Friday, March 25, 2016

Enter Religion

Let me begin this post by saying that if you're easily offended by differing opinions on religion you may wish to stop now and turn back...

While I was raised in a Christian family, my views have evolved as I've grown mentally and spiritually. My children range from believers to atheists and I'm somewhere in between. 

I lean more toward believing in science and science tells us we're made of energy and that we are conscious beings. 

I believe the essence of that energy to be pure love. I also believe in a collective Universal consciousness which I suppose could be translated into the divine Creator of all things. So by that rationale I suppose it would be accurate to say that we are the Creator and that as individuals we are also the sons of God/Creator/Universe you get the idea... We're going down the rabbit hole a little I know but stay with me. I absolutely promote unconditional love between all life forms. I believe that the energy of living things never dies, only changes form. I believe we've had throughout history some enlightened masters who were aware of these things (Jesus and Buddha for example.) I believe there are Universal laws that may have, over the years been twisted into various religious teachings. For example intention and gratitude are sometimes viewed as prayer and giving thanks to God. And that's fine... until we start harming our children by instilling fear into them, shaming them for just being human, dividing them into imaginary groups, pitting them against one another and fostering hate and violence all in the name of religion. Then no, at that point I have to go with organized religion was created as a means to control the population and is a great source of pain and suffering for humanity. It's not so much the salvation we can sometimes be sold on in the shiny pamphlets. Which brings me to this...

Sitting around the lunch table a few days ago, I asked the children and their friends which they thought came first, consciousness or matter. The conversation soon took a theological turn at which point Tristan asked how some people could be so gullible as to become religiously indoctrinated. 

I explained to him that such beliefs are passed down through many generations as absolute truth. Most "God fearing" Christians would never question the authority of their parents, teachers or church... precisely the purpose of the whole thing. He was beginning to see where I was coming from.

We respectfully discussed each child's take on religion and the early influences that shaped those beliefs. Tristan expressed gratitude to me for giving him the freedom to develop his own beliefs and Miss Evan threw in that she always thought her Catholic school was simply giving her the facts so she's not entirely sure what to make of it all. She never thought to question it (the main reason we decided to leave the school system, she was so obedient it was affecting her ability to think for herself.) Their older brother, as far as I know, remains a believer largely due to a strong Catholic influence from his father's side. Evan's friend, bless her little cotton socks, is pretty much up for anything conversationally so the subject held her interest well enough. 

As we chatted, I recalled the movie Zeitgeist containing some interesting history on the subject so we conjured that up and took it all in together. Ooh's and ahh's occurred throughout and we even went on to watch part of the sequel. (Well, until uncontrollable laughter broke out at Tristan's impersonation of Jiddu Krishnamurti!)

Aside from learning that we've been deceived when it comes to so many things, the point of all this is once again, freedom... freedom for kids to research, to learn and to form one's own opinions. It's huge, I mean who are we to impose our own beliefs on our children? It's difficult to avoid a certain amount of collectivism in society but I think being more aware of all the ways we unwittingly enslave our offspring is the first step toward change. 

My three children, each with their own twist on our origins and the meaning of life would never blindly accept my version of things just because I am their parent and I couldn't be happier about that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Place For Formal Instruction

Whenever I'm asked when and how we incorporate formal instruction into life learning, I always say "When it flows... and however it fits." It has to fit. Here's a perfect example of how this whole life learning thing works and where formal instruction fits in. 

Sitting around a few nights ago in our pj's, having a chat about where we would like to travel to next, the subject of latitude and longitude came up. Seems we all had something in common, none of us could define them. For them it was because they've never been exposed to the concept and for me it was a far too common case of simply having forgotten the fifth grade lesson I endured on the subject at a time when it meant absolutely nothing to me. I retained the information being taught only long enough to pass a standardized test. Of course I've long since forgotten, until now. 

It was with sheer enthusiasm that we all dove in and participated in this very interesting geography lesson. Miss Evan ran for her tiny but useful globe and Mister Twister hurried off to fetch the worksheets I printed to guide us.

Together we read the definitions and proceeded to work through the attached problems to ensure full understanding of how to calculate latitude and longitude, how to estimate distance between locations on a map using the 111km rule and how to read and determine coordinates. I must say, it was hard to believe I ever passed any test on this subject. I had very little recollection of it and found myself a bit flustered; Tristan had to clarify the proper way to calculate for me. Initially I had the entire length of South America being 600 km! 

Good thing he has great common sense/reasoning skills. He was able to notice something was off immediately with my calculation. I love the way he presented it to me too... he didn't simply blurt out what I was doing wrong. He asked me the distance between home and Toronto, then he asked me to point to both locations on the globe. Then he suggested I take another look at the size of South America and perhaps change my answer. Surprisingly, the kid might make a great teacher one day :)

Not only did we complete those but we continued on, taking turns giving the coordinates of places we've visited. At this point they were still pretty engaged so we started a game (100% initiated by the children) in which we spun the globe, randomly touched a spot, estimated the lat/long and then properly calculated to see how accurate our estimations were. 

I finally got it! (I ended up estimating my current position on the map within 2 degrees of my actual location.) Miss Evan (and the dog) lost interest at that point so I continued this game for a while with Tristan, each of us eagerly helping the other calculate our answers. We had a riot, it was a great way to spend an evening and although there was learning involved, even formal learning (anything involving a worksheet is formal as far as I'm concerned) we all had fun, no one complained or felt forced to participate against their will. Evan was allowed to drop out of the activity when she felt like leaving, no pressure to stay. 

The benefit to this is that she now has grasped the fundamentals of the subject in such a way that she'll be far more likely to retain it. We can continue building on her new knowledge as she shows interest. It has proven time and again to be a far more effective way of learning. 

This is just one example of the many opportunities for a little formal instruction. Usually, kids are none the wiser either. When recounting their evening to grandma the next day, I over heard them simply describing a lot of fun and games, not a word about "school work". Exactly how it should be :)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lifesaving 101

Here's a flashback to the time we learned CPR and First Aid with the Belize Red Cross at Fido's in San Pedro. 

Living on a remote island means basic first aid skills are a must. Our little island had a few doctors and a decent sized polyclinic with the capacity to perform routine medical tests and treat minor ailments however there were no emergency services on that island, no hospital and as far as I was concerned, no peace of mind. 

I stayed awake many a night wondering what would become of us should a medical emergency arise outside of the clinic hours. Sure, a neighbor would likely race off in their golf cart to go fetch Dr. Dan who would likely patch us up nicely or bring the appropriate medication and in a life threatening situation we could pay the $500 USD for B.E.R.T. (Belize Emergency Response Team) to fly us to Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City however even there, first world medical care is not really available. One has to travel to Guatemala or Mexico for that. So you see the importance of knowing how to respond to a choking emergency for example. It really could be the difference between life and death for one of us, a visiting tourist or a local neighbor. You never know, which is why the SP Red Cross felt it so important to equip residents of the island with this basic knowledge. We had NO disaster response team on the island either. In a place with frequent hurricanes and at least one earthquake while we lived there, I thought it was rather alarming. 

Needless to say, I was eager to sign up for this class and couldn't be happier with the decision. The instructors came over from the mainland for the day to provide this very valuable training. They were incredibly friendly, funny and suprisingly knowledgeable. I guess sometimes being in a less than 100% developed country tends to make me forget that intelligent life is often more abundant the further away from civilization you get. 

We learned a ton from this experience and most of all gained some peace of mind. I think we've all been sleeping a little better since and I highly recommend doing this as a family no matter where you live. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Surprising Ways That Children Learn

This post is in no way meant to be boastful or to convince you that one way is better than another. I'm simply having one of those moments that unschooling parents relish in. We are so often drilled and scolded about what our children are learning by well meaning friends and family that even the most confident of us will second guess our decision to forego a standard curriculum. It is okay to sport a huge shit eating grin when not only our intelligent decision making skills but our gut instincts about our own children are validated by some shocking revelation of their intelligence and character.

To you this may look like a simple board game but it was a huge moment of validation for me. 

Miss Evan was under the weather last week after returning from her recent trip to the Dominican so she invited a friend over for an easy night of chillin. (A formally schooled friend of the same age.)

We decided to bust out the Game of Life, and granted, this is one of our favorites but I had no idea just how much the kids are absorbing from a simple board game.

As we began to play, Evan had to explain the fundamentals of the game to her friend. This is completely understandable considering her friend isn't as familiar with it as we are. Fine. The game continued and something quickly became apparent. Her friend continued to ask for help but it clearly wasn't out of laziness or disinterest. She was making a genuine attempt to win but for the life of her (no pun intended) she couldn't read the instructions on each space or do the fairly simple math involved in "paydays" etc. 

Now Evan can be brutally honest at times so once my shock wore off I became concerned for a moment that she might say something insulting. Thank goodness, she did not, rather she continued to assist, sitting up to read the spaces, do the math and give her friend education, career, insurance and investment advice as we proceeded to finish out the game. 

As I sat in silence I was utterly amazed to hear my little "Squeaky" matter of factly spewing the benefits of insuring your home. (Well, because the $10,000 your insurance will cost you is way less than what you'll have to pay if you have a fire. Thank you for that insight.) 

Well big deal you might say and okay she didn't break into the tax advantages of a 401k but what she did display was critical thinking skills. I watched as she considered different options, checked out the board to determine different odds and calculated (whether by actual numbers or an estimation) to come up with the most sensible action. 

I guess what really made me take notice was the way her friend sat, completely blank, waiting to be told what to do. It was more that than the way she struggled with the reading and math. It was the fact that she lacked maybe the confidence or the motivation or the desire to try to figure it out. And bless her little cotton socks, I just love this kid. I am in no way happy to point out her shortcomings. Evan did very well academically in the French school she attended for four years so I'm not saying that continuing on that path would have caused her to have a worse outcome or to not be able to think but I am saying that even when we remove that element children can still learn and thrive.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kids Creating Change

Say what you will but I love the power of technology. I love how the internet can bring about change not only by uniting those with similar interests and causes but by shedding light on issues that have been in the dark for far too long.

This guy, for example... I love him and his message. We need education reform and we need it now! I would love for my kids to have the option to share a creative space in the world with other beings of all ages and cultures with whom they could learn from and with. A space void of clocks and measuring tools but rich in opportunities for engagement and experience.

I've often dreamed of starting my own "school" if you will and I could go on about my vision but I'll save that for another post. Enjoy this video :)