Sunday, November 3, 2013

Learning to Fly

If there was ever a moment when I had a clear view of what unschooling really is, it was tonight.  Tonight the clouds parted, the angels sang, and the light shone into my bedroom, of all places.  Tonight my seven year old daughter brought me a book.  It wasn't a storybook, but a picture book about animals...only a couple of sentences per page with a handful of animal names.  I was puzzled why she wanted me to read this one.  But then she told me, "I'm going to read this one."  I sat back and simply said, "Okay, shoot!"  And that's when it happened.  She read.  Everything from spider to kestrel to corncrake.  Then she read the question at the bottom.  And then, the sentences at the top of the page.  My jaw dropped and my eyes began to well up. 

I suppose I should have seen this coming.  I have enough friends who've been down the unschool road to have heard the stories of children who self taught.  And, say what you will about video games, but yesterday she rattled off a good amount of words that she appeared to be "reading" from Minecraft.  But when I asked her how she knew them she just replied that her brother told her what they said.  What I hadn't thought about at the time, though, was that she remembered all those words.  Words like inventory.  Big words.  Still, I didn't take much notice.

But tonight, she read a book she'd never read before. And after that one, she ran and got another, a level 1 reader, and read that whole book to me for good measure.  She went to bed with our camping lantern, two level 2 readers, one level 3 reader and the promise that we can read to the point of exhaustion tomorrow.  She is inspired, and I didn't do a thing to inspire her.  I have not taught this child anything besides basic letter sounds, and even that was months and months ago.  Tonight the most I helped her with was proper pronunciation of words like wear (she was saying weer), because let's face it, the English language makes no sense.  But still, she managed to sound out 90% of the words completely unassisted.  Amazing!

This child wants to learn.  All children want to learn.  They don't need an adult to tell them that they want to learn.  They don't need an adult to teach them.  They don't need a grade level, or worksheets, or homework.  They just need to be given the freedom to learn when they are ready.  When I think of all the lessons I did with my nine year old be honest, I feel like a lot of it was wasted time.  Had I just waited until the right moment, the moment for him to be ready, it would have been so much easier and less time consuming.  And it would have been his, not mine.  But we live and we learn.

I'm so proud of this girl!  And I'm excited for her as she begins this new adventure full of new discoveries.  What a happy time this is for her!


Friday, September 20, 2013

September in the Rain

It's another rainy day here. I've been thinking a lot about work/rest rhythms (something my church talks about...and my husband's employer).  In our culture, work reigns supreme.  If you aren't stressed enough, you must not have worked hard.  But what is work for a child?  This popped up on my Facebook feed earlier:
"Play is often talked about as if it were relief from serious learning.  But for children, play is serious learning.  Play is the work of childhood." -Fred Rogers
My kids play a lot, especially my three youngest.  They are busy.  Their minds are moving a mile a minute.  They create, run, fight bad guys, fly, embark on adventures, raise children, cook meals...all in a day's work.

And I work.  I cook, I clean, I exercise.  The kids join me in these things too; sometimes because they want to, sometimes because I ask.  There are no set times for these things.  They happen as we go, as they need to.  If the sink is full, the dishes get done. If we're hungry, we eat.

It's the same with rest.  We have no set time for rest, though I see the value in it.  My younger son needs a nap every day, and my younger daughter can usually use one too.  I know they need rest when I see it in their eyes or in their behavior.  And I know when I need rest too.

Rather than telling them to nap, I've been trying to invite them into rest, just like I invite them into other things that I do.  Today I told them, "I need to lie down, and I think you might too!"  My little guy goes down without much fuss.  In fact, he likes for two baby gates to be placed in his doorway, one stacked on top of the other.  Must make him feel secure in some way.  My five year old tells me she doesn't need to lie down, and that she will play in her room quietly.  Sometimes she does.  Today she crawled into bed with me.  My older kids will usually do something quiet, like write or draw, or play cards.

Not planning this opens us up to participate in opportunities outside of our home, like field trips, or parties.  If they fall asleep in the car on the way to or from another place, that's okay.  I know from my own experience that sometimes a ten minute nap can be more refreshing than two hours.  And they learn to roll with various circumstances that way.  Sometimes this might mean an earlier or later bedtime, and that's okay too.

Since we started unschooling the mantra that keeps running through my mind is this:
"'Everything is permissible'- but not everything is beneficial" -1 Corinthians 10:23a
This goes for kids too.  I'm not teaching them to have my idea of healthy rhythms.  I'm showing them how I have self-control, and respecting them enough to allow them to make these decisions based on their bodies' needs.

Today when Boo woke up at the foot of my bed I asked her, "Did you have a good nap?"
She sighed and said, "Yes."
"It feels good to let your body rest doesn't it?"
And she'll remember that good feeling.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Good Vibrations

We've had a wonderful few weeks. My mother came into town, my girls started Girl Scouts, and our unschooler group went on our Not Back to School camping trip to Warren Dunes in Sawyer, Michigan. The passing of these events have marked the end of Summer for us. There's really no denying it as I watch the leaves fall in the backyard. But that's okay. There's something cozy about Fall. We had a lovely storm ring in the new season this morning. A nice day to sit, play card games, and drink hot peppermint tea.

I've realized these few weeks that we needed to deschool more than I'd originally thought. We remained so busy all Summer that once it came down to thinking about "schoolish" things again, I found I just couldn't gather my thoughts. Some wonderful friends gave me good advice to just take it slow, and spend one on one time with each child every day. So that's our starting point. I did get our Life of Fred Butterflies book out today to read with the two oldest kids, and that was about as schoolish as we got. But it's a start.  I'm not in a hurry.  In fact, in my lack of structure lately, my kids have spent plenty of time playing video games, but something was even birthed from that for my son.  He began telling his dad and I tonight about a comic book series he wants to begin writing.  The wheels are already turning for him.

I think the best part about this time is observing and taking note of the blessings that come with this lifestyle.  My son is so happy.  He smiles all the time now.  I had wondered at one point if he would ever be a happy child, and now he is.  Life doesn't have to be so complicated.  There's no race to any imagined finish line.  We're all here in this together, and there is space for peace and growth.

And I am growing.  There are so many things I thought I'd never be able to accomplish since having kids because in my mind there were just too many things we had to get done.  But nothing is so pressing now that I don't have room to pursue my interests too.  On my "Bucket List", so to speak, for a long time had been learning to crochet, to sew, play guitar, and get healthy.  Last Spring I taught myself to crochet, last week my neighbor, some friends and I started making strides toward the goal of getting healthy (hopefully resulting in an unschooling 5K team in the coming months), and tonight I began learning to play my grandfather's guitar.  I've started all of these things before. Now I'm able to actually follow through.

Living this lifestyle is a breath of fresh air.  It may seem directionless to some, but it's actually a wide open field with many paths that overlap.  It's a very happy time for my kids and me.  I'm so thankful that we decided to jump in with both feet.

Saturday, August 31, 2013


What a crazy fast, whirlwind summer we've had!  I really don't know how it's September already.  We played hard, took a couple of vacations out of state, and found some fun local stuff to do too.
Vacationing with small kids can be hard.  Much of is it just plain work.  But today I finally unloaded all of our pictures and was delighted to see that amidst all the craziness, we really did have a lot of fun!

We started with a trip to Chicago.  We got killer deals on City Passes, and being always on the lookout for educational experiences, I decided the most logical idea was to cram four museums into three days. Ha!  Sounds nuts, but we had great fun during the day.  Nights, not so much, but that's what we get for sharing a single room with four children.  (Never again!)  We visited the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and Museum of Science and Industry.  We are incredibly blessed to live so close to such amazing places!

But we live even nearer to some other places of interest.  The Studebaker Museum is basically in our backyard.  We were invited to go with some new friends one day a couple of weeks ago, and had a great time absorbing some local history.  We even got to see the car from The Muppet Movie!

Finally we just got back from Cedar Point.  This is totally my husband's thing.  He is a bona fide, self-proclaimed roller coaster geek.  Every year we go, and every year I walk around in circles ruing the day we bought those darned tickets.  But even in my misery, the kids so enjoy their over-priced carnival rides, so as a mother you just grin and bear it, right?

What's neat about Cedar Point that even appeals to me is their Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit.  Very cool and humbling to see life-sized dinos up close and personal.  I loved that Punk got to see what Sue from Field Museum would have looked like!

What I love more than anything, though, is the little learning moments here and there that aren't scheduled.  Boo loves to touch and smell everything she comes into contact with. Her curiosity is precious.  Coming out of a toll road rest stop she just had to stop and feel a pillar.  We took just a few minutes and compared the feel of the bricks, mortar, cement, and caulk.  While leaving the hotel one day we observed a katydid climbing the wall.  On the path to see the dinosaurs she stopped to touch a grasshopper.  Little moments that mean a lot.  Perhaps those brief memories will live on in her mind.  Who knows what memories will stick?

Another impromptu lesson was Dude asking to use my camera at the park.  There are no automatic settings on my "good camera".  It's all manual.  So I showed him how to use it as well as I could in the short time we had while his sisters and brothers were on a ride.  I set the ISO and aperture for him, and he set to figuring out the shutter speed.  After a few tries, he didn't do too shabby!

All in all, great times were had.  Memories were made.  We invested time in one another.  And the fun in the sun isn't over yet!  Monday is my birthday (yay!), Thursday is Punk's birthday (whaaah!) and in a week and a half we'll go camping with our unchooling friends.  The latter promises to provide some good photo ops as most of us are inexperienced campers!  Ha!  Until next time...

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Times They Are a-Changin'

Since we've been deschooling and drifting into unschooling I've already noticed some pretty great differences in the way our day to day life looks.  Here are a handful of things that have stuck out to me.

*Mealtimes are a joint effort.  In the past I would make one thing and one thing only.  If my kids wanted it, great.  If not, they wouldn't eat.  Today for lunch I made myself a spinach quesadilla.  Bebe (7) made Punk (2) a "peanut butter taco".  Boo Boo (5) made herself a peanut butter sandwich.  Dude (9) and Bebe requested egg sandwiches.  While my quesadilla was in the oven, I fried up some eggs, and they took care of making the sandwiches themselves.  They all poured themselves their own milk and I got Punk's for him.  It's like a well-oiled machine.  No fighting.  No tears.  Just everyone doing for themselves or others.

*We have time.  We have time for reading together.  We have time to do chores at relaxed pace.  We have time to play games.  There isn't a whole lot of "We'll do that after..."  Of course, things still come up, but for the most part we're free to be doing whatever we please.  The other day we were invited on an impromptu outing to a local museum and we just went!  The fast-paced life we'd created is slowing down and we're able to just be and enjoy each other's company.

*I don't yell.  I don't need to yell.  Now that I've had the ability to sit back and realize that most of my NOs were out of frustration or unwarranted, the need for yelling has gone away.  And if I do ever have to yell, they will know it's for a really good reason.

*Dude is happy.  This is my introverted child, the one people were concerned about at a very young age because he was "too shy" or wouldn't "make eye contact", the one who almost certainly had ADHD, the one who cried through lessons daily.  He smiles.  His outbursts are less frequent.  The other day he jumped into my dad's lap, all 80 lbs. of him, squeezing his neck and rocking, saying, "I love my Papa!"  He's taken on some responsibility for his siblings without me asking.  He asks a lot of questions and tells me all about what he's been reading.  He hugs me often.  He is a different boy.  That alone is priceless.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Go Your Own Way

I wanted to post just to clarify a few things.  Since yesterday and today have been the first days of school in our local districts, suddenly I'm getting TONS of questions about unschooling.  Even though we've been homeschooling since the beginning, this concept is even hard for our homeschooling friends to wrap their minds around.  I get that.  I was there once.  So here are some things that have been on my mind. 

*The name unschooling kind of sucks.  It doesn't mean no-learning.

*The decision to unschool is one that is well thought out.  As much as it may seem willy nilly to some because it's not structured, it is not taken lightly.  We are not lazy.  We are not glued to the TV.  We are learning daily.  I love my children.  I'm not throwing caution to the wind.  Anyone who knows me would know that's the furthest thing from the truth.

*We are not anti-public school...or anti-traditional school...or anti-traditional homeschooling.  I have just experienced for myself what sit-down-at-a-desk schooling looks like for our family and it hasn't been pretty.  Each child has their own personality, as I discussed in my last blog.  Some children thrive in a structured school environment.  Most children probably don't.  It is set up for a handful of personality types and the rest are deemed average, or less than average, or ADD, or whatever.  My two oldest kids would very likely be labeled ADHD if they were in school.  One needs a lot of alone, quiet time, and one is generally bouncing off the walls all day.  Neither can focus well while sitting at a desk.  It's just our reality.  Do I want to medicate and change them to fit a structured environment?  Not especially.  We're home already.  We have the privilege (and it is a privilege) to give them the space to learn in the way it works best for each of them.  But I do see the value in a public education system, and I know enough passionate teachers to know that there is a place for everyone, and everyone's place is not the same.  By all means, do what works for you.  I'd love to hear about it.

*Unschooling is not for everyone.  I'm not judging you.  Please do not judge me.  To unschool you have to be okay with noise and messes.  You have to want to know more about the world.  You have to want to get out there and get dirty.  If you fit these criteria, it's not hard.  It's not a burden.  You don't have to be super organized.  You just have to live as you'd normally live, and make notes of what your kids are learning to appease the government.

*My kids will learn to sit down, take direction, raise their hand, and follow rules.  Some of these things have already been learned.  It doesn't require 13+ years of practice to learn these skills.

*If you have questions, I'm happy to answer.  If you have advice...well, maybe keep it to yourself.  If I want your advice, I'll be sure to ask.  That may sound rude, but I don't tell you your decisions are wrong, or warn you about your kid not going to college, or tell you what you have to do. 

*I like to post about what we're doing.  I take lots of pictures.  This is not to prove how much better we are than you.  This is not to rub your nose in my feeling we are superior in some way.  It is because we're excited.  Our life is happy.  When I'm excited and passionate about something I like to share, just like you post pics of your kids' first day of school, or their new sneakers or backpack.  I'm not opening a door for you to tell me your opinion.  I just want to express myself.  Plain and simple.

I appreciate the kind, supportive friends that I have.  I especially appreciate the AMAZING women I've gotten to know through our unschooling community.  This is a very special time in our lives and I'm happy to share it with anyone who'd like to read about it, or have a conversation about it, or share in our experiences.  We just want to be accepted, just like everyone else. 

For my next trick I will likely post some FAQs.  Sometimes people have questions that I can't  answer in a five minute sitting...and to be honest I'm tired of answering the same things over and over...and over again.  So be sure to check back if you're curious.  And if you're considering unschooling, PLEASE don't hesitate to contact me.  I am HAPPY to help you find your way and make some connections with other unschoolers.  :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Within You Without You

I've become a little obsessed with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator lately. My friend posted a link the other night and I got curious so I took a questionnaire. It turns out I'm an ENFP (Extrovertion iNtuition Feeling Perceiving). Taking it a step further I had my husband take it and he happens to be an ISTJ (Introvertion Sensing Thinking Judging). If you didn't notice, that makes us complete, polar opposites.

As much as I'm not big on labeling people, I find this tool very helpful. It's not perfect, and no person fits into any of the 16 personality types like a glove, I'm sure. There are a lot of circumstances that come into play. But it helps me greatly to understand myself better, and also to have a better understanding of what makes my husband tick.

I found there are even questionnaires for kids. Rather than let my kids know what I was doing, I took what I know about them and filled the questions out myself, only asking them on things I wasn't sure about. These are only recommended for kids 7-12, so I only did my oldest two. The results say that my son is Introverted Intuitive and my daughter is Extroverted Sensing. None of this is a surprise, but again, opposites (which explains why they butt heads a lot). And what's fun is their personalities each have a bit of their dad and me.

Again, it's helpful to understand them a little bit better, and it furthers my belief that both of them are better suited in an unschooling environment than any other. Both need a lot of freedom, E to be alone, and A to express herself. Neither of their personalities would fit well in a classroom with a lot of structure and a lot of time sitting and being still. I'm so thankful that we have the opportunity to raise them in an environment where they are free to be themselves.