It’s been a while since I’ve really talked about unschooling as a thing. I’ve talked a lot about my kids, their lives, my life, but I haven’t put much thought into unschooling as a thing for a while. I always like to check back in with myself on this subject because my concept of unschooling is evolving daily. It’s not a static thing and probably never will be. It’s the nature of unschooling, I guess.
Today I was thinking that maybe I should start straying from unschooling. I’d love to do more Waldorf inspired things with Sander, but I can’t bring myself to give up the plastic toys Grandma sent and are so well loved. I also can’t cut off the recorded music. The kids love movies and other things too much. They love their video games. I’ll be honest, without books, I don’t think I’d ever tell them stories again! It’s not that I can’t create stories of my own, or remember them to retell, but I love the experience of holding a book in my hands and sharing the words someone else wrote. Reading has always been a special treat to me.
Then I started thinking about doing Montessori inspired activities with Luca when he’s older. He already gravitates to many of the small versions of adult tasks. He likes to try and help clean, so it was a natural connection for me. Of course, Montessori is very much about independence, something that I feel is in direct opposition to baby wearing and co-sleeping. It seems a much better match for, say, Waldorf, which is very much on connectedness as I see it.
This is what leads me back again and again to unschooling. Just because we’re unschooling doesn’t mean I can’t take the creative play aspects from Waldorf and the little life skills and independence building activities from Montessori. We can put together an awesome set of play silks and still have all the little cleaning and cooking things. We can have magic tricks, books, video games, and movies. We can do workbooks or not. Best of all, the kids are learning the most important lesson of all, to love learning.
I have to admit, I did worry that my kids would hear about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would think they were in Australia. I worried that their idea of math would be busting out a calculator. They’d never love Shakespeare or Poe. They might never read classic literature. I kept thinking of the ways I could subtly push the things they “needed to know” on them. I hated the thought of being coercive, but I thought I has to. They had to learn these things somehow!
It wasn’t until recently that I really learned to trust my kids in learning what they need to know to succeed in life. Thankfully my idea of “success” for my children wasn’t exactly some high standard. It might sound like a bad thing to have a low standard of success, but I think it’s good. I don’t need my children to go to Harvard or Yale unless that’s what they want to do for their own reasons. I’m sure if you’ve found your way to my blog, you totally understand. I want my children to be happy, and not in that ultra-fluffy “never suffer a day” kind of way. I want them to be able to look back when they’re old and gray, reflect on their lives, and think, “Wow! I really accomplished some stuff I’m really proud of.” It doesn’t matter if their kids are proud of them. It doesn’t matter what I think. All that matters is that they’re happy with their own accomplishments. That’s going to come with hard work, challenges, and a good amount of upsets, but that’s part of life. They’ll learn to deal with it as it comes, which is all part of being successful in life. Every truly successful person hits upon huge, overwhelming challenges and unexpected pitfalls. I don’t want my children to ever have to suffer, but let’s face it, they will. I can’t stop them from suffering, and in a certain light, suffering is good. You grow from suffering. You learn to appreciate what you have. Once you heal from the pain, you’ll be that much stronger, and that much more dedicated to what you really want. Heartbreak happens. Some day they will lose loved ones, be they friends or family. They’ll meet people who bully them or are nothing but mean, uncalled for, or just a royal pain. That happens. You can’t truly live life without encountering those things. I don’t want it for them, but they will experience it. What’s the use in denying it and trying to coddle my children, protect them from every ounce of suffering. That’s how you become a helicopter parent, and I really don’t want to be that. Instead I’ve got to let go a bit and follow their lead, even though it sometimes challenges my beliefs and scares the ever-living crap out of me!
Now I’m starting to see the fruits of that scary, terrifying trust I’ve placed in my children to figure out what they need in life. Corde is dedicated to her art, and while she doesn’t have what it takes to be a famous artist (though she definitely could if she keeps practicing and developing her skills!) she’s doing what she loves. No one expects her to be famous before she’s even 10! This isn’t the day and age of the classic artists, many of whom did their first famous piece by the tender age of 12 or 14. She’s got time to develop, grow, and learn. She’s got all her life to be famous if that’s what she wants to be.
Having faith in my children means watching Corde educate herself on subjects that really matter to her. I know I’ve got a life-long healthy eater because she’s so interested in the food industry and what unhealthy food does to you. Will she still splurge on things she shouldn’t have? Probably, but she’ll at least have a strong foundation in good, healthy food.
My worries of geography have satisfied themselves. Corde has developed an interest in maps thanks to a well-timed workbook from my aunt. She’s interested in how to find places she’s interested on the map. She thinks floor plans are pretty cool. She’s decided that learning how to read a map is kind of fun, even though by the time she’s old enough to drive no one will be using them anymore. It will all be GPS and Google Maps. Even trail maps are possibly going to be going digital by that point. Still, I love that she’s developed a love of reading maps. Maybe we’ll even go old school and bust out compasses and maps in order to learn how to navigate the old way, the way I learned in Girl Scouts. She’s learning about math through simple curiosity of what happens if she takes this many of this thing and this many of that, or if she decides she needs to have enough of something for every one of her friends to get an even amount. She’s also learning about money as she assesses how much we’re willing to fork over to her for chores. I’m sure it’ll have even more impact as she starts banking her own money and spending it on things she wants. She’ll learn just how many chores equals a pack of Pokemon cards. That teaches her the concept of money as being stored labor. Work equates to buying power. Money is how that work equation is shown. She’ll learn about physics the first time she drives a car, and then again the first time she drives a car in the rain. She’ll learn geometry when she starts designing things, or when she some day goes out to the pool hall with her friends. If she needs more than the daily lessons in each of those things, she’ll learn them.
And exposing my kids to things I love doesn’t have to be coercive. I can teach the kids about Shakespeare by going to a show or putting on a movie. She’s learning about Poe because she loves poetry. We can also read the stories together at Halloween, just for fun. I can teach them about classic books by offering to read them together. It’s not coercive if they have a choice. They can either watch with me or listen to me read, or they can walk away. I’m not forcing it on them, just offering it as an option. Generally, they take the option. It’s not because they feel they have to, but because they’re interested in getting to know what the people in their lives are interested in. They might not like it, but at least they’re willing to try it and see. If they don’t like it, they won’t do it again. It’s just sharing what we love, like any other reasonable adult will do.
The kids have all kind of started to pick their own very different focus points and interests. Corde has been interested in art since she was, I don’t know, maybe one or two. I just didn’t realize how much of an interest it would be until she started getting older. Now she’s sitting in the dining room, drawing at the table as I write. Beekee was on music for a while, but now it’s magic. Who knows if that will stick or if it’s just another phase. Sander’s new thing is photography. He loves everything about it. Luca is already choosing a different path. He’s already started to enjoy pretending to do housework, taking care of “babies” (usually his little bear) and likes to play with blankets and purses. He’s very much a nuturer and an homemaker. None of my other kids have really gone that direction, not quite so much and not from such a young age. Looks like I might just be getting him a baby doll after all! I found a great little doll that even shares his name. It’s a girl doll, but gender-neutral enough that I don’t think it would make a difference to him. Looks like I’ve got a whole list for his first birthday already!
See, that’s one of the things I love about all the homeschoolers/unschoolers/non-traditional schoolers I know! They’re all so involved and know their own kids better than anyone else in the world. They allow their children to experience life through a number of different aspects instead of so much being limited to the classroom. They expand learning to include everything in life, and some fantastic experiences that you’ll never learn anywhere other than in the world itself. It’s a lesson that each child will be able to take with them their whole life over.
What will my children do with their lives? At this point I have no idea. Corde will always do something with art. Beekee will always be some kind of entertainer, in part, even if it’s just entertaining his own family. Sander is still to young to tell. I have a feeling Luca will be loving and cuddly his whole life through. They may all go to college, or none of them might. They could be millionaires, or starving artists. They could be, or do anything, but at least I know I’m doing one thing for them. I’m teaching them to always strive to be involved in their lives, to learn all they can, and to work for the things they love.