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...

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