Your Soapbox Awaits Presents: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell!

My response to Shan’s Unschooling post in the A-Z challenge during April was visceral, wistful and yet shot through with recognition. When my youngest son was a year old, and my elder son almost 2 1/2, I needed knee surgery, which became a convenient excuse for me to quit a job I found unfulfilling. The small space of the three years I stayed home with them was magical.

I remember stretching out on the lawn one early morning so that Wolf could show me the rainbow in a drop of dew. I had been a serious child, and limited my exploration to the worlds in books; this sensory exploration of the physical world, especially seen through the curiosity and somehow right reckoning of my boys, opened my mind and heart to things unknown, unseen, and untasted.

At the end of those three years, I surrendered my boys to the tender mercies of public schooling and its forcing square pegs into round holes, consoling myself by continuing to interact with them in the ways formed while I was not working outside the home. We talked about everything they were doing in school, which I always tried to supplement with further explorations of what they were interested in pursuing.

When the boys were 11 and 13, we traveled to Washington, D.C. One morning, my husband and Wolf had gone downtown to get in line for tickets to the Washington Monument. Johann and I had a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant next to the hotel, talking about whatever came to mind. I was discussing the political history of D.C. with him when a couple sitting across from us came over to our table. They apologized for disturbing us, but wanted to tell me that they were Canadian, and in all their travels through the U.S., they had never witnessed such a conversation between a parent and child. I was quite taken aback, as I certainly was not trying to teach any particular agenda at that moment; I told them that such conversations were daily occurrences for us, to which they nodded and replied that was clear given the matter-of-fact manner of both question and answer.

I have often deeply regretted sending my boys to school, especially through some particularly virulent bullying episodes by their teachers that proved the truth of my misgivings. There was never any teaching of the sort recognized by the school system, yet my sons learned more at home than they did until college. Thus my wistful response to Shan’s description of unschooling, shot through with the pride that, without even knowing what it was called, I fostered my sons’ learning at their own pace and interest level.

My sons came home last Sunday; one of the first things they mentioned was the trip to D.C. and how we used to have such wonderful family vacations. As they are now 19 and 20, I cherish the opportunity to have a few more family times with them before they head off into the world. I smile to myself at the vigorous debates that pepper the dinner table, the offhand way that one of them will educate the rest of us on a topic of interest; I think that no matter what else I accomplish in life, in this I have done well.


Elizabeth Anne Mitchell has been in love with words all her life. After trying to channel all her writing into academic work, she has decided to carve a little space for fiction. “Although it is difficult to fit writing into my life, it would be harder to let it go.”  She writes historical fiction, often drawing on her background in medieval literature. She writes about language and literary history on her blog, ; her author website is under construction.

Elizabeth loves feedback and would enjoy hearing your thoughts and suggestions. Contact her on Twitter: @EMitchellwriter; or by email:


  1. You both must have known I would love this post… and it seems so apropos since the Boodle wants to make a trip to Washington D.C. as part of his “where to go and see neat things in life” project we’re embarking on (the State calls it homeschooling…) Of course the Boodle also wants to go to NYC and Montreal and Boston this summer… Something will have to give, but we’re not sure of what. But that is part of learning about life as well.

    • I’m glad you liked it, Eden. D.C. is a wonderful place to take kids, although since it is so wonderful, it can get dreadfully crowded at the Space and Air and Smithsonian museums.

      It affords many opportunities for learning, as do Boston, NYC and Montreal–all those are on my wish travel list.

      • We’ve been so close to Boston, several times, and never been….NYX and Montreal are on our list, as well.

        Hoping to make it into Boaton – maybe this summer! =)

      • Oh, I’ve been trying to get together a girl’s trip to Montreal (of course kids are invited, so that may or may not appeal to you…but the Boodle would never forgive me if I did not allow him to come along) either this fall or next spring. Maybe we should all go together?

        • I will need a passport or the special licence…but there will be SMUG (Summer Montreal Unschoolers’ Gathering; by Debbie, Idzie, and Emilie, whom I think you met at NEUC) in June, and I have been meaning to do that…

          We will have to see how finances and interests turn out…but the kids would love to go back to DC, and so would I, now that they are older and I might get to read a few things along the way! Jim doesn’t feel he needs to go back, so that might make a cool trip, if you didn’t get to it this summer.

          • We didn’t get to DC this summer and Marcus would love another trip to Montreal (the passports are an initial pain, but well worth it in the long run) so either trip could be great.

            It’s all good.

    • Thank you, Eden. D.C. is such a wonderful place for kids to explore, and if one hits the timing correctly, there’s not a press of humanity to sift through. I’ve never quite managed the timing on the Air and Space Museum, but the rest has worked out well.

      It’s a great place to share as a family, too. Even though both of my sons went on official school trips to D.C., they only refer to the family trip when they talk about D.C., which still makes me smile.

      I envy you the home schooling; enjoy!

      • DC was one of our favorite trips – the kids were 4 and 7 then, and it was Miah’s idea. We hope to go back for the cherry blossoms in the future, and to see things through older eyes….

      • Well, since the Air & Space Museum would be big on our list (as you can probably tell), we’ll hopefully find some kind of balance. But at least we’ll do it…

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