Podcast Episode 34:
Unschooling Uncovered: Interview with Talia Tallman

How many times have you had the experience of going from “I would never!” to considering it, or actually doing it?


I once thought that I would probably never homeschool!  Now I’m a huge advocate of homeschooling (but I also still strongly support public schools).  


When I first heard about unschooling, though, I thought, “I would never!” and now I find myself constantly considering it. 


If you’re not familiar with the term “unschooling”, it’s essentially about not having a set curriculum or schedule and all about letting your child learn whatever they want to learn, when and how they want to learn it.  Different families do it in different ways, but the kids have the reins on their own education.


But I had some doubts and wondered- is it a good fit for kids with disabilities?


I came across Talia Tallman who runs the Facebook Group: Unschooling Disabled Learners and I knew I just had to interview her to hear her insights.

Audio version: www.DecodingLearningDifferences.com


This is Decoding Learning Differences with Kimberlynn Lavelle. This episode is unschooling uncovered is an interview with Talia Tallman. She is a mother who unschoolers her children. If you're wondering what unschooling is, depends a little bit on who you talk to as to exactly how they would define it. Wikipedia defines it as an informal learning that advocates learner chosen activities as a primary means for learning.

So the kid gets to decide what they learn when they learn how they learn it. And some parents provide a little more guidance on that than others, but every approach is a little different Talia will share her experiences and give us some insights. And I would love to know what you think at the end. So please email me your takeaways. Kimberlynn at Decoding Learning Differences dot com without further ado.

Here's our interview with Talia Tallman. 

Hello, Talia. Welcome to the Decoding Learning Differences podcast. I'm excited to introduce everyone to you and find out so much more about you and all that you are doing. Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in unschooling? So this is a topic we haven't really been able to dig into in the podcast very much.

So I'm so excited to hear about your experiences. Thank you. So I love unschooling. I'm so passionate about it. I could just talk about unschooling forever. I started unschooling with my oldest, so he's 11 now, and he did go to a traditional preschool and I was working at the time and I started to make friends with some women around town who homeschool their children,

and the way that they explained it to me was they homeschooled with no curriculum. So our children were all really young at the time. And I started to, on my days off, just kind of hang with them at the beach or the park or wherever, wherever we were going together. And it was a nice group of moms, about three other moms and myself and all of our children.

And we just played together and it was just a charmed life. Everything seemed so easy and happy, and our children were so happy and you can see they were learning and flourishing together. And when the time came to decide about putting him in school, I knew that I, it just didn't feel right. I'm a very intuitive person and parents and unschooling just kind of presented itself in this really a wonderful way for us.

And we decided to seize that opportunity and I didn't enroll him in kindergarten and we decided to just unschool instead. And at the beginning it was very just intuitive child led, whatever they wanted to do, if it was an art project or story time, just enjoying the time together and not really trying to focus it too much, but we did enroll in a lot of different classes.

So that helped kind of take the burden off of me feeling like what's lacking academically, because I could just sign up for a science class or an art class. And there was a lot available. And then when I had my second son along the same lines at first, when he was young, and then when he was actually two, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer.

And so then our life kind of took a different turn and I got to see another benefit to unschooling because we didn't have the same pressure of following standards or, you know, what we had to keep up with. So we just concentrated on connection and joy and happiness again, and just kind of kept letting life unfold. And now my son is, I said,

my oldest is 11. My middle son is six and my youngest is just turned five. And we just go with what they're interested in. And I try and expose them to as much of that as possible. We do a lot of field trips for fun and for exposure to things. And that's basically what my unschooling journey has been. And it's been so rewarding that I feel like I want to share it with other people.

And so I've started an unschooling Facebook group, and I also started working with Dana Martin. Who's very well known in the unschooling community, and I'm so grateful to have her as a mentor and, and now I help coach other parents so that they could live this life too. Excellent. What are the challenges been for you as you have navigated un-schooling? Well,

I think the main challenge I would say is, you know, sometimes we see what other people are doing and it's hard not to compare. So our society kind of has like a hierarchy of knowledge. So if you know, you know, math really well, that's way up here. And, you know, everybody thinks you're very smart because you really Excel in that field.

And then, you know, maybe writing is underneath or, you know, there's a, there's a strict hierarchy when it comes to the information that we know. So maybe if my child can't read yet, but they, you know, can take care of the chickens all by themselves. It's accepting that that is just as important and not trying to adhere to this artificial hierarchy of knowledge,

some of it being more important. And I think that having a lot of like-minded people around you is really important because you can start to question yourself and say, you know, am I providing enough? Is this, are they going to have gaps in their knowledge and then resent me for it? So those are kind of the challenges that present in unschooling.

And, you know, I would say there's drawbacks in any kind of learning style that you choose. So when you surround yourself with a lot of people that have the same goals in mind, I think that really helps. I, I love all of that, I think. And you kind of got into some of those, those tips that I was going to ask you about is that surrounding yourself with people.

I also love what you said, that there is no like one perfect educational style. They all are going to have some drawback there's going to be something. And I also totally agree that no matter what you're doing, you're going to be comparing yourself and your children to others, even though you're trying not to. And, and yeah, it's amazing reflecting on that,

like hierarchy of knowledge and what is the most important. I think it's funny that like, I'll see the really little kids and the parents are like trying to get them to like, know their ABCs. It's like, but is rote memory two years old, the best use of their brainpower? Like I would much rather see my son figure out how to construct a big tower or figure out how to feed the chickens by himself or anything like where,

I mean, I had a great example. I, I hurt my back about two weeks ago and seeing my, the compassion in my children, the way they were able to, to help me and show empathy towards me. That's just as important to me as being able to count to a hundred or know your ABCs. So, you know, it's,

it's refocusing, what's most important to you. And I think unschooling really does put the focus on joy and connection above everything else. And I think that when you have those things, the learning falls into place because human beings are made to learn. Like you really can't stop us from learning. That's our default. Yeah. Well, you can stop us from learning.

If you put us into a high stress environment and your amygdala shuts down and you, so yes, the joy and connection is actually the best way to foster learning. Absolutely. Yeah. I would say some other things that I do to help kind of keep me focused are I take a lot of pictures and I, I write down places we've been and things that we're doing games we're playing that sort of thing,

because sometimes when you are comparing to other people, and I think that's just natural that we all do that. It's hard to remember, like what, what am I doing? You know, when you see some of the impressive things on Instagram, maybe you start to kind of worry. And then when you can look back and say, oh my gosh,

right? We've been doing so many things. We're learning so many things here that could really be a big comfort. And also one thing I do a lot that unschooling has helped me to see is all the, the joys and passions that I have and to kind of foster them more and focus on them because when, when our children see us model a love of learning,

that's what we're instilling. So I take up an art class. I write, I do a lot of things to nourish myself that I wasn't doing before unschooling. And, and I really think that that helps kind of take the pressure off of you. And also it lets you live in that joy and passion, and then you're sharing that with your kids.

So that that's been also really helpful. That is beautiful. You're, it's, it's so powerful to remember that, that it's not just about making sure a child is getting a good education, but how are we fostering that love of learning by modeling it and just enjoying it ourselves and not forgetting to educate ourselves in whatever in pursuing those passions and interests in.

I love, I love all of that. I also like that idea about like kind of documenting what you're doing so that when you're questioning yourself, you can look back and say, oh no, we, we are doing amazing things. We've got this, that's it? That is beautiful. Tip that, that you offered. Are there any other tips that you want to share?

Just Being present, being mindful to be in the present with your children and not miss those beautiful moments. And when you're feeling the need to kind of control their education or control what they're learning, try and just shift into paying attention and just observing well, and you're going to see just an abundance of, of learning, taking place, because when you,

when you do have that connection and joy, that is what you see from kids. They, they learn in, in everything they do every moment and they teach you, they want to teach you because you're making, learning something. That's beautiful. A beautiful thing to share That is lovely. Kind of with that. Is there, like what has been like the most successful or what has made you feel like super successful as a homeschooler?

I think when I see my children, like just really enjoying a passion, especially if it's a passion that I didn't have that something that's so new to me that really lights me up. And then of course, when they have a passion, that's something that I do share. That's another wonderful feeling is getting to really enjoy something together. I ha my background is in science.

I love science. So that's what I went to school for. And it really lights me up. And my son, who's 11. We love to enjoy science together. So one thing I did is I ordered a chemistry set for us, and it comes on a monthly basis, but sometimes he's not in the mood to do it, and I never forced him and I just wait patiently.

And then when we do get to do it together, it's this wonderful bonding experience. You know, I'm so grateful every time that I can be patient and wait, because when something's forced, it's never, it's never as fun. Even if it's something he enjoyed, even if he would tolerate it and make the best of it and be fun with me.

It's still not as fun as when you wait and you get to really enjoy that. Kismet of this is so wonderful. And I get to have a lot of those, those moments with my kids. So I'm really grateful for that. That is success. That is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. I there's just so much that, that you're sharing of.

I feel like there's the overall of just waiting, watching and, and enjoying that moment, enjoying every moment as it is and trusting, trusting that learning process. Yeah. What else was, I did a lot of trusting. Yeah. I think that, I think that's the big overall things that I wanted to hit. One of the, and I don't know if you feel comfortable even speaking to it,

but one of the things that I know some people worry about with unschooling is like, how will their child learn how to read or something like that. Right. So certain basic things that are very fundamental, like I would say, you know, go back to, how did people learn to read before school? Right? Like reading isn't again, like this goes back to innately human things that we are driven to do.

If you don't Rob us of that wonder and intrinsic motivation, then there's no reason to think your child's not going to learn how to read. And of course, you know, you need to provide things for them like books, but there's no reason to think that your child's not going to be able to hit those fundamental marks. And I would say that when it comes to maybe some other things,

you know, there are going to be gaps in their education there's gaps in everybody's education. You know, I, my multiplication and division is not that strong, but I passed calculus. So, you know, it's okay to have strengths in one area and a weakness in another. And I think that part of unschooling is trusting and accepting and also, you know,

this idea of specialization. And I think that our society is really moving much more towards that anyway. So that is it really important that we all have this very basic understanding of lots of little things, or should we really dive into what we're passionate about and, and know a lot about that. And we ha we always have access to a lot of resources that like,

we really didn't have access to when we were growing up. So it's hard to really know what that fundamental information is that they're going to need to have. So I would say focus more on, like, you talk about a lot, the style of learning, you know, are they auditory learners, visual learners? Do they have some kind of sensory processing or executive functioning disorders or issues?

And those are the things to kind of be aware of so that you can help them learn whatever it is that they crave to learn about. Because when you can, when you can teach yourself, you can teach yourself anything as long as you have that desire. So maybe the desire to read won't come at what we think of as normal five, six,

seven. Maybe it will come at nine 10, but as long as you're aware of, of how they learn best, and you can help provide those resources to them, then I would say, you know, worry a little bit less about the content of what they're learning and more about. Do they have the skills to learn? One thing I'm wondering about is like a,

if a child has something like dyslexia that might be preventing them from learning to read, what I can see happening is they might have had an early interest in reading at like four years old. And then it got hard when they tried, because they have some kind of like disability that's preventing it. And then they kind of lost interest. Is the interest going to come back or is that where we need to recognize that they were struggling with it in a way that they might need a strategic guidance through maybe not at five years old,

if they don't want to sit through it, but at some point they might need a tutor or something to help them gain that skill. I think that When you have that like very close connection and you can pay attention to those nuances, then as a parent, you would know, okay. So my child was very interested, wanted to learn how to read was showing,

you know, I was showing them the basic way that most children would pick it up. And then there was a breakdown. And I think that maybe, you know, that was very frustrating and I could see their frustration and then them pulling away. And those are the kinds of nuances that, yeah, you do have to be aware of so that you could step in and work on it.

And not like you said, not in a forceful way, not say, oh my goodness, this is, this is an issue you're having. So now we need to really hone in my son. Who's 11 does read very fluently, but when he's writing in particular, he will confuse like, you know, which way does a D go, which way does B go?

And you know, and he's 11 and it's something that we work on that hasn't because it hasn't been stigmatized in any way. It hasn't really deterred him from wanting to pursue writing. If that's what he's doing, you know, if he's playing Dungeons and dragons and he needs to write with his friends, it doesn't deter him because it's never been, it's never been so stigmatized that like,

this is the problem, and this is how we have to fix it. It's just a normal figuring out how we do things. And, and that comes up, not just in reading, but I think in, in everything in everyday life, another thing he, he can't really tie a shoots. He's 11. He doesn't tie his shoes, but it doesn't bother him that,

you know, that that's something that he can't do. So we just work around it. And I think that sometimes, you know, it's important to solve the issue. And sometimes it's okay to just find work arounds until it's a problem for them. And then they want to help get on board with figuring out the best way of, of doing something.

And I think that kind of goes back to like that hierarchy of like asking yourself what, what information is so important that I'm willing to sacrifice their self-esteem or the connection that we have. And I don't really think any information is that important. And that's why, that's why I unschool because the information is not higher than, than our connection and just having joy in our life.

So everything can work its way into that. But that has to be the highest goal. Yeah. One of the other things I was thinking about is one of my concerns is when I see like two and three year olds who are being taught those like rote facts, kind of things like, Hey, these are the ABCs and this is counting this like those things they're not developing there.

There's sometimes you're taking the time to do that, which takes away from their ability to develop the skills. They really need to make all those brain connections that do allow them to learn, to really read well later I was thinking, you know, even with going back to like the dyslexia example that yeah, if you have a child spending a lot of time doing other things that seem completely unrelated to reading,

like building blocks and drawing pictures and climbing on the jungle gym, like all of those in their own way are developing the brain in a way that would allow them to later be more ready to receive that instruction. Even if they do need that specialized instruction to learn, to read that really hits like, okay, reading was hard for you. This is why here's what we're gonna do.

The the at the older age, there'll be a little bit more ready for it. If they've been allowed to not just get things beat into them at a younger age, but actually just develop their brain in a totally like seemingly unrelated way. And that kind of goes back to trust also because wouldn't the human child know what their brain needs to develop. So if they're craving,

you know, playing outside on a structure or climbing, then, then we can assume that that's what their brain needs in this developmental stage. And so kind of trusting that they're doing the right thing for them at the right time. And that kind of just is hard. You know, it's hard because society tells us very different things that, that, you know,

we need to mold our children into these specific kinds of adults. And if we're not hitting these certain benchmarks, then we're really not on target. And it's hard to kind of trust your intuition and feel, feel it more fluid, I think. Okay. I've got one, I think final question. Is there any kind of family or child or situation where you would,

or many whatever that you feel like there are certain family situations, children that would not do well with unschooling? I would say that unschooling is it's can be tailored to the individual. So unschooling in my family is not going to look like it does in somebody else's family. And that's just the nature of being able to connect to the individual because we're also different.

Our learning styles are so different. Our personalities are so different. Some people like a lot of structured routine, some people thrive on a free flow. So what we need is different. So I think that you could make unschooling work in most, any situation. I don't think that there, I don't think that there's a situation that would say right away.

Oh, you're excluded. I know parents that single parents that unschool, I know working parents that unschool, I know parents that have children with lots of different kinds of disabilities that unschool parents that have to get a lot of outside help from other people in medical arenas. So maybe they can't be as flexible as they would want to be because there's a lot of judging eyes from a community that really has a lot of power over you.

So I think that unschooling allows for a lot of flexibility and I think that's why so many families would benefit from it because I think that it really does have something to offer no matter where you're coming from. Awesome. Well, that gives hope to anyone who's wanting to unschool. I love it. So I know your Facebook group that people can check you out is unschooling disabled learners.

Is there anywhere else that you'd like people to look for you to get ahold of you? Absolutely. You could check out my website, Talia tolman.com, and that has some information about myself and what brought me to unschooling and hopefully what I could do to help other people join the movement. Excellent. Perfect. Thank you so much, Talia. It has been lovely.



All of these episodes are designed to be super helpful to you! 
I release a new episode every Monday at 12:34pm (PST). Stay up to date and enjoy! Just click "subscribe" below to get the weekly emails notifying of you of the new episodes and giving you the link to them. 
If there is anything you'd like to see an episode about, email me your suggestions at Kimberlynn@DecodingLearningDifferences.com.
Decoding Learning Differences