#12 - Lucy AitkenRead | From London to a Yurt: A Journey of Unschooling and Self-Discovery
🗓️ Recorded February 15th, 2023. 📍Palermo, Sicily, Italy.
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Connect with Lucy AitkenRead
- Unschooling course: https://discolearning.com
- Blog: https://lulastic.co.uk
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LulasticAndTheHippyshake
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lucy_aitkenread
About this Episode
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to leave the hustle and bustle of city life and embrace the wild?
This episode features an incredible conversation with Lucy AitkenRead, a nomadic adventurer who shares her family's journey from London to off-grid living in New Zealand.
Lucy AitkenRead is a mother, activist, bestselling author, and an unschooling advocate and runs Disco Learning.
After living in London for years, Lucy and her husband felt the desire to break away from societal expectations and fulfill a deeper calling. They drove off in a van and explored Europe before settling down in New Zealand, where her husband is from. Lucy shares her story in her book: '30 Days of Rewilding’, which is a collection of daily readings that will inspire families to fall in love with nature.'
We dive into their experience on the road, the balance between work and family, and the lessons they've learned along the way.
We also tackle the topic of unschooling, discussing the need to dismantle the traditional school system and empower children to thrive outside of those institutions. Lucy offers her insights on the social implications of unschooling, the healing potential of this journey, and the systemic injustice it seeks to address. This conversation will challenge your perspectives on education, relationships, and what it truly means to live a fulfilling life.
We hope you will enjoy this episode and be inspired to follow your own calling, even if it means breaking away from societal norms and expectations, stepping outside your comfort zone, and creating a life that aligns with your values.
Clips from this episode
Answering the Call of Nature: A Journey from City Life to Rewilding
There's something about nature that draws us in and calls us back. For Lucy AitkenRead, moving from the bustling city of London to a yurt was a way to answer that call and reconnect with the natural world. And while she admits that it may sound cringey or stereotypical, there's something archetypal about this journey - the idea of humans getting caught up in what we're supposed to do, only to realize there's more to life than ticking boxes.
For Lucy and her family, that realization came with having children and considering the life they wanted to create for their kids. It was a chance to shake things up and ask themselves: do we want to stay in the city and keep doing what we're supposed to do, or are we willing to throw it all out the window and see what develops?
In the end, the pull toward nature was too strong to ignore. It was a chance to rewild themselves, connect with the natural world, and create a different kind of life.
Deinstitutionalizing our Minds: The Sacred Path of Deschooling
Have you ever felt like you're doing nothing, but deep down, you know that's exactly what you should be doing?
Well, that's the beauty of the deschooling process, or as Lucy AitkenRead puts it, the "de-institutionalizing" of ourselves.
It's not easy to sit with the discomfort of feeling like you should be doing more, but that's exactly what this process is all about. It's about unpacking the institutionalization in our bodies and minds, questioning the "shoulds" that we've been taught all our lives, and discovering what truly matters to us.
Deschooling is not just about learning outside the traditional education system. It's about redefining what success means to us, letting go of the need for constant productivity, and recognizing that simply living our lives is enough. All you built on top is just a bonus.
So, if you're feeling lost or unsure about where you're headed, take a step back, sit with the discomfort, and start the sacred path of unschooling.
Jesper Conrad: Okay, Lucy, welcome. Can you start out by letting us know where you are right now in your van somewhere?
Lucy AitkenRead: Okay, right now, in this moment, i'm sitting in my van, our adventure wagon, which is an EV that we converted into a camper van, and we're parked on the side of the road on top of a hill outside a little valley where we have our land. So I left my family finishing off their sweet corn and potatoes for dinner And I've just driven up the hill because we don't have any internet on our land.
Jesper Conrad: And how I knew that's just like I feel your fear. Yeah, I would have placed you on top of the mountain.
Cecilie Conrad: You can't do it.
Jesper Conrad: No, no, i'm not good without wifi, But it leaves For the people who don't.
Lucy AitkenRead: It is a little bit discombobulating at the beginning. I think it probably took a week to get used to, you know, not having it, because we've actually been living in a town. We're in a quite a nomadic phase of life at the moment, so we've been on our land for eight years, but then we spent the last year living in a little town And we got very, very used to very fast internet And all of us enjoyed it so much And that then when we came back to the land this summer, it took us a full week to sort of mentally adjust, but it's actually been so amazing. It's been like a vacation for your brain. Yeah, so I don't know, it's been a really interesting two months without having the internet. Really, i know I've been incredibly annoying, like trying for you guys trying to get hold of me for a podcast.
Jesper Conrad: I haven't felt that No no, no, no, no, it's fine, it's me doing the scheduling. No, no, no, no. When we started this nomadic life ourselves, part of me was like thinking okay, then I don't work all the time And then I just decide when I want to work. But I felt actually that I ended up being online most of the time, Which was kind of stressful. So part of me can understand maybe a future I can see myself in where we have no Wi-Fi from time to time. Now we are in a van and we have limited Wi-Fi. Right now We are in a rented Airbnb, but I actually like that the dedicated time. Now I work, now I don't work. It's actually nice.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, that's what I love about it. So I obviously still have to work, but I'm reliant on the library hours So I have to do my work in a public space. So then if I need to run a course or a workshop, it is a little bit hectic. I have to ring around friends and try and find office spaces where there's not going to be other people around, and you know there is a component of stress about it if your livelihood is based online. So, yeah, it's a real interesting balancing act, i think, where you know, if you want to have a really fulfilling livelihood as you travel and adventure, you know it does come with a certain need to be really flexible and quite resilient with how you're going to do things.
Jesper Conrad: And I would love to go in for people who don't know you and your story to hear that. But first of all I need to give a greeting from our fellow friend, martin Martin Cook and Charlie, whom we met through the World School Summit in Granada three years ago And I just met him and I just love his wife. I've only been together with him for a week but I was like that guy, i want to talk more with him.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, those two are amazing out there. You can imagine what we're like when we get together. We just do not take a breath of air. Yeah, so we have known them for a really long time, since before even our second children were born. Their eldest daughter and my eldest daughter were firm friends when we lived next door together when we were in London.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, And that's kind of lubing us into the story. You came from London, now you live in New Zealand.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, so it's not totally as bizarre Or maybe it is when you realise that my husband, Tim, is a New. Zealander. So I feel like that takes off a little bit of the bizarreness of it.
Lucy AitkenRead: The Yerts thing is still, you know, a little bit of a cliche, i think. Moving from the big city of London to Yerts, yeah, we just really felt a call to back to nature. You know it is really. Whenever I talk about it I do make myself cringe. I'm like, oh, it's so cringy. How stereotypical it is, you know. But I think maybe not stereotypical, maybe it's archetypal.
Lucy AitkenRead: You know there is an archetypal theme to what we've done, which is humans. You know, getting really caught up in what you're supposed to do and fulfilling all the things that you do. You know, school, university, great jobs, mortgage in the city, big commute, and then having a kind of bit of a shake up. For us that was just having children and considering what life we wanted to do, what life we wanted to create with our kids. And then, you know, when you have that shake up, really considering do we want to stay here, do we want to keep picking all these boxes and being normal, or are we willing to throw all out the window and see what can develop?
Lucy AitkenRead: And for us the pool was totally wild. It was a call back to nature to like rewild ourselves. And we didn't know what it was at the beginning. We just sold our house. We had gone halves with my parents on a VW Westphalia. So we traveled around Europe for six months with our family just being totally open, like wondering what is this we're feeling, what is this call? What shape is it going to take? We had no idea. We just traveled around, bummed around and eventually, after about a year bumming around, It's the best break, having no idea what we're doing.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, we've been doing that for five years.
Lucy AitkenRead: So good, i mean, we're actually heading back into that state right now. We're like, you know, we've had these eight years of pretty firm stability building this off-grid farm and yurt life in the wild in New Zealand, but I don't know, we're feeling a similar kind of call at the moment to maybe something a bit different. And so, yeah, at the moment I'm like, is it just a state of being, you know, and you're saying you've been in it for five years?
Jesper Conrad: Right, obviously, We started out with buying a big red bus and with the idea to roam Europe in it. But the bus is really big, so we ended up driving it to Spain and then it ended being kind of a tiny house there And we bought an extra car to at VW to roam the lands, and now we have a bigger car.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, it's been a process. It's been a process. First the bus was too big and then we got a van and it worked, but the children grew really fast And it came too small And now we have a van big enough And I think we just have to reinvent ourselves all the time. And we considered this should we just get some land and figure it out and buy a small place somewhere and just change location? We had like similar just in Copenhagen, great life there, and it was just not enough. But I think we could just never decide. It was like, yeah, not that not. And at the moment at least, it's really fulfilling for us to keep change. Right now we're in a big city, we're in Palermo, sicily, and enjoying art, museums and cafes and concerts and archaeology, whatever. Very, very overstimulating because it's only five days, but we have all the big city experience And then we'll go to the countryside and look at the horizon With no Wi-Fi.
Cecilie Conrad: No my husband can't do without Wi-Fi.
Jesper Conrad: I'm not there yet. I'm not there yet Maybe one.
Lucy AitkenRead: So do you think a big part of being okay so being five years into it, do you think a big part of it is as long as you're finding fulfillment with what you're doing and as long as it maybe feels like a choice. we're choosing this state of nomadic. Would it be nomadacy, nomadcy? We're choosing a nomadic state for this season in our time. Do you think that's the point where you can take a big breath and feel okay with it?
Jesper Conrad: or do you?
Lucy AitkenRead: still have moments of what are we doing.
Cecilie Conrad: I think I've had moments of what am I doing probably my entire life. But it got really worse when we started unschooling, because it's a big responsibility to have children and it's a big responsibility to call back, well, yeah, the responsibility, and say, okay, i'll make the decisions. So when we stopped using other people to help us take care of our children, educate our children, we started really feel the weight of this responsibility.
Cecilie Conrad: So, sometimes we have dark moments and feel like shit, we fucked everything up. I used a lot of swear words in one sentence there. Yeah, i hate you Americans, i'm sorry, okay, but we really do feel that with the swear words sometimes. But it gets more and more rare and we get over it and we realize it's just part of doing something radical that there are not so many people out there doing the same thing. You have no mirrors, basically, and sometimes obviously the doubt will eat you up in the darkest moments of the night.
Cecilie Conrad: And then we have some great conversations And we made it a habit to talk to the children, as you know. That's just talk to them. What do you want? Is this the life you want? Are you happy? And then they always come back saying we're happy if we get a little more cake And that's it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I don't feel frustrated with our life. It was just the way you describe this. You know, traveling around thinking about what life is and what to do with it. What do you want? That's kind of what we do, but I'm happy doing it, yeah, but, and also what we have had.
Jesper Conrad: We have been together for ages, cecilia and I, but we have lived kind of not separate lives, but with Cecilia being the stay at home mom. Then you need to live a life where you put value into your every day on a not much bigger scale than when you just go to a day job, where you just get the official society stamp, you are something And comes with the paycheck You are something, and being a mom is not so much of a job in people's mind. So so I think Cecilia have had a lot more experiencing in figuring out who she is and her own internal value than I, who first last year cut the ties to more or less full time jobs I've had. I've collected together different stuff and had it next to, and now we are in another economic situation so I can work less.
Jesper Conrad: But it came to a, not a depression but a frustration and identity crisis, yeah, and an identity crisis, 20 years of my life I've been this guy going to work, having fancy titles here and there and working in the media business, yada, yada, you know. And then to figure out who am I and her is just okay. Then I can actually do nothing most of the time, but that's not fun.
Cecilie Conrad: But it's also your. You know the way you use the language and call it to do nothing.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah yeah, yeah, yeah, you would say, it's to do nothing if you have a conversation with your child or if you plan the meal, or you evaluate the photos you did in Rome last year.
Cecilie Conrad: You call that do nothing, Yeah, yeah, yeah, Which I think is you know the most valuable thing you can do is take care of whatever is going on.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, it feels like we can all agree that, just for that was the very capitalist mindset that you have there.
Jesper Conrad: Absolutely absolutely.
Lucy AitkenRead: I'm just kidding, but I know what you're saying. It's like you know, you can acknowledge that it feels like doing nothing, whilst also acknowledging that we and we all know that that is life, that is living itself. But you can, you're still, and that's the de-schooling process, isn't it? Or, to go wider, the de-institutionalizing, absolutely Institutionalizing, That's it? Yeah?
Jesper Conrad: You know.
Lucy AitkenRead: So to go wider, like as we're doing the de-schooling I don't want to have to keep saying that word because we're doing the institutionalizing of ourselves. We're sitting with that discomfort of going. I know that in these moments this is the living, but also I want to do something. You know, and I guess that's why it's you know, sometimes I think of unschooling as being like the sacred path of unschooling, because it is such deep work that we're doing as we're like sitting with that discomfort and like actually in real time, like unpacking the institutionalization of ourselves and our worth and our productivity and what we should be doing all of the shoulds are basically the institutionalization in our bodies and in our minds. Yeah, yeah, bumming around, love it.
Jesper Conrad: Absolutely. It's been a wild ride this year because I mean, we have lived so differently from many people for so many years. We have been unschooling for more than 10 years we lived in a nice neighborhood and we were the weirdos there, with Cecilia staying home, a lot of kids, and we never locked our door and all the others have break-ins, but we didn't and it was just we were the weird ones off and. But at the same time, i've had this identity inside work for so many, many years and I actually talked with a friend about it and he said to me when I was like, why is it taking me so long to go through this? He said hey, man, you have been in this identity for more than 25 years. Give yourself some time to figure it out. But it actually leads me to want to talk with you about changing being a Londoner to living in this year. How was that for you? I know it's now many years ago and life has changed, but yeah, so I'm a city girl, born and bred.
Lucy AitkenRead: I was born in a mining city of Newcastle, moved to London when I was seven, lived in cities all the time until I was 18, and when I was 18 I moved to New Zealand. And so I think my rewilding began back then, when I was 18 and came to New Zealand and suddenly I was with other teenagers who would go to the beach and light a fire on the beach and just leap out around a fire on the beach. It was something that would never have occurred to any of my friends growing up. So I think the seeds were planted way back then. Then we moved, then I met Tim and we got married and we moved to London and so we had seven years in London where we had the girls and that whole seven years we were trying to be wild, trying to honour our like wild selves. So you know, when we're hanging out with Martin and Charlie, we were, we'd get on a train with our bikes and a trailer with all our camping gear and we'd train into the country and then we'd bike with our trailer and set up a camp in the downs, you know, with no internet and no infrastructure, you know, but it just felt like we were having to work so hard to bring the wild into the central place that we wanted it to be while we were in London. So when we gave everything up and went roaming, it was really about wanting to spend more energy actually enjoying the wild rather than planning to be in the wild. Yeah, so I think it's been. It's been a really long journey.
Lucy AitkenRead: That began when I was 18, for sure, but I think of our time in the Yurt as being a total rewilding. You know, it was really on the land, here and in the Yurt, that I I reckon I totally got so much of the institutionalisation out of my body and, you know, learned things that I just felt I should have learned as a kid about, like the moon and the moon cycles and just knowing at any one time where the moon was. I, you know, when we live in the Yurt's, i just have that information readily available to me, not because I'm tracking the moon, but because I see it every night. It's like a really simple relationship that just forms really naturally, without effort, when you're actually living that way and I've noticed that in the town over this last year I'm still the same person with these wild instincts and this love of this beautiful planet.
Lucy AitkenRead: But I have to work so much harder. You know I have to go ah, it's night time, let me go and look at the night sky and see the stars. And I have to book a camping trip with the girls. And then I have to look around and go oh god, we've all been online for like four days straight. Let's go and build a fire in the woods. You know, i have to like put so much effort in, whereas when you're really living smack bang in the middle of a forest, it all just is a lot easier and a lot more kind of natural. So that was the bit that I loved about it. I didn't have a choice about whether I was going to re-wild.
Jesper Conrad: It happened to me, i put myself in there and it all occurred you know, yeah, what you told reminded me of our, our chains from a 220 something square meter house in Copenhagen to a bus of 24 square meters, and now we're down to the 7 meter van 7 meter van, with a living space of max 10 square meters and we are five adults now five adults inside and what I love about it is the less space I have, the more I'm forced outside.
Jesper Conrad: I actually love the days in the van because I get you cannot be inside five people all the time in this one and but then we kind of have a this breathe in, breathe out rhythm in our life. It seems like when so now we are in Palermo, in Sicily, and it is wonderful, but there's so much going on and, as we're here limited time, we are out every day seeing stuff, music, and then out in nature again and breathe in the van. It works for us right now. What works next year, we don't know yet.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, that feels beautiful. It feels really like you know the best of both worlds. I think and you know I wasn't saying by any means that you know, our time in the years was like the way to do it, because obviously that's so inaccessible for, you know, the majority of people. It was just interesting to observe how much effort you have to put in if you don't design your life to be that way, as you know you guys have. I think tiny spaces are amazing for that.
Lucy AitkenRead: We in New Zealand, it's it, or maybe it's just in our circles. Hang on, yeah, maybe it's just in our circles because you know, we have a lot of unschoolism in our circles and I think one of the amazing things about unschooling is that, you know, you question everything because it's such a paradigm shift and you put yourself into such a place of curiosity about everything. You're like, hey, how do we do that? does that make sense? Hey, this doesn't make sense, you know, and you start to like untangle all of the things that don't make sense, and I think one of the things that so often doesn't make sense is putting ourselves in gigantic houses with gigantic mortgages, or actually tiny houses with gigantic mortgages.
Lucy AitkenRead: So a lot of people we know you know they have built themselves little tiny houses or they're living in buses or caravans and they've perched on their in-laws. You know lawn and you know they're really doing life totally differently and so it is really common around us to you know, when we go around to our friends in their tiny house, none of us are in their house, we're all in the garden because that's the only place that we fit, you know, and it just feels, it feels pretty healthy, that kind of interaction, i think, with your, your natural worlds.
Cecilie Conrad: I think one more thing that really is healthy is the change that's what I've been observing over these five years of traveling in different styles and different vehicles and different paces and different places and different plans, and is that whenever we change, it's kind of waking up from some habits or habitual ideas or just something you think have to be a constant, like internet. You know, could I do without this, or could I do double of this, or what would a day look like if I did that? instead, can I carry all my stuff and you know what if we're hungry and there's no food around, or all these things that we just have to handle our physical and emotional needs, and in so many different locations and situations and contexts. It really pushes that question everything thing even further than the unschooling And I think it's very healthy, it really as well.
Cecilie Conrad: What is constant? What do we really do have to have? Like never, ever leave the van without two leaders of water, for example? Yeah, and something. This is a very simple one. Maybe I knew that before, but I think it's like, like you said, living in a yard is not accessible, at least not like within the next two weeks of everyone Same, you could say about being nomadic, but changing the habits. That is something everyone can do. Go sleep in the garden or under your dining table and just see what happens, because it will change all of these habits, all these things we do all the time just because we use it. It's like a sleep.
Lucy AitkenRead: Ah, i love this. You are talking my language big time. You could probably tell us. it's like yeah, oh my God, yeah, that's so true.
Lucy AitkenRead: I'm just a huge fan of that exact thing, like especially the mornings. I think like changing your morning and doing something brand new, doing something totally different, shifting your view, changing the order in which you do something, and I reckon that is really the real powerful bit about travel. I mean, there's so much about travel, but I reckon one of them is and I think it's really deep, because I think it's related to the question. It's not just like curiosity about everything out there and the way everything is done, it's a curiosity about you And it's like who am I?
Lucy AitkenRead: And I think when you have a change and you change your habits, then you are going am I this person that does this, that thinks these thoughts, that does this thing this way and therefore has this attached emotion? And so when you have a new landscape to look at or you change your morning, you are questioning all the time like who am I? What is my identity? What am I clinging to? Why am I acting this way? Could I change in a totally different way? And that has been something enormous that has happened for me in this last year. living in town has been a whole yeah, kind of shift in identity, really given an opportunity to just change things up and change my habits and allow who I thought I was to kind of float away.
Lucy AitkenRead: Did any of that make sense, or was I just? Well, it makes sense totally.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, just you know we're doing the same thing, so it's a little hard to put in some questions.
Jesper Conrad: No, no, I actually have a question.
Cecilie Conrad: It's predicted by. it was really fast the end of the daylight in your end of the world. Yeah, has it just gone? It's just gone And I just finished my morning coffee and you just had sunset, which is. Aw, you know, i know how it works, but it still amazes me, It's weird, isn't it?
Lucy AitkenRead: Soon, it's just gonna be my teeth and my eyeball Shining.
Cecilie Conrad: Oh yeah, the visual is pretty good. It's not that, it's just.
Jesper Conrad: But I have one question. You have written some books. Are they part of like for you to dive into the changes going on inside of you? Why have you written them?
Lucy AitkenRead: The books I've written.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah.
Lucy AitkenRead: Or read, or read Written.
Jesper Conrad: Written.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, i haven't written a book for ages. There was four years there and I wrote a book a year and I thought I was gonna keep doing that, but I decided that I want the next one to be like a really big project, and so, guess what, i haven't started it. But yeah, i have in mind that maybe my next book would be about unschooling. But yeah, i think I just love to. I'm just one of those really incorrigible people who, when they've done something a bit helpful, they're just like I've got to tell the whole world about this.
Lucy AitkenRead: So it hints me writing books And yeah, and in fact, all of the books that I've written, i still do them, and so my first book was about living without shampoo, which I also I'm the same. You probably don't. Yeah, you're great, you're already on that.
Jesper Conrad: So go get side, we're down that road also.
Cecilie Conrad: Shampoo.
Lucy AitkenRead: Oh yeah cool, cool, cool, and me too, although I do bleach my hair now, but it's been 12 years now without shampoo. And then I think the last book I wrote was about moon circles, so about gathering in sacred space with women and sharing what's on your heart, which is still really important in my life. And then I wrote a book about the rewilding process And that, for me, was a really important book because I was going through this rewilding process but I was trying really hard to write a book that showed how you could do it in tons of different circumstances. So it's like it looks at different families who are doing it, you know, in the middle of the city, and that kind of thing. Yeah, but it's about time that I start my big project.
Cecilie Conrad: So how will you go about doing that?
Lucy AitkenRead: Well, the thing is I guess I have hundreds and thousands of words all about unschooling, because I run these courses and I do an hour and a half two hour long workshop once a month in my unschooling membership And it's like quite deeply thought out. So every month I'm producing quite volumes of work.
Cecilie Conrad: So I think now the problem is, you know, what to do with it all, how to reduce it Exactly.
Lucy AitkenRead: And what are the big themes here? Is there any way that these hundreds of thousands of words can make sense in a book? You know I've also written. I have a draft of the memoirs of moving to the Yerts and what that was like setting up off-grid farm. I've got like 50,000 words in the draft there. But I mean, i feel like you guys probably know what it's like just having so many passions and so many things that you want to do And so many plans and so many children.
Cecilie Conrad: To me that's the thing that stops all the projects. All the time It's like, yeah, but it's the more like acute things. Just spend some time with the children. I said we're five adults, we are in physical size more or less five adults, but they're not adults yet. Yeah, so can I choose between writing a book or just having one more good conversation with my son? Then I'll choose the conversation And then make a real life just take over And it stops me from doing these things and I keep thinking, well, what's closest to the heart is more important. And and my books keep, keep being drafts Yeah.
Cecilie Conrad: And I one day one day dark in your end now.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, we can see the banks. can we turn on some?
Lucy AitkenRead: You just see my shining friend, My tea Oh dear, is this some? light in the van You can put on. Yeah, do you want me to recording? Yeah, yeah, we're recording it, i can't, i didn't know you are.
Cecilie Conrad: Better.
Jesper Conrad: Better.
Lucy AitkenRead: Okay, cool, you can now see this part of my head. It works as well.
Jesper Conrad: As we say, it's a it's very chill podcast, so all is good. What was your road into stumbling upon on schooling and choosing that as a life.
Lucy AitkenRead: Okay, so one of the things that happened for us when we checked in our London lives and went traveling in the camper van around Europe was that we didn't mean to do that, then sorry, just to sit, yeah, yeah.
Lucy AitkenRead: Ramona was two and a half. Ramona turned three while we were in the bottom of Spain in the desert And Juno had really just been born. She was three months old. Okay, yeah, that was very interesting because we were also doing nappy free elimination communication which you know was interesting in a van. Oh, my beautiful Nana had passed away and she had left all of her tenor pads. you know what elderly people use. They're like gigantic sanitary pads. but my mum was going to give them all because they were still in boxes. She was going to give them to the charity shop. I was like no, they'll be perfect. So whenever we traveled in the van, i just put like an old, like tenor pad in Juno's car seat And so if she did need to go while we're like traveling around, we just kind of went through. So we didn't travel. We were very disorganized. We had so many random things in our van, but one of the things we had was like a massive box of tenor pads.
Jesper Conrad: Tenor pads, so that was cool.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, and it worked. It worked really beautifully because you know, like you say, when you're living in a van, you're outdoors most of the time, which is obviously perfect if you're nappy free. But what happened was that we ended up traveling around Europe and getting all of the ingredients that we were going to use in the cake of the next phase of our life without knowing it. That wasn't the plan I just wrote on my blog guys, we're just going to go, and you know, blot around Europe. Does anybody have any cool suggestions of things to do? And then you know this was 2010, right, so, um, oh, no, 2012.
Lucy AitkenRead: So it was the days when you wrote a blog and people wrote comments. I don't think it's super normal now, but, and then you would, if you're a blogger, you'd act on the comments. So, basically, our entire Europe trip was like designed by the readers of my blog back then, and one of the suggestions was to go and visit someone's friend in the Black Forest of Germany where he was running a vault kindergarten, a forest kindergarten. And so we drove in, we parked nautily or free in the Black Forest and we woke up at dawn to a wrap, wrap, wrap on the window, thinking it's a ranger, because they're quite serious in the Black Forest, you actually can't park there. And we opened the door and it was the vault kindergarten leader and he was bringing us pastries for our breakfast.
Lucy AitkenRead: And so that began like a three week kind of friendship romance with this leader and his beautiful family and all of the kids in that vault kindergarten And so we just would go there and just hang out and our kids would play and enjoy it. And but at the same time I had just picked up in a charity shop John Holtz How Children Learn So a really iconic book about unschooling basically, and this teacher, john Holtz, just sharing everything he could see happening in a child's natural learning process. And so while I was reading this book and then watching these 30 children just live their lives of like total autonomy, agency sovereignty, and seeing the adults just in support role, it was just like an alchemy that just bias.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, it was the combo, I think. I think just seeing it in practice might have taken me a few more years of just, you know, thinking about it, And then maybe just reading the theory might have taken a few more books for it to land, but it was the combination of reading the theory and seeing it in front of me that just went in my brain And then I just knew immediately that that was what we were going to do with our lives And it was just an absolute moment of faith, like a Damascus Road experience of being totally pro school, totally pro school to being totally anti school and pro unschooling. It was like the difference between night and day and just that one month of my life, Yeah. So we haven't looked back since. Wow, no doubts, no regrets.
Jesper Conrad: We. Our story is that we lived in this big suburban house or not suburban the big house in Copenhagen, and for some reason I, when we got our first baby together. Then I remember back to my mom's stories about me going to like sing, play thing in the church as baby. So we wanted to do that and that we made it. I wanted to do it And I went once, twice, and it was terrible and I asked Cecilia to check it out also and it was also terrible. But what happened was we met a woman living down the road who who was into homeschooling and it was for me it was like that's weird. It was on the normal dad mode of that's weird, our grown up daughter. She was in in a private school And I was also. That is weird why the public school was good enough for me. You know, down the whole road to now being totally, totally pro unschooling and self directed.
Cecilie Conrad: It's more. It's impossible to be more radical than you. Yeah, yeah as I am more ready.
Lucy AitkenRead: You know, I'm not very radical.
Cecilie Conrad: You just still think that you know schools can be good and we should keep the schools and it's good for some people. That's more like let's not provoke anyone. Yes, i'm just more into the let's burn it all, i don't. I think it makes more damage and then it heals. And it would be a better place if everybody woke up and and all the school buildings were just gone. Okay, this is very fascinating.
Lucy AitkenRead: I used to be like you. I was super stridently like not seriously the end of school, like I am genuinely sad when I'm walking through a town and there's no children. I kind of fucked up, places this, taking all the kids and put them in some kind of ghetto behind fucking gates and the rest of the world continue and there's no children here. I honestly it makes me genuinely sad. and when it's school holidays and there's kids everywhere, i love it. I'm a little bit mad that this gate ramp isn't free and you know the museums are busy etc.
Lucy AitkenRead: But you know, i feel like it's just so natural and normal to have the streets teaming with children having fun and their laughter. So you know I'd be like, but let's go down, okay, and then It might have been some kind of lockdown in our town. But what happened was the schools were all shut down and then all the kids were in town And I think it was maybe like the teenagers, and they didn't really know what to do with themselves, and none of the adults knew what the kids needed either, and so what happened was a kind of vicious circle, where the kids suddenly had all this free time and didn't really know what to do with themselves, because they'd spent their whole lives being told what to do And the adults didn't know what they needed. And then notice the kids, you know, maybe doing stuff that they shouldn't do, and so them was like ah, you know, they'd be on the Facebook notice board.
Lucy AitkenRead: Oh, i saw the kids doing da-da-da and everybody would pile in talking smack about the teenagers, and so then the teenagers were then put in a different kind of ghetto, and it just was like a little moment where I was like oh, my kind of utopic, black and white dream of just like getting rid of schools is out of reach because we haven't done internal work required as a society to support our children on maths, to live well without school. So I feel like life outside of school for lots of these teenagers. If we were to just do it right now, today, boom would be really bad because of the adultism that is so rife in our society that we cannot treat kids well And it's possible that even in school they get treated better than they would if they were like roaming in the streets because of adultism. So I feel like we need to dismantle adultism whilst dismantling schools. Does that make sense?
Cecilie Conrad: It makes total sense. And obviously I agree with you. I'm not naïve enough to think that everyone who's done their inner work in case all the schools burn down overnight. It's just that I'm not. I don't agree that we need it, i agree. I really think it would be better to, little by little, dismantle it and put the trust back in The children and allow everybody to unfold themselves and put the responsibility back into the families. Forget about the curriculum, forget about this whole childhood of grades and a whole childhood being about preparing you for adulthood in a way that well, first of all, i don't think it's about preparing for something else. Being a child is about being a child and should be, unfold while happening.
Cecilie Conrad: And secondly, i think this you know you have to get ready for something. That's what you're doing as a child. I think it's very stressful actually for the children and it would be much better to change this perspective And I think it would solve a lot of problems if we could get out of the general idea of schooling. And that's how I'm radical. I think maybe some children would have had a better life inside a school than they would get in the fictional world where schools don't exist. But in general I think it would be a better development And things would happen. That's the other thing. If all the children were available, then you know, things would happen. There would be this artist who would give classes and everybody would go there and communities would arise and ideas would arise And it would be beautiful, i think, and it would.
Cecilie Conrad: I think about this question we get all the time and I suppose you know it by heart, and I think this is what about the social life of your own school children? Do they have any friends and how will they manage socially? we get that question all the time And obviously they're so. Their skills socially develop beautifully as they live their life through many, many different social settings, but it is a real problem to find friends. It is a real problem to find friends who are under 25 years old because they are all locked up in the schools. And it's not because there's something wrong with the unschooling idea. There's something wrong with everybody else being locked up in the schools.
Lucy AitkenRead: Exactly. I know that's one of those paradoxes, isn't it? It's not hard socializing in that you know they've got hundreds of people to socialize with, but it's like so many of their peers are not available for playing with because we live in a school fixated society. But everything you say makes me just feel like and this is why unschooling is so important And why when people go, oh, it just takes so much privilege to unschool and you know you're just abandoning the school system. To me I'm like we got to zoom out, because it does feel like that. I can hear you. It does feel like that for sure.
Lucy AitkenRead: But what unschoolers are doing here is they're creating space for what is possible, and unschooling families and other people following self directed learning and consent based learning methodologies are revealing to the rest of society what is possible, what it can look like when kids are trusted, what it can look like when kids aren't forced to do things, and if we didn't have people living this kind of quite privileged life of unschooling, we would know what it can look like. There would be absolutely no possibility of change occurring ever, because there would be nobody showing what is possible, and so that is why I think we do just have to like suck up the criticism of the privilege because it's, and just be like I'm taking a zoomed out view here. This is overall, really, really critical for society that we have families showing what life can look like outside of an institution. It's critical and it is a huge, huge service to marginalize communities and future generations of children.
Cecilie Conrad: Exactly, and that's why I think, when I sometimes get the criticism, i have a very nice education and why don't I give back to society by? you know, i have a job and paying some more tax and putting my kids in the school and all these things, and I think that it's a beautiful combination, that I really want to spend time with my children and my husband and live a life based on my heart. Whoever is close to me is what is important and will suck up most of my time, but at the same time, i feel I'm really giving back to our culture by walking. Everyone has to walk this path, but I think it's very important that at least everyone stop to think about it. It's like this automated thing that kids have to go to school and and there's no question.
Cecilie Conrad: Hey hey, we can question what school and what is the curriculum and how do we do it, but not do we do it at all. And I think that, living this life, sometimes we say everybody else are inside a box and what we do is poke holes in that box is to let some light in, and we just keep poking that holes. It was little tiny. I mean we can't change the whole thing and you can't either, but maybe together we can. At least you know open. When we started, at least in our country, it was a really, really rare and radical thing to do. It was like I don't know, maybe 10 families homeschooling, at least that I know of. It was really radical and it would have been nice if there was, you know, someone to follow, someone to look at.
Jesper Conrad: It leads me to a question I often give myself in my life, also in another area I work with. I work with an organization called guy education who makes curriculums and education inside sustainability and when I was there was like, yeah, this is good, but the amount of people who take these courses and go out and do something, they are like it was 3 or 400 years and that is not changing the world. So as talking with the team who made the programs about what could we do to make programs that could make an actual change, if you get an inner city dweller to to look at life differently, and I can ask myself sometimes the same question about on school and so what is it? I don't believe that I'm.
Jesper Conrad: I would love if everybody went down the road of living freely and living together with their children and wanting to spend time with their children and actually live together with them while they are there and they need them. To have a childhood together with your parents for most kids would be wonderful, but I do not believe yet that everybody will go down that road. So what is it from on schooling and this mindset we have that we can give to an inspire and give to the people who are stuck in the nine to five and all won't leave it because the comfort is actually super nice. Let's be honest.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah.
Jesper Conrad: Is it the trust? maybe it's the trust trusting the children Not at the removing the ageism, or as you call it.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, I think I wonder about that.
Lucy AitkenRead: To me it feels like The really relevant bit of unschooling that seems to intersect across so many parts is the hierarchy and the kind of the general rule that seems to pervade quite a lot of spaces.
Lucy AitkenRead: And I think that is that if you're bigger or more powerful than you are on top, you know, and I think that one of the basic things about unschooling is that you just don't live that way. You try and live with everybody in your family counting and everybody getting a say, and you know and and I feel like that's something that is an internal thing that you can take with you into. You know, whatever sphere you're in like your work, your business, Your like client relationships, your community relationships this idea that every person is worthy of dignity And you know. So I wonder if that that feels to me like a really powerful part of an unschooling mindset that is relevant to everyone And it is related to trust. It's like if you can honor every person that you come into relationship with or communication with as being like really worthy of dignity, then they can also be trusted, You know, and yeah, i think there's so much is relevant.
Cecilie Conrad: It's beautiful and very Yeah, i'll say it again beautiful perspective. I have a more brutal one, kind of I think that wherever you are, wherever stuck you are in career and mortgage and whatever at least reach a point where you realize this is something you chose, like it was a voluntary choice to buy that apartment and to put the children in that school. You had those children. You know that was not an accident And the live that we have designed we actually did design it ourselves and and we can make a choice.
Cecilie Conrad: I remember when I had cancer I thought I'd rather live in my car than ever go to work again. That was one of my epiphanies. It was like I'm not doing it, simply not doing it, and most people could do it. It's unschool their kids and quit their jobs. The price might be like really, really complicated and maybe they don't want to, but I think this at least realizing that it's a choice and there is some voluntary I can't find how to frieblich whatever, i can't find the right word in English And give that freedom back to all members of the family and taking the responsibility. Tell your 10-year-old I decided that you go to school because I want to live this life, i want to look at, i want to have my job and I'm not taking the responsibility of your education. So you go to that school. This is what I chose Instead of this.
Cecilie Conrad: Everybody have to do it or it's the law, or otherwise you will never get a job or all these excuses circling around, take back the responsibility for what you did and how you chose to do it, and maybe you put yourself in a corner that's really hard to get out of and you don't want to do that work. But then decide it and be happy. It's this excuse thing I think it would be very nice to get rid of.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, yeah, i think there is. Yeah, it's really interesting, i think, that an enormous amount of the people who engage with me and are like, but not everybody can do this, i think, yeah, an enormous amount of those are probably people who could do it and who would just need to make some different life choices and sacrifices to make it happen. I do think that there are a lot of people who are choiceless. You know, because that is one of the they are the spoils of capitalism, or or one of the legacies of this society that we live in is that there are actually people in society who and that's the worst bit, i think, is like a lot of the kids that will struggle the most in school are in families who actually are completely choiceless in this, you know, like the families are working every three or four jobs, just to you know. I'm thinking of, you know, inner city families who have been marginalized by system.
Lucy AitkenRead: And, yeah, i think it's, I think it's fair to say yeah, there's actually loads of like middle class people who like sort of accused us for doing something inaccessible when they actually probably could make it work, but also acknowledging that, because of the system we live in, there are those who are systemically marginalized, who are going to be the feel, the brunt of this, like that's. What is so maddening about it is that, um, yeah, it's those kids who are not even going to get a single benefit. You know, from the school system, quite probably you know they're going to be the ones who are leaving age 15. And you know, with without literacy, as statistics are showing, vast numbers of kids are doing. You know so, schools not even doing the thing that it is meant to do.
Cecilie Conrad: It's when the argument is school is saving the children of the poorest and the most trapped people in society, My take is I don't think it works.
Lucy AitkenRead: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. Some some of the stuff and an unacknowledgment of like how, if you're perpetuating a hierarchical kind of those who are in authority at the boss and not to be questioned, not recognizing how perpetuating that all the way through the school system perpetuates injustice and poverty across the whole of society as well.
Cecilie Conrad: Yeah, yeah, it's just keeping the system running.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, totally ends. Yeah, oh boy, we went some places today.
Cecilie Conrad: I think you sit there in complete darkness. Can you find your way back?
Lucy AitkenRead: I wonder what would happen if I put my headlights on. Maybe I'd get more light in here.
Jesper Conrad: I know I can have with you, have a little more, okay, if you have time. Yeah, perfect. No, it's just some of the subjects we touch about, about what on schooling do for you as a person. So in one of our earlier episodes we talked with Erica Davis Petra, a wonderful, wonderful woman, and one thing she said. We asked her about what have on schooling done for you And she said it has given me my humanity, and I was blown away by that. It's a beautiful way to put it.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, that's so beautiful. I love that. It's so hard to know who you'd be without on schooling when you've done it for so long. You know the last 12 years for me has been just like the most gigantic healing journey ever And you know I can't say that wouldn't have happened without on schooling. And but definitely the questions that on schooling has raised for me has led me down the most. you know tremendous healing journey of so many wounds and scars.
Cecilie Conrad: I wish I could say the same thing. I feel they're still there, i know where they are, but healing Healing.
Lucy AitkenRead: Hence that hints me saying healing journey.
Cecilie Conrad: At least I know the road map.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, right, i think you know things like I began painting again last year and ended the year with a little art exhibition in my town, and you know I was massively motivated to do that, having been on a journey of healing the wounds of creativity that I think school graciously imparted, you know, and and also being really motivated to live out loud The stuff that I'm trying to sort of raise the kids with, you know, around following their heart, even though it doesn't make sense, then you're it just feels like you're just randomly splashing paint on a canvas and you don't know what the end result is, being detached and not worrying about failing. You know I was like really motivated to go on that art exploration over the last couple of years, i think really primarily because of unschooling.
Jesper Conrad: Yeah, And it led me to very small epiphany I got the last year, which is I really enjoy art, i love going to museums, i love listening to music, i love going to cultural events. And then one day I was like, hey, but somebody needs to make it, somebody needs to do it, otherwise there is no stuff to go and enjoy. And so one of the reasons we have started our podcast I love to listen to podcasts And I'm like, but you need to give back, then you need to be a culture creator for their to be culture. So wonderful, yeah, starting doing art again.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, I love that I am. That was the whole reason. I got started with blogging was in the breastfeeding months, and I was spending you know what it would be like every single minute of the day breastfeeding, And I was reading, just you know, the internet, just my head, my phone in my hand, and I just read blogs and forums and blogs and forums, you know, about breastfeeding And and I I've been like a couple of months of this I was like, Oh, I don't want to be a consumer in this space, I want to be a creator. And so, yeah, when Ramona was like three months old, I started my parenting blog, which you know brings me to where I am today. That exact thing, that desire to not just consume but to create.
Jesper Conrad: And for people we should. We have taken a lot of time now and we try to keep our podcast around an hour, so we should kind of close up, and one way of doing that is to let people know if they're like I want more of Lucy. Where should they go, how do they find you And what can they expect?
Lucy AitkenRead: Um, so I am all over the internet. As you can imagine, I'm mostly on Instagram, but I also just started a TikTok, which is very fun. I don't know if you've explored that, but mostly Instagram. And then my website is disco learningcom, And if you head there then you can sign up to my newsletter, which is called jukebox, and every two weeks I send out a really fun, helpful email that also includes music that I'm loving. Yeah, so.
Lucy AitkenRead: I reckon that would be a really that would be. the best thing if people want to stay in touch with me is to jump on to the jukebox mailing list And eventually I might see some folks in a workshop or a course.
Jesper Conrad: Hopefully, hopefully. We want to thank you for your time. It has been really good and lovely talk. Like always, we hope to one day roam New Zealand, and if you're still there, we will drop by.
Lucy AitkenRead: Yeah, that would be amazing. I've actually totally forgotten that we're recording a podcast. I've been chatting with a friend, so I feel like I've just been fidgeting.
Cecilie Conrad: No, no, no, no, no, no, no no picking or any other.
Lucy AitkenRead: It's really interesting to see how it turned out, but I've enjoyed every minute of it, so thank you.
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