Pass the Bean Dip

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Over the years, moms have shared ways to cleverly remove themselves from awkward situations. One of these methods is frequently referred to as, “Pass the Bean Dip.”

The saying was circulated a lot on message boards from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Some attribute the saying to someone named Joanne at The Well-Trained Mind forum. But I have my doubts. It sounds like a southern saying to me, something that may have been passed on from grandmas to aunts, etc.

When someone is asking questions about how you’re unschooling (or even parenting) your child, and you’re fairly sure they’re not really looking for answers, you can get out of the hot seat by using a little distraction: “Pass the bean dip.”
Maybe you’re not ready to go toe-to-toe in an argument about your parenting choice, or maybe the time or place is not ideal. “Pass the bean dip,” will be your ticket to breathe more easily and switch up the conversation.

It’s not unlike a sports or weather distraction,
“How ’bout those Rangers?” or
“Can you believe this weather?”

Another possibility is to ask the other person about their own children, job, lives – people really prefer to talk about themselves than listen to you! 😉

“Could you pass me that bean dip?”

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Learning from the Teens

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949a0e31b23eb12c56435be8d1fc7140Sometimes it helps to hear from those a little further down the path.  When unschooled teens and young adults were surveyed in Homeschooled Teens (over 60% of the survey respondents were unschoolers!), they shared candidly about what their lives were like during their teenage years. Instead of seeing their family’s educational choice as putting them at any disadvantage, they found the opposite to be true.

Their list of advantages because of unschooling fell into six categories:

  • They have a happier approach to learning.
  • They’ve been exposed to real world opportunities.
  • They have the freedom to make choices.
  • They’ve been able to avoid unnecessary stress.
  • Their socialization opportunities are better.
  • They have better influences.

Approach to Learning

Parents of unschoolers have the opportunity to protect their teen’s natural love of learning. We notice that very young children are like sponges when it comes to new experiences. Their curiosity propels them into learning new skills and ideas. One reason we don’t see this attitude toward learning continue as they get older, might be because society gets in the way. Schools decide what and when they’re going to learn. If parents continue this path at home, the teen’s internal motivation to explore and discover is often stifled.  Forcing the school’s plan for learning on children, year after year, teaches them that their choices must be shelved so that the system’s choices for them remains the priority.

Unschooling families have the opportunity to change all of that. They can remove the obstacles that interfere with that drive to learn. They can tailor their teen’s education to his or her interests, strengths and weaknesses – a truly personalized learning situation. By doing so, they can maintain that enthusiasm for learning that was so obvious in their younger years.

Real World Opportunities

Homeschoolers have an enormous advantage when it comes to living in the real world. They aren’t confined to 180 days of classroom attendance, or limited to only reading about fascinating places or events. Unschoolers move freely in the world, exploring their communities and interacting with a wide variety of people.
Misconceptions about unschoolers being sheltered and lacking exposure to “real life” are unfounded. Unschooled teens make friends in neighborhoods, clubs, and community activities, but they’re also working, going to community colleges, interacting with a wide variety of people, and traveling the globe.

Freedom to Make Choices

When families send their teens to school, I don’t think they consider how much freedom they’re asking their child to give up. Most parents went to school themselves, so they give little thought to sending their children along a similar path.  Studies show that giving children and teens more freedom allows them time and opportunity to gain practice, improve confidence, become more self-reliant.  Unschoolers have the freedom to follow their passions, dipping their toes into new activities, pursuing interests on a deeper level than would have been available at school.  Sitting in a classroom, all day every day, with each hour pre-planned for them, robs them of  opportunities to gain these skills.
Sometimes families fear giving teens freedom because they worry that chaos will result. But when parents are well-connected with their teen, they are in a much better position to know how much freedom that teen can handle.

Avoiding Unnecessary Stress

The news is full of heartbreaking stories of teenagers struggling with stress. Bullying is rampant –  statistics show that 75-80 percent of middle and high school-aged kids have experienced some form of bullying!  The pressure to drink, smoke, do drugs, diet, have sex, dress a certain way, and conform, bombards children in schools at younger and younger ages. Whether teens are worried about fitting in or competing with their peers, clearly a problem exists. Unschooled teens report that any stressful situations they’ve experienced have been minimized if not completely avoided.  It’s not that unschoolers live a stress-free life – no one is so lucky to have that! But so many stressful situations only exist when a person attends school.

Better Socialization

Unfortunately, “social reasons” are often touted as a reason a parent avoids homeschooling their teen. Just because you are in close proximity to hundreds of other teens on a daily basis doesn’t mean you are going to get much experience with good socialization. Those of us who went to middle schools and high schools need only to pause for a moment to remember situations that didn’t go well at all.  When children are basically trapped eight hours per day, five days per week, that environment can easily become a breeding ground for some very negative social behaviors. Bullying, avoidance, creating artificial “pecking orders” become common schooled kid behaviors.  It’s not surprising since these children and teens have to find some way to adapt to this situation most cannot escape.

Unfortunately, “social reasons” are often touted as a reason a parent avoids homeschooling their teen. Just because you are in close proximity to hundreds of other teens on a daily basis doesn’t mean you are going to get much experience with good socialization. Those of us who went to middle schools and high schools need only to pause for a moment to remember situations that didn’t go well at all.  When children are basically trapped eight hours per day, five days per week, that environment can easily become a breeding ground for some very negative social behaviors. Bullying, avoidance, creating artificial “pecking orders” become common schooled kid behaviors.  It’s not surprising since these children and teens have to find some way to adapt to this situation most cannot escape.

When I was in school, we were always told, “You’re not here to socialize!” And yet, that’s often a big obstacle for parents deciding about unschooling through the teen years. Realistically though, in high schools, the teens have to get from one classroom to another in approximately three minutes – not a lot of time for any socialization there!

Parents of unschoolers find situations for their adolescents to socialize with others in much more positive ways.  Sometimes it’s through support group functions, conferences, or simply finding other teens sharing similar interests.

Unschoolers are not limited to only interacting with their own age group. They can learn from and even befriend people who are younger or older – all based on similar interests. This kind of interaction with other members of society is a lot more similar to how adults interact with each other once they’re out of school!  Keeping everyone grouped together with their own age group solely because they were born the same year is much more artificial and does nothing to help adolescents merge into “the real world.”

Another socialization advantage is that parents of unschooled teens are often more involved with what’s happening in their teens’ life. They’re not so out of the loop that they can’t offer support and guidance for how to gracefully learn to get along with others in society.  By the time an exhausted teen gets home from a day of drama in high school, they seldom want to share it with the people who might actually be able to help them. Unschooling changes this dynamic on many levels.

Better Influences

Relationships can be strengthened in an unschooling home. And when relationships are good, parents are in a better position to offer guidance along the way. They’re not seen as an enemy or out of touch. Parents have a chance to be much more involved in their teens’ lives, noticing more quickly when their teen is having a rough time.  The relationship that the parent takes the time to build with their teen will set them up to be in a lot better position to offer problem-solving or simply have some influence when their teen faces some of the tougher choices that await them as they grow up.
Recently published in the TexUns News, a monthly publication by Texas Unschoolers.

When People Quiz Your Kids

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Woman with thumbs downWe 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. When kids are away from us and we can’t run interference for them, they may need a couple of quick 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 suggest that your child say this:
“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.

Do you have other helpful tips to help your child cope with naysayers?
Please leave them in the comments.
It might be exactly the right fit for someone struggling out there!

6 Steps to Parenting Teens and Young Adults

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6 Steps to Parenting Teens and Young Adults

The internet is full of tips for parenting younger children. Either they expect that you’ve figured it all out by the time they’re teens, or you’ve just put up the white flag of surrender. Unschooling families tend to prioritize the relationships between parents and children, so hopefully this transition to adulthood can go more smoothly. How you deal with teens and young adults and the situations they present will make all the difference in how your relationship is going to be. Even if your child is younger, these tips will help you as your children approach adolescence and beyond.

1. Let go of the story you have in your head for how everything will be.

Some of us learned this early on with parenting teens and younger, but we may need a refresher course. As a parent, you may have created scenarios in your head of how it will be when they get jobs, find a mate, move into a place of their own. Maybe because these stories often warm our hearts, we get locked into them. We think that if we nudge a little bit, we might get it to work out the way we envision. There’s a price to pay for all that nudging though. You may just be pushing them away from you, instead of toward what you had hoped.
AND, you might not even have the best story in your head – they are, frankly, creating one for themselves. Sit back and watch it unfold.

2. Get out of the way, even if you can read the handwriting on the wall.

Mistakes happen. But usually, they present the biggest learning opportunities. I know it can be scary, because some of these mistakes can be life-altering. Try to remember back when you were in your own 20’s. If you’re like me, you made a TON of mistakes. But it helped shape me into a really interesting multi-dimensional adult. We can’t get in the way and undermine our young adult’s opportunity to make the same progress. Also, who’s to say we are right and the young adult is wrong? Many times, they’ve morphed their decision into something really wonderful that I didn’t even see coming.

3. Giving Advice or Not.

Lot’s of people say that a good way to share all that wisdom you have, is to cloak it with “Would you like my advice?” And I suppose for some kids, this works. Not for mine. That simple question – depending on the situation, mood, people involved – can be seen as wonderfully helpful or full of judgement about the direction they’re heading. Still, others say that they have young adults who are fine with simply saying, “Nope!” and walking away. Even if mine did say that (because I have tried this approach), they circle back later asking, “OK. So what was it you were dying to tell me?” And suddenly, the dynamic has shifted in a bad way. My new way – or at least what I aspire to – is to say, “You know what? I think you’ve got this. You are a good decision-maker overall. And, sure, you’ll make mistakes – I did. But unless you out-and-out ASK me for advice, I’m not going to give it unsolicited.” So, my own young adults laugh and say, “Oh REALLY? THIS is what you’ve been working on? Could use a little more focus here, Mom!”  Obviously, this is the one that trips me up the most. But when I get it right, we have a lot smoother sailing.

4. Who they choose to be with is THEIR choice. Embrace it.

Years ago, a friend of mine was struggling with her mother-in-law. The M-I-L was super critical of her and adored “her baby boy.” She simply didn’t think this woman was good enough for her son. As time passed, my friend and her growing family included the mother-in-law less and less. At best, they saw the mother-in-law, and eventually grandmother only once or twice per year.  My friend shared the lesson she learned from this: “When my sons grow up, I will befriend the daughters-in-law! I will be their BEST FRIEND – even no matter how I feel. I’ll focus on what my son loves about them. Because what I know is that I never want my boys out of my life. And if I alienate the women they choose, that is exactly the path I will be putting us all on.” Very sage advice.

5. Don’t allow your own anxiety to crowd out the love.

At the risk of turning people off with too much hippy-dippy talk, I have to include this. Sometimes I get irritated with my grown kids’ decisions and I SOOO wish they would simply do it my way. I have to admit, not only do I think I’m right, but I also know that it will remove my anxiety if they will make the decision I want. Truth is, that’s not THEIR job, it’s mine. Anxiety can be felt by other people and it really pushes them away. As parents, when we show our anxiety at their decision-making, it’s undermining their confidence and conveys that we don’t have faith in them. It’s the start of the communication line shutting down. That’s not what either of you need or want at all. Instead, when you’re really wishing they would “do it my way!” take a deep breath. Or two. Or three. And look at them. Think about how much you love them. If it’s their friend/spouse/partner, think about how much your child loves them. Think about how far they’ve come and all the wonderful things that will happen to them in the future. Remember something cute and sweet from their childhood – because that little boy or girl is still in there. And he or she really does care what you think about them.

6. This is your new Mantra: “Not my path.”

You will want to repeat this over and over to get it to sink in. You had your opportunities for mistakes and successes in your young adulthood – now it’s time for theirs! And, if you’re like me, you may have even put off some of the more difficult activities that you’d like to do for yourself – because you were focused on parenting. Now is the best time of all to dive into that hobby you neglected, or that interest you were a little nervous about pursuing. Time to focus on your own path!  You’ve got a lot to do!

Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

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Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

Years ago, your child was up at 6 a.m., peeling eyelids back, ready for you to help him greet the day. But not so with your teen. Maybe you’ve been up puttering around all morning, fixing yourself some lunch when you notice your teen is still snoozing. What the heck is going on here?

It turns out, quite a few things.

We all know that when children reach puberty, their hormones change. What we sometimes don’t know or remember is that these hormones have an effect on a person’s sleep cycle. Nocturnal melatonin production decreases significantly during adolescence.  It actually shifts, making the adolescent’s body more awake in the evenings, not feeling ready for an early bedtime, and then leaves them groggy in the mornings with the melatonin still onboard. Add to that, light – artificial or natural – also inhibits the production of melatonin. Teen body clocks, their circadian rhythms, are shifting.sleeping teen

Translation: Teens’ bodies are physically geared to staying up later at night. Because they still need a good nine hours of sleep, that means they’ll need to sleep later in the mornings. Lots of data on this can be found at the National Sleep Foundation.

This certainly doesn’t correlate with a typical high school schedule. Research shows that teens in school settings are basically sleep deprived.  This sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, impaired memory, and inhibited creativity. It certainly interferes with learning! And those behaviors that people consider “typical teen difficulties?” They’re worsened if teens are in desperate need of more sleep. They may even be created by their lack of adequate rest!  It’s not about power struggles or undermining authority, as some parents fear. It’s something physical happening to their bodies.

When parents of teens opt out of school, their families are no longer forced to duplicate high school schedules. Teens can stay up late and then sleep in. This ensures that they get a full night’s sleep to be well rested and ready to explore and learn. A new study by National Jewish Health found that homeschooled teens had a big advantage because of their healthier sleep habits.

When parents ask their children to go to bed earlier so they can all get up earlier, they may be working against nature.  It’s not the end of the world to do it, but why set up a problem situation? Why turn it into a power struggle?

mother daughterAnother benefit to parents working with their teen’s natural, inner body rhythm is that some of the best teen-parent conversations happen during those late hours! My teens were often feeling more relaxed and winding down from their day around 11 p.m. Those late night conversations were real treasures, often giving insight into what was happening in their lives – what they were nervous about or looking forward to. They were open to listening to my suggestions or stories about what I’d seen in the past.

When my kids were teens at home, I let them sleep late in the mornings and go to bed at whatever hour they chose. It often looked upside down when compared to the rest of the world’s schedules. Homeschoolers (and “schoolers” – as my kids used to call them) would ask me, “How will they be able to hold down a job, follow a schedule, adhere to expectations, if I never impose any schedules on them as children?”

It’s a non-issue. It would have been like practicing the act of waiting in line. Do we really need to set up an arbitrary practice for this?Don’t we do that at grocery stores, at the post office, at the DMV, at the restaurant… multiple opportunities every day? Or maybe they’d suggest that everyone practice eating or sleeping or walking? Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

Honestly, when they were younger, I’d think, “Well, they just won’t work a job that conflicts with their natural rhythm. Lots of people work evening and night shifts.” I kind of expected that they’d continue to follow their internal body clocks.

But that’s not what happened.

My teens found jobs they wanted and made their rhythm cooperate. They learned what “a good night’s sleep” felt like, and they wanted it! So if they had to get up early on some mornings, they’d go to bed a little earlier the night before. They’d set their alarm clock, take their showers, and head out the door. It wasn’t long before they were poking their head into my room, waking me briefly to say they were off to their 7 a.m. shift! The naysayers’ predictions just didn’t play out. My teenagers managed just fine.

One summer, my daughter Katie went to stay with her grandmother in Dallas so she could attend a month-long intensive drama program. She got herself up at 5 a.m., checked her email, fixed her own breakfast, showered, got dressed and caught the city bus to go downtown. She was 15. My daughter Alyssa attended cheerleading competitions and had to be completely ready and backstage by 7 a.m. This meant getting ready before 6 a.m.! Two of my teens worked early shifts at Barnes and Noble for several years and never had any problem with being punctual. They took early morning classes in college and had no problems making it on time.

I share all of this to reassure you about your teens and their “wacky” sleep schedules. Parents really have nothing to worry about. Take advantage of those late nights with your teens. Chat with them about life, in the kitchen over nachos – even if it’s midnight! Talk to them about what you’ve read or learned about sleep and body rhythms. No one needs to rehearse getting up early. They will do it when they need to.

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What Really Matters

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I don’t mind the term at all anymore. I used to avoid it, because I wasn’t completely sure we’d stick with such a different way of approaching learning.  Maybe I wanted to give myself room to back out, if we needed to. When my kids were younger and we were “in the thick of it,” I didn’t really care about whether we were considered unschoolers or not.  We were part of pretty eclectic group of homeschoolers and people referred to us as one of The Unschoolers.   At the time, only one or two books about unschooling existed and, of course, we read them. But they didn’t govern our lives.

unschooling

Back then, the label didn’t have all the cool groovy connotations it has now.  Actually, people wrote about how unschoolers were going to be the unraveling of the homeschooling movement.  Terms like “educational neglect,” were tossed around. While we noticed their comments, we didn’t really react much. We just lived. We wrote about how much fun our families were having learning together.  We dove in, connected with our kids and got creative.  The kids continued to grow and blossom naturally.  And, yes, they learned – every single day.

Today, unschooling seems a little different. People want to BE unschoolers before they even understand it. They’ve read about it.  Unschooling sounds intriguing, so they latch onto it.  They want to leave the school system and quickly find a place to fit in.  We’ve been conditioned to need a group or a tribe to function.  But when people care more about the label of unschooling than actually unschooling their children, a problem exists. The cart is before the horse.  The bowl is hotter than the soup.

And lots of people want to take advantage of those fears. People declare themselves unschooling gurus and want to show you how to “do it right.”  Many of these gurus don’t even have grown children yet. They’re not even done! How could they possibly advise someone else?  All too many people are eager to sit and listen/read along.  People desperately want instructions!

The only real instructions are this:

1. Get to know your child. What makes them tick? What inspires them? Do those things.

2. Explore with them. Discover new places. Read maps. Go places.

3. Create a home environment full of interesting art and music and games and food. Let the home be the place where everyone feels nurtured.

4. Remember that your children are not extensions of you. They have a their own path and their own choices to make. Your job is just to clear away some of the undergrowth that’s trying to get in their way. Stay tuned into what THEY want to do or to be. Help them with that.

5. And know that your relationship with them is all that matters. Learning a particular thing at a particular age, but sacrificing your relationship with them? Please don’t. Realize that it’s years of programming happening in YOUR head saying things have to be a certain way. That’s not true at all.

I would caution anyone new to unschooling to worry less about if you’re unschooling the right way and pay more attention to your own kids. Notice if you have a tendency to stay on the computer to read “just a little bit more,” and if all these fabulous tools are a distraction or a way to procrastinate from plunging in.  Sometimes when we’re so focused on getting it right (which is translated into we’re afraid we’re screwing up royally!) we don’t get around to starting.  Or we don’t dive in and give it all we can. Of course, there are all kinds of psychological reasons for this, and everyone will have to identify their own obstacles.

My dad used to say,”Too much analysis leads to paralysis.”

It can. And as someone who OFTEN chooses to procrastinate, it’s a great tool for continuing to intellectualize all the nuances instead of simply starting.

So with school just beginning for many American kids, dive in with your own.  Create some new “Back to School” traditions. Remember that those blogs, email lists, websites and catalogs are just tools for YOU to use. Not vice versa. Don’t let any of it distract you from the fact that your kids are standing right there in front of you.  And you have this glorious adventure awaiting you WITH them!  Seize the day!

Your kids.  Their learning.  Your relationship with them.
Those are the only things that matter.

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If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

“I’m Not Your Friend, I’m Your Mother!”

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Sue and Michael PattersonWhen people are uncomfortable, they tend to rely on axioms and phrases that may or may not have any validity at all. Raising teenagers can sometimes put parents in this position. But if we really look at the advice people have shared through generations, we might discover that much of it isn’t even applicable. For instance, we’ve all heard, “I’m not your friend! I’m your mother!” But what does that really mean? Is it impossible to be both? Do we really want both?

Instead of getting caught up in some globalized phrase about parents not being friends, let’s examine both to see if we could implement the characteristics or if there’s a conflict.

Friends trust each other, share information about what they’re doing, who they’re with, what they’re trying – why would a parent not want that? If you have your child’s trust, you will be in so much better position to guide or offer advice from your experience. As parents, you will be able to react to situations with less anxiety, if you have spent time developing that relationship. Building trust takes time, and how we parented them when they were younger will have a direct effect on the relationship we have with them as teenagers.

Katie & Me at Venice Beach

When parents find themselves pulling The Mom Card, often what they are saying is that they want blind obedience. They want their teen to value what they have to say, and follow their instructions. But remember when they were three and they were making their bed on their own (or fixing a sandwich later, or building a fort), we recognized the importance of not jumping in “fix” what they had done. We realized that that was how they learned, their confidence would grow, and they would get better with time. The same applies with teens. Getting more confidant with their ability to make decisions in their world, comes from getting to make those decisions.

Operating from an authoritarian position creates obstacles in the relationship. When teens know they can bring their problems and concerns to you and not fear your judgement or punishment for choosing something different, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. And, as parents, you’ll get another glimpse into their world and how they’re handling it.

Alyssa & me in Austin

We can’t expect our teens to tell us everything. That’s part of their development. Nor can we, as parents, share our own problems with them – that’s something we need to do with our own peers and friends. So, while I wouldn’t call it a two-way street, I would suggest that becoming friends with your teenager is a good thing.

And, think about how you define being their mom. What characteristics are important to you? And maybe it’s time to share that with your teens. Is it something they see or want from you? Opening up this communication will be so helpful for both parents and teens to understand each other.

Take a look at some of those parental tips that get passed down through the generations and see if they really apply. Don’t buy into them, just because it’s an easy phrase to use to basically dismiss looking at a situation more closely. There is no need for either/or, us against them, friend vs. mom.

Boys and Writing

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frustrationWhy are those two words never paired together? I’ve been reading about families who try to create environments that might coax their sons to write more. So I think it’s time to share how we dealt with writing, when my son was growing up.

I never really paid a lot of attention to Michael’s penmanship or his writing skills when he was in school. Maybe because he was only there for Kindergarten and First Grade!

I hadn’t read a lot about homeschooling before we started, but we dove in after Michael completed first grade. I didn’t know about unschooling yet, so we purchased what was called, “School in a Box” by Calvert from Baltimore, Maryland. Purchasing this prepackaged curriculum made me feel like I could tackle this homeschooling thing. I’d just spice it up and make it fun!

Handwriting

Instead of evaluating all of Calvert’s materials, I really want to talk about the writing component. It was all about handwriting. One day a week, or maybe it was every other week, they’d focus on creative writing. But handwriting – that was daily! I didn’t really understand why Michael writhed so when I asked him to pick up that Number 2 pencil. I didn’t understand why he didn’t want to artistically shape the letters the way they had them in the book. I had been awarded the oh-so-prestigious Handwriting Award in the 5th grade – clearly we were not on similar paths. So I wrote to the teacher (yes, my confidence was so low that I felt we should have an expert guiding us for that first year!) I asked her if he could write his own stories and we’d turn in those paragraphs.

Quick answer: Nope! Certain letter formations were being addressed, and, why wasn’t he happy writing about the little red car all week long? We may have continued with it for a 1-2 weeks – bribing, begging, scolding, demanding.

I was not happy with the way either of us were acting. So I declared a truce.

I decided right then and there that I was going to be on Michael’s side. I knew that if we continued on this path, we would simply be duplicating the schoolish ways I was trying to help my son avoid!  If we kept it up, I could make him absolutely HATE writing. As a writer myself, this was simply unacceptable!  I told him we weren’t going to do the writing part anymore. He was relieved.  We would go ahead and turn in whatever he wanted to write about, and we’d take whatever grade she wanted to give. No biggie.

But it was a biggie. On multiple levels. The teacher was unhappy that we weren’t complying. Michael was unhappy because he still had to write. It was never about the little red car at all. He simply wasn’t developmentally ready to do the physical work of writing. He gripped tightly, when he should loosen. His fingers worked down toward the lead. His frustration with all of it increased. He started to cry.

Usually, I would get mad that he wasn’t cooperating. I had two younger kids that were quite a handful, and he was my oldest. In retrospect, I’m saddened to think of the pressure I put on him to “be a big boy,” when he was still a very little boy.  I know I was just trying to manage, but sometimes our parenting techniques aren’t that great when we’re in the thick of it. But on this day, something changed. I looked out the window of his room. The snow was falling and collecting on the tree branches. Our Alaskan home felt very far from Calvert in Baltimore.

pencil snapped

It was at that moment, I felt the shackles of school fall away.

We weren’t going to turn in writing, hoping to squeak by with her approval and a passing grade. We weren’t going to turn in any writing at all!   Michael looked at me and grinned. I picked up the pencil and snapped it in two. Done!

Instead, we picked up a book and started reading together. He reminded me of the “book reports” he did in school. The teacher mimeographed (it was the 90’s!) a piece of paper. They had to write in the title, the author, check boxes about liking or disliking it. Maybe they had to write one sentence. It was, after all, first grade.  He was playing with his Fimo clay while we were talking and reading. He asked if he could make something representational out of clay for every book he read. And that’s what he did. We had a bunch of classics that had been adult literacy books on sale at the bookstore. He loved that he could read those books – and every other page had a picture! He made a bowl of porridge for Oliver Twist, a spear for Moby Dick, a small boat for Kidnapped  – all out of clay. He set them on his shelf and could easily see how many books he was reading.

Creative Writing

Then we decided to try something new. Michael was full of imaginary stories he wanted to create!  But the mechanics of handwriting made it impossible to get any of it down on paper. So we decided to do dictation. I chose an italicized font that looked most like handwriting from the computer, in hopes that that would help him be able read the cursive writing in letters from Grandma and others. Then we began creating stories. He would start telling me about the main character and I’d begin typing. When he started to slow, I’d ask him to describe the character – what was he wearing, how did he feel, what made him do that?  I told him that sometimes when we write, we have to really describe the characters and the environment, so the reader can feel like they’re there. And that’s what he did. I tried hard to let him just enjoy the flow of creating the story, with very little interference from me. In retrospect, I think I would have interjected even less.  We did this for a while, and still have some of those early stories.

Later On…

Life got busy, with three kids, and volunteer work.  After a while, Michael preferred to play video games or hang out with friends instead of our dictation time. Truthfully, I probably wasn’t making time for it much anymore. He was off having fun.

Years passed. Michael continued to read, but I never asked him to write. Occasionally, I’d plunge my hands into dish water and ask him to start a grocery list for me.  He wrote thank you notes to Grandma for Christmas and birthday gifts. At first, we used a program called Start Write. I could write out what he dictated, and then print it with dotted lines that he could trace. If you use a felt tipped marker or a sharpie, no one would even know he had traced the letters!  It looked just like a perfect little thank-you note!  As Michael got older, his writing improved. He could clearly form the letters and didn’t have nearly the frustrating time with writing any more.  His letters didn’t look that great, but in looking at the other boys in his scout troop or in 4H, he wasn’t the only one with so-so handwriting. He could type quickly on the computer, and it became clear that his generation might never have great handwriting.  I was well aware that handwriting is just a tool to communicate. And if he could communicate his thoughts through typing, then the goal was achieved.

Time passed for me too. I read more about unschooling, and the pitfalls of coerced learning. It all resonated with me.  We went on about our lives and writing simply didn’t make the cut for how we wanted to spend our time.

I will share with you that when my friends who had girls that were creatively journaling, I was jealous. Why didn’t my kids want to do that? I’d buy notebooks and pens, but projects out in the community would win out for Michael. He simply wasn’t interested in sitting down to journal.  And, of course, comparison is never a good thing. One kid excels in one area while another is busy learning a different skill. It’s school that brainwashes us to try to compete for that top spot. Learning, has very little to do with any of that.

Going to College

At about age 17, Michael decided he wanted to go to community college.  The entrance exam was divided into reading, math and writing. We knew he’d be fine with the Reading. He did some extra work on the computer to prepare for the Math. And, to be honest, I don’t remember doing much prep work for the Writing component, other than a little grammar labeling and whatever the college gave us as the practice test. He was still pretty resistant to writing.

The time came and he went in to take the exam.  He did fine with the grammar aspect, but the essay was all about Texas’ law, “No Pass, No Play.” Strangely, all of the community college topics for the essays pertain to a particular school “issue.”  He was familiar with what “No Pass, No Play” meant, because we had a habit of discussing the local news or we’d talk about the latest Time or Newsweek magazines. The essay was to be a persuasive paper, and he could choose whichever side he wanted.

I hadn’t really prepared him for that. So he simply started writing about the topic. He wrote about seeing both sides to the argument. But in the end, he ranted somewhat about “what if the only thing that kid is good at is football – how can you take that from him?” and “why do schools want to make everyone the same?” You get the idea.

While it might have been an interesting paper to an unschooler who wouldn’t mind a little rambling, it didn’t please the community college administration, and he failed.

This time, he was more inclined to listen to my input about how to write a persuasive paper that would pass.  I showed him the 5 part paragraph – Intro, 3 supporting paragraphs, and Closing. Minimum of three sentences to a paragraph.This was what they were looking for. Stick with one side, and present that in your three arguments. And, throwing in a fancy adverb or two like “incidentally” or “additionally” would increase his points when they were grading.

We did a practice run-through on what they suggested at their website and off he went the following week. His topic was School Uniforms – Pro or Con?  He followed the formula and passed the test. Not flying colors, but good enough to be able to take any of the classes he wanted there.

Michael's Graduation

Fast forward a bit more, and Michael transferred from the community college to a four year university. He decided that he wanted to continue to travel and needed a job that could help pay for him to go off and see the world. That’s when he thought about becoming a travel journalist.  He still loved storytelling and especially loved interviewing people. He landed a job at the University Star, the campus newspaper, and enjoyed writing up articles about local events or personalities in his college town.

At 21, Michael graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Journalism, and a minor in Archaeology/Anthropology. He primarily types his stories these days. And you can read more from him in his blog In the Nica Time.

In Retrospect

I feel really good about not pushing Michael with handwriting. I wish I had carved out more down time, so we could have done more dictating. We both loved that. And, today, with blogging, how cool would it have been to start a blog of the stories they create? Their imaginations are so fabulous!

We ended up developing his fine motor skills completely separate from holding a pencil.  He was busy forming clay figures, building Playmobile structures and playing with Legos. These activities fueled his imaginative stories, and he’d play with them for hours on end.

I’m so glad we didn’t stick with the handwriting exercises. All that would have done is create an adversarial relationship between us as well as additional obstacles to the idea of any writing whatsoever.

For those of you still concerned, I can only advise you to relax. Writing will work itself out – just like other educational pursuits do. If your child is already stressed about it, do what you can to eliminate that downward spiral. Shift gears. Continue with helping them find fun ways to build their fine muscle strength, or try our story writing technique! Give them time to develop a little more and then present some other opportunity down the road.

Scarcity and Abundance

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Scarcity and Abundance

This seems a little blurry. And I’m not sure I agree with every one of these 100%. But it’s worth taking the time to examine yourself if you see these any of these traits popping up.

Do you have several in the Abundance category but still a few in the Scarcity mindset?

That’s great! Then you can see what you need to focus on to change. I’m happy to help you move toward a happier life, if you’re interested.
Find out more about how I can help.

In the meantime, take a look at the list of characteristics listed out here.

 

scarcity and abundance

Abundance Mindset:

  • Compliment
  • Have a sense of gratitude
  • Give other people credit for victories
  • Accept responsibilities for their failures
  • Read every day
  • Keep a journal
  • Talk about ideas
  • Want others to succeed
  • Share info and data
  • Keep a “To Be” list
  • Set goals and develop plans
  • Exude joy
  • Embrace change
  • Continuously learn
  • Operate from a transformational perspective
  • Keep a “To Do” Project List

Scarcity Mindset

  • Criticize
  • Have a sense of entitlement
  • Take all the credit for the victories
  • Watch TV all day
  • Fear change
  • Fly by the seat of their pants
  • Talk about people
  • Hoard information and data
  • Exude anger
  • Hold a grudge
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Lie about keeping a journal
  • Thnk they know it all
  • Operate from a transactional perspective
  • Don’t know what they want to be
  • Secretly hope others fail
  • Never set goals

One Little Word: WITH

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One Little Word: WITH

Lots of people come to unschooling wondering what it’s all about. While some shake their head and fall back in line with more familiar ways of thinking, others are compelled to learn more about it. They read books, join email lists, engage with people at local parkdays. Unschoolers share how they’ve come to embrace the concept or how they overcame those schoolish thoughts and ways that seem to be so ingrained in our patterns of life.

New unschoolers seem to be mesmerized by examples of daily life in an unschooling home. We share what happens in a day, demonstrating flexibility and humor.  We explain that one day can be so incredibly different from another – still they want to hear more. Some veteran unschoolers go to great lengths to answer questions, guide newcomers, dispel fears.

But in spite of all these detailed discussions, advice, and guidance, I’ve come to realize the importance of one small word in the success of unschooling families.

What is the word?

WITH.

A simple preposition that makes all the difference. Think of how important that word is, when you visualize these scenarios.

Camping Together

Camping Together

Playing WITH your children.

….board games
….card games
…..video games
….make believe
…in the treehouse
….on the tire swing
….in the fort in the living room
…. in the pail of bubbles

Working WITH your children

Playing at the Beach

Playing at the Beach

….on how to assemble a kite
….or ride a horse or a bike or a jet ski
….about how to change a flat tire
….on how to use mod podge, or make stepping stones
….on how to build a power point, or connect the modem
….or how to unstop a toilet or run the washer

Talking WITH your children
….about getting a new pet
….about which movie to go see
.about how friends treat each other
….about advertising you both see/hear on TV or billboards or radio
….about what kind of job he might like
….about why grandma has to repeat things so often

Hiking at Yellowstone

Hiking at Yellowstone

Interacting WITH your children
….about how they feel when kids are mean
….about how to stand up for what’s right
….about how to really listen and fight the urge to interrupt
….about what can be done about the homeless man on the corner
….about what you can do when you feel bored
….about what’s considered rude or inconsiderate or kind or helpful
….about grocery shopping, or laundering, or cooking

I’m sure you can come up with a bazillion more examples of things you do WITH your child. I just want you to realize that no matter what it is – the WITH aspect is the most important part!

Remember 20 years ago, the debate was “Quality” time vs. “Quantity” time? It had a lot to do with women choosing careers – but it’s really not that black and white.

You can have “quality time,” and just not enough of it.
And you can have “quantity time,” but not be engaged or really present with your children.
It’s never simple, is it? You have to walk into it all consciously – checking and rechecking to be sure you’re parenting in the way that you want. You have to put down the phone or the internet, and really focus on your child standing in front of you, playing beside you. Connect with them.

Modeling behavior, having heartfelt discussions, getting the opportunity to share life experiences can only happen when you’re WITH them. It seems obvious, but sometimes when you’re tired or the kitchen is a mess, parents can get impatient and prefer the kids to go do something in the other room. That’s when I want you to remember the little word: WITH.  Time will fly, and your relationship with your child as an adult as well as so many aspects of their own personality, will be directly related to how much WITH Time you gave them.

So if you have to, paste a little piece of scrap paper like the one above with the word “With” on your bathroom mirror…or your put it up on your fridge with a magnet… paint it, cross-stitch it, print it – whatever you have to do to keep it in the front of your mind!

All of us together before
Michael left for the Peace Corps,
Katie left for NYC,
and Alyssa got engaged