Home Education Magazine http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine Just another Unschooling.com site Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:09:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 I Am Open to Conflict, by Nadine LeBean http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/i-am-open-to-conflict-by-nadine-lebean/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/i-am-open-to-conflict-by-nadine-lebean/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 17:07:58 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=608  

image-4Whenever I need to learn something really well, I teach it. That is what has brought me to you today. I need to remember and fully believe what has worked and what has not worked with helping my children to resolve conflict. Even among unschoolers it is not uncommon to hear that people are struggling with their children not getting along…


As I write this, winter seems to have us inside a lot. Lately, our house has been tense. I cringe at the sounds of children fighting in the next room. I squish up my face and wish it would just stop. Why can’t they just get along? Because they are children? Sure, but I have met adults who need to learn to resolve conflict, too. It seems almost to be an epidemic as people angrily project their emotions and expectations on to one another and my wonderful children have been no exception.


As unschoolers we are together a lot, a lot more than most families. Much of that time is spent without a directed activity or goal. Without the distractions we are forced to really learn how to live with each other without violence, aggression or control. That is my goal. Also, when we do want to do an activity, there is much to be decided. It seems when one spawns an idea, the other three immediately want to do what that person is doing. What an amazing opportunity to learn!


That is the first step: Be open to the learning of it. Whenever I start to think that they should not be fighting, we suffer. I begin to feel angry, frustrated, sad and desperate when I live in those beliefs. With my beliefs we suffer from an inability to learn how to peacefully bring it all together. So, that is what I think now when I hear the cries, the whining and the yelling: “Here is an opportunity to learn.” That thought alone has made all the difference in the world.


The second thing I do is go into it without my judgments or ideas of how it should be solved.


I ask questions. I listen. I have found that more can be resolved and brought forth in my silence than anything else. I know and trust that my children have everything inside them that they need to work things out. Often in my silence I can offer each child an opportunity to speak. Other times I say it. I reiterate and then ask if they have any ideas of their own on how it can be solved. From there, the problems are almost always resolved. But sometimes this ends up in more arguing, and so I tell them that they can think about it we can revisit it later. They know that I trust they will have the answers. Sometimes I will suggest a resolution. The important thing is not for me to be stressed about it or to pick sides. That seems obvious, but how can we really learn this to our core?


We let go and we live it. I forgive myself immediately when I fail. My oldest son, age 12, was very upset about how their shared laptop was image-3being used. The younger children had our bubbly, fermented beverages by it and he was afraid they would wreck the laptop. He was refusing to let anyone have a turn because of this. My younger son had an idea. He suggested in a soft tone that we say to the other children, “Could you please not eat or drink by the computer?” Simple. And beautiful. I was touched that he believed that such kindness was powerful enough to resolve this. However my older son was not convinced. We kept inquiring as to what would resolve this. It took a few days for us to figure out that if I sat with them while playing, I could monitor. And I was ok with that. It reminded me to slow down and be with them. It reminded me to take an interest in their interests even if they seem small and meaningless. From this I was able to explore a whole new world––the world of Minecraft, where children can build their dream houses and their perfect villages. I got to see their dream worlds. I then went around putting up little signs, saying “Love from Mom” and other warm and silly things. It brought me back to considering those huge possibilities that childhood holds and it was all sparked by a stressful moment. I would have missed out on all of this had I remained in the stress of “My children should not fight!” It unschooled me to my core and left me wanting to know them more. It made me want to know me more. What kind of world would I build?


Something I’ve been thinking about is how I see children’s interests being labeled as wasteful. Children and video games are seen as wasteful of time, resources and brain cells. But what is the alternative? Control them and have them hate us, not trust themselves or us, and have them wanting more and more of what we are denying them? I remember someone telling me of times when books were considered a waste of time and now they are highly regarded. Be with them and do it authentically, within their passions and yours. My experience has taught me that an overuse of electronics is merely a symptom of something lacking, like connection to other people. I have also seen excessive use of electronics fueled by intense passion. My oldest son used his Nintendo DS for a few days straight after he got it. I was beginning to worry and it took a lot of work to get me trusting again. He came to me and said that he was noticing that he wasn’t sleeping or eating well and that he needed to give himself rules with the DS and then he listed them off. They were things such as “No playing DS before bed,” and “Eat before playing DS in the morning.” What an amazing thing to learn on one’s own without the incessant nagging of a parent. I am continuously humbled and in awe of how children can live and learn naturally what is good for them. My son has also immersed himself in things like learning to play the piano. Now he can play numerous songs effortlessly and beautifully.


What can I learn from this? That everything is an opportunity. Especially the situations that are hard. I’ve learned to examine my worries and my fears and in doing so, that is where I will learn the most and find the greatest joy. I will learn that everything is unschooling. Will you embrace it?


Nadine LeBean is a mother of five living in the small town of Saskatchewan, Canada with her partner, Michael Neuman. They are currently living a life totally out of the norm for their area, focusing on freedom, passion and love as education instead of books, teachers and lessons. Her current passions are rainwater collection and storage, permaculture, wild food harvest and preservation, natural medicines, fermenting foods  and teaching workshops on it.

This article was published in Home Education Magazine’s July-August 2014 issue:

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We Love You, Anthony How Our Adopted Kinesthetic Son Shook Up My Cerebral, Language-Intense Family, by Penny Tuggle http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/our_adopted_kinesthetic_son_shook_up_my_cerebral_language_intense_family_penny_tuggle/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/our_adopted_kinesthetic_son_shook_up_my_cerebral_language_intense_family_penny_tuggle/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 07:59:51 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=182 The following story from Penny Tuggle is from our May-June 2013 issue of Home Education Magazine:


tuggleWhen our little boy was five, he came into the kitchen and asked, “Mama, what are we having for dinner tonight unfortunately?” I blanched, paused, and then burst out laughing. The evolution of my reaction to this question over the last few years serves as a metaphor for the way Anthony’s presence has changed our family for the better.


In 2008 my husband and I were just starting to enjoy the freedom that comes with having moved past the little kid stage. Our children Asher, Abigail, and Emma were 10, 8, and 6. We felt like we had a good handle on the homeschooling life: our children were advanced academically and we had a peaceful, quiet home. Then during National Adoption month, we both became convinced that things were a bit too peaceful, a little too homogenous. We decided that we needed to seriously pursue foster care and perhaps adoption to shake things up a bit. What started out as a family “project” ended up pushing us farther along the homeschooling continuum towards unschooling.


We contacted an adoption agency, and after six months of training and waiting, we welcomed our first foster child. My husband was out of town at the time, and I was handed a little boy wearing grubby pajamas and bringing no more than a sippy cup. We were told that he would be staying about four days, which I thought would be a great trial run to see if I really could handle having a series of small children living with us. Four years later, Anthony is a full-fledged Tuggle, and he has been the impetus for my ranting, reframing, and finally relaxing as a homeschool mother.




Young children require a lot of time and energy. Foster children are more time-intensive, even when they are healthy and need no physical or mental interventions. When Anthony was our foster son, we had to attend ongoing training. Our family was visited at least three times a month by social workers. We took Anthony to visit his birth parents twice a week, and the girls and I waited at the visitation center for him. Although I knew these meetings were necessary, I couldn’t believe how much homeschooling time they were sucking up. We tried to do math at the visitation center, but we got distracted and ended up reading novels to each other. Studying in the car was not an option because we had to use the drive there to prepare Anthony for his visit, and we used the drive back to comfort him. Between having the normal day-to-day care of a preschooler again, our obligations to the county, and my constant fatigue that has always necessitated a mid-day nap, I was not able to homeschool at the times I wanted. I was in constant rant mode.


This loss of control almost made me lose my mind. It also didn’t help that Anthony and I were experiencing a personality clash. In retrospect (and to my friends as it was happening), my little boy was just being his adorable self. He really was a fish out of water in our cerebral, language-intense household. I was accustomed to my other kids speaking in paragraphs and using adverbs correctly by the age of two. Anthony didn’t have a chance. Part of my ranting stemmed from my thinking that he was a master at pushing my prescriptive grammar buttons. If he put “unfortunately” in a sentence about the dinner I cooked, I’d take it personally and answer, “Tonight we’re having a big plate of go to your room.”




It became evident that we had to embrace a new vision of what homeschooling would look like for our family. tuggle-familyFortunately, I have never been very curriculum driven. Put me in a school store or a homeschool swap and I’m looking for the fun stuff. I like us to finish a math book in a timely fashion, but I accepted that real life learning must be our priority for a little while at least. My big kids learned how to change diapers and give baths and make simple meals. They learned to share their living space, food, and parents. Their eyes were opened to the fact that not all children have parents who can take care of them. They learned how to be hospitable to the social workers that came to our home and to be gracious to their foster brother’s relatives. I was feeling pretty good about what they were learning.


I still tried to grab academic time whenever I could, and I tried to include Anthony. However, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with a small child who didn’t want to read for hours and who only wanted to talk about training to be a cage fighter. Out of desperation, I assigned Asher, Abigail, and Emma activities to do with the baby while I rotated them through their schoolwork. I figured this would be more “life learning” time for them. My plan backfired. First of all, the activities always ran out before the Latin did, which left us feeling rushed and unsatisfied. Second, having the older children do school-type things with their brother emphasized their differences even more, and they got really frustrated with him. They thought that all four year olds were able to follow directions, speak clearly, give a straight answer, and know things they’ve been told once or twice. And to tell the truth, at that point, so did I.


Fortunately, both of my best friends homeschooled their highly kinesthetic sons. They assured me that Anthony was just like their boys were at four. In repeated conversations with these ladies I realized that maybe a kid who could ride a bike without training wheels at two wasn’t able to sit still for a board book. I realized that his body always had to be on the move, which made it hard for him to concentrate. He was unable to pronounce a lot of words because his eyes were always roving, making it impossible to focus on the way our mouths were moving. For years he was oblivious to the fact that anyone else was talking and was always shocked when we told him that talking out of turn was rude. He couldn’t follow simple directions because he would be off and running to do the first thing we asked and then have to guess about the second thing.


tuggle-courtI had to do a good deal of damage control by then. It was a momentous task to reframe our view of the little guy: Anthony wasn’t academically slow at all, just really physically quick! I had to incorporate more physical activity into his routine, and I had to back off on the little amount of seatwork he was doing. If I wanted to get his attention, I would break out my Zumba moves or whip out a lightsaber. I had to train the big kids to compliment their little brother on how strong and brave and fast he is. I started to notice what a charming boy he is (as my friends kept telling me), and that he really had been working hard to fit in with his strange new family.


At this point, if he had asked what we were unfortunately having for dinner, I would have been proud of him for attempting to use an adverb and would have pointed this out to his siblings. A small part of me was still trying to frame everything academically, but mostly I was figuring out that he really valued being a Tuggle, which included approximating our speech.




In the process of studying Anthony, I began to notice that the kids had been developing all kinds of neat non-academic skills of their own. Asher is an organizer of online HeroScape tournaments, and he writes his own games. Abigail creates comics, sings while playing piano, writes novels, and draws. Emma fills the house with the smell of cookies baking and the sound of the sewing machine humming. I decided that if I could allow Anthony to relax into who he was made to be, I could do the same for the other three.


We still do academics, but we know that they aren’t really the most important thing about our family. The most important thing about our family, is, well, family—the new “shaken up” version. When I hear Anthony say, “Mama, what are we having for dinner tonight unfortunately?” I give him a big hug and don’t really register anything beyond “Mama.”


This article appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of Home Education Magazine


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The Unsupervised Warrior, by John Taylor Gatto http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/unsupervised_warrior_john_taylor_gatto/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/unsupervised_warrior_john_taylor_gatto/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 07:00:06 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=576 Gatto1-1024x576The civilized world got along fine without institutional schooling for 2000 years, progressing from grass shacks, caves, and donkey carts to Duesenbergs, space rockets and mansions, so why did mankind require such a prison as confinement schools for its children in the 19th century, unless it found a reason to hate and fear the young all of a sudden? How were the young educated in all the centuries before? Could we do it again if we had a good reason to do so? Happy, self-sustaining adult lives? Wouldn’t that work today and save us a world of money and grief? I’m serious. Why then and not now? Seriously. Do not evade the question. How is it that Washington, Lincoln, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Edison could do without, and not us?


As a longtime public school teacher, I ended my teaching career as New York State’s official “Teacher of the Year” in 1991, voted that honor by the state education department. Prior to that award, I had, on three occasions from 1989 to 1991, been named New York City’s “Teacher of the Year” by three different organizations. Why me?; what exactly did I know? The same thing I’m trying to teach you now, that if you restore dignity and meaning to children’s lives that algebra will take care of itself. The young most of all need vitamin L (for Liberty). What success I enjoyed as a public school teacher came from being powerfully goaded and inspired to self-examination by two enlightening stimuli: 1) from reading John Holt’s most radical book, Escape From Childhood, (hey, I bet you read it too) where he calls into question the absurd idea that confining students to chairs has any educational value, and 2) from having the good fortune to personally know two homeschooling families who had the courage needed to “unschool” their children, allowing the young to decide what to study, when and how to study it, “making it up as they went along” in the memorable words of Chris Mercogliano, co-director of the private Albany Free School, in his book of that title. Read it to learn how you’ve been flummoxed, euchred, suckered, and bamboozled by school propaganda into thinking, delusionally, that your sons and daughters must have what John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison knew they did not need. What fools our masters made of us! The entire human race got to where it is today school-free; we could go on that same road, too, if not in collective groups, then one family at a time.


Crazy as that sounds to people who have been conditioned to minutely pre-plan their lives far in advance, such free-form gambles in pursuit of education were common back in colonial times, when large numbers of prominent families trusted to their own common sense, instead of to professional pedagogy, in planning education for the young. Feedback obtained from rigorous self-examination and from close observation of the real world was considered sufficient data from which to put together a worthwhile course of study as proper foundations for acquiring and sustaining independent, satisfying adult lives; in fact, it’s rare to encounter a colonial boy or girl who did not follow what in our day would be regarded as the unschooling path.


David Farragut, first admiral in the American navy, and Ben Franklin, our boy wonder polymath, both followed the common educational route of their day “making it up bit by bit” as they went along, learning through real work experience, adventure, emulation, and exploration; everything they needed to live distinguished lives. The positive energy released by granting liberty to the young, and the enthusiasm free choice bestowed from re-leading them from the thrall of tutelage paid visible dividends in the new nation “dedicated to liberty,” involving students as principals in their own educations, making the modern concept of motivation ridiculous, (as it is), except as encouragement for manipulative charlatans, con men, and mountebanks. The generations which trusted children to educate themselves had taken note that, regardless of schoolmasters, children are learning all of the time. They noticed as well that it took generous applications of liberty and assignment of work responsibility to release the best genius lurking inside each individual student; without such trust, lassitude and enervation occur—as is the norm in American government schooling at the moment. By totally depriving our young of volition, as we do, they exact vengeance by refusing to learn. It’s As simple as that. As soon as Free Will begins, we see greater involvement in all studies and in attempts at character improvement.


For ten years as a teacher, after I began a semi-unauthorized program grounded in liberty to allow students to follow their own instincts, I enjoyed the exhilarating thrill of being confined with a small army of young people eager to aggressively pursue their own educations. Truly, it was a thrilling experience, being in the midst of a crowd eager to learn and understand; in the end they taught me more than I taught them. And all it cost taxpayers was trusting that what worked for Washington, Franklin, Lincoln and Edison would continue to work in the atomic age—and it did. Now you know my secret: unleashing the same irresistible force that drove our Revolution and ended global slavery: I sharply cut back on the slavery, the pornographic mental colonization of forced schooling.


Toward the end of the 18th century, the most important philosopher on earth at that time, a professor at the University of Berlin named Immanuel Kant, published a legendary essay affirming the irreplaceable value of liberty to human life—calling it the highest good possible to achieve—gaining and having full enjoyment of the capacity to exercise Free Will. He published an extremely complex argument to that end in 1781 titled, “The Critique of Pure Reason” which resonated among the ruling classes of important nations swiftly, providing justification for the prevailing style of aristocratic education (which, historically, has always been experience, adventure and responsibility rich), as well as indirectly suggesting (unfortunately) a strategy for reducing the menace of the lower classes by denying them the important liberty vitamins and offering thoroughly stupefying intellectual substance to think upon, a procedure made easier to administer through a system of forced institutionalized schooling. Kant called extended tutelage, which was to become the driving engine of institutional schooling, a horrible form of mind-slavery; in so characterizing professional schooling (he called it “tutelage”), he gave voice to the inner thoughts of trapped children by the tens of millions. John Holt’s Escape From Childhood can fairly be regarded as a descendant of Kant’s thinking about liberty, one blessedly much easier to read (Kant, in translation at least, is very tough slugging to plow through). But Kant, Holt, and the history of the French and American revolutions taken together gave me determination as a schoolteacher to invent a system to avail myself of the benefits I was sure would flow from reprieving my classes from intensive tutelage and freeing up their free will capacities. To do so against the will of a bureaucracy meant constant conflict, but that will not be so for homeschoolers who follow the liberty path.


When I experienced infuriating indifference to ideas among my students in the 1970s and 1980s, I remembered what Kant said about bad consequences to expect from interfering with liberty; it was exactly what John Holt affirmed many years later, and I decided on the spot to test that hypothesis by devising a program which would put experience, adventure, and exploration ahead of memorizing lists of alleged facts off blackboards. As an English teacher, I concluded that my only moral obligation was to increase proficiency in five specific areas—reading, writing, public speaking and logical organization of arguments, so I felt no particular loyalty to any officially ordered curriculum planned and written far away; that need not concern me I decided, as long as I was willing to put up with the slings and arrows of outraged school administers as the price to pay for doing what I BELIEVED RIGHT. The real obstacle to change was to break students free from the prisons of boredom which fatally distracted them from concentrating on learning language skills. To accomplish this, we (students, parents, and myself) determined in many meetings that our new program would abandon schoolrooms, blackboards, bells, and textbooks three days out of every five, using the world outside the school building as both space to study within and text to study, finding opportunities to read, analyze, write, organize and speak out in the real world. In pulling such a project off there were many exhausting hurdles to leap politically, but perseverance and some Machiavellian cunning removed them. During 60 percent of the school week (3 days) we left the school building to start service businesses, to walk around every zip code zone in Manhattan, administering public opinion polls, etc. This heavy dose of ACTIVITY in place of SEAT TIME awakened the spirit of curiosity in most of my students, who showed enlarged interest in the nature of things, as had been hinted at by Kant and Holt, but it came as a welcome surprise to me as my classroom began to buzz with excitement generated from students newly eager to learn. Other teachers asked me what had gotten into my kids, curious at the transformation they saw.


After three months of this new regimen, my classes of indifferent ghetto teens became INVOLVED in their own learning, not only in my English classes, but in all their classes. This general improvement caught me by (pleasant) surprise, but it had been implicit in the writing of Kant and Holt. Praise poured in from parents and community members at the positive things my kids accomplished with their newfound liberty, which raised my standing with school authorities, enough for them to grant me unprecedented permission, and our program was off and running. Through it I discovered what a national resource we waste by locking our children away from involvement with the problems of society. 


Now, it’ll amaze you how I learned the astonishing fact that soldiers without supervision do better than those overly trained by superior officers, as unlikely as that sounds. Here is how I learned that:  One of my newly freed students who I released from classes to spend his days reading at the local public library developed a taste for reading military history, sitting all alone at the neighborhood public library. From that addiction came unexpected evidence we were on the right track in our school experiment. He had been reading the impressive books by Israel’s legendary combat analyst, Martin van Crevald, whose research uncovered a shocking anomaly in battles between WWII German soldiers and Americans. Hold onto your hat, what you are about to hear really is shocking:  in spite of being outnumbered and out-gunned in every major battle of WWII (as Winston Churchill confirms in his own six volume history of the war), The Germans managed to inflict 30 percent more casualties than they suffered! Thirty percent! A huge military advantage! What made such grisly efficiency possible? All the time they retreated across Europe they remained and HOW? Were they on drugs? Sort of, but of the psychological variety.


Crevald contended it was caused by superior combat training that focused on enhancing involvement INSTEAD OF ON OBEDIENCE TO ORDERS! While in America such independence of thought as ordinary German soldiers were encouraged to exercise would have resulted in court martial; German officers urged their troops to think like field marshals—who ever heard of such a thing?! It was a visionary ideal originally proposed by Napoleon. But the conception worked brilliantly, even when the Germans were fighting against heavy odds. Uncommanded warriors allowed to pick their own targets performed better than those expected to behave like parts in a machine. Now apply that principle to school training. But it wasn’t adequately proved to me until a US Marine general, S.L.A. Marshall published a book, Men Under Fire, containing the remarkable claim that only one American frontline soldier out of every four fired his weapon at the enemy(!!), even when under attack. Fantastic! Apparently the same psychological mechanism that turns American school students into zombies, dis-involved in their own educations, turns American fighting troops into warriors not completely involved in shooting at the enemy. Distilling “involvement” as the crucial quality in military success is Crevald’s wake up call to the rest of us, but the experience of Holt, myself, and thousands of unschoolers provides additional laboratory evidence that the theory holds water, so you needn’t feel on thin ice if you join in the experiment. Wherever intricate ladders of authority are found, and rules exist in profusion, you should expect lassitude to exist and indifference. American training stressed obedience, while German training urged common soldiers to think for themselves. Just the opposite of what our propaganda taught the home front during the war. Make use of this valuable lesson. And thank Crevald and Marshall for telling the truth about the best way to get the biggest bang for the buck from underlings. Cut them in on planning and arrangements of everything. Don’t ignore the importance of this evidence. I found it priceless as inspiration.


America’s society and institutions were conceived and patterned to a great extent after the model of classical Rome, but a monumental book published during the 19th century about how Rome became dominant, and then collapsed, The Decline And Fall of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon had immense influence on American policy thinking, including upon the way we arranged our schooling. It was the “decline” part that drew most attention from American elites because in our brand new revolutionary nation, surrounded by enemies, it has working classes, and needed privileged treatment to affirm this.


Much of Gibbon’s analysis resonates strongly in American policy even in the 21st century. Scholars were fascinated by Gibbon’s reasoning and when it was constantly at war; as its ambition waned and its citizenry demanded peace, the martial vigor of its population weakened and it became a prey to enemies. Eventually, too much prosperity created a mass appetite for luxury and Rome’s poet succumbed to the debilitating effects of civilized living, and to the humane codes of Christianity, especially the destructive doctrine of loving your enemies and forgiving trespasses.

According to Gibbon, Rome thrived as long as it kept its population sharply divided into social classes and rewarded the wealthy and powerful with honor and privileges because each wealthy family was worth many times in value added to the political state what a poor family was.


All these insights of Gibbon, and more, were made targets of American institutions and of government school training when it finally happened. Did you ever wonder why what schools call HISTORY is principally the history of warfare? Or why students are rigorously divided into CLASSES on flimsy pretexts? Now you know, but you can never expect to find a single school employee who understands the mechanisms of social engineering at work; Gibbon said the martial appetites of the masses had to be kept high, so school history had to focus on war. Class conflict to Gibbon was a source of great energy to a nation, as it stoked the fires of ambition in all to RISE, but NOT TO FALL.


Enough. If it’s possible that common warriors fight best when they are encouraged to share leadership with officers, and my 40 plus years of classroom school teaching found the same dynamic at work in learning, you might want to share decision-making with your own students or at least give it a trial.


This article appeared in the May-June 2014 issue of Home Education Magazine


After 30 years of teaching in NYC’s inner-city schools, John Taylor Gatto was named Teacher of the Year, three times. He quit from teaching, saying he no longer wished to “hurt kids to make a living.” He began worldwide public speaking and writing, receiving several awards, including the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Excellence in Advancement of Educational Freedom. John supports unschooling and open source education.



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Unschooling School: Sometimes a Step Back is Actually a Step Forward, by Suki Wessling http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/unschooling_school_suki_wessling/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/unschooling_school_suki_wessling/#comments Mon, 02 Jun 2014 07:13:47 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=578 2012SukiWesslingKindergarten didn’t agree with my daughter.


Although we’d tried to choose the least school-like environment we could––a tiny Montessori school in the redwoods––being trapped in a classroom and having to follow rules that made no sense to her was too much for her to handle. The behavioral difficulties started immediately; we went through two aides before I finally started attending school with her. A few weeks after my return to kindergarten, I had to admit that I didn’t blame her. School was clearly not the right place for her (or me).


In homeschool, however, she thrived. The child who couldn’t fill out a worksheet won first prize at the science fair. The child who had no interest in learning math facts got an honorable mention in a national invention contest.


Like many unschoolers, we largely ignored grade-based benchmarks and focused instead on making sure that she had a rich, varied life. She developed interests in Pi, ancient Greece, and horses. We devoured audiobooks while driving to events at our homeschool cooperative. She made movies, wrote stories, turned our kitchen into a restaurant, invented the Baby Space Program (complete with baby doll astronauts), hunted for mushrooms, wrote a book of spells, adopted a pair of darkling beetles, and started a newspaper called Fantabulous Inventions.


“I want to go to school”


Despite our rich unschooling life, she never lost her fascination with school. Partly, I know it was Harry Potter’s fault. Every time she went through a phase of reading and rereading Potter, she asked to go back to school again. Yes, she knew that she wouldn’t have potions class, but she was interested in this right of passage that has such an important place in children’s literature.


For a few years we put off the decision simply by pointing out that she’d have to get out of bed at 6:30 and eat breakfast promptly. For a kid who loved to sit in bed and read until she was “really hungry,” this was a big change.


But last summer, something happened: she became unwilling to back down, cheerfully adopting a positive point of view on all the negatives: Get out of bed? She’d get more done! Have to bring lunch to school? She wouldn’t have to figure out what to eat every day! Get locked in a room with 31 other kids every day? At least she wouldn’t have to be home with mom, dad (who works in a home office), and brother––she’d make new friends.


I had mixed feelings. My other job is writing about education, and in that capacity I’d had plenty of opportunity to explore what has gone wrong with our public schools. I knew that her unusual interests and choice to dress in boys’ clothing could make her a target for bullies. I knew that her considerable strengths as a homeschooler would seldom be highlighted in a classroom. I knew that what school education does value––following directions, writing neatly, finding the “right” answer––was not her forte.


In my family’s unschooling life, however, one principle is paramount: we honor our children’s goals and see our role as providing support to achieve those goals. She wanted to go to school––who was I to tell her that this wasn’t a goal worth pursuing?


Behind enemy lines


Come August, we found ourselves walking onto the campus of our local elementary school, feeling a bit like spies in enemy territory. But our reception was surprising and gratifying: the incoming student council, meeting in a courtyard, kindly showed us where her room would be and gave us the beef on her potential teachers. Later, we remarked to each other that one girl on the student council had a fauxhawk––my daughter wouldn’t be the only girl with short hair.

I have to admit that we went into this experiment with heavily reorganized priorities. In our unschooling life, a successful day, week, or month is one in which my children are challenged, achieve creative goals, and learn more about the world around them. In my daughter’s school life, I set one unvoiced, straightforward goal: That she get through the year unscathed emotionally and better equipped to judge the value of her education.


My fears


Having heard for years other homeschoolers’ experiences with school, I was on guard for a number of possible pitfalls:


Her teacher would blame her deficiencies on homeschooling


It’s not uncommon for homeschoolers returning to school to meet up with hostile teachers. No matter what challenges the student might have been facing going into homeschooling, any deficiencies noted by antagonistic teachers will be attributed to the child’s being homeschooled. And antagonistic teachers don’t necessarily keep their opinions to themselves; many a formerly homeschooled child has been told by teachers that their parents caused their problems by homeschooling.


She would be shunned or bullied by conformist public school kids


One of the great things about unschooling is that it allows our children to develop naturally, without pressure from school culture. Children who have unusual attributes at the outset are not pressured to conform. Children who might have fit in well in school are allowed to grow and express themselves. We were definitely a family that turned to unschooling because we were already far from the norm, and I was concerned what a vicious student culture might do to my unusual person’s sense of self.


She would be made to feel “stupid” because her strengths are not rewarded in the public school curriculum


One of the most important conversations she and I had to have was about homework. I warned her that she’d have homework, and that she would be judged not by how creative she was or how well she knew the material, but by how neat and correct her answers would be written on worksheets. Given that worksheets were the bane of her existence, I feared that she would lose the confidence that creative expression had instilled in her.


Her old battles with self-control would be rekindled once she was in a rule-heavy atmosphere each day


We had gone through long years of occupational therapy, various behavioral approaches, and dietary changes to find the cheerful, energetic, creative dynamo that we now had. I remembered with dread the voices of teachers past––I’d like to check in with you about your daughter’s behavior today”…“we need to talk about circle time”…“have you had her assessed for ADHD/autism/ODD…”


So far so good…


It’s only November, so all the data from our year-long social science experiment isn’t in yet. But in many ways, I think we’ve been lucky. Her teacher is a credit to his profession: caring, flexible, and as creative as public school will let him be. He has been extremely respectful of my experience, using me as a resource to help him work with our daughter better, rather than dismissing me as an intrusive parent.


Homework, as well as in-class work, has been as good as we could expect. So far, the emphasis has been heavy on her weakest skills: math calculation instead of math concepts, analytical reading rather than creative exploration, writing from prompts rather than from interest. But at least her teacher has been flexible enough that she and I haven’t had (many) battles about doing assignments the way he wants rather than the way that makes sense to her.


The truly gratifying thing has been that homeschooling has apparently prepared her perfectly for the challenges of public school “socialization”! I asked her about whether there are cliques in her school, and I loved her incisive social analysis. “There’s a very strict rule that if you’re excluding someone you get benched, and you might even get a referral, so it’s basically no excluding,” she explained. “But anyway, most people like that you don’t want to be near because they’re the biggest idiots in the school!”


In fact, she says, schooled kids are pretty much like homeschooled kids, with some key differences. “They are the same as homeschoolers except that they tend to wear shoes!” she says. “[School kids] probably follow rules worse because homeschoolers aren’t used to rules so they think they have to obey them or something bad will happen, but school kids are totally used to them, so they’re like, ‘I don’t care’.”


And how the rules affect her? My girl who got so confused about the myriad rules in her little Montessori preschool has come a long way. “I don’t care about all the rules because nothing happens to me because I’m not getting benched or getting referrals,” she says. “You have to do something pretty bad. And the kids [who do bad things] don’t tend to get in trouble because the teacher says, ‘Oh yeah, it’s him again’.”


Our year-long social science experiment, it seems, is chugging along nicely. It’s gratifying to see solid evidence that our homeschooling has hardly hurt her ability to function under school rules and expectations, and also gratifying that she is clearly not taking it seriously. She knows that if she does “get benched” at school because the rules don’t make sense to her, unschooling will still be there for her.


I love seeing my confident, well-prepared unschooler setting off each day to conduct her observations and continue to learn the curriculum that she has written for herself. So far, the plan is to return to homeschooling next year. And if all she gets out of this year is a better sense of the freedom and responsibility of unschooling, I’ll consider it a success.


This article appeared in the May-June 2014 issue of Home Education Magazine


Suki writes about parenting, education, gifted children, and homeschooling. She also homeschools her children and serves on two non-profit boards. Her book, From School to Homeschool, is a manual to help parents transition from a school-based to homeschool-based mindset. More information at www.SukiWessling.com.

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Radically Different Learning Styles: My Adventure into Learning, by Rebecca Pickens http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/radically_different_learning_styles_rebecca_pickens/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/radically_different_learning_styles_rebecca_pickens/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 07:56:20 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=568 Pickens-for-feature-article-1I’ve lately been interested in considering the role our physical environment has in shaping the ways our children learn and grow. In my family’s case, my husband and I decided to leave our home in Washington, DC when we felt ready to start a family. We traded access to world class museums, theatre, and restaurants for 87 acres, long winters, milk goats, wild blackberries, Amish neighbors and home cooked meals. 

Arriving at the decision to radically change our lifestyle came easily for both my husband and me. The landscape we arrived at resonates with us at so many different levels. Even before my three sons were born, I longed to watch them grow amid the abundant wildlife and stunning landscapes that so stir my soul. I imagined their red little cheeks flushed from the excitement of discovery and abundant fresh air. I could see perfectly their plump muddied toes sunbaked from a day of play in our garden. I believed that the skies, fields, and forests would become important teachers, influencing my children in wondrous ways akin to that of a loving parent or favorite uncle.

When my oldest son, Elias, turned three he announced it was “time for school to begin.” The decision to homeschool was natural and inevitable and one that my son adapted to with deep joy. The first idyllic year felt like it had been copied from the pages of a story book, complete with breathtaking illustrations depicting each scene. Most of the time was spent in hands-on nature activities. Elias gathered plants for sketching, crafting, medicine making and dying play dough while I carried his baby brother Jo Jo on my back.

At that point, my children were very young and people hadn’t yet begun asking “What curriculum do you use? What grade are your kids in?” I did not think to try and name what we were doing, but obviously now I see we were sowing the seeds for an educational model based on the principals of interest-led learning and unschooling. Since the beginning, my boys, like most children, could think up more lesson plans on their own than any calendar could contain. They’ve taught themselves handwriting, how to read, calculate, craft, and conquer bad guys without a single text book. For me to bust in on their magnificent agendas with curriculum ideas from strangers seems intrusive, unnecessary, and even a little rude! Almost immediately I recognized my primary job was to observe their playtime together to get a sense of what books, people, art supplies and field trips should serendipitously appear in their lives.

Through our hours of exploratory play, it was soon evident that Elias was born with the eyes of a naturalist. He thrives in our little haven, developing numerous hypotheses and testing these in thorough hard- to-understand experiments in his well imagined laboratory. Our youngest, Walden, only two, seems also to seek and find comfort in sun, snow, and rain. He races for the outdoors as soon as the possibility is announced. My youngest applies herbal fixes for toy Dino’s injuries and watches the surrounding wildlife with deep, glorious joy. Both boys surprise and delight me as I watch them connect with their land and our values. Teaching them is a cinch! In buying this land our “curriculum” was purchased. They have what they need and I feel like a competent enough guide to assist along the way.

This is not to suggest that there aren’t challenges and doubts along the way. Of course there are plenty. Rather, these challenges tend to be ones I’d anticipated. For the most part, things flow as expected.

Five year old Josiah, our middle son, is an artist. Like any good artist, he shakes things up with color, noise, and astounding vision. He is temperamental, experimental and so very curious. From the time he wakes from his last morning dream ’til bedtime he spends his hours sketching, painting, and sculpting everything but the environment that surrounds him. He comes alive when we venture north to Ottawa or Montreal. Steel, concrete, abstract modern art and traffic move this little boy like nothing that resides on our farm.

This weekend we bought a new ram to add to our flock of sheep. As he put our unhappy passenger into the back of our minivan, I’m certain my husband and I were thinking the same thing:  days like this are what it is all about. This is why we came here. Our boys will reminisce about these sorts of days when they are old.

As our bewildered ram carried on making his displeasure known, my eldest and youngest boys squealed with glee. They busied Pickens-for-feature-article-2themselves trying to simultaneously calm and name him as we inched our way home. I turned around to join in the fun only to find my eyes on my middle son instead. With the ram just inches behind his head, Josiah seemed not to notice. With his paper and pen and a favorite picture book, Jo Jo was utterly absorbed in a sketch of some sort. In the “perfect” homeschooling story, I suppose I might be able to tell you he was sketching the ram or the bucolic farm from which we’d come. But, he was drawing Darth Vader. And Luke Skywalker. And C3PO, I think.

Jo Jo does not object to a good game of outdoor chase or a snooze on the hammock with his daddy. But the awe inspiring hikes, berry gathering expeditions, and garden daydreams that I long to share with him move my artist about as much as a day spent memorizing multiplication tables might. Hiking hurts his feet. Berry brambles are too prickly. And garden daydreams are a nightmare. So sensitive and alive is he to his surroundings that much of the outdoors is over stimulating and must be absorbed in small, digestible pieces he can interpret on paper afterwards.

When I consider what most thrills, frustrates, inspires and challenges me about homeschooling, it is this. I had a vision of what childhood could look like for my sons and of how we might learn together. Children, like mothers, have their own visions. When Jo Jo and I are both confident and feeling inspired, I wouldn’t trade my artist’s passionate determination and sense of self for all the nature walks in the world. On the days when the paint drips on the floor and the scissors aren’t cutting straight, we both can become moody. I feel doubt at what our landscape and I can provide for him. I wonder if he’d be happier in the city we left behind. I wonder if he sits too much and should play more soccer. I wonder what someone like me, someone who can’t draw a straight line, can possibly offer this child.

Only a few short months ago I threw my hands up in despair and told my husband I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to homeschool Josiah. I wholeheartedly value creativity and each of our days contains a great deal of freedom for such pursuits. However, for a week I’d been trying to engage Jo Jo in additional activities for fear he was missing out on exercise, social interaction, and a myriad of other things moms worry about from time to time. I tried everything. I was like a cruise ship activity director throwing out ideas in a high pitched chirpy voice, complete with happy smile to indicate how much fun we were about to have. How about we bake?  “Nope. No thank you.” How about a walk. “Nope.” Soccer? Have a friend over? Violin? Play a game? Visit with the goats? Read your brother a story? “Nope, nope, nope.” And with a wave of an ink-marked little hand, I’d been dismissed.

Filled with self-doubt, I began an attempt to better understand how I might improve our learning time together. Research into various learning styles took me on a fascinating journey. In my reading I came across insightful literature about visual spatial learners. To make a long story short, visual spatial learners think in pictures and see information as a whole. In sharp contrast are auditory-sequential learners who break down information into small bits before they move on to more complex parts. They are as linear in their thought patterns as visual spatial learners are not.

This was it! This was the stuff I needed to know. Through further reading, I was given a brief opportunity to see the world through the eyes of my child. In contrast to my son, I learned that I am an audio sequential learner. Translated, we are polar opposites. Both of us are extremes on this learning style spectrum. If someone was trying to guide me to their home for the first time, anything more than the most simple of maps would be a waste of paper. Instead I would ask for instructions. Details like turn left at the house that doesn’t really look like a house with the funny little dog sitting on the front step would mean far more to me than words like “north” or “south.” The more details the better. Josiah, if given a map, would reach his destination with ease. A series of seemingly disjointed details would be frustrating and of no use to him.

Unwittingly, I was presenting the world in a way that made sense to me (and to the other sequential learners in my home). What sometimes appeared to be an almost defiant lack of interest in his surroundings was nothing of the sort. Rather, Josiah perceived our environment from an entirely different angle. He was using a different road map.

Later that same day, Jo Jo began to sketch Frankenstein and Walden and Elias asked that I read them a science book about volcanos––exactly the sort of fact-based resource Josiah runs from. With Walden on my lap, Elias attentively seated beside me, and Jo Jo in another room drawing, I read. What might have been a cozy time together was interrupted by distracting feelings of guilt that I was neglecting Jo Jo and that he might be feeling left out. I hurried through the book and when at last we’d finished reading, an elated Josiah burst into the room.

“Look, Walden.” He called to his little brother. “This is a volcano. This is the lava, the magma and this is a fissure.” Each of us looked it over, appreciating the fine details as well as the thoughtful way he’d labeled each feature. I called his father at work and together we laughed at our fear and concerns.

Just as we trust in nature, family and community, we must trust our children’s instinct to learn.

We strive to let our children engage in learning in ways most meaningful to them. I aim to provide an environment that I hope is both stimulating and peaceful. Jo Jo responds to that environment in curious, wondrous ways that I never envisioned when I traded in a professional wardrobe for muck boots. The brilliant red sunset that makes me think of poetry, appears to him as the perfect shade of red paint he’ll mix to make Darth Vader’s lightsaber. Our mighty Rooster’s siren, my absolute favorite pastoral sound, inspires Josiah’s creation of a hideous half man half bird villain that must be avenged.

Upon discovering student-led learning my reaction was one of excitement. The idea to throw away curriculum that isn’t working and to let the students lead the way is both intuitive and inspiring! But as my children and I grow older, I realize it goes much deeper than this. There are so many ways to inhabit one single space and even more ways to learn from it. Each person’s eyes will interpret the same goat nibbling at their pocket in innumerable ways. Our sugar bush on a snowy morning, the geese honking overhead, the starry sky on a clear night—each will be experienced, and synthesized in a unique and personal way. This is a fundamental aspect of an authentic education. This is a truth kids just seem born knowing. 


This article appeared in the May-June 2014 issue of Home Education Magazine


Rebecca lives, laughs and learns with her husband and three sons on their farm in upstate New York. Rebecca is an herbalist and owner of Mind’s Eye Farm and Herbary.

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Playing Our Way to Learning a New Language, by Jenny Lantz http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/playing_to_learn_new_language_jenny_lantz/ http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/playing_to_learn_new_language_jenny_lantz/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 07:50:33 +0000 http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/?p=572 Beppe-reading-Doctor-WhoLearning English. A new language for my kids whose native tongue is Swedish. As English is a language that is spoken in so many countries we feel that it is important that our kids grow up fluent in English. And in our early home ed years I have wondered about how to do it. How do you teach your kids a new language? For us the answer was: Not at all. Well, ok, I couldn’t always resist the little teacher inside me that whispered that it would be good for the kids to use worksheets sometimes, and that made me buy some schoolbooks in English to be sure that they actually learned it. But the worksheets stayed blank and the books unused. They learned through the assistance of Harry Potter, Minecraft, maps and… Pokémon. And Doctor Who. Doctor Who has been the absolutely best English teacher we could have had. But let´s go back a few years in time. Six, maybe, or seven.

That was when my oldest son was six years old with a new interest. He got hold of some old secondhand Pokémon cards and got lost in the world of Pokémon. He´s still there, thirteen years old with bags full of the cards. Stupid and expensive cards. That was my first opinion about them. That did change pretty soon though, when Lukas started to ask me about the short one liners on each cards, describing the Pokémon on the card. Full of English words. Long and tricky words, many as new to me as they where to Lukas. So I started to translate the cards for him, using dictionaries together when we needed them. We could sit for hours reading about the special powers of Ivysaur and Magnemite, and the descriptions of Charmander: “The fire on the tip of its tail is a measure of its life. If healthy, its tail burns intensely”… And when I needed to do something else than read Pokémon cards, he would go on writing about them instead. In English. Writing down facts about the different Pokémons. Drawing their pictures, making Pokémon journals. And when Lukas was nine years old we went to England to HesFes, Home Educators’ Summer Festival. Lukas hadn´t spoken a lot of English, and what he knew he´d learned mostly from our Pokémon readings. But it didn´t take him long to find the big tent where the kids played Pokémon all day long. We left him there and picked him up a few days later and he was fluent in English, and had learned the rules of the game. Well, we did feed him during those days, of course. And we made sure he got to bed with us in the evenings, but this little boy who hardly ever left my side at home spent days and days in a tent with English kids and Pokémon. And learned to communicate in this new language.

Beppe, my second boy, wasn’t as deep into Pokémon as his big brother, but he found another way to learn English. He was seven years old or so. We had been speaking some English at home, reading some children’s books, and he was using the Internet to Google things, but he didn’t speak a lot of English. We decided to visit friends in Scotland, and to stay for a couple of weeks. We had a great time, seeing Edinburgh, the Scottish countryside, (and talking about the people there as “English,” shame on me… I learned the hard way that they were absolutely Scottish; not English nor British…). We visited museums and small towns. Had coffee and hot chocolate in small cafés wherever we went. But what this holiday really meant for Beppe was learning English with the best English teacher he could find. Doctor Who.

At first Beppe felt a bit awkward, as he didn’t know much English, and while his brother chatted unhindered with the kids in the Lukas-and-Beppe-at-HESFES-2009-215family we stayed with, Beppe was quiet. A couple of days after we arrived he found this fantastic TV series about the brilliant, nameless Doctor who travels through space and time in his tardis. We had seen a couple of episodes before, but in Scotland was when he got really into this science fiction world of planets, spaceships, aliens and adventure. And there he was, this little seven year old boy, totally mesmerized by his new found hero. He spent every night that holiday watching Doctor Who. No subtitles. No dubbing. And he learned the language well enough to be able to follow the story.

Back home again he read all about Doctor Who he could find on the Internet. He made index books with the Doctor, his sidekicks and other creatures in the cast. He drew pictures and maps. And he asked me to find worksheets with a Doctor Who theme. We got all the seasons of the TV series there is to find and he watched them all. Actually, we all got involved. And we found that in the science fiction world of Doctor Who there´s a lot to learn about science, and it has led to a big interest in science for our family. And for Beppe it was his way to find the key to the English language. And by the way, a few years later when we where visiting Britain again we all went to Wales, Cardiff to visit the big museum; a Doctor Who experience. And that really was an experience…

As for my youngest son, Frode, I´m quite sure that I won´t worry very much about him learning English. His brothers have taught me that language is a very natural thing to learn, given the right circumstances and support. And by the way, he´s already learning. He has to, to keep up with his brothers, and because in our house there are now certain plays and games that are only played in English, just because they´re more fun that way. And he wouldn’t want to miss that for anything in the world.

For Lukas, his interest in Pokémon cards led to a much bigger interest in manga, Japanese culture, and the Japanese language. He’s now learning Japanese by himself, and it is all thanks to these stupid and expensive cards he once started to collect… I don’t know yet if Beppe will want to learn another language, but I am quite sure that if he does, he will not need any classical school books, neither will he need a traditional teacher. (But if he really wants to try it that way, I will certainly support him in doing it that way, too.) Anyway, I think he will know perfectly well how to learn a new language. And he will find natural interests that will make the learning easy and fun.


This article appeared in the May-June 2014 issue of Home Education Magazine


Jenny Lantz is an unschooling mama of three wild boys in the Baltic Sea archipelago. Homemaking, gardening, and cooking vegetables are some of the things she loves to do. Knitting whenever she has a moment. She sells handmade stuff on www.etsy.com/shop/sagotygand blogs on www.nattugglorokattguld.blogspot.com She is happily married to the love of her life. Oh yeah, she is also a book lover, a freedom lover, a tea lover. She is loving the educational freedom of her new home country.

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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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