Wednesday, December 2, 2015

On Being School-Smart

When I was in school I remember it being very much understood -- I can't remember if it was even stated outright, or just implied so strongly that there was no need -- that doing well in school meant that you were smart, and doing less well in school meant that you were... less smart. It was a given.

I did well enough in school, even took a honors class or two, and got decent grades. But many of my friends were better at school than I was-- they had higher GPAs, they got near-perfect scores on their SATs. They were clearly Smarter Than Me. Which didn't bother me much, I just kind of accepted it... and part of that acceptance was trusting my own thoughts and opinions less, and assuming that these other, smarter people knew better than me and thus I should trust their assessments of things more than my own. This is something I'm still working on reversing now, decades later.

And I don't know if it's come up more lately or I'm just noticing it, but in the past few weeks I've been met with several reminders of how there really are very different ways to be smart or intelligent, and possessing one does not mean you possess them all. Moments where I realized I grasped a concept more thoroughly, or noticed something that another missed, or helping a friend who is by all means incredibly intelligent and capable but needs assistance in particular matters. I'm being extremely vague kind of on purpose, as I don't want this to be about putting anyone else down, just a reminder that there are many ways to be intelligent. Which seems like an obvious thing to say, but I feel like this is one of those things that collectively we "know" it in an abstract way, but don't REALLY believe it most of the time, or in most instances anyway.

I mean, if we really believed it, we wouldn't equate doing well in school with the One True Path to becoming successful.

I want to read more on Howard Gardner's theories of multiple intelligences, as that's part of what I'm touching on here. But I suppose the other part of this that's also on my mind is thinking about how easily and thoroughly I accepted this idea that I wasn't as intelligent (and thus my opinions and thoughts as valid or sophisticated) as other people simply because they were better at Doing School or Taking Tests than I was. How that has stayed with me, long past the time when we were in school. How hard it can be, even now, to break away from those imaginary constraints. And, looking forward, how I don't want my children to fall prey to the same sort of thinking, to evaluate their whole worth based on this one metric that we have somehow as a society decided matters more than almost all others.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


This is another one of those links I keep around handy to look back on as needed: In Praise of the Unexceptional

I think often home/unschoolers feel the need to highlight all the awesome things our kids do, as "proof" that what we're doing is "right" and "working" and "better than school." The thing is, it doesn't need to be better than school or other alternatives-- it just needs to work for us. There are many paths to raising kids, and this is just one of them.

Yet it still is so easy to fall into that trap of comparing, or seeking reassurance... The rational, logical part of my brain looks at the things my boys are doing and knows they're doing fine-- they seem happy. They continue to grow and develop and learn.  Yet that other part of me still freaks out from time to time. We all want our kids to be Exceptional, don't we? We want them to be ahead of the curve, be super creative and innovative, driven, etc.

The funny thing is, when I look at myself I've never been super driven or ambitious. I prefer a quiet life. I did well in school, but I never saw the point in losing sleep to finish a project or study for a test. I went to college, because it was expected, but chose my school based on size and proximity to my parents' home. I majored in psychology because I couldn't figure out what else I might want to do with my life. I've never felt driven by career goals, pretty content to make my home and my kids be my "career."

I remember when I was younger, in middle and high school, and everyone would encourage us to be Leaders, and I'd think "What if we're not all meant to be leaders? Doesn't someone have to follow?" Or maybe not follow, but blend into the background, I guess?

So yeah, I would describe myself as fairly unexceptional. I don't think that makes me uninteresting, or unworthy. I have no idea what is in store for my kids, what they will choose to do with their lives. But I don't want to put big expectations on them that don't fit. And I hope to be able to support them fully and unconditionally, whatever their goals may be.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

NPR TED Radio Hour: Unstoppable Learning

I stumbled upon an episode of NPR's TED Radio Hour show that was about learning, and it's not about unschooling (or doesn't mention it outright) but the ideas definitely support it... especially Sugatra Mitra's segment at the beginning, and his remarks again at the end of the show (starting around the 45ish min mark).

Really fascinating stuff here, good for anyone who's into education in general.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Role of an Unschooling Parent

 A list a friend posted online. I want to print this list and keep it within easy eyesight. I'm working on trying to embody each of these, I often feel like I'm not interesting or providing enough variety of experiences, but I'm working on it.

#1: Show respect for all of a child's interests equally.
#2: Keep the child in mind as I go through life, so that I notice things that might be of interest to that child.
#3: Find ways to include the child in my own daily life - live a more"open-book' life than the norm.
#4: Follow up on things the child is interested in - and do this in a wide variety of ways, not only by "getting him a book on it."
#5: Live a family life that is rich with experiences of a variety of kinds both at home and outside the home.
#6: Have resources around the home that are interesting and stimulating - things that will encourage exploration of ideas.
#7: Discuss things - spend time in conversation. This is probably overall the most important parental"action' involved in unschooling.
#8: Have a"playful' attitude - play together, have fun, appreciate the amazing world around you. Don't be cynical, be able to be amazed and find the world a fascinating place. THIS is the most important"attitude' for an unschooling parent.
#9: Be self-aware of your own thinking and behavior. Purposely stretch your imagination - question your own assumptions, check your own automatic impulses.
#10: Be very observant of what your child is really doing - don't view him/her in a shallow superficial way. Recognize that there is a reason for a child's actions, that a child is"born to learn' and is always learning. Get to know your child's own special favored ways of learning.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Fear of Missing Out, and Trust

It was during my husband's time in business school that I first encountered the term FOMO or the "fear of missing out"-- worrying that you're missing out on some awesome opportunity or event happening elsewhere, without you. Zach is much more prone to experiencing FOMO. Me, not so much. I worry that things won't turn out the way I want or expect them to, but I don't worry much about what I'm missing out on. That sounds almost braggy, but it's just that among my worries and anxieties, this particular one hasn't bothered me much.

But I'm realizing that FOMO is rearing its ugly head in terms of homeschooling-- I worry much more about what my kids are missing out on, especially now that I feel so much more responsible for their education. Do they miss having classmates, a steady stream of other kids their age that they see every day? Are they spending too much time at home, not exploring in "the real world" as much as they could/should be? Unschoolers often talk about how their children discovered this incredible passion sparked by a particular experience... Would they develop a love of puzzles, or coding, or electronics, or godknowswhat if only I presented it to them in the right way? Are there passions or interests that my boys will be robbed of discovering if I don't happen to introduce them to some specific experience, at some specific point in their development?

Like most fears, it starts sounding kinda silly when I write it out like this. I also don't want to allow fear to dictate my actions or decisions. Fear is a shitty reason to do anything (unless you're in pressing physical danger or something, I mean, by all means run away from the lion if it's chasing you).

I think this fear also gets mixed up with comparing what my kids are doing to what others (esp other home/unschoolers) are doing, which is a really terrible idea and I try my hardest not to do it but sometimes that voice just sneaks up without me realizing that's what it is. I'm working on recognizing these fears when they pop up, acknowledging them, and figuring out if it warrants action on my part, or trust. Is there more I could be doing to expose my kids to a variety of interesting things? Maybe I could plan more daytrips to cool places, get out of the house more. Maybe I could make a list of projects to try during those moments when the boys seem a bit bored, and open to my suggestions. Maybe I could try to set aside my prejudices about what are "good" vs "bad" ways to spend their time, and really see what it is they are spending their time doing, to see the value it holds for them.  Maybe it is I who need to find some new, interesting things to do and learn about, as a model for them (and also because it's fun and stuff).

Sometimes the answer is trusting the process, trusting them. Looking to them--  are they happy? Are they curious? Are they excited about what they're doing? -- for guidance, rather than fears.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Optimal Context for Self-Education

Today was the first day of the HSC homeschooling conference, here in California, and this year Peter Gray is the keynote speaker. Tomorrow morning is his big keynote talk on learning through play, but today he gave two other talks. One of them was on the biology of education-- looking back at anthropological research on human evolution, and combining that with modern studies on learning and current research on unstructured child-led learning in democratic schools and unschooling families. He came up with a list of six key elements that provide an optimal context for self-education:

  1. The social expectation (and reality) that education is children's responsibility.
  2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore, and pursue own interests.
  3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture.
  4. Access to a variety of caring adults, who are helpers, not judges.
  5. Free age mixing among children and adolescents.
  6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic environment. 

There's more to be said about these, but I just wanted to quickly post them here as one place to remember them.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Those nagging voices of doubt

During the two years that we lived in New Hampshire, D developed a strong friendship with his best buddy, Ethan. They were practically inseparable. When we moved away, just over a year ago, it broke D's heart. He had a pretty hard time with the separation, spending the first several months super moody, not really wanting to hang out with other kids or do much at all outside the house. Things got better over time, and he really turned a corner after we got a chance to visit E in his home in October. We still haven't found another friend who comes close to replacing E's friendship in our daily lives, but D has become much more social and flexible again.

Last week E and his family spent a week with us here in CA. D had been looking forward to this visit for weeks, he was so excited. So it was a bit of a surprise for me that, once E was actually here, D seemed kind of aloof at first. He played with E some, but he also spent a lot of time playing on the ipad or his 3DS by himself. Part of this was because of getting to play some brand new games that E had brought with him, but still. It wasn't until the last couple of days of E's visit that D fully warmed up to him, and they played just like old times.

I didn't know what to make of this. I was disappointed that D was not spending more time with his friend, who we see so infrequently. He was also moody and at times really angry and inflexible about plans, demanding to go home when we were out. I worried that video games were taking over D and making him totally anti-social. I worried that being out of school was turning my son into a hermit, not wanting to hang out even with the boy he calls his best friend in the world. The voices of doubt in my head had a field day, questioning my approach to homeschooling and gaming and every other change we've made in the past year, worrying that there was something wrong with my kid, worrying that, basically, I was doing a terrible job and ruining my kid as a result.

Looking back with a few days of space and clearer thinking, I'm kind of embarrassed at how much I freaked out, how focused I became on a few trees over the larger forrest.

Interestingly, as soon as E left to go back home, D initiated all these new projects and activities. He painted some miniatures, made and sold lemonade on our block, dictated 4 pages of a new story for me to write for him, set up a new battle with his lego minifigures, watched youtube videos of medieval and ninja weapons. The games he had been so obsessed over, suddenly sat untouched. So I guess video games were not consuming all his brain and attention. He has also shown moments of being so caring and considerate about others' feelings or wishes. In other words, he was acting fairly un-ruined, as if he were actually a happy, thriving child.

And maybe my kid is just sensitive. And needs a break from even the most fun friend during the day. When I step back and look at our time together again, I see that there were times throughout each day when they played well together, but I glossed over those and focused on the times when D set up his own boundaries and time for himself. I looked at his game playing as a solitary, socially isolated activity when at least part of his gaming time was spent unlocking a few new levels on one of E's games, which he felt proud of and I think viewed as a favor he was doing for his friend. Maybe I should have guided or pushed more for him to connect with his buddy, but maybe also D was doing a pretty good job of determining for himself how social he wanted to be, and how much time he needed on his own to process having extra people in his home, in his space, all day for a week.

I worried that homeschooling was making him into more of a loner, but then again am I just falling prey to the idea that everyone has to be super outgoing and social all the time? D has some pretty serious loners on each side of his family, people who are quite happy and well-adjusted and simply enjoy having lots of time to themselves. That may just be his nature, either for right now or more permanently.

I'm still working on processing the trip, trying to figure out what lessons I can learn from it. We have a big trip planned with a bunch of my family in a week, where he will likely feel overwhelmed by so many people sharing one house, and I want to align my own expectations to how to help him deal with that. I still feel a little bummed at some of D's behavior last week, but I also realize that he is human, and we humans (even is oh-so-mature grown-ups) have moods and sometimes lose our temper and sometimes just need more time alone, and sometimes have a harder time identifying let alone voicing what we need.

Questioning and doubting yourself is surely an issue for most if not all parents, and I kinda think there's a whole other level of it for those of us who question what most people take as givens, and decide to go against the grain. I've also always had a problem with not trusting my own judgement of things, assuming that others must clearly know more or know better than I do. I've gotten better at trusting my gut at least when it comes to parenting, but I still occasionally have these boughts of worry, where I swing between feeling like I am totally blowing something small out of proportion, and that also too I am missing some obvious red flags that any other competent parent would see and know to do something about them. I want to be aware of my kids and be able to adjust and tweak things in response to their needs, without letting that spiral down to doubting myself and losing trust in my own wisdom.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stuff we've been up to:

  • Q finished up preschool last week, so both boys are home full time now and will be for the time being (we've decided not to send him back to preschool in the fall, but that deserves its own post). Wheeee! =) 
  • Q has had soccer camp in the mornings this week, with school BFF is in the same class so they're having a blast with that.
  • After soccer camp we've been playing at the playground of the same park, which the boys have enjoyed. Twice now we have seen a woman with her adorable corgi puppy, and D has made friends with them. Today he was helping train the puppy with commands and give him treats. The whole thing was just so darling (including the woman who was so sweet with D, and remembered his name after their first meeting).
  • Both boys are very into Iron Man right now, and Q also obsessed with DareDevil. 
  • Inspired partially by Stark Industries, D is talking nonstop about the company he wants to start in a few years that will do everything from make Iron Man suits at affordable prices to take animals on adventures and a whole bunch of other things he's told me that I've forgotten. His offices will start as one tower, but expand to underground buildings worldwide, and will include on-site daycare and schools for the employee's children. (no seriously, he came up with all that himself)
  • We got D a 3DS recently, and he also was introduced to Total Annihilation by his dad and uncle, so he's been in like gaming heaven the past week or so. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

So..... How DO Unschoolers Turn Out?

We're about a year into our unschooling journey here. I am feeling more comfortable, more confident, in our approach. But still, I wonder... how will this turn out long-term? There are no guarantees and every child is different, but is there evidence for making any sort of educated guess about how unschoolers turn out? Something based on more than our gut feelings and assumptions?

When you search online for information about unschooling, you come across a lot of people who have very strong opinions about the subject. Most people online who hear about unschooling are immediately convinced that there is NO WAY this method could work. That it will surely result in kids who are spoiled, lazy, who never learn anything, who will never get into college or get a real job. I see these comments over and over again, said by other parents, other homeschoolers, teachers, educators, etc.

So... is that true? Is that what happens? What DOES happen to kids who grow up unschooling?

As it turns out, there are a lot of kids who unschool and somehow manage to actually do ok. It's hard to draw firm conclusions about it, as most of the evidence is anecdotal. There are a couple of larger surveys that suggest quite positive results, but those can easily be picked apart as being biased, or having too small a sample size, etc.

I have been trying to search online for evidence of unschooling gone wrong... of kids who unschooled and regretted it, or hated it, or who really did grow up to never learn to read or write or do anything (clearly, there are many people who remain illiterate through adulthood, but that is usually from neglect or lack of opportunity, which is very different from parents who are actively unschooling).

In 2011 Peter Gray and Gina Riley sent out a survey to unschooling families. He received responses from 231 families about their unschooling experiences, what they saw as the advantages and disadvantages of it, etc (see full results here) These responses were overwhelmingly positive, although again that could be sample bias. These surveys were filled out by the parents, who in theory could have blinders on and love everything about unschooling even as their kids were bored and unruly, right?

So then in 2013 Gray and Riley decided to try to find grown unschoolers and ask them about their experiences directly. They sent out a new survey, getting 75 responses. A summary of the results is talked about here, and Gray did a four-part blog series with more in-depth discussion of what he found (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). Some of the responders had always been unschooled (never attended a more traditional school), others were only unschooled for a period of time for various reasons. The vast majority had a very positive view of their unschooling experience. Most of them had gone on to college for a bachelor's or further advanced degree (they CAN get into college!!), and/or had jobs that sustained their living (eg- not mooching off their parents or whatever).

In addition, you can also find many grown unschoolers who become public advocates of unschooling. Again, not only did these kids grow up into functional adults, but ones that feel strongly enough about their experiences to speak openly and publicly about their benefits.

So, basically, it seems the fears of unschooling resulting in a bunch of spoiled, illiterate adults who can't function in society are, well, somewhat unfounded.

But surely there are horror stories as well, right? I've been searching for them and been surprised at how difficult they are to find. Sure, I could see the parents not wanting to boast about "failed unschooling" but you would think the kids would be speaking out if they felt strongly that their parents had done them a disservice. People LOVE complaining about how their parents wronged them, right?

I did find a transcript of a Facebook group discussion about kids teens and adults who had felt resentful of unschooling, or felt like they were left behind academically. Usually these were kids in a family the commentor was friends with, and they viewed the kids or teens as great, intelligent, talented people, but the kids themselves felt badly about themselves. Certainly this is important to pay attention to-- it's important to try to understand why kids may feel that way, and what can be done to ameliorate these complaints. At the same time, I don't see these as a strong argument for throwing unschooling out the window. And besides, how many adults today feel resentful, angry, bitter about their own more traditional schooling? Obviously we want to minimize how many people grow up feeling this way. It is a reminder to keep lines of communication open with our kids as they grow up, to ensure that we are helping them figure out and fulfill their goals.

Interestingly, my husband has had similar complaints about his own education-- he attended Montessori for elementary school, then went to public middle and high schools. He is incredibly smart and was able to get decent grades in all his honors and AP classes by barely doing any work at all. His parents were very hands-off, supportive and loving but didn't push him on his schoolwork. When he applied for college he was disappointed to not get into MIT, and often said he wished his parents had sat him down earlier in his schooling career to walk him through what it would take to get into that kind of a school. At the same time, he now admits it didn't make much of a long-term difference in his career- he currently works alongside many ivy league peers. He also admits that he's not sure he really would want to trade the extra free time he had, which he used to hang out with friends and pursue other interests, on studying harder and doing all the homework to get those extra GPA points.

There is a whole other discussion we could have here (but won't) about what it means to be a "success" and how everyone defines this somewhat differently. For myself, the findings about adult unschoolers are encouraging. It helps to see other people's stories and how they turned out, particularly that most of them seem to have enjoyed and feel grateful for the more relaxed upbringing they had, and even feel they are the better for it. I hope that as unschooling grows, more research will be done on it so we can know more about the outcomes. Till them, I will make do with what I've got-- the information and stories we have so far, and watching my children and getting their feedback.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Socialization: Yes, homeschoolers still call each other nasty names sometimes

We went to our usual friday afternoon park day today. This is with a homeschool group that is primarily made up of fellow unschoolers/life learners, and one of the few places these days where I feel like I am with like-minded people who won't judge me for being a weirdo homeschooler/too liberal/not hippie enough/etc. They're like my Goldilocks group, "just right." 
The kids in the group are a good mix, with ages above and below those of my own boys. Quinn usually immerses himself right in the action. D sometimes joins in, other times plays by himself or sits with me. All are fine, I'm glad for the chance to be out and about and with other kids, and mostly I get a lot out of getting to sit with the other moms and chat and hang out. The dynamics are pretty good-- the kids get along, and care for each other. One time a few weeks ago D got super upset about something and some of the older girls who don't usually play with him, came right up to ask if he was ok, genuinely concerned about his crying. Most park days are fairly smooth, with the kids playing and playfighting and just running around all over the park.

Today was a bit different. There was more clashing, more fighting and angry words, more "colorful" language being thrown around by a couple of kids. It was a reminder that homeschoolers are not, despite most people's claims./worries, isolated from fighting with their friends, from being picked on or called names or even bullied. These things still happen even inside our happy bubbles. 

Yet, one of the other things I love about these park days is that the kids do have space to handle things on their own if they want, but we as parents are also still close enough at hand to step in if needed. Sure, we sometimes get caught up in our conversations and don't see everything, but we're usually only one "MOOOOM!" cry away. We are there to help mediate tough conversations, or step in when someone is being dangerous towards others, and try to guide them to a safe outcome. We won't always be there and we won't catch everything, but we get these moments as "practice sessions" to model the tools for how to work things out when they get a little ugly. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Reading Obsession

I was thinking the other day about a lot of the common complaints made about video games and tv, reasons given for why they are "bad for you," and how many of them also apply to (...drum roll...) reading, an  activity that almost everyone agrees is Very Good For You. And so I started writing a tongue-in-cheek pearl-clutching post about it in my head. Something along the lines of...

You know, we really should be more concerned with the connection between reading books and childhood obesity. Reading is so SEDENTARY. You just SIT and read. You can't do anything else. Some kids sit and read for HOURS at a time, hardly moving for anything other than shifting their position so their leg doesn't fall asleep. How can that be good for them??

And it's so SOLITARY and ISOLATIONIST. These kids who spend hours reading, they don't talk to anyone else that whole time! They are off in their own dream world, away from the REAL world they need to learn from. How can they develop any social skills if they just read about made-up stuff all the time? I mean, at least when kids are watching TV or playing a game it's usually with other people...

And kids can really become OBSESSIVE about these books. It's like authors are purposefully trying to make the books as interesting and addictive as possible. I've known people who would stay up ALL NIGHT just to finish a book! They won't stop to eat or sleep, because they are so engrossed in the book! That CAN'T be healthy... It's even happened to me, when I get really into a good book I almost can't stop thinking about it, all I want to do is spend all my free time reading till I finish it.

...sounds silly, right? And yes, I am a confessed bookworm and love reading and books, and certainly don't think any of this stuff. But it helps put the complaints about "screens" a little differently, right? We forgive these things because we accept that reading is a fun and good activity. Why can't we see or say the same about playing video games?

Monday, May 25, 2015

weekend clashings

We have been struggling with our weekends off and on the past several months. Zach works long hours during the week, so often he only sees the boys for a few minutes in the morning, if at all, and gets home after they're already asleep. So weekends are his only time with the boys, and they with him. They're usually fairly excited about getting to have dad home. However, when Zach tries to get them to go to a park or do something outdoors with him, they sometimes drag their feet. This causes conflict, as the boys just want to be able to do what they want to do (often just play at home), and Zach (understandably) takes it as a personal insult that they don't want to spend time with him or do what he enjoys doing.

To add to this, we also have some conflict over video games. At least some of the time when the boys want to just stay home, it's because they want to play video games, which Zach is critical of. He has a harder time shaking off the idea of video games as a waste of time, or seeing the potential benefits of them. So when the boys reject his plans for the sake of games, it's like adding insult to injury.

I understand both of their points of view-- I see how my kids enjoy and get a lot out of playing games or watching tv, how they like having control over how they spend their time, and that sometimes they do just want to chill out at home instead of going out somewhere. I also see how much my boys get from playing video games (from just plain "they're fun" to problem-solving and practice with managing frustration, to opportunities and incentive for reading and math while, say, trying to figure out how many coins you need for your next upgrade). I also empathize with Zach, who doesn't get much time to be with the boys or be outside, and wants to do both not just to "kill two birds with one stone" so to speak, but also because he wants to instill in the boys a love of being outdoors, and is frustrated by seeing them push back.

I'm trying to figure out how to handle these conflicts in a way that respects everyone's needs and wants. I do want my kids to have plenty of free time where they choose what they want to do-- including play games. I also want them to spend time with their dad, and to be able to put aside what they may want for a moment for the sake of honoring someone else's wishes.

I love this concept of the sliver, but we're having a bit of a hard time figuring out how to put it into practice. Or I guess the bigger problem, really, is working out the timing. I mean, this past week the boys actually spent little time playing video games because we were busy with so many other things-- going to park days, gymnastics, painting miniatures, setting up blocks and minifigures and legos, etc. It just so happened that all these things happened during the week, and on the weekend when Zach is available and wanting to go do things was when they wanted to fit in their game time, instead (particularly since D found a new logic game on a math website and spent a lot of Saturday on that, then this morning got a new racing game on the ipad).

I think one solution may be for me to keep better track of what we do during the week, which I find useful for looking back on (when I do manage to do it), and also may help Zach see what we do during the week. It may also be important for Zach to plan time for him to outdoorsy things on his own, for his benefit, even if the boys aren't into it. Perhaps if they are invited vs ordered to go they will feel differently about it. Or maybe this is one of those roadblocks that will just resolve itself with time and patience.... we'll see.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Unschooling Life podcasts

I was recently pointed to The Unschooling Life podcasts. I've only listened to a couple of the episodes so far (they're around 15-20 mins each), but it feels like these will be a great resource for examining, self-reflecting, and re-energizing our unschooling approach.

The first episode I listened to is on "gaps" and being "behind" which is of course a common worry among many of us unschoolers. And there was some really great stuff here. One story was told my a mom who herself was a math teacher, but whose child wasn't very into math. She spoke of the difficulty of letting go of that expectation of wanting your kids to be "good at math," and her own realization that while it's great to study things like algebra and geometry, they're not really necessary for everyone. That most people will rarely use the specific skills learned in those classes, in their everyday life, and that more than anything those practices are more about training the mind to think logically which can also be done in other ways.

There was also a quote by another mom and I can't remember it exactly but she was speaking about the gaps in her own traditional schooling education, and said something about how she hadn't become aware of just how many gaps she had in her own knowledge until she started unschooling her kids. Which is something I have felt as well-- that it is in this process that I am becoming aware of how many things I don't know, and how great it is to get to explore those topics now (at least the ones that I *do* want to learn more about). I realized that, as we've been watching a few cool documentaries on space, that my 7yo probably knows more about the universe and our solar system than I have through most of my life.

The podcast episode on Siblings also had some insights that struck a chord and have me reflecting on the way my kids interact with each other, and me with each of them.

So yeah, seems like there's a lot of good stuff here. I'm looking forward to listening to more of them.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cool Things This Week

  • We got a bunny rabbit! His name is Pippin. It's fun getting to know a new animal. Their body language and preferences are fairly different from cats, so that's all kinda fascinating.
  • Branching out from the rabbit, the pots of parsley we planted weeks ago will now be much more useful as Pippin is a big fan. I'm working on a whole little herb garden in our kitchen of plants we can feed our new pet. 
  • We're most of the way through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban audiobook in the car. I love how into it D is getting. In his own classic style, each time we get out of the car he tells me how whatever we just listened to, would be different in his own version of the story. I'm biting my tongue whenever he talks about how they should save Buckbeak and maybe Buckbeak will be the one to get Sirius Black. ;) 
  • We've been spending 2-3 afternoons per week, on average, out at parks lately, which feels good. They're having fun with friends and getting lots of outdoor time running on the grass and playing with sticks and in streams, etc. I'm glad I can help provide that for them. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cool Things This Week

  • Discovering the Plague Inc game on the ipad. D and I have both kinda gotten into this game. It feels strange to be rooting for the obliteration of the human species, but it's fun trying to figure out your strategy for your disease. And the game provides a lot of potential for exploring geography, medical/health topics, and checking out different charts and graphs. 
  • My Homeschooler magazine came in the mail! Always good for a bit of inspiration. 
  • We've been catching up on disney/pixar movies we've missed over the years. In the past week or so we've watched Big Hero 6 and Wall-E for the first time-- D really loved Wall-e, and watched it 3 times this week. 
  • Last weekend our homeschool group held a family picnic. It was a neat chance to see the whole families together, as usually at park days it's just the moms and kids. The picnic was also held at one of my favorite parks, which this time of year has a shallow creek running through one side of it. The kids spent several hours running around splashing in the water and climbing on trees while we grownups chatted and shared food. It was pretty great. 
  • D participated in a sleep study one night this week, in our attempts to figure out if we can get him some better sleep. The experience may not have been that "cool" but certainly was a learning experience. The next day I took D to the lego store to pick out something fun to help ease the comfort of the ordeal he'd just undergone, and we also picked out a small set for Q so he wouldn't feel totally left out of everything. When we got home D decided to open and put together Q's set first (he usually puts them together for Q) so that it would be ready for him to play with as soon as he got home from preschool. It just seemed such a sweet and thoughtful thing to do. 
  • D has been in this very sweet, helpful mood this week. Last night we decided to eat dinner outside and Zach asked the boys to set the table and chairs out there. D hopped at the chance, setting everything up for us. He also unloaded the dishwasher several times this week. I'm sure this eagerness will wear off at some point (or wax and wane, surely) but I am loving it right now, and I think he likes being part of the running of the household. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

holding space

I recently read this article explaining the concept of "holding space" for others. It's something that applies to just about any relationship we have in life, but what jumped out at me was how well this describes what I think many of us aim for in our relationship with our children:
"What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

some more or less random musings

Things have been chugging along over here, doing much of the same things as always-- lots of hanging out at home, playing with legos and the xbox, making up new creatures and superheroes/villains, D made a new stop-action movie or two, we've gone to gymnastics classes and homeschool park days and a museum or two. Suffered through a minor illness or two, and recovered. The usual.

Every so often we'll have a day that feels like a "quintessential proud homeschooler day", like last week when D and I had a short lesson on venn diagrams, and then we walked into town for an errand, picking up trash along the way. We baked cookies, with him taking the lead, and then he sat out on the sidewalk selling them to passing neighbors, counting up money and making change as needed. It was just this Really Cool Day with Learning Opportunities!

Other days look a little less impressive. We may meet up with our homeschool group at the park, or stay home most of the day just playing and watching some tv, maybe catching an "educational" video at some point, but nothing that sounds that impressive and certainly not much that would be considered classically academic. And those might be great days, where we have fun and enjoy each other and have some interesting discussions about whatever might randomly come up, but I sometimes have that nagging voice in my head that we're not "doing enough." That maybe we should be more structured, maybe I should push more on reading and math stuff.

A while back I came across this post about being an "unexceptional unschooler" and it's one I have saved for repeated reading because I agree so much with what she says. There is so much pressure to be Someone Impressive and to Do Impressive Things, and that's for anyone let alone homeschoolers who are prone to feeling like we have something to prove, and it's all just... silly.

I've heard some unschooling families say they aim to live as if school didn't exist. If I try to put myself in that frame of mind (meaning completely letting go of the schoolish expectations of kids learning X, Y, Z at this age and not that) and look at our lives, I'm pretty happy. Sure, it would be nice if D were doing more of certain things, but he does other stuff that's pretty awesome as well. And he's a fun kid, both my boys are. And I like getting to spend so much time with them. I like the creatures and stories they make up, and the questions they think to ask, and the conversations we get to have because we have the time to have them. And it's freeing to keep in mind that we don't have to be "exceptional" in any way-- we just have to be happy and satisfied with how we are living our lives.

One of my favorite books is John Green's The Fault in our Stars. One of the themes in the book is the clash between Augustus and Hazel's views of what it means to live a meaningful life. Gus has this intense desire to accomplish something big, to be a hero. Hazel, instead, is quite happy living her quiet life-- she doesn't need to have a big impact on the world, she's content to spend her time doing things she enjoys with the people she loves. That's enough. I think that attitude is highly underrated in our culture.

And even that is a bit too overbearing, because part of the point is not to put so much pressure on what we are doing now and today, what my kids are doing at 7 and 4 years of age, as if it has some huge bearing on what he will be doing as a teenager or an adult. I have no idea what sorts of things he'll be doing by then. Him being a math whiz now is no guarantee of that still being true in a decade or more, just as him not knowing the multiplication tables in no way means he won't be brilliant at math later on (to focus on just one subject).

Long story short... I think were all enjoying our days as they go, doing things that are fun and interesting to us, enjoying our time together. And that's one of my main goals for us as a family. And things tend to go best when I let go of these arbitrary notions of what things are Important To Do and Impressive, and instead trust in my kids to become who and how and what they want to be.

Friday, February 20, 2015

On pajamas and social norms

Afternoon snack with D in a jedi costume and Q in his footy pjs.

I just saw facebook thread among parents over whether or not it's ok for kids to want to wear pajamas during the day, like to school. The original poster was venting about having a huge fight with her kid over wearing pjs, and the kid ended up getting dropped off at school in her pjs after all, with "the most boring clothes I could find" for her to change into once she decided to do so. Today my 4yo went to preschool wearing his fleece footy pjs for the second time this week-- unconventional, sure, but he's 4 and he's comfortable, and what does it really matter, anyway? But people felt like it's really important to abide by these rules and conventions about what sorts of clothing is appropriate.

It got me thinking about the question of socialization that so often gets thrown at homeschoolers. People mean a whole range of things by "socialization" but at least one of the meanings is learning the established rules of polite society and abiding by them. Many worry that by homeschooling, kids don't learn these rules, which makes them socially awkward and unable to navigate the world like they're supposed to.

But the thing is, I don't think homeschoolers don't learn these rules. I think they get the chance to really examine and question these rules and realize that most of them are completely arbitrary, and that they have the freedom not to follow them if they don't want to.

Maybe we lose something by refusing to follow norms that don't make sense to us. But we gain something, too. This morning I could have demanded that Q change into daytime clothes. It would have undoubtedly turned into a fight, an unnecessary power struggle that ruined both our mornings. Why? Surely by the time he is a grown-up he will learn about the unwritten rules of dress codes, even if I don't force him to abide by them at this young age. Why waste that energy and damage our relationship clothes?

[Aside: one of the things I'm loving about growing older is realizing that I don't have to care what other people think, I can do what feels good and right to me regardless of judgement. That, in short, I don't have to follow social conventions that don't make sense to me, in favor of ones that do. How liberating it is to realize this, now in my 30s. How sad that it took this long, that I wasted so many years fretting and feeling insecure. How amazing it would have been to have felt this freedom all along.]

Every parent has to choose the battles they are willing to fight with their kids, and I don't mean to make value judgements on others' choices though I'm sure that's what it sounds like. Life with a 4yo is tumultuous and rocky enough as it is, and I'm happy to let go of stuff that doesn't really matter in order to help us have happier days.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cool Things This Week

  • D & Q have gotten back into liking The Magic Schoolbus, and discovered Octonauts on netflix, so that's been fun. I don't mind them loving Avengers and other superhero shows, but it does make me feel a little better when they take a break from the more violent shows. And, we've been learning about things like "sea snot" and the humuhumunukunukuapua'a fish long the way. ; )
  • The lemonade stand project this week was awesome. D is planning to walk down to the toy store today to pick out a new toy with the cash he made.
  • We took another short road trip to visit our friend Sasha. She has an off schedule (her "weekends" are thurs & fridays) and I do love that we can take off to hang out with her during the weekday. 
  • The weather has been gorgeous lately, uncharacteristically warm (even for our warm California winters). Yesterday we took advantage and drove to the beach for the day. The boys loved playing in the waves, and found a few baby sand crabs while digging in the sand with a couple other kids they met there. 

Strewing on the walls

At the last homeschool park day we went to last week, one of the moms mentioned that she has all these posters with maps and diagrams, etc, up in her bathroom because she realized her kids spend a lot of time, er, "sitting on the throne" and are thus still enough to notice and become interested in things that they otherwise might not notice in other parts of the house.

I thought this was genius. And so true. It feels like often my kids don't notice things I've tried to strew around the houser because they are already so caught up in what they're doing, they just don't see it or pay much attention to it.

I came home from that park day and found a poster about the history of the earth that I had forgotten we had, and put it up in the bathroom. That night during bath time, both boys started asking questions about it and having me read parts of it to them. Squeewoot!

I've been thinking of where else I can utilize this idea, where else they tend to sit still long enough to let their minds and eyes wander and notice things they may otherwise look over... and the kitchen is another good spot, so I'm trying to take advantage of that. Scrolling through pinterest the other day I came across these "math garden" stones and for once thought a pinterest idea was both 1) awesome and 2) doable by me, so I grabbed some construction paper and scissors and made a few visual representations of common fractions and posted them around the kitchen (where we tend to use fractions most, when we do bake, and also where I hoped they'd catch their eye while sitting at the table eating.

I'm kinda excited about all the possibilities here... =)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Lemonade Stand

Earlier this week I invited D to make lemon muffins with me, using lemons from a bush next to our house. Once the muffins were in the oven he asked about making lemonade, so he ran out to get a few more lemons and we got to working on some lemonade. In the middle of that, he got the idea to make even more lemonade, and sell it for cash. I wondered if this would be one of those things that he thought of fleetingly, then quickly lost interest in, but nope-- he ran out to get more lemons and spent much of the morning and squeezing the juice out of them. I helped him make some simple syrup and mix in water, then he wrote up a sign and set up his little shop on the front yard. I wondered how long he would sit out there before getting bored... Welp, he was out there for a good hour and a half, with enough customers straggling through that he stayed encouraged. He at first set his price a bit high, but after a customer complaint adjusted it down (from $3 to $1 per cup) and sold 9 cups.

That was on tuesday. He talked about selling more lemonade on wednesday but he kinda got distracted with other stuff, but then yesterday (saturday) he got himself all set up again and sold more lemonade. I'm curious to see how long he'll keep it up, but I am so proud of him for following through on this idea of his.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Grades and Hierarchies

I've been reading John Holt's book, Instead of Education, slowly over the past couple of months. There are some parts that I've found very intriguing, others that seem kinda... meh. But one section really made me sit up and underline half the chapter-- when he spoke about grades, and "why Schools need to fail."
Schools say, and many School people believe, that they really want all children to succeed, to learn all that the Schools are trying to teach them. But if someday, somewhere, a Teacher ever did the job he was paid to do, and got all his kids to learn all the stuff he was teaching, he would have to give them all As. (p160)
He goes on to explain how if a teacher did give all his or her students As, everyone-- from the school faculty to the parents-- would complain, demanding why the teacher was giving everyone such good grades, demanding that the material be harder so that the grades "mean something." Demanding that the material be difficult enough that some percentage of the class, by necessity, will fail at it. We claim we want all kids to succeed, that we want "no child left behind," yet we have no real expectation of all kids actually succeeding, and if they do we start griping about grade inflation and how clearly those high grades can't have been earned-- that's inconceivable.
The first thing any new Teacher had better learn is that nobody wants all the kids to win. From the university down to the elementary school, giving all high grades is a sure way to get in serious trouble, even to be fired. One teacher is a large state university sent me a copy of a letter from a dean, telling him that by giving all his students high grades he was undermining the process of selection which was one of the chief functions of the university. 
As long as Schools are allowed to give grades, they cannot afford not to [eg use pass/fail instead of letter grades], for to give no grades is to give the worst grade of all. By the same token, they cannot afford to give all good grades, to say that all of the students are winners. They are, after all, selling tickets to jobs and careers. The more good grades they give, the less their tickets are worth. The "best" colleges and universities are those that can say that their standards are so high that almost no students are good enough to meet them. (p161)
I remember a few teachers in high school and many professors in college grading tests on a "curve", where regardless of how well or poorly the class as a whole did on the test, there would be a certain number of As, Bs, and Cs given, determined by the distribution of test scores along a bell curve. Everyone accepted this as "fair" or maybe just the way you did it. Something always struck me as so strange about that grading system.

There certainly were times when I was glad for the curve. One of the last courses I took in college was a class on evolution. I found the class fascinating, but it was incredibly difficult as well (it was a mixed under/graduate class). I was super nervous about taking the final, as my grade for the class would be determined by my score and I needed to pass the class in order to graduate that semester (I needed the credits to fulfill my biology minor). I went in to see the professor a day or two after the exam, to speak to him directly to ask if I had passed or failed. It turned out I got a 64 on the final... which, thanks to the curve, turned out to be an A, because most of the other people in the class got scores in the 30s and 40s. I was thrilled to have "aced" the test despite the "failing" grade, and thus pass the class. And yet, if most of the class got 30s and 40s on the final exam, doesn't that mean there's something seriously flawed? With the test, or the course as a whole?

Back then I couldn't put my finger on why I disliked grading on a curve, maybe because it was just so accepted that it felt like I was the odd one to question it. But after reading Holt's words it seems obvious...

By grading on a curve, you strip away all pretense of using grades as a measure of retention of information learned by each student, admitting that really those grades are purely a way to rank students against each other. The students are not graded based on what they learned, but on whether they can perform better than the others in their class. I guess this is part of what's "accepted" about schools, especially up into college-- that teachers are there to "weed out" students and purposefully flunk a certain percentage of each class. But how can we even try to claim that we want all students to succeed, if this is the system we have set up?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cool Things This Week

  • We are currently obsessed with They Might Be Giant's Here Comes Science album. It's playing nonstop in the car these days. 
  • D watched a bunch of homemade lego star wars stop-action films people have posted on youtube, then made a new one of his own inspired by them.
  • The weather has been absolutely gorgeous the past week, and so we've spent a lot of time out at parks and playgrounds taking advantage of it.
  • D figured out pumping! It was so cool to watch him practicing on the swings today, and seeing how things *clicked* when he got it right. I don't know if this was part of it or not, but shortly before I mentioned that pumping on a swing is kinda like playing a game with gravity. I think he liked that. 
  • We found a fun book at the library that's about prehistoric animals, and filled with riddles and puns. It has been very popular so far. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cool Things This Week

  • Zach took the boys to a lego exhibit this weekend, where whole miniature lego cities were on display. After mentioning recently that D seemed to have shifted away from building original creations from legos, he came home from that exhibit and immediately built a small transforming mech/ship, and another adorable little lego spaceship. This morning he made a larger mech big enough for a minifig to sit in, using a mixture of lego bricks and hero factory pieces. 
  • They also went to a physics show for kids this morning, and came back excitedly telling me about all they saw (including how if they covered my phone in aluminum foil it disrupts the signal and won't ring). 
  • We're re-working our lego sorting system, having just bought a new set of plastic drawers to sorting pieces into. This morning D helped me write out some of the labels for the drawers (I was surprised when he volunteered, and was even disappointed when he had to stop because it was time for him and his dad to go to the physics show). 
  • D is officially enrolled in a weekly gymnastics class. He is super beyond excited about it. 
  • At one of our weekly park days D took plastic cups and rubber bands (intended for making marshmallow shooters) and used them to make body armor for his arms and legs. He then kept working at it with our own supplies at home later that day. 
  • Several days ago D mentioned how it would be a good idea if the military used robots instead of soldiers to fight, so that fewer people would be hurt or killed. So I told him about how they do use drones for a lot of things now, and then remembered a NOVA/PBS documentary on drones and we watched it. Which then led to all sorts of (age-appropriate) discussions about the pros and cons of droids, and why people don't like them, and the complexities of war and how things are rarely black-and-white, good vs evil. 

A few thoughts from a homeschool workshop

Yesterday I attended a three-hour workshop called The Art of Homeschooling, held by Diane Flynn Keith and Barbara Phillips, meant for beginners and those still considering homeschooling as an option. I'm realizing how important it will be for me to attend these sorts of events every once in a while, at least while I'm still so new at all this, as they help me feel refreshed and renew my confidence in what we're doing. I also found out about some cool new resources that I want to explore for us.

At one point Barbara asked us what were our top values-- what are the things we most want our children to have when they are grown? The answers included things like creativity, curiosity, independence, authenticity, empathetic, passionate, being able to advocate for their own needs as well as advocating for marginalized groups, what one mom described as "happily ambitious" (having ambition and passion working towards a goal, without being so driven as to be overly stressed about it), being able to manage their money and their time well, etc, and being able to focus on the journey and the process vs only on the end result.

After writing all our answers on the board, Barbara then remarked how none of the things we had mentioned were academic. It served as another reminder that the priority is on helping our children develop and flourish, not on whether they learn to read or write at a certain age.

I've been feeling frustrated sometimes over how I will find things that I think would be so interesting, and D will just be like, "meh" about them. It's hard to know what may be worth putting effort or money into, what could be something that sparks a new passion or if it will just sit ignored. Then I remembered my approach to food-- my job is to put a variety of good food in front of them, and it's up to them to choose how much of what to eat. The same is true for any other interest or activity. In Montessori we have this thing called "indirect preparation" where kids work with something first on a casual level, then later will come back to the same material and use it to build new knowledge based on the familiar concepts. I think of a lot of what I do now as "indirect preparation"-- I want to expose my kids to all sorts of neat, interesting things. They may spark an interest now, or perhaps they will be stowed away somewhere in their minds and rise to the surface again at some later time, or perhaps never at all. But it's not my job to make him be interested in anything particular, just to expose him to it, give him the tools and guidance needed should he explore that thing, and then rest is up to him.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lately... (kind of a "cool things" catch-up)

We've gone on a couple tide pool walks in the past month or so, one hosted by MSI and another we just went and met up with friends. We spotted sea anemones and plenty of snails and hermit crabs, but on the second trip Zach and D also saw part of a small octopus, an eel, and a starfish, which sounded amazing.

We went to Texas for a week over the holidays to spend time with my family. The boys had a grand ole time with their grandparents, aunts & uncle, and cousins.

After (unsuccessfully) trying to encourage him to do tae kwon do and soccer, D tried out a gymnastics class a couple weeks ago and LOVED it. So we're gonna sign him up for the weekly class. I'm pretty excited for him, and hope his enthusiasm for it keeps up. They also hold "open gym" hours that I can bring both boys to, so that should be a huge win.

D is still very into legos, but has shifted away from building his own original creations. He's more into building sets using instructions (from sets or found online via LDD), and playing with the minifigures (setting up battles, pretend play, and using them in stop-action movies). I'm curious to see if this is a phase or a bigger shifting away. I also wonder if part of it is our lego organization, if having the pieces more separated and available/easy to view would impact things.

We've been working on a hero factory story the past week or two. D recites to me, and I type it onto a document. In the past when I've tried to help him with writing his stories down he'll get a few sentences in and kinda lose steam. But this time we have a solid 3 pages going, with multiple storylines. I brought up to him how we could print out the pages, add illustrations, and make a book to share with others. He seemed into the idea, but we'll see how follow-through goes.

Our friends made the boys these super awesome t-shirts with a logo for our "school." I kinda wanna go make up a bunch of other PFA gear now. ; )