The Art of Un-Schooling & Creative Living

 PC: Jenn Davenport Photography

PC: Jenn Davenport Photography

I met Alyssa Lillegard over coffee in 2011 where she officially became my wedding photographer. I'm not really sure how we went from photographer and client to mentor and mentee to eventual friends, but I'm so glad we did. She's been my family's photographer ever since, a sounding board as I built my business, and an encouraging voice through life's various seasons.

 PC: Juniper Tree Photography

PC: Juniper Tree Photography

Alyssa is a wife, boy-mom, and wedding and lifestyle photographer with 13 years of experience under her belt. She grew up in a creative family, and after watching a photographer work, Alyssa decided she wanted to be one as well. "I tagged along on a commercial shoot and sat in for the model while she was getting ready. I had the chance to ask the photographer of the shoot some questions and chat for awhile, took his words to heart and started working soon after. I photographed my first wedding in 2005," remembers Alyssa.

Having a mom who paints, art was a natural part of Alyssa's life and it led to her wanting to create from an early age. "I think, like with most photographers, capturing what is fleeting is what drew me in initially. Helping people exist in photographs. Iʼve always wanted to be an artist: My first grade 'What I Want to Be' photo has a drawing of me as a painter (is it weird that I remember the color of the beret I drew on my head? It was turquoise.). I quickly found out Iʼm horrible at painting but I did and do still love to draw... Iʼm interested in all areas of art, really, but photography seemed like a good fit for me. I love light, and spend a lot of my time just looking at the sky, or taking in the way the light settles into a room."

Alyssa's creative bent has led her to tackle teaching her two boys (ages 7 and 3) at home - something she never would have considered before her oldest, Jack, was born. "Ultimately, it boiled down to time and freedom. I know I sound like an overly attached mom but I wasnʼt ready to spend only evenings and weekends with my boys. Childhood is such a short period of a personʼs life, I really wanted them to have
that time preserved...I wanted them have the time to learn what and how they want.

"Jack is a deeply creative and emotional almost seven year old and I feel like he needs that time and freedom to really discover who he is and what he wants. He spends 95% of his day drawing and writing out his comic books and working on ideas. Dutch is a whirlwind child and has to constantly be moving. He loves the outdoors and has never met a stranger. In theory, his personality is one that would be successful in school, but Iʼm pretty sure heʼd be the child constantly being told 'school is not a place to talk, it is a
place to learn.' And his incessant curiosity would be hampered simply because a teacher canʼt cater to one child," says Alyssa.

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Alyssa hadn't planned on taking the "unschooling" approach to homeschooling. She started out like many homeschool moms do - on a strict schedule and fearful of her oldest falling behind. "We both spent the first two and a half months crying and arguing about why he wasnʼt interested in something. Josh (my husband) told me one night, 'I wasnʼt interested in this at six either, itʼs normal.' And really, what child is interested in doing something theyʼre being forced to do? I was doing exactly what I had wanted to remove Jack from."

The December Christmas hustle forced Alyssa to let go of the schedule and instead, she simply allowed Jack to play. They read, did crafts, drew, and played some more. "That is when I really started to see the transformation in how he could entertain himself," says Alyssa. "I stopped worrying about the things he wasnʼt interested in and started focusing on the things he IS interested in: art. Jack has a hard time focusing on things but his dedication to his art rivals dedication from any adult.

"As with anything in life, something different works for every individual/family," reflects Alyssa. "Having a strict schedule didnʼt work, right off the bat. I hear a lot of 'well kids will have to learn to do things they donʼt want to because thatʼs part of being an adult.' And itʼs true, we all do things we donʼt want to but I donʼt have to push my agenda on my kids when itʼs not necessary. Thereʼs no window that will close on them if they donʼt learn a certain math concept at 6 and instead they learn it at 8...or 9. Really, it wonʼt matter in the long run. The learning ship has never sailed."

Alyssa sums up her homeschooling goal in teaching her children how to learn so that they benefit from a lifetime of learning and curiosity. Her house is filled with books, music, and blank papers just waiting to be filled with art and ideas. "In the evening, I go around the house and pick up all the papers and books and thereʼs rarely a flat surface that doesnʼt have a book left on it," chuckles Alyssa. "We talk about different types of art and we spend most of our days creating. And our home is filled with music. Always. I want our boys to remember these days: where we lived and learned together. Itʼs rarely glamorous and often difficult but I hope theyʼll be happy they were unschooled when theyʼre adults."

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For the mom thinking of homeschooling, Alyssa insists, "You can do it. You don't have to have the patience of a saint. You can ask for help. Better than teaching is helping to learn and learning right along with them. You also can't do everything so don't keep doing something that isn't working for you or your child and is just making you miserable. This is your familyʼs journey. No one elseʼs. And if youʼre looking for someone to encourage you and talk to you about homeschooling, hit me up. Iʼm always up for listening and encouraging."

As for where Alyssa's photography business is heading, she says she doesn't know. "A month ago, I would have told you that Iʼm ready to be done. As all photographerʼs say, many many times throughout their career. Now, Iʼm feeling re-inspired. Iʼm reading a book called 'The Artistʼs Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children' and it talks about carving out the time for things that make YOU happy as a parent that fulfill you so you can come back to your life as a parent better." Alyssa still accepts photography bookings and you can catch a glimpse at her creativity by jumping over to her website by clicking here.

Whether you homeschool, un-school, or public school, creativity is a wonderful thing to pass onto your kiddo. If you have ideas or examples you'd like to share on how you encourage creativity in your children, please email me at junipertreephoto@gmail.com