LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #30 | March 4, 2014
FEBRUARY’S THEME: Parenting Challenges
Hi, I hope things are well with you and your family. Sorry I’m a few days late sending this out. February is always a busy month for us, what with two birthdays, and this year was no exception. In fact, with less days, way more snow to shovel, and a weekend karate tournament thrown in, February flew by!
And mixed in there, this month’s topic of parenting challenges gave me some time to think more about the ways we’ve moved through various situations over the years. In the end, it was interesting to see the common thread that wove into all the posts, namely doing my best to understand how situations look from my child’s perspective, without taking their feelings on as my own. In fact, that helps me approach any challenging situation, regardless of the age of those involved. Another example of an unschooling/parenting perspective that meshes quite seamlessly with being human—there isn’t a different way of treating children and adults.
ON THE BLOG …
When our children are upset about something we want to fix it for them, to help them feel better. But not everything is under our, or their, control. Sometimes we can’t find a satisfying resolution right away, if ever. What happens then? What if our children aren’t responding to our efforts to help them as we hope? What if they discard our suggestions? What if they stay upset or sad or angry longer than we’re comfortable with?
Let’s talk about some things parents can do when they see situations differently than their children. Maybe your child wants to go to a movie unsupervised for the first time and you’re uncomfortable, while they’re insistent. Maybe at your child’s weekly activity you have concerns about the behaviour of another child or parent, yet your child is unconcerned—they just don’t see it the way you do. Where do you go from there?
To feel proud, pleased, or satisfied with something you’ve accomplished is a wonderful, intrinsic reward for your effort. But to take pride in the result of someone else’s actions or accomplishments seems to send a different message.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … Curious and Engaged
I have finally managed to get the last of my three conference talks from last summer’s HSC Adventures in Homeschooling conference up on my website! I thought I’d share some of the section about living unschooling with our children, challenges and all.
So how do you begin to live this learning lifestyle with your children? If you’re newer to unschooling, be sure to note that, as parents, you’ve been in school longer than your children so you most likely have more deschooling to do than they do—that’s the adjustment period as you discover the many pockets of conventional school-think buried in your mind that aren’t supportive of real learning or the development of strong relationships. It’s not enough to just get out of your children’s way: it’s important to actively live with them and cultivate a thriving unschooling environment with your family.
Yet be careful not to imagine a “perfect” unschooling home and then berate yourself when you fall short. That’s a school-ish way to approach a goal. Keep deschooling! Continue exploring unschooling, discovering what unschooling looks like for your children, and in your family. Focus on discovery and learning, not demands and expectations.
It’s not for the faint of heart—it’s an incredibly busy and exciting time. Unschooling children often bounce up in the morning and dash straight to their activity of choice, their boundless energy propelling them through the day, from activity to activity, until they drop with exhaustion. I remember wishing many times that I had their energy! Some evenings I would walk 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 another battle.
Winding down at night, maybe watching a movie or playing a video game, I might start to tidy up. Sometimes they’d help out—more often if I remembered to suggest a small and specific task, “Can you toss the stuffed animals in the bin?” Sometimes I’d tidy up after they fell asleep, surprising them with a fresh canvas when they came down the next morning. Sometimes morning came and the house was just as we left it, and seeing the stuffed animals frozen mid-scene inspired them to pick up their game where they left off. Every day is a new day of fun and exploration for them, even when I sometimes lost track of what day of the week it happened to be.
Childhood play and learning is fascinating. As they reach out into the world so much is new to them! Pirate movies. Bike riding. Pioneer villages. Building toys. Science centres. Water play. Somersaults. Museums with dinosaurs. Fantastical stories with dragons and magic. Baking cookies. Piles of leaves. Board games. Video games. Card games. Dice games. Hide and seek. The questions fly: Why are you doing that? How do you do that? Why does that happen? How does it work? At times you may feel like a walking reference library; other times you seriously consider investing money in your best friend Google. Through their play, children process and explore and connect the new facts and ideas they encounter, learning all the while. They are definitely curious and engaged.
How can you support them? Let their minds roam free—that’s where the best learning is because they will choose to do what their mind is thirsty for in the moment. A thirsty mind is engaged, motivated, and thinking—a sponge. Be their companion in play when asked, or offered and accepted, to support and expand their exploration. Answer their questions earnestly, or look them up, so they never stop asking. Share their excitement and wonder, to stay deeply connected with them. Offer up food and drink regularly to keep them fueled. Share what you know beforehand about the places you go so they begin to understand the world around them. Be patient. And when you’re tired, sit and watch them for a while. Children are pretty awe-inspiring beings.
Alongside all that learning about the world, they are also learning so much about themselves. Their reactions are often visceral—immediate and strong: deep sadness and frustration when things don’t go as envisioned; bursting joy when they do; overflowing anticipation for upcoming events; overwhelming fear of things that scare them. As you are their reliable extra set of hands as they explore the physical world, you’re also their solid anchor as they navigate their emotional world.
How can you support them here? Meet them where they are, emotionally and physically—kneel down to meet them eye-to-eye, or sweep them up in your arms. See the situation through their eyes. Share their excitement and empathize with their challenges. Listen to them, talk with them—either in the moment, or later when things settle, or both. Figure out how you can best help them process their emotions by looking to your child for clues. And don’t assume the process will be the same for all your children. If they’re receptive, point out things you notice that you think might help them make a connection, like “It can be hard to concentrate when you’re tired.”
Be their anchor, their safe place, and build a strong relationship with them. Trust and learning will blossom.
If you’d like to read more, you can find the full text of my talk here: Curious and Engaged
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
Speaking of talks, I’m excited that I’ve been asked to speak at a number of unschooling conferences this year! In the last couple months I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about speaking in general and unschooling audiences in particular, wanting the experience to be both enjoyable and informative for the audience.
I’ve spoken at a few conferences over the last few years, and love that they give me the opportunity to write longer pieces, like Curious and Engaged, to examine and tie together unschooling ideas into a bigger picture of connections. Yet in the last year and change I’ve been writing regularly on my blog, giving me an outlet for that passion, so now I’m reconsidering the ways I’d like to connect with others through speaking. It’s such an interesting thing to contemplate—so much learning and growing.
But enough about me! Conferences are a wonderful way to connect with other unschooling families and see them in action. They are also great for learning about unschooling through both the more formal talks and the myriad of conversations that ebb and flow. They can also be a wonderful environment in which to connect deeply with your children, especially the younger ones, with lots of fun activities.
Conferences aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, maybe not even for everyone in your family—over the years, sometimes my whole family attended, sometimes (mostly) not. But they can also be life-changing experiences. If you’re interested to find out more about the ones I’ll be speaking at this year, just click on the links:
Minnesota Always Learning Live Unschooling Symposium
May 29 – June 1
We Shine (private event)
Cortland, New York
June 16 – 20
Northeast Unschooling Conference
August 28 – 31
Un in the Sun—Florida Unschooling Conference
St. Pete Beach, Florida
October 5 – 9
If you and your family choose to attend, I’d love to connect with you! I’ll be hanging around throughout the conferences so please feel free to come up and say hi. 🙂
Wishing you and your family a lovely week.