|Mary: How did the Natural Child Project come to
Jan: In 1996, I asked my son, Jason, who was 15 at the time,
if we should start a website. Because he had unschooled from the
beginning and learns everything he needs to know on his own, he taught
himself how to design a website by looking at other sites' source
pages. We started the website in December of 1996 with a few of my
parenting columns from Natural Life Magazine. At that point, we had no
plans to add anything more to the site. We would have been very
surprised then to learn how large our website would become!
Back in 1989, Dr. Elliott Barker invited me to be the assistant
editor for the journal Empathic Parenting, and a board member of the
Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He also
published my article “Ten Reasons Not to Hit Your Kids” in a 1989
issue, which happened to reach Alice Miller. She added my article to
her next book, Breaking Down The Wall of Silence. When Jason
and I started our website, Alice gave us permission to post some of
her articles and book excerpts, and our website started to grow. We
have since added more articles by Alice and many other leading
In the spring of 1997 Jason realized that the website was all about
children, but there was nothing by them or for them, so he started the
Global Children’s Art Gallery. In the beginning there were only a
few pictures from friends' children, but CNN Headline News and Yahoo!
both suddenly promoted it. Since then the gallery has had many
submissions, and has become the largest collection of children's art
on the Internet, with over 1000 images from 67 countries. We offer
prints, posters, greeting cards and clothing using images from the
Gallery as a fundraiser.
Mary: Can you share a bit about the philosophy of attachment
Jan: It's interesting - some years ago, I wrote an article
called "What is Attachment Parenting?" and showed it to a
close fiend. She liked the article, but was surprised that I hadn't
included a "laundry list" such as carrying, cosleeping and
natural weaning. But attachment parenting is so much more than these
specific choices. Its essence is loving and trusting our children -
believing that they are doing the best they can at every given moment.
It all comes down to trust. John Holt said it best in just two words:
Mary: It seems as if many families who enjoy attachment
parenting also go on to homeschool or unschool. Do you feel that it's
easier for those who do understand attachment parenting to understand
Jan: If I were to write a laundry list for attachment
parenting, unschooling would be on the list. It's the most consistent
educational choice for attachment parents. In unschooling, we trust
that the child knows what he wants to learn and how to go about
learning it, and his natural curiosity is left intact. Unschooling
children take joy in the intrinsic values of whatever they are
learning. The structure of school (required attendance,
school-selected topics and books, and constant checking of the child’s
progress) assumes that children are not natural learners, but must be
compelled to learn through coercion, intimidation, and fear. Because
school approaches are based on mistrust, they represent in many ways
the polar opposite of attachment parenting.
Mary: How did you get started in unschooling?
We learned about unschooling when were living in Ontario. Jason was
a baby and a free monthly magazine was delivered to our door. I was
usually too busy to read it, but one day I noticed there was an
article on homeschooling. Looking back, I can see that it was one of
the best articles I have read on the subject. Before I was a parent, I
thought that homeschooling was wonderful if someone could manage it,
but I thought I wasn't organized or energetic enough to create a
school in my home! Fortunately, my thinking was completely turned
around when I read that first article.
We moved to BC when Jason was 2, and found a homeschooling support
group based on John Holt's books. We loved being with these families -
their children were friendly, content, curious and active. We knew
right away that this was what we wanted for our son. But I've noticed
that even the most structured homeschooling families tend to become
more like unschoolers over time - they can’t help but notice that
less structure is better, and that teaching can in fact interfere with
learning. They begin to trust their child's natural curiosity and
enjoyment, which they can't help but observe every day.
In a sense, every parent is an unschooling parent until the child
reaches so-called "school age". If their child is interested
in trains, they get books on trains, toy trains, or go on train rides.
Then their child turns 5 or 6, and the assumption seems to be that
learning is now suddenly difficult and complicated - as though
children that age are no longer natural learners.
Beyond the false assumptions about learning, no school can provide
the close attention and compassion available from caring parents. It
doesn’t matter if it's a public school in a high crime area, or an
expensive private school in a beautiful setting - both separate the
child from their parents and siblings, and are not equipped to provide
the kind of close attention and trusting acceptance available from a
loving parent - who knows her child so much better than any teacher
Mary: While visiting your site, I read many of your
articles, but one that I keep returning to is Subjective Vs. Objective
Labels: A Plea for Occam’s Razor. Can you explain the difference
between subjective and objective labels?
Jan: Cancer is objective. You can take a biopsy, and see the
cells. The diagnosis is open to evaluation - it can be proved or
disproved. A subjective label is the opposite - it's arbitrary and
unprovable - an opinion, not a fact. The existence of ADD/ADHD has
never been proven in any scientific way. This is what Brian Beaumont
of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights wrote: "The fact is,
there is nothing in any medical or scientific literature that confirms
the existence of ADHD. It was invented by a handful of psychiatrists
by a show of hands at an American Psychiatric Association meeting in
the 80's. Thus, psychiatrists are labeling and drugging a non-existent
When parents call to say their child has been diagnosed with ADD or
ADHD, I ask “What lab results were you shown?” There weren't any,
because there is no scientific test - just a short, subjective
questionnaire, with such vague behavioral descriptions that virtually
any child could receive this label. Yet psychiatrists confidently
conclude from this deceptive questionnaire that a child has a serious
"disorder", and needs dangerous medication - Ritalin is a
form of speed. Such drugs often cause negative reactions. How do they
treat those reactions? They increase the dosage or give another
dangerous medication. It can be very difficult for a child to break
free from this cycle. And of course, the danger isn't just physical,
but emotional, because medicalized labels can't help but affect a
child's self-image and self-esteem.
Mary: What is Occam’s Razor?
Jan: Wikipedia defines it this way: "The explanation of
any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating
those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the
explanatory hypothesis or theory." A child in school may be bored
by a dull teaching approach, may be reacting to teasing from other
children, responding to family stress, or - most likely - is simply a
healthy, active child who finds it difficult to sit still for
unnaturally long periods of time. Any of those explanations are
simpler and more logical than an unproven, hypothetical
Mary: It appears that ADHD and other learning disabilities
are being over-diagnosed. Why do you feel this trend is continuing?
Jan: One factor is money - every school district gets more
money for every child with a mental health or special education
"diagnosis". And parents may welcome a pseudoscientific
label if they are intimidated by doctors or if they're not well
informed. Circular thinking is inherent in the process. If a teacher
sends a child for an ADHD evaluation, the evaluators assume the
teacher knows there is a disorder. They see their job not as
determining the existence or non-existence of a disorder, but rather
of determining which label and which drugs to give. Once a child is
sent to an evaluator, he is well on his way to being permanently
labeled instead of being understood. In some states, children can be
required to see an evaluator and required to take drugs to stay in
school. And these are the same people who tell children to "just
say no to drugs"! But in some areas, things are improving. Dr.
John Breeding, author of The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses,
helped to change the law in Texas. Parents there can now refuse to
have their child tested and they can refuse to have their child put on
Mary: Do you have any tips for helping folks identify some
of these causes or needs that might be confused as ADHD or for those
who have been labeled as ADHD?
Jan: If the child is in school, boredom and frustration from
being forced to endure this unnatural environment are the most likely
causes. Many children are temporarily "cured" of this
so-called disorder during summer vacation, or are permanently
"cured" by being taken out of school.
Restlessness and aggression can be related to such things as food
allergy, poor nutrition, emotional stress, or punishment. Instead of
using an unhelpful label like "ADD" or "ADHD",
attention to more realistic and specific factors can be much more
Mary: Before we close, what do you feel is the most
important information that you share with unschoolers?
Jan: To enhance learning, see yourself as a "reference
librarian". Be alert to interests that develop naturally, and
help your child to find the resources that can answer her questions.
Remember that everyone learns best by asking questions, not by
answering them. Trust your child's unique timetable, and trust what
your heart tells you.
Mary: Thank you for your excellent work and for sharing your
time with us.
Jan: Thank you for the opportunity!