Sunday, August 19, 2012

Confessions of an Unschooling Mama

Before I start my confessions, let's put this in context. We consider ourselves Unschoolers... or Natural Learners. (My hubby prefers that term.) We have been Natural Learners for our children's whole lives; even though for a while we didn't know it had a name.
For a quick idea of what unschooling is check out Wiki:

Basically though, Natural Learning trusts that all people learn; that it is our nature to learn our whole lives.
Unschooling lets go of "teaching", curriculum and outcomes.
It trusts that Life is the best teacher.
Unschooling believes that a child (or person) will learn everything they need to learn in life, in the best time and way for themselves, as individuals.

"Radical Unschoolers" take it a step further;
aiming to live a mutually respectful life with their family.

Sometimes this concept is confusing when it comes to "how to". It can sound or look like "no limits" or "no guidance", which is not really the true idea either. At the same time though, Radical Unschooling generally doesn't value limits on activities related to daily living; like bedtime, or screentime, or diet. Living mutually respectful lives is definitely something I value, and in many ways aim for. It also very challenging at times, as you might imagine.

Now for my confessions.
Sometimes I really, really want a clean, and organized house. Sometimes I think this is the impossible dream of the home learning parent! I mean, I want the whole thing clean, all at the same time. I may have even began uttering the word "chore", in the direction of my children, in an involuntary way, on a semi-daily basis. I may have made a list of tasks that need to be done on a daily basis. Yes. Actually I did this. This is a confession, so I will admit it. To clarify though, these are not tasks that HAVE to be done by the kids everyday, rather its a list of stuff that inevitably gets done daily. It is in list-form so they could stop asking for a chore, and I could stop having to search for something helpful they could do.

"What's that?" you say... "they ask for a chore everyday?"

Yes, they do. And the reason for this is my next confession. They need to choose to do a "chore" before watching tv, or playing video games. The horror!! No seriously. This is terrible. This is does not sound like mutually respectful living at all. Or does it? Sometimes it's hard for me to tell.

Wow, what the heck happened to all my ideals?! I'll tell you what.

I had a son who was using screens for 6-8+ hours a day, sometimes video games, sometimes movies. How's that for a confession? Recognize the picture to the right? Mike TV, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.... was looking a little too familiar....

To put this into perspective, a lot of Radical Unschooling parents may not have considered this amount of screen time a problem. Most Radical Unschooling parents would consider the content and learning value of the screen activities. And to be honest, I did give a fair bit of consideration to that; a lot of learning happens using screens. But I also gave careful thought to the tummy aches, trouble sleeping, vocal ticks, and generally miserable spirit after a full-on, intense, screen-filled day. Combine that with a prevailing spirit of un-co-operation from both our little learners when it came to helping out. To satisfy our value of mutually respectful living our family had many a conversation about our concerns. Finally though, we felt we had to do the "parent" thing. UGH.

Together, us with our young ones, we drafted up some new agreements about screen time. Our motto has been to Put the Relationship First. The level of imbalance and the generally unco-operative spirit, when it came to helping out was not contributing to healthy family relationships. It was contributing to frustration, and constant, exhausting negotiations. 

So as a family, sitting very traditionally around the table, we drafted up an agreement that required a "chore" (I hate calling them that, but anyway) before screen activities. This felt terrible to me. It really did. I realize it would probably be all kinds of normal in a lot of families. But not in ours. Actually the new agreement felt pretty yucky to all of us. It was breaking old patterns, it was pushing us beyond Our Normal.

There was a Unified dragging of feet; AND we stuck with it.

We also agreed on a limit of 1.5 hours of screen time daily; then if another "chore" was done, a bonus half hour. Part of the process of drafting this agreement was brainstorming many agreements.

It was remembering the "house rules" of our childhood families.
It was remembering all the excessive responsibilities and requirements set by attending public school.
It was remembering the strained relationship I still have with my folks;
it was remembering that
Mutuality is still the goal.

A couple weeks in, an addendum happened. We realized content was a super important part of the recipe. Calm learning shows like Sesame Street wouldn't count as screen time. This was progress. Some days, learning shows, and calm shows satisfied the needs to chill. Kids were still happy and co-operative after those kinds of shows. Then a neat thing happened. After a couple of weeks of painfully sticking to the new agreement, a balancing occurred! 

It just happened.
Some days we are using screens a lot; other days not so much. 
We aren't watching the clock or setting timers as much.
The kids are asking to help out, and are having willing spirits.
We are still negotiating a lot; AND I think that's a great thing.
I think that means the relationship is alive and well, as is the respect.
Life is flowing.

Next confession. I have slowly, but surely, put us all on a Gluten-free diet. Why?
Because it's not normal to have tummy aches every time you eat. It's not normal to have diarrhea everyday. We're Gluten-free because I have Celiac disease, and it's genetic, and very real. Celiac disease destroys your bowels; and damaged bowels aren't going to absorb the nutrients needed to grow healthy bodies and brains.

Why is this even a confession? ***I ask with a sense of frustration... I think because of the reactions of people; it ranges from support, to shock, to pity, to the belief that my suffering is "all in my head." I've heard "I could never do that".... Not true. You can do it, if you want to; and especially if you need to.
I've heard "awe, your poor kids, don't they miss cake and goodies?" I've even heard "Your going to give your daughter an eating disorder." !! Can you even believe that?!

The truth is we plenty of really yummy food! We have cake, and goodies, pizza and ice cream, burgers and fries.... all the junk Nostalgia dictates is so vital to Childhood. So don't pity us, or worse yet judge us. Our diet is yummy and healthy. Our children aren't missing out on anything. I promise. AND they aren't going to get an eating disorder from our family eating Gluten-free! Remembering we highly value Respectful Living, our diet isn't something being Forced. They have the power to make choices; which is why on occasion they come home with enormous tummy aches.... listening to our bodies is just one more lesson to learn.

Last confessions.... (this list is getting rather long....)
I do worry about outcomes.
I occasionally look at workbooks, and curriculum.
Sometimes I compare our family to other families.
I EVEN mutter "grade-level" in a very quiet voice
when shopping in the "teachers resource" store. 
I feel an almost uncontrollable urge to try to "teach" my children to read as soon as they turn 6, rather than wait for them to be ready. 
I also feel compelled to give some form of instruction every time they pick up the guitar.
There. I think that's all of my secrets.
My husband wants to add Bragging to the list. (Isn't he cute?)
He means the bragging he does when we get a final summary of all the learning from the year.
He brags to the people who care about "report cards".

Monday, August 13, 2012

Unschooling at our Farmers Market

Welcome to the August 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Farmer's Markets

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by

Code Name: Mama and


This month our participants have written about something new they've learned about their local farmers.

As some of you know, I'm a potter. I opened up a studio last year... and as a result I have been attending more farmers markets this summer than any other year. (maybe 1-2 times a month) Of course, going as a vendor is a bit of a different experience... And it's been good for our whole family!

I remember the evening before our first market, we had a startling revelation that getting our whole family there was going to be no small feat. You see, we drive an hour and a half to the market!! With 3 very heavy totes full of pottery, 2 display tables, a shelf, and a large shade tent; add our 2 children, food for the day and a very active puppy, and WOW, that is one crazy morning!! We have to leave the house by around 7am, so we have plenty of time to drive over the mountain and around the lake.

So why sign up to doing that with our children?!

Because it's a really, really fun day together :) AND it's a day full of learning, which for us, as Natural Learners is a really big deal!

We have been a part of 3 different markets, but one of them is definitely our favorite. It has a really festive feel! There's live music, and hoopers, and stilts. There's bakers, and farmers, and jewelers, a lady who makes beautiful scarves, photographers and a lady who makes dog treats. It is RICH with things to look at and learn about; and RICH with people to learn from. This market is a major tourist destination; the last time we went, we met people visiting from Germany, Sweden, and Brazil, as well as the locals and some who were visiting from interior BC. Seriously, How cool is that?!

My daughter is an artist too; she couldn't even help it if she tried... she is so full of Creativity and Beauty and Talent, I can't even narrow it down and say "She is a Jeweler" or "She's a Dancer" or "She's a Musician" because she's not. She's an ARTIST! And she amazes me everyday. At markets she sells her jewelry, and she's started belly dancing at them also. She's had to learn about budgeting, and marketing and talking with people. She's gotten pretty comfortable visiting vendors, and asking them all about how they make what they do... she has discovered bartering and trades!

If we have successful day sales-wise, we visit a local who sells fresh caught CRAB!! YUM! We also visit and explore one of the beaches. It makes for a Beautiful day!

One of the other markets was only a 40 minute drive from where we live, but when we got there it was a completely different experience. This was mainly a FOOD market!! Beautiful produce, and soaps, baked goods, home made sauces and cheeses, and organic meat. Did I mention it was dumping down RAIN?! SO much rain.... but the locals were all there, on foot, and on bikes, pushing stollers, and clutching their umbrellas! Many of them brought their own baskets to fill. As I mentioned though, this was mainly a FOOD market, so we didn't do very well sales-wise. In fact, we didn't sell a single thing... I guess, handmade dishes aren't groceries? lol

That day we learned about putting a smile on in the rain, and just being there to meet people, both the shoppers and the vendors. Just enjoying the day, was a great lesson.... oh, and we learned which market to go to when we want some Great FOOD!

Market Days have become something we really look forward to as a family. I've started reflecting on what kinds of memories my children will bring with them into adulthood,
and I think these will be good ones.
Our rag-tag, gypsy family rolling out of bed 
already in our clothes for the day,
loading into the already packed-up van and dreamily trekking over the mountain... open to whatever adventures await us at the Market.

Feel free to check out my goodies at:



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • 10 Simple Ways to Make the Farmer's Market More Fun for Kids — Lorie at Reading Confetti shares ideas and books to help kids get the most from the farmers market experience.
  • 10 Things I Want To Teach My Daughter About The Importance of Shopping at the Farmer’s Market — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares the ten lessons she hopes to impart to her daughter about the importance of shopping at local farmers markets.
  • Charmed by Two Small Town Markets — Shannon at GrowingSlower was charmed by two small-town farmers markets while on vacation.
  • The Olympia Farmer's Market (and a giveaway!) — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes and family took a trip to their state capitol to experience a new market. See what they saw, and enter to win a book written about that very market.
  • — Exploring the farmers market by Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy writing at Natural Parents Network — with a scavenger hunt!
  • Exploring the Market ... Alphabet StyleThat Mama Gretchen is in the midst of creating a learning tool for her toddler and it's all about the market!
  • Unschooling at the Farmers Market — Megz at Aspen Mama loves building memories as a vendor at the Market.
  • Montessori-Inspired Vegetable Unit — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares links to Montessori-inspired vegetable printables and activities to help your family get the most out of a trip to the farmer’s market.
  • Markets — How sustainable mum has fitted a monthly farmers market into a weekly food shop.
  • The Farmers Market In Under An Hour ("Carl Style") — Andrea and family at Tales of Goodness adapt their farmers marketing approach to make everyone happy.
  • Tales Of a Troubled Gardener — Sam at Love Parenting writes about her dream of self-sufficiency and her lack of gardening skills!
  • A Few {Of The Many} Reasons Why I Love Our Farmer’s Market — Even though the experience can sometimes be less than peaceful, MomeeeZen shares why she enjoys taking her family to the Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings.
  • Experiencing the Farmer's Market from a Different Perspective — Emily at S.A.H.M. i AM had a great time letting her toddler lead the way at the farmer's market...
  • Ask A Farmer's Daughter — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter answers questions about her life growing up on a small family farm in New England.
  • Giving Up the Grocery Store — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares her family's summertime challenge to eliminate trips to the grocery store and rely almost exclusively on local, farm-fresh foods.
  • Urban farming and fresh food in the city — Lauren at Hobo Mama takes trips to farms, gardens, and markets within reach of a big city.
  • Market Tip: Get to Know Your Farmers — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger finally gets up the guts to talk to her farmers and learns she is among ardent food lovers.
  • New Farmer's Market Find — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is excited to make a new find at her new farmers market.
  • "The Real World" Grassroots Edition — jessica at instead of institution takes some time out to write a love note.
  • 9 Insider Tips for Farmer's Market Newbies — Dionna at Code Name: Mama chatted with a few farmers to bring you some insider information on how to get the most out of your local farmer's market.
  • The Place Where I Can Say "Yes!" — Erica at ChildOrganics gives you a tour of her favorite vendors at her local farmers market and discusses the benefits of creating community through the market.
  • Raw Local Milk — Jorje shares her family's field trip to a local dairy. Learn what you can appreciate from a small town farm at Momma
  • Italian Secret Vegetable Soup Recipe — Alinka at Baby Web convinces an Italian Farmer & Cook to reveal a precious minestrone recipe and shares it with her readers.
  • Where do our eggs come from? A visit to Sucellus Farms. — Carli at One Fit Mom takes her family to meet the chickens that have been providing their daily eggs.
  • Beyond the Farm — Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy and her family enjoy looking beyond the food at the local farmer's market to see the wares of the over vendors.
  • Magic at the Market — Do you ever take time to really look at the food you eat? Amy at Anktangle enjoys marveling at the beauty (and the utility) of the foods and goods available at the farmers' market.
  • Farmer's Market Discoveries — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen reminisces about the discoveries she's made at the Farmer's Market throughout the years.
  • Are You Getting the Most out of Your Farmers' Market? (My List of Not-So-Common "Musts") — Sheila at A Living Family shares some uncommon ways to squeeze even more joy and connection (and yumminess!) from your local farmers' market experience.
  • Pick Your Own And Eat It — Luschka from Diary of a First Child shares their trip to a PYO farm and the journey from picking to eating her favourite food