#52 Robyn Coburn | From Doubt to Devotion - The Unschooling Transformation
🗓️ Recorded January 10th, 2023. 📍Playa Dorada, Lengüeta Arenosa, Baja California, Mexico
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About this Episode
Robin Coburn shares her journey from doubting to advocating the unschooling movement. Together, we uncover the beauty of reshaping family dynamics and nurturing a bond with children that is rooted in patience, openness, and understanding. Through Robin's narrative, you'll witness how unschooling paves the way for a non-authoritarian approach to parenting that abandons fear and control in favor of proactive solutions and a deeply supportive community.
Tune in to hear how unschooling cultivates the pursuit of personal interests, enabling children to thrive by exploring their passions rather than following a rigid curriculum.
Watch the full interview on YouTube
00:00 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Welcome to Self-Directed. We are your hosts, cecilia and Jesper Conrad, and now it's time to welcome this week's guest.
00:10 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Today we are together with Robin Coburn, so this on-schooling thing. How did that happen for you?
00:18 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
Oh well, my daughter is now 24 years old. When I was going to have our baby, we were pregnant. We already knew that we wanted to homeschool, but we had not discovered on-schooling, and I'm one of these people that likes to research a lot. So I started reading as much as I could, and when I first read about on-schooling, I had probably a very common reaction and I immediately said, oh, these people are crazy. But I did continue to read all kinds of other things, and this was back in the days when most of the online was either AOL message boards or really message boards. I said to my husband look, the thing that I thought was crazy, the on-schooling thing. It sounds really wonderful. And to my astonishment he was like oh yes, of course I wish I had done that. If my parents had been able to do that with me, it would have been fantastic, and he's completely right about that.
We had made a decision very early on that we didn't want to make the same mistakes that our parents had made with us. We had a framework of how we didn't want a parent in terms of being. We wanted to be mindful parents. We didn't want to be punishing parents. We didn't want our child to have a relationship that was fear-based with us. We didn't want to have the same kind of authoritarian, fear-based relationship with our child that we had with our own parents. In slightly different ways.
01:48 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Your story reminds me of when we started our journey on the first homeschooling and later on schooling world. That meeting the other parents were angering in some way that you didn't feel you was weird. In the same way where you had some of the faults you had before, Maybe you were like, is this weird to do all these things? Then you made actual people doing it. Later on we became the people inviting people into our home and saying, hey, we have a meet-up and come and join.
02:25 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
When Jane was about three and four years old. We would go to different parks all around the general area. It was wonderful. It was a brand new group that was started by another homeschooling family who I would describe them as eclectic. They still did classes at home, but they were very kind of relaxed. All the mums were very relaxed. I was the lunatic homeschooler in the group. I was the only one who actually identified as an homeschooler. I know that Sandra always says you can't really call yourself an homeschooler until your child hits mandatory school enrollment age. Then you can start saying it. I had to because a lot of the people in the group were doing things like what curriculum are you planning to use? Are you doing any early reading stuff? It was just, rather than just keep on having to say no, no, no, no, no all the time, I just said, well, we're on school. Then people stop asking me questions unless they wanted to know more about homeschooling, which occasionally happened.
03:29 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Wonderful Robin. One of the things I find fascinating as a parent of self-directed kids is that in personal developments we go through ourselves as parents, the door it opens to looking back at how your own life has been and how you grow as a person. I believe you, of course, as just being a parent, grow. So it's not that you can only grow if you have settled or erected on-school kids, but can you pinpoint some areas in your life that you have grown as a person due to choosing this educational choice for your children or this lifestyle?
04:15 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
Yes, let me think for a second. I actually wrote something about this a long time ago where I wrote that I had been given a child by the universe who specifically challenged me. I was kind of rigid and controlling of my time and what I wanted to do. I was given a child who refused to be controlled in any way and would push against that by her temper, and I had to realise the biggest change was that I wasn't going to be in charge of her life, she was going to be in charge of her life, and I'm so glad that I had found unschooling before these things created conflict and problem and then had to come to unschooling as a solution for disaster, which I know some people do and think that there is that there, but I was already in that, so I had already had changed my own mindset to being open to what was needed and to finding a solution.
What I got instead was this very close relationship, and I think it helped me to perhaps be a better wife to my husband, who would have been a perfect unschooling kid because he was so interested in so many wild and wacky things that didn't necessarily go together and had he been supported as a child in pursuing them the way we do with our unschooling children's interest.
Well, we probably never would have met because he would have been in a different life. But see that as it may, and so it made me more willing to not be the boss of everything. That helped me let go of being in control of other people, which you never really are, but you sometimes believe you are and we moved away from this reactive saying that we were doing something different from how our parents were. We were doing like they did, that let's do the opposite. We moved away from that, especially me. I moved away from that and moved into a more proactive where we're following the path where, engaging in these behaviors, we have these ideas about parenting because they're better ideas for a positive reason rather than a reaction to negative reason, and I think it made me a lot more patient.
06:49 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Our podcast is available on all the normal listening platforms, but also on YouTube, and people will have heard your last name, coburn, and seeing a book behind you as well, so I think it would trigger people's curiosity. So you've written a book let's talk a little about it.
07:09 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
I started really writing this in 18, and this is the biography of James' grandfather, my husband's father, the Oscar-winning actor James Coburn from the 1960s and 70s with his heyday. But he earned his Oscar in 1998, and that's it there. The supporting actor for the film Fletcher and my husband inherited it. When James Coburn passed away and he and his wife, paula, had created a foundation to distribute his estate to various charities. One of the things the foundation was supposed to do was create his biography and he had started doing his own memoirs by recording. He was being interviewed by a friend and they had conversations and there's about 40 hours of him being recording.
Unfortunately, he passed away before he really finished and then they kind of sat in a fog. It was really weighing on the mind of Paula's friend, linda Ecclesian. This was one of the last things that she had promised Paula, who also unfortunately died the following year. This book was not getting done and we had all this material stacked up. I said I'll have a go at it. I wrote a couple of sample chapters and they were terrible, but she gave me some great feedback, so I wrote the next one and then it all worked out really well.
08:33 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Robin, I would like to go back to the unschooling also, and when you go back and look, what are the things you would have loved to know when you started out?
08:45 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
So what are the things that I was lucky was that I had so many people who were ahead of me on the journey, even if it was just a few years. For example, pam, one of her daughters it seemed like one of her daughters had a very similar temperament to Jane, so her situation was different because she was raising three children, but the middle daughter had a lot of similarities. So when she would tell stories, so I could see in a few years, that's the beauty of going to a conference, because your child might be five or six, but then you're seeing the eight and nine year old, those little girls in their posse, running around. You're seeing the young teenagers, you're seeing the older teens and the young adults and you see they were at this point back then and this is where this is their future and you could see it in front of you. So it gives a lot of confidence.
The thing that most new unschoolers have to get over, I think, is this notion that somehow they're different, that their family is special and different. No, you're not. I mean you are Everybody, in the sense that everybody has their special gifts, but either situation within the overarching world, you're not any different. You're going through the same thing that everyone else has been through, or at least someone else has been through in the past, and that this future is still there for you. This is what you can keep unschooling.
Stick to your guns through the times when your kids are challenging, for whatever reason, and do what unschoolers do, which is invest vast amounts of energy into solving those problems, compared to regular parenting. That's what it's time and energy, that's all it is. There were moments when, if our relationship was stressful for temperament reasons or stressful because people worry, is she ever going to learn to read, she magically went from not apparently not reading to one day opening a technical manual for a computer program and reading it aloud to me, when she was, I want to say, nine or somewhere between nine and 11, just reading it aloud, this incredibly complex language, and I didn't know she could read at all. My jaw dropped.
10:58 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
10:59 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
So here's the secret. If you're worried about that, don't, they will learn. All it takes is a text rich environment, which is very easy, especially in the modern world, because you don't have to go outside and they're signage. She could spot a Barbie sign from the age of four that three miles away. Oh buddy. What you have to remember is this this is the secret about reading Unschooled children will apparently magically learn to read material that is at the level of this spoken language, primarily English, English, but whatever the language is.
If you're looking for the school structure, if you start with these baby books and you move through the ever-increasing vocabulary, that's not how it happens in unschooling. It's at the level of their spoken language, which is why I believe Sandra Thorne Holly's first book was a Stephen King novel. That was the level of her spoken language that she just started reading. That's the thing. That's where, if you let go of this notion that they can't even read a baby book, well, that's because they don't want to read a baby book by the time that they're eight or nine or 10 or 11. Then the other thing is that it happens violently in their head when they're not looking. But the best advice oh gosh, I had my most recent fear Let me just say this I'll come back to the best advice in a second.
My most recent fear, as Jane was becoming a young adult First, was that she would would not be able to sit still long enough to study something or that her sleep schedule would interfere with her being able to, for example, go to college if she wanted to go to college. But there are things she wants to do that were she didn't really necessarily need college for, because she was very interested in filmmaking and working in film, but she, so she decided to go to college with my at my husband's school where he teaches, and she was able to not only do that, not only be in class. She was. She was in a class with master's degree students and she basically standing over there now. So she's going to hear me? No, she's not, she's not worried about that that's good.
She was basically holding her own and even leading, because they all asked her to produce their projects. These, these people who were a lot older, be already qualified with the degrees, because the master's degree is a higher degree and she was just had. No, no fears about engaging with these people because she's been engaging with such a range of people her whole life, from other her own, peers of her and age to adults all the time, and ended up graduating from the Macamalati. I've falling back into the old programming of valuing more than I should be this kind of learning. Yeah, so easy to do, right.
But at the same time, it also shows me that she is able to adapt herself to whatever she wants to learn about and then came out of it knowing all this computer stuff and how to do graphics and all kinds of while work. That's just amazing to me, but I think she also knew a lot of it already. But it's anyone who has fears about their, their unschoolers, growing up and seeing you know, too weird for the public, for not being able to interact with other people or interacting other situations. I can only say just have faith and wait, because even if it seems like it's taking a long time, all of those things come to pass. In terms of how do you do unschooling? First, focus on parenting, focus on being a mindful parent, focus on the relationship. Ask yourself, is what I'm about to say going to enhance our relationship or cut it away? Is it a rock that I'm sculpting or am I throwing clay onto it? I don't know neither of those things, but the relationship is the core of it. If you are having a fear, it's your fear. You can own it and take a deep breath and go away and talk to some other unschooling moms about it, or dads, but don't put it on your kid, to make them change, to try and say you have to change, to help me with my fear. But the thing I've been thinking about most recently is an idea that I actually spoke about it for life, like this good conference.
The way to unschool is very simple and it's help your kid do what they want to do. So it's help. Think about what help means. It doesn't mean taking over, it doesn't mean it means find out what they need. So you're helping and it's boo. Stop worrying about what they're learning. What are we going to learn about today? No, don't worry about that. What do they want to do? The learning happens with the side effect. That's something Joyce said the what they want to do. It's what they want, and it might be that it's something extraordinary. It might be that they're following you into the family business, which, yeah, I can't help being happy when she wants to work on movies, you know, because we're movie makers. So that says it's what they want to do and it's really is. Do, engage with their activities, what they want to make, what they want to do, and not worry about the future, because it will come regardless and you can take care of yourself.
So, coming from that idea. Help your kids do what they want to do. I started thinking about what excuse me, I've got a cop for a second, right, sorry, sorry, I can fix it. So in thinking about help your kids do what they want to do, I started thinking about what the standard parenting paradigm and the standard parenting paradigm, which I'm cool with are turning the back on Instead of parenting paradigm is how do I get my kids to do what I want them to do? How do I get them? Make them forth them, persuade them, get them to do what I want them to do and not do what I don't want them to do.
That is the first thing that comes into people's minds. That is how most of us in the entire world, most of us, have been parented, whether it's gently or harshly hopefully not harshly said, unfortunately, this is the real world. Is that that's the thinking that informs the interaction? Whereas on schoolers, how do I help my kid do what they want to do? It takes away the negativity. But if, when you're first coming to our schooling and somebody is talking about learning something that is challenging, people always worry about the thing that was challenging for them in school, which, unfortunately, is often math. Every now and then someone will say something out of left field. It feels like to me left field how will they learn history? But I guess you had trouble with history as a kid. That's the easiest thing to learn about, really, especially in today's world. But people have whatever they might say and unfortunately it is often mostly math. It's usually it's a math or a luxury. And some people they say, well, you just provide them with, for example, kids in our rods to play with, don't that? And it's like. But how do I make them use them properly? They'll come back. That parenting paradigm will still be in their head. It's like there is no properly. You don't make them do anything. You provide options and ideas and they see you using math in your daily life, such as when you're paying bills. But don't turn it into a lesson.
Read John Holt on how children fail. I love how children fail ahead of how children learn, because how children fail is the secret to that book is it's not the children fail, it's the parents and teachers failing. And so so again, standing on the shoulders of giant, I felt like I had so many resources available to me. Wonderful thing that how to talk so your kids will listen and listen so your kids will talk, but supposedly about parenting teenagers. Read that when your kids are seven and eight, don't wait for their teenagers. And you're sitting there going. What's going on with my kid? Where's that pleasant, open, nice child that I used to know? Except I never had that. I thought I'd never stop communicating. Poor thing she had nothing to rebel again. No, she didn't.
20:53 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
It is time to round up the podcast and I really love what you said about the shift in parenting, to see how you can help the children do what they want to do instead of how do I get my kids to do whatever I feel like? And it's a. It sounds simple, but it is a big shift to have in parenting. So I'm very grateful for that and it has been a pleasure talking to you. And if people want to get to know where they can read your book or more about you, do you have a website where people can read you?
21:33 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
Yes, actually, in terms of my unschooling writing Sandra keeps most of it on her website Still and about this book. It's called Dervish Duff the Life and Words of James Copern, and if you go to DervishDuffcom Dervish like a whirling Dervish DervishDuffcom you will find a discount code to purchase it direct from the publisher. It's also available from Amazon and you might even find it in a bookstore and then my own. I write on Sub-Sek a lot, but my business I do. I write resumes and cover letters for people in the entertainment industry, but I also write resumes a lot for unschoolers. You can go to workinproductioncom to find out how to reach me. That's probably the easiest way to reach me is workinproductioncom. I've worked a lot with various up-schooling moms returning to the workforce after a number of years unschooling their kids being out of the workforce.
22:41 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Robin thanks a lot for your time. It was a pleasure hanging out together with you.
22:46 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
Well, I'll have to go back and listen to the rest of your podcasts. I started looking at your presence when I knew I was going to be speaking to you. You're living the life I thought I wanted of traveling, but I don't think Jane could deal with this much traveling. James and I are still looking at this sort of thing and thinking, well, I don't know, but if we retire, maybe we can do more of that kind of thing.
23:05 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Traveling is our. You could get a van and travel the world. It is quite fun to do, but yes, well, robin, thanks a lot for your time. It was a pleasure.
23:15 - Robyn Coburn (Guest)
Thank you very much.
23:17 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed today's episode and if you liked it, then please share it with all your friends and family. We would also love it if you gave our podcast a review. Thanks, and if you want to support our podcast and work, then you can find us on patreoncom slash the Conrad family. We will continue to travel full time and if you want to tag along, then please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at the Conrad family, and you can also read more than 100 blog posts on our website, theconradfamily. Until next time, make a wonderful day, thank you.
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