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Posts from the ‘Everyday Unschooling’ Category

Every Day Unschooling

I have been thinking lately about how to breathe some life back into this blog, and I think I might have found a way.

Breastfeeding an infant provides ample opportunity for reflection, and I’ve been reflecting on how much unschooling is integral to our lives – about how every day we do things little and large to make the world a better place. And I think I might use this blog as a way of talking about those little things (for a while, anyway.)

Like, today we buried nga whenua of little Alfie and of Joss. Joss’s has been in the freezer for nearly six years – I was so determined that this was not going to be the case for Alfie’s that I forbade Ron from putting it in the freezer. A woman having just given birth is allowed to forbid things. Besides, turns out I was right: having a small plastic container of placenta in the fridge provides high levels of motivation to dig a hole in the back yard and deal with it.

We got Joss’s out of the freezer a couple of days ago, and this morning she asked if she could have a look at it. I’m going to be honest and admit that plunging my hand into that cold, dark, bloody mess so that we could look at it had me swallowing a couple of times and taking some deep breaths. But I did it. The midwife had shown her Alfie’s on Monday night after the birth, so I’m guessing she wanted to see how similar or different hers was. She was quickly satisfied, and I was gladly relieved of my medical examiner duties.

I insisted that everyone was dressed for the occasion. We get to insist things too, us postpartum women. I thought about putting on some mascara, but Alfie woke up and needed feeding. We each made our way outside carrying something to bury with nga whenua.

I said a few words. Louis placed Alfie’s whenua in the ground, and Joss slopped hers in from about shoulder height. We placed our extra things in with them, and then the big kids and Ron took turns filling in the hole while I stood in the sunshine (still) breastfeeding Alfie.

Joss found a tile in the garden that a friend had given me when we left the Netherlands, 13 years ago. We hosed it down and scrubbed it up, and Joss carried it to the now-filled-in-hole. I could hear her saying a few words as she placed the stone, but couldn’t make out what they were. She was full of the light-hearted, celebratory occasion that it was.

The section of the garden where we planted them today is where we planted Louis’ placenta when we first moved here. It feels so wonderfully complete to have honoured nga whenua of our three children and returned them to nourish te whenua that nourishes their souls – their own back yard.

This is how we raised a revolution today.


Our furniture doesn’t fit.

I was watching some mindless TV during a stint of insomnia the other night – it happened to be one of those relocation programmes, where people from Britain move to France or Spain and the like (the ones who are ex-pats, not immigrants).

On their third or fourth house, the woman in this particular couple looked around the room and said, “I don’t know, I don’t know about this space, our furniture doesn’t fit with this space” and the presenter of the show said something a bit direct. She said, that’s the kind of thing someone says when they’re trying to find an excuse not to like the place. Furniture is easily fixed; sell your old stuff, buy some new stuff. If you don’t like the place, that’s fine, but don’t blame your furniture.

I’m in a lot of on-line groups related to home education and unschooling. Frequently the questions asked on the discussion boards go like this: my partner isn’t 100% on board with unschooling, his (mainly it’s his) main concern is {insert furniture issue here}.

A couple of points about this:

  1. it is not my job to convince my husband that unschooling is the way to go. If he has reservations, he needs to research and think about and construct reasoning to back up his concerns and offer solutions for what could be a middle of the road. I am not going to be the Person Who Finds Ways To Refute His Every Wobble. This way is madness, and puts the responsibility for the unschooling on one parent’s shoulders, absolves the furniture-issue parent of any responsibility. Through nothing but passivity.
  2. Unschooling for us is a lot about preserving the mental health of our kids, and ourselves. In the most general sense possible, that’s what it is. It is our opinion that school would be detrimental to the complete realisation of who they are (which comes under their general health, usually filed under mental health). Providing this is true, there aren’t many furniture-related reservations that top this. Providing this is true, we sell our old furniture (or move on from old friendships that don’t support our decision to support our children’s mental health) and buy new furniture (find new friends who do).
  3. I am not 100% patient 100% of the time. I do not sing gaily as I go about my chores all the time. I swear, and sometimes at my kids. They swear too. The excuse “I don’t have the patience to homeschool” is a furniture issue. It relates to that whole “I must be the best person I can be in front of my kids so that I am a model citizen” way of thinking about motherhood. In contrast to this, I highly value authenticity. If I’m having a shit day, I ask my kids for a higher level of co-operation to help me through. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. A bit like my husband.

In short, there’s no furniture issue more important that realising our full potential. If school will help your children reach their full potential, then that’s great. At some point in their future, school might help my children reach theirs, or me mine. At the moment it doesn’t, and there isn’t any furniture in the world that’s a valid excuse not to honour that.

The Octonauts and Sex Ed

Talking to our kids about sex has come up a bit lately. Any of my friends will tell you I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to discussing this kind of stuff. I have never had the kind of frank chats over coffee that were championed in Sex and the City. I’ve been into a sex- shop a grand total of once and I wanted to wear a disguise while I was there. I certainly didn’t make eye contact with anyone for the duration.

Now that it’s started to come up and I’ve been thinking about it, I think I know what I need to do. I need to answer the questions they ask. I need to get comfortable talking to them about the entire act, in an age appropriate manner. I need to talk to them about consent. I need to talk to them about respect. About what it feels like to be rejected. About what it feels like to be consumed by your desire. These all feel like Really Big Things to talk about and for a while I was stymied by how to begin talking with them about the Really Big Things without completely freaking them out.

And then I remembered Octonauts. For those of you who are (blissfully) unaware of Octonauts, it’s a cartoon on Netflix about 8 different “critters” who live in a submarine and use each of their different skills sets to stage rescues of other underwater creatures who are in danger. There’s no sex involved. What there is involved is a complete lack of consent. The Octonauts (led by a well-bred-accented-male-polar-bear, of course) never once, in all the one million and thirty two episodes, ask the creature they’re rescuing how they feel about the situation. They never say “I see you’re in a spot of bother, we could help you out if you’d like, this is our team, and this is what we think might help. With your permission, we’ll get started right away.” They just march on in and take over.

This irked me. It irked me for a while before I said anything. And then I casually mentioned this to my kids in the middle of an episode they were watching. At first they looked at me with blank faces. And then, with further discussion, they kind of shrugged and nodded and gave me a look that said “okaaaaaay Mama” and went back to watching. Every now and then in the ensuing months I yelled out in the middle of an episode “Did they ask the [narwhal] if it needed rescuing???!!!”

Once I remembered this, I remembered all the other times that I calmly and not-so-calmly demand that one or the other of my children listen to the other play-mate’s cries to stop. If I see something that makes me uncomfortable I ask them to pause, and I check in with both of them to see if they’re OK with what’s happening. Often one of them isn’t and we negotiate a different way of playing. If they’re upset I let them talk about how and why they’re upset. If they don’t want to wear shoes they don’t have to. If they want to shave off their hair they do it.

If I’m giving you the impression that we have this totally nailed, I need to just mention that they’re still kids, who get lost in the moment, who get tired, and frustrated, and lose their minds in anger. There are still those moments, which I think are pretty normal, that require a calming down period, a chat, a re-establishing of values and a reminder of respect and bodily autonomy and a gentle suggestion that the other person might appreciate hearing if they’re sorry.

I am realising that I am teaching them about consent in everyday life, have been from the day they were born. Thank goodness.

And thanks Octonauts.

Baking with Children When Tired. AKA Hell.

In my ideal unschooling world, baking and cooking in general are used to learn all kinds of things from maths to science to expressions of love.

In my real unschooling world, baking and cooking are used to teach my kids the warning signs of Mama Is Losing the Plot, followed closely by actual Mama is Losing the Plot.

We made Lemon Curd this morning. Just so you know how fabulous I am, I’m going to mention that it was refined sugar free lemon curd. And it turned out freaking awesome. Which is just as well because when you’re using 6 eggs for something you’ve never made before, and are tweaking the recipe, it’s a huge gamble.

But, we all had a really late night last night. The kids accompanied Ron to a gig at the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, which they loved (so much so that the reviewer mentioned them in this review) but they didn’t get home til after 10. And, Louis loves getting up in the morning to have a coffee with Ron before he leaves for work, so he was still up at 7-ish.

I was part of a seminar on Natural Wellness in Children last night and I LOVE public speaking but seem to suffer from post-speaking-anxiety about whether I was a total tool, so spent much of the night lying in bed wondering about my level of tool-ness. If I ever speak at an event with you, just let me know whether I was a tool at the end of the night so that I can stop obsessing about it.

We were tired. And, somehow, I forgot to eat breakfast. And the kids were lethargic. And we have heaps of lemons. So, I decided to try and make sugar-free lemon curd. And get the kids involved in something. They were totally into it. We each had a job: I zested the lemons, Louis cut them in two, Joss squeezed them. Until I turned to get the butter out of the fridge and Louis got a hold of the zester and was zesting the pith into the bowl. In my tired moment I was totally freaked out about the bitterness of the pith and was far from gentle in my tone. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wanted to stuff them back in. I saw the look on his face, the eyes darting from me to the lemon to the floor, and the plaintive, “Sorry Mama.”

I thought about how much these moments shape their enthusiasm or lack thereof to be involved in family chores, in the business of being a family, in family business.

The Continuum Concept describes the Yequana as a people who have no concept of “work” everything is “play”. I know that when I’m not in a good space and work is really hard, the kids shy away from being involved with me. When I’m in a good space, when there’s music on and I’m grooving, when the wooden spoon is my microphone and I am Jennifer Grey, they love it, and they help effortlessly and life feels a bit more connected.

I’m predicting baked beans on (gluten free) toast for dinner and an early night with lots of snuggles and reading.

All peppered with moments behind the fridge door eating lemon curd out of the jar with a tablespoon.

How to Get Started

It’s really simple. I have one piece of advice. Take a breath, sit down and prepare yourself.

Here it is.

Act like you’re on holiday.

That’s it. Do that and I promise this whole raising up your kids thing will be a foregone conclusion.

List the things you like to do on holiday.

Then do them.

Ask your kids what they like about going on holiday.

Then do them.

Oh, you’re still wanting some examples? Well, here’s some from my list:

Sleep ins.
Swimming at the beach.
Playing together – uno, last card, catan, guess who.
Listening to music.
Sleep ins.
Lying in the sun.
Reading my book.
Using public transport.
Visiting interesting places: museums, cafes with exotic food, old settlement sites, wildlife sanctuaries.
Beach combing.
Going to bed together and smelling the sun in my children’s hair.
Watching movies.
Going somewhere we’ve never been before.
Taking photos.

I asked my kids what they like about going on holiday, and here’s what they said:
Getting ice cream
Wondering where we should go.
Parking somewhere in the bush.
Seeing new cities.
Going to see family.
Going to the beach and having fun
Having fun with lots of people.

That’s all I could get out of them while they were on their screens.

I would hazard a guess that they like going on holiday to spend more time with us doing fun stuff like reading to them, playing cards, swimming with them, biking with them.

There’s something about going on holiday that creates a sense of “team”. Of being on the same one. Of cooperation. There doesn’t seem to be the competition between chores and play, or getting shit done and hanging out.

So, to borrow that Americanism “staycation” – have one of them. Garner a sense of adventure, of relaxation, or excitement, or wonder from the comfort of your own home. Throw bed times out the window. Don’t set your alarm. Let the dishes sit. Wear the same clothes for several days because they’re comfy and practical and mildly clean. Get your nose in a book and let your kids relax on their screens while you read. Binge watch a series on Netflix. Dust off the board games and play them with your partner. Your kids will flock to see what the commotion is. Drink wine. Eat chocolate. Make platters.

Do this until it feels normal.

Welcome to the rest of your life.


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