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.

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!! :)


  1. Thanks Karen, I have really enjoyed reading all about the conference here. Well done! Hugs xoxox

    For some reason all the pictures are blank at the end.

  2. Thank you so much for taking us to the conference with you. Your energy will be contagious to be sure. Awesome reliving your days there and there were so many interesting topics. I can't get your snap shots at the end but I know you will be able to describe your inspired days when you are home. Continue a wonderful time away and I hope there was talk of another conference next year?! Adios Amiego