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Posts tagged ‘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.

 

Finding Our Groove

This morning I walked along a sandy beach just as the sun came up.

I woke up in our warm cocoon of a camper van. Joss was sleeping next to me, her tussled hair and light snoring are two of my favourite things. I could hear the birds chattering, the waves breaking, and the stillness in between. I slid down from our bunk, let out the dog and from the pile of yesterday’s clothes dressed in the muted light peeking underneath the curtains.

The dog and I walked up the beach, watching the waves breaking, the waves lapping, and my feet getting submerged then released, submerged then released.

For what has seemed like forever, this has been a dream. One of those dreams that sits in the back and eats away at you. I have been bored, disenchanted, grumpy, uninspired, and worried about the future of the world.

I recently read the book Beyond Civilisation by Daniel Quinn. I highly recommend it to fellow questioners, despairers, and those wanting to live a different life.

It seems like homeopathy, unschooling, and now living in a camper van for the summer are threads in a cloth of wanting to see positive change, wanting us to do things better, wanting to be aware, conscious, connected to our environment and each other.

Homeopathy is about taking the control of my health out of the hands of people who have never met me but stand to make millions off me, and resting it in my lap.

Spending the summer in a camper van is about busting out of the four walls of our house. Giving our kids access to wide open spaces, to the unique, earthy smell of New Zealand bush, to beaches and rivers and paddocks of waist-high grass.

Unschooling isn’t about not sending our kids to school. It’s about giving them this gigantic world and all it’s possibilities, then mixing it together with their passions and interests and curiosity to see where it all takes us.

All of these things are about getting out from under the gaze of civilisation for a bit. Maybe a lot. Trying to see a way Beyond it. Trying to find the little groove in this record where we sing.

Walking along a sandy beach in the dawn light is definitely the right key.

I found it.

We are parked on the shores of Lake Karapiro and suddenly it seems all worth it. The kids are off playing – Louis has found an old boomerang of Ron’s and is determined to master the use of it. Joss is his “picker-upperer” and is relishing the role. I am in the camper van cooking dinner, listening to their shrieks of delight.

It is quiet.

It is relaxed.

This is what I’ve held in my mind as my end-goal for about six months. This feeling. And now it’s here.

Louis just came in and asked if we could have a bonfire, so now they’ve gone off to find wood for that. They are so happy, and excited, and peaceful.

Looking forward to a summer of this.

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