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.

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.

The Unshackling

I was very much "the good girl" growing up. Heck, I even slept through on my first night home from the hospital, according to my mum, who just about had a heart attack when she awoke to realise I was still asleep! It didn't last, of course. I never said I was PERFECT!! But I certainly did play the role of the "good girl" during my childhood.
I remember my brothers and foster-sister getting up to all sorts of mischief, but I usually refrained. I even remember one time when they ALL (4 of them) ran away from home, while I stood there by myself and watched. I don't think they got very far, but whatever it was that they were upset about, they were certainly putting legs on it. It was possibly me they were cranky at! I used to occasionally do something "bad", but one of my brothers would usually cop the blame for it. And I would remain silent. (Sorry, Dad, it was me who broke the teledex phone thing at your work!)
At school I achieved good grades, and was voted school captain, class captain and house captain (my school tie was so heavy with badges I'm surprised it didn't detach from my uniform and fall to the ground!!) I was a "Sixer" (group leader) at Brownies and "Miss Sherwood Hills" one year at school (and no, it wasn't a beauty pageant lol!!) I became accustomed to getting lots of attention for my achievements and "successes" (and that dependence on attention became a bit addictive - but that is a tale for another time).
Yet in the midst of it all, there were seeds of alternative thought buried deep within me, gradually creeping their way up to the light of day....
In my final year of high school I applied to go to university (like all my peers) to study teaching, but by this time I had very itchy feet, just begging to be scratched, so I deferred my university place and worked for a year to earn money for travel. Then in my second year out of school (the year I was "supposed" to be at university or travelling overseas) I volunteered full-time with my local church, co-ordinating a large group of kids as we travelled around to different rural areas in our State, using drama and music to tell our story. They were fun times (for us, at least; I think the standard of performance probably left a lot to be desired)! Then in my third year out of school, my dream to travel overseas was fulfilled. Upon my return to Australia, I decided to (again) apply to go to university, this time to study Social Work. I got as far as Orientation Day and signing up for classes this time, before facing the fact that committing to three years at uni was not something I wanted to do. I simply wanted to work for awhile and then go back overseas for a longer trip, doing volunteer/mission work, perhaps in an orphanage or with street kids, or something like that. So again I rejected what people expected me to do.
Whenever I would see my old school buddies, I was faced with the fact that they had ALL done the expected thing and gone to university. I was definitely the odd one out. But I was following my heart, and I was happy! I still haven't been to uni. I probably will go one day, although I certainly don't think a university degree makes anyone a better person, or is an essential prerequisit to finding fulfilling, meaningful (and often even well-paying) work. In the meantime, I'm a happy autodidact, learning abundantly every day from the smorgasbord on offer in our modern world! And I get to learn whatever I'm interested in, rather than just the subjects I'd "have" to do to get a piece of paper.
Having grown up in a christian family, I had always gone to Sunday School and to Church, and that was really my spiritual extended family, my community. I loved it! But in recent years I've stopped "going to church" (long story). My faith is still as important to me as ever, but it's not dependent on going to sunday services. Church, to me, is the people of faith (some would use the word christians) that I get to rub shoulders with regularly, and even some that I only know in cyber land! I certainly don't have to go to a building to meet them, or connect spiritually, and yet for those who do attend Sunday services, if that is helping them to grow spiritually, then that's great for them. For me, it's been an interesting journey to see myself outside of that box of the "good christian girl" and to realise that I can be close to God anywhere & everywhere, and that I am responsible for my faith, rather than someone standing behind a pulpit.
The other thing I've done is to not send my kids to school. The older two did go for awhile, but the younger two have never been and I think their lives are richer for it. To the younger two, learning is as natural, and as much a part of life, as breathing. I can tell you this: on the day I stood up before my school peers as "School Captain" I could NOT have predicted that my own kids would not follow in those footsteps!
It continues to be such a fascinating journey of discovery, realising that we don't need to be told by someone else what or how to think. Life is for the living. And the learning happens naturally along the way. It has at times been challenging to let go of what others might think of my more radical choices, and to focus instead of the joy of living freely. For me, this blog is a way of giving voice to some of my thoughts, and to hopefully help others re-think some of their uninvestigated thoughts and choices, and to ask the questions they have perhaps been too afraid to ask.
Join me as I journey towards a place of freedom from expectations & unexamined thoughts, from a sense of "have to" & "should"... and discover a place where I am free to be... me! And guess what else? You get to be "you", too!
It's about re-thinking everything, never assuming things are exactly as they seem, having the courage to face old thoughts in a new way, realising that the old, smelly shoe is not that comfy
after all. It's about having the courage to undo the laces, remove the shoes, & walk (or run!) barefoot in the grass! It's about having the courage to remove the shackles and live in freedom! Living unbridled, unfettered, FREE! It's a great way to be.