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Posts from the ‘Unschooling Theory’ Category

The Radical in Unschooling

Some people really don’t like the term “unschooling”; they don’t like the image that what we’re doing is “against” schooling. Also, what we’re doing is so much more than just not going to school. It’s about how we live our entire lives – the scaffolding around our decisions, our goals and our vision as a family.

I was inspired to start our unschooling journey by a group of (mostly) mamas in the US who call themselves Radical Unschoolers. This is a subgroup of (regular) unschoolers who seek to honour their children’s natural instincts and urges in all facets of life. The most controversial of these is usually screens. Followed closely by food. Well, actually, I probably just tipped you off to my major hang-ups!

These mamas blew my mind – mostly because of the harmonious relationship they had with their children – they really seemed to enjoy each others’ company. They hung out together, played together, supported each other in different pursuits… even gaming. The peace and love and joy (even when it’s not Christmas) that seemed to surround these families was such a powerful pull for me that I knew this was what I wanted for our family.

But FAR OUT it’s hard to let go of my shit.

This process of letting go of our shit is politely called deschooling, and is absolutely key to the success of unschooling. Deschooling never really stops. It’s not a thing you do to get ready and then you’re ready and then voila! you’re an unschooler. Deschooling is something that I probably do every day. The thought, “Why do I think that?” or “is that really true?” or “do I really need to say anything right now?” these are all moments of deschooling myself.

I wanted to share with you some of our/my radical unschooling wins:

  1. Avocados.
    It’s amazing what we can get hang-ups about, isn’t it? A couple of years ago we went completely paleo. Part of going paleo is eating a gazillion avocados. BUT avocados are freaking expensive, so I would GUARD the avocados like crazy. And all my kids wanted to eat was freaking avocados. And then… I saw a client who I wasn’t expecting to pay, but she did, she gave me $20 and I walked into the lounge waving the $20 and said to the kids, “Let’s go and get $20 worth of avocados.” And we did. And that was the end of their obsession with, and my guarding of, the avocados. Having their fill, coupled with the attitude of plenty (rather than scarcity) completely took care of that little power-struggle we were having.
  2. Ice-blocks (or ice-lollies for those of you not in NZ)
    It seems like every time I pull into a service station, or drive past a dairy, or go to the supermarket I get to deal with the whine, “Can we have an iiiiiiicccccceeeeee-bbbbbllllllooooock?” and it used to drive me nuts. I hated the thought of the mountains of crap that they seem to pile into commercial ice-cream these days, the colourings, the sugar, the chemicals. Also the expectation, almost entitlement (now there’s a thing). And, Joss has a real struggle with tooth decay. BUT, on our trip around the coast this summer I decided to say yes to the ice-block requests. I have to admit I didn’t do it every time, but I would say about 92.7% of the times that they asked, I said yes. And guess what. By the end of our trip, they stopped asking. They’re still not asking! This required a lot of mental gymnastics on my part, and such a letting go, and trust (of them, of Joss’s teeth, of their bodies).
  3. Screens.
    This is a new one, so I’m kind of hoping not to jinx it by writing about it here. For the last four days I’ve been unwell and lying in bed A LOT, which has meant a near free-for-all for the kids and watching their screens. I pretty much said yes every time they asked because then I could have a nap, and sometimes I put it on without them even asking so that I could go and have a nap. And the thing that inspired this entire blog post was that for about three hours today the house was quiet, the kids were engaged with creative pursuits, separately, and quietly. There was no fighting, no nagging, no whining, no gas-lighting. Just quiet murmurs of quiet activity, and the feeling of being absorbed in what they’re doing – a kind of meditation atmosphere. And I thought to myself, this cannot be a coincidence. I will let you know.

What I’ve learnt about deschooling is that it cannot be faked. I tried to fake being ok with unlimited screen time and it was an absolute fucking disaster. (Kids are the best fake-detectors out there and will continually press us to be our most authentic selves.) That particular sociological experiment ended with me being screaming-Mama, wielding a power drill and removing the television from the lounge indefinitely. I was not ready, but I was trying to Be An Unschooler. Here’s the thing, there is no one way to be an unschooler. There’s just listening to what each individual needs, what the family as a whole needs, and balancing that with what society expects.

And checking whether we give a fuck about that.

 

Gaming Our Life.

Louis can be quite… exuberant. When he decides he wants to do something not much will dissuade him nor alter his straight-line path to his goal. I keep pivoting away from exasperation at his determination towards celebration of it. Sometimes all this pivoting leaves me a dizzy, crumpled mess on the floor. Somedays, I pirouette like Fancy Nancy.

One of the things it was really important to me to bring along on our travels this summer was a surf board. A lifetime ago I surfed with boyfriends and friends, using boards they had lying around, and since then I’ve had a couple of stints in various places around the world but I’m not really a surfer. I’d love to be though, so this summer I wanted to bring a surfboard along.

So, about 10 days into our trip, we were skimming the coast on our way to Mahia. The surf was gigantic, and there was a pod of about 20 surfers sitting off the coast catching the waves. We pulled over to watch them and Louis kept asking me, “Mama!! Can we get out and surf?!! Can we? CAN WE????” These waves were ginormous. Louis had spent exactly 20 minutes on a board at this point. And I just kept saying, “No, they’re huge!!” But he didn’t really get it and thought his mother was just being a curmudgeon.

I hate being the ‘No-Mama’ and most of the time do my best to avoid it. But sometimes I fall into old habits and we find ourselves grumpy and snipey and generally disconnected.  I really wanted to break free of it and sensed that surfing was going to help us.

A while ago I read an article about gamification in education (and I just spent about 20 mins trying to find it on the internet but couldn’t, so I’m sorry there’s no link) and what it said was instead of grades – which don’t really have any meaning for children – being able to progress to the next level is extremely motivating. I managed to remember this, and decided I was going to implement it with the surfing.

Luckily, the waves where we eventually camped in Mahia were tiny and perfectly formed, so we went down to the water and I said, “Now, there are different levels to surfing, and you can’t just go skipping straight to Level 5. You’ve got to start at Level 1, and then when you’ve completed that level, you go up to the next one.” He was immediately engaged, “Right, so what’s Level One?” I had to quickly think of something, “Catching a wave” I said. “And what’s the next level?” “Standing up” And off we went. He was totally into it, and is still taking it very seriously. Level 3 was catching a wave and standing up by himself, and Level 4 is catching a wave before it breaks (up until now he’s been mostly doing this in the white wash). Level Four’s what he’s working on at the moment.

He is totally rocking the surfing, and because he’s so freaking goal oriented the “levels” are perfect. He’s getting a feel for what sized wave he’s comfortable with, he’s enjoying the challenge of doing something that he can’t quite get yet but has the sense he will eventually – soon. He’s managing himself and his expectations, and we’re both really enjoying it. I’ve stopped being Boring Say No All The Time Don’t Let Me Do Anything Mama and all of a sudden we’re on the same team again.

That’s a really nice place to be.

How did we get here?

Buying a camper van and taking off for the summer is the latest in the long list of weird and wonderful ideas we’ve had. I thought I might take you on a trek down memory lane to see just how we got to be in this space.

In 2001, Ron and I met in Taupō. Two days later he left the country and I didn’t see him again until Boxing Day, some three months later. That day, he flew into Brisbane, having spent hours and hours on the internet trying to score cheap tickets to fly back to see me. I’m embarrassed to tell this part of the story now, but, at this point I totally ditched my travelling partner and went on a three week whirl-wind tour of Australia with him. After that he went back to the Netherlands, and I went back to NZ.

Nobody really thought we were going to be a thing. One of Ron’s friends repeatedly told him to just forget about me – long distance was too hard, too complicated, too messy. But, we became a thing. In fact, in June of 2002 I went to the NL on a one year visa and moved in with him.

So, it’s quite clear that we’ve been crazy for a while.

We moved back to NZ in 2005 and I started my training as a homeopath in 2006.

We got married in 2008, annoying a lot of people by having a teeny-tiny wedding in my teenage stomping ground of the Tukituki Valley.

By the end of 2008 I was pregnant. I had been doing the first year of Med School. I totally flunked the interview by trying to hide my baby bump. They probably wondered why I couldn’t sit up straight.

I had not been expecting to be expecting, so felt overwhelmingly under-prepared. I had a lovely friend who’d had three home births, so I decided that’s what I’d do (anything to avoid the medical profession, with which I had no love lost.) And I did what I always do: I read books. A lot of them ended up being used as missiles launched at the nearest wall and Ron learned to duck. I was bemoaning this to a friend of mine who ended up giving me The Continuum Concept, (TCC) which actually changed my life. Here was finally a book that didn’t set the baby and the parent up as adversaries from the first moments. It suggested honouring the needs of everyone, of understanding a baby’s helplessness as just that, and not some master plan to take over the world via mind control and manipulation techniques, it showed a culture so different from my own and that was exactly what I felt I needed.

So, we parented along TCC-lines, which meant we were kind to our baby. We gave him what he needed, when he needed it. We respected him, and taught him from the first that his autonomy was important to us. We co-slept, breast-fed, baby-wore, did elimination communication, and went about our days in a new rhythm which brought the baby along with us.

This may not seem like a massive departure from society, but society has become, paradoxically, quite child-centred. Even though our children spend a lot of time away from us, the time the do spend with us is so hyper-focused on them, their performance, their milestones, that they are not really given much space to be.

TCC is most easily understood and implemented in what is known as the In-arms Phase. The period when a baby doesn’t move yet under their own steam. After that, things get a bit hairy. We don’t live in a Tribal Setting. We don’t have Aunties and Uncles and Nana’s and Grandad’s to help in the middle of the night when you’ve given the 152nd feed and the baby still isn’t settling. I longed for those people and that tribe.

It was difficult to remain faithful in TCC when my child would lose the plot, be difficult, fussy, uncooperative, argumentative. I knew I was doing something wrong – my child, so clearly needed TCC-principles, was telling me vehemently that I needed to get back on track. So, I enlisted the help of a TCC-based Parenting Coach, Alexsandra Burt. I had a few sessions with her, and it was only then that I saw the difference between how I’d been implementing TCC, and how it was intended. Alexsandra set me straight, repeatedly, like a car with a bent axle trying to navigate a straight road. I started to see shifts – like cooperation.

By this stage, Louis was about four years old, and “school age” was looming. Here in NZ, five is the normal age to start school. Legally, you don’t have to start til you’re six. So, I put off the decision for a year, and told people “he isn’t ready yet.”

I could not see myself in the role as Teacher-Mama. For one who had striven her whole parenting life to not be the Police-Mama, Teacher-Mama ranked not far behind in the I absolutely DO NOT want to do that. But, sending Louis to school didn’t really feel like an option either. I knew that all the “Management Techniques” I had for helping him navigate life, would not be available to him in a school setting. I had seen what happened when those management techniques were not holding the space for him – it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t think he needed to go to school and be told there was something wrong with him.

So I was in a conundrum for about a year. I didn’t want to send him to school, because I didn’t think his autonomy and, well, just him would be honoured there. I didn’t want to homeschool him because – well, because I thought it would irreparably damage our relationship. Yelling, “Louis! have you done your book work yet?? Turn off the TV! Where’s your story you were meant to write?!” All day every day didn’t seem like a great way to nurture a loving and respectful relationship.

And then… Well, then I found Sawyer Fredericks, which is a whole ‘nother story, and one I tell you if we’re ever sitting having a wine together. But, the point is, I got introduced to unschooling. It was Radical Unschooling – an approach to life that respects the child’s innate desires in every aspect, not just learning. And I fell in love with how these parents were with their kids. How the kids were with their parents. I fell in love with the possibility of enjoying spending time together, of enjoying each other.

And I wrote an application for exemption from school with a decidedly unschooling bent and it got accepted and there we were.

Like a lot of people, Ron and I had dreams and fantasies about owning a life-style block, being semi-self-sufficient, having space for the kids to run around, build huts, fish, swim, climb trees… Instead, we live on a 400sqm section about two kilometres from the sleepy metropolis of Napier. Our back yard is divided in two by a concrete path that used to be a drive way. By the time we added four apple bins for growing veggies, three citrus trees, a feijoa tree, a plum tree, a sand pit, an outdoor table and a barbecue, it was getting quite full. But we were living on a single income which is sometimes unreliable, and options for moving somewhere more rural weren’t really overwhelming us.

I was going nuts in the small-feeling four walls of our house and the prison-like feeling of the fence around our property. So, we decided to renovate. Like all nuts-going people should in order to feel more sane. We cobbled together money, resources and favours and started the long, stressful, crazy journey of making a warm sunny home from the 100-year-old uninsulated home we started with.

Last year we were still looking at lifestyle blocks. We thought maybe we’d done enough renovating to boost the house price enough to buy somewhere closer to our dreams. We hadn’t. The properties we could afford were over an hour from town and over two hours away from our most regular meet-up point with our unschooling friends. The thought of me, in my sometimes vulnerable mental state, being that isolated with the kids, was enough to put us off. So, we went back to the drawing board. We looked for community-living type situations. We found one we thought we liked, said we’d move there, and then  didn’t. We read the book Beyond Civilisation and I realised that I could create a tribe anywhere I was. And I relaxed a bit.

We started thinking about things we could do as a family. things that we’d all enjoy, that would use all our talents, and that would earn us some money. We went through a lot of permutations of that. Some of which I still hold in my “One Day” file.

I don’t remember the exact moment we thought “We should buy a camper van” I don’t even remember whether it was me or Ron. But, one of us said it. And we started investigating getting a loan to buy one, renting our house out on AirBnB, making a list of the things that would still need to be done to do that.

So, Raising a Revolution was born. It was a way for the kids to have adventures, for me to write, for Louis to film, and me to edit, and Joss to perform and Ron to take photos, and have ideas, and for our house to be paying for itself – for us all to be getting out from under the heavy yoke of the fucking mortgage.

And now, next week, we set off on our adventure. The camper van is currently getting some last-minute repairs, we’re pruning off how much clothing we need, ditching recipe books, buying bbq’s, surfboards, wetsuits… All the essentials. And then, we go. And I hope  we’re about to give our kids a summer filled with adventure, and fun, and family, and cooperation, and earth, and trees, and sea, and sand… and many more things I can’t possibly know will happen.

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.
Writing.
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.

 

Mary Poppins doesn’t live here.

When I first knew about unschooling, I imagined, and found on the internet, mothers who were full of JOY and RAINBOWS and FAIRY DUST. And even if that’s not really accurate, that’s how I viewed them. They were goddesses and they were DOING it.

I on the other hand, was not.

I was here, in my house, grinding. And not in a good way.

I was still the same me. I was still grumpy, I was still not great on a lack of sleep. I was still fussy, and impatient, and I still hated that my son woke up the baby all the fucking time.

Heaping shame, for not really being a total fraud at this unschooling thing, on top of it all, meant I sunk deeper and deeper into this abyss I created for myself. I believed I was scarring my children for life; they were going to grow up thinking that they were worthless because their mother was grumpy. Unschooling was meant to produce kids who didn’t need to recover from their childhoods. Another thing I was failing at.

I basically hibernated for 18months. I spent a lot of time in bed. The kids watched a lot of television. We often didn’t leave the house for any kind of exercise even though sitting on the beach in the sun is my happy place. Getting up to the beach, a short 200 metre walk felt like hiking the Heaphy Track. I often couldn’t do it.

Bit by bit, we’ve come back. Taking gluten out of my diet has helped A LOT. In fact, I now feel it as soon as I’ve eaten some. The same scratchy, uncontrollable, irrational, grumpiness starts to seep in. It honestly feels like I’ve lost my grip on reality. I cannot believe I lived with that feeling for so long.

Reading autobiographies helped. A lot of people are crazy – I was not alone!! Going to a homeopath helped. Going to therapy helped. Therapy helped me find compassion for myself. Helped me identify when I felt comfortable and how awesome it would be to walk through life like that.

Writing my blog trudykessels.nz helped. It helped that I could voice my opinions, swear, make people laugh, and that people valued it. Writing has always been a kind of meditation for me. I’m a much nicer person when I’m writing. Reading the book Beyond Civilisation by Daniel Quinn helped me see how I could develop my life into a more tribal, more connected way of living. It gave me hope.

The point of this blog is to lower the bar. WAAAAAAY down. It’s so that mothers everywhere can read it and think, oh thank FUCK I’m not the only one. It’s so that they can read it and find some compassion for themselves. It’s so that they can read it and maybe come a step closer to finding their comfortable place of acceptance. And then extend that to their children.

No Mary Poppins here. Just me. And you. And our kids.

 

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