Tuesday, August 13, 2013

NOT Back to School Time-- Embracing Unschooling

I've been feeling like there was something wrong with me because I'm not all caught up in the "back to school" fever that seems to have the rest of the nation in a death grip right now.  Even fellow homeschoolers all start heading "back to school" and talk turns to curriculum, when they're going to start their first day back, etc. and while I feel a bit left out I guess I also feel a bit bewildered, and, dare I admit it?  Apathetic.

I'm sick of planning, I'm sick of keeping track of school days and non- school days, I'm sick of worrying about what my kids are learning or doing every minute of every day.  I'm sick of feeling like I need to justify what they are learning and when they are learning it, because I do feel like they truly are learning every day all day long.

It's not that I'm burnt out.  

It's not that homeschooling is hard or not working for us.  

It's not that I've stopped caring about my kids and what they are learning and doing, it's just that I'm just sick of caring what OTHER people think my kids are learning and doing all day.  

I'm sick of my own need to compare and contrast my kids to all those other kids we see and interact with. 

I think as a society our schools and methods of learning are so ingrained they're hard to shake off, especially as a parent.  Unschoolers, in particular, are so far from that spectrum of learning that it's scary.  It's daunting to know that there is no concrete plan set in place for the school year, no checklist of facts and subjects to tick off one by one with a great sense of accomplishment, no way to point to something and say "there, that is what they were learning, here is the workbook we completed to show you." 
How I grew up learning and how I want my kids to learn is so entirely different it's sometimes hard to me to remember!  However, that doesn't mean I don't like this time of year. 

  • My kids and I smile as we walk by isle upon isle of backpacks, notebook and school supplies knowing we don't have to buy any!  
  • We smile when all their friends talk about summer fun ending as we know Sept and Oct. will be jam packed with park days, museum trips, trips to the beach, and days lazy days spent swimming and having fun.  
  • We grin when fellow homeschoolers talk about their first day back at lessons and ask when we'll start.  While, we love hitting the museums and zoos most of all now that we'll pretty much have them back to ourselves we don't have any pressing need to get any particular thing done or started.

I was starting to think I was the only one who felt this way when I stumbled upon this blog yesterday called The Path Less Taken and reading her post I thought Yes! That's it!!  (and a lot of relief that I'm not alone!)

I don't feel like learning ever stops or is separate from life so while I often feel like I have to plan lessons (because everyone else does) and I feel like we really need to start school in September (because everyone else does) I'm just not feeling it this year.

 I don't want to do it!

I'm not feeling the push to start school, I'm definitely not feeling a need to start planning lessons, and I'm kind of hopeful that I won't ever feel that need again, or at least if I do it's in small doses!  I can tell which things the boys have been most interested in over the past year because they're the things they still remember, talk about and ask to do again.  Those lessons I pushed on them that they weren't really interested in are the ones they don't even REMEMBER!  If ever a lesson in the validity of unschooling was needed, that was it.  My boys retained only those things that they were interested in, engaged in, and (often) planned on their own.

Evan on my kindle
I've been reading tons of blogs on unschooling, I've subscribed to an unschooling magazine and I checked many books out on unschooling just to keep myself firm in my belief and to keep us headed on the right track.  Of course, as many unschoolers as there are, they all have slightly different methods.  Some still plan roughly what they're going to be working on every few months, some take it day by day, others take a few moments each day for the parent to show them a new sight, or a new book before letting the kids take over.  Many families incorporate parts of unschooling into the day and teach actual lessons during other parts of the day, but I found, for us anyway, it's pretty much all over he place.

Teaching is so ingrained in me that I tend to naturally take over and I find I feel stressed and panicked when we're not accomplishing my goals I had set for the day.  When I looked back at why we turned away from unschooling (my fears and the boys boredom), I realized what I should have done was read a few more books and articles about unschooling to get us back on track and gain new ideas.  Instead I went back to the familiar and here we are just a few months later unhappy and unsettled yet again.  I don't beat myself up over it though as our lives and days are always changing and I know that we still had fun and learned plenty.  But I really want to get back to the days where we had just found joy in the every day, joy in being with one another and sharing our joys of discovery. 

In hopes of doing this I sat down with Ian yesterday to start planning his next month of learning and help him focus on what he wants to learn about.  I wanted to see if had any idea for projects he wants to be able to do so I can make sure I have the supplies he needs on hand, but even that kind of bothered me. Maybe because he's my oldest and was in public school the longest, but he tends to think in terms of subjects too and he was telling me what he wanted to do for reading, for math, for science... I just wanted to know how planned on filling his days so I wouldn't heard constant refrains of "I'm bored."  I know he still thinks of learning as drudgery work and resents the time spent away from what he'd like to do.  I'm still trying to get him to understand that anything he wants to do is filled with learning!  After 15 minutes or so of working together I think we were both feeling frustrated.  The one good thing that came out of my going over the blog to give him some ideas was that we stumbled upon some of the computer games sights we had forgotten about and the boys all started fighting over who go to play Grammar Ninja.  Ian took a pretty long turn and had fun playing before he gave it up and let Alec have a turn.

Alec playing Grammar Ninja
 Alec decided to try the hardest level and was laughing so hard at all the ones he was getting wrong.  I had to hold myself back from telling him to try an easier level because he was having so much fun and I know he was learning!  We had gone over noun, verb and adjective but he also learned adverb, preposition, article and the like.  I also know the fun he was having was the most important part because now he can't wait to play again! 

We also played a few rounds of Life.  Ian and I played the first round while Alec played Grammar Ninja and Evan played Word Monkey then we played another round of Life altogether.  I love the game of Life.  The boys get to make decisions about going to college, which house they can really afford or if it's worth it to take out a loan to buy their dream home.  They have to count, add and subtract to pay bills and make change.  They compare salaries of jobs and debate the pros and cons of having a job they'd actually enjoy or one that just makes a lot of money.  They debate the pros and cons of having kids and whether they'd prefer girls or boys.  They laugh, joke, shout and yell and have a great time.  They read, count, and even negotiate.  I was most impressed when Ian was able to add up all his money at the end of the game, unfortunately he did not have enough to win.  Evan won (again!).
The boys play Life
 After Life and lunch the boys played in the sand and with all the trucks.  The kids decided to all swim in the pool and play keep away.  They chased, yelled and generally had fun.  Evan jumped off the deep end and swam to the stairs in the shallow end.  He practiced hand stands and picked up a ring off the bottom of the pool.  He jumped off what we have dubbed "the high dive" and did all this without any type of life jacket or flotation device!  I was so glad to know we don't have to cart his life jacket everywhere with us anymore.  They kids went swimming in the lake and for a boat ride.  Ian got to go tubing and tried to stand up on the tube as if it were a water ski.  They practiced swimming, balancing, and taking turns.  They noticed tiny baby fish in the lake and went searching for more animals. 
After dinner we headed to a local park to meet up with some friends and all the kids played with scooters, hula hoops and the playground equipment.  Alec taught another little boy (whom he managed to make friends with by the end of the night) to hula hoop and had a great time trying out new moves, like spinning a circle while hula hooping!  He finally made it across both sets of jungle gym bars and hoops; something he's been trying to do every time we visit the park.  The boys played in the sprinklers, took a walk to see the ducks and frogs and practiced making the scooters jump (a skill they learned by watching their friends).  We had some minor injuries and tears but mostly we had laughter and fun.  They got to swing super high on the swings, climb rock walls, chain walls, and up the slides.  They slid down slides, ran round ramps and up ladders.  Alec later made another new friend, an older 11 year old girl, who showed him how to climb up onto the top of the jungle gym bars and maneuver himself around.  They had the best time and we capped the night off with a nice cool treat-- some yummy ice cream! 
Alec makes it all the way across
Evan tried out Ian's scooter

Keeping cool!

Alec joins in on Hula Hoop night and makes new friends

"catch me if you can"

Alec sitting ON the monkey bars-- such a monkey! 

On the way home I couldn't help think what a perfect summer day we had, making memories.  I remember fondly the summer nights we were up late enough to watch the sunset with the smell of fresh air,  the stickiness of ice cream on my hands, and the dirt of the playground on my feet.  There's something timeless about these kinds of days and memories and I'm so glad to be sharing them with the boys.  Even better was the fact that the boys couldn't wait to get back to the car and read their books on the way home.  I don't generally allow them to turn on the small interior car lights in order to read at night since it can be distracting to drive but it wasn't that dark out yet and the boys REALLY wanted to read.  Alec kept reading funny parts of his book out loud to share with Evan and they were all having such a great time that I didn't have the heart to stop them.  I even allowed them all to read and look at books for as long as they'd like once in bed for the night.  I have no idea what time they fell asleep but I do know I had turn off a few lights when I went to bed and pry open books away from sleeping little boys. I just love that!

No no it's NOT back to school time for us; we're just going to enjoy the rest of our summer and see what tomorrow brings.

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  1. Yay, go you! Do what feels right for you and your kids. Don't worry about what others think. I admire your honesty and vulnerability in this post. *hugs*