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Learning in Freedom

Welcome to Learning in Freedom, a blog all about the learning adventures (and mishaps) of the Allen family. My four children are unschooled, following their interests and passions every day and living the lives of their choosing. The purpose of this blog is to share our every day lives (and my not-so-humble opinons) with anyone interested in stopping by. We hope this will give a glimpse of how natural learning unfolds from day to day......

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lunch date

Mary had planned a lunch date with Sierra a while back, so they could have a girls day out. Heidi and Calista ended up joining them yesterday for shopping, taking Sammy to the groomers and lunch out at Appleby's. They met up with me at the Lancome counter and I did the girls makeup before we went to eat. Sierra kept saying "this is the best day EVER!" She loves these special outings.

Jared was feeling cruddy, so I picked up some herbs after work and he seems to be perking up today. It's sunny and warmer this morning, just the kind of day I'd like to be out digging in dirt. I've decided that working full-time is just too dang inconvenient for a dreamer. Money is nice, but dirt digging is nice too....sigh.
I'd really like to be writing and painting more too. I will focus on getting freelance work so I can get back to my laissez faire lifestyle.:) I miss my kids!

I read an article this morning, about a child with a mohawk that got kicked out of school: School Sends Boy with Spiked Hair Home made me feel pretty sad for a child just expressing himself. If the parents want their child to have free expression though, why do they think a school is the place he should be? And why is it that anyone "different" is socially ostracized in schools? I hear so much about homeschoolers and the "S" word (socialization). Is that what schools mean by socialization? Sounds like conformity to me, which has nothing to do with social skills.

I love that my children can be comfortable with who they are and how they express themselves each and every day of their lives. I love that pirate costumes and skull bandanas and color and whatever they love is part of their days without derision or judgement. I love the shine in their eyes that tells me their lives are grand and they are growing. I love all the freedom and joy we experience. I love this radical unschooling life, even with the bumps and bruises we encounter, like any family.

Monday, March 27, 2006


We spent the day with our local homeschooling group at the park, mostly outside in the coolish sunshine.:) After adorning Sierra with a dandelion crown, we declared her the "Queen of Dandelions". She began collecting various flowers to make her cousin Calista a crown, who was not present due to feeling a bit under the weather.
We explored an under-road tunnel and walked the creek. They were quite disgusted with all the garbage found in the creek bed. I was excited to see mosquito fish in the creek though, they'll come in handy when I build our water garden this summer.

Near the creek edge, there were some violets growing. Perry and I were discussing wild edibles--something I want to learn more about--so it was neat to find some wee, purple violets. I used to crystalize them and decorate cakes and cookies. They make a wonderful tea-time accompaniment.
Martin didn't get much of a birthday celebration, so after traipsing all over the mall area with today's crew (Sierra, Jalen, Jared and Kevin) with Diana's family, we headed back to Jonesborough. Heidi and Martin went into town while I baked a super-fudgy brownie batch.
When they returned with the needed accoutrements, we assembled our supplies; ice cream, gooey brownies, hot fudge and whip cream in a can.

The kids got whip cream squirts. This quickly degenerated into laughter and showing off (Heidi) with whip cream in the mouth that ended up on the floor.
Jalens much-too-large squirt fell on the floor and he started skating in it! I ran over and grabbed a blob and threw it at his face, it landed right in his ear. He laughed like mad and threw some at me, still skating through the mess on the floor. I swooped him up to rinse him in the tub and as I carried him to the bathroom he's laughing hysterically (as are the rest of the kids) and yelling "WE'RE FREAKS!!!"

Oh yeah buddy...in the very best way.:)

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Noisy confusion best describes the cousin mayhem going on regularly here.:)
Grandma and Robin both called tonight. I was describing the technology fest and figured out we have five computers running at all times in the house right now! Ok, mine gets turned off at night. Don't think the others have been shut down for a long time.

I'm hearing strange voices from Trevor's computer tonight. World of Warcraft has expanded his world in amazing ways, some I didn't expect, like strange people talking in my home at odd hours. I have to ask if his microphone is on before I dare say anything in his room! I don't want to be publicly broadcast without full knowledge.

Calista is feeling cruddy....a bit feverish and sore throat. Not bad enough to stay at the RV with her Mum though. She was aching to see cousins. She's sitting on the couch with a ragged piece of her blankie tucked up under her nose, sucking her thumb and leaning on Heidi, looking a bit wretched and pitiful. I can't believe I'm out of film! Cripes. One of my favorite models is posing for me and I have to commit it to memory, rather than film. Oh, the agony.

Friday, March 24, 2006

They're here!

We were expecting the Snavleys on Wednesday night, but arriving home from work on Monday, I saw a humongous RV in the driveway and let out a loud yelp! They were here early and the kids were beside themselves.
It's been loud and chaotic and fun the last few days. Our weather isn't helping me with my plan in convincing them to move here....rain and cold have been the norm this week.
Jalen has been corn dog rich though, after an insane two-cart-load-with-Heidi-and-Markus-fighting-over-who-will-pay run to the grocery store! I thought they were going to break the damn credit card machine. Not sure if Ingles will ever let us back in the store.:)

Mary stopped by last night to bring the pics of our building project last week. Jalen took a look at Sierra using the compound mitre saw and said "That thing is dangerous Sierra, you can't use it!!"
She thought that was pretty funny, since she made several cuts with it while he was right there. Apparently smashing ice was keeping him heavily distracted. She told Calista, "that saw can cut your hand off!" She's very proud to be a "builder" that uses power tools. "they make you feel so powerful" she tells me. Yep, yep, yep! Gotta love them tools.

Markus is out showing houses to a client today. He's finally BEING a realtor. It took long enough to jump through all the hoops, I bet it feels good to actually show houses finally.

Ben and Kelly will arrive next weekend, we'll have quite a mob of radical unschoolers to hang out with! Hopefully the chaos doesn't drive Markus over the edge.:) We need a neat freak to help keep the house from complete bedlam.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


An unschooling Mum I know, started up her news website again. It's all positive reporting, uplifting and interesting articles. The "Good News Network" is sure to brighten your day! Scroll down the first page to see an article about how humans are naturally altruistic....something unschoolers already know.:)

Some cute "positives" here, include some Jalenism's. We were reminiscing about our Pensacola home and Jalen informed us he hates our new house. I ask him what we could change, to help it be better. His answer? He wants corn dogs! I guess I haven't been buying the veggie corn dogs enough since we moved. Phew..that was easy enough to change.
Sierra liked our old house better too. Unfortunately a big part of that was having Shai live three doors down. I can't fix that one and it breaks my heart.

I had a lovely message from Heidi the other day. "We aren't going to make it up there for a few weeks" she says as my heart dropped. "We're sitting here in Norway eating Lefse and we plan to eat our way through a few more countries."
Ok, now I know she's being glib. They were at the Epcot Center pavillions! Phew again. We're really anxious for them to get here soon!

We mailed in our ABC tags (Imagination Tribe project) and can't wait to see the final results! It's a project where each participant decorates a mailing tag with one letter of the alphabet. After mailing the letters to the person coordinating the trade, she binds them all into ABC books and mails them back. We'll have letters by many of our friends, some irl and some online. Very cool! I heard Ben Lovejoy's is X-rated.:)

Built some raised beds for Mary today, after a trip to Lowe's with Markus to help us pick up materials. Trevor helped move a computer set-up into another room while Jalen, Sierra, Mary and I built the beds. I had lotsa helpers and the boys really enjoyed hanging out with John this weekend.
Jalen accidentally knocked over Mary's iced tea in the driveway at one point, and discovered the joy of hammering ice cubes. Mary saw his joy and ran inside to get a bucket of ice. We soon had a very messy pile of smashed ice all over the driveway as Jalen and Sierra smashed to their hearts content. Cheap fun!! I'm really grateful for friends that really honor my children and get into their world.

Kathryn Baptista asked me to be her keynote speaker for the New England conference (thanks Kelly!!) but it didn't really sink in until I visited the NEunschoolingconference site today. Gotta get busy on writing those talks! Crikey, people think I might have something to say.;)
Toastmasters anyone?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Real abuse

I just read a horrific article about a child that was abused and died. These parents use the Pearl's methods for discipline (which is actually abuse) who advocate hitting children with "rods".
This is a practice that some Christian's are very loyal to (other Christian's are horrified by the whole thing of course) and stand firm to the whole idea of hitting children. They use the rod as the tool because "hands are for comfort". As if the child doesn't know whose hands are holding the damn rod??? Cripes. The intelligence level there is frightening.

The article is here: Newsobserver.com
The Pearls have a book on the topic, write a newsletter and advocate for corporal punishment. Maybe Steve should be dropping them a line about child abuse being glorified. They're making money of children's misery...and now a death. Sick, sick, sick.

Testing and real tools

I posted today about a lady I met at work. She's a retired teacher and was intrigued by the idea of unschooling. Eventually, she asked for my contact info. because she wanted to share it with her son and his family. Apparently her little 4y.o. grandson tags along with his Dad (a contractor) and his own tools, because "my Dad needs me today". How cool. One of the listmembers posted a link to this really sweet video about a Dad and son working together.

Testing was another topic that came up at a list this week and Sandra posted this response:

~Wouldn't it be cool if they'd start testing kids for happiness, calm, joy, self esteem, and make parents pull their kids out of school if they were insufficiently at peace? ~

People are often baffled that I don't test my kids, never have. Not one of them have had any kind of achievement or academic test of their knowledge. Why?
I don't want them to see themselves through the lense of a test. I don't want them to think they're less than or better than because of how they compare to other people their own age. I want them to KNOW their own intelligence, their own sense of accomplishment, their own knowledge is good enough. They are capable, brilliant and beautiful. A test can diminish that....I'm not willing to give it a chance.

One day, they will learn about tests. They will practice tests to get into college (if they so choose) and they will be old enough to understand that the test is a hoop to be jumped through and not a reflection of self or worth. I have no doubt that filling out little bubbles to determine one's future will not daunt them nor will it be given more importance than it deserves.
Until then, life is full and rich and testless.

Rejected comment

I originally rejected this comment for it's mean spirit and attacking style, but decided to blog about it instead.:) This gentleman hates unschooling, is completely opposed to it without knowing much on the topic of course. I have no problem with views that are opposite from my own, but if you come knocking me at my own blog, I'll probably walk through that door!

So here's the "comment" and a link to his blog. Do with it (or don't) as you wish:

~Steve has left a new comment on your post "Ptooey!"

Ptooey is right. I'm stunned and amazed to see what I can only interpret as child abuse being glorified. Well, maybe not stunned and amazed. I have no problem with homeschooling as a correct response to the cesspit of public education, but "uneducating" will have the same net result as public schools, so what's the difference?

I take comfort from the knowledge that if uneducators' kids get jobs, they will be working for my kids.~
(his blog can be found by clicking on his name)

Let's see.....my children have access to information, loads of art materials, interesting people, places and experiences. They hike in the glorious mountains, they play games, they ask a million questions a day, they plant and paint and dress-up and fix computers and know more about history and culture than the average Joe Schmo.
They are invited to share our work and passions with us, they are treated with respect and dignity, their ideas, opinions and expressions are validated at every turn. They are nourished, happy, joyful beings,
sounds like ABUSE doesn't it? sigh.

You know what sounds like abuse? Children who are treated with scorn and derision when they have a unique idea, children that are forced (with distress/tummy aches, frustration or sadness) to attend school when they don't want to, children that are bullied by other children and have no escape, children that have to stand in the freezing cold waiting for a bus every day, children that do not have parents that understand or honor their interests, children whose joy is being cut short all too often.

That is abuse of the human spirit, and it happens every day in this country.
As far as making money? Well, that remains to be seen. I believe that children who know themselves, who are comfortable with their strengths and weaknesses, who have been able to pursue the things they love best, are in a very good position to earn a living doing work they enjoy.

All of my children come up with ideas about making money...they are natural entreupreuneurs!
Sierra is still pissed off because her invention (on paper only) for toothbrushes that extrude toothpaste was already thought up by another person and is being sold by a big corporation.
She wants me to help her patent some of her other ideas, so nobody can use them!!
Trevor has worked at plugit.com with one of the techs, helping network servers and being shown all sorts of interesting things. A local professor (at the university) thinks it's really cool that Trevor is so into technology and wants to help him network with some other tech geeks.
He can build computers, repair most problems, do program modification and is learning HTML on his own.
I have no doubt my children will weave their passions into all of life.

Each of them in their own time and way......

Monday, March 13, 2006

"I will sing glory in the lowest.........

.......and I will sing peace, to the people I meet."
That's the Bright Eyes line I can't get out of my head right now. I adore that group. Gutsy, talented, independent and anti-Bush, what could be better?:)

We spent a big chunk of the day meeting with our local homeschooling group, most of that time was spent outdoors in all this amazing sunshine and warm weather we're getting. Markus stayed home to continue outdoor efforts in spite of the damaged thumb.

Later on, we met Diana, Loren and Galen up at their house in Erwin (which is a most amazing little town except for the close mindedness) and drove up into the Cherokee National Forest. We'd planned to get a view up at "Beauty Spot" (on Unaka mountain) but it was closed at the base. We meandered down the mountain to a campground on Rock Creek, complete with a manmade waterhole which the kids promptly began mucking about and splashing in, despite the cold mountain water temps. It's definitely on our list of places to camp next month!

There was a small sand area next to the waterhole. My kids were unimpressed...how could they not be after living near Pensacola Beach? But I just kept thinking "yeah, but where in Pensacola do you have a mountain framing the view?? It was beautiful up there.

Back to work tomorrow...sigh. Photos were taken by Diana.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Splinters and art

The weather has been incredible. I'd swear summer was here if I didn't know better! We've been planting and working in the yard a lot this weekend.
Markus had a slight mishap today, while cleaning up a brush pile. A splinter wedged itself deep into his thumb, to the point that we couldn't even see it. There was a definite lump that was about 1/4" long and I thought if we cut the surface skin we could get it. He didn't think that was a good idea, so off we traipsed to the urgent care clinic. Sierra, Jalen and I played on the sidewalk while waiting...all those coughing people made us nervous!

He came back out with a very large mass of bandaging over his thumb and a 1/2" splinter that had been so deeply imbedded, the Doctor had a hard time finding it. They cut him up to get the thing out, so he's on antibiotics (ignored my advice of Echinacea and Goldenseal) and painkillers. I tell you what, when he does something, he does it all the way!

We took the long way home, stopping at Lowes to look at more plants (I'd love to have about $10,000 to spend there), then cruised past some of the different houses we didn't buy. It was so beautiful, I felt like driving over to Boone NC to spend the night. We really don't need to spend money on any trips right now though.

When we got home, Jalen ran back to Trevor and Jared's room, excitedly playing back the details of Daddy's splinter and how they saved it in a "basket" (a jar actually). We are now the proud owners of a splinter worth over $200. Yippee.

I did spend some money on a book I've been wanting for a LONG time; the MAC Deck of Cards is a splendiferous collection of body art, produced by the MAC pro-artists. Really makes me wish I had an airbrush. This book is a visual feast. The models are nude in most of the pics, but you can hardly tell because of the airbrushed art covering their bodies. Way cool! In searching for the book, I came across a fabulous website that sells art books. Assouline has a ton of amazing art books that are really high quality and cutting edge from the looks of it.

There's a book called "Video Game Art" that I'd like to get next. It's the only book I've ever seen that takes the art of video games seriously. Most of the books at the site seemed to center around the art and fashion worlds, but I didn't take long to really explore.

In spite of the splinter adventure, we did get quite a bit done outside.
My "remembrance" tree now has a rose bush, some daffodils (Markus rescued from the vacant lot next to us) and daylilies (rescued from a friends house, before they use RoundUp on an area). Took Sierra biking up in the culd-de-sac and found a door sitting out by the dumpster. We hid it behind the dumpster until Markus can figure out whether it's going to be cheaper to buy a pre-hung door or drag the thing home for Trevor's room project.

The oven is beeping again..this time for Sierra and Jalen's polymer clay projects they just made. Our art corner gets a lot more use when the weather gets warm!! Time to go get the ABC tags made since they're due next week...ack.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Yuck, yuck, yuck. I just read at a blog from a parent that formerly homeschooled but is now part of the school system. The entry I read was about her child's test scores (very low) and miserable handwriting. He's 9!! In the real world, that is normal. In school you get labeled and given "remedial" help. Major YUCK.
The worst part, is this mother is crying and seeing her child as "less than" and imperfect. A child that has crushed her parenthood dreams about a brilliant child. That just broke my heart. To see your child through test scores and handwriting..focusing on the current weakness, rather than his shining brilliance for just being who he IS! What a heavy burden for a 9y.o. to bear. What a rotten way to see your child. It just breaks my heart.

I guess I'm especially raw because here her child is, right in front of her...healthy and ALIVE and she's choosing to focus on what he doesn't have at the moment.
She's got her child with her. She's got today. She has the choice to focus on his beauty and strength and brilliance. She can live in joy right now.

And maybe I'll ask her to go read Anne Ohman's "I am what I am". sigh.......

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hannah's quilt

The quilt originally intended to comfort Hannah as she fought cancer, will be given to her mother this week, along with this note:

"Diana and Hayden,
In Honor of Hannah's life;
To Comfort her loved ones;
To Surround you in the warmth of affection and community;
To Celebrate life.
From many loving hearts and hands.

Your unschooling family"

The quilt was assembled by Jill Parmer, who also crafted the lovely note and took this photo. I'm so grateful for the generosity and love that has poured out of this far-flung community we share.
The red hand-print in the lower left corner is Jalen's (two rows up, two squares in). Directly above his, is one of Sierra's. Going to the right, skip one square and the next is mine and to the right again is another of Sierra's. Her pictures don't show up in the photo, but she drew a garden on one and a butterfly/dragonfly/fairy drawing on the other. It was really great to be part of this project. I can't wait to hear what Diana thinks of it...

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Today is exactly the kind of day that is my favorite. I'm exhausted, my muscles ache, but it's been a great day. I decided to re-start the war on vines and cleared a spot around a tree on the side of our property. That part took about 2.5 hours, but yielded some nice little openings in the brush for children to hide within.
Jared, Jalen and Sierra finished a Monopoly game and came outside to work on their new "village".
Sierra claimed one opening and dubbed it "club Sierra". :) With trimmers in hand, they worked their magic on the shrubbery (ok, massive weeds and vines).

At some point, Markus arrived with a weeping willow. He'd surprised me last night with a river birch, then this morning brought the willow. I'd mentioned wanting one to plant in honor of Hannah Jenner, so it was especially sweet that he bought it for me.

In all, I planted some shrubs he moved out of the front yard, four blueberry and blackberry bushes and the Willow. We picked just the right spot for it, where it can grow large and full and placed a large rock nearby. I plan to inscribe the rock with "remember me" or something (that song keeps running through my head: "will you remember me? I will remember you....don't let your life, pass you by. Wait not for the memories").
I dubbed it the remembrance tree. We plan to write notes to our loved ones on brown paper and hang them in the tree. Visiting friends and family can do the same.

Our next project was the "council circle". We took all the rocks I've been collecting and made a small firepit amongst the trees where I'm planning the Zen garden. More rocks made a circle of seats around the pit and the shrubs Markus dug up are behind those. Eventually, it will be a large circle of plant around the entire area. I'm picturing all our good friends sitting around a fire and telling stories, singing songs and roasting marshmallows. A place for tribal gatherings.

The kids are enchanted with the idea of a fire tonight...so we'll test it out. I need to make a marshmallow/graham cracker/chocolate run first. No fire is complete without S'mores!!

In between dirt and shrub explorations, the kids have been playing games. Jalen keeps hauling up new games from the basement as soon as he tears one apart. Sierra and Jared are back at Monopoly while Trevor is content with W.O.W. (as usual).

I'm working a lot this week....days like this are treasures. Markus gets to have all the fun while I'm making money, darnitall.

Note: We tested out the firepit tonight and the kids had a blast collecting sticks, burning them, burning marshmallows etc.. There were even a couple of storytellers in our midst.;)
The council circle is a hit!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


A reporter from Chicago Tribune is doing an article on unschooling and asked me a few questions via email. After he was finished with me, he asked the kids a few questions. I got a kick out of their answers:

~"1-First, how do you feel about the way you are being educated?"

Sierra (8): Good. Because I can do whatever I want and I don't have to raise my hand to ask someone something. I've never tried school so I don't know about that, but it sounds boring.

Jared (12): It's better because I don't get a bunch of tests that determine how smart I am.

Trevor (16): I definitely like it.

~"2-Assuming you like it, what is best about it?"

Sierra (8): Being free and learning my own way.

Jared (12): I don't have to sit in class all day and I get to do what I like.

Trevor (16): The freedom of choice.

~"3-Do friends of your's who go to regular schools ever talk about what you are experiencing? If so what do they think?"

Sierra (8): They think it's really cool that I'm homeschooled and they want to be homeschooled too.

Jared (12): They think it's cool and they want to be unschooled.

Trevor (16): They always beg me to ask my Mom to get their Moms to unschool also.

~"4-What do you like best, ie what interests you the most?"

Sierra (8): Sewing clothes, learning about dinosaurs, swimming, building, styling hair, makeup, cooking, gymnastics, hiking, camping, gardening, making inventions, doing art, trading ATC's, I like playing games, playing dress-up, designing clothes, learning stuff about the computer, going to museums, biking, listening to music, playing volleyball and tennis, learning about wolves and answering questions like these ones.

Jared (12): Computers, art, learning about Japan, Japanese culture, anime, video gaming, rock collecting and dragons, playing Dungeons and Dragons,Magic the Gathering and chess.

Trevor (16): History of wars, weaponry technology, computer technology (building computers, HTML coding, program modification) video gaming, anime, Japanese culture and language, paintball, rollerblading, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering and other games.

~"5-What do you think you want to do withh your future education?"

Sierra (8): I want to go to college, it sounds like fun.

Jared (12): I'm 12, I shouldn't have to know yet.

Trevor (16): I haven't thought about it a whole lot yet, but I'm considering taking a couple classes at community college in the next couple years.

~"6-Do you have any goals for a career?"

Sierra: Maybe doing building (consruction), become a chef ("I LOVE cooking"), being a hair stylist and designing clothes. I might do all four of them, but I don't know yet.

Jared: Producing video games.

Trevor: Something in technology; maybe computer repair.

On question number 3, I had to laugh. ALL of their schooled friends were jealous of them. I remember one night when Shai was hanging out at our house and asked me a question. "What is the tallest waterfall in the world" she wanted to know. I guessed Angel Falls but looked it up online to be sure. It was indeed Angel Falls. I told her where it was and explained how tall...she was SO bummed out. Apparently they had a contest at school where the kids had to answer the question and they got put into a drawing. She had answered "Niagara" and was sad since it wasn't the right answer.

Well, one thing led to another and I grabbed some of our huge paper rolls and laid out a long sheet across the floor. I think our scale was 1"-10 feet or something? Anyway, we marked out Angel Falls vs. Niagara (not so tall, but huge in volume). Then we looked up some famous buildings they were curious about comparing. We laid out taller things until the paper wasn't big enough. Then we traipsed outside and laid out Mt. Everest in the same scale, on the sidewalk. They were in awe! It was pretty cool.
Shai remarked "OH, now I see how learning can be fun!!!"

That made me feel very sad for all the children being convinced on a daily basis that learning sucks. Learning is forced upon them (though they don't even realize it isn't REAL learning) until they see only drudgery, no joy. Real learning happens because we want information. Like seeing how big Angel Falls is compared to the Sears tower and the Empire state building and Mt. Everest. One more piece in the puzzle of the whole-wide-universe for them. No lesson, no test, no grade. Just curiosity, some paper and an interested adult to assist.:)