Your Learning from Living Moment

I've been editing the back issues of Growing Without Schooling magazine into a complete, more readable collection in both print and digital formats. Growing Without Schooling, Volume 2, is now available in print and digital formats. This volume contains issues 20 to 30 that contain many gems about living and learning alongside children in your daily life.

I'm choosing some of my favorite stories from each of these volumes and recording them to give you a taste of the treasure that's inside these books. I'll post a new one each week. As of 2018, I changed the name of this series from Your Living and Learning Moment to Your Learning from Living Moment. It's a minor change, but to me an important one because it emphasizes the agency and action of the learner more.


I was editing GWS V. 3, specifically the issue with this 1983 article by John Holt, when I read a NY Times op-ed in 2018 proposing exactly what John rails against in his article. Talk about the more things change the more they stay the same . . . There are screen shots of the 2018 article in the video.

Author and homeschooler Nancy Wallace replies to a review of her book Better Than School. The reviewer makes the still-common charge that homeschooling deprives children of learning about differing lifestyles and cultures, which can make homeschooled children intolerant or uncaring of other people. Nancy makes the case that “it is the schools, not homeschoolers, who end up teaching their students that some people are better than others.”

Reflecting on GWS articles about homeschooled children’s success and the guilt some feel when they compare their own children to those in the stories, Deirdre Purdy (WV) writes: “Of course it’s a mistaken attitude to feel lessened by others’ accomplishments, but who has never been guilty of it? … But I want to make my big plea for this: it’s OK to be ordinary, living your days out well and happily without newsworthy accomplishments, just everyday going forward, living and learning.” John Holt replies to Deirdre and explains why GWS publishes stories that show children in a positive light. “We have a very practical reason for printing all the good news we can find about the doings of children. We homeschoolers have to contend with two extremely popular ideas: (1) Children can do nothing good, since they are no good. (2) Children may occasionally do something good, but only if some adult makes them. In every way we can, we will continue to show that these ideas are wrong.”

A mom writes: “It’s hard to face our friends and family when they hear about our homeschooling and say, ‘But look at your children, they don’t even read yet.’ They even sometimes ask our children if they can read. The children look down with long faces and reply, ‘No, I can’t.’ It really hurts me when I see them feel ashamed of themselves.”

In reply, John Holt wrote: “Above all, don’t let the boys feel ashamed of themselves … Reading is a useful skill as well as a source of much information and pleasure, and not being able to do it can be a nuisance. But it is not a crime. Reading has nothing to do with intelligence or competence, and I have heard of quite a few highly successful and even wealthy people in this country who could not read at all. There is no reason for shame. Make sure the boys understand that.

“As I say, not being able to read is an inconvenience and a nuisance, like having a broken leg or being sick. But also, once people get over the idea that reading is terribly difficult or that they are too stupid to do it, neither of which is true, and once they decide that for their own reasons they really want to read, they can do it in a very short time, often only a few months or less—I myself personally saw adult illiterates in their 40s and 50s learning the essential skills of reading in only a few weeks.”

This mom provides an example of how to support children when they engage in real work. “According to the bank, the money belongs solely to me. How ridiculous. They were the ones who were up at 6 a.m. daily to feed, water, and groom the animals. They were the ones who missed out or were late arriving at social functions because they were tending the steers in the afternoons. They were the ones to balance bank statements, write checks for feed bills and keep daily records of the project. They did all the work—but the bank does not recognize an 11-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy as established customers of their bank.

You should have seen the look on the piano salesman’s face when my 11-year-old walked into his showroom and began to make a deal on the purchase of a piano. At first he wanted to speak with me, but I made it clear that he and Tammy would be conversing. He was astonished. Tammy was indignant that he didn’t treat her as a valid customer.”

Three short letters from homeschooling moms that describe their children’s emotions and tactics for learning to read and do math at home. For instance, Dorothy Werner writes, “My 11-year-old was sure he was behind in math. Just for fun, we went through the Math outline to see. He discovered he is above grade-level in every area of math. That discovery let him relax about math, and now he spends more time with it.”

More readers offer their support and ideas to the homeschooling mom under stress who wrote in GWS 108. Their honesty and advice is refreshing. For instance, Sandra Brown (MI) writes: "I had no difficulty with my first, 4-year-old Emily, but after the birth of my twins (just before Emily was 3), we have had many challenges. I swore I would never, under any circumstances, spank a child of mine. But when my twins were three months old and I was awakened once or twice an hour at night, out of severe exhaustion and frustration I did spank Emily, and I don't even remember why. It was a single spank, and I stopped myself. I placed her on her bed and locked myself in the bathroom to calm down. Minutes later I told her that it was wrong of me to spank her, and that I was sorry, and we cried together. It was a very powerful moment for us and I have not spanked her again."

Reaching out to young people to write their own thoughts about a topic was a hallmark of Growing Without Schooling for as long as we published it. In these two letters, the young people show a depth of thought and self-awareness that is striking. Homeschooler Alec Young writes, “By being alone and thinking through a subject or problem or project, I form a more honest opinion or plan than I might in a group. When I'm alone, I'm not intimidated by other ideas. However, it is also important to exchange ideas to hear different perspectives and see different ways of looking at things. But I'm a more articulate participant if I've had time to think the topic through on my own.” Clare Murphy, then a young teen, explores Thoreau's description of solitude: "I may be a gregarious person, but I, like Thoreau, have never found a companion better than solitude."

Learning is a process, but when adults think of themselves as the leader of their children's intellectual development they often neglect to recognize and nurture their own learning. Homeschooling often starts with parents reproducing school in their own homes, but as the family learns by living together they can adapt or drop activities they no longer feel are helpful and pursue new interests not dictated by curriculum.

A mom writes in GWS 108, "Maybe other homeschooling parents are calmer, stronger, more centered than I am, and less angry, irritable, and short-tempered with their kids. Is being at home full time with an unhappy mother continuously engaged in power struggles really better than all the rotten stuff that goes on at school?”

From Susannah Sheffer's introduction to this focus feature in GWS 111, The Value of Solitude: "We spend a lot of time in homeschooling publications showing how homeschoolers have opportunities to interact with others, and of course that's important. But these young people make such a strong case for the value of solitude that I think we should consider this a wonderful advantage of homeschooling, something to describe proudly rather than with any sense of embarrassment.”

It's not uncommon for grandparents to help with homeschooling, and sometimes, as this granddad writes, they are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. However, unlike many grandparents who fret about their grandchildren being homeschooled, this one patiently enjoys and supports his granddaughter's unique learning process.
One of the most difficult things to describe to people about homeschooling is how it benefits the grownups too. This story is about a mom who supports her son's interest in photography and while helping him she gets interested in it.

John Holt: "Using people's fears to sell them things, is destructive and morally disgusting. The fact that the computer industry and its salesmen and prophets have taken this approach is the best reason in the world for being very skeptical of anything they say. Clever they may be, but they are mostly not to be trusted.”

Single parents from the US and UK write about how and why they homeschool. For instance, "I am a single parent and Matthew is an only child, and those reasons were paramount in my decision to send him to school in the first place two years ago. ...
Several stories from GWS 20 about children and young adults teaching themselves to read and how adults helped them. The first story includes this observation from a mother: " My teacher training dies hard, I guess. I thought that I would have to present all new thoughts, words, and concepts to him and then he would learn them.
Pat Heiland (IA) writes about how she and her husband learned to support and work with their daughter's idiosyncratic learning. "Giving Anna the freedom to learn and grow has often required that we put aside our conclusions about education, however "liberal," and allow ourselves to become the students.

The first story contains quotes by teachers written on her daughter's report cards over the years and  The second story is about the joyful learning children do when parents don't pressure children to do school work.

These two articles address common issues when living and learning with your children: boredom and helping your children too much. Debra Stewart says, "Whenever my children say that there's nothing to do, I try to restrain the feeling that I am responsible for entertaining them every minute.
This is John Holt's reply to the question all homeschoolers are asked, "What about socialization?" John makes his points strongly, and they are as valid today as they were in 1980.
They Knew is about a newspaper clipping John Holt saved for decades and appeared in Growing Without Schooling 22. Mexican Circus Family (GWS 27) is a firsthand account of how children and adults learn from living.

A mom writes that her son is bored in preschool. John Holt replies, "... My feeling is that E, like all bright and happy little children, is strongly pulled in the direction of adults and their understanding, competence, and skill, and may find it boring or frustrating to have to spend so much time with little folks who don't know any more and can't do any more than himself."

One of the worst things we do to children is deny them the opportunity to participate in meaningful work until they complete their schooling. No one wants to go back to the days of children working in mines, but schooling children without giving them access to real work creates a different, modern set of problems. We learn individually for sure, but we also learn by doing things with and for others.

Two excerpts from primary sources about the education of Abraham Lincoln, who didn't spend more than 6 months in school in his life. He also says, "I never read textbooks for I have no particular motive to drive and whip me to it."

Delores Koene of Missouri writes about her journey to unschooling: "I am a mother of four children, ages 7–14, and we had our first unschooling experience this past year. I had my children enrolled in a Christian correspondence program. To me, it was like reproducing a public school right in our own home with me being everything from principal to janitor..."

A mom describes how her family got comfortable with unschooling: "My husband and I were both very relieved after reading your answer to "A Troubled Parent" in GWS #20 (see below). We removed our 8-year-old son, Atom, from school in September and have been through many of the same emotions . . ."

"A Troubled Parent." This is a long moment (almost 10 min.) but it is a complex subject. The writer's deep doubts about her ability to homeschool her children due to a lack of academic skills and John Holt's detailed and compassionate reply make this a good sample of the types of letters you read in GWS.

A mother wrote to GWS, “There must be other people in my situation where one parent is a confirmed unschooler and the other is not. I certainly do not want to destroy our family life over this, but it cannot help but affect us. If you know how others have worked out this problem, I would appreciate hearing about it …” John Holt’s reply will make you think.

Wes Beach is a public high school teacher who writes about his classes where he teaches “kids to read school policies, rules, procedures, and law to enable them to discover what options exist and to chart their own routes through the system. Some of my students spend virtually all their time in correspondence study and/or college classes.” Wes also describes how he sought and found ways to get his two teenagers more challenging classes and became an unschooler so they could take community college and other advanced classes instead of high school. This article appears in Growing Without Schooling 23.

Many of the early writers to GWS wished to remain anonymous, as this one does, for fear of scrutiny from school authorities. Nonetheless, parents continued to homeschool and share their stories, as this mother does. "The first two months at home were horrible.
This exchange of letters is from a mom in HI who enjoys facilitating her child's learning at home and asks GWS for input. Sasha K.: "I would find it very helpful if more parents could write GWS about the strategies they use to facilitate their child's learning, that is, how they amplify and elaborate on their child's initial expression of interest without imposing the kind of predefined goals characteristic of formal schooling ..."

"This article may be very useful to homeschoolers, not only as a guide in their own work with children, but also as something to quote from in their homeschooling proposals."—John Holt. This excerpt from math Prof. David Wheeler's paper contains his five principles of remediation, which can be helpful as you seek to walk a more patient path of learning with your children.

Art Horovitch, a high school teacher in Alberta, BC, writes to GWS about how homeschooling helped his teenage daughter flourish. However, his fellow faculty at school have trouble with homeschooling and Art seeks help from the readership of Growing Without Schooling.

This is a short piece written by John Holt about a child playing in the office while her mother volunteers there. It appeared in Growing Without Schooling 23.

Praise Junkies

Your Living and Learning Moment from Growing Without Schooling magazine. This is an excerpt from GWS 22, read by Patrick Farenga.