The following is a lightly edited transcript from Pam Laricchia’s interview of me on her podcast, “Exploring Unschooling” in the Winter of 2017.
PAM: Hi everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with my husband Rocco. Hi, honey!
PAM: It’s very cool—and weird—to have you on the show. (laughs)
We began unschooling back in 2002 and our three kids are all now young adults. I thought it would be very interesting to share your perspective on our experience!
Let’s take a moment to go back to the beginning when I first discovered homeschooling was legal. Pretty soon after, we figured we’d try it out and see how it went. I remember that it was March break and I went around and told each of the kids that apparently they didn’t have to go to school and asked would they like to stay home instead. To which they all said, “Yes!” Very loudly.
ROCCO: And with big smiles on their faces.
PAM: Big smiles on their faces.
I remember feeling both scared, because this was so different than anything I had ever thought I’d do, and excited, because it seemed like an amazing answer to our challenges with the schools. Do you remember how you felt at that time?
ROCCO: Yes. I was a little nervous, but excited. You had done so much research that I had 101 questions and you were able to put me at ease very, very easily. I guess the thing that really stood out for me was that you said we would try it out. It wasn’t cast in stone. That was really the key for me to accept unschooling as a lifestyle.
PAM: Yeah. That’s something we do, right? Whenever there’s some big change, we’re kind of like, “Well, let’s take the next step and see what it’s like and then we’ll decide on what the next step is.” It’s not an all-or-nothing thing at the beginning.
ROCCO: Yeah. I was pretty comfortable, to be honest with you. My initial reaction and my first concern was, “Holy cow. How are we going to manage on one income?” Right? You knew that was coming, right?
PAM: Yeah. (laughs)
ROCCO: We had discussed that. We had looked at that. At the time, with three kids, we had daycare.
PAM: And private school.
ROCCO: Private school. We had done so much for our kids, everything that we could possibly do, and it wasn’t cheap.
As it worked out, we did all the math and there was literally no change. One of our incomes was going directly into paying for either education or daycare. It wasn’t a deal breaker. As a matter of fact, it was, “Oh.” Nothing.
As it turned out, our lifestyle did not change at all financially. It didn’t make a difference. It was a wash. That was a big concern I guess, to start with. Because the math worked out, we were able to move forward, right?
PAM: Yeah. The math worked out very well for you and for me, because I was the one dealing with the schools and doing all that side. So actually both those concerns worked out really well for me, because I’m a numbers person, too. I’m an engineer. I needed to see those, but we had our spreadsheet, like we have spreadsheets for most things and that worked out well.
Now, we’ll move forward a little bit. I stayed home with the kids and you would go to work everyday. Especially since you were so often meeting with customers, with new people, with technical consulting, all that kind of stuff, I bet—and I know—that you were regularly asked to typical social questions like, “Nice to meet you, Rocco. You have kids. What grade are they in?” I was wondering how you would answer that question, how you would feel in those moments.
ROCCO: It was actually easier than you think.
PAM: Oh, good.
ROCCO: People would say, “Oh, hey, you got kids. What grade are they in?” My standard response was, “Oh, my kids are homeschooled. They’re so-and-so old. This is their age.” I never really got into what grade they were in because, quite frankly, I had no idea what grade they would have been in.
PAM: I know! I had to do the math whenever anybody asked. How old were they when they left? They were in this grade.
ROCCO: Yeah. I totally avoided that. I just went, “This is how old they are.” Then they would ask the next thing.
Of course, the next question is, “Well, how do they socialize?” I would ask them, “Where did you meet your best friend?” “Oh, on my hockey team.” Well, that’s not school is it? So, I guess there are other places to meet friends and socialize. Right?” Boy scouts and girl scouts and ballet lessons and all different sorts of activities which the kids did participate in. So, socializing question came up and that wasn’t a problem.
Then, the next question, of course, is, “Well, how do they go to university or college?” Right? That was another easy one. I said, “Well, you do know that a lot of schools and universities and colleges have a special category for homeschool kids, right?” That was always a little eye-opener for them. “Really?” I said, “Yeah, just like when you’re an adult and you want to go back to college or school, right? They say, ‘Okay, you’re an adult,’ and they give you personal interviews and they kind of watch where you’re coming from. Worse comes to worst, they’d have to go and do some standardized test to get accepted, right? Big deal. That’s easily overcome just by a little bit of studying.”
PAM: Yeah. Exactly. Depending on what they’re interested in, depending on the course, because sometimes, if it was something artistic, it might be portfolios or whatever. There’s always a way to figure it out. Even if it is go doing a few online courses to get a particular grade or certificate or standardized test, whatever, you meet it when you have an interest in it.
ROCCO: That’s right. The whole unschooling thing was, I always looked at it as maybe a temporary thing because, if it didn’t work out, they can just go back to school. What’s the worst that can happen?
PAM: They can’t be refused.
ROCCO: It’s not like the school gave you an ultimatum and said, “Hey, if you take your kids out, you can never come back.” Right?
PAM: Exactly. Okay. What was the next question I had here?
Not only were you surrounded by conventional parenting and educational conversations daily at work, you also weren’t at home most days to see the kids learning in action which is really, that first year or so, how I learned so much about how learning works and built my trust in unschooling for them. It’s so hard when you have both those pieces. You have the conventional ideas on the outside and you don’t have a lot of personal experience about how it’s going on the inside. I know there were times over the years when you were feeling less sure about unschooling. I was hoping you can talk a little bit about what helped you move through those times.
ROCCO: Well, okay. Yes. I missed a lot of time during the day, but I quickly understood that unschooling was a 24-hour thing. It wasn’t just during school hours, so it wasn’t like I missed everything. I just missed maybe some of the primetime, but then again, you would give me a recap of what you did during the day. All right, I missed out on going to the science center, the libraries, the parks, and the museums, but we would do those again on weekends.
PAM: That’s true.
ROCCO: It’s not like you only went during the school hours, right? We would go on those places during our vacations too.
PAM: You still saw it in action.
ROCCO: I still saw it in action. Right. It wasn’t something that I missed. I don’t feel like I missed out on something. You know? I may have missed out on many hours of prime bonding time, but it wasn’t everything.
PAM: Oh, no. You still feel like, well, because also, so many times, especially as the kids get a bit older, evening becomes prime time for them doing their things, right? So, you always saw, as long as they weren’t sleeping, they were unschooling.
ROCCO: That’s true, actually. As the kids got older, I did see all of it. I did see everything that was going on. I didn’t miss much because they were sleeping.
PAM: And you started working from home for awhile there too, so that helped too because then your hours were a little less nine to five-y. Right?
ROCCO: That’s right. That’s right. Yes.
PAM: Okay, next question.
What were a couple of the things that you enjoyed most about our unschooling lifestyle?
ROCCO: One word. Freedom.
PAM: Freedom. Yes.
ROCCO: You know, the freedom of not having to get up early to wake the kids up in the morning while they’re dead asleep. The hassle of getting them dressed while they didn’t want to, force-feeding them to have breakfast before going to school, and then of course getting them to school, and picking them up. I did not miss that. I don’t think you did either.
PAM: I did not!
ROCCO: The other thing that really I always see as a major benefit was our vacations.
PAM: Yeah. Definitely.
ROCCO: We always took our vacations—well, we still do—we take our vacations in off-peak times so there are no crowds, right? How many times have we gone to Disney World and gotten to go on rides and see attractions with very minimal waiting.
Every time we look at these signs, I remember sitting up, looking at these signs and if you’re this far back, they have a sign that says, “You are two hours from reaching your attraction.” Meanwhile, we were zipping through there, five, ten minutes. We got to see more of the park. We get to see more of the attractions. We got to do a heck of a lot more.
We got to go to the beach during lower season so there was never huge crowds and you didn’t have to worry about the kids getting lost in a crowd. Vacations were definitely a highlight, actually.
PAM: Yeah. I think one of the important things is that our kids didn’t really like crowds, right? So, if we were going at a high time, a busier time, not only would we have had to wait so much more, but it would have been a more stressful experience for everybody because it would not be comfortable for anybody.
ROCCO: That’s right. None of us like crowds.
PAM: None of us. Very, very true. Okay, next question.
What was one of the most challenging aspects of moving to unschooling for you?
ROCCO: Oh, the hardest part was definitely trying to deal with my family, right?
My family are traditional immigrants that came on the boat a long time ago. My parents, I think, if they were lucky, they had a grade two or three education and they thought school was like the next best thing since sliced bread. When they came to this country, they thought that was the way to go and they put all of their kids through school and college and university, The irony is that my parents were basically unschooled.
Fortunately, my sister is a career school teacher, elementary school teacher, and she was very supportive of us. She knew about homeschooling and I think she embraced the unschooling aspect of it. She was really the one that would kind of calm my parents down and explain to them the benefits of our choices and how it’s not the worst thing in the world and how there are still many options and doors that can be open for us.
PAM: You know what? I remember something that she said even back when the kids were still in school that had helped me feel more comfortable with unschooling as a choice, because when I would talk to her about some of the challenges in school, about how the kids were thriving at home and everything. She talked about, as being a teacher, she said our kids’ experience was so much bigger because, as a family, outside of school, we did all sorts of things with them. Even when they were in school we had little mini vacations where we would go places. We didn’t just start going to the science center and the museum when they left school, we just went more often, right?
ROCCO: That’s right. That’s right.
PAM: Even when the kids were in school, she was saying our kids have so much more experience than most of the kids that she sees in school. That made me think that, oh, it’s the family environment—that’s a really big deal. Understanding that we were already providing that kind of support for them helped me realize that when we took them out of school we could just continue doing that. Yeah. That reminded me when you mentioned her. That’s cool.
ROCCO: Yeah. I remember my mother told me several times she thought I was doing the wrong thing. That’s tough.
PAM: That’s hard.
ROCCO: That’s tough, right? But I could see from the joy in my kids’ faces that we were doing the right thing and I didn’t see any reason for change, no matter how much she protested.
PAM: It’s hard though. You just kind of have to accept them where they are, right, because you can’t convince them. You can try to answer questions and try to help them understand what you’re doing, but you can’t just make them change their mind. It’s something you just live with.
ROCCO: Right. Absolutely.
PAM: Okay. Last question.
Looking back now that our kids are young adults, what do you appreciate most about unschooling?
ROCCO: That’s actually a tough question. I didn’t really know how to answer that, but in a word, I think flexibility. Flexibility is really what I appreciate the most from unschooling. There’s nothing set in stone. We’re able to turn on a dime if we need to. Always had plenty of options.
PAM: That ability for us to, like you’re saying, turn on a dime, change directions, that was so helpful with unschooling, because as our children’s interest in things changed and morphed, it really helped to be able to keep that open mind instead of thinking that, listen, she likes photography so she has to be a photographer. You know?
Whenever we would tell somebody that, even when she was 14 years old and we’d say, “She’s really into photography.” They’d say, “Oh, she’s going to be a photographer.” Right? It was always just an assumption.
We would always just say, “Well, maybe.” It’s not always fixed. It’s never fixed. Even she doesn’t know that that’s where she’ll stay. Same with all our kids. It’s that ability to understand that the moment that you’re in is so important. It’s everything. It’s okay that if the next step that you see is like a 90-degree turn.
ROCCO: Right. I’m just a proud papa. I think my kids are awesome.
PAM: Yeah. I think so, too. (laughs)
ROCCO: All of them. They each have their own character. They’ve developed to be wonderful young adults, considerate, generous, everything you would want in a young adult. I think they don’t have the baggage that I think some kids that went to school have. They don’t suffer from the same trauma, right? Because a lot of kids in school suffer from anxiety.
PAM: There’s so much judgement.
PAM: “If you don’t do well, you’re a failure.”
ROCCO: That’s right. The problem was, as we discussed many times, expectations.
PAM: Yes, expectations.
ROCCO: We never really put a lot of expectations on our kids. Expectation is really one of the things that stifle. If you’re expected to do something. I’ve gone through this. I’m sure you have, too. If you’re expected to do something and you don’t really want to do that, you force yourself to do it and you suffer through it. I really believe that.
PAM: Yeah, that’s true. One thing that, when you’re having kind of a new conversation with someone, when you talk about how, “I don’t have expectations.” They really believe that a human without expectations will do nothing. It’s like, “Oh, well, if you don’t expect me to do this, I’ll just sit on my butt and do nothing.”
It’s such a different life, isn’t it, when you’re able to live without those expectations and start choosing what you do?
ROCCO: It’s the difference between expectation and goals. You can have goals but not expectations.
PAM: Yeah. It’s amazing the goals that our kids, unschooling kids I know, that people will set for themselves when they’re free of other people’s expectations on top of them. The weight of somebody else’s expectations of what you do is so huge and debilitating, I think.
It just gets in the way of us making our choices, because then we’re always second-guessing ourselves too. You want to make your best choice, the one that works best for you, so you take in all the information and try to figure out a good path forward. You don’t need somebody else’s expectations on top of that. That’s just extraneous, because you’re already considering all your own constraints and strengths and weaknesses and all those kinds of things. Those just go into thinking about it.
That’s something that unschooling kids have years and years off experience doing, right, because that’s what they do when they’re growing up instead of what they’re told. They’re figuring out what works for them and figuring out how they tick. So, they understand themselves, right? That’s what’s really cool.
PAM: Well, thank you very much.
ROCCO: Thank you.
PAM: And I do want to say a very big thank you for all your help in producing the podcast! If you guys don’t know, he does all the sound editing and the production stuff. Without him, this podcast would be a whole lot harder for me to put together. We work with our strengths and help each other out whenever we can. That’s kind of how we do things, right?
ROCCO: I look forward to the weekly podcast. It’s always fun. I enjoy it.
PAM: Yes, so thank you, thank you very much. It feels weird to wish you a good day because you’re sitting right here beside me, but I do hope that you’re having a great day and even better now that this podcast recording is over. (laughs)
PAM: Thank you so much, hon.
ROCCO: You’re welcome.