It's The Sleep, Stupid!: JJ Ross' Interview

JJ lives, learns and sleeps in Florida. She has a blog called Cocking A Snook! where she shares advice and opinions on all things educational. And controversial. Apparently, provided she's had enough sleep, she's not afraid to say what she thinks.

This blog has replaced a website, Parent-Directed that she and her friend Nance Confer (who will be highlighted on this blog soon) used to run.

JJ is another one of those parents who used to be quite deep in traditional institutional education as part of her career but managed to crawl out. And she's not going back. As a matter of fact, the only thing she's ever going to crawl into now is a bed or couch when she's feeling sleepy...

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

We never schooled our son and daughter, not even at home -- although we had a close call at the usual kindergarten age. We didn't exactly know to call it "unschooling" although it was in fact unschooling from the start. So it's been almost 20 years (gasp!) since I retired from my public school policy career and came home as a first-time mom.

Our daughter is a full-fledged junior at FSU now after dual-enrolling in community college and playing around in courses she loved (writing, theatre, history) for a few years. She's planning to backpack around Europe with a girlfriend this summer.

Our son is five years younger, so he's 13 and every inch a free-spirit unschooler. School would have destroyed him. See him in his kilt here!

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

SLEEP! I've long suspected that it isn't some deep educational theory that makes homeschooling so productive compared to "school" -- it's the sleep, stupid! If there's just one thing that makes for cheerful, resilient, well-adjusted kids who love their own lives and don't have anything to rebel against or complain about, it's every member of the family getting all the sleep needed and wanted, when -- and only when! -- they want it.

Each of our children has a different natural rhythm and it changes somewhat year to year for each child, too. Their dad and I also have different sleep patterns from each other. Unschooling gets the public out of our sleep, makes it a private matter and lets us all respect our own needs and each other's, without judging and shaming and trying to control each other.

And in turn, getting artificial control of sleep schedules out of our way, made the liberal arts and especially community musical theatre, possible as real-world learning for my kids -- no worries about "school nights" and bedtimes and homework.

I could write an entire curriculum based on what they've learned through musical theatre! See also Ignorance Makes the N-Word Even Scarier Unspoken and and this from Favorite Daughter herself.

In fact, funny story -- Favorite Daughter at age 17 in her college honors history class, answered a bonus question for a perfect score on the final, that her professor couldn't figure out how she knew, because it wasn't in the text of the lecture notes: name all five of the members appointed to write the Declaration of Independence and the colonies each represented in the Congress. So he asked outright what her secret source was, and got a good laugh when she started singing, "But Mr. Adams" from the musical 1776.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

We joke that our whole curriculum is "power of story" but it's only funny because it's literally true. Our house is overflowing with books, not textbooks but real books stacked and shelved in every room including the kitchen and foyer, by every bed, the living room and dining room. (AND we have a library!)

And story isn't just in books. The rest of the house is bulging with movies and music, family pictures and objects with stories of their own. So the fun stuff we do is all power of story too -- musical theatre and Irish step-dancing, unschooling the bagpipes too.

Maybe my personal mom-favorite all these years has been the fun of going to the movies with my kids in the middle of the week, the middle of the day, whenever we want. Just because we want.

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

Well, the way we officially began homeschooling was funny because I had dutifully enrolled Favorite Daughter in kindergarten. I took her to the orientation on the Friday before school started that August, and it was really overwhelming even to me as a former school administrator, just so many handouts and procedures and codes and details.

It was a combination K-1 class and I was told "no" when explaining she would want to sit up with the first graders during storytime instead of "napping" since she didn't nap. That's what made me change my mind over the weekend and withdraw her on Monday morning.

But it turns out that the reason Favorite Daughter was so grateful for that change was the school buses. She was given a complex coding sheet from the transportation dept. with different routes color-coded and had been told she would ride "the black bus." All weekend she had been worrying without saying anything, because to her all the buses were yellow!


Teri said...

Hi Debbie,

This is Teri over at Joyful Liberation blog. I tried to e-mail you like you aksed but your e-mail address would not work.
You an reach me at
Talk to you soon,

American Muslima Writer said...

Masha'Allah I loved this interview and am lokoing forward to more.

Sleep is such an important part. My kids have the ODDEST sleep cycles and they do NOT mesh with my husband's and let me tell you the drama that has caused! UFFF!

I'm looking into learning more about Unschooling. I need more info before I can take it to Husband and convince him.... :)

Stories like these warm my heart...

Hehehe the "black bus" just goes to show you waht your daughter would have really learned in school JJ.