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Too weary to change the world? The 4 R’s of Regenerative Resistance

21 February, 2019

I’ve never seen an article spread like wildfire quite as much as Millennials- the burn out generation. There was so much resonance amongst people between the ages of 22 and 38 (the official “millennial generation”) as we all read and said “YES. This is me!” The main thrust of it is that we have been raised as busy folk, to strive to win, and combined with some huge structural influences (such as financial collapse and government changes to student debt) and societal shifts (the pressure we feel being faced with everyone else’s highlight reel on Facebook and Instagram) we feel a need to be constantly working, leaving us perched right on the edge of breakdown. We bring this burn out vibe to everything; our careers, our home life and our activism.

Since committing wholeheartedly to Extinction Rebellion I’ve been reflecting on how much more sustainable activism needs to become. This is partly because this is one of the features of Extinction Rebellion; they actively promote regenerative culture in their forums and strategy. But also because of the people I’ve met through it.  I was at a roadblock on Monday with 40 people and every single new person I met there told me it was their first action! And then, when I’ve invited my old-skool activist mates to get involved they’ve told me they can’t because they are too exhausted from years of non-stop action. How can we make sure all these freshly-minted activists don’t end up like the second group?
The 4 R's of Regenerative Resistance

The four Rs of Regenerative Resistance:

Relish

Do the activism that floats your boat. Don’t lock on and chant if the thought of it locks you up with dread. I know, I know, as an organiser that is scary even to TYPE! We worry that we won’t have enough people doing all the different things required. That everyone will just want to make the cups of tea and no one will want to be arrested.*

My friend went to an Empowered Activism workshop last week with a hundred other people. They had a long rainbow coloured piece of fabric and each colour represented something different – media, direct action, creative acts, communicating etc etc The facilitator asked everyone to take a moment to really feel what they were drawn to, and then to go and stand in that colour. My friend said that once everyone in place there was a palpable sense of awe in the room. Every colour in the rainbow was populated by people fizzing with energy. There were no areas less appealing. Each of our unique loves and quirks and gifts will be perfect for something, so let’s do the stuff we are drawn to.

Some social change theorists have suggested that there is no evidence that certain protests impact policy changes more than others. Some of history seems to suggest that revolutions take off according to uncontrollable features such as food price hikes.  On one hand, perhaps this theory can be taken with a pinch of salt because often we’re not actually calling for revolution in our action. Often we are calling for a policy change (even though what we really want IS revolution, amiright) and the social sciences show us that there have been direct impacts from protests on policy – ie, the civil rights movement, same sex marriage laws.

Now, this IS complicated, there are a lot of unknowns in this. But I’ve come to believe that any successful action is almost always accompanied by Other Stuff. Shifts in public consciousness, economic collapse, uprising occurring in other countries, the right person at the right time. It’s rarely *only* the action. I raise this slightly messy thought in order to point out the problem with spending much of our time doing things we don’t actually like. If our activism is based on stuff that drains us, and then it doesn’t work because it’s not the right moment in history, then all we have is a bunch of weary, jaded folk and no change. Ugh. Nightmare. Common, common nightmare.

However, if our activism is an expression of one of our gifts, or if it builds up our communities, and gives us chance to meet our neighbours and have fun with our friends and dance and sing and makes us feel alive, and then it ends up not being the right moment in history, there is absolutely nothing lost. Even with a failed action, we’ve ended up as winners.

The 4 r's of regenerative activism

For me, part of the whole purpose of life is to connect with others and to connect with the earth. Activism is one of the many ways that I do this. If our world changes horrendously in coming decades, if it falls apart in war and hunger, as it is currently on the trajectory to do, really the only thing that will matter is the strength of our relationships and the resilience of our communities. The vibrancy of our love.

I invite you to really sense what parts of activism bring you alive. If it’s the face to face stuff – perhaps you could be the person that goes to the markets to tell people about your cause. If you love engineering, invent some new ways to get people locked on to machinery and gates.  If it’s writing – could you do the press releases? If you are an artist, turn your basement into a banner workshop and screenprint the shiz out of the movement.

And I invite you to bring joy and fun to the weekly grind of your activism. Because there are planing meetings and strategy documents that have to happen. But you can you eat together beforehand? Can you have music and room for laughter? I invite you to look at your actions and ask “is there space here for MORE connectivity and MORE joy?” If you are doing a hardcore or somber action, book in an after-party so you can debrief and release the intensity of that.

A quick note about direct action. Make sure fear isn’t coming into play in a bad way. Getting arrested for trespass or obstruction (the usuals) doesn’t stop you travelling, in fact it impacts your life very little. A court date, a fine that the movement will help you pay, a bit of paperwork. I do sometimes wonder if the way we are raised to obey and comply and respect authority blocks us from being open to non violent direct action. Just for a moment imagine setting fear aside and joining the ranks of history makers who have been arrested. Exciting, no? 

If we were more strategic, we’d burn out less.

I can almost hear the voices crying “of course you’re burning out if you’re okay with just doing community building and having fun! If you worked smarter you’d be more efficient and wouldn’t burn out!” Well, yes and no. We should absolutely employ all the tools out there. This great website has all sorts such as how to do a SWOT analysis which we use alot. We should do all that pre-work, yes, yes, yes. But also, sometimes it’s important just to turn up, not even knowing what to do. Simply to bear witness.

four rs of regenerative activism

And if we feel like the success of our action depends solely on our watertight strategy, we’re getting into sketchy territory, where we feel unable to Rest and Rely on the other forces at work.

Rest

“If you get tired learn to rest, not to quit” says Banksy who has done a good share of righteous trouble making in his time.

Sleeping, relaxing, reading, zoning out to music, hiking, … these are all rejuvenating, restful activities. But we are so constantly plugged in (to our phones, our ambitions, our jobs) that it feels like truly resting is somewhat of a forgotten art.

We went to a Mumford and Sons gig the other week. Tim and I stood there, peering up at the stage, the only still ones in a sea of activity. All around us the other punters were texting their mates, trying to capture the best angle for Instagram, running back and forth trying to find other friends to get in this particular selfie. Everyone was bustling about, right in the midst of this moment of leisure.

One of the features of regenerative activism is relaxing into rest on a regular basis. Here’s this from an overview on rest and sustainability

“A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

One of the things I found particularly interesting was the research showing that there is a strong link between having more holidays and not leaving a company! It seems clear that things like regular breaks, fully unplugged days each week, and a holiday allows us to be far more sustainable.

Micro-rests
Last week I enjoyed a podcast with Srini Pillay, author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try about the power of the unconscious mind. It was all interesting but the bit that struck me is that every single day we check out for chunks of time. We all do. In order to try and get some balance our brains take us into an unfocused zone fairly regularly all day. Studies seem to show that one of the human beings design functions is to have a period of renewal every 90 minutes. If we just unintentionally let that happen then our minds will fill up with worries or to do lists or absolutely random stuff like what exactly was in that sauce on that pasta at Maria’s pot luck dinner? Was it, like, olives or those other weird little things that are like olives but kinda more fancy… tiny sour olive type things that telly chefs are always tossing in dishes… blimey what are they! Google is giving me nothing! Gah. I’ll text Maria. Or we use it to scroll through social media. (Or we override it with sugar or caffeine.)

Now, on one hand, that’s fine. But it’s not actually restorative. Our brains are checking us out from one thing, but we check in to another, unintentional act of busyness.

Pillay argues that we should schedule these check outs. Not just for efficiency’s sake, but to make sure we give our brains a chance to truly rest and play. So, once an hour, go for a walk or do some doodling. Lay down once or twice a day for a daydream or some breathing or a guided meditation. Don’t let your brain’s automatic rest function be sabotaged by your busy, busy mind!

I invite you to remember the art of rest. I invite you to carve out time for micro-breaks, protect our unplugged days, book in a holiday and remind the other activists in our groups about the importance of rest so we can create new cultures that make room for renewal.

I invite you to reject the idea that the success of our activism is directly related to busy-ness. There will be intense moments of activity, yes, but your path to a successful action should not be filled with little gremlins whining at you to keep checking how many people have signed up, or whispering that you are not doing enough. And if it’s accompanied by a palpitating heart and a sense of paralysing overwhelm, it’s possibly time to take a rest.

The 4 R's of regenerative activism

Rely

Rely on others. Trust in their work, trust in the possibility of a spiritual awakening, trust that all the time, every second of the day the movement towards love and justice is absolutely throbbing with growth.

Joanna Macy and the other thinkers and doers of the Deep Ecology sphere have so much to offer us as we seek to activate more trust in our activism.

This diagram of Joanna’s shows the three parts that will make up the revolution we are seeking. There are Holding Actions – this is the activism that leads to policy change; shifts in law that lift oppression and create justice in small ways incrementally.

Then there are Structural Changes – which is used to describe the creation of new ways of working, for example, farming methods that honour the earth, or communication principles such as NVC. Under this heading comes permaculture and unschooling, holacracy and socioacrocy and communal housing and transition towns and all the other radical ways of being. These are quietly blooming and offer us the structures we will require in the future.

And then: Shifts in Consciousness – this is where people step into new understandings of themselves and the earth. Bothboth poets and scientists can helps us doe that. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports have done this for a lot of people I believe- allowing people to take the blinkers from their eyes. And then I’m sure the poems of Maya Angelou and Rumi and Kate Tempest have done this too- sparked a transformation in people’s hearts. It’s also where mysterious shizzle goes down. Psychedelics and meditation and yoga and dance and hiking and surfing and the random kindness of strangers can all give us the insight we need everyone human on earth to have: that we are one, that love is the only thing that matters.
four R's of regenerative activism

Now, I used to be a full time activist. It was my actual job, AND my hobby. A proper activist geek. Then a couple of years after we had kids I left that job and we moved to New Zealand to live off grid, to try and have as little impact on the earth’s resources as we could. For five years we ticked along, and then at the end of last year the IPCC report woke me as if from a long slumber. HOLY HECK. I began scrabbling about, kicking myself for not campaigning night and day on climate change for half a decade. I joined Extinction Rebellion, devoting a day week to getting it off the ground here in Aotearoa.

But hearing Joanna Macy describe the three things that are imperative to the transformation of society gave me pause. I realised that I *had* been doing the important work all along. The way I raise my children with empathy, the way we give them freedom over their learning with unschooling, the way we live gently on solar power, our rejection of toxic beauty and cleaning products, all of these small things are a part of it. An intrinsic part. Somehow, faced with extinction and the panic that took hold of me, I’d lost the thread I’ve held since Ramona was a baby- that parenting can be a great source of world change. 

We don’t have to see all the work that is not strictly protest as a waste of time. We don’t have to shake everyone and say “GET ON THE STREETS RIGHT NOW.” We can trust that people being them good selves is also important.

Of course, I do still implore people to get on the streets! I am a communicator and an activist so where my work intersects is to invite people, without judgement or demand, to join me in protest! But I have a lot more of a sense of joy and freedom in this, rather than overwroughtness that we aren’t doing enough.

And I also kind of think it’s possible that if activists had less of a bad rap (as burnt out, angry, judgementalists) and we moved about with more trust in humankind, more celebration of all the different ways peace and justice is being nurtured, with more joy and creativity and freedom, more people would be discover the activist inside them. More people would discover that activism could bring them alive too.

Ritualise

This one was hard to name. And it might be hard to express. Let me try!

It’s about seeing our activism afresh – less an arduous “gotta save the damn world” activity and more an expression of our identity as part of the earth and the one-ness of humankind- and then having markers that remind us of this.

For a while my favourite quote was “Activism is the price I pay for living on on this planet.” A bit of it still resonates with me, for sure. (*ahem* burn out generation) These days I have a different view. These days I see activism as an almost spiritual act. It’s an expression of who I am, as much as dancing or writing or singing might be.

John Seed, one of the original protesters who occupied the rainforest to stop them from being chopped down, said that a transformation occurred the longer he sat there, locked on to a tree. He moved from being John Seed protecting the rainforest to the “rainforest protecting itself.”

Many years ago we were in a remote country, stealthily going to investigate some exploitative industry happening in an area of ecological importance. As I walked through the rainforest I was at a loss. We were walking hours, yet what could we do once we got there? We had no plan. But as I walked, I felt the answer come to me, imprinted on the soles of my feet, as if from the soil. It was simply “You’ll know what to do.”

So we get there, and for some reason the drilling rig workers leave. I walk up to the rig, and the door is open, and the keys are in the ignition. So I reach in and take them and on the way home toss them away. It was all so matter-of-fact. Like the rainforest just found a way through me to eat up those keys for a bit of reprieve.

My hope is that we can all experience something like this. To truly understand that we are not simply earth-dwellers, but we are the earth itself. One of the organisms that makes up this living breathing planet as much as a forest or the coral is. Activism can bring us this realisation.

So now I choose to mark my activism in this way. I bring prayers of thanks, I might light a candle, I’ll certainly sing a song. These are reminders to me that activism is a sacred act and that it doesn’t all rest on my shoulders.

Starhawk, writer and activist of some forty years, tells a story in her book The Twelve Wild Swans, about being involved in the anti-globalisation protests of the 90s. She’s describing sitting in jail for five days after being arrested at the World Trade Organisation blockades in Seattle with a bunch of the other protestors “Lucy, a trainer and organiser who at 31 was an “old lady” in the group, remarked  that the average life span of an activist was 3 years. So why was I there, at forty-eight, a little fat and creaky from sitting on concrete floors and mixing it up with the cops? Because for the more than thirty years I’ve been active politically, I’ve had rituals to sustain me, close friend to support me and participate with me, and a deep personal connection to the great powers of love and freedom that inspire us to work for change.”

How many burnt out activists does it take to change a light bulb?

Well, none, because they can’t change anything.

Let’s stop doing this burn-out thing, huh? Let’s work together, play together, rest together in joy and in trust. And then we’ll be on the streets together in forty years time. Little grannies and grandpas locked on, chanting, knowing we’ve done all we can for the dream of a more just and beautiful world.

~

PS- If you have found my writing helpful, do hop on over to my Patreon and see if you’d like to become a supporter!

PPS- Video on what to do with the grief we feel about the climate.

Video from the back of a cop car the last time I was arrested

writing

Upcoming retreats, seven years without shampoo and saving a marriage!

14 February, 2019

Hello!

I am doing a special little post because I’ve had so many emails from you all recently saying “We never hear from you!”-  it’s delicious, thank you for those!

See you soon in real life I hope!

I am coming over! To the UK and to America! I am holding retreats; Dancing Forest Sisterhood retreats in the south (already sold out sadly) in the north (still places!) in Oregon (still places) and in New Zealand (one place left!)

I LOVE holding these retreats. They are such a treat for me. I get to meet my sisters from across the world in such a deep, held space. We share stories, dance (if we want to) sing, release into our intuition, creativity and wildness. You can find out about my retreats right here.

I’d love to see you there!

“Lucy holds the most sacred, real, nourishing and save space. She leads with love, honesty, humour, openness and deep integrity. Her retreat was opening – of self and of others, full of laughter, healing tears. empathy and silence. I felt able to be fully present to express my needs and give openly, when I could and wanted to. It was exactly what I needed and I left feeling so heard, loved and honoured.”
~ Laura Hamilton – Dancing Forest Sisterhood Retreat Participant

“Lucy is wonderful at creating and holding space for women, and this allowed our group to quickly feel connected and supported by her and each other. I felt safe to be vulnerable, and to release fear and shame that I had been holding on to. It was a liberating and freeing weekend, with amazing soul sisters, and one I would highly recommend.”
~ Elanor C – Dancing Forest Sisterhood Retreat Participant

(Included because I am trying to learn that I mustn’t shy away from endorsements! They are a gift, right?)

~
Shampoo Free For Seven Years!

I also have a brand new video out especially for those of you who first joined my journey through my hair experiments! This looks at my routine now, seven years after giving up shampoo:

To the radical mama who wants to save her marriage

Because it’s Valentines Day (I think? Hang on, lemme google that…) YES. It is. I thought I should include something about LOVE! So here we go- a post with some ideas for breathing life back into tired long term relationships. Love and solidarity to you.

Keep up with me!

The place that I am most active these days is over on Patreon. We have such a fun and radical little thing going on there. I tend to post at least weekly, with updates, thoughts, quotes, livestreams, poems and Patreon-only resources.  Increasingly there will be monthly conversations with exciting people.

If you have enjoyed my work and are in a position to be a part of my Patreon that would be wonderful!

You can check it out here.

Thank you and all my love!

unschooling

Collective Unschooling Agreements (a prompt to use for safety at camps/ groups)

18 January, 2019

When we arrived here in New Zealand five years ago, we were welcomed into the Lower North Island Unschooling community so warmly, and we thrilled to BITS to observe their radical way of being with each other. Adult to adult, adult to child, child to child and child to adult interactions were based on a beautiful mutual respect and understanding.

When groups form slowly, certain cultures are given chance to establish. As new people join, they are woven into this culture and it’s easy for people to stay on the same page. Gradually, elders of the space rise up and become pillars of that culture and the group is held, it can rest in some of these shared understandings.

The Lower North Island Unschooling camp was an awesome example of having elders to hold the space, and slow growth to establish these shared understandings.

When groups grow swiftly, or when they want to launch into a space with no exisiting culture or pillarlike-elders to hold the space, this lack of culture, of holding, of shared understandings feels stark! It can be a scary place and new groups and communities can get the speed wobbles. If you were doing group work in the nineties you might remember Tuckman’s phases of growth: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing. These phases can take years for a community to work through, and they might work through them many times over! But you can definitely ease the storming part, by communicating HARD.

John Holt describes unschooling as “Giving as much autonomy to the child as the parent can bear.” It’s so true! And it’s perhaps one of the reasons why uschooling families can look so different from one to the other. Some unschoolers have no set bed time or screen time rules. Others have no screen time and only eat whole foods. You can’t come together as a group and imagine that simply because you identify as an “unschooler” you’re going to resonate with all the values present. (Sometimes you do, and that’s cool ‘cos you can just sit around drinking tea and playing the ukulele.)

Here in New Zealand the unschooling community has grown HUGELY in recent years. In the last five years we’ve gone from one or two national unschooling gatherings to six. Almost every camp is booked out weeks before. And at every camp there are tons and tons of new faces. Heaps of them fresh to unschooling.

We found pretty early on with these camps that moving out of the Lower North Island meant we left behind many of our unschooling elders (*waves*) and that we were going to have to work hard to establish our own culture.

So began a big journey, with many, many conversations and circles and notes and drafts!

Before I share with you what we came up with, I want to say that none of this can be superimposed into your community or group. You’ve got to have these circles yourselves. You’ve got to share your own values with each other. You’ve got to work out where your own boundaries are, what freedoms you are able to bear. This isn’t a top down process, it’s got to come from the community itself.

But as a bit of a prompt, here’s what we came up with. You can see it here as a google doc.

Shared Understandings While at Camp

Co-creation

  • Co-creation means that we organise and run the camp collectively. This encourages trust, openness, flexibility, ease and self-responsibility.
  • We value the contribution (seen and unseen) of all who choose to come to share in the weekend.
  • You are encouraged to contribute to the camp in a way that fits the needs of you and your family: some people need to contribute to belong, some people need to belong to contribute. This may mean offering to teach a skill you are passionate about, facilitating a discussion you want to have or just being present.

Shared Understandings:

  • This retreat is specifically for those that are currently unschooling or intending on doing so.  Those that we invite beyond ourselves to be a part of the retreat will be those that fully support this.  This creates a safe place, a sanctuary, for us all to relax, and rejuvenate from the world around us.
  • We will respect ourselves, each other and the environment.
  • There are times during the weekend that we will gather together to give out information relevant to the running of the camp. Out of respect for each other, we will try to be there on time and be available to participate as needed.
  • We regard the Opening and Closing Circles, (meeting together in a circle-ish formation, taking turns to talk), as important elements in the weekend. Being at the Opening circle allows us to participate fully in the weekend right from the start and allows new people to be properly introduced. The Closing circle provides us with a chance to reflect on the weekend together before we head off separately into our individual lives; it leaves the weekend with a feeling of completeness. We will do our best to get to these.
  • In respect to the limitations that come with having dietary restrictions, we will endeavor to label shared food and people with dietary restrictions will be invited to serve themselves first.
  • We trust that people will take responsibility for their share of paying for the weekend.

Every child has the right to be safe from emotional and physical harm

We want to be a community that offers support to all families whose children who may find camp environments challenging.  We will endeavour to approach all parents with an attitude of non judgement, simply offering support. We promote the safety of all children in their play.  We will create a culture of consent at camps through empowering children with the words “Stop always means stop”.

We do this by introducing it at all camp welcome circles, engaging with it always if we hear campers not sticking to it, and helping our own children role play and interact with saying the words.

We reinforce it through the introduction of some camp activities and stories/ games around the word STOP and, by choosing to be adults that are true to our own personal boundaries and are not afraid of saying all the “stops” we need to say in our lives!

If a situation arises we will check in with the children involved to query:

  • ‘if they are enjoying the play/do they like that’, and ‘if they feel safe.’


If the answer is no, or the situation is already jeopardizing another’s safety, we support taking  the following steps:

 

  • Intervene immediately if it is a safety issue or you hear a child saying “stop” to no effect
  • Start with a mindset of empathy, seeing each child in the best light, consider there may be possible neurological differences at play.
  • It is helpful for one adult to stand with or kneel beside each child as support, encourage them to share what’s going on for them.

 

  • In the case of all children wanting immediate ongoing play, encourage ideas of how to resolve the situation together, acknowledge feelings.  Stick with it until resolved.

Or

 

  • To restore relationship at a later date instead, make an agreement of when you will meet again to discuss it further.  Then, each move away. Seek the camp safeguarding team to support the upcoming discussion if needed.
  • Let parents know what unfolded, if they were not informed already, so they can bring in some follow up of agreement made around safety
  • At the discussion make a co-created agreement about how this situation could have unfolded more positively
  • Practise the new scenario

 

If you or your child have any concerns or experience an incident please immediately share this with your Safeguarding Team here at camp:

(photos of each camp’s safe guarding team)

Sexual Abuse Prevention at camp

A year ago I was struck by a poster a local charity had asked me to make. It asks each person to consider how they are making sure children are protected from sexual abuse in all the different situations they are involved in – camps, churches, parties, sleepovers, workplaces.

It hit me that I hadn’t applied all I knew about a culture of consent to a very important area- our unschooling camps! Each year I help organise three camps for hundreds of people. It was time I raised consent with this wide gathering. I was nervous, because it’s a horrible topic to raise in a place that is so joyful and peaceful. But I knew it had to happen.

We organised a workshop at the next camp and six of us sat down to draw together all of what we knew about sexual abuse prevention and consent culture. It has been an incredible experience. Partly because now we have a robust document which I can share with YOU in case you run camps/ youth groups/ family gatherings. But also because a couple of things have happened to assure us that we were absolutely right in putting our effort into this. Firstly, an adult disclosed that she had been abused by someone at a homeschool camp when a child. This is so, so tragic. But it was also confirmation that even the places we think are the SAFEST because we are with OUR KIND OF PEOPLE can never ever be absolutely safe.  Secondly, at the next camp we held we introduced this document and asked, at registration, every single person to read it. During that camp someone disclosed an incident of abuse that happened elsewhere and our safeguarding team was able to help them take this to the next stage. So what follows is our document but you can see the google doc here. 
Share agreements for unschooling camps

Shared agreements for safety at unschooling camps
Credit: Life Learners Aotearoa 2018

Every child has the right to be safe from sexual abuse.

In NZ one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 16. It doesn’t have to be this way! We want to change the culture, and that means bringing some awareness even to our beautiful places like camp.

Here is some stuff for you to consider:

Camp Culture

  • Stop ALWAYS means stop. It’s a powerful word and if someone says it, even whilst laughing or having fun, we always respect it.
  • Avoid situations where a single adult (non parent/ care giver/ designated adult) is alone with a child in a tent/ room/ toilet. Call another adult in to be present.
  • Parents, if heading to bed make sure there is an explicitly designated adult to care for your child if they want to stay up – make sure your child, and the adult, knows who they are.
  • Children, if you feel uncomfortable with anyone or in any situation find your parent or a safe adult.

Family Culture:

  • Stop ALWAYS means stop. It’s a powerful word and if someone says it, even whilst laughing or having fun, we always respect it.
  • Consider using the proper names for our body parts, this has been shown to be really helpful in sexual abuse prevention.
  • No secrets – secrets nurture a culture where predators thrive. Opt for surprise (which are always revealed in the end) instead of secrets. Encourage a telling environment. You can use birthday parties as an example of a good surprise and help them understand that a good surprise is something everyone will find out about soon. Let them know that they should never have to keep a secret about touching or about anything that makes them feel scared. You can reinforce this message with a poster on your fridge.
  • No touching each other in places where their togs normally go.
  • Always trust your instincts around people or situations. If you feel uncomfortable find your parent or a safe adult.
  • Check in with your kids throughout camp, ask if they feel safe.

TOUCHING RULES

  • Wherever there are children, we use ‘The 3 touching rules for private parts’:
  • It’s OK to touch your own;
  • It’s Not OK to touch someone else’s; and
  • It’s Not OK for someone else to touch yours

Talk to children about ‘yes’ touches (those that make them feel safe, good and that they can tell anyone about) and ‘no’ touches (those that make them feel confused, overwhelmed, unhappy or that someone asks them to keep a secret).  ‘Yes‘ touches can make you feel happy like cuddling the cat or your favourite soft toy. ‘No’ touch can make you uncomfortable, like pinches or getting hit. Explain that some touching can have both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ feeling like when you swing too high on a swing or are tickled for too long. Let them know that if they ever get any kind of a ‘no’ feeling from something someone does, that you would like to know and that they will not get into trouble for telling you about it.

What to do

If you or your child have any concerns or experiencing an incident please immediately share this with your Safeguarding Team here at camp:

(names and photos of safe guarding team)

If you witness anything that gives you concern:

1- intervene immediately

2- report immediately to your safeguarding team (above)

3- Perpetrator will be asked to leave, camp meeting will be called and all necessary follow up will be commenced with police, other NZ unschooling camps and communities and families involved.

One of our peeps, Ange Fraser has turned these into giant posters that are laminated and travel from camp to camp. It is an incredible resource.

unschooling agreementsIn conclusion!

We still have conflict and trickiness and overwhelm happening at our camps. This is part of being human. These bumpings and the challenges of figuring out how to move through these bumps with grace and understanding are an ever present companion to humankind. Our shared understandings aren’t a magic bullet, but they at least start us off on the same page and give us a process to work through.

When we come together at weekly meetings and five day long camps, we are given this beautiful opportunity to grow together, and through this, become more fully ourselves. Figuring out how to be together, even though we hold different values and have different shadows, is part of our evolution as a species! Working out how to be in community moves us closer to the abundant and generous beings we are meant to be, and away from the scarcity-motivated, competitive consumers that capitalism would make of us!

What a magnificent invitation.

PS You can see a video of our latest unschooling camp right here

PPS If you enjoy my posts and videos you might like to come on board as a supporter of my work through Patreon. Lots of Patreon Only content too.

Parenting

Christine Ford and creating a culture of consent (TW sexual abuse)

9 October, 2018

It’s 1993, South London. It’s our last summer of primary school before we all head off to different secondaries. There’s parties, classmates turning eleven so we go to each other’s houses and hold each other and sway to Boys ll Men. The mum would keep the table top stocked with fizzy and sausage rolls.

The very last party I went to was at the bottom of my hill. I was so excited because I had on a new bodysuit and white jeans and felt like the business. I can remember walking down, absolutely chuffed with myself, looking forward to some more awkward slow dancing.

An hour into the party a girl in my class came up to me and said “Dan wants to talk upstairs” I was curious as she’d done the same to two other girls so far.

I climbed the stairs, her behind me, encouraging me, keep going, next floor.

At the top, she nodded to a door and I turned the handle. As soon as I was through the door I was rushed by a group of boys, pinned to the bed. There were five of them I think, maybe a couple more or one less. One spread his hands over my mouth while the others pushed their hands into my crotch and punched their sweaty, grabbing hands over my just forming breasts.

I don’t know how long it lasted. I couldn’t say now. 10 seconds or a minute? It felt like forever, and then the girl opened the door, called a warning and it was over.

I ran down the stairs, right out the door. I cried all the back up that hill. I felt so betrayed. Some of those boys were my friends. Others of them had grabbed me before, in the playground, when Kiss Chase regularly dissolved into “try and push your hands into a girl’s knickers” but this day was so much worse, being so violently overpowered. And some of them my friends.

I composed myself so by the time my Mum saw me and said “you’re home early” I could just shrug and go to my room.

I haven’t seen anyone from my primary school since that day. And I haven’t told anyone this story until I shared it with my husband earlier this year in an attempt to uncover any bits of shame I’ve had buried away. Cos that’s the main feeling I was left with, shame. I knew that in some way I had bought it onto myself. Asked for it. So I minimised it until it was so small it was nothing, the tiniest pebble in my shoe. Not too much of a burden to carry around.

When I heard Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last week something shifted. Until that moment I’d never considered that party when I was eleven as a #metoo – it felt too small in comparison to the violence that has happened to other women. But the terror she described at having her mouth covered that bought my memory to the surface. It’s terrifying, not being able to move, or scream, or breathe.

I can still feel their fingers grabbing at me. Bruising me. And now when I look back at that party I feel sure that it didn’t just happen to me there, that there was a bunch of us taken up to that room.

I couldn’t even point their faces out now, but their names are still in my mind.

We were so little. Kids. But we were raised in a rape culture and in a rape culture little boys pretend to gang rape little girls.

Was it anything less?

When Christine Blasey Ford chose to stop minimising what happened to her, I could too. Although her testimony didn’t stop Kavanaugh’s ascent to the Supreme Court, I know that it will go down in history as a moment when even more millions of women said actually, yeah, Me Too.

The women who weren’t actually raped, who weren’t regularly abused, who didn’t think their experience was important enough to count. Christine Ford has given us permission to say that attempted rape was traumatic. That grope was a violation of my body and my rights. That was not okay.

Something huge has happened to me in these last few days. Being able to say “that should never, ever have happened to me” “that was in no way my fault” – being able to extend empathy to myself. Just even writing my experience up has unblocked something. I feel even more me, just that but more alive, blood flowing to a whole area that I’d shut off.

Her bravery is like a magnet that pulled my braveheart forward. That’s how it works. We’re all magnets pulling each other out, each brave story gently draws another woman forward until we are all able to move out beyond our shame.

We’ll finally shake out these pebbles and realise they are jagged shards that have been causing us to bleed all along.

And we’ll leave them back there, with the shame. And, not bleeding now, we’ll be able to tear down another pillar of rape culture.

~

The last couple of weeks have made me painfully certain that there has to be more to dismantling rape culture than testimony. Because testimony, trying to hold these men to account, does not always work.

It has me thinking anew about how we, communities, parents, families, can create the change the world needs.culture of consent

We can create a culture of consent in our homes

One of the most important ways we can dismantle rape culture is by growing consent culture, becoming adept at it ourselves and normalising it in other situations. (We can be thankful here that our brains have a plasticity that means we can re-wire decades and decades of coercive and manipulative behaviour within a relatively short time period.)

This begins with our smallest babies. Letting them know when you are going to pick them up, giving them a heads up when you are going to pull a jersey over their head or change a nappy.

It means not using your power to coerce a child to do something against their will.

It means making sure your children know that “STOP” always means stop- you honour their STOP, even if they are giggling while you tickle them, and you intervene when you here another child say STOP and your own child continues. culture of consent2

It means asking, when they return from a sleepover or a party, not “did you have fun?” but “did you feel safe?”

But again, the fundamental step to a culture of consent is not forcing our children to do things or have things done to their body against their will.

Read: five ways to honour our child’s body autonomy.
Five phrases that can protect your child from sexual abuse
Raising your medically complex child with a culture of consent
Read Sacraparental’s discussion about not passing on rape culture here.

sexual abuse prevention

We can create a culture of consent in ALL of the places we occupy

A year ago I was struck by a poster a local charity had asked me to make. It asks each person to consider how they are making sure children are protected from sexual abuse in all the different situations they are involved in – camps, churches, parties, sleepovers, workplaces.

It hit me that I hadn’t applied all I knew about a culture of consent to a very important area- our unschooling camps! Each year I help organise three camps for hundreds of people. It was time I raised consent with this wide gathering. I was nervous, because it’s a horrible topic to raise in a place that is so joyful and peaceful. But I knew it had to happen.

We organised a workshop at the next camp and six of us sat down to draw together all of what we knew about sexual abuse prevention and consent culture. It has been an incredible experience. Partly because now we have a robust document which I can share with YOU in case you run camps/ youth groups/ family gatherings. But also because a couple of things have happened to assure us that we were absolutely right in putting our effort into this. Firstly, an adult disclosed that she had been abused by someone at a homeschool camp when a child. This is so, so tragic. But it was also confirmation that even the places we think are the SAFEST because we are with OUR KIND OF PEOPLE can never ever be absolutely safe.  Secondly, at the next camp we held we introduced this document and asked, at registration, every single person to read it. During that camp someone disclosed an incident of abuse that happened elsewhere and our safeguarding team was able to help them take this to the next stage.

Click here to see our own document. Feel free to download and edit – basically make this your own document, embody it, share it, find people who will be part of your safeguarding team.  ALWAYS have two of you interacting with someone who is making a disclosure or raising some concerns.

~

Of course, when it comes to dismantling rape culture, men should just stop raping people. It should be that simple and straightforward.

Why should women have to take on the burden of dismantling a weapon used against them?

It pisses me off, frankly.

So here’s a quick message to the dads and grandads and the men who don’t think women should get raped or kids sexually abused- TAKE THIS ON. Take it on, dudes. Don’t just like the meme you saw on Facebook about Christine Ford’s bravery. Become an active part of creating a culture of consent. Step up. I believe in you. You can do this. Begin honouring the word STOP in your home. Defend your child’s body autonomy from unwanted kisses and cuddles. Bring the document above to your kid’s youth group leaders. Ask the parents who are hosting the sleepover what other people are going to be present that night. Ask your church, your workplace, your sports club to have sexual abuse prevention policies and a safeguarding team. Even if you are unsure of yourself, or feel a bit wobbly because you are no expert just start having the conversations. Say “I’m no expert, but it’s important to me that we all build a culture of consent. How can we do this?” Break the silence on sexual abuse. Refuse to be a part of an insipid, secretive world that has kept women living in shame for thousands of years. Take this on.

~

Thank you for reading. Please share widely. Tag your menfolk in this. Raise this document in your community. Let’s raise a culture of consent.

~

Find me on Patreon! Become a supporter and get access to more resources, livestreams and extras.

 culture of consent3

Parenting

To the radical mama who wants to save her marriage

14 June, 2018

Oh, sister. You give and you give and you are so tired even your eyebrows seem to ache. You are juggling but instead of china plates it is your relationships in the air. The people you love and care for. You catch each one, give them another boost but it’s relentless and before you can shake your arms out, there’s another one to catch. A relentless cycle of breathing life into the friendship with your sensitive first born, your wild-spirited second born, and this grown person you vowed to love and cherish.

And on the truly exhausted days, the one you can’t catch is the one who needs you least.

You cast your eyes across the horizon and see that the other couples you began with are getting sparser and sparser. Each year another separation, a relationship laid to rest.

Some partnerships are forever, and some for a moment in time. Wherever there has been true love, there has been life. And, also, sometimes partnerships are begun with someone who is toxic. Some mothers move on as an act of honouring themselves.

But if you are reading this, you know your journey isn’t in the leaving, but in the staying.

You want to save this.

I have a theory about motherhood. It’s our vision quest. A soul-wrenching journey of growth and healing that moulds us into a wholly different person.

I’ve heard that every cell in our body regenerates on a regular basis, so that purely on a visceral level, each 7 years we are made entirely new. I can remember telling someone when I was pregnant with my first child, age 27, “I haven’t changed a DOT since I turned 20. I became ME then and here I still am.” My daughter is seven now. And I laugh because I am 100% a different person to that pregnant woman telling a friend she never changes.

Our vision quest turns us inside out. Gives us a pair of Truth Spectacles to peer into our childhood, our experiences, our belief systems. We are broken by sleep deprivation and self doubt, and then we are put back together by the love our children give us. And, oh, the healing love we have for them. A love so intense at times it has felt like every regenerated cell is vibrating. Only to then be stripped empty by surprise rage or grief or the dull, repetitive mundanity of every day life with kids. We have questioned everything, dismantled the status quo. We have read all the books and listened to all the podcasts. We have wrestled with our old patterns. And we are slowly, slowly – some days failing completely – changing EVERYTHING for our children, we are building a new world for them by our kindness and empathy.

We are monks of the highest most saintly order! We are legends to rival King Arthur and his sword! Every one of us should go down in history as the woman who did what was required of her. Who accepted the quest and lived.

Yet here we are, opening the curtains, brushing oats off the sofa and looking for a pair of tiny matching socks. And all around the home is a fizz of tension, abrupt words, rolled eyes, barbed comments and more nagging requests, and only a small number of these directed at the children.

Some mothers end up at the top of a mountain, looking back down the path at a partner that doesn’t seem to have changed at all. He’s still back there, doing the thing he does, the way he always has done, being the person you first got with. While you, you are unrecognisable. Even to yourself.

I was talking to a friend about this, a husband and dad to a family living this cutting edge respectful parenting life, about how few fathers really step up to the game. How they become passive supporters, or outright naysayers, of the progressive journey the mother wants to take them on. He suggested it’s because the quest the fathers go on is totally different. Society, for the most part, raises men to believe their quest is a material one. So when the babies are born, instead of diving inward, our menfolk dive outward into work, into providing safe shelter, enough food for the table. They become single-minded about being the provider. And don’t leave enough room to do the inner work required to be an empathetic parent. I see this pattern all around me too. How many men become locked into this role. Even though this is not what 2018 requires of them.

(A boring note: I can be deeply honest and real here, cos we’re friends right?  Just kidding. That’s not why I am being this direct. It’s because I am writing from a good place, having been in a tough place. I have sat on this post for a long time, not wanting to hit post in case I jinx things. But I believe the opposite is true, by posting something honest and compassionate I am putting more honesty and compassion out in the world, rather than inviting pain and tragedy.Tim and I have been on our unique quests. And we had a hard year last year. The hardest yet. It really bit us on the bum. But we did a lot of things, which I’m gonna raise, and ultimately we decided that we are going to rest in each other. To involve each other, share our insights, to quest together

So I hope this post is helpful. Also, forgive my use of gendered pronouns. I realise this is exclusionary of me, but I wanted to reflect the many conversations I have had specifically with heterosexual mothers about this, and I don’t want to presume that any of this is the truth for same-sex partnerships. And by “marriage” I mean “long term partnerships.”)
to the radical mama who wants to save her marriage

5 Ideas

1- Often we tell ourselves we’ve got nothing in common any more when the reality is we’ve probably got more in common now than we did at the start- it’s just we don’t have all those lusty hormones floating round our bodies anymore, the lack of which makes things feel very stark. The kids are an enormous shared interest, but also the things you once loved to do together are possibly still there, it’s just you have no chance or will to do them together. Acknowledging the shared interest and all the reasons you do want to invest wholeheartedly into this relationship is an important first step. But alas… the chemistry….

2 – Sometimes the chemistry can be raised from the dead. I think 1) sex and 2) gratitude can go along way in bringing back the chemistry that once danced between you. So book sex in, if you can. Get it on Wall Calendar. But also I think there’s another kind of magic that can happen in a later phase of long term relationship that’s even better than that lusty magic of the beginning. And this is the magic of being truly known by someone and it’s the magic of knowing someone will stick with you through anything.

In my experience of sitting in circle with other women, the real powerful stuff is not around “getting” each other’s story, it’s not cos we all hear each other and go “oh yeah I agree” the power is simply that we are hearing each other. We are sharing from the heart and someone is hearing us. I feel like that’s the epitome of humanhood. That authentic connection. It doesn’t need agreement, just honesty and the ability to hear. Is there a way you can begin a practice with your partner where you sit and hear each other? Where you share feelings with non judgement, where you tell your stories to each other? You might use a talking stick even and set a boundary “let’s have a circle, we just share and listen, no feedback, no solutions, just stories” Solutions will come later.

3- Obviously for you to tell stories you need time together. I think this is what makes it SO HARD for families with radical mamas. It’s not actually about the dad being against it, it’s about him being left behind. His inner child is hurting, feeling all the rejection he’s ever felt in his life but at the hands of his wife – the person he moved earth to be with.  He feels jealous that the kids get so much energy from you, that they take up all your time, that you find so much meaning in relationship with them and not with him. He can’t help these feelings, but he can’t even articulate them because they sound so awful and pathetic. So instead he makes barbed comments about the way you are doing things with them. Or he is rude to you. Perhaps there is a meanness there. A quick pointed finger.

The healing for all of this is time together. He needs to know you prioritise him, that you actually want to hang out with him. And us mamas need to keep reminding ourselves about the meaning of this long term relationship, instead of thinking “gosh it’s like having an extra child” we need to remind ourselves of the honour of deep, life-long sacred union. I believe marriage (or long term partnership) can be utterly world changing because it demands such an incredible amount of vulnerability and deep, committed knowing of another human.

I have spent some time with this idea lately. It has re-energised my passion for our sacred union. Our marriage is a place we can face our full selves, shadow and all, and know we belong. It can go deeper than Moon Circles and therapy, because it involves connection on every level: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. By nature of being together for so many hours we are asked to go deep in a way no relationship can even touch on.

Brene Brown says

People are hard to hate close up. Move in.

Do this in full knowledge of your reason why: your union is a sacred expression of your self.

4- Ah, but the time thing.  How can you get this time? We need to sail the seven seas to find it. Put on our thigh high boots and pirate hat and – wait, this is not what you think. Do what you must do:  Call on family members. Organise child care swaps with friends. Take a night a week. A day every month. Put a film or audiobook on for the kids so you can do something you love to do together in the evening. Ask questions of each other. Get new knickers and delight in sex. Get some stuff from the Gottman Institute . Our last date together was an Airbnb voucher and doing the Gottman lovemaking course it was great! So nerdy. Super basic. But it provoked heaps of conversation about sex which we hadn’t had for a while.

5- Lastly, your job isn’t to enlighten your partner. That is not a burden for your shoulders. Your job is to heal and grow and to love your partner as they are. It is a strange thing, but the more healing you do, the less you will need to try and force your partner onto their healing journey. The more you grow, the more able you will be to see that the things that frustrate you in him, are probably the things you find frustrating about yourself, or at the least, somehow shining a light on an insight you need to grasp. So keep questing, but alongside your quest keep offering the most unconditional love you can give. Keep yourself warm and open to your partner, invite him into your journey, tell him your awkward realisations, but do it without judgement or expectation of him. Trust him, trust the idea that his enlightenment is alive, if invisible, and trust that your relationship can thrive even when one of you lags behind.

***

8 extra resources that could be helpful

The work of Byron Katie – one of the most powerful free resources I have found about self-inquiry, belief systems, hard relationship, frustrating situations. If there is something constantly driving you to frustration about your partner, this process can be life changing. A path to personal and couple joy, if ever I’ve known one.

There is an entire course by Marshall Rosenberg available on Youtube. Marshall Rosenberg is the founder of Non Violent Communication – an incredible communication process to bring healing and peace to situations of conflict. This is the most useful tool for when you have strong feelings about a partner’s behaviour or belief system, how you can begin to raise these issues with true understanding.

The Gottman Institute is a great source of inspiration and resources

100 questions to work through on Date Nights

A book – The New Rules of Marriage

A collection of thoughts on avoiding divorce from unschoolers, via Sandra Dodd

Video – The Sacred Art of Listening by Tara Brach

The Marriage Restoration Project – free seminar

***

I will always remember my divorced friend saying that if she knew the amount of labour – emotional work, logistical organising, constant constant effort- it took to both divorce and then raise kids together, she would go back and put the effort in to stick together. Even 10% of the effort of being divorced would have saved her marriage.

I’m breathing out a prayer for you as I type.  It is that you might be able to set down one of those china plate relationships you are juggling. That you might instead feel your partner rise, that you might feel him stand alongside you, a juggling duo bringing life into the relationships with your children. Know that your union is worth saving, that time might be the only thing it needs. It’s not unattainable. It’s there in front of you, if you reach. Particularly now you’ve set down the heaviest one of those plates. I see you guys, resting together in self-compassion, taking anew these steps along this path of sacred partnership.

~

PS Thank you for reading. If this is helpful please do share it.
PPS I have a Patreon page for people who want to come more on board with my writing and video making.
PPPS I talk a bit about my own quest here

unschooling

But how will they learn? How kids learn without school

12 February, 2018

A couple of weeks ago our four year old daughter, Juno, began to swim. Just six weeks before she was a koala in the water, hugging my leg or my hip tight, afraid to even stand solo. One heat wave (and 129 river swims) later and she is off, flapping around the water doing her own made up stroke; all limbs paddling at once but very much afloat and speedy. We’d be sewing the badge for ONE WIDTH on her suit if she was at Swim School. It came out of nowhere, this swimming. There was no teaching or even active encouragement on my part. Just many hours clocked up in the water and the motivation, I guess, to not drown.

A few days ago we’d enjoyed an afternoon of swimming when Juno was ready to go home. I walked with her up to the top of the bank, where the trees turn into a meadow, while I ran back down to the get the sunglasses I’d left on a rock. When I came back up I saw Juno in the meadow. She’d shed her towel and her pale body was glinting in the grass. I could see her trailing her hands across the tops of the clover, and then leaping with her arms in the air. As I got closer I saw she was moving her body alongside two small purple butterflies, mimicking their movements and she was singing to them, a wordless melody. I sank into the grass and pulled my hat low. I didn’t want to intrude on this magic. I felt almost like crawling backwards away, as a courtier leaving a royal throne.

This state Juno was in, this right brain flow-of-the-universe state is a beautiful thing to behold. It used to drive me crazy when I first encountered it. Walking to the park, a three minute journey, would take thirty whilst eldest child Ramona, then two, would stop on the pavement in awe of every piece of squashed chewing gum. She’d want to run her palms along the red curves of the plastic seat at the bus stop, she’d shuffle in every small drift of leaves, rarely moved on by my insistence we can take all the time we want once we’re at the playground my love. 

Over the years I’ve learnt to sort of respect this zoning out or, more, this zoning in. This all-absorbing wonder that can be fallen into. I’ve discovered how the right brain is the operating system for small children, so we mustn’t be frustrated when they fail to see past the very moment they are in. I’ve learnt to try and use it as a prompt for myself, to take those minutes to be mindful, to pay attention to the moment, my body, my senses. My daughters are my gurus, in this sense.

But only recently did I begin to understand how precious that state is. And it was in this Ted Talk by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor. She’s a neuroanatomist who had a stroke at 37 so is now able to relate exactly how it feels to have the rational, practical, analytical left brain shut off. She recounts the first moments of her stroke, when she began to exist entirely in her right brain:

“I lost my balance and I’m propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end. Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy. Energy. And I’m asking myself, “What is wrong with me, what is going on?” And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and — total silence.

And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.”

Juno is still in the meadow with the tiny purple butterflies but she’s as still as a blade of grass now, just breathing gently,  just marvelling at it all.  She’s got about two and a half years left of this. In just a few birthdays time her brain will have completed the connecting pathway to her left hemisphere and she’ll spend less time in wonder and more time problem solving. We sit in our own worlds for 15 more minutes and then wander home.

Later that night Juno took a thick green felt tip pen and wrote Juno, Juno, Juno, Juno, Juno, Ramona, Tim, Lucy, Zoe, Hello, Juno, Juno, Juno on a piece of A4. She curls the half loop of the J around and around in a spiral.

Ramona peers over Juno’s shoulder, a little bit interested. Not much though. Not bothered that her sister, three years younger, has written more words on one page than Ramona ever has.  Ramona can do monkey bars for eight minutes straight; that’s the kind of thing Ramona likes to work on.

I’m unbothered too, because doing the monkey bars and swimming and chasing butterflies all has as much to do with reading and writing as sitting down and actually writing does. It sounds strange, but it’s true.

How will they learn? When will we learn? Home education and world peace

The process that our brain naturally takes, when it comes to reading and writing,  starts with our bodies, with fine motor development, with muscle memory. As children develop physically and as they become more adept with their bodies they build neural pathways that make conceptualising abstract concepts far easier.

When we try and teach kids to read and write before they’ve had their fill of play and movement, we short circuit the process. It’s like trying to drive a car with flat tires- it’ll go, sure, but it’ll be clunky with a huge possibility of long-term damage.  Research coming out of Cambridge University shows that children that start reading later (at 7 as opposed to 5) quickly catch up to their peers and by the age of 11 show better text comprehension and more positive reading attitudes than their early learning peers.

It’s to do with the brain hemispheres again. You know how kids live from their right brain until they are around 7?  Asking a child to read only from their right brain will mean they learn only through sight (a right brain activity), they will miss out on getting to use the left brain reading activity of sounding out phonetically, and all the extra deep comprehension and that will come once the bridge to the left brain has been built. (Read more about that in this thorough and excellent read about delaying reading until the body is ready.)

 

Sorry, gosh, I do go on one. Back to the kitchen, which is also sort of our bedroom, Juno is writing her name hundreds of times and Ramona is hanging upside down from the bunk. I’m making a cup of tea, still thinking about Jill Bolte Taylor’s Ted Talk. And I’m hit by a wave of grief for the millions of children we pull too early out of their right brain, to ask them to begin operating out of their left brain before they are ready. Think of them. One minute they are flying as one with the butterflies in the meadow, euphoric and at peace, and the next they are forced to stare at squiggles and try and remember what the squiggles mean before they even have the mechanics to do it.

Is there a greater cost to forcing small children into their left brain before they are ready? We have rising rates of dyslexia and attention disorders. And I ache for the children who will never be able to sink into a book and find peace in those pages.

But it also seems we are experiencing a collective existential crisis. An epidemic of depression. Whole days spent communicating in perfunctory emojis. Sometimes in the city I can almost hear the hiss of steam as people’s minds vacate their bodies, unable to stay put in the moment. Analysing, planning, rushing, ticking off, typing, gathering stats, brainstorming, texting. Thinking about me, my people, my house, my income, my country. We are lonelier than ever, cut off from neighbours, surrounded by a thousand shallow friendships.

 “Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and it’s all about the future.  And start picking details and more details and more details about those details…. But perhaps most important, it’s that little voice that says to me, “I am. I am.” And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.”

We are good at living from our left brains. We’ve been taught for so long that it is best. We download meditation apps and apps that shame us with our social media use, we feel this urge to be at peace, to stop overanalysing, to stop planning, and to sit and breath…. but it’s too hard. We’ve been conditioned to default to our left.

We want, deep down, in our hearts, we want the right brain! Living from the right brain is all about:

“What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.”

Ohhhh. I’m bad at this. My right brain probably looks like a raisin lying alongside the wooly mammoth of my left. I’ve experienced some of that kind of right brain energy, sure. It’s Right Brain RUS on Moon Circle evenings, and every now and then when I’m chasing butterflies naked in the meadow I have a little revival of mystical consciousness. But bringing my right brain into my every day life is arduous, intensive. I have to rely on intentional ritual, and radical gratitude, and reminders on my fridge to be cosmic.

And I don’t think I’m alone. I see it everywhere. My friends tell me they feel it too, this inability to keep their minds in the present moment, to be expansive and open, loving and at peace.

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

What if we weren’t yanked so thoroughly from our right brains so young? What if children were given the freedom to live in that state of wonder until their own bodies built the bridge out of it?  What if we waited patiently until our children were ready to learn the next thing, and meanwhile shared their moments of marveling with them? What if we saw this right brain perspective, of being utterly interconnected, as a gift children bring us? As something valuable to inspire us?

Jill Bolte Taylor woke up after her stroke, in a hospital bed, but alive. Her left brain was fully shut down and she was in right brain nirvana. She describes:

“My spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria. Harmonic. I remember thinking there’s no way I would ever be able to squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside this tiny little body.
But I realized “But I’m still alive! I’m still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.” I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated me to recover.”

There’s not really a way to know, for certain, that the sudden push into the left brain age five is to blame for so many of our adult problems. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to one day learn that it’s a contributing factor. All of nature points to this idea that there are stages that need to be completed in order to truly flourish: the cocoon, the germinating seed, the bursting rain cloud. None can be rushed to good effect.  Do we pay for early academics with the golden coins of peace in adulthood and compassionate societies?

When people hear about our lives without school they ask me but how will they learn?  I want to quote Einstein at them, to tell them he, this behemothic genius, said “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” To explain how these early right brain years of play and wonder are the cornerstone for the rest of our lives; the foundation for all of our learning and the source of our peace. That adults have a duty to stop undermining them so deeply throughout childhood.

But I tend to leave Einstein out of it, to just explain that curiosity and delight are the perfect ingredients for learning.

One night last week, as I tucked Ramona up in bed, she said “This was the second best day of my life!”  and I said “Cool! When was the first?” She looked at me as if I wasn’t thinking straight and replied “Tomorrow!” She’s seven, her left and right brain should be well on their way to connected up, but she doesn’t care for letters or numbers much. More importantly, her sense of wonder is strong. She is in love with the world, with her every day,  with the community of nature that surrounds us, and believes that it’s all in love with her too.  For both of my daughters, this sense of wonder is a vast and powerful ship on which they will sail for the rest of their lives.

~

 

Here is Jill’s talk. Which I really loved. Ha. You might have gathered.

And here is a recent Day in the Life of our Unschooling lives:

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How do kids learn without school? Leftbrain, right brain and unschooling