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The Natural Child Review from Leaven

Jan Hunt is a counseling psychologist and founder of The Natural Child Project whose column on issues relating to children appeared in the Canadian magazine Natural Life from 1992 to 1999. This book is a collection of those columns, edited and divided into sections titled: "Parenting with Empathy and Trust," "Living with a Baby," "Living with Children," "Guiding Children," "Helping Children Learn," and "Advocating for Children."

Because Hunt is an insightful author and parent who can skillfully put fears and doubts into words, there is much in this book for parents seeking help finding their own way and for Leaders looking for new ways to discuss old topics. Hunt's straightforward maxims are reassuring and consistent with a loving parent's intuition. The overriding idea in each chapter: if it feels wrong, it probably is. If you think you are hurting your child, stop and deeply explore your parenting choices. If your child is physically safe and is having a good time, let him or her be. To quote the great home schooling advocate John Holt (and Hunt frequently does) "trust children."

Perhaps because the chapters in The Natural Child were originally magazine columns, the book is sometimes repetitious and is at times written a bit too simply. However, this is the only criticism of the book in which the author gathers together the most important issues relating to the lives of children in our culture and addresses them fearlessly.

One method Hunt uses to great effect is to turn the tables and force us to explore how we treat children by viewing adults treated in the same manner. All too frequently the cruelty, unfairness, and absurdity of common child rearing practices are instantly revealed. One startling example:

The wife accidentally spills coffee on her husband's new jacket. He hits her. Will the wife be more careful with his belongings in the future? Or might she have him arrested for spousal abuse?

Another of Hunt's examples:

The wife reminds her husband, who is reading the newspaper after dinner, that it's his turn to do the dishes. He murmurs, "Mmhmm," and keeps on reading. The wife says, firmly, "You have to do the dishes now! Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

Will the husband feel like cooperating with his wife? Or will he conclude that he's married to a lunatic? And would he feel the least bit loved?

Hunt's moral is simple: treat children as you would wish to be treated. Sounds easy but extending this rule into everyday action can be very difficult, as all parents know. Her view, certainly consistent with LLL philosophy, is "The less authoritarian we can be, while not relinquishing our role as our child's wise yet gentle guide, the more significant and lasting will be the learning that takes place."

The first four sections of The Natural Child contain many lists of things to do to ensure happiness in one's child and to guide one in simple loving parenting. On these lists are many concepts familiar to LLL Leaders and about which Leaders and members generally agree: extended breast­feeding, co-sleeping, minimal parent/child separation, non-violent "discipline," and responding immediately to an infant's cry. When Hunt writes, "Clearly it is the parents' responsibility to meet their baby's need for nurturing, security, and love; it is not the baby's responsibility to meet his parents' need for peace and solitude," one wants to cheer.

Hunt's lists also contain items about which Leaders and members may not agree. For example, Hunt is opposed to the use of "time-out" and believes that sibling spacing of less than three years can emotionally damage children.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Hunt in all respects, her arguments are always compelling and worthy of examination. The sixth section, "Helping Children Learn," is entirely devoted to unschooling and contains excellent research and observation. The final section, "Advocating for Children," is also thought-provoking and addresses a difficult subject: what to do when we see emotionally and/or physically damaging parenting behavior around us.

In The Natural Child, Jan Hunt explores parenting and adult relationships with all children intelligently and without blinking. The book can be used to reinforce, reassure, educate, or reevaluate our many choices.

Editor's Note: "Unschooling" refers to interest-led learning through experience, instead of a structured curriculum. Unschooling parents trust their children to learn everything they will "need" to know at the time they need it. It is above all a trusting relationship with the child.
Jake Aryeh Marcus is a writer, editor, lawyer, and unschooling mother to three boys. She is the Contributing Editor for Leaven book reviews and has been a Leader since 1997. 
The Natural Child