The Important Stuff that Adults and Children Learn Together
By Freya Dawson
I am absorbed in an
adventure. It is a wild, challenging, unruly adventure that takes place
every day in my own home. It is an adventure in learning.
When my family of four
embarked on our home education journey over ten years ago, my attention
was largely focused on the sort of learning that is emphasized by schools
and mainstream culture. I was curious and sometimes worried about how my
two boys were going to learn to read, write, calculate with numbers, and
absorb the vast canon of knowledge that is considered fundamental to the
task of “getting on in the world.” These matters still occupy some of our
time. We enjoy exploring new skills and learning facts about the world.
And yet, I think about this sort of learning less and less as time goes
The type of learning
that fascinates me now is the kind that I am engaged in at much the same
level as my children. We are learning alongside each other every day. And
what we are learning is far more important to us than the skills and facts
of the school model. The focus of our learning is our own wellbeing and
purpose in life. It is about discovering the joy of living a unique, precious
human life to the very fullest.
The Most Important
Thing That We are Learning About is Ourselves
We are exploring what
excites and delights us most of all:
What do we desire
more of in our lives?
What sparks our
curiosity and urge to explore?
What can we do today
that will give us enjoyment and satisfaction?
What comes easily
What are the gifts
that we bring to this life and to those around us?
At the moment, we all
have quite different interests and talents and this is exciting in itself.
We enjoy this diversity of experience and take pleasure in sharing our latest
passion with each other. I find that observing my children engage with the
things that they love is delightful for me. I don’t have to share their
enthusiasm for the latest video game or for re-enacting Star Wars in LEGO,
but I love hearing about it. Their enjoyment of self-discovery and self-expression
is infectious. My husband and I are both following our own passion for learning.
My children don’t want to hear the details of my spiritual journey or discuss
aeronautics with my husband but they get more excited, inquisitive, and
creative when they know that their parents are engaged in learning and self-discovery
All four of us are also
learning about what holds us back from our fullest self-expression: our
fears, self-doubts, and the things that we react to negatively. These come
up naturally as we move towards our desires and expand into new challenges
and learning. I am learning to notice my fears, doubts, and reactions but
not get captured by them. Like most adults, I carry limiting beliefs that
shape my self-image and my worldview. Often, these beliefs are unconscious
to some degree. When I choose to expand, learn, and express myself more
fully, these old beliefs are brought to the surface, usually with a rush
of negative emotion. I can be excited and confident about a new project
one day and then plagued by doubts the next. I am learning to take these
doubts as a good sign. It’s a sign that I am moving beyond my comfort zone
into new and exciting expansion. It’s not a sign to pull back or stop but
rather a sign that it is time to change my mindset.
My children are not
as burdened as I am by limiting beliefs, but they still have their worries.
I practice listening to my children express their fears and doubts without
reacting to them. I try not to give advice nor to judge. When I hold the
space for my children to feel their feelings, they usually resolve naturally.
They have a good cry or feel their fear and then find their own solutions
to their problems. And sometimes they still get stuck struggling with beliefs.
Finding ways for all of us to unlearn our fears and limiting beliefs
is essential to our wellbeing. This is a challenge that we are embracing
as a family. I share with my children how I go about questioning and unlearning
my own fears and self-doubts. We support each other through listening and
sharing new perspectives. This process of unlearning has become an essential
aspect of our journey together.
We have chosen to create
a home environment and community for ourselves in which we emphasize and
explore a positive worldview. We are learning that we can choose and shape
our own reality. It’s great to notice that there is help and support available
when we need it and that it can come in diverse forms and from far afield.
How amazing is this ever-changing world in which it is possible to connect
with people and information from anywhere on the planet while we sit in
our home in Australia? We find people who fill the gaps in our skills and
knowledge, and share and receive support and information with us. We enjoy
supporting and helping others and building a deep trust in our connection
and interdependence with our world. This so much more fun than concentrating
on competition and scarcity! We are learning to focus on the abundance of
resources around us and to appreciate this fully.
We know the joy in connecting
with each other through play, shared projects, adventure and rest. We love
to chill out and feel close, even when we may be focused on our own interests.
We are also learning more about the joy to be found in spending time alone
and getting to know ourselves better. Independence is such a wonderful thing
when it is allowed to develop and blossom in its own way and in its own
time. I don’t believe in shoving children out of the nest or pushing them
to be more independent than they wish. I am observing a natural desire for
independent self-expression that arises from within and follows a unique
path for each of us. The more I let go of beliefs about how things “should”
be, the more we can each find a balance between connection and independence
that suits us well in each moment. And it is all very fluid.
There is great joy and
satisfaction to be experienced with mastery of a new skill or knowledge
base. When we are excited about something and motivated by our own desires,
we can embrace the need for new learning, practice, and repetition. Eventually,
we can take things to a new level where learning, practice, and repetition
become less important. Once mastery is achieved, things flow much more effortlessly
and there is room for creativity and self-expression to flourish.
Reaching a level of
mastery in something is its own reward. It is not about impressing others
or ticking off a list of achievements. The feelings of confidence, satisfaction,
and living with purpose form a base from which new expansion and new creative
ideas can bloom. These wonderful benefits can be enjoyed just as well from
the mastery of a challenging video game, the completion of a writing project,
or a detailed understanding of dinosaurs. The skill or topic isn’t the key;
it’s more about reaching a certain state of being and then continuing to
grow from there.
There is a lot to be
learned in the process of achieving mastery. In fact, the process is crucial.
There will always be setbacks, frustrations, and possibly some tedium as
we practice, repeat, and make mistakes. There will inevitably be times when
we take some turns that do not bring us closer to our goal. We are learning
to give these feelings and setbacks some space. I have learned so much from
watching my children express their frustration fully, allow the feelings
to pass, and then return to a natural equilibrium. They then return to their
practice and tackle the challenge again. They don’t get bogged down or give
up easily. They might take a break for a while, but they eventually follow
through on pursuing what they really desire to learn and master.
Creative Problem Solving
We have learned as a
family that there is a solution to every problem that everyone can be happy
with or at least accept. We don’t see conflict in terms of winner and losers.
I don’t “pick my battles” with my children and we don’t engage in a contest
of wills. In a family of very strong-willed people, this would be highly
stressful and inflammatory.
Creative problem solving
is fundamentally about the process. It is a process which we are continually
adapting and refining as we develop our trust and experience. The key elements
of the process are:
- Everyone that is affected by the problem is involved in finding
- Everybody is treated with respect and listened to.
- Nobody gets priority or special treatment.
- No threats, manipulation, punishment of bribery are used.
- We make requests of each other rather than demands.
- We try to be as flexible in our thinking as we can and let intuition
guide us to the best solutions.
We are all learning
so much about honest communication, open-mindedness, and trust. I have learned
a lot about being true to myself in situations of conflict and not giving
in to others for the sake of a temporary peace. This sort of problem solving
requires assertiveness as well as a willingness to express my feelings and
make myself vulnerable. We have found that the more we use this process
to find solutions to family problems, the fewer problems we have.
Power, Authority, and
Something that our children
are teaching my partner and I is the value in being true to yourself. Each
of our sons has always been strongly guided by his own inner compass. They
know what they want and what they don’t want and do not hesitate to express
their preferences. They are not worried about peer pressure, conforming
to outside standards, or what other people think of them. This gives them
confidence to stand in their own inner authority. This is something that
I gave away to my own parents at an early age and have spent years working
It might frighten some
parents to have children who are willing to stand in their own inner authority.
It certainly tests our problem solving skills at times. And yet, I have
observed that as our children grow into their inner authority. they have
more respect for the inner authority and free will of others. Nobody feels
the need to exert power over another member of the family, or even believes
that this is possible in the longer term. I might want to get my own way
sometimes but I know that if I tried to exert power or force over my child
it would ultimately fail and damage our relationship in a fundamental way.
Instead of rules, we
make agreements with each other about issues that concern us and we honor
those agreements without the need for parental enforcement. We also know
that our agreements are flexible. It is always OK to change your mind about
something that is really important to you. When circumstances or desires
change, we renegotiate our agreements or find new solutions.
We discuss as a family
the importance of the legal system that provides the context for our lives
and how the rules of the outside world intersect with our personal free
will. Questions about the reasons behind certain laws, the reasons why people
choose to comply with or break the law, and the whole system of enforcement
and punishment provide endless topics for exploration and learning.
The Subjectivity of
Beliefs and Knowledge
We are all learning
that it is possible to question anything and to see it from a new
perspective. This is particularly helpful in relation to thoughts or beliefs
that bring stress and conflict into our lives. I share with my family my
own process for questioning my stressful beliefs. I ask myself questions
- Can I be certain that this is true?
- How does that belief sit with my own inner compass?
- How does that belief make me feel?
- Do I want to keep that belief in my life?
Through this practice
of self-inquiry I am learning greater open-mindedness. My children are often
able to help me see new perspectives on issues that are bringing stress
into my life. Their minds are much freer from learned and limiting beliefs
as they have never been to school or church. They have, of course, taken
on some beliefs and concepts from popular culture and the environment outside
our home, but they are encouraged to question what they see and hear if
it doesn’t sit well with them.
We also like to observe
the way information and knowledge are constantly changing in our society.
Sure, certain facts will remain useful and unchallenged for a very long
time, but developments in science, mathematics, health, and spirituality
are throwing much of the modern cannon of knowledge open to question. How
exciting it is to live in a time when reality is understood to be subjective
and malleable! How wonderful to let our curiosity and desire to learn have
free rein in any and all directions that it may take us.
This is an educational
framework in which unlearning is at least as important as learning.
It is one in which adults and children relate as friends, partners, co-facilitators,
and co-creators rather than in a fixed role as teacher and student. The
quality of questions asked is just as important as the accuracy of answers
given. We value a flexible mindset as well as the acquisition of knowledge
and skills. We aim to support each other’s wellbeing and individual goals
while still living harmoniously as a family. This sort of deep learning
requires a willingness to step outside the mainstream system and to follow
our own ideals. It takes trust and courage and is often a whole lot of fun.
Freya Dawson is the mother of two boys.
She speaks to other parents, not as an expert, but as someone who has learned
through her own experience about the challenges and joys of raising children.
Before she had children, Freya spent fifteen years as a university lecturer
in Law. Her life was turned upside down when she faced the intense challenges
of raising two highly spirited children. The intense emotions that engulfed
her during those years turned out to be a wonderful gift. She found a willingness
to explore her own inner world and applied her skills in research to finding
a peaceful way to live with her children. In the last ten years, she has
developed a deep and trusting relationship with her children who are now
fifteen and eleven years old and are both home educated. She has developed
an approach to communication and problem solving that make conventional
parenting tools such as punishments and rewards completely unnecessary.
She has a down-to-earth and practical approach to her relationships while
also maintaining a deeply spiritual perspective. She has recently published
her first book Joyful Parenting: The five skills to take your family from
Conflict to Connection, available on
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