Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Unschooling and 'Doing Nothing'

The following questions were asked on an online unschooling support group. My unschooled kids are adults now but I had go at answering the questions anyway.  

1. How do you ensure your children get enough stimulation?

Life is busy and productive, lots of things happening, sometimes too much. Hard to get bored in an environment like ours... And I was always on the lookout for over-stimulation because that brought conflict and issues into our lives.

However, from the outset, unschooling means that it's not my job to ensure that my children are being stimulated.

My job is to meet their needs, not second-guess what those needs are based on my perception of what others think they need (which is what schools do). Close attention and observation of my children are the tools in my toolbox I used to get to know my children so that I could be more responsive and helpful in meeting their needs.

I'm mum, not chief entertainer. And I trusted that they are learning, and when my trust got a little wobby I'd start recording what was happening (like a scientist or a teacher) - this worked every time. My kids were learning so much every day it was impossible to write down everything!

2. Do you have outings everyday?

Sometimes we went for months without 'going out'. It may have helped that we live on four acres and the children had a huge backyard abundant in wildlife and nature. But they did accompany us to the shops, doctors, post office, etc, so they weren't isolated. And at times we did socialise with like-minded families and lots of other children every day (exhausting for all of us, but fun).

Children don't need to be with other children every day unless they explicitly ask for it. Encourage your children to understand their own needs and learn to ask for help meeting needs they can't meet by themselves. I once experimented with my children because I felt I was organising their social life. I told them that we'd only go out on play dates if they specifically asked for it. Three months later one of them did. My children were best friends with each other. It would be different with a single child, and I do know that parents of single children get less time to themselves, so social activity with others is definitely more on the agenda. Everyday though? That might be too much.

3. What about days where you simply cannot be bothered to do anything?? What do the kids do?

We do 'nothing', although there is no such thing as doing nothing. Give it a try. Sit there bored for hours... doesn't happen.

I had a go at my boys for sitting doing nothing for hours and my youngest replied tersely that they were 'thinking'. And so they were. They did a lot of brainstorming and daydreaming. What child doesn't?

What people generally mean when they say someone else is doing nothing is that they don't value what the other person is actually doing. I would fret because I thought my children were doing nothing 'educational'. I had to broaden my ideas about education. Life is educational. We can learn from anything and everything and we do. Learn to see the learning that is happening in each moment. Become aware and self-reflective. Make comments about your own learning each and every day - that helps you learn to see what your children are learning when they are supposedly doing nothing.

4. What do you do if they complain they are bored?

Like most mums I used to give them things to do, or make suggestions. Then I wised up. Mainly because that never worked. My youngest appeared bored but he was actually 'waiting'. Waiting to save up to buy the next LEGO model, waiting for the next computer game to come out. He spent his childhood waiting! It was tiring. Once I'd worked out the cause of his 'boredom' though I could help him learn how to cope and manage these long periods of waiting. One year, when he was little, three days after his birthday he asked when it was his birthday again... I would often sit and point to every day on the calendar and count down the days (I think he learned about months and weeks this way!)

5. Does anyone here unschool an only child?

I can't answer that. I had three.

Parent/child Relationships Don't Have to be a Battleground

What I've noticed, growing up as a mum, is that as their own children grow beyond each stage of childhood, many women become intolerant of younger children. Bit by bit, as toys, games and sporting equipment is put away or sold, goes their acceptance of and contentment for children to be children. As mums they toddler-proofed their homes which then became playrooms for imaginative kids, but all too soon these homes become immaculate showpieces where inquisitive minds and busy hands are not welcome. And by the time their kids are off their hands and they have a child-free life (before the grandkids arrive when it all changes again), they see teens as hostiles, people to be mistrusted.

I'm not apportioning 100% of the blame for this behaviour on mums: I also blame the media. We are bombarded with images of 'typical kids' and what childhood and the teen years are like: on TV shows, in magazine articles, books, movies. Remember the book "Toddler Taming"? Our society views the childhood/parent relationship and era as one akin to a perpetual battleground. We are trained to think like this from birth. Then school enters our life and this message is reinforced and set in concrete. Is it any wonder we encounter suspicion towards our children when we're out and about?

By home educating our children we are breaking this mold. Our children will grow up with a different set of family values: ones that value family! Which means valuing the role of children and teens in our society. They will have a better understanding of the role and importance of education in their lives too. They won't have this battleground mentality that is so pervasive in our society. I am heartened that the numbers of families opting to home educate their children continue to grow strongly.

Beverley Paine
Homeschool Australia
Unschool Australia
Always Learning Books