Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Checking In : Interview with an Unschooled Boy

I've been doing lots of assessing lately.... asking questions like How can I love you better?, and if you could describe a perfect day... how would it go?

I've mentioned lots of times over the years that I've had to do some serious soul-searching when it comes to unschooling Trevelyn. I've had to ask some really hard questions about what is coercion, and what is just tickling a little crab, and trying to entice him (or at least his legs) out of of his shell.
Was I justifying my manipulations?
Was I being too willing to tempt or lure or coax or bully (God forbid) this little son of mine out of his comfort zone -or complacency- in the name of "But afterwards, he was so glad we did!!"
Which was true. I can't remember once that he's been sorry that I ever asked. I only ask him to play at what I think he'll genuinely enjoy. But still.
So, so hard, my Friends. My biggest challenge, I think.

Finally, a little over a year ago, I came to a Certain Understanding. An understanding that my son was a lot like my husband. Grumbly. And particularly subject to Newton's laws of physics.
And I came to an understanding that I needed to remember Rule #6. Often.

But over the last couple of weeks, things have looked quite different.
"Trev... wanna come play?"
"Sure, Mom!"
Wait. What?
"I have these crystals that Maddie and I got out... interested? I have amethyst geodes... Maddie wants pink quartz... I have aquamarine..."
"Sure. I'll give aquamarine a try."
"Check out this video." Solar bag. "Wanna go to the park and try it? (Pre-breakfast, he was still in bed.) "We'd need to leave now, as it needs to still be cool outside..."
"Yeah. Let's go."
(These are but a few of the latest examples.)
Picture me with my eyes popping out of my head.
At first.
And then, naturally, me being me, and the sometimes insecure paranoid that I am, I start thinking.
Wait. Why is he being so willing? And Oh, my God, have I bullied him into being agreeable with me?
So... I started asking.
Because asking is one thing that I do get right.

"So. Um... I've been wondering why you've been so willing to play and venture with me, without grumbling first, lately."
"What do you mean?"
"Well... ahem...
"When I ask if you wanna play, or do this, you don't fuss at me. At all. Not even a little. You just say sure, and then we play. I'm wondering why. What's different."
After a couple of days of this, it finally got down to,
"I've just realized that I have lots of time for those things. I have plenty of time for computer play, or games, and they're not going anywhere. That other things are fun to do, too. It's cool to have lots of interesting things in my life."
Which is funny, as it's more of a response that you'd expect to hear from a kid who's been in school, not a kid who has lived with this freedom his whole life... but I think it speaks for his maturity, and aging. I think it's a matter of his recognizing that it's not just 'that very thing' that matters.... that it isn't as if he's never going to get another chance to play Pokemon on the pc. I think he's coming into a security and groove in his life... that he thinks of it as something that's here to stay, and something to be filled up with lots of interesting things.
Interesting, to me.

And inspiration for another, extended, Interview.
Also today.
Me. Facing my F'n demons.

* * *

What do you like most about your life?
I love everything equally, honestly.
Like what?
Video games. Our tramp and our pool and my bike. You and Dad in general. The stuff we do together. I also like my computers. And I like our backyard. And going on adventures, too. Going places.
What things would you change in your life?
Maddie's dairy allergy. 'Cause I feel sorry for Maddie. So I'd definitely fix that.
What else would you change?
I'd change how much those frickin' berries fall from that tree right there. I'd change it so that they all fell at the same time, and we could clean off the patio, and not have to do it, again.

What else? Don't worry about offending me, Babe. 'Cause the whole reason for this is for me to think about how I can make your life better.
One thing is that I want you to ask me when you want to play Mario Kart.
Because you do like to play with me, or you don't?
I do like to play with you.
But you want me to ask you to play?
Yeah. When you want to.
Okay. Noted.

What else?
Even if I wake up at twelve o'clock... please don't ask me to play games and stuff before I've even had breakfast. I can't play on an empty stomach. Okay?
:) Okay. (I think I only did that once, a couple of weeks ago... he was still sleeping at one o'clock! :) oof.)

Is there anything in your life that you wish you never had to see or do again? Anything we need to talk about? Anything that makes you unhappy?
I'm gonna talk about the stuff outside of our normal life for a minute. One thing I never, never want to do again is to be in a wedding and wear a tux that was way too small for me. That wedding scarred me for life.
Evidently. He was four, I'm thinkin'.

Is there anything in our daily life that you hate?
One thing that I deeply despise are those damned fruits.
Got it. We've already talked about the fruit... I'm talking about.... I mean in our unschooling, Bud.
There's nothing in that I deeply despise.
Is there anything you dislike?
Not really, no.
Nothing? You don't want to not play games, or anything?
No. Why would I want to not ever play games again? That's silly.

Is there anything you feel like we do too much of?
You don't feel like I ask us to play thinking games or go on adventures too much?
Is there anything? That you feel like "I wish we didn't have to do that so much".

Not enough? Is there anything that you'd like to do more of?
One issue for you is that I feel like you don't jump on the tramp enough. So you jumping more often would be nice.
Okay. What else? Anything else? Do you feel like we don't socialize enough?
No. We socialize enough, if you ask me.

What does socializing mean?
Being with other people. Hanging around with other people.
And you feel like we do that enough?
I'd say so, Yes.

What does unschooling mean, do you think?
Well... I'm going to go into great detail with this....
Now. Unschooling in most people's minds is when you are allowed to freely do what you want to do, and as the name probably suggests, you don't have to go to school.
Now. That means there are no teachers, unlike homeschooling, where your parents are your teachers. In unschooling you teach yourself, and you learn about what you want to learn about.
You're free to do what you want to do. You can run around and play baseball. You can play on your pc or on your wii or xbox 360." I should mention that we don't have an xbox360. "You can also watch television when you want, or hang out with your friend at the local skatepark. Or do some mountain biking in the great outdoors when you want to.

So that's what unschooling means? You can learn about and do what you want, when you want?

So is all you ever want to do is watch tv and play on your pc?
How come?
Because there's simply other things to do in life. There's things other than playing on the computer. And watching television, of course. There are other important things. Like your body weight. And foods. And your diet. And there are things that are more fun than simply your pc- and xbox-life and television. Such as playing baseball. And swimming in your pool. And also you can jump on your trampoline. If you have a trampoline, that is.

Does unschooling look different from the rest of your life?
I consider every second of my life to be unschooling.

Is there anything you'd like to change about it?

What do unschoolers do every day?
Nobody does the exact same things. It really depends. On what you want to do.

Right. But what kinds of things do you do?
Unschoolers can do whatever they want, whenever they want. Go to the swimming pool. Go to the beach. Take a forest trip. Ride bikes, go to the skate park, go to museums, go bowling, do science experiments, go to the arcade... ooh! I almost forgot. They can pack up some of their allowance and go the candy store whenever they want.

What is a great, regular-sort-of-day at your house?
I like to go to 7-11 for a slurpee. I like going to Classic. (Our skating/scooting, bounce house, arcade, climbing Kids Paradise.) I like playing games with you. I like going to the park or to the skate park.
What games do you like to play?
Mostly I like Totally Tu- [cuts himself off] the pyramid game, Exago, and Mancala. And Mammoth Hunt.
Do you like Nim?
Yeah. I like Nim.
Are there any of our games that you don't like?
Not really. I don't like that we didn't play the Pirate game for a long while, but then we finally did. And I don't like that you don't like Twister. That's a fun game.

Do you think Unschooling is a good idea?
I prefer it over going to an elementary school. Because of the things said in the interview.
Do you think it's a viable way of learning? Do kids really learn?
Why do they learn?
Sometimes they learn things to use it to their advantage-- sometimes they're learning things like math and spelling because they know if they learn these things they'll grow up to be good people.
So learning spelling and math makes you a good person?
It will help you to conquer... to learn your job properly and spell properly. That's why kids learn things like that. But, if they learn things like how to play a video game, a certain video game, or learning bowling or baseball, then it's something they like to learn because it's fun. And they give it a chance.

So... is there a difference between learning spelling and learning bowling? In how you learn it? How are you learning to spell?
Learning spelling is like learning something because it's a part of life. While bowling and baseball are also a part of life... but it's a part of life that's fun and gives it a little bounce.

So how are you learning spelling? Do you have spelling tests?
No. I just sort of learn it.
Are you good at spelling?
(Which is true. He's never had a spelling quiz, and never once have I asked him how to spell something. He spells well because he reads often.)

Do you think that kids really do learn with unschooling? Even without tests and sitting down to lessons?

What advice would you give to parents who say that all their kids would do is watch tv, or play video games?
"Parents, you might be thinking that, because you're not paying enough attention to your kids.
The reason why you may be having trouble is you probably need to pay attention to your kids. You need to see if they're having a happy life. If not, try to do anything that makes them happy. Try to make them happy. Try to be a loving parent and make them happy, and you'll have have a good life with your kids."

* * *



I got nothin' more.

Oh--wait. 'Cept this. From Trev. I've read this to him to verify its accuracy, and he insists on the following:
"Alright. Now that's all I have to say. All those in favor of Unschooling, or are in favor of becoming Unschoolers, say 'Aye'!
Alright. That's it. I'm done. This is Trevelyn Eric _______, saying 'Have a nice day'."
Over and out.


  1. Beautiful, it's so wonderful to hear an older child talk about their learning. I have one question, how much do you talk to him about unschooling and what it means?

  2. Stacey - I really don't.
    Other than to check in, once in a while, and say, "this is what this means... do you feel like this is what your life is about?", we really have no conversations about it. I think I've mentioned it.... I want to say four or five times in his life?
    I can't be sure, but that's what it seems like.

    That was the reason for my digging, here... I was trying to get to his true responses, and far past anything he might have ever heard me say.

    I wanted this to speak of his Truth, not opinions that he was spouting of mine.
    You know?

    But he is an easy kid to do this with... he excels at communication.

  3. I should say "...excels at communication... at least with me." :)

  4. I loved this post! I think I will have to try this with Hannah - clearly checking in with her periodically to make sure things are still being seen to, she's still being able to do as much - or as little - as she wants to do.

  5. I loved reading this! Trev is such a sweet well spoken guy, who really knew what he likes, and that is awesome!

  6. A resounding Aye! from the this east coast mama.

    Your sweet boy is very wise.

  7. Great interview. We are not unschoolers but I sure see that it is working for you all. I like to conduct interviews with my kids now and again. It is so interesting to see what they say. I find adding the things they want helps are days run so much smoother. They have great insight.

  8. Stephanie - this is so cool! Thankyou and your son for sharing :-)

    I have chats with my kids all the time - it is one of the reasons I started reading about unschooling, because they were complaining that they weren't really learning anything new and that some of the work was too easy! I wanted to make sure that they were learning things they wanted to learn.


  9. Oh Stephanie! The last two posts were so appreciated by me today.

    As you know, Benjamin is only 6 and yes, we just embarked upon our unschooling journey last year, but lately I've been wondering if I should be doing more or coaxing less or doing something differently or...I don't even know what? Some days it seems too effortless I'm convinced I'm doing something wrong.

    I love Trev's replies (and the replies of both little ones in the previous post). I wonder what Benjamin might say to those interview questions. Perhaps I'll ask him tomorrow. :)

    And by the way, "Aye!" I am totally in favor of Unschooling!


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!