January 30, 2008

Wanna Know Something Else?

The film business is not family friendly. Maybe you already knew that. Or maybe you didn't. But I'm here to tell you it stinks for families. Yes, the travel is cool. Jerry has seen more of the world than a lot of adults but the trade off is that his dad is never home for dinner, works a lot of weekend, and goes out of town fairly frequently. Can you tell I just tried calling him (iChatting him, actually) and he was too busy to talk to me? He's got to hurry up and make a tape so some producer can let it sit on his coffee table for five hours before he watches it. I'm a little bitter. And even though it's going to be awesome to be in New Zealand it's going to be me and Jerry alone most of the time. Any traveling we do will be without Warren, except a few weekends here and there if he manages to get both days off.

Geez. I'm in a funk, aren't I? I think it's the stress of leaving.

Let's think about happy things:

1.) I bought a new lens for my camera today. That's cool. I'm planning on taking lots of beautiful photos in New Zealand and sharing them with you all on my blog. I may even splurge on a wide angle lens. I need to talk to Warren about it first because it's not cheap. He already said we should get one but I'm not sure if he realizes how expensive they are.

2.) We had another fun day at circus class today. I hung upside down on a trapeze and did a split thing with my legs and arched my back and it was awesome! Of course, I couldn't repeat it. The next time I tried it, well, let's just say it wasn't very graceful.

3.) We spent the afternoon with our homeschool friends at the book store. The kids found books they liked and sat at a table reading while the other mom and I chatted. Her kids showed me lots of their favorite books and I bought a few new ones for Jerry and I. This is what we got:
Dragon Drive 6 (It's a manga series Jerry LOVES.)
The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer (She wrote The House of the Scorpion, which I really liked.)
Holes by Louis Sachar (We've never read it.)
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (Zach, my friends 12yo says it's the "freakiest book ever.")
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. (That's for me--even though it's YA.)

4.) I'm going salsa dancing again tomorrow!! Woohoo!

5.) I'm going to see a play on Saturday with friends from waaaaaaay back in the day when Warren and I first met. We met at a Grateful Dead show, by the way. That's how Jerry got his name. He was born a couple months after Jerry Garica died. It's a funny story, the way Warren and I met, which I'll tell you sometime--even though it involves illicit drug use (sorry Mom and Dad--I still turned out fine.).

But, now that I've found my happy place again it's time to get to work on my taxes and editing the newsletter and cleaning my kitchen and making dinner. Ick. When I put it all together like that it sounds so oppressive. Let me rephrase that: Now that I've found my happy place again I'm going to move forward and accomplish the goals I've set for myself so that I can go to bed tonight with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. As if.

January 29, 2008

Wanna Know Something?

Crying doesn't change the cost of building a deck. Neither does pouting. I had a meeting with our architects this morning and I cried (mostly unnoticed) but that didn't change the fact that the deck we want to build off the back of our house will cost $37,000 (yes, that's thousand) before we even get to the above ground part. No kidding. That's just for the foundations, pilings, cement and all the crap that will never see the light of day. $37,000!!!! So now we have to eliminate the part of the deck that I was most looking forward to. The part that goes all the way across the back of our house so I can step out from any upstairs room and be outdoors, enjoying our lovely view. We'll have a deck off our kitchen but it won't be sweeping and grand and I won't be able to fit a long table to seat twelve people on it. My entire vision of the future of our deck has been ruined. Bahhhhaaahaaa!

And you wanna know something else? The city of Los Angeles is determined to make our deck as plain and ugly as possible. They won't approve our railings, which were going to be really cool. And they keep asking for more money. And I'm wondering who exactly at the city permit office I need to sleep with (sorry Warren) in order to get our permits approved in a timely fashion without all these inane restrictions. Ughhhhhh!

See. This is what the deck was going to look like. This is a preliminary drawing without the cool railing so you just have to imagine a railing going all the way across the house just above that beam.

But now that entire section on the left has got to go (unless we discover $50,000 that we didn't know we had), so it's really just going to be the small upper deck with the stairs and then the lower deck, which comes off our bedroom downstairs (that's the part where you can see those orange curtains).

I know. I know. It's only a stupid deck. It's not important in the grand scheme of things. I'm going to New Zealand for three months for crying out loud would I just stop wallowing in self-pity. I know. But I'm not ready yet. Maybe I'll be ready to stop wallowing in an hour or so. For now I'm mourning the loss of my stupid deck.

My Blog Is Excellent!

It's been a week since Laura at Wistful Wanderlust was kind enough to give me the Excellent Blog Award and it's just been sitting on my shelf collecting dust, getting buried under to do lists, bills, unread books--you name it. But I'm finally breaking it out, dusting it off and placing it front and center for your viewing pleasure.

Isn't it lovely?

Thanks Laura. I think your blog is excellent, too.

But now I have to name ten other excellent blogs. Only ten! Here they are:

1. The Parenting Pit - The very first unschooling blog to win my heart back in the early (uh, earlier) days.
2. These Go To Eleven - I love her sense of humor.
3. Swiss Army Wife - How can a blog with a name like that be anything but excellent?
4. Cocking A Snook - Because JJ and Nance are both so smart and funny and knowledgeable. And because I feel like they're my own personal unschooling fairy god mothers.
5. A Life Worth Living - I've followed Lynn's blog from the beginning and I love her honesty.
6. Medieval Affair - Again, it's the honesty I like, and the fact that we're on this journey together.
7. Just Enough and Nothing More - I don't know where Tammy gets the energy to do all the things she does but I'm green with envy.
8. Embracing the Strange - Heather's blog is honest and thought provoking.
9. Happy@Home - I love that Sally takes the time to explain the relationships in her household and shares ways in which she's trying to make things run smoother for everyone.
10. Bodhicitta - Talk about joie de vivre! Diana's got it in spades and her family prayer has become one of my favorite mantras.

If someone hadn't already given these blogs the award I'd be giving one to them, too:
The Road Less Traveled
Unschool Days
An Unschooling Life
Wistful Wanderlust

January 28, 2008

Attitude Adjustment (Mine)

As usual I have waited until the last possible moment to start getting things ready for our trip. In addition to that, I've suddenly decided I need to see all my friends before I leave. Since most of my friends move out of Los Angeles within a couple years of meeting me (I know. I'm beginning to think it's me, too.) this is something I can manage in a week. The problem is, now I have to squeeze in shopping, packing, doing our taxes, cleaning my house, visiting my grandmas, interviewing people for my column, editing a newsletter, going to Lego Land (a super bowl Sunday tradition), taking the animals to the vet, driving my dog to Sacramento, with seeing my friends.

Hold on a minute! It's not a problem, actually. What am I saying?

Okay. Rewind. This is reminding me of a conversation I had with my sister yesterday. I was talking to her on the telephone (she lives in Ireland) as I looked out our window at four days worth of rain puddling in my backyard and I said, "I can't get over this pounding rain. It's been going on for days!" She just started laughing. She lives in Ireland for crying out loud! Four days of rain is nothing to her. Four months of rain might not even be enough to garner her sympathy. So I said, "Right. I guess I'm complaining to the wrong person." She said I was and pointed out that I would be leaving the rain for a New Zealand summer in a week and that I'd be there for three months. Basically she was telling me to shut up.

And now I can hear her laugh in my head again telling me the same thing. I have nothing to complain about.

There. Attitude adjusted. I still don't want to clean though...

January 26, 2008

A Bad Movie & A Good One

We watched the second worst movie I've ever seen yesterday. Dragon Wars. It was painful, but not nearly as painful as the Thomas the Tank Engine Movie, starring Peter Fonda in the single most pathetic performance ever.

But, luckily we followed it up with a good one, Mr Holland's Opus. Throughout the first hour of the movie Jerry kept saying, "I can't believe you thought I'd like this." Or, "And you thought I'd like this because?" But when I suggested we turn it off, he insisted we finish it. Because the film went through so many decades it provided the impetus for conversations about the Vietnam War and the draft, John Lennon's assassination, and school board budgets. This struck me as a good example of how something you think isn't educational at all, can turn into a real learning experience in a very natural way. I think I'm getting the hang of this unschooling thing.

January 25, 2008

Brief Political Interlude

1/27/08 update - So the letter to the German president is legit. This was confirmed by my German friend as well as Daryl Cobranchi from HE&OS, who said he's been in direct contact with unschoolers in Germany. Feel free to click away at that little plus sign, but maybe do some research before sending any money to HSLDA just to be sure the leaders of that organization share your values.

Note as of 1/26/08 - After I posted this it was brought to my attention that HSLDA isn't always on the up and up. I confess to knowing nothing about the political world of homeschooling and the organizations that represent it, but I did find this interesting discussion about the HSLDA and unschooling at Home Education & Other Stuff. It's from 2003. If you're in the dark, like me, you might want to check this out. If I find out that there is something weird going on with this I'll just remove the post entirely. I'm also asking a friend of mine to translate the letter on the German site so I can be sure we're not adding pluses to something that we don't really believe in. Stay tuned.

This is from the Home School Legal Defense Association:

Help Germans Ask Their President: ‘Why isn’t Homeschooling Allowed?’

German President Angela Merkel has a website where it is possible to ask questions of her directly. It has been reported by Germans that those questions that receive the most number of “plus” signs will receive an answer. German homeschoolers are asking homeschoolers from all over the world to vote in favor of this question. Click here and then click on the plus sign to register your vote to have President Angela Merckel answer the question “Why is homeschooling not allowed in Germany?”

Germany is a federal republic in which states are responsible for education. In all of Germany, states treat homeschooling as illegal, and parents are fined thousands of dollars, put in jail or have child custody taken away by the government. Incredibly, federal courts have chosen to interpret the federal constitution against parents and have ruled that it is an “abuse of parental rights” to homeschool. The only solution will be if German states change their laws. In order for this to happen, public officials, including Angela Merckel, will have to realize that German public policy regarding homeschooling is out of step with the rest of free democratic societies that embrace pluarlism in education and recognize that parents have the right to homeschool their children.

Thank you for helping homeschoolers in Germany seeking freedom to educate their children at home. Your vote counts!

It's really fast and easy to help. Just click the above link and look for the plus sign on the bottom right hand side of the page, then click on it. That's all there is to it.

Salsa Update




I can hardly walk. But boy did I ever have fun! And I didn't humiliate myself--much. I started to get a little sloppy towards the end of the evening because I could hardly stand, let alone keep my balance while twirling around the dance floor, but I opted to make a graceful exit at that point--if you can call hobbling down a flight of stairs graceful.

The lesson was no problem, really. The other dancers didn't seem super advanced (some of the guys in the class were beginners, too) and I was able to follow along pretty well. There was just one step that made me panic a little--oh, there were two, actually, but by the end I was looking forward to the second one because I had to throw myself across the guy's knee and arch my back (kind of like a dip but with no hands), which ended up giving me about three extremely welcome seconds of rest. The other step required that I do a fast cross-over-step-thing (which looked really sexy when done the right way) and then slide my right leg between the man's legs, bending my left knee so that I was crouched on the floor with one leg extended. Getting down wasn't really a problem, aside from the sexy walk thing, but getting up! Now that took some work. Whenever the guy widened his stance I knew he was expecting me to do that stupid sexy walk and slide to the ground so I always panicked. I think I only managed to do it right once the entire evening.

I think it's safe to say that was the best workout I've ever had in my life! This was largely thanks to the fact that my friend, David, is a really good dancer. If I'd been dancing with someone that only knew a few moves I'd probably be able to walk today, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. So, I'm going back next week! Woohoo! I hope my body has recovered by then.

January 24, 2008

Salsa Dance Panic

I've always wanted to find a male friend that would go dancing with me. I love dancing. Any kind of dancing. So imagine my joy when one of the guys that went to the Jane Austen Ball with me and Angela said he'd go salsa dancing with me! Hooray! A dance partner! We're going to a lesson tonight but there's a hitch. It's an intermediate/advanced lesson. And I've only ever danced salsa once in my entire life. I was feeling sort of okay about it because the guy knows what he's doing and I can usually follow along but then I made the mistake of looking at the website for the club we're going to. I'm going to look ridiculous next to these people!!! Everyone else will be all hot and coordinated and I'm going to look--well, not. I had this really cute outfit picked out, but now I think I need to find something that will make be blend better--into the wall, that is.

I know this has nothing to do with unschooling but since I'm sharing my ineptness in the realm of parenting I figured I might as well go all out and share the rest of it. The one connection I can find between salsa dancing and homeschooling is that I had this same feeling on our very first park day. Even though park day was something I'd been looking forward to, when I got there I just wanted to run in the opposite direction. I stayed though. Yes, I persevered. And now I have friends. (Aww, do you hear the sappy music?) Of course, the possibilities for humiliation weren't nearly as ripe at park day as they will be in an intermediate/advanced salsa dancing class. Oh well, if it's too awful I guess I don't ever have to go back. It's not like I've never done that before. I had an ultra humiliating moment at the yoga studio down the street and haven't been back in three years. I can't tell you what was so embarrassing, though, unless I happen to meet you face to face. Even then I'll probably only tell you if we're sharing our second bottle of wine. It's a story that goes better with lots of wine. Heck, what story doesn't?

Ha! I just had a brainstorm. I'm going to watch some beginning salsa lessons on YouTube before I go!! Let's hope it helps. I'll fill you in on all the humiliating details in the morning.

January 23, 2008

Show Me The Munnies

What an awesome day! It started off with homeschool circus class. Jerry couldn't be dragged out of bed in time (the cats kept us up last night) so I went without him. Our teacher said I did better on the trapeze today than I have since I started class. Yippee! (Basically, this means I didn't pee my pants when asked to hang upside down--I'm not so keen on hanging upside down.) After class I picked Jerry up and we met our friends Lisa, Zach, Danica and Finneas at a little hole in the wall pizza joint for lunch. Then we went to our very favorite toy store, Monkeyhouse Toys, so Jerry could show his friends around and introduce them to Myra, the fabulous store owner. The kids all bought mini munnies and we took them back to Lisa's so they could customize them.

They painted while Lisa and I chatted. Remember when I was moaning about needing a friend? I'm finally making friends in the homeschool group. Both Jerry and I are.

After we left Zachary made a video about the day and posted it on YouTube. Take a look:

I love unschooling!

January 22, 2008

Our Theme Song

We started our preparations for leaving town yesterday and since my house is a complete disaster, our main task is to clean up. Jerry's play room is--I don't think there's a word to describe it, now that I think about it. Disaster doesn't quite do it justice. I would post a photograph but then you would be able to see for yourselves how much stuff he has and it would be way too embarrassing. He has parents with a severe lack of restraint when it comes to buying stuff for their one and only. Of course, he can't play with most of it because he can't find it. So, last night we started with his War Hammer painting station. We cleared, cleaned, trashed, organized and sorted. It looks lovely now. We're going to do a small portion of the play room each day so it will be nice and orderly by the time we leave. And then of course, there's the rest of the house, which is better than the playroom, but that's not saying much. That's why I have chosen this as our theme song for the next two weeks:

Sing it with me! Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!

January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I forgot to wish you a happy Martin Luther King, Jr. day in that last post--though "happy" doesn't seem like the right sentiment. Maybe "reflective" is better.

I found a link to a great article on this post at Mom is Teaching. She's provided a few other links as well but I especially liked this one because it tells the story of how our country came to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life in the first place. It never occurred to me that the legislation to create such a day was nearly voted down (by the Republicans--what a surprise). I guess the fact that it passed just goes to prove that Dr. King was right when he said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Stimulation Dilema

Before I get to the Stimulation Dilema, I want to share some pictures from our fabulous weekend. My parents came down and watched Jerry while I was at the Jane Austen Ball. This was my third year at the ball and it was the best one ever. I had so much fun!

Saturday we went to the Santa Monica Pier with my parents and went on some rides:

And enjoyed the good company and lovely weather:

My mom and dad have packed up and are on their way back home to Sacramento. They were going to take Patsy, our dog, since they'll be watching her while we're away, but Jerry and I decided we weren't ready for her to go yet--which means we'll need to drive her up three days before we leave, then turn right around and come home the next day. It was just too sad to think of being without her for two weeks before leaving and I think it would have made going away much harder for Jerry. He usually does fine when we're away from home for long periods of time but when he's homesick it's almost always Patsy that he misses most.

On to the Stimulation Dilema:

I feel like I've been so busy lately that Jerry has been left to his own devices a lot. It's not that I'm not here. I am. But I'm doing my own thing, leaving Jerry to be at the computer, play video games, watch television, or do whatever happens to strike his fancy at the moment. I suppose that's alright for a while but I don't feel quite right about it. It makes me feel like I'm not providing enough stimulation. A lot of people on the unschooling discussion lists say that when your kids watch television, for example, you should be watching with them, but I don't really like watching television. Also, I have so much to do before we go I can't imagine wasting time in front of the TV. I sit with Jerry when he asks me to, but if he doesn't ask I do other things. And he hasn't asked much lately. I keep thinking once we get to NZ it will be better because I won't have as much pulling my attention away from him. I do wonder, though, when we're just living our daily lives what's the best way to be sure I'm not slacking off in the educational stimulation department. Even when I'm busy I continue to bring interesting bits of information to his attention, so I know I'm doing something, at least, but I don't really think that's enough.

January 18, 2008

A Day At The Zoo & Other Fun Stuff

We've had two really fun days. Yesterday was homeschool park day and Jerry had a friend over in the morning then we all went to park day for the afternoon. Jerry hung out with two other boys at the park almost the whole time we were there and only after we'd been there for a couple hours told me he was bored and wanted to leave. The first few months of park day he always wanted to leave pretty soon after our arrival so this was major progress.

Today I had a doctor's appointment and Jerry went with me so we could stop and pick up a Webkinz on our way home. We stopped at the Farmer's Market, bought a Webkinz and then had a butter and sugar crepe. We've been unable to find a crepe that meets Jerry's satisfaction. He had his first crepe in Paris and nothing else seems to compare. We keep looking though!

After the Farmer's Market we met some homeschool friends at the zoo. It was so nice. The weather was beautiful and lots of animals were out. We went to the bird show and I bravely volunteered to have a bird land on my arm and fly off with a dollar bill (he returned it). I don't usually volunteer for that kind of stuff but the kids were sooo excited about it I had to give in. We saw the new gorilla exhibit. It was so exciting to see them and watch them interact with each other and the crowd but it was sad, too. They're so beautiful. A visit to the zoo always brings up such conflicting emotions! On the one hand it's great to see the animals, on the other I hate to see them in captivity.

My parents are coming down this weekend and I have two events happening that I look forward to all year long. First, I'm going to the Jane Austen Ball on Saturday night. Drat! I just realized I forgot to wash my dress and buy shoes! Well, maybe I can get shoes tomorrow. And I've only worn the dress twice. It can't really be that dirty. Can it? Anyway, it will be a fun evening of Regency costume and English Country Dancing. My friend Angela has secured two willing men to go as our partners (both of our husbands steadfastly refuse any involvement in the event). Then, on Sunday I'm going to my annual book club party. I love, love, love my book club.

I'm going to leave you with some pictures Warren just sent me from New Zealand. Today was his first day off so he was able to do some exploring.

January 17, 2008

Jerry's Writing!

Jerry wrote a persuasive essay! I'm thrilled! I'm not evolved enough as an unschooler to stay calm about about something that resembles school learning which I had absolutely no part in initiating. I'm still too close to the me that sees it as the only way to learn--I mean, acquire knowledge. This is my first glimpse of how he will learn (I know, I'm using it again) schoolish things without any pressure from me. Yippee! He even used a writing book I had purchased back when I went crazy buying school supplies.

It was so exciting. It all started because his friend couldn't follow through on a planned play date because of homework. Jerry was so upset he decided to write a letter to his friend's school about why kids shouldn't have homework. He did research about homework online (granted, he use Wikipedia, but I didn't mutter a word) and wrote a terrific letter. I just kept washing dishes, not saying anything unless he asked. I was so afraid I would ruin the experience for him by turning it into a lesson. I kept expecting him to lose steam and just put it aside but he kept at it, even referring to the book. (I mentioned that we had a book with a section on how to write persuasive essays only after he asked how he should write it.)

The only suggestion I made was that he send the letter to the editor of the newspaper, where it would reach more readers, instead of sending it to his friend's school, where it could get his friend in trouble.

Someday I suppose I'll take this kind of effort on Jerry's part in stride, but for now it's proof that when he has a compelling reason to learn something, he'll learn it.

January 16, 2008

Funny Stuff At The Parenting Pit

The Parenting Pit just made my day. Hurry over to there and read today's post--it's so so funny!

Click here and enjoy!

January 14, 2008

Saying Goodbye & Some Unschooling Explanations

Warren is off to New Zealand. Now it's just me, Jerry, the dog, two cats, a hermit crab, two tarantulas (don't ask!) and my twenty-something niece. Sounds like a full house but it feels pretty empty. I don't usually get all sad over Warren leaving (it's just part of his work) but this time is different. Jerry and I created a countdown on our calendar so we know exactly how many days will pass until we see him again.

Last time we went on location together was 2006. We were in London for two months. A week before our departure for home Jerry and I had taken the train up to a beautiful town in North Yorkshire called Whitby. On our second day there Jerry had a terrible cycling accident. There was no blood. He just fell and hit the handlebars wrong and the impact was so strong it lacerated his liver and bruised a couple other organs. We ended up spending two nights in ICU and a total of ten days in the hospital (mostly at the pediatric liver unit in Leeds). When I think of that experience I almost never think of it as bad luck or say to myself "wasn't it awful?" I can only think of how lucky we were to bring him home with us.

Anyway, I think that's why I'm feeling so sad about Warren leaving. Logically, I know the accident was a fluke. There's no reason something like that should happen again just because we're going on location. Thinking that way is ridiculous and I know it! But I guess it's bringing back all the memories and feelings of those last weeks in England and our trip home. We were all in such a state of shock.

Ugh. Sorry to sound so glum! The good news is that I've had absolutely no time for fretting over what Jerry is learning. In fact, I'm trying to lose the word "learning" from my vocabulary. I've decided it's wound up too tightly with school and the more tyrannical forms of education. My new word (words, actually) is (are) going to be "acquiring knowledge." I can't deny that Jerry is acquiring knowledge daily. In fact, Webkinz has turned out to be his latest source for all kinds of information! Who knew!? And he's getting really excited about New Zealand and Fiji (we're going to try for a side trip to Fiji!!) He's also learning a lot about medieval warfare (and lots of new vocabulary) through reading Redwall. We're reading it together and though I'm not entirely enamored with the story, I can't deny that the writing is pretty good.

I've just realized that writing "I've had absolutely no time for fretting over what Jerry is learning" and meaning it as a GOOD thing, will probably shock any readers who are new to my blog and aren't familiar with Unschooling. If you click on the link to the right of my blog that says "Joyfully Rejoicing" (or just click here) you'll find lots and lots of information about Unschooling written by Joyce Fetteroll. She explains it beautifully.

Here are a couple excerpts from her Unschooling Philosophy page:
The principles of unschooling are that humans are born learners. That children will learn best when given the freedom to learn what, when and how they want.

The goal of unschooling is not education. It is to help a child be who she is and blossom into who she will become. Learning happens as a side effect.

These are from How Unschooling Works:
Real learning is how they learned to speak English. If you can step back and look at it objectively, they don't consciously learn to speak. It's just there. They absorb how others use it. They play with it. They pick up a piece and use it as a tool to get what they need because it's better than the tools they had been using. (They realize "ook" gets them milk more efficiently than crying.) They never think, "Oh, English is useful. I need to practice and get better at it." They just use a variety of tools (including English) trying to get what they want and get better at the tools that work best as a side effect.

All the stuff they teach in school are tools that people might use to get what they want. In real life if someone is reading Charles Dickens and wants to know why society was like that, they'll read some history. Unfortunately schools do it backwards: giving kids the tools before they have the reasons or desire to use them, e.g., making them study Victorian England in case they want to understand Charles Dickens better. And because the tools are so dull when taken out of context, kids often turn away from the things the tools are good for.

Unfortunately there isn't a short cut from believing learning needs to look like school to believing that learning by doing is enough. And some people understand it's enough but still harbor feelings that it isn't enough. (The messages we pick up from society are pretty insidious and their roots go deep!) Read about the real learning unschooling kids are doing. Observe real learning in your own kid. (And take off the school glasses when you do it! ;-) Eventually you'll get it. :-)

That last one is good news for me.

More Good Advice

JJ from Cocking a Snook! offered a terrific analogy in response to my last post, Ban on Traditional Homeschooling Blogs. It was advice she remembered reading in an article written by the mother of a child with disabilities. I don't mean to minimize the experience of having a child with disabilities by comparing it to choosing to unschool, but her advice is relevant to so many aspects of life. I swear, it was like a light bulb went off in my head when JJ mentioned it. I found the article and was going to reprint a portion of it on my blog but I wasn't sure if I should do it without the author's permission, so I'm providing a link instead. Go read it!!

Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley

January 11, 2008

Ban On Traditional Homeschooling Blogs

Warning: These rantings are those of my highly neurotic alter ego and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the slowly evolving, practically sane, aspiring wise woman that usually pens this blog.

This is for my own good. No more reading blogs written by traditional homeschoolers! At least not until I'm securely settled in our unschooling life. They make me worry. They make me wish I had a more pliable child. They make me think there's something wrong with me. I can't read about children that actually sit down at the kitchen table and willingly do math. Or kids that diagram sentences because they were told to. Or the ones that write essays on the destruction of Pompeii just because their mom thought it would be a good idea. It's killing me!!!

My life would be so much simpler if I were following the clearly marked, well-trodden path of traditional "school at home" homeschoolers. None of this life altering, paradigm shifting, living outside the box stuff. Of course, I could only take that path if my son was willing to follow along--not much sense in going down the traditional path without the student. And I'd really only want to take that path if we could walk along together enjoying the scenery, laughing along the way. It wouldn't be a pleasant trip if I had to throw Jerry over my shoulder and lug him along the trail.

Okay. Deep breath. That's better. It's me again. Sorry. I just had to get that off my chest. It's just that I've been reading this terrific homeschooling blog and it was giving me serious blog/children/life envy. I think I'm having a moment (or couple days, actually) of weakness because of yesterdays dinner table conversation.

Perhaps a little reminder is in order. Why did I chose unschooling in the first place?
1. It suits my son better than any method of education I know.
2. It makes a lot of sense to learn about things that interest you and I think those things are more likely to be remembered.
3. I want my son to love learning. I don't want him to be so sick of it by the time he's 18 that he doesn't want to open another book.
4. Our relationship could never survive traditional homeschooling because my son is just like me--he doesn't like to be told what to do.
5. Unschooling allows us to focus on joyful living. Learning comes naturally out of joyful living. Why force something when it can happen naturally?
6. I believe unschooling is the best preparation for life-long learning.

Okay. I feel better now. Phew. I was breaking my very own first rule of Unschooling: "Don't assume that what works for one family will work for my own." Actually, I guess I was WISHING that what works for one family would work for my own, which is different different from assuming. Still, it's not a good thing.

If my son were the type of kid that would let me teach him the traditional way I would probably still be happily planning lessons, creating curricula and correcting math sheets. (I say still as if that lasted for more than three days! Ha!) But, one of the things I appreciate about this unschooling journey is that it has made me question my motives and philosophies. And that questioning has energized me. It's not so easy to change paths. Thankfully I'm being guided by those of you who have trod the unschooling trail before me. If I didn't have your footprints to follow I'd be lost.


January 10, 2008

Why Must He Torture Me?!

Why?! Why?! Why must he torture me so?!

This is the conversation that took place this evening, at our kitchen table, between Jerry and his best friend, Jackson--and me. (Jackson's mom is considering homeschooling him next year.)

Jerry: You should homeschool next year J. Especially if you do it like me. I don't have to do anything!

Jackson: Yeah, but I want to learn something. I don't want to be stupid.

Jerry: I'm not learning anything and I'm not stupid.

Me (two octaves higher than my normal voice): You are too learning stuff!

Jackson: Like what?

Me: Like remember after the art exhibit the other day we talked about the internment of the Japanese-American people during World War II.

Jerry: We did? I don't remember that.

Jackson: Oh, we learned about that in school. They put entire families in one room and only had a sheet to separate them!

Jerry: Hmmm. I don't remember that.

Why? Why? Why? Why?!!!!!!!

January 9, 2008

Recommended Reading for Newbies

I just wanted to share a few posts with you from Laura at Wistful Wanderlust. I highly recommend reading all three of them, especially if you're relatively new to unschooling, or you've started unschooling an older child. They're a joy to read and give a really honest representation of her journey.

Unschooling Q&A: How Did We Get Here?
In Part One Laura talks about the paradigm shift that led her to unschooling.

Unschooling Q&A: How Did We Get Here? Part II

Part Two chronicles her journey from mainstream parent to alternative parent to unschooler.

Unschooling Q&A: How Did We Get Here? Part III
Part three delves into the bane of my existence for the first few months of unschooling, "screen time."


My Very Own Unschooling Philosophy

I'm gearing up to apply some major coercion and bribery to get Jerry out and about when we're in New Zealand. He's a real homebody. He almost never wants to leave the house unless it's to play with a friend. And since he doesn't have any friends in New Zealand (yet) and I know I'm going to want to get out and about, I'm thinking I'll need to rely on coercion and bribery. I know as an unschooler I'm supposed to respect his wishes and all that but if I was always putting Jerry's wishes above mine I'd be extremely unhappy, and I'd never get out of the house except as a taxi driver. The thing is, I know Jerry will have fun doing the things I want to do. It's getting him there that's the problem. Leaving the house for Jerry is like going to the gym for me (not that I've stepped foot in a gym recently). He doesn't want to go, but when he gets there he's glad he made the effort. Monday was a typical example of this.

He said he was bored, so I said "Let's go somewhere." He hemmed and hawed but finally agreed to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Takashi Murakami exhibit. (He's a Japanese Pop Artist.) On the way there Jerry admitted that he didn't really want to see the exhibit but I said we were almost there, and I really wanted to see it, and he did SAY he wanted to go, etc. So we went and of course it was awesome. Of course Jerry had a good time. We went into this room: And we saw stuff like this: And this: And cool toys like this:
Yes, there were some bare breasts (monstrously big ones in a couple cases), which bothered Jerry a bit. He's not too keen on nudity and wishes artists would stop putting it in their work. But we managed to avoid most of that stuff.

All in all it was a fun outing. We ate lunch in Little Tokyo, talked about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, marveled at some really cool architecture and played with my new iPhone. Here's a picture (taken by Jerry) of the refrigerator where we ate:

So, back to my original topic--coercion and bribery. If I'm the parent and I know he's the kind of kid that needs a little extra push to make it out the door in order to do something I'm 99% sure he'll enjoy, I think I'm going to give him that extra push. I'm not saying I'll ignore his needs or desires, or that I'll resort to intimidation to get him to go along. I'm just saying I'm willing to nudge him a little.

I've noticed a pendulum effect on this unschooling journey of mine. In the beginning I wanted to dip my toes in the water and wade in slowly, then I thought it was best to jump in all at once, which is what we did. I was really focused on unschooling the "right" way for a while there. I'm completely aware of the fact that there isn't a "right" way to unschool. But since I didn't have my own way I had to follow somebody else's and I chose to take the (mostly) Radical approach. Now that I've been at both ends of the pendulum I'm starting to find my own place within the two extremes. I'm not saying I know where that place is. I just notice that I'm finding MY way. And this decision, to give gentle nudges when needed, is my first step toward creating an unschooling philosophy that's just right for me and my family.

January 8, 2008

Our First 100 Days, A Recap

I couldn't sleep. I'm starting to get anxious about our trip. Actually, I'm nervous about preparing for our trip--not the trip itself. For the last two days I've had butterflies in my stomach pretty much all the time. And they're not the good kind. I bought our plane tickets yesterday, which should make me feel better because at least now I know when we're leaving--there's not so much uncertainty now. Still, I needed Rescue Remedy before bed last night. Thank goodness for Rescue Remedy!

The real reason I got at out bed at 5:30 a.m., though, was not to give you a sob story, but to write an overview of our first 100 days. Sally at Happy@Home suggested celebrating our first 100 days of unschooling and I loved that idea but, unfortunately, the day slipped by unnoticed. That was during the week we had out of town guests and I was pretty sick.

So, here's a recap our first 100 days of unschooling--where we've come from and where we are now:

The Beginning

In the beginning, before we started unschooling or even homeschooling, I knew unschooling was not right for us. It seemed way to haphazard. I remember reading about unschoolers putting books and magazines on their coffee table just hoping they would generate some interest from their kids and thinking, "I could never do that." I couldn't trust that learning would happen if it wasn't somehow forced.

The Decision to Homeschool

After five years of Waldorf school we decided to homeschool again (we'd done it for kindergarten) and I started making plans. Oh how I love making plans! I researched curricula and books. I scoured the internet for unit studies. I shopped. I set up our "school" room. I printed up weekly schedules on the computer. I spent way too much money, that's for sure. But it was really fun. I was excited.

Then we started "school."
Day one was fun, we went on a field trip to the Science Center, but by day three we weren't speaking to each other. This wasn't part of my plan.

The Decision to Unschool
In desperation, I turned to unschooling. Unschoolers claimed that their kids learned willingly, without arguments and ordeals. That sounded pretty good to me. Here's what I wrote at the time:

So, I found myself at the edge of a cliff. Behind me, on solid ground, was traditional homeschooling. Among the landscape that made up this method were math worksheets, book reports, and english lessons. There were also arguments, tears and frustration. In front of me, deep within the chasm just beyond my big toe, lay the world of unschooling. It was vast and dark and downright terrifying. But my instincts told me to jump.

I did.

Unschooling 101
It was rough going at first. This post, and this one, describe what happened once I made the decision. But, I'll go ahead and summarize here:
1. I started losing sleep, convinced that my decision would not only ruin my son's chances for a good future but bring about his death. (I know. I have no defense. I'm ridiculous.)
2. I learned about deschooling.
3. I joined the Unschooling Basics Yahoo! Group and discovered that unschooling is not just a form of education--it's a whole new way of parenting that involves taking children seriously. Seriously. That means taking their interests seriously too--like their interest in video games. That was a tough one for me.
4. I told my husband. He was willing to trust me but he was not exactly eager to jump off the cliff with me. He sort of laid down near the edge and watched with one eye.
5. I joined an Independent Study Program because the woman that runs it said she unschooled her kids and I felt like I could use some support.
6. My Grandma bought Jerry his own laptop.

So, like I said, in the beginning things were rough. This graph says it all.

There were times when I tried some "teaching" (even though we were supposed to be deschooling) to appease my husband. It always ended badly. Eventually we hit our stride. But not until I gave up on trying to impose restrictions on Jerry's video game and television time and truly allowed him to make his own choices. Here's something I wrote from that period:
We'll see. That's my mantra. We'll see. I've diverged so far from the Waldorf path we'd been on before that I'm beginning to get a little worried. But...we'll see. I'm trying to have an open mind. I'm questioning my beliefs and trying to find answers that are all my own. Heck, I even checked out a book called Don't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning, about how computer and video games prepare children for success. I never would have even entertained this thought two months ago. Of course, I'm balancing that book out with another one called Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, which makes the opposite argument. We'll see....

I had lots of angst-filled days (and nights) trying to wrap my head around this new philosophy, but I always made my way back to feeling it was right--eventually. Here's an excerpt from a post that started out full of doubts and ended with certainty:
When we choose to unschool we grant credence to our children's philiosphies and values as well as our own. What a gift! If our kids never learn that the philosophies we live and work by must always come from other people, won't they be more likely to live lives that are consistent with their own beliefs? And aren't we happiest when the way we live is an extension of the things we believe?

The Honeymoon Phase
We entered our Honeymoon Phase in mid-November, after many ups and downs. Here's an example of a perfect day. They're not all like this, of course, but in this post I translated our activities into "school speak" for my husband's benefit. It shows how learning can happen even when you're not "Teaching."

100 Days and Counting
Where are we now that we've passed the 100 day mark? We're still in our Honeymoon Phase but the holidays have taken some of the focus off of our unschooling adventure, which is good, I think. It feels more like we're just living our lives--following our bliss, so to speak. We're not doing anything that looks like traditional learning and I'm finally okay with that. They say deschooling takes a month for every year your child was in school--and much longer for parents--so Jerry should be nearing the end. I honestly don't know how I'll be able to tell when he's left deschooling for unschooling. I imagine the transition will be almost invisible. For me, I think it took most of those first 100 days just to get rid of the notion that learning looks a certain way and to stop worrying about what people will think.

I still cringe when Jerry tells people he does nothing but play video games all day. But thankfully there are wonderful people who comment on my blog and talk me down from my hysteria. They remind me that kids usual response to "What did you do in school today?" is "Nothing." And they also remind me that whether it's true or not (sometimes it is but most often it's not) other people's opinions are just that--and they don't really matter.

There's still a lot that I don't know. But, after 100 days of unschooling, here are some things I know:

1. Jerry has never been happier.
2. My relationship with Jerry has never been better.
3. Jerry and his dad are getting along better than ever.
4. Video games are not evil.
5. The golden rule applies to our children. If we treat them as we wish to be treated, they blossom.
6. Jerry may not learn the exact same things as school kids--but he'll learn (is learning) about what interests him, and he'll remember it because it matters to him.
7. Pursuing my own learning is, naturally, one of the best things I can do for myself. But it's also great for Jerry. He gets wrapped up in my excitement and ends up learning with me.
8. The whole world is our classroom and everyone in it is a potential teacher. This knowledge has opened up countless learning opportunities for us because we're much more willing to ask questions and start conversations.
Okay, I had the list finished and the post published but now I keep thinking of things to add to this list. Here are a few more:
9. Saying "Yes!" more is an great way to ease into unschooling and it doesn't require a complete overhaul of your lifestyle. Besides that, it's just a good policy. Say yes to as much as possible!
10. Unschooling is 99.9% about trust. You have to trust that your child wil learn and you have to trust that learning can happen organically.
(I'll probably make more additions as they come to me!)

So, there you have it. Our first 100 days in a nutshell. Here's to another hundred! And another...and another...and another...

January 4, 2008

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do

Here's a terrific video clip from Ted.com, one of the best sites in the entire world. It's a talk given by Gever Tully of The Tinkering School. Basically he says we should let our kids play with fire, own a pocketknife, get behind the wheel of a car (uh, before they can see over the dashboard), and a couple other things. His point is that kids feel empowered when they get the opportunity to explore these often forbidden experiences. They learn things they could never learn just by watching a demonstration or hearing a lecture from a well-meaning parent. Sounds a little unschoolish, doesn't it?

January 3, 2008

Making Friends & Leaving Town

Here's a picture of Jerry and Ravenpaw:

Jerry has a friend over from the homeschool group today. I'm so glad! I actually had butterflies in my stomach as we were driving home from the park with this boy in the car. Isn't that silly? I think it's just because I know Jerry was really wanting to get together with this boy and he's been wanting new friends so badly. It's tough for him because he likes to sit on the sidelines and watch a bit before jumping into anything new--relationships included--and it takes longer to make friends that way. I do suppose those friends are more likely to stick, though, since they're more carefully chosen.

The one thing that's bothering me now is that just as Jerry is starting to make friends with kids in the homeschool group we're going to leave the country. That kind of stinks. I'd already decided that Jerry and I will probably just go to New Zealand for three months even though Warren will be there a bit longer (mainly because we'll save money by traveling later), but I'm wondering if we should only go for two months instead. Even as I write that sentence I think the answer is probably no. That would be making a decision based on fear and I generally try not to do that. The fear, I think, is that it will take even longer for Jerry to develop friendships if we leave. But I guess his friendships will develop in whatever time they take to develop no matter where we are. I can't force them to happen faster so we might as well take full advantage of this opportunity to experience life in another part of the world. Right? I hope I'm right, anyway. Still, I wonder...

January 1, 2008

Big News For The New Year!

So we've been home for five days now and I still haven't put up the time line. I'm going to do it though--it's just that I've been sidetracked by two things. First of all, I read the book Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I read lots of young adult fiction because I'm writing a young adult novel--and because I like it. Anyway, I absolutely had to finish this book in one sitting. It was that good. And now I can't stop thinking (okay, fantasizing) about that beautiful vampire, Edward Cullen. What's wrong with me!? I'm not allowed to buy the second book until I've done all the things I put off in order to read the first book all in one day, which could take a while because (drum roll please....) I have so much to do because (keep the drums rolling....) of the second thing that has sidetracked me which is (--cut the drums) we're going to New Zealand! Yippee! For three and a half months!!! Wahoo!!!! Warren will be working on a film in Auckland from about the middle of January until the first of May. Hooray!!!!

I was really hoping for a good location job so that we could take advantage of the fact that Jerry isn't in school as soon as possible and it's actually happened. Of course, it could unhappen just as quickly because he was actually supposed to work on this same film a year ago and they pulled the plug at the last minute, so there's always a possibility it won't go through. But, for now things look good.

We'll be staying in Auckland and I've already met (through the magic of the blogoshpere) a really nice homeschooling blogger from Auckland named Cate. Her blog is called Moments Of Whimsy. It's a great window into their life in New Zealand with lots of photos and great descriptions of how they spend their time. Check out Christmas Downunder for details on what Christmas is like in New Zealand and Volcanic Dreams for a taste of the hysteria I'm sure to be feeling as we settle in to life in a live volcanic zone. (I wish we'd never learned so much about Pompeii!) I'm so looking forward to meeting Cate and her family. And I'm hoping to meet Anne and Arun from The Parenting Pit as well. Isn't blogging great!? It's opened up a whole new world of people and places to me. I love it!

Oh, I almost forgot to wish you all a Happy New Year. Here are some links to a few inspiring posts for the New Year:
The Parenting Pit
Embracing the Strange
Open-Hearted Life

Happy New Year!!