My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.

I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.

Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Today was Woody's first dental examine. He wasn't thrilled about it, but he stayed. He opened and closed his mouth when he was asked. He laid down, sat up, and sat still for x-rays. He answered questions put to him about his teeth, how things felt, etc. But he didn't laugh at lame jokes (about school and girlfriends) or offer much conversation.

It was hard to watch, knowing as I did that he felt uncomfortable and that some of the things he was hearing about his teeth were difficult. But it was pretty amazing, too, to see him adapting to and making his way through the experience.

But the news was grim. Most of Woody's teeth have cavities in them.

I would be shocked about this had I not heard the same story from so many parents before me: he eats tons of fruits and vegetables, he drinks raw milk, he almost never has soda or juice, he brushes his teeth, he was exclusively breastfed as a baby, and yet, here we are.

I could (and will) be mad at myself for not trying harder with good brushing, flossing, and rinsing habits. If he fell asleep without brushing some nights, I wouldn't wake him back up to brush. We don't floss much. He doesn't like it and I'm not in a good habit of doing it myself. We don't rinse with mouthwash because, well, I was kind of hoping brushing was enough. I tried many of the tricks to make it seem fun for him in the beginning--picking out fun toothbrushes, singing songs while brushing, making it a silly whole-family brushing time, letting him choose the flavor of toothpaste, etc. But, tricks don't go far with Woody, and frankly, I ran out of steam for making dental health fun and entertaining. 

This topic comes up on the radical unschooling lists a lot, whether it's ok to use some measures of control to get kids to eat well and brush and floss teeth. The advice mostly comes in to try all the kindest ways you can to make it enjoyable, but then let it go. Dental care, the experienced unschoolers say, is expensive, but your relationship with your kids is worth more. In other words, if it becomes a battle to brush teeth, then you're stuck in a twice-daily power struggle with your kids, they come to dread dental care, and everybody's unhappy.

Still, I'm disappointed with myself now. Maybe he said no to flossing three nights in a row, but did I ask the fourth? Maybe we forgot to brush teeth when we woke up; did I try after lunch that day? Mouthwash. Why have I never bought it?

Some people think that dental health is mostly genetic, and Daddy Honey and I have crap to offer in that area. Between us, we're well suited to impart onto children good, sharp brains; shiny, thick hair; shapely limbs; broad, work-sturdy backs; emotional stability; and cavity-prone, crooked teeth. Of course, that said, Fox--he who eats little but pasta and bread, he whose body was awash with Hell's own cocktail of drugs just after birth; he who hides his toothbrush and has never flossed and who has--and not just once--been found eating sugar straight out of the jar with a spoon--does not have cavities. Even the decay I thought I could see in his mouth was actually corrected decay, decay that self-healed.

So, it's a mystery. A sad and very, very expensive mystery. Daddy Honey is in shock, and may not make very happy or coherent conversation for a couple of days.

I asked a lot of questions as they worked on Woody's teeth so we could both learn what was going on. He was reserved during the visit, but afterward told me he wasn't bothered about the cavities, that he was willing to do what the dentist recommended, that he really did not want his teeth to be rotten.

That seemed like a good place to me. Tomorrow we'll head to the co-op and pick out a mouthwash in a flavor he likes, and probably watch a few YouTube videos on good flossing.

It's disappointing, but it's not the end of life as we know it. We'll tweak our routines, fix what we can afford, and see what we can improve in the coming months.