Raising A Humane Child: An Online Course From The Institute For Humane Education

January 24th, 2012 - filed under: Furthermore » Reviews


At the end of 2011 I was given the opportunity to attend an amazing web-based parenting class called Raising A Humane Child. The class is mentor-led but self-motivated, and is held through The Institute For Humane Education (IHE), a non-profit educational organization dedicated to “creating a humane world”. And they’re kind of incredible.

The IHE offers a variety of courses, everything from an accredited graduate program, to summer seminars for teachers, to in-person workshops and online parenting classes. It’s really an amazing institution and I encourage you to check it out!

You know how they say, “you attract that which you need”, or “the right people come into your life at the right time”, and other such sentiments? Well, Raising A Humane Child was offered to me at a point in my parenting journey that could only be describes as a “low”. I was frustrated and discouraged and desperate for guidance. And this course became my bright light at the end of the tunnel.

There are two main components to the class, which include 1) reading the course text, Above All, Be Kind: Raising A Humane Child In Challenging Times, and 2) assignments which are provided (and then “due”) every other day. The structure is non-demanding and the course leader is very flexible. There are no grades, and you don’ even have to submit your exercises if you’d prefer to keep them private. The focus is on discussion, sharing, learning, and growing. From the introductory material:

“There is no blueprint for raising a humane child. However, the premise of Above All, Be Kind and this course is that if we bring the tools of a humane educator to our parenting, our children will have the greatest opportunities to manifest their deepest values – learned largely from us as parents – and become ever more humane: compassionate, kind, honest, generous, and wise.”

This class is much more about examining your own life and your own belief system, than it is so much a “guide to parenting”. The accompanying text, Above All, Be Kind is not actually a text book at all. But it’s an awesome resource, and I’d recommend it for any parent really, regardless of whether or not you want to take the class.

The coursework itself is simply a series of exercises, a sort of directed self-discovery. There are no right or wrong answers, only personal realizations. For example, I found it very valuable to do things like . . . “list and discuss the values that I have absorbed through my culture, community, and media, that do not actually represent the core of who I am”. Or perhaps . . . “examine what I model – what qualities I demonstrate for my child – and if they match my values”. These are *big-picture* concepts that most of us have probably thought about in a general sense, but it’s very different to sit down, and write down, the specific thoughts and feelings and intentions that you have around such ideas.

Being accountable to the course forced me to reflect on these *big-picture* abstract concepts, and turn them into real-life applications that will inform my parenting choices. Obviously, this was invaluable! The lessons that I learned there will shape the way I parent, and probably the way I live, for the rest of my life.

So needless to say, I can’t recommend it highly enough. But one word of caution – be prepared to take it seriously! The pace moves quickly and you don’t want to fall behind. Make sure that you’ve opened up your schedule so that you can give the course the attention that it really deserves. I speak from experience here! Oi . . .


Have you ever taken a parenting class? Was it helpful? If not, is there a book or other resource that has influenced your parenting choices? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

  • http://greenfeatherherbs.blogspot.com/ Greenfeatherherbs

    Thanks for the info…I’ll have to check out that book for sure!

  • http://www.emilyscrueltyfreekitchen.blogspot.com/ Emily

    I am definitely bookmarking this for when it’s my time to be a parent. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah C

    I’ve tried reading parenting books from the library (my kid is about the age of yours) but haven’t ever found any that reflect both my values and my style – most of the ones I looked at were patronizing or overly-enthusiastic and preachy. I want to check this book out and I hope to get as much from it as you seem to have. I’m glad you found it helpful. And Sister, this is a hard journey, isn’t it!

  • http://fridgescrapings.com/ Lou

    Thanks so much for the write up on the course – I’m totally going to do it, sounds exactly what I need right now. I know your opinion rocks, as I bought Natalia KW’s cupcake book, and my oh my it’s wicked knickers :)

  • Megan Travis-Carr

    How well do you think this would apply to teachers in the classroom? I don’t have any children of my own, however, I teach K-5 Art and I’m constantly searching for different ways to demonstrate values of compassion, tolerance, and respect towards others.

  • Diana

    Sounds like just what I need, if only I could find the time… I’ll at least check out the book though.

    Speaking of, a couple that are influencing me at the moment are Momma Zen: Walking the crooked path of motherhood by the Karen Maezen Miller. Short insightful chapters that you can read pretty quickly (I keep my copy in the bathroom). I’ve read it a few times, and there is so much honesty, wisdom, and compassion throughout that it really helps me feel better during the low times and reminds me to remain present with this incredible journey…

    Also it’s a bit old-fashioned (my mother-in-law passed them on to me) , but the Fitzhugh Dodson books have some really good stuff in them, and what particularly resonated with me was the need for parents to be “authentic.” His idea is that it’s way more important for your kids to see you as you truly are rather than trying to pretend to be someone that you are not – this in turn gives them room to be authentic as well. I don’t buy into all his book say, but overall they’ve been very helpful, lots of great stuff on how to actively listen to your kid, reinforce positive behavior rather than always punishing the negative, etc.

    Beyond books what helps me the most is hearing about other parent’s struggles, whether it’s friends or blogs like yours or articles like the one you shared the other day. Hearing other parents talk about how hard they have it helps me fight this totally idealized image I picked up somewhere of parenthood as blissful and fulfilling – and that if you don’t feel that way all the the time something is wrong with you, or you’re a bad parent. I so appreciate the honesty of other parents, and I’ve found that when I’ve opened up about my own difficulties it creates a space for others to share what they’ve struggled with a as well. So healing! And it makes me a better parent because it allows me to stop beating myself up so much and just try to be the best parent I can be, not some idealized mother that doesn’t really exist – or at least isn’t me.

    By the way just wanted to say thanks for your blog, I’ve been reading off an on when I have time though I haven’t commented in a while. I especially appreciate what you’ve shared about parenting, since I’m currently on that path with an 18-month old who sounds as spirited and as high-energy as yours! I amazed that you find the time to do all that you do!

  • http://windycityvegan.wordpress.com Monika {windycityvegan}

    I’d love to read and discuss this as a BBC selection!

    I haven’t read many parenting books – everyone kept suggesting a book with “Spirited Child” in the title, but it was always checked out at the library (and no copies at the second hand book store) and I figured that if I ever got my hands on it, I wouldn’t have time to sit down and actually read it.

    I’ve mentioned before that my support system in Chicago was amazing — not so much here in the South. But with the magic of the internet at my fingertips, I’ve been able to build an online support system that is more varied and experienced than what I had back home.

    That class looks amazing – I checked it out when you blurbed about it while you were taking it. I’m trying to find a way to justify/sell (for lack of a better word) the cost (in dollars and time) of becoming a Humane Educator to myself and husband – not only will it make me a more organized and directed person, but it feels like the next step in my personal evolution as an AR activist. Or a mini-step, before heading into animal law, I guess you could say.

    I think about the *big picture* concepts too much sometimes – raising a Nina and working on law school applications will do that to a person! Also, Nina is at a point where I am starting to let her make some small choices where food is concerned. Like it or not, she is just a few months away from starting *real* school, and I don’t want her to ever see food as a vehicle for rebellion/defiance/shame. Kids share food with other kids, parents and teachers bring unexpected treats, and I don’t *ever* want her to feel guilty about a food choice she made on the spur of the moment. Or to take secret pride in eating something that is “taboo.” Our biggest hurdle right now is that she’s telling everyone she’s allergic to dairy and eggs; she won’t think it’s so clever if she eats a dairy-laden snack on the same day she has the sniffles and ends up getting stuck with an Epi pen by an over anxious teacher. But more importantly, she needs to understand what it means to be truly allergic, so that she doesn’t put a child with food allergies at risk by assuming they’re just vegan, like she is.

  • http://easierthanyouthink.wordpress.com/ Ginger Baker

    My kids have a sensitivity to dairy, and I have definitely taken time to explain that to them: that it makes their stomach hurt and that is not good, but having dairy won’t kill them or send them to the hospital, which is what an allergy does. They have both had friends with nut allergies and I think they are both pretty aware of the difference. :)

    As for schools, the teacher absolutely will not stick her with an EpiPen unless you have provided one. You will have a card to fill out that details any food restrictions or medical issues your kid has, I would just fill it out with a clear description of what Nina’s food limitations are (whether that be “only food from home” or “no dairy” etc.) and you should be fine.

  • http://windycityvegan.wordpress.com Monika {windycityvegan}

    Hi Ginger — thank you for the info on EpiPens! I knew there is a protocol involved, but Nina can be dramatic – Oscar-worthy dramatic at times, and I just have this vision of The Girl Who Cried Allergies going through my mind.

    Nina has a five-year old cousin with life-threatening allergies to dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, gluten (she’s been diagnosed with Crohn’s and celiac) and eggs, and is sensitive to soy and corn. So, I find it very disrespectful when Nina ganks her cousin’s diagnosis when it suits her at play school. The few times Nina has been given dairy (by my lovely mother) she had an awful GI reaction – that’s always how we figured it out before my mother would fess up. So, I’m hoping N will start using the word sensitivity with dairy. She has pet hens and knows a LOT about eggs and is a very vocal advocate on that subject, so I think the times she says she’s allergic to eggs is when she just doesn’t have the energy to start a verbal sparring match.

  • http://easierthanyouthink.wordpress.com/ Ginger Baker

    Weird, I thought I left a comment? Anyway, your comment made me think of this article, which I think is an excellent humane approacch to a particular issue, and maybe you will find some inspiration in it. :) http://togetherforjacksoncountykids.tumblr.com/post/14314184651/one-teachers-approach-to-preventing-gender-bullying-in

  • Amy

    Hi Megan!
    I was just reading this great review of our course, Raising a Humane Child, and saw your question about applying this to teachers in the classroom. We actually have a course that is like this great course but for TEACHERS! It’s called Teaching for a Positive Future and it’s a six-week online course for educators who want to inspire their students to become leaders and changemakers for a healthy, peaceful, and sustainable world. We have a new session beginning this February 6. There are so many humane educators who teach art. It’s a great subject to infuse with the values of compassion, tolerance and respect, like you said. You can learan more and register here: http://humaneeducation.org/sections/view/teaching_for_a_positive_future

    Amy Morley
    Director of Operations
    Institute for Humane Education
    (207) 667-1025

  • Amy Morley

    Emily, the Institute for Humane Education also offers a course for individuals in case you want to do something sooner. :) http://humaneeducation.org/sections/view/better_world_meaningful_life

  • Megan Travis-Carr

    Loved it! Thanks for sharing that article… I’m passing it on immediately!

  • Megan Travis-Carr

    Awesome, Thanks!