Our journey into unschooling developed quite organically. It was never the intended destination and as we marched towards it, I didn’t even recognise where we were headed. Once we found ourselves here, there were times where fear set in. Will my children be ok? Is this enough? Am I letting them ‘fall behind’? Here I was, viewing my children as my greatest responsibility, and my heart was telling me to nurture them in a way that some view as irresponsible. Not sending them to school?! Not following a curriculum?! It was a contradiction I struggled with. What if I was wrong?
Letting go of this fear has been a process for me. And even though my concerns around natural learning are in the rear-view mirror, my children continue to show me not to be afraid.
‘Your kids have so much energy!’ she said. ‘My kids need breaks all the time, but yours just keep going.’
My beautiful friend this past weekend was watching as my kids played and played. Endless energy and enthusiasm for anything and everything.
It made me smile. She was right. They were having so much fun and they hadn’t stopped since the sun peeked through the clouds and probably wouldn’t stop until it dipped below the horizon. But I know my children and they also need that balance. Her comment saw me lost in thought for a while. Why did it look different? There was no grasping for moments of rest. And there often isn’t. Until there is.
It’s the natural rhythm. The equilibrium of high and low energy that every child can find when given space. The words have never been said out loud, but our children know that the option for rest is always there. They live in the moment. When their friends are there, they play for hours and hours and hours which my friend was observing. It is true of learning, too. When their mind is consumed by a new interest, there isn’t room for anything else. They are obsessive. They focus. They take it all in. They question. They read. They discover. The burst of energy could last minutes or hours or days. And when that opportunity or desire passes they take the time they need to recover. They stop. They rest. Just like the upper, this downer, the recovery, could last minutes or hours or days.
I was at the mall. As I wandered through the food court looking for somewhere to sit, I saw a man and a woman at a table next to me. I’m not sure what happened in the lead up to this moment, but he leaned in and sneered, ‘you are so ungrateful.’ The woman looked embarrassed and upset. He snatched the drink out of her hand and took a sip. She was on the verge of tears. ‘Don’t cry. That’s it we’re leaving.’ He quickly grabbed their things, grabbed her arm and dragged her toward the exit. She was asking him to stop and looked distressed. It was awful to watch.
What would your reaction have been?
We have been having a lot of conversations about sex around here lately. Lots of questions. Lots of time for contemplation. Then lots of questions again. Kind of like any topic really.
I know a lot of people didn’t grow up in sex positive households. Because of this, I know a lot of parents view sex as a very private thing that is uncomfortable to talk about. I always felt free to talk to my parents about sex, but I know my husband jokes that ‘the talk’ with his parents was the anonymous placement of ‘Where Did I Come From’ on the end of his bed when he was…fifteen.
We haven’t really had ‘the talk’ either. That would be kind of strange. It implies it is a one off chat. And then what? You never speak of it again? Sex is a conversation constantly evolving, pausing mid sentence while information is taken in, picked up again days or weeks or months later. We have answered a lot of questions over the years about lots of things to do with the body and that has come together to form a more coherent picture over time.
How this develops for each family is going to be different so rather than retelling our story, which could never be a blueprint for anyone else, I want to focus on some of the key messages and elements I think are really important. Continue reading
I thought it might be time for another unschooling on Tuesday post.
I stopped writing these for a while for a few reasons. Firstly, it is impossible to capture everything that happens in a day. This has really been highlighted for me recently. All of my kids have had a few moments in recent weeks where they tell me about something (bees, mythical creatures, maths, architecture have been a few) and I think, I am with you all day and I have absolutely no idea where you learnt that! They are surrounded by books, the internet, movies, friends, life. Learning comes from so many different places and no matter how involved you are or how closely you feel like you are watching, it often doesn’t involve you. And, as I have learnt, sometimes the learning is instigated, researched, absorbed and then life goes on without you even noticing.
Secondly, it is hard not to make these posts sound too contrived. I’m not trying to make my kids out to be some kind of prodigies or try and make everything they do have some higher learning purpose. This isn’t the motivation. I can see how for someone who isn’t living this life, it might seem implausible for a child to suddenly really want to learn how to write in cursive, or learn about multiplying fractions or delve into the finer details of evolution. But on the other hand, this may very well be what kids get up to when everyone else gets out of the way of their learning. So even when I talk about my kids doing something quite ‘academic’, it isn’t because I care at all about the comparison, it just is what it is. Their questions and curiosity in that particular moment.
So here we are. I do think these kinds of posts are useful for people who are wondering what unschooling might look like. Or if you are like me and you take on some voyeuristic persona when it comes to reading about what other families living this wonderful life are doing, you will probably enjoy it too! I love hearing about and reading about how other families are spending their days.
We were thinking about catching up with friends today, but there wasn’t consensus amongst the ranks about what we should do, so we decided to stay close to home. I thought it might be a good day to record what we got up to.
I thought about tip-toeing around this issue, leaving gender out of it, because I guess this applies to #allchildren, but then I thought screw it. We can’t address an issue if we pretend it isn’t there. Males hold an overwhelmingly disproportionate slice of the perpetrator pie for domestic violence and sexual assault. This is a gender issue. And at the heart of it, I want to raise boys and men who respect females.
I am a feminist and I take the concepts of enthusiastic consent and respect very seriously. I am also the mother of two sons who are going to venture out into this world and a daughter who is going to encounter a whole lot of men out there.
For those of you scratching your head about enthusiastic consent, this is a great article. Basically, enthusiastic consent means ensuring that there is positive, mutual engagement in an activity and frequently checking in for any signs that this enthusiasm has been withdrawn. Simple, right?
A couple of things have happened lately. Those kind of awkward goings on in public. When you parent respectfully, and your children are used to having a voice and expressing emotion and being heard, you can find yourself in situations where you stand out. Sometimes, it can feel hard to stay true to your values. The thing is, that a lot of these pressures come from situations that are fabricated in our minds. Maybe you think you caught a disapproving stare. Maybe you are being triggered by a situation because you were taught that certain normal responses were inappropriate as a child. Maybe you are reading too much into a passing comment. When we sense this judgement, what we are actually sensing is our own discomfort. It is internal work, not changing our approach, that needs to be done.
If you are an unschooler, you will be nodding your head (or rolling your eyes) here. We have all had this question, and somewhere along the deschooling journey, we have all thought or worried about this too. Will this be enough? In fact, as I read through forums and other blogs and interact with other home educators, it is the one area that I notice people have a reluctance to part with formal learning. ‘We unschool except for maths.’ ‘We do our own thing with a bit of maths each day.’
And to be honest, while I don’t agree with these concerns, I understand where they come from. Adults who have been through a traditional education system are conditioned to view maths education in a linear way that culminates in very abstract concepts you are unlikely to encounter naturally. It has left many of us feeling like this fountain of mathematical knowledge will only be bestowed upon the holder of textbooks and memoriser of principles.
The further down this road my family travels and the more studies I devour, the more confused I get. It is so perplexing to me that people still see unschooling and respectful parenting as a bizarre fringe movement. Unattainable for some? Sure. Physically impossible for others? Ok. Without merit? Now I disagree. How did we get to the point where treating children with respect and empowering them to make choices about themselves defines me as a change-maker? When did nurturing a love of learning become an illegitimate pedagogy?
I’ve sat on this for a while. Rewritten it. Thought about what it is that I really want to share. I guess it boils down to this growing unease inside me. Simmering frustration. I want you to see that this is not just some mommy-blogger with her wack ideas about child led learning and mutual respect. There is so much out there, and it would be impossible to include everything, but this post is heavily hyperlinked to examples of the books, articles and studies I have found useful.
We live in a world with access to extraordinary minds, an incredible amount of research and an ever growing understanding about the human psyche. Over time we have begun to piece together the optimum way that humans learn and the ideal conditions for emotional development.
Being in touch and able to lean in to emotion is a hallmark trait of emotional wellbeing, resilience and healthy relationships. Basically, all the good things we want for our kids. Yet, so many children are not allowed to feel negative emotions. ‘Don’t cry’, ‘don’t be sad’, ‘why are you upset over that?’, ‘calm down or we are going home’, ‘don’t get angry at your sister’, ‘if you cry over tv, I’m turning it off!’ When children get the message that they are not allowed to feel something, or when they attach shame or distress to those feelings, those emotions get suppressed. These emotions don’t go away, and living in the subconscious, they have the potential to lead to a whole range of emotional disruption.