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One of the scariest and best things I’ve ever done

10 January, 2017

You might have gathered that our dog Zoe had puppies ten days ago. Ramona was cuddling one of those tiny little things, just one day old, and she had such a look of love on her face I thought I might explode. I said “Is this the cutest thing that has ever happened to you?” and she said “Nope. It’s the second cutest thing that has ever happened to me” and I said “Oh! What’s the first cutest?” and she said “I don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet.”

Tim and I caught each other’s eye. We’d been talking a lot over Christmas about personality types, exploring the Enneagram. I am a blatant Number Seven. A huge enthusiast, but someone who is very much future focused, who can be doing something awesome in the present, but still pretty certain there’s always something better around the corner.

I had an inkling Ramona was a bit like me. That “second cutest” answer was about as seven-ish as you get!

But right here, right now, I can absolutely definitely say that this last weekend involved one of the scariest and best things I’ve ever done.  * and **

We had over a hundred unschoolers come to our farm for an off grid summer camp. (What is unschooling?) And I was QUITE nervous beforehand. I was worried that I had got our farm (me and my husband and the family we live with) in a little over our heads with my extravagant enthusiasm and gun ho-ness. I mean, who does that? Lives a rickety, bare-bones life on a bit of land for a year and then invites every unschooler in New Zealand for a sleepover?

Three days away from camp and we had no loos, no hot water, no kitchen. It was pouring with rain, our 28 ducks were wandering around quacking their HEADS OFF at 5am and the meadow that we were meant to be camping in was a construction site. I was quite terrified (you can see it in my eyes at the start of the video.) I don’t think it was fear of failing – I’ve tried really hard to give up on that fear since having children. I think I was anxious that we might end up letting a whole load of families down. Ruin their holidays.

I guess you might want to see how it turned out?

NEW VIDEO:

Before we all moved onto our land, we all knew that we wanted to share it. It was ours, but ours for sharing. Having this camp was probably the first major thing we’ve done along these lines and it went so well. The whole thing was pretty much one humoungous Site of Mutual Fulfilment and I think one of my aims in life is to create more and more SMFs.

I was sitting at the solar disco (oh, not sitting for long, don’t worry! Just a few seconds. All the other hours were completely occupied with cutting shapes. These days my style is almost entirely Hardcore Interpretive) looking around and I was feeling SO FULL. So, so, full.

Full of admiration of all these parents who have chosen a pretty radical life with their children, full of a sense of privilege that we get to live with people who are visionary and resourceful enough to pull this off with us, and full of the potential of dreaming and daring.

And I guess that’s what happens, a little dreaming and daring actually makes you MORE able to dream and dare.

What are your plans for 2017? I would love to hear what you are hoping and dreaming of.

Read more:
Why we began to unschool
Seven things you oughta know about unschooling
Our application to the government to get the official stamp on our unschooling- an exemption.

*Erm, but can I also say that I believe that our “best” is something that can keep blooming and growing? So I still think there are some best things ahead in the future?!

** It’s possible that giving up jobs and moving to New Zealand with a few bags of luggage ranked up here too.

PS Just so you don’t think our life is all blue skies and sitting at solar parties feeling fulfilled- my last day of camp was spent in bed spewing forth my guts. Sickest I’ve been in ten years, maybe a mixture of a tummy bug and exhaustion. Ugh! Is that the yang?

A couple of extra photos (thanks to the beautiful nomads from The Bus who took these!)

off grid unschooling camp New Zealand

unschooled camp new zealand nz off grid unschooled camp new zealand nz off grid

unschooling

Unschooling: 7 things you need to know about enrolling in the School of Awesome

31 May, 2016

We have just returned from one of New Zealand’s brilliant unschooling camps. One of the conversations we had there was about how, as soon as your kid hits five, everyone asks them “What school do you go to?” It’s nice, you know, people just want to strike up a conversation with kids and this is the go to. Ramona is the kind of staunch kid who just puffs out her chest and says “I learn my own self!” but we were having a little laugh about the fun your kids could have with this, if you were to rename your home…

“What school do you go to, dear?”

“The School of Rainbow Laughter!”

“Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!”

or just:

“The School of Awesome”

Heeehheeeee.

(Guess you had to be there.)

I have only ever done a few personal sharing posts on unschooling, describing the very beginnings of our unschool journey and that sort of thing. And have never specifically said “Why not consider unschooling?” to readers. It seemed to me like a fairly extreme thing to do, something I just knew wasn’t for everyone.

But this current climate of diabolical education policy, appalling testing, and a real dis-ease with the schooling system is begging for an alternative. Millions of parents sense that kids should all get the chance to just be kids, and some of the best, passionate teachers are throwing in the towel. It might be time to ask:

Why not consider unschooling?

The more you do it, the less extreme it is. The more people you know doing it the more you think “why isn’t everyone doing this!”

I honestly think that unschooling could be for far more people than just the radical few. And I think that if more people were to do it then small, informal unschooling collectives could be formed, where neighbourhood families could get together and foster an awesome creative environment together.
Unschooling - 7 things you need to know
Here’s a few things you need to know about unschooling.

You set?

What is unschooling?

So I guess the first thing you need to know is what unschooling is. HA. It is not gonna be this basic all the way though, promise. In fact, I’m not even gonna count this as one of the things. This is just a little bonus.

I made this video at the recent unschooling retreat and I think it pretty much covers it all! Unschooling is about freedom, about enjoying life with our kids, about stepping back, about learning in nature, learning without the confines of structure, without a curriculum, learning anywhere, anyhow, anytime. It is about supporting our children to follow their passions, delving into curiosity, about having fun, about everyone living the life they love.
I talk more about what unschooling is for us here.

But, like, who are these people that do this crazy unschooling biz?

More like, who is NOT unschooling? ha! Oh, like, millions of people. Oh yeah. Okay Whatevs. Look, my point is that the unschooling paradigm is one that floats across all sectors of society. Turn up at an unschooling camp and you will find wealthy ones, feminists, hippies, doctors, families on the bones of their bums, entrepreneurs, lawyers, lefties, farmers.

Diverse experiences and perspectives on unschooling can be found at Radical Selfie and the Mahogony Way and Living Outside the Box 

Unschooling Curriculum is all around you.

It’s scrawled in graffiti on the walls of the city, it sounds like birdsong floating on the breeze, it’s in code in the Minecraft app…

Unschooling families don’t use curriculums but instead are directed by our child’s interest and inspired by the world around us. We see the spark of of curiosity in our child and then open all the doors and say “Peek in here and see if you like it!” Ramona has loved horses for years so over the last few months she has begun taking lessons in natural horsepersonship. We read all the books we can, and if she so wanted could potentially use her love of horses to incorporate history (how have horses been used in the past?), cultural studies (where have horses come from? How are horses valued in different societies?) plus the sciences (let’s check out the inner workings of a horse and watch some vet videos) – this way not only is our kid learning a WHOLE heap of stuff but it all comes from a place of fascination so it is fun and it is sticking and it provides a whole platform for leaping off into other interests.

Also, some days, you just laze around in the sun, learning about being present and falling in love with nature. (Which is worth an equal amount to all that brain stuff, when it comes to a life of happiness.)

Easy like Sunday mornings…. every morning.

My goodness gracious. Here is something I never banked on. Mornings are quite nice! We just hang around in our pyjamas eating breakfast one, two and three, with cups of tea dotted inbetween. Playing games and sitting around and with nothing to go to until 10:30 or until the mood takes us.

For a while last year Ramona went to Kindy and I got a brief chomp at the School Run three times a week. While I was in it I didn’t resent it, it just became the new normal. But since we have moved and we have found other ways of Ramona getting all her extrovert, social party animal needs met, I have realised how much that frantic rush around packing lunches and spare clothes and cramming everyone in the car to get to a certain place before nine o clock, how much it Wore. Me. Down.

Sometimes we go a whole day and we are still in our pyjamas and we have had the absolute best day ever. It is like Sunday Mornings all day every day.

More time with your kids when they are “at their best”

This is entirely anecdotal, but something I notice on Social Media is that unschooling parents generally have a lot of fun with their kids, while nonunschooling (??!) parents write things like “Staring Down The Barrel Of Six Weeks of Summer Holidays” alot.

Now, I don’t think unschooling parents are better people. No way. They loose their shiz too. And have anxiety and get bored and all that. But I do think they know how to enjoy their kids more.

And I think a lot of that is to do with spending a lot of time with their kids and seeing them in all their awesomeness. Whereas a lot of families get an hour of pre-9am stress together and then get their kid spat back at them after a long, arduous day at school when their kid is hungry and tired and fed up with following someone elses rules and has tomorrow’s homework hanging over them. Moreoever there isn’t enough time in the day for the kid to indulge their passions and hobbies so they seem a bit, well, lifeless. No one can enjoy each other’s company under those conditions.

So then summer hols come round and parents think “Ugh. I don’t really wanna hang out with my kid who is grumpier and more boring than me.”

Highly self-motivated and self directed adults

One of the things that first got me onto unschooling was wanting my children to be far less externally motivated than my husband and I! Very early on in our parenting journey I became aware that our kids have these deep down primal urges and that quite a lot of their development came down to giving them chance to follow up those urges.

I don’t really care about success, I just care about happiness and I feel like happiness lies in following your heart. Peter Gray and Gina Riley surveyed adults who were unschooled as children and seventy percent of them said that being unschooled led them to become highly self motivated and self directed adults. This is pretty much the main thing I would like to see in my kids. It is a really interesting piece of research, read it here. 

Unschooling is about support

One of the myths I want to address is that unschooling leaves kids floundering.  I have heard it said that unschooling, because of the value of freedom, is about letting your kids go feral/ get away with anything. I would say nope, nope, not at all. Unschooling IS about freedom, about granting autonomy over life and learning, but is about doing this in a spirit of support and connection.  This point is dear to me because I think one of the best things for our parent child relationship is maintaining our connection. Over on Rethinking Parenting Emma describes this as a partnership paradigm:
“An unschooling parent grows to know their child and has a relationship based on trust and understanding their child’s individual needs and personal preferences.

The relationship between parent and child has been described as like a dance:

“Unschooling is more like a dance between partners who are so perfectly in synch with each other that it is hard to tell who is leading. The partners are sensitive to each others’ little indications, little movements, slight shifts and they respond. Sometimes one leads and sometimes the other”. Pam Sorooshian” “

Unschooled children will be the ones with a deep connection with their parents, the ones who are resilient and emotionally healthy because of this robust attachment.

And, yeah, feral isn’t quite the word but they might be wearing pyjamas at the museum.

Whole Life Unschooling or Radical Unschooling will hunt you down

Radical unschooling or whole life unschooling is often where unschoolers end up. It is the realisation that freedom over learning processes is just the START of things! And that actually we can grant freedom over all those things that we are scared of. We can do this because we are connected and we are in a supportive, creative environment.

It took me a long time to become radicalised in my unschooling. I was so indoctrinated into control style parenting that I hung on tightly to some of those boundaries.

But eventually my desire to uphold child rights in the home, my ambitions to respect my children and my attempts to unschool them (and myself) all ganged up together and beat the control paradigm out of me! And when I pulled myself out of those badlands I discovered I was on my way to being a radical unschooler. (Or just an unschooler. Depending on where you are at.)

Ha. Every day is a learning journey though, every day I try to be better and fail and then discover the next day I am actually a little better at being a mama than the day before. (Read here for a day in the life of a family tackling adultism for a glimpse at that!)

Unschooling made me see that I often acted out of fear. It is unschooling that made me embrace technology, celebrate the things my daughters love and say yes a whole lot more.

*Please note: easing slowly into unschooling is a GREAT IDEA. Wise. Letting go of control, stopping our teaching habits, giving freedom over things you’ve been afraid of, all these things need to be done gradually so we don’t leave our children (and ourselves) in the lurch. If you are currently not unschooling and think you might please read this about gradual change and start by saying yes a little more.*


Unschooling Reading

There are so many resources out there to help us think outside the box about how children learn, and about life with children. I’d love to point you in the direction of some people I have found inspiring….
Rethinking Parenting Fairly new blog with lots of food for thought on unschooling life
Sophie Christophy Another quite new blog covering unschooling in the context of the patriarchy – and other goodness!
Our Muddy Boots– I love this radical, free family life blog.
Sandra Dodd– one of the very first people who ever put into words my instinct for unschooling
Joyfully rejoicing– be challenged and get excited about all the potential!
Unschoolery.com – short snippets of inspo

Unschooling Books I have enjoyed:

Natural Born Learners by Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko – my favourite book. Little essays by unschooly peeps, covering the whole miltary-industrial complex our school system has roots in, to the everyday life of unschoolers.
Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune – a nice little book to download, very practical.
How Children Learn by John Holt (anything by John Holt. He is often deemed the founder of unschooling and he has written a lot of books advocating for children.)
Free to Learn by Peter Gray. TOO GOOD.

Unschooling on Youtube

There is absolutely loads of amazing Unschooling resources on youtube. Use my Unschooling playlist as a spring board – filled with unschooled kids and Professors and inspiration:

Do you unschool? What is one thing you think people need to know? And, if you don’t unschool, do you have a question you’ve wanted answering? I have in mind to do an Unschooling FAQ…

unschooling

What is Unschooling? Trusting our children’s natural ability to learn

18 February, 2016

What is unschooling? Unschooling starts from birth and, for me, it is simply trusting our kid’s ability to learn. Therefore, to some extent, for a little while all of us do an incy wincy little bit of it….

Here are some things that most children learn to do themselves. Yep, there are some parents that think they had something to do with it, as if the child wouldn’t have mastered “cat” without a grown up repeating it back to them, correcting the errant “K” at the end with the “T” sound, every time they attempted it. But here’s the thing, they would have! Otherwise the grown up world would be full of confused arguments about whether “Cat” ends in a K sound or a T. We don’t have that argument! Because eventually our mouths become able, and our minds become willing, to pronounce things the way everyone else does. Anyway, that list:

Things babies teach themselves- for better or worse:
Smile
Wave
Crawl
Sit
How to put things in things
How to throw things
How to put things in their mouth
Talk
Walk
Climb

I guess, on some level, we know we didn’t teach them these things, hey? That they learnt them by following their gut instincts, by observing, by copying, practicing, by repeating. That our pleas to “put one foot in front of the other, honey” had very little to do with whether they learnt to walk – apart from all the love we put into that encouragement. Because love does make a child’s world pretty fertile, when it comes to learning.

Some babies teach themselves to do hard out stuff, like breakdancing. My own child, Juno, when she was 15 months old, taught herself how to click her fingers. True thing. if she wanted something, she’d point and click. A sharp, unavoidable sound. Like a wealthy fine diner at a waiter.

So your kid gets to 3 or 4, and so far so good. They have learnt EVERYTHING they need to survive and thrive. Very little passes them by. Most children can move and communicate, some can click their fingers and some have had room in their brain to learn the entire script of Cars.

There’s been a fair amount of trust. And perhaps the odd wobble – is my child reaching all those developmental milestones?! And googling of “should a child be speaking in sentences by 2.5”

But mostly we’ve just been feeding and loving them, and they have been growing and learning.

Then they turn 5 and everything changes.

Suddenly we absolutely doubt their ability to learn what they need to learn. It’s more than doubt. We are convinced that it is impossible for a child to learn everything she needs to learn without the input of an adult.

We begin lessons. Lessons in reading, writing, maths, music, dancing, swimming, bike riding, sports.

Why?

The answer to that is HUGE, to do with the military industrial complex (please read Natural Born Learners for more on this, it is THE greatest education book, in my Umble opinion!)

But let me just leave that hanging there for a while and go on to describe some things that children learn all by themselves between the ages of 4 and 5, if you leave them to it.

Things Ramona has learnt this year – even though we are unschooling so have had no classes of any kind:

Swim (literally at the point at which I was googling “How to teach your children to swim” we went to a campsite with a big beautiful pool and Ramona sat and watched the big kids swimming for a few hours, then told me to get in the deep end and stand a few metres away from the ladder, then she jumped in and swam to me.)

Bike Ride (between the hours of 6pm and 8pm one evening)

Make jokes (she has just got the humour thing, beyond replacing all words with “poo”- now her Knock Knock jokes are still sublimely weird but with the core of humour within them)

Rhyme (absolutely no conscious effort on my part, apart from me mumbling “Tidy Schmidy” or “Clean Dishes Schmishes” when I feel something is overrated)

Count to a hundred (just for fun)

Recognise numbers and the letters that count (R)

What is unschooling? Whole Body Learning!

Now Ramona is five, almost every conversation with a stranger goes like this “How old are you?” “Five” “Do you like school?” “I don’t go to school” “Oh.”

She will often follow up with a unique explanation of what we do. Never “My parents believe that children are naturally inclined to learn, and given a nurturing and curious environment will learn everything they need to thrive” but something like:

“I learn my own self”

“I learn in my body”

“I teach my own self things.”

“I taught myself to ride my bike.”

I smiled particularly at the “learn in my body” answer… I wondered what she meant, how she had come to decide that her mind and body were inescapably tied in her learning journey. And then I read this brilliant article, about reading readiness being a bodily matter

“(Reading) readiness includes complex neurological pathways and kinesthetic awareness… It’s the result of brain maturation as well as rich experiences found in bodily sensation and movement.”

What is unschooling? Owning the joy of learning!

When Ramona learnt to ride her bike I was so freaking happy. It was a well of pride and joy bubbling up! Her own face was a picture of achievement. I was like “WOW! How do you FEEL?!” and she said “I feel so happy, like my heart is saying Go Ramona Go!!”

Here’s the thing. Something real important. When we step in and teach we can take away that sheer joy of discovery and the power of our children understanding their potential. If a child believes they have to be taught stuff, this will underpin their whole life. Alternatively, imagine a child absolutely owning her learning and knowing she can learn ANY THING SHE WANTS and this motoring her along for the rest of her days.

It is too easy for us to snatch a little bit of the honour of learning, by believing that our child’s legendaryness is due to our skill at teaching.

I loved this story, about learning to read, from Peter Gray’s unschooling style column on Psychology Today.

“She had consistently told people that she didn’t know how to read until she made brownies this past November [at age 7]. She asked her father and myself to make her favorite brownies for her, but neither of us was willing to make them. A little while later she ran into the room and asked me if I would turn on the oven for her and find her a 9×11 pan (she said, “9 ex 11” instead of “9 by 11″). I got her a pan and turned on the oven. Later she ran in and asked me to put the brownies in the oven. Then she said, ‘Ma, I think I can read now.’ She brought me a few books that she then read out loud to me until she jumped up and said, ‘those brownies smell done. Will you take them out now?’ … Now she tells people that she knows how to read and that she taught herself how.”

what is unschooling

What is unschooling? Here from a whole bunch of different people in this video 😀

What is unschooling? Learning together

There is so much to learn, so many resources, so many people, and I have so much to give my child! But I will share when invited, and share learning resources in a spirit of friendship, of equality. I would never withhold knowledge or sources of knowledge (here’s one of those weird nuance things “Do this! But also a bit of this! And bear this in mind! And this way you will be the best parent!”) and I will partner with my daughters as they learn more and more and more – but I will aim to make the joy of learning all their own.

I guess people who are home educating might be reading this going “ooh yes, true! I can simply let my child learn joyfully through play!” but perhaps people with children in school might be feeling a bit bummed out. I don’t know though. I like to think this idea, about trusting our children, can be applied in every home, and, if you have the energy, be taken further, perhaps influencing your pre-school, or classroom. (I don’t imagine you would turn up at the school board saying “I read a blog by a hippy in a yurt and I think we should let the children learn how, what and when they wanna learn!!” but you might raise this study from the University of Cambridge about the importance of play and formal learning beginning far, far later than it currently does.

So wherever you are at, I reckon we can all do a bit to recognise our child’s natural ability to learn cool stuff, we can all attempt to trust that a bit more, and see our children own the full joy of discovery.

Parenting, unschooling

Parenting: “Children Rights” or “Don’t be an arse”

21 October, 2015

Children rights and you, oh parent….

We are three weeks into our new homesteading life and what I want to do is tell you all about it. The pet ducks we are going to pick up, how our big family bed takes up most of the yurt (hmmmm, bed), the vintage potato mashers we hung to scare the birds away from our seedlings,  the forest walk I went on that was actually really scary so I had to do the whole thing singing songs from Frozen to stop my mind stewing on the fact that there was only one set of foot prints in the muddy path ahead of me. EEK!

But I actually need to get a lot of things off my chest.

I have had these thoughts milling around in my head for months. Since I wrote that post 10 Habits that Infringe on the Rights of Children … and got an extreme response across the internet. But this week the criticism sort of crescendoed.

So for yurt dwelling and potato mashers and forest life check out my Instagram and keep your eyes peeled for the very next post….

So back to 10 Habits. Remember that? It was a Marmite post.

A lot of people loved it, I got messages from parents looking for someone to articulate WHY they need to treat their children with respect when they feel it so strongly, and from child rights advocates who could clearly see that the way we treat children in the home impacts the whole experience of rights in every country. And there were lots of people for whom it wasn’t a revelation at all – simply just the way they parent. (A lot of unschoolers in that category.)

But then there were the haters. Like I’ve never had before. Some feminists called it “sanctimonious trolling” and some mothers literally feeling happy about calling me a dickhead and dissing my children’s names.

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

When that happens to you you get a bit introspective. (Am I really a sanctimonious trolling dickhead?)

 And you try really hard to see things from other people’s points of view. (They are frightened by the idea of not having control over their children.)

And you even question if you really think that, because if so many people think it is crazy, then maybe that makes you crazy. (Am I crazy?)

This process has left me with many thoughts. But I will share only a few with you right now. (Forgive that introspection. It’s a bit more relevant from here down. I guess I feel like my blog is actually a pretty safe place to talk this stuff through, I have so, SO rarely had vitriol in this comment section! Thanks, friends.)

I missed a lot of nuance
I often write a blog post and then I go back through and remove the “perhaps”s and the “I wonder if”s because I want to be clearly understood. I don’t want to make my blog hard reading because it is jam packed with caveats and context. Which does mean sometimes I come across as holding these intense black and white opinions, without any room for movement. I wish I had, for example, explained that I don’t always manage to correct these habits. That some days I suck at it and then I tell my children I am sorry.

I missed out a discussion on rights and privilege
I  agree with one of the criticisms, that I failed (and fail often here on this blog) to acknowledge my own privilege, as a white, physically able, middle class woman with access to security, education, safe employment.  I don’t believe it should be possible to have a conversation about anybody’s rights without recognising that there are huge oppressive structures at work such as race and economic inequality  And also that I can not help but write with this lens on; in lots of ways my analysis comes from this position of privilege. Alongside everything I write I need to remember that my experience is not the experience of all mothers or women.

Parenting with a recognition of your child’s rights is available to every parent
One of the accusations I’ve experienced is that parenting with respect is only available to the white middle class of this world. It is just not the case. In fact, it seems prejudice to say that. In this corner of the parenting world I have met people from every section of society doing life with their children this way.

In the comments of the original child rights post, I felt there was a breadth of people talking about their experience of this kind of parenting. Sunshine posted in response to my suggestion that we ask before doing anything to our children’s bodies.  “My toddler, whome has Down syndrome and is a tad delayed in development started wiping his own nose and cleaning his own hands and face after a messy meal at the age of 1. Practicing beforehand. And he absolutely loves this freedom. When I ask him if he would like a tissue ( towel) he dramatizes his YES, PLEASE!! If he doesn’t want to ( which is rare) I leave him be, booger and all. Just to illustrate that children are great learners even with their challenges, and they appreciate the chance to control their own discomforts.”

If you are interested in unschooling and child rights and disability please do follow Living Outside the blog, a differently abled mama with a child on the autism spectrum.

And if you are interested in the experience of people of colour and respectful parenting I want to point you in the direction of Akilah of Radical Selfie who writes for Everyday Feminism through the lens of a Black unschooling family, I began following her on Instagram a few weeks ago and what a delight! I also enjoy Darcel of the Mahogony Way – and in particular this interview with another black unschooler.

And I believe that talking about ageism (or adultism/ childism) belongs in intersectionality rhetoric
“Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.” (Geek Feminism)

You’ll notice that in that description of oppressive institutions ageism isn’t mentioned. I think it is a huge and grave omission. Children are oppressed daily by various adults in their lives. They live in a world set up for people bigger than them – the light switches are too high, the taps too far away (these may seem minor but accessibility is absolutely vital in the fight for differently-abled people’s rights) – in most countries in the world children are legally allowed to be physically assaulted.

In the very group, a feminist and social justice-parent discussion group, that described my child rights post as “trolling” they had a discussion yesterday about using gaffa tape to keep a child’s pyjamas on at night. With absolutely no acknowledgement that those pyjamas might be uncomfortable or that the child may be too hot. There is not a people group in the world, apart from the young, that a social justice minded group would collectively believe it was okay to coerce in this way.

Adult privilege must be acknowledged. Please read more here on adultism and a Day in the Life of an Adultism-Aware family and Teresa Brett on adult privilege as toxic to our parent- child relationships. 

Rights don’t trump other rights
People seemed worried that talking about child rights in the home would negate the very serious, often fatal, rights of children in developing countries. Things like child labour and FGM and trafficking are absolutely sickening violations of the rights of children that are close to my heart. I do not believe that aiming to observe child rights in our homes undermines those violations. I believe the opposite. That a full and practical discourse around child rights in more economically stable societies will impact rights every, both by raising the profile of children as fully human, and by raising a generation of people who, having not been the victims of abuses of power, will not allow that to happen systematically, globally. (Crikey, what a sentence!)

Pitching FGM against “taking things off children” (which was one of the things I pointed out we do commonly that infringe on our child’s rights) is a tactic we don’t need in a world where a team of one hundred people are planning to colonise Mars within the next decade. We have HUGE resources available to us, we are achieving IMMENSE things, why not believe that all forms of oppression are evil, and fight them all?

I also think that using the “why use your energy on this minor issue when THIS is happening in the world?” is a form of silencing, commonly used by right wingers and Daily Mail commenters.  I don’t believe in rights being exclusive in that way.

People also raised concerns that this style of parenting was mother hating. Nope. I believe it is mother loving! There is deep, profound joy in this consensual living malarkey. There is a shrugging off of “shoulds” and a general up-turn of the nose towards society’s ridiculous, imposed expectations on mothers. If parenting is seen a a partnership, between child and adult, there is less burden, not more.   Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune is a very practical guide to how this partnership can be very unburdening.

Finally, for the people suggesting I take the idea of a child’s right to be touched consensually too far, because I think it’s best we always ask before touching another persons body, I read this piece on Teacher Tom (marvellous blog!) about how his class of preschoolers, when given the chance to formulate the class rules came at it with this “extreme” rule; “Don’t do anything to anybody before you ask them.” Children get it. They want their body autonomy to be observed, even when there may be good intentions.

teresa brett - child rights in the home

Why do we need to talk about “child rights” and not just “be kind to your kids”

Do parents really need to read something about how they are infringing on their child’s rights? Why so intense? Why not be kinder and simply talk about kindness?

I do get this one. The last thing parents need is to feel like they are being compared to Vladimir Lenin. (On the positive side, you’d probably look pretty alright next to him yeah?)

On one hand, I haaaaaaaate the idea of putting more shit on parents. Sheesh mcneesh, some days I’m just thankful we’ve made it through the day alive. The place is a tip and all we’ve eaten is cocopops but YES WE MADE IT!

On the other hand, I believe a recognition of child rights is something we need in our homes. Almost every critical thing levied at the concept of child rights in the home was something that has been tossed about as reasons to oppress women and people of colour and the differently abled and other minorities. They aren’t intelligent, they are selfish, they don’t understand, they are physically dependent on us. In the fight for equal status for women, people of colour, the differently abled, the elderly, the rights rhetoric is the critical thing.

 In all of those cases people used to say “come on, we don’t need to talk about rights! We can just be NICER to them!” but it is only a rights framework that really brings to light the structural abuses of power that must change. It is only the implementation of those rights that has begun to change things (and we still have a long way to go on all of those institutional prejudices.)

I believe this will be the case for children too. I believe we are getting there. Robin Grille, in his brilliant book, Parenting for a Peaceful World, calls it the Child Liberation Movement. And it will be like the civil rights movement and the emancipation of women – we will eventually recognise that children are fully human and get the full quiver of rights that comes with it.

But “Don’t be an arse to your kids” simply doesn’t cut it.

Child rights-aware parenting is a Thing. It is done by lots of people! Thousands! 
I was kinda shocked how dismissive some people were of child rights in the home purely because they couldn’t imagine it working. People couldn’t visualise a life with their children without Time Outs.

You can’t naysay something just because you don’t know anyone who does it. There are so many people living this way. Talking to their newborns about picking them up, asking if they can wipe their child’s nose, giving children body autonomy and dignity and giving space for their voice.

I also wonder if people immediately put barriers up to imagining this kind of world. perhaps because we are triggered due to having been a powerless child, it is hard for us to see ourselves as adults, delivering the same kind of power dynamics upon our children. We have a bit of an internal revolt about it. (My original post should have  been far more sensitive to this idea – that many of us have been marginalised as children, and this will raise a lot of emotion, that would possibly appear as anger or disgust.)

Knowing there are thousands of people who have dealt with this inner turmoil and triggering and are now living respectfully with their children might release some naysayers to suspend that disbelief and find more out about it.

Once you decide to live in a rights-respecting way with your children there are bountiful resources to support you. There is Dr Laura Markham with her suggestions of Time Ins instead of Time Outs.  There is Joyce Fetteroll of Joyfully Rejoicing with her perfectly practical suggestions on living life with children without forcing them. There is Teresa Brett with her book and parenting course.  There is Genevieve Simperingham with her resources on Peaceful Parenting and phone consultations.

Once we deal with our huge feelings of, historical or present, internalised oppression and look at this idea of parenting this way objectively, I believe we can see that it is the logical way to a more socially just world. As Teresa Brett concludes;

“If children have not experienced what it feels like to be dehumanized, dismissed, and marginalized as children, they will not feel the need to perpetuate injustice on others as they grow more powerful in the world. If they have experienced trust, respect and mutuality as their paradigm, they will be the change our world needs.”

Wowzers.

I had a lot to say about that!

*crawls to bed*

unschooling, yurt life

Living off the grid – the beginning

24 September, 2015

We are about to begin living off the grid and we have All. The. Emotions.

We are back in NZ on the cusp of a whole new thing.

We had incredible flights here, the girls were total heros and the kindness of strangers went a long way. (Homage to the general public who are kind to children right here.) Those flights were sandwiched by a week in California, making ourselves truly at home amongst the totally marvellous unschooling tribes of San Francisco who roomed us and fed us and took us to their pottery workshops and museums and beaches and forests. (So much to say about that! Perhaps a whole other post … for now my photos on Instagram will have to do.)

Jet lag has been no issue this week; we are buzzing out on excitement alone- carried along from 5am to 10pm on rolling waves of let’s-buy-the-chickens-and-have-a-mudpie-kitchen-and-a-forest-school. (Um. And maybe a few good kiwi flat whites.)

Because on Saturday we move on to our new land, putting up our first little yurt next to a beautiful stand of native Kahikatea trees, ready to begin cultivating a huge veggie patch, a few orchards, and a life of wild learning and growing together. We popped in there yesterday, our first day in NZ and as we walked around there were two little piwakawaka (fantails) flitting around us, chirping and swooping and it just felt like they were giving us a little welcome, saying, make your home here with us!

When I was a tiny tike, despite always living in the inner city, I always said when I grew up I wanted to marry a farmer. (You can imagine the horror that bought my feminist mama. I also wanted to change my name to Eric so maybe that evened things out a little.)

It is a bit surreal to think we are well and truly becoming farmers now, living off the grid using solar energy and our stream for water.Rewilding - Family moved from South London to a yurt in a forest in NZ

Over the next few weeks and months we have to build our own composting toilets (read about golden poos right here) and bathroom, we have to tap the springs so we have fresh water, put up our bigger, mammoth yurt, find places for our chickens and cows, and start planting out the food that will fill our bellies.

After a few months of travelling around (still planning posts about Paris and other adventures – i have been a bit distracted all summer by writing my new booooook) it feels so, so, so good to be grounding ourselves, embracing rituals and rhythms, connecting with the community of kindred spirits we have in NZ – in particular the family we are sharing the land with.

I can’t wait to be a part of Ramona and Juno’s learning journey as we learn together on the farm, through simply living and responding to creative urges and engaging with the natural world around us.
(I am an official Channel Mum vlogger person thingy and I did a video about our unschooling beginnings which you can see here…)

I feel so happy to imagine this childhood for our kids, one filled with bugs and mud and native birds and forest, one where they won’t lose touch with their wild selves.Yurt family - 30 days of rewilding

And then, amongst all this huge sense of anticipation and happiness are these random pangs of sadness. A memory from this summer, of swimming in an English river with my lifelong best friends or laying down in the long grass to watch the meteor shower with my beautiful sister, will shoot into my mind and just take my breath away.

And, underneath all these feelings, the grief and joy and hope, is this sort of intangible fear.

It feels funny to type that out. To name it. But there it is. It is a quiet vibration just humming amongst it all. Because we can’t separate what we are about to do from all the horror stories of intentional communities we’ve heard. We can’t deny the fact that are not born farmers, or that we are all stepping out of our existing community of marvelous hippies to do this together.

But it isn’t the scary kind of fear. Because we know, know, KNOW we have to do this.

We walked on to the land on January the 1st this year and went “THIS IS IT! This is our very future right here! This dell has been marked with our names!”

And we are certain we want to start living off the grid with others. We have always yearnt for interdependency and life-sharing and are convinced that sustainable living looks like this.

We didn’t want to grow old wishing we had taken a chance on nurturing a tribal way of life when we had it.

And if we can do this with anyone, it is with the family we co-own the land with.

So the fear bit? Mixed in with all those other emotions it is like sitting in a little carriage perched at the very top of an enormous, towering rollercoaster, staring down at that deep, inevitable, belly dropping swoop and roaring “WOOHOOOOOO!!! LET’S DO THIS THING!!”

Living off the grid beckons!

****

Read about our move from South London to a yurt in a forest in NZ, amongst a load of inspiring stories in my new book, 30 Days of Rewilding – find your place in nature and watch your family bloom.  The Telegraph did an amazing feature on it and on the first day of release it went to Number One in its category on Amazon. Whooop! I guess, what I’m trying to say is, um, read it, if you like…

Family Travel, unschooling, writing

Family travel | Chiang Mai, Thailand (ARGH! ELEPHANTS!)

30 June, 2015

The baby elephant swung its thick grey trunk over to Ramona, moving his snout across her body while she ripped the sheath from a corn cob. Before she could hand the sweet corn over, another trunk, this one about 8 times the size, reached over her shoulder and pinched it. Grandad elephant, with his big gnarly tusks, doesn’t get the snacks after the whipper snapper, thanks very much.

It was magical, getting up close and personal with these jungle beasts. There was a crowd of them right next door to where we were staying, a motel at the foot of the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We’d wake up to the sound of them trumpeting to each other as their mahouts got ready for the day ahead. We followed them on a little trek, Juno shouting POO! POO! most of the way because, turns out, the jungle is where they do most of their biz. We were even there for the precious moment when the baby elephant did a sneeze and farted at the same time – such a classic. We were all completely delighted!

As we spent more time there, we watched them carry tourists around the jungle, splash in the river on command and pose for a photo.

And we were left pretty saddened by it.

It wasn’t really at all what the website portrayed it to be with it’s “Keeping Elephants Alive” slogan…. Keeping them alive, sure, but shackled and controlled.

It is incredible standing next to one of these magnificent creatures, but you also feel like you’re not really meant to. They are meant to be crashing around a dense jungle, stampeding together, getting furiously protective of their babies, not chained too many metres away to even stroke them with their snout.

We still enjoyed our time in the foothills of the Chiang Mai mountains- we visited a waterfall and ate our weight in tropical fruits. But it was with relief that we got in to the city, where we didn’t feel accused by the neighbouring elephant’s eyeballs.Family travel in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai turned out to be incredible! Totally wasn’t expecting to fall so in love with it. We were surprised (and gladdened to our CORE) to find tasty flat whites amongst the street food stalls. We stuffed our faces with every kind of noodle and curry. We sat in little shacks filled wall to wall with enormous cuddly toys. (Yeah, it was weird, in a way only a city full of hipster designers can be!)

And then we came across Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai’s only true elephant sanctuary. We were finally able to visit a herd of elephants with good consciense! (We had good conscience, I can’t tell you about the elephants – cheeky, a few of them were, I suspect.) The Thai woman who began this elephant sanctuary actually has royal protection as she has received so many death threats for being so determined to rescue Thailand’s elephants from illegal logging, and an often undignified and cruel tourism trade. Here is a video I made all about this part of our trip:

There are over 40 elephants spread around 300 acres, and they aim to try and rehabilitate some into the jungle where possible. There is no riding, no shows, humans are the ones that have to step back when an elephant goes where it wants to go – it was perfect and totally soul-lifting. family travel thailand - elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai

We only had 8 days in Thailand so tried to tick off a few Must Dos – i.e a massage. Mine was done by a blind man, a member of the Association for Blind Massage, a Chiang Mai social enterprise. It was completely brutal. Sheesh. I almost cried – except that I didn’t want the big Thai lady getting a massage next to me, who did huge, smelly burps every time her masseuse rubbed her back, to think I was a wuss. But I did feel about an inch taller afterwards. Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand - elephants and pad thai

Less of a typical “Thailand Must Do”, but a major “Our Family Must Do” was a visit to the local Chiang Mai flea markets. Unexpectedly enormous and filled with old delights, the Prince Royal College secondhand markets were full of proper Asian antiques, and – the stuff I love- a load of manky household crap. BRILLIANT. I bought, get this, a big Pestle and Mortar. Hahahahaha. It weighs 8 kilos. Exactly what we need in our suitcase at the start of a 3 months travelling adventure. I was like; BAG IT MY FRIEND!

We spent our first few days feeling sad about chained up elephants and also being extremely jetlagged and basically all really mad with each other. But by the end of our time there we were just floating on a massive Pad Thai buzz. Happy that we had spent our baht on some good, ethical stuff.Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand

What is the trick to finding good ethical tourism? I don’t have lots of great answers. This week showed us just how entangled the industry is with untruth and propaganda. Research as much as possible online (we didn’t touch the local tiger place as I’d read about some awfully cruel practices there), talk to lots of people on the ground, make one or two choices to support local social enterprise. But mostly, realise that travelling is less about ticking off all the “Things To Do” and more about being in a place, eating the food and talking with people. That is where the real experience is to be had. I reckon.

Like, if we’d filled up our days with all the suggestions of visiting exotic, caged creatures, how would we have found ourselves perched at the foot of a two storey marble cat with a moustache and a handbag, drinking the yummiest mango smoothies ever?