#21 - The Freedom to Learn: A dialogue with Mary Griffith, Author of The Unschooling Handbook
🗓️ Recorded may 10th, 2023. 📍Chateau de L'Isle Marie, Normandy, France
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About this Episode
Have you ever wondered how unschooling could unlock your child's passions and potential?
Join us for an inspiring conversation with Mary Griffith, where we explore her family's journey with unschooling, fencing, and homeschooling. Mary shares how fencing became a significant part of their lives, allowing her daughters to pursue their interests without the constraints of school involvement, contrasting her experience with high school sports in the 1970s to the landscape of sports today.
While supporting her children, Mary became involved with the Northern California Homeschool Association and decided to write books on the subject. We discuss her challenges, the importance of family support, and her daughters' unique experiences in their educational journey. From reverse engineering her daughter's unschooled life to meet university requirements to exploring different learning styles, Mary's insights are sure to inspire others considering this unique educational path.
Finally, we discuss the need for children to explore the world, free from the confines of a classroom, and the vital role family support plays in fostering a successful environment for prospering.
We also touch on Mary's journey with unschooling, music, and her love of natural history.
Don't miss this opportunity to learn about the powerful potential of unschooling and how it can strengthen parent-child relationships, encourage curiosity, and foster a lifelong love of learning.
- https://MaryGriffith.net > Mostly on Unschooling
- https://MaryGriff.com > Fencing, politics and all things inbetween.
Books by Mary Griffith
- The Homeschooling Handbook
- The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom
- Viral Learning: Reflections on Homeschooling Life
Watch on YouTube
Jesper Conrad: Today we have the pleasure of talking with Mary Griffith, and we are, of course, going to talk about unschooling, but also a little bit about fencing, because I read on your home.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, you don't actually see into the future.
Jesper Conrad: No, no but I will start asking about fencing and go into unschooling later, because it's on your home page that you have been or presume you still are Very happy about fencing and I'm like how do you end up with an interest like that?
Mary Giffith: Yeah, homeschool your kids. Yeah, basically basically years ago when the Antonio Banderas Zorro movie came out and my older daughter said, mom, i've always wanted to do that because the local paper did an article about local fencing clubs. And she says I've never asked because I never knew there was any place that we could do it around. So she started fencing And she did it for about a year and and after. After my younger daughter's unfortunate experiences the same year with the soccer team that had already been together for three years and she'd never played soccer before, so that turned out not to be a great match But she decided to fence to and her older daughter decide well, i guess she could do the same sport as me And Christie is the one that took at.
Mary Giffith: She's now a collegiate college, college or she's a college fencing coach in Cleveland, ohio now. So she decided when she was 15 she wanted to be a fencing coach and she went and she majored in exercise sciences and kinesiology and college and had a fencing scholarship and worked at a recreational club for about 10 years and now she just got to. Just this year started with Cleveland State.
Jesper Conrad: And how did you then get yourself into fencing, was that?
Mary Giffith: well, i was one of those people. When you're, when you're there are crazy sports parents and then there are parents who try not to be crazy, yeah and I don't know. Sports, youth sports has got the same kind of weird parent thing in Europe we do here. I mean, it's nuts here.
Mary Giffith: It's just you know, and it's connected with the school and people want to do great sports because they will help their kids get into Ivy League schools and it just very it's nuts. But I discovered that I could not stand next to the strip and watch my kids fence and keep my mouth shut without my stomach turning. And somebody said, hey, why don't you help me come run the computer and help run the tournament? It turned out I was good at that And it turned out I was going to as many or more national tournaments as my kids were, because eventually I became chair of USA fencing's tournament committee and I was running national champions and stuff, which was an experience.
Mary Giffith: Let's say I have a somewhat jaundice attitude about the administration in the Olympic movement. The athletes are great, some of the coaches are a little weird, some of the parents are totally nuts. The athletes are great And the sport is great. But USA fencing is a little weird too because at the time we got involved they were growing about 20% a year and not adjusting their tournament qualification path fast enough to keep up with the growth. So we had cases where I was running tournaments, where we got there at the venue at six o'clock in the morning fencing started. You know we had opened up the venue at seven for fencers to come in. Fencing would start at eight and sometimes it would go till midnight or even later Because there were so many people. I mean we had summer nationals that I ran. I think the biggest one was just under 10,000 entries over 10 days.
Mary Giffith: It's not like it doesn't look like the Olympics, it looks like this vast. You know, you can see on some of the old posts, on my fencing posts, where I talk about the frustrations of it getting big. But if you get me started on fencing I can go on for hours about all sorts of things administratively and everything. So I don't know that we necessarily want to go into that.
Cecilie Conrad: I think maybe we are more here for the unschooling.
Mary Giffith: I would think so. Yeah, but that's. That's actually one of the reasons that we liked fencing, because it was a great sport. For, you know, because it was a club sport, it wasn't a school sport, so there wasn't that that sort of worry about getting involved in. It was all private and we didn't have to worry about getting out of school to go to tournaments or anything, and it turned out to be a lot of fun and it worked out really well. And it turns out there are quite a lot of homeschoolers involved in fencing because it's a very flexible sport that way.
Cecilie Conrad: Okay, So other sports I'm just not from the States, so educate me please. Other sports you'd have to be enrolled in a school There are there are.
Mary Giffith: There are especially at the high school level. High school level is where there's usually. It's funny. I looked when I was in high school which I graduated in 1971 from high schools, so secondary level school and at the time there was women's gymnastics and there was cheerleading And I think there was a girls basketball team And there were 13 boys sports.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah.
Mary Giffith: And you know, if you were a girl and you wanted to be a runner, you know, or do some kind of track event, you had to do it through a private running club. but like basketball, baseball, i don't know if they had soccer, then they have golf, tennis. not sure if the boys had gymnastics, but you know there were in track and field, yeah, and that's all run through the schools and school leagues and stuff.
Cecilie Conrad: So but it's out of school hours but run by after school, after school practice and stuff.
Mary Giffith: Right, right, right, and there's scholastic leagues and things.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah.
Mary Giffith: And there are also private clubs, but they aren't anywhere near as big a thing as the school.
Cecilie Conrad: No, but in the country where you only have private clubs or they are like not price. Some of them are not.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, some of them are public, public funded, you know, and they're more for parks and recreation programs that the city's Public funded everything. Right. And it's not a sports. Yeah, the United States and single.
Cecilie Conrad: Whatever. It's a, it's a club, but it's not connected to the school.
Mary Giffith: It's nothing to do with right right, right, which actually seems more logical to me, but you know.
Cecilie Conrad: I don't know. At least if you have a school, children outside of the school system and more accessible.
Mary Giffith: Because because they don't have any access to it. Some states will allow homeschools that homeschoolers that aren't enrolled in schools to participate, but a lot of it depends on the state athletic associations rules to. So it varies from state to state and school district to school district, because it's all, it's all locally managed. It's very strange.
Cecilie Conrad: Okay, yeah, it's a huge country.
Mary Giffith: And New Jersey. The state of New Jersey has fencing scholastically, but I think it's the only one that has statewide fencing as a sport.
Cecilie Conrad: Okay.
Jesper Conrad: And what I can hear is you're more involved in the back end of the whole. Fencing to you. Fence yourself.
Mary Giffith: Oh, i have never so much as put on a mask, i have held a blade.
Jesper Conrad: You have held.
Mary Giffith: The thought of fencing myself just makes my arthritic knees hurt.
Jesper Conrad: just thinking about Okay, but but the home schooling. and and on schooling, how old are your kids now and when?
Mary Giffith: my younger daughter will be 35 next month. Yeah, and my older daughter is 30 should be 39 this year.
Cecilie Conrad: So, most our age.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, we present to be a little younger, yeah.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, i'll be 70 in July. So it was funny because, listening to your interview with Patrick for anger And I realized he was younger than I was, which is funny because because he was affiliated with Holt and Holt was sort of one of the guiding lights when I was getting started, i always assumed he was older than I am, you know. So it was funny when he said he was 62 and I went, huh, how weird. But I didn't have my kids until I was in my 30s. You know, i was 31. I think when Chris, when Kate was born, and then almost 35 when Christie was born. So I didn't start young. But what made you We did start the homeschooling really young because I had a, i was old enough to have opinions of my own.
Mary Giffith: And I think I saw John Holt on an Oprah show. Oh no, it wasn't Oprah, it was before Oprah. It was on the field on a huge show which was on started in Chicago and it was the first real big daytime national talk show eventually, and he had John Holt and a bunch of homeschooling families on. I thought, well, that's an interesting idea, yeah. And then, while my kids were still under school age, i came across.
Mary Giffith: Don Holt had a book called teacher own in a bookstore one time when we're browsing and I picked that up and I read and I thought, yeah, we're going to do that. I pretended we were just thinking about it for a couple of years but I knew we were going to do it all It was. It was easier to tell my mom we were thinking about it because it did take me a while to quit trying to persuade my mom that it was a good idea. Once I quit trying to persuade her, she got much less worked up about it. And then there was one time when I think it was Kate was about 10 or 11 and she said to my mom one time when we were over there she says my grandma, why don't you like it that we homeschool? And my mother just went you know, i don't mind that you homeschool. and she really shut up.
Jesper Conrad: I think it's one of the big ones is the fear of what other people would think, and also for me was the insecurity also, but also yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: It's a big thing what mothers think the grandparents it's a big thing and they don't influence the children because it's such a question. Yeah, and I do coaching, i very often talk to mostly women, which is the parents, and their largest concern usually is mother and mother in law. They have, yeah, which is amazing when you think about it. when you have some children, you have to take care of them every day, and there could be something with the finances, something with the house, something with, but the problem is the mothers.
Mary Giffith: It was really funny because my mom at the time when we started was working as a dozen in a museum library in Sacramento and near where we are, And she had mentioned that I was homeschooling and mentioned a couple of the people that and and the librarian that she worked with and she said, Oh, I know those, we had those and when I was working on my master's degree we were learned about all those people and so suddenly she had like profession, I had professional credibility because Kathy in the library knew about the people I'd been talking about And I thought that was. I was endlessly amused And and my favorite comment that my mom made when my my first book came out which is another story entirely how we got there, It's actually pretty funny, but she said and it's actually my name.
Jesper Conrad: She read my book.
Mary Giffith: she looked at my book and she says it's surprisingly well written, thank you. And she didn't even hear what she said. I still laugh at that one.
Jesper Conrad: So if we can go through your books, and why did you decide to write books about homeschooling and on schooling? What?
Mary Giffith: happened. I had been involved. There were there were issues about how homeschooling in California would stay legal, and I was involved with a Northern California homeschool Association, which later became the homeschool Association California, And so eventually we had big debates about whether whether we could go statewide or not, because there were Southern California homeschoolers that had their own idea. So it took a while, but I was involved with this group and we had. We were basically keeping an idea on whatever legislation would get approved or proposed in the legislature, because it's a lot easier to stop something being passed than it is to change something once it becomes law. And so we were just keeping an eye on the legislation and keeping an eye on various counties, because also the counties are the were the place that it's enforced through. You know, so I was, I was on that And we had we had a network of what we called county contacts. That were people basically like you're doing the cat, the where people could call and ask questions about homeschooling, and the local county office of education had my name as the local county contact And she called me one time and she said we've had a question. You know, is it okay? a publisher is looking for advice from us because they want to publish some homeschooling books. And they said we said, is it all right if we give them your name? and I said, oh sure.
Mary Giffith: So eventually this publishing company called me and they said we think there's a market for curriculum for homeschoolers. Would you be willing to send us some information and stuff? And so I said I got like the Hageners home education magazine and copies of growing without schooling and some some various articles and I send them a packet of stuff. And they had me up there for a meeting one time and pick my brain. You know what's the market like? how many people? what kinds of things do people do? Then about six weeks later they called me back for a meeting and they said we have, We want to run our idea by you. And they had.
Mary Giffith: They said we're going to make these kids. And they had this cardboard box. It was kind of like the box games come in and they had a blank board game and they had some little cut out pieces of cardboard that were various different. You know there's a square and a circle and a triangle and a big piece of crap is like those were going to be for the different parts of speech. You know, like for the nouns and stuff, and so somebody was going to make up a board game And there was a book there too.
Mary Giffith: So I pick up the book and I flipped through the book and it's blank. And they said we're thinking about a price point. And this is in the late 90s, mind you, about 96 or so. They said we're thinking a price point of about $50. And I just started laughing. I said I said, number one, you don't have any content here. No, homeschooler, you know, I can't give you an opinion about how good this program is if there's no content yet they said, oh, we're just going to hire somebody to write the book, you know it didn't matter to them but what the content was.
Mary Giffith: And I said, number two, $50 is not a price point that homeschoolers are going to go for it. They're going to buy a lot of books but they're not going to pay $50 for one subject area. No, i said it's just not going to fly. And so I went away And about a couple months later a different editor called me from the same publisher and they said we're, we've dropped the curriculum idea. And it turned out they had fired the editor that had come up with an idea and apparently they were counter suits and they were suing each other and stuff. But they said we think there's a market for a trade book. And that was kind of funny because at the same time some of us in the homeschool association had been thinking you know, they fun to write a book, because at the time the only books that were published were through the Christian market, which was the.
Mary Giffith: What I think of is the. I mean you can see the effects of that school of thought in American politics over the recent years, but it's some of the people that were involved in the religiously based homeschooling at the time have gone on to be big deals in Republican politics, which is kind of depressing. But I always thought of it as the Waco Christians, which was inappropriate but practical, as opposed to the. You know, there were the Waco Christians who were in the religious groups and then there were the, the other religious people that were normal, that didn't have any objections to hanging around with faith, and there were other people that were in the religious groups and people of other religions, and those were the people that were in our group.
Mary Giffith: But anyway they said, would you like to write a book proposal? so I wrote up a book proposal which is basically an outline, and what was out because what was out was either I don't know if you're familiar with the Colfaxes Mickey and David Colfax were a big deal Just before I started homeschooling because they had been he had been a sociology professor and she had been a teacher and they were very active in the anti war movement and welfare reform and stuff. and he eventually got fired from his job and got blackballed and they ended up suing for the being a conspiracy basically to keep him from being hired at any other university. and he got a settlement and they bought some land up in Mendocito County on the coast and ended up raising goats and four sons, three of whom went to Harvard as homeschoolers, and so that was kind of a big New York Times story for a while.
Mary Giffith: And they came and spoke to a bunch of our conferences that we used to do, where we get homeschoolers together and be drive the hotel people crazy because they had no idea how to deal with kids. But they were personal experiences. here is how my family homeschooled and there were the religious how to guides, but there wasn't a regular playing trade book about. if you're interested in homeschooling, here are the things you need to consider and that's what this book was. And I hated, hated, hated the cover, and I'll show you why. You see that pencil You probably can't see it on the screen, but one of the things that the pet. there's a word on the pencil and it says success.
Cecilie Conrad: Oh no.
Mary Giffith: And I just was limited about that, but I couldn't persuade him to change it. No, okay, but it also sold out its first printing eight days after it was released. So they started taking my word better about what the homeschooling market was like. So but?
Jesper Conrad: but in your own life. how did you move from from homeschooling towards unschooling?
Mary Giffith: Oh, we started out on schooling.
Jesper Conrad: Okay, we started on we started we started in school.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, but you don't know, that was it came through, came through growing without schooling and and John Holt's newsletter and I had been reading that for a couple of years before my older daughter turned five And it seemed obvious, because you cannot watch a child that age play without seeing how much they're learning and exploring and doing stuff and it's like why would you want to change that? and how much fun would it be just to watch that and do things along with them is like why would you want to send them off to be in a room for six hours a day or however long it was going to be? It's like we were having too much fun.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah you know, and then, once you get the idea, once it clicks, it's like the curtain is being pulled and you're like, oh yeah.
Mary Giffith: And I was. I was one of those kids in school that you know. I'd always have my library book with me And the first two weeks the teachers would try to catch me out while I was reading my library book in class and I always had kind of one year out just sort of paying half attention to see if there is something I had to actually notice. And after a while they quit bothering me and I could read in class.
Mary Giffith: But I always figured if they're going to be reading all day anyway, why not just do it at home, or you can be comfortable.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, yeah, and no one's disturbing you when that one, i Plus you, could go outside and you can like my younger daughter especially.
Mary Giffith: She was a fiddler, you know, she was one of those kids when we're reading stories And my one daughter would be sitting curled up next to me and the other daughter would be acting out whatever story. They just have completely different approaches to doing things and that was always interesting to watch to, to see how people learned and how their process changed as they grew older to. And then for a while I was telling people, i said you know, we're going to keep doing this until they both learn to read, and then it'll be up to them whether they want to go to school or not. And they each of them, i think when they were about 12 briefly considered the idea. But having to get up early in the morning and having to do it every day the same day, you know, i think. I think one of them thought about it for a couple of weeks, went nah and the other one, i think it may be last in five minutes, and they, neither of them, ever decided they were interested in going to school. Our children.
Cecilie Conrad: They sometimes well, especially one of one of them are our youngest daughter. She says sounds less. If it could be fun, but this every day thing I don't really have time for that. I could do it once.
Mary Giffith: It's too much to do.
Cecilie Conrad: It's too much to do it. How could I maintain my meaningful life if I had to go for six? I can't commit for six hours every day. So, yeah, she doesn't want it either. Yeah, same reasoning.
Jesper Conrad: Now oldest boy. He's 17 now. He was curious about high school and we one of our friends, who our son as he doesn't care if it's an adult or a younger child or someone he owns age they just told us our common friend is also one of his friends and they talked a lot about school because he's a high school teacher. And then he said to storm one day why don't you come with me one day to see what it is And I will just introduce you and you can just sit down and follow me a whole day. And they then storm took up with him one day and went to high school And he it was a fun experience because he saw it on two levels.
Jesper Conrad: He saw both. How did the children interact together? and storm was thinking okay, what is going on? you are sitting here but you're most on your phones and you're not following, so why are you even here? Yeah, and the other part was our friend, the teacher. He had said to him, before you go in, these are the four different levels and manage this school class, how I make sure there is quietness in the room so they actually have possibility to hear what I'm saying. So so he told storm about his different ways of trying to control a school class sitting and watching it, and they had a lot of fun. And what happened then was almost also like yeah, i've seen it now that it's not worth the time.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, that's that's what they say. It's not worth the time.
Mary Giffith: Well, you know, one of the things that helped with my kids was when they were fencing. You know they would be going to practice every day and in between lessons and thinking, you know, because it'd be the group classes and then it'd be the portion of the day where people are getting their private lessons and people would sit around and do their homework, you know. And so they got to see the homework that other people were doing in Christy Christy especially, would look at it and she goes. I thought it would be really hard, but they're like, they're like answering stupid questions, you know, like what was the name of the dog in the scene where whatever happened? and it's like just they're not talking about the content, they're talking about stupid factoids, you know. And there there were other classes that were better than that and there's some very good schools around there if you're interested in that sort of thing. But it wasn't anywhere near as rigorous or as scary content as she had it in her brain before she saw the kind of homework that people were doing.
Cecilie Conrad: And then when she decided oh sorry, I was just gonna say.
Mary Giffith: When she decided she wanted to have a fencing scholarship when she went to college, She had to do some things that looked sort of like school for high school, you know. So she went and she got an algebra book and she worked her way out and so she could meet the requirements to get into the university. But that was something she decided that she wanted to do, rather than you know, and we sort of had to reverse engineer her transcript to look like something that the you know.
Mary Giffith: We said, okay, she knows these things. What courses must she have had in order to have learned these things, you know? so we have four years of.
Cecilie Conrad: English. You also reverse engineer plans. I kind of say after the fact oh yes, we went to France because then they could learn to speak French and they would. But it sounds really nice when you text.
Mary Giffith: Basically, we made a transcript that looks sort of like a school, a normal school transcript, because we think it used to be when we had first started homeschooling the NCAA, which really regulates college athletics, because of course that's another thing you don't have in your, i imagine, is the college based, the university based sports which is a weird American thing.
Mary Giffith: So you know the university based and live at university where we yeah then the National Collegiate Athletic Association regulates athletes because they don't want people just being recruited as athletes to the schools.
Mary Giffith: They're supposed to be student athletes and be serious students too, and so they have. You have to have so many. You know, the NCAA was actually harder to deal with the universities, but originally what would happen is you would apply to a college and the university would certify to the NCAA that we're taking this home schooler who has an unconventional education, they meet our requirements and they we are going to enroll them, and the NCAA would say, oh, okay, and at some point the NCAA decided they didn't like that and homeschoolers had to start meeting the requirements that everybody else had to meet for minimum number of courses and things. So we had to make something that looked like what they were looking for. But she was on the Dean's List in college, so it wasn't like we pulled a fraud over them. We just had to repackage what she had done to be something that looked more familiar to to the university system.
Cecilie Conrad: But I think we can even go back to the thing with the mothers. I think it's kind of our job as parents in homeschooling and especially on schooling families, to kind of try to translate what we are doing. We are doing a language and the form that people around us will understand Obviously. So far, fetch. It's such a crazy thing that I get it. I get that people don't get it. They look at it and it looks like it looks like vacation, it looks like we're sloppy And I'm like I don't know what it looks like. It doesn't look normal and you can't imagine what it is. So I find it to be my job to be able to plan. After the fact, i transform what we're doing. When I, when I talk to, for example, my mother in law or I don't know people who would be worried and who wouldn't understand, really interested in how it's going, i have to do the work of explaining or translating the facts of our life to something that can be absorbed.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, yeah, because there's there's, there's almost like this weird resistance to comprehending on, like one of the things that we used to do with, because before I wrote the books, i was the newsletter editor. we did a 40 to 48 page newsletter that was actually more like a magazine that we sent out to the, the school association. that that was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about, you know, and that was one of the reasons that I felt like I could write the book in the first place in. But one of the things we used to do was was translate education jargon so that people could throw it around appropriately.
Mary Giffith: I was tickled when I learned about the concept of constructivism And I thought, well, i think the idea that students put their knowledge together in their own head, you know where they take disparate things that they learn about and build it into, sort some sort of mental structure in their head, and I thought, yes, that's what they're doing. because I had a lot of people that said, well, how can you teach history if you don't do it in chronological order? So you go to a brand fair and you have kids get interested in costumes and then they start getting all interested in the Elizabethan period and the tutors, and then they start reading history And then they start saying, well, what happened after that? and then they go, look, start learning. you know reading Shakespeare And you know it's like one thing leads to another, which leads to another, and then that you know mentally, they build a mental model for all the stuff they're taking in And it's like, how do you learn things if you have a hobby and you're teaching yourself? That's just what kids are doing.
Cecilie Conrad: you know there was The idea of the chronological order is also the idea that there is a right way to learn things And there is a right way to have it, so that there's a right content that everybody needs to learn, which is the case at all.
Cecilie Conrad: The history of the world has to be just like yours. That's the idea. It's not. Obviously, i have lived another life and in another place and my understanding what I picked up is another version from another perspective, and that's okay. I think there's something. It's the same thing with math. How can you make sure they know it all? but I can't. But I, what is it all? who defines what everything is?
Mary Giffith: it's, it's kind of funny because, just that, how adults have such a hard time understanding that. And I always like using the analogy of hobbies, you know, because if an adult is obsessing about some hobby and they're collecting things and they're cataloging things, they're really engrossed in their hobby. And if a kid is doing the same sort of thing, they're obsessed by it and they're wasting their time to, you know, and it's like what's the difference that one of them is 12 and one of them is 35.
Jesper Conrad: You know nothing. What we talked about here puzzles me because I am a this inside myself. There is a little anointment with having to speak. It you can use to people But at the same time it could come from compassion.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, I believe it does but at the same time, what? what annoys me is why that we are in a society where you're only word something, if you have some sort of merits, that that being a human being is not good enough. You need to have done stuff and you need to be able to say this and that. But at the same time, i also feel the need to protect and be a spokesperson. When people talk about on schooling, then I, then I, instead of when people asking, so what about your kids? instead of me just saying well, they're quite happy, they're content with life And they have to prove that it worked.
Jesper Conrad: Yes, and part of me is on a. It's good to do it, but I'm also in my back. I'm like, can we just be happy?
Cecilie Conrad: to be alive. It really is a problem that there is this contrast between When people ask and we speak education and we try to explain, get the message across that they will learn to read and they will learn world history and all these things that normally I taught in schools. Then you hear yourself talk about this as if this was the agenda and this is the idea and the goal of our lifestyle, and it's not. It's just-.
Mary Giffith: Really, truly.
Mary Giffith: My only goal was what they learn is not anywhere near as important as the fact that they learn how to learn, so that if they wanna do something in the future, they know how to go about learning about it enough to be able to do whatever it is they wanna do or just go exploring Which it fits in with the whole hi.
Mary Giffith: We're gonna experience society instead of being in the classroom for however many hours a day, however many days a year at a desk or with the same age people. We're gonna have friends of different ages. We're gonna have opportunity to go out and talk to people, one of the things that just used to drive us crazy but made us laugh at the same time. We'd go to like a fast food place or something to get sandwiches or something and the kids would say, oh, i wanna get an order, french fries and they'd go up to the counter to order and be completely ignored because they were short and a child And the assumption was that they were just there hanging out being a kid and that they weren't actually a customer. You know, and that was always one of my bugaboo's life I wanted to see kids treated as people.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, yeah, that can really be a problem. It helps a lot when they grow, when they grow.
Mary Giffith: Yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, we have now only one left. that is short.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, and look to policy.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, so our daughter's 14, she's almost as tall as I am and our son of 17,. He's much taller than both of us, and then we have a 24 year old. Obviously she isn't at all.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, she's just yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: And then there is the 11 year old, and he's struggling with this. He's being looked at as if it doesn't matter. He can't go to the counter and order coffee and people think if they see him drink wine, and you know.
Mary Giffith: That's the other thing. We used to do a lot in public places And we, oh, museums were just painful to go, you know, because we'd go and we, you know, we're gonna look at this stuff today and we didn't feel like we had any particular obligation to see the whole, everything in the whole museum this day. You know, we didn't have to. What's the phrase that I? just the phrase that you know, because there's this homeschooler clichés too, or the unschooler clichés.
Cecilie Conrad: I just wanna make sure I expose my child to everything, yeah, yeah, and make sure they can complete their full potential, or at least their potential.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, yeah, or that everything has to be.
Cecilie Conrad: Full potential and exposure yeah.
Mary Giffith: Everything has to be worthwhile, Everything has to be a learning moment. No, sometimes you just gotta play, and the play is the most important part, And you know play is highly underrated.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, yeah, but I also think we just talked about that before how the education is can be. When you talk about it, to try to explain the lifestyle, talk about it as if the learning was the important part, and if I talk about how they learn by playing or how they learn by just being, it seems as if what I want is the learning, but it's not. I want them to be and to stay with themselves and to feel that life is meaningful and to enjoy. And I, because I know this is what is important and I have no doubt that they will pick up lots of stuff. I don't know, worry at all.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, especially Christy. Christy learned things. I have no idea where she picked them up from, but she used to watch a lot of nature shows and you know she was a much more visual learner also and she was very observant kid. Because you know, and that was one of the fun things too was how different you discover your kids are, because if you're not watching them learn, you know you may not have the idea or you may not ever grasp that they're completely different learning styles, because Kate Kate was the type that would watch. She was like me, you know, where you'd watch everything and then when you finally jumped into something, you could do it perfectly because you'd spent so much time watching all the details and stuff, you know, because you couldn't do it wrong, which is something that took me took me 10 years to recover from being a school an excellent school student, you know, and actually learned how to learn.
Mary Giffith: I think that's one of the things that influenced my unschooling move was being what the school system considered a highly successful student and feeling like I hadn't learned anything.
Cecilie Conrad: You know.
Mary Giffith: And then Christy. Christy was dangerous around a swimming pool when she was a little kid because she was the type to just leapt into anything. So you know if you had to be in the pool so you could catch her when she came running and jumping in Before she learned how to swim.
Jesper Conrad: When you, mary, mentioned the museums earlier, it made me think about a dialogue I had with the owner of this place. We are right now. Right now, we are in France, in Normandy, at a castle where the.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, I think that the wall behind you did not look like a van.
Jesper Conrad: No, absolutely not. No, no, we are attending a co-living month together with other people from world school and most of them on school, and it's just wonderful children to be around.
Cecilie Conrad: So we are 13 families. I think there was something about 25 children at the castle. It's quite a lot of children and the owner doesn't have children. No he had no idea what she was.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, and she actually said to me you know what? I actually never liked children before, really, because they are loud, they are messy and all that. And I was actually thinking about that and also seeing my own experience with seeing school children on excursions, for example, to a museum or a park or somewhere where they actually are not very nice towards each other, they are very loud and stuff like that.
Cecilie Conrad: They're not nice to the park either.
Mary Giffith: No, and what I've been thinking about is if these excursions, whereas two adults away with 35 children and they can run out to a corner it's the only side they can run to control, And I don't know if they do the same thing in Europe, but school groups going to museums have worksheets where they have to fill in the blanks to prove that they've seen everything there.
Cecilie Conrad: And it's like No but. I don't know, i can't speak for all of Europe.
Mary Giffith: No, no, but it's very common We would see all these groups go, and then they're running around trying to find everything and they're very noisy.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, my point is that they are finally not controlled, or they think they are not controlled, so they have a moment of freedom where they are not used to being not overseen and controlled all the time. So, yes, they make a lot of noise and they are maybe not the best version of children, and that's what was fun with Katja when she the owner here, when she met all these unschooled children she was like can children? be, like that.
Cecilie Conrad: They are really fun and interesting to talk to And she's a dog gamer 35 children of all ages, mostly above age of 12, to run around a real French castle not breaking anything.
Mary Giffith: And my own experience with homeschool groups when we'd get together in groups like that with a bunch of kids, one of the things I always thought was just fascinating to watch was how the kids played with each other, because they would make allowances for the different capabilities of the different kids. If they're playing some game that they're making up the rules for and a couple of people couldn't read yet they would, well, you can be this And it would. There wasn't any embarrassment that just some kids read and some kids didn't. It was just one of the things that happened And it didn't really matter what age you learned to read, because once you did, you could No mocking and no embarrassment.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, yeah, Yeah, I mean there were.
Mary Giffith: There were tips and things. Sometimes people would get into disagreements, but as a general rule they were very non-judgmental about each other.
Cecilie Conrad: I see them as a point of kindness towards each other all the time.
Mary Giffith: It's really nice. Some of the parents I had issues with I know that, but that's a different problem. But you know there's always. You know the danger you have with unschooling in at least in a suburban setting like I grew up with. You know where you get together for play days and things and things And there's always somebody that's the rule maker. You know you're not a real unschooler if you're not doing this. You know, and there was the one mom that had to buy a new microwave because she didn't believe in teaching her child anything. You know. So instructing the child not to put metal objects into the microwave would have been suppressing her. Yeah, it would have been teaching And that would have been suppressing her learning instinct. It's like no, that's a safety precaution, lady, you don't want to start a fire.
Mary Giffith: You know it's like ballet. If your kid wants to learn ballet, you would be irresponsible to try to teach them in yourself unless you knew ballet. you know, because you're doing things to the muscles and joints and stuff, that you need somebody that you know like I couldn't teach my kids defense, you know if they want to learn it and something That would have been dangerous. Yeah, some things require expertise and there's nothing wrong with expertise.
Jesper Conrad: No, mary, i think I would like to talk about is us, the parents, you as a parent, because often when we talk about unschooling, we talk about what is we believe is best for young human being to their way to go through life. I have in my life found that the further down I'm going this unschooling rabbit hole, the more happy I am as a person I'm freeing myself.
Jesper Conrad: And now you have grown up on school children. So how have your personal journey been? Is there something specific you have learned about yourself or you have freed yourself up?
Mary Giffith: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean partly. I thought the 10 years after I was out of school and I was learning how to learn basically and how to explore stuff, because I wasn't being told this is what you need to learn, i thought that had taken care of things, but there's still. You get inculcated with this whole idea of should you know, things are supposed to be this way and things are supposed to be that way. And my kids both went through stages where they felt odd enough sometimes that they felt like maybe they should be doing things differently. And I said, well, how do you wanna be doing things? And they said, well, we don't know, just different from where you are.
Mary Giffith: But I don't think I could have done the stuff I did in fencing, you know, and dealing with different kinds of people and just in the numbers and the intensity of some of that, if I hadn't been dealing with the unschooling approach to things. It's like it made me very pragmatic about what works and what doesn't. It's like I am never, ever gonna run out of things to do. I have so much stuff that I wouldn't do.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, i know, and you know how you get up in the morning and you think today's the day. Nothing in the calendar. I'm totally going to do all of my things And then somehow it's four in the afternoon And I don't really know how that happened, but it's four in the afternoon And soon I have to set it up.
Mary Giffith: If you look, i mostly because I've had cataract surgery about a year ago But my eyes were getting really bad before then, so I hardly ever read real books anymore. It's all electronic books because I can adjust the type, size and stuff. I have got so many books that I haven't read yet on there, but they're always with me.
Cecilie Conrad: That's the good thing with the e-reader You can have like a thousand books.
Mary Giffith: Oh, it was great when I was traveling for fencing, because I used to have half a dozen different books in my suitcase. It would be heavy and it would take up a lot of room And when I went electronic, it's like I can bring a lot more books and it doesn't take any room and they're always there And that was very slick. But I think basically, being an unschooling parent turned me into an unschooler myself, definitely.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, you learned that. I don't know.
Mary Giffith: I became more confident too about what I knew in less shot, because I was an excruciatingly shy child until I was in my late 20s. Basically, It was almost painful for me to just even make a phone call And then, 10 years ago, you would have found me in a convention hall with 10,000 people in it yelling out, not yelling, but I'm on the microphone telling people where the next finals bell is going to be. And it's like I'm not afraid People are terrified of public speaking And I just think it's a hoot And that's something that turned out to be OK.
Mary Giffith: It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been doing this other stuff. And when I did my second book after I did that, here's what you need to think about if you're doing homeschooling. There was that if you want to do school at home, this is the kind of thing. And here's kind of a midway And here's the unschooling thing. And they said to me after that book turned out to be a success, somewhat to their surprise the publisher's surprise They said what do you want to do next? And I said I want to do an unschooling book. And I said it needs to have unschooling in the title. And I don't. I'm not one of those people that feels really strongly about the terminology that you use or anything, but at that point in time the word needed to be on the book In order to to become known what it was.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah.
Mary Giffith: You know. So they called it after they had called the first book the homeschooling handbook, which was not a title I liked. And it turned out that when you, when publishers make up titles for books because the authors don't get to pick the titles, of course it's the publishers aren't aiming at the ultimate retail customer, they're aiming at the book buyers that are buying the book for the distributors, and you know they want, they want the title to grab the sales people who are selling it to the bookstores, And so that's why it was called the unschooling handbook. But I did get the cover that I wanted, which was the. There are people that don't like the cartoony thing, but it was the how to world use the whole world as your child's classroom. I liked the subtitle.
Jesper Conrad: Oh, yes, and we do as well with our full time traveling life.
Mary Giffith: And what's what's even better is when they redid the next, they wanted me to do a new edition of the first book And basically we updated a lot of the, the resources, which now, of course, are grotesquely out of date, being, you know, over 25 years old. It's like, yeah, some of the some of the links to websites are not going to be accurate. We actually had somebody, somebody wrote an outraged letter to the publisher saying I went to the support group site and it's a porn site. It's like they looked into it. They looked into it. It's like the, the, the internet company, had got bought by some other company that turned everybody's websites into porn sites. So apparently they just shut everybody down and turned it into this completely different thing. You know, and that's the sort of thing you know. Time over time, things happen And there's not anything. You can get a controller, but they did get rid of the pencil and I got a kid with a magnifying glass looking at a ladybug.
Mary Giffith: That's better, And that made me much happier too. So OK. And of course then my nice independent publisher got bought by Penguin Random House. So since then I have had an Yes And I, and they are still earning royalties, much to my surprise. You know they've kept me in computer upgrades all these years. And that's you know, which is, which is one of the fun things about homeschooling parents. Years ago you know where I was. I was. What was the phrase they used is making money off of homeschoolers. You know people.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, and that's, that's evil I'm supposed to be donating all this knowledge of things.
Mary Giffith: It's like you know it turns out that if you go to a conference you have expenses.
Cecilie Conrad: Well, it's like, hi guys, if you know it took me a certain amount of time to do all this stuff, yeah.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, And one thing Cecilia is a psychologist and have coached a lot of people on their on schooling or homeschooling journey. It is as we love this so much, we actually would like to help people, But as we then a public about it and Cecilia has been writing her blog for more than 12 years and there's a lot of content out there People reach out and ask questions And sometimes you're like I really want to answer this, but I also really want to be together with my children. So yes, of course it is OK to say, hey, I actually do not know you And I love that you also want to homeschool, but I'm homeschooling because I want to be together with my children.
Mary Giffith: So it took me a while but I got really. I got really good at referring people to my book for questions. that the answers to the questions they were asking I should tell you that Yeah? you know you're, you're a blog, you know handsbook Yeah, the Viking on school version.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: But I'll come up with something That will help.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, because then you just say go read it first and we can talk. Book Yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, but I would do it.
Mary Giffith: I would I love to help people get started or move on, feel comfortable and just relax a little bit, you know, because it's really hard when you're first starting out and you're so you're going to work your child, You know children are really busy.
Cecilie Conrad: You have to make mistakes, yeah.
Mary Giffith: And that you know that's one of the issues that I always had a hard time with, too, was the people that said, well, how do you maintain your authority over your children? I said, well, they're part of the family. It's like we discuss things.
Cecilie Conrad: I don't need authority, no.
Mary Giffith: Obedience is not a quality I value in my children.
Jesper Conrad: It's not under curriculum. Obesity No.
Mary Giffith: Living, living well with other people, learning to live cooperatively with people is a value I I hold high. But you will do this because I tell you is not something that worked in our I don't like it.
Cecilie Conrad: Our kids. They have a favorite book called The Name of the Wind. All of four of them just love that book.
Mary Giffith: And who's the author? that sounds so familiar.
Cecilie Conrad: It's almost registry again, Ah shit.
Mary Giffith: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's Patrick, is it Patrick Rothfels?
Cecilie Conrad: Yes, the story teller guy. Yeah, and yeah, i'm so annoyed he has not finished the trilogy Booty. Come up with the third one please. Yes, yeah, i'm looking for it. By one of their favorite quotes. They will say it out loud whenever it's relevant is when, quote he says there is nothing as nauseating as pure obedience. It's a beautiful quote.
Mary Giffith: We don't like becoming all too relevant these days around, yeah. Well, that's not think we don't need to go into that yet.
Jesper Conrad: No, No, but Mary, i think not any longer. Now we are 10 years down the road and I can look at our oldest son, who is the one who has never been to school. the whole period of never been to school. Earlier, i was, you know, of course, a little sometimes afraid. Will they ever succeed? What in? Yeah, that's it. That's what's the fear installed in me that I was thinking will they be able to take care of themselves? Will they be able to make a living? And so what would you suggest to people on that journey, on the unschooling journey, that have all this?
Mary Giffith: It's it's no different. It's no different from school kids. I know a gazillion people who had kids whose kids finished college and they were. They had a job but they weren't sure what they wanted to do And sometimes they ended up, you know, feeling kind of lost for a while And it's like people figure out what they want to do, and you know grownups do too.
Cecilie Conrad: Maybe at some point.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, i was like my older daughter was. You know she fenced for a year or so and then she was injured And it was one of those long term, you know, muscle tear that took like six months to resolve And she had to do a lot of stretching and stuff And she got interested in theater at the time.
Mary Giffith: So she was doing community theater and she ended up going to theater school in New York, had a great time and realized when she graduated that she didn't like hanging out with actors, which is kind of a problem. Yeah, you know, in the profession And she was also interested in costuming and stuff, but she didn't think she wanted to do that Professionally and she ended up working in a couple of retail places And then she ended up working at the Strand bookstore, which is this huge new and used bookstore in New York, and she met her now husband there And they ended up moving back to Philadelphia where he was from, and she worked for a small family and independent bookstore there for a long time. And then this publishing company that she works for now had an opening there And it's almost like they're an unschooled publishing company, but it took her a while to find where she was going is the point. It's like she tried different things And she doesn't know. She'll stay with us. It's one of these fake ideas, actually part of the whole, you don't graduate from college.
Cecilie Conrad: finished No.
Mary Giffith: Nobody's finished when they're 18 or 22. Yeah, which is the whole point. And then you start to see the whole thing, which is the whole point.
Cecilie Conrad: And then you're safe.
Mary Giffith: Life is very long, the idea that you finish learning as soon as you finish school, it's like you know, and it's If you get a job, then you're good.
Cecilie Conrad: Then, like we can take the job, life is okay. But maybe it will change three years later or five years later You realize you don't like actors or so many people do a career shift or get a divorce or decide to travel the world or become a monk or whatever. It's not like the first.
Mary Giffith: And I used to do conferences and people would want me to sign books, which I always I still think is kind of weird. It's like, okay, yeah, i'll sign your book, but you kind of have to say something to if you're inscribing the book. Yeah, and what I settled on eventually was enjoy the adventure, and people usually took it as enjoy the adventure with your kids, which was true, but it was also just enjoy the adventure of life. It applies to everybody, because you're not done, and that was that If I could get one thing through to anybody with my books, especially the unschooling handbook I don't count viral learning, which is the one I did, mostly for the contributors to the other two books and for myself, which was sort of a. What do I think now that I've officially finished homeschooling my kids, and it was more like we're going to keep going, because if you're not still learning, you might as well not still be breathing, because it's as natural and as needed. A part of life is breathing, is learning.
Cecilie Conrad: I really like the Sandra Dodd yearly challenge in July the Learn. Nothing Day. It's so much fun. You can follow it on social media. Everybody's failing within the first hours of their waking hours. It's just so.
Mary Giffith: Back in the old days when we were all on AOL and that's partly how I got into. The book too is there was a whole raft of us all over the United States And a few people in Europe too mostly the United States, though, but back in the AOL dial-up days where you'd listen to that, the modem shrieking, i remember, yeah, and Sandra Dodd was there, and Linda Dobson and sometimes Pat Fringer other people from Growing Without Schooling, but all different states And that's where I got a lot of the contributors for my books. That answered this ungodly long questionnaire about what do you do and why you do it and how well does it work and do you hate it, and what works and what doesn't, and what's fun and what's not, and what do you worry about and what do you have to tell your parents and everybody else. I did So. When I figured I was done officially with my kids, i sent out another question to some of that and other people and said how did it work?
Mary Giffith: And so it was basically a book just for us. It was never anything that I tried to market. You can buy it on Amazon and through bookshoporg and places like that, but it's not anything I ever pushed and I think I've sold a couple hundred copies. It's all, but it was sort of a. Now that I'm done, what do I think? And it's like I'm gonna keep going.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, it's the same journey.
Mary Giffith: basically, yeah, and try not to listen to too many people that make up rules for how it's supposed to be done, because there aren't any except paying attention to the kids and treating your kids like people. and the other rule that I think doesn't get mentioned enough is you have to like spending time with your kids. That is so important Because if you don't like spending time with your kids, then you're gonna start telling them things that you think you should be doing and that gets you into disaster.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, probably. Who doesn't like spending time with their kids?
Jesper Conrad: I've known people who don't like I was the going to work dad and I haven't been in an office for five years, which is wonderful, but I remember how it was coming home drained from work.
Jesper Conrad: And it could feel a little more up in your face because you weren't used to it. And I think it's fair to say to the defense of the parents and fathers out there if you live in that life where you don't know, you don't know how it is to just enjoy and relax. And I remember actually we have talked about it often, cecilia and I the shift that happened when we decided to keep our kids home all the time.
Cecilie Conrad: In the start we thought that they should go to a world of This is before school age, so Well, it's complicated, but they were fairly young.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, it was like a kindergarten, Yeah two and five and a baby.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, I think of Waldorf sometimes as a gateway to drug and schooling, except if you stay in it too long they do get kind of rigid, some of them Kind of a cost, Because they can get very precise about what things you're allowed to do at what ages and things and that doesn't work for every kid.
Cecilie Conrad: I don't like it either. No, no it's, but that was our general. It was actually not really a Waldorf school, it was a school.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, with the younger ages some of the Montessori stuff is like it's good but it can get rigid, depending on Yeah, it's still a school.
Cecilie Conrad: It still ranges, it still has a curriculum, it still has structure, it still has planning on behalf of other people. even though it's nicer to me, obviously it's nicer, but it's still a school and I wouldn't send my kids there.
Jesper Conrad: My point being Oh yeah you were joking, what.
Mary Giffith: Women interrupt that. Get to your point.
Jesper Conrad: Sorry, i'm not always good at getting straight to the point. Yeah, i'm waiting a little around, my point being I remember how it was to shift from not sending them to school and it actually started to feel like vacation. And when I now look back on the life we led back then, i'm not sure how we did it without being super stressed out on happy people.
Mary Giffith: We were super stressed out. Yeah, you just don't know it sometimes how much you're stressed.
Jesper Conrad: But I remember, you know I woke up before. I was happy waking up. I liked to sleep around eight or something, maybe seven, But I needed to go up early to make sure to wake up the kids that weren't ready and I needed to get them dressed and food and down to the kindergarten And from there I needed to bike to work And all that should happen before nine. And it is wild that people think of this as normal still, and I did back then. But when I look at it now I'm like, wow, today I prefer my mornings to be slow and good.
Cecilie Conrad: Drifting off your point, because I've guessed your point.
Jesper Conrad: Come with it.
Cecilie Conrad: Your point is that once we took the children out of kindergarten, the change was you didn't have to drop them off on your way to work. But the big change was that when you came back you had children that were totally balanced. They didn't need to reestablish a connection because the connection was not broken in the morning. They had enough energy and presence to just have fun. You know, we would meet in the park, You would bike to the park and meet us there, Or we would, you know, have a hashel pizza somewhere. It was not like this And they had to be in bed at a certain time because we had to wake them up at a certain time. So once they came out of the kindergarten, they stopped Basically. They stopped being annoying. So I get why people don't want to be around their children, because I think the children are not.
Mary Giffith: They haven't seen how their children act.
Cecilie Conrad: It's not real children. They're not stressed, they're stressed out, everybody is stressed Yeah, I wouldn't want to be around them either. I think It's funny when I was.
Mary Giffith: I can remember being in meetings and people complaining about being in meetings. It's so terrible to have to sit here for an hour to be in a meeting you know store managers or whatever You know it's like and you're sending your kids to school and they're essentially sitting in a meeting for how many hours a day and you think that's fine, but you can't take an hour.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, and basically you leave them there in the morning before you even go to the work And you pick them up. Some people even, you know, they go to work and then they take a yoga class and then they go shopping and then they pick up the children.
Mary Giffith: And then they get mad at their kids being cranky when they go shopping.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: It's like yeah.
Mary Giffith: You have to consider what your kids are. You know your three year old is not really going to be good for an eight hour day plus than another shopping trip and stuff. You can't push kids beyond what they're capable of. Well, you don't know what they're capable of until you let them.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, i would have a tantrum if I had to do that.
Jesper Conrad: Mm-hmm, mary, i appreciate. Yeah, sometimes too many things are happening in my mind. So one thing out first for people listening. I constantly looking sometimes at some music into the instrument behind you. Who is playing? Is it you?
Mary Giffith: Those are mine. Yeah, Yeah, I started. I had a ukulele. I've started and given up a number of instruments over the years Because I've had a keyboard and I had a fiddle for a while of a violin And I got further with the ukulele than anything else And then I thought I like banjo. So I got a banjo and I thought I would be playing bluegrass, but it turned out I like claw hammer better And I played claw hammer for a while and then I happened to come across Irish and the Irish tenor banjo seems to have stuck. So some of the others I don't use that much anymore, but I'm still. I'm not able to play in public yet, but I can actually play a couple of tunes now but it's probably to leave.
Cecilie Conrad: Maybe you could play in public, but it really I'm not willing to yet. Let's put it that way At least in the park.
Mary Giffith: I cannot. I cannot hit. Oh yeah, i could do that, but I can't get to speed yet. It's much easier than it used to be and my hands are. My fingers are getting stronger and stuff, but I've got a. There's an Irish banjo player named Enda Skal that does video lessons That I mean they're not live but they're recorded. And there's this thing called sound slice, which is really cool, where you can get the music and he has the video that plays while the music scrolls and you get like a you can. You can do it so you can practice particular things all the time.
Jesper Conrad: And how much of this did you learn in school? to get back to it.
Mary Giffith: Oh, none of it, none of it, none of it. I did play clarinet in school very badly, but I also. Then, when I hit high school, i had scoliosis and I had to wear a neck to hip brace, which was better than having the surgery. The surgery put you in a cast for nine months and I was happy not to do that because the brace I could actually take off and take a bath and such. Yeah, come on. But you can't be in a marching band very well when you can't move your spine at all. So I couldn't actually play the clarinet, i could only hold it while I was in the marching band and I decided I did not like being in band and got myself out of that, which is the one one tiny bit of control I had over my education.
Cecilie Conrad: I guess I got out of band but I've always liked music, I've just never been very good at it, but the banjo.
Mary Giffith: I'm also interested in natural history. I'm really interested in indigenous history. There's a chunk of the town I live in that used to be a village where you can go out and see grinding rocks, where they would grind acorns for the, because acorn mush was one of the staples of the diet of the Nisanan people that lived here. So I'm really interested in the natural history and the indigenous history and just I'm not gonna do anything with it. It's just really interesting, you don't?
Cecilie Conrad: have to, you just do it because you like it. Yeah, yeah.
Jesper Conrad: It's. One of the really wonderful things about the homeschooling, unschooling, is that when you turn back on, when you succeed in turning back on the curiosity as a person, that's what I love the most.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah. You know, I'm always very frustrated.
Mary Giffith: You know how I said. You know how I said obedience was not something I valued in my kids. Curiosity is the substitute I went. I went to kids who were curious and knew how to indulge their curiosity.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, i want to loop something back and then we should kind of close up. But the loop back is we talked about this with children when we came home to them. They weren't annoying because they were relaxed and unstressed. And it made me think about back before we got teenagers. A lot of people said, oh wait till they get teenagers. It will be so difficult and it has been so, and teenagers are so horrible. And they're so wonderful people.
Cecilie Conrad: I love to be around teenagers. they're the best. It's so much fun to be the parent of teenagers And what we sometimes sum it up to is that.
Jesper Conrad: But we haven't given them anything to rebel against.
Cecilie Conrad: So the rebellion is not there. Wait a little bit, You never know. But we have a really great relation with our teens and I think that our teens they're just very interesting to talk to. They are. It's nice to have more adults in the family.
Mary Giffith: My kids got frustrated sometimes when they were teens, but it was more because they were having trouble with something they were trying to do themselves. So, like, christy was hilarious when she was fencing and she was never as good as she wanted to be, and we would have these conversations all the way home And it was definitely teenage years It's like I need to quit, i don't deserve to be a fencer, i don't deserve to be fencing, i need to quit, i'm gonna quit. And I'd always say, okay, you can quit. If you still wanna quit in two weeks, you can quit. But we gotta go through the month that we've paid for. And if you still wanna quit in two weeks, on the next day it's like I gotta go, i gotta get better.
Mary Giffith: You know, it's like you see, but you know it's that kind of frustration that they had. It wasn't against the way they were living or anything. It was more a struggle with something they were trying to be good at or something they wanted to do that they hadn't quite figured out how to do yet. And that was something that you, that's something you can work with, yeah, yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, a lot of things happen when you're a teenager. We are trying to keep these talks to around an hour, but I would love to end on your advice to new parents who are down the homeschooling or unschooling role. Where would you suggest they should start?
Mary Giffith: Trust yourselves, trust your kids. The trust that things will work out is so important because you've gotta let it go for a while. You know, it's one of the things we used to talk about. I don't know if homeschool groups still talk about it, because I haven't been. I get too many other things I wanna do besides.
Cecilie Conrad: Well, you've done it now.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, but one of the things we all You know, if you were taking your kids out of school and I know Sandra Dodd talks about it a lot too is the vacation, and people tried to make up rules for it too. Like, as many years as your child was in school, you should take that many weeks or that many months and not try to do anything at all and just decompress from whatever was going on before. But the parents need to do that too. You can't just take your kid out of school and suddenly miracles will happen. It's a process that has to be allowed to develop and to grow, and you can't force it.
Cecilie Conrad: And I also think, when you mentioned the word trust, i always said that in the relation we have with our children, the trust is the most valuable asset, kind of. If we don't trust each other, if I don't trust them and they don't trust me, it's actually dangerous. If I am to take care of them, i need them to trust me. So I have to be trustworthy, which means I can't let out bullshit from here. It has to come, it has to be authentic, it has to be true. I have to know that I'm right if I say something is a fact, and I have to trust them. If they say this doesn't make any sense to me, or I don't want to do that or I'd rather do this, i have to trust that that is the right thing for them to do, or that at least, if I can't understand it, they will be able to explain to me why it's right.
Mary Giffith: So I always thought it was really helpful trying to get people to forget the idea of the family as an authoritarian entity and think of it as a community. It's a community of people who are living together and everybody's got contributions to make.
Cecilie Conrad: And roles to play, and they change.
Mary Giffith: Sometimes your kids are taking care of things for you. Sometimes they surprise you. There was one time where I can't remember. Dave and I went someplace and Christie stayed home by herself And we got back she completely cleaned the house. She says, i just thought I'd surprise you. It was like huh, thank you Yeah. Clinging has never been one of my joys, it's not my favorite thing either.
Cecilie Conrad: I live in a band. I actually have more than it's taken.
Mary Giffith: There's certain things you have to do in order to stay in a small place. The house that I have is so small, if I clean it completely.
Cecilie Conrad: I mean, i could spend two, we could spend two hours but then it would be sparkling.
Mary Giffith: Yeah, and that would be it.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, I don't want to do that either. I want to hang out with my kids. Go play my band On that note.
Jesper Conrad: Mary, if you could mention where people can find more information about you and your books and the work.
Mary Giffith: Okay, i actually have two websites. There's Mary griftcom, which is the easy one To remember, and there's a link to my other blog, because I can't. It's the viral learning blog. It's the one that's specifically about homeschooling, so all the homeschooling stuff is there, and the other one is a more general one, where it's got homeschooling and fencing and politics and all sorts of stuff, but there's a link to the homeschooling one, the education related one.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, yeah, they I post on there very irregularly anymore.
Mary Giffith: Just if something strikes me that I am in Like, yeah, or what usually gets me these days, or what I think of as the research, which is, you know, somebody's published a study that says it turns out that play is important for kids and they learn a lot Through play. It's like School, or they could have told you that, you know, and so it's. It's partly my, my anti-academic bias, but there's, there's still a lot of things that are that are that are that are that are really important for kids.
Cecilie Conrad: So it's, it's partly my, my anti-academic bias, but there's there's stuff like that, that, that just, oh, you've learned something obvious and you've proved it now.
Jesper Conrad: Cool Good for you For five years. Very, I think that's a wonderful place to start. We want to thank you for your books and the time you have given us today.
Mary Giffith: It has been a pleasure chatting with you And I think that's a great opportunity for me to get into past world sometimes too, because I don't. I don't often Connect much with with homeschoolers in large groups, although I still talk to them occasionally, but it you know it's not.
Cecilie Conrad: It's not a major part of my life anymore, so it's fun to sort of dip in, but you are to be considered an expert. Still, though, i'm going to talk to you.
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