Follow-Up on the London Unschooling Conference
(the one at "the Music Room" in 2009)

Unschoolers are not sitting in the back corner of the homeschooling world doing nothing. We're doing something direct and profound.


If you were at the London conference and you have a question you didn't write down,...
mail your question here
Ah... let's call it done, please (← written in 2020)

Notes and questions:

questions left on 3x5 cards that I didn't have time to answer, but I left a link for people to check later

Until recently, I have not had many restrictions about food and my son has pretty much eaten what and when he has wanted. However he is starting to get overweight and I feel that it is my responsibility and my fault if this continues. As a result I am beginning to restrict certain things—like the amount of ice cream I'll buy when we are out or what I'll buy for snacks. I feel that I don't want to restrict but neither do I want him to become obese and unhealthy. The 'banqueting table' has been open to him as he does not seem to have regulated his diet to what he actually needs.

I notice "not many restrictions" and "pretty much." Without knowing more about it, I would suggest that ANY restrictions cause desire for more. If there were any restrictions, maybe go back to that point and undo that.

Perhaps it was just a figure of speech, and there never were restrictions.

Either way, this article which is on the surface about TV will help. It's by Pam Sorooshian, who's an economics professor and an unschooling mom:

This might help too: SandraDodd.com/monkeyplatters/, but go with the text more than the photos. There was a photo contest, and some of them had more sweets on there, which I never did, really, not counting maraschino cherries or pineapple. It seems minor, but please read on through the comments to see what some families' discoveries and outcomes were.

Other ideas:Research on Children's Eating Habits
Longterm Effects of Food Controls (or the lack of controls)
How it Balances Out

Eye contact—many reasons for lack of it, but as parents we may have to encourage buggy manufacturers to design them with the baby facing the mother, at least up to the first year.
This was a comment more than a question, but it's a good point. Part of the way babies learn has to do with eye contact. Many mothers involved in "alternative methods" use slings instead of strollers or buggies, or tend to carry the babies on their hips and carry their other things in the stroller.

Every person we mention unschooling to for our child seems most concerned with his social growth, i.e. how will he learn how to be with other people without going to school. What is your response to this and what reply would you recommend to this?
It might be useful to ask conversationally, "What do you mean?" It's very likely they don't know what they mean. It's a question asked out of very vague fear. If they have an answer, say "Can you give me an example?" It probably won't take much to lead them to see that they haven't really thought much about the topic.

Some home educating families feel that they're on trial, or at least being tested. If someone asks you something like "What about his social growth?" it's not an oral exam. You're not required to recite. You could say "We're not worried about it" and smile, until you develop particular stories about your own child. It's easier as your children get older and you're sharing what you *know* rather than what you've read or heard.

These might help, depending on the way the questions are coming along.

At school I enjoyed taking part in a wide variety of sport. Physical activity like sport and dancing seem easier to access at school. How physical are your kids? How can unschooled kids get access to team sports and physical upbringing?
My first question is what the parents are doing for sport, dance and physical activity. Is it seen within the family as something schoolkids do, rather than part of the regular world?

I myself am not athletic, but my husband has been involved in historical-recreation combat for over thirty years, and both our sons have done that. The second one still does, at least twice a week. Our oldest studied karate and taught for a while. Our daughter skateboards a fair amount recently. All have been involved in one or more of rollerblading, ice skating, bicycles, scooters, and informal team sports with friends.

Some families hike or ski or snowboard, ride horses, sail, garden, build things... Not all exercise and physical activity are school-style team sports. If the principle is knowing more about their strength and their bodies and having opportunities to use them. Do you have a tree swing or do you take your children to a public playground? Do they have access to shovels and a place (and maybe a real reason) to dig? Do you gather, cut or carry firewood? I don't recommend making them do that, but if the parents do that the children might want to help.

If the parents do none of those things, why should the children? If the parents used to but don't anymore, perhaps they could find ways to add more physical activity back into their lives?

I worry that if our child does not go to school that he will be vulnerable to bullying when interacting with school kids at activity clubs like soccer or scouts. Was this an issue for you? How did you deal?
School kids are vulnerable to bullying both at activity clubs and at school. The idea that practice with being bullied helps people to avoid bullying doesn't seem true. Do abused women stand up to abusers better than women who have not been abused?

With my kids, their tolerance for nonsense from other children was very low, and because they never had to be in a class or club, but it was always their option to leave, it made a huge difference. They knew they could stay if they wanted, or go home if they would rather.

Much of bullying happens because humans need a hierarchy to interact. They don't behave well in "equal" groups of equally inexperienced people their own age. First, they need to learn from older and more experienced people. And if they have no leaders or experts in the group, then bullying and gangs can develop, because people seem to have a need to know their "rank" in a group.

I think bullying is a natural side effect of people feeling powerless, and of not being in the regular world where people do have different ages and different levels of experience in a situation.

Is it fair to say that unschooled children become their own unschooling parents? i.e. do they adopt strengths/"weaknesses," likes and dislikes? One wonders to what extent the whole child's being is already pre-determined, although I personally expect to grow myself throughout my child's future. The question to Sophia about bookworm environment vs. the outdoors learn by doing environment caused me to consider the physical environment also as a predeterminant. Do you agree this is also a factor?
If I agree, would I be saying that one is better than the other? I agree that factors are factors. 🙂

Ideally, each child will have opportunities to be outside and to be around books over the course of his youth, and each parent will notice and care about which children seem to need more time outside, or more privacy, or more picture books, or more graphic novels, more music, more movies, more art supplies. Maybe one child needs art supplies and the outdoors together. Maybe one wants art supplies indoors.

It's unlikely that one child will want ONLY the outdoors or the indoors.

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences touches on the outdoors in part, in "Nature Intelligence," but that same intelligence is involved in categorizing and identifying anything: heraldry, coins, flags, automobiles, architectural details. But also trees, animals, cloud patterns. Maybe one child will only like one of those and be excellent at it. Maybe he'll know all the Pokemon. Maybe one will know all the worms and bugs. That doesn't mean he needs to study biology. It means he might be interested in being where more and different worms and bugs might be.

I'm not sure about this: "Is it fair to say that unschooled children become their own unschooling parents? " Does it mean does each child make different choices at different times for his own reasons? If he's lucky, he does. If he's lucky, his parents will help make sure he has lots of choices, and room to explore and change and find and abandon and rekindle interests.

If I did understand, these might help:



(They might help even if I didn't understand the question well.)

How do you deal with the sense of social isolation from peers that can result from being raised differently? My teens feel so different to their peers and they find it hard to relate to them. Result is a sense of loneliness/feeing "weird" in social contacts with peers. This has been very hard for us.

My teens also tend to be more mature than is expected for their age. They find themselves frustrated by what they are not allowed to do here in the UK (e.g. work) because they are under 16. How do I help them deal with this?

My children had some friends from La Leche League days, other families I had known since Kirby was born, and that helped. A few of those are still part of their lives. As to "peers," they were usually in mixed-age activities, or with slightly older people, and so the maturity and difference didn't show so much. We usually avoided activities divided by age. Holly was in girl scouts for a while. She couldn't read yet, but she understood what was going on better because she wasn't depending on reading at all. But that wasn't as good as activities that involved a range of ages, for her.

When a family says unschooling is hard on a child, or that things aren't going well for a child, sometimes it helps to compare the child's happiness and peace to what it would be if he were in school. If school would honestly be better for that person, school is still there. But most often the parent and child have no interest in school, they're just comparing their life to an imagined ideal rather than seeing it for what it is.

Maybe the family could do more things together, maybe invite a friend, and be out and about once in a while, learning and being and building those relationships between parents and children and siblings. When the child or teen has more confidence and more to talk about and more skills it's easier for them to be conversant with people of different ages, too.

My son does karate. He enjoys it once he gets there, but it is an effort to get him there as he feels it encroaches on his time doing other things. He is good at karate too.

So what should I do? Let him quit or "make" him go as I know he likes it once he gets there.

I had that with my son. Sometimes he didn't want to go. Sometimes I reminded him he had a commitment and to go one more time and maybe talk to the sensei about taking a break. But when he was there he loved it and wouldn't want to drop out. Then at home again he was reluctant.

I've felt that way with jobs, sometimes. Liked it when I was there, but dreaded going.

What about taking a month off, in scheduled way? Not quitting, but taking August off, or September? Then if he seems REALLY happy not to be going you could extend the break, possibly?

Not knowing the school or the particular person, I'm just theoretically suggesting there are some options between quitting and being made to go. Persuasion and pep talk and praise maybe, though that's good for some kids and just irritating to others. And it depends on the subtlety of the parent doing the "rah rah" encouragement. Some do it better than others. :-)

I am a single mum with a (nearly) five year old son. Prior to his birth I was a writer but although I can really see the benefits of unschooling for him, I am finding it really hard to carve out writing time for myself. It is not something I can do "alongside" him. Do you have any practical ideas? Thank you.
"Practical" and not philosophical ideas? Recording your ideas onto phone memos or into a recording device? Those take longer to listen to than to just write sometimes, though. A notebook in your pocket for ideas? And then when your son's sleeping or playing, you could quickly get those ideas or phrases into a good place.

Two computers on the same desk or in the same room might be useful. If your son can play games next to you while you write and you're available to help him, you might be able to write. Or maybe bring other things he can do right next to you in while you're writing.

If you can afford to have a mother's helper, an older child to come and play with him, get him a drink, help him with shoes or jackets and those little things while you're still there you could get some extended writing time.

The mother of a four year old can't do as much as a childless mother; that can't be avoided. Every year he'll need less direct attention. The more you give him now, though, the less he'll probably need later. There's a graph here that's a bit of humor, but also entirely true. SandraDodd.com/howto/

If television and computer games are unlimited, do you go by video/computer game certificates to limit sex/violence the children see or do you have no limits to what is watched/played?
"No limits" is a strawman. Everything has limits. I think you're asking about arbitrary limits.

"Unlimited" television and computer games seems to also be a loaded way to ask about it.

With my children I would try to say yes more. If Kirby was watching the same Ninja Turtles episode yet again, when he was little, wasn't going to hurt anything or anyone, we let him. If we needed to go somewhere or his dad needed to sleep, we'd talk him out of it, or find something else he would also enjoy that was quiet, or portable (could be taken with us in the car).

"Unlimited" didn't mean we owned every program. We had what we had, what we had recorded or what had come from Burger King promotions or thrift stores.

I didn't go by movie ratings/age certificates, but I knew my child and knew what might be too scary for him or too violent for him. Some kids don't like snakes, or are too affected by sad animals, or flying monkeys with hats (The Wizard of Oz). Some are fine with that.

If my husband or I wanted to watch something with more sex or violence than we wanted to share with our children, we'd watch it later at night, or in our own room.

Now my kids are older, and they advise me whether they think I would like a certain movie or not. They know what kind of humor I like and what kind just bugs me. They know I don't like fist fights or distraught mothers, so if they come back from a movie they say "I don't think you'd like this," or "You should wait for the DVD, and I'll watch it with you." Nice, huh? I think they learned it from me and Keith doing that for them all their lives.

Thinking about Violence

Joyce Fetteroll on Logic and Parenting

Does TV cause violence?

Toy Guns

More on Schuyler's presentation and mine

Text of Schuyler's Presentation

The Wonderful World of Television

More of Schuyler's ideas and reflections.

An expansion on something I said:

When I talked about letting trees grow as they naturally grow, rather than pruning and trimming and "controlling," I meant to say something about children growing from the seed of the tree they are, as it were. An apple seed grows an apple tree. No person ever born knows more about how an apple tree should naturally grow than that apple seed, if it's left to grow naturally.

I'm old enough now that I've grown trees from transplanted saplings, and from seeds I planted myself. I cannot predict or control or affect what kind of tree it will become. What I can do is make sure it's watered and protected from damage by animals, foot traffic, and lawn mowers. If it has what it needs, it will grow as it should.

If a child has what he needs, he will grow as he should. I know how to mess a kid up, and have chosen to try not to do those things. I'm trying to let them grow as they should.

So that's what I wish I had said.

Links were updated in 2012

Daily Inspiration for Unschoolers Just Add Light and Stir

Help for New Unschoolers

Sandra's Speaking schedule and notes