Sunday, June 30, 2013

Home Educating with Depression

People with depression aren't necessarily down in the dumps and gloomy every minute of the day. We have up moments, sane, normal and yes, even happy and joyful moments. It's too easy to judge me as being 'okay' because you catch me in one of those moments. Most of the time I'll do my best to look and act cheerful, hoping the pretense will distract me and boost my flagging spirits. People prefer happy, cheerful people: I know I do. It is hard to maintain a cheery disposition so many of us work alone or hide in our homes. We don't want to disappoint or upset our friends and those we love. I also know how difficult it is to help someone with depression, how hard it is to offer comfort and reassurance, especially when it is continually rejected by them. But most of all I know how difficult it is to feel empathy and sympathy for someone with depression. Depression is a lonely affliction. My online communities make it easy for me to function socially, to feel connected, to feel useful and offer a way I can help others feel okay about what they are doing in their lives. I feel blessed to have what I have - love, friendship, support, encouragement, comfort - but most days I feel broken and weary, and lack the energy and drive to help myself. I do what I can, hang in there, hope that in the next moment something will shift in my body and mind and the fog will lift, just a little bit - I can do the lifting from there. So catch me during one of those moments and celebrate life with me, but understand how rare they are right now for me. Send me love, think of me kindly, and remember my depression is not me.

Depression doesn't mean we're not capable of parenting or educating our children. It's not easy, but then parenting is never as easy as people assume it will be. Home education my children gave me the gift of time so that my children captured my quality moments as a parent. I had no way of predicting when those moments would occur. Had my children been schooled chances are they would have only met and known one side of me - which facet I can't know. I only know that my children endured and survived my depression and without their unconditional love and acceptance of me as I am, not who I should be, helped me endure and survive this debilitating illness. We are richer and closer as a family because we all worked so hard to not let this illness destroy us.

Home education allows for considerable flexibility. It's adaptable to the needs of each individual in the family. It can be anything you want or need it to be. Education doesn't have to fit into a set timetable - it can and does occur throughout the day. Unschooling and making the most of natural learning was the approach that worked best with our family.

In my early years of home educating few people voiced their difficulties and this was very isolating: I felt I needed to be super-mum to home educate my children well. Little by little people like me began to chat about our problems as well as our successes. I found that the majority of parents home educating had health problems and were struggling to find balance between all the competing needs within each day. The more we opened up and shared our problems the more heartened we were that problems can be solved, if not immediately, then eventually. But most of all we discovered that our children weren't being damaged by the experience: our experience of family life was in fact becoming enriched, relationships were growing more respectful, cooperative, and mutually beneficial. And what made this possible is the gift of time home education bestows - we have oodles of time to fit in the educational development of our children.

Quantity allowed for quality. Without this I am convinced my children would have a different perception and experience of me as a parent and person and our relationship today would not be as full of love and support as it is. Those quality moments I share with the world are precious to me, like lifelines I cling to and try to focus on and remember when the fog descends. My family, who understand and accept me, thanks largely to the fact that we lived so closely together throughout those home educating years, know that the fog will and does lift, and they wait patiently, with love. Nothing beats that kind of support. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

It's Okay Not to Push Kids to Learn

Why do children have to 'learn' to do things they don't want to do (or really have to do) so young? We worry that we're not setting an example of consistent behaviour, or that skipping school (or lessons, or not finishing activities, etc) will mean they won't ever be able to commit to anything in the future, or that we're encouraging laziness... It really is too easy to judge our children's behaviour and extrapolate the consequences far into the future, giving them prominence it probably doesn't deserve.

Why can't adults accept and front up to the fact that they too balk at doing many things they have to and indeed completely avoid doing lots of things that are in their best interests. We play games with ourselves, telling ourselves stories about why it's okay for us to avoid doing this 'must do' or 'should do' or things we sprout as important - this kind of hypocrisy is way more potent as setting an example or pattern of behaviour in our kids than skipping a few days of school each week. Yet, unlike our children's behaviour, we push it to the back of our minds, do our best to ignore or forget the inconsistencies or possible consequences. 

For example, I tell my kids that this or that food is not good for us and then buy it is and eat it, avoiding buying the quality food my body needs and making time to create tasty meals. I tell them that regular exercise is essential and then don't do it. I tell them that pollution is bad and then in a suburb surrounded by busy roads and transport corridors, convincing myself I 'can't' move. I tell them that global warming is a reality then on hot days instead of finding a cool tree to sit under I turn the air conditioning on and watch Happy Feet on the box. I tell them it's wrong to exploit poor people in developing countries who earn a $1 a day and then buy cheap clothes from Big W instead of taking care of the longer lasting quality clothes I should have bought in the first place or buying from the local Op Shop.

We spend a lot of time worrying about our children not learning to conform to what society accepts as normal and okay. When my kids were young I also spent a lot of time questioning what society accepts as normal and okay. I still do. It's important to be critical and to work towards becoming the person I want to be: authentic, consistent, committed, responsible, caring, considerate and so on. But I know I have the rest of my life to complete this journey. Why do we insist that children have to reach it before the age of eight, thirteen or twenty-one?

It's a tough moment in life (or a series of never-ending tough moments) when we realise that there are many things in life we have to do because for some reason we need to do them but we don't want to do them right now, or tomorrow or anytime soon! It helps if those reasons make sense and are explained to us in a sympathetic tone and manner, mindful of where we are at in our development.   

We're really lucky living in this country to be blessed with the opportunity of so much choice. As parents we have the ability to chose what we place emphasis on: what I love about home education is that it offers a great deal more time for families to be together and work out what is important for them, as individuals within a family nestled and operating within the local and wider community in ways that are responsive to and work to meet now and future needs. It's amazingly adaptable and flexible and isn't exclusive of other forms of education. Home education gives us the gift of time to nurture children and ourselves. We're not in a hurry, we don't have to make children do things because it is the 'done' or 'normal' thing.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

UnsCool: Why I Use the Unschool Word

Call me weird, but I don't see 'un' as a negative prefix. It's my goal not to use the words positive and negative because they come with too much baggage connected with judgment: negative is often used in a more sense, 'bad' and positive with 'good'. I find that unhelpful (as in, not very helpful at all).

Un-schooling. Not schooling. No schooling. I like that. I love that. It says exactly what I mean.

The word school doesn't mean education. Education is bigger than school. People recognise that education happens outside of school for everyone except for school age children.

The word school doesn't meant learning either. People recognise that learning happens throughout life, not just when we're at school.

It is a laziness of habit, promoted by ignorant people, to swap the words education and learning with the word school. However, I'm not lazy or ignorant when I use the word unschooling. I'm saying something very deliberate and I don't see it as negative at all.

Unschooling describes my approach to education and learning. It  removes the assumption that people learn only when taught, in a particular way, in a particular place and at a particular time.

I am a natural learner. I am whole life learner. I am self-directed learner. And more. I can and do use many words to describe what I do, but I when I say I am an unschooler I am telling everyone that I don't think school is only place children can or must learn or be educated. It's a deliberate political statement about my thoughts on school, education and learning.

Moreover it describes what we did. School isn't just a place: it's a way of thinking about education and learning. We rejected that philosophy. Unschooling says that. The word is deliberately provocative. It challenges people to rethink the word school and what it means. It challenges them to grow beyond their initial ignorant reactive perceptions and consider new ideas that make sense and work.

For decades people assumed that homeschool meant children were taught at home by their parents, many thought it was correspondence school. People worried about socialisation and indoctrination, but gradually people have come to accept that it's  not a threat to society, it's not even weird any more and provided someone in the government is checking up on us, it's probably okay. Homeschool has become (almost) mainstream. So perhaps that is why the word unschool is being noticed by the media. Perhaps homeschool is not as controversial as it once was, no longer catches the headline attention media desires?

Homeschool, unschool - the essence is that it is happening outside of school - and both those words say exactly that. For me that is the key point I want to make when communicating what I did to others: my children didn't need to go to a school to learn or be educated.