Living Life & Learning!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Surprising Side Affects of Unschooling

When we embarked the unschooling life four years ago, little did we know how many parts of our life would be affected and made better by that one small choice to step away from the conventional idea of school and schoolish learning.  Every year since 2013, we have shifted one aspect of our lives that has cascading beneficial consequences to many other aspects of our lives. Much of these changes were made as an outcropping of our deschooling process.  And for those of you who see the word deschooling and think that I am talking about ridding your kids of their schoolish ideas, know that the deschooling I speak of is that of parental deschooling, which is far more important and a "key log" that must be identified, investigated and removed for unschooling families to ever experience unschooling "flow." 

Our family's choice to unschool began as a reaction to my sons' challenging school experiences.  For all intents and purposes, they both were successful in school - their challenges were common among their peers and their ability to conform to school was not an issue.  But there was something off, something that felt wrong to us.  When broken down, at the core was the recognition that a government institution had somehow infiltrated our family life and wanted to dictate to us how we must live our lives for the next 12 years.  An institution that, itself, had changed little in 100 years of societal evolution wanted us to willingly adopt strategies and methods of interacting with our children that ran counter to the choices we had made as parents.  It did not take long to decide that we had to part ways.

Little did we know that one choice, to leave school behind, would have such profound implications on the trajectory of our lives.  In the years since we left, we have shifted our mindsets to joy over sadness, health over sickness and constant improvement over stasis.  All because we chose to question conventional wisdom and follow a different path.

Choosing JOY is really about learning to look for the positive side of most things in life, even in the harder times, even when its easy to focus on the negative.  I chose to shift the way in which I looked at situations in my life.  Instead of focusing on those things that were not being done, I chose to look at what WAS being done.  I gave up many of the "have to's" in my life and I shifted my focus on what felt right at that moment.  I became much more accepting of having a messy house. I allowed myself to spend entire days playing Minecraft with the kids.  I reacquainted myself with my creative side and did crafting projects that brought me immense joy.  I also made sure that I cleared the way for my kids to experience the same.  In doing so, over time, we came to a place where most days were pretty darned joyful, we looked to the "joy" barometer before signing up for any activity and we found that most of the time, just staying home and engaging with each other was the best place to be, what maximized the joy for everyone.
It's funny how such a small mental shift can have such large impact on our lives.  Over time, our family has seemed to blossom, parents and kids included!  Our kids know inherently what lights them up and what tamps them down.  They fervently fight to move toward joy and rarely stay unhappy for long.  We all enjoy each others' company and there are few conflicts.  Conflict has no place when everyone's needs are met.

Living joyfully easily opened the door to wanting to ensure a healthy life over the years.  When you have a joyful life, you realize that you want to be at your best to embrace all that is presented to you. Where years of living in a world of "requirement" had left me unhappy and at an unhealthy weight, I chose to move toward fitness and health.   I began working with personal trainers and eating more mindfully, losing 40+ pounds over the last 2 years.  For the first time in my life I felt strong and capable of pretty much anything.  My body shed pounds and inflammation, I learned what foods bothered my body and what foods fueled my workouts.  Over time, I fundamentally changed the way I live, eat and celebrate.  It's been such a wonderful learning experience for me.

Getting healthy illuminated a path towards personal improvement.  As I learned from a few years of high intensity exercise, a strong mental game is required to push yourself to achieve your goals.  In the last year, I've learned how to meet a fitness challenge, break it down into smaller, digestible chunks and find a way through to the end with the ability to "kick it in" in the final few minutes to finish strong.  Honing my mental game has given me the ability to tackle so many areas of my life including choosing what friends and energies I'll allow into my life, recognizing that no one deserves to dampen your shine and has allowed me to manifest the passions I want in my life easily, with little effort.

The world is our oyster and our family is ready for the challenge!!  I can't wait to see what the next few years brings!!   

Friday, September 18, 2015

In anticipation of the next Unschooling Conference

We are a few weeks away from attending Life Without Instructions in E Rutherford, NJ.  I will be hosting a session on deschooling at this conference and I am so excited to go!!

Unschooling conferences offer our family a great way to meet adults and kids who are on this path.  This is what I love about conferences:

1) Unschooling conferences offer us the opportunity to sit in a room with hundreds of people who are on the same journey as us.  We get to find common interests, forge new friendships and play amongst a gaggle of kids who are engaging, independent and free.  It is so refreshing.

2) Unschooling conferences stretch our minds to think about our lives and how we might change our mindsets for the better.  We are challenged to understand how we can encourage even more freedom in our living and learning.

3) Unschooling conferences let us face our insecurities head on with people who share the common experience.  When we can admit to being vulnerable, we can achieve personal growth and personal growth is one of the best outcomes of raising kids let alone raising them consciously through unschooling.

4) Unschooling conferences are fun!  There are tons of activities which my kids can engage in or ignore!  No one keeps score, no one has issues if my child chooses to stay in our hotel room and play Roblox on a Skype call!  There are many different, interesting ways to tap into our creativity and passions.

5) Unschooling conferences give us an excuse to hang out with the friends we've met in our travels to unschooling conferences!!  We get more time to develop the kindred spirit that has drawn us together, we have fantastic conversations and we can laugh and cry and create our own kind of family - right there under one roof.  There is nothing like it!!

6) Unschooling conferences expand our minds, offer up new and interesting activities and they let us immerse ourselves in the aura of amazing energy.  Not much compares!

So if you get a chance to go to an unschooling conference, jump at the chance.  If you can make it to E Rutherford, NJ for the Life Without Instructions Conference on October 4th through 8th, definitely do so.  This conference lineup is epic.  The speakers, sessions, fun shops, hang outs and the hosts are the best of the season!!

Hope to see you there!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

When Unschooling Works

I'm coming off of a couple of big social activities for our family (my twin sons' birthday party, a local unschooling conference) my 10 year wedding anniversary and other non-regular get togethers that my family had the chance in which to participate.  It is when I see my kids interact amongst a larger, less familiar community that I get to see what amazing human beings my children are and continue to become and it reinforces, loud and clear, that the path on which we walk is the perfect one for our family.

There is nothing more poignant that having other moms pull you aside to tell you about an interaction they had with one of your kids that made them realize our kids are very different from the average kid out there.  My children spend time thinking about their friends and how they can make their friends' experiences in our home be the best.  Whether its loading a bowl full of extra candy a few days before the party to offer up to the kids who might not have had a chance to grab an equitable stash from the broken piƱata, or to do a check in with a friend who is having an emotional moment during a visit to ensure that the friend is ok and to offer up their support.  Or maybe it's joining the adults at the table to interact in the conversation, offering up salient discussion and interesting insights into the dialog.

Sometimes the pearls of living this life are not outwardly focused interactions at all, but watching your child handle a situation with more poise and grace than the adults with whom he or she is interfacing.  To see your kid recognize that his/her point of view is being ignored and devalued because the spiral of "assumption" is well at hand.  To watch them hold their tongue so as not to be disrespectful, but knowing inside that they were not wrong, that they wish they were granted the grace to be heard without the spiral of judgement.  To recognize that they are being treated unfairly and that they are angry, and not emotionally distraught as I might have originally thought.  And in the end, watching your kid boldly reengage in the same community to show that those adults can't break his spirit.

It is these experiences that are the gifts of unschooling that no one could ever predict or strive for or "demand" of their kids.  It is the pure manifestation of living unschooling principles, treating your children with grace and respect, then watching them offer up that respect and caring to others and to demand similar from everyone (especially the adults) with which they interact.  My heart is filled with pride and love - and I am so filled with gratitude that I have been shown the path to this amazing lifestyle.

I am coming to realize that it is not unschooling per se that has enabled our family to end up here, though...  It is realizing that FEAR begets CONTROL - and that in order to unschool well, it is imperative that we parents focus on the inner work to peel the onion of our own psyches and understand from where our FEARs come.  I am so thankful that I found Parenting for Social Change. I feel it has accelerated our family's ability to see the fruits of unschooling so quickly in our tenure. I cannot thank Teresa Graham Brett enough for her boldness and insight into how to change our family dynamic and ultimately our society!!  This stuff really does work and I'm so glad I found her and her ideas so early on in our journey.  It's important to know where FEAR manifests.  FEAR makes us act in ways that runs counter to the principles of unschooling and FEAR wants us to impart influence and coercion techniques to help bring stasis back to ourselves -- no matter what the collateral damage that trails in its wake.   So it is my personal work in studying, contemplating and living the principles of of peaceful parenting and unschooling that is bearing fruit.

Monday, July 13, 2015

More on the detrimental affects of Helicopter Parenting

Another article pointing to the detrimental affects of Helicopter Parenting.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Choosing Home!

I was asked to participate in this wonderful book highlighting the many paths moms take to making the decision to stay at home with their kids.  It's a quick, interesting and enlightening read.  Download it today from Amazon.  

Choosing Home - 20 Mothers Celebrate Staying Home, Raising Children, and Changing the World

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Unschooling Conference Recharge!!

We are just back from the Unschoolers Waterpark Gathering at Kalahari Water Park in Sandusky, OH having had a wonderful week connecting with, watching and interacting with other unschooling families.  I love doing the conference circuit, I always meet interesting people (adults and kids) and I get a chance to recharge while sitting in a room of many other parents with whom I don't have to explain what our lives look like at home.  It's cathartic.

Both Edwin and I got to do yoga every day and attend many of the discussions together. We made a bunch of new connections with other parents who have followed this path.  I was able to re-connect with some folks whom I'd met in the past and I was able to forge some new relationships.  My daughter made a friend within minutes of entering our hotel room and as is common for an unschooling conference, we hardly saw her for more than 10 minute intervals for the rest of the week.
Two of my children, however, didn't attend any of the many conference activities or funshops. One of my sons enjoyed the waterpark and hung out gaming with a long-time Skype friend whom he had never met, in person, before this week. And my other son avoided the water park and kept the home-fires burning but rarely ventured out of the room. Although I expected my boys to pick and choose the activities in which they'd participate, I am still sometimes surprised by the realization that big social "to do's" (even those with kids who come up in a similar family life) are not where they gravitate at this time.  But that's ok.

I choose to do mini vacations at the various unschooling conventions/events for just this reason.  The venues are very kid friendly and the participants are all very respectful of honoring kids where they are an not forcing them to "engage" for engagement sake.  Like me, other unschooling parents don't get all upset or fearful when a child opts to stand apart instead of join in.   And I knew we were not the only family who had kids who chose to lay low.  I love that I am part of a community that understands that each kid interacts with the world in their own way and I love that my son who stayed close to home wasn't made to feel shame or lack in his choice.

What I do walk away with, every time I come home from an event like this, is a firm reminder that we are doing exactly what is right for our family.  I am bolstered in the fact that my husband is fully on board with our decision to follow this journey and we get to walk the path together as our kids find their authentic voices.  Nothing could be better, we are so very lucky.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Many of the challenges that we have being urban folk revolve around creating community.  Add to it that some of us chose to forego public school (or any school) which becomes a key "community" for most parents in any city or town.  I've spent much of the past few years really thinking about community and trying to understand how we find our tribe, how we connect to more folks in our city and how I can help others leverage that network.

One success I've had personally was started back in 2012 when I wanted suggestions from other moms about piano teachers in my town.  I knew I could ask my friends, but I also knew that many of my friends were far more "strict" or "rigid" about what they'd expect from a teacher, so I wanted to throw a wider net and see if I could find someone who might fit our family's needs better.  I chose to start a Facebook Group called NewtonMoms.  I added all my local mom friends and I told folks to invite their friends to the page.  Fast forward 3 yrs and we now have nearly 1,200 members with about 25 or more new members requesting access each week.  Many members are very happy to have such a resource available to them and we share not only recommendations for local service offerings, we sell gently used items, discuss topics relevant to raising kids and help inform some people who are looking to move to Newton of the local flavor, neighborhoods and schools.

As administrator of the group, I have been sure to allow only parents who live in or around Newton to join.  I personally vet each member request and make sure that we keep the solicitations to a minimum and I actively keep an eye on conversations that might be a little wonky so as to ensure no one gets their feelings hurt.  So what started as a way to network some local moms has resulted in a wonderful community of members who rely on the group as a valuable resource.  Some staunchly defend the goals of the group and support decisions that have had to be made regarding what's allowed or disallowed on the page.  But what's interesting is that the group has taken on its own personality that I could never have envisioned back when I started the page.  I love that.  I have been pulled aside in the grocery store by strangers who recognize me from the group to thank me for setting this up and I get lots of positive feedback when I post out announcements.

Yesterday I added a page called Newton Babysitting to leverage the Newton Moms network and local babysitting resources.  With all the college kids coming back into town, it seemed an appropriate step to take to connect sitters and parents.  In less than 24 hours we already have over 150 members on that group.  Folks are very excited to have a grassroots, free way to connect with local sitters who can help them out.  It just makes sense.

I decided to write about this because even though I tend to socialize with other home or unschoolers locally, there is a huge benefit to having connections with the local moms in my area.  There are so many things we have in common outside of the choice of how to school our kids.  And on occasion, I post links to some approachable and informative articles that show how our schools are failing our kids.  In the end, I love that this small idea I had back in 2012 is now a staple forum in our community.  The barrier to entry is small and the payback is big.

Any person out there can create a similar page in their own community.  And in the end, isn't it this that our world needs more of?  If parents feel more connected to their towns and more connected to the other parents there, won't we have more compassion and empathy when we are faced with those folks in the real world?  Changing the world does not happen by launching BIG ideas with BIG launch plans -- it happens one day at a time with one small step toward bringing people together and over time, the seeds of change begin to happen.

Here's to one small step in changing the world!!