Yup, I Drink The Kool-Aid. Want Some?

Sorry, I have to laugh at my own title.

Most of you know me in person, or at least fairly well through my blog, and may not have realized that I am a radical, hippy loving parent who allows my children to do whatever they want all day. Had you not noticed Carters unruly, hippy hair, I am sure you didn’t know I was a radical, extremist, indulgent parent. Maybe when his hair finally gets to full dreadlock stage it will be more apparent. Clearly I must work harder to make people realize that, yes, I am one of those. Now, if you met Tara and heard about her RV travels to sustainable farms or hung around Miranda long enough to discuss politics or, for heavens sake, curled up on a blanket with some organic veggies and light yoga stretching with Elizabeth you probably would have known about them. But me, I can see how I could have thrown you off the scent.

I think that is the thing about stereotypes. And the thing about meeting someone who doesn’t really fit them. How does a former public school teacher with a Masters degree in Education, with Republican tendencies, and fairly comfortable lifestyle start drinking the kool-aid?

It’s easy. You realize your family likes Kool-Aid better than anything else. That’s how.

Have I completely lost you? Sorry! Let me explain.

ABC did a story on an unschooling family. A VERY biased story on an unschooling family. The reporter goes so far as to call the children “feral”. It is clear that she wasn’t doing the story to educate people on what unschooling is. Her motive was clearly to out this terrible, horrible thing we unschooling parents are doing to our children and society.

Really?

Cause mainstream public education based on a model developed to create a society of factory workers is working out so well?

Cause I want my children to WANT to learn not HAVE to learn?

Cause I think that an underpaid full time substitute throwing worksheets at my kids just isn’t good enough?

Really?

Cause as someone who holds a Masters in Education I can’t distinguish good, educational philosophies and apply them to my own children?

I know, I am crazy. (just think…I am qualified to teach children, too)

Now, lets get a few things straight. I think that most teachers are fabulous. I know so many and my children have had the great fortune to be in many of their classes. But they have had bad teachers too. And sadly, a year of a bad teacher can ruin 5 years of great ones. I wasn’t willing to let my children be stuck in an educational setting I didn’t think was the best for them. I thought (and, sorry, have proof to back it up) that being home with me was a much better choice for them.

Instead of spouting numbers and theories I think I will do away with some common unschooling myths as they relate to me and my family.

Myth: Unschooling kids watch tv and play video games all day. OK, well, in truth, there are days that happens. Everyone’s mind needs a break sometime. Isn’t that what kids in brick and mortar schools have Sat and Sun, and Summer Break for? It’s just that our learning is much more out of the box than that. It isn’t on a set schedule. It happens in the smallest of moments and in the largest of venues. It happens when we are playing at the park and suddenly get a lesson in Native American folklore or sit down to watch a movie and get immersed in discussion of the German Resistance Movement. No, Carter cannot list the names of Presidents in order. He can, however, tell you in great detail about the lives of many of them. What is more important?

Myth: Unschoolers don’t use books, specifically textbooks. Are you kidding me? My house is full of books. We spend more money at Barnes and Noble than most classrooms do. When something interests my kiddos we go to the book store to get more information on it. We have that time and flexibility.  I don’t have to say “wait ’til the weekend”. We can strike while the iron is hot. I don’t use the library cause I tend to forget to return things on time.

Myth: Unschoolers don’t use curriculum. Bull on that one too. Connor spent this whole year doing K12′s curriculum.

Myth: Unschoolers don’t do chores. In this house they do. That is being part of a family and a community. Everyone has to help out to make things work. It is important that my children know they are capable of helping both themselves and others.

Which brings me to a point that I have to say, this is where most people do not understand the true, core value of unschooling. I really struggled with it at first too and it was the above mentioned friend, Elizabeth, who one day really put it into perspective for me:

Unschooling is honoring your child. Unschooling is allowing them the freedom and time necessary for your child to learn who he is and where he wants to be in life.Unschooling is giving your child a multitude of experiences and exposure to as many things in life as possible as they walk that journey of self discovery. Unschooling is putting things in their path that challenge them along the way but never dictating what road they choose to walk.

It takes an ungodly amount of patience, time and trust to let that unfold in your child. But it is so worth it because what you come out with on the other end is a child who knows himself, his world and his place in it. A child who is capable of setting their own goals and who has the desire and drive to achieve them.

So, getting back to using K12 curriculum for my unschooled oldest. Think that goes against unschooling? It doesn’t. K12 was a tool Connor needed to reach his goal of attending a certain private school this year. Back to that proof thing I mentioned….Connor placed in the top 10 kids out of over a thousand who applied. He had a goal, I supplied the tools, and he was able to make it work beautifully. More proof? He started his own company at 11 that is quite successful. Still more? Carter no longer takes any kinds of meds that he needed in school and loves to read and write.

I understand that many people fear that allowing a child to direct their own future and education is putting too much faith in such a young being but I don’t see it that way. I believe I am here to guide my children to become the best they can be. Not the best I want them to be. There is a big difference and if you understand that difference you may just be ready for a glass of kool-aid…grab a glass and watch this. It is 8 minutes long and fabulous! It even talks about a bacon boy with meat vision……..




*and before I get a bunch of comments from parents who have chosen other educational methods, I have no judgment on any choices. Lord knows I have tried most of them at one point or another. Each family, each child and each environment are unique. What works for me may not work for you and that is totally great. Your kids may be in the most awesome public school ever. I am really happy that is the case. It wasn’t for us so we chose differently. America was founded on the belief that we should all have choices…

Happy Birthday Mom!

My mom turns 81 today. I would like to say that I gave her a wonderful gift. But I didn’t. She actually gave me one. Isn’t it always that way with moms?

I gave my mom a plane ticket to come visit for the week. But she gave me the hope and encouragement that at 81 she can still take off work, hop on a plane, and get here on her on volition.

I gave my mom a membership to ancestry.com. But she gave me 1,000′s of pictures and stories that only she as the last member of her generation would know. She gave me hours of her time identifying people in pictures and telling me the silly little things like, yes, your Nana went by Theresa but she was legally named Sarah and why. Apparently my grandparents did not agree on the name and since in those days the fathers typically went to register the birth in the next town over, he wrote down what he wanted and never told my great grandmother until my nana was getting married.

Last night I gave my mom a bottle of wine. She gave me a night of fun and laughs while we looked through old photos. We found photos of a  tombstone from an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. We found copies of books showing our family was one of the first settlers at Plymouth Rock. We found Coat of Arms, Knights Templar medals, and wills and castles of our family dating back to the 1400′s! I always thought that I was mostly from an Irish Immigrant background and that is part of our history but there is so much more history in England.

So, here is to you mom. I can never give you what you have given me! Can’t wait for you to move here and spend the next 40 years of your life!

If you have yet to start ancestry.com I seriously hope you do soon before you lose touch with older generations of your family. I am so sorry I didn’t start this when my dad was alive (and for some reason I feel compelled to tell you that I have in no assoc. with them I just really, really, really love it).

How To Ask For Blog Conference Sponsorship

Last week Tamara talked about why a newbie blogger should attend a conference. This week, I want to look at the nuts and bolts of how to attend a blog conference on someone else’s dime(s).

Let’s face it. Conferences are EXPENSIVE and if you are a mom making just enough to pay for your monthly coffee habit from your blog it may seem like a crazy way to spend your money. If you are serious about your blogging goals, the money you spend on conferences can be well worth it. If you are just trying to update your family on little Susie’s latest word, it probably isn’t. Either way, looking for conference sponsorship is a great way to make it do-able (doable?? hmm…..)

If you have been to at least one conference, you know it seems like everyone there is sponsored by someone. Sponsorship to a conference basically just means that a brand has helped you to defray the costs of attending the conference. I have seen all sorts of sponsorships, from a full sponsor who would pay for everything including your ticket, airfare, hotel and misc. expenses to those that partially cover your expenses or give you a product you may need for the trip.

The first thing you should do in looking for a blog conference sponsorship is put together a summary of the conference you are hoping to attend. Not sure which conferences are for you? Jyl has a great list here! What is the conference about? What do you hope to gain from the conference? What types of brands would benefit from having a presence at this conference? What are the benefits to a brand?

Last year I attended a conference and was shocked to find that one of the brands I work with was not represented there. They had given me a very small sponsorship to attend that conference without any strings attached (meaning I did not agree to promote them or report back). But when I came home I wrote them a detailed report of the conference and why I think their presence would be invaluable in the future. They agreed to fully sponsor me the following year (I did not ask) as well as expanding their reach year round into the mom blogging market. Win-win for us both!

Now that you know what your goals are with the conference and what brands may work well with that, it is time to reach out to those PR contacts that you have been building since we started this series. Start by sending them information on the conference. Point them to the conference website and past years the conference has been running. Don’t assume that they already know about the conference. Hopefully they will have a few competitors who are already involved :) Let them know that you would like to attend the conference. Remind them of successful campaigns you have worked on in the past with them. Your email should explain why you think they should be involved and what you are willing to do in exchange for a sponsorship. Let them know about your readership and stats. What is your reach?

Have a detailed breakdown of the costs you expect to incur at this conference. Let them know upfront if you are hoping to get a full sponsorship from them or if you are expecting to reach out to several brands for a partial sponsorship. Tell them why you are a much better choice than sending a rep from their company! This is an easy one….the answer is because you already live in this space and are a more natural fit to really learn what the most exciting trends are. You know the people attending already (if only by being their readers) and you are better equipped to understand the industry.

What do bloggers do in exchange for sponsorship?

Really, a variety of things. One of the most clever sponsorships I have seen was Jenn Fowler teaming up with Coldwater Creek for her wardrobe last year at BlogHer. Genius in my opinion how she handled that. Some of the more common things:

  • hand out business cards
  • hand out swag bags with brand merchandise
  • run a live giveaway
  • live tweet at the event
  • live blog the event
  • host a private party in your suite
  • gather contacts for the sponsor
  • give a detailed report on the conference to the sponsor
  • exchange advertising space on your site
  • list sponsors on a special sponsor page on your site

Make sure that you check the conference guidelines to see what you are able to do for the sponsor before offering. I know BlogHer this year is not allowing attendees to pass things out in the conference space or host private parties within the conference hotel. This is a big change from last year and will force people to get a little more creative!

Last but not least, don’t give up! You are bound to get a few no’s as you work through your contact list. That is OK. If it is a no because of the budget or so forth, DO follow up with them after the conference and let them know what they missed out on so they can plan for next year!

Oh, and one more thing, if any wonderful brands out there reading this would like to sponsor me for any of the following: EVO, Savvy Blogging Summit, BlogHer or IZEAFest this year, please feel free to read more about how we can work together! *shameless plug*

What are some successful blog conference sponsorships you have seen or had? What are some of the ways it doesn’t work??