My Unschooling Interview on Mile High Mamas

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A few weeks ago, I was honored to be interviewed about my family’s experiences with unschooling for the popular Denver-based blog, Mile High Mamas. In honor of back-to-school time, Mile High Mamas ran a three-part series featuring some non-traditional schooling methods including homeschooling, unschooling and a post about charter schools.

If you ever wanted to know more about how the kids and I go about our unschooling lives, what drew me to unschooling, my thoughts on getting into college, and my favorite things about unschooling, I encourage you to read my interview.

Have more questions for me about unschooling? Leave a comment and I may address them in a future post.

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Talking about Unschooling with Barb Lundgren

Barb Lundgren

I recently had the opportunity to attend a free talk about unschooling by Barb Lundgren, a mother to three (now) adult unschoolers. Barb is also the founder of the Rethinking Everything Conference and the editor of Home Education Magazine, devoted entirely to unschooling.

The talk was at the co-housing community of Nyland in Lafayette, Colo., and was facilitated by Leslie Potter of Pure Joy Parenting.

Barb Lundgren and Leslie Potter

I took some notes and would like to share a little bit about what I took away from the evening. It may seem a little disjointed, but I just wanted to put these thoughts “out there” for anyone who is interested in learning more about unschooling and/or how children raised with unschooling might “turn out.” Some of my thoughts which expand on Barb’s may be interspersed.

Regarding whether kids need to learn to do X, Y, or Z at a certain age

Traditional parenting assumes there is a certain time for each thing to happen in a child’s life. Unschooling, on the other hand, relies heavily on TRUST. You have to trust that your children will learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it.

  • It’s not uncommon for unschooled kids to learn to read later than kids who go to school. One of Barb’s sons didn’t learn to read until he was a teen. Once he did, however, he read the Lord of the Rings trilogy twice in about six weeks.
  • A boy attended a Sudbury School, where children are allowed do pursue whatever interests them. This boy was very interested in fishing and spent all of his time fishing and learning about fishing until he was 17. At age 17, his interests shifted. He left fishing behind and moved onto computers. He started his own computer software business and by age 21 sold it for $1 million.
  • John Holt, an educator and author who coined the term “unschooling” was asked, What do ALL kids need to know (in terms of academic measure)? His answer: Nothing.
  • This isn’t about academics, but is one of my own examples of kids learning to do something when they are ready. My kids were never interested in learning how to ride bikes. While many kids are on two wheels by age 5 or 6 or even 3 or 4, mine had no such interest. They rode their scooters and were plenty happy with them. Then all of a sudden this summer (at ages 7 and almost 10) they decided they wanted to learn to ride bikes. We got them each a bike (because they’d long outgrown the ones we got when we *thought* they’d learn to ride) and within about 5 minutes of my husband running up and down the street with them, they were doing it on their own. We’ve since gone for many a family bike ride.

Family bike ride
Like I said previously, unschooling is based on trust. It is about living life on our own terms. Barb said, “You have to believe your child is here to enjoy his life.”

Being free leads to responsibility and accountability.

On Control and Anger

The number one reason people experience anger is that they feel like they are being controlled. This applies to children as well as adults. Think about it this way: If someone (your spouse, for example) told you it was time to get off your computer and go to bed and you were in the middle of something that was important to you, how would that make you feel? You would want your spouse to support you, not tell you what to do when and how to live your life. Your child probably feels similarly. Try to put yourself in your child’s position. Think about how you would want to be treated. Perhaps there’s a way to talk about it kindly without demanding they follow your orders ASAP.

Irritation opens the door for communication. If one member of the family is doing something that bothers another, have a family meeting. Involve everybody. Discuss it. Come to consensual solutions.

On Video Games

Video gaming used to stress Barb when her children first started playing them, but then she made it into a challenge of sorts. Could she do better than the video game? She’d ask her kids questions like, “Who wants to go camping?” or say, “Let’s have a party.” That way she was still getting quality time with her kids.

If you miss your child because they are spending so much time on their computer, Xbox, etc., let them know. The next time they aren’t playing a game, tell them you miss them.

It may be reassuring to some parents that Barb’s kids no longer play video games or watch TV as adults, but they watched a lot of TV as teens. Of course that’s not to say that all kids will stop playing games or watching TV as adults.

On College

Because there is so much information available on the internet — between Google and YouTube, one can find the answer to most anything — the only reason college would be absolutely necessary is to become a traditional physician, an engineer or a lawyer.

Many unschoolers seek out entrepreneurial opportunities.

How Do Unschooled Kids Turn Out?

As mentioned previously, many unschoolers choose to forego college in pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities.

In Barb’s case, one of her children is now a business owner, one is an organic farmer and one is the founder of a sustainable community. Barb pointed out to me, however, that it’s impossible to duplicate another’s unschooling experience. She said, “Unschooling is successful and deeply satisfying when deeply listening and connecting to one another. That will produce radically different experiences for each.”

Interested in learning about what other grown unschoolers are doing? The blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write has a page called Unschooling Grows Up: A Collection of Interviews by grown unschoolers.

quote_Holt_made_to_learn

Final thoughts

Unschooling is based on TRUST. I can’t emphasize that enough.

You don’t have to feel secure in unschooling. You just need to “feel secure in loving your child.”

Barb’s book and website recommendations

  • Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear by Pam Leo
  • Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently–Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage by Kyle Pruett, MD and Marsha Pruett, MD
  • Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood by A.S. Neill
  • Enjoy Parenting by Scott Noelle

More thoughts from Barb can be found here:

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In his own time

One of the many things I enjoy about unschooling is that my kids get to work on a skill when they are ready, not at an arbitrary time when someone says they should.

Up until last summer, my son (who was six at the time) had shown no interest in drawing. This was in stark contrast to my daughter who has loved to draw since she was very young. I wasn’t really concerned about it, but one day when I was at the store I decided to pick up a few pads of drawing paper, crayons and markers to bring home and strew*, if you will.

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After arriving home with the supplies, I announced to the kids what I had bought and set the supplies out on the table. I honestly thought my daughter would dive right in, while my son Julian would shrug and go off to play Legos or Minecraft.

However, Julian came right up to the table, opened up the fresh new pad of paper and markers and immediately started drawing. And drawing. And drawing. He literally sat at the table for a good hour or two, filling each page with a new creation. And getting progressively better at his drawing.

He ended up filling the entire drawing pad with pictures that day, even turning much of it into a story which, when asked about it, he narrated aloud. He later said to me, “When I started this book, I wasn’t very good at drawing, but I got better and better.” And it’s true. He improved a lot that day. The beauty of it was that it was all at his own pace and in his own time. He was never asked to draw against his will before he was ready, therefore was never turned off to drawing.

I loved that he could see his improvement and that he took pride in his work.

Unschooling isn’t always easy — it involves so much trust — but it’s moments like this that reaffirm my decision to do it. I believe my kids will learn what they need to learn in their own time. It’s my job to trust them and help them along the way.

“All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” — John Holt

*Strew: to place objects in the path of kids without any expectation, coercion, or force of use.

More about Strewing from other bloggers:

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Play Matters

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We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw

It’s 11:41 p.m. on a Thursday as I lie in my bed listening to the murmur of my kids from the next room. They are very involved in their play — something that often occurs in the late hours of the night when one might typically expect children to be sleeping. But they play so well together in these late-night moments, creating elaborate stories, developing characters (tonight it’s a city of talking Matchbox cars), working through conflict, working on their communication skills, developing dialogue, and more. Who am I to interrupt them just because the clock says it’s nearly midnight?

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Play is the work of the child. – Maria Montessori

According to Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College and acclaimed author:

Human children, who have the most to learn, play far more than any other primates when they are allowed to do so. Play is the natural means by which children and other young mammals educate themselves. The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practiced by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.

Additionally, counseling psychologist Gayatri Ayyer says,

Research shows that playing is paramount to our physical, intellectual and socio-emotional development. The play I’m talking about here is the unstructured, spontaneous and imaginative escapades that we had in our childhoods; not the structured and organized sports of today. The benefits of playing are immense. They learn different academic concepts, the rules of behaviour with peers, manners, friendship, decision-making, conflict resolution, cooperation and competition.

Eventually I may ask them to wrap up their game for the night, but for now I am grateful that tomorrow (like most days) we have nowhere we must be in the morning. For now I will enjoy the sweet sound of my children getting along, the sound of imagination, the sound of play.

Play matters.

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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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Encouraging our Kids to Dream Big (Despite our Fears)


My friend Jill recently posted a link on her Facebook page to How to Mentor a Kid with Big (Possibly Unrealistic) Dreams by Lori Pickert from Project-Based Homeschooling. The article touches on something that I’ve struggled with in the past. What’s the “right” way to respond to your kids when they have dreams that are beyond what you think they can accomplish – either now or ever? Do you encourage them even though you *know* it’s not going to work? Do you attempt to let them down gently to avoid disappointment and tell them you don’t think it’s possible? Maybe we are trying to save them from embarrassment or even save ourselves from embarrassment. Maybe we are afraid of failure — either for ourselves or our kids.
What’s a mom to do?

For example, my 6-year-old son has often said when he grows up he is going to invent a machine that makes him become a kid again or he’s going to time travel or become a super hero that does X, Y, or Z. When he first started voicing these lofty goals, I wasn’t sure how to react. My first thought was, “that’s probably not going to happen, buddy” but I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I’d try my best to encourage him, even if I felt like his ideas weren’t based in reality, but it was a struggle for me. Was I doing the right thing?

Pickert says:

Before you move to stop your children from trying to do the impossible, take a breath and remember what your job is: to mentor and support, to brainstorm and listen, to remind and reflect. Your job isn’t to step in and tell them their ideas won’t work and their plans are doomed.
Remind yourself:
You don’t know what your kid can do.

One example shared in the article is about a child who wants to write a novel and have it published by a real publisher. Something similar came up for my daughter a few years ago. Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured this all out yet and rather than encouraging her and then (potentially, but who knows?!) see her fail, I thought I was being a good mom and tried to prevent disappointment by explaining how hard it would be to do or something along those lines.

Pickert points out that when you respond that way, “You haven’t prevented disappointment — you’ve only brought it from the misty future to the right now, and you also killed all the learning and skill-building that would have happened in the interim.

Choose to deliver your bad news — that her dream is statistically unlikely — and what will happen to her ambitions? What will happen to her idea of herself as a writer? Will she wait and start her writing career at 15? At twenty? Never?”

Had I encouraged her, who knows what would have happened. But I’m not beating myself up over this either. I live and learn, just like the next person. All I can do is hope to do better the next time.

There are a lot of great examples and quotes in Pickert’s article (and comments following it). So many that I want to quote here, but I will just recommend that you click over and read it yourselves. If you have a big dreamer in your life, it is worth the read.

You cannot predict the path an authentic, self-motivated learner is going to take. When you guess — and then decide to go ahead and pull the plug because you know it won’t work out — you eliminate all the learning that happens along the way.

It really goes along with the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The journey is all about the learning, the trials and tribulations, the mistakes and the triumphs, the tears and the joy. When we tell our kids, “This just isn’t going to work,” we remove the opportunity for them to experience all of those things.

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