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  • Writer's pictureMolly Mulvaney

How did A Little Alaska get started?

A Winding Path Through A Little Alaska

Hi there,

How did we get the idea to start A Little Alaska, this adventure stay for teens in our Cordova, Alaska home? It’s hard to say exactly. As with many things in life, it’s been a winding path. One thing that has always been clear though, is our delight in watching kids inhabit, play and make a world of their own.

When I was in law school I had a classmate whose wife had a baby the summer of our first year. They lived close to the school and sometimes, usually when I was particularly stressed out with my studies, I would leave my spot in the library and pop in to visit his wife and baby. I remember thinking of it as my reality check, a reminder of what really mattered. Not my upcoming contracts exam or the legal writing project but hanging out with that kiddo. I would get down on the floor and play with her, laugh and read books and for those moments I wouldn’t be thinking about law school but was really and truly in the present moment.

Many years later, when my son was a toddler, I had a part time, small town private law practice here in Cordova. As you might imagine, it was challenging and stressful. I worked hard. My commercial fishing husband was often gone for long stretches of time which added another tricky layer to raising our sweet son. When I really got in the space where I was just with him, the stress melted away.

One of the many kid hikes we went on

A mom in town started kid hikes once a week and I always made time for those. On those hikes I was never concerned about my law practice, what the house looked like, what to make for dinner. I wasn’t running through a to do list in my head. I was out of my office, out of my house and present with that group of parents and kids that showed up. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And wanted more.

I decided to set aside two days a week to have young kids over to play. My son was no longer a baby and I was occasionally finding myself saying no to him. It felt like a knee jerk reaction and it didn’t sit well with me even if I said it in nice way. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t read Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting book yet but something inside me questioned the no and didn’t like it. So along with giving my son and a few friends an opportunity to play together, and me a cleared calendar with the sole focus of being with them, I decided to use that time to consciously not say no. I challenged myself to be more creative and give more thoughtful replies. If they were bringing in and throwing dirt in the house I didn’t say “No” or “Stop”. I took a moment to think and maybe said “Whoa, look at this, we’ll have to clean this up, I think it will work better to do this outside.” As time went on, it got easier to come up with more thoughtful, respectful responses.

Muddy footprints leading to the bathtub

For those two days I didn’t have a set agenda. I never knew what we were going to do. I suggested ideas. Some took and some didn’t. One of our first get togethers found us walking on the slough near our house. The tide was out and we walked all the way up the slough and through a big culvert, big enough to stand in. The kids wanted to keep going so we climbed into the culvert which went under the main street. On our way back across the slough, the youngest of our crew got his boot stuck in the mud. He pulled so hard his foot came out but his boot stayed put. We all got pretty muddy getting his boot out of the mud. Into the bathtub they happily went when we got home.

Cordova is a small town and people took note of our little group adventuring out and about. A few times, when I didn’t have the kids with me, people would ask me if I had started a day care or a preschool. I shared this with the kids and asked them for input on how to reply. One of them said “It’s Dirty School because we always get dirty!” The name stuck.

Fast forward a few years. We had been away for a few months traveling and were recently back in town. Two nine year olds saw me on the street and ran up to me asking when was Dirty School starting up. I didn’t know, I said. What did they think? They hadn’t participated in previous years, had only heard about the fun we had and seen us out and about. We made a plan. They came over to my house to figure out how to revive Dirty School which had paused due to our travels, the kids we started with had moved and others had grown up and, aside from our son, were now in school.

These two nine year olds were delightful and enthusiastic. We made a plan for days and times. They made flyers and posted them around town. We had a lot of kids that summer. They were older than years past and the age range was larger, it often spanned ages 5 to 14. I loved doing it. Although people kindly asked and offered, I never charged anything for it.

Flyer made and distributed by two kid friends

Older and still playing in the glacial mud. The girl in the black vest is also in the photo above in the black tank top.

Somewhere along the way, maybe three or four years ago, I thought maybe we could do something like this for kids that don’t live here. Have them stay with us, fold them into our life here, collaborate with them and go out and about on adventures in this pretty special corner of the world. I composed a text to two unschooling friends asking what they thought about the idea. Nervously, I held my breath and hit send. They thought it was a great idea and now here we are with A Little Alaska launched and heading into its first year of hosting teens in our home in small town Cordova! We’re still on that winding path and look forward to exploring it with the teens who join us for A Little Alaska.

I hope you spot joy in your day. Sparkle on!


Molly Mulvaney is an unschooling mom with a part time law practice. She, her husband and teen son live in Cordova, Alaska. Their venture, a little alaska...BIG FUN is a unique opportunity for small groups of teens to stay with them in an eclectic town on the edge of the wilderness. You are invited to join them for adventures and respectful appreciation of the natural world and our place in it.

Facebook @a little alaska


Pinterest: @a_littlealaska

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