Sunday, September 12, 2010

why, oh why do we expect the WORST??

First, I have to divulge some TRUTH about my motivation for writing today; I read a crappy article about unschooling in one of our local papers. It seemed clear to me that the writer was ignorant about what unschooling actually looks like in real life. I highly doubt she has met any actual unschooling families, or unschooling children. Something I would encourage her to do, with an open mind.

Something else seemed clear too; she, like so many people in our society is expecting nothing short of the WORST from children!!

Why, oh why, do we expect the WORST?!

The line of thinking was, if kids aren't made to read classic english literature, they won't. If they aren't forced to learn math skills, they won't. Basically, if children aren't forced to learn what we adults think is valuable information, they won't learn it.

In my experience, this is simply untrue. Which leads me to so many questions….
What does learning look like for us adults? There are certainly a number of us who are not in school, and yet we learn? How do we learn? Why do we learn? What have you learned lately? What was your motivation for learning it? How did you go about learning?

I’ll tell you what I do for learning… it usually involves researching in books and online; it usually involves finding a knowledgeable mentor to help me along. In the past couple years, I learned to play guitar, crochet, make jewelry, edit photos, and cook yummy gluten-free food. I was motivated in all of these endeavors by curiosity, need, and enjoyment… the very same things that motivate unschooling children to learn and do amazing things.

I want to share my experience with my daughter. She is especially passionate about dancing, photography, and making jewelry. She is going to continue learning modern and ballet this year with her mentor. She is going to continue taking and editing beautiful photos, with so many mentors. These are some of the pictures she entered in the fair this year, where she won 12 first prizes! 1 second prize! And got a trophy for having the most points in her age group. She will keep on making jewelry, as gifts and selling it online and at farmers markets. All of these passions are things she could do for a living if she chooses to.

I have watched dance transform my rather shy baby girl into a very confident, out going girl. I get to witness her discover the natural gift she has for photography and for making jewelry. Actually, come to think of it, running a small jewelry business has motivated her to learn a lot about money, and budgeting. It has been a math learning motivator!

She does all of these things because they are fun! And the confidence that she has developed has her striving after the goal of playing violin. She has been working her buns off, and budgeting and saving, and brainstorming to find a violin, and a violin mentor. All her hard work is paying off too. She has found a used violin to borrow and found a mentor. She has also made arrangements to have a new violin on lay away at the music shop! She is so excited to write a card to Colm, the violinist for THE FRAMES, to tell him that his music was her inspiration to learn.

Okay, okay, but does she know how to do things she doesn’t want to do? Like "what about when she has to go to work one day and she doesn’t want to go? And what about adversity creating a stronger character in her?
" Yes, she does things she doesn’t want to do; and things she doesn’t enjoy doing. She voluntarily sweeps and mops our floors, and cleans both of our bathrooms. Not exactly fun. She also unloads the clean dishwasher, even though she really doesn’t enjoy it. Why does she do it then? Do I make her? She does it because she knows it helps out the whole family when we all pitch in. I don’t make her. And she has expressed awareness that these skills are going to be important for her to have developed when she is an adult!! Really, stop and read that last sentence again.
And guess what?

That same principle carries over to the rest of her life. She occasionally does math problems from a workbook, or as it applies to money or time because she knows it will be essential to her success as an adult. She is learning to read and write, (something she REALLY didn’t want to do, and has been a huge personal challenge for her) for the same reason. She has a map of Canada on her wall, with various cities starred, because she feels it is important for her to learn about her country. One of the things she wants this year is an atlas, so she can learn about the rest of the world too. One of the projects she wants to work on is researching which province and which cities have the most green space.

And she does encounter adversity; adversity that is within her current abilities to face, and to problem solve through, and to rise above. Adversity that in the bigger picture works towards more confidence and positive self image. No, she does not face adversity everyday, for possibly 6 hours per day, among near strangers. But who does? maybe some adults, who work at a job they hate, and maybe they put up with it because a life full of adversity has taught them to expect nothing less, and that they are not deserving of joy in everyday life??

....and who would sign up the one they love for that? a life full of lessons of adversity, all under the guise that it will build character... so character is more valuable than love, when in the name of education?

I have no doubt that she will read english classics, know how to do math, and have gained an understanding of history and various cultures, because she is and active and passionate participant in her life. And let's face it, life is full of learning and learning is fun!

I have granted my daughter the very basic right of freedom to grow and learn. To be the leader of her learning journey. Which is a scary feeling at times, granted that we are conditioned to expect the worst from our kids. She has proven to me that when given that freedom, with love and support, we can expect the very BEST from our children. We can expect them to AMAZE us. Again and again.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I am full of gratitude.

I just finished typing up a learning plan for my son, who when asked about what he would like to do and learn about this year had only 3 things to say:

1. everything Mario
2. nothing else because "I am NOT starting school"
3. and also, "I do NOT want to learn how to read!"

And so, that is what I had to work with. Building a plan for my determined and fun boy who has no interest in being a part of this planning process; but who will no doubt learn because (as I've learned) being ALIVE makes one part of the learning process :D

Actually, I thought it was kind of adorable. His to-heck-with-it attitude. His "I only like THIS at this moment and will not venture into imagining future interests with you" attitude. And so, like most proud mama's I told his gramma this story about him. And like a proud gramma, she laughed and retold it to her friends. It dawned on me that it didn't have to go that way. She could have heard this story and become concerned about her granbaby's "education". But she didn't, because she is awesome! And, I think, because she loves us, and she loves our son; and I think she knows he will be learning and doing amazing things this year. And I am SO grateful that she has always been loving and supportive- even when things sound kind of crazy!

I included this story in the learning plan that I submitted to our learning consultant; who, I have no doubts will find it very funny! She has been helping us on our learning journey for 3 years already, with our daughter. I consider her one of my valued friends. She has been a beautiful support to my daughter and to our family. She helps me when I have doubts; and reminds me of what is really important to me when it comes to raising my kids. I am so grateful to have the support and guidance of a 'teacher' who has affection for my family.

As I was writing his plan, I had to think about mentors for him. It reminded me how supportive our extended family really has been. My husband's auntie has been doing art days with my daughter nearly every week for more than a year; and has taken her swimming and helped her learn to swim- which is a HUGE deal because my daughter was very scared of the water; but she was patient with her, and kind, and helped her through it. And the gramma's have helped with reading, and trips to the aquarium and disneyland, and encouraging my daughter's passion for photography, dance and jewelry making.

They didn't have to do that, I am thankful they did. It dawns on me that Un-schooling is a huge concept. One that has worked beautifully for my family; but that must have sounded straight-up off the wall to some of the people in our life. Perhaps, it still does. No curriculum?! Child-led learning?! No workbooks?! (unless they want them) No forced learning?! It really does sound crazy. It brings up alot of doubts. Alot of questions. Alot of fears... for me, as their parent trying to figure out how this whole thing would work; but I'm sure for others in our life too. But everyone has been pretty patient with me, as I figure out how this whole thing works.

Gratitude. and anticipation for the learning year to come....

Thursday, September 2, 2010

semi-annual public school rant ;)

alright, i'm not even going to try to hide the fact that this is likely going to be a bit of a rant. it is not going to be in favor of public school, because i am generally not in favor of public school. if you think you will be offended by what i am about to type, stop reading, or choose to not be offended. this is my space, one of the few places i can hope to say what it is i think and feel. so there. continue reading at your own choice....

i am inspired to write this in this fine september morning because for the last week or so, i am encountering so many children who do not want to return to school. they are whining about it, they are bummed about it, they are complaining. they are acting out. they are trying to live up the last week of freedom they will get until winter break. and the adults involved seem to be immune to the whining, and complaining of these kids. WHY? why do the adults involved not give a crap that their children do not want to return to school?

is it because they themselves went to school? therefore it is tradition? is it because they figure its what is best for the kid?

is it that the child couldn't possibly have an aversion to being a part of something that they know instinctively is damaging a basic, integral part of who they are? think about that for a minute. is it possible that school is bad for them, and they know it?

is it that many parents have never thought about this? have never questioned this normal, accepted institute? is it because they dont see any other options? is it because they fear their child would get "behind"?

is it that life is set up for parents to need to work, long hours away from home, and so another option seems impossible? ok, lets face it. part of the purpose of school is to babysit our children while we are at work. it has nothing to do with them LEARNING.

it has everything to do with the way the system is set up. and the majority of people buy into it. this concept that at a certain age you are obligated to leave your family everyday, whether you want to or not. you will be sent to a building to spend ALL of you time as the teacher you have been assigned instructs you. for 13 years every child is expected to just accept this. that they will get a total of about 12 weeks PER YEAR to spend with their families, who love them, and the rest of the time they will have to spend with a randomly selected teacher. and as if that is not bad enough, they will also be expected to take the teachers instructions home with them and complete homework. not even their time at home is theirs, the school even steals that time.

be the child for a moment. this teacher gets to know you for a year or two at best. this teacher is teaching to pay their bills. this teacher may love children. but this teacher does not personally know you, they are not personally invested in your future or the person you will become. they did not bring you into this world. they do not personally love you. this is the person that you will be spending the better part of the year obeying. trying to impress so that you will bring home a good grade. OH, and good grades will be expected in every subject!! nevermind that some subjects bore you, or that you have natural talents and interest that you would love to have the time and support to grow and explore!! you will spend your time in whatever way this institution deems in your best interest, because you are a child; and evidently that means you dont have the right to free time.

can you think of any other institution on earth that people must go to against their own will? where they are expected to obey strangers? where every moment is planned and decided upon for them? how about prison? is prison close to fitting that description? and after a sentence of 13 years, for being a child, you will be free.

ok, i get that a lot of society feels that school is training for work. i get that. for our adult life we must spend a portion of our time working. but for the most part we get to choose whom we work for, how much we work. and we are encouraged to find work that we love and enjoy doing!! our beautiful and innocent children do not get even this basic freedom. they must ask to pee. they must eat a pre-scheduled times. they must do as they are told. they must spend all day everyday with children their age, in a building that is largely cut off from society.

and we wonder why they dont want to go back at the end of summer? actually we dont wonder, that is the point. they are screaming about how they dont want to go, and we ignore them. we dont wonder WHY!!

so what else is there? what is it i do with my kids that has me convinced that there is a better way? ever wonder how children learned BEFORE the very modern invent of public school?

my children have choices. they have even very basic freedoms. life for our family is about fun, enjoyment and learning, all year. over the summer, my daughter continued improving her reading skills, because she wanted to!! she grew her jewelry making business, because she wanted to! she went to the aquarium and spent time with the dolphins, feeding them, and training them with the trainers- because it was one of her dreams. she made jewelry and a card for her favorite band AND met them. SHE made it happen!! she made some of her dreams come true this summer! because she is brilliant. not any more brilliant than any other child. but her brilliance has grown. it has grown because she has the love, support and freedom to GROW!! she doesn't have a stranger scheduling her time, breathing down her neck about how she should be trying harder in math or science. she spent this summer, the same way she spends the rest of the year.

so what IS she going to be doing this year? that is a great question? a question that ultimately is up to her to answer!! i will be checking in here all year to update what she is up to. i will allow you to peer into our life and see what life looks like without school. i suspect we will be playing, hiking, learning about various plants, animals, and cultures... we will be sewing, crocheting, making and selling jewelry... we will be reading and writing great stories... we will be playing guitar, and drums, and possibly violin? we will be dancing. WE WILL BE LEARNING TOGETHER!!!

what a concept.

and my son is kindergarten age. many other families would be sending him out the door, to start serving his 13 year sentence. no. and i am so excited to see what he and i will learn together this year. where will his passion take us? what hidden gifts and talents does he have? what is he curious about? we get to discover together. and i am super-excited about it. i don't have to cry the first day of kindergarten. i dont have to fight my maternal instinct and hand him over to a stranger and institution. I dont have to make myself feel OKAY about it.

i am so indescribably grateful.

i have one last thing to say. put yourself in the place of the child again. the one who doesnt want to go back to school. imagine that you have been complaining, acting out, and otherwise trying to communicate that this feels awful. un-natural. that school is hurting you rather than helping you. and the adults in your life dont hear you. or they hear you but dismiss your feelings. or they try to explain them away.
or perhaps, like many adults, they are counting down the days until school starts, because they are looking forward to having you gone. they are looking forward to having time to themselves. how does that feel? be the child. feel what they might be feeling?

then talk with them, connect with them. explore some other possibilities together. (thanks for hanging in there to the end of this, if you did)

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