Something Surprising

I love stories of a parent being stunned to silence and awe by something cool an unschooled child has done. I have begun a collection.

Amber Stippy, in response to: "It is one thing for an adult with years of experience eating at the table to work/eat but a child needs to develop mindful eating practices and be aware of the timing of their meals and signals for hunger."

This has been stuck in my head for days. I used to have this mindset, until my daughter came along. I've been trying to find a way to explain the change in me over the last eight years and I've been lost for words. The best way I can describe it is through example.

Two weeks ago, I had to cancel a lunch date with my daughter. We're buying a house and the bank asked for a document. Then they asked for another and another. It took over an hour of searching, scanning, emailing, and feedback to get everything done. During this time my daughter slid me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She didn't say anything, didn't get any recognition, she just quietly put it on the desk and left.

Later I come down and apologized for missing lunch and thanked her for the sandwich. Her reply was "I know what it's like to be very hungry and not be able to stop". How does she know that? Because at two years old, she was coloring so intensely that she didn't stop and I brought her cheerios. At five she was studying leaves and couldn't take a break and I brought her apples. Now at eight, she's so into Penguin Club that she doesn't take a break and I bring her that same peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It doesn't matter if it's coloring, being outside, play video games or getting documents for a mortgage. It is all equally as important from the perspective the activity is being done from.

Has she learned mindfulness with me bringing her food? I'd say so. She was very mindful of my needs at the time. When I went into the kitchen, the peanut butter, jelly, and bread were all left out and open. She was in such a hurry to take care of me, everything else was second on her mind.

According to the statement above, I should make her mindful of the food that was about to get stale. I didn't. I cleaned it up. Why? Because one day, I'll leave the bread out and her reaction will be "oh no, the bread is about the get stale, let me take care of that". And she will. Isn't kindness the best lesson?

The photos were re-creations made at my request by Amber and her daughter—a new sandwich on one of their own plates.
They even put it by the same keyboard.

Why would they ever choose to do anything unpleasant?

Emily (emstrength3), on Always Learning, October 2014):

People wonder if unschooled kids would ever choose to do something unpleasant, that they don't particularly want to do, but that needs to be done. I have a story from today that might be encouraging to anyone wondering this.

My daughter is 8 (9 in December) and she's had a few pet sitting jobs in the past. She had one this whole last week taking care of a chicken and two cats. The cats pooped on the couch, and we saw it this morning. She was grossed out and gagging, but without hesitation asked me to help her find something to clean it up. She cleaned it up thoroughly. I don't think it crossed her mind to do otherwise, because she is very happy to have the job and to be known as being responsible enough to get these jobs.

She also offered to give her sister some of the money she earned, because her sister was her "assistant." And when I was talking to the woman at the music academy (not really an academy, just a program for kids to learn to play instruments put on by the local symphony) about a payment plan for the one time registration fee for the violin classes the girls asked for, my daughter offered to use some of her pet sitting money to pay for it.

This is the result of her never having had any chores (though she often willingly helps out), and of her having a dog who I usually clean up after without complaint. Also the result of being willing to get all the kids (four of them) dressed and out the door twice a day for the last week to drive her to this job, joyfully, often singing as we go.

A Feast!

Dominique Trussler gave me permission to share this:

Dear Sandra,

I think of you and the contributors on Always Learning most days. Either because I am noting how happy and light (light as in gentle, and bright and glowing) our daily interactions are compared to the past, or because I am navigating a difficult situation and calling on the words of wisdom I pick up along the way, reading the email list.

I hope people let you know every now and then; if I let you know every time it happened your inbox would explode! But here is just one, just so you know. This morning I brought my 8-year-old son a snack as he was busy playing on the computer, and he said "Wow! A feast! One, because it is big. And two because it has yummy things on it." And he carried on playing. And now I am smiling :-)

So, Thank you!

Here is picture of the feast (he is very tidy with his food, in case you are thinking wow hummus near a laptop!). I hope it comes through ok; I'm still getting used to a new iPad email system.

Best wishes,


From a chat on surprises like these:
Andrea: Cadi's birthday card to her brother says Thanks on the front...and inside it says "thank you for being my BFF my Best Bro my wing man. And a b.e.a.s.t.!!!! For 8 years now !!!!! Happy 8th Birthday Eben !!!!! i love you. thank you for all you have given me. Acadia"
Andrea: b.e.a.s.t. is an inside joke related to gaming somehow.
Sandra Dodd: How old is she?
Andrea: 11
Andrea: I can scan the card for you if you would like, Sandra.
Sandra Dodd: If she's willing, I'd be glad to put it on my new page. (As if I need a new page… but these things are really encouraging and exciting, so yeah… I do.)
Andrea: I can't imagine every writing anything like that for one of my sisters. I would have been laughed at and it would have become a family joke.
Andrea:I will double check with her to make sure it is okay, Sandra
Sandra Dodd: Andrea, that was true at our house, too, Humorous insults were acceptable, and very light praise, but nothing mushy, between siblings.

The "thanks" part was a commercial/purchased card; I asked.

An eight-year-old-girl effects a major purchase by a dairy farm:

AlexPolikowsky wrote:

Brian and I have been surprised by our kids many times. The latest big one happened two nights ago. Gigi (8) was sitting next to dad on the floor and looking through a cow magazine. She turns to him and say : "Look dad this bull looks interesting."

Dad picks up the magazine and it is a new bull in Australia that not only is the number one type bull in the world but has an awesome pedigree and other great numbers ( for genetics) It was a find!!!!!!

Brian called the semem guy right away and ordered some semen that apparently just arrived in the US. We had not heard of the bull and we are very excited!
Here he is:

Maybe to really get how big this is one has to know more about all the stuff you have to look for and SHE KNOWS! She knows so much it is absolutely amazing!

She discusses sires with her dad and who they are going to breed cows too. We do genetic work and we like type show cows. She can tell if the cow is high pinned if the udder is this or that. Many grown cow people cannot. It is pretty amazing. Heck I was showing dogs professionally at 13 but she is light years ahead of me!

It was a great find! We are very excited to get his semen ( $150 a unit!) to start using him on some good cows.

People who couldn't go to that chat were invited on Facebook to leave stories, and several did:
Kristin Ritsema:
Last week, I wanted to get up early (6:30 am) to see the lunar eclipse. My 11 yo daughter stayed up when I went to bed. At 6:30, I hit snooze on my alarm, and not 2 minutes later she came in and very sweetly woke me up.

She normally doesn't watch the time, and really wasn't excited about the eclipse (though she did think it was cool when she saw it), but she knew how excited I was for it and that I really didn't want to miss it (and my propensity to sleep through the alarm). She said she had watched the time so that she could make sure I woke up Plus, she drove up the road with me to watch it and chat, which was a very nice way to spend the morning

Emily Strength:
I like that my kids don't see everything as a competition. My 8 year old auditioned for a musical theater performance that she has been in for the last three years, but this year she wanted a solo part. She learned her song well, sang it well, and hoped to get a call back for the solo. And she got the call back and was excited!

I told her that the call back means maybe she will get the part, but maybe she won't. She understood that there are other kids who have been singing longer and have more experience. She understands that if it doesn't work out this year, there's always next year.

The director told me that she has planned to be at home, alone, with no plans, on the day the casting announcement comes out, so that she can deal with the onslaught of angry phone calls from people who didn't get the part they want or whose kids didn't get the part they want. I heard last year about people being angry about "favorites" depending on which dance studio kids went to. I avoided those discussions, and my kids didn't get caught up in the drama either. They just want to have fun!

Tara Joe Farrell:
The biggest surprise for me has been how much *I* learn just by the grace of their presence.

Yesterday, we had plans to bring one family of friends home with us after park day - but I was so excited, I invited two other families. Afterward, two boys (6 & 8) told me that there had been entirely too many people, and that they didn't get a chance to connect in the way they were needing, and would I please not do that next time?

Today, I rediscovered a love for trampoline that I'd buried for decades since childhood, after my 6yo inspired me to jump with him. Turns out this mama still loves to back flip!

Willow Lune:
Wisdom. The wisdom coming from these unschooled kids amazes (and surprises) me on a regular basis. The choices they make and the thoughtfulness they put into decisions. The in-depth discussions. Their take on the world. Their willingness to give feedback, knowing that their words matter. Wow—wisdom at its finest.

Clare McCaughren:
We don't require the children to do chores. This evening my 6 and 5 year olds washed up everything in the kitchen, because they wanted to, because it was fun. "We need more dirty things!" That was a nice surprise.

Hannah Megan Canavan:
The biggest joy for me has been seeing how kind and considerate my three-year-old daughter is. Conventional parenting would have a fear-based reaction to focusing so much on a child's needs, the expected outcome being a 'selfish' person, but I have found that it is completely the opposite—she is happy and her needs are met, so she endeavours to help others get to that place. She had me wait for half an hour at a farm while she comforted a 6 year old who had been forbidden an ice cream and was crying—and she couldn't understand why her mother was showing her so little concern,so she stood and hugged and talked to her for ages.

And she's never been made to tidy up, yet she asks me several times a day if she can help with anything. I've been working on saying 'yes, thank you' as my instinct is that it will be quicker to get a job done on my own, but that's not the goal. The goal is to embrace her lovely nature and show my appreciation, and make her feel loved. It's truly beautiful.

A lovely 'extra' has been realising that academics absolutely come naturally, in different ways for different kids. It's really stunned me, how much they *want* to learn. And it's something I wouldn't have believed without walking the unschooling path. (October 2014)

Tina Bragdon, October 22, 2014:
Just today I had to go to the hospital for some bloodwork and my 14 yr old, who had set an alarm and got herself up early to do computer work (is writing on a number of interactive fiction sites, wanted to organize her bookmarked websites and such) jumped up and made sure I took a granola bar and a drink with me and even made it up for me, to have with me when i had one more errand afterwards...I had been fasting almost 18 hours by this point. I was really touched! Both my kids show consideration and sweetness to others in this way and it is really neat to see.

Having unschooled all along and now looking back from the vantage point of having older kids than some posters here (girl, 14 and ds is 11) I can think of SO many things that have blown me away, for sure. Just the whole relationships thing, like the example above and like Sandra talks about so much on her site (ie-being a partner to your children, a better spouse, etc).

We attachment parented, but in terms of unschooling I at first thought if it in terms of a non coercive "natural" way of getting academics. Now, I can really see how extending the philosophy to relationships and your family atmosphere sets such an important underlying backdrop to learning, and unschooling running smoothly. I can see all that now looking in retrospect. Same thing with just growing in trust in the whole process.... I see so many homeschooling aquaintances fretting about how their kids are going to learn to read, how to "motivate" them to "do schoolwork", and everything about this seems to come from such a place of fear and stress and molding your kids into an end product.

in the

I recall having nonreaders for example, and hearing stories of kids reading on their own time without outright being taught in the ways we conventionally think of it being done. Once I started seeing that process in my own children, along with so many other aspects of their learning manifesting because they were living life (yes, even with things like reading, spelling, and such), THEN I could trust, and I saw even more cool things in their learning, which meant I could trust more...sort of like getting a whole perpetual train rolling. And I am STILL growing and loving it, even if sometimes examining my thoughts is uncomfortable! (October 2014)

Natasha Boss:
My children are still so young but they surprise me every day. My 5 year old ties knots, solves basic math problems, recognizes words on the tv and computer. My 1 1/2 year old is great at communicating even though she doesn't use many words yet.

I, at one point tried to organize school like activities for my 5 year old and she would clam up every time. She does not like lessons! Once I let go of that thinking, she has been nonstop. She loves tinkering with things. Paper clips, q-tips, cotton balls, liquid soap, tape, tooth picks. It's fun to watch what she creates with the most random odds and ends.

Being able to relax has opened my eyes to all of the learning that is happening. There's no stress covering it up with "Oh my God, what if she doesn't learn what she needs to?!" It will be exciting to watch them both blossom. (October 2014)

Cary Seston:
Emlen (almost 7) announced she wanted to text Dad. Grabbed my phone and texted a sentence complete with emoticons and space bars. She has texted a lot over the last couple of days. I just didn't know! All 3 of our kids use vocabulary regularly that shocks me! I'm surprised in happy ways every day and so grateful we unschool. (October 2014)

Lafamille Laferrière-Meloche:
My 7 year old son (at the time) was jumping and moving all the time, since he was 4 years old! He was falling and tanking everywhere and all the time, he was climbing on the walls! I searched a long time to understand and everyone was telling me about hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), his pediatrician had even noted in his file the diagnosis and she offered us to give him Ritalin, even if we never asked anything about that.

Not very long after choosing unschooling, I thought that I had to see his perspective and I asked him why he was moving so much and all the time ... He said, * because if I stop moving, I die *. I was shocked and surprised...I remembered that during my pregnancy, he did not move much and I was telling him every day;* Please move! Show me you're alive!* I was terrified that he died!

So I told him I was reassured now that he did not need to move much, I was sure he was alive and he would not die even if he remain calm. Can you believe that overnight, he calmed down and * all * symptoms have disappeared! I love unschooling!!!

Sarah Altena Hunter:
My kids (8, 5, 3) have never been taught to tie knots... and yet every time I look in the play house there is a new secure skipping-rope pulley in existence. I'm quite impressed! I think it gave my oldest some confidence as she chose lace-up shoes at the store last week, something she hasn't ever been interested in.

"I hope you don't mind"

Dylan isn't twelve anymore; Deb Lewis still writes beautifully.

Yesterday was David's birthday and we had guests. I left dishes in the sink when I went to bed. I got up early with the dogs but then went back to bed. When I got up later Dylan had done the dishes. He said " I know you really like to do the dishes mom, so I hope you don't mind, but I just felt like doing them."

Dylan is twelve.

I *know* living life joyfully makes a difference in the way our kids see us and the way they see the little things that make life better.

—Deb Lewis
photo by Janine

Jo Isaac:
Kai's self-confidence surprises me all the time. He is happy to go talk to strangers anywhere, and teenagers. On his first day signing up for soccer Kai took a ball to a teenager and asked him if he wanted to play with him and Brett (my husband). That totally floored my husband, who couldn't have imagined going up to a strange teenager when he was 7, let alone asking them to play soccer with them (the teenager did play with them, they had fun).

Ale' Xa
I'm really touched by my 3 year old's insistence on emptying his sister's potty each morning. He was never asked to do that and I don't know why he picked this task, but his determination to empty the potty then rinse it and put it back on the floor surprises me every time.

Unforeseen Benefits "Getting It" Spouses (how unschooling can help relationships)