Do My Unschoolers Mind Being Different?

When my first child was a baby, I read all the parenting books I could get my hands on, including one with a title something like: Your Child Can Be a Genius.

I read the book and thought about its contents very carefully. And quickly. If I wanted to have an exceedingly clever child, I had no time to lose. Wait too long and my chance would be gone. Everything happens in the first few years of a child’s life. Or so the author said.

I wasn’t sure I wanted my child to be a genius. Wouldn’t that make her different from everyone else? And then wouldn’t her pathway through life be more difficult? Perhaps happiness results from being part of the crowd.  Fitting in. No, I wanted my children to be ‘normal’. But they haven’t ended up normal at all.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped worrying about what I wanted my children to be and I started encouraging them to be who they are. I realised every child is unique and special. And she doesn’t have to be like anyone else.

So I have different children. I think all unschoolers are probably different. Is different okay? My 14-year-old daughter Sophie joins me for this week’s podcast to discuss this question. It’s a very lively interview. Sophie has a contagious laugh! I asked my teenager the following questions:

  • In what ways are you different?
  • Do you like being different?
  • Is there an advantage to being different?
  • Even though you aren’t like the crowd, do you still have a need to belong?

I also talk about how tricky it can be recommending resources. 
  • What if someone thinks one of my resources is totally unsuitable for children?
  • Are we affected by adult peer pressure when deciding whether something is child suitable or not?
  • Do parents have a need to feel accepted and approved of?
Even though there’s always the possibility I might be criticised for my choices, I did share some resources! I offer them with the following disclaimer:

I haven’t viewed all resources. I offer them as;a starting;point, something which may be useful.
I’m aware that not all the resources I recommend are perfect. For example, an adults-only segment might slip into an otherwise perfectly good video. Our family either skips over the adult content or we talk about it.

For a more detailed disclaimer, please see my post The Tricky Business of Recommending Resources.

I hope you find something helpful and enjoyable amongst today’s resources!

Podcast Notes

Blog post



Great Expectations, starring Helena Bonham Carter DVD
Great Expectations eBook (free)

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux ebook (free)
The Phantom of the Opera movie
The Phantom of the Opera stage production
The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack on Youtube

BBC art documentaries on Youtube (contain nude paintings and references to such things as Picasso’s love life)

Wilkie Collins’ books
The Woman in White ebook (free)
The Moonstone ebook (free)
More Wilkie Collins books

St John Ambulance
St John Cadets (Australia)


60’s Quiz Show by Podington Bear(CC BY-NC 3.0)

I hope you enjoy listening to this week’s podcast.

Thank you for listening!

Image: Sophie says school kids can tell she’s different just by looking at her. What do you think?

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  1. Reply

    There were a lot of interesting things in this podcast, Sue. I was particularly interested in the art section – I'll watch the videos when I get a chance. The part about judging was thought-provoking, too. For me, I've found that my judgment has changed, over the years. In some ways, I've relaxed the censoring and there are other things that we seem to have moved away from naturally.

    It's nice that the girls are happy to be themselves. I wonder if it is hard for teenagers to be creative if they are too focused on fitting in.

    Thank you for all the resources. I've used a lot of your recommendations, lately. Your Pinterest boards are great 🙂

    1. Reply


      I hope you enjoy the art videos. We'[ve found a few more we're looking forward to watching. It seems we are in an art phase at the moment!

      I suppose our judgement changes as our children get older because their needs change, but I know I'm not so strict with the younger ones as I was with the older children at the same age. I think this has more to do with me gaining confidence as a mother and not worrying about other people's opinions.

      "I wonder if it is hard for teenagers to be creative if they are too focused on fitting in." That's a very interesting thought. I remember not having much time to be creative as a teenager because school was so demanding. The school kids Sophie knows seem to be in the same position. They haven't got time for hobbies and interests. That's sad.

      I'm glad you are finding my Pinterest boards useful. Thank you for listening to my podcast!

  2. Reply

    Lots to think about on this podcast, Sue. The whole problem of recommending things for others, yes, very tricky. I look at some of the young moms around me, and I see myself, wanting so much to give my children the PERFECT upbringing and education. In my case, I wanted to be in control of everything, which is impossible, of course! And of course, I was still not "careful enough" for some of my friends, which felt like having "Parent Failure" stamped on your forehead!

    I've mellowed a lot. 🙂 The Lord is kind and merciful!

    I have a question about St. John's Ambulance. What is it, exactly? I'd seen the sticker on the Tardis, and I just assumed it was an ambulance company in London, but I can't picture ambulances (of the sort we have here) training children. Is it first aid training for kids in case they ever come across an emergency situation? Do the older ones go on ambulance runs?

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, I remember wanting to be the perfect mother. It felt like a big responsibility. I had to do everything right. Of course, I failed. I wasn't 'careful enough' either. It wasn't adult content we were worried about because our kids were all small. It was things like magic and witches that were the problem. I love Tomie de Paola's Strega Nona stories, but for a long time I wondered if these books were 'approved' or not. Later, as our kids reached teenage years, some people didn't like The Lord of the Rings because of the magic element. Despite our worries, I think all our kids survived. God is indeed kind and merciful!

      I should have explained St John Ambulance in more detail. It's a volunteer group. The members are highly trained in first aid. They attend public events where first aid may be required, including sporting events. They treat injuries but will call an ambulance if needed. Children can join from the age of 8 as juniors and later become cadets. They are trained in first aid and can attend events too under the supervision of the adult members. My kids have been to sporting events from netball competitions to mountain bike events, as well as other public events where lots of people are gathered. They even went to the Moscow Circus as St John volunteers. I'm sure the volunteers were glad none of the circus performers fell from the high wire and none of the audience were overcome by fear for their safety! They could relax and enjoy the show. Once the kids turn 18 they can become adult members.

      St John's cadets do have the necessary skills to deal with unexpected emergencies outside of organised events. (I've called upon my cadets many times at home!) But they wouldn't be treating people as a St John's cadets in this type of situation. No ambulances are involved unless an adult member thinks one is needed and phones the hospital for medical assistance. Then the paramedics take over.

      There is a special squad of St John's members who use bikes: the BERT:

      "The St John Bicycle Emergency Response Team (BERT) plays a crucial part in ensuring the earliest possible response time to a patient, particularly in places that are not easily accessible by an ambulance."

      My son Callum liked the idea of becoming part of BERT, (he was passionate about his mountain bike at the time), but he didn't end up doing the training.

      Thank you so much for listening to this week's podcast and for your questions. I enjoyed answering them!

  3. Reply

    So much interesting content in this podcast
    I scribbled down a couple of things as I listened.
    On nudging children to step out of their comfort zones – I have found it very beneficial to nudge, but never force (and yes, I have done that!). I have also found that suggesting is fruitful – introducing an idea and letting it become familiar before nudging. Now I sound like a marketing strategist!
    Regarding all the early learning books, I hadn't thought about it before, but it's so true! All the books that make the first few years seem like make or break. Are these books so popular because most parents choose to only have their children at home for a short time before the childcare-kindergarten-school cycle begins?
    Sophie's insights were most interesting, please tell her I said so. I can assure her that she is not alone in the ways of being different, there are many similarities between your family and ours. It is so natural to have your own siblings as best friends, I think it is what God intended.
    Thanks again Sue, for more links and resources to check out and follow.
    God bless

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, some of us benefit from a little encouragement, at least from time to time. I do like what you said about suggesting. Just recently, Sophie and I have been telling Imogen about our Fitness Blender workouts. We wanted to ask her to join us, but I knew the timing was wrong. We let her think about the idea until the other day when I knew the time was right to invite her to try the workouts. She accepted! She's going to take on this torturous challenge!

      The early years could be make or break… I am so grateful we have more than a few years with our children before they are sent out into the world.

      I love listening to my children. Their thoughts are very interesting and I am often struck by the things they say. I bet you find the same thing with your own children. Sophie is always willing to talk with me on my podcasts. She'll be pleased you enjoyed her insights.

      I'm glad to hear your family is different too. I kind of suspected that!

      Thank you for listening!

  4. I just caught up with your podcasts on a lovely drive to collect my daughter from Scouts. Thank you! I always enjoy Sophie's bubbly contributions. I think Cordie would get on very well with your daughters. They are different in many ways but one of Cordie's highest compliments about someone is that they're 'weird like us'!

    1. Reply


      Thank you for taking me to the Scouts with you!

      Sophie will be pleased you enjoyed her segment. She's a great person to talk to. She always has something interesting to say and never goes blank when I ask her a question (like I did when I was interviewed on someone else's podcast!)

      We use the term 'weird like us' too! It's great being weird, isn't it?

      Thank you so much for listening to my podcasts!

    • emily
    • December 27, 2016

    Well, I went to public school (and private in high school), and I was always different. Still am. Hard to fit in anywhere, but that’s just who I am and I’ve learned to be happy with my unconventional self. 🙂

    RE starting kids early: that was Maria Montessori’s theory, and I found out when DS was 3 that she was wrong. I had a few Montessori materials from when I was teaching, that 3-yr-olds in Montessori schools use, and all he wanted to do with them was build! Reading Raymond Moore’s book, “Better Late Than Early”, was really helpful on getting me over that conventional (and stressful, for both parent and child) mindset.

    Some kids can, and other kids can…a lot later.

    1. Reply


      Yes, some of us are just different. Like you, I never fitted in when I went to school. I suspect my older kids wouldn’t have fitted in either, so I’m glad we had the choice and could keep them at home. These days, I think different is good. Why be like everyone else? It sounds like you are confident and don’t need to fit in. Maybe unschooling gives our kids a similar confidence. They know they are accepted just as they are and that’s good.

      “Better Late than Early”? I haven’t thought about that book in years. Yes, it’s a classic and has helped many parents and their children, I’m sure!

      “Some kids can, and other kids can…a lot later.” I like that!

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