Unschooling is not UnParenting

Let’s put this concept that Unschooling equals Unparenting to rest once and for all.


People have been saying this for decades. And those same people usually have no first-hand knowledge about unschooling. Or perhaps they’ve witnessed one family having a rough time.

Let’s try to remember a few things:

Do people parent differently? Of course.

Do parents apply or incorporate different research or advice? Certainly.

If someone does it differently from you, does that make them WRONG? No way.

Parents who have applied unschooling principles in the rest of their lives are living involved intentional lives with their children. The concept that runs through the philosophy of unschooling is one of trust… trust that kids WILL figure out what they need. This is tricky to do sometimes, considering our societal pressures.  But it certainly doesn’t happen in a vacuum or without parental attention and focus. Nor does it always happen immediately.

Unschooling actually requires MORE from parents than other more rigid homeschooling methods! It’s a 24/7 approach.

Unschoolers don’t say, “no learning today!” because, well, we know that’s impossible – humans learn. Period.

Unschoolers don’t use the Light Switch Approach to learning, where educational input is On or it’s Off.

3 p.m.? Put your books away, no learning allowed after that!

The Light Switch Approach is based upon whether the parent/teacher is bringing something to the table. (Literally and figuratively.) Lessons have to be prepared, children are discouraged from deviating from the plans, adults are the gatekeeper of all knowledge.

That is simply not how unschoolers want to live.

Unschoolers want fuller richer lives WITH their kids. They want all the opportunities that are presenting themselves daily – hourly sometimes – to be available and free for the taking. They want to provide resources so children can explore and discover.

But before I get offtrack singing the praises of this non-traditional lifestyle, let’s look at what Unparenting usually means in people’s minds.

When people use the term “unparenting,” they usually mean something like this:

  • No assistance or direction from the parents
  • Parents who don’t publicly reprimand their kids when they don’t conform socially.
  • Parents not enforcing bed times, allowing “back talk,” – not adhering to mainstream parenting techniques
  • Kids who seem wild in public, maybe presenting with messy hair/poor hygiene

True UnParenting is neglect – and that’s the opposite of unschooling. People who are unparenting are ignoring, avoiding and not engaging with their children. They don’t fuel their child’s interests, expose them to new opportunities, console them when things don’t work out, and become their biggest source of support and love. Those are the very things that make unschooling work out – unschooling parents do all of that!

Parents Judging Each Other

My kids are all in their 20s now. And I have to say that over those two decades, sometimes my parenting was ON POINT, and sometimes it was sorely lacking. I’d hate to be judged on how I responded to my kids on a bad day.

Sometimes parents are trying various parenting techniques they’ve read about and the children are resisting. We can’t really know what’s going on specifically – we’re not in their heads or in their homes. Parenting approaches can vary widely and we make decisions based upon what resonates with us. We wouldn’t want someone making OUR parenting decisions for us, let’s not do that to other parents.

When kids are learning new skills – or when anyone is, really – sometimes it takes a little while for it to become a new habit. Unschooling parents are often trying to give their kids the space to figure out how they want to behave in their world. This doesn’t mean without parental input – but they may simply choose not to have those conversations with their child in public.

Humiliating the child just to save face among other parents doesn’t do anything positive for the parent-child relationship – an important factor for unschoolers.

While some parents are trying to honor their kids natural tendencies, sometimes they get off track. Has everyone always gotten this parenting-thing right every time?  When someone sees parents either ignoring a behavior or struggling with it, we should all try to remember that this is just one little snapshot of their day.

Maybe just getting out the door was tough and the battle over the hairbrush wasn’t worth it. I’ve certainly had days like that. And I’m happy to say, my grown kids don’t have a problem with hygiene – or any behavior in public really. Which leads me to…

The Wild Child

Some kids have a higher energy level than others. And that can take its toll on parents.We have no idea what else is going on, what the parent has tried before, what they’re trying to implement at the moment you’re watching.

One of the factors with louder kids, is that it pushes the parenting out into the spotlight. And one thing onlookers enjoy is criticizing! Probably from a deep-seated need to compare and deflect any unwanted attention their own way.  Or maybe it’s just a habit left over from the adult’s own school days, where stepping out of line or drawing unwanted attention was something to be avoided at all costs. Those kids who didn’t get that little social school memo were often ostracized and shamed. It’s not that we can’t undo it when we have that kind of thinking persist later in life – we can! But we need to recognize it when it rears its ugly head.

Is it “Permissive Parenting?”

Permissive parents are not involved in their child’s life. I often even wonder about using that term at all. I “permitted” my kids to do a lot of things that other parents wouldn’t have. Did that make me permissive? As usual, I struggle with labels, never quite fitting into one or another.

Sometimes people mistakenly think that unschooling means there are no rules. Or that the parents have thrown caution to the wind saying, “Anything goes!” But that’s not the case at all. Unschooling families do have rules  – rules about safety, interacting with others, etc. – they’re just not arbitrary rules. Boundaries exist in life. Highways are dangerous. Hitting your little brother isn’t okay. Staying up all night can ruin the next day’s activities. Unschooled children are given the space to figure out how to deal with life’s frustrations with the help of adults who are on their team. Instead of creating a list of rules, unschooling parents use these ideas as guiding principles.

Sometimes adults get locked into the idea that “kids getting their way” is a bad thing. They’ve been convinced that it’s the slippery slope to their child becoming “spoiled.”  But unschooling parents work with their children to see how they could get what they want – or at least some variation of it. Or maybe they help them see it’s not possible right now. In any case, they avoid the Us vs. Them approach to parenting. Unschooling parents aren’t on opposite sides as their children. They’re more like partners – trying to help them navigate their world so they can be successful.

Unschooling parents actually find themselves somewhere in between the conventional authority-oriented parenting and what’s usually considered permissive parenting. Mainstream parents often feel they must make the boundaries the most important aspect. They feel it’s what keeps the family from descending into anarchy. While permissive parents feel that the child’s wishes are always honored with NO glance toward boundaries. Unschooling parents take both into consideration – the child’s needs and the reality of boundaries.

Trust and Respect

Unschooling parents prioritize trust and respect. I know, I know. A lot of parents are going to say that they cannot trust their child to behave well without a lot of threats or ranting on their part. But really… are those techniques effective? Are you having to simply amp up the punishments to get compliance? And are you really getting compliance or are they simply finding a way to work around you?

Unschooling parents have discovered that modeling trust and respect is what promotes trust and respect in children. Unschooling parents speak to their children in the same way they speak to their own adult friends. Sure, the topics are different, but the tone and the attitude is similar. When this happens consistently, children feel valued, they feel respected, they feel heard. And isn’t that what all humans want – their wishes and ideas to be heard? And how else are children going to learn to trust and respect others, if they don’t see it demonstrated in their lives?


Be careful about sweeping with a broad brush. Resist spreading gossip about families who are are having a rough time, just to alleviate some insecurities of your own.  Don’t make decisions about “all unschoolers” based on some story you heard from someone else or one family you saw struggling in a hotel lobby.

And consider parenting a different way from how you were parented or what’s the typical parenting technique these days. After all, is that really working all that well?

Building an Unschooling Nest

December is a cozy time of year! Instead of stressing about the holiday gifts and get-togethers, let’s lean into the idea of building a lovely nest for our families. Nest-building can happen any time of the year! And for those who choose to unschool, having a wonderful place to return to may be exactly what your family needs most from you!

People often want descriptions of an unschooler’s home life. They want to be able to visualize what the world looks like from our vantage point.  One of the things that was really important for me and for our family, was that I wanted our home to be like a cozy nest – a soft spot to land when they returned from their adventures out in the world or somewhere they could feel nourished as they daydreamed and played and enjoyed their life. When I look back at what our home was like – even though we moved frequently, some things continued from one location to the next.  In trying to describe what it was like, I often start with the five senses. If you’re like me, you’d consider how it looks, sounds, smells, feels and even tastes! If you’re the type who’s been fretting over planning, this might be a good project for you! Plan The Nest!

Now that my husband and I are retired, our nest looks a little different. But during the height of our unschooling days, here’s what you would have found:

At the front door….

I grew a lot of plants in the front garden beds. It kept them right under my nose, so I wouldn’t forget to water! You could brush against lavender or rosemary and the smell would just travel with you up to the door. We had a wonderful music teacher in Davis, CA, who had a gauzy curtain at her front door. The music would waft out through the doorway, her garden was lush and right up to the porch – a lovely inspiration for me.

Going Inside…

You probably WOULD hear music when you entered my house. But it would be a cacophony of sound! World of Warcraft or some video game blasting away, maybe some old-school rock and roll. You’d hear broadway show tunes playing upstairs with Katie belting them out right alongside. You’d hear the sound of jumping and stomping as Alyssa was dancing along to Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Of course, this gives you an idea of our time period… but it’s all shiftable to now.

You might hear Katie playing songs on the piano singing along with them. Back then, lots of Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Or maybe they were all piled onto the couch for a raucous game of Mario Kart.

Something was always cooking, so you’d smell food when you walked in. Usually garlic and onions, because… well, we love them. But also baking and/or yummy-smelling candles.

Visually, it would look messy to most people. “The Lived-In Look” is what we called it. But we always wanted to do something else INSTEAD OF cleaning. Some adventure always seemed to pull at us harder than the housework. Maybe you can relate? I had a friend say, “No flat surface is safe in your house.” So true. 😉 Projects all over the place. Back then, we also had a video camera almost always up on a tripod, ready to record. We did that a lot. So many people worry about having a clean house. Our cleaning tended to happen because we needed a surface to begin another project. My husband used to kid me that we needed to have people over more often, just because we tended to clean more when we had guests. “Guests” were the infrequent visitors. The friends that came often knew that housekeeping wasn’t my strong suit. And most unschooling families I knew had similarly somewhat messy homes. The activity and the relationships were the priority.

Texturally, the sofas and chairs were comfy. Squishy pillows and soft blankets were always around for people who wanted to cuddle up and read. Oh yeah… reading. Bookshelves in every room. Every. Room. TVs in every room too. Sometimes on without sound…NatGeo or Discovery in the background, ready to be turned up if something caught our eye. But all kinds of other tv too, whenever someone wanted it. Back before DVDs we would record hours and hours of Magic Schoolbus, Gullah Gullah Island, or Kratt’s Creatures on VHS. Remember Wishbone and Carmen Sandiego? We had years where PBS was ALWAYS on! Eventually, that moved to Disney Kids and Cartoon Network, sitcoms, movies, documentaries. We took advantage of everything available!

We were definitely a Pet Family. Dogs, cats, birds (people used to tell me that it sounded like a jungle when they called. For a few years, the kids raised cockatiels as a pet biz.) Guinea pigs, fish tanks. At one point, circumstances allowed our quite suburban familiy to try our hand at ranch life.  During that time, our love of animals had no limits! We had horses and cows, a bull, a donkey (did you know they have the softest noses?), goats, chickens, a turtle. If we had had a pear tree, I’m sure we’d have had a partridge just for the fun of it – instead we had a guinea in a mesquite tree! Fa-la-la-la!

We had lots of extra people too. Staying for dinner, picking someone up to go somewhere, hanging out to chat. Easy non-judgey nests tend to attract others too.

We didn’t have places that were designated for children or adults-only, no rooms were off-limits or dedicated to solely learning. It was all mixed in together – learning happened everywhere! Staying flexible to accommodate whatever the kids’ interests are is the key. No place is more important than the people in it.

Knowing you can create anything you want, realizing that you can change it again when life changes – that’s so awesome! Right??


My Unschooling Manifesto

Sometimes it helps to get really clear what we believe about unschooling. Here’s my list of 25 items that are important in my own personal Unschooler’s Manifesto.

Would you add something to my list?

Would you be interested in creating your own manifesto? 

1.) Stop dividing the world into Educational and Non-educational. Everything is educational!

2.) Nothing is more important than the relationship between you and them – not some worksheet, not a banana peel on the floor, not what time they go to bed, not when they learn to read.

3.) You don’t have to artificially divide the world up into subjects. One thing really does lead to another when learners (children and adults) follow their interests.

4.) Figure out what your family’s rhythm is – and recognize that it may change over time. And! It may not look like someone else’s. But that’s the beauty of truly being able to individualize for your family too!

5.) Be curious about the world yourself. Invite your kids to be curious with you. Support them as they begin to wander with their own curiosities.

6.) Be Interested and Interesting. Unschoolers focus on living a rich, stimulating life with their kids.

7.) Role model critical thinking skills.

8.) Unschoolers recognize that the schoolish ways of lesson plans, curriculum, assignments, quizzes or tests, required memorizing, and grades are totally unnecessary and more about the “teaching” than the “learning.”

9.) Don’t suck the fun out of something by turning it into a “teachable moment.” Take your cues from your kids – a little conversation about it may be fine with them.

10.) Create a support system for yourself – people you can turn to when you’re not sure what you’re doing is working. Best if local, still good if online.

11.) You don’t have to use the term “unschooling” if it bugs you. A lot of options exist. And you may use different terms when you talk to different people – based upon their level of understanding. “Homeschooling” is fine for friends/family who don’t know what the heck you’re doing! Unschooling, at it’s simplest definition, is a homeschooling method. But if you want to call it Whole Life learning, or say, “We’re doing an experiential, individualized approach to learning,” that works too.

12.) Do everything you can to stay focused on TODAY… don’t beat yourself up about screw-ups in the past, and don’t play the “what if” game about all the things that could happen in the future.

13.) Take your cues from the child standing right in front of you. Staying tuned into who they really are (not that imagined story in your head) , will point you toward how to support them to grow and learn.

14.) Deschool yourself as well as your child. Read about how schoolish thoughts creep in, simply because they’re familiar – and because we are inundated with them from society.

15.) Ask yourself Why? And Why Not? Move away from arbitrary reasons. It may not have to go the way your knee-jerk thought wants to take you.  Think about the rationale behind the decision – does this work best for your family today?

16.) Get rid of comparisons. Every person is unique – their interests, their experiences, their internal wiring! The sooner we embrace people for who they are today and not wish for them to be something different – the better!

17.) Recognize that when you are making comparisons or wishing they were different, they’re picking up on your disapproval, your disappointment. If you’re trying for unconditional love – don’t make it conditional.

18.) Observe without judgement. You’re taking in data so you can be the best resource finder or facilitator for them.

19.) Learning is naturally hard-wired into humans. It’s possible that your child has had that negatively affected by schoolish techniques – but it can return if you’re supportive and patient. It’s human nature.

20.) Parents have to have a lot of trust in the process of learning – and in their own children – when external pressures are so strongly pushing for traditional schooling.

21.) Stay flexible and continue to learn about unschooling. What sounded insane in the beginning, may make more sense to you later down the road. That’s ok. What you embrace is entirely up to you. We all evolve as parents and as learners ourselves. Thank heavens, right?

22.) Because unschoolers aren’t following a typical scope and sequence, they will likely have gaps in their learning… at least according to what schools expect. But truthfully, we all have gaps – either we weren’t paying attention, or we transferred schools, or we were out for an illness.  And everyone can easily close up a gap with a quick google search or Siri question! 

23.) 18 is not a magic age – they will learn when they are ready. Sometimes before 18, sometimes after. But the pressure to get It all done by 18 is gone.

24.) Your days will look more like summer vacation – with all the fun, connection, and exploration that can go with it.

25.) Enjoy your life with your children. If this is hard for you, talk with someone to see where your obstacles are.


If you’re new to unschooling and wish you had a little extra support, I have a couple of great options for you!
Creating Confidence – A private membership group approach
Stress-Free Start – a 1:1 Coaching plan with a free ebook.

Pinterest and Unschooling

pinterest-unschoolPinterest, a social media platform founded in 2009, allows users to visually share, discover and catalog new interests. I think of it as a visual bookmarking system. When you find something you’d like to save, you “pin” it to a common theme area called a “board.”  You can browse/follow other people who share your interests and also “pin” what they’ve found onto your “boards.”  Pins can be photos, videos, graphics and even articles (although this works best if there’s a photo on the article’s page.)

I think of Pinterest as an Unschooler’s Dream!

I joined Pinterest when it was still really new in 2011. You had to be invited by someone who already had an account – it was somewhat of a cumbersome process!  But by then, my kids were grown. Immediately, I was nostalgic for the days of combing through hard-copy catalogs that had come by mail – always on the lookout for just the right resource. Back in the 1990s, most of the catalog products weren’t online, so we would wait for the mail or pass the catalogs among us at park days or our monthly Mom’s Night Out. Little did we know, someone was about to design something we would have adored – PINTEREST!

If you’re still only using Pinterest for recipes and interior design ideas – you’re barely scratching the surface!

Just as parents in our support group shared ideas, resources and websites at local coffeeshops and park days, unschooling moms are sharing resources from atoms to Zentangles on Pinterest! If your child has an interest, typing in a couple of keywords can give you access to so many options other people have discovered. And you’re not limited to only the other moms you know personally. You can search by theme, and find all kinds of things.  The entire internet is accessible to you – other people have done their research and are happy to share!

The 3 Step How-To

So how do you make this work to your best advantage?

  1. Create Pinterest accounts. Create one for yourself and, with your kids, create accounts for each child.
  2. Start identifying a variety of interests each child has. Get creative! You can have as many as you like. Each should be their own “Board” (in Pinterest lingo)
  3. Sharing boards. Once your child has his/her boards set up, he can invite you to pin onto that too. This will give them access to anything you find when you’re out resource-hunting on the internet.

Sometimes people have asked why not simply have your child use your account. Here are a few reasons I think it’s a good idea for kids to have their own account:pinterest-unschooling

  • They can learn more about how social media works.
  • They can easily add boards of their own if this turns into a tool they enjoy using.
  • They can create their own network of people to share pins.

At first, kids may find Pinterest to be a “mom” kind of thing – maybe. But it’s an easy visual way to keep track of the hundreds (thousands?) of ideas that cross our paths as we’re out on the web.

If we’re going to have so many wonderful ideas coming at us at lightening speed, we need to have a way to manage them! Certainly trying to remember it all isn’t going to work. Plus, another advantage is that you can pin something that you’d like to explore, but haven’t had time to yet. Then it can sit in your board and wait until you have time to really peruse the website.

From a mom perspective, Pinterest removes the pressure of “Come look now!” Even when it’s exciting, it can be interrupting – to you or to them! This way each person can check out the topic when they’re actually in the mood to look. And it allows you to continue to find cool resources even after their interest fades a little – it will be there if and when that curiosity pops up again.

Unschooling Mom2Mom currently has 66 Pinterest boards with nearly 2,000 pins!
So, if you’re just starting, go check these out and pin those that interest you.

Happy Pinning!


The Myth of Structure


Structure is another one of those words that gets misused. People say that kids need structure – and then take it too far. Kids don’t need their whole lives structured. There’s no room for curiosity or following an interest if you do that. They don’t need their learning structured for exactly that same reason. It’s not conducive to real learning if you say “We do Math at 10, Social Studies at 11, Lunch at noon, etc.” What happens when something wonderful presents itself in the middle of your schedule? Or if they are more interested in watching the Presidential debates? Or wondering why leaves are turning colors in Vermont, but temps are still in the 90s in Texas?

Life brings structure – winding down for bedtimes, making it on time and prepared for soccer practice twice a week, showing up for park days with blankets, chairs, snacks and water bottles, getting to the post office before it closes. But also, identifying priorities, knowing what’s going to happen that day, being clear on expectations… these are forms of structure.

So I don’t say “No structure ever!” That would be silly.

Structure is all around us. We don’t have to create arbitrary structures though. If you’re still thinking that kids thrive with structure, ask yourself why? Some of your own responses will be totally logical. Others may leave you with more questions than answers.

Ask yourself, “Who says?” and “Why?”

Sometimes, it’s the adults seeking the structure for themselves. It’s about getting a handle on the fear that comes when things are a little more floaty than we’re comfortable with. We quickly want to clamp down and create some order. 😉  Instead, it might be helpful to sit with the discomfort you have with that lack of structure. Just be a watcher. What’s happening? Why do you need the structure? If you’re afraid that a little chaos will definitely lead your family into total bedlam and anarchy, try to get that disaster mindset in check. A little disarray is not the same as a complete pandemonium. Try to stay realistic on what is actually happening in the here and now.

If you have a hard time overcoming those thoughts and you’re still thinking that you’d like to provide more structure, create it for yourself. Start a bullet journal or Evernote system and get your thoughts all organized. Nothing wrong with doing that at all. Just don’t take it that step further and decide that everyone else in your house needs your structure.

When you hear people talk about how “kids need structure,” consider how they might simply be using a cliché to promote the status quo.  Learning doesn’t have to be parceled out to kids under some guise of needing structure.

While some kids need a little more structure based on their temperament or developmental phase, try creating structure individually without sweeping with a broad brush.  And be ready to change it, if the situation doesn’t call for it.

Of course, you have to provide safety – and structure does that. And sometimes kids need help with transitioning from one activity to another. Structure can help with this too. But keep in mind that the less “imposed” structure, the better. A child will be much more likely to learn how to do this for themselves if you can refrain from being heavy-handed in the structure department.



Parenting Teens, A Hands-On Approach

For years, we’ve heard other parents say,

“A house full of teens? Good luck!”

And they wander away shaking their head, as if you’ve already lost some battle.
True, the teenage years are full of heightened emotions, raging hormones, self-esteem issues, and basically trying to figure out who they are in this world. These are tough issues!

Why, as a society, would we think we need to take a more hands-off approach to raising teens?

These years seem to be much more difficult to figure out than those pre-school years, when we were so incredibly involved. But so many parents try to deal with it in all black or white. Either they look away and hope for the best. Or they tighten the screws hoping to keep them safe.

Neither really work.

Sometimes, a lot of times really, parents are simply too tired to go head-to-head with their teen in angst. And, it’s true that if you come back to it in a day or so, lots of the emotion will have blown away and it’s easier to get through the day. But the issues are still just under the surface. This is a missed opportunity on so many levels.

By not sticking your head in the sand, here are some things your teen could learn if you talk with them about a disagreement you had.

  • They could see that you are not afraid to go into these treacherous waters WITH them.
  • They could see you’re willing to stand by them and face the scary stuff that they are facing each day.
  • You’d demonstrate to them that you think their problems are important, even if they seem petty and small to you. They are obviously causing your teen some difficulties.
  • You can let them know that they are important to you and helping them solve problems is part of the job of parenting.

You might have to bite your tongue. Teens want to be heard – who doesn’t? They really want to come to conclusions on their own. So asking questions is better than telling them what should be done. Even if you think you know. Helping them learn to problem-solve is the key. Not doing it for them.

Relating stories from when you had similar situations as a teen might help. Watch their expressions though. You might be really “getting into” your story of your own teen years, and they are tuning out. Not because your story is dull (I’m sure it’s not!!) but because the shift of the focus went from them to you. They are the one who is in the middle of a struggle. Keep your story brief.????

So often, they think we cannot relate. Or they’re afraid we’re going to judge them. Or point out their mistakes. These are the pitfalls to avoid in these parent-teen interactions.

While it may sound hokey, they need to know that you are coming from a place of love not worry – because worry implies you think they cannot handle themselves. But from love. You want them to be happy. You want to be their safe place they can run to when their friends stab them in the back. You want to be the one who will not betray them. They will come to trust you, share more with you, and value your input.


6 Shocking Facts About Homeschooling Your Teen

6-shocking-FactsI know. Some of these seem like total blasphemy.  That’s because we’ve been sold a bill of goods that simply isn’t true. But these are the facts. And now that you  know the truth, how much easier can you and your teenager’s life be? Awesome, right?

  • Diplomas are overrated.
    Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a diploma. In the odd chance that you may need one so an admissions clerk can check a box – you can create one with a Word File. Same goes for transcripts.
    This might interest you: Unschooling and Transcripts.


  • The World is Your Oyster.
    Your flexible schedule will allow you to experience some awesome internships and/or travel opportunities. Check out this collection of camps, conferences and adventures for teens: Unschooled Teen Opportunities.


  • Real Life “Counts.”
    Instead of trying to force your teen into a particular acceptable mold (usually for college,) do the reverse. Let the mold be created by your teen. Stay with me on this. Life is full of so many chances to learn everything you need to know for adulthood. But if you’re too distracted meeting criteria or completing lessons – you miss all of it! And it’s ten times more intriguing out in the real world. And, if you need a little incentive, colleges love applicants that have explored their interests and simply have more life experience.
    Maybe this might help convince you: Top Down vs. Bottom Up


  • Avoid SO MANY Negative Aspects!
    Homeschooled teens have numerous advantages because of homeschooling. They’ve preserved their natural love of learning. They’ve avoided unnecessary stress. They’ve had the freedom to make choices.They have better socialization and better influences in general.
    Read more about all of this in Learning from the Teens.


  • Finally You Can Catch Some ZZzzz’s.
    Home educated teens aren’t sleep deprived! Study after study shows how the teen’s need for sleep is being completely overlooked with a typical high school schedule. And we all know how any of us act when we’re over-tired: cranky, more stressed, inhibited creativity, poor memory. How could they possibly be learning much at all?
    Read more about Teens and Sleep.


If you’re feeling isolated and wishing you had just a little more support through these teen years, I have something I think you’re going to love!  An inexpensive private membership group FOR parents of teenagers!  Click here to find out more and join us. 🙂 

An Unschooling Father’s Day

Ron always doing things with the kidsMy husband, Ron, wrote this for Skyler Collins’ book, Unschooling Dads. I wouldn’t really call Ron a dad who was super outspoken about unschooling. He always shied away from conversations on the topic when we were in groups. He’d much prefer to simply live the unschooling lifestyle than talk about it! ha!

In retrospect, I think that was his biggest contribution to the kids’ upbringing. They had front row seats to witness what it’s like to dive into your interests – to have many and to pursue whatever you enjoy. They watched what he did when he didn’t know about something but wanted to.  He’d look it up, ask around, find more resources.  And like many good shows, audience members from the front row are often drug up onto the stage! Ron did that with the kids – and they loved it. His interests were primarily outdoorsy – climbing, sailing, horseback riding, hiking. But in Alaska, it was primarily ice skating and hockey – some of which was outside. In California it was horse-related – riding, building barns, birthing foals. In Texas, we moved to a ranch and raised horses, cattle (and goats, chickens, ducks, guineas, dogs, cats, cockatiels, parakeets, guinea pigs, turtles) and baling hay. Then when we moved to Central Texas, it was motorcycles and hiking.

I just rediscovered an old blogpost that I did back in 2012: For Some People, It’s Just Natural.

But here’s a more current interpretation of life in our family from Ron’s perspective. This was his contribution to the Unschooling Dads book. Short and sweet.

  I don’t know a lot about unschooling. But I had faith in my wife and faith in my kids.

We have many things to learn in life but you don’t necessarily have to learn any of it in school. People think that’s the only way, but it’s not. Frankly, I learn a lot better when someone isn’t telling me what to do. I see something that crosses my path and suddenly I want to find out more about it. Then one thing leads to another…and another… and another. Why wouldn’t kids be the same way?

Life is full of great adventures and you should take every opportunity to pursue them. That’s how we saw it and how we lived it. Some of the things we did:

  • Hiked on a volcano
  • Sailed on a tall ship in the San Francisco Bay
  • Built a horse arena
  • Built an ice rink in the back yard
  • Walked through the Red Woods (literally)
  • Saw a grizzly bears in the wild
  • Saw a humpback whale from about ten feet
  • Watched gray whales migrate up the coast of Alaska
  • Pitched a tent in the middle of a lake and then went ice fishing
  • Threw a cup of hot water up in the air and never saw it hit the ground (we were in Alaska)
  • Participated in a civil war re-enactment on Angel Island
  • Hiked multiple mountain peaks
  • Climbed waterfalls on the banks of the Colorado River in Texas
  • Visited the deck of the only ship sunk twice in World War II (USS Enterprise),
  • Learned to ride horses, raise chickens, bale hay on our own ranch
  • Learned about history, science, the world through movies together
  • Wandered around the battlefield of Custer’s last standLearned about the Japanese culture as we hosted an exchange student
  • Spent a week in Washington, D.C., visiting museums, monuments, and fascinating sights.

These are some of my fondest memories – things we were able to do because we did not bother with school schedules or school ideas about what’s important to learn. My kids are now grown – 21, 24, and 26 – all making a living, happy with their lives.

His Bio in the book:
Ron Patterson has retired as a Major in the USAF and also as the Director of Christopher House, the only inpatient hospice facility in Austin, Texas. He continues to pursue many of the activities he shared with his kids – hiking, sailing, motorcycling and working on projects.

Chaos to Confidence: For New Homeschoolers

 It’s Time!

Homeschooling helpA Group Mentoring/Support Program starting August 1st, led by Sue Patterson.
If you’re a new homeschooler/unschooler, Chaos to Confidence is perfect for you!

  • Everything a new homeschooler needs to know to be successful
  • Get answers to questions you have and didn’t know where to get them answered
  • Join a community of new homeschoolers exploring this path together
  • Group coaching from me for those critical first 12 weeks!

Don’t miss out!!!
Space is limited, so sign up soon!

From Chaos to Confidence

You can do this – and I can show you how!

If you’re just embarking on this homeschooling journey,
I want to invite you to this mentoring program:

Chaos to Confidence.

Chaos to Confidence is for you if:

~You’ve just removed your kids from school and you’re unsure about your next steps.

~Your kids are now “officially school age,” so you’re ready to commit to homeschooling/unschooling.

~You’re overwhelmed by all the info on the internet – but wondering who to listen to.

~You have plenty of people who think homeschooling is nuts, but something deep down is telling you that this is right.

~You’re wishing you didn’t feel so alone.

I’ve created this group mentoring/support program because I know what it’s like to be so new that you’re not even sure what questions to ask!

In our 12 weeks together, I give you the foundation you need to be successful and take you from chaos to confidence!

I can help you.  Every Day.  Walking beside you.

I’ve been where you are now – I remember it clearly. I was so afraid I was going to screw up my kid, or that they’d hate me when we were all done with this. But I knew that school wasn’t where they needed to be. I had to figure out what the heck was the right thing to do – and fast.

I saw what worked and what didn’t. Over those years while my three kids were homeschooling, people began to come to me looking for support and advice. They’re grown now, in their 20s. They are not screwed up nor do they hate me! (In fact, they’re successful, socially savvy and really happy with their lives!)

But maybe you want to know more about them…

The oldest went to community college, transferred to a university and graduated Magna Cum Laude. He also spent a lot of time doing community service, got his Eagle Scout award, went to Japan as an exchange student at 16, joined the Peace Corps after college and worked in Nicaragua, moved back to Texas, got married and just bought a house.  He is 27.

The second spent most of her teen years doing community theatre, taking acting, dance and vocal lessons. She took community college classes and went to an acting conservatory in New York City. She finished her conservatory classes in Los Angeles and ended up with an associate degree in fine arts.  She lives and works as an actress in Los Angeles now. She is 25.

My youngest loved people and all the pop culture type of things. After only unschooling, she went to the local high school for a year and half, made the dance team, did fine in school, but decided it wasn’t worth it. She left to go to cosmetology school and now works in an upscale salon in Austin, Texas. She married a local firefighter, bought a house and had a baby in 2015. (Adorable, I might add!) She is 22.

I’m not saying your kids’ paths will look like my kids’ paths. I shared this for you to see how different they each were and yet we were able to support them in ways that were totally individualized – not the cookie cutter one-size-fits-all (even though it’s called an IEP) ways schools have to use.

I can show you how you can focus on YOUR kids’ strengths and help them unfold into the person they’re meant to be. I focus a lot on helping you, the parent, undo the fear and the assumptions that the school way is the only way. It’s not. My kids are living proof of that.

If your kids have been miserable in school, I want you to know that a better way DOES exist! And I’m so happy we’ve found each other because I want to show you how to make this work!

Sometimes families made the leap to homeschooling but got distracted by curriculum and headed off on the wrong path. They ended up feeling isolated, frustrated, and disappointed in their homeschooling experience. Many ended up putting their kids back in school. They wished they had had someone who could have been a guide or a mentor to them – just someone to help them start off on the right foot or guide them along the way if they get stuck.

So that’s 2 types of families that Chaos to Confidence is built for:

The Brand New Homeschooler who is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t want to waste time going in the wrong direction.

The New-ish Homeschooler who started probably last year and ended up unhappy with their approach.

Here’s My Plan…


You need practical information. Operating in the dark is scary and the info that you’ll get in this program will wipe out a lot of your fears. We will start with the basics – getting legal, thinking about what “learning” really means, finding reliable resources.


Sometimes homeschooling/unschooling moms can feel really isolated. They really need to feel connected to other parents on this path. So, I’m creating a private Facebook group for you and the other new homeschoolers in the 2016 Chaos to Confidence program. Over these 12 weeks, we’ll be able to get to know each other and give support. Members can pop into the group to share success stories as well as fears that show up. Learn where to find support locally, in your state, regionally, globally, and online.


Chaos to Confidence is the reassurance you’ve been looking for! I want to share everything I know with you so you have success and confidence when you feel like you’re swimming against the tide. As you work your way through the program, you’ll find yourself on steadier and steadier ground. Your anxiety and fear will begin to evaporate. Your kids will be happier and more engaged. You’ll see changes in the way the entire family gets along. You’ll be able to see learning in a way that might be different from what you’re used to – richer, exciting, much more enjoyable. And I’ll be with you every step of the way!

Here’s what we’ll do each week!

(I’m soooo excited!!!!)

Homeschool Coaching

And here’s the framework for the entire course!

homeschool coaching

Sounds great, right?

Sometimes we just need a little hand-holding to get started.

I’ve made the price super affordable – just $90 total for 3 months of reassuring support and boatloads of information.  That’s group coaching from me on our private FB group for a $1/day!

But I want to keep the size of a group manageable, so don’t delay.

And now, it’s time to sign up!

Before working with Sue I had tried every method I could think of to make my son’s traditional schooling work for him. I was feeling confused, defeated by all the bad advice I was getting, and very alone in my decision to teach my son at home. Sue helped me to realize that other options existed that were actually better for my son and his situation. I now feel confident and excited about his learning experience. He is now thriving and enjoying this unschooling experience in ways he could never have done in the traditional environment. It has been an amazing transformative experience!
~ Becky M., Michigan

A Wonderful Coach + All That Knowledge = EXCELLENCE!
~Tracy M., Kentucky

Before working with Sue I had tried every method I could think of to make my son’s traditional schooling work for him. I was feeling confused, defeated by all the bad advice I was getting, and very alone in my decision to teach my son at home. Sue helped me to realize that other options existed that were actually better for my son and his situation. I now feel confident and excited about his learning experience. He is now thriving and enjoying this unschooling experience in ways he could never have done in the traditional environment. It has been an amazing transformative experience!
~ Becky M., Michigan

5 Tips for Homeschool Success


Homeschool Success!


These five tips will help you no matter what you face on your homeschooling journey – and beyond, really. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the day-to-day activities or trying to provide that “just-right” learning environment, the biggies like this get swept aside.

After all these years of parenting, I can tell you that paying attention to these particular points will make all the difference in your family.

Let’s talk about why. And! If you have others that you think I’ve forgotten about, I’d love to hear what you think should rank right up there in Top Tips!

Stay Flexible

We get so caught up in how we WANT things to play out that we hang onto ideas long past their expiration date. We do what we can to make educated guesses about the future, but we have no idea how the path will bend or what new variable might be tossed into the mix. Maintaining flexibility helps us stay connected with what IS and not what we WISH was happening in our lives right now. And that includes staying tuned in with that child standing right in front of you. Being able to make adjustments can save your entire day!

Their Path Is Not Your Path

We only want the best for our kids, right? But sometimes they have to make choices that we wish they wouldn’t make. Our own personal experiences certainly give us some wisdom… we can often see “the handwriting on the wall.” And then toss a heaping dose of parental fear into that mix, and we find ourselves predicting dire outcomes. What we haven’t factored in is their experiences, their surroundings, their support systems, their motivations. All that experience of ours may not predict accurately at all!

Additionally, sometimes mistakes help us learn what to avoid next time, how to adjust our course. Their life experiences – the good and (what we consider) the bad – become part of the intricate weavings of your child’s life.

Stay Focused on the Now

It sounds cliché, but “now” is really all we have. We can’t undo the past and there’s no telling what’s in the future. Wasting time focusing on either of those is exactly that – wasting time.
If you find that this is a habit of yours, dig around a little deeper and see if you can figure out why that is. Here are some reasons that might sound familiar:

  • Making plans for the future to avoid some of the mundane-ness of the present. Maybe you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be doing with your kids?
  • Using “I’m searching for resources” as a way to procrastinate
  • Allowing fear to be in the driver’s seat: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of messing up your kids, fear of looking bad as a parent – and the list can go on and on!

Truly, that child standing in front of you is giving you all the cues you need as to what to do. Get out of your head and tune into them.

Relationship Above Everything

Do you notice that you push your kids a little hard? What does that do for you? My guess is that in your mind, you think you’re helping them prepare for their future. And there’s two things wrong with that notion: it might not even be true; and is it worth the price?

When we sacrifice our relationship because of… well, anything… it has long term implications. Do you really want to be one of those parents whose kids phone home with the obligatory weekly call – or not at all? Do you want them to be those young people who can’t wait to get away from their controlling/overbearing family?  They have plenty of time to learn anything they’ll need as adults. There’s no “finish line” where we have to squeeze in all their learning for their lifetime – so why wreck the relationship for something that really doesn’t matter? And, if we do, we lose the opportunity to guide them or to have them value our experience. We listen to people we respect – and we respect people who respect us.

Be Their Biggest Supporter

If you listen to interviews of people who excel in their fields – from movie directors to scientists, you’ll find that they have one thing in common: They had someone rooting for them.  Life is full of so many opportunities. And we want our children to be brave enough to venture into new territories and make discoveries on their own. But when anyone takes risks exploring options, failures are inevitable. It’s much easier to have courage – and to dust yourself off from a misstep – when you know that you have a parent helping you see your strengths, encouraging you to try again, loving you no.matter.what.

I know that new homeschoolers may have hoped my list would give them great insights into organizational tools or tips about finding resources.  I have those – and I’m happy to share them! But it’s the “thought work” that’s going to lead to homeschooling/unschooling success. Getting clear in your thinking – and a lot of it is revisiting how we parent – these are some critical first steps. It’s what weaves itself through our choices and decisions, making our family lives so much better.

All the rest will work itself out.


If you’re new and wishing you had someone to walk you through the first steps of homeschooling, you’re in luck! I’ve created a group mentoring program that will start in August. Leave me your name and email, and I’ll keep you posted about it.
Or click here to read more




“Am I Doing Enough?”

UnschoolingWhen people begin to homeschool in a less-traditional way, they often worry if they are doing enough, providing enough, educating enough. Good parents worry about that all the time – in non-academic ways too: Are we connecting enough?

Let’s face it, it would be a lot easier to follow a curriculum or just do what the teacher told you to do. But now you’re aspiring for more than that kind of mindless following. While you recognize that the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for you, that does put a significant amount of responsibility on your shoulders.

And that often leads to feeling pressure.

It’s not unusual for parents to ask whether they’re doing enough.
And I have a few different answers for you.

I don’t know, are you?

While this might seem somewhat vague or avoiding the question (no one likes answering a question with a question!), but it’s worth exploring. When we question something happening, we need to dive deeper to look around. Maybe you need to tune in with the kids more to see if their interests have shifted. What intrigued them last month may be old news now. Are there cool happenings in your community this time of year, that you might like to all trek off to see? Festivals, day-trips, etc. Maybe it’s time to talk more about what’s happening in the news or within their circles of friends.

And, as kids get older, they’ve learned how to find lots of their own resources. They’re not needing their parents to do all the legwork for them when they’re curious about something.

Unschooling is far from “hands-off.” The best unschooling moms are those who walk that delicate line of being involved yet not controlling, staying available while leaving room for their child’s autonomy. If you prioritize this way of parenting, you’ll stay tuned in.

And you get better with practice. 😉

Is it just worry and fear?

Does this come from not having deschooled enough?

Deschooling is a funny thing. When we first start on our home educating path, we look around to see where it’s hiding… in our thoughts, in our actions, in our expectations. We look for the schoolish ways that have inserted themselves into our lives and reevaluate if those stories are true. Or was it just conditioned responses from all of those years of complying?

So, when we’ve cleaned that all up, we think, “Whew! That’s done! Let’s go!”

And just like I was telling my son-in-law this morning who told me he had a good handle on how his 14 month old was behaving, I smiled and thought, “Yeah, this week.” We all know the one thing kids do is grow, develop, and change. What works now, probably won’t be a permanent thing.  Parenting is tough!

It’s the same thing with deschooling. You may have removed all the arbitrary schooly notions at the start, but kids continue to grow and take on new developmental changes. Maybe they’re influenced by the neighborhood kids who go to middle school, or the other girls in dance class that are starting high school. Maybe they have some doubts about their abilities, because developmentally they are starting to make some comparisons that they didn’t make before. Or maybe you are doing this. It’s ok, it’s human. Just recognize it for what it is. And know that different phases of childhood may carry emotional baggage for you that you had long forgotten about… and yet something has stirred that cobwebby memory, and now you need to examine it… and deschool again.

Do you have your own issues about learning that you haven’t untangled?

Do you still think that learning can’t possibly be this easy and fun?

After years and years of “schooling,” lots of parents find it hard to break away from some of these ideas:

  • Learning is not fun
  • Learning has to be hard.
  • Enjoying your day (all day) is being lazy.
  • They’ll never be able to overcome an obstacle if they always opt for what’s easy/fun.

Do any of these sound familiar?  It’s not surprising if they do, because this is what our culture tells us all the time and what our own school experience probably solidified.  If something seems easy, we feel like we’re “getting away with something.” Right??

None of these ideas are true.

The research is showing that more play, more fun, more engagement in whatever interests our kids (or any of us, for that matter) IS the best way to learn. Playing provides the opportunities to persevere, to maintain their attention to the task, and to control emotions. All of these are incredibly important life skills and the very things we hope children will take with them into adulthood.  Check out the articles below to read more.

When children aren’t having their entire day scheduled for them – or rushing around in those precious after-school but before-bed hours – they have the time to live at a more leisurely pace. The pressure is gone about learning.

Maybe it’s time to pry the reins away from your fears and look at what’s REALLY happening in your child’s day. Learning happens all the time, so you might do well to list out all the different ways it shows up.  Here are few ideas I’ve seen get brushed aside when a parent is panicking about “what about the learning?” And yet, it ALL counts as learning.

  • Creating things at home or online
  • Painting, drawing, writing (even scribbling)
  • Reading books, comics, etc. (by child or to child)
  • Watching interesting videos or TV shows
  • Asking questions and getting answers
  • Playing outside, with siblings/friends
  • Making up games or playing make-believe
  • Helping out at home
  • Conversations in the car about what they’re seeing or hearing
  • Sports, classes at the Rec Center, museums, nature centers, etc.
  • Venturing out into your community and talking about what you find


It’s not about finding a sneaky way to get some teaching in there. It’s about looking at life differently – your life and your kids’ lives.

So when people ask, “are they happy?” – that really is the key. If your home is lacking joy – that’s where you need to focus. What would make life happier? The learning will be a byproduct of a full and rich life!



Need more to read?

Let The Kids Learn Through Play
David Kohn | New York Times
“As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?”

Play as Preparation for Learning and Life:
An Interview with Peter Gray

The Journal of Play
“Children are designed to educate themselves through their self-directed exploration and play, but to do so well they need certain environmental conditions. They need plenty of free time to play and explore. They need access to the tools of the culture and permission to play with those tools, in their own chosen ways. They need to be able to associate with whom they please, in an age-mixed environment, so younger children can learn skills from older ones and older children can learn to care for and nurture younger ones. They also need access to a variety of adult experts, to whom they can look for help and guidance when they want it. And, perhaps most of all, they need to be immersed in a moral community, where they have a voice in the rules and how the rules are enforced, so they grow up feeling responsible for others as well as themselves. … None of this happens in our standard schools.” (p.281)

Play Well
JJ Ross | The Homeschooler Post
“So looking back at how I made my own connections between play and learning, teaching myself to not teach my children wasn’t work and it wasn’t school. More by happy accident than design I had kept myself busy long enough working through scholarly stuff on play, that it (mostly) kept me from inflicting scholarly stuff on the kids. In the process, I collected bins full of colorful connections to play well with, just like Legos themselves. Could we say that in the end, I taught myself to let go and Lego?”

USA Today Interview

This week, I spoke with a journalist who ​was working on an article for USA Today about unschooling. She specifically wanted to know what kinds of challenges unschoolers face. She described the readership as generally more interested in how to help their child excel, get into a “good” school, and be competitive. Well… you and I know these aren’t traditionally unschooling characteristics.  😉 

Yet, I am on a mission.

It breaks my heart to think of kids that are miserable in the school system being told they have to stay, that they “just have to get through it.”. 

Because I KNOW that isn’t true.

Yes, lots of us felt that was the case when we were growing up. Little did we know that a movement was brewing and one family at a time was quietly leaving the school system saying, “Enough already!”  

I want to do whatever I can to stand on the highest building and shout that there are other ways to learn. AND you can still go to college, get a career, be successful – whatever carrot that has been dangled out there to lead people around. 

So, with that mindset, I agreed to do the interview. The reporter was lovely and genuinely intrigued by the idea of unschooling. She found me through this coaching website and through the Unschooling Mom2Mom website. (Hooray! All those volunteer hours of curating the “best of the best” in unschooling writings and making them all available in one place paid off!!) 

I shared our story of why we left the school system. You can read some about our early homeschooling/unschooling days here: The Patterson Interview or  Our Own Curriculum Wars.

But then we ended up talking about challenges.

So what do I think the biggest challenge is for parents who choose this style of homeschooling?

By far… the toughest challenge is undoing our warped way of thinking about learning and education and children. And we think this way PRIMARILY because of all those years we spent in school. Year after year we were told that we had to “stick it out” because school was our ticket to success.

We were not told that there are multiple right answers to any given question – but instead only one right answer. It had to be all black or all white. And what I’ve come to know is that most of life is gray. And I know now that a multitude of ways exist for arriving at any given answer. People can use all sorts of tools to learn!   

And all of that… takes some undoing. It’s as if we have ruts in our brains. We’re taught to conform and we’ve been conditioned to believe that thinking independently is NOT a good idea. Somewhere along the way, we stopped trusting ourselves and we look for validation from others instead of from within. 

But I’m here to tell you that that doesn’t have to be a permanent way of thinking! 

Thousands of parents – like me – are living proof that you can change how you think about all of this. It takes some deliberate effort to swim upstream though. Society does what it can to influence you to conform, to get back in line. Recognizing this is the first step though. Reading about deschooling and opening up our eyes to what’s really happening right in front of us – these are things that will help change our way of thinking. Noticing how children learn without coercion or lesson plans will help loosen the ties of that old way of viewing learning. Piece by piece, you can begin to dismantle all those preconceived ideas we carry around with us. And we can always talk more about it together! 

THAT’S what I think the biggest challenge is. 

What about you? What has been YOUR biggest challenge as you carve out an educational path for your family? I would love it if you’d share it in the comment box here:


For the Love of Learning – Grown Homeschoolers

I’m so excited to share this fabulous show with you!

I interviewed Jared Martin, Rose Sorooshian-Harrington and Michael Patterson for this 2-hour live show, For the Love of Learning. I’ve known all three of these young people since they were very little – and one is even my own son. They’ve grown into these fabulous young adults who are more than happy to allay any fears you might have about homeschooling your own children.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that they were able to convey so many of the advantages of their educational paths. It’s heart-warming.

Jared Martin, 27, grew up playing with video cameras and exploring his world. Through a series of interesting events, he ended up in the USC film school, graduated, and now works as a filmmaker in Los Angeles.
Michael Patterson, 27, loved travel and community service projects. He was an exchange student in Japan at 16, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Texas State University and then went to work for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua for 2 years. He is married now and lives and works in Dallas.
Rose Sorooshian-Harrington, 25, grew up in Southern California following a variety of curiosities and interests and began her dabbling in the community college system at age 14. She too went on to California State University where she joined a sorority and graduated with a degree in Deaf Studies. She got married last summer and continues to work in the Long Beach area.

I know you’ll fall in love with each of them and be thrilled to hear what they have to say! Sit back and enjoy!

Why Go to A Conference?

Here’s a look at the adorable cabin where I spent my weekend and wrote this post! I was at the Texas Unschoolers’ Conference in the beautiful Hill Country – surrounded by families who wanted to invest their time and money in creating connections with the community, learning more about home education, and having a good time together as a family!  I was so excited to encourage you all to find a good conference to go to.

Quite a few conferences exist out there, but they’re not all created equally. Some are all about their vendor hall – they have tons of curricula to feed any interest (or fear) you might have. Some aren’t really kid-friendly and their sessions primarily focus on the moms.  Some moms have even left a couple of these conferences feeling inadequate and incapable of doing what the speakers suggested. To me, that’s the total opposite of why a person should go! They should come away inspired and loaded with all kinds of ideas and enthusiasm. 

That’s why I want to go out on a limb here and encourage you to go to an unschooling conference or an unschooling-friendly conference – even if you don’t consider yourself an unschooler. 

Here’s why:

Come One, Come All!

You’ll find all kinds of people at an unschooling conference. Sure, plenty of unschoolers, but also relaxed homeschoolers and even those who are just considering homeschooling. Everyone feels welcome!  Lots of unschoolers struggle to find other more open-minded homeschoolers in their local community. Conferences help them see that there are a lot of families out there creating paths that look nothing like school – yet are filled with learning opportunities and adventures.

Stretching Comfort Zones

Some people adore conferences and they seem to go to as many as possible! Others – maybe the introverts among us? – drag their feet a bit. But I’m here to tell you – push yourself past the initial discomfort. Before you know it, that mom or dad sitting next to you in that workshop will be sharing resources, tips or even helping you connect with someone or something locally.

More Inspiration

One of the hallmarks of the unschooly conferences are that their speakers talk a lot about parenting and opening our minds to different ways of learning. If you find yourself stuck in the deschooling phase – you’re still thinking about learning the way school attempts to deliver it – these conferences will be filled with people who can help you break free from that. Often, they’ll have speakers who have grown unschoolers – and if you’re lucky, some of those grown unschoolers will be there too! 

Unschooling conferences tend to be full of people who are much more tolerant of seeing life from many different perspectives – instead of One.Right.Way. This way, we can gain clarity on our own ideas and make adjustments as needed. I learned so much – even now! – at this conference in Texas. And this happens to me every time! They’re all so inspiring and enlightening.

Family-Friendly Activities

Most of the unschooling-friendly conferences I’ve been to, create activities for the whole family to do together: Talent shows, family cookouts, fashion shows, to name a few that come to mind. 

Unschooling conferences tend to have a lot of fun sessions for kids and teens. Some that I’ve seen include crafts, cooking, nerf gun wars, face-painting, games (yes, online games too). There are dances, pizza-parties, CPR classes, letterboxing, scavenger hunts, cosplaying – and so much more. 

Making Connections

For those of us online a lot, it’s so fun to put faces with names. Conferences give us the opportunity to actually meet the writers of those blogposts or Facebook comments we’ve read throughout the year. Dads aren’t left out.There’s usually a time-slot in there for them to share what’s troubling them or what’s working out – in a session solely for men. 

The connections that you’ll see the kids making will really warm your heart. When they meet each other through all their shared interests – or maybe just out at the swimming pool – don’t be surprised to find them Skyping with conference friends long after they’ve gotten home. 

Walk Down Memory Lane with me…

For those who don’t consider themselves unschoolers, per se, I want to tell you about a friend I had when we lived in Alaska. We were all part of a group that was really diverse – from radical unschoolers to traditional school-at-home homeschoolers. She was what’s considered “a Relaxed Homeschooler.” By the time we met her, we were embracing a lot more unschooling concepts. 

She told me that she loved having friends who were unschoolers because they always seemed to have a cheerful curiosity about the world around them – including what was happening with their friends. She found unschooling moms to be resourceful, creative, and willing to make schedule changes if something interesting presented itself. 

She had invited us to come celebrate the Greeks with her family that day. They had just finished a pretty intensive study on the subject, but wanted to create something festive for the end. We were happy to join them eating Greek food, listening to Greek music, wearing togas, and imitating some Olympic style games. 

So look and see how you might be able to add some more excitement into your lives. Look around for a conference!

More Resources

For a list of really great conferences
Which conferences Sue will be speaking at in 2016


12 Tips about Learning & Unschooling

Whether you’re just starting out, unsure about your homeschooling “method,” or struggling along the path, these 12 tips may be just what you need to help you focus on what really matters. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the years about learning and unschooling.

1. Learning Is Unpredictable.
Learning happens when the learner is ready – not just because a bell rings or a parent says to turn to page 37. Instead, it’s when learners are engaged… and usually that’s when they’re playing. 

2. It’s Not a Race or a Competition
Ditch the notion of class rankings or bell curves. Go as quickly or as slowly as you desire.

3. 18 is Not a Magic Number
A switch does not flip and suddenly a teen has arrived in the land of maturity. Don’t let an arbitrary age determine anyone’s readiness for anything. Don’t feel rushed to “be finished.” See #2, there’s no finish line.

4. Relationships Are Different
Without “schoolwork,” kids have time to spend with people and get to know their interests. No one has to be rushing around (I’m sensing a theme here, aren’t you?) The locker mate, the desk proximity, or the first letter of a person’s last name does not choose who their friends are that year. 

5. Let Go of Familiarity
Sucess at learning is directly related to how quickly one can get out of that school-think rut.

6. Examples Pop Up – Don’t miss them!
The more you watch, the more you will see your child learning – in so many unexpected ways. This will help you trust the process more.

7. Resist the Influence of Society
Middle of the night (or day) panic attacks can happen because most of society want to remind you that the process/your child/YOU cannot be trusted to know what’s best to do next.

8. Ahhhh….sleep!
Adjusting sleep schedules can totally change attitudes. Body clocks change over the years. Stay flexible and tuned in. Read up on how teens need sleep in a a different way than when they were younger kids. 

9. “Punished by Rewards”
Alfie Kohn’s book with this title is still relevant today. Arbitrarily creating rewards and punishments for getting a child to comply can often do more harm than good.

10. The Artificial – and Unnecessary – Use of Subjects
Dividing the world into separate subjects that must be worked through systematically does not help a child transition to adulthood. Real Life weaves all sorts of “subjects” in and out and back again.

11. The Perfect Plan
Oh, Perfectionists! You’re going to struggle here. Looking for a curriculum can be a way to procrastinate simply getting started. You have all you need – your child standing in front of you, is full of verbal and nonverbal clues as to the next steps in your path. Watch. Listen.

12. Cheerfulness and Curiosity
Try to approach life as a cheerful adventure. Stay curious about your world, your child’s world – whatever is crossing your paths. Your attitude will have a direct influence on how the journey will go. Have fun, hold on, and enjoy the ride!

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