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Cool news for Juno! Home Education Application Exemption (for a six year old unschooling)

11 June, 2019

Hi friends!

We received a cool email today letting us know that our home education exemption for Juno has been approved. You might remember that here in NZ you have to fill in a form in order to be exempt from school. It looks like this is a path the UK is close to embarking on too.

I shared Ramona’s application right here. And I wanted to share Juno’s as it is both a good example of an unschooling exemption (for those who want to be totally up front about the style of learning they have at home) but also does put a bit of flesh on the unschooling bones for those who really don’t get it! The bits in bold are the questions they ask.

Tim wrote this one even though it maybe made more sense for me to do it ‘cos I’ve already done one, but, you know, we are committed to absolutely sharing this parenting and home education gig.

Unschooling home education exemption nz

Section 2 As well as:
A) Help us to understand your home education philosophy/approach, and how you will meet the requirement to teach at least as well as a registered school.

Lucy and I are strong believers in the innate ability of our children to learn. We have watched them both develop in their physical movement from a young age. We have witnessed them motivated by their own curiosity develop a deepening understanding of themselves and the world around them. Our educational philosophy seeks to support and help to replicate this in their further learning and development of understanding. We seek to support Juno’s learning urges, asking appropriate questions to fuel her appetite for understanding. We deliberately follow up these learning urges, travelling to geographical places and accessing relevant resources in order for Juno to have the chance to learn in this way.

As Juno embarks on these learning journeys we encourage her to process these new ideas through discussion with us and others, craft, experimentation in expressing the learning through creative mediums, and recording her learning pictorially and when she is able, through literacy, and numeracy.

Creative arts, social interaction, literacy and numeracy in this context are forms of expression of the learning that is going on inside Juno.

The physical environments of Juno’s learning are wide ranging, whether this be in Te Papa, our farm, at the beach, bush, community organisations or far flung places. We endeavour to make these contexts as limitless as we can. This allows Juno to interact with a wide range of places, cultures and learning facilities.

Juno does not have special educational needs that need catering for.

B) What resources do you intend to use and are you delegating any teaching responsibility?

Library and bookshelf: Juno loves exploring the libraries in Paeroa, Waihi and Ngatea. When we travel to other places she loves to visit the libraries there to read books with us and explore the children’s areas. We encourage Juno to find books that are of interest to her, and read them with her at our home.

iPad and laptop: Juno enjoys ipad games especially the series of Toca Boca games which have been specifically created to enhance a child’s creative development. She loves building homes and facilitating the interaction of her characters in these games.

Friends and family members: Juno had developed close relationships with a handful of other significant others who she feels comfortable with. She enjoys going on trips with these people, exploring places and embarking on creative projects with them, such as clay work with the local potter and trips into the city with her grandmother.

Craft box: Juno loves to explore new places, but enjoys the comfort and familiarity of home where she can happily craft away. We have three huge craft boxes filled with beads and threads for bracelet making, wool for finger knitting. Paints, colours, paper. Felt, scissors, glue. A whole load of interesting craft materials left over from experiments and projects.

Local homeschool community: Juno is becoming increasingly interested in learning opportunities presented through the homeschool community in Tauranga. She currently attends a Kapa Haka group there and a Circus performing workshop. We see this an increasingly important element as she feels more comfortable with the children attending and adults facilitating. Juno loves to make cards and already has a clear hand writing to copy out long notes to her friends.

The natural world and tools to explore it: We are right next door to Conservation Land, with a river. We have kayaks and life jackets which Juno loves to use single handedly. She has a pocket knife and loves to whittle some of the beautiful wood we find. She has rope and tools and together we might set a trap or build a new swing.

C) What are your educational goals for the next 12 months of your child’s home education and how will you know if you’ve met them?

Juno is a naturally curious person. She loves to work out carefully how to do something. Often these activities are extremely complex and take patience, resolve and commitment. We want to honour that element of her personality, helping to facilitate these learning experiences, but not pushing her into them. While she feels motivated to learn new things, take on new challenges, make sense of new contexts we will feel that she is progressing healthily. Juno likes to take on something new and master it. We delight in seeing her in this context and encourage her to work in this way.

Juno takes time to warm to people, but when she does she develops deep and real relationships. We work closely with Juno to help her feel comfortable in new contexts, deliberately making ourselves available to her if she feels that she needs support in order for her to feel safe and comfortable. As she settles into a new context we slowly and subtly give her space to practice independence. As long as Juno is growing in her social confidence we will feel that we are judging our involvement correctly.

Juno loves to develop new expressions of creativity. She adores drawing the most intricate patterns and pictures. Juno loves weaving, cutting, painting, building, creating cups out of clay, writing her name and messages to friends, and experimenting with numbers. As long as Juno is enjoying these creative expressions and involving herself in them we will feel as if we are offering her the correct amount of learning opportunities through creative expression.

D) What is your vision, and what are your goals for your child’s long term educational achievement?

Our vision for Juno is to be a internally motivated and self directed joyful learner. She is that already, and our ultimate goal is to propagate that and not puncture it through other’s expectations. We want Juno to love the learning she does, to feel comfortable within the context of that learning. We want her to follow her passions, curiosities and capabilities. We want her to feel empowered to follow whatever learning pathways she needs to in order for her to become the person she is discovering she is.

We want her to feel confident interacting with a wide variety of people, across a wide variety of cultural contexts. To bloom into the limitless learning opportunities the world has to offer, knowing that something new is not something to be feared or threatened by, but rather an opportunity that may present itself.

We want to see Juno relishing being able to express herself and be understood by those around her. To project her understanding powerfully, confidently and accurately, through the arts, literacy and numeracy.

If she wants to go to a tertiary institute, we want her to know that that is a possibility. Equally if she discovers the need to initiate her own creative dance troupe, or likewise, we want her to know that she has the tools and efficacy to do that.

E) Give a detailed description of a special project or topic plan you will do, or describe one you have done in the past.

Juno has developed over the last month a love of weaving friendship bracelets. She is amazingly good at the intricate movement and patterns required to make a beautiful bracelet. Already she has made and given away eight friendship bracelets, representing hours of important motor skills work (and also critical for reading readiness.) Juno has said that she knows what she wants to do when she grows up now: sell friendship bracelets.

Throughout the year we regularly attend life learning camps. One camp particularly offers the kids a chance to sell their creations or offerings in a marketplace. Juno really wants to build up a collection of friendship bracelets to sell at this camp in October. Already she is researching the different price structures that she may employ in the selling of these friendship bracelets by asking friends and family members what they would be willing to pay. This has also lead to an increased interest as we move around the supermarket and op shops noticing prices and discuss value of each item, through this she is gathering basic numeracy skill as well as an understanding of money, cents in the dollar.

Juno will need to source reasonably priced thread to make this price structure work for her, and within the budget of her weekly allowance. We will support her to do this through finding a thread supply online or in local secondhand shops. Juno will need to develop processes that allow her to meet the production levels required of her marketplace stall. Juno will also need to make sure that her product design is desirable to her client base which will through our regular excursions and visits to friends. And when we get closer to October we will support Juno to design her own market stall and packaging, including sign writing and artwork.

SECTION 3 “As regularly as”

A typical week:
Monday: Morning trip down to Tauranga, beginning with Kapa Haka, followed by a meet up with other homeschooling and life learning children at a local park. Spend the afternoon at one of her friend’s house either playing outside or crafting inside. After dinner Juno attends a circus performing class. Drive back home after club.

Tuesday: Crafts morning after breakfast and some Netflix, followed by outside play at our farm. Often Juno will be involved in a project such as gardening – at the moment she is growing a giant pumpkin for a Giant Pumpkin Competition at a local farm. We might make a tree house or construct a waterslide, or more simply go on a bush walk beside the river collecting fascinating rocks, insects and minerals. In the afternoon we will go to studio of a local potter for a few hours and Juno will make some crockery. In the evening Juno helps to cook dinner, regularly chopping all the vegetables.

Wednesday: A bunch of other families turn up at our farm to play and explore together. Juno will often spend a lot of time with one particular friend making things, drawing, making greeting cards, bouncing on the trampoline and playing games. In the afternoon Juno will help me tidy up if she doesn’t end up going off to a friend’s house for the afternoon.

Thursday: Netflix in the morning punctuated with breakfast. If the weather is nice we will head out to a new place to explore. Juno loves exploring the seashore, the intertidal rockpools and deposits at the high tide mark. Often a friend will come along on the trip. more often than not we will discover something that we have never seen before, carrying on the investigation at home later. If the weather is not so nice we will often go to a local library, art gallery or museum. After lunch while we are out it makes sense to visit the op shops and if not before, the library before closing time. Juno loves finding good books and treasures that she can take home and enjoy.

Friday: Today after breakfast we will get crafting together. Out will come the sewing machine, cuttings of various fabrics that we have picked up from around the place, cardboard boxes, glue, paint, flour, food colouring, scissors pens and paper to draw on or fold. Juno has mastered origami shown to her by a family friend, she often settles into folding foxes and roses. If the time is right Juno will spend hours working with intricate designs and patterns. After lunch we might break things up with a play outside or swim. Juno will store her creations in her treasure cupboard.

In the afternoon with a bit of support Juno may bake a cake to share for afternoon tea. These are often very creative and reasonably edible. We trust that over the coming years her enjoyment of cooking will create the perfect environment for learning some of the more complex maths skills such as division and multiplication as she creates and develops recipes. Often on Friday we will finish the day enjoying a family movie together before bed.

Saturday: Another day to explore, this time perhaps with her school attending cousins. She will spend lots of the trip chatting away with them about what they have been up to at school while sharing some of the things that she has been doing not in school. The trip may involve an excursion to a waterfall that someone has heard about or a trip to the hot pools for a soak.

Sunday: At home day today, often people will come to visit. We swim together in the river play in the bush, go rock or insect collecting and then make hamburgers together on the fire before watching the sun go down and first stars appear.

Juno might spend some time finding new music on Spotify, an interest inspired by her big sister’s love of music. They cultivate a growing playlist of a wide variety of music, often asking members of our community for song suggestions and then coming home and looking them up – typing into the search bar the letters as we spell it out.

Throughout each day we are all involved in deep conversations ranging from the activities we are doing to the complex science behind life on earth. We estimate that between activities and one to one conversations Juno is involved in around 8 -12 hours of active learning everyday, including weekends.


After we sent this through they responded with two follow up questions:

Education goals – 12 months

You have really good broad goals thank you. You’ve also given me a picture of what Juno likes and is interested in.

In line with your approach I’m now interested to know in terms of the ‘learning area’s’ what Juno can do (skills) /or knows (knowledge) and what her next learning steps might be?

Alternatively, you could give me one or two specific education learning goals for English, Math, Science, Social Sciences i.e. the skills and/or knowledge you’d expect her to have within the next 12 months


Thank you for the list you have supplied.

As you start your home education journey with Juno, I need to know some more reference materials (named texts/internet websites) that will assist you with her individual learning progression at the level of learning she’s currently at or moving toward.

It will also be helpful for you to tell me a little about the resource and how you intend to use it.

We replied with:

To continue to love stories and books. To continue to explore the sounds of letters and consider the sounds different letters make when they are put together.
It would not surprise us at all if Juno is reading basic stories in a few months, such as her enthusiasm for letters, but making that a goal would go against our desire to let Juno progress at her own pace.


Juno loves and is working hard with counting and adding. We will continue to support her in adding and giving her sums to put together. We have already seen Juno embracing games books containing maths challenges. We will continue to give opportunity for her to feel challenged in this area by moving on to adding double digits when she is ready.


Juno loves to experiment with the different way craft materials can work together to form something else. So she will mix paint with dishwashing liquid and try and blow bubbles and discover the paint is too heavy, but it actually looks quite good when you push paper into it. Our goal is to continue to support Juno’s enthusiastic fascination with experiments and help her make links when appropriate and welcome.

Social Science
We have just spent some time with Juno’s Great Grandad who jumped out of a place as a paratrooper on D-Day and is about to do it again! As a result she has discovered much about World War 2 rooted in her own curiosity. We will continue to help her make links between things happening in every day life and the historical context for it.


Reference Material:

We have a large bookshelf filled with reference material the girls can access at any time including:
Every Child’s Answer Book
Family Guide to Nature
Reptiles at your Finger tips
How It Works
Human Body Encyclopaedia
Native Birds of New Zealand
Native Trees of New Zealand

But more importantly we visit the library weekly to access reference material in any topic.

Both girls receive Junior National Geographic which is an incredible resource for learning about the natural world and often has games and challenges to interact with. We read them from cover to cover.

We don’t tend to spend an enormous amount of time on screens just now as both girls are big into exploring the outdoor world. However Juno’s favourite apps include:
He aha tēnei – a child friendly app for learning te reo Māori basics
Wordscapes – a word game app that Juno loves to play with
Garage Band – collecting sounds and making music tracks with them
Spotify – Juno has her own playlist and loves to explore new music and curate them
Netflix – we often watch cooking and nature documentaries together, such a good resource.

As she gets older we look forward to introducing her to the many websites that are available to her as a learning resource.

home education new zealand unschooling exemption

And today it got approved! Hurray!

Picture here is the shopping list Juno wrote today – just teaching herself how to write in exactly the same way she taught herself to walk and talk, totally self motivated and self directed.

Stay radical x x x


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

18 January, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared Understandings While at Camp


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

Shared Understandings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



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


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

(photos of each camp’s safe guarding team)

Sexual Abuse Prevention at camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is some stuff for you to consider:

Camp Culture

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

Family Culture:

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


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

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

What to do

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

(names and photos of safe guarding team)

If you witness anything that gives you concern:

1- intervene immediately

2- report immediately to your safeguarding team (above)

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

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

unschooling agreementsIn conclusion!

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

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

What a magnificent invitation.

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

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


But how will they learn? How kids learn without school

12 February, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

And, finally, if you enjoyed reading this do consider becoming a Patreon for as little as $1. It is a great community with lots of extras such as ebooks and mini series.

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


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?


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: 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”


(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! – 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…


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:
How to put things in things
How to throw things
How to put things in their mouth

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.


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.