The pieces of my life's mosaic are many.... family, parenting, unschooling, social justice, community, faith, ethical issues and the environment. This blog will reflect a bit of everything, I imagine, all mushed up together, just like life is. The "glue" in my mosaic is the bit that's not always visible, but definitely holds it all together: the love, joy, peace & faith without which life would pretty much fall apart. The spiral signifies the ebb and flow of life around a central point, which for me is God.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unschooling Teens

So....... the big t.t.t.t.teenager question!! Many people feel confident to homeschool or unschool the primary years, but when it comes to the high school age group their legs turn to jelly! I guess I can understand this in a way. I mean, we all dropped out of school before the high school years didn't we? So we wouldn't have a clue, of course! But the truth is, most of us (if not all of us) went to high school and even graduated from high school, but somehow we don't feel confident to walk through these years alongside our teenagers. We can so easily sit in a place of fear, biting our nails, and looking anxiously over our shoulder to see how everyone else is performing, and looking at our own child, wondering if they'll "turn out okay".

The truth is, though, that if they know how to find out answers to their questions, and they have curious minds, THEY. WILL. BE. OKAY!! In fact, they will be more than okay, they will thrive!!

But here is the disclaimer: it might not look anything like you expect it to, or like you hoped it would! My husband had expected that our kids would grow up to be academic types, following the traditional university route, but at this point in time, that doesn't seem to be the case. And you know what? It really doesn't matter! The world needs a huge variety of people to make it interesting, and to make it function well. I don't see any of us telling the garbage truck driver to leave the bin on the side of the road thanks, we're happy to take it to the tip ourselves every week! My teens aren't planning to drive a garbage truck for a living, but you know what? Someone has to have that job, or we're all going to bemoan the day we thought "everyone should go to uni". Of course, we all want our children to be "successful"; but it's helpful to think about what success really means!

So what about my teenagers?? Well it's a long time since we've done any kind of traditional "school work". My oldest just turned 18 (how did THAT happen!!) and he left school when he was in Year 5. My second oldest is 15 and he left school when he was in Year 3. Since then (after about one week of grade level, schoolish workbooks), our life has really been totally free-form, free-ranging, come-what-may..... We've done what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it. We've been to interesting places, done interesting things, met interesting people, and also done a whole lot of ....... NOTHING!

And you know what? I think teenagers really need the opportunity to do that! Or NOT to do it, as the case may be! :)  Time to daydream, sleep in, stay up late, eat lots of food, read books & magazines (or not), sleep in, play games of all types (yes, including the electrical kind), sleep in, hang out with friends, eat lots of food, spend long days at the beach, sleep in, go to the skate park, kick a football around, eat lots of food, join a gym, sleep in, watch movies, eat lots of food, explore their interests, go on family holidays, sleep in, ..... Oh did I mention food?? And sleeping???

Seriously, sometimes it feels like teenagers (well, boys at least, I haven't had a girl teen yet) go to sleep as boys one day, and wake up about 2 years later all hairy and with deep voices. (And sometimes the hair is a bit on the wild side!!)

Somehow they manage to get up for food, but apart from that it can seem that for quite some time they're not doing much else. And you know what? That's OK! In fact, I think it's probably exactly what they need.

And it's exactly what they usually DON'T get if they go to school. I am so glad my boys have had the chance to take life at their own pace, rather than being swept along in the madness and driven-ness of school and all the extra-curricular activities. I still remember the sadness I felt when watching an SBS documentary where they were trying to help a teenager who was very depressed and had been suicidal. He was having trouble sleeping, and having trouble getting up for school. They tested him and found that he had "delayed sleep phase syndrome". The solution they prescribed included light therapy etc, to try to get his body clock to be more synchronised with the hours of the school system, so he could cope with getting up for school etc. He tried the therapy for awhile but did not stick with it. At the end of the program there was a discussion with the psychologist and the boys' mother, and the comment was made that he "simply has to go to school" so they had to do whatever they could to get him through. I thought it was tragic, and I'd hate to think how they would feel if he ended up acting on his suicidal thoughts. I beg to differ about the idea that he "has to go to school". He could leave school, and live in harmony with his natural sleep patterns! I imagine they didn't realise homeschooling or unschooling was a valid option? I know that I would never make my child stay in a situation where they were depressed and suicidal because they were so chronically tired. And I am so thankful that my teenagers have been able to sleep when they're tired, and get up when they've had enough sleep. And you know what? They spent a lot of time sleeping in very late, but they're also very capable of getting up at the crack or dawn or before, if they want to go for an early surf, or if they have to be at work early, or if they just decide they want to get up earlier. No problems.

There's also another aspect of adolescence that seems vital, and that's having the opportunity to do something REAL, that matters. Schools do this by offering leadership opportunities, etc, but this will only suit the cream of the crop. The vast majority will be going through the motions that have been chosen for them. What I love about unschooling teens is that they get to do what matters - to them! It's authentic, it's real, it's usually self-initiated (yet supported by their parents where necessary or helpful)! They get to be true to themselves, and really get to know themselves, their likes and dislikes & their interests (without being limited to school type subjects, or having to choose electives that are on the right strand, or that the school offers).

For quite awhile it seemed that my teenagers' only "subject" was bodyboarding! Outside of that it seemed they just "loafed around", spent time on Facebook, watched TV etc. I felt concerned for awhile. OK, I admit it, I was very concerned. I was worried that they "weren't learning anything". I kept suggesting things they could be "doing" but was usually met with a less-than-enthusiastic response. I kept trying to think of ways to bring more things into their life in keeping with their passion. I subscribed them to bodyboarding magazines (English: check), I bought a book they seemed interested in called "The Science of Surfing" (English/Science: check) etc...... I'm sure those things helped, but what was most important, I think, was to really learn to TRUST. Not to fear.

I am so glad I didn't interfere out of panic. I offered lots of ideas and possibilities, and I learned (eventually) not to judge their "No thanks" answer, either with a sigh or rolled eyes (I didn't even realise I was doing that until they pointed it out, because it was very subtle).

My now 18 year old son (as of a couple of days ago) decided a couple of years back that he REALLY wanted to get his "Year 10 Certificate" through the TAFE system. This came about mostly because all of his friends from his work went to school, and that's what they were doing. They were getting that piece of paper that said they'd made it to that level of education. My son placed a lot more value on it than I did, I have to say!. I tried to encourage him to study a specific subject area at TAFE, rather than the "General Vocation & Education" course that was the equivalency to Year 10 at school. But he was absolutely determined. He started off studying by correspondence but realised that didn't suit him, so the following year he applied to go to TAFE face to face and complete his studies there. And you know what? He THRIVED. His teachers rave about him, referring to him as their "best student", and he has finished off the year with distinctions in most subjects. Personally, I found the TAFE system to be a good follow-on from unschooling, because the students are treated as adults and with a lot more autonomy than the school system can give. Admittedly, most kids his age have completed their next level of schooling, but I honestly don't think that matters. My son has enjoyed a rich and interesting adolescence, and he has chosen of his own volition to get this formal qualification. He how has a few eggs in the basket and he's not sure which one he will act on. He is applying for an apprenticeship, he has applied to do a Certificate 3 in Fitness at TAFE, and he's doing a Barista course later this year. These are all things of his own choosing. In fact, I didn't even realise he'd started the proceedings for procuring an apprenticeship until after it had happened! He has also entertained the idea of perhaps studying teaching at uni (which is kind of funny!) or even the police force. I can really see him doing any of these things, and he has the determination and perseverance to achieve whatever he sets his mind to.

My 15 year old son ended up getting a job at McDonalds when he was 14 (his big brother had done the same thing), and while he was still 14 he was promoted to crew trainer. After 6-12 months he'd had enough of that type of work and decided to leave. When he told his boss at work that he was considering leaving and going to TAFE, his boss really didn't want to let him go, and convinced him to study a Certificate 2 in Retail through his work. My son, being the wise one that he is, decided it seemed logical, since they would supervise his course and also pay for it! He's almost finished that Certificate now. They said it would take 2 years. It has taken about 3 months. Now he's decided that he's very keen to get into the cafe scene, so he is going to do a barista course, and has applied to study a Certificate 3 in Hospitality at TAFE next year. He's been looking up to see how far he can go with studies in that subject area, because he'd probably like to go to uni one day. He's very keen to explore the possibility of owning or managing a cafe, too. He's also contemplated the idea of counselling, which doesn't surprise me, because people are often turning to him for advice, support and encouragement. He is incredibly insightful, perceptive and intuitive, with a deep understanding of human nature and behaviour. And that would come in really handy in the hospitality industry too. In fact, it's a skill that will help him immensely, no matter what he decides to do.
I feel so blessed to have had these boys at home throughout their teenage years. Well, not always at home! Often gallavanting around the countryside! But I'm glad that home has been their base, not the schoolyard. I'm glad they've been free to be themselves, and to now step out and explore various opportunities for study and work outside of the family unit. It has not been a bed of roses, and living in close proximity can at times put stresses and strains on the familial relationships, but when all is said and done, I wouldn't have done it any other way. I don't know what the future holds for them, but I know it will be just what they want it to be, which means it will be wonderful.

It will be interesting to see if there are any differences in terms of process and outcome with my younger two children, who have never been to school.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Unschooling Conference Grand Finale

Wow, I can't believe it's over!!! This conference has been such an inspiring, wonderful, amazing experience. I feel so privileged to have met such wonderful, incredible people, and to have been inspired by some brilliant talks. It has been like a breathe of fresh air, a pause, a reinvigoration for what lies ahead. So the conference has ended, but life goes on, and will be richer, more exciting and more wonderful because of it!

Our first session today was so fantastic! It was another Dayna Martin Q & A session, called


There are two aspects of unschooling: the education aspect and the parenting aspect. Strangely, many people find themselves more quickly embracing the educational aspect, than the parenting one. Perhaps it is because their own school experience was anything less than ideal, that they are able to embrace the idea of learning naturally from life and the world around us. The parenting thing tends to be harder to shift for many people, though. We often parent as (or in reaction to) how we were parented, and it can be very hard and very fearful to let go of control. It's as though we subconsciously believe that control = love.

Dayna's was promoting a style of parenting she terms "Parenting in Partnership". It is based on mutual respect, and meeting the needs underlying behaviour, and being conscious/mindful of our responses to triggers from our children, and choosing to respond the way we WANT to parent, not just mindlessly and reactively. Authentic parenting is being yourself.

We often think that the quickest way to peace is control, but working through issues in partnership with our children is actually more productive and peaceful. It might not equal instant behaviour change, but it does result in a partnership of mutual trust.

It helps to be aware of the intention we are setting. If the kids fight a lot and we expect that they will keep doing this, and put all our energy into resisting or resenting this, guess what we will have more of? It is better to set the intention at the beginning of the day for peace. And to plan to be more intentionally engaged with our children during the danger times when we have noticed problems in the past.

It is totally ok to voice what your needs are, just as it is imperative to respect our children's needs. It's not about never getting angry, or the children never fighting. If we expect that kind of reality, we will suffer more when it is less than that.

When children are granted limited freedom that they fear will be taken away at any moment, they will naturally spend all their energy on using (or eating) as much of that thing as possible while the freedom is still there. When children really have true freedom they will find a balance. Inconsistent freedom will create a child who has extreme responses.

Regarding mutual respect, some unschooling parents let the pendulum swing to the complete opposite end of the spectrum from controlling authoritarian parenting, so that instead of parents abusing kids, it's the kids abusing the parents. Men and women can tend to react very differently to a situation where, for instance, a child hits or kicks a parent. Most men agreed they would be more likely to hit or kick back, instinctively, whereas most of the women felt that was completely unnatural for them, and they would be unlikely to do it. Dayna said that she would be more likely to say, "Hey did, what are you doing? I don't like that. Please don't hit me!!"

We had an interesting discussion re "backtalk". Our expectation, based on social conditioning, is that whenever kids "talk back" it is WRONG. But children do have a right to express themselves. It feels uncomfortable to us as parents because we were usually not allowed to express our thoughts freely when we were children. It can help to examine our own childhood. In the heat of the moment in particular, a child (and an adult!) may not have the emotional energy or time to remember social niceties, especially around their mother, with whom they usually feel the greatest level of emotional safety, and hence it tends to be the safest space to express those emotions! Later, if not treated punitively in the heat of the moment, most children will go to their mother (or whoever it was) and express sorrow about what they said or did.

If a baby is crying, do we think they are being rude, or trying to communicate with us? It is the same with children, who are actually closer in age to a baby/toddler than to an adult. Yet, we often expect adult behaviour from them.

What children say (or think or feel) is their stuff.
What we say (or think or feel) is our stuff.

Unconditional love is responding to them unconditionally. Responding out of love, just as though they'd spoken so sweetly to us. If we can "hear" them asking in the sweetest voice and respond with joy and love, this tends to diffuse the intense energy and create more peaceful communication. As parents, we are often so focussed on HOW our children ask us for something, that we forget to focus on the actual need, which is actually very disrespectful on our part.

If someone is acting bad, they're probably feeling bad.
Hurting people, hurt people.
If we can respond with love and compassion, we are meeting their deepest need for love & acceptance.
If we can respond lovingly to the need under the words/behaviour, we will build relationship and peace.

I need to start with me.
I can then extend this same kindness & respect to my partner, children, extended family, friends, etc.

Often mothers and fathers parent very differently, and for the most part children can be very flexible in terms of how they respond to the two different styles. We need to be careful not to assume they are upset about it.  If we are feeling emotionally distressed about the way our partner is treating the children, it can help for us to talk to our partner in an excited, positive way, whilst showing love and compassion towards them. It can help to consider, "Would I speak that way to a friend?"

It is helpful to analyse the times we say no. Often the damage done by our controlling, negative "no" is greater than the damage that might have been caused by the eating of the ice cream before dinner etc.

Re food, buffet dinners where children get to have some power over their food choices are often the most mutually respectful style of family meal. Make sure you include at least one food that you know each person will like. Better to invite people to the table, rather than force them to it. Often Dayna and Joe will sit at the table to eat, and the children will usually prefer to eat with them anyway, because they want to be where the love is.

Re training for obedience, Dayna talked about how children who are trained to do exactly what an adult tells them to do are at much greater risk of abuse, than those who are allowed to have free thought and free expression. So they are in fact less safe, even though their behaviour might be more "desirable" in the short term. She told a story from her childhood when someone stopped in a car alongside her, was "inappropriate" and told her to get in. She was actually about to do so, when her brother rode by on his bike and the distraction saved her. She fully felt like she "should" just get in the car because she was being told to. I don't know an unschooled child who's been raised with authenticity and respect who would do that!

The best thing to do to create a partership paradigm in our parenting is to set the intention and watch how it unfolds! Amazing things can happen!
Brit Stephenson did her first ever talk & it was wonderful! I learned so much. although it's really just helped me to see that there is so much more to learn! This talk really only touched on the surface. The first thing she talked about was how our brain processes sensory input. Basically (and this is REALLY basic - for my more scientifically knowledgeable readers, please feel free to correct my terminology!) you have:

Neocortex: processes thoughts
Amygdala: processes emotions

Apparently, the amygdala processes emotions more quickly than the neocortex processes thoughts. So when we're under stress, our responses will tend to be emotional (and often instinctual based on childhood experiences). Our emotional and thought responses balance each other out, especially if we can think about our emotional reponses and analyse them & then choose what to do as a response of both).

Emotional pain = energy. Disharmony tends to flow freely before it settles into a solid state after time.
Good clarity of thoughts indicates that our emotions are in a clear state.
Poor clarity of thoughts indicates a need for emotional processing. If we don't, a more substatial state of disease can be manifested.

An example discussed was with the gut. There is apparently a strong link between internal and external environments, and this is central to our health. Our gut flora is affected by our emotions and thoughts and may have difficulty surviving and flourishing is there is a constant input of stress and trauma. Then, due to the changes in the gut flora, we will be less well protected against incoming unhealthy foods, and we also won't be as well nourished by healthy foods. A good example of this is nervousness making us feel sick.

We often don't WANT our instinctual emotional responses, so if we take the time to process them, we can start to change our wide neural networks.

In "Heart to Heart Parenting", Robin Grille talks about how our body has an "emotional memory".

A lot of children's behaviours are copied from us. And our childhood emotional memories can be triggered by watching our children go through similar situations, in which case our instinctual response is often to respond as our parents responded to us. (As an aside, this reminded me of the brilliant book, "Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves" in which Naomi Aldort recommends a method called SALVE - in which, prior to responding to our children with Attention, Listening, Validation & Empowerment, we do some Self-Investigation - similar to Byron Katie's "The Work" where we stop and consider what's going on in US in response to our child so we can Separate ourselves from our instinctual response and choose to be the parent we want to be in that instance - and if we don't have time to deal with it at the time, just quickly tune in, shelve it and come back to it later if we need to process it more deeply). We can learn so much from our children, and the experience of parenting them! For instance, we can either pass on our own emotional baggage to our children unconsciously, or we can choose to consciously learn from our children's emotional responses and our responses to them.

A very helpful thing to do is to reduce stress, so we can see more clearly and respond more intentionally. We need to give ourselves TIME, because under stress we will respond instinctually, whereas stressless living leads to intentionality. Our unconscious selves can dominate us unless we create TIME to process.

It is really important not to block our children's expressions, so that they can be healthy, but to help them process their stuff in ways that don't interfere with someone else's freedom. Behaviour is a form of communication. Our children are speaking through their behaviours, they are pre-verbal expressions of needs and emotions. We can help bring the needs and emotions into our child's consciousness with our compassion and empathy.

Recommended books included Robin Grille's "Heart to Heart Parenting" & "Parenting for a Peaceful World" and Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence".

Recommended therapies were aromatherapy, flower essences and meridian therapies such as TFT (Thought Field Therapy - similar to EFT), acupuncture etc.

Thanks Brit :)

Next up was..... THE UNSCHOOLED KIDS PANEL!! And they rocked, let me tell you! It was so fun having them up the front in charge of the microphone and answering people's questions.

I only heard half of this talk, planning to take a break during this talk because it was in the lunch break, but some of what he said was catching my ears, and I decided to sit in. This is what I picked up:
Instead of thinking "What should I eat?", become conscious of what your thoughts and emotions are. Our intuition gets damaged and conditioned as we grow up, and it changes our perception of the world. Instead of evolving every moment, we follow rules, what we "should" do etc. It helps to be AWARE of the dysfunction without judging it. We are all fully capable, and where we are at today is okay, so long as we keep evolving. No matter what IS, we can do anything with it. Quinn has just released a book that looks quite interesting. It's called "Full Spectrum Health: Do You Want to Just Survive, or are you Ready to Thrive?" To find out more, check out his website.

Dayna's next session was a heavy one, and very personal.

Firstly, Dayna shared her life story, and let me tell you, it was not a bed of roses. From her mother abandoning her family, to her step father & his new partner abusing her, to her running away and being locked up in a psychiatric institution for being an out of control "run away" (even though she ran to escape the abuse), it was anything but an easy life. She shared about her journey to radical forgiveness of her mother and other family, although she chooses not to have all of them in her life. What was most challenging about her story was that she has come to accept responsibility for her part in the journey, and does not stay stuck in a blame mentality at all. In fact, she chooses not to talk about this part of her life very often, simply because she prefers to stay focussed on the present, and all the possibility of this moment onwards.

She recognises that she wouldn't be who she is today, and wouldn't be married to Joe or have her 4 beautiful children, if those experiences had not happened to her, so she is able to be grateful for it all. She has such a deep appreciation for her life because she knows the contrast of pain and joy.

She talked about the difference between "blame" and "taking responsibility". She doesn't blame herself for what happened, she just understands it now, and what led each of the people in her childhood to act the way they did. Blame and guilt lead to more of the same negative feelings. She believes she was a co-creator of what happened, and that everyone was getting their own needs met in their own dysfunctional ways. She was a player in the act, but it wasn't about her.

It was a beautiful story of grace and forgiveness, and moving on to a wonderful life.

The very final session was by Beverley Paine and it was titled:
There are so many similarities between the philosophies of permaculture and natural learning, that Beverley is considering writing a book about it! Permaculture is a design/paradigm for living. It is working with the flow of nature. It is about self-reliance, observation, abundance, diversity, hidden yields, and the interconnectedness of all things. It is also about using the resources at hand and being resourceful, and keeping close the things which we use or harvest the most. She talked in particular about the "edge effect" - the interface between two elements or zones, where there is sometimes conflict, competing needs, excitement and something to learn. If we don't understand the needs, there will be poor growth. Toxic overload leads to breakdown. Just as in permaculture, it helps to understand the nature of the child and their environment and what their needs are. Natural learning is like organic parenting!

Our closing time was a beautiful celebration of what the 5 days had meant to different people, and it finished with a spontaneous, big group hug in the middle of tent!! :)

I'll finish up this loooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggg group of blog posts with some random photos from the Conference. And I will go home from this place refreshed, energised, rejuvenated, inspired, loved and confident. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the organisers and everyone who came!! :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Unschooling Conference Day 4

Ah.... another day in paradise! And what a day it was!!

First up was a really beautiful, inspiring session on Consensual Parenting & Playful Parenting

consensual living
First up it was about living consensually with our children. I read a really interesting book called "Winning Parent, Winning Child" last year, that was really all about this topic. I found it a challenging read, and it was easy to keep saying, "Yes, but what about......" and yet, I also found that the book was quite transformative in my parenting journey. I've also found the general principles of NVC (Non Violent Communication) to be really useful in living out this life, so this session was one that I found myself doing a lot of head nodding in. :) Here's my summary of what was shared......

The idea is to focus on the needs of all people, not just the parent, or just the child. It is good to look for and believe in the infinite possibility of meeting everyone's needs. Sounds impossible, huh? That's what I thought, but it really isn't! All needs are valid, but we are not responsible to meet someone else's needs (I don't imagine this applies to those parenting young children?). The basic principles of NVC:

  • Observation (as though through a video camera lens) of what you see, hear etc (no judgment or evaluation)
  • Feelings (What am I feeling? What is the other person feeling? Empathy is so important, both for the other person, and also self-empathy!)
  • Needs (of both parties)
  • Strategies (there are many possible strategies for meeting needs - and this is where the consensual possibilities come in! It is important to hold our strategies loosely, and realise that there are many, many options, and if one doesn't work, we can always try another one.)
  • Requests (where we ask the other person if they'd be willing to try one of the strategies)
The "language" (which isn't always said aloud) goes something like "When I see (or hear)..... I feel.... and I need..... Would you be willing to......?" It is also really important to have a guess at what their feelings & needs might be, to reflect back what they're saying in a way that helps get to the needs below the feelings & strategies, so that you don't inflame them & cause the child to only focus on the strategy they're wanting. We  we will often have to brainstorm together about some various strategies (rather than just suggesting one). One of the criticisms of NVC is that the language can be a bit rigid, or artificial sounding, but the idea is to use the principles, rather than insisting on a 100% "accurate" wording.

Sometimes a problem brought to us by our child doesn't even have to actually be resolved! We need to stay present, rather than blowing it all out of proportion and getting caught up in judgement or drama. Often empathy is all that is needed!!

Then, in answer to someone's question about difficulties on car trips with her children, the idea of "segment intending" was discussed. This was a new concept for me so I had to look it up to get more understand, and found this webpage helpful. The idea is to visualise the expected stressful time, visualising calmness, kids playing quietly in the back seat, peace, quietness etc....

I've learned a bit about NVC previously, but I've never before heard of the "Tree of Life" as it relates to this philosophy. It's a visual tool to help us keep on coming back to focussing on the roots of the tree (feelings & needs) before going back out to the branches, where communication etc is required.

Next we looked at PLAYFUL PARENTING:
We talked about why it might be that so many of us find it incredibly hard to really get down and play WITH our kids, authentically and without inhibition. Perhaps we weren't played with much as a child, so it is unfamiliar, and perhaps it's just that we've gotten too caught up in our adult responsibilities? Whatever the cause, the need to play is imperative, both for our children and ourselves. 

Children play. It's what they do! But as adults, we've often lost the art of it. When we really connect and play with our kids, we are actually engaging in self-nurture because we are letting go of some of our inhibitions and really connecting with our child and also our inner child.

Whilst it can be hard to fully let go of our inhibitions, it is so worth doing because it is liberating and connects us with our children. Pam Leo, of "Connection Parenting" says that if we observe our child playing we give them attention (which they love), whereas if we play WITH our children, we give them connection, which they need.

Some parents use tickling as their first form of playful parenting, because they get a quick laughing response, but the problem is: it's not authentic laughing. Tickling can be a useful form of connecting play, but only if it is asked for, and if we stop when asked to stop. In fact, then it can be awesome!

Baby steps are ok, so long as they're heading in the right direction. We might not be able to easily visualise ourselves being inhibited enough to let loose in a game of wild imaginative play with our children, but if we can at least start off with playing in a way that feels easy for us, we will be meeting one of our children's deepest needs, and also one of our own! Some adults actually go to workshops to try to let go of some of their inhibitions and "adultness" - we can get the same or better results from simply playing with our children! And it's free!
In the words of one of the dads: "When you see parents really playing with their kids, it's the coolest thing in the world!"

The next session was a panel on UNJOBBING, which was a new term for some people. Basically, it means not working for someone else, but providing our own income. 
It was amazing how many families in the room live this way! So many self-employed people and alternative lifestyle people. Living outside of the normal systems of our society in more ways than one. And just loving their freedom! For most of them, the key thing has been two fold: doing what they LOVE, and cutting back on expenses. Do I really need this, or do I just want it? And if I do really want it, is there a way of having it that doesn't involve a cash purchase. We are limiting ourselves if we think that money is the only way to get something. The ideas of trading, barter and the LETS system were discussed, and everyone agreed that these are great ways of supporting this lifestyle! Even food can be free, for the most part, from growing our own fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables, to saving seeds, picking wild produce, bartering with others, etc

If you are doing what you really love to do, and you would do it whether you got paid for it or not, then you can earn money for it and live in material abundance. But if it's something you'd do regardless, then you can still do it and live a fulfilled life, even if you have a smaller house, older car etc. Allow your passion to be your guiding force, not the love of money. Feeling a sense of having "enough" brings contentment. Anything on top of that is a bonus.

On a practical level, being resourceful is imperative. Multiple streams of income can be very beneficial, as can passive (eg. writing a one-off book that keeps making you money; finding a way of making money that doesn't really take more time - eg. Dayna offers child minding in her home & the kids play more happily together because of caring for one or two younger kids.) You can make money from anything you're good at. Facebook and other Social Media can help you get it out there. Setting up a website is a fantastic way to start. You can print business cards cheaply through Vista Print. Often it will help to offer your services for free to one or two people first, so you can get some testimonials to help get some flow of business happening.

It really helps to have a vision of the life we want to live, and our goals we want to achieve or BE.

There was lots of discussion about the idea of everything being energy, and the energy of abundance, but these are such new thoughts for me that I think I would do them a disservice to try to put it into words yet! I will try to write some of it though (the bits that made more sense lol!):

The energy of GIVING is very powerful. When you give out the energy of giving, you open yourself up to receiving that same energy in return. We can truly access pure, unlimited abundance.

When we have negative associations with money (eg we have strong negative feelings when the bills come in, etc) we will keep living in lack. If we have positive energy associations with money, we will have a YES energy towards money, and we will live in abundance.

Money is really just a mental construct. The coins and paper we have chosen to use as a monetary representation of value is really just a form of trade. It really helps to start thinking beyond coins and paper money.

Believe in yourself.
Know you can do it.
Don't let other label you or put you down.
You can create your own life out of what you want to do.
If you are working in your area of passion & interest, you will feel good and send out positive vibrations, and then more will come.

At lunchtime we had a WOMEN'S SPIRITUAL CIRCLE. It was such a beautiful, bonding time. No more shall be spoken of here. :)

Afterwards we learned about THOUGHT FIELD THERAPYTFT Energy Tapping helps people suffering from a variety of psychological problems. Dr. Callahan's Thought Field Therapy works for anxiety and stress related fears. Meridian EFT Tapping alternative
This is the "grandfather" of energy psychology (EFT - which some people have heard of - came out of TFT). Basically, "When applied to problems TFT addresses their fundamental causes, providing information in the form of a healing code, balancing the body's energy system and allowing you to eliminate most negative emotions within minutes and promote the body's own healing ability."

It comes quite highly regarded by many people. For instance: “What’s fascinating about TFT is it’s quick, painless and it’s success rate is almost unheard of in the field of mental health in any type of treatment over this whole century.”  Shad Meshad, President, National Veterans Foundation & Founder and Author of the National Vet Center Program. Of course, he IS  a vet, but I'm pretty sure he was talking about the mental health of humans lol. And there are plenty of other rave reviews out there anyway. I was basically being lazy just copying the first one I found! :)

TFT was developed by Dr Roger Callaghan after being frustrated with treating people suffering all sorts of emotional and physical ailments. The symptoms would often go away, but the wouldn't be cured. So with his background in hypnotherapy and kinesiology, he developed this practice. It may sound strange, but basically it involves "tapping" on the different points of the energy meridians of the body, and brings relief at a cellular level. It can be used for little problems in day to day life, right up to relieving post trauma panic attacks. One of the powerful things about this practice, is the the trauma doesn't need to be re-told, which can actually add more trauma. We were told today of a young boy in Rwanda who went to a practitioner to help him get "the feeling of sand" out of his eyes (he couldn't see properly). 5 minutes later he skipped off to play and the nuns came over amazed. The boy had no idea of his story of how he came to the orphanage, and had often suffered physical ailments as a result of his emotional trauma as a baby (what happened is too traumatic for me to even repeat here). He was basically "cured" in 5 minutes.

We did one of the tapping techniques in the workshop, and I have to admit that I found it quite good. And not too weird, really. :) You can read more about it here

In the afternoon we had a fantastic workshop on teens. We also had a session on "If your child wants to go to school", and lastly a Q & A time with Dayna's son, Devin Martin. It's too hard to write here about these workshops and sessions, because they were really just group discussions. Unfortunately, if you weren't there, you'll have to miss out. And I need to get some beauty sleep! Sorry! :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Unschooling Conference Day 3

I can't believe the conference is half over! It's going so quickly, and I'm enjoying so many wonderful conversations with some incredible people. So much so, that I was quite late leaving at the end of the day today (and the session went late as well) so I ended up waiting for the bus in the dark amongst swarms of mozzies! And having to walk home from the bus stop in the dark too, which wasn't much fun (although I found a safer route to walk which was good). It's been great to have conversations with people about topics as broad as research into natural learning, bringing teenagers home from school, getting into Tafe or uni without high school, learning to read naturally, and even... dreadlocks! :)

Anyway, down to business lol.......

First session of the day was a bit of a different one, and it pushed the envelope a bit for me I must admit. The session was led by Quinn Eaker and it was called "Life as a Radical Unschooled Child: An Adult's Perspective". Quinn was raised without school and with a lot of freedom, and he has some fairly different views on life and reality than I do, but it was interesting to listen to him nonetheless. And it was certainly a wonderful thing to see his self-confidence and unfettered enthusiasm for life! For the purposes of this blog, I will just write some of the talk here, together with my own reflection on it.

He said that we are all born fully connected with what is important to us, and we are also born with the capability to achieve it. We adults have so much to learn from the perfection of a newborn baby, who comes into the world so pure and innocent, so authentic and vulnerable. We adults are products of lives where we have been disempowered from a young age by not being always honoured, listened to, given what we need etc. In our lives we have experienced stress upon stress, and feel discontent, always searching for that which will fulfil us. This started from the first time we went looking for the nipple to suckle, or woke up alone in a dark room. A child's priority is very simple: to be FREE! (I would also add: to be loved) Free to do, to be and to go wherever they want. Children who have freedom to self-design their life are very focussed, capable, responsible, conscious.... They really don't need much "looking after".

Parents often make the mistake of loving their child "so much" that they do so much for them & protect them so much, that we actually cause them to become incapable. They become incapable of knowing what they're capable of, because we take their capability away by acting out of fear! He gave some great stories from his childhood where he was climbing very tall trees at a young age, cutting with sharp knives etc, and learned to be capable because his mother didn't put her fears onto him. She recognised that her fears had come from her own life, being told she wasn't capable, and having fears put onto her. So she didn't do that to her son.

It reminded me of a situation from when we were living in Bourke. We were having lunch at our house with a family who'd not long moved to Australia from the highlands of PNG. We looked up and noticed that their 4 year old son was sitting right up at the top of our very tall gum tree, like a baby koala. The first thing I noticed was the wire fence directly underneath the tree, wondering what would happen if he fell. We commented to the parents, "Wow, you can tell he's used to being wild and free and climbing tall trees all the time". "Oh no", they replied, "We don't have any tall trees at all back home, just little scraggly ones."!! Yet he was so confident. And so were they. And he didn't fall.

I was also reminded of the tales told by friends who live in a wild jungle in the Philippines. They speak of the native children running barefoot in the jungle with machetes, and alongside deep rivers. The parents do not fear for their safety. And they are safe. How different our society is!

Children don't need rules, judgment, manipulation (they can be very easy for us to manipulate, because they want to please us), or control. They need connection and freedom. Freedom to self-design their own lives. Children love us as their parents, not because we're "good" parents, but because they are our child. (This would explain why children can have pretty terrible parents, yet still love them.)

Mistakes are essential. What's dysfunctional is when we repeat our mistakes. It's the difficult times that dictate our life. When life is easy, it's easy. When it's hard, what do we do? When we are stressed or angry, what do we do? These are the choices that affect our child. And ourselves. Children WILL forgive us, but don't take that for granted. When we make a mistake, we need to evolve. Life will be better than it ever was.

Quinn's family's motto of home education was: if the children aren't interested in learning something, then for them, at that time, it isn't worth learning. We always learn what we want and need to learn when we want or need to learn it. Let your children decide for themselves in true freedom. If a child is playing video games for 12 hours a day it's either because life is seen as boring because we haven't provided enough stimulation and opportunities, or it's what the child needs to be doing in that moment. If a child has exposure to opportnity, and chooses video games, then it's right for them. (There's nothing wrong with a parent asking their child if they want to do something else, but it only really works if it's asked without expectation or manipulation.) Quinn spoke of the year he spent playing one particular video game for about 12 hours a day every single day. He said it was the best year of his life. He's rarely felt so alive, and said he learnt SO much in that one year from engaging in the game. And this was after he'd experienced a major spiritual enlightenment, and travelled the world having all sorts of wild and wonderful adventures!

If we are treated with respect, we will treat others with respect also.
If people around us share with us, we will share with others also.

If I believe judgement is bad, then that's being judgmental lol. It's not the words we use that matter so much as the perception of those words in the hearer, and the intent in the speaker.

Anything is possible, and this moment is all we have. Something is only a mistake if we don't evolve and grow. Every moment is an opportunity to re-tune, to consider, "Why am I doing this? Does it feel good?"

There was much more that he said. Some of it was so new to my ears that I don't feel equipped to try to rewrite it here. And some of it didn't sit right with me, so I'm choosing not to repeat it here. It's my blog after all. :)
Beverley's session today was on
She started off by spouting out a whole stack of various and interesting tidbits of information. Here they are in a seemingly random order! Hopefully something will jump out that is of interest.

Children often live in the "bliss moment", whereas we have to work to get back there. It is so important to watch our children and how they respond to us, and to examine our own motives. Empathy is so important to help us really hear and know and understand our kids. Parents are often very egocentric, building our houses and our lives to suit ourselves, developing our lives to feed our own passions. Sometimes the choices we make won't suit our kids at all. What would it be like if we included them in some of those decisions?


It can be very helpful to look at our environment, and to remove the things that make us and the kids feel hassled, and to bring in more of what brings calmness and harmony. We need to NOTICE what our child is attracted to... drawn to. Is it nature? Personal space? Technology?

Play is still so underrated. Their family operated on a play/work ethic: work to play & play to work. Children thrive if given the opportunity to do real work. It's why kids love cubbies, and mini plastic lawn mowers, and kid-size brooms etc.

BE PRESENT. This is a recurring message at this conference! There is no need to hover over our child, but if we're in the room and our kids know we're available, they will come to us if needed.

Learning is active, not passive, and mistakes are simply learning opportunities.

It can be very helpful to incorporate mindful techniques into our lifestyle: meditation, being together in nature, sitting and talking quietly together.

If your child is interacting with the real physical world, they are doing maths. It can help them to pick it up if we think our own mathematical processes out loud. It might just be something going on in the background of their life, but it becomes part of their learning.

Instead of thinking of our children (or ourselves) as having strengths and WEAKNESSES, think of them as strengths and LIMITATIONS. A weakness implies a permanent problem. A limitation implies a fence. You can put a gate in the fence and just move on through it!

It is very helpful to use "I can" statements, rather than "I can't". Train yourself to reframe your negative thoughts.

Interest = motivation. What does my child love to do? What do I love to do?

Don't make assumptions about what your child needs. Ask them! Would you like this? Do you want my help? What do you need?

We use all of our senses when we learn. Some use more of one sense than another. For instance, a "visual" learner uses more vision; an auditory learner uses more sound, a kinesthetic learner uses more touch etc.

If we want our children to be lateral problem solvers now and later, we need to PLAY! We adults also need to learn to play again. instead of sitting inside the fence of limitations feeling frustrated, we need to look for the gate or just build one. It's easier to find the gate if we're in the flow of "bliss energy". We don't have to aim for happiness, though. We just need to know we can EXPAND if we want or need to.

Playfulness isn't childlike, it's human-like!
Being "in the flow" builds co-operative behaviour.
A bright child isn't a smarter child; it's a child whose eyes are sparkling with enthusiasm for the world around them.

Wow, we fit a lot into today! Next up was Dayna and Quinn, talking about "LIFE WITHOUT LIMITS".

OK, today was the controversial day, alright? So hopefully there won't be too much offence caused. My disclaimer is that I'm just writing what was shared today. The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily the opinions of the editor. :)  (Although they might be!)

I walked in about 5 minutes late for this session and they were deep in discussion on one of the big heavy topics: Is it bad for kids to watch "violent" TV or play "violent" video games etc. It was said that it's judgement that breeds perversion. The judgement affects their self-image, because if the game is deemed by the parents to be "bad" and the child loves the game then the child assumes they also must therefore be "bad". It's control and judgement that causes violence, not the playing of the game itself. Devin (Dayna's son) says that free expression in the virtual world means that he has no need for it in real life. Dayna describes him (and I've found him) to be an incredibly gentle child, and yet he really loves the more "violent" video games. He says he enjoys being able to do stuff in a game that he'd never want to do in real life.

This type of life, with children being free and capable is age-old, but most "experts" are living in the traditional paradigm of judgement, limitations and fear, and we need to stop looking to them for the answers. The answers are within ourselves, and within our children who by their nature are usually totally authentic and totally in touch with their own personal needs, and what they are (and aren't) capable of.

One of the dads there talked about his son, who often plays video games "above his age level" that people would describe as violent, because he has older boys come to visit, and they want to play. The boy started to get really into guns. The Dad ended up taking him hunting, and the boy really enjoyed shooting at targets, bottles etc, but had no interest at all in actually shooting or killing or harming animals.

Be your child's partner, not the wall, between them and what they really want. If they want something and you don't have the money for it, be honest and real about it, and partner with them to dream of ways of earning the money to buy it, or to be open to other ways that that thing can come into the child's life. Dayna spoke of her daughter, who desperately wanted to have a big pink toy car. She was so excited about it, and dreaming of driving it around with her dolls in the back of it. She asked her mum, but they couldn't afford it (it was about $300) so her mother suggested that they think of it and dream of it, and lo and behold, three days later Dayna received a phone call from a long lost friend, inviting them for a visit. When they went there, the friend was showing them something non-related in the garage and when she raised the door, there was the exact same pink car Tiffany had been dreaming of. Some comment was made and the lady was like, "Oh, that old thing. Do you want it? My daughter outgrew it years ago. :)  Money isn't the only means.

There was much more said, but this blog post is very long already!!

This session was a biggie!! I will try to keep it brief.... The basic tennet of the conversation was this: forced learning doesn't work on kids, as we know, but it also doesn't work on our partners, or the kids' grandparents, or our friends....

The best way to educate your partner about this way of living is to truly live it! The problem comes when we try to help our partner parent the way WE want to parent. If they won't read a book we recommend, we need to BE the book!

What happens is that one person in the partnership, usually the wife, gets insight into the harm done to kids by parents with a controlling mindset and we see examples all around us of this scenario, so then when we see our partners parenting this way (the same as they always have), it suddenly isn't "good enough" any more. We've often been thinking and reading about this for years, but our partners are playing catch up and usually too busy with work to read up about it as much anyway. And when we keep sending them links or books to read, it can actually be a means of us trying to control them, to make them agree with us.

With our children, we don't focus on their behaviour, but on the needs underneath the behaviour. It is really helpful to do this with our husbands as well.

We create stress and tension when we criticise our partner, or try to tell them how to parent. No husband like to be told what to do by their wives!! Our kids observe this tension, our partners feel it and so do we. We will often then blame our partner for the tension, but it is mostly there because we made an issue out of the way they are parenting, trying to encourage them to do it our way. This comes from a wonderful intent, of wanting to share the excitement about a new and better way of doing things, but it is unhelpful.

We are all better off, and there is more peace, if we can allow our partner to walk their own parenting journey. BE the change you want to see in your family.

Our children need to have their own relationship with their father. If we step in when it's nothing to do with us, we can create tension that is harder for the child to cope with than the actual way their father was parenting them in the first place! Dayna told a story of a time when Joe, her husband, was getting really angry at Tiff and "not handling it very well". Dayna intervened, saying something along the lines of how he shouldn't talk to her like that and TIFFANY, the daughter, cries out, "Mum, stop!" She was more upset by her mother's effort to bring peace than she was by the angry way her father was dealing with her.

In the same way we respect our children and their capabilities, interests, etc, we need to respect our partners for where they are in their parenting journey, rather than judging them and trying to "help".

Re messy houses, Dayna said that her mother's house was like a museum, but Dayna's is more like a "workshop of their interests"! It is NOT always perfectly tidy! She calls it the "love mess".

One of the other mother's talked of a friend who has four children, and when her husband comes home he gets excited to see the evidence of all the fun they've been having throughout the day, and he truly delights in it. He whips around, tidying up a few things, before relaxing to play with the kids.

We need to find our balance of tidiness, and what works for our family, taking into account the different members and their needs. But don't ever put your own needs for a clean house before your kids' needs to spend time with you!

There was also a conversation re grandparents, extended family and friends. When Dayna used to visit the her parents-in-law with the children, she would over-advocate for the kids. If her mother-in-law insisted, for instance, on the children saying please before she would give them the salt, Dayna would say something like "Don't force them to say please. They will say it when they're authentically ready!" But it never went down well lol!! And the funny thing is that the children weren't even particularly aware of the things that were upsetting Dayna. It was just "Grandma". Dayna was tending to focus, with her kids, on seeing them in a victimised role, which really wasn't helpful.

We don't have to force people to embrace this life. Don't focus on what you do differently, but on your commonality. When we focus on our judgement of where people "get it wrong" our kids can also tend to become judgmental. When we focus on our commonality, and just get on with the relationships, our children also will tend to be more open to people. We can inspire more people towards this life by just living it and by focussing on our commonality and unconditionality with them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unschooling Conference Day 2

Well...... Today got off to a less than ideal start. I did the age old read-the-monday-to-friday-bus-timetable-when-it's-actually-Saturday thing. Then, when sitting at the bus stop, and becoming aware of the fact that the bus I thought I was catching, came at about this time YESTERDAY, I also became aware of the fact that today's buses were running very late. :(  A friendly old bloke at the bus stop told me where the taxi rank was, and informed me that there are ALWAYS taxis there waiting, so I headed off, only to get there and find... nothing. :(  So back to the bus stop to wait. Eventually I made it to the Conference venue, but the session I'd been so keen to hear was more than half over. I got a pretty good summary from a friend, though, and borrowed his book from the lending library, so here is my rendition of what it was all about! :)

Dr Andrew Seaton is one of the principals of "Australian Wellbeing Centres" and the author of a brilliant book called "Deep Intelligence: Giving our Young the Education they really Need". What an interesting bloke! He started off as a school teacher, was passionate about school reform, worked as an Education Advisor to school leaders and teachers, but ended up disillusioned by the inertia of educational culture. Seeing the Department of Education's reform agendas going nowhere, he resigned to do consultancy work, lecture at university and write a book! He also started the Australian Wellbeing Centre, a place that provides a variety of services and resources to support the health and awakening of body, mind and soul. He and his wife, Pamela, a clinical psychologist, are also enjoying establishing a nature stay and workshop venue, and a centre for enjoying and engaging with horses to our mutual benefit.

In describing himself on the Unschooling Retreat website, he writes: "I am interested in people, and in the ways we create the world we live in, and the ways we don't. I am interested in how we've learned to think about and feel about things in particular ways, and in how we can make more conscious choices about the thoughts and feelings we have, and about the actions we take. I've come to believe that all of us can play a far more active role in the creation of our own individual experience that we commonly assume we can. And I believe we can take far more responsibility for the world we create together. Even though it is sometimes difficult, it is exciting and rewarding to explore different ways of thinking about who we are and how we live, different ways of being in relationship with other people, and different ways of seeing, accepting and changing the world we live in, here and now. There is so much inspiration to be found for living a richer life, personally and collectively, and I have become interested in making such Inspiring Stuff more widely available."

From the first chapter of his book: "We can educate young people in such a way that they keep and strengthen their authenticity, their creativity, their intuition and their reason. We can educate them to recognise and celebrate the unique beauty within themselves and others. They can keep, into adulthood, their sense of joy, enthusiasm and aliveness. They can keep and strengthen their sense of connectedness, their tenderness and caring, their sense of the magical, and their sense of their own beingness and unlimited capacity...."

He talked a lot about how we allow our consciousness to be dominated by our intellect. About how healthy human beings are not "domesticated", but autonomous and free. He also spoke a lot (and writes in his book) about the problems of the school system and it's effect upon children, but that is not my purpose here. If you'd like to read more about that, I highly recommend his book. For those familiar with John Holt, I wonder if this guy might just be the new, Aussie version?

You can imagine how excited this guy was at being surrounded by a group of free-thinking families who are bucking the system and giving their children the opportunity to live the very reality he speaks of in his book: "We can help them to live with a kind of 'deep intelligence', intimately and dynamically connected with the world. What a world it will be, when we do! What a world it will be, when we take the lid off humanity. What tears of joy we will shed!"

We're already doing that! How wonderful it was to have this respected ex-teacher totally validate the free lives we are gifting to our children (and ourselves)!

Next we heard from Alice Kleinsman about "Heart Centred Parenting". She's a registered classical homeopath, certified NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioner and life coach. I found what she shared to be quite inspiring, although a bit rushed. She quickly took us through the basics of what she works through with people in the 6 week course she runs. She had one hour with us, so you can imagine how condensed it was! There were 3 main areas: the "Having Values" wheel, where you write down the keys ways you enjoy to meet your own emotional needs onto a wheel chart divided into segments. It included things like spiritual practice, relationships, health, security, beauty, art & creativity, companionship etc.... The idea was to write down the key things that matter to you, and then for each one to mark down how close to the centre of your life it currently is. We need to be having at least one key area fairly close to the centre, to be finding some emotional fulfilment from it's practice.

Then she showed us the "Primary Being Values" chart, where you write down the kinds of things you'd like people to say about you after you'd died, the qualities that you'd like your life to reflect. And then from the list, you choose the top three, and you use these as anchors in your life, writing them in central locations that you see regularly, to help you stay centred. (Perhaps on your hand, or your bathroom mirror, or the top of your diary or to do list etc.) This included things like courageous, wise, loving, kind, generous, gentle, inspirational, authentic, passionate, etc.....The last thing she showed us was called an "Enneagram" - a model of personality that uses a particular type of diagram, which seemed quite interesting. I just looked up a website, because there are apparently free online tests you can do to determine which of the 9 types you are. I did a quick test and, funnily enough, the results are pretty accurate!! I'm an "Adventurer", in case you're interested. ;)

At the end she suggested that people draw up (artistically, if they like) their own personal "Happiness Model" using the 3 charts that she showed us. It was done with concentric circles, the middle one being the "Being" Values, the second one being the "Having" values, and the outside circle being the personality strenghths. I loved the way she said that these strengths can become "SUPER POWERS"!! :)  She also talked about Radical Forgiveness, The Work (by Byron Katie) & The Journey (a transformation & healing work by Brandon Bays, cancer survivor).

Dayna Martin's session on "Unschooling the Spirited Child" was absolutely fantastic. The marquee was packed, and it seemed that everyone there was parenting at least one of these wonderful children! I loved Dayna's positive spin on it, the idea that these children are a gift to the world, and to our families, and we can learn so much from them. Through the unschooling lifestyle, we are able to give them the gift of being able to be Who they truly are. We must shift from control to connection. These kids DEMAND to be free; to not be controlled. They can help us to learn and grow as parents, by helping us to see things in ourselves that need to change, as we learn to respond to them with love and grace. We need to stop seeing them as broken & needing to be fixed. They are whole children.

It is so easy to respond with anger because they seem to be able to so easily "push our buttons". Most people were raised by parents who wouldn't allow us to be angry. They'd be mad at us for being mad!! So we feel uncomfortable with their raging, and we often get angry in return, then we feel guilty, or get locked into a power struggle. It is also easy to feel their pain or anger so deeply because we are so connected to them. We tend to label some emotions as bad and others as good, but it's ok to let them feel and express their feelings without our judgement. When we give them the freedom to express themselves (provided they're not impinging on anyone else's freedom), they will! And we don't need to be upset with them. We can offer solutions (or help them find them), and if they are still not able to get what they're wanting, we can allow them to experience their feelings, and we can be there, and hold the space for them. We can give our children the gift of being able to feel the full range of human emotions, without our judgment. It is easy to think that the child who expresses their emotions quietly is a "good child" or better behaved. But it is important not to let these quieter, "easier" children fly under the radar of our attention and affection.

These children are very persistent and intense, and when they want something they will tend to demand it loudly, clearly, and persistently. The tapes in our head tell us that if we give in, it will make them become more demanding in the long run. It can be really helpful to pause and think before issuing the first "No!" because if we say no, and they eventually wear us down, we end up with a problem. Better to really think it through first, asking ourselves, "Why not?"

It can be helpful to observe whether we (or others) are really listening to the child when they first indicate something (by word, action or mood), or are we ignoring all of that and just reacting to the explosion later? We need to take responsibility for ensuring that they are well rested and well fed.

Many of these children come to altruism a lot later than other kids. And that's ok.

We are paving the way to a new future by parenting these children differently, so it can be easy to feel a lot of fear, when we don't see many models around us that reassure us it will be ok.

We don't want people to think we are a "bad parent", so we can tend to feel embarrassed when our kids have big emotions or outbursts. Our kids sense our embarrassment, and it can interfere with the way we respond to our children. If we can stay authentic in our responses to our children, we can help observers to see a new and different way of responding to spirited children. Also, when we feel embarrassed by our child's behaviour, it is because we are not wanting anyone else to judge us or our children. In a sense, in doing this, we are trying to control the other person, too, and manipulate from them the response we want them to have. We can allow them to have their judgmental thoughts, because everyone has a right to their own feelings, even if it's negative towards us.

The question was asked if we are doing our children a disservice by allowing free expression of their emotions, because the "real world" won't be as tolerant as we might be. Dayna talked about how our freedom ends where another person's begins, and how she tends not to take her spirited child to a place that she knows she won't handle well yet, and that eventually the child does learn the skills for handling that kind of environment. When we give information to our children, rather than seeking to control them, they will gradually learn to cope with the difficulties of life. She reminded everyone that unschooling is the exact opposite of hands-off, lazy parenting. She is saddened by the times she sees unschooling parents truly unparenting, because that isn't the essence of this lifestyle. It is about connection, engagement, partnering WITH our children. It is not for the lazy parent!

What you resist, persists. There is no point in locking horns and focussing on what we DON'T want.
Talk less, analyse less. Save the talking for after the outburst. "When (this happened) I noticed (this). Perhaps next time....?"

It can be helpful to look at our children as though they are our best friends. Would we talk to our friend that way? Would we treat our friend that way?

We do not need to "mould" our children. We can allow our spirited children to blossom and be Who they are. And through parenting them the way we wish we'd been parented, we give ourselves a gift too.

The final session of the day was just so lovely. I got to participate in a simple yet inspiring little workshop about "Giving". We listened to some lovely little stories where someone's gift of generosity has caused such gratitude in the heart of the receiver. Then we spent some time thinking about what we want our kids' experience of life to be like (as kids as well as adults) and what default feelings we want them to experience as they go throughout their lives. We brainstormed the issue of giving to others, without thought of receiving anything in return (although the natural side effect of giving is that WE feel good!), and about there being an abundance in the universe from which to give. Such a great way to live, and so lovely to authentically model a lifestyle of generous giving out of a heart of love and gratitude.

Friday, October 28, 2011

2011 Australian Unschooling Conference

Well here I am at the 2nd Australian Unschooling Conference. What an absolutely wonderful privilege! I feel so blessed to be here in this place of inspiration and beauty! I promised last year a summary of what is was about, what I learned, etc, but never got around to doing it. It felt overwhelming to go back through lots of notes and try to put it into a succinct summary. This year, however, I'm flying solo at the conference, so I'm spending my evenings in solitude, after full and exciting days at the conference. My intention is to write a blog post every night, summarising a bit of what happened during the day. So for those of you that would love to have come but couldn't make it, this is hopefully the next best thing!
Today was, in a word, fantastic!! The location is superb (the Whitsundays at The Great Barrier Reef), the weather is balmy, the people (including the kids) are awesome, and the talks were inspiring. There was nothing inherently new for me in what was said, but it was great to have my lifestyle and philosophy validated and just to be with such an awesome tribe of people. :)
The first person to speak was the organiser of Australia's "Camp With Wings" - an annual camp for homeschooled/unschooled teens (14-18yo). It was pretty inspiring listening to her, and I can imagine my 11 year old wanting to go in a few years time, probably with some of his local friends. Its a great camp for kids who don't go to school to connect with others from around the country and to expand their horizons as they build new connections. I found it helpful to have a few questions answered in the discussion time, such as "Do they have to attend the workshops?" to which I was delighted to hear a "No!" The camp is a spin-off from the American "Not Back To School Camp" but they've really made it their own, with a great Australian feel to it.
Next up was Beverley Paine, one of our local advocates for home education in Australia. With her children all now adults, her words are certainly validated by experience. She spoke of their life's journey from home-school-at-home, to alternative schools, to natural learning.... I think many people would feel encouraged by their story, because it's how so many start out. It was interesting to hear about how Beverley, at age 13, was already starting to question things like education and parenting! A passion she still has today.

The next blessing came from Dayna Martin, author of Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun. Dayna's authenticity and passion are infectious. She's actually pretty down-to-earth for an American lol (will I get charged with political-incorrectness for saying that?) Here's a few morsels of Dayna wisdom for you, mixed in with some of my own thoughts:

  • There are hundreds of ways to do things. For instance, there isn't just one way/rule for doing multiplication, like is taught in school. If we allow learning to happen and unfold organically, we'll be surprised at the creative methods our children come up with to work out the answer to something!
  • If we bring more of what they love into their life (rather than less, in an effort to "balance" their lives), they will naturally use the tools of writing, reading and maths along the way. Learning is a side effect of their passions, and is often invisible for a time until they come out with a comment, or pick up a book, and we suddenly realise that all this learning has been going on as they've been going about their fun lives!
  • A child who has not been forced to learn to read or do maths will not resist learning those things because they will see their usefulness and won't have any baggage to get rid of! If they weren't useful skills, they wouldn't come across the use of them in their lives, and none of us would need to know any of that stuff! But because they ARE useful, our children will want to use them, unless they've been forced to do so in an isolated context, removed from the tasks for which they're so useful.
  • You can never know by "examining a child's mind" (aka testing) what they truly know. Testing is an assault on a child's freedom. I know I certainly wouldn't want to be constantly tested on what I know or don't know!
  • The natural age at which children are ready to learn to read is anywhere from 5 - 15! And the time frame in which unschooled children learn to read is usually longer than children who are forced into the school's timetable and expectation. It's not uncommon for an unschooled child's first book to be something like Harry Potter. They might learn to read at a later age, but there's usually been so much invisible learning going on that they skip all the readers and phonics workbooks and move straight onto real books. Many, many children learning naturally at home learn to read from playing computer games etc.
  • Unschooled children don't know less than school children, but they will know different things; things that are relevant to their life. They are not learning the same information as every other child. They are learning deeply what interests them, and following their passions with joyful abandon.
  • Don't limit your world; expand it!
  • Examine your intention when you are wanting to introduce something to your child's life. If there is a pressure or expectation that they should learn something, they will pick up on this and often resist it or be turned off. Better to offer an opportunity, or share a link, or show our children something because we genuinely love it, or think our children will, not to try to manipulate them into "learning something". BE AUTHENTIC! And delight in their authenticity, too.
  • This life isn't about keeping our children happy 24/7. It's about allowing them to feel the full range of human emotions, but with our support and encouragement. If they feel frustrated because they can't do or have something, etc, we can listen with empathy and support them, offer solutions etc, but sometimes we just won't be able to make the situation different for them. This is very different to when parents intentionally make things difficult for their child so they will learn a lesson.
  • As unschooling parents, we might not be standing at the kitchen table filling our children's empty brain cavities with information, but we do need to be available to them if they ask us a question, or want us to help them with something, etc. There are times when we genuinely can't do it straight away, but it can help to write ourselves a note as a reminder to help them with it later.
  • We are culturally conditioned to think we're "slaves" if we're bringing food or drink to our children when they're engaged in a game or whatever. But it's about perspective, how we see things. Doing something for our children that they could do for themselves is an act of love, if we choose to see it that way.
  • We also need to engage in some healthy self-nurture. If we don't care for ourselves, how will our children ever learn that that's important? Unschooling parents can tend to let the pendulum swing to the complete opposite end of the spectrum in comparison to an authoritarian parent-led life, to the point that we feel driven to always fulfil our children's needs & desires at the expense of our own. Let happiness and joy be your guide. If you're feeling overwhelmed, listen to that. There is no need for guilt. In fact, it's often through being in a place of overwhelm or frustration that we realise what we really want in life (by feeling the impact of experiencing something that we realise we DON'T want). So the hard times can give us helpful insight and be an impetus for change.
  • Because we are so close and connected to our children, we often feel their pain very deeply. But it is important for us to hold our own joy in the midst of their upset, whilst being compassionate towards them. If we get upset and angry when they're upset and angry, it usually just makes the situation worse. We musn't try to make them be happy so that we can be happy. We can "hold the space" for them (similar to how a doula holds the space for a labouring mother). This is a concept I'm still trying to understand, but I've learned a bit from reading here: We can take the judgment out of the equation. Istead of "anger is bad, happy is good", it just IS. We don't have to control our children to joy.
  • We can be with our children 24/7 but not really be "present" with them. It's great to find ways of playing/being with them where we can be authentic. Eg. if your child wants you to play Barbies with them, and this is something that you find very difficult, but you go along with it anyway, the child will tend to sense our lack of presence and interpret it as meaning we don't want to really be with them. Better to be honest and say, "I really want to be with you, but I really don't enjoy doing..... Is there something else we could do together?"
  • If we're finding it difficult connecting with our children because the house is out of control and we can't let go of all the "I-should-be-doing-that" thoughts, it can help to go to a park or a beach or wherever to play with our kids.
  • So many parents judge their children's passions and interests as obsessive or addictive, yet on the other hand people drug children in schools to make them this focussed on one task!!! It can really help to move away from a place of judgment and fear and instead to delight in their focus (and perhaps even use the time to pursue a passion of our own, or just relax on the lounge with a book). Humans, by nature, learn in big chunks of time, which is in stark contrast to schools, where they are expected to change focus every hour or two. When children have total freedom (and an engaged parent), their balance will be beautiful. They will deeply engage in something if they're passionately interested in it at that time, and take it to deeper levels than we ever thought possible, and they will also know when they need to take a break etc. However, if we have set it up that they can only have "2 hours" (or whatever) on that game, they will be sure to sit there for those 2 hours and not risk losing even one second of it.
  • When our children are deeply engaged in something, instead of fearing or judging it, and trying to pull them away from it, we can look up resources about that game or activity etc, and fully support them in their interest. There was lots of talk about Minecraft, one of the current games that many young people are playing. Today a bunch of boys were gathered in Dayna's cabin with her 13 year old son, and they were making a Minecraft "app", using proper computer programming, maths etc. It was a great story because it exemplified everything Dayna had been talking about! They were deeply involved in taking their mutual passion for Minecraft to another level. If this interest had been "controlled" by time or judgment, this programming experince would never have happened. It's so wonderful to see kids and parents revelling in the joy of a life lived passionately & freely!
The other talk today was by one of the dads, Rem. He has recently moved from a life caught up in the corporate world, to a life running his own business from home. He quickly admitted that he has much to learn in terms of making that really work successfully, but he's certainly enjoying a greater level of involvement in family life, and a closer relationship with his kids. He talked about how most men live a life where "success" is very sequential. They go through school, get into the best uni possible, get the best job possible, work their way up the ranks and ta da! Success. They often see school and education in the same light: they seek out the "best school" for their kids, send them off and read the report cards. So for men who have wives that are strong enough to buck the system and keep their kids at home, and particularly for men whose wives are drawn to the unschooling philosophy, it can be a great challenge to accept this! He talked about the importance of finding a supportive unschooling community of friends. He also talked about how Dads can feel isolated and left behind even within their own family, and how it's really important for them to make the most of the opportunities they do have at home. He talked about a car trip they did where he had to make some business calls. He told the kids that either they could stop the car so he could talk on the side of the road in peace, or they could be quiet so he could talk while his wife kept driving. They decided to be quiet!! Then, when they got there, he still had more business calls to make, but by this time he was walking barefoot along the beach whilst talking.
It was funny hearing about how he started to embrace unschooling. When the children were younger, he really trusted his wife to "successfully homeschool the kids" because she had an early childhood degree. But then, as they got older and she started to learn about unschooling, they had been arguing a lot, and finally, when he was travelling overseas one time for work, his wife handed him the book "The Reading Bug". He read it in a hotel lobby and rang his wife in tears (she gave us that tidbit) saying that he really got it now. She got up and spoke about how she'd learned (and is still learning) to trust her husband's own journey, and to provide him with helpful resources along the way (but not too many!), rather than try to control his learning (in terms of understanding unschooling) and getting frustrated when he isn't "getting it" or embracing it. In her book, Dayna likens this to "unschooling our husbands" (treating them with the same trust and providing them with resources but without manipulation or expectation - just like we do our children). This resonated with many of us, being an all too familiar situation, where the wife is miles ahead in terms of reading and understanding this unschooling paradigm (because it is her domain), and the husband is struggling to keep up, and fearful of this thing he doesn't understand. It's so important to give each other space to grow.
Well, that's about it for now!! Congratulations if you've made it to the end. I'm looking forward to another exciting day tomorrow, and will hopefully write more about it tomorrow night.