Helen Davies, February 2014

I've just been reading a wonderful introduction by Ray Bradbury to a book of his short stories, and it really reminded me of this thread. He says that all his writing is inspired by exactly the kind of openness to new experiences that people have been discussing here. This paragraph really stood out for me:

In other words, I was not embarrassed at circuses. Some people are. Circuses are loud, vulgar, and smell in the sun. By the time many people are fourteen or fifteen, they have been divested of their loves, their ancient and intuitive tastes, one by one, until when they reach maturity there is no fun left, no zest, no gusto, no flavor. Others have criticized, and they have criticized themselves, into embarrassment. When the circus pulls in at five of a dark cold summer morn, and the calliope sounds, they do not rise and run, they turn in their sleep, and life passes by.
(Ray Bradbury)
It's so easy to imagine a parent vocally hating the circus, because the music's too loud, and the tickets are a rip-off, and the candyfloss is nothing but sugar...
—Helen Davies

Many of the elements of a good unschooling life—joy, abundance, connections, wonder—seem to be part of this personality trait called "openness to experience."

Ideas regarding how we can support our children's interests while acknowledging our own preferences, but not expressing them through strong negative words, when they don't match. 😊

Sandra Dodd:

It didn't matter much in my life (so far) that I didn't love jazz. None of my kids picked it up. If I were pressed to choose jazz, I would go with Dixieland first, then Chicago big-band stuff, and last, last only if I had to, progressive jazz. It seems to keep my heart from beating properly.

My best childhood friend was a piano prodigy. No one in our small town could teach her after she was 13 or so and her mom used to drive her 90 miles to the university for lessons, where she discovered jazz. She tried to explain it to me one day when I was 15, about how it wasn't so much about keys and chords as lines and patterns. I didn't get it.

I have a feeling of inferority about it—that and science fiction. Many of my brightest friends love jazz and science fiction, and I don't. They don't understand why not. I don't either, except there are so many other things i like so much better!

Something I liked better than anything, though is being as good a mom as I could be, and so since my kids weren't going to have teachers at school to validate their interests or to introduce them to things I "hated," I decided not to hate anything, and to leave as much of the world accessible to my kids without them feeling they were messing with something I didn't like, or asking about something I disapproved of.

When I reject something from my life, it closes doors, in my head, and in my soul. I can't make connections there anymore. I have eliminated it from active play. It's not good for unschoolers

Everyone has the freedom to be negative. Not everyone has thought of good reasons to be more positive.

Marta Pires:
I just wanted to add that I can totally relate to what you wrote about openness (or should I say about the contrary, the closing of the mind and of the soul). As I was reading this thread on facebook and kept reading and thinking about the word "hate", I could literally *feel* something closing inside, as opposed to when we were chatting about this topic last week, when I could *feel* myself opening up and feeling lighter and happier and more excited to be alive and to have so many paths I can go down with my daughter and husband! 🙂

I wonder if it has to do with personality traits or with past experiences or with a specific type of intelligence... For instance, I can see learning in everything and I can't imagine myself hating anything. Disliking, yes, but not hating. I don't remember ever being any different.

What I'm starting to realize (by what I've been reading and learning, and by my own observations of my experience), is that we can most certainly choose alternatives that can lead us to more openness (like choosing more positive words to describe how we feel about something, or genuinely trying to relax and see what our children and partners see in something they like, etc.). And that if we do it often, we can probably rewire our brains, creating new neurological paths and becoming indeed more open.

end of Marta quote

This page already had an example about the circus AND a circus monkey image (I own three of those juice glasses), when someone on the Radical Unschooling Info discussion left this phrase:
[I] would first state that my child isn't a circus monkey.
I responded:
Some kids are more monkey than their parents are. When that happens, it can be invigorating to find an adult who will converse and joke with a kid, even if it's not something the parents would have chosen.

Openness to experience is what it's called—interest and curiosity. Being willing to explore, to try new things, to open upwards and outwards.

Some people don't have that, and some people do. Some people have a little. Some have LOTS, and if a child who has lots of openness to experience has parents who are less so, he might be sometimes desperate for some other-people exchanges.

So don't assume that just because a parent thinks things are irritating or boring or oppressive or schoolish that a young unschooled child will have ANY of those same "sensibilities" (prejudices and resentments) that the parent has.

Parents who either don't have a natural dose of "openness to experience" (it's inherited—it's a genetic trait just as curly hair or long toes are) should try to either find as much as they have, or learn to appreciate it in others. Parents who had it as a kid and had it dulled down and discouraged to the point that as adults they feel embarrassed or ashamed if they're feeling a desire to get excited about a My Little Pony or a poop joke or a flower they've never seen—that should be the first aim in deschooling: recover that joyous curiosity. Restore your wonder.

From a chat in July 2011 called "What is Unschooling?":

Sandra Dodd:
For years people have been saying "anyone can unschool," but I don't think it's as true as I once thought it might be.

I assumed (as others do, I think) that lack of energy and creativity were all damage done to an otherwise "normal" (ideal) psyche/personality.

But researchers are finding that it seems some people are born super curious, and others pretty passive!

So in 100 years, people might be able to have a blood test early in life and know whether they need a curriculum or just to hang out and play video games and play with the dog. (I'M JOKING, mostly. They won't have the same kind of video games in 100 years.)

Note in 2022:

It would be an MRI of the brain, rather than a bloodtest. More info below Alex's comment, below.

From a discussion at Radical Unschooling Info in December 2014: Sandra Dodd:
Alex [Polikowsky] wrote: "I can get excited by little things!!! My mom and dad are like that. I am like that!"

It's genetic. A "heritable trait" (something someone can be born with, because their parents had it, like hair texture or eye color). "Openness to Experience," they call it.

Those who have lots of it, and whose kids have lots, will find unschooling richer and easier.

But some who are born with that have it extinguished by school or negativity of one sort or another. So sometimes it can be re-ignited, which is what deschooling is about for lots of people. And those who don't have much of it should fake it—schedule things, make lists of things to do and explore.

Openness to Experience, at Wikipedia

If there's a family with none of it, if neither parent gives a rat's ass about racoons or armadillos or kangaroos, and the kids can't be bothered to get up to look out the window at a hot-air balloon or the northern lights, they should NOT be unschoolers.

2022 update continued:

A researcher in South Korea can look at brain scans and tell whether a person is good at connections, and enjoys curiosity. I don't suppose he's the only one, but I watched a program where he did that, and his readings were accurate.

A tendency toward fearfulness showed on one scan, and that participant was famously known to be quickly and easily frightened, even though he's an MMA fighter.

It was Jeong Jae-seung, Professor of Bio and Brain Engineering, KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), on "Master in the House," a Korean TV show. It was so interesting that they made three programs of it, rather than one or two. That was the first time in over 200 episodes (over 125 masters/guest-teachers) that they went over two hours.

Jenny Cyphers, to someone being controlling of food, but her response is not about food itself:

It's very easy to control food when you have a home of young children. Most young children aren't going to question the choices you make regarding food, they will eat what they like of what you've offered. The really big challenge is when kids start asking for other things and how you choose to respond to those things.

This is a biggie and it applies to EVERYthing, not just food. Are you going to be a mom that reacts big and opinionated to these questions and inquiries and curiosities? Or are you going to be a mom who helps her kids explore their questions and inquiries and curiosities? This is the very basis in which parents build the foundation of unschooling, if that is indeed the goal.

In each moment of questioning, or inquiry, or curiosity, you get to choose how you respond. You can respond in such a way that a child's question, their learning, is honored, with kindness and lightness and joy, or you can shut that down with your own opinions and ideas. The more a parent can honor a child's curiosity, the more that child will genuinely listen to their parents ideas about the world. It's the only way that I've seen that kids really truly are influenced by their parents. All other attempts are seen and felt as control, manipulation, coercion, unless of course you have a child that is VERY easy going. But trust me, there will come a time when even that child will challenge you, and the more easy going you've been about their ideas from the beginning, the more influence you will have when that time comes.

If hot dogs are a "thing" that's caused upset between you and your child, it might seem like no big thing now, but how you've handled that will set the tone for the next "thing" and the next one and the next one. Each of those interactions, the child is growing and learning how your relationship works.

Other people have said this before, but it is worth repeating. Emotional health and emotional well being are as equally important, if not more so, as physical health (from food, etc.).

My kids have different ideas than I do about lots of things and that's okay. I can share my ideas and sometimes I'm absolutely sure I'm right and sometimes my kids have astounded me with their own convictions of things they have found to be true for them. It has been one of the coolest and mind expanding aspect of unschooling. Sometimes absolutes are the worst thing ever, to eat humbly.
Jenny Cyphers
June 17, 2014

Half Empty (with a true tale of someone closed off)

Wonder (unfolding in awe)

Creating an Unschooling Nest

Chat transcript, on the topic of "Openness to Experience" from February 19, 2014