Building Connection with Tamara Strijack of the Neufeld Institute

Tamara Strijack is the co-author of Reclaiming Our Students: Why Children Are More Anxious, Aggressive, and Shut-Down than Ever and What We Can Do About It. 

Tamara is the Academic Dean of the Neufeld Institute, where she develops and delivers courses and workshops to help parents, teachers, and helps professionals make sense of children through developmental science.

Tamara works as a registered clinical counselor, parent consultant, and education consultant for both school-based and home-based learning. She is also a sessional instructor for several universities, where she lectures for both the faculties of education and counseling.

Tamara Strijack, of the Neufeld Institute, educated her two daughters at home for the majority of their schooling years. Connection, relationship, nature, and play are all central themes in her life, both personally and professionally.

Reclaiming Our Students with Tamara Strijack of the Neufeld Institute

You have to have some flexibility in yourself. What is working? What isn’t working? Instead of getting stuck in what isn’t working and deciding what has to be that way, I still believe in that idea of reevaluating: “Is it working?”

Tamara Strijack, co-author of Reclaiming Our Students

Advice for New Homeschoolers:

  • Let go of the expectations and pressure to homeschool in a particular way.
  • Give yourself grace and room to tell yourself, “You can do this, you have something to offer,” and make room for your children to feel at ease in your home environment.
  • Find those places for exploration and free play in a way that isn’t about educational outcomes.

Encouragement to connect with your homeschool kids with Tamara Strijack of the Neufeld Institute

Tamara & I discussed…

  • Play with your children. Go for walks. Go to explore nature. Read books together.
  • If it’s good for them, it’s good for you.
  • It’s time for connection.
  • Make space for homeschool and do it with them.
  • What is best for the child?
  • What is in the best interest of the child and family circumstances?
  • Education doesn’t have to be a one size fits all.

You can find Tamara Strijack at…

People also ask:

the Transcript…

Welcome to the Homeschool Mama Self-Care. I am Teresa Wiedrick from Capturing the Charmed Life.

I am here to help you turn your homeschool challenges into your homeschool charms.

If you are a homeschool mama challenged by doubt, not sure that you can do this homeschool thing, if you are challenged by overwhelming, feeling like you’ve got too many kids, too many activities, and not enough time or mental space, or if you feel like you just can’t do this thing anymore, then this is the podcast for you.

Today I get to introduce you to Tamara Strijack. Tamara is the co-author of Reclaiming Our Students: Why Children are More Anxious, Aggressive, and Shut-Down than Ever and What We Can Do About It. She is the Academic Dean of the Neufeld Institute. She develops and delivers courses and workshops to help parents, teachers, and helping professionals around the world make sense of children through developmental science. Tamara works as a Registered Clinical Counsellor, Parent Consultant, and Educational Consultant for both school-based and home-based firms. She is also a Professional Instructor for several Universities where she lectures for both the Faculties of Learning and Counselling. Connections, relationships, nature, and play are all central themes in her life, both personally and professionally. Tamara’s educated her two daughters at home for the majority of their schooling years.

Teresa:  Welcome, Tamara. It’s a real pleasure to have you here today and meet you. I know you have a lot to offer, and I am super excited to hear how Neufeld Institute and everyone involved is getting on the bandwagon of really encouraging homeschoolers at home. For those that aren’t familiar with you, can you share a little bit about yourself, your homeschool story, and what you are doing at this point in life?

Tamara:  Sure. Oh, those are big questions. All right. A little bit about myself, I will give more of what roles I play. I will start there. I am the Academic Dean at the Neufeld Institute. I have been involved there developing courses and delivering courses and workshops in child development and emotional health. And I have been doing that for many years, I think for fourteen for fifteen years. I am also a counselor, a Clinical Counsellor in British Columbia, and have worked with children, adolescents, and adults. Also, I work a lot now with parents doing Parent Consulting and helping make sense of some of the behaviours they are seeing a lot of anxiety that we are seeing in our children. I also work lots with families who are educating at home homeschooling, and I really enjoy that work, coming alongside helping to see what kind of obstacles there might be in the way and how we can get things moving. So that is my role as a counselor. I am also an educator. I teach child development and adolescent development classes for teachers in training and for counselors; I also do professional development for teachers. And let us see, I also just wrote a book called Reclaiming Our Students: Why Our Children are More Anxious, Aggressive and Shut-Down than Ever and What We Can Do About It. Now I am really regretting that long title because I have to remember it each time. But it was our attempt, this was before COVID, but our attempt to speak to some of those areas that we find a lot of children are struggling in school and figuring out how we can understand what’s going on and help in those situations, which is also very applicable to home education. I even wrote a little piece at the end, just in terms of home education in particular. I have so much to say on that topic because I educated both of my girls at home for the majority of their schooling years. So, I guess that would dive nicely into that piece of my journey with them.

I will just give you a little bit of context. We actually had never thought about homeschooling. It wasn’t really commonplace at that time. However, I think I would have really thrived in that environment looking back now because I was too caught up in doing everything right, and I will get to that piece a little bit later. My oldest daughter was in school for kindergarten, and she had a wonderful teacher from a good country school, but something was happening to her. She was at the young end of the spectrum. In terms of going to kindergarten, she was not quite five yet, a December baby. That transition was really hard for her to be away from home that long. This was back when it was half-day kindergarten. That was still too much for her, and I just saw her withdrawing into herself and losing all of her enthusiasm, and I could see everything just shut down. I had to try something different; this isn’t working. And I was thinking about her being gone a whole day, and it was just too much. And so, I actually, it’s kind of a funny thing, I remember listening to a podcast and interview on CBC, and it was my father talking about homeschooling. I wasn’t working with him yet at this point, and so I thought, oh, well, that is a really interesting idea. I never thought about that. And I thought I was going to give this a try. I am just going to try this out and see if it works for her. So, we did, and we went to the conference where he was speaking, I tried to get in as much as I could, and I had no idea what to expect or what it would be like. I had this sort of image that I had to teach her, and I had to figure out how I was going to teach her how to read and all these things.

Well, it was amazing, the transformation in her. When she was brought to a place of rest, when she was brought to this place of being at home, where she could feel comfortable, she just flourished. We just kept going because every year we checked, is this working. Is this working? Yeah, it’s working, alright, we are going to keep going. Basically, all the way up to where she started wanting to take some science courses at the local high school. She started with a couple of sciences, some choir, and eased in and then finished her last few years at high school.

Teresa:  That’s amazing that your dad was the one that influenced you to homeschool. I think that is super cool. What great support. I remember reading his book called Unclear Kids. Where in here is he saying we should homeschool? Because he must be saying that. I had already been homeschooling at the point, but it definitely was very supportive of the social environment of a home delivery system of learning and frankly of just development in general.

Tamara:  That is a really good point because he also works in the educational field in helping parents equip teachers to be able to be the vast support they can be for the students. And when we look at it, it is really about what’s best for the child. What is in the best interest of the child and family circumstances? So it’s looking in the right places to see what kind of conditions are needed for that instead of feeling like it is one-size-fits-all. And homeschooling can look so different for different families. My own two girls are such different stories of this.

Teresa:  Yeah. Four kids and I are trying as a British Columbian homeschooler, and a registered homeschooler, to encourage those pursuing registered homeschooling to create their personalized education. But do it entirely based on that child, which is super fun to pursue, but it’s also challenging because you don’t really know a child in its complete form. That child is revealing him or herself to you as time goes by. And then, at that individuating phase, they begin to assert themselves in different ways and try on different things, and they keep moving. So there is like no finished product, I guess. I mean their full person, but they are in this process of learning and growing and developing. So it’s not easy to create a personalized education for a non-static person. But it is very fun, and it is also a lot of freedom, and it is very interesting to watch that child develop as you know, as they go.

Tamara:  Oh, it is so rewarding. It is so rewarding, and yes, it is not static. It’s not like you can say, okay, this is the program we are going to use for the next however many years. 12 or 15 or something like that. You can’t even do it right, exactly. You have to have some flexibility in yourself, and when I started realizing, oh okay, the questions started coming. Is it working? What is working? What isn’t working? And instead of getting stuck in what isn’t working and feeling like it has to be that way, we can change it. I still believe in that idea of being able now that my daughters are in university. We are always re-evaluating, is this working? If it is not working, can we change it? What are the benefits of staying in it? Is there a benefit? Or is this just going to get in the way of anything else working? And it’s asking different questions versus oh well, we just got to stick to this and what isn’t working.

Teresa:  Yeah, and what is an education anyways? What is that for? It should be, I think, for a specific person. This is my interpretation, but for them to grow up and have a strong sense of purpose and place in this world and a place for contribution. Hopefully, they can monetize that to contribute to their community or their family. They have an internal sense of purpose and fulfillment. So, if that is what an education is, and of course, I am suggesting it might be the most important thing. Then that is about a specific person. That is not about an institution.

Tamara:  Yes. And it is a whole person, and I love how you described all of that. It is not just the person but all the parts of that person. And how are we fostering all of that, not just the academic knowledge, which is often what we think of with school? It is academic. I feel like my grade of success as a homeschooling mom is to see the fruit of all of the different areas my daughters are interested in. And healthy, and you know this is not perfect, but I bumbled along in keeping on trying to see what’s needed now. And what is it that I can bring out in them? What kinds of things will help facilitate that process of bringing out that whole person and helping them have something to offer in the world.

Teresa:  I have so many thoughts about what you just said because first of all, you are talking about, a little while ago, you were talking about doing everything right. And you just finished sharing that I didn’t always do everything right as a mom, which, by the way, everybody, you know, we all know that as moms. And I identify with that because I trend towards the perfectionistic approach, too, until I finally realized you’re really not doing this perfectly. And the biggest lesson for me in homeschooling is nothing about academics, although I have learned a ton. And it is definitely me not worrying about socialization. I am exactly the opposite. I am not concerned at all about socialization when they are at home or home-based. But I know my kids are my mirrors into my soul, and they give me an opportunity to deal with all the stuff that’s in here and that has not been pleasant all the time. And yet it is also beautiful because growth is, I think, why we are here. So, we have lots to learn. And we have an opportunity to learn a lot when we are with our kids all the time. But I think that experience sometimes feels kind of overwhelming. So, I think we have to find ways to develop self-care strategies around what you do with that perfectionism. How do you engage that perfectionism for yourself and your kids?

Tamara:  Yeah. My mind now, I am going in different directions. I have a few different thoughts there. But before I get to that question, I want to back up to something you said a little bit earlier in terms of that coming up against even yourself. I remember with my oldest on that journey. My youngest has another story that may come out at some point. But with my oldest, what it did was it showed me that her being withdrawn made me realize that she actually needed me in a whole way. I was busy out there helping everybody else and being a hero. I did a lot with youth and youth working in the community, yet she needed me. She needed me, not as a teacher but as a mom. And that was always my challenge. How do I facilitate that connection? How do I keep that connection alive? And I had to be really intentional about it. I had to start that journey. It was hard to see that and hard to see all the places where I had fallen short. And the guilt, the remorse, the regret, can I just back up five years and start over here?

Teresa:  Amen!

Tamara:  Yeah, push the rewind button. Hahaha.

Teresa:  Hahaha. Have another child? Hahaha.

Tamara:  Hahaha, which I did.

Teresa:  Keep having children. Hahaha.

Tamara:  So, it is that kind of having a bit of grace at the same time to realize, okay, I can’t go back, but I can go forward. And what I did was I built into our routine, this time to gather where we would go to the local coffee shop. I would have my coffee, and she would have her hot chocolate. And we would sit and read together. It was the most precious time. It was just once a week, sometimes we would get there twice, but it was a special time that we had together that built that foundation for the learning to unfold. But that is what she needed most of all, and I was in the best place to provide that for her. So that is where I focused a lot of my time and energy on that piece. And yeah, I had to make room for all the feelings stored up in me.

Teresa:  Which is beautiful, like a Segway to your dad’s book Hold on to Your Kids. Because the book is saying that relationship is the foundational relationship for all the learning, really just for development, for the healthiest development. And I am with you; I absolutely want everything right. My kids know it, and I know it, and I don’t think it is a thing, actually. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as parents or as a culture to do everything right. It is not a thing. You can’t actually accomplish it. But we do always need to be growing. And we do need to be watching ourselves and learning from them and from ourselves. Your dad’s book speaks so profoundly to the relationship to the base of their learning, or even our homeschools.

Tamara:  Well, it is the base of development. It is the base of how we develop our sense of self. And it’s that understanding that is in that relationship that becomes the foundation of a place where they can feel in their relationship with us, with their caregivers. Whoever us is. It could be grandparents, a father, a foster parent, or whoever is the caretakers who are there in the child’s life. That provides the foundation for the self to grow, develop, and learn. That naturally happens in that process as well as they start to interact with their world. What are they interested in? What are they connected to? What are their passions? What are their curiosities? That is all part of that emergent process. So, we don’t realize we can’t push that process. We cannot teach that process. It comes from a place of connection and feeling safe in our world.

Teresa:  But Tamara, I have tried. Hahaha.

Tamara:  Hahaha. Interesting.

Teresa:  Back to the discussion of perfectionism and self-care strategies, or strategies to address that, and then I am also curious about something you just said, but maybe I will let you chat about that first.

Tamara:  Okay, it is interesting. Coming back to the question you were asking before too. A particular book really impacted me when I came across it. It was the book Ish by Peter Reynolds. I do not know if you are familiar with that one. Peter Reynolds was an amazing writer and illustrator of children’s books. But this book is for us, I think, as those perfectionist parents who want to get it right and who do it right. And it really depicted even me as a child, being in the school setting where I felt like I had to get things right. I will give you a synopsis of the story. But the story tracks this boy who is so full of emerging energy, I want to say. And he is drawing the world around. He loves to draw. And then one day, his brother comes over his shoulder and kind of laughs at him and says, “Ha. What is that? That doesn’t look like anything.” And he starts to become self-conscious. And that self-consciousness turns inward, and then now, all of a sudden, he tries to draw things, and he crumbles them up and throws them away because he cannot get them to look right. And one of those times, he has had enough, and he throws the last piece he was working on the ground and says, “I’m done.” And his younger sister picks up the crumpled sheet of paper and runs away with it. He says, “What are you doing with that?” And he follows her up to her room. And she has this crumpled gallery on her walls of his pictures that she’s put up, which is beautiful in its own way. There’s more to the story than that, but what happens is that he looks at the pictures on the wall, and he says, “Well, that one there, that was supposed to be a vase. And she says, “It looks vase’ish.” “Vase’ish, oh I guess it does,” and then he starts looking at all these pictures, “They kind of look, they look afternoon’ish and sun’ish,” like he starts, his whole world expands because now there is some permission for it not to be perfect. Not to be what it is, and this is what I want for my children; for me, it is the permission to just try things and take risks. Because when we are in that place and the parent where we feel like we have to get it right, it blocks the creative process, and we can’t open that space for our own children.

Teresa:  I wonder why our kids have this perception that they need us to be perfect. Like, what is that about then? Hahaha.

Tamara:  Yeah, and that is that peace of; I think there is that expectation, and I don’t know if this speaks to it exactly, but I think back to those early years of homeschooling where I felt the pressure I had to perform. And I had to have the learning outcomes checked off, and it was about me more than it was about my own children, in terms of getting it right, that the grades were really about me. And so that would come across to my girls inadvertently. I didn’t want to, but that pressure would be there. Because I felt that pressure. When I could shift back language to say we are just going to explore this. We are just going to explore, and if it happens that we end up with something to show that we’d done such great, and if not, that is okay because I’m trusting in the process.

Teresa:  You know, I have that kiddo right now, the one you just describe yourself as, the one that has to it right, and she is right now trying to get her driver’s, her ??? so that she qualifies as an independent driver in our province. And she has this feeling of, what if I don’t pass? And I said, “What if you don’t pass?” Then you can do it again. And, of course, that is not her instinct. Her instinct is the first time because that is how I do it; I do things right. And she is that kid that tends to always do everything and do everything well. So, it’s really her speaking to herself, having to say it’s okay if I didn’t pass. It is a hard nut to crack because they are covered in a coating of ‘I’m worthy if I’m perfect.’

Tamara:  Yeah. Yeah, it is. We had a similar situation in our household with that feeling of needing to ???. For one of my daughters, it took her over two years to get to that place and to be ready. So, it is a lifelong kind of learning when you have that tendency to be in that place. It is harder to crack that nut, as you say. It is harder to convince, which is why it was not until adulthood that I could get to that place where I could just open up and colour outside the lines. But you know that it did not matter, and I that I had some room for myself to not have to get it right all the time. But I tried to do this with my children because I knew what needed to happen, but I was not necessarily there myself.

Teresa:  Right. Yeah. That sounds familiar. When we were talking about us developing ourselves, or we are talking about our children emerging, I think we are still in the process of emerging as human beings. We are still learning. I can certainly know that my base, like my family of origin story, is a whole lot more challenging than my family-created story. And so, when my kids had different experiences, different challenges than I had. Part of the reason I wrote the book Homeschool Mama Selfcare is that I chose four different paths to write a book. I am writing my second book right now, but for my first book, I randomly chose one out of four topics that I wrote the most about on my blog. And it was self-care. I realized that if I am going to take care of my kids, I have to take care of myself. The biggest thing that I learned in it was thought self-care strategies which really sources from something I got from Dr. Daniel Amen; it is challenging our thoughts. As homeschool parents, we have so many potential thoughts like perfectionism, doubt, overwhelm, anger, loneliness, etc. Human feelings that everybody has but in a homeschool context. But now I realize one of the biggest things that I have taken away from my own book:’ how things go when one writes.’ One learns more from oneself.

Tamara:  Hahaha. It comes back on you.

Teresa:  Exactly, and when you look back and go, “Did I write that?” I should like, do that. So, then I remembered talking about developing myself, emerging self, you referred to it as. But I am discovering my own sense of identity, my own sense of self continues to grow, and the more that I become me, the more I let my kids become them. And they can develop their own educational path, or their own whatever self.

Tamara:  Yes, yes. And what you were describing made me think about making room for all that is in us so that it does not get in the way of our children but actually creates space for our children in a different way. I think about that in particular with just finding those little practices. For me, it’s been about finding the little doable practices that I can inject into the rhythm of my days and my weeks and my months. That really helps. And for me, a big piece of that is finding, before I can get to the changing my thoughts about it, acknowledging the feelings are there, to begin with. Because so much of it is just putting a lid on it, right? And we need to make room for those feelings, as messy as they might be, the frustrations and the alarm and the things that we are not getting right, or we are feeling the pressure and the expectations from others around us, and messages from different family members, or whatever it is that we are feeling so much stirred up in us. And I found that when I was able to make room for that, whether it was in writing or in some kind of physical activity, I also love doing chi gong, and so, finding something, where I can get things moving then gets me to that place of, oh, I can do this, okay. It is going to be alright. But if I try to block it and if I try to cut it off at the path and I try to shove it under the carpet or in a big pot and put a lid on it, it’s going to seep out somewhere, and it’s usually going to seep out on my children because they are the ones who were home.

Teresa:  Totally. Yes. It is instinctive to blame. It instinctive feel like this feeling is here because of, and then it’s whoever is the closest, or literally whoever is the closest intimately because they are most likely to absorb it, right. And whatever that challenge is, it has been a lifelong thing for me. But, no, it hasn’t because I haven’t known about this stick with it an idea or these questions that Dr. Daniel Amen talks about of just, what are you actually feeling, are you 100% certain that it is really true, and if there is an alternative or different perspective then consider all of them. And then choose the one that would enable you to reframe it so that you could actually walk on the path or journey the way that you want to instead of reacting instead of always our first instinct is. But like you said, if you are not actually allowing yourself to identify those feelings, none of this is possible.

Tamara:  Well, what you just said is the reaction versus not being reactive, the reaction versus the response because when you can acknowledge it and make some room for it, you are putting it out on the table, basically. Well yeah, is this helping? Is this helpful? Do I agree with it? You could take up a relationship with it, you can reframe it, you can work with that, and it allows you that choice. It allows you to be in that driver’s seat where that impulse comes. It is not just you are going on the impulse. You can say. Actually, I don’t agree with that here. I don’t want this frustration to come out in this way. I am going to find another way to do that. You can get back into the driver’s seat of it. With that reaction, you are not in the driver’s seat. It is just happening to you.

Teresa:  And you are sometimes making these wildly inappropriate reactions to things that, yes, maybe that is your first thought. But it is interesting for me, as a sibling in my family of origin, to see myself, my sister, and my brother as very different in personality. So, we would engage things in very different ways with all that’s going on at home. And still, to this day, we engage things in very different ways. I must say that in some ways, I really wish I was more like my sister in a certain way because things didn’t pierce my soul quite as fast and as hard. Or at least she made it seem that it wasn’t affecting her, and I was always just completely open. But, at that time, it would have been defined as sensitive, and now I realize it is what it is, you are who you are, and you will have to accept your reaction as different from your siblings. Or you are going to have to accept that one child is radically different than another. But when I accept that it is what it is, we can say the goal is not to react to this, but then decide what we want to choose is the best response, which is really hard.

Tamara:  I was about to say, it sounds so easy.

Teresa:  It would be great to write in a book, I tell ya. Yep, very different, though.

Tamara:  That’s what I mean. It comes back to you. It comes back on you, right? It is challenging, and it is important to reiterate that you talked about how each child is different, and I have had two cause you have four. But my second child, I remember my first child, did she nap for four hours? Yes, sometimes four hours a day. She would eat just at mealtime. She would be involved in different activities for hours and just sit there.

Now my second came along, and I did not know what hit me. She was this whirlwind of energy and movement, and if she napped five minutes in the afternoon, she was up until midnight. So, I had to keep her awake so she would at least go to sleep. But she needed to nurse all the time. So, she was just a constant movement. Delightful, but it was exhausting because I was expecting something different. So, when I look at how I went into my own reactions and what I needed to make for was, even just the differences in recognizing the differences in them and how they learn differently.

Teresa:  Do you have some suggestions about tools on how we learn or observe your children, but learn about your child’s learning styles, or learn about your child’s personality or whatever you think is important?

Tamara:  There are some great things out there that just talk about different stuff, but I think the best thing is to observe. Just to observe your child. My oldest loved doing workbooks, she loved them, and I liked them too, but it was a little bit because I could get the answer right in all of them. But what I did notice about it has she always changed the name. She loved names, and she still loves names. So, she would change everybody’s names when they had different problems, and she would draw pictures. She just loved to draw, and she had a little bit of that perfectionism as well. It showed me, okay, where is she getting stuck? How can I create ways for her to be more creative with some of her assignments? If she could change their name, it made it all work. So why not? Does it really matter what the person’s name is? Can she create her own story? She is a writer. She is a creative writer in her last year at university. And psychology, she loves both. The mind and the writing. When she was allowed space for that creativity to come out and in her writing in her drawings, it would flourish. So, I would work with that. With my youngest daughter, writing was not her thing; in fact, I had a panic attack at one point, thinking how she was ever going to graduate if she could not write a sentence. And it came, not in the timing that I thought it needed to come or that the curriculum thought that it needed to come, but it came. She is an excellent writer. She still does not love it, but she can do it. And she can do it because I gave her space for her. She was very tapped out. For starters, I knew this from the womb with her crawling around. She did everything with her hands and her feet. She explored her world with her hands and her feet. She did tactile things, though.

Metalwork, blacksmithing. She worked with beads. She did woodwork. She did anything working with fibre, wool, and whatnot. We had an Alpacas on our farm. If she could do something and be moving while she did something, she learned to read on the couch, back and forth, up and down, and she would have been over the top of the ceiling if she could. She did most of her schooling upside down. Anything she had to focus on was moving or upside down. And that would have been really challenging in school. I do not know how it would have worked. But I could make the space for it. But I needed to see this is how she learns. So, worksheets, no way, no possibility. I had to find other creative ways for her to explore her world. But now she is going into engineering, so, you know. Right. Problem-solving, exploring your world.

Teresa:  Isn’t that amazing. Like our kids, you could see very, very early on, you said in the womb, and I remember the child you are describing. I had that one too. And I recognize things starting in day two, but they start so early and their interest, somewhere around eight or ten I think, whatever they are doing then, whatever we were doing, later on, we are still doing. And it is kind of cool. So, with us developing us is a homeschool mama self-care project. You still have to keep developing your own identity.

Tamara:  Well, I think the beauty of it for me was that my own journey of exploration happened alongside that because I found my love of reading. I loved reading to them, with them. This was my favorite thing to do, and it brought back that love. I would play with the voices. That was so fun for me, and it was this outlet that I started. And I started learning about history in a way that had never stuck before. But all of a sudden, we are reading historical fiction, and the stories are coming alive, and I am just covering things about my world and about myself in some things that I am doing with them and facilitating for them. It was so fulfilling. That was not why I was doing it, but it happened alongside them, and the fruit of that was just so rich when I could let it.

Teresa:  It is. That is for sure my favorite thing to do academically is reading together. I mean, I don’t think I read a real book until I was seventeen, truth. And my English teacher in grade 12 said you need to stop watching TV and start reading books. So, I have been making up for it ever since. Reading, and reading, and reading. But I want to ask you, Neufeld Institute recently had a webinar directed towards home educators and emotional health. Where did that come from? Where did that originate from?

Tamara:  Well, that is a good question. It was not something we were thinking of doing at all. There had been so much interest in that area, particularly with some of the feelings in the air right now, well they have to go to school at all costs, even at the cost of their health. And this idea that school was the only place, and so where this came out of and the editorial that my father wrote on this, “Could homeschooling be more than just a backup plan?” It was really challenging those ideas to say. Actually, the learning can unfold, where the learning unfolds fast is when a child is at rest when a child is feeling safe and has the ability to explore their world. It is not. Can we provide them with those conditions at home? Yes, for many children, but not everyone is in that situation where it is possible. But it is looking at, wait a minute, this is actually valid. Why isn’t this an option? And why isn’t this something that we could consider? So that panel came out with Gordon Neufeld, Deborah McNamara, and myself because we had been doing these panels back just after COVID hit, called ‘Parenting in a Pandemic,’ where we were responding just to questions that were coming up from week to week. We did it for about six weeks in a row. People were hungry and wanted support. And this panel came out the same way. We decided we had something to share here, and there was an overwhelming response.

There were over 700 people registered for that. You could see the hunger, right? And it is a free resource out there now through the Neufeld Institute site; I believe it is on the pandemic resources page because it still sorts of falls within that. So, we decided to do a full-day seminar, my father and I on home education out of that interest. So, it is happening next month, October 24, through the Neufeld Institute. And I am pretty excited about that. It is going to be a neat combination to do with him and looking at some of the theory behind it. But also, the real practical, what does it look like? And how do we create those kinds of conditions for our children? And ultimately, then for yourself.

Teresa:  I think this has been a beautiful opportunity for all families. They get to reimagine what family life looks like. And they get to reimagine what an education looks like. But there are a few more homeschool families now in those few months. What kind of strategies would you suggest for them to take care of themselves as they are homeschooling?

Tamara:  I think the biggest thing is letting go of the expectation and the pressure on yourself to do it a certain way. It starts with that. It gives yourself grace and some room to say, do you know what? I can do this, and I have something to offer to back off of the pressures and just to make room for your children to feel safe in their environment at home. How can we bring down the alarm as much as possible in this time that we are in? How can we find those places for exploration and free the way we just do not have anymore? How can we? It is actually through play, those opportunities, whether playing games or just exploring all the back ponds, whatever that looks like. Being in that exploring of where it is not about the outcome is what I think is great for us as parents. It takes that pressure right off, and we can just allow the learning to unfold because that is where the natural learning will happen and where it is wired up in our brain. That is how our brains process, problem solve and do all this in the play process when we are in the play mode of whatever we are doing. So, even if we are doing a worksheet, if we are doing it in a play mode like I describe my daughter doing where she drew pictures or changed their names. That was in the play mode. It was not about getting it right. For me, it starts with my trusting in the process and letting go of a bit of those pressure and expectations to say, you know what, your child is going to be okay.

Teresa:  Oh yeah.

Tamara:  I mean, I can say that because I am at nineteen and twenty-one, and they are in a healthy place. So, I am on the other side of that to see, in a healthy place as a whole child. But at the moment, I think the more you can play with your children and give yourself space, go for walks, go for nature explores, read books together, read books. It is good for them. It is good for you. It is good for the whole family. It is a time of connection. It is exploring other’s worlds. And read good books. Good books where you feel good reading them. There are great classics out there.

My biggest thing would be to make space for this and do it with them. As much as you can. I worked full-time while I homeschooled, so I know it is to find that balance. It is possible, but you have to be very intentional with filling them up first and doing those times of connections. And then they get that kind of emerging energy, and they go, and they want to try things themselves and to explore on their own. But then you have to collect them again and find those times of connection. So, it is finding a rhythm that works for you and your family. That I think is the biggest piece to our own, to manage in finding what works for your family.

Teresa:  Yeah, what works for you. I find it still challenging after fifteen years of homeschooling for very different kids to just let them do their thing. Just let them pursue their learning opportunities, although I think it’s the most useful approach for their personal education. But it is so hard to let go of that schooly mindset. And yet, the more we trust ourselves, the more we pursue our own interests, the more we allow ourselves to trust our children, watch them, observe them, and see just what you said. They follow all these little paths, and it’s not clean and smooth, like, I’m eight, and I want to be an engineer, I’m nine, and I want to be an engineer, and it doesn’t go like that until they are twenty and now, they want to be an engineer but there is a messy path towards their learning. And yet it is still all sourced on them, and we can facilitate it instead of trying to be a teacher to them, then we are actually giving them the most clean or authentic education for them.

Tamara:  Yeah, and that word that you use, that I use as often as that of facilitating it, is putting things in place. I saw that my daughter loved everything to do with science and how the world worked. She is always asking questions, and she loves the stars. So, we got her an astrology book and a science encyclopedia, one of those fun ones with lots of pictures in it. She just loved those and carried them around. So, I would leave the books from the library sitting around, opportunities that would be there that were not necessary. I was not saying, oh, you should learn this or study this. It was, oh look, here is an opportunity. And I would set things up. I would match make. You know, they have one grandma from whom they learned Irish folktales and language, not language, poetry, which is the word I am looking for. And then another one who taught them how to do calligraphy and cursive writing before getting to calligraphy. Though I match made with different people in their life, who could bring them certain things, certain skills that they were interested in, or certain things in which they were interested. But I was matchmaking them to it. I did not have to do that all myself. I had all of these people as a village around me and what it did was it helped foster that relationship even more. So it was that kind of intentional putting other mentors, people in their path who could do some of that sharing of information or sharing of some passion they had.

Teresa:  A community-based education.

Tamara:  Yes. Exactly, it widens it. Those are the other pieces. It is not all up to us. And that would be the other one I would add-in. It is not all up to us. We just have to be creative about it. As you were talking about at the beginning, it can be challenging when you are individualizing the school, yet it is so fulfilling. When you get something that works, it is rewarding, and both parts are so fulfilling. And you just see the growth comes, the fruit comes. Maybe not right away. Sometimes it takes a little while, but you see it unfold.

Teresa:  Well, I have approached it a very schooly approach and didn’t have to. I was not beholden in any way. But then I’m obviously more on the other end now, but I still tend towards the schooly approach. I have found that there is less work involved when trying not to be schooly. And it’s not because I am not pro to have your screens all day kind of mom. I am one of those moms who really doesn’t think they should have screens all the time. Just like candy, I let them have it at different times. But I say that if we pursue their thing, we are actually putting less pressure on them. We are putting less pressure on ourselves. We really have to tune out what the school system is doing so that we don’t have to create those unnecessary. Oh, you didn’t do this yet. Maybe you should do that. When our kids will never want to pursue that. They never want to be part of that thing, and then it is just a nominal activity. It’s interesting maybe to you, but it’s not necessary. It is not necessarily building their communication, numerical skills or things that are precursors to living in a culture that uses everything, like communication and numbers. But I just think there is so much pressure that we put on ourselves when trying to create a conventional education, school education at home. It’s actually easier to follow them and facilitate their interests.

Tamara:  Yeah, I think there is an idea out there, and I am not sure where it comes from that it’s actually bad if you are doing something you enjoy doing.

Teresa:  Hahaha. Yeah.

Tamara:  Hahaha. My oldest daughter is actually struggling with it. She almost did not go into creative writing. But she said, “Mom, I like creative writing. I should be doing something else.” So somewhere, there is this idea out there that I have been battling all along saying no, of course, do what you love. She is good at it, and she has got all these pieces that come together. That is what we want is there to be so much, I think. There is a book by Thomas Moore called Life He Wrote: Care for the soul, but it’s a book called life at work as well, where he talks about the idea of doing what you love and are passionate about and have to bring others. And this is actually when we can find that spot and work out of that place. It almost becomes play for us. Yet it becomes meaningful to us. That meaning that we bring to it is what I want for my children.

You mentioned at the beginning the idea of finding their place in the world and having meaningful contributions. And yes. To me, it makes sense to start that early. To start aligning with those interests, and yes, they will shift a little bit, and they will emerge, but we can be watching, and then planting seeds, and facilitating or watering the seed once they are planted. And figuring what this looks like to come to some fruition. Maybe some will not, and they will just be, you know, they will be there. My youngest had a list of twenty-one things that she wanted to be when she grew up that she wrote when she was about eleven years old. And I remember her great realization when she realized, “I don’t have to wait. I could be some of those now.” So, she may not be just an engineer; she may be a lot more things.

Teresa:  I’ve got kids like that too.

Tamara:  But you don’t put a feeling on it. Or a mould on it. And you allow for some of that, and you are just going with that flow to help it get the things out of the way so that flow can help them.

Teresa:  Yeah, put a feeling on it. I mean, I suppose there are families that definitely do try. I definitely was one of them. But your child gets to a certain age where they are individually being, and you don’t have a choice but to let them become them. Or you can choose to be miserable. You decide or try to limit them. But when they get to a certain age, you just have to facilitate it in a unique way that really, they are beginning to include themselves in the process, I guess. Funny enough, my third daughter is going to school for the first time this year. This year of all years. She has not even been to kindergarten. My second child, though, went to school, so that adjustment was a few years ago. My first daughter, as always, introduces you to everything. She is my experimental child. She was offended by that the first time she heard me say that. But I said, “No, no, no. You are not a research project, like not intentionally anyways. I wasn’t trying to experiment on you. I was trying to do everything right by you and discover that all my rightness was actually not working.” Anyway, that is a discussion for another time. We could take about teenagers and homeschool for hours, right?

Tamara:  Yes.

Teresa:  At the beginning of your Bio, you said that you are about connections, a relationship of nature, and play, and that is what is meaningful to your professional life and to your home life. How are those different aspects, and I identify by the way, how do you include them in your regular day-to-day life?

Tamara:  Yeah, I am living out in the country right now. So, it has always really had a lot of meaning to me, and the connection is where I feel most connected to myself and the world around me. I make it a daily practice to be outdoors at least once daily. I usually go visit a little lake by my place and sit on my bench and greet the frogs or sit down beside the otter, the beaver, or whoever happens to be there at the time. And that is it without an agenda. You know, it is amazing, that sounds simple. But I know how hard that is because I work really hard to carve out space just to make that okay. So that is one of the things I do regularly and do with my child. She is home with me doing her first year of university. She is supposed to be away at university, but she still loves doing those things with me as well. It is bringing elements, bringing elements of play in as well. Right now, what that looks like we play a couple games of bongo after dinner every night. Word games are fun. It is just what works for me. It is finding those areas for me. I make sure that I walk every day. I make sure that I walk the dog, but he more like meanders, but I also just walk myself because this is where things get moving for me. This is where I start to connect with myself and how I think and feel when I move. So, whatever makes you move, whether physically or not, I would encourage it as it is so important to find those little spaces. It can be ten minutes that I take. Sometimes it is just around the house but just getting things moving. That is the practice and one practice that I developed because of that love of all of those things, as I had a day where I had no agenda. It has been a wonderful thing. It took me about two years to work towards it, so I just started with yearning towards that, and then it became a thing. And now I protect it. It does not always happen. There are sometimes, you know, life. But for the most part, I have a day when I say no agenda. I mean, I am creating some space to sit underneath my willow tree for hours on end. Which sometimes I do. And where I can go for a walk and just walk. Or we could go to the beach as a family and just be at the beach without having any expectations. So, it is creating that space for that play and that rest to unfold in a really natural way. Those are some really memorable times when I actually have not had an agenda of what it should be.

Teresa:  Yeah, that is speaking of life. That is a beautiful picture. I live out of town as well. I value similar things that you do, and being outside in the pandemic over the last number, I mean when we had lockdown, it has been a huge benefit. So, as a fun way to wrap up our interview, I would like to ask you three questions. The first question is: What are you usually doing on Friday night?

Tamara:  Hah! I am having avocado mousse and wine with my sister.

Teresa:  Chocolate avocado mouse?

Tamara:  Chocolate, well it’s cacao, it’s the good stuff, and it is pretty amazing. It is a ritual.

Teresa:  What would you say your favorite fun self-care strategy is?

Tamara:  It’s going to sound really funny, but it is fun for me, and my children kind of get embarrassed. For those who know chi gong or some kind of practice like that, it is shaking off. So, when things build up, especially during COVID, there is so much that comes and builds up. It is actually kind of like a horse in a field that you start shaking, and you sort of shake it all off and make those noises. It is fun for me but not so fun for everyone else. I need to move. I say the other fun one, though, is we had spontaneous dance parties here when my sister was living with us, so we had more people around and my nephews and my daughters. We would just put on some music and just dance. It is the same idea of just getting some of that out. And laughing and just having fun. Even when everyone is around and still there. But something happens at that moment where we appreciate just being alive. And yes. And each other.

Teresa:  So maybe Taylor Swift taught us that to shake it off? Hahaha.

Tamara:  Hahaha. I never thought of that.

Teresa:  I literally just told my daughters to shake it off before she went into the driving test. So, I can say that it really works. And I learned that not from Taylor Swift but from my dog. Hahaha.

Tamara:  Hahaha. Yes, same idea. Not as in just a get rid of it, not off the duck’s back kind of thing. It’s actually just shaking out the energy that’s building up in you so that you can be present in the next moments. So, it is that getting it all out kind of thing.

Teresa:  What would you be dancing to at your dance party?

Tamara:  The rodeo.

Teresa:  Hey, yeah. I’m starting to shake right now.

Tamara:  It’s always been the rodeo.

Teresa:  Tell me where we can find you and the Neufeld Institute online.

Tamara:  Alright. The Neufeld Institute has a website. That is Also, this month, we opened an idea center for educators that I kind of spearheaded with my colleague, Eva Dobotsky from Montreal and Deborah McNamara and Hannah Beach, where I wrote Cleaning Up Students With. And it’s got some wonderful resources there.

I just started a home education page on it to start to gather some resources on it and with some of these webinar panels and things that we’ve been doing. So, there are some editorials I have written on the subject there. And it will be growing, so we are growing up that piece. So, that is Idea Center for Educators, whether you are home educators or in the school system. So, there will be things there that you might find helpful.

And then my own personal website. I have That is more of an overview of all the different things I am involved in and a few of my random writing from under the willow tree and at the lake. Those are the things that I reflect on when I have those moments, reflecting on life. And I put some of them there.

I may be doing some classes on learning at home where it’s just about talking about some of these ideas and fleshing them out. What does that actually look like? Getting insights into the ideas of how to put it into practice. So that would be on my website as well, which happens sometime this fall.

And then Reclaiming Our Students is also a website where you can go and find more about that book. It was fun to write with my colleague, Hannah Beach. She did some amazing work with experiential learning. So, if you are interested in experiential learning, that is a great resource. It talks about the connection but also the expression of how we bring some of these pieces out through the activities that we engage them in.

Teresa:  It has been a real pleasure to meet you and chat with you. And I want to say thank you to all the Neufeld Institute for participating in essentially cheerleading the home educating community. Because right now, it just got a whole lot bigger in the last few months. People definitely need that kind of cheerleading. So, thank you for joining me today.

Tamara:  It’s been a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Teresa.

Teresa:  Thank you for joining me today. I’d love to learn more about who you are. So, go on to my Facebook or Instagram page, Homeschool Mama Selfcare.

My goal is to equip you with self-care strategies to help you turn your homeschool challenges into your homeschool charms.

If you want to learn more about my course, How to Homeschool 101, or my upcoming book, Homeschool Mama Self-Care: Strive Not Just Survive, head over to my blog You will also find the show notes and links to everything you heard in this episode.

I hope you and your kids have a charmed week, and until next time I hope you can turn your challenges into your charms.

Call to Adventure by Kevin MacLeod