Sunday, January 2, 2011

Grown Unschooler Jaclyn Dolamore: "Art and stories are woven through the fabric of every subject."

I'm happy to present the first grown unschooler interview of the new year!  I invite you to read more interviews with grown unschoolers, and if you're a grown unschooler yourself, I invite you to participate in this project.

Jaclyn Dolamore has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, drawing, and organic food. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her partner Dade and two black tabbies who have ruined her carpeting (the cats, that is, not the boyfriend). Magic Under Glass is her first novel, a YA fantasy about a dancing girl who falls in love with the spirit of a fairy gentleman trapped in a clockwork automaton. Romance between a mermaid and a winged boy will follow in 2011 with Between the Sea and Sky, as well as a short story about conjoined twins on an airship in Corsets and Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances. Find her at

When did you become an unschooler?
I've been unschooled from the beginning of my school years (with a few interruptions--explained in my next answer).

How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
We had a little bit of curriculum/structure near the beginning and end of my school experience, and I went to 2nd grade because my mom was getting a massage therapy license, and gifted class one day a week for the rest of elementary school.

How old are you now?

Do you have any siblings?  If so, did they/do they unschool as well?
I have two sisters, Kate and Ivy, and they were also both mostly unschooled.

If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
My mom decided to unschool us; I'm sure she could articulate her specific reasons better than I could, and I don't want to put words in her mouth, but she's always been interested in alternative education (and is really a free-thinking person in many areas of life). And I have to get serious credit to my dad, too, for supporting it and being the breadwinner so my mom could stay at home with us. 

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
The time and space to be myself, pursue my passions, make my own choices. I have always been passionate about storytelling, in some form or another, and spent the majority of my childhood hours creating stories, comics and art, and playing complicated pretend games with ongoing plot lines with my sister. I felt like I was really hitting my creative stride in my teen years, when my peers were buried with homework and school and were "too old" for a lot of that stuff. I think they were missing out. I would still play "pretend games" if I could! But my writing now pays the bills, and I have loads of stories from my teen years that I still pluck ideas from to rework. To say nothing of the time to learn the things I wanted to learn. Whatever I was interested in, I could study to my heart's content, immersing myself in one or two subjects at a time, and I think it really helped me retain the things I learned. When I was in the early days of my anime/manga phase at 14, I learned to read and write the Japanese syllabary in one intensive day of study. In school, you'd just get a little time for this and a little time for that, whether you liked it or not.

What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
I think it really depends on the individual situation. But I did lack friends. The friends I did have were mostly the children of my mom's friends, which meant I didn't really get to choose them from a classroom pool, and even then I didn't see them often. The internet was a wonderful thing when that came along, but it still sucked having all my friends in other states! However...while people worry about homeschooled kids not having enough friends, I also skipped the negative side of being around a million other kids, like bullying or peer pressure.

Did you decide not to go to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience, and what (if anything) you decided to do differently instead of college?
I did skip college. At first it wasn't really intended to be forever, I just didn't know what to do with myself, but I did know I did NOT WANT LOANS unless I had a purpose for them. I felt like I needed some time to work, get out into the world, and figure out what I wanted to do. So I did. In my early twenties I visited a friend who was attending the University of Toronto, stayed in her dorm, sat in on some classes--got some serious college lust. Plus I'd hit upon the idea of getting a degree to become a librarian. So I started looking into schools and finances. As I was doing this, though, I was thinking about how what I really wanted to be was a writer. And I'd never really tried. So I dropped the college idea for the time being and gave myself a new goal: sell a book in four years, or go to college. I was 23 at the time, and it took me three years to hit the goal.

Are you currently earning money in any way?
Yes, I have now been a full-time writer for two years. It's not the most financially stable work, at least for a debut author, but so far so good, and it is my dream job. I have one novel on the shelves and two more done and sold.

What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
Prior to selling a book, I worked at a health food store, and before that, at Sears. (First job and all. Whee.)

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
I think unschooling helped me know that I didn't have to settle for less than joy in my working life. 

What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
It is honestly as hard for me to imagine what my life would be like going to school as it would be to imagine being born in some far-off country. It's had a huge impact and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
Don't be afraid if your kids seem to be playing all day. I incorporated all kinds of things into my play: Math! History! Music! But most importantly, I used stories and art to puzzle out the world around me as I grew, the big questions in life--love, death, war, religion, sex, gender...the list goes on. Taking in art, through books or movies or comic books or music or even video games, and making art through whatever medium(s) one prefers, is as necessary as breathing to being human. Art and stories are woven through the fabric of every subject, but I think sometimes school sucks things dry.

Don't be afraid if kids are bored sometimes. There is something on the other side of bored, and it's a wellspring of creativity and ambition that is all the better for a kid having to find it for themselves.

Don't be afraid if your kids don't seem to get as much social interaction as other kids. Contrary to current belief, children don't need to be around a group of children of their exact age all day every day to learn how to interact with other humans. In fact, I might argue that it's detrimental and artificial to do so, because the "real world" certainly isn't like that.


  1. Loved this, It made me feel more at ease about my own friend interation, as i'm someone who isn't a big social person but who loves to sit and dream.

    thank you :)

  2. "I think unschooling helped me know that I didn't have to settle for less than joy in my working life."


  3. Thank you for explaining how your loves and passions were the vehicles for understanding the big questions.

  4. this has been my favorite so far...the part to the parents was especially wonderful for me to hear.

  5. Wonderful interview, once again! I enjoyed it thoroughly, and thank you both for doing this. Lovely, and beautiful.

  6. It is so good to hear from all thes amazing grown unschoolers! Peter Kowalke at is also interviewing grown unschoolers and my recent blog post is with grown unschooler Kate Fidkis who is wonderfully articulate and fun. Do check her out and her blogs too!

  7. I can answer that "If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?" When Jackie was a little wee one toddling around the house, she was so delightful and I mean "Light full" and I wanted with all my heart to create a space of love where she could develop that essence to it's fullest. I wanted her to be able to be free, loved and have a chance to be, without coercion or corruption. The best choice for us was "being" at home. Also...Finding social situations was a greater challenge in those days than it is today. Homeschooling was barely legal in the mid 80's and very few people were doing it. Today, the support groups are common and full of kids. We were radical anti-establishment folks in most people's eyes. I had a teaching license at the time and that helped. Thankfully, that is no longer necessary.

  8. Once again I have to thank you for these interviews and thanks to Jaclyn for doing this interview! All of these are just wonderful!

  9. The last paragraph was awesome as I dread putting my 2yo son in daycare soon. I hope to read more from you soon.