Unschooling Journey

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

Tag: learning on their own

Why not??

Sometimes, we say “No,” because we’ve been conditioned to have that as our first response. “No,” because it’s too hard. “No,” because I’m busy. “No,” because I said no last time. This journey has forced me to look at what I’m saying no to, and really ask myself why? Why not?

Take bubble bath for example. Jessie loves bubble bath. Like, a LOT. To the point where there’s never enough bubbles until the whooooooole bottle is gone. She has so much fun, pouring in the soap, discovering that it works better under running water, building up the bubbles on her head like a hat, chin like a beard, my entire face like…..well, that’s just because it’s funny apparently.

Unschooling girl covered in bubbles

Why do I “let” her use the whole bottle in one go? Isn’t that a waste?

A waste? Of what? She’s going to use it all anyway, eventually. What does it matter that it goes in one bath or ten?

The cost?

Bubble bath costs $3.20. I’ll grab a bottle when we’re at the shops, maybe a couple a week, maybe more, depending on how often we pop to the shops. I spend more than that on coffee…much more than that on a bottle of wine…so really, when this first started to happen, I had to ask myself, is it more important for me to save a few dollars, or to just let her have the fun and use her bubbles the way she wanted to.

Sometimes, bubbles get alllllll over the floor. That’s ok, I throw a towel over the top, they get cleaned up pretty easily…and I rarely need to mop the bathroom floor, so really she’s saving me time, right?

Obviously there’s times when “No,” is the only response you can give, “No,” you can’t run across the highway, “No,” you can’t ride the dog, “No,” you can’t drink the cleaning fluid…unless it’s homemade with vinegar, then they can fill their boots.

But next time you hear yourself about to give “No,” as an answer, try and pause to ask yourself “Why not?”, is the “No,” because it’s a real safety issue? Is the “No,” because you really don’t have the money? Is the “No,” because you have an important appointment?

If not, can you instead figure out a way to lead with “Yes,”? Saying “Yes,” fills them with the knowledge that they have some control, that they can make things happen, that they have a say in their own lives. This is so important, in this world of rules and constraints, to have them grow knowing that they can have an affect their situations…be it as small as bubbles when they’re 4, or  taking the leap to move to the other side of the country when they’re 18.

"Children learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directios." Alfie Kohn

Yep, there’ll be plenty of “No,”s in their lifetime, I’ve learnt not to add the unnecessary ones…

xx

Getting in the way of learning…

THEN:

Rightio, I had all the worksheets printed and ready to go. Clipboard? Check. Pencils? Check. Erasers? Check. Enthusiastic child? Check. Well…kind of.

Clay was excited about going to the aquarium, but seemed less so once I went through the worksheets. I wasn’t asking him to do much, a few pages, and he got to choose which ones he wanted to do, I wasn’t being unreasonable. A trip to the aquarium was expensive, it couldn’t just be a fun day out, we needed to do some learning today!

What. A. Nightmare. One word answers, copying exact sentences, scribbly illegible hand writing. And then he got all stroppy at me when I erased a few words and asked him to re-write them.

He wanted to go home.

Well that was a waste of money!

NOW:

Clay and his friend were so excited. The King Tutankhamun exhibit had been a long time coming, they were skipping this way and that, and we hadn’t even gone in yet!

The doors open and they scooted around the first section, calling excitedly to each other “Come look at this!!”, “Whoa!!”. They were reading, listening, watching…and learning. All without a worksheet in hand, no pre-exhibit planning, no assignments, no post-exhibit test looming.

Who would’ve thought.

It made me smile, to see Clay so enthusiastic, so excited, chatting after we left and for well over a week afterwards about all the things he had seen and learnt.

It was an awesome day.

I cringe looking back, now, how I killed any sense of wonder, any free range learning, by forcing him to do worksheets and research before and after going to places like the aquarium, the zoo, a play. I mean, think about it, I come to you and say “Hey! Want to come to the movies with me? But hang on, you have to do this worksheet first, analyse the film afterwards, there’ll be a test too…”.

Seriously? No thanks.

Why do we find it so necessary to check boxes? To have someone else tell us what is important to know? I’ll tell you why.

School.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that without being forced, without being coerced or bribed, we would not learn, would not want to learn. But that simply isn’t true! When a child is interested in something, stay with them in that moment, be engaged with them, converse, ask questions, offer information.

Unschooling Dad holding and talking to daughter

Unschooling Dad and son gaming

And if a child isn’t interested? Well, please think about that, do we really believe that forcing a child to fill out a worksheet is going to miraculously make it interesting? Make them retain information about a topic they do not care for long term?

And if not long term, if the information is not valuable enough for them to retain and build on, why are we so fixated on having them “learn” it?

Oh yeah, to tick boxes.

So next time you’re trying to steer your child down a road they are uninterested in, check yourself, ask why, throw the boxes out the window and instead just be present.

xx

Respect. Word.

THEN…

“ENOUGH! Into your room! You’re in time out!”

How dare he talk to me like that?? That’ll teach him. He needs to learn to be respectful, he can’t yell at me or get angry because things weren’t going his way, that’s life, better get used to it!

My child was going to learn to be respectful, any deviation from that path would be nipped in the bud. Time out, privileges gone, toys binned, whatever it took to get him to toe the line, I mean, if I couldn’t get him to be respectful at age 5, what hope did I have of having a respectful teenager??!

NOW…

*Cringe*. Oh dear. Those days were not my finest parenting moments.

Where had these ideas come from?? Ohhhhhh, wait. I remember now, all those glossy parenting magazines with glowing, happy mothers and perfect children on the cover. Oh oh, and the books, yes, that “magic” counting method, and that other one about wrestling…no, “wrangling”…kids…then there’s that Nanny…

Those books and shows have a lot to answer for.

The term “respectful parenting” is a relatively new one for me, having spent most of Clay’s life more on the “authoritative” side, believing that children should do as I say, toe the line, that sort of thing. At the time it didn’t feel right, I hated how upset he got…but it was easy. I had control, I could give and I could taketh away, not just toys and experiences, but affection, attention. Nine times out of ten it worked straight away!

But the older he got, as we left the school system, I saw around me different styles of parenting, children who were happy, Mums who were happy…there was no yelling, they weren’t constantly on guard, hovering, waiting for their children to step out of line…it made me question how I was doing things…

Turns out it’s called “respectful parenting”, and, essentially, it boils down to treating your children with the same respect and courtesy you would your spouse, a friend, a guest in your home. Interesting concept hey?

Unschooling Mum and kids exploring nature

At first it was…weird. Here my son was getting frustrated and raising his voice, and me, responding gently, acknowledging his frustration and calmly asking how I could help. Then there was the time when he was swinging over the bars in the shopping aisle, narrowly missing passers by, and me asking if he would mind not doing that as he may hit someone….asking a few times, explaining a few times…or that other time when he jumped up and started walking along a brick fence, and me, pausing, asking what the harm was…averting my eyes as a parent behind me scholded their child for following suit, glaring at my apparent disregard for…what now?

I wont pretend to have this all figured out, I’m still learning, I still slip up every now and then, though fewer times this week than last, fewer last than the one before… And there’s still meltdowns that happen, there’s still tantrums, like just yesterday, in the car on the way to dropping hubby at the train station, lots of yelling….oh wait, sorry, that was me…don’t worry, my husband was gentle in his response and helped me calm down…see, he has this “respectful husbanding” down pat.

So yeah, it’s different, it’s weird, it’s likely to bring more than a couple of sideways glances from friends, family, strangers….but you know what? Our family life is calmer, our relationships stronger…it works. It really does.

xx

PS. Read more about respectful parenting over on Rachel’s blog, Sara’s explanation here,  or the facebook page Respectfully Connected…or pop it into Google, it’s everywhere now, get on board, the grass is greener over here 😉

 

“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.

clayonbeachwalk

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

IMG_3373 (2)

…experiment…

clayscavengerhunt

…participate in activities…

IMG_8650 (2)

…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.

IMG_8732 (2)

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.

IMG_3354 (2)

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”.

 

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