Monday, September 22, 2014

Nature Scavenger Hunt

We went for a walk on a trail near our house today, and did a scavenger hunt. 

We found:
green (too easy! haha!)
a seed (pine nuts)
a weed
a flower
edible (pine nuts)

 signs of erosion

signs of fall coming
a reflection in the water

 signs of animals being there (see the bird poop?)
I didn't take pictures of the trash that indicated people had been there.
We looked for something twisted, but didn't find that one.

 On the way home, we stopped at Walmart, so they could get a drink.  I had to stay outside with the dog, so E went in by herself to pay for the drink. 

A was on my back in the carrier the whole time, so I didn't get a picture of her.  Here's a picture of her at home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Time Management for the Unschooling Parent

Time management books have a lot of great ideas, but they usually work off the assumption that the reader is either using them to manage their time at an out-of-home job or that the kids are in school most of the day or they don't take into account having kids at all.  A few books are designed for stay-at-home moms or even homeschooling moms, but then they usually include advice on how to schedule your kids lives right along with when to do your dishes and laundry.

So I'm going to offer a few ideas on managing your time as an **radical unschooling parent, so you can spend more time with your kids and less time in crises mode with things like cleaning, bills, appointments, shopping, etc.  I'm no expert by any means, and with 4 kids including an infant, being the President of a non-profit organization, and for several months every summer my husband is out of town for work, so I'm solo parenting (going on 5 months right now), I can't keep up on everything. But I can get a little something done in every area, almost every day, and compared to a few years ago or even last year, things run a lot more smoothly.  These are things that have helped me, and I hope they'll help you too.     

Time is the Great Equalizer

How many hours are in your day?  Take out the amount of time for the sleep you need.  However many hours are left is the amount of time you have with which to work.

Now write down everything you do in a day- cleaning, dishes, laundry, paying bills, packing your spouse's lunch for work, making meals, walking the dog, everything- and how much time each thing takes.

You might want to keep a record as you go for several days, so you get a realistic picture of how
much time things actually take.  You might think it only takes a 5 minutes to do the lunch dishes, but then your 5 year old wants to show you something, your 2 year old wants to help, and your 10 year old decides that now he's hungry after all, so you fix him something and make more dishes.  You have a choice- be resentful about these perceived interruptions or enjoy the time you have to be with your children and do things for them.  Choose joy- after all, that's probably a big reason you choose unschooling in the first place!  And because you're unschooling, you're not rushing to get the dishes done so you can go do school with the kids so they learn something- this IS the learning!  When they are watching or helping you do the dishes, they are learning.  When you are answering their questions or having a conversation while you do the dishes, they are learning.  So be realistic and write down that doing the lunch dishes takes 30 minutes (or whatever it takes for you).

Also write down how much time your children need your undivided attention.  Obviously this is going to be different every day, but you can get a ball park estimate.  Be aware of your kids' natural rhythms.  Maybe your daughter really likes spending time with you first thing when she wakes up, but you notice she's ready to go do her own thing after an hour or two.  Maybe your son wants to be left alone in the morning, but likes you to stay up with him at night.  

Now you have written down how much time it takes to do things, and probably one of two things happened.  There were things you never got to during the day that you didn't have time to do or you cut into time you wanted to spend sleeping to get it all done.  Either way, if you're like most people, there are more things to do in a day than there are hours to do them.

Fitting It All In

Getting it all done is going to be easier now, because you know how much time each task takes.  If those things added up to more than the number of hours you're awake, you're going to ruthlessly cut the things that aren't directly linked to the happiness and well being of your family.  Your best friend likes to text 30 times a day, and you now realize that replying is taking up an hour of your day.  Sorry, honey, we're down to 5 replies per day.   Maybe you've been cooking gourmet meals 3 times a day, and then you're frustrated that the kids won't eat them.  Stick with PB&J and fruit for now (or whatever you kids like) and spend the hours your just saved with your kids. No one can tell you which things to drop and which to keep, because it's going to depend on the individual dynamics of your family.    Personally, I hardly spend any time on makeup and clothes.  I've never cared about makeup, but I do imagine the days when I have time to put together a decent outfit and do something other than a ponytail with my hair.  But it's about priorities and those aren't mine.  Maybe that's important to you though, so you cut something else.     

Doing a little something every day consistently is better than doing a huge chuck of a project for hours one day and then not again for a week.  The book The Slight Edge talks about consistency.  An example of this for me is yoga.  I would love to do yoga for an hour each day at home and take a yoga class a few times a week.  Realistically, that doesn't fit into my life, so I would only do it sporadically, on the rare occasion when I could carve out an hour of my day.  Then I realized, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.  I can do 20 minutes a day!  20 minutes done consistently 5 or 6 days a week adds up to more than an hour once every week or two.  Plus my body gets the benefit of it being a habit.

What helps me be flexible, is that when things are getting done on a small scale, consistently, *most* days, it's not such a big deal to miss a day.  For example, I don't budget and pay bills only on payday or even once a week.  I do it daily.  Which means that most days, I'm just opening a spreadsheet, inputting the $20 I spent yesterday and closing it.  Easy, 2 minutes of my life, but just opening it reminds me what bills are coming up that I need to be aware of, and it means I'm keeping track of my spending every day so that I'm not scrambling at the end of the week to figure out where the money went.  And if life gets hectic and I miss two days of the week and then I don't do it on the Sabbath, I've still succeeded in doing it the other 4 days a week, so more often than not and plenty often enough to be organized.  

 I'm talking about the potential problems of this...
Get your house under control.  The book The House That Cleans Itself has some great ideas for streamlining cleaning and making your house fit your natural tendencies.  When you were timing how long activities took throughout the day, how many things took twice as long as they should have because you couldn't find the supplies?  Or because you had to clean off the space to do it.  Your daughter wanted to paint, but it took 10 minutes to find the brushes, 5 minutes to clean off the counter from breakfast 3 hours ago, and you discovered a rotten apple stuffed in with the paper.  You're trying to get everyone ready to go out the door, but
...not this.
you can't find a clean shirt for one kid and in the mean time the toddler gets undressed.  You want to
help your son find out more about the plant he found, but the laptop is dead and it takes you 10 minutes to discover that your 2 year old buried it under the pile of dirty clothes in the bedroom while pretending it was a snake.

Yes, a great thing about unschooling is that many people realize that they don't "have to" do things any certain way.  You can shrug off your mother's voice in your head telling you to make your bed every morning, and you can revel in the pure fun of letting your kids make a fort with the couch cushions or paint the shower walls.

But it really is easier to help kids explore their interests if you can easily find supplies, and it really is more fun to make a temporary mess in a clean space, than to make a mess that turns an already messy house into one worthy of a CPS call.       

Take a day off.  Seriously.  For me, that's the weekly Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  Take your day off according to your religion's sabbath or the day your spouse has off work or whenever.  Just do it every week.  When I started implementing it, it was for religious beliefs, and I had NO IDEA how on earth I was going to fit all the things I couldn't fit in to 7 days, into 6 days.  Amazingly, things started fitting better!

One thing about unschooling is that we don't have an outside structure being imposed on us, so days blend into weeks blend into months.  Some people really enjoy that aspect and that is probably an important part of deschooling.  Eventually, however, life's natural and cultural cycles catch up with us- the bills need to be paid every month, holidays roll around, seasons change, and one important part of helping our kids explore their interests is providing the opportunities to do related things.  Taking one day out every week to see what is coming up, setting aside the money for that holiday trip to grandma's, deciding to switch out the summer clothes for winter clothes this week or getting your kid signed up for that robotics convention, means you're not panicking at the last minute.

Also on the Sabbath, I don't clean or shop or run errands or work my to do list.  I just rest.  As much
as a I can with 4 young kids in the house, anyway!  I spend time with them, like I do every day, but when they are busy doing their own thing, I do self care things for me. 

Plan out your week and your day.  Here's the dilemma I imagine all unschooling parents face-  How to get the things done that need to be done (cleaning, shopping, any other commitments) while respecting that our kids are separate human beings, with their own desires and needs for how to spend their days?  We need to grocery shop or go to the post office, but they don't want to leave the house today.  We need to make phone calls, but they are playing loud music and dancing.

I remind myself in those moments that I chose unschooling.  I chose not to send my kids away so I could get other things done.  I chose to be with them.

This is where flexibility is the key.     

Now that you've cut your activities down to the essential ones for the peace and happiness of your family, organize what you have left to do.  What I have done is laid out everything I need to do- making meals, daily cleaning, outside commitments, managing finances, working my to-do list, and things just for me like yoga and writing.  Then I organized it around time set aside to give my kid my undivided attention, based on when they tend to need me most.

Some things just don't make sense to be done daily.  Like grocery shopping.  So I broke that down into two parts- meal planning and grocery shopping and try not to do them on the same day.  There are a few other things that I do weekly, but I do them on different days of the week.  So I'm only doing one weekly task every day

On paper, this looks like a schedule, but the way it works out in reality is not strictly structured.  My kids have no idea that I've done this, except that they recognize a loose routine to the day, but since that flows with their own natural rhythms it works for them too.  I don't hold them to it, it's for me.  The way I do that, is by being willing to totally mix things up.  Knowing that I have everything written down so nothing is forgotten, and knowing that I really do have enough hours in the day to do it all, and doing things consistently most days, so that it's not such a big deal to miss a day, frees me up to easily switch things around.

I usually do yoga in the morning before the kids wake up, but if they wake up early and need me, no big deal.  I just do yoga later while they are happy playing or while we watch tv together or if they want to join me, we all do it together.

On paper, I walk the dog every day after dinner, but if the kids want to go to the park at 10am, I say sure!  We hop in the car, go to the park, and take the dog. Or if they don't want to walk with me, I can walk her up and down our street while they play in the yard.  Or we all just go stand at the edge of field at the end of our street and let her play there.  Or one of the kids will decide to walk her around our neighborhood.  

Flexibility is about making choices based on your values.  If you're clear about your values and priorities, then creating a system like this shouldn't lock you in to an unchanging schedule.  It should just help you see the big picture, and all the little parts that make up the picture, and in any moment you can choose which part to paint next, according to everyone's needs and your principles.  

Be willing to constantly tweak this.  I've been doing some version of this for at least a year now, and I was playing with other methods for a few years before that.  Still, every week, I look to see if there was anything that consistently didn't get done that week and see how I can work it in better the next week I look at what worked really well and learn from that.  I pay attention to the kids' changing needs. 


If you managed to make it through all of that, here's the short version:

Consistency and Flexibility
Subtract the number of hours you sleep from 24 hours.  This is what you have with which to work.

Time everything you do.  If the amount of time things realistically take, accounting for the time it takes with kids helping or needing you in the middle of it adds up to more hours than you have in the day, take a hard look at what you can cu

Cut out or reduce anything that doesn't contribute to the peace and wellbeing of your family.  Combine things if you can, but don't plan on multitasking all the time.  Make sure there is generous time set aside for giving your kids your undivided attention.

Write down the list of everything you do want to keep in your life and how long it takes, which should now fit into the number of hours you actually have in your day. 

Do things for less time every day instead of a big chunk of time weekly or monthly, so that you can make a little progress every day.  This is the consistency part. 

Take note of things that could be done faster or more efficiently or with less stress if you were better organized or if the house was cleaner.  Learn how to organize those things and keep the house clean.

Lay them out in an order that makes the most sense based on your kids needs and natural routines/habits, and your family dynamics.

Now be willing to totally mix up the order in which they happen.  This is the flexibility part. 

Do things consistently every day, but be flexible about when they get done, how they get done, where they get done, who does them.  It's a lot easier to be flexible when you know that you CAN do it ALL today, so switching a task you planned to do in the morning to the afternoon or switching today's weekly task with tomorrow's isn't a big deal.

Take a day off every week to plan for the upcoming week.

And of course, take what works for you and your family and discard what doesn't- something at which most unschoolers are probably pretty good at doing. 

**This is assuming you are a radical unschooling parent, and that you've been doing this for some time.  If you're still deschooling, if you're only "unschooling some things," this might not be helpful for you as there may be a tendency to turn it into a schedule or to start using it to control how your kids spend their time.   


Friday, September 12, 2014

If Your Car Breaks Down, Enjoy the Walk

Our car broke down last week at my mom's house. We were planning on all going to a 150th birthday party of our county at the park, so I had my mom take us to the park anyway. That meant walking a mile home, with 4 young kids, carrying the baby in the wrap the whole way and the 3 year old on my back half of the way. So I got the kids excited about the adventure of walking in the dark, and we enjoyed seeing the moon and feeling the fresh, cool air, and taking back streets away from the busy main road, so we could hear each other talk. 
From  Not the one we saw, but similar.

When we were almost home, we passed a restaurant that has a water wheel outside. We had seen it many times before as we were driving by, and had talked about making a miniature one. This gave us the chance to stop and see if from all sides. A man who I assume was the owner, maybe the manager, was outside and said we could stop it and let it go again and feel the water, so we did. The man and I explained to the kids how the pump works. Taking a unfortunate situation and turning it into something fun, and being open to the learning that arises as a result, is one of the best things I've learned from unschooling.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Math Tool

I started out writing this thinking about how math is a tool that most people use to do the things they want to do, and not an interest that most people learn for it's own sake.  I was thinking about how math isn't it's own *thing* for most people. Most people don't do math for the sake of doing math. It's a tool to explore the thing they are interested in doing. A tool for cooking or sewing or wood working or check balancing or shopping or driving.

The more I wrote though, the more I realized that separates the concepts too much.  A hammer is a tool and most people don't pick it up unless they need to hammer in a nail.  Most people don't think about hammers, where they come from, or how they are made, unless they are interested in making hammers.  However, hammers are also made of the same metals from which many other things are made.  Hammers have a history that ties into every era of the world, which is directly related to what materials and process was used to make them and who made them- blacksmiths or factories.

Like with everything, even the tools are interconnected to everything else in the world.  So yes, math is a tool, but that doesn't make it separate from the interests that require its use.  That's what schools say- that you need to acquire the tools in order to be able to follow the interest.  In real life, the tools are inherently part of the interest.  You gather them AS you experience the interest.  Then you use the tools you gathered to deepen and widen the interest and as it is expanding, so are your tools.  It's an ever changing, ongoing process.

So why do we tend to view math as “basic math” and “higher math” if math is everywhere and inherent in every interest? Why divide it that way?  Well, because that is the way schools divide it.  First you learn 2+2, then division, multiplication and fractions.  You only learn "higher math" if you succeed in the lower levels.  Otherwise you're told you're "just not a math person," and by the time you enter high school you've already decided that because you're just not a math person, you'll have to go into a field of work that doesn't require higher math.

That's so sad!  Math teachers will say "math is everywhere in the world," but kids don't really learn to see it, because no one points it out and connects it to this nebulous concept called "math."  Or they do learn the ideas and concepts, but they don't realize it has anything to do with the math they do on paper at school, and they don't have the terminology for it unless and until they reach a "higher math" class.

Because of our own schooled backgrounds, most unschooling parents like myself aren't able to see the math in everything. Sure I do fine using fractions when I cook with the kids, or helping them divide the box of 12 icecreams into equal portions for each of them, or noticing that my 8 year old can tell you that at 7:50 it's 10 minutes until 8:00.  Even things like degrees, angles, and some algebra have come up.  We do that kind of math all the time.

I'm aware, however, of my own shortcomings in really seeing math, the concepts of math not just the numbers, in everything.  I wish I could point out more of the math they are discovering in every day life and give it a name for them.  The song Let it Go in the movie Frozen casually mentions "fractals."  I knew it was a math term, but until I looked it up, I didn't know what it meant. 

So I found an interesting resource for really seeing the math everywhere called Moebius Noodles.  (I had to look up what moebius means too).  I'm reading the book right now.  It isn't unschooling, but it's not a normal curriculum either.  A lot of math curriculums try to "make math fun," which usually translates into taking the same old arithmetic problems and dressing them up with cartoon characters, and creating games that still revolve around arithmetic.  Moebius Noodles is all about seeing that "mathematics is fundamentally about patterns and structures, rather than 'little manipulations of numbers.'"

The Moebius Noodles books says:
"Children have more imagination than it takes to do differential calculus. They are frequently all too literate like logicians and precise like set theorists. They are persistent, fascinated with strange outcomes, and are out to explore the “what-if” scenarios.....children are required to develop their mathematical skills rather than being encouraged to work on something more nebulous, like the mathematical state of mind. Along the way the struggle and danger are de-emphasized, not celebrated – with good intentions, such as safety and security. In order to achieve this, children are introduced to the tame, accessible scraps of math, starting with counting, shapes, and simple patterns. In the process, everything else mathematical gets left behind “for when the kids are ready.” For the vast majority of kids, that readiness never comes. Their math stays simplified, impoverished, and limited. That’s because you can’t get there from here. If you don’t start walking the path of those exotic and dangerous math adventures, you never arrive.
It is as tragic as if parents were to read nothing but the alphabet to children, until they are “ready”

for something more complex. Or if kids had to learn “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” by heart before being allowed to listen to any more involved music. Or if they were not allowed on any slide until, well, learning to slide down in completely safe manner."

The book has games, but they are games that demonstrate how concepts normally only discussed in  algebra, geometry, trigonometry or calculus classes are very present in the real world in things that kids do every day.

I'm really looking forward to using this book, not as a curriculum for them, but as a way for me to learn more about math in the real world so I can point it out to them when they are interested as we go about our daily lives.  And we'll play the games the way we play all games- when they are interested, for as long or short a time as they'd like. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Maybe Some Day Everyone Will Unschool

It seems like a cultural shift is taking place from the educational methods and mindset of the Industrial Revolution to a whole new way of thinking and doing things in the Information Age.

Everything from the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us to articles on Psychology Today talking about intrinsic motivation. It seems like there's been a growth in books/websites to help entrepreneurs or people who just don't want to work the 9-5. A growth in people rejecting the "go to school, get good grades, so you can get a good job, work your whole life and retire" mentality . People who want to do more to make the world a better place and do what they love , even if that means less money. Or people who want to make more money in creative ways without doing the 9-5.

There seems to be a rise in employers who don't look so much at a college degree, as your experience and your attitude toward learning new things (like Google, for example).  Plus the internet has opened up a whole new world in entrepreneurship with sites like Etsy, Hyena Cart and even Ebay and Amazon, and it's also easy to set up your own.  It seems like there is also a growth in MLM/home businesses like Scentsy and Origami Owl.  Now there are dozens of them, where it used to just be Tupperware parties.  More and more people are using charter schools as a kind of middle ground between public school and homeschooling.

I don't have any hard data, these are just personal observations, but it seems like people are dissatisfied with the status quo, we are firmly in an era of technology and information, and the things that worked during the Industrial Revolution, just don't work any more.  It's tough to prepare kids for an ever changing, fast-paced world where information is at their fingertips using the methods designed to give kids the knowledge and skills to be factory workers. 

I read stories from parents who started unschooling their kids 20 years ago, and they kept what they were doing pretty quiet then.  They only knew a handful of other homeschoolers, let alone unschoolers, and the other homeschoolers were often quite appalled at the idea of unschooling.  Unschooling, especially radical unschooling, is still pretty fringe, but it's not at all uncommon to see at least some form of academics only unschooling to be given a nod if not outright approval in homeschooling websites, books and magazines.  It seems to be becoming more and more accepted as just another method of homeschooling, even if people are just trying to "unschool some subjects," (which misses the whole point of unschooling, but the point I'm making here is that it's no longer totally taboo).

I think what is changing is that people are realizing that *forcing everyone* to memorizing the same things isn't nearly as effective as people learning the things they need to learn to do the things they want to do, which is different for every individual.  I don't think people are going to rush out and start unschooling en masse, but there are positive changes that are being implemented in schools and workplaces.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, compulsory school age is getting younger and younger, kids are getting arrested for things that were previously school discipline issues (in what they are calling the School to Prison Pipeline), and government intrusion into home schoolers' lives is increasing.

So maybe I'm being too optimistic.  The title of this post certainly is. Or maybe the shift I'm seeing is in opposition to the increase in control.   But it is interesting to watch, none the less.

Just thinking and noticing things.  What do you think?