Book Review:UnSchoolers by Sophia Sayigh and Milva MacDonald

Did you ever wonder, what do unschoolers really do all day?

Now there’s a novel to give you a glimpse into the complex and wonderful world of unschooling.

I was excited when on of the authors of UnSchoolers reached out to me and asked if I would consider reviewing UnSchoolers.

The first thing I wanted to know was, who are the authors?

Two moms who unschooled their kids.   Continue reading “Book Review:UnSchoolers by Sophia Sayigh and Milva MacDonald”

Gratitude and Hope

I am feeling a lot of gratitude these days for all the gifts and opportunities I have in my life. As we head into Thanksgiving weekend in the the US, I don’t want the frenzy of sales to overshadow this opportunity to reflect on the Ferguson decision, and critical questions of racism and inequality in the world and what actions we can take.

What I am so grateful for at this moment in time:

beautiful squash volunteers Gifts of Gratitude and Hope
An abundance of volunteers in my garden this year. Photo: J.Pierre Stephens

That I have plenty.

A garden of abundance. I can fill my belly, quench my thirst, keep warm and lay down my head when I need without worry.

That I have choices.

So many choices about how I use my time, how I relate to my loved ones, my community, strangers. I have choices about how I parent and relate to my child, how to learn, what I want to pursue at this point in life and how I want to do it.   Continue reading “Gratitude and Hope”

Thiel Fellow Closing Ceremony: Questioning the Experiment

As a parent of Dale Stephens, a  2011 Thiel Fellow, I was excited about attending the closing ceremonies for the group.

This first group of fellows were guinea pigs–quite fortunate guinea pigs–who had forged the Thiel fellowship program along with the foundation staff.  They had been supported financially, skillfully mentored, and emotionally bolstered for two years. Most importantly, they had all learned so much about their own projects, about persistence, and about the business world. Would closing mean losing much of that opportunity for dramatic growth?

 Family, friends, foundation representatives, mentors, and current finalists gathered in the Yerba Buena Center Theatre in San Francisco. The room, alive with energy, emotion, and excitement, quieted as Foundation program director and representatives took the stage.

As I sat in the audience, I thought about how I had been in my son’s audience for the last two years, watching from a distance as he grew in leaps and bounds. Onstage the speakers talked about guiding the first Fellows through challenges and about the gifts they’d given each other in the community they created. The Thiel Foundation representative explained that the Fellows were encouraged to continue to participate in this community of support, with Thiel and each other, even though their official fellowship, with the very helpful monthly stipend, was over. The foundation didn’t see this closing as severing ties, he explained, rather it saw it as a transition in their role within the community.

I heaved a parental sigh of relief. Okay, no more money and no degree, but continued access to a network of support and community. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that losing the network was what I feared the most for Dale.

Representatives of the class of  2011 Fellows spoke to express their appreciation for the Thiel Foundation, staff, and mentors. Each fellow spoke briefly about his/her journey. I was fascinated by the individual stories.  I didn’t expect to need kleenex, but I did.

Next came the questions from the audience. You could hear curiosity and trepidation from the finalists, as well as questions, concern, and skepticism from some of the parents and other attendees.

What next? What about? What if? Many were expressions of fear and concerns that there were “no guarantees.”

There are no guarantees.

There are risks, opportunity, choices, and challenges. There is the possibility of growth, success, failure, and learning. And this is true every day of every child’s life. We like to pretend that it isn’t, that getting into the right college, or onto the sport’s team, or into a job means the end of risk, but it doesn’t and more importantly, it shouldn’t.

So my questions are for the parents reading here.

Are we brave enough to let our children try something that did not exist when we were the age of our kids?

Can we let go of our fears?

Our sense of how life “should” look, what goals are “worth” achieving?

Are we open and trusting enough to support them while they try something new? Difficult? Unknown? Different? Remixed?

Can we navigate this new territory of parenting passionate young adults?

Can we help them learn to balance pursuing new experiences and exciting demands on their attention with taking care of themselves?

The world is different for them than it was for us.

The choices, costs, and opportunities make it seem like a new universe.

The speed, intensity and demand on our children’s time and attention barely compares to the demands of our college experience.

The Thiel Fellowship, like and other alternative learning experiences that take place in the real world, demand more of our kids than following a neat, well-trodden path. The increased responsibility and access to a high-powered network of mentors speeds up the process of learning and maturing. Suddenly our babies are fending for themselves. And, yes, It is scary.

As parents can we let them go?

Even though we wonder if what they are choosing–usually choosing instead of college–provides the kind of structure yet freedom that will support personal development as well as academic and professional development, can we let them try?

Can we collaborate with rather than control our children?  Can we encourage them to define success in a way that includes all aspects of a fulfilling life?

The closing ceremonies ended and I looked around the room abuzz with people making connections, sharing their dreams, giving advice.

I smiled and raised my imaginary glass of bubbly: here’s to the experiment!

A Paragraph Has 3 Farts

A Paragraph Has 3 Farts. LisaNalbone.comI always found that first day of school both thrilling and scary.

I had anxiety dreams of showing up with no clothes. I over-prepared, hoping to set the tone for the year.

I wanted to help students:

take ownership of their learning

connect deeply with me, each other and the world.

form a powerful, compassionate, and caring learning community.

So how was I going to do that?

After the “getting to know you” activities, I started by showing students the curriculum and sharing my philosophy that we could make learning fun even though there would be some boring stuff we just had to get done.


I emphasized that they could have more control of their learning, and our schedule, if we worked as a team to do what HAD to be done efficiently, so we could use as much time as possible to have fun with learning.

To compare, I led them through two different activities–A, a basic grammar lesson straight from the book and  B, a hands on science activity where they had lots of choices. I  asked their preferences. It was a no brainer.

I told them how much prep lesson A took, 5 minutes compared to lesson B – a couple of hours of pulling together all of the supplies and strategizing how it would go well. I was willing to do the extra work for them, to make our learning time more fun, if they were willing to choose to engage and make our time worthwhile.

We took a few minutes to think and write and then shared about our hopes and goals for the year.  The students were quiet and thoughtful. I could tell they hadn’t expected this kind of opening day “speech”.

I noticed we had about 15 minutes until school ended and told the kids we could use this time to take care of a biggie on this year’s learning list.

Back in 1988,  a big 5th grade benchmark was knowing how to write a proper paragraph (in order to begin stringing together 5 paragraph essays and reports). So, I always started off the year with a lesson about the parts of a paragraph modeled in a paragraph on the board.

I let them know this lesson was a basic building block they would use frequently, and if they got this in one day, which I knew they could, they would be geniuses. Most classes spent weeks on this lesson and we could just get it done.  We we’d have all that extra time for the things we had just brainstormed together


I began reading the paragraph aloud. I was hamming it up, trying to make this incredibly basic and boring tidbit more memorable. Only I accidentally made it unforgettable.

A little framing. These were 10 and 11 year-olds from a small farming town more than 25 years ago. They were less sophisticated and pre-you-tube. Basic poopoo doodoo was still pretty funny.

So over-dramatizing and with sweeping arm motions and a loud theatrical voice I began,


 “ The proper paragraph has 3 FARTS. There are three FARTS to the paragraph!” 


OOPS! Not what I meant to say. Parts my brain screamed!!! Parts!

There was a moment of stunned silence. Everyone held their breath.

Bright red heat crept up my neck and face.

Oh, to have had a smartphone in my pocket. Their expressions were inspiration for a Normal Rockwell painting.

Then we all burst out laughin.  We couldn’t stop laughing and repeating, in the same overacted sing-song,


 “The paragraph has 3 FARTS. There are 3 FARTS to a proper paragraph. “


Tears ran down our faces. I laughed so hard I thought I might wet my pants. If I did, it would totally define my teaching career, so I crossed my legs and laughed harder. The kids were in stitches, falling off their chairs. We were all hysterical.

A teacher from next door popped her head in,  “What is going on in here????”

The room went silent again. I said, “ “Umm, sorry if we disturbed you. Nothing really.”

Then we burst out laughing, again. She  shook her head, gave us a stern look, and left.


Later that night I had a parent call me.

“ Now you said in your letter we could call you anytime and I’m curious about what happened in school today.  Little Johnny has been laughing all night. We keep asking him to explain but he shrugs, and says, “ Oh nothing really, just something that happened in class today. Nothing I can really tell you.”  And then he starts laughing even more. We can’t get another word out of him. So I really want to know, what happened?”


A paragraph has 3 farts blog post. Photo of Funny tree face with Victor Borge laughter quote.

A different kind of glow and warmth spread through me.

Wow, something happened in class today. We connected. We became a team.

And it wasn’t from my carefully planned lessons about community or the speech about taking charge of their learning.

It was about a good belly laugh.  It was from being able to be real, and silly, and let go.

So, tell me:

How do the learners in your life know that you are a team?

When was your last belly laugh?

What was your last belly laugh about?

I’d love to hear your story in the comments. If you know someone who needs a good laugh or to remember to use laughter when connecting with their learners, please email this post to them. Thanks, Lisa