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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.