Welcome Erin Fleming, Founder of We Learn Naturally (and subsidiaries)!

2016-09-20 13.59.33.jpgI’ve had the pleasure of knowing Erin for several years now, when her idea for We Learn Naturally was just a sapling!  In addition to being mom to three terrific kiddos, and founding her alternative education centre, Erin started Little Seeds, a child-led outdoor play/hike group for families with homeschoolers and young children.  It continues to be a popular member-driven group for providing children with the opportunity to explore and discover local woods, streams, and parks together. We’ve had many a soaked sock and dirty face when we’ve participated, testament to the joy kids get out of exploring through sensory nature-based free-play.

Erin has grown a number of learning options beyond We Learn Naturally including “Learning in the Woods” outdoor learning program, City School, and the soon-to-launch “The Barn School”, an interest-driven child-led learning alternative modelled after the critically-acclaimed Sudbury Valley School in the U.S., for children (the school will also have programming for adults, too).

I feel I have a kindred spirit in Erin, when it comes to big ideas and stealing the courage to grow a vision and share it with the world!

I asked Erin:

What has helped in developing your business?
We Learn Naturally would not be here if it were not for motherhood and the break that a year-long maternity leave provided. I have always been interested in finding balance for myself and supporting others to achieve a life rich with learning, connection, and health. We Learn Naturally began to develop in my mind long before it became an outward expression that people see today. I have three children and with each new baby, I found myself, often out of necessity because it is more direct, becoming more authentic and more self-aware. Taking a “break” from mainstream life in the form of maternity leave gave me the freedom to connect with myself and examine my fit in the world. I started We Learn Naturally on social media when my middle child was 6 months old and from the start, nurturing that business has been an expression of my values and learning. Those late night feedings with my first were made easier with exciting new ideas to
occupy my mind.
What has been (or is) a big hurdle for you, personally, in developing your business?
The path of my organization has been a series of hurdles and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I am trying to promote a different way of thinking about adult relationships to children and offering children alternative learning environments that promote self-awareness and creativity. This work entails supporting parents to listen to their children’s communication efforts in ways that are contrary to mainstream advice. Facing resistance has helped me to see the “yes” in the “no” and work to understand people. Before doing this work, I was dismissive of differences and judged some people to be “wrong” or “mean”. Now when I encounter resistance, it’s easier for me to
see the reasons behind it. We are all doing our best to get our needs met in the world. It feels really good to be able to hold most people in a place of love and compassion.
One thing that I still struggle with from time to time is the money piece. I would like to pay my amazing staff a higher wage. I would like to offer families in my community this style of healing and learning in a way that makes it a true choice. In my opinion, as long as families pay out of pocket for alternative health and education programs, they are not a true choice in comparison to programs that are 100% funded through public tax dollars. Asking families to pay means that we will not be able to serve the breadth of families we wish to serve. I left a desirable teaching position to start Learn Naturally and I miss the feeling of being able to serve families freely, without thinking about the money behind our decisions. But each bump in the road offers opportunities for growth. The interesting thing about running into a conflict of values is that it inspires innovation. Perhaps in five years I’ll have a new way of operating that will align with my values better. Each time I bump up against my conflicting values, I am motivated to reach
out and find a new solution. The problems are kind of what helps my organization grow.
What has been the single most helpful shift you’ve made to continue to feel your life at home still reflects your values and priorities?

Caring for a young family and growing a passion-based organization are both deeply rewarding but the pace can be hectic at times! I have learned to let go of the idea that I should be able to juggle everything. Not everything will get done to the standards I would like. Last week I was typing up my monthly newsletter with my toddler asking for attention. I proof-read it, pressed send, and it still had grammatical errors that I missed because my brain was split in too many directions. My house will be a mess when I would prefer it to be clean. In a pinch, we will eat take-out pizza twice in one week. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself and accept these concessions because it means that I am choosing other things that are a higher priority to me. The professional things I give up are worth it when I get to make pancakes with my son, have my daughter do my make-up (as only a five year old can), and look at the moon with my youngest.
I’ve embraced the idea that I’m making choices based on what is important to me and the resources I have available. Even as I write this, I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones. Not everyone has the resources or support to start something new. It’s so freeing to let go of expectations, ignore the “noise”, and just embrace what is in front of me. I hope that the work I am doing will bring that freedom to others. I’d like everyone to be able to find freedom in their life.

Erin’s websites are:

 www.welearnnaturally.com,  www.learninginthewoods.cawww.cityschool.ca and www.thebarnschool.ca

One comment

  1. What a wonderful story Erin and I only see it growing with time. I had the pleasure of working with Erin and she was amazing even then working under government expectations in a public school. You have touched many lives and will continue to broaden the meaning of Learning Naturally! Wishing you much success!


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