Monday, August 23, 2010

A Month of Cool People & Places

On the 25th, the day after tomorrow, I leave for the Northeast Unschooling Conference (along with my mother and sister).  And I'm very excited for it!!  I get to see so very many terrific people, I get to hear Peter Gray (author of the Psychology Today blog Freedom to Learn) speak, and meet Erica Goldson, the woman who did the wonderful and now famous anti-school valedictorian speech:

 It should be a blast!  My sister's birthday even happens to fall while we're there, so we'll be celebrating that as well. :)

After we arrive back home on the 31st, we're only here for a little while before we leave for the Toronto Unschooling Conference on the 9th!  This is our first time going to this conference, and I'm looking forward to it!  I'll also be speaking at that conference, doing a talk called Unschooling is Forever:

Unschooling is the realization that life and learning are not two separate things. Yet even with this realization, sometimes end-points start sneaking in. But in a philosophy such as this, can unschooling (life=learning) really end neatly, can you just unschool grade school or highschool, finish up with unschooling, then move on? Unschooling is to me, as I continue through what are usually considered the college years, not only the realization that life and learning are not separate, but also the realization that unschooling can be a lifelong process of growth and discovery. Learning is everywhere. School, be it elementary, high school, or institutions of “higher education”, is optional! I’ll talk about my lifelong journey of unschooling, my feelings on learning and education, and about what happens next for an unschooler when those "high school years" have finished. 

I've done brief into then answer questions type talks several times now, and they no longer stress me at all really (actually, I really enjoy them!).  But since this is more of a "real" speech, I was totally freaking out about it for a while, and panicking that I hadn't finished it yet (or, if I'm to be honest, started writing it at all...).  However, as of last night, I just stopped stressing.  And, surprise surprise, now that I'm more relaxed about it I've moved beyond having just a list of points and am now actually writing it!  I just hope it goes well.

Then, after being home for less than a week, I'm off again on the 20th for Not Back To School Camp with my sister!  I'm SO looking forward to this camp this year!!  It's my last year as a camper, as I'll be "graduating", and I'm going to get as much goodness out of this last time as I can.  It's a great camp!

Not Back to School Camp: A Glance Within from Allen Ellis on Vimeo.

For all three of these events, I plan to bring along my small point-and-shoot camera that also happens to record video (of not great quality, but good enough for YouTube!).  Because I was thinking, since SO many unschoolers have such awesome things to say, but don't talk much online, people are missing out on hearing their insights and thoughts.  So I figured it would be a really cool project to record short (5-8 minute) interviews on unschooling with as many people as are interested in being a part of this!  I'm not making any type of documentary or anything: I'd just post the interviews, individually, on my YouTube channel and this blog.  So if you're going to be at one of these events and are interested in being a part of this, come find me and let me know!

Also, whether or not you want to be interviewed, if you're going to be at one of these places, come say hi!  I love meeting new people, and since it's been nearly a year since my last paralyzing bout of shyness (at Northeast last year, I kind of flipped out for the first couple of days and was just really really shy), I'll probably even be really outgoing and talkative! ;-) Looking forward to seeing many old friends, and meeting many new ones...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cheap, Non-Chemically, DIY Body Care (aka, Baking Soda is Magic)

There are many reasons I don't like store-bought shampoos, deodorants, soaps, creams, and other bodycare products.  Even the "natural" ones, though mostly better than your average pharmacy brands, have chemicals I'd really rather not use, and also tend to be really pricey!  I decided a while ago that there must be better options, and I'm slowly but surely going DIY for all of the products I used to buy from the store.

Recently, I've been discovering more and more things that baking soda (only about $1 a box) can be used for.  And used very effectively, no less!  So I wanted to share a few of them that I've tried so far:

Shampoo (or, Going No 'Poo, as people often say)

I used to use Kiss My Face shampoos, which worked just like your general shampoos, minus *most* of the more harmful chemicals.  The downside?  High cost (about $10 a bottle), and it left my hair dry, so I needed to use their conditioner regularly as well.  So when I started hearing (reading, really) about this no 'poo thing online, I became interested.  Could this be the answer I was looking for?  So I decided to try it out.  I mean really, what was there to lose?  If it worked, great, and if it didn't, I could just go back to regular shampoo!  Usising various online place as guides, I stopped using shampoo late last September (2009), and have been no 'poo since then! 

After a bit of trial-and-error, I discovered that around 2-3 teaspoons of baking soda dissolved in a spritzy bottle with 1 cup of water works perfectly.  Most people talk about how there's a "transitioning period" when you first make the switch, but I didn't even find that the case with me!  The baking soda method, right from the start, worked just as well as conventional shampoo.  I pour small quantities of this mixture on to each part of my scalp, massaging my scalp with fingertips and nails as I go, let it sit for about a minute, then rinse it out.  I know that many people like to use a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse afterward as a conditioner, but I've personally found that it just makes my hair get greasy faster.

As for how frequently I wash my hair: when I first switched to baking soda I used the same schedule as I had with shampoo, which means I was washing every other day.  But I quickly started stretching the time between washes, knowing that it was healthier for my hair, and have been washing my hair about every five days for a while now.


Now traditional toothpaste has a LOT of not-so-pleasant ingredients!  I always feel uncomfortable using it.  So I've tried making my own toothpaste using baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract (for flavoring.  I feel like peppermint would be better, but I didn't have that extract in the house!).  My feelings on it have been mixed.  It works reasonably well, but my mouth just doesn't feel as clean as when I use regular toothpaste.  Maybe I just need to make a homemade mouthwash as well?  My experimentation with healthier tooth care is definitely not over, but lately I'm afraid to say that I have been using normal toothpaste most of the time...


My most recent experiment: homemade deodorant!  I used chemically deodorant for years, then for the past several years I've used mainly the health food store alternatives.  But I've never found any of them to work particularly well (not that it's usually much of a problem, since I don't tend to be a very stinky gal at all [note that I'm not even going to go into the whole why-is-it-a-bad-thing-that-people-smell-like-people thing, though I definitely have a lot of feelings on that]), especially the natural brands, which sort of work for a couple of weeks before they stop working entirely.  So when I found this recipe, I decidely immediately to try it!  I've only used it a couple of times, but I can happily say that so far it works better than any "natural" OR chemically deodorant I've ever used!  And I've seriously put it to test with lots of exercise and long hours of wear.  Seriously impressive!  Just rub a little bit of oil (I use olive oil with a drop of tea trea oil) on armpits after showering, then dab on a bit of baking soda.  Couldn't be simpler!

I know that baking soda is healthy for your body.  However, I haven't been able to find out whether its production is harmful to the environment or not, so if you know anything about that, I'd love to hear it! 

I'd also love to hear what you use for body care.  Do you buy regular stuff?  Maybe get your products from the local health food store?  Do you make your own?  Don't use any?  It always seems that in the comment sections on posts about homemade stuff people have plenty of interesting tips, tricks, and experiences to share, so I'd love to hear yours!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Myth of "Social Awkwardness" Among Homeschoolers & Unschoolers

This bothers me to no end: the argument that if not in school, kids will naturally be something schooled folk refer to as "socially awkward".  I believe that every single person I've ever talked to who's against homeschooling has at least one story about a misfit homeschooler they know/have met whom they're sure would have been quite "normal" had they been in school!

Now, I should first point out that it's ridiculous to judge an entire group of people and an entire range of educational philosophies on just one or two people you don't even know very well.  And that there is a vast amount of proof that homeschoolers and unschoolers turn out just fine, as evidenced by thousands of grown un and homeschoolers.  But right now, I want to specifically address the whole socially awkward thing.

A few things come to mind when I think of why these people could possibly be considered socially awkward (oh how I hate those two words when put together):
  1. Like any other skill set, social skills differ greatly from person to person, regardless of their schooling (or lack thereof).  For some people social interaction is extremely easy: they find knowing what to say and when to say it, how to behave around different people, to be second nature.  Others have to work hard at it: to make a conscious effort to learn what is socially normal and then work to be that if they want to.  How easily those skills come, despite what a ridiculously large amount of anti-homeschoolers have to say, does not make a person any better or worse a person for it.  It's simply yet another thing that varies vastly between individuals.  (As a side comment, I'd say I'm someplace between the really-easy-social-interaction and the really-difficult-social-interaction.  As are probably most people!)
  2.  Sometimes people who refuse to dress or act in a way that conforms with societal expectations are considered weird or outsiders (this definitely overlaps with number 1, as well).  I'm thinking of some nasty comments on a video interview of Emi along the lines that because she's wearing a cloak in the video, she must not know how to "be normal"/interact with "normal" people.  I mean, that toooootally makes sense! (/sarcasm) And of course, blaming this phenomena on the fact someone doesn't go to school is pretty silly, considering how many schooled people have unique styles (though I must admit that in the interesting clothing and hair category, I think unschoolers are leading. :-P)!
  3. There is a certain...type, I guess, of homeschooler I've come across, where the kids interact mostly or entirely with other homeschooled kids and often within certain belief systems.  This sometimes leads to teens and young adults who don't have the vocabulary of slang, or the (overtly expressed) knowledge of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll that most other young people seem to.  This is then, apparently, interpreted as social awkwardness.
For those who fall in the first group, those who have a harder time socially, I have seen absolutely no difference between homeschoolers, unschoolers, public schoolers, or private schoolers, EXCEPT that the unschoolers who do have to work harder with social stuff are generally far more confident, far more aware of their worth, whereas the schooled people are often made to think that they're losers, that they're uncool, so have serious feelings of worthlessness.  Really?  That's what school has to offer kids that you're so upset un/homeschoolers are missing out on: making anyone who doesn't fit a very narrow definition of normal feel like they're a failure??
    For those who fall into the second group, well, the same applies: if someone doesn't fall into that narrow "normal" category there must be something wrong with them. I find that view so sad and misguided, especially considering how the most respected and admired people in our society, not to mention all the revolutionaries and change-makers, don't exactly fit into the commonly held definition of normal!

    For the third group, I believe negative reactions towards them shows a lack of respect for different social/cultural groups.  Because that's basically all it is: the differences to be found in different social circles, groups, and cultures! 

    Of all the arguments against school free education, few are as aggravating to me as the whole socialization/weird homeschoolers one.  And few make as good a case *for* school free education, to me!  If schooled people have that hard a time accepting any differences, it begs the question of why people continue to value that brand of elitist "socialization"!  I'm quite happy to stick with the far better socialization I've received as an unschooler, thanks.

    A big thanks to Kelly for being my copy editor for this piece!  It's better because of her.  You can read her work at her blogs and, and find her on Twitter at @kellyhogaboom and @underbellie.

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Freedom-Based Education Conference Outline

    After brainstorming with a few different people, I've come up with a pretty vague outline for what I want this conference to look like.  My vision for this conference, if you will.  As things move further ahead, it may very well change, but right now, this is what I've got.  Note that when I say "we" I'm referring to both myself and everyone who's contributing to the planning of this event.

    Theme/overarching message: Freedom based education can be for everyone.  Looking to break the myths of who unschooling and freeschooling is for, and to give the tools and information for people to *make* these types of education available where they currently aren't.

    A two day conference, held close to downtown Montreal (probably) and easily accessible by public transport.  Either in a hotel's conference space, or, preferably, in a separate venue but with a nearby hotel that we've worked out a special rate for conference attendees.

    Talks and workshops split roughly half-half between unschooling and freeschooling, with hopefully some other talks and workshops that don't fit into either of those categories directly (what's wrong with the school system, freedom based education at the university level, learning centers and co-ops, etc.).  Also a film screening room and a vendor hall (with vendors that we've approved, so meet with the vision for this conference).

    Something I feel strongly about is that everyone who wants to should be able to attend, so there will be a sliding-scale registration fee for attendees, as well as an added note that if the lowest end of the scale still doesn't work for you, contact us and we'll work something out.
    We'd also like to find multiple sponsors to lessen the cost, and have a food collective or similar there so that food can be bought, but isn't included in registration fee.

    Speakers from across North America (if we can afford them).  We still need to put together a list of speakers we'd love to have, and want to approach to find out more details...

    And I think that's basically what we've got right now.  There are other details, but that's the general overview!  So, what do you think?  Does that sound like a conference you'd like to attend?  Any suggestions or ideas that you'd like to share?  Speakers you think we might want to look into?  Comments are very welcome!

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Guest Post: Answering Negative Questions Doesn't Need to be a Priority

    I'm away right now (this post was scheduled, not published immediately), so I'm happy to have something to share on this blog even though I'm not here.  A big thanks to Michele for this post, the last in this summer mini-series of guest posts!  I love hearing Michele's perspective on things, and she's also the only one of the recent guest post authors whom I've been lucky enough to meet in person!  Enjoy. :-) 

    Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my children. That includes your expectations. ~Jenna Robertson

    When Idzie first asked me to write a post for her blog, I had lots of ideas running around in my head. I started out writing about 5 different posts, but each one either seemed forced, too fiery or just not quite 'me'. I ended up writing a sixth post, but two days before I was going to send it to Idzie, Jeff Sabo (, had to go and have a guest post ( at Jean Dorsey's blog and of course, it had to be about the SAME THING my post was about. Procrastination 1, Michele 0. So, after realizing that the subject of not being a perfect parent and NOT striving to be one, had been presented but not exhausted, I rewrote my post and here it is.

    When we find that we're going to become parents, whether for the first time or the fourth time, many people will find it necessary (almost as if by some unwritten law) to give us all kinds of advice (especially when we ask them NOT to). This advice can easily be accepted/disregarded with a polite nod and smile or a simple, "Thank you, I'll give it some thought", but what can't be easily shrugged off: Questions.

    People will ask you every question under the sun. It all starts with that one friend asking you if you are really having a cup of coffee when you are two months pregnant and then reciting to you ten years of research debating the effects of caffeine on a fetus. Next thing you know, people are lecturing you about how risky (or brave, in some cases) you are to be planning a homebirth and they are also equally amazed and horrified at some of the details ("you're going to do what with the placenta?"). Then there are questions about how long you plan on breastfeeding and advice about your answer (often horrible misinformation that can lead to an abrupt end to breastfeeding) and talk about which kind of diapering is better for the planet (cloth, disposable or those newfangled hybrid ones). Of course, you can always ignore these questions and not answer them, but for some, that makes life even worse than just being brutally honest about things.

    But, what really kills are the non-verbal questions. When other parents use their eyes and body language to question your every move as a parent. You can feel their eyes like daggers when you are at a store and your child is pleading for something (some special/favorite type of food or toy) and you can't find it (all the while you are trying to console your child and explaining that you can drive to another store and look -- three stores later EVERYONE is finally happy): "What a spoiled brat. She needs to just take him home for causing such a scene. How can she promise to take him anywhere else?". You see them stare at you at the library because you are 'letting' your child read a 'questionable' comic book: "Really, you think that is appropriate for a seven year old?". You almost gasp at the look of horror on their faces when you are at the playground and your child is on top of the 'big toy' doing a tap dance and singing at the top of her lungs (they might even use their words as well and say, "I can't believe you let her up there."): "Are you crazy lady; don't you know that she might fall?". Out of the corner of your eye you catch your neighbor rolls her eyes or raise her eyebrows when you tell her grandson that he doesn't have to say, 'thank you' or address you as 'Mrs. So & So': "Is that how you teach your child manners?". There are too many of these to list them all.

    We sometimes find ourselves second guessing our decisions when these things happen, when our choices or beliefs are questioned. It's no different for us whole-life radical unschooling parents: "Do they NOT have a bedtime?", "Surely, you at least limit their screen time or monitor the content of what they are watching/playing/surfing?", "Don't you get tired of picking up after them; shouldn't they be made to 'pull their weight'?" and "Is that anyway for you to 'let' your child talk to an adult?". It can be hard to remain calm and respectful (especially if these don't come naturally to you) when people make judgments on you based on how you parent (even more so when your child DOES something dangerous, harmful or insulting).

    Unschoolers get a lot of extra criticism and questions when we fall short in the areas of being respectful to our children. We are not perfect and many of us were raised in some of the most traditional, mainstream and punitive ways, so we were taught to do things the exact opposite from how we are striving to live. We make mistakes, yet we know well enough to apologize to our children and our partners for those mistakes (or 'learning-takes'). Our friends and family can question our ability to parent well or question our decision to be radical unschoolers when they see or hear of us struggling or doing something less-than respectful to our children. They might say or think: "You are the one who wanted to be all, 'love and light and freedom' with your kids.", "Can't you see that he's running all over you? You just don't make accommodations like that for a small child.", "I thought you said you don't yell at your children because it's mean, not respectful and can make them fearful?", "Yeah, I can see how well this is working out for you. I would NEVER let my child do/say that." or "Is this what unschoolers do; let their children cry and scream when something doesn't go their way?".

    It's hard to be a parent and each of us is doing the best we can in the present moment. We can always let hind-site teach us about ourselves and others and how to strive to be better parents. We also understand that being human is difficult and that every child and adult out there is doing the best that they can in the present moment. Life is what it is and we need to accept that before we can strive for change. We can't let the fears of other people or the expectations of others hinder us on our journey as parents. Perfect is something I (none of us) will ever be and that's okay with me, because I know that I'm doing the best I can AND that I'm always striving to be a little bit better.

    The next time you are being negatively questioned by someone about your parenting and unschooling, remember that what they think and have to say means nothing if it doesn't aim to help you be a more tuned-in, peaceful and respectful parent.