Saturday, September 29, 2007

A few clarifications

To all my readers:
I know that lately, this might seem as if I'm only having a conversation with Jean2 but I want all of you to feel free to comment and ask questions. She just happens to be asking the questions that I get *very* often by people who are curious about unschooling so I'm using her questions as blog posts, instead of just emailing a response back in comments. So please, feel free to jump in if you have questions yourself or if you're an unschooler who wants to weigh in on questions too. ;)

To Jean2:
I also really appreciate these non-threatened conversations we find ourselves in. I appreciate that you're open enough to try to understand it even if you're not sold on the idea yourself (or even if you never will be). I enjoy learning about things, even if I don't think they're 'for me' so maybe we're more alike than we think. :) After re-reading my last post, I can see where someone less open might have taken offense to some things I said. That was not my intention and I'm glad you didn't. But I would like to clarify a few things that might have been taken the wrong way.

Please remember that there is a wide spectrum even in the unschooling umbrella. Some unschoolers do have a partial curriculum. Some do unit studies based on their kids interests - so the kids have the say in what they're learning about and the moms also have that comfy cushion of I'm-following-some-kind-of-curriculum. There are unschoolers on the opposite end as well...who have absolutely NO limits or restrictions or rules on their kids. Their kids have no bedtimes, no curfews and if they want to estivate all summer, they can. Most of us, I think, fall somewhere in between the two extremes of unschooling.

So, back to our family...
First of all - to your comments about manners. I have no problem correcting my children though there are unschoolers out there who do. They would rather use real-life consequences for the kids to learn that manners get you further than no manners, and that manners feel nice when directed towards you. So they would allow their kids to say, "Gimme that" to whomever and wait to see the response rendered. If you think about other people in your life, you can imagine their different responses. My MIL (mother-in-law) would probably take on the personality of a 3 year old to emphasize her point and respond, "No, I had it first!" My friend Pam would be so shocked to hear it that she'd probably just nod and hand it over (sorry P!). Jean1 would probably say, "Excuse me?" in a who-do-you-think-you're-talking-to voice. If I said it to my own mother, she'd probably say something to the effect of, "I raised you to have better manners than that!" Actually, this might be a really fun science experiment to pull on these people in my life to see how they really do respond. Hmmm...

Anyway, with my own kids, I use several methods...the direct, "Please don't interrupt me"...the modeling method "Mom, would you please pass the butter?"...and yes, there are instances that get punished around here (I do not allow hitting another person in anger at all). My kids are also allowed to call me out when I'm forgetting my manners as well. They will also model something if they think I haven't asked nicely...and that doesn't bother me. We help each other to remember our manners and mutual respect.

Now, I wouldn't talk to another adult in my home that way (unless it was Hubby or Jean1 and she said, "Gimme that"...then I probably *would* model it for her and say facetiously, "Laurie, may I please have some of that?" teehee). But I *do* have a child in the terrible twos and one in the ferocious fours at the moment...I think most adults have outgrown downright rude manners (at least the ones I socialize with anyway). LOL I didn't mean to imply in that post that I let my kids interrupt me and run roughshod all over us. Simply that we don't imply that we're always right or only our opinions matter just because we're the adults/parents. I tried to illustrate that with the going-to-Michael's-story but maybe that wasn't the best attempt. Let's try a different approach...

If I said "any other children interrupting a conversation between adults is just a personal pet peeve of mine". Why? Stop and answer that question before reading more.

Probably because it shows a lack of respect. Does it also bother you when an adult interrupts a conversation between children? For most people, it doesn't. But aren't we showing kids that they don't deserve respect when we interrupt them? I'm not trying to pick on anyone but these are things I see constantly in public that just baffle me. It's a big double-standard. And even the people who are willing to give that respect to the older kids - perhaps preteens and older - they don't usually do it for younger kids. I believe we need to respect them as much as we demand their respect.

If I expect them to knock first before entering a closed door, I need to do the same for them (again, unless it's something that seriously requires immediate action like I hear a loud thud and another child screaming in pain, etc. behind said door). I do intervene like a typical mom when necessary but when it's not necessary, I try to respect their wishes. My son isn't as much a music lover as I am. Sometimes I'm really enjoying the music in the van and he wants me to turn it off. Sometimes he just wants me to stop singing (even though I have a beautiful singing voice if I do say-so myself.) I will turn it off when he asks. Because there are days when I just really don't want to listen to his VeggieTales CD one more time and I ask him to turn it off as well. It's all about mutual respect.

Your next question for me...
If your children ever desired to go to public school-would you allow it?

Well, if I did the job right in the previous section, you already know the answer to this one. Absolutely they can go. And before you ask, no, I don't talk despairingly about school. He hears enough of that from his friends. ;) He makes comments from time to time to the effect of, "I'm sure glad I don't have all that homework to do" and, "I'm glad I don't have to do book reports". I'm not sure if he even understands what 'homework' is but he gathers from their groanings that it's not pleasant. LOL

Which leads us into another unschooling segue - as for book reports, he does do them...he just doesn't know he does them. It's me casually asking him what he's reading and him telling me the story and us discussing it. Why did book reports start anyway? So the teacher can make sure the child read the book because she has 30 kids and 30 books. So the kids do a book report to prove they read and understood the material. Why do I need to use that at home? There really is no need. In 5 minutes of talking (heck, even one minute sometimes), I can determine if he's read and understood the book.

If my post today seems a little garbled, please forgive me. It's Saturday and I've had lots of activity today. I've been stopped many times during the writing of this one and it may not seem to flow smoothly.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Smallville request!

Ok, I'll admit it - I'm a Smallville fan. But due to TIVO issues (I think the hard drive has issues), we totally missed the season premiere!! If anyone has a copy of it, I'll pay the shipping for you to send it on VHS or disk! Pulllleeeeeeeeeze?? I have to know if Chloe made it...and I don't want to just be told...I wanna see it. lol

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Us vs. Them?

Jean2, you're also very open and honest and I respect that. I think I have a very unique perspective here because I was raised in a family with similar beliefs to most Americans (and yourself) about children. We were to be seen and not heard, we were to always have our very best manners, never to embarrass our mother, NEVER to interrupt anyone (especially adults) and do our job (school) as dutifully as we could. And I believed all that too, until I started looking into homeschooling and was led to unschooling. So I know exactly where you're coming from.

But now I'm on the other side where I find myself asking, "why is it ok for me to interrupt their playtime to make them cleanup just because I decide it's time?" I wouldn't want them to come in while I'm scrapbooking and say, "OK, time to clean up - I want to go to Walmart," and me be forced into it. Yeah, I'm the mom. OK. Sometimes I *have to* (there are those words again) - like tomorrow morning, I have to take one kid to the dr. They all *have to* go - they're simply too young to stay home by themselves. But on the way home from playing with friends today, I wanted to make a quick stop by Michaels. They were hot and thirsty from playing and didn't want to stop. I quickly calculated that I could change my plans and just go tonight after Hubby gets home. It'll probably be a much more enjoyable trip for me anyway without all of them tagging along, unless they want to, of course.

If I want their respect and consideration for me, I need to model the same for them. Yesterday I got a *super fantastic* deal on some used Gameboy's and games. The games that came along in the package were for older kids but my kids were anxious to get games they could play (who could blame them? If I had a new scrapbooking tool, I'd want to use it right away!). So, although I had 3 stops to make today before making it to our date with friends, I added a stop to the game store too. I don't want my actions to tell them that my wants and needs are more important than theirs simply because they are kids. Yes, I am in authority over them and sometimes I have to make calls they don't like. But we're a family unit. It's not us vs. the kids. Everyone gets a voice (who is old enough to give one), we vote on activities that conflict, etc. If they were roommates who shared our car, wouldn't we give them that courtesy? I try to ask more than tell. I like to give them the opportunity to choose. There are many times I tell rather than ask...I tell them to brush their teeth, I tell them to eat their veggies if they want dessert. But I let them choose when to brush and which veggie they prefer and if they want something to dip it in. I don't want to stifle my kids with control as my parents generation did. I also don't want to leave them as free as their parents generation did (which led to sex, drugs and Hubby and I strive for a somewhere in between the two.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

While we're on the topic...

Have you seen the new reality show called Kid Nation? It started last week and I only caught the first 30 minutes of it because Tivo had to record something else halfway through. Basically, they took 40 kids between the ages of 8 and 15, gave them food and cleaning supplies and dropped them into this ghost town in the desert.

Now at first, this idea really appealed to me to see how the kids interacted with each other. Did they form groups, who did they accept as leaders (the old or the wise?), how did they learn to survive (trial and error or relying on those with wisdom in those areas already), etc.

But, as with almost all kid activities, the adults ruined it. They left the kids an instruction book. Told them to divide up into teams. Told each team what they were in charge of. Chose leaders for the teams...and get this, they're giving out rewards to the 'model citizen'. I'm not nearly as interested in it now...but Matthew seems to be so we'll watch it until he loses interest.

Do adults think so little of kids that they just had to give them an instruction book on how to cook mac and cheese? And if a 15 yr old can't do some simple calculations on how to prepare mac and cheese for a group of 40 instead of for one (himself), mass American education has a lot more issues than I can name. But I saw the 10 yr old girls stepping up, trying to follow a recipe left behind for them. And I saw the 15 yr old boys being bored and trying to not 'play by the rules' - the first night after they picked "teams", the oldest boys are out defacing the other teams signs. This is the same 15 yr old who seemed, on the first day, to really put some heart into it and step up and help out the younger ones. I wonder what made him change his tune? Did he first have the impression that he was one of the oldest and they'd all be looking to him for wisdom and leadership? Did he realize that, once again, he really wasn't in that lucrative position in the least when the adults stepped in with their 'helpful hints'? I don't know. But my inner psychologist would love to talk to him for a while about it. ;)

Did you catch the show? What did you think? Am I totally nuts? :)

Why not use them both?

Jean2, thanks for asking so many questions lately - it has given me lots to write about and lots to think about as well. I know that I'm committed to unschooling but some of these questions I've never really thought about. Here's your latest...
I guess the question that still comes to mind is why can't they do both? School and unschool? You could enhance what they learned by getting on the internet and discovering and inquiring about the topics discussed. Basically, above and beyond!

I suppose this would be do-able. However, I maintain that what works for a class of 30 isn't necessarily the best for my class of 4 (well, by state standards, only 1 currently). I also see (and this really depends on your district and teachers) stressed-out, over-scheduled kids around me a lot. You have them in your class - the ones who have baseball Monday nights, dance Tuesday night, church on Weds, ice skating on Thursday and they're out to have fun with friends on Fridays. Plus gobs of homework. When would there be time to unschool? Saturday afternoon? Oh wait... that's Timmy's birthday party. ;) Simply put, I don't think unschooling during 'off-hours' would work well because I think it would be handled more like a hobby. And who ever has time for hobbies? I love to scrapbook. The last time I actually did it was when I was pg (and for the record, that was at least 6 mos ago).

Your next question was...
Do you think public schools quelch their learning by forcing too many rules and too much curriculum into their minds? I must admit-we probably do but I always believed that is what the world would do to them someday as they became adults and ventured into the world of a career and family. Some things are forced. (emphasis added)

A couple of interesting points here. The one that leaps out at me is an argument I've heard many times (usually from my own mother and in-laws) - 'Why give them so much freedom? There are some things in life that you just *have* to do. They need to learn that!' OK, I agree - there are some things in life that you have to do. But do those things start at 5 years of age? Sure, you have to brush your teeth. You have to sleep. You have to keep your body clean. But I feel the fewer have-to's they have, the more they're willing to not make a huge deal out of them. For example - I hear stories about moms fighting with their kids about baths or brushing teeth. If you let them choose other things (what to wear, for example), that can help relieve pressure on the other issues that are really important. Similar to management styles - do you prefer to be micromanaged or do you prefer your boss tell you the job and then stands back and lets you do it while providing support and resources? I definitely prefer the latter though perhaps there are those people who like to be micromanaged? It's my opinion that my kids will be better able to deal with more have-to's as they become adults. ;) And don't misread that - we DO have rules. My kids do not run amuk around me...well not usually anyway (they're not angels, after all! LOL). They aren't allowed to talk meanly to each other, they are not allowed to hit each other, they do have to brush their teeth, etc. But we try to minimize the amount of rules that we have and we speak to them like adults. I don't mean that in the vocabulary sense (though we certainly don't talk down to them - we just explain unknown words to them as needed) but more so in the respect sense. Our kids are always welcome in our adult world. There's no separating of this-is-the-kid-area and this-is-the-adult-area. We're a family unit and if it's not appropriate for them, we don't do it. I wait until they're asleep (or in their rooms for the evening) to watch Desperate Housewives. LOL This may get harder to do as they get older and don't need as much sleep or they want to stay up later - we'll adjust it then, whether I decide to stop watching it or we come to some kind of compromise. When my husband brings up an article of interest to me in the newspaper, they're invited to give their opinions as well.

Do I think schools are forcing too many rules and curricula agendas? Maybe...though I honestly try not to get into the whole "how do we fix America's education system" conversations because, other than my tax money (and don't get me started on that either! LOL), I'm not active in it. I'll leave that to the mass educators to figure out. ;)
Though I do see that in a mass education effort, rules and curricula are needed. I'm just saying that since I'm not doing mass education and can focus on each child individually, I don't need to follow the same techniques that work for those who are being mass educated. I know homeschooling families who have classrooms in their homes - they devoted an entire room to look exactly like a school classroom - they have alphabet posters, they raise their hands to speak, they write on chalkboards, etc. I don't see the need to follow mass education techniques in my home.

If I couldn't continue homeschooling my kids, I'd search for a Montessori school. They have a lot more freedom in their learning and interests than your typical public school and I think they'd be the closest fit in mass education, to what we do here at home.

I hope that explains it. I have a nagging feeling that I didn't get to the heart of your question so let me know if I missed it. LOL

Monday, September 24, 2007

What about kids who aren't curious?

Before we get to our regularly scheduled program, be sure to check out Yadda, Yadda, Yadda's answer as to why she unschools.

Jean2 brought another question to the table that I get quite often:
"Your children are interested in learning and thriving. What would you do if they were not?"
First, I could sugar-coat my answer and say that my kids are unique. But they're least, I believe, not in that way. Let me take you back to the days when I taught preschool. I taught the 3yr olds who had never gone to any kind of school before. They came in at the beginning of the year with all their zillions of "why" questions. We'd start on a topic and they'd be off on tangents. But as a teacher (especially one who'd never even begun to think about homeschooling much less unschooling), I did what every teacher needs to do...I reigned them in. I taught them to sit down, be quiet, raise their hands to ask questions. I taught them to focus on the subject at hand and not get far off the beaten path. I had to; I couldn't afford to have 15 kids going in 15 directions if I wanted *anyone* to learn anything that day. I did my job well. By the end of the year, they were walking in lines, waiting to hear what we were going to learn next, staying on topic, giving me the expected answers, etc. But the biggest difference was that the "why's" were gone.

[Insert your version of the views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily the opinions and views of all unschoolers]
[Insert "I'm really not trying to dog teachers and school systems - this is just my honest answer to your question"]

I believe that when we take kids who are just beginning to want to connect the dots in life and move from one topic to the next freely and stick them in a classroom and tell them what they'll be learning when...yeah, after a couple years, they (on the whole) won't be as curious as they were. In high school and college - which classes did you do the best in? Which ones did you do extra learning or assignments just because they were fun? Probably your electives. You had the choice to choose what to learn and it probably came much more easily to you because you wanted to learn it.

Again, I'm not trying to dog anyone here. I understand that if you're one adult in a classroom of 30 kids, you *must* keep order and stay on topic (and therefore, have a schedule of 'things we need to learn' i.e. curricula). I get that. But my opinion is that school-at-home isn't necessary for homeschoolers. Why would I take a system that works for a 1:30 ratio and apply it here? I have the ability to reach and spread myself a LOT more with only a 1:4 ratio. Imagine if all schooled classes only had 4 kids in it. I imagine you'd do many many things differently.

I often wonder about the homeschooling movement...if the majority are doing school-at-home, what's the big draw? Are they just wanting to add their religious teachings to core subjects? Are they trying to protect their kids from influences? I guess I'd had to ask some school-at-homers that one. But for me, homeschooling is about helping my kids enjoy learning the way they learn best. Do my kids ever learn from worksheets? Sure. Rose loves worksheets. I do actually have curriculum books lying around here that she picks up and works her way through. Matthew doesn't like them. But what's wrong with exploring a period in history through a Renaissance Festival or a Civil War Reenactment or Wishbone episodes? Exploring Mozart because you found out someone else has your favorite meerkat's name? Writing and learning to read just for the plain FUN of it?
(See Rose's latest drawing - she wrote TIGER at the top...because it was fun and she wanted to write it)

Now, why can't I "count that" as learning? Is it not learning because it wasn't in the curricula I have? Is that just playing for a 4yr old? Should I not count her reading Hop on Pop last night (just because she wanted to) as reading time? Where does our afternoon of making paper airplanes fit in? Science, because we discussed gravity and wind currents, or math, because we talked about angles, or reading because we read and followed directions, comparing and contrasting the different models and methods? It's all just learning. The hardest part, I think, is on my end - when I try to separate our learning into categories at the end of the day. Where *DO* I put the afternoon of paper airplanes? LOL

In the end, it's my belief that humans are curious creatures. I bet that after graduation, you found some hobbies that maybe you didn't have time for when you were younger. Though I certainly don't remember having as much homework as I see kids with today so we probably had more time to play an impromptu game of baseball in the yard, or shoot marbles...though both can teach geometry concepts. I'm convinced that if I were to put Matthew in school tomorrow that within 2 weeks, they'd tell me that he has ADD. Hold on - yes, I believe ADD is very real. What I'm trying to say is that because my son has had a lifestyle of freely moving from thought to the next one, school officials would peg him fast of not being able to stay focused. Though I've seen him spend an hour on one of his own Lego creations to get it just right...and I've often seen him read a book for an hour or more...he can definitely focus and he has the memory of an elephant.

Forgive me, my thoughts are a little scattered this morning. But I hope that gives you a frank look into my thoughts on your question. Basically I think that if all kids were given free reign with learning, they'd all be very curious.

I'm curious about everything. Even subjects that don't interest me. - Alex Trebek

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Name that rash

OK you moms, teachers, heck even those of you who need a fun game...Let's play Name That Rash!
Is it:
A. allergic reaction to food or soap?
B. german measles
C. Chicken pox
D. Other (please specify)

It's all over her entire body, feet, palms of her hands, etc. We've been around other kids but no one that I know of was sick. She is too young to have had her MMR or CP vax's yet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's all fun and games until someone's eye gets poked out

So Jean2 had a question for me...
"I have always felt that learning does not ALWAYS HAVE to be fun. Do you feel that way?"

Absolutely not. There are many ways to learn. For example, I have learned that I don't want to play with wasps or bees or red ants. I have learned that the stove can get REALLY hot. I've learned that my ankles, who have been sprained more times than I can count, absolutely can NOT handle ice skates or roller blades. These are lessons I've learned that were NOT fun in any way. But I learned and well. ;)

Of course, playing Devil's advocate, I have to throw back to you - given the choice, which way would you prefer to learn? The fun way or the not-so-fun way?

Unschooling isn't all about fun. There is hard work involved (and not just in my 24/7 question Any musical instrument or sports or voice or anything really that they want to excel in is going to take a lot of hard work. I'm not scared of hard work. Since my oldest is only 7 yrs old, it might be a while before we see the big really hard ones that we might give a lot of credit.

I do see hard work going on in his life. Most kids learn to tie their shoes in preschool. Anyone who's watched a child go through this process (or remembers their own) knows it's a very difficult thing to learn for some kids. My son wanted to buy the Velcro shoes because he wasn't ready to work on tying his shoes. So we continued to buy the Velcro ones. Last year for Halloween (he was a young 6yr old), he went as Indiana Jones. We couldn't find Velcro boots but he wanted an authentic outfit so we bought them. That was really the beginning of his interest in tying his shoes. We'd had a book lying around that came with a shoelace and mock shoe on the cover that he'd played with a few times but never was really interested. But, the costume spurred him to want to learn how to do it. He didn't want to have to wait on me to have a minute to help him. He worked on it for a few weeks. He asked me to buy him regular tying shoes so he could practice on them too; I obliged. Sometimes he'd bring the shoe to me or Hubby and ask us to show him how to do it. At other times, he'd work on it from the directions in the book. Some days he got really frustrated with it, just as kids often do in school. But he was determined and I was really proud of him that he stuck with it. He had it figured out by the end of November (I blogged about it here).

Was all that work fun to him? I doubt it. But he could see the pay-off (and so can you if you look at that huge grin he has on his face!) and he kept working at it. No pressure from me. He learned the same thing that any other kid his age was learning (or had already learned) but what do I see as the difference? He wanted to learn it. He made a goal for himself and pursued it. It wasn't an administrator who said he needed to know it by was something he discovered and I think he was perhaps more proud of it because he was in control of when and where and IF he learned it. Does that make sense?

On the whole, we probably do have more 'fun' with unschooling than more traditional methods. We probably do more field trips and hands-on stuff. But the goal isn't to make them learn's more about encouraging that love of learning. If a child learns to love learning itself, there's nothing they can't ever learn. Along the lines of 'feed a man a fish, he eats for a day...teach a man to fish, he eats every day'. On an everyday basis, we're not doing exceptionally fun stuff. Today we went to my Bible study class, had lunch, they're down for quiet time now and later will probably be my reading of The Book Of Three, helping me with dinner, maybe some roughhousing with Hubby, a nightly walk and bedtime. But in actuality, a younger boy at my Bible study class taught him how to make a paper airplane (he's been trying to master this for a while and is VERY proud that he knows how to do it now) and we discussed the Food Guide Pyramid and nutritious foods while they made their lunches (with me overseeing). During quiet time, Rose will work on finding new words to read in her many many books and probably write some new words and numbers out for me to see. She will also do lots of imaginative play with her stuffed animals, teaching them to read and behave in certain ways (LOL - so cute!). Matthew will work on building his latest Bionicle creation (which takes a lot of skill really - maybe he'll be an engineer?), read multiple stories and probably work on math (he's been interested in adding multiple digit numbers). Our evening walk will be full of questions, many relating to animals and science and flora and fauna. Others will be questions I have no idea are even in their heads. The Book of Three will take us to a fantasy world where there is problem solving needed, character development, suspense and, hopefully, a happy white special pig in the end. Dinner preparation is a fantastic time to study math and chemistry. One HUGE chem lab. ;) You should see him when I take a huge overflowing skillet of spinach and cook it down to just a handful of greens. lol

I hope this answers your question Jean2. Feel free to leave more! I enjoy questions. I'm not blogging in order to change people's minds about unschooling - it's me wanting people to get a good grasp of what unschooling really is. When we were dating, Hubby said that he would like to homeschool the kids but since it would be his wife doing it, it was ultimately up to her. I don't mind telling you, that totally freaked me out. My mom has taught pre-K for 20+ yrs. I have a Superintendent uncle, an English professor SIL, a English teacher uncle, a brother who does a lot of men's groups teaching and another who went overseas to teach English as a second language. I'm not from one of those know, the kind who are uneducated or think it's all a conspiracy, etc. I was thoroughly entrenched in public school myself and consider myself well educated. I even knew some home schoolers who seemed to have some weird world views and just seemed a little 'off' in perspective. I also taught preschool for several years. Somehow, my heart did a complete 180 and this is the road God led us to for this season of our lives. Thanks for watching the journey! :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007're it!

My good buddy over at Yadda, Yadda, Yadda invited me to participate in a tag, and now I tag you.

The rules of the tag are to go to Wikipedia and type in the day and month of your birth, excluding the year, and hit search. Then you are to list three events, two births, and one holiday that occurred on your birthday.

April 26

1607 - English colonists of the Jamestown settlement make landfall at Cape Henry, Virginia.
1564 - Shakespeare was christened.
2007 - Stephen Hawking becomes the first quadriplegic to float free in zero-gravity

1785 - John James Audubon, French-American naturalist and illustrator (d. 1851)
1933 - Carol Burnett, American comedian

World Intellectual Property Day (since 2001).

I henceforth tag ALL of you. :) Leave me a comment so I know who's up to the challenge. ;)

This might be a long one...

It seems that I have days that go by so quickly that I can't even read my favorite blogs, much less post to my own. And then there are days, like today, when my kids are happily playing together upstairs for the moment and the baby is sleeping and I find that I have some time to myself. But even on those hectic days, I'm composing posts in my head and if I continue to have me-time, I'll write until I'm interrupted by something/someone. So this post might be long.

First, a comment left on the last post makes an interesting point.
"Sometimes I really don't *feel* like explaining it or talking about it. A lot of times I do, because it's my passion, but some days I just don't."
Absolutely! I don't always feel like explaining it either! But it's similar to know it's good for you and them and you know they need the answer and so you dig deep and just do it. But, as with exercise, we all have our off days too and there are some days when I just can't dig deep enough. What do you do? You can make a list of questions and bring them up later..."Matthew, remember a couple days ago you wanted to know...well, I found the answer...". Unschooling is not about perfection or knowing all answers.

A friend, who is looking at different methods of homeschooling for her 2yr old, recently said, "You must be a walking encyclopedia. I could never answer all those questions!" It's OK to not know all the answers in life! No one can possibly know them all. Share what knowledge you have about the subject and if they ask more questions, look it up. The internet bill is a MUST for our family. Library card is a MUST (we're fortunate to have a wonderful library system). Having B&N and Borders nearby doesn't hurt either. ;) And anytime I can show them something up close and hands-on, I do.

Have you taken your kids to Krispy Kreme? Other than the promise of hot sweet gooeyness, what are they usually excited about the first few trips there? Watching the donuts form and cook right in front of them. Because, like The Stooges so eloquently showed us, there are things (like baseball) that make SO much more sense after you watch it. I learn things much faster by watching. I'm predominately a visual learner though I think we all have a big portion of that in us. I bet your kids can explain to you pretty well how to make a donut if you tie in the words "Krispy Kreme". ;) In the same regard, as my kids grow, I will strive to give them hands-on experience with as many things as I can. Yes, this will brings lots more messes into my house than most other moms but I believe they will look back on their childhood and learning experiences more fondly than someone in a desk stuck at school learning facts from a dull textbook. I know I would have.

The things I remember liking the most from school were the hands-on and the extra special things. I remember making Stone Soup when my class read the book in elementary school. We all brought in an ingredient and the teacher brought a stone. I remember making string art in geometry - and I, a self-described math hater, truly loved that project and ended up really loving geometry by year-end. Field trips were also a huge plus to me. The botany class trip in college took us out to a wildlife area where we discussed flora and fauna in a whole new way. I also detested history/social studies until, that is, my required course came during my 2nd year in college. I chose the class about American history up to the end of the Civil War. My teacher lived in a 150 yr old house and invited us to her home one class night to get a real feel for life back then. The house was lit with candles, it was drafty and had dark muted colors throughout. We sat on the old wood floor as we listened to her teaching that night. A few weeks later, she invited us to watch her in a Civil War re-enactment...we could write a paper on the experience for extra credit. I had no idea what to expect. But coming over the hill and looking down into the little town they'd created and seeing the dress, the talk, the foods, the battle...I was suckered right in. Did history become interesting to me then? You bet. I still don't like to watch war documentaries but when History Channel does those specials where they do re-enactments of life long ago, I'm all eyes and ears. Now obviously a lot of this stuff had to do with my teachers. Absolutely they made a difference in how I saw it because THEY were interested in it too. A good creative teacher makes all the difference in the world. But how many of those are out there (besides our faithful Jean2, that is...teehee)? Many unschoolers get their older kids involved as apprentices and there are more and more programs available all the time. As a good example, I see that our zoo now has a "Be a Zookeeper for a Day/Week" program. There are many opportunities like this all around that will help my kids get real hands-on experience that they will remember forever.

Topic #2 - Conversations around the house lately...
Coming home from church on Sunday, we were listening to the kids current favorite music, a CD of the best Veggietales songs. OK, I admit it...I was happily singing (and laughing) along as well. Matthew had been quiet in the back for a while, which usually means the wheels are turning and something quite unexpected is going to come out of his mouth any moment. Though this one, I wasn't quite prepared for.
"OK, Mom...stop the music. I want to tell you how babies are made."
My heartbeat quickened as I turned off the music and wondered what was coming next.
He went on to explain the scientific answer...
"Well," he cleared his throat, "you see..." [very matter-of-fact] "The boy has the...wait, AFTER the man and woman get married, the man has sperm and the woman egg, I think it's called...and one sperm goes into the egg. Now if it's a boy sperm, it's a boy baby. And if it's a girl sperm, it's a girl baby."
"Oh, ok," I said, wondering what they were teaching kids in Sunday School these days. "What made you think about that all of a sudden?" I added.
"Oh, I just wanted to tell you since we have Linnae now."
"Oh, well thanks for explaining it," I said with a big silly grin on my face.
"You're welcome."

Rose is starting to read now at 4.5yrs. She's got all the letter sounds down and makes a real effort to sound out words. Though for some reason, she wants to read for Daddy more than she does for me. Since Daddy puts the kids to bed, along with their bedtime story (so I can have clean-up dinner time or on leftover night, a little me-time), they "work on" reading then. Very informal. No pressure at all. Daddy reads most of the book, pausing at some small words and asking her to sound them out. If she doesn't want to, he reads it and moves on. But when I ask her to do the same thing, she acts like she has no idea what I'm talking about and "I caaaaaan't read" whines accrue. But I do catch her reading from time to time.

Do you remember that cheesy 80's movie, Short Circuit? The one where the robot, Johnny 5, somehow comes alive and forms relationships with people? Yes, that one. Do you remember what he did when he first came alive? "More Input!!" He read and read and read. He went to a bookstore and read books at an alarming speed and gained input. Kids are much the same - they want more and more and more information.

Yesterday Rose wanted me to read from one of her animal books. It's written for 9yr+ kids, I'd say, but all she ever really wants to read are animal books. And she's past all the mundane topical information they give in toddler books and easy readers. She wants more input. So we read books that are quite in-depth about animals. They also have many words per page and it's a little daunting for her to attempt on her own. I finished reading a page and turned it and she stopped me.
"You forgot to read this part!" Her fear of adults skipping text grabbed hold of her.
"No, I just read that."
"No you didn't!"
"Yes I did. See..." I pointed to each word and sounded it out slowly.
"Oh, yes you did read that!" [pause] Then with wild excitement, a huge Cheshire cat grin on her face and eyes wider than a raccoon she squealed, "I read that!!!" She realized that she could indeed read those many little words if she gave it some effort. What a great learning moment to behold!! I'm so grateful that I was there to witness it.

Well, I've talked your ear off enough for one day and the baby is waking and it's nearing lunchtime so I'll sign off for today. Hope to see you again soon!

Monday, September 10, 2007

What is unschooling again?

I find it very difficult to explain unschooling in a short sentence or brief conversation in a way that people can really get a good grasp of what it is. Between family questions last weekend and Hubby's high school reunion, I found myself trying to explain it well...and failing, again.

The question that is **always** posed to me is this...
"What if they don't want to learn something?"

First, I have to say you've never been around my kids if you ask that question. Do I think unschooling would work for every kid? No. I think it would be difficult to take someone who began traditional learning styles and move them to unschooling...though I have seen it done successfully. Secondly, it takes a lot of work. It might seem to many that it's a hands-off approach but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's probably more hands-on than any other approach out there. A huge part of unschooling is learning to be highly opportunistic. When that three year old has asked you, "Why" for the 37th time in a row, you have to be willing to answer the question. Am I a know-it-all? Absolutely not. So if I don't know the answer, we look it up in books or online or find someone who does know the soon as possible.

Kids are naturally inquisitive. They want to know everything. From about 3-5 years old, kids are known to drive adults crazy with incessant questions. I've seen many many many kids put off or worse, put down for not knowing the answers. How many times are we too busy or in such a rush or too tired and say, "I'll explain it later"...and later never comes? The question hangs out there, probably forgotten by the parent and possibly the child as well. Maybe the child figures it out on his own or maybe he decides he didn't really want to know anyway. Unschooling is all about answering those questions as soon as they arrive, digging for answers as needed, discussing follow-ups and showing pictures/places/visuals to explain all that's needed until the child is satisfied and the questions stop. This requires a lot of patience on the part of the answerer, trust me. ;)

For the first year in a long time, we're having a very cool early September. Matthew's birthday is coming up and I gave him the option of having his party at home or having it at a local park. He was very excited about the park idea. So I called the Parks Dept and found out there was only one pavilion open for rental at one of our parks. We drove by to see if it was suitable for what we wanted. He wanted to know which park it was...then he asked which pavilion number it was. He wanted to find it himself. Then I asked him if it was a good location. He liked it and we headed to the local Rec center to reserve it. They were actually closed that week for cleaning so I told Matthew that we'd have to go up to City Hall. On our way there...
"What's City Hall?"
"It's where the local government offices are."
"Local government...hmmm...who is the leader of our country? What's his title?"
"Right. Well, just as we have a leader for the country, we also have state leaders, called Representatives, and we have county leaders and we have city leaders. The leader of our city is called the mayor."
"Oh, yeah. I knew that, I just forgot."
"The mayor, and many other city officials have their offices at City Hall."
"What kinds of other officials?"
"Well, for example, the people in charge of the Parks Department."
"What do they do?"
"They take care of our city parks. They make sure the grass is mowed, that mulch is brought in for the plants and trees, they keep the buildings in good shape and repair them as needed, they clean the bathrooms, maintain the playground equipment and they are in charge of renting out the pavilions at the park, which is what we're going to do."
"Hm. What other officials are at city hall?"
"I can't think of any off-hand. Let's see when we get there."
[a few minutes later, we enter City Hall]
Matthew sees the receptionist and says, "Where is the Parks Department?"
She informs us that it's actually down the road in another building. We took a bit of time before leaving to look at the directory to see who else worked there.

Down the road at the Parks Dept building, she informed us that it's $25 to rent and they don't reimburse you for rain. We decided to think about it a bit. When we stepped outside, it was lightly sprinkling on us but the temperature was so very cool from what I experienced last weekend that we decided to take a walk in the rain. So we went through the park across the street, playing in rain puddles and even flipped the swings over to the dry side so we could swing for a while. Matthew decided that the pavilion wasn't a very good one because it was small and there is a line of trees and bushes between it and the playground and the parents probably wouldn't like that too much. The Parks Dept also told us that if the ground is dry that day, we are welcome to take our own tables to set around the playground area for no charge. Matthew decided he wanted to chance it as the forecast looks really good at this point. This was the end of the city government questions for a while. Today he and Rose are doing "experiments" with the goo they made at the last birthday party they attended (Mad Science). He heard me talk about the La Brea Tar Pits and started to compare/contrast the goo and tar on his own. I found myself looking up information about tar for him. It's actually quite interesting stuff...and the tar pits? Actually asphalt. La Brea Asphalt Pits. Hmph.

Now, could he learn this information from textbooks? Absolutely. Could he retain it long enough to be tested. Sure. So why not do traditional teaching? Because of this...he asked, I answered right away...he remembers it. It means something because he wanted to know at that moment. He will remember it. It's not a bunch of facts that he is forced to learn because some official said somewhere that he needs to study local government in 7th grade. At some point, he'll want to know more about what they do and what I told him already is about the extent of what I know about them so we'll probably have to do some digging...maybe check out the city website, perhaps attend a city council meeting, maybe when he gets interested in the how's of police work or his drivers license, it will be a segue way into city government, much like planning a birthday party led to city government.

Still, to the skeptics who are still asking, "But what if those never happen and your kids never want to know? They never ask?" There is a secondary measure. If they want to go to college, there will be certain things they *have* to learn and study. Local government will be part of that, I'm sure. But when they learn it, it will be a means to an end - they will want to go to college and so they will understand that this is what they have to do to get there. And I know some of you skeptics are still sitting there thinking, "Yeah, what if they don't want to go to college?" Well, that's their choice...and every choice has a consequence...they will quickly find that obtaining a job so they can have money to reach other goals (family, hobby pursuits, etc.) will be much more difficult without a degree. Doable but difficult.

This is probably the best explanation I've had for "What is unschooling" in a long time. I hope it helps you further understand it too. :)

Don't you wish you were here?

My trip to Santa Monica Pier last weekend.

My brother's wedding was beautiful. I don't have any pictures to share yet (haven't gotten their approval to post them yet actually) but it was a very pretty garden setting and went off without a hitch. His wife is a fun person and I enjoyed getting to know her a little over the weekend.

We (Linnae and I) also did some sight-seeing while we were out there. In addition to walking the beach and doing the ferris-wheel on Santa Monica Pier, we also saw the La Brea Tar Pits, got a drive-through tour (via my brother) of downtown LA, had a fabulous meal in Chinatown, saw the walk of fame on Hollywood Blvd. and saw their fantastic Getty Art Museum (mostly the outside, which is more like botanical gardens actually).

My only complaint is that after a very mild summer for them, we apparently took the heat with us. It was 106 and probably hotter while we were out there - and yes, humid too. We were all quite annoyed with the weather but we survived. The beach was at least 20 degrees cooler, though it was only about 30 minutes away from Pasadena, where we stayed. I've only ever seen Florida ocean. I expected Cali ocean to also be as warm as bath water and stink of dead fish (sorry to anyone who lives in Fla!) but it was so very cold and fresh smelling...I *now* see the draw to the beach.

More pictures to come...