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Parenting A Free Child: An Unschooled Life Paperback – August 16, 2005
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Parenting A Free Child: An Unschooled Life presents a radical approach to parenting and education in a way that seems logical, obvious and natural. I use the word "radical" because Kream's approach is very different to mainstream parenting, even within the homeschooling community. It is built on an incredible and absolute trust in her two children and aims to give them control over all aspects of their life.
Growing numbers of Australian homeschoolers explore trust in learning and describe themselves as natural learners or unschoolers who forego curriculum, lesson plans and strict "outcomes". They have embraced being child led when it comes to learning- following and facilitating the child's interests, passions and having the confidence that they will learn what they need along the way.
Some of Kream's ideas would be familiar to natural learners. She avoids `teaching' and explains that "we want our children to own their learning and to learn for their own reasons, not to please a teacher." She also discusses the merits of this approach noting that "unschooled kids don't necessarily learn things at the same time as schooled kids (or schooled-at-home kids) child, but when they do learn something it is because it has meaning in their lives."
Her advice on starting to unschool is to "pretend that your children are on summer vacation. Find work that you love to do and let your kids help you if they want to. Look for the learning that they do, even in the places you wouldn't imagine it...enjoy each other, Get yourselves to new places, try new foods, spend a day in your pyjamas, watch movies, or pretend you're tourist and visit local attractions, offer lots of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes to your kids."
BEYOND EDUCATION AND INTO LIFE
What is particularly challenging is that Kream extends unschooling to everything. Although Kream does not use the term in the book, this is often described as "radical unschooling". She explains, "For our family , unschooling has little to do with education and much more to do with our relationship, the way adults view children, and the philosophies we choose to live by."
In fact, Kream explains her confusion in relation to parents who unschool in an education context and yet still maintain rules in other aspects of life. "If your children can learn to read without external pressure or timetables, can't they learn to do the dishes in the same way? Can you trust them to develop an understanding of mathematics but not trust them to understand and listen to their own bodies?"
Rue Kream and other radical unschoolers have no rules. They impose no control over their children whatsoever. They are child led in all aspects of the child's life, not just in education. As Kream notes, "our unschooling is our parenting is our life together."
Just sit with this for a moment. What is your internal voice telling you? "My kids would just watch TV all day"; "They would eat lollies, cake and chips if I did not lay down boundaries"; "children need some boundaries and rules for protection and to feel secure." But just maybe you are also asking yourself, "What if this could really work? What if we could get rid of rules and live in a caring, loving and engaging family?"
Parenting A Free Child is an insight into how one family is making this option work. The book's format is question and answer in a style that would be familiar to people who use egroups. Certainly Kream has been a prolific writer on several radical unschooling egroups which seems to have allowed her to grow accustomed to patiently explaining her approach to life.
The broad range of questions cover punishment, TV, food, `spoiling' children, brushing teeth, manners, rage and more. Kream uses each one as a springboard to explain her principles of complete trust and respect for her children.
Kream goes beyond abstract philosophical discussions and generously welcomes us into her family and their daily interactions. At the same time she spices her descriptions with thoughtful observations and analysis. Throughout her answers Kream quotes from unschooling parents as well as alternative parenting and homeschool advocates such as Alfie Kohn, John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Marshall Rosenburg and others.
Parenting A Free Childis independently published and has had close to no marketing, yet in an interview for this review Kream pointed out that the internet has allowed the book and the ideas it presents to reach a growing audience. Since publication Kream has been contacted by people in almost twenty countries, she explained that, "People who may never have thought of radical unschooling are much more likely to hear about it now. Those who come to it naturally are able to find like-minded people on email lists and message boards, which can be a huge help if there's little local support."
THE EVER CHALLENGING FOOD AND TV
Unregulated food and TV tend to be the most common fears of people who are considering this path. Like many unschoolers Kream is not about removing all boundaries then being hands off. While they are never authority figures, Kream and her partner are active facilitators, friends, fellow explorers and at times guides to their children. She explains in relation to TV, "My children do not watch TV in a vacuum, and they do not watch mindlessly. Jon and I are there with them, answering their questions, talking about things we think are interesting or important or irritating, and listening to their opinions on what we are seeing."
Kream also notes how much control and the creation of forbidden fruit distorts a childs' behaviour, so in the context of food she says, "My children have always made their own food choices and have well balanced, nutritious diets. They do not think of food as good or bad but as fuel for their bodies. They have never wanted any food badly enough to beg for it because they have never had to beg for any food. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. How many adults who were controlled as children wish they had that ability?"
In a house with no coercion there are no expectations on `chores' or jobs. Again many will be thinking, "my children would never help with anything." However Kream's approach of providing total choice and modeling helpful and caring behaviour gives the space for each member of the family to take initiative and support each other because they want to rather than because they have to or their pocket money depends on it.
Kream describes the implications of four autonomous and caring people living together, "when there's a lot of housework to be done, I sometimes make a general announcement, asking whether anyone has time and feels like doing some cleaning with me. Sometimes they say yes; sometimes they say no. They often make a general announcement asking whether someone has time and feels like playing a game. Sometimes I say yes; sometimes I say no. We are four people who love each other and who live in a house together, so we are inclined to want to help each other and do things for each other - but not always. Accepting `no' graciously goes a long way towards others accepting a `no' from you, and an even longer way towards developing a helpful and caring relationship."
A FREE CHILD... A PASSIONATE LIFE
Where as some parents will prioritise behavioural outcomes, others learning outcomes... Kream seems to prioritises living each moment joyously herself and with her family. I was struck by her ability to see the world as an exciting and amazing place. Fear plays no role in her world whatsoever.
On reading this book I realised how many parents, homeschoolers or otherwise, base their approach on fear. Fear of the child's behaviour being overly influenced by a commercialist world, fear of outside peers setting a bad example or even fear that our children will not be who we want or more commonly behave how we want. Controlling the environment and children, limiting things like TV, food, contact with friends or anything tend to flow naturally from that fear.
Kream's approach is radical because she lets the walls down and the world in. She puts her considerable energy in developing strong, free thinking children through leading by example and via a strong, trusting relationship with them. In this way she provides a loving, healthy, nurturing, interesting and safe environment from which she and her family can explore, engage with and live life with passionate curiousity.
Consistent to the end, Kream's attitude to life is not something imposed on her children but something she models as she notes "yes, we are parents, but we are also people living our one and only lives. Let your children see you live each day with happiness and hope."
For some this book will provide the strength, ideas and confidence to "go all the way" with unschooling and unregulate all aspects of their childrens' life... it was certainly a significant factor in my own families radical unschooling journey. For others, even those who send their children to school, it can only raise questions about discipline, control, trust and a joyous approach to life. Even if readers do not connect with Kream's unschooling life choices, I doubt that anyone who is open to new ideas could read this book without it having some impact on their parenting or life.