Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘deschooling’

The North of France

We are staying in a tiny little village in the north of France. It’s so small that they don’t even sell postcards. It’s so small, and I think it must be so rare for there to be tourists here, that at the supermarket the other day the customer in front of me at the checkout gave me the side-eye and unleashed a torrent of heated French clearly about me, to the the checkout woman. To her credit, the checkout operator tried her best to shut the customer down and was nothing but polite to me. We even shared a cross-language-barrier giggle about how a cauliflower could not have cost €114.

What they do have in this tiny town is a Walk of Planets. Someone here must be a solar system fanatic and they’ve made a walk, starting with the sun, which is a sundial, and you walk to each of the planets and learn about them (their names, the gods, their relationships) and the distance walked to each planet is relative to the actual distance to each planet. We did half of it the other day, until Joss’s legs were “breaking they were so tired” and today Ron has taken the big two on a bike ride to complete it. We also only did half of it, because we just do not seem to be able to get going before 10am. Our mornings look like this:
Alfie wakes up. Ron and I exchange silent messages regarding who has had the least sleep that night, and that person, by virtue of playing dead the best, gets to stay in bed while the other gets up and spends some quality time with Alfie and coffee. Then, one by one we all venture out of the bedrooms and into the kitchen. Breakfast is a smorgasbord of things, that ends when the last person to eat has had enough. This is usually close to 9 or 9:30. Then, if we’re going somewhere (like the Walk of Planets) we start negotiations about a)getting dressed and b)how quickly getting dressed can be done. This can sometimes last well over an hour and involve some deep breathing from us (the parents). Once we’re all dressed, it’s taken so long that we definitely will need to take snacks. So, breakfasted, dressed, snacks packed, and the last thing we need to do is go to the toilet. Or not. Depending on your own situation. And then we can leave and it’s invariably after 10. And we celebrate that we’re out and about and doing something in the fresh air and French sunshine. And then, after about 20mins of walking, one of the party becomes desperately urgent to go to the toilet. So we do that. Someone once told me (and I’ve quoted them often since) that the best way to start unschooling is to act like every day is a holiday until that feels normal. I think we’re nailing it.

So, after all that, when we finally got to do the Walk of Planets I learned that the god of agriculture morphed into being the god of war (Mars). And I thought that that was poignant, in a lot of ways. We are parenting along the lines of The Continuum Concept, which is a book written by anthropologist Jean Liedloff about her time spent with the Yequana, the first people of an area of the Amazon Rain Forest. One of the things that goes around in my head a lot from that book is the cooperation within the tribe. They hold cooperation dear, and competition doesn’t get much of a look in, apart from some very specific games that they play at a specific time of year. Cooperation is natural, it’s like breathing – we need to do it to stay alive. I was talking to my Continuum Concept mentor a while ago and I asked her when we (non first-people) started to value competition over cooperation, and she suggested it was with the start of agriculture – when we began to be at war with the elements, in stead of working with them. So, naturally this relationship between the God of war and of agriculture appealed to me.

I probably learned this somewhere already. I studied art history at high school and we did some things about Greek and Roman mythology, but in all honesty I remember very little. But what I learned on The Walk of Planets will stay with me, because it was meaningful to me. Because I was relaxed when I learnt it. Because I could “hang” the information on other information I had. It was relative to other things, and I could form the relationship. These are the things that make for long-lasting knowledge.

So, we’re in a tiny little village in the north of France, and we keep doing these things, like the Walk of Planets, and a visit to a village with fortifications in the shape of an elaborate star, and visiting a village where the ravages of WWII remain visible… and the kids invariably find a c1992 playground to play on for the majority of the time, complaining about being hungry, or needing to go to the toilet, or… anything that does not sound like involved and motivated learning to this mama who possibly needs to do some more deschooling. And I’m having to trust that they are getting whatever they need. And I’m having to lean in to the strewing of these experiences and having no expectations about whether they like them or not. And I’m having to stumble through buying a €1.14 cauliflower with next to no French, and walk home through the countryside in the sunshine. We are definitely nailing the life-as-one-big-holiday aspect of unschooling.

The Radical in Unschooling

Some people really don’t like the term “unschooling”; they don’t like the image that what we’re doing is “against” schooling. Also, what we’re doing is so much more than just not going to school. It’s about how we live our entire lives – the scaffolding around our decisions, our goals and our vision as a family.

I was inspired to start our unschooling journey by a group of (mostly) mamas in the US who call themselves Radical Unschoolers. This is a subgroup of (regular) unschoolers who seek to honour their children’s natural instincts and urges in all facets of life. The most controversial of these is usually screens. Followed closely by food. Well, actually, I probably just tipped you off to my major hang-ups!

These mamas blew my mind – mostly because of the harmonious relationship they had with their children – they really seemed to enjoy each others’ company. They hung out together, played together, supported each other in different pursuits… even gaming. The peace and love and joy (even when it’s not Christmas) that seemed to surround these families was such a powerful pull for me that I knew this was what I wanted for our family.

But FAR OUT it’s hard to let go of my shit.

This process of letting go of our shit is politely called deschooling, and is absolutely key to the success of unschooling. Deschooling never really stops. It’s not a thing you do to get ready and then you’re ready and then voila! you’re an unschooler. Deschooling is something that I probably do every day. The thought, “Why do I think that?” or “is that really true?” or “do I really need to say anything right now?” these are all moments of deschooling myself.

I wanted to share with you some of our/my radical unschooling wins:

  1. Avocados.
    It’s amazing what we can get hang-ups about, isn’t it? A couple of years ago we went completely paleo. Part of going paleo is eating a gazillion avocados. BUT avocados are freaking expensive, so I would GUARD the avocados like crazy. And all my kids wanted to eat was freaking avocados. And then… I saw a client who I wasn’t expecting to pay, but she did, she gave me $20 and I walked into the lounge waving the $20 and said to the kids, “Let’s go and get $20 worth of avocados.” And we did. And that was the end of their obsession with, and my guarding of, the avocados. Having their fill, coupled with the attitude of plenty (rather than scarcity) completely took care of that little power-struggle we were having.
  2. Ice-blocks (or ice-lollies for those of you not in NZ)
    It seems like every time I pull into a service station, or drive past a dairy, or go to the supermarket I get to deal with the whine, “Can we have an iiiiiiicccccceeeeee-bbbbbllllllooooock?” and it used to drive me nuts. I hated the thought of the mountains of crap that they seem to pile into commercial ice-cream these days, the colourings, the sugar, the chemicals. Also the expectation, almost entitlement (now there’s a thing). And, Joss has a real struggle with tooth decay. BUT, on our trip around the coast this summer I decided to say yes to the ice-block requests. I have to admit I didn’t do it every time, but I would say about 92.7% of the times that they asked, I said yes. And guess what. By the end of our trip, they stopped asking. They’re still not asking! This required a lot of mental gymnastics on my part, and such a letting go, and trust (of them, of Joss’s teeth, of their bodies).
  3. Screens.
    This is a new one, so I’m kind of hoping not to jinx it by writing about it here. For the last four days I’ve been unwell and lying in bed A LOT, which has meant a near free-for-all for the kids and watching their screens. I pretty much said yes every time they asked because then I could have a nap, and sometimes I put it on without them even asking so that I could go and have a nap. And the thing that inspired this entire blog post was that for about three hours today the house was quiet, the kids were engaged with creative pursuits, separately, and quietly. There was no fighting, no nagging, no whining, no gas-lighting. Just quiet murmurs of quiet activity, and the feeling of being absorbed in what they’re doing – a kind of meditation atmosphere. And I thought to myself, this cannot be a coincidence. I will let you know.

What I’ve learnt about deschooling is that it cannot be faked. I tried to fake being ok with unlimited screen time and it was an absolute fucking disaster. (Kids are the best fake-detectors out there and will continually press us to be our most authentic selves.) That particular sociological experiment ended with me being screaming-Mama, wielding a power drill and removing the television from the lounge indefinitely. I was not ready, but I was trying to Be An Unschooler. Here’s the thing, there is no one way to be an unschooler. There’s just listening to what each individual needs, what the family as a whole needs, and balancing that with what society expects.

And checking whether we give a fuck about that.

 

How to Get Started

It’s really simple. I have one piece of advice. Take a breath, sit down and prepare yourself.

Here it is.

Act like you’re on holiday.

That’s it. Do that and I promise this whole raising up your kids thing will be a foregone conclusion.

List the things you like to do on holiday.

Then do them.

Ask your kids what they like about going on holiday.

Then do them.

Oh, you’re still wanting some examples? Well, here’s some from my list:

Sleep ins.
Swimming at the beach.
Playing together – uno, last card, catan, guess who.
Listening to music.
Sleep ins.
Lying in the sun.
Reading my book.
Writing.
Using public transport.
Visiting interesting places: museums, cafes with exotic food, old settlement sites, wildlife sanctuaries.
Beach combing.
Going to bed together and smelling the sun in my children’s hair.
Watching movies.
Going somewhere we’ve never been before.
Taking photos.

I asked my kids what they like about going on holiday, and here’s what they said:
Getting ice cream
Wondering where we should go.
Parking somewhere in the bush.
Seeing new cities.
Going to see family.
Going to the beach and having fun
Having fun with lots of people.

That’s all I could get out of them while they were on their screens.

I would hazard a guess that they like going on holiday to spend more time with us doing fun stuff like reading to them, playing cards, swimming with them, biking with them.

There’s something about going on holiday that creates a sense of “team”. Of being on the same one. Of cooperation. There doesn’t seem to be the competition between chores and play, or getting shit done and hanging out.

So, to borrow that Americanism “staycation” – have one of them. Garner a sense of adventure, of relaxation, or excitement, or wonder from the comfort of your own home. Throw bed times out the window. Don’t set your alarm. Let the dishes sit. Wear the same clothes for several days because they’re comfy and practical and mildly clean. Get your nose in a book and let your kids relax on their screens while you read. Binge watch a series on Netflix. Dust off the board games and play them with your partner. Your kids will flock to see what the commotion is. Drink wine. Eat chocolate. Make platters.

Do this until it feels normal.

Welcome to the rest of your life.

 

%d bloggers like this: