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Posts tagged ‘unschool’

Why I don’t limit my children’s exposure to electronics

It’s a digital age, and the debate for and against the use of electronics rages back and forth. We’re told that it isn’t safe for our children to spend so much time online, or behind electronic devices of every kind.

They need to play!

That’s the war cry from every camp.

Proponents of unlimited electronic access claim that this IS playing in the new millennium, while the opposition insists it is harmful for both the brain and the body – not what playing is supposed to be at all.

My approach to life is to take all the views and consider them, then do what I was going to do anyway. Sometimes what I’ve learned along the way influences what I end up doing … This means that, at times, I have seriously held to each of these views.

But now, like a real grown up, I have my own views. So here they are:

5 reasons why I don't limit my children's exposure to electronics

5 Reasons Why I Don’t Limit My Children’s Exposure to Electronics

  1. I don’t want to.
    I keep searching my gut for some kind of feeling that says, “No, this is wrong. They’ve fried their little growing minds with too many electronic inputs. Make them stop!” But it never happens. I can’t find it. And, seriously, my “STOP IT!” gut reflex is VERY strong. If I’m not hearing it, it ain’t there.

  2. Even if they spent all day plugged into some device or other, they’d be spending less time attached to electronics than either of their parents do.
    We do this for a living, and we love it. I don’t think it’s wrong or hypocritical for parents to say, “Do as I SAY, not as I do” … I do think that there are times when that response is precisely reasonable and valid. So it’s not that I think I’d be a hypocrite if I gave them less access to electronics than I have.

    It’s just one of the ways our family enjoys time alone together … like reading, watching a movie, going to an art gallery, or taking long walks. We don’t have to be doing the same thing at the same time, or even talking, to be having quality time. This is one of the benefits of being an introvert – or a family of introverts!
  3. I’m interested in them doing what interests them.
    And the things they do on these devices interest them a lot. People learn best when they get to follow their interests. My kids have improved their reading and research skills. They have a bigger vocabulary and a wider range of interests generally now.

    They have their own tastes – music, hobbies, people, clothes – than they ever could have gleaned from me alone. They have had safe exposure to all kinds of people – people I could never have found and introduced them to. They have career interests that didn’t even exist five years ago. And they have the confidence that comes from knowing they could learn ANYTHING. Between sites like Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and YouTube, there’s nothing you could want to know and not be able to learn. And they’re teaching themselves stuff all the time.

  4. I wouldn’t ban them from going to school as a punishment, so I won’t stop them from spending time on electronics. It’s how they learn. And it’s what they love. Besides, they don’t really do things that need punishing. #JustSaying.

  5. These are life skills they’re learning.
    No matter what they do for a living, it will involve something electronic, somewhere along the way. In Goldilocks’ case, she’s already using the web to earn a fair amount of pocket money, and she has big plans for a future career based entirely online. The sooner she acquires and masters those skills the better, in my opinion.

    I feel that I am empowering my children with the skills to keep up with the future. And if they can learn to do things like programming and design along the way, so much the better. So many doors open up when you have these skills. And no one online cares how old you are. If a thirteen-year-old could give you a great, mobile-responsive website, and you didn’t know the developer as just a teenager, you’d be delighted with the result. And that teenager would be empowered by having learned and used real world skills.

Here are some things my kids do a LOT of, that don’t involve electronics:

  • Climb trees
  • Climb jungle gyms
  • Swim
  • Ride bikes (depending on where we live at the time)
  • Make tree houses
  • Make wendy houses
  • Make fairy houses
  • Make doll houses
  • Make doll clothes
  • Weave complex narratives for their newly outfitted dolls
  • Write novels
  • Create puppet shows and plays
  • Jump on trampolines
  • Play in the ocean
  • Go for long walks
  • Play in the river
  • Play in the garden
  • Organise their rooms
  • Mess up their rooms
  • Play dress up
  • Try on makeup
  • Read stories to each other
  • Haggle at the market (and achieve samoosas or macaroons!)
  • Do their chores
  • Help with the cooking and laundry
  • Babysit
  • Study for school
  • Draw
  • Colour in
  • Paint
  • Sew
  • Make things out of clay
  • Create complex science projects
  • Run
  • Dance
  • Sing
  • Play the piano
  • Play guitar
  • Look stuff up in real books – with pages and everything!

And a whole lot more. They choose to do these things – sometimes more often than they choose to use electronics.

We need to guide them to make smart choices – choices that support their goals and their health. But we don’t achieve this by taking away their choices. They understand the consequences of their choices, and by and large they DO make good choices. Their choices are never rooted in rebellion or deceit. They are honest with us, and if we have been firm, they accept that with respect and good grace.

But that wouldn’t have happened if we had kept them away from the things they love to do simply because it seemed like they’d spent too much time on those things. The things they love to do are precisely where I want them to spend their time. These are the things that lead us to the truly joyous discoveries we make in life.

Unschooling questions (and some answers)

As we expand our unschool experiment, we find that there are more questions than answers. And that’s okay: that’s how we learn. Unschooling really doesn’t come with any kind of hand book, and every family does what is right for their situation, interests, personalities, and a thousand other variables, unique to each situation.

Unschooling is not unparenting

We have not abdicated our roles in any way. Quite the contrary, unschooling actually forces us to be more involved than ever. We have to be aware of everything, sensitive to everything, to make sure that we never miss an opportunity to educate. Every moment is a learning moment – and that takes initiative, insight, imagination, involvement and energy.  We have to be aware and connected for as much of the day as possible.

Unschooling makes you honest

Because we learn every second that we breathe, we need to be very real, very transparent, and very honest. Learning happens by seeing, experiencing, “percolating” and discussing. It does not happen in a vacuum. We need to share what we learn, and let our children share what they’ve learned. This implies that we need to be learning, all the time. If something troubles us, we need to be honest about that. We also need to examine that. Why does a messy space trouble me? Am I being reasonable? Is the mess a logical and even necessary part of development? Is leaving the mess harmful in any way, or is that in itself a valuable education? These questions surround thousands of decisions every day, with the net result being that we are more connected, more “ourselves”, and more relaxed. I’m not really sure I can articulate why that is true, yet. But it is true, nonetheless.

Unschooling challenges beliefs

There are some unschoolers who don’t set limits on their children. Everything in life becomes a collaborative learning journey, with children setting their own limits as they work out what works for them. For instance, if the child prefers to stay up late, that is the child’s choice. She must then deal with the consequences of loneliness, being up when everyone else is asleep, and grumpiness the next day when she’s over tired, or ever oversleeps and misses an outing with the rest of the family. This way, she learns that an earlier bed time has its benefits. Well, fair enough. But not for us. In my opinion that’s a form of child abuse, frankly. I believe that children lack the ability to make certain decisions and cognitive leaps, and that’s why they have parents. Otherwise we’d all just grow up together in something like a giant, collaborative orphanage with common sense and consensus determining the way we live. I’ve read Lord of the Flies. I don’t think we’d do well left to our own devices.

Here are some of the beliefs I’m examining at the moment, as we delve deeper into this adventure:

  • Children need boundaries. They need to know when an action is acceptable and when it isn’t. And sometimes words are not adequate to convey this.
  • Children need direction. They may well be curious beasts with a passion for knowledge. But they also need a little guidance. If Papa Bear had never introduced me to the internet, I may never have developed an interest in it, and then I’d be doing something else for a living now. If we don’t know there are things out there to be discovered, we won’t discover them. We need to allow our children the opportunity to develop an interest in what’s out there by letting them know what’s out there.
  • Not everything is fun and interesting, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant or superfluous. Just because I don’t enjoy doing a thing, or don’t feel like doing a thing, doesn’t mean I don’t need to do it. Yes, I prefer dancing to running, and running to soccer. So perhaps I’ll dance more often than I’ll chase a ball. But I need to exercise, and if the only option I have is a game of soccer, I need to accept that and get on with it. I may even find it fun. Possibly. Few people fascinatedly pursue a regimen of dental hygiene, but that doesn’t mean we can just get away with not cleaning our teeth two or three times a day. And so on. So while I am letting the girls not clean their room for a while, I am probably, at some stage, going to insist that it gets done, and that beds get made religiously. Because some things just need to be done.
  • We all need to do our share. So maybe we don’t say the word “chores” anymore, and maybe (just maybe), pocket money and housework are no longer linked. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all pitch in with dishes, dog food and domestic goddessery in general.
  • Work has worth, and earning a living is a life skill. I haven’t made up my mind about pocket money. I believe it is necessary, and very educational. The girls have learnt maths, the value of money, and the value of things, all through pocket money. They’ve also learned that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. So to speak. (Of course they eat, but a messy room means no pocket money, and that means no buying toys at the market – their lifeblood, you’d think!). So while I am experimenting with not insisting on a tidy room (for now), I don’t think they’ll start getting money for nothing. That can simply be a consequence of not cleaning up.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being organised. Being spontaneous does not exclude being organised, and vice versa. If I work better in a structure, that could be a good thing.
  • Sometimes, children need chastening. It may take various forms, but a polite and respectful “No, darling. That’s not how we behave.” simply doesn’t cut it sometimes. In those cases we need a clear, communicated and consistent way of communicating unacceptable behaviour.

At the end of the day, these children will one day be adults, and they need to be ready for that. That goes a lot further than simple fact knowledge. It’s about being equipped to deal with other people well, and being practised in making smart choices. Schools don’t teach that, families do. And must.

A Pursuit of Passion

Unschooling has had some unexpected side effects. A lot of the literature we’re reading at the moment, online and off, encourages parents to pursue their own passions and interests almost as actively as they encourage their unschooled children to do. Essentially, we should be modeling our philosophy even as we develop it. If we demonstrate the process and results of finding what we love to do, learning to do it, and doing it to the best of our ability, the natural joy and growth that results are a boon to the entire family.

I love to dance. I’d assumed that I would train formally after leaving school (isn’t that how you get good at things, after all?). I did, in fact, enroll at theatre college after school, pursuing my lifelong ambition to act professionally. Unfortunately, I hated every moment of it. Disillusioned and bleak, I flip-flopped from one job to the next for a few years with no direct goal in mind, until I discovered an aptitude for and love of graphic design. Now, I certainly am not as incredibly talented as some, but I do love it, and I do get paid to do it every day of my life. So that’s a good thing.

Since my drama school experience, I’ve expended a fair amount of energy trying to work out how I should be, both at home and with others. What should I say? What can I do? What should I not do? What’s appropriate in terms of my strict faith? I’ve believed in the value of exercise but, for the most part, begrudged the practise of it at best, loathed it at worst. (Wow, that’s a long sentence!)

As I internalise, more and more, the notion that things that are learnt by doing are learnt in at least as valid a manner (if not more so) as things learned by instruction, I’ve begun to recognise many more opportunities to personal growth, without attending classes, buying special equipment or uniforms, or anything else at all besides passion.

When we got home from the market today, a friend asked if we could listen to one of our BeeGee CDs. We haven’t listened to it in ages as I wrestled with the “is-this-music-acceptable-in-my-house?” internal debate. The music was great. It filled the air with energy and exuberance, and I couldn’t help bopping along to it. Later, when Papa Bear and our guest nipped out to the shops, I put on some of my favourite dance music, cranked up the volume, and danced and sang my heart out! Goldilocks and Red Rising Hood had friends over, and I’m fairly sure all four of them thought I’d lost my mind. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care if the neighbours saw or heard, either. I was having FUN. I must have danced intensively for over half an hour, and I feel better than ever – so connected to myself and my passion, and ready for whatever the rest of the day has in store.

To my delight, the whole family seems to be feeling it, too. Everyone is happier and more relaxed than ever, laughing and questioning things and following their interests with wreckless abandon.

It makes me think of the charming and intriguing Zapp family and their epic journey.  Doesn’t it sound like fun? What about you? What sparks your passion

Assuming Positive Intent

Our unschooling experiment is picking up speed and gaining momentum. The more we think about how we’ve learnt everything that we care about, the more we realise that what matters in life we’ve learnt incidentally to formal structures. Actually, that’s not always true. There have been times when we’ve chosen to receive some form of formal education – either by attending courses or reading relevant material (books, websites and so forth). The point is, though, that what Papa Bear and I do for a living, we weren’t taught. We learnt by doing.

Now we’re encouraging the girls to do the same. Red Riding Hood is leaping into floristry (is that a word? Spell check thinks so!) and choreography as if to the manner born. Goldilocks id designing dolls and learning about plastic injection molding. Both girls are doing more maths and reading than before, and a lot more drawing. So far, I am satisfied, and so is Papa Bear. He is a million times more supportive than I’d ever supposed he would be, and happily spends his evenings auto-didactically acquiring guitar-playing skills (auto-didactic = unschool, just so ya know. I learnt that osmotically this week).

Here’s the thing that really struck me: always assume positive intent from your child.

What I understand by this is that I must always believe that my child intends good, whether it be in asking a thousand questions or leaving a messy trail behind her. Whether it’s demanding my attention at the worst possible moment, or breaking the handle of an otherwise unopenable car door when we’re already late (which happened today). Always assume they mean well.

Now, I know that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). And I know that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). But 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that “love … believes all things“. For me, that means that my almost-utterly-innocent ten year old doesn’t intend the inconvenience her growing intellect inadvertently causes. She intends a positive, edifying outcome for all of us – albeit unconsciously so.

This has been liberating for me. I’m not saying that I assume the worst of my children, but now I’m actively, intentionally assuming the very best. And so is Papa Bear, though I don’t know if he fully realises it yet.

Moreover, we’re assuming the best of our own motives, as well. For the first time that I can recall, I find myself feeling rested, rejuvenated and not guilty.know I’m doing the best I can. I know that always work as hard as humanly possible and do all that I can to keep promises, meet deadlines, achieve goals and improve my clients’ business. I know that my family’s long-term and total well-being is my utmost motivation and the guiding light of every decision I make. I can relax now, knowing that I am reasonably doing all that I can, and not shirking anything.

The interesting thing is that our already happy household is now even more peaceful and relaxed than ever.

What a relief!

PS: I did not tidy my house before I left for work this morning. I did the dishes and put my stuff away, and then I left. I didn’t feel guilty about that. I didn’t feel grumpy about that. I chose, instead, to have an invigorating quiet time, and enjoy my children’s creations. Here’s to a happy weekend!

An Unschool Adventure

Last week was billing week, and exam week. Neither of those is a particularly simple or carefree time, and facing both at once proved – ahem, challenging.  Admittedly, I did have some say in the matter, and better planning would have resulted in a better week for all of us.

Even so, the trials we faced last week were eye-opening, and allowed us to realise and begin to address some issues.

Most glaringly, and the focus of this month’s “fix-it”, is Goldilocks’ approach to school. She’s doing much better than she was, and enjoys most of it. But when we have a challenging week, we tend to butt heads and each bit of learning has to be injected by force, it seems.

So, after some serious thought and prayer, we’ve decided to do a one month unschool experiment. I’ve blogged about unschooling before here, and now I’m ready to wade in and do some field research. I’ve agreed to a one-month trial. We’ll keep some of the basic school day structure, like Bible, Maths and Copywork. We’re also probably going to help a friend of the girls’ with his reading and art, so we’ll include those in every day. But most of the school day (and as much of the rest of the day as she likes) will be dedicated to learning about the things that interest her. Apparently we’re starting with woodwork and plastic injection moulding.

I, for one, am waiting in anticipation of the results.

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