Becoming an Explorer

Becoming an Explorer

What if we chose to view what was happening in our lives as a discovery expedition? Explorers never really knew what was at the end of the road, but it was the journey that kept them intrigued. Does your life intrigue you?

I have a confession to make. A conversation with Ben Hewitt, helped me start writing again. As I unschool myself, I am learning how to write without an agenda. It is freeing and terrifying. The best advice he gave me was stop trying to be strategic with my writing. How do we let go and let it become what it will be? I have no idea, but I am intrigued to see what happens.

The process might be much like the nature walk I took with the boys yesterday. As we walked, there was a crunchy texture underfoot, so we stopped to investigate. We found seed pods, fairy hats, pecan bursts, and many other treasures dropped by near by trees. Trees understand the cycle of letting go so much better than us mere humans. They freely drop what they no longer need, or what needs to be released. It is the cycle of discovery and growth.

Investigating our finds bound for our craft basket at home, Austin remarked that the pecan bursts looked like flowers and Jackson thought the pods would make great people with drawn on faces. Creativity at work. You can see the wheels turning right in front of you.

Next we walked over the hidden magic bridge, and as we peered over the edge we saw the work of beavers. The river was damned up just under the bridge. Although we did not see the presumed beaver family, I heard a long tale of intrigue, antics at nightfall, and underwater acrobatics that was happening just beyond our view. Each time simply responding, “And then what happened?”

What did I see when I peered over the bridge? I saw the banks and rock formations covered with mosses and delicate native ferns in the most beautiful shade of bright green. It made me wonder if that was by design. Lining the banks with its bright color, so that at nightfall the creatures could see the waters edge. I saw the changing flow of the river as the beavers made their home. I wondered how the conversation of all the wildlife would go. Move that thing, we can’t get by! Or would it be more like, thank you for stopping the flow I am tired of swimming up stream. Creative thought is contagious.

At some level I wish for a place where the boys can explore these places on their own, but I would have missed these experiences. I am grateful to be a witness, guide, and a student for now.

I see what is becoming with no idea what to expect on our next expedition. Mine in writing and theirs in the world. That is my gift for the new year given by two creative explorers.

Lessons in Creative Confidence

Unschooling Myself

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

When did you stop playing? Do you know the moment when you began to question whether you were really creative? I remember the college English Professor who had a profound negative effect on my writing. I stopped writing for anyone other than myself.

I still love to write. I love the stories that unfold, even if I don’t know the rules. I am brave when I write, but lately self-doubt was creeping in. My interests were changing and I did not know how to shift my interest on my blog.

About a month ago, I walked into the boy’s room as Austin was drawing this beautiful scene above in markers on his dresser. It is not a fancy dresser, but a cheap IKEA Pine dresser. He looked up at me and stared. I took a breath and then did one of the smartest things I have ever done as a parent.  I said, “That is beautiful! What else can you draw?”

He beamed and told a story of a secret village and villagers. He and his brother have now drawn all over their dressers and pine beds, and I love it. Every day a new story is unfolding.

I honestly don’t know why I was not upset that he drew on the furniture. I saw something in his face when he looked up at me, waiting on my reaction. I cannot explain it. I just knew he needed me to be proud, not frustrated.

Where does confidence in something come from? I think it comes from validation, sometimes from a someone else and sometimes we have to find it ourselves.

We began homeschooling for Kindergarten in September, but I had no idea what I was doing. I had all the tools, but zero confidence. I did know what is expected by cultural norms. “Send them to school already”, was dancing through my head. I began to get frustrated as we dove into homeschooling. Was I teaching them enough? Is this the right thing for them?

I had a conversation with a friend and homeschooling mom of three. She was in a shift in their journey. Her oldest was in middle school, her youngest was having trouble with phonics, and she was having doubts. I was having doubts too, but we realized our doubts were about stories we were telling ourselves about what education should look like. She is back in the grove, and as a confident as ever.

I embraced that our style is really an unschooling style, but the person being ‘unschooled’ is me. The boys only know their experience. Their only truth is what is happening to them at this moment. They have never been to a formal school. It is the purest view of learning you can have. Everything they try is new. There are no stories attached.

As parents, we have to be able to embrace the organic process of learning, because our children already have. They will teach us so much, if we can only trust them. They have no plan, and that is the lesson.

Our Nature Filled Kindergarten Gap Year

Kindergarten Gap Year

Kindergarten Gap Year

This past week the boys and I visited Wisteria Suri Alpaca Farm that is a mere 12 miles from our home, for a tour and activities like spinning fiber into yarn. As we entered the gates of the farm we were greeted by two beautiful white Great Pyrenees and a very spunky Australian Shepherd. We entered and paused to give the dogs time to get to know us and to welcome us, before we touched them and spent our time saying hello.

The farm owner and host commented how glad she was that we had such a nice calm energy. The animals had a busy day, and looked happy to see us despite their day filled with earlier visitors. We were able to meet some younger, timid, Suri Alpaca males and then a host of adult female Suri Alpacas.

As we moved throughout our visit, I noticed the beautiful wildflowers covering the ground between the limestone rocks. Nature has a way of growing where it falls, there is such a great lesson in that for our lives.

We stopped to handcraft bird balls filled with Alpaca fiber as a gift their Grandmother’s neighborhood birds in building their nests. Since we downsized, we do not own the trees in our neighborhood, which is hard to explain to a five-year old. Why is a question heard often in our home. I explain this is a temporary stop on our life adventure and they seem to accept that and move on.

AlpacaFarm2

Our host Keiko asked about my work, and I told her a little about my writing and my working exploration into nature connected psychology and EcoArt Therapy. I was explaining how easy it is for me to explore my work, as they boys experience nature together.

I realized as we spoke how hard it can be to welcome families to her farm with the distractions children experience today. Many do not know how to immerse themselves in nature, and ask for permission to enter by simply pausing and saying hello. It is something they learn by doing, and with our over scheduled society that  can be difficult.

We talked about how my children knew from the modeling they have seen their whole life to enter an animals space and let them come to you. I am a nature lover and that is a natural part of my parenting toolbox. Nature has always been my prescription for peace in our house, lots and lots of outside time for everyone is paramount around here.

This is not the first time someone has commented on their calm energy. They are not always calm as they are energy filled boys, but it is more of a reverence for the space they were entering, not unlike entering a spiritual place or a cathedral.

Quiet, slow, and with an open heart. One is more cautious than they other, and needs time to be open to the animals. I have been working with him over the years to let him know that what he feels is okay, and when and if he is ready to make contact he will. He can now verbalize his feelings and told me he was “a little” nervous.

We do a backpack carry when he feels this way, so that he can participate and feel secure. He has been able to embrace many animals now, but he has never been forced to be ready on some arbitrary schedule.

I am reading Ben Hewitt’s book, HomeGrown. Although our boys are not able to roam on open acreage, I am inspired by the idea that I can do my part in providing nature connected experiences even in our more suburban setting.  This is a beautifully written book giving you a glimpse into what is possible. It also helped me with something I was struggling with and that is the idea of living in the present. We do not have to decide right now, what our children’s education must look like for the next 12 years. My husband has asked, “why do we have to decide today?”  Their futures are their’s alone, and as I have always believed that, his descriptions of his boy’s days reminded me to breathe. We can take it day by day. That is the beauty and the eye opening process of a Kindergarten Gap Year.

This is how our “gap year” is emerging. They are learning to read, grow and be, but not based on a curriculum based on an age. They are twins, but just like other children and siblings are as different as two people can be. I do not want them to be labeled, ready for this or ready for that. I want them to celebrate their successes as they come organically.

Our experiment now has a name, the “Kindergarten Gap Year”. It really hit me when I turned down a consulting assignment to teach a reading curriculum to public school teachers. I have seen the organic process of my sons learning to read and none of it was as rigid as the tool I would have to present. I just did not believe it anymore.

Now, I understand that teaching twenty plus children requires a more assembly line approach, but that in itself makes me sad. Every child deserves the ability to learn organically in a place that feels safe, open, and trustable. A child should be able to say, “I want to play outside”, and for that to be celebrated and allowed. They should also be able to learn about something until they are ready to move onto something else.

Our first year into home education has evolved into a Kindergarten Gap Year. This time with them has been the most eye opening experience. The things you are able to observe as they grow and learn, would not be possible if they had been sent to school for eight hours each day. They are learning to read and write, but they are learning so much more and so am I

Opting Out of a Frantic Life and Into an Inspired One

Opting Out of a Frantic Life and Into an Inspired One

 

It did not hit me until the “Kindergarten Round Up”postcard arrived from the local public school district that our decision to opt out of public education really sank in.

Opting Out of Kindergarten

Intellectually, I knew that my children already know many of the requirements to exit Kindergarten and that they are already learning organically as they did when they were infants. It still gives one a little pause when you know that you are going against a cultural norm or expectation. Luckily we are in a state, where it is so common to homeschool that you barely get a second look from many.

I was reading an article by writer Ben Hewitt about how he and his wife Penny Hewitt are unschooling their kids – freestyle. The article highlights their two sons and their ability to roam on their property and the stories they tell at the end of the day. They talk about a very small amount of time spent on actual studies and the rest is hands on learning.

We are currently living in a suburban golf course community, but my children spend so much time outside.  We chose this for a downsizing experiment and we have everything we need. Whether that be swimming, local parks, or just playing outside of our small home. The elements of fresh air and open spaces is still available and in my opinion vital to their development. You may not have acres for your kids to roam, but local parks are close by. We often joke that we could be tour guides for the best parks within a ten mile radius.

Nature Soothes the Soul

As much as I would love to live in a country house on acreage, our small living experiment is just what we needed to escape our self-imposed prison. Our two tiny porch gardens are not only a retreat for me and the boys, but also for our neighbors. Many have stopped by on their morning walks to say how much they enjoy our small oasis, and how it brings such beauty their morning walks.

The idea that nature soothes is not a new one, but how far off track we have gotten from enjoying the health and learning benefits of nature is startling. I recently had a conversation with a school psychologist, who remarked how surprised she was to drive through a town recently and to see children outside playing. We talked about the amount of time children spend indoors and how the number of children that knock on her door has increased. Isn’t this crazy?

When we lived in our former suburban nightmare, it was common for the boys and I to go out for a walk or a hike around the lake and not see any children. Not one! These master planned neighborhoods are built with green spaces to promote health and well-being, yet there is no one home during the day to enjoy them.

This is not a judgement against those living that life, rather a message that nature can heal what stresses them. It can give our children a place to run, learn, and grow into the grounded people that know how to handle the stresses of the world. It can give tired moms a place for a personal retreat. It can heal a frantic world.

In Search of a Calling

In Gregg Levoy’s bookCallings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life he writes about listening for your call. I find that modern life has to be simplified to hear that call. This is a terrific book for helping you get quiet and listen to what your life is trying to tell you. It also reminds us that we do not have to change the world, we just need to live authentically in ours no matter what your resume says.

I know this because I am living proof. I was finally able to tune into how to live a life that was truly ours, but it took simplifying our lives to block out all of the noise getting in the way.

You can simplify your life without radical downsizing like we did, but getting quiet is essential for anyone struggling to identify their best work.

It is difficult to find quiet time for reflection, with no “place” for it in your life. This can be as simple as a cup of tea and a blanket. This is a signal to your body that you are taking the time to nurture your soul and by extension your life.

To create a place to nurture your soul can be as simple as a small spot for plants and a place to sit and enjoy them. Even in our 1000 square feet, we have nature tucked into places to bring as much peace and harmony into our very active household as possible.

Whatever your plan for the upcoming autumn, take a few minutes today to find a small spot to begin soothing your soul to hear your call to your best life.

Not Going With The Flow

austin

 

I had an experience this week that was so startling, that I have had to spend quite a bit of time reflecting on it. I enrolled the boys in a camp, and by all accounts it was a wonderful decision, until I saw how it was set up. They had been to a similar type of camp last summer and they loved it.

I held back my assumptions, and wanted to be sure what I was seeing and feeling and also let the kids make up their own minds. Trusting them at five to give me cues to why they were not wanting to be there. Why they are hesitating is as important as the pause.

I realized quickly that my children have only been in environments, where they are celebrated. Not that they have no discipline, but celebrated as people. Any environment we decided was good for them had this one essential element.

That they are unique, wonderful, and loved. What I found instead, was something different. Not bad. Different. There were songs about being wonderful and loved, but it was missing in action.

My children were not at ease, because it was like a herding of children. Not taking the time to high five and greet them, but to silently lead them on their way. No wonder they did not want to go in. Would you?

I stopped an adult and asked for the person in charge. I asked where were all the adults? Who had trained the youth on how to greet young children to make them feel safe and welcomed?

The answer I got was a question. Do you homeschool? Are you having a hard time letting go?

What? No! I let go all the time. That is the reason we are here, to let them experience community. (My inner dialogue).

I stayed quiet, and polite, trying to process what I was feeling seeing and experiencing. Not judging – seeing. I knew it was not about letting go, but choosing.

My objections got my children their own personal guides, people to make them feel safe and welcome and loved. They did. To her credit, the director went the extra mile and helped my children feel at ease. She made them feel so celebrated the next time they arrived.

What about the rest of the children? Don’t they need that as well? Why will they just go with the flow? Are they feeling uneasy? Is anyone noticing?

This is not a flow I am interested in. I want my children to be confident to go without me, but that takes them trusting their environment. They feel and see more than we know. I trust them to tell me what is right and what is not for them, because they know a safe place when they see it.

Have you experienced this? Are we raising our children in a world full of herds? Is this what the world has accepted as a good way to celebrate children? How can they learn to be without us if we first do not let them experience what a safe place feels like?

Pleasant Surprises, Meeting Sugata Mitra

 Acto

I have had a busy week, full of magical moments, but the most magical part of that is that I was working.

The magic was the idea of weaving together all of the things that I enjoy doing since I began this life redesign journey. I read many books on following your calling, downsizing, and designing your ideal work, but I had no idea what that could possibly look like until this week.

This is not that different from designing your home. Many of the warmest homes I have ever visited, were unassuming, well curated, and had a simple lovely energy. You would walk in and instantly feel the power of the simplicity, and the energy it allows for the people it touches.

As I was working this week, I experienced that warm, unassuming, well curated energy in of all places – a school. Can you imagine with the state of education that this was even possible?

The pleasant surprise begins with it’s founders. Many people could focus on their wealth and celebrity-like status, but they are the warmest two people you could ever meet. Not only are they a lovely couple and family, but their mission is to create a movement so that other children can find their calling and change the world.

This post is not really about education though, but about a philosophy on life design. To create a home and world for your family, you do not need very much. Children, as I witnessed at Acton Academy this week, thrive in an atmosphere full of freedom and unassuming simplicity.

It is a mirror of what we have been trying to create in our home, less is definitely more.

The most profound experiences in life, are just that, experiences. What is remarkable is that I heard this same sentiment coming from 12-14 year old children. Can you imagine the life they have ahead of them? So wise, so young.

The guest visit this week by Sugata Mitra and his wife was an experience I will never forget. This pioneer in educational disruption is as unassuming as his hosts, and just as wise and lovely as is his wife.

What if our lives could be so rich with experiences that we did not value material things as highly? What would that change in our children? Does your home reflect a simple curated unassuming energy? Does it welcome in experiences for you are your family?

I am convinced that our life would be very different had we not taken the step to take back control of our lives – to demand freedom that we so sorely needed.

What experiences do you think you are missing? I for one am feeling fortunate, and cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Interview with Dave from Blokeschool

Great insight on homeschooling from a father’s point of view.

An Unschooled Future

I must admit that when I first discovered Dave’s blog, the first week that he started writing, my first thoughts were jealous ones. BlokeSchool – such a cool name, that for any Australian, is instantly recognizable.

Then, I got excited – there was actually another father out there taking the lead on their children’s education.  I was blown away by the care and depth of thought that went into that first post, and I still continue to read and be engaged with every post that Dave writes.  He has younger children so not all of the activities are as relevant to us, by I have still read every post simply because I enjoy the level of thought in them.

I am really pleased to be able to share here the thoughts of another father who is highly engaged in his children’s education.

How many children do you have? What ages?  Are…

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