I’m sticking my head up from audiobook deadlines to drop you a line about an unschooling-related documentary called Self-Taught currently seeking funding via Kickstarter. There are five days to go and still a little over $2500 to get it fully funded.
I’m a believer in the Self-Taught project for several reasons but most of all because the first film by Jeremy Stuart, Class Dismissed, was very well done. It is an interesting and fair portrayal about how parents can facilitate learning in a different way for their children. That film touched on the history of the development of the education system in the United States. It speaks to the logistics of removing kids from the conventional school system and the courage required to do so. The film demonstrates the day-to-day activities of one family and their journey into the homeschooling lifestyle too.
For me, as a new unschooler for the past year, a big piece has been missing. Unschooling has been around for decades now through individual families and schools like Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts yet it’s still difficult to conceptualize outcomes. Like how do unschooled kids turn out and make their own way? Would they recommend unschooling approach to others as they look back from where they are now? And how does the self-directed approach to life and learning serve or hinder those kids who are now adults?
This new film, Self-Taught, will seek to address that idea of what happens next. I hope this project gets fully funded as I am looking forward to seeing what Jeremy Stuart produces this time. If you have any interest at all in alternatives to the conventional educational system, please consider pledging to support this project on Kickstarter today.
It can be discouraging how much a mom tends to miss out on that she would like to do or in many cases what she needs to do to fill her own bucket. Part of it is just the sacrifice of being a parent, sure, and in the great scheme of things this sacrifice is only temporary. Kids don’t need us constantly for very long.
Moms do need to recharge and rejuvenate on a regular basis to do their best work, just like everyone else. One strategy is to put boundaries around yourself for what you require, getting help from family or hired people if you can. Another strategy is to get creative about how to rejuvenate quickly with some regular activity: early morning exercise or meditation, or late night bath and reading. Those kinds of things.
Most helpful to me when I get stuck choosing to stay behind is to ask myself if my kids are still my highest value. That confirmed, then I convince myself to be patient because this precious time of being with my young kids will not last forever…though parenting is a marathon and some exhaustion is to be expected.
Oh also, could be nice to be opportunistic about the one who stays back with a parent. Great chance for one-to-one time with that one.
I’m a big advocate of cooperation. In the process of encouraging cooperation, one demonstrates many other skills too: politeness, negotiation, confidence, courage, clarity of desire. And besides, isn’t life just one big stew of opportunities that require cooperation from others in some way?
Creating a cooperative environment is a multi-pronged process. Seeing cooperation in action and practicing daily yields many benefits. It’s surprising how many other facets of personal integrity are demonstrated alongside striving to operate in a cooperative mode. Below are a few starter ideas
- I’ve laid a strong foundation for cooperation as a family and why I think it’s important. I tell the kids “I cooperate with you, and you cooperate with me” and ”you cooperate with me, and I’ll cooperate with you” quite often.
- I’m sure to not just say it when I need/want them to do something for me in the moment but also when I do something for them that they asked for help with (for example I’ll say, “I’m happy to do this for you because you so nicely did that for me”).
- I did it lightly in a sing-song voice when they were little. Now that they are older I do it more in a we-are-two-individuals-making-a-deal-that-will-be-good-for-us-both voice.
- I also do it as a 30 sec value statement periodically when we are just sitting around together. I reflect out loud: “I’m so glad our family cooperates so well. We get to do so many awesome things together, and that’s cool. I’m lucky you are my family.” To which they will invariably say something like “You’re awesome too, Mom,” which is fun.
- I do a lot of “thinking out loud” when they ask me for something (especially when they were younger), “Well, this is an inconvenient time for me to help make that happen for you but since you were able to blah, blah, blah for me earlier I can change my plans and make an effort to do this to help you now. Give me 30 minutes to wrap up here.”
- After laying this foundation is when they heard their first “no” from me about things they really wanted. I felt justified in saying, “Remember when you choose not to do blah to help me yesterday? Well, you didn’t cooperate with me, so I’m not interested in making effort to help you with this now.” Very quickly they saw why it was worth it cooperate with me. I only had to do it once maybe twice per kid. Now we talk it all out and come to terms we can all agree with and follow through on.
- When they were very young I made certain to never deal with a fit thrower. I would say, “Are you throwing a fit? Because if so, the answer is absolutely no. I don’t deal with fit-throwers.” When we were playing somewhere and they didn’t want to leave I would say, “You can cooperate with me now or I for sure won’t want to bring you back next time you want to come here.” Then I would cheer them in the moment telling them they are doing a good job settling down and how that is not easy and how I’m real proud of their effort and that I’ll be happy to blah again if they would like. Also, if they could calmly ask for more time, I would make a deal with them. I might say, “What do you still want to do?” or “How much more time do you need?” and come to an agreement. It’s fun to restate the agreement, tell them they have a deal, and “shake on it” too once they are used to the process.
- First couple times, my girl would take deep, dramatic breaths and have difficulty getting words out but she kept trying and I kept waiting and supporting. Now that never happens (she is 8). She can say what she needs to say. She can even say, “Well, I really want to blah but I can see you don’t really want to so it’s okay.” Then I can say, “We could blah at such and such a time” or “how about blah instead?”
- My boy was never so dramatic. He was (and still is) more likely to lapse into angry silence. In our house, it has been established that angry silence and dirty looks and silent treatment are also variations on fit throwing (aka immature communication that one can learn skills to improve upon and thus learn to “use their charm” with much success instead). So in the case of quiet/introverted fit throwing, I still approach with “are you throwing a fit?”
- For my son, I try to coax him out of it the same way, “Calm yourself and say what you need to say. I’m listening.” He might say, “You will be mad about what I say” then I say, “Give it to me straight anyway, talk with a kind tone and phrase it as nicely as you can while still giving it to me straight and I’ll do my best to keep my cool.” Another thing he might say is “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” To which I say, “Thanks for letting me know. When you are ready, I’ll listen.” These days, he’s often able to say, “It’s okay, mom. I was mad a second, but I’m getting over it.” To which I say, “Great job!” without asking for further detail because that’s his way of saying “I was mad, but I realize now that it really is no big deal.”
- I talk to both my kids a lot about how important it is to keep their cool and I hold myself to that standard. When I do loose my cool, I apologize as soon as I can do it sincerely. I also “think out loud” about how it is difficult sometimes. “Ugh, I’m just so frustrated this or that person was rude. Guess they were having a bad day. I’m glad it’s not contagious! I don’t have to be upset too.”
- As a parent, identify areas of no compromise. For example, one no compromise area for us is about safety gear on bikes and scooters because my son is a daredevil. All I have to say is, “That’s a safety issue.” Then off the kid goes to get his helmet.
- Another example might be about attending church. If going to church is a family value that you need to be upheld, then you tell your child, “You can go with a good attitude, or you can go with a bad attitude, but you’re going. This is an issue of such importance to me because blah, blah, blah. I appreciate it if you choose to go with a good attitude.” If you need him to go whether he wants to or not, then you are asking for cooperation from him to have a good attitude.
Other personal values are easily demonstrated and practiced alongside focusing on cooperation so intensely. Things such as honesty and the importance of keeping your word and how trust builds from that and the benefits that come from being trusted.
- For example, a kid says he wants to go to the movie with the family when plans are being made then he wants to back out at the last minute.
- If he didn’t want to go in the first place but didn’t say so when you were planning then he is not being honest. Being honest about whether he wants to go is important for planning purposes. Does he want you to be honest with him? Then he should be honest with you. So give him an example, if you tell him you will take him somewhere that he really wanted to go but then at the last minute you decide you don’t want to, then how would he feel? Would he feel like you were honest? How would he feel?
Practicing cooperation is valuable. Kids learn to listen closely while at the same time checking in with their own wants and desires. They will be more present in their communication in general. They learn to speak up for what they want in a way that helps them be heard better and have a better chance of getting it.
Here’s a quickie for a little weekend fun. A new Goodreads friend told me about books written for the purpose of reading to your dog!
I downloaded one right away and told the kids about it. My daughter settled in on the boulder pillows to read it to her brother’s mini dachshund. Then my son joined them and listened while looking at a beginner’s drawing book. How cool is that? They all (dog included) loved it and both kids wanted a turn to read.
We are five months into our unschooling journey, and life is much improved. Dare I say superb. The freedom I feel in each day is refreshing. Our schedule has totally opened up, and we are all experiencing more free time as well as an abundance of quality time together. The learning going on with no effort at all to plan for it is just astounding. They are leading the way, and I love it.
At first, it felt like long tentacles from a ginormous black octopus were beginning to recoil away. Those tentacles threaded into cracks and crevices throughout our lives. They were dragging us down. As they receded, we discovered the ability to breath unrestrained again just like summertime. We feel the freedom and creativity of being ourselves and simply enjoying life with no deadlines or schedules except the ones we set for ourselves. We are enjoying realization of a whole new existence where we are calling the shots. It is, quite simply, liberating.
Still, at the edge of my consciousness is a somewhat annoying persistent thought about the upcoming proof of progress we must file with the school administration by August. Sometimes I catch myself imagining that black octopus is just bidding time to pounce and wrap us all up again. I know it sounds dramatic, and I know it’s just a fearful thought, one that I consciously I kick out. Many times I’ve soothed myself away from the scary idea that we’ll be challenged for trying to get away with something and then be required to justify ourselves. It seems like a ridiculous thought since previous generations have won the fight for the right to homeschool for many of us.
Lucky for us in Virginia it seems pretty easy to homeschool. The trickiest part seems to be proving educational progress annually. There are a couple of ways outlined as options to demonstrate educational growth and progress. Families can do good enough on a nationally normed standardized test of their choice (place in or above the fourth stanine) or have an evaluation letter from a qualified individual (a licensed teacher or someone with a master’s degree). If progress is not found to be good enough, the homeschooling family gets a year of probation to continue homeschooling then try again next year to prove adequate progress. If progress is still not good enough, there will be intervention and the kids will have to go back to school. I have been advised by local homeschooling gurus to “just test out” because they say it is the easiest and most objective way to jump through the required hoops. I have a problem with that because standardized testing is one reason I wanted out of the school system. Also, having done more traditional homeschool with my son in the past I know how quickly learning time turns to rote memorization and uninspired lectures while running through a checklist of what to learn so as to do well on the test…a frustrating waste of time for me and my kids to be sure.
So I have settled into the idea that we will show progress with a letter that I write reporting on the progress of each of my kids for this first year. The reason I can write the report is because I have a master’s degree and regulations do not stipulate that the evaluator cannot be the child’s parent. This seems a bit risky but I’m sure it will all work out. After all, I am with them all day every day being continually astounded by their questions and creative ways of thinking. As a supplement to the report, I am also keeping an Evernote portfolio about each kid and their interests and activities throughout the year. Those Evernote portfolios will likely become their portfolio blogs as they advance. The kids are very interested in building their own portfolios already. They love that we are collecting photos, videos, links, and audio recordings of what they are focusing on and creating. So do I. The portfolios will serve a purpose similar to a scrapbook too. The kids enjoy looking back at what they’ve done even now, and it solidifies their learning as they do so.