An Alternative Education – Learning Without School

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In January this year most children Hannah’s age were donning their uniforms and backpacks and heading off to their first day of school. Hannah slept until 8am and then we headed to our local city farm to explore, learn and hang out with our friends.  We had the most amazing day and as I watched my 5 year old running around in her dress-up tutu and painting with clay, I knew we had made the right decision.

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During my pregnancy with Hannah I became obsessed not just with preparing for birth but for everything related to parenting, and this eventually took me down the path to Alternative Education. I began to use little bits of all the different philosophies and methods I had read about, in our day to day life. I love so much about the Montessori approach and our home is designed to be very child friendly and is influenced by many Monetssori principles. Some aspects of the philosophy were missing for me and so I adopted what could easily be termed Steiner ideas into our home as well.  As Hannah grew though, and as we watched her take her first plunge into ‘academic’ learning just after she turned 2 by learning to write the letter ‘H’ we – well, mostly I! – felt a little lightbulb go off that quietly said ‘She is learning, not by force or compulsion, but naturally‘. And so I did what I have always felt was right and I followed my child.

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As Hannah grew, we watched her learn. She learned from the moment she woke up to the time her eyes closed and we were even speculating that she was learning in her sleep (which is actually true!). As I watched this process happen I started to question everything I had known or read or accepted about education. I began to see that children are born to learn. I mean, everyone knows that, but I began to see this for what it really is – a completely natural state for a child. A state of constant inquisition with the driving force being a need to learn how to grow into a competent adult in the society they have been born into.

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When Brian and I sat down and discussed what we wanted for our children in the future, we decided we wanted to find a way where our children could learn with joy, with desire and with a thirst for knowledge. Where we could be there next to them as a companion that could answer questions when asked, supply materials if needed and offer different perspectives when required. We wanted to be the person who could offer inspiration and varied experiences and then leave them to learn for themselves like we knew they could. We knew this because we had watched them learn since the day they were born.

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No one taught my baby to crawl or babble or reach for a toy or touch her toes. She noticed the toy and felt the desire to touch it so she strived to reach that goal until she did. It was an insatiable need and she wasn’t going to be satisfied until that toy was in her grasp. And how did she feel when she held that toy and moved it to her lips to finally begin to recognise exactly what it was that she had been looking at that whole time? Absolute delight! And satisfaction. And then she moved onto the next thing, the previous knowledge safely tucked away to be used in the future. She never did anything before she was ready and never until the learning was meaningful to her.

Everything my children have learned happened in the right way, in the right order and at the right time. For them.

And we trusted it to happen that way.

We expected it.

And it did. They learned. And they have never stopped.

And you know what?

I still see that same delight in their eyes when they reach a new learning goal  – whether it be climbing a tree or writing a word – that I saw when they were just babies. Their desire for knowledge has never been disapproved of or feared. We have always welcomed it with open arms even when it seemed frightening to us. We knew they were ready to learn it because they wanted to try. We trust that they will want to learn the things Brian and I know – such as reading and writing – because they see us use these skills in every day life. We trust that when those skills become important to them that they will become interested in learning them and we have no doubt they will.

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And so in the last 5.5 years, Brian and I have been witness to something spectacular – our children learning all about life, through life itself. It really is a beautiful thing to watch. To see the opportunities that are created every hour to learn and to watch children take on the challenge with an enthusiasm that is essentially unremarkable because it is their everyday. That is the true beauty of this approach to learning, to life. When we began to look very closely into our childrens world we began to see that learning is everywhere and in every thing and this is what makes us confident in our decision to unschool our children.

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I won’t go too much into what unschooling is as a philosophy as there are many other sources of that information elsewhere. But basically it is all about what I described above. This is a quote from a blog called The Path Less Taken that sums up unschooling really well – “Unschooling is a philosophy that allows that given a rich, interesting environment, and attentive, supportive parents, that learning will happen naturally.  To believe in unschooling is to believe that true learning happens best when it arises from the experiences and interests of the learner, not from an imposed curriculum or a teacher or a parent.  As unschooling parents, we don’t act as teachers, but as facilitators and partners.  We do not separate the day into subjects, or into school time, or play time, or learning time.  We live as if school does not exist.  We live our lives and we learn from it.

I am not pedantic about labels though. Our life is what it is. We know why schools exist and we don’t feel that they will need to be a necessary part of our childrens lives. We feel that learning cannot be contained or explained or tested. It cannot be trained or directed or controlled. It is a personal, individual and unique experience that every person travels through themselves. Learning doesn’t only last for 12 years! It should continue for a lifetime.

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As an example – which was prompted after hearing Dayna Martin speak at the Conscious Parenting and Natural Learning Conference we attended in 2012 – I realised just how much time and effort I had put into learning about pregnancy, labour and birth. I knew almost as much as a midwife and yet I wasn’t going to be be tested on this information. I was reading, researching and memorising because I desired to do so. I had a goal and I was meeting it. It was entirely self-initiated and therefore it was self-activated. My satisfaction came from the learning itself. I was educating myself because the learning was meaningful to me. This is the key to unschooling.

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This realisation affirmed for me how much I wanted my children to keep that love of learning burning in their hearts. I wanted them to feel that if they wanted to know about something that all they had to do was follow that desire and seek the required knowledge. Keeping our children home from school makes sense to us. We are living in the real world and our children will learn from living every day, following their passions, experimenting, asking questions, travelling and experiencing new things. We don’t need to teach our children how to learn. That is an oxymoron. They have been learning since they took their first breath and we know all we need to do is step back and let them live life. And for us, that just happens to mean life without school.

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[I will be blogging more of our unschooling journey in the near future but if you want to see more real-life updates then follow us on Instagram via 'hippyhappymama' and check out the #ourunschoolingjourney hashtag]

 

Family Photo Session – The H Family

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This family is pure sunshine so it was fitting that when we arrived to our photo-shoot location that the pouring rain stopped and the clouds parted to make way for a magnificently sunny afternoon.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to photograph you all H family, you made my job very easy. I hope you enjoy your photographic memories xx

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{If you are in the Brisbane area and interested in a session, please contact me through my hippyhappymama Facebook page}

Naming Daisy

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Daisy was never in my fantasy childrens names list. I would have been really surprised if someone had told me five years ago that I would have a daughter named Daisy one day. Not because it’s not a beautiful name but just because it had never spoken to me in a way other names did. But just like when I dreamt about Hannah before she was conceived and when I knew Blake was a boy even though the ultrasound said he was a girl, Daisy made herself known to me and worked her way into my consciousness a long time before I felt her sweet kicks and bumps in my belly.

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It all started in January 2012, when quite literally the name Daisy just popped into my head. We were trying for another baby and thinking about baby names is a favourite pastime of mine but this seemed a bit too girly and sweet to me. I decided to see what Brian thought of it – completely assuming he would dislike it – and I hoped his reaction would dissuade me. Straight away he said he it was a great name.

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Soon, I began noticing signs… little things that made Daisy a prominent feature in my mind every time I tried to put her to the back of my mind. I began to imagine that I would have another little girl, that this was the spirit of that baby making herself known to me. I began to feel comforted by these little signs and know it was her way of saying to me she was getting ready to come into our lives.

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I began to see the name Daisy in department stores, in movies, photographs and linked in blogs. This happened over and over for a couple of months in mid-2012 and then it seemed to slow down. Around the time of Blake’s birthday in October we decided that since we hadn’t fallen pregnant we would go overseas with my family and we started to make preparations for that. Literally that same week, I had a dream that I was 3 weeks pregnant with a baby girl after not having a baby related dream for a long time. My heart began to ache for this new baby that I now had to wait many more months to meet as I knew we would not be trying to conceive again until we come back from overseas.

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A few days after that dream, we were all getting ready to go out and the kids were bundled in the car with Brian when I went back into our little cottage to quickly sweep some crumbs that the kids had dropped by the doorway so ants didn’t come in while we were gone. As I was doing this, a ladybug landed on my arm. I stared at it and I felt goosebumps. I just knew it was another sign. The lady bug stayed for a minute and then flew off. When I got into the car I mentioned it to Brian straight away, I knew something had just happened . Later that day I opened my Instagram  account and the first photo I saw was of a Daisy flower with a ladybug sitting atop it…

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When we found out we were pregnant less than 2 months later, Brian immediately told me, “Our Daisy is on her way.” and I didn’t doubt it for a second. We just knew this was the child, this was the other member of our family who was coming into our world. I still had hesitations about naming her Daisy though. I felt as though she had named herself instead of us choosing a name for her as we had done with her siblings. I was worried we would make the wrong decision. After another conversation where I rattled off a handful of other names, Brian asked me if I could imagine her name being anything other than Daisy and I knew that I could not. Friends who I had told about my ‘daisy signs’ all had the same reaction when I told them I was pregnant “It’s your Daisy coming to you!” they said and I knew they were right. It was a really nice feeling, like we all knew a little secret that noone else understood.

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When it came to choosing her middle name, for a long time it was going to be Juliet. But our other children’s middle names have a family significance and I knew I wanted to try to find a name for Daisy that did too. Brian’s grandmother, his mother and my mum all have names beginning with ‘M’ so I was initially searching for M names. One night as I tossed and turned in bed with my swollen belly I jumped bolt upright when I remembered  I had always liked the name Emmeline. I quickly googled the meaning and was thrilled to find it meant ‘Hard working’ which seemed perfect as Daisy means ‘The day’s eye’ which always reminds me of dawn. I had a strong feeling Daisy would be born in the early morning so her name meaning hard work at dawn seemed perfect and  the strong M sound worked in with the family significance. I woke Brian up excitedly and let him know I had found the middle name that very moment!

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Each of my children has stretched me and my beliefs and understanding of that womanly intuition. Daisy stretched it the furthest just as she was meant to, and I let her. I let her take me on this journey and I know that her name – although it seems such a small part of her – will always have a big meaning to me and be a part of her story that I will love to share with her when she is grown.

{Photography of Daisy at her newborn photo-shoot at 2 weeks old by Documenting Delight}

A Snapshot of Hannah at 5 and a half years old.

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Hannah, at 5 and a half years old you are -

Intelligent, curious, kind, thoughtful, positive, responsible, friendly, empathetic, caring and wise beyond your years.

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Hannah, at 5 and a half years old you love -

Green apples, rainbows, movie nights, wearing dresses, carrot sticks, the colours pink and purple, going to Grandma & Grandpas house, unicorns, chicken and chips, riding your bike, playing with friends, gymnastics,  pancakes with strawberries and maple syrup, arts and crafts, baking, red capsicums, painting, collecting things for the nature table, butterflies, dress-ups, going out to new places, blueberries, reading the same books over and over, and being independent.

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Hannah, at 5 and a half years old your secret skills are -

Folding towels precisely; having an incredible memory and being able to recite books and songs verbatim; excellent physical skills like trampolining, balancing and climbing; and using your hair as a scarf on cooler days.

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Hannah, at 5 and a half years old the things I love most about you are -

Seeing your drawings stuck on walls around the house with bandaids; that you’re not afraid of heights; hearing you giggle; your sense of adventure; your negotiation skills; your long hair; and that you’re always looking to the future.

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My darling Hannah, don’t ever change. Always be proud to be YOU!

Daisy – Six Month Update

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Happy half-birthday baby girl!!!

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I’m shaking my head sitting here typing this because I just can’t believe you’re already 6 months old. Time simply MUST slow down!

This month you began rolling straight over onto your belly every time you were placed on your back. For the first week or two you thought this was great and you were kept entertained for quite a while but soon you began to squeal as soon as you went onto your tummy as you had forgotten how to get back onto your back. You were like a stranded little beatle, you lifted your legs and arms up so you were just balancing on your tummy and you screamed until someone picked you up! In the last few days you have become more comfortable on your front again as you have realised you can begin to try to reach for toys and you have attempted to get your knees up in your first tries at crawling. You’re probably still at least a month away from full crawling but that is fine with me – it’s certainly not my favourite baby stage!

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You began having a few tastes of food this past month, simple things like avocado and sweet potato. We’re doing BLW again so although we didn’t intend to feed you puree Hannah expressed an interest in feeding you from a spoon so she fed you apple puree about 2 weeks ago. You ate about two teaspoons worth but then spent the rest of the afternoon chucking up constantly. I knew this was not normal for you and a friend suggested a fructose intolerance so we’ve decided to stay away from certain fruit for another month or so and try again when you’re a little older.

We finally moved you out of your moses basket (cue tears from me!) and side-cared the cot next to our bed. You transitioned really well and actually began putting yourself to sleep a lot of the time. I’ve written before that you don’t often like to feed to sleep, and either your daddy used to walk you or we used to bounce you in the bouncer but now I can put you in your wrap after your feed into the cot and you will roll around until you fall asleep. That has meant that you’ve found your tummy and you have slept on your belly quite a few times. However you recently had your first illness so all of that has gone out the window and since your nose is blocked it’s better for you to sleep on your back. You have been waking up quite a bit at night, probably every 2-3 hours on average but sometimes giving you your dummy is enough to get you back to sleep or a quick feed will always do it. You still occassionally do longer stretches so I am confident that in a couple of months when the big developmental leaps of sitting and crawling are out of the way, we can work together to get you sleeping a few longer stretches. Though I know this stage will pass all too quickly as well. It’s nice having you next to me in the cot though. I love watching you sleeping and being the first to see those gorgeous smiles  in the morning.

You’re such a smiley baby, you just love people, and all someone has to do is to look into your eyes and you will almost always give them a big smile! In the mornings when you first see Hannah and Blake you smile as big as you possibly can and you chuckle a little and I just can’t stop myself laughing at the sight of it! It is a really nice way to wake up in the morning. Your bond with your older siblings is just growing stronger by the day. They love talking, playing with and cuddling you and you are really enjoying all the loving now instead of resisting it as you used to do when you were a bit smaller.

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So we are now in the second 6 months of your first year. You are going to get more interactive and more independent and we are going to see more and more of your personality develop. I am looking forward to everything yet to come but I have to admit I am grieving those early baby days and how quickly they seem to have slipped away. You’re just gorgeous Daisy, thank you for the last 6 months of love and joy, we’re incredibly grateful for your presence in our family <3.

Love, Mama xx