Monday, March 25, 2013

How We Deal With Lying

As we have transitioned away from authoritarian parenting, we have moved away from using any punishments against the children. One particularly difficult situation for us to get our heads wrapped around was lying. We thought, trust is everything, lying is bad, there has to be some sort of consequence, right?

The approach we found worked best to stop lying, was to always trust them and to stick to our no punishments policy. Here's why. Before, when Josh (8y) would come to us with the truth about something negative (say he broke something) he had been met with a negative reaction from us (anger, yelling, belittling, spanking). Can you imagine how scary that must be for a child? Naturally he became less inclined to come to us with bad news for fear of our reaction.

Then the poor boy, we brought the fight to him with questions like "Did you break this?!" to which he'd respond "No, I don't know what happened." and then he'd be punished for lying. He was punished if he told the truth, and punished if he lied. How confusing.

It has taken time for us to rebuild trust, specifically rebuilding Josh's trust in us. We had to extend trust even when we 'knew' Josh was telling a lie. We had to prove ourselves to be a safe place for him to come to with anything.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Day in the Life of Bug

I was recently asked what unschooling Bug (2y) looks like. Here's a run down of his day yesterday. We didn't have anything to do, and Papa was working, so its a typical 'hanging out at home' kind of day.

9:40am- Woke up, played 'Peek-a-boo' with the hallway door. Mama asked if he needed to potty. "NO! Check-a mail!" Went to check the mail. Mama asked about a new diaper. "NO! Watcha Worax?" Mama started to turn on the tv. "NO!" Went to play with trains in the hallway. Fascinated with facial expressions on the trains. "Is he happy?" Took trains to his room. Mama changed his diaper and got him dressed. Insisted on wearing his monkey diaper. Found push-popping toy Mama had tucked away in the closet, ran around the house with it. "Mama, watch this!" Tried to take popping toy apart with no success.

10:05- "Banana!" Found pile of staples Josh had been experimenting with, tried to put them inside the popping toy. Requested another banana and some cheese. Danced circles around the couch. Intensely watched Mama cube cheese. Acted like a dog. Colored. "I make-a wedder M!" Tried to color a cube of cheese.

10:15- Compared his pen to Mama's. Fed fish. Watched fish. Cleaned the fish tank with magnet cleaner. Cleaned coffee table with fish magnet cleaner. More coloring. Tried coloring on table, couch, chair, and popping toy.

10:30- Watched Leap Frog on Netflix.

11:00- Played with straws. Blew bubbles in a glass of water. "Painted" water on table with straw.

11:15- Played in the car while Mama worked in the garage. Rode scooter in the back yard.

12:00pm- "New diaper!" Distraught about sock coming loose.

12:15- Wanted cereal, we had none. Wanted popcorn, we had none. Settled for raisins. Ate raisins while watching Mama make brunch. Made toast. Spun in circles. Ate lunch (ham, egg, cheese toaster sandwich).

12:30- Watched cartoons with Josh.

1:00- Played in bedroom. Snuggled his Bear.

1:15- Load up in the car. Mama asked if Bear should come. "No!" Went to bank with Mama. Upset that Bear didn't come too.

2:00- Got back home. Ate more raisins. Made and ate more toast. Got apple from fridge, ate apple.

2:15- Played outside.

2:30- Played in a box. Josh set him near a window "to get vitamin d."

3:00- Watched Leap Frog again.

3:30- Played with VHS/DVD player and tv. Opening, closing, on, off.

3:45- Played outside. Ate a banana. Drank some milk.

4:00- Wanted to take a walk, then didn't. Wanted to wear a hat, then didn't. Wanted new socks, then didn't. Wanted a jacket, then didn't. Wanted a new diaper, got it. Played with trains.

4:45- Tried stacking trains on a rubber ball. Got frustrated. Snuggled Mama. Threw rubber ball "in the sky".

5:00- Played outside. Took off diaper.

5:15- Crashed scooter. Lost lots of face, elbow, and knee skin. Got cleaned up and bandaged. Snuggled Mama. Peed on the floor. Asked Mama for a new diaper.

5:30- Helped Mama make smoothies.

6:00- Ate dinner (assorted snacks-almond butter sandwich, fruits, veggies, nuts, cacao nubs).

6:30- Made gagging noises while running around the living room. "Is it funny?"

6:45- Made a fort from the couches and pillows.

7:00- Requested a carrot. Carrot was not 'new' enough. Searched fridge for a 'newer' carrot. Decided to eat frozen peas instead.

7:15- Continued playing in couch fort. Started getting grumpy. Played with sunglasses. General silliness.

7:30- Played checkers. Played with Catch Phrase. Danced the cha-cha with Mama and Josh through the kitchen. General grotesque boy noises and actions with Josh.

7:45- Put on pajamas.

8:00- Walked back to the bedroom to lay down, got distracted by trains. Played with trains. Played with toy guns making sword fighting sounds.

8:15- Read books with Mama.

8:30- Papa got home. Played monster trucks with Papa.

9:00- Laid down for real with Mama.

9:20pm- Asleep.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

First Morning Smiles

Transitioning from an authoritarian, highly regimented family dynamic to a radically unschooling one is hard. Thankfully there are subtle changes along the way telling us we're doing something right.

One such change is in the way the boys wake up. Whether they wake up while I'm still in bed next to them, or they come out to find me elsewhere in the house, our first interaction every day is to meet eyes and smile at each other. It's a beautiful way to start each day.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Seasons of Life

I have a head full of ideas I want to put to paper. I have things I want to get done for myself. I get frustrated when I am unable to have 5 minutes to myself to shower, yet alone time to think clearly or get things done.

I am coming to accept this is just a season of my life. The season when time spent with the children is more important than time spent on my own projects. Bug (2y) is becoming more independent every day. Before I know it Josh (8y) will be off doing his own thing.

When I'm feeling frustrated I try to take a deep breath and remember they won't be little for much longer. I try to remind myself to soak up each moment and savor it while I can.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bug's First Sleepover

This past Saturday was the first time Bug (2y) has ever spent the night away from us.

Papa and I were going out of town for a conference, and the boys were staying with their grandma. When Josh (8y) was younger, his first sleepover was full of anxiety for me. I packed his things, took him to grandma's, and tried to sneak away without him seeing me leave so he wouldn't be upset. Of course when he realized I was gone he was distraught, and when I came back he was angry with me.

So with Bug we did things differently. We got him a Clifford sleepover book from the library (he loves Clifford!) and read it all week. I told him repeatedly he would have a sleepover at grandma's on Saturday. That morning we packed his bag together, and again I told him repeatedly he was having a sleepover. We got to grandma's (a place he's already familiar with) and went back to the room where he'd be sleeping with his aunt (my little sister who still lives at home). We hung out on the bed, talked again about how Mama and Papa were going to go while he and Josh stayed. When we left we gave him big hugs and kisses and he watched us walk out the door from grandma's arms.

He did really well with it. When we came to pick him up the next morning he was happy to see us, but not in an "OMG where have you been?!" kind of way. In fact, neither of them wanted to leave to go home.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spanking's Unintended Consequences

This weekend we saw a presentation at Voice & Exit by a couple who were striving to raise their child peacefully. I want to share two of their stories.

The first, their young daughter was hitting the mother. They couldn't figure out why and didn't know how to handle the situation peacefully. Friends and family suggested they swat her or spank her. They decided instead to remain curious and questioning about their daughter's behavior. With time and patience they learned their daughter was frustrated when Daddy was on his phone or computer, so she was hitting Mommy to get his attention. Once they figured this out they were able to resolve the situation peacefully.

The second story they shared. The father was spanked as a child and was one of those people who thought he "turned out alright". It was only after much introspection that they found unintended consequences to his being spanked that were still affecting him in his adult life. As a child he would get spanked when he told his parents he did something wrong, so he started lying about his innocence to avoid punishment. This conditioned him to be afraid to tell the truth when he made mistakes for fear of physical punishment. As an adult, he lied to his partner about truths he thought she'd find upsetting. Obviously, that only compounded the problem. Thankfully they were able to find the root of these issues and work through them.

Food for thought.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Children Are Whole People

There is this idea entrenched in mainstream society that kids are malicious, ill-willed, conniving little beings who must be coerced, manipulated, and shaped into decent people by the time they reach adulthood.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kids are good and whole from the moment they enter this world. When they are trusted, loved, and respected they continue to flourish as the good, complete people they are.

Ironically, it is the coercion and manipulation placed on them in an attempt to "make them good" which teaches them to be coercive and manipulative.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meeting Moms at the Mall

We were at the mall yesterday and I was meeting some other Moms.

Other Mom- Nice to meet you. How old are your kids?
Me- Well Josh over there is 8, and Bug here is 2.
OM- 8? Oh, so you must homeschool, huh?
Me- Yeah.
OM- I've thought about homeschooling, but I just don't think I have the dedication to do it.
Me- Well, we unschool, and it doesn't take any more dedication than parenting. You just keep on parenting after they turn "school age".
OM- Unschool? Hmmmmm. I've known some people who unschooled and it turned out really badly.
Me- There's a difference between unschooling and neglectful parenting. I've know people who parent really badly too, that doesn't mean their choice of how to educate their kids was the issue.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"If I Let Them..."

I see the "If I let my kids [insert activity], they'd do it all day!" comment, with countless variations, all over the place. I wonder what makes people so confident in these statements. Have they ever tried actually letting their kids do whatever they want? And not just for a day, that wouldn't work. I'm talking about really giving their kids a chance to regulate their own schedules/food choices/whatever the case may be.

I'm no economist, so I'll try not to botch this analogy, but think of it in terms of economics. When an item or activity is restricted- junk food, tv time, time awake in the evenings- its marginal utility is greater than if it wasn't restricted. It is more desirable.

Let's say I really love ABC brand of cookies, but I can rarely find them anywhere. When I do find them I'm going to buy as much as I possibly can. I'm going to horde them to hold me over until I find them again. Then one day my local grocery starts stocking them. At first I'm going to stock up again, horde them, just in case they don't continue stocking my favorite cookies. But over time, after seeing them on the shelf again and again, I'm going to stop stocking up. I'm going to start only buying them when I really want one. I may actually stop liking them so much since I can have them whenever I want now. The excitement of the hunt, as it were, will take a backseat and I'll be more able to listen to my body about how much I *actually* love the cookies.

It is similar when parents place artificial restrictions on their kids. It takes time to come back to a balance. Give them a real chance.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Bedtime Routine

Our 'new' bedtime routine still amazes me.

Me- Hey Bug (2y), you ready to lay down?

Bug- mmmmmNo sank yoo.

Me- I'm going to lay down. You want to come with me?

Bug- mmmokay.

Me- Josh (8y) I'm headed to bed. You tired?

Josh- Nah, I'm gonna finish watching this.

Me- Okay. Will you turn off the lights when you come to bed?

Josh- Sure.

I get to the bedroom to find Bug tucking his Bear in already. We giggle and snuggle and he drifts to sleep. A little while later Josh sneaks in and quietly crawls under his covers. Within minutes I hear his breathing slow and deepen as he drifts to sleep himself.

No fighting, no crying, no coercion. A year ago I wouldn't believe such a thing was possible. It's so natural, so fabulous, letting our kids choose when to sleep, and sharing a sleep space with them. I really wish every family would try it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Handling Things Peacefully

I see a lot of "how do you handle... insert situation... peacefully?" type questions. I'd like to make a general statement about how I'd answer.

If you are dealing with your children being violent, the first step is to take violence off the table as an option for everyone. If you are dealing with your children being disrespectful, the first step is to make treating each other with respect an expectation for everyone. There can't be different rules for the children and the adults. We can't expect then to pick up behavior we don't model for them.

The next step is to remember that the children are following your example. You will have to be consistent in the positive example for a good amount of time before they will start to change. This means you will have to put on your big girl (or boy) panties, be the mature adult, and treat your children respectfully even when they don't show you respect. Keep your voice calm even when they yell. Do not hit them for hitting their sibling. Be the change you want to see in them.

Parenting is hard. Changing how you parent is even harder. Trust me, I know. It sucks. But you can do it. It is worth it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Learning at Lunches

Learning new things without trying at all, in the unlikeliest places-

We went to Ikea the other day to pick up some shelves, and stopped to eat cinnamon rolls. There was a giant picture of Stockholm on the wall by our table.
Josh- Hey Mom, what's Stockholm?
Me- A city. The capital of Sweden.
Which led to a discussion about where Sweden is, what the Swedish flag looks like (since its flying outside Ikea), and how Ikea is a company based out of Sweden (although we later learned they are based out of Netherlands).

Today we went to the mall so Josh (8y) could check out the Lego store. There was a huge piece of artwork hanging from the ceiling, very western themed. Cowboy hat, snake, that sort of thing.
Josh- Hey Mom, why are there Chinese looking symbols on that hat?
Which led to a discussion about cattle branding, ranching, and symbols.

Learning everywhere.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Unschooling is Like Art

Unschooling is like Art.

We can try to define them both...

Unschooling- 1. allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear. (Pat Farenga)
2. the process of learning through life, without formalized or institutionalized classrooms or schoolwork (Freechild Project)

Art- 1. the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects
2. decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter. (Merriam-Webster)

... but those definitions don't come anywhere near touching on what either thing *really is*. Just as what is art to me may not be art to you, what unschooling looks like for my family may not be what unschooling looks like for your family.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

How to Listen So Kids Will Talk.... Ch 1

I started reading the book "How To Listen So Kids Will Talk, and Talk So Kids Will Listen" last week. I don't get a lot of downtime to read, so I'm only through the first chapter. A quick excerpt-

"When kids feel right, they'll behave right. How do we help them to feel right? By accepting their feelings! Problem- parents don't usually accept their children's feelings; for example: "You don't really feel that way." "You're just saying that because you're tired." "There's no reason to be so upset."
Steady denial of feelings can confuse and enrage kids. Also teaches them not to know what their feelings are- not to trust them."

The chapter goes on to suggest parents name their children's feelings instead of responding like above, so I started practicing with Josh (8y). It is much harder than I anticipated. For one, I now realize how often I was denying his feelings. For another, I now realize how often I use the word "frustrated" to describe a large range of feelings.

Last night I think I started getting it right. Josh had built this really amazing lego RV. I won't go into all the features, but it was cool. He decided he was done playing with it as it was and took it to his room to take apart and build something new. A few minutes later he came out crying.

Me- What's wrong?
Josh- I took it apart and now its gone!
Me- You're sad that you can't play with it anymore?
Josh- Yes!
Me- Do you want to come sit with me?
Josh- Okay....*still crying*
Me- You thought you were done with it, but now you're doubting your decision to take it apart.
Josh- Yes...*crying lessens* How will I put it all back together?
Me- Well I guess you'd start with the bottom...
Josh- *regaining composure* And then go to the top. *deep breath* Okay, I'm going to go rebuild it.
Me- Alright.

Whoa. That has never happened before. Great book (so far). Don't discredit the practice exercises. Implementing the ideas is harder than you may think.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Welcome, to the Real World

There is the opinion that school prepares children for the "real world". I disagree.

First of all, children are often forced to go to school against their will. Then they are forced to associate with the children in their classes, lunch hour, and recess. Their lives are put on a schedule of when to wake, eat, use the restroom, and sleep that requires they ignore their body's signals for what it needs.

In the name of teaching responsibility and maturity these children are forced to act like little adults. They are robbed of the period in their lives when being irresponsible and immature teaches their opposites naturally, before the harsh consequences of adulthood.

Adults in the "real world", however, have a choice in everything they do. If they don't want to wake early, they can choose not to take an 8-5 job (if they choose to work for someone else at all). If someone is harassing them, they can choose not to associate with them. If, at any point in any situation, they want to leave they are free to do so. They can choose what to eat, when to sleep, to listen to their body or not. Yes, there are negative consequences to certain actions or inactions, but the choice is still theirs to make.

So in actuality the "real world" of adulthood looks nothing like the forced world of school. Quite the opposite. I know there are some reading who will think, "I don't have the choice of x,y,or z." and to those of you I say I am sorry someone has convinced you of that. I am sorry someone led you to believe there are limited choices or opportunities in the world. It simply isn't true.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Education vs. Schooling

I think I upset someone yesterday when I said, "education is learning, while schooling is training."

I don't like to get all negative on the school system too often, but let's call a spade a spade. A typical school day in our past involved waking Josh (8y) before he was finished sleeping and coercing him out of bed, into clean clothes, into the car.
He'd be dropped off to wait in a line to go to class.
A bell would ring and he'd walk to class in an approved fashion (quietly, no running).
Another bell, sit still and be quiet.
Another bell, get in line, time to use the restroom (better go now, you won't get another opportunity for a while).
Another bell, get in line, time to be artistic.
Another bell, get in line, time to eat lunch. At 10:30am no less! Better eat up, this is your only opportunity before 2:45pm when your mom gets you.
Bell, get in line, go be active.
Bell, get in line, go sit still and be quiet again.
Bell, get in line, go home. And don't forget your list of stuff to do at home before tomorrow!

Do what they want you to do and you get a treat! Stickers, monopoly money, special privileges, candy. Don't and not only do you miss out on the treats, you get punishments. Loss of privileges, red cards, sad faces, isolation, detention.

The school system is AT LEAST equally about training as education, if not more. It can easily be argued that the system's style of 'education' is more training to regurgitate the 'right' answer at the 'right' time than truly acquiring knowledge.

I'm sorry if what I'm saying here is upsetting. I'm not trying to speak negatively of teachers or parents who send their kids to school. I'm trying to be honest about what is going on at school, that is all.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Children Are People

Children are people. Whole people. People with rights. People with likes and dislikes. People with wants and needs. People with opinions and perspectives unique to themselves.

When we bring a child into our home, we are bringing a younger, less experienced person home, but a person nonetheless. A person who deserves respect. A person who deserves for their needs to be met, and their wants to be considered. A person who deserves for their opinions and perspectives to be heard and respected.

A person who deserves love, patience, compassion and empathy while they learn to navigate their lives. A person who deserves to live in a mutually respectful partnership with us until they are ready to set out on their own.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moving to a Family Bed

Here in a few minutes I'll go lay down in bed with Bug (2y). We'll chat and giggle, he'll roll on top of me and stab me with his dagger sharp elbows, and eventually he'll take a deep sigh, yawn, and drift off to sleep.

Until about 2 weeks ago, we did all this in his bedroom. After he drifted off I'd leave him to sleep on his own for the rest of the night. Its the way we'd done things ever since we moved to this house (when he was about 18 months old) and it was working all right.

But recently he started waking in the night, crying out in his sleep. I'd trudge across the hall half asleep to comfort him, then come back to my bed to toss and turn. Neither of us were sleeping well. Then one night as we were headed to bed he said, "Mama's room? Mama's room?!" So I let him lay with me in my bed to fall asleep, then moved him to his room later when I was ready to sleep. I hated moving him. I knew I was disrupting his sleep cycles by doing it, but our bed is barely big enough for Papa and I as it is.

After a few nights of that, and Bug still waking in the night, I knew we needed to make a change. We chucked our bed frame and opted instead for a wall-to-wall mattress set up. Now Bug can fall asleep with me, and continue to sleep all night undisturbed. Everyone has plenty of space and we all sleep more securely. Bug has stopped waking during the night, and I am sleeping more soundly as well. I like having the whole family together in one room at night. I feel like I can sleep deeply, not half listening all night in case someone needs me. If some dangerous situation were to present itself, I know both my "babies" are nearby. It is working well for us.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Screen Time

Screen time often comes up in unschooling conversations, and the typical approach sounds something like, "My kids watch however much tv as they like and eventually find a healthy balance themselves."

While this is true for us, we ultimately leave the decision of amount of tv time to the kids, this simple explanation leaves out an important component of the equation. Yes, Josh (8y) does watch as much tv as he likes. Yes, he has chosen himself to find a balance. But in between point A and point B there is a lot of coaching, counseling, and guidance on my part.

The simple explanation above can sound like parents don't intervene at all. It doesn't address the fact that screen time can be addictive and has effects on the brain.

While I won't tell Josh he has to turn off the tv, I will make suggests of other things we could do once his program is over. I will make observations of how long he has been watching tv, without judgment. When his attitude is being affected, I will again make statements of observation. I will explain how screen time can affect him. When his eyes hurt or he has a headache, I will talk with him about how it could be a result of how much time he's spent watching tv. I will give him my opinion if I think his amount of screen time is negatively affecting him.

Children inherently want to do what is best for themselves, but sometimes they need help connecting the dots of cause and effect. This is where the guidance comes in. I don't make it into a power struggle. I leave the decision of how he will spend his time up to him. But I am there for guidance.

Eventually he did start to recognize himself when he'd had enough screen time. Just the other day he was playing a game on the phone and said, "My eyes are starting to hurt. I think I've been watching too much tv. I'm going to turn it off now." I don't know if or when he would have gotten to this point if I had never said anything to him though.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

No Tangible Evidence

Does unschooling make you uneasy because there is less tangible evidence of learning? Because you can't keep track of whether your child is "on track" or how they compare to other children their age? You're not alone...

"We are a nation that prefers acting to thinking, and practice to theory; we are suspicious of intellectuals, worshipful of technology, and fixated on the bottom line. We define ourselves by numbers- take-home pay and cholesterol counts, percentiles (how much does your baby weigh?) and standardized test scores (how much does your child know?). By contrast, we are uneasy with intangibles and unscientific abstractions such as a sense of well-being or an intrinsic motivation to learn." -Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards

It takes a leap of faith to move from this uneasiness to the level of trust needed to unschool. While making the jump, keep in mind all the qualities that can't be quantified or measured- creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, humor, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, grit, leadership, compassion, courage, resourcefulness, spontaneity, and humility, among many others. These qualities are more indicative of success than anything a test can measure.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Unschooling and Bullying

I was listening to a podcast last night in which the speaker (Justin of Parents For Liberty) mentioned how radical unschooling had made his children seemingly immune to bullying.

I was thinking on that last night, and I see it with my kids too. Bug (2y) seems already to intuitively know might doesn't make right. He has no qualms about standing up for himself or voicing his opinion to anyone, without fear. In fact, most toddlers I know are the same way. Many parents think of this stage as "the terrible twos", when children start to realize their autonomy and say things like "No!" and "Mine!"

This stage, traditionally, marks the start of years of physical punishment, manipulation, and coercion to convince them they are not autonomous. That might makes right. That they must obey authority. And over time it is sadly us parents who squash this spirit in our children to stand up for themselves.

Thankfully children are resilient, and in our case Josh (8y) hadn't fully lost that spirit yet. We parented this way the first 7 years of his life, but still he fought back. He "acted out", which I am now so thankful for. As for Bug, we have found that by respecting his person and property, allowing him to explore and conduct himself as he wishes so long as he is respecting others and their property, and patiently explaining reasons when we can't do certain things, we haven't really seen anything "terrible" about this stage at all. It is a joy to watch him develop into his own person.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Early Morning Phone Call

An example of how I see an improvement in myself since changing our parenting style-

We went out last night and got in really late. Papa was staying outside of town to get up early for work, and I came home with two overtired boys, and got to sleep later than I'd have liked myself.

This morning my phone rang while I was still sleeping. It was Papa. He'd forgotten something at the house and need me to meet him with it. Now, about 6 months ago I would have grumbled and snarked. Gah! He woke me up! Gah! Why is he forgetting things! Gah! Driving across town with the kids again!

But not this time. I asked him to give me a few minutes to get everyone going and we'd be on our way. I was able to empathize how frustrated Papa must be without materials for work, and how this delay could affect his day. I was happy to help him however I could.

A very different reaction from me so early in the morning.