Monthly Archives: November 2014

Minimalism and its Lessons

The Lessons of Minimalism

I have been thinking a lot about minimalism these days, and was recently reminded of this quote from mindfulness meditation proponent Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are:

“Voluntary simplicity means seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.”

These many-layered words about simplifying our lives have had different meanings for me at various times since I first read Kabat-Zinn’s book in the late 1990s. At this point in my life, minimalism has become a goal that seems within reach. My husband and business partner Rolf and I spent last summer radically downsizing our personal living and working spaces. Divesting ourselves of four decades of accumulated family and business stuff (I donated close to a thousand books) was a major undertaking. We had to continually remind ourselves to take it easy both physically and emotionally, and not to give in to the impulse to simply throw things away so we could get on with our move.

Staying committed to simplicity, while slowing down and remaining mindful, can be challenging at any time, but especially when undertaking such a major task. But now that the work of finding new homes for a large portion of our belongings is finished, the resulting lifestyle of minimalism has helped me to feel free in a way I haven’t felt in many years.

Choosing a lifestyle of minimalism focuses our minds and hearts on the life around us and the people in it, rather than on things.

Obviously, voluntary simplicity isn’t the same as enforced simplicity; we are blessed with having enough of everything we need, and probably still have more of it than we need, even after all the purging of the past few months. But freeing ourselves of most of the excess stuff has provided us with freedom from other things, such as overwhelm, fear of losing it all, the time spent looking after the stuff and its space, and more.

Working through the chaos and making those decisions about each and every thing in our lives made us pay attention to what we value…and prompted us to move away from what we don’t. And not having all that stuff and the space it took up has given us more time to focus both on our purposeful work and on having fun, two things that have been in short supply in recent years.

We are not the only ones thinking this way. These days, many of us seem interested in clearing away the clutter – both physical and otherwise – so we can concentrate on other things. For some, that’s family and friends; for others, it’s solving a few of the world’s pressing problems; and for others, minimalism relates to a need to concentrate on finding some inner peace in the midst of life’s chaos.

Whatever your purpose, I highly recommend moving beyond an obsession with having too much, doing too much, and being too busy…or even with collecting materials things if that’s an issue for you. It’s a path to a healthier, more enjoyable, more sustainable life.

Note: as our downsizing process developed, a number of people asked me for advice for their own, similar journey. I wrote about it in this article in Natural Life Magazine.


Learning By Doing

Learning by DoingLearning by doing is one of the themes of Life Learning Magazine’s November/December 2014 issue. That’s not surprising, of course, since experiential learning is one of the foundations of unschooling. But grasping exactly what that means is one of the difficult aspects of deschooling ourselves so that we can trust our children to learn. That’s because hands-on, active learning likely made up a tiny fraction of our own school-based educations. (Ironically, learning by doing makes up a large portion of our adult lives.)

Not understanding hands-on learning is at the root of a classic concern/criticism about unschooling / life learning: “What if my child doesn’t choose to learn math?” But that’s the issue, see. A child who lives and learns without schooling doesn’t have to choose to learn math! Learning math is a notion created and perpetuated by a group of adult experts who think that children need to be taught certain things – like it or not, for their own good. And, really, the question is more about being taught math than learning it – and one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.

Unschooling mother Holly Graff writes about that in this issue in her article “Quarter
Pizzas: An Unschooling Math Adventure.” Here is how she describes one occasion where her daughter put two and two together, so to speak: “The most profound learning often takes place silently and invisibly, in between activities and away from prying eyes. It is here that all those pieces of information, having been shaved from active experience, are pulled inward to jostle against one another in various combinations and arrangements until gradually, or sometimes suddenly, a new understanding emerges.”

Life learning children are busy living life in all its complicated glory; that’s why we use the term “life learning” rather than “unschooling”! They are pursuing their curiosity and interests, being involved in family tasks and decisions, discovering, questioning, and exploring. Along the way, they are learning, but that’s not the focus, not what they’re choosing to do. They are choosing to ride a horse, play a computer game, catch butterflies, design a website, build a LEGO marble chute, write a short story, volunteer to paint sets with a local theater group, collect and study rocks, garden, bake a cake, divide up a pizza, play the guitar, attend a public meeting, help their parents with household activities, climb a tree, learn to hunt for whales, dismantle a broken clock, or simply lie on the grass watching the clouds.

And while doing all of that and more, our kids are learning math, science, languages, geography, economics, health, philosophy, history, the arts, and much more…as well as lots of important life skills. They don’t need to choose to learn; they just do – in a hands-on way..,just like we adults learn by doing.

In another Life Learning Magazine article “Learning by Doing: Lessons From my Inuit Teachers,” environmental anthropologist and unschooling mom Martina Tyrrell writes, “I discovered that for Inuit, patience, practice, experimentation, and risk-taking are the paths towards life-long learning and the ongoing enhancement of knowledge and skill.” And those four aspects of learning by doing are what propel our children’s learning too.

We just have to trust the process of learning by doing and keep out of its way…which, of course, is easier said than done.

A Year of Unschooling Articles from Life Learning Magazine

Life Learning Magazine Annual 2014

Life Learning Magazine Annual 2014

Did you misplace an article from Life Learning Magazine this year? Did you forget to renew your subscription in time and thereby missed an issue? Are you curious about Life Learning Magazine but not yet ready to subscribe? Do you prefer an e-book to a digital magazine? Are you looking for a gift that will help someone understand unschooling / life learning? Whatever your need, you can get caught up with a year’s worth of unschooling articles from Life Learning Magazine with our brand new 2014 Annual. It has just been published and is now ready for purchase and downloading.

We have been creating these PDF e-books for all our Life Media magazines, working back a year at a time. They contain all the feature articles that were published in each magazine on a yearly basis. They appear exactly as they do in the magazines – complete with full-color photos and layouts, and live links to resources. Plus, we’ve created a table of contents for each year, making it easy to find the articles you’re looking for.

The Life Learning Magazine Annuals, with a full year of unschooling articles, have been extremely popular with subscribers and non-subscribers alike. They are perfect for reading on your tablet, laptop, or PC, and can be downloaded, saved, and shared.

Each Annual is priced at just half the cost of an annual subscription. To learn more about Life Learning Magazine’s Annuals for 2014, 2013, and 2012, visit the website. Or to order directly, visit our Natural Life General Store; you’ll find them under the books section.

Avoiding Sleep Training as a Precursor to Unschooling

Sleep TrainingCheck out any online book store and you’ll see over a hundred titles about how to “sleep train” your baby. These books are about getting kids to sleep at times that suit the adults in their lives, not because babies that weren’t trained would stay awake 24/7! That thinking/wishing which leads to sleep training is also where our need to control our children’s learning begins, and where understanding unschooling can begin.

As an article about sleep in our Natural Child Magazine explains, how we sleep depends on a wide variety of factors related to our environment, family, genetic make-up, moods, general health, and even hormonal changes. And, as the same author wrote in another article, “Your baby sleeps and wakes in a certain way because that is how babies are.” Likewise, children learn in certain ways because that’s how they are. When we fight their natural instincts and curiosity (in the same way we try to manipulate their sleep needs via sleep training), we get in the way of what we want to happen, and ultimately can cause them harm.

I remember coming to that realization a few weeks into the life of my first daughter in 1972, although I had already begun to form some strong opinions about children’s need for autonomy in learning. Accepting that how she would sleep on her own schedule wasn’t much different than how she would learn made life for both of us so much more pleasant. (Sure, I wasn’t sleeping any more than before, but I also wasn’t fighting or trying to control her, and that freed up my energy and my soul just to love her in each moment…and for better sleep when I did manage to get some).

That decision not to try and control things that weren’t mine to control was one of the foundations on which my philosophy of life learning/natural family life/radical unschooling/autonomous living (however you want to label it) was built. It led to me learning to recognize my daughters’ other patterns, personalities, and passions. And, following their leads, I was able to provide support, companionship, and much more – always respecting their needs and finding ways to mesh theirs with mine.

So here’s where understanding unschooling can begin. Let your babies sleep and stay awake as they are wont to do, without fighting them. Be alert to supporting their needs, but trust that they’re doing what works best for them and aren’t trying to manipulate you (which infants aren’t able to do). And, as they grow, allow them the freedom to pursue their curiosity, their interests, and their passions. Respect that, with your support, they can learn to recognize their own needs, and trust that they’ll learn how to fulfill them. They’ll grow up to be healthy, happy, and well-educated. And I’m betting that you all will be able to sleep well at night.