Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Interview with Olivia (and some other home learning musings)

This blog began as an un-schooling and natural parenting blog. I wanted to document our journey, and be an encouragement and possibly an inspiration to other home learning parents. Home learning is a HUGE undertaking. I underestimated the level of time and commitment. I also underestimated how many of my own issues would be triggered: my competitive nature, my anxiety, and my insecurities.

As Olivia begins grade 11, I took time to reflect and collected some of my thoughts here.

A (not so) quick summary of our fun with home learning and learning differences

I have always thought of my daughter as gifted because of her many talents. Even as a very young one she was able to draw amazingly well, to dance remarkably and passionately, her empathy and compassion for people was off the charts. She's a natural musician- playing violin by ear, and singing as it turns out. These were her inborn interests- her natural leanings. She was confident and fearless!

When my daughter was 10, she was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia; basically reading, writing, and math learning disorders. Comparatively speaking, 10 years old is considered pretty late to get this kind of information.

We had been approaching "schooling" from a natural and trusting perspective. I believed (and still do) that people are learning beings, regardless of age we are always learning. I believed the academic tasks we associate with school learning, the reading, writing, and math, were things that could be learned without a curriculum- lead by passion, interest, and necessity.

Moving forward with this new diagnosis, we learned that the recommended interventions were largely unavailable in our small community. I wondered: Have we failed her by not forcing a curriculum or doing a more traditional method of schooling? What would we do now? For a time I felt very lost, insecure, and at odds with myself and my choices. My competitive nature had me comparing my daughter with others her age, even though this conflicted with my core beliefs about natural learning. She too, would compare herself to her peers, finding her deficits and feeling negatively about her differences.

What I had to understand is that my daughter's brain is wired differently. This was not my fault, and all the un-schooling philosophy in the world had not "caused" her challenges.

Olivia adds, "Different has a stigma of always being a bad thing, when it doesn't have to be. I knew I was different and I always looked at it as a bad thing. It's only been for a few years that I haven't felt that way. But it feels better now to see it as a good thing. From a psychology standpoint, when you are younger, you always feel more connected to people but when you're older there's a separation from everything else and you start to see yourself as your own person. Separate from others, separate from your parents, separate from your friends or peers, but when you're young there isn't a difference between you and the people around you. There isn't that separation. Now that I'm older, there is a separation and I can see that I am my own person and I can realize that I am not so-and-so and I am my own being. I am me. Reading about other people with dyslexia and some of the amazing things they were able to do, helped to take away the stigma of it being bad and it put a lighter spin on it. It didn't have to be a weakness, it could also be a strength in some ways."

The school encouraged us to continue on as we always had, and not to push her academically but to support her in her strengths.

Olivia says "because you did this, it helped me to see dyslexia as a strength."

She taught herself to read shortly after diagnosis. Many of the things we did to support her had nothing directly to do with reading, writing, or math. Horse back riding, art and pottery, and dance. We found tutors who were patient and kind. They would allow her to take her time and make mistakes. The human connection between them seemed to be the most important part. One tutor began to work with her natural creative inclinations and inspired her to start writing. Olivia's love of telling stories motivated her to want to create stories to share with others and she completed her first novel!

She says "I always wondered about the writers of stories, what gave them drive to write this? What inspired this? What made them want to create this? I wondered if I could write a story. Would people would want to read it? And if they would wonder who wrote it, and what made me want to write. More than that, I wanted to prove that I could do it."

Which brings us to now... grade 11

Olivia has only been reading for 6 years. Think about that for a minute. In 6 years she caught up to her grade level. She is the expert on her experience so I asked her some questions:
How is it that you are "caught up" to grade level in only 6 years?

"It was motivation and a lot of hard work. I think it was my love of stories and wanting to share those stories with other people that gave me the drive to learn and keep working on it even though it was challenging."


What would you say to other home learning parents whose children have learning differences?


"Keep encouraging your kids to do what they're good at and do the things that they love."


How will that help them to get better at the things they are struggling with?


"For example, if they have dyslexia, if they are able to see that dyslexia also comes with a lot of good things, not just the challenges it makes it a lot easier to cope."


What would you say to parents that are worried that children won't learn what they need to know?


"Kids like to ask questions and find the answers. Wanting to find the answers becomes the motivation. It's kind of a domino effect. It just kinda happens. It depends what kind of learner kids are too, are they someone who learns best by listening or are they maybe more visual or hands on? It depends on the person. Explore how your kid learns best, what is their preferred way of learning?"


What inspires you? What's next?


"That's a big question... there's so much. Last year I got so much feedback from my classmates about my novel. Some wanted to know more about certain characters and others wanted to know about my creative process and what points I wanted to stand out, such as the morals of the story. I was writing it in the same few years that I was realizing that dyslexia wasn't a bad thing. All the characters were very different, but they were all so wonderful in their own ways. It was really inspiring!

I'm working on a new novel and I'm excited to see what kind of feedback I get from it because it's very different from things I've previously written."

If any of this post resonates with you because you are a home learner, or a parent of a child who learns differently, or maybe just someone feeling a little lost. (September is notorious for making me feel like I'm bobbing around in vast, sometimes stormy ocean.)
The following is my heartfelt unsolicited advice:

1. Breathe. Really take time everyday to breathe. It might mean taking a walk, sitting outside, or hiding in the bathroom. (I know how it is, sometimes that's our best option!) But breathe.

2. Decide what is REALLY important to you when it comes to your family's learning, because you are the parent and you get to do that! Is it A's in every subject? Is it enjoying your time together, even the learning time? What kind of qualities do you want them to have as adults? Think beyond curriculum, what skills/qualities do you want to nurture in them? Do you want them to be kind, considerate, confident? Do you want them to understand what their strengths are and how to chase the things they feel passionate about?

3. Realize that a stressed out brain doesn't learn. This is science. If your child's brain is flooded with stress hormones for whatever reason, (they are struggling with the subject, they're uninterested, they want to run, they're hungry or tired...) the learning simply won't happen. It can't, the stressed out brain only cares about survival. I would extend this to include that a stressed out brain doesn't teach very well either. When my brain is stressed or anxious, I'm a mess. I'm in a hurry. I can be very unreasonable. Nothing I do from that place is going to support learning, except my walking away to calm down. Learn to recognize when stress is at play so you can take care of yourself and your little one - do something different!

4. Fun and engagement is when learning happens, so figure out how to make it fun. If that means talking to the teacher and trying to make adjustments to the plan, then do it! If that means scrapping the plan and building your own based on your child's needs, then do that! (Isn't that at least part of the reason we choose home learning in the first place? We want the best fit for our kids?)

5. Take your time because you actually have a lot of it. The time period between kindergarten and graduation is 13+ years. That's a ton of opportunity to enjoy being with your little one. The learning will happen, I promise. It can't not happen, unless you are all swimming in stress 24/7, see no 3.

*As a side note, my son also taught himself to read at 10 years old (no dyslexia, just his time to learn it). He too is reading at his grade level now. He just started grade 7. I never wasted spent my time forcing him to learn what sounds each letter makes, but he learned it because it became important and relevant to him. When he was in the early grades we spent time learning about things he was interested in, in ways that worked for him. He'll be doing the FSA testing this year to see how he compares to others in his grade, I'll let you know how it goes... I know I'm curious.

6. You got this. You grew and birthed this little being into existence. Arguably, you love them more than anyone. So listen to that mama gut. You got this.

Click here for some of our fave resources from earlier years :)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Is Laundry Art?


"Folding laundry is my outlet."

This is a quote from a recent conversation with a family member. This same family member has been known to produce some beautiful woodwork. In the context of this statement, it seemed that this person would rather fold laundry and do dishes than identify as an artist.

This begs the question, can folding laundry and doing dishes be forms of creative (and healing) expression?

I don't have a quick answer. All I know is it made me laugh when this thought was brought forward and I deemed it worthy of writing about.

I self-identify as an artist. I pot, I sculpt, I paint and write. I reflect and intuit what I can from my work. I FEEL as I am creating and I get feedback from the work that creates more feeling. Noticing, being present and aware. This is the work of creation as a part of healing. It is purposeful. It is meditative. It is digging deeply.

When I am working creatively I have a process. Firstly, creating a sacred space for myself. This involves, lighting, music or silence, temperature, time and space. Sometimes, I consciously bring an issue with me because I know what it is I am grappling with. At other times, I only know I am restless, uneasy, anxious, angry, upset, or conversely ecstatic and joyous! But always the intention is to express, listen, honor, and heal or move forward.

As I work, I get into a zone. Thoughts and feelings flow, and if it is a particularly good day I can hold awareness for my emotions and myself. I can honor without judgement. I can observe, hold space for, and release or move forward. It is a circular process. Often the work becomes symbolic, an octopus searching for home and self; a mermaid reaching for the surface; a gnarly tree with roots splitting off in two or three distinct directions. Using colors, shapes and symbols; rolling, bending, and molding clay... this is my healing work.

So can folding laundry be one's creative outlet?

You tell me.
For me, folding laundry is the last thing on my priority list. And I do mean last. It stacks up in baskets and piles. When I finally do get to it, I may put on music, open the curtains, and try to be joyful while doing it. I may consciously cultivate gratitude that we have clean clothes. OR I may just toss each persons stuff into baskets and leave it in their room! It could go either way really!? Perhaps, this is my deeply symbolic expression of disliking chores. OR maybe folding laundry, for me is not an artistic expression. I've practiced mindfulness, and I'm sure there are people out there who would argue that folding laundry is a beautiful and meditative activity. I can hear them now:

BE the laundry.
BE in the moment with the laundry.
BE present with the laundry.
BE present with your feelings while folding the laundry....

... now I'm smiling because my inner voice says "ditch the laundry, go do something fun."
Further evidence to my theory that I am a 36 year old child. I am a giant child. I am not in denial about my feelings about chores, or who I am. When I hear people say things like "I love folding laundry!" my inner child is horrified. It screams "liar!" and my inner voice wants to ask them what their 9 year old self would say to them if they heard them say "I love folding the laundry!".

This is where my work comes in. I am blessed to be working mostly with youths. They don't tend to be full of denial or weighted with a sense of responsibility. They tend to be present and spontaneous. Their creative spirit hopefully has not yet been been squelched (by the demands of laundry); but even if it has or they are self conscious, they tend to get into the swing of things before long. Creating, expressing, honoring, and healing.

At other times, I get to work with adults, or the parents of the kids I'm working with. It is brilliant to see their process.
Sometimes, the adult begins with doodling, other times they just observe their child, not yet ready to participate themselves. Sometimes, I give them a lump of clay and invite them to try the wheel, or to sculpt something. Sometimes, I suggest a topic and other times I just wait to see what unfolds.
Sometimes, the nervousness or anxiety is palpable, after all art is universal.

It requires us to take hold of some part of our inner self and put it "out there." "Out there" where we can be witnessed, honored, or even judged. This can create in us feelings of vulnerability. We can feel exposed, or even triggered. This feels risky, uncomfortable.

I believe is where "folding laundry is my outlet" comes in. It's much safer. Much more acceptable. Practical. Comfortable. Useful. Quite literally, it is the preparation and care for an item that hides our "unmentionables".

If ART is what puts us "out there" for all the world to see; then I would venture to say doing laundry is the opposite. It's literally, processing the items used to hide ourselves or used to present ourselves as we wish the world to see us; and perhaps, as we wish to see ourselves.

On this matter then, of whether laundry can be an artistic and healing outlet, I guess MY answer is no. I would beg to wonder what a person is afraid of if they are relying on a chore to be their outlet. I would invite a person to try even small forms of artistic expression; to take time to remember what activities really fired them up in their youth. Did they play an instrument? enjoy acting? sewing? woodworking? finger painting? collecting items from nature to create with? beading? weaving? collaging? photography? storytelling? I would invite them to do that activity with wonder, openness, curiosity. Observe what happens inside. Ask their 9 year old self how they feel about it, and then really listen to the answer.

But this is my truth, and I am an artist, so what do I know?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Is it REALLY Anxiety?

Anxiety defined:

Feelings of worry, nervousness, unease, agitation, or apprehension; in some cases these feelings are persistent and severe, possibly leading to compulsions, phobias, or panic attacks.


Could you be an Empath?

Empath traits:

-                       ~ You have the gifted ability to intuit the feelings of others; at times this ability goes beyond a mere understanding of another’s emotions, but extends to actually feeling their physical or emotional discomfort.

       ~  People often feel comfortable opening up to you, sharing their stories and struggles.
-          ~ You avoid conflict, possibly due to its intensity for you as you are able to feel the upset feelings of the other person as well as your own emotions.

-          ~ Sensory issues. Sounds, smells, lights, and other sensations can be overwhelming.

-          ~ Being in crowded environments may leave you feeling drained.

-          ~ You cry or feel overwhelmed with emotion from dramatic entertainment.

-          ~ You are spiritual.

-          ~ Others may label you as “too sensitive”, shy, moody, or introverted.

-          ~ You may wonder “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel so broken?”

Essential Self-care for Empaths:

-          ~ Avoid overly emotional entertainment; this includes the news.

-          ~ Seek out time in nature; water, plants, and wildlife are balancing and good for us.

-          ~ Limit screen usage.

-          ~ Make sure you get enough time alone.

-          ~ Learn to filter people’s energy and protect yourself. Ask “is this mine?” when experiencing overwhelming emotion.

-          ~ Avoid crowded areas when possible, or limit your time there ensuring to protect your own space and energy.

-          ~ Learn about managing boundaries.

-          ~ Have at least one uncluttered area of the house to spend time in.

-          ~ Exercise regularly.

-          ~ Get enough sleep.

-          ~ Eat enough healthy unprocessed food.

-          ~ Learn and practice mindfulness.

-          ~ Find a creative outlet. Journaling, drawing, sculpting, acting, singing…

-          ~ Spend time with family and friends that build you up and appreciate your gifts.

-          ~ Find ways to honor your gift daily!

Identifying as an Empath is identifying a Gift!

-          You can help others heal.

-          You may find you are gifted in art, music, or culinary skills.

-          You may sense danger before others.

-          You will tend to be more understanding and compassionate which may lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships.

-          You feel comfortable alone.

-          You may be a very creative, out-of-the-box thinker.

-          You can sense when people are lying.


Sometimes the behaviors and experiences of an Empath can look a lot like Anxiety. And sometimes, an Empath can be experiencing the symptoms of Anxiety because they have not learned to manage their gift.

Empaths can exist in this world comfortably and quite successfully once they have learned some skills that honor their unique selves.

Some people seek support from others who identify as Empaths, or from various therapies. It is important to research your options and find out what works for you!