A Conversation With Pam Laricchia

I wanted to share a wonderful conversation that I had recently with Pam Laricchia, author and unschooling advocate, for her ‘Exploring Unschooling’ podcast series. I really enjoyed talking with Pam about parenting, unschooling and child development. We covered so much!

A Conversation with Pam Laricchia

You can find out more about Pam’s work at her website www.livingjoyfully.ca and read the page featuring our conversation with a list of resources mentioned. You can also listen to the podcast directly below:


Pam has also written a great summary of the podcast for those who would like to learn more about it:

“Emma was a clinical psychologist who chose to stay home when her daughter Lily was born. Lily’s now nine, and her younger daughter, Rosa, is five. For Emma, attachment parenting flowed into unschooling, which she discovered when reading Jan Hunt’s book, The Natural Child.

She went on to read John Holt, and his observations about children and learning made so much sense to her, meshing really well with her own observations. For many of the issues she was anticipating, like weaning or separating before her children were ready, unschooling seemed to have all the answers—it was an exciting alternative.

Lily and Rosa are both passionate about Minecraft. She’s found it so interesting to watch Lily’s progression over the years: first observing others playing; then gradually playing herself; moving from easier modes to increasingly difficult levels; then reading and writing/typing; and now she’s developing a role play server for imaginative play with her friends. Emma’s husband John teaches digital media at university and the family fully embraces technology, and it’s enriched all their lives. The girls also have lots of other interests, including dinosaurs and paleontology, puffer fish, horses and riding, collecting flowers, and Harry Potter.

Then we talked about when her children reached school age—were they curious? Lily was never interested in school, and even when it comes up in conversation, she’s quite adamant that she wants to carry on with life as they are. With Rosa, last year when she was four, she was watching things like Sid the Science Kid, and was curious about what it might be like to go to play school. But, she didn’t really want to go to school, so they went to some home ed groups where she could play with other children, and that seemed to be what she was looking for.

Emma then shared her experience with unschooling in the UK, where it’s legal to home educate. You don’t have to follow any curriculum, kids don’t have to be assessed, and parents are free to educate in ways that they choose, as long as they’re providing the child with a suitable education for their age, ability and aptitude. Nationally, there’s an organization called Education Otherwise, with information and listings of local groups.

Then we discussed an article she posted on her blog, What is Unschooling? First we talked about how the term “child-led learning” can be misleading, giving the impression that the parent stands back and observes, rather than being actively involved in their child’s days. Unschooling is an interactive partnership, where we’re working together, supporting their interests, being present with them, and engaging with them. Then we talked about developing trust in our children’s intrinsic motivation to learn. She credits John Holt for that. She remembers clearly him talking about how children learn to read, how they like to snuggle up next to their parents, that the physical contact was important, as was the emotional contact. That the child needed to feel safe and to trust you. And that fit well with her experience, both in her research, and with her children. Having their needs met gives children a sense of confidence in the environment, that they can let their curiosity develop and flourish, because they know they are safe to do so.

Emma’s also written a great article on her blog about the benefits of play. Unschooling parents are pretty savvy about children learning through play, but there are definitely benefits to parent and child playing together. It deepens the relationship—and you’re having fun! It also enables a parent to better see through the eyes of the child, seeing what’s important to them, what ideas they’re playing around with, and you can pick up on how they’re feeling. It’s like a doorway into their world. She mentions a couple of books that helped her: Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen, and Killing Monsters, by Gerard Jones.

Then we dove into how Emma’s background in psychology weaves together with her family’s unschooling lifestyle. She’s passionate about psychology, and it really informs her drive to value relationships and prioritize the children and their emotional development. For her, the relationship comes first. And that’s something we hear pretty often on the podcast.

When I asked her about one of the more challenging aspects of her unschooling journey so far, she talked about Rosa’s birth. Though not unschooling per se, it was a life-changing event for everyone, including Lily. She also mentioned the challenges of managing on one income, and balancing her desire for a career with wanting to be with her children.

And the last question was what she has found to be the most valuable aspect so far from choosing unschooling, to which Emma quickly replied: the relationships. She explained that you just can’t compare the relationships that you can develop while unschooling with any other type of environment. You can’t buy the kinds of things you get by investing in your children and nurturing the relationships, which unschooling really enables you to do.

And that was a great way to wrap up. 🙂

Thanks so much, Emma!”