LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #2 | Oct 29, 2012
OCTOBER’S THEME: How is unschooling different than school?
We’re coming up on the end of October and a favourite celebration for many people I know: Halloween. In this issue, I thought I’d talk about some of the joys and considerations unschooling parents might have around this candy-filled festivity.
ON THE BLOG … this month
As we’ve explored the ways that unschooling is different than school this month, have you seen a pattern emerging? I didn’t plan it that way, but as so often happens when I’m writing about unschooling, connections appear that are even farther-reaching than I expected when I first started typing. Learning about unschooling is a journey!
One of the more popular ways to succinctly portray unschooling is to say “the world is our classroom.” Most people already have the notion of a classroom as a place of learning, so this phrase plays on that and tries to help them take a step outside that box. The idea is to get across the notion that unschoolers are actively out in the world, living and learning.
Very true. But as I started writing about learning math through unschooling, my first point was how as unschoolers we approach the topic of math from a bigger perspective than school does. And I was struck with the realization that it’s the same starting point I used when I wrote about how learning to write is about communicating the week before. And for the learning to read without lessons post the week before that.
All of a sudden the parallels seemed obvious. It’s something I’ve known for years, but it struck me even more deeply through writing this month. As unschoolers we live in the world, which is to say we are out and about, not confined to a classroom for a significant portion of our days. But it goes beyond this physical difference. School’s approach to learning through curricula truly restricts the way the information and skills they teach are viewed and understood. When life is artificially sliced into subjects, the bigger picture is lost and learning suffers. Even a star student learning all these discrete subjects does not recover what was cut away: the inter-relationships between topics. The beauty and intrigue of the world is much bigger than the sum of its curriculum parts.
With unschooling, the broader view of the inter-relationship between living and learning extends beyond the “world is our classroom” metaphor to how we see the development of the knowledge and skills people find helpful to live in their world. It’s fundamentally different. Unschoolers see learning as an active part of living within the context of what is important to each of us individually, whatever our age. We don’t learn, then live; we live *and* learn.
Phew. With that said, here’s how October’s theme played out on the blog this month:
This post discusses five ways that these learning environments are fundamentally different: no curriculum; a supportive atmosphere; focus on aspirations; interact with people of all ages; and no vacation from learning.
This post digs into what learning to read looks like outside of the classroom and lessons. Trying to superimpose lessons on the process implies not only that learning must be done on someone else’s timetable, but that the child’s interest and questions and personal connections are somehow not the “right” order in which to gather the pieces of the learning-to-read puzzle.
Just as there are real reasons to figure out reading, there are real reasons for writing. Not for gold stars, not for marks, but to communicate. Life, if lived actively and open to opportunities, gives everyone the chance to learn the skills that best help them follow their unique path through it—written communication included.
The unschooling perspective on learning math looks very different from school. In this post I talk about how unschooling kids develop solid critical thinking, reasoning, and logic skills through years of exploring the world, analyzing situations, and making choices. It’s that strong foundation of mathematical thinking, along with their everyday computational skills, that will continue to support them in whatever direction they choose to pursue.
In this post I talk about the value of avoiding classes as your family transitions from school-based learning to unschooling. The big question to ponder is, are you, like me in the beginning, offering up classes or lessons as your first response when your child says they are interested in something?
LET’S TALK ABOUT … Halloween
I personally have never been a huge fan of Halloween so I’ve always followed my kids’ interest levels as the big day approached each year. Some years it was scrounging up a quick costume on October 31st to go out and collect candy. Some years the focus was on unique pumpkin carvings and we’d scour the internet for inspiration, print templates, and find just the right knives. And other years it was multiple trips to the dollar and party stores for elaborate house and yard decorations and hours browsing the aisles for just the right accessory to complete their ensemble.
I still fondly remember the year we put up our artificial Christmas tree (very) early and decorated it with Halloween paraphernalia: orange and black garland, hanging glow-in-the-dark skeletons, and our large Jack Skellington doll as the tree-topper. Really fun! I also remember the years that the werewolf mask stayed packed away, alongside the candy bowl with the motion-activated moving hand and accompanying scream.
No matter which way your family flows this year, it is a wonderful connection-building time. Your kids will appreciate your support in whatever form they ask for it: their passionate embrace of all things Halloween; their down-and-dirty quick search for a costume just before they run out the door; or their complete avoidance of it altogether.
If your kids are younger and your family is new to unschooling, you might be struggling a bit with the candy aspect of the celebration. You might not be looking forward to the constant barrage of “Can I have some of my candy?” questions. You’ve also probably heard something along the lines of “unschoolers don’t control food”. And that’s true—in my experience, and that of countless others, the most effective learning about food and eating and how it supports and affects each person individually is to give them the freedom to explore food as they see fit and observe their body’s reaction.
But remember, it’s not about doing what other people say you “should” do; it’s about learning more and more about unschooling and understanding *why* you might want to do that. If you’re really uncomfortable going there, it likely won’t end well if you just try to grin and bear it, so don’t. Continue reading and thinking and observing your kids. And if you are interested in exploring releasing some food controls, it could be fun!
But I would strongly suggest that you not announce “Hey kids, you can eat as much candy as you want!” There are a couple reasons for that. First, it would probably be a weird and confusing message for them to hear because it’s likely the opposite of what they are used to hearing. We’re not going for weird and confusing. And second, it’s not really the message you want to get across (and you may not yet realize that if you’re new to unschooling).
Here’s why. With that pronouncement, you’re implying that their immediate “want” is the sole consideration that goes into the candy-eating decision, and that’s not really the case. And even deeper, with that implication, and their trust in your opinion, you’re hampering their ability to fully explore the situation and discover those other considerations on their own. Things like how they’re feeling in the moment (snacky? hungrier for something more substantial?), or if they want to save some for a future occasion (family movie night soon?), or if they are satisfying a taste for sweet (how much candy does that take?). At first, they may just be thrilled with the yes and have at it. But once that novelty wears off, they will begin to analyze the bigger picture, begin to discover and take into account other considerations that might go into their decision.
What can you do instead? When they ask, say yes. If dinner’s almost ready, mention that alongside: “Sure! Dinner’s in fifteen minutes so you might want to only have a couple pieces.” Then don’t judge how much they eat (and if you can, don’t even try to find out—they may see that as unspoken judgement if, from past experience, they know you would be concerned). If they’re full when dinner’s ready, don’t be annoyed, just save their plate for when they get hungry later. They’re learning. Maybe don’t put the candy away and under your control. Ask them what they would like to do. Each have their own bowl out? Keep it in their room? Don’t judge, let them explore. Observe. Through their actions you’ll “see” their minds at work. They are learning more about food and themselves, and you’re learning more about unschooling. All great things.
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
Recently I was asked by a friend if I would share an idea or two about what I wish I’d known earlier concerning any aspect of unschooling. It took me a few days to answer because really, each piece of the unschooling puzzle that I have learned (and continue to learn), I learned at a particular time because it made sense in the context of that moment: all of a sudden it clicked into place. I’m not sure I could have truly learned it any earlier—it might well have just been noise. With that in mind, here is my response:
Maybe that there’s no “one thing” that’s “the answer”? Stop searching for the end zone.
That it’s a journey, that unschooling works really well when you keep learning and thinking about it. There isn’t a set amount of unschooling knowledge that you can learn and announce yourself “graduated”. You grow in the skill and knowledge and experience of being an unschooling parent right alongside your kids as they grow up.
Enjoying the *now* with our children means actively being in and observing the moment. That’s both the joy, and the learning, of unschooling.
The challenge is to get that idea across without implying “well, if the learning never ends I don’t really need to focus on it now”. That isn’t what I’m getting at. It’s more about continuing to actively learn about unschooling, just stop keeping an eye out for a goal of “finished learning” because looking ahead takes you out of the *now*, which moves you away from the learning. Make sense?
I’m looking forward to next month’s theme, “Parenting to Support Unschooling.” And is anyone else participating in NaNoWriMo? If you don’t know what that is, a quick google search will answer all your questions. Next month I’ll be neck-deep in words, words, words. Sounds like fun!
Until then, I wish you much joy on your family’s unschooling journey.