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Family Travel, unschooling, yurt life

Heart-thumpingly, fringe-snippingly exciting

23 June, 2015

We are off! We have 15 minutes to go; Tim is making last minute coffees, the girls are bouncing around in the corner simultaneously wrestling and playing Mummies and Daddies (this involves Ramona giving birth to Juno over and over again) and I am doing a sneaky little blog. These sum up our priorities EXACTLY.

We are facing down a 12 hour flight to Thailand, the start of a three month trip that involves frolicking with elephants in Chiang Mai, touring about the UK with our friends and family and then a whizz through San Fran. HOORAY!

We have packed down our little yurt and said cheerio to all our beautiful friends in the Coromandel, for when we get back to New Zealand in September we are going to be moving onto our new land! ARGH!

*reins in the exclamation marks*

I am generally excited about everything right now, this is obvious in how short my fringe is getting- I’ve come to understand that when I am buzzing out a little I tend to gravitate to the mirror and cut my hair.

Here are somethings I am weeing my pants about:

Happy Hair Workshops in Bristol and London
THESE ARE HAPPENING! SO cool! They are open events, everyone is invited, I will be talking through the world of giving up shampoo and toxins and covering other Hippyshake kind of stuff. I did the last New Zealand one of these a few weeks ago, 75 people came and we had an absolute BLAST. So much fun. Please do come! Find the Bristol event here and the London event here.  

 Camp Bestival
One of the funnest weekend in our family’s life was when we took Juno and Ramona to Camp Bestival just before taking off around Europe in our campervan. There is incredible music, stack loads of creativity, an enormous arts and crafts tent; just this weird little universe of families all letting loose together.  I saw a sign there that year, scrawled by a mum, “Families who festival together stay together” – it makes up in truth what it lacks in rhyme.

Partying in the meadows of a castle, with the tunes of musical legends beating down around you, while the children are being entertained by a Picasso inspired style Puppet Show. Nothing beats it. Let me know if you are going so we can hang out…

Annie here has the full download- everything you need to know and here is the Camp Bestival site itself.cb

Staying in super spesh places
We have booked loads of our accommodation through Air BNB for the first time ever. It has been really cool being able to tailor make our wants/ needs and then hit search and discover loads of unique places to stay. In Thailand we are staying at someone’s apartment in Bangkok, next door to an Elephant sanctuary in Mae Wang amongst other places. (It’s possible- but I’m not entirely sure- that if you sign up using this link that I get points… try it and see, it will be like giving me a virtual high five…)

It sort of feels like for the next three months we are going to join that tribe of digital nomads, families blowing on the breeze, lives made possible by the Internet.

Here is a little conversation I had with Juno this morning:

Last, but not least (cos GOSH that would be offensive!) SEEING OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!
About 7 million of my friends have had babies while we have been away, so of course, I CAN NOT WAIT to meet these new souls. And my nephews and niece have grown up into giants so I need to do some serious playing of Hide and Seek and Ninja Mermaids and stuff with them. I get the tingles when I think about crunching all these people I love up!

HOORAY! Right, Tim has turned the car around, we are really, really DOING THIS… think I still have time for one more snip of the fringe though…

Featured, Parenting, unschooling

How to start an Outdoor Play Group

12 June, 2015

I stuck my head out of our door to call the kids in for tea a few days ago. Ramona and Juno and our neighbours had been playing on the 6 foot high mud pile outside our house so I was expecting a bit of dirty wreckage…. I wasn’t expecting one of the boys to pop out of the sludgey mountain completely and utterly covered, from scalp to toe. The whites of his eyes shone out of this thick, black, magnificent dirt. They were playing mud ninjas, so, y’know… obviously. It was all I could do not to collapse in a hilarious heap. It was exhilarating to see someone so abandoned and wild and free.

And I was a weencey bit glad he was walking the 50 metres home to his own bath…

One of the things I have loved the most in our last 15 months living in New Zealand has been this sense of being nestled right amongst the mud and trees and birds. Whenever we are feeling a bit down we can just open the door and pick some fruit or climb a tree (time outdoors is one of the five best keys to happiness and we have really experienced that) and the girls are developing a whole education in the natural world. Ramona surprises me almost daily with little observations she has made about the animals that surround us, and then there’s Juno who mostly speaks Animal, with 3 or 4 perfect bird calls under her belt… amidst a tiny human vocab.

“‘Is the spring coming?’ he said. ‘What is it like?’ …
‘It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth.’”

—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Early last year a few of us got together and began an Outdoor Play Group – a group of parents and children that simply play in nature. It is pretty much the one thing in our week that we are committed to, every Tuesday we spend from 10-2 at our friends little slice of wilderness. It is a hugely important part of our lives, where the girls can play uninhibitedly and where I get the chance to be nurtured by time and conversation with other parents. I’ve written before about the many, many reasons to get outdoors and play in the wild. 

Here is a little video I made today about our own outdoor Play Group, Nature Space:

(It looks quite wholesome, I know, and it sort of was, with a lot of chatter about penises and poo muted out!)

I thought I’d put some ideas out there, that might help parents set up their own Outdoor Play Group. Here are 8 steps for setting up an Outdoor Play group – follow these and you could have your own group in a matter of weeks!How to set up an outdoor play group amongst nature

Check that an official Nature Play doesn’t already exist close by

Firstly check there isn’t an official Nature Play Group already in your area – you could be one of the lucky devils able to jump on board with one already rolling. Clare Caro (she is an inspiration) has developed an organisation that is leading a well supported movement of Outdoor Play groups in the UK, under the banner Nature Play. Double check this list to make sure you don’t already have one near you. If you do, find out how to get involved through Clare’s web site.

Find a team
Find two friends who are interested too. I watched a video a few years ago that has stuck with me ever since. It is about how the first guy that jumps up to dance will stay just a loner until a couple of other dancers join him – then a movement begins. (Watch it here. It’ll make you smile!) This goes for beginning pretty much anything and everything. You alone are FANTASTIC but you need two friends to build momentum. Once there are three of you, you are good to go!

  • Ask around your friendship group – you might be surprised who will commit to this with you. It is my experience that almost all parents are looking for ways to be more outdoors with their children.
  • Post on local Facebook groups or community forums- your two buddies might not be known to you yet! “Want to get outdoors with your children more? Let’s begin a regular meet up for parents and children! Looking for two team members, please call.”
  • Ask wider Facebook groups to help you with your search – the Attachment Parenting and like minded groups admins might be able to help, as an example.
  • Go offline- put little notices up in the library and at local Tots groups.

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

—John Muir, Our National Parks

Have an open meeting
Draw on your whole community to give your Outdoor Play Group a good boost right at the start. Get people (parents, La Leche group organisers, wise people, elders, any stakeholders)  in a room to share your vision. Advertise this open meeting widely. This is a great way to pool resources, discover fresh ideas about location, and you could well end up with a list of contacts that might form your first attendees.

Location (public)
Scout for a location. The UK and New Zealand are fortunate to have lots of little woods and reserves dotted around the place, or failing that little pockets of “nature areas” within parks. Ideally you will have a little grove of trees, with a small clearing amongst it, enough space to really roam and feel a little isolated from the busyness of a city, enough peace to be able to spot birds. We are lucky to have a little stream running through our area which makes for a great amount of fun in winter and summer. A tiny pond would also be great – as would, even, a tree-less beach. Is it free from buildings and human-made structures? It’s a winner. Even if it’s a public place, being in touch with the council about your plans could be really valuable.

Location (private)
If you don’t have anywhere public try thinking about private spaces. There are privates gardens, or backyards of neighbours or stretches of land owned by trusts… get together with your team mates and start getting in touch with people.  I am sure you will be surprised how many private land owners would be delighted to step in and help provide a beautiful space for your group.

Get grounded in the principles of Outdoor Play
How hard can it be, right? Walk outside, play in the nature. Sort of. I like to think that there are some foundations for really free and beautiful parent-child time spent outdoors though. These include allowing play to be totally child – led. Giving space for children to work through challenges, and conflict. Clare has given a lot of thought to this and I massively recommend being inspired by these Nature Play Guidelines together. We introduced ukelele playing at our own Outdoor play group as a way for the adults to have fun, and to give the children more space to explore autonomously. We were finding that idle parents can spend too much time focusing on their children and almost interrupting their play.

Sort out the deets
Find a day and a time that suits your core team. We do Tuesday 10 – 2/3pm because we all make lunch and eat together. The official London South East Nature Play group do 10-12 on a Thursday. Figure out the slot that will suit you three, trying not to overlap with another local group that parents might attend,  and then let others arrange their timetable around you.

Promote it
Nothing’s really stopping you now, apart from other families joining you! Start a Facebook group and start inviting people to it, visit local tots groups and make an announcement at the end of each group, put flyers up around local venues. It can take 6 months to a year for a group like this to really build up. If there are three families committed to this you will be able to ride this bumpy first stage, as people come and go and get a feel for it. Soon enough you will be maxed out!

Hooray! Here’s to your own mud bath, river paddling, weed ripping, fire toasting Outdoor Play group!

“These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.”

―Anton Chekhov, “A Day in the Country”

Parenting, unschooling, writing, yurt life

What to do when the people you love don’t love what you do

8 June, 2015

A few months go we met up with an old family friend we hadn’t seen in yonks. We’d kept in touch, were really close and were excited about spending time together as we passed through her town. We only had her one hour lunch break so you can imagine our surprise, and sadness, that she spent almost the entire time letting us know in not-so-subtle ways that she was disappointed with what we had decided to do with our lives.

She questioned our decision to live in an unconventional dwelling, telling us our yurt wouldn’t stack up against health and safety regulations. She berated us for not using our good degrees, wondering why we had settled for such simple employment.

We knew some of our family and friends wondered about the same stuff, they’d let us know, respectfully, that they worried about our relaxed parenting style and lifestyle decisions. But we hadn’t ever been grilled for an hour, so upfront and disparagingly.

We were hurt.

But we got over it.

Because we are one hundred per cent convinced that we have made the right decisions, to give up our jobs, to move across the world, to start living in a yurt, to buy land with another family, to parent in a consensual, rights-respecting way. We have reflected hard and researched hard and then followed our hearts, and we think this is the only way to do life. We are pretty sure footed about this path we’ve settled on.

Most of the time.

Hehehe.

I had an email this week from a reader who is experiencing similar backlash about her and her partners desire to shake off the mortgage and hunker down for a more simple life. And it got me thinking about how common this is. People we care about letting us know that they don’t like our disregard for the status-quo. It got me jotting down a few thoughts.

Haters gonna hate?
When I am feeling defensive about all of this, it is easy to say “Haters gawn hate” in my most badass voice. But the truth, I know, is that these people aren’t haters. This isn’t a post about all the anonymous folk that comment on Daily Mail articles about hippies weaving a house out of the old uniforms of veterans. This post is about the lovers in our life who don’t like the way we live. Our siblings, and besties, and cousins, and parents.

They love us
And here is the thing. They love us. It is probably the main reason they tut or roll their eyes or outright berate us over lunch. It is easy to forget this when we are feeling got at. Sometimes it is hard to believe that love can ever look so reproachful. But it can. And we have to remember that.
They are scared
Why would people that love us want to criticize important decisions, especially ones that we have thought so hard about? They are scared for us. They haven’t ever seen people stray from the 9-5 working day. They worry that we will be left high and dry, age 93 without a bean to our name apart from dementia. If we come from well off families, it might look as if we are throwing off the responsibility that wealth can bring. If we come from hard – up families it might look as through we are chucking all their hard work spent raising us away.

And also sometimes they are worried because they think they have seen this before. I recently read a book that looked at the macro picture of The Sixties and it was pretty revealing about how older generations might see our lifestyle now and worry about where it is going to lead. It is easy to look back on the sixties and think, oof, all those hippies had it SUSSED! But in their shrugging off of social norms they really did shrug off a lot of good stuff, too. For example, it seems as though part of their dive into sexual freedom meant they leapt away from commitment, and even, sometimes, consent. I think the liberal, progressive days of the sixties paved the way for today- where we are able to take radical concepts and run with them- so ‘nuff respect for that- but our parent’s generation see this and think we are going to end up like the burnt out, drugged up, love crumpled hippies of the Sixties. And they are scared for us.

Reassure them
Are you able to pinpoint what people are afraid of, on your behalf? If so, you can reassure them, without having to change your decision making. This isn’t about having to explain yourselves, which can get tiresome in the extreme, but putting it out there, explicitly , that they do not have to be afraid.  Sometimes I think people are worried that we have simply “fallen” into this lifestyle, that our parenting is simply accidental laissez faire, as opposed to being a parenting style we have researched DEEPLY. They think our lack of proper jobs is to do with not asserting ourselves, of accepting something less than our full potential. Often, we don’t have to actually explain our position, we simply just need a few choice sentences that can address those deeper fears.

  • We have researched this extensively and believe this is exactly the right decision for us.
  • This is intentional, not accidental.
  • We have a plan.
  • We believe this is the way we can fulfill our full potential.
  • We are committed to our family’s safety.
  • This is the way we can achieve full mental and physical well being for all of us.
  • We have reflected upon the risks of this and are going into this with eyes wide open.

Let other people explain your thinking
We have a book that we sometimes call upon and give to people. It explains our parenting style from a philosophy which many of our family come from (Christianity.) Close family members can be very open to reading materials given to them, and this can be a much easier way of getting ideas across than through conversation. Having someone else explain something can validate it and articulate it better than our flustered, sometimes defensive, selves! This can lead to some quite open and honest conversation.
We can focus on connection
There are loads and loads of reasons Tim and I have opted to stray from the mainstream when it comes to our parenting, our children’s education, our jobs, our home and, well, you know, whole life. Some of them include “because we have given a lot of thought to the idea of schools and think that, for the most part, they stifle learning, stampede over human rights and crush a child’s spirit” also “we don’t have 9-5 jobs because the idea that you are what you earn or that we must find value in being busy, busy, busy is a load of crap” HOWEVER… we don’t tend to say this out loud to many people, y’know?

If it feels like a conversation is honestly and openly spirited, that people have authentic questions, then we are MORE than happy to have a deeper discussion about our reasons. But if it is just a quick talk, or we sense any hostility, than we try and focus on topics that are inarguable:

  • We want to spend this quality time with our children while they are young
  • We want to spend loads of time outdoors, enjoying nature
  • We want our children to experience as much love as humanly possible
  • We have plenty of time later on, if we want, to be more ambitious
  • Children are natural born learners and we want to provide as much chance for them to follow that up as possible

These are the kind of sentences that we think provide a way to connect. They are likely to get people thinking, ah, yeah, I can get on board with that idea. (For the most part, we just say the first one, over and over again, on a loop,  like a politician on the radio, exercising the media training they’ve been given.)

Your life fits you alone
And then, when all is said and done, you are the one living your life. Only you and your family know the right decisions for you. There very much comes a point when we need to stand tall, with our feet on the foundation of our good decision making! We have researched, reflected, looked inside our hearts and out, and we are living the life that fits us alone!

There is a beautiful quote, a slightly less street way of saying “Haters gonna hate” about how an entire sea of water can’t sink the ship, unless it is allowed in. Lulastic parenting lidestyle blog New Zealand

What is going to help you batten down the hatches? To seal up the portholes and fill in the cracks?

I feel at my least vulnerable, and least defensive, and least likely to let a dribble of water into our ship when I have these things:

  • A tribe. A group of people who think like us! Who make our parenting look normal, our yurt look awesome, and our lack of office jobs look ideal. At various times in our lives this has looked like online forums, regular attachment parenting meet ups, bi-annual unschooling camps, even moving to a place where questioning the status quo is a healthy normal. (Here in the Coromandel, New Zealand, living an eco, sustainable, progressive life is very common and it was a big reason we chose to move here.) Come on over and find a tribe at our Facebook page too..

  • This is our friend’s beautiful yurt. We actually know tons of people that live in buses or tents or handmade homes – life can be very good without enormous mortgages.

  • Lots of information. I am zealous about books and studies. I read and read. I keep up with neuroscience so that I can explain the importance of attachment, I keep up with the baby mortality stats so that I can counter any argument to cosleeping, I read everything I can about how children learn, I get my head around the unsustainability of our current housing situation and seek to understand what are the fundamentals for happiness and well being. I RARELY pull these out of my quiver and fire them – it might be tricky to do so uncombatatively! But for my own sake, this all helps me feel confident in the choices we are making.
  • Ongoing family discussion. Tim and I talk a lot about this stuff. It is important that we are together on this journey of understanding. We go over quick fire parenting decisions we have had to make, we discuss books we are reading about sustainability. We sometimes take a while to catch up to each other but we are in it together. A crew learning the ropes. (Oh lordy, I am completely unable to put my ship metaphor away!)

I want to just take a second to validate you. It’s going to be a slightly emosh second as I am feeling quite full of heart that you are here, reading this, one of us … You aren’t alone… we are all here and we can cheer each other on.

If you are questioning the mainstream and seeking to live a life that takes less of a toll on the earth, you are of a crowd that is going to go down in history, that will be thanked by our grandchildren’s grandchildren! They shall call you a legend.  If you are making presence and peace and love your ambition, and don’t really have two pennies to rub together, you are rich. If you are nurturing your child’ spirit, determined to let them spread their wings, to live as partners in this dance of life, if you choose empathy over control,  you are nourishing a generation that will take this love and build a new world with it. 
I am sure I have only scratched the surface of this topic! I would be absolutely stoked to hear some of your own thoughts on this hefty topic. 

Parenting, unschooling, yurt life

BIGGEST.NEWS.EVER.

26 February, 2015

I was making dinner yesterday and Ramona came in and was like “What you up to Mum?” and I said “Making a pie” and she took a good look inside my bowl and went “Worst. Pie. Ever.”

So… we do sort of, obviously, overuse that “Ever” thing rather a lot. But, truly, this is the

BIGGEST.NEWS.EVER.

You know how we moved to New Zealand for this sort of wild and free and outdoorsy life? And then we kept looking and looking for a bit of land to put our roots down? And then couldn’t find anywhere and it felt like things just weren’t really going to plan?

 Well, meanwhile, we were living in our yurt on an organic farm and learning an awful amount about farming and living sustainably, and how not to dye the chickens bright pink, and also making firm friends with the other families that live here. One of the families has a brood of children, and they unschool too, and we share many other values, and they have also been looking for a forever home. About halfway through last year we realised that we could, and should, do all of this together. 

 And then, exactly one year to the day that Tim and I moved here we looked at this piece of land on a river, in one of the North Island’s most spectacular spots, the Karangahake Gorge.



The local water feature

 And we were like; Woah. This is the one! It was ticking all the boxes we’d given up on – having a river to swim in, lots of forest, lots of flat, affordable. It is surrounded by Conservation Land, and a swing bridge from the corner of the property takes you over the river into some forest and small mountain ranges hundreds of miles big.

It's hard to capture - but here is a snap

It’s hard to capture – but here is a snap

So we bought it! Halfsies, with our friends. And today it goes unconditional! And we move there in the Spring! 

 It is funny though, this community living thing. It is like being heavily pregnant, when everyone wants to tell you their horrible – death defying birth stories, with all the gore and fears. And you are all “You are telling me this because ….. ?????” 

 When people hear we are going to be sharing this Dingly Dell they tell me about their best friends who bought together and then one of them chopped the other’s ear off, or that community that internally combusted due to communal mouldy potatoes. 

 I’m absolutely not denying it is hard, sharing life like this. We know so, so many people dream of it and it doesn’t work out. We realise it could well not last forever. But we are really committed to the idea, to bringing our children up in a tribe, to working together to live as sustainable life as possible, so we are going to really try and live this dream.

 (And at least we’ll never look back and wish we’d been more bold.)

 So YIKES AND YAY!!!!! We are planning now, and dreaming, and THIS SHIZZELMCNIZZEL JUST GOT REAL!

 (PS, I haven’t forgotten about the Social Justice and Parenting Series thingy it is just quite heavy and so I’ll be taking more frivolous breaks in between them…) 

Parenting, unschooling

This is a “I’ve had an insect up my nose” kind of a day

16 July, 2014

I sort of feel like our current life can be just summed up in lists of insects. If you think every blog update about our life features more insects than strictly necessary you should try having a daily conversation with me. I pretty much just itemise the insects and the locations I’ve found them. “Cockroach. Sock.” (Well boring.)

It is the Numero Uno, possibly single, thing I dislike about our new, getting down with all the nature kind of living arrangement. We’ve been here four months now but I still get the uncontrollable grossed-out convulsions whenever a bug surprises me. The worst thing is the roaches. They are bush cockroaches, prolific less because of filth and more because our yurt is slap bang in the middle of an orchard. But they look far worse than the normal domestic cockroach. They have shiny black shells and can be as big as a grown up’s thumb. When they sit on the ceiling, the way our little lamp shines, they become monstrous, their silhouette doubling their size.

Ugh.

Places we have had cockroaches in the last week:
On top of my head
Up Tim’s trousers
Up the trouser leg of a guest

Also, other places we have had bugs:
Up my nostril (an ant)
In our bed (a granny bug)
Inside the coffee pot (a stink bug – the skunk of the insect world)

20140716-104216-38536909.jpg
I sweep and dust everyday.  (Yes, DUST! This from me, who was meant to dust the house as a child as my only household chore, and instead just used to stand in the middle of the room and squirt the spray so that it smelt as if I had dusted. Sorry, mum) We do the dishes and stuff. And don’t have piles of junk. But still, they march on in, as if they own the place.

Non-insect wise we pass the days in flurries of home/ farm activity. Lurching from play to tasks and to play and trying to keep it all as seamless as possible.

It is really winter here now. The nights are cold. As cold as I’ve ever known a night to be. I sleep with three woolen jumpers on, and three down duvets over all of us. Cosleeping is crucial not only for attachment’s sake but to stop us getting hyperthermic. I realise how solo beds are a modern invention- bought in with the luxury of efficient heating. Other bodies are the superior way to stay warm. (The bugs, understandably, realise this too.)

Ramona, at three and a half, is the bee’s knees. She bakes, three times a day. Half of it eaten before it makes it into the oven. Her imagination has exploded in a mushroom bomb of fantasy. Everything is a someone to her – elaborate games of hospitals with a box of screws.

20140716-103938-38378034.jpg

Juno is almost a match for Ramona, talking as much (most of it in a sort of Finnish. However, yesterday she shouted the milking cow’s name across the paddock, as clear as day. “STELLA!” she yelled. She says “Poo” for potty now which feels like it has heralded a cool new stage in our Nappy Free life) and climbing as much and eating as much and dancing as much. Whenever she hears any kind of beat she sort of vogues- striking these poses with such aplomb, bobbing her head to the beat.

Juno is also obsessed with insects. She vogues into a David Attenborough stance, on her belly, commando crawling closer and closer until her eyeballs can absorb every bit of the stomped-on roach or the still-surviving, slightly pulsating black stripe of ants.

Which is great, really. Because we have many. Far, far too many.

Parenting, unschooling

A day in the life of a family challenging adultism

15 May, 2014

WOW. So I wasn’t expecting THAT!

Yesterday I wrote a post, Could adultism be the concept that transforms relationships between adults and children?

And it appears I left many readers behind. Across Twitter, in the comments, and on Facebook, people were just like “Wha-at?!” People didn’t get it.

I thought it was going to be one of those “lightbulb” posts – where readers go “Aha! Yes! We must extend our love of fairness to our children!” If anything it was a post that threw people into darkness.

And then, this morning I remembered how I felt when I first read about these ideas. The idea that a child should be respected, allowed autonomy, choice and rights. I can remember being at a party and describing to my friend “I feel nervous…  like I am entering a rabbit hole!” I felt like this idea would change our whole life.

And in some ways it has. And in some ways it hasn’t.

I wonder if it will be helpful to go through an average day of ours. To show how we try and interact and respond in certain circumstances. Because I am not sure our day will look entirely different to yours. (Or maybe it will.) The biggest difference is probably the amount of dialogue and the amount of time afforded it.

So here it is, A day in the life of a rights-respecting/ uschooling/ adultism aware family!

Before we begin I need to say how NEW I am to all of this, months in, really. And I still have a real struggle with some areas – I default on control, for example, when it comes to TV. However, I am learning, with my children… It is slow but everyday we are asking questions and discussing and granting more freedom…

7:30 am We wake up, bundle together for morning cuddles.

7:40 am “Can I watch a movie?” Ramona’s request comes earlier than normal as she has spied me sneaking away to check my blog comments. So often she is prompted to watch movies only when spotting the lap top and ipad. I am reminded how one of the crucial ideas for this whole thing is MODELLING our values. If I want her to value life away from a screen I need to model it. But then, it kind of IS my job and passion. But then it is HER passion. But what about how manipulative movies are, how they lump emotions on to people, how they are like the ultimate school. But Ramona might become the queen of code and write world-changing programs one day! And thus begins my first internal monologue about control…

8:00 am The battery on the ipad runs out after only 20 mins of movie watching. Ramona suggests she watches it once it has charged again.  (Having only solar energy imposes natural limits that Ramona finds really easy to accept.)

The morning passes in porridge eating, bumbling about.

11:00 am I had been working on the lap top while Juno (1) has a snooze but I know Ramona and Tim will be back from a trip soon so I pack up and head outside to the mandarin orchard. If I want my children to love the outdoors then I need to improve my relationship with it. When they get home Ramona joins me and Juno and we eat mandarins and follow beetles and play Doctors and Nurses for aaaages.

At one stage Ramona looks through the window of our neighbour’s house (neighbours but they are also like family) and wants to go in. “I don’t think we should go in as they are not there and we need to be invited in.” I say. Ramona replies “But I can see the thing!” She dashes through their door and dashes straight back out with a toy she bought Juno from the charity shop. I consider how I would have gone in their house if there was something in there of mine that I needed and I am glad I didn’t “put my foot down!”

This kind of thing happens a fair bit. It seems a child has an irrational/ strange need or request but actually there is something important behind it, if we listen, or give them space to explore it.

12:00 pm – “I am a bit hungry shall we go in for lunch?” I ask. We start making our way to the house. I am glad I pre-empted my massive hunger pangs as this takes ages. Juno is learning to walk and wants to walk/ fall/ scramble/ crawl the whole way. It is really muddy and she is bare legged but I think she can have a bath in a bit so who cares. Juno pauses by the strawberry patch and reaches for an unripe strawberry. I find her a big juicy red one and pass it to her. (“I know all about ripe strawberries! Let me teach you!”) She takes a bite and discards it, reaching for another greenish- red one, enjoying it much more. It is like she is telling me that it is the foraging and eating that she enjoys and she knows what she likes, right?! We hang about the strawberry patch for a while.

12:45 pm Ramona want eggs for lunch so I crack them in a bowl. She wants to help so I set her up with the whisk and she whisks them. She loves to help so I make room as much as possible for that in our day.  She wants to cook them but I like my scrambled eggs cooked a certain way so I explain that I want to do it my way. (I’m not some kind of unschooling goddess, okay? I like my eggs creamy.)

Over lunch she wants to put her eggs in a tortilla so she does. She makes a messy egg tortilla present all over her bit of the table. She only eats half the tortilla and the chooks get the rest.

We have always been trusting and nonplussed about eating. I want every meal to be only pleasure for everyone, so no rules or coercion allowed! Just lots of yummy goodness and a nice bit of fried stuff too.

1:15 pm I have to head to town before 2pm so I start preparing the way! TIME is one of the biggest factors in addressing adultism, I think. We are so unprepared to give our children the time to choose their clothes, put their own shoes on, pack their rucksack, find a snack, climb into their car seat themselves (etc) that we do it all for them in order to get to the place we need to be on time. And all the while we are undermining their abilities and their desires to pick up the caterpillar they saw on the way to the car. Allowing a buffer of about 45 minutes means we can all get our needs met.

Me to Ramona: “Oh, you want to bring turtle?”
Me to Ramona: “Oh, you forgot pony, huh? Better grab him!”
Me to Juno: “Ah, you’re not ready to get in your seat yet?”
Me to Ramona: “Oh, those shoes are uncomfortable. Do you want me to grab your wellies?”
Me to both: “Oops, wait there a sec, forgot my wallet.”
(Sometimes I feel we impose higher expectations on our kids than ourselves!!)

Let’s go!

1:50 pm We are driving into town and I am thinking about all getting our needs met. Once again I turn to Non Violent Communication. NVC works perfectly with this parenting philosophy as, sure, Ramona has needs and wants that must be respected- but so does Juno and so do I and so does my husband. If it ever came to it, would we all stay home for the day so that my daughter could watch television? No. But then it has never come to it – we are nearly always able to come up with a solution together for getting all of our needs met. Ramona will often say “I’ll pause this and watch it later, yeah?”

2:00 pm Uh oh. I am in the gift shop buying a card for a new baby where there are a million precious things all balanced precariously on low shelves and Ramona wants to touch them all. I bend down and talk about how precious everything is and how I want everything in the shop to stay safe. Ramona gets more wild and wants to run around. It is in perfect syncronisation with my increased anxiety! I hold her hand firmly and we leave the shop while I explain to her about my worries. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done this. I wish I had talked to her sensibly before going in. Perhaps I wish I hadn’t even gone in. I guess I do sort of believe that I should only go to places where Ramona can be fully, uncompromisingly herself. More questions….!

Later on, I apologise to Ramona for pulling her out of the shop. “It IS your body, and no one should do things to other people’s bodies that aren’t wanted. I’m sorry.” Sometimes I make mistakes and instead of brushing them under the carpet (“she’s only three! She will forget!”) I apologise.

3:00 pm A cup of tea with a friend in a cafe. Juno wants to climb this wobbly thing. I kneel while she does it. After 10 minutes she does actually tumble off. It isn’t far but I consider the phrase “Better a broken bone than a broken spirit.” But I’m also blushing as I think most mums wouldn’t have let their baby climb. Mostly I try and keep an environment that is fully open to Juno to explore but sometimes you can’t. Sometimes I take swift action if it seems like something quite dangerous. For example the time she ate some berries and I didn’t know what they were. “Juno, I am going to reach into your mouth and take the berries out as I am worried they are dangerous.” The explanation took 2 seconds and then I got the berries out. Even a baby deserves an explanation when we are going to do something to them. We moved away from the berry patch.

3:30 pm “Ramona, shall we go to the loo together?” “No” I am fairly sure she needs a wee but hey, it is her body.

3:40 pm “Mum, I need the loo and I already leaked a bit.” Me: “Oh, I find it a bit frustrating that you did a wee in your pants as now I need to do more laundry!” I think being open with our own negative emotions is healthy as I wouldn’t want the children to think we have to put on a false happy, brave face for the world.

However, as I am putting her spare leggings on (we carry spares everywhere because I will never, ever force her to go to the loo – what does that tell her about people in power being able to do anything they want to her body?) I consider how just that very morning I had been running about, busy in the house, reluctant to interrupt my flow to go to the loo. Yes, my friends, I had leaked too. I wish I hadn’t told her I was annoyed about the leak.

Ramona doesn’t want to leave the cafe when I do. “I want to get home to make tea. When shall we go?” I ask. “In five.” “Okay.”

A day in the life of an unschooling/ child right's respecting family

Juno sits on the toy Ramona is playing with. Ramona shoves her over. “Ramona, I need Juno to be safe around you.” It’s pretty rare that Ramona gets physically agro, but it is one of my limits. I listen into arguments with my ears (not eyes, which can aggravate tension, I reckon) and if I think the kids are fairly matched and could have a little bit of a push and sort it themselves then I leave them to it. However, if it is unfairly matched or I see Ramona really getting enraged, I hover and speak to Ramona,  “I can see you’re mad and it is okay to be angry but I’m not going to let you bite him.” It is Ramona’s right to express herself but it is every kid’s right to be safe.

5:00 pm Home again. “Can I watch a movie please, mum?” Ramona is so polite, and always asks all the time, even though we have never told her to. When it comes to manners I am CONVINCED we just need to model what we want to see in our kids. If we are kind to them, they will be kind to us. And then also, sometimes they will shout. Just like we do.

Ramona is SO EXCITED to find bits of Frozen on Youtube. Seeing her so absolutely stoked with life makes me want to cry a little bit. How I love this wild one.

Mind you, I am glad she has found Frozen and not some other Disney princess crap. I would actually ask her not to watch that, I’d say “Can you find something else as that princess is well annoying.” I am worried about her getting Battered Wife Syndrome as a result of the princess propaganda that is marching stridently into our lives.  This is not unschooling and is probably adultist. I have issues. But then again, I want to provide an environment that promotes freedom and I think that the limited gender roles of Princess world is entirely inhibiting. *Thus begins 50 millionth internal monologue of the day*

5:30 pm The internet isn’t working so Ramona wanders about and finds a tub of my bentonite clay. She opens it and a bit spills “Oh, sorry mum! I’ll get a cloth!”  I am surprised every time when she is all polite and respectful like this. I don’t know where she gets it from, Tim and I are sweary louts. Ha. Just kidding. I sort of think it is just a case of her speaking to us in the way that we speak to her.

5:40 pm Tea is cooking but Ramona finds the chocolate “OOH LOOK CHOCOLATE I’LL HAVE ONE BIT NOW AND THEN ANOTHER BIT FOR PUDDING” During tea we have a chat about how caffeine in chocolate can keep you awake. I think it is worthwhile chatting to kids about the realities of things and then letting them make up their own minds.

6:00 pm Ramona only eats the kale on her plate. YUM, MORE PIE FOR ME! Juno puts pumpkin in her ear, on her head and squashes it into her toes. I think this way of life is basically like Baby Led Weaning but for the whole of life. Provide a good environment/ plate of grub, trust them with the rest.

7:00 pm “OOH REMEMBER THE CHOCOLATE! WOO! I really want a bit that is bigger than me… but I’ll just have one bit.” Would I have stopped her if she wanted a bit bigger than her? Actually, yeah… maybe.  Because then she would be awake at 10pm and Tim and I would have to be awake with her, even though we go to sleep at 9:30pm and we’d probably be grumpy about it which wouldn’t be nice for Ramona. I would have said “I’m worried this will keep you awake, can we come up with a way that leaves us all happy?” And she would have broken off a bit and hidden it in a secret place for her to have for breakfast. (This happened a few months ago.) When it comes to food… me and Tim LOVE CHOCOLATE AND CRISPS. We don’t often have it about but when we do we eat it all the time and at any time of day or night. So, if it is good enough for us, why not her? Seriously, why not?
(It’s not obvious that I am just typing out loud, is it?! Ha.)

7:30 pm “It is quite cold, do you want a jumper on Ramona?” “No.” Okay. Juno plays with a biro, covering her arm in ink. Ramona has a bath and turns the taps on cold. Would other parents stop their kid running cold into their bath, do you think? Why bother stopping that? “It’s cold!” “Do you want to put more hot in?” “Yeah.”

Ramona wanders about naked in the cold house. I just don’t agree with making kids wear clothes if they don’t want to. What is the worst that can happen? *thinks* Pneumonia? Really?  A cold that they were going to get anyway? Possibly.

8:00 pm “Mum, I want to go to bed!” Ramona has always just asked to go to bed when she is tired – is it possibly because we have never enforced bed time? Funnily enough it is nearly always around 7:30pm these days – classic bed time!

Me: “Shall we put pyjamas on as I am worried it will get even colder in the night and they you will wake us up because you are cold?” Am I imposing my need to not wake up in the night an extra time on her and thwarting her will? Maybe. If Ramona doesn’t want to wear pyjamas, and it seems like a big, emotional issue for her then I will let it rest. But it is always worth expressing my needs because we can so often come up with the answer to both, together.

“I want to wear my superhero suit to bed.”

“Okay.”

And thus ends the day of a family living in the middle ground between neglect and control!

Yes, there is a lot of internal monologue and daily discussions with my husband. There are mistakes, where we have moved closer to neglect and close to control at times.  Each day we are trying to find a better balance.  (Read this on finding that balance!)

I believe this journey we are on is an important one. I believe it is the one most likely to further social justice in the world, and the one most likely to result in a respectful child. (Read this lovely account of a mum to a teenager who raised her son this way.)

Now tell me- have I gone so far down the rabbit hole that I’m talking nonsense to you? Or is this not so different from the way you do things?