Parents are often disappointed with the public school system but don’t necessarily know what their other options might be. Dayna Martin, an author, educator and mother to four children, has one radical solution.
She is a vocal proponent of “radical unschooling,” an educational and child-raising philosophy which lets children decide for themselves what they want to do and when. It’s the philosophy and method she used to raise her four children, the oldest of whom is now 19. Martin is not just a parenting coach. She is a vegan, the owner of a raw vegan food business called Rawk Stars, an anarchist, a doula and a midwife. In her capacity as a midwife she promotes natural childbirth.
Find out more about Dayna Martin and Radical Unschooling on her website.
We caught up with her at the Voice and Exit conference in Austin, Texas, to ask her about her philosophy on parenting.
Martin told us how radical unschooling starts with the premise of unschooling, a movement which puts the child at the center of the learning process. Children are guided by interest and are empowered to learn what they want, when they want, with appropriate guidance and assistance from their parents. Radical unschooling takes that freedom to the next level by giving them that freedom in all aspects of life. That means no bedtimes, no limits on screen time, no homework and no punishments. It is intimately connected with the peaceful parenting movement which goes beyond prohibiting violence to prohibiting even shouting at children.
She describes this method as based in trust and courage. When done right she credits it with transforming the parent child dynamic from one of conflict and control to one of connection and joy.
Her book, Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun lays out in detail her philosophy and the reasons behind it, as well as practical advice on how to parent in this manner. She also teaches her methodology to other parents as an “UnNanny.” She does Skype and in-person coaching sessions in which she trains parents to give up control and learn to trust their children. She also teaches specific methods for how to cope with difficult situations that may arise.
Martin is keen to emphasize that radical unschooling does not mean “unparenting.” She says it requires an incredibly hands on and empathetic approach in which the parent carefully talks to and explains things to the child, such as why other children don’t like it when you snatch away their toys. Having conversations about important social codes like this, even from a young age, is how she teaches children how to flourish in the world. She doesn’t want to impose rules, but neither is she naive about the reality that the world has many rules you can’t break without significant consequences (like “don’t steal). She also emphasizes the importance of modelling good behavior and living an empathetic life.
She also highlights the importance of meeting their needs. One example she gave was taking young children to the library. If you go when they are grumpy and tired, or when they’re full of energy, they are much more likely to charge around the place screaming and generally causing disruption. Martin says you should never have gone to the library in the first place while they were in that state. Instead of telling them off when they misbehave, anticipate their needs by taking them to the park to blow off some steam or making sure they are fully fed and rested before going to the library.
But don’t think Martin expects parents to run around mindlessly catering to their child’s every whim without question.
The model of parenting she described seemed very labor intensive for parents, but built around love, trust, non-judgement and empowering the child to live life on their own terms. Whilst her radical solutions may not be for everyone, it is at least worth exploring some of her ideas on how we can improve on the way we parent.