Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I've been pondering this month

"Research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am doing."

--Wernher Von Braun

Hmm. Maybe it's time for a vote.

I've been told by a good friend whom I happened to help convert to unschooling that I'm no longer an unschooler.

And really, I should be okay with that. I completely related to Tammy's post on the subject. I haven't participated in unschooling lists in forever. That was partially because lists are difficult to keep up with, and I prefer blogs.

And it was partially because I got tired of the way radical unschoolers so often tried to school the non-unschoolers in the correct ways of unschooling -- Sheesh! Unfortunately, I myself was guilty of that -- especially early on, when I had only two children, and they were far from school age. It's easy not to worry when the expectations are still so low!

I get it, I do. (I think I do.) I certainly don't want to discourage anyone who's reading and new to unschooling from continuing on that path. I'm not about to sit my kids down and say, "Okay, I've decided you need to learn this and this, and we're going to sit here every day until that's done. Even if we're both crying."

I don't think it's that black and white. It's not an either-or. You're not either following the path of Unschooling Enlightenment or on the road to Homeschool Hell.

Radical unschoolers have bad days, too. And non-unschooling homeschoolers can also experience joy and freedom in their choices.

(How convoluted these labels have become.)

We all have to figure out what works for our families. We all have to come to terms with our fears. Whether it's being so afraid of our kids not learning what they need that we coerce them until we're all miserable, or being so afraid of making a parenting mistake that we're unable to lead when our children need leadership.

Don't all parents start out with one foot in a place of Worry and the other in a place of Hope? Aren't all homeschoolers making sacrifices and taking a risk by jumping off the schoolbus while it's barreling down our culture's road? (Whether you're on the bus or running next to it, the road is full of holes.)

I sincerely believe that the Lord led me to the philosophy of unschooling to keep me from falling into patterns of perfectionism and control, and burdening my children with unreasonable expectations. We needed to experience the freedom of natural learning.
"There are a myriad of ways to learn about something. Rather than handing these things over to our children as a fait accompli, we want them to discover them on their own.

You’ve heard about slow food; this is slow learning. If you bring your child 20 books from the library, then announce a trip to the museum on Friday, you may succeed in getting done sooner.

But if you let your child go to the library and talk to the librarian about how to find books, let your child decide which books look like they have the best information ... well, it’s going to take a lot longer. But they are learning all the while."

--Camp Creek Blog

Unschooling gave us time. Time to explore without pressure of performance. Time to grow and mature at our own speed. We learned a lot on that path.

Oh, but it can be slow! And some of us are impatient and want to see proof. We don't want to take chances with our children's education. Trust is so difficult. I know it is only by God's grace that I made it as far as I did without worrying about the boys learning to read. But it happened. It worked.

The thing is, I have things to learn from other educational philosophies as well. I think wherever this homeschooling journey takes us, I will always be an unschooler at heart. I just can't guarantee it will look like it.

"...Education is a *life* as well as a discipline. Health, strength, and agility, bright eyes, and alert movements, come of a free life, out-of-doors, if it may be, and as for habits, there is no habit or power so useful to man or woman as that of personal initiative. The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer's day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother's part, but of much masterly inactivity."

--Charlotte Mason

That, to me, sounds like the heart of unschooling. There is certainly a difference between the philosophies, but I know I'm not alone in appreciating them both, and wanting to integrate methods somehow.

"Can you still be an unschooler if you make a plan? I think so, especially if those plans are based on the student's desires, made with their consent, and open to change. That's how we operate as human beings. We have hopes and dreams, and whether we realize it or not, we move that direction. If the path takes twists and turns, we adapt, and sometimes we trade plans in for new ones. But we are forever moving forward, and what we do now effects our future."

--Jena at Yarns of the Heart

And so, I've been making plans, buying materials, trying to find a daily rhythm that flexes with the changing needs of our family. I'm excited to share all of this with you!

But I don't want to confuse anyone about where I'm coming from, or whom I'm following. It's not John Holt, Sandra Dodd, or even dear Charlotte. I'm still trying to follow Christ, and completely dependent on His mercy and grace to show me where to lead my children next -- even as they learn to follow Him themselves.


Melinda said...

Hmmm. I curious to find out what you have been doing that is so "naughty"! ;-)
There's nothing in this world that I admire more than a person who can and will make changes when they see that the old way isn't working for them anymore. It's not such an easy thing to do. Bravo.
P.S. Kenzie is homeschooling. I pulled her this week.

Lift Up Your Hearts said...

This is why I think skipping the labels and following our hearts is the best way of all. I see you as a mother who is *finely* tuned to the needs, desires, wishes, talents, spirits, personalities of her children. You're good at being their Mom!

The Maunderer said...

I don't have a problem with homeschoolers, i know plenty and like 'em,
I think that whoever said "Unschooler enlightenment" and "Homeschooler hell" is foolish and doesn't know what s/he was takling about.

But your definitely not a unschooler, you take the lead, and your kids follow, it works for you, which makes it good.

but in the end, titles mean nothing, the style merely a chosen flavor for the desert. you choose it for its flavor, not the name.

That said, your "Flavor" from what i've read on this blog, and what i've seen in life, you are a homeschooler, not an unschooler.

I made a wall again. "sigh"...

Anonymous said...

And that is the best place to be--open to what the Lord has for you. He knows alone the full hearts of our children. He alone has the plan that is best for them. Labels often lead to bondage. I've found that out personally.

princessmama said...

Following Christ is exactly the right place to be :) And finding the right fit for *your* family. It's so easy to get caught up in labels or worrying what other important people in our lives are going to think. Thank you for your encouraging words :)

mandi said...

i think labels, within homeschool or anywhere else, can be so damaging. because at some point, you feel like you have to defend the choices you are making. your son came to you and asked for more structure. so you are following your child's lead. and that is what homeschooling is about, no? doing what is best for YOUR children.

and i know my opinion doesn't matter- but i think what you're doing is great! don't get bogged down in the definitions! bottom line is, you don't need no stinking label!!!

Melissa said...

This is a lovely post. Don't stress about the labels. You know your family better than anyone else, and I admire your ability and willingness to change with your family's needs. In researching more about unschooling, I joined several of the yahoo groups and am quickly realizing that I will never fit into a nicely packaged label either. We're more of a charlotte-waldorf-un-clectic family (with a hint of Montessori)! I strongly believe that life and education are not separate entities and don't plan on using a curriculum when we do get to "school-age".

"For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory" 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. It sounds like you are really listening to the Lord's guidance as in this verse- encouraging, comforting and leading your children to God. What a blessing you are to your boys!

Mirjam said...

I know exáctly what you are talking about :). It's sometimes difficult to find your way. And ways do change.

Very interesting, your post. Makes a lot of sense to me :)

Mirjam :) homeschooling in the Netherlands (soon to be in England) with 3 boys...

Brad said...

I really have a problem with labels even though I have a hard time avoiding them both for my self and my family, and for others. We are unschoolers because we don't school our children in any traditional sense, but we don't really have any connection with other unschoolers. We are vegan because we do our best to avoid consuming animal products, but philosophically I don't really fit with the vegan community, and we don't have any relationships with other vegans. We're Anglican because we attend an Anglican parish, but every time I go to church I can't help but feel that I have no connection with the people there beyond a fundamental agreement about who and how we worship.

The only thing any of these labels have done for me is to separate me from those who don't share the labels. They haven't done anything to bring me closer to those who do share them.

So, I'm at this point where I hate labels. Yet I still find myself cornered into using them all the time. Occupation (I'm a stay-at-home-dad, or SAHD, another label which does nothing but separate me from others), school and food are topics about which people want to know where each other stand. People are surprised to find that I, as a male, don't work. They are surprised and concerned or curious about why my 12 year old and 10 year old aren't in school and proceed to ask about what we do at home. People are often surprisingly offended by the fact that we don't eat what they eat, and want to discuss it. The easiest way to respond to these situations is to present our label and perhaps a short explanation and move on. After 12 years of questions about my status as a parent/provider, 6 years about schooling, and 5 years about our eating choices, I choose to answer things the easy way.

Then there was the recent case where our good friend who introduced us to the concept of unschooling came up to me and said that she might not be an unschooler anymore. I quickly responded that I agreed that she wasn't. I think that she was taken aback by my response, and I'm not completely sure why I responded as I did so quickly. I suppose it was out of frustration as I see our families growing apart because we don't fit into their activities. It's this realization that my life as a vegan stay-at-home-dad to two unchooling children has secluded me to the point that I don't really have anyone beyond my immediate family (who I am exceedingly fortunate to have). I don't have any true peers. It's seeing the one family that most understood us moving in a direction away from us. It's the guilt that because I don't have people, my kids are missing out on having people as well.

It's not anyone else's problem. I don't have a problem with someone being a homeschooler, or even sending their kids to school. I don't think anyone did anything "naughty." It's just that when you have very few strings keeping you connected to others, it sucks when you think one of them is raveling.

HomeSchoolCollegeCounselor said...

It seems that "unschooling" can work very well for children up to about age 12 or so. After that, a little more structure might be in order. Especially if the post high school plan includes college. A classical curriculum tends to better prepare high schooled homeschoolers for the rigors of university life, depending of course upon what field of study they wish to go into. For a liberal arts college, the classic approach is definitely the best way to go.

mandy @ bona fide mama said...


John said...

to brad: amen. a fisherman with a ravel in his net will fix it. i have ravels in my net. i want and need to fix them.

Christina said...

Love you just the way you are and whatever direction you do take on your family's road to learning about life and its many experiences!! Just keep your ears open, your heart open and your mind open...and of course, enjoy the ride!! (:

Jocelyn said...

It can be so overwhelming, all the different choices and all the different philosophies, but it is only because, thanks to God, we are free to choose these things!! I am so glad that as long as we keep on this journey that I can always do a little research to find something else to try in case the last thing we were doing was causing frustration! Definitely a learning process and something to be taken a step at a time, child by child.

Penny said...

I admire you! Keep up the good work!

Jill said...

How true about parents all having one foot out in worry and the other in hope!

Marlene said...

Amanda, I don't think labels mean anything. Every family is different and has different changing needs... learning is like a river of change... growing is like a river of change... there is no point in trying to classify ourselves.

Love you...

Stephanie said...

I've been thinking on this since I read it the day before yesterday. I'm even conducting an experiment out of it. :)

I wouldn't presume to say if you're an unschooler or not - my own definition and calibration point is if my children are choosing it. (they'll tell me No, believe me, if they're not interested. And I never -I don't think- interrupt something that's important to them.)

But what I do know is that we're a family, and sometimes I lead, and sometimes I follow. But guess what? So does my husband. And so does Trev. And so does Maddie. And so does the dog, for that matter.
And the weather. And the money in my pocket. And our town's offerings.
None of us lives separately -independently- from everyone else.
I guess some might say that Unschooling is leaving ALL discoveries up to your child. But I don't see it that way at all. How could my child choose a museum if he's never known one? (and my children do choose museums.)

I receive inspiration and information from many different sources... and so will of course my children. Naturally.

ann said...

Just went searching for a little encouragement, as we are also a weird morph of home/un-school. I was more an unschooler at first, and had a hard time accepting that it was not only my personality, but also that my firstborn did NOT want me to be his teacher...just someone to praise his accomplishments--he wants to learn so much! I agree that it is only the Lord Jesus who helps us become who He wants us to be, not just helping us fit into any previously established mold. Part of who He is making me is to bring more routine in my life, but I am so thankful that He has been doing it slowly. If I am forced into too much structure at once, I cave. I am just too free-spirited. When other hs moms groan at learning flexibility, I'm groaning at how to be organized enough to keep my kids practicing math (on paper) on a regular basis, or getting books back to the library on time!

As for labels, I don't see how anyone could think they let the kids make all the decisions. We parents are responsible for obtaining the groceries, or if we can fit in those athletics into our schedule, or if we can afford this or that...we are called to use our brains to help the kids develop theirs. The longer we home/unschool the less appealing curriculum is, unless we're in one of those panic modes. In Christ we are free from fear and also free from complacency.

paisley said...

Labels, smabels. I happened upon your blog when I googled "Christian unschool community", and I am glad.
You seem to be exactly the type of person whom I would enjoy spending time with. I find it difficult to locate other people who fit my demographic: Jesus loving, chicken loving, dancing, Ginny Weasley wannabe, "unschooler" - whatever that means!
Will be following your blog from here on. I, on the other hand, am not so great about updating my blogs. Oh, well. Grace comes in and I chose not to judge myself too harshly.
Blessings, paisley

Susan Tipton said...

I used to wonder why there were so few older women with high schooled age children in any of the home school groups in our area. I knew it wasn't because they didn't exist.

As a home school mom to H.s. students myself I'm beginning to see that part of the reason is that so many of the groups stress-out about being "purists" in certain techniques or philosophies. I don't have time to worry about that anymore- and it's very freeing.

Every year we have done things a bit differently- our circumstances change with each new child, with health issues, with the changing economy, children's ages and interests and talents.... Every year I tweak things.

Good for you to endeavor to follow God's leading for your family.

Jenny said...

Hi Amanda, I just stumbled upon this post, which I found very interesting since you and I "met" a couple years ago on Radical Christian Unschoolers.

We stopped unschooling about a year and a half ago. First it was at my husband's insistence, but the more I got away from it, the more I was glad I did. Without going into detail here, some of the "famous unschoolers" arguments for things were shaky at best, and a few specific things sounded like borderline neglect. No, I cannot fully be in that camp.

Do we like John Holt? Yup. Have I been inspired by Sandra Dodd? Uh-huh. And I do feel like "unschooling" -- if you can call it that -- worked well when my kids were four or five years old.

But no, we are definitely "former unschoolers."


fairmaiden said...

Oh how I miss teaching my children. I homeschooled for 15yrs...four kiddos. My youngest two are now attending the local H.S...It was hard to let them go, but my heart has always been to mother them unconditionally as best that I can. They wanted to daughter wanted to 'try' it, to be with her friends and be involved in school activities. My son wanted to play football(his dream)and he did, and loves it. I remain home full-time to assist in their education and mother. I never allowed myself to fall into the labels and politics of the homeschool community, but I guess I was more of an unschooler too. We studied science by exploration outdoors, every day. We did alot of art, alot of reading...I was very free in our curriculum and allowed my kids to pursue their interests. My oldest daughter graduated early, at 16, from homeschooling and is in her 2nd year of college pursueing an AAdegree in English. She was the book worm and loved to read literature. Why do I share all of encourage you...don't ever be boxed in...follow your heart...allow your children to be who they know them better than anyone. And so so so important...let them be kids. Childhood is but for such a short period of time in our lifespan, allow it to be precious, let them play and have fun. Believe me they are learning. And they are learning far more than the ones in the prison-style school systems. Both of my kids that are in the public school right now, agree that home education is the best! And they are thankful they've been homeschooled.

MamaTea said...

To your post, I say "Exactly". Amen, sister!!!

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