Speaker Spotlight: Catina Sweedy

Today we’re hearing from Catina Sweedy, who will be speaking at the 2024 unConvention. You may remember her last year from her talk in Gameschooling which was a huge hit! Her commitment to honoring children’s autonomy and fostering a learning environment that aligns with their needs is truly remarkable.

The challenges Catina has faced and overcome, serve as valuable lessons for other homeschooling families. Her advice on approaching homeschooling as a team, listening to your children’s desires, and letting go of traditional academic expectations resonates deeply, and her emphasis on self-directed learning and the importance of youth rights is a powerful reminder of the impact parents and educators can have on empowering children to shape their own educational paths.

VaHomeschoolers: How were you first introduced to the world of homeschooling? What were some of the factors that led you to decide to homeschool your family (if applicable)?

Catina: My husband and I felt strongly that our children have agency over their lives from the very beginning, so when they became old enough to attend school, we asked them if they wanted to go. They both said no and chose unschooling for their entire K-12 school years. I continued to teach clinics (band) and after-school music lessons for the first eleven years of their homeschooling, and they occasionally came with me. Seeing what school was like even for a little bit each day played into their decisions along with their needs for personal autonomy, play, and to explore the world at their own pace.

What is a challenge you have faced in your personal homeschooling journey and how did you approach that challenge?

My biggest challenge was deschooling myself. In the beginning, I tried to recreate “school” at home, right down to a chalkboard on the wall and little desks. It quickly became apparent that we all preferred cuddling on the couch, lying on the beach, and listening to audiobooks and podcasts in the car. Letting go of academic “expectations,” compartmentalized learning by subjects, and the idea that I had to be an expert was a huge step for me as a homeschool parent with eighteen years of school under my belt.

What advice would you give to a family just starting out with homeschooling?

Approach homeschooling as a team. Ask your children what they want to be doing and offer to be their support staff. Work together on finding resources, adventures, and networking. Try to let go of the idea that you have to be the sole provider and authority of what they want to explore and “should be” learning.

Homeschooling can look very different from family to family. What are some tools/metrics you would suggest homeschooling families use to determine if their approach is working for their family?

I recommend asking your children this question: “What are you excited about learning?” “What have you learned that’s really interesting?” “Are there any things that you think you need to learn to help you reach a particular goal that you have?” “Are there any ways that I can support you?” 

It’s easy (and sometimes quite frustrating) to fall into the trap of comparing our children to other children, either homeschooled or not. Recognize that this is possible and care for yourself and your children as necessary (I actually block or unfollow accounts on social media when I notice that I fall into a negative spiral of comparison after seeing their posts). We are all different and on different learning journeys, abilities, and challenges, regardless of our age. Find your group of people where you can be safe and vulnerable about any concerns or questions you may have. Keep learning and researching about homeschooling, being a parent, and different learning and teaching styles. Keep evaluating what you are doing, and above all else, keep your children’s voices at the center of this discussion. 

What is a significant challenge(s) facing the homeschool community right now and how do you think we can address it?

I think one of the biggest challenges facing homeschooling today is one of its biggest opportunities. Unfortunately, there are still some families that approach homeschooling in a coercive and controlling manner. I believe that moving to a collaborative method of homeschooling and being a parent is possible, but it will take a lot of personal and cultural work. After all, as John Holt said, “To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”

Who are some of your biggest homeschooling influences and why?

My biggest homeschooling influences are Akilah Richards, Peter Gray, and Naomi Fisher, among many others. They focus on youth rights as a centerpiece of youth-created education. Children’s rights are human rights, and this is the primary reason why I chose to center self-directed learning for my children and why I continue to support SDE beyond my own family. 

Is there anything you are working on right now that you would like to let our guests know about, i.e. a book, a podcast, a blog or vlog, or any other type of project you are working on?

I am passionate about my work at Embark Center for Self-Directed Education in Leesburg, VA, where I am trying to get out of the way and amplify the voices, rights, and lives of young people.


We thank Catina for sharing her insights and experiences with us. Your dedication to nurturing a positive and empowering homeschooling experience is truly inspiring. Want to hear more or ask her questions? Come hear her speak, or visit the Embark Center for Self-Directed Learning booth at the 2024 unConvention on May 18th! 


This interview was conducted and written by Valerie Coker. Valerie is a homeschooling mom of three, including two with special needs. Homesteading in southwest Virginia, she volunteers as a coordinator for Luke14 Ministries serving families with disabilities, and loves teaching at her local co-op. We’re glad to have her as a volunteer for The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. 

Opinions expressed by individual writers in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers. Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction.

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