New Decade: How Connection Will Save Us

As we round the corner on a new decade, I find myself contemplative about the evolution of our species. What have we changed? Where are we going? What changes are to come? And, as so many ask these days, how can we save ourselves? How can we "be the change"?
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi
This morning I read that two firefighters have died fighting Australia's massive bush fires. That's 10 people so far this year in a fire season that's only half over, according to Victoria emergency services minister Lisa Neville. Over 1000 homes have burned so far, but it's not a shock, anymore. It's the news we're accustomed to hearing. I was, however, surprised to read that the prime minister apologized for having been on vacation at the time. His compassion is news; in our current human state of trauma and overwhelming feelings of helplessness, many of us have become dispirited, numbed by the constant reports of tragedy. We are accustomed to looking away. My children know that in every season people around the world die of heat, floods, storms, wildfires and other climate-related disasters. Sometimes we watch the smoke on the news; sometimes we're battling to keep it out of our own lungs. It's the end of the decade, the end of my children's childhood, and the beginning of a new epoch for humanity. And what can we do to save ourselves?

In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about her university students' inability to imagine a healthy relationship between humans and nature:
"As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. I realized that they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like? If we can't imagine the generosity of geese? These students were not raised on the story of Skywoman."
I would like to suggest that connection is how we will save ourselves.

The other day I drove my kids past the recreation centre in Burnaby where I first kindled my desire to connect children with nature. Around two decades ago, before I had children of my own, I took my eight-to-ten-year-old art group out to the small planting of conifers and rhododendrons beside the parking lot at that rec centre. It was the only forest-like area between the mall, the skytrain and the office buildings. Beside the smooth concrete pathway, I and this group of kids dug our fingers into the grass and needles and found worms coming skyward after recent rainfall. We saved one from a puddle. We gathered cones and twigs, and the children discovered that cones actually contain seeds of the trees they fell from. Although I tried valiantly to connect our indoor art adventures to this one outing, it was plainly evident to me that the greatest learning we'd had by far was the short fifteen minutes we spent out poking fingers into the earth. This was the moment of connection - of discovering a sense of home and belonging in nature. I have spent the last two decades bringing people into the wilderness, welcoming them to these spaces where nature still displays its fabulous and curious habits, and beckoning them to feel at home. Because this is our home.

In the last decade forest schools have become increasingly popular; as have explorative and self-directed learning. These things, I think, are beacons of hope for our civilization. As we reintegrate with nature in a curious and explorative way, we become, as a species, attuned to our own existence, and better able to understand our own nature. As we discover the amazing interactions between other species in the wild, we discover our own interactions with them, as well. We discover our mutual needs and gifts. We discover our sameness.

But how will this help us survive the climate emergency? In very practical terms, explorative wilderness play helps people of all ages become more resilient and resourceful; both qualities needed to survive any time, but especially in the unpredictable time we're entering now. A few years ago, during the worst smoke-season we've had yet on Canada's west coast, I bought an air purifier that barely managed to keep the smoke out of one room of my home. But I took my Wild Art groups into the forest nearby, to discover the clear green-filtered air and relatively smoke-free play areas. During the hot smoky season we found respite under the shelter of cedars and hemlocks, leaning our bodies against the cool logs and reaching fingers into the mud that remained from the previous winter's flood. The children learned resourcefulness as they wrote, developed and performed a play about consumerism (their own idea, but not surprising given the climate of fear in the forest fire season). They connected with our local recycling centre and second-hand store for props, and created other props and a set from objects found in the forest.

In addition to resilience and resourcefulness, the deeply-felt connection that nature exploration develops between humans, and between humans and other species, helps us to see the bigger picture. We discover the trees' need for moss, holding water like a sponge, as we discover our own need for the damp cool that that moss provides, and the shelter of the trees' leaves. Symbiotic relationships are everywhere, and the more of them we discover, the greater our perception grows; the bigger our picture becomes. Climate change is a very big picture. If we want to solve it, we need to understand the interconnectedness of all things. We need to know that we matter.

And mostly, in this world where happiness is sold on in-game-advertising and the price-tags on our brand-name merchandise, we can discover happiness in nature. The pursuit of happiness continues to be a ubiquitous aim of the human spirit, and we're not going to save our home and future by denying ourselves joy. Our salvation will not come from starvation and asceticism. It will come from abundance. We just need to start seeing abundance - happiness - in the things we need to save, and then we'll find ourselves ever more willing to save them. Saving the trees is much easier when the trees are our children's playthings; when we know their scent and the feeling of their cool skin on ours in the summer; when we have experienced their canopy protecting us from the heat and the smoke. Saving frogs and beetles and worms and slugs is much more delightful when we're not envisioning some far-away ecosystem we've never walked in, but noticing the appearance of worms after rain in our own neighbourhood puddles.

Wilderness isn't far away. Wilderness is happening in the city puddle under our feet, or, as we once discovered with the help of our trusty microscope, in the surface of an old moldy piece of cat food! Wilderness is, yes, in the Australian bush, burning up with its koalas heading ever closer to extinction. And it is also in the weeds along the edge of a forgotten urban alley. It is in the heart of the little girl playing there, digging her fingers in past plastic wrappers and grasshoppers to find the treasure she buried there last winter: A fir cone full of now-sprouting seeds, which she carefully pulls out, and plants again.

In the last decade we have become, as a species, accustomed to watching our home burn from the other side of the street, then turning our back on it and looking towards our cell phones for a quick emotional fix. We've become accustomed to blinding ourselves to our own feelings of despair and helplessness; using capitalist promises and lies to soothe our broken hearts. Now it's time to get back over there and put out the flames. I think about Robin Wall Kimmerer's despair at her students' lack of connection with wilderness and I think to myself that if we allow our children to find joy in the discovery of small things, the next generation will be the first to return to nature. When they reach university, the scope of their vision will be greater, because they have seen and known the wilderness beneath their feet. They will integrate the great technological systems of their day with the great system of the wilderness and those of us who follow them will, finally, be the change we already know ourselves to be.

Happy new decade. May we connect with each other and with our wilderness.

*image: copyright Emily van Lidth de Jeude

The Great Gingerbread House Building Tradition

In the early days of my partnership with Markus, he described to me his family's tradition of building gingerbread houses. He spoke about it with such joy that I had to make it happen. I got a wonderful Finnish gingerbread recipe from my friend Miki, which we've carried along with us all these years, through our children's childhoods and now, nearly, into their adulthood. Most years we make time and space for this all-consuming multi-day activity, and most years it's a wonderful creative experience. I documented a little of the action this year as my kids and their cousin Evan designed and built this wonky house-on-a-spoon creation.

Sometimes the kids make their own dough, but this year they were busy hunting the wild tree so I made the dough ahead of time. When they returned, they sat around planning their build, and then making paper templates. They cut the many pieces they needed into the rolled dough, and spent the evening putting trays of cookies in and out of the oven. This thickly-rolled, gluten- and sugar-free, molasses-rich dough takes ages to bake, so they even had to finish some baking in the morning.

Next morning: gluing it all together with royal icing (our version is vegan-keto - egg replacer and powdered erythritol).

Building and decorating...

Ta da! A wonky house on a teaspoon!

They used maltitol-based diabetic candies to melt in for windows on the upper level of the house, and lit it from the inside with bicycle lights.

And then, because these are 21st century kids, they all hopped on their phones to Instagram their creation.
Merry Christmas!

How to Unschool Graduation

For a number of years in our household, there's been discussion about whether or not to graduate - to get the diploma - to take a bunch of required courses and jump a hoop of our culture's pre-determined life-trajectory. The debate has mostly been among the parents, because neither of our children has been very willing to consider non-graduation. We know that it's possible to apply to university as a "homeschooler", and enter without a high school diploma, but I think our kids want to prove to themselves that they can achieve what the mainstream offers. Still maybe not in a wholly mainstream way. So I'm delighted to announce that our son just unschooled graduation!

Taliesin in the crowd of graduates.
Maybe it's a bit of an oxymoron to say one can graduate from unschooling, because it is, after all, a philosophy of self-directed life-long learning. But you sure can self-direct your grad celebration and the way you choose to create and cross a threshold, and these fabulous humans did so!

Taliesin receiving a joyful hug from his principal.

Our kids have attended Windsor House School these past three years. Windsor House is a democratic public school that was founded, run, and then held in integrity for nearly fifty years by Helen Hughes. The school's slogan is "room to grow and be yourself", and the school's staff and community lives up to this in every action they take or choose not to take. They accept all students as they are without condition. They don't give grades. They encourage creativity. They don't discriminate. They respect students' identities and choices, whatever they may be. They don't coerce. Ever. So Windsor House is a school full of unschoolers.

Helen Hughes, founder of Windsor House, receiving a standing ovation.
At Windsor House students are empowered to make their own choices, and to be accepted no matter what those choices are. At Windsor House you can spend all day every day drawing pictures, gaming, or playing basketball, and instead of trying to diversify your activities, teachers will celebrate you and encourage you, including when you finally move on to a new pursuit. If you come to school only twice a week or don't come to school for months at a time that's OK too. When you don't do any provincially-mandated academics for years at a time and then decide you want to earn a graduation diploma, teachers will help you make up all those academics you need for credit. At Windsor House there is no dress-code, and no gender grouping. All toilets are always for all genders. There's nobody going to tell you what to do, and there's a culture of non-violent communication that lives organically between staff and students, held up by respect and a practice of good, deep, thoughtful conversation. It's not unusual for people to stay or return to Windsor House as adults. The principal is the daughter of the founder, who attended Windsor House herself, and now runs it with an abundance of passion, love, integrity and creativity, being connected with, loving and supportive of every single human from Kindergarten to adulthood. At Windsor House you can choose or create your own pathway, and you will be celebrated for doing so. Including for graduation.

Our son Taliesin wasn't originally going to graduate this year, since it was technically his grade eleven year, but he had nearly all the required credits already, so when he heard in late March that Windsor House is closing, he decided to add a couple of courses to his roster and finish early. He wanted to get his high school diploma, but didn't want to attend a large mainstream high school for just one year. So since making this decision in early April, he worked tirelessly - many hours nearly every single day - to finish the courses he needed for credit. It was definitely hard work, exhausting, and at times felt like meaningless drudgery, but I think it was nice for him to discover that he can, in fact, pull off the kind of school-work that his mainstream friends do.

Taliesin enjoying grad his way - outside, hanging with a good friend.
There were just over twenty Windsor House graduates this year, and they each had unique stories. Some students have completed our province's graduation requirements and some haven't. Some were graduating as "adult grads" and at least one graduated "early". Some took the grad stage for the first time; some had been there before, but chosen to come back, do more school, grow a little more, and graduate again. And again! This is what graduation looks like when you self-direct it. It's a celebration of the achievements you determined for yourself were important, and a threshold on to the next stage of your self-determined journey.

"...has successfully completed their self-directed education at Windsor House..."
Those receiving actual high school graduation diplomas will receive them by post once all the grades are received by the Ministry of Education, but this certificate may be the most meaningful one to many.
 And let's talk about grad traditions: the caps and gowns and diplomas and cap-throwing; the prom and the speeches and all. the. excitement. This class self-directed those, as well. The group of kids who organized this event sourced the venue, the attire, the decorations, food and even advice from their community. They rented a hall that isn't normally rented for such occasions but was perfect for the event, with a stage, gorgeous sound and party lights, disco ball and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. And in their neighbourhood. My mother and a couple of friends provided the enormous number of fabulous flowers for the event, cut fresh from their gardens. The grads got mortarboard caps from a local university's recent 50th anniversary celebration, and we redecorated them with purple ribbon, because purple is, fittingly, Windsor House's school colour. They found gowns for everyone who wanted to wear them - some were borrowed, some where home-made, and some were the death-eater costumes from the school's recent Very Potter Musical performance. The food was potluck, and some generous soul ordered in pizza late in the night! The graduation speech was not given by an elected valedictorian, but by a student who felt she wanted to speak. The kids announced at the end of the ceremonies that they would now flip their tassels to the other side, and throw their caps - and they did! Most kids didn't arrive with corsages and boutonnieres, but at the end of the night they dismantled the flower arrangements and flowed out the doors holding gorgeous bouquets and bedecked in various creative ways with the flowers from their prom. Not every Windsor House class has chosen to carry on these cultural traditions, but this one did. And when you choose it, you own it. They did everything in their own, gorgeous, unique styles! And it was fabulous.

These wonderful humans will continue going on to the rest of their lives; some to work and travel and explore, some to continue being involved with Windsor House activities, and some to post-secondary education. Every single day is, of course, a threshold to the rest of our lives. Every day we wake up and choose how we're going to engage; how we're going to move in one direction or another. There truly is no right or wrong way; no right or wrong speed at which to reach any milestones. And there are no mandatory milestones. We are who we were born to be, and unschooling allows us to live in that truth.

*graduation ceremony photos by Adrian van Lidth de Jeude
More photos on our Instagram feed:

Love Against the Machine: The Enormous Joy of Discovering that Unschooling Works

Me in my garden - photo by my son Taliesin River.
I started unschooling my kids rather out of a place of despair, when my son's learning style (his way or no way at all!) didn't mesh with the system. I quickly realized how similar unschooling was to the way I already taught other children, using explorative creative play and art-making to teach them about the workings of the world and their own hearts and minds. So on pure blind faith and a good chunk of sheer determination, my husband and I just let our kids go, free-range for the most part, trying to follow their interests and our own, and cobble together some sort of symphony of it all.

And there's the machine, of course - the socio-political one. I've never been someone to follow the masses, myself, so unschooling suits my personality. It wasn't until recently that I realized (thanks to my mother) that everything in my life is a rebellion against the machine - even gardening. I grow food to prove to myself that I don't fully depend on the agriculture industry. I grow it to prove to my children that we're skilled and capable of looking after ourselves. I grow it to teach myself how - to feel less frightened about the looming possibility of social collapse, and to know that I'll be able to feed us, if need be. And I grow it because it's an interesting challenge. I garden exploratively. I unschool gardening. And recently - at long last - I'm having a bit of success with it.

My son, now seventeen, unschools photography. I'd love to say I taught him that, because I love photography too, but I didn't. I just gave him the freedom to teach himself. And I let him use my cameras. He explores photography. He breathes photography. He leaps around the city and wilderness, seeing it all in his unique way, and using whichever camera he has as a natural extension of his own eyes. He mastered the technology on his own, through exploration, as a child masters the use of a crayon, or his fingers. He mastered it intuitively, because he has freedom to explore.

He has a volunteer job, now, exploring beaches and documenting his discoveries in image and words for a forthcoming marine atlas. Yesterday he let me join him on one of his explorative adventures, and he told me that he was off to look for the anemones that he knew lived on the other side of the lighthouse. I realized with total delight that we were on the same sort of adventure we did almost every day of his younger childhood, but this time, with camera in hand and the confidence of a great strong wind, my son was leading me.

There was a day many years ago, when I led a wilderness exploration group (including my own kids) into the meadow, and somebody asked my daughter if she ever gets sick of being with her mother. I was offended, and then worried, and really questioned our decision to live so closely with our kids, especially because my daughter has always been looking for ways to engage separately from the family. There have been SO many days like this. So many doubts and fears and blaring warning signs cast up by others and by my own fearful mind telling me to turn and run back to the norm. But we didn't. My daughter is fiercely independent, and she taught me how to let go of her so she could go gallivanting in the city with her much-older friends. Unschooling demands of both of us to live bravely and trust. Our deep connection built over so many years of living life in close proximity makes her independence possible. I know I can trust her to look after herself, and to reach for us when we're actually needed.

And yesterday I looked into my son's lens, as he towered above me on the rocky beach, and realized he was taking a photo of my smile - his smile - the smile that exists because of him. Whatever he explores in this world, with or without me, I am reassured that he loves me and is happy in his life and in himself. Whatever more could I have wished for in the world? This is the enormous joy of discovering that unschooling works.

Exploring to Learn About Diversity, and Why It Matters

Found: A decomposing, rat-chewed deer vertebra.
This morning my fabulous group of Wild Art kids and I lay on the forest floor with our heads in the dried leaves, looking up at the canopy of deep, dark, low-branched cedars and verdant freshly-leaved maples, their moss and fern-covered trunks reaching down to the ground beside us. The diversity of greens was shocking. Even the leaves of one maple were a very different green than those of the next. We talked about the diversity of bird sounds we could hear, the sounds of the different sorts of leaves rustling both under us and in the distance. We talked about the dark brown, cone-covered branch hung up in the cedar above us, and one of the kids waxed nearly poetic about the balance of dead and decomposing things with the fresh and living things, the balance of different shapes all around, and even the balance of humans in nature, since mostly we now find ourselves not there.

We agreed that balance is pretty important. And the more diversity we have, the more balance. Diversity and balance are essential for all communities, human and wilderness. And the understanding of this diversity is essential for engaging with the world.

This past weekend I attended a rhododendron symposium in Washington, where a majority of attendees were grey-haired, and one of the burning questions was how to engage younger people in the study and love of rhododendrons. Well, of course it's not just rhododendrons, as various people pointed out - it's wilderness in general. But rhodos are one way to look at the wilderness, and humans need to be connecting more with the wilderness. Rhododendrons, mostly recognized as those car-sized, shiny-leaved, blossom-covered shrubs often lining suburban driveways, don't exactly scream wilderness as they beckon weakly from the garden aisles of Costco and Walmart. But did you know that plants of the rhododendron genus occur in the wild on nearly every continent, from cold alpine climates to temperate lowlands to tropical forests? They grow in swamps, on rocks, on stumps and even in the tree canopy. Did you know that these shrubs can be as big as castles or as small as a football? They include species with leaves as big as serving platters, and as small as your thumbnail, blossoms of all colours and many different shapes, and some are evergreen while others are deciduous. We have a few wild species here in my own ecosystem, and one of those, Labrador Tea, is harvested from the swamps for human consumption. I drink Labrador Tea. It's delicious.

There is quite possibly some kind of rhododendron participating in your ecosystem too, just as there are likely many species of grass, trees, moss, lichen, fungi, mammals, and insects. If you go out in the woods, today, you will find diversity.

My point is this: The great diverse world of rhododendrons is one of millions of interconnected pieces of our complex world that thrives because it is complex. Each individual rhodo species or plant, in its own natural community, is an integral participant in the livelihood of everyone. The diversity of human culture is important, too. Each of us contributes in a unique way to our greater community, creating a balance that keeps us more generally prosperous. It is not enough to write this in textbooks for biology students, or to depend on a few grey-haired plant-enthusiasts to champion the diversity of each species. We all need to champion diversity in general, and to celebrate and nurture it in every part of our lives.

If we don't take our children into the wilderness and allow them to play, how will they know - I mean innately, deeply know - that diversity is essential for life? In the wilderness, diversity is what ensures the cycle of life. A rat chewed the deer vertebra in the photo above, nourishing itself with essential minerals and introducing those and others back into the available substrate when it pooped, so that tasty maple cotyledons now shoot up all over the place, are eaten by a nursing doe, passed to its offspring by lactation, and thus the minerals of that bone become part of the next generation of deer. Nobody told me this; I surmised it from a lifetime of exploring and asking questions and being engaged. You don't have to tell your children this. They don't need to read about this cycle in a text book to understand it. They need to crawl around in the underbrush of the forest and find the bones with their own grubby hands, feeling the marks made by the rat's incisors all along the edges. They need to get curious and go looking for the rest of the bones.

As the earth's biodiversity succumbs to climate and habitat destruction, there are people trying to preserve the diversity of rhododendrons for the world. These hardy explorers traverse mountain ridges and river valleys, picking their way through a still-surprising diversity of life and weather conditions, to discover wild rhodos and bring a few seeds back to raise, at home. They observe and document the diversity of life that exists where the seeds came from, and create similar diversity in urban gardens, so that one day when we stop razing the world's forests, perhaps some of this diversity will be retrievable. There are people doing similar preservation work for thousands of genuses and ecosystems all over the world. The reason the room full of grey-haired rhododendron enthusiasts is so eager to engage future generations is because they know the importance of the preservation of diversity for all species.

This is why exploration is important - because in exploring, we discover real diversity, on a scale that no textbook, biology professor, or nature documentary can show us. We know by the dirt under our fingernails that we are a part of this. In a time when the earth's biodiversity is severely threatened, we can immerse ourselves in it, engage with it and know it, literally from the ground up. Then when we get on a city bus we can look at the great diversity of people around us, the great diversity of ideas and emotions and physical attributes, smells and even microbiomes, and we can feel comfortable in knowing that these are important parts of our ecosystem, too.

No matter where we look in the world, diversity means innovation from diverse sources and evolution in many directions, and therefore more likelihood of success and survival, overall. Diversity matters in wilderness ecosystems as well as in our intestinal bacterial populations, boardrooms, classrooms, and human technological progress. Let's give our kids the opportunity to be and value and preserve that diversity.

Further Reading:
May 21 is World Cultural Diversity Day!
Rhododendron Species Foundation (largest collection in the world)
The Catalogue of Life!
Monoculture vs. Diversity in Farming

Why the Best Learning Looks Like Play

My fourteen-year-old daughter is spending today doing and creating crossword puzzles, playing Sims, and rehearsing for her current role as Ginny in A Very Potter Musical. I asked her to tell me about a time she remembers play that was especially wonderful, or meaningful to her.

"What do you mean?" She asked me. "I'm always playing!"

Far from being the useful answer I hoped for that would help me frame this article, her answer helped me rewrite it. My fourteen-year-old unschooler is an accomplished writer, actor, and student, as well as one of the most diligent workers I know. She always keeps her goals and commitments in mind, runs her social and academic lives like tight ships, and yet feels like she has spent her life always playing.

My daughter is living the dream I dreamed for her, and yet the simplicity of it took me by surprise.

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”                           ~Alan Watts

I've been writing about the beautiful learning that my own kids and the kids I work with stumble upon while playing for a very long time, but every day I still run into my own judgments about what comprises valuable activity. This is the way with most of us, I think, who unwittingly (or otherwise) subscribe to the notion that drudgery makes us valuable. But it doesn't. It just makes us drudge.

Play is the word we use for something that we joyfully engage in. Work is often used to represent the opposite. What happens when, instead of teaching our children that hard work pays off with more time for play, we teach them that play is the way to engage with life. We teach them that they have to do some chores, and they have the power to make the chores fun. We join them in the chores because it's a happy way to engage socially. We teach them by example that we are constantly learning. We allow them to see our fascination at whatever we observe happening during the day, we talk to them openly about our wonderings and explorations and the things we've discovered by simply looking up that new word we heard or researching whether we can eat that berry growing in the park. Not only does this demonstrate a healthy way to learn through play, but it turns the job of parenting into joyful engagement... and that's play.

photo by my fabulous brother and teacher, Adrian van Lidth de Jeude, who knows the value of play
"But", says my own father, "at some point you have to stop playing and get to work." As a culture we've convinced ourselves that in order to be of value we have to struggle. I'm going to suggest we throw that away. Just chuck it out. Life has enough inherent struggles, and we're going to learn from every one of them. We don't need to set ourselves (or our children!) up for planned struggling. It doesn't make us more valuable; it just makes us less willing. Nobody went into a parenting or marital or personal crisis on purpose, and yet those crises happen and they make us who we are. They give us the passion we need to pick up and go again - only wiser.

Passion. That's what we need. There's passion in having a fun idea in the middle of the night and getting up to make it happen. There's passion to be found in discovering a new recipe or a new unsolved mystery or a new insect on the wall. There's passion to be had in taking any of the hundreds of experiences of our day and allowing it to inspire us. And that's what some of the best learning looks like: Passionate play.

Maybe it sounds pompous of me to call anything the best learning, but I'm not backing down, there. For decades, now, research has been showing the massive value of play-based learning for people of all ages but especially for children and youth. Some excellent schools have been putting it into practice for a long time, and many businesses are following suit, as companies encourage their employees to both explore their own passions and share their pursuits with the team. In these cases students and employees are encouraged to play; encouraged to explore, and the result is empowered, passionate learners. The result is better teams; better learning; better work.

I live in British Columbia, where the Ministry of Education has rejigged the provincial curriculum to focus on core competencies and other broad ideas that create opportunities for empowered, self-directed, explorative learning. It is taking a while to reach the goals of the new curriculum, but we're on our way. Maybe in twenty years we'll have a whole generation of young adults who have learned through playing all their lives, and go on to build inspired, engaging careers based on curiosity, learning, and enthusiasm. No matter what we're doing, may we always be playing.
Some resources for further reading:

Unschooling, Defiance and Motivation

"No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them."                ~Assata Shakur

Our family didn't originally discover unschooling because it aligned with our beliefs. We discovered it during a desperate-feeling time when my five-year-old son was so defiant that school seemed an impossibility. He was only interested in pursuing the things he'd thought of himself, and even then would lose interest as soon as somebody tried to push or even encourage him. Many days he flatly refused to leave the house. Unschooling seemed at the time like the only way, and I can say now that he's on the brink of graduation that although it has been extremely difficult, I think it was the best way.

I'm a bossy person, my controlling nature fueled by the fear drilled into me at school that any wrong action could lead to failure, or even death. So I make decisions that feel right to me, and I expect people to see reason and follow my lead. My son has defied me every day of his life, to the extreme frustration and benefit of both of us. So unschooling, which challenges me to allow him complete autonomy, and challenges him to take responsibility for his actions, has been our solution over these past twelve years.

This road has never been without struggle. I watch him every day like a mother owl whose fluffy chick is teetering on the edge of the nest, knowing that if he falls out he'll be prey for the wolves. At every turn I feel like he's making grave miscalculations of safety and feasibility. At every turn I attempt to warn him, coax him, steer him to safety or provide him with advice. All of my efforts are unwanted, and many, I admit with shame, lead to arguments and threats. Worst of all, my controlling behaviour causes my son to lose faith in himself, and then I know I have truly failed him.

I pick up the baton again and again, setting myself back on the unschooling track I chose, and he makes some gains of confidence and autonomy before I fall of the rails again. It has never, ever been easy. But it has been right.

In their 2009 article for the Journal of Educational Psychology, Maarten van Steenkiste et al. revealed that "to foster good quality motivation, teachers and school principals need to create a school and class environment that allows students to satisfy their basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness." This is what unschooling does for us. And if we've truly given our children autonomy, they are bound to defy us when we try to control them.

Defiance is necessary for autonomy. A wholly obedient person can never go very far along a path of inspiration before being led astray by somebody else's advice or admonishments. How will our children learn to make safe decisions if they aren't given an open testing ground for experimenting with decision-making? They need the freedom to tell us no when we're interfering with their autonomous motivation. We need the courage to watch them make mistakes.

My son, after all this unschooling, is now considering getting his highschool diploma, and may graduate in a couple of months. This very short timeline has meant a lot of work and stress for him, and a correlational rise in my level of parenting fears. I find myself constantly checking in on him, begging him to stop playing video games, get working on whatever is most urgent for his courses, or just get some exercise and eat a proper meal. He is learning to deflect my concerns with less bitterness than he once did, and I am learning to keep my mouth closed more often. I find cooking him a healthy meal is a better use of my energy than standing in his door lecturing him about time management.

Respecting our children's interests, decisions, and independence means that they don't want to be compliant when we ask them to. It's hard for us as parents, but in the end it gives them the experience and confidence to succeed. Our kids' defiance is an essential part of the desired outcome, whether we like it or not.

It is not lost on me that parents of unschoolers are by default defying the current school system, and it's not likely that many of us have relinquished control to our children without a struggle. After all, our children began life nearly helpless in our arms, but the measure of our success as parents will be when they overthrow us, making their world far better than we imagined. So keep going, brave parents - the terrifying struggle to empower our children is worth it.