"My family learns in peace and joy."

(affirmation by Leslie, in South Carolina, for her family when they started unschooling)

"Mindful Parenting" - Ren Allen with Sandra Dodd

This is a companion piece to the presentation Ren and Sandra have prepared. It’s not the same information as the talk (there's a sound file below).

Ren began:


I posed a question at UnschoolingBasics recently, about how unschooling has affected personal or family healing, a topic I'm very interested in. I asked the following:

"What significant healing (if any) has your family found after adopting an unschooling lifestyle? How has it affected your relationships with immediate family or others? Has it increased your feelings of confidence in yourself and the ability to learn or do new things at any time?"
The responses confirmed what I already believed—that unschooling facilitates a profound and deep healing process in many individuals and families. One of the common threads, and most discussed topics, was personal confidence. So many people wrote to tell me that through unschooling their own children, they were able to “re-parent" themselves. They found that giving their children permission automatically spilled over into giving themselves more freedom! From a mother that got a horse for her children (through sheer creative will power) to a family that continued celebrating Valentine’s day long after it was over, I am hearing story after story of newfound freedom and joy....a sure-fire recipe for healing that inner child that may have been told "no" far too often.

I have to admit (though a bit sheepishly) that I can't help but feel like I'm waving my fingers, sticking out my tongue and saying "nanner-nanner" to my parents sometimes, when we do crazy things I wasn't allowed to do.

Unschooling seems to be a salve for those who choose to accept the paradigm shift. I've heard you say many times Sandra, that we can have the childhood of our dreams, by giving it to our children. I have found that to be absolutely true for myself, and I hear it from others. What are some of the common threads woven through this whole aspect of healing that you've heard from other people?

end Ren; begin Sandra

Often people have been resistant about the idea that unschooling involves anything more than just letting their kids play. They don't like to think it involves changing themselves.

Gradually, freedom for the children creates a new looseness in the parents, though. And as one increases, the other does too. When a parent hits a hard spot, where they feel jealousy and resentment, it's often a sign that there's a painful childhood memory that hasn't been laid out to dry yet.

When we're tempted to say "no," and we have that little internal conversation about "Why not?" that can be healing. When I'm there, I think of my mom saying no, and then I picture her having been open enough to say yes more, and I picture my childhood self having a thrill of freedom and approval. There was some freedom, and some approval, but I can imagine up a lot more of it, and shower it on my children.

Sometimes I picture my granny telling my imagined young-girl mom "Yes" a lot too, and I think maybe if my mom had had more freedom she would have more to spread around. And I hope my children will not have to think so hard when they say yes to their children.

Others have mentioned feeling lighter and less bound by "have to." It doesn't seem to matter whether they start with "educational" issues or general parenting issues, it all builds together. All the relationships get better.

end Sandra; begin Ren

I'm glad you mentioned the "why not" phrase. I use it in dealing with my children and my life so often, in order to keep myself from responding automatically, without thought. Once I started questioning those "have-to's", "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" it was like a dam bursting open.

"Why not" has helped me loose many constraints learned in childhood.

When my children ask me to light sparklers up at midnight, my auto-pilot mode says "That's not something we do this late at night!" but that lovely little "why not" goes gently swirling through my mind, growing louder as I pause. Why not indeed?

I want to share with you a few of the responses I got from folks at unschoolingbasics. They were so inspirational:

Nancy in BC (talking about her son) says:
Letting go of the need to judge what he was doing in a day as worthy or not worthy was also very healing, seeing the value in whatever he does, in every minute of every day, has made all the people in this house so relaxed and happy..... ...I think the respectful nature of unschooling now shows in our family and in the way we treat each other and the way my children are in the world. They are empathetic and thoughtful, creative and confident. It has been very life changing for all of us and has allowed me to sort of re-parent the child in me that was not raised this way.
Tracy talks about leaving her Christmas tree up after the holiday:
...we still have our decorated Christmas tree up and lit. My children think it is so pretty and they gaze at it and see the beauty in it daily, even after being up for 2.5 months now. Why not? It's being enjoyed and it's still bringing joy. They told me they don't ever want me to take it down and I told them we could leave it up as long as they wanted! I cannot imagine even bothering to ask my Mom to leave our tree up. I'd have been laughed at and belittled for thinking such a 'dumb' thing. 'Everybody KNOWS you *have* to take it down.' I'm so glad that I can give this gift to my children~~and to me too.
Angela wrote:
"In learning to be my children's best advocate, I have also learned to be a better advocate for myself."
Angela was the one who helped her children acquire a horse, At first she couldn't figure out how to make their dream a reality, but through creative thinking, they are now happy horse owners. I think her story touched a chord in me, because a horse was one of my own dreams. I wrote back to her, "I love that story. I think it beautifully illustrates how unschoolers see possibility rather than dead-ends. How unschoolers challenge themselves to find creative solutions, rather than just accepting "reality" according to society. I remember being told all the reasons we couldn't have a horse when I was a child. There was never any discussion about how we could make it happen, or exploration of ideas. Just ‘No, we can't.’ I think that has been another amazingly healing thing for me, to see obstacles as challenges, not a reason to give up my dreams."

My friend LeaAnn confided in me about a business plan I thought was brilliant. We talked about the way unschooling has helped us re-gain confidence in ourselves and in our own unique way of doing things. She is baffled that it took her until the age of 45 years to learn to trust herself again!

John Holt said: "To trust children, we must first trust ourselves...most of us were taught as children that we can not be trusted."

They go hand in hand for many of us. Taking that leap into trusting them was the act that lead to trusting myself.

end Ren; begin Sandra

That's a good point. If we've been conditioned to believe that children are unworthy and inferior but we consciously step away from that place and see the wholeness in our children, then one of the easiest things to see is the lack of wholeness in ourselves. It can be frightening.

When we see the level of thoughtfulness and competence a small child can have when he hasn’t been belittled or discouraged or shushed, we can start to think that if we undo the discouraging, belittling and shushing voices inside of us, we might regenerate our own native thoughtfulness and competence.

In La Leche League days, when I had one baby Kirby, I tried to consciously slow myself down and go at his speed when we went on walks, or when he examined something he had never seen. It wasn't easy. I kept working at it and was more patient when Marty and Holly came along. It was good practice for unschooling; I didn't know it at the time, though.

Some people have expressed surprise at their own newfound love of learning. At first they learn along with their children, and then they move on to discovering things they think their children will love, and then they come to a phase in which they're more excited about learning and might not even think to share it with the kids, because the kids are making their own discoveries. Sometimes an adult who had learned not to learn, or had grown up to be self-conscious about enthusiasm and curiosity, rediscovers the joy of discovery.

end Sandra; begin Ren

I wonder about the process of re-discovering the joy of discovery. We talk about deschooling a lot at the lists, and how it usually takes about a month per year of school for healing. I know a lot of adults who seem to have lost all curiosity, so for some, the damage seems to be permanent.

For those of us who choose to dig deeper, to shift our thinking about learning and the joy of discovery, I wonder if some of us need more time than a month per year. After all, most of us spent 13 years in school at the very least, but I don't know very many people that heal those wounds in 13 months. I think I needed a year of healing for each year of school!

A website about homeschooling says "Children who have attended school frequently require a considerable amount of time to recover their innate curiosity and desire to learn." Innate curiosity, innate creativity, innate desire to learn....all so apparent in the early years. One poster at unschooling.com talked poignantly about her soul being a tormented, bound, and misshapen thing. She likened it to Chinese foot binding. To think of a soul being bound, restrained or held to some form that doesn't fit is so sad to me.

One definition of "heal" in the dictionary is "To become whole and sound; return to health." What a gift we can give our children if we can just allow them to maintain their wholeness in the first place, allow their spirits to take their own form without all the constraints that traditional parenting and schooling place upon a human being.

To be whole, to be sound, balanced, joyful, curious...these are the things I wish for my children. The focus on academic topics and grades seem so irrelevant when contrasted to the really important tools for this life's journey.

Plato said: "The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things."

While I agree wholeheartedly, I think he should have said "The most effective kind of education is that PEOPLE should play amongst lovely things." Learning is for always. Playing amongst lovely things has the power to heal lives, heal families and liberate people. That's really what unschooling is in a nutshell—playing with lovely things, ideas, people and places. We say "living is learning" but "playing is learning" too.

end Ren; begin Sandra

I've been unschooling for... (counting) ...this is the fifteenth year, and I've not entirely recovered. I was in school (counting college and the time I was teaching) for 22 years.

Some people think of play as frolicking, or as make-believe, but it can be a pervasive mood and include the way people bring groceries in, and watch movies, and sort laundry and sing in the shower. A light and playful attitude changes everything.

You and Plato are pretty smart, Ren.

end Sandra; begin Ren

Thanks. Though not on Plato's level, I DO feel like I'm an intelligent person these days. School convinced me otherwise though, and it's only in the last few years I can even accept a compliment like that!

I had a few cool mentors to enlighten me as I tread this unschooling path, I owe a lot of thanks to you of course. Here's something Luz Shosie wrote, I keep re-reading it tonight as we talk:

We were all born with a drive to learn that is more compelling than almost any other instinct. If we step back from the power struggles we can be allies with our children in learning, solving problems and creating what John Holt called ‘a life worth living and work worth doing.’ Unschooling is deprogramming, healing, regenerating. It is remembering to relax and trust our own and our children's innate ability to choose ideas and activities that promote lifelong learning and growth.
I love the ring of truth, it sounds so clear and enchanting to my spirit. Thank you for being one of those voices that spoke truth to me, even when it was uncomfortable. I've enjoyed our banter tonight and as usual, it's proven to be thought provoking.


Thanks to Kelly Lovejoy for permission to upload this, and to Marty Dodd for doing the technical this'n'that.

The file lives here; you can lift it to your own computer if you'd rather.


NOTE: I said "adopted" but my parents were legal guardians; my cousins' last name stayed the same as it was, but they did live with us from the time they came until after I left for college. —Sandra

Lots More

Ren Allen

Mindful Parenting and unschooling (Joyce clarifying, mostly)

Mindfulness (directory page)

Parenting Peacefully