Kyra Shaughnessy

Category - alternative education

5 Reasons Why Bringing Your Kids to Concerts is a Great Idea!

Once upon a time most community events were places where all generations mingled. Elders, youth, children, adults…everybody had a place in the circle when it came to celebration! These days it seems more and more spaces are anything but kid-friendly. Parents routinely ask me if it’s “okay” for them to bring their kids to my concerts, seemingly expecting a negative response. “Of course!” I say “Bring the whole family!” This may seem like mere principle to some, but there are a lot of reasons why bringing back all-ages events might benefit society as a whole.


Where Generations Meet

As many of you are probably aware, our social structures these days are modeled around age segregation as opposed to age integration. As soon as people start school they are, for the most part, limited to spending most of their days with people within a year or two of their own age. The work place is often no better as many jobs target specific age groups for employment. Parents spend time with parents, teenagers spend time with teenagers, elders live in nursing homes of apartment blocks dedicated to the needs of the elderly. You catch my drift. For those of us not lucky enough to have geographically and emotionally close extended families it can be difficult to break out of this pattern. Especially because it has become the norm to not bring kids in to larger social gatherings!

If our days are taken up with work or studies, when can we expect inter-generational exchange to happen if not at community events like music concerts and house party’s? It can be great to get together as a group of young parents and their kids, but I hear a lot of parents saying they wish they could get out more…without having to leave the kids behind! It seems like a lot of people have become so used to age-segregated environments that we no longer have any tolerance for the completely natural bustle children bring to a space. All the more reason to bring them along! For those of us who organize or host events, we can help the process of re-integration along by making things explicitly all-ages friendly.

At a fundamental level being around people of all ages provides us with a wider perspective on life and its many stages. Being around children specifically is an absolutely essential reminder for non-parents, albeit on a subtle level, of the fact that a next generation does exist and that we have a certain responsibility to them in the way we act and the choices we make that effect the world!


Keeping Things in Check

On that note, having kids (or elders!) in a space is a great way to keep certain types of behavior in check, possibly to the benefit of all. It’s true that many of us live in somewhat less traditional societies .Respecting your elders and being aware of what you are modeling to kids around you isn’t always the number one focus. Nevertheless, ask anyone if they are more or less likely to get ridiculously drunk or start an argument or swear like a sailor if there are kids and elders in the room and the answer is probably less. Of course there are limits to the types of events you might want to bring your kids to or attend for that matter. However there is huge room for improvement in our openness to creating inclusive spaces and acknowledging the secondary benefits of doing so is one more step in that direction!

I encountered some great examples of age-inclusive music culture when I was traveling in Ireland a couple years back. In just about every town I stopped in there was to be found at least one pub. The pub(s) inevitably had music sessions at least a couple of times a week and if you attended these sessions you would find the full spectrum of ages both listening and participating! I found it incredibly inspiring to see that the “night-out to party” and parenting cultures overlapping so smoothly! It was perfectly natural for kids to be hanging out in the pub, doing their thing. The transition happened at some point in the evening where the young folks would go home to sleep with parents in tow and the night owls would stay for a bit more craic (which means “fun” in Irish…not what you might think ;). Simple as that!


Kids Getting Connected

Another great reason to bring your kids out is that it allows them to begin adapting to different people and environments. After a certain age children are ready to move out of the total bonding phase with their parents. At this point being in more social spaces can create a great opportunity for what you might call “passing the baby.” This definitely happens more in rural environments where everyone knows everyone, but I’m talking about when you go to a party and everybody wants to take turns holding the baby. It’s a great way of helping kids adapt at an early age to new faces and energies, and is also a sweet break time for parents! Of course it’s important to respect the limits of your child when it comes to spending time in other peoples arms, but in general if the parents are relaxed about introducing their kids to other people, the kids will also be relaxed! It’s all about finding the right balance.

If your kids are at the mobile, running around stage, this can still be a great opportunity to hand off their care to someone else for a few minutes while you focus on whatever else is going on. Like having a full conversation with someone or listening to a three minute performance piece without interruption. Being in communal spaces allows for a natural transition into kids feeling comfortable hanging out with other adults. It can be a great way to build connections with other parents, friends, children and the community at large!


Breaking Out of Isolation

The other key piece of this whole diatribe is that having age-inclusive events, and daring to bring our kids out with us, is a huge part of helping parents be less isolated! There are more and more family-oriented spaces being created. Which is awesome! Many of them though are so focused on kids that they forget about the parents! What if you want to hang out with people not limited to other parents and their kids? I had this conversation recently with a woman working at a local spot called The Village Cafe which hopes to address this exact issue. When you walk in you don’t immediately feel alienated as a non-parent. There’s a kids play space in the corner, a backroom for workshops (inter-generational ones!) and they describe their mandate as being a place that is “parent-focused.” They don’t play “kids music,” they offer high quality coffees, teas and a full menu for all ages. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Now all we need are more concert venues with a similar bent…


The Early Bird… is a Musician

On a purely selfish note, I like having my performances be all-ages because it gives me a good excuse to start them earlier than your average concert (at least your average Montreal concert…). I am a morning person and thus I sometimes struggle with the expectation of some for music events to happen in the wee hours. I do a lot of shows in rural areas because I know everyone wants to go to bed before midnight. So! If we can all agree that we need more all-ages friendly events and you start bringing your kids to more shows then maybe I can keep booking gigs where everyone shows up on time and I can pack up my gear by 10:30pm. A girl can dream can’t she?

How to Take the Pressure off Parents

Despite this oft repeated adage “it takes a village to raise a child”our society seems to have headed in the opposite direction. The nuclear family model and pressures of modern society leave little space for sharing the task of child-rearing. But what would the world be like if children being born today were raised…differently? What if they grew up with models that didn’t repeat the old patterns that so many of us are trying to heal from today? What if there was a whole generation growing up with solid self-esteem and a deep respect for all life? How can we help make that happen?

These may seem like overwhelming questions. Finding community is more and more of a challenge for many of us. Technology keeps us focused on connecting with people far away rather than those around us; cities are designed for cars instead of for people; the media keeps us in a state of fear and mistrust of our neighbours by reporting all the negative news they can dig up; everything has been scaled up…the grocery store is no longer a quaint little shop where you know all the workers, the school is home to thousands rather than a handful of students.

Given all these changes in human social organization, it becomes ever more essential for us to build our own villages. This could mean actually finding a physical location for a more communal living style. It can also simply mean reaching out to friends with similar values and building the relationships necessary for shared child-rearing. If you want it to happen, it is possible!forests-231066_1280

Bring on the Aunties (and Uncles)

There are also lots of people out there who don’t have their own kids and who could be great mentors! Maybe you`re one of them. As someone who, at least for now, doesn’t feel the call to be a mom, I often joke with my close friends that I plan to be the “auntie” for their future children. I love kids and would love to contribute to a child’s upbringing as an adult friend for them to hang out with (don’t all call me at once ;). I feel that I and many others would have a lot of positive energy and influence to contribute as an adult friend for some kids out there in need of community.

To the parents out there what I’m saying is, you may feel like asking for help with childcare is a big favour to ask, or something you have to hire people to do. However, there are actually people out there who would love to get a chance to hang out with kids more! How many times have I heard friends in their mid-twenties bemoaning the fact that they never get to hang out with children or elderly people? Many of us simply don’t have access to multi-generational environments the way we used to! Find those people in your circles and figure out some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement.


Letting go (when parents lose control)

I’ve had conversations with friends and family who balk at the idea of raising their children with other people aside from their partner. Even between partners there are often some pretty big clashes when it comes to “best parenting practices,” (let alone when the grandparents get involved).  So how on earth can we be expected to agree with other people?

It may seem scary to include others in your ideas and visions of child-rearing, but oh, the long-term benefits! There is, I believe, a strong potential for added freedom for both children and parents when other people join the mix. I, for one, am extremely grateful that I was raised in an environment that was multi-generational and where I was exposed to multiple models of adulthood. On the one hand parents get to enjoy some blessed time for themselves, or for simply getting some shit done, depending on where you’re at in your life. Children get to have a new friend, and speaking from experience having an older friend to hang out with is a lot of fun, no matter what your age!

In the end it comes down to how much control you are willing to let go of. And really, as much as you may want to mold the model citizen, you are still going to have to let go of some attachments at some point. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try and control the outcome of Project Child, there is no way of predicting the way this particular little being will evolve.

So why not…ya know…relax a little (easier said than done, I know!)? Create some clear intentions for the type of support you’d like around you and you kid(s). Find a framework that makes you feel safe and secure in taking some first steps.


Being the Change

I strongly believe our culture would benefit from taking the pressure off individual parents. We not only need people consciously preparing themselves for parenting in a new way, we need people willing to step up and support them in those efforts. We are all equally responsible for creating the world we want to see. Contributing to the growth and education of the coming generations is a key part of that.

We need to get back to a place where inter-generational exchange and mentorship are natural parts of society. Those of us not engaged directly in parenting have the opportunity, honour and responsibility of offering our support in being positive models to the children of today.


Raised Free Range: The Inside Scoop From Outside the Box

I grew up an experiential learner, guided by my interests and the love of learning that is natural to all humans. (That’s right; I said learning was natural to all humans.).  As a teenager I chose to go to public school for the final two years of high school. I wanted to have some real perspective on both forms of education.

At this point in the story I am usually bombarded with questions. “How did you adapt? Were you homeschooled or unschooled and what’s the difference anyway? Weren’t you isolated learning at home?” As someone who has experienced both sides of the educational fence, I hope to shed some light on the reality of being raised free-range.

In my life as a self-employed artist I’m often called on to talk about my background. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of misinformation and stereotypes that exist around alternative education, not to mention the sheer disbelief I encounter from people:  “YOU were homeschooled? But…you’re so…functional!” “Ooooh boy. Here we go again” I sigh.


Homeschooling vs. Unschooling

First off, let’s get our labels straight. Homeschooling is a form of education where, generally speaking, the learner is following some form of curriculum, often provided by the government or other governing body. Most of the time a homeschooler will have someone, usually a parent, who is responsible for giving lessons and evaluating their progress. The option also exists, at least in Quebec, of completing the same exams you would be taking in school.

Homeschooling is often still with religious groups but the reality is that more and more people of all creeds are opting out of the existing educational structures. Many people are choosing homeschooling simply because of the environment of violence and bullying that pervades many large public school these days. Others find that the student-teacher ratio and pressure of standardized tests detracts from the quality of learning. Reasons can vary quite a bit from family to family.

Un-schooling is a term coined by John Holt in the 1970’s and generally refers to a philosophy that rejects “compulsory institutional education”. This philosophical base distinguishes it from homeschooling, which is usually follows a mainstream framework (even religious homeschoolers would tend to approach schooling in the standard North American way). Many people who have received a mainstream education call themselves “unschoolers” when they choose to begin “unlearning” the worldview and values supported by said education system. As with most things there are exceptions and variations to the use of both terms, but that gives you a general idea.


Self-Direction: The Passion approach

For myself, I tend to say I had a self-directed education. “Wait…a 5 to 15 year-old directing their own education?
Don’t children need adults to direct them in order for them to learn?” In all honesty, no. Mentors, guides and intergenerational exchange are completely essential to the evolution of people of all ages. But, quite frankly, children can learn a lot without the constant surveillance of adults. We are born to learn. The only thing adults need to do with kids is to make sure nothing gets in the way of their curiosity and safety to explore the world and to provide resources when necessary.

As I said before, humans are natural learners. We all start out loving to learn. The current education system is not built around encouraging an individual person’s passion. It operates on the belief that all people need to learn the same things at the same in order to develop as functional members of society.

Self-directed learning relies on the fact that by learning about things we’re passionate about we develop other necessary skills by default. This was my experience and that of most other self-directed learners and unschoolers I’ve encountered. (For those interested in how this philosophy could work in a more formal school setting I suggest you read “Summerhill” by A.S. Neill.)


Going beyond separation

By seeing all subjects as separate from each other we limit our learning potential. Here’s an example of what I mean. A child fascinated by insects could easily learn reading, writing, arithmetic, biology and geography, to name only a few subjects, just from researching what interests her: bugs.

Tell her she can’t just obsess about bugs because she has to learn things in a more focused way, and you will most likely take the fun out of a few things. We all know that learning anything when we don’t want to is an uphill climb. However, people are willing to learn just about anything if it allows them to fulfill a personal goal or interest. If you want to do any research about insects, you’re at some point going to have to learn to read. You might need to learn some Latin or other languages. You will most likely discover things about various remote areas of the world. Ba da bing, ba da boom. Welcome to the tumbleweed of knowledge approach.

For myself, I discovered an early interest in world cultures, languages, history and human psychology. (Somehow these merged into a brief but intense obsession with Star Trek.) I discovered that music was an access point to all these interests. The first song I learned, at age 11, was Sinead O’Connor’s “The Potato Famine,” followed by The Neville Brothers “Sister Rosa.” It’s likely that in a grade 6 class I would not have gone about researching the Montgomery bus crisis or the Irish potato famine but in the context of self-directed learning I was free to follow my natural curiosity and delve deeper into both topics at will.

Ask me how I learned just about anything I know how to do and I won’t be able to give you one single answer. Everything being connected means exactly that. I learned countless things by extension of following my interests, and because I learned them in the context of my life, was never a chore. Ever subject was connected to every other one. Learning was part of every moment of every day. Learning was life. Simple and exciting as that.


Unlearning learning

My first shock in going from self-directed learning to formal education was realizing that the majority of my peers had completely no interest in learning. This was really confusing. How could anyone not want to learn. “Well,” said my peers, “try 13 years of having to memorize facts that don’t seem to have any connection to your everyday life”. Okay, I see your point.

I also remember the very moment in my life when I first understood boredom. It was in a grade 10 math class. The epiphany struck as I sat doodling while the teacher went over a trigonometry problem for the nth time. The lights started going off in my head. “Aha! This is boredom!” I flashed back to a childhood of excitedly asking my school-going friends what they had done all day. “Nothing…it was boring,” was the most common response. I didn’t feel like I really understood this whole boredom thing but I knew it wasn’t good.

I suppose I could be grateful to have not known boredom until my late teens and leave it at that. However, I can’t help feeling like the fact that slews of young people are coming out of the school system feeling completely uninspired  by at least 10 years of their lives…is a bit of a problem.


For each one their Way

I think it’s important to say that I don’t believe that any one form of alternative education is The Truth, the Way and The Light. The point is exactly that there is no one formula for learning. How could there be? We’re all unique individuals with different passions and different ways of processing information.

Standardized education may have certain benefits, but cultivating creativity, self-motivation, independent thinking and personal empowerment is not among them. Yes, this may have been some people’s experience. There are some absolutely amazing and dedicated teachers out there. But a look at the overarching system, from the perspective of someone who experienced other ways of learning at a young age, is not encouraging.

There are many challenges facing parents these days and questioning the education system is no small undertaking. The main crux of the matter as I see it though is that we need to reframe the way we see and approach learning and education. We need to take a new (or old, depending how you look at it…) perspective, one that recognizes the importance of integrated learning and passion and contextual relevance as primary motivators.  We need to accept that we might not always know what’s best. Sometimes we just need to throw the program out the window and go with the flow of natural  curiosity.

I, for one, dream of a world where we cherish, protect and encourage the natural love of learning of every child, every person, in whatever way necessary.