Tuesday, January 25, 2011

on teaching

Someone asked recently if I could give an example of how I teach.
I don't teach. At least, not any more than my children do-- which is to say that we just communicate naturally and authentically with each other.

Since my words and thoughts come from my own evolving perspective, and since I've kept this blog for a few years, and the basic current tone for over two of those years, I forget that some folks don't know us well. :) Mostly I feel like everyone knows everything there is to know about us.
But that's not true, obviously, so here it is.

As I was saying, I don't teach. And I don't teach deliberately. If I find myself ever doing so, then I usually stop immediately, mostly with great chagrin.
What I (and we) do, is ask questions.
I ask "Want to go?"
I ask "shall we look it up?"
I say, "Woh. Check this out."
I make offers... "Hey, I was reading about this... I thought maybe we could see what it's about. Want to?" and "Hey, we need to write the review for this book, wanna finish it up with me?" "Hey, I'm in the mood to play a game with you on the computer, is there something you'd like to play with me?"

I do nudge, sometimes. For quite a while -a year or better, maybe- I had a really hard time with the nudging thing... wondering if it was coercive... now I've learned how to be mindful of what my motives are, and how to make sure I am coming from a place of authenticity and joy, and not doing something out of fear or "should".
What that nudging looks like is talking to my son about something new I think he'll truly enjoy, or pausing situations (learning to play checkers to mind), to point something out, to show another option. "What options can you see here?" or "Look around this one," or "Watch out for this one!"
Those not intimately familiar with learning the way we do will ask "What's wrong with nudging? Or with teaching for that matter?" And my answer to that is, "There is nothing wrong with it. It's just not the way we choose to do it." Teaching, to me, means "I (or a curriculum) know better than you what you need to know, and how you should interpret things, so let me tell you How It Is, and you memorize it." I don't believe I get to (or should) choose that for another.

There is no right and wrong in this. Like everything else, it comes down to personal philosophies. Of being and representing who you are.
And I believe in Unschooling. Its principles jive with me. It sings through my veins, and it shines through my spirit. That isn't to say that I am devoted to Unschooling, but rather the reverse... that Unschooling is a pretty good, modern description of who I am.

I want my children to create their best Selves.
I want them to have unhindered time to feel out who that is, and to show me, so that I may find that tiny glimmer, and help them to shine it their brightest, for all to see.
I don't believe in being judgmental-- I work diligently to not judge anyone. This has to include my children and their own Truths and preferences.
I believe in personal and spiritual sovereignty.

So. What's the Mama for, then?

I get to watch and listen closely, and to come up with ideas and places and things that I think will interest them.
I get to share what interests me.
I get to be close, and help them to understand.
I get to say, "Hey. Let's tear it up, today," when things are seeming a little stagnant.
I get to watch, and to try to help them get over a fear of something - be that from feelings of ineptitude, or their own smallness.

As you can see from our daily notes, we play.
We have books. We have science kits. We go to the library. We watch movies and videos. We look things up. We explore and create and investigate and imagine and discover.

So I don't teach. I try to Empower.
[shrug] I just do my best to help them shine their divine, sparkly Light.


  1. "I just do my best to help them shine their divine, sparkly Light."

    Sounds just perfect to me.

    Unschooling also is who I am. I couldn't imagine any other way of living and learning. It just all comes together to create a most beautiful life. xo

  2. I don't know about you, but being an unschooling momma is a lot of momma-work behind the scenes, too! I don't know how it compares to homeschoolers with a curriculum, but I spend just acres of time researching stuff they'd like, collecting books that might interest them, filing projects away in my noggin to suggest, planning day trips and museum trips and field trips and such, looking for poetry books about math, etc.

    Obviously, I love it.

  3. Absolutely! It's tons of work. But it's my work, and I love it. :)

  4. Love how you said this. :-)

    And thanks so much for your words of sympathy the other day; it meant a lot.

  5. You just keep on knocking out these awesome posts, and I will keep on sharing them.
    I love it :-)

  6. EXACTLY! Unschooling is more than just learning things, it is LIVING things. Every moment, 24/7, morning noon and night. It is the parents, the kids, the family, the community. :)

  7. Your lucky children!
    To unschool, I think you have to be totally unselfish. When you hear that little spark of interest you cant think... ok, when I'm finished my sewing project we can look that up. By the time I've finished my sewing project, that spark is gone... moved on... no longer relevant. The spark has to be picked up and explored as it happens. For me, that is the challenge in unschooling.
    Excellent window into unschooling - thanks.
    Blessings and magic,

  8. Sometimes it's difficult to see An-Educational-Opportunity and resist pushing it too hard or intervening when your help or interest is not asked for.

    With practise and patience I've learned to bite my tongue and step back. Well, most of the time!

  9. Because this is a journey I've only been taking for about a year, because sometimes moving away from "teaching" is a conscious choice of YES and staring down fear, because I somedays briefly have doubts, this post makes me feel trembly with tears. Tears of recognition and discovery. Tears of, THIS IS IT. This is my path too. THIS here, what you are describing, is the path I am traveling on, and towards. This is my future, and my now. You've put it into words.

    I know I could find them myself, but you just wrote them, as though you wrote them for me, and now we're sitting opposite each other, grinning with how beautiful this life is. They're here for me to come to, anytime, to remember with joy. Thank you, Stephanie. You truly make a difference in my life.

  10. Helena - yeah, there is a lot of "staring down fear". That's a perfect way to say it.

    And I'm so glad that what I've written makes sense and is a little helpful to someone.

  11. THANK YOU THANK YOU,I did ask and once again you wrote it so beatifully.YOu are awesome.I Love your blog and I am looking forward to getting to know your family as I continue following.I am trying to ease up and just let him tell me what he wants.
    This morning he really let me have it BC he didn't want to learn about where commas go,and I said"Youhav eto Bc the state says you do".I KNOW I WAS WRONG for that and I feel awful for it now.
    THanks again
    Keep those amazing words coming my way.

  12. All I can say is, "A-yup-yup!"

  13. Wonderfully said!

  14. You are magnificient....will you teach my child?? You are someone to admire....keep teaching my friend...

  15. Helena said exactly what I was thinking as I was reading this wonderful post!

    Thank you, Stephanie, for putting into words so eloquently the joys of unschooling and why we do what we do! And thank you, Helena, for saying what my heart was feeling!

    This post struck such a chord with me that I had to share it on my Facebook page! Thank you for being such an inspiration to me and so many others. Thank you for your beautiful blog and sharing your days with us. It truly is a blessing.

  16. Ditto what everyone said :)!! What has really hit home to me recently is I need to make sure that fear is only my burden to bear, because it is MY problem and so not theirs. They can smell it, they can smell fear in me a mile away. The good news, they remind me quicker than I can remind myself that fear only lasts as long as I feel I need to control anything. Does that make sense? I think unschooled kids are so good at being real and getting to the core of things because they are so in touch with who they are and not what others think they "should" be. This is why I unschool. I never want them to think they have to be anyone but themselves. And as you say "create their best selves". Anyway, this is timely post I just shared about my own fears yesterday. Thanks Stephanie :).

  17. Yes. Mmm hmmm. To all of this, and so many of the comments, too (Denise). I'm not a great teacher. And I'm an even worse faciltator. But I'm a talker. I will sit and talk and explore a topic with you for hours. And hours, days, weeks and months, we have, as unschoolers. We just live our lives and the learning happens and nothing can stop it. It's wonderful.

  18. Yes! Another wonderful post which speaks to my heart. I too feel unschooling runs through my veins, and yet...and yet I stumble. Still, I pick myself up and carry on (with apologies where necessary) and posts like yours Stephanie, help make the journey so much better :-)

  19. Hello. TOTALLY off topic, but I was looking online for some more crystal experiments to offer to DD since she totally geeked over the borax one, and I stumbled on this
    Not sure if the little linky will show up for you, but there were a few interesting ones on there. Wanted to send some crystal love your way since your idea for snowflake crystals were the highlight of our Christmas Tree!

  20. Really great post :)

    You have me wondering though, and thank you as I love to wonder LOL, as much as this is what feels good for you...what about a child who doesn't unschool well.

    I know that may seem totally crazy to you...but...what about the child who is not interested in anything other than video games or sports for example? My son is not the type who is academically motivated and would not be interested in figuring this or that out... He does better with structure and content.

    My daughter on the other hand is intrinsically motivated to figure things out. I make available what she is currently working on and she's off to the races...

    I just wonder if like learning styles, or flavours of ice cream or any number of things we are all individuals and need individual ways to learn new thing? Some with a laid out curriculum others with their own thoughts and desires guiding them.

    Thank you for your post :)

  21. Hi Homeschoolin' Momma.
    Those are totally fair questions.
    Madeleine is the same as your daughter... she has a thousand things she wants to do every day. I hardly ever say to her "what about ___, wanna do that?" Rarely does she stop for long, or run out of ideas.
    Trev, on the other hand is different.
    And he does play a lot of video games. He switches around a lot, and goes with that one for a while (a week or two, often). Spore... Lego Star Wars... Jurassic Park.... Super Mario on the wii... Zoo Tycoon... his style is to eat something up until he finishes it.
    I don't usually worry about it, as long as I know he's actually working on it or interested, but I will step in if I think he's only doing it because he's not bothering to exercise his brain a bit and come up with something better(more interesting for him) to do. I know him well enough that I can notice the difference.
    When I expect that it is complacency, and not a genuine interest that's leading him, then I'll say, "Hey! Wanna do this with me?" Or ask if they want to go to the natural history museum (a favorite of ours), or the library (always a guarantee to find something interesting there), or even get out something at home that shakes up things up a bit.
    Another thing we do, if I feel that we're getting too boring is we'll sometimes make a list in the morning of things we'd like to do that day. We all have to agree to the things that go on the list, but all of us come up with three or four ideas. Anyone can nix anyone else's idea, because they're things we all do together. (Maddie will also come up with ideas for just she and I still, of course, too. Lots of puzzles and art, which Trev doesn't usually care for.)

    About workbooks and things-- we have workbooks. Maddie picks them up, and Trev really never has.

    So me believing what I do, I just find ways to make it work. Madd has thousands of art supplies available (and almost all of them are literally within her reach) and blocks and workbooks and whatever she could want at the ready.
    And Trev does too, and has free access to Wikipedia and the internet (he researches things), and youtube (though he knows to be wary of adult things he would not want to see, he is by his choice a G and PG sort of kid) and his computer games and books and dinosaurs and... :)
    And so when we need structure "What should we do today?" we do that.

    I think you might be asking "But what to do with a kid that only wants to do one thing??
    And my answer will have to be... I don't know that a kid truly would only want to do One Thing. At least not for very long.
    And again, if it were one of my two that were doing that, I would look to why it was happening, and if I needed to step in. Being honest with them goes a looooooong way toward solving these sorts of problems. "Look, Bud. I'm feeling a little panicky because I'm feeling like this is the only thing you're interested in... can you tell me about this?"
    And chances are, there might be something else they'd like to do, but you may have to look for it. But that's fun! It's fun to find things that your child is fascinated with.
    It makes you better partners, and can only help a loving relationship.

    I'm wondering if this comment is too long, and I can't send it....

  22. phew... it went through. Totally forgot to save or copy before I sent it. I woulda been buuuuh-uumed if I had lost it. :)

    So I was saying that if I truly thought there was only one thing, I would find out first if that were strictly and absolutely true.
    There are truly people in this world that want to live and breathe one particular thing. I think they are rare, but that it does happen.
    Dance, comes to mind. Or music. Or horses.
    Realistically, I think I would try to find a way to make that work for both of us.
    "Look, babe. I know you love this. And I love that you love it. And you're amazing with it... it's your zen space, and I totally get that. I would never want to take that away from you.
    "What I am wondering is... do you think that we could be together for a couple hours every day, doing some other sorts of things together, too? I don't want to take this away from you. I only want to make sure you're keeping alive some other parts of your Self. I don't doubt your love for this, I just feel that I should be helping you to keep the rest of you exercised and alive, too..."
    and then toss ideas and dialogue around. You know? I would try to make it clear that I didn't resent it, but admired it, and see if we could come up with some things that would make both of us happy.

    My goal would not be well-roundedness, really (I don't happen to think passionate people are very well-rounded, and I like passionate people) but rather a solid preparedness for life.

    ??? I don't know if that answers your questions. :)

  23. You totally have and I thank you for you thoughtful response :)

    You have given me pause and my mind a stretch in another direction...for which I am grateful :)


  24. Just wishing there was a like button on the comments, so I could like your last two, Stephanie. :-)

  25. Thank you for giving us a closer look into what unschooling means to your family. All that you said really resonates with how I feel about "teaching" and "learning." My husband is a former teacher, and I did my graduate work in education, so we've really had to unlearn a lot of "best practice" methods that we were taught. Because of our background, many think that I have set up a little homeschool preschool in our home and tend to be quite surprised when they hear our whole life learning philosophy. We are still deschooling ourselves, so I always enjoy reading posts such as this to gain a deeper understanding into how unschooling works for other families. Also as a reminder to myself to let go of those ingrained ideas of what education "should look like" and be true to myself and the freedom that we value.

  26. It dawned on me recently that I am not a "teacher" in any way shape or form, I am a co-learner. And more often than not, they teach *me* a thing or two.

    Excellent post :)

  27. Stephanie, I'm just rereading this with a clearer mind today, and loving not only your post, but also your words to Homeschoolin' Momma. That was such a great "nuts and bolts" kind of help to those of us who have the same questions as she did - so thank you for that.

    And everything else too, of course, as always....

  28. I also really appreciate this post. I started following your blog a few months ago, and love all the information you provide, without specifically providing it. Kinda like unschooling :)

    As for the child who has a sole focus, I can touch on that a bit. My 5 yo DD loves horses. She has been in love with horses for just over year now. It borders on obsessed sometimes. I love it. I love that she has a passion and sticks with it. In all honesty, it makes it a little easier to "teach" some things. We make horse biscuits (math), learn about where horses originated (geography), read about horses, sort horses, create fantastic imaginary worlds for the horses, etc. The way I look at it, anything she wants to learn, horses can help her.

    Do I want her to learn about other things in life, sure. But only if she wants too. Because if she doesn't, she won't really learn it anyway.

    Thanks for the awesome inspiration!

  29. This is a fabulous post! We are not unschoolers (yet), more like eclectic learners. The best days are days where we find a topic and just run with it and immerse ourselves. We let ourselves do that - we don't stick to someone's idea of what a "lesson" is.

    I hope as we ease into homeschooling, we can get more "unschooly" and find more sparkle!


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!