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."


Monday, October 13, 2014

Playing Piano

I showed Z how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and a few days later I walked in the room and she was playing it.  I grabbed the camera and asked her to do it again.

Fabric Crafts

The girls spent several days making arm warmers, wrist warmers, finger warmers, and collages with scraps of fabric.  They mostly did it with a hot glue gun, though there was also some sewing. They learned how to put a strip of elastic in a seam and did some measuring.  
Friend's face blocked out since I don't know if her parents are ok with her photo being on a public blog.


We made a sundial yesterday.  It's just a piece of plywood with a nail in it.  Each hour we went out and marked where the shadow landed. 

Celebrating Sukkot

This was taken the first night of Sukkot or the Feast of Booths. 
We moved a few months ago, and the lady who lived here before us left the enclosed porch a disgusting mess.  It took me three and a half hours to clean it up, even with my mom here to hold the baby and keep the other kids occupied.  But I got it done just in time for Sukkot!  Now the enclosed porch is serving as a Sukkah.


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?

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.



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Drive to Collect Donations to Help Animals

E has been working on a doing a drive to raise money for the local animal shelter and a horse rescue.  She wanted to do something to help animals, so we called the animal shelter to see if she could volunteer, but they said she was too young.  So we googled for ideas of ways kids can help animals, and came across the idea to do a drive to collect donations.

She called the animal shelter and horse rescue and asked what they need.  Then she presented her idea to 4H and asked them to make it a committee. Then she did a presentation for the Humane Society and asked them to help.  She wrote a letter to businesses to ask them if she can put collection boxes in their locations, went to their locations, talked to the owners/managers, told them her idea, and got permission to put the boxes in 3 businesses.  Another business owner heard about it and offered to let her put one there, and of course there will be one at our county 4H office.

Yesterday, we went shopping for all the box decorating supplies and the kids on the committee, including L, met to decorate the boxes.  E typed up the lists of what the animal shelter and horse rescue said they need, I formatted it, and we posted them on the boxes. 

Not sure if the other kid's mom is ok with her picture being on a public blog, thus the editing.

Today we went down to the newspaper office, and she told one of the reporters all about the project, so we're hoping it will be in the paper next week.  The boxes will be up for the whole month of April, because it is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.  So I'll post an update after that with a tally of what gets collected! 

We also went down to the animal shelter today, so the girls could see the animals they are collecting donations for.  Those poor dogs will probably be really glad to get some new blankets and beds!  Other than that, they look like they are cared for well, and we were glad to hear that even though they are not a no-kill shelter, they do work with various rescues to try to either adopt out or transfer the animals before even considering putting them down.  The girls REALLY wanted to take home one of the adorable kittens they had.

She has learned so much from doing this:

Public speaking/presenting skills
Cold calling skills
Making a plan and implementing it
Typing and writing (spelling, reading)
How shelters/rescues work
Working with others
Finding a way to make something happen when the first idea doesn't work out

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Playing with Numbers

L randomly tells me, usually a few times per day, some math fact she's figured out for the fun of it.

The other day, she told me "2+2+2 is 6," and she's been doing that kind of multiplication for a while.  But then she told me how she came to that conclusion.  She said, "Because 3 plus 3 is 6, so you take 2 out of one 3, 2 out of the other 3, and that leaves 1 and 1 which is 2.  So you have three 2s and that makes 6."

Well, yes, that most certainly works!  And that's a far more abstract way of figuring it out than just counting on your fingers!

She's not always so open about what her process is.  She likes to figure things out, like if there are 12 ice creams how many does each kid get, but she doesn't usually like to show how she's doing it.  She will count in her head and discretely use her fingers, and I sometimes have to resist the urge to help her because I'm not sure if she's really figuring it out... but then she comes up with the answer!  

Banning Technology

I've seen a few things going around lately about banning technology from kids, for all kinds of fearful, hyped up reasons. I just wanted to share a few of the neat things technology has allowed in our lives lately. Last night, my kids got to play a video game with their uncle who lives 2 states away. They do this every few weeks, and it's really neat, because they probably wouldn't know him otherwise. Just talking on the phone can be awkward between a single guy and little kids, but having the video game to connect over meant at least an hour of conversation.
Also, my mom and my aunt are on a trip through Italy right now. The kids and I are able to "follow" them with google earth. Starting from the San Fransisco airport, tracking their path to Germany and then Italy, seeing the B&B where they are staying, the art museum the visited, the walk they went on, etc. has all been really neat. Plus when my kids ask a question I don't know the answer to, I'm able to pull up pictures, videos and answers in 2 minutes flat.
L loves coloring in pictures on an app on the phone and then being able to play it back, so I can see the process she used. We can play board games on free apps without the expense of buying them or the mess of cleaning them up. They can stay connected with family by writing emails back and forth. All of my kids have favorite tv shows and video games that bring laughter, questions, conversations, and a way to unwind into our home.
Could we survive without technology? Well, based on the fact that E played outside with friends for, literally, at least 8 hours today and L and Z did the same for at least 4... yes, I think we'd manage. But I can't imagine why would I want to take away these amazing modern resources for learning, connecting with people, and entertainment.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Take that, Bill Nye

Something that happened at our home school group today made me think of Bill Nye's recent comment to a home schooling mom who asked him to create a science curriculum.

He responded:
"Use your judgment. The rest of us out here, want your kids to appreciate society and the importance of working together in school and in life. A person working alone will probably not build the future 797 airplane, for example. It takes people who can work with and around people. Carry on."

Today we had 13 kids playing outside together while us moms sat inside and talked and watched out the window.  The kids ranged from 2 to 13 years old.  They spent over an hour taking Interlocking Foam Floor Mats and building boxes and things to play in.  Then they worked together to use all the mats to create a  maze that they could crawl through, and organized games and races through the maze.  All cooperatively, with no arguing, with no parental input, big kids helping the little kids, and since this is a newly formed group, most of them haven't even known each other that long.

Mr. Nye, I happen to think that in 15 years or so, this group would have no problem building a 797 airplane.  Your arrogance and ignorance are astounding.   

Unfortunately, you're not alone.  We had to leave our home school group early so we could get to one of the kids' doctor's appointments, at which the doctor wanted to make sure my 3 year old was getting enough play with other kids since she doesn't attend preschool.  Does anyone see the irony there? 

Reading, Freak Outs and Playing with Words

Around the time that E turned 8, I experienced this weird dip in my confidence about how we are doing things.  Having been applying unschooling principles since she was 2, I've seen such a huge amount of natural learning and proof of how well unschooling works in those 6 years.  So, normally, the occasional, mild bit of nervousness just because this is my oldest child and it's all new, is easily relieved by seeing how much they are learning, comparing where they are this year to last year, seeing how much they enjoy learning, and knowing that I provide a life rich with experiences and resources.  However, something about her turning 8 and still not reading really well, sent me on a downward spiral.

I mostly kept it to myself, but I had the occasional moment of pushing, "You can read that," when she asked me to read something to her, or "Just try to sound it out one more time," after she had tried and was clearly frustrated.

Then in January I had a freak out about her not knowing how to spell her last name.  Her first name is 8 letters and she could spell it and write it at 4 years old.  Her last name is 8 letters, but for some reason she was stuck in learning how to spell it.

I have to admit that the worst part is that it's not that I believe that it really matters in the long run for *her* if she learns to write it at 8 or at 12. It's that I was afraid that if we end up in some social situation where she is expected to spell it, I will look like the neglectful, failing idiot who hasn't taught her kid how to do something so basic.  In my experience, the worst parenting mistakes are made when we stop looking at our kids and their needs, and start worrying more about what other people think.

So I freaked out and I apologized.  She said she was feeling frustrated by it too and that she wanted to learn it, but that it was hard.  So I asked if she wanted to find a way to make it fun and she did. I didn't think it would really click with this one fun thing and I reminded myself that was ok and that I *would not* push.  But suddenly it just clicked and now she can spell her last name!  We did a cheer leading thing where she spelled out her last name by making each letter with her body.

She wrote it about a dozen times a few days later, both just for fun and because she made some cards to give to the neighbors that say "Her Name, Pet Sitting, Phone Number." 

After that, I made sure I gave her lots of space regarding reading.  I went back to what I've always done- read things for her, anything she asks me to, suggest that she try occasionally, but not push at all if she doesn't want to, fill her life with words and print, but not make them the be all-end all of learning.

And she went back to doing what she does.  Days of no attempts at reading or writing, then a day of reading a few pages or writing a whole list.  Days of not wanting me to read anything to her and then a day of having me read her a half a dozen books (though mostly she's been far less interested in books this last year or so, then in years past).  Days where she can't remember how to read words she's read a dozen times, and then suddenly reads a word she's never seen before.

Then a few days ago, we were watching L play a computer game and E pointed to a button L was about to click on and said, "That says 'See More.'"  I asked her how she knew that and if she had sounded it out.  She said no, she just knew.  Then she asked me to write down more words for her to figure out.

Since she had just read "see," I wrote down "bee, tree, free," and since she had just read "more," I wrote down "sore, tore, pore, more, fore, lore."  She read them all easily.

Then she wanted to sound out a word to write down herself, and this is where it has gotten tricky in the past.  She always seems to pick words that don't follow phonetic rules.  Then she tries to sound them out, and I gently, regretfully, tell her this is one of English's dumb words that doesn't make any sense, she gets frustrated and gives up.

So, this time she picked "Lloyd."  Yes, really.  Of all the words to try to sound out.  She gave it a valiant effort, but didn't even come remotely close (and seriously, who would know that if you don't know that?!).  But when I told her it was another weird word in our language, she didn't mind one bit this time!

Next she tried "pet."  Much easier!  Though it still took a few tries, because she was pronouncing it "pep."  But after I distinctly sounded out each letter for her, she got it.

Which leads into what I believe to be her biggest reading challenge.  She seems to have a hard time grasping the concept of phonetics and especially blending sounds.  She has an easier time memorizing whole words, which I've read is more of a right-brained way of learning to read.

I've seen other unschooling moms describe this as their child "collecting words," which is what she seems to be doing.  It takes these kids longer to learn, because they need to be exposed to enough words over enough years to memorize or "collect" enough to read a book.  But once they get to that point, they excel.  Of course, they eventually pick up some phonics in the process, but they will mostly be sight-readers their whole lives.

However she eventually masters it, the way she was playing with words the other night solidified for me once again why we are doing things the way we are doing them.  We spent a long time sounding out words, working together and playing with words, and she was having fun the whole time.

It would be so, SO easy to ruin her love of learning by pushing her to read.  There is no guarantee that any method we used would have her reading any earlier than she is, but I can just about guarantee that the stress, tears, and frustration caused by pushing, cajoling, or bribing would leave her hating reading all together.

Instead, she has the freedom to pick it up and set it down.  Play with words when it suits her, and then let them lie while her mind mulls over other things.  Connect the dots in her own way and add to her word collection at her own pace. 

Freak out over.  Confidence returned.