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Archive for the ‘Sunday (un) School’ Category

A Sunday (un)School…it’s been a while! And this is probably going to be a bit controversial, particularly this week, but what the heck…here goes anyway!

I’ve been seeing a lot of fear lately, on unschooling lists, in peoples questions and reactions to unschooling, and particularly radical unschooling, and it saddens me that peoples (largely unfounded and, quite frankly, irrational) fears stop them getting to the heart of radical unschooling….so I’ve decided to write a post about it…and here it is!

I don’t know what other peoples main fears are, I suppose it differs for everyone, and personally I don’t really have any (lucky me, right!?!)….at the moment….

So I’ll start with a general unschooling fear, probably also a homeschooling fear – that kids will be ‘behind’ their same-age schooled peers. I think this fear disappears once you have fully deschooled…. The notion that children should know, or be able to do, certain things by a certain age is completely a school construct. Everyone learns things at different times – from walking to talking, to reading, writing, social skills, bike riding, swimming…and so on…

It’s completely unrealistic to think ALL six year olds will be reading. Or ALL six-year-olds will ride a bike without trainers. Or ALL six-year olds can swim…(I chose six arbitrarily…but it seems to fit those examples anyway!). Some may be doing one or all of those things, some may be doing none…it doesn’t mean they are ‘advanced’ or ‘behind’, it means they’re developing different skills and abilities at different times.

For example…Kai was riding his bike without training wheels at 3. That’s considered early. But seriously, he’s not some kind of advanced bike riding genius! He’s just strong and coordinated…ditto with swimming. He’s not reading, and has not much interest in it – does that mean he’s ‘behind’ academically? Of course not! He’s incredibly articulate and confident, has an amazing knowledge of a bunch of stuff, particularly history and biology, he just doesn’t read yet. He will. I know not when, but of this fact I am convinced!

So if your fear is that your kids will be ‘left behind’, or ‘disadvanged’……fear not – that’s your ‘schooled’ brain talking! Hang out with more unschoolers, watch their kids, see what they’re into and what they know…read some more…deschooling will come!

Right, so another thing I’ve been reading a lot fear-based responses is with sugar! Oh. My. Stars. Sugar is NOT this evil thing out to destroy the universe!  Lets get a couple of misconceptions about sugar straight from the start. Sugar is not the primary cause of tooth decay. Genetics is the best predictor (see here  – and more recent research backs this up), along with Vitamin D and oral hygiene (genetics still way ahead, though). Research has shown that even on an entirely sugar free diet (perish the thought!?), cavities still arise in some patients.

Secondly, sugar is not the primary cause of either Type 1 or 2 diabetes…genetics is (again!), and being overweight and sedentary are the primary causes of Type 2…

Of course, if you have unlucky genes, and a diet high in saturated fats and simple carbs, and don’t exercise much, sugar probably does contribute to your risk of diabetes and/or cavities …but it’s highly unlikely to be the primary cause…Interestingly, stress also affects your risk of diabetes….under stress, your body produces glucose from your liver, increasing your blood sugar level…

So, what’s my point? My point is that sugar, even refined sugar, is not evil. It’s just not, and there is some research that it can even be beneficial, especially to children in terms of pain relief….Of course I don’t advocate for children eating chocolate and cakes all day. But in my experience with a wide range of radically unschooled children across two hemispheres and ranging widely in age, they don’t do that. Having a free choice means they choose what they feel like, which is likely what their body needs….

For example, a lot of days this week, Kai’s had sugary cereal for breakfast. One morning he also had a lollipop (left over from the night before). But later he’s asked for monkey platters – specifically nuts, cheese, tuna and chick peas! Obviously his body needed protein!  He’s also been asking for ‘cheese sandwich with green lettuce’ – I have no idea what other kind of lettuce there is (maybe that purple frilly stuff?!), but there you are! I cooked an entire packet of chick peas to make hummous, and he’s eaten the whole lot! No hummous for me!

The Wii situated monkey platter…

I pondered why he chooses sugar first thing, and think that, because he has no limit on when and what he can eat, he goes for a quick hit of sugar to get him up and going in the morning, but because it’s simple sugar it doesn’t last long, and then he’s asking for complex carbs (wholegrain breads) and protein? I don’t know…just musing…all the research done on that stuff is on school kids and how sugary cereal doesn’t ‘get them through’ until lunch time, and Kai doesn’t have to ‘get through’, he can eat again whenever he likes!

We talk about nutrition, exercise, and what different foods do for your body ALL the time; it’s just part of our life. He knows eating loads of sugar probably isn’t great, but likewise knows if he wants something sugary, he can have it. And most importantly, above all else, we also model healthy food choices and exercise….

And seriously, I don’t have some ‘magical’ child who can ‘self-regulate’ his own food!! I truly believe when given free choice and lots of options, kids will choose what their body needs. Forcing them to eat stuff they don’t want to eat, and denying them stuff they do want to eat….does that sound like a recipe for a good adult relationship with food?? Let alone stress levels for everyone in the house!

So, finally (for now! I’m sure I’ll think of more unfounded fears…..) another one I’m reading a lot about this week is violence, specifically violent video gaming for younger kids. (and since more recent events, violence in movies.)

A Mum on a facebook group says this on a discussion about violent video games, specifically Call of Duty for the Xbox “So let me get this straight, you ladies let your 6-7 and younger watch or play games that are rated teen or mature? How can this be a good thing?”

I replied that, yes, my 6 year old has played Call of Duty, and Halo, and has a bunch of other ‘violent’ games war games on his iPod, and yesterday we got him Metroid Prime 3 – a shooter game similar to Halo but for the Wii – also rated M.

“How can this be a good thing?” is an interesting question. Of course, from a radical unschooling point of view, it’s about letting kids make their own decisions and choices, and following their interests – thus facilitating their learning on a number of different levels. I ask you – how can that NOT be a good thing??

Letting THEM decide what they are and aren’t willing to watch or play helps them listen to their own minds and bodies. I might find the violence a bit much, but that’s ME, not Kai…If he wants to play, he must find something appealing about the games – he enjoys the strategy and planning involved, and is pretty into war and soldiers in general at the moment anyway – he follows up the games with reading about World War II, we’ve visited some War sites, and role play with his soldiers..

So, what are the fears? That playing violent games/watching violent movies will turn our children into serial killers?

Well, I began writing this before the tragic events that unfolded in Aurora, Colorado at the Batman screening this week, and originally wrote something along the lines of the fact that video games have never been responsible for someone murdering other people….

And despite the current media hype surround Batman, and the fact that, typically, some are suggesting that the Batman movie somehow caused this individual to do these awful things (despite the fact it was a premiere and he couldn’t have even seen said movie before)…I still say exactly the same thing – Video games and movies have never been responsible for someone’s violent actions against others.

The young man responsible for the shootings is a damaged, sick individual, no one yet knows why or in what way. He bought guns months ago. He had booby trapped his entire apartment. He had obviously been planning this for a long time. He did not just watch a movie and decide it might be a good idea to go and shoot a bunch of people…in a delusional state he may have related to a character in Batman. He may just have chosen the premiere for no other reason than maximum publicity, and chosen his outfit accordingly.

I will say no more about the shootings. It does no good to focus on bad, random acts. Focus instead on fun and your family… Most of you know that Colorado is close to my heart, and my heart is breaking for those involved. But I do not believe, in any way, that violence in video games or movies translates to violence in real life. A well-balanced article can be found here,

So, moving on…some parents seem to also fear their child will become accustomed to violence and feel no empathy or sympathy with real life situations because of it; that their kids will become desensitized and will ‘get used to’ violence and not be bothered by it in real life.

From a personal point of view, I definitely have not found this to be the case. Kai is well aware of what is play (video games, toy guns) and what is real. For example he has a game on his iPod called Carnivores: Ice Age (rated 9+, fyi!). The idea is to hunt down ice age animals and shoot them. You get points, and get to buy new weapons which are good for hunting different animals. You shoot the animal. There is blood. Sometimes the animal kills you…he loves this game!

And he’s learnt so much from it – there are maps to help you follow your animal (geography, map reading), and addition and subtraction to work out how many points you need for more guns/animals, not to mention strategy and planning!

But will this game make him unsympathetic to animal deaths in real life. It would seem not. If Kai sees a dead animal – a couple of weeks ago in the UK, we found a dead squirrel – he’s devastated. He cried about that squirrel, walked back and placed a flower on it, and talked about it for days later.  Desensitized? I don’t think so….and I can’t imagine that more years playing more games will change that.  Another story comes from long-time unschooler Deb Lewis, here.

Moving past our irrational fears is a big part of moving toward radical unschooling, and like anything, we all do it at our own pace, and we all have different fears….I’d be interested to hear of any other fears anybody out there has (and possibly help you find links that can allay them, if I can!!).

Come back for a post on Learn Nothing Day on Tuesday….we have high hopes this year that we can go the whole day without any learning occuring….

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Oooh, it’s been a while! And if i’m honest, it’s actually almost Monday too! But, i’ve had this post half-written for about a month, so I figured I should just put it out there!

This is part explanation, part rant…The rant part because really…strewing. …never has such a wonderful idea been so messed up by so many people!

So I have no idea where the phrase, with respect to unschooling, came from. But as I seem to be doing a lot these days, I’ll refer a lot to Sandra Dodd’s pages (which contain stuff from many other experienced unschoolers, not just Sandra)…so, go have a look here!

http://sandradodd.com/strewing

and here!

http://sandradodd.com/strew/how

Here’s the lowdown. Strewing should be to make life more sparkly. It should be fun. It should NOT (in capitals, in bold, sadly I don’t have flashing lights…) be a concealed attempt to cover KLA’s or make sure ‘learning’ is happening in certain areas…It should also not be an undercover attempt to get your child to learn something you think they need to learn….

I’ll use myself as an example of a previously bad strewer….I have struggled with strewing a lot in the past, and I’m happy to share my mistakes with you in the hope you don’t repeat them!

Firstly, I’ve strewed things that I knew Kai wasn’t really interested in, but thought (back then!) he should be….including workbooks and craft items (beads, threads, colouring books, glue…you name it!)….of course, he wasn’t interested in them.

He doesn’t much like craft. He doesn’t much like workbooks. On occasion he’ll choose to do a page or two from a workbook, or even choose to do some craft type stuff (although he’s more likely to choose the workbook!)…..but honestly, if he wants to do those things, he knows where to find the craft stuff and the workbooks without me pointedly placing them on the table!

Which brings me to my second big mistake….strewing WITH expectations. When I’ve strewed things, I’ve expected (or wanted) Kai to use them. Sometimes I’ve even drawn his attention to them….something like ‘Oh look at that workbook. Do you want to do some?’ Then i’ve got frustrated that he didn’t.

I like this quote on Sandra Dodd’s Strewing page, attributed to  Deb  Rossing ‘That no strings is where it differs from ‘setting up’ kids for ‘educational experiences’.” That’s really what I mean about strewing with expections and strewing with a purpose….neither are actually strewing in an unschooling sense.

Actually, in doing a bit more reading, I found the full post from Deb Rossing here http://sandradodd.com/stringless – well worth a read!

So, consequently, strewing didn’t work for us for a long time, because I was stuffing it up I was just doin’ it wrong! ALL wrong!

But as time has worn on, and I’ve seen unschooling at work, seen Kai learn from the things he’s interested in, my strewing dilemma’s and mistakes are a thing of the past. But it pains me to see people make the same mistakes!

For a while, I didn’t feel like I did much strewing, but upon reflection, of course I did, I think it was just becoming a more automatic thing.

I do a lot of i-strewing-– I’ll see a cool new app while I’m trawling the app-store and stick it on his ipod for him to discover…or not.  Maybe, when he gets older if he gets into music, that’ll extend to music strewing on the ipod too, but right now he’s not fussed about music.

I pick up magazines…a few weeks ago I bought him a ‘Mania’ magazine that had some Star Wars collectable things free on the front and left it  on the lounge coffee table. He loved the Star Wars things, not so excited about the mag itself apparently!

Last week I bought a Star Wars Mighty Beanz egg, that had two beanz in it.

I’ll strew books – from the library and/or from his own collection – stuff we haven’t had out for a while….I put them in the car sometimes – usually Star Wars books!

New food objects – fruits, things to go on his monkey platter, recently bocconccini cheese balls were a hit….kiwi fruit not so much!

Sometimes I’ll buy a little toy – maybe a lego figure and strew that.  I’ll also get other toys out that we haven’t seen for a while…

But really, there is stuff strewn all over the house and outside…clocks, rulers, pens, calculators, animal skulls, bones and shells outside, a prism, a geometry set, stencils. Sometimes I change things around, put new things out, put old stuff away..……

However, as you may have noticed, I’ve been reading a lot about making life more sparkly lately….and also read this post from Sandra Dodd’s Just Add Light and Stir blog.

So I’ve made an effort to make the house more sparkly. To strew more sparkly stuff. To update tables, desks and other surfaces with new stuff more often….and to change things that obviously aren’t interesting to Kai and move on to something new more quickly!

Here’s some of the things I’ve put out in the past few weeks….with ‘hit’ or ‘fail’ designating their popularity with Kai!

Star Wars theme – Star Wars guys, badges, mighty beanz, collectables, books, activity book  – HIT!

Number and math manipulatives – numbers, abacus, dice, workbooks, calculator, cuisinaire rods – FAIL! (I should admit I got inspiration from Homemade Rainbows for this one!)

 

Letters and boards, and word searches (home-made and printed) – PARTIAL HIT (word searches were hit, letters, a fail!)

Ocean animals table  – HIT!

Experiments set up, test tubes, vinegar, bi-carb, etc. – FAIL!

But, as it says in one of the links above, strewing isn’t just about cool stuff in the house, it’s also about “ taking the children out and about with the idea of their seeing (hearing, tasting, smelling, touching) things they might not have come upon otherwise and that you can’t lay casually about the house.”

Examples of that, in recent weeks, might include the Fringe Festival Street shows, and the Circus show. The Wildlife Park.  Snorkelling, and the underwater camera. The Gaol. The local Sunday market….

So, not all my new and sparkly ideas have been a hit, and that’s ok. Most of the things in the pictures are put away now, it only takes 10 minutes to change it up…..we’ve now got dinosaurs out. Some magnets. Drawing board and pastels on the table….

But if i’ll be on honest, it’s the stuff out of the house that is the best, the most fun, that i’m sure Kai learns the most from. You can only make your house so sparkly, but there’s a whole new world of sparkle to discover outside!

 

 

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Ok, so my title is a little cliché. But I think this post may reflect the age old rocks, paper, scissors game in some ways – where one thing always trumps another (rocks beats scissors, scissors beat paper, paper beats rock….).

For most parents, it seems like Paper and Scissors always trump Screens. They see that the inherent value of activities that use paper and scissors are infinitely greater than those involving screens. Such that drawing, writing, reading during ‘paper-time’, or cutting with scissors during ‘craft-time’ are intrinsically more important to their childs development and psyche than any kind of screen time.  

(And probably, as children get a little older, many parents consider that ‘paper’ activities – reading and writing, trump ‘scissor’ activities like craft and art….which is also terribly sad…)

I’ve had a little rant about screens before (well, maybe more than once, but I’m thinking of this one!), but a friend recently asked me specifically to write something about TV ‘screen’ time, so here I am!

Firstly, I think it’s completely counter-productive to lump all ‘screen-time’ into one descriptor.

Many adults spend ALL DAY on a computer at work. Do you consider that to be the same activity, using the same neurons and motor skills as watching TV when you get home? And is watching the TV the same activity as playing an interactive game on the Wii or the Xbox, or playing Minecraft?

Unless you’re completely deluded, the answer is a big, fat, NO! Each activity is completely different. Requires different thought processes, different levels of fine and gross motor skills, different levels of participation.

The only thing remotely similar is they all involve some kind of screen. A TV screen or a computer screen, or an ipod or ipad.

So, perhaps a common purpose of viewing all ‘screen’ time as equal, is that you are worried about its effect on your child’s eyes.

So let’s consider that for a moment. Is there actually any real evidence that screen’s affect eye-sight?

NO! There is not. Numerous studies all find no clear link between screens and eyesight. Sure, if you’re eyes are already older (like mine) and you stare at small font for a long time, it gives you eye strain – so that’s when I put my glasses on. But I’m nearly 42. I’m not a child with perfect eyesight. Also, my child doesn’t stare at small font all day reading.

There is no evidence watching TV, or even watching it inches from the screen, will affect vision. If you want a couple of studies, well –just Google – I can’t find any sound study with evidence that any screen affects eyesight of adults or children

A couple of quotes I found – if you can’t be bothered to look it up yourself…

  ‘based on current evidence it is unlikely that the use of computers causes permanent changes or damage to the eyes or visual system.’

 Myth: Sitting close to the television will harm your eyes.
Fact: There is no evidence that sitting close to the television will damage your eyes. If this were true, office workers that sit 8 hours a day 17 inches from their computer screens, would all be blind. Sit wherever you are most comfortable when watching TV.

One thing that is clear from a number of studies, at least for adults who look at a computer screen for long periods, we decrease our blink rate, which causes eye strain. So, if anything, all we need to do is blink more! For a child, I doubt that is a problem, I know minenever sits and stares at a computer screen for that long that it’d be a problem (although we just got Minecraft! So we’ll see!).

 Reading books also causes eye strain, just for the record. And unlike screens, there is some evidence reading from books can actually damage your eye-sight in the long term.   

But I’d probably even take that with a grain of salt. Essentially any activity where you stare at something for a long time and reduce your blinking can cause eye-strain, but not eye-damage.

So. No evidence that cumulative ‘screen-time’ damages eye’s or vision in any way. So. Please stop arbitrarily lumping all ‘screen-time’ into one blanket activity!

 Oh, so I thought of another apparent reason why people might like to lump screen-time into one. Because if they’re having ‘too much’ (ahem!) screen-time, then obviously they are not having enough of something else that is considered more beneficial or important by parents or teachers, such as ‘outside time’ or ‘reading-time’ (from a paper book – of course – you wouldn’t want kids to enjoy something like a Kindle or ibooks like adults do, would you!?), or craft, or socializing, and the list goes on…..

 I’ve already discussed the absolute nonsense of suggesting that open screen-time interferes with outside time and/or physical activity.

But, just to give you an indication of our week this week, which was a pretty normal week….Starting last Sunday – we went to the zoo for 3 hours, Monday – planted seeds in garden and went to playground for 1 hour, Tuesday – 2 hours at homeschool gym, Wednesday – walking round town, library and playground, Thursday – 2.5 hours at the swimming pool, Friday – planted seeds in the garden and 1 hour circus class, Saturday we spent 3.5 hours walking around the zoo (again!).

 So, by my rough calculations, that’s around 16 hours of outside and/or physical activity this week. Not including incidental stuff. And this week the weather has been wet – other weeks we’d probably be outside more.

Given the choice, children DO NOT want to sit around in the house all day! They want to explore, have adventures, climb, run, whack with sticks.

Of course, at school, its unlikely Kai would get that much outside/active time. I’m assuming most schools allocate a couple of hours a week to physical education, and maybe ¾ hour of actual play-time during breaks and lunches?

School children are also reading, looking at books, or writing most of the day – probably contributing to greater levels of eye-strain.

From my experience, often Kai uses the TV as a winding down activity. If he’s tired, if we’ve had a couple of big days, or he’s not feeling well, he’ll watch TV probably more than usual.  Some days he barely watches it at all.

Children that come home from school and veg on the couch in front of the TV are probably doing the same thing. A day at school is stressful in many ways, and I know from my own school days, all I wanted to do was tune-out and watch TV when I got home.  But because that’s the only time they get, they probably really do get much less time for physical activity and free-play.

However, we also learn a whole lot from the TV. Just this week we’ve been interested in Alcatraz (there’s a new show coming on!), we watched a doco about aye-ayes and Madagascar (Last Chance to See), we’ve watched Horrible Histories (of course!), he watched a DVD on octopuses we got from the library, we looked up Chinese Junk Boats after seeing them on TV….and probably a bunch of other things I’ve forgotton – oh – lots of physics and chemistry on MythBusters!

When Kai’s playing the Wii (or another computer game on the PC), it’s a completely different activity to watching the TV. It’s interactive. He has to think, plan and act to get through the levels. Often he’s standing up bouncing around (sometimes he does that with TV shows too – depending on what they are and for what reason he’s watching! For example when he watches “The Clone Wars” he usually does it swinging two lightsabres!).

Other completely different activities include online games and puzzles, like coolmathgames.com and mathcats.com (a new one we just found – check it out!). Some parents, for reasons I can’t fathom, consider doing puzzles online less valuable than doing almost the exact same thing in a workbook. No. I can’t fathom it!? Unless it’s for the fact that when doing it on paper, they’re practicing their handwriting?

In many cases online games and puzzles are more interactive and interesting for children than boring workbooks, and they can accomplish much more as they don’t have to worry about handwriting (surely plenty of time for that!?).

 So, we’ve established that all screen time does not equal one single activity. Screen time does not contribute to eye damage. Screen time is not mutually exclusive to outside time, physical activity and/or other stuff like crafting, drawing, etc. There is room, and needs to be room, for all these things in a childs life.

So, finally, the one thing I keep on reading when parents (usually Mums) say they are going to let their kids ‘self-regulate’ TV time, and then give up, is ‘They get very aggressive after they watch too much TV’.

This is another one I can’t fathom. Someone give me one good reason why children would become aggressive after watching TV? Because they’d watched something aggressive? Well, possibly, but I know that many of these mothers wouldn’t be letting their children watch ‘aggressive’ shows, so in these cases, that can’t be it.

Is it because they’ve sat and been inactive for too long? Possibly…but then why doesn’t the same happen if they’ve sat and read (or been read to) for the same amount of time?

But consider this: if someone is constantly in the background badgering you about turning off the TV and doing something else (going outside, doing a drawing, baking cookies, whatever….), even if they tried to do it in a round-about way, wouldn’t you get annoyed if you were trying to watch something? I know I would! And that is the only reason I could imagine why a child would get aggressive or annoyed….because the parent is harassing them, in either an obvious or non-obvious way, to turn the TV off and do something else.

So then the parent uses this apparent aggressiveness as an excuse to go back to regulating screen-time, when in fact they have caused the aggressive/annoyed behavior themselves.

Ok, I’ve written enough – I’m getting eyestrain! Haha!

So, there is plenty to read about here about TV specifically, here about Video Games,) and this page is very important reading – an amazing compilation of dire (and untrue) myths and predictions…with plenty on video games and TV!

So, for us, screens, paper, scissors…(and outside time, and everything else!) are all wonderfully equal, no one activity trumps another, and in fact, ‘screens’ shouldn’t even be one word at all. They all form a valid and important part of our life, enjoyment and learning.

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Bee. Bonnet. Year of The Dragon….here I go!

So, I dislike labels as much as the next person, but let’s not get carried away here…..Labels have their uses…..if you picked up a carton in the supermarket and it said milk, but it was actually orange juice, you’d be annoyed, right, because it was incorrectly labeled?

Well, that’s how I feel when i’m searching Google for Unschooling blogs, and I find one that says it’s an unschooling blog, and that they are unschoolers, and then….they’re clearly not. Mislabelling. I might still enjoy reading their blog…but I’ll always be a little bit miffed they misled me to think they were unschooling when they weren’t!

So, I see labels as a useful way to connect with like-minded people and form communities. I’m not a fan of labels, but they have their uses, and I’m not afraid of them and I don’t let them own me.

The label ‘unschooling’ seems to cop more flack than any other in the world of education. I have friends that proclaim to all and sundry that they are feminists, but when it comes to unschooling, they’re all…’oh, I don’t like labels’ – erm…’scuse me!?

Other educational ideologies seem not to suffer this fate. When someone ‘labels’ themselves ‘Montessori’ or ‘Steiner’, it’s all good…even ‘eclectics’ don’t suffer, and that is the most non-committal label of all!

So why is it so many people either refuse to take on the label of ‘unschoolers’ or else label themselves unschoolers when they’re not? Some people argue that since unschooling is relatively new, refined ‘definitions’ aren’t available.

Well, I beg to differ. Unschooling has been around since the 60’s. There are plenty of definitions which are very clear. I direct you here,  for just a few recent one’s, but if you want to read the basis, read John Holt – who came up with the term in the first place.

Some argue that they don’t want to focus on what they ‘don’t’ do, rather than what they ‘do’ do – I’m assuming referring to the ‘Un’ bit. I see the ‘Un’ bit as referring to being free of school (as I’ve said before, like ‘unchained’, or ‘unbounded’ …..free of chains, free of bounds, free of school…)…but that’s just me.

Some people like to call themselves ‘Natural Learners’, or ‘Lifelong Learners’, or any number of variants on this theme…I may have said before….here, elsewhere, or both…I don’t use these terms because they refer to every single person on the planet, whether they are schooled or not. Every human (and some animals!) are natural learners, and lifelong learners….it doesn’t describe what we do…

So, on to Radical Unschooling. Again, maybe it’s not the best name or ‘label’ – I personally don’t feel very ‘radical’! But it’s the best we got at the moment. It helps us find each other.

What about the definitions of ‘radical’ unschooling….again I direct you here, and this is Dayna Martin’s definition (From Radical Unschooling: A Revolution has Begun):

Radical unschooling, which expands unschooling philosophy to parenting, means you extend that same trust to other areas of your child’s life, like foods, media, television, video games–allowing them to eat, play, or watch whatever they want when they want.

There is a standard definition of what radical unschooling is, and what it is not. If you limit or control food, bedtimes, certain toys such as barbies or guns, or screen time….you are not radically unschooling. No, that’s not just my own random definition of radical unschooling, it’s a generally accepted one. And that’s ok! Love what you are! I have all respect for anyone doing anything outside of mainstream…..

It also doesn’t mean you’ll never let go of those things if you want to….The road to becoming a radical unschooler is a long one, and I’ve been letting those things go for the past 3 years, and some were certainly easier than others! I still have work to do! And I certainly wouldn’t advocate for letting go of everything chaos style at one go….I’m sure that would lead to more damage than good!

Anyway, ok, rant over (I think!)….

So, yes, lots of people seem to ‘dabble’ in radical unschooling. They say ‘we’re self-regulating screen time’, then a few weeks later they say ‘I had to put limits back, it was out of hand’. They might say ‘We’re self-regulating food’, then a few days later come back with ‘What shall I do, they’re only eating mars bars?’….etc, etc…

Some might say ‘We tried radical unschooling, it didn’t work for us’….what do I think this means? I think it means there were things these parents couldn’t let go of, or needed themselves to control, and thus it didn’t work.

And all this makes me wonder, how did I apparently let go of all that ‘stuff’ apparently relatively easily? I say this not in an arrogant way, I don’t think I’m ‘better’ because I did, I truly wonder.

And these are the ideas I’ve come up with…..in possible order of importance!

1. Parallels to my own childhood

Ok, I know I went to school! And it was miserable. But at home, I was a remarkably free child and enjoyed most, if not all, the freedom of a radically unschooled child. I had no bedtime, I didn’t have to (and often didn’t!) brush my teeth, I didn’t have chores, I never got grounded, I ate what I wanted, when I wanted (and most of you know I ate a Mars for breakfast for my entire childhood!), I wasn’t spanked, and I could watch as much TV as I wanted.

This was my life as a child. I am forever grateful to my Mom for giving me this free life. My Mom trusted me and respected me, and as a result I always told her the truth.

2. Finding a Group of Radical Unschoolers

When I first looked into unschooling, some of the more ‘Radical’ stuff freaked me right out! Seriously! No bedtimes? All the TV they want? Are these people mad?!

 Then I moved to Boulder and joined Blue Skies – an unschooling group around Boulder and Denver. The majority of parents were radical unschoolers. Their kids were the most amazing kids i’d ever met. Kind, compassionate and caring. Fun and inclusive. Smart and funny. Daring and brave.

Sharing their lives for the year we lived there was incredibly important for developing my trust and understanding in Radical Unschooling. Boulder was where I let go of bedtimes. Where I let go of screen limits. Where I made big breaks in letting go of food control. And where Kai got his first toy gun!

Other random stuff:

I think the fact that I never got heavily invested in Montessori or Steiner has also been important in our Radical Unschooling journey. In fact, I actually didn’t know much about either until I was well on the road to Radical Unschooling, and by then when I read of the restrictive and controlling aspects of both, I thought they sounded awful!

Sure, both have good points, and we’ve got a bastardized nature table going on…. But in my opinion, radical unschooling and Montessori/Steiner (particularly Steiner) can never mix.

Call it what you want, eclectic, whatever, but a predominantly Steiner approach is not compatible with radical unschooling. And not even unschooling in general, if you ask me (you probably didn’t!). I’m not going to write more….Dayna has a post here.

And finally in other random stuff, more generally, I don’t really care what other people think. Of me, or of what me and my family do. I think if you are concerned about other people’s reactions, radical unschooling is going to be a difficult choice.

 You will be judged, a lot, even by others who call themselves (mistakenly or not!) unschoolers, certainly by Steiner, Montessori and other homeschoolers. People WILL be mean, some may be offensive.

Do I ever have times when I think, ‘Shit! Kai’s watched a lot of TV this week.’? Or ‘Wow. There’s a lot of Mars bar wrappers in the back of the car.’? Well, duh! Of course I do! I’m only human. I’m a Mom! And he’s only 5!

But for me, the proof is in the pudding….so to speak (where does that saying even come from!?? I’m going to have to look it up!). I have an amazing, well-balanced, healthy, active, HAPPY, son! Works for me!

 And I dare you to argue that my child looks like he eats ‘junk’ and sits on the couch all day! I’d give anything for a six-pack like that!!

Ok, I’m done. This was all going through my head on a hike up the mountain this afternoon, and I had to get it all down…..it may well read like a vomit on a page, a bit like Gatto only not so eloquent! I’m not going back to fix stuff….so be it, typo’s, ranting, bad grammar and all!

Good night!

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I had a thought, about something I wrote last week – that, as unschoolers – we don’t think learning to read is more important than learning to swim. But I’ve been thinking about that statement this week, and I’m not sure….I guess it only holds if you also believe the opposite is true – that I don’t think learning to swim is more important than learning to read. And I’m not sure I completely believe that.

Definitely for a 5 year old….up to probably a 10 year old, or even older, if pressed, I’d have to say that I think learning to swim is more important than learning to read. Am I saying that because my 5 year old shows absolutely no interest in learning to read and I might be freaking out (a little!), but he can swim….well, possibly….but lets ignore any self-serving motivation I might have for now!

**Disclaimer – I am not, in any way, suggesting you should force your child to learn to swim if they don’t want to, just like i’m not suggesting you force your child to learn to read! I am merely offering an interesting comparison of two things and how important our society views learning them in childhood….

But think about it. In every-day life (not school – that’s not everyday life), what advantage does being able to read give a 5 year old? Or even a 10 year old or 12 year old? Yes, you can read some signs. You can read some books. You can understand something more of the world around you. But if you have an involved parent, they will help you do that if you can’t read. They’ll read signs if you ask them. Read books if you ask them. Read instructions for games if you ask them.

But can being able to read save your life? Because clearly being able to swim can. I looked up the stats for 2009 – 2011. 29 children aged 5-14 drowned in Australia in those two years – the majority were in rivers and creeks, some at swimming pools, some wandered and fell into water. Figures are MUCH higher if you include under 5’s….but since I’m comparing the life-utility of learning to swim vs learning to read, I feel it’s only fair to use 5 and over, since most under 5’s are not being pressured to learn to read (well….that’s debatable these days, I guess!)..

And a study quoted in the Life Saving Reports found that for exposure adjusted person-time estimates (I’m assuming this means corrected for the amount of time you spend near/in water vs the amount of time you spend in or around cars), risk of drowning is 200 times higher than for death in road traffic accidents.

Could being able to read save your life? Well, possibly in some situations. If there was a danger sign and you read it? But most danger signs also have obvious pictures – presumably for those speaking a foreign language –  a swimmer with a big cross through it. A crocodile. Kai understands what those type of signs mean.

However, in the interests of research and clarification, I showed him these two signs and asked him what they meant (I would have shown him more, but he got fed up!) – quotes in italics from Kai!

nobody swims

 

No swimming with the crocodiles

 

I googled extensively (and I’m modestly confident I am a pretty good search engine!) and found nothing to tell me that being able to read had ever saved someone’s life (or, that not being able to read had resulted in someone losing their life)…the closest I got was ‘learning to read a map could even save your life’….and, arguably, you could potentially read a map without actually being able to read….

The possible life benefits of being able to read, once you are outside a school setting (where getting children to read as soon as possible is a control tool, and the easiest way to ensure mass instruction), are pretty slim ….there is just no real reason why most children should want to be able to read. The same can be said for writing – they don’t need to be able to write a cheque. Sign their name….

In the recent past, and even currently in many areas, learning to swim would have been pretty important for 5-10 year olds– especially those that were coastal or relied upon fishing – boys (and maybe girls) that age would have helped with fishing and hunting. Learning to read…..erm….that’s a pretty recent pursuit for 5-10 year olds….and one in which the most academically successful counties, such as Finland, don’t start until children are 7 or 8……

Obviously some children come early to reading, of their own accord. I’m pretty sure I was reading before I started school, and Kai has a friend who taught himself to read at 3…..But for those children who are not interested in reading early, I wonder could putting energy and stress into learning to read (for no apparent good reason) – and other strongly academic pursuits at that age, hinder their development in other ways….

Apparently yes…..(are you surprised…I think not!)….Here’s some snippets – and full links at the end of each section of points…

Sitting increases fatigue and reduces concentration, {while} movement feeds oxygen, water, and glucose to the brain, optimizing its performance.

Children who had experienced early academics were more anxious and less creative than their peers who had been in traditional, play-based preschools – a distinctive disadvantage.

(above from here)

The evidence suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.

Children should be introduced to the alphabet at the age of about five-and-a-half, in an ideal world”

Could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready

(above from here)

This is also a really great article, which is repeated with some differences here (click on the link at the bottom). Although I’m not a massive fan of some Waldorf-Steiner ideas (Yes – warning – this is a Waldorf-slanted article!), I think this brain development stuff totally makes sense (but I’m ignoring the strict age guidelines – I think those brain developments can happen at vastly different ages for different kids….)

Most young children, less than 7 years of age, have not finished developing their neurological pathways for writing, reading and spelling.

The right brain reading pathway becomes overworked and the children will end up being just sight readers with poor spelling and poor comprehension.

If children are pushed to learn phonetics before bilateral integration and the left brain has fully developed, they will still struggle with reading and spelling.

According to this article and the ‘skip’ test, Kai already has bilateral integration (left and right sides of his brain ‘talk’ to each other)….but I’m fairly sure he is heavily right-brained and have no intention of pushing reading, in any way, shape or form! (unless he asks, and of course I always read to him…when he wants me to….which isn’t often these days!)

And in a lovely connection back to swimming…..the article also says that doing cross-lateral movements, such as swimming freestyle, can strengthen bilateral integration…So, by learning to swim first, children will also be helping to make learning to read easier later!

And…although slightly off topic – here’s a report detailing how schools in the UK (and undoubtedly elsewhere), are pushing phonics programs due to financial incentives….http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14029897 Don’t kid yourself- the compulsory schooling system is just as biased and corrupted by money as the pharmaceutical industry….

I found a few other really good reads about reading (pardon pun!)…, I especially like this page is from Joyfully Rejoicing – and it talks a lot about how reading isn’t the only way, or even the best way, to learn… and there are lots of other reading links there – in the menu on the left.

And, just for food for thought – it’s a widely held belief that Albert Einstein didn’t learn to read until he was 10 (and didn’t talk until 4)…and Stephen Hawking has said he didn’t learn to read until he was 8…

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I waffle on a lot about how amazing unschooling is. How wonderful it is to watch how children learn, in their own time, in their own way.

And I put a lot of effort into writing and thinking about all the things we do, and how Kai learns from them…..

But recently a friend (a very sarcastic friend, who loves to scoff at unschooling, ha ha!) commented about all the things we’d done that couple of weeks (on a blog update) and said ‘I did all that with my kids, AND they went to school.’ And although I know she wrote it to be a smart-ass, it’s still true!

We’re just not that special, us unschooling parents. I mean really, any other half-decent parents surely spend a lot of time with their children – read them books, their kids play with lego and blocks, they go swimming, hiking, camping, draw, even play Plants Vs Zombies!!. And yes, they also go to school.

So, although I might like to wax lyrical about all these opportunities we afford our children as unschoolers, the more I think about it, the more I feel that the most important things are the things we don’t do, not what we do do…

What don’t we do?

We don’t force our children into a jail institution for their entire childhood – an environment they have little to no control over.

We don’t make them adhere to someone else’s timetable…not for everyday stuff like going to sleep, waking up and having lunch, and not for learning either – we don’t have an age whereby we think they should be able to read, write or do long division.

We don’t categorize learning so that some things seem more important than others – we don’t think math is more important than drawing. We don’t think learning to read is more important than learning to swim.

We don’t force them to learn something we think is important, that they have no interest in.

We don’t separate out learning from life – we have no specified ‘learning’ time, we have no specified ‘learning’ space or area….we believe learning happens everywhere, anywhere and all the time!

We don’t set our children up to compete with other children, for some undefined ‘prize’, and we don’t ‘grade’ them against some (not very) standardized ‘norm’ and offer them stars, stickers and praise when they ‘succeed’ like good trained monkeys, but shame or punish them when they ‘fail’.

These are just a few things we don’t do, as unschoolers (in the context of learning only – there are many more in terms of whole life, or radical, unschooling).

I’m sure there are more. Many more. If you can think of some, please add a comment!

These things we don’t do – in my opinion – will be the things that make the difference to our children. The don’ts that will help our children grow into independent free thinkers, with a life-time love of learning, and into adults who know their own mind and own their own body. Children who, as adults, hopefully won’t have to carry around all the shit we did do as a result of forced compulsory schooling.

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I didn’t plan to write this. Socialization is such a non-issue in our world right now, I rarely think about it. But then I saw a post. On an Unschool site, would you believe – proposing that we should make sure our children are polite to all strangers ‘if you don’t want your child to be the evidence for people thinking home schoolers are isolated from reality, unsociable and/or just plain rude?

Now this post made me mad. On a number of counts. Firstly, because it was suggesting we force manners in all situations when children meet other adults. I’ve written about ‘manners’ before, and I’m sure I will again, so here I’m just going to say that of course we should encourage and model good manners and polite behaviour, and make sure our children know how people expect them to behave in different social situations. But forcing insincere manners accomplishes nothing good, but possibly lots that is bad…

Secondly, this person, although a homeschooling parent (I think), was getting sucked into the ridiculous hype about socialization and homeschoolers and letting it affect her behaviour with her children. And she was suggesting we all do the same.

Thirdly?  Well, I just get annoyed when someone cares so much about what other people, especially strangers, think!

So it made me think about socialization. Or more specifically, the apparent ‘socialization’ that goes on in school, which homeschoolers are ‘missing out on’.

And all I keep thinking is ‘Lord of The Flies’.

If you haven’t read it…you should….bunch of boys, below the age of 13, crash on a desert island – chaos that ensues as the boys try to organize themselves into a hierarchical social group without any adults to guide them..…

Through our evolutionary history, offspring are kept with their parents and family. They learn how to relate to others, and to be a useful part of the group or tribe, by related adults who have a vested interested in how they turn out as adults….it’s called kin selection – related individuals share genetics – if you help your relatives turn into successful adults, your genes are more likely to carry into the next generation. If you want more…also read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins…

Anyway, my point is that children are not meant to ‘socialise’ each other. If they are left to do so, a ‘Lord of The Flies’ scenario is likely to evolve. Nor are they meant to be ‘socialised’ by non-related adults who have no interest, evolutionary or otherwise, in their future (ie: teachers).

Our closest relatives, the non-human primates, are good examples of how this works. Gorilla’s, bonobo’s and chimpanzee’s live in inclusive groups made up of relatives. Offspring stay with the group, and learn from adults, until they are teenagers.  Orangutans are solitary, but offspring still stay with their mother and learn the ways of the forest (what’s left of it, anyway) until they are 7 or 8. Orang’s live to be about 40, so a 7 or 8 year old orang is probably equivalent to a teenage human.

The traditional human cultures that still exist show a similar pattern. Children spend their days with parents and relatives, learning the skills that the adults need to survive – hunting, cooking, building….

Also, this apparently crucial socialization of children that happens in modern schools – it’s only been happening for about the past 400 of the 85 million years since we’ve been evolving from the first primates – and it seems as a species we were doing a whole lot better socially before this than after……

Compulsory schooling was brought to Massachusetts, USA, in 1647 (children were marched under guard to school…nice! The school was also based on techniques used on Native Americans in prisoner of war camps by General Richard Henry Pratt – hmmm, if the name fits.…) – England introduced compulsory schooling in the modern tradition much later, around 1880 – although children were only required to attend until age10.

Of course children need to play with other children. But that’s exactly what it should be, PLAYING..

I looked up the definition of ‘Socialize’ (or socialise – if you don’t like the US spelling! I seem to switch back and forth!) in a few places….most illuminating…here’s a few gems….

* Make (someone) behave in a way that is acceptable to their society (Dictionary.com)

* To make fit for companionship with others; make sociable. (thefreedictionary.com)

* train for a social environment; “The children must be properly socialized” (more freedictionary.com)

* prepare for social life; “Children have to be socialized in school” (and more….)

Each one of these definitions make it sound as if ‘socialization’ is something you do to someone against their will (as evidenced by the words I’ve bolded)– that people are forced to be socialized and made to do something they don’t want to do naturally. If these are true definitions of ‘socialize’ then I do not want my child to be socialized. Nor do I wish to be socialized either!

However, in contrast, I also looked up ‘social’…and found some much more favourable definitions (these are from dictionary.reference.com)

*pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations.

 *seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.

 *living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation: People are social beings.

 This last definition sums it up – humans are social beings. We are MADE to be social. True – some humans are more social than others – but the same is true in groups of chimpanzees…but perhaps not bonobo’s ! Thus, if we are already social beings, surely it follows that we don’t need to ‘be’ socialized?

So, based on these definitions, I would say of course I want Kai to be social. But I do not want him to be socialized.

He already is social, he’s made that way, we all are. And because we’re social beings, evolved to learn social (and other) skills modelled and encouraged by our parents and family, we will, to varying degrees, learn to fit with most societal norms – including being polite and well-mannered in situations where it is expected. 

Another issue is the quality of social interaction children get with each other – at school or elsewhere. As we all know quantity does not equate to quality…..

Kai see’s his friends at the park, or gym, or wherever, usually at least twice a week. And we stay for about 3 hours or more (example – Friday we were at the beach with friends for 4 hours – and we’d already visited other friends for an hour before that!).

So, on average he gets unstructured social time for about 6 hours with a group of friends each week.

What about school? Well, let’s do the math….if he was at school – he get about ½ hour recess a day, and, once eaten lunch, maybe ½ hour at lunch time (although many schools have cut lunch time – so that might be reduced to ¼ hour – adding up to a maximum 5 hours of actual social time a week.

So already, as homeschoolers, we have more quantity of social time than school children (obviously both homeschooled and schooled kids have equal opportunity to be social after school and on weekends….although its likely school children will have more scheduled after school activities, thus reducing the time for unstructured social interaction)

What about quality?

At school, children are split into different social factions, even at an early age, (based on many factors – intelligence, race, sex, socio-economics….) so you are not always free to play with the person you might prefer to be with….You are also stuck with socializing with same age peers, since older kids think you’re too low to talk too, and you won’t talk to younger kids for the same reason….your playtime is also likely to suffer interruptions by teachers and/or by the school bullies (sometimes one and the same).

Admittedly, parents that choose to home and unschool can (but not always – obviously) tend to fit a social stereotype too (middle-class, white, often have higher education degrees, many also religious), which could mean homeschooled children also don’t truly have free choice of who they play with. But aside from that, many of the other stereotypes are removed  – all age groups mingle. Boys and girls mingle. And, perhaps most importantly, you have the choice to be social for as long as you want, or leave when you’ve had enough! You even have a choice whether you go to meet up with friends at all!

So, in my very humble opinion, that equates to a better quality of social interaction, too.

Do I expect Kai to act like a ‘normal’ schooled child socially when he’s older. No, I don’t. He won’t have got the same ‘socialization’ experience they will have had, and obviously that will have made him ‘different’ in some ways.

But I hope, as much as is possible in modern society, he’ll have had a more natural human social experience – with guidance coming from adults who love him and care about his future, not other children and authority figures that are, in essence, strangers. He will also have had the time and opportunity to build close friendships with friends outside of the polarizing school playground. I believe that will make him kinder, more empathetic, more caring, and more socially ‘polite’ than the majority of schooled children.

 Ok, I’m done. Hopefully I made my point. Or at least made some kind of point! If the person who wrote that post that incited rage in me ever stumbles across this blog – I’d like to thank you – I’ve learnt so much while writing and researching this post, and I’m going to read ‘Lord of The Flies’ again too!

There are lots of resources and other articles out there on this subject, but i’d like to post just one link – this is a glaring insight into the ‘Lord of the Flies’ effect in schools. Situations that we would all have been witness too – and that society now seems to feel are just part and parcel of school, and that it’s ok, since it ‘toughens’ kids up – http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/02/schools_and_soc.html

 

 

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