Birthday Giveaway!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I turn 38 today! So how about a birthday giveaway?

While intuitive, natural parenting is often not something we easily settle into. Pregnancy, birth, and newborn days can be a vulnerable time for new parents, where we feel it safer to trust experts more than ourselves. I know that was my experience. When my oldest was eight-weeks-old, I finally decided to bring her into bed with me and breastfeed her whenever she wanted, rather than following conventional advice that led to grumpy, sleep-deprived parents and a baby that simply needed the closeness of her parents all day and night.

Once I learned to trust my powerful mothering instincts, that were always there but silenced by believing that others knew more about mothering than I, our little family fell into a peaceful rhythm of on-demand breastfeeding, co-sleeping, continuous baby-wearing, and overall responsive parenting that led to deep and joyful parent-child bonds. A few months into this "instinctual parenting" approach, I learned it had a name: Attachment Parenting.

Two Boston moms, Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam Katz, wrote a book that is all about helping new and expecting parents to trust their natural parenting instincts. The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby's First Year is a must-read resource for parents of little ones. And it makes an ideal baby shower gift!

So, for today's birthday giveaway, I am giving away TWO copies of this gem. To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below, and be sure to "like" the blog's Facebook page.

Winners will be announced first thing Friday morning!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


City Blizzard Prep

Monday, January 26, 2015











 I am a life-long New Englander but I still grow excited for a good old-fashioned January Nor'easter.

In some ways, I feel more secure living in the city. In other ways, I feel more vulnerable. I feel secure in knowing we are surrounded by many caring neighbors; we can walk everywhere, including the nearby hospital if we had to; and if the power goes out, the city's density generally grants it priority status for having utilities restored sooner than later.

Yet, in other ways, we are certainly more vulnerable. Namely, we have no way to produce our own heat should the need arise. With fingers crossed that we stay snug and warm throughout this oncoming blizzard, we spent the day getting ready. We stocked up on fruit and non-perishables and other foods in case our weekly Farmers To You food delivery can't make it here from Vermont. We gathered candles and flashlights and batteries. We filled jugs of fresh water. We filled our bathtub (for toilet-flushing should the need arise). We stocked up on library books. And we took a care package to a nearby elderly neighbor to let her know we're thinking of and available to her during this wintry weather.

So while in some ways we city-dwellers may be vulnerable to Mother Nature's vagaries, the tight-knit vibe of urban living, the ability to care less about a buried car, and the close connection with our neighbors fill us with excitement for snowy streets, laughing children, and lots of cozy family time with all of us together, at home.

Homeschooling on Instagram

Sunday, January 25, 2015





Unschoolers know that there is no distinction between living and learning. There are no silos, no boundaries separating one from the other. We don't have set times for learning and set times for taking a break from learning. We learn as we live, we live as we learn. All the time. Everyday.

Still, one of the most common questions unschoolers in particular, and homeschoolers in general, are asked is: "What do you DO all day?" It is a reasonable question. For those beginning to grapple with the idea that learning could be continuous and fully integrated into one's life, rather than something that occurs at separate times and separate places, they rightfully wonder what that living and learning look like. Fully outside the paradigm of institutional schooling, unschooling looks a lot like life. And what better way to show life than through images of the everyday.

So I decided to join Instagram and use it as a running representation of our unschooling life. I tend to be a bit slow to the social media scene, having just recently joined Pinterest and Twitter, in addition to the blog's Facebook page. Truthfully, I haven't quite figured out those yet, but Instagram seems so perfect for unschooling!

Want to know what a day-in-the-life of an unschooling family looks like? Just look on Instagram. Want to know how we spend our time, how we learn together, how we optimize the people, places, and things of the city? Instagram images provide the perfect platform to share the unschooling lifestyle.

And what better way to jump right into Instagram than by capturing a weekend with the city's first playable snow!

If Instagram is your thing, I would love to have you follow along there. Or simply stop in here at the blog's sidebar for updated Instagram images. Thanks for following along on our urban unschooling adventures!

CITY KIDS INSTAGRAM

Natural Learning, Nature Learning

Friday, January 23, 2015









One of the reasons families often feel drawn to homeschooling is because they value their connection with nature and prioritize long hours of unstructured, outside play and exploration. They find in homeschooling a lifestyle that enables them to fulfill this strong connection with the natural world. For other families, homeschooling often leads them to this place. It leads them to experience nature in a new, deeper, more meaningful way by granting them the time and space to engage with nature in ways they simply couldn't before.

Connecting with nature, with the seasons, has always been an important priority for our family and guides many of the choices we make in how and where we spend our time. We have spent a good portion of the past few days at a tiny patch of nearby land, owned by Harvard but open to the public. In good weather, the children enjoy picnics and soccer, tree-climbing and games of tag in this grassy patch. But in winter, we only recently discovered, it is also the perfect spot for ice skating, stick hockey, and a panoply of other impromptu cold-weather games.

Even in the city, where concrete is ever more bountiful than grass, we can find our sacred spaces to enjoy nature and the gifts of the earth. It may take some wandering, some watchfulness to spot these places, to see what they can offer us. But they are there. Sometimes they are hidden, sometimes they're disguised, sometimes they're simply forgotten, but they are there and can bring great joy to cold January days when inside time can distance us from the natural world.

It's at this time of year when all of us, children and grown-ups alike, need nature even more. We need its connection, its beauty, its freshness. We need its ability to jolt our bodies and lift our spirits, filling us up and keeping us going until those first spring buds appear.

So much of natural learning is nature learning: playing, exploring, creating, discovering in the natural world around us.

Even in winter.

Especially in winter.

Thinking Off-the-Grid

Thursday, January 22, 2015







Yesterday in the city
At a friend's Winter Solstice party last month in Vermont, I met a couple who is raising their two young children on an off-the-grid farmstead with no electricity and no running water. They grow and raise their own food, treating the land responsibly, building connections with the earth and each other.

Regrettably, I met this couple at the tail-end of this party, as children were getting weary and jackets were being donned. But I couldn't stop thinking about them. The next day I emailed my friend to say thank you for hosting--and to find out more about this family.

While some people enjoy reading People Magazine or the Daily Mail, fascinated by the lives of others so different from our own, I am lured by the stories and snapshots of off-the-gridders. I told a friend about this interest and, as she is similarly infatuated with these stories, she directed me to this website/magazine. It's like Mother Earth News on steroids; the People Magazine of back-to-the-landers.

Like those who read typical tabloids, we don't really want to live the other, more exotic life. My husband and I have talked about it, wondered what it would be like to flee the city to the country, raise chickens and goats, live off the land. It sounds so glamorous, so simple and authentic. In the end, we're city people. We love our frequent escapes to the country, going on farm-stays, milking cows, knowing what it feels like to get manure on our boots and barn flies in our hair. It satisfies that tabloid desire as we dabble in a rural life so different from our urban one. But the city is our home.

Still, I think what draws me to all these books and blogs, magazines and websites about those living off-the-grid is the desire to be inspired by self-sufficiency.

In the modernization of the past century, the full power of home has been eroded. We have grown accustomed to being detached from food and farm, energy and waste. We have willingly accepted outsourcing and specialization, happy to have businesses and institutions take over the functions formerly performed in the home, in the family, often by mothers.

I look to these off-the-grid resources for inspiration to elevate the status of home, of mom, and reconnect with the many heirloom skills that fade from our modern view.

I might not be able to slaughter a pig, but I can be inspired to purchase my family's food direct from sustainable farms. I might not be able to shear and spin my own wool, but I can learn to knit and buy my wool from local, ethical shops. I might not be able to milk my own cow, but I can make yogurt and cheese from a small-batch, organic dairy.  I might not be able to feed my family from my garden, but I can grow window-box herbs, learn more about canning and preserving food, and prioritize farms and farmers' markets. I might not manage my own water and waste systems, but I can wash my child's diapers, conserve energy, explore solar options.

Living off-the-grid, closer to farm, food and family, may seem so far-removed from contemporary urban life.

But it doesn't have to be.

Fewer Commitments, More Opportunities

Tuesday, January 20, 2015







Harvard Square, Cambridge
I tried to remember why we stopped going here. When my oldest was a toddler, she and I and her baby brother would spend several days a week at a nearby bookstore in Harvard Square. The children's room is a quiet, tucked away spot that is virtually empty during weekday mornings. We would spend hours reading books, coloring with the crayons and paper on the little table, chatting with the store clerk. It is a special spot.

Why did we stop going? Did I get tired of babies pulling books off the shelves? Was it weather or morning sickness or newborn needs that kept us away?

No, I think it was that we were too busy.

Wooed by the many activities and classes and events of the city, I often over-scheduled the children's time in my first years of motherhood and homeschooling. There were just so many opportunities to seize, experiences to embrace.

I have realized over time that while some structured programs can be magical, like our homeschool math classes, less is more. The fewer scheduled commitments we have, the more opportunity we have to explore the city slowly and deliberately, to linger in favorite places, to meet interesting people, to uncover fascinating things. The fewer obligations, the more time and space we have to soak in our surroundings, to explore the beauty of our city, to discover a sense of place and our role within it.

As unschooling dad and author, Ben Hewitt, writes in his thoughtful book, Home Grown:
"In both my family and in others, I have seen that parental expectations for childhood education are often corrosive to living with that sense of balance, as we allow ourselves to become swept into the river of extracurricular activities and expanded 'opportunities.' We do this with only the best of intentions, believing that such things will advantage our children, without considering the toll these activities and opportunities extract, the hours and days spent scurrying and hurrying, too pressed for time to simply sit and enjoy the spectacle of a setting sun or the warm wetness of a July rain shower." (p.20)

I try to be mindful of what comes into our lives. I try to be grateful for all of the opportunities, all of the goodness, while also learning to say no to these things more often. Overall, I thought I had done a decent job of simplifying our schedules and filtering out many of the structured activities that consumed our time and energy and depleted the wide open blocks of time and space my children need to just be.

But as our winter rhythms unfold in their full simplicity, with all of our structured classes and activities on hiatus until spring, I am reminded to work harder at preserving this slowness. I am reminded to value and prioritize these unhurried days, these long walks around the square, the changing light of a January afternoon, and the chance to linger in the warmth of a forgotten bookstore.

The Slow Parenting Movement

Monday, January 19, 2015



I am delighted to share today's post by local unschooling mom and guest blogger, Teri DeMarco.

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I’m sure you’ve heard of The Slow Food Movement.  The Slow Food Movement is promoted as an alternative to Fast Food.  It strives to preserve traditional cooking and regional foods and encourages the concept of supporting local food and its ecosystem.  I’d like to introduce my take on The Slow Parenting Movement which I characterize slightly differently than the media have promoted it to date.  My Slow Parenting Movement is exemplified by parents taking the time to live consensually with their children, empowering their kids to understand themselves from the inside out, and giving their children a platform on which to build happy, meaningful lives that reinvigorate the self as an integral component of a successful community.  A generation of kids who begin whole and remain whole through their upbringing, a generation of kids who need not rely on the ills of society (drug misuse, social cliques, escapism, disassociation) to feel ok, kids who know what they want and don’t end up 30 years later regretting their decisions, their relationships or their path.

We can achieve this goal by understanding what makes children whole, what encourages them and what makes them an integral part of the family unit from age 0 through the teen years and beyond.  We can create life-long learners who can solve complex problems and work cooperatively in their worlds, naturally.  We can achieve a whole new society by just changing the way we parent our kids.  As we see the awesome outcomes in raising empowered, happy children, we will create a virtuous cycle that begets more slow parents, more whole kids, and so on and so on.  But what does Slow Parenting involve?  The main components of Slow Parenting include Presence, Play, Embracing Nothingness, and Allowing our Kids to Unfurl.

Being Present

In our world of connectedness and 24-hour media, it is extremely difficult to not only be present with our kids but to understand what presence is at all.  Existentialists guide people to understand presence as “life in this very instant” which means that if we are thinking about anything but NOW, we are not being present.  If we’re thinking about making dinner, if we’re at a play date with friends talking to other parents, if we’re concerned, upset or fearful we are not present.  If we are embarrassed by our children’s behavior, we are not present.  Presence is a muscle that we must exercise and, for many, meditation is a great method to understand what presence feels like.  Young children only know presence.  They only know what is happening in that moment. 

To meet our kids where they are, it requires putting down the phone or stepping away from the computer, radio or TV to engage them directly, to listen to their thoughts, ideas and meanderings with a fully engaged brain.  Practicing presence, as a parent, is not easy.  If you work outside the home, it’s even harder.  But it’s the critical foundation on which all other aspects of Slow Parenting are built.  It is in presence with our children that we can fully hear their brains working hard to build the connections that make sense of their world (aka: mind maps).  It is in presence that we can see their hard work and perseverance (but it may not look like what school deems hard work and perseverance).  It is in presence that we can see into our kids’ souls and wonder at their beautiful essence.  The benefit of presence to our kids is that they feel heard; feeling heard makes them feel valuable, feeling valuable makes them confident, confidence gives them independence.  But you can’t fast forward to independence without stepping on those other “milestones” along the way. 

Presence requires connection.  Connection is developed by meeting our kids’ needs, when they are infants and beyond.  Meeting our kids’ needs promotes trust between child and parent. There are great resources on creating connection at www.consciouslyparenting.com if you’re interested in reading more.  When everyone is happy and connected we feel like we are “in the zone” – the body releases serotonin, endorphins, dopamine among others to enhance the feeling – the same rush of hormones we felt when we first were dating our significant others.  Connection is the entrance fee to a wonderful relationship with our kids.  It does not mean that there won’t be days where our kids are unhappy or doing things that seem out of balance, but it ensures that these times are fewer and farther between and that they tend to last less time.  Connection promotes trust and when we trust our caregivers we can move through our disappointments more efficiently.

Defending Our Kids’ Right to Play

Once we’ve conquered presence, we can tackle play.  In his book, How Kids Learn (1967), John Holt wrote that children learn and make sense of their world through play.  What might look like “just play” is actually a very important, critical part of childhood.  It’s important to recognize, however, that play orchestrated by adults is not the play that Holt defines.  Kids use play to test hypotheses and to create connections in their minds.  Most of the years between 0 and 18 are spent assimilating information, fitting the data into buckets that seem appropriate, testing the bucket choice and re-categorizing as new information is acquired. 

It’s the play that kids own, direct and implement that provides the platform for making sense of their worlds. I am concerned about how little time most kids spend in self-directed play in our society.  The pendulum has swung so far to adult-intervened/adult-orchestrated play/activities, that we are creating generations of kids who are disconnected from their inner-self/inner guidance, their families and their community.  The recent rash of articles demonizing helicopter parents points to some of this phenomenon, but kids who spend days in school or after care are more at risk.  Defending the right of our children to have free, unencumbered play, outside, inside or in places where adults are scarce is very important and the recent trend toward longer school days and less recess seems to be compressing the little undirected play kids’ have in their lives.

Playing with our kids is important.  It must not require them to choose only from a list activities of which we approve.  It’s watching our kids explore their world and engaging them in their own play rituals on their own terms.  When we adults do engage, it needs to be as a pawn in the production, a resource to be used by the child but not as an orchestrator.  Yes, sometimes, you have to play animal tea party or Candyland but the investment you are making is valuable.

Understanding how kids learn is as important as understanding what and when they learn.  The best outcomes come when kids are allowed to embrace learning when they are developmentally ready for it.  No parent would have hired a tutor to help their child learn to crawl or walk, yet we do that and more when our children are not able to read at age 5.  All kids learn to read, but we can certainly hinder that learning by pushing a kid to learn to read well before their brains are ready.  It may surprise parents to know that there is a large range of ages (4 to 13) where kids naturally learn to read, and the average is stacked much later than our public schools would have us believe.  Now with the Common Core requiring timed reading trials in Kindergarten, it is incumbent on parents to fight for the right to honor their kids’ natural development instead of this misguided institutional “group think” that is alienating more than it’s educating. And reading is only one example of pushing kids too hard, too fast.  There are many examples where our schools have it wrong and change is required, but that can be tackled in another forum.

Embracing Nothingness

Another important component of Slow Parenting is to embrace nothingness.  This encompasses a number of points:  We need not to overschedule our kids, we need to enjoy doing nothing and we sometimes need to keep our input, opinions or encouragement to ourselves, even though we might think we need to say something. 

The first point is easy to understand, but may be hard to put into practice for some parents.  I do hope that many parents have seen the recent slew of articles regarding the risks of overscheduling our kids.  This is so important.  If kids learn through self-directed play, then loading their free time outside of school with activities or homework is detrimental to their development.  For parents of younger kids, it’s pretty easy to forego the music class or that gymnastics/dance program, but I think that stepping away from structured programs once your kids are in school is much harder.

My theory of why it's hard to avoid structured programs once kids are in school is two-fold:  1) Parents get so disconnected from their kids who are in school all day that it becomes easier to have our kids continue in a structured environment of planned activities rather than deal with these same kids at home.  2) Kids start to prefer structure over home/free play because they have gotten so far outside the habit of directing their own play they don’t feel comfortable doing it by themselves anymore.  For parents of kids in either scenario, it is extremely important to reevaluate the true benefit that these outside programs offer your kids.  Ask yourself, honestly if either of these realities are at play.  For a Slow Parent, we know that it is from the unstructured time where so much connection and so many “aha” moments come.  Those quiet “aha moments” are the ones in which we truly see our children.  We learn what fires them up, what scares them, what challenges they face and we get to see their process for moving forward. 

It is not uncommon for kids who are granted the option of stepping away from formal schooling to homeschooling or unschooling to give up outside activities that they once seemed unwilling to quit.  This is totally normal.  When we grant our kids the ability to self-direct, they start to figure out what they truly like (not what we might want them to like), and they realize they have no need to use that activity as a respite or escape.  They grant themselves the ability to experiment with new things that they would never have chosen amidst peer pressure or parental expectation.

It’s important to familiarize ourselves and our kids with doing nothing.  For most parents, especially high-achieving parents, this is a foreign concept.  When our toddlers want to climb at the playground, we need to practice doing nothing.  Kids are amazingly capable of understanding their own limits.  They will approach a new challenge and usually take steps toward mastering the challenge on their own.  Parents should be close by so those kids can do a quick check-in to feel our connection, but let them approach and retreat as much as they need to in order to achieve their goal.  When our kids interact with other kids in the sandbox, we need to step back and let the social practice happen.  Sure, there are times when our kids exhibit less than savory actions in the sandbox, but a parent’s intervention (especially proactive intervention) hinders a kid’s ability to grant grace and/or receive it.  Most kids can navigate the infractions at the playground pretty easily; when mom or dad intervene, kids miss learning the full cause and affect of their actions. 

We need to embrace doing nothing at home.  Kids have forgotten what it feels like to be bored.  Some of my best achievements happened because I was bored.  We need to be ok with not doing anything as a model for our children as well.  Sometimes just sitting looking at the sunset or cuddling in front of a fire are pretty great and should happen more frequently than on our annual vacation.  We need to leave our kids to do nothing as well.  Don’t value one activity over another, don’t add pressure to their lives by dictating activities in their quiet time.  Trust your kids more, worry and dictate less.

Sometimes it’s important to stay silent, to not say anything at all.  When our kids suffer disappointments, we need to practice sitting with their discomfort (as well as our own) so as to allow the full rush of emotions to happen and pass.  It is this discomfort that most of us adults were not allowed to experience in its fullness and why watching our kids experience it can feel uncomfortable and something that we need to end quickly, downplay or redirect.  If we are connected, we can sit authentically with our children, not being required to say anything and show our support only through our bodily energy and vibrations. 

The importance of sitting with our own discomfort cannot be emphasized enough.  Identifying and “owning” our personal triggers and discomfort is the hard work of parenting that most people do not understand.  It is only when we re-parent ourselves and grieve the injustices in our own childhoods that we have the ability to grant our children the grace to experience their full emotional spectrum, authentically without the baggage of our own upbringing.  A child who is given this wonderful opportunity learns not only how to feel whole, they have a wonderful capacity for empathy, joy and connectedness: the core components of a fulfilled life.

Making Space for the Unfurling

Which brings me to the final step in Slow Parenting: allowing our children to unfold before us.  This can be hard to describe if you have not already followed a conscious parenting path, but it is extremely important.  It can be hard because it requires us to dig deep inside ourselves as parents, to temper the hopes and dreams we have for our children and patiently allow our kids to reveal themselves to us.  Which means that, often times as kids grow up, they don’t want us to assume anything about them.  Childhood is a big experiment. It’s a time for all kids to try on many hats, to walk many paths, to join or abstain as they see fit and to decide to blow it all up and focus somewhere else. 

Sometimes allowing our kids to unfurl is as simple as assuming that our kids don’t need our help when they are sad or disappointed or upset or angry.  This can be a pitfall for connected parents as much as for those who follow a more conventional path.  In the hopes of meeting our kids’ needs, we miss the subtle communication that our kids’ wish to sometimes not be “known” so well.  We have to provide the space for our kids’ to switch amongst activities and friends as they figure out what options work best for them. Teresa Graham Brett postulates this ideas so well in her book, Parenting For Social Change (2011), a fabulous read.

Parents often fall into the trap of watching our kids engage in activities at which they are good.  We praise their involvement and achievements, we forge friendships with other parents who have kids doing the same thing.  This could have the side affect of making it much harder for that same kid to decide that they want to quit and try something else. Sometimes we don’t let our kids quit a program they don’t like because of the sunk cost.  Sometimes we shelter our children in a world that seems acceptable to us in the name of principle or because it’s a comfortable place for us, but miss the fact that our principles or things that are comfortable to us might not be what our kids need.

Allowing our kids to reveal themselves to us is a wonderful gift and sometimes hard to put into practice.  But as we practice presence, accept nothingness, and engage our kids in play, we start to have much more time to truly see our kids, to identify with them as whole-hearted humans who are related to, yet 100% separate individuals from us.  Our hopes, wishes and dreams for our kids are only that, something that we have constructed.  Our children can be so much more than we can even think of, because they are so truly unique.  When kids are allowed their own authenticity, they may show us options that we could never have dreamed. 

Slow Parenting affords us the ability to see our children as they are meant to be.  It transcends time and place.  Our kids will shine through our efforts.  As we learn to Slow Parent our children, we find that we can apply these principles to all of the relationships in our lives.  We start to truly see our husbands/wives, friends and family in a very different light.  We understand that everyone was once a child who either had their needs met to differing degrees or not.  Our ability to embrace nothingness and presence, and our willingness to meet people with no agenda allows us to exude a wonderful energy ourselves and we begin to experience more authentic interactions.  We become better, more happy, more engaged and more engaging people.  We understand, as we’ve never understood before, that life is about the small stuff.  It’s all about the journey, one step at a time.

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Teri DeMarco is a stay at home mom who lives with her husband and three kids and one cat in Newton, MA.  Teri has chosen to stay at home with her kids and loves spending hours playing, investigating and learning with her two sons and daughter.  She is very interested in honoring her kids’ natural curiosity and nurturing her kids’ independence and passions.  She aspires to a Radical Unschooling life and shares the experiences and insights from her experience on many parenting and unschooling forums, locally and nationally.  When she’s not immersed in her children’s passions, she enjoys cooking, doing mosaics, sewing, knitting and socializing with friends.