You walk into a room filled with over 800 (homeschooling) women. Are you nervous? There's no need. This isn't your Mama's homeschool conference: This is Wild + Free.
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An evening departure.
After assuring that our children and dear husbands’ were taken care of, my friend April and I decided to head out on the Wednesday evening before the Wild + Free Franklin conference. She had not yet attended the Tennessee conference location and neither of us had taken off early enough before to enjoy more than a day of rest before the conference. We left at 6 pm and made it to Memphis before stopping for the night to rest. Side note – if you’re driving through Memphis it is mandatory that you blast either Elvis music or “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn. I would also HIGHLY recommend stopping by Crosstown Concourse, where you never know what you’ll find. My kids and I have stumbled on an impromptu performance by the Memphis Opera and April and I were treated to a truly beautiful dance and worship performance. There are also plenty of restaurants choose from, as well as a coffee shop and juice bar.
The next morning we took our time waking up. It is such a rarity to be able to relax in the mornings, without the immediate pressing needs of hungry babies and children, school to get to through and the responsibilities of home. For my dear friend April, it was her first extended trip away from her three sweet kiddos. If I may offer any advice, friends, it would be to give yourself the gift of a bit of rest surrounding the Wild + Free conferences. It may be an extra day before or an extra day after, but either way, your heart and soul will be greatful. The conferences are always a whirlwind of wonderful and having down time built into the days around it are an excellent way to guarantee time to relax and recover.
We finished our drive to Franklin, Tennessee and enjoyed lunch at a local favorite, the Frothy Monkey. They have great vegan and gluten free choices! Luckily it wasn’t as busy as it usually is and we enjoyed a delicious lunch! Then it was off to Whole Foods to stock up on snacks, because Mamas need snacks. Unlike the Frisco conference, there were no restrictions at Franklin as to what we could or could not bring in. So, we bought all the snacks. Plus, we needed some breakfast and late night options for after the conference. And then we were off to check in to our AirBnB.
The cutest twin cottages.
While I don’t mind staying in hotels, there is something wonderful about staying an AirBnB or boutique hotel. They are usually charming and offer you a chance to truly live the local experience. When I was looking for a place to stay for my friend and I, I could not believe my luck that these cottages were still available during the conference weekend. Fork of the South is an AirBnB property located in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. It’s a short, and beautiful, drive into Franklin from the property. We were greeted with the most beautiful garden, with sunflowers and all sorts of flowering plants that were full of happy bees. Our sweet host, Stefanie, even had welcome signs hanging on our cottages with our names on them. Stefanie also owns an adorable shop located inside The Factory, by the same name, Fork of the South. It’s quite easy to see why the cottages have earned the distinguished “Plus” rating on AirBnb; they are oozing southern charm and full of every amenity you could possibly want. Both April and my hearts were ready to burst with happy at the thought that we each had our own fairy-tale cottage to spend our weekend away from our families.
So two Wild + Free Mamas walk into the woods.
We both decided that going for a hike sounded like a great idea. So, after a bit of research we found a hike that sounded fun. The hike, the Garrison Creek Loop on Old Natchez Trace, was located directly off of the Natchez Trace Parkway. A win-win, because history AND nature made both our hearts pretty happy. We hiked and talked and talked and hiked. The forest was stunningly beautiful and you could feel the history within the old growth trees. There were some pretty amazing mushrooms, huge trees, views for days, and even a teeny tiny ring necked snake. There were also some shenanigans along the way that will forever be a great memory for the two of us. A word of caution: cell phone service is spotty so download a topographical map you can use offline. It was a short but wonderful hike that gave us just what we needed.
That’s not a typo. That is our favorite band name from the open mic night we stumbled on at Puckett’s, Leiper’s Fork. The menu does not have much that caters to vegetarians, but it was a great night nonetheless. They do have a veggie burger, but it has mushrooms and I’m allergic to mushrooms (which is awful). It was mostly locals and we had the best night. The music ranged from country, to, well, more country. There was a bit of old country mixed in with some slowed down versions of pop music. But the one man band Skeeter Biscuit stole the show. Though, my other personal favorites were the rocking lady who killed the drums and the sweet looking old man who used his walker to get to the drums, then proceeded to tear them up. It was such an odd but wonderful mix and the perfect way to spend our night in Leiper’s Fork.
Sobering history brought to life.
For our second free day, we decided to visit some historic sites. April had researched the previous night and found an option to immersively learn about the Battle of Franklin during the Civil War. We made a quick breakfast stop at the cutest tiny house coffee shop, The RedByrd Coffeehouse in Leiper’s Fork. I was also lucky to meet some new friends, Instagram friends turned real life friends after they recognized me in line. That is one of my favorite things about this Wild + Free community. As much as there is negatively and pessimism surrounding online friendships, the relationships I make within this online community grow seamlessly into real life and it’s the best.
We arrived at Carnton House Plantation just before a scheduled tour, only to learn that there was a massive school field trip en route and there wouldn’t be any available tour guides. The gift shop attendee was so kind to point us in the direction of another nearby historic site, Carter House, where we could still go on a tour and learn about the Battle of Franklin. Arriving just moments before a tour took off, we joined the gathering crowd of retirees to hear about the historic battle that took place at the property. Within moments, April and I both realized that this would not be just any tour. Our tour guide, Jim Knight, was one of the best storytellers I had ever heard. His narration of the events made you almost believe that he had been there. Oration so vivid that I could look out the old windows and very nearly see the Union and Confederate troops marching past. The entire experience was so deeply vivid that re-telling it here could serve it no justice. I’ll leave you with just the image of a bullet hole scarred wall from the battle. If you visit Carter House, call ahead and see when Jim Knight is giving tours.
The doors open.
We went back to our dear cottages for a few hours of down time before heading to the first conference session. A necessity after such an emotionally intense tour. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and stared out the windows at the bird feeder. We met back up at 4 pm and drove to The Factory. I usually try to be the first in the line up because I have an affinity for the front row at these conferences. But it seems lots of others now enjoy that place too because the line was already winding halfway down the hallway when we arrived! We found our friends from home and we chatted happily, in our matching shirts (made by Danyelle Woods) as we waited. The doors opened promptly at 5:30 pm and there was a mad dash of Mamas for the auditorium. Be sure to have your event ticket pulled up on your phone as you enter for quick check in. I also always bring my own Sharpie marker to write my name on my name card, so I don’t have to wait in the bottleneck but also so I can write it in my favorite color. Be sure to put your Instgram handle on your name card as well! That’s usually how we all know each other and it helps with recognizing our online friends in real life. The front row was taken but we found seats for all of us a few rows back. Though, my front row dance party pal Dana found a front row seat so I knew I could jump up there to dance with her when the Hunts began to play.
Just before the conference starts is a great time to visit the Makers Market, where you can find beautiful and useful things often made by other homeschool families. My favorite booth in the Makers Market is always Beautiful Feet Books and this year I had the pleasure of meeting Rea Burg and hugging her in person.
What is Wild + Free anyway?
That, my friends, is an excellent and difficult to answer question. This is a video that I stumbled on a few years ago and it made me cry, because it hit me so deep but also because I felt like I had found a home among these Mamas. And here is another video, the words are a beautiful poem written by Wild + Free founder, Ainsley Arment. Wild + Free is not a curriculum, it is not a methodology, it is not a set of rules to follow. It is a gathering of like minded families, specifically Mamas, who treasure connection over curriculum and preserving childhood and all of it’s wonder. It is a stoking of the flame rather than an extinguishing of curiosity. It is an intentional step away from convention and into deeper connection with our families and the world around us. It is a choice to embrace lifelong learning and thrive alongside our children, to treasure each phase as it comes and cultivate relationships that will last our lifetime. Wild + Free is defined slightly different depending on who you talk to, because it’s nature is to mean something a little different to each family. But whatever it means to you, it is a step into something beautiful.
A note: Wild + Free is geared toward homeschooling. However, regardless of your schooling choices or phase in life, there is wisdom and inspiration to be gleaned from soaking in this community.
If there is one thing I can tell you to bring to a conference, it’s a pack of tissues, because it’s inevitable that at some point you will need them. The kick off for this conference was no different. There was phenomenal music by the Hunts, including some of my favorite songs. There was a deeply moving tribute to dear community members lost over the past year, and the most hauntingly beautiful rendition of Hallelujah by the Hunts. I couldn’t help but think of my dear friend Sarah, whom I wished was gathered with us but I knew she was busy fighting in her own battle. That’s not my story to tell, so if your curious, head over here.
The main speaker on Friday night was the incredible Elsie Iudicello. She is perhaps one of the most moving speakers I have ever had the pleasure of listening to and her talk at this conference was no different. She spoke of courage, and the different kind of courage it takes for everyday life; of fear “sending her to the search bar.” Isn’t that something we have all done? Allowed fear to drive us to search for the right “fix” for our problems. One of my highlighted points from her talk was about learning how to separate failure and adversity. They are not one and the same. It is up to us to define the adversity but it is not up to us to call something a failure. We can wobble, but still be in the fight. If you were not able to attend the conference, you can hear all of the conference audio by becoming a subscriber to the Wild + Free monthly content bundles. You’ll gain access to all of the past conference audio as well as get fresh content every month delivered to your inbox, as well as a beautiful print magazine.
Saturday morning mist.
After the best night of sleep in our cozy cottages, April and I headed out to pick up our friend Marjorie from another Airbnb just down the road. The drive was stunning. The morning mist was just beginning to burn off and we were treated to one of the most beautiful country drives I have ever seen.
Our friends from home and friends from afar met us at the conference and we saved our seats a few rows back. Some headed for the Makers Market. Some headed for coffee, and we all prepped ourselves for another wonderful intense day of learning and growing. Up first: Cindy Rawlins, of Mere Motherhood notoriety. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the truth Cindy was about to lay down. This wasn’t inspirational warm and fuzzy “You can do it.” This was deep logic and intense truth. She described the idea of ordo amoris, the order of affections; the purpose of education and the differentiation between freedom and slavery as it pertains to education. Cindy explained that “a narrow education stops us from understanding those around us, stops empathy and impedes imagination.” Read that again. Let it settle. She went on to outline “ten commandments for raising children with a liberty mindset.” Of which, I will not share all of those but to paraphrase a few:
- We must begin with philosophy – Not what will I buy? But rather “What do I want my children to love? Teach them HOW to be not WHAT to be.
- Don’t be Golums – enslaved to your own mind. Go outside.
- Give your children and yourselves a wide and generous education.
- Do not be impressed with parlor tricks and know the difference between having information versus having knowledge.
- Be an authority, but carry it lightly.
- We have to back off and let them be free.
To hear this in it’s entirety subscribe to the Wild + Free content bundles and you can gain access to her speech and all of the past conference audio!
The most beautiful gift.
The Franklin Wild + Free conference has the options for break out sessions, three to choose from in the morning and three to choose from in the afternoon. These are a wonderful way to learn in an even more intimate setting, but it also means that you have to choose between three incredible speakers. I chose to hear the wise words of Toni Weber. I admire her grace and heart. She shared the most wonderful story of their homeschool journey, made more moving by the fact that she had just graduated her youngest child from high school. Those of us in the audience had the great pleasure of hearing the words of gratitude written to her, by her children. As a gift to their mother after all the years of homeschool, Toni’s children wrote their letters of thank you in a journal. Friends, it was the most incredible thing. Such a gift, and I am so glad to have heard it. It was humorous and uplifting and filled me with courage to stay the course.
The wisdom keeps coming.
The afternoon sessions started up and the encouragement kept coming. Right after lunch, we were greeted again with the delightful music of the Hunts. The next speaker needed no introduction, but danced her way onto the stage with her infectious enthusiasm, the one and only Julie Bogart. Her writing program, Brave Writer has changed the lives of so many homeschools and her book, Brave Learner, has indeed made a huge impact on mine. I feel like Julie and my Mom would be great friends. My Mom sprinkled joy and enchantment throughout our days all through our childhood, even when times were tough. She still does so today for my children and I. I didn’t take many notes during Julie’s session because I was so focued on her talk. But a few take always I did note were these:
- Power WITH instead of power OVER.
- Power OVER is manupulation without reward or punishment.
- Power WITH is collaborating with compassion.
- Get curious about what is standing in the way instead of wondering how to get them to do it.
- Help your children to feel nurtured and supported, not tricked.
- They get to come as they are.
- I get to create a partnership in their learning journey.
- Provide the corresponding support to the presenting need.
There were so many more points of wisdom, and I know I will listen to it again to catch the things that I missed.
Opera and farming.
Up next was the always endearing, Terri Woods. Terri began her speech by getting us all some culture and playing one of her favorite operas. It wasn’t something I had heard before and it was indeed moving. Her speech encouraged us all to bring great works of art into our home, whether literary, musical, or classic art. To give our children an excellent education, we must consider the following:
- Love what I love, in front of my children. Show them that I have hobbies and interests.
- You cannot pass on what you don’t possess.
- The strength is in the strain.
- Improve my children’s education by improving my own.
- Feast phase – bees collecting nectar.
- Digestion phase – slow down, contemplate what has been gathered.
- Honey phase – the science of relations, and right thinking leads to right living.
My notes from her session were a bit disjointed, but I know listening to again will help sort them out. Either way, it was an inspiration to bring more classical music into our home.
The rest of the afternoon.
To continue the afternoon sessions, the stage was lit up next by the phenomenal Leah Boden, a delightful woman hailing from England, who most of us know as Modern Miss Mason. Charming as always, Leah crafted her speech around an acronym for tea, along with a demonstration for making a proper cup of English tea.
- Tell your truth. Be an original. Be your authentic self and practice our passions. Be unapologetically YOU.
- Enjoy while you endure, and enjoy the journey. Be patient with the process. Good things come in a slow and savored fashion.
- Add something to complement your tea. Ask: Who is bringing out the best in me? Who is bringing out the original, beautiful you? Who are you allowing to speak into your life?
I can’t wait to listen to her wise words again, in her beautiful English accent. Leah Boden always shares words that leave me feeling encouraged to lay a beautiful feast for my children, as well as myself.
Missed breakout sessions.
Unfortunately, I missed the second breakout sessions. I was taking the time to plan a trip to visit my dear friend Sarah, and felt it was more important to get the details sorted ASAP, which caused me to miss a session. The speakers to choose from the afternoon break outs were: Jennifer Dees, Kristen Mittler, and Rachel Kovac. I’m sure that all of these sessions were outstanding and I’m looking forward to listening to them on the conference audio included in the Wild + Free content bundles.
Closing out with joy.
The last session of the day was none other than the always inspiring, Greta Eskridge. This time her talk focused on being ready to fight for joy. She said “joy is not frivolous or a waste of time” and that “joy helps us to thrive as humans.” There is so much packed into her session, I would encourage you to listen to it yourself, so you can hear the joy in her voice as she shares her wisdom. She shared three main points to help infuse joy into our daily lives:
- Invite other people into your strugge, invite someone to be on your team.
- Get help if you need it and don’t sabotage yourself.
- Make a joy list, know what it means to reframe, and understand what feeds my soul.
I’ve been thinking about what I would put on my joy list. I think it would probably be pretty long. There are alot of things that bring me joy, but I don’t think there is any greater joy than the beautiful weekend I was able to share with my dear friend Sarah after the conference. From despair to hope, and trusting in a plan we may not understand. That will forever be a joyful memory of mine, regardless of what the future may hold.