Reading Alfie Kohn

Parenting, as I see it, is a battlefield. It brings out the worst and the best in people. And because homeschooling is essentially an extension of good parenting, I find that commentaries on education, homeschooling and parenting make up the bulk of my reading. Notice I said commentaries, not manuals.

Anyway, I’ve recently been reading Alfie Kohn’s The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting. There is much in the book I don’t agree with but I think it is important anyway to plod through it because some of the things he says are dead on accurate. Consider this quote, in which he talks about how children are not any worse today than they were in the 1800s. He says,

Each generation invokes the good old days, during which, we discover, people had been doing exactly the same thing.

How many conversations about school and parenting have you had recently that said things were better in the past? Children were better, parenting was easier, children respected their parents more, etc.? And yet, as he points out, there isn’t one piece of evidence that suggests this to be true. Not one. And yet, the assumption is ubiquitous.

I wonder if this is for the same reason that people believe it is less safe for children to be unsupervised today, even though the crime rate is down and it is the safest time in history to be a child. Too much information, too sensationalized, too often.

Fascinating book. I’ll be a better mom for having read it. I’ll be reading more by Alfie Kohn.

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Three Things Moms Should Know About That Viral Video about Child Abduction

I’m sure you’ve seen it. My Facebook feed is certainly exploding with it. Every mom, it seems, is now holding her kid closer, hugging him tighter, repeating, Don’t talk to strangers! even more vociferously than before.

Here’s the thing: it’s a lie. Why this guy decided to misreport the facts that even though there are 700 children reported missing every day, the majority of them are NOT abductions but runaways that return home is beyond me.

Here’s the other thing: You cannot protect your child from every danger out there. You can teach them to know what to do. Instead of having to “watch them like a hawk” as moms like to put it, why not give them the tools to respond appropriately? Don’t tell them not to talk to strangers, teach them not to go away with strangers.

And finally, the thing that no one seems to mention: If you’re a mom who thinks your kid is not safe unless you are watching him every minute of every day, you are the kind of mom who will invite the government to take your place when you cannot.

And that’s where I come in.

Fear mongering invites the state into places it shouldn’t be. It effectively reduces freedom for all children – yours and mine. And that’s something to truly fear.

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The Hardest Thing about Unschooling

My Facebook newsfeed is full of the father from Philadelphia who wrote a scathing response to his children’s principal who had marked their family vacation days as unexcused absence from school. I know firsthand the kind of education his children received in those three days when they weren’t present in school. I know because we try to have days like that every single day where the children are always learning.

Whether Mr. Rossi knew it or not, he was making a strong case for unschooling.

The hardest thing about unschooling? Stopping.

We are on a personal vacation of sorts this week. It’s felt like a long year already because, as Mr. Rossi so eloquently puts forth in his letter, I have tried to remember and record every little subject the children are involved in learning during their daily lives. For good measure, and also because we must keep records for the state, I mark each day of sit-down, classroom style (albeit one-on-one) math, reading and writing.

It’s hard to stop.

Yesterday, I finally gave up. I found a good book and decided I was going to read, leave the kids to their video games and their television. I was on vacation. I was done.

When I came out, my daughter started telling me about scuttlefish, lion cubs, sting rays and sharks. She had watched hours of shows about lions and oceans.

Vacation? Yes. School? Also, yes. Today, we will go to a store and exchange a laptop I’m using and the kids will add to their knowledge base of money, trade and financial education.

I am learning, slowly, I suppose, as the letter above states, that the line between school and real life is not just blurry, it might very well be non-existent.

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Save Money at the Grocery Store: Do This One Thing

I dread grocery shopping and look forward to it all at the same time. Yes, I suppose I’m complicated. But seriously, I like spending money, filling up the fridge, knowing that my family will have food for the next 7 – 10 days and I will not hear complaints, um, requests from my husband and children that we’re out of this thing or the other.

On the other hand, I almost always overspend.

Many people have great success taking cash with them and calculating every dollar, but I shop with three kids six and under. The incessant chatter itself is enough to knock me off the calculations in my head. So that method, effective as it is, is out.

Here’s what I do: when I enter the store, I go around the “wrong” way. I start my shopping with dairy and meat. That’s it.

I can almost hear you think. How will that change anything, you ask. Oh, but it does, and I have a theory about why.

Here’s what I think happens – when we enter the store, we are immediately bombarded with temptations – these are items that are not on the list but seem like a good deal (they are usually under a dollar, like cans of beans, or fruit under a dollar a pound.) In they go. Then we come to the vegetables and of course we want to make salads, so in they go. I don’t know about you but by the time I get to the meat aisle, I’ve already spent more than I should have on produce.

When I shop meat and dairy before produce, I follow a more normal path of building a meal – I begin with protein, then add vegetables and then the condiments in the center aisles. At the very end is fruit, which we buy for purposes of lunches for my husband and snacks for the kids.

This method of shopping avoids the temptations I face right inside the door, temptations placed strategically to make me spend more. If any of those extras are still on my list, I can find them in the center aisles, where I can compare their prices with other items.

Overall, this one small change can help you save money every grocery trip with no calculator and no agonizing over every dollar.

(And you thought I was going to talk about coupons!)

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History: Our Schedule and Method

I have always had a disinclination to follow a prescribed method. Especially when it came to a creative pursuit. Which may be the reason I struggle so much with following basic recipes – it just seems too easy and not enough fun. Which also incidentally is why I don’t like to bake. It’s a little too perfect. Pinterest boards do the same to me – yes, it’s fun to recreate something I have found online and I’ve learned some wonderful things with Pinterest, but for me, the real fun is in letting what you have learned inspire you to put it together differently.

When I am learning or teaching, I want to hear the sound of things clicking into place, the aha! moment, the spark, that feeling of being awed – that is what I’m after. If that moment does not come often, I tend to get bored and exhausted.

Which is why we study history and science the way we do. For our family, homeschooling is a predominantly creative pursuit.

However, even with creative pursuits, the basics have to be grasped. If you want things to fit together, there still have to be things to be put together in the first place. Just as I would have no business playing with recipes if I didn’t know what the different flavors were doing, there is still a basic level of knowledge necessary to get to the next level. So I do emphasize reading, writing and math, but history and science, ah, those are fun.

We begin anywhere we want to. That’s the most important thing and the most freeing. We do not follow a curriculum, so to speak. However, I do love Easy Peasy Homeschool as a guide; it is completely online and free. We start there and then segue as much as we want.

For me, the segues are what make history fun, because it is when the most connections are made with what we have already learned.

I will also pick up books from the library – and not just from the children’s section, mind you – with lots of pictures for the children to thumb through. Since we are currently studying Ancient Egypt, I browsed and brought home two thick coffee table books about Egypt. The kids looked through them and asked me questions about whatever they saw. Since they’re still reading at a very basic level, I quickly read the blurb under the pictures and gave them the details. I was learning right along with them.

When there is a documentary or movie that relates to what we’re studying, we will watch it. The different perspectives on the same issue do not bother me and I will occasionally stop the movie we are watching to discuss it, ask questions, cure falsehood with truth and remove false information that is often presented.

I firmly believe this is a good way for the children to learn that not everything they see on the screen or read in a book is true. Discernment is the best safeguard to revisionism of any kind.

Learning history in this way, besides giving all of us a spectacular education while saving money, (no curriculum to buy! Yay!) also leaves us free to pull information from different subjects, which is one of the best ways to learn. Why do we feel the need to break things up into compartments for the children? History for us overflows and enriches Bible study, geography, and science quite often. Not to mention art and music. There’s truly no greater joy that seeing my children make those connections and make the subject their own.

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Homeschooling / Unschooling Conferences in California 2015 – The List

It’s that time of year I’m most likely to feel on edge. The school year isn’t over yet but the weather is great. I want to dream about what we’re all going to learn next year, I want to plan camping trips, I want to get out on dates my husband and dinners with my girlfriends. Oh, and I want to stay in bed and read.

The last thing I want to think about is a schedule. But alas. We still have another month before we’re done. So I’m taking the time now to dream.

Here’s a list of homeschooling or unschooling conferences this year that seem interesting to me and close enough that I can at least hope to attend them. I plan on making it out to at least a handful for inspiration, curriculum and new friendships.

HOMESCHOOLING CONFERENCES:

Great Homeschool Convention in California – promises to be good. They have speakers like Heidi St. John, Cathy Duffy, Dr. Jay Wile and Matt Walsh. Registration is $45 per person and $60 per family. (Pricing increases the closer you get to the date.) Conference runs June 18th – 20th, 2015.

Homeschool Association of California Conference – is in San Jose from August 6 – 9. I’m especially interested in this one. It definitely seems closer to my general philosophy of homeschool / unschool. Their keynote speaker is Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn. Registration is $220. There is also a one-day pass available for $100 per person.

Valley Home Educators Conference was the one I attended last year. No pre-registration necessary. It runs July 24 and 25 in Modesto. $32 per person or $120 per family. Speakers include Andrew Pudewa, Annette and Steve Economides, Kathy Lipp, Teri Spray and Rebecca Keliher.

Christian Home Educators Convention – will be in Pasadena. Registration is $92 and your spouse attends free. They also have a free e-conference if you’re unable to attend as well as teen and children’s conferences on site. Click the link for more information. Convention runs July 16 – 18, 2015.

Sacramento Christian Organization of Parent Educators (SCOPE) Conference has a different location this year. It will be held in Rocklin from June 11 – 13. Registration is $65 per person (spouse free) or $85 per family. Keynote speakers include Dr. Jobe Martin, Bryan Osborne from Answers in Genesis (AIG) and Mike Smith from Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA.)

California Homeschool Network Family Expo will include a used curriculum sale along with their conference on June 25 – 28 in Torrance. Registration is $75 per person or $90 for a couple.

TriCounties Home Education Network Conference is on May 15 and 16 and includes speakers James Glenn, Sharon Hensley and Pat Roy amongst others. The conference will be held in Santa Rosa.

UNSCHOOLING CONFERENCES:

(Note: I had to extend my search to all include all of the Western USA because I couldn’t find as many unschooling conferences in California alone. Please don’t hate me.)

Homeschool Association of California Conference – is in San Jose from August 6 – 9. Their keynote speaker is Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn. Registration is $220. There is also a one-day pass available for $100 per person. Yes, I included this twice. It seemed to fit here.

Free To Be Unschooling Conference will be held in Phoenix, AZ from October 1 – 4. Registration is $160 per person.

Life is Good Conference will be held in Vancouver, WA from May 22 – 25. Registration is $80 per person. Presenters include Shannon Loucks, Pam Sorooshian, and Marina Shuman, amongst others.

So that’s it. I’m off to make plans. Summer is a great time to recharge and meet other homeschoolers and unschoolers and plan and think, and mainly, to dream.

Did I miss any? Let me know and I’ll include them here.

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Obedience Versus Self-Direction

In my younger years, I had a distinct aversion to the word “obedience.” If you had prodded a little, you would have found that you might have agreed with me.

I did want to obey my parents – I loved them. What I pictured in my mind when the word “obedience” was used was however walking rank and file and doing everything they said immediately with my head bowed. In other words, I mistook obedience for obsequiousness.

Today, as a mom, I realize I am not raising an army and I am no commander. I am working with children. And while I do love obedient kids, I do not want them to wait to be told what to do every time, every minute of every day. Am I treading a fine line here? Certainly.

When I instituted (or allowed, as you might argue) unlimited screen time in our home, I knew what I was doing. I had spent years teaching my children to check the clock, we had schedules for quiet time, nap time, bed time, lunch, dinner, you name it, that they were well entrenched in. They checked the clock often. They could tell time. They even obeyed me when I told them that bedtime was at seven. They could argue their cause for twenty minutes of play over ten.

But what they had still not learned was managing their time.

They had become used to me standing over them, directing them into different activities. And, yes, when they were five and under, there was a time and place for that. But not any more. I want them to move from simple obedience to self-direction. It’s a higher form of obedience, I’m beginning to believe. My instructions are clear but they are not exhaustive. I still do expect obedience, but I will not micromanage their time. I will not shield them from making mistakes and suffering the consequences of their behavior.

Will there be some hand holding along the way? Of course. But we’re getting very close to the time when they will have to learn not just to walk without hanging on my hand, but fly. These are the first flutters.

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When Should You Start Homeschooling?

Ah, homeschooling! The pictures in our heads one small word can evoke! Little children sitting peacefully at the dinner table writing. Or swinging in the backyard as the school bus trundles through the neighborhood. Nice pictures and true, I might add, on some days. Except that they have the power to ruin the reality in front of you everyday.

When my oldest daughter (now six) was two, I decided to take the leap into school. I had read a few reviews on Amazon. I was very excited about it all, I had done all my research and preschool homeschool seemed to be my thing. I was ready to go.

Except for one small thing. She wasn’t. And no matter how many counting bears I lined up, no matter how colorful the books I wanted to read to her, she wasn’t learning. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong.

It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me. She wasn’t ready! What a revelation!

In spite of every homeschooling book out there I had read, I had jumped the gun. I hadn’t given her enough time to catch up developmentally before dumping her into academics. I know, I know, counting bears isn’t exactly academic. Still. I also had her style of learning and my style of teaching completely wrong. Once I figured these things out, it changed the way I saw my role. It also saved me time, money (those counting bears were lost, barely used) and my sanity.

So I put it all aside – the schoolwork, the books, the curriculum. You know what I did? I waited. A whole two and a half years. And even at that, we did minimal things for homeschool – Lego Duplos, some play dough, Leapfrog DVDs for phonics. That’s it.

I often say a lot of parenting is waiting. Homeschool isn’t much different.

 

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The Unconventional Guide to Time Management (for my kids)

Well, we’re at the point where enough is enough. I have been teaching my children the routine for far too long.

We have been doing the same thing – well, almost the same thing – every single day. There is school, free time, quiet time, breakfast, lunch, dinner, chores, you know, a life lived together.

So I’m going to try something new. I’m going to give them the gift of learning the art of time management for themselves. It isn’t that different, really.

How it’s been going so far is this. Me: Okay, kids. It’s now eight. Chores. Kids: All right. Me: Okay, kids, it’s now nine. Time to have breakfast. Kids: Yes, mom. Me: Okay, school. Kids: Okay, mom. You get the drift. And this is how I want it to go. Me: School starts at 9, guys. At nine o’ clock, kids: Mom, I’m ready for school.

Really, how hard can it be? Well, I might have found out today.

Five minutes before our scheduled time for school, I confront my daughter, video game controller in her hand.

“But I didn’t hear you!” “But my brothers are always playing.” “But… but I didn’t know.”

After about ten minutes of listening to her non-excuses and explaining how things are going to go from now on, we moved on to doing the things we wanted to get done in the first place.

After all, since we’ve decided to unschool – at least on a small level – they’re going to need to learn to manage their own time.

Ultimately, I’m choosing to focus on the effort and energy I will save in the future by guiding them to learn to manage their own schedule. It will take effort now, but it will pay off in the end.

I’m eating my frog and they’re going to learn to eat theirs.

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Unschooling Homeschool: Seeing Limitations as Strengths

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the matter of limitations lately and how it relates to being a mother and a homeschooler.

I have come across this idea of seeing your limitations as strengths a few times now. Seth Godin talks about embracing your boundaries and then today I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell who says the same thing in a different way. And unless I’m mistaken, Rework says something similar about staying small.

There is real wisdom here.

How many times have you thought, “I can’t do that because I don’t have the resources,” or “Well, it’s great that you homeschool, and I would like to, but I can’t because I’m not _______ (fill in the blank with your specific limitation) enough.” And while that may be true, this way of thinking invites us, at least for a short while, to consider something other than the limitations, to think differently from others, to see what we possess instead of what we lack and see if it could somehow enhance what we are trying to achieve.

Then again, isn’t that the essence of motherhood? Or, for that matter, all parenting? Why should school be any different?

When we first started homeschooling, I wasn’t interested in replicating schools. I wasn’t trying to do school at home, but somewhere along the line, with the discussion of curricula, schedules, history and science, math and reading, that desire began to overtake me. Until I consciously shrugged it off. It’s not me. And it’s not my children. It’s not compatible with how my children learn best, so why was I doing it? Simple answer: because everyone else I spoke with was. It wasn’t until I took a step back to see the bigger picture, to plan and think that I thought about change.

Your children’s style of learning, the way they keep their room, even the way they hold their head and say, “huh?” when they don’t get something, the size of your home, the schedule you keep, the books you read, the clothes you wear, your personal perspective on life, on food, on education – it all matters.

And the fact that you simply cannot teach like the schools do, far from being a weakness, is a strength with unfathomable depth.

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