Oh my goodness! I feel like  I am 14 years old and John Farnham has just said hello to me! {That would have been a dream come true for me when I was 14 years old…that and meeting Andrew Hoy or Vicki Roycroft!}. I have just experienced a most wonderful privilege and honour. Sandra Dodd has given me some of her precious time so that I could interview her for my Home Ed Week series of blog posts. Right now she is in India, holidaying with some unschooling friends of hers. She was so kind to give up some of her valuable holidaying time to chat with me and I am soooo thankful that she did. As we were getting ready to begin the interview {via a chat room} her daughter, Holly, rang on Skype from the US.  Sandra then asks me if I’d like to have a 3 way conversation with Holly and herself so that I could also interview Holly. What a generous, generous family! Unfortunately that part didn’t eventuate as I had an older version of Skype so it wasn’t compatible for the 3-way chat. Holly kindly wished us a good interview:) ***Note to self: download the latest Skype! OK, well without further blabbing and gushing from me, I present: My Interview With Sandra Dodd                                        {1:40pm Australian EST and 8:30am ish India time} Before we begin the interview, Sandra mentions that her next thing to do after this  is to  hang out with a five year old boy who kept nearly getting to have time with her but other things would happen. {Sandra: I’m taking my laptop so we can play video games. But I think that won’t be for at least 90 minutes}. Kim: When and how did you first hear about unschooling? Sandra: I knew about John Holt from college, because I went during the school reform days, early 70’s. And one of the things we were assigned to read was How Children Learn. We read other school reformers, too. Many years passed and I was going to La Leche League meetings after Kirby was born (1986) and after a couple of years I was invited into a babysitting co-op made up mostly of La Leache League leaders. In and around La Leche League, I knew four homeschooling families, but I had no plan to homeschool so I wasn’t “studying” them or comparing them consciously. Two were unschooling, and two were conservative homeschoolers. One military family (dad in the air force) with lots of rules and punishments. One just a controlling mom. Once a week the babysitting co-op had a gathering at a park for the kids to play. Once a month the families (with dads) gathered for a pot-luck dinner. I was in the co-op for a couple of years. When we decided to wait a year on school for Kirby, because he wasn’t going to do well in school socially when he was five, I registered as a homeschooler and subscribed to Growing Without Schooling, which was still being published. And knowing those families, I wanted the relationships their kids had with the parents. So I didn’t consider anything except unschooling, from the very beginning. The school at home families had shown me the unhappiness that came from making a school curriculum part of the relationship. The unschooling families had shown me how peaceful and close a family could be. And their kids were clearly brighter and happier, while the others were increasingly shut down, and sneaky, and avoided their parents at the park. In the 20 years since that babysitting co-op, I have had that experience repeated MANY times, and seen parents lose their children’s trust, with school-at-home methods. The unschooled kids would come and sit in their parents’ laps, even if nothing was wrong–just to be there for a while, and then would go play again. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got, too! I’m still in touch with both of those families. The moms were my first two La Leche League leaders, the first meeting I attended. Carol Rice and Lori Odhner. My kids still hang out with Carol Rice’s youngest daughter, and in February I’m speaking at a marriage conference Lori Odhner runs in Pennsylvania. I see Carol a couple of times a year, because our families are still in Albuquerque. Kim: What have you loved most about unschooling your 3 children? Sandra:  I loved being there when they were happy, and when they were sad. I loved being a witness to so much of their joy and learning, and being a part of their lives in a whole, real way. I do feel sorry for parents whose relationship with their children consists of a few stories about school, and then pressing them to do homework, and eat, and sleep, and go back to school. A few stories about school if they’re lucky. I remember my mom asking “What did you do in school today?” and me saying “Nothing.” Or her really being interested, and me being too tired or frustrated to spend one more ounce of strength or energy repeating what frustrated me and tired me out. I was more likely to tell her about social aspects and recess, because those were things I was interested in revisiting mentally. Kim: I feel the same way. So privileged to know about our kids in that connected way. So your children are older now, can you share about them and what they are doing in their lives? Sandra: Kirby is 24 and lives in Austin, Texas. The company he works for, Blizzard Entertainment, paid to move him there, just as he was turning 21. He’s not allowed to publically talk about what he does at work, so I can’t share that, but those who recognize the company name will be able to make a guess. We keep in touch with Kirby by various electronic means, and we see him a couple of times a year. He was in town for a wedding in summer. His brother drove out there to surprise him on his birthday. Kirby and I went to a homeschooling conference in California. In December we’re meeting at a friend’s house in Texas, between our towns. Kim: Do you miss him lots? Stupid question! Sandra: No. I thought I would, but it’s fine. I like to see him being so independent. I enjoy the excitement in his voice when he shares his firsts. First big purchases, first moving from an apartment to a house. He said he really appreciated that we always had milk and toilet paper, now that he sees that it’s something someone has to think about and do. Keith, Holly and I drove out to visit him in his apartment. Holly has been a couple of other times, flying. Keith and I are visiting again in Spring, to see the house he shares with three co-workers. Things like Facebook, Skype and cellphones help a lot with separations. We’re never completely apart. I think when the child leaves naturally and positively, for a good reason, and the parents were willing to have him stay longer, there are fewer regrets and frustrations than under other circumstances. When kids are small, the mom is constantly on call. When Holly was born I had two and five year old boys. I know what it’s like to have three young children. I also know what it’s like to have three teens driving. But when they’re calmly and confidently grown, the mom can leave for a month and they’ll still be okay. I think when they get to be 19, 20, the feeling can come that they can take care of themselves, and they might feel crowded, and the parents might feel crowded. We have friends and relatives who basically threw their kids out at 18, or started charging them rent. I think that’s cruel. It makes kids dread growing up, and that’s not healthy. Kim: Yes, I don’t understand that at all (throwing kids out I mean). Sandra: We figured a gradual, natural separation would be a better match for unschooling.  If we didn’t call a halt to attachment parenting because a child turned five or six, why have a new artificial cut-off point at 18? It didn’t make sense. Kim: That makes so much sense. I’ve worried about the day Lew moves out and I really shouldn’t of course. Wasted energy. But I love your response. I’ll hold onto that. Sandra: Marty is 21. He’s taking three classes at the community college near us. He walks sometimes, or takes his jeep. His girlfriend is a few years older than he is and worries that he’s not in college, so maybe he’s going for her benefit, but that’s fine. He’s always expressed an interest in engineering, building things, and figuring things out without help. His dad and grandfather are engineers. My dad was a contractor and did steel construction. So Marty might have the genetic combination. But that’s always been one of his talents and interests, so if he likes school he’ll probably continue and study engineering. Marty has a part time job in a soil-testing lab. They analyze the ground where construction will be, which is directly related to his interests, and he’s learning a lot. Holly is nineteen. Her birthday was just recently. I was in India, but had helped with preparations before I left. She has already lived away from home, with other families. She got the urge to go when she was 17. She stayed a couple of months with a family we know in Oregon. Then she went to England for six weeks and worked temporarily as an au pair for a little boy. Then she was in Quebec for four months, working for a European family with two little girls. Then she was ready to live at home again. Now she’s working full time taking care of an eight year old girl whose mother died last summer. Holly drives the girl to the same homeschooling gatherings, dance class, knitting circle, etc., that she used to go to, and they go out for lunch and do art together. They go to museums and have play dates. Then Holly comes home when the dad gets home. So it’s a nanny job, but she doesn’t live in. When Holly first left, she had no plans to move back home. That would’ve been fine. We were in touch lots. But after nearly a year of being out and about, she really wanted to live at home again. We were glad to have her back, too! Kim: Oh my…that is so lovely. I do recall bits and pieces of what Holly has been doing from the Always Learning yahoo group but I didn’t realise she was working as a nanny for a homeschooling family. So lovely. What a wonderful thing Holly is doing for that little girl. Just beautiful. Sandra: She feels tired sometimes, though. A mom will work in the garden or do laundry or take a nap, but a paid helper needs to focus on the child all the time. So she does more direct interaction than she might if she were the parent. Kim: Digressing…Are you in India for unschooling or holidaying? Sandra: I have corresponded with two of the unschoolers in India for a few years, and had met three moms in the U.S. It turned out they’re all in the same city, Pune, so I came to visit! I’ve been staying with Hema Bharadwaj and her husband and two children. They had visited us once. I’ve met several other families and been to a few homeschooling events here. I’m learning what the differences are. And India just this year passed their first compulsory education law. That stirred up discussions and thoughts about alternatives. Kim: So does that mean homeschooling is illegal in India or that they have to register for home schooling? Sandra: It’s not illegal; that was clarified recently. There’s not a place or means for registering yet. It’s in flux. The law means each state needs to provide education, not that every family must partake of it. And passing a law doesn’t create schools or hire teachers. So I’m not sure how it will unfold here. But when I first talked to homeschoolers here, school was not a legal requirement. The grandparents all greatly value higher education, though, and tradition and familial pressure can be stronger than law. When there’s a law that says someone can homeschool, the parents show that law to the grandparents. In the absence of any such things, the grandparents say “just do it” about schooling. And India has a solid extended family tradition. So their pressure isn’t government, it’s tradition. Kim: You’ve had a lot of contact with both new and experienced unschooling families.What have you found to be the biggest hurdle that new unschoolers face? Sandra: Fear, I guess, would be the answer. But different families have different fears, so it’s a hard question. Some are ready to jump away from schooling, so that’s kind of easy. Sometimes the parents don’t agree, and that’s always a hurdle. I use the analogy of buying a yacht. It’s a big decision, and one parent can’t do it without the other agreeing. I can’t decide to own a yacht and tell my husband to just deal with it. Maybe I *could,* but would end up losing the yacht AND the husband. It’s a theoretical and a maybe, because I couldn’t even buy a car without my husband’s signature, as I don’t have my own income these days. Sandra: One secondary hurdle is when a parent feels overconfident, and becomes unwilling to continue to learn. Some unschoolers get on an odd trajectory and won’t accept help, and won’t check back for advice until they’ve made quite a mess. It’s helpful to stay in contact with other unschoolers, both in person if possible, and in writing. Kim: What parenting advice would you give to those who are new to unschooling? Sandra: Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch. That’s my new improved advice for anyone about anything. Some people think they can read their way to a change, or discuss themselves into unschooling.   ***{If you go to this link  http://sandradodd.com/beginning you’ll find a wonderful page of ideas for beginning unschoolers}. *** Kim: Yes, I think I was one of those people to begin with. It’s only time and experience that has given me way more understanding. Oh and being a part of Always Learning! Sandra: It’s important to find out what others have discovered and done, but nothing will change until the parents change the way they respond to the child. But if the parents change EVERYthing about the way they respond to the child, that creates chaos, and doesn’t engender confidence. The child might just think the parents have gone crazy or don’t love him anymore. One solid step in the direction a parent intends to go is better than a wild dance back and forth. And if that solid step feels right, they can take another solid step. Kim: Beautiful! Kim: You’ve written some books on unschooling, Sandra. Could you share a little about them and how we can purchase them here, locally in Australia? Sandra: I have two books. The first is all the essays and articles published in various magazines and newsletters up to 2005. That one is called    Moving a Puddle, which is the name of my favorite article in there. KimI love that article too. It’s one of the first ones I ever read. Sandra: The other is The Big Book of Unschooling, which is a summary of my whole website. Or as close as I could come. When I first started it, I thought I would just quote the best part of each page. That only worked a few times. Mostly it’s new writing, with a link to the older writings. I have been selling books directly, but just in the past few months Lulu.com has started producing books in Australia and in Europe, so I think I will send people there from now on. The shipping from the U.S. to Australia is over $12 per book, and I can’t send both books in the same flat-rate envelope. So I think buying them directly from Lulu.com has just become the best thing for Australians to do. Sandra: I’ll be back home in less than a week. I’ll be glad to touch and smell my family.  We’ve had face and words and voices, because the world is wonderfully accommodating that way in the early 21st century, but just to sit and hold hands is what I will want when I get home. To lean on my husband and to touch Holly’s hair. Kim: Thanks so much for this interview, Sandra. It’s been an absolute pleasure to interview you and sit with you awhile. You are such a big part of our lives here in our unschooling home and also in our local natural learners group. Sandra: Thank you, Kim. I like the thought that some child I will never meet or even hear about might have a softer, gentler life because of something I wrote or said. Kim: Your generosity is amazing. Thanks again, Sandra. Your 5 year old friend must be getting ready for some play. Sandra: Yes, I’m off to play Plants vs. Zombies with Tejas. Kim: My niece plays that game too. Have fun! Bye:) Sandra: Bye! End of a lovely interview x   Well I hope you enjoyed that interview with Sandra as much has I did. I am amazed and excited that this technological age gives us opportunities such as this one. The world is so much smaller now than when I was growing up and I feel so thankful for that, in so many ways. Thankful that Lewi can share his experiences and life with people across the other side of the world and feel some common bonds and links and familiarity.There is an abundance of stuff to be learned about, that is for sure! Here are some Sandra links! These first two are links to Lulu-com where you can purchase her books. Moving A Puddle and The Big Book of Unschooling. The next one is Sandra’s India trip blog. You can follow along to see what she’s up to over there:) Sandra’s Visit To India. This one is the direct link to Sandra’s website. It’s the one I fell over when I discovered unschooling for the first time ever. It continues to be filled {and refilled!} with oodles of information and support for unschooling families. Radical Unschooling. It’s funny, while I was interviewing Sandra we were cooking some roasted vegies we’d picked from the garden. Then Sarah and the kids turned up. So here we all were, Sandra and my laptop on the verandah, eating roast vegies and steamed snow peas and artichoke  and listening/reading Sandra’s lovely responses to my questions. When the interview was ending Sarah noticed that Sandra was off to play Plant vs Zombies. Sarah told Meily. Meily then proceeded to tell us all about this game and how much she loves it and what you have to do in it. The thought of a 5 year old unschooling boy in India playing a game of Plant vs Zombies whilst a 5 year old girl over here in little old Bega raves about the many, many times she’s played it was a lovely one. This world is a really, really small one. Thank you, thank you, thank you AGAIN, Sandra for your time and your wonderful words of wisdom. It was a pleasure and I know this blog post will be an absolute treat for my fellow Aussie unschooling friends. xxxx