Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When You Smell Smoke...

Isn't it odd how things creep up on us? We've been seeing the signs for all of my life: climate change (then called global warming) was something we 80's kids knew was coming, but we were waiting for more "signs". We were told that as it progressed, as fear and eventually drought and sea-level-rise and food shortages happened, humanity would fall into civil strife. Eventually there would be an even bigger gap between the rich and the poor. Eventually there would be slow but widespread panic, as people noticed the signs and began competing for resources, power, and land, and eventually it would all devolve into collapse, and we'd either fall into war or climb out via revolution. Maybe both.

Smoky red sunset as the wildfire smoke blanketed our island this summer.
The trouble is that every time we see the signs, every time these predictions work their way slowly into reality, they're like these wildfires that keep popping up all over the place this summer. We here on the coast hear the news, see it coming in bit by bit. We see the odd person bravely go north to help with the fires, and eventually the smoke drifts down to wrap us in its embrace, until our eyes sting and our throats tense, and we complain about the smoke and share sad stories of friends of friends whose livestock died or whose houses burned. But it's so much easier to go back to our beach dinners and festivals and family road trips, to lean on all our many privileges or blinders and just keep going, because we don't know how we'd fix it all anyway. Somebody else is doing that for us. We keep seeing the smoke drift in, but we're accustomed to it now. It's hardly different than last week.

The war or revolution will happen this way too: creeping and drifting until we're accustomed to it, like the smoke. Yes: Timbuktu, Quetta, Charlottesville, Ouagadougou, Konduga and stupid prejudiced quips by ignorant little men are acts of war. Each of these is a blanket of smoke billowing down through the valleys to tell you something is happening out there. When you sit down with your kids to help them understand white or financial or gender privilege, or when you make an effort to shop at the native-run lumber yard just because it's native-run, or when you choose not to buy that thing you don't really need... these are acts of revolution. Each of these is you looking up to the smoke and blowing some of it away.

Revolt. We can do it. We are doing it. We *must* look back in twenty years and know that we each individually did everything we could. Because when billions of us are doing that, we will BE the change.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Unschooling on a Budget

Have you seen those articles proclaiming that unschooling is a privilege of the wealthy? In some respects I agree with them. The way our culture works right now means that in order to get ahead (or just break even) financially, a family must have at least two full-time working parents, and send their children to school. I know plenty of parents who openly call their children's school "babysitting". We are pressuring our governments for more affordable childcare, because, frankly, many of us can't afford to live without it. The privilege of staying home with our children is increasingly only for wealthy people, and homeschooling or unschooling requires a parent or other caregiver at home during the first ten-to-twelve years, or so. Add to that the fact that a great unschooling lifestyle includes a lot of exploration, which is often interpreted as travel and other such expensive experiences, and you have a very, very expensive proposition.

But I don't believe it has to be this way. If we want to change the way things are, somebody's got to take the first steps. It's not only the landscape of education that's changing, but the landscape of employment, shelter, and community - and there are some things about these changes that benefit each other.

Working from home: With the rise of huge corporations, working from home has become more difficult to imagine. For the past hundred or so years, entrepreneurship has dwindled, and schools raised children to fit into the "work force". But things are beginning to swing back again, as more of us want to work with our own passions, and to develop careers from our own hearts and minds and homes. Sometimes this means working for an employer remotely, as my husband does twice a week. Last time he went job-hunting he began his letter with the preface that his children were his priority, so he would always be home for dinner, and he would work from home at least twice a week. A few employers scoffed at him, but he quickly found someone who admired his integrity and openness, and he's been with them for ten years, now - home for dinner and working from home twice a week. Now that the children are older, I am managing to work a couple of days a week, and between the two of us we juggle the rides and meals and attention that our children need.

But there's also the option of quitting the corporate agenda entirely: Some people have in-home businesses, such as daycare, music teaching and production, graphic design, tutoring or farming, and these allow them not only to stay home with their children, but also to involve their children in these businesses... and after all... that's just another great experience to grow from! My children often join in or volunteer with the programs I teach, and they've also had some great experiences helping me with gallery shows and tours. I know kids who help at their parents' retail shops, and who accompany their parents to gardening job sites. All of these are worthwhile experiences that blur the lines of education, home, and employment.

Living frugally: Obviously, saving money is as important as earning it. My family is managing to save money in various ways, from owning one very used vehicle, to growing some of our own food and dispensing of expensive things like the dryer and single-pane windows. We are fortunate to rent a small house from my parents (which means that in the current horrifying rental squeeze we haven't lost our home or even had an increase), but I know of other families who have kept accommodations affordable by renting very tiny apartments in the city, moving to (cheaper) rural areas, home-sharing, or spending part of the year road-tripping while sub-letting their apartments. We also get most of our electronics from the free section at the recycling depot. Sure - they're not always great, but we've managed to supply our growing computer needs this way.

You might wonder how we afford all the wonderful adventures that are the supposed perks of unschooling. We don't! And we're OK with that. We attend mostly free events like festivals and wilderness outings, concerts put on by family and friends, and free (or by-donation) museum days. We also look for unconventional experiences like tours of industrial or education complexes, and sometimes we just walk into shops and look around. Explorative learning is everywhere - from the back of the pebble under your foot to the bottom of the receipt you find in the ditch. Keeping an open mind about what constitutes a 'learning experience' will make all kinds of free experiences absolutely valuable.

Less travel: While we know that some unschoolers afford fabulous journeys all over the world, we gave up on the idea of travel, with exceptions: I once managed to work one of my art projects into a road-trip, with free accommodations, which allowed us not only to visit all kinds of lovely places along the west coast, but also to attend our first and only unschooling conference... which was amazing. (Again, work, family-life and learning are one.) We have also been saving up since the children were babies to take them to Europe and meet their family, there. It's a long time coming, but it will be worth it when we finally go! And in between, we make a couple of small camping trips in our own area every year, and many fabulous day outings. There are so many wonderful things to discover in our own backyard, that we are a long way from having seen everything, and we haven't missed traveling at all!

Supplies and resources: As our kids explore and get interested in various things, it can be tempting to provide them with heaps of resources to support those interests. When my son spent years trying to teach himself parkour and rock-climbing, I looked into some lessons, or membership at a climbing gym. But we couldn't afford them, and that was just something we had to give up. These things happen, and we have to accept that not everything is within our reach. Going to school wouldn't have helped that, anyway, since we may have had more money, but less time.

We have made some larger purchases, like a microscope, accordion, and guitar, as well as music lessons and a (used) mountain bike. We've also found great ways of supplying ourselves through thrift shops, the recycling depot, and our local facebook exchange group. We have used many free programs for academic study online, from university courses to language learning programs to coding, math, writing and science programs. Joining online groups is a great way both to connect with others and to discover these resources. But amazing things often come from our own community. One kind local resident donated his telescope to our physics-impassioned son, and a neighbour with serious electrical skills made Tesla-coils with our kids and some friends. You never know what opportunities will pop up if you just look around and keep an open mind. What you find may not always be exactly what you thought you wanted, but sometimes it'll be better!

Yes - Unschooling requires sacrifice. But so does having children. And we assume that the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. I gave up my career and a good chunk of future income in order to unschool. My husband and I committed to renting indefinitely, with no plans to purchase a home. But look at the big picture: here we are, happy with the way things are going, and without a regret in the world. It's just a matter of shifting priorities and learning to see the glistening rewards in the kaleidoscope of every day.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Setting Up an Unschooling Room


No you're not. If you are, you're not unschooling. So... no.

Unschooling Supplies? Also no.

Because of the way so many of us were raised, with the notion that learning happens at school, and school happens at a school (or in some other designated time and place, like a class field trip or the dining room table), we parents often still long to provide such a wonderful nurturing space for our kids to grow. Remember supply-lists? And new clothes shopping for September? I do!!!! Because of the scripted and often gorgeously new and shiny way our school year begun, we want to offer such delights to our children. We want the shopping sprees! The shiny packages of all matching pencils and erasers and pretty binders and pencil cases!! And new shoes. I want these things.

So we find ourselves drawn away by the ads in our mailboxes, the back-to-school manic glee; the big eyes of our little ones (and not-so-little-ones) as they pass displays of 'supplies' they actually don't need. We see our homeschool friends posting smooth bright photos of their homeschool rooms, all sparkly and colour-coordinated, with books full of information lined up on the tidy shelves, above little woven cubbies with their children's names, and we long for such orderly wholesomeness.

I am here to remind you that this is what we are escaping!

Remember why we unschooled in the first place? Unschooling means unscripted learning. It means unfettered learning in every place, all the time, without boundaries of any kind. Unschooling means learning happens everywhere, and with every thing. In fact... that's not really unique to unschooling; that's just the way people learn: always. The difference with unschooling is that we encourage and trust that process instead of trying to corral or direct it. We break down the walls of traditional schools. Which means, both figuratively and literally, no walls. No boundaries.

Boundaries defining the space for learning? Nope! Boundaries defining the tools used for learning? Of course not. Boundaries defining age-appropriateness? Nope! Subject areas? No way!

Your children will learn like you do: by finding some interest and following it - be it sewing or horticulture or minecraft or script-writing or peanut butter sandwich making. They will explore and discover and learn, and they may even benefit from some of the traditional "school" supplies... but you won't know ahead of time how those things will most helpfully be arranged on a shelf, and you won't be able to predict what to bring home until the things are needed, anyway. Unschooling means a lot of jumping around and learning from what happens to be in front of you, as well as learning to navigate the big wide exciting world of resources that is everywhere. This is what will give our children the skills to navigate the rest of their lives, anyway.

This is not my children's, but my own book shelf. These things matter to me because I have gathered them along the way as I needed them. And I'm willing to share... but mostly nobody uses them except me.

So next time you walk past the school supplies display and stretch your neck out to take a whiff of that binder-plastic, or run your fingers along the spiral-binding on the notebooks, just keep on going. When and if your kid needs that stuff, they'll have it. When they need a quiet corner for reading, they'll find or create that space, too. There is nothing in human physiology that requires these things for learning, and nothing in the Earth's rotation that requires such purchases to usher in September.

Back in the days when there were more unschoolers in our community, we used to have not-back-to-school parties. That was a pretty awesome way to sidestep the back-to-school frenzy and celebrate our choice to unschool. I guess I'm recommending some good old rebellious partying to soothe the tingly longing caused by those pretty social media postings of our schooling friends.