Home Education Magazine http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine Just another Unschooling.com site Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:04:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Living and Loving the Consensual Flow of Life, by Tracy Liebmann http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/living_loving_consensual_flow_of_life_tracy_liebmann/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/living_loving_consensual_flow_of_life_tracy_liebmann/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 08:43:19 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=515  

Mom and Morgan 2009 When I began my homeschooling journey in 2003 I had no idea how many doors would open, how many belief systems would be challenged and how my life would be changed forever! Yes, the initial reasons for choosing to homeschool changed along with our styles of homeschooling; yet, the greatest change was with my relationship with my children and how I parented. For me, well for us, our relationships have benefited most from the evolution of our homeschooling decision to unschool. After making the leap to unschooling, I realized I needed to take a closer look at my parenting, and why I reacted and made the decisions I made regarding my children. 


Relationships are critical to our happiness and well-being. Our happiness and well-being are critical to our ability to learn. From the beginning I wanted to respect, love and nurture my children. From day one of motherhood I wanted to raise happy, well-adjusted kids. I had NO idea what I was doing or how to go about that. I read, I talked, I got so much bad advice! The truth is, it’s not actually all that complicated. If you stay in tune with your heart and natural mothering instincts, you can’t go wrong. It’s when you listen to others that you will most likely run into problems. Now, this may seem kind of ironic because I am passionate about helping other parents learn to transform their families into loving, peaceful, respectful, happy and connected homes. What I really do is help them sort through their own conditioning and beliefs, so they can listen to their hearts and natural parenting instincts again. The issue is, we come into this parenting role carrying all our baggage and BS (Belief Systems), which totally confuses us and causes us to react completely outside of our family vision. So, how do we stay on track and allow ourselves to have that connected, loving relationship we so desire for our family? 


Here is where consensual living stepped into the scene for me. I was looking for guidance and help when I met an amazing woman who is still a very close friend and she introduced me to the concept of consensual living. It was so funny at first as I had never even heard of such a thing in regards to parenting. The word “consensual” was always tied to the idea of sex for me––kind of embarrassing to write, but true. She helped me understand the principles and pointed me in the direction of some great resources (which are listed at the end of this article for you).


And the journey back to basics began.


Why do I say back to basics? Because it’s truly not complicated. What’s complicated is undoing all we have been taught about parenting and the process of healing from our childhoods.  Examining our conditioning. Basically, the idea is to do unto your children as you would have them do unto you. Be loving, kind and respectful with your children so they learn how to be loving, kind and respectful to you and others.


Day by day it became easier and easier and felt so right!


Let’s talk about the basic principles of consensual family living. 


  • Everyone has a voice.
  • Everyone, regardless of age, deserves equality. In other words just because I am the adult does not mean my opinion is weighted as more important than someone who is 3 or 15.
  • Everyone is autonomous and self-directed.
  • Everyone’s needs count.
  • Safety comes first, especially with little ones.
  • We follow the laws of our society (carseats etc.) and the tenets of our community.
  • We respect each other and are non-violent in action or words.
  • We discuss most everything. There is no “because I said so.”
  • We problem-solve, not punish.
  • We are honest about our feelings.
  • We are honest about our needs.
  • We trust each other to tell the truth and care for one another.
  • We are connected, engaged parents.
  • We are accountable for our own issues, and we look deeply at our own triggers.
  • We heal from our own wounding so we do not wound our children.


Why *really* consider this way of living? Take a moment right now and think about your goals for your family. What kinds of things do you family 2013think you want for your family, as a whole, and for your kids individually? Allow this information to come from the heart, not the head. If you hear words like happy, love, respect, successful (whatever your determination of success is), clear communication, freedom, individuality, works well with others, knows who they are and what they want out of life….you’ve come to the right place! Basically, we want to find what “works.” We want to know that if we choose to live by these principles, our kids won’t turn into wild animals or “worse.” We want proof.


If I haven’t lost you yet, you probably want to find something that feels right to you, your philosophy, your loving and kind spirit, and you want kind, respectful, smart kids. I hear you. Who wouldn’t?


So here is my case for consensual living family life. My kids are 18 (girl) and 16 (boy), and they are usually kind, respectful, smart kids. Truthfully, they are not astronauts or going to medical school to cure cancer; they are just complicated, amazing, human beings like the rest of us. But, I can tell you that there is very little conflict between us. My daughter is responsible, kind, respectful and loving, enjoying her second job at Whole Foods, in a committed relationship, saving money and figuring out what she wants “to do” with her life. My son is an avid gamer, just learned to play the violin and is starting piano with the hope to compose one day. Oh yeah, he’s also an overall knowledge junkie. He is planning on going to college for computer science and music and reserves the right to change his mind at any time. Both self-determined, with only guidance and support from us (my husband and I) when they desire it. Yes, I am a proud Momma! Of course we have challenges, yet we know how to communicate, ask for what we need and find solutions which lead to a very peaceful life. Our life is not perfect, and if you are thinking anyone’s is…stop it! They are either lying or in denial. 


Family life is complicated!


Relationships are complicated!


Following these principles has helped me feel connected to my children and husband. We talk, we do our best to understand one another, we’ve got each others’ backs. To me, those are good results!


True confession time. I have never regretted or worried about choosing to live with my family consensually. I honestly can’t say that about unschooling  g-a-s-p! Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled with our choice to unschool and so are the kids, yet it can sometimes be scary, to be so outside the “norm of society.” Consensual living is *really* not that radical, or at least it shouldn’t be! It just makes sense. We want to raise children who can think for themselves, communicate well and make good decisions. How would that be possible if we control and manipulate their lives until they turn 18? Instead, we need to model appropriate decision-making, good communication and cooperation so they can have successful adult relationships and lives.


How do I measure success? It’s all about perception and values. I really value relationships and communication, so if my children can have honest, vulnerable relationships where they give as much as they receive, I consider that success. And when I say “relationships,” I consider the relationship with Self one of the most important. Without a good relationship with Self, we/they cannot possibly have it with others.


One last very important point I would like for you to consider––vulnerability. Let’s talk about vulnerability a bit with regard to following the principles of consensual family living. Vulnerability is where it all spirals down. Kids are vulnerable. They are small, they don’t have money, they don’t drive cars, they can’t feed themselves (in the beginning), so we must honor their needs and desires so they can feel safe. As soon as something breaks that level of trust, the first wall which hides their vulnerability is being built. The goal is not to break the trust with our children by using power over them or manipulate them with punishments or rewards. The goal is to allow them to grow and learn in a safe environment that does not mandate what is wrong or right. It is also to nurture their secure place in the world, allowing them to stay vulnerable and open instead of having to heal and relearn how to be vulnerable and open, as many of us have had to do in our adult lives. Judgment is one of the quickest ways to build a wall and shut a person down.


Brene Brown, researcher and author illustrates it well when she writes, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”


I  don’t want my children to be afraid to show up and be seen. This is why I live consensually with my children.


So, how does this look in real life, you might be wondering? At first it looked and felt a lot different than it does now. This way of being is simple, yet not always easy! In the beginning I had to really stop, become aware (conscious), think what to say or how to handle any given situation. It took a real commitment. When I think back, one of the initial things we had to figure out as a family was about finances. We wanted (well I wanted and my husband came along for the ride at the beginning) to be able to allow the children to feel empowered. To feel they had a say in getting what they wanted––whether it was a new video game, Lego set or guitar. Everything needed to be considered seriously, just as we adults consider what we want to buy seriously. For us the process looked somewhat like this: first, my husband and I had to get clear on our feelings about money and budgeting. There were disagreements between us on this topic, yet my husband and I agreed that if we had the money at the time of the desired purchase we would say yes. If we didn’t we would have an honest discussion about why we can’t buy x,y or z right now and we would start problem solving. We would look for solutions together with the child that wanted the item. Together we would look for a way for them to get what they wanted!


We were careful (which wasn’t always easy) to not deem that item not worthy of our purchasing power. Remember, all needs, desires, requests are valid! We would talk about ways to save or make money, we would talk about when we (Mom and Dad) would have the money and would happily buy the item, etc. Of course when the kids were much younger this could be challenging because they would sometimes have an issue with the idea of not getting what they want, when they wanted it. When that happened I would remember to breathe, stay grounded in my principles of consensual living, tap into my heart space and the love I have for my family and keep looking for solutions that would help everyone feel safe, heard and loved. We are very fortunate in usually having enough money in the budget for what they desired, so we did say YES a lot. My husband had the occasional concern (or conditioning) that they would grow up feeling entitled and not understanding the value of a dollar. Guess what! The exact opposite happened! My teenagers are very responsible, considerate and giving when it comes to money. My daughter bought her first laptop with her babysitting money when she was 13 years old. Not because we “made her” but because she wanted to. She still surprises me with what she offers to pay for when we have no requirements for her to pay for anything.


My husband really hates doing yard work. We are pretty sure it is because he was made to get up early and get to work on the weekends. What do you hate doing? Let’s talk about “chores”. I want my children to live in a family that feels like a community that is willing to help one another out. So when they are out in the world they will be giving, helpful people who aren’t carrying around resentments about “having to do this or that”. It’s a choice and they feel empowered and good about their choices. When it comes to the daily chores of life, we all take care of ourselves and pick up after ourselves to the best of our ability. When they were little it was different. I would ask for help and sometimes be met with a NO (or worse), so then what? Usually, I made the choice to just continue to clean up. I would share my feelings when appropriate which to me is a vital part of living this way. Being honest and sharing feelings in a non violent way is vital to the process.


When the kids were younger I modeled helping them and asking for their help. None of it was a “you made this mess, now you have to clean it up” sort of thing. It sounded more like “wow, you sure had a lot of fun building all these things with Legos and they are all over the floor. I’m having a hard time walking through without hurting my feet so let’s clean up the ones you’re not using” (me), “No, I’m still using ALL of these” (child), “Hmmm, how about we just scoot them all to one side of the room or make me a path I can walk through. Tell me what you think would work best.” (me) Usually they would and we would work together to make a path or move them to one side of the room or, better yet, sometimes they would realize they really were done and we would just clean up together. It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense, it’s respect for another human being, just as we would give to another adult or wish to be treated by another.


We have been able to consensually decide on everything from food choices to health care. Stick to the principles, be present and patient and soon you will be able to see and feel the peace in your home. You will have met challenges with love and respect not only for your children, but also for yourself.



Consensual Living Resources




Be sure and check out their recommended reading list.

Awakened by the birth of her first child 18 years ago, Tracy Liebmann has dedicated her life to her own personal development and the relationships closets to her. She is an Unschooling Mom, Certified Life Coach and Energy Medicine Practitioner who lives and works near the beaches of SC. She has been assisting in personal and family transformations all over the world since 2006 and you can connect with her at www.transformingfamily.com

This article was published in the March-April 2014 issue of HEM:


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Small Bodies, Great Wisdom: The Extraordinary Value of Listening to My Children, by Nicole Olson http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/small_bodies_great_wisdom_extraordinary_value_listening_to_my_children_nicole_olson/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/small_bodies_great_wisdom_extraordinary_value_listening_to_my_children_nicole_olson/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 07:00:41 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=500  

thomas-stick     “Mommy, when you were just a little girl and I was still up in heaven, I used to peek down and watch you. And I decided that since you already had a mommy to help you, I would come down and be your little boy.”

My five-year old son Thomas confided this to me one evening as we snuggled together in his bed. Naturally, I felt both touched and flattered (it’s a heady feeling to be hand-picked), but I didn’t take it literally. Not until much later did I realize the amazing truth hidden in that statement––a truth which applies to all of us moms and dads. It is just this: while we may have learned a great deal from our parents, our children have so much more to teach us! They offer us a lifetime of opportunities to challenge our assumptions, stretch our understanding, and grow both as people and as parents.

Back when Thomas made that profound statement, we were both trying to recover from an extremely difficult experience which had resulted in Thomas leaving his integrated preschool. Over the course of two long years, I’d sought the help of expert after expert, and had been devastated to discover they had little to offer. Eventually, I had learned to heed the small but persistent voice of my own instinctual mother-wisdom. It was a step in the right direction, but I had yet to discover that there was another voice to which I ought to pay heed––my son’s. This certainly was not from lack of opportunity. From nearly the first moments of his life, Thomas had begun to demonstrate that he had far more to teach me than I him. And eventually, I wised up enough to start paying attention.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve been learning from my son:


Lesson Number One: Ditch the images, Mom.


As a mother-to-be, I intended to nurse my baby, firmly believing it to be the best possible form of nourishment. I daydreamed of a wee babe at the breast, our mother-child bond deepening with each feeding. It never occurred to me that my image may not become reality.

That’s precisely what happened, though. A mere five days after Thomas’s birth that idealistic image began to unravel. Seriously ill with an infection, I landed back in the hospital undergoing a multitude of tests. Due to the toxicity of one of them, it was necessary to “pump and dump” for the next ten days. Thomas hadn’t really gotten the hang of nursing before I fell ill, and after so much time on a bottle, transitioning him back to the breast proved to be near impossible.

I did not let go of this image easily. Weeks turned into months, but my determination to become the perfect nursing mom did not flag. I pumped, I read books about nursing, I consulted lactation specialists. Nothing helped. Each feeding was a misery, with tears on both sides. Finally, after four months, I reluctantly resigned myself to a new reality. And once I did, I discovered that while bottles were nourishing my son’s body, I was finally able to focus on nourishing his soul.

Letting go of that image was the first of many opportunities Thomas gave me to learn this lesson. Over the past decade, I’ve wrestled with my image of how my child would behave in preschool (like a model student rather than a behavior problem), how my son would dress (shorts and pants rather than dresses), and a host of other areas in which my images clashed with my reality. And as I’ve learned to ditch the image, I’ve found the joy in being able to accept and embrace the flesh-and-bone boy before me.


Lesson Number Two: Nobody’s perfect––and that’s perfectly fine.


I’ve always been something of an overachiever. So by the time Thomas was conceived, I’d already taken a parenting course––not once, but thomas-jumptwice. I had read all the standard books about babies and mothering. I also had a decade of experience as a teacher. With such vast training under my belt, I felt more than ready to begin my parenting journey. I was naively certain that, like Mary Poppins, I would be practically perfect, and my children would emerge from childhood entirely unscathed, wholly intact, and without a single piece of baggage (you can stop chuckling now).

For the first two years of Thomas’s life, I mostly managed to live up to my practically-perfect ideal. I adored Thomas, and our life together was harmonious, filled with laughter and tender moments.

Then I got pregnant with twins.

Exhausted and cranky, I discovered for the first time that Thomas actually could aggravate me. I also discovered that I wasn’t equipped to handle it perfectly. Once the twins arrived, things went from bad to worse. I experienced sleep deprivation on a whole new level and was constantly stressed and anxious. Living up to practically-perfect status under these circumstances was impossible. I found myself saying and doing things that I was quite certain would be fodder for therapy sessions in Thomas’s adulthood. Still I pressed onward, convinced that if I tried harder, read another book, consulted just one more expert, that I could undo any damage and resume my practically-perfect journey.

Then came the preschool fiasco which shattered my hope that I could give Thomas a practically-perfect upbringing. What could possibly be done, I lamented, when so many mistakes had already been made? It was Thomas who showed me the answer: this imperfect journey provided something far more valuable than perfection. It gave me endless opportunities to own up to my mistakes, to seek forgiveness, and to find healing together with my son.

I’ve come to accept that neither one of us is going to come out of this mother-son journey unscathed. But I am comforted by the fact that we are helping to heal one another’s scars, and have grown closer in the process.


Lesson Number Three: You can’t learn it all from a book.


As a new mom, how I longed to come across that perfect book––the one that taught me precisely how to do this parenting gig well. How I wished someone could direct me to the volume entitled All You Need to Know About Thomas: a perfectly tailored guide to his unique blend of strengths, weaknesses, gifts, quirks, and precisely what makes him tick. I’ve yet to come across it. In its stead, I’ve eagerly digested dozens of books and articles, all of which claimed to unveil the mysteries of child-rearing. I have learned a ton. But not everything.

I thought all that reading had equipped me with plenty of tools for childhood’s challenges. I knew how to distract my tiny tot when he got too close to the wrong end of the cat. I ruthlessly removed the words, “Good job!” from my repertoire and replaced them with “I see you enjoyed using the blue crayon today.” I was clear on when to ignore misbehavior, when to enforce a time-out, and how to make the most of natural consequences. I was a walking, talking version of mainstream parenting literature.

The problem was, Thomas clearly hadn’t read the same books. He almost never did what those volumes cheerfully predicted he would. Again and again, I found myself perplexed by this. The books told me if I did x, then my child would do y. But they were irritatingly silent on how to handle it if he skipped y in favor of an entirely different letter of the alphabet. Which he did. Every time.

Eventually, I got the message. It was time to stop treating Thomas like an algebraic equation and began treating him like the precious, unique person he is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of books. But the story Thomas and I are writing together each day is just as important as any published work out there. And boy, is it a page-turner! We laugh, we cry, we stumble upon mysteries to be solved and we overcome all kinds of obstacles. And I’m quite sure that we triumph in the end.


Lesson Number Four: At the end of the day, it’s all about play.


“School is your job,” I used to tell Thomas, as I ushered my reluctant little boy onto the preschool minibus. Thomas vehemently objected to this line of reasoning, countering, “But I just want to stay home and play with you, Mommy. Why can’t we just play?”

Eventually, we removed Thomas from preschool and began home instruction. While the location was different, the conversation turned out to be much the same.

“Homeschooling is your job,” I used to tell Thomas, pointing to a list of spider spelling words and math problems. Once again, he vehemently objected. “But I don’t want to do spelling and math, Mommy. I just want to play with you.”

Once I began to learn about unschooling, I finally understood what Thomas had been trying to tell me all along. Preschool wasn’t his job. Homeschool wasn’t his job. His job was to play. He learned about his world through play. He pursued his passions through play. And he connected to me through play.

The light bulb went on. I set aside the spider spelling words and the teddy bear math counters. I sat on the floor next to my boy and asked, “What shall we play today?” And oh, what worlds opened up! From card games to puppet shows, from splashing in puddles to exploring the tide pools, we have played our way through the days. The learning we have gathered up like shells along the beach is rich and beautiful, all unexpected treasures.


Lesson Number Five: Small bodies can harbor great wisdom.


Too often, we dismiss our children’s greatest insights, smugly certain that because we’ve lived longer, we know better. Sometimes we do. Often we don’t.

Here are some of the nuggets Thomas has shared with me:


Mommy, you don’t have to worry about me so much. There’s nothing wrong with me (there wasn’t).


Mommy, I’ve been telling you all along that I don’t need school. I just need to be with you (he had, and he did).


Mommy, you know I’m a work in progress, just like everyone else (he certainly is).


Mommy, different people come from different backgrounds and sometimes it makes them fight. But really, we should all just try to give each other a little grace (don’t you agree?).


Mommy, unschooling is the best choice for me (without a doubt).


Mommy, someday I’m going to be a teller, but not like in the bank. I’m going to be a guy who goes around telling people the truth about God and our world (he already does).


And sometimes he just nails the plain, unadorned truth of the matter, such as when, in my grumpier moments, he reminds me of this indisputable fact:


Mommy––four kids. You had ‘em. 



I’m thankful every day for the joy and the growth those four small, precious ones bring me.

Sometimes my images still overshadow reality.

Occasionally, I hear myself utter something that would make Mary Poppins drop her practically-perfect parasol in horror.

There are moments when my book learning fails me miserably, and I forget that mine is a story yet to be written.

From time to time, play feels like a waste and I long for a textbook and my favorite red marking pen.

Now and then, I forget that being forty-something doesn’t mean I can’t learn from someone thirty years my junior.

But always, in every moment, my son’s words are a part of me, reminding me of the blessing that every parent can receive, if only we learn to open our arms and embrace it.

“You already had a mommy to help you,” my wise little son explained. “So I came to be your little boy.”



Nicole Olson is a former elementary and special education teacher who now joyfully unschools her four extraordinary children. In her spare time, she maintains her website, unschoolers.org, writes books for adults and children, and occasionally manages to get a full night’s sleep.


This article was published in the January-February 2014 issue of HEM


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The Big Unlearn, by Peter Kowalke http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/big_unlearn_peter_kowalke/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/big_unlearn_peter_kowalke/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 07:00:49 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=496  

We’re all taught to fail.

I’ve slowly come to see that we’re all brainwashed, even us unschoolers. We all fail by living in our heads, living in a conceptual framework we build to explain our experience.

We fail because instead of eating an orange and enjoying its juice, we compare it with an abstract ideal orange and focus on how close the real orange stacks up with the ideal orange. We even possibly eat the orange without observing the real experience at all. We don’t live, we think about living and make things up that don’t conform to our ideal.

As an unschooling teen, I noticed this failure because I still remembered some of the authentic experiences I had as a kid before the conceptual fantasy took over. These experiences weren’t beaten out of me since nobody told me directly what I should do or think. But slowly I began losing them regardless.

In my teen years I seriously began giving up what I knew was true for what others told me was true. This was largely because I was scared and humble. Almost everyone around me, my parents included, told me I needed college. But for college I needed a laundry list of other activities, behaviors and mindsets.

Thus began a deep dive into conceptual fantasy and wasted life. That’s because after college there’s the plan for a good life, and this good life requires a certain kind of job with its own conceptual fantasies. From the good job then flows career advancement, a wife and two kids, home ownership, vacation, an appropriate safety net, retirement and other aspects of our more or less accepted collective fantasy framework.

I got on this treadmill when I started preparing for college, but I never fully bought into it. As an unschooler, I knew the world did not work only as advertised. Growing up, I would watch recorded cartoons on a Tuesday morning and see the public service announcements. These PSAs told me not to be a fool, to stay in school. But I was not in school, I was home watching television between GI Joe battles and art projects. Yet I felt fine, and my mother said I was fine.

     The greatest gift unschooling gave me was the willingness to question the world around me, the knowledge that even the best practices and experts could be wrong. If they were wrong about school, what else could they be wrong about?

Coupled with that, I learned the value of experimentation because there were not that many people besides myself who were unschooling in the 1980s. Unschooling taught me to question and think for myself, and to experiment with life.

All through college I struggled with what I knew was wrong. I had tasted real life, and I knew college was not real life. So first I chose an alternative school with no grades or tests or majors, Hampshire College. When that wasn’t enough, I left Hampshire and unschooled my way through college until I was pressured to finish school. School clearly was a dumbing down, but I finished anyway.

Outfitted with a standard college degree, I then proceeded to burn my degree and work in the unschooling community for several years. I could not reach my life goals, however, so I went a little more mainstream and became the magazine editor I had trained for in college. This turned out to be clearly a dead end, even if some of the work was good and I could balance the professional expectations with my uncommon understanding of the world.

Coworkers said I was capable and smart, but I didn’t fit somehow. They were right. My understanding of the world, and therefore my motivations, were different from theirs.

What followed were several more false starts, several more life experiments, several more attempts at finding my path. My life has seesawed back and forth between following the worldview I developed during my unschooling years and following the worldview put forth by the world around me.

Notice I never really escaped conceptual fantasy, however. Whether my unschooling worldview or the generally accepted worldview, I was still living in conceptual fantasy.

We are all conditioned by the world around us. It is human nature that we take our experiences and build conceptual frameworks around them, false and limiting as they may be. We see the world and we make sense of it so the fire on the stove only burns our fingers once. But then we get trapped in these conceptual frameworks. We stop seeing the things themselves and only see the frameworks.

I have spent most of my life trying to get back to the real life I tasted when I was young. The joyous, authentic, simple, life-affirming experiences I sometimes lived in my youth are mostly gone now. In its place are the stressful, hollow, complex and deadening experiences of adulthood.

In my search for a life that maintains and expands upon the goodness found in my youth, I have come across the possibility that unschooling only helped me substitute one form of indoctrination for another.

Unschooling has helped me think for myself and construct a more meaningful life than I probably would have had if I had gone to school. But really I just substituted the conceptual fantasy put forth by the school for the conceptual fantasy put forth by my own didactic experience.

This has the advantage of escaping the weight of the common conceptual fantasy that deadens and confuses many of the people who attend school. I have retained most of my childlike qualities, and I know there is another way. The cost is living in a conceptual fantasy of my own making with all its extra stupid ideas and ill-considered generalizations.

Many people think I’m really awesome, and many others think I’m really stupid. They are both right. This is the cost of building my own conceptual fantasy instead of taking a tried and true conceptual fantasy off the shelf.

A Life of Love

Real life is a heady experience.

The reflected glory of any child tells the tale. Within the child there is an endless spring of joy, love, wonder, creativity, wholeness and all the other emotions we fundamentally seek when the child’s basic needs are met. These emotions exist in the child until they are sufficiently burdened with a conceptual framework and lose their real self. This process begins right away, but it picks up steam as they get older and “learn” things. Then it gets really fast when we teach them things.

A conceptual framework introduces suffering.

Real life is heady and free from suffering because it is real. Instead of frustration when the orange is less than perfectly ripe, I enjoy the taste that does exist. Instead of the stress when I don’t yet have a job that brings me name and fame—or the unschooler expectation of a fully enjoyable, self-actualized life—I take the job I have today and both enjoy the good moments and don’t stress the rest. There may be action, but there’s no striving. There may be planning, but there’s no suffering when the plans change.

Living in the actual world and not a conceptual fantasy is the greatest act of unlearning I’ve ever attempted, however.

Even though I’m a lifelong unschooler, I’ve unlearned bad thinking before. I’ve been in college, after all. I’ve also worked normal jobs and lived a normal life for a few wayward years. But I’ve never tried unlearning thinking itself, which on some level is what must be done before I get beyond my self-designed fantasy world.

My approach to this challenge is playing off some of the gifts that unschooling has given me, namely a good childhood, a glimpse at a better life, and a skill at making things happen.

Like almost everyone, I was a loving and joyous child before I built a conceptual fantasy and started living in it. Unlike many, however, I held onto that experience long enough that I never forgot what it was like. In particular, I’ve always remembered the pure love between mother and child and the deep relationships that were developed with family members.

Further, unschooling gave me the freedom to build my own conceptual framework that baked it in. Creativity, wonder, wholeness and especially love have always been at the center of my worldview. I love like mad, and I keep it that way because I know what is truly important. If I am stuck in a framework, at least it is a halfway decent framework that hints at the world beyond.

Then of course there are my cowboy, entrepreneurial ways that definitely come from unschooling.

Having run my own education since I was a child, crafting a plan and executing it are skills that I learned before I knew how to tie a shoelace. I think in terms of projects, businesses, deliverables and self-direction. I’ve created magazines, documentaries, craft projects, communities, relationships, education plans, long trips, promotional campaigns and of course conceptual frameworks, among others.

It made sense, then, that creating the environment for moving beyond a conceptual framework would take the form of a business and—ironically—a new self-designed conceptual framework.

I’m only a few years into my grand plan for moving beyond conceptual fantasies and experiencing life as it actually exists. But so far, so good.

The plan is comprised of two major components, the first of which is monastic life.

If I have any hope of unlearning knowledge so I can again regularly see the world in its natural splendor, I need a lifestyle and a community that helps develop this way of seeing the world.

Monasticism is that lifestyle inasmuch as the project to find God is fundamentally the same project as seeing the world as it actually exists. It is the project of finding truth through direct experience instead of conceptual frameworks. If God ends up being there or not in the final equation, it does not matter. The process is largely the same. As Meister Eckhart noted, a famous 13th century Dominican priest, “truth is something so noble that if God could turn aside from it, I could keep to the truth and let God go.”

This focus on directly finding truth, coupled with my unschooling experience, has led me in the direction of a highly self-conscious, independent monasticism that unfolds more every day and is focused through a modest web site I run, American Vedanta. I flirted strongly with joining an actual monastic order, and even trained briefly at one, but as of now my unschooling makes me a more appropriate independent monastic.

The second major component is a relationship coaching business.

The days of independent beggar-monks are gone, so if I don’t live full-time in a monastery I must have an income. Ideally this work will reinforce and leverage my growing spiritual focus, but making a living from religion is pretty sketchy business because it is easy to lose your way—assuming you can even make a living from religion.

My solution is selling love.

Love has always been my strength, and it should continue to be my strength as I discard everything else and focus increasingly on this cornerstone of spiritual life. Love has always been one of my windows into actual experience, so it should still exist even when I discard my conceptual framework.

The market for love and good relationships also happens to be a big one. So if I avoid the petty aspects of love and instead focus on helping people build extra-strong relationships, I figure I can earn an income without wrecking my ultimate goal. By my thinking, everyone wants more love and better relationships. Some might even pay.

I’m in the early stages of this work, however, and I’ve only recently begun taking on paying clients. Until the business becomes my full-time work, I balance it with freelance writing. Last year I wrote a little more than a 1,000 paid stories while building the business and my spiritual life.

Some days I look at this great unlearning project and marvel that it came from a little taste of the real as a child. But is there anything sweeter than the fruits of the real?

I guess I can’t answer that question without going back to my conceptual framework, the very thing I want to avoid. The path to enlightenment is a beast.


Top Five Things I Learned from Living in a Monastery

I have always taken my spirituality seriously and known what I am, but it wasn’t until 2010 that I found a monastic order that fit my spiritual beliefs. In 2011 I went to live in an Indian monastery and briefly trained as a monk. Here are the top five things I learned from the experience. More can be found at Vedantin.org/what-i-learned-from-the-monastery.

Inner Freedom Vs. Outer Freedom
We have a choice between freedom of thought or freedom of action—but we can’t have both. Unless we restrict our actions in the world, the world has control of our thoughts on a subtle level. For instance, who among us has not had our thoughts influenced by sex?

We Are All Just People
Monks and saints are people just like us. The only difference between a truly holy man and everybody else is that they live honestly and don’t make excuses for bad behavior. They know what is most important and go for it.

Rigor Equals Results
We can choose our faith, but we must choose something. We Americans like to pick and choose parts from many different spiritual traditions. But if we don’t choose a spiritual path as our core, we have no time-tested foundation on which to build.

The Value of Purity
We really are influenced by our surroundings, so we must choose our company and our surroundings wisely. When we set the bar high, we jump high. Any good athlete knows that only a moderate amount of junk can be let in the body before performance is affected.

Rituals Are Not Dumb Afterall
Rituals are routines that set the table for spiritual insight. Like stretching, a good spiritual ritual readies us for the hard lifting of actual spiritual growth. Many religious rituals work on levels we don’t appreciate until we have been practicing them for awhile, and even then they are subtle like a good night of rest.

Peter Kowalke is a 34-year-old lifelong unschooler and editor of Unschooler.com. His spiritual site, American Vedanta, can be found at Vedantin.org.He lives in New York City and spends a portion of every year in Asia.

This article was published in the January-February 2014 issue of HEM:


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Going It Alone, by Leslie Potter http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/going_it_alone_leslie_potter/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/going_it_alone_leslie_potter/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 07:00:40 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=512 Leslie PotterI never dreamed I would be a single parent. I grew up in the deep South and naively believed the Disney fantasy of growing up, finding Prince Charming, getting married, having a house full of kids and living happily ever after. I grew up in a family shattered by a nasty divorce so I was desperately dreaming of a happy ending. So I earnestly set out on my fairy tale quest, confident I would manifest my dream. I was going to be a famous Broadway actress who married a dashing man while having three amazing children.  I’d have a nanny and spend only loving time with my children. (Oh my, how young I was.)

Embarking on my fantastic journey I did travel the world, gathering amazing experiences, all the while searching for the perfect romance, along with fame and fortune. I didn’t really “get it” that my childhood fantasy was just that until one morning I woke up and realized I was 43 years old and still hadn’t met Prince Charming. It felt like I was in a house on fire and all my alarms were going off, with a frantic voice in my head screaming, “What if you are 60 years old and haven’t had the experience of being a mother?” All of a sudden I jerked awake as if from a “bad” dream.  Unknowingly, I had veered way off the path I’d originally thought I was taking and as I looked down the road of the path I was on, it was childless. This realization prompted me to find the courage to see the fork in the road and take the path less traveled.

At 43, I felt the urgency to get down to business, exploring any and all options to being a mom. I could get on Match.com and find a “daddy” candidate, search out the perfect sperm donor or look into adoption. After exploring all the avenues, adopting from China became my preferred choice. I was clear that I wanted a girl and I knew that adopting from China I was likely to get one. Also, as a single woman I would be treated as if I were a married couple when applying in China which wasn’t the case in the States.  When I learned the top agency for Chinese adoption was 30 miles away I took this as a sign. This was the road I was meant to take. One phone call and the next day I had an application to adopt. I filled it out on the spot before I had a chance to think twice, and so began my journey down the new road to motherhood.

It took 14 months of endless paperwork, fingerprints, police checks and spending a small fortune before I finally found myself on a plane to China to meet my daughter. At the time I hadn’t really thought through the joys and challenges of doing this alone. All I knew was that this was the most “right” decision I’d ever made in my life. I was finally fulfilling my long-cherished dream to be a mother!

My 12 days in China were other-worldly. From the moment I met my precious daughter I was in awe; here was this tiny bundle of love that I was to spend the rest of my life caring for. All the day-to-day details were taken care of by the adoption agency so my only job was to make googly eyes at my beautiful daughter while falling madly in love.

Looking back I can see how I didn’t have a clue how challenging life could be as a single mom. I was riding high on the fantasy and believed that love would see us through all obstacles.

We returned home three days before Christmas and life as a single mom ardently began.

I’ll never forget that first week home––I did more laundry in that week than I’d done in the last six months. It quickly became crystal clear that I didn’t have a clue how to be with my precious nine month old child for a full 24 hour period while also attending to life. I was completely overwhelmed and began to question my capacity to take this on.  Fortunately, there was no “out,” which I had always found when in relationship with men, so the only way forward was through. I remember looking at the clock in those early days and seeing that there were four more grueling hours before her next nap. I thought I was going to die. Each of those moments were excruciating due to the pressure I put on myself to “know” what to do. Instant baby was much more challenging than I ever imagined. Somehow I had this overpowering expectation that I would naturally know how to be with her since I loved children. And yet I found myself at a total loss as to what it really meant to be a mother.

By week two, loneliness set in big time and I longed for a partner with whom to share my vulnerability and doubts. At the same time, I was afraid to let anyone know how scared and overwhelmed I was because many folks, especially my family, had had serious doubts about my capacity to be a mother at all. Also during these first months my best friend who I expected would be my helper and companion on this wild unpredictable ride was trying to get pregnant herself and decided she needed to pull all her energy back in for herself. It became very clear that I was truly on a solo journey and all I could do was sink or swim.

Looking back, I realize the one person that I didn’t look to for guidance was my daughter. I had been so deeply conditioned to believe that I was supposed to “know” what she needed, when she needed it and how she needed it that I began to forget that she had her own internal GPS and that I could relax and begin to take cues from her. Having read too many parenting books on how to control my child, I didn’t trust my own internal guidance. So instead of confronting and working with my feelings of helplessness I began to look for any way I could to get my daughter to behave. Because it was excruciating for me to see her suffer I tried to create the perfect environment for her to thrive. Sadly what I created was a stifling container that didn’t allow her to express and share her experience or to process her old emotional memories from China.

I desperately needed her to be the perfect child so I could feel good about myself. The one thing I wanted to be was a successful Mom and I felt that she had the illusive key.  Honestly, it was just one big hot mess and the more I tried to control her the more she fought. Thank God, she was a fighter who was determined to live. She had already survived nine months in a cold, barren orphanage in China and she was not willing to let me take over and convince her that she could now relax and be loved.

Thank God I’m also a fighter and together we went at it with a force and fury that was shocking. I still remember the day I picked her up, trying to force her to take her nap and she began flailing in my arms, striking out like a mad child. As I tightened my grip and became even more determined to force her into the bed she lashed out, scratching my face and looking at me with hatred in her eyes. As I let go and reached up to touch my face I felt blood dripping down my chin. Shocked, I looked at the blood and so did she. The dam broke and I found myself on the floor sobbing and feeling like such a failure. Something had to change and it did. It was as if in that moment we both laid our weapons down and began the journey toward opening our hearts and trusting our knowing. The fight was over.

In surrendering I took off my old conditioned glasses and recognized that she was doing the best she could to take care of herself. I was the threat and she was showing me her wisdom. She didn’t need me to coddle her and force her to nap because I thought it was good for her. She needed me to see when she was afraid, and in that moment to remind her she was safe. She didn’t need me to tell her when to eat, when to sleep, what to play and what was best. She needed me to trust her knowing. She needed me to see her goodness and her determination underneath the perceived “bad” behavior. She needed me to listen to her and not all the books I’d read. She wanted an authentic relationship not a parent trying to force her into a mold.

With my eyes wide open we forged ahead. I had to throw out any and all beliefs I’d learned that caused me to contract  into my own fears and withdraw love. I had to open to my innocence and return to a place of beginners mind. I felt like I was starting over and together we began to learn a new way.

Without the outside voices or a partner’s voice telling me what they believed, I found my deep wisdom and truth.

In this process of finding our way anew I fully realized the “rightness” that inspired this solo adventure. I was being given the opportunity to return to my authentic self, and the path was to turn away from all that I had learned about relationship so far.

My daughter was this beautiful, precious bundle of love who came to show me the way back home. We were in this together and I learned that “love” will conquer all. The big revelation however was that it wasn’t “other love” but “self love” that showed us the way. Being a single mother pushed me toward my inner knowing since I couldn’t rely on an external partner. My daughter had the courage to fight for her being and I had the courage to listen.

Today, she is an amazing 13 year old and often I just stand in awe of who she is. We still have our ups and downs and can fight like the best of them but the difference is that we get in and out quickly and always return to love. We celebrate our humanness and never seek perfection.

Most of our upsets come when I’m not listening to myself and trusting my ability to love myself. Most of hers come when she thinks I’m mad at her or disappointed in her.

It has been a continuing process to not judge myself when I fall back into my old conditioned behavior. And there are still times I long for a partner to work things out with instead of her. But consciously stepping into the wisdom received from going it alone has been powerful. I get to trust myself and my decisions. I get to trust my daughter and her decisions and we are doing it together.

I’ve learned to be the open field of presence which allows my daughter to guide her life experience and follow her inner wisdom. She has attended school, unschooled and now has returned to school for the social contact and sports. Even though I would have chosen to keep her out of school and all its cultural conditioning I trust that she is living the experience she wants.

I’m living the experience I want also…being a single mother. Though this wasn’t the future I had planned for myself, I am having a glorious adventure filled with support and challenge and so much love.


Leslie Potter is the founder of Pure Joy Parenting, a joy-based parenting model which supports parents in moving from a traditional, fear-based model to a joy-based one, focusing on relationship and healthy attachment. She is a co-author of Chaos to Connection: 9 Heart Centered Essentials for Parenting your Teen. Leslie is a parent coach with a background as a body centered therapist. She created the Parent Coach Model at Vive, a national company working with at risk teens and their parents. In 2008, she founded Purejoy Parenting to educate and support new parents in understanding the importance of their attachment stories and how they affect their relationships with their children.  She lives outside Boulder, CO with her amazing daughter and their sweet doggie George! Visit her website for more information: www.purejoyparenting.com

This article was published in the March-April 2014 issue of HEM

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Hugging the Pillow, by Lee A. Elliott http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/hugging_pillow_lee_elliott/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/hugging_pillow_lee_elliott/#comments Sat, 15 Mar 2014 07:00:51 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=504  

DepressedIt was a bright, sunny, Monday morning. I hid under the blankets, I simply could not go to school or speak to anyone today. I could hear my father coughing outside the kitchen door over his morning cigarette as he let the dogs out. He had already banged on my door with a curt, “Come on, get out of bed!” as he passed my room. Soon my mother would make sure my school uniform was complete and that I was awake. I sunk deeper into the bed, hugging my pillow with a hollow stomach. I knew I had nothing to fear but was full of dread, worthlessness, and a haunting feeling that the outside world was something I needed to hide from. Claiming to have a stomach ache would not be a lie.

Just the previous week I was so enthusiastic to get to school, excited about life and, if anything, over talkative and extra social. Like night and day these emotions and moods would follow me through my life in waves. As a baby boomer, I was of a generation where no one was labeled ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, bipolar, or any of the many conditions that we so easily label children with today. I now suspect I was suffering from ‘early onset bipolar disorder’, something unheard of at the time––the emergent form in children of what was previously known (in acute form) as ‘manic depression’. The treatment of the day was being told “Pull yourself together!”

Bipolar disorder is a cyclic condition where sufferers alternate between moods of extreme, positive elation and deep depression. In children the moods are often worse than in adults and can alternate more frequently. This is now referred to as early onset bipolar disorder, and is becoming a label increasingly given to children based on a consultation alone. There are no blood tests or brain scans that can be used to diagnose a child with this condition. A doctor may simply ask about a child’s moods, energy levels, sleep patterns, and behaviors.

Today, bipolar disorder is becoming an increasingly fashionable label as celebrities disclose that they are sufferers, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Carrie Fisher, and Steven Fry, who even made a documentary on the subject (The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, available for online viewing) with a surprising outcome. Each of the people he interviewed, when asked if they were presented with a button that would turn off their bipolar condition permanently, would they press it now? The answer was almost always “No!,” for the elation and inspiration they experience on the upside feels worth the dark moods that will inevitably follow. It is suspected that many creative geniuses owe both their successes and tragedies to being bipolar.

Steven Fry recently described the mood swings with an analogy that I liked so much that I have stolen it as the most effective way of explaining to others how it feels to be bipolar. He compared it to the weather. You may wake up one day and the sun is shining, the next day it may be overcast and raining. If someone said to you, “Come on, pull yourself together! It’s not raining––it’s sunny!” It won’t change the weather. If it’s raining, it’s raining––it has nothing to do with how we are seeing things, nor how we feel about ourselves. Equally, the mood swings I experience have nothing to do with life events, although they can be triggered by them. More often than not they even contradict. Everything can be great, my life going well, I am loved and successful––and suddenly I am extremely depressed and anxious, under a dark cloud for no reason at all. Other times my life situation may be extremely precarious and worrisome, but I might feel inexplicably great with racing thoughts about this wonderful new project that, although far-fetched and improbable, in my mind was sure to succeed and make me famous.

That morning my father, having fed the dogs, left for work while my mother let me stay in bed hugging the pillow. She rang the school and took my temperature. If that were today, and my behaviors were described to a doctor––I would most certainly have been diagnosed as early onset bipolar and prescribed medication. In fact, being diagnosed as bipolar today is so widespread that medical practitioners and senior psychiatrists are becoming concerned by the way anti-psychotic drugs are being routinely prescribed as a permanent solution for adults and as a preventative measure for children.

Dr. Moncrieff, a Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at University College London, has recently written about how the re-labeling of ‘manic depression’ as ‘bipolar disorder’ was not simply a name change, but a widening of what we consider to be this condition to the point that someone feeling anxious, depressed, or simply suffering from the mood swings of everyday life can become diagnosed as bipolar and walk away with a prescription for anti-psychotic drugs. This is worrying and should be a concern for any parent who has a child who is in this situation.

I have always been uncomfortable with the diagnostic processes psychiatrists use to identify mental conditions in children, how labeling LeeElliott,sister,father,grandparentsaffects them, and the crossroads where education and medical intervention meet. However, it is the use of anti-psychotic drugs on patients with mild symptoms and particularly children that is the most worrying. We simply do not have adequate research. These are serious drugs with side effects that may outweigh any benefit to the child. Drug companies and medical consultants have made huge profits since the surge in diagnosing bipolar disorder and the promotion of anti-psychotics as being suitable for children.

These drugs were developed in the 1950s to treat serious mental disorders. What was formerly referred to as manic depression, on which the original trials were conducted, is far more acute and very different to the disposition of a child diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder today. Researchers originally believed these drugs ‘realigned’ a chemical imbalance in the brain. This, according to Dr. Moncrieff is a perpetuated myth, and that they work by simply damping down the brain’s activity, a rival theory that was brushed under the carpet at the time. The outcomes of this on the developing brain of a child are simply unknown––I wouldn’t risk them on my children and am glad I never went through school as a semi-zombie myself. The highs and lows of my childhood are a part of me that I couldn’t imagine living without.

There is now a growing wave of opinion that many of the behavior traits that lead to a diagnosis of early onset bipolar disorder are actually the result of emotional disturbances, environmental toxins, lack of exercise, and a diet full of sugar, processed foods, and additives. There is also a compelling argument to re-evaluate the umbrella term bipolar and separate the acute condition from the mild symptoms that may just be natural mood swings and responses to an environment or diet that can be changed.

That day I was sick and off school, my father came home from work with a comic for me to read and some sticky candy. My childhood diet in the 1970s was not particularly good––fun but not very sensible. Before I become too worried whether any of my children have inherited my condition, I will be having a serious think about their diet and well being. I do worry about the artificial ingredients in all the foods that tempt them, foods that are so much a part of our culture that they are often hard to avoid.

As an unschooler I do not have to worry about my children’s behaviors fitting in with the artificial community of a school regime. This is predominantly the reason medication is given to children. If my children are a bit hyper and can’t sit still, we’ll go outside and run about. If they are dreamy and gazing out of the window seeming detached, I’ll put on some Debussy to match the mood. However we homeschool our children, we can adapt the environment and activities to the child. A schooled child behaving the same way, out of sync with a class routine, or going through an angry and emotional phase, can easily find themselves labeled and medicated in order to fit in.

I have met too many parents who seem almost eager to have their children labeled as bipolar to explain away behaviors. Their children may be angry, emotional, at times extremely hard to cope with, and sometimes so depressed that they just want to disengage from the family and hide in their bedrooms. These could all be symptoms of early onset bipolar disorder. Equally, they could be normal responses to growing up and adapting––valid fears and anxieties that are as human as depression and elation within an explainable context.

A doctor relative of mine once described clinical depression as a condition to be diagnosed and treated only when emotions were completely out of proportion to one’s life events, existing with no explanation or valid cause and therefore possibly caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. But all too often normal or ‘reactive’ depression is treated the same as a the medical condition. However, depression is a normal human coping response when faced with events and situations that are negative in our lives. I believe depression is beneficial, leading to change by enforcing time for inward reflection and contemplation. Darwin described it nicely, “Depression is the sadness that informs as it leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.”

As an adult, I consider myself to be what I like to refer to as a ‘functioning bipolarist’. I have learned to ride the waves of my mood swings as not only an essence of my character that defines who I am, but in a way that they can positively enhance my professional and private life. The highs drive the passion and focus behind all that I consider personal achievements, spur an enthusiasm that has inspired students into action and adults to join me in creative projects that have at times been hugely successful. Ideas that a more level-headed adult would never have embarked on due to being too ambitious, outlandish, or financially risky. The lows are necessary periods of reflection and contemplation. Today when I hug a pillow, turn off the phone, and hide in bed away from the world, I just embrace it as a means to re-charge and re-align my focus. For the most part this works for me, I have a self-awareness that I have developed that prevents me from going too far in either direction, and on some subconscious level I manage to fit my pillow-hugging sessions around my responsibilities. However, this has not always been the case. I am convinced that if I had been on medication as a child and young adult, I would not have been able to evolve these self-checks and even use the condition as a positive aspect of my very personality.

I am wary about being ‘officially’ diagnosed as bipolar, a mental illness, and what implications that may one day have on me. Only occasionally during phases of extreme anxiety, full of fear and dread, have I temporarily used medication such as Xanax or Valium. And then only for a few days when the pillow just couldn’t be held tight enough to my stomach to quell the darkness that felt as physical as it was frightening. But there were always other factors in my life that had pushed it that far. There have also been times when the mania was so intense that my excited nature would be disturbing to friends and family around me. I was once convinced to follow a course of anti-depressants that removed the lows but also killed the highs and positive energy I craved creatively. Equally, consoling has never worked for me. The mood swings are not due to personal problems and talking through any problems I may have makes it worse; dwelling on the negative only emphasizes something that will pass. My moods and behaviors may have lost me a few fair weather friends in the past, but have filtered out my circle to those who are a supportive and an understanding influence.

In both children and adults, the condition is often masked by addictive behaviors and can go undetected. The highs and lows of the mood swings are comparable to being drunk and then having a hangover. I believe many gamblers, and particularly alcoholics, are bipolar, the ‘three-day-bender’ masking the mania, and the resulting hangover hiding the depression. Self-medicating like this can be hugely destructive for someone with bipolar disorder, who often also has an addictive nature. Equally, the compulsive behavior that accompanies the manic phase can attract toxic friends that feed off the energy in a negative way.

As an impulsive English teenager in a dysfunctional family, I left home at age 15, before leaving the country completely. It wasn’t until I was 27 that I had found a balance to my life. I was lucky enough to attract creative and caring friends, and stoic enough to effectively bring myself up, avoid toxic influences, and put myself through college. Not everyone is as lucky. Age 27 is often a watershed time for finding oneself, a pivotal point. Looking back, I can see now that my mother displayed the behaviors that typify my condition, as did my sister and aunt, both of whom committed suicide at this age.

Let’s face it, neither growing up nor parenting has ever been always easy for anyone. However, as home educators, we are in the perfect position to know and adapt to the rhythms of our children, and whether their emotions and behaviors are explainable. I in no way mean to deter anyone from seeking professional advice if they are truly concerned about their child’s extreme behaviors. I just think we ought to be careful not to automatically assume our children’s ‘ups-and-downs’ and difficult phases are possible signs of an underlying illness. It is simply too easy to become worried and overly concerned, and too easy to label a child and find medication for what could simply be part of the difficult road that growing up and fitting in has always been.

As one who has openly labeled himself as bipolar, I simply hope I have provided some food for thought for parents concerned with what is often a phase, and part of the natural, human condition. I do not believe in labeling children so easily, nor in using medication as a solution (my sister and aunt were both using anti-depressants). Coming to terms with my condition, and the way I have adapted to not only be more self-aware, but even learning how to utilize the alternating phases of positive energy and reflective moods to my advantage, could never have been achieved on medication.

By Wednesday morning I was ready for school, I wasn’t as excited as the previous week, but more calm. It seems my sister had since caught my mystery stomach ache and was staying home herself today. I fluffed my pillow up neatly as I made my bed before eating a bowl of sugar-loaded cereal as the dogs scratched at the kitchen door to be let back in. It was no longer the bright, sunny morning that seemed so foreboding just days before, but overcast and raining. Although I would have preferred to stay at home and finish the book I had started reading, I was happy despite the weather.

Lee A. Elliott has been internationally involved in alternative education as a teacher for the past 24 years. He and his wife Karen now embrace a radical unschooling lifestyle along with the youngest of six children. Touring together in a 1978 motorhome, he documents his thoughts and experiences on learning as they search for the perfect community in which to settle.

This article was published in the March-April 2014 issue of HEM

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Fear is a Choice, by Erin LaBelle http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/fear_choice_erin-labelle/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/fear_choice_erin-labelle/#comments Sat, 15 Mar 2014 07:00:41 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=483 Fear is a choice


A few mornings ago, I ventured into my teenage son’s room to once again turn off his window fan. As I pushed back the curtain, there was a funny brown shape wedged between the screen and the glass window pane. With a closer look, I realized the strange shape was a small bat. I immediately thought, “A BAT, YIKES!  BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES!!” My maternal, protective gut instinct caused me to feel like shouting out to my husband or the exterminators but then I remembered an article I had recently read about a mother’s fear spreading like wildfire to her children. I paused, took a breath and feeling less reactive and more composed, realized that the furry little upside down guy was actually pretty cute. I went downstairs and announced the arrival of our tiny visitor and calmly presented this as a learning opportunity to the boys.

After observing him and assuring them that the bat could not enter our home,  even though my more worrisome child kept insisting that these creatures were contortionists who could shape shift through teeny spaces while innocent victims slept nearby, they embraced our new friend. Each evening around dusk he would disappear and each morning we awoke to his presence in the window. He often dangled by what seemed to be a few long toenails. His pointy ears were almost see through. His face looked a bit like our dog. We were originally introduced to bats by Janell Cannon’s  fantastic children’s picture book, Stellaluna, and we had seen a tiny specimen years ago at a California nature center but this was different. He was right here for us to see in our home. After sleeping on our bedroom floor the first night, my son who would normally be completely freaked out to have a bat setting up house in his window, began to speak about his nocturnal roommate affectionately.

It is obvious that we pass on many traits genetically to our children and we see much of ourselves in them as they grow older but what may not be so obvious is that we also pass on our fears. We have such power in what we teach our children about how to react to the world. They learn how to react by watching us react. If we are afraid, it is quite likely that they too will be afraid.

A friend who is squeemish toward most creatures without fur in the natural world has amazingly produced two daughters who are also not big fans of non-domesticated furless creatures. Unless of course they are safely locked up at the zoo. Another friend is extremely comfortable in nature, so much so that a tarantula crawled over the family’s outside southern California sleeping space and she did not react. Of course, her children also did not react. The only way this mother and her children react to nature is with reverence and curiosity, never fear.

We are conditioned to accept that some people are programmed to be uncomfortable with nature and its creatures while others are not, but I really think that we can choose what we fear and we can rid ourselves of fears that we no longer wish to have.

I was a child uncomfortable with nature, a bit afraid of being outside in the dark, completely freaked out by our basement, and terrified when my brother frequently chased me with a dead bug in a napkin. I dreaded stepping on beetles and roaches on humid summer southern nights while playing barefoot in our well-lit fenced backyard. Stepping on a slug was the worst and I was thrilled when my mother set out jar lids full of beer or sprinkled them with salt to end their menacing lives. The only thing I knew of bats was from the horror stories my grandmother told of the women in New Orleans who were foolish enough to go outside at dusk and get a bat stuck in their hair.

Then I grew up and gave birth to two boys and my learning truly began. My first son was also a little cautious around creaturesLearning through unschooling by exploring a stream. although he loved to collect snails and capture tadpoles. He liked to observe the reptiles but was not interested in handling them, which for me was a good thing. A slow introduction.

When my second son came around, things changed. I changed. He loved the thrill of capturing lizards, frogs and snakes and still lectures people on the subject of the rights of ants and why we shouldn’t kill them. He loves touching and holding just about every creature known to man and one year most of his learning revolved around pulling all the inhabitants out of a creek on the property at our learning co-op. Because of this child, I spent my entire thirty-fourth birthday attempting to relocate a tiny turtle we named Timmy. Through this endeavor we learned much, especially about removing creatures from their natural habitat.

I never expressed disgust or fear about any living creatures in front of the boys, although I have to confess that I really did not desire to hold the black snake given to our family by one of my husband’s students. Over the years, I have become quite comfortable with the creatures that terrified me as a child because I have spent more time in their world.

Since becoming conscious of the idea of teaching fear to children, I have noticed how uncomfortable many kids are in the natural world. Recently on a Florida beach, I sent a child screaming to her mother when I mentioned that a creature was living in the beautiful shell she was holding. On a night walk with my son, we encountered a child at the water’s edge unwilling to touch wet sand and scoop it into her bucket for the sand crab someone had given her. When we squatted next to her and showed her how easy it was, she was still uncomfortable until we found a discarded shovel. Her mother stood next to us, watching but also not touching.

After two days away, our bat is back. We go about our daily business, stopping every now and then to marvel at his design. He has been a summer gift to us and reminded me that choosing not to fear is one of the many gifts that we can give our children.

Erin LaBelle believes that learning happens when you get out of the way. She describes herself as a learning activist, writer, photographer, Raw Food enthusiast and member of an nomadic unschooling tribe of four who currently call Kent, Ohio home. She loves taking long walks, reading good books and being inspired by the stories of others. She is way too curious and needs nine lives to try our all the different career paths that intrigue her.

This article was published in the January-February 2014 issue of HEM

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Radical Trust, by Kate Fridkis http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/radical_trust_kate_fridkis/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/radical_trust_kate_fridkis/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 07:00:20 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=492 kate-and-eden “Where does the baby sleep?” asks yet another friend, peering curiously around the nursery, as though maybe a crib will materialize.

“In bed with us,” I say.

There’s a pause––barely perceptible––a skipped beat. And then, “Oh!” And then, “But aren’t you worried about crushing her?”

“I was, at first,” I say, automatically, because it sounds too cocky to say, “Nope.” “I was at first, but then when she was born I realized that it’d be pretty hard to crush a baby. They’re pretty lumpy. And they aren’t exactly silent. They’d make a fuss, y’know?”

And here is where I make a little joke about how my particular baby, whose name is Eden, is the Olympic all-time champion universal queen of fussing.

It’s a little script and I know my lines by heart. It’s a new script, though. Before, the conversation went like this:

“So are you delivering at Roosevelt? Or Mount Sinai?”

“No, neither one.”

“Oh yeah? One of the Brooklyn hospitals?”

“No, actually, I’m planning a home birth.”


*the pause*


“Oh!” And then, “Do you have a backup doctor?” Or maybe, “Are you worried about safety?” And sometimes, mostly from people my age, “Cool!”

I was always thankful for the “cool!”s but prepared for the questions about safety. Once, at an elegant work event, I had to reveal the dark secret of my birth plans in mixed company, and another pregnant woman said, “I could never do that,” and turned away. She didn’t even say, “You’re braver than me,” in that tone that women used sometimes to mean “you’re crazier than me.” She said it like “you’re horrible.”

It seems these days that I am always doing something that strikes people as dangerous.

I really don’t mean to. I swear.

Actually, everything I’m doing with my baby seems like the obvious, safe option to me.

It made sense to me to have a home birth. My friends who had planned natural births kept ending up with C-sections instead. They kept ending up feeling powerless, dejectedly repeating things they’d been told about their supposedly faulty bodies. “I guess I just produce too much amniotic fluid? Or was it not enough? Well, the baby might have been in danger, so we couldn’t risk it.” No one ever seemed ready to “risk” regular birth. It seemed risky to me to give birth in a NYC hospital, based on what I kept hearing.

The best part of Eden’s birth: Eden! The second best: I ate pizza and chocolate ice cream in bed about ten minutes later. Oh, and I felt safe the whole time. Hell yes.

Until the moment when I held Eden in the cheerfully purple birthing tub, after a few hours of the hardest work of my life, I hadn’t completely believed in her. And then suddenly there she was, and suddenly I was a mother, and here I am, still reeling from the impact of my old life slamming into my new life. I probably should’ve read a hundred books, but instead I’m just going with it.

Which is why Eden sleeps in our bed. And why I carry her all the time, and why I pick her up as soon as she cries, and why I nurse her constantly, and why I nurse her even on the subway sometimes, even though people are looking at me funny, and why I devote my days to her, and why I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a babysitter yet, and why I have let my priorities shift and eddy and rearrange themselves into new patterns that accommodate her presence in my life.

I sometimes feel for a moment that I can see myself through other people’s eyes, and I look pretty radical. It’s possible that they think I’m making these parenting choices because they all fit into the extreme philosophy I was raised in and have been conditioned to adhere to. You know, that whole unschooling thing. Which is sort of right, but doesn’t tell the whole story. I’m not choosing these things because they fit neatly into a philosophy I’m trying to observe. I’m choosing them the way everyone else chooses a hospital birth and a crib and a daycare center.

But what do homebirth and co-sleeping and homeschooling really have to do with each other? I sometimes wonder. They’re all surprising to most people I encounter. They all sound risky to many. But why do they seem to fit so automatically together for me? 

     Maybe, I think, they all have something to do with trust. 

     My parents trusted me to be smart enough to learn from the world, outside of school. I trusted myself because of that. When I got pregnant, I trusted myself to be able to safely birth without an operating room next door.  Bear and I trust ourselves not to kill our daughter in our sleep.

And most of all, we trust Eden. We trust her to cry for a reason, even when that reason is just that she’s new and overwhelmed and figuring out how to be a person. We trust her to keep growing and developing, so that she won’t always need to be constantly held and nursed. And we trust her to express her own real needs now, so that she can grow and develop in the healthiest way. I also trust myself to return eventually and gradually to the other things in my life that drive and fulfill me, but I am trying to trust myself enough to let myself focus almost entirely on Eden right now. I’m trusting life to be long. I’m trusting things to work out. I’m trusting nature to know what it’s doing. I’m trusting my body and my instincts.

It’s radical, I guess, all this trust.

I didn’t even know I could do it, before. But I am different, because I am a mother.

God, it’s fun. She is two months old now and she smiles when she wakes up, even on the days that she cries all day. She makes sounds at me and I make sounds back. I look into her face, trying to understand how this happened. How she happened.

sleeping on daddy
“I can explain,” says Bear, grinning.

“You know what I mean,” I say.

She is a miracle. And she is totally normal. That is what being a mother is like for me. Maybe for everyone. It’s weirdly ordinary, it’s never-ending and exhausting and sometimes boring and at the same time, it’s ridiculous and miraculous and awesomely new, every moment. It’s risky. It feels right. It’s all about following your heart.

She’s crying now, so I’ll stop writing. Or maybe I’ll just learn how to write standing up and bouncing her, so that we can both get what we want. I’m working on it.



Kate Fridkis is a grown unschooler and brand new mother of daughter, Eden. Kate still refuses to answer spontaneous math questions to prove that she “learned something.” She writes the popular body image blog Eat the Damn Cake, as well as blogs for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, Jezebel, and many more. She eats a lot of cake. You know, for research and authenticity.

This article was published in the January-February 2014 issue of HEM



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When is Unschooling Unparenting?, by Barb Lundgren and Mark Hegener http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/when_is_unschooling_unparenting_barb_lundgren_mark_hegener/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/when_is_unschooling_unparenting_barb_lundgren_mark_hegener/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 20:20:42 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=521  


Unparenting is a word often bandied about by critics of unschooling and by those in unschooling communities who like to debate or criticize one another about parenting styles, family life and unschool methodologies. Folks who use this word, unparenting, imply that parents are uninvolved in their children’s lives, don’t make demands of their children, let children run the household, let children do whatever they want or don’t discipline. We have some thoughts on this word too, its use, and relative merit in discussions and understanding.



I will add that this is not a new discussion and not unique to just unschooling and unschooling critics. We cannot know what is happening in others’ families so why try?


The life lesson I have learned is that context is everything. As mentioned, this discussion has played out many times. One such discussion that I was involved in was carried out in the context of contrasting a public education, with its invasive approach to learning, to a homeschooling approach.


The best wisdom that group of dedicated parents could come up with was that homeschooling (remember, I’m a radical unschooler who still self-identifies as a homeschooler) contrasted to public schooling is benign neglect. Now I’m very comfortable with that because I have come to understand how children learn, how they assume responsibility.



Tell me how you have come to understand benign neglect.



Again, this term came up in discussions contrasting conventional educational wisdom vs. how homeschoolers saw their role in their kids’ learning. Neglect was, and is, a criticism you hear. Benign neglect pretty much became the ‘insiders’ joke.


As an example, there was this “educational” game making the rounds of the resource lists. It was developed by certified teachers and early childhood experts and was guaranteed to provide the perfect learning experience. What ‘we’ collectively grew to see that these kind of games were designed to basically ‘trick’ kids into learning something someone else thought was important.


The flip side, the benign neglect side, preferred to give our kids a set of blocks, or legos, Playmobiles or whatever, stand back and let the kids design the games themselves. Instead of the responsibility being on the shoulders of the experts to come up with the educational experience it was shifted to the kids.



I remember the benign neglect accusations in years past, too. I came to feel honored to own the label, as it meant to me that I was not educating my children through controlling them with curricula, grades and assignments but through the ever-changing creative environment, rich conversations and open-ended experiments with life, people and whatever captured my kids’ curiosity from one day to another.



Let’s unpack this unparenting thing. What are today’s allegations (which I read as misunderstandings or differences in philosophy)?



The current accusation is “unparenting.” Let’s dissect the accusations:


1. Uninvolved in their children’s lives: I admit that unschooling is a lifestyle that leaves a lot of doors open for interpretation, confusion and misunderstanding. When I was mothering my kids in the early years of unschooling, I ran into much befuddlement not only from mainstream educating friends and relatives but traditional homeschool friends as well. My approach to unschooling, to listen, follow and support my child’s questions and interests while doing my level best to engage them in new ideas, places, people and things was a far cry from what most folks expected of me. Completely absent in my unschool were lesson plans, grades, schedules, or forced learning of any kind. I even recall on occasion when someone would tell me about their strict educational plan–whether as homeschooling or attending school–and ask me how my family’s educational life compared. I remember sometimes saying we did “nothing!” We certainly did nothing like they did. How we lived our life was so radically different than the way others were living that I would not have been surprised at all if they accused me of unparenting behind my back.


In reality, I, and we as a family were fully engaged with one another most hours of most days. Sure, I supported all opportunities for exploration on their own or travel with others, but for the most part we all shared common space, knew what each was up to, engaged with each other on our own terms, supported one’s own and each other’s curiosities, experiments, research and projects. It was rare that I could predict what a day would look like and almost never that two days looked the same. We were open to inspiration, mood, visitors, last minute plans of all kinds. In short, we were as far from uninvolved with our kids’ lives as parents can be, just not involved in the ways the traditional world is involved with kids–through managing, controlling, tracking progress.



2. We don’t make demands of our children: In my unschooling home, this was largely true, at least on the surface. When asked, I would say that I did not make, bribe or otherwise coerce my children to do anything they did not want to do. That commitment I made to my mothering style early on required a monumental shift in my understanding of children, their abilities and in my communication style. I knew that my children deserved to be treated the way I wished to be treated and I knew I had never liked feeling that someone could force me to do anything, or make demands of me that I was not comfortable making. Underneath the surface of this murky standard (or criticism) however, things look very different: as I considered the value of character education, for example, things like compassion, understanding, selflessness, generosity, or helpfulness, it seemed that the only possible way to “teach” these things to children was by example. Could I live a life that embodies those qualities and could I do it without turning them into “teaching moments”? Could I surround myself with people who valued and lived life according to such standards? That was my challenge, the learning experience was mine, my children only had the opportunity to pay attention or not. Each person’s life is full with stimuli coming in from all angles: what gets noticed varies from person to person, how the information is processed varies according to a wide range of factors and what gets used or saved for the future can be unpredictable. What we know is that within our family communities, parents are important to children and serve as primary role models. What is normal in one family is abnormal in another.


3.  We let our children run the household: On this point I must say that I have witnessed some of this among unschooling families and I categorically don’t agree with this standard. I think it’s downright dysfunctional. Just as I would revolt if a father, for example, ran the household–making demands of others, not holding himself to the same standards as other family members, expecting his word to be valued as law–I certainly cannot see the value of creating an environment in which the children run the household. Parents are not slaves to children, just as children are not slaves to a dominant parent. No one benefits in this scenario, especially the children, as such interpersonal dynamics falsely teach inequality. In my perfect worldview of unschooling, mutual respect is what works. This is accomplished by first respecting the infant and young child: I listen when they cry or talk, I assist readily and eagerly when help is needed, I provide a safe and nurturing environment that feels good. When respect is integral to the lifestyle, mutual respect becomes as easy as breathing.


4.  We let our children do whatever they want: On a scale of one to ten, where one is no way ever and ten is always, I come pretty close to a ten in my strong and positive views of this statement. I don’t believe that children raised in a loving, respectful environment are looking for ways to irritate us as parents, destroy property or hurt themselves. With that said, I believe children’s wishes and desires are genuine to who they are. Each of them will manifest differences in food preferences, sleep schedules, mood fluctuations, friend time, play times and in all activities. I want my child to express herself genuinely, not according to what she thinks I want. Her ability to grow, learn and see the world through her own developing uniqueness is paramount to me. When my son, at age five, told me he wanted to fly off our rooftop, my response was not NO, are you crazy?, but rather, WOW!, It would be so cool to fly! Let’s figure out how you can fly! We fantasized about it, made a flying cape, practiced flying off steps, then chairs, then tables. By that time he had immersed himself enough in flying and learned exactly how gravity works. He never mentioned flying off the roof again. Of course, all that was said in #3 above, also holds true: all of our thoughts and actions, especially our actions, can have effects on those around us. Learning how to explore the world in freedom and respecting others is what life is all about.



5.  We don’t discipline our children: If this makes me an unparent, then I am guilty. I don’t discipline my children. There, I said it. I have learned through my own experience in this lifetime that external discipline is not only meaningless but counterproductive. What I value is self-discipline, learned by watching others and learning from their experiences, and through the process of being comfortable enough with one’s self that the process of interest–desire–experiment–success or failure–experiment–success or failure–education–growth–knowledge flows according to one’s always evolving sense of how the world works, on all levels. When my child hits a baseball through my window he runs to me to tell me about it. We assess the damage and figure out how to fix it. We evaluate whether anything could have been done differently now or in the future. We trust the process of accidents, emotions, communication, resolve, growth. We are all involved.


It’s been fun dissecting this. As I think about it though, I don’t find any value in judging another’s unschooling or parenting style. Not only is there a huge margin for error and misunderstanding, but it separates us instead of creates opportunity for connection and growth, and besides, working on perfecting our own lives and that of our family’s is already a full time job. Is our time really best spent criticizing others?

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Leave My Country to Homeschool? Yes! We Did It, by Jenny Lantz http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/leave-my-country-to-homeschool-yes-we-did-it-by-jenny-lantz/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/leave-my-country-to-homeschool-yes-we-did-it-by-jenny-lantz/#comments Sun, 13 Oct 2013 18:45:32 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=436 The following article was published in the September-October 2013 issue of HEM:

Leave My Country to Homeschool? Yes! We Did It!

photo four     I´m not very fond of mornings. This morning we slept in. Didn’t go up until 9 o´clock. We got out of bed slowly and had breakfast ready an hour later or so. We weren’t in any hurry and took our time eating, talking, reading… This is what most of our mornings look like. Because we don´t have to wake up early to go to work, school, or daycare… it´s the life we’ve chosen. It took a lot of courage to come to this, and we wouldn’t want to change it for anything.

As a child and teenager I had no thought whatsoever of home education, didn’t know it existed at all. I went to school, forced, of course, by my parents and society who both claimed that it was the only possible way to go, and that I would understand why when I got older. I loved learning new things. I loved to read and write. But I didn’t like to spend all my days in school. I never managed to fit in.

When I got older I started to think and rethink things in my life. I wasn’t satisfied with following the mainstream, doing things the same way “everybody else” did, just because it was the “right” way (or the ”only” way) to do it. Growing up, I always knew that I was going to have kids of my own, while I was still young. At age 16 I met my husband, the love of my life. At 19 we married, and 20 years old I gave birth to my first son. I was in heaven. As soon as I got pregnant I immediately bonded with the little creature inside me, and when he was born I fell hopelessly in love with him.

When our baby was about a year old people around us began insisting on him going to day care, and me going back to work. (In Sweden half of all the one year-old kids are in daycare, and 91.4 per cent of all the two year-olds… “How else would they be socialized…?”) But both my husband and I felt strongly that neither he nor we were ready for that. So we stayed home. And he stayed home. And at the age of 13 he ́s still at home, educating himself and enjoying it. As are his brothers, now 9 and 6 years old.

Now, deciding to educate your children at home is not a small issue in Sweden. We not only had to decide photo onewhether or not this was what we really wanted to do, but whether or not we could really do it. In other words, we had to deal with our own fears of not being good enough, clever enough, structured enough… you name it. The same kind of fear most home educating families says they’ve had to deal with. But, since we live in Sweden, we also had to decide whether or not it was so important to us that it was worth fighting for. We knew we ́d have to be ready to stand up for our choice every day, everywhere.

Sweden is often looked at as a mother and child friendly country with it´s long maternity leave and free health care for all children. Well, that´s one side of the story. The other side is that it is an extremely uniform society. As long as you follow standards you feel free, and safe. But, if you start making your own decisions, and they diverge from the norm, you´re questioned at once. And this is especially true when it comes to bringing up children.

Thinking it through and rethinking it again, we decided that it was worth it. We were on this great journey of life with our kids and we decided to go on as we always had. Together. Enjoying the company of one another. Every day.

So… we stayed home, spending our days the way we love. Staying up late at night, doing all kinds of stuff we like, and getting up late in the morning without missing the bus or being late to work or school.  We spend whole days reading books and drinking tea on the sofa. Learning about the world the way we do it best, exploring it in our own ways and at our own pace. And, for four years we managed to keep going on this way. We got the permission to homeschool after convincing the local authorities that we could. We met the test the local school demanded, and managed to follow the curriculum of the local school only as much as we had to, in order to get the permission renewed each fall.

During this time, everyday life was great. We lived in the Swedish countryside, we spent our days together playing around, growing vegetables, enjoying nature around us, having the time of our lives. But then came the school “inspections.” Once every term, we had to appear at the school, once every term people from the school would come to our place. To test. To assess. The kids. Us. Although they were nice and friendly, and amazed by the way our kids learned all the things they did, we always got distressed, fearing that they would be dissatisfied with something, and in the end insist that our permission to homeschool be withdrawn. This made us feel controlled, dissatisfied, and unsafe.

photo two    During this time, the school law changed and the ability to home educate legally in Sweden was taken away, and during the same time, home educating families around the country were starting to face threats of fines, and threats of their children taken into custody by social service, only because of home education. One boy was taken away by social workers, followed by armed police, on an airplane on his way to India with his mother and father. Because of homeschooling. He ́s still in custody today, four years later, and hasn’t seen his parents for 2.5 years. This really upset us (as it still does) and forced us to make the decision once again. We had to ask ourselves, once again, how important was home educating for our family?

We could see three possibilities: Stay in Sweden and put the kids in school, stay in Sweden and home educate them illegally––taking quite a risk, or leave Sweden and home educate the kids elsewhere. In the end it wasn’t a difficult choice for us. Once again we found the answer was yes, this is what we all want to do, so go for it! We decided to leave Sweden. We really wanted to go on home educating, and we were already tired of fighting and worrying about authorities, which made staying and home educating illegally a really bad choice for us.

From the beginning we made it clear to ourselves that we would NOT see ourselves as victims. We always knew we had a choice. And we knew that this whole thing surely would bring good things as well as bad. And one of the things we have come to know through all of this is that we want to see more of the world. This was our first step.

In May 2011 we left Sweden in our old car and very small caravan. We decided to go to Åland, an independent island under the jurisdiction of the Finnish constitution. We had only been there once before, many years ago, and didn’t know much at all about the country. We did know that it was a Swedish-speaking society that once belonged to Sweden, and that the Finnish law allows homeschooling. That sounded good enough for us.

We went by ferry on a cold, but sunny day in early May, and we felt free. We had taken steps toward our big decision to leave and sell our house, leave our friends and family, to go to this new place, and still it felt good! We stayed all summer in a camp site, enjoying the seaside and fresh air every day. We walked the forests, went swimming in the sea (two of our sons learned to swim in the cold blue water of Degersand). We went on long walks on the red rocks, finding exciting things to explore every time: there were fishes to save, a bird skeleton discovery, rocks and stones in all possible shapes and colors. It was a fantastic summer that we will always remember.

In September we felt we ́d had enough. We wanted a proper home, a proper kitchen, a living room for movie photo threenights, a bathroom of our own. We soon found a place we liked, and got an apartment in the north of Åland. And here we are now.

Of course we’ve had our hard times. We find ourselves feeling homesick now and then, missing living in our own house. Realizing that even though we speak the same language as the natives here, we do experience misunderstandings because of cultural differences. But still. We can live our life the way we really like it. And it is definitely worth the effort.

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Raising World Changers, by Erica Berge http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/raising-world-changers-by-erica-berge/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/raising-world-changers-by-erica-berge/#comments Sun, 13 Oct 2013 18:33:38 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=432 The following was published in the September-October 2013 issue of Home Education Magazine:

Raising World Changers, by Erica Berge  

ericaAs a homeschooling parent who has chosen a very relaxed approach to learning, I, like many who believe in a self-directed learning approach, am often met with skepticism or disapproval. The words don’t always come out of their mouths, but the expression on their faces says they believe I am screwing my six children out of having successful futures. Sometimes I need to remind myself of what my husband and I value, so that I don’t waiver under the temporary pressure of disdainful looks. You see, we have realized that our children might not be successful by the standards of today’s world and we are okay with that. Dictionary.com defines success as, “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.” While we acknowledge the validity of this definition, we don’t believe it is all-encompassing. We believe that truly successful individuals are givers, free-thinkers, and world changers like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, MLK, and Harriet Tubman. Above trying to earn and achieve alone, they would seek out what is right, love mercy, and see value in every life. The fact that we don’t dictate and schedule our children’s education allows our family freedom to learn about and live outward focused lives.

Knowledge often begets understanding. We are able to raise awareness within our families as we discuss the issues that are affecting our communities and world. Should we go into graphic detail? Certainly not with our little ones, and possibly not with our older children, either. However, if they are going to make a difference in this world, then they need to be aware of the issues and begin developing empathy and extending compassion at a young age.

I coordinate a group for teen parents and young families. A huge aspect of this outreach is an outstanding childcare that my children either attend or serve in. At home I often found my younger children imagining playing “teen parents.” They would dress-up, have a baby doll on their hip, and say they were going to the teen parent’s group. I’ll admit that at first I was a bit concerned, but I didn’t say anything for two reasons. First of all I didn’t want to stifle their play just because of an irrational fear and secondly, I wanted to see where they were going to go with it. They made sign-in sheets and set up our office like a nursery. They doted over plastic babies while having conversations about babysitting for one another so the other could go to school. My concern was unwarranted, because my kids didn’t want to become teen parents, they were role-playing their regard for life. Some of my younger children had identified one of the major struggles associated with teen parenting and were trying to ease the burden of one another. Their exposure to teen families was showing them that the value we place on life is not determined by the choices made by others.

Magazines and documentaries do a wonderful job of elevating understanding about current issues plaguing our environment and world. Presenting issues to children in this way captures their attention with their relevance and sparks meaningful conversations. Our family receives magazines that present international issues framed in hope to help raise consciousness. My older children read the articles that interest them and my little ones enjoy looking at the pictures of children their age growing up in drastically different environments. Discussing these articles and pictures gives our children a wider world view than they would have otherwise, and it helps them to feel connected to a child they choose to sponsor overseas by knowing more about his country’s political and cultural climates. Our family’s love of documentaries has had profound effects on our family, too. They have ignited conversation and compelled us to research topics that brought us to the decision to eliminate meat from our diets and plastic water bottles from our lifestyle, all for ethical reasons.

It comes as no surprise that children watch our every move. My husband and I try demonstrating our family’s value of “every life is important” when going into our community by addressing those that are in need on street corners or in front of stores with courtesy and respect. If the sight of someone in need or begging results in averted eyes, tighter grips of the hand, and an accelerated pace when there is no danger, we risk having our children begin to undervalue the lives of others.  Even if we might not always be able to meet their request, our children know that a greeting, an acknowledgement, and kindness are always free and most times welcomed. A life so vastly different from their own raises many questions in a child’s mind, it’s a good idea to prep your kids before entering a store that has a homeless person in front. Discuss the possible needs and wants of the homeless, afterwards asking your child how your family might meet those needs. One of the beautiful things about self-directed learning is that it allows for introspection without being rushed to the next subject or topic. It gives our families opportunity for thought-provoking conversations, where they begin to realize the answer may not be black-and-white, and are willing to work to find nontraditional solutions. Maybe the answer is not giving a dollar, but buying them a sandwich and an icy soda on a hot day or handing them a pair of brand new socks to comfort tired feet.

When you educate oneself through life experience you learn that passivity is not an option. The factor we need to add to the equation in raising world-changers is “uncomfortableness.” We need to live in a way that stretches us and our children. We need to give of our time, our money, and put ourselves in situations that don’t necessarily give us warm fuzzies. I am not suggesting putting our children in harm’s way, safety is of the utmost importance, but uncomfortable is different from dangerous. Allow your children to be uncomfortable. As parents we want to make everything convenient and tolerable for our kids, but we need to stop doing that. Allowing them to interact with people who aren’t always easy to talk with and letting them find themselves in situations where they might wish they were back home in front of the Xbox will inevitably bring growth and maturity.


     In our family, some of our children go with their father, traveling to local homeless camps where they visit, feed, and build community with people and families. They began doing this after my oldest son had the opportunity to walk to remote homeless camps, bringing them water in the desert heat. He came back from that experience changed because he heard the stories of these families that found themselves in poverty; he realized that the only difference between our family and theirs were our choices. He asked if we could become a part of this body of doers and our entire family became involved. Even though our two oldest children are the only ones to travel with their dad to the campsites on a regular basis, the younger children and I prepare hygiene kits at our house. Showing them the needs of others has awakened their desire to make a difference. Our oldest daughter, who has a heart for animals, saw that the hunger went beyond our homeless friends and began to collect treats and food for the many dogs they met on their travels. Granted, the experience is not always pleasant for our children, but it is developing their “world-changer” mentality. There are many volunteer positions within communities and churches that will allow you to bring your children along and serve as a family. If you can’t find some place to plug-in, create your own outreach to serve or assist in an area that inspires your entire family.

Learning through living means we need to adopt and teach our children the beauty and simplicity of the 3 Rs. I’m not speaking of the ones society touts are important––Reading,Writing, and ‘Rithmitic––rather, the ones I think the aforementioned world-changers would advocate for in today’s culture––Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

When your children are self-directed in their education, it allows time for parents to do the same, by pursuing what they are enthusiastic about. Inevitably, as we broaden our perspective, it affects our children’s lives because of the close family dynamic life learning fosters. My personal reading has shown me how colossal the consumption of the American people has become. As a society we consume because we need it, want it, or simply just because we can, with little thought of the long-term effects to ourselves or others. Feeling utterly convicted by my inclination to consume, I began to talk with my children about the things I was wrestling with and discovering. They were just as shocked to learn about the sub par working and living conditions of those making our clothing and technology in some foreign countries. It was a great opportunity for them to become cognizant of their purchasing power and the not-so-obvious effects it has on others. Admittedly, we are struggling through our aspiration to reduce our ecological footprint together. Since I have lived a life of consumption with a “what-a-great-deal-I’m-buying-it” thought process, I need to remind myself daily of the new goal to reduce and curb gluttonous tendencies. As we work toward reaching this goal as a family, my children are beginning to identify by themselves their wants versus needs. We still purchase wants, but recognizing the difference has considerably reduced the things we buy.

Repurposing and reusing has significant payoff, both environmentally for our world and creatively for our children. My children have the most fun with repurposing compared to the other Rs. Sometimes their ideas are less-than-practical, but I encourage and praise their effort, believing that trying is better than not. We have effectively used plastic containers as bug houses, craft and toy storage boxes, sand toys, and gift boxes. My children paint and bedazzle them for treasure boxes and wear them for helmets. As a larger-than-most family, reusing clothing is an economical part of our life. When clothing needs arise we go to the thrift store before retail stores. I love that we are supporting a worthwhile cause with our money while giving gently used clothing an extended life in our closet and not a landfill.

Children and adults alike need to realize that the goods we consume come from and go someplace. We need to educate our children that the out-of-sight-out-of-mind intellect today’s society accepts is not plausible for those who want to be a world-changer. World-changers not only think of the present, but envision the future as well. The garbage truck that picks up our trash on a weekly basis is not able to make it disappear, instead they take it to landfills where it’s covered with dirt with little effect now, but possessing potentially greater problems for later generations. When we recycle all we can, we make a difference in our world, realizing that the impact is not necessarily immediate. We may not be able to see the impact of our household’s recycling, but we have hope that it changes things for others. I remind our kids, and myself, that the reusable grocery bags and the steady supply of plastic water bottles we gave up will play a part, no matter how small, and has potential widespread generational impact by creating a better future for others.

Society will measure the success of my children with dollar signs, job titles, degrees and accolades. Regardless of whether they meet these benchmarks, my husband and I will feel they have gained success as adults if they continue on their journey of esteeming the lives of others and weighing the impact of their actions. When the arrogant look is shot my way because we allow our children to live a life that is not distinctly separate from their education, I need to remember why we chose the path of life-learning; we want to expose them to diversity, we want them to reflect on experiences at their own pace, we want their agendas to dictate the pursuit of what resonates within themselves; and we want them to have freedom to brainstorm improvements and solutions as they compare what works with what doesn’t.  Most of all we want our children to embrace the role of a world-changer; a free-thinker who seeks what is right, loves mercy, and values not only their own life, but others as well.

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