Even though we’ve been worldschooling/unschooling for many years, we’d never been to any kind of conference about it until recently; we just grew into this type of education gradually and naturally, because it was a good fit for our family and lifestyle. More importantly, traditional school or not, we’re all students of this miraculous existence we call life, and that process looks different for each individual. So call it what you will; we each have our own personal learning styles, interests, and perspectives.
Although we were looking forward to the four-day event in New Jersey, we really didn’t know what to expect. We had a lot of questions floating around in our heads. How would it work? How would the people interact together and present themselves as individuals? Would such an out-of-the-box group even get along together? How would a conference called Life Without Instructions be organized and what would we come away with? We did know quite a few of the attendees and presenters from the online world, and we were excited to meet them in person.
Shortly after our arrival, the girls all made friends quickly, and spent almost every moment in their company. The hotel environment where the conference was held, served as an invaluable container for all the kids to have a bit more autonomy and independence. Brandon and I enjoyed seeing our girls play freely and responsibly, as they shared in relationships with others in fun ways.
We all felt positive emotional connections and developed special bonds with specific families and individuals. There were even some families who travel like we do, and others who were interested and actively working towards it. We also met other entrepreneurs there, and people who were looking to earn income without being location-dependent. It was fun to share experiences together and also help serve as a resource for some.
There were workshops on everything from needle felting and beading to lego-candy-machine building and poetry.
We listened to a couple of presentations from Peter Gray, one about grown unschoolers and another about mixed age learning.
We watched the documentary Class Dismissed.
We heard from Teresa Graham Brett about Parenting for Social Change.
A few presentations from traveling families helped us reconnect to why we travel and reminded us of the many amazing experiences we’ve had, including the resulting growth that has greatly benefited our family. For example, Lainie and her son Miro gave an inspiring presentation about their Project World School, which they’ve developed together.
I especially appreciated the emotion-based workshops. For example, Sabrina helped us connect our emotions to learning about our world. Julie guided us tuning into our positive and negative emotions, which helped us become more aware of what we want, so we can better direct our focus toward increasing those experiences. Lainie had us practice slow walking, which helped us give more attention to our subtle movements; then she led a discussion about how and where we each feel inspiration and intuition in our body vs. false fear.
Josha held a workshop where we imagined ourselves in a happy feeling state or situation, before imagining ourselves in a triggering one, then flip-flopping between the two. This helped us discover ways to understand and work with our triggering experiences in a more constructive way. One thing I realized about myself in her session was that I have a tendency to put all my energy outside myself, in an effort to control things when I’m afraid of something, instead of centering and gathering my own energy within myself where it will make a positive difference. Since then, I’ve been working on developing some new habits!
We hung out with our friends, the Kirk family, in the hotel sauna and played Ultimate Frisbee with them at the nearby park.
There was even a talent show, where Emily performed her song, See You Again, and Marie entertained us all with a laughing meditation comedy act. Being so close to Halloween, there was also a costume contest after the show, followed by a dance party which ended the conference on a high note of contagious energy and enthusiasm!
There were many other presentations and activities we enjoyed which I haven’t listed here, and I can’t speak for any other unschooling conference except this one, but we gained so much from being with the presenters, families and individuals in attendance and from seeing everyone’s process in action. We came away with a greater understanding of how to connect to ourselves and others in dynamic ways, by coming together as a community and sharing in our learning and growth. Unbelievable amounts of vulnerability, empathy, and compassion were freely expressed and received among the group. It was such a warm, nurturing, and empowering environment. Truly, a family learning experience at its finest, especially in the presence of so many other families who felt like one big extension of our own!
Because this event was such a highlight for us, next year we’re planning to attend at least two other unschooling conferences. A New Zealand Unschooling Camp Retreat in February, and the Life Is Good conference in Portland, Oregon in September. We’ll also be attending Life Without Instructions again next year, this time as speakers! We’ll be doing a presentation about life as a nomadic family, and Emily will be teaching a songwriting workshop. We’re very excited for this opportunity.
Have you ever thought about attending a conference like this? Or have you already? Either way, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.