Sparkly Unschooling

"Make it happy and funny and comfortable and exciting so that they want to be with you. Be sparkly."

—Sandra Dodd

Unschoolers with older kids, on the Unschooling Discussion list in October 2004, about why unschooling is different:


One of the factors that drew me to homeschooling rather than public schooling was that I thought learning should be fun. But only the unschoolers were focusing on fun and having positive relationships with their kids.

Much of the other forums were devoted to how to make kids dotheir work, what products were best, what to do with younger kids while older ones did their work.


This got me thinking, Joyce. Because I found unschooling the same way, just looking for homeschooling information and discovered that the message boards where the unschoolers were talking were the ones that got my heart racing because they were so alive and sparkly with ideas and energy and fun and love of their children.


Some of my favorite memories from those times were when someone who was careful to identify with the structured side of town, as it were, would come over to the unschooling board with a really off-the-wall and interesting question of obscure nature. And each time, the person said something like, "I figured if anyone knew this it would be one of you." And the questions would be about history, usually, or a request for how something might be connected to something else, or how a child might be hooked up with an interesting mentor.

It was as blatant an acknowledgement as could have been, for me, that the other homeschoolers respected us as more knowledgeable and creative and aware of kids.

So why wouldn't they then also want to unschool?
Some did.
Some people who started on that end crossed the tracks and loosened up.

But some people don't consider themselves to be knowledgeable or creative, and (perhaps) have decided that they don't need to start now. They're out of school and don't have to learn anything else. Their kids can have school fed into and through them and then *they* won't need to learn anything else.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, as is mathematically stated. Sometimes a straight line isn't possible (thinking of airline flight paths, for one thing), and my children didn't HAVE two points to pass one to another.

The complications come from the combination of philosophical elements (as Julie mentioned) and of the defensiveness of parents who say "I don't have to do all that" (whatever "that" is for them).


No parent has to do anything. They choose to do things.

So being in that world of choices, where do they decide to stop and why?

There comes the philosophy back.

Through all the innumerable factors, how DO people decide?

By deciding what principles they are following. Each principle one clings to eliminates about half the choices in the world easily, and in a good way. Each additional principle eliminates some more options, until the world becomes manageable.

One of my guiding principles is that I want my children's worlds to be sparkly.

There goes the dull and the darkness. Easily not chosen, not an option.


Jenny Cyphers wrote:

The striking difference for me, and the real beauty of unschooling compared to school at home and school is the fact that my kids trust themselves.

They trust themselves to know how and what to do. They trust themselves to do what is best for them. This is largely due to the fact that they are trusted. That trust gives them power over their own beings and the decisions they make.

Nothing is separate. A large part of what I see has to do with interpersonal experiences, self esteem, confidence, and real social skills. Those things, those attributes flow into everything else. It creates this hotbed of life, this thirst for great things because they know they are great and can do great things because no one has ever told them they can't or given them any parameters to confine themselves, only love and trust and passion that they are beautiful and wonderful no matter what they do.

That truly is infinite! And to me, that is truly what unschooling is all about and what keeps me doing it! It's very inspiring in a way that is really hard to describe, but my kids show me EVERY DAY! Sometimes it makes me really sad that so many parents can't see in their children what I see in mine! Partially because they haven't fostered it enough to see it and partially because so many parents measure their kids in other ways that I just don't (like through how well they do or don't do in math).

In a long-gone forum, March 2006

the kindness, the respect, the sparkle

From unsolicited feedback in 2011 (click below there to read the whole letter, with permission of the author, Betsy S.):
I started reading unschooling lists when my oldest son was a toddler. That guy will be 10 next month. It's all come true...the kindness, the respect, the sparkle. He's played on a baseball team this year for the first time (all of them public school kids--most of them extraordinarily delightful). One of the moms helps in the dug out, and told me the other day, "Sam is the most polite child! He's the kind of boy I want (my son) to hang around."

When the other children strike out or make errors, there's my guy rubbing their backs and telling them, "That's OK, you tried your best!"

I mean, really! I laugh because if they only knew what "freaks" we are, you know?! Don't make him do anything, don't punish, whatever it is that people are SURE produces kind, polite children.

Betsy S.
there is more: the kindness, the respect, the sparkle


1/12/14 Smile photo FloralGoRound.jpeg by Marty Dodd

Find something to smile about.

Beginners, aim for once per day—one extra smile.

More experienced unschoolers, raise that to several a day, and then once per hour.

Before long, you'll be smiling easily and more often than you could count.

You'll know you're significantly happier when just the thought of counting smiles will make you smile.

Original writing from Just Add Light and Stir, 1/11/14

photo by Marty Dodd, of a floral merry-go-round in a hotel in Las Vegas