Not Back to School

It’s that time of year again. The hiatus to school is in full swing. Pictures plastered on Facebook of grinning children in adorable outfits and well-kempt hair, wearing backpacks stuffed with important supplies and materials. I “like” most of them, love some of them, but secretly feel uncomfortable for all of them. Not because I believe that all children who go to school are miserable, anxious creatures. No. I indeed realize that some school settings are well suited for certain personality types and some even see school as a safe haven, an escape, from a tumultuous home life….a place where two warm meals are served, where there is structure and expectations with people looking out for them.

What makes me most uncomfortable is this…How many of those grinning faces had a choice? How many had a say so in this systematic separation of parent and child? How many desire a different flow to their day? One that doesn’t require a rigid schedule, a laundry list of imposed expectations, or spending their day with complete strangers. What about the shy child, who appreciates downtime and the quiet who is forced to be in a busy, noisy environment most of the day. Her heart feels conflicted and her nerves on edge worrying about when she will be called on to speak in front of the class. What about the gregarious, social type? The one who likes to chat and visit or talk out loud while he’s doing his work, who gets in trouble constantly for ‘socializing’ and punished so often he becomes withdrawn. What about the kids who are not capable of sitting still, who are full of energy and need space to roam and move, but who are told their energy is inappropriate and are disciplined for their innate needs to move about and explore?

As 50 million US children begin another school year in the confines of the system, we are embarking on another year of staying out. This was not a decision made overnight and it is not one that I made alone. My husband and I gave our children a choice. We discussed their options and offered to support their decision. Some may argue that five year olds are not capable of making big decisions for themselves and we are silly to give them such freedom. To the naysayers, I say this. Children ARE capable. They know what makes them feel uncomfortable and they know when they are ready to take the next step. They teach themselves to talk and walk, use the bathroom and ask for help. They learn to feed themselves, clothe themselves, organize their toys and their thoughts. They absorb their environment at an alarming rate and they recognize their limits and their abilities. If a five year old is afraid to leave the home, their siblings, their parents to join a school full of strangers they aren’t weird, they are normal.

My oldest is almost 12 and my youngest is 7.5.  We have participated in this lifestyle from the beginning, but each year I ask them if they are happy with our current set up or if they’d like to give a school setting a try. Both of them have consistently answered with a resounding, “No Thanks.” Am I doing everything perfectly? No. Do I fumble? Yes. But we work together. It is a team effort. Our days are filled with life lessons. Some weeks are more adventurous then others, some days are busy, some are slow, but the pace is self set. Chosen. Individualized.

And most importantly, there is peace.

What if kids could test out of school?

According to the author of “Teen 2.0: Saving our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence” that’s exactly what we should be doing.  Teens are in limbo. They aren’t given enough rights to be independent, but they are fully capable of handling their lives and in many cases, better than those who are actually deemed adults, all because of the arbitrary age laws.

In his book, Robert Epstein, outlines profound, totally unexpected suggestions for our society to consider in order to free our young people and give them the power to reach their full potential. We see delinquent behaviors because kids feel trapped, controlled, and unappreciated. We have dumbed down our expectations of our young people, so they are fulfilling those expectations to society’s detriment.

In the Chapter “How Society Must Change” he goes right for the jugular. Below are the main points.  I personally would love to see this in place.

“We need shorter compulsory school hours, a shorter compulsory school year and fewer required school years.” 

“Students need options, the most important being the option to test out of courses, school years or school itself.”


“We need to shift away from teaching in the traditional classroom environment.”

“We need to shift toward new methods of individualized instruction.”

“One of the most factory-like aspects of the modern school-segregation by age-needs to be ended.”

“Education needs to be spread out over one’s life, not compacted into the childhood and teen years.”

Breathe all that in. I know it sounds like crazy talk to those who want to believe in the system–and he even admits his suggestions will be hard to implement. But it’s music to my ears and I’m happy to have read his score.

 

Got Math?

Mathematics isn’t just about adding and subtracting; it is so much more than that. It is about symbols and patterns, quantities and relationships, structures and space. All of us are constantly ‘doing math’ with our children and like reading, the process of being proficient in math evolves and strengthens as our children grow and develop. 

Here’s how we have done things up until now:

From the time my children could hold a puzzle piece, we were working puzzles together. Over and over again they would place the brightly colored wooden numerals into the correct space-or not. As they played I talked and counted the images on the puzzle too. We read books that involved counting, books about colors and shapes, books with colorful patterns and images. Around 5, my oldest got really into mazes, so he worked maze after maze then began creating his own. As a toddler, he would ask his Dad what the jersey numbers were on the uniforms of the football players as they watched a game together. He loved to look at maps and see what roads we were taking to get to our destination. His first Lego set was at age three. Although he could not quite follow the pictorial instructions included with the set, he followed along while his Dad pointed and he searched for the correct piece to finish the build. Eventually, he would spend hours on his Lego and Bionicle creations–taking pictures of them, posting to the Lego website, coming up with stories, and creating stop motion videos. We read riddles and made up our own. We calculated how many steps it would take to walk across the yard or we measured how far they could jump. We played with real money and looked at the prices of items in a real store or made up our own restaurant or store. We have baked and cooked together, measuring ingredients and learning about solids and liquids, temperature and time. We talked about the seasons and weather. We measured rainfall and paid attention to the temperature changes. 

As far as structured, Mom-led instruction goes, I did try the workbook approach with my son when he was 10. That lasted for about a minute. To him, that was boring and plain and far removed from the real world. So, without any curriculum, he calculates figures in his head faster than I can at times. He fully understands how numbers relate to one another. Does he know all the formulas for geometry or algebra yet? No. Does he know how to multiply or divide fractions? Not yet. But when he decides he’s ready for more advanced math, I’m sure he will figure the concepts out rather quickly because he has such a strong foundation. A foundation that took years, not tears, to create.

What is Unschooling?

We “un”school.

But what does that mean?

It means we do not approach learning in the way most think of when they hear the word ‘school’. We eschew the traditional approach of going into a building filled with resources and plans, teachers and administrators, who are doling out a mandated curriculum during an inflexible time frame without much consideration for individuality all in the name of education. 

What do we do instead?

Well we aren’t uninvolved, unintentional, or uninterested in learning, that’s for sure. Instead, we are VERY involved in our life. When things interest us, we pursue them. When we are fascinated by something we have discussions. We are active in our community and utilize the resources available to us. We plan our days according to our individual interests and needs. Sometimes that means we stay home all day to lay around and watch videos, eat junk food, and take walks in the neighborhood. Sometimes we take a day trip to the mountains or plan a quick get away to the beach. Sometimes we spend the entire day with our friends, going to a greenway to ride scooters or longboards, then getting ice cream together. Maybe we visit a museum or science center, maybe we lounge at the pool, maybe we buy canvases and paint, or visit the garden center for a few more plants for our garden or just run necessary errands like grocery shopping or taking a kitty to the vet. And yes, we even enroll in classes. Not for the sake of meeting some curricular goal, but because the kids actually want to be there.

Uncool? I don’t think so.

How will your kids learn to read?

So far, here’s how it has worked for our little tribe.

Step one: Read to them when they are babies and be expressive. Talk to them constantly using rich and vibrant language.

Step two: As they grow, continue to read stories, make up stories, read street signs, store signs, and directions out loud. Don’t dumb down your vocabulary. If they don’t know what you are saying, they will ask, but chances are they will figure it out because of the context in which you are using the words. Play games with words- Pictionary, MadLibs, Scrabble, Words with Friends, Scattergories, Boggle. Make up games.

Step three: Whatever they are interested in, get books and materials to support their interests. Read more together, but whatever you do, don’t try to force their reading. They live in a society where words are plastered everywhere. They aren’t going to bow out of learning to read-pinky swear. If they ask you how a word is spelled, spell it for them. Don’t do the–well, let’s sound it out game. If they could have sounded it out, they would have. Chances are, they are picking up the letter/sound correlation while you spell it for them. The more often they hear it, the more likely it is to stick.

Step four: Support, support, support. And don’t stress! Not every child will read at the same age–not even your own kids. Research has shown that boys tend to read later than girls, but obviously that is not always the case. When your kids ask you to read, do it. My son learned to read completely independently by age 9. At 11.5 he reads practically anything that is put in front of him. His word decoding skills are incredible and all I did were the steps above. He even says, “I like reading words.” My youngest is 7 and she gravitated towards words early on so she has been dabbling in spelling and reading for quite a while. She was also the one who wanted to reread books to us. Our son had no interest in doing that. See–totally different approach. She is not an independent reader just yet, but I know she is very close.

Step five: Enjoy watching their curiosity and natural development unfold.

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” John Holt

When things get physical

This morning, the kids got into an altercation that ended with the oldest storming off and the youngest in tears. I saw what led to the heightened emotional reactions and wanted to press pause about two seconds before it went down, but alas, real life is in real time.

My children are polar opposites in so many ways. One enjoys quiet time, down time, personal space. This one rarely seeks out attention in any form and shies away from loud, gregarious, or impulsive types. He “reads” people and has little patience for wild behavior or injustices. He knows I’m a sucker for babies and is the first to point one out wherever we go. He’s been called ‘the old soul’. My other child is talkative, wiggly, always moving, singing, dancing. She breaks stuff, spills things, and is bruised up from tumbles and wipeouts. She goes at life head on and hasn’t quite learned the art of ‘backing down’—especially when it comes to her brother. She sometimes wails, “He doesn’t love me.” Or “He should love me more than his friends, I’m his sister!” Her heart is big, loving, and explosive.

Suffice it to say their personalities clash—and sometimes that clashing is physical. But why does this happen? Why is it that children who have never been hit, never been punished strike one another? Even more perplexing is that they have never been in pre- school or school, daycare of any sort and did not grow up with other children who punched or hit. So what gives?

Have you ever watched bear cubs? Have you ever watched a roomful of puppies or kittens? They wrestle, bite, scratch, and chase. They communicate through physical acts. Our children actually aren’t much different than those puppies or kittens. They are jockeying for position, establishing their place, and communicating. Is it the communication of choice we parents want? Most likely not. But I think it is important to recognize that our children get physical with each other—even the ones who have been raised in a nurturing, loving, peaceful home—and it is natural, innate even, and not something to beat yourself up about.

So after their brief battle this morning, I listened to their perspectives. I did not take sides, I did not point fingers. I just made the observation that neither seems to enjoy being hit. I reminded them that they have the luxury of using their words and walking away if they don’t feel heard. They both agreed that is what they will do next time, but I have a sinking feeling my little pups won’t remember this conversation at all.

Let go of your EGO

Wise words from Deepak Chopra . Consider how this relates to the way you parent your children. Many decisions are based on our egos–we fear looking bad or being wrong that we react instead of listen. Bring awareness to your parenting and constantly remind yourself that you are building relationships with your kids, not trying to win battles!

Deepak Ego