Life Learning: Wendy Priesnitz's Interview

In this photo: Wendy and daughter Melanie

I feel like traveling outside the United States today, don't you? Good, come with me, we're going to Canada!

Today we meet Wendy Priesnitz, another mom who has done a lot for homeschooling through her journalism efforts. She believes in the power of learning from life and has really set the example herself!

She lives and works in Toronto, Canada but also has an office in New York State. You can learn more about Wendy and all she is involved in (which is a lot) here.

I first met Wendy when she told me she spent way too long reading part of my book. I love meeting parents who've also learned from their kids how valuable it is to be silly just for the sake of being silly...

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

Our daughters Heidi and Melanie began learning when they were born in 1972 and 1973 (or perhaps a little before that). We were “radical unschoolers” before the term was coined; I prefer to think of it as “life learning.” They are both still life learning: Heidi is a self-taught novelist and graphic designer and Melanie is a self-taught conservation horticulturalist who runs a native plant botanical gardens at a university.

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)?

When the girls were three and four, my husband and I started a home business publishing books and Natural Life magazine with the side effect that we could both be at home with them. (We were self-taught and very naïve publishers – he was a plumber and I was a failed school teacher.)

Although we worked long hours, we were there to answer questions, read a book, do a puzzle, spell a word, explain equations, help identify a bird in the backyard, and so on. And, as the business grew and we added staff, the girls had more adults around to answer questions, read a book, do a puzzle… In fact, the girls were always part of the interview team when we hired, our reasoning being that the employees needed to be comfortable with life learning as part of their job description…and the girls had to feel comfortable with the employees.

We traveled a lot with the business – both locally to typesetters (those being the archaic days of no PCs), printers and other services – and farther afield to trade shows and conferences. Because Heidi and Melanie learned from life, they were free to accompany us on all those trips, soaking up information about the world in the process.
1978 Natural Life Magazine Staff Photo: Wendy and husband Rolf on the left, daughters Melanie and Heidi in front.

No doubt inspired by our example, both Heidi and Melanie had their own businesses when they were children. Heidi produced a newsletter called KidsStuff for other home-educated kids across the continent from the time she was 8 until she turned 13 or so; when Melanie was about 7, she had a craft business making and selling stuffed toys.

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?

Every day was fun – well, except when truant officers visited or bill collectors phoned! I think most parents with kids in school miss the fun times because their kids are so stressed out from school and detached from the ability to initiate activities. However, since my philosophy of education involves children learning without being taught, I can’t categorize the fun that was a result of “homeschooling” and the fun that happened for other reasons.

We baked; we danced, sang, drew and sewed (some of us better than others); we explored cities, towns and forests; we snuggled with our books into a massive Yucatan hammock strung from corner to corner in our spare bedroom; we baked bread and Melanie and I got flour everywhere, much to Heidi’s disgust; we made yogurt and then ate it even though it was unbearably sour; we stayed up late and watched the stars; we were silly just for the sake of being silly (they taught me how to do that). We lived our lives together as a curious, creative, working, learning family.

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

My memory is growing dim after all those years!

I do recall one incident (probably because I’ve kept it alive in my conference talks) from when we first started Natural Life. In order to launch it, we mailed out 45,000 free copies of the first issue (told you we were naïve) to people on various mailing lists that we rented. Lacking capital, we prepared the mailing ourselves – affixing mailing labels to each magazine and sorting them into mailing bundles in our small townhouse. There were piles of magazines everywhere. When we ran out of room in the living room, we continued upstairs, eventually ending up with piles in the bathtub and on the floor in the girls’ bedroom.

Four-year-old Heidi surveyed the scene with her arms folded across her chest, huffed and puffed a bit and said, “I guess I’ll just have to help you guys if I’m ever going to have a bath and get to bed!”

And help she did. She continued to help off and on for the next 16 years, culminating in a year-and-a-half stint running the business while her dad and I lived in Eastern Europe. (Shortly after that, she moved halfway across the country.)

No comments: