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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......

Friday, February 29, 2008

non-coercive parenting

Is there truly such a thing? Even in our striving to be non-coercive, there are times I act more coercively. I think the key is that I don't see it as a daily parenting tool. It's more of a last-resort or safety mechanism. The further we travel in this unschooling path, the more I see options other than parental coercion in fostering relationships of trust and solving family issues.

The topic came up in the comments section at CG's blog recently. I'd been meaning to write about this for some time, now seems to be a good one. Ill be accused of being a bad parent by more than one person by telling this story, but tell it I will.

Jalen was born with an intensity I was unprepared for. He was born with some sensitivities I couldn't understand. We did try the "you need to brush your teeth right now" tact a few times, though it always made me uncomfortable because after all it IS his body. Being the parent doesn't give you automatic rights over your child's body, though your longer experience on the earth often give you better foresight. Before he could talk (he didn't talk until around three years of age) we simply made attempts to brush his teeth, just like we had for the other children who were agreeable. Not him. So we kept them as clean as possible, while honoring his fierce denial of the brushing episodes. I could get them brushed about every third or fourth day if I was fast and distracting. Keep in mind, he chose his own toothbrushes and toothpastes, we made it as fun as possible. That only goes so far when you're a person that can throw up from coughing a bit too hard. He just hated the feel. So we didn't make a big deal about it. We trusted him.

Fast forward a few years (he's 7 now). He's been to the dentist and enjoyed the teeth cleaning. Had a rough time with the second visit that involved a much needed tooth-pulling, even throwing up and almost passing out (ya think he's still a bit sensitive?) but is still willing to go get the rest of the work done. He's developmentally more aware. A lot of his intense behaviors have changed dramatically over the last year.

I could have forced him. I could have had them tie him down and drug him up to get the work done. All along we talked about the options, about the possibilities, about my opinions and what he needed. All along his needs and thoughts were respected. I did not pull the "parenting trump card" (thank you Jon Kream for that phrase) and force anything against his will. Some will say that is our job as parents. I disagree. I believe that in spite of the childlike inability to see very far into the future, kids can and will make informed decisions about their bodies in a healthy home where they are respected.

I read the argument that if a toddler wanted beer and twinkies for breakfast every morning we would be remiss as parents to honor that choice. Seriously? I've NEVER met a small child that truly LIKED those foods for one. For two, even if those two options were always presented along with healthy choices, a small child will balance themselves out quite nicely. I've watched it happen. Beer and twinkies get OLD really fast I bet. Not that any of my children every liked beer. The few times they tasted a sip from an adult, they spit it out, wrinkled their nose and said "YUCK".

I think most German kids are raised on beer at mealtime and do just fine though. My babies and toddlers were mostly getting breastmilk anyway, which is preferable to most anything for them.:) Twinkies aren't very appealing when you have homebaked foods that taste better.

I think it's very natural for babies and toddlers to have limited choices by virtue of what is available within their homes or families. We always put out a variety of foods for them to snack on and they ate exactly what they needed at any given time. They also snacked off the adult plates during mealtimes, rather than sit and eat a plate of their own food. For the most part anyway. Small people graze. Give them some interesting, healthy choices and they'll graze right through it. As they get older, their worlds expand to include choices the parents didn't introduce. That's natural. They may want to try twinkies. So what?

The twinkies/beer argument just doesn't hold up in a home where the child is supported and given free choice. I've never known a human being to gorge on something for very long unless that item was limited to them. We quickly crave protein when eating too much sugar. Listening to our bodies is something even very young children can do. It's part of the learning process, just like everything else. I think those extreme arguments are used as a reason for parents to justify coercion. I don't think it shows much trust in a child's ability to choose well. If a parent is going to use coercion, then just go for it. I know of very loving and connected families where coercion is used, gently and judiciously and the children thrive. But to say that those of us who strive for non-coercion, are being negligent parents and that it's a damaging way to raise children...well, that'll get my hackles up every time.

I don't have beer drinking, twinkie eating, porn watching young children. Much to the dismay of parents that say "but they'll do ________(fill in the blank with every imaginable horror) if I don't force them not to" my children aren't fascinated with harmful things. They make choices that backfire occasionally...part of the learning process. They have a right to their own mistakes (called learning-takes by my dear friend Kelly Lovejoy), their own inner urgings that may be very different from what I think is "right" or "best".

They are themselves. They have a right to make their own choices. I am here to help make those choices available in a safe format and to explore the world alongside them without judgement of those choices. They can know my opinion without feeling the weight of judgment along with that opinion. It IS possible.

I think the question is, how far are we willing to extend trust? How much are we willing to be creative and get outside of the "I'm the parent so that's how it is" paradigm? How much CAN children be trusted?

More than most people believe. Enough to know that they wouldn't choose beer and twinkies over anything else in a healthy, connected home. Enough to know that non-coercion is not damaging or neglectful. It's the opposite.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In honor of Lisa Heyman

We all got a heavy case of the flu Monday, every last one of us.
All I can think about is how lucky we are.

We also got a phone call from Kelly Lovejoy.
It was the kind of phone call you dread. The kind that you don't forget.
It was to let us know that a friend had died. A friend that was a bright spark in this world, a friend that I didn't see often enough but always was happy to see. The last time I hugged her was in September at the Live and Learn conference in Black Mountain that we didn't attend.

We did show up for a brief visit on the last day though and I got to see Lisa ever so quickly to exchange a few words and a hug. I thought I'd see her again in May at the NE Unschooling conference, where we'd hung out two years ago.

I remember thinking what an awesome family they were when they gently nudged all of us to use their child's chosen name..."Fire" when she'd decided her birth name didn't fit her. She IS a bright and burning light, both of her children are. I will leave the tributes to others with more eloquent words tonight. My heart is heavy and we are thinking of Larry, Roxy and Fire with much love. You will be missed Lisa Heyman.

Here are two posts that say it all, swiped from the Live and Learn list. The first was written by Kelly Lovejoy, the second by Anne Ohman:

The "tag line" of the accountability association I run in SC to allow
families to homeschool is "Childhood is NOT a dress rehearsal."

Unfortunately, I get reminded of this every now and then. Not that I
don't *need* to be reminded. It's just that I wish I weren't reminded
in such a harsh way.

I think most traditional, conventional parents think of something
different when they hear or read it. I think they start considering
that we only have this one chance to push our children to do better, to
be better, and to strive harder for that medical degree or career
choice or..."success" or whatever.

That's not the message I get.

I've been thinking about what to write now for several days to honor
the memory of Hannah Jenner, who died two years ago on February 24. I'd
wanted to toss out there that we really DO only have so much time to
spend with our children---and even though we *think* have the rest of
their lives to do and be with them, there's no guarantee that they
won't be taken from us a whole lot sooner than we think. The time they
spend with us should be full of joy and fun and happy, happy thoughts.
Their time with us should be filled with *our* joy in them---that they
know that our world is a better place *because* of them.

Hannah's short life is a tough reminder for me to enjoy the children I
have---and every single minute. And not a day goes by that I don't
think of Hannah (and Sam Wilkerson and Jacob Strebler). 'Cause I just
don't know what I would do without Cameron and Duncan. But sometimes,
when I'm not my best and my temper is short, I *need* that little
reminder---that this time is a gift.

Too often, parents can work so hard helping our children "become" that
we forget to enjoy Who They *Are*--right now, this minute.

Lisa Heyman's passing yesterday has stunned this community. And I just
can't imagine the pain and loss the Gauchmans are experiencing right
now. But I *know* that the girls, Roxy and Fire, will know that their
mom truly valued the time she had with them. She chose to keep the
girls close and let them grow "In Their Own Way, In Their Own Time."
That's a gift we can ALL give our children. To accept Who They
Are---and to revel in it!

We have that choice.

Lisa understood that childhood is not a dress rehearsal. Lisa worked
hard to give her girls he space they needed to grow. She gave them
inspired, joyful childhoods. There's not a doubt in my mind that Roxy
and Fire will thrive in spite of their huge, huge loss. And a big part
of that is the love and acceptance Lisa showered on them. They will
kept warm with her light.

Her passing will continue to be a reminder that *my* time with my kids
is limited as well. I can choose to make the most of each moment with
them as she did. Our world is brighter because of Lisa. And I'm glad I
got to know her.

Much Love and Many Hugs to Larry and Roxy and Fire.


Kelly Lovejoy
Conference Coordinator
Live and Learn Unschooling Conference

****...a tribute to dear Lisa...*****

As Jake and Sam and I go through our day today, with each moment we
are also living it through the eyes and heart of Larry, Roxy and
Fire. Of course we can't know completely exactly how they feel...but
we are *there* with them as much as we are able to be. The saddest
was when Jake woke up and, with tears in his eyes, said to me, "Roxy
and Fire are waking up today and their Mom is not there."

We are still living Joyfully today...a distracted Joyful, weaving in
and out of deep sadness. And every moment is going to honoring Lisa
and her Light.

When I first *met* Lisa on the NY unschooling list, I thought, "Wow ~
we have so much in common!" Did I tell her that while I could? I do
think I did.

I was happy to finally meet Lisa in person after knowing her from the
NY list and here at Shine. I met her last September, at the Live and
Learn conference. Her energy was wonderful, and I imagine it's still
the same glorious energy today, just in a different form. I remember
when I first got to talk to her husband, Larry. I was
thinking, "Wow. What a really cool guy. Lisa is so blessed." Did I
tell him that? I don't think so. Did I tell her that? Nope.

I didn't run into Lisa much at the conference, as our kids were going
in different circles/directions. I did see Roxy once in a while, and
Jake, Sam, Maeve and I would talk about how nice she was...how
beautiful her smile was. Did we tell *her* that? Nope.

And then there was Fire. Fire is amazing. If you know Fire, you
know what I'm talking about. She gave herSelf that name. And it's
Pure Truth. If you don't know Fire, just imagine an ever-
illuminating, constantly MOVING light...one that spreads Warm,
Loving Light to all corners of the Universe.

On the first night of the talent show, we sat in the row behind Larry
and Lisa. We chatted a bit. When it was Fire's turn to be on stage,
she went up and started her music. She did an incredible
dance...starting over again from the beginning when it wasn't quite
what she had wanted. After dancing for a couple of minutes, Fire
came out into the audience. She would look at people and grab their
hands and pull them up on the stage with her to dance. It wasn't
just a dance. It was a celebration. I think everyone could feel
that. My boys and our friend Maeve and I had talked about Fire a lot
before that talent show. We all just thought she was amazing. When
she was pulling people onto stage to dance, to celebrate, I looked at
my boys and Maeve and we all just SMILED!! It felt like a deeply
spiritual experience to me...watching this little *prophet* spread
the infinite amount of Love that she held. And, of course, the more
she *spread* it, the more she received.

I leaned forward and tapped Lisa's shoulder. I said to her, "I.
Love. That. Child."

She smiled and said, "Me, too."


Out of all of the things that I did say, and the things I didn't say,
I'm so glad I said those words to Lisa. I know that she knows that
it was one of the *best* forms of, "I Love You."

I remember years ago, Oprah had on a woman who was dying. Since she
knew her time was limited, she pulled her kids out of school and
spent loads of time with them. They took trips that they had been
wanting to take, and lived their biggest dreams. And yet, when the
child was asked what was the most special time she spent with her
mother, the child said something like this, "When we would be up
together late at night and would have a bowl of cereal together and

Our lives as unschoolers is all about that bowl of cereal.

Lisa knew this. Lisa lived this.

While my perspective of life has not changed since Lisa's passing
~ I
already live mindfully in Joy with my children every single day ~ I
am reminded to say those Loving thoughts out loud to those people who
have touched my heart. I already do *this*...but most certainly not

My heart hurts for this family, to be without their Mom. When Diana
Jenner's daughter passed, Lisa wrote to me, "How are we to go on?"

Now her family is learning exactly that which she had asked. We all

Last night, Sam came to me, tears in his eyes, and said, "I couldn't,
Mom. I couldn't go on without you." And I hugged him back so hard
and so tight. Crying, I said, "But you could...you would learn
how...and that's the part that breaks our hearts...that's the part
that's so so sad."

And yet, that's also the part that is so very wonderful about being
*alive* on this earth. The learning. The growing. Sometimes it's
more painful than other times. But we do walk forward...as
always...toward the Light from within our hearts.

Thank you, Lisa, for Your Light.

..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
((¸¸.·´ ..·´ All is Well. -:¦:-


Some other bloggers have written about Lisa:

Barn Raising

Home Spun Juggling

Our Joyful Life (with a lovely pic of Lisa with her pink hair)

(a couple more great pics of Lisa and the post by her good friend Marji informing the unschooling world of her death)

And finally, a guest book where you can leave condolences or messages:
New York Times

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A small bit of trauma

This is a pic of Jalen trying to smile after the dentist numbed him today. This is a big deal, for a child that has been so sensitive in the past as to gag when he coughs too hard. He got his teeth cleaned last week and did GREAT. So onto the rotten teeth and some invasive procedures.

Today was supposed to be a pulpotomy and a filling. Turned into a removal as the tooth had absessed. Not fun. He did so amazingly fabulous the entire time....

In fact, he held perfectly still even while saying "ow, ow, ow..that hurts"

They gave him quite a few shots for numbing, because he could still feel things.

Everything went really well until we got to the check out desk. I was starting to pay and heard a moaning sound. I turned around and he had a funny look on his face. I scooped him up, thinking he needed some extra comfort. A belching sound came out and I realized he was starting to gag.

At that point I set him down and asked if he felt sick.
He nods vigorously and just as the nurse is pointing to the bathroom he started puking. He puked twice before they got a trashcan over to us. Jalen is looking rather pale and weak now, I scooped him up and he felt limp and heavy in my arms. Freaked me out pretty bad.

They ushered us back to an empty room where the dentist already had an oxygen tank ready. After a few minutes of oxygen and laying still it seemed to pass. They checked his eyes and pulse, he was fine. We headed home about 10 minutes later.

Other than being completely out of it and tired for about three more hours, he was ok. We snuggled on the couch until evening. Anyone that knows Jalen knows that laying still is not the norm.

We think he had an allergic reaction to the anesthetics. He'll have a spacer put in where the tooth was ('twas a molar) and some more work on March 3rd. For such a sensitive, intense little man he handled everything like a pro. I feel so badly that he has to endure this, but I'm very grateful for insurance right now!

Sierra was so super sweet today. After he started throwing up, she stayed out by the front desk. When she finally walked back, she had big tears in her eyes. She does NOT like seeing her little brother suffer. We were in the room with him for the entire visit, so it was a bit much to see him sick and see everyone worried.

He's been skating around the kitchen and happily wolfing down food, so things are back to normal.

Trevor seems to be having the usual fabulous time staying with Moira in NC right now. They'll be together for Valentine's day.:) I wonder if a person ever gets used to their babies growing up and being gone a lot.

What I really wish today, is that I could talk to my Mom about all of it. She was always so great in a crisis or when you just needed to relate feelings of motherhood. I miss her more than ever.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Words of love and other funnies

I meant to post this way back in early January, but saved it as a draft and forgot about it. Doh.

We do a lot of "I love you more than..." comparisons. Every night it seems. But this one night we got carried away being silly and I decided to write some of them down. Sierra got it all started with this:

"I love you more than the moon loves the night.
I love you more than the sun loves the light.
I love you more than stars love the sky.
I love you more than the birds love to fly."

And then it devolved from there.

I'm not ever sure who said what anymore, but here's a sampling:

I love you more than a shooting star loves stardust.
More than a fox loves it's fur.
More than my teeth love toothpaste.
More than my nose loves snot.

Sierra and I had these:

I love you more than Ren loves honey (wonder why that one is on her mind?)
I love you more than Trevor loves money
I love you more than Jalen loves funny
I love you more than Sierra loves bunny
I love you more than Jared loves gummy
I love you more than Dad loves sunny
I love you more than Moira loves hunny (the other kind, you know)

And Sierra one more time:

More than my eye loves eyejuice.
then, more than my eye loves seeing.

Jalen the other day:

I was helping him with his new spy watch. We figured out all the cool features and that it will tell you the time in several different world locations. I exclaimed "man this is a cool watch, it has everything!"
"no it doesn't Mom" replies Jalen.
"it doesn't have chocolate"

Hmmm....time to rethink spy watches all together. What decent spy would go out into the field without chocolate tucked into his/her spywatch?? Duh.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Gathering Wool...and cool people

I know so many artistic, inspirational people and I feel so grateful to be surrounded by such minds. I've been meaning to blog about several of them, to share their work and passions but it just hasn't happened. I do want to let you know about one of them today though....a very good friend in Pensacola....a single unschooling Mum who creatively makes ends meet in lovely ways. She's even written a novel.

Her latest adventure is with wool, felting and handmade soaps. They would make exceptional gifts and you'd be supporting a zany unschooling Mum in the process! How cool is that?

Leaann has a blog with some pics of Pensacola in there occasionally too. "Gathering Wool" is her newest business and I hope you'll stop by her awesome website and share the love.;) We miss them dearly and hope they move to Appalachian country someday soon. Go pick up some yummy soaps and maybe a hand-felted bag. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Jalen's new trick

I've written about some of the challenges that Jalen struggles with. One of the activities that really helps his day go smoother, is roller blading. Any kind of large muscle movement is a great thing for him, but this is a favorite. He can go around and around for hours.

This is a new trick he came up with one day, while happily rolling around the kitchen/dining room.

It all starts with a few laps, beginning in the kitchen...

He loops around the dining table, heading for the wooden spoon laid carefully in place before starting.

He goes for it.......

And voila! One picked up spoon from the wee roller blading daredevil.;)

Here's what he thinks of himself, for doing such a cool trick.

Can you see that confidence? One happy kid, showing us his stunts. I think I need a pair....

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Happy Birthday Groundhog!

This is my wee groundhog, born seven years ago today. We celebrated at Chuck E Cheese with a few friends yesterday, but today was the real deal. We left the digital camera in the van yesterday of course, so I have nothing to share yet. Film is soooo slow but I still love it.

His final creation. I know you can't tell, but that is a dinosaur cake. Truly.

Somehow it always devolves into some major food mess with hands squishing things and goo in the hair. Bathtime followed and a sweet smelling Jalen joined us for some ATC making. He didn't know we'd gotten it all out to make him some birthday art.

When we handed him a stack of ATC's to add to his collection he said "Yay, more cards!!"
"Do you want to look at them?" I inquire.
"Nope" was the simple response.

Just "nope". He's satisfied that there is more art in his collection to trade. That's all he cared about. I posted some pics of my ATC's over at the Tea With Ren blog where I'm documenting my "Thing-a-day" involvement.

Sharing a moment and some peach with Freebie. I just love his happy eyes. Happy Birthday sweet Jalen Kai. You are no calm ocean but tidal waves don't beg forgiveness do they? Thank you for being my continual bhodisatva. I am a better person because of you. I love you Kaiboy.:)