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Jul 21, 2021

Guest CoHost


Emily Gregoire


IG @the.rainbow.room_ 

YouTube @theunschoolingdiary


Holistic Microschool Owner/Creator, Unschooling/Multicultural family of 6, lifelong self directed learner with a deep respect for babies and children as creative, curious, natural learners. Heavily influenced by Montessori philosophy. Member of 100 Roads a group of educators and edupreneurs.


Show Notes


Emily got started in self directed learning years ago. In fact, she earned her degree in self directed general studies. When she had children, she realized she was going have to find a different way because her husband, who is a chef, had very abnormal working hours. She began reading and researching education styles that were more focused on holistic learning models. In Nevada, a program became available to individual students where they could receive $5,000 as a voucher to use for alternative education. Emily was really fired up and started forming coalitions and began informing people about this option, but the program sadly fell through. But the fire was lit, and Emily had met so many other like-minded families throughout the process that they decided to all work together. Her daughters became involved with what was Wildflowers Learning Studio from there. Sadly the teacher leading the learning center passed away from cancer, so Emily decided to carry on the torch. During Covid, she opened the Rainbow Room where she had 10 students in the mornings and 10 students in the afternoon. 


Jenna asks if it was difficult to find students for Emily’s micro school? Emily says it was interesting because the people who showed interest originally weren’t always the ones who actually registered. She found the best way to recruit students was through local mom groups who were looking for a learning model that could extend from their current nurture-based parenting methods. For these families, the concept doesn’t seem so wild because they’ve already done the research and have experience pushing up against the status quo. She doesn’t want to educate or sell parents on the idea, she wants to be the solution. She says she built the solution she was looking for for her own daughters. 


Jenna asks Emily to tell us about her children. Emily says she has 4 girls, Juliettta (9), Ophelia (7), Louie (5), and Lucianna (2). She grew up with 5 siblings and jokes that if it’s not chaos, it’s not parenting. She says her path was like collecting nuts through the forest. She read Free to Learn, which then lead to her reading another, and then another book. In the Rainbow Room, Emily tries to create a robust and healthy environment where you can’t help but learn. Jenna adds that being able to cater the environment to the students is what makes microschools really unique.


Jenna asks Emily to share her first takeaway from the episode with Mara Linaberger. Emily says it was great hearing Mara’s experiences and learning about all the different microschools that are out there.  Her favorite part of the episode was when Mara said that her vision for microschools is to create something where we can do all the best practices for students, all of the time. Emily highlights that anyone working with kids are most likely trying to do what’s best for their students all of the time, but because of all the demands and overload on teachers, it’s just like too little butter spread over too much bread. With microschools, you can better define what is working and what isn’t. She advises microschool leaders to under commit and over perform. She started out with a really small morning slot and let the school evolve over time into what it is today. She felt like that was a good way for her to keep true to her original concept for the microschool. Jenna says it’s much easier for a microschool to commit to and stay true to a vision because of the small number of students. That is the impossible dream that schools promise, but they can’t serve each student due to their size and the learning environment created with such a large population of kids. Emily kind of cautions microschool owners to really be clear on their vision and stick to it, because the fear of not having enough students or appeasing others could easily set things in a direction you didn’t intend on. When she meets with a family, Emily looks for that spark. It should feel like a perfect fit, she says she’s very heart-centered in the way works with the families interested in the Rainbow Room for their child. She was happy to see the Rainbow Room evolve to include 10 multilingual/multicultural families out of the 20 registered. 


Jenna says that one of her takeaways from the episode was that she sees microschools filling a need for kids like hers, who are searching for a consistent, stable and reliable community which they can be a part of regularly. Jenna adds that she thinks this is where microschools could be a wonderful asset to unschooling/homeschooling families. She asks Emily if she has had a lot of homeschooling or unschooling families reaching out to her for something like that? Emily says that that’s exactly what she experienced because when she tried to collaborate with families in co-op-style format, she had a lot of people excited at the beginning but then cancelling at the last minute or their enthusiasm faded. It was frustrating for her kids because they were looking forward to seeing other kids or learning something. She discovered that families were happy to pay for something reliable, which meant that Emily could prepare things for students and offer this social time for her kids without wondering if people were going to show up. And yes, to answer Jenna’s question, the families that are enrolled at The Rainbow Room are homeschooling/unschooling families who have signed a waiver in the state of Nevada stating that they are solely responsible for their child’s education. Emily adds that she also likes how she can incorporate structure but with freedom. They have certain routines each day, but they aren’t bound by the clock. Things can start and end with the natural flow of the kids’ interest or lack thereof. It’s a balancing act. 


Jenna had a flashback from her teaching days as Emily described the ebb and flow of their day in the Rainbow Room. She says it was often the case that she had to interrupt the kids during an activity because of the strict scheduling and alternatively, if the kids weren’t really interested in a certain activity, she had a difficult time finding a quick substitute activity to fill in the gap. Therefore, she experienced a great deal of wasted time. She sees how microschools and SDE learning centers have the huge advantage of flexibility and individualized planning. 


Emily shares how excited she gets when a question leads to another question and she can quickly pull up a YouTube video, grab a book or another resource and see where the learning goes.Emily says she likes to focus on the environment in the classroom first and foremost. That’s where most of her planning time goes. It’s funny how some projects she thinks the kids might really like are total flops, while other little classroom materials can lead to long investigations and self-initiated experiments. 


Emily shares how her insecurities crept up at the beginning around having “evidence of learning” for the parents to see. She wondered what she was going to show them. But then she realized that was part of her deschooling process and she had already had extensive conversations with these parents about their expectations, so it was a fear that wasn’t in line with the values of The Rainbow Room. She said it was very important to know that her and the parents were on the same page and why they were sending their kids to her microschool. She believes it is all about open communication with parents and clearly defining the expectations. Jenna says that on the flip side, it’s important for families looking into microschools to ask questions and make sure it is the right fit for their family and that it aligns with the SDE principles. 


Emily agrees and says that she’d love to see a space where there are multiple options for kids housed under one institution. One real example of this model exists in Colorado. They’ve taken an abandoned mall and converted it into a community college where people can attend sewing workshops and stem projects, or meet up to eat lunch in the food court. Her dream is to see a community space where many microschools come together and serve a greater community of people. Another example she refers to is Workspace Education. 


Jenna says that idea sounds nice for two reasons; first, the students would be immersed in a diverse group of people and would be able to view themselves as valuable members of a greater society. It also eliminates some ot the potential for groupthink within a really small microschool ecosystem. And secondly, it allows students the option to find a smaller community within that larger community space that works best with their learning style and goals. An example she shares is of how her son is thriving with this online self directed school he attends, while her daughter craves a space where she is known and she knows the kids in her classes well. 


Emily notes that she feels the same about craving a space that could work for families collectively. She dreams of a facility where we could cross-pollinate ideas and not isolate ourselves with our small groups of kids. She asks, can we not create these family, or rather human spaces, where people can work and learn and jive together - here we can socialize and play? She says she hopes that's the future. 


Jenna says she was just talking with a potential upcoming guest for the podcast about how we can make SDE accessible to anyone. Her very off-the-cuff idea was to make this look more like a community center. Jenna adds that it would be great to see a buzzing community of classes, workshops, etc offered by volunteers and paid employees or apprentices, and where each class is seen as vital to the wellbeing of humans as any other. So yoga is just as important as calculus and meditation is considered equal in value to reading. Jenna sort of jokes that perhaps this is a utopian dream, but she hopes it’s not. She hopes this vision becomes a reality. 


One of the things Emily mentioned with homeschool meetups is that there is a lack of reliability in them sometimes, which can be disappointing for kids. Jenna had a similar experience because her Wednesday meetup varied each week in terms of who could come, which meant that she couldn’t guarantee that her daughter was able to see her friends on a weekly basis. This did not work for her and oftentimes left her daughter quite sad. It really turned her daughter off from meetups and made it less inviting. Jenna says there’s flaws in that method, and sees the value in a more regular, reliable meetup like a microschool or SDE learning center. 


Emily says that in the workspace education group she mentioned earlier, which was inspired by her mentor Cath Phrase,  had the idea that families  would sign up together for a co-learning space and everyone would contribute. Within that same space, they provided the option for parents that worked to drop off their kids and have them attend an Acton Academy. She wishes there were more spaces which were open to that sort of thing. 


Jenna says that microschools and SDE learning centers could provide parents with a bridge to unschooling as they continue to deschool. She feels like perhaps part of the reason parents are scared to jump in feet first is because they have so much pressure to be and do all the things for their children. Jenna asks if there are any last takeaways that Emily would like to share from the episode. Emily says that she likes Maras model and would be happy to see more people opening microschools. She adds though, that there is more work needed with the legal side of things. She says it would be great if there was a plug and play language that could be used in every state to explain exactly what microschools are and require. The term “microschools” seems to be simple for people to understand, so it’s a good word to use to describe them. We just need some cohesive language about what they are and how they function so people can run them legitimately across all 50 states. 


Jenna says it’s what Mara was saying too, it’s very complicated because each state has varying laws about homeschooling and microschools. Jenna shares how she heard about Canada’s government providing homeschooling families with money to buy resources and such, but unfortunately by the time politicians were through with it, the stipulations on how the money could be spent made it impossible to use on resources that mattered to unschoolers. For example, families could buy textbooks which aren’t exactly applicable to unschooling principles. So yeah, we have to be careful when we vote for new laws that we know what it actually means.


Emily says that’s a really good point. We even have to protect our rights as homeschoolers. Who knows where it will all go from here. Jenna says she hates to leave on a negative note, but we can’t ignore the fact that there’s still work to be done and there are issues and we do have to fight for this. We need to be involved in our local politics and make sure laws are passed that only further the vision we have for our children.  


Helpful Resources Mentioned in Today's Show


Episode 002 Rogue Learner Podcast - An Educator’s Transition Away from Traditional Schooling


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