Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Girl Next Door

I have this story I've been wanting to share, but I'm having a hard time putting it in the right words to express the point I want to make, so I'm just going to dump my thoughts here. I hope you're able to glean the intent despite my lack of eloquence.

There's a family down the street, a grandmother and 2 kids around 8-10 years old. The kids lost two younger siblings and their father in a house years ago. Their mom, I don't know exactly, but she's still alive and visits twice a month. As you can imagine, the kids have some things they need to work through that often manifest themselves in certain behaviors (ex-aggression, compulsive lying). Because of these behaviors, the other parents in the neighborhood don't like them coming over or hanging out with their kids.

Earlier this week the girl came over to hang out with Josh. She was talking to me about pie, and we set a date to make a pie the next day. The whole time she and I were cooking, hanging out while it baked, and eating those first piping hot slices I wondered if this was the only positive interaction she'd had that day. I wondered why she wasn't baking with her grandma instead of me. She stayed over watching tv with me until her grandma came to call her home, and I saw why.

We all know of kids like this. Maybe they're friends with your kids. Maybe they live in your neighborhood. Maybe its a passing child at the grocery store and you see it in their eyes. Maybe your smile, encouraging words, open ears, undivided attention, or peaceful interaction is the only positive interaction they'll have that day. Maybe that one action will give them strength to hold on. Maybe it will give them hope. Maybe it will change their life.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

They Unschool Me

Sometimes I worry that because we don't have much expendable cash, we won't be able to facilitate all the interests Josh (8y) may have. I worry that we'll hold him back. He's very interested in astronomy, but we can't afford a decent telescope, things like that.

But Josh is teaching me not to worry about things like that. He's teaching me not to look at the world like that anymore. His "I can" attitude is showing me that I was not looking at all the options. For example, we can use telescopes at the local college. And even if we do need money, that's just an extra step in the process. His outlook is "We need $X, what can we do to get $X, let's do it."

When we started on the path of this lifestyle, I thought I was the one setting my children free, that I was unschooling them. But time and time again my children prove to be the ones setting me free. They're unschooling me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Violence Against Pregnant and Laboring Women

Violence Against Pregnant and Labouring Women

This is not unschooling related, but as 90% of people who like this page are female, whom I assume are likely to already have a child or will in the future, I feel it is important to share.

Both boys were born in a hospital. Josh's birth was traumatic, due to many of the issues addressed in the article. Bug's birth was much better, but I had to fight for what I wanted. The questioning and mocking of a natural birth and the pushing for interventions was very distracting, and kept my experience from being as beautiful as it could have been.

This type of treatment from medical staff is violent, and I am thankful to the author of this article for addressing it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Passing Love Down

I was laying with Bug (2y) just now in bed. He was snuggled up in the crook of my arm, his little body pressed close to mine. I leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek, and gently ran my fingers through his hair.

In the crook of his arm lay his favorite stuffed bear. Bug pulled Bear in close, leaned over and kissed him, and then stroked the top of his head.

What a beautiful, powerful reminder that the way I treat Bug now will likely be how he treats his children one day. Passing love down, generation to generation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Win-oh, UP! Win-oh, down.

How many of you have toddlers? Surely this situation will look familiar to you-

Laying in bed-
Bug (2y)- Fix-a covers?
Me- *fixes his covers*
Bug- Covers off.
Me- *removes his covers*
Bug- Hahaha! Fix-a covers?
Me- *fixes his covers*
Bug- Hahaha! Covers off.

Or maybe this one driving in the car-
Bug- Win-oh down.
Me- *rolls his window down*
Bug- Hahaha! Win-oh up!
Me- *rolls his window up*
Bug- Hahahaha! Win-oh down.
Me- *rolls his window down*
Bug- Hahaha! Win-oh up!

And every now and then he'll throw me a curve ball, like saying "Win-oh up" when the window is already up.

This is not maniacal laughter, my friends, though I know it is easy to think so. And your child is not trying to drive you crazy, though I know it is easy to feel that way too.

This is learning. Learning language. Giggling joyfully at the realization that their words have power. These are budding communication skills. They are looking to you to learn what appropriate back-and-forth behavior is while communicating.

Do you respond the first time they say something to you? Do you let out an exasperated sigh? Do you ignore them? Do you engage in pleasant conversation? Do you respond in frustration? Do you raise your voice? Are you happy to fulfill their request when able? Do you empathize with them if you are not?

Whatever your response, be prepared for them to mimic your behavior to you and others in their future interactions. Choose wisely. These are the moments when future communication frustrations can be made, or avoided.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"What have you been studying?"

The other day Josh (8y) was talking to his great-grandma on the phone and she asked him what he'd been studying lately. Our family all understands that we "homeschool" but will be the first to admit they have no idea what we mean when we say we "unschool". Josh (and Papa and I) get questions like this often. "What are you studying?" "What have you learned this week?" "Do you know (insert quizy que...stion)?"

Josh really doesn't understand the questions. In his mind he hasn't been studying grammar, spelling, or punctuation. He's been sending people email. He doesn't necessarily notice when he's learning new things, as it is simply a by-product of him figuring out how to do whatever he wants to do. Asking him "What is the square root of 25?" isn't the normal language of our lives, as it doesn't have an application. Where as if he were playing with 25 blocks and wanted to make a square with them, he could figure out how long to make each side.

It is something we're continually working on, with our families and with Josh. Helping our families understand what we're doing, and how "What have you been up to lately?" would be a more appropriate question. And helping Josh to understand the perspective they have and why.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Effects of Deschooling on Marital Relationship

Something I've yet to address here are the effects our transition from authoritative parenting to radical unschooling have had on our relationship (Papa and me).

This new way of doing things requires a lot of questioning your old ways, many hours of introspection, reconsidering everything you thought you knew before, grappling with the ghosts of your childhood past. It is a very intimate, personal process.

This has required Papa and I to give each other more space than usual. To be even more supportive and encouraging. To be even more patient while we each make progress and experience set-backs at different paces and times. To challenge each other when we try to settle back into our old, more comfortable (for now) habits.

We can become easily frustrated with each other as we learn how to communicate in an entirely different way. Emotional stakes are high as such raw emotions and memories are brought to the surface, questioned, and examined. Fortunately, the end result of working through all these things is a closer, more intimate, more honest, more supportive relationship.

We're rebuilding our relationship together in much the same way we are rebuilding our relationships with the children.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

You've Got Mail

That awkward moment when you have to uncheck the "stay signed in" box to your email, because your 8 year old is checking his inbox as often as you are. ;)

Josh (8y) is really taking to his email lately, which is presenting all sorts of learning opportunities for him. First, he's learning to navigate everything, adding contacts, composing, replying. He's getting plenty of practice typing.

We've talked about how to format a letter, with a greeting, body, and closing. We've talked about spelling, proper use of commas, proper grammar, and capitalization. All this done in a very conversational way; not critiquing him, simply helping him as much or as little as he wants us to.

He's really enjoying sending Papa and I emails. He'll send something, then run over to us waiting for our phones to buzz an alert, with a big goofy grin on his face, then exclaim, "That's from me! I sent you a message!" It's especially nice for him to be able to chat with Papa while he's at work. This also means he's taking a more active role in his relationships with other family members, namely his grandparents.

Another example of how learning is a by-product of following our interests. Josh wants to email, and as a by-product he is learning the things mentioned above.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Unloading the Dishwasher

Josh (8y) comes stumbling out after waking up...

Josh- Can I have some cereal?
Me- Sure.
Josh- Can you make it for me?
Me- Sure. *gets clean bowl from dishwasher, pours cereal*
Josh- Are the dishes ready to be put away now?
Me- Yeah.
Josh- Here, I'll do it.
Me- I can do it while you eat, its no big deal.
Josh- No, you did something for me, so I'll do something for you.
Me- Thank you! I really appreciate that.

The kid's doing "chores" without being asked, bribed, or coerced! It has been a long road to get here, going from authoritarian parenting to peaceful parenting. Its been hard. Lately we're seeing major changes in family dynamics, and it makes the journey well worth it

Was College Worth It?

Here's a fun fact- I've attended college for 5 (non consecutive) years and have nothing to show for it. Not even an associate's degree. I've gone to both University and Community College. How did I master this wondrous feat? By changing majors every year.

I initially went to University as a Music Education major, all because my high school choir director made a comment to my mom about how well I led our ensemble my senior year. I quickly learned I did not have the passion to continue 5 years of that (yes, Music Ed is a 5 year program).

Over the course of the next 10 years I struggled with discovering who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I'd re-enroll in classes only to find what I thought I loved was not actually for me. At the same time I was working, supporting myself, keeping a home, starting a family.

I have only recently realized I don't actually need that expensive piece of paper I had been convinced I 'needed'. Thankfully I never took out any loans and paid cash for all my classes and supplies. I can't imagine paying back student loans for the greater part of my adult life.

What I DID need was time for self reflection. Time out in the world exploring all it has to offer. Time to discover my passions in life. Time to realize what makes me happy and content. Time to get to know myself.

Too many children are over scheduled nowadays. School, sports, dance, music, tutors, church, whatever. Parents are told their kids NEED these things or they'll fall behind. They don't. What kids need is some down time, some time alone, some time to figure themselves out. If I had that kind of time as a child maybe I wouldn't have spent so much time figuring it out while I was an adult

Morning Snuggles

This morning Bug (2y) and I woke up pretty early. We did our thing, and later on Josh (8y) woke up and joined Bug on the couch.

Josh- Hey Bug.
Bug- Hey Joshy.
Josh- Can I have a kiss?
Bug- *leans in for a kiss*
Josh- Wanna snuggle?
Bug- *lays head on Josh's shoulder*
Josh- *hugs and pulls Bug onto his lap*

They snuggled like that for a while.

I wondered how many siblings had missed out on snuggling together this morning, being rushed off to one place or another. I wondered how many parents missed out on witnessing such a beautiful moment between their children.

I've done the busy life thing. It wasn't worth missing moments like this

Ideas Stand on Merit

I was recently asked why I do not use our real names when posting here. It was the questioner's opinion that the secrecy was dishonest and made the views I post less credible, as they preferred to consider the source of ideas.

It is my opinion that an idea should stand on its own merit, regardless of the source. Please, I beg of you, don't give any idea more or less credibility based on where it ...comes from. Think about it yourself, question it, research it, and come to your own conclusions.

No one is infallible. No one has it all right. No one has all the answers. Don't take anyone's word for anything, especially not just because you usually agree with other things they may say. Likewise, don't dismiss an idea just because it comes from someone with whom you usually disagree. You may just find common ground in an unlikely place

Response to Reactions

Regarding the post about Josh (8y) going to the store alone-

Me- So I posted on our page about how you went to the store by yourself. Some of the people thought it was a bad idea for me to allow you to go alone.

Josh- Why? I was just fine. I walked down there, paid for my stuff, got my change and came home. No big deal.

Me- They were worried about the chance that something bad could happen to you- a dog attack, a creepy person try to snatch you, a car run off the road.

Josh- Nothing bad happened.

Me- But bad things happen to people everyday. Its a legitimate fear. We never know when something bad is going to happen. What do you think about that?

Josh- We can't be afraid of all the things that could happen. That would be terrible to be afraid all the time.

I couldn't agree more. With that I'd like to share some statistics from Please forgive the formatting. Check out the link for a clearer read.

Abductions in perspective:

Number of children age 2 – 14 killed in car accidents, as passengers: 1300
Number of children killed each year by family members and acquaintances: About 1000
Number of children abducted in “stereotypical kidnappings” (kidnapped by a stranger for ransom or for sexual purposes and/or transported away) in 1999, the most recent year for which we have statistics: 115.
Number of those children killed by their abductor: About 50.

Murders of children by abductors constitute less than one half of 1% of all murders in America.

Stranger Danger?
Of all children under age 5 murdered from 1976-2005 –

31% were killed by fathers
29% were killed by mothers
23% were killed by male acquaintances
7% were killed by other relatives
3% were killed by strangers

Crime has been going down since the 1990s:

All U.S. homicides: Down 40% 1992 -2005.
Juvenile homicide: Down 36% 1993 – 2005 (kids under age 14)
Juvenile homicide: Down 60% 1993 – 2005 (age 14 – 17)
Forcible rape: Down 28% 1992 – 2006
Sex Abuse Substantiations of Children, 1990 – 2005: Down 51%
Physical Abuse Substantiations of Children, 1990 – 2005: Down 46%
Juvenile Sex victimization trends, 1993 – 2003: Down 79%

Josh Goes to the Store

One of the longest moments of my life-

Josh (8y) wanted a candy bar. We don't have any in the house, and for several reasons I was unwilling to take him to the store that moment. So he suggested he go down to the corner store and buy one himself.

Can you say PANIC ATTACK?! In my head I desperately grasped at reasons he shouldn't go, but I had nothing. The store is maybe a quarter mile away. The route only crosses residential streets. I trust him. He is responsible. I had no logical reason to argue he shouldn't go.

And so he went. With my phone in his pocket and a recap of basic safety and self defense, my little baby walked away from the house out into the big world all alone.

I almost cried. I watched the clock like a maniac. I must have asked Papa twenty times, "He's fine, right?"

He was. Perfectly fine. More than fine. He strutted back up to the house like a proud peacock. He has a new sense of self confidence. I am so glad I didn't deny him this experience

Bed Sharing with Bug

The little moments that make all the pain of parenthood worth it-

Laying in bed, waiting for Bug (2y) to fall asleep-

Bug- Oar yoo sleeping, Mama?
Me- Not quite.
Bug- Close yuh eyes, Mama.
Me- (closes eyes)
Bug- (leans over and gently kisses my nose)
Me- (heart melting)
....moment of silence.....
Bug- *creepiest whisper voice EVER* Fix uh covers, Mama. Fiiiiix uuuuuh coveeeeeers Mamaaaaaaaaa.

Becoming an Entrepreneur

Josh (8y) has this thing he wants to buy, and he doesn't have enough money to buy it. He's been talking about it constantly over the last few days.

I saw it was very important to him, so I said I would help him brainstorm some ways to make money. He decided he would like to sell the slippers he had made a while back, as many people showed an interest in them.

So we talked about pricing. He need...s to charge enough to cover the cost of supplies, the cost of his time, maintenance of the sewing machine, shipping supplies and postage, and a healthy profit margin. We also talked about how many pair he was willing to commit to making. Sure, he could potentially sell 100 pair and have lots of extra cash, but is he actually going to follow through on making all 100 pair? No, he would not. He is committed to making 3 pair, which if sold at $15 each, would give him enough profit to buy that thing he wants.

I am really excited about all the learning opportunities involved in this endeavor.

Unschooling- a 24/7 Occupation

Late last night I was talking to Papa on the phone. He was telling me how well he'd done at work that day.

Me- Awwwwwesome! Woo-hoo!

Josh (8y)- What?! What's so awesome?!

Me- Daddy had a 74 average at work today!

Josh- What does average mean? How much money did we get?

Me- (to Papa) Hey Honey, I need to get off the phone soon. Josh is asking about averages. I'd better explain it to him before he loses interest.

Unschooling is NOT for the lazy, uninvolved parent.

End Testing

Speaking of the picture below about standardized testing- Whatever method of education we support, I think we all agree that the testing is worse than worthless, right? They eat up class time, force teachers to alter their lesson plans around them, and cause our children unneeded stress. The results tell our kids they are doing "well" or "poorly" based on information which has no indication of success or happiness later in life.

They do not measure bravery, fairness, wisdom, integrity love, humor, zest, kindness, self-regulation, gratitude, optimism, empathy, perseverance, grit, or any other qualities which are much better indicators of success and happiness (which to me is synonymous).

But how do we get rid of the test? Exercise free will. Talk with your child about opting out of the test. Nothing disruptive or violent, simply write "I would prefer not to take your test." on the answer sheet. There would likely be backlash. The system doesn't know how to deal with free will.

But what can they threaten you with, really? Employers don't ask to see your standardized test scores when you apply. I've never known a potential mate to require standardized test scores. They don't affect your credit score. Tell your children- The test means nothing in the real world. The test has no power over you.

See Negative Behavior Differently

One of the major turning points in our parenting journey was learning to see outbursts and negative behavior from the boys as signals their needs were not being met.

There is no such things as negative behavior happening "for no reason". There is always a reason. We just need to figure out what the reason is.

Before, if Josh had snapped at me or been hostile I would have reacted with anger or frustration. Now I am learning to ask questions instead. What is going on? How are you feeling? What is making you feel that way? You seem frustrated, would you like to talk about it?

Connecting, empathizing, stopping the judgment and nurturing our relationship have been the most positive changes we've made so far.

Papa Isnt Sold on Unschooling

Papa isn't sold on unschooling-

Back story- Papa travels a lot for work. A lot. So he doesn't see all the educational adventures the boys and I have first hand.

Papa- I'm not sure about this unschooling thing...
Me- What do you mean?

Papa- I just never see Josh doing academic stuff. I see him watching tv and playing outside all day. I'm worried he's going to fall behind.

Me- When you see him playing with kids his age, does he seem behind them to you?

Papa- No.

Me- When you met other kids his age out and about or at work, do they generally seem more advanced than Josh?

Papa- No.

Me- So what is making you worried?

Papa- I don't see him working on academic things. I don't hear about you guys working on that kind of thing.

Me- When you say "see him working on things", are you expecting him to do worksheets, or something else tangible to prove he is learning new things?

Papa- Well... I don't know. I just expect to see something.

Me- If you're expecting paperwork, that just isn't how Josh learns. He prefers to watch videos and have conversations. Remember the other day when we talked about spelling and punctuation sending text messages? He picked up a lot from that conversation, but if I had set a worksheet in front of him he would have hated it.

Papa- Yeah, that's true.

Me- I know it seems like we've been deschooling for a long time now, but I think we still need more time. I really want to focus on managing emotions, communication, negotiations, mutual respect, and other relationship aspects first and foremost.

Papa- But are those aspects coming at the expense of academics?

Me- I don't think so, but even if they are, I'd still want to focus on relationships first.

Papa- Why's that?

Me- Which would actually hold him back as an adult? So what if he couldn't do 3 digit multiplication or hadn't memorized his periodic table. He can use a calculator and print reference materials as needed. But if he has a meltdown because he can't get his way, or can't effectively communicate anything, or can't collaborate and negotiate with other people either at work or in personal relationships, those are the things that would hold him back from success and happiness.

Papa- Good point.

Learn to Think

Learning to think is more important than memorizing facts.

In this age of technology, facts are at our fingertips if you know where to look. There's nothing wrong with memorizing facts, but the important question is what do you do with them? Are you able to discern fact from opinion? Are you able to put facts together to form ideas and look at the bigger picture?

We need more people thinking about the bigger picture.

Waking Up Early

If the kids don't have a bed time, what do you do about days when you have to get up early to do something?

Josh (8y) typically goes to sleep anytime between 10pm-midnight and will wake up anytime between 8:30am-11am.

Me- Hey Josh, Grandma wants to know if you would like to go to her land with her tomorrow.
Josh- Yeah! It's been forever since I've been there.

M- Alright, she will be here at 10am to pick you up. You'll need to be sure you're awake in time to get dressed and eat something before you go.

J- Okay, I'll set my alarm for 9:45am.

M- Is 15 minutes enough time for you to eat and get ready?

J- Hmmm, probably not. What time do you get up?

M- Usually around 8:30am.

J- I'll set my alarm for 8:50 I think.

Which he did, and he got up with no problem. It was important to him so he was motivated to do it. If we were getting up for something important to me we'd likely need to negotiate a time we could both agree on, or come to some other such agreement to benefit Josh as much as me.

Hustle and Bustle

Do you ever go to a store on the weekend or other busy time? While meandering around do you notice how busy, stressed and generally unhappy most people are and get deeply saddened?

I remember when I was part of all that hustle and bustle and thought it was normal. I want to stop each person, look them in the eye and say, "Life doesn't have to be like this.

"When I'm 30 I'll have a wife."

Laying in bed chatting with Josh (8y) last night-

J- I'm so excited for my birthday this year. I'm going to be NINE! And then I'll be ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen! A teenager!

M- Don't remind me!
J- Then 14, 15, 16 and driving, then 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, an adult.

M- You know legally you'll be an adult at 17. But your body and brain won't be finished maturing til you're closer to 30.

J- 30.... when I'm thirty I'll have a wife.

M- What if you haven't met her yet? What if you haven't met the right person for you?

J- I think I'll have met her by then.

M- What kind of person do you want her to be? What kind of qualities are you looking for?

J- Well, I don't know what she'll look like, but I'd want her to be kind. Kind to other people, and kind to the world.

M- That's an important quality. Keep that in mind when you start dating people. If you notice they're not kind then you'll know they're not the girl for you.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Phone Calls From Friends

When children are raised respectfully, as equal human beings, relationship opportunities with people of all ages open up to them.

Josh's best friend (who is also raised peacefully) called to talk to him this evening. At one point he asked to talk to me. We had a friendly conversation, talked about what each of us were up to lately and looked forward to seeing each other at his play-date with Josh... next week.

There were no feelings that we couldn't be friends because of our age difference, or that what I had to say was more important than what he had to say, or that he should speak to me differently than Josh because I am an "authority figure".

It was so relaxed and refreshing, but what I enjoyed most was the genuine connection there. The mutual respect. Not the forced awkwardness that I remember feeling around adults when I was a child. Not the awkwardness, timidness, and fearfulness I sense from Josh's friends who are not respected at home.

Toothbrush Ownership

They're getting it!!!!

Bug (2y) is playing with Josh's (8y) electric toothbrush. Josh comes inside and sees this.

Josh- Bug, that is my toothbrush, give it to me.
Bug- Heea go, Joshy. (hands toothbrush over and runs to me) Where's mine toothbrush, Mama? Where's Bug's toothbrush? Where's mine toothbrush, Mama?
Me- In there, let's go get it.
Bug- Okay.
Me- (Hands him his toothbrush)
Bug- Sanks Mom...!

And he runs back to where he was and picks up where he left off.

side note- these are not the toothbrushes they use to brush their teeth, when they choose to brush their teeth.