Category Archives: Unschooling Inspiration

The Angry Child – How Listening Can Deflate Big Emotions

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I want to tell a story. It’s one that was very pivotal in changing my parenting paradigm and one that has brought me closer to my kids and to myself– closer and more connected than I ever thought possible.

It used to be that when my kids had any kind of negative emotion, I felt as though I had to fix it. As fast as possible! That’s what good mom’s do, right? I might attempt to:

Change his feelings of anger into feelings of friendliness.

 Change his sad feelings to feelings of happiness.

 Change his feelings of frustration into feelings of success.

In any case, the focus was on changing and fixing. Just like putting a band-aid on a cut, I wanted a band-aid for scary emotions. It was entrenched in the fear that if my child is unhappy, I’m doing it all wrong. I was trying to handle the negativity in my child from an equally negative emotion: fear.

When my two boys were younger, the oldest acted out of anger towards his little brother a lot. He would even hit him, call him names and generally belittle him at every turn. I was so alarmed by this. I mean, I wanted a connected family – one in which we all loved each other and enjoyed spending time together. How was it possible that my older son had so much anger towards his own flesh and blood? What was I doing wrong?

At first, I dealt with this by just trying to make it stop! “Don’t hit your brother!” I might yell. “Go to your room if you choose to act like that!” was another. “He’s younger than you! Have a little patience.” I tried taking his beloved items away, putting him in time outs, talking to him about “good” behavior. Nothing seemed to help. The more I tried to make it stop, the angrier he seemed to become.

At this time in our lives I was deeply immersed in self-examination. I was learning about my own trigger points and what outer circumstances seemed to activate my own feelings of anger and other negative emotions. Observing the ways in which I dealt with anger within myself was key to learning how to help my child move through his own.

I began observing how triggered I became when my oldest son was “acting out” with his little brother. His behavior was triggering the anger that lived within me and I was then acting from my own anger by reacting to my older son. I examined this further and realized that sending him to his room and taking his stuff away was just a reaction from my own fear ~ the fear of anger.

Why was I afraid of anger? Anger was just an emotion, not a real thing you could touch or hold. I examined times from when I was a child and remembered incidents where I was the recipient of someone else’s anger. I saw how scary that was and why I had become so afraid of it. It dawned on me that it wasn’t anger I was afraid of but the REACTIONS triggered from anger that scared me to death.

If I was reacting from my own angry feelings by punishing and yelling, then my son must be reacting to his anger by hitting and terrorizing his little brother.

I got to thinking. What if we weren’t afraid of anger? Would we even need to react to it if we weren’t afraid of it? What if the feeling of anger was a message, from our inner self, trying to tell us something about our world or something about our needs? Would anger be scary then? What if we could make friends with our anger? How in the world could we do that?

And this is where my pivotal story begins… I started taking my older son out on “special days.” On these days I turned off my phone and took him any place he wanted to go (within reason of course). The goal was for us to just have fun together. I vowed to be fully present. No distractions from little brother or email or phone calls. I turned off my phone and put my focus on my son.

Many times we went bowling, putt-putt golfing or for a picnic in a park. It was a time for me to BE with him. It was also a time for me to observe myself; my thoughts, feelings and triggers.

On these special days, my son would sometimes start talking negatively about his little brother. At first, I noticed myself trying to change his mind. “But look at the good things about him.” I would say. “He’s not so bad. Remember when he helped you clean up that mess?” I watched as my older son withered when I said these things and it wouldn’t be long before he was ready to go home. He would shut down again. I felt at a loss.

Since one my goals on these outings was to observe myself and my own inner workings, I realized that by countering his negative feelings towards his younger brother with good thoughts, I was trying to change his mind again. I wasn’t doing it by punishing but I WAS doing it by not LISTENING.

I heard what he was saying with my ears but not with my heart. My listening was not validating how he felt. My responses were undermining his feelings. I realized it didn’t matter whether my son’s statements about his little brother were true or not, he just needed me to acknowledge how he FELT.

I asked myself, How would you feel if you were angry about something and were telling a friend about it and she was defending the other side? Would you want to continue telling her things?

Sometimes it feels good to verbalize our feelings. It helps us get to the other side of things; To hash out. To release. To move towards love, understanding and compassion.

So my son wasn’t asking for solutions. He needed someone to witness these strong emotions, in particular his anger that was triggering destructive responses. He needed a safe environment, where he could express how he was feeling.

When we went out again I was set. And my son complained about his younger brother again. I won’t go into the ins and outs of our conversation, however my responses were much different than before. They went something like this:

Yes, little brothers can be such a pain, can’t they?

 I get it! It’s hard to be the older brother.

 I understand why you would feel like hurting your brother when that happened.

 My gosh! I’m sure that is so annoying to deal with!

 As my son talked, I kept reminding myself:

Don’t fix, just observe.
Don’t change, just love.
The anger is not bad; it’s just an emotion.

His frustration came flooding out. He was angry with me too. For “never” listening to him. For “never ever” paying attention to what he needed. He cried and cried. I kept listening and validating. It was a scary moment and one that I was afraid was a never-ending supply of negativity. It was great practice for witnessing an emotion and staying with it without judging it.

I apologized. I kept loving eye contact. I didn’t defend his little brother and I didn’t defend myself. I sat openly with this child who was in so much pain and felt so unheard. I had compassion and empathy. I’d felt all of these things before too. I shared some of those times with him. To witness the emotion in him without judging it or being triggered myself was magical.

Eventually, what I thought would be a never-ending flow of complaints gave rise to a smile. My son was calm. Spent. He told me he loved me so much. And then, something I never expected happened.

He shared some good things about his brother. He talked about some of their good times together. As we continued to talk he said, “I’m a quiet kid, Mom. And my brother is loud and outgoing.” He looked me in the eye and continued, “We’re just so different and sometimes I just need time away from him.”

The light came on for me. He was sharing his NEEDS. The two boys shared a room and my oldest needed a place to be alone.

So we talked about how we could make that happen. Together, we made a plan. We worked out a way for the boys to have their own rooms. We agreed that their rooms were their private spaces and that they could go there any time they felt they needed time to themselves. We agreed to honor each other’s privacy. My oldest son agreed to go there when the angry feelings came, and to talk to me whenever he needed help navigating those emotions.

When we went home, he was excited to see his brother. He was happy again. They played Lego and the oldest helped the younger boy. He was compassionate and understanding, even when his little brother broke his Lego masterpiece on accident!

From that day on, my son felt like he could talk to me. He felt that his feelings were safe with me – good or bad. We were partners and I was no longer afraid of his anger. He didn’t need to REACT to anger anymore because he was learning to witness the anger and with my help figure out what need was not being met. Then he could willingly release the strong emotion.

It’s so easy to allow the emotions of others (including our kids) to trigger something in us that makes us want it to STOP. We want a quick fix. Our society tends to think that consequences are in order when a child is acting out. But does that work? Or does it make an already angry child angrier? If we punish or shut the anger down in some way, does it make the anger go away? Or does in burrow inside of the child (or inside of us) to fester and grow?

Perhaps our emotions, including the negative emotions, are a gift. Maybe they arise in an effort to help us become clearer about our preferences and needs. It could be that when we witness our emotions, without judging them, we come to clarity. Possibly it is better to witness these emotions with love rather than shut them down. It could be the key to more peace in our own lives and in the world.

All negative emotions come from a place of fear. Upon close examination, it’s always a fear of our needs not being met in some way or another. Meandering our way down to the core of the issue gives us choices and power.

When a child is angry, he or she needs love. The child needs someone who is not triggered by his outburst. It’s hard for an adult to do this if they are triggered themselves. If we are afraid of anger or if we want the anger (or sadness or any other challenging emotion) to stop immediately, we forego the gift that the emotion is offering.

As we look at the emotion objectively, as an observer, we open up a world of true possibility, not only for our children, but for ourselves as well. Our needs can then be met from a neutral place and anger is not a necessary vehicle through which we express our needs.

Here are 7 tips that I follow when faced with big emotions in my kids. Perhaps they will work for you too.

  1. Bite my tongue and don’t react. – I try to remember that the anger (or sadness or other negative emotion) is NOT my child. Notice the anger (or worry or fear) that comes up in ME when my child is angry and acting out. I pay attention to that and investigate my own emotions but don’t react to my child’s emotion. (of course if my child is acting out by hitting or destructive behavior, I deal with that in the moment, but don’t shame or punish the emotion).
  2. Look at my child with compassion.  This take practice but looking my child in the eyes with love – seeing the hurt he is feeling underneath the angry emotions – connects me to who my child really is. I become less reactive and it allows me to sink into the next steps.
  3. LISTEN. – When the time is right, I LISTEN but don’t try to change the emotion. I try to listen like my best friend would listen to me when I need support.
  4. VALIDATE – For example, “Yes, I can see why that would make you mad.”, “Wow, I can see what that would make you want to hit your brother.” No words are off limits. This allows the emotion to come out in constructive ways. There is relief when we can vent. Let the tears come and don’t try to make the anger/sadness go away. I try to let if flow out of them. I get to be the witness. I get to be the non-reactor.
  5. LOVE – I love them right where they are. They are NOT this strong emotion. They are beautiful beings have a very human experience. Zero in on the beauty of that child – beneath all of that big emotion.
  6. TRUST – I trust (and by this time know) that the emotion will pass. I give this lots of time. It may take a few times of being with my child before all of the anger has dispersed. When it does pass, I don’t immediately offer solutions. Instead, I ask questions. “How can we make this better for you?” “What steps can we take to meet those needs?” This helps get to the core of the issue.
  7. Take  steps to meet the need. If my child needs alone time, I make that happen. If they need a space to go to when they are feeling overwhelmed, I help them with that. I try to get creative and PARTNER with my child to create an environment in which he can thrive. This builds trust in our relationship and helps my child know how to handle BIG emotions constructively.
  8. REPEAT. This one is tough. It requires us to be willing to BE with those same emotions over and over again. But repeating these steps helps our children to trust that we will walk with them through strong emotions without fear or reactivity on our part. It not only helps them to feel safe but also eventually helps them to recognize strong emotions as they come up and they learn to handle them more effectively, even when we’re not there to help.

 

 

Michelle ConawayMichelle Conaway is mom to three wonderful kids and wife to her supportive husband, Stacy Conaway. She believes that all children deserve the right to evolve into who they were born to be rather than be shaped into something that someone else believes they should be.

Michelle started Texas Unschoolers in 2012 and since then has gone on to host the TexUns Conference held in the beautiful rolling hills of New Braunfels, Texas. You can connect with her on the Texas Unschoolers Facebook page and group. She also started the popular Creative Unschooling Kids Facebook group where children from all over the world share their passions.  

 

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Embracing Life Learning

 

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So many times, people ask, “How do you Unschool?” For me it has been a process of paradigm shifts and a lot of recalibrating what I thought I knew about life and raising and educating kids. Here are some of my processes. Perhaps they will be of benefit to you as well.

Letting go

Living in the moment

Loving life as it comes, the good and the not so good

Not trying to MAKE things happen

Getting into the flow

Letting go of doctrine

Letting go of old beliefs

Believing in the Magic of Life

Allowing myself and my kids to be WHO we are

Allowing myself and my kids to express what is within us (even when it’s uncomfortable for me)

Allowing Life to Unfold as it Unfolds

Letting go of Knowing

Living in the Question

Asking Questions

Being then Doing

Playing More, working Less

Questioning my thoughts, my agendas, my way of looking at things

Seeing from a broader prospective

Letting go of Judgment

Embracing Peace not problems

Embracing Gentleness

Realizing there are NO Problems, only situations

Trusting that life is always as it should be in this moment.

Basically, just finding the joy in life and living THAT with my kids. No judgment. No worries. No threat. Just living and learning freely though it all.

 

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Unschooling Teens: “All He/She Wants to Do Is…”, by Shannon Stoltz

 

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“All she wants to do is…”  The first time I heard this phrase a friend was lamenting about how she wanted her then 15 year old daughter to get a summer job or do something similarly “productive”.  That was to be the first of many times I’ve heard a parent of a 12/13 year old or 15/16 year old say, “All she/he wants to do is…”    

Parenting and homeschooling, no matter the style, changes around 12/13 and again around 15/16.  The relationship between parent and child, particularly if you are coming from more conventional philosophies, changes.  Our children are more independent, exploring ideas and activities that interests them.  And that doesn’t always match up with our own expectations.

When how our vision for our children’s path is different than what our kids’ are actually doing, fear creeps in and we get statements like:


“All she wants to do is sit in her room reading and writing in her journal.”

“All she wants to do is draw.”

“All he wants to do is hang out with his friends and skateboard.”

“All she wants to do is hang out with her friends and party.”

“All he wants to do is work.”

“All he wants to do is play basketball and hang out at church”

“All he wants to do is play games with his friends on the computer.”

But in reality, what our children are pursuing is actually building a foundation for their future. We just don’t yet know what that future looks like, and that can be scary.

For us as parents, this is a time to let go of our agenda for our kids and embrace their journey in becoming the unique individuals they are. It’s a time to learn how to support our children differently than we have done before, to see them as their own person and support them where they are at. It’s not an easy parental transition, especially if you have had compliant kids or come from an authoritarian background.

For our teens, this is a time of learning who they are as people, experimenting, developing relationships, and testing ideas, forming and discussing ideas and opinions with others outside the family. Unschooling at this age level is fabulous because it is all about trusting the process, building relationships, and supporting the kids where they are at.

My kids have deep dived into interests from 12 and up. We’ve gone through periods of intense focus into manga, anime, robotics, blacksmithing, cake decorating, working, Minecraft, archery, gaming of all types, survival skills, art, writing, digital drawing, herbal medicine, horses, chinese light novels, theater, the list goes on. Weeks, months, and even years of a focus and then it shifts or fine tunes further.

I’ve seen their friends do the same. And their parents, across all styles of education, struggle with the change – that their kids are no longer malleable to what they want them to do – and then have to figure out how to support their kids where they are.

Early on this journey of being a mom of teens, I remember literally sitting on my hands and biting my lip, as I watched my son, then 13, working through a difficult task, approaching it differently than I would. But instead of telling him what and how to it, I restrained myself and honored that he wanted – and needed – to go through the process of figuring it out himself. He knew that he could ask for input, instead he asked me to bring him food and to sit with him as a companion and listen to his thought process, and be there for support. I needed to respect that. Now, at nearly 17, he still often asks me to bring him food, and to be there to listen to him share his ideas, stories, and thought processes.

One of the big differences between unschooling, especially radical unschooling, and other styles of education and parenting is that word RESPECT.  With unschooling, especially in the teen years, it’s not about our kids respect for us and their showing respect to us or other adults. Instead, it’s about us showing respect to them — to their ideas, interests, and needs. It’s another level of giving, of pouring into. It’s about respecting their needs and supporting them.

For a social kid who wants to hang with their friends, it’s about providing an environment to do so. For a kid with an online community, it’s about respecting that’s where their friends are and treating them with dignity and respect, and supporting their collaborations and time together. For a kid who likes to spend hours by themselves (often in the middle of the night), it’s about letting them and making sure they have the resources they need. And when they want to talk and share, to be there for them – to listen, encourage, support, and help them find the resources they are looking for.

For an unschooler, “All he/she wants to do is…”  becomes an opportunity – an opportunity to engage and connect, to encourage and support, and to facilitate your child’s interest – no matter how obscure. And it becomes an opportunity to grow yourself, as a parent and as a individual. At the end of the day, it’s all about trusting the process, embracing the learning as it happens, and, most importantly, building wonderful relationships with your teens.

Want to discuss Unschooling teens? Visit us at the forums to talk more about the ideas in this post here.

 

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 Shannon Stoltz is an unschooling mom to four fabulous kids, ages 19, nearly 17, 14, and 12.  You can read more from Shannon here at her website.

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The Traveling Unschooler, by Liza Rumery

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So you have decided not to send your child to school — not because of illness or trouble or family obligation or whatever. Rather, you decided not to send your child to school, because you wanted to do something else instead of it. You wanted to realize what might happen if your child grew and learned in a free environment, in his or her own unique way, on his or her own time. You actually turn your back on school — the system of education — and walk away with your child’s hand in yours and go forth into a completely open realm of endless possibilities of learning, because you can, and you want to see it come to fruition, understanding that it will. You decide that faith and trust and love and respect are enough ingredients for the process to work. You let go of the reins and move out of the way, exhaling all the while as the socially-created pressures of conformity, regiment and expectation melt away from you, making space for a different kind of relationship between you and your child, your child and the family, and the relationship that the child has with the Self.

That is unschooling.

But it isn’t about school anyway, it’s about the child and family first. It is a new road, a new approach. So what would you do if the hours were yours for the unpacking? How would you lead your life? What would your days look like? What might be the things of interest to your child that would last until he or she feels full? What would you like to expose your child to seeing or doing now that your calendar is free? Would you and your child stay home, make play dates, go to museums, go fishing, knit, mold clay, bake cookies, play tennis, draw, watch movies, read, build something, learn a language, learn to weld or, perhaps, do “nothing?” Just hang and be? Relax? Tune out? Sleep in? All of the above? It is fun to consider for sure, being immersed in the things that bring you and your child joy, maybe even finding out something completely unexpected.

That is also unschooling.

Our daughter has never been to school, so essentially she always has been an unschooler, going with the flow of what comes naturally to a child — play, learning and discovery. As she grew up, we did things in our hometown and surrounding areas, occasionally going out of town for a bigger scene. We looked for people and groups that do what we do, but we weren’t always successful. Often, Midwest winter weather created hinderances to gathering, and our rural setting created distance. Eventually, we yearned for more as a family. We wanted to go out in the world.

Now, at the wonderful age of seven, our daughter is a full time traveler. For us, this is unschooling.

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During the years before having her, my husband and I traveled often, able to pack a small carry-on and fly off somewhere at a moment’s notice. We traveled to Spain and Mexico, Hawaii and Las Vegas. We’d meet friends or family wherever, whenever. But after we had our daughter, we traveled rarely. When we did, the small carry-on became a suitcase full of baby stuff, then kid stuff, and it wasn’t as much fun. In fact, is was work. Like most parents, I was exhausted. Furthermore, having a home and stuff kept us tied to one place, limiting our ability to travel. We missed traveling for pleasure, we missed traveling as lifestyle, and we no longer wanted to be obligated to our things. We wanted to honor experiences, so we decided to do something about it — this time, with kid in tow.

We sold all of our stuff, bought a travel trailer and decided to meander this giant country that is the United States until we’ve had our fill, and then we will head abroad. Because we work for ourselves and we are an unschooling family, we can travel freely, where time and the road are ours and being together is a priority.

Most of the unschoolers/homeschoolers we know stay in once place, because they are tied to job or committed to their communities. It is wonderful to feel rooted and part of something, and we like to meet folks like us in various places across the country living in this way. It’s a great way to become familiar with a region and see how other families live out their lives of doing things more naturally. But we feel that, given the opportunity, traveling as an unschooling family creates amazing bonding experiences and a world view unlike anything we have ever known. Freedom and experience make for a heart-pounding elixir.

Through travel, our daughter has an open mind about the next adventure — the next playground, the next zoo, the next hike, new people. She used to lament that she didn’t want to leave this or that campground or playground, but now she knows that we will find something new and/or unique somewhere else. Amazingly, she doesn’t want to go back to where we have been; she wants to continue going forward. She lives in the moment, which is a such a great aspect of unschooling, and is reinforced through travel.

We have experienced more intellectual conversations with our daughter since we have traveled; she is more mature and aware of the world. Although she sees other kids at campgrounds, she integrates on her time, because she enjoys hanging out with people of various ages or with us or by herself. She ponders what she wants to do, because she can. She is starting to be more self-serving regarding her activities, taking initiatives on creative projects, because she knows there are no time constraints. Her schedule is open. So much of this is true for unschooling families in community settings in a brick-and-mortar home. In fact, it is likely the way of life for most unschoolers. But traveling adds a few more layers to the experiences of the unschooling family, and we continue to witness it firsthand.

Liza and family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no doubt that unschooling found us and it is a path that we chose. It is also something that we strongly advocate now. Add the layer of travel and the unschooling world opens up to you that much more. If you are able to travel as a family, do it. Do it often. It is a wonderful, exciting, grounding, freeing experience to see the world with an unschooling lens. We know that this family is invested indefinitely. Hopefully, we’ll see you on the road!

Would you like to discuss travel and unschooling? Visit our forums here to discuss this post.

Liza Rumary Bio Pic

 

Liza likes to do a lot of things. Currently, she really likes to travel, write, read, swim, practice yoga and meditation and cook. She dreams of Spain and quiet places. She loves spending so much time with her family. And she believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Deepening the Parent Child Relationship

Child-Adult-HandsWe all crave human connection. The parent/child connection is one of the strongest of all.

But how do we really connect with our kids? Let’s explore a few ways we might tighten the bond.

Be In The Here and Now

How many times have you found yourself thinking about your kid’s future? If you’re like most parents, it’s pretty often. Will they be successful? Get a good job? Be in a good marriage? Develop the skills to maneuver through life’s challenges?

Many of us react to these thoughts, attempting to shape children into who we believe they should become and many times don’t even notice who they are – right now, in the present.

What if, for just a moment, we could let go of what their future might look like and be present with them right now? What kind of world could we create if we confronted our own fears and inadequacies and didn’t bequeath them to our children?

Being present with our children means being mindful of what is, today. Resisting the fact that he doesn’t like math for instance doesn’t make him better at math. Insisting that she dry those tears when she’s sad doesn’t magically make her happy. When we notice the “should” and “should not’s” that invade our thinking, we realize that our thoughts have hijacked this unique moment with our child. Perhaps instead of reacting we can ask, “If there were no tomorrow, how would I be with my child right now in this situation?”

What if our kids come with their own blueprint? Could our love and confidence in them be all they need to flourish in life? Can we have faith that what makes them tick now will lead them to the perfect tomorrow? If we challenge their every move and make demands on them because we’re caught up in their future, we lose something very precious; this moment in time, being with them just as they are. Meeting our kids today becomes an opportunity to know them and accept them here and now. It gives us a chance to embrace gratitude and discover gifts in the present. It puts laser focus on what is good today.

When we sincerely see our kids and value this day as it is, they know it. Only when we unconditionally accept them now – their thought processes, their interests, and their dislikes – are we making real connection with them. Connection builds trust. Trust establishes authentic relationship. We all want genuine relationships with our kids. And what’s more, they want it with us. Relationship now equals a future that will take care of itself.

REALIZE YOUR KIDS ARE NOT A REPRESENTATION OF YOU

Every human being is born unique, with distinct thoughts, ideas, creativity, gifts and fears. We may know this, however; many of us unconsciously view our kids as extensions of ourselves.

If we disapprove of their ideas, actions or lack thereof, we are embarrassed or ashamed. We might think, “Where did I go wrong?”

If we’re proud of their ideas or actions, we tend to take a bit of credit for raising them right. “I did good raising that one!”

Why do we do this? Why do we put so much of the focus on ourselves? In our society we tend to view our children as representations of “our” values, beliefs and goals. If our kids project the “appropriate” values, beliefs and goals, we feel we’ve done our job as a parent. If they don’t, we tend to feel that something is wrong with them or that we’ve somehow failed in our parental duties.

But what if our children were born with distinct ways of moving in the world? What if left alone with love and acceptance from us, our kids’ ideas could morph into concepts that change the world for the better? Is it possible that we’re focused on who our kids should be, rather than who they are, in an attempt to appear favorable in the eyes of society, family members or friends?

When we attempt to shape, form and yes, even force our children into certain behaviors or ways of thinking, they tend to shut down. They either comply with our ideals out of fear or the need for our approval or they rebel against them with anger and confusion. We all know that fear and confusion are not the ideal emotions in which to operate our lives. And yet so many children grow up sacrificing their own unique gifts and ideas for the sake of their parents, their peers and their society. Their voice is lost to a confused world.

Our kids are not a reflection of us. It’s okay to let them explore the world and come up with their own unique style, values and goals. Our relationship grows stronger when we accept them just as they are, relieving them of the duty to project a good image of us.

BE STILL AND LISTEN

Parents have more life experience than their children; this is true. But do we know all there is to know about life? Can we be sure that we know what is right for another human being?

We have our perspectives to go on but the buck stops there. When we assume that we know more than our children, that we know what our children should be doing, feeling or pursuing, we cut off communication. If we know, we don’t listen. We shut ourselves off from further query.

Living in the question of life is magical. It sends the signal into the world that we are open to new perspectives, new ideas and unique problem solving techniques. When we listen to our kids, really listen, we are open. Open to the possibility that they know something about their own lives. We shut them down when we already know how or what they should be, act or pursue in life. If we open up to the possibility that they just might know more about their lives than we do, we connect with them on a deep level. We inspire them to look within rather than chase approval or direction from the outer world.

Can our kids teach us if we let them? Perhaps if we find ourselves judging our kids, we can pause and listen. Maybe instead of responding with our own knowledge we can ask open-ended questions. “What excites you about that video game, Johnny? I’d like to learn more.” or “I see that you’re angry, Sara. I’m listening.”  And then listen fully without trying to change what they are doing or what they are saying. If we choose to be present and listen – put the focus on how we can assist rather than change – our child feels heard. He feels as though he has a voice and his most intimate partner, you, is listening. Open dialogue is established and the child feels empowered rather than managed and judged.

Our kids don’t need fixing. They need experienced partners in life who believe in them and value their wants, needs and desires. They need calm human beings who can empower them to find answers within. If we can’t listen honestly and openly, we negate any chance of connecting with them on that deeper level.

Many of us believe we have our children’s best interests at heart. We don’t want them to be hurt, fail or look stupid. We want them to thrive. But sometimes hurt and failures are the springboards to living a life filled with meaning. If we focus on the possibility that our children might be hurt or fail and we stop them from what they are feeling or doing, we rob them of learning how to navigate their own lives. We cut the cord of relationship in favor of fear.

Be present; envision that children are here with their own gifts to present to the world. Listen to what they have to say. True connection will be born and thrive in the parent child relationship if we only dare to let go and trust that all is well. Right here. . . Right now.

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Is Unschooling an Experiment?

Most of us grew up in the public school system, and so naturally our frame of reference may be limited to this particular model of education. It’s easy to conclude that since we did it this way, and most everyone around us does it this way, then it must be the best way.

From such a limited viewpoint many people may see unschooling (natural, child-led learning) as a radical experiment: something new, unproven, maybe even a little crazy. But when we take a broader view of history and look at how humans have lived and learned and thrived over many centuries, we can see that compulsory public schooling is actually the “new” experiment—an experiment whose results are rightly being called into question by many people today.

In 2008 Peter Gray*, research professor of psychology at Boston College, published an instructive article titled “A Brief History of Education” where he lays out how public schools came about, how we got to where we are today, and some of the motivations behind the expansion of the public school system. (Hint: the motivations were rarely about the healthy development and well-being of children.)

Dr Gray’s article is really good, I encourage you to read it. Here are a few excerpts:

If we want to understand why standard schools are what they are, we have to abandon the idea that they are products of logical necessity or scientific insight. They are, instead, products of history. Schooling, as it exists today, only makes sense if we view it from a historical perspective.

In the beginning, for hundreds of thousands of years, children educated themselves through self-directed play and exploration.

For various reasons, some religious and some secular, the idea of universal, compulsory education arose and gradually spread. Education was understood as inculcation. […] The only known method of inculcation, then as well as now, is forced repetition and testing for memory of what was repeated.

Employers in industry saw schooling as a way to create better workers. To them, the most crucial lessons were punctuality, following directions, tolerance for long hours of tedious work, and a minimal ability to read and write.

Everyone assumed that to make children learn in school the children’s willfulness would have to be beaten out of them. Punishments of all sorts were understood as intrinsic to the educational process. In some schools children were permitted certain periods of play (recess), to allow them to let off steam; but play was not considered to be a vehicle of learning. In the classroom, play was the enemy of learning.

Read the full article here:
www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200808/brief-history-education

Discuss this post in our Alternative Living & Learning Forums here.


* Peter Gray, PhD researches and publishes on how children learn, with a specific focus on the role of play in the learning and development process. He spoke at the 2015 Texas Unschoolers conference. A video of that talk, called The Biology of Education, can be seen below.

Peter Gray: The Biology of Education

TEDx video: The Decline of Play, by Peter Gray

Peter Gray’s 2014 talk at TEDxNavesink

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The Road to Unschooling: A Welcomed Journey, by Liza Rumery

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I believe that unschooling found us.

Our daughter was almost two when folks began asking me and my husband pretty regularly what we were going to do about her schooling. “Is your daughter in daycare?” “Is she going to preschool?” “Will she be in preschool?” What about kindergarten?” I felt pelted by these questions, all this worry: “Well, what are you going to do?” I still was awakening into a slightly less drowsy life with a toddler and was liking our routine more and more; I was enjoying motherhood. So when people bombarded me with what felt like pressure to conform — to know her future so surely and absolutely — now that family life post-infancy was really rolling, I felt uncomfortable, like I was expected to join the endless rat race of limited quality family time. So much hustle to be hurried. Everybody board the train to the future; forget about now. I repeat: She was only two.

This got me thinking and considering. What if I didn’t want to send her to school right away? What do I do with these feelings of wanting to spend time with her, of wanting her to be near me, of exploring mom and child, of letting the child explore for herself? Why would I have a child just to have her be raised and cared for essentially by others, especially those who are likely caring for many more simultaneously? And what about the culture of school? What about tests and early morning rising and late nights filled with homework? What about the assumptions we make about successes of — or failing at — school? Or the idea that only learning comes in the form of a standard curriculum? I knew what that was. I went to school. I taught. I walked the system. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted my daughter to do the same. There seemed to be more to parenthood and familyhood than the same old thing. I wanted whatever that was. My family wanted it, too.

So what was I saying? Homeschooling? Even considering it for our family was new to me and my husband. Could we do this? Would we be off-the-grid? It felt daring. I certainly was “qualified” to teach many things, and I had been around homeschooling communities while teaching language in Michigan. But homeshooling per se didn’t feel right either — that is bringing standard “educational” curriculum into the home. I further dismissed the idea of traditional homeschooling after I imagined interrupting my daughter’s own exploration or play — or mine — or snuggles for 9:00 AM spelling or afternoon math. What if that wasn’t her thing? Or her time? What if it was a perfect day to go to the beach? What if we just didn’t feel like doing what everyone else does? Conventional forms of schooling wore like ill-fitting clothes and would not work even if tailored to suit. Thankfully, unschooling found us in the form of an old friend.

It happened during the summer. This friend of mine was home for a visit with family. He, like many, asked about my daughter’s schooling. I told him, not so confidently yet, that I was tinkering with homeschooling … maybe. He sputtered and winced and moved around a lot in the chair, clearly disliking the notion. He said, “My sister unschools my niece … and she can’t even read yet and she’s nine.” I was immediately intrigued, mostly by his absolute disgust with something that was clearly not a crime, or evil or even bad. And, knowing his sister — who is also my friend — I figured that what he was saying could not be completely accurate. Furthermore, I was taken aback by his lack of open-mindedness. Clearly, he had evolved into a person I no longer knew so well, nor did he really know me.

With that, we said goodbyes and I began researching, while simultaneously emailing my unschooling friend to find out more. And what I learned boggled my mind, because it spoke to my heart. Radical unschooling. It seemed to be the perfect fit.

Why? Because it puts the family first, especially the relationship with the child. It fosters faith and trust in the abilities of the child. It advocates principles over rules. Something doesn’t work? Let’s try something else. Inherent in it is the idea that learning happens all of the time, anytime and from anywhere, particularly at the readiness of the child. It promotes peace, joy, patience. Unschooling makes space for a child to flourish, for the family to flourish. It is friend of togetherness, not separateness. It is thorough. It is exploratory. It lacks in stress and competition. It is abundant in helping a child thrive on her own terms, with help from her family.

And now our child is seven, and she has never been schooled. Unschooling for us is like breathing. It is lifestyle, it is love. Unschooling — “natural learning” to my husband — has given us the freedom to travel full time, to be together almost all of the time, to help each other grow. Extricating ourselves from the traditional model of child rearing has opened doors for us that would never be possible if our daughter went to school. She is thriving and learning in all ways. We all are.

If my dear friend knew that he was the one who introduced me to unschooling, he quite likely would choke on his beer. But thanks for the keys, man. We are on a beautiful, wild ride.

So unschooling came to us because we knew what we wanted for our family, rather than what was assumed of us. We put the family first, not in the hands or the expectations of the conventional culture, and it truly is wonderful. We experience sustained joy, peace and happiness on a regular basis and our daughter is expanding in ways that we understood to be true of her, that could be true of her, as well as in ways that we never saw coming. We continue to find ourselves as family and individuals through unschooling. It is a truly perfect fit.

Please join us to discuss this blog post in our Alternative Living and Learning Community here.

Liza Rumery Bio picLiza is a passionate mom and wife, writer, linguist, painter, home cook, foodie, practitioner of yoga and meditation and student of life. She and her unschooling family travel full time and write about it at http://lifeuntethered.net/. You can follow her on Twitter @LizaBethRumery.

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Challenging Ourselves to Explore and Expand through Life Learning, by Michelle Conaway

challenge
Before I really “got” unschooling I loved to explore and bring my kids along for the ride. Exploration and expanding our world wasn’t new to me. I was interested in the world and wanted my kids to be interested as well. However, my exploration of the world was primarily driven by what I thought we “should” know rather than what we wanted to learn more about. I still wanted clear measurements of what my kids were learning and was interested in making sure they were covered in everything they “needed” to know.

So, screen time, free play and “frivolous” activities were put on the back burner in favor of what I thought they should be learning. I realized pretty quickly on our homeschool journey that books and text books were not going to work for us and promptly put them in the trash about two months in. But I still wanted measurement of learning. I wanted to know what they were learning, when they were learning it and I wanted to be in charge of how they learned it. Learning though exploration was wonderful, it’s just that I wanted to be the leader of that exploration.

After I realized curricula based learning was not going to work for us, I decided I would “teach” my kids based on their interests. In this way, my kids could choose what they wanted to explore and we could have more fun with it.

My oldest boy chose Space – and I was to provide ways in which he could learn more about it. This way – we were working on what he was interested in, but I would still be able to measure the learning that was taking place.

So, I went about pulling materials, projects and internet sites together for us to explore. The challenge came when my son wasn’t interested in exploring the subject in the way that I had so carefully and time consumingly laid out for him. My probing and prodding him to learn through my “fun” activities wasn’t proving to be so fun for him after all.

He could feel the underlying coercion and manipulation that was happening by my desire for him to “learn” something – by my need to measure his learning progress.

This experience shattered my paradigm about how real learning happens. In the beginning, homeschooling curricula wasn’t working. Then homeschooling through interest wasn’t working either. What was I to do? How was I going to make sure my son was learning?

This is where expanding my mind came in. Even though I thought building space models with Styrofoam balls would be fun (plus – he would learn the planets this way) – it wasn’t fun for my son.
To him, it felt like I was measuring him up and manipulating his interest of space. It wasn’t fun when I was in charge of HOW he learned more.

Slowly, I realized that the exploration had to originate with my son. Not a general exploration of one thing but an integration of lots of interest intertwining and looping together. Yes, my son was interested in space. But he wasn’t interested in learning through preplanned activities every single day. He wanted to play space games on the computer. He wanted to build space ships with Lego. He wanted to pretend play space aliens with his brother. How was he going to learn anything about space by building Lego space ships? And more importantly, how in the world could I measure what he was learning if he was playing Lego and video games?

Yet again I was faced with throwing my preplanned materials out the window. He wanted to LEARN about space, not be TAUGHT about space. Big difference to him. And it became very important to me as well.

So how did I align myself and my actions with my son’s desire to lead his own exploration? At first, I had to expand my trust in my son. I had to trust that if he was interested in any particular thing and he was in charge of his own exploration – he would learn.

For about a year I found myself biting my tongue and letting go of wanting to measure his learning. I had to let go and trust that his Lego building and video gaming were leading him to where he needed to go.

Connections were being made that I might not see for days, months or even years! This was difficult at first because I sort of felt that I was out of the loop. Sure, he shared his experiences with me and I even joined him in his video games and Lego building, but I wasn’t in CHARGE anymore. I wasn’t measuring anymore. This felt uncomfortable and led me deeper into exploring my own paradigm around learning.

So now, instead of spending energy on directing my son’s learning, I was diving deep into my own belief system about how humans learn. I spent my time playing with my kids but also reading and researching different learning styles. I later came to know that I was in the deschooling process. I had naturally landed here after so many other things had not worked out for us.

As time went by I began to notice that we were having lots of fun. We were all joyful, spending our days doing that which lit us up. I dug deep each day to see the learning that was taking place in our home.

I rejoiced on those days my son would excitedly tell me what he had learned about Jupiter from his Minecraft mod or how he had planned out a Lego spaceship build. He worked for days illustrating a “book” on how the planets orbit the sun (with a few aliens mixed in, of course!) Learning was happening without my controlling and manipulating it! After about a year of this, I was sold on life learning.

Often, new unschoolers feel as though they should “get it” with ease and grace immediately. Some people may be able to do that but more likely it takes daily expansion and daily exploration of our preconceived notions about how learning happens to get us there.

Small steps lead to big changes. Asking myself, “How can I expand TODAY?” is what led me to “getting it” eventually. Moment by moment and stretch by stretch is what gave us the space to truly learn in my family. When we can relax and enjoy the journey, get a clear picture in our mind of what is important to us, the learning takes care of itself.

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Lean into the Love, by Sue Patterson

Kids on bridgeParents with children older than mine would look at me when I expressed concerns and say, “Don’t worry,” or “They’ll figure it out.” Sometimes they’d tack on, “Just have fun with them.” They were so right. And I LOVE that they were!

 

Still, I worried about gaps. I worried about getting into college, or whatever higher learning they’d want to pursue. I didn’t want doors to close on them – I wanted them to have all the choices in the world. And in spite of my lapses in trust, or my occasional meltdowns about facts, they did have every opportunity they wanted. After a (mostly) radical way of unschooling our lives, they have been able to pursue whatever they want.

I applaud those moms of babies who are reading and learning about unschooling BEFORE they need to know. So many of their school-induced thoughts about learning can be dealt with before their kids are even school age. To deschool themselves before they’re in the thick of it will help so much. I didn’t know any homeschooling, let alone unschooling, families the year before we decided to take the plunge. The idea that keeping your kids home to learn and live would actually be good for them – and not just an act of self-indulgence by a mom who couldn’t let go – was not on my radar at all. I was a complete suburban soccer mom – although then it was T-ball and Tiger Cubs. I was surrounded by moms who were trying to find the right preschool or mother’s day out. I only knew people who encouraged distance from children so they could go back to work or follow their own pursuits or just get a little sleep! No one talked to me back then about leaning into all these feelings that come with having children.

This month, I’m here to tell you to just lean into the LOVE. Look at your babies and toddlers and children and teens. See how they trust you. See how they look to you for support. See how you are their rock.

Please notice the math: You will probably live to be about 80. Your kids will need you as their sole support for maybe 20 years of that. That’s only 25% of your life. Most likely you’re over 20, so you’ve already spent the 1st 25%, kids are the next. That leaves 50% of your life to pursue whatever you want! And regardless of your first 20 years, if you REALLY focus on your children for the next 20, the second half of your life will be full of wonderful relationships with them as well as memories and plans for the future. It will be so much richer for focusing that one little 25% on them.

So here’s my list of LOVE. Some of it I did well. Some of it, I wish I had done so much better. And if you’re still raising little ones, you have such an opportunity to learn from our choices and have an even better experience at this.

LOVE who they are now.
 Don’t try to shape them. Just sit with them and listen to their ideas. Share your opinions without squashing theirs. Stop yourself when you feel like you’re making judgements about them. Let them unfold naturally. If you focus on the LOVE you can let go of the FEAR.

LOVE that you have the entire day to do with as you wish.
 Create a home that is full of excitement and interesting things to explore – be it books or videos or pinecones or magnets. Play with them yourself. You’d be surprised how your own ability to play can come back. It’s human nature to play with things. It’s just that if you had to go to school, you were told to stop playing and settle down in your seat. In order to succeed in that setting, you had to learn to curb all your enthusiasm. It might take some time to entice those feelings back. But they’re there.

LOVE that you live in a time and place where so many opportunities abound.
 Use your community, and the community next to yours! Find cool places to explore. Learn with your children. Even if you think, “I’m not that interested in that,” it’s worth a try to check it out. There might be something there that you DO like. Or it might spark a new passion for your child. Show them that there are all KINDS of interesting adventures just outside your door. And now, looking them up on the internet makes it so much easier to find.

LOVE that they can go see and touch and hear things in the real world.
 Children who are tied to lesson plans or curriculum – whether they’re in the school or the home – can only read about these adventures. They have to wait to start their exploring later in their life, or after their “real work” is done when their brains are exhausted or worse.

LOVE their interests. Even if you’re not into video games or horses or Justin Bieber or BMXing, love it anyway. Show them you value their choices. Ask them questions about it. Nurture their passion instead of putting timers on to say how long they get to enjoy that. Take them to get that game they’re longing for. Ask them what game could you start on to learn what they love. Take them to horse stables. Take them with a friend to concert of their choice. Drop by the bike shop with them once a week to see what’s the latest. Find a magazine on BMX-ing.
Before you say, “I don’t want to put more money toward those choices,” maybe you should rethink that. It’s their passion! Even if it’s fleeting. It really will lead to something else – it always does. And they will have had the opportunity of seeing that they can look for passions without someone telling them how to find it or where to find it. Or what’s a good passion to have and what’s not. Your LOVE will build their CONFIDENCE. And as an unschooling parent, your job is to create an environment for them to learn and grow. They’ll need tools to do that.

AND it will improve your relationship. In the end, that’s what matters most: the LOVE between everyone in your family. When there’s a disconnect there, look to see what you’re afraid of happening. Because it all boils down to two things: Fear or LOVE. Just practice bringing it back to love. After all, learning their times tables by a certain age really doesn’t matter that much at all – their phones have calculators and for anything else, there’s GOOGLE.

“And in the end…the love you take…

Is Equal to…the Love you Make”

~Paul McCartney

This article was first published in the TexUns News, a periodic newsletter to support you on the Unschooling path. To subscribe, please click here.

Sue PattersonSue Patterson, wife and mother of three grown unschoolers, lives in Pflugerville, just north of Austin. She has been an active homeschooling advocate at the local, state and national level for nearly two decades. Her newly released book, Homeschooled Teens, is available now!
Sue is the Managing Editor of The Homeschooler Post – an online parenting journal focusing on learning for home educators. She manages the Unschooling Mom2Mom Facebook group, blogs at Lifelong Learning, speaks at various conferences around the country, works as a Life Coach and Unschooling Mentor. Find out more at SuePatterson.com.

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Renewing our Faith in Life Learning, by Michelle Conaway

 

85fe12f8-2197-4e4c-9948-a8f9a0dfe4d5I just love the people who “get” Life Learning, from the very beginning- when their children are small and have not yet been subjected to learning under someone else’s agenda. I’ve met so many people along the way who understood from the beginning that their children were not meant to be shaped into something that society believed they should be, but rather instinctually knew that their children came into the world ready made learners and they were able to cultivate that from the beginning.

I was not one of those parents that “got it” when my kids were toddlers. My oldest daughter, 27, struggled through both the private and public school system from the beginning and graduated at 18. Although I encouraged my daughter to never allow the school “authorities” define her, I still thought that school was mandatory so we got through it the best we knew how. My oldest son, now 14 started Kindergarten and went through half of first grade before I woke up and realized that the school system (private or public) wasn’t the only option. It was only a short while before I realized that school at home wasn’t the answer either.

It took a lot of paradigm shifts within myself before I was able to truly “get” unschooling. It took a lot of panic and restarts before I could fully engage in trusting that my kids had an innate desire to learn, without my dictating WHAT they should learn. Preconceived notions about screen time and school subjects continued to take me to a place of fear. The societal push for college and a bright “future” kept me living out there in the future rather than right here in the present.

There were a lot of restarts for me. I had to continually be conscious of my old conditioning. I had to be committed to restructuring my thought processes around education. And then, one day, it just clicked. My commitment to renewing my mind paid off in a big way. And the reward for all of that renewing was a family who was finally living in the present, where everyone was creating and enjoying their day, respecting each other and moving through life – together as a family.

I thought it might be helpful to share here what kinds of things I did to help myself get to a place of trust and faith in life learning. These things made all the difference in taking my family in a direction of joy and love and passion.

While I admire and feel great respect for those that have implemented this lifestyle with their children from the beginning, I am grateful for the struggle I had in getting here. It has helped me to appreciate this lifestyle so much. And my kids, including my 27 year old daughter, have implemented the principals of life learning into their lives, easily and effortlessly. It started with my willingness to renew myself on a daily basis. And I hope by sharing my experience, it might help those of you that are struggling on this path today.

I got quiet EVERY day. I did this through meditation but if that doesn’t resonate, some of you may just sit alone and allow whatever fears you have to come to the forefront of your mind. Ask yourself if your fear is truly a danger for your child today or rather a fear manifested by your conditioning about how learning happens.(Can you ABSOLUTELY know that your child will need that higher math in the future? Can you absolutely know that your child NEEDS to be reading right now?)

I based our days on joy and passion. Even when I felt fear arise, I would put the focus on enjoying our day. If we weren’t enjoying it (And I truly despised doing curricula with my kids as much as they did) we stopped doing it. I began to let passion be our guide. THAT, I realized was where the true learning was happening.

I STOPPED reacting to my every thought. I would examine my thoughts in meditation every morning and realize that I didn’t have to DO anything about my thoughts(which many times were fearful thoughts). If I was feeling fear I knew that action should be stifled until I was in a place of peace. Then, I would move into the day with my kids with a clear mind. If a fearful thought arose while I was with my kids, I would save it for my quiet time. I did not react as soon as the fearful thought arose. Instead I put the focus of our day on the good that was already happening.

I started a gratitude journal specific to each of my kids. I would focus on what they WERE doing well! I focused on ALL that they were learning each and every day. This helped me to pay closer attention when we were together on what they were doing and how well they were doing it. I watched closely so that I would have things to enter into my gratitude journal. (One of my sons actually learned about some mythology on SpongeBob of all places!) I also focused on the natural goodness and kindness that my kids radiated each and every day.

I started taking action towards my own passions.(Writing, gardening and starting unschooling groups). I realized that kids learn best by example. When I’m living a life full of passion, doing the things that inspire me and cultivate joy in MY life, my kids will do the same. I started diving into the things that I love ~ giving full permission for my kids to do the same without a critical eye or unnecessary limitations placed upon them.

I started trusting. I thought back on all of the difficult times I had experienced in life ~ And how I had come through them all! Each challenge or event that comes into our life is a chance to take another step. With each step, we get to make new choices. Any challenges I might face with my kids in the future could be dealt with in the future. There’s no way to know what those will be anyway. My job is to focus on the challenges and joys of TODAY, assisting my kids with what matters to them in the moment.. I realized we don’t need to have ALL of the answers. Instead, all of our attention can be put on what is presently happening in our lives. There’s joy in that space. One well worth the work it might take to get there.

The New Year always seems to bring me back to a place of reevaluating where we are on our journey. Implementing new practices, especially when we are contemplating a whole new way of life, is often necessary. Sometimes in order to change our situation in life, we are called upon to renew our minds ~ Replacing the old paradigms with the new. We hope that your 2015 is filled with family connection and love, and that respect for one another and trust in your own unique path are at the forefront of your journey. Happy New Year!

Renewal

 

 

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This article was first published in our TexUns News, a periodic publication for those on the Unschooling Path. To subscribe, please go here.

Michelle ConawayMichelle Conaway is mom to three kids and two dogs, wife to her incredible husband Stacy and  founder of Texas Unschoolers. She is a freelance writer, conference organizer and establisher of 5 Facebook Groups including Creative Unschooling Kids, Texas Unschoolers and Katy/ Houston Unschooling Parent Support Group. She blogs at www.michelleconaway.net and is a staff writer at Chocology. Her passion is helping others, particularly those taking a path less traveled.

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