“What are you really afraid of?” she asked me softly, looking right into my eyes.
I was sitting on a couch in a beach house right next to Sue Patterson, a woman I’d followed on Facebook for several years, a woman I consider to be one of the wisest voices within the unschooling community.
I’m not new to unschooling, but when the opportunity to join Sue for a spring retreat for unschooling moms came up, I couldn’t pass it up.
I couldn’t pass it up because...well, it was Sue Patterson!
It was also a rare chance to spend the weekend with some other homeschoolers who “got” me, who understand this weird way I raise my kids and do our homeschooling.
Plus it was the beach! Sue had rented a lovely beach house in Galveston Island, Texas right on the Gulf. I live in Arizona, and I love Arizona. The one thing Arizona lacks in my eyes, though, is the beach. So count me in!
I signed up on Sue’s website and booked my flight.
And then I panicked.
I was going to be spending the weekend with a celebrity in the unschooling world and a small group of perfect strangers. What if they didn’t like me?
With anxiety knotted in my gut, I knocked on the front door of the beach house.
Sue opened up the door and most of my anxiety evaporated. She just exuded warmth and hospitality. She introduced me to Rachel, Michelle, and Billie. Jennifer ended up joining us the next day.
Sue’s original plan had been to lead several workshops over the course of the weekend. What ended up happening is that, armed with copious amounts of chocolate and other snacks, we chatted most of the weekend away.
“You too?” is one of the most powerful feelings a person can invoke in another. Homeschooling can be lonely. Unschooling can be even lonelier.
Conversations about curricula and lesson plans tend to dominate the homeschooling scene. We unschoolers, we don’t have much to contribute to conversations like that, and a lot of people look at us like we’re crazy when we say our kids decide what they’re going to learn.
Being able to talk about what I do with my kids and have the people listening nod and say “me too” rather than look at me sideways was soul-replenishing for me.
Being able to sit side by side with Sue and talk to her about the sticking points in my unschooling was exciting. I’d already spent several years reading Sue’s blog posts and her answers to people’s questions in her Facebook group.
I always learn something from Sue’s answers. She has this way of challenging people to examine why they believe what they believe and do what they do. She encourages people to identify their fears and deal with their own issues rather than playing them out in their parenting. Why and why not seem to be among her favorite questions to ask.
So when we were sitting side by side and Sue asked me what I was really afraid of, we were talking about the one thing in the realm of my unschooling that still caused me some apprehension: my nine year old, Jillian, had recently started playing Halo with my 19 year old, Jarrod.
Now, neither of my teenagers have ever been big gamers. Jarrod plays occasionally, but it never became an all-consuming passion. At 19, I don’t worry about violent video games, but it’s a different story at nine.
Rachel was sitting in another chair, doing her own thing while Sue and I were talking, but when she heard me tell Sue my concern was about what the exposure to all the violence in those games would do to the developing brain of a young child, she joined in the conversation.
Rachel explained that she’d done extensive research into video games and their effects on children a few years ago when her children started doing a lot of gaming because she’d had similar fears. She offered to send me the resources she’d compiled in the process.
We also ended up expanding the conversation beyond fear and control. Rachel shared that she actually sat with her son while he was playing Assassin’s Creed and was astonished to discover a couple of things.
The appeal was the strategy and the challenge, not the violence. As her son was playing, he also explained what he was doing and why he was doing it.
Additionally, she found herself being prompted by her son and her own questions to look things from the game up online and they both ended up learning some history in the process. By engaging with her son while he was gaming, Rachel was able to connect with him and build their relationship.
At some point, the conversation rolled back around to my kids. Without Jarrod in the picture, I’m pretty sure Jillian wouldn’t give Halo a second glance. But - thankfully - he is still in the picture. He hasn’t flown the coop yet, although his days here at home under our roof are numbered, and all of us want to make the most of the time we have left with him here.
Jillian’s no exception. She loves and adores her big brother. It’s hard to find something that will capture the interest of both a nine year old and a 19 year old, and for whatever reason, Halo fits the bill for them. It’s bonding time for them, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them.
Sue was smiling at me, nodding. Yup, it was all coming back to connection and relationship building, like everything else unschooling.
I felt empowered rather than overwhelmed, hopeful rather than fearful, inspired rather than judged.
At some point over the weekend, Rachel, Michelle, Billie, and Jennifer all echoed that sentiment.
That’s the whole point of a retreat like this. That was what was driving Sue’s vision for this retreat. Her heart is huge for families, for parents, for children. Everything she says within her unschooling communities is meant to empower, to inspire hope, to encourage connection, and to always put the relationship first.
She’s planning to sponsor another unschooling moms’ retreat again. Last I heard, she’s looking at September.
Know that I don’t get anything for saying this, other than the personal satisfaction of knowing I could help another unschooler who needs support and connection:
If you need that hope, if you need some inspiration and some time to replenish your soul as I did, if you’re craving connection with other women who actually understand what you do and why you do it, I could not encourage you strongly enough to register for her next retreat when she opens it up.
In the meantime, be sure to check out the resources here and on Sue's websites. Both of us can point you in the direction of even more resources available for unschoolers.
I'm a married, homeschooling mama of three who is passionate about self-directed learning.
Before you buy this booklet, you need to know that I am an unabashed proponent of self-directed learning and that will be reflected in everything I share about my own experiences as a homeschooler.
I’m giving this disclaimer so you aren’t surprised by the clear bias I have toward unschooling.
I want you to know, upfront, what you’re getting and what to expect from me. The advice I give and the questions I ask you to ask yourself are all valuable and valid no matter what style of homeschooling you ultimately embrace, though.
About the Author
Becky Ogden has been homeschooling since 2003, and graduated her oldest in the spring of 2017. In her early years of homeschooling, she too struggled with feeling overwhelmed and inept. In trying to do right by her children, Becky found herself embroiled in battle after battle with them over their schoolwork. Until…
Until she found a better way. One that empowered her children to self-direct their own educations. One that respected their autonomy. One based in “right on time” rather than “just in case” learning.
Without many veteran homeschoolers around to serve as mentors, Becky had to muddle through it on her own. She spent hours of time in research and reflection.
In the years since then, helping other homeschoolers find their own way and solve their problems has become a source of great joy for her.
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org