Unschooling Journey

Our journey from traditional schooling, to "school at home" and then on to greener pastures…

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Priorities

THEN…

“OOOUUUUUUTTT!!!! I have to get this page finished!! I have a deadline! Jason!!”

I just wanted a couple of hours to myself to get these pages done, they were due on Monday and with Clay coming in and out all the time it seemed like I was getting nothing done. I had the perfect photo, he was looking straight at the camera, laughing as he flew down the slide, everything was in focus. It captured our perfect little family, having a beautiful family day together.

Except it wasn’t. The clothes he was wearing were carefully chosen to match the perfectly chosen playground with the blue slide, that would look perfect matched with the new papers I had bought, all which would tie in perfectly to the little playground embellishments I had been giving to work with.

I was a scrapbooker. A pretty good one too. Had magazine features and everything. I spent hours pouring over photos, editing, printing, clipping, putting them together with just the right backgrounds and trinkets to display our perfect lives.

Awwwww! It’s gorgeous! Another memory successfully preserved. On to the next.

*click*

Noooooooo!!! Here he was again, in out in out, ack. I don’t have time for this, I need to put a lock on that door.

NOW…

I cringe thinking about those times now, how heartbroken Clay would have been, coming in to see me, his Mummy, only to be told to get out because I had to cut and paste our lives together on a piece of paper.

Now don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of great times together, exploring different playgrounds, going for bush walks, discovering beautiful places, we’d play Lego and paint, make goop and build sandcastles. But how I wish I had spent just a bit more time living the moments rather than constantly trying to capture them.

I came to that realisation one day, when he was about 4, not long after he’d started kindy. It struck me like a ton of bricks. How much time I had put into preserving the memories, rather than authentically creating them.

So I quit.

My priorities changed. I suddenly saw how quickly he was growing, how in just a short amount of time he had gone from newborn to school boy.

The time we have with our children is an incredibly short window. When I think now, about my parents, I realise how much of our lives is spent without our children being a constant presence. When you’re in the thick of it, it can seem like such a long time, but it really isn’t.

Recently our priorities have shifted again. We have always wanted to do a trip around Australia with the kids. It’s always been a dream, something on our “some day” list.

Well, not any more. We’ve penned in a date on the calendar, we are going to go.

We bought a new house last year, after shifting from about an hour away to be closer to family and friends. We’ve found, however, that this house is far too big, far too expensive, and far too time consuming for us to keep it. We don’t want it anymore. So we’re going to sell, and find somewhere that wont impinge on our time together so much, somewhere where we can save for our trip and focus on reaching our goals.

I’m over stuff. I don’t want it. I want time. I want the time to play, the time to just be together.

But. In order to sell this house, we have to do a few renovations. Jason has been working on the bathrooms, while I have been painting. So here I am again. Telling my kids I can’t play, I can’t do this or that, I don’t have the time.

*sob*

I hate this. I really do. My mind keeps wandering back to the scrapbooking days. I’m aware of it now, though, and so I’m doing my best to make time together a priority, even in the midst of all this paint. Take last Friday, for example, I could have spent the day painting, we didn’t have anything else on, but I chose instead to take the kids to the zoo.

Australian Unschoolers at the zoo

Australian Unschoolers at the zoo

Australian Unschoolers at the zoo

It was a really nice day. I can honestly say, now, that I love nothing more than to spend time with my family. Life gets in the way sometimes, and my short term actions do need to align with my long term goals, but maintaining our connection through all it’s ups and downs is my absolute focus.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I can hear my hubby playing with the kids, and I want to play too…

xx

 

What about university?

THEN…

I was going to go to university. I wasn’t always entirely sure what I was going to do when I got there. But I was going. It’s just the way the world works, primary school, high school, university, job. It’s the yellow brick road to success.

I knew this, my teachers knew this, my parents knew this, everyone knew that university was the way to get a good job, make good money, get a good house, a fancy car….it was never questioned.

Oh oh, and not all universities were created equal. You needed to get good enough grades to get into the top universities. Here in Perth, there were two that ranked higher than the others, the rest were only if you didn’t get good enough marks to get into the other two.

The pressure of TEE (the acronym of the day) was enormous. You were made to feel that your entire life rested on the results of these exams, the sum total or your twelve schooling years, all came down to five, three hour sessions.

BAM.

Done.

And then you waited. Waited until the time came that you could call through (showing my age here, no, results were not available online), to find out if you’d done enough.

Were you worthy??

NOW…

University is not the Emerald City. The Yellow Brick Road does not automatically lead to “success”.

A quick search on Google reveals that nearly 40% of people aged 25-34 in Australia have degrees, with debt from student loans predicted to climb to $200 billion by 2024-25. Universities continue to admit more and more students into courses that they know wont necessarily lead to a job at the end of it. There are just too many graduates for the number of available positions (like 47000 people looking for teaching jobs in NSW, where there are only 48000 positions), and more and more are finding it increasingly difficult to get on top of these loans.

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Add to that, findings that nearly half of all graduates who actually get into a managerial/professional position a few years after graduating, do so in an area unrelated to their degree, and only half of science graduates find work within four months of finishing their degrees.

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What about IT, you say?? Surely, with how technology is shaping our lives, an IT degree will get your foot firmly wedged in the door of a decent career?? Ummmmm, perhaps not. People graduating with IT degrees are finding that all those years spent in university lectures have left them behind the rest of the world – what they learnt was essentially obsolete before they even hit the job market.

So yeah. Not quite the Emerald City we’d hope for after years of study and tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention the lost income that could have potentially been earned during those years spent feverishly cramming illegible lecture notes into your memory.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed my time at university. But I am not invested in my children going there. In fact, I’d probably prefer they didn’t. Not unless they reeeeealllly need a degree for what they want to do.

There are so many options for furthering your education and getting to where you want to go. Gone are the days when in order to gain a qualification you had to, you know, get dressed even. Open universities allow people to dabble in areas they are interested in, to see if it is something they’d really like to pursue. Then there’s all the volunteer opportunities, online courses, short courses, TAFE pathways, portfolio entries, apprenticeships, internships, the list goes on.

Personally, I hope my children go forth and explore the world before they decide where they want to go. Pursue their interests, travel, play and have conversations with people that are where they want to be, then have the courage to forge their own path. I want them to swap and change directions with confidence, know they can learn whatever they need to, wherever they need to, following whatever makes them happy at the time.

Australian unschooler walking over a creek on a log

Clay has never been one for following the path…

University is a tool, (and an expensive one at that). But it’s not the right tool for everyone, and it shouldn’t be viewed as the ultimate goal for our children.

xx

PS. Check out these articles for further reading…devalued degrees stemming from easier accessuniversity degrees that will leave you joblessa group of eight wanting to shake up Australian universities for the sake of the economy

 

 

 

 

Life without times tables…

THEN…

“BANG!!”, the person next to me yelled, “64!”. Bugger. I actually think I may have known that one.

I switched schools in primary school due to moving house. I left one school, as they were just starting to get into times tables, and I entered another, shortly after they had learnt theirs. I had missed the endless, repetitive worksheets, the chanting aloud together as a class, the hours spent on homework booklets.

I was flung straight into the competitive “games”, which were meant to cement in the answers by pitting child against child in a humiliating battle, fought front and centre, no where to hide.

I hated math.

Fast forward a few years, and in to high school, suddenly we were allowed calculators. Wondrous little machines that took away the feelings of inadequacy. They allowed me to explore all sorts of equations and puzzles without leaving me behind and lost in a world where rote memorisation of times tables was the epitome of good math skills.

I LOVED math!!

This was fun! I could use pre-determined equations, plug them into the calculator, and hey presto! I got the answer! Fancy that.

I actually became quite good at maths, I was always very good at following the rules. I liked that I could look at a problem, pick the right magic formula, plug it in and away I went. Rules were good. Tell me what to do, tell me what equation to use, and off I go.

This worked all fine and dandy until I attempted (feeling confident from my years of good grades) calculus and geometry and trigonometry. All of a sudden, the equations I needed to use were not so clear cut. The questions required me to actually understand the magic equations I was using.

I hadn’t been taught that. You know, what the equations actually meant.

Maybe I wasn’t so great at math.

NOW…

I realise now what I didn’t back then. I was very good at following the rules, yes, but I never thought to question the rules. Why does that work? What does it mean in concrete terms? How does it fit together and how can I manipulate it to do something else?

I loved the puzzles that had a definitive question. If I was told which equation to use I could use it. I even got so far as to enjoy algebra, switching around the little letters and numbers until I got “x” on it’s own.

There were rules I could use, and an order I could follow. The moment I was asked to really think for myself, it was already assumed that I understood the rules.

But I didn’t.

During our “school at home” time, Clay grasped math concepts well, only seeming to get things wrong when he was zoning out and not paying attention. Then we got to long division.

Ack.

I didn’t have a clue how to do long division manually!! I had to re-learn the process.

Teaching Clay, and watching him regurgitate what I had shown him, it struck me that while, yes, he would get the right answer 9 times out of 10, he did not understand why he was following this procedure. I’d explain it to him (having now taken the time to understand it myself), and he’d nod, say “oh yeah” and continue on with the questions.

But did he really understand it? I wasn’t so sure.

We moved on from long division (he had aced the practice test after all), and continued on our way. I think it was a few weeks later that we came across a “mid-term test”. Yep, I was right, he had no clue how to do long division, he had completely forgotten.

And you know what?

I had too.

I had to re-check the process before explaining it again. What a pointless exercise this all was. I was a grown, happy adult. I had finished high school (and actually received the second highest score for my math class), I had a science degree, I had worked in jobs that required knowledge of math, money, stock levels. I had done all this, and I didn’t ever once need to know how to do long division manually.

When I watch Clay on his games, or in every day activities such as cooking, I can see mathematical concepts ticking over all the time. From angles in Scrap Mechanic, to symmetry in Mine Craft, fractions in baking and percentages when shopping the sales. He uses math every day. He uses math that is relevant to him, every day.

Unschooling boy cooking (math concepts) in Australia

Cooking involves fractions, measurements and temperature.

Unschooling boy playing Clash of Clans (math concepts) in Australia

Clash of Clans requires Clay to work out how much of a particular resource he needs to complete the next phase, which involves addition, subtraction, an understanding of place value and also time.

Unschooling boy comparing grappling hooks in Terraria Wiki (math concepts) in Australia

Comparing the distances various grappling hooks travel on a Terraria Wiki.

Unschooling boy playing Scrap Mechanic (math concepts) in Australia

An understanding of angles is required in Scrap Mechanic in order to get contraptions (such as vehicles) to perform correctly.

He may not know the technical jargon, he may not know how to calculate the circumference of a circle, or the missing angle on a triangle.

But you know what?

He knows how to find that information, should it ever become relevant to him. And in that relevancy will come real understanding. And that is more important than rote memorising multiplication tables at age 6.

xx

PS. Check out this page about unschooling math from Joyce Fetteroll’s “Joyfully Rejoycing” website for some really insightful thoughts!

 

Putting our relationship first.

THEN…

When I first heard about Unschooling it sounded completely bonkers to me. My friend’s and I would joke about “un-parenting”. How could it possibly be beneficial for kids to choose their own path, they’d spend all day on computer games! They’d fall behind and fail to learn about all the important stuff, like the history of how a telescope was invented and long division, you know, useful stuff like that.

Then the incident with “Spelling Book C” happened. It was around that same time that I saw Clay getting into trouble while not paying attention in a small, homeschool science class with a couple of friends. I watched for a while, saw the Mum trying to teach him getting frustrated, saw my son wiggling and squirming, clearly not interested in whatever the lesson was about.

That was the first definitive day I recall, where I said enough.

He wasn’t learning anything. He was being disruptive, my friend (the Mum) was getting agitated…and I don’t blame her, I reacted the same when he wouldn’t pay attention to my (very well thought out and planned) lessons…

I pulled him aside and told him that if he didn’t want to do it he didn’t have to. The look on his face, stunned, “Really?”. Yes. Enough. I didn’t want to force him anymore, I knew he wasn’t learning anything, not really. And the effect on our relationship was wearing us both down.

I went home and looked up this “Unschooling” thing again. I found website after website, article after article, showing that perhaps, maybe, my preconceived ideas about what learning is, what’s really important, was wrong.

Over the next week I read two books, and listened to a podcast series on Unschooling. The books were “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray, and Sandra Dodd’s “Big Book of Unschooling”, the podcast was Amy Child’s “The Unschooling Life”. It was an enlightening few days.

I emerged invigorated, ready to completely upend our way of doing things. The traditional path wasn’t working, it was time to stop being afraid and to follow what felt right, what made us (as a family) happy. I had had enough of the struggle.

NOW…

Relationships are so important. The most important thing really. At the end of our lives, it’s not the grades we got, the ladders we climbed, or the money we made, that makes us feel complete. The relationship I have with my kids and my husband has become my priority, my focus, and it’s something I try to keep in the fore front of my mind when I’m going about my day.

Clay, Jessie and I

One of our many days with just the three of us, love this time together…

I make mistakes, I yell, I get frustrated, I have bad days, but they’re fewer and further between than in the beginning. Oh, and I apologise when they happen, I take the responsibility back and say sorry to my kids when I get it wrong.

I remember having conversations with friends and family in years gone by, about how as a parent you’re always meant to “stand your ground”, “never back down” and don’t, under any circumstances, apologise to your kids. It’s seen as a sign of weakness, they’ll “step all over you” if you give them the insight that, no, you don’t always know what’s best, and yes, you make mistakes too.

I find it so strange, looking back now, how I could ever have taken this advice as gospel. I mean, how are we meant to teach kids that it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s ok to admit you are wrong, and it’s not a sign of weakness to say you’re sorry.

This is one of the biggest lessons that Unschooling has taught me. Unschooling is not un-parenting. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, it’s strengthened my relationship with my son because of the mistakes I’ve made, because of the open and honest and real conversations we now have. He trusts me to tell him the truth.

And he’s returning that honesty in-kind.

xx

PS. Removing food restrictions over the last few days has been interesting, a few freak out moments on my behalf, lots of reading (check out the wealth of information over here and here), seeking advice from those further down the road. I was reminded to keep putting the relationship first, and I intend to. Today was a good day…filled with bubble gum and chips 😉

 

“Screen Time”

THEN…

“Baby Einstein”, that was approved baby entertainment, right? I could pop the tele on while I get some cleaning done and feel I was doing a good job, that I wouldn’t be frowned upon by those in my Mothers Group for allowing him to watch TV.

Or a documentary, playing in the background. Classical music. That sort of thing.

From the very beginning of Clay’s life I was worried about doing things “right”. I read the top parenting books of the time (“Save our Sleep” anyone?? *cringe*), and they all said not too much television, it’s bad for them, rots brains, harms eyesight, turns them into zombies. Oh and definitely no electronic devices at the shops or if we go out for a meal, only crayons, colouring, books. They’re approved, good-parenting, stuff.

An over ambitious pushy parent reading a book about child development while ignoring her child's emotional needs.

As he grew, and became interested in iPads and computers, I would literally time the periods he was on. No more than 15 minutes a day, half an hour, one hour max!

Eeeeek. Timer had gone off 30 minutes ago. Mummy fail.

Even as we began homeschooling, all those fabulous “educational” apps, oh no no, he couldn’t do everything on apps or the computer. He had to read (books, of course, not screens, they’re different you see…), and write and regurgitate, plan projects and create neat little booklets and maps. That’s what learning looks like, right?

Minecraft, that’s where his interest in computing really started to boom. A friend introduced me to it, saying it was a fabulous game, her son had built amazing buildings with lots of rooms and winding halls. It was almost educational, we justified to ourselves.

Then they really got interested. Too interested. This can’t be good. Nothing of benefit would hold their interest for that long. They were becoming obsessed. And so the time spent on Minecraft was cut, 15 minutes a day max. That’s it. Off. No, I don’t care that you’re in the middle of building something or battling a Creeper, your time is up. I was being generous, really, some of his friend’s weren’t allowed to play at all. I was tempted, he got so stroppy and angry after his time was up…

No, you can’t go back on Minecraft today, you’ve had your time….now stop interrupting me while I’m trying to answer this Facebook post…

NOW…

Removing restrictions on technology was difficult, it was a complete turn around on everything I had ever known to be true. As I explained in a previous post, removing the restrictions was a process for us. But once we were there, yes, Clay spent (and still does on many days) all day playing games.

In the beginning it was all about Minecraft, which eventually gave way to Terraria, and more recently he has begun exploring other games on Steam, like Scrap Mechanic and Stranded Deep. I was, of course, worried about this at first, waiting, waiting, waiting to see the signs of this elusive thing called “self-regulation”…

It was subtle at first, he’d take himself off and play outside when friends came over for Minecraft Day, then he began to take himself off for breaks when he was on his own. Then the “I’m bored” comments began. I recall feeling overly excited when this happened for the first time, but forced myself to be calm and casual as I made suggestions as to what he could do.

In the beginning, all he wanted to do was stay home and play, or play on his iPad or computer when we were out. But gradually he came to trust that I wasn’t going to take his games away, we spoke about how he had plenty of time to play as long as he wanted to, that he could play online with his friends when they were on, and I even went so far as to seek out more online playmates via the various Facebook groups I’m on. He then started to realise that the time he could spend playing “pretend play”, climbing trees, or paddling down a stream, was what was limited now, not his gaming time.

More recently, he has begun to seek out some of the things that used to interest him, things like magic, cooking, science experiments and chemistry. He has begun to take himself away from the screen and sit chatting to me about ideas, asking if he can “experiment” with this or that.

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Choosing to come off his computer for a walk along the beach…

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…experiment…

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…participate in activities…

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…and Jessie (having never been restricted) eagerly chooses other options.

Yes, most of the days when we are home are spent gaming. But he tends say yes to other things more readily nowadays, park plays and fun activities like the scavenger hunt this past week. In the beginning he would have said no, preferring to stay home. At the end of the day, it comes down to the economics of scarcity, the rarer something is, the more value it holds.

Yes, things are changing.

I doubt he will give up gaming any time soon, nor do I wish him to (I see great value in it now, more on that in a future post), but his interests are broadening, and he is comfortable with the knowledge that he can game whenever he likes.

The relationship I’ve developed with Clay since removing restrictions is so rewarding, the impromptu hugs and the “You’re the best Mummy ever!” comments fill me with conviction that this is the right path. Respecting his choices, supporting his passions, instilling in him the knowledge that he is exactly who he should be.

And that’s my end goal, because he’s already perfect, and I don’t need a book to tell me that.

xx

PS. This week I was fortunate enough to have my worries about letting go of food restrictions addressed by the inspirational Pam Larrichia, Anne Ohman and Anna Brown on the Exploring Unschooling podcast. If you haven’t ventured down this road yet, have a listen, then let me know if you’ll join me in jumping in….here I go!!!

Ticking Boxes

THEN…

TICK! Can’t let him fall behind!

After pulling Clay from school there were still boxes to tick. I found myself scouring the standards and organising spreadsheets with check boxes to make sure I covered everything, so he would “keep up”. The Australian Curriculum App was my best friend for the first part of our homeschool journey.

I came up with some fabulous ideas, I mean, these were interesting and exciting ways to learn all that boring dribble that the Education Department deemed necessary. I’d spend hours coming up with different ways to teach things, make sure I knew the content before hand, had all the worksheets and laminated cards ready to go, pencils sharpened. Clay was on board to begin with, he was happy to be out and so would readily comply to my requests.

Then the resistance crept in.

How could that be? My lesson plans were epic! They were different and fun and interesting! Well, I had put in all this time, he would just have to knuckle down and do them anyway. Sorry buddy, there were standards we needed to cover, the big wiggies in plush offices, far removed from the minds and needs of children, said so.

“Do we have to do this?”, “This is boring!”, *thump* (head on desk).

Oh dear.

The arguments and threats began, no he couldn’t go to that activity without finishing his writing, no he couldn’t have his ipad until he’d completed the allocated math questions, no you’re not going outside until you’ve written this or that.

What was I doing? How was this different to school? It wasn’t, I was doing “school at home”. This wasn’t how I had imagined it, it wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

NOW…

“Spelling Book C”, that was my wake up call. He’d finished the workbook, complete with crosswords and word sleuths and look-cover-write check’s. What a neat little package it was, I could almost frame it. At the end of it all he did the last test, covering all the words he had learnt (and generally gotten at least 8/10 right throughout the semester on mini-tests), and he failed miserably. He got a little over 30%. It was like a big, fat slap in the face. The brightly coloured, Education Department approved, workbook had taught him nothing.

I began to let go of my pre-conceived ideas and tried to follow his interests, moving from a more “relaxed” style, (eclectic perhaps?), through to eventually throwing the standards out the window completely.

Clay has always surprised me with the things he says, what he has learnt, entirely on his own. He had this, this was about my fear, I needed to learn to trust him. His interests range from video gaming and YouTubing to chemistry, cooking, the natural sciences and beyond. He learns visually and kinaesthetically, having him fill out worksheets was never going to work. He has to see, he has to do.

IMG_3372 (2) Playing with acids and bases…IMG_9517

…comparing reactions and how the pH changes.

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Learning about physics and mechanical concepts through Scrap Mechanic

And then there’s Jessie, who has never been forced to “learn” anything. At 3.5 yrs, she asks me regularly how to spell things, types it on her iPad, asks me to write out the letters in words (her hand in mine), to read a book, she is interested in learning!

IMG_3361 (2)She found some geoboards in the cupboard and proceeded to make shapes, stretching the bands in different directions to make new ones.

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Pens/pencils and paper are always at hand

It’s hard, though, to let go of the idea that she needs to be taught, I mean, how will she learn to read? But I haven’t sat her down and forced her to memorise the alphabet, yet somehow she knows it, and I haven’t sat her down and forced her to learn phonics, and she knows most of those too. She’s already learning on her own.

One thing that I find people (myself included) often get concerned about with Unschooling is the idea that kids will learn on their own. Yes, but that doesn’t mean that if they ask for your help, if you see them struggling with something, or if you see that they are interested in something, that you don’t get involved, don’t offer suggestions (or strew), it just means that you wait, and watch, and listen to what they need.

I do believe that children can learn on their own, in their own time, because I’ve seen it, we all have. You can sit a child down and force them to do work, but you can’t force them to learn. My kids were born with a love of learning, not it’s my job to get out of the way!

xx

PS. Check out the documentary “Race to Nowhere”, it costs $4, but is well worth it, especially if you’re still in the mind set that kids need to “keep up”.

 

Food restrictions and learning to say “yes”.

THEN…

The school was angling at a diagnosis. Everything they were saying was pointing towards it.

“Are you saying he has ADHD?” I asked

“Oh we’re not qualified to say that.” Was the response.

Uh-huh.

I knew my child, I knew he was a mover, a fidgeter (probably gets it from me), but he could also sit for hours on end playing quietly, lego, books, drawing….digging up bugs. He was a hands on kid, always had been, but he didn’t have a problem being “attentive” when he was interested in something.

They wouldn’t let it go, though, so (not wanting to go down the medical route) I went to a naturopath. The lady was lovely, really positive that Clay could be “helped” to be more focused (…on the boring stuff…) via natural means. We spoke about the effect of foods on behaviour, and began the “elimination diet”. No gluten, wheat, dairy, certain fruits, colours, additives or preservatives.

It.

Was.

Hard.

And not just hard to implement, but hard to watch, hard to see his face fall when all the kids around him could have things that he wasn’t allowed. All because he wouldn’t sit still and do worksheets. No party food, no take-away, no cold meats, no bread, limited fruits/dried fruits, and absolutely no numbers! Numbers were everywhere! He became withdrawn in social situations when food was around, sad, he didn’t like the attention when asked if he wanted something.

It didn’t work, either, he actually became more disruptive, if he wasn’t hiding behind me avoiding the attention, then he’d try and distract kids from food by engaging in “look at me!” behaviour….climbing up polls and such.

I hated this time, I felt so mean, he didn’t understand any of it (he was 5!), and how was he really feeling? Isolated? Left out? Different? Knowing that his Mum wouldn’t let him have things because she wanted him to sit still and do his work at school? Surely that was having a more adverse effect on him than the foods were?

I stuck it out for three months, before saying enough. His spark was fading, I wanted that spark back.

NOW…

I recall being not able to have a lot of lollies and chocolate when I was younger as I had eczema. And now? I’m a full blown sugar addict, lollies, chocolate, cake, nom nom nom. I’m learning to self-regulate, but it’s been hard.

How was he going to learn to make good choices with food if all I did was restrict everything? One of the ideas behind “radical” Unschooling is to allow children to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, with the idea that they will naturally gravitate towards a healthy diet. I don’t doubt that this works, I’ve seen it and I’ve read about it. But letting go completely didn’t work for us. I freaked out too much (can you tell I tend to freak out a bit??). I don’t think I even lasted a day before I pulled the reins in again.

I remembered that quote by Sandra Dodd, “Read a little, try a little, wait a while watch”. I could apply that here also. It worked with technology?

So instead of removing all restrictions, I just began to say “Yes” more often…

IMG_7171 (2)“Yes” to brightly coloured frozen drinks while on holiday…

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“Yes” to people buying my kids faaaaaar too much chocolate at Easter…

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Even “yes” to eating that chocolate before breakfast…

“Yes” to cake before dinner, “yes” to another piece of chocolate, “yes” to ice creams when Mr Whippy comes by…whatever time of day it is.

And you know what? The world hasn’t imploded. Sure, sometimes too much sugar late at night, at a celebration or festive time, can mean an even later one. But it’s not every day, and when it does happen, I remind myself to accept that it will, and try to lend myself to the laughter that ensues as we wrangle Jessie into her PJs.

So, I will continue to talk to my kids about good nutrition, to help try and guide them in their choices, but I’ll also continue to say “yes” more often…because life’s too short to say “no” to sprinkles.

xx

 

Expectations and Gaming with Dad

THEN…

Children are born as blank slates, like a new computer file. I had a clear image of who my child would be, if only I could make the right inputs.

He would be sporty.

As a child (actually, as an adult too), I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life. I still recall with humiliation the sports classes where we each had to stand on a line (taking turns, you know, so everyone would have their eyes on me), and throw a tennis ball as far as you could. Then we got a score, which counted towards our grade. Wonderful. I wasn’t the worst (that was saved for my even less abled friend), but second worst was bad enough.

So, I signed Clay up for soccer when he was three (that was the youngest I could slip him in), determined that he would not go through what I went through each and every sports class. The little orange cones were set out, easy enough instructions, parents on one side, kids on the other. Kick to each other. Right.

Off he went, rolley polling down the hill behind me, bouncing on the ball…rolling on the ball…kick!! Ack. Wrong direction.

I think we went about half a dozen times before I finally accepted that him lying on the grass for half the lesson looking for bugs probably meant he wasn’t interested.

(I got some pretty cute shots of him, though, but I’m not sure the instructor was too pleased with our grass-rolling photo session in the middle of the soccer field).

So we left.

Next, on to athletics!! Surely Little Athletics would work, it was all about running and jumping! But no. He was happy to run (with his friends away from the line), and jump (over the guard rails around the oval), just not when/where he was supposed to.

Surf Life Saving? Footy? Hip Hop?? Nope, nope, nope.

Clay loved to move, just not in the way that these sports required him to. But wasn’t I doing everything right? Blank slate….inputting sport…why wasn’t it working??

My son was also going to be popular.

I was not popular in school. I lacked confidence (sports class perhaps??). I also didn’t have dozens of friends, I was shy, and found it hard to break into conversations.

Lots of playdates. That would work. He would always have friends over, so that at school they’d know each other and be best of friends.

It didn’t work. He loved playing with his little buddies, one on one was fabulous, but get him into a big group and he seemed to become a bit…lost?

He would be intelligent.

I pushed reading on him at a young age (at 4 we started lessons at home), he picked it up easily. We also did a lot of maths, being sure to include counting and basic arithmetic in his day from the get go (Baby Einstein anyone??).

But at school, his reports didn’t reflect how clever I knew he was. Apparently he never finished his work.

He was happy. He was such a clever little thing, he had this amazing mind, would tell me all about nature and bugs, Lego and Transformers, stories from his vivid imagination. He loved to make us laugh, had the most infectious grin, and was hands down the best leg-cuddler in the world. He seemed to shine from within when he was in his own element. When he was free.

When it was just us, he was larger than life, I was completely in love with this little human being.

But my expectations were not being met. Societies expectations were not being met. He wasn’t great at sport, he seemed happier on his own or in small groups, and although I knew he was bright, the teachers were not so sure.

Could it be that Clay wasn’t a blank slate? Could he (*gasp*) have been born with an innate personality?? Could it be, that who I was expecting him to be, everything society expected him to be, wasn’t actually who he was?

NOW…

Meet them where they are. That is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. It took a lot of soul searching and inner reflection to realise that my son is not me. He does not feel the need to be the best at sports, the most popular kid in school, or the most academically successful. All that time, the early years, I had been projecting myself, and my own struggles, onto this perfect, little, entirely unique, human being.

Ever since that realisation struck me, I have been trying to support who he is. And I’m still learning. Still catching myself projecting my fears, my aspirations, and societies expectations on to him. But I recognise it now for what it is, tell myself sternly to pull my head in, and re-focus on supporting his journey.

It’s taken me a loooooooong time to get to this point. We’ve been home nearly three years. That’s three years of us together pretty much 24/7. So when I see my husband next to me, supporting the decisions I’m making, listening and trusting the direction I’m going in, it amazes and humbles me.

Sure, I can get frustrated and defensive sometimes, when he questions some decision I’ve made, things that seem completely foreign to him.  But then I think about how he still has to go to work each day, he hasn’t had the three years of being with Clay, and being around the homeschool/Unschool community, to get used to some of the ideas I bring into our home. I realise that he isn’t questioning me because he doesn’t trust me, he’s questioning me because he hasn’t had the time to digest and learn the things I’ve learnt. He needs the headlines and dot points so he can align himself with where we are going.

Take “screen time” as an example. It wasn’t easy for me to give up on the restrictions. Society and my own background growing up said that this was a bad idea. Screen time, technology, playing computer games, wrong, wrong, wrong. I did hours and hours of research, reading, listening and talking to get to this point where I truly believe that limiting something Clay is so keenly passionate about is harmful, and that supporting his interests is hands down the best way we can parent. (Not to mention, I now believe that him spending hours on a computer is actually a really awesome way for him to learn).

The relationship we now have is beyond what I could have ever hoped for. He is 9, he loves spending time with me, he has long conversations with me, and he is honest about his actions and his feelings. He’s a really awesome kid. Being supportive of who he is, rather that projecting myself and my expectations, has been key to getting us to this point.

Me connecting with Clay…my first attempt at a survival world (and one of the first videos on his channel (head on over to subscribe!), so please excuse the quality!)

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Clay and Jess playing…

So when I realised that perhaps the relationship that he had with his Dad was a little disconnected, I suggested to my husband that he start gaming with Clay. Now, he was a gamer in his day, but (aside from the odd Mario Kart round), isn’t really keen nowadays. He’d even tried Minecraft before, but it wasn’t his thing. Still, he took on board what I said, found a game he didn’t mind, and begun playing it with Clay.

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Clash of Clans, great for bonding!!

My heart melts when I think about the difference this action has had, and it’s only happened in the past week! They’ve spent hours together, chatting about the game, laughing, giving each other tips and strategies to try. Just being together. And when they’re not playing, they talk more, they laugh more. It’s not just about the game, it’s about connecting. And it’s working.

So, meet them where they are, it’s an awesome destination.

xx

PS. Check out this podcast with Pam Laricchia and Jen Armstrong, it has a great piece about Dads 🙂

 

The “red note”…

THEN…

Urgh.

I remember the walk (or drive if I was feeling particularly lazy….or if it was cold…or too hot…or…) to school all too well. I remember trying to skip over the cracks so I didn’t invite any bad luck, holding my breath the last ten metres before entering the grounds in a ritualistic fashion…perhaps today would be the beginning?? Perhaps today, something would have clicked, something the teacher tried would have worked, to get Clay to “do what he was told”.

Urgh.

There’s that look. She’s standing at the door now, calling kids name by name to leave the classroom. Yep, he’s last again. She locks eyes with me and motions for me to step forward, “Not a good day today…”, it would begin, or, “It started out well, but then…”.

The dreaded red note in the diary. From the sports teacher (who, lets face it, probably didn’t look favourably on a boy deciding that he’d rather climb a tree while  a serious game of soccer was meant to be happening), or the art teacher (man she was the worst, grumpy old lady, should’ve retired years ago!), or the softly spoken music teacher (no, sitting on a mat with a drum in hand and expecting him to wait his turn to tap it three times probably isn’t going to work).

What was this awful thing that my son had done? Oh you know, he skipped rather than walked between classes and had to hold the teachers hand, spoke without putting his hand up, splashed water on a friend while at the drinking fountain (did I mention it was hot that day?), oh oh, and my personal favourite, he thumped a kid back after he got clobbered with a broom handle. Apparently he failed to mention that part of the altercation to the teacher as he was being dragged to the principle’s office….at not even 4 years old. I wonder why he didn’t feel safe enough to explain his side? Interesting…

NOW…

Clay is a climber, bouncer, runner (although not in the athletics-style-straight-line, manner). He’s always been a mover. That’s a big reason why school didn’t work for him, he can’t sit still.

Parkour is awesome for kids who need to move (vertically as well as horizontally). The key is to find the right mentor, though. We tried a class for a couple of terms, he really enjoyed it, but struggled with the part where he had to sit and listen to instructions. I’ve actually found (as I de-school myself), that I am very similar. I have to really concentrate when someone is talking to me, I tend to zone out and need to force myself to make eye contact to keep up with a long conversation. But show me something, or give my hands something to do while we chat, and then I will remember, then I will take in what you’re saying.

This is frustrating for my husband, who can’t understand why he’s had to explain to me a dozen times how to turn on the heater. Show me please, and make sure I’m not distracted by my phone while you’re doing it.

It’s funny, I didn’t realise how much I would learn about myself on this journey, how much of myself I had learnt to mask. How many of Clay’s “quirks” were also my own.

Anyway, back to parkour. I knew I didn’t want to give up on it, it really was the perfect activity for Clay, he was always watching parkour YouTube videos, and practicing his own moves. But the only other class I’d heard of was on a Friday, which (at the time), was Minecraft Day. So when the holidays rolled by, and we weren’t hosting Minecraft Day that week, I took him to a class. He LOVED it. So much so that when I asked if he wanted to move Minecraft Day to a Thursday (at the risk of some friends not being able to come) he jumped at the chance, no hesitation. It was one of the earliest memories I have of him choosing something over Minecraft.

Whoo hooooo!!

We were about 6 months into Unschooling when this happened. Despite reaching our goal of un-restricted technology, I was still freaking out at times…albeit more quietly, on the inside on a good day…rocking back and forth in the corner crying, thinking “What the hell am I doing!?” on a bad one.

So this was something to celebrate. Calmly, on the inside. I didn’t want Clay to detect that I was ecstatic about his decision, these were my insecurities, stemming from my upbringing, with traditional dos and don’ts swimming around in my head. I’d done the research, I knew that projecting my fears onto him would make him feel like I was disapproving, rather than celebrating and supporting his passions. It would bring about him feeling that he was less than he was “supposed” to be. So I kept my joy to myself, and we switched days…calmly, like it was no big deal.

Isn’t it funny, how we automatically value one thing over another, even though we’ve never thought to question it. Why is it that I’m ok with him jumping and climbing up walls, but worry about him expressing his creativity through building medieval villages, carrying out role-plays with friends, or working as a team to solve a problem. It’s been hard for me to question my beliefs, question what I’ve always known to be true. All part of my de-schooling process I suppose!

Back to Parkour. We take part in two classes every fortnight, with an amazing instructor. Gone is the rigid class, now he gets to participate when he wants, have a break when he wants, and is never expected to sit down and listen. I think finding the right mentors for our kids is key, just as I don’t want to project my presuppositions on his choices (and influence his decisions too much), I don’t want others to ruin what is an amazing opportunity just because they believe kids need to learn something in a particular fashion.

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Parkour up walls…

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On anchors…

IMG_8747 (2)In nature…

I love parkour days, the kids run and jump and get dirty, and I get to hang out with some amazingly inspiring Unschoolers. I think it’s important to surround ourselves with like-minded people, getting bogged down in conversations about curriculum and “grade level” makes us second guess ourselves, when actually, the real world is a whole lot more interesting to play in…

xx

PS. Read more on de-schooling here…http://livingjoyfully.ca/blog/2013/02/why-deschooling/

It Begins…

THEN…

Kid’s are like dogs, yeah? That’s it. You can train them. Positive reinforcement and all that. I’m not going to be one of those parents who punishes their kids all the time, nope, I’m going to be an awesome, reward giving, positive parent.

Ummmmm……

My fridge was getting a bit ridiculous. Reward charts for no “red notes” in the diary, for putting washing in the basket, for keeping the room clean, for doing what he’s told…

It.

Was.

Covered.

No seriously! And this reward stuff was expensive!!

Then I found this book. “Punished By Rewards”, by Alfie Kohn. That’s the book that started everything. From there I found “Unconditional Parenting” (also by Alfie), and off I went, leaving my hubby staring in confusion as all the bribery got thrown out the window. Nope, no more. We were going to talk to our child, explain things, discuss, negotiate. Mind blowing hey??

Looking back now, I really didn’t have any clue as to the journey I was about to embark on…

NOW…

Today was “Minecraft Day”. Yep, we have a whole day, every week, where we get together with Clay’s friends, and they play Minecraft (or Terraria, or Pixelmon, or that game where you get points for the best carnage from rolling your car…). It’s our favourite day of the week!

The kids have such a great time, and they learn so much from each other. The ability to search online, read a webpage, download and install new mods/games/maps, spelling, typing, problem solving, not to mention the social side of things. These kids are aged from about 6 to 12, boys and girls, from differing backgrounds and family lives, yet in this room, on Thursdays, they connect. They help each other, work out their differences (sometimes with a little help from parents), and play both online and off. They are incredibly creative, the worlds they build, the stories they tell, it’s a joy to watch.

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One of our days.

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Playing outside…by their own choice! Yes, kids who aren’t restricted on technology DO choose to do other things! Who would’ve thought! Certainly not this Mum…the “15 minutes a day is plenty!” Mum. Oh dear.

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And Princess Jess, playing with her friend. They’ve also been inside and outside, on their iPads and off, jumping on the trampoline, playing playdoh….making playdoh “snow” and throwing it on the floor…

One of the biggest things I’ve realised since starting this journey, is that kids will only learn to self-regulate if given the opportunity to self regulate. Yes, Clay does spend a LOT of time online and playing games. But that’s because he is passionate about gaming, and he is really creative. I have watched, and I have played along side him (as does his Dad), both so that I can remain connected with him while he is exploring this world, and also so that I can understand what it is that draws him to it.

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Connecting with Dad on Clash of Clans

Don’t get me wrong, when we removed the limits, I completely freaked out! One day, he spent about 15 hours straight glued to his computer…actually it was multiple days. Breeeeeathe……whoooooshaaa…..nope, not working, limits were back on!! I learnt a valuable lesson through that experience, I was definitely NOT a “jump in” sort of person. I needed to take things a bit slower.

So I did.

I took Sandra Dodd’s advice, “Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch.” Yes. That I could do. So I had a good chat to Clay, explained honestly how I was not coping with such a big change, and we came up with a plan to work towards no restrictions.

There’s such a fear when it comes to “screen time” nowadays, it seems to be one of the biggest hurdles that those pursing the Unschooling life have to overcome. I’ve done a lot of research on the topic (will post more on this in future posts), and what I’ve come to believe is that this is just the new novel (yes, there was a time when it was feared that novels would break apart the very fabric of family life). It’s the new thing for parents to be afraid of.

There’s so many positives, so much to learn…and that’s just for the parents 😉

xx

 

 

 

 

 

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