LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #10 | Mar 18, 2013
MARCH’S THEME: Unschooling Days
“What does a typical day look like?” That’s the question I’ve been asking myself this month. Without school schedules to outline our days, unschooling days are often a mish mash of night owls sleeping late, early risers going to bed first, spur-of-the-moment trips to the park, and cocooning movies days. Even so, I’m having fun thinking about the commonalities that thread through our days.
ON THE BLOG … this month
It’s kind of funny to think in terms of “typical” when talking about what unschooling days look like. I mean, one of the things I often emphasize is how different unschooling in action can look from family to family, even from child to child. Yet there is a basic motif that underscores our actions with our children, even when those actions vary widely: being available to talk, willing to help, and supportive of their goals.
Playing video games and watching TV. These activities are often part of the typical days of an unschooling family. Yet they are so maligned by conventional society that this week I want to talk about them directly. So let’s explore what these activities might look like in an unschooling family. There is so much fun and learning and connecting and life swirling through them. And it often looks very different than it does in the more conventional lives typically being studied.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … Wright on Time book series by Lisa M. Cottrell-Bentley
One of the first things that popped into my mind to share about unschooling days was Lisa’s wonderful series of Wright on Time books. Lisa and her family are unschooling in Arizona, busily following their interests and passions. What inspired her to start writing this book series? She and her daughters had spent many rather unsuccessful hours searching for children’s books about homeschoolers, so they decided to create their own.
It’s true. Most stories (books, movies, TV, games etc), that depict family life are often drawn from the writer/creator’s experience—from their own childhood, maybe from time as a parent, and likely from other families they’ve observed over the years. It’s likely that most were conventional families where parent-child relationships are often fraught with power struggles and ongoing misunderstandings. And certainly these are great fodder for conversation in unschooling families! We’ve had many discussions prompted by stories we’ve read or movies and TV shows we’ve watched, talking about how we’d feel and react in similar circumstances, how things roll in their friends’ families, and why etc.
Yet, as Lisa points out, it’d also be great to read about families in action where the kids don’t go to school, where they are treated respectfully by their parents, and where they actually get along with each other! The series eventually took shape as a homeschooling family traveling around the US in an RV, having adventures in each state (eventually). And there’s a mysterious object to boot. 🙂
It’s a great premise and the family relationships are beautiful—very recognizable to unschooling families. I thought I’d share a few examples I love that unobtrusively weave their way throughout the first book, Wright on Time: Arizona.
1) When seven year old Aidan misidentifies a creature on a family walk in desert, nobody belittles him, and Dad gently shares his reasoning.
“There’s one!” Aidan yelled.
Harrison let go of his wife’s hand and ran ahead to his son. “I don’t think it’s a bat just yet,” he said after catching up with Aidan. “It’s too early in the day for bats. They usually only come out at night.”
Not only does he speak respectfully, I love that he doesn’t speak in absolutes. Parents, in search of simplifying things for children, can find themselves presenting the world as right/wrong, black/white, yes/no. But that discourages questions, which in turn limits both conversation and exploration—often key to supporting our children’s learning.
2) The book details their family day trip to a mine and I love how the family easily splits apart and comes back together multiple times based on who is interested in doing what.
Within thirty minutes, Nadia and Stephanie had collected a small pile of tiny stones. Some were translucent like a diamond and some were solid and nearly orange. Aidan had none and he was getting impatient.
“I’m tired of digging. I want to find some bats,” he said to his dad. “Let’s go to the other room.”
It was decided they would go on to find bats and Stephanie and Nadia would meet them in the large room in another half an hour.
Notice how, although it’s a family trip, nobody is saying “we have to stay together.” And how Aidan trusts his family to help him, he didn’t feel he had to act out to get them to respond to his need to move on. They responded right off the bat, figured out a path forward, and worked it. Beautiful.
Okay, I want to expand a bit here. One of common responses I hear from other parents who notice how relatively smoothly our homeschooling lives flow (I don’t usually distinguish homeschooling from unschooling with acquaintances unless they specifically ask) is that we “must have easy kids.” No. We have regular ol’ kids. The big difference is that we don’t leave things to fester, we don’t ignore them as long as possible, forcing them to complain or act out loudly enough to finally get our attention. It may seem like it’s more work to respond quickly and compassionately, but look how much more smoothly the day actually flows when we work to meet everyone’s needs!
3) I love how Aidan’s high energy level is acknowledged, accepted, and accommodated—without it spilling over and damaging the environment they are in. Check out these buried gems (pun intended … once I noticed it!):
The four were feeling quite comfortable in the cave by this point and the walls felt familiar and safe. Aidan skipped ahead of his family, determined to set up their picnic before they got there.
Stephanie turned the rooms lights back on while Nadia kept Aidan busy creating shadow puppets again.
“Who wants to go exploring?” Harrison asked.
“Me,” the other three answered in unison.
It was decided the mother and son would go one direction and father and daughter another.
There was a small, almost unnoticeable, hole in one of the walls of the room they were currently in. Aidan found it and Stephanie, consulting her map for safety, said he could go in the hole.
Of course it was Aidan who found the barely distinguishable opening. That made me smile. And that Mom quickly consulted the map and guidelines to make sure the area wasn’t off-limits to visitors.
There are many more moments strewn throughout the book that contrast unschooling and conventional living and parenting styles, and beautifully describe the Wright family’s unschooling days. The sixth book in the series, Wright on Time: Iowa, is scheduled to be published this spring. If you have kids that may be interested in hearing these stories, they are available on Amazon, including a collection of books 1-4. Lisa also recently released an audiobook edition of the collection, available on Audible and iTunes. For further info, you can check out the website here: wrightontimebooks.com
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
March has been a pretty busy month so far here! The first couple weekends were karate-filled, with Mikey’s monthly trip to train at a dojo on the other side of the city, and a tournament and annual banquet for the circuit he competes in. My hubby is out west right now for a few days visiting his best friend for some skiing and hanging out. One of the nice things about contemplating unschooling days this month is that it reminds me to take note of the flow of our days, of how we support each other, and of ways I might do it better. Always learning!
Sandra Dodd recently posted the extended version of her interview with me at the end of 2012 for the March 2013 issue of The HomeSchooler, a magazine for members of The Homeschool Association of California. She asked about my writing, my conference, and a bit about my kids. And of course unschooling is strewn about too. If you haven’t come across it yet, you’re welcome to read it here: sandradodd.com/hsc/interviews/paml
And one quick note. If you have enjoyed Free to Live (or Free to Learn) and are able to take a couple minutes to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads (which feeds into Kobo), I would appreciate it. How does it help? When someone searches Amazon or Kobo the algorithm used to order the results includes things like how many ratings and reviews a book has. This helps those who are searching out homeschooling or unschooling information find my books more easily. And on a related note, when someone new does come across one of my books, feedback from other readers can help them decide whether or not they would personally find it helpful. Of course, that’s only if you feel moved to share. No expectation at all. 🙂
Wishing you and your family a wonderful week!