Friday, April 08, 2011

unschooling : embracing the All of it

Sometimes I feel... obvious... when I write about unschooling or parenting. Not because all of my thoughts are common to mainstream society, but rather because I think most of the people that I hang out with (such as it is) are people that think for themselves, too.
So it seems like preaching to the choir.
But then, I think, well, someone might stumble over here, and think "what in the world?!", and then I get an email that gets me to thinking...

There was an email in my inbox the other day... something like "Unique Educational Software".
I went to see what it was about, because that's what we do, right?
Right off I noticed that the letter was in a single paragraph (including the introduction) which I found strange, and then I read the words "[this] software actually interrupts the operating system which forces them to answer questions grade relevant as they play on the computer or on their social networks." (That is exactly how it was written.)
Here's the thing... I don't choose for people how to best live their lives, and I don't choose for them how they should educate their children. I think more often than not personal philosophies (including spirituality) have many more things "same" than "different"; that often it's the verbiage and frame that appears to separate us.

And I wasn't riled or put off by the email, but it did stir up some long-settled dust in a few corners of my mind.
So I'm sharing a few thoughts. With you. [smile] The Choir.

My children play on their computers. Did you know that? ; )

There are lots of reasons that I don't put limits on my children's computer play.
Probably the first reason is that if I was working on something and my husband came into the room and said "Your computer time is up, I'm shutting down your machine," I would be extremely... er... vexed. (Really, I would have never married a man that presumed to tell me what to do, but that's beside the point.)
Secondly, I think it's very odd -and ridiculous, frankly- that people somehow think that sitting passively in school, getting various bits of information thrown at them all day is acceptable (and effective!), yet when a child is inquiring and investigating on his own out of genuine interest it is considered grossly objectionable.
Third - my children play on the computer the same way they watch television... sometimes for a few seconds, then they're racing off because all of a sudden they have an idea for something they'd like to try out or create or re-enact, or see something they'd like to investigate; learn more about. They use props. They stand up and dance. They come running to tell their Mama something new and super cool. Even if they're "on the computer all day", they're not truly; I daresay it's much more involved and active than doing time in a classroom.
The computers are one of our main resources for our investigations. We own hundreds of books, of course, and dozens and dozens of games and lots of math manipulative sets and meter sticks and rulers and scales and documentaries and all of the lovely things that supply us with a rich learning environment. But certainly the computers are at the top of that list. I am so profoundly grateful for the internet... it's the whole reason that I say the need for school is obsolete. Anyone can learn about anything they can imagine at any time. How amazing and spectacular is that?

The point of that software was to interrupt what the child is doing (or adult, if you feel that your husband or wife is brainlessly spending too much time on the computer, I guess), and to insist they answer quiz questions. That assumes that we can't just ask our children outright!

I think people forget they have choices.
People forget that if they have a question about their child or his thinking or her life, they can just ask.

And I think we forget that we have free choice. We can sometimes feel trapped; that we must do things in a prescribed way.
People find a philosophy or curricula that appeals to them, and much after their initial enthusiastic embrace they feel all sorts of "must do"'s.
I think we see this particularly a lot in unschooling, but that could just be my own perspective and relating to the people I hang out with.

I think that we also forget we always have the choice of sharing every part of our selves; our needs, our fears, our likes and dislikes... it isn't unacceptable to share with our loved ones, we just need to make sure we're doing so with authenticity and love. "Hey... I"m feeling overwhelmed, do you think you could help me pick up?" And... "Oh! I love that you found a new game that is so cool and fun for you... but do you think you could take a break from it soon? I miss you terribly and want to hang out with you!" Or "Hey... I'm feeling like I (and/or we) need to get away from the house for a while and out into the Big Wide World... what do you say we head to the woods?"

I am as romantical a creature as they come, I imagine. I understand well the need for beautiful things that can be felt and loved with the All of us - with our skin, our eyes, our open hearts, and with eager ears. Things like textures. Streaming sunlight. Being breathless and grinning from chasing or laughter. Wooden toys. Fairy tales. Bare feet in grass. Leaping and flying imaginations. Creating something from nothing. Exploring something ancient. These are the things that truly make my world go 'round.

And my children being free to learn about animals, to watch movies, to laugh uproariously, to learn new games, to play with puzzles, to hear favorite or funny songs, to see new animals, to do research, to investigate their world... on the computer does not have to take away from that.
We can have it all.

My children have seen computers. We have three of them. I don't say no.
We have a backyard and a hose. We make mud.
We have space for gardens, they choose what they'd like to grow.
We have paper, they choose what to draw. Or not.
Books to read, musical instruments to play, trees to climb, cars to race, balloons to fly, tea parties to host, prehistory to create, museums to visit, paints to blend, games to invent, imaginations to let reign...

We don't have to say "No" to things out of fear or without thinking.
It doesn't feel loving. It doesn't feel magical. It doesn't feel freeing.

Saying yes honestly to the Self (and the needs and desires of the self), as well as to the possible joy in our immediate world is wonderfully empowering and liberating.

For me, it's just a matter of joyfully and enthusiastically embracing the All.


  1. I couldn't agree more and is why I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. Very well put.

  2. Even those of us in the choir appreciate having our feelings written about so eloquently. Thanks for that :-)

  3. Freedom to choose, embracing joy, following your heart.... you distill all the best unschooling has to offer in this post.

    I still regularly receive incredulous looks and sighs of disapproval because of the limits I refuse to put on Owen. But I receive authentic smiles and hugs from him so I think I'm on the right path :)

    Hope your weekend shines!!

  4. Wonderful post. I whole-heartedly agree!

  5. Yep, that about covers it, well said.

  6. Choir here. Agree, and embrace, and joyfully nod my head.

  7. I do so agree. Of course, this week I did ask if we could not use screens before lunch, because most of our activities are in the morning. We (myself included) were having a hard time tearing ourselves away from the screens. It seems to be working better for us right now.

  8. I'm part of the choir too...and ILOVE your words!

    It IS important to still say reinforces to the choir that yes we are lucky that we live the way we do ... and also to "get" that one or more persons who say what? you mean we DO have a choice? we can live like this?

    happy happy day!

  9. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! Love it.

  10. thanks so much everyone - it's nice that the words seem supportive, and not glaringly obvious!

  11. Great post :)

    Playing "adult" computer games is what taught my oldest son how to read... my second and third are on the same path.

    We don't limit computer time at all and on somedays it is the main interest, and then other times they are off for a few days..

    IME, those that think that kids will be on the computer "all of time" if they have the choice, have never given their children the chance to self-regulate...

  12. Fab post I love it when you think out loud!!!

  13. I love reading your blog and as a perfectionist constantly raging a battle with my Mamma and my housewife self I never tire of hearing you explain how things happen organically for you....and how not to be scared to let go a bit and allow the kids to do what I'm too scared to...just what they want :)

  14. I agree:) Wow! The wording on that software is unbelievable. So intrusive.

  15. Julie - I know. I totally winced when I read the words, " forces them to..."
    Yeah. Not pretty.

  16. You're not always just preaching to the hubby and I are planning our first child together (After only 10 years...about time, yeah?). I don't feel that my (awesome)20 and 13 year old stepdaughters have been very well served by public school and I am very interested in homeschooling and need all the info I can get, so many ideas and musings on the subject are all new and interesting to me! Thanks!

  17. I am another choir member, and this is my first time reading your blog. Beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you!

  18. I came across this section in John Holt's book 'Teach Your Own' today that reminded me of this post. It talks of controlling ones own time and a lady mentions how "five days out of seven, nine months out of twelve, six hours out of the center of those days, we remove children from the responsibility for their time. Perhaps it is not even the length of time that is crucial, but simply the fact of the interruption. I know from my own experience that even a small interruption can halt the flow of my own creative energies for a length of time much greater than the interruption itself." She goes on to say that once you change from active to passive participant in structuring time, a certain numbing takes place so that it is much easier to stay passive "killing time" until the next prescribed activity.

    How annoying would that be when you are in the midst of research or reading or playing or whatever you are choosing to do at a particular moment on the computer that it suddenly is yanked from you and you are required to answer a question to prove to someone that you know something about something you most likely don't even give a damn about? So wrong on so many levels to the individual it is happening to.

  19. Julie - agreed.
    I actually started working on this post the day I got the email, and then was having a hard time containing it, so I put it away for a few days. :)
    Then I picked it up again and edited out the part I wrote about interruption (that won't be retained) and how disrespectful and rude it was - but I put in the part about you could put it on your husband's or wife's desktop, and hoped that someone would get it. :)
    The software said something like "everyone knows that repetition is what drums the information in", and I couldn't help but think, "Not if it's time for the individual to get it - then it only actually takes once!"

  20. "everyone knows that repetition is what drums the information in..." Gah!!
    Another choir member, and quite the romantic myself too, but yes, it is nice to read words of support. These types of posts are always a good rememinder for me. I recently took out a book from the library that had been recommended by many, Simplicity Parenting. A few years ago, I would have loved this book and sucked up every word. Now that I've had a few years to deschool my old ideas, I'm having difficulty finishing it. There are several good points, yes, but the overall theme seems to be "filter and restrict." Thanks for the reminder that we really can embrace all of it (the real, the virtual, the aesthetically pleasing...)

  21. Iʻve been thinking about my kids having their nose "buried in the computer." In my opinion, computers and tablets are like the new "encyclopedia" and I canʻt see anyone being disappointed in a child being engrossed in an encyclopedia set.

    Even in all the kids shows my kids love to watch, there are things they learn, concepts I've never introduced to them but they know because they watched a show on tv or a video on the computer or played an electronic game of some sort.

    Anyway, just my thoughts on this topic :)

    Thanks so much for the post. It helps to know I'm not the only one who thinks along these lines.


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!