Monday, June 10, 2013

A Peak into the Past

Let me give you a peak into what our family life was like when Josh (8y) was in public school.

We had to wake him up very early, fight with him about getting dressed, brushing his teeth, eating breakfast, putting on shoes, and getting out the door. Maybe we had 10 minutes of good conversation in the car, but usually it was grumpiness or silence. I dropped him off at the door and away he went to while I went to work.

Despite being an 'active' parent volunteering for class parties and field trips, I really had no idea what went on with him while he was at school save for the little bits he would rarely share with me, notes home, emails to the teacher, and the tri-yearly conferences.

Evenings were a mess of paperwork, homework, dinner, fighting over dinner, fighting over bath time, fighting over bedtime (which was unnaturally early since he had to get up so early the next morning).

Weekends, maybe we'd do something fun. Maybe we'd go out, visit friends, visit family, but even that had to be squeezed in between laundry, more homework, grocery shopping and the like.

Our lives were like a dissonant chord that would occasionally resolve. We lived a life of stress and conflict punctuated by brief moments of happiness and togetherness.

That was not the life and relationship I had dreamed of when I wanted to have children. That was not what I imagined during the months of trying to conceive. That was not what would make all the aches and pains of pregnancy and childbirth, or the struggles of caring for an infant worth it. That was not good enough for us. And so we stopped.

Now, we live a life of happiness and togetherness punctuated by brief moments of stress and conflict. This is the life of which I'd dreamed. These are the relationships I'd imagined. This life is worth every sacrifice. This life is great.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Critical Periods

I'm learning quite a lot about brain development from Einstein Never Used Flashcards.

For example, there are two types of behaviors learned by the brain. Experience-expectant and experience-dependent. Experience-expectant behaviors are things the brain is biologically and evolutionarily wired to expect to learn. Behaviors like seeing things, hearing language, and moving limbs. If the brain is no...t stimulated in these areas at an early age, the skills will not develop properly. We see this in cases of extreme neglect, like the 1970 case of Genie, who was isolated in her room from ages 2-13 and never able to develop effective language skills. There seems to be a "critical period" by when these behaviors need to develop in order to develop properly.

Experience-dependent behaviors like reading, chess, gymnastics, music, etc (anything we are not biologically wired to need to learn to survive), however, do not have a "critical period". I'll say that again- THEY DO NOT HAVE A "CRITICAL PERIOD". Sure, it may be slightly easier to learn certain skills at age 5 versus age 30, but that doesn't mean it can't be learned at age 30 or even 50.

So the next time you hear someone telling you about the "critical" years in which you need to expose your children to x,y, or z to boost your child's brain development for future success, know that they are skewing research in order to sell you something. Rushing early learning can actually lead to neurological "crowding" in which information competes for synaptic connections, possibly decreasing the size and number of unspecified brain regions that may be necessary for creativity in adolescent and adult years.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Making New Friends

How does Josh (8y) make new friends while not attending school?

Setting: Playground

Characters: Josh, and a kid with a remote control 4 wheeler.
Josh- "Hey, that's cool."

Kid- "Thanks.

Josh- "Think you can flip it off the slide?"

Kid- "I dunno, let's see." Flips 4 wheeler off slide.


Josh- "My name's Josh."

Kid- "My name's Seth. Let's flip it again!"

Josh- "Okay!"

They continue to play together for hours. Other kids join in.

The End.

Friday, June 7, 2013

This Moment in Unschooling

Tonight, unschooling looks like reading the ENTIRE wiki article on waffles aloud to Josh (8y). Spurred from his want of waffles for dinner, and asking "Why are they called waffles?"

Along the quest for the answer we talked about what etymology is, discussed the influence of the church in Europe, found out whether we were pronouncing those french words correctly, and established that the 14th century refers to the 1300's (and so on).

Don't brush off casual questions. They are gateways to discovery.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Toddler Josh vs Toddler Bug

Bug (2y) had a rough day the other day. Everything was upsetting to him, a combination of not sleeping well and not eating well. I realized that, although I also raised Josh (8y) through toddlerhood, I feel like I've never done this before. The reason is that I really haven't.

When Josh was two, I was going through a divorce with his biological father (Yes, Papa is not his bio dad. He adopted him shortly after we got married), and I was working full time. This meant that Josh was in daycare during the weeks he was with me. I saw him very briefly before dropping him off each morning. Each evening was a quick dinner, usually macaroni and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich because I didn't want to spend what little time we had together fighting over food. Then a little bit of play before bath and bedtime. Weekends were a whirlwind of laundry, errands, and other chores.

Josh was a "good" kid. He never questioned or resisted. He had emotional turmoil going on through everything, but had learned to internalize it and just shuffle along as he was told. This manifested into anxiety and self-loathing by age 6, along with the help of our authoritative parenting, something we've had to work through later with much heartache.

Now, in contrast, I have toddler Bug who has not been through what Josh went through. He is confident, outspoken, free to express his emotions, and demands respect for himself- all qualities I am glad to see in him. Parenting respectfully works well, but that doesn't mean it is always easy, especially since I have no prior experience managing a toddler in this way.

I feel like the easy compliance we got from Josh during his toddler years came at the cost of working through bigger issues when he was older. Helping Bug with communication and handling emotions now feels very similar to what we went through with Josh at age 7, only without all the hate and anger and negative baggage. Here's hoping our peaceful approach will help us avoid most of that when Bug is older. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Unschoolers going to college! A reader shared this story with me-

Thought this might be a good place to share. My eighteen-year-old unschooled daughter (out of school after second grade) just got accepted to UMass Amherst with 44 of her 48 community college credits. She will be a second semester sophomore at eighteen. She has never taken a standardized test other than the GED (taken at age sixteen) and never got a formal grade until she started CC classes at age fifteen. Her college essay was about how empowered she is because she was in charge of her educational path. Okay, have to stop now; I'm tearing up.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Part of Why I Love Home Education

One of the truly great things about home education is moving at your own pace. Well, really, moving at your child's pace.

Your child may fly through material on subjects in which they take interest. They need not be forced to endure subjects in which they take none.

They need not be expected to perform at the same level as every other child their age in every subject matter. They need not be c...ompared to every other child in every subject matter, ranked with percentages or letter grades, nor labeled based on said percentages or grades.

When we take the unnecessary competition out of education, we allow ourselves and our children to (re)discover the joy of learning- the thrill of reading a great book, the sense of accomplishment when we figure something out, the excitement of new ideas and possibilities, the freedom that comes with newly found abilities.

Let children learn to love to learn.

Monday, June 3, 2013

At The Phone Store

A story from our trip to the phone store last week-

I was waiting in line for my turn to be helped. Bug (2y) was walking around the store checking out all the displays. He took a few phones off the wall hooks.

"Put those back please, they're not yours," I said. Without even turning to acknowledge me, he put them back and went along looking at everything.
The woman behind me said- Wow, he is so good! How old is he?

Me- He's two.

Woman- Only two?! My boys would have been tearing the store apart at that age. Even still at 5 and 7, they would be running around crazy.

Me- Well, I let him do whatever he likes so long as he's not harming anyone or their property. I don't expect him to stand still. I think that helps.

Woman- *nodding* Yeah, my kids seem to go crazier when I tell them 'no'. Hmmm.....

Me- Yeah.....

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Toddler Meltdowns

Toddler meltdowns are a sign that a need is not being met.

Today we went to the phone store to get my phone fixed. Bug (2y) happily walked around checking things out most of the time. He started getting upset just before we left, mumbling something I couldn't understand. When I started to put him into his car seat he had a full blown freak out.

Instead of forcing him into his car seat, I stood back up, held him at eye level, and patiently waited for him to regain enough composure to communicate. I asked him what he needed, while he flailed and yelled. People walking by stared at me and gave me looks, but I didn't care. I have no obligation to them. I do have an obligation to meet my son's needs and treat him respectfully.

He took a deep breath and mumbled what I thought was "I need a green apple". So I attempted to put him into his seat again while assuring him we would go get a green apple. His back arched. He screamed. He flailed. So again I held him on my hip.

"You don't need a green apple? Is that not what you said?" I asked.

"I needa new diaper," he mumbled through his tears.

"OOOOOH! Gotcha!" I can certainly understand not wanting to sit in a dirty diaper in a car seat. So we got him cleaned up and he happily buckled into his seat (still rear facing, by the way!).

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bug and Property Rights

How early can children learn property rights and exercise enough self control to respect them?

Well, at 2 years old, Bug will stand outside Josh's (8y) wide open doorway and cry to be let in. You can visibly see his internal struggle, wanting to go into the room but never crossing the threshold, waiting impatiently for Josh to grant permission to enter.

When he finally gets permission he'll burst across the threshold and leap for joy, crying out, "I in Joshy's room! I in Joshy's room!"

He learned this respect never from being spanked or hit, never from being yelled at, never from being sent to time out. He learned from us gently guiding him out of the room if he entered without permission and a gentle reminder that "This is Josh's room. You need to ask permission to go in." Nothing more was needed.