New Unschooling Blog by Zen Habits’ Leo Babauta

OK, I admit it. I’m a bit of a slacker when it comes to reading blogs. I’m all “hey, look at me! I have a blog. Read *my* blog!” And yet, <gulp> I rarely read anyone else’s. There are a handful that I try to keep up with, but unless someone specifically shares a post with me or I happen to stumble upon something that piques my interest on my own, I just don’t see it. I’m a little embarrassed about it, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. Am I? I have a hard enough time trying to keep up with the happenings under my own roof. :)

I guess that’s why I feel compelled to tell you about a blog that I actually AM reading — like every day even! Leo Babauta, creator of zen habits and mnmlist, recently started an unschooling blog called Unschoolery. My husband is a big fan of Babauta’s and told me a while back that he’d posted a bit about his family’s experiences with unschooling on zen habits. I liked what I read then and was even more excited when Jody told me the other day that Babauta dedicated an entire blog to unschooling. (So much so that I shared it with several unschooling friends and now I’m sharing it with you.)

leo-babauta-and-family

Why is it exciting that Babauta is writing about unschooling? #1) He’s intelligent. #2) He and his wife Eva have been unschooling four of their children for the past five years. #3) He’s passionate about unschooling and sharing the philosophy with others. #4) Thanks to his other blogs he’s already got a huge following. #5) He’s a best-selling author. #6) He’s a man. This might seem a little weird to point it, but most of the unschooling blogs I’ve come across to date are written by women. Perhaps more men/dads will be more open to the idea of unschooling as a result of this blog.

In addition, Babauta writes clearly and concisely about his family’s experiences with unschooling, yet does not claim to be an expert on the subject. In fact he even says, “We have a bit of experience, but we’re still learning. We still don’t know what the hell we’re doing. We love it.” I think that’s a sentiment many of us unschoolers can relate to. I feel like we are always learning, half of the time not knowing what we’re doing, and all the while loving it.

Some of the Unschoolery posts I’ve most enjoyed include:

Because Unschoolery is only a month old, I’m expecting a lot more great content from Babauta. If you are at all interested in unschooling, this is a great blog to read. I plan to keep up with Unschoolery – for information, encouragement and inspiration.

Photo by Eartha Goodwin

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Confessions of a Reluctant Gamer: Playing Minecraft with my Kids

I should have known when I married my husband Jody — an avid gamer — that someday down the road our future children would be gamers as well, but I didn’t think much about it. I kind of thought my husband would eventually grow out of his gaming “phase.” I mean, grown men don’t play video games and Dungeons and Dragons forever, right? Right???

After 12 years of marriage I think it’s safe to say that the gaming “phase” is not a phase at all. It’s just a part of who he is, just as much as not gaming is a part of who I am. And I am OK with that. I may have fought it for a while (ok, for years and years), but I eventually learned that it wasn’t productive and I wasn’t going to change who he is, so I’ve mostly accepted it.

So now we have a 6 year old (who just lost his first tooth!) and a 9 year old (how did that happen?!) and they both LOVE computer games. Minecraft is a favorite in this house, as well as Roblox, Sims and a handful of others. Unlike my husband, who has accepted that I’m just not a gamer, the kids have not been so easily convinced.

minecraft

When they first started playing Minecraft I joined them a couple of times. I had a hard time moving my character around and — big surprise — just didn’t get into the game. So I stopped playing with them. I figured Jody could play with them as he enjoys it and they were placated…for a while.

Fast forward several months. Ava would periodically ask me to play Minecraft with them. I would find an excuse or tell her it’s not my thing or whatever. I just really didn’t want to play. However, when she asked me the other day, I considered my answer carefully. I know the game is important to her and I want to support that and be a part of it, even if it is hard for me. So I said yes. Ava was ecstatic.

I’ve since played with them a few times and I’ve gotten a lot better about moving around and was surprised to find that I was actually having fun collecting wood and other supplies for the kids to build us a house. And I was surprised by how well they shared resources and helpful they were to me when I didn’t know how to craft a stone pickaxe or torches or whatever. And how much they appreciated me playing with them. I’ve heard several times from both of them, “it was so fun when you played with us, Mom!” And ya know what? It really was.

And so I’m trying to do a better job about playing with them when they want me to even if it isn’t my favorite thing to do. Even if I need to vacuum or water the garden or load the dishwasher. Today I even initiated it myself and it was fun. The time spent connecting with them is priceless. Who knows how long they will want their mom to play with them. But for now they do. And for now I will.

I’d love to hear from you!
Do YOU play any computer/video games with your kids even though you are not into games? What has your experience been? 

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What is Unschooling?

living_learning_holt

Unschooling is based on the belief that children learn best when they are internally motivated. Unlike homeschooling which is essentially doing school (following a curriculum) at home, unschooling allows children to explore their interests and learn without the restrictions of a curriculum. 

Teacher and author John Holt — one of the founders of the modern homeschooling movement — coined the word “unschooling” in 1977 to mean “learning that does not look like school learning, and learning that does not have to take place at home.” He believed, “there is no difference between living and learning…it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate.”

Pam Sorooshian explains unschooling like this: 
“Unschoolers simply do not think there are times for learning and times for not learning. They don’t divide life into school time or lesson time versus play time or recreation time. There is no such thing as ‘extracurricular’ to an unschooler – all of life, every minute of every day, counts as learning time, and there is no separate time set aside for ‘education.'”

There are many other names for unschooling including “natural learning,” “life learning,” “experience-based learning,” “delight-driven learning,” and “independent learning,” and there are a ton of resources available online to learn more about it. Here are just a few: 

Over the past couple years we started our own unschooling journey, which I plan to write a lot about in the future – including how we began on this path. However, I first wanted to provide a little bit of a background information to explain some of the ideas behind unschooling. 

I welcome your questions. I absolutely won’t have all of the answers, but I enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

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How We Came to Home School: Guest Post

I’m currently on hiatus from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but want to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from a good personal friend of mine named Jen who blogs at The Evolving Homemaker.

How We Came to Home School

I had always been fascinated in the idea that kids could learn MORE than what they learned in conventional classrooms.  I think the first time I had ever heard about homeschooling I was in college and heard about a little girl who was attempting to fly across the country solo.  While the trip ended in tragedy, I started to wonder why it was we arbitrarily sent our kids to school and how much more excited they might be about learning, if they had a little flexibility, more time to explore things they were interested in, and more freedom to discover themselves.

As I was becoming a new Mommy, I thought for sure we would home school.  I had lofty dreams of how our days would be and how much smarter my kids would be than so many others.

Ahem.

And then motherhood gave me a reality check.  Toddler-hood.  Woah.  Would my kids learn from me?  Was I patient enough to teach them?  Patient enough for even the hard days? Was I creative enough?  Organized enough?  Would I be able to still do laundry, home school, and have any iota of a personality and passions to call my own?

Then I started being haunted by panic attacks.  I was under a lot of stress and doing a lot at the time.  I was volunteering, heavily involved in the political season, lobbying, and raising two small children and trying to be a ‘good enough’ house goddess too.  Whatever it is that looks like.

So I sent my son to kindergarten at a local Montessori that had just opened.  I was sure they would be able to do it better than I could.  After all, they certainly knew more than I did about educating young minds, this would be better for him.

Except it wasn’t.

He began to show signs of anxiety.  He wasn’t learning to read there.  I sat in one day to find him not partaking in the ‘works’ but playing ‘cars’ with the tape dispenser instead.  He didn’t like to go.  Every morning he would ask, “Is today a school day?” and if I said, “Yes.” he would yell, cry, and be mean to his sister.  He would come in the car in the afternoon like a pressure cooker and burst in a fit of energy.

With two weeks left in the school year, they told us he should be held back in Kindergarten.

We decided instead to try it at home like we always thought we would.  With both kids.

It has been fantastic.  And hard.  And scary.  And frustrating.  And fun.  They both have time to play, they are learning to read, and they are exploring their own interests.  We are all learning more about ourselves and our passions.  I am learning that I can do it, that doubt and fear are not infallible.  That I am a ‘good enough’ Mom, and that yes they need math, but they also need my presence.

I wanted to home school because I wanted my kids to learn to think outside of the box.  That life isn’t just about going to school, getting a job, and then working for 50 years, retiring, but all the while hoping you make it to retirement without a heart attack or cancer.  Nope, the marrow of life is at their fingertips any second they decide to find it.  That is what I want them to learn, that they are the creators in their own journey, and while we use some textbooks, I don’t think they need a textbook to understand that.

Jen Parsons is Mama bear to two babes 7 and 5.  While she would like to be better at parenting, crafting, farming, sewing, ceramic scouring, knitting, homeschooling, travelling, book writing, domestic laundering,  boxing refereeing, spousal engagement, etc., she is learning to realize she cannot do it all but blogs about the journey at www.theevolvinghomemaker.com.

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Chicago schools’ garden produce forbidden in the lunchroom

A school garden can be a wonderful outdoor classroom. Children can learn a variety of subjects while working with others to grow their own food. But in some school districts the children have the gardens to grow the food, but are forbidden from eating it in their lunchrooms.

When I first read that the Chicago Public Schools are not able to use the produce grown in their more than 40 school gardens in the lunchroom, I was shocked. Why grow it if you can’t consume it? The truth is that due to rules set by the district and its meal provider the food must be either given away, sent home with students, or sold.

“In order to use food in the school food program, it would need to meet specific/certified growing practices,” CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

These requirements would include eliminating all “pesticides and insecticide” applications and using only “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson.

Commercial vendors, though, don’t have to abide by these rules. They can sell the district produce treated with several pesticides and grown in nonorganic fertilizer.

But produce grown by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences on its 25-acre farm wouldn’t make the grade because, for example, it treats its corn with a single pesticide.

The school district touts using some local produce in its lunch program, but the produce that is most local of all — grown right outside their doors — is off limits. Children are being denied the most local and fresh produce of all. How does that make any sense?

According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) and 17% of U.S. children are obese. For Chicago children ages 6-11, the obesity rate is 28%. So in an area where more and more children are overweight or obese and, as evidenced in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, some American first graders can’t identify vegetables, the system is denying them healthy, local food.

Unfortunately, this is happening other school districts as well. Sybil who blogs at Musings of a Milk Maker told me on Facebook that this is also the case at the public school she is trying to get her daughter into.

Andrea Ward isn’t surprised by any of this. She had this to say on Facebook, “Lunch food is a big time business with big time rules and greed. Education is never about the kids (unless you are the one in the trenches–then that’s all you care about). Otherwise, it’s about politics. And politics is about money.”

However, other school districts across the country, such as Auburn School District in Washington state, have been able to adopt a garden to cafeteria plan. The school district’s 1 1/2 acre organic garden and orchard produces “fruits and vegetables for student lunches and snacks in 10 elementary schools. In addition to garden produce, the Auburn School District purchases from local farmers for all 22 schools.” This single garden produces food for all elementary schools during the growing and harvesting seasons.

Joanne White who blogs at Media Mum told me about her son’s elementary school in the Boulder Valley School District, Colo., where the school garden provides produce for its own salad bar. Joanne said, “The kids are fully involved from garden to table. No way Jamie Oliver would find any of them not knowing what a tomato is!”

In other school districts, the students eat what they grow, but not necessarily in the lunchroom, however not for the same reasons that the Chicago Public School District gave.

Karen from Eternal Maternal said her son participated in a school garden program at his elementary school located in Vancouver School District in Washington State. The children ate what they grew, but due to a variety of reasons including not enough of any one ingredient, lack of preparation time, etc., the produce was not used in the school cafeteria. Karen said, “I think it’s very important that kids learn where their food comes from and what it takes to get it to the point that it can be eaten. Providing food for oneself is a basic need. Typically, we don’t have to do it for ourselves until we’re in college and what do we do then? Go to the grocery store and buy a case of Ramen. When children learn to grow food that can sustain themselves, even if only partially, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, raises their awareness of the environment and, whether they realize it or not, raises their level of security because it’s a way they know of to care for themselves.”

At Stylin Momma Katy’s daughter’s charter elementary school in Maryland, all of the children participate in the school garden in one way or another. Her daughter is in kindergarten where they are in charge of pollination. The garden food is not used in the school cafeteria food (which is brought in) and most students bring lunches from home. However, Katy said, “they will sometimes have a sampling station in the lunchroom where the kids can try the foods picked from the garden, or they will use it in cooking class. They also have a school produce stand as a fundraiser.”

After hearing about the practices of different school districts, I have to say I find the reasoning behind Chicago Public School District’s ban on garden food in the lunchroom appalling. I have to agree with Andrea above who said, “it’s about politics. And politics is about money.” If the district had these kids’ best interests at heart, they would find a way to allow the locally grown garden food into the cafeterias.

Despite all of this, I am pleased to hear that many districts — especially inner-city districts like Chicago — have implemented school gardens. Perhaps even if the children are not allowed to eat the food in the lunchroom, they still are learning the valuable life lesson of how to grow it and perhaps are able to take some of it home to their families to enjoy.

Do your children have a school garden? Does the school use the produce in their lunchroom? How do you feel about Chicago’s policy?

Related articles:

Photo credits: Flickr StevenDePolo and Sarz.K

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! :) (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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