Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rambling Thoughts

What does it mean to be "authentically" happy? I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as we continue our homeschooling journey with Erin. People ask me how we do it and right now I say we do a mix of curriculum and unschooling. We use a math curriculum (a Montessori-based method with manipulatives and games and things) and we use a writing prompt book for her to keep a writing journal. All the other stuff--her book journal, her unit-based stuff, her fieldtrips, her extra-curricular classes..all of that is completely her choice. Now true UNschooling advocates say that what we are doing is not really unschooling because there are certain things she doesn't have a say in. We aren't living every moment of every day in a state of just "being." We aren't always in the present because sometimes we think about the future too. People who are advocates of what is called Radical Unschooling firmly believe that children learn so much if you just let them be--be in the moment, follow their present line of thinking, let them learn with what they are interested in when they are interested in it. And I believe them. I see Evan learning and living so much in every day. New words, new actions, new experiences...he is changing right before our eyes and watching it is a constant reminder of how kids do NOT have to be forced to learn and grow and mature. I did not teach him to walk...his natural desire to learn and test his little legs did that. I guided him, held his hand, applauded his efforts, comforted his bumps...but I didn't teach him.

So back to Erin.... At what point do you try to impose some level of standard on a child? Why do I trust Evan to learn what he wants when he wants it and not Erin? Should there ever be a point where you try to impose someone else's standards? (Unschooling advocates would argue that there should not be.) Example: Erin claims she "hates" math...when in fact it is simply because nothing up to this point has been the least bit challenging for her. Now that she is getting into parts that are making her think a bit, it is like pulling teeth to get her to try, try and try again. So should I force it? Get into a battle with her over it each time "math class" comes around? Should I let it go and try again in a few weeks? Should I let it go completely? Will she learn math simply by following her dreams? Does she even have to learn math? (And before you jump up and down yelling "YES! Of course she does!" I want to know what math she needs to learn that she wouldn't learn on her own if she wanted to know it--like she knows fractions pretty well from cooking, she is learning rhythm and music, she can add and subtract, likes grouping and is trying to figure out does she specifically need to know about My Dear Aunt Sally in order to be happy in this life? And if it has to be forced on her, is it worth it?) How much of this is a result of thinking that was programmed into me from my own school experiences? How much time do I spend doing Geometry proofs now?? (Sorry, Mr. Luk!) What about that whole thing about trusting her to learn? Because she loves to learn stuff...just not necessarily the stuff that so many people and schools say she should be learning right now.

So then what about trusting her choices for how she spends her time? I mean, the day after we go to a library, you can just forget anything you wanted to accomplish--she will be reading all day. And I do mean ALL day. Is this a bad thing? Unschooling advocates say no--let her decide how she wants to spend her day. Me? I have a hard time seeing her sitting and doing nothing but reading. I mean, I wouldn't let her watch TV all day either--even educational TV--because you have to do more than just sit all the time. Am I right? Or am I imposing too many limits on her because she isn't matching my idea of what should be happening?

Just to be clear, I am NOT trying to train her for school right now. I am not interested in molding her to a public school model and forcing traits onto her that will make her successful if she ever decides to go to school. If she wants to go to school later in life, her desire to be there will be a big factor in helping her transition. I'm not worried about that. So what am I worried about? That is the question...what exactly do I want her to learn so badly that I'm willing to fight with her about it? Is it vital that she learn about polar regions? Or is it vital that she learn to sit and listen? Which one? Is it neither? What do I say to people who want to know what we are doing? And, on a more basic level, if we aren't doing "school" then how do we fill our days? Because cool, although seemingly random, science experiments and such can only take up so much time. Then what?

Add to this her need for a bit more structure in her life and you have one confused Mama! Her need for structure makes me want to schedule out her hours of the day so that she knows what is coming and what to expect...but if I plan a unit and she decides that isn't what she wants to do, then what?

So that's what I've been thinking about. I'd love your opinion on the subject...especially if you homeschool and especially if you unschool and even more especially if have unschooled for a number of years. I'm curious how it all works...because I'm definitely all about being in the "now" and being present with my kids. AND (not "but"), I worry about their future. What can I say--I'm a mom!


  1. Hi there Aimee...THANK YOU for your ramble... :)

    wow... it's amazing when you come across someone who seems to be going through such similar questions at the same time...although I am sorry as well for your confusion and intensity around it (as I am sorry for my own...) We didn't get a chance to talk much about it the last time we were together...but your questions and concerns are so in line with my own at this minute...I feel grateful because I have committed to this journey and have sensed some 'movement'...verses being stuck in this 'what do I do now' experience all the time...but I still find many times when I'm right back to that space...that being in a particular moment when the boys ask me to do something that I (at some point in my previous life philosophy) disagreed with...but as I play with new philosophies- find that it's all ok... It's like I freeze for that moment...truley battling between two seemingly opposite life philosophies... a painful place to be...
    I realize, however, that those frozen moments are all about fear... and something I do fully believe in and aspire to live by is NOT to live life based on fear...not to make decisions based on fear...even though I am not at all always successful at this - I do know that this is something I aspire too...

    I read a fabulous book called Deschooling Gently...I highly recommend it...borrowed it from BPL...and am going to buy it because it spoke to me so well and offered such wonderful insight... It's like my choosing to go on this journey for my children is really turning into a journey into myself... my beliefs, my limitations, my aspirations...and that needs to be gone through as part of creating this homeschooling life that really feeds all of our family members and allows us to grow and learn and chase /achieve our dreams over time...

    Hope to talk to you soon....

    Sara Y.

  2. I don't have an opinion. Because I don't know enough. I am slightly envious of your concerns, honestly.

    I was wondering, though: when I investigated homeschooling here, I saw that we would be required to provide standardized test results to show whether the homeschooled child (or children) was working at grade level. Is that not the case there?

  3. We are required to do that (the standardized tests) OR we can do a portfolio review by a certified teacher. We choose to do the portfolio review, so really there isn't much to that. Plus I have a TON of wiggle room with this given that I have Erin registered as a 2nd grader but she is doing anywhere from 4th to 8th grade that, luckily, is not one of my concerns.