Nuggets

Many of the most influential and moving books I’ve found on parenting, especially conscious parenting, I have found by chance. Most aren’t best-sellers. They are little nuggets of gold in a sea of stones.

I’m sure there are others I will love and discover over time, and I’m sure you have your own list. (Feel free to share your own online or print nuggets in a comment.) But as I found yet another gem by chance only a week or so ago, I decided to share my short list of the most significant to me in this blog in the hopes that you might find a resource you didn’t already know about that speaks to you and/or helps with your own conscious parenting. There are a myriad of Web sites, too, but since those are more easily found via Google I’m focusing on books.

Note that the links I’m including are only one place where these books are currently available. I use a Kindle, so I included the Amazon links to some, but if you have a Nook you can probably find them there too. Happy reading!

Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson — Best known for his famous TED talks about creativity and the imperative evolution of education, Sir Robinson last year released a full updated edition of this book originally published in 2001. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the AERO Conference in Portland earlier this month and I was truly inspired by his wisdom, clarity and wit. So, of course I bought his book and have found it similarly inspiring, funny and full of great perspective on development in general, how to nurture creativity and happy people.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a beautiful teacher and writer, has several books intended for children or for parents. A Pebble for Your Pocket is a simple book that breaks down basic Buddhist teachings and practices — mindfulness, walking meditation, staying present, diffusing anger — into short stories so they are easy for children (and adults) to understand and make part of their lives. Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children is more for me and Larry than it is for my three-year-old son Henry, but once he is old enough there is a CD with great songs and some more advanced mindfulness practices we can do together.

Muddling Through: Perspectives on Parenting by Bil Lepp — Bil is an award-winning storyteller, a great dad and one of my childhood friends. He tells what he admits are slightly tall tales about his own experiences as a parent and child, then offers advice separately to parents and kids — e.g., parents relax the rules and the need to keep the kitchen tidy and you’ll have more fun, kids try to understand why your parents get uptight about things sometimes. His book is hilarious, honest and, despite its brevity (almost 80 pages on my Kindle), chock full of great stories and parenting wisdom.

Free the Children by Bruce Scott — I met Bruce at a conscious parenting/education conference in LA a few years ago and was inspired to buy his book that was available there. It is a beautiful fable about his journey of discovery as a parent: learning to see our children as whole people and our role as merely allowing and supporting their personal and spiritual journey; accepting we have as much, if not more, to learn from them as they do from us. It’s poetic at times, rich with provoking lessons and a wonderful read.

The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education by Steven Harrison — I bought this book at the AERO Conference based on a recommendation from the woman standing next to me at the sale table. It simply and easily makes the case for holistic, democratic, heart-centered education and child raising. If you’re new to these ideas, this is a great book to start with.

Free to Be…You and Me by Marlo Thomas & Friends — It’s a book, a CD and a DVD and Henry adores them all. I was raised on the book and record back in the ’70s when it came out and I’m thrilled it’s still available, and being updated every few years. It focuses primarily on gender identity, emotional expression and freedom of choice — very progressive topics back in the day. But with Mel Brooks and a great cast to voice the stories and songs, it’s also a lot of fun to watch, listen to and spark conversation.

Update… As expected, I’ve found more golden nuggets!

Waiting for Weston: A Mother’s Story About Raising A Multidimensional Child is a beautifully written and honest memoir by Marilu Schmier. Her son Weston does not speak verbally, but gives seminars, teaches and sends messages to thousands of followers all over the world. He speaks telepathically and through noted healers and clairvoyants and has touched hundreds of thousands of lives and spirits. Marilu’s experiences as Weston’s mother are astounding, hilarious and inspirational. She models extraordinary patience, openness (to literally anything) and unconditional love. Her book is a must read.

Meg Blackburn Losey has worked with Weston for many years and refers to him in a couple of her books from her Children of Now series. My favorite from the series I’m finishing now, Parenting the Children of Now: Practicing Health, Spirit, and Awareness to Trascend Generations. As many books on conscious parenting do, it focuses on us as parents much of the time, understanding that if we change our energy, perceptions and actions, we will interact with our children more openly and with greater awareness. However, it also gives some fabulous practical advice for dealing with the extraordinary gifts all of our children are born with — but that may make interactions with those outside the safety of the family nucleus more challenging.

Let’s talk about the schools for a minute

Our son Henry attends preschool. Based on my unscientific research – i.e., conversing in-person and online with a wide variety of parents – about two-thirds of you are shrugging and saying “Okay, and…” and the rest of you are wondering why. This post is not meant to answer that question. I have so many questions of my own, I’m instead using this space to help navigate the process and welcome you into it.

The community of alternative educators, homeschoolers and unschoolers is growing by leaps and bounds. They all have immeasurable love for children and robust beliefs about their development. And I still consider myself one of them – or at least a passionate supporter of these ideals who is still considering her child’s options.

I believe mainstream educational institutions no longer address the needs of our evolving children and communities. A hierarchical structure designed to train young people to be compliant and effective factory workers or, if you’re from a wealthier community, corporate managers, doesn’t work for our children or our society any longer. I think there is a lot of merit to the myriad of alternative options growing in accessibility and acceptability, including home schooling and/or unschooling. I will have a lot more to say about this over time, especially after I return from the AERO conference in Portland in August, but that’s the gist of my thoughts on education.

Here’s the rub. Our son is a truly social being. He loves people – being around them, playing with them, entertaining them, laughing with them, showing affection, enjoying the reciprocation. He runs up to the newest kid or parent on the playground to say hi and invite them to play. Everyone at his school knows him because he welcomes them all as they arrive, usually with a huge smile and a hug. He’s the first to console a crying classmate or defend them when he believes they are mistreated. He is a genuinely friendly child who enjoys the energy and security of a community. He was raised in a group setting – a wonderful nursery in Taiwan – for the first 11 months of his life, and perhaps something stuck. When he’s not with Mama and Daddy, and sometimes when he is, he wants a strong community around him. Preferably one made up of two- to four-year-olds.

When we needed to look for a daytime care situation about a year ago, we were lucky to stumble upon a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool in our community. The short answer to the “What the…?” I just heard you all utter is that this school is one of surprisingly many around the world that uses a community-based approach, developing lesson plans based on what the class collectively is interested in. Then they explore this subject in a very organic, natural way, all while taking the needs of the entire class into account. It builds community, a sense of belonging, a strong sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, open minds, open hearts, open imaginations, as well as mutual respect among a very diverse group of kids.

Henry thrives in this environment. He’s joyful. He’s challenged. He has strong friendships with his classmates and teachers. He loves going to school because he can express himself, make mistakes and be authentically Henry while he’s there. Like at home, he is loved and accepted unconditionally.

But what’s next? There are few options for Henry to continue with a similar program once he is five or six. Well, unless we want to move to Italy… (Hmmm.) In an ideal world, we would be able to keep him in an inexpensive or free variation on this program for the rest of his schooling, because even public schools would be designed around a similarly progressive philosophy. But alas the educational times aren’t a-changin’ as fast as the rest of the world seems to be and that likely won’t be an option in a couple of years. So, we’ve been looking at our non-mainstream choices and getting dizzier by the month. Homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling, expensive private schools, start or join a joint parent-run school, online education, democratic schools, and on and on.

Like every child, Henry is a peg of a unique shape. He doesn’t fit perfectly into any institutional hole. But as an outgoing child without siblings he doesn’t fit neatly into a homeschool hole either. So, our exploration continues. We are confused, concerned, even a little frightened. We want to trust that a path will reveal itself in some quiet moment, and I do believe it will, probably by Henry himself. I guess we’ll just breathe, keep listening and the knowing will come.

I’ll write more about this journey as it unfolds. There’s nothing terribly profound about our story just yet, but there is something profound that happens when stories like these are shared. Just like so many of you, we are parents making tough choices in an ever-changing world. The more we are willing to honestly and openly talk about our fears and ideas, without judging or fearing being judged, the more we all benefit. I guess I’m simply adding our story to all of yours and welcoming you into the conversation. Happy parenting.