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.