My poor unsocialised children

We had an amazing day today with our unschooling group (natural learners club) gathering by the sea for an afternoon of scrambling in the rock pools.

The kids found an abundance of sea slugs, sea cucumbers, crabs, fish and shells. They explored for hours.

And as an impromptu event, 5yo J invited two friends for a sleep over. They are 10 and 7 years old, playing gorgeously and having a great night. 3yo L is right in there with them.

7yo F remarked at dinner “You know it’s amazing that humans ever discovered the names of the months.” This triggered a conversation about the origin of months, days, weeks and years. They were all fascinated.

This is the truth and beauty of unschooling. Perfect freedom. Living and learning as one. Nothing could be better.

No school beach day


When friends don’t mean well.

Thinking photo credit: Karola Riegler  cc

Thinking photo credit: Karola Riegler cc

A major reason why parents often choose to pull their children out of the mainstream education system is because, for whatever reason, their child simply does not fit the school mold.

Our son, J, is one of these children who would wither and fade in a classroom or crowded playground. He is introverted and gets lost in his thoughts. He is always thinking but not always listening. He may not respond when we try to talk to him because he is a million miles away, calculating how many Earths would fit in the sun or figuring out his three times table. He doesn’t cope well in large groups and can’t process too much noise.

Most of our closest friends are quite supportive of our choice to unschool because they know J and can plainly see he flourishes by taking learning on in his own way. J is by no means falling behind his peers.

We have one friend we’ve known for ten years but who doesn’t know our children all that well. He was quite shocked when he first learned of our choice to unschool, and plainly doesn’t understand what it means. When we spend time with him, he is always kind and interested in our lives, but I notice the way he is assessing our children. It doesn’t help that he is a psychologist.

Despite the fact that psychological research fully supports unschooling as a productive and effective means of gaining knowledge and getting value out of life, he is clearly concerned. Yesterday he was asking me how much social interaction J is exposed to. He seemed to think our two days of natural learners club time isn’t enough.

All this while fully acknowledging that our daughter L is very gregarious and interacts well with everyone. He is simply unable to see that it is quality of personality rather than a result of not being in school. J chooses at times to retreat completely from social interaction, taking himself off for “J time”.

I was just explaining to our friend that J is often in his own head working on life’s mysteries when J poked his face out from behind the pillar he was hiding behind and asked me “Mum, what’s nine plus nine?” Our friend laughed and said “Always working on things in his head.” Fully capable of seeing that is how J operates, and yet the stealthily camouflaged interrogation of questions continued.

It confounds me that people can be so entrenched in the paradigm of education that we were raised in that they can’t see, despite the evidence staring them in the face, that there can be another way. It bothers me even more when these people are our friends.

Crowdfunding and unschooling?

I’ve been given the task of spearheading a crowdfunding campaign to move the Gold Coast Natural Learners Club House off public land and onto a private property.

At the bare minimum we need a block of land, probably at least an acre, on which we can build. We have the community, the expertise and the raw desire to get involved. We would build our own earth buildings, erect sheds, plant vegetables, landscape and work together as a community of volunteers and unschooling enthusiasts, with the full involvement of our kids through all stages of planning, design and development.

We’re starting from nothing and land around here is not cheap. This is not mid-nowhere USA or deep-outback Australia. We are all busy, working families with other commitments, but most importantly other expenses including hefty mortgages.

We can’t afford, even pooling together, to come close to an appropriate piece of land, and it’s hard to know where to begin.

I don’t know anything about crowdfunding campaigns, except that some (probably very few) are quite successful in raising large amounts of money. How do they do it and where would I begin?



Understanding time

Understanding time photo credit: Vincent_AF via photopin cc

Understanding time photo credit: Vincent_AF via photopin cc

I had an interesting conversation with five year old J yesterday.

J asked me “What time would it be if the big hand and the little hand were both pointing at one?”

We’ve never touched on telling the time before, although I’m sure he’s had exposure from Playschool, so I took a moment to explain the difference between hours and minutes. It took me a bit longer to get around to answering J’s question than he anticipated, and I saw he was losing interest, so I wrapped up my explanation and left it alone.

I knew that I’d made a good introduction to the topic and if J wanted to know more he’d ask me, but for the time being he had a base to work on. It struck me, as I sat there finished with the topic, that if he had been learning time at school, he would have to fill out a stack of boring worksheets after the explanation, whether he was interested or not.

Later that day, he was drawing pictures of the solar system, his number one absolute favourite topic, and he asked me “How many numbers would be on a Jupiter clock?” to which I answered, “Oooh, good question.”

Then J said something that surprised me. “Maybe it would have lots of numbers. Or maybe the numbers would just be really long.”

In that moment J had grasped the arbitrary nature of assigning numbers to a random period of time. He understood that time is relative. I didn’t pursue it with him, because I thought if I tried to continue down that line of thinking, I’d just confuse him.

Sometimes our brains grasp things in the back of our consciousness. If we tried to explain it or understand it further we’d lose that tentative grip we had on the truth. Albert Einstein claimed this is how he understood his own theories. He could roughly sketch them down, but when they were published with thorough explanations he said he no longer understood them.

So I’ll just let that little bubble of an idea sit there in J’s brain, and let it grow on its own so he’s more likely to really understand because he figured it all out on his own.

Saying “no” all the time

Saying no photo credit: rolands.lakis via photopin cc

Saying no photo credit: rolands.lakis via photopin cc

I’m trying to say “no” less often. Who likes being told “no” all the time? If we had every door slammed in our face at every turn, how would that feel? It feels disrespectful to deny a child (read: person) the freedom to make their own choices, including their own mistakes.

Right now my kids are watching a lot of TV. The weather outside is a bit gloomy and J has proven in the past perfectly capable of moderating his TV watching, but that was back when L (who has now suddenly turned 3) was less interested in TV. However, I have watched them carefully over the last few days and they get bored with the TV and go off to play, especially since L’s birthday when she received some new and exciting toys.

In fact, L has just abandoned the TV to come and “play puzzles” with me. So I’ll return to this entry later (which means I’ve probably lost my flow, oh well).

L has also been asking for Tiny Teddy biscuits a lot. I used to fight her on this issue all day every day. It never changed anything so I am trying a new approach, I just give her a few, she eats them and she’s happy. No, chocolate biscuits are not overly healthy, but neither is fighting with your kids all the time. If she learns to regulate her own food, she will grow up with a much healthier attitude towards food than if we continue to make a big issue out of it.

In Alfie Kohn’s book, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, he discusses moving away from trying to control children’s behaviour towards trying to meet their needs. It’s about loving them unconditionally and working with them, instead of trying to manipulate their behaviour in any way to be more pleasing. He asks the question “What do you want your children to be when they grow up?” and if you can honestly “I want my child to be controllable and manipulatable” then go ahead and treat them that way as a child. But the truth is, no one wants that for their grown child. We all know children learn through what we model for them, which means we should be careful what we model.

I don’t want to model to my children that the world will always say “yes”, and of course there will be times when I have to say “no”. “Mummy, can I eat this rat bait?”, “No, you most certainly can not and here is a perfectly good reason why.” The difference is in having a good reason for it. Should I let my child eat too much chocolate? That depends on the definition of too much. The truth is that I trust my children to regulate their behaviour. They won’t eat too much chocolate because they’ll get sick before they do, and honestly they’re not going to eat enough to get sick in the first place because they’re neither gluttons nor masochistic.

There is a whole list of things my children are allowed to do, because we trust them to make their own choices and are willing to let them make their own mistakes. However, letting go of some control issues is difficult, particularly surrounding food, TV and electronic games. Individuality and freedom are two things I strongly value, and I want to instill these in my children, so saying “yes” and giving up the comfort of control is something I am willing to see through.

There is no place in this world for kids

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

People don’t like children. That’s why they ship them off to school for 13+ years of life. Out of sight, out of mind.

Our unschooling group meets regularly on public parkland twice a week. We were very upfront with the management of the parkland about who we are and how we want to use the land. We aren’t a commercial group or running any form of business activity, we’re just a small group of people meeting socially on public land and not breaking any rules.

That did not stop someone on the parkland’s committee from complaining and bringing the council regulators down on us for a visit, to make sure we weren’t breaking any rules (they must have been so disappointed to discover we weren’t) and, of course, take the opportunity to take a swipe at our parenting techniques.

We don’t want to organise a formal school, or any kind of structured environment, but it doesn’t matter where we go. A group of families with children meeting anywhere within hearing range of other adults simply will not be left in peace. There will always be someone there to complain. Children are too noisy. Children are too wild. Children shouldn’t exist.

What we need is a block of land. A piece of acreage surrounded by trees. Just somewhere private we can claim a stake to where no one else has any right to harass us. My husband and I have been dreaming about it for a while now. Just a piece of land, a few shipping containers, a ti-pi, some grass, a few wood pallets and some nails, room for a dirt-bike track, a vegie patch and space to breathe. We’d make it work, we’d let it grow, we just need the land.

So here is my call out to any wealthy benefactors out there with a couple extra hundred thousand burning a hole in your pocket who would get a kick out of helping to start up an amazing venture in natural life learning for children and adults who just want to be free and left alone. We’d name the property after you. Seriously.

The complete history of numerals (almost).

photo credit: Edgar Barany via photopin cc

photo credit: Edgar Barany via photopin cc

You have to laugh. Well, someone has to. My poor children, stuck with me as a mum.

The better half came home this afternoon to find a piece of paper with Roman numerals and a grid of regular Arabic numerals sprawled across it.

“What were you guys talking about today?” he asked, concerned that I was teaching our poor children useless trivia again.

I took a breath for my reply. “Just the Roman Empire, the Arab Empire, ancient medicine, religion, the dark ages, the Spanish Inquisition, Roman numerals and Arabic numerals.” I paused to catch my breath. “Which all started with looking at pictures of the astronomical clock in Prague.”

The better half laughed.

“J asked me ‘What are those funny numbers on the clock?’ So I had to tell him.”

Unfortunately (ahem) I never did get around to explaining the zodiac symbols to J.

Who would you be?

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

If you’d never had to conform,
If you’d never had to wear a uniform,
If you’d never been told you weren’t good enough,
smart enough, strong enough, fast enough,
If you hadn’t been forced to colour between the lines,
If you hadn’t felt bad about how you looked,
If you hadn’t been ashamed of what you wear,
If you hadn’t been pressured to cut your hair,
If you hadn’t been told what to learn and when,
If you hadn’t learned maths by rote,
If you’d just been allowed to read,
If your writing wasn’t covered in red marks,
If you hadn’t been afraid of failing the test,
If you hadn’t been told to sit down and shut up,
If you hadn’t had to ask permission to pee,
If you’d just been allowed to be free?

Who would you be
If you had just been you?

The evolution of life on Earth

I♥ the internet.

I was reading “Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp” to my kids. This cute rhyming kid’s story uses the names of a few relevant time periods such as Jurassic, Cretaceous and Cenozoic, so naturally J asked what they are.

I had a quick look on my phone for an image that would help explain the geological time scale, and I found a beautiful image but it was too big to view properly on my phone, so we went to my PC to have a better look. We talked through the image, and then we dived headlong into the beauty of the internet.

There is so much great stuff on the history of the Earth online. So much. A quick round-up of our morning follows:

1. A detailed look at the time line of life evolution on Earth

We broke this information up into 3 different sittings due to the amount of information it contains and the amount of discussion it gave rise to. Thankfully 2yo L came to tell me she was hungry and remind me that I needed to make lunch. Or J and I might have forgotten to eat. L was downstairs playing with Lego at the time.

This page links to some great images I would love to print out and put on the wall:

Eras of life with beautiful colour pictures and including plate tectonics

Time line of life evolution with epic pictures

2. Various information about different hominids

The first page mentioned several different species of hominids, so we had to find out how they looked and how the differed from modern humans.

Homo heidelbergensis vs Cro-magnon and Neanderthal

– Modern humans vs Ardipithecus

That’s all we had time for. All. Ha! Yet another thing I doubt J’s peers were doing in kindy today.

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