Real Talk with an 8-Year-Old Unschooler (Episode 198)
Are you ready for some real talk with an 8-year-old unschooler? This week for both the podcast and this blog post below, our daughter Juliet joins me for an honest conversation from her perspective on what unschooling is and how she's been learning.
Before We Start...
Just as a reminder, the Mama Says Namaste podcast has definitely morphed and grown over the years. We're nearing our 200th podcast episode, and it's taken different forms, starting as an audio blog, then bringing Nathan on as co-host as we covered key seasons, and now our blend of Q&A, topics, and guest interviews. And through it all, there have been blogs to go along with all of the episodes!
I intentionally create these blog posts to cover for the parents who are faster readers than listeners, and for those parents who would much rather hear a podcast than read through content. Recognize there are special features in both - and, in each one of these posts you'll find numerous links to other related episodes and posts, so you can dig deep into the topics that most interest you.
It all wraps up into "intentional family living." We talk about marriage, parenting, alternative education, personality styles, clearing the clutter from your home, head and heart, and family travel. We've covered all these bases to create that intentional life your family loves to come home to.
Meet Jules, our youngest, who is an aspiring podcaster herself! As she's watched me do the podcast every week, it's definitely piqued her interest, and it was a perfect opportunity to once again dive into our unschooling world of learning along the way of truly living life.
Right now Jules loves baking, scuba diving (or at least the thought of it), and podcasting. She's diving into learning more on what all it takes to podcast, and thankfully there are so many tutorials and resources for that. Podcasting is actually a great unschooling example. There is no "podcaster" degree. So how in the world can you be qualified to podcast? Well, you figure out what you need to know...and then learn it! And that's exactly what Juliet is doing, and, it's exactly what I did.
And, as far as baking goes? Here is the reality of what baking with an unschooler may look like:
With no electric mixer on hand and only one measuring cup, we had plenty of opportunity to learn about substitutions, different forms of measurement, and the science of baking. We sifted, measured, converted fractions, added, subtracted, worked on algebra, reading, and spelling...and we made some fabulously delicious cupcakes, I might add.
So yes, our "school" on this day was a full-on baking day that took three times longer, because we added in so many bunny trails of learning.
Beyond the Lessons To Batch Generosity
Then, we went the extra step - what happens so often with school projects? They often result in an accumulation of clutter. Or junk food, etc. Jules loves to bake. However, we don't want all those sweets in our home. What a great opportunity to spread the love! It can be a lot to dump a whole cake or dessert on someone, but a serving-size portion is often welcomed as a treat.
Think about it - when you think craft project or baked goods, oftentimes it's a lot of pressure for an elaborate creation that then is handed over to a loved one to carry the obligation of enjoying it all. We like to do batch projects instead - creating "assembly line" processes where we can spread the love with a minimal impact to each person. It's about the thought and the attention way more than most people seeking to accumulate more (weight in their home, or on their bodies).
Adventures in Costa Rica
Before we ever hit the road to RV the states full time, we did a month-long adventure in Costa Rica in 2015. Juliet turned 3 in September, and we took off for the full month of October.
Just like the graphic to the right, all the girls know, "the world is our school and everyone is our teacher". So they have all been unschooling from the time they were born. And there was plenty to learn with embarking on a new country for a month!
There is good reason for parents to be hesitant about doing big things when your kids are young. Will they really, truly, remember it? That's why I wanted to hear from Juliet on her take of our time in Costa Rica. At just three years of age, this experience was definitely a core memory she continues to cherish to this day.
This trip was pivotal for her as it was the final phase out of bibs, high chairs, pacifiers, and "baby" - our little baby definitely grew to a "threenager" for sure!
In her words,
"Costa Rica was a place of learning. The second we got there, I just felt like I was home, but I was, like 15,000 miles away from home. So I just loved that place. And I learned a lot about Spanish, as well [learning about all] the sea creatures. That was really fun... We learned to not to make a monkey angry!"
Yes, those monkeys are smart cookies, and they didn't appreciate Nathan's silly monkey noises, and they let us know by pooping on our car! We had some funny memories wrapped up in our lessons learned, for sure.
We learned a lot about navigating a new country. We learned a lot about a new language, new culture and different ways that they did things. We talked to the locals and got to know local spots and local routines. We enjoyed the afternoon siestas, amazing copos and the hot springs only the locals knew how to get to, and where Juliet first learned to swim!
Yes, some of Juliet's memories may be more triggered by pictures and stories we have shared together, but us experiencing this as a family created a bond of connection that is very much a part of the foundation I want to lay for all of our education. When we connect first with our children, we can start to see, from their world, what will light them up, spark their curiosity, and fuel them forward.
"If you, if you learn, If you learn about something and really have power in it; you learn and you grow from that area, then you just don't forget it, even if you're 99 years old." Juliet, Age 8
Full Time RVing
Exactly one year from our Costa Rica adventure, we started our trek across the States. We hit the road in our travel trailer in October, 2016, a week after Juliet turned four.
Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina...we covered all the states, and the girls memorized them in geographical order. And that right there is another reminder of how learning just happens. Do you think they might have an even better concept of geography as they literally know the roads that connect the states and how we drove them?
"I was really in it. I mean, books really show you another story, and then traveling the States full-time...that's like a once in a lifetime opportunity! It's the experience that really makes it come together.
I learned when you dig a hole on the beach, baby sea turtles can fall in that hole, get trapped and then get eaten by birds. So you want to fill in the holes. And that was just one out of a million things that I've learned. I've learned about the ocean animals - I love hermit crabs.
I've learned a lot about a lot and a lot of things with experience and that's the best.
I think that's the best way to do it. You're gonna learn by someone telling you, but I think the best way to learn is in a book and experiencing it yourself, like holding a tiger salamander." Juliet, age 8
Unschooling On The Road
We have had amazing interactions with animals, and we have learned a ton simply through this one area of focus. I've shared before about Clara's betta fish unit studies she did, and all of the subjects covered.
Of course we're covering all kinds of sciences, but beyond that, we're reading, writing, calculating expenses, learning about psychology, human and animal nature, how things work together, and what our impact is in all of it.
Living life with awareness that education is a life-long exploration means we simply have this on our radar at all times. When we sense a child is curious, we take the time to dig and explore to open up that natural desire even more. We are not the experts, and we don't take on the pressure to know it all. We model exactly what we seek from them - to not be afraid to say "I don't know"...and then know the tools for how to find an answer.
One thing the girls were into before we hit the road that really allowed for some cool unschooling experiences was creating their own videos. There are so many they have explored, and in their desire we've gone down the paths of Shakespeare, song-writing, learning about plagiarism and copyrights, and learning about ALL the moving parts to create a video.
For this rendition of "Romeo and Juliet with a Logsdon Twist", it took the girls two months. Here are just a few of the details that went into it that have enriched their learning:
- They researched, modified and memorized their script.
- They learned all about make-up and how to improvise to create different characters since we had a small cast.
- They price-shopped and budgeted to buy a few special props (and were brilliantly smart about "needing" to have a wedding cake as a prop).
- They had to persist through when not everyone was willing to work through it (cue our 6-year-old diva who plays that dramatic actress role well). Learned all about psychology, mindset, and how to work together as a team.
- Clara created her own music in GarageBand so they didn't have to worry about copyrighted music. (whole lesson on music creation here)
- They made a trailer as a preview - and they created the thumbnail graphics in Canva (lessons in graphic design).
- They put their own creative spin and insights into a classic tale, taking ownership and imagination, and decided on a new message they wanted to portray.
it's not just about what school subjects they might've covered in this video.
Juliet really learned how to work well with others and how to persist on even when She got frustrated.
Which will serve her better? Knowing how to recite all of Shakespeare's play, or how to work together as a team? Life skills are critical. Memorization will only get you so far.
"I remember times where I would just sit in a blue hammock and not want to do it. I didn't want to do it. I did not want to do the movie. It was too many lines I didn't want to play. And then I just found all the goodness in it. I looked for the beautiful and the fun adventure and I learned from that."
What'd you have to do, who was in charge of making that fun for you?
"I was. And I'm still learning that. I am in charge of [my attitude]." ~Juliet, Age 8
Life skills are what great learning is all about. It's not about memorization and just acquiring knowledge; at least not in our world. It's about building emotional resilience. Fostering a growth mindset. It's work ethic. It's willing to persist through when you've committed to do something. It's stepping up for others learning how to work together versus competing for the spotlight. It's bringing awareness and gratitude to the forefront and embracing a growth mindset for continual learning.
this was something that we just made. mommy and daddy didn't ask us. We just jumped in because we went to learn about it. We wanted to learn about Romeo and Juliet and create the video and it was like puzzle pieces putting it all together. (Juliet)
Navigating Life Skills
Sometimes our kids will come up with something they want to do all on their own, like creating these videos. Sometimes, we give them a few guidelines.
One example we've shared before is when I went out of town, Nathan needed to go down to Georgia to the family lake-house and pick up another camper that we had. And so he and the girls were going to go. He gave them two instructions:
- Here is $300 - get us to Georgia, and make sure we're fed.
- If you fight, you get to hold hands, take a nap, and I deduct $30 out of the money.
Now, this wasn't a threat. This was playing into knowing our children and how they are best motivated.
Sometimes natural consequences are there on their own. Sometimes we create a consequence - like the girls not having as much money to spend on food for their trip if they fight - because we want to give them accountability. We created a challenge to keep from picking on each other. We didn't forbid fighting; it simply meant that if they choose to bicker without coming to a resolution on their own, it cost them some time and energy...in the form of money...which took us time and energy to create.
Let's get into how we motivate and guide our kids based on personality styles.
Pay Attention To How They React
We look at personality styles not as the end-all-be-all or even a personality solidifier. It's simply a window into seeing what their default reactions are and how we can best navigate it.
For the Georgia adventure Nathan took the girls on, Clara thrived in her role as treasurer and keeping tabs on their budget and how they could stay organized. Juliet loved the challenge of picking out food that both yummy for all of them but also healthy enough for a meal. And Ellie loved the fun of simply role-playing like they were the adults in charge and stepping into that responsibility.
Let's go back to the videos. The girls have created a lot of videos. For our family, it has created a perfect element for everyone.
Clara loves the analytical details, ensuring we don't miss anything, and getting those perfect camera angles. She loves the editing process and putting all of the pieces together.
Ellie loves being in the limelight, getting the costumes and make-up just right, and generally having fun.
Juliet loves a challenge, performing, and directing, as well as being the model/fashionista for her sisters.
Again, we know how to motivate these girls due to us digging deep into who they are and how they are best going to be motivated! Not only that, if you're listening to this corresponding podcast, you've heard how well our eight-year-old can identify and highlight her sister's and her own strengths.
More Insights From Jules
How helpful is it for kids to learn about personality styles?
Well, it's actually pretty easy. Personality styles are actually kind of important. I like using it as the bird example, like a high I would be a bright red parrot, an S would be a dove, a D would be an Eagle, and then a C would be like an owl.
And those kind of helped me, along with knowing it spells DISC!
It's pretty helpful with knowing someone too. I'll meet a friend and I'll say, "Mommy, she's S, or Mommy, she's D, and I just know that gives me power and it makes me happy to know that Power.
Hmm - so you have power over them...how? Is this just a label that you just put on somebody?
No, I feel powerful because I know how to relate to them! I can have trouble letting someone else be a leader. So when I know how they may react, then I know better how I can act to play with them. I know how to navigate the relationship. When you know about personality styles, you understand a little bit more so you can know when someone just needs downtime or space, and it's not always about you.
They Lead, You Lead
There are so many things that we can cover where we we've had educational experiences. Sometimes it's just living life and it's doing those things like going to the grocery store.
Sometimes it's creating things and getting lost in a world of doing a video that becomes a full family endeavor. Sometimes it's going and doing something. We've banded Saw Whet owls in Virginia with an ornithologist (and learned what that word was). We toured the Dropbox headquarters in Austin, Texas. We learned about a whole utopian society that tried to survive in Southern Florida, and created their own electricity in the unchartered area near Ft. Myers.
There are so many opportunities for growing and learning simply by living life and discovering its beauty together.
In her own words again, here is Juliet's feedback, along with my thoughts in italics:
I think some parents will think their kids will just sit around if they give them option to unschool and grow. So you have to first just talk with your kids and ask them their opinion. Do they really want to learn and grow on their own? (Sometimes parents create a plan for their kids without consulting the child on their own opinion. It may be the child knows exactly what they want to learn more about, or sometimes a child will strongly desire more structure).
So what if they just want to sit in front of a screen and eat chocolate cake?
Well, if they know how to manage it, go for it! But it may be that they need some gates to start. Like, you get two hours of schoolwork, and then you can play some video games and eat a slice of chocolate cake and stuff. It's important to set parameters instead of just letting them roam around if they are struggling on their own.
If they are really inspired to grow and learn, then you just follow that. You let them lead. You can take away the gates (guidelines to help them self-regulate) because you trust them. Then, if they go against it, you can help them reset with those gates back up. They have to learn what they can manage.
Mama's Two Cents
That's a pretty insightful perspective from an eight year old. We believe that this is a lifelong process of learning and growing together. And so for that reason, we are looking at building those foundational life skills and helping them to figure out how to do that.
One of those things is learning self-discipline and self-regulation. And so I don't put the pressure of regulating screen time on a five-year-old, because a five-year-old is still learning self-management and discernment and doesn't have the life knowledge I do. Some people manage themselves well. Some don't, adults and children alike. And those adults - and children - have a plethora of resources to help them stay accountability. It's a-okay to help each other out when we are weak in our own regulation. Just like I set myself up to be responsible by putting alerts on my google calendar so I don't lose track of time, my child may benefit from a timer to help them keep tabs on their own time.
Sometimes there will be opportunities where you can let your children test their own limits, just like with running and flipping and jumping - they have to figure out the balance of when they fall and get hurt and when they don't. Sometimes, it's a chance for us to connect and help them remember we all have different skills sets, and we can support one another with systems and checks for accountability.
The Real Talk
If you really want to thrive as an unschooling family, you have to get real. Get real with who you are and what your patience level is. How much ambiguity can you have versus needing structure? How do you relate to your child? How well can you anticipate when you are triggered and frustrated, or when your child is?
How well does your child know themselves? Do they know how to stay motivated to finish something, or what skills give them confidence? Are they happy and a part of the family team?
We approaching learning and navigating life with lots and lots of "real talk" - we talk about the reality of things and how it really makes us feel, like how a TV marathon all day may seem like a fun idea, but in reality, it makes everyone cranky, aggressive, and very short on patience as we've been fed constant stimulation for hours.
We pause and experience so we can pay attention to the reactions in our bodies when we eat too much, do too much, feel too much. Before we can learn, we have to bring it to our awareness. And getting real with our relationships - with ourself and with others - is at the core of this.
A Word Of Caution
Be careful leaping into unschooling and flipping to the other extreme. If you're coming from a traditional school model, your child has already been navigating a whole different world of instruction where they very well may have been told every step they are to do. To go from that to no direction is overwhelming and scary for the whole family.
You may have a child who has never known - or needed to - manage their time. Their parent's schedules and school schedules have allowed them to float within those regulations. And then, they are expected to manage their own time yet don't even know how to start to self-regulate.
Unschooling does NOT mean hands off. It is very, very hands-ON. It's being attentive to your children and recognizing when they need you to step in and support them because they simply lack the life perspective and maturity that will help them discern on their own.
What we found is, the more trust we can put in our kids and the more opportunities we can give them for their independence, the more they step into their own level of sufficiency and competency.
For example, Juliet chooses to set a timer for screen-time because she knows she gets distracted and that way she doesn't have to think about it and hears the timer go off. She knows how her body feels after too much chocolate cake, and doesn't feel the need to gorge, knowing it's not her one-time opportunity. And, she knows that, if she wants to be pen pals with her best friend in another state, she's going to have to know how to not only read and write, but engage in conversation in a letter. We build the foundation bit by bit.
There are many reasons I wanted to have Juliet on today - not only for you to hear her perspective, but to also listen in on an unscripted conversation with an unschooling mama and her child. What did you notice in the podcast?
When even your young children can recognize their part in the family team, it's amazing how they can step up in responsibility.
First and foremost, get real with yourself, and your children. What are your interests? How are you best motivated? What triggers you into reactive behavior?
And when we can better understand how each other is motivated, then we can really thrive in an unschooling family atmosphere where the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Namaste
Dig Deeper with These Posts and Episodes:
- Who Is Your Home?
- Why I believe in Functional Education...and why You Should, Too
- I Am Not A Teacher (But I Unschool)
- Education Overhaul #1: Reframe Your Thinking
- Education Overhaul #2: Define Learning
- Education Overhaul #3: Lose the Lingo
- Education Overhaul #4: Breathe
- Education Overhaul #5: Have Fun!
- What Kind of Teacher Are You?
- But What About Socialization?
- Those Crazy Crunchy Families
- What If It Were Possible?
- My Child Will Never Read
- To All Teens Everywhere
- Life Long Learners Come In All Personality Styles
- A Week In Our Home
- Can I get a little help around here? Homeschooling can be lonely! (Episode 104)
- Life Skills and Dealing with the Critics (Episode 107)
- How can I be both teacher and student? Reach for the sun yourself! (Episode 74)
- Homeschool Rebuttals (Episode 61)
- History in a Distillery and other opportunities for learning (Episode 47)
- What is your internal motivation? (Episode 44)
- Your Credibility as Lead Explorer, Not A Teacher (Episode 42)
- What Type Of Thinker Are You? (Episode 43)
- Embrace The Struggle (Episode 41)
- Are You A Different Drummer? (Episode 39)
- Deschooling and the Myths of Education (Episode 40)
- Family VIPs and the Power of Teachability (Episode 24)
- College (debt) Or Something Else? (Episode 116)
- Don’t Stress Education; Let Them Play (Episode 139)
- Quarantine Boredom and Life Skills (Episode 140)
- Why are Snakes In Our House? (Episode 154)
- Learning from Home the Socratic Way with Samantha Jansky (Episode 158)
- 48 Days to the Work You Love – Education and Career Choices