My guest this week is Iris Chen, she’s an author, unschooling mom, deconstructing tiger parent, and founder of the untigering movement. As an advocate for peaceful parenting and educational freedom for children, her mission is to inspire generational and cultural transformation, especially among Asian communities. She spent 16 years living overseas in China, the land of the tiger parent, but now resides in her native California with her husband and two sons.
In this episode, Iris and I discuss meeting the educational needs of all kids, including kids with special needs, in-non traditional ways. Specifically, with an educational model called unschooling, which is gaining in popularity in recent years. It’s important to raise awareness about different educational styles so that parents and children don’t feel stuck in their current school system and blindly follow whatever they are told. Thankfully there are many different educational styles that fit kids’ personalities, interests, and challenges better. Learn more about here.
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What is a Tiger parent?
- Equates to very strict Chinese parenting (but can also be a term for any strict parents)
- A lot of rules, very authoritarian, high expectations, particularly in the area of academics
What is untigering?
- Moving away from very authoritarian, controlling, coercive parenting, but also redefining ideas about the value of formal education and academics and the push to succeed and achieve in those ways
Being a controlling parent is not healthy for your kids
- Parents of kids with special needs, whether that is neurodevelopmental issues, mental health issues, learning challenges, whatever it might be, experience an extra set of fears and concerns, and there can be even more of a drive to control or to make kids conform to a certain way of doing things, out of love and a desire for them to fit in, to have a successful future
- It is important in those situations for parents to step back and recognize what our fears are around this
- How do I support the child I have, who this child actually is, which includes all of their amazing strengths and qualities, as well as their challenges? Not trying to make this child fit into a box
Opting out of conventional thinking
- There is this collective reimagining going on right now that is so important to the future of education
- Education most certainly does NOT need to be done in four walls, sitting down all day long
- The educational model we choose for our kids comprises a lot of their childhood daytime life, we should choose based on all our options not just the one everyone else does
- We need to ask, “Is this serving me?” Because education is supposed to serve the child, it is supposed to empower the child and give them the skills
- If it’s not serving the child, why are we still doing it? So are we serving the system? Or is the system there to serve us? If we’re just saying yes to whatever they’re asking us to do, we’re not questioning it, it’s not an intentional choice
- One of the most compelling arguments in support of parents looking at different options educationally is the research on educational outcomes in the current school system
- A large percentage of kids are not coming out of the current school system with great success
- We’re also seeing a generation of kids now in young adulthood with more serious mental health issues than ever before
- When we think about parenting kids who are autistic, kids who have ADHD, kids with mental health issues, behavioral challenges. All the more need to look at what is going to constitute success, health, well-being, engaging quality of life for them in adulthood?
- It may not at all be the picture that we have in our mind of traditionally what’s done, and that need to broaden that understanding
What is unschooling?
- Living, loving, and learning with our children outside the construct of compulsory schooling
- Child-led, no homework, no curriculum, no particular subjects, no strict schedule
- Unschooling really opens up a lot of options for reducing kids’ anxiety about school or about learning, and by using their strengths and using their interests, it allows a much better entry point into helping them grow in their skills, in their knowledge, because we’re approaching it in a way that doesn’t automatically heighten their anxiety and create a lot of distress for them
How do children become educated with unschooling?
- They are intrinsically motivated, they do have the skills they need and the drive that they need in order to pursue their individual interests
- There is a lot of parenting support. Exploring outside, reading at the library, going to museums, these are ways children can build knowledge
- By giving kids time and room to play and lead activities it’s actually supporting their own developmental pace too, which again, is really important for neurodivergent kids, for kids with different kinds of processing systems in their brain, to be able to operate at a pace that supports their own development, as opposed to constantly being pushed
Life provides opportunities for learning
- People learn because we are made to learn
- We don’t need school in order to do that
- There’s so much learning that needs to happen outside the mind, outside the intellect, where the school environment doesn’t really allow for that
- We need to learn how to listen to our bodies, how to rest and engage with nature, how to meet our our needs to survive in the world, like cook and do laundry and pay your taxes and all those things
- For kids who have more significant neurodevelopmental, behavioral, anxiety kinds of issues, traditional classrooms often are not the best place for them to be doing the kinds of learning and development and growth
Follow Iris Chen
- Instagram – @Untigering
- FB – @Untigering
- Twitter – @Untigering
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
What is a Tiger parent … 00:06:51
Opting-out of the system … 00:16:50
Unschooling … 00:19:00
How does the education part work … 00:25:00
What does unschooling look like …. 00:30:00
How do they learn the basics … 00:34:00
Episode wrap up … 00:44:00
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show. I’m Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode we’re talking about meeting the educational needs of all kids, including kids with special needs, in-non traditional ways. Specifically, we’re going to be talking about unschooling, which is gaining in popularity in recent years, but I’m finding especially because of the pandemic, and families being interested in learning about and exploring new options for their kids’ education. I know many of you are probably familiar with what homeschooling is, but unschooling is different. It focuses on child interests. It’s more child-led, there are a lot of pieces to it that make it really unique and a really great fit for some kids and families. We’re going to be talking about all of that today with our guest, Iris Chen, who I’m so excited to have this conversation with. Let me tell you a little bit about her.
She’s an author, unschooling mom, deconstructing tiger parent, and founder of the untigering movement. As an advocate for peaceful parenting and educational freedom for children, her mission is to inspire generational and cultural transformation, especially among Asian communities. She spent 16 years living overseas in China, the land of the tiger parent, but now resides in her native California with her husband and two sons. You can learn more about her adventures and parenting and email@example.com. Iris, welcome to the show, I am so thrilled to have you here!
Thank you so much for having me. Glad to be here.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So let’s start out with your story, because from the the amount that I know about you, and what I’ve read, and the work that I’ve explored of yours, your path to where you are now with how you’re schooling your kids, and your thinking about all of this is very, very different than the one that you originally started out on. And so I’d love for you to share a bit of your journey with that.
Yeah, so like you mentioned before, I was actually living in China, I had my kids in China, they were born there. Originally when they became of school age, we were planning on sending them to the local school. And the local public school in China is really intense. Not a lot of freedom for children at all, very high demands, a lot of busy work, and yet, we wanted our kids to be bilingual. That was important for us as Chinese-Americans. But then the more we explored it, the more we were like, “Okay, this is not going to work.” Not only were we not allowed to go into the local public school system because we were foreigners, but I think the more we explored it, the more we realized how oppressive it was for children, how it was not good for their physical health, their mental health, their emotional health.
So we began to explore other options, and I think because of our situation living as foreigners in China, we didn’t have a lot of options. It came to a point where the only option left for us was homeschooling. But I knew I didn’t want to do school at home, because I knew my own personality as a deconstructing tiger mother, as somebody who really had those controlling tendencies, that if I went down that path, that would just cause a lot of friction between me and my children. And so I discovered unschooling, and at first it resonated in terms of the principles of understanding that our children are innately curious, they have the abilities they need to learn, they can learn through life. Everything in life is learning. All of those things sounded so good, and yet, I knew that because of my traditional upbringing in conventional compulsory schooling, it was also wild. Like, really? Education can look like that? But I think we were just curious about it, we wanted to give it a try, we knew that we were out of options, and so we were like why not give this a try?
So it became an experiment that we embarked on for a year, where I think my kids were eight and six at the time, around that age, and we were just saying, let’s just give this a try. I think the more I began practicing it, the more I understood, it was more than just about education. It was really about learning to respect our children, just honoring their autonomy and their agency, seeing them as whole people who had their own ideas, their own paths of learning, their own interests, all these things that really challenged me as a parent, because in peaceful parenting circles, it’s okay to do that in certain areas like, maybe their sleep or their food or the physical affection they show other people. We talk a lot about consent in those areas, but we don’t talk about consent in the area of their education, oftentimes. And so it was really challenging to me, as I was wanting to walk this path of unschooling to see how much I still felt like I needed to control the situation, that it was my responsibility as a parent to decide for them, whether or not they wanted it, whether or not they liked it, whether or not they were intrinsically motivated. So unschooling really pushed me, forced me to peel back those layers, and to really expose my adultism, my desire to control my kids in what I thought was ways for their own good, but to learn to respect them, and honor them, and see them as whole people with their own ways of being.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Which is such a different way of thinking about it from how our traditional educational systems are built, and I want to get into that, but let’s define a couple terms for people, that came up in you telling your story. For those people who aren’t familiar with the term “tiger parent”, or are like, “Wait, what did I hear that right? Tiger parent?” Can you just give a brief explanation of that?
Sure. So that term came from Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, that came out, I think, in 2011. She sort of equated tiger parenting with very strict Chinese parenting. That’s her own background. She’s a Chinese-American. It’s just very strict. A lot of rules, very authoritarian, high expectations, particularly in the area of academics. So that’s sort of what we associate with tiger parenting. So untigering, for me, is a term that I coined to describe my own process, not only of moving away from very authoritarian, controlling, coercive parenting, but also redefining my ideas about the value of formal education and academics and the push to succeed and achieve in those ways. So that has all been part of my untigering process.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Awesome. Yeah, when I think of tiger parent or tiger mom, it’s that very authoritarian style, which is high expectations without high support, empathy, all of that, right? A way to think of it is “My way or the highway” type of parenting. These are the expectations, you do them without questioning, you do them without complaining. And I think, stereotypically speaking, it’s sort of that stereotypical Asian parent who is like “You’re going to get all A’s, you’re going to be a doctor, you’re going to play the violin at the highest exceptional level” That’s sort of the meme or the stereotype around that, right? But that shows up in lots of ways, not just an Asian parents. I meet many parents from non-Asian cultures and backgrounds, and there are a lot of similarities there, to your point about parents being in control of everything the kid is doing. Very high expectations and demands around the path that a child’s life takes, like it’s not okay for the child to have ideas about what they want to pursue. No, you’re going to be a doctor, or you’re going to be a business person. And so I think this is relevant, really, across cultures, for any parent who’s had these ideas that “I need to control or have these certain expectations around my kids and their schooling.”
Yeah, absolutely. So in her book, she does say that, like she puts Chinese parenting in quotes, because obviously, it can apply to many different cultures. I wonder if the immigrant experience is also a part of it, where those who immigrated over had to leave behind a lot to try to assimilate, to try to make it in this society. So maybe that’s also a piece of the puzzle of why tiger parenting in those communities, maybe immigrant cultures, is common in those cultures. But I do also want to point out that I also read different research articles that for Asian-American families that there is often both. There’s often high demands and high connection, where Asian families are very involved in their children’s lives, there is a sense of closeness, often, but there’s also really high demand. And so it’s not always either or, but I think what I still want to push back on is those high expectations. Even if we have emotional closeness with our children, even if they know we love them and support them, if we place those high expectations on them, that is still our own ego, that is still our own perception, and are the projections of our own desires onto our children, and I think that’s something that we still need to challenge.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So well said, and I think something I’d add there is that I recognize that that’s done with the best of intentions, right? All of us as parents have the best intentions, and a lot of times when we’re putting those high demands or those external expectations on our kids, it’s because we have a desire for them to be successful in their lives, to lead fulfilling lives, all of that. But what we often don’t step back and realize is that while that’s well-intentioned, that’s a lot of us projecting our needs, our issues, our upbringing, our goals and desires onto our kids who are their own unique individuals, right?
Yes, yes. I think to have compassion for our parents, because a lot of their parenting towards us was perhaps driven by fear, was perhaps driven by a desire to protect us, to help us to have a good future. And a lot of that may be because of their own traumas that they experienced, when they were young, whether they experienced poverty, war, insecurity, all those things. So yeah, I think just to have a lot of compassion for them. And for us too, when we have these fears come up with our children, to just take a beat and reflect on them, and be compassionate with ourselves as we think about what are the fears that are coming up? What are the true desires? If I take this path does it really help me accomplish my goals for my children, for them to be happy, whole people? I think it’s important for us to be aware of those things.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think it’s important for us with all kids, and especially for parents of kids with special needs, whether that is neurodevelopmental issues, mental health issues, learning challenges, whatever it might be, there’s sort of an extra set of fears and concerns, and can be even more of a drive to control or to make our kids conform to a certain way of doing things, out of love and a desire for them to fit in, to have sort of a successful future. But even more important in those situations for us to step back and recognize what our fears are around this. Are they well-founded? And how do I support the child I have, who this child actually is, which includes all of their amazing strengths and qualities, as well as their challenges? How do I support this child? Not the idea that I might have about the child that I thought I was going to have, or trying to make this child fit into a box, that maybe isn’t even a box that we should have for anyone in the first place? Right?
Absolutely. So how can we just celebrate each one of our children as they are, instead of trying to fit them into a system that doesn’t make room for diversity? Yeah, so I think especially for those who are in the neurodiverse community, or are disabled. Ways that we as parents can come in. We want to support our children in order to help them fit into this system, when maybe what that is communicating to our children, is that they are not loved and accepted as they are. They need to change themselves somehow, in order to conform. So those are definitely messages that we don’t want to be giving our children, so how can we challenge the system? How can we opt out of that system that seeks to conform us and choose a different way where our children can be celebrated and appreciated for who they are, regardless just their strengths or abilities.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And nowhere is that more evident than when we’re talking about our educational systems, right? The education system, the educational model we choose for our kids, comprises a lot of their childhood daytime life. I find that so often, the traditional route of that, traditional, like in the United States traditional public schooling or even private schooling, most parents see that as the only option. And even if they recognize that this really isn’t meeting my child’s needs, or this isn’t ideal, there’s this sort of inherent idea that everybody has that, “Well, this is what works, this is how it is, so I need to make my kid fit into the system.” It was amazing to me how many parents, even on the one hand recognizing how dysfunctional the system of education is on many levels, and how problematic it is for their child, still feel like, “Well, we have to make this work. My child, they have to keep at it. This is what the option is.” And that’s what I love about your focus on helping parents to think about “Wait a second! There are other ways of doing this. If you want to do traditional education with your child, and if that’s working or you’re able to find ways to make that work, great. But you can opt out of that altogether.” And there are these other models and these other ways of supporting development in kids, of helping them to develop the skills, the knowledge that they need, that don’t involve trying to fit kids into this box of traditional education,
Yeah, for sure. There’s this term that Yolanda Williams from Parenting Decolonized used for her recent conference, and it was like, “A collective reimagining.” And I think that’s what we need, especially in this world of education, where we think that that’s the only option. We don’t have the imagination to believe that there is another way. And I think there is another way. Many of us are living another way. So if we can make that more available to people, for them to know that there is another way where there are choices, where you can opt out, and you can find support, I think that is very empowering for people.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that collective reimagining. Oh boy, is that ever needed in so many of the systems in our world. And I really think the pandemic has highlighted that, across the board, how many of our systems are broken, do not meet the needs of so many people, including our children. And that’s why I think it’s perfect timing for us to be talking about this because coming out of the pandemic, there are more parents and families than ever before, in my opinion, who have recognised through this, that “Wait a second, the way we’ve always done this hasn’t worked well.” It’s opened their eyes and their mind to what it’s like to do things in a different way to say, “Oh, maybe this isn’t how it has to be done.” And so I think it’s wonderful timing to be talking with people about these other options. So let’s dive into: If you were to give a definition to unschooling, or to just sort of characterize what unschooling is, how would you talk about it?
I would say it is living, loving and learning with our children outside the construct of compulsory schooling.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
There are so many ways to talk about it, but I think it is just learning to live life with our children, outside of the system that is placed on us, where we think “Childhood looks like this, school looks like this.” And it’s just like, okay, if we took all that away, what could life look like for the children? So no, we don’t have homework, we don’t necessarily have a curriculum, we don’t have different subjects, we don’t have a really strict schedule. It’s like all these things are very arbitrary. We think that that’s what education means, that’s what it means to have a childhood, to be school-aged and all those things, but all those are very arbitrary. And so what could life look like outside of that? And that looks different for every family, depending on who each of us are.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
You just blew a lot of people’s minds with the idea that these things are arbitrary, right? Because we get so locked into thinking “No, this is how it has to be.” And it’s always interesting to me when I post things on social media about parents having options, whether it’s homework or standardized testing, people literally respond and they’re like, “Wait, it never even occurred to me that this could be optional. It never occurred to me to have a conversation with my child’s school about ‘Hey, homework is creating a ridiculous amount of stress, distress, dysfunction, so we need to find another way, or I’m not going to do that'”, we are so locked into this one way of viewing it. So you saying all of these things, even the time schedule and the way that we structure grades and curriculum, this is all arbitrary. Somebody at some point came up with it, and that’s now perceived as the only way, but actually, there are so many ways that kids can learn, right?
Yeah. So I think we need to ask, “Is this serving me?” Because an education is supposed to serve the child, is supposed to empower the child and give them the skills. If it’s not serving the child, why are we still doing it? So are we serving the system? Or is the system there to serve us? If we’re just saying yes to whatever they’re asking us to do, we’re not questioning it, it’s not an intentional choice. We’re just like mindlessly doing and learning to comply and do whatever we’re told, instead of evaluating, “Okay, does this make sense? Does this serve me? Is this for my child’s well being? Those are all questions that we need to be asking, and pushing back against the system and to say that we’re not just going to comply, just because you came up with these policies that don’t serve us as a family.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Oh, so, so good, couldn’t agree more. And I think sometimes when we talk about this kind of stuff, people are like, “Oh, you’re unsupportive of teachers, you’re not supportive of education” No, not at all! I was a teacher, I was in administration. I’m very supportive of schools, I’m supportive of schools and educators who are continuously learning and growing and evolving in their practices to meet the needs of kids with the knowledge, research and information we have now, not 100 years ago. And the problem is that too much of what still goes on, at least in the US with our education system, is based on very outdated information, research, knowledge, and even context around how the world operates, how children learn, how the brain functions, and that’s really problematic because we have a system that’s incredibly outdated, that hasn’t kept pace, and we just keep doing the same things because it’s what we’ve done, not because it’s what works well. And so yes to everything that you said with that, and I think for parents to start questioning more of that. And I loved what you said about “Is the educational system serving us, serving our kids? Or are we serving it? Are we allowing it to drive our decisions? That’s a really pivotal thing for parents to think about, isn’t it?
Yeah, because we often feel like we’re giving our lives over to school, really. It controls when we wake up, how much family time we have, when we can eat, where we can go on vacation. It’s like we are giving it control over our lives. And so for us to turn the tables and say, “well, I don’t need to serve it. If this doesn’t serve me, I don’t need to play that game.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. So I think one of the big hurdles or obstacles that are difficult for parents around this is the idea that a lot of people have, that the way the traditional education system is set up is the only way this is successful. So in other words, they might be saying, “Okay, Dr. Nicole and Iris Yeah, I get it. Alright, I hear you. But if I opt out of this, if I look at schooling my child or educating my child in a different way, surely they won’t end up with as good an education, surely they won’t end up with positive life outcomes. They won’t be able to go on to post-secondary education, or they somehow won’t be as good as, or as capable as kids who have gone through the traditional system.” That’s the pushback that I hear a lot of, that for those of you listening, I know some of you are thinking that. So I’d love to have you respond to that.
I think because unschooling is really following the child’s lead, so it might not look like post-secondary education. I think we want to challenge the assumption, again, that that’s the only path to success, that you have to be an academic in order to do well in life. Again, it’s really about accepting our children as they are, and they show up in many different ways. Many of them are more tactile, many of them want to move their bodies, many of them are artistic. So they don’t all need to go down that college/career path. But I think for those who are driven in that way, who want to pursue a STEM career or become a doctor or an architect or all those things, because they are intrinsically-motivated, they do have the skills they need and the drive that they need in order to pursue those careers that they want to, whereas many people who are in the schooling system, myself included, I just jumped on the train, and it brought me along, but I didn’t know where I was going. I was just on the train. Okay, I graduated from high school, the next thing I do is go to college, of course! I don’t know what I want to study, I don’t know what I want to do with it, but that’s just the next thing to do. So many people go to college or get a degree, not because of any real love of the subject, but because that’s just the next thing to do.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s the opposite of mindful education and life plan, right? It is kind of mindless, as you said, we just get on the train and go. “This is what other people expect of me, this is what everybody does, this is how the system works,” and it may or may not lead to good outcomes. I think one of the most compelling arguments in support of parents looking at different options educationally, is the research on educational outcomes. I can speak to the US in particular: Not great. We’ve got a lot of problems in terms of what the actual outcomes are of our traditional K-12, or even K-post-secondary school model, we’re seeing a generation of kids now in young adulthood with more serious mental health issues than ever before, which goes to show that just getting through K-12 or going to college doesn’t set you up for success, or a job being well-adjusted in adult life. The research has been pretty, pretty negative around the outcomes of the system, and yet, I don’t think that information gets to a lot of people. So there’s still this idea that this is the only right way to do it, and this is the way you get good outcomes, but actually, there’s a lot of reason and a lot of data to bring into question a whole lot of how we have structured formal education in this country.
And I think we need to challenge also what we mean by good outcomes, because who decides what good outcomes are? Is that my decision where you need a six figure salary? Or is it defined by each person and their own goals, and how they want to live their lives? So some people really want to own a home, and other people want to be traveling all the time. Is it those capitalistic definitions of success and achievement that we are trying to aim for? Or is it each of us deciding for ourselves and our family what is a way that we can live in a way that feels good for us? So that doesn’t always mean a super high salary or a busy life, or living in the suburbs? So again, questioning who defines these things for us. Are we serving those things or are we letting them empower us to make choices that make the most sense for us?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think that is so true when we think about parenting kids who are autistic, kids who have ADHD, kids with mental health issues, behavioral challenges. All the more need to look at what is going to constitute success, health, well being, an engaged quality of life for them in adulthood? It may not at all be the picture that we have in our mind of traditionally what’s done, and that need to broaden that understanding. And so let’s shift gears a little bit here. I’d love for you to just share what a day in the life of an unschooler looks like, because I think we’ve got people thinking “Oh, this is interesting. You mean, if I have my child at home, I don’t have to do a boxed curriculum or like online all the time?” So I think we have people intrigued. Can you sort of walk us through what that looks like in a day?
Sure. So I actually like to talk about this because I want to burst people’s bubbles about unschooling. Like, “It’s for those gifted children who are so into their passions, it just fits them” or “They’re geniuses in some way.” And I just want to say we’re very regular people, and it can look very dull and monotonous in some ways. So I’ll just go through what a typical day is. My kids are now 11 and 13. So we’ve been doing this for a while, they’re pretty self-directed. I don’t micromanage or I’m not on that a lot. So they wake up whenever they want to wake up, they make their own breakfast, and pretty much from then on, they can do what they want. They can pursue what they want. So right now, they really love Minecraft, they love to play Minecraft. One of my sons is really into animating. They both love to draw digitally, so they have their iPads and their drawing. They watch YouTube videos. So it’s a lot of screen time. It’s something that a lot of parents might feel uncomfortable with, but I see that as a tool and as a way to engage and learn with the world, just like we as adults, if we wanted to find information, we would look it up on YouTube or Google it, right? So they’re free to pursue and do what they want. In the beginning of the week, we started this thing where they come up with three goals for themselves, just so that they have some idea of where they want to head for that week. And then the night before, they talk with each other and they plan their next day. So I didn’t even know that they did this, they just told me about this, where they wake up having an idea of what they want to do that day. And oftentimes, they want to draw a certain number of drawings, or there’s a project that they are working on in their Minecraft world, all these things. And what I’ve noticed also is their interest in these very specific topics or ideas like Minecraft, or there’s a game that my younger one plays called Friday Night Funkin’, it’s like a rhythm game where you have to tap the arrows at the right time, according to the music. And in the background, there are these characters that are dancing around. Well, one of my kids decided he wanted to add his own character. He wanted to draw his own character to add into the game and modify the game. So he just searched online and found out ways to code it, to draw it, what the dimensions are, yeah, all of that stuff on his own, and was able to input it into the game. So their interests can spark a lot of other projects and interests, and I think it really just exposed to me how if they are interested in something, if they want to learn something, they have the skills that they need to be able to seek out that information.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, that’s awesome. So let’s talk about, for parents who are like, “Okay, but my kid is young, my kids are not 13 yet.” So how do kids who are unschooled learn how to read? Or how do they get to the point where they can be researching their own interests? How do they get exposed to these different kinds of skills when they’re little?
I think, especially when they’re younger, if they are interested in something, for parents to be involved in going on YouTube and searching for videos about dolphins, or whatever it is they’re interested in. Or borrowing books from the library, bringing them to the museum. All those things are ways that we can be involved in supporting and resourcing our kids according to their own interests. So it’s not that parents are totally uninvolved, especially in the younger years. There’s a lot of support. But it’s just that we aren’t sort of running ahead of them and coming down with an authoritarian, hierarchical mindset where it’s like, “Okay, these are the things that I think you should learn. These are the things that are good for you. Yeah, learn these things”, but it’s really okay, what are they into? What are they interested in? How can I follow their lead and continue to help support them and inspire them about things that they’re already interested in?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think that’s such a powerful way of approaching it, especially for kids who maybe struggle with aspects of learning or academic kinds of things, or kids with neurodevelopmental issues, who maybe get really anxious or rigid or resistive around traditional school stuff, this really opens up a lot of options for reducing kids’ anxiety about school or about learning, and by using their strengths and using their interests, it allows a much better entry point into helping them grow in their skills, in their knowledge, because we’re approaching it in a way that doesn’t automatically heighten their anxiety and create a lot of distress for them.
Yeah. And I think it’s also just honoring their own learning pace, because some might then think, “Okay, well, if they’re really into Minecraft, then let’s get super into Minecraft, and learn all this coding and stuff!” And I think we need to pull back a little bit too, in terms of, not all our children are like that, are super-driven or ambitious. Let them play, let them enjoy, let them learn naturally through just their enjoyment of things. So I think that’s another thing that we need to be aware of, even if they are really into something, not to, again, from our own perspective, as parents, push them or demand excellence, or whatever it is that we feel like we need to expect of them, but to let them unfold, let them explore, really honor their own pace and their personality, because not all our kids are going to want to be the best at whatever they are pursuing. Some of them just want to play, so honor their freedom to do that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Especially in giving them room for that, it’s actually supporting their own developmental pace too, which again, is really important for neurodivergent kids, for kids with different kinds of processing systems in their brain, to be able to operate at a pace that supports their own development, as opposed to constantly being pushed, to keep at a pace that just isn’t compatible with where their development or their processing is. One of the things that you said earlier that I think is really important, is this idea of real life and engaging in the activities of life as being such valuable educational opportunities. And I think that really was highlighted when the pandemic first started, which is like 18 months ago now, which is hard to believe, but I had parents saying to me “Well, how are they going to learn? If they’re not in school, how are they going to learn?” And I’m going “Well, they’re going to learn by doing all the things that it takes to be engaged in daily life. You don’t have to be in the four walls of a school to learn. Your kids can be learning by reading and listening to books together with you at night, by cooking, by grocery shopping, by playing games, by doing arts and crafts, by doing chores. This is all learning.” And I think we’ve lost sight of that, right? We have this idea that learning is about textbooks and workbooks and online platforms and what goes on within the walls of a classroom, and what I hear you saying is no, all of life provides opportunities for learning.
For sure, yeah. I think we have a very school-ish view of education, where we feel like it can only come in certain packages, and really wanting to challenge that. All of life is learning. And even for us as adults, when we are no longer in formal schooling, we are constantly learning. How do we learn as adults? Are we still learning? But of course, we’re still learning. We’re learning every day, just by living life, just by finding the skills and tools that we need around us, by being in relationship with others, asking people. And so, again, really to challenge those school-ish boxes that we have placed on our ideas about school.
I remember this was a tweet by somebody that was saying I’m going to botch it, but something to the effect of, “If we had placed our babies in school at a young age, and they learned how to walk in school, we would come out thinking that they would have only learned how to walk because of school.” Something to that effect. We just assume that our kids are learning because of the system, when it’s no, people learn because we are made to learn. That is our human nature to continue to understand the world around us, and learn how to just engage with it. That’s just human nature. And we don’t need school in order to do that. Also, there’s so much learning that needs to happen outside the mind, outside the intellect, where the school environment doesn’t really allow for that. We need to learn how to just be in relationship with one another, we need to learn how to listen to our bodies, and how to rest and how to engage with nature, and how to meet our our needs to survive in the world, like cook and do laundry and pay your taxes and all those things. School actually doesn’t provide us the opportunity to do those things.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So true. I think that sometimes kids continue to learn and grow in spite of what goes on within the classroom. And I think that’s really true for a lot of the kids I’ve worked with over the years, especially kids who have more significant neurodevelopmental, behavioral, anxiety kinds of issues, traditional classrooms often are not the best place for them to be doing the kinds of learning and development and growth. Whatever parents choose is completely okay with me, I’m not invested in the educational decisions that any parent makes for their child, but what I am invested in is parents knowing they have options, is parents exploring all the possibilities, is parents knowing that even if you do keep your child in the traditional education system, you can compromise. You can opt out of things. You can try to make that the best that it can be. If you opt out of it entirely, that’s great, too. But there are lots of possibilities, and I think that’s what I’m invested in, why I love having people like you on the show, just expand people’s minds about the options that we have, because that truly does allow us as parents to make an informed decision about how we want our kids to be educated, or about anything else. I think that the informed decision part of it is really important.
Yeah, to know that there are options, to know that we have choices. That’s really empowering for parents.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. Absolutely. So I would love for you to share here, as we’re wrapping up, where people can find out more about you, your work. I know that you have a book, so share with us where we can learn more.
Yeah, I have a blog, untigering.com, so you can find a lot of information about parenting and unschooling on there. On the upcoming events tab, there’s also an Exploring Unschooling Virtual Learning Lab that I did with Domari Dickinson, so if you’re interested specifically about unschooling, you can purchase that video. And yeah, I have a book, Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent, and you can find that on Amazon or your online book retailer.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Wonderful. And you have a fantastic presence on social media. I highly recommend that you follow Iris on Facebook and Instagram. I know you’re really active there, you post a lot of really helpful information, resources, thought-provoking types of things. It’s @untigering, is your handle?
Yeah, my handle is @untigering.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
We’ll have that in all the show notes, but for those of you who are listening and want to pop over and follow her now, I highly recommend it. Iris, thank you so much for being with us today, for sharing your own personal experiences around this, and really helping to open people’s minds to the possibilities around this. Really appreciate you sharing with us today.
Thank you so much.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you, as always, for being here and listening. We’ll catch you back here next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.