Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Becoming More Minimalist

One day we'd like to move into a bus and travel the country. Hopefully that day is coming soon. Living in an RV provides plenty of space for adventure, but not much space for material things. 
In order to make the transition from1600 sq ft house to 320 sq ft bus a little less painful, I'm starting to scale back on our things now, so we can learn to live with less. That includes the kids' things. I want to be especially mindful of how this eventual life change will effect them, and I don't think having to leave all their toys at once while also dealing with the idea of living on the road is going to be a positive thing. 
To make matters more interesting, you may remember that the kids have full authority over their things. So me sweeping in during the night and simply taking things is out of the question. I have to have their permission first. Also, you may remember that Josh's room looks something like this....
Actually this is an older, tamer picture. It had progressed to the point that you could hardly see any carpet. But like I said, they are his things and they stay in his space. It is his choice what he does with them. Side note- his bed is in the family bedroom, he doesn't sleep in his room.
So I want him to get rid of most of his things. I need to find a way to get him to agree to do this voluntarily. The whole thing needs to go down peacefully.
I started by offering to help him clean his room. "Hey Josh, honey. I see your room is really messy. Can I help you clean it up?" "Sure, I'll just be playing out in the living room," he replied. So I got started. I found some broken pieces to things and called him in to make sure I could go ahead and throw those things away, to which he agreed.  Once I'd made a sizable dent in the clutter he came in and joined me to help. I think he was really just overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to be cleaned and didn't know where to start. He'd also been playing in his room less and less often. 
I brought this up to him, the idea that maybe he had too many things and it was overwhelming. He thought about it. We found more and more broken toys, things that likely had been stepped on in the clutter. We talked about that as well, how perhaps having so much stuff had lessened the value of each item. That perhaps he wasn't careful not to break things because there was a replacement waiting right next to it. We talked about his upcoming birthday, and how he really wanted a Wii. I explained to him that I was not willing to buy him anything new, especially not something so expensive,  when it was very likely going to be broken soon after purchase. He thought about that. 
We got the whole room picked up, and he vacuumed. Afterward I asked if he would like me to help him go through his things, to reorganize, and to perhaps get rid of some things so his room would stay clean more easily. He agreed. And this is what we ended up with-
We re-purposed some drawer sets and a table top to create a lego organization and building center.

He especially likes that the drawers are clear, so he can see all his legos more easily.
Those buckets in the stand in the corner hold, from top to bottom, Lego instruction booklets, his electric Polar Express train set, Transformers, and random small toys (a couple stuffed animals, matchbox cars, etc.) The shelves hold books, his piggy bank, alarm clock, and tool set.
All these buckets are completely empty!
As you can see, he loved having his room clean so much that he decided to move his bed in and sleep there! When all was said and done, he kept his Legos, Transformers, electric train, and a couple little toys. We moved some items out to our "homeschool shelves" in the living room- magnifying glass, test tubes, art supplies, etc. Some things got passed down to Bug, like his Lincoln Log set. But mostly he got rid of stuff. A lot of STUFF. I couldn't even tell you what it was. Junk. Little things his grandparents bring him from the dollar stores every time they visit. Which brings me to a little tangent.
I hate cheaply made plastic toys. I hate that we can buy a set of cheap plastic toys for $1. I hate that it breaks within the first week of play. I hate that we don't feel badly at all for throwing it away, "because it was only $1". I hate that we can easily replace it, "because it is only $1." and then the cycle continues. What kind of example does that set for our kids? To sacrifice quality for price? Not to care for our things? To create needless waste? That things are disposable and easily replaced? To throw away hard earned money?
I'd much rather spend the money on quality, durable toys. Which brings me to Bug's room, which was much easier to minimize. It went something like- "Hey Bug, let's put all the plastic toys in trash bags and take them to the garage. What do you think?" "OKAY!" 
He ended up keeping wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, some dress up hats, puppets/stuffed animals, wood and die-cast train sets, a set of instruments, wooden puzzles, an Aqua-doodle pad, fabric Easter eggs, one of those beads-on-wires things, and a few matchbox cars. Almost every single thing he kept had been Josh's first. Wood and metal. Durable. Long lasting. They have survived 8 years of hard play and are going strong. They still hold resale value should I choose to sell them. Well worth the initial investment.
Of course right after we cleaned up, he thought it would be awesome to dump out all the buckets.
 He still has a lot, but take a look at how much he got rid of-
Seriously, whoa.
They're obviously not down to an amount of stuff which will fit on the bus, but they're one big step closer. Especially Josh. And how are things working out now without so much stuff? Josh has been playing in his room more often, and having his friends over to play in there with him. He's been picking everything up before bed each night, and making his bed each morning. All on his own, without any mention of anything from me. He even re-purposed one of the empty buckets to be his dirty laundry basket and proudly brings it out on laundry day. I have honestly noticed a lightening in him, as if by removing the clutter we also removed some burden that had been weighing him down.
Bug is happier playing in his room also. I've noticed him playing with his blocks for hours, making patterns, building towers, and initiating more creative play with them whereas in the past he was largely uninterested in the blocks. Perhaps he was distracted by all the other toys. Clean up in there has been much easier too. 
Even if we never end up living on the road and needing to minimize further, I am happy we've taken the time to simplify our lives in this way. Having less things occupying the space around us, having less things to clean, having less distractions from each other, caring for the items we do have, appreciating the items we have more, and encouraging our creative play have all been very positive changes in our lives.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bug asks- "What Color Are You?"

A conversation with Bug (2y)-

Bug- Mama, what color are you?
Me- Hmmmm, I see lots of colors.
Bug- Are you green?
Me- Yeah, there's some green here on my foot (I have a tattoo). See?
Bug- Yeah. Are you blue?
Me- My veins are blue. See here on my wrist?
Bug- Yeah! Are you white?
Me- There is white on my eyes. See there? And black on my pupil. And my iris is blue like my veins.
Bug- Ooooh. Are you brown?
Me- My freckles are brown. And my hair is brown.
Bug- My hair is red!
Me- Yep! It sure is. We're very colorful aren't we?
Bug- Yeah. We're lots of colors.
The earlier conversation with Bug holds so much emotion for me. Our kids don't see race unless we teach it to them, unless we pass along the prejudices which were given to us. When Josh (8y) was in public school, they gave a lesson about civil rights and slavery in first grade. Blacks and whites. Slaves and owners. The way it was presented was completely inappropriate for the audience, in my opinion.

Josh went to school that day seeing other kids for the people they were, not the color of their skin. He came home viewing the world through a different lens, one which divided people by their differences. I was livid. This was a major contributing factor to our decision to withdraw.

The system not only fails children academically. The curriculum (perhaps intentionally) perpetuates division among future generations.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Where Are We Now?

So, I've been avoiding the computer for the last couple of weeks, deciding what to do about how to move forward with the blog and facebook. It has been really nice. I've accomplished many things around the house- made some new dresses, preserved some food, cleaned out the house and minimized clutter. I'm feeling the pull of the computer less and less, which is nice. But I don't want to give it up completely. I still want to document our journey as it is far from complete.

I had been posting daily snippets and thoughts. I'd like to move away from that and compose more thought out posts. As much as the kids and my being a single mom during the week will allow, at least. I'm aiming for once a week. We'll see how that goes.

It has been quite a while since I wrote about our weekly goings on. I intended to first write about how we spent our summer, but I decided to get ahead of myself and write about where we are in our journey now instead. I'll come back to summer later. 

It has been over a year since we started down this path. We are experiencing our second "not back to school" season. I reread everything I've posted, and while we have come so far from where we started, it seems we took two steps forward and one step back. Our resolve seemed so strong back in those first posts, but putting our new values into action and CREATING NEW HABITS is not easy. I notice my relationship with Josh (8y) slipping back into a power struggle lately. I notice myself falling back into the habit of negativity, especially with some things I say. Maybe the heat has something to do with that too.

Bug (2y) has really gotten the hang of making trades and taking turns, which is wonderful. On the other hand, he doesn't rush for anything and my patience wears thin every time we get into the car. I know it's coming, every time- the 10 minutes of him climbing into his seat, sitting backwards, and insisting on buckling himself in. Yet I keep holding out hope that *this time* he'll get in quickly and we can leave on time.

It is tough remembering that my own unreasonable expectations are the cause of my frustrations, not the kids' actions. While I am not the mother I was 15 months ago, I am still not the mother I wish to be. While I have a more clear understanding of who I want to be than I did then, I still don't have all the answers of how to become that person. And that's okay. That's the point of life, right? To keep searching and growing. The realization that we'll never have it all figured out, but to try anyway.

I'm planning to reread some of the books that were so integral to our decision to parent in this fashion, most notably Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, in hopes of taking another two steps forward on the path to parenting from (and living in) a place of unconditional love.   

But enough about me, let's talk about the kids. A common question I see regarding unschooling is "How do you know they're learning?" My answer is simply, I see them growing as people by living and interacting with them. As far as traditional academics are concerned, Bug's vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds. From nothing more than casual conversation and play he has learned shapes, colors, how to count to 30 with only minor hiccups in the teens, and names letters correctly most of the time. He talks about his senses and has nearly mastered showing us numbers with his fingers. I have no worry whatsoever that he is "behind" other children his age who attend preschool, not that it matters anyway.

Josh's vocabulary has grown as well. He has become more able to reason and negotiate. Conversations with him have become deeper and more meaningful. He is becoming more responsible with his things, keeping his room very tidy, folding and putting away his own laundry, and making his bed each morning- without any request from me. He has been working on new projects, most recently stop frame animation. When we go out to museums or demonstrations, he tends to fixate on what interests him and absorb it all rather than run around seemingly aimlessly like he did when he was younger. This makes having a membership to our favorite places invaluable, as he typically stays at one display for the duration of each visit. I see more and more that he is a very unique person, and operates in his own unique way. He would not be thriving in a school environment, and I am so glad we made the decision to withdraw him sooner rather than later.

Our first year unschooling, we didn't do much. We hung out around the house and played with very little structure. We've been able to figure out what really matters to us, what works for us and what doesn't. I feel like we've relaxed sufficiently, effectively deschooled, and really examined our older thoughts of what "needs" to be done and what doesn't.

Now that school is back in session and the world around us seems to be settling back into a routine after the freedom of summer, I also feel our family settling into more of a routine. This coming year, or period of time really, we plan to get out more, have a little more structure (like getting out to museums, visiting friends, etc on a more regular basis) and develop family traditions (many of our past traditions will be changing after re-examining our values). The equinox and Josh's 9th birthday are coming up this weekend. It truly feels like a time of balance and growth. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Plain White Piece of Paper

I had this grand idea I would make family scrapbooks for each calendar year, so I gathered up all the papers and pictures and what-nots which have been stored in boxes and files for years.

There was a ton of stuff, so I started sifting through it deciding only to keep things which had a special memory attached. Josh (8y) had a mountain of drawings and journal writings from when he attended daycar
...e and public school from age 3 through first grade. I'm going through them (with his permission of course) thinking- trash, trash, trash, trash, Hmmmm, maybe I'll keep this, trash, trash, trash. It wasn't that they weren't great, they just held no sentimental value to either of us.

Then I came to Bug's things (he's 2y), and found a plain white piece of paper with little cuts along each edge. Of course I'd be keeping this! I remember sitting with him patiently while he figured out how to work the scissors, using both hands. He wanted me to hold the paper up for him while he figured out the right angle for the scissors. I'll never forget the concentration on his face or how excited he was when he got into a groove.

That's when I realized, the reason I kept almost nothing from five years of Josh's life is because I wasn't there. I wasn't there with him to share experiences, to witness his discoveries, to make those memories. I was working. Money needed to be made, but I will never get those years with him back. My heart aches for them. I imagine it always will.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Three Hours Alone

I've just had the most glorious 3 hours!

Papa took the boys bowling and other such fun. Meanwhile I have been home by myself. I listened to an entire podcast without interruption. Two, actually! I let my mind wander while I cleaned the house. I completed thoughts! My home no longer smells like boys. My feet no longer stick when I walk. I took a shower, alone. I listened to songs I like without b
eing asked questions in the middle. I even just sat still for a couple minutes and did nothing at all.

I feel like a new woman. I feel like I can take on the world, now that I can actually follow my own train of thought. I'm drinking it in, breathing in the clean, fresh scent of the house.

I cherish these rare moments to myself, but now that I've had a few hours without the boys, I'm missing them again. I'm awaiting their return with their sticky fingers and endless chatter. At times this season of life- the busy, child centered years when I sometimes feel like I've lost my sense of self and any ability to do anything productive besides keep the kids alive- is really difficult and I long for it to hurry up and pass.

Pass it will. One day I'll have more time for myself, maybe too much time. Now that I've had a moment to recharge, I am very thankful that day is not today.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Not Back to School

Today is the "last day of summer" and the neighborhood kids will be headed back to school Monday. I'd like to pose a hypothetical question to my fellow neighborhood parents, and those of you here who might be in the same situation.

What if the kids didn't go back to school? How would you have spent the last few weeks, and what would you do on Monday and beyond?

Here are some things we haven't b
een doing over the last few weeks- buying new wardrobes of "back to school clothes", battling crowds to buy school supplies, searching for a parking spot a mile away from the school for "meet the teacher night", wondering what to wear on the first day, trying to get the kids to bed early to acclimate to their upcoming early wake up call, worrying about who will be in our class, worrying about whether the teacher is nice or mean, spending a fortune on yearbook preorders, school directories, PTA dues, spirit wear and other such nonsense.

What we have been doing- playing at the splash park, visiting the Science Center, going to play dates with friends, visiting family, going to the library, rearranging furniture, building legos, sending emails, writing stories, playing Dragonbox, eating when we're hungry, and sleeping when we're tired.

Come Monday we'll keep doing the same thing. The first weeks of August need'nt be hectic or stressful. The life your family has been living over summer need'nt end if you don't want it to.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stroke of Genius...maybe

Yesterday I either had a stroke of genius or we're just so behind technologically that I got over-excited about what others consider obvious. I'm still not sure which yet.

I upgraded my phone over the weekend. The old one had lived a full life, sustaining more than its fair share of abuses and neglects from both myself and the kids. Anywho, I took out the sim card and did a factory reset. Once th
...at was done, I gave it to Josh and showed him how to connect to the Wifi, set up his email, and reload the games he liked to play (DragonBox and Unblock Me are favorites).

So now, for free (sort of), he has a phone that will dial 911 should he be in an emergency without me, he can email or search google when connected to wifi, he has a camera, and he can play games. We'd been considering getting him a tablet for his birthday, but now there's really no need.

Like I said, maybe genius, maybe we're just really behind the times. Either way I thought I'd pass along the idea in case you have old phones sitting around.

An Apology

I owe you all an apology.

When I started Kicking It Unschool, it was on blogspot (still is, actually). I was a mother poised at the edge of the rabbit hole about to jump with both feet. I knew we were in for a journey, and I wanted to document it. I shared the link with our family because I knew they had questions about why we were pulling Josh (8y) out of school, and why we were basically changing every aspect of our lives as we then knew them. I didn't expect them to read it, and never imagined strangers would read it either. It was for me. No, it was for my boys. One day I could share it with them as a way of saying, "Hey, this parenting thing is hard. I messed up, but I tried my best, even when it was hard. Here is a peak into a part of your lives you likely don't remember, and a version of me you may not otherwise have known."

I didn't take the time to learn to format well on blogspot (sad, right? it's really simple), so adding pictures and videos and what not was irritating. I decided to move to Facebook. It started out alright, but then I fell victim to the numbers. People started liking the page. Other pages I hold in high regard shared my things. THEY liked my page. People seemed interested in what I had to say. And so I lost sight of documenting our journey and started "advocating" for our particular lifestyle.

I started paying attention to allllll the numbers Facebook gave me. Which cities have the most fans? Which countries? How many people saw this post or that? I enjoy every one here, but if I am spending even a minute of my time and energy thinking about Facebook stats, it is one minute too many. It is a minute away from my family and my real responsibilities.

I noticed if I didn't post for a few days my numbers went down, so I started posting sub-par material to fill empty days. I made pictures, because those tend to be more popular, but I didn't care enough to make them really great. I wrote about ideas I had, but didn't take the time to really express my thoughts. I have effectively turned this into a half-assed journal for my inner ramblings, fueled by the hopes of getting anyone to click that "like" button. I have abandoned my original goal of documenting our journey.

I apologize to you. I apologize to my kids. I am sorry I became distracted by the shiny numbers. I need to take a step back and regroup. For the interim period I will schedule some older, truer to my original goal, posts to run on a loop. Unless you've followed for a year now, it will likely be new to you. Thank you all for sticking with me, showing your support, and helping me grow as a person. I will let you know when I decide how things will proceed once I figure it out myself (it may be here, I may move back to blogspot, who knows).

Love and Peace,
Mama Bear

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Disappointing Day

Whenever I talk about how we don't have "rules" (instead we have principles) or how we don't use a punishment/reward system in disciplining the kids, there are always a few people who respond something like, "Kids need to learn about disappointment, heartache, etc and that life isn't fair."

My response is this. Kids will learn about disappointment, heartache, etc and that life isn't fair. They wi
ll learn this naturally, by living. There is no need for us, as parents, to create artificial consequences to teach those lessons. Life presents these situations without any help from us.

For example, yesterday was National Aviation Day and we had plans to go to a flight museum. It isn't exactly near our house, so we made the trek out, parked the car, coaxed Bug from his seat, hiked in the sun and heat across the parking lot to the front door only to find the museum was closed on Mondays. Both the kids, and Papa and I, were really disappointed.

Alright, we'd driven all this way, what else could we do in the area? The kids wanted to play at the mall, so we headed that way. While they're enjoying pretzels and the play area I notice there is a movie theater in the mall and look up show times. According to my phone, Planes was starting in 5 minutes. Maybe we could still have an Aviation themed day after all! Everyone is excited, and we ran alllllllll the way across the mall to the theater only to find out the time on the site I'd checked was wrong and the movie isn't starting for another hour. Bummer. Again.

We ended up seeing another movie instead and got a giant popcorn to share. Just as we all sat down and the lights dimmed, Josh accidentally dropped the popcorn all over the floor. Bummer again.

So you see, our kids' are not sheltered from the negatives of life (although I admit these examples are definitely first world problems). The difference is that instead of creating situations in which our kids feel upset, sad, lonely, disappointed, etc, we are there to support them through their feelings and help them find healthy ways of working through them.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Accentuate the Positive!

Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most...
What if there was a way you could increase your child's intelligence, creativity and energy by 31%? Okay, maybe we don't want to increase our kids' energy by 31%, they're already a lot to keep up with, right? As parents, how much time do we spend focusing on our children's education, wanting to give them every advantage?

What if we focused on their happiness instead?

Your brain in a positive st
ate is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral, or stressed.

Dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of joy and happiness, also turns on all the learning centers of the brain! We learn better when we're happy.

How do we help our children become more positive? I think parenting peacefully and unschooling are great ways, but an integral part of that is being positive ourselves.
1. List 3 things for which you are grateful each day.
2. Journal about one positive experience each day.
3. Exercise
4. Meditate
5. Perform Random Acts of Kindness

Do this for yourself. Do this for your kids. And listen to this guy. Not only does he have great ideas to share, he's funny too.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Rant About The Uh-Oh Jar

I'm going to go on a bit of a rant this morning. I was on Pinterest yesterday and saw someone pin "The Uh-Oh Jar"- a jar in which you put slips of paper with "consequences". The pin's description- "Whining? Pull out a consequence. Talking back? Pull out a consequence. Not picking up your things? Pull out a consequence. Maybe you'll get "Your lucky day. No consequence THIS TIME."

Okay, seriously,
please stop. Just stop the madness. This is not teaching. This is not good parenting. I know I used to parent with a rewards and punishment mentality, but now being on the other side these types of things just seem...desperate for control and almost egomaniacal.

Yes, every action has a consequence, but if you're having trouble with your child talking back, then artificially creating a consequence drawn at random of, say, "go to bed early" isn't going to help the issue. Not in a healthy, positive way.

Every conflict is an opportunity to learn, for everyone involved. Yes, that means you as well as your child. Maybe you speak disrespectfully to your child or others, and that is where they pick up the habit. Maybe your child is dealing with some big emotions. Maybe they never learned more appropriate communication skills. Also consider how you model behavior when you feel disrespected. When your child feels wronged, they won't have a jar of consequences to deal out to offenders.

Set your children up for success by teaching them skills to navigate the world appropriately. If they don't have those skills yet, it is not their fault. Take the opportunity to fulfill your responsibility to teach and nurture those skills.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Conversation About Questions

I fear the conversation I'm about to share may lose us a few likes, but I hope you'll be able to move past the religious aspect and get to the point I was trying to make at the end.

While we were in Houston recently I was driving around with the kids, flipping through radio stations trying to find some good music when I heard the word "atheist." It caught my attention, so I stopped to listen. It was a Christian radio station and the speaker was talking about a recent survey showing 20% of Americans to have answered the question "With what religion do you associate yourself?" with "None." He then referred to a survey done in 1994 in which only 4% of Americans were atheist, secular, or without religion. He then started calling for a Christian revival. He was upset by these figures and the trend they suggested, and thought all Christians should be as well. They all needed to make more effort to "save" this 20%, and his suggestion was to focus on the children. I turned it off at that point and started talking to Josh (8y).

Me- Hey Josh, did you hear that? Apparently there was a survey done in which 20% of people in America said they weren't religious.

Josh- Oh, wow. We're part of that statistic.

Me- Well, we didn't take the survey, but yeah. What do you think about that?

Josh- That's pretty cool. What do you think?

Me- I'm pleasantly surprised the number was so high. The Christian man hosting the radio show wanted a revival. What do you think about that?

Josh- What is a revival?

Me- Well, I think he wants more Christians to preach their religion to more people, and convert more people to their way of thinking. He spoke specifically of targeting children, because if they can convince people when they're young that God exists, they'll be more likely to believe it when they grow up. So, what do you think about that?

Josh- Well, I don't know.

Me- Why do you think they want more people to believe in Christianity? Do you think they may be scared that 20% of people don't?

Josh- Maybe. Maybe they think that if we don't believe in God we can't be good people. Maybe they think since we don't believe in God we'll go to hell when we die.

Me- Maybe. So do you think they want us to believe in God because they care about us?

Josh- Maybe.

Me- Sometimes people get upset when we don't believe the same things they believe, because they may feel our disbelief calls their beliefs into question. It may cause them to ask questions, and some people aren't comfortable with that.

Josh- But questions are always good.

Me- Yes, questions are good. They help you find answers and help you seek the truth.

Josh- But they think they already know the truth.

Me- Yes, and it's not a good thing to think you know something to be truth, so you stop questioning it.

Josh- Questions are always good. When you're small you should start with small questions, like "What's one plus one?" then work your way up to bigger questions.

Me- Yeah, maybe, but it's good for you to think about big questions when you're young too. You have a unique perspective. You have a fresh outlook on life and the world. You may have some great ideas that older people may not have regarding the answers to big questions.

Josh- So we should ask big questions when we're young too.

Me- Yes, definitely. You should ask all sort of questions all the time, and you should continue revisiting those questions, because what you think may be the answer may change over time.