When Kids Practice What You Preach

One of the things about unschooling is that we spend alot of time with our kids.  This means we talk alot.

The funny thing is, the way we talk now is like friends. Or even like adult to adult.  With a huge amount of respect for each other.

When that happens we all listen better. We are all in tune with what is important for each of us. We take on board what everyone is saying and use the bits we like best, as individuals or as a family.

As parents we have had different lives.  ‘Bad habits’ are harder to break.  It’s easier for the kids to build the right habits *if they want to*. <— that’s the key.

But where we are at now, is that our eldest, when it comes to food, practices what my husband and I preach a whole lot better than we do.

He eats better and has a stronger will to resist than we do.  We can’t make him eat the bad stuff and it has resorted to us fighting over the last carrots. Something I would never have imagined!

Go figure.

Stop Accepting Things As They Are

We all want to create our own path, but will it truly be our own if we accept things the way they are?

There are paths everywhere that others try to define for us.  Just look around, people everywhere trying to tell you what is best. What to eat. What to wear. When to wake up. What to read or watch.  What is acceptable, or not. What to study. When to study. How much you should know, or not. What to do with your life. When you are right, or wrong.

Anyone and everyone will happily give you advice.  But it is only you that has to live with it.  The more you follow what others say, the less you really know who you really are.

How many of your thoughts are really your own?

There is so much pressure these days to follow a path that someone else has defined. So much so, that we often forget that we can define our own and it doesn’t have to look anything that currently exists in this world.

When you define your own life; your own path; discover the things that you enjoy and start discovering how wrong everyone else is about you. That is when you start discovering who you are.

And like a true teenager you begin to care less and less about what the world has to think or say about you.  Because it doesn’t matter.

The sad truth today is that many of us don’t take the time to get to know ourselves. We’ll come up with excuses of why.  And keep trodding along the path that others have created for us. Often expecting to be given the time to find out, at some distant point in our lives.

The reality is it’s a rare thing to be truly given anything.  You need to take stuff when and where you can. (You can apologise later!).

Won’t The Kids Just Sit And Play Video Games All Day?

Society has such little faith in our children.  It seems if we are not there to guide, monitor and control them then they will make awful decisions.

One of the most common responses to us unschooling is…

But won’t they just:

  • play video games all day?
  • watch TV all day?
  • not do any real work?
  • be lazy and not get any exercise?
  • eat junk food all the time?
  • be rude?
  • be unhelpful?
  • not learn a thing?
  • not be able to cope in the real world?
  • etc, etc, etc.

As we dive deeper and deeper into the world of freedom and unschooling I can’t help but feel that the lack of trust we have in our children making (good) decisions is a huge problem with society.

Why do we not have faith in our children to become good and well educated people of the future?

Why do we feel we have to control every aspect of their lives for them to become respected and educated citizens?  A typical child’s life, until they are around 18, generally involves others or the system making decisions for them.

It’s almost like we see children as a different species.

In our world of unschooling (note that each unschooler does things differently) we give our kids more freedom than most.   And the more we unschool, the more we realise that a huge part of their education is us all having discussions together and working as a team.

We all have a role to play.  We are all part of a team. And we all make a difference.  The more we work together in an unschooling way, the more the kids see the value they can bring to us and their community.

The reality is that they mostly don’t need teachers to teach them stuff.  They just have to want to do things.  So we talk about alot of stuff that they are interested in, could be interested in and in a way that will encourage them to see the value in learning new skills.  We open their minds to the possibilities that are out there.

We encourage them to try different things too.  They don’t have to stick with everything they try, but opening their minds to new things is important…we believe.

When they want to learn something, it happens remarkably quickly often without much help from us.  If they are genuinely not interested, then we drop it.

Sure, sometimes they have lazy days. Sometimes they eat junk. Sometimes they have alot of screen time.  Sometimes they snap at us or can be rude.  But to be honest, don’t adults do that too?  And us adults do, what’s the big deal?  We are not seeking perfection.

The more we unschool, the more we see the kids doing stuff and pestering us adults to help them achieve things they want to do.  They are not sitting on their lazy arses watching life pass them by.  They are proactive.  If anything, they are getting us up and about doing more stuff.

My eldest is particularly driven at the moment.  He has written down his goals for the year.  There are 11.  Most of the things he gets on and does himself.  Though some activities (like cooking and maths) he often needs help, and boy does he get on my case to help him get through his schedule (that he has created) for the day.  We have not asked him to do any of this.

So, will they just play video games all day? No.

Perhaps people should realise the influence they have on children and start raising their expectations and trust in them.

Believe in the kids of the future and they will surprise you in many ways!


Why And How We Cancelled Christmas

Masters in the Business of Us...Graham recently wrote about life choices we have made as ‘unschoolers’.   For us, we are viewing unschooling in the sense of not just our kids education, but as our life as a whole picture.

The 3 key areas (for us) we have identified for this are: unschooling, bootstrapping and minimalism.  As we find that these 3 philosophies overlap significantly in their thinking and approach whilst addressing different parts of our lives.

The more we have gone down each of these paths the more we have have let go of things that do not add value to our lives.  Sounds simple enough, but it’s a slow, slow process.

The latest thing we chose to get rid of is Christmas and I thought it would be worth trying to explain why and how.

The Why

Sometimes you feel like you are on a treadmill in life.  You continue doing what you are doing because that’s just the way things are.

A ‘9-5 stuck in a rut job’ can be typical example of this.  Sure, there’s a need to go out there and earn money.  Early on you may have had dreams to move on or do better.  But along the way these dreams and reasons got lost along the way.   It is only when you begin to re-evaluate your life and job that you realise how far off track things have gotten and that you’ve now signed up to so many things that the consequences of quitting feel too big.  This often creates a feeling of being stuck.

I kind of feel like it’s the same with Christmas.  Sure as a kid it was fun.  As a teenager and young adult, not so much.  As an adult with a young family the experience of creating Christmas quickly felt like a chore to us.  We had signed up to the festive rituals, no religious stuff for us though as we are not religious in any kind of way. Got the kids to believe in Santa. And now felt stuck in a routine that we didn’t particularly enjoy anymore.

As the years passed with the family, I really began to dread the whole Christmas thing.  The mass media advertising. The mass spending of unnecessary money. The mass lying about Santa to kids.  The mass focus on so called ‘season of giving’ that feels so unbalanced to society.

The kids didn’t really appreciate, need or value the presents that were given.  And a whole years worth of catching up with family was crammed into a few short days.

It wasn’t about punishing our kids or feeling that they had turned into brats.  Nor was it about saving money.

We just felt in our hearts that the whole run up to Christmas didn’t add value to our lives.  So we decided to get rid of it.  We would have probably stopped it years ago if we didn’t have kids.

The How

The first thing we did was speak to our older boys (aged 9 and 11) to explain what we wanted to do.

We said we didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore because:

  • we are not religious
  • we dislike the mass media and advertising around it
  • we felt like it didn’t add value to our lives (and our time and money could be better spent elsewhere)
  • we could go in search of something else to do in life, something else to celebrate – and we could choose exactly how and what. (We didn’t have to make a decision straight away.)
  • we never liked the whole Santa thing. This year was the perfect year to stop as their younger brother (aged 3) is at the age where he starts to understand and believe the stories around Christmas.

We asked them how they felt about it.

There were no tears. No complaints. Our (older) kids were completely on board. I kid you not.

They said it made sense and ‘that’s fine!’

The kids did ask about presents and our response was that if they ever wanted or needed something then they can ask us and we can talk about it.  If we have the money and if we believe it adds value to our or their lives then we tend to get it.  Sometimes we’ll have to wait a bit for it or we make some kind of agreement around it. We also find a bit of patience makes them think about it more and often they decide against it.  However, the key point here is that Christmas doesn’t mean we have to buy stuff and that it often makes sense to wait till after Christmas to get better deals.

Our ‘No Christmas’ happened by:

  • us donating our Christmas tree and decorations to the local Montessori Nursery that our youngest goes to
  • we didn’t decorate or do anything Christmassy in any kind of way
  • our daily thoughts and actions not being over taken by Christmas tasks, we kind of forgot about Christmas
  • with our 3 year old we decided to take the approach of not talking about Christmas or Santa, unless he specifically asked stuff.  It was slightly awkward at times as he was aware of some things through his nursery.  He’ll be more aware next year and we’ll have to figure out the best approach to it.

Interesting things that we noticed:

  • it was so nice and relaxing!
  • we didn’t really do any work, just took things easy and focused on ourselves – as a result we managed to do some personal stuff/projects that we had wanted to ‘find the time’ to do for ages!
  • Graham’s mum who normally comes down for Christmas postponed her trip to a more sensible time (in February after our next baby is born/due)
  • we became observers of Christmas – via the likes of Facebook we would see others celebrate and we felt quite content within ourselves that we were not taking part in it.
  • no presents were given
  • no junk was accumulated
  • we had a low key meal and watched a family movie
  • a nice time was had

I suspect that our ‘no christmas’ will evolve over time. Being 8 months pregnant I particularly enjoyed the not having to do much and having the opportunity to have a few lazy days to focus on myself and family without work emails coming in.

I don’t feel under pressure to do something instead of Christmas.  I am tempted to do some good long term social cause project in the future, but I don’t want this to be something to replace or just happen because of or at Christmas time.  Good causes need support throughout the year.

All in good time though! As my current energy levels are loooowww!




To Compete or Not To Compete

When you stick like with like then they will naturally be compared and compete.

Stick kids of all the same age in a class – they will be measured, compared and compete against each other. Stick kids in a mixed age class – like Montessori does – and they can’t compete.  They actually end up helping each other out.  Siblings often can’t compete on the same terms – age differences mean that they will often never be at the same level.  Sure there is rivalry, but not really competition like is witnessed at schools.

Stick adults in a similar working environment with similar career progressions – they will be measured, compared and compete against each other.

So what’s the problem with competition?

Is it a bad thing?

Does it really push and encourage us to do better?

Do we become a better society because of competition?

I know, as an adult, I would utterly detest being compared and ranked against everyone else my age.  If I went seeking this information to see how well (or not) I’m doing compared to others of a similar age, country, gender then I’d soon be doubting myself at every single opportunity.  I would probably lose focus of who I wanted to become and be tempted into the greatness of someone else’s picture of success.

In the context of business – competition is often seen as good, but the negatives are there too.  Driving costs down. Lack of employee welfare. The pressure and stress to succeed no matter what the cost – to people or the environment. Etc. Etc. Etc. All in the name of success and competition.

The benchmarks that exist – do they really make sense or have any value?

Could some analysis and numbers really determine how well I’m doing? And how happy I am?

Maybe I would classed as happier then average, but if the average is ‘depressed’ then it’s not such a great thing.

My gut tells me competition is (often) a bad thing. We lose sight and focus of the things that are really important. We become distracted by competing on other people’s terms. And we fail to really see what is important to us – as individual human beings.

I see this in my kids as we’ve removed them from the education system – it really doesn’t register with us what other kids their ages are doing.  We look at them as individuals to help them achieve the next step in their life.  We are proud of what they achieve, not because they have achieved some kind of grade or are better than someone else, but because they have worked hard, overcome inner challenges and come out the end stronger.

I also see this in us, as parents.  The more we detach ourselves from the rat race. The more we focus on ourselves and not on what others expect of us, then the more motivated and focused we become to self improve and get to where we want to get to.

We think really hard about the decisions we make.  Is this something that we really want? Or have we been unnecessarily influenced by what others think?

Our terms. Our ideas. Our rules.

The Science Behind The Education System

I’ve always loved the Montessori approach to learning. My 3 year old goes to a local Montessori Nursery, as did his older brothers several years back. Their experience has been nothing but positive. Sure, Teresa who runs the little Montessori nursery deserves a lot of credit for being lovely :) but I also think there is a lot we could all learn from Montessori – whether you believe in the standard education system or not.

For me, one of the things that I’ve been taking away from my reading and research into Montessori is the clear scientific approach to the Montessori child led approach.

Maria Montessori spent many years observing children and creating activities, tools/equipment and theories of why and how children learn best. Her approach has always been scientific – always looking to explain and prove her findings. Though I’m no expert, it feels clear to me that her motivation was for the child. To help children learn with desire and purpose to then become capable and confident adults. She was not motivated by money. Or by creating a system or company to dominate the education world. Or by proving intelligence through tests. Her focus was the child – understanding how they work from many angles of life and as a result creating things that would benefit their growth, when they are ready and prepared for it.

I take a lot of ideas from the Montessori approach and apply them to our unschooling environment. To me, many of the Montessori activities that have been designed just make sense. I can and have seen why they work. And this is what gives me confidence in the Montessori approach.

I’ve become quite a practical and scientific led person over the years. Montessori went to great extents to prove her findings scientifically. There is nothing like that for the current education system. This is a big part of why I’ve lost any confidence in the school system.

The comparison of Montessori & unschooling with the current schooling system will inevitably be mentioned here! Those of us who homeschool are most likely well aware of the origins of schools – they were never created with the child in mind. There was probably no research into how children learn best. The focus was to churn obedience out children in an organised way. As far as I am aware, there is no research and proof that the current education system works well. There are endless attempts to prove effectiveness through tests, and more tests. But really, do tests really prove that at student is a well rounded, capable, independent and content child? Test may be able to prove certain things that a child is capable of doing, but it is purpose is to prove the capability of one single area of a child and ignoring the rest.

I never wanted to send my kids to school. There was always something tugging at my heart strings that made it feel wrong. I knew I could homeschool from the beginning, but didn’t. We’ve had some horrible school experiences, but there were also some positive ones. But in the end, the positives of homeschooling won.

My purpose here, really is not to have a go at the current education system, it’s more a reflection of mine. A validation of the decisions we have made as a family. I feel confident and content that our energies are being spent on focusing on our children in an unschooling, child led and Montessori way. We’ve been doing this 2 years now and I feel it is right to invest our time and energy this way.

How could I send them into a school system that I don’t believe works? Never say never(!)… I could now never send my kids into a school or an education system which has not been specifically designed to create content, confident and capable children.

There is no science behind the education system.

But How Will They Get A Job?

As an unschooling parent, this question often crops up.  For some reason, it becomes unthinkable that someone who doesn’t go to school (for most of their life) will be unable to get a job.  This thinking needs to stop!

If there is one thing I could have changed as a child/teenager, it would be understanding myself better.  Understanding who I wanted to be.  What I really enjoyed doing.  And what was realistically achievable.

I went to work at the age of 18 not knowing any of this.  A lost person in a big world.  It took me 7 years to begin to find the path that I am now on and happy with.  And that was just the beginning of the path.  I’m almost 10 years into that and still feel like I have lots more important work to do.

Not that my youth was wasted (though some of it was!), I can’t help but think how much further down the line I would have been now if I had a better inclination of who I was.  Why was I 25 before I felt like I had a clear(er) direction in my life?

As I bring up my kids, my focus is to help them discover who they are and what they want to become.  Once they discover that, jobs or ‘making a living’ will follow.

And then there’s the whole other story with the fact that we don’t know what the job market will look like in 10-20 years time.  And I am totally convinced that spending 12 years in school will not prepare my kids for the future of work.

Here’s a nice video that talks about the future of work better than I can.

Why Are People So Surprised When Kids Learn By Themselves?

So, Ethiopian village kids teach themselves via a tablet.

Or there’s the pretty famous computer in a wall experiment where Indian kids taught themselves a whole range of things.

We read these stories, become inspired and just think it’s amazing.

But really, why is it so amazing? Why do we think so little of the future generation?

Kids don’t need teachers to learn.  Their environment is what creates them and facilitates their learning.

How many things do 0-5 year olds learn before they start formal schooling?  I think if you started to create a list then it would soon become a very, very long.

Yet, this magic ‘age 5′ is a turning point where society believes that their kids will only ever learn in a formal environment and being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it.  The fear is struck into professionals to perform to achieve some kind of target.  And parents are convinced their kids won’t make it in life without the 12 years of formal schooling.

Along the way everyone seems to forget that we don’t need what most of school forces upon us to do real learning. We forget that curiosity, passion and desire to learn something new is 1000 times more powerful and exciting.

Why are we so afraid to embrace the simple fact that all human beings can and will learn at their own pace, given the right environment and given the opportunity to make their own choices?

Life Is Too Short

The more I’ve focused on the things I want to do and that make me happy, the more I see how much waste there is all around us.  As we’ve been slowly changing the world around us we’ve been getting rid of things that bring us down and stress us out.

As parents this means things like only doing good work that we enjoy.  Getting people in to help with the things we don’t enjoy so much (cleaning, admin, accounts). Reducing wasting time – like a long daily commute.

On the other side of this is adding things that we do enjoy. More time with the kids. Chill out time. Exercise. Hobbies & interests.

In our previous life, with a ‘full time business or career’ to live up to, we put up with many things we didn’t really want to do and life was just too busy.  ‘One day’ we kept saying to ourselves.

But ‘one day’ really isn’t good enough.  Not when life is short. Not when life is full of too many regrets.

Naturally, as we think of this ourselves, we think of this for our kids.  Which is one of the big reasons we decided to unschool.  Life is just too short for our kids to be spending time on things that they really aren’t into.

These things that they didn’t really enjoy or value are personable to each person, for our kids it was things like:

  • assembly
  • anything religious like prayers and going to church (we’re not religious)
  • school plays
  • reading books and doing projects on things they weren’t interested in
  • wanting to read during quiet reading time, but being unable to do so due to distractions
  • having to be around people/kids they didn’t really like (not all of them, of course, but it only takes one or two people on a daily basis to make life miserable).
  • the time getting ready and coming home from school
  • sitting through lessons and not really learning anything
  • play time that wasn’t much fun and often full of unpleasant experiences

I could go on. And this is just an example, our example.  Things my boys didn’t enjoy and just put up with because, well, that’s just the way things were.

For me, all I could think of was that life was too short for them to have to live through that.  I knew they could learn and do great things without the things that bring them down.  I knew they would be happier if they could focus on things they enjoy.

I knew this, because I had been through the same process as an adult.

If I cut the things out of my life that bring me down, then my kids deserve the same.

Making creative choices, having less stuff in a rich environment…

As unschoolers we are making a lifestyle choice. Unschooling is the process of deschooling ourselves; as parents and children. School indoctrinates us to respond to schedules and agendas defined by others. Great for factories (or the needs of industry), not so great for creative thinking. Seth Godin does a great job of explaining the current state of schools, so I won’t repeat his words.

Masters in the Business of Us...Two other choices that make an unschooling life possible for us, are:

  • Bootstrapping
  • Minimalism

Bootstrapping is an approach to business, build/make/sell stuff, minimise costs, take profits from paying customers and re-invest until you have built a sustainable business. We are bootstrappers (*investors need not apply). We have to be responsive, whilst also remembering our own agenda, we are allowed to define our own schedule. Yes, at the beginning bootstrapping impacts your income, you need to organise your life in order to be in the position to give it a go, it is a long game, and is not without risk. You are responsible for your own destiny. Everyday we work on buying our future selves a little more freedom. If we build a sustainable income, we never need to respond to someone else’s schedule ever again. The business skills learned can be re-applied, any income gained should be repeatable. Warning: you may become unemployable, you’ll ask too many questions.

Minimalism is a way of life where we limit our desire to consume, and remove clutter that has limited value or function. The income required to have a sustainable life becomes less, a simple sensible choice for a bootstrapper. Surprisingly, minimalism makes you ask the question differently, it’s not ‘are we rich yet?’ it’s ‘where are we rich?’. We value things differently, the goal is joy. We have to be creative in how we entertain and/or educate ourselves and each other. We pass on the value of searching for a more meaningful life rather than seeking satisfaction in blind consumerism.

We believe creative thinking is key, to unschooling, to bootstrapping and to minimalism. We take inspiration from Sir Ken Robinson, a true believer creativity is a necessary and key skill for the 21st century, he asks not, ‘are we smart?’, instead, ‘where are we smart?’. We become self-directed in our learning.

We are grateful to have found these three overlapping ‘philosophies’, they are in alignment, and our lives are enriched because of this.

Simply put, ask better questions, and then be creative.