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  • Writer's pictureKatie Lane-Karnas

Embodying Autumn in Unschooling

Hello from this space in between summer and autumn, where there is a crispness in the air, a yearning for freshly laid plans. Early autumn in the Northeast, for me, brings a deep motivation for both harvesting what was grown in summer, and preparing for what lies ahead in winter.

Kid with straw hat runs through the sand on a beach, with pink towel flying behind.

The golden sunshine and fresh air inspires in me a feeling of vigorous effort that wasn’t possible during the humid, heavy summer. These motivations feel well aligned with clean pads of paper, freshly sharpened pencils, new art supplies, a stack of books on topics I really want to learn about. Going right along with this sense of possibility is my optimistic (read: overzealous) list of museums, parks, events, and places I hope to visit this fall.

I’ve been remembering the first year that I did not go back to school since I was a small child. It was the autumn I was twenty three years old. I had taken a research position studying state-funded preschools in New Jersey and classroom visits wouldn’t begin until October. I remember sitting on the porch of my little apartment on peaceful, quiet weekday mornings, the in-between time of late summer/early autumn, watching and waiting for something to happen--because I was not in school! It was just me with my cup of tea, a notebook, the beautiful trees across the parking lot. I felt I’d somehow escaped from the real world, had gotten a ticket to freedom, and it was everything I imagined it would be! I remember watching the world go on from my tiny porch, just like a weekend day, without school in my life. A part of me cautiously came alive, tested out trail running in the mornings, got familiar being with my own thoughts. I felt balanced and healthy. I would end up returning to teaching for a number of years (and even getting my own kids ready for school) before re-learning this lesson again, and then again.

Sixteen years later, I pull out a photo of me at four years old, smiling from a red metal wagon with my baby brother Kenny, with a pumpkin in between us and beautiful fall leaves all around. I have sense memories of a magical autumn time for me on our little homestead with my mother and baby brother, before I started school. I recall knowing the nature of my yard from a very short height, feeling I was a part of the late summer wild and cultivated flowers in our gardens, sticks and rocks being abundant resources full of potential, loving the cool afternoons with my mom folding laundry and watching a soap opera while Kenny napped. Spending time with this picture, I’m reflecting on how easily I delighted in my own children’s freedom-nature-outsideness through the preschool years, having myself inherited this embodied sense of truly belonging to fall--as a young child. It has taken me a couple of years to let go of watching the September school bus go by while my school-age kids are still sleepily at home, me feeling like we were somehow cheating the system. I inherited a body sense that an older child is due to school, owed to school, in the fall. This season, it feels a bit easier to reclaim my earliest somatic memories of autumn-ness from the red wagon picture, and own them as my own. It feels good to connect it to my first fall without school at twenty-three, and to my life today with unschooled children.

The season brings alive in my body good feelings of fresh starts, a sense of academic potential and promise, an urge to make plans. Good feelings tied up with my decades of schooling. Quite in contrast to my decades of schooling, I also treasure feelings of autonomy and self-centered freedom. They feel particularly purposeful at this time of year when the cultural story-myth seems to reverberate with “back-to-school.” Because we unschool, my daughters are with me every day, and I am not yet at a stage in life where it is again just me, the trees, my cup of tea and my own thoughts. But, there is a true treasure to feeling the cool air on my skin outside each day, being with the plant world in its tall, late summer glory, feeling cold river rocks under my feet a few more times, and delighting in the academic interests that seem to pop up out of nowhere, to be added to my list of things to investigate if time allows. I watch the homeschool kids I know playing wildly outside during daytimes, encouraged by parents who know all too well how soon winter will be here and we will be indoors for months. I wonder about what their bodies’ memories will be of autumn, fresh starts, autonomy, and the earth's presence as we turn the corner toward winter. I wonder what it will be like for kids who don’t have the sense of promise and potential of autumn tinged with dread and the tradeoff of freedom. While I’m happy for my friends whose families have found their lives work with back-to-school, I fully let in and relish the freedom and relief that’s mine from stepping outside of back-to-school for myself and my children, especially in autumn.

From under a pine tree branch, the viewer sees kids splashing in a lake and families sitting on a beach in the distance.

I’m wishing you all the sweetnesses of this seasonal change wherever you are! If you are unschooling or deschooling, check out my newest article published by the Alliance for Self Directed Education, Not-Back-To-School Survival Thriving! I’d love to hear tips that work for you and yours.

I offer a number of ways unschoolers and homeschoolers can access support. I love being able to offer a virtual/phone option, and truly appreciate your sharing your experience of me with a friend near or far who may like to know I’m here. My services look like:

VT EOYA: My work with Vermont homeschooling families is grounded in the truth that your wise soul, and your children’s wise souls, are already enough–and I am psyched to support your unique path by documenting according to state requirements. Email to set up a free call with me to learn what this process looks like.

COACHING: My clients say that they feel deeply heard and seen, validated, and as a result, find new and unique ways to approach challenges. I offer as-needed sessions and longer term coaching packages, by phone, for parents to reflect on and intentionally self-guide their homeschooling/deschooling lives. Coaching includes guided meditation for accessing the messages of the body and follows the trajectory of what emerges, supporting your life as a beautiful, messy, chaotic, playful, creative act. I enjoy sharing a free 30-minute clarity call (inquire by email)!

CONSULTS: Additionally, I offer consultations for families considering bringing a child home from school, providing access to a certified teacher (me) with non-judgmental experience with a variety of approaches to home- and unschooling. This gives you the opportunity to realistically consider home- or unschooling as one of your options before making the leap.

MORE: Finally, I am a keeping-it-real mother, writer, and perpetually curious person! I’d love to stay connected via FB, Instagram, or my website, and to hear from you.



Close up of smiling face of author (center), with a kid's face close by on each side.

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