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?