Some stuff from Sandra

Was clicking around Sandra Dodd’s website this evening.   Her website can be frustrating because it doesn’t seem very organized, so if you are looking for something specific, you might not be able to find it.   However, if you are just ‘browsing’, you’ll always stumble upon something great.   Here are a few of those great ‘somethings’, and the links to the specific pages on which I found them:


If unschooling can’t work in the real world, nothing at all can. People will say “How will they learn algebra in the real world?” Is there algebra in the real world? If not, why should it be learned? If so, why should it be separated artificially from its actual uses? “Why?” should always be the question that comes before “What?” and “How?” There is a Sesame Street book called Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum. There is a “things under the sea” room and “things in the sky” room, but still each room is just a room in a museum, no windows, everything out of context. Then he opens a big door marked “everything else in the whole wide world” and goes out into the sunshine. There is unschooling.

Unschooling: You’ll See it When you Believe It

(Newbie) Unschoolers come away from a small school and into the big wide world. Some say “Here is the wide world, and we will be in it and learn from everything around us.” Then they proceed to scan specifically for math, history, science, reading and writing. Because they went to school, math to them looks like flat paper with numbers on it. History looks like books many words and a few maps and illustrations, all arranged in chronological order. Science is wide open—it might be a microscope, or a bug cage or some rocks and a magnifying glass, until the kids are older, and then it will start looking like numbers on flat paper, or maybe a book on anatomy, or the feared and revered “Periodic Chart of the Elements.” Reading and writing should look like reading and writing have always looked—books without illustrations (eventually, and the sooner and thicker the better), and reports with straight margins and numbered pages.

They scan their children’s lives every day for schoolish things. They’re looking for spiral notebooks and they ignore sunsets. Looking for a 50-minute session of history to prove attention span, they miss a pioneer dress-up game and an attempt to build a catapult.

As a final stop before giving up, some come and declare their failure to those who told them about unschooling. They tell us it didn’t work for their family, and that after all, they are the experts in their children, and so they know that their own family is not creative enough to unschool, and their children crave structure. Sometimes it seems they think those who say “Unschooling is So COOL!” are deluded nuts who don’t care much about their children. Other times I think they see our children as brilliant and theirs as dullards.

Now I have come to believe that they just ignored the million things looking for the five or six.

They thought if they left the kid alone for a month he might spontaneously create a four-subject routine, with some music, art and sports put in for extracurricular balance. They envisioned that their child might say, at the age of fourteen (give or take a few) years, “I’m ready to learn biology now,” which would be the beginning of nine months of study, with three dissections and some tadpole measuring, maybe some plant genetics. By May they should declare whether they were more interested in botany or life sciences (step one in “do you want to go to medical school?”).

When a science-minded kid loves to take the dog down by the river and look for wild berries and snakes, some parents say, “My kid just wants to play. He’s not interested in learning. He’ll never learn science just playing.”

Each little experience, every idea, is helping your child build his internal model of the universe. He will not have the government-recommended blueprint for the internal model of the universe, which can look surprisingly like a school, and a political science class, a small flat map of the huge spherical world, a job with increasing vacations leading to retirement, and not a lot more.

Unschooled children can organize their knowledge in free and better ways. They never need to feel they are through learning, or past the point that they can begin something new. Each thing they discover can be useful eventually. If we help provide them with ever-changing opportunities to see, hear, smell, taste, feel, move and discuss, what they know will exceed in breadth and depth what any school’s curriculum would have covered. It won’t be the same set of materials—it will be clearer and larger but different.

“How will they learn everything they need to know?”

Do the best of the high school graduates know everything they need to know? No, and at some point, ideally, they start learning on their own. Some fail to get to that point, though. Unschooled kids have a head start. They know how to find what they need to know, and they have not been trained to ignore things that won’t be on the test.

When parents see how and what their children are actually learning instead of just scanning for the half dozen school-things, unschooling will make sense to the parents. If you wait for school to congeal from a busy life, you’ll keep being disappointed. If you learn to see everything instead of just school things, unschooling will start working for you. When you see it you will believe it.

And finally, Sandra’s Certificate of Empowerment, which I’ll take any day over the similar but much more pretentious ‘Gifted Children’s Bill of Rights’ (which you will only know about if you’ve been reading this blog for a while…


As bearer of this certificate you are no longer required to depend on the advice of experts. You may step back and view the entire world-not just your home, neighborhood or town, but the whole Earth-as a learning experience, a laboratory containing languages (and native speakers thereof), plants, animals, history, geology, weather (real live weather, in the sky, not in a book), music, art , mathematics, physics, engineering, foods, human dynamics, and ideas without end. Although collections of these treasures have been located in museums for your convenience, they are to be found everywhere else, too.

This authorizes you to experiment; to trust and enjoy your kids; to rejoice when your children surpass you in skill, knowledge or wisdom; to make mistakes, and to say “I don’t know.” Furthermore, you may allow your children to experience boredom without taking full responsibility for finding them something to do.

Henceforth you shall neither be required nor expected to finish everything you start. Projects, books, experiments and plans may be discontinued as soon as something more interesting comes along (or for any other reason) without penalty, and picked up again at any time in the future (or never).

You may reclaim control of your family’s daily life, and take what steps you feel necessary to protect your children from physical, emotional or social harm.

You have leave to think your own thoughts, and to encourage your children to think theirs.

Each person who reads and understands this is authorized to extend these privileges to others, by reproducing and distributing this certificate or by creating another of his/her own design. Those who don’t feel the need to obtain approval to experiment, to think, or to do things they’ve never seen others do are exempt, as they didn’t need permission in the first place.

Sandra Dodd

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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