This post is written by our guest writer, Trish Laszlo. Trish moved to Florida and joined our local unschooling community with her husband and four children in the summer of 2012. She and her husband have unschooled their children since the very beginning.
I attended my first unschooling conference way back in 2010. It was the Great Big Happy Life Conference in New Jersey. Although my family had been officially unschooling for about four years by then, we’d never attended a conference. Little did I know at the time, but attending Great Big Happy Life was one of the best unschooling decisions we’ve made!
Despite it ending up to be such a good decision to attend, I was stressed leading up to the conference. I wasn’t sure what to expect from an unschooling conference. I’d read a few things about conferences, and some descriptions made me nervous. You see, I’m a little bit shy going into large groups of people that I don’t know very well. I’d read about conferences where there were ice-breakers and circles of people talking and singing. I’d heard about talent shows and dance performances. All these things sounded fantastic, but also nerve-wracking for an introvert like me. How would I handle these things?
Another part of my stress leading up to Great Big Happy Life is that our family had been living a very isolated life for a few years. While we had been part of a fairly active (but spread out and rural) unschooling group when we lived in Upstate New York several years back, for the last 15 months we had been living in Costa Rica, with almost no unschoolers to hear of. Our whole family had been feeling out of touch from both the United States and any real unschooling community. Even though we were still committed to unschooling, I worried about how it would feel to attend a conference and whether we would fit in.
One of the first activities we did at Great Big Happy Life was “Family Speed Dating”. The basic premise was that all the families that wanted to participate formed two lines, with groups of families facing each other. When the bell rung, each family would introduce themselves to the family across from them. After a set number of minutes, each line would move down or up so that everyone was across from a new family. Then it would start all over again. This is probably something I’d normally avoid, being an introvert, but since it was something I could do hand-in-hand with my very outgoing husband, I decided to take the plunge. I don’t regret participating at all! Despite my nervousness, I met so many wonderful families at that Family Speed Dating Event.
The amazing thing is that today, seven years later, I’m still in contact with many of those same families that I met at Great Big Happy Life, including one of the families that runs the Un In the Sun Conference. In fact, when we befriended the Polce family during Family Speed Dating at Great Big Happy Life, we filed away the information that they were living in this great community in Florida. It took us 3 more years and a move to Austin, Texas until we finally made the move to Florida, but we ended up moving to the same town as the Polce family because of our meeting during Great Big Happy Life made such an impression.
I don’t remember all the details about Great Big Happy Life, but the small moments where I made a connection or a new friendship are the ones that stick out…the time I hung out outside and watched a father toss a ball with his son for two hours straight while I nursed my 10-month-old nearby…the mealtimes when a friendly father just sat down and joined me to commiserate about how exhausting it was to parent little ones…the happy surprise that happened when I discovered other families who were doing the same kind of work I was doing in the childbirth world…the happy faces of kids, who had only just met, happily playing games together. Great Big Happy Life may have only been a few days long, but I made more friends in those two days than I’d made for the prior two years.
This is one of the best things about unschooling conferences: they have the power to connect people. I can get on my computer today and still talk to people all across the country who attended a conference with me way back in 2010. I expect I’ll know many of these same people ten years from now, and I count many of them as my friends. In my opinion, the power of community among unschoolers is unrivaled. We may live in a world that treats education and the raising of children very differently than we do, but unschoolers create strong communities where people connect. And through conferences, we can see those threads of connection grow until they wrap completely around the globe. That’s a beautiful thing.
(P.S. If you’d like to see a video of the Family Speed Dating at Great Big Happy Life 2010, you can find it here.)