Sunday, 15 November 2015

Nature Will Provide

Today I had the pleasure of walking down the big hill at Learning in the Woods with Elizabeth Boyd, Registered Herbalist.  She has walked down this path every Wednesday for the past 2 months and as an herbalist, she is very familiar with all of the plants along the path and how they change as the seasons change.  Today she was so excited.  She spotted many first year Mellein plants, a biennial meaning that it takes 2 years to complete its botanical lifecycle.  She also said that it is new to our pathway and can be used to treat ailments in children such as ear infections.  By the time she finished her explanation, we had reached another new clump of plants which she said was called Motherswort, a plant used most often for anxious mothers.  Suddenly I became aware of the irony in our path.  I turned to Elizabeth and said, “Do you mean that the new plants that are growing on our path are reflective of the people using this path?”  Yes.  “Is that your belief system; that nature will provide the plants and herbs that are most needed by the people living in the space?”  Yes, it happens all the time.

That was kind of mind blowing to me.  These herbs were growing where mothers trudge down the pathway with their kids on their way down to base camp.  These herbs were emerging in this shared space in response to the energetic needs of the people using the path…that same day I learned that Elizabeth first studied as a chemical engineer before becoming a registered herbalist.  After reflecting on this, I think I have a better understanding of her perspective, knowing her science background and passion about herbalism. 

So, in a very basic sense, energetics is a way of restoring equilibrium in a system.  The energy you are looking at can be as vast as the energy flow of the cosmos or as miniscule as quantum physics.  Energy is always flowing.  My husband is a mechanical engineer and I have heard a few conversations about thermodynamics, but suddenly those (boring) conversations have new meaning for me!  Ecologist, Howard T. Odom, suggests that there is a hierarchy of energy forms which account for energy quality and the evolution of the universe.  He adds to the theory of thermodynamics to include this principle that;

"Flows of energy develop hierarchical webs in which inflowing energies interact and are transformed by work processes into energy forms of higher quality that feedback amplifier actions, helping to maximise the power of the system" — (Odum 1994, p. 251)

To bring this back to the pathway leading to basecamp at Learning in the Woods, Mothers and children arrive with their particular energy quality and our natural environment along the footpath responds to that energy quality.  At the very least it responds to offer a restoration of balance but it may be responding in a way that transforms too.  Mothers who are worried, if in tune with nature’s offering, can use Motherswort to restore balance in their hearts and minds, and let go of their worry and anxiety for their children.  In that work of rebalancing, they are potentially able to transform though to a higher energy quality…they have the potential to become a better parent, a better person? 

Wow.  Yes.  Yes again.  This is exactly what we are trying to do here.  Encouraging parents to let go of their worry, let go of their fear, trust and transform to be more self-aware in their parenting and interactions with others.  And here is our little footpath, responding to our families, giving them a natural remedy to aid in this transformation.  I guess “We LearnNaturally” is a good name on multiple levels.

The beauty of this line of thinking from Elizabeth Boyd, Registered Herbalist (and chemical engineer!) is that when you believe in energetics, and I mean in both a superficial and holistic sense, then it becomes easier to let go of the fear that grips you.  Because you know that the nature of things dictates that balance will be restored…and potentially even transformed into something greater than before. How reassuring…Nature will provide.  The universe will provide.  So go ahead and take a deep breath. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Living in our Calling: The Earlier the Better by Chelsea

This post was written by Chelsea Bohnert, the newest member of the We Learn Naturally family.  Chelsea will be a facilitator at The Barn School and future director of DiverseCity School in Central Hamilton (2020).  We welcome Chelsea with much love and enthusiasm!

Living in our Calling: The Earlier the Better

How many times growing up did you hear the ever common question, “What do YOU want to be when you grow up?” Countless, I’m sure. Coming from teachers, relatives, or peers with nothing but good intentions rooted in encouragement and of course a desire to motivate success.

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always have the most positive implications and that is certainly the case for this overused question. Here’s the thing. I actually loved being asked that question. In fact, I have probably asked and answered that question to myself, at least 1000 times! I’ve obsessed over that stupid question, and strived for the answer (and changed my answer) most of my young life. I’ve wanted to be….

Famous, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a dentist (and yes at some point for me each of these were actually true) but most of all, no matter what the career choice, I wanted to be successful! Successful… I desperately wanted to be successful, and while most would conclude that to be a good thing, the problem was in how I defined success. How do you define it?

Well, if we go back to the, oh-so familiar “what do you want to be…” question, it is obvious that many of us define success by what we are to “become” as adults. What career we have, who we marry, where we travel, what we own, and the list goes on…and on………and on. So much emphasis is placed on this supposed end result. That everything we do in our childhood, adolescence and young adulthood will culminate to the final moment when we ascertain “success”.

Some of us buy into this gimmick of success more than others, but to be honest the outcome is no better for the ones chasing the illusion than for those who don’t have any hope of achieving this externally measured “success”. It’s so sad really. That so many people will let the belief that success is measured this way prevent them from stepping into their true calling, whatever it may be. While others, like me, waste so much time trying to become successful that we too can miss out on what our calling is.

To me, true success is just that. Growing into our calling and living in that calling as it evolves and changes through life. There is no end. It cannot be attained simply by purchasing it or by earning it through a degree or a promotion. And while it may very well include the attainment of these things, we fulfill our calling when we find inner peace and are in love with how we are living each day as humans, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

I am so very grateful for the experiences in my life and the way they have shaped me. Today, I can finally say that I have stepped into my calling as a woman, mother, wife and teacher, and that I feel far greater success than I could have ever imagined. The success that I am feeling has nothing to do with money, what I own, where I travel, my physical appearance, or who I know and who knows me. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that I have finally stopped measuring success externally and recognize that everything I am meant to offer the world has been inside of me the whole time!

Isn’t this what we should be teaching little humans right from the get go? As they come to us for guidance and wisdom, shouldn’t we replace “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with, “WHO do you want to be RIGHT NOW?”  I believe it is our duty as parents, caregivers, and teachers, to empower children to believe in themselves and to step into their callings from as early on as possible.

Instead of telling kids what to think and learn or what they should work towards, we need to begin asking different questions. What makes you smile? Who do you look up to and why? What things would you change about our world if the choice was yours? What are you curious about? What do you really like about yourself? What things about yourself do you want to work on?

If young people are being regularly asked questions like these, success is inevitable--true success, not the illusionary type. 

Freedom to grow. Support to learn. Nurturance to become.

Doesn’t We Learn Naturally’s mission capture every last sentiment of my post and more? I feel honoured, blessed, and scream-from-a-mountain-top excited, to be welcomed by such an incredible organization and to become a part of The Barn School!  After years of searching, learning and growing personally, I am so ready to live in my calling. To foster connections and join young people on their journey of self-discovery so they too, can step into who they are called to be….the earlier the better!

Learn more about Chelsea's passions by checking out her website

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

freedom through self-awareness

Neem Karoli Baba: You must honor your personality in order to become free from it. 

A friend and parent at Learning in the Woods shared this with me today.  This fits so well with my life philosophy.  I think that when we deny who we are or reach too far outside of ourselves (trying to meet someone else’s expectations), we need to draw on energy to keep up that fa├žade.  When we are aware of who we are and what we can do, there is an acceptance that is freeing...and the knowledge of who we are and our abilities can be used strategically.
A person who is in complete connection with their abilities and interests is a powerful thing to witness.  It is Blue Jay fever right now at our house and my husband has been listening to baseball radio non-stop.  The other day a former player, Rance Mulliniks was a special guest on one show as we drove in the car.  He was so positive and enthusiastic in his commentary that it caught my attention.  I asked my husband about him and he explained.  Rance was not built like other baseball players; sort of scrawny looking and thick glasses.  While he never played a glory position on the Jays during his time with them, he was consistently strong in multiple aspects of the game.  My husband contends that the secret to his success was a passion for baseball, strong research skills, and his ability to apply his analysis and adjust his playing according to the research he had done.  Rance was aware of who he was and what he could offer.  Using that awareness to his advantage and he found a way to play to his strengths.  That gave him a long, joyful career in the sport he loved; even scoring him a position on the winning team when the Blue Jays won the series back to back in the early ‘90’s.  After retirement, this non-glory player was able to secure jobs as a commentator and consultant because he knew how to adjust his skill-set accordingly.  Plus fans love him.  In part, I think, because Rance scored every baseball fan's dream job.  If they can’t play baseball, they sure are happy to cheer on this guy who found a way to play  on the winning team even though he wasn't the natural athlete, at least in comparison to his teammates.   

Image result for famous chinese artI also have an example of complete disconnection.  I did my MBA at a school in Toronto and at that time, there was a large number of people in my class on student visas from China and I made friends with some. I was in awe of their efforts to hold everything together.  They were away from home, away from the support of family and friends, away from the familiarity of mainland Chinese culture, speaking and studying in a language that was challenging, at a university in a competitive program, often studying material that was not interesting to them or part of their natural skill set.  One friend I made was truly a poet at heart.  She tried to show me the beauty of Chinese art, folklore, and poetry at every study session.  (I was eager for distractions and procrastination myself I guess!)  Although there were many examples of disconnection and emotional hardship in my program, my friend was stretching so far outside of herself in every possible way, that she experienced a mental disconnect.  A month shy of finishing the program, when we were all feeling like the stress might break us, she started to say things that made us fear for her safety and the safety of others.  Eventually, she went into a hospital where she was given medication that she hated and made her feel strange (even more disconnected from herself?) Her story has a happy ending and as heartbreaking as it was to witness, her brave example taught me that we are all capable of such breaks if we reach too far outside of ourselves.  Given enough pressure and lack of support, we will all break.  None of us are immune. 

When things become stressful, and they inevitably will, a person stretching to be something too far outside of themselves won’t be able to bear the stress as well as a person operating within their scope.  A person who is connected to themselves is more aware of their personal boundaries and better able to find a path of success suited to their unique skill-set. 

The power dynamics in many of the institutions in our society are not conducive to promoting self-awareness and connection unfortunately.  I think many of us struggle to connect with the core of who we really are, making us vulnerable to symptoms of stress and disconnection such as illness, lashing out in anger, depression, and addictive behaviors.  (I believe that addiction is a symptom of disconnection.)  When we are faced with life’s traumas and difficulties and we do not have a strong community of family and friends to love us as we fall, we become depression and look to self-medicate our pain.  It’s a mammilian reaction to stress and lack of loving social bonds.  Treat the disconnection, and the need to self-medicate will be gone.  I also read a lot about ACE scores, and the data is clear, children who are supported with love and empathy through hardships grow up to lead significantly healthier and happier lives.  Interestingly, developing self-awareness can buffer negative effects too; both in childhood and adulthood.  Self-awareness can truly help bring you peace and set you free from anger, depression, and disease. 

So how do we promote connection and self-awareness?

  • We allow a wide range of feelings and emotions to be expressed in their entirety, without minimizing them or dismissing them.  I really despise the phrase “You’re Ok!  You’re fine!  Stop crying/stop feeling, you’re fine!”  It’s the most common disconnector adults push on children and it’s usually it's done because *parents* feel uncomfortable with the emotions their children are showing. 
  • We allow children time and opportunity to live in the moment and create their own experiences. 
  • We encourage them to follow their intuition and signals from their body when they are pushing themselves beyond their own boundaries. 
  • We help them develop their own solutions when the problems feel too big for them to navigate. 
  • We encourage children to connect to one another through play and community meetings. 
  • We stay away from grading and evaluation because that is a form of manipulation; creating a dynamic that places a child’s worth on someone else’s value system.  It encourages them to stretch outside of themselves to please the person in power and their reward is a small dose of fleeting self-esteem. 

Image result for freedom
When we aren’t aware of ourselves, we are more likely to blindly follow someone else’s agenda for our lives.  I don’t know what is scarier, being a prisoner in your own life or losing yourself in complete disconnection.  While we can perform as needed, freedom lies in embracing who we are. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Creative Leap

There are so many people who have an vision of what the perfect educational environment is.  I am part of a new Facebook group that aims to discuss alternatives to education in our area.  It’s a new group, so we are really just sharing our backgrounds and the type of education we wanted for our children.  As I read through the introductions, I found myself inspired, impressed, and amazed by these brilliant and motivated minds coming together! 

Image result for self doubtAnd then I felt pangs of self-doubt about We Learn Naturally.  Who am I to think I can do this?  I’ve got some great facilitators on board here, but what if I can’t give them what they need?  What if We Learn Naturally fails?  (Believe me, I am regularly reminded of all the ways it could fail!)  I am trying my best, and all of the facilitators and their families are giving a lot of themselves for this, but what if it isn’t enough?  What if it doesn’t meet expectations of the families?  What if We Learn Naturally isn’t what people are looking for?

Self-doubt and shame go hand in hand for me.  I find them crippling.  They knock me off and I shut down.  So for a day, I retreated into myself.  It’s the only way I know how to get grounded again. 

And in my retreat, knowing I was in a serious shame-spiral, I did a quick search of all things related to Brene Brown and I came across this podcast.  Take a moment and give it a listen.

Image result for creative
After retreating and this podcast, I found my footing again.  This is what I am trying to do.  I am trying to give kids an environment that allows them to express themselves as they need to.  I am trying to shield them from judgement because through their self-expression, they will find peace in themselves.  They don’t need to be famous or make a living through their means of self-expression, they just need to be given the space to do what they need to do.  I’m doing my best to lower the risk threshold so that they can follow their creativity and be more whole because of it.

Image result for pie math
This podcast also helped me to reflect back to the new Facebook group.  We all have different visions of the ideal education and different routes to reach those ideals.  We don’t need to be aligned.  We are each following our own creative path and if we can create the right community of openness, we can help each other.  We can expand this pie.

And I'm back.  Shame spiral and self-doubt are done.
Making the decision to start We Learn Naturally also involved a phone call to a friend who regularly makes the choice to embark on her own creative leaps into the air.  Sometimes she falls, which hurts, and sometimes she has this amazing jump and she lands beautifully.  And just like in the podcast, she said it's not actually about the landing, it's about the time you spend in the air...and my dear friend made it clear that for her, there was no choice but to make that creative jump.  She couldn't NOT do it. 
We Learn Naturally embodies all I have learned so far in life.  That's a pretty huge statement, no wonder I am scared. 
Image result for creative jumpBut right now I am so thankful to be making this creative leap.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Connections and Timeouts

My husband sent me a link today to an article that was talking about how Time-outs, as a discipline method, are overused, and not only ineffective but they also may cause more harm.  Unfortunately the article didn't go into much detail about why time-outs can cause more harm.  I am going to try to talk about that a bit here as it relates to parenting and education.

In teacher's college, we weren't really taught discipline methods, so in the classroom most people were using a combination of their personal style and whatever was the norm for that school.  People didn't often question school culture discipline tactics, it was just part of the system.  Perhaps that explains why there are 19 States in the US that still include corporal punishment as an acceptable means of discipline.  You get so entrenched in the system's norms, that you can't see when the ideas are no longer relevant or acceptable. 

So in my experience teaching young children, if you were at a "good" school you might use more rewards than punishments, but if you were teaching at a "bad" school, your principal might have the whole staff trained on methods of classroom discipline that were board approved and used shaming and consequence techniques.  Regardless of the type of public school you were at, giving time-outs was standard.  In fact, if you weren't giving time outs, your effectiveness as a teacher might be questioned; that's how prevalent time-outs were. 

When I first started teaching in Ontario public schools, I didn't have children yet.  In my first year teaching Kindergarten, I gave time outs sparingly, but I remember a mom called me once to find out why her child was put on time out.  I explained the situation, but even as I did, I didn't feel confident in my answer.  I loved her son and I knew that I had crushed his spirit.  I didn't like the time out culture I was a part of...but I didn't know any alternatives.

After my son was born, I found myself following my instincts as I learned how to care for him and nurture him.  As a new parent, I felt drawn to Attachment Parenting, Continuum Concept, Positive Parenting, and RIE.  Respecting my infant son as a full human being meant that we had a strong bond and by the time he was entering his toddler stage, I couldn't imagine putting him in time out.  I understood the power of responding with love and I was more aware of how shame is used to curb behavior with powerful psychological consequences.  Thankfully, being a mom absolutely made me a better teacher.

Returning to work after my maternity leave, I brought my parenting style to the classroom.  I loved those children and dug deeply to find patience and connections in an environment that regularly denied their needs.  (I feel like I am harnessing my inner John Taylor Gatto here!)  With my new confidence in parenting with love and connection, there was no doubt, I had the best class in the school.  But when I say that, I don't actually feel a sense of self-pride.  I feel proud of the kids because others could see how awesome they were but when I say that I had the best class in the school, I actually feel...ashamed?  Ashamed because I realize now that I probably always had the best class in the school...I just never had a clue that I needed to protect every kid in my care and hold space for them so that they could just do their thing and walk around being their regular awesome selves.  I needed to shield them, like a giant umbrella, so that their happy little flames didn't get snuffed out...and unfortunately, it took me several years to learn that. 

That little boy that I put on time out before having kids was a REALLY awesome kid and I loved him, but I sure wish I knew about positive parenting when he trusted in my care.  Because I know that hurt people hurt people and people become hurt by major events and a build up of minor events...a school career of crushing minor events is enough to silence a soul or dim a light, no matter how exuberant to start. 

Image result for positive parentingAs I have explored aware parenting/positive parenting/RIE I've become more aware of the importance of establishing and respecting boundaries, honouring feelings, the power of routines, and modelling behavior.  When our children are struggling with behavior, our adult role is to be the calm in our child's storm.  We don't have to solve problems for our children, in fact we shouldn't rob them of that experience.  Nor should we engage in the power struggle of trying to teach them "a lesson".  We just have to be a safe place for them to catch their breath, reassure them as they experience their feelings, and confidently stand by them as they navigate their mistakes.  I still have a lot of learning to do in this area but I'm confident that I'm on the right path. 

I often read about ACE Scores and Resiliency and Addictions.  For a long time my favourite show was A&E's Intervention.  I was so curious about how the addict's lives lead to a position where they would seek pain and felt compelled to feed their addiction and perpetuate their pain.  In my search to understand ACE scores, resiliency, and addiction, I started to come across articles like this one that talk about how the opposite of addiction is connection and it just makes so much sense to me.  According to this line of thinking, the best way to prevent and treat addiction is through connection; connection to our feelings and connection to our community.  Sometimes unfortunate or sad things happen to people but connected people, loved people, valued people, have had experience in dealing with those feelings before.  They know the value of working through the full spectrum of feelings, that reaching out to their community for support will make their journey more bearable, and that they deserve forgiveness, peace, and love.  Leaving a child in timeout does nothing to support a child through their emotions and experience.  Isolating them from those connections add new feelings of loneliness, confusion, or frustration to their already upset state.

Every time a child has a tantrum, tests a boundary, makes a mistake, or feels overwhelmed by life, we have an opportunity to guide them through their experience to a place of peace and calm.  What a wonderful gift to give another human being!  As trusted adults, we can help children to learn resiliency through our loving presence and empathetic connection.  That blows my mind!  What a magnificent power we have!

I think the hardest part of realizing that power is the self-awareness of realizing that despite our best intentions, we are often so flawed ourselves.  We have grown up in systems of cultures of the bad kids being sent to the office, left alone to cry, feeling worthless in our mistakes...we have such sadness to sort through ourselves if we want to guide our children to peace.  But what a gift for those brave enough to start to peel back the onion layers.

This is the ultimate image of peace and calm at our house; a sleeping 2 yr old with her favourite cat. :)

Thursday, 16 July 2015


Image result for label makerMy husband has the gift of being able to quickly and accurately see the essence of a person.  He is an engineer in his categorical thinking and that's true even when he deals with people.  It's especially helpful for him in his sales position.  Right away he understands a person's motivations and interests and then he can get right to the heart of their problem and needs.

I, too, can see how labels can be helpful.  If you share some common characteristics with others, you can self-identify with a group and find support.  Like I do with unschoolers and Attachment Parents and Vegetarians.  Also, services can be offered to a group of people for faster and for less money to groups with common characteristics.

Of course, labels have their drawbacks too.

A friend of mine recently made a comment that really stuck with me.  She was talking about her experience in being labelled by others.  She said, "I don't usually think about (my label).  I just walk around, living my life and in my daily life, (my label) doesn't define me."  I thought, how true!  Most of us fit into many labels but we don't make decisions about our lives based on whether or not our choices fit with the perceptions behind those labels.  We just make decisions based on who we are and what works for us. 

I think labels cause damage when the people being labelled have to fight for control over the perception of their label.  I am blessed with some really lovely people in my life, some of whom happen to be gay and lesbian.  Every once in a while, there will be a media spotlight on GLBT issues and watching some reactions from the public makes me think how hurtful this label can be when it's used by people to judge in ignorant or hateful ways.  The GLBT community has worked steadily to remove the stigma and hopefully one day it will be a non-issue for people, just a descriptor word instead of the heavy label it can still be today in Canada.

I think that labels can be most hurtful and harmful when the people being labelled are vulnerable and impressionable.  They are powerless to influence the perception of their label and may even be conditioned to believe they embody the negative perceptions of their label.  Some parents are wonderful advocates for their children who are labeled, changing society's perceptions and understandings.  Other parents fight the labelling process altogether, believing the downsides of the label are more harmful than the potential benefits.

Image result for adhdAs a public school teacher, I remember a strong mother who fought hard to protect her son from being labelled.  Her child was judged to be ADHD from the start of his school career.  By the time he reached me in his primary school years, there was a lot of pressure on his parents from staff and admin to get him tested, give him the official ADHD label, get him meds, and enroll him in special programming at school.  His mother FOUGHT the official labelling process, believing her son would be able to excel beyond our expectations, if he were given enough time to mature and the opportunity to learn how to manage himself.  I know that was a difficult decision for her and perhaps not the right decision for every family, but I sure learned a lot from her example.  That year, I trusted her, and she trusted him, and I had my first foray into true self-directed learning, unschooling style.  The results of his growth changed me.  He is an amazing kid, full of heart, ideas, and passion, but with a different set of parents, I wonder how things might have worked out for him?  His mom trusted the core of who he was more than she trusted the system he was in.  Would he have blossomed with the label following him everywhere and special programming that didn't understand his mom's larger vision of who he could become?  She was motivated by love and trust for him and she understood the power of a label.  In his situation, I think his mom made the right call.

Parenting is a challenge and no one understands this more than parents with children who are "labelled" at a young age.  A label on a child is essentially a label the parent carries too; for better or for worse.  So to all of the moms and dads of labelled children who have found We Learn Naturally, welcome.  We know you are here because you have a larger vision of who your child could be.  We are all bigger than our labels.  This organization was created with your kids in mind.