn't require.

Does your family have a schedule? Routine? Bedtimes, get up times, meal times, etc?

Wonderful talk. I could listen to you all day!

We don't have a set-in-advance, same-always schedule, no. Routine? Not the same day after day or week after week.

When the kids were babies they would go to sleep with us, nursing, or in dad's lap, and we'd put them in bed. That evolved into them going to sleep where they wanted to, or in a carseat, or a backpack (hiking/frame-pack) or beside us on the couch or on a blanket on the floor where one of us was doing something, and we'd put them in bed. Getting up used to be "get up by noon," when they got old enough to want to stay up late on the computer or watching movies or playing games. Then it became "Sleep as long as you want to, but at noon others are free to make noise." We still try to keep it quiet until noon or until everyone's awake, whichever comes first.

Tonight (Wednesday) we had a sit-down dinner. Monday and Tuesday we didn't, though food was made and announced; people ate where they were, when they were hungry. Tomorrow Holly and I are going to have lunch with a friend. I'm making a picnic, she'll wake up an hour before we're leaving, and I'll remind her before she goes to sleep. He only has a half an hour for lunch, so it has to be quick. We're going to sit in a cemetery near where he works. There's not time to go very far and there's not a close park.

When Marty worked at a grocery store, he woke himself up at 5:30 to get there at 6:00. He had a very timed and regular routine for himself. The first few weeks I got up too to make sure he'd be up, but he worked there full time for over a year and was only late once.

The lack of a "regular schedule" has never kept our kids from getting where they needed or wanted to be on time without trouble. When Kirby was very young, eight or so, he used to wake up at 6:25 a.m. to record Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at 6:30. He would pause for the commercials so they wouldn't be on the tape, and then when the show was over he would go back to bed. He has them all on tape, marked in his little-kid writing.

Some families work what they do around an arbitrary or traditional schedule. We work our schedule around what we want to do.

You need to credit the author of the affirmation: My family learns in peace and joy. (That was a reminder. ;-) I had said "I need to credit this quote" or some such.)

"My family learns in peace and joy."
(an affirmation written by Leslie, in South Carolina, for her family when they started unschooling)

How can homeschooling change from the elementary years to the middle and high school levels?

Homeschooling can change. Unschooling doesn't, or hasn't for us. If adults look at how they learn the things they've been really interested in, it's rarely one hour a week. It's usually from immersion and excitement and asking around and trying it out. In the absence of learning school patterns, all learning can be that way, and has been for our children.

I'm giving an unschooling answer, because I'm an unschooler.

There are famiies who use a professionally structured curriculum, but it doesn't tend to build on the natural curiosity of kids and parents. It pretty much tends to ignore and discredit natural curiosity as less important or off topic.

Kids need to know how to learn what they want to learn, and that can be done without a professional outline or workbook.

As to the needs and interests of parents, both my husband and I share interests with various of our children. Because we kept hobbies up while they were growing up, they're famiiar with our interests. If parents have built relationships of trust and understanding with children, by the time they're teens the parents won't need to be right with them so much. (And yes, I DO mean to suggest that if the relationships are filled with mistrust and misunderstanding, parents of teens will spend LOTS of time supervising and spying on and tracking down teens, which is something we haven't had to do, and Holly's about to turn 16.)

Children learn when they're not with parents, too! They're learning all the time, all over the place.

There to the left (if formatting holds) is my Very Scientific graph of how as kids get older moms have more time to themselves IF (and only if) the mom has given almost all her time to the kids when they were little. Kirby is 21 and I've spent about a half an hour this week helping him with a resume. He's in another state and all, but still... not much time on him. Marty is 18 and I've spent a couple of hours a day hanging out with him, since I've been home, and we're going to a movie Friday, just me and Marty.

Holly, when she's at home, is with me five or six hours of the day, give or take. Sometimes more. She doesn't have to be, though; she wants to be. Most of the fifteen-year-olds we know would prefer to be anywhere else than home and with anyone else than their moms. There is a clear cause and effect. When we push kids away, they push back. When we give them all the love they want when they're little, they have enough love to share some back out with us.

My son spends a lot of his time playing video games. I have accepted that this is his passion... and maybe very well play a part in his career path. but lately he's also been watching videos of other people playing video games on YouTube! Please help me see a reason that this is not just a waste of time... I know you'll have a good way to look at this latest passion.

Musicians watch videos of other musicians. Athletes watch videos of other athletes. Chess players have even been known to watch other people play chess with something approaching awe and rapture. Woodworkers watch woodworking shows. Cooks watch cooking shows. Dancers watch better dancers and learn like crazy!

Speaking of musicians, I've played a LOT of piano, and guitar in my life. I play recorder better than I play either of those, and have played formally (sonatas) and informally (by ear, in the dark, at campfires). I sing, lots of styles, can harmonize in different styles... LOTS of music. NOT a career path for me. It's a very large part of the way I see/hear/experience the world, but my "career path" had to do more with writing and learning (learning about how people learn).

Lots of people knit or crochet without it becoming part of a career path. How many men can fix their own cars but have never fixed another person's car for money? Cooking? Taking photos? Holly can do some GREAT stuff with a camera and a cheap outdated version of Photoshop Elements. She did these herself—took the photos herself and manipulated the images beautifully. ( Click them for more images and details.) I don't care whether she ever makes a career of it. I do show her cool photos I find in magazines or books or online, though.


She enjoys it, she does it to share with her friends on MySpace, she learned it gradually, by experimentation, and by learning different tricks from others. She has surpassed me and Marty in her use of that program, which cost me $80 just as it was obsolete because a new version was out. There are other photo manipulation programs, though, and some free online. What we have is Photoshop Elements 2.0

Don't worry about what kids choose to do. Make sure they have lots of choices, and don't discriminate between what you think might be career path and what might "only" be joyful activity and self-expression, or what might seem to be nothing more than relaxation or escapism. Let them choose and be and do.

(more, in 2022, when this topic came up again)

We plan to unschool our three-year-old daughter and future children. Your website has been incredibly helpful in getting my wheels turned into the unschooling mindset.

I have a question in regards to your thoughts on food/eating.

My daughter has had food allergies her whole life and my husband had chronic candidiasis. Because of this I have offered them a very healthy organic, somewhat restricted diet that has now given them excellent health. My daughter eats whenever she wants to and can choose anything that is available in our house. We only shop at a health food co-op; she has never had pop, transfats, McDonald's, etc.—it's not in our value system or in our best interest to spend money on unhealthy and unethically produced food.

So...my dilemma is—how do I balance protection (in terms of giving good health and avoiding allergens) with freedom?

I don't want my daughter to feel controlled. (I don't think she does. She is only three.) We also don't have the budget to "waste" a lot of money on junk and fast food.

You can't control and then hope the person won't feel controlled. You can balance freedom with protection, I suppose, but one will have priority. Right at the edge where they meet, no matter what you say, your daughter will know what you're thinking—either by your posture or facial expression or tone of voice. So honesty is best. If limits are more important to you than giving a child choices, be honest about it and made your decisions based on that.

There are lots of families' accounts of how they loosened up about food here: /food
If you can't live any more loosely you can't, though. Some people can't.

I love the idea and being-ness of "radical unschooling," however I would appreciate recommendations for how to handle the nagging doubts I have over am I doing enough? Are my 4 and 7 year olds being deprived of something by not having a curriculum or multiple classes? How and where and what to do with the monster of doubt... Is this enough?

Picture your children in school. Get the picture in your mind... Ask yourself: "Is the school doing enough? Are they being deprived of something by having a limited curriculum and sitting through multiple classes in things they either already know or don't understand at all?

Parents who assure themselves that school does enough and children in school are deprived of nothing are having some kind of delusional fantasy. EVERY school misses some good stuff. Every teacher has favorite topics and things they'd prefer to avoid. If a child changes teachers or schools or districts or states or nations, he misses some things. If a child stays in the same school and district and never changes teachers during a school year (as I did from 2nd grade to graduation: Española Elementary, Española Jr. High and Española High School) will miss things. My cousin learned Chaucer; I didn't. I learned French; she didn't. (Well, SOME French...) Friends of mine took photography and learned to develop blackroom stuff. Fat lot of good that does them now. I guess it's fine I missed that. I'm fine with digital cameras, photobucket and photoshop!

So back to homeschooling: Are you doing enough? Are your kids looking at you expectantly, or are they busy off doing something fun? Have they seen the cool touristy stuff in your town already? "Field trip" kind of stuff? Do you let them do it at their own pace, and "quit early" if they want to? Do they have things to play with and build with and draw on and mess with? Do they have opportunities (if they want) to ride bikes, skateboards, climb something, jump on things? Are you looking for opportunities for them to hear live music or see theatre?

If you feel like you're not doing enough, do more.

This isn't really a question but please tell my mother to stop worrying. It's all she needs to learn about unschooling, but I don't have the charts to prove it to someone like her.

You might find something here: https://unschooling.blogspot.com
It's a blog for articles and research, mostly on unschooling.

What I said to friends who worried when we started was simply this: "If it stops working we'll do something else."

(what Holly was doodling during the talk)

I have younger children—7, 4 and 1. I keep hearing "teach them how they will learn." How do you find out how they learn?

You didn't hear it from me. People learn different ways, but it's rare (and unnatural) for a person to only learn one way. So the thing to do is to present material and experiences that cover all the ways to learn. Some will do a child more good than others. One child might learn one thing very visually, and another thing tactilely. So instead of wasting ANY time trying to find out how they learn, spend good time learning (yourself) how children learn naturally with all their senses, with all their ways of thinking, or with their own best favorites from moment to moment.

Here's an article called Disposable Checklists for Unschoolers, but the lists will work for other homeschoolers as well. Here's an excerpt:


The obvious senses are sight and sound. Pictures of Japan and a recording of koto music might be considered sufficient for school. But how much more gloriously can you round that out when you have access to all kinds of real-world resources? Add taste, smell and touch. The kids don't need to know there was a checklist, but for the parents, a trip to a restaurant or an Asian market or gift shop might help the parent complete their secret framework.

How long should a five-senses checklist take to finish? Since unschooling operates in the real world, timing it to an hour or a week or six weeks is artificial. No hurry to "complete the set" on something. Smelling an elephant might need to wait for a trip to a zoo or circus, or you might want to just avoid that particular scent sensation altogether.

Please discuss how families cope when one parent's philosophy is unschooling and that other is very structured "school" like homeschooling. How to these couple find compromises?

Sometimes a request for the fearful parent to hold off for a year or two and see how unschooling goes can work wonderfully. Nothing works better, in my experience, than for the fearful parent (who is most often a dad who isn't around children much at all except his own) to spend some time with older unschooled kids—teens, if possible. When he sees how calm and direct they are compared to schooled kids their age, how they make eye contact with adults and are kind to younger kids and don't act goofy around older kids, IF he can get a chance to see that, it's often the point at which he relaxes.

In the case of a divorced couple, there is no compromise possible. Unschooling will go by the wayside. So one thing parents can do to ensure that their children have a peaceful life is to make sure they're not divorced! (notes on that)

Did you (and if so describe them) create transcripts for your children's years of high school age learning?

We didn't. When they've been asked about high school for jobs, they've just said "I was homeschooled." We have friends who just wrote brief narratives describing unschooling, and then listed all their activities and experiences.

I greatly dislike the painstaking creation of transcripts in high-school-transcript format. It honors school more than I'm willing to do. It also dishonors the glory of unschooling, to sketch a false little picture of it that way. My children have experienced much that could never be listed in six slots with a letter grade after each. I just won't do it. Others will; others have, but not for my kids.

Questions that arrived later by e-mail:
My in-laws are in their early 80s, and live just a few miles from us in their own home. They assume that since my daughter is 5 1/2 and would be in kindergarten right now, that I must be cramming out studies all day at the kitchen table (my mother-in-law asked me the other day, "Do you give her recess then?"). They aren't into learning something new/new ways of doing things (they tune me out if I give them any sort of explanation or background for why I do the things I do).

I've tried telling them in MN we don't need to do anything for another 2 years (when dd is 7 on October 1st). But again they tune me out. The questions keep coming about what we do for our homeschooling. What if she's not reading by "first grade"?

I just don't know how to handle the questions. I want them to know that she is and will be learning. Any advice?

My in-laws are quite elderly too. When Kirby, my oldest, was seven or so she pressed me at dinner in a restaurant with this: "Are you planning to have him tested?"


"How will you know he's not behind?"

I was sitting there surrounded by relatives, and Kirby was there looking at me. I said, "I know he IS behind in some things, and he's ahead in some things. So are the kids at school." And I put food in my mouth. And that was that.

Print out articles for them to read, perhaps. There are newspaper, magazine and research links here: https://unschooling.blogspot.com. Joyce Fetteroll's writing appeals to scientific-minded people. She's a mathy engineer type. http://joyfullyrejoycing.com/

Simply saying, "Thanks, we'll keep that in mind" can go a long way toward soothing worried relatives.


2022 update on photos

The photos above were my favorites at the time, and you can click for an enlargment, but if you want to see the full set, click here to open a gallery (and click the upper-right "x" to close it).
WARNING: The ship was beginning to set up for a haunted house tour, and some of the odd food and art was for that. Not everyday stuff.

Older notes on photos:
Mostly these are photos of Holly and of Kelli Traaseth's girls, but there are a few other things. I LOVE that eagle nest on the cross-piece of the power/phone (whichever they are) poles. Minnesota Visit (the set near the end is from Kelli's camera, of Duluth stuff)

The full set is probably too much. Some, I saved for webpage borders (patterns, bricks, water), and some for Holly's MySpace and some so we could tell Keith-my-husband what all we saw and did.

I don't use borders on webpages now, because of smart phones, and MySpace is gone, but I'm glad the photos are still available.
The motel we stayed in in Fridley was AWEsome—maybe you could think of doing a smallish get-together there sometime. It was here:
The LivINN Suites
5201 Central Ave NE, Fridley, MN 55421
(763) 571-9440
THANK YOU, to the board members for making us so welcome and to all of you who participated and made it possible for me and Holly to be there. We had a very good time.

In 2014, seven years after this page was created, I found it, looking for a quote. I've cleaned up the format a bit, and taken out a couple of "I'll add more later" comments because I don't remember what I was going to add. This is quite a bit more than most speakers do after they get home. 🙂
—Sandra, 7/4/14

In 2023, nearly ten years after that last note, I came to narrow the page and stabilize it and it's too old to brag about, so I pulled that note down to the bottom.

I'm grateful for help I've had to keep this website alive and useful—some code, in an emergency, from Pam and Michael Laricchia; a big move of the site, and MUCH coding assistance, from Vlad Gurdiga; help and assistance from Holly Dodd; sympathy and forbearance from Keith Dodd. Some pages are oddly particular, like this one, and I'm glad to have them all.