November 23, 2008

Waldorf School Revisited

We went to the Elves' Faire at Jerry's old school yesterday. Yep, he went to a Waldorf school for five years before we went to "school-at-home" for a whopping three days and then, out of sheer desperation, to unschooling. I don't regret our decision a bit but can I just say that I love his old school? I don't love the playground politics or the getting there bright and early and picking him up after seven hours only to struggle with homework until well into the evening.

But, I love that campus. And I love the people. And I love the peaceful feeling I get from being there--especially now that I can go to enjoy myself and visit old friends instead of working like a dog! In the past I've been in charge of costumed characters, usually taking a turn as one of the characters (the fortune fairy) myself. This was the first time I've ever gone to the Elves' Faire strictly for enjoyment. It was great!
I swiped that picture from my friend Jim's Flickr page (without asking...). Thanks Jim!

At park day last week one of my homeschool friends was saying she tends to think of parents at the Waldorf school as of a bunch of rich people dressed in funky (but super expensive) clothes. She knows that's not the case, she said, but that's the impression the Waldorf school gives. It's not my experience of the school at all, though. Sure there were some people I'd consider rich and there were a handful that shop in places where I can't even afford to breathe the air. But for the most part they are families who really believe in the Waldorf philosophy. Still, her comment made me think about the way people view homeschoolers.

When Jerry and I were at the hostel in Marin a couple weeks ago we were talking to one of the women that was staying there and she asked about Jerry's school. As soon as we told her we homeschooled I could see the wheels turning in her mind. She was making all kinds of assumptions about us: "social misfit....over-protective mother...ultra-religious...weird." I'm always amazed at how it's possible to actually see these thoughts flow through someone's mind. It's like they're flipping through a rolodex of qualities (none of them good) we surely possess.

Anyway, back to revisiting the Waldorf school. Some of you may be wondering how we went from Waldorf to unschooling since they're on completely different ends of the control spectrum. Waldorf keeps the kids in a very controlled environment. It's an environment of peace, serenity, beauty, music, watercolors, hand-crafted toys, and stories by candle light. I love that environment. But it turns out Jerry wasn't so keen on it. While we were trying to give him the best of the "old world" childhood (minus the infectious diseases and poor hygiene) he was dying to break out into the 21st century childhood of Nintendo and Club Penguin. Granted, we never went full on Waldorf. He was allowed screen time on weekends but our opinions ruled. And our opinion was that screen time was wasted time, or worse, it was detrimental time.

You can throw a stone and hit a study that says television and video games are ruining our children. But there are a fair amount of studies (you may have to look a little harder) that show us there's nothing wrong with video games or television and, in fact, the screen time we were so wary of offers opportunities for developing qualities and skills that are very much in demand in today's world. Personally, I'm not sure any of these studies has much relevance in our lives. It's possible to find a study on just about anything that will back up your own personal feelings so I think we have to take them with a grain (or ten) of salt. Still, it makes me feel better to know that some people think video games can help rather than hinder a child's development.

In the end, though, none of that really matters because when we opted to unschool we chose to take Jerry's interests seriously. And he's seriously interested in video game and computers and television. So we did a complete 180 and (after a few failed attempts at partial control) decided to give Jerry the freedom to choose how he spends his time.

We're obviously still working on being more accepting of his choices. When I start to worry (like I was the other day) I find the best solution is to keep my mouth shut, post something about my concerns here (devour the comments), read some posts at the Unschooling Basics Yahoo! group, and talk to other unschoolers about the issue. I'm usually feeling better about things in a day or two. If I'm not feeling better, at the very least, I have a plan of action--and a plan always makes me feel better.

My current plan is this:
  1. Plan more Jerry approved outings during the week. Even just going to the library gets him off the couch and out into the world so the outings don't need to be big.
  2. Spend more time hanging out with Jerry during the day. If he's watching television I'll watch with him. If he's playing video games I'll sit beside him and read out loud. I think I just need to devote more time to him. If I'm right next to him he'll be more likely to suggest that we do something together.
  3. Find out how I can expand on his video game/computer/television interests. I've posted a request for ideas on Unschooling Basics and I have a few ideas of my own. I think my support of these interests needs to be more active.
So that's the plan. As much as I need to respect Jerry's interests, I also need to help him make choices that will enhance his life. Hopefully more choices and more time together will mean more time spent off the couch. And more time off the couch will make Warren stop saying he thinks Jerry would be better off in school. And it'll give Jerry more energy. And it'll keep me from waking up at 3 in the morning to read Sandra Dodd and Joyce Fetterol and the unschooling e-groups. And then I'll have more energy. And then my house will be clean all the time and I'll become super organized and I might even start a daily exercise regimen and I'll lose weight and--Oh my God this is going to be GREAT!

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