An Experiment In Unschooling

Everything I’ve been reading about homeschooling / unschooling has been making me think about motivation to learn. So last week, I tried an experiment on the kids.

On this journey toward a true philosophy of education, I hope to instill that in my children, or rather, hope that I don’t kill their natural curiosity and love of learning and finding out new things.

I have noticed, however, that my daughter seems to do things less out of a desire to learn and more out of a need for approval. The minute doing something gets hard, she gives up. I know, I know, she’s only four but this quality comes through loud and clear.

She is driven by a fear of failure way more than I’d like her to be. So for one day last week, I decided to take away (mostly) all approval and / or disapproval. I did not suggest any activities or crafts, I did not stop her from doing what she wanted to pursue (as long as it wasn’t potentially dangerous to herself or the others.) I wanted to see what she would do.

Answer? The results were mixed.

Two things happened. One, she actually did pursue something I wouldn’t have necessarily suggested in an area of potential difficulty for her (spatial reasoning) and was completely thrilled by it but, two, with the lack of response from me, the kids’ behavior was quite bad. They were completely driven by just having fun. Once I had spent most of the day not expecting better behavior from them beyond just not hurting themselves or others, that set the tone for the rest of the day.

So, in the end, I think, the experiment was successful. It showed me what I needed to see.

When Bombie was driven by her own motivation to put four magnets close to each other around a heart-shaped sticker without having them jump on top of each other (Talk about fine motor skills! These are strong magnets!) she worked so hard at it, continuing to try repeatedly after many failed attempts, far longer than I would have pushed her by encouraging or dissuading her.

I timed her; she was working on those magnets for close to fifteen minutes straight, lips pursed, frowning determination; it was quite amazing to watch.

Conclusion: hmmm. I don’t know yet. Do less with them, I think. Less is more. Pick my battles. Leave lots of time for free play but don’t sidestep parenting completely.

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“I Love Public School Because I Can’t Stand My Kids!!!”

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” “School begins! Yay!” So says my Facebook newsfeed. Yours too, huh?

That time of the year has arrived.

I cringe a little more each year. It is also constantly thrust in my face in no uncertain terms. It’s always said tongue in cheek but it carries with it deep significance: mothers it seems are doing the happy dance that their children are now away at school and they have some time away from them. Relief floods their voice.

Ever since we decided to homeschool, I try to steel myself against this day. And my children are not even close to school age yet. However, it still affects me.

This time reminds me of my choices, our choices as a family, that we are not mainstream, that we have made some unpopular decisions and the consequences of those decisions give me less time away from the children, less time to develop myself (whatever that means) and a more insular life focused entirely on my children, my husband and our three bedroom home with its laundry, its cobwebs and its perpetually unkempt bathroom.

I now get why one of the homeschooling groups I know in Sacramento throws a “Not Back to School” party. It’s a reminder that we are not alone, that we do have something to celebrate.

As my homeschooler friend Jackie Ehtesham put it, “‎Why shouldn’t the people who are subject to someone else’s schedule and an assembly line curriculum (both at school and at home), feel as if THEY are the ones missing out?” It’s true and yet I forget. They are the ones missing out – they’re missing out on time with each other, missing out on a Christian education in the home (schools are Humanist if anything); they are the ones missing out on being able to take vacations when they want and learning experientially, creatively, at a pace that works for them, in an educational environment that is focused on their children individually. It doesn’t get better than that. Not for my children and not, as a mother who wants the best for them, for me. “And yet,” Jackie says, intuitively, “even in the face of wildly successful statistics on the social contributions and academic accomplishments of homeschoolers, we can still succumb to the fear put upon us.” Fear that the children aren’t being “socialized” as if we’re going to put them in the basement and keep them on a strict diet of chicken bones and algebra.

“‎Why shouldn’t the people who are subject to someone else’s schedule and an assembly line curriculum (both at school and at home), feel as if THEY are the ones missing out? And yet, even in the face of wildly successful statistics on the social contributions and academic accomplishments of homeschoolers, we can still succumb to the fear put upon us.”

This fear however I think takes a back seat to the real fear most women (including me) have hidden in the back of their minds: the fear of a diminutive life, a life where no one notices what you do, a life where you do not matter. Feminism has done immense damage in this area, preying on this fear that is part of a normal person’s life – man or woman.

The only antidote to this existential fear is Biblical. I might matter to no one else, but I matter to God.

In the absence of God’s authority, however, and certainly in some circles in addition to God’s authority over us, feminism has convinced us that if a woman doesn’t have a job outside the home (or a home-based business) she isn’t really worth anything.

Fear-mongering of this kind is even blatant in supposed financial planning shows where women are told to keep a stash of money hidden away from their spouse and be aware, be aware of how much money they have as a family if they choose not to do so and never, ever quit your job because, hey, your husband could cheat on you, leave you or, well, he might just up and die on you.

I hope my sarcasm comes through because with all that is living in me, I reject this notion.

This is not my truth. This is not my reality and I refuse to accept anything that would shove its way between a union God has created – that between my husband and me. My truth is a man who cares enough for his family to accept a life of unending work, who cannot go to school to further his education and start a new career path because the drop in pay at the entry level position would be a hardship on us. So much for the male chauvinist holding down his woman, pregnant and barefoot.

This existential angst, this reaching for the stars on our own, this fear that I will never amount to anything in and of myself has its roots in the Fall of Man. Throughout Genesis 1 and 2, we see order placed where there was no form, order where there was chaos, words of blessing, natural divisions between light and dark. And then, in Genesis 3 begin the lies, the deception and eventually the Fall.

When Eve spoke to the serpent in the Garden of Eden she was subtly deceived into misquoting God. She was asked, “Did God really say…” Doubt was planted in her mind. She should have exercised authority immediately. After all, man(kind) had dominion over animals in Eden – the serpent had no business questioning God’s commands. But she did not stop him. She refused to exercise her authority over him and in arguing with him, she misquoted God. In one statement, “Eve disparaged the privileges, added to the prohibitions and weakened the penalty.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary edited by Walvoord and Zuck.) I can’t help but think that this is the way of all sin.

Each time I am tempted to sin, this is the trajectory my thoughts take and this exactly the thought process that is behind me so-called role of being a boring, frumpy stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children.

Thank goodness (and God!) for sending me friends who get what I’m saying, friends who I can turn to for support and direction, who have been there, done that, felt that and have chosen the right thing to do.

Kari Brautigam is one of them. I have never met her – she lives in Wisconsin and we have only “talked” through our blogs and Facebook pages. I complained to her about moms doing a happy dance this time of year and asked her how she felt about it.

These were her words, “To be honest I hear you… your little ones are so little and dependent, I know what that’s like! BUT (and here’s my big BUT) DON’T LISTEN TO THEM!!!! They won’t be dancing when their kids come back to them disrespectful and whiny, hurried and stressed. Don’t think that sending them away will be better for you. They won’t behave better if they get a break from you either, in fact, the opposite will probably happen. You are wonderful with your children. You have a grip on discipline that will be lost if you send them away. If you need to, set up play dates, trade childcare days with friend, make the time you spend with them fun… It’s true, you may have to give up some of the things you enjoy, but it’s only for a season!

“To be honest I hear you… your little ones are so little and dependent, I know what that’s like! BUT (and here’s my big BUT) DON’T LISTEN TO THEM!!!! They won’t be dancing when their kids come back to them disrespectful and whiny, hurried and stressed. Don’t think that sending them away will be better for you. They won’t behave better if they get a break from you either, in fact, the opposite will probably happen.”

Or in other words, according to Jackie, who I previously mentioned, “It’s really hard to break out of that mold of comparing ourselves to everyone else, instead of looking at our actions from an eternal perspective and using The Bible as our measuring stick (incidentally, the word “Canon” means “measuring stick”). The Apostle Paul talks a lot about “keeping our eyes on the prize” so as to “win.” We are never told to keep our eyes on the other runners.”

The Apostle Paul talks a lot about “keeping our eyes on the prize” so as to “win.” We are never told to keep our eyes on the other runners.”

In a world where nothing beyond today matters and the best life one can have involves having the most fun or the most stuff, it is important to remember quotes such as this from G. K. Chesterton:

“When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.

So keep your dancing shoes on, those of you who are so thrilled to get rid of their children. But I will not be joining you this year or any other year when school begins. I will be rejoicing quietly in my work as a woman, a wife and a homeschooling mom in my three bedroom home with its laundry, its cobwebs and its perpetually unkempt bathroom.

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More Homeschooling / Unschooling Decisions

On St. Valentine’s Day this year, I’m grappling with decisions about homeschooling and / or unschooling the children. I really should say “we” are but my husband agrees that for the most part, I’ll be making the day to day decisions.

He simply feels strongly about the children not going to public school. Ever.

My mind, though, is also dwelling on St. Valentine who, as we all know now, was a priest who got couples married even when there was a national ban on marriage when King Claudius hoped to get more men to fight his wars in ancient Rome. For this, he was martyred. Married people don’t like to be away from their spouses, well, ban marriage!

What does this have to do with homeschooling? A lot, John Taylor Gatto would say.

My introduction to homeschooling has been different from the typical path. For whatever reason, I was drawn to it when the idea first entered my head when we left Pollock Pines. I was still pregnant with my second baby and Bombie was a year old.

I was picking up books at the local library when an unschooling mom stopped to chat with me because she saw the books I was buying. She had her totally unselfconscious and confident children with her. She encouraged me to read writers like John Holt and John Taylor Gatto and join an unschooling network.

I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was getting into. And here we are about a year and a half later and I’m now trying to decide between charter schools or “pure” homeschool.

Some places go as far as to say that if you’re using a charter, you’re not homeschooling, you’re doing “independent study.” I’m beginning to lean that way as well. Something inside me completely revolts at the idea of someone from a government agency walking into my house and “letting me” buy only what is according to certain guidelines.

While the money is nice to be able to buy curricula, if I can’t teach my children anything Christian unless it’s “over and above” their usual coursework, then what’s the point?

I also read while browsing various Charter School websites that the education specialist / teacher / state representative stops by to give you your ordered material and talk to your children about what they’re being taught. I know, I know. I’m sure it’s done in a completely non-threatening way and the representative is not personally the mean guy, so to speak, but the very idea of it gives me a visceral reaction.

So, I guess it makes me one of the others.

So we’re going to do it. We’re going to step out in faith and really, truly do it. We’re going to homeschool. The Christian way. The way God intended.

I can’t wait!

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“No Whining and No Warnings!”

“NO WHINING! NO WARNINGS!”

I have posted this on my refrigerator to remind me of the new plan in place for the children. It’s a Post-It with the first admonition directed at the kids, the second at me.

Two days ago, I was at my wit’s end with the children. I watched – horrified – as they took turns being completely rotten. Whining, crying, flying into a rage, not sharing and other annoying stuff toddlers do had become the routine. I don’t know if it was the Christmas holidays or that I had been going soft on discipline.

Then again, I noticed with Bombie that when she started walking was when she developed other “amiable” qualities like disobeying me and lying. And so it continues with Hucksley. Sigh. Babydom is over.

This time, however, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered disobedience. And I’m not handling him with kid gloves. Pun intended.

What I have come to realize is that the thing about being the second child is that there is more than one influence since you’re little.

Perhaps the reason first children are more obedient is because it’s just mom and dad that are in their environment and discipline is (relatively, at least) consistent. But now Bombie is the factor I cannot control in raising Hucksley.

He whines, she gives in. He screams, she gives him a toy. I scold him, she soothes him. I pick him up and she wants up too. Or she yells. Or just skips away. He falls and hurts himself, she continues to play, completely ignoring his cry for help. I just cannot control her reaction!

Lately the screaming and the whining had gotten out of control. Hucksley whined for every little thing. He whined if someone walked past him. He whined if something was taken away (because I was trying to teach Bombie to share); he whined at every. Little. Thing. And she was beginning to do it as well.

Now, I pray often. But I know I’m in trouble when I have to repent for how much I’m beginning to resent caring for my children and then pray for strength before I open their bedroom door in the morning. And that’s where the situation had landed until my very wise husband suggested what we call the “No Whining No Warning Plan.”

As soon as either of the children start to whine – unless they’re hurt – they get a time-out. It’s an immediate-drop-whatever-is-in-your-hands time-out. It’s also an I-don’t-care-who-did-what time-out.

Here’s the thing – it works! We’re on day two and the children are behaving. I see them think about whether they want to whine or not. Sometimes, it’s just a whimper and it stops. It’s downright wondrous. And the truly fantastic thing about it is that after the time-out, I’m free to love them and cuddle them and totally go gaga over them as I naturally want to do. They know they’re loved. And it is so much better than trying to scold them, scold them, scold them, warn them, warn them, warn them in the hope that they’ll stop.

Immediate punishment works. It’s boundaries that make a child feel loved, protected and cared for. But I forget that.

I forget it constantly. I forget that love involves discipline. An important part of loving my children is caring enough about them to bend and shape their will. The worst thing I can do for Bombie and Hucksley is to send them off into the world pampered, unable to control their impulses, not knowing where boundaries are, unsure of what their response should be, uncaring about how their behavior affects others around them.

If my kids turn out messed up, at least I’ll know it’s not because they were not disciplined enough or loved enough.

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A Pro-Homeschooling Rant (of Sorts)

I must have been more than a little peeved when I wrote the last blog post on why I’m seriously leaning toward homeschooling for our kids because I seem to have lost the ability to be articulate. It happens – especially when I feel strongly about something.

So here’s a more well thought out post to why I will be (most likely) homeschooling when it comes time.

First off, I should mention that I have a terminal degree in writing and English. What that means is that it is actually higher than a Masters but because they cannot give you a Doctorate in Writing, they call it an MFA which is a Master of Fine Arts.

However, I do not think that having a degree or any other credential is necessary to teach your child.

I have to give credit for a lot of my own education to my mother who had a simple Bachelor’s Degree. So, even though I went to private school, the bulk of my really learning and imbibing took place because my stay-at-home mom ensured that I actually understood it.

There was school work and then there was home work. She bought me books, sat down with me to teach me and took my learning very seriously. In fact, I owe my math and science grade in the 10th grade (that’s the last level there for school, not the 8th) all to her tutoring.

I believe if homeschooling had been a possibility when I was growing up, my parents would have probably taken it. English wasn’t her strong point so maybe they thought it necessary I go to private school.

So I come from a background of knowing that it’s no big deal teaching kids. Add to that the fact that California schools are pretty low on the national spectrum for grades and I don’t think there’s even a contest between another teacher and me. What is it that someone else can teach that I can’t? I have a pretty high IQ and know my kids better than anyone else in the world.

I think they deserve the luxury of having their mother teach them instead of someone else for the same reason that we don’t eat out often. No one knows my family’s dietary needs and tastes better than me, so I don’t trust anyone else to cook for us, well, not on a regular basis anyway.

And for me to send my children away for six hours a day five days a week into the care of someone else who’s going to teach them not just math and science but their own ideas (inadvertently) there would have to be a pretty high level of trust there. And trust and anything run by the government do not go hand in hand for our family.

Which brings me to another factor. Teachers are fond of saying that they don’t teach the kids their ideology, but the fact is ideology doesn’t need to be formally taught.

It can be a wayward comment, a hint, a mention and the kids will pick it up.

How do I know? Well, I may be 31 but it hasn’t been that long since I was a child. Children are so impressionable that if you want to teach them the right thing, you have to be constantly on guard not just in what you say but how you act. And careful teachers are not! (Again, I have friends that are teachers and I’m sure they’re fine but they’re not going to teach my kids and I don’t get to pick them, so I’m talking about the general group here.)

Since my husband works in a lot of schools (he’s a fire alarm technician) I hear from him the almost institutionalized tearing down of boys that takes place on a regular basis in schools.

I want my son to be a man when he grows up and my daughter to be a real woman who respects a real man and they’re not going to be that going to public schools where she’ll think she’s privileged and he won’t get any respect to develop his personality. I mean, if playtime is seriously curtailed and no one keeps score any more on the playing field during a sport, where’s the true spirit of competition? Where, in fact, is childhood? How are they ever going to learn about things like morality, right and wrong, winning, losing, the idea of failure, of doing the right thing? Forget nobility!

I suppose I am old-fashioned.

I don’t believe that “you can do anything you set your mind to do.” And I don’t want my kids growing up in la-la land because when they come out of la-la land they’ll just be looking for another one. They may find it, of course, in the government handout world we currently inhabit but we’d like them not to.

We’d like them to make it on their own, to think for themselves, be critical, have judgment, a well thought out opinion; we’d like them to admit when they’re wrong and understand that everyone is not equal, that sometimes you cannot do or get everything you want, that life isn’t fair but it’s so worth being a real person.

We’d like them to know that sometimes failures are necessary and there is such a thing as right and wrong, that nobility comes from doing the right thing even when it’s so much easier to bend your morality and get by in a mediocre existence.

My husband takes his role as provider for the family very seriously and I intend taking my role as the mother of these kids just as seriously.

Yes, I guess that makes us old fashioned and pretty conservative. I just see it as giving my kids the very best start in their lives that we can.

The luxury of a stay-at-home mom who is also their teacher. What a privilege!

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