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  • Writer's pictureMolly Mulvaney

Who is A Little Alaska for anyway?!

Hi there,

Starting A Little Alaska has made us ponder the reasons we want to do this, how we got to thinking about it, what it is we offer, how to let people know more about it, what our parenting style is, why we enjoy connecting with kids and countless other questions. I’ve been thinking about how to articulate some of those ideas and that has led me right here, doing something I’ve never done before and something I thought I’d never do; blogging. Oh my. Here goes.

One question we’ve been asked is why this adventure stay for small groups of teens in our home in Cordova, Alaska is targeted to unschooled, homeschooled and self directed teens. And do we welcome traditionally schooled teens?

Yes, we do. You don’t have to be an unschooler or homeschooler to participate in A Little Alaska. One reason we put it right out front that A Little Alaska is an adventure stay for unschooled and self directed teens is because we are unschoolers and as such, tend to give young people more freedom and responsibility than is usual when it comes to traditional camps and schools. We see ourselves as partners, not authority figures. We want to make sure parents and teens are aware of our philosophy and the freedom it affords. Of course our utmost priority is to keep kids safe; giving people freedom and responsibility doesn’t mean letting them loose in an unfamiliar setting to do whatever occurs to them.

One homeschooler and four traditionally schooled teens happily hanging out

It’s a challenge for me to articulate what I mean so I’ll use an example. I know a young unschooler who decided she wanted to go to a summer camp. She looked at many, researched them and decided on one. I was excited for her. When I saw her a few months after she attended the camp I asked her how it was. “Okay”, she shrugged. I asked her more about it. Turns out one of her main complaints was she couldn’t do anything by herself, if she went to the bathroom she had to tell someone and someone had to go with her. I felt for her and the loss of freedom she had. I’m not saying that type of oversight is wrong or bad. I understand many see it as a safety measure and, because it is the norm in the lives of many children, it’s not a big deal for them. But because my friend has been unschooled her whole life, she wasn’t used to that type of oversight and found it limiting and it spoiled her fun.

So one of the reasons we have designed this for unschoolers and self directed teens is to reassure kids, like my friend, that the oversight at A Little Alaska is similar to what they experience if they are growing up in an unschooled house or a house that gives children more freedom than our current traditional mainstream culture. At A Little Alaska you won’t need permission to go to the bathroom or require an escort.

Rest assured, Cordova, an unusually diverse, isolated community of 2,300 people is extremely safe. Most of us never lock our doors and tend to keep our car keys in our car. Kids safely range freely from a young age. In 2019, Cordova was, once again, rated the safest community in Alaska.

Free ranging kids in Cordova, Alaska

Because there is a fair amount of freedom to explore without us during your time with A Little Alaska, we want to make sure participants can handle that responsibly. If you haven’t experienced much trust and haven’t been given much freedom it can be challenging to suddenly have it. A case in point might be the excesses some college freshmen indulge in with their new found freedom.

What kind of freedom is there at A Little Alaska? Well, while adults participate in all daily outings in between there is often time to venture out on one’s own. For example, when some of us are cooking dinner, others might walk 200 yards to the beach or to the local park for a spontaneous game of ultimate frisbee. Just like I do with my family if I am leaving the house, I let them know I’m heading out, where I’m going and when I think I’ll be back. We expect A Little Alaska participants to be prepared to do the same. We also expect them to refrain from heedless or reckless behavior.

If you feel you’re able to handle and navigate a great deal of freedom responsibly and comfortably, and are motivated and conscientious, we welcome you to join us regardless of your schooling background.

There are more reasons we pitch this adventure homestay to homeschoolers. Most summer programs are targeted to traditionally schooled kids. Homeschoolers are welcome but they are likely to be and usually are, a small minority. At A Little Alaska we want to flip that. Of course, just as homeschoolers are welcome at traditional summer programs, non-homeschoolers are welcome to participate in A Little Alaska.

Why flip it? Well, as a homeschool parent (unschooling is one of many types of homeschooling), people often make a number of assumptions about our choice to homeschool. I also sense unspoken negative feelings about our choice. Admittedly, other people’s negative feelings can be hard to parce from my own insecurities. But then there is the spoken negativity. For example, our son attended first grade at our local elementary school. When we didn’t enroll him in second grade, I had a friend tell another friend, in my presence, that we did this because we didn’t like the second grade teacher. What?! Not only did I never say that, who the teacher was had nothing to do with our decision.

People rarely ask us about our choice to homeschool in a curious, tolerant way. In fact, most people never ask us about it at all. It was a bit lonely and isolating at first. Not for my son, he was involved in all kinds of things, had many friends and loved playing and learning at home. But I didn’t know anyone very well who was homeschooling. I had little real life assurance that what we were doing made sense and no one I felt very comfortable talking with who was doing something similar.

Over time I discovered online homeschool forums and my family attended unschooling conferences. At the conferences, we met people raising their children in a similar way. The negative vibes I sensed from family, friends and the public eased. People saw that we were still “normal” people and that our son was doing fine. Much of the questioning and judging abated.

Still those assumptions are out there. Just last week I had a conversation with a community member who I know slightly because this is a small town and pretty much everyone knows everyone. He asked how my son was and I said fine. He wanted to know what grade he was in and I said he’s homeschooled and we don’t keep track of what grade he’s in. He then asked what was so special about what we were doing and explained that his grandson was excelling in school.

See what happened there? He assumed that I thought what we were doing was special, that the local school system and what his grandchild was doing was not special and he was indirectly implying that I thought kids in it wouldn’t excel. Without losing confidence and getting upset (as I would have in years past) I remained calm and open. I said, what we are doing isn’t special; that school is a recent invention; that until recent times most children learned without school; that I’m glad it was working so well for his grandson; and, what we did worked for my son and for us. He said something along the lines of “Oh, I’m glad to know you don’t have an attitude about it. It sounds neat what you’re doing. I wish I could do that with my grandson because I just love spending time with him, showing him things, hanging out with him and watching shows like Peppa Pig with him.” I smiled and was grateful for the cordial exchange and his change in perspective.

For me, that small interaction illustrates some of several unspoken assumptions many non-homeschoolers make about homeschoolers. For the most part I don’t take it personally and have learned to navigate those interactions in a mostly calm, and I hope, graceful way.

It’s not just homeschool parents who deal with unspoken assumptions about our choice to homeschool. Homeschooled kids do too. Just last week my son, the only homeschooler in a small group of teens, misstated a fact. A schooled friend looked at the other schooled friends, smiled and said, “homeschooled.” It was a light hearted moment and no one took it in a negative way or was provoked by the exchange. But it happened.

My son has grown accustomed to being the only homeschooler in a room. It’s gotten easier for him. It’s been a long time since he has cried about being teased for being homeschooled. Fortunately that didn’t happen often. We’ve put time and effort into maintaining his friendships with schooled friends and, like his father and me, he’s met many kids at unschooling conferences and online who are being raised without school. I think that’s reassuring and reaffirming for him.

Teens hanging out at the 2019 Life is Good unschooling conference

I think my son’s experiences resonate for many homeschoolers. Like him, they’re puzzling out how to navigate the interface of their homeschool life with traditional mainstream school life. And while that is a skill that perhaps makes them adaptable and resilient (such a buzzword these days!), it’s nice at times to be in a setting where you aren’t one of the outliers. I think homeschool kids enjoy a break from traversing that terrain. That’s one reason A Little Alaska is targeted to homeschoolers. And just like homeschoolers often attend events that are mostly full of traditionally schooled kids, traditionally schooled kids are welcome to participate in A Little Alaska.

I hope you spot joy in your day. Sparkle on…


Molly Mulvaney is an unschooling mom with a part time law practice. She, her husband and teen son live in Cordova, Alaska. Their venture, a little alaska...BIG FUN, is a unique opportunity for small groups of teens to stay with them in an eclectic town on the edge of the wilderness. You are invited to join them for adventures and respectful appreciation of the natural world and our place in it.

Facebook @a little alaska


Pinterest: @a_littlealaska

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