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Posts tagged ‘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.

 

Finding Our Groove

This morning I walked along a sandy beach just as the sun came up.

I woke up in our warm cocoon of a camper van. Joss was sleeping next to me, her tussled hair and light snoring are two of my favourite things. I could hear the birds chattering, the waves breaking, and the stillness in between. I slid down from our bunk, let out the dog and from the pile of yesterday’s clothes dressed in the muted light peeking underneath the curtains.

The dog and I walked up the beach, watching the waves breaking, the waves lapping, and my feet getting submerged then released, submerged then released.

For what has seemed like forever, this has been a dream. One of those dreams that sits in the back and eats away at you. I have been bored, disenchanted, grumpy, uninspired, and worried about the future of the world.

I recently read the book Beyond Civilisation by Daniel Quinn. I highly recommend it to fellow questioners, despairers, and those wanting to live a different life.

It seems like homeopathy, unschooling, and now living in a camper van for the summer are threads in a cloth of wanting to see positive change, wanting us to do things better, wanting to be aware, conscious, connected to our environment and each other.

Homeopathy is about taking the control of my health out of the hands of people who have never met me but stand to make millions off me, and resting it in my lap.

Spending the summer in a camper van is about busting out of the four walls of our house. Giving our kids access to wide open spaces, to the unique, earthy smell of New Zealand bush, to beaches and rivers and paddocks of waist-high grass.

Unschooling isn’t about not sending our kids to school. It’s about giving them this gigantic world and all it’s possibilities, then mixing it together with their passions and interests and curiosity to see where it all takes us.

All of these things are about getting out from under the gaze of civilisation for a bit. Maybe a lot. Trying to see a way Beyond it. Trying to find the little groove in this record where we sing.

Walking along a sandy beach in the dawn light is definitely the right key.

I found it.

We are parked on the shores of Lake Karapiro and suddenly it seems all worth it. The kids are off playing – Louis has found an old boomerang of Ron’s and is determined to master the use of it. Joss is his “picker-upperer” and is relishing the role. I am in the camper van cooking dinner, listening to their shrieks of delight.

It is quiet.

It is relaxed.

This is what I’ve held in my mind as my end-goal for about six months. This feeling. And now it’s here.

Louis just came in and asked if we could have a bonfire, so now they’ve gone off to find wood for that. They are so happy, and excited, and peaceful.

Looking forward to a summer of this.

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.

 

How do they learn?

When people ask me this question, it could mean a couple of things:

The actual nuts and bolts of how they learn – what happens with their brain – I’m pretty sure they’re not asking about that.

The circumstances of how they learn – what opportunities will they have to learn – that could be what they’re asking. I’ll try and answer that question.

Everyday they wake up and they’re learning from that point on. They’re learning in ways I can’t see – how their body responds to the environment. What it feels like to walk around with no socks on on a cold morning. How hungry they are after not eating much at dinner last night. Whether their arm hurts after swinging off the fort yesterday. All of this is going on without my involvement, and to some degree without my input.

Sometimes the learning is more visible. We get water in these 15L canisters with wide mouths at the top. One of our regular drinking glasses fits over the top of the mouth. A couple of weeks ago we had some people over for dinner and Louis got up to get himself a drink of water and he (incorrectly) estimated that the amount of water left in the canister would fit in his drinking glass (well, I think that’s what happened). And he rested the mouth of the canister in his glass. Like, inverted the whole thing. Then, when he saw it wasn’t going to fit, he lifted the canister off and water went EVERYWHERE. One of the dinner guests’ eyes went wide and he started to panic a bit and I turned around to catch the end of what had happened and turned back to the guest saying, “Oh, it’s ok, that’s science. He’s learning all about physics right now. Honey, just go and get a big towel from the rags and soak it up.”

This is the circumstance of learning most of the time in our house. It’s usually messy.

Imagine if I were to try and capture these for a day? I would run myself ragged and annoy the crap out of my kids saying, “Hang on, hang on, I gotta get a photo of that!”

Here’s one that happened last night:

We got given a box of ripe bananas, which we love because we make ice cream and smoothies out of them when they’re frozen. After dinner, while I was milling around doing something, unbeknownst to me, Louis was hauling the box of bananas to the table, and he’d grabbed a bag to freeze them in.The first I knew of it was when he asked, “Could someone help me with this?” And I turned around and saw it all and was like, “Holy hell, he’s really keen!” So we did it together. Some of the bananas were too ripe even for smoothies/ice cream though, so we made a seperate “cake” pile. As we were finishing, I asked him to go and get a sharpie and write “cake” on the bag of bananas that were over-over-ripe. He’s NOT a keen writer. His relationship with a pen is fraught with difficulty. I asked him in a way that gave him 100% recourse to say, “No, I don’t want to.” Which he did. And I said, “Ok, I’ll get Joss to do it” as I was writing “c-a-k-e” on our blackboard (did I mention I made this blackboard??!!). It might have been his pride, or it might have been he saw me write it and thought he could manage it, but he said, “Oh, no – I can do it.” and he did. He wrote it in clear, beautiful letters that look like I could have written them. And now, when he goes to the freezer to get bananas to make a smoothie, or a cake, he’s going to look for that group of letters, and he’s going to know that they make the word “cake”.

These are the circumstances in which they learn.

Louis asked me if I could have another baby when he was 12 years old. I said, “No, I’ll be too old to have a baby when you’re 12.” Which sparked a conversation about eggs, and hormones and egg deterioration. And in an eight-year-old-appropriate way, he’s added to a small foundation of knowledge of reproductive organs, upon which to build at a later date. This is biology. And it’s sociology. This is how he learns.

I could go on forever. These kinds of things happen every day.

They learn about pollination by dreaming of plums while looking at spring-time blossom.

They learn about germination by listening to me swear when my seeds fail to grow yet again.

They learn division when deciding how big the pieces of cake can be while still having enough for one each. They learn multiplication when we pack a lunch and we each want two mandarins.

The learning is non-stop. It can happen on Sunday evenings or Wednesday afternoons and every moment in between.

I am not worried about how they learn. It is not something I occupy my time with. Or theirs. We honestly just live life.