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Today I'm reviewing three women adventure memoirs. These books were not written by twenty-one year old AT thru-hikers, young women without the responsibility of home and family.

These are the stories of wives, mothers, and homemakers. Thirties-somethings and middle-aged women who have known adventures beyond the wanderings of the youth and have not let their attachment to home and hearth, nor their doubts about their physical abilities, stop their adventures and outdoor pursuits.

These books have come into my life at an important point in my own growth as I further discover the adventurer in me.

petite cascapedia valley snow

Like I said in my last post, having mined my domesticity and explored motherhood and womanhood in that domain, I'm ready to further explore (I think!) the other me.

I know this exploration will challenge and stretch me in ways I can't anticipate, and so the comfort of other women in the journey with me is vastly appreciated.

Small Feet, Big Land by Erin McKittrick

Erin McKittrick's book A Long Trek Home was one of the first woman backpacking adventurer books I read. It was actually a family read aloud and Damien read it to all of us.

Up until that point I'd read women homesteader books, women in the mission field books, women in Africa memoirs - all with elements of adventure included. But A Long Trek Home was the first real woman adventurer/trekker book that came into my life.

That first book of Erin's is about a year long human powered journey she and her husband Hig took from Seattle to Alaska. That was some serious trekking, something I hadn't read much about before, never mind from a woman's perspective.

While I listened to Damien read to our family A Long Trek Home I kept asking myself what Erin's adventures would look like if she were a mother, like myself. If she managed a home, grew a garden, was raising a few kids - what would her adventuring look like then?

I wanted to know, could she be an adventurer and a mother/homemaker? And by extension, could I?

petite cascapedia river snow

Erin's second book Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home, and Family on the Edge of Alaska answers that question with a resounding yes.

I've written a "family adventuring perspective" review of Small Feet, Big Land on Toe Salad. At FIMBY I wanted to share more of the mothering, homemaker aspect of her most recent book.

Hig and Erin are what I consider hardcore adventurers. They have inspired Damien and I for years. And truthfully, in the past, Erin intimidated me a bit also.

I have told Damien on more than one occasion, "I'm not hardcore like Erin" (sometimes through tears) while experiencing an uncomfortable outdoors situation.

Since coming to know Erin on a more personal level (Damien works with Hig, and we have gotten to the know the couple as more than just trekking "rockstars") I am less and less intimidated by her and simply inspired and encouraged by her writing and her life.

A little note about being hardcore.

Some people are intimidated when other people have, what they consider to be, "extreme" views and live on the fringes or edges of society. They are especially intimidated when those edge-dwelling folk are living values that the "cozy-in-the-middle" folk say they believe but don't really live.

Take, for example, a person's environmental ethic. Many people says they want to reduce their environmental impact, very few people actually do, in any significant way.

I am attracted to people on the edge. I am attracted to their discipline, to their "walk the talk". I am attracted to some of their uncompromising stances. I am attracted to their chutzpah.

I am unapologetically attracted to principled living that runs totally counter to our prevailing culture.

(For the record, I'm not attracted to religious fanaticism or fundamentalism or people who's worldviews include hatred and religious wars. That's not the kind of extremism I'm talking about.)

You can choose to be intimidated by people who are "hardcore, extreme, or fringe" or you can be inspired.

snow in petite cascapedia

Erin's family of four lives in a Yurt in rural Alaska. They have no indoor plumbing but they have high speed internet. They don't own a car, they walk to town or share a vehicle, when absolutely necessary, with her mother-in-law.

They head out into the Alaskan wilderness for months at a time with their preschool children. Key words - wilderness, months, preschool children.

Like I said, inspiring, especially when a trip to the grocery store with little ones, bundling tots into the car seats is expedition enough for most of us.

When not trekking, Erin's home life consists of writing, homemaking, gardening (in the very short Alaskan growing season), cooking, gathering, and raising kids. Pretty "normal", just without the indoor plumbing part.

Hig and Erin inspire us on many levels because they are creating a family life according to their rules and values, not society's.

Erin writes a compelling narrative about one family's alternative way to live, and adventure, in our modern world.

sky clears

Two things from Small Feet, Big Land really hit home for me.

First, throughout the course of the book Erin addresses a key question I have been wrestling with for years.

Is it possible to be a rooted adventurer? We were planning a monthlong expedition at the end of the summer... the longest we'd done with a child. I felt a mix of excitement and stress about the whole idea of going. The curiosity, ambition, and craving for adventure that had first sent me into the wilderness pulled me just as strongly as before. But now, home pulled as well. I wanted to go, and to stay. To have a year with more than twelve months so I could spend one summer gardening, fishing, and gathering, and another summer loose in the wild country.

In Erin's case, the course of the book seems to answer the question that yes, you can be a rooted adventurer.

It all comes down to values and priorities. What are you willing to give up in this season in order to do something else you love? What are you temporarily willing to go without?

Erin's latest book encouraged me especially that if I really want to garden, in a northern climate, as a part of an adventuring family lifestyle - I absolutely can. If we want to build a homestead of some sort and still be adventurers, we absolutely can.

Adventure does not preclude homemaking or vice versa.

december glow

One of the most challenging quotes for me in the whole book was this:

I don't prioritize comfort. But I like it.

Discovering more of my wild and untamable self relies on not getting hung up on comfort. Saying yes to the adventures means letting go of certain comfort expectations. That's always been a hang-up for me.

So much of my homemaking years have been about building cozy and comfort into my existence. Prioritizing it, relying on it, depending on it.

I would like to move beyond that. To grow up a bit.

I have given Damien ultimatums about my outdoors and adventure limits, "I'll go as long as I have a certain measure of comfort". I have given God the same ultimatums. I'll go, I'll listen, I'll speak as long as I'm comfortable.

Discovering the untamable me, the wild potential within me and the wild potential God has for my life depends on no more ultimatums.

Making space to dream

Not everyone will live a life like Erin and Hig. As much as we admire it we don't want to live in Seldovia, Alaska (ok, sometimes I do but it's too far from our family). My adventures, your adventures, will look different than month's long treks on glaciers in the Alaskan "outback".

Regardless of what adventures you'll have, before you make any of them a reality you have to dream it. This is what Erin has to say about their year long trek, pre-children.

On the course of that yearlong walk, daydreaming through the blowing snow, we created a new reality. We'd dreamed our way to a home and a child. To a community. To a garden we counted on to feed us, a woodpile we'd count on to warm us, and a half-finished well we needed to make the growing washhouse useful.

Damien and I both strongly believe it's important to have the physical space in our lives to dream and envision life change.

December pink sky

In Erin's case it was a year long walk in which they both conceived the life they wanted to live and conceived their first born.

This is why we are so fanantical about being outdoors together, as a family, each week. We need space to dream, and time to talk.

Our family, and myself personally, have never done a "retreat" but we spend time nearly every day, and a longer chunk of time each week, outdoors. The deeper we can get into nature during these times, the better.

Years of this practice helped us dream the life we currently life. A life where we work together and learn together. Where we spend our time as we see fit, according to our purposes.

I wonder what new life will we imagine for ourselves while walking over 2,000 miles together? What will our children dream for their futures?

Making space in your life to dream and talk as a family cannot be understated. And the more often you do it, the better.

Two in the Far North by Margaret E. Murie

This is another Alaskan memoir, only this time from another era.

Originally published in 1962, Murie's book is a classic in American wilderness literature. It covers the span of years in Murie's life from 1911 to mid-century.

Murie's writing is evocative, drawing the reader in to a different time in history, introducing us to Alaska's quirky and hardy characters, and impressing upon us the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness as it was nearly a century ago (and which I hope is largely unchanged).

snow on trees

Murie's story of her growing up years in Fairbanks made me long to pick up and move there.

I told Damien while reading this book, "I wish I had grown up in Fairbanks during the early 20th century", that's how magical this part of the book was for me.

The whole book is magical really. Margaret Murie loved the wild places of Alaska. She died at 101 years of age after a lifetime of being a naturalist, author, adventurer, conservationist, mother and wife.

She was influential in the conversationist movement, the pre-cursor to the environmental movement. Together with her husband, Murie was a mover and a shaker in the environmental movement, but at her heart she was equal parts homemaker and adventurer. And this is where her story really spoke to me.

The memoir includes several stories of lengthy wilderness trips with her husband and one, in the height of mosquito season in Northern Alaska, with their infant son. In fact, except for the recollections of her childhood years, the whole book is about these expeditions. And what good stories they are.

Even on expeditions she is at once both homemaker and adventurer.

They returned at six o'clock and supper was ready - baked ham, mashed potatoes, creamed carrots, and apple pie. The carrots came out of a can and the apples were dried one, but the ham and potatoes were fresh, and the whole affair was dispatched with no fuss at all, and I felt more than repaid for staying home, keeping the fire going, preparing for the men's return. I thought of all the women who have kept a log cabin warm and ready on the far reaches of various frontiers. All afternoon as I worked I thought of these women, feeling a kinship with them.

It was a fine frosty morning to hit the trail. I took a last look around our home - clean and neat and bare, empty, all empty of our possessions, table, chairs, beds, cupboard; even the juniper branches were gone from the walls. And it was already becoming a bit cold, for the fire was out. I pulled on my new moose-hide mitts and swallowed a big lump in my throat. It had been perfect here, and was I going to measure up as a staunch and capable enough partner in the next chapter? Confusing, being a woman, eagerness for new adventure fighting within one with love of cozy home-keeping. Did men ever feel this way?

mukluk in snow

Here was home: fire and the smell of meat sizzling, the sound of the man's ax blows in the woods nearby, the figure of the woman kneeling busily before her hearth fire... This was total peace and contentment. I sat on a sleeping-bag roll before the tiny stove, grub sack open at one side, dishes arranged at my feet, and the skillet, full of ptarmigan and rabbit, making a great promising hissing...Food never tasted so intoxicatingly good. Two tin plates, piled high with rabbit, ptarmigan, potatoes, and beans. We sat there on the bags in front of the fire, eating with great enjoyment...

These quotes are from Alaskan (winter!) expeditions Murie took with her husband. Later in the book, in 1956, her husband and her joined a scientific expedition into the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Here's what she says of that summer trip (her kids are all grown now, in fact Murie is awaiting news of a grandbaby while on this trip).

By these little scenes and episodes, the hours were filled and enlivened. And they were hours without pressures, without schedules, without bells or appointments. Each one decided his own activity for the day; the day flowed by; we gathered at dinner to exchange news and views and to enjoy being together.

I simply love that description of their expedition days. What a wonderful way to live. I want to live that way at home also!

I Promise Not to Suffer by Gail Storey

I've written a review of this book already at Toe Salad. I just wanted to add a few "FIMBY notes" to that review.

Gail Storey is not your typical adventurous outdoorswoman, though there really isn't such a thing. She is not a Margaret Murie, an Erin McKittrick or a Jennifer Pharr Davis.

Whereas other women adventurers can make me insecure because they are so athletic, or competitive, or simply seem to need less creature comforts than myself, Storey is someone I can identify with.

She is not a backpacker, or even a hiker really, and so when her husband wants to thru-hike the PCT and she doesn't want to live six months without him, her response is basically "I may not be up to this challenge but I'm going to try it anyway". In this way, I feel her adventure story is more accessible than the young adventurer types (which are still great stories).

mukluk fur

I Promise Not to Suffer is a book about marriage, as much as it is about a thru-hike or a long adventure. Marriage is one of them most challenging long adventures many of us will encounter. Are we up for it?

Storey is up for that adventure and that's what I love about the book more than anything. After seventeen years, my own marriage is interwoven into "self" as much as my mothering is. Damien is a part of who I am, and for me, marriage is an adventure. A journey of sacrifices, compromises, great gains (and great sex), and incredible growth.

"I don't understand your marriage," one of my friends said before we left home. I wasn't sure what she meant, beyond my puzzling willingness to follow Porter on the PCT. Did anyone understand the complex give-and-take of someone else's marriage?

I Promise Not to Suffer is a book I feel confident recommending to the reluctant adventurer because many of us can identify with Storey's wilderness inexperience. She's approachable and really funny too.

Book Giveaways!

We're giving away copies of I Promise Not to Suffer and Small Feet, Big Land on Toe Salad right now. (You might be able to find Two in The Far North at your library.) Pop over and enter your name and e-mail for a chance to win a copy, just in time for cozy winter reading.

I should mention I was given Kindle editions of I Promise Not to Suffer and Small Feet, Big Land by the publisher Mountaineers Books, for review. Opinions are all my own. I should also mention I spend way more time on my reviews than what the book is valued at. (smile)

This is my concluding post in a three post series entitled Discipline in a Love of Learning, Freedom Based, Interest-led Homeschool. You can read my first two posts here and here. Or you can jump down to the summary for a quick overview.

Discipline series FIMBY


In my last post I talked about drudgery and discipline. I didn't set forth a plan for teaching your kids to apply themselves to drudgery. Instead I asked a bunch of questions that challenged the assumptions people have about children who are given large amounts of freedom in their learning and education.

On one level people are ok with kids "being kids", having time to play, discovering their interests and all that. Many people even question much of what is taught in schools. But the "real world" looms large and scary, and because most adults can't answer, with any honesty, the question "why do I have to learn this?" from their children, they take comfort in the belief that, compulsory education, if nothing else, at least teaches kids self-discipline, something they are unlikely to learn on their own.

My belief, and personal experience, is that children absolutely can learn self-discipline in a love of learning, freedom based, and interest-led homeschool. And I believe you can raise children, without compulsory schooling, who will grow into adults capable of fitting into the real world where not all work is interesting or inherently motivating.

(Please note: A lot of homeschoolers have a compulsory schooling mindset, they take the subjects and requirements of schools and apply that to learning at home. This post is not about learning-at-home vs. learning in a school. This is a post about a freedom based education.)

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by:

  1. participating in normal family life. The comings, goings and doings of a family require discipline, and eventually self-discipline.
  2. investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Point one is easy enough to see.

Involving children in home life, not just involving them but depending on them, at age appropriate levels for pet and animal care, cleaning, laundry, chopping wood, cooking meals - good old-fashioned chores - develops self-discipline.

Chores are things that have to be done, yes, but you can grow a family culture of meaning, purpose and even fun around these activities. It's within your power to do that. We require our children to participate in home life, but we can also inspire them to serve (or not) by our own attitudes towards service. (I am so convicted about that right now.)

Training children to take care of their personal health and wellbeing also develops self-discipline. Personal hygiene, exercising every day, eating well, hiking together on the weekends are a few examples from our life.

In our family, there are a lot of activities our children do that develop discipline. They do these activities because they are a part of the Tougas family and the Tougas family does these things.

This is character training and habit formation. And although it is not "academic" it teaches the skills that transcend subject and circumstance. That's the goal.

family hiking in the snow

The goal is not the knowledge acquired in grade three or grade four but the skills you learn acquiring those facts.

And my argument is you can acquire those skills other ways.

You can acquire those habits and character traits in the context of a robust, intentional family life.

Most people will not quibble with this point. It's somewhat intuitive because family life is thousands and thousands of years old, whereas mandatory education is only a couple hundred years old.

To see this principle illustrated, all you have to do is look back through history at all the people groups worldwide who have lived without formal schooling, and learned to apply themselves, largely through the means I just explained, to the hard work of adult living.

You learn to do by doing. And children have been learning how to be disciplined by observing the adults in their tribes and societies and by participating in family life for millennia.

The point people quibble about is number two because most people have no grid for that. It was never offered to them.

A brief reminder, point number two is this:

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Here are two reasons (I seem to like two's this discipline series) why people have a hard time with this premise:

1. When children are young "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of play and childhood exploration.

Because of the structures and standards of modern day schooling many people are uncomfortable with school-age children spending most of their time "playing". They should be learning. They should be "on the track" preparing for adulthood.

You have to learn the stuff of elementary school, to be prepared for high school. Then you have to get good grades so you can graduate high school with honors, so you get into a good college, get a degree which will give you a good job, which will pay you well, and allow you to retire... to do the thing you really want to do with your life.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this is not the track to success it once was but people live and educate as if it still was the reality. Or maybe it was always just a myth?

homemade fairy dolls

If allowing children time to play is hard the next point will be even more difficult to swallow.

2. When children become a young adults, after a childhood of creativity, exploration, and play, "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of intense study into things adults might question as valuable or worthy.

You've got to kind of expect this, especially after you've given young children time to develop interests, and don't box them into subjects. School subjects are constructs, "real" in name only.

Adults don't go through life thinking of their days and activities in terms of "now I'm doing math, now I'm studying history, now I'm having phys ed." No, they balance the checkbook, read for the pleasure of it and to learn about something they're interested in, and work out because it feels good.

Even so, when well meaning adults see young adult students spending heaps of self-directed time on things that don't easily quantify as "American History, Chemistry, or English" they get a little panicky. What about the success track as laid out above?

(Perhaps at this point I could direct you to a different success track. Let's say the story of Steve Jobs who spent heaps of his young adulthood "playing" with electronics.)

Here's the rub. It's hard for people to understand when another person, child or adult, is invested in and personally driven to do something they themselves don't value, or can't see as valuable in society.

And yet these outliers, these people who pour energies into solving problems other people didn't even know existed or make art that modern day sensibilities don't get, these are the very people, all through history, who are society's movers and shakers.

Even if people question the assumption that the conveyer belt education system is "the track to success" (success by who's standards? by what measures?) they assauge that cognitive dissonance with the belief that by conforming to the system you at least learn self-discipline.

My question is: Do you learn self discipline with compulsory education?

Children, teenagers, and adults of all ages are self-motivated to learn the things they want to know, or need to know, to reach their goals. And when you give children the environment and permission to actually do this they learn to be disciplined. They learn that discipline helps them accomplish what they want to do.

The real problem then is not the lack of discipline but the lack of self-knowing and inspiration.

inertia

I want to illustrate this but I'm not good at hypothetical examples. I tried writing some and they fell flat, so I'll tell you what this self-discipline, arising from self-directed learning, looks like in my home.

  • Designing and sewing a skirt. Making progress every week even when it's difficult to do all that pinning and stitching. Ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Training for a 5k running race.
  • Crying, yes crying, through the final stages of a project. Tears that tug at my heart strings, but tears I am nonetheless unable to do anything about. I did not assign this project, nor can I remove its burden (though I can do a few extra chores to buy a child more time). In our experience, as young adults and emerging young adults see ideas through to completion there will be blood (ok, so there hasn't been a lot of blood), sweat, and tears. This is the time for that.
  • Establishing a taekwondo practice routine.
  • Sewing a birthday gift for a sibling (with an obvious deadline). Again, ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Learning to read, even when it's hard. Being allowed to come to your own conclusion that this skill matters to you (not because of school shame) and then working at it.
  • Structuring your own school time, as a young adult, and sticking to it. "Showing up" day after day to do work that is tedious because you value it. Which brings the word tedious into question. (The work appears tedious to me because I can't imagine sitting down and doing it.)
  • Finishing what you start, even through difficult and uninspiring spots. Motivated by a commitment you made and payment upon completion. This applies to art commissions, doll commissions, and other obligations our kids choose.
  • Learning Japanese. Finding a language program, preparing your own study material, following through because you want to.
  • Programming with your Dad for a few hours a week not because "you love programming" but because computer programming fits with your strengths and interests and is an accessible way for you to earn the money you need to purchase an iPad. It's a skill that helps you meet a goal, and when you have goals you are driven.

My role in these scenarios is to offer encouragement and support. To secure resources, find mentors, accommodate the schedule (sometimes I do extra chores if the kids are under a deadline), bring fresh perspectives, and offer a lot of "you can do it" messages in the difficult spots.

The student designs and chooses their own "assignments", or projects. I don't have to convince them of its value, they chose it. The motivation to do the work is intrinsic. Self-discipline.

Our children, your children, are scientists, writers, readers, sewists, tinkers, do-ers, makers, artists, and athletes. They have ideas and inspiration all the time. They learn self-discipline by following through on some of these ideas (you can't make every idea a reality).

Children learn self-discipline through the perspiration of interest-led learning and living.

An important note about ages and stages.

I've mentioned this already but I must return to it again. A child's work doesn't look like work. It looks like play.

Crayola coloring set

They will be having fun and you will wonder, "how will they learn to apply themselves when they are enjoying themselves so much?" (Perhaps if you find yourself asking these types of questions you need re-evaluate your assumptions and beliefs and work, discipline, and joy.)

Only in recent years, as our children moved through the ages of 11, 12 and 13 has self-discipline been applied to anything that looks "schoolish". And even then it starts small.

Celine reaching her high school years, what we also call the scholar phase, was not an arbitrary age decision, "you're 14, you're in high school". Celine has reached this stage because, after a childhood of love of learning, she is choosing to go deeper, to be much more disciplined in reaching her goals.

There are days when I say "we don't have to do school today" because our schedule is crazy or whatever and she continues with her studies anyway. Regardless of whether her parents say it must be done or not. That is what is called self-discipline.

Trusting, through the childhood years, that interest-led learners will one day apply themselves to difficult study can be a nail-biting experience. Though I bet your children are already applying themselves to study, it just might be a certain skill set or knowledge you don't value.

Just remember, the development of self-discipline when a child is young looks like a meaningful contribution to family life and concentrated play, exploration, and discovery.

You have to give it time to unfold. You can't rush these things.

Tips & Strategies

Maybe you are worried that you don't see self-discipline developing in your children. Or maybe you just want to "do something" to make sure it's happening.

I understand that concern. That's a good concern. We want to raise children who will become independent adults, self-sufficient in the context of community and family.

  1. Open your mind up to possibilities, don't be hemmed in by "subjects". Are you looking for your child to develop a discipline around say, writing, while ignoring the other self-initiated work they do?

  2. Teach your kids, through example, how to be self-disciplined. What are you doing right now to model the self-discipline you want them to grow into?

  3. Make sure family life has meaningful and hands-on responsibilities for children. Your child's contribution should be needed, respected, and encouraged.

  4. Build a family culture of identifying interests and talents, cultivating ideas and projects, and then doing the hard work (the perspiration) required to make those ideas reality.

Jump start the process

Do something amazing as a family. An activity or project that teaches sacrifice, discipline, hard work, service to other, overcoming obstacles, etc. Do something together that teaches the character traits you want to instill in your kids. Choose a concrete goal and then go for it - as a family.

Series Summary

I started this series with two myths.

Myth One: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, you must not have a very disciplined home and family life. It must be chaos after all to let your kids "do their own thing".

Myth Two: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

I addressed myth one in my first post, in which I explained what early years discipline looked like in our home.

When our children were little we established firm boundaries, in the context of unconditional love. Now we all experience a great deal of freedom within those boundaries. And as our children get older, while still living in our home, they get to set their own boundaries.

creative messy counter

I addressed myth two in posts two and three. In post two I shared a pervasive belief that school is the training ground that prepares you for a life you don't necessarily want to live and forced academics is a great opportunity, and main vehicle, for character development.

I then asked a bunch of questions best summarized by this:

Or would these children-become-adults be empowered by years of personal decision making and experience - growing up in an atmosphere of unconditional support, clear boundaries, and positive role models - learn to seek after and make happen those things they want to accomplish in life?

In this third and last post of this series I started with a two-fold premise:

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by:

  1. participating in normal family life. The comings, goings and doings of a family require discipline, and eventually self-discipline.
  2. investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

I explained both points but went into detail with the second, illustrating what this looks like in both childhood and young adulthood.

And finally I concluded with tips, strategies and a challenge to help you develop self-discipline in an interest-led, freedom based homeschooling environment.

These tips can be applied to families in any schooling situation but I believe are most effective when children truly do have a large degree of freedom in their learning.

kids cooking in the kitchen

Let's Talk

I spent hours and hours writing and editing this series for you. I've attempted to answer, in depth, a common misconception I encounter (in coaching, conversations and educational practices, both at home and in schools) about interest-led homeschooling - that children don't develop self-discipline when given the freedom to study their own interests.

I hope this will help you in your homeschooling and give you more confidence in your methods in the face of questions or outright criticism from well-meaning (or otherwise) family and friends.

Please feel free to add any of your own observations in comments. I know your students apply themselves to what they love. Tell us about it!

What did I miss? Do you have more questions? Feel free to ask and if I have time I will answer them today in comments or build them into future posts.

This is the first post in a three part series titled Discipline in a Love of Learning, Freedom Based, Interest-led Homeschool. You'll find the next two posts here and here.

I got a blog comment earlier this fall about discipline. It was a question about discipline in the child training context, ie: teaching your children to listen, obey, that kind of thing.

I took some time thinking about how to respond to that question, composed a post-length reply and then couldn't find the comment!

I had hoped to bury that reply in comments as opposed to having to share it quite publicly in a post because as soon as you start to talk about child discipline you potentially open yourself up to all sorts of criticism.

I'm not going there. I'm not criticizing other parents, nor am I inviting it here in this space. But neither will I shy away from using words like obey and respect, along with love and trust. It's all part of the package.

Since I was going to write a post about the D word I figured I might as well wade right in and share something else that's been on my heart for a while - teaching self-discipline in the interest-led, love of learning, and freedom based homeschool environment.

There are a couple myths about discipline in this type of homeschooling environment.

Myth One: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, you must not have a very disciplined home and family life. It must be chaos after all to let your kids "do their own thing".

Myth Two: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

I will address Myth One - self-directed learners must not have very much parental control or oversight, and family life must be chaotic and "undisciplined", with my answer to the original comment that sparked this post in the first place.

My thoughts on early years child discipline and training, as based on our experience.

I believe in tight reins and tight boundaries when children are little, in an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance. We are authoritative parents. We're the authority in the home and our focus when our children were little was trust, obedience, love and respect.

The serious training ground for this philosophy, especially with regards to obedience, is ages 18 mos to about 3 or 4 years.

We are also very responsive to our children during these ages and many would consider our practices to be inline with attachment parenting philosophies - extended nursing, nighttime responsiveness, very few babysitters and almost no de-tachment from us.

In these early years we laid the foundation of both our children's importance in our home and their place in it - as our children, not our equals.

There was a definite emphasis placed on obedience during these years, which probably doesn't line up with the attachment parenting philosophy. I don't really know. I haven't read any attachment parenting books.

As our kids get older, knowing that they trust and respect us and feel absolute unconditional love from us, we let out the reins, step by step. From the time our kids reached about age 5 or 6 we've done very little of what other people would call "disciplining". There haven't been "consequences", punishments, time-outs, or other stuff like that. Maybe a few but none I can really recall.

There have been certain intense stages that need more of our attention, especially with our youngest but we haven't had difficult behavior or discipline issues in our home, past the toddler stage and pre-school stages which were very focused on establishing the behavior and attitudes we wanted in our home - respect, compliance (yes, compliance), and happy obedience (yes, obedience and happy to do so).

But we're not done parenting. The teenage years await and I'm sure we'll go through discipline trials and tribulations again.

Having said that, our now 14 year old has an incredible amount of autonomy in our home - over her schooling, her relationships, her interests, music choices, video games etc... She has that automony within the safety net of a loving relationship. We trust her and she respects us.

Some people approach parenting the opposite way - loose boundaries for behavior when the kids are little and then they try to crack down later reining in the behaviors they don't want in their home.

It's not just about behavior of course, it's about our children's hearts. Capturing their hearts has always been our goal. We want them to know how very much they are loved by God and us. And what love in action looks like and how love guides our behaviors. But when you're two, it's not the love in your heart guiding your behavior, it's your parents.

I'm not saying our kids are perfect or that we're perfect. We're not at all. We have to work on our relationships every day. And we're not done the game yet.

In summary, I'm a big believer in boundaries and unconditional love, and then total freedom in the loving relationship of those boundaries. In fact, those are probably two touchstones of my parenting philosophy.

When our children were little we established firm boundaries, in the context of unconditional love, and now we all experience a great deal of freedom within those boundaries. And as our children get older, while still living in our home, they get to set their own boundaries.

Our home is not a place of chaotic un-discipline. Our children have a lot of freedom, but we as parents set the boundaries for that freedom.

I think this way of parenting sets the a solid foundation for freedom based homeschooling, at least it did for us.

A couple additional thoughts

After writing out this response on early childhood training and discipline and sitting with these ideas for well over a month, a couple more ideas presented themselves to me.

Firstly, it occurs to me that this particular approach fits very well with my personality type. And maybe that's why it's worked well for us?

I'm a clear expectations and defined boundaries person and so I've parented this way. As my kids get older everything is much more open ended because I am no longer in charge of it all and this letting go has been a great growth experience for me (and our kids).

If you are curious about the interplay between parenting and personality type you might like the book MotherStyles. I haven't read the book but it looks like the perfect compliment to Nurture by Nature, which I highly recommend.

I also think my parenting style is heavily influenced by culture. I've been reading about Inuit culture and we have Inuit friends. Their culture has a completely different emphasis on childhood training, much more freedom for little ones in behavior, etc.

But where I see the boundaries in that society (I can't help it, I'm always looking for the boundaries), is in nature itself; the "ultimate" boundary.

Many "modern" cultures (for lack of a better description) don't contend with nature the same way and if we did our parenting boundaries would be different, I know mine would. And yes, I find the explorations of these ideas fascinating.

Now back to the Myths

My next post will delve into Myth Two, answering the question - is it possible for self-directed learners to apply themselves to drudgery?

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