LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #15 | May 31, 2013
MAY’S THEME: Unschooling Kids
This month on the blog was five weeks long! But I figured it was a great month to have the extra week because there’s so much to write about when the topic is unschooling kids. It was lovely to stroll down memory lane, remembering what our unschooling lives looked like when my children were younger.
And it ends up that this month I was also reminded about our lives before I discovered unschooling and my family and I chose to start down this exhilarating path. Unschooling families come to unschooling from so many different places. Some journeys to unschooling start with the parents’ realization that their children wouldn’t thrive in the school environment—some before their kids hit school age, others after a few years of school experience. Some have had bad school experiences themselves and have been determined to avoid the school system since before their children were born. Others come to unschooling by way of questioning the reach of government involvement in their lives. Others first hear of homeschooling through religious affiliations, and are eventually drawn to unschooling. Yet others come by way of being directly involved in the educational system and choosing a different path for their own children. Still others have been homeschooled or unschooled themselves.
I love the diverse backgrounds and stories that have led us to gather together here around the topic of unschooling. It creates such a rich and deep collective of experience to share and learn from. And in this newsletter, I share a bit more about the beginnings of my family’s story.
ON THE BLOG … this month
If your children aren’t yet school age, sometimes it can be overwhelming to try to throw all the ideas of unschooling into the mix. Feel free to remind yourself that right now you’re “just parenting”.
This week I look at the thoughts that may pop up when your child hits compulsory school age and you choose to not send them to school. It’s amazing all the stuff that can be buried in our minds!
I’ve always felt vaguely uncomfortable with the typical counsel to moms of younger kids along the lines of “remember to take time for yourself.” I finally caught a glimpse as to why as I pondered the question for this week’s blog post.
Some evenings I walked through the house tallying the bursts of imagination and play that had consumed them that day: a tableau of stuffed animals on the couch; a marble maze built in the corner of the play room; a Pokemon battle scene depicted on the kitchen table; swirls of shaving cream drying out on the bathtub walls; video game controllers askew in front of the TV; the dress up box empty and toy swords and crowns strewn around, the detritus of battle.
This transition is an amazing time of growth and learning as they hone their sense of self, contemplate the kind of person they want to be, nurture their dreams for the future, and wonder how they might find their niche in the adult world.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … Making the Choice by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson
I’m happy the publisher of Making the Choice: When Typical School doesn’t fit your Atypical Child thought I might find this book interesting and reached out—it’s a book I hadn’t come across on my own.
The book is geared to parents of gifted or twice exceptional (2e) kids who are not thriving in the school environment, walking parents through some of the reasons why school may not be a good fit and on to some of the great reasons to consider homeschooling as a viable alternative. I admit I hesitated for a moment about reviewing this book because the term “gifted” comes with a lot of baggage, conjuring up fantasy images of high achieving and well-behaved students (an issue the authors mention as well) and leaving people wondering how this could even be a credible concern. But it’s the path that I came through as a now unschooling parent, so I certainly recognize the value. Reading some of their descriptions brought back memories of what life was like when my kids were in school—if this book had been available back then I would have welcomed it with open arms and a heartfelt “Thank you!” I made the journey on my own, as we all do in the end, but it might have been faster. 😉
One of the challenges is that many gifted or 2e kids in action do not look or behave like the fantasy role model of a student that most people imagine. With their overexcitabilites and emotional intensities and sometimes very asynchronous development, trying to fit them into a classroom often leads to misdiagnoses such as ADD/ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders, auditory and visual processing disorders, behaviour problems etc. I imagine there are many parents who, like me, come to homeschooling and unschooling when they realize that so often these issues aren’t innate in the child, but the result of the environment: school is just not a good fit. For any atypical child whose school experience is best described as trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, unschooling can be a lifesaver!
“Unfortunately, we live in a society in which the term different, especially when applied to children, is equated with “needs to be fixed.” Parents and teachers, in need of reassurance or simplification, evolve practices based on the theory that children develop at more or less the same rate and in the same way, based on books they have read or child development theories with which they are familiar. When a child does not respond as expected, the assumption is that something about the child needs to be corrected.”
I love that right up front the authors encourage parents who are searching for an appropriate educational environment to “place the emotional and academic needs of the child at the center of the decision-making process.” Any child who is atypical, no matter the reason, probably won’t thrive in school. Yes, parents can press for accommodations, but as the authors note, “accommodations imply that unique needs are somehow a problem to be fixed rather than characteristics that make up a valuable human being.”
I also like that they mention “For many children, a formal assessment of their ability and potential is unnecessary.” I found that as well. The beauty of unschooling is that you are supporting the child individually and helping them pursue their interests: diving as deeply as they desire and using the tools they find helpful. You are supportive of their passions and available to help them work through their challenges. Once outside the school system, I haven’t found much need for any labels, beyond the odd keyword for searching out information with an eye to better supporting them. My children were, and are, uniquely themselves.
Another topic I was happy to see addressed is the adjustment period when children leave school:
“The process of moving from one paradigm of learning to another can be confusing, and the psychological messages instilled in an inappropriate setting don’t vanish right away. In fact, for children who have been emotionally damaged by their schooling experiences, things often get worse before they get better.”
“Our advice to you at this stage is: Don’t be too quick to evaluate your new situation. It may take several weeks or even months on both the child’s and parent’s part to get used to new expectations, new routines, and new aspects in the relationships between family members.”
Even if everyone finds immediate relief in no longer having to deal with the school daily, from the family’s perspective, this is a new experience. Give everyone time to adjust. Think of the next few months as a summer vacation, or a season of Saturdays. Play. De-stress. Get to know each other better.
If you are deep in the transition from school to unschooling and have similar concerns, I think you might find Making the Choice helpful in both reminding you why you chose this path, and encouraging you to have the patience to allow it to unfold.
If you’re interested you can find more information, including the table of contents, at the book’s website: Making the Choice.
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
I mentioned Michael’s upcoming karate tournaments in the last newsletter so I thought this might be a good time to share a bit I wrote recently on the Shine with Unschooling list about how he and I flow on tournament days. It was based on a large tournament we had attended earlier in May.
I love the wonderful rhythm Michael and I have developed at karate tournaments. We were at a large tournament on Saturday, over 30 clubs, so it’s fresh in my soul. 🙂
We make sure we arrive in plenty of time (the stress of rushing is distracting), and I take the lead to figure out where the preregistration line is. Then he takes the lead, finding where our club is sitting in the gym/arena/wherever we are, and finding a place to stash his equipment. Then he changes and starts warming up while I confirm start times and figure out what ring he’s in.
When his divisions are called he hands me his insulin pump and his phone (if there’s a musical division) for safe-keeping. Then I keep a discreet distance so as not to be a distraction. During his divisions, I’ll keep an eye out between them for the judges calling competitors to line up as he changes or grabs equipment needed, and let him know if needed. Sometimes I’ll need to be watching another ring as well (often musical runs separately). I’m always unobtrusively close by in case he needs something, maybe from the car (a charging wire this week), or a water bottle from the food table if we forgot his, or some glucose tablets. At these larger tournaments I usually do any runs to the trophy table for him so he can stay in the arena and not lose focus.
We’ve never talked about it specifically, no “you do this, I’ll do that”, but it naturally plays to our strengths. We’ve found a rhythm that helps the day go as smoothly as possible, minimizing any additional stress and keeping him free to concentrate on his events. For me, it’s all about supporting him as he plays with his passion.
Remember, the flow of your family in action may look very different based on your unique personalities and needs, but it’s the underlying motivations that I find these kinds of stories share in spades: supporting our children in the ways they find most helpful as they explore their interests and passions. I know when I read about how other families flow I am often reminded to look through my children’s eyes for a fresh perspective. It’s a beautiful view. 🙂
And just a reminder: today’s the last day for the early bird pricing for the 2013 Unschooling Summit. If you’d like to listen to the calls for free during the week of the Summit, just sign up and they’ll let you know when the calls are available.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend with your family!