Posts Tagged ‘life learning’

Roles, not Rules, of the Household

We radical unschooling families like to call ourselves by terms that suggest a large cohesive group. Even when there are only three (even as small as two) members we often go by clan, band, tribe or something of the like. Really we’re just a family  but we’ve defined ourselves as something bigger because  we want to suggest we are something a little different then the typical family where the parents are in charge and the kids are along for the ride. We recognize that each member is a valued part of the whole. We realize that the youngest is just as important as the oldest and the oldest has just as much to learn as the youngest. Our head of household is usually our philosophy and not a parent. We band together to take care of each other. We all have a job to do that’s mostly independent of each other but affects each member. We have jobs that we share and jobs that we rotate. Some of our responsibilities we have to do out of necessity- though boiled down it all comes to some choice we made somewhere along the line.  For instance I never dreamed I’d be a homemaker but the choices I’ve made led me here. Each of our jobs are important to ourselves and to each other. They are all hard work, they all come with struggles, and they all have their rewards. No one job is more important then the other and neither is it more difficult. We all have a right to be upset about our duties once in a while but life will be so much easier if we focus on the rewards. If we realize that the more mundane and even difficult parts of our jobs is just a tiny fragment of what is otherwise a pretty good life, then even those small parts can seem alright too. Its not always easy to stay in a positive mindset but a part of being a family is supporting each other. We help each other out.. Sometimes its by picking up a little of the other persons duties. Sometimes its just offereing a silent ear so another can vent. In some cases we can even try to cheer the other up with kind words, a special gift or a hug. Never is it appropriate to tell another your own opinion of how that person should behave, think, or believe in the moment they just need love and validation.

Our duties change with time. Right now our family is 5 people: a dad, a mom, a pre-teen, and two toddlers. We have cats, cars, a house, and a yard to take care of.

Before the Daddy was a daddy,  he went to school for a lot of stressful years and didn’t get to study much else that interested him. He was able to buy his home and his car soon after he graduated but he also acquired a girlfriend and the girlfriends kid. The girlfriend didn’t have a very well paying job, didn’t have many babysitters for her kid, and the kid wasn’t yet school age. He probably wasn’t looking to be a dad or a husband but that’s the way it happened.  When the kid turned school age and the girlfriend was about to get a job she discovered she wanted to homeschool her kid. After his own research he thought it was a pretty good idea too and not long after they wanted more kids.

The Mama started out wanting to explore the world. She was going to write, she was going to stay single, determined not to fall in love til she was elderly. She was going to get a few odd jobs to support herself and she was going to travel and be youth leader and missionary. After she decided that mission work wasn’t for her she decided to fall back on bodywork which had also called to her. She researched schools and decided on one in Seattle. But then she fell passionately in love, got married, and had a kid and all her plans started falling away. Partly due to dreams being dashed and thrown into a lifestyle she didn’t know much about, she got depressed. She tried to make it work, tried to find her place, worked a few service jobs but, with her husband, barely sustained a  living. The marriage fell apart and she still wasn’t sure how to combine her passions and her mama-hood. She wasn’t looking for love or even another relationship. She certainly wasn’t looking to be a homemaker or full time mama. But that’s just kind of how it evolved after the daddy (to be) and the girlfriend met at work.

Our family didn’t start out as democratic as it is today. We weren’t taught in school how to be part of family with household duties. I remember carrying an egg around and pretending it was supposed to be a baby for a class, but that doesn’t  teach a kid ANYTHING about the responsibility of being a parent. Sure we had our own families to look to as an example but they didn’t give us all the tools we currently use to make our family what we want it. Like many kids we weren’t raised to express our views or believe we were equally important. It was through homeschooling and more specifically unschooling that we learned to be the family we wanted to be. We didn’t sit down and talk about the roles each of would take. We’ve had to feel around and just kind of fall into it. They are not static roles but the basics are and will be about the same for awhile. I’m sure there have been times we’ve silently expected something more or less from each other and didn’t get it so I encourage everyone to communicate about their duties and set some very basic ground rules. This will avoid resentment from building.

Currently the Daddy’s job is to provide financially. He works long hours in a  career that’s not in alignment with his personal philosophy, dealing with a sometimes difficult public, and in a sterile windowless environment. But he also has a spectacular open mindset that allows him to maintain a positive attitude. He looks at the more difficult times as challenges that better his overall world view and I have to agree that it does. He has a pretty nice staggered schedule for a full-time job and we get to spend a few days a week just hanging out as a family. Because of the income he brings in we dont’ have to stress about basic things like warmth, electricity, food, clothing, and gas. I’ve never earned enough on my own to have that peace of mind. Even when I was a kid, even though I didn’t really stress about it, I knew my mom struggled to even feed us let a lone do much extra. But with the Daddy’s income we’re even able to take a few small vacations…even if most of those are traveling by car a few hours to visit family its not something we have to scrimp and save to do. Since he makes the money and most bills are in his name he also takes care of paying them. He also does a few other household duties like taking care of the garden and houseplants, shoveling snow, and carrying heavy things like pellets for the stove. In the winter its necessary for him to do some of the grocery shopping because the roads and weather won’t allow me to get out of the house. He’s also taken over a lot of the food preparation and will even help out with the dishes.

My job is the mama. Right now it seems most of my day is revolved around food. I plan for grocery shopping,  execute us getting out of the house with the right gear (coolers, diapers, shopping bags, etc) shopping for food, preparing food, cleaning  surfaces, cracks, and crevices (both human and inanimate) of food. Somewhere in there I have to feed myself as well and then my body converts that food into more food for my babies/toddlers. That’s the messy, sometimes gross, and monotonous part of my job. Since we are unschoolers, I also get to facilitate the enriching of the kiddos’ minds and by proxy, mine as well. I consider myself fortunate that I get to spend so much quality time with my kids because I really like and respect them. I’m perfectly qualified for my job for that very reason alone. But its not without its struggles. I don’t really have time or motivation to do anything that caters just to me or my creativity. I can’t get a shower, a haircut, bodywork, do  yoga, or sew something simple without a combination of strategic planning, a willing and able husband to look after the kiddos, and sometimes cooperative weather. It takes immense patience, multi-tasking, and creative ways to keep little hands occupied for me to do anything. I have to take my entertainment and correspondence in snippets ( and yes, its taken me weeks just to do this post). I often have to prioritize-its either enriching my kids’ lives or mopping a floor. In fact I consider the housework to not be my job alone. We all live in and use the house so we all can help maintain it. We can all clean up after ourselves to an extent-though I’m willing to do the bulk of it and happy to help the kids do it since they are still learning how to clean. I prioritize spending quality time with my kids then stressing about whether the house is spic and span. I do what I can when I can and I expect the rest of the family to help with the household chores. When I do clean, I try to allow the kids to help, I try to be cheerful when doing it, and I try to show them the proper way to do it.

The preteen has a job to do too. Mostly its just to be a kid. She gets to have fun, craft, play at the park or take a walk, hang out with friends and make up a play, draw a fursona, use the computer to explore the world or watch funny videos, sculpt a Tardis and paint it blue, sing a song, blend a smoothie or cook herself a grilled cheese. Sometimes she takes a class or does a workbook or reads a book. She has responsibilities too. She is supposed to feed, water, and clean up after the cats. She has to bathe at least twice a week. I need her to watch her sisters while they sleep in the car and I do the grocery shopping or keep an eye on them while I run upstairs or load the dishwasher. She runs a few errands for me when the toddlers are busy nursing or cuddling me and don’t want me to leave them. She helps with the laundry and unloading the dishwasher and sometimes even cleaning a bathroom or taking out the trash. She gets an allowance for her chores. Sometimes she takes on more household cleaning duties when she wants to earn a few extra dollars. I have to tell her to do all those things but we’ve decided together that is what I need to do so she remembers.

Even the little girls have a duty. (Even thought they are individuals, I’m grouping them together since they are close in age and development). They must play. Play is not only fun but teaches them all sorts of things. From dexterity, to problem solving, to social interaction, play is their most important job of the day. They play with each other, by themselves, with their toys, with their big sister, with their mommy and daddy. They also play with their friends and whole new worlds are opened up to them.   Now this is not really a job that they’ve had to learn to do. This is all very normal behavior and development. But they are learning and we’re giving them the space and guidance to do so.

None of the kids have MUCH responsibility. but they acquire more as they get older. Most of their learning is through play, like I said before. However they also learn a lot through observation. That’s why its important for the parents to make sure they are living their ideals. We must be pursuing our passions and sharing it with them. We must nurture our spirits and maintain a positive attitude. We need to keep communicating in kind and effective ways with each other, those around us, and with our kids. We have to be willing to take care of everyone’s needs, not just our own. They see it and feel it all. And then they mimic it. They remind me constantly to be a better person, to communicate my needs, to allow them freedom, to offer my respect, to maintain patience, and to honor their needs.

It was partly due to the method of homeschooling we stumbled upon as well as our own spiritually inquisitive natures that led us to this lifestyle. I’m so thankful that my husband and I agree that it makes more sense for us to be the primary caregivers and pass along our passions and views then pay for someone else (including the school system) to pass along theirs. It makes our separate roles seem all that more important. I’m not just shuttling the kids from this and to that.  The daddy isn’t just around a few hours of the day barking orders, handing out discipline, or tossing the ball in the yard. We are both actively involved in the day to day growth of our kids into human beings. And we’re learning a whole heck of a lot in the process. We are fulfilled and our kids are already successful. Being the sole bread winner can be hard. Finding equality in being a housewife can be hard. After all our duties are done there is even less time to devote to developing and maintaining a partnership with the Daddy. I have little time to keep myself purdy let alone spend alone time with my husband. But we both realize that even though this is difficult its for a greater good. The first few yearss of a humans life is essential for them to learn trust and independence and we believe the mother is the most qualified and important person to build that. Sure its hard and sometimes we need to vent, just like anyone with a hard job needs to do, but its what we WANT to do. The parents have their bumps to overcome but so does everyone. Even being a kid, dealing with all sorts of newness about the world and themselves can be hard. Its still a struggle to remember we’re all equal and deserve to be heard and honored. Wife and kid are roles that are devalued partly because neither makes any money. Success is often associated with the size of income. Breadwinner is often seen from the outside as head of household. Wife and kids are often the secondary and its even more so when the wife is a homemaker and the kids are homeschooled. Fortunately we’ve learned to see success in terms of how much we all get along and how truly happy we are.


Unschooling from an Unschoolers Perspective

This is my explanation of unschooling based on my years of experience, research and exposure to it. We’re still pretty young in unschooling but we’ve learned quite a bit so far.  We have many friends we interact with both in person and through our various online support groups. Most of our friends are homeschoolers but not all are unschoolers. In my opinion this portrayal is much more valuable and accurate than a few hours spent reading a few books and scouring a few websites that are against the practice. I too read things against unschooling when I was first researching the methods of homeschooling. I can see now after having experience with it that those authors had a very narrow view of what unschooling is really about. I’m secure enough in our lifestyle that I don’t feel the need to defend it however I’ll gladly discuss what it is and why we do it with someone who genuinely wants to know.
To understand unschooling you first have to get rid of many preconceived notions of learning. You have to at least open your mind to the idea that school is not the best environment for everyone to learn, become socialized, participate in physical activity, nor is it the platform to a higher education. It helps to think of your adult life: what have you learned since your school years, where did you meet the majority of your true friends, what sorts of hobbies and activities do you like to do? I’ve learned to sew, cook, and drywall as an adult. I pursued those interests because they relate to my adult life. I didn’t have exposure to them in school. Most my really good friendships have been started because of my current interests-none of which I acquired as a result of being schooled. The activities I like to do were not offered in school and even if they were there would be community leagues I could join. We have a lot of misguided  notions of what school is supposed to do. But if we actually ask ourselves we can see that school does not benefit the majority of people. Success in school (good grades, popularity, athletic) does not guarantee a successful career, an outstanding social life, or a happy family. It does not often create kids who get along well with a variety cultures and social classes. It does not insure a healthy outlook of self. It does not foster open communication between kids and adults, parent and child. There are outstanding parents, teachers, and counselors who do push for those things. There are also a number of naturally ambitious kids who do think outside the box, manage to follow their interests and dreams, and succeed in life and career. But the school system does more to hinder that then promote it. Many people have found personal and financial success by making what interests them a priority. They’ve focused on learning all they can about their passions and they’ve been happier for it. But many times, like myself,  they don’t discover those things until later adulthood. By unschooling from the start, I’m giving my kids a chance to discover and learn about their many interests. I’m giving them the opportunity and suppor,t from birth, to love learning and find happiness.

This is what unschooling isn’t:
Its not bad parenting or lack of parenting. On the contrary it requires more parenting. Unschooling (any homeschooling) parent is with their child more. On a whole we know our kids better because of that. We’re able to work around their natural sleep/play/rest/eating cycles instead of adhering to a mass school schedule. When allowed to follow their own rhythms they are more alert and focused and more emotionally stable. Its not a lack of discipline either. Its true we let our kids be more wild-or as we prefer to call it, more like kids. We give them more freedom to make mistakes, explore their world, deal with conflict, test their own physical limits, and work through their emotions. We do so with guidance but not all knowing and commanding power-because frankly, parents don’t know it all and actually watching a child figure out her world can be a learning experience for us as well. Instead of sticking to a strict set of black and white rules, we as unscooling parents, are able to work with each child individually based on their set of circumstances, ages, and limitations. Because we spend so much time with them we know what they can handle as far as knowledge of “taboo” subjects. We can be honest and open with them and explain things in ways we know they’ll understand. We can witness closely what information they are processing and what needs further explanation.

Unschooling is not anti-education. In fact its very pro-education. We’re not just teaching our kids a set of facts that they have to memorize for a test and then quickly forget when they’re presented with a new set of facts. Because we allow our kids to learn what is interesting to them they naturally enjoy and retain the information they’re learning. Some like myself  loosely incorporate a curriculum and games to learn the basics in math and reading. Once a person knows how to read, the whole world is open to her. But its not forced, tested, or continued beyond what they find interesting and fun. Adeline has been absorbing written information (some of it stays, some is replaced) since she was about 5. We’ve always filled our shelves with books she finds interesting as well as some she might later find interesting-they are always available to her. When she wants to take an interest further than books we’re able to enroll her in a class, learn about it ourselves and teach her, or direct her to online tutorials or learning DVDs.
We’re not anti-school or anti-teachers either. I have a lot of respect for people who go into teaching because they actually love kids and want to teach, wether its in the school system or homeschool-that’s not always the case and one bad teacher can really create a lot of issues for a child. I understand that not everyone wants to teach, likes constantly being around their kids, or is qualified to teach their kids. For people who don’t genuinely like their kids better birth control is needed. For those who absolutely can’t find the time to spend with their kids or becoming learned themselves, school is the best option for them. But just because a teacher can be great, the school system is not so great for the majority-especially with the no-child-left behind-or as some teachers like to call it, no-child-can excel. For teachers who want to teach, the school system can be a real drain because they are forced to teach the standardized tests-with the primary subjects being math and english. This is mostly memorization and facts. Its not fostering a love of learning. Plus they are learning so many subjects at once that the information is barely retained.

Whoever thinks that socialization is absent from a homeschoolers life has not really thought about all the people a homeschooler comes across. They’ve probably  only met the homeschoolers who’ve been kept from the “evils” of the outside world (usually for religious reasons). Or they’ve fallen victim to the idea that socialization can only occur in a structured environment with people their own age. School is not the ideal place to learn socialization. Frankly, putting a child into an environment where interaction is with a bunch of other kids who themselves have limited experience, knowledge, and logic is, I believe, a dangerous way to teach them how to socialize. Kids who spend most their time with other kids don’t get to see normal healthy adult interaction. On top of forced socialization with peers who have no better understanding of interacting, what they get is the manipulations of older kids and exposure to overworked and impersonal attitudes of teachers and playground attendants. Some people never overcome that mindset and keep those laws of the jungle throughout their adulthood and into their careers. However I know from personal experience, as well as a childhood that was at times a little unschooly, that my adult life doesn’t have to be full of cliques, drama, self-centeredness, and the eat or be eaten mentality. I had a great mom who included me in her life, her errands, her work, and friendships. With both friend time and extended family time the kids in my family were always allowed around the adults-we got to be a part of the conversation and witness how people interacted. As homeschoolers my kids get that in  abundance. I’ve always included Adeline and talked to her openly and honestly and continue to do so with my younger kids. I try to include her in conversations-especially when the other adults in the room ignore her. Like myself, she is often a quiet observer and a little shy. But once she gets to know someone and they take an interest in what she has to say, Adeline is quite a conversationalist. And even if she doesn’t end up talking directly to a person, she’ll often ask me or Josh what we meant or they meant when they said such-and-such. So even if she doesn’t participate she is aware of the socializing going on. Kids are, by nature, excellent observers and mimickers of behavior. My kids are with me when I interact with sales people, wait staff, librarians, friends, and family.

My kids play. They play with each other. They play by themselves. They play with friends-mostly other homeschoolers. Never are all the kids the same age.  They are encouraged to use their imaginations. They are allowed to make messes. Playtime environments are varied: playgrounds, grassy areas, gardens, forests, mountains, lakes, pools, living rooms, bedrooms, bathtubs, kitchen counters, sidewalks, basketball courts, homemade forts, and closets.Sometimes the adults are involved in the play and sometimes they are just close by. The kids are always allowed to interact with the adults but when lots of kids are around they usually spend most the time with each other. Kids do need other kids but they don’t need them the majority of the time. During play a kid is learning socialization, problems solving skills, and creativity-most importantly they are having fun.

Parental Requirements to be an Unschooler:

*We need to actually enjoy being with our kids. We spend the majority of our time with our kids and we have to know how to get along. Its as simple as that.

*We need to have patience and respect each others differences. We all have different personalities and sometimes the kid with the personality that’s most like ours can be hardest to get along with-that is usually because we end up seeing something in them that we don’t like in ourselves and take it out on them instead of bettering ourselves. But we have to respect that we’re at different stages of learning, logic, spirituality, etc. Since we do spend so much time together we all (even the parents) have to learn that each person is on a different path but that we all have to coexist. Just because we’ve already learned a lesson doesn’t mean another person is going to get it right away-especially when that person is still young.

*We need to free ourselves from expectations. We live our lives expecting it to go a certain way. But another person sees their life going  another way. Just because its a societal norm or religious tradition doesn’t make any one lifestyle the one and only absolute right way. Children need to be allowed to make their own path and they need to be shown there are many different paths. I see a successful person as someone who is happy with themselves-the rest follows. My kids don’t have to marry any one type of person or get married at all, they don’t have to go into a career that makes them rich, they don’t have to follow the same spiritual traditions that I do. As long as my kids are happy with themselves and the choices they make, then I’m going to be happy with them.

*We need to be okay with messes. People are curious by nature and that leads to lots of messy experiments. Not just kits and science projects. They like to know what happens when they take everything out of a box, the texture of pudding squishing between their fingers, the array of colors all dumped onto a table. I let them make messes and help them clean their messes up. If Adeline wants to sleep and play in a messy room than that is her choice because its her space-she can’t bring it all into the shared spaces unless she cleans it up when she’s done. And if she wants help cleaning, I make the time because I see it as time I get to spend chatting with her and showing her how to be organized. Play is messy. Learning to use our imagination is messy. Messy is good and we can be good parents by happily helping to clean it all up. If they see you grumble and whine when cleaning they are going to think its an chore to be avoided.

*We need to love learning and be able to educate ourselves-thereby setting a good example. Both Josh and I read, scour the internet, watch learning videos. take classes, etc. And we provide the same opportunities for our kids to do the same. Before we can unschool our kids, it helps to unschool ourselves.

*We need to be okay with failure. Failure is often really just success at figuring out how not to do something. I’m good at learning what doesn’t work for me by trying many different ways of doing them. I want my kids to have the freedom to try what they think works for them. That includes trying a hobby that they think they’re interested in only to discover its not all that enjoyable. Adeline has tried fencing, dance, soccer, and a variety of home crafts. She has a basic understanding of each and continues with the ones she enjoys. She’s quit others before its scheduled end and she’s never gone back to others when the new season starts. She can always return to them later in life or never again give them a thought-the point is she tried and figured out for herself what she wants to do with her time.

What they are learning:
If I had to break down her learning into subjects that a schooled person could understand they would be:
-consumer math, computer science, language arts, history, science, physical education, music, art, home economics, shop- But these subjects aren’t limited to a specified time of day. Also these subjects bleed easily into one another. While she’s reading a warrior cat book she’s also learning a little about cat behavior and the lifecycle of a cat (science and math). It should go without saying that anytime she reads anything she’s learning language arts. She saves money, she spends money, she’s figuring out the seasons and weather cylces, she cooks, she draws, she makes art on her computer. She walks, she swims, she runs and plays. And this is only the beginning. She has the potential to learn her entire life without limiting herself to one subject. If she wants, she can get into college or a trade school or do an internship. My kids (as well as myself and J) have the world and we’re going to take full advantage of it.