Sunday, December 25, 2011


I haven't written here for some time. Partly because I haven't had much to say, partly because sometimes I say the wrong thing. And by that I mean that I say something that offends someone, or breaks down my relationship with someone. Neither is fun, not offending, but also not sharing.

With that in mind continue reading, because I have a story to share. A story about Innocence.
My son is 6. He tends to say some crazy things, in his innocence, of course. Like the time he told me my singing made food come up his throat... Or the time he told our guest she had a big bum! He is full of surprises.

The other night his deep thinking was the surprise. He said to me " you know mom, people are innocent". He sounded so sincere, so thoughtful. I didn't know where this was coming from. I was quiet, I wondered if he could know what innocent meant or where he had heard this word. He continued, " you see, mom, when the first people were here, everything was perfect, here was no right and wrong, the world was innocent. And then Satan came down and messed everything up. Now people don't know, and so people are still innocent."

I couldn't help but be amazed, and nod in agreement, and hug him, and tell him how much I love him. It may have looked a lot like "praise".... But it was oozing out of so much warmth. My little guy just demonstrated such a deep and complex understanding of innocence. Wow.

No specific teacher or lesson brought about this understanding. Dare I say it arose organically, from his freedom, his innocence.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


"Books are dumb. Books are SOOOOO DUMB. They are so dumb, why did people even make them? DUMB."

I had to agree. Dumb books. Full of Dumb pictures of Dumb animals.

You see looking at some (dumb) books was the answer to the question, "can I watch a movie tonight before bed?" So you see the books were Dumb.

We looked at the (dumb) books together, making sure to comment on all the Dumb pictures.
"Dumb dog. Dumb cat. Dumb."
"Dumb bird. Dumb flamingo. Dumb."
"Dumb penguins. All these penguins are dumb. wait. Except this one, this cute baby one is not dumb."
"Dumb duck. Dumb hippos bum."
"Dumb.... hey, wait a minute, this guinea pig is halfway cool, halfway dumb."
"But all These pictures, on this page?.... Dumb."
"Oooohhhhh, but this one, this owl. He is really cool."
"And hey, what on this page do you think is the only cool one?"
"The cougar. I think the cougar is awesome."
Our Dumb adventure came to a close with a very Dumb zebra.
"Dumb Zebra."

What kind of sense does this make?! Aren't I supposed to be fostering a "love of reading" a "love of books"? My internal voice was freaking out.... and I was telling it to shut-up. DUMB, had given my son a voice tonight. It had Empowered him to look at books with me, when what he wanted to be doing, was watch a show.

Somewhere along the natural learning adventure, I realized I had to stop trying to force things. Trying to force learning, force behavior, force compliance. Forcing is Dumb. And the connection we had while reading Dumb books, was anything but Dumb. All the giggling, wasn't Dumb. Our enjoyable reading time would have been so de-railed if we had of focused on Dumb being a "Bad word." If we had of given DUMB all the power and attention. If we had of come to the rescue of the books! Can you imagine: "Books aren't dumb! Books are great! I love books, look at all these cool pictures?!"

No we have an agreement. Books are DUMB.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not back to school and.... I. AM. A. POTTER.

The beginning of the school year means beaches and parks everywhere are empty... banks, grocery stores, and other places are child-free zones too... Facebook is full of statuses referencing the first day of school.... and I feel compelled to write about it; to reference it too. Only I'm not sure why. I don't want to do my semi-annual "back to prison" rant. Or go on about the hidden lessons school teaches. I don't want to make anyone feel bad. I don't want to make it sound like I think "natural learning" to be the only "right" way. I don't want to forget about the children for whom school is a refuge. Or the single parent families, and other families who financially, emotionally or otherwise really benefit from the support that school provides for them. I also don't want to leave out the children who truly LOVE school; they get along well with the other kids; they are ready for the independence; they love and relate to their teacher- who is also amazing and dedicated; this child is neither ahead or behind, this child is thriving in their grade level. For them school is GREAT! Okay. I think I have covered all my bases. I get it. School can be great, it can be crappy, and it sometimes does or doesn't serve it's purpose.
So just to clarify, this area is for me to write about what our family is doing; to provide a glimpse of what learning looks like for us, because for some, "natural learning" is a new idea, or is something they have wondered about, but don't fully understand. This space is Not for putting-down or being right. Not to preach. Yet occasionally, I like to give a voice to the child who doesn't get a choice, or who is being bullied, or who gets stuck with a teacher who isn't connecting with them; or who maybe has a learning disability that is getting missed.
This space is for sharing our reasons for natural learning, and also what it looks like for us. Great! Now that that's out of the way.....
I wanted to make a comment about it being the first day of school on my fb, but I couldn't as we don't do school.... which led me to "first day of natural learning"?? well, that doesn't make sense, does it? Because natural learning happens all the time, naturally.
So what does the beginning of the school year look like for us??
It looks like making a plan.
It means finding out what our children want to learn about?
What do they wonder about? What do they want to try? What makes them excited?

It looks like finding out, and then creating ways to honor those interests.

It means that this year we will be skating, swimming, dancing, taking nature walks; learning about desert plants and animals; learning about Canada; mermaids, pirates and vikings; we will be having a traditional bellydancing party and feast; and a drumming circle; we will be doing science experiments, learning about sea creatures, and owls; we will be visiting the wildlife recovery center; reading, writing, drawing; learning to play the drums, guitar and violin; exploring sign language, french and spanish; building and beading and playing games; sewing, measuring, counting money; cooking and making our own cook book; learning about RAW food and nutrition; recycling and caring for the environment..... wow, its quite a list.... and the beauty of it, to me at least, is that my little learners came up with it themselves! and maybe we will get to explore all these things this year, and maybe we won't... and probably there's a whole lot of other things that didn't make the list that will come up later... and then the plan will change and grow, just like people do.

OH, and I left something out. POTTERY!
We will be doing pottery! Why? Because as it turns out: I. AM. A. POTTER. I have always been an artist. But I have been resistant to labels. resistant to attaching my identity to any one thing. I like this idea that a person just IS. The things they do, and think and have are separate from their actual identity... that way in the absence of the things they do, think and have, one still IS. But whatever. IS-SHMIS. I'm a potter.
I LOVE It! I love the in-the-moment focus of working on the wheel. I love the feel of my hands getting all mucky. I love that when i screw something up, i can dump it in the bucket and recycle the clay. i love that clay is earth. I love looking at things i've made, realizing I could do better and deciding to let-go of it; smashing it into the muck bucket. I love that glazes are still so mysterious to me. I love that I have no idea what I'm going to get when I paint or pour it on there. I love that there is so much to learn. ~And I love that it is SO good for my children to learn through too. ~Good for them to carve letters and pictures into, good for them to have something to control ~ it's a good thing to push clay around! i love that it teaches them about letting-go, when a piece cracks during is drying process, or when it breaks during firing, I love when they make something they feel proud of, and i love when they choose to give it as a gift...
Yes! with my studio well on it's way to being set up. I. AM. A. POTTER.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Honor of Terrible Ideas.....

"In Honor of Terrible Ideas...." has become a powerful sentence around here. It prefaces what one is about to say next as a possibly terrible idea! It tells the hearer that the idea-giver already knows it is potentially crazy! It tells the hearer to be kind.... it also creates a kind of humor and lightness surrounding the creating of our life.

I'm sharing this phase because before our use of it, one would share a truly terrible idea- without the preface, with not always a very good outcome. Sometimes people hear Crazy ideas and feel scared, or offended, or defensive, or afraid.... In Honor Of Terrible Ideas has been a useful tool.... Prefaced by this Honor, a number of truly terrible ideas have been shared! And a number of truly terrible ideas that have turned out to be great (or at least good learning experiences) have been shared....

In Honor of Terrible Ideas.... (a list of ideas from our past that at first, seemed truly terrible! or at least seemed to hold the potential to be terrible...)
Let's have a baby at home!
Let's not vaccinate at all this time
Hey, what if we didn't mush up the baby's food, or buy jarred food what if we just shared our food with him
What if I just sleep with him, instead of fully waking to nurse every couple hours
What if I accept that nursing throughout the night is a need, and I don't try to force him to sleep through the night
What if I nurse him as long as he wants to
What if we don't send our children to school.... (which later led to...)
Hey, what if we let them learn through play and interest instead of imposing this curriculum
What if we give our children plenty of extra time, space and freedom to learn things they find challenging, instead of trying to "make" something happen... what if 10 yo IS the "normal" age for our children to start reading
What if we make instruments available to play, but not lessons or teaching unless hounded to do so
What if we abandon classical discipline like time-outs, and rewards; in favor of sincere, gentler teaching
In Honor of Terrible Ideas.... that we still don't know the outcome of, but the ride has been fun...
What if we try to book a cabin for our vacation this year
What if we put our house for sale for a bit and see what happens
What if we renovate, knocking out some walls here, building walls here, and putting windows here
What if we get a puppy, if we get a house
What if we tried to build one of those in-ground trampolines
...or a cob playhouse
....Or a pottery studio....
or started a local learning circle....
AND some ideas were indeed Truly Terrible (for our family).... and now we know... :D
What if we got a chinchilla
What if we abandon bedtimes altogether
Let's sell everything we own and live in a camper-ized bus! (would still like to do some variation of this, one day.... but it is a Terrible Idea ;)
What if we try doing curriculum for a bit
What Terrible Ideas have you Honored lately?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is There Such a Thing as Organic Intervention?

Is There Such a Thing as Organic Intervention?

I was led to asking this question after researching and digesting a massive amount of suggested “interventions” related to my daughters learning disabilities.

Something feels really icky about it. I felt unrest. I felt anxious. And what was worse I couldn’t put my finger on why. These interventions imply that each day “should” be scheduled, that specific subjects and tasks be done at specific times, and in a specific way. These interventions feel un-natural, wrong, and yucky, and these suggestions sound like things that will not “work” for my girl. So for days I have been thinking things over and trying to make sense of these ideas.

How could I make peace with these interventions, and hold true to our Natural Learning lifestyle? Do I need to make peace with these “interventions“? Do I need to honor them? or do I need to pay attention to the feeling that these ideas are not sitting right with me?

Lately, I’m hearing comments like “academically, we need to work hard to get her caught up….“ Caught up to who? I dare to ask. Caught up to her peer group? Caught up to her grade level? Caught up to.... herself? For what purpose exactly? Is she in a race with her peers? With the world? Do we value a system that wants to produce cookie-cutter people? Does my daughter want to be a cookie-cutter person? Does she desire SAMENESS with everyone else? Do I want to convey the message that “Sameness” is something we value and pursue?

Same knowledge, same abilities, same goals.
Certainly this sameness is NOT on my list of priorities.

I have also heard the thoughts that natural learning carries a big risk of easily getting behind. Again, behind whom? And in what? And so the fear is of what then? That one might not “catch-up”? That one might not reach a level of perceived “sameness” with the world? And that surly this would lead one to have trouble graduating, getting into a good college and making money? Is that the fear? Assuming of course, that money is all important! What if they never learn to complete tasks on time? Is that the fear? Is it time management?

Some have also expressed well-meaning concern that if our daughter had been in the regular public school system, perhaps the school would have noticed she needed help sooner; maybe they would have provided her with the help she needed earlier. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps “Sooner” would not have been beneficial to her. In fact, I’m pretty sure the timing needed to be right for her, and that rightness can only be determined by her. And I’m pretty convinced that her and I, by learning together for the whole 10 years she’s been alive, have a very good handle on how she learns best, and what things are most challenging for her. In a school system with a 15% illiteracy rate among grade 10 students and a country with a 40% overall illiteracy rate, I have serious doubts that this institution would have done anything near what her and I have accomplished together.

I would like to venture a theory of my own….
Perhaps, "some" public school children are “behind”….
behind as I would define it, according to what I value.
Behind in the ability to communicate in an authentic, honest, respectful way,
behind in the ability to form quality relationships with people of a variety of ages;
Behind in the ability to accept, to co-operate instead of compete and compare.
Behind in recognizing and developing their our unique talents.

Maybe “some” of these children would benefit from an Organic Intervention?

The kind of intervention that allows them to sleep in, to have slow, unhurried mornings.
The kind of intervention that would
have them putting their hands and feet in the dirt to grow food;
the kind that would have them learning
what kinds of foods are good for healing and healthy living;
maybe they could learn how to prepare these foods.
The kind of intervention that involves following a curiosity,
finding a mentor and learning all about whatever interest gives them life;
the kind of intervention that would hold that passion as more valuable than Sameness.

The kind of intervention that would involve volunteer work,
and getting to know Grammas and Grampas from many families.
The kind of intervention that would allow a child to spend time in a room full of instruments,
and the freedom to play each one,
to write their own songs.

The kind of intervention that walks in the woods,
and plays along the creek; throwing rocks, spotting fish and birds.
An intervention that involves being with ones family way more days than not;
an intervention that involves chasing butterflies- both real and figurative.
The kind of intervention that encourages creativity,
and the valuing of process over outcome.
The kind of intervention that would encourage literacy through the exploration of interests; reading and research would happen for the same reasons it happens for adults,
it would arise naturally,
dare I say Organically.

I guess that answers my question; there is such a thing as Organic Intervention! For this is what we’ve been doing all along. And as far as learning disabilities go, we will not be abandoning our Natural Learning ways. It took 5 years of consciously following this path to build faith; to see it working. I did not worry that my daughter would get behind in learning to walk, or talk, or eat solid foods; I trusted whole-heartedly that she was designed to do those things, and naturally would. I have seen a motivation for learning in her that was also put there by a designer; she is perfect and beautiful and anything but learning “dis-abled” in my eyes. She is a living, breathing, growing, learning being.

She is naturally a Blue Rose; why would I want intervention to make her Red?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Unschooling" Confusion

It seems there has been some confusion as to what "Unschooling" is.
My husband thinks that the name "Unschooling" is a "turn-off" to people; and I think perhaps he is right. The term "Unschooling" says in an obvious way what we are not doing, and perhaps falsely implies that we are "Unteaching".... AND it says nothing of what we ARE doing.
He says "Unschooling" could feel like an insult to someone who is schooling because it is like saying "I am doing the opposite of what you are doing".... leading to the question of the schooling parent "Well, what is wrong with what we are doing? What do you think is so wrong with school?" And reasonably could lead to feelings of offense, or defense.

Some other terms for what our family is doing are "Natural learning" and "Enthusiasm-based learning". These terms say something about what we ARE doing, and what we value.

Below is a contrast of Natural Learning and Schooling.....

Natural Learning says "We will learn together."

Schooling says "You will go to school and learn with other children your age."

Natural Learning says "What would you like to learn about?"

Schooling says "We will teach you what we want you to know."

Natural Learning says "What are you curious about?"

Schooling says "We will teach you what is in our curriculum, and you can be curious on your own time. After your homework is done."

Natural Learning says "What do you think you will need to know? And how can I support you in learning what you need to know?"

Schooling says "We know what you will need to know, and we will teach you."

Natural Learning says "I trust you. I trust that you will learn what you need to know, and that you will learn it in the way that you learn best."

Schooling says "You are not to be trusted with a task as important as learning. You are irresponsible, ignorant, and naive. We will teach you what you need to know, in the way that works best for us, and that we feel is best for the majority. If we trusted you to such an important task, surely you would miss something."

Natural Learning says "Everyone is unique. Everyone learns differently, in ways that are unique to them. Learning is everywhere, and in many forms. Kinesthetic, auditory, visual.... learning is messy, hands-on, experimenting; as well as book learning."

Schooling says "Everyone is the same. Everyone learns the same. Learning happens in the classroom. Learning looks like reading and writing; with the occasional experiment for 'science'."

Natural Learning says "Learning begins in the womb, and continues for the rest of our life. Learning is life. Mentors are everywhere."

Schooling says "Education begins in pre-school and continues through high school and collage. Learning happens at school, and at home when doing homework. People of the same age should be together, and should be learning and able to learn all the same things. Teachers are at school. Lessons are in curriculum."

Natural Learning says "Learning is learning, and all areas that are important to the learner are important. Learning includes reading, writing, and math, as it is important and applicable to the learner. Learning also includes spirituality, relationships, learning how one learns best, seeking and developing mentor/learner relationships, reflecting and being aware of learning, goal setting, questioning, researching, creating, problem solving. Learning is endless and without bounds!"

Schooling says "Learning is divided into subjects; with a time and place for everything. The most important subjects are: Language, Math, Science, Socials, PE. Every other kind of subject is extra, an elective; and is not as important."

Natural Learning says "Public school is great, and curriculum is great if it is the desire of the learner; and if it is what works best for the learner."

Schooling says "You can't possibly keep up with other students, unless you are on curriculum. Work hard so you don't 'Fall behind'."

Natural Learning says "Developing a Love of learning is the most important thing. With a love of learning, learning never ends. A learner has the power to learn anything they need to know. The learner is empowered!"

Schooling says "Everyone is being graded and marked, compared to everyone else. Learning the curriculum and getting a good grade is the most important thing."

Natural Learning says "Learners have the right to be with their families as much as they need and want to. That it is natural to live everyday life with people of a variety of ages, learning from each other, and together arising from both curiosity and passion."

School says "Students need to be with other children of their own age for much of the day; learning from knowledgeable and trained teachers to learn important curriculum and develop proper social skills."

Natural Learning says "Learning is an organic, natural process, like growth."

Schooling says "Learning is from books, and teachers hold the knowledge. Students must be encouraged and bribed, threatened and rewarded."

Natural Learning says "A learner can learn from anyone! A teacher, a mentor, another learner, a book, an activity, an animal, an experience...."

Schooling says "Asking a classmate for help is cheating."

Natural Learning says "Learning often comes from making mistakes."

Schooling says "Mistakes are wrong. Your grades will go down."

Natural Learning says "Our children's learning is like a 'Fire waiting to be lit'."

Schooling says "Children are like 'empty vessels waiting to be filled'."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

DREAMS ~ and Variations of Real Life

(* this is less about unschooling and more about making sure we can continue to*)

I've been thinking that we underestimate the power of DREAMS!
Both the kind we have while we are awake, and the kind we have while we are asleep.... and maybe the times in-between too.

You see, every time we dream we CREATE.
We create an alternate version of how things are, how things could be.
And how often do our dreams become real life?
How often do they come true, and we find it is not quite as great
as we imagined it would be?
We dreamed and dreamed, we problem-solved and pursued,
then we are where we dreamed we wanted to be,
and we find it's not quite as great as we thought....
Or do we get their and it feels even greater?....
I have had both experiences.

Lately, I have been dreaming of our family in a different living situation....
I thought my dream was attached my set of values.... now, I'm not so sure. Unfortunately, Surprisingly, and for some reason Unknown to me,
this current dream was attached to a thing- "Stuff"- a new house specifically. In this dream, we have a large kitchen, a big fenced yard with a dog and goats! (Landon is making goat's milk soap), a pottery studio for me to work in, the laundry room is it's own room... lol.... an area to garden... We were all on board with this dream, and we logically, have been trying to sell our home to create this new one. Only one problem.

The problem of "Stuff".....
This dream-home is more Stuff.
And I'm not so sure I'm okay with that part of this dream.
With the Stuff comes more costs, more caring for the Stuff....
and often this translates into working more
for the money to care for and maintain the Stuff.
This part of the Dream isn't sitting well with me.
I highly value being WITH my family.
with my children. with my husband.
learning and living together. Everyday.
That is my most important DREAM.
I wouldn't ever want "Stuff" to become bigger than my Dreams of us


I am wondering, what need is My dream telling me I have?

Perhaps, My dream is to CREATE a more efficient kitchen,
not necessarily a bigger one;

perhaps, My Dream is to make better use of the outdoors
perhaps, My dream is to walk more, to camp and visit the beach;

maybe my Dream is to transform our garage into a pottery studio;
and maybe our washer and dryer could be moved into our basement.....

Perhaps, this is My Real Dream.... without the extra costly Stuff...
and perhaps it would feel as great as I imagine!

and perhaps it wouldn't.

but I continue Dreaming!
Aware of the power that DREAMING can have!

Dreaming grew into living my life with my best friend; one of the very few people who "gets" me;
dreams brought to life our children;dreaming allowed me to heal from my first birth by helping other mamas have their babies;dreaming allowed me to give birth at home the next time, with courage and faith; dreaming allowed us to imagine what we could make of this affordable rundown home we have renovated; dreaming of being able to stay at home with my children beyond the age of 5 led to homeschooling; and dreaming of something better than that has led to unschooling.....

What a powerful thing dreaming can be!?

So what have you dreamed of lately?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

reading without schooling

I found myself in a fantastic children's shop yesterday. Surrounded by games, puzzles, books, experiment kits, building kits, art supplies.... I found I was being drawn to the workbook section. Again. I stopped myself. and thought,

"What? Have I learned nothing?"

from the last 10 years of unschooling our daughter?


Old thinking patterns die hard sometimes.
You see, I was an "early" reader. I was reading before I began kindergarten, and I did relatively well in school; at least until I was in middle school and the information was coming more quickly, and the distractions were greater and the social pressures were much stronger. But that is another story.

So I carried this notion that children in my family learn to read "early". Period. I accepted this as a given, as this had been true for a lot children in my family.

When we began the homeschooling journey, the last thing I was concerned about was how my children would learn to read. (GRIN)

I was in for a big surprise when my daughter had so much difficulty learning this skill. At first, it looked like reluctance. After the reluctance was lessened, it looked like major frustration. I am someone who had no trouble learning to read, and largely, I learned in a public school setting growing up. When my daughter asked for help, I was drawn to workbooks. To flashcards. To games like scrabble, and websites like starfall. This was not working.

I had read a few articles on brain development and natural reading. The theory is, as it is in harmony with unschooling, is that children learn what they need to know, as they need to know it, and as their natural ability to learn it develops. There were many stories of children who hadn't naturally learned to read until age 10, or 12, or even older. And yet so many children are attending school and learning this skill at age 6. And many homeschooled and unschooled kids learn reading around 6 as well. Below is a bit of info on unschoolers take on learning to read, as well as the results of a poll about what age children learned to read:

So what is going on with this?
Google "learning to read" and you will be assaulted with a plethora of websites proclaiming that their program will teach your baby to read; that your baby is a genius and just needs this program to unleash their full potential!

My heart is thumping.
Because I am sickened by the RUSH.

Rush to wean,
rush to walk,
to potty train,
to talk,
to sleep train your little one to sleep through the night....
RUSH and push your baby into independence!
this is the message.

Nevermind that weaning will naturally happen as a baby becomes more able and interested in eating solids, nevermind that walking, talking, and using the toilet are things that naturally develop as a body and mind grows to readiness. And the same goes for sleep and independence.

Yes, being a parent is exhausting,
yes, it sucks to have my sleep disrupted by my little one.
Yes, it would be nice to have a night alone with my hubby.
But I have no doubt
that when my baby cries,
I am being called,
my baby is trying to communicate a need or feeling;
and whether that need is for nursing,
or cuddles,
or comfort because of teething,
or help and love while falling asleep;
I am confident that their need is as valid as mine,
and that they will naturally grow more capable of meeting their own needs as they grow.
So why rush? Is there any benefit to the little one?

And somehow this RUSH has been added to reading. So what we have is a society and a school system that disregards each child's individual development, needs, desires, and learning style. We have an expectation that children will learn to read in the early grades; and we justify this expectation, by saying that children need to know how to read in order to learn other things. huh.

What if that isn't true? What if, in fact, the standard ways in which children are taught to read in school are actually doing damage to some children? Such as the children who have dyslexia? as is explained in the below article:
"These brain imaging studies show that teaching methods that may work well for a large majority of schoolchildren may be counterproductive when used with dyslexic children. Teaching methods based on intensive or systematic drill in phonemic awareness or phonetic decoding strategies may actually be harmful to dyslexic children. Such teaching might simply emphasize reliance on mental strategies that are as likely to diminish reading ability for dyslexic children as they are to improve it, increasing both the frustration and impairment level of dyslexic students."

Not to mention, that children tend to compare themselves to other kids?
Why is my classmate able to read, and I can't?
What's wrong with me?
And what conclusion are they left with?
That they are dumb, or different in a bad way, or that they are lazy.
Either way their self-esteem takes a big hit.

Which brings me to my big realization.
What if it can be done the other way around?
Could free and creative and natural learning and play, lead to reading?
And what would be the benefit of doing it this way?

When my daughter was in Kindergarten, we used a curriculum. (Unsuccessfully, as I explained in a previous post.) The curriculum was trying to teach reading color names, through coloring. Okay, this sounds reasonable, logical, and seems to hold the possibility of being enjoyable and incorporating a creative process..... except, it wasn't.
For example, a big picture of a tree, would be accompanied by the word GREEN, and the instruction to color the tree GREEN. LOL. A picture of an apple, with the word RED, and the assignment to color the apple RED. You get the idea. This didn't leave room at all for creative process, for problem solving, for expression; the whole thing felt dumbed-down to me, and I dare say it felt that way to the children as well.
I believe the intention was to blend art and reading together, so I give them credit for that. The intention is good.

What if we take away the tree, the GREEN, the assignment? We are left with a blank piece of paper, and a learner who may or may not be drawn to art. In this case, let's say the learner is drawn to art. Art and music, because my daughter is. Unschooling has allowed her learning to be a symbolic blank piece of paper. Let's say the learner is right-brained. Let's say the below is an accurate picture of her natural strengths.

(Taken from this site:

The right-brain is better at:

Right HemisphereLeft Hemisphere
  • Copying of designs,
  • Discrimination of shapes e.g. picking out a camouflaged object,
  • Understanding geometric properties,
  • Reading faces,
  • Music,
  • Global holistic processing,
  • Understanding of metaphors,
  • Expressing emotions,
  • Reading emotions.
  • Language skills,
  • Skilled movement,
  • Analytical time sequence processing.
  • Sensations on both side of face,
  • Sound perceived by both ears,
  • Pain,
  • Hunger,
  • Position.
Emotions Negative emotions (fearful mournful feelings), Positive emotions
neurotransmitters Higher levels of norepinephrine Higher levels of dopamine
Grey Matter White Maatter ratio More white-matter (longer axons) on right more grey-matter (cell bodies) on the left.

The question is:
Does free pursuit and exploration of these strengths lead to reading?

It has for my daughter. She has dyslexia, as well as auditory processing problems and a few other learning disabilities, or should I call them learning differences? I could.

She is 10, and as of this month something has "clicked", as the natural learning articles said happens around this age. She reads. On a good day, she can read well. On a bad day, which is happening less and less, she struggles a lot to read at all. This is the nature of learning differences.

When someone is diagnosed with something like dyslexia, there is talk of "interventions", programs and people that will help her to learn in a way that works for her. Great, I am thankful that she will have access to this help, if she wants it.

Much to my amazement, I think she has naturally searched out activities, that for her, have acted as "interventions." Activities, that played on her strengths, built her confidence, and helped her to start to overcome her difficulties. Here is what I mean more specifically:

She has been able to build solid friendships and mentor-like relationships with many, many people. People who, like her, are artists; and who, like her, had a lot of difficulty in learning some skills, like reading. These people have helped her to value her artistic talents; they have helped her to preserve her confidence. They have helped her develop her gifts.

She has been playing violin, and taking group lessons to learn this instrument. Reading music has helped her de-coding skills; which transfers into de-coding letters. Her music teacher has observed her ability to play by ear; a very valuable skill for any musician. I believe that her developing an ability to tell the difference in sounds of various notes, and identify those notes, has helped her in reading too. She has had a lot of trouble telling the difference between vowel sounds, and attaching vowel sounds to vowel letters. But since playing music, she is getting much better at this. Dancing for 5 years has helped her have a great understanding of timing, which has helped for learning to play music.
Working with clay, making sculptures as well as at the pottery wheel, has helped her ability to focus, to work through obstacles, to learn from mistakes, and to develop her major and fine motor skills. These are necessary skills for learning to read and write.

So here's the thing.
My beautiful, gifted,
amazing daughter has done it backwards
to how schools teach it.
Backwards to what I as a parent expected.
And I think it has been of benefit to her.
I think in alot of ways she has come out "ahead."
Ahead in the sense that she feels good about herself.
She knows who she is
how she learns best
she has confidence that she can learn anything.

Thank goodness I was able to let go of my own expectations
and be open to her doing this in her own way and her own time.
This was my HUGE lesson to learn.
Thank goodness she was a persistent teacher!
this is still an on-going process.

But here I am.

My boy now in kindergarten; and I am able to stop myself while standing in the workbook section. LOL
I am able to hear him say
"mom, those look boring! Let's go look at the games!"
I am able to accept that as valid, and true.
I am able to turn around, and follow my boy to the games.
I know that his process is his own,

and it will look how it looks, and that is fine.
He will amaze me too. He does.
He will have gifts, and talents. He does.
He will find people he connects with.
He will grow.
Grow in the true sense of the word: Spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally. And we will grow.

without schooling.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

LIFE as Therapy

I've been brewing this one for a while.....

while sitting at the pottery wheel
while watching my children playing
while contemplating life, and what will come of this life,
while digesting the feeling that new things are coming my way

while hearing of the parenting troubles, and marriage troubles, and schooling troubles of some of the people closest to me

the idea that this life pushes my buttons;
the right buttons, in just the right way, at just the right time.
The idea that LIFE provides me with the opportunity to grow.
to do things differently than i had before. or to think of things in a new way.
That LIFE is therapy.


I've been working at the pottery wheel a lot lately. And I have had the privilege of seeing my children working at the wheel too. This is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

My sons little hands, wrapped around that clay.
centered. and gentle and firm. and responsive.
and going with the flow. and feeling the clay, as soft and responsive as it is.
And learning the lessons that one learns, from working with clay.

Clay is a lot like people.
It can be soft and easy to work with, or it can be tough and hard and feel like sandpaper on your skin. It can be molded, or it can be over-worked. One can put too much pressure on it, and it becomes un-glued, or looses its form and turns into a wonky mess.

Yes, clay and people have alot in common.

And what I've been learning is that whether the clay is easy or hard to work with depends a lot on me; the person working with it.
It depends on whether I am centered and in good spirits;
it depends on whether I have added enough water;
it depends if I am making movements that are slow and rhythmic.
Supportive, but not controlling.

The clay becomes an outward manifestation of me;
of my emotional state and of how I am treating it.
Much like my relationships with people become mirrors of my self and the other. Of how we treat and feel about each other.


What a beautiful gift that me and my children get to learn together; and that my children are learning about some of life's principles from clay.
The Clay has become the mentor.

Which has me thinking about one of my mentors. My friend Trey.
Trey died when my daughter was still a baby. Trey's wife is a potter, and so my thoughts have wondered back to him as I've been working. Trey had a huge impact on me, and in my life. As I was finishing high school, he wanted for me to become a councilor, like him. He was a gifted councilor; and I suppose, he saw something in me that told him I could do what he did. At the time I rejected the idea, because I looked up to him so much. Which is awfully ironic. I didn't believe I could ever live up to the standard he had set. to be as powerful and kind and gifted as he was at his profession. AND the idea of going to MORE school right after graduation wasn't very appealing to me at that time.

But I've been reflecting. And remembering him. and thinking about some of the things I have experienced.
***And the things I have learned the most from,
have been the hardest things to go through.***

LIFE has been my teacher.

And I have been thinking a lot about becoming a councilor, because I really appreciated SO much having Trey's guidance and help, as life taught me some hard lessons. Perhaps, I could do it. I am beginning to believe. maybe.

Which brings me to lessons I've collected. Lessons in acceptance. Lessons on knowing when to go with the flow, and how to know when the flow needs a little directing. Lessons on commitment. And appreciation. and unconditional love.

As some of you know, my birth experience with my daughter was not very natural. (I really will have to go into more detail in another post.) And I learned SO many lessons from it. As I did from the next few years learning how to be a mama. And how to be a wife. A partner.

Honestly, becoming a mama and a wife was nothing like I had imagined. At times, I felt like I had woken up in a sleep-deprived maze of expectations. My own expectations and others. Not that it was a bad thing; just not anything like I had pictured. ever. And I could have given up. many times, I could have quit, in one way or another. I could have shut it all down and refused to learn the BIG lessons life was offering to me. I could have said "this is too hard, it is nothing like I expected". In fact, I'm pretty sure I did say that. ALOT. and I'm pretty sure that at times, I still do. But I did not give up. And I am glad that I have stuck with my commitment.

And some days are better than others. and some weeks and months are better than others. And I am glad I have not given up. I have looked at the ways my marriage was different than I had expected; and after I got past faulting the marriage itself, I started to fault the picture in my head of what my marriage "should" look like. I began to accept things about myself and about my partner that were maybe NOT going to change. I tried loving those parts too. I tried valuing PEACE more than being right; more than the faulted image of marriage I held in my head. I tried applying unconditional love towards my partner. towards our marriage. This was hard. Really hard. ***And I wish more people would talk about this stuff. Because we all go through it. The same stuff. And so many people are too embarrassed, or proud, or private, or scared to share it. And so we feel alone; as we try to wade through these difficult LIFE lessons.

And being a mama felt surprisingly hard. At least while I was trying to "mama" like someone else. Talk about not going with the flow. I was allowing other mama's to direct the flow of my parenting. Oh the lessons of life!

Yes, LIFE is therapy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Unschooling Music and.... Other Things.....

As a child, around 9 yo, I thought it would be fun to take piano lessons! My mom excitedly bought me a keyboard, and signed me up for lessons. I liked my teacher, and lessons were fun; but they also made playing music so serious; there was so much emphasis on practicing. My mom and dad were putting money into me learning to play this instrument; and so understandably they wanted to see me practice.

It didn't take very long for practicing to feel like a high pressure event, and not fun at all. I also had trouble reading the notes, and felt anxious-

What if I couldn't figure out how to read these notes?

After about 1 year of "not fun" lessons, I quit playing piano. There are some very "gifted" musicians in my family, but somehow, I didn't fit in with them.

I joined choir in middle school; and was told by some people that singing was not my gift.... (actually, I think they may be right on this one ;)

In grade 8 and 9, I thought playing BASS would be fun. We rented the equipment, and signed up for lessons. Again, I liked my teacher; but all this focus on "practicing" was not fun; and hearing from people "we want to hear you play something".... it felt like pressure. During those same years, some of my older friends had started a band; I went to their "jam sessions" every week... and that was fun, and kept my love for music alive!

Although, I stopped playing bass.

When I met Landon, my now husband, he played drums.... I told him "I used to play BASS"; which was kind of true..... except he really liked me, so the next week he came to my house with a BASS and amp! and wanted to hear me play! LOL!

I had to fess-up that I didn't know what I was doing at all!

He invited me to jam with a few of his guy friends... and I did! This felt like "pressure" but I wanted to be a part of this, so it was worth it! All the guys were patient with me; showing me what to play....

Fast forward a whole bunch, in 2005, Landon bought me an acoustic guitar for a present!
No lessons, no pressure!
I was a grown-up, with children, and responsibilities, and so many things to keep me busy... BUT I REALLY wanted to learn to play!!
I could hear someone's voice in my head
telling me it would be really hard to learn an instrument as an adult;
and that I couldn't read music;
and that I wasn't musically gifted like others in my family.
But this was a guitar given from a loving place;
NO strings attached! NO pressure!

I read an article about unschooling music. The writer spoke to exactly what my childhood experiences with music were. He placed emphasis on music being something we PLAY! and by definition, playing is a FUN activity!
I started to look at my guitar as a toy.
I played with it like a child plays with a toy.
I paid no attention to how often I played;
no attention to notes or reading music;
or performing, or playing with others.
I started to see which sounds I could make with a guitar that sounded good.
I banished the word "practice" from my thoughts about music.

I started getting interested in looking at some chord charts, which were so much easier than trying to read music, like I did in piano. I started to write a song called "un-musical" about the messages lingering from my childhood about being unable to play; and about childhood being the best time to learn an instrument.
I have been playing for 5 years now... and I love playing!! I go through phases where I don't play much, and phases where I play ALOT!

SO why am I writing about this??
Because some unschooling moms had posted some questions about kids and learning music, and lessons and practicing. And it got me thinking about the GIFT that my shift in perspective has been, when it comes to music. My children are PLAYING music now, as our home is full of instruments :D

SO what about other things?

What about unschooling ART??
I was SO excited to meet a fellow unschooling mama today, who has set up an art studio for "learning" art.... only it is more like "doing" art. "Being" art. She is kindly opening her studio up to our family once a week to PLAY art. And she has a couple of pottery wheels, and I am just over-the-top happy about this opportunity to unschool art with my family!!

What about socially? How does unschooling affect social learning?

Admittedly, this is one area where homelearners get lots of questions. "Who do you hang out with? Where do you meet other kids?" and the very common "don't you worry about them developing socially?"

Okay, here's my question.

What does the typical social learning look like IN school?

The truth of it is, I heard of a local grade 5 class having to deal with one of the children bringing hardcore porn to the school.
*big sigh*

The child would have been 11yo, tops.
*sigh* And what are the social consequences of that?!

I can't even begin to imagine all of them. All I can say, is I'm really thankful I didn't have to find out how that would effect my children. I'm thankful they didn't have to feel uncomfortable, or shocked, or pressured to "tell" or keep it quiet. I'm thankful I don't feel this is a normal part of normal social development; and although it is obviously a reality, I feel thankful that I cannot wrap my head around accepting this.

And I realize that as teens and adults they will encounter these kinds of situations; and I hear moms and dads saying that these kinds of things coming up in young childhood helps their children learn how to stand up for themselves; to learn how to handle these things; how to stand up to peer pressure.
Um, I'm holding back what i really think about that kind of attitude, because I don't want to insult some people.
I'm trying to choose my words carefully.

I think what I'm trying to say is some situations are just plain inappropriate. Just simply shouldn't happen. And I think it sounds all well and fine to say one is viewing it as a learning experience; however, I don't think that makes it an appropriate learning situation. Period.

... And also, by some extension, the parent that is reasoning this way, is saying on some level that encountering this thing as a child will help the person to know how to deal with this kind of situation as an adult. Okay.... Right. Well, I'm 30, and I never encountered porn in elementary school, or middle or high; and if I were to encounter it now, in my adult life, I have no doubt I would know how to react. It would not be something I would want to be a part of. I would know how to stand up for myself, and speak my mind~ even though I did not deal with this situation as a child. Imagine that!?

However, I did encounter drug use as a child, and teen. And to begin with, I thought I would know how to deal with it.
TO begin with, I did.
But with repeated exposure, it becomes more familiar. Less shocking. The "pressure" doesn't feel like "pressure" anymore; it feels like curiosity. And I did give into it. And I believe that is part of normal social development for a person being raised in a public school system; exposed to any variety of things; known and unknown to the parents. Why would we expect anything else?

So what do we do socially?
We hang out with other unschooling families! There are a few of us around ;) We go places and experience things together; we learn together; we take classes together. And I feel confident that my children are developing a strong sense of who they are, and where they come from. And my feeling is that a person who KNOWS who they are, will find it natural to act in a way that is TRUE to themself, and to where they KNOW they come from.

TO that I would like to add something else that I have been pondering.
Authority- authorship of one's own life.
When does that start? As an adult?
For a lot of people it starts as an adult.
All of a sudden, life expects them to make big decisions.
To own our feelings, to own up to our responsibilities.

When childhood has taught us to fold. To ignore our feelings. To try harder to please people. To gain approval. To respect authority of others, in all circumstances.
Because the authority knows best.
There is no self-authority; because the child does not have the right, the equality, the ownership of themselves. At least, not in any way that matters. And so we learn to bow. To fold. To mistrust ourselves.
Our feelings. Our wishes.

“To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
~John Holt

To that end, I am wondering, where is the line? Where is the line between loving, patient parental guidance and controlling authority? How does one help a child to trust themselves? to know themselves? To own themselves?

And at what point does "guidance" become the kind of control that sets up a child to be treated badly in their future relationships?
To be controlled?
To bow out to the preferences of the other, without due regard given to themself?

What are your thoughts?