Ever since our guest lecturer, Peter Gray, a lot of people have been interested in Learning in the Woods, The Barn School, Little Seeds, and the Burlington-Hamilton Unschoolers.  With all these names, it gets a little confusing so I thought I would try to explain how all of these groups are related.

It’s hard to know how far back to start this story!  I’m also really bad at narrowing down a story.  I’m one of those people who thinks “But all the details are important!”.  Here it goes.  The beginning is the most confusing I think.

Children provide us with an opportunity to change us as people.  They challenge us to think critically about old ways of doing things and give us a chance to reinvent ourselves.  That is what parenthood did for me anyway.  Can you relate to that?  Did parenthood change your perspective forever also? After my first child was born, I was reading a lot of Attachment Parenting, RIE, and peaceful parenting blogs and books.  Facebook was just blowing up and more accessible to me with smart phones becoming more affordable so I was posting a lot on my personal Facebook page about my “radical” parenting ideas.  I thought everyone I knew would be as inspired as I was but my friends and family didn’t necessarily share my newfound passion. :/ I noticed my posts were distancing people and that was never my intention, so I created a separate Facebook page to explore my parenting ideas and I called that page Curious Mom E.

After my maternity leave, I was back at work as a public school kindergarten teacher, applying my positive parenting techniques and loving the results.  I had a principal who placed a lot of trust in me to try new things and as I did, the kids in my class were flourishing.  I felt empowered to explore things further.  I started to really challenge myself to understand the ideal learning environment for all kids.  I thought of some of my favourite students and how their diagnoses of ADHD and autism really didn’t fit with the public system’s style of learning.  Other students were really arts-centered or into building with their hands and I saw that their passions were never valued equally as math and language or science.  Watching those kids lose self-esteem because their skill sets were not in line with what our public schools valued, marked, and tested made my heart break.  A person’s worth should not be determined by how well they fit into the narrow definition of what the system deems valuable…can you relate to that?

By now, “Curious Mom E” was filling up with a lot of posts related to parenting and my educational philosophy involving self-directed education and nature play.  Thinking of my own child entering school, I looked around for alternatives and was disheartened by the lack of options in our area.  Somehow I convinced my husband that we should sell our lovely house so that we could finance our own private school.  Within 6 months we had bought the land in hopes that we could build The Barn School.  I started a Facebook Page by that name and started to hone my vision for that by posting my educational philosophy posts there.

Around that same time, I met Meaghan and told her I was starting a private school.  She introduced me to the homeschooler community and I was excited to learn that that alternative was thriving.  The moms I met were intelligent, fun, and interesting to talk to.  Looking for a little extra income to justify staying home with my kids to homeschool while I worked on Barn School, I created a hom

e daycare for homeschooler moms who needed an occasional break.  I didn’t have a website but I got a Facebook page and called that “Little Seeds”.  I started to post articles about child-lead learning, free play, and nature play on Little Seeds.  After 4 months and very little interest in the style of home daycare I was offering, I put that idea to rest.

I really wanted to offer my son some multi-age child-lead experiences and was hoping the home daycare would be the ticket but most homeschoolers and moms with young babies actually like to be home with their kids (imagine that!)  So it dawned on me that if I wanted to give my son those experiences, the moms and dads should be there too.  During a snowy winter playdate with Meaghan, we hammered out the philosophy behind Little Seeds as it is known today.  An outdoor nature-based playgroup for kids of all ages where the kids could have a chance to explore on their own terms.

Instead of creating a new Facebook page, I decided it made more sense to use my fairly inactive Little Seeds page since it was full of relevant content and just a handful of moms who were in the group.  We started to post events and shared the page on Facebook wherever it made sense.  I posted on Attachment Parenting Moms Hamilton, Meaghan shared it on some of her homeschooler group pages.  Our first events were in the winter, a tough season to encourage people to get outside for several hours at a time.  Meaghan, Ellen, Trish and I began to meet once or twice a week in the woods, in the snow.  We were pretty formal back then, trying to establish a culture I suppose.  We had a meeting to start and finish, which the kids hated.  But they loved the child lead play in the woods.

By spring, we had several families checking us out, though not on a regular basis.  Well except for Tanya, who is our Learning in the Woods Director today!  We knew from doing it for several months that there was value in coming regularly and frequently so that the kids could establish and maintain friendships.  We also started to see that the forest became “another friend”. Returning to the same location every week helped to build that friendship with a natural space.  We started to think about how to offer that on a more regular basis, and Learning in the Woods was born.  (See blog post The
Birth of Learning in the Woods, link to be added at a later date.)

In the spring, as more families came to check us out, we had some learning leaps.  We realized this style of play is not for every adult (though I would argue it is for every kid).  Some parents feel really uncomfortable letting kids play with sticks or climb rocks and trees.  Other parents wanted to direct the children more in terms of social skills such as forcing “sharing” or pressuring everyone to play together.  Also around that time there was a death at a local Hamilton hiking trail due to a fallen tree and that spurred a conversation about liability.  We talked to a lawyer who guided us to stick with our values of democracy and equality and we decided that everyone would be a page manager and share in the responsibility of planning and offering events.

Little Seeds has been running for two years and now that I am on maternity leave with my third baby, I find myself tapping into that Little Seeds community once again.  It’s nice to be able to create an event that works for your schedule and driving radius and hang out with other like-minded families.  We now have a sharing day on Mondays where members can share their home business or related events and support each other in that way.  I think it is still maybe a bit intimidating for new families to come out to events but Heather Boyd, one of our original members, moved to Niagara-on-the-lake and created a Little Seeds Niagara group there.  In a short period of time, she gained a lot of local interest.

I think what I like best about Little Seeds is that no one is in charge.  It was really just about people coming together to give their kids some time in a natural setting (as opposed to a playground) to play without too many rules or adult interference.  It’s reassuring to see there is a community of people out there who value that.

In my next blog, I’ll share how Learning in the Woods came to be.

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