Anyway, on to better things....
Advice for the New UnschoolerLess than thirty minutes later: I found it! I found the paper I needed after only 20 minutes of looking. It was in Jerry's desk of all places! I never would have looked in there except that Jerry's desk is now my desk, so I started cleaning it out and there it was! I can register for my classes now. Yippee!
We're coming up on our first homeschooling anniversary. And three days after that will be our first unschooling anniversary. Yes, we lasted a full three days in school at home mode before both Jerry and I were in separate rooms crying and I tossed my hands in the air (onto the computer keyboard, actually) and googled "unschooling."
I've been thinking a lot lately about what I would say to myself if I could travel back in time and give my new unschooler self a few words of advice from my not-so-new unschooler self.
The very first thing I would say is that she should throw the whole one month for every year in school thing out the window. You've heard that right? "It takes one month for every year a kid spends in school to rediscover his love of learning." Here's the thing about that: first of all, as the parent that puts you in a bit of a holding pattern. You're waiting for something to happen. You're looking for "learning" all the time. You can't wait for x number of months (it was five for us) to be over so the real unschooling can begin. But here's the thing about that: It's already begun. The unschooling started the day your child walked out of the classroom for good. It's going to look different as time passes and in the beginning it'll throw you off because either you might not see the value in what they're doing or it won't look anything like learning. But relax. Someday it will.
In fact, that's something else I'd tell my new unschooler self: Drop the word "learning" from your vocabulary. It might be different for other kids but my son came out of school with very strong feelings about learning--none of them good. So even when I insisted he was learning by sitting around playing video games and watching TV all day (even though I didn't have much faith in that at the time), I was still putting emphasis on something he didn't value. Now, I know Jerry does value learning. But when he is learning about something he enjoys (using Microsoft Paint to create new Pokemon, for example--that's what he's been up to lately) he doesn't consider it learning. To Jerry, learning is being forced to remember or do something that isn't interesting to him or has no relation to his life. To me, it's gathering information and creating a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. But since our definitions are so different why not just lose the word altogether?
So what should my new unschooler self be doing while she's not talking about learning or looking for it in her son? Follow her bliss! This is one of the things I like best about homeschooling (and unschooling in particular because it seems to allow more time for this kind of thing). Have you always wished you'd paid attention in physics class? Get yourself a book and start reading about it. And when you get excited about something share it with your child. Don't share it in an "I want you to know this" way. Share in a "look what I just discovered--isn't it awesome!" way. Excitement is contagious. And though your child may never become excited about electrons moving from one atom to another or the second law of thermodynamics, he'll see that you're excited about learning (even though you won't call it that!) and that right there is a very important lesson!
Now, on to the big bad television and video games: In the last few months I've realized what a huge mistake it was to express my distaste for video games so loudly. Children are already bombarded with images of kids who like to play video games as losers. Compare this to kids who are obsessed with sports. How do we view those kids? We support their interest. We sign them up for team sports and encourage them to improve. But with video games we're just hoping they'll lose interest. So what message are we sending? Are we saying gamers really are losers? I think we might be. So I would tell my new unschooler self, right from the very beginning, to stop separating video game/computer time from other play time. In other words, try not to think of it as something "other" or bad.
I know this is really hard. My son was in a Waldorf school before we started this journey so we had serious restrictions on video game and computer use. We didn't ban them completely but they were not an option during the school week and on weekends he was only allowed a few hours of "screen time." But since the unschooling philosophy requires a parent to take her child's interests seriously, once we started unschooling I couldn't continue to look at Jerry's interest in video games as something that was worthless. By virtue of the fact that my son was interested in spending his time in front of the screen, the screen had worth.
For months I struggled with this. I was extremely uncomfortable with the amount of time he was spending in front of the tv, at the computer, or playing video games. I'm still not comfortable with the idea of spending all day in front of a screen but I keep my mouth shut--it's been a year now and he does it less and less. He finds interest in other things, seeks out my company and asks to play board games or draw or do things that I couldn't get him interested in when we began.
So I would also ask my new unschooler self--no, wait, I would insist--that she carefully consider the message she is sending to her child when she places negative judgments on the things that are near and dear to his heart.
I think that's it for now. I'm sure I'll come up with other ideas. In fact, if anyone else wants to put a similar post up at their own blog, I'd be happy to put a link to it here. I figure the new unschoolers need all the help and encouragement they can get. It's a rough few months when you're first starting out, questioning everything you ever believed about learning and parenting and trying to wrap your head around a style of learning that looks suspiciously like doing nothing. But once you make that paradigm shift "doing nothing" suddenly becomes "living joyfully" and things start to fall into place.
-written by me, on August 28, 2008