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. :)