On Disagreements

Disagreements with our children? They will happen. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Question is, will you be ready?

And I don’t mean ready as in:
You will have all the right answers.
You will win the argument.
You will stand your ground and show them that your experience and knowledge surpasses theirs.
You know better.

If you come to disagreements with this philosophy and you believe that being a parent automatically qualifies you as top dog then you are likely missing huge opportunities for YOUR OWN growth AND creating disconnect with your children in the process.

Every mom and dad parents during a time they have never seen. So although you do have some mileage behind you that does not mean you have knowledge of all that is to come. That’s like traveling in a foreign country without a map because you’ve had experience traveling in your own neighborhood, therefore you know things. That’s cocky and dangerous.
Instead of focusing on the win, focus on the path. Each disagreement opens up new channels of communication and clarifies our intentions. We might not have a solution immediately when an issues arises, but if you make it clear you want to travel this new road together, the journey will be so much more peaceful and I guarantee, enlightening for everyone involved. Be open, be calm, be humble…be there.

How Pokemon Sealed our Unschooling Fate

My son was six when Pokemon entered our world. The cute and odd-looking characters quickly become his thing, his focus, the topic he explored in as many ways as possible.  For a little while, I was like the Pokemon themselves–using my ‘special powers’ (i.e. my debit card to purchase or not purchase cards each time we entered a Target) and my personal experience points, (a Masters degree in Special Education, past work in public schools, and organizing/suggesting curriculum), to justify why I needed to be in control of what and how he learns.  I just knew my skills gave me insight more powerful than my son’s.  How could Pokemon be taken seriously as a valid learning tool? It was a toy, a game; not a carefully devised curriculum by highly educated professionals with resources, rubrics, scaffolding, and tests. Pfft.

Needless to say, I was guarded and resistant to support this interest. I wondered how devoting time to collecting and trading cards, playing a card game, and watching videos on YouTube could amount to anything. I was trapped in “school-think”.  The system that taught me to believe that knowledge was handed down from adult to child, that kids must be guided and given to was a force to be reckoned with.  Plus, there was an entire industry devoted to preparing just the right materials to ensure kids were learning exactly what they needed to. Heck, topics and standards were even broken down into ages and grades, so how could that be wrong?

Time went by. I did a lot of observing. What I saw was transformative.  My six year old, non reader son, was memorizing cards. Not just a few words, but small paragraphs of information.  He began to recognize words like “experience” and “attack”.  He memorized the names of the characters, loads of them, and he knew their basic form and their evolved form.   He knew their types: dragon, grass, electric, water, steel, flying and so on.  He was doing mental math by calculating the attack amounts and how much damage could be done.  He was immersing himself in a topic of interest and developing a vast amount of knowledge, becoming quite the expert, while thoroughly enjoying himself.  I went from resistant to convinced that this is what learning is all about.  Instead of me coming up with topics, creating a schedule and plan, then telling him what and how to learn, I got out of the way.  It was freedom for him and freedom for me.  He ultimately won the battle that he had no idea he was fighting. And fortunately for us both, I evolved as a stronger, more confident parent in the process.  Pokemon paved the way for our transition into unschooling–free and self-directed learning…isn’t that what we all ultimately strive for? Freedom to learn and pursue knowledge that appeals to us?

“Children come into the world with instinctive drives to educate themselves. These include the drives to play and explore.” -Peter Gray

Although there is no one way to pursue a passion or delve into an interest, here is how my son’s path basically unfolded:

1.  Purchase card packs as often as possible amassing hundreds of cards in a short period of time.

2. Trade said cards with friends, but hold onto the “cool, rare, ones”.

3.  Join a Pokemon Club

4.  Get a binder. Add clear plastic pages in order to sort and organize cards. (Who said boys don’t like things orderly?)

pokemon binder

5. Watch YouTube video after YouTube video to became intimately aware of each Pokemon type and their respective powers and attacks.

6. Learn how to use Ebay. Bid on cards and obsessively watch to see if you won the bid!

7.  Make your own Pokemon cards.

8.  Teach your mom how to play the Pokemon card game and laugh when she has no clue what she is doing.

9.  Sharpen your card game skills because your mom is now much better and is a real challenge.

10. Go to local gaming events and practice playing against other kids.

11. Buy the Pokemon games to play on your DS and have your mom read all the instructions to you at first. Eventually you will memorize all those too.

12.  And last, but not least, have a Pokemon themed birthday party so your mom can make you a pokeball cake.

Pokemon cake

 

 

I’m pro-learner, not anti-education

The natural curiosity of a child is a sight to behold.

To watch a toddler fumble through his world, touching, examining, tasting objects in his path is quite remarkable. His brain taking in all the new information at lightening speed. Without his knowledge he is making connections, drawing conclusions, and forming opinions. His exploration continues, laying countless building blocks for future learning that truly can not be tested. To attempt to quantify his learning and assign a value to his output is like missing the forest for the trees. The world is a classroom and no lesson plans are needed. Learning can not be done to a child. Learning happens within a child. It is a private, individualized experience influenced by the environment in which he lives.  This is where those who care about a child’s well-being, mental and physical health play the biggest and best part–the environment.

You see, we have lost sight of what education is all about.

We believe that stuffing kids with facts and dates, requiring them to regurgitate information for a test that some company created by arbitrary means then scoring their performance is education.  This is the mile wide, inch deep mentality and it is not education.  The natural tendency for most humans who want to learn something is to immerse themselves fully in the subject matter.  We learn in blocks, filling ourselves up with the topic of interest. Our brains work much better this way and it has been proven time and time again that when we are emotionally comfortable and feel like a part of the process we will take in and hold onto information faster and better then if we are told what and how to learn.  Take my kids for example (and every kid I’ve ever met before)– as they have grown, they have each gravitated towards an activity with great enthusiasm.  For my son it was trains, then Legos and Bionicles, then Pokemon and all things associated with Pokemon, then baseball and gaming.  His ability to take in information and learn on his own is astonishing. My role has been to answer questions when I can, pull together resources, organize activities surrounding his interest, and support, support, support.  My daughter’s activities have been different, but no less significant. She draws all the time. Has been since she was two years old.  So I provide materials and opportunities.  She enjoys cooking and baking, so we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. She loves gymnastics, has watched videos and taught herself various moves.  She enjoys learning about hairstyles so she watches how to do one and then tries to replicate a style on my hair or her own. She does this over and over again. I could write a book about the amount of things they have learned by pursuing their own unique interests, but I think you get the point.  We are primed, as humans, to take in the world around us. Our desire to gain an understanding of what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel is innate and this can not be stressed enough.  Children want to learn, they want to improve, they want to experience life, but we have got to take away this ego driven, adult sized system that is an imposition to their very nature.  Checking boxes, following a curriculum without any input from the learner, mandating what and how learning should happen, and doling out grades isn’t education, it is quite the opposite.

I’m pro-learner, not anti-education. How about you?

Class Dismissed- Movie Review

I was able to see Class Dismissed in my hometown back in December. A local homeschooling mom took to social media to spread the word about the movie and to gather supporters.  The response was swift from the homeschooling community. I imagine there was a collective “YES! Finally a movie validating our choice to homeschool? I’m all in.” Although homeschooling is on the rise, it continues to be misunderstood by the masses. Class Dismissed is aiming to change the negative perceptions and open up a dialogue about our freedom to choose an educational route that best suits our children and our family, even if it’s not what everybody else is doing.

The film is a balanced mixture of interviews with authors, experts, teachers, students, and parents and the journey of one family who decides to leave “the best public schools” in the area to pursue education outside of the traditional classroom. The family’s decision is not hasty and the creators do a fantastic job sharing the emotional process of leaving a system of familiarity in search of one that aims to preserve their children’s love of  learning. The transition is not without hiccups and I appreciate that the difficulties aren’t smoothed over, but rather brought to light in a way that educates others with even the slightest desire to pull their children out of traditional schools.  This is a movie about hope, about rethinking what education really is, and about trusting your gut.   I found myself nodding in agreement constantly throughout the movie. It’s not just another film talking about the glaring issues of the public school system, which leave the viewer anxious and wondering how they are supposed to make such a colossal machine better, but one that shows the viewer viable options outside of the system.  And it was beautifully done.  And you really should check it out.

http://classdismissedmovie.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Trust the process–Reading will happen

Children will teach themselves how to read. This has been proven time and time again. Yet, it is a difficult concept to accept in a culture that thrives on competition, one-upmanship, and attaching a sense of self to being first at something or doing things early.

My first born walked at 12 months. Was speaking in complete sentences at 15 months and by 2 was carrying on conversations with adults. His verbal abilities made him stand out and he was often mistaken as an older child. But guess what? He didn’t read fully until he was 9. If I compared him to his school aged peers, he would have been considered very far behind–several years in fact. But I did not allow the school dictated schedule to define his worthiness or create panic in our home.

As Peter Gray so wonderfully explains, there is no critical period or best age to learn to read for non-schooled children.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/…/children-teach-themselves-…

The Future of Education

The current educational system is old, tired, and in desperate need of reform. Anyone who has been a part of the system–the students all the way up to the administrators– have witnessed the failings, the troubles, the glaring issues; have felt the suppression of a system that is inflexible and rigid. Educational reformers have lobbied to change the curriculum, change teaching methods, dump MORE money into resources and training, then all will be right again. It’s like changing the paint on a car that no longer runs and calling it new again.  The reforms don’t work.  The public school system, this gigantic machine, is outdated and broken. The model hasn’t worked for everyone for many, many years, but instead of the mantra used when the banking industry tanked “Too big too fail”, it appears those who have the power to affect change see the system as “Too big to change”.  Sure, little band-aids here and there have made differences. There are shining stars: schools that participate in the 21st century by incorporating all the latest gadgets and technologies, teachers who get kids excited with hands on learning and atypical classrooms full of bean bags and comfortable seating, free flowing use of time, and more coaching, less lecturing.  But they are not the norm.  You still have kids stressed and anxious by the demands of classwork and homework, testing and grades.  Kids on medications just to get through the day.  Children being given assignments that have no meaning to them. Humans, at the mercy of curriculum creators who push standards and objectives without considering the unique differences in how kids learn. It’s not a natural set up and it is creating more anxiety and stress then necessary–for everyone…kids, parents, teachers, school districts.  This stress trickles and spreads. What makes this even more frustrating is how many people blindly follow the mandate even though they know something is wrong.

So, what if all this could change?

I ran across this amazing infographic from Knowledge Works and I believe this is where we need to head in order to support the full learning potential of all humans. What do you think? Doable? Are you doing any of these things now?

http://knowledgeworks.org/sites/default/files/A-Glimpse-into-the-Future-of-Learning-Infographic_0.pdf

 

 

Getting out of the Way

We parents like to help. It’s what we do. When our children are struggling we feel compelled to assist, direct, or support. Sometimes, all this ‘help’ is counterproductive and inadvertently sends the message that you don’t trust your kids to do things on their own, to create, or problem solve without some adult supervision.  If there is one constant statement repeating in my head it is this: “Back off, they are capable, be patient. When they want help, they will ASK ME for it.”  The trick is to be available, but at a distance.

Yesterday, my gal needed a curtain in order to properly create a fashion show experience for her stuffed animals. She started out asking for string. After a brief discussion to discern her goal, I offered the extra fabric we had. She happily took it, asked for scissors then politely told me, “She was good.” Code for- You can leave now. So I left.

When she was done she excitedly called me into her room to view her creation. I was delighted to see what she came up with all by herself. It’s rudimentary, but it’s hers and there’s always beauty in seeing an idea to fruition.

Fashion show