Posts Tagged ‘unschooling’

Sunday Surf: Alternative Parenting Info for Family and Friends

Holidays and celebrations usually mean family get togethers and all that comes with those situations.

For many, this is a joyous time when perhaps people who rarely enjoy sharing the same space have a day or more to “live together” in some ways. What happens when the small family unit chooses to live differently than the family at large? For parents who subscribe to alternative/gentle/positive/natural/attachment whatever you call it parenting, the coming together of different styles of raising children can cause tension and frustration. Some families also have a hard time over the phone or the internet.

A few things I think cause trouble are a lack of compassionate understanding of the various “sides” and feelings of judgment and defensiveness that block communication. This happens for everyone, but it seems that the hows, whats and whys of a less typical type of parent are less known (and also, therefore, respected?). I know I wish that my family could read some of the articles that shape my parenting choices.

What follows is a rough draft of my dream list of 10 blog posts to give someone a sense of where I am currently coming from as a mother. (Yes, I reserve the right to change and learn and grow.)

***Last minute addition!***

I just found this post on the 10 RIE principles of caregiving, and it addresses all the main issues I’ve been trying to raise with my own family. I may even share it with said family…….

10 Articles to Help Understand My Parenting Aspirations

Wordless Wednesday: Making a Sensory Bin of Leaves!

Pick up the leaves....

Put them in/near the bin!

I Helped Mama! (She is signing "help.")


More Interested in Raking

My Plan to Be a Better Mom: Update!

This is where I get to focus on the things I have done (right) in the last week! Mostly I just wanted to share a few activities I tried spontaneously that ended up working out well.

My daughter seems to have been having some fussy days lately. Needless to say, necessity is the mother of invention (and creativity). As I said in the latest Better Mom post on activities, I want to create and offer more hands on learning/play activities. Here are three things that came to me after all I read all the awesome things other mamas are doing with their littles. (See activities post for lots of resources for learning/play ideas.)

Sensory Bin: Paper

I get these circulars in the mail that frustrate me because I don’t want them and it’s such a waste of paper. The other day I felt like ripping them up. Just after, I walked by the bin I wanted to use as a sensory bin. I decided to have my daughter help me crumple them up and toss them in the bin. Then I let her play. She got to explore texture, sound, her body and more, turning an annoyance for me into a wonder to explore for my daughter!

Crumple Crumple

Stomp Stomp Stomp

Squish, Smash

Scoop and Pour Activity

Then the other day I had my daughter help make Vietnamese spring rolls by giving her the bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, and chopped lettuce to put into separate bowls for my husband to assemble. I went to put the peanuts in a bowl myself and realized it was the perfect scoop and pour “Practical Life” Montessori activity that I read about all the time. She was so into this. After an initial spill (see the peanuts on the counter?) she realized on her own how to be more careful and spilled not a single peanut more. It was quick but a great learning experience for us both, I think.



Open and Close Activity Bin

More recently, she had gotten her pep back after a cold and wanted to play. I was doing dishes, washing out a ketchup bottle, when I decided to look around for “open and close” jars, boxes and things for an activity box. I surprised myself by easily finding a number of things. I had fun along with her realizing how fun and different containers are to open and close. She did ask for help with the inner spice top, but ended up actually opening it once herself. The best part was hearing her ask for help and then say “Try it” to who I thought was me. After initial frustration, she actually told herself to try opening it, and she did try a couple of times rather than giving up as easily as she initially intended.

Some of the open and close materials, found around the house....

Little screwtop


Larger screw top (spice jar)

Was more complicated and exciting than we thought!

Yet another unexpected open and close experience awaited us!

It even came with a smell that led to a cooking conversation. (Plus we needed to put something inside. See it?)

My Plan to Be a Better Mom: Spaces and Organization

I know everyone always says their house is messy (when it’s not), but I really am organizationally and spatially challenged in some ways….like the ways that keep a house clean and put away.

I love to see things organized, love baskets and boxes and labels and rows of things. It’s just that doing whatever it takes to get to that point doesn’t come naturally to me. Whether or not it is my strength, I need to develop a clear sense of organization and purpose in the spaces in our house, for the sake of every family member and friend who inhabits those spaces. Plus, with a little one on the way and due during the middle of winter, I want to make sure my daughter has an engaging and comfortable space to play inside when it’s hard to go outside. I have one room she can kind of take over, but otherwise I have always liked and tried to have a little play space in every room (including the kitchen). This calls for different structures for different spaces. I have some moving around of stuff and furniture to do, but more than that I needed to think on what those play spaces look and feel like.


I know I want them to be organized.

I would like for it to be easy and clear for my daughter and any adult to know where everything goes. “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” If there are baskets and bins with clear purpose, everyone can use them. Eventually I would love to make my own labels (in English and Spanish and maybe even ASL), like Christine from The Aums did when organizing her clothing station. [Oh goodness, a clothing station was one of the things I wanted to maintain…..and haven’t. Clothes are my own worst offense, and now I’m in charge of someone else’s clothes?!]

I, and my daughter, need the space to be as YES as possible.

The more YES the space, the less “no” I have to say. When she was smaller and just starting to get mobile, everyone was telling me about child-proofing, which we don’t really do much of. Every child is different, and some children need more safety boundaries than others. My daughter has always been a rather safe explorer with a will that can be reasoned with. (Who knows what #2 will be like…could change everything!) She began moving around, and we went through the house trying to make things as YES as possible. This meant that if she could reach it, we had better consider whether we wanted her to be able to reach that thing or not. Well, we need to do that again. She is considerably more mobile now, and I find myself saying “No” more than I need to just because of the way my space is organized and set up…..or not. Ideally everything in reach is touchable and ok for play.

The space, the things in it and the way they are set up should encourage and support opportunities for my daughter’s independence, confidence and sense of belonging.

Once she has a clear, organized space that is mostly YES, I want to make sure the things I put in there and the way it is set up fit her developmental needs. Right now, she wants to do everything she can for herself. One thing I would like is for her to have greater access to food and drink items so that she can pour for herself. However, this means, I need a developmentally-appropriate space for her to be able to do these activities. For instance, right now, there isn’t really a child sitting/work space. Having a more functional, child-centered space will most likely be good for her and good for us (and the new little one).


Now that I had a sense of what I’m looking for, I wanted to do some research and see what other folks want out of their spaces.

I liked what Childhood 101 had to say about creating a child space that is inspirational:

  • Inspires them to play in more purposeful, meaningful ways.
  • Inspires them to learn through those play experiences.
  • Inspires them to value what they have.
  • Inspires them to help maintain the space in an organised way.
  • Inspires who they become…

Reading about Montessori principles and home/school spaces inspired me to get more clearly organized so that my daughter can take more ownership of the activities in her life. Here are some guidelines for spaces:

  • They are attractive, orderly and clean.
  • They have a place where children can store and organize personal items, as well as keep complete and in-progress projects.
  • There is adequate open space for children to easily move around, and for everyone to sit together during group time.
  • Children can independently access their Montessori materials from low shelves. They can also help maintain the order on these shelves. It is also important to have appropriately-sized tables and chairs so the children can sit and move with ease.
  • There should be a few interesting, real-life pictures at child’s-eye level, a few beautiful objects that could break easily, living plants, and pets (even small, non-poisonous reptiles and fish are fine).

Reggio Emilia history, philosophy and approach, in addition to the concept of the environment as a child’s “third teacher,” gave me aesthetic ideas for an overall feel and look. Here are some aspects a Reggio class might have:

  • indoor plants and vines
  • natural light
  • open to view
  • capture the attention of both children and adults through the use of mirrors (on the walls, floors, and ceilings), photographs, and children’s work accompanied by transcriptions of their discussions
  • displays of project work are interspersed with arrays of found objects and classroom materials
  • ample space for supplies, frequently rearranged to draw attention to their aesthetic features
  • encourage community

In addition, there are some RIE principles I’d like our spaces to facilitate. Similarities across the board, here. You are surely seeing a theme emerging.

  • Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer and a self-learner.
  • An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing.
  • Time for uninterrupted play.
  • Freedom to explore and interact with other infants.
  • Involvement of the child in all care activities to allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient.
  • Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand his or her needs.
  • Consistency, clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline.

With a better understanding of the principles and values I’d like to encourage, I was ready to look at actual play/learning spaces other people have set up.

NEXT STEPS: Move things around, go through “stuff” (post to come), set up spaces!

I am inspired!

On Compassion and Peoplehood

Read a great post from Mama Eve today, strangely on the similar theme to The Path Not Taken post I wrote about earlier. Clearly, for me there is a consciousness-raising going on around issues of parenting.

The post is called “My Children Are People” in which she admits suddenly (recently) realizing that her children are people.

It made me realize that the role of parent was very, very different than I had first thought.

I realized that “teacher” doesn’t mean “show them how to do everything”.

I realized that “disciplinarian” didn’t mean “punisher” or “controller”.

I realized that “empathy” didn’t mean “let’s discuss feelings every time you’re upset”.

I, of course, had to comment:

I have been thinking many of these same things. What DOES my daughter need from me? Is it in the particulars of the “what” we are to each other or is it in the “how” we are with each other?

Like you, I am finding this understanding liberating in various ways. Not only do I not have to be a perfect parent, but no one else has to be either. My child doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does anyone else’s. This mindset you are describing creates a space.

What comes in that space created? COMPASSION.

Compassion for and in ourselves and others is a wonderful thing to create. Sometimes I think compassion for our self is more of a priority because it opens the heart more fully for everyone else. I am perfectly flawed. If I can love myself well, I can certainly love this blessed being I have the honor of having in my life and live and learn with her in respectful and nourishing ways.

I am hopeful that this awareness and standpoint will gain me some peace of mind. Anger, frustration, annoyance and sometimes even hurt all melt in the presence of compassion. In that space, we are all children.

In fact, I was just reading today randomly that kindness is rooted in the German (?) word for child “kind.” That’s something to think about…….children are people and all people are children…….

Potluck with Sandra Dodd

We went, as a family, to a potluck at Amy Child’s house on Wednesday. It was a full house but not so many people as she probably gets in conferences and such. This was an intimate setting and an opportunity to meet and talk face to face with a major force and voice of unschooling. She is soon marking 25 years of unschooling experience–that includes decades of hearing and gathering stories and experiences of thousands across the nation.

Sandra Dodd, in my experience, was a true advocate for unschooling. She said many things that I already believed and understood, but what surprised me was her inherent belief in attachment parenting and her description of it. Here’s a simulation of how it went when I got a chance to ask my question:

Me: How important is it to be there on the ground playing with your child and the object they are playing with; some people look at me funny when I let my child walk around and interact with her world on her own without following her around.

SandraDodd: Is she clear about communicating what she needs?

Me: Yes, incredibly clear.

SandraDodd: If she is communicating with you, then I would trust her to come get you when she needs you. [She is looking at me breastfeeding my child in an Ergo baby carrier.] When you attachment parent, you usually know your kids needs. [Pause.] And I mean attachment parenting of the 70s when it meant simply:

  • When your child wants to be picked up, pick them up

  • When they want to be put down, put them down

  • When they want in your bed, let them in the bed

  • It’s about respecting them and allowing them a voice

This all seems logical, but I was struck by the fact that she so naturally went from unschooling to attachment parenting — two things previously separated in my mind. It made me realize that my philosophy about both raising my child and “educating” her are the same. I trust my child’s innate curiosity and drive to learn through play. I will do by best to nurture those by creating a rich environment for her to explore and discover independently and with me.

Absolute Trust

Ideally, absolute trust starts with the process of birth.

Mothers trust their instincts and intuition around eating, exercise, and all around wellness. Mothers trust their bodies to grow a child and trust their hearts to welcome a new spirit to the world. All this means a calming of the mind, silencing of the chatter and the shoulds and the musts: a listening.

Humans are animals like any other, and an animal mother knows and trusts — with their every ounce of her being — in her ability to birth. There is no question. They birth in the silence of trust and follow their instincts. Human mothers are not exceptions to this rule. Even a mother’s kisses are instinctual acts with biological and chemical drive towards optimal health and wellness.

Ideally, a mother’s trust in herself extends beyond her power in birth into motherhood as she learns, simultaneously, to trust her child.

Despite teaching for years, I still find it hard to wrap my head around trust in a child’s ability to self-direct learning. Having a child and watching her learn and grow has made it clear to me:

Humans are learning machines.

Our brain’s are designed for the task. Astra Taylor’s talk “The Unschooled Life” blew out any remaining limitations on my understanding of that truth. I encourage anyone who wants to have more trust in their child’s ability to learn:

  1. Watch any baby or young child try to do something they want to do.

  2. Watch all the way through Astra Taylors  “The Unschooled Life” (1:15 min)

Ideally, we have absolute trust in each and every child’s ability to learn.

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