Saturday, December 24, 2016

Conversation on Cleaning

Sometimes other moms ask me how we manage if we don't make the kids do chores. "Do they ever clean? Aren't you afraid they will grow up not knowing how? Isn't it bad for them to have someone just do everything for them?"

This evening, D asked the girls to help clean up.

Z: "I don't have to because you aren't grounding parents! You won't ground me!" 
Me: *called her in from the other room where I was working*
"Z, do you know what will happen if you don't help clean?"
Z looks at me funny: "No"
Me: "Nothing. You're right, we don't ground."
Z smiles.
Me: "BUT, it is frustrating for me and daddy sometimes, if we are cleaning up everything with no help."
Z: "But I don't want to help."
Me: "Daddy and I do a lot of the cleaning for you guys, because we love you and want you to have a clean, safe place to live....."
Z: "But what if a parent makes a mess?"
Me: "Then a parent cleans it up. And sometimes, as you get older, we need you to help clean up too, because you're part of the family and it's a family job."
Z: "I can't do a lot."
Me: "That's ok, you're still little. So you can do a little. And L can do a bit more. And E can do even more than that."
Z: "A can't do anything! She's a baby!"
Me: "Right, so we can help her until she is bigger and can do more."
Z: "I'm big! I can help a LOT!"
Me: "Awesome, thank you!"
Z: "I can do way more than A! I can lift really heavy things! I'm super strong! See my muscles?"
Me: "Those are huge muscles!"
Z: "So I can help a lot!"
Me: "Awesome! Why don't you go see what daddy needs you to do?"
Z: "Ok!"

And D asked her to pick up a few thing and she did.

This is a rare exchange. Often we just clean for them as a gift. Often if I'm doing deeper cleaning, the little ones ask to help (because rags and cleaner is WAY more fun than picking up!)
Sometimes I enlist help as a family affair before we go do a fun family thing, "Let's all work together to get this straightened up before we head to the park. E please do this, L please do that, Z please do the other!"
Sometimes it's just a quick, "Hey since you're headed to the bathroom will you take this hair brush with you?"
There is a lot of distance between being cleaning everything while the kids are in school, so they think it magically gets done by the cleaning fairy without ever seeing how.....

...and having chores and punishments and bribes.

Inside that distance is relationships, kindness, generosity, polite requests. taking no for an answer, and letting them help. expressing honest feelings and needs, and encouraging a natural desire to be part of something bigger and to feel needed.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Journaling for Record Keeping and Deschooling

In the state where we live, we don't have to show our homeschooling records to anyone.  Still, I decided to start keeping records of what we do once the kids hit compulsory school age.  The first year, I only kept records for E, which I summarized in the post E's First Official Not School Year.  I mostly only wrote down the things that would be considered "academic" or "educational" by school standards.  Last year, I recorded these things for both E and L.  I started to write a similar post, but it was so time consuming I didn't finish.  That's all time I could be spending with my kids instead!

At first, I wanted this record keeping to serve as a Homeschooling Record for legal purposes if ever needed and also as memories.  After doing it for two years though, I expanded the purpose of doing it.  I wanted it to be a legal record, memories, reminders, and encouragement.  Also, because D is now in another city for work most of the time, this is a record of memories for him since he's missing a lot, (even though we talk every day).

I also noticed that because I was mostly writing down the things that a school would consider academic or educational, I began to have the tendency to put more importance on those things than on other activities.  I tried very hard not to let this affect the way I related to the kids, the things I suggested that we do or the things I helped them do, but it was a thing in the back of my mind all the time.  I didn't like that.

So this year, I'm doing things a bit differently.  This is my system:

I have a spiral bound notebook that I usually keep in the kitchen (up high enough that a certain 3 year old doesn't swipe it.  Low enough that I see it when I pop into the kitchen throughout the day).  

-I write down things that all the kids do, school age or not.

-I write down all types of things without trying to put them in school categories or "educationese."  I can always comb through and do that later if this were ever actually needed as a legal school record.  It probably won't be however, and writing down all sorts of things helps keep myself in the mindset that we are always learning, not only when it can be qualified and quantified in schoolish ways.
-I'm not putting dates, though I might go back and put a note of each month and separate it by months from now on, just to make it easier to find things.  

-I abbreviate and I'm concise, usually just putting just enough to jog my memory, not long paragraphs or stories.  I make a note if I've put a longer story on my blog or a message board or facebook.

- There are some things that they do daily that I don't write down every day.  I make a note in the margins like, "Daily- play with neighborhood kids, ride bikes/scooters/ripstick," or "Daily- help with baby A without being asked- like to dress her, change her diaper, carry her, bathe her, play with her."

Even if you don't need to keep records for your state, this is a great help for deschooling.  Everything I write down makes me even more aware of all the things I'm not writing down.  Writing down "played Littlest Pet Shop" doesn't do any justice to 2 hours spent cooperating with each other, organizing and grouping items, massive amounts of imagination used for pretending, learning from each other, relating their current pretend game to other concepts and incorporating those ideas, and on and on.  I can't possibly record it all or quantify it all or even be aware of everything going on in their heads that I can't see.

I highly recommend doing it for a month or a week or even a day and seeing just how much learning you can observe when you're paying attention.  At the end of a day, you might think back and not be able to remember much that was particularly exciting, but when you write it down, it's suddenly much more obvious that learning was happening all the time.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Will Unschooled Kids Ever Choose to Do Anything Unpleasant?

People wonder if unschooled kids would ever choose to do something unpleasant, that they don't particularly want to do, but that needs to be done.  I have a story from a few days ago that might be encouraging to anyone wondering this.

E is 8 (9 in December) and she's had a few pet sitting jobs in the past.  She had one all of last week taking care of a chicken and two cats.  The cats pooped on the couch, and we saw it this morning.  She was grossed out and gagging, but without hesitation asked me to help her find something to clean it up.  She cleaned it up thoroughly.  I don't think it crossed her mind to do otherwise, because she is very happy to have the job and to be known as being responsible enough to get these jobs. 

She also offered to give L some of the money she earned, because her sister was her "assistant."  And when I was talking to the woman at the music academy (not really an academy, just a program for kids to learn to play instruments put on by the local symphony) about a payment plan for the one time registration fee for the violin classes the girls asked for, E offered to use some of her pet sitting money to pay for it.   

This is the result of her never having had any chores (though she often willingly helps out), and of her having a dog who I usually clean up after without complaint.  The result of giving her spending money with no strings attached.  Also the result of being willing to get all the kids (four of them) dressed and out the door twice a day for the last week to drive her to this job, joyfully, often singing as we go.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"I don't sing."

Today, E and L had auditions for a local musical theater production.  This is E's 4th year and L's 2nd year doing this show, which is several songs from a variety of different Broadway shows each year. 

For the auditions, the kids can sing something as simple as "Happy Birthday" or any song of their own choosing.  If they want a solo part, they are encouraged to audition with the song they want to sing solo in the show.

So E choose Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better from Annie Get Your Gun which is one of the songs they are doing in the show this year, and will somehow be modifying it for multiple kids solos.  It has a male and female part, so I said I'd do the male part with her for the audition. 

I have not sang in front of an audience since I was about 10 years old and would occasionally sing at church.  I don't consider myself a singer.  I do sing to the kids, but my voice makes my babies cry.  It must be something they get used to with time, since my kids can tolerate it as they get older and even ask me to sing with/to them.  Still, I was more than happy to put myself out there in front of a few judges to help E out.  Plus, I've been having a lot of fun practicing it with her.

After we did her song, one of the judges exclaimed that I should audition too!  The first words out of my mouth were, "Oh, no, I don't sing!"

I was just thinking the other day about how I am usually up for learning anything new and I hope that is a trait I pass on to my kids.  They just started violin lessons, and without making a conscious decision that I was going to learn too, I found myself practicing the warm up they learned in class, and looking up how to play an easy song online. 

My struggle with becoming an expert at anything has never been feeling incapable of learning a skill, but rather that I feel confident that I could learn just about anything and therefore the possibilities are endless.  Choosing something to devote myself to takes time away from the other thousand things I could be learning. 

I often say to the kids, "I don't know how, but we can find out." 

I would most definitely do this show if I wasn't going to be helping two kids with hair, makeup and costumes, and if I had more childcare available for Z and A.  It would be fun!  I did drama in high school and loved it, especially improv, even though I'm not particularly spontaneous or funny.  My bits may not have been the most entertaining for the audience, but I had fun!  This show is more singing and dancing than acting, but *I know I'd learn something new* and have fun doing it, thus the appeal. 

So why say "I don't sing," and shut down the director's compliment?  Well, because in our society, that's what you do.  I see it all the time- people are afraid to be proud of the things at which they excel, and even more hesitant to give consideration to the possibility that they just might be capable of doing something they've never done before.  I don't really believe that "I don't (or can't or can't learn to) sing," but that's what one says to be politely self-depreciating.   

I realized that if I hope to pass this trait on to my kids, I can't respond that way.  I could have just said, "Thank you!" or "Maybe some day I will," or "Not this year, but that would be fun!" 

When I'm gone, I want my children to say, "She never said 'I don't know how,' but said 'I haven't learned how yet." 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Peas and Anger

I'm going to write about food, but this is not really about food, so bear with me.

If we're at a formal dinner with people we barely know, we wouldn't mention if we didn't like the food.

If we're at a more casual dinner with acquaintances, we still probably wouldn't mention it, but if the hostess noticed we weren't eating the pork, we'd tell her why.

If we're at dinner with good friends, we might gently mention that it was a little heavy on the salt.  We'd talk about favorite cookbooks and recipes, and how we feel so much better with a daily smoothie.  One of us would discover that the other really dislikes tomatoes, and she'd file that information away in her mind and try to never serve tomatoes to that friend again, out of love.

If we're at a dinner with very close friends or family, we'd already know who doesn't eat spinach and who absolutely loves green beans.  My mom is very good at this.  When my parents and my sister and her husband and six kids and me and my husband and four kids all get together, my mom is the one who can come up with a meal plan.  She takes into account the kid who doesn't like mayo, the one who won't eat tomatoes and the one who hardly eats anything at all.  She reads ingredient labels for the ones with sensitivities.  She thinks up meals where everyone can pick and choose their own ingredients or she comes up with an alternative for the odd person out.  She remembers so many family member's preferences, it blows me away. 

Why can't we do the same with emotions, love languages, and the way we speak to one another?

I've learned a lot of healthier communication skills in the last few years, but I hardly ever get a chance to practice them.  Most of the people in my life don't say anything if I have offended them.  If I know I was out of line, I'll take the initiative to go apologize, but if I don't know, I don't know.

It's like serving someone you love the same food over and over that they don't like, but they never tell you they don't like it.  You'd much rather them just tell you, then find them slipping it under the table to the dog.

Sometimes I try to tell the people in my life that I don't like what they are serving.  Sometimes I've reverted back to childhood habits of throwing it on the floor and spitting it out and stomping away from the table.  But then I apologize and go back and try again.  For some people, discussing food (emotions) is off the table.

It's much easier for my kids.  If they hurt each other, they are much quicker with an apology.  They learn from what they did.  Their relationship is closer after one has blundered and apologized and been forgiven.  They know each other better.  They can say, "I'm sad," or "I'm hurt," or "I'm angry."  I've worked really hard to make our home a safe place to say those things.

They get my best efforts in communication.  With my children, I've learned how to say "I'm sorry," without qualifiers or excuses.  I've learned how to say "I felt sad when you did that," without laying on a guilt trip.  I mess those up to sometimes, but I'm getting better. 

But with others in my life, it's more difficult, because they don't speak the language, and I'm still learning with a long way to go.

I imagine a world or at least a close circle where we could say "When you did that, I felt angry, because I need to be respected," as easily as we say, "I wasn't fond of the soup, because I don't like peas."