Friday, July 24, 2015

Piggy Backing on a Previous Post

I posted before about letting our children be their own people. Craftymama has been reading this book about What every parent should know about schools - and I read a chapter of it last night, and was not surprised, but reaffirmed in a lot of things that were mentioned.

One of the quotes that stood out to me was:

"Our lack of trust in our children points to something even deeper - our over-identification with them. "My child is an extension of myself. If they look bad, I look bad. Their performance is a reflection of my parenting""

We don't trust our children, as a society, to pick their own direction, their own educational paths, their own activities - if any. Instead, we thrust them into a building for 8 hours a day for forced education on facts that don't really matter to them, that they will never use, and will forget as soon as it's not needed anymore.

When they do poorly at school, we are embarrassed to tell our family, we shame our children, we may even blame ourselves for not pushing them hard enough, not spending enough time on homework or goodness knows what other reason we, as parents, will find to blame ourselves for. When they do well, we sing their praises - we tell people, we congratulate them - whether or not their good performance was indicative of actual effort or merely luck. We teach them, by our own reactions, that their value as both a student and as a person comes when they perform to a certain set of standards and give the answers that are expected. Their worth as individuals should not come down to whether or not they can regurgitate information onto a sheet of paper, their worth as a person should come down to more intrinsic values (kindness, empathy, compassion, honesty etc) and children cannot and will not learn that if they are not given the opportunity to.

I trust my children to learn these values. I also trust them to fail - which is something very personal I hope to touch on soon here. I trust them to learn the things they need to learn to succeed in life. They are their own people, they are not extensions of me. I may guide them, I may assist them, I may nurture them - but at the end of the day they have to be able to stand on their own two feet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Education Reformation

A few months back I posted THIS entry about letting my kids be their own people, letting them develop their own interests and personality, and being proud of whoever they are and whoever they become.

A way we are honoring that commitment to our children is by an education style known as Unschooling. It is something that appealed to me back when K was little, but after meeting Craftymama, and the chaos of having so many kids, we didn't think we could do it. Craftymama had always been into the Waldorf style of learning and after seeing the kindergartens I was sold on it too. I should have taken more stock of the grades program - because that wouldn't have sat right with me. Every child, however, should have the experience of a waldorf kindergarten. Not necessarily in a waldorf school - but the environment of being made to feel important, not less than, developing strength and confidence and imagination - it was a wonderful experience, and I am genuinely sad that we pulled LittleR a year early and that J won't get to go at all.

However, once we got to the grades, all the things that I hated about school began popping up. They even did for Craftymama who wasn't sold on the idea of unschooling when I first proposed it back when we were friends all that time ago, Initially we just pulled BigR out of school and Craftymama attempted waldorf homeschooling him - they were both miserable. Slowly, almost organically, it grew into more unschooling. I will admit, I was nervous. She was so against it before, and to now see her embracing it felt...well...I don't know how it felt, but I was nervous for it's success.

So what is unschooling? Wikipedia tells me that, technically:

"Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including playhousehold responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading methods, and other features of traditional schooling in the education of each unique child."

For example, one of BigR's first educational breakthroughs came in the form of a book he put together all about Egypt. He practiced his writing, he learned history, he learned about different cultures - all because he wanted to - there was no force, no coercion - it was pure interest.

When it comes down to it and you really think about it, all the most vital and important skills children have learned have not been forced or coerced out of them. They learned how to suck, whether from bottle or breast on their own. They learned how to roll over, how to crawl, and then how to walk - simply because they had a drive to, a need to. They learn a language, their first language, purely by imitation - on their own. Learning happens organically. By sending our children to school, where learning is something that is forced upon them, we are teaching them that learning, that education, has to happen within the confines of a crowded room, during the hours of 8:30-3:30 5 days a week. By instilling in them a love of learning, we are showing them that this learning can happen anywhere, at any time, from any one. There doesn't need to be a prescribed teacher, a perceived God of knowledge who holds our children's futures in their hand. We can direct our own futures. We are in charge of our own education.

Does this mean that our kids play all day? Well mostly, yes. However, there is a wide spread belief that a large part of learning occurs through play. There are also important, non 'educational' benefits to play as well - they learn cooperation, problem solving skills, group dynamics, conflict resolution and a whole host of other skills that are essential to being an adult. However, they also learn. They learn what they are interested in. They each have different styles - BigR is meticulous and wants to be perfect at something before going onto the next. K jumps around from subject to subject, not really mastering anything but gathering a huge abundance of information about a lot of things. M and LittleR are still little - they have interests, but they are short lived. They are working on reading, and writing - but we don't make them sit at the table and do it all day. They ask Craftymama to make out copy sheets, or read lines from books for them to copy. M is really into Star Wars, I have been learning a lot about Wookies and Han Solo through this.

That's the other important thing. We are not afraid to say "I don't know" to our children. That phrase is a door opening to a whole new subset of knowledge and possibilities for both us and our kids. When we have to go on google and look something up - they learn and we learn. We are showing them that this process never stops. It is never too late to learn something new.

Is this adventure a bit scary? Well yes. We are throwing our complete trust in the education of our children into the children themselves. But there is empowerment in that. Empowerment for them to take control of their own lives. It is a different road, but we certainly aren't alone, there are a lot of unschoolers, radical unschoolers, democratic schoolers, and free schoolers out there - all holding a common child led belief.

If we don't let kids take some control of their lives, their bodies, and their minds now - who are we to thrust that upon them at 18? What skills have we given them when they hit that magical age that will equip them to deal with being adult and being self sufficient and self motivating. It is our job to prepare them. That's why we have chosen unschooling - because we feel it prepares them the best, and gives them the best chance at a happy and successful future.