Sunday, April 10, 2011

And how are the Children?

I can look back at particular times in my mamahood, and remember being fretful about some things. Things that others would no doubt raise an eyebrow over (thinking my priorities were awfully skewed)...
Things like dressing. Learning to pump on a swing. Riding a bike. And just for a moment or two at different times, reading.
Things that others fretted over I was totally able to scoff at. Learning colors, sorting, counting, cutting with scissors... it wasn't that I didn't see those things as valuable (necessarily, though truly I think my husband and many men of my acquaintance can name like eight colors, and half of those are clearly called incorrectly :) ) but that these things were so integrated in everyday life that sitting down deliberately to "practice" them (like a recital or drill) just seemed pointless and nonsensical.
I could clearly see that we didn't need a lesson to sit and sort beans when we sorted silverware coming out of the dishwasher, and tiny toys every day into their respective basket homes.

But that can't be said for reading. Or writing. Or mathematics. For those things there must be pointed lessons! Right?
I guess maybe I can allow that in some environments, learning things like reading and numbers and thinking wouldn't be as... prevalent, maybe... as in a home that had Education and Learning in mind, but in our home, these things happen quite naturally. Naturally within the context of our home and life, anyway.

Years ago, in the beginning, I was so sure of unschooling because it seemed so limitless. "Wow! My son learning to read on his own! Oh! He'd feel so empowered! He'd know he did it by himself! He'd feel that he could do anything!"
And while I still find that an amazingly loving thing to do, to supposedly 'grant' one sovereignty when you had always believed you were the ruler by right (most of society says not only is it your right, after all, it is your duty!) I can see that raising little children who are, at large, authors of their lives is really a very practical application... my children are Happy.

Sometimes I look at our days and moments, and think "What's different?" How is this different, or more organic or natural from someone else who is schooling at home?
I mean, we don't sit and do five activities on The Letter A, but we play games. We read books.
There is no curriculum, but we sometimes plan out our days with art, games, and baking.
There is no schooltime, but we do often have 'playing together' time.
Is it the same? Is it just the framing that makes it different?
I don't require my children to learn things in any particular fashion or time, but we do have a human torso. We have owl pellets. Our microscope is often out. I'll bring things upstairs, and say "How 'bout this?"
I can't really know if it's different than it is in others' homes, I guess.
But I'll tell you what I do know-- during our very short stint with 100 Easy Lessons*, it wasn't pretty. When my son was three (pre-unschooling), it wasn't very fun when I imagined it was CraftTime and he was imagining himself anywhere else.
*Teaching Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons

While it's true that Fraction Whirl can't exactly be called organic, :), I think the difference lies in the tone, maybe? It's natural inasmuch as it's in our home, in our world, and a favorite among our games. It's natural in the sense that it was listed the other day when I asked "what to bring?".

Is that it? Choosing something naturally and openly? Is that the separation? It's not as if I don't have my hands in our days. We all do. Our hands, our hearts, our spirits.... we're all there, putting in our thoughts and wishes and opinions.

Or maybe it's that there's no judgment of things; ie "You need to practice this." There is no sense of doom (usually!) if someone isn't understanding something. Certainly there are no absolute Musts - and by absolute I mean arbitrarily and unquestioned.

There are no specific academic requirements in our home. This one's really pretty easy for me - I think it's the damnedest thing that some people think we should or even could have a certain "base" of knowledge that is known by everyone - and that there is such a thing as not having holes in one's education. If we all knew the exact same things, we'd be what, ants? But even ants have their place in their village and do what they're good at.

I don't worry about my children being damned or doomed because of the life we live.
I don't worry that they're heading for disaster because Happiness is what they've known in their life, and Happiness is what they will insist upon in adulthood.
Indeed, why would I worry that my children will carefully make choices that align with their heart's purpose?
Certainly there are sorrier fates than that.
I don't worry that they feel lost or without direction - they have two parents that adore them and watch out for them, and that have no qualms about saying "Hey, I think I can help with this one...."
I don't worry that they will be unable to deal with disappointment :) (a famous one from non-believers), there are things every day that my children have to "deal with"; not stopping for a slurpee when we're being careful with our pennies... not being able to drive a hundred miles to see friends... not going to DisneyLand today!... there are lots and lots of natural limitations in this life. No need to worry about that.
I don't worry about the timescale of What should be learned When-- the more I live this life (and shop in the educational stores and roll my eyes over the workbooks on gardening and dinosaurs) the more I am convinced that schools more often than not seem to try to produce and imitate a life well-explored and well-lived... we don't need to force (or pretend) inquisitiveness and discovery and curiosity around here... it happens in this life every day and in many, many different ways.

So I guess it's all of those things that make our life different (special, to us); living without judgments (being tested, and held up as something shiny at some moments and hidden away in others), getting to have the deciding vote in your own life, having things around your home that are interesting, fun, scientific, artsy, brainy, imaginative, geometric, tactile - with them all having the same importance (and enough time as-you-will for each of them), doing interesting and fascinating things that feel like fun instead of work, being encouraged to seek your Truth--to create your life.

I would not say (or even suppose) that the way I've chosen to raise my children is the only way to Become and Be all of things that I most admire.
That only we are imaginative.
That only we are seeking.
That only we are bold creators of our lives.
That only we are forthright, and knowledgeable, and self-confident and engaged and comfortable and joyful.
But we are all of those things.

And so, yes.
To that age-old, beautiful question, "And how are the Children?"
I can say with a soft smile in my heart, "Well. The children are all well."


  1. What a great answer to those types of questions. :) Your kids have access to more tactile, hands-on activities than most and don't seem to lack for creative ways to learn things every day. Intentionally taught or not. I think it's kind of funny though that you mentioned 100 Easy Lessons. We recently began homeschooling our youngest, and he *loves* that book. He drags it out 3-4x every day asking for another lesson. It's so funny how different kids are like that!

  2. Thank you for writing this post!

  3. Stephanie, I love reading your posts. They are always inspirational. :)

    What would you advise relatively new unschoolers to do? My girls are 14 and 11 and we have been unschooling since the first of the year.

  4. This is just so beautifully said. I so want it to be like that in our house and we are almost there. I still need to let go and trust more that they will learn their math and such. I love reading your words.

  5. beautiful...and so very timely...:)


  6. A friend of mine once told a critical person of her un-schooling "you show me a lion cub that has to sit down for a set many hours a day and study math to catch its prey and survive and I'll take back everything I believe in".
    Thanks for inspiring me again today.

  7. Hi Tracy. Is it inappropriate to say Congratulations? :)
    'Seems alright to me, as I'm always about choosing Joy.

    I would say Play. I would say talk with each other about what you're interested in. I would say that if and when you have fears, bring them to your girls, and say, "here's what I'm worried about..." I don't mean heavy things that would worry them or make them feel unsure of themselves or their choices, but I talk openly with Maddie and Trev all the time - they're 5 and 9. About feelings, and questions, and things I'd like to know.
    Aside from that - lots of the stuff I'm sure you're already doing. Spending time together, checking out books from the library, reading Teenage Liberation Handbook (haven't read it, but lots of folks I know and respect think it's the greatest thing)...
    Just feel it out.
    You don't have to know what you're doing to be good at it. :)
    I think for now just checking in with eachother and talking about your dreams and interests is the finest place to start. Think you?

  8. "schools more often than not seem to try to produce and imitate a life well-explored and well-lived... we don't need to force (or pretend) inquisitiveness and discovery and curiosity around here... it happens in this life every day and in many, many different ways"

    So very well said.

  9. Thank you for another great post :)

  10. As you know, I have been questioning quite a bit lately, as my kids get a bit older. I am still feeling my way forward, and I thank you for bringing to light the way you do it.

  11. Thank you so much for this. It reads almost like the instruction booklet that I, as a newcomer to the scene, constantly feel I'm missing, only it's far more eloquent. Actually, your whole site has become like that for me, and I thank you for the support and inspiration you provide just by keeping it.

  12. Stephanie - thank you for your reply! We pretty much do that anyway. I just feel like I am not enough. I work 4 hours a day - which is not bad - but I miss being with them. And not long after I get home they are off to play with friends in the neighborhood (or have those friends over to play). But they are happy & healthy & learning new things everyday. :)

  13. I really love this post. Love this, "Happiness is what they've known in their life, and Happiness is what they will insist upon in adulthood."

    One of the first things a Mom told me when I started homeschooling [Kei was 7] was this.."Play the first 3 or 4 years, just play" Now that Kei is 11, I am wishing I had done more of that and less 'lessony' stuff.

  14. Stephanie,

    I love these three posts (beginning with this one).

    So often I feel like I don't have a right to say we're unschoolers b/c we've found a program to help Benjamin become more confident as a reader. I feel like we're cheating. But he's doing it on his own--no help from me. He's enjoying it and he's learning.

    I guess I still need to let go of the idea that someone is out there judging or keeping score. We ARE happy and free. Benjamin is living a life without school. He's pursuing his interestes and he's blossoming. He's self-aware, self-confident. He's happy and content and curious and social.

    You already know you inspire me...but these posts have RE-inspired me.

    Much love!!


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!