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.