Our inaugural home education children’s markets

We recently held our inaugural Home Education Children’s Market for our local community and it was a great success! The children planned and set up a diverse range of stalls and sold to each other over the course of a few hours. We held our market in a local park that had toilets, shelters with tables and a playground. This gave us options for all-weather as well as providing the children a place to play once the markets concluded. The children used small tables that they brought from home, or a rug spread on the ground, to set up their stall.

Lemonade stand

If you’re thinking of organizing an event for your local home ed community, here are some tips that worked for us:

  • Pick a venue that has enough space for your group and is an all-weather option (eg. shade for hot weather and shelter for rain);
  • Pick a date that works for the core organisers so you can be sure there will be a least a handful of stalls! Also consider earlier in the week so that the weekend can be used for preparation;
  • Decide the maximum price limit per item (we decided on a maximum of $1 per item sold; some children priced their products lower than $1);
  • Create a flyer with the details and some examples of the types of stalls so people new to the idea have a starting point, including the instructions on what to;
  • Use email, messenger or your local social media platform to circulate the info;
  • An optional idea is to have a list of stalls (a growing list, as each child decides what they will do) so that there aren’t too many replicas;
  • As the organizer, be there on time to guide the setting up and help with any queries.

artworks stall.jpg

On our flyer, we included the following information for parents:

  • Bring your own table or rug to set up your stall;
  • Parents encouraged to help where needed and run their child’s stall if their child wants to go ‘shop’;
  • Take home all rubbish and clean the area before going home.

Flyer

The children all enjoyed the autonomy of running their own stall, as well as the responsibility of pricing products, taking money and providing change when needed. With the small price tag, children were also able to shop each other’s stalls independently.

Children’s markets enable holistic learning that touches on a wide range of topics and learning areas, as well as requiring the use of a variety of skills. To just name a few of the possibilities for learning:

  • Planning, estimating, calculating, sourcing the product to be sold
  • Making the product (this could obviously lend itself to requiring a huge range of different skills and knowledges)
  • Determining pricing in a marketplace
  • Comparing and contrasting products and prices
  • Understanding currency and value
  • Interpersonal skills and relationships
  • Basic maths – addition, subtraction, division in relation to number of products, counting change, working out profit
  • Design and aesthetics of stalls
  • Wide ranging communication skills – written and verbal
  • Literacy – communicating ideas, reading signs, writing receipts

Playdough stand

Even though children running their own markets affords endless possibilities for learning, the main focus should be on the importance of children enjoying themselves and participating in a community. Our next market is coming up in December and as an added element, we have invited children’s significant relative or friend to attend and shop the markets.

What is unschooling?

Recently I read a post in a parenting forum where someone was asking about the practice of unschooling – what is it and how is it done? Many of the posts from people who identified as unschoolers were not quite in line with how I would describe unschooling, particularly radical unschooling… And it got me thinking then, about how I would respond to someone curious about unschooling. So here it is, my version of (radical) unschooling as it stands in our third official year as unschoolers with a 7.5-year-old, 3.75-year-old and a 21-month-old.

Unschooling is…

…a practice of life

Unschooling rests on the belief that children are capable of learning through life, without the need to be ‘taught’. So follows that unschoolers just continue on with ‘life’ once their children are of school age. The children continue to be involved in the functioning of a household and remain active members of their community. They continue to learn driven by their own intrinsic motivation to learn.

…seeing the world as a matrix of endless possibilities for learning

Knowledge and learning are not limited to a curriculum set out by a handful of policy makers. Unschooling is the realization that there are no limits on what, when and how you learn, who you learn it with and where you learn it. Unschooling learning is more matrix-like. Learning is not linear (even though school curriculums try to make it look like it is) but rather it forms a rhizomatic structure – twists and turns, connections and parallels, off-shoots and lines of flight (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Children can follow a series of inter-connected ideas endlessly. They can do this intensely or at a slower pace, for however long they like. No one tells children that some forms of knowledge are more or less valuable by the amount of time one is allowed to spend time learning it.

…an active, hands-on, dedicated partnership with your children

It requires lots of time paying attention to your child/ren; meeting their needs (comfort, nourishment, emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual); listening to them in the many ways that children can/do communicate with us; partnering with them as a team to support them in life; providing opportunities for joy and learning; and being reliable, trustworthy and respectful of the child/ren in your team. [For further clarity, unschooling is not lazy/laisse faire parenting. It does not mean that if your child spends hours a day using an iPad or a laptop for example, that the parent then has time off, rather this is an opportunity to learn with/alongside your child while they engage with digital technologies].

…finding ways to live life joyfully and peacefully

Unschooling families are seekers of peace and joy as daily, weekly and year-long goals. Learning to live peacefully and joyfully takes practice and dedication. It requires parents to let go of conventional parenting ideas and to rethink relationships with their children. One way that parents achieve this is trying to avoid thinking or speaking words or phrases that move them away from peace and joy, e.g. ‘bedtime battle’ or ‘struggle to feed’. It is also recognizing that many of those conventional parenting practices are based on methods of controlling children through manipulation, force and arbitrary limits. Those parenting practices will not get anyone closer to joy and peace. Partnership will. Understanding will. Respect will.

…different in each family

Unschooling works with some key principles as outlined above however, how each family practices unschooling based on those principles will be different. Social media brings amazing opportunities to share ideas and insights into peoples’ lives as they unschool, however it also carries the risk of only showing the beautiful, likable images of unschooling life. Some/many aspects of unschooling are not Instagram worthy, or cannot be captured in a picture at all, and I’d be willing to tip that it’s these undocumented moments that are the most valuable in an unschooling life. Sure, there are some great ideas for things to do with children, experiences to offer, resources to provide, ways to set up your home, but what will make unschooling work is not the pretty stuff but the principles you live by. A day in your sloppy house clothes and your children in third-time hand-me-downs with baked on stains and birds nest hair, spending time playing together, connecting together, thinking, dreaming, eating some yummy stuff that nourishes in one way or another, being your child’s trusted partner, is far closer to unschooling than a photo posted to Instagram of a child playing with the latest Montessori inspired resources.

…looking inward, as parents, at ourselves and at our ‘baggage’

Deschooling is often a big part of unschooling, particularly for the parents. Deschooling does require parents to examine themselves, to think on their own deeply held beliefs about parenting and learning. Deschooling can be hard, and it can be painful, to uncover our wounds and bring them into the light. Questioning why we think the way we do and then examining our deeply held beliefs with an unschooling lens is part of an ongoing process of moving closer and closer to unschooling. Leaving behind parenting practices that aim to control children can be confronting and they often stem from our own fears as we once experienced being controlled ourselves. Realizing that we can’t ever control another person is a big aspect of deschooling and while it sounds simple, it can be ever so elusive as our society has us conditioned so well into believing that children need to be, and can be, controlled. This one is definitely a work in progress, for me and many other unschoolers.

Reference

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum.

How do unschooled children learn?

Two French philosophers, Deleuze and Guattari, wrote about how in modernist, western capitalist thought, knowledge is seen to be linear and predictable. They use the metaphor of the tree to represent linear thinking, where knowledge is traced through the branching out, in straight lines, from the roots to the trunk to the tips of the branches. In schools, knowledge is represented in this way as curriculum in prepared in age-related stages, and curriculum areas are boxed and separate. These key learning areas are progressively built on, through each stage. The student is assessed as to whether she meets outcomes. Learning is viewed as a progression along recognizable paths where the student builds a logical tree of knowledge from which to grow and develop.

Deleuze and Guattari offer an alternative concept to understand knowledge – the rhizome. The rhizome is another botanical reference however it’s movement is different to the tree. In botany, a rhizome is a plant that does not have a branching root ball, but rather, it is more like a bowl of spaghetti. Rhizomes don’t have a main root, all of the roots of a rhizome are equally connected. Rhizomes are easily propagated because the root ball can be pulled apart to grow new separate plants. Rhizomes send off shoots to grow a new plant. They adapt very easily. So the metaphor of the rhizome is quite different to that of the tree. In learning terms, the rhizome is synonymous with Unschooling because the way that learning unfolds is so distinctly different to how children are expected to be taught and to learn in schools.

Because unschoolers are not limited by a curriculum or by having to meet particular learning outcomes, then suddenly the universe becomes the curriculum and living life is the pedagogy. There are no limitations on who, what, when and how learning can take place. There are also no boundaries. For instance in school, the curriculum contains information into manageable chunks. Once the topic has been taught to the satisfaction and determination of the teacher (influenced also by the time allocation), the teacher moves on to the next lesson plan, even though there would be multitude other details and connections and ideas possible to include in the topic but that couldn’t be included purely due to practicality. These limitations are much less present in Unschooling. An unschooler is able to follow leads and links, switching and moving through and across multiple Key Learning Areas (KLAs) (and beyond recognized KLAs) as they learn. Deleuze and Guattari use the conceptual term ‘line of flight’ to refer to the way a rhizome sends off shoots. In Unschooling, a line of flight is easily followed as there are no restrictions on what can be learnt. For example, our 7yo was playing a game of elastics singing the song “England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales…” which then led to looking in an atlas containing odd facts and seeing that in Wales, there is a bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin. This then led to looking up Charlie Chaplin movies on YouTube and a discussion about old movies and how they were made. Learning that the film clips we were looking at were about 100 years old, our 7yo realised that it was around the time her great-grandmother was born. After watching the Charlie Chaplin movies, we then switched to Mr Bean shows which proved to be hilariously entertaining for the 7yo in question.

These lines of flight, as the child follows leads and links, is how Unschooling is practiced most of the time. The table below gives some examples of differences between understandings of the linear model of learning and the rhizomatic model of learning.

Tree_rhizome table

References

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum.

What do we love about Unschooling?

Unschooling involves children learning at home and in their communities through the simple act of living life. Unschooling is intricately intertwined with peaceful and respectful parenting. For a really clear rundown, see Unschooling 101.

This is our third year of unschooling and here is what I have found to be the best things about Unschooling so far:

Connection and relationships

This is top of the list because it all starts and ends here. Unschooling starts to happen when parents are connected to their children and working on respectful relationships. The biggest contributing factor to more connection (aside from the desire to do so) is time. Time! So much time. Unhurried, generous time. Here are some examples of the ways Unschooling has enabled us to make more connections with our children:
⁃       Being able to wake up slowly and snuggle in bed or read books before breakfast.
⁃       Having increased opportunities to talk to and listen to our children about their interests, concerns, questions and dreams.
⁃       Being able to provide more choices because we are not tied to the rules and expectations of the school institution.

“There is no academic subject that is important enough to risk harming the parent-child relationship. Nothing is more important than your relationship. There is no work – school work, housework, yard work or anything else, that is more important than your relationship. Always put that first.” Pam Sorooshian (for more of Pam’s thoughts visit her blog Learning Happens). 

Flexibility and more freedom

Just avoiding schoolish schedules alone affords more flexibility and greater freedom but it’s so much more than that. I’ve now started to experience not just the practical, material impact of Unschooling in this regard, but also the philosophical impact. Unschooling has led me to see the expansion of endless possibilities for learning as well as the contraction of appreciating the most minute detail in a tiny microcosm.

NB: I acknowledge that Unschooling is not absolute freedom – there are still limits and boundaries of all kinds – but it does afford greater freedom. Sandra Dodd makes this distinction.

Learning/life life/learning

We don’t have to do comparisons, tests or assessments for external validation of our abilities or worth. No one has to be better or work harder to meet someone else’s expectations. We just keep on living life, joyfully, contentedly knowing that we are lifelong learners.

“Living in the world peacefully and respectfully are good places to begin to focus when new to unschooling. The best advice I was given was to look at my son. Not at ideals. Not at freedom. Not at school or no school. Not at labels. Not at big ideas. Look at my son. Be with him. Get to know him deeply. And, then to read a bit about unschooling. Give something new a try. See how it goes in the context of our real day to day life. I still do that. I’m still learning.” – Karen James, quoted here.

We look at our children and check that they are happy, enjoying what they’re doing and feeling loved and supported to pursue interests and ideas. We are active partners (rather than ‘teachers’) in their life/learning, resourcing them in a range of ways. Life is learning, learning is life.

Less stress, more happiness

This is a biggie. If you practice Unschooling, you are likely to experience less stress and more happiness. You make your own schedules and rhythms. Your family members are able to choose what they do, where and when, within the reasonable abilities and practicalities of your family unit. Children are happier because they experience equitable relationships with adults. Imagine living your BEST life. That’s what Unschooling can be. Sara from Happiness is Here writes more about how Unschooling can help you to live your best life.

The conformity weight is lifted

You really have to start Unschooling to feel it; you don’t know the weight of conformity to unhappiness until you break free and realise there is an alternative, a truly legitimate alternative that will enhance your life. Unschooling isn’t just not doing school. It’s more and bigger. It is a noun and a verb – a philosophy and a practice. It’s taking off shackles you didn’t even know you had on. It’s not just for the children, the whole family is affected by this paradigm shift.

Why we decided on a life without school

I can’t remember the exact moment I realised we weren’t going to utilise school. Probably because it happened gradually. But when you already question the norm in other areas of your life, it just ends up trickling into other decisions.

When I became surer in my own mind that we would home educate, I purposefully flirted casually with the possibility out loud, just to get people used to the idea. Eventually, our eldest reached ‘school age’ and from then it became official that we were ‘homeschooling’, although we were much more interested in unschooling.

We found most of our friends and family interested in our decision and showing support, knowing we made the best decisions for our children and family as well as we knew how.

In the beginning, you start with what you don’t want. You start to list the things you want to avoid because you have yet to experience all the good that is life without school. So you go with what you know about school, and this is the list I came up with that led us to keep our children with us at home, learning through life, on their own terms (in another post, I’ll write about all the reasons we wanted to unschool and all the amazing things we love about it). Here are the top 6 reasons we didn’t want to send our children to school:

1. Loss of autonomy

We began our parenting careers with a respectful and peaceful parenting philosophy. There are many people writing about this (for example see Parenting for a peaceful world by Robin Grille or the Parent Allies website for online resources). We see our children as our partners and our family as a team. We don’t do rewards or punishments, coercion or shaming. Our children were brought up knowing that their bodies and minds were their own. Unfortunately, schools depart from this philosophy in many ways. Most obviously, children are mandated to attend school. They don’t have much choice in the matter, whether by their parents’ or the government’s ruling, children are forced to attend school. This doesn’t particularly instill a sense of autonomy over one’s life if 13 years of it are under the control of others. Underneath this overarching sense of control are smaller but regular practices of control that reinforce the view that children are not entitled to their own bodies, their own sense of self. For instance, being told when they can eat, play or rest; requiring permission to use the toilet; segregation into age groups; requirements about the clothes they must wear and other things to do with the body – hair, skin, jewelry. The main project of a school is to force (usually) hundreds of children to follow the orders of a small handful of adults.

2. Subordination

Linked closely with the practice of removing autonomy from children, schools position children in subordination to adults. This means there is no sense of equality in the adult-child relationship but rather it is hierarchical and the child is at the bottom. Practices in schools that reinforce subordination is the belief that children are not capable of learning without adult instruction and supervision; that children can’t make decisions about what they learn and how best they might do that; that children must show respect to elders by using titles and last names of adults; and that children must always seek the permission of adults to perform almost any task at all.

3. Separation

We are fond of spending time with our children. Our children are fond of spending time with us. Schooling would mean a large proportion of my children’s week is spent away from their family. It wasn’t always like this. In fact, schools are a mere blip on the timeline of history. Apart from the last couple hundred years, for millennia before that, children lived and learned with their family, their community. There have been lots of poorly thought out ideas throughout the course of history and we think school is one of them.

4. Loss of intrinsic tendency and motivation to learn

Children do very well in their early years to learn all sorts of things by themselves, purely through their own intrinsic motivation to learn, understand the world, make sense of things. Most of the time, we don’t really question the early years and children’s capacity to grow their knowledge and skills, coordination and abilities. It just happens because we let them live and learn. But once they become school age, that sense of wonder and freedom that we cherish for children in their early years becomes less important. We believe that at five or six, children suddenly become unable to learn on their own. It’s quite weird when you think about it. So schools actually teach children that they aren’t capable of learning unless an adult is with them, telling them what to learn. And schools teach children that the only real place that they learn is at school or at home doing homework. Schools do a very good job at telling parents that children must be taught by qualified experts in order for learning to occur. And once all this convincing seeps into the minds of children, they begin to lose their sense of self, their sense of what they are interested in, what they love, how the world works… They start to wait to be told by someone who knows better than them. And their love of learning, that came so naturally in their early years, is quashed. Sir Ken Robinson gives a poignant TED talk on this topic titled Do schools kill creativity?

5. School-culture socialisation

I always find it amusing that the number one concern many people have about home education is that children will miss out on socialisation. Yet, I reckon bullying hits the media headlines every week and is a constant concern of schools and parents. Even in a school without a particularly bad bullying problem, children are forced into segregated age-groups. They are told when and where they can ‘play’ (morning tea and lunchtime). Then for the remainder of the day they are not allowed to socialise (i.e. stop talking, stop mucking around, stop stop stop). It actually isn’t that social to force people into situations and expect they get on, let alone make friends. And to pressure children into making friends with age-level peers is an odd notion to me, after I have witnessed my children make and keep friends with children and adults across a wide range of ages.

6. Other forms of discrimination

This one will vary from school to school but I get the sense that many of the public primary schools in our area wouldn’t have a particularly strong focus on social justice and anti-bias in their curriculum. What I mean by this is situating the teaching of all key learning areas within a frame of anti-bias (see Red Ruby Scarlet, The anti-bias approach in early childhood). Anti-bias is acknowledging the range of ways humans discriminate against other living creatures and otherwise, and finding ways to counter, stand up to and remove bias in pursuit of equity and equality. This is important to me as a feminist. Unfortunately, underpinning the curriculum with an anti-bias approach is not very common in schools. Not surprisingly, discrimination of all kinds occur in education institutions. These discriminations occur in a range of ways, from the institutional practices, to interactions between adults and children and between peers, to the perspectives and beliefs a teacher brings when they interpret knowledge to share with children.

For example, discriminations in institutional practices can be seen in the ways children are subordinated to adults, as I’ve already outlined in the points above. Schools are generally biased against children and through their practices, they enact childism (a term used by Elizabeth Young-Bruehl in her book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children). Interactions between peers can often be fueled by discrimination, yet these occurrences are often labeled ‘bullying’ which I believe to be an apolitical attempt to hide the deeper reasons children pick on other children. Even the teaching of curriculum can be biased, such as how a teacher chooses to teach children about Australia’s black history or whether studies of historical figures equally depict both men and women. The organisation of the children in schools is often done in biased ways such as segregating boys and girls, as so many schools do, in various ways from uniforms to standing in line. So this final point is about wanting to avoid both institutional practices of bias and discrimination, as well as a curriculum that may not be delivered through an anti-bias frame.

Continue reading “Why we decided on a life without school”

Leaning in

Thanks for joining me!

I’m Kathryn, first time blogger but longtime writer. I have a Doctor of Philosophy, studying policy in early childhood education in Australia. My career progression and projection looked assuredly towards academia. But funnily enough, it’s not really where I’m headed at all right now. I’m an academic mutineer.

Instead, my life centres around the practice of unschooling, with my partner and three young children.

Unschooling is considered quite unconventional. And I guess it’s no surprise then, that I was intrigued with the idea because I’m no stranger to unconventional decisions. Choices that have nevertheless been life changing.

One of those life changing decisions occurred when I was pregnant with my first baby. My partner and I looked into lots of stuff to prepare for parenting. As it turned out, homebirth was the thing for me, because I could see that modern medical practices had taken birth away from women. So I opted out and stayed at home.

And quite simply, our baby was born, in our small apartment bedroom, into the warm water of the birth pool and into my arms. We slept together, in the same bed, right from the start. We breastfed to term, meaning for my first-born, nursing finished up at around five years old. We listened to and respected our child.

Then we had more babies at home. More sleeping together, in lots of beds, in different configurations.

And as time drew on, our eldest became school age. And those whispers in my head became louder and we were faced with the next decision. Again, it was life changing. We decided to Unschool.

So here I am. Academic mutineer. Mother. Partner. Practicing Unschooler. Thinker. Writer. Beginning blogger.

Think of yourself as not merely faced with decisions to which you must react, but as being proactively at choice. And when a decision is difficult, consider what you are agreeing to with each choice, and what it says about the world you wish to inhabit.    – Ben Hewitt, Home Grown