December 27, 2007

Video Game Bonanza/Rule Three

This Christmas was a video game bonanza for Jerry. He got a bunch of games for his Wii and a few DS games so he's been happily playing video games for the last few days. Jerry beat the medium level on the 80's version of Guitar Hero and he an Warren have been having a great time working their way through all the songs.

We're visiting my parents right now and will return home tomorrow. As soon as I get back I'm going to put a timeline up in the stairway of our house. I've been thinking of doing it for a while now and was inspired by Holly at Unschool Days to finally create one. I'm starting it for myself, really, but I hope Jerry will add to it eventually.

That seems to be one of the keys to making unschooling work. As a parent you need to pursue your own learning without any expectations that your child will follow along. If they do--great. If they don't you need to respect their choice. I'm thinking that enthusiasm can go a long way toward getting people (kids) interested in learning about something, but forcing that enthusiasm on somebody probably doesn't do much good. So, I'm starting the timeline for myself. I'm going to share my excitement with Jerry and hope he gets involved. I'll let you know how it goes.

Actually, I just realized that this could be another one of my RULES FOR UNSCHOOLING. Rules probably go against the whole point of unschooling, now that I think about it, but I'm creating them anyway because I think they're things I need to remember--things that will make my life easier if I can manage to remember them, that is. So Here's Rule three:

PURSUE YOUR OWN LEARNING FREE OF EXPECTATIONS THAT YOUR CHILD WILL FOLLOW ALONG.

Here's a recap the three things I need to remember:

1.) Don't assume that what works for one family will work for my own.

2.) Honor my child's feelings.

3.) Pursue my own learning free of expectations that my child will follow along.

I can think of a few more things to add to that list, now that I think about it. But I'll save those rules for another day.

December 24, 2007

Feeling Respected

There was one little hiccup last week with Jerry from which I learned a valuable lesson--two lessons, actually.

Adriana had taken the kids to the zoo while I went to a doctor's appointment (the third one in a week!). When they got into the car Jerry wanted to know if he could go back in and buy something from the gift shop. I said no because we had just bought three things at the Science Center and I wasn't feeling well and just wanted to get home. Once we got home everyone went inside except Jerry. He stayed in the front yard on the hammock.

I went over to talk to him and he said he was feeling like the whole week had been all about the guests and he wasn't getting any respect. He was really upset. We talked about how the week had gone and throughout our conversation I pointed out ways in which I had gone out of my way that week to make sure Jerry had felt respected and heard.

Twice he said "But I FEEL like I'm not getting any respect."

The third time he finally said "Mom, I know you haven't done anything to disrespect me. What I'm saying is I FEEL like I'm not getting any respect."

Oh.

I was all worried about proving to him that I hadn't been overlooking his needs but it wasn't about me. It was about Jerry and what he was feeling. And whether or not I did anything to make him feel bad, he was still feeling bad. It was such a wake up call for me.

What did I learn? First off, I learned it's not all about me.(What a shock!) Second, I learned to listen. Jerry had been telling me all along that his problem was not about anything I did or didn't do. It was about a feeling he was having. And whether or not I (or Jerry) could find sufficient cause for his feeling disrespected, he was most certainly experiencing the feeling.

So, I stopped trying to prove that he had no cause for feeling disrespected and just listened. That was all he wanted really.

Catching Up

It's a good thing I have my blog bookmarked, otherwise I might not have found it! It's been a whole week since I last posted. We had a great time with our guests from Mexico. Here we are: clockwise from the top that's Francesca (with the missing tooth), Adriana, Ivana, me and Jerry.
We went to the Hollywood Farmer's Market.
Played on the computer.

Looked at the Christmas lights in Griffith Park.

And went to the Science Center.





It was a great week. The kids had a great time together in spite of the language barrier--and sometimes because of it. The girls thought it was hilarious whenever Jerry spoke Spanish. I had two excellent little tutors and it was wonderful to catch up with my friend, Adriana, again.

December 17, 2007

So What Do You Do All Day?

This is the question Jerry was asked by my friend Adriana on our way home from the airport.

Jerry's response? "Nothing really. Basically all I do is play video games and play on the computer all day."

I don't think the written word can do justice to the contortions my face must have gone through, or the amount of control it took not to reach over and squeeze Jerry's knee (hard) in order to transmit my psychic message of "Stop talking. Now!!" I think there was even a split second when I had to restrain myself from putting my hand over his mouth. I chalk this guttural reaction up to the fact that I've been sick and am not in possession of my usual social graces. Still....

I know this has been an issue before and JJ and Nance had some good answers for me but I can't remember...is it okay to lie? Like can I coach Jerry? Can we have an automatic response that includes something that resembles traditional education? I remember either JJ or Nance saying something about how fun it can be to hear how your kids answer that question. But "Nothing really. Basically all I do is play video games and play on the computer all day," seems to be Jerry's standard answer and it's killing me!!!

I just can't help feeling like that response reflects so badly on me.

December 16, 2007

Saying Yes & Manipulation

I'm feeling better! I got a little worse and gradually I've been getting better. Our guests have arrived and we're really enjoying each other's company. Jerry and I are brushing up on our Spanish--my friend's seven-year-old daughter is a wonderful tutor! Today we went to the Hollywood Farmer's Market and were so tired when it was all over we had to come home and take a nap. (They've all been sick, too.)

I actually started this next part of the post a week or so ago and promptly forgot about it. So, I thought I'd include it today, since I don't have much to report. Here it is:

A few weeks ago Jerry was going to spend the day at the Elves' Faire at his old school, the Waldorf school. He looks forward to this event all year and the highlight, for him, is a "war." For the past few years the boys in his class and some of the younger ones would buy wooden swords at the Faire and run around the campus in teams battling each other.

This year Jerry had made a sword in the wood shop at sleep away camp and was really looking forward to using it. The sword was made from a 2x4, was about five feet long and weighed at least ten pounds--possibly more. He was so proud of it.

I had pretty much determined there was no way I was going to let him bring that sword to the Faire. I didn't even think they'd let him in with it, quite honestly. But, the day came and I'd been working on saying yes, so before pronouncing my decision I stopped and thought about how important the sword was to Jerry and whether or not there was any way he might be able to take it to the Faire.

Aside from my worries about him not getting in with the sword, I didn't think there was any way he could carry it around all day, let alone wield it in battle. But I stopped to think about whether or not there might be a way for him to get his way and figured if he really could carry it all day there was no reason why he couldn't take it.

Now here's where this scenario felt a bit manipulative to me. I knew there was no way he could carry it around. It's huge. But I suggested that for the day before the Faire he take it everywhere and if he was comfortable carrying it around it would be okay to take it to the Faire. And I meant it. Five minutes hadn't passed before he came to the conclusion that it would be best to leave the sword at home. So I felt good that I had let him make his own choice, but I felt like I led him to it.

Was I being manipulative? Or do I just know my son? It seems like there was kind of a fine line there. I don't know....

December 13, 2007

Blah, Part 2

Believe it or not I am still sick. Yep, still have a fever. Still feeling miserable. Though I did migrate from my bed to the couch today. I watched the entire BBC version of Pride & Prejudice and then watched This is Spinal Tap.

Thanks to everyone who has wished me well. Sorry I haven't had the energy to write comments back to everyone. I just feel so yucky and my brain is all out of whack. I've got to be feeling better by tomorrow. I can't believe this could possibly last any longer. I've been taking antibiotics since yesterday, so hopefully they'll kick in soon.

On a happier note, Warren and Jerry have been spending time together now that Warren is out of work. Warren showed Jerry how to use Final Cut Pro on his computer and Jerry has put a little video of our totally-out-of-control cats together with some music.

Oh! And Jerry and his best friend created a web site. It's on blogger so technically I suppose it's a blog but they're treating as a site. It's at www.fragglefreak.com. Be sure to turn your volume down or off if you log on. It's loud. And I take no responsibility for the bizarre music video they put up. Jerry thinks it's hilarious.

I hope to be back to my normal self tomorrow but I've got three short newspaper articles to write by Saturday and guests coming in from Mexico on the same day. I'll still try to post about what we're up to, though it may be more "We did this" and "We went here" than my usual questioning and wondering and fretting. Maybe it'll be a nice break for you all. :)

December 12, 2007

My Family As Elves

Thanks to Arun at The Parenting Pit for giving me a great diversion from feeling sorry for myself. Click here to see what I mean. If you make your own be sure to post the link in the comments so we can all see it!

December 11, 2007

Blah

I'm sick again. It hit me last night like a ton of bricks and I swear I feel like I want to curl up on the couch and cry. I haven't responded to yesterday's comments yet because I can't form a coherent thought, but I will as soon as I'm feeling a little better. The good news is that Warren is off work so he's here to take care of me.

December 9, 2007

Week With No Classes/Making Friends

Jerry's solution to the Not-Wanting-To-Go-To-Classes dilemma was to take a week off of all classes. So we dropped all classes for last week and yesterday Jerry said he'd like to keep it that way--except for drawing. He still wants to continue drawing.

One of the reasons I had signed him up for all those classes in the beginning (granted this was before "Unschooling" became a part of my vocabulary) was so he could meet other kids. I really worry about him making friends. The drawing class is taught at our house by a tutor so there are no other kids. We go to homeschool park day every other week and book club once a month, but that doesn't give him much of a chance to get to know anyone too well--it takes him a while to warm up to people. He likes one boy in particular from park day, but it's been hard to set up play dates for the two of them because the boy's family is really busy. So with no classes, save drawing, it's going to be hard for him to make friends with other homeschooled kids and he's not really interested in maintaining his friendship with the one good friend he had in school.

Thankfully he's still got his one very best friend. But I do wish he had more...

December 6, 2007

Angst Free Deschooling

Just kidding. I don't think it's possible to be completely free of angst as a parent--let alone when you're deschooling. But, thanks to the many helpful comments I've received over the last few days, I think I can provide a pretty good list of things to remember when angst starts creeping up on you.

1. Breathe. (Thanks Caren!)

2. Remember: This too shall pass. (Thanks Holly!)

3. A bit of mental "jet lag" or a bereavement period after leaving school is to be expected. Don't panic. Allow your child to wade through this period at his or her own pace. We all need to learn how to navigate our way out of the doldrums. (Thanks Lynn, Suze, & Heather!)

4. Look at the big picture. Your child may be having a hard time today, but are things worse than when he or she was at school? Probably not.(Thanks Lynn!)

5. Instead of fretting over your child's state of mind offer support. Bake yummy treats, snuggle up together, create fun activities. If your child doesn't take the bait see numbers 1 and 2. (Thanks Jessica, JJ, & Terri!)

6. Is your child an adolescent? A lot of what he or she is going through could have more to do with hormones than unschooling. See numbers 1 and 2. (Thanks Sheri!)

There you have it. The Almost Angst Free Deschooling List, courtesy of the fabulous people who read and comment on this blog. Thanks to everyone for your suggestions. Ha! I just thought of a number 7--this is my own suggestion:

7. Start a blog. Then you, too, will have fabulous people reading and commenting on YOUR blog! Be sure to let me know when you do. I may not have much wisdom to offer yet but I can commiserate with you--and trust me, that's worth a lot!

December 4, 2007

A Recipe For Angst

Okay, I know I don't usually post more than once a day but I'm having an angsty moment.

Yesterday Jerry and I talked about why he hasn't been wanting to go to classes at the last minute lately and he said he's been feeling down for the past month or so. He started crying and saying he doesn't have any friends. He does have one great friend but the truth is he doesn't really have many others. That's ingredient number one. A sad boy.

The second ingredient is culled from hours of sitting on the couch staring at the television refusing invitations of outdoor (or even indoor) activity. I've been letting him watch television as much as he wants to. He's kind of shifted from video games to TV and I've been figuring this is just a natural progression. He's had enough video games and now he's moving on to TV, when that's done he'll find something else. But now that I know he's been feeling down I can't help thinking that the fact that I'm allowing him to watch TV all day isn't doing much for his self-esteem or his physical being. He's comfortable on the couch but I'm aware that sometimes sitting in front of the TV for days on end can make a person feel lethargic and kind of crappy. Should I really be letting him make this choice?

Ingredient number three is the eaiest to find. Doubt. I'm doubting myself especially after reading this from Pam Sorooshian:

In a way, how much tv [our kids] watch is an indicator for unschooling parents as to how well we're doing in creating a rich and stimulating environment.

Don't carry this too far—there are lots of times when watching tv IS an important part of that rich and stimulating environment, but what I mean is that if we noticed one of our children watching tv in a "glued to the tube" zombie-like mode, for hours and hours, day after day, we'd respond by examining our unschooling lives, not with the knee-jerk response of: "This is too much tv and this kid needs to have limits set for him/her."


I'm not creating a rich and stimulant environment!!!!! And if I am I'm not doing a very good job of getting Jerry to engage in it!

Okay, deep breath. In......Out..... I'm calmer now. I know we're deschooling and he should be allowed to decompress and deschool as he sees fit. But how do I know when deschooling is over? How do I tell the difference between a desire to sit on the couch all day that's a precursor to depression and one that's just decompressing?

So there you have my recipe for angst soup--actually, this is just one of many. It's bubbling up in a huge pot on my stove right now and I'd be more than happy to chuck the whole thing out the window if I could just figure out how to lift it.

December 3, 2007

Commitments & Taking Children Seriously

I've been thinking that to someone who is new to unschooling, my question about honoring commitments might be confusing. In mainstream parenting if your child commits to a team sport or a lesson, he's committed. He sees it through. End of story. If someone had asked me for advice on my current situation four months ago I would have said, "The child said he wanted to take the class, you're paying for it, he needs to learn that commitments should be honored and get his butt to class."

But that was before I discovered the unschooling lifestyle and Taking Children Seriously. Now I look at things differently, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain where I'm coming from for those of you who are new to these ideas. I'm still pretty new to them myself, but I'll do my best to explain the philosophy of Taking Children Seriously as I understand it today, on day 84 of our unschooling adventure.

As far as I can tell, it's all about treating my child the way I want to be treated. It sounds ridiculously simple but it changes everything. Just think of all the things you might do or say during the course of a day that minimize your child's wishes in favor of accomplishing your own goals. Now imagine taking those wishes seriously and really trying to make adjustments for them. Actually, I'm envisioning my niece and her frequent desire to dump all the liquids in my sister's refrigerator onto the floor, as I write this. Okay, stop imagining that. To be honest, if you have a toddler, I have to tell you right now that I have no idea how this works with toddlers. If I had known about this philosophy when my son was young I would have tried it and I would have loads of advice for you, but I had never even imagined such a way of life existed back then. I mean, I was into attachment parenting and the family bed and all that but this is a whole new ball game. (For real life experiences in Taking Children Seriously with toddlers and younger kids try the Parenting Pit and Happy@Home.)

Anyway, I digress.

Let's move on to commitments since I can't seem to explain Taking Children Seriously very well and for some reason their website is down so I can't even cut and paste an explanation for you. [The Taking Children Seriously site is back up! Click here for a link.]

How will a child learn to honor his commitments if he is never forced to honor them? Well, how did you learn to honor your commitments? It's unlikely that you honor commitments today because you were forced to honor them as a child. I don't even think honoring commitments is a lesson that can be learned (or taught), now that I think about it. Sure, you can drill a sense of duty into a person but what does that accomplish, really? And is a sense of duty something we want to cultivate in our children? For me the answer is no. You can always tell when a person is doing something out of duty because most often there's no joy in it. I want Jerry to approach his commitments with joy--not duty.

And here's another thing I know about Taking Children Seriously. It requires that you always expect the best of your child. For example, if Jerry commits to doing something and suddenly doesn't want to go, I need to expect that he has valid reasons for wanting to bail out. I should not leap to the conclusion that he doesn't want to follow through because he's lazy. That one little alteration in thinking makes a really big difference.

Okay, since I'm having trouble explaining where I'm coming from here I'm going to fall back on Rue Kream, author of my favorite unschooling book to date, Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life. I've been trying to adhere to this list, from the back of her book, lately.

Fifteen things I wish adults would not imply to children
by Rue Kream

1. I don't trust you.
2. You don't try hard enough.
3. I can boss you around because I'm bigger.
4. Adults know everything.
5. You don't know what you're capable of.
6. Possessions are more important to me than you are.
7. You should believe what I believe.
8. Your feelings are not important.
9. It's okay to ignore kids.
10. I don't have time for you.
11. You have to earn my love.
12. I want to change you.
13. You owe me respect.
14. I know what's best for you.
15. You're not a whole person.


So, those are all things I'm trying hard not to imply to Jerry. And by not implying those things I'm taking him seriously. By taking him seriously I'm setting a fine example of what it means to commit to someone (Jerry) or something (parenting) out of love, rather than duty. And that's how I'm teaching him to honor his commitments.*

Sheri, at SwissArmyWife, recently posted something on a similar topic: the Golden Rule. If we apply it to each other shouldn't we apply it to our children too? You can read her post by clicking here.

*I hope you can tell by now that what I mean when I say I'm "doing" something is that I'm STRIVING to do it. I'm not saying I do it all the time. That's my goal, but I'm human and I'm new to this so I don't, by any stretch of the imagination, have this nailed down. I just wanted to make that clear. :)

November 29, 2007

On Commitments

So, I've been saying yes more. I've been honoring Jerry's feelings and interests and that's all fine and good, but a pattern is emerging that I'm not exactly happy with. He's bailing out on his classes at the last minute. It's not that he wants to stop taking the classes. He insists he wants to take them. But there have been more than a few days in the last couple months when Jerry has made a commitment to attend a class and just before we leave, or the teacher arrives, or we're about to walk in the door he doesn't feel like going.

Ever since the "chess incident", whenever he's said he doesn't want to go to a class I've said okay--well, mostly. The other day he didn't want to go to trombone and I said he had to, but he went along without a fuss. He's bailing out a lot lately, though.

Remember the circus class I mentioned I've been going to? Well, he finally said he wanted to join, I signed him up, and then TWICE (not once) on the morning of class--after I'd committed to paying for his lesson--he didn't want to go. Both times I let him stay home. He did finally join me this week but only after a discussion on the importance of honoring his commitments and not taking advantage of people (me) who are paying for classes because he says he wants to take them.

Just this morning his drawing teacher was due to arrive and suddenly he didn't want to have drawing class. At first I said I would take the class instead because we'd have to pay for it whether she taught him or not but then I realized I needed to drop my car off at the mechanic's, so I said he'd have to have the lesson whether he wanted it or not.

So, basically, I'm struggling with the boundary between letting Jerry make his own choices and requiring that he honor his commitments. I'm definitely against wasting time on something just because you started it. If a book, a movie, or a class I'm taking is bad I drop it. Life is too precious to be wasted on bad art and boring teachers. And I did let Jerry drop an expensive series of classes recently because he didn't like it (and there were no refunds!). So I'm not coming at this from an "honor your commitments even if they make you want to gouge your eyes out" point of view. But when we pay for Jerry to take drawing or trombone or go to circus class because he says he wants to do those things it's not so easy for me to let it slide when he wants to stay home instead.

I'm not really sure what the solution is. This morning after drawing his teacher asked if we wanted to meet next week or the following week and I left it up to Jerry completely. At least that way there is no question about who made the commitment. Maybe part of the solution, then, is to make sure he recognizes that he is the one in control. He's making the choice to schedule the lesson, therefore he is the one in charge of honoring that commitment.

I don't know. I still don't know exactly how to balance out letting Jerry make his own choices and making sure I'm not wasting a lot of money on classes he doesn't attend.

Hmmm.....I'm not too sure about this one.

Now I have to mention something completely unrelated to this post. My cat, Charlie (the black and white one) got in the shower with me today! Yes, he actually stood on the floor of the shower and let the water run down his back. He kept his head under the shower liner so it wouldn't get wet but the rest of him was soaked by the time he finally jumped out. Isn't that funny?!

November 28, 2007

Coming Over To The Dark Side (Or, I Heart Video Games)

I'm almost finished reading Don't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning by Marc Prensky. After reading that book I've done a complete 180 in terms of my feelings about video and computer games. I'm so glad I made the effort to read it. A year ago I wouldn't even have entertained the idea that playing video games might be a worthwhile endeavor, let alone waste my time reading a book by some nut job claiming they were educational. I would have assumed he'd been hired by the video game industry and viewed it as pure propaganda without ever bothering to read the dust jacket. Well, I'm singing a different tune today!

Marc Prensky's book is level-headed, sincere, informative, and, most importantly, convincing. It's all about bridging the gap between 21st century kids and their antiquated parents. I'm more excited about technology now than I've ever been before. I even bought my first Nintendo DS game--in fact, I was very grateful to Jerry for letting me use his DS for most of the weekend while I was sick in bed. It was an excellent way to pass the time. Okay, so the game I bought and played was a New York Times crossword puzzle game--but still, I was gaming! Woo hoo!

Naturally, now that I'm all comfy with Jerry's video game and computer use he's been spending most of his time on the couch watching television. I'm constantly amazed at how children are able to perceive the precise moment when their parents accept a new activity or behavior and start pushing the envelope just a little further, or in another direction altogether. It forces us, as parents, to continually evaluate and adapt. It's a good thing though--keeps us on our toes. There's no room for boredom or complacency, that's for sure.

On another note, I received a nice surprise today! JJ from Cocking a Snook! nominated me for Alasandra's Homeschool Blog Award! Thanks JJ! That was so nice of you. :)

November 26, 2007

Honeymoon Phase

We're back from Sacramento, where we were visiting family for Thanksgiving. We had a really nice time but all three of us ended up getting sick. Jerry had a bad cold, I ended up with bronchitis and now Warren is laid up in bed with a sore throat! So...I won't be writing much.

I really just wanted to tell you how pleasant life is now that I am accepting Jerry's interests instead of fighting against them. It's amazing how that one little switch in thinking has made such a difference. I hadn't realized before how much of the parenting angst I've felt since Jerry was born was a result of all the "shoulds" that were floating around in my subconscious (and conscious) mind. As these notions float away, I find I'm left with nothing but the notion of living a joyful life.

I think unschooling and I have entered our honeymoon phase. Getting to know each other wasn't easy, but I'm feeling all giddy about our relationship now. The only drawback is that I can't help wondering what happens when the honeymoon ends. I mean, all honeymoons end eventually, right? But, unschooling (to me, at this point, anyway) really does seem like a never-ending honeymoon. I mean, if it's all about following your passion and living joyfully how could it ever get old?

November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I probably won't post anything here until after Thanksgiving so I just wanted to wish you all a happy day and tell you that I'm so very grateful to all of you who read my blog, and leave your comments. You've become an important support system for me on this journey and I really appreciate you! I hope we get to meet in person some day.

I'm going to leave you with another Mary Oliver poem.

Daisies

It is possible, I suppose, that sometime
we will learn everything
there is to learn: what the world is, for example,
and what it means. I think this as I am crossing
from one field to another, in summer, and the
mockingbird is mocking me, as one who either
knows enough already or knows enough to be
perfectly content not knowing. Song being born
of quest he knows this: he must turn silent
were he suddenly assaulted with answers. Instead

oh hear his wild, caustic, tender warbling ceaselessly
unanswered. At my feet the white-petaled daisies display
the small suns of their center-piece, their - if you don't
mind my saying so - their hearts. Of course
I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and
narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know.
But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given,
to see what is plain; what the sun
lights up willingly; for example - I think this
as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch -
the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the
daisies for the field.

November 19, 2007

The Happiness Question

Today I was thinking about how my own happiness, lately, kind of hinges on whether or not I like Jerry's chosen activities. Not completely, I mean, I'm not getting freaked out about video games or computer use anymore and I'm finding lots of joy in my own activities and interests now that I'm giving Jerry more freedom to make his own choices. But I had the realization today that I feel better when Jerry chooses to do something that pleases me.

For example, we're reading the Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote right now as our bedtime story. It was Jerry's choice. I had read him the windmill scene a few years ago and he said he wanted to read the whole book together. This makes me very happy. Why? Because it's a classic. Because it's not your typical kid lit. And because it sounds good. When someone asks what we're doing for homeschooling I can ramble off a few highlights (like the cool science projects or the volcano research) and then throw in "Oh, and we're reading Don Quixote." I can't help it. I get a thrill out of it, but I'm thinking it would be better if I didn't.

I mean, is it really safe to let another person's choice of how he spends his time determine whether or not I'm happy on a particular day? I'm thinking no. But I'm wondering if I'll ever be able to remove myself completely (emotionally, I mean) from Jerry's choices. Somehow, I don't think so. And would I want to? Do I need to? Is there a certain emotional distance involved in not judging how another person spends his time? I don't know.

What do you think?

November 18, 2007

Rule Two

I narrowly avoided causing another "incident" on Friday. Yes, it could have been the "chess incident" all over again but, I'm happy to say, sometimes I do learn from my mistakes.

Jerry had said he wanted to take a survival class through our homeschool group, so we signed up for two classes, the first of which took place last Friday. I was really looking forward to this class. We were going to learn about edible plants in the wilderness and I thought it would be really cool. Jerry had had a stomach flu the previous day but seemed fine that morning so we drove to the class. Once we got there and the other students started to arrive Jerry leaned on me and said he was sorry but he didn't feel good and he wanted to go home.

Now, I was helped out by the fact that he'd been sick the day before. If he'd been well I might have fallen into the old habit of insisting we stay because, after all, I drove all that way and I paid for it. But since Jerry had been sick I really had to consider his feelings seriously.

I took some deep breaths (being especially conscious not to turn them into heavy sighs) then told the woman who had organized the class that Jerry wasn't feeling well and we were going to leave but we'd see her at the next class. We got into the car and drove toward home.

So far so good, right? Well, what I should have done was just say "I understand" and drop it. But, I'm a beginner. I had to talk. "Blah, blah, blah blah. You know, if you want to make friends you need to put yourself out there. Blah, blah. You've got to talk to people. Blah. These classes are such a great way to make new friends but if you never want to stay.....". You get the picture.

Even as I was speaking I knew I should shut up. Eventually I did (I came to my senses after just a few minutes.) and asked if he'd like to stop for a bagel. So, we went to the bagel place where we used to go when he was in kindergarten and before we walked in the door Jerry hugged me and said "I love you, Mom. I know you really wanted to take that class and I'm sorry. But thanks for leaving."

Isn't that sweet? It made me think back to "Chess Incident" (you can read it for an example of one of my less than stellar parenting days). I was really struck by the different outcomes of the two similar situations. The chess incident started out much the same way the survival class did: I signed him up, paid for the class, drove 30 miles to get him there and then he told me he was too tired for chess and wanted to leave. But it ended with anger, hurt feelings, sadness, and the literal shoveling of shit--I sent him out back to pick up dog poop when we got home. (So sad! I feel really bad about that now.)

This time, though, I told myself that his needs were real. I knew I could sign up for an edible plant class some other time. It was not a big deal to leave. What was more important was to show Jerry that I took his needs seriously. So I did. I wasn't perfect (I had to talk!). But I didn't get mad. Instead of ending the scene with two people feeling awful, we ended up sharing a bagel and drinks, having a nice conversation, and appreciating each other's company. What a difference!

But wait! There's more! Learning this lesson has helped in other ways, too. I signed up to take a circus class with the homeschoolers because I thought Jerry would really like it, but he didn't want to join. He just wanted to watch to see if he would like the class. So, I took the class on my own. Now, Jerry had said he'd watch the class, but instead he played in another room with one of the other kids. I wondered if I should suggest that he stop playing and come watch (the whole point of me taking it was so he would join in eventually) but I didn't. The next week he didn't even feel like watching so I went to the class without him--no fuss or fight. I just said okay and I really was okay with it. (I love that class and there was no way I was going to miss it!) Now this week he says he wants to join! Yippee!

So, after two months I have finally discovered my second rule of unschooling. I'll write it out in caps again like I did the first rule:

HONOR YOUR CHILD'S FEELINGS.

Good things happen when you do.

November 15, 2007

Fun With Science (Ice Bulb)

I've been meaning to share some photos of our super cool science project with you. Since Jerry's been sick all day, and we were up most of the night, I thought this would be an excellent day for a photo essay.

The Ice Bulb

These are the supplies we used.

Jerry stripped the end of two electrical wires then attached them to an LED.


We don't have a photo of me sticking the little wired LED into a balloon, filling it with water, then tying the balloon in a knot. Luckily, there's no record of the words I used while knotting the balloon with those stupid wires sticking out the end either.


Here it is in the freezer.

A few hours later we stripped off the balloon, attached the wires to a couple batteries and...Voila!
It turns green, too. Learn to make your own Ice Bulb by clicking here. According to the video, you just need to touch the wires to the ends of two batteries to make the bulb light up, but we ended up needing to use a battery pack thing (a plastic device with slots for two AA batteries) from an electricity set we happened to have. If anyone knows why it wouldn't work with just the batteries will you let me know? And if you know the real name for a battery pack thing I'd be doubly grateful!

November 14, 2007

The Benefits of Virtual Worlds Online

As you may know I've been opening my mind to the possibility that video games and computer use are beneficial to children. In my previous life, as Waldorf school parent, I never would have even considered the possibility that they might be anything more than an energy-sucking nuisance. But, when I decided to unschool I committed to taking Jerry's interests seriously. And boy is he interested in computer use and video games! So, I've been reading up on their benefits and it turns out there are many.

This evening I went to a panel discussion at USC called "What are Kids Learning in Virtual Worlds? The Wonders and the Worries." There were five panelists, all of them very techno-savvy and convinced of the educational value of virtual worlds and video games. The opening remarks were given by the Vice President of the MacArthur Foundation. When I got home and checked the foundation's website, I discovered that many of her remarks came from the following editorial. All of a sudden virtual worlds are sounding pretty good to me!

An excerpt from "New Generations, New Media Challenges," an opinion-editorial by Jonathan Fanton that ran in the June 19, 2007, edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch
Research, some of it funded by the MacArthur Foundation, is just beginning to fathom how deeply our children have absorbed new technology: the role it plays in their lives and how it affects their learning, play and socialization. What this research suggests is that today's digital youth are in the process of creating a new kind of literacy; this evolving skill extends beyond the traditions of reading and writing into a community of expression and problem-solving that not only is changing their world but ours, too. . .Henry Jenkins, director of the media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls this a new "participatory culture," one that presents low barriers to artistic expression and social engagement that suggests that a richer environment for learning may lie outside the classroom.

Online and after school, youths in this new participatory culture are assimilating new languages and rules, vast troves of research and perspectives on the nature of order and community that vault across traditional boundaries of race or creed or culture.

In meta-games such as Civilization III and SimCity, participants develop and manipulate dynamic models of real life; they teach and legislate, create and share, connect and collaborate, reflecting the value of team-building and consensus over autonomous solutions.

Moreover, through virtual characters and identities — even some that disturb parents — teens can experiment through trial and error, make poor moral choices or learn the downside of risk-taking without jeopardizing actual careers or lives. They learn to value challenge and appreciate complexity, even as they assimilate facts and assess developments at breathtaking speed.

The downside may be that in the sunset of the old information culture, we are not understanding this new media literacy soon enough. Those who have no opportunity or desire to be part of these revolutionary digital communities may be deprived of vital virtual skills that would prepare them for full participation in the real world of tomorrow.

In this new media age, the ability to negotiate and evaluate information online, to recognize manipulation and propaganda and to assimilate ethical values is becoming as basic to education as reading and writing. The children who truly will be left behind in the evolving digital culture are those who fail to bridge this participation gap.


Here are a few links to some really cool virtual worlds:

Webkinz
Club Penguin
Whyville
Gaia Online
Teen Second Life

By the way, one of the points made in the discussion was that many of these sites make money by offering advertising in the form of product placement. For example, Donna Karan clothes, or a Toyota Scion can be "purchased" and used by your child's avatar with points. All of the panelists felt children would benefit from an open discussion about consumerism, advertising, sales tactics, etc.

One last thing...I found an excellent resource today on Sandra Dodd's website. She has an entire page with links to articles about video games and their benefits. You'll find it here.

I'm still feeling good. :)

November 13, 2007

Deschooling At Last (Or, Living A Joyful Life)

The last time I had a revelation on my blog I sprinkled photos of our cats throughout the entry (even though they had nothing to do with anything!). I've had what I think is another good revelation so, in keeping with tradition, I'm posting some photos of Ravenpaw and Charlie--just for fun.

Whenever I post something about how far I've come, or how it's been smooth sailing lately, the very next day I find myself writing about how everything is falling apart. (Usually because of something I did.) Knock on wood, please, because I'm about to jinx myself. I've felt a definite shift these last few days. I've really come a long way!

Two months and three days have passed since we started unschooling and we're just now (FINALLY!) ready to start the deschooling process in earnest. It seems wrong to say "in earnest," actually, because earnest implies an intense focus and the shift I'm feeling is more a lack of intense focus. Or maybe it's just that my focus is changing. Instead of focusing on educating my son, or trying to unschool or deschool the "right" way, or fretting over how much screen-time is appropriate, my focus has shifted to living a joyful life.


What has brought about this change? Time. Research. Reading unschooling blogs. Reading the comments on my blog. Reading and posting on unschooling discussion groups. Reading books. Following my own interests. And more time.

Each of those activities has contributed to my growth and I don't think I'd have made it this far without every one of them. There's one book, however, that was especially helpful. It's called Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooling Life by Rue Kream (Thanks Evie!). I'm a little more than 3/4 of the way through it now and I just cannot recommend it enough for someone who is new to unschooling. More than an unschooling handbook, Parenting a Free Child is about respecting children as fellow humans on their own unique journey, living a joyful life and so much more. Everyone should read it!

With all of that said, I must tell you that I'm still far from being comfortable as an unschooler. It's still new. There are still things I'm not ready to change. I'm holding on to some practices that aren't very unschoolish--but I forgive myself for that. I'm learning at my own pace.

For now, my deschooling plan is to focus on one thing and one thing only.Joy. Finding it. Fostering it. And helping my family to do the same.

November 12, 2007

A Day At The Beach

Today Jerry, his best friend Jackson, and I went to Santa Monica. We walked around the pier for a while, then built an awesome sand castle on the beach. Here's a run down on what we did, and what we learned in the process.

The day started at home with Jerry and I at the kitchen table. Jerry played a tetris-like game called Snood on his computer for about an hour and a half while I worked on my blog. As I was searching online for some information about the educational value of Snood I stumbled upon a site called Computing With Kids which had this great article about the game. Here's a brief excerpt:
"Snood is an amazing game, not because of its complexity, but rather its simplicity," said Reginann Rohlfs, a sixth-grade teacher at Forest Edge Elementary School in Fairfax, Va. Rohlfs uses Snood in her classroom because it teaches "logic, geometry and strategy."
So, let me rephrase my earlier description of what we did this morning. I worked on my blog while Jerry studied logic, geometry and strategy. Oh, and the same article said that this game is huge at Princeton and that they've held Snood tournaments on campus. So I think it's fair to say he was preparing for college, too. Hee! Hee!

Then we went to pick up Jackson and stopped at Game Stop so Jerry could buy a used wireless adapter for his friend Anthony so they can play Pokemon together. He learned about giving and smart consumerism.

At the beach we checked out the rides (just looked) and the arcade (again, just looked--they didn't have the game the boys were looking for) then we walked to the end of the pier. The boys watched an artist create a small oil painting of the pier, which Jerry purchased. They learned art and a little Spanish. They had another art lesson from a cartoonist later in the day. At the end of the pier we looked at old photos of the area. (History.)

As we walked, we talked about the Galapagos Islands and how the animals aren't afraid of people there. We laughed about the Blue Footed Booby and vowed to find photos of one online when we got home. (Geography. Biology. Evolution. History.)

We ate a snack. Then we walked down the stairs toward the sand.
It was Veteran's Day and there was a memorial to the soldiers killed in Iraq just north of the pier on the sand. There were crosses representing the dead soldiers, many with handwritten names, and flowers attached to them. We saw photographs of the American soldiers who had died and talked about how each dead soldier meant a family had lost someone they loved. We talked about war and good and evil and if evil is necessary in the world in order to have good. (History. Philosophy. Current Events. International Relations. Social Studies.)

Then we built a sandcastle.
video
(Architecture. Geology. Joyful Living.)

The Doubting Dad

I ended my last post by asking for suggestions on how to handle a partner who's not exactly on board the unschooling bus, so to speak. I wanted to know how to balance my husband's need to see some Learning going on, with my desire to unschool our son. This topic is so important I figure it deserves its very own post. That way all the helpful suggestions I've been getting won't get passed over.

You can read the complete comments on my last post, but I'm going to paraphrase some of them for you here:

Heather from Embracing the Strange suggested I read Building an Unschooling Nest and Doing Two Things at Once on Sandra Dodd's site. She also recommended I take a look at Deschooling Caleb, a blog written by a mom whose son is about Jerry's age. Among other things, Heather also suggested delving into my own interests and sharing them with Jerry, and getting out of the house more. Oh, and she wondered if I had fully explained the deschooling process to my husband. (He says I have but I think I need to try again.)

Sheri from Matter of Faith suggested that I ease up on myself and allow my husband to take on the subjects that he's most concerned about.

Tara at Heartschooling thought I was on the right track by respecting all parties and trying to find ways to meet everyone's needs. She suggested keeping a log of what we do throughout the day and listing the educational value of each activity.

Nance Confer from Cocking a Snook recommended my husband check out these blogs written by a couple homeschooling dads:
HE&OS and O'Donnell Web. She also suggested the Homeschooling for Dads page on the National Home Education Network site. I found this comment, also from Nance, to be especially helpful:
"And, I hope this doesn't sound mean, but has Warren tried just hanging out and talking with your son. Not in a quizzing, annoying way. But in a nice, friendly, "getting to know you and not measuring you against any arbitrary standard and dang, but aren't you a terrific kid" kind of way.

And then he'd need to do that again. And again. And not demand to see some worksheet or test score or a book that was sufficiently "educational." But just keep on doing that and keep on really trying to appreciate your son.

And then one day, it will all click. He will walk into the kitchen where you are preparing dinner and trying not to listen and he will say, "You know, that boy is really smart. He just told me all about XYZ. And he had some good ideas about ABC. And he's funny!" Or whatever your son is.

And you will smile and agree because, by then, you will already have had the many chances during the day that Dads sometimes miss to see how terrific your son is.

And the more you can continue to deschool -- meaning lay off the school work (even if you think it doesn't look schooly, obviously your son knows what's up) -- the sooner all of this can start happening."


So, it seems like Warren and I need to take some time to talk about unschooling and deschooling. We need to have some philosophical discussions about school and learning and our own educational philosophies. I have a feeling this may take more than a couple conversations! In the meantime we'll both take Nance's advice to hang out with Jerry without placing judgments on how he chooses to spend his time. That should be a good place to start.

November 9, 2007

A Slippery Slope

I'm beginning to notice a pattern here. The day after I publish a post in which I write about how things are going great, how I'm really getting the hang of this unschooling thing, how I'm cruising along giddily close to "euphoria," I end up back at "crap." Thankfully the crap episodes seem to be getting shorter as I catch myself behaving schoolishly, or unreasonably, or being a control freak, or all of the above, faster and faster each time.

Yesterday I decided to have a talk with Jerry. That probably should have sent up a red flag--my "talks" rarely have positive results. But I was determined to discuss tactics for making his dad feel better about our schooling. In other words, his dad would like to see more Learning going on and I wanted to talk about how we might make some happen. So, I asked Jerry what he'd like to learn about.

Jerry was not particularly interested in this conversation, but he said we could try learning some Rapid Math Tricks using a book of the same name. He agreed to a few more things but in truth I don't think he was very interested in any of it. I decided (another red flag should have gone up there!) that we should start today. We tried the first lesson but I wasn't even half way through it before Jerry was sighing heavily and exhibiting the same behavior as he did on that fateful day of the "math incident"--our last day of school-at-home.

I found myself getting angry so I took a deep breath and went into the other room. I busied myself with other things until the math lesson didn't seem so important anymore. Thankfully it didn't take long.

I figure the fact that the episode was over so quickly is a sign of progress, but I do wonder how in the heck I'm supposed to balance my husband's need to see some Learning going on with my (and Jerry's) desire to unschool.

Suggestions anyone?

November 7, 2007

A Happy Jelly Roll

We're having a fun week so far. I've been saying yes more. On Tuesday Jerry asked if we could watch a movie and eat fruit loops. I said "Yes! Let's!" So we did and it was great.

I have my very own Club Penguin account now, which is getting boring fast because all the cool stuff is for members only. Now I know why I'm paying $5.95 every month for Jerry's membership.

I started a Circus Class today, which was awesome! It's with the homeschool group and it's mainly for kids but some parents participate. The class was such a great example of why homeschooling is so cool because there was a boy that looked to be about two or three on the young end and then some parents (I won't even try to guess their ages!) on the older end. And we were all having so much fun together--none of this sticking people with their own age group stuff! Jerry just wanted to watch and I didn't freak out and insist he join or any of that nonsense. I didn't even insist he watch. He ended up having a fine time in another room with a girl that was waiting for the next class.

Then we came home and some friends came with us. Yes, it's true. I finally have a homeschooling friend! Yippee! She has a boy around Jerry's age and a daughter a few years younger, so the kids played with the Wii while we talked in the kitchen. It was really nice.

After our friends left, Jerry started making a stop motion movie and I went into the backyard and did some gardening. Normally I would have felt weird about each of us doing our own thing. I guess that's left over from when he was in school. When our time together was limited to evenings and weekends I felt like we should be spending our together time TOGETHER. But today he did his thing and I did mine. And it was fine. It was great, in fact. Except for the fact that Circus Class kicked my ass and then gardening did me in completely. I feel like a jelly roll now. A happy jelly roll.

Oh, I almost forgot! I'd like to pass on the Wonder Woman Award to Heather at Embracing the Strange and Mombot Companion. Heather is brave and funny and honest and she knits the coolest monsters ever. Oh, and she can sing, too!

November 6, 2007

Lots Of Thinking & Many Questions

First off, before I even get around to all the thinking I've been doing, I want to thank Wendy at Playing Hooky for giving me a Wonder Woman Award. I'm so grateful to Wendy for thinking of me, and the award came just when I was in need of a pat on the back, or a hug, or a kind word--you get the picture--and it miraculously, virtually, provided all three. Thanks Wendy! I'll be passing the award on later this week to another deserving blogger.

Every time I try to put my thoughts of the last few days into words I stumble. I've had so many questions and new ideas flying around my head lately I hardly know where to begin. My ideas have really been challenged--mainly by a discussion on the unschooling basics discussion group at Yahoo! (It's the one titled "newbie needing encouragement re: tv.") But also thanks to JJ and Nance (and now Tammy) in the comments section of my post called Unschoolers on Video Games.

Here are some of the questions I've been asking myself, along with the answers I've come up with:

1.) What if I accepted my son's love of video games, and all his interests as valid? Wouldn't that be a wonderful gift?

Yes!

2.) By creating the video game compromise is Jerry missing out on the opportunity to make his own choices?

Obviously, the answer is yes. Which begs the question:

3.) How do we create an environment where all family members interests and feelings are valued?

I'm still working on the answer to that one but this question is leading me closer to an answer:

4.) Is my goal for Jerry to stop playing video games to suit me and his father? Or is my goal for Jerry to stop playing video games because he has found something else just as compelling?

No, and yes. I don't want him to stop playing because of us. If he chooses not to play video games I'd like for it to be because he's doing something else that he loves just as much. Which leads me to the question:

5.) What exactly are my goals for Jerry? Do they have anything to do with video games?

Actually, they don't. I want Jerry to be curious and happy. I want him to have a sense of wonder about the world around him. I want him to love spending time with me and his dad. Video games (or the lack of them) don't really appear anywhere in my goals. So:

6.) Why am I so fixated on video games?

I haven't figured this one out yet either. Mainly I think it's fear. Also, I feel like when he's playing video games he's kind of in his own world. I feel excluded. Which leads me to:

7.) If I want to be a part of his world why don't I just join him?

Duh! Why didn't I think of this before?! Actually, I did think of it before because many people have suggested it. I'm just kind of dense. I have dabbled in his world of video and computer games--he made an account for me on Adventure Quest (which I've never used), but I've never really taken the plunge. Sounds like I'd better get my suit on!

November 2, 2007

Unschoolers On Video Games

When my son was just a few months old we were visiting the pediatrician and the doctor reached over, laid his hand on top of mine, looked me in the eyes and said, "You're doing a good job." I was so relieved. I knew he probably said that to all the new mothers, but that didn't lighten the impact of his comment at all. I still get teary when I think of it. :)

The following links are the online equivalent to that steady hand and reassuring voice, only they're related to one aspect of parenting--the video game conundrum. To regulate or not to regulate, that is the question. And the answer from many unschoolers is a resounding "No."

I can just imagine many of these seasoned unschoolers shaking their heads at me as I create compromises and schedules for Jerry's video game use. I don't imagine them doing it in a mean or condescending way. I just see a wise, friendly face smiling at me with a look that says "Why are you putting yourself through this? Relax. Love your son. Everything will be okay." To tell you the truth, just imagining that compassionate face, exuding confidence in me and my ability to (eventually) get it right makes me feel better.

So here is a compilation of posts written by people who are much wiser than me. They haven't all taken the same route or come to the same conclusion, but they have examined their choices, kept an open mind, and made decisions that honor their children's interests and their own feelings.

"Sex, Lies & Video Games" was written by Sheri at matteroffaith.com. Be sure to read the comments because both Sheri and her husband responded to a question I left in the comments section and their answers are really helpful.

The Great Video Game Experiment from Swiss Army Wife details what one mother learned from letting her son have thirty days of unlimited video games.

Tammy Takahashi over at Just Enough, and Nothing More is a veritable fountain of wisdom. You can read her take on video games and other all consuming interests in her post entitled "My Kid Will Play Video Games All Day!". While you're at it you should check out Tammy's 5 Deschooling Tips (for Homeschoolers).

This is a post called Is Your Love for Your Kids Controlling? over at Cocking a Snook. The title pretty much says it all. Be sure to check the comments of this posting (the one you're reading now--on my blog) because JJ and Nance from Cocking a Snook had some really helpful things to say.

There are more links that I'd like to include here but I think it's time for me to get off the computer. I'll come back and add them later.

I'd like to end this post with a bit of wisdom from Jerry--something he learned from watching Looney Toons this morning. "Mom, do you know why the roadrunner can run so fast?" he said. "It's because he has no limits. He just believes he can so he does."

Just so you know, I'm adding to this post as I find more information.

Added 11/14/07: Here's something I can't believe I missed before...Sandra Dodd has a whole page with links to articles about video games and their benefits. You'll find it here.

November 1, 2007

An Embarrassing Admission

I don't really want to write this post, but when I started this blog I swore that it would be an honest representation of our attempt to unschool. So, here I go...

I made an appointment to tour a private school yesterday. We would have made the appointment eventually anyway because my husband wants to have a back up in case Jerry wants to go to school next year. I've been putting it off, though. I really want to keep homeschooling--at least for middle school, maybe high school, too, so I haven't been too eager to tour any schools. But these past few days I've been feeling kind of low. Kind of like things aren't working out. So I made the appointment.

It was the chess incident that started it. But then yesterday Jerry yelled at me--I mean, really yelled--for something that wasn't even my fault. Maybe starting to unschool just as your child hits puberty isn't the best idea. Our situation is made more difficult, I think, by the fact that Jerry's an only child and my husband works really long hours. We spend a huge amount of time together. That could be hard on any relationship. I suppose arguments are inevitable.

So, I was really sad yesterday and I made an appointment to tour the school next Thursday. I also decided to try spending three hours during the day on school stuff. I don't mean school as in workbooks and essays, though I'm not entirely opposed to those things, I just want to have some time set aside when we're learning something new. I need it for my own sanity. I'm finding it difficult to follow Jerry's lead on everything. There are some things I want him to know and I just don't have the patience to wait for him to show an interest in them.

There you have it. I'm not feeling like a very good unschooler, but at the same time I'm proud of myself for following my own course. The willingness and ability to break away from the masses and blaze a trail of one's own seem to be key components of unschooling, so hopefully I'm not straying too far from the path we set out on. We'll see.

October 31, 2007

From Euphoria To Crap And Back Again, Part 2

It's the morning after my birthday. Seeing Regina Spektor with my husband was the perfect way to spend a birthday evening.

Now, back to the more immediate issues of parenting and unschooling. Yesterday, I left you with this:
Just when I thought we were cruisin' along right smack in between "okay" and "euphoric"--CRASH!--I ended up feeling like crap. It happened yesterday at chess class. I'll call it the "chess incident." The good news is that today I had a brief but heartwarming moment of euphoria. I'll call it the "Tom Waits incident."

Let me explain.

Tuesday was my birthday, but Tuesdays are usually pretty hectic in our house because Jerry goes to three different classes during the day, then usually plays at a friends house in Hollywood, which means I spend the day driving all over town.

So, I decided we'd celebrate my birthday on Monday. I wanted to go to the Norton Simon Museum and I wanted Jerry to accompany me without complaint. I know. I know. He's twelve. He's "not a museum person," as he puts it. But, I thought playing the birthday card might change things. Stop laughing--I'm an optimist!

The museum opened a 12 so we spent the morning on our computers. I know. I know. I said we had a deal about no screen time before 4 p.m. but I was working on editing a newsletter, so I had to be on my computer and it seemed unfair to make Jerry stay off his. Besides, he was finding all kinds of really cool magic tricks, science experiments, and stop motion videos. It seemed silly to make him stop.

Around 12:30 we packed up Jerry's chess stuff, since we'd be going directly to chess class from the museum, made a shopping list of supplies for creating some of the cool things he'd discovered online, and took off for the Norton Simon.

We had a really nice time at the museum. It wasn't completely free of complaining--on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd put the complaint level at about 6. That's pretty good for a child who once refused to enter the John Steinbeck Museum and sat in the lobby moping for an hour while his dad and I explored.

We spent most of our time in the South Asian Collection because they have a really cool audio tour that tells the stories of the Hindu and Buddhist Gods. Then we had lunch at the cafe and Jerry worked on his chess homework. He gave me the answers and I wrote them in for him--teamwork at its best.

That part was the "euphoria--" the morning and the museum, and sitting in the garden doing his chess work together.

Next we picked up the supplies he needed and headed to chess, about thirty minutes east of the museum.

As we pulled into the parking lot Jerry slumped down in his seat. "I don't really want to go to chess," he moaned, "I'm bored with chess. I'm just not a chess kind of guy."

"I drove all the way out here," I said, "I paid for the class through today. You need to go, at least to this class, since we're here."

I won't bore you with all the whining and lecturing that went on. I will tell you that a well-meaning man at the ISP tried to show Jerry how to give himself a little energy pick-me-up by doing jumping jacks, which ended with Jerry being embarrassed and giving me a pretend punch in the side of the head (in slow motion) because I was laughing, and the man saying "Surely you're not so tired that you need to be disrespectful to your mother." I think that was the straw that broke the mother's back.

I hate it when people do that. Jerry's action didn't seem disrespectful to me until the guy said it was. It was certainly no more disrespectful than me laughing at Jerry's embarrassment. But once he labeled it disrespectful I got really mad. At Jerry.

So, tears were shed (Jerry's), blood boiled (mine) and we left. This was the "crap" part of the day.

On the way home, I told him he had to pay me for the class that he was skipping out on. I told him he had to wash my car to make up for my time spent driving out there. I told him I was so angry.

He cried.

I wanted to say more. There were a million things running through my head--mean things--but I knew they would all make him feel like a terrible person. I think I managed to keep them all in, but he felt like crap anyway. We both did.

In the end we got over it. Jerry was extra attentive at home that night. I was kind of mopey and tired. But, before bed we apologized to each other and had a good hug.

The following day--my real birthday, Jerry was still extra attentive. On the way home from Japanese he asked me to put on a CD and I chose Tom Waits' "Mule Variations." Jerry doesn't usually like to listen to Tom Waits but he didn't complain once, he just put it in the CD player and pressed play.

He read the lyrics as the music played and when the first song, "Big in Japan," ended he said, "I liked that song." My heart went a-flutter. I know it's silly but I love Tom Waits' music and it made me so happy to think that I would finally be able to share it with Jerry. From there it only got better because Jerry said he liked "House Where Nobody Lives" which is a ballad and Jerry usually hates slow songs. And then (joy of joys!) when we stopped at home so Jerry could grab his trombone he actually paused the CD before running into the house!! He didn't want to miss any of the music!

Ah, euphoria.

October 30, 2007

From Euphoria To Crap And Back Again, Part 1

Just when I thought we were cruisin' along right smack in between "okay" and "euphoric"--CRASH!--I ended up feeling like crap. It happened yesterday at chess class. I'll call it the "chess incident." The good news is that today I had a brief but heartwarming moment of euphoria. I'll call it the "Tom Waits incident."

But....right now I need to go because it's my birthday and Warren and I are going to see Regina Spektor and we're leaving in four minutes! I'll tell you all about the "incidents" tomorrow.

Ciao!

October 26, 2007

On Trust

Now that we're starting to settle in to our routine (or non-routine, really) I can finally get back to talking about trust.

Here's how my handy widget dictionary defines trust:
(noun)
-Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.

-The state of being responsible for someone or something.

-A hope or expectation.

(verb)
-To allow someone to have, use or look after (someone or something of importance or value) with confidence.

A couple weeks ago I was telling Jerry that there's a form of unschooling where the parents give their children complete freedom to make their own choices. His eyes got really big and he got a huge grin on his face. "Would that be a good idea for us?" I asked.

"No way!" he said, "I'd probably just play video games all day."

I laughed, but at the same time I felt a little sad. I want him to trust himself with those choices, but I know I'm not entirely ready to hand them over to him. Thankfully, I've (finally!) recognized that I don't need to hand them over all at once. I'm working my way up to a "firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength" of my son. But I'm taking baby steps.

One thing that stands out to me in the above definitions of trust is the emphasis on "belief" and "confidence." Part of the problem I was having at the start of our unschooling, with letting Jerry set his own screen time, was that I was giving trust without belief or confidence--and that's not trust. No wonder we were having problems!

Jerry knows I don't have all the answers. He can see that I'm asking questions, making choices, evaluating, and correcting as we go. We talk about my choices, and his, and we try to come up with a plan that works for all of us (my husband, included).

I still think Jerry takes comfort in some of the boundries we've set for him. But as time goes by, we'll lift those boundries and shift control to him. When we're ready.

As my confidence and belief in my son grows, so will his confidence and belief in himself grow.

That's my hope.

October 25, 2007

Settling Into Unschooling (Or, The Good News And The Bad)


I was driving down the road on our way to a costume parade with the homeschool group, Jerry, dressed in ninja attire, was in the backseat chowing down on some white rice, and I started to tell him about our idea to go to Hawaii. "The bad thing is," I said, "we would probably have to use our money from the loan to fix up the house or else pay for the trip with a credit card. So I'm not sure if we should do it."

Guess what he said? "No. Way. Do. Not. Do it. Especially if it means using the money for fixing the house!" He even kind of yelled it--I mean, he really meant it.

That's so annoying! I thought for sure he'd back me up. But through my annoyance I felt a little surge of pride. Who knew this child, the one that can't stand to have a dollar in his pocket for more than ten seconds, would be giving me sound financial advice!?

So, we're not going. We're staying home and starting a Hawaiian Vacation Savings Plan. Oh well. It was fun to think about for a while.

That's the bad news (or good news, if you're looking at it from a finacial perspective).

The good news (or the other good news) is that Jerry and I are settling into our days as unschoolers much more readily now that I'm not so uptight about the video game and computer use. Jerry even told me today that he really likes our compromise (no video games before 4 p.m.). I think he's happier when I'm not cranky. Go figure.

Should We Or Shouldn't We?

Our new compromise seems to be working well. Jerry thought it was hilarious, by the way, that I had made a mistake. He got a good laugh out of it.

There were lots of people over at the unschooling basics Yahoo! group who commented on a post I left there in regards to my problem with screen time. They were all really supportive and said it's true that if you let the child take control and if you stop freaking out, eventually the child will ease off on the games.

I would like to see that happen. I really would. But I just can't do it. It makes me so grouchy when he plays video games or sits at the computer all day.

Also, I do worry about what people will think. I know this is bad, bad, bad! I know I shouldn't care. But I do. Maybe as time goes on and I'm more sure of our decision to unschool I'll have more confidence. Maybe I'll lose the need for my choice to be acceptable to the people around me. I hope so. I think I'll get there eventually, but I'm not going to force it. It's not good for me or my relationship with my son--or my husband, for that matter.

Okay, on to more immediate issues....Here's the question. Should we or shouldn't we go to Hawaii?! Financially speaking the answer is a definite "No." It might even be a "No way! Are you crazy?!!" In fact, I think it is.

Here are the reasons (okay, justifications) for going:
1.) Warren has never been there.
2.) We're studying volcanoes and wouldn't a trip to Volcanoes National Park be an awesome field trip!!!??
3.) Warren's job is ending (he freelances in the film business) so he'll have some time off.
4.) Jerry's not in school so we're free to leave. (Yippee!!)
5.) My 39th birthday is next week.
6.) Christmas is just around the corner and it would be a fabulous Christmas gift for all of us.

The main reason for not going is also one of the reasons for going:
1.) Warren's job is ending so he'll have some time off. In other words, he'll be unemployed. No paycheck. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Okay, he'll get something from the government--but it's not much.

Hmmm. I'm stumped. Should we be financially responsible and play tourist at home? Or should we through caution and fiscal responsibility to the wind, whip out the credit card and have a real vacation?

I'm leaning towards the later.

October 23, 2007

A Letter From A Mother To Her Son

Dear Jerry,

I'm such a dummy. I've been telling you that you should be charge of determining the right amount of video game time for yourself, that you should be able to regulate that amount on your own, and then when your view of enough doesn't match up with my view of enough I get angry and snap at you for no good reason. I'm sorry. Please forgive me--I'm still learning.

I know it's not fair for me to say I'm letting you make your own choices and then get mad at you for making them. The other day, when you said that I was giving you too much responsibility and that it was too much pressure, I think you might have been feeling me pressuring you to bend to my will, rather than feeling the pressure of making that decision. You said you didn't think you could be in charge of regulating your own video game time, but I think you're wrong. I think you are quite capable of determining the right amount of time for yourself to play video games. The only problem is, I'm pretty sure what's right for you will be way too much for me.

I have to admit something. I'm prejudice against video games. I know there are things you're learning from them. I know you're being creative and solving problems and I know playing video games makes you really happy. I've been trying to tell myself it's okay for you to play a lot, but my prejudice is getting in the way. It's making me cranky.

So, here's my solution:

During the week, let's have no video games until after 4 p.m. That way we can do other things during the day. We can branch out, see the world, play some games, explore interesting subjects and hopefully end each day with a deeper understanding of our universe. Once we've done that I don't think the video games will bother me so much.

I'm sorry I had you doubting your ability to chose what's best for you. You're quite capable of making that choice. I'm just not quite capable of giving it to you yet.

Thanks for understanding. I love you.

Mom

October 21, 2007

A Conversation Between A Boy & His Mom

Mom: Didn't Dad ask you to turn that video game off?

Boy: Yeah.

Mom: Why are you still playing it?

Boy: (shrugs) I don't know.

Mom: (simmering gently) Dad's already asked a few times.

Boy: (eyes glued to video game)

Mom: (big sigh) I'm trying to let you make your own decisions about how much time to spend playing video games and on the computer but it's really hard when it seems like you're not paying attention to any of the other things around you. There's a whole wonderful world out there but you can't see it if you're staring at a screen all the time.

Boy: (eyes glued to video game)

Mom: (starting to boil)

Boy: (eyes glued to video game)

Mom: (rolling boil) Would you like to know how close you are to having no screens at all? Ever?!

Boy: (eyes get large and stare at mom in disbelief)

Mom: Okay, I don't mean ever. I'm just really struggling with the video games and I'm thinking that for my own sanity we may need a screen-free week.

Boy: A whole week?!

Mom: I'm not saying we need it now. I want to try working out a balance without having to do that. I'm just saying that maybe we need to be without the screens for a while so you can remember what else you like to do. Let me read something to you from The Teenage Liberation Handbook. The writer says:

"I still think an 'anything goes' vacation in which you indulge some of your petty cravings is crucial. But it's just as crucial to recognize when you've had enough of that--and move on to phase two which is still a vacation, but a much more rejuvenating one, and will probably need to last anywhere from one week to a year. During this time do not strive to meet academic goals, but do actively experiment and play--no more excessive TV, eating, sleeping, VIDEO GAMES," (Mom's emphasis) "or hanging out with unexcited people. During this time you might experiment with transition rituals, or find other ways to engage with the world such as making new friends, changing your wardrobe to reflect your personality---"

Boy: I really need to do that. I need waaaaay more t-shirts about video games.

Mom: Right. Well. Anyway, the point is you've got to branch out. You have so many screen options now that I'm afraid you're forgetting about other stuff you really like.

Boy: Yeah. Like tetherball.

Mom: Exactly. Like tetherball.

Boy: Okay, tomorrow we'll spend 1/3 of the day playing tetherball, 1/3 of the day building that wooden T-Rex, and the other 1/3 playing video games.

Mom: Well. Yeah. We could.

Boy: Okay. Cool.

This is not exactly the outcome Mom was hoping for. It is what she asked for, though, so she's gonna roll with it.

October 19, 2007

A Graph Of My Emotional State While Deschooling



I was feeling extremely crappy today so I decided to make a graph of my emotional state since starting to unschool. I thought it might give me a good laugh. So I reread all my posts, tried to remember what was happening and how I was feeling, and this is what I came up with.

As you can see, there are lots of ups and downs, but overall it's better than I expected. My ideal emotional state would be right in between "Okay" and "Euphoric," and even though I only hit that note a few times, I was glad to see that I spent more time above "Okay" than below it.

By the way, it was the whole video game thing that got me down today. I think I might need to request a screen-free week so we can see what life used to be like before all these screens took over our home. Maybe that will help us find our balance.

Oh, and I told Jerry about the new allowance plan today. It didn't go over so well. There was some crying (his, not mine) but in the end we worked out an arrangement that we all felt happy with.

Jerry is spending the night at a friend's tonight so Warren and I are going out for a bite at one of our favorite cozy little restaurants. I'm going to have smoked chicken with macaroni and cheese. If that's not comfort food, I don't know what is. Maybe I'll be lucky and they'll have creme brulee for desert! I'll be back up to "Euphoric" in no time!

October 18, 2007

A Revelation (& Some Poetry)

I'm gearing up to start a teeny bit of "teaching." Not a huge amount. Just enough to make my husband relax a bit. We all have to be okay with what's happening in our house and at this point Warren is having some doubts about the whole child-led learning thing. I'm not quite ready to break out the workbooks, but I did order the "I Hate Mathematics Book" and I bought what looks like a really cool science book with some history thrown in called--shoot, I can't find it. That's the down side of being messy. You can never find anything when you need it. Anyway, the book is all about great inventions throughout history, who invented them and why, and it gives you instructions on how to create the inventions yourself. There's a pottery wheel, a trebuchet, vegetable dye...it looks really fun.

The reason I'm not jumping right in, though, is that I want it to feel kind of organic. I'm not sure if that's possible since organic would be coming from Jerry. I'm trying to devise a plan that will make it seem organic, at least--maybe even make it seem like Jerry's idea. But, before I start that I really think I should write out my educational philosophy. I know. I know. I said I was going to do that weeks ago. I'm procrastinating.

Why am I procrastinating? I think I'm kind of scared. Dumb, huh? I mean, I've already chosen homeschooling, then I went even further outside the norm and decided to try unschooling, so it's clear I'm taking my own path but writing down my educational philosophy will mean that I have to own it. It will mean that I'm not going by what other people are telling me is "right."

Oh my God! I've just had a revelation! I went from doing what the Waldorf school said was right, directly into doing what the unschoolers say is right. So I'm comfortable being told what to do because that's the usual way of life. The "experts" give their opinions, tell you what you need to do, and you do it--at least I do. So this whole time I thought I was such an individual, but really I just went from following one (not so mainstream) set of rules to following another (even less mainstream) set of rules. Sure, they weren't rules the majority of people in the US were following, but they were still rules. Wow! That explains my fixation with unschooling the "right" way. This is fascinating! I've been a follower for so long, that even though I'm on the road not (or less) taken I'm busy trying to step into someone else's footprints. Wow! I have to stop that!

Okay, here's the Robert Frost poem for some inspiration:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

So, for about the 500th time I'm telling myself to mellow out, and do what feels right to me. I guess I don't even really need to "gear up." It's okay if I don't know what's right immediately. It's okay if I don't have a plan. I can still move forward.

One of the reasons I felt the need to prepare for this teeny bit of teaching, though, is that I'm still unsure about the place of the computer and video games in our daily lives. Jerry likes to turn them on in the morning as soon as he wakes up, which I completely understand because I like to do the same thing. It helps me ease into the day. It also tends to suck the day away, if we're not careful. So maybe I won't wait until I "figure out" the screen thing before I make some changes. I'll start the teaching (facilitating? guiding?) slowly by showing him some of the books I bought, by doing some of the experiements with him, by continuing our mental math and maybe even writing some of it down. Maybe our daily rhythms will adjust on their own and I won't have to "gear up" for anything.

But I do have to figure out MY philosophy on education. That I'm sure of. I need to know what I believe, so I can stop trying to do what other people think is best. Okay. I'll do that but I won't wait until it's finished to start making small changes to our daily lives.

I'm going to end with another poem. This is by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.