I have a fourteen year old daughter who doesn't want to go to sleep without giving me a hug, who will reach out and take my hand in parking lots or stores.  I didn't expect that.  I have a seventeen year old son who will say 'I love you, mom' spontaneously.  I didn't expect that. —Sandra Dodd, 2005

Unforeseen Benefits of Unschooling

If unschooling makes us hopeful, problem-solving people, what an unexpected bonus!
(I wrote it, but Marta Pires saved it and showed me, or it would have just gone by.)


This one needs background. Holly Dodd had put up a Just Add Light and Stir post that she liked, on a little-used page for such re-posts, on facebook. Janine, whose family had recently moved from London (West Molesey) to a place in the country (near Rotherfield, East Sussex), responded (quoted below)

First, the post:

Laughing and smiling

Most of the best things that have happened, I didn’t foresee. I just can’t bring myself to think that a day spent laughing and smiling and doing things that are enjoyable is bad.

photo by Sandra Dodd

Janine wrote, in February 2017

Sandra, I know you sent an email recently thanking all us 'Just add light' readers for photos and quotes and things, and you sent apologies too - for missing the odd post here and there. Well, I want to say thank you to you! These daily posts (almost 😉) are an inspiration of such value that they are truly priceless. This quote above made my heart sing! Most of the things that have happened I didn't foresee! And they continue to happen and surprise me every day! To name just a few: spirituality, healing, realisations and awakenings, and most of all, a closeness and deep connection with my boys (and partner) that warms my heart and fills it till it's fit to burst! We spend every day laughing and smiling, most days side splitting laughter over a shared joke or something.

On the day this quote was posted; we spent part of the day enjoying some rare February sun in our new garden. swinging in hammocks, searching for just sprouting daffodils, Sam attempting to polevault with a large stick - with hilarious results, Kes making things out of sticks and playing with his cat Fudgy. All the while laughing chatting and smiling. I sat there on a tree stump basking in the warmth of the sun and in the warmth of the laughter and fun and pure joy we were all feeling and thought I can't bring myself to think any of this is bad either! How could it be!? At 9 & 14 years old my mind does wander sometimes to what their days could be like if different choices had been made....and I know some of that would be bad...

We ended that day all taking it in turns to colour in a huge comic like map of London that the boys were given at Xmas. Sam is particularly enjoying doing it, and taking such care and pride in his work. A 14 year old, very mature boy enjoying colouring in, looking up each monument or building and landmark to get the colours right, or if famous people - to get their clothes right.

I didn't foresee this, how could I? when before unschooling we are led to believe such contrary expectations around teens, (expectations that can still sometimes be hard to shake off...) and it made me so happy to see my boy so happily and unconsciously colouring in. ☺️

Thank you Sandra, and to all who write and quote and share lovely photos, they are all priceless inspiration, and they go such a long way to helping a late starter like me to shake off those old expectations that can still randomly pop into my head...THANK YOU! ❤️ Xx

Jenny Cyphers, August 2014:

The big upside of unschooling, in my opinion, was that it also created an unexpected peacefulness, fulfillment, and happiness for all of us.

Karen James, June 2022:

Ethan is 19 now. He started college classes last Fall. Right now, he's taking math classes. He loves them.

Everyone keeps asking him if he can drive yet. He hasn't been that interested in it. This summer he wanted to take a precalculus class. It's intensive—four nights a week for three hours. I offered to drive him and pick him up. He could have taken the bus, but I don't mind. These days I'll take whatever time I can have with him.

On the way home last night, after his first class, he casually said, "I should probably get my license." I smiled and nodded. Then, smiling, he said, "But we get to spend four days a week, driving back and forth together." He said it like it was going to be a treat for him too.

The one thing I've found, after all of these years of patiently supporting and encouraging Ethan at his own pace, is that in doing so, we've grown to really like each other. I know him well because I haven't tried to make him any other person. He's come to know me well, because in making enough room for him to be him, he can more easily see and appreciate me.

He isn't so preoccupied with asserting himself that he loses the opportunity to get to know others. That's really cool, and, for me, an unexpected perk.

Karen James

From a discussion in Radical Unschooling Info, July 2013, on facebook:

Colleen Prieto:
My 10 year old has about $75 saved up from the weekly spending money we give him. A couple days ago, he told me he didn't want an allowance for a while, because there's nothing in particular he's saving up for. He said "I don't need to keep getting money just to have more - if there's something I want, then you can buy it for me, or you can allowance me again til I have enough."

My husband looked at him, looked at me, smiled, and said "This is another one of those side-effects of unschooling isn't it? He has enough, and he's happy. He's just HAPPY."

I said I think so, yes. A pretty cool side-effect of unschooling - knowing when you've had enough (food, cake, money, candy, TV, or anything else). And being happy. 🙂


Janet wrote:
I wanted to comment on something, and I’m sure others have noticed this and it’s probably been mentioned many times but anyway: All the side benefits from unschooling besides having healthy relationships with happy children. The one thing that I can single out that has most helped my marriage is unschooling. After I started treating my children nicer, more respectfully and gentler, it just sort of spilled over into my marriage. What a difference it can make. And then it just spills over into friendships and family at large. And now I notice my husband being more respectful and kinder. He wasn’t raised in a respectful home. His mother never treated any of her children with respect. But my husband is starting to get it. Not from me telling him or yakking in his ear about it but by just letting it spill over into his life.

Unschooling seems to develop a life of its own and grows. It started with me letting the seeds of respectful parenting grow inside of me and now it just seems to be taking over. Slowly. There are days that I think I lost it, but they don’t happen so often or we get back on track way quicker. And then sometimes it seems as though good things just happen all around us. It’s really amazing.

So we start unschooling for the sake of our children and it ends up making all parts of our lives better. I think it’s great marriage therapy!

(The blog is gone, so I'm glad she let me save this part!)

Robin in Massachusetts:
The changes we've made (resulting from what we've learned on this list and other unschooling groups) have made our lives better, brought us closer together and we are all much happier. Deeply happy.

The things I've learned from this list over the past few days about spouses and being a team rather than me and the kids against hubby are forcing more changes for the better. I am being nicer to the spouse as of yesterday although I haven't told him. I am looking at him differently already and really took to heart the parts of several posts that helped me realize (in 2 days of reading) that he will not ever be the person I want to mold him into. He is the perfect man I married with all his flaws and I am actively trying to change my actions towards him and be the wonderful, loving person he married rather than the nag I've become because he isn't meeting my needs. I am helping meet his needs more and I feel better about our marriage already. Two short days of reading...a crash course.

Sandra, Joyce, Pam and other wise posters here, my family thanks you for spending so much time helping us. My kids thank you especially and my husband. Thanks for helping me see the light in our marriage where darkness had been.

Robin in Cape Cod, MA

It feels so good to help my children follow their dreams. I learned to stand up for myself by standing up for my children. I learned to follow my own dreams by helping my children to follow theirs. Sometimes the things that you think stand between you and your dreams aren't as hard to vault over as you think they might be. Life is so good!

Angela S. (game-enthusiast)
on AlwaysLearning

Gail Higgins wrote:
I loved Sandra's talk about the unforeseen benefits of unschooling and was thinking about that in the context of "What I never could have expected when I went to that first Live and Learn Conference in South Carolina."

I never expected....

To climb up onto a death trap several stories high with my 16 year old daughter saying.."This is FANTASTIC!" as I tried not to look down.

To feel such joy for four wonderful days surrounded by children's laughter and families living lives like ours.

To learn how to hug from a guy in a skirt!

To be so happy to have my daughter stay out till 4:00 in the morning with her friends.

To meet people from Alaska to Minnesota to Florida to Massachusetts to Illinois to South Dakota and beyond and realize how much I'd miss them when the conference was over.

To watch my husband in a silly hat tell horrible blonde jokes.....!

To see my 12 year old son happily playing with kids both much younger and much older than him (and to follow him through a tunnel in city museum that was meant for a much smaller butt than mine!)

And best of all for feeling like I'd found my way home and I finally was where I belonged.

Thanks Kelly....and Ben....and Cameron and Duncan.. and everyone who helped make this weekend such a success.

It was the best.



Jacki (GoldStandard) wrote of her kids having tried school, and their success at only going when they wanted to:

I also have to say that this is somewhat of a multi-layered situation. My kids are LOVED by the teachers at this school...they are great students...tend to be a bit more mature in class, pleasant, contribute meaningfully, help when help is needed, they take care of the school space, they respect and talk easily to their teachers. But this is NOT because they have been in school for years. It is all a result of living in a respectful home and a result of unschooling. My kids are probably some of the few happy kids there.
Sandra Dodd:
This is true of my kids, though not in school.
It was true of the boys in drivers' ed.
It was true when Marty went to the junior police academy.
It was true of Kirby at the karate dojo.
It's true of Holly in various little situations.

It's true of both my boys at their jobs. Their supervisors and co-workers just GUSH about how they are.

The other day there was a little emergency, and I walked up to tell Marty about it. He asked if he should go to the hospital, but we were down by one car and I was going to need to go to the airport in a few hours. I told him he might ask to get off early, because the store was pretty quiet, but he looked at me like that was quite unreasonable and said no, he needed to finish his shift.

A side effect of school is that kids know all KINDS of ways to get out of it, and my kids don't have that trick. When they go to the orthodontist they get a slip that has a tear-off note to the school, and it has the time they left. As a longtime former school kid, I look at that and think "darn," and calculate the amount of stall-time that would be acceptable before reporting back to school. I COULD get there in five minutes, but would twenty minutes be "too long"? I still have those habits. I still see five minutes till 3:00 on an analog clock and think "almost time!"

There is something HUGE that comes from that non-exposure to school.


"I think unschooling has done as much for me as it has and will have for my son. When you get down to it it's just so simple and so beautiful. It's helped me to reconnect with my older kids too and make amends for all the times that I made mistakes. So many things that you don't even know will be changed when you start living that different kind of way."
—Jessica Sutton

De Smith, on her blog, wrote:

Who Knew?

I wanted to be a mommy from early on. There were many loves and desires wrapped up in that goal, but I always knew I'd be one. I spend more time planning my parenting skills and daydreaming about how I'd handle certain situations and what I'd name my kids and how many were enough than I spent planning careers - and there were *many* different hats I tried on in the career department!

It is so funny... I was *sure* I knew pretty much how parenting would go, how it would be... Almost all I imagined was so far from the truth as to be almost inconceivable. Then there are the things that never occurred to me...

I would have been the first to tell you, 13 or 14 years ago, that you were crazy, if you'd have told me what kind of parenting I'd be practicing today! I had my ideals and they were nowhere near then what they are today. I had planned out how I'd handle the "tough" stuff... never even dreaming that those things might never come up, and was totally blindsided by other things that I'd never considered: like my 5 year old being terrified of death and dying and his parents dying and not really being able to wave a magic wand to make that fear disappear in a motherly wave of compassion and gentleness.

I fully believed that a parent should not be a friend to their child, and today I am thrilled to count my kids as my friends; they are awesome people and I'm glad they consider me to be their friend, too.

I had no idea that my kids and I would enjoy the same kinds of music - even having the same favorite songs! It never entered my imagination that we would regularly ride along in the vehicle, singing happily together... Nor could I have imagined the peace, joy and contentment that would bring me. Tears-in-my-eyes happiness. Granted, they're often telling me to, "Turn it down, Mama!" - gee... who'd've thought?!

I couldn't have dreamed up a first-born kid that could catch me off guard with his quirky, smart humor - to the point that I spew laughter unexpectedly. :~D

I'd never have conceived that my almost-teen son would not only still want to hug me, but snuggle with me, want his head kissed, want me to tuck him in—prefer that I lay down with him for a while.

I still find it almost incomprehensible that I have a youngest kid who routinely, *daily*, runs around sing-songing, "This is the best day ever. This is the bestest day ever. This is the best day ever." It seems to be his mantra. How incredibly awesome that each subsequent day is the *best* day! And when I think about it, he's right! It really is!

I've been thinking about how I started learning about partnership parenting, lately. I know I've told the story so many times, but I still am kind of awed by it. Reading about unschooling on the radical unschooling boards elicited strong reactions from me. Things like,

"They're CRAZY!"
"Oh, that's just stupid."
"Well, that would never work *here*!"
Very strong, adamant responses—almost to the point of being shocking. But the other things I read with those "crazy" ways of doing things was about results. About kids and parents who wanted to be together. Who shared with each other. Who *listened* to each other. Most amazingly, though, were the teens—teens who *wanted* to hang out with their parents, who were kind and thoughtful and open and *talked* with their parents openly, who came to their parents first and right away when there was a problem. Families who *trusted* each other. I knew teens. I'd been a teen. This concept was totally foreign to me. I wanted this—and the more I read about it, the more I wanted it. I was not easily convinced that being a partner to my child would end up with those results, but I grudgingly, slowly accepted that the alternative rarely got those results (and never the trust spoken of, that I knew of), and so I dove in.

At one point in my early struggles to grasp the concept, I "threw in the towel", thinking that it wasn't "working", and decided I was going back to traditional parenting! Within a day, I knew I could never be that parent, again—if I ever had totally been that parent. I found that once you learned how to respect someone, you couldn't ignore that and treat them with less value, with less honor just because you decided so. For a day or so, that had me desperate and flailing. Eventually, I found it strengthening—it backed up the ideas I so loved and wanted for my family.

When you find something that makes your heart sing with joy and makes you radiate sunshine and happiness, you want to share it. You wish everyone could be as happy as you are. As I look back on conversations that happened online this week, I see the enthusiasm with which people share these ideas of partnership... I can sometimes get a infintessimal glimpse at how some others might perceive the rush to share as intolerance for other ideas that don't mesh with partnership and respect. I still don't see the threat, though. Even though I experienced a little tiny bit of that when my ingrained ideas were challenged, I had no sort of "fight back" kind of reaction. Maybe I'm just tired, but even after all these years, I still am a bit baffled by the vehement reactions to unusual ideas—to ideas that challenge one's assumptions and ingrained societal "norms"... Is it because it is parenting? Is it because it is personal, rather than a difference in the workplace? When does something change from being two differing viewpoints to an "attack"?

I thought writing it out might help me process it, but at this point, it hasn't. I'll let it stew in my brain for a while.

Today has been music, games, movies, good food, hugs, laughter, learning, idea-bouncing, helping each other—the best day *ever*!

De Smith

The original parts of this page have been moved to


The Unforeseen Benefits of Unschooling - Healing past traumas

February 2024 interview (links to platforms and references are here)

If you would rather watch it on You Tube, click here!

Unexpected Benefits of Unschooling—article in Life Learning Magazine, May/June 2008

Building an Unschooling Nest

Being Better Partners

Unschooling: Getting It