Asking Better Questions

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We have home-educated our children for the last eight years. Early on, I felt an overwhelming need to measure, test and push to make sure the kids were on the right path. I was teaching them everything I thought they could possibly need to know to “make it” in their life. Was slogging through years of Latin really going to make a big impact on their life? Probably not.

I have attempted to answer the same questions, over and over, year after year for my own children. Whose path is it? What do they want? What is their idea of a life well lived? Every revisit of these questions has brought me a little closer to having a better understanding of what is truly important; for me and for my kids.

Our oldest, just turned sixteen. She has explored her own definition of living a life of purpose and happiness (notice the removal of the word success). She continuously asks hard questions of herself, she’s spoken of and written down her wants, her wishes and her dreams- and these continually change, but she understands that her future is up to her. Her own influence and decisions are bringing her closer to the kind of life she imagines for herself.

For so many her age, they feel helpless about their future. We must allow kids to imagine and have experiences that help them to define their own meaning of purpose and happiness and engage in conversations around this idea. One of my favorite quotes, and one that I have up on a board at home is a quote by Hunter S. Thompson.

Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”

In our house we do thought experiments based around questions. We talk about these questions in an open way-Sometimes they chose to share their response, other times, its simply for them to explore. Better understanding of oneself leads to and influences motivations and beliefs and shows us that we are the creators of our life. Making it in the ever changing world means that we have to ask intelligent and more thoughtful questions. Now, my worries about the direction my kids take is nil. I don’t think there is such a thing as the “right path”, it’s the path that you make that is worthy.

If you’re curious to know, here are some of the questions we ask:

What does one think is living well?

How do we want to be in the world?

What do we want our world to look like?

Am I worthy of this or is it worthy of me?

What is the difference between living and existing?

Do you find yourself influencing your world, or it influencing you?

What is worse- failing or never trying?

Should one worry what others think of them?

If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?

What does happiness mean to you?

What would you do differently if you knew no one would judge you?

What are the top five things you cherish in your life?

How should one handle anxiety?

What is the purpose of money?

What would you say is the one thing you’d like to change in the world?

What makes you smile?

Tomorrow is shaped by the type of conversations you have with yourself today.” Emily Maroutian

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters…

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Japan Adventures: Toyama

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Traveling to Toyama

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Bento box lunch I chose for train ride. It had 50 different things to try!

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Our room at the Kadokyu ryokan

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Giant persimmon tree outside the window of our room

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Innkeeper dressing Natalie in kimono

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Natalie and Olivia in kimono

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Dressed in kimono outside Buddha of Takaoka

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25 foot bronze Buddha of Takaoka

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Flowers on alter inside Buddha of Takaoka

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Wonderful lunch with good friends

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Aikido group when Doshu visited Budokan and taught. I’m sitting to the left of the man in the suit in front

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Greenwood Aikido students who traveled with us to Japan

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Beautiful chrysanthemums at Kureha Heights hotel

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Traditional dance and music performance

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Gorgeous dinner

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Carre and I at celebration dinner

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Chikako, Roger and Yoshida Sensei making toasts

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Everyone having a fun time!

 

The next stop in our Japanese adventure was to Takaoka in Toyama Prefecture. Here we joined our Aikido Sensei, Koji Yoshida to participate in a three-day aikido seminar taught by Nishio style aikidoka from all over the world. People traveled from Ukraine, France, Mexico, Sweden, Czech Republic, Russia, Malaysia and more. It was organized to commemorate Yufukan Dojo’s 40 years in Aikido.

A special class was taught by the current Doshu of Aikikai. Guest instructors, including my husband, Philip each taught a class.

Our first accommodations were at the Kadokyu ryokan (traditional inn) for two nights. We very much enjoyed our stay here! Our family had our own room and it was spacious and had a beautiful view of the gardens. We slept on futons and had buckwheat pillows for the perfect nights sleep.

The ryokan had a great soaking tub and breakfast was delicious too. One of the highlights from our stay at the ryokan was the sweet innkeeper. She made sure that our every need was met. Upon arrival I told her that I noticed outside our window a giant persimmon tree. She excused herself and came back with persimmon slices for us to eat. This small act made my heart swell, but there was something else that she did for Olivia and Natalie on our first night stay. She asked them to come into a room where she asked if they would like to be dressed in kimono. They agreed and she proceeded to dress them both. I had never watched the careful and detailed order of this art. Each of the girls had three under garments and each of those under garments were accessorized with thick belts and topped off with a haori (jacket). So many layers. So much attention to detail. Just being witness to her care and consideration really touched my heart. I thanked her many times and the girls went to dinner with our group feeling like princesses.

Across the street from the ryokan sits the Buddha of Takaoka, or Takaoka Daibutsu. This 25 foot bronze statue is the third largest Buddha in Japan. The Buddha of Takaoka was originally built in 1221, and there have been many reincarnations of it as it was originally made of wood and burned down several times before being re-built in bronze.

Our second accommodations in Toyama were at Kureha Heights. A beautiful hotel with an amazing view and onsen. After our aikido seminar we quickly rushed to get back, bathed and got ready for the beautiful night Yoshida Sensei had prepared with traditional dance, music and a feast to celebrate that was incredible. I have to say that dinner was the most beautiful Japanese dinner I’ve ever had.

We said many toasts, celebrated our good friends Chikako and Roger on their recent wedding. Yoshida Sensei arranged for them both to be dressed in traditional Japanese wedding attire and surprised the 100+ guests. They looked so happy! We had a great night and sake was brought in that our late teacher, Nishio Sensei loved. We had good food, good drink and great company to share it all with. All in all it felt like a celebration of love and happiness. Sounds corny, but everything just felt like it came from love. I am grateful to all who planned and made this an experience to remember!

 

 

 

Alternative Schooling

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I have been reading some interesting books like (this) and (this) to learn more about alternative schooling. Our family has been homeschooling for nearly seven years and have been really happy about our decision. However, more recently, through curiosity, I discovered the Sudbury Valley School model. The idea is to let kids lead their own learning through self direction-without the coercion of adults. I was interested to know more…

At Sudbury Valley School, children arrive at school and have no agenda. There’s no set curriculum, no classrooms with rows and rows of kids being “schooled”. They are free to do anything they want (this is a democratic school, so there are some rules to abide by). If they choose to play outside, they’re free to do so. Play cards with friends, same. Visit the library and read-they can do that too. Here, children decide what they are going to give their time and energy to. Adults are on hand if a student should inquire about further study in a particular subject. Only then does an adult help them understand what it is they want to learn more about.

Daniel Greenberg, Founder of Sudbury Valley, says “It’s the hardest school to be in because they have to ask themselves what they really want to do. Children need to prioritize their time. This allows them to find out who they are.” It’s about discovering the self. Isn’t this what we want for our children? We want them to discover who they are and to follow their passions and dreams until ultimately, they are living a real life that they created; not a life where they have been told/manipulated/coerced to go down some superficial “safe path”- get good grades, get accepted into college, get a high paying career, and spend the rest of your existence living up to others’ expectations or in some un-fullfilling job that you hate. Through unschooling, like the Sudbury Valley model, children learn on their own by making decisions for themselves. Not by adults force feeding them their own ideas of what they think is right for them.

The most interesting point Daniel Greenberg makes is that “When you wanted to learn something, how did you do it? You found something you were curious about, and you immersed yourself in studying it. You had a desire to progress in your learning.” For me, all of the things I have ever become interested in I have done because of a natural curiosity. No one has forced or manipulated me into thinking I “needed” to do something.

I’ve seen this with my own children. They have their own wills, their own internal compass. My girls are so different from each other. I have witnessed through homeschooling my girls, how they get frustrated when it’s time to do a subject they don’t care about. They are not interested. They just “get it over with”. Over the years I began to understand their learning styles. I thought this was important. Truthfully, I thought by knowing this, I would be better able to teach them. I have come to the realization that it’s not my job to “teach” them. They will do it for themselves.

Over the last week we’ve been unschooling, or rather, deschooling. The funny thing is, it’s been rather enlightening to me. The kids are less emotional. Less fussy. There is less tension in our home. The girls laugh together, play together. They have been spending a lot more time outside, riding skateboards, exploring ponds, catching tadpoles, playing Scrabble, learning calligraphy, drawing more, reading more. I see no absence of learning happening. I’m simply allowing them to do what makes them happy. Ultimately, isn’t this, as a parent what we want for our children- to be happy? I think it’s a worthy endeavor for all of us, especially children.