Jul 7, 2021
Hi All! I am a nature enthusiast and aspiring adventurer and was born and raised in Sonoma County, California. I attended college in northern California and then spent five months in Massachusetts where I participated in an AmeriCorps/Student Conservation Association program to work on environmental education and complete trail work projects in 2010. I taught at the preschool level as a college student, which is where my passion for working with children was ignited. I possess my California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and taught kindergarten for three years, third grade for one year, and have also substitute taught in all of the elementary grades.
My identical twin daughters were born in 2016 prematurely at 30 weeks gestation, and I have greatly enjoyed focusing my energy on them over the last handful of years. Taking a step back from teaching in the traditional school setting and having children of my own has been an enlightening process. In this phase of life, my thoughts and perspectives on education have shifted immensely. This transformation has led me to the exciting, innovative, and inspiring world of self-directed learning and unschooling.
Thankfully, I have found my new place in education as a facilitator for Galileo, the amazing online self-directed global school. I am also an aspiring children's book author and hope to release my first book in the coming months. My family hopes to adopt a more fluid and adventurous lifestyle in the near future consisting of new and exciting places and experiences.
Jessica was an educator for several years, working with children in preschool thru elementary school. After having her twin girls, her perspective on education changed dramatically and she began researching and reading more about alternative education. She read ‘Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom’ by Kerry McDonald, Teach Your Own by John Holt and Pat Ferenga, and The Call of the Wild and Free by Ainsley Arment. She’s spent years immersing herself in alternative and self-directed education. She and her husband have chosen an alternative education path for their daughters when they become school-aged. She is so happy to have found an independent-study charter school in California where they live and they will be trying that out for the first year of school for their daughters. She has been so excited to find a job for herself as a facilitator at Galileo, a self-directed online global school. ($100 off your first month’s tuition if you mention Rogue Learner)
Jenna asks Jessica if there was a specific moment in her teaching career where she felt like something wasn’t working or she didn’t agree with the way things were done in the conventional school system? Jessica said she started out her teaching career teaching kindergarten. She was on a team of seven kindergarten teachers and found it difficult to implement some of her own ideas in the classroom because the more experienced teachers weren’t willing to try new things. They were stuck in their ways and not open to change. She found that difficult. She also said there were times when kids were labeled “difficult” or “low performing” based on the fact that they couldn’t sit at their desk for hours or didn’t know their ABC’s. Parents questioned her about that, and Jessica didn’t have a good answer for the parents. She was just doing what she was directed to do. She had a student in kindergarten who could already read, but couldn’t sit still. A third grade student she once had was an avid reader and would read his book during instruction. Jessica wanted to let him read his book, but felt as a public school teacher her job was to make sure he paid attention during her lessons, otherwise he’d miss something important. After she had her twins, she realized she couldn’t return to work in a traditional school setting. She didn’t want her own girls to be a part of the system, so she couldn’t imagine teaching in it herself. She thought about sending her girls to alternative schools like Montessori or Waldorf, but again, that wouldn’t give her kids the opportunity to really decide for themselves which learning style best suits them.
Jenna adds that she and her kids toured several schools as well; Montessori, Waldorf, and a Free School in Frankfurt. She says there seems to be an evolution that occurs in parents and educators where they realize kids don’t need them in order to learn. Some take a more gradual approach toward self directed education, while others dive right in from the very beginning. Jenna adds that having your own kids really helps you to see that kids are learning all the time and are naturally curious.
For Jessica, one of her “aha” moments was while listening to episode 11 and 12 of the podcast where Naomi Fisher talked about how even Waldorf or Forest Schools can offer a great alternative for kids who enjoy that style of learning, but again, it has its limitations because it doesn’t suit all learners. The best thing we can do is find the environment which is best suited for the individual needs of each child.
Jenna adds that as parents we need to be open to offering all the educational possibilities to our kids and let them decide for themselves which educational experiences are best for them. Whether that be through a Waldorf education or homeschooling, it’s our kids' journey not ours. We need to trust them to make the right decision for themselves and learn to adapt to them as their needs change. Holding back options from our kids is contradictory to an unschooling mindset because it’s a form of control. Jenna’s daughter decided to go back to school because she missed structure, working with classmates and having a set curriculum. She felt out of control when all the decisions fell on her shoulders. It was just too much.
Jenna can relate to her daughter’s needs for structure. Jenna says that when she went into entrepreneurship, she realized it wasn’t the best working environment for her. It requires a lot of self-determination, motivation, and keeping to a self-inflicted schedule. This is hard for her. If she was able to do her job as an employee, she thinks she’d probably prefer it because she thrives in environments where the schedule is set, her goals are clearly stated, and she’s surrounded by inspiring colleagues. Just as adults are given the chance to try varying work environments, children need the same freedom to explore educational environments and see which ones work for them.
Jessica says she thinks it’s so great that Jenna is giving her daughter the chance to discover what’s best for her. Jenna adds that she had the example laid out before her by her mother, who always let her make her own choices about school and trusted her as a teen. It was just the norm in her house growing up.
Jenna asks Jessica to share her first takeaway from the episode with Heidi Dusek, episode 020. Jessica’s first takeaway was how she related to Heidi’s comment about becoming a mom and feeling the pressure to decide between motherhood and adventure. We’re told in our society that we should get adventuring out of our system before we have kids, but Jessica thinks you can keep adventure in your life throughout parenthood. It goes in phases. Sometimes adventure just looks like going out to eat with your baby in their carseat. She shares how once her twin girls were one year old, they took a trip to Hawaii and it was tough, but the memories of that trip are still fun and she’s still glad they went.
Jenna talks about Heidi’s definition of adventure being any new experience or anything that feels a bit like a risk or that you could fail at it. Based on that definition, Jenna’s very first adventure as a mom was an outing to Walgreens with her son. It felt really risky at the time and she was swelling with pride when she got home.
Jenna’s first takeaway was about creating an environment where the kids can thrive. Jenna tries to offer up opportunities (without expectations) that lets the kids do what they will with it.
Jessica mentions her next takeaway was when Heidi mentioned how the community is a resource for our kids and provides our kids with meaningful social interactions. She also likes how Heidi mentioned the studies showing why some families don’t adventure together; in that study, parents revealed that they are afraid of not having the answers to their kids’s questions and refrain from adventuring with their kids because of it. Jessica notes how that’s similar to parents thinking they can’t homeschool because they lack the knowledge to teach their kids everything they may want to know. Jenna talks about how we need to rely on experts in our community to fill in the gaps where we aren’t able to instruct our kids, or learn it together. New experiences are not only useful to kids, but they can serve as valuable learning opportunities for the entire family.
Jenna talks about how being a parent of an 11 and 13 year old, she has to find ways to create shared experiences with her kids where everyone is a willing participant and that gets harder as kids get older. At least, that’s been her experience. They all have different interests and ways they like to spend their time. A shared adventure for her, may look like trying to play Fortnite with her son or doing a makeover with her daughter. Sometimes a fun shared experience comes from the parent taking risks or being uncomfortable, not the children.
Jessica says how she liked in the last episode how Heidi and Jenna talked about spending smaller chunks of time together that are meaningful as opposed to setting a specific amount of time to hang out together. She thought Heidi’s comment about quitting an activity while everyone is still having fun was a really valuable tip and a great reminder to parents to be flexible and adjust your expectations.
Jenna says there’s a real balance we need to strike because we know our kids, and that’s what makes each or our experiences unique. Sometimes our kids are not in a good mood, or aren’t dressed well for the weather, and it’s okay to end the trip early. But alternatively, we also know when our kids could benefit from a gentle nudge to keep going. Jenna shares a couple examples of when her kids have needed an early finish and times when everyone was having a good time despite the adventure taking way longer than anticipated.
Jenna mentions how Heidi talked about her experience with lockdown sort of gave her a peek into the world of homeschooling and provided her with the time to get to know her kids better. Jenna wonders how many families had a similar experience, because lockdown definitely played a role in kick starting the self-directed learning journey for her own family. Jessica says she has talked with so many families who found the system inflexible and learned that there are alternative methods to educate their children than through conventional schools, so she knows Jenna and Heidi are not alone. A lot of families saw their kids deep dive into hobbies and interests that they otherwise didn’t have time for. Families got a chance to get to know one another better.
Jenna says that she was frustrated when people argued that school is necessary for kids to have social lives, because school does NOT have to be the sole provider of social interaction. Jessica said her experience teaching actually illustrated how socialization in schools is oftentimes a negative experience. For example, she had a 3rd grade girl bullied for her weight on the playground. There are so many ways for kids to socialize, and homeschooling provides socialization across age groups and backgrounds, which research shows is actually better for kids. Jenna says she likes that homeschooling provides kids with the option to choose who they spend their time with, as opposed to being subjected to forced socialization where it can actually be detrimental to their wellbeing. (ie; bullying, criticism, austrosizing) Jessica thinks many adults can’t recall what type of socialization went on in schools and are slightly out of touch since they aren’t working in schools. Most of the time, teachers are actually discouraging socialization in the classroom because they have a curriculum to get through. Or, socialization is forced and controlled. Many times, there are negative consequences for students when they do want to socialize in class.
Jenna liked Heidi’s question for her kids; “what do you want this experience to look like?” Jessica also mentions how she liked the idea of creating “to go” bags or bins so you can just get up and go. She also thinks it’s important though, even with all that forethought and planning, to keep some level of spontaneity in your life. She mentions the book “Memory Making Mom” by Jessica Smartt as a great inspirational book for adventure, tradition, and spontaneity. As a planner, Jessica needs reminders to be spontaneous and flexible at times, so she found the book very helpful.
Jenna feels like her family doesn’t have any traditions to speak of. They change things up every single year, and she says as a multicultural family that’s moved to three different countries, she finds it difficult to repeat traditions year after year. It’s something she wants to work on because she does think they’re important. Jessica feels like simple adventures can become amazing traditions, and a bit unconventional. You have to see what comes up naturally for your family and not put pressure on yourself to do it every single year. Jenna laughs about how she doesn’t think her family has any traditions, but she’ll let the audience know if she thinks of one.
Jessica liked the simplicity of the RV trip Heidi and her family went on. Jessica’s family has recently downsized and they live very simply, so that part of the interview really resonated with her. Jenna agrees, she says the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to take care of. Since her family has moved so many times, they have to keep their possessions to a minimum too.
The episode with Heidi was recorded a while ago, and Jenna wants to mention how Heidi recently went on a trip to Hawaii with her family of five for just $500.
You can connect with Jessica on Instagram @jessicamcgough. Jessica also wants to let the audience know about InspirEd, a global online event hosted by Galileo Online School. The event will be for parents and educators looking toward alternative and forward-thinking educational models, like self-directed learning. Some of the guest speakers for the event will be Kerry McDonald, Naomi Fisher, Peter Gray, Pat Farenga, and Michael Saylor. Go here for more info about that event and to register for the inspirEd global summit. (Register before July 12th and it’s free!)
You can listen to the interviews from the global homeschooling summit 2020 hosted by Galileo here.
Teach Your Own by John Holt and Pat Ferenga
The Call of the Wild and Free by Ainsley Arment
Galileo, a self-directed online global school ($100 off your first month’s tuition if you mention Rogue Learner)
“Memory Making Mom” by Jessica Smart
Ordinary Sherpa - travel hacking with a family
Email me: email@example.com
Google Play: https://podcasts.google.com/search/rogue%20learner
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdCocbWsxxAMSbUObiCQXPg