Unschooling Panel Follow-Up

On Saturday, August 18, at the 2007 HSC conference, an unschooling panel discussion was very well attended and we ran out of time long before we ran out of questions. Here is the beginning of what may eventually be lots of answers and links.

(there were links to photos here, but those sites are all gone)

Extra questions were about typical days, concerns about media, school-diagnosed learning disabilities, organizational skills (for children), helping young children with video games, "craving sructure," making things available, "having an agenda," strewing, seemingly limited interests, abstract concepts, anger in teens, cursive, bickering, transitions.

The Biographies from the conference program

Sandra Dodd
Sandra Dodd is an unschooling mother of three (ages 21, 18, and 15), a writer, a former classroom teacher, and a well-known voice in online discussions about unschooling. She has written for and/or been featured in Home Education Magazine, Life Learning, Live Free Learn Free, and other publications. She has also published Moving a Puddle, a collection of her essays.

Mary Griffith
Mary Griffith is a writer who homeschooled two daughters to adulthood. She is a former HSC board member and edited California HomeSchooler for four years. Her latest book, Viral Learning: Reflections on the Homeschooling Life, was published in August 2007. Her earlier books, The Homeschooling Handbook and The Unschooling Handbook, have together sold nearly 75,000 copies.

Pam Tellew
Pam has been unschooling her two sons since the oldest was born 13 years ago. She's finally de-schooled herself enough to get over the "I'm not a good artist" label she acquired in her early school years and has been busy making up for lost time. Pam is the County Contacts Coordinator for HSC, a cofounder of the S.F. Bay Unschoolers' Network and an avid HSC camper.
Rebecca Auerbach wasn't listed in the program, but was on a couple of panels and volunteered time at the speaker's booth, so she was prominent. On her conference badge she had written something like "Homeschooled: Ask me how I turned out." Rebecca's webpage: geocities.com/unschoolgrad/ (archived copy)
Rebecca's (then-)current bio from elsewhere:
Rebecca Auerbach was homeschooled from first grade through high school. She is now 28 and lives in California, where she is pursuing a career in land surveying with a small private company that gives her a flexible schedule to accommodate her overabundance of hobbies and social life. She has recently concluded that adult life can be a lot better than people usually let on, especially if you take an unschooler's approach to it.


Can you give an example of what a typical day or week would go like?

I put this first so people who come here before the other questions have answers will have some reading and ideas. Here's a collection of days written up by moms over the years: Typical Days

[A question for Californians:]

Can you speak to the issue of charters? We have a really cool charter that accepts "We went to Galapagos" as proof that our child is learning, and doesn't give us grief about our choice not to test. Are charters still a bad idea?

Pam Tellew:
Are charters still a bad idea? I'm a little hesitant to wander into that contested territory! I'll say this. I think families can find ways of unschooling legally within charters, even stricter ones, just as they can find ways of unschooling legally in states that require evaluations and tests. But I think it makes it harder on parents to unschool when you have to keep dealing with school structures.

We almost signed up for a charter once, thinking, "Why not? Free stuff, free classes, what's the harm?" But then it turned out not to be all that much stuff that we would have used. Few of the classes appealed. They wouldn't pay for a trip to the Galapagos after all! And the cost to us was significant: I would have had to constantly be on the alert for things my kids were doing that could be put into boxes of math, social studies, etc. Now, in some states, I'd have no choice. But in California, we can run our own private schools differently. I was trying to deschool myself and didn't want to have to divide learning up that way. My children can learn all those school subjects and more, no limits, and no undue emphasis on California Missions over German folklore or any other topic. I didn't want that school mental framework following me around in my head all the time. I think it would make learning in a natural, connected way more difficult.

If I lived in a state that required record keeping that tried to distill learning into 6 subjects, I'd do it and try to keep it to myself and not have it infect my kids. And if I stumbled upon a charter that did offer terrific befefits, I might do the same thing. But I would definitely think long and hard about whether the benefits really outweigh the costs.

On a broader level, maybe you're wondering whether charters are going to wreck things for independent homeschoolers and unschoolers? I used to worry about that. It seemed like they drew people in, especially new homeschoolers, and dazzled people with free classes and made them forget—or not even discover—unschooling ways. And curriculum and schoolish thinking tend to dominate the conversations.

I don't think the solution to that is to do away with charters, even if we could. I think the solution is to talk more about unschooling! That way people know there's that option and know they aren't alone if they choose it. I've noticed that when there's more talk about unschooling, as there was at this year's HSC Conference, more people feel supported to unschool.

Mary Griffith:

If you find a charter that suits your needs, I don't see any problem with it. I'd suggest being familiar with the rules for independent homeschooling, just so you know what you need to do if the charter school changes its rules, which often happens because of changes in administration or new rules from the state. But as long as you can live with their rules and it provides what you and your child(ren) want, I don't see any problem using a charter school.

The HSC website has had a general overview of charter schools (but it was removed sometime before 2024), and (used to have) a list of questions to ask about charter schools you're considering. archive of that list of questions

What if I find the content of the media inappropriate for my child?

Mary Griffith:
What does your child think? Are you making decisions for your child based on your own personal preferences, or is there truly something harmful in the content that concerns you?

At the workshop these questions came from, I mentioned an incident when my then-three-year-old daughter fell, and my husband, in contrast to my holding my breath waiting to see how she'd react, rushed over to her all upset and panicky, at which point she started wailing. I've seen a lot of kids react badly to scary movies because they were, in the same way, taught by worried parents, to be scared. I've seen lots of other kids react to scary movies by wondering how the moviemakers created the scary makeup or the fatal-looking fall off the cliff or any other effect.

Partly, of course, it depends on the temperament of the child—some kids are highly sensitive to some things and others seem completely impervious.

In my family, we pretty much went by the rule my mother had for me and my siblings when we were kids. She always figured that if we understood something, we were old enough for it, and if we didn't get it, we'd be bored by it and go do something else. That pretty much worked for my kids, too. Often we'd talk about content that might be iffy in some way, sometimes before we watched it or read it, sometimes during a movie or in the middle of a story, most often afterward—sometimes at great length. Those kinds of discussion were a huge part of our learning.

I can't remember a time when I told my kids they couldn't watch or read something they were interested in. I did manage to persuade them once in a while when they were little that I personally couldn't stand yet another episode of Care Bears cartoons. (Thankfully, that was a short-lived interest, as most manias for just plain *bad* stuff tend to be—unless they somehow become forbidden fruit.)

Years ago at one of the HSC conferences, David Colfax made one of my favorite David-Colfax-pronouncements: "Read odd stuff." His point was that reading widely, both good and bad stuff (by whoever's standards), is how we develop judgement and taste. And developing judgement and taste is definitely a good thing.

Pam Tellew:
I don't think we as parents can decide for our kids what's appropriate or inappropriate. What we can do is pay attention to our kids enough to really know them and have a good idea of what would work or not work for them, share our knowledge and let them make decisions.

My oldest was very sensitive about stories that had people or animals dying or being separated from their parents and I had to pre-read books and pre-screen videos for years. (I don't think you could tell this about him now at 13, although he is a tender hearted soul.) I knew this about him from knowing him so well and he counted on me to shield him from things that were too much for him to handle. He'd ask me if I had checked for sad parts, and later on, if it had sad parts, if it then had a happy ending. Sometimes I'd feel a little annoyed that we couldn't read or watch something I loved but I tried hard not to show it. He knew what he could handle and still does but now it goes the other way and I'm biting my tongue when he watches something that I might think a little "old" for him. Now I stick around and watch and talk about it with him.

My younger son is quite different and watches things that many would consider beyond his years. I agree with what many unschoolers have found: that in general kids will watch/read/play video games that they can handle and ignore the rest. I used to worry about it more and always stayed close when he watched what his older brother watched on TV, but I've become reassured that he too knows what he can handle. He tends to cover his face during any hint of romance but still enjoys the rest of the material. He often needs me nearby to explain something. Other times he doesn't notice something the first few times he sees or hears it, but sometimes later will say, "I don't get that joke," and it becomes an opportunity to talk about it.

I think a lot of parents worry about their children being frightened by fleeting images they happen to see - blood, gore, horror, war... But I think we really can't know what might frighten our kids and there's no way to fully protect them from it. One of my kids became terrified of the bathroom after seeing a very age appropriate Magic School Bus episode where the kids and Ms. Frizzle shrink and go down the toilet drain! My 65 year old neighbor told me that she used to frighten herself walking down a country lane and imagining that the horse up ahead might attack her. It's not only modern media that can frighten! It can be books, radio, conversations, things in nature. I think the important thing isn't shielding from media or any other part of the world, it's being there with your children to help them with any reactions they may have.

Sandra Dodd:
"The media" is a broad topic, and usually refers to the frontier edge of "the media." Newness is often reviled. If you look back at what was "objectionable" and forbidden, it's video games and internet now, but was TV, and comic books, and paperback novels, and radio serials, and ANY novels or secular books, and writings by authors unapproved by the church. People have been arrested and punished and had their materials confiscated for centuries. If a teacher ever took a comic book or a Gameboy away from you, you probably remember the anger and frustration.

Much of the damage schools do to kids can be reproduced by parents at home, but it's not a good idea.

How do you unschool your child if your child has a "learning disability," discovered while the child was in public school? Example: labels like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia.

Mary Griffith:
Ah, that's a classic "it depends."

Sometimes—especially with young kids—those labels are the result of trying to force kids to read or write or calculate before they have the cognitive or motor skills they need. In those cases, letting them be while they grow and develop those skills will take care of the problem.

In other cases, though, such disabilities are real problems that need to be handled, sometimes with professional help. The specifics, of course, depend on each individual case.

Lenore Hayes' s book, Homeschooling the Child with ADD (or Other Special Needs): Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the Child with Learning Differences, offers a lot of good advice. and there's a whole section with more resources on the HSC website about special needs homschooling: hsc.org/chaos/specialchallenges/ (archived copy)

How to you help a child learn organizational skills if you unschool the child?

Rebecca Auerbach:
I feel like I'm missing something obvious here... "How do you help a child learn organizational skills?" is a great question, but I can't figure out how it relates to unschooling since organizational skills aren't something you learn from a curriculum anyhow. The only connection I can find is that unschooled kids might have a bit of extra incentive and motivation to stay organized since they usually spend a lot of time working on projects they're committed to and pursuing goals that are important to *them* (instead of working on things that are more important to other people and knowing those other people will see to it that those things get done).

How do you help children learn organizational skills? Pay attention to your children's lives and show them ways in which they can benefit themselves by being more organized. Make sure you're showing them things that actually will have value in *their* lives, not just things that fit your image of what "well-organized" looks like. If they're forever having trouble finding the books they want, you could show them how to sort them by author or category... But if they always know exactly where to find every book on their higgledy-piggledy shelves, don't try to get them to waste time alphabetizing them. Don't give them so many reminders and clean up so many of their messes that they never have to suffer the consequences of being disorganized. Above all, BE organized and let them see how you do it!

Mary Griffith:

How do you organize your life?

I can't remember anything more boring from my years in schools than those couple of weeks at the beginning of every year when we were taught "study skills," which was mostly how to organize notes and assignments. Organizational skills are among the many skills best learned by seeing lots of models and picking and choosing which ideas work best for you.

I've been a relatively functional adult for over 30 years now, and I'm still learning and tweaking my own organizational habits.

Many kids have relatively uncomplicated lives that don't need much in the way of organization. As their lives get more complex, they'll discover they need ways to keep track of everything (their stuff, their time, their money, etc.) and they'll start looking for ideas to make it easier. Just Google "organizational skills" or "time management" or "getting things done" and you'll find links to tons of ideas--both good and bad.

Just don't try to push organizational skills before your kids need them--they'll learn when the need is there.

Computer games: Would you read instructions, sit and walk through playing it with them or only let them play if and when they can do it on their own? (For a four year old.)

Mary Griffith:
Of course I would help them do something they wanted to do!

If once we had done it together a few times, she'd got the hang of it and it didn't interest me much, I'd probably let her do it on her own, especially if it didn't interest me much.

BUT—and this is huge—a lot of this kind of interaction makes learning happen, and it creates the relationships we have with our kids. Even if a game bored me to tears, I'd help her with it if it was something she really wanted to do and wasn't yet able to do by herself. I might negotiate deals over how much time I'd be willing to give to it any given day, based on whatever else I needed or wanted to do, just as we might negotiate doing something together that I wanted to do. That sort of negotiation is always part of living with other people.

My daughters and I had a lot of fun playing Zoombinis together years ago. We still occasionally did it together even when they were perfectly capable of doing it on their own.

Sandra Dodd:

I would help my kids with anything they needed help with, if I had the time and patience. When I didn't do so, I wasn't being the best mom I knew I could be.

I read video game directions to them just as I read books to them or song lyrics or cereal boxes or menus. I assisted them in the world until they chose to function without me. They still do ask for help sometimes, of other sorts, because they trust me to help, so it was an unforeseen investment in the future of our relationships.

Holly played a game called Harvest Moon quite a bit before she could read. I made her some charts to help, and I would come and read, and from printouts of internet hints and details, I made her a booklet so she could decide which crops to plant, and printed out a calendar of the Harvest Moon year, because there are seasons and festivals that factor in to decisions sometimes.

I have a child who "seems" to be craving structure—acting moody and unhappy with so much free time—but hates to be "forced" (her words) to do anything. Help.

Rebecca Auerbach:
First of all, are you sure it's structure she's craving? If she's complaining that she has too much time on her hands, maybe she wants to go out more, get some new books or toys, find a new project, spend more time with her friends, go to the beach... Does she need structure, or just things to DO?

Has she even said that the free time is the reason for her moodiness and unhappiness? If you've just started unschooling, could it be that she's been unhappy about something for a long time and just never had enough free time to notice how she was feeling? Maybe she's using her free time to process some painful feelings, and she just needs the opportunity to do that. Or maybe there's some completely unrelated problem in her life that needs work. Have you asked her WHY she's unhappy?

If she really does want structure, but she doesn't want you to force it on her, maybe you could help her figure out a schedule of her OWN choosing. Tell her you'll give her as much help sticking with it as she wants. And if she ends up not wanting to stick to it, but is unhappy about that, discuss that with her plainly and honestly. Ask her what she *really* wants and why she wants it. And if she doesn't know, let your goal be to help her figure it out. If you can do that instead of just taking a guess at what she needs and imposing it on her, you'll be helping her acquire one of the most valuable life skills: the ability to identify one's problems and determine what one needs to do to be a happier person.

Mary Griffith:
At least half the answers to questions in unschooling workshops inevitably amount to "It depends."

How old is the child? Was she in school before? How long has she been out? What options does she have?

And what does this "seems" mean? Is this seeming to crave structure something you see in her behavior or something she has said? It's entirely possible—especially if she's recently out of school (or just hit puberty, for that matter)—that she simply needs to feel like her time is her own for a change, that she gets to do with it what she wants. It's not unusual for kids who come to unschooling after several years of school to need many months to adjust to having control of their own time, to accept that it's real, and to learn to explore and decide among all the options available to her. 

Read Sandra's stuff about strewing. Make sure she's got options (and maybe a little bit of help figuring out what those are)—but just a little). Trust her to say what she wants when she's ready.

Sandra Dodd:
Maybe she wants to know what's going on. We have a big kitchen calendar and we write people's plans and appointments on it. The night before, we discuss who needs to be up when (and lately, which cars need to be available when). We make sure people have what they'll need the next day. That's structure. The days are all very different, but we don't surprise people with outings or visits or guests they don't know about. Sometimes there are happy surprises, but we avoid any unhappy surprises.

If the calendar is looking too empty, we usually find some projects or outings.

Can you go into detail about the idea of making things available and having an agenda?

Grown Unschooler, could you give your input on noticing, if it was done to you?

Are we teaching anything or learning side by side or allowing them to self express?

I like the third question best!!
Those aren't your only choices. They're learning, we're learning, we're all expressing ourselves, and when life is very rich and lush, learning grows like crazy.

Is "making things available" a reference to dance and karate classes and social opportunities, or to toys and music and books and cash and games? We've tried to give our kids lots of access to people and places and things. The agenda was that they would learn and be happy.

Rebecca Auerbach:

"Having an agenda" could mean a lot of things... But I'm guessing that in this case it means "I'm making this available because I *really want* you to use it for this educational purpose that I think is important." That is to say, a person without an agenda would put a good dictionary in a convenient place because dictionaries are useful and fun and she thinks her kids might use it and/or enjoy it.

A person with an agenda would put a dictionary in a convenient place because she really wants her kids to look up more words and improve their vocabulary, and she's going to be disappointed and worried if her kids don't use it. The person without an agenda probably says, with genuine enthusiasm, "Look, I got this cool dictionary! If you ever want it, it's on the living room shelf." The person with an agenda either says, "I got us a dictionary... Now every time you run across a word you don't know, you can come to the living room and look it up!" ....or says, "Look, I got us this cool dictionary!" in a completely false tone of nonchalant enthusiasm that's meant to disguise her desperate desire for her children to start using that dictionary ASAP.

Kids can smell that kind of agenda a mile away. I sure could, and I think I was typical in that regard. I reacted to it in different ways at different times: sometimes by resenting and rebelling against it, sometimes by wanting to comply to please my parents even though it made me unhappy, and most often by some confused combination of the two. Sometimes I judged myself: "if I don't/can't do this, I'm bad/stupid." Sometimes I just focused on my parents' desires and felt that I'd be letting them down if I didn't do whatever it was and do it well.

Sometimes the things that they wanted me to do were things that I really wanted to do anyhow--that is, we had the same agenda. In that case, the outside expectation didn't matter much. When they had an agenda that didn't fit my needs, though, it was always uncomfortable, sometimes seriously upsetting, and never resulted in very much real learning.

I never articulated any of this at the time. Usually, my awareness of my mom's agendas just manifested itself in the form of my feeling that I "had to" do something even when she had only said something like, "Maybe you could..."

Fortunately, my mom saw how unproductive those maybe-you-coulds were and dropped them. She kept making things available to me, but with no agendas, so that I was free to make use of them (or not) without any sense of guilt or obligation.

"Are we teaching anything or learning side by side or allowing them to self express?" All of the above! When you know stuff that your kids want to learn, share it with them: that's teaching, though not in the school sense. When your kids want to learn something that you *don't* know, help them learn it, and you might learn a lot about it yourself in the process. If your kids want to express themselves, let them!

Can you talk about strewing?

The closest parallel might be a special library display, or a school bulletin board (for "educational" examples), but those aren't made to be picked up and played with. They're intended to grab a viewer's interest, though. With my kids I have always left interesting things out without introduction (and sometimes with discussion, too), and they come by and mess with them. Lots of learning happens that way.

Many examples are here: Strewing

Mary Griffith:
My version of strewing was often me saying, "Ooh, that's neat!" at something that interested ME. Since it was often a book or a magazine or a DVD or a craft, it was often something they could do with me or pick up later if they were interested. Books were on shelves (or stacks on my desk or next to the sofa--around somewhere), DVD's were on the DVD shelves, and magazines were usually on the dining room table (we're incorrigible dinner readers). As long as stuff's around somewhere accessible, they'll pick it up eventually IF THEY'RE INTERESTED.

How do you broaden the interests of a child if the child has limited interests and resists a wide range of learning?

Rebecca Auerbach:
I think we covered this question in person, But for good measure, I'll say it again:

Some people are generalists, and some people are specialists. This is true of children as well as adults. The world needs both kinds of people. When I shattered my elbow and found the brilliant surgeon who only works on arms and hands, I was glad he hadn't broadened his interests!
Sandra Dodd:
Sorry to send out a question we had already had presented. I don't think anyone "resists a wide range of learning," really. I think the range that some parents choose is a very, very SMALL range of learning, and it looks like school subjects.

Even from a seemingly narrow interest, someone will touch on all the rest of the world eventually. Model trains, WWII, Japan—any obsession or "limited" interest touches on geography, history, materials, technology, cause and effect, human actors, religion, engineering, art, languages, all kinds of stuff.

The best thing an unschooled child can have is a parent who realizes there is learning in everything.

As to "resist," it can only happen in response to force or pressure, right? Parents should resist pressuring their kids, I think.

Mary Griffith:
I'd let the child run with his limited interests. He'll either end up a serious specialist in that field, or he'll eventually discover his interest will lead him to others, and he will have learned HOW to learn. Either way works.

Betsy Hill:

I suggest really trying hard not to push for more "breadth". If you are doing something that starts to cause your child to "resist" then try not doing that for awhile. Work with your child's interests as much as possible, don't try to work against them. It's okay to be deeply interested in a few things, rather than shallowly interested in all "subjects".

Maybe both of you would benefit from additional deschooling? I know in my first few years, I kept hoping for my son to be interested in something that looked like a school "subject" (insects or Egypt or cooking) and his major interest was Pokemon. Even though the names of all the Pokemon characters aren't going to turn up on any standardized test 🙂, he was still learning and enjoying himself a great deal. For a long time, I failed to appreciate his interest.

How can an unschooler learn abstract concepts that are beyond the realm of experiences, such as advanced science concepts? How can you get around the need for lab equipment?

Rebecca Auerbach:
We learn things that are "beyond the realm of experiences" through books, videos, conversations with knowledgeable people, you name it...  When people say that unschoolers learn "by doing," they don't mean that we don't read just as many books as anybody!

As for lab equipment: first, those who feel the need for a full-blown lab can always take a community college class.  Second, there are loads of experiments that are possible with inexpensive materials and/or stuff you've got around the house anyhow.  Can't you mix and measure and boil stuff at home?  We call it cooking when it's edible and chemistry when it isn't!

A few years ago, I was at a party with a bunch of other grown unschoolers, and a couple of them decided to show off this really nifty chemistry trick that involved separating a flame from a candle.  Alas, I've forgotten the details (except for how cool it looked), but they did it with ordinary things they found in the host's kitchen.  I just tried asking for the details on IRC and came up short, but it did result in this exchange with a science-enthusiast unschooler I know:

Rebecca: I wish I could remember more about that fire thing.  I'm answering a bunch of questions about homeschooling, and it'd be perfect to throw in under "How can you get around the need for lab equipment?"

Bodger: "Old light bulbs make great boiling flasks."

Rebecca: Haha!

Rebecca: Is that true?

Rebecca: 'Cause I'm putting it in if it is.

Bodger: Yes, although they're kind of fiddly to prepare. Take a pair of Vise-Grips, crack open the black ceramic insulation without denting the metal screw collar, stick the handle of a rattail file down into the stem that supports the filament, crack it off with a quick snap, then clean up the opening. Wash out the white powder, and you're there.

I bet you won't learn *that* in a high school chemistry class!

Betsy Hill:

I'm struggling to recall the guy's name, but one of the men who writes about multiple intelligences has written some pages about how students mis-learn Physics principles in school and how once school ends they revert to their naive pre-conceptions. That would be an interesting resource to read or browse while grappling with this question.

I'm worried about being full-time with a teenager who gets angry and seems disrespectful at times. I feel like to communicate all I can do is empathy—she wants no "preaching."

Rebecca Auerbach:
Then give her empathy, and lots of it.

Being a teenage girl is hard and scary.  She needs you to love her and to be strong for her.  These things are much more important than anything you might be able to impart by telling her how to live.

Try to understand your daughter.  Don't write off her feelings as just, "Oh, she's just being a moody teenager"; teenagers have reasons for their moods, and the better you can understand your daughter's experience, the better your relationship will be.

The phrasing of your question makes me wonder if she has been in school until this point.  If so, school has probably taught her to mistrust and resent adults, and it may take a while for her to learn to trust you again.  Even if she hasn't been in school, she does live in a culture that fosters distance and distrust between adults and teens, and even unschoolers are affected by this.  But you'll have a much better chance of building a good relationship with her when you're just her parent and not the enforcer of the demands of a bunch of other adults at school who don't love and respect your daughter the way you do.

And speaking of which... *Do* you respect her?  Do you show it?  Are you as polite to her as you'd like her to be to you?  Do you listen to her side of things?  By "listen to her side," I don't mean agree with everything she says or allow her to do things that are dangerous and destructive—just listen, do your best to understand, and if you need to say no to something, say it in a way that doesn't sound like a put-down.  Keep in mind that many teenagers are haunted by a feeling that they aren't respected—perhaps a reasonable feeling when you're part of an age group that's usually spoken of as either an obnoxious problem or a target market for designer jeans.

Oh, and about being with her "full-time"—I assume she'll be interested in doing lots of things away from you, besides a fair amount of time she'll spend shut in her own room.  If you make sure she has opportunities to get out and do things that interest her, you'll naturally have enough time apart from each other that it won't get too claustrophobic.

Describe your children's learning progress.

My children have public schooled for six years and we're beginning homeschool this year.
Age 9
Age 11
How do you explain it without denigrating public school because have friends who are in public.

Rebecca Auerbach:
This question came up at the grown homeschoolers panel too, and I wasn't sure what to say at the time, so I'm glad to have another chance now that I've thought about it.

I've made many lifestyle choices that are different from those of many of my friends, and often I make these choices because I believe the mainstream way is unhealthy. For instance, I eat whole grains; lots of the people I hang out with like white flour and white rice. Well, I don't try to *hide* the fact that I think whole wheat bread is healthier, I just don't make an issue out of it. If it comes up, I might say something like, "Well, it's better for you, and I like the taste better anyhow"; what I *won't* do is launch into a discourse about the glory of whole grains or a rant against white flour.

In the same way, you can give a brief, mild explanation of the benefits of homeschooling, being honest but not judgmental or threatening. Why should your friends reject you for this? Would you reject *them* if they thought public school was better than homeschooling? Do they have to hide their belief in the school system from you in order to keep your friendship? I'm guessing not: all you probably need from them is acceptance and respect, so that's what you should give to them.

Mary Griffith:

Some ideas (some are more serious than others, but can be useful for heading off boring and/or defensive conversations before they really start): Of course, if you're homeschooling because of school difficulties, your reasons might still be mainly to do with what was wrong with school. Give yourself some time to discover your positive reasons in the doing of it.

My daughter was homeschooled and never got interested to learn handwriting (cursive). I feel concerned that she is missing this communication. She is now 13.

Mary Griffith:
My mom used to complain a lot that we weren't taught Latin in school like she was.

Cursive handwriting may be going the way of Latin—I can't remember the last time I had to write anything other than my signature.

Cursive is also overrated. Printing is easier to read and faster to write.

But if you're really worried about it, try strewing some calligraphy books around, something with lots of examples of the different ways people have formed letters over the centuries—writing as art. (Personally, I always liked half-uncials.)

My younger daughter decided three or four years ago that she wanted better handwriting, so she dug out a calligraphy book, found a style she liked, and practiced it for a couple of hours one afternoon. Her handwriting is now pretty good. Her older sister never bothered, and still has terrible handwriting, which she almost never needs to use. But if she ever needs it, she knows where the calligraphy books are.

Sandra Dodd:

Years ago my granny complained that I didn't know how to use a fountain pen or milk a cow. I never learned to use a slide rule, either. I did learn to type on a manual typewriter with a blank keyboard. Things change. I don't know how to send text messages, though I do finally own a cellphone. My kids all are whizzes at it.
Note from Sandra in 2024:
I can now use text messages from a phone.
Not those ratty cute little 2007 flip-phones, but an iphone.

Rebecca Auerbach:

This reminds me a bit of an experience I had, though mine came from a school-induced mental block instead of lack of interest.

I learned to print capital letters from my mom, and it was fun. I learned to print lowercase in kindergarten, and it was.... not so much fun. From then on, I didn't want anything to do with lowercase printing. Either I used cursive, or I used block printing (all uppercase).

I was about 17 or 18 when I started having a use for lowercase printing: the internet had come along, and if I wanted to write down a web address, I couldn't use all caps because sometimes capitalization made a difference. (My cursive, while decent, isn't quite neat enough to be reliable for the sometimes-random mishmash of letters that can make up a URL.) Suddenly I was annoyed by the fact that my lowercase printing still looked extremely childish because I hadn't practiced it. So I started using it. It was a little annoying, but not that hard. I got the hang of it with a bit of practice. It's still not quite as nice as my block printing and my cursive, but it's good enough.

I repeat: I was about eighteen when I learned that! It's never too late. If your daughter finds that she's "missing" something by not writing in cursive, she can learn it at *any* time. If she never wants to learn it, that will probably mean she isn't missing anything.

Is there a way to counter a child's potential desire to be "a model unschooler"?

Sandra Dodd:
Although I myself have wished my kids would be model unschoolers, I've never known a kid to try to be one, I don't think. But if I had a child being overly competitive and self conscious about anything, I would point out the cool things he could do, and say life's always in flux and different people have different talents in waxing and waning states of interest and skill, and that competition for its own sake isn't a friendly or very useful thing. That's just me...

Betsy Hill:

I think you may need to study the situation and have lowkey conversations with the child to see if you can understand the underlying emotional motivation. (Because I don't know what it is!) If you and your child are really different in what makes you "tick", then talking to someone who is "wired" more like your kid is may help you develop your insight into the situation.

If this is some leftover attitude from going to school, then reading more about deschooling and giving more time for deschooling might help.

Alfie Kohn wrote Punished By Rewards which discusses how artificial motivation can undermine sincere desire. But maybe reading that would just make you feel more worried.... I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

Do you think there is a specific person (like grandma or a neighbor) that your child is trying to impress?

Sibling bickering and name-calling—how do you help them past this in an unschooling family?

Sandra Dodd:
We developed a working system at our house, and it's documented here: SandraDodd.com/peace/fighting It developed when the boys were very young, like two and five, and has worked well ever since. (My kids are 15, 18 and 21 now. Holly and Marty got in an argument the other night, but I was already asleep and I missed it so they had no mediator. 🙂)

Can you speak about the transition from unschool to college and how you feel about the idea of unschooling all the way or can you "do college" in an unschool way?

Mary Griffith:
The question of college depends on the learner's ultimate goal. Some careers have specific degree or licensing requirements tht don't allow much flexibility. Unschoolers who are interested in those sorts of careers often start adapting their learning to those requirements in their early or mid-teens, tackling specific college-prep topics or taking community college courses.

There's nothing inherently wrong or impossible about unschooling all the way. Both of my own daughters chose some formal post-secondary education, both because of their career choices and because they wanted to try learning in more formal group settings. (Neither had ever been to school.)

Questions that were answered during the panel session, that might be might have been for sale on CD: