Friday, December 30, 2011

Developing Strategies for Dealing with Children's Difficult Behaviours

by Beverley Paine

Today I was given some examples of a child’s behaviour that challenged her parent and was specifically asked for ideas about what to do and how to handle each situation.  Another friend gave some great ideas which I’ve tried in the past with my children and which have worked, so instead of adding more ideas I thought the issue from a philosophical or general perspective: what is really needed and being asked of here?
All parents have wisdom to share: we learn from our experiences and our experiences tend to be fairly similar in most things. What I love most about the internet is how it allows this wonderful conversation to develop between people: a rebuilding on the social networks that were destroyed by two world wars,
famine and disease and the embracing of the ‘nuclear age’ in the first half of the 20th century.

My first instinct when asked parenting questions is to consider ages/stages and then transitions. We definitely go through stages of develop at roughly similar ages throughout life and just knowing that can take the 'heat' off some of our concerns. I've found that my expectations that my child will behave in a certain way often have less to do with her development and more to do with what I perceive other people will think. This is my schooling combined with a schooled parenting framework (my personal childhood conditioning) coming into play: my self esteem was hijacked in my early years and subverted to serve this thing society likes to label 'socialisation' but which is actually a mere subset of the actual socialisation process. 

So, first thing for me to be - as a much wiser, older parent who has seen the error of her ways and observed many other families - is to step back and try to work out what is really going on in each situation. I would examine the nature of the child and ask myself:

a) Is this behaviour coming from her centre, or is it reflected behaviour, projected behaviour, is she merely 'trying out' something she has seen? Children, especially very young children, mimic behaviour. They can learn some powerful and lasting habits this way! We all do.

b) If it is coming from her centre and you do not value it, question why you don't. Are your values solid, are they centred? Regardless of the answer: Can you change? Do you want to change? Can you accommodate her personality, needs, abilities, disposition, temperament, likes, dislikes? Our children challenge us to grow and develop. I like to think that is why we bring them into our world, to teach us what we need. It is so easy to ignore the lessons brought to us by strangers, parents, friends, books, movies, nature, life... Hard to ignore the lessons brought to us by our children!

c) Okay, you definitely don't like it, it's not helpful, it's not constructive, you've decided there isn't a lot to be learned from it (open your mind wider - there is so much to be learned on many levels in each moment from every experience): this is the time to develop strategies for either living with, changing, eliminating, or whatever, the offending behaviour or situation. Time to brainstorm with all the people affected (if possible). I love brainstorming because it doesn't get into judgment - it is a visualising, creative, imaginative fest where ideas are allowed to float to the top, get jotted or drawn on a sheet or paper (whatever allows everyone to do the recording too). No idea is good, bad, silly or brilliant. They are merely fodder for the strategy fest that is to come next. I tend to select strategies and solutions that 'build', have somewhere to grow and usually support or solve other problems at the same time. That's my permaculture framework learning coming into play.

d) The hard part, the bit that often isn't fun and no one wants to do or maintain, is working at the strategy. Habits take a while to form and can take even longer to change. Change requires diligence and persistence as well as constantly reminding oneself of the desired outcome (continue the dreaming and visualising), together with celebrating the process of change. We celebrate progress, we celebrate where we are at, we celebrate the journey; we celebrate simply being as well as doing, without judging ourselves on the journey or our progress. We observe and note what is happening and from there decide what to do next. We work on acting rather than reacting and we do this by sharing, by talking, reflecting and dreaming together, developing and trying different strategies together. We can do this with people of any age, from tiny babies to toothless grannies!

To summarise: observe and understand the inherent nature of the child. Understand, from a sympathetic perspective, her needs. Wants respond to and arise from our needs. See the need. Meet the need. Wants often set up oppositional or defensive reactions in ourselves and others: learning to uncover the need driving the want dissolves this tension and allows us to genuinely and sympathetically help people meet their needs.
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If you haven’t already done so, please think about joining our Homeschool Australia FAQ, it is a friendly, on-topic homeschool Yahoo group. We encourage people to share information and tips, as well as reviews on favourite homeschooling resources and where to get them. And, of course, to ask questions about any and all aspects of home education! To join send an email to HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ.Our Learning Naturally Yahoo Group aims to cooperatively widen our understanding of how learning occurs naturally in the home and community, and to share advice, tips, trials and tribulations so that we may all grow! We want to help dispel some of the myths that are out there about Natural Learning and Unschooling and make it easier for everyone to capitalise on these approaches as home educators. To join send an email to: learningnaturally-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally.
And once subscribed, don’t forget to post an introduction and begin asking questions, sharing tips and ideas, etc!
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Does Natural Learning Work?

by Beverley Paine

I think that expectation lies at the heart of our lack of confidence or trust in natural learning.

In my personal journey I have been doing lots of work on expectations in the last 18 months. I've come to see how easily they trip me up, confuse and distract me. For a very long time I have focused on 'realistic expectations'. Offering advice to other home educators I usually counsel them to have 'realistic expectations' when considering this question of what children should or could be doing. Realistic expectations are based on a general understanding of the nature of children/people at that age and stage of development as well as taking into account the personal nature, abilities, disposition, temperament and personality of each individual. All very logical and sound, except that I was still battling doubt, even with adult children who obviously display the 'success' of unschooling, home education, learning naturally, etc!

Obviously we're not going to eliminate expectation nor should we attempt to: it is necessary part of the dreaming, planning, doing, reflecting, celebrating cycle of learning. But we can reduce our attachment to expectation. That's what I've learned in the last half of this year and the more I practice becoming detached to expectation the greater my trust (security, general sense of well-being, joy) has grown.

John Holt said that unschooling isn't the rejection of text-books and student work-books, it is more about the how and why we use them. If we use them when we need to, not when we think we ought to, then they are simply learning resources and enhance our learning processes.

Natural learning is about using resources appropriately and in a timely manner, keeping our goals and objectives real and meaningful to learners and in context with their everyday lives, hopes and aspirations. The content and skills embedded in activities are not what we focus on, unlike traditional educational approaches where these are examined in detail and elevated to the utmost importance.

Our learning naturally children learn everything they need or want to in the same way they learn when they play. We undervalue the importance of play and hence the learning inherent in play because we perceive play as lacking effort. Another word for effort is work and work is usually defined as something we have or need to do rather than want to do. The work of learning doesn't have to be a chore or hard or unpleasant although it can be and often is, but it can also be seemingly effortless, joyful and fun. A year ago a friend said to me that we need to examine how we define 'working'. It is because we were schooled we are fixated on outcomes as well as the perception of the effort expended in achieving those outcomes our concept of educational and parenting success is underpinned by our definition of 'work'. Think about it. Can you change your definition of 'work'? In our home I interchanged 'work' and 'play': we played at working and we worked at playing. We worked playfully and we playfully worked.

Back to that notion of success and the importance of parenting style and education approach. As parents we have very little control over what careers our children ultimately choose or how they live their lives once they've left our nest. We kid ourselves if we think we do... But as parents we plague ourselves with this illusion of control and this feeds our insecurities and doubts which remain as a result of our own flawed educational process. We worry about we can plan for those careers when our children are little; what to teach, how to guide them, what resources we should buy or provide access to, etc. We feel compelled by parental instinct and need to make sure they will eventually survive and thrive as young adults; that we've given them all the tools they may possibly need and have helped them learn how to use them efficiently and appropriately. In a changing world this is indeed an enormous and difficult task!

But is it a realistic one? An achievable one? Are we setting ourselves up for failure at worst, never-ending doubts at best? The answer, I believe is to stop focusing so intently on the future and bring your attention to the present moment: be attentive to your child, to his or her needs, to your needs, the current situation unfolding, right here, now. What is happening? What do we need to do? Do we need to do anything at all? Does what we choose to do build towards the outcome we desire? Is it constructive? Helpful? Positive? Does it align with our values? But most importantly, does it meet the child's developmental needs? 

As a home educator, how did I know natural learning was working? For me is was when my children demonstrated they were growing in confidence and independence. When they brought me interesting things to share. When they demonstrated they knew more about something than I did and could  do things I couldn't, even - and especially - when I had no idea how they learned these things! When they were happy to think differently from the crowd - or from me - and confidently expressed their thoughts. When they questioned the status quo and made up their own minds.

Why is it so difficult to trust? It took me years to trust in natural learning. My head knew and understood the philosophy of natural learning and I confidently espoused that, but living it, breathing it, truly knowing it? That took time. Ultimately I realised that I only needed to observe without prejudice, to witness without judgement, that learning is happening all the time. I'd been trained by my parents, my schooling, and society not to notice the learning inherent in every moment of life. To help me notice it I created a list of our educational and developmental goals for our children (in our words, not drawn from some educational curriculum!) And for a while we created an annual reflection poster as well as a dreaming poster, upon which we wrote what we thought we had each learned or achieved over the past year and what we wanted to happen (dreams and goals) for the year ahead. Looking back over my lists and posters was incredibly reassuring: we consistently achieved 90% (the ones we didn't usually had something to do with owning a Lamborghini or winning 100 million dollars!)

What we do as adults isn't hinged on what and how we learned as children: it has as much to do with who we are, where we are and in what times we live. Ambition, competitiveness, talent and other personal traits make a difference in our children's adult lives. Opportunity and access to resources makes a huge difference. These are things we could be dwelling on instead of worrying about if our children are learning what we think they ought to be.

Three years ago I wrote; "My 22 year old finds it difficult to do some of the things he wants to because he doesn't have the skills and ability. He's impatient to do it now, not wait until he's paid for a uni or TAFE course to get him there in 2-4 years time. He finds his own way and usually gets there. Sometimes he thinks he is failing, other times he feels more confident. He's not willing to compromise on his lifestyle to reach his goals - he'd rather modify his goals! Or wait. Is this because he learned naturally as a kid? Nah - I've met schooled grads who are much the same. In fact, once they hit their twenties, there isn't a lot of difference between this wonderful schooled, unschooled, homeschooled, naturally learned young people. That is to say, I really don't think not learning in any particular way has much of an impact on how they achieve their goals. Method isn't as important as personality. But then again, maybe my kids attract free thinkers with 'have a go' attitudes as friends. Not many of their friends believe that to learn you have to do it in a particular way, even the ones that have become teachers.

By and large, my children have grown up to be the people they innately are. Nourished and loved, given everything a child needs to thrive and survive, in particular timely attention, they have become relatively confident and secure adults. 'Relatively' because they are still learning and growing, as we all do throughout our lives: life is a learning journey and who wants it to be over at 18 years of age! I recognise that we're exceptionally lucky to have lived such a privileged life where my children didn't have to suffer hardships, abuse, neglect, the effects of war, famine or pollution. Being able to lavish them with the attention they need and want as children, 24/7 every day of each year was an immense joy and privilege. And as a result, my children are awesome, people I look up to, admire and take counsel from!
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If you haven’t already done so, please think about joining our Homeschool Australia FAQ, it is a friendly, on-topic homeschool Yahoo group. We encourage people to share information and tips, as well as reviews on favourite homeschooling resources and where to get them. And, of course, to ask questions about any and all aspects of home education! To join send an email to HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ.Our Learning Naturally Yahoo Group aims to cooperatively widen our understanding of how learning occurs naturally in the home and community, and to share advice, tips, trials and tribulations so that we may all grow! We want to help dispel some of the myths that are out there about Natural Learning and Unschooling and make it easier for everyone to capitalise on these approaches as home educators. To join send an email to: learningnaturally-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally.
And once subscribed, don’t forget to post an introduction and begin asking questions, sharing tips and ideas, etc!
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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Wants Versus Needs: is this the key difference between radical unschooling and natural learning?

by Beverley Paine

I've worked out what I don't like about the word 'want' - it places my thoughts into the future rather than focusing on the blessings of the present.

Listening to so many people recently I felt overwhelmed by the focus and prominence given to 'wants'. It really hasn't been part of my conscious vocabulary for so long now and hearing it passionately voice over and again jolted me out of my comfort zone. Feeling at peace now that I am back to counting my blessings.

Below are snippets from a conversation I'm having on Facebook: writing, reflecting and conversing are the ways I learn optimally: voicing my insights and understandings as they arise helps me clear any remaining confusion from my mind.Muddling through thoughts about wants versus needs I wonder if this is the key difference between radical unschooling and natural learning.

I can dream without wanting - my goals and visualisations are dependent on wants. I am motivated by my needs, in particular my need to be creative, imaginative, to think laterally. My need to love others, to be there, to be caring, to be responsive, to give. My need to look after myself and my environment. Given the huge complex nature of my needs, is there any room to find time to attend to 'wants'? And if these needs are met what more could I possibly want?

Caring for the environment is a basic human need. If we soil our nest we don't thrive. And our current lifestyle soils our nests to the most incredible degree... Humanity's food chain now contains substances poisonous to the human body - many of these substances did not exist in nature a century ago. As consumers we all complicit in contributing to this undesirable situation. So caring for the environment is not a want, it is a need, a very vital one.

For example: if a baby sleeps in a room filled with cigarette smoke the baby will develop lung disorders, if not now then later in life. The quality of the air we breathe is vital to our health and to be healthy is a basic need. The provision of clean air is a basic need. We don't want clean air, we need clean air. If we think we only want it then we give ourselves the choice to ignore that need, which is just plain silly and counter to common sense.

Of course we all ignore needs in preference to wants all the time. What I've found though is that the quickest path to fulfillment of my wants is through meeting my needs. Life gets simpler, less complicated, the choices become much easier to wade through, I get to know myself better quicker.

Lately my mind has been tripping over comparative words that I and others use, such as 'better' and 'best'. Thinking about a friend's statement "I want to be a better person": this is how I spend a lot of my life, judging myself as not quite good enough or there yet... I am not interested in being better or the best I can possibly be. This moment and the choices I make now is all that really matters: if I meet my basic human needs in this moment I will be acting in a manner that ensures my survival and that will help me thrive, both in the now and in the long term, as an individual and as a member of my community.

That doesn't mean I don't make mistakes, interpret information inadequately or inappropriately or trip myself up - I do that frequently. And that's how I learn - by not be perfect.

'Want' brings the realm of choice into the area of meeting needs. I don't think there was ever a time it was a choice to meet our basic needs as humans... However, we lucky people living in our developed countries have become so accustomed to living lives of luxury we have removed ourselves from understanding and knowing what our basic needs are: when kings and emperors and the ruling class did this in times of old their empires crumpled as they became feeble-minded and corrupt, mental states which in part stem from a lack of any truly meaningful to do in a day. Fear is a tool used by those so disconnected from nature to prop up the perception of power that maintains their silly and self destructive lifestyles.

A natural education, led by understanding our nature and the nature of elements and interactions around us, is what is most needed now. We need to get back in touch with our nature and what we truly need. Wants are a distraction from the main game and the time we spend pursuing only delays the necessary inevitable adjustment.

I love how we can sit and chat about stuff like this over the internet or in our homes. My grandmother never had this kind of luxury - she could only dream about living like the 'upper classes' yet I am considered to be living on an income below the poverty line here in Australia. I am free to discuss philosophy at any time of the day whereas she would probably only find time at the end of the day and instead of doing that would choose sleep. Meanwhile, as I type this, a million tons of unbelievably high radioactive water seeps into the Pacific Ocean with unknown effects on the food chain on which billions of people are dependent and the proponents of nuclear power spend countless millions on propaganda to convince us that nuclear power is the solution to climate change...

It is only by holding the big picture in my mind that I feel empowered to make the changes that are necessary to ensure my survival.

Love and lack of judgment are so necessary to healthy development and growth. When we stray from meeting our basic needs we move into dis-ease and confusion. We can want to meet our basic needs, but meeting them in the now, focusing on making choices that truly honour our bodies, the environment in which we live and our growing sense of self within a supportive community makes more sense. Instead of saying and visualising 'what do I want to feel okay, at peace, whatever', say 'what do I need now to feel okay, at peace, whatever'. Just naming it is often enough to bring that state into being. Recognising how I am feeling and naming it, accepting the feeling as valid in the here and now, reduces the confusion in my mind, and I am able to ask for what I need. When I am clear to others about my needs others are more able to help me meet my needs. Recognising what I need and naming it - no matter what I need - brings clarity and motivation and I move in the direction that brings that need into realisation.
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If you haven’t already done so, please think about joining our Homeschool Australia FAQ, it is a friendly, on-topic homeschool Yahoo group. We encourage people to share information and tips, as well as reviews on favourite homeschooling resources and where to get them. And, of course, to ask questions about any and all aspects of home education! To join send an email to HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ.Our Learning Naturally Yahoo Group aims to cooperatively widen our understanding of how learning occurs naturally in the home and community, and to share advice, tips, trials and tribulations so that we may all grow! We want to help dispel some of the myths that are out there about Natural Learning and Unschooling and make it easier for everyone to capitalise on these approaches as home educators. To join send an email to: learningnaturally-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally.
And once subscribed, don’t forget to post an introduction and begin asking questions, sharing tips and ideas, etc!
Please become a ‘fan of our Homeschool Australia page by copying and pasting this very long url into your browser... http://www.facebook.com/pages/Homeschool-Australia/102822156428377?ref=ts

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Will Your Children Homeschool Their Children?

by Beverley Paine
The yardstick for success as a home educating parent used to be if your kids grew up 'okay' or made it into university: now people want to know if my adult home educated children are going to home educate their children... The pressure to perform never ends! In the last year or two it is a question I am being asked more often. At first it seemed innocent enough but then I began to think, what is driving this need to ask? Is it yet another expression of the insecurity we home educators all experience? 
It is hard not to feel the pressure or to put pressure on our kids, especially for those of us who continue to be strident home education activists...
I've moved beyond wanting that reality for my grandchildren into accepting that my children will make the decision that suits the needs of their children and their families - just as I hold that space open for everyone I talk to about education. I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to walk a different educational path with my children and celebrate what that gave us as a family. But it was my journey much more than it was their journey - they came along for the ride because ultimately the choice to home educate was mine. As it will be theirs... 
A friend commented to me the other day, "To those of us who've read your books and heard you speak, your children are 'characters' from the story of your experiences. We're naturally curious about what comes next for them where education is concerned. Relating it, of course to our own children and wondering how they will reflect on the choices we're making for them."
I don't see my children as 'characters' from the story of my experience and I'm sure they don't either.
As a reader I rarely want to know what happens next to characters - if the story was good enough it would satisfy me. As a writer I find it intrusive for people to want me to write sequels - for me, and for the characters in my stories, the story finishes on the last page. If the characters have something else to learn or do they demand I write more - the reader doesn't come into the equation.
For me the point of home education was to launch our children into adult life as capable people who can confidently determine their own paths. Being asked the question if my children will home educate their children steps beyond this: it does put pressure on me to validate home education as an option, particularly as my chosen role in life is to publicly promote and support the idea and option of home education. It may be an innocent question born of mere curiosity by some people (and I am being asked this question so often now I doubt that mere curiosity is the main reason) but it falls into the same uncomfortable area as 'what do your children do' (as in employment, tertiary aspirations, etc). Never felt comfortable about talking about my children's futures - that's for them to talk about not me. And I invariably get it wrong any way!
We shouldn't need grown-up home educated children home educating their children to validate the effectiveness of home education or to feel reassured about own choices: putting the question out there does raise this spectre of doubt and does evoke subtle pressure to perform (if not by me, then perhaps by others whose children are not yet adults listening to the question) even if it is not the conscious desire of the person asking the question.
I tell people that the decision to home educate is made by both parents and that beyond being the wonderful support I am for whatever decision is made I have no role in that decision.

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If you haven’t already done so, please think about joining our Homeschool Australia FAQ, it is a friendly, on-topic homeschool Yahoo group. We encourage people to share information and tips, as well as reviews on favourite homeschooling resources and where to get them. And, of course, to ask questions about any and all aspects of home education! To join send an email to HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ.

Our Learning Naturally Yahoo Group aims to cooperatively widen our understanding of how learning occurs naturally in the home and community, and to share advice, tips, trials and tribulations so that we may all grow! We want to help dispel some of the myths that are out there about Natural Learning and Unschooling and make it easier for everyone to capitalise on these approaches as home educators. To join send an email to: learningnaturally-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally.
And once subscribed, don’t forget to post an introduction and begin asking questions, sharing tips and ideas, etc!

Please become a ‘fan of our Homeschool Australia page by copying and pasting this very long url into your browser...
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Homeschool-Australia/102822156428377?ref=ts

 

Friday, December 02, 2011

Home Education: Lifestyle Choice Not a Religion

by Beverley Paine

Home education - homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling, natural learning - is a lifestyle and educational choice not a religion extolling us all to simply believe or have faith or trust that all will be well if we follow the 'right' path as announced by enthusiastic individuals excited by their own experiences.

As a lifestyle, like any other, as parents we are required to actively think and reflect on our actions and decisions and respond accordingly to meet our changing needs and those of our situation, circumstance and environment.

Uncritically following a rigid 'this is the path, do not deviate or else' approach preached by popular or self-appointed gurus leads to disappointment after the initial period of euphoria passes.

Home educators are vulnerable to hard and soft selling techniques proclaiming that if they do this or that they and their children will be better off, experience more success, or more joy in their lives.

Never let someone who does not know you or family intimately tell you that your past or present parenting or educating practices are abusive simply because they do not match that person's idea of 'perfect'.

We are all on parenting journeys, learning all the time, exploring and experimenting, becoming gradually aware as we make many 'mistakes' and get it 'wrong' countless times working to meet our children's and our own needs and those of the community in which we live.

We are all amazing wonderful people working hard and conscientiously doing something that is not appreciated, understood or valued by our peers. Remember that and be strong. Find your own path and what works for you and your children. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way: there is only learning.