IWM: Hope Paterson

We spoke with Hope Paterson, Super Nanny, creative force and agent of innovation. We found out how your work can benefit from hiring a super nanny, how she keeps herself in a strong emotional space and why, and all about worldschooling her children’s education.

What do you do for work (or passion project)?

You’ve caught me on a highly unusual year. I’m currently travelling the world with my two kids and partner Charlie. I don’t have one specific full-time job but rather split my time between two roles. My unpaid work is being a mum and teacher to two kids. Motherhood constantly teaches me new skills and definitely keeps me agile in all areas of life. I also act as a Super Nanny for entrepreneurs. Basically, people pay me to care about their businesses as if they were my own. I support their nascent ideas into practice, coach brand culture and put structure in place to operationalize and achieve goals.

The term—Super Nanny was born out of the idea that even successful, highly efficient leaders need a capable strategist to count on. I enable them to feel they have someone in their corner to give them an emotionally intelligent leg up when they need it most. I am not their partner, their friend, their board member, an investor, a consultant on contract, or a salaried employee. I live outside those confines and build an incredible trust that allows leaders to be completely themselves.

When I support anyone, I make them feel comfortable in letting the honesty rip. I have worked with countless entrepreneurs and business owners on bringing out the emotional side of their work. It counts. In my mind it’s key to unlocking some of the other factors that lead to productivity, momentum and ultimately results. But I don’t just live in theory, or coach people on possibilities—I motivate action. I love to roll up my sleeves on the project management, efficiencies, relationship management and tools once they make sense within a bigger picture. Working with me is having both right and left brain on tap.

What does ‘being healthy’ look like to you? Do you feel like you live a healthy life?

In a nutshell, being healthy ‘for me’ means listening to myself. Completely. It means carving out pauses in my life to check in on what’s working and what’s not.

I believe we have access to knowing what is good for us in every sense. For me, leading a healthy life includes: spending time with those I love (and am inspired by), monitoring the food I put in my body, my logged REM sleep, or how much exercise I get. Sure, those are ALL very  important factors. But after 40 years, I understand my health is optimal when I’m connected to the bigger picture.

I have had numerous health crisis’ and stress-related body breakdowns. Trying to do it all, be it all—brilliantly with a shining cape, has led to my body taking over. It grabs the reigns to remind me I need to take better care of myself. Our bodies are wildly remarkable entities aren’t they? They are always sending strong messages… if we take the time to listen. I try hard to stay present with right now. I’m learning to understand when I’m fixated on the wrong stories, pulling myself out of being lost in past or future realities. I do my best to step aside from people who don’t feed the right energy. For me—health means taking the time to understand how everything is interconnected.

Is your work connected to you trying to lead a healthy life? 

My work, my family, my living situation, my hobbies, my health, they’re all inextricably linked.

I can’t operate in one area without ripple effects spreading out throughout my life.  Supporting my kids to feel like anything is possible and being in the corner of leaders and brands to articulate their culture and purpose urges me to do the hard work myself.

To keep myself in a strong emotional space for myself and others, I work at finding ways for all areas of my life to be working in unison—pulling from the same song sheet. Over the years I have built up an array of routines, rhythms and tools to continue my own self-development. This includes meditation, cooking, yoga, 5 am wake up routines, journalling, collaborations on highly creative projects and my secret weapon— boatloads of travel. The more I hone in on my values, what makes me tick, considering the people and circumstances I want to wick to my daily life, the more I am able to be a spark for others.

How do you want to take control of your health? 

When I was 23 I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism. I listened to my M.D and went on pharmaceuticals to regulate my symptoms. Over the years, my body would periodically remind me that the little pills I was taking weren’t enough alone to fix the issue of my body not producing enough thyroid hormone. Now I know better. When I absentmindedly pile on stress, don’t sleep or eat—I know I will suffer.

It’s taken me many years to understand just how sensitive my body is. I have to take very good care of it. Now I take natural medicines, weave some form of meditation practice, eat real food made with love and thread as much pulsing creativity into my days as possible. My aspiration is to continue to find natural methods to heal my thyroid. I want to learn as much as I can from others who have done the legwork to heal their own thyroid dysfunction.

Have you ever tried to change the way other people perceive food? And why? 

It’s safe to say that food is at the centre of my universe. When I’m not eating it, sniffing it out, gathering it, cooking with it, I’m sharing it. For the last 20 years, I’ve been involved in numerous food-related businesses ranging from running a restaurant in a small village in Laos, founding a kids cooking camp in PEI, authoring a kids cooking curriculum in Bangkok, founding an events catering company in Toronto, diving into oyster wholesale in Montreal and helping to build the leading Real Food For Real Kids catering company in the GTA from ground zero to 10K kids a day. More recently I have worked alongside Canada’s leading food educator Rainbow Plate’s Janet Nezon as Executive Director and now act as a Super Nanny for numerous health-centered, education and agri-tech businesses.

I know that I alone cannot change the way people perceive food. I don’t like telling people what to do. They switch off. Making food fun and taking a show and tell approach draws people in.  Food can be incredibly delicious way to bridge gaps, connect people and inspire future generations to re-think how to approach our delicate food system.

Where do you buy most of your food?

As I’m currently travelling the world with my family for twelve months, food procurement has become a different beast. Seeking food made with real ‘untainted’ ingredients punctuates my days. Actually finding it can be tricky at times. As much as we can, our family buys fresh fruits and vegetables grown by locals. In ideal situations, we use our meal procurement as an opportunity to discover more about the food growing, distribution and sustainability practices wherever we are. The food web tells us a lot about the people, politics and culture. One of the most fascinating discoveries has been the less developed the country, the more real their food is. There’s less packaging. The food is made fresh right in front of you. As there are no fridges, or shelf stability needed, there are little to zero additives.

Our diet this year has been filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables and all flavours of local cuisines. We don’t have our fridge filled with foods, snack drawers or stockpiles. This means our kids have become a lot more appreciative on whatever food crosses their path. They’re willing to taste and eat a huge variety of different foods and approach eating with more a more conscious attitude.

Do you grow your own food? If yes, how does it make you feel? If no, why not?

Ok. You hit a nerve. I have always wanted to grow my own food. Yet, for many reasons I have still yet to carve out the time and space to farm. So, I focus on the next best alternative. Whenever possible, I align myself with others who grow their own food. I seek out magical folks who tend and harvest nourishment. I’m drawn to tenderly planted spirals of vegetables and lush patches of healing herbs and greens.  Just being in their presence calms a space in me. Drinking homegrown teas, a sweet salad made from the garden, or roots plucked directly from soil satiates my core.

You heard it here first. 2019 is the year that Hopey plants her own plot! I’ve given this a lot of thought and want to start growing a few healing herbs (tulsi basil, lemongrass, lemon balm) and grow a few vegetables (lettuces, beans) with my children. First, we need some land. I’m working on that.

Is travelling the world with your kids a vacation or life learning? Is it better than school?

Our world is changing rapidly. I can’t even comprehend (ok, sometimes I cringe at the thought of) the seismic shifts predicted to occur during our children’s lifetimes. Since becoming a parent ten years ago, I’ve been considering just how I can arm Alfie and Sophia with life-tools I don’t believe our education system has the time, support or resources to provide.

Instead of becoming mired in thoughts of gloom and doom about climate change, loss of job security, robots taking over the world, I have a lofty vision for my children’s education. Big knots excite me. And supporting our kids for their unknown future is indeed a big, tangled puzzle. While I don’t want to spend years homeschooling my kids in isolation, I am honing in on values and skills I want my children to learn through their experiences.

Making the carefully planned choice to pull our kids from structured school and travel the world has allowed my kids to stretch their concept of what learning can look like.  I prefer to call their education this year—Worldschooling. The whole world is their school, instead of school being their world.

Schooling on the road is definitely not a vacation. It requires diligence, discipline, and plenty of pauses to allow interests and inquiry take over. We are six months into our world travel and worldschooling and I’ve already noticed our constantly shifting environment is a catalyst for our kids’ capacity to acquire new information and interests. Both kids have exceeded their grade levels in math and english. And more importantly, Sophia and Alfie have had the time and exposure to pick up life skills that will serve them for the world that is upon us. Here are just a few I have noted so far:

What they do matters. My kids understand they have a responsibility to take agency for their lives. This means learning to identify and create opportunities rather than wait for things to happen. They consider their choices, actions and start to map out clear goals for the future.

Naming Fear. While I believe it’s important to teach my kids to be safe and be weary of certain dangers,  I don’t want them ruled by fear. Whenever we feel any fear pop up, whether it’s my fear or the kids’ fear, we name it. By calling it out, we work together to find constructive and creative ways to understand the stories behind them.

Adaptability equals greater enjoyment. Travel can be jarring. It’s full of unexpected turns and new directions. Our kids have had to weave flexibility and adaptability into every step of our trip to ensure they don’t get caught up in the unexpected differences, or potential disappointments.

Navigate HOW to learn.  I want my kids to inquire deeply, discuss openly and apply a wealth of knowledge in remarkable ways. Rather than teaching my kids to memorize facts (ok, times tables are necessary), or focus on rote learning, I push them to seek the right questions. I require them to implore, come up with their own ideas and theories and challenge us when things don’t make sense.

Dive deep into discipline. When they find subjects or matters of major interest, both kids are able to put in the time to develop a disciplined practice. Travel affords the time to spend hours drawing, writing, understanding body language (one of our family’s favourite past times:) and creating free-flow art projects.

Tap into innate compassion and recognize it in others. Our kids have big hearts. Whenever possible, Sophia and Alfie like to connect with people who do not have what they have. We spend time discussing how we can ‘see’ people who may be marginalized, or without opportunities and give back whenever possible.

Become citizens of our global world. In the West, corruption, greed, pollution and polarization can be out of sight and out of mind. Travelling the world and dipping into developing countries pushes a lot of these issues and discussions to the forefront. I notice an awareness growing for their how their footprint affects their environment which I hope will drive their own internal behaviour change.

Love and respect yourself. I want Sophia and Alfie to know they have a voice. I want them to stand up for what they belief and how they need to design their life. Whenever possible the four of us discuss how we can build ourselves up in order to be fully present and available for life happening right now.

Do you believe in homeschooling?

I believe homeschooling, or in our case worldschooling, is a life-changing experience for both parents and kids. Do I believe it’s for everyone? No. It has required a lot from me and my husband. Being with our kids 24-7 means we don’t have a lot of down time for ourselves, or as a couple. This means we need to actively work on our patience and rely on resources from other parents and teachers with more experience. We are not working full-time (this year) and took plenty of time to consider the opportunity cost of our decision to take our kids out of school and actively participate in their education. The biggest lesson we’ve learned? We are learning just as much as our kids!

We have been impressed by the wealth of growing education platforms. There are a ton of highly reputable and free and online courses out there for teaching kids outside the school system. Our kids typically do about 2-3 hours a day of school, 5 days a week. When the kids aren’t learning on their own, we rely on highly trained teachers to teach what we can’t and engaging online resources to fill in gaps.

So far, the benefits of worldschooling are far outweighing any concerns we had. My kids are thirsty to learn. For the first time they both understand WHY it’s important to apply themselves. They are hungry to absorb the wealth of resources at their fingertips. For us parents, the main benefit of worldschooling has been the shift in our family dynamics. Interacting with our children on this level has created a bond to last a lifetime. I have a feeling we’ll all ride on the fumes of this for decades to come.

Do I think our current classroom model is effective for learning?

While I think there are some merits of social learning at conventional public schools, I could list the ways in which I believe our public school system is outdated. It is a factory model, created to conform and scale education practices. It goes to great lengths to ensure our kids think, believe, work in the same way. I believe the archaic curriculum (outdated science, technology, current history and politics) and the prescribed method for rote learning—all of which don’t inspire kids to think differently, don’t prepare our kids for our changing world.

The setting is often an overlooked element in how kids’ learn. Expecting ALL kids to sit still at desks in a packed classroom for most of the day does wonders to stifle creativity. Aside from squandering innate imagination, this streamlined learning approach can do wonders to squash individuality and most kids’ desire to explore. By exposing my own kids to play and discovery while they learn opens them up to possibility. It lights up their inquiring minds.

Our curriculum feels outdated. Kids are still being taught the same topics from when I was little. Most courses taught (in public schools) encourage efficiency over mastery by promoting incomplete understanding of subject matter. Both of my kids had no idea how math concepts fit together until they discovered how to explore math on their own by watching Sal Khan’s math videos (I only wish he had been around when I was a kid:).  When kids don’t understand WHY they are learning certain topics, or how they fit into a larger interconnected web, the information feels meaningless. As Sophia says, “sitting in a concrete block all day with most the teachers looking super bored isn’t inspiring”. Our kids are seeing education as an irrelevant chore, rather than an exciting opportunity.

As John Holt (a teacher and author Holt wrote several books that have greatly influenced the unschooling movement) shares, “one of our biggest mistakes in schools is to break tasks down into components and try to get children to practice the components isolated from the whole.  In doing so we turn what would be meaningful and exciting into something meaningless and boring.

Rather than just complain about what’s not working with our education system, I’m using this year abroad to experiment with emerging education tools and explore education models.

What will you do when you return to Toronto? Will you return?

Good question. Life is in a beautiful flux that will lead us down some fascinating paths. We’re open and ready for new possibilities. This year will have taught us a great deal about what we value as a family—what we need and what we don’t need. And how we want to be the architects of a life of our design.

Learn more about Hope at hopepaterson.com. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her tweets on Twitter.