Blissfully Informed Hippie Chick

Encouraging people to think critically about everything.

Summerhill

Brilliant.

The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.

Dadosaurus Rex

I stumbled across this while perusing the vast caverns of the interwebs.  It is a chapter of a book called “Summerhill” written by an educator named A. S. Neill, and the message resonated with me so strongly, I couldn’t help but post it here.  Enjoy.

“I hold that the aim of life is to find happiness, which means to find interest. Education should be a preparation for life. Our culture has not been very successful. Our education, politics and economics lead to war. Our medicines have not done away with disease. Our religion has not abolished usury and robbery. The advances of the age are advances in mechanism – in communications and computers, in science and technology. New wars threaten, for the world’s social conscience is still primitive.

If we feel like questioning today, we can pose a few awkward questions. Why does man hate and kill in war when…

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Learning By Example: Thoughts about “radical unschooling”

I think I finally understand radical unschooling. Radical unschooling expands the concept of child-led learning to all areas of life. Children are trusted to make their own decisions about everything, not just what they learn. Up until now, I don’t think I fully grasped what it was really all about. The other day, I had an epiphany while discussing with my husband what we should do about our older two children not wanting to help out with housework. The question I kept coming back to was “how can we teach our kids to want to help?” Because we don’t want housework to be about control. We don’t want it to be something they are forced to do. We want them to see that the house is messy and decide they should clean. We want them to see us doing dishes and offer to help. Our toddlers regularly grab the broom and try to sweep, or get a baby wipe and clean something. They want to be involved in doing dishes, cooking dinner, wiping the table, picking up their toys. I remember our older kids doing the same things at this young age. So what happened?

Then it hit me…how do babies learn? They learn to talk by listening to others talk. They learn to walk by watching others walk. They learn to put on shoes by watching others put on shoes. They learn to use a fork by watching others use a fork. They learn through observation and mimicry. They try to do the things they see others doing because they want to be fully grown. Their whole job is to get to a place of completed development. Shared household responsibilities are a social expectation. We wouldn’t want to share a home with fellow adults who were unwilling to contribute to the cleanliness of the house and the wellbeing of those that lived there. We are social creatures, we want to be part of a group, so we innately want to please the members of our group.

When my husband and I started forcing our kids to do chores, we changed the social contract. Instead of teaching them that families help each other because they care for and want to please one another, we began teaching them that they are to do as we say, because. It stopped being a social issue and started being a control issue. And they’ve been rebelling against that control from the first time we forced them. Because one human forcing another to do anything against their will is just plain wrong. Love is not forceful.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails….

– 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

In addition to all those qualities, love trusts. Distrust resides in fear. Love is not fearful. I’m ready to release my fear. I’m ready to trust my children. In doing so, just like when we began unschooling, there will be a period of deschooling. I’m ready to accept this. It may takes months, or even possibly years for them to heal from the control we attempted to force upon them. There will probably be at least a short time of complete and utter rebellion. But I can see past that now. I can see that, eventually, they’ll begin to realize that we trust them fully, and they’ll begin to trust themselves. It will be a process. There will be times I’ll doubt myself and my resolve, but we will make it through!

This is what it means to be “radical” unschoolers. Can we just start calling it “pure love”?

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Why Disobedience is Beneficial

If you heard someone described as obedient, what thoughts does it bring to mind? Someone with no mind of their own, who will do what you tell them, who won’t stand up for themselves. Oh no, that’s not what I’m aiming for, and so I do not want ‘obedient’ children.

Imagine, a world full of people who are looking for someone to obey. Sadly, I already see this happening in America. Obey the law (even if it’s morally wrong). Obey your doctor (even if there’s a better way). Obey what the advertisers tell you to buy (even if there’s no good reason to do so). This country is full of people who do exactly as they’re told by a select few entities, and look at where it’s gotten us? Obedient citizens are wonderfully controllable. They are also easy to profit off of. They readily believe propaganda and willingly turn each other in to the authorities for daring to not believe the lies. And it all starts with you, as parents. Demanding blind obedience from your children. Then sending them off to a government-run propaganda complex (a.k.a. “school”) to be further stuffed into little boxes, taught to absorb and regurgitate information, never to question authority, and even wait until a designated time to use the bathroom.

The mother in the shopping centre with a screaming child can expect glares and ‘control your child’ comments from passersby. As if children aren’t their own person but more like possessions to be controlled. That your parenting should be judged on how well your children behave, how quiet they are, how obedient they appear. That somehow the tighter grip you have on them, the more you are able to influence them and they will turn into a respectable adult.

By “respectable adult”, these people actually mean “obedient adults”. You know, the kind that go to college, get a job, buy a car, buy a house, pay their taxes, mow their lawns, have some kids, and then turn those kids into more obedient adults.

It’s time to stop being obedient! It’s time to shun the system that churns out good little citizen robots. It’s time for civil disobedience, because that’s the only way to buck the system that’s keeping the masses controlled by a perpetual state of debt and/or poverty. I know it goes against everything you have been taught to believe. That’s the point! Question it, question everything. And allow your kids the right to disobey.

(Article source: http://happinessishereblog.com/2014/08/i-dont-want-obedient-children/)

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“I can’t afford to…”

Stop. Right there. I’m calling bullshit. I’ve heard this line far too many times and I’m here to tell you the cold hard truth: yes, you can! OK, maybe you can’t afford anything you want, but I can tell you 9 things right now that you think are necessary that really aren’t.

I’ve stayed home with my kids since the first one was born 11 years ago. It’s something i always planned on doing. We’ve had to sacrifice luxuries to make that happen, but it’s important enough to my husband and I that we did what it took to enable me to do so. Especially now that we decided to unschool our kids. Before you get ahead of yourself, no, my husband never had a spectacular job. In fact, lower-enlisted soldiers (as my husband used to be) actually get paid right around the poverty line. (Here is an article about that, if you’re interested.) We qualified for WIC (an American program that gives mothers formula and/or food for their children up until the age of 5) and could have received food stamps. The jobs he’s held since getting out of the Army have paid far less than what most Americans consider necessary for a family to live on a single income. So now that you know my qualifications for living on a tight budget, here’s my list of things you can eliminate from your budget that are actually unnecessary:

1. Vacations
This is fairly straightforward. No, you don’t need a vacation. Not even a little one. Yes, it’s nice, but completely unnecessary. More people are realizing this and opting for “staycations“, where they stay at home and do fun things locally. However, this can add up to quite a bit of money also. I think the issue is that people are too stressed out on a daily basis and feel they need that week or two to recharge, so to speak.

My alternative:
Work on de-stressing all year long, and you won’t feel so strongly that you need a vacation. Do fun things throughout the year that are free, or nearly free. Check your local newspaper, community bulletin boards or websites, area Facebook groups, etc. Pick up brochures from the lobby of a motel or the library. Better yet, ask your friends for places to go that might be largely unadvertised. Here and here are lists of fun, mostly free things to do (hint: pick the free stuff).

2. Television
Nope, not kidding. Believe it or not, you don’t need TV! Not at all. We haven’t had a TV in the house for 10 months now, and I don’t miss it one bit! Not only do I really not miss cable (which we’ve not had for years, besides one short stint last year), I don’t miss the mindless movies we used to watch. There are some good movies out there. Mostly older ones. The ones that actually inspire people to think. Sadly, most movies these days come nowhere close to fitting that bill. They are complete time-wasters. We do watch an occasional movie on the laptop, but it is very rare.

My alternative:
We would much rather play a board game, go for a walk, work in the garden, go to the park, or *gasp* just sit around and talk! Really, not having even the temptation to put on a DVD is amazing. It took some getting used to, and I admit I watched something on the laptop almost nightly for awhile in transition. But the habit is completely broken now, and it’s such a freeing feeling.

3. Eating out (including prepared food)
This one takes a lot more time and effort. It takes planning and preparation. And there will be times you falter, especially in the beginning. But add it up, even the rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, or the take n bake pizza, or the donuts. Everything. While you’re at it, add in all packaged foods. You won’t be able to nix all of these overnight. It’s taken us a few years to get to where we are. But it’s so very much worth the effort! We are so much healthier and homemade food tastes so much better! Even my 11 and 9 year olds are able to cook a lot of foods themselves now.

My alternative:
Start by eliminating going out to eat, since that’s the easiest to control. Buy used cookbooks or utilize online recipe sources and start cooking! The only way to learn is through trying. Then get really bold and pick something to make from scratch. I started with pancakes. I’m not talking about using a baking mix; I’m talking about using flour, milk, and eggs (and a few other ingredients). Then biscuits, brownies, cake…you name it! It might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s a skill that has to be learned. Once upon a time, people learned as children from their mothers and grandmothers. So don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail. Dust yourself off and try again. If you need more motivation than saving money, start researching the ingredients on the food packages in your pantry.

4. New clothes
Ok, so you’ll probably need new underwear and socks every now and then, although I have actually found those at thrift stores as well, new with tags! Most of the time, you don’t actually “need” more clothes at all. When you do, buy used!

My alternative:
I can almost guarantee you can find what you need at a thrift store, secondhand store, consignment store, yard sale, flea market, Craigslist, or other similar place. Even nice clothes for work or school! Yes, it takes a bit more time, but you can save incredible amounts of money. I got my toddler all the clothes she needed this summer for under $25. I bought myself some name-brand sneakers in like-new condition at a consignment store for $10. It can be done!

5. A second vehicle
A lot of you will balk at this suggestion, even more than the others. Having your own car equals independence somehow. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way! It’s possible that it won’t work in your situation, but hear me out. My husband and I have shared a vehicle for almost our entire marriage. Yes, it was less than optimal at times, but we made it work. This isn’t so easy if both of you are employed, but if only one of you is working, I don’t see many instances when it can’t be done.

My alternative:
Utilize public transportation in your area. Buy bikes for everyone (used, of course!). Better yet, walk! When a car really is a must, consider giving your spouse a ride to work and consolidating your errands into one day. Get a ride from a friend. Borrow a car from a family member. Wait until your spouse has a day off. Host a play date or book club at your house so you don’t have to go elsewhere.

6. New furniture or other household items
Like clothing, most everything can be bought used. No, you might not be able to have a specific color scheme. But what’s more important to you? Having your house look perfect, or saving a ton of money for things that are far more important to you?

My alternative:
Again, utilize local stores, yard sales, and websites to find the things you need. I’ve had great success posting wanted ads on local buy/sell groups (ex. “Wanted: washer and dryer, delivered to my house, will pay extra for your time and gas”). Tip: Don’t post a price limit on wanted ads, allow sellers to contact you with the price they are willing to sell it for and negotiate down from there if necessary. My rule of thumb for buying anything is to check all the local sources first, then if I really need it now, I will buy it new. You’d be surprised what you can actually live without, though! Another tip: keep a running list on your phone of things you need so that when you make a trip to a thrift store or pass by a yard sale, you know exactly what you’re looking for and don’t wind up passing up on something you need or buying something you don’t!

7. Lessons/sports for your kids
This is a difficult one for some people to give up. While some lessons can be quite enjoyable and beneficial for kids, I think that they often would rather be engaging in free play, or a fun (free!) family activity (as listed in #1).

My alternative:
Do things together as a family regularly. Check for free (or inexpensive) classes, clubs, or activities offered in your community. Some places to check are Home Depot, Michaels, the parks and recreation department of your city, your local library, etc. If your kids express a strong desire to participate in a more costly activity, you can at least buy used clothing and gear when possible, or consider having your kids earn part or all of the money needed by doing extra chores around the house. Which brings me to my next point…

8. Allowances
Let’s face it, most of the time, parents either have stipulations about what kids are allowed to spend the money on (which means it’s not actually theirs anyway), or the kids spend it on crap. Besides, how does getting paid for no reason teach them any sort of lesson?

My alternative:
Housework that needs to be done because it’s effected by everyone shouldn’t be paid. (i.e. You use dishes; therefore, you help wash dishes.) Anything else should be optional. Come up with a list of housework that you think should be shared and figure out the best way to divvy it up. Then come up with a list of “extra” chores along with the dollar amount you’re willing to pay one of your kids to do it. They can use this money to buy all the things they want that you don’t feel the need to buy them. I like this idea:

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9. Expensive cleaners/soaps and paper towels
I kid you not, I use water, white vinegar, and baking soda to clean most surfaces in my home. Most cleaners not only contain harsh chemicals, but are really unnecessary. The ones that are necessary have very inexpensive alternatives.

My alternative:
First, ditch the paper towels. No need to make the fancy ones you’ve seen on Pinterest, either. Buy a big pack of cheap washcloths, or better yet, find old washcloths at a thrift store! Or some big towels that you can cut up into squares. They can easily be thrown in the wash with other towels or jeans; or if you’re like me, you can throw everything in together!

For most messes, I use a spray bottle with half white vinegar, half water. I use this to mop with also. Floors, counters, walls, toilet, tub, sinks, stove, everything! Even the windows (I use a coffee filter or newspaper in place of paper towels for that). If you’re like me, you’ll worry that vinegar doesn’t actually kill germs. Here is an article to read about that. And if you think a sterile environment is what kids need, think again. Now, I do use bleach for some surfaces. Like after my kids poop in the tub (fun times). But mostly it’s just vinegar. If I’m trying to cut through grease or tough stains, I sprinkle some baking soda first, then spray vinegar and let it soak for awhile first.

For laundry, try this DIY stain remover. And try making your own laundry detergent, or use soap nuts.

Try using coconut oil as a moisturizer, which is especially nice because it has an SPF of about 8, and coupled with wearing a hat, using a sun umbrella, and just not staying in the sun too long, coconut oil can help you avoid toxic sunscreen. You can even make a sugar scrub with coconut oil to use in place of expensive body wash.

I could go on and on about natural, homemade alternatives to harsh chemical cleaners and hygiene products. Suffice to say, you’ll save a ton of money and be healthier for it!

If you have any of your own money-saving tips, please share them in the comments!

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Welcome to Heaven’s Gate

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The trailhead

My husband and I took our kids to Heaven yesterday…or rather, Heaven’s Gate; a lookout point here in Idaho that looks out over Hell’s Canyon to the west (and thus, the states of Oregon and Washington), and the canyon that holds the Middle Fork Salmon River to the east (which is the river just down the street from our house). Apparently, you can see all the way into Montana looking out towards the east from Heaven’s Gate.

We got to talk to the couple who staffs the lookout in the summer months. They keep watch for forest fires, so they can be reported quickly. What an important and fun job! To have that view every single day…wow!

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Looking east over Idaho and Montana

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Looking west toward Oregon and Washington

I can’t forget to mention the view of the Seven Devils, five of which you can see from the lookout point.

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Five of the Seven Devils peaks in the distance

The hike from the parking lot to the top is just under a quarter mile, and the trail is well-maintained. Of course, it’s worth noting that the hike is at 8,000 feet elevation, so with a baby on my back it was a little difficult. I took lots of breaks for pictures!

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The forest bears the scars of a previous forest fire currently

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A gorgeous, fire-scarred tree

Also worth noting is that, while the temperature is usually warmer at this time of year, we are currently experiencing a cold snap, which brought snow to this elevation.

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Snow on the ground, the day before Labor Day!

If you ever get a chance to make this hike, make sure you dress in layers and bring winter gear just in case (even before Labor Day!), because the wind chill was probably around 40 yesterday! Oh, and don’t do like my 9 year old did and wear flip flops (don’t get me started on that one). Just don’t.

All in all, it was a wonderful day, full of many unschooled learning moments!

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Our Unschooling Life

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I haven’t written much about unschooling lately, partially because it has truly become so ordinary to us that it doesn’t strike me as noteworthy enough for a post! For the last week or so, however, I’ve been very excited about the things my kids have been learning.

Elizabeth, my 11 year old, was given a huge stack of books for her birthday, back in April. My husband and I got her the first four Harry Potter books, and her grandparents bought her the Percy Jackson series and the spin-off series, The Heroes of Olympus. Elizabeth had already read the books once and had started reading through them a second time, when Meghan, my 9 year old, decided to read them as well. This was a big deal to me; not only because they are quite lengthy books, but because Meghan has not previously shown a whole lot of interest in reading. She quite enjoyed the Goddess Girls books that they have, reading through them two or three times each. Other than that, she has not read a whole lot of books, especially fiction. She is now finished with all the Percy Jackson and on the second of the Heroes of Olympus books (I believe we are missing a few from the tail end of the series), which adds up to a thousand or so pages, in just a few short weeks! I firmly believe that reading a wide variety of material is the best way to build an extensive vocabulary and to become an exceptional speller. Not only that, but reading opens the door to so many new ideas and concepts that you might not have thought about before. Even fictional stories can spark conversations and deeper study into topics, such as history, science, and mythology. For example, the Goddess Girl books are based upon the Roman deities and the Percy Jackson books are based upon the Greek deities. A couple weeks ago, Elizabeth began talking about these gods with my husband, and he ended up telling her more about Norse mythology and they watched some YouTube videos explaining it more in depth. Both girls have been quick to point out the striking similarities between the different mythologies.

An unexpected branch of study also arose from Meghan reading the Percy Jackson books. She came to me one day and asked, “What’s V I?” I asked for context and she told me that she had seen it at the beginning of the chapter in her book. I immediately realized that it was Roman numerals! I explained to her what it was and then proceeded to write out the numerals up to ten. She thought that was pretty awesome and understood instantly, so I kept going. I got to one hundred and realized that I didn’t remember what five hundred was! By this time, Elizabeth was also participating, so she quickly Googled “Roman numerals” and showed me a chart. The rest of the day, Meghan was practicing writing numbers, quizzing us, having me quiz her, and even counting aloud, saying the numerals in place of numbers! (“I, II, III”, etc.) The funny part to me is that, about a year ago, I had tried to “teach” both girls Roman numerals (back before I had completely let go of my grip on the control of their education.) Meghan had balked at my attempts and had ended up in tears. And here we were, a year later, her grinning from ear to ear and grasping the concept instantly; all because I let her come to it organically, learning it for a purpose instead of arbitrarily. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for us to grasp the concept that teaching someone who lacks the motivation to learn that subject is useless.

Yesterday, Meghan came to me and asked me to teach her Morse code! I told her that I didn’t know it, and I suggested she look it up. She Googled “Morse code” and was overwhelmed with descriptions and definitions. I suggested typing in “learn Morse code”, which led her to a very good teaching game for kids. She ended up writing all the dots and dashes for letters and numbers and practicing on her own later. This led to a discussion of the practical applications of Morse code, and then I went on to explain what a telegraph is and the concept of telegrams. Now, she wants to buy a couple of telegraphs so that she can set them up and communicate with Elizabeth or me! (Do I forsee that scenario actually playing out? No, but it’s fun to imagine!)

What else have the kids been doing? Well, Minecraft is a huge hit right now. Meghan prefers playing the games with other online players, and Elizabeth has big plans for the construction of a space station. She is very technical and enjoys creating very intricate, complicated mechanisms. She has been figuring out how to apply “skins” and other things that I really have no idea what they are!

Meghan has also been drawing a lot of animals, looking up pictures online of the ones she wants to draw. Elizabeth has been having fun using coloring apps on her phone. They are both very creative.

They both cook and bake when the mood strikes, and are both very adept.

I’ve really only scratched the surface of the depth of their learning as of late. As you can see, they absolutely don’t sit around doing “nothing”! It’s very exciting to watch the way their minds work, rather than attempt to “mold” them, as is what happens with “formal” instruction.

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Family First (and a note about sleep regression)

As much as I’d love to make this blog a full time job, I simply don’t have the time for that at this point in my life. Taking care of my kids is a full time job! Taking care of my house and garden is another full time job; although, that doesn’t always get done, because I consider my kids to be my most important work. And since my husband is on the road 5-6 days out of the week, when we get the chance to see him, we drop everything in order to spend every possible minute with him. I love that the unschooling lifestyle allows us to be able to do this, no matter what day of the week it is. We all (babies included) stay up late, ignore the housework (except maybe some laundry or dishes), and focus on fun! We always try to go somewhere and explore the areas around our new hometown, and invariably learn a lot. Here are some pictures from our most recent adventure:

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Between adventures and my nearly-10 month old’s ongoing sleep regression, I just haven’t had the time to blog much. And now, a word on said sleep regression…

Many babies will periodically go through phases, termed ‘sleep regressions’. Suddenly your baby goes from sleeping peacefully and easily at night, to fighting sleep until exhausted, and waking often through the night.

They may be fussy and clingy through the day, fall out of normal routines, and get up much earlier than usual. The good news is this is a normal part of a child’s development and will pass. The bad news is you’ll be set for a hard few weeks and sleepless nights.

http://naturalfamilytoday.com/parenting/sleep-regressions-what-they-are-and-what-to-do/

This is a difficult time for babies. They are learning new skills, like walking and talking, and they are fully aware of any separation from their caregivers. It must be so scary and mentally exhausting. And as tiring as it might be for me as a parent, I really try to remember that my baby needs me, and isn’t being “bad”. In fact, “regression” itself sounds like such a negative thing. I like this perspective better:

Once you have ruled out illness as a reason for sudden changes in your baby’s sleep patterns, consider your baby’s development: what new skills is your baby learning? Is she a bit more clingy during her awake times? Does she seem more sensitive right now? And try to see her wakefulness as a positive – she is not regressing, she is progressing. She is learning and developing in leaps and bounds. She isn’t waking because you have done anything wrong. You aren’t encouraging ‘bad habits’ you are helping your baby feel secure as she grows through these intense developmental stages. You don’t have to justify your baby’s behavior with fancy labels or reasons for her waking (except perhaps, to yourself if it makes you feel better).

http://www.pinkymckay.com/the-myth-of-baby-sleep-regressions-whats-really-happening-to-your-babys-sleep/

So if you don’t see me posting anything new for awhile, it’s likely I’m helping my baby sleep or otherwise spending time with those I love =)

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Radical Unschooling and Food

I’ve read a lot of posts in unschooling groups and on unschooling websites that say you cannot have any rules for your child (other than life-or-death safety rules) in order to call yourself a “radical unschooler”. You must allow them to watch however much TV they want, sleep whenever they want, eat whatever they want, etc. Personally, I think these can be life-or-death situations, just not in the immediate way we usually think of them. I think there are peaceful, respectful solutions to moderate these (and other) situations, without encroaching on the rights of your children as humans with free will. You don’t have to set arbitrary limits to guide your children to make choices that won’t be detrimental to their health, physically or mentally; whether the detriment is effected immediately or over the course of many years. I will get around to addressing the other issues at some point, but for now, let’s talk about food…

First off, if you’re like almost everyone, you have at least an idea of how much money you can spend on food per paycheck. Let’s face it, your funds are limited. You only have so much left after rent/mortgage, utilities, gasoline, insurance, and toilet paper. I have 4 kids to feed. That’s a lot of mouths! And they eat a lot.  If I let them choose what to buy at the grocery store, I have no doubt I’d be buying at least $100 worth of junk food each week. At least. I simply cannot afford $400 extra per month for crap. And that’s just what it is, crap! The problem with junk food (chips, candy, ice cream, etc.) is that it’s all full of empty calories.

Empty calorie foods offer no fiber, vitamins or minerals that our bodies need to feel satisfied and perform properly. When foods are processed, they are stripped of nutrients and high amounts of sugar, salt and fat are added…If our diet consisted solely on soda, white bread and candy, we would constantly feel hungry. Highly processed foods are often over eaten because they have no fiber and satiety. Fried foods, chips and candy may temporarily fill you up but just an hour or two later you will be hungry again because they offer little protein, fiber and nutrients that the human body needs.

http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/general-articles/empty-calories-do-they-add-up

This is why so many people say “but I can’t afford to buy a bunch of fruit and vegetables!” Well, no, you can’t afford to buy both junk food and fruit and vegetables. Because if you are supplementing a mostly processed food diet with some fruit and vegetables, you’ll still eat a whole lot of dollars worth of empty calories every day, with nothing to show for it except poor health. On the contrary, if you cut all the processed food from your diet and only buy whole foods (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, meat, etc.), you will feel full with much less quantity, and you will be healthier!

Now, that’s not to say that I just buy whatever I like and my kids have to deal with it or starve! I am always thinking of what meals and snacks I can make that they will be happy to eat. I can’t please all of them all the time, but I do always have snacks around. And I never force them to eat anything I make. I encourage them to try everything, but I don’t try to coerce them into it if they don’t want to. I don’t mind if they pick out just the meat or rice or whatever to eat. I will readily list alternatives if they say they don’t like what I’ve made, or are still hungry. I never force them to eat if they aren’t hungry and I never disallow them to eat when they are. If the food I’m making will be ready soon, I communicate that to them and let them decide whether they can wait or not. And when we go grocery shopping, if they say they want something like yogurt or cereal or cheese, I almost always oblige. I even ask them what we need when making my shopping list. I feel that this is no different than I would treat guests staying with me for a time. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy them junk food, but if they expressed to me that they had certain food preferences, I would seriously take those into consideration when making my purchases.

I might add that my older kids have had ongoing discussions with me about food for a couple years now. Ever since I began researching food, processed food in particular, I have been honest and open with them about the changes I’ve made. I’ve told them what certain ingredients really are. I’ve told them what’s in fast food. I’ve told them what “artificial” and “natural” flavorings could be (since those are trade secrets, no one really knows for sure, besides the people who concoct them…and they sign oaths of secrecy). We’ve watched documentaries about food together. They’ve watched me read labels in the store and do research online. And now, they read labels, too! They don’t want me to buy certain things. However, they have their own money that they earn or are gifted. They are allowed to spend it on whatever they choose. My nearly 9 year old chooses to buy candy often. She knows full well what’s in that candy. But it’s her money, so it’s her choice to make. At least I know it’s an informed choice! But that’s part of my original point…the money I spend on food isn’t their money. Ultimately, it belongs to my husband and I; and while I am considerate in how I spend that money, it’s still my decision in the end. I have read recently that some radical Unschoolers give each of their kids some “free money” to buy whatever food they choose, and I have considered implementing a similar system. Although, I don’t see anything wrong with our current one at this point, so we’ll see.

Now, as for the reason I say that allowing children to choose to eat whatever they want is actually a life-or-death situation, consider this: nutrient deficiency is a very real problem. When people fill up on empty calories, devoid of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to not just survive, but thrive, they are most certainly suffering from more than one nutrient deficiency. Poor immune system, memory problems, muscle aches…these are just a few of the negative health effects that can be traced back to nutrient deficiencies. (http://www.naturalmedicine.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8580:the-most-common-nutrient-deficiencies-in-children&Itemid=166) Yes, your kids could survive eating nothing but packaged cookies and chips. They may even appear to be healthy. Eventually, though, that diet would lead to serious health conditions, and possibly even kill them. (http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/children-poor-nutrition-6555.html) I wouldn’t let them drink chemicals from under the kitchen sink, and I won’t let them put the poisonous nutrient-deficient, chemical-laden “food” they crave into their bodies, either.

At the risk of an outcry of “that’s not radical unschooling!”, I’m going to go ahead and say again, you can moderate food choices and be a radical unschooler!

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My First Guest Post

I’m so excited to announce not only my first guest post by Natasha Batsford over at http://www.maybediaries.com/, but I’ve also recently exceeded 50 followers here on my blog. Wow! Thank you to each and every one of you for proving my husband right when he told me I should start a blog, because people would want to read my ramblings 😉

And please, go check out the lovely post that Natasha put together, featuring a Q&A with yours truly:

http://www.maybediaries.com/2015/04/reflections-on-baltimore.html?m=1

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What Am I Here For?

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We all seek purpose in our lives; I am no different. I have asked myself this countless times. Sometimes out of desperation, sometimes simply from a place of wondering. And I think that I have finally found it, at least for now.

I have always wanted children. In fact, I used to say I wanted 5. I thought that seemed like a good number; not a small family, but not really large, either. I’ve always liked the number 5. Throughout my childhood, I imagined myself ending up in many different occupations. A teacher, a zoologist, a trainer at Sea World, an entrepreneur, an archeologist, a librarian, an actress…you get the picture. But there was always one constant, I wanted to be a mom.

I spent 4 semesters at community college after high school. I still had no clue what I “wanted to be”. So I took a bunch of general ed, in my own way; finding the substitutes that seemed most interesting, in place of the classes that most people take. There were a couple classes I took just to “check the box”, and while I could have done well, I cared very little. So I skipped homework and lectures and basically chose to get a C, just so I would get credit for taking it. Most of my college memories were of playing loud, obnoxious card games in the cafeteria, and hanging out at night with my group of friends, watching movies, bowling, and playing video games and paintball.

Then, real life hit and I needed money more than I needed college. I got a job at a department store making minimum wage, where I learned more about real life in a few months than I had during my 2 years of college classes. I moved out soon after that, and then eloped in Hawaii with my husband who was in the Army at the time. I had planned on going back to college, then I learned the sad truth that community colleges in states other than California cost more than we could afford on my husband’s enlisted paycheck. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next, since I didn’t really want to get some random minimum wage job again, but I also didn’t want to just sit at home, being a “housewife”. And then, just a few months after we were married, we found out that I was pregnant!

My future plans changed instantly. I was only 20, but I had always known I wanted to stay home with my kids. My thoughts were that I didn’t want to have kids for someone else to raise. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my baby at daycare all day while I went to work. To let someone else experience all my baby’s special moments. Their smiles and words and steps. But I also made it very clear to my husband that I wasn’t staying home to be a housekeeper. If it weren’t for kids, I’d be at a job, too, and we’d both be responsible for the housework. Nothing would be different if I was at home, I would simply be doing the job of raising our kids.

My husband and I have worked very hard to enable me to stay home with our kids. He took on a night and weekend job as a security guard while he was in the Army, to make ends meet. I’ve always tried to use coupons, shop sales, cook at home, utilize resources such as freecycle, etc. in order to save money any way I could.

And still, for years, I felt unfulfilled. I felt like everyone around me had things more “together”. Their houses were cleaner, their kids had cuter outfits and hairdos, they did more perfect-looking crafts and had more fancier birthday parties. On top of all that, they got their hair and nails done, had furniture that all matched, they went to clubs on the weekends, and their kids were in sports and dance and girl scouts. What did I have? A messy house with toys everywhere, girls in hand-me-downs, haphazard collages of magazine cut-outs on my walls, parties with homemade cake and regular old balloons. I dyed my own hair, painted my own nails, got furniture off the side of the road, stayed home watching TV with my husband on weekends, and my kids played at the park in the dirt in their free time.

I felt lost. I kept trying to find myself. I changed my hairstyle and clothes a million times. I tried to do more “normal” things. I tried my hand at different crafts. I attempted to decorate my house and keep it perfectly organized. I matched up cute outfits and bows for my girls. I got addicted to social networks and popular online games. And yet, I still felt unfulfilled.

When both of my older girls began public school, my sense of purpose was lost even more. I can’t quite describe what I felt, but it was a sense of loss. It didn’t help that the girls began talking about their teachers as if they were perfect deities, even to contradict things I tried to tell them. “Well, my teacher says…” “But my teacher told me…” I knew, deep down, that was supposed to be me. I wasn’t supposed to be second to some random person at a place my young kids spent the majority of their waking time. I was resistant to homeschooling, though, because I felt like I couldn’t provide them with the knowledge they needed. Little did I know, I had been “schooling” them since birth. All the times I was answering their multitudes of questions, the times I took them to zoos and museums, the sometimes daily walks we went on where we talked about things we saw…all those were “school” lessons in disguise. I had no idea that learning through living could be continued in place of formal schooling.

Fast forward to a couple years ago. My older girls were 6 and 8. They had started a new school that year. My oldest, Elizabeth, hated a lot of things. She hated the worksheets of tedious, simple math problems that she was forced to do daily, and then nightly as homework, too. Soon, she started crying every day, not wanting to go back. Then the day came when she asked my husband to teach her how to fight. We knew there had to be something going on. Turns out, she was being bullied relentlessly. Something every parent fears for their child. Our attempts to rectify the situation and make the environment safe and happy for her failed miserably, mostly because of the school’s unwillingness to recognize the severity of the situation. That’s when we made the decision that we didn’t want either of our girls going back. We disenrolled them immediately. We had no plan of how to homeschool them, we just knew they were better off at home. I was currently pregnant with our 3rd daughter, and having horrible morning sickness so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed some days. So I had lots of time to research. My husband did a lot of reading, too. It was then that we discovered unschooling.

It took us until about 6 months or so ago to finally deschool ourselves enough to sit back and relax and let unschooling begin. Deschooling is the process of getting out of the school mentality. It usually takes parents a lot longer than kids, especially when well-meaning friends and family members continuously pressure the parents to show “proof” that the kids are learning. “What curriculum are you using? What books are they reading? How is their writing ability? Are they learning fractions?”

As I said before, I finally feel like I have found my purpose in life. I’ve always wanted to prepare my kids to be adults; to help them to be self-sufficient, responsible, intelligent, and kind. Unschooling is the way I have found that will help them the most on their journey to adulthood. And contrary to what most people seem to think, unschooling requires an extremely hands-on, involved style of parenting. I’m with my kids about 90% of the time. We do nearly everything together. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands, watching TV, playing, special events…everything. And during every activity, they have questions. They ask how to spell words, they ask how to do math problems, they ask what words mean. They ask why we do things the way we do, and why others do things differently. They ask about things they see and hear. They ask questions they are just wondering about. They ask questions that seem simple to me, and they ask questions that I have no idea how to answer. I’m constantly looking things up to be able to better explain things to them. They check out books from the library on topics that interest them. I buy them books and games and take them to places that they might find interesting, which inevitably sparks more questions.

Furthermore, being with my kids most of the time opens up opportunities to help them solve conflicts, learn to compromise, deal with emotions, and learn to self-regulate. I guide them to make informed, intelligent decisions about food, sleep, money, and time management. And I try my best to set a good example in all these areas for them. We talk about mistakes I make, and have made, and I explain lessons I’ve learned and my desire and efforts to change certain behaviors. They are free to ask why I make decisions the way I do, which does occasionally make me stop and think and realize that I don’t have a good reason!

This journey that we’re on…call it unschooling, call it self-directed learning, or just call it life…this is my purpose. This is why I’m here. This is the reason I wake up every day. To provide my kids with the best possible environment to grow up in. To ensure that they have the best preparation I can give them to be successful at whatever they want to do in life. To pass on my love of learning and inspire them to continue to always search for the answers to their questions.

You might say that I can’t possibly be happy living solely for my kids. And I’ll ask, why not? Yes, I enjoy talking with other adults every now and then. I enjoy writing this blog. But I actually do enjoy spending the majority of my time with my children. They aren’t “just kids”, they’re my family. They’re the humans that my husband and I chose to bring into this world. And in all reality, their time at home with us is so very brief, that I don’t want to miss out on any of it by chasing my own hobbies. There will be plenty of time for that once they are older. Reading, drawing, scrapbooking, crocheting, doing jigsaw puzzles…all the things I love to do…they aren’t more important than being with my children, being their friend and mentor. Right now, I have 2 very young kids who need me all the time, and I have 2 older kids who still need me a lot of the time. And if I am unwilling to give them the time they require now, because of my own selfish desires, then what will that tell them about our relationship? If they are as important to me as I tell them they are, then why wouldn’t I want to give all I have to them now? And part of what they need to thrive is a clean home with plenty of healthy food. So while cleaning and cooking may not always be my favorite things to do, they are part of what my children need. And when I think about it that way, it doesn’t seem so tedious and boring anymore.

This is my life, this is what I’ve chosen, and I am happy. This is my contribution to the future of this planet. Who knows what I will contribute once they are all grown and gone? I’m sure I’ll have no trouble finding a new purpose when the time comes. For now, this is who I am, and I love it!

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