I wanted to share my experience of Sandra Dodd’s recent visit to the UK. Sandra is an author and unschooling advocate with 3 grown children who lives in Albuquerque, USA. Sandra originally trained and worked as a teacher during the 1970s, a time when educational reformers such as John Holt were prominent and the ideas of the open classroom were being implemented in some schools in the USA.
Soon after Sandra had her own children she became familiar with unschooling ideas and she later met some unschooling families at a local La Leche League group she attended when her children were young and she knew that she wanted the type of relationships that those families had with their children. All of Sandra’s children were radically unschooled. You can read more about her biography here. In the video below, Sandra talks about her discovery of unschooling, how it works and some of the philosophical ideas underlying it. You can also read an article related to the video with further information.
Sandra has been a great pioneer and advocate of unschooling and has written a range of articles about unschooling which you can read on her website www.sandradodd.com. Sandra has generously shared her knowledge and experience about unschooling with families around the world by talking at conferences, maintaining an awesome website and founding online forums such as Always Learning and the FaceBook Group Radical Unschooling Info.
Sandra’s ideas about unschooling have had a huge influence on the lives of many parents who have been able to develop closer, more respectful and connected relationships with their children as a result of her work. Participants in Peter Gray’s (2013) research cited Sandra as being one of the leading authors who had influenced their decision to unschool.
I have learnt so much from reading Sandra’s work over the years and I’ve been led to challenge my own thinking and previously held assumptions about various aspects of my parenting. Sandra’s work has been an invaluable source of learning for me and it’s helped me deepen my relationship with my children as a result of being able to respond to them more thoughtfully and respectfully.
So I was very excited to discover that Sandra would be visiting the UK and talking about unschooling at a venue in Surrey and I really wanted to take this opportunity to meet her. We don’t have many unschooling talks in the UK and it was wonderful to hear Sandra discuss unschooling in-depth and to meet so many other unschooling families who had travelled from across the UK and a variety of other countries in Europe to attend the day. It was great to meet up with families I’ve got to know online, some for the first time and to re-connect with others I’ve known for a while. I even got to meet a lovely mum who like me had also travelled up from Cornwall for the talk and we sat together and chatted about our experiences. I’m sure we’ll meet up locally now that we’re back home!
I met Sandra almost as soon as I arrived and she was very warm and welcoming. I was pleased that she remembered me from some of our online exchanges. There was a buzz of excitement and business around the hall as so many parents gathered together were chatting while people were still arriving and being checked in. When Sandra opened the talk I was struck by how thoughtful and considerate she was of her audience making sure that we were comfortable and thinking about our needs and expectations for the day. The day was divided into three talks and the topics to be explored were aimed at more experienced unschoolers so that we could talk about these ideas in more depth. We also had the opportunity of breaking into smaller groups to reflect on the talk and discuss some of the issues that had come up.
The first talk focused on knowledge and beliefs and how preconceived ideas and prejudices can get in the way of unschooling and building trusting relationships with our children. Sandra explored how our own experience of being parented and beliefs from the wider culture can impact on our relationships and why it’s important to engage in a process of self-examination and reflection in order to work through these issues. Sandra emphasised the importance of beginning this process of inner work now while children are growing rather than waiting until some unspecified point in the future to begin.
The second talk examined how as parents we can make better choices in our lives and in our relationships so that our children can feel safe and secure enabling them to learn, to explore the world, develop and thrive. Sandra explained why the type of environments and relationships we create with our children are so important for laying the foundations for unschooling.
The third and last talk of the day reflected on the concept of intelligence, reflections on developing trusting relationships and answering audience questions. We finished off the day with pizza and chatting together and my family came to join us! The ideas presented were wide ranging and richly embedded in real life examples of unschooling families’ experiences. I felt the day was very informative and I was left with many helpful ideas to reflect upon. I hope that Sandra will return again to the UK and share with us her invaluable experience and knowledge of unschooling.
Links & Resources:
You can listen to some of Sandra’s previous talks here.
An engaging talk about unschooling that Sandra gave at the Learning Trust – Trusting Learning (LTTL) Conference UK (2011) with Sandra Dodd audio
There a number interesting interviews with Sandra on her website.
Peter Gray’s Research The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling: According to 232 Families Who Have Chosen that Route. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 2013 Vol. 7 Issue 14.