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?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Birth of Baby A

Contractions started around midnight, but they were very mild.  Around 3 in the morning, the contractions woke me up.  I wasn't convinced they were the real thing.  I was only at 37 weeks, and I had only been doing natural induction methods for 3 days.  I was trying to induce labor because of severe choleostasis, which can be dangerous to the baby, to the point of causing still birth.  I had been taking long walks, eating pineapple, taking the max dose of Dr. Christopher's birth prep, homeopathic black and blue cohash and two other herbs, Evening Primrose Oil, and doing acupressure

I laid there for an hour, and then I thought that if this is the real thing, I'd better straighten up the girls' room, because that's where the birthing tub was going to be set up.  So I texted D, my mom and my midwife, and then I started cleaning the kids' room.

As I was cleaning, the contractions were a bit stronger and closer, but I still wasn't convinced.  I had been planning to go to the clinic to get my blood drawn that morning anyway, to check on my bile acid levels due to the choleostasis.  If this turned out to not be real labor, we needed to keep checking my levels twice a week.  If they got too dangerously high, I would need to go in for a hospital induction or c-section.  So I went ahead and kept that plan.

I got breakfast, got the kids dressed and ready, and we headed out the door around 7:30.  I took them to my mom's house and went to the clinic for my blood draw.  While I was at the clinic, I realized that this was definitely real labor.  When I got back to my mom's house I told her I would not be picking up the kids, but leaving them there.  That was the labor plan.  I told her some things I needed from the store for labor, and drove home.

I called D and told him that this was for sure the real thing, and looked up plane tickets online for him.  He had to drive from where he was working to the Pheonix airport, about 2 hours away, and then fly to a city about 2 hours from us, where my step dad would pick him up.  Since my other home birth labors went 42 and 71 hours, we hoped that this one would take long enough for D to get here on time.   

At home, I got everything I needed set up.  I had my little station with water, my journal, my Bible, crocheting, the laptop for music on Pandora, my cellphone and charger, etc.  I had made a list ahead of time and had some things already in a basket, so it was easy to get everything together.  Then my mom and the girls came and brought me grapes and pinapple to snack on, and the Laborade drink  
I had asked my mom to make.  Then they left.

My midwife had already given the birthing tub to another couple who were due the same day as I.  So she let them know that now I needed it, and the husband was kind enough to bring it to my house and set it up for me.  It was a bit odd having a complete stranger in my house, setting up the birth tub, while I breathed through the occasional contraction.  His wife was going to be having her first baby, so I told him this was practice for him- seeing a woman in labor and setting up the tub.

Next we needed to fill it, but the sink adapter my midwife gave me didn't fit!  So my mom and the girls ran to the store to get one that would work.  In between them coming and going, and guy who set up the birth tub being here, I was alone, which was really nice.  I was looking forward to all of this set up being done, so everyone could just leave me alone for the rest of the labor.

My mom got the right adapter and started filling the tub for me.  She made sure I had everything I needed and then left.  I spent the next few hours alternating between sleeping through contractions and filling the tub.  I would turn on the hot water, set my phone alarm for half an hour and lay on my stomach on a huge pile of blankets on the couch, which put me in almost a hands and knees position.  Then I'd sleep between contractions, while listening to worship music.  When the alarm went off, I'd get up, turn off the water, drink some labor aid, eat some grapes and pineapple, and go back to sleep on my big pile of blankets, all in between contractions.  I'd give the hot water another half an hour to heat up, then get up and turn the water back on.  I probably did that cycle 6 or 8 times.

By this time it was mid afternoon.  The tub was finally full and I was debating whether or not to get in.  For a while I just labored in the living room, and this is when I was the most glad to be alone.  With L and Z, only D and my midwife were there, and because I was comfortable with both of them, I thought I was laboring in an uninhibited way.  It wasn't until I was truly alone for A's labor that I realized the difference.

I welcomed every contraction, often out loud.  There was no one there to complain to, so I didn't.  For a long time I sat on the edge of the couch, welcoming each contraction, visualizing baby moving down and myself opening up.  Between contractions, I'd just sit in a gloriously peaceful meditative state.  For a while I crocheted, and for a while I just sat.  Everything was quiet, and there was nothing in the world but me and my baby.

After a while, I decided to get in the tub.  By this time, contractions were 3 minutes apart, if I remember correctly, but I was rarely timing them.  Everything I had set up in the living room, now needed to be moved to the girls' bedroom by the birthing tub.  So I slowly did one thing at a time between contractions.

Finally, I got in the tub.  Labor was starting to get harder, but the water was great.  I sometimes labored on my knees with my head resting on my arms on the edge of the tub.  Sometimes I'd turn over, so I was sitting, but when a contraction would come, I'd let myself float up.  My legs were tired, so it was wonderful to have the water to relax in.  I sometimes massaged my feet and legs, which was a good distraction between contractions and felt really relaxing.

I got tired and between contractions I rested with my head on my arms on the side of the tub.  I got to that point where I'm not sure if I was sleeping or meditating or just completely focused, off in labor land somewhere, in between each contraction.  But again, nothing else in the world existed except what I was doing right there.

Suddenly, I heard and felt a POP!  It startled me and jolted me out of my focus.  I said outloud "What the hell was that?!"  Then it dawned on me that my water had just broken.

I looked in the tub and saw what I was pretty sure was meconium.  Because of the choleostasis, that concerned me.  I got out of the tub and called my midwife and we agreed it was time for her to come.

Contractions started coming hard and fast.  I knelt on the floor and put my head and arms on the couch.  The urge to bear down was intense.  At that point, I really wanted D there.  I missed him so much and wanted him to hold me through this.

I labored that way for half an hour and then my midwife showed up.  She checked to see how dilated I was, and I don't remember if she gave me a number, but I was close.  I got back in the tub and the contractions were easier, but mostly because there wasn't so much weight on my legs.

I called D and told him "This is getting hard."

I was only vaguely aware of my midwife moving around the room.  She was quiet and calm.  She asked to listen to the heartbeat a few times, which I was fine with.

An hour passed in the way that time can only pass during labor.  Where it feels like every contraction is lasting forever and that this will never end, and at the same time, when it was all over, I could have sworn it was only 15 or 20 minutes, not an hour!   

I remember telling my midwife "I'm tired," and saying the same thing I say at some point during every labor, "This still beats a c-section."  I told her that I was feeling the urge to bear down, and that I couldn't remember if this was what pushing feels like.  I told baby, "Come on, baby.  I want to meet you." 

I checked myself a few times and I could feel baby's head and hair.  There was still a lip of my cervix not quite out of the way yet.

Finally I was pushing.  It took a few contractions to get her head out and then we waited.  I could feel her little face and she was wiggling.  My midwife later told me that 3 minutes passed between those contractions.  The next contraction came and I pushed her out and caught her.

I lifted her out of the water and we waited for a moment, but she wasn't breathing.  My midwife gave her a few puffs of air and a few chest compressions.  The chest compressions were overkill, but we were both concerned because of the choleostasis, so I didn't mind.  We both rubbed her back and chest and she started to cry.

We moved to the couch, and I nursed her.  

That should be the end of the birth story, but then started the epic saga of delivering the placenta.  It took two freakin' hours! After this awesome labor and birth, the placenta would.not.leave.  My mom brought the kids back to the house, and she and my midwife took turns holding the baby and helping me.

That's when I started complaining.  I kept saying "I already had the baby.  I'm done!  I don't want to do any more.  Stupid placenta!"

My midwife offered to do a shot of pitocin in the cord, but that freaked me out.  I was thinking that pitocin causes really hard, painful contractions when used for induction, and I just couldn't do any more.  The cramping I was already experiencing was worse than labor, because it didn't let up.  Constant cramping is way harder than contractions that ebb and flow and you know each one will end.  Plus I was tired and just wanted to be done and enjoy my baby.

After moving from the couch to the floor to the bathroom, doing a whole lot of whining and even crying on my mom's shoulder, I finally said yes to the pitocin shot in the cord.  It didn't cause anything any worse than what I was already feeling and after 10 minutes or less, the placenta finally came.  I told my midwife that I was planning on keeping the placenta, but "now I hate it."  I did end up keeping it though.       

The girls loved seeing their baby sister, but they hadn't liked seeing me in pain delivering the placenta.  If they had seen any part of it, I wish they would have actually seen her be born.  The only got to see peaceful, meditative laboring mom a little and never got to see powerful, pushing out a baby mom.  Mostly just whiny, in pain, miserable and feeling done mom.  

Baby and I settled in on the couch, while my mom and my midwife cleaned up.  Everyone left before midnight and then D finally made it home.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How to Parent a Three Year Old

Advise for myself, mostly. 

Here's a few things I've learned about parenting 3 year olds, as I have one for the third time.

Three year olds scream.  They also reinvent reality. 

I tell the other kids "Don't argue with a three year old."  You'll never win.

I keep telling myself "she's three and that's what three year olds do."  Which is true.  It's also really important for me to remember that it's not personal.  So I just let it go most of the time.

Until I didn't.  Over the last few months, the occasional suggestion of a more polite way to phase something became a frequent suggestion, then a correction, then a barked order.  "Don't scream at me!" 

So much for modeling.

This too shall pass:  Three is a trying age for me.  I think because it's a transition between babyhood, and really getting to know their personalities and preferences as they change and grow.  I was reading an old journal the other day and ran across an entry about L when she was 3.  L is usually the most easy going kid, but three was tough with her too.

It's been a challenge for me with all three kids so far, but one thing that makes it easier is remembering that it will end.  Whatever stage they are in, at whatever age they are, can't last forever.

It's not her, it's me: She's doing what 3 year olds do.  Your kid is doing what kids that age do.  They are doing it because they don't know a better way to handle their emotions.

And sometimes neither do I.  Sometimes neither do you.

Which is why we are screaming back at them or avoiding them or tuning them out.  At least, that's why I do it.  I don't want to handle the emotions that crop up when I connect.  Being needed and the feeling of responsibility that comes with that.  The guilt when unconditional love is being poured out on me, even though I just screwed up royally 20 minutes ago.  Wanting to crawl out of my skin, because everyone is touching me and talking to me.  Overwhelmed.  Tired.  Scared that if I try to connect I'll screw it up, so I don't try.

Identify the need behind the feeling and meet it:  For me, one need is to be alone to process all the other needs and feelings.  Maybe for you it's getting a shower or getting outside or reading your book or talking with adults or counseling.

Some people champion getting those needs met no matter the cost.  "It's ok to leave him crying with a baby sitter for a few hours.  You NEED this.  You'll be a better parent when you come back."

Some people champion never trying to meet that need away from your kids.  "My child was never away from me until he was 12.  I just found ways to (insert need getting met) while he was with me."

Get your needs met.  I truly am a better parent when I get to be alone for a little while.

However, I don't do it at the cost of my kids needs not getting met.  I don't have to leave for hours.  I can catch 20 minutes while they are happy playing together or watching a show.  If I'm practicing awareness, I can notice those moments while I'm doing dishes or folding clothes when they aren't in the room.  And I can breath.

Sometimes I do leave for hours, but I'm fortunate that my kids are usually happy with D or their grandma.  That wasn't always the case, and sometimes I left anyway and I regret it.  Other times I didn't have anyone to watch them, and I got my alone time while they were sleeping or busy.

Get creative and find ways that work for everyone to meet their needs and yours.

Connect:  Surprise, surprise, when I connect with Z, the screaming, the "NO!", the neediness, all lessens.  Poor baby is going through a lot right now.  I was pregnant and having some health issues and solo parenting, and I didn't have the energy to do as much with her.  Now she has a new baby sister.  Her dad has been out of state for work since April, and she misses him so much.

She doesn't have all the words to express how sad and angry she is about all of that.

When people know better, they do better.  But even more than that, when people feel better they do better.

I said three is a time of transition.  That transition seems to last until about age five.  My goal is to smooth that transition.  To make it easier and more peaceful for her.  She's just barely starting to figure out who she is, what she likes, and how to relate to other people.  I want to explore that with her, and learn more about her and how to relate to her.

Take a minute to celebrate how far you've come:  I can really beat myself up sometimes over my parenting.  So I took a minute this morning to think about when E was 3.  I was struggling not to spank.  I was literally digging my nails into my hands or holding my own hands behind my back to stop myself from hitting sometimes.  And I didn't always succeed in resisting the impulse.

That's not a struggle any more.  It took years of personal work, but I've come a long, long ways.

Maybe you're years into this gentle parenting journey and need to look back and celebrate how far you've come.

Maybe you're just starting out and feel like there's nothing to celebrate yet.  Did you do better today than yesterday?  Did you do better this afternoon than this morning?  Celebrate it!

Or choose now, right this moment, to do better.  Whatever your child is doing, right now, think of two ways to respond to it and choose the better one.       

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reading and Relevance

I had a dream about unschooling last night.  Well, it wasn't so much a dream, with pictures or things happening, as it was my mind processing some thoughts.

Something that comes up frequently in unschooling discussions is the idea that with natural learning, people will learn what they need to know when they need to know it That things will click in their minds when those things are relevant to their lives. 

This is a really basic unschooling concept that I've believed for a long time.  I've seen many examples of it, not only with my unschooled kids, but also with schooled kids and adults.  You can tell someone something a hundred times, but it's not going to mean a thing to them until it needs to mean something to them.  Sure, we all pick up random facts (that's how we make connections later when they have relevance to our lives) and people can master rote memorization, but truly involved, enthusiastic learning happens when we have a personal, intrinsic need to know the information or how to do the skill.

So, my dream last night was about that, but more specifically about how it applies to E.  This year of unschooling was trying for me.  I wrote about Freaking Out and how my confidence returned after that.  But it wasn't the same level of confidence as I've had in the past.

Mostly because she's still not reading fluently.  She's reading better than she was a year ago.  She sounds out words when she writes notes to people or makes lists.  She writes in her diary.  She tells me words she sees on street signs.  Sometimes, she sees a word and makes a comment indicating she has read it, even though she didn't even realize she was reading!  And occasionally, she reads books.  She slowly and painfully makes her way through one word at a time, until she's read a page or two.

So she can do it, but it's slow, occasional, sporadic, frustrating, and never in front of anyone outside our family.

In my dream, I put two and two together.

She's not reading fluently or frequently yet, because it's not relevant to her yet.

And there are a TON of other things that ARE relevant to her.  Every moment I spend concerned about her reading ability, I am missing out on sharing those things with her instead.

It's the school system that says reading "should" be relevant to her at this age, and that survival skills (her latest interest) "should" be relevant to her at age.... well.... actually that never comes up in a public school curriculum.   

The other part of my dream was my mind reminding me that I always have choices.

I could put her in school, and she could be shamed and teased, or tested and found to be a failure or have some sort of problem, because of her reading ability.  And maybe she'd start reading better.... or not.   

I could go buy a curriculum and have her sit down every day and try to read through tears of frustration.   And maybe she'd start reading better.... or not.

Those are legitimate options that many parents choose to make.

They are not ones I can seriously consider.

Every moment that she spent in school or crying over a reading lesson at home, would be time she could be spending learning survival skills that would never even be touched on in school.  She'd be missing out on bonding with her grandpa over emergency bags, and learning money management while comparing pocket knife prices with me on Amazon.  She'd be missing out on learning real skills that could save her life.

She'd even be missing out on writing lists of survival gear which she did last week.
E with her BoB and camping knife/fork/spoon

Yep, tears over reading lessons could cause her to not have the time or desire to spend actually writing and reading for reasons that are truly, intrinsically her own.  How ironic.

Update:  I wrote this several days ago, but hadn't posted it yet, and right after that, we got E and L a phone.  They started using their dad's old phone, which is a better phone than my bottom-of-the-line flip phone.  That doesn't bother me one bit, because I had a feeling they'd want to text, and that is much easier with a keyboard.  Sure enough, reading and writing have much more relevance to her on a daily basis for the last few days.