A bit more depth about what we’re doing…
What did you think of that book I sent you about unschooling- Free to Learn? It’s just, Dave’s reading it now, and I’m worried what he’ll make of it- this is his first foray into learning more about it than just what I say and do, and he’s not inclined to love the idea. Did it ring true to you?
Love to all you guys!
About “Free to Learn” – yes, I did read it, and started off full of enthusiasm. There is certainly a huge advantage in learning about and remembering things that you are interested in. I think it puts a big load on your shoulders, but you have a wonderful background and knowledge to cope with this, plus your very outgoing nature will compensate for the fact that Henry isn’t surrounded by a lot of other kids. I know you will not neglect the social side of his life!
I got less impressed in the later stages of the book, where she seemed to me to give the child pretty much complete control over what he does. I think learning a bit of discipline and structure is important – whatever we do in life will involve some things that aren’t as much fun as others, but still need to be done. And learning to cope with disappointments and changes of direction are pretty necessary. I really wouldn’t be comfortable with a child not having to brush his teeth, and not having a reasonably structured bed time, just because this makes you healthier and happier further down the track. I was also a bit shocked to find that she didn’t consider being able to read and write that important – I still think they are absolutely basic and necessary, and typing too! Even a certainly amount of spelling and grammar – how would we be without Scrabble??
Maybe I should read it again – it was a bit of a sentence here and there and I may have missed some of her points. What does Dave think? I know he’s very supportive of your efforts, but how about longer term? By the time Henry is 10 or 12, will it still be a satisfying method? And how hard will it be to switch to a more traditional “school” if that’s necessary? I really like a lot of the ideas, but am not completely sold on it. I should give it more investigation. And of course its different for each child – and you’re the best one to judge how its going!
I will never ever worry about Henry and Lauren getting anything but the very best. With you and Dave as their parents, they will always be top priority, and I’m certainly not worrying! The fact that you are giving home (un-) schooling a go shows that. And I think that at least for the first 2 or 3 years you are going to provide a much warmer and more encouraging learning environment for them.
Do you remember the Montessori School in Bowral, that took kids from 5 but didn’t do anything structured for the first few years? I think that was a great system, although they did have to turn up at 9am and go home at 3 pm – and that’s structure! As long as they get to hang out with other kids sometimes, you are doing better than Montessori. Aren’t you lucky to be a home mum? That is the greatest bonus, and I’m so glad I was able to do that too – although I didn’t use it to the capacity that you are.
Full marks to you from me :-) – and lots of love,
Hey, love. I’ve been mulling over the things you said. Here’s what I think I think, at the moment, if that makes any sense, but I’m on such an incredible learning curve at the moment, I might disagree with all of this next week!
I guess some of this might sound pretty crazy- it’s different to how most people think about kids. There are lots of people who have been living this way for decades, and lots of research. I know it might seem like I’m experimenting on my kids, but it’s not like that. Please hang onto the idea, as you read this, that we are playing the “long game” here- aiming for fabulously happy, healthy and kind adults, perhaps at some expense today, in terms of not being able to tell them what to do, and having to put up with terrible haircuts, messy rooms, etc, as they learn. It’s about respecting them as real people, now, rather than future people who currently do not have valid opinions and stuff. In a lot of ways, I think we are just taking further the way you guys raised us- fun, healthy relationships, and letting us have a say in things like the big trip to Europe- most of my friends thought it was insane that you asked our opinions!
Anyway, sorry I’m so long-winded, but here you go-
I got less impressed in the later stages of the book, where she seemed to me to give the child pretty much complete control over what he does.
Yep, the really radical unschoolers give them complete autonomy, from birth basically, unless they’re endangering someone. The idea is that they are actually trying to grow up into functional members of our society- that’s what babies are born wanting to do, but we disrupt that process by not letting them learn how. We try and make decisions for them, take away their ability to learn from their mistakes as well as their successes, make them feel disempowered and angry, and then assume it’s normal when they see us as the enemy. Adults and kids don’t relate that way in a lot of societies.
I think learning a bit of discipline and structure is important – whatever we do in life will involve some things that aren’t as much fun as others, but still need to be done. And learning to cope with disappointments and changes of direction are pretty necessary.
I completely agree that those things will be necessary in their future, and I believe they will be able to learn them pretty quickly when they have to. I don’t think I need to invent disappointments, so that they can learn to deal with them, any more than I think I need to spend years now teaching them to pay taxes, or how to use a washing machine- when it happens, they’ll be motivated to get it pretty quickly. Same with getting up in the morning, same with changes of direction. And they have plenty of disappointments.
As for discipline, what we’re aiming for is adults who are self-disciplined, based on their own ethics. I hope they will be people who choose to do what they see as the right thing, rather than what they can get away with, when Mummy (boss, police officer) isn’t looking. Here’s an example- Henry hits Lauren, and she cries. I comfort her and encourage him to look at how sad he’s made her, and help me try to make her feel better. Then I try to figure out from them both what happened, calmly, (ideally- I’m not often very good at this yet!) then we talk about different ways they both could have handled it, and I remind Henry that it’s hard growing up and learning to control himself, but that it’s important and we know he’s getting better at it. And that in the meantime, he’s not allowed to hurt people, and I will help him if he can’t keep Lauren safe. By talking him thru when he gets cross, or keeping him out of arm’s reach, or whatever is necessary.
A traditional approach, which might involve telling him off, sending him away alone, or smacking him, is more likely to make him focus on the consequences to himself, rather than how he makes Lauren feel, and also to make him angry and sad, neither of which are going to put him in a position to actually think about what he did, or what kind of person he wants to be. I think happy people, who trust that they are (or are trying to become!) good people, treat other people better than people with low self-esteem are able to.
I really wouldn’t be comfortable with a child not having to brush his teeth, and not having a reasonably structured bed time, just because this makes you healthier and happier further down the track.
This gets at the whole heart of it, I think. The idea is that now, while he’s young and has me looking out for him, he can experiment with not brushing his teeth and stuff, without there being any major consequences, and he can then be an adult who brushes his teeth because he really understands that his mouth’ll feel yucky/ people won’t want to smell his breath/ the dentist will have to give him a filling/ whatever, if he doesn’t. The problem with a structured bedtime, (and actually, I’m not sure we mean the same thing by that, but I’ll come back to that,) is that his body gives him much better clues as to when he is ready to sleep than I can. There’s no point going to bed if you’re not tired, because you’ll just lie there and get anxious or cross or bored. And if you’re forced to bed when you don’t want to go, then bedtime becomes a bad thing, a thing to fight against, and you stop being willing to go, even if you are tired. Which then leads to a much more screwed-up and unhealthy way of relating to sleep, as an adult.
This is the same understanding I have of food, and appetite. A child who is never made to eat when he is not hungry, or eat food he doesn’t like or feel like, or refused access to “junk food,” will keep the awareness of his body’s signals that he was born with, and eat what and when he feels like it. Which is much healthier than wanting to gorge on forbidden sweets when nobody is looking, reduce your fat intake (or whatever) as an adult to the point where your body creates unbearable cravings, feel guilt about food, yo-yo crazy diet, whatever is going on with people. So many people do this! I’m on a bunch of facebook pages, and there are so many kids (so many!) who have complete freedom over their diets, and eat quite healthily.
I know, it sounds nuts, and I hope this doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies or make you call social services, but Lauren had marshmallows for breakfast. Quite a lot of marshmallows. She shared them with Henry. She didn’t want anything else, although had eaten half a honey sandwich before she went looking in the cupboard and found the marshmallows. Yuck, huh? My stomach was churning, watching her. But, she didn’t finish them- she knew when she’d had enough. (Or maybe just a little bit after she’d had enough!) And about 10:30 she came and asked me for tomato soup, and “yots and yots” of crackers. She had hummus for lunch- ate it with ponytail elastics instead of the toast or spoon I’d given her, and then some bacon and mushroom pie, and later on, half a pear. She had a toffee this afternoon, when we were making Christmas presents for Dave’s family, but was quite satisfied with one, and is asleep now- my dinner plan is porridge with raisins in it, but we’ll see. (Ate it all up!) We are not “radically unschooling” food (yet) though they’ve had free access to the tv for I think about 3 months now, and it’s awesome.
But to go back to the bedtime thing, there are two different concepts there- designating the bedtime on the clock, and the actual bedtime routine, which for us is pyjamas, tooth-brushing, 2 stories each, (all together in Lauren’s bed, so 4 stories, really,) and bed. For Lauren, “bed” is the light off, her sippy cup being refilled with water, one more kiss, and the door closed. (She sleeps in basically pitch-blackness, and used to get up and turn off her nightlight and close her door! Hilarious.) Sometimes I’ll promise to tuck Henry in and then come straight back and lie down with her for a while- might be 2 minutes, might even be until she falls asleep, depending on how sad/ unsettled she is and how busy I am. For Henry, “bed” is a goodnight kiss, his nightlight on, an audio book playing on CD, (currently George’s Marvellous Medicine,) his bedside lamp on, and actually on his bed beside him, and lots of toys and books. There’s not even a pretence that he’s going straight to sleep, but he keeps fairly quiet, usually, and we go in later and turn the lamp off and put it back on the table, when he’s asleep.
Anyway, there’s no reason they can’t decide when to go to bed, and still have some or all of the routine, as long as we’re flexible about it. (You can even pause live telly now!) If they’re still up when I’m going to bed they can know that if they don’t go now they don’t get the routine, and have to settle themselves. Lauren asked about 4 nights in one week a few weeks back, “Mummy, can you take me upstairs and put me in my jammies, and brush my teeth and read me 2 stories and I go to sleep, please? I’ve had a big day!” (She kills me- I’ve had a big day!)
A heap of times when I was in first year Uni, (remember that house of Leslie’s?) we all slept in the lounge, because we were too lazy to go to our beds. And because we could- it was awesome! But it wasn’t so comfy, and whoever got up first in the morning woke us all up, which was rubbish. Does it matter whether they learn that at 18 or at 5?
I guess the thing is that it seems like imposing these things on them will make them healthier later, but it doesn’t seem that it actually works that way. The things that will make them healthy are trusting their body’s feelings, especially regarding food and sleep, and not developing unhealthy ways of thinking about these things.
I was also a bit shocked to find that she didn’t consider being able to read and write that important – I still think they are absolutely basic and necessary, and typing too! Even a certainly amount of spelling and grammar – how would we be without Scrabble??
Yeah, I can see why that would be a shock- I looked out for that bit, among others, as I reread it, and I don’t think she says quite that. I’ve read a ton about this, especially, as I’m sure you’ll believe! It’s also one of Dave’s hugest worries- did you know his whole family don’t play Scrabble- sad for me, but they don’t feel the absence!
The thing is, that school teachers need kids to read, as soon as possible, so that they can work fairly independently, and to write, so that their understanding can be conveniently assessed. At home, you don’t need this- I can read to him for as long as he wants, (and there’s so many anecdotes saying things like, I was busy because we were having a dinner party, and said, ‘I’ll read it to you tomorrow, love,’ and he just decided to read it himself! And the next week he read Harry Potter!) and then discuss them as well, which is a huge boon for learning stuff, and he can access things other ways- thru youtube, audio books, etc. (Somebody pointed out somewhere, that if Abe Lincoln had had the internet in his log cabin, he wouldn’t have bothered with all those books to teach himself law- it’s all on youtube now!)
Pushing kids to read before they want to makes a lot of them resist. Takes some of the joy out of it. Makes them feel less confident in themselves, (“Reading is hard!” vs “I haven’t decided to learn to read yet.”) especially if they struggle. (Dyslexia is quite hereditary, and schools are hideous places for kids with it, but I’m keeping a close eye on these two, and so far they have none of the early warning signs.) Strains our relationship. Reduces their faith in how much I trust in their natural desire to learn the important stuff. Wastes time on boring books, when I could be reading them more interesting stuff.
And it will come. There is absolutely no doubt that they will read, both of them, for pleasure as well as purpose (not to say that pleasure isn’t a purpose!) Seriously- look at their families! There’s just no way they won’t, I am happy to promise you and Dave both that. Just, maybe not when they’re 6. We’ll see.
Maybe I should read it again – it was a bit of a sentence here and there and I may have missed some of her points. What does Dave think?
Dave thinks that not being in school is radical enough, thank-you-very-much! He’s quite relaxed about unschooling for a few years, especially as there are so many countries that don’t even send kids to school til they’re seven, and so much evidence that early academics are really bad for kids- play is so much more important, and you can’t leave that til later! But he’s concerned that they won’t be able to read, and he’s worried that they won’t have any friends, and he’s afraid that I will completely burn myself out. Regarding burnout- the battle every morning to get Henry to preschool was bad enough. I really do not see how he would anything but hate school at the moment, and I expect he would fight hard.
But, Dave just read the book- his first little step into learning about this from anywhere except me. (And he does think I’m a bit of a flake.) I had to press him a bit, but we got there. And we are going away for a week (Mon-Fri) in February to a cool holiday place with about 10 other unschooling families. A couple of the mums run the unschooling facebook groups I’m in- fabulous wisdom, experience, advice. One of them, who I’ve met up with a couple of times, is a Clinical Psychologist (same as Dave) so I hope their opinions will carry a little more weight than mine, and that seeing other families where it’s really working (and nobody has dreadlocks!) will reassure him a bit.
I know he’s very supportive of your efforts, but how about longer term? By the time Henry is 10 or 12, will it still be a satisfying method? And how hard will it be to switch to a more traditional “school” if that’s necessary?
We’re agreeing to only take it a year at a time, or even a term at a time, and that it has to be working for us all for us to continue. (Though I have carte blanche for the first couple of years.) Lots of families home school primary but then send them to high school, or even drop in and out as it suits (year by year, not daily or weekly!) and all say the adjustment is pretty easy. Going in. Coming out is harder, because they learn at school to resist learning, and that adults are the enemy. And that friendships are right there without any effort, but also untrustworthy and full of cliques and bullying.
I really like a lot of the ideas, but am not completely sold on it. I should give it more investigation. And of course its different for each child – and you’re the best one to judge how its going!
Well, thanks. But I will appreciate your ongoing feedback, of course- I might be too close to really be able to acknowledge that his scruffy hair is a legitimate problem for anyone, or something. Questions are always great, because the more I have to think about it in order to explain it, the clearer I’m making it to myself, you know?
I am already wondering what we’ll do the year after next, when Lauren has finished her year of preschool. I expect she’ll love it, and need lots of play dates and group activities once she’s used to that, and at the moment Henry really never wants to leave the house. Or have anyone over. Still, it’s a couple of years away, and doesn’t need fretting about yet. (There was a gorgeous little school similar to Sudbury Valley, where Laura went, in south London, but it’s closed down. So sad- they even offered part-time enrolment to home ed kids! Would have solved my probs with Lauren and Dave in one fell swoop! I’m gutted. Speaking of which, do you remember chuckling about how Laura was always “advanced for her age?” I would bet real money that her parents got all sorts of flack from friends and family for sending her there, and were constantly having to defend it to people who didn’t understand. That phrase was probably armour.)
Aren’t you lucky to be a home mum? That is the greatest bonus, and I’m so glad I was able to do that too – although I didn’t use it to the capacity that you are.
I can’t even believe how lucky I am! Dave would be amazing and delightful even if he was on minimum wage, but the money sure is nice. And gosh, I am so incredibly glad you were able to stay home, too! Do you know, I think my childhood was brilliant. (Except for school.) So, thanks for that!
Can you do me a favour, please, and offer Cangy the book, if you’re done with it, and if she’s interested?
Love to all!
Catch you soon, my dear,
Darling Sue, What a lovely letter! I’ll be re-reading that many times, and there’s so much info in there that it will take a lot more than today to let it all sink in. The most surprising part was that Dave wasn’t as enthusiastic as I’d assumed. And it certainly does all sound so reasonable and unstressful – except maybe for you! I really can see your point about having to get Henry up and out the door to school every day – that wasn’t ever the best part of my day, either!!
Are they watching lots of TV and playing lots of computer games? Or is the TV just background entertainment (like I always had the radio on when I did my homework)? Keeping active is something I’m more and more sure is terribly important, but little kids are going to get up and run around often no matter what they’re doing (unless they’re in a classroom, eh?)
Lots of love, Mum xxxxxx
They do spend quite a lot of time on the computer and watching tv, though it has dropped off amazingly since soon after we stopped trying to control it. (And we hardly fight about it at all!) I’ve also read some very reassuring studies about tv and about computer games- I’m not worried about their effect as such, only that they take time away from other things. (And we have well over 30 hours a week more than kids who go to school!) Plus, it boggles my mind how much they are learning from watching stuff. Henry’s just discovered Curious George, and in the episode I just watched part of with him, the Man in the Yellow Hat sent George to the bakery with a note asking for 1 dozen donuts. George can’t read, so it was all scribble except the 1, and the voice-over explained that he didn’t think one donut was enough, so he found a pencil and added 00. And of course ended up being chased home by the happy baker and lots of delivery folks with hand trolleys stacked with boxes of donuts- all very exciting and funny and educational, without a boring classroom to be seen!
We have the spare double innerspring mattress on the loungeroom floor, so there’s a lot of jumping while watching things, and a lot of pausing things to have tickle wrestles. It’s something I worry about- the lack of physical activity in the winter, since they don’t have recess and school playground and hundreds of kids running like nutters! But, those kids are forced to sit still too much, so need more intensive bursts when they can get them, I think. (I’m quite opinionated about this- as opposed to everything else, huh?)
We don’t leave the house every day, which is really exciting for me, as it’s only been a month or so since we reached the point where we could stay in and not kill each other by tea-time. But Lauren and I don’t like 2 consecutive days in, so Henry gets dragged out. We’ve just joined a local softplay, so now we get in for free, and are going every Monday, on the bus, and meeting up with other home edders, and the kids run and climb like crazy. Then Tuesday of this week we met up with Auntie Lou and baby Harriet at a soft play in a garden center, with a café- lunch, social/gross motor fun and Christmas shopping all in one stop! Awesome. Wednesday we went around to play at Catherine’s while Sean (5) was at school, (he and Henry aren’t enjoying each other at the moment,) and this evening (starting at 4) is a street party/Christmas fair up in the center of Croydon that we’ll go to, and do a couple errands on the way. Our regular Friday morning guests have the flu, but we have overdue library books, so will walk/scoot there in the morning. Catherine’s bringing Matthew (3) and Jacob (1) here tomorrow afternoon, and I feel like that’s enough, physically and socially, for a week. At the moment.
I’d be quite interested to do a little experiment and see how long Henry would happily go without leaving the house or having guests, except I couldn’t take it. And Lauren certainly couldn’t! Dave is a lot more contented with just us than I am, (which is tricky when I rely on him for adult conversation some days (god, how I adore Facebook!!) and he gets home from work having already had more than he wants for the day,) and I guess Henry might be even more so. I don’t know what to think about that- if it’s who he is, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all, and although school would force him into company which he may or may not like, I’m not convinced that’s good for all kids, either. He may well end up being an adult who is perfectly happy alone with his own company- we sure know some terrific ones of those, huh? And if it is real happiness, and not self-imposed exile because of social phobia or incompetence or something, then great!
I asked him a couple of weeks ago whether he would like us to have a few families who could come and play at our house once a week, and he said, “That’s a great idea, Mummy!” And then he frowned, and added, “But not Seany! And not Theo!” and then listed every kid he could think of, as excluded. He did think of one, “Who was that teeny tiny baby that I met a long long time ago?” I suggested that whoever it was would likely have grown a bit bigger since then, and he immediately ruled him out, too.
So, we have my HE friend and her shy 5-year-old daughter popping in each Friday morning, which is lovely all around. (Henry is free to do his own thing, usually upstairs.)
I toyed with the idea of trying to get a group together to meet in our local scout hall each week, and just have big free fun- let the kids run wild, you know? And sort out their own games/rules. Within reason. But it’s such a big undertaking, and home ed families (us completely included!) are notoriously unreliable, both because we (some of us, sometimes,) let our children decide if they don’t want to do something, and also because we keep going away!