LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #18 | July 31, 2013
JULY’S THEME: The Spirit of Unschooling
So it turns out I could only manage one newsletter this month—I’ve been busily preparing for the Adventures in Homeschooling Conference this weekend, hosted by HSC, the Homeschool Association of California. I’ll be giving three talks! And participating on an unschooling panel. Creating three talks has definitely been a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed (and learned a lot from) the process. And now I’m really looking forward to attending the conference! If you’re going, please come and say hi—friendly faces are always welcome. 🙂
Alongside the conference prep, I really enjoyed this month’s topic on the blog. One of the things I love about unschooling is how the philosophy and principles eventually seep beyond the academic focus of “learning” and into the ways in which we choose to live our lives. You can get to the same ideas about living from other vantage points, but I love that I am exploring them through the window of unschooling, where my children also immediately and directly benefit. So this month I talked about some of the bigger ideas about living I came to through my exploration of unschooling.
ON THE BLOG … this month
This is about some of the unexpected and marvelous ways that choosing unschooling has helped me grow as a person.
Living mindfully is not only very supportive of an unschooling environment, for me, it has grown to become a wonderful perspective from which to approach my life in general. Here I talk about eight lovely reasons why.
And here I share some of the realizations I made along my unschooling journey that have helped me find joy more often.
Living joyfully doesn’t mean life is without challenges—and here are a few things I’ve learned about moving through them.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … an excerpt from my talk, A Family of Individuals
I thought I’d share a bit from one of my talks. Short and sweet: the premise of A Family of Individuals is that “focusing on the individuals in the family is key for cultivating an atmosphere of harmony”. In it, I talk a lot about relationships—so many of the really useful things I’ve learned about relationships over the years are a result of my delving into understanding unschooling.
Experienced unschooling parents have invested, and continue to invest, much time and effort into developing and supporting strong relationships with each of their children. Why is it worth it?
First and foremost, as we just discussed, it creates a superlative learning environment.
Yet over the years I’ve discovered so many other wonderful benefits. My kids have developed good relationship and communication skills and gained an appreciation for the breadth of human needs and motivations. They’ve seen first hand the benefits of helping those around them meet their needs, and developed solid analytical skills that help them sort through their sometimes tangled goals. Not only did focusing on strong relationships help them better understand themselves, it helped them become more understanding of others. It helped them develop empathy.
As young adults, my children have found that their more conventionally raised peers often have a hard time seeing the perspective of others and are unable to anticipate the impact their actions may have on those around them. With this lack of empathy, watching their friends’ attempts at communication sometimes reminds me of a life-sized game of pinball, people stuck in place by fear and confusion, unable to avoid the hits from words flung at them, yet staunchly sending them back out into the world to hit others. Ding ding ding. By the time one set of zingers fades down the drain, another set is launched to take its place. Not fun. So many young adults are trying to develop these relationship skills now because growing up, their parents and teachers weren’t in relationship with them, but talking at them.
As an interesting aside to my observations surrounding this, I recently read Peter Gray’s book, Free to Learn, and in it he discusses how, since the late 70s, studies based on the interpersonal reactivity index have revealed a significant rise in narcissism coupled with a significant decline in empathy. He makes an interesting point, that this relates to a decline in play. He defines play as “nature’s way of teaching children how to solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences, and get along with others as equals.” His play is our unschooling days.
He believes that ultimately it boils down to the freedom to quit. If children want to play together but any of them can choose to leave at any time, then they are all motivated to negotiate so that the game is enjoyable enough that most children choose to stay and play. In that situation, understanding others’ perspectives is a very useful skill that naturally develops over time and exposure to that environment. Unschoolers create that environment at home, where family members are free to say “that doesn’t work for me,” knowing that the others will do their best to understand their perspective and incorporate their needs. More generally to me, this freedom to quit is the freedom of choice—which unschoolers encourage in spades.
The challenge in society is that over the last 30-odd years organized play has grown to replace free play. Nowadays most play is hosted by adults, and parents insist that their children don’t quit in the name of “commitment”, so there really is no choice. This means that there is no driving motivation to consider the needs of the participants. Even good old play time is often compromised by parents insisting, even after disagreements, that their kids continue to play together; that they work it out with their friends right now in the name of “getting along”. That approach does nothing to encourage developing the skills that actually help people learn to get along. Giving individuals the freedom of choice to play or to quit does that so much better.
Unschooling parents also realize that the time invested in developing strong relationships with their children will pay interest over their lifetime. Which sounds more effective and enjoyable: spending time and effort to understand your child and work together to find common ground, or spending time and effort to coerce your child to do what you want them to do until they are old enough to refuse. I imagine most parents reason that they are doing it for their child’s “own good”, that once their children are adults they’ll shift to a peer relationship. But how do you imagine that shift will go? How hard is it to change a relationship dynamic that’s been 20-odd years in the making? Why do you think there are so many Thanksgiving movies about the emotional turmoil that happens when adult children go home for the holidays? If you want a less conventional and more loving adult relationship with your child when they’re grown, have a less conventional and more loving relationship with them now.
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
At the beginning of this month I was brainstorming topics for the blog for the rest of 2013. It’s something that I find myself putting off beforehand because I worry I won’t have anything else to say, yet I have so much fun actually doing—which I remember after. My memory bubbles with my own unschooling journey and ruminations, my children’s experiences, the questions I’ve encountered through the years on unschooling lists and at conferences etc. It’s fun to actively encourage my mind to relax and flow and see where it goes.
And this time, alongside a bunch of actual topics, my brain asked, “Hey, what about other people’s questions?” To which I answered, “That could be fun!” So, if you have any questions/thoughts you’d be interested in me covering on the blog, please feel free to click reply and let me know. I’d love to take a month to explore what’s onyour mind. 🙂
Until next time, happy living and learning!