What is Symbiotic/Self Directed Learning?

Is this “unschooling”?

It might be, but I think Symbiotic/Self Directed Learning is more a way of holding space for learning than a prescribed way of homeschooling.  It lends itself well to the the unschooling spectrum but may not fit some peoples idea of unschooling.  It is great for the eclectic homeschooler and it works well with early childhood and adults.

Let’s deconstruct it a bit.

Symbiotic : adj. – denoting a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups

It is reciprocity and learning alongside each other.  Not all homeschooling families hold this as their goal or even realize the potential and the beauty it can hold.   I am so passionate about it because life is busy and full!  It can be really challenging to meet the needs of all the members in a family and my family is large!  We all need sustenance, nurturance, to feel of use, to have passions, to have meaning, to pursue interests… but what usually happens? As parents, our own personal needs often go unmet.  Symbiotic learning has a way of “stacking functions”.  It creates opportunities to meet the  many needs of many people at the same time.  It is not only a time saver, but a connection builder.  It is creating a habits of presence and turning towards each other and reflecting on challenges, wondering, sharing and celebrating together.

This can be applied to ANYTHING AND ANY CURRICULUM.  Even if you are teaching your child to read.  If you hold the space, (take the perspective,) created by symbiotic learning you will be enriched as well.  In literacy it might take the form of reflections as you explore their comprehension, for example.  When you reflect together on what you have read it opens a beautiful window into your child’s soul and vice versa.  They want to know you too.  They want to hear if you have had that experience, how you feel or would respond to something.  It is modeling curiosity, support, listening, empathy, collaborating, critical thinking and values.  It is mindfulness, parenting and learning all at once.

In symbiotic learning, as in the Reggio approach, we begin by providing what we call a provocation.  This might be the curriculum you have purchased, a field trip, a video, book, a collection of things on a table or just about anything that may spark curiosity.  From there we learn to explore, looking at it from an educational or personally expanding perspective and finally, we try to find a way of expressing it. It involves the whole being and the myriad of ways to be engaged.

Symbiotic learning enriches the family’s experience of learning and living.

Self-directed learning – 

Just like “unschooling”,  people will and can define and apply self-directed learning in so many ways.  For me, it is ultimately about engagement and investment.  Similar to the idea of “child lead” learning in early childhood development, it allows the child to bring forth their own interests and then either through their own direction and intrinsic motivation or with adult support and facilitation they take that interest as far as they can and across as many learning domains or subjects as possible.

For me, it is not a hands off approach!  It is a curious, observational and supportive one.

To learn more about how to facilitate this type of learning check out our  current Workshops and Offerings or  Exploring Family Learning 

Winter, Flow and Shifting

It’s been awhile…

Forgive my long absence. I imagine you all believed I had dropped away and given up. In fact, I did need to drop away for a bit.

There have been a few changes and a few hiccups in the road.

The changes… actually exciting news.

I have teamed up with Hilltop Preschool to create an educator mentorship program, which has picked up much quicker than anticipated. I also hadn’t realized the demands this would place on my time in the early part of the school year. I have been working with the teachers at Hilltop and also with Oku, a homeschooling vendor in Fountain Valley, CA that hired all new teachers for the year. It has been busy but exciting helping them to define their combined intentions and support them in creating their vision as a project and relationship based school.

The hiccups…

While I had fully intended to ease up for the winter months, I did not realize the winter would come to me so quickly. In September and October on top of settling into my new home, my schedule was happily quite full but changes in the weather and the long hours had a greater impact on my body and my autoimmune disorder than expected. I had to work quickly to make adjustments in my schedule and demands and so the website work was simply let go.

For the same reasons, the in person Fireside Chats were also put aside.

The body says “NO” to living out of sync with the seasons

and what that means today is a slower pace physically, more rest and more reflection. Thus far, I am quite excited by my own growth and learning during this time. Lots of new discoveries to share.

In the meantime, I am still here and taking it a step at a time as I discover what to prioritize and how. Doing the moment to moment work of being a Family Spirit Keeper and staying in step with the flow and changing demands of family, healing, growth, learning and work.

For now, I will continue to mentor and build workshops with Hilltop, I have a few spots available for coaching and will continue to add to the Exploring Family Living online workshops with occasional in person Firesides as time permits. So stay up to date by subscribing to the website or following Family Spirit Keepers on FB.

Also, in the meantime:

I have two upcoming events:

The Four Chairs in Relationship and Problem Solving With Children

Family Spirit Keeper Fireside Chat on February 2, 2019  – 11 – 12:30pm in Fountain Valley spots are limited to 10 participants and this workshop will be followed up with further development and understanding on the Exploring Family Learning Fireside on February 19th

Communicating and problem solving, whether with children or in adult relationships, is all about connection.  When I connect with your needs or the needs of others, life is richer and easier but doing it – really doing it, is quite simply challenging!  Often our perspective is cluttered with stories and wounds and finding our way to clear communication and empathy can seem impossible. When we are facilitating between children, sometimes even more so!  Most of us know that we need to pause and breathe but what else? What is possible in the pause that can shift the conversation from blame and shame to connection, possibility and solution for all? The answer is in these four perspectives.

By combining my years of experience with training parents and children in the facilitation of problem solving and the work of Peggy Smith, Certified NVC trainer,  I have created a short powerful introductory tool that can be the beginning of a wonderful shift towards greater connection with yourself, your children and all those you live in relationship with.

The Four Chairs


Family Spirit Keeper Exploring Family Learning Fireside

Creating Connection through listening – observations vs evaluations – February 19, 2019  7-9pm in Fountain Valley, CA spots are limited to 10 participants.

Evaluation – it is a knee jerk response.  We experience what we believe and therefore we communicate as if our experience is absolute.  But it’s not. Our experience is a combination of what happened and all the baggage we brought into that moment.  A critical skill for more compassionate communication, connection and empathy is becoming more familiar with observation and observational language.  Developing an observer consciousness can help us in several ways.

  1. It helps us to communicate without judgement and assumption
  2. It helps us to see ourselves more compassionately
  3. It helps us sift through years of baggage and release old wounds by making us aware of subconscious stories that create anxiety and limiting beliefs.

IF you have taken the Four Chairs workshop, you probably have become aware of how difficult it is to shift into empathy or compassion for others.

Exploring Family Learning


Cultivating your observer and observer language is a great starting point.

You can still take advantage of the rich supportive homeschooling course, The Summer of Becoming. It is available online only for just $150 PLUS you get 2 months free of Exploring Family Learning online, including all previous offerings!  

Avoidance Behaviors – diving deeper into the inner child

When I sit in a facilitator space, (learning or healing), being present is not so challenging. Being there, witnessing, observing and responding comes naturally and easily.  It is after all my job, how I was trained and so in that, it is a regular practice. I can watch, feel and experience all at the same time.  

What I am noticing right now, is that in my life – this is much harder.  A voice comes in my head and tells me what I “should be” doing, or a feeling comes forth and I constrict or find ways to avoid.  Even writing this, right now, is actually what I might call “permissible avoidance”. It’s work after all, so who could blame me or point fingers if I do this rather than feel, meditate or experience what is truly happening right now?  I mean, I need to work, right?

What I truly realized today though, is that by doing this I ignore, avoid and devalue the other parts of myself – the other needs I have.  My need to feel or recognize uncomfortable feelings, my need to have order and a clean home, my need to demonstrate love to my family and be present for them…  and today I wondered what would happen if I said “yes” just a little more often. After all, uncomfortable feelings are valuable and they will stick around longer if I stick them in some pocket of my heart, my energy or my body.  After all, cleaning the house will just seem bigger if left longer. I tell myself today that those things I avoid – those are still me – still my soul or my heart or my being whispering to me about my desires or the spaces where I need to feel heard.

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

That’s the difference.  Right now, I see that. I see that instead of seeing those voices as desires or needs of my own I have been seeing them as demands or requests outside of me – someone else pulling the strings or someone else’s responsibility to repair or heal.   I have suddenly found a new layer of the “have to”/”choose to” wisdom.

Today I am going to try to at least witness my habits of avoidance and make a conscious choice with full understanding of what and why I choose.



And…the inner child steps forward.

I am laughing at myself a bit this morning as it dawns on me that my inner child has been running the show the last few days.  Pouting about how unfair life is.

beautiful blonde downstairs facial expression

Photo by Nikolay Draganov on Pexels.com

I discovered a false belief that she carries that someday there will be a time when I can just focus on – one thing.  “In two weeks, it will be calmer and I can just focus on creating or healing or my family.” or “This weekend will be easier to…”

Even though life keeps proving to me that saying it doesn’t make it a promise, I kept believing that it did. Just this morning, I realized, I feel disappointed all the time because that is not realistic!  Life will happen. Sure, there will be times that it all works out – but there is no promise – no setting life aside or stopping everyone and everything else so they might not interfere and change our plans.  Most of us are, after all, living interdependent lives. Choosing relationship over isolation.

How many times have I said these things to myself?  How many times has Spirit pointed out my folly? It’s rather like the belief that God will never let anything bad happen to me.  It just simply isn’t the true promise. It’s a child’s view of deeper truth. What does this look like in my life right now?

Well, I quit my job to focus on building a business and healing myself.  I felt the rush of excitement at having this simpler focus in my life – less distraction or others pulling at me.  Well, one month in and I received a phone call from the property manager that we would have to move in 60 days. It may seem like nothing to many of you but my parents and I have been renting this home for 37 years.  This is my childhood home, my children’s childhood home. As such, it holds life, death and a ton of wandering children’s belongings. You know what happens when you raise or help to raise 10 children? You acquire a lot!  And then you tell yourself you will get around to sorting through it – this weekend – this summer…and then a parent gets sick, a friend is in need, your child gets depressed or you’re so tired from work or overwhelm…

Annnnd… here we are full circle.  Ummm…someone is trying to tell me something about waiting around for the perfect time that never comes.  Or is it more about “fairness”? Maybe I should accept that LIFE waits for no man.. Maybe it is more about embracing who I am – or finding balance.  Could it be about choice? Balance? I am an inner-personal/intra-personally focused person – everything else in life is a distraction for me – an annoyance.  I guess that means I have some strong avoidance behaviors.

So what is the deeper truth?  What is Spirit’s promise here, if there is one at all?  Perhaps Spirit simply is asking me to know choice and gratitude when the opportunity presents itself.  To recognize that when I respond to the people in my life, it is because they are what matter to me. Responding meets my need to be of use, to matter to others, to belong…it is where my joy lies.  And yet, there are other needs…to have order in my life, to have time for self-nurturing, to provide shelter and sustenance for myself and my family. And so I step back for a minute and recognize that this is just like any other time when there are conflicting needs – we hold it all – we compromise – we adjust and finally we bend and flow.  The peace is in the knowing we are meeting needs by making choices – not by force – not as a victim but as a heart centered human.

adult adventure baby child

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com 



“A child is capable of holding dichotomy and through their imaginations can begin to explore possibility and solutions for some of the worlds greatest problems.  They may or may not be any more ready to solve them then we are, but youth is a time when we need to support their discovery of tolerance and compassion in as many ways as we can, while practicing problem solving and critical thinking alongside them.  We also must recognize that their fresh perspective can sometimes provide greater possibilities and inspiration for us.

They are aware, hearing little bits of what is happening in our world, wondering and sometimes fearing what we cannot explain.  Sometimes the right course of action is simply to lean into faith, comfort them and focus on joy but we must remember that life holds these great questions and challenges and find safe ways of exploring them; discovering our power within them.

The following story is the culmination of a semester long project I worked on with a group of young students ages 7-9.  The group was formed within a sort of self-directed, agile learning culture.  My job was to inspire, discover common interests, protect or guide the over-arching intentions of their parents and respect who the children were as learners and as people.

It was a collaborative discovery for all involved.  I wanted to know what we could do with a group of students chosen specifically for their shared interests, supportive, curious and  fully invested parents, and their similar and/or balancing natures and learning styles.  I chose the students very intentionally because I believed they could learn well together, from each other and with me.  I am so grateful to these families for their trust and participation.”

This is shared from one of my personal blogs on Writing the Wind to continue reading about our experience click here…