Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How I came to unschooling

I did well enough in school. I got grades that were good enough to not bring up or talk about (it's "not cool" to do well in school), but not high enough to actually be competitive with the top students of the class. I never obsessed about my work though, never understanding why people did things like pulling all-nighters for complete homework or projects. I never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I took classes because they were required, or some sounded genuinely interesting (i'm very glad I finally figured out in high school that I do actually like science, after a 6th grade teacher had me convinced I couldn't stand the subject. Turns out I just couldn't stand her).

In college I kept going back and forth on whether I wanted to become a teacher. I could see myself teaching elementary school, but had also noticed enough problems with traditional school to feel unsure if I really wanted to go there. I remember when a long-time teacher i knew half-jokingly but half-seriously advised me to become a PE teacher, since they get paid the same but have a lower workload than regular teachers. I was taken aback by her cynicism.

It was around then that I was introduced to Montessori, since many of my close friends at the time were Montessori kids. My future mother-in-law gave me the book Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful by Donna Bryant Goertz, and I was sold (I also really love Trevor Eissler's Montessori Madness, but didn't read that till years later). I loved the idea of a school that allowed teachers and students so much more freedom, that respected each child's individual traits and that not all children learn the same way or at the same pace. I loved that Montessori (at least in theory) gave the teacher that flexibility to work with students who needed extra guidance, and involved the whole class of students in each other's education vs just a top-down teacher-tells-students-everything approach. Child-led learning. "Follow the child." After graduating from college my then-fiance and I moved to California, and I realized there was a Montessori training center in town, and I felt like I finally knew what my career path would be.

I finished my training and spent 1.5 years working as an assistant in a great little Montessori school in San Jose. I learned a lot, as the teachers I worked under had a couple decades of experience under their belts and really understood a lot about the nature of young children. Then life took my husband and I overseas, and then we had kids, and I've been home with them ever since. I've still been involved in Montessori, my kids have now both been in Montessori preschools (D for 3 years and Q just started this fall). I still love much about the philosophy and many of the teaching materials.

However... Part of me has also felt a little bothered by some aspects of Montessori. I don't think this is inherent to the philosophy, but I feel like in practice many teachers have a hard time fully breaking from the traditional education paradigms (many come from traditional school backgrounds) and still hold a view of top-down, teacher-to-student distribution of information. Sometimes hearing teachers speak among themselves there seems to be a lack of respect for those children and for their own ability to learn and figure things out. Sometimes there is still that pressure to make kids fit into a particular mold, to be the stereotypically calm and peaceful "montessori kids." It's that paradox where a philosophy or learning that is all about freedom and flexibility, gets paradoxically rigid about tis implementation when put into practice. And, many schools and teachers end up falling prey to the pressures to push academics. They give children lists of work they must complete each day, rather than leave them to freely choose their own. During D's kindergarten year his teacher seemed very concerned about him not progressing in his reading, writing, and math work at the pace she envisioned. And I can't fully blame these teachers and schools for it, as most of the kids in their classrooms will go on to traditional public schools that expect the kids to behave a certain way and perform at a certain level.

But, still.

So then I heard about unschooling, and it just kinda made sense to me. It feels like an extension of Montessori, really-- child-led learning taken to the next step. The carefully prepared environment here, is my home with access to whatever tools my kids may need to explore their world. And they have incredible freedom within that environment. In many ways it feels true to what Montessori is supposed to be, closer to what I think it would be if the constraints and expectations of traditional school didn't encroach upon it.

I still want to incorporate Montessori ideas into our homeschooling-- I have a plastic set of base-ten blocks and rods like Montessori's golden bead material, and want to try to get my hands on more of the math materials (which I love and made math make so much more sense to me, even as an adult, when I took my training). I have a book on Montessori Elementary curriculum that I will (eventually) read and gather ideas from. But I also have a wider perspective now-- I feel like that "follow the child" motto is more important than any one particular philosophy or set of ideals. Which, also includes unschooling. I may one day find or figure out something different that fits us better. But at this point in our journey, this is where we are.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"So how is homeschooling going?"

We've been at this long enough now that the question I often get from friends has changed from, "So how are you preparing for homeschooling?" to "So how is homeschooling going?" I'm finding I have as much trouble answering the latter question as I did the former.

The thing is, homeschooling is going pretty well. We are all enjoying and taking advantage of the freedom and flexibility we have in our days and weeks, not tied to a school schedule (we still have Q's preschool schedule but it's easy enough to "play hooky" on days we want/need to vs sticking to a public school's required attendance days). It's great to be able to go at D's pace of things, vs trying to fight with him over things he's not ready for or interested in. And he's doing a lot of cool stuff-- making stop-action videos, building cool stuff out of legos, we have finally graduated up to me reading chapter books to him (which he was not interested in up until recently). And I love that we have the time and freedom to just talk about stuff as it naturally comes up, like a conversation we had last week about how banks, savings accounts, and loans work after passing an ATM on our way to a coffee shop, or today when we saw the stump of a tree that had fallen over at the park, roots exposed and all, and talked about the growth rings on the tree and what the roots did and looked like, and how the roots of different plants and trees look differently and how that affects things. I know all parents do this to some degree, but we get a lot more time for these "lessons" to come up organically, and we rarely have to rush through them because of other commitments.

But when other people ask me about how things are going I tend to freeze, I think because I am trying to frame what we're doing into a "schoolish" framework of comparison and I don't know how to do that, since most of our activities don't fit into the traditional blocks of "academic learning." This is where it might be easier if D was reading on his own, or doing other stuff like that that I could point to and say, "See? We're not just some weirdo family, he is doing 'real work.'"

But I also don't want to fall prey to that sort of thinking, or to change what feels like it's working for us just to please others who may not "get it." So I'm working on formulating a good 'stock answer" to give people when they ask, that feels both simple and satisfying to others, and still feel true (enough) to us when given.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • D made a few new short videos this week, two of them stop-action "battles" with lego minifigures. We are incorporating more props in these little shorts (like tying a string to a lego missile to make it "fly" across the screen).
  • About a year ago I bought a couple Hero Factory chapter books for D. He didn't show much interest in them then... but this week he suddenly was into them, and he and I read through one of them in just 2 days. They're a step up from the Scooby Doo books, and thankfully much better written (which some advanced vocab words, as a bonus). 
  • We discovered that the highest number of stud points that you can accrue in the Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga xbox game is 4,000,000,000. 
  • While walking to Starbucks one morning we passed at ATM and D asked about it, which sparked a whole conversation about money, savings accounts, and loans, and how banks operate. I love those moments, and that we have the time to have those conversations as they come up spontaneously. 
  • I finally downloaded the Lego Digital Designer software and D and I found instructions for making a transforming Optimus Prime. He's about halfway through putting it together (it's fairly complex... I'm pretty excited about the whole new world of lego building that LDD + online instructions opens up for us). 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why We're Homeschooling

While I've spent so much time the past year or so researching and thinking about homeschooling, I haven't really sat down and made a concrete list of our reasons for doing this. So I'm laying it out here, trying to be as concise and non-rambly as possible.

Why homeschooling:

The biggest and simplest reason, really, is that I don't feel like traditional school is necessarily the best place to learn, or teaches in the best way for kids to learn. It's funny how we're so used to the idea of school that it seems like this immutable part of life, but compulsory public school has only been an entity for about 100 years or so. It's relatively new, historically speaking. And when you look at the research on how kids (and adults, everyone really) learn, most of the suggestions are very different from how teaching takes place in most schools. In truth, I think if we were to put the boys in traditional public school they'd probably do fine, but I feel like it would be in spite of that school structure and not because of it.

I don't want D to have to sit at a desk all day.

I don't want him to spend all day at school, then have to fight over doing homework when he gets home.

I don't want him to feel pressured into reading (or writing, or math, etc) before he's ready for it, or feel "lesser" for not being at the same level of other kids in his class.

Dividing information into defined subjects and setting arbitrary guidelines for when they need to be taught regardless of individual students' ability or interest makes little sense.

I want him to enjoy learning for the sake of finding out cool stuff and genuine curiosity about the world, vs focusing on grades above content.

I'm pretty ok with avoiding him picking up on the sorts of gender/racial/socioeconomic/etc stereotypes that tend to be perpetuated in school.

I want my kids to get to socialize with people of all ages, vs a specific group of kids their same age.

I don't want to spend my days shuttling kids to and from school and school activities.

And, frankly, money. Our first choice for D's elementary schooling was, ideally, to have him go to a montessori school (for all the same reasons stated above). However tuition is too expensive, and so not an option, and it was when we realized that that we started seriously considering homeschooling instead. However, even at his montessori preschool he wasn't always thrilled about school-- he would do the work, but complained about not liking it. He's been averse to reading chapter books with me, I think partially because he felt so bored listening to the chapter books his teachers read to them at school in the afternoons. So I wonder, even if montessori had been an option, if we still would have given homeschooling a try anyway.

Why unschooling:

The thing about not wanting to fight over homework? Same goes for a curriculum. I don't wanna have to force my kid to work on specific academic subjects when he isn't interested in them yet. That may sound like me being lazy or copping out, except that I also believe that there's no need to go along with a set schedule or curriculum, that he will learn things when he wants to or sees a need for it.

I look back at my time in school, and what I've done in the years since then. I honestly remember very little of what I learned in classrooms at school-- there is some that was impactful, but a lot that's been long forgotten. I learned a good deal from my Montessori training after college, although a LOT of that learning was from the reading I did, and hands-on practice with materials and "on the job" experience. I actually think our training would have been much better if we'd spent more time working with kids in a real classroom, and less time in lectures learning theory (which is important, but learning how to apply that theory is even more so). And now as a parent... this is easily the most important and most difficult job I have ever taken on, and ALL of the learning for this gig has been hands-on, and through my own reading and searching for advice and information and just living it.

Many people will freely admit that the most important learning you do is on-the-job as you begin your work. So it makes sense to let my kids learn that way, too-- in life, hands-on, searching for information as it becomes interesting or relevant or necessary to you. And there's a good bit of evidence supporting the ideas that having plenty of unstructured time to just play, and letting kids explore (with some, but not too much, guidance or direction), may actually be the best way to learn stuff in a way that is meaningful and lasting.

The world is changing rapidly, and much of what we were taught in schools is now obsolete or close to it. I feel like what matters most now, and my best guess for the future, is not necessarily knowing specific facts but knowing how to find things out-- how to identify what you need to learn for a particular goal, how to go about finding that information, and complete your goal. Whether that's figuring out how to build a lego transformer, how to beat a level on a new game, how to make a movie, whatever, I don't really care as long as he's learning and practicing how to figure shit out.

And lot of it comes down to how we want to live our lives. I like getting to spend time with my kids, and don't really want them away at school all day. I love hearing their questions and seeing them create things, wonder about things, come up with new stories and projects. I like getting to be a part of that. I don't want a school schedule to rule over our lives. I don't want to have to fight my kids every day-- I am fairly certain that if D were going to school we'd have to drag him there in the morning a decent amount of the time, and then hassle him about doing his homework when he got home. Life's too short for that, especially when I don't think that being at school or doing homework is even all that important. I hear so many parents talk about how busy they are, spending hours every day shuttling their kids to and from their various schools, seemingly hardly having time to breathe. We are making a conscious decision to live at a slower pace.

I don't say all this to condemn school or people who send their kids to school. Many homeschoolers seem convinced that public school is nothing more than a tool by the state to brainwash kids and that everyone who comes out of that system is forever flawed and broken. Frankly I feel that having a high-quality public education option is imperative to any society-- I do happen to think that should probably look very different from what our public school system does today, but I do feel strongly that one should exist. Not everyone is able to or even has any desire to homeschool their kids. There is no one-size-fits-all solution (or even one solution that is forever-- who knows how long we'll homeschool, or decide to do something different down the line). These are just some of our reasons for going this route.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • We had a party to celebrate Q's 4th birthday this weekend. I baked the cake myself, but the boys loved making the frosting, and had fun playing with friends at the party itself. 
  • My mom is in town for a week, so that's awesome and fun. We are enjoying her presence very much.
  • Q got an early birthday gift of a small indoor trampoline. It's been quite a hit with both boys.
  • D came up to me a few days ago with a sudden desire to build a lego transformer, that really transformed. We did a little googling and found a youtube video with instructions, and built our own version of Bumblebee. I was pretty proud of both of us.
  • I read a suggestion to use streamers to make pretend lasers going across a hallway for kids to go through as like an obstacle course, so we tried that this week. D then got the idea to make a whole training course through the house, using the small orange cones we have for outside play, as well as blankets, pillows, small beads (as bombs) and whatever else he could get his hands on. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cool Things This Week

Lots of cool stuff the past couple weeks:

  • We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for one of their homeschool days. I love that D shares my fascination with creatures of the deep, including cephalopods. We also all spent time playing at the beaches in Monterey, climbing rocks and finding sea anemones.
  • D and I went on a boat "ecovoyage" in the SF bay, with a local marine research institute. He helped throw over a large fishing net and catch fish, dig through mud from the bottom of the bay to find critters, got his turn to steer the boat, and we learned some cool stuff about boats in general and about plankton in the seat. I'm hoping D will still be interested by summer, when he can sign up for one of their camps.
  • D made up his own tabletop battle game, using his warhammer miniatures vs Zach's old army men, poker chips to represent each fighter's "healths", and cut out paper "targeters" for aiming and hitting each other. I was pretty impressed, and I think most of it just came from readsing bits and pieces of the warhammer book a friend gave us.
  • D got a new betta fish (after his first one died...). We're talking about getting some sort of rodent pet after the holidays, we'll see... 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On TV and video games

Up until this summer we had house rules about "screentime." TV watching was kinda flexible, but I had a goal of no more than 1-2hrs a day. If they were sick we'd do more. There were times when they were super into a new show and would constantly ask to watch more of it. We also then went through periods where they wouldn't even think to ask. We had a few games on our ipad, and D and i figured out a system where he would get 6 tokens every week, and each token was good for 30 minutes of time to play games. He could use up to 2 tokens in a day. There were weeks when he'd use up all his tokens in the first few days of the week and whine until the next monday about not having any more... then also times when he'd finish the week having only used a couple tokens at all.

These systems worked ok, but as we got into unschooling and I read more about it both from the academic/schooling side as well as some radical unschooling ideas, I started questioning our restriction of media time. For the first time I was finding out about studies that suggested that playing video games might actually be beneficial, rather than just rotting their brains as popular opinion believes. Huh.

So a few months ago I lifted restrictions. The boys were now able to watch as much tv and play as many games as they wanted. Soon after we got our hand-me-down xbox from my brother-in-law, and the xbox gaming began.

It was easy to feel good about the boys watching shows like Wild Kratts, How It's Made, and MythBusters. It was fun to sit with them as they watched TV and be part of their running commentaries about what was going on, and for D how he would make his version of that show differently. I played their lego star wars games with them on the xbox, and quickly realized how difficult those games were, how much patience and creativity and problem-solving was required in figuring out how to beat each level, as well as the cooperation and communication skills it requires for a 6yo to play the games with his 3.5yr old brother.

But I also had my reservations, my doubts. It's tough to sit by and watch them play for hours upon hours every day, often only stopping when it was time to eat, go to bed, or if we had plans outside the house to go on. I read that often kids "binge" for a while when restrictions are lifted and then they settle down and "self-regulate" but after 3 months or so they were still going strong with round-the-clock gaming. I will also sheepishly admit that part of the doubting voices come from my worry of what others will think about my kids playing games all day...which has nothing to do with them and everything to do with my own insecurities.

I'm still struggling with it, honestly. I really do believe in the benefits of playing games and these stories they watch unfold. I think they are learning and gaining a lot from that. I want them to have plenty of time for this active activity they love. But I also want time for other things. I want time for reading, and playing board games, and going to parks. I want them to have time to be a little bored, because that's when they seem to come up with really fun and creative things to do. I want time for building with legos. And I realize many unschooling parents will find huge fault in all this "I want" coming from me, the parent, but I do feel it is important to find some sort of balance.

The nice thing is, that when I do ask them to take a break from the game 90% of the time they are fine with this and happily turn it off. I'm trying to help them be mindful about how and why they watch tv or play games-- most of the time they love it for the love of it, but I remember one day when D and I were playing xbox and he couldn't decide what level he wanted to play and just seemed restless... like he was bored and didn't know what to do. SoI suggested we take a break and do something else, and he agreed. Sometimes they will get really frustrated with the game, and I try to help them notice how their bodies feel and their voices rise when they're upset, and notice that they may want to take a short break (perhaps we all only just then noticed that they went all afternoon without a snack and desperately need to eat something).

So, anyway, yeah, I'm still struggling a little with it all. I don't want to impose arbitrary limits again, but I do want to allow for non-game time during the day. I can plan park days and errands and other outings, but I also like having time at home where playing xbox isn't the default activity. Right now we're trying a few new things, like that we don't turn the xbox on in the morning before we take Q to preschool. That just seems to work best, as we then have plenty of time in the morning for eating breakfast, getting dressed, and maybe some lego or reading books together, without being rushed bc they spent most of that time playing games. And on weekends (when my husband is around, who is having a harder time with the gaming free-for-all) we're working out deals with the boys about when they want to play and for how long, before we move on to another activity to do together. Most of the time they are happy to compromise with us and we find something that works for all of us, without much fighting or stomping of feet.

So we're trying this out, and I will continue reading, researching, and observing, watching them for cues on how we are doing with it, and finding our way. It's a balance, and one I'm sure will shift and sway all sorts of ways as time goes on.

Lastly, here are a few links I've found useful/informative as I think all this over:

EDIT 12/7/2014: Of course, I wrote this and all of a sudden in the past couple of weeks a change has happened... I realized one day that the boys had gone a whole weekend without even asking to turn on the xbox at all. They still have days where they'll spend the whole afternoon playing video games, but overall their game playing has calmed down in intensity. I'm sure that when they get new games they'll ramp back up again for a while, but it's nice to finally see the natural balancing out happening after all. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • We met up with a new-to-us local homeschool group on monday, and had a great long afternoon playing at a new park with them.
  • D and I tried out the YMCA pool. He's not interested in doing formal swim lessons, but loves playing around in the water and I think just me and him spending time at the pool every week could get him to a good place. And, it's fun. 
  • We picked up a new batch of Scooby Doo books from the library and the boys are continuing to enjoy them.
  • We attended a different park day where kids of all ages played out this massive battle using homemade foam-and-duct-tape weapons. D and Q had a great time, and are plotting out how to make their own foam weapons now.
  • D drew out a map of some of the planets in the Star Wars/Clone Wars galaxy, with markers for who they are occupied by (republic/separatist/neutral). 
  • D continues to make up his own version of just about everything he experiences, telling me stories of new games and movies he wants to make, and made-up animals he has dreamed up, and stories about General D the Jedi Master, etc. It's not always easy for me to listen patiently to his sometimes-endless monologues about things, but I love that he creates these worlds in his head. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Finding our group

One thing I have been missing about D going to school has been the easy access to a bunch of other kids his age. It's been tough trying to establish a new social circle here, and at times I have longed for the ease of D seeing the same group of kids every day at school and finding friends that way. I don't really consider myself anti-social, but I am an introvert and so extending myself to try to connect with others is exhausting. I joined one or two homeschool groups soon after we moved here in the summer, but then D was having such a hard time not wanting to leave the house, so we didn't always (or even often) make it out to park days. And even when we did I felt it was really difficult for D to go join in with the group of kids who already all knew each other.

Still on the lookout, I found out about a different local group and on Monday we went to one of their park days, and to my amazement and relief the whole thing just felt so great. The parents were very warm and welcoming, immediately introducing me and the boys to everyone else there. And more importantly, after a few minutes of sticking by my side, soon D was out running and playing with the other kids and having a great time. For the first time, it felt like he really connected with the other kids there. We had a great time hanging out at the park for a few hours. Many of the parents there seem to be more on the unschooling/life learning side of things, which also felt great-- homeschooling is a strange enough choice, opting to unschool can feel even more lonely at times. It's good to have a few like-minded souls for support and sharing.

The moms there then told me about a different meetup that happens on fridays, where kids of all ages meet up for these epic mock-battles, which sounded totally up my boys' alley. So we went to that as well, and many of the same families were there, and again my boys both joined in and had a great time.

I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I feel really good about this new group of people, and plan to become a regular at their park days. It feels like we've kinda turned a corner. And I figured this would happen, sooner or later-- that we may just need to spend a bit more time searching but would eventually find a crew to join. I feel like we're starting to really find our groove, and it's really nice.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • We visited the Hiller Aviation Museum nearby, where the boys got to sit inside a cockpit of a real boeing 747, and see a bunch of old-timey airplanes and helicopters. 
  • D has been very reluctant to read chapter books with me (me reading aloud to him), but I grabbed a Scooby Doo "beginner" chapter book from the library (it's very short, can be read in one sitting) and he was really into it. I picked up some more from the library yesterday, and he was just as excited to read those with me as well. The books themselves are kind of terrible, but I'm happy for him to be excited to read books that are a step up from picture books. 
  • We joined the local YMCA, D and I are excited to use their indoor pool during the week. 
  • We had two birthday parties this weekend, one of which included pony rides, a bounce house, and a petting zoo. D's favorite was feeding the goats. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • Last week we visited friends in Wisconsin, which was awesome and wonderful and fun. We got to drive and see a bit of the Illinois and Wisconsin landscape, spend lots of time playing and hanging out with our dear friends, D & Q tried out a bunch of new(to-us) video games, etc. It's been a challenge to find friends for D here since our move this summer, so it was pretty great to get to watch him hang out with his best buddy again. 
  • D's interest in warhammer miniatures has been sparked again, and he and Zach had an animated conversation this evening about miniatures, and about war weapons and tanks (both from the game and real, from WWII). They also set up a small battle with Zach's old army men.
  • Dinovember has started again, we did it last year and all had a good bit of fun with it. I've got some fun ideas for our dinos this time around...
  • Yesterday we went to the Bay Area Science Festival, which was all sorts of awesome. We saw remote-control robots, we built a couple simple machines incorporating hydraulics, D tried his hand at hacking a key code, we watched a demonstration on effusive vs explosive volcanic eruptions, I got to touch a real (dead) squid (the boys refused, only watched), and a bunch of other really cool stuff. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

more on that whole "building trust" thing

Most of the time I feel pretty good about this unschooling path we're taking. But that voice of doubt still often creeps up-- is this really ok? Am I just being lazy by not using a curriculum? When we first decided to try homeschooling we looked at it as an experiment for D's first grade year, a trial of sorts... but embracing unschooling means needing to have more of a long-term viewpoint. If I am truly going to trust D and his path to learning, it means he will likely learn some things earlier than other kids, but also may very well learn a lot of things later (even much later) than others. There are many truths that are easy to believe intellectually, but it's the every day lived experience of them that can be much harder to stomach, and in a world that assesses kids (and everyone, really) by whether or not we meet certain arbitrary benchmarks, it can feel like a constant challenge to shake off those expectations and form new ones for yourselves.

It helps to read articles and stories of other people's experiences, examples of unschooling "working." And it helps to notice that it's not just one or two, but when you look deeply there are many of these stories, enough to suggest that these are not mere random lucky instances but an example of what many kids' lives can be like if given the chance. I recently came across these two, on math and reading (two of the Big Topics for kids D's age). I need to compile a small library of these articles to read and re-read as necessary when I need that reassurance).

On Unschooling and Math

A Thousand Rivers (this one is a long read and I could do without the fetishizing and over-generalizing of indigenous cultures, but aside from that is worth the read)

That second link talks about how most kids who are allowed to learn to read on their own (in an environment rich with language and books, and conducive to reading) will do so spontaneously sometime between ages 4 and 9, or even older. It is both reassuring, and also scary-- I won't lie, I get a bit of a knot in my throat thinking of D not really picking up reading till he is 8 or 9 or older. Do I really have the patience and resolve to give him that freedom? To not let the comparisons to every-other-kid-who-is-his-age-and-reading-tons get to me and stress me out? I don't know. I guess we'll see. I do know that my own insecurity or anxiety isn't a very good reason to push things on him. I want to make decisions about how we live our lives based on trust and what feels right for us, not fears over "What If's."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

building trust through nonsense words

Today I pulled out our Bananagrams set and asked D if he wanted to make silly words again. We stumbled upon this game a few weeks ago. He doesn't like making "real" words, but if we take turns making "nonsense words" he will sound them out and we giggle and laugh over how funny they sound. Sometimes I will "accidentally" sneak a real word in, and he'll laugh over that when he realizes that it really is a word.

It's a nice reassurance to me that he does still remember his letter sounds, that the information and skills are tucked in there, he's just not quite ready to use them freely on his own yet, for whatever reasons.

D can read, at least phonetic words and he knows some sight words. His montessori teacher worked on reading a lot with him last year, it seemed a big point of concern for her to "get him up to speed." (it's an interesting thing to notice with montessori, that while the philosophy is supposed to be very child-led, in practice there is often a strong focus on academics)  He has spontaneously read to me before, but most of the time he's just not interested. I get the feel that he may be following his dad's path to reading-- Zach didn't show much interest in it till he was about 8 or 9, I think. Then suddenly a switch was flipped on, and within a couple months he had read through the LOTR trilogy.

One of my reasons for homeschooling is that I don't want D to be pressured into reading before he's ready for it. I half wonder if part of his hesitance at reading or math is because his teacher had pushed so hard on it, especially during his kindergarten year. The last thing I want is for reading to feel forced, and become a struggle and pain rather than something to be enjoyed and savored. I think back to other times when we've felt frustrated as parents that he wasn't doing something by the timeline we had expected-- with potty training, with sleep, with sucking his thumb, etc. Each time we came to find that it didn't really matter how much we tried and pushed and begged, he had to hit that milestone on his own, and he did, and then it was fine. I learned to trust his own timeline for doing things. Which I suppose is also part of why we're unschooling, as well-- trusting that he will learn what he needs to, on his own timeline. I think I've always leaned towards the unschooly type of thinking. I remember when D was little and I'd see friends doing all these special activities to teach their toddlers their colors and shapes, and feeling some guilt that I wasn't doing the same stuff but also feeling like I didn't need to anyway... my kids learned their colors and shapes just fine without flash cards (there's a nice justification for my own laziness, lol).

Which doesn't mean I don't still feel those twinges of jealousy and insecurity when I hear of one friend's 3 yr old who just started reading, or another friend's 5yo who is tearing through chapter books, etc. It's hard not to compare, not to wish your kid was doing that stuff. But it helps to see these glimpses, today playing our improvised bananagram game, that he's on his way. That the pieces of the puzzle are there, waiting for his little brain to put them together when he is good and ready to do so. And in the meantime we'll continue to have lots of books around and snuggle while I read aloud to him and just enjoy books and stories together.

EDIT: I was doing a bunch of reading about unschooling and learning and stumbled upon an essay by Peter Gray on how children teach themselves to read, and it seemed very apt.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • We got D the AT-AT Walker lego set. It was his first time building something that complex and big-- it took him two days, but he did it!
  • We went to a couple park days with a local homeschooling group. One went much better than the other, but we're making progress with trying to find a little community for ourselves here. 
  • The boys got to see a bird show at the kids museum, which included a (...drumroll...) peregrine falcon! 
  • We had some epic jedi light saber battles earlier in the week, and also found local light saber/fencing classes that start at age 7. D says he wants to try them out after his next birthday.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It kinda feels like we're cheating...

Yesterday was a pretty great day.

The boys woke up early, as usual, around 5:30am. They turned on the xbox and played Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars while Zach and I slept in for another hour, then we all got up and got ready for the morning. Zach had a bit of time before having to go to work (very rare) so he walked Q to preschool while D and I stayed home. We watched a little Walking with Dinosaurs, then D played some more xbox (he plays well with Q, but certainly enjoys some time to play the game on his own or with me). I played a couple levels with him, then packed a bunch of snacks to bring with us for our park day that afternoon.

After picking Q up from school we went straight up to a park in SF to meet up with a local homeschooling group. I joined this group back in July, right after we moved, but only made it out to a couple of meetups and it was a battle to get out the door because after all the chaos of moving D just wanted to hang out at home all the time. So we took a break from the group for a while. Lately D has been more flexible and willing to leave the house, so we're trying it out again. And we had a good time yesterday-- we didn't stay very long, but I met some other moms, and D and Q enjoyed running around the playground. It felt more relaxed than some of the other meetups, I think partially because I took pressure off us to MEET PEOPLE MAKE FRIENDS and instead focused on enjoying some time outside and getting to check out another playground. I did get to have a good short chat with a couple moms in the group, which was a nice bonus.

On our way home from the playgroup we stopped at Target and bought toy light sabers, then we spent the afternoon watching light saber tutorial videos on youtube and then testing out the fight moves and strategies outside. We had some fairly epic light saber battles.

We topped off the day with a little more xbox play before dinner. Zach came home early so joined us to eat, then we walked to the library to pick up some books I had on hold, did a little more light saber fighting, read some books, and off to bed.

So yeah, a pretty awesome day. And I've gotta say, it kinda feels like we're cheating, like this is too good to be true. And it's not like it's always super awesome-- they're not all great days. Some days we're frustrated, some days we can't find our groove. Some days the voices of doubt are so loud inside my head that I can hardly think. Then I read up on long-term unschoolers and how they do it and how their families have turned out, and I start to believe that it really can be this simple-- a thought that is so incredibly freeing when I fully let it sink in. I really feel like one of the hardest parts of this journey is/will just be keeping those nagging doubts at bay.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • Not exactly a "cool thing" but D's betta fish died this week, and the boys buried it in our garden. 
  • On wednesday D helped me with washing some laundry, and then declared that all wednesdays should be "cleaning day" and helped me make a list of chores to do on those days. I'm curious to see if this sticks at all. ; ) 
  • Went swimming at a friend's pool this afternoon. They had a super-soaker water gun with a pressure gauge-- D liked watching the pressure go up as he pumped, and down as he blasted the water. 
  • D told me countless stories about what if he were a jedi knight and how he would rewrite the Star Wars storylines. I should sneak-write this stuff down. 
  • We found a book at the library on unusual creatures, have been reading our way through it. D also picked out a book on scorpions that he says is his current favorite book. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

math via monopoly

I picked up a monopoly junior game last weekend, and it has definitely peaked D's interest. We've played a few games, with him always insisting on being the bank. He loves counting out the money and being in charge of that part. The money exchanges are pretty simple-- the bills only go up to $5 and most transactions are of that amount or smaller. But it's awesome getting to see how "just a game" leads to getting to know numbers. He already has had a decent understanding of numbers and quantity from his time in montessori, but it's cool to see him apply this, breaking down numbers into smaller parts through playing the game. For example, needing to pay a $4 fee and instead of paying with his $4 bill, deciding to give the bank a $3 and a $1. Or when I needed to give him $6, he said to me, "You can give me two $2 bills and then two $1 bills." We played for a short while yesterday afternoon, and at one point he needed to pay just $1 to the bank but didn't have any single bills left... he was kinda stumped for a minute, but worked out how to exchange and give the bank a $2 bill, getting back $1 in change.

There's also great potential for talking about other financial matters here-- the first game we played I ran out of money quickly, but D didn't want the game to end. So I suggested that the bank could give me a $10 loan, which I could pay back later (assuming my luck in the game changed). We've talked about how real banks lend out money to people to use to buy cars or a house or start a business. He asked if people go to banks in real life top exchange money (like big bills for smaller bills), I said yes of course and how we can also go to any teller and ask for change, and also about other forms of money that we "exchange" like using checks. I have a tendency to go into "lecture mode" so I'm trying to be careful to give enough information to answer his questions, and hopefully inspire further inquiries, without going into glazed-eyes territory.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

the struggle: pack rat vs minimalist

I've always gone back and forth between "pack rat" and more "minimalist" tendencies. I'm not naturally super organized, so things get cluttered quickly, and I will finally reach a point of feeling too annoyed at the clutter so I'll get rid of a bunch of stuff, but then I always wonder if I will regret getting rid of things... those few times when something I got rid of months or years before suddenly seems useful again.

Welp, since venturing into homeschooling the pack rat side of me is coming out like never before. Suddenly I want to have ALL THE THINGS so that they're easily accessible for when my kids' interest might be primed for sparking. I want to line my walls with shelves, and fill them with books and games and puzzles and science kits and on and on and on.

At the same time, I also feel like having everything out, kind of masks all those cool things. Out of sight is out of mind, but hidden among the clutter also means that things may go overlooked. My approach to their toys in the past has been to keep fewer ones out and available, rotating toys out every so often. My reasons were that 1) I noticed that often when my kids only had a few toys out, they would get more deeply engaged in those toys, and seem more distracted if there were more things out and available, and 2) the very practical aspect that if fewer toys are out, clean-up is just simpler.

So I'm still going back and forth, trying to find that medium of having things available for catching an eye, while not making everything so busy that it drives me nuts or things get hidden in the abundance. I am also working on my "strewing" strategies, looking for how to clear places around the house so that when I leave something interesting out on purpose it has a better chance of catching an eye and getting noticed... This will likely all be a long-standing work in progress.

I want to make the world available to them, out of a genuine desire and interest in showing them all the incredible and fascinating and wonderful things in the world... and also realize that part of it is the fear that they will "miss out" on some potentially key interest if I don't happen to get the right thing to expose them to it. Which is both kinda valid but also silly, and I don't want fear to be a major motivator for how I do things.

I did have a great lightbulb moment the other day, thinking about Dinovember coming up soon... and I realized what an amazing opportunity it will be for strewing! Dinos playing Monopoly, or writing out a story, or reading a cool new book... so many possibilities. ; )

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cool Things This Week

  • Visited a local zoo. Fave animals this visit: giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and the alligator.
  • Random ongoing conversations about coal vs oil and fossil fuel vs renewable energy, and the economics of each (cost of production, who pays that cost, and options for subsidizing to encourage consumption of certain kinds of energy over others).
  • Took a 2day trip to visit a friend who lives 2hrs away. I love having that sort of flexibility mid-week. 
  • Started working on a hero factory comic book story (using a printable template from lego). He's cut out and pasted several story panels in the order he wants them, and added some speech bubbles for me to fill in. 
  • D is still loving his lego star wars game on the xbox and is advancing through levels faster than ever. He's also getting into other games, like the ninjago spinners game and monopoly junior (which I just got yesterday, yard sale score!). 
  • This morning we went on a short hike through a nearby redwoood grove, where we counted over 23 banana slugs (we stopped keeping track after that).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Up-and-coming spinjitzu master

My kids have had an off-and-on obsession with Ninjago for a while now. We currently have a Lego book from the library that talks about the history of lego and the various sets they've made and sold over the years, and a few nights ago we were reading the Ninjago pages and the book mentioned a spinners game where the pieces could battle each other with "spinjitzu." Intrigued I went straight to amazon, and sure enough there's a game with minifigs and spinners and cards and stuff, so I ordered the starter pack and we opened it up today. It took us a little while to get the hang of what the cards meant and how to best spin the spinners, but soon we were full-on playing and D was really enjoying it.

So we played for most of the morning, and seeing how much D was liking it I started looking at expansion packs but then also realized that you can use regular lego minifigures on the spinners... So I suggested to D that we could maybe make more battle cards for the game ourselves, and use some of our own minifigs and weapons. He loved the idea, and we got to work figuring out how to make our own cards.

We came up with 3 new battle powers, drew out the card on construction paper, then cut them out and glued them onto regular playing cards. We kept playing off and on through the rest of the afternoon, D occasionally wandering off to play something else with Q for a while, then asking to play more of the spinners game.

Then tonight right around dinner he said we should have a points system-- we should win points when we knock our opponent off their spinner, and have points for different weapons and powers, and if we get certain numbers of points we could "unlock" new minifigs and powers to use, etc... It was really cool to see him coming up with all these rules, and also insist on us keeping score as we play from here on out (there's some of that real-world math experience I've been looking for). We didn't get a chance to play much more tonight, but we got a few rounds in with the new score system.

I'm hoping this will be a thing that takes off for him/us, but we'll see.  Even if he loses interest come tomorrow, it was still a cool process to watch all day today, and he made the game his own.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Free to Learn

I recently finished reading the book Free to Learn by Pam Laricchia (kindle version is $3 on amazon). The book helps explain unschooling using 5 main ideas behind it. It's a good, quick read, gave me lots to think about and reflect on. A quick summary of the ideas in the book:

  1. Real Learning: realize the distinction between teaching and learning. You can try "teaching" something all day long, but that in no way guarantees that the learner has learned anything-- or that they've learned what you intended for them to learn. Many school teachers try their best to teach facts and ideas on their specific subject, while too often what the students learn is that that subject is boring, or they learn how to remember just enough to pass the test. So if we want to see real learning, we must do so through the eyes of the learner, not the teacher.
  2. Follow Their Interests: the best learning happens when the learner is interested and engaged in the topic, and when they have lots of other things to "hook" their new-found knowledge onto. Kids learn eagerly and deeply when they can pursue their passions, and when we stop dividing everything into distinct subject we can see that one "topic" can apply to all sorts of subject, creating a web of learning that leads to much deeper understanding and connections.
  3. Choices: we don't learn how to make good choices by having others make our choices for us. We need to practice making choices, having those choices sometimes not turn out so that we can learn from those mistakes, and sometimes the seemingly-questionable choices we make turn out to be the best. Allow kids to make their own choices, don't judge their choices (which doesn't mean talking about pros and cons and cause and effect, etc). Allow them to learn from living when the stakes are low, so they can be well-prepared for when they go out into the world on their own.
  4. Instead of No: don't give automatic no's, consider yes more often. Consider each situation as it comes, and discuss options together. Move from hard-and-fast knee-jerk-response rules, to more flexible and meaningful principles. 
  5. Living Together: everyone in the family has important needs, and has the right to their own voice. One important part of life is learning to live in harmony with others. 
Most of these ideas were pretty familiar to me...they fall in line with montessori and attachment-parenting philosophies. I've been most intrigued by the part about "rules vs principles." In a way that gives me some relief... I've often given myself a hard time for feeling like I'm not very consistent about setting rules. But this helped me understand what I instinctually gravitate towards anyway-- taking each situation as it comes, and bending or changing rules when it seems needed. I like talking with my kids about why I like things done one way, or why I'm not comfortable with something. I take their input seriously when they tell me why they want to do things a different way. As best I can, I try to help us work towards agreements that feel fair enough to everyone. 

It's also a reminder to myself, to not get too bogged down in the "rules" of unschooling. It's funny how for something that is meant to be so loose and unstructured, many people make it seem incredibly rigid and like there's only right one way to do it. When Q was a baby I found myself gravitating towards the Attachment Parenting ways of things, but quickly learned to adopt the practices that made life simpler and just seemed to work well for us, and leave behind what didn't. I am now working to study the "rules" of unschooling, to fully understand the reasons behind them and intended purposes, and do the same culling-- remembering that the end goal is not to pass some test of whether we're "doing this right" but to find a balance and way of doing things that works for US as a family-- that helps each of us within this family feel respected and fulfilled. 

Cool Things (last) Week

  • The xbox is still very new, and continues to be a favored activity. The favorite game right now is lego star wars: the complete saga. D is advancing through levels and unlocking characters at (what appears to my inexperienced eyes) an impressive pace, and also learning how to cooperate with little bro who also loves to play but isn't exactly helpful... We also just got a kinect over the weekend with a couple games for it, the boys tried it out last night for the first time. There is some interesting kinesthetics/body awareness learning that goes on there...
  • D started working on a hero factory comic book, using a printable set I found online. We've cut up scenes and speech bubbles and he's pasted most of them in the order he wants. He's ding work on it little by little.
  • We spent one afternoon at a local kids science museum, D was super into the ball runs, working with gears, and this other exhibit where you could make a vortex in a tube filled with water which led to talking about tornadoes and hurricanes.
  • One morning D asked about wanting to see animal babies being born, which led to some youtube-watching of videos of elephant, kangaroo, and dolphin births. 
  • We also had some continuing cool conversations about cloning, the ethics of cloning people to build an army, how genetics relate to personality, the ethics of experimenting on humans vs animals, ways that scientists have studied and altered animal behavior, etc (based on the clone troopers in star wars).

Friday, September 19, 2014

When you start to question everything...

There's this really weird thing about choosing to do something that is unconventional and different... I remember it from when I was first pregnant and started looking into midwives and having a med-free birth, outside of a hospital. You start questioning one assumption, and it leads to questioning another, and then another, and there are all these surreal and eye-opening moments when you realize that a bunch of stuff that you had simply assumed to be true, was...well, not.

Choosing to homeschool is one thing, going to the next extreme of unschooling is kinda fascinating, and reading about radical unschooling is leading me to question so many other things as well. It feels like we're in this phase of experimenting, questioning, re-thinking. I'm letting go of school-ish expectations of what is supposed to be learned when, but also re-thinking other aspects of life and parenting. We no longer have any firm restrictions of "screen time" which I'm still having some conflicted feelings about, but am trying to really embrace the unschooling way of it to see how it can work for us (or if it won't, who knows... maybe in a few months we'll decide we do want some more limits. Or maybe not... I want to give us some time to really explore this and figure it out... and this is one of my favorite things about unschooling, that it feels like we really do have plenty of time).

I'm also trying to really reconsider my thoughts on bedtime and meals, etc. I do feel like the boys need a consistent bedtime-- years of monitoring their sleep, noting what happens when they do get to bed late, how they deal with that, etc, leave me thinking that enforcing a bedtime helps them more than it hinders them. As they get older they will likely get more freedom with that. And, I am loosening up my rigidity about bedtime-- often D will get interested in something or start a project right before our bedtime routine would begin, and now I let him finish what he's doing. Also, every once in a while D may have a hard time falling asleep, and we'll let him get up and go play quietly for a bit rather than force him to stay in bed.

As for food, I think we're already fairly "unschooly." We do have set mealtimes, or well dinner at least and usually lunch. Snacks happen on demand. And while I won't cook different things for different people, I do offer food, they aren't forced to eat anything they don't want, and if they don't like any of what's served for a particular meal I will offer other easy-to-make options (like other snacks, or re-heat leftovers, etc).

There's something kinda fun and exciting about really questioning everything... though it can also be exhausting and feed that nagging voice of doubt. I'm trying to separate what may be accepted conventions, vs what I really feel works best for the individuals within our family. Also, as with Attachment Parenting philosophy, I am trying to find the right balance of meeting all of our needs-- the boys', as well as mine and Zach's as parents-- as best we can. For example, one of my reason for enforcing a set bedtime (most of the time, anyway) is that as an introverted parent I really need some quiet time in the evening after the boys have gone to bed, and before I myself need to get to sleep. So letting them stay up late on a regular basis wouldn't work for me, and I'm ok with establishing that selfish need for myself.

But yeah, so we're in this initial period of trial-and-error, of trying a few different things on that may feel weird and strange at first and some of them will probably stick and start feeling a lot more comfortable after a few wears, and some may not, and really it's probably a never-ending process as our needs and "best practices" I'm sure will change and evolve as we all get older and change ourselves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Observations from the xbox

About a month ago I lifted our restrictions on "screen time" (something I want to write a longer post about soon). Last week the boys started playing the lego star wars game on the hand-me-down xbox 360 we recently got from my brother-in-law. They have been really enjoying the game, and playing it lots... for several hours each day. I am still struggling some with how I feel about spending all that time playing a video game vs doing other things (and is there really that much difference between playing a video game vs say a board game? I don't know. More fodder to ponder). But as I have sat and watched them play this game, I have noticed a few things and wanted to jot them down. Because it does seem like these games have the potential to develop a lot of important skills.

  • Patience. I was never very into video games as a kid, and I am remembering now why. I don't have the patience for them. It takes a LOT of patience to figure out the challenges and puzzles within the game.  The games can get very frustrating, so this also provides practice in dealing with frustration, disappointment, and perseverance.
  • Cooperation. D is playing this game with his 3yo younger brother. This means a lot of the two of them trying to work together- D trying to help Q figure out what to do, Q trying to go along with D on the mission, etc. 
  • Problem-solving. Many times D will get to a spot in the game that seems impossible. But then after a while of trying out a bunch of stuff, he will figure it out. Or we figure it out together. Or, last resort, we turn to the internet for some research. 
  • Creativity. After playing, D will often start telling me about how he would make his own version of the game-- what he would change, what characters he would use, the storyline he would follow, etc. It is really cool to see him make the game his own. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The importance of self-care

One thing I am learning quickly, is how important self-care is as a homeschooling parent...and particularly as an introvert. I am really trying to be available to my kids during the day, to fully take advantage of the flexibility we have to jump on an interesting thought or question or opportunity when it arises. I have noticed that for D we really need to tackle questions right when that curiosity comes out, as later it will have passed and he may not be interested anymore. He also loves to tell me stories, made-up adventures or telling his own version of a movie or show or game and how he would make it differently, and I want to listen to these stories and give him my full attention.

Being this available and attentive all day long, however, wears on me. It drains me of energy, and I need to replenish it with time by myself, with quiet and solitude, without anyone talking to me or asking me questions or whining or needing anything from me. I used to take "mommy time outs" when the boys watched TV, but as I have loosened the reigns on "screen time" I also am wanting to be much more involved in what they are watching (and they often really want me sitting with them as they watch as well, to cuddle together and talk about the show as we're watching it), so I don't get those breaks much anymore.

It doesn't help things that my husband works long days and is usually not home until well after the boys have gone to sleep, so I am solo parenting for dinner and bedtime most nights.

One benefit of Zach's long hours is that once the boys are in bed, I sometimes get the quiet house to myself for a couple hours before I need to get to sleep myself. I try to mark out time on the weekends for myself, but it's difficult as that is our chance to enjoy family time all together. I'm working on figuring out other ways to give me some time and space during the week. I love being able to be home with my boys, but I also realize it is important for me to take care of myself, so that I can be more patient and present with them the rest of the time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cool Things This Week

A few cool things from this past week:

  •  D counted out the dollars and change in his allowance jar, exchanging the mountain of pennies he had for larger coins, then took his jar to the mall to buy a new Hero Factory set.
  • Made a couple of short stop-action movies with his legos.
  • Experimented with vinegar and baking soda explosions.
  • Talked about the history of the US flag and the symbolism behind the number of stars and stripes on it (inspired by the US flag stickers he got from Trader Joes).
  • Learned about hummingbirds, bees, spiders, and other pollenators through Wild Kratts videos.
  • Got to finally try out the xbox 360 we got as a hand-me-down from D’s uncle. We have one kid-friendly game right now, a lego star wars game. I’ve been impressed watching D (and Q!) play the game, and see how quickly they’ve gotten the hang of it, and also remember how much patience and problem-solving is required to get through the levels.
  • Talked about democracy and government (inspired by the lego movie and President Business).
  • Attended the first meetup of a local lego play group. I’m hoping this can be an ongoing thing for us.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Deschooling Myself

When you ask veteran unschoolers, most of them will say that one of the hardest parts of unschooling is deschooling yourself as a parent. A huge help to me was going to a local homeschooling conference last month where I heard Sandra Dodd and Sue Patterson speak, and heard stories of long-time unschooling families who were doing well and enjoying it. Hearing all those success stories gave me the reassurance and confidence to really dive into this head-first. I also feel like I had this shift– unschooling sounded so great and wonderful, but it couldn’t possibly just be that easy, right? To get to just hang out with your kids learning cool things together every day? But that seemed to be the regular day-to-day of all these other families, and I started believing that perhaps this too-good-to-be-true idea might actually be real.

So I’m feeling pretty confident about it now, though I’m sure the doubts will creep in from time to time. It’s tough to fully unshackle yourself from arbitrary standards of What You Should Be Learning At X Time when everyone else lives by those standards and views them as gospel truth. I think I will have to make up a list of article to read and re-read as needed to reassure me when I begin to question. ; )

One thing that’s been very helpful for me is that D keeps showing me signs that unschooling really is the best path for us, certainly for right now. I don’t know how much of it is just his age, or difficulty with transitioning to new life after we moved this summer, etc, but he is in a phase where he really resist being forced into doing anything he doesn’t want, or even of me trying to teach him things if he didn’t initiate the interest.

Last week he had tried a game on the ipad that was about identifying US coins. The game as kinda crappy, so I pulled him over and tried giving him a short lesson on coins from our spare change jar, just on their names and values. He scoffed and stormed off, annoyed. We had a chat after that about more polite, appropriate ways to express his disinterest in an activity, but even so I felt hurt and discouraged, feeling like I will never be able to “teach” him anything.

Fast forward to the next day…. I had left the coins and jar sitting out on my desk, and the next day D comes up to ask me something and he sees the coins… and he asks me about them. And we went on to talk about them and their value, and then to get all the coins out of the jar and counted up the pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters, and he added up the total value of all that change (just over $2). We also discovered a bunch of foreign coins mixed in, so we go to talk some about how other countries use different money, and it is worth different amounts, and how exchange rates vary, etc. The whole thing didn’t last that long, maybe 20 minutes, but it was fun and we both loved it.

That was a huge lightbulb moment for me, to stop trying to “teach” and instead focus on strewing cool and interesting things in his path, and then follow his lead. I really don’t think we could do “regular” homeschooling, with a curriculum– it would be a nightmare. I also can’t imagine having to force him to do homework after being at school all day (or forgo the homework, putting him in that awkward spot of not respecting his teachers or their expectations). So in many ways, this feels like a godsend.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Beginning our Journey

I can’t really say how long we have “officially” been unschooling, perhaps weeks or as much as a couple of months… D, my 6yo, went to montessori preschool for three years, finishing up his kindergarten year last spring. As my husband and I talked over what to do for his first grade year, we knew we wanted to avoid public school if possible. However we also knew we couldn’t afford private school tuition, especially here in the SF bay area. So then we started talking about homeschooling… and in my research, I found out about unschooling.

As a montessorian (I have a primary AMI certification, though I never spent much time working in the classroom), unschooling felt like the next natural step in child-led learning. I felt instantly drawn to the idea and fully believe in children’s ability to learn what they want and need in their own time, though I have to admit that part of me may just be attracted to how much easier it seems than homeschooling with a curriculum. So, we decided to homeschool, using the unschooling approach, for this first year and “see how it goes.”

At first I looked at homeschooling as an alternative option, something to do until we could afford private montessori elementary tuition. However as I have learned more, and as we start down this path, I am finding myself thinking that this may be a long-term thing. I am ever hesitant to make long-term predictions about our lives– we have taken so many twists and turns that I never would have anticipated in a million years, and I have no idea what else the future will have in store for our little family. But, this feels good. It feels natural. In the moments when we really immerse ourselves in unschooling, when I let go of any worries about “keeping up” or comparing to what we “should be doing”, when I allow myself to believe that this really can be this simple, this easy, this enjoyable… in those moments, I can see us being life-long unschoolers. I also really, really love getting to explore and learn right along with my kids.

Now, a disclaimer– I also have a younger son, Q, who is 3yrs old, and who just started going to montessori preschool in the mornings, which I suppose is fairly un-unschoolish of us. I do still like the montessori method of education, and I think he will get a lot out of his time there. I feel a bit conflicted about sending him to school while keeping D home, but to be completely honest the biggest reasons why Q is in school right now are 1) he is much more social and outgoing than D is and I feel needs more of that social interaction, while 2) D revels in having time at home, with me, by ourselves, just the two of us.

So here we are, starting down this path, trying to find our way. In the past I have used blogging as a way to sort through my thoughts and feelings, and to connect with others who are in a similar place. So here is this new blog, for this new beginning.