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Posts tagged ‘unschooling’

Gardening, Parenting, Composting

I’m reading another amazing parenting book. I’m not even up to Chapter One yet. That’s how good it is, I’m still reading the introduction, and I’m highlighting like mad and writing notes in the margins.

The book is The Gardner and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik. I can’t even remember for sure how I got onto this book. I think I went on Amazon to order Between Parent and Child, (the most absolutely awesome parenting book I’ve ever read), and down the bottom under the heading “Other books you might like” this book was listed.

The thing is, a few months ago, the fabulous Alexsandra Burt (who I call my Continuum Concept Coach) and I were toying with the idea of writing a “Continuum Concept in the Modern World” book. We started off by really drilling down on adversarial relationships. For some reason, the parent-child relationship seems to be fraught with adversarial attitudes – first on the part of the parent “Why can’t I get my child to sleep/stop breast feeding/not suck their thumb” etc. And then, on the part of the child ,“No! I don’t want those scrambled eggs!!”

I had asked her, “When did we first become adversarial?” Because in the continuum, there’s cooperation uber alles. And in nature there is so much more cooperation than competition, but what we focus on (at this period in human history) is the competition, aka adversarial relationships. So, before our continuum got screwed up – we assume that we were all about cooperation. What changed that? I asked. And her immediate response was, “Agriculture.” When we moved from a subsistence lifestyle to a cultivation lifestyle, we were in competition with the weather. We wanted the weather to do xyz for our crops to survive, so we survive. Prior to this (in theory) we were much more “Oh, it’s raining!” and then moving on. In fact, in another part of my writing life, I have been researching Te Ao Māori, and learned that they have a proverb:

He ua kit e pō, he paewai kit e ao.

Rain in the evening, eels in the morning.

in other words, there is always a silver lining. In other words, continuum living.

So, after this conversation with Alexsandra, my eyes were primed for the title of this book, and I read the blurb, and thought, OK, I’ll get that one too.

And this is what I’ve loved so far. I’m going to paraphrase here.

To be: I am, you are, she/he is, they are etc.

We are comfortable saying I am a wife/husband/partner, I am a daughter/son, I am a sister/brother, but we somehow are uncomfortable with the “being” part of being a parent. To be a parent, has become parenting. We’ve made it into a verb. We haven’t verb-ed wifing, husbanding, sistering, brothering etc. You get it, right?

A parent has become something you do.

Which, on the surface might just seem like semantics. But bear with me.

Probably about six months ago our family delved into the world of composting. Like a good little unschooling family, we went to the library and got out some books on the topic. One of them, the name of which I never recorded (sorry) said, there are two types of gardener: the type that gardens for the flowers, or the fruits or the veggies (ie, the outcome), and the type who gardens for the soil (ie, the experience of creating the environment). Be the second type.

Gardening for the soil means putting in all the unseen, back breaking, poo shovelling hours, and foremost, making compost. It means making habitats for all the good bugs to thrive, and other stuff that good soil has. It means you’re getting enjoyment out of the creation, without really focusing on the outcome. Which reminds me of this absolutely amazing stick-in-my-head blog post from Ben Hewitt.

And that gardening-for-the-soil is the analogy that this book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, uses for being a parent (so far, again, I haven’t even hit Chapter One yet!) Be a parent like a gardener who gardens for soil health. Create the conditions, the environment, the support, the nutrients, the space, for children to grow to be whoever they are.

That’s the being of being a parent.

As opposed to the doing of parenting which looks a lot more like Do this, so that you’re child won’t have a tendency towards axe-murdering. Don’t do that, or your child will be unable to maintain meaningful relationships. Do this so that your child won’t get left behind at school.

There is a lot more shaping and “getting your child to” involved in the doing of parenting. Which brings us back to parenting as an adversarial relationship; somehow bending the very being of your child in the hopes that you can have some kind of influence on the outcome. The outcome being a productive, connected, securely attached, able to operate in the world – take your pick – adult.

Alexsandra used to talk to me a lot about being “on the same team” as my children. I don’t know how many hours I spent on Skype with her, trying to get to the bottom of my, often extreme, irritation with my children. Somehow I’d turned into this fractious, annoyed, grumpy, unstable Mama. I hated it. Ok, let’s not act like I’m cured. I hate it, present tense. It’s still something I grapple with. And Alexsandra tried a few different ways to get me to see what was going on – one of them was talking about adversarial relationships. But, I was still grumpy, I was still not being the parent I wanted to be, that I knew my children needed me to be. So, I did what I always do – I quested for the answer – hence my addiction to parenting books.

And, with Between Parent and Child, and The Gardener and the Carpenter, I feel like I’m getting close to the answer. I feel like all those things that Alexsandra was trying to get me to see have primed me for seeing what these books have to offer.

I’m close, but I still wrote to a friend yesterday who asked me how I was:

“Grouchy. And trying not to be.”

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.

Finding Ways to Reconnect

All the ways, little and large.

For the last two weeks, I have been following the advice of my first midwife, “make like a cat and lie there breastfeeding, getting up only to go to the toilet, eat and drink.” Well, mostly I’ve been following that advice.

Which has meant that Ron has done EVERYTHING else. Including going out to work to earn actual money this long weekend. He is maxed out.

The kids are adjusting to life with a new baby, which really means life with severely reduced quality time with their mama. Which means they’re maxed out too. This morning Louis used the “f-word” three times in one sentence – his ability to articulate is tremendously reduced.

I’ve had a couple of rough nights in a row, with days in between where there’s been no let-up. Alfie is either breastfeeding or screaming, and occasionally sleeping. When he sleeps he’s on me. I’m maxed out too.

So, when I was faced with bed-time with three children and not having much patience, I put the TV on. We started a new series of documentaries in which Stephen Fry travels through America. It’s not groundbreaking or breathtaking, but it’s Family-friendly entertainment. So we all got to snuggle on the couch, Alfie on me, Louis and Joss next to me, and sit in the semi-darkness and just be together with no-one swearing, or yelling, or hitting, or scratching or not-sharing. It was a peaceful hour, and one of the little ways we re-connected in a tough week.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

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