Friday, November 13, 2009

I've been finding it difficult to keep up with this blog lately. This is mostly because I never really intended it to be simply a journal of our days, it was more about my insights as I sorted through information and experiences that helped me find our way on our journey into unschooling. The trouble is that now I feel as if I'm pretty much here, the "figuring it out" part of the journey has passed and now we are in the more comfortable part of just letting life be and learning through that presence. That doesn't mean I know everything there is to know about unschooling or that I never have new insights; they just don't happen as often and when they do are much more organic.

Realizing this I've decided to let this project run its natural course. That may mean that it evolves into something more than simply an unschooling blog and will include other insights I wish to share. It could also mean that I will simply continue blogging about unschooling but just less often. Or perhaps I will simply let this go and accept that it served its purpose. I can't really say at this point which of these will be the best option. I'm an uschooler so I welcome any and all possibilities as opportunities for growth and learning.

I hope some of you will stick around to see where I'm headed. If not, thanks for taking this journey with me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back to bedtime! (Sort of )

Okay, I know it isn't very radical of me but I can't go on with my kids not having a bedtime. I've waffled a bit on this issue but it has come to a point where I'm taking off my radical unschooler hat and saying that the living room and all screens are off limits for kiddos after 10 pm. There are a few reasons I'm doing this.

1) The kids are staying up very late and sleeping very late. This issue is compounded by the fact that they like to sleep in the living room and therefore when they are sleeping until 11:00 am then I have to either be very quiet which means I can't do things like clean the kitchen or vacuum OR I go ahead and do what I need to do and they wake up cranky. Neither of these choices creates harmony in our household and I don't see a way to fix it with the current sleeping situation.

2) We can't make plans for anything that happens in the morning because they are too tired to wake up and can't simply go to bed early the night before an outing because their body clocks can't make the adjustment. We have missed several activities in which they've expressed interest because they couldn't get out of bed on time to get ready and attend.

3) I truly need time to unwind at the end of the day. Time to read, go online or watch what I want on tv. I don't have a room of my own to do this in. The only place I have is the living room and if children are in it then I don't get this time. This may seem selfish but I spend nearly every waking moment with my children, we have clear rules that people can't enter their bedrooms without knocking first, they both have free use of both the tv and the computer during the day. I don't think it is selfish for me to ask for the same consideration for a few hours that they receive all day.

4) I am insisting that this is no screen time because when Jace is allowed to stay up as late as he wants to play video games he plays for hours beyond tired and we still don't get a good start to the day. Furthermore when he plays video games late into the night he often can't fall asleep on his own and will wake us up so he can sleep in our bed. He is too big to sleep in our bed; not because he's too old but because he is physically too big for us to get quality sleep. When his want to play video games (which he has unlimited access to during the day) interferes with our need for sleep it requires intervention.

The reasonable solution for all of this is that they go to bed at 10:00; a time that we've discussed and agreed upon based on all of our wants and needs, not an arbitrary number pulled out of the air. They don't have to go to sleep at this time but they will do activities that can be done in bed such as reading, drawing, writing, playing with small toys, etc. They have to sleep in their bedrooms with the exception of Friday night; if they want to sleep together in the living this one night then their father and I will agree to be quiet in that area until they naturally awaken.

At first I thought this wasn't a very unschooly thing of me to do and I'm sure there are some who still think that. However, I feel good about the way we've handled this situation that was becoming a problem. We've discussed the reasons this is becoming an issue and worked together for solutions that meet everyone's needs. This is what consensual living is all about. :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meteor Shower

We stayed up late last night to view the meteor shower. It was one of the best things we've ever done and I highly recommend it to everyone who has the opportunity. We watched movies, played games, and chatted until about 1 AM when we headed outside with our blankets. We stretched out on the deck and laid back to wait for the show.

It took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the dark and it was a little chilly so were snuggling under the blankets as we watched more and more stores appear before our eyes. We found the big dipper, the little dipper and the north star (the only constellations I've ever really been able to make out) while we waited. I saw the first meteor and even though the kids didn't see it they were excited to know they were out there. They started asking lots of questions about comets, meteors, stars, the speed of light, and more. I told them about seeing Halley's comet pass by earth when I was a little girl, about the earth's orbit taking us through its debris annually, why they are called "shooting stars" when they aren't really, that some of the light we see are from stars that no longer exist (Kya had a hard time wrapping her brain around that one!), and just anything and everything they asked that I knew the answer to.

All of that was great, they learned a lot but the best moment came when Jace, who was snuggled in by my side, looked up at me and said, "This is the best night ever!" I really hope this is a memory they keep forever.

Friday, October 16, 2009

As many of you know I leaned into unschooling. The idea intrigued me but also frightened me. As time has passed I have seen the blessing of peace, creativity, inquisitiveness, and authenticity come into our lives. At first I said I wasn't radical but now I think I am. We don't have bedtimes, don't have restrictions on how we spend our time (unless our choices begin to infringe on the happiness and well-being of others), heck we don't even have set meal times as we are all learning to eat according to our bodies cues and not the clock. So if I'm going to call myself a "radical" unschooler then I have to think about what that truly means.

The word radical come from the Latin word for root. We are going back to our roots and parenting from this radical place of instinct and presence. To those who criticize and say we need to go back to basics I say we are.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Teachable Moments

Jace has been curious about numbers lately. We've spent some time exploring Roman numerals and prime numbers and he has a good grasp of both. Roman numerals came to his attention due to a poster he spotted. He wrote out one through ten and quickly decoded what I, V, and X symbolize as well as how to determine the order of the symbols for addition and subtraction; he also deduced that he needed to use as few symbols as possible. He then asked me if there were more symbols so I told him the ones I could remember and he started writing out large numbers such as the year everyone in our family was born. When that got boring he asked me to create arithmetic problems to solve. This went on for about half an hour until he grew tired of it and found something else to do.

I'm not sure what sparked the question about prime numbers. He was watching TV and looking at a magazine when he asked so one of them must have used the term and he was curious. I explained what it meant and we had a brief conversation about 2 being the only even prime number and why. He listed a few out loud, testing himself to make sure he understood. A few days later in the car he wanted to know if prime numbers were infinite. I said yes and he thought it was very cool that a infinitely large number could be prime.

Both of these instances are perfect examples of unschooling at its best. Jace came to me with an interest sparked by something offhand and both times, although I was busy, I stopped and took the time to help him understand what he was asking. We followed the natural course of the conversation. If I had waited until I wasn't busy I think the interest would have evaporated, it was important to him IN THAT MOMENT and because I was able to make myself available to answer his questions and expand on the ideas he was able to learn. This is not to say that I never have to say I'm busy and can't help but I try very hard to do that as little as possible. I ask myself, "Do I really have to finish this now or do I just want to?"

I do admit this is frustrating at times. Both of my kids ask lots of questions about books, TV and movies. When I am absorbed in something and have to keep pausing to explain things that are happening I sometimes get irritated. However, I remind myself that asking questions is ultimately a good thing that I don't want to discourage so I try to be patient with the endless questions and answer them as best I can. This is especially important with Kya because media is what stirs her inquisitive nature the most. Jace is curious about any and everything while Kya tends to be a little more zen, accepting things around her as they are. However, books, TV and movies, especially documentaries, raise lots of questions for her so I try to be patient. Even if it means that it takes twice as long to get through something as it normally would.

Unschooling for us is about teachable moments and one of the most important things I've learned that we have to take those moments as they come, not as we wish they would.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

We are very thrifty in our house. We live well but try not to spend money when we don't need to. This means we love the library, or at least we used to. Now when we go to the library the kids seem disinterested and often don't read the books after bringing them home. Today their uncle bought them brand new hard cover books from Barnes and Noble and they can't get enough them- Jace has actually already finished his! I think new books may be a worthwhile budget item once in a while if they generate this much excitement. :)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One of the goals I have as a parent is teaching my kids to follow their dreams and live an authentic life. Its one of the reasons I choose to unschool; it simply seems like the most logical way for me to help them learn that their passions are as important and worthwhile as what the state and school deem important. Yesterday my little dancer auditioned for a small role in The Nutcracker. A ballet company from Chicago is going to be performing in our little town and is using local children as mice, angels, and soldiers. We didn't really know what to expect but Kya was very excited at the possibility of being part of a real ballet performance with professional dancers.

Twenty-two girls and boys auditioned in her age group, the company had twenty-five costumes so they kept them all! Practice began immediately and she worked diligently for over four hours learning some of her small part. On the way home as we discussed how exciting it was I mentioned how fortunate she was to be able to do something like this. I explained that many people go their entire lives without getting to follow their dreams. She expressed how sad that was and said she felt bad for those people.

My little realist was wistful and grateful but also pragmatic. I told her that with rehearsals she would probably not have time for cheerleading this year. She immediately said that the ballet was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. She wants to be a dancer and this is more important so she'll just take a year off from cheering; there's always next year after all. My daughter is NINE, my jaw dropped when I heard her speaking of opportunity and priorities. I can see that it's not just about helping my kids learn to dream big but also how to fulfill those dreams. I think Kya is off to a pretty good start on that lesson.
When we were on vacation recently we encountered a woman who was surprised that we could take a family vacation at that time of year. She asked "Didn't school just start?"

This was an older lady, traveling with the Red Hat Society, which is usally the the age group that understands the least that children don't have to go to school to learn. I understand their viewpoint, my great-grandmother didn't have the opportunity to go to school because she was needed at home and she never learned to read; they weren't homeschooling they were using child labor. So, I braced myself for this woman's response and was already trying to formulate in my mind how I could respond to help her understand that what we are doing is differnt from her youth. I was not only pleasantly surprised because she had a positive response but also by the fact that her simple response articulated our life so well. What did she say?

"Oh, well you're free then."

Yes, yes we are.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another thing clarified at Joyfully Rejoycing that I'd believed for a long time but she expressed so well is that telling someone that the advice their giving isn't unschooling is NOT a judgement about the validity of what they are saying, it is simply a statement of fact. Much like I would give different directions to get to the different pizza places in town. It isn't morally wrong to give directions to Imo's- in fact I like Imo's a lot. But if you wanted directions to Pizza Inn then my directions are wrong for what you are trying to learn in this moment. The advice unschoolers share should bring us closer to unschooling. Another educational philosophy might be valid, might be better in some situations, and might even be necessary at times but just because it is the best way to meet someone's needs doesn't mean it is unschooling.

I was having a difficult time with this because of conflicting advice I was receiving from more seasoned homeschoolers who all identified themselves as unschoolers. In discussions I could see the rational and thinking of several viewpoints and many people had grown children who were happy, well adjusted, and successful (by my definition of success). I was confusing understanding a point of view with understanding unschooling. Now I see that I was elevating unschooling to be THE way to do things so I was trying to fit all of the wonderful advice I was given under that umbrella. Now I see that unschooling is A way to do things, and THE way that WE are doing things right now.

This is an important distinction because it helps me see more clearly what decisions I should make when conflicting viewpoints seem valid. They probably are both valid but that doesn't mean they are both unschooling. If I truly want to follow this path then that should be my deciding factor in that situation. Now, if the advice that follows the unschooling philosophy doesn't seem valid then that is a different situation altogether. I dig deeper to gather more facts and then make the best choice for my family. I'm not ruled by the unschooling philosophy but when all else seems equal I will choose to use it as a guiding principle.
I recently discovered Joyfully Rejoycing, an extremly comprehensive unschooling resource that will answer just about any question you may have. It will also answer questions you didn't realize you had until you see it there.

One of the things that the site really clarified for me was the difference between unschooling and eclectic homeschooling:

Unschooling is trusting that the paths children choose for themselves will lead them where they need to go. They will learn what they need for themselves. Parents are there to facilitate and provide an rich environment of paths for children to explore.

(That's oversimplified of course. Parental attitude towards life and learning is a big part of unschooling. We can't expect kids to get excited about the world if we never are. We can't expect kids to follow interests that have never run through their lives in an interesting way.)

Eclectic homeschooling is parents having an idea where the children need to go and then letting the children have a big say in what method of travel they use to get there. Science might be videos or experiments or classes or whatever appeals to the child. Eclectics may have requirements that kids will write, but how and what they write will depend on the child's interests. There will be a focus on specific subjects and skills.

I love this definition, especially because she clarifies in the middle that we still have a responsibility to help our kids see that the world is an exciting place, full of possibilities. I also realize that I was holding onto some things that I think the kids should learn and have been tying myself in knots trying to figure out how to make sure it is learned naturally and authentically. I can see now that I need to let go of those preconceived notions and trust that they are learning what they need to right now through our enthusiastic exploration of the world.

I also see that I have been lax in sharing certain interests because it was easier, more convienent for me to do so. My reading is done primarily in bed when everyone else is asleep so I won't be interuppted but by doing that I have put reading out of site and they don't see me modeling reading for pleasure. Meditation is another thing that I generally do when the kids are asleep, this time early in the morning instead of before bed. I will continue this practice because it centers my day but I'm bringing in another time for meditation during the day so the kids are introduced to the idea, can ask questions, and perhaps choose to join me. I borrowed some wonderful books from a wonderful friend so I am prepared to talk to them when and if they ask but unlike other things I've wanted to introduce in the past I'm going to leave this one entirely up to them. I'll let them know I need some quiet time, let them know that they are welcome to join me and leave it at that. No cajoling, no pressure, just an introduction and an invitation. And I'll try not to be disappointed if they don't follow but even if I am I know up front that will be about my needs, not theirs and I'll just have to accept it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Some days I feel myself resisting this unschooled life. Unschooling tells me that if long division never presents itself in real life then we are fine not to learn it. But will my kids do well on the ACT that they will have to take to get into college someday if I don't teach them long division. And if I were to teach them long division when should I do it, how often should they practice, how often should they review to make sure they retain the information?

I realize that the real struggle I'm having right now isn't with long division it is with trusting this process. The real question is if insist on them doing certain things because I find them important will I hinder their overall desire to seek information on their own? I think the answer is yes, they won't embrace life and learning in the same way if I hold onto these things just to make myself feel better. It would be as if we had decided to become vegetarians but I insisted that they must eat a little chicken three or four times a week for their own good. If I insist that the math (or science or social studies) book is too important to skip then they they aren't really unschooling any more than the chicken eaters are really vegetarians. That would be okay if I really thought it was best for them, after all I don't want to base my decision on whether or not they fit the label of unschooler, I want to base it on whether or not its what's best for them.

So it boils down to what, after all of the research I've done, I believe is the best way for them to learn. Intellectually I believe I'm doing the right thing by letting go but some days I just don't FEEL it. On those days I panic and think, "Wait! They need to know XYZ and I must teach them NOW!" On the days that I am more grounded in my decision I think that an arbitrary lesson would be an unwelcome interference in their learning and would do more harm than good- they may complete the worksheet without truly learning the information and the lesson itself could kill the desire to ever learn it for themselves.

Today is an in between day so I'm taking a deep breath and reminding myself that they can learn any information at any time. College isn't looming at some predetermined date but at a place when they are ready. If at 16 they choose a career path and realize that they can't fill in the gaps quickly enough to begin the college of their choice at 18 then that's okay, colleges accept 19 year olds too. I don't really anticipate that they won't be ready, I'm just trying to calm my fears about it by reminding myself that it isn't a race. I guess I'm realizing that unschooling isn't just about letting go of my preconceived notions about learning, it's also about letting go of the arbitrary time lines created by traditional schooling.

One more piece of the puzzle. I wonder how many more there are?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We made the decision a while back to get rid of our satellite TV and just have the free channels. I was willing to give up satellite but not my Tivo- the convenience offered by this gadget not to mention the fact that I never have to watch annoying commercials made it worth the initial investment. Through our Tivo device we get an added bonus- we can instantly watch unlimited movies streamed to the TV through our online DVD rental service. The choices are somewhat limited but there is an abundance of documentaries available and we have taken full advantage of this.

Admittedly the kids usually don't watch the entire movie; documentaries can be a little dry for nine and 10 year olds. However they do generally watch bits and pieces and want to explain and this opens up an opportunity for discussion. These discussions are usually only a few minutes long but I've heard them bringing up things in other conversations so I know they are retaining it.

We've watched documentaries about people, events, science, history, controversial ideas, politics, religion and more. There is no doubt that we are all learning a lot of factual information but the real beauty of this experience has been the way I've seen my kids learn to discern information. They are asking great questions and sometimes even disagree with the information being presented. I love that they are learning that just because an "expert" says something is true that doesn't make it so- they are questioning and forming their own opinions based on the facts that are presented. They are also noticing that sometimes facts are left out to make an opinion seem stronger.

These documentaries have highlighted for me that more and more the focus of our educational philosophy is not on facts and figures but how to interpret those facts and figures. We are learning how to learn, learning how to think.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I am happy to report that Jace seems to be coming out of his shell. Kya has had many playdates lately and he is feeling the need to step up and have a few of his own. He has also become a regular attendee at our weekly playgroup and is having lots of fun while there. I think he still likes to be home, still likes his time to himself but he is also learning that time with others is fun and valuable as well. I was really trying to be okay with the fact that he just might not be a social person but I must admit that I'm tickled pink to see him reaching out to others.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Saturday we had a yard sale. We got rid of lots of stuff and made a little bit of money to add to our vacation fund but the best part of the sale was the experiences the kids had and the lessons they learned.

Kya was my cashier, she spent the entire day giving people their change and never faltered. She had so much fun and felt very grown up. Jace declared himself in charge of "customer service" and helped me bag things for people and told everyone "Thank you, have a good day." He also kept track of how much money was in the box, how much was profit and how much 15% of that profit would be since that's what he and Kya got to keep. (I made it 15 instead of 10 to make the math a little more complex, hehe).

They also learned the value of decluttering. At first they weren't excited about the prospect of giving up some of their things but once money was involved they were willing. The unexpected (at least for them) benefit of having more space that is easier to keep organized was a welcome bonus.

But perhaps the best thing they learned was that they spent a lot more on some things than they got back, some were practically given away at such low prices, and some didn't sell at all and were given away after it was over. Kya commented that she was going to be careful how she spends her allowance because when you're done with things you just don't have anything to show for the money you spent. The value of spending wisely. THAT was a great life lesson.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yesterday we visited the Air and Military museum in Springfield. It was an interesting outing and you can read more about at my travel blog. The kids did learn a few interesting things while we were there. Jace discovered that telegraph is really an electric switch and that the sounds are produced when the lever is pushed because it completes a circuit. They both learned a little about the inner workings of an Air Force plane from an veteran by the name of Ollie.

The trip to Springfield is a little over two hours and the car trip proved to be a learning experience as well. Kya used the time to make crafts with some supplies she brought from home. She made a paper hat out of a paper plate and was really proud of herself for figuring out how to do that all on her own. She is so creative and loves expressing herself through art. :) The only technology she brought with her was her mp3 player which has become her almost constant companion. This is in stark contrast to Jace who brought his mp3, dvd player, and Nintendo DS. With all that he really just wanted to play his DS but it was difficult because he kept getting glare from the sun on the screen making it impossible to see. At first he was too frustrated to do anything about it but then he decided to find a way to solve his problem instead of getting mad. He had his Lowe's Build and Grow apron in the car so he found a way to tie it to various places in the car creating a shade for his game. He spent most of the trip playing video games but for about 20 minutes or so he was in full on creative problem solving mode; very cool.

The museum was cool but I also loved the drive- finding ways to entertain yourself and keep your cool when confined to the backseat of a car is wonderful creative exercise and they both did great! Oh, and the only person who ever uttered the dreaded "Are we there yet?" was my husband.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wow, we had a productive day today! We are getting ready for a yard sale and I want to get the house organized so things that we don't want anymore can go to the sale. We cleaned the office yesterday which is where we keep lots of schooly things like art supplies, workbooks, notebooks, etc. The unearthing of materials that have long been abandoned was so great! The kids both found things they liked and had wanted to do but grew tired of or frustrated with before.

Kya found the Junie B. Jones folder I pulled together for her using printables from the website. She had so much fun and even dug out some of her books to re-read and found one that she hadn't read yet. The best moment was when she had to find a walkman in the hidden picture and I had to explain that a walkman is an "old fashioned" mp3 player that played cassettes- kind of like mini VCR tapes (my mom still has a VCR otherwise I don't know how I would've explained THAT, lol).

Jace found a math workbook that I picked up a while back. He had enjoyed another version of it so I thought I'd give it a try but when I brought it home he wasn't all that interested- mostly because he's 10 and they didn't have the 5th grade book but I know his capabilities so I just went ahead and picked up the 6th grade edition. He spent enough time in public school that the grade level intimidated him and he didn't want to try. We laid it aside and I figured I try to find the 5th grade book and just save this one for later. But when we found the book yesterday he was willing to give it a try and while it is more challenging to him than he's accustomed to it is also more fun because of the challenge. I love seeing how he works through the problems with no preconceived notions about formulas or how things "should" be done and figures it out for himself. Kya abandoned her workbook as well but now that she how much fun Jace is having with his she wants me to help her find it.

I LOVE that they do these things on their own but I don't want to leave the impression that I love it anymore than Kya telling me earlier this week that she wants to be a ballerina and practicing her steps around the house or Jace making movies. I love it anytime my kids are engaged with learning new things and I especially love watching them figure things out for themselves. A very good day for that. :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I have another blog!

There is going to be some overlap between here and there but this one is really about our everyday lives and the new one is about our travels, both near and far. Have Kids, Will Travel is my brainchild as I try to move my way into travel writing. There isn't much there yet but I do have an introductory post setting the tone for the blog- I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I saw Jace laying on top of my husbands truck trailer. He was very intent, quiet and still for the longest time. He came in and proudly told me that he'd just seen something that most people only see in pictures- a snake eating a frog. I was horrified, he was ecstatic. Go figure.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I don't generally buy or subscribe to women's magazines because they seem to recycle the same stories and frankly I've read it all before. I can't cut $200 from my grocery bill with your tips because I already do those things- probably because I read about it in your magazine a few years ago. However, when Kya was still going to public school they had a fundraiser and the cheapest thing I could find was a two year subscription to Woman's Day. It's an okay magazine and once in a while I find a good recipe and it gives me something to flip through while Spongebob is on for the thirtieth time. You're probably wondering what in the world this has to with unschooling at this point but trust me, I'm getting there.

I got my new copy in the mail yesterday, which happened to be my birthday and Robbie had taken the kids for the day leaving me with a quiet house to just relax and be a bum all day. I snuggled down with my magazine and started to flip through when I came across an article entitled "Are you a Summer Mom or a Back-to-school Mom?" Wow. That was my first reaction to this article, just WOW. The author says early on that she spends the summer waiting for life to resume it's natural order (emphasis mine). "Everybody up, everybody out, every day." Carting your kids away is now the natural order.

At first I was appalled, I continued to be appalled as she on went on to tell how she starts the countdown for back to school at the beginning of July and that she can't wait to get these slugs off of the couch and back in the classroom. She complained about the whines of "I'm bored," the comatose state they would fall into in front of the TV, and that none of them ever wanted to do any of the outings she suggested. Contradicting this she also talked about how over scheduled they were at other times because of camps, practices, etc. Confusing and appalling. However on further reflection I don't think I'm appalled by this mother as much as I am by the circumstances.

I remember summers being a little like this when the kids were in school (as was I, I taught public school so summer was my break as well). Usually around July I would start looking forward to going back to school but also be acutely aware that we hadn't done nearly as much over the summer as I'd originally hoped. We were all comatose on the couch for half of the break, none of us could muster the energy to go do fun things, yet we were all bored. This woman's story started to sound uncomfortably familiar.

So what's changed? Why am I appalled now when just a couple of years ago I was this woman? I realize now that this is the summer we have when we spend the other three seasons of a year locked away in a classroom without opportunity to relax, entertain ourselves, or use our imaginations- the brain and body shut down for a while in an attempt to recover. This is why many people think they could never homeschool, much less unschool- they think about these dreaded summer breaks and assume it would be like this all the time. But they don't understand that when you are home all the time it isn't like this.

Don't get me wrong, we still have our moments of comatose TV watching and the occasional whine of boredom but they are less frequent and more easily tolerated because they are a drop in the ocean of time we spend together. And when we have an ocean of time we can fill it doing things we actually enjoy. For us THAT is the natural order of things.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We got a new Timberdoodle catolog in the mail. It has something in it called "Homeschool Your Fish" that I thought looked really funny. Basically you use food to teach a goldfish to jump through hoops and push a plastic soccer ball around a plastic soccer field. Since Jace enjoys YouTube so much I thought it would make a funny web video if he wanted to try it. When I showed it to him his response was priceless.

"Mom, I don't think the fish would WANT to learn that."

Ahh, my little unschooler. ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everything is cyclical and we have been taking a natural rest lately. Of course lots of things have been going on- swimming, spending time with school friends who are more free in the summer, the local fair, riding bikes, eating berries from the vine, finding shapes in the clouds and all of the many other things that can be summed up as summer. I see small lessons happening with these things all the time but its not really anything to write about- it is so easy and natural that I often have a fleeting thought of, "Oh look, she just figured out how to..." but then its gone and I sit down to write without any clear picture of what we've done lately. Until today. Today I definately have a pretty cool story to share...

Lately Jace has been loving his skateboard and all things skateboard related. He's been playing skating video games, designing his own skating video games and watching fingerboard skaters on youtube (finger boards are those mini skateboards that only use fingers to "ride"- you may have seen people doing elaborate tricks with them on tv). But, as it usually happens, after several days of this he started to get bored with just watching these things on a screen. He couldn't find any of his finger boards and had no money to buy more so he improvised and made himself one out of cardboard. He was using game boxes, dvd cases, bowls, etc. to set up mini skate parks in the living room.

Eventually that wasn't enough so he built a skatepark with construction paper, cardboard and paperclips. Then the cardboard skateboard started wearing out from overuse.

He asked his dad for help and they came up with a plastic fingerboard that Jace calls a "futureboard" because it doesn't have wheels. Of course this plastic futureboard is heavier than its cardboard counterpart and didn't really work well with the paper skatepark. No problem... Jace drew up plans for a wooden park, complete with dimensions for size.

He and his dad worked together building and perfecting this mini skatepark most of the day. Now he has a really cool toy made from scrap lumber and he stretched his creative muscles (which is a HIGH educational priority in our family).

Best of all he got a great memory of an afternoon spent with his dad doing something important to him.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A new box of books is a wonderful thing. My mom the packrat has sent us a box full of "Voyagers" books with topics on everything from bicycles to space. Jace is working his way through these and loving it. There was also a book with a collection of "Far Side" comics that he is enjoying. Because every kid needs a biting and twisted sense of humor. ;)

He has also become obsessed with a new online game- Line Rider. He has to draw lines on a blank page and then see if the little guy on the screen can actually make the jumps and drops he's drawn without crashing. It is a great introduction to physics as he has to learn how to space the lines, what slopes are too steep, etc. I love it when he finds things like this that have a really cool lesson mixed in with the fun stuff.

Kya has been hanging out over at Grandpa's a lot this week. When she's home she isn't doing a whole lot- I think she's in a natural lull but I also think it may be time to give her a little nudge- I just have to figure out which way she's already leaning.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 1 is a new "school" year in my state so my first year of homeschooling is officially over. This seems like a good time to reflect on how life has changed during that time.

I begin with Jace because he was the catalyst for the miracle of the past year. It is almost inconceivable for me that the angry, sad, insecure, short-tempered boy that left me weeping on my knees begging for answers ever existed. I spent so much time worrying about him, worrying about how his issues affected his sister, worrying that he would never be happy. I also spent a great deal of time angry with him and wishing we could just have one day without rage. Now I have a boy who is happy most of the time and I don't see rage anymore, ever. He is self-confident, he is self-motivated, most of the time he has self-control when it comes to his temper (and when he doesn't it is so much better and more typical of most little boys). Don't misunderstand, he isn't perfect, but he is his most perfect self. I have tears as I write this because I am so very grateful to have my boy back.

And what a surprise it has been to find the real Kya this year; I didn't even know she was hiding. At this time last year we thought she would stay in school because she seemed to be doing fine and Jace and I were only going to take a year off anyway. That didn't last long. We quickly realized that it was difficult for Jace and I to go anywhere around the school bus's schedule. Kya quickly realized that Jace and I were having grand adventures during the day while she was stuck in school and then had still more homework when she got home. At the end of the first quarter she came home too. And, oh how she shines at home. It is sad and frightening to me that she appeared to be doing so well on the surface when in fact she was paralyzed by being "good". She was a good student, a good girl, and good at being whoever she needed to be to keep everyone happy. Now she will tell you that she is good at being herself (in fact she considers it her best talent). She is no longer shy or timid, she is so confident, she laughs so much more, she recognizes what she really loves and follows it. Again, I am so very grateful.

Finally, I can't talk about the transformations of this past year without talking about my own. I have more time to be the kind of mom my instincts have always told me to be. I also have more time to be the me I've always wanted, separate from anyone else's expectations of me; I take the time to pursue my own goals, to dig deep and learn my true self. Even my husband, who at first wasn't sure about homeschooling or giving up half of our income, has noted the change and sees that we are ALL so much better off now. A lot of this past year has been possible because I simply have time but it is also because I am no longer embedded in a system that is broken and therefore I am less broken. When I was teaching, much like the early days of my parenting journey, I thought everyone else was doing it right and the reason things weren't working was because I needed more structure, more consistent rules, more, more, more. Now I realize that the reason I couldn't be consistent, with both my children and my students, was because deep down I didn't believe in the rules everyone was thrusting upon me. Like my children, I too am more calm, more confident, less stressed. On top of all this I have been lucky enough to find the most amazing group of women- a group I never would have thought existed in my little part of the world. They have restored my faith in the world and perhaps more importantly in my own instincts. God, The Universe, A Higher Power, whatever you choose to call that which is greater than ourselves, has ordered my steps in the journey to find all of these missing pieces to my puzzle this year and again, gratitude is the word of the day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I overheard this conversation...

Jace: I'm glad we're unschoolers.
Kya: Me too; wait what are unschoolers?
J: That we know we don't have to do school stuff to learn everything.
K: Oh, yeah, I like that. Homeschool is great.
J: Well, all unschoolers are homeschoolers but not all homeschoolers are unschoolers.
K: Yeah, my friend has to do school from 9 to 3 every day.
J: (incredulous) She'll never learn anything like that!

I'm sure she'll learn something, but I'm glad they know its not the only way to learn. :-)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

As we become more immersed in an unschooling lifestyle it becomes more of a challenge for me to write about our experiences as they pertain to education. This is because all of our experiences are educational and it is becoming impossible for me to seperate our school life from the rest of our lives. Fabulous news for life, not so fabulous for writing inspiration, lol. I can tell you a few tidbits from our week...

Monopoly: Here and Now is one of the newer versions of the game, updated for todays times. Gone is the old classic car, replaced by a Prius. The railroads on the board are now airports. And the money, oh the money. They've added a couple of zeros to everything so now the smallest bills are $100 and the larges are $5 million. This was a great way for Kya to practice place value this week. She needs some more practice but I think we'll play without Jace. He said he was annoyed at how long it took for her to figure out the values of the money and make change but I think it was perhaps that he lost to his little sister. ;-)

Jace made his first trip to the driving range this week. It was HOT but he had fun anyway. We've had no luck finding a golf tutor but have decided to make the trips to the driving range a weekly outing. One person stopped to give him a tip on his swing while we were there so perhaps just hanging out in the right place will open up a new opportunity. If not he still gets some great practice and has fun too.

Kya had a first of her own yesterday. We went to the ballet to see Cinderella. She had a great time although wasn't quite as enamored with it by the end of the third act as she was at the first. It was an experience and she had fun though, she wants to go back but not right away, lol. It's funny how things that you think they will love are met with tepid reviews. This is why these experiences are so essential- how else will they discover their passions without going out into the world to see for themselves?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This week it got hot. Really, really hot. My kids wanted to play in the small pool we have but it kept losing water. We finally got all of the holes patched today, three altogether, but Friday was hot and water was needed. We don't have a sprinkler anymore; the old one broke and we just never replaced it. So, my kids came up with a plan. As you can see from the pictures below their imaginations are not only in tact but thriving. This solution to the lack of water was accomplished completely on their own, they tried a few things first before hitting the right combination to really have some fun but they were determined. They solved the issue of a constant and scattered spray, positioning it just right for maximum fun and the unexpected (for them at least) need to keep the tape as dry as possible so it would remain sticky. I don't know what I enjoyed more: their creativity, their perseverance, their teamwork or their giggles (well, okay giggles win every time but the others were running neck and neck). :-)

I think the most amazing thing about all of this is that somehow the state considers this activity less important than learning the multiplication tables or how to build a circuit. Don't get me wrong, math and science ARE important, just not MORE important than creativity. I can think of no other ability that is more needed in every aspect of life than the ability to be a creative problem solver. And yet this is overlooked in most school curriculums as well as the requirements for what constitutes important and required learning for homeschoolers. It simply doesn't fit into a "core" subject- which is how, according to state guidelines, the majority of our "school" time is supposed to be spent.

I looked up core: the basic or innermost part, the essence. The skills learned on a hot afternoon by working together toward a common goal are something that can just simply not be taught- it can only be learned through experience and reinforced by the pleasure gained from the fruits of those efforts. What could be more basic or essential than that?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We are in full on game design mode. This little book that I spent about $20 on is the best investment I've made since we started homeschooling. I've lifted time restrictions on the computer so he has time to really dive in. The agreement is that this is okay as long as he stays his sunny self and the storm clouds don't come out, so far so good. I am somewhat amazed at the depth of the book and truly amazed at how quickly he has picked up the skills. He's been designing flash games online for a while but this is a whole new skill set; one that will be valuable even if he grows up and doesn't turn out to be a video game designer (as most 10 year old boys dream... but hey, someone is making all those games they keep trying to sell me).

I read once that the dreams we have as children speak to our soul and who we are really meant to be. As I watched him today, alternating between quiet focus and excited joy as he figured out something new I remembered another time I saw this. When he was very small, about 4 or 5 years old he started making up his own games using the pieces of our board games. They had rules, a goal, clear winners and were usually more fun than the original games. We would use Monopoly money, the Sorry pawns and the board from Candyland and have a whole new adventure. I was amazed then and I'm amazed now, not only by his imagination and determination but also that he is so constant in his pursuits despite the winding path we took to get here. He still loves doing it his way instead of just playing the game everyone else is playing. I realize as I'm typing this that this is the reason I was led to unschooling; so he (all of really but this story is about him) can make his own rules and have a better life than the one that usually comes in the box.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We got Wii Fit this week. I already love the yoga exercises and especially the exercises that help me find my center of balance. I have been walking around out of balance for who knows how long without even realizing it. A subtle shift in my posture and a redistribution of my weight so I'm not putting to much pressure on one side has made a huge difference in how I feel. I was already pretty close to centered but not quite so people watching me stand or walk would probably not notice a difference but it is there and I notice. This is also true of our shift in how we unschool.

After realizing that we were out of balance and that I wasn't really holding up my end of the deal as facilitator I started making subtle shifts and redistributing things in our approach to life and learning. We simply had too much down time. This is very important, don't get me wrong, but we were getting too much of a good thing. I had been struggling because I didn't want to make them start doing meaningless tasks that would make me feel better but not really benefit them in the long run. So, I just continued reading (mostly Sandra Dodd), observing, meditating, searching, praying, waiting. I tried visualizing the kind of day I wanted but I couldn't. I realized it was because it wasn't just my day to visualize, it also belonged to the kids and I can't plan their perfect day. Instead I started visualizing what I wanted FOR my kids instead of what I wanted FROM them. Ultimately I want them to be happy, everything else is a bonus. So, the next logical question was what makes them happy?
I started plugging through the day looking for these glimpses of happiness and looking through photo albums to see when they were both happiest. Patterns began to emerge for each of them and I knew that if I truly wanted my role to be guide and facilitator then I was going to have to find ways to bring more of the things that bring them joy into their daily lives.

Much like my posture and gait the shift is subtle. If you spent a week with us last month and a week with us now you might notice a few things but it wouldn't seem like much, but for me it feels monumental. For Jace we've ordered books about game design and downloaded software to go with it. We're looking for someone to give him golf lessons. We also still make sure he has plenty of downtime because he gets overwhelmed without it. Kya continues her dance classes and we're taking her to the ballet in a few weeks. We've also cleaned up the easel that has been packed away and got some paints for her to explore with. They also both got new math workbooks this week.

In my rebellion against school I've resisted workbooks and I still don't think they NEED these books or even that they will necessarily learn all of the skills presented. However, with distance between myself and school I can now see them for what they are; a RESOURCE so when they approach something in life they have something to refer back to. They have used these particular books before and loved them; when I was at the bookstore I remembered that Jace finished the previous one on his own in about two days because it was such fun. I brought it home and this time he hasn't shown much interest in it but that's okay, it will be there if he wants it and if not we'll pass it along. Kya started hers she likes my help with it and it is really a lot of fun to do together because I get to see how she reasons through things.

So, there you have it, a subtle change in our center of balance. It feels really great.

p.s. I may or may not get to "Snapshot Sunday" today. I am trying to catch up with my self guided online photography class and I'd just rather take pictures of other things today- sorry, not doing something just because it's "assigned" (even if I gave myself the assingment) is part of my unschooling personality I suppose! :-)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I have believed for as long as I can remember that the secret to life is balance. The balance of understanding others pain without allowing them to take advantage of you. The balance of living in the moment and still planning for the future. The balance of having enough without depriving yourself or overindulging. The balance of taking care of others without forgetting yourself. The balance of pursuing dreams while remembering the responsibilities of reality. The balance of being open to other's ideas and still standing firm in your own. In all of life there are extremes and in my experience a full life doesn't exist on either end of the spectrum. Perhaps this is what teenage rebellion is all about, jumping out of one extreme into the other. As we mature we find the right balance of the two extremes and we have to find it on our own. Life isn't a math lesson, there is no absolute zero; we all must find our own place of balance. I think all of life is pursuit of the perfect balance so I don't think any of us can ever find it completely; I do think I'm much closer than I was a decade ago. Hopefully the next decade will bring me even closer.

I've received many quizzical looks when I talk about the balance of life, I usually just drop it because people don't seem to understand what I mean. Since everyone's journey is different it didn't seem like something I needed to discuss or find someone to commiserate with in order to achieve for myself. But imagine my pleasant surprise the other day when discussing unschooling with a friend she mentioned balance. *waves to Karen* And she even went on to say that she thought balance was important in all of life. Well color me happy, I'm not the only one.

This led me on a pursuit of balance in our unschooling journey. Up to this point we've been deschooling a lot. I have shed most of the ideas about learning and education that I spent a great deal of time and money developing. I have come to see dance as equal to math (though I doubt I'll ever get to a point that I see anything as equal to reading but I digress). I get it now. But wait, I still feel off balance.

The seed of realization that we weren't quite there yet was planted when I read Guerilla Learning. I quoted in a previous post the idea that true freedom isn't the freedom to do nothing or to follow every whim but the freedom to commit to something. This idea has been bouncing around with me since I first read it. Then today, sparked by the conversation about balance I decided to see what some unschoolers I admire had to say on the topic. Sandra Dodd actually had an article about balance that summed it up beautifully. You can read the full article here.

I see now that the reason the last month or so hasn't felt good is because I've been out of balance. School, rigid schedules, checklists, textbooks, etc. weren't right for us but in turning away from those things I had gone to the other extreme. I don't really regret it because I think it was part of the deschooling process for us. I had A LOT of deschooling to do because as a former public school teacher I was much more enmeshed with the school culture than most. It was a little like the first party my parents let me go to... I had to get really really drunk to understand that I could push my parents limits but only so far without really regretting it. I think rebelling against school was kind of like that teenage rebellion against my parents and just like then I may have had to go to far to understand what "too far" really was. Time to sober up.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Snapshot Sunday

I have found myself looking forward to Sunday just so I could play this little game tumbling around the blogosphere. This is partly because I have a very nice new DSLR camera and if I could have taken a picture of it I would have included it in last weeks obsessions. But its more than camera obsession, the camera is helping me see the ordinary pieces of life in new and extraordinary ways and I like the idea of taking the time to pull the pieces of that together and tell a small story about our lives.

I still like the idea of having a theme, some weeks that may not work out but for now its the direction I'm flowing for Snapshot Sunday. This weeks theme is The Day After: Remains of Kya's 9th Birthday. As you can see, I hadn't cleaned up much when I took these shots, maybe I'll get to that today.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Well, my dad went back to work which meant that Jace had no choice but to go to playgroup this week and to tag along on a playdate Kya had. Playgroup was a big success, the playdate had an incident but was overall a good day.

Playgroup was at the park but Jace brought along his DS and a book to read so he didn't have to get out of the car if he didn't want to (and so he could return to the car if he felt overwhelmed). Neither was needed. :) He played well with others, made friends with some of the boys who were new to playgroup, came to me only once because he was feeling upset and I only had to go to him once because he was upsetting Kya. He left talking about how much fun he'd had and was feeling good about going back. All in all a very good day.

The playdate was much the same; getting along with everyone, not getting overly upset over minor things, etc. He did overreact once when he couldn't get into the house and he shoved the door open knocking down the child who was playfully holding the door closed on the other side... not his finest moment, an overreaction that could have been avoided and quite embarrassing as a mama but thankfully no one was seriously hurt. He was able to talk calmly about it after and we were able to think about ways he should have handled it.

He's come a long way and even though he's far from perfect I'm oh so proud of (and releived by to be perfectly honest) the progress he's made. I beleive with my whole heart that this progress is in large part to unschooling. He feels more in control of his life, knows that his opinions matter and isn't being pushed by the adults in his life (teachers, parents, coaches) to change himself to fit their needs. At first I worried that giving him this much power would make his temper and frustration issues worse but it has been quite the opposite. He is empowered to take charge of things that truly matter in his life such as when, how and what he learn as well as how he will spend the majority of his time. He also knows that no one is going to try to take his power to choose these things away and therefore has little need to prove how powerful is to himself or anyone else.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Snapshot Sunday- Obsessions

Okay, I'm a day late getting the pictures up but I did take them yesterday! If you want to participate in Snapshot Sunday click on the title to take you to "The Napping House" for the rules and links to some other blogs that participate. :)

This is our first snapshot Sunday post and I found myself just walking around the house aimlessly taking pictures and I had lots to share~ so, I decided to have a theme to help me narrow it down. This week I'm focusing on our current obsessions, enjoy!

Lego's has become a shared obsession as Jace has pulled Kya into it since he has aquired so many block people. This is an arena that they have used for various things including: a basketball game, circus, and a concert.

Barbie's don't need to wait for December~ Kya's have been celebrating Christmas for a while now.

The outside of the clubhouse has been finished for a while but this weekend was all about finishing the interior. It now has insulation, walls, carpeting, a light and an outlet. The kids are ecstatic and planning lots of sleepovers.

Jace is golf crazy! I may need to find a driving range soon to keep my yard from becoming one giant divot.

Technically the swings are part of the clubhouse but they enjoy them so much that I thought they deserved their own picture in the obsession themed post. I love watching them and listening to them while they are on the swings. Even cooking supper isn't so bad with the windows open and the sound of them talking and laughing drifting in.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Unschooling is a pretty ironic lifestyle choice for me. I am a control freak... I like being in charge and imparting my wisdom in order to "help" others. I'm working on it and I have made great strides to improve this about myself but I still get a slight stomach ache when I feel out of control.

Most recently the source of my anxiety is that I am having a very hard time with the duration of the down time in our natural ebb and flow of life. I had observed this for many months and had come to accept that the kids would go through periods of less activity, less focused interest, less traditonal learning. However this most recent period of relaxation has lasted for quite some time and it is making me want to force them to crack open a math book or check something educational out at the library. I don't really know why it is bothering me so much, my kids are doing fine, better than fine in fact since they both read and do math above what is considered their grade level.

I also realize that more has been going on than I often notice because the further we travel into unschooling the more life and learning is blurred. I tell myself this is good, that natural learning, completely part of, not seperate from, life is the goal but still that feeling that I've lost control lingers...

Monday, May 25, 2009

I've been reading Guerrilla Learning: How To Give Your Kids A Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver (authors of The Teenage Liberation Handbook). I think this is perhaps the best book I've read in regard to unschooling despite the fact that it isn't really an unschooling book. The target audience is parents whose kids are still in school and will most likely remain in school. The authors are trying to help those families understand that school is a resource for learning, not the whole of learning as our society would have us believe. The ideas suggested to parents to extend learning beyond the classroom and into the world are captivating as well as clarifying for me.

The topic of freedom has appealed to me most because as a new unschooler this has been the most difficult thing for me to balance. I want my kids to have the freedom to be themselves but as members of a family and citizens of the world they also have responsibilities that can't be ignored simply because they aren't fun. Yet everytime I intterupt them to clean their room or help with the dishes while they are engrossed in an activity I feel guilty; as if this interupption is going to inhibit them somehow and I am interfering with the natural flow of their day. On the other hand if I let them continue indefinately with their own pursuits I feel reduced to the status of the maid and become resentful and impatient. I knew there must be balance to this issue but it was somehow eluding me. And then on page 131 of Guerrilla Learning I found the answer.

The authors describe freedom in the following way:
(italics are the authors, bold is mine)

Freedom is not the same as mere liberty to follow our desires and impulses. The person who automatically follows every impusle is not free at all but is a slave of desire. Freedom, as some philosophers have described it, is essentially the freedom to commit oneself, and that's what interests us: the freedom to choose and to commit... [T]he freedom to do and be what we can be, more so than the freedom from rules and limits.

The others go on to describe the role of parent as "choice coach" and discuss the importance of helping children understand that "[F]reedom is not inconsistent with obligation." In other words we all have things we must do and have little choice without serious consequences (paying the electric bill for example; if we choose not to do this we choose to have no lights, computer, tv, etc.) Furthermore when we do have a choice we still have consequences; if I choose to learn a new language then the consequence will be the time, effort and money needed to truly learn this; and this will result in less time, effort and money available for other things that I may also feel are important but not quite as important right now as this goal.

This new perspective gives me pause, helps me see some areas I have gotten it right with my kids and other areas I really need to reevaluate. The fact that I'm still learning to be their mom after all this time is a true testement to the power of learning independently when things are important to us.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A quiet week and not much to report as far as the kids activities go. That is a good thing since we had such a busy week last week. I got a new camera so I will just share some photos of the fun things that have occupied our laid back week including playing catch, computer time, dance class, taking lots of pictures, hanging out with Grandpa, basketball, and homeschool playgroup just to name a few. :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tonight, after being quiet in her room for over an hour, Kya came out very excited and wanted to read me her story. I had already tucked her in and it had been quiet for a while so I thought she was sleeping and was a little surprised to see her so wide awake but this is how things go. We put the kids to bed with the understanding that they can do quiet things but don't have to go to sleep; they know when they are tired and we don't have to be up early to keep someone else's schedule so this works for us. After hearing her story, I am so glad we relaxed about bedtimes.

This story was so good, the cadence so poetic, and the imagery so vivid that I was imagining the pictures in a book, seeing the pages turn while she read to me. Now, I am an avid reader but the ladies in my book club will tell you that I'm not all that into detailed imagery- I like the character study and seeing authentic characters in authentic interactions and relationships. I don't usually "see" much in my minds eye... the narrator is a voice in the dark because a good character study will take you into the dark places of the characters mind. I tell you this so you can understand that for me to see pictures leaping forth from these words was no small thing. Her story was good. Not good for an 8 year old but really and truly good.

The thing is, if she was in school I don't know if she could have written this. She would used to being told what and when to write. She would be used to having rules about the correct way to write pushed on her. When she was in public school she liked to be right, to be smart, to be showered with words of praise- and it was squashing her creativity. Tonight she wrote for the sheer joy of it, she wrote when the ideas came to her without fear that she would be too tired to get up on time in the morning, and she shared it with me in the full knowledge that I wasn't going to pick it apart and try to "fix" it, but that I would just enjoy it.

I have seen her artistic side coming forth more and more this year. When the kids make up skits and perform them I am astounded by how good her acting is; the first time I realized how good she was it actually brought tears to my eyes. She has begun taking dance again, from a serious dance instructor, and she can't stop moving. She has been creating beautiful abstract artwork. She sings constantly and told me that music makes her feel good "Way down deep." She is an artist in every sense of the word and I can see her creativity so vibrantly. The most amazing thing about all of this is that a few months ago I could not see it.

A few months ago she was too worried about so many things that other people had decided were important and she had no time to discover what she found important. This is a tragedy; kids like Jace are so vocal about their unhappiness, about the loss of themselves in the system. But kids like Kya smile, seem to be doing okay, seem to be the ones that school is a good fit for when really they are losing themselves just as much, maybe more, because no one, not even themselves, seems to notice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I am becoming more vocal about my belief in unschooling. This is partly because I am growing weary of the questions and have deveolped some standard answeres but it is also because my faith in the approach is growing stronger. These two reasons were illustrated beautifully for me recently when a mother whose children are traditionally schooled was very interested in what we do but finally said, "I want my children to go on to college though."

I admit that at first my feathers were ruffled; I want my kids to go to college as well and besides, she seemed to be implying that I was falling short and not preparing them well enough. It was a brief encounter and I simply smiled and gave my now standard response that I do too, in fact I've spoken to people who work in admissions at nearby universities. But as I went about my day I couldn't help coming back to this conversation. Now, a few days later, it is still floating around in my head. I finally figured out that is because I only addressed her concern- why unschooling/homeschooling is just as good as traditional school. I did not however address my concern- why I believe this way is better for my kids than traditional school.

So, I thought about the goals I have more kids; they do include college, if they so choose, but that is not my ONLY goal for them. A few others I think are vital:
-fearlessnes in the pursuit of their dreams
-the ability to accept failures as a stepping stone on the path to success
-the ability to define success for themselves instead of accepting the world's definition
-to appreciate what makes them unique as well as the uniqueness of others
-recognition that although we are all unique we are also connected
-creativity in play, in work, in problem solving, in LIFE
-the ability to think critically and logically
-the courage to think for themselves
-trust in themselves; in their ability to learn, in their own goals and dreams, in their intuitive knowledge of and abiltiy to meet their own physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental need

I think all of these things are vital to a healthy, happy life and I believe the path we are traveling is the best way I can help them reach these goals. I also believe that, at least for my own children, traditional school was a huge obstacle to many of these goals. So, next time someone tells me they wouldn't homeschool or unschool because they want their children to go to college I'll still say that I want my kids to go to college too. But I might also have a few other things to add.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I have been worried about science but yesterday's trip to the conservation center proved to be a big leap in the right direction. This was our third trip to the monthly homeschool class but the numbers were small and we were able to talk with the conservasionist more than usual. There is a frontier club packet that we'd never received that she gave to us and explained and judging from the kids excitement I don't think we will have to worry about botanical and zoological sciences for a while.

The packet is full of scouting type activities to be done outdoors so kids (and adults!) can learn about native plant and animal life. The kids earn points for completing the activities and these points help them progress through acheivment levels- each with a reward such as water bottle, magnifying glass, compass, backpack, etc. Jace loves free stuff and quickly found the activities he would enjoy in the booklet. Kya quickly caught the excitement and they are both looking forward to becoming "Conservationists".

Once again, we have had some down time where the kids haven't been doing much and just as I start to worry that perhaps I don't have the faith to this something comes along to spark their interest and remind me that this process really does work.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My friend (and one of my favorite people) has the most beautiful explanation for why she chooses to homeschool. I could not find words to say it better so I'll just let you read what she has to say in her post "How She Learns."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I have been having computer issues that have kept me busy and posting hasn't been a priority. Still having issues but I need to get some thoughts down before they disappear completely!

Things seem to rise and fall with a natural rhythym. The kids haven't really been doing much lately and I haven't really been facilitating a lot of activity. They seem to need the break and frankly, so have I. So our days have fallen into a natural rhythym of them taking turns with the computer in the mornings, usually staying to watch each other when their own turn is over, and playing, again mostly together, in the afternoons. I love listening to them together and they get along very well. Once in a while an small disagreement will erupt but for the most part they are friends (although they would never admit this).

Yesterday afternoon they got on their swimsuits and played in the bathtub for a while, then they got out and went on to play in their rooms. I almost hated to break the spell but Kya needed to go to dance, which she loves, so I had to interupt their fun. It was worth it because she had so much fun, she just can't stop dancing which shows me how much she loves it. I am so glad she has been able to go back and to a teacher who makes it fun but also helps her truly learn.

When we got home in the evening the kids, once again, went off to play. Once again I had to interrupt because we are going to visit my brother today and I wanted them to get a good night's sleep. When I went in to tell them to get ready for bed I saw that they were very busy. They had found their old public school assignment planners and found the maps in the back. They were marking home, places they've visited, and places they'd like to visit in different colors. I realized that my kids have a very good grasp of geography simply because they dream of seeing the world. :)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Well, that day in the sunshine proved to be wonderful. Kya spent the entire afternoon wading in a creek looking at plant and animal life, digging in the sand, and just having fun with her friends. On the way home she told me about the tadpoles she'd found, their various sizes and colors and wondered aloud what type of frogs they would grow into. She observed, all on her own, that not all tadpoles are the same and therefore made the conclusion that they come from different frogs and will mature into different frogs. I know this seems very basic and obvious to an adult but I can assure you that this is a "lesson" that would be taught in school with worksheets, text, and maybe a few pictures. All of that would be followed by review and tests to ensure that the children "learned" the information. At the end of all that lesson some kids would still not necessarily understand that we were talking about an entirely different species of frog, not just different attributes of the parents like children with blue or brown eyes. Some children would grasp the understanding and forget it as soon as the test was taken. A small minority would understand it as well as Kya demonstrated in that 5-10 minute conversation and then remember it as well as she will because she discovered it for herself and it was important to her for her own reasons, not an artificial importance based on a grade. For us there will be no test, no review, just the understanding that she learned something new because it came to her in a meaninful way through her own powers of discernment.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A bit of a rant...

Let me apolgize upfront that this isn't my usual sunny alternating with doubting self. I am just frustrated and venting. If you want to read on after that intro, God bless you. :)

I fully understand that homeschooling is something that you sometimes need to experience yourself or see done through a close friend to fully understand but I really get tired of defending myself. I also find it really creepy how people just assume that I need a monitor to ensure I'm doing a good job. Even more frustrating than those who think I need a monitor are those who think THEY are my monitor. I encounterd both of these individuals tonight. The following conversations took place within two hours of each other, while I was trying to work no less.

A woman questioned me extensively tonight about who I report to, who makes sure my kids are learning, who oversees my children's education. Ummm... no one, me, and me. Of course I always think of the perfect thing to say after people walk away... I should have asked her who she reports to, who makes sure her kids eat a balanced and healthy diet, who oversees her children's eating habits. I'm holding onto that one for next time. People have just handed over education for so long that people just can't wrap their brains around it being done any other way. I understand that, I will even admit that I used to be one of those people who just didn't understand... however I would never have been so rude, so presumptious to grill a casual aquaintance and (intentionally or not) imply that they were somehow lacking the skills needed to properly parent/educate their children.

If that had been the only incident of the evening regarding homeshcooling I would have probably been irritated but let it go pretty easily. But it wasn't the only incident. An older gentlemen took it upon himself to tell me that it was fine for me to homeschool my kids when they are small but as they grow up they need to be in school. (Ironically someone else made the exact OPPOSITE argument a few days ago.)This conversation began with him asking me if all the people in our homeschool group thought this was a good alternative. What kind of question is that? OF COURSE THEY DO THEY WOULDN'T BE HOMESCHOOLERS IF THEY DIDN'T THINK THAT. I didn't say that though, instead I said, in my sweetest voice, that actually most of us think that school is the alternative education.

He was a bit flumoxed by that but not so much that it stopped him. He preceded to tell me they would miss out, wouldn't be ready for the "real world" (I often wonder what fairy world we live in now if it isn't the real one), and how on earth would they get into college. The college bit really got me because he said, and I quote, "You can't do anything with a high school diploma, those kids gotta go to college." Umm, yeah, if you can't do anything with a high school diploma then why exactly do we need one? I patiently explained that I have talked with people at universities about their admissions processes for homeschoolers, that I actually know homeschoolers who *gasp* went on to college, and that NINE of our esteemed US presidents were homeschooled so I thought the "real world" wouldn't be an issue. He then pressed the issue about sports, prom, and countless other "essential experiences" that my kids would be missing. Again, with great patience I told him that some homeschoolers organize their own proms, that there are homeschool sports leagues, and that my kids get lots of experiences that traditionally schooled kids miss that we think are essential.

Breathe in, breathe out. I'm glad I can rant here because I was thinking about what I would say here while patiently smiling at these people and answering their very nosy questions.

Tomorrow we are going to a beautiful park to soak in the sun and run and play with friends while the kids in traditional schools get the "essential experience" of sitting quietly in a desk with all the window shades drawn so the sunshine doesn't distract them. And the only person I will report that to is me (and maybe you guys).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mondays are kind of lazy days for us; we generally have busy weekends so Monday has become our day of rest and relaxation. The kids haven't been super busy lately which is okay with me. The hours required by the state will be finished in a few weeks and we won't start counting for next year until July 1 so taking it easy doesn't stress me out too much right now. I am also learning to trust these natural lulls in our routine; we just need time to recharge once in a while.

That being said, I still sometimes worry if we are doing enough (I know, I know, I should take my own advice and be present; there is a diffence though in being present and being stagnant but I digress). I never worry about language arts skills because in our house those come pretty naturally. We read, we discuss new words, we write letters, use the phone book to look up addresses as well as phone numbers, and all sorts of other things that have to do with print and verbal communication. I also don't worry a lot about social sciences because we pay attention to and discuss world politics, visit historic sites, practice and discuss civic responsibilties, etc. Math is used almost daily for measuring, calculating, converting recipes, scheduling activities, and more. Science is a different story though. I'm not naturally drawn to it so I worry that we aren't accomplishing enough. I feel like both kids are missing something here for different reasons. Jace has a very scientifically inquisitive mind and I think he could accomplish a lot but I don't know how to entice him and make it more interesting than simply checking books out at the library. Kya, like me, isn't naturally drawn to science so she doesn't pay much attention to it. I do NOT want to go back to paper and pencil type activities but I am going to be working toward incorporating science into our daily lives in more prominent ways. I recently bought two different books about teaching scientific principles through cooking so that is a start. I'm also thinking that a telescope may be on the horizons for us.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

sunnydaytodaymama: On Children (Inspirational Monday)

A great post from a blogger who luckily found me... because then I found her right back. :)

sunnydaytodaymama: On Children (Inspirational Monday)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I really feel like I am starting to truly "get" unschooling. My latest realization came to me when I was doing my record keeping logs (required by the state) and I decided I was going to start counting an hour per week for vocabulary despite the fact that we never sit down and have a formal vocabulary "lesson".

Any time my kids don't know a word (whether it is heard in conversation, on tv, or in a book) they ask, we discuss it, and we move on. I thought about turning each question into a lesson about using the dictionary, using the word in context, asking them to use the word after I've explained, etc. But I (thankfully) realized that all this would really do was discourage them from asking questions. If they are interested enough to ask then they will probably remember without the extra song and dance.

I have noticed them using many of these new words in conversation after these discussions, a few we never hear again. I think vocabulary lessons in school have the same results, some things you remember and some you don't. However, I do think my kids are remembering and using a lot more of their new "vocabulary words" because, as I said before, they were interested enough to ask but also because they see a context within which knowing the word is useful in the world, not just on a list of words to memorize.

I love this wonderfully revealing path we have chosen! :-)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Expanding on that last post- if I am not parenting in the future I certainly shouldn't be parenting in the past. I need to let go of the guilt I have about my days when I prescribed more authoritarian parenting strategies and the time spent in public school that was especially damaging to Jace. I can't undo those things and, again, I have to parent the child in front of me. My new mantra- Be Present.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I had a bit of an epiphany this morning and needed to write it out in order to organize my thoughts around it.

Unschooling is about parenting the child in front of you instead of the adult they may become. I've had to let go of a lot of "what ifs" in order to unschool and it has made me a more present parent. I recently wrote that motherhood should come with a crystal ball because I was frustrated about how I could know I was doing the right thing. Now I realize that I don't need to see the future to know this; I just need to look at my kids RIGHT NOW to know if their PRESENT needs are being met. The future is made in the present and if the present is peaceful, intriguing, fun, loving, and mindful then the future will be as well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The most difficult part of letting go of a traditional schooling model is the loss of "measureable results". We don't take tests, the kids choose to do some worksheets but it is random and rare, and at the end of the day it is sometimes difficult for me to put our day into "educationese" for my log book. I have to constanlty remind myself that getting all of the right answers on a test or worksheet does not guarantee that information has truly been learned. How can something be so true and so difficult at the same time?

ETA- of course Patrick Farenga explains the paradox of educationese much better than I; and with the catchy title "Schools are from Mars- Homeschoolers are from Earth" LOL!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We've had such a busy week that I haven't really had time to record it all!

Tuesday was awesome because both of the kids finally got to start taking some lessons in areas of interest. We have wanted to do this and are finally finacially able to so it was an exciting day. Jace is taking guitar lessons and he really likes it so far. He woke up Wednesday morning and the first thing he did was practice. He also figured out for himself how to replace a broken string. Kya is taking dance lessons, she is also very excited and wears her dance outfit as often as possible practicing what she has learned. I am just so happy that they both have these opportunities right now. :)

Wednesday was Earth Day and loads of fun. The activities at the nearby university were so kid friendly and I got to hang out and listen to some great live music and chat with my friends. Kya loved the face painting and the free flower. I can't honestly say what she learned because we already know the importance of the three environmental R's (reduce/reuse/recycle) but it was a fun day to celebrate with like minded people, reinforcing those ideals.

After the festivities I headed to work, cooking a large meal at our church before the Wednesday evening activities held there. Kya tagged along since we were already in town for the Earth Day activities. The woman helping out in the kitchen, a retired teacher, was using the brownies to ask her about some simple multiplication involving arrays. It was nice of her to do but Kya balked at the idea that there is one "right" way to multiply. There were five rows of brownies so the woman was trying to get Kya to count by fives, a reasonable request. HOWEVER, Kya has learned that doubling numbers is a better strategy for her, 8x2=16 16x2=32 32+8=40. The same answer, almost as fast as counting by fives and it works for her. The woman did eventually acknowledge that there was nothing wrong with Kya's way of doing things but only after she'd told her she was doing it wrong several times. It made me glad that she isn't in school being told to do things "right" instead of using her creativity to figure things out for herself.

Today a trip to the national forest near us for a hike started out shaky but ended up being fun. It was hotter than the weather man said it would be and I was doubting if the trip was a good idea. But once again water proved to be our saving grace. My kids have fun wherever there is water to play in and the shallow creek proved to be perfect. They kicked off their shoes, rolled up their shorts and started collecting rocks. We had a great discussion about erosion by wind and water and how rocks and sand are formed. It only took a few minutes but they understood it more than an entire lesson from a textbook.

All in all a good few days, I'm starting to understand my role as facilitator. I'm not passively sitting back and waiting for them to become interested in things to study. Instead I'm making sure that we have interesting opportunities that create teachable moments. These may or may not lead to further study but something is learned none-the-less. Still feeling our way through this journey into unschooling but feeling more equipped all the time. :)