Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Interview with Olivia (and some other home learning musings)

This blog began as an un-schooling and natural parenting blog. I wanted to document our journey, and be an encouragement and possibly an inspiration to other home learning parents. Home learning is a HUGE undertaking. I underestimated the level of time and commitment. I also underestimated how many of my own issues would be triggered: my competitive nature, my anxiety, and my insecurities.

As Olivia begins grade 11, I took time to reflect and collected some of my thoughts here.

A (not so) quick summary of our fun with home learning and learning differences

I have always thought of my daughter as gifted because of her many talents. Even as a very young one she was able to draw amazingly well, to dance remarkably and passionately, her empathy and compassion for people was off the charts. She's a natural musician- playing violin by ear, and singing as it turns out. These were her inborn interests- her natural leanings. She was confident and fearless!

When my daughter was 10, she was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia; basically reading, writing, and math learning disorders. Comparatively speaking, 10 years old is considered pretty late to get this kind of information.

We had been approaching "schooling" from a natural and trusting perspective. I believed (and still do) that people are learning beings, regardless of age we are always learning. I believed the academic tasks we associate with school learning, the reading, writing, and math, were things that could be learned without a curriculum- lead by passion, interest, and necessity.

Moving forward with this new diagnosis, we learned that the recommended interventions were largely unavailable in our small community. I wondered: Have we failed her by not forcing a curriculum or doing a more traditional method of schooling? What would we do now? For a time I felt very lost, insecure, and at odds with myself and my choices. My competitive nature had me comparing my daughter with others her age, even though this conflicted with my core beliefs about natural learning. She too, would compare herself to her peers, finding her deficits and feeling negatively about her differences.

What I had to understand is that my daughter's brain is wired differently. This was not my fault, and all the un-schooling philosophy in the world had not "caused" her challenges.

Olivia adds, "Different has a stigma of always being a bad thing, when it doesn't have to be. I knew I was different and I always looked at it as a bad thing. It's only been for a few years that I haven't felt that way. But it feels better now to see it as a good thing. From a psychology standpoint, when you are younger, you always feel more connected to people but when you're older there's a separation from everything else and you start to see yourself as your own person. Separate from others, separate from your parents, separate from your friends or peers, but when you're young there isn't a difference between you and the people around you. There isn't that separation. Now that I'm older, there is a separation and I can see that I am my own person and I can realize that I am not so-and-so and I am my own being. I am me. Reading about other people with dyslexia and some of the amazing things they were able to do, helped to take away the stigma of it being bad and it put a lighter spin on it. It didn't have to be a weakness, it could also be a strength in some ways."

The school encouraged us to continue on as we always had, and not to push her academically but to support her in her strengths.

Olivia says "because you did this, it helped me to see dyslexia as a strength."

She taught herself to read shortly after diagnosis. Many of the things we did to support her had nothing directly to do with reading, writing, or math. Horse back riding, art and pottery, and dance. We found tutors who were patient and kind. They would allow her to take her time and make mistakes. The human connection between them seemed to be the most important part. One tutor began to work with her natural creative inclinations and inspired her to start writing. Olivia's love of telling stories motivated her to want to create stories to share with others and she completed her first novel!

She says "I always wondered about the writers of stories, what gave them drive to write this? What inspired this? What made them want to create this? I wondered if I could write a story. Would people would want to read it? And if they would wonder who wrote it, and what made me want to write. More than that, I wanted to prove that I could do it."

Which brings us to now... grade 11

Olivia has only been reading for 6 years. Think about that for a minute. In 6 years she caught up to her grade level. She is the expert on her experience so I asked her some questions:
How is it that you are "caught up" to grade level in only 6 years?

"It was motivation and a lot of hard work. I think it was my love of stories and wanting to share those stories with other people that gave me the drive to learn and keep working on it even though it was challenging."


What would you say to other home learning parents whose children have learning differences?


"Keep encouraging your kids to do what they're good at and do the things that they love."


How will that help them to get better at the things they are struggling with?


"For example, if they have dyslexia, if they are able to see that dyslexia also comes with a lot of good things, not just the challenges it makes it a lot easier to cope."


What would you say to parents that are worried that children won't learn what they need to know?


"Kids like to ask questions and find the answers. Wanting to find the answers becomes the motivation. It's kind of a domino effect. It just kinda happens. It depends what kind of learner kids are too, are they someone who learns best by listening or are they maybe more visual or hands on? It depends on the person. Explore how your kid learns best, what is their preferred way of learning?"


What inspires you? What's next?


"That's a big question... there's so much. Last year I got so much feedback from my classmates about my novel. Some wanted to know more about certain characters and others wanted to know about my creative process and what points I wanted to stand out, such as the morals of the story. I was writing it in the same few years that I was realizing that dyslexia wasn't a bad thing. All the characters were very different, but they were all so wonderful in their own ways. It was really inspiring!

I'm working on a new novel and I'm excited to see what kind of feedback I get from it because it's very different from things I've previously written."

If any of this post resonates with you because you are a home learner, or a parent of a child who learns differently, or maybe just someone feeling a little lost. (September is notorious for making me feel like I'm bobbing around in vast, sometimes stormy ocean.)
The following is my heartfelt unsolicited advice:

1. Breathe. Really take time everyday to breathe. It might mean taking a walk, sitting outside, or hiding in the bathroom. (I know how it is, sometimes that's our best option!) But breathe.

2. Decide what is REALLY important to you when it comes to your family's learning, because you are the parent and you get to do that! Is it A's in every subject? Is it enjoying your time together, even the learning time? What kind of qualities do you want them to have as adults? Think beyond curriculum, what skills/qualities do you want to nurture in them? Do you want them to be kind, considerate, confident? Do you want them to understand what their strengths are and how to chase the things they feel passionate about?

3. Realize that a stressed out brain doesn't learn. This is science. If your child's brain is flooded with stress hormones for whatever reason, (they are struggling with the subject, they're uninterested, they want to run, they're hungry or tired...) the learning simply won't happen. It can't, the stressed out brain only cares about survival. I would extend this to include that a stressed out brain doesn't teach very well either. When my brain is stressed or anxious, I'm a mess. I'm in a hurry. I can be very unreasonable. Nothing I do from that place is going to support learning, except my walking away to calm down. Learn to recognize when stress is at play so you can take care of yourself and your little one - do something different!

4. Fun and engagement is when learning happens, so figure out how to make it fun. If that means talking to the teacher and trying to make adjustments to the plan, then do it! If that means scrapping the plan and building your own based on your child's needs, then do that! (Isn't that at least part of the reason we choose home learning in the first place? We want the best fit for our kids?)

5. Take your time because you actually have a lot of it. The time period between kindergarten and graduation is 13+ years. That's a ton of opportunity to enjoy being with your little one. The learning will happen, I promise. It can't not happen, unless you are all swimming in stress 24/7, see no 3.

*As a side note, my son also taught himself to read at 10 years old (no dyslexia, just his time to learn it). He too is reading at his grade level now. He just started grade 7. I never wasted spent my time forcing him to learn what sounds each letter makes, but he learned it because it became important and relevant to him. When he was in the early grades we spent time learning about things he was interested in, in ways that worked for him. He'll be doing the FSA testing this year to see how he compares to others in his grade, I'll let you know how it goes... I know I'm curious.

6. You got this. You grew and birthed this little being into existence. Arguably, you love them more than anyone. So listen to that mama gut. You got this.

Click here for some of our fave resources from earlier years :)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Is Laundry Art?


"Folding laundry is my outlet."

This is a quote from a recent conversation with a family member. This same family member has been known to produce some beautiful woodwork. In the context of this statement, it seemed that this person would rather fold laundry and do dishes than identify as an artist.

This begs the question, can folding laundry and doing dishes be forms of creative (and healing) expression?

I don't have a quick answer. All I know is it made me laugh when this thought was brought forward and I deemed it worthy of writing about.

I self-identify as an artist. I pot, I sculpt, I paint and write. I reflect and intuit what I can from my work. I FEEL as I am creating and I get feedback from the work that creates more feeling. Noticing, being present and aware. This is the work of creation as a part of healing. It is purposeful. It is meditative. It is digging deeply.

When I am working creatively I have a process. Firstly, creating a sacred space for myself. This involves, lighting, music or silence, temperature, time and space. Sometimes, I consciously bring an issue with me because I know what it is I am grappling with. At other times, I only know I am restless, uneasy, anxious, angry, upset, or conversely ecstatic and joyous! But always the intention is to express, listen, honor, and heal or move forward.

As I work, I get into a zone. Thoughts and feelings flow, and if it is a particularly good day I can hold awareness for my emotions and myself. I can honor without judgement. I can observe, hold space for, and release or move forward. It is a circular process. Often the work becomes symbolic, an octopus searching for home and self; a mermaid reaching for the surface; a gnarly tree with roots splitting off in two or three distinct directions. Using colors, shapes and symbols; rolling, bending, and molding clay... this is my healing work.

So can folding laundry be one's creative outlet?

You tell me.
For me, folding laundry is the last thing on my priority list. And I do mean last. It stacks up in baskets and piles. When I finally do get to it, I may put on music, open the curtains, and try to be joyful while doing it. I may consciously cultivate gratitude that we have clean clothes. OR I may just toss each persons stuff into baskets and leave it in their room! It could go either way really!? Perhaps, this is my deeply symbolic expression of disliking chores. OR maybe folding laundry, for me is not an artistic expression. I've practiced mindfulness, and I'm sure there are people out there who would argue that folding laundry is a beautiful and meditative activity. I can hear them now:

BE the laundry.
BE in the moment with the laundry.
BE present with the laundry.
BE present with your feelings while folding the laundry....

... now I'm smiling because my inner voice says "ditch the laundry, go do something fun."
Further evidence to my theory that I am a 36 year old child. I am a giant child. I am not in denial about my feelings about chores, or who I am. When I hear people say things like "I love folding laundry!" my inner child is horrified. It screams "liar!" and my inner voice wants to ask them what their 9 year old self would say to them if they heard them say "I love folding the laundry!".

This is where my work comes in. I am blessed to be working mostly with youths. They don't tend to be full of denial or weighted with a sense of responsibility. They tend to be present and spontaneous. Their creative spirit hopefully has not yet been been squelched (by the demands of laundry); but even if it has or they are self conscious, they tend to get into the swing of things before long. Creating, expressing, honoring, and healing.

At other times, I get to work with adults, or the parents of the kids I'm working with. It is brilliant to see their process.
Sometimes, the adult begins with doodling, other times they just observe their child, not yet ready to participate themselves. Sometimes, I give them a lump of clay and invite them to try the wheel, or to sculpt something. Sometimes, I suggest a topic and other times I just wait to see what unfolds.
Sometimes, the nervousness or anxiety is palpable, after all art is universal.

It requires us to take hold of some part of our inner self and put it "out there." "Out there" where we can be witnessed, honored, or even judged. This can create in us feelings of vulnerability. We can feel exposed, or even triggered. This feels risky, uncomfortable.

I believe is where "folding laundry is my outlet" comes in. It's much safer. Much more acceptable. Practical. Comfortable. Useful. Quite literally, it is the preparation and care for an item that hides our "unmentionables".

If ART is what puts us "out there" for all the world to see; then I would venture to say doing laundry is the opposite. It's literally, processing the items used to hide ourselves or used to present ourselves as we wish the world to see us; and perhaps, as we wish to see ourselves.

On this matter then, of whether laundry can be an artistic and healing outlet, I guess MY answer is no. I would beg to wonder what a person is afraid of if they are relying on a chore to be their outlet. I would invite a person to try even small forms of artistic expression; to take time to remember what activities really fired them up in their youth. Did they play an instrument? enjoy acting? sewing? woodworking? finger painting? collecting items from nature to create with? beading? weaving? collaging? photography? storytelling? I would invite them to do that activity with wonder, openness, curiosity. Observe what happens inside. Ask their 9 year old self how they feel about it, and then really listen to the answer.

But this is my truth, and I am an artist, so what do I know?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Is it REALLY Anxiety?

Anxiety defined:

Feelings of worry, nervousness, unease, agitation, or apprehension; in some cases these feelings are persistent and severe, possibly leading to compulsions, phobias, or panic attacks.


Could you be an Empath?

Empath traits:

-                       ~ You have the gifted ability to intuit the feelings of others; at times this ability goes beyond a mere understanding of another’s emotions, but extends to actually feeling their physical or emotional discomfort.

       ~  People often feel comfortable opening up to you, sharing their stories and struggles.
-          ~ You avoid conflict, possibly due to its intensity for you as you are able to feel the upset feelings of the other person as well as your own emotions.

-          ~ Sensory issues. Sounds, smells, lights, and other sensations can be overwhelming.

-          ~ Being in crowded environments may leave you feeling drained.

-          ~ You cry or feel overwhelmed with emotion from dramatic entertainment.

-          ~ You are spiritual.

-          ~ Others may label you as “too sensitive”, shy, moody, or introverted.

-          ~ You may wonder “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel so broken?”

Essential Self-care for Empaths:

-          ~ Avoid overly emotional entertainment; this includes the news.

-          ~ Seek out time in nature; water, plants, and wildlife are balancing and good for us.

-          ~ Limit screen usage.

-          ~ Make sure you get enough time alone.

-          ~ Learn to filter people’s energy and protect yourself. Ask “is this mine?” when experiencing overwhelming emotion.

-          ~ Avoid crowded areas when possible, or limit your time there ensuring to protect your own space and energy.

-          ~ Learn about managing boundaries.

-          ~ Have at least one uncluttered area of the house to spend time in.

-          ~ Exercise regularly.

-          ~ Get enough sleep.

-          ~ Eat enough healthy unprocessed food.

-          ~ Learn and practice mindfulness.

-          ~ Find a creative outlet. Journaling, drawing, sculpting, acting, singing…

-          ~ Spend time with family and friends that build you up and appreciate your gifts.

-          ~ Find ways to honor your gift daily!

Identifying as an Empath is identifying a Gift!

-          You can help others heal.

-          You may find you are gifted in art, music, or culinary skills.

-          You may sense danger before others.

-          You will tend to be more understanding and compassionate which may lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships.

-          You feel comfortable alone.

-          You may be a very creative, out-of-the-box thinker.

-          You can sense when people are lying.


Sometimes the behaviors and experiences of an Empath can look a lot like Anxiety. And sometimes, an Empath can be experiencing the symptoms of Anxiety because they have not learned to manage their gift.

Empaths can exist in this world comfortably and quite successfully once they have learned some skills that honor their unique selves.

Some people seek support from others who identify as Empaths, or from various therapies. It is important to research your options and find out what works for you!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What is Expressive Arts Therapy Anyways?

Who am I, and why do I facilitate Expressive Arts Therapy?

I am a member of humanity. I am a woman. A mother, daughter, sister, auntie, cousin, and niece. I am a late-discovery adoptee. I am a spiritual and creative being. I am empathic and intuitive. I have come through many proverbial "fires" and like the Aspen tree, I continue to grow and thrive.
In many ways, expressive arts saved me. Writing, drawing, painting, acting, dancing, playing, sculpting and pottery provided a safe outlet to workout my "stuff".

As a counsellor, I strive to provide a sacred creative space to others. I believe our bodies are amazing at healing when we take the time to honor ourselves. Time to re-connect with our inner voice and our personal truths. As I stand as witness to the creation and release of the people I am privileged to work with, I feel amazement and gratitude. I provide empathic and gentle reflection.

This can be a powerful process for adults, to let-go of the idea of perfection. To let-go of the tendency to judge what they've produced as "good" or "bad". Participating in process-focused arts can support a person in re-connecting with their "child-self", the authentic being within.

For youths, this can be an ideal modality as it allows them to rise above the need for "words". Depending on the age of a young one, they may not have access to words or conscious awareness of what it is they are working through. Art provides a means of tuning into themselves, communicating, and working through life's challenges.

I have witnessed process focused art and narratives take clients (and myself) through many a transformative journey.

What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

 Playful          Spiritual
         Role Playing      Connection
Drawing                               Sculpting

                            Looking within

Sacred space           Process focused 

Flexible              Deep

Non-directive                 Love-oriented


What Expressive Arts Therapy is not...

High pressure
Behavior focused
Fear based
Looking outside

Would you like some examples of things I may do with a client, and some explanation as to why?

Art therapy works on a deep level, it taps into the roots of our being, sometimes allowing to come to the surface that which we have been hiding from, pushing away, denying, resisting, or self-condemning. Some of the activities I do with clients may not appear to have an obvious, or linear purpose, however there is a purpose behind the projects we create together. Sometimes, I am helping a client to express, release, or correct an issue. Other times, I may be trying to build awareness, or introduce a new thought pattern.

Here are some examples:

Creating feeling rocks: Clients paint rocks that represent a variety of emotions, and label the emotions as well. This is to increase a Clients awareness of the scope of emotions, to tap into what they mean to them, how feeling the emotion feels on a body-level, and to increase the vocabulary of feeling words. Additionally, these rocks provide a processing and communication tool that can be used in everyday life as well as in-session.

Mapping emotions: Clients create a full size poster or cutout of themselves and color in where they physically feel emotions in the body. For example, butterflies drawn in the stomach area for nervousness, or sparkles to represent the tingling legs of a fear response.
This supports Clients in building mind-body-spirit awareness.

Writing or co-writing a story: Often we have parts of ourselves we hide, deny, push away, or have even lost touch with. For example, perhaps we fear our anger, or the depth of our sadness. Writing can allow an outlet. What is anger put on paper? Who is anger? If anger was a character, what would he look like? What is his story? If you were to write a letter to Anger, what would it say?
My belief is that our feelings exist to communicate a message to us, what is that message? Sometimes writing can allow us to externalize the emotion in a way that feels safe, and we can "hear" it's message. We can begin to see, hear, and re-connect with lost parts of ourselves.
Rather than asking "why do I feel this way?" we can ask "what is the message my mind-body-spirit is trying to send me?"

Creating meditation: Meditation is a powerful tool in a world that bombards us with input. To meditate is to quiet our mind, it is to give it a reflective purpose, it is to observe our thought patterns and increase our personal awareness. Meditation is to create space- for calm, peace, reflection, intuition, emotion, and awareness. For anyone, this can feel like a huge and challenging concept! One of the ways I work with this is to guide Clients in creating their own mediation. An example might be writing a mediation where one imagines becoming an animal of their choosing... perhaps someone looking to connect with their inner power may choose a dragon, or someone looking to connect with peace and slow-down might choose a snail. Whatever animal speaks to them or represents the quality or state they are wishing to tap into. With repetition this can offer a thought pattern that calms and supports a person in creating more of what they want in their life and themselves.

Bubble or Scribble art: Creating art from blowing colored bubbles or scribbling are fantastic examples of process-focused art! Here a person is not concerned about the appearance of the final product. The process is messy, uncontrollable (although I've seen people try to control it...), and freeing. It is a metaphor for life.
Once finished, a client looks at the abstract images from many angles with a spirit of curiosity to pick out shapes, and see what images emerge. Intuitively naming the picture, and tapping into whatever work, healing, or awareness lay within.
This project allows an outlet for the unconscious material that we sometimes self-deny, or hide from. Also and outlet to let-go of perfection, judgement, and expectations.
The process of making the bubbles for the bubble art can also serve as a lesson in breathing.

Wheel work: Working with a lump of clay on a pottery wheel is a messy business; a balance of controlling and letting-go. Requiring physical strength and the ability to respond to feedback from the clay. Clients choose to work with the goal of playing and "masterpiece" (mess) making or with the goal of producing a piece they wish to continue working with to completion.
Clients learn to let-go, to breath, to ground, to focus, to channel their energies and frustration. They gain practice calming their mind, and adjusting the speed and power of their movements and responses. Once, "in the zone" it can be a form of meditation.

Who influences my work?

My work is heavily influenced by John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, and Brent Cameron whose trust in people's innate abilities to learn influenced their work. I have faith in people of all ages that we can heal and grow when we look inside and tap into our inner-voice as it speaks our personal truth. Deep down, we know what we need, we just need to be reminded to re-connect and trust it.

I approach my work with youths from a perspective of deep trust. I believe it is their natural inclination to learn what they live, and to imitate the behaviors that they are surrounded by and come to believe are acceptable; be that at home, school, or what they absorb from the media and surrounding culture.

I believe all people are trying their best to get what they need with varying skills at their disposal depending on their stage of development and experiences.

I strive to create a sacred, safe space where our youth can have their feelings witnessed, and needs heard and respected. As Horton (Horton Hears a Who) says: "A person's a person, no matter how small." When we honor the feelings of our youth they learn that they are loved, that their feelings are valid, and that they are "good enough" to be trusted as possessing self-knowledge. I have seen them rise to the occasion again and again. Perhaps, they can grow into adults who remain in-touch with their inner-child-self and do not need help re-connecting later on.

Some parents have wondered if this means I believe children don't need guidance? Or that parents are to bow to the needs and feelings of their children?

The short answer is: No.
But it is important to understand that I work from a paradigm that encourages a "shift" in thinking.
A shift from looking outside to looking within.
A shift from mis-trust and fear to that of deep trust and love.
A shift from focusing on behaviors and outcomes to focusing  on strengths, process and growth.