Friday, September 21, 2018

A snapshot of things that come up unschooling three little kids

A lot of this is likely to change as we find a new rhythm with my parents on the property, but I thought my last post about unschooling was pretty abstract so I wanted to be more specific today. A lot of people ask about unschooling if you work or do other things-- and this is us-- we juggle and it works out!

The last few months of building my parents house has meant our schedule has been complicated and busy, and coincided with Noah (8) and Eli (6) getting really into Minecraft (and now Terraria), while Hana (2) has needed a lot of our hands-on time. Part of me thinks that they got so into Minecraft because we were not as available to do fun and interesting things with them, and because the winter has brought a lot more illness this year than previous years. So the boys have played a lot of Minecraft. I say that totally fearful of judgement, and yet supportive of their strategy because our house has remained peaceful and happy during a potentially intense, overstretched time.

I'm not [yet] an unschooling mom who totally understands when my kids want to spend large chunks of the day gaming, but I have learned that it's all in how your perceive the situation (even if there are limits how far you can stretch yourself in the moment). I have said on various occasions to Eug "I think they are playing too much Minecraft!" I like that that hasn't led to us reverting to control. If a partner or another loved one was doing something you were concerned about: you might talk to them, see if they perceive an issue, discuss how to support them, protect your own boundaries, see what their motivations were or what they were going through or getting out of their approach. This is more or less what we've done,  and it's been an opportunity to reflect, and to think through how to support the kids in their interest, while also figuring out the extent to which they're playing to numb difficult feelings. It has been a chance to notice and appreciate that they have found ways to to meet their own needs and spend their days tremendously gracefully during a busy time. I appreciate that they'll know themselves better from these few months-- we talk about what we're doing with our days and why-- not in judgement but with interest, to reflect and think through choices and options. In doing this, I also notice that I'm making not-perfect choices: I have kept up with farm chores and propagation for our nursery, and with from-scratch cooking-- both of which require a huge amount of time and energy-- because that's was what I needed to do for myself. Yet this has come with costs and I could have sat with Noah, Eli and Hana more than I have done. So I'm working on doing that, now. In an ideal situation, we'd be giving them plenty of opportunities to connect and do other things if that's what they want. We were working to bring up adult-child ratio on the farm, and so I think the trade-offs seemed right to us.

Most days, either Eug or I wakes up early to start work (I sometimes go into work when I need to be at meetings, and then I leave very early to avoid traffic), and the other person gets to wake with the kids, start coffee and oats, feed the animals, and check on the state of the farm with Hana. When Eug is working, the boys don't play Minecraft because we don't have enough devices, so the kids and I will do something inside together, or work on something out on the farm (or sometimes I'll work on something, and they'll just join me). I bake a lot with Hana and occasionally do some cooking with Noah; Eli's favourite thing is to play boardgames and make up elaborate stories together. When with Eug, they'll often play Minecraft, with Eug in the background participating where he cans (he'll sometimes play with them also).

Eug and I will switch after a few hours, and whoever is caring for the kids will make lunch. In the later afternoon, we will either be with individual kids, or Eug will work on the house and I will take the kids out to the beach, or to a couple of classes they participate in (clay lessons, swimming lessons, speech therapy, Scouts). I do speech therapy practice with Eli, while playing Star Realms, his favourite card game! It's not rushed most of the time. I will sometimes walk down the street with one or two kids, to our nursery and check in on how things are going. The kids will sometimes pair up and play together for a while-- legos, magnatiles, or telling stories outside, until something happens (If Hana is involved) and conflict comes and goes. I sometimes feel very busy if I look at the number of jobs I seem to have in addition to my actual full time job at the university. Then I settle into the actual day: what I actually need to do, and it is always doable-- though the issue of our kids' less visible needs is definitely something I'm thinking about more, as I tend to go from one task to the next, and kids are not tasks.

Amidst the imperfection, all three kids seem to learn what is relevant to navigate their day-to-day life, and what they enjoy-- I remain convinced that we can learn naturally, given interested and supportive people around us. We try to offer lots of interesting options, which sometimes are taken up, and sometimes aren't. I am not measuring whether they progress similarly to others of their age, though I do try to observe if they are stuck in a rut and if we can help. I do marvel at all they know from our reading of copious fiction and non-fiction together, and from watching Youtube-- this is even without me understanding all their skills from playing Minecraft-- and those are abundant. We discuss so many things together during the course of the day. I read quite a lot for work (and enjoyment), and talk to them about what I'm learning, and about what I'm learning about farming, also. All three kids can spot a spekboom from 100m (CUTTINGS MOMMY-- they even know the spekboom-on-pavement map of our routes and sometimes will generously say "There's a spekboom coming up soon, you can stop the car"). They know the kind of pelargonium that only grows naturally on Ou Kaapse Weg, know the difference between English, Dutch, French and Spanish lavenders (I learned this like a month ago) and can identify which chicken laid which egg based on size and colour. They know how to care for many different animals. More than what they know or don't know, we are learning how to relate to one another, and how to help them relate to other people, also.

Star Realms

We still get to the beach a lot


Soap carving

Found a lizard tail- it was still moving!

matching Minecraft and real life stones

Silvermine dam- it was too cold to swim so we walked around the dam instead. I could not keep up with my 2 year old, which is a bizarre twist.

dinosaur tea party.



Thursday, September 13, 2018

Some experiences unschooling

A few people have recently asked about how and why we are unschooling, and in the moment I usually mumble something incoherent about autonomy. I wanted to reflect a little more deeply here, though not comprehensively, as supporting our kids' education is inevitably complex. Noah would be in Grade 2 this year, and I've written about unschooling in the past (though I cringe at some of those posts). School can seem really innocuous to those who thrive in those settings (or seem to), so I'm grateful for a firstborn who is sensitive and challenged so many of my assumptions.

The experience of unschooling, to me, has been a move away from outcomes, towards the journey, and towards connecting with my kids. If you've ever read this blog, you know I plan and scheme and will suffer seemingly endlessly for a goal (I think this is partly a result of school). This can serve me well, at times, but it also means I struggle to be present for the ride.  It also means that my tendency is to think of the future for my kids-- and inevitably, because I'm that kind of person-- to constantly be measuring my kids' successes.

In fairly Calvinist (conservative Christian) settings as a child, during college and our early years of marriage, there were a lot of fairly awful ideas about children. Alongside these were also quite negative ideas of God-- and these were tightly wrapped up in a highly patriarchal social structure. What was terribly confusing is that God (and parents, leaders, and teachers) did not necessarily have to be kind or considerate-- they could do anything and say it was "for our own good." A consequence of being in this kind of setting is that one cannot trust one's own feelings. Don't even get me started on what it was like to be a girl and a woman in these settings! Not only could we not trust our own desires and motivations, we also could not trust God to be good, all the time. I am not sure if this influences how kids in schools are being taught around the world-- I am outside of that world right now-- but I want to move away from my tendency to see my children as vessels to be urgently filled (with skills, or knowledge, or even values), whether or not they want that skill. While self-reflection is powerful-- I want my kids to be the ones doing the reflecting on their desires and motivations, not me or another adult. In this sense, unschooling is less about learning and more about relating-- knowing that in healthy relationships it is easy to learn and grow.

There are a lot of people who believe God is always good who don't unschool, so I think my experiences are the result of a particular, non-universal, journey. Still, unschooling has brought a helpful consistency: In imagining a more relational, less capitalist, less power-based, less shame-filled/competitive society, a lot of ideas align, albeit messily (and inconsistently). We can enjoy our lives while remaining responsible and responsive to our contexts.

So as I grow with our kids, the value of unschooling is less about outcomes and more about finding ways to be consistently kind and support our kids, while being careful to attend to our own journey, responsibilities, and boundaries. It is a way to trust our children and try our best to connect with them, which is harder than it sounds. It does not mean leaving them to do their own thing, but finding opportunities for them to get to know themselves, and to shine. It means creatively finding ways to meet all the needs of all family members, and be explicit when we are struggling to do so because of financial, time, or energy constraints. What I want them to feel is an abundance of opportunity, and an abundance of love-- a complicated abundance, given friendships with those who have much less than we do-- but abundance nevertheless.