Unschoolers and Learning to Read

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Unschoolers and Learning to Read

When it comes to learning to read, kids have so many opportunities crossing their paths! Here’s a quick look at some of the ways words creep into your child’s life.

Remember, no one learns to read until they are READY. Schools are incorrect to believe that everyone is ready at the same time. And because of this, children whose brains were busy with other things end up feeling behind or ahead of the pack – and none of that is really true.

I don’t know if they still do this, but do you remember the “slow reading group” of the past?  What a horrible thing to be reminded every day that you’re in the slow group.  And even if they tried to be clever and call them the robin and the bluebird and the hummingbird group – kids knew if they were in with the smarter kids or those dubbed “dumb.” And if you’ve read much about Self-Fulfilling Prophecy… it certainly fits here!

So! The point of my rant is to say that all a parent needs do to is to expose their child to words, notice them when you’re at home or out and about.

Read to your kids – make it a cozy delightful experience.
Ditch the pressure.
Get rid of the timetables.
You have all the time in the world.

Windows for learning do NOT close!

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Unschooling Mom2Mom has an awesome Pinterest board dedicated to Learning to Read without pressure and coercion. Check it out for thought-provoking articles and inspiration!
UM2M Pinterest Board

The Homeschooler Post dedicated an entire issue to learning to read, with a special focus on late readers.
You might like that too!
Homeschooler Post: Reading

Here’s that same graphic from the “thumbnail” above
… only easier to read and/or share:

Reading UM2M

Unschooling Mom2Mom has an awesome Pinterest board dedicated to Learning to Read without pressure and coercion. Check it out for though-provoking articles and inspiration!

UM2M Pinterest Board

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My Book… good news and bad news

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My Book… good news and bad news

You’ve been hearing me talk about this book of mine for some time now. Some of you may have totally forgotten that I had this project in the works while others may simply think it’s a phantom we will never see.

First, the confession… yes, it took me a long time to do it. I’m one of those people they call “Quick Starts”… I have so many ideas and never enough time. And, I struggle with follow-through when the going gets rather tedious or mundane.  So, while I loved collecting the surveys and talking to the teens and young adults, how I was going to put that all into a book for readers to enjoy… I took a while to figure that out.  So long, that my first editor, Linda Dobson, had to go get a job and couldn’t wait any longer on me!! My family life is busy… whose isn’t? My kids are grown but we had weddings and babies and travel. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers and we moved her in with us (with her yappy little dog, Pepper.) And Ron had a heart attack just before Christmas and took early retirement in May.  If you think that means he’s taking it easy, forget about THAT – he has projects and motorcycle trips and is requiring that I get up each morning and join him at the gym!  Alyssa went back to work so we help with child care a few days each week.

So…. all those things were happening while I was trying to get this book finished. And then suddenly, my brain cleared and I had a plan. A wonderful, exciting layout for the book and I started to wrap it up. The first publisher I talked to about it told me she wouldn’t touch a book like I was writing. She called it a “Behemoth,” and said that her master’s program thesis was not as thorough as this. In fact, she asked if I wanted to save it FOR a Master’s thesis (or 2 or 3!). No. Thank you.  She gave me some tips for self-publishing and I moved on.

Then I remembered someone I knew who had a publishing company with her husband. I spoke with them on the phone and they were delightful and enthusiastic. And local. I liked that.

So just before Christmas I sent it to them. I think they had no idea how much formatting would be involved, and the months dragged on. I don’t really know what happened to spring, other than that my grandson was born and I was distracted by that. I had hoped to have the book available at the Texas Unschoolers’ Conference in April. It didn’t happen.

So then we buckled down and made serious progress. The distant HSC Conference in August looked totally do-able.

And then, Mother Nature said, “Not so fast…” It began to rain. And rain. And rain. Spring in Texas had never been wetter.  What does this have to do with book publishing, you may ask?

Well, my local publisher lived in a charming cabin in Wimberley, Texas. A truly picturesque setting. Big live oaks along the Blanco River.

Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas

But do you remember the news on Memorial Day Weekend? The Blanco River left it’s banks, destroying homes and lives. My publisher and his wife barely escaped that night. In fact, had they opened their back door to check on everything, they would have been swept away. Instead they went out the front and waded to safety. In the dark. While cars floated past. Scary.

Water rose in their home to 6 feet. The cabin stood against the water, but everything inside was ruined. Including the computer with my book file.

Dan's flood

A Go Fund Me Account was set up to help them, and I’m including it here, clickable to the fundraiser. Feel free to donate – they are good people.

Go Fund Me
A week or so later, they took the computer to the repair shop and they were recovering 1% per day. Clearly, that was not going to work in time for the San Jose conference. So we went off an old email he had sent me and started over. From the beginning. But at least we had the visual plan all figured out.

I started finding awesome pictures of the survey respondents so we wouldn’t have to use all stock photos of teens. And we were back in the game!

Still the publisher had to work on my book while working on his own flood-related chores – of which there were many. And by the end of July, our overly optimistic ideas of being ready for the August conference were dashed.

What to do? I was speaking about the findings of the book and it would have been an AWESOME opportunity to sell the book. But there’s no arguing with reality. I wallowed in self-pity for a few minutes, ate a bunch of animal crackers dipped in a can of vanilla frosting, and then regrouped.

I brainstormed with a few people about what my options were. Then my brilliant son-in-law had a fabulous idea. Buy inexpensive thumb-drives and put the first 4 chapters of the book on each one. Then offer a thumb drive to people as a free thank you gift for pre-buying the book.  YES!

So that’s where we are today.

The first 75 people to pre-buy my book, Homeschooled Teens will receive a free thumb drive with the Preface, Intro and 1st four chapters
as my way of thanking you for your support!

I will arrive at the HSC Conference hotel on Thursday and be there until Monday morning. You can find me 15 minutes before or after my 4 talks. If you follow me on Twitter (@Sue5), I will keep everyone updated on where I am and what I’m doing.  Payment can be made in cash there or via Paypal. (I probably won’t have change, so just bring $20)

Now…. I have a bowl full of thumb drives to load…
so I’ll see you in San Jose!!

Homeschooled Teens Thumbdrive

 

Here’s a link to ordering online!

Thanks so much for being supportive.

 

 

Understanding Your Teen’s Behavior

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If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today's adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake. HARRY CAMPBELL

If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake. HARRY CAMPBELL

Adolescence can be a tough phase – for the parents and the kids. The transition between childhood and adulthood can go smoothly or can be pretty bumpy, for so many different reasons.  It’s not true that all parents of teens will have a rough time, but even the best relationships have one thing in common – a still-developing brain.

Part of the frustration that comes with erratic teenage behavior comes from the simple fact that the piece of their brain that gives them good judgement or keeps their impulses in check hasn’t developed completely.

I’ve collected a few articles here in hopes to help parents who are struggling with how to help the teens in their lives. Maybe they’re running into some obstacles.

These links to articles, lists and interviews will help you not only understand some of the underlying reasons for some of the choices your teen is making, but also could give you some insight that could lead to more compassion when parenting your teen.
Really. They’re not just trying to piss you off.

Let’s Learn About The Teen Brain:

Deciphering the Teen Brain and Behavior

by Scott Hewitt

Until you’re well into your 20s — and especially in your early- to midteen years, somewhere between 12 and 15 — that brain of yours remains a bustling construction, demolition and reconstruction site. Cells and connecting synapses are being grown, used and strengthened — or not used, pruned and replaced. Totally occupied by vast volumes of incoming information and sensation, and practicing up on bodily functions and feelings, the young brain’s necessary skill at mature decision-making and top-down control develops much later — last, in fact. Meanwhile a region called the amygdala — the seat of fear, emotional reactions and fight-or-flight instincts — is fully functioning from day one.

Brainstorm: The Power and the Purpose of the Teenage Brain

Listen to an interview with Daniel Siegel on the Diane Rehm Show. Transcript is available at this link too.

[Adolescence] is a vital time for adolescents to chart the course for the adults they will ultimately become. One brain researcher points out that it is during our teen years that we learn how to navigate the world outside the safety of home, how to connect deeply with others and how to safely take risks. He says that by understanding how the brain functions, teens can improve their own lives and those of their parents. Diane and her guests discuss the power and purpose of the teenage brain.

What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind

by Alison Gopnik
Research points to the enormous flexibility of the brain. Instead of trying to give our children more school experiences, we should be giving them more real life opportunities in the world. Apprenticeships, internships, as well as Take-Your-Child-To-Work-Today could happen more frequently. Exposure like this can actually change how a brain functions.

What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later? The answer is: a good deal of teenage weirdness. Fortunately, developmental psychologists and neuroscientists are starting to explain the foundations of that weirdness.

10 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Teen’s Brain

by Robin Nixon
Robin offers quick snippets about the brain during adolescence with such as:

  • the pruning and neuronal connections
  • emotions and the limbic system
  • decision making
  • embracing risk
  • peer relationships
  • the importance of sleep
  • good parent relationships

What Happy Teenagers Do Differently

by Marilyn Price-Mitchell

Research  is suggesting risk-taking in the teenage years contributes to self-growth, learning, and long-term happiness. 

The Teenage Brain: Spock versus Captain Kirk

by Corey Turner from All Things Considered

The prefrontal cortex is our voice of reason. Steinberg calls it the brain’s CEO. Casey likens it to Mr. Spock from Star Trek, coldly calculating a life’s worth of cost-benefit analyses.
Casey’s analogy doesn’t stop there. To her, Captain Kirk is the limbic system — the emotional center of the brain that’s always on the lookout for threats and rewards. When it spots either, it sends a message to the prefrontal cortex. Because the limbic system can’t make sense of these things on its own. It needs the prefrontal cortex.
Here’s the problem. For kids in adolescence, the prefrontal cortex is still developing, and it can’t keep up with the limbic system as it goes into reward-seeking warp speed.

Remember poring over books about baby development when you were a new parent? It’s important to spend the time understanding more about what physiologically is happening with your teenager. Read the articles above – don’t just bookmark them! Remind yourself that it’s not always about power struggles. Look a little deeper at why that’s an issue for you. While you’ll always be their parent and they’ll always need you to some degree, you only have a few more years where you are their main source of support.

Tweet this:
If ever they needed you to be on their side, it’s while your teens navigate their way through adolescence! ~UM2M

Unschoolers and Recordkeeping

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Unschoolers and Recordkeeping

Sometimes unschoolers get mixed messages about recordkeeping. States vary on their requirements for homeschoolers – including unschoolers – to maintain various records. In many states no recordkeeping is required whatsoever. And in those that do, many do not require that these records be turned in to anyone nor do the specify how the recording should be done.  Of course, check your own state/local group for your laws. But be wary of anyone who thinks doing more than the state requires, is a good idea. It’s not. And for new homeschoolers/unschoolers, recordkeeping often gives the parent a sense of progress or a feeling of protection should anyone ask. Please don’t let your fears of governmental oversight crowd out your good judgement.  It’s a rare case that anyone ever even asks to see these records. (Usually it’s custody battles or legal issues that don’t even pertain to the child.) That said, some of us do enjoy looking back and seeing progress. Some of our kids (most of them?) like to look back at their own lives and see what they were doing or remember what life was like.  Acquiring life skills, personal AND physical growth, social settings, friends and relatives – all make for interesting trips down memory lane later on.

Recordkeeping Get creative and you can find a fun way to record what’s been going on. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or keep some dry teacher’s record book. Life has so much more to offer than that!

Try some of these:

  • Journaling about their lives and their activities
    – It’s nice to have a place to privately record everything that you HOPE you will remember
    – Some kids might love to write it themselves, either by hand or on the computer (tips on writing at Pinterest)
    – Decorating the cover and/or the pages – look at others on Pinterest (especially under “Art Journals”)
  • Photo Collection – hard copy or digital
    – Get memory sticks to take photos off the phone
    – Start folders to make it easier to find what you’re looking for
    – Stay safe and upload to Flickr, PhotoBucket, SmugMug, plus more options!
    – At the end of the year, compile the favorites for an annual book or video montage set to favorite songs.
    Groovebook, Shutterfly, Snapfish are companies that can help you compile your photos quickly (before you’re overrun with boxes from years and years!)
  • Scrapbooking
    – A creative hands-on project to do together
    – More fun for the artistic types
  • Blogging about the family’s adventures
    – Lots of free blog websites are available
    – Be sure to join the Facebook group for Homeschool/Unschool Bloggers. You can see a variety of ways people use blogging to share glimpses into their world. You don’t have to be a blogger to join the group.
  • Writing activities down after the fact in a planner or on a calendar
    – Perfect for the busy mom who is trying to remember it all
  • Pinterest boards can record cool things you’ve done, read, seen, explored
    – Create boards for interesting places you visited or want to visit
    – Create boards for movies & documentaries you saw or want to see
    – Create a board with photos of new creations (foods, crafts, etc)
    – Encourage your kids to get their own Pinterest account so it’s easy to share ideas
    – Unschooling Pinterest Board

For a collection of other unschoolers’ ideas about record keeping, be sure to look at
Recordkeeping  at the Unschooling Mom2Mom website.

Lean Into the Love

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Lean Into the Love

Parents with children older than mine would look at me when I expressed concerns and say, “Don’t worry,” or “They’ll figure it out.” Sometimes they’d tack on, “Just have fun with them.” They were so right. And I LOVE that they were!

Still, I worried about gaps. I worried about getting into college, or whatever higher learning they’d want to pursue. I didn’t want doors to close on them – I wanted them to have all the choices in the world. And in spite of my lapses in trust, or my occasional meltdowns about facts, they did have every opportunity they wanted. After a (mostly) radical way of unschooling our lives, they have been able to pursue whatever they want.

I applaud those moms of babies who are reading and learning about unschooling BEFORE they need to know. So many of their school-induced thoughts about learning can be dealt with before their kids are even school age. To deschool themselves before they’re in the thick of it will help so much. I didn’t know any homeschooling, let alone unschooling, families the year before we decided to take the plunge. The idea that keeping your kids home to learn and live would actually be good for them – and not just an act of self-indulgence by a mom who couldn’t let go – was not on my radar at all. I was a complete suburban soccer mom – although then it was T-ball and Tiger Cubs. I was surrounded by moms who were trying to find the right preschool or mother’s day out. I only knew people who encouraged distance from children so they could go back to work or follow their own pursuits or just get a little sleep! No one talked to me back then about leaning into all these feelings that come with having children.

This month, I’m hear to tell you to just lean into the LOVE. Look at your babies and toddlers and children and teens. See how they trust you. See how they look to you for support. See how you are their rock.

Please notice the math: You will probably live to be about 80. Your kids will need you as their sole support for maybe 20 years of that. That’s only 25% of your life. Most likely you’re over 20, so you’ve already spent the 1st 25%, kids are the next. That leaves 50% of your life to pursue whatever you want! And regardless of your first 20 years, if you REALLY focus on your children for the next 20, the second half of your life will be full of wonderful relationships with them as well as memories and plans for the future. It will be so much richer for focusing that one little 25% on them.

So here’s my list of LOVE…

Some of it I did well. Some of it, I wish I had done so much better. And if you’re still raising little ones, you have such an opportunity to learn from our choices and have an even better experience at this.

❤ LOVE who they are now.

Don’t try to shape them. Just sit with them and listen to their ideas. Share your opinions without squashing theirs. Stop yourself when you feel like you’re making judgements about them. Let them unfold naturally. If you focus on the LOVE you can let go of the FEAR.

❤ LOVE that you have the entire day to do with as you wish.

Create a home that is full of excitement and interesting things to explore – be it books or videos or pinecones or magnets. Play with them yourself. You’d be surprised how your own ability to play can come back. It’s human nature to play with things. It’s just that if you had to go to school, you were told to stop playing and settle down in your seat. In order to succeed in that setting, you had to learn to curb all your enthusiasm. It might take some time to entice those feelings back. But they’re there.

❤ LOVE that you live in a time and place where so many opportunities abound.

Use your community, and the community next to yours! Find cool places to explore. Learn with your children. Even if you think, “I’m not that interested in that,” it’s worth a try to check it out. There might be something there that you DO like. Or it might spark a new passion for your child. Show them that there are all KINDS of interesting adventures just outside your door. And now, looking them up on the internet makes it so much easier to find.

❤ LOVE that they can go see and touch and hear things in the real world.

Children who are tied to lesson plans or curriculum – whether they’re in the school or the home – can only read about these adventures. They have to wait to start their exploring later in their life, or after their “real work” is done when their brains are exhausted or worse.

❤ LOVE their interests.

Even if you’re not into video games or horses or Justin Bieber or BMXing, love it anyway. Show them you value their choices. Ask them questions about it. Nurture their passion instead of putting timers on to say how long they get to enjoy that. Take them to get that game they’re longing for. Ask them what game could you start on to learn what they love. Take them to horse stables. Take them with a friend to concert of their choice. Drop by the bike shop with them once a week to see what’s the latest. Find a magazine on BMX-ing.

Before you say, “I don’t want to put more money toward those choices,” maybe you should rethink that. It’s their passion! Even if it’s fleeting. It really will lead to something else – it always does. And they will have had the opportunity of seeing that they can look for passions without someone telling them how to find it or where to find it. Or what’s a good passion to have and what’s not.

Your LOVE will build their CONFIDENCE.

And as an unschooling parent, your job is to create an environment for them to learn and grow. They’ll need tools to do that.

AND it will improve your relationship. In the end, that’s what matters most: the LOVE between everyone in your family. When there’s a disconnect there, look to see what you’re afraid of happening. Because it all boils down to two things: Fear or LOVE. Just practice bringing it back to love. After all, learning their times tables by a certain age really doesn’t matter that much at all – their phones have calculators and for anything else, there’s GOOGLE.

“And in the end…the love you take…
Is Equal to…the Love you Make”

~Paul McCartney

Unschooling Q & A

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idk-ask-sueI answer unschooling questions for the Texas Unschoolers’ group each month in their newsletter, TexUns News. I’m including them here at my blog. If you have any questions you’d like me to address, ask away!

Q: My teens are getting antsy. I think they need more adventure than I’m offering here at home. Do you have any suggestions?
By all means, continue to explore what are everyday opportunities in your community – or even the next community over. Be sure communication lines are open between you and your teen so they’ll tell you what they wish they could be doing. Maybe it’s time to explore community college classes, or a new hobby, or take a few more family trips. Maybe they’d like to visit friends they’ve met at conferences or online.  Going to statewide conferences allows teens to make friends and stay in contact with them. It’s always a great reunion when they see each other again every year.

A few conference/camps are geared specifically for teens. This gives your teen an awesome opportunity to go off on an adventure! Explore these with them, and see if they’d be interested in traveling.

APRIL 28 – MAY 22
Project World School Retreat   ECUADOR, SOUTH AMERICA

MAY 11 – 22
Project World School Retreat  ECUADOR, SOUTH AMERICA

JUNE 29 – JULY 23
Project World School Retreat CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU, PERU

AUGUST 3-10
Not Back to School Camp   EAGLE POINT, OREGON

AUGUST 3 – 27
Project World School Retreat PERU – AMAZON JUNGLE

AUGUST 9 – 16
East Tennessee Unschoolers Camp  UNICOI, TENNESSEE

AUGUST 25 – SEPTEMBER 8
Not Back to School Camp   BRIDGE, OREGON

SEPTEMBER 12 – NOVEMBER 21
Unschool Adventures – Adventure Semester – COLORADO

SEPTEMBER 24 – OCTOBER 2
Not Back to School Camp  PLYMOUTH, VERMONT

 

Q: Do Unschoolers ever keep records? Should we be doing this? Part of me wishes we had something to show for this great life we’re living!

A: Sometimes unschoolers get mixed messages about record-keeping. States vary on their requirements for homeschoolers – including unschoolers – to maintain various records.

In Texas – No record-keeping is required whatsoever.
But check your own state/local group for your laws.

That said, some of us like to be able to look back and see progress in all kinds of areas. Some of our kids (most of them?) like to look back at their own lives and see what they were doing or remember what life was like. Get creative and you can find a fun way to record what’s been going on. Try some of these:

  • Journaling about their lives and their activities
    – Having a place to privately record everything that you HOPE you will remember
    – Some kids might love to write it themselves, either by hand or on the computer
    – Decorating the cover and/or the pages – look at others on Pinterest (especially under “Art Journals”)
  • Photo journals – hard copy or digital
    – get memory sticks to take photos off the phone
    – start folders to make it easier to find what you’re looking for
    – At the end of the year, compile the favorites for an annual book or video montage set to favorite songs
  • Scrapbooking
    – A fun hands-on project to do together.
    – More fun for the artistic creative types
  • Blogging about the family’s adventures
     – Lots of free blog websites are available great idea
  • Writing activities down after the fact in a planner or on a calendar
    – Perfect for the busy mom who is trying to remember it all
  • Pinterest boards can record cool things you’ve done, read, seen, explored
      – Create boards for interesting places you visited
    – Create boards for movies & documentaries you saw
    – Create a board with photos of new creations (foods, crafts, etc)

 

Q: If I unschool the kids, what will we do about gaps? The curriculum makes sure I don’t miss anything. ~Mom of 3

A.The truth is, Mom of 3, everyone has gaps in their learning. There’s no way your curriculum – or any curriculum – can be sure to touch on every piece of knowledge out there. And then, when you add in your child’s attention to the material, and how it might fade if the resources are boring or not what he’s interested in – you will have paid a lot for curriculum that doesn’t do what you were hoping: Avoid gaps.

BUT! There’s good news! There’s no finish line, or graduation date – learning is an ongoing process for life. And, honestly, that little phone in your child’s pocket (or it will be in his pocket when he’s older) will answer any question he might have, tiny fact he might have missed, or fill any gap he notices along the way.

Q: I don’t really understand what deschooling is. I heard there’s some formula for when it should be completed. 

A. Deschooling is the term we use when people (children or parents) are trying to get past the school version of learning and open to the idea that learning is actually much bigger than that. The problem is, we create stories around these thoughts and sometimes we even have emotional hurdles to overcome. If you had a less than stellar school experience, it might be easier to walk away from schoolish ways of learning, socializing, connecting. Still, we’re a small portion of society, and things like back to school sales, football games, prom season may trigger some wistfulness that you or your child harbors. Also, your child may think they have to do worksheets to demonstrate learning, or that authoritarian top-down teaching methods are required to learn. It can even be a little scary at first to know that you are in charge of your own learning. But the benefits are SO worth it!

How quickly you move through the deschooling process will be so unique to your child, yourself and your family. You may even revisit ideas that were buried but surface later when your child enters a new developmental phase. That’s ok, you’re human! And schools have often been big parts of our lives before unschooling. Give yourself and your child some time get acquainted with this new way of approaching learning and shucking the shackles of the school’s version of education!

Q: What do I do about friends or relatives who quiz my kids about their learning? It’s so annoying and I’m dreading those encounters! ~ Nervous Nadine

A. Oh, N2, we don’t live in an unschooling bubble, do we? Our kiddos have to get out there in the community and brush up with people who have no idea what we’re trying to do. And while that’s a good thing, in general, it can be tough when you’re new to unschooling or feeling like you’re on some shaky ground. A couple of quick suggestions is to give them some factoids they can rattle back at their quizzer:

“Do you know the capitol of Angola, or San Salvador, or Malaysia?”
(Here’s a wikipedia cheat sheet, so he can pick which countries they’d like to know)

Or how about a math question?
What’s 2358 x 137? or the square root of 196?
(here’s a square root calculator, so she can pick her own!)
The point being that the child can give some demonstration of knowledge and then happily skip away.

Another option is to talk to those people yourself. You could even tell your child, “Mom said if the quizzing starts, you should probably take it up with her.” No reason your child should have to go head-to-head with an adult with an agenda.
And if you’re still a little uneasy yourself with the confrontation, change the subject. Talk about their child’s success or something they’re doing. People love to talk about themselves.

Q: I know my kids are young, but what about teens and college? How do they pass the SAT/ACT if they are unschooled? Just looking down the road…. 

A. Lots of parents worry that choosing the Unschooling route will close doors for their kids. It’s actually the opposite.

As for passing the SAT/ACT, mine didn’t have to. They took community college classes as a teen and then transferred to a university as a sophomore. Transfer students don’t have to take the SAT/ACT. For those kids that want to bypass the community college, they simply pull out those study guides and figure it out. Most of those guides show you how to do the questions. There are also prep classes your teens could take if that’s REALLY what they want.

Most unschooled teens I know went the community college route first. Community colleges have their own placement tests. And sometimes kids end up taking developmental classes, depending on how they scored. As my unschooled daughter said, “Even a couple of developmental classes beats 12 years in a classroom!”

Good pointQ: How do unschoolers make sure they hit all the subjects?

A. In two words: they don’t. Subjects are artificially divided for school, but that’s not how they show up in real life. When you’re immersed in your life, a variety of subjects intertwine and connect. One thing invariably leads to another. With no plans to test or “monitor classroom progress,” the need for compartmentalizing subject material becomes unnecessary. Unschooling parents can fuel interests, toss in suggestions, see where something leads.

For instance, say your child enjoys building with lego. What else does he like to build? Where do you find those materials? Has he been to the local children’s museum where he can build on a larger scale? Has he seen cool videos on YouTube? Is he interested in lego robotics? What if when he’s looking up lego robotics, he discovers a Mindstorm app, or downloads some software? Or maybe it leads him to info about the Mars Rover robot and he started exploring more about the solar system… or it dropped him into the Smithonian.com exposing him to exhibits about post-World War II, or dog breeds, or creating your own time capsule. Maybe lego leads him to explore a trip to Legoland in San Diego, or Denmark, England, Germany, Florida or Malaysia. What would be fun things to do if you went there?

Yes, it is incredibly tangential, but that’s what unrestrained curiosity looks like! Would you call that Science, Reading, Spelling, Math, Computer Science, Geography, Physics, History? But why do that? Any particular interest can lead to thousands of other topics. When children aren’t studying for a test or distracted by which subject they’re studying, the sky’s the limit on their learning!

connect-1**But don’t be overzealous in your desire to connect everything. Your goal is to have your child see you as Resource Person or Creative Idea Finder. You don’t want them to avoid you because you want to turn everything into “teachable moments.” Sometimes, a lego is just a lego.  You have to know your kid well enough to know when to offer and when to hold back… and not get your feelings hurt if they have no interest in yourfabulous idea. 😉

 

Q: I have been homeschooling for about 10 years now, my dd is 16 and 1/2 and my ds is 12. I wonder if it is too late to consider unschooling? My children are both right-brain learners and my ds struggles with the “left brain” materials available to us. I could write several paragraphs about boredom and frustration, but I am sure you have heard it all! Is it too late for us? Can you point me in the right direction? Signed, Desperate in Katy!

A: Oh Desperate! It’s never too late! It’s time for a heart-to-heart conversation with your kids though. Talk to them about this new unschooling approach, how you’re going to focus on fueling THEIR interests, as opposed to forcing them to listen to others who supposedly know what’s best for them. It’s their lives! And learning is natural. Our job is to get all the arbitrary stuff out of their way. You may have to do some deschooling about what’s arbitrary. Grades, tests, grade levels, “prepping for college,” teacher-driven materials – all those can be things of the past!

Ask them how they’d like to spend their time? What are their interests? Think of yourself as the Best Tour Guide in Katy! Then go about becoming that! What’s nearby that might intrigue them? What’s going on in your community that might be interesting? Do they have some hobbies they’d like to pursue? What adventures could you go on together? Instead of getting them ready for life, dive into it with them now!

If you have specific questions, check out the Facebook page: Unschooling Mom2Mom. Veteran unschooling moms are there, ready to help you make the shift!

Q&AQ: Hello I am a mother of two girls 5 and 6. They are currently in public school but I am so dissatisfied with public education. I don’t believe children should be given standardized tests, as if all children are the same. What are a few things I needed to know before withdrawing my girls from school?

A: I really don’t think you need to do any prep at all before you withdraw your girls from school. They were happily learning at home just a couple of years ago, and now they’ll be able to go back to where you all left off.

Sometimes it helps to understand our Texas law as it pertains to homeschoolers. After the Leeper Decision in the 1980’s, homeschooling falls into the category of “private schools.” Public schools have no jurisdiction over private schools. The “Texas Homeschooling Law” requires:

  • The instruction must be bona fide (i.e., not a sham).
  • The curriculum must be in visual form (e.g., books, workbooks, video monitor).
  • The curriculum must include the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.

There are no reporting agencies and no testing requirements for homeschoolers. The state of Texas does not regulate homeschoolers once they have been removed from the public school system.

School schedules don’t matter in your unschooling/homeschooling world. So waiting for a particular school break to withdraw them is completely unnecessary!
Let the adventure begin NOW!

Q: So today is one of those days where I worry about not teaching my child about normal subjects. I still have this mental picture she should be sitting at a desk with papers and learning about stuff in a book … help me !!! 

It’s so common for us to fall back on the way we learned as children – I’m assuming you went to school like so many of us. We were really conditioned to believe that “Real Learning” has to be boring, at desks, and divided neatly into subjects. Unschooling principles are the opposite of that. Learning is fun! It happens all the time, everyday. Life never presents itself the way it does in schools – there are no worksheets, or tidy subjects coming at us one at a time. Better to involve your daughter in real life, where learning is real – and very exciting! You might be interested in reading The Curriculum Crutch.

See you next month with more Questions and Answers!  

 

Dealing with Naysayers

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xlrw1459717Here we are in the holiday season celebrating with friends and family, some of whom we haven’t seen in a while. While that’s exciting, it can also be a little nerve-wracking. No one can push our buttons like family, right?

When your sister asks why your 9-year-old isn’t reading yet or your uncle wants to know when your teen is starting classes for the college prep track, you begin to shrink a little. Some of us are quickly transported back to old social patterns with relatives. But you’re not a kid anymore, and your own children need you to step up to the plate and help them navigate through this family maze.

I’ve often found deflecting to be the better alternative to engaging with these naysayers. It’s worth it to take a few minutes beforehand to figure out what’s going on with you when these situations arise. Do you feel judged or criticized? Is this an issue that occurs in other areas as well? Do you feel uncertain about your decisions, and they sense it? Does your family compare the “success stories” of the children of similar age?  Try to figure out what triggers you in these situations and then you’ll be in a much better position to work on it.

The truth is, you have something at stake here. You’re more at risk of getting your feelings hurt as they insensitively lob potshots at your choices. Try to remember that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. They don’t get a vote in your family choices.

Sometimes family members want to know more about this approach to education. Ask them if they’d like some reading suggestions – books or online. This will separate out those who were simply making conversation from those who are truly curious and want to learn more about unschooling. Maybe their child isn’t having the best school experience?

Remember that sometimes they are simply uninformed and worried about you and your kids. If this is the case, thank them for their concern and tell them that for now, it seems to be working. Remind them that school will always take them back if it stops working for your family. This might reassure them that even though you’re making what they consider to be a wacky decision, you’re still the reasonable person they know you to be.

Then change the subject.disapproving-1

People love to talk about themselves. Take the opportunity to find out what’s happening with them!

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to convince your naysayers of the brilliance of your decision to unschool. That may be your cue to simply ask them, “Could you Pass the Bean Dip, please?” This is a familiar trick used by many unschoolers through the years.

And remember, as your children continue to grow and thrive with your unschooling approach, criticisms will decrease. Time will pass and your own confidence will grow. Don’t be surprised when, down the road, doubting relatives offer you as the example to a parent whose kid is struggling.

To arm your kids with some snappy comebacks and help them cope with the naysayers that may cross their path this month (or any time!), check out the When People Quiz Your Kids.


First published in Texas Unschoolers’ newsletter
TexUns December 2014.

Your Brain on Play

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kids playingStudies are showing the importance of playing. We’ve read Peter Gray’s fabulous work on the topic. Research is indicating that not only will play lead to more creativity, but it also will help with problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

When Michael, now 25, was forced to sit in a classroom all day for Kindergarten and 1st grade, I knew we were going to have a problem. He was a wiggler. And a talker. Being still was not his nature. Looking back years through the years, and thinking of all the kids we’ve known, it’s clear to me that most kids are not hard-wired for stillness.  Little kids, being forced to conform, rewarded for defying their nature, stifling so much of their core… all contributed to to our decision to bring Michael out of the classroom and home to learn.

But I just read this article from NPR, More Active Play Equals Better Thinking Skills for Kids?. I’m always fascinated with how the brain works. They did research on over 100 kids in an after school program. Even small changes in the children’s physical activity resulted in a better ability to focus and an increase in brain activity.

While this is written to help kids have better school performance, that doesn’t have be OUR focus. Maybe our kids want to problem solve better, maybe they are getting frustrated with a computer game. Because we’re home, we can switch it up as quickly as we want to.  Take a break, try a few minutes of dancing around the house, or racing to the mailbox, stimulate that portion of the brain that needs a little pick-me-up, and then see if the situation changes.

Brainstorm with your kids about what they could do for this little physical exercise – no sense in you coming up with a list that they don’t even like! Maybe it’s a bike ride, or shooting some hoops. What would they like to do? If they’re little, maybe they’d like to bat some balloons around the room or somersault down the hallway?

Be sure to talk to the kids about the point of all of this. All of us want to be better at those things that interest us. Learning how our own  brain works can be fascinating! When kids can see a direct cause and effect, they’ll be much more likely to give it a shot.

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The Curriculum Crutch

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“Buy this, and your kids will be smarter!”

“Use this, you’ll be more organized!”

“Get this series and you will unleash their inner genius!”

Or something like that. Ahh… the lure of curriculum.

Marketing has targeted our community for some time now. Advertisers realize that while we are an independent lot, we still harbor a lot of fears. And isn’t that how marketing works best? Identify the fear or the lack, and then convince people that they need the product to fill their void. It’s as if they’re handing us crutches and telling us to lean on them – when in fact, we have no weakness, no lack of opportunity. The whole world awaits our children and these crutches they offer will simply hold them back.crutches

Pre-planned materials often inhibit learning, keeping the child from all the benefits of discovery and exploration. It keeps parents from continuing to engage and facilitate new interesting opportunities out in the world. Don’t look wistfully at those crutches – embrace freedom!

And yet. So many don’t. When people do things on what seems like a subconscious level – when they don’t question it, and they just accept it – we have to look a little deeper.

What’s the hold?
What are we believing way deep down?

This desperate search for experts or someone to tell us what to do… isn’t it time to let that go?

No wonder we have those tendencies though. Schools conditioned us to look to teachers for instructions. How many times were you told, “Don’t read ahead”? Our self-confidence was systematically broken. If we poked our little faces up to explore outside the very clear boundaries schools had set into place, we were humiliated, ostracized or punished.

And if you think this is too harsh of a characterization, what was used in your schools to get you back in line or make you more cooperative?

Were you called out in front of the class?

Did the teacher say, “Class, Johnny has something he wants to share with all of us,” when Johnny didnot have anything he wanted to share at all.

Were you sent to detention to “think about what you had done?

Was your named scrawled across the chalkboard when you did something wrong? – a reminder of who the class “troublemakers” were.

Not that long ago, religious schools and many schools in the south used corporal punishment for reprimanding youth. And while now, spanking is passé at school, diagnosing and medicating are the control mechanisms du jour.

Why do I bring this up?

Because this is what has conditioned us – you, me, all of us who spent time in the school system. We learned something there, something that trumped any other academic pursuit:

  • making waves comes with a price,
  • stay safe,
  • do not lean into that inner yearning that doesn’t fit the school plan.

But! You’re reading this, so you’ve probably mustered up the courage to say no to the schools and you’ve started on your home educating path. You still run into a lot of naysayers though, so you’ve either figured out ways to word it – or maybe avoid the conversation altogether (“Pass the bean dip”).

One way that does seem to appease everyone is if you’ve “found a good currculum.” Even if it’s 1stgrade! Your naysayers are a little relieved if you tell them this. Often because they doubt themselves – and definitely, they doubt YOU! – to provide a good education for your child without a preplanned curriculum. They ask questions about oversight or testing or scope and sequence. None of which have to do with learning, and actually only relate to the teaching process. And that’s what using a curriculum does. It pulls you into the teaching process as opposed to the learning process.

Maybe your concerned relatives/friends come to you from a place of fear for you and they have only your best intentions at heart. Let’s assume that’s the case. Where does that idea come from? All that research they’ve done on unschooling families or even the current homeschooling movement in general? Not likely.

It comes from that deep seated fear they learned as children: Don’t step out of line or something bad will happen to you. Before you’ve even talked to them about the enormous advantages you’ve discovered by choosing to home educate, they can’t hear it. They’re working on their laundry list of all the things that could go wrong. (Maybe in your spare time, you could create a laundry list of all the things that could go wrong if a child went to school? Might take a while.)

And if their concerns center around academics – their assessment of YOUR intellect, or college opportunities, or basic education – you may have discovered that whipping out a full-service curriculum will calm them. (and it helps with those lingering fears you haven’t completely tackled, that pop up in the middle of the night)

But you’re still locked in.

Because that’s kind of the issue with these naysayers.

They’ve watched you eyeing the door. They see the yellow light spilling in from the cracks on the other side. But now you’ve gone and opened it!  And it’s just like the Wizard of Oz – leaving that familiar black and white room for Technicolor! They’ve been conditioned to stay in their seats. They’ve bought into all the rationales that tell them that the black and white classroom is best.

Wizard-of-OzAnd when you start heading for that door, they panic – for you, for themselves, for the entire system that their world revolves around.So that’s a lot of fear swirling around. And you have it too, to some degree. You may have just started dismantling it. It’s impossible to leave the school system and come away unscathed. We come away with various levels of confidence and courage.

And that’s where curriculum comes in. Curricula development companies don’t want you to trust yourself and just jump into life. They want you to prep for life – with their textbooks. They want you to think that life is better tackled in a linear fashion. Yet, what part of real life is like that? They want you to doubt your own abilities and rely on them. They’re counting on all those years of you USING curricula to influence you to the point that you think that’s where learning comes FROM.

What do you get when you choose their curriculum?

  • You insert someone else between you and your child. These experts believe they know more about what your child needs to learn than you do – even though you’re standing right in front of them.
  • You trade a watered down 3rd person narrative ABOUT life for actually living the life in front of you and your child
  • Instead of creating a learning environment unique for your child, you try to fit them into that curriculum box.
  • You stop your own curiosity as you look for cool opportunities to share with your child, and trust that the curriculum knows best.
  • You become a warden, enforcing the curriculum package on your child. Your child tries to assert himself, explore his own curiosity, and you focus on snuffing that out so the all-important curriculum can be followed.
  • You tell your child that YOU know what’s best for him, and he cannot trust himself.
  • If you discover that the curriculum isn’t working for you, you stay with it a little longer because, after all you spent quite a bit of money on it.

Instead of moving toward MORE confidence, you move toward more dependency.
You perpetuate the cycle.

You end up CHOOSING the crutches,
instead of the freedom of stepping into life with your child.

What if you let go of those crutches?

(you don’t even need them!)

  • Your child learns to trust himself and his ability to find what he needs in the world.
  • You and your child live a full rich life starting now – not waiting until later (after 18, after graduation, etc.)
  • You get to discover what are your child’s true interests – they won’t have to wait for years into adulthood to figure them out.
  • Your family bonds are prioritized and healthier than they ever could have been.
  • Your child knows that when you tell him that his learning is really his – you mean it.
  • You are truly in charge of your own lives – what an adventure together you’ll have!

Our Own Curriculum Wars

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So they loaded up the truck and moved to… Alaska. ;) Ahhh… those Clampets!

So they loaded up the truck and moved to… Alaska. 😉 Ahhh… those Clampets!

Back in the ’90’s when the internet was still young…

We had loaded up our car and we were moving to Alaska. Really. We were. My husband was in the Air Force and we had decided that on this move, we’d make the break with the school system and set out on our homeschooling adventure!

An exponential shift seemed to be happening. When we first considered leaving the school system, we could find only religiously oriented catalogs to help me figure out more about homeschooling resources. I’d comb through The Elijah Company catalog – they had some awesome science kits. Or I’d scan the list of Sonlight for an enormous array of literature. And even after we had started homeschooling (because we did not start as unschoolers), I looked at Cathy Duffy and Mary Pride’s gigantic books of curriculum. It was like Alice falling down the rabbit hole! I could visualize my little guys (then 7, 5, and 2) diving into a semester’s worth of curriculum with enthusiasm and glee. The story I had created in my head of what that would look like – with the help of all those curriculum pushers – was divine.alice-rabbit-hole-fc00-deviantart-net_

The more I read, the more I felt like I needed! How would they learn to spell without that Sing, Spell, Read and Write? How would they learn about the body without access to every DK book on the planet? The more I discovered, the more inadequate I felt. My bookshelves began to bulge. I started talking to other people about all of their curriculum choices. Entire parkdays were spent comparing and contrasting everything anyone had run across. It felt so frenetic. We were so worried we’d do it wrong, choose poorly, or spend our money on something that would sit on the shelf unused. Yet we were pulled to continue our quest for curriculum that would perfectly fit our little ones.

The friends we kept didn’t help our situation. (yes, I still love them dearly). But this time period was also the early years of something called The IDEA Program. Someone had just figured out a way to get kids signed up into the school system. They’d make their daily allotment per child, and they’d let these kids – our kids – be “distance learners.” They supplied our curricula, and even gave us a new computer. These were the days of dial up, weird noises as you waited to get connected, and “You’ve Got Mail!”

As unschoolers, we were skeptical. People were warning us that we weren’t “real homeschoolers.” In fact, they were right, we were part of a school district. But it was hundreds of miles away and no one ever darkened our door. As a small group of parents, confident in our unschooling, we decided to see what would happen. The administration assured us that we could interpret learning in whatever way we chose. We swung over to the local Holiday Inn where they were handing out computers for every family enrolled. It was so disorganized, they were handing these desktop computers out hotel room windows!

We met at our monthly moms’ meeting, comparing notes. We knew that when they’d ask us to do testing, we’d pull out. But for now, that wasn’t the case at all. So we put in orders for Playmobile to study Medieval times, nature center and science museum memberships, horseback riding lessons and whale sight-seeing trips. Lest you think we were simply bilking the system, we only received a fraction of the money that the school district received for enrolling us. What we didn’t get to use, built a new school for one of the native Alaskan villages, giving them small planes to work on so they could learn mechanics. (Small planes are used all over Alaska, so this is a trade they’d be able to use.) It paid for teachers and personnel to staff these new schools. Win, win, right?

We were still new to unschooling/homeschooling and even though I was quickly embracing the idea that I didn’t need school experts to teach my children, I didn’t notice the tightening grip of curricula.  As the mellenium turned and we left the 90’s, the internet opened up. We weren’t limited by what our neighboring homeschoolers had personally found as had been the case when we started out – we could search online or ask in email groups. We even created lists and forums that reviewed products and shared obscure potential resources. We were downright giddy!

We made purchases – the packages were appealing – bright colors, engaging promises, cartoon-like characters. Each seeming to shout, “Choose me! I’m the solution you’re looking for!”
And I believed them – so many times!

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It’s as if a magnetic force field kept pulling us back! We knew we didn’t want to send our little ones off to the local school… but the stuff! It was so appealing. And our own anxiety was there too… sometimes coming in as  whispers, other times, a screaming banshee in the night!

Now in hindsight, I can see that we simply hadn’t cut the cord. Curricula had become a crutch. Sure, the toys and the memberships were used a lot, but a whole lot of other curricula that we were going to “try out,” went unused.

Life got busy with three kids going in three different directions. We moved again – with all our stuff. And as time progressed, that program tightened up, requiring tests and progress reports… so we bailed. Bureaucracies being what they are, no one ever asked for the stuff back.

So now that my kids are all grown, I sit here with shelves in every room filled with dusty books, some unopened even. My kids are grown and gone. What did I learn from all of this? What wonderful words of wisdom can I share with you?

  • I learned that acquiring all that stuff was a distraction from what was right in front of me – my kids.
  • I learned that my anticipating what they might be interested in down the road, robbed them of the experience of searching and finding it for themselves.
  • I learned that I really identified with the idea of being a house with a lot of books. I liked that image. But for what purpose? When you have so many books that your kids gloss over when they see them all… that’s not a good thing.
  • I learned that hanging on to all that stuff because someday grandbabies might use it… I’ve had to let that go. Save a few true favorites, and the rest can be discovered when the need arises. Or I’ll get’em an iPad. 😉
  • I learned that I can’t move into this new phase of post-homeschooling life without letting all the stuff go. There’s no room for a new beginning, if all the stories of the past occupy the space.

So… I wonder how many trips to Goodwill this is going to take? Time to get started.

You might also like to read:
The Curriculum Crutch