Unschoolers Grow at the Campground: Coffee (Uh, Lemonade?) and Conversation

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own So settle into a comfy seat, and I’ll pour for you – today, I’m offering virtual lemonade in a glass pitcher glistening with condensation – can you hear the ice cubes clinking?

I meant to post a Coffee and Conversation – but I ran out of day before I ran out of things to do. That happens, sometimes, especially when I’m as scattered as I was through the majority of last week, once the exhaustion that resulted from the four wonderful days of Unschoolers Rock the Campground lifted.

Now, though, I’ve gotten some rest, some perspective, and some renewed focus, so it’s time to share what I meant to share last week.

We’ve been attending Unschoolers Rock for several years now, and, the year before we first traveled to Plymouth, the kids and I journeyed from our upstate New York home to the little corner of Pennsylvania known as York, where we camped with other unschoolers in a farm meadow.

So hard to believe that that’s my now-giant boy in the denim jacket!
Exploring a horse skeleton; that’s Annalise all the way on the right, in the pink. She is a lifelong lover of bones.
Annalise and Bethany in their Horse Tree.
Boys (Jeremiah,, Gabriel, and Josh) gaming – and a lot more toys than we camp with today!

There’s something about seeing my children in other settings – especially when the setting is the same, or nearly so, year after year. Watching them in another environment, and away from home, points up the growth and changes that have occurred since our last visit, and reveals skills and abilities I might not notice, in our everyday environment.

Exploring the Mayflower II, in 2010.
Living a life anchored in love and learning, and accompanied by a plush humpback whale….Plymouth, MA, 2010.
Siblings after a day of lake swimming!
Warrior on the Campground!
Gabrielle, Annalise and Alana enjoy their swim – and their friendship.

So here, in images, is a record of growth and change – the just-five and almost eight year olds who are now, after years of annual camping trips, now eleven and nearly fourteen (that’s still a little surreal to me, so excuse me while I gasp a little…

I’m glad I enjoy taking pictures, so that I have this visual record – of their growing up, of our changing reality, of what peaceful, non-coercive parenting can create…


Annalise was in love with this dolphin!
Hot tub construction in progress, 2011!
Independence in the water….
Making a splash!
Miah and friends…this was the summer he really became a strong swimmer.

In a culture where so very many children lead lives as scheduled as their parents – with school, homework, chores, and a plethora of enrichment activities – from athletics to camps to lessons in all manner of things, sometimes not even things chosen by the child themselves, but by parents or educators who believe these activities are more beneficial- I find it refreshing to look back at these images of the children in my life, who choose how to spend their time.

Dead-eye Burton,with his best friend, Harry. Photo by Adam Smith.
Bicycling Boy – the year he became campground-independent! Photo by Adam Smith.

It shows up clearly, in these sequential images, captured in random camping

moments throughout the years…

And, during the times when things get angsty, I hang onto these images, and the memory of the things that were our ‘hot spots’ in each of those seasons, and how most of them have faded into the past, reassuring me that today’s frictions likely will, too.

2014 – the first year she could swim alone to the floating dock – and then – chill!
His face was changing….and has kept right on doing that….
With his best friend Harry.
Enjoying the freedom and bliss of deeper waters!
She seemed suddenly very grown and capable….looking back, she’s much more grown today.
In the last weeks before he became a teen, there’s a clown in this big boy – and the type of soul who’ll let younger friends decorate him!

Yes, teens and preteens are still dealing with the messy process of growing up, even when they aren’t overburdened, and it would be a gross and unfair lie to say that every moment of every day was a thing of joy and wonder. But, as these images show, there’s a lot more good than not-good in our lives, and the growing is happening – naturally, and with beauty.

Gabrielle, Annalise, and Gabriella, this July….#swaggirls smiling, and growing up before our eyes….

Does your family have any treasured, yearly events by which you marked your own or your childrens’ growing up? Feel like sharing? Let me get you a fresh cool glass of lemonade, and you can tell us all about it!

Yes, that’s me in the middle – and that big blonde guy on the end? That’s my now bigger-than-me, looking more like a man every day son, weeks before he turns 14.

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