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The North of France

We are staying in a tiny little village in the north of France. It’s so small that they don’t even sell postcards. It’s so small, and I think it must be so rare for there to be tourists here, that at the supermarket the other day the customer in front of me at the checkout gave me the side-eye and unleashed a torrent of heated French clearly about me, to the the checkout woman. To her credit, the checkout operator tried her best to shut the customer down and was nothing but polite to me. We even shared a cross-language-barrier giggle about how a cauliflower could not have cost €114.

What they do have in this tiny town is a Walk of Planets. Someone here must be a solar system fanatic and they’ve made a walk, starting with the sun, which is a sundial, and you walk to each of the planets and learn about them (their names, the gods, their relationships) and the distance walked to each planet is relative to the actual distance to each planet. We did half of it the other day, until Joss’s legs were “breaking they were so tired” and today Ron has taken the big two on a bike ride to complete it. We also only did half of it, because we just do not seem to be able to get going before 10am. Our mornings look like this:
Alfie wakes up. Ron and I exchange silent messages regarding who has had the least sleep that night, and that person, by virtue of playing dead the best, gets to stay in bed while the other gets up and spends some quality time with Alfie and coffee. Then, one by one we all venture out of the bedrooms and into the kitchen. Breakfast is a smorgasbord of things, that ends when the last person to eat has had enough. This is usually close to 9 or 9:30. Then, if we’re going somewhere (like the Walk of Planets) we start negotiations about a)getting dressed and b)how quickly getting dressed can be done. This can sometimes last well over an hour and involve some deep breathing from us (the parents). Once we’re all dressed, it’s taken so long that we definitely will need to take snacks. So, breakfasted, dressed, snacks packed, and the last thing we need to do is go to the toilet. Or not. Depending on your own situation. And then we can leave and it’s invariably after 10. And we celebrate that we’re out and about and doing something in the fresh air and French sunshine. And then, after about 20mins of walking, one of the party becomes desperately urgent to go to the toilet. So we do that. Someone once told me (and I’ve quoted them often since) that the best way to start unschooling is to act like every day is a holiday until that feels normal. I think we’re nailing it.

So, after all that, when we finally got to do the Walk of Planets I learned that the god of agriculture morphed into being the god of war (Mars). And I thought that that was poignant, in a lot of ways. We are parenting along the lines of The Continuum Concept, which is a book written by anthropologist Jean Liedloff about her time spent with the Yequana, the first people of an area of the Amazon Rain Forest. One of the things that goes around in my head a lot from that book is the cooperation within the tribe. They hold cooperation dear, and competition doesn’t get much of a look in, apart from some very specific games that they play at a specific time of year. Cooperation is natural, it’s like breathing – we need to do it to stay alive. I was talking to my Continuum Concept mentor a while ago and I asked her when we (non first-people) started to value competition over cooperation, and she suggested it was with the start of agriculture – when we began to be at war with the elements, in stead of working with them. So, naturally this relationship between the God of war and of agriculture appealed to me.

I probably learned this somewhere already. I studied art history at high school and we did some things about Greek and Roman mythology, but in all honesty I remember very little. But what I learned on The Walk of Planets will stay with me, because it was meaningful to me. Because I was relaxed when I learnt it. Because I could “hang” the information on other information I had. It was relative to other things, and I could form the relationship. These are the things that make for long-lasting knowledge.

So, we’re in a tiny little village in the north of France, and we keep doing these things, like the Walk of Planets, and a visit to a village with fortifications in the shape of an elaborate star, and visiting a village where the ravages of WWII remain visible… and the kids invariably find a c1992 playground to play on for the majority of the time, complaining about being hungry, or needing to go to the toilet, or… anything that does not sound like involved and motivated learning to this mama who possibly needs to do some more deschooling. And I’m having to trust that they are getting whatever they need. And I’m having to lean in to the strewing of these experiences and having no expectations about whether they like them or not. And I’m having to stumble through buying a €1.14 cauliflower with next to no French, and walk home through the countryside in the sunshine. We are definitely nailing the life-as-one-big-holiday aspect of unschooling.

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