Self-Taught Documentary

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.

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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.

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Kids and Cooperation

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.

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Books to Read to Dogs

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.

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There are powerful people around us all the time. People who either help us create the next part of our life story in a powerfully positive way or people who help us rehash our old story. Relationships are about the potential of the next part of your story. Through your relationships you become more of who you are. Much of the juice of life comes from interactions with others too. Different teachers and mentors come into our lives through our relationships. Even as we live our lives and have our experiences, we can maintain a fundamental view of others as people with the potential to connect meaningfully with us. Through times of connection, we all learn something new about ourselves.

It’s human nature to look to others to make us feel good. One of the best feelings ever happens when we look into someone’s eyes as we laugh with them. It’s so easy to appreciate the moment when that happens. But remember, no one else is responsible for how you feel. Would you even want them to be? I don’t care to be that dependent on anyone. I don’t control how others feel and no one but me is responsible for how I feel. Remember that. Maybe it will help you as it has me. We all can steer our emotions in a direction that feels good. To do so, we must monitor what we are thinking about and focusing on and exercise intention and discipline in that regard.

You are worthy, and your perspective is valid. You have a unique point of view and it matters. You matter, whether anyone else recognizes that in any moment or not. Do not be dependent on other people’s opinion of you for your own happiness. That being said, strive to make appreciation the whole point of your interaction with others. That appreciation will strengthen you, even though at first glance it might feel like something you are doing for someone else.

Your Surprising Responsibility

Of course, you can see the benefit of everyone being happy. You can certainly focus on how you would feel if everyone were happy. You can even intentionally notice happy people. You cannot, however, assist a single person to feel different unless he or she allows it.

You have the best chance of enjoying your relationships if you focus on one main priority: Your number one responsibility is to feel good. Feeling good is powerful. That is the place you must start for improved relationships. You are a positive influence and a force for good when you feel good. You will bring people up all around you when you are feeling good, and people will benefit from being around your positive energy. But remember, they are not your priority. They can, and likely will, come up to meet you at your higher vibe. That’s superb, but it must not be the main priority. Put on your own oxygen mask first!

You can be an example of a person who focuses on the positive as you go through your life feeling good and in your personal power more often than not. You can act on your inspiration. You can send positive vibes to people who are unhappy. You can intend a better life for them. You can trust in their ability to find happiness the same as can for yourself. You can know that it’s possible for all people to find their way to some happiness at some point. You can help others notice something positive to focus on if they choose to cooperate but remember you are not responsible for how others feel.

Feeling good is a natural way of being. You feel bad by focusing on something that makes you feel bad. Now that you know this secret to a good life, take notice when you are feeling bad and intentionally change your focus.

Let Them Create

When we blame others as the reason for our unhappiness, we can quickly lose empathy for them. Once that happens, we subconsciously give ourselves permission to treat them badly, or just generally have a negative vibe concerning them, and a cycle of negativity begins. This is not a good foundation for enjoyable relationships or connection with others.

Instead, realize that other people are simply having a different emotional experience, and that is to be expected. Everyone is coming from unique perspectives. We all have challenges that take time to recognize and to learn from. Instead of pointing out the idiocy you see in others, change your focus. Don’t comment on it under your breath or encourage others to focus on something negative. Free yourself up to focus on something you do like. That is the beginning of something powerful.

We can learn to be more patient with ourselves and with others.

You can’t change others, but you can change your thoughts and feelings about them. You must clearly understand that you cannot control how others feel. Why would you want to? Don’t push against them when you can be doing something so much more beneficial to yourself. When you release them to their own creations, you free yourself up to focus on yours. There is no more joy in this world than focusing on what you want and creating it.

Control Your Focus

It is imperative to be disciplined about where we focus in order to have satisfying relationships.

Don’t let your mind wander to those things that you find annoying about them at the moment. Instead, cut them a break. Have a general statement at the ready when you begin to go off in a negative direction about someone. Say to yourself, “I’m sure they’re doing their best,” or “Easy does it, focus elsewhere.” The important thing is to release yourself from going on a long dialog about how they suck.

Control your focus to feel good. It’s the only thing you do have control of. You can’t control others or at-the-moment situations you find yourself in, but you can control what you think about and give your attention to.

You can create a new and improved experience with people you consider yourself “stuck” with too. Just start a new habit of appreciating their strengths. Notice and remember what you liked about them when you first met them. Get clear on what you want to see in them. What you like about them. Look for the smallest indication of it and truly appreciate it.

Believe in those around you. Believe in the best of them to see more of it. Do the same for yourself, and do that first! Every accomplishment and thing of beauty comes about because somebody believed in somebody.

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