by Ashley Logsdon

Snakes, Unschooling, and Fear of the Unknown (GUEST Episode 255)

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It's been brewing on my mind lately how many adults are quick to shut down my daughter and her love of snakes. And, how often we can write off something as "not for me" without allowing space for growth and discovery. I was that mom who said I'd "never" have a snake in my house. And then my daughter Clara came along. 

Functional Education goes beyond a classroom, grade level, or score.

It is a lifelong approach to learning where the world is our school, and everyone is our teacher.

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Functional Education

If you haven't yet listened to the podcast season on Functional Education we did, there are many links below to podcast episodes where we dig into education and how we teach. 

In our unschooling model, we really look at the whole world as a school, and every person we come across as a potential teacher. If we learn nothing else but what NOT to be/do, we're still learning something! 

So on that note, I asked Clara to share some insights into snakes, and maybe open the door a bit more into a greater respect and understanding for us all. 

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From Clara:

Many people have a fear or disgust of snakes, but why

It’s scary not knowing where a potentially dangerous animal might be hiding. All of a sudden you hear a rattling tail, or something slithers away faster than you can think!

When I bring up the idea of snakes in a conversation, the quick response is almost always a negative. My Mom used to think the same way until she decided to let go of her fears. So many people seem to have this common fear, yet only 2% to 3% actually have a true phobia, known as ophidiophobia (according to National Library of Medicine). 

Studies have shown that babies and young children have a stronger reaction and awareness to snakes (when compared to animals like caterpillars and frogs), but do not show any signs of fear around them. 

So it may be true that humans have developed awareness of certain animals during their evolution, but the only true fears that humans are born with is a fear of falling and a fear of loud noises. Any other fears are influenced by life experience, and more often, the opinions of others.

From my observations, it seems that most females have learned to fear them, and most males have learned to kill them, yet in the cases I’ve seen they share that they used to hold snakes as children, without any fear or hatred, yet they couldn’t imagine doing it now.

Most people don’t intentionally teach others to fear or hate snakes, but children pay attention to the actions and comment of others, and often carry that with them throughout life.

In the 13th century, when humans were beginning to classify animals and the study of herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) was coming together, Vincent of Beauvais lumped reptiles, amphibians, and worms together, describing them as “monsters".

This idea of reptiles and amphibians as monsters continued for centuries, and the same ideas are still spreading. It was only in the 19th century that Latreille named the group of limbed amphibians batrachia, which separated reptiles and amphibians. This was the first step in caring about reptiles and amphibians separately, and, for some, disconnecting them from their title as "monsters".

In my experience, most people don’t have any real reason to hate snakes. Most often those people have rarely encountered or had any experience with snakes. And it makes sense - why would someone be curious if they believe they've already been told all they think they need to know? If history has already placed them as “monsters”, that’s enough to keep many away. 

In other cases people do have a reason to fear them, like a negative experience as a child. And often in these encounters the snakes are not at fault. Many traumatizing snake stories I’ve heard have involved humans harming snakes. And, under my observation, most reactions to snakes aren’t someone first thinking about the snake’s feelings. 

It can be hard to reason with people that have no reason for their beliefs, other than to ask that they approach the world with a more open mind. It doesn’t mean you have to like snakes or any other animal. But before you use that fear as an excuse, a reason to harm or harass an animal, or even as a connecting point with others, simply be curious. Try to find the root cause of your fear (if any) and research the science behind it. 

If the fear is that the snake might bite, you, you can easily learn that snakes will avoid biting as much as possible, often putting on elaborate defense displays. Even venomous snakes don’t want to waste their venom on something they couldn’t eat; they will only bite if they feel like there is no other choice. 50% of venomous snakes bites are “dry bites” where the snake doesn’t release any venom. (According to National Library of Medicine)

If you really look into it, snakes aren’t dangerous. There are 3,971 snake species in the world known today. Out of that, there are only 600 snakes that are considered venomous, and out of that, only 200 species are considered potentially harmful to humans. 

In the United States, there are 30 species of venomous snakes. There are no venomous snakes in Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Unfortunately, like so many animals, snakes are in danger of habitat loss, which forces them to find safety in areas populated by humans, where they are often killed by misidentification. Some people think it’s okay to kill a snake because they may be venomous and potentially harmful. Really, snakes can be some of the the best natural pest control, and, unlike cats, they won’t leave dead animals laying around, carry fewer diseases, and unlike poisons, they are beneficial to our ecosystem instead of detrimental to other animals such as birds.

The symbolism of a snake’s ability to shed its skin can be a great reminder to let go of the past in order to grow into the future. 

So be like a snake and shed your fears.

Check Your Fears

I love how she ended her essay. Think long and hard about how you are approaching the unknown with your children. Is it a quick shutdown, with a shudder of abhorrence? Are you quick to tell them your feeling without any fact? 

I had to really check my fears at the door because I have to practice what I preach. When we talk with our children about how everyone is their teacher and everywhere is their "school", that opens the door to lifelong learning from any scenario. So when my child goes down a passion journey of learning about something, regardless of my feelings around it, there may very well be a time they surpass my knowledge. Am I willing to hear them out?

Clara has made a great case for snakes as being a valuable part of nature and our ecosystem. She's inspired me to slow down, to educate myself, and be open to the possibility. And she's shown me there is so much I don't know in this world. That doesn't have to be a parent fail. It's a parent awareness that I don't have to know it all. I want to simply walk with her and learn alongside her, from her, and with her. 

You give them anything they want to learn about...right?

Um, no. Actually, this is a critical aspect of why it's so important to have internal motivation. We believe our kids should have some "skin in the game" with what we pursue! While we don't expect a child without a job to pay for everything, there is definitely an investment process as we learn together.

Our kids are required to do their own research - so, for example, here are just a few things that Clara researched and educated me on before we got any snakes:

  • How do you care for a snake?
  • What do snakes eat?
  • What is the best snake to get? What is local in what area?
  • How do you keep snakes from escaping?
  • How much does it cost to keep a snake? 
  • What all is needed for a snake? 
  • Where can you get a snake? What does vet care look like?
  • How long do snakes live?
  • How do you interact with a snake, what are their defense mechanisms, are they venomous, etc?

Not only did she cover all these bases, but in the process, that opened up the door to how many different subjects?? Math, reading, writing, marketing, economics, social skills, biology, zoology, many things!

Insights into the future

Clara does her due diligence with research. She also is learning about how people are making money working with snakes, and she's created various entrepreneurial endeavors to support her interests so she can buy her own supplies as well. She is currently taking a Jr. Master Herpetology course with the Amphibian Foundation, and has gone deep with research into genetics and understanding breeding. 

She's getting a taste of what it costs to take care of an animal, and using her own money to pay for an AskAVet service to learn more about her snakes. She's supporting her snake vloggers on Patreon that have taught her everything. And, she's learning how to be a good steward of her own finances in the process, determining what's worth spending money on, and how much she needs set aside for hard costs to create more products to sell, etc. 

a few fun snake facts

So here are a few fun snake facts beyond what Clara talked about on the podcast - 

  • When a snake eats, their esophagus is up near the front of their mouth, so they can actually push it up and move it over to the side so they can still breathe, even if they have a whole pig in their mouth. (Crazy)!
  • There are also different types of snakes - colubrids, elapids, pit vipers, boas and pythons. No boas or pythons have fangs (they are constrictors). The elapids have front fangs that are smaller (like Mambas and Cobras), and pit vipers have very large front fangs (like Rattlesnakes). Colubrids, for the most part, are non-venomous, but if they are venomous, they are rear-fanged, and their venom isn't as strong as the others. 
  • Snakes have many defense mechanisms beyond striking/biting. A hognose snake, for example, will fan out their heads to look like a cobra, puff up their bodies and hiss, and even play dead! This little guy to the right is an Eastern Hognose snake we caught and released, and it was crazy to me how it would just lay limp like a dead snake for so long! 

Want to learn more about snakes? Here is what Clara recommends checking out:

Don't Tunnel Vision

Be careful, when your child shows an interest, to not hyperfocus so much on one aspect that it tunnels you strictly just to this. What I mean is that this journey of snakes has not been one that just stuck to snakes. It started with a desire to get a fish, which led to her learning about all things betta fish, which then opened the door to the amphibian world, which led her to the reptile world.

And in this fascination, she's now grown an interest in geneology beyond snakes, she's come out of her shell more in her excitement to share what she knows with others who are interested, and she's stretched herself so far beyond snakes, creating full business plans for exotic pet boarding resorts and more. 

You can find Clara here...

At various times in her schooling, Clara has published a children's book with her grandmother, had a website, and has sold multiple artistic pieces of all kinds. As she's grown, she's explored so many options with snakes, as well as looking beyond snakes to other ways to support her passions. With our focus on financial literacy and playing the game Cashflow, at this point she's not looking at an income from snakes as much as setting up investments that allow for the income to support her animal loves. She's back to revamping her website as we speak, and has been making some amazing art to sell on the side just to feed her passions. 

Your Weekly Challenge:

Talk to your children about what they are interested in. Can you elaborate on it? Can you open the door beyond the actual thing to more? For example, could an interest in unicorns open the door to learning about horses, or flying? Could you set aside your fear of sharks, bugs, snakes, or heights to learn and grow with your child?

Our lives are not compartmentalized. Open the door more broad than a simple interest, and see what may develop. A simple love of unicorns could lead to an interest in aviation. An introvert's love of animals may lead them from dogs to looking at herpetology as a profession. Check yourself with how quickly you may shut down an interest due to your own ignorance on a subject. We are each unique with different interests, and if we open the door to learn and grow together, we truly honor how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Namaste

Nathan and Ashley Logsdon

Questions or comments?

Personality styles, marriage/intimacy, parenting, education, minimalism or travel - what is pressing on your mind?

Or, hop on over to the Unschooling Families FB group and ask your question there!

About the author, Ashley Logsdon


Ashley Logsdon is a Family and Personality Styles Coach and Lifelong Learner. She and her husband Nathan are RVing the States and unschooling their 3 girls. Her mission is to shift the mindsets of families from reaction to intention, and guide them in creating the family they love coming home to. Looking deeper than the surface, we assess the strengths, triggers, and simplifying your lifestyle so you truly recognize how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.

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