Thursday, February 18, 2021

Five Huge Unschooling Mistakes I've Made


Has your kid ever looked at you in earnest, and accused you of causing them problems by unschooling them? Mine has. And it was in that moment that all the indignation and arrogance I'd built our unschooling life upon totally collapsed. Because indignation and arrogance might have given us the courage to jump out of a system that wasn't working, but in the end they were just walls we built around our hearts to keep us from the vulnerability of life. Some of us unschoolers needed those walls to protect us as we built this new world, but now it's time for the walls to come down. I have made lots of mistakes. Now I want to own up to them, and grow.

Mistake #1: Succumbing to Self-Doubt

Actually, my reaction in that moment, a few years ago, when my son told me I had set him up for failure by unschooling him, was to question everything I've done as a parent and to cave in. It's a great thing to question ourselves, to evaluate, assess, and make changes, but there has to be an end to it. At some point very soon in the questioning we need to adjust course (or not) and keep on steering the ship. Instead, in that moment, I told myself I'd failed. I told myself I'd destroyed my son's life. He calls me dramatic and he's right! I mean, there's place for drama in the world--I'm an artist and writer, and I know that drama is often the key to reaching people. But when the people is your kid, and the reaching needs to be done with a supportive and steady hand on the wheel of his life, drama is not the way to go. Yeah. I bombed that. I basically let go of the ship's wheel and hid in a corner for a few weeks. 

Unschooling being what it is, he already had the freedom to steer his own ship, and he really did quite well, getting into a groove that worked well for him, and forgetting all about that day he had blamed unschooling for whatever the frustration was, at the time (we have both forgotten, by now). But unschooling is really largely about leading by example, and in that time I unfortunately set an example of succumbing to self-doubt--something that my son already struggles with, and which I desperately wish I hadn't modeled so well.

Another way that we often succumb to self-doubt is defensiveness. Other parents or family members question our unschooling choices (or lack thereof) and out of fear, self-doubt, or frustration, we get defensive. A little explanation can go a long way in educating others, and that's definitely a good thing, especially when making social precedent for others to join our journey. But when we get wrapped up in trying to defend the place we are in the journey, it's hard to keep moving--to carry on the actual journey. We can get stuck in that defensive place, and that's not the great big adventure unschooling was supposed to be!

Live and Learn, as they say. The learning is easy, because, as unschoolers know (or are trying to remind ourselves, constantly), learning just happens. It's the living--or sailing, to return to my previous analogy--through all the rough seas and mistakes and course-adjustments that happen along the way that can be challenging. But we're up for a challenge, right?

Mistake #2: Protecting our Kids from Challenges

It seems obvious, when you look at a title like that. We know our kids need to face and overcome challenges in order to learn and gain confidence. But watching them trip and fall and not rushing to catch them before they hit the ground is another matter. Or not clearing their pathway right from the start to avoid them even tripping in the first place. I've done that. OK, I still do it!

I'm so guilty of this that after all nineteen years I still catch myself doing it almost every day. I'm OK with the big things: hearing my kid's plan to attend a school program that I don't really like, and buckling in for the ride, for example. But in the moment, I have very little control over my own mouth, and find myself constantly forecasting problems that I think my kids should avoid, or advising them on ways to keep safe, or be successful in their endeavour, etc. My son made himself a great keyboard tray this morning, and was struggling to fit it into his desk. I just had to advise him on what I felt was a "better" way to design it. Gak. What does this constant advice do to my kids' confidence?! I know very well what it does. It kills it. I walked into the problem he was well on his way to solving himself, and reminded him that somebody else knows better. What the hell?! I only know better because his father and I made a keyboard tray for that same desk, ourselves... and figured out the challenges, ourselves! And we did this at a time when we were gleefully living away from our parents, free to make our own mistakes, and learn from them.

Seriously. Like I mentioned before, living and learning sometimes seems to take a lifetime. I wish I had held my mouth shut this morning. He probably would have made a great keyboard tray that might have been very different from my design, and possibly even better suited to his needs.

Confidence-shattering is not the only harm caused by protecting our kids from challenges. Having a life devoid of struggle, strife, and challenge, or--alternatively--a life in which somebody else was always ready to solve their challenges, leaves kids unprepared to meet the challenges they will inevitably face, in life. It leaves them looking for solutions from other people instead of exploring and trusting their own ingenuity. It leaves them less resilient.

Now, as an unschooling parent, I've been told many times that my kids need to face the bullying and hardship of school so they can "toughen up", but that's not what I'm talking about. Toughening up isn't becoming resilient; it's building a hard shell, and that doesn't seem very healthy to me! I know. I've had a hard shell all my life. I don't want that for my kids. I want them to feel so confident, so resilient; so intrinsically strong and ingenious, that they can be vulnerable and live their lives without fear. That is resilience. 

Although I'm still struggling to allow my kids to fall, I'm all good on being there to commiserate or snuggle them when they're picking themselves back up again. Unschooling gives us the chance to really live with our kids, and if we can master allowing them to meet their own challenges, we're in the wonderful position of being their support team.

Mistake #3: Comparing

The whole school system works on comparison. No matter how hard our amazing teachers try to nurture the unique skills and needs of every child, they work in a system that requires them to evaluate our kids. This kind of evaluation requires some kind of a measuring stick, and by nature that means comparison. The root of our whole school system is therefore competitive, and that's exactly why many of us chose to unschool. But then we got our kids at home and panicked that they weren't "keeping up", or that they'd struggle should they ever need to join the system. 

Remember, most of us were raised in the system. We're terrified of failing, of allowing our kids to fail. Those fears are deeply ingrained and didn't just get left behind when we stuck the word "unschooling" on ourselves. They are firmly rooted in our every word and action. In fact, some people even choose to unschool because of the reported competitive advantages it gives kids in adulthood. But then we forgot that the competition was so dangerous.

To me, the biggest benefit of unschooling is the fact that we can separate ourselves from that kind of competition and live by our own intrinsic values. It gives us the opportunity to make our choices based on our own moral and intellectual standards--and by "us" I mean parents and kids separately. Unschooling means that kids are defining their own goal-posts, their own compasses; their own personal evaluation criteria. Every time we judge them, or even worse, compare their achievements to others or to some kind of outside expectation, we take back that power from them, along with their impetus to lead themselves. 

Sometimes we're comparing our kids, even without words. I can't tell you how many kids I've taught art to who walked into my program with the idea that they couldn't draw, or that they only knew how to draw one specific thing (usually a cartoon character). You know how they became that way? From guided art projects, where either the book they learned from or the adult they were with set up an expectation for them to follow. Maybe they succeeded and their work was comparable, but more likely, since the book or example-drawing was made by an adult with much more experience, they saw all the dissimilarities between their own work and the example, and they felt defeated. Luckily, teaching art was something I did for a long time before I had kids, so I managed to stop myself from creating situations where my kids would compare their art to mine, and the results were amazing. My son used to draw the sounds that the instruments made! "Tell me about your drawing," I would ask him, and he would say, "It's a drum!" This drawing he proudly held out consisted of many many repeated lines. He was drawing the sound of the drum. If I had shown him how to draw a drum, he would have copied me, but the genius--the uniqueness of his own experience of learning to draw--would have been lost. He grew up and did teach himself to draw visual representations of what he saw, but he did so without self-criticism, fear, or road-blocks, because in that one respect I was able to give him room to be himself, uncompared, un-assessed, and unhindered by my expectations.

Partly, for parents, this issue comes back to self-doubt, and defensiveness, again, because when we're already struggling with our own fears, we're more likely to turn tail and run, or to dig down into some kind of defense. Getting stuck in a competitive mindset leads to fears of failure, self-doubt, and possibly over-protection. All these things are intertwined, of course, and it's hard to move on from one without tackling the others.

Mistake #4: Not Enough Time with the Same Group of Kids

This, unfortunately, is a challenge that most unschoolers face, and many--including us--fail to overcome. The nature of unschooling is to be following the needs of each individual kid, taking them out of situations that aren't suitable, and experimenting frequently with new activities and interest groups. Obviously, this sets kids up for an ever-changing array of relationships, rarely having time to settle into long-lasting relationships, to tackle and overcome the challenges of long-standing relationships, and to make all the personal growth that these experiences would have afforded. It takes many years of shared experiences for kids to build deep connections, and kids without a consistent cohort miss that. It is even more challenging for families who live in rural areas than it is for urban families, who likely have more access to regular programming and a larger unschooling community. 

Our family lives on a small island just outside of a big city, so while we did develop bonds in a community of homeschoolers when the kids were young, it wasn't long before most kids in our group either went to school or became busy with an assortment of other activities. Both of my kids were very lonely, and due to our unschooling convictions we were reluctant to put them in school. We did try out a couple of different alternative programs over a two-year period, but in the end both kids pulled out for a variety of reasons. My kids did end up attending a democratic school on the mainland for a few years, and really found their people, there, but by then there was so little time left of school that deeper connections were very few. Consequently, my two never spent more than about three years with the same group of kids and, while they've made a few very treasured friends, they really missed out on the experience of growing up in community. Of all the mistakes I've made, this one was possibly the most harmful. 

I still don't know how to reconcile in my mind the choices we regret with our educational philosophy. The only options that would have given my kids a consistent cohort of friends over many years would have been to ignore our educational values and send our kids to mainstream school, or to move or commute to the mainland for a significant portion of their lives, thus losing connection with our island home and their extended family, who also live here. Would those options have been equally damaging? I can't know. This is a horrible dilemma that I know many unschoolers face, and I think the truth is we just can't ever know how things will work out. On the whole, I think my kids are OK, and we controlled the damage as best we could over the years, but it's still a deep regret.

Mistake #5: Vilifying the School System

In the middle of writing this article, I had a beautiful long talk with my brother, who is a teacher of grades six to nine in our community. We talked a lot about politics and education, his work, and the struggles of teachers and parents in the increasingly divided, challenged world. And goats and chickens, but that's another story. I have a deep, deep respect for teachers. All three of my mothers were teachers in some capacity (preschool teacher, elementary art teacher, and high school educational assistant). I have taught art and wilderness exploration in a number of different schools, sometimes working with teachers to integrate with their activities or the curriculum. If I criticize the school system, I do not do so lightly. I am extremely critical of the system as a whole, and the speed at which it is changing, given that for my whole life I've been witnessing good teachers trying to make changes that still only scratch the surface of the problems. I'm very serious about my criticisms. They're a big part of the reason we unschool. But I sometimes veered into vilification when my kids were younger, and I regret that, now.

There were a number of incidents with schools that made me angry, over the years. I sought to link programs I was running with public schools, or to integrate schools with homelearners, or to ask whether my kids could join for certain programs but not the whole school experience, and was frequently shut down. I think feeling rejected often makes people reactive, and it did me. But even worse, I felt I could offer something to the whole community by making these connections, and when my ideas were shut down I felt the system was arrogant, ignorant, and harmful. That made me really angry, and I often told my kids about it. Now my daughter tells me that at a certain point in her childhood she was worried about going to pick up her friends from their school because I'd told her so many negative things about it that she felt unsafe. 

I'm sorry. I unequivocally apologize. That was a terrible mistake, and I truly plan never to repeat it. That school I vilified to my daughter was my school. Sure, they rejected my unschooling family, and still ignore my emails offering programs or volunteering, but damnit, we're a small community and that was the school I attended, myself. It's our school. People I love teach at that school, and we share many philosophical ideals. Countless children I adore attend that school, and my careless words during a couple years of my children's lives left them with many more years of distrust in one of the most important institutions of our community. More than that, my words made unschooling appear adverse to mainstream schooling, and actually I fervently believe that unschooling is a stepping stone in the betterment of mainstream schooling. As an explorative learning consultant, some of the people I work with are teachers in mainstream schools. Many of the readers of my articles are mainstream school teachers and administrators. My apology is deeply felt because, as so many of us in the education world know, we're not at opposite ends of a scale; we're all in one big soup together, and we need to be working together, not against each other. 

~ ~ ~

I considered calling this article "Unschooling Regrets" but here's the thing: We all make mistakes, and if we learn and grow from them, perhaps we can avoid regretting them. It may have taken me a long while to see the benefits my family gained from these mistakes, but in the end I'm glad we had the opportunities to grow. Because that's unschooling: the whole family, the whole community, the schools and the teachers and the self-doubting, arrogant unschoolers just running and tripping and getting up and learning, together: All the hands on the wheel, all determining our course. All the things we do matter, and we're always learning, together.


Sunday, February 7, 2021

I've Changed my Thinking on University Entrance and Attendance

Taliesin in his early years, trying to get some lift. Photo: Emily van Lidth de Jeude

I thought about calling this article 'Getting into University as an Unschooler', because that's what people ask me about, knowing that I parent two young adults who are currently in this stage of life. But by the time I finished writing it, I realized that I can't even recommend university anymore. Not the way it's traditionally done, anyway. University is a beautiful little corner of a much bigger, beautiful picture, and I mean to let my kids have the whole picture.

I have two different kids who have traveled through life in the same community, sharing the same upbringing, home and family, and often the same activities, but with vastly different journeys towards what our culture calls "adulthood". They're both now on the precipice of finding meaningful employment in fields that inspire them, still living at home during the pandemic, but eagerly researching the rental market since, one day soon, they plan to move out and build their independent lives. Here are their stories, followed by my current thoughts on university.

Taliesin
He's my firstborn. He was passionate about science since he opened his eyes, though it took me a few years to see it. He observed the whole world around him, figuring out how everything worked. He was passionate about making art, too, but since he was mostly drawing machines (albeit very imaginative machines), I figured science was his thing. By the time he was nine he was begging to go to university and study physics. He was fully unschooled, so we went out to our local university (UBC) and their particle accelerator for tours and to listen to lectures whenever we were able. It was wonderful to see him so engaged, but other than attending lectures, there was little to interest him, scientifically. All the kids' programs were too condescending and boring, having little to do with the science he craved so much, and the teen programs that graciously let him in before he was of age were too few and far between. And as his friends became busier with school activities, he was becoming lonely. We tried gifted homelearner social groups, but both he and I feel an aversion to the 'gifted' classification, and we weren't interested in defining ourselves that way. 

So he went to school. Taliesin did two years at our local private middle school where his uncle teaches, followed by three years at the democratic school in the city. We always approached school from an unschooling perspective, with no concern at all for grades or attendance, and always the option to take a different view of the projects than what was expected. Mostly this served him well, and he managed the shift from unschooling to school quite well. He found science classes boring, because the material is presented in such a slow, methodical manner that there was little room for him to explore his interests. He aced most of the tests because he knew the material, but he stopped pursuing science, on his own.

He still wanted to attend UBC for physics, but now understood he had to wait, and decided to go through the usual route for entrance, by graduating and applying like most others. He graduated with honours at the end of his grade eleven year, and then spent a year taking additional grade twelve and first-year science courses at college, while volunteering in his community and applying to UBC. He only applied to UBC, because that was all he had ever wanted. And at the end of this long haul that started when he was nine, and in the middle of a pandemic, he was denied entrance to what had been for many years his constant life's goal. It wasn't a big deal to me, but I think it was to him. I think it felt like failure, simply because of the competitive nature of our school system and the application. However, he tells me that by the time he received his application rejection, he was already losing interest in the program.

Taliesin moved on. He began teaching himself digital music composition and 3D rendering. He says he's just not that interested in science anymore--and it's true he's been creating art and music all his life--but what I saw as his high school career ended was a young man whose interest in science faded away as he dragged himself through the system that was meant to teach it to him. What I saw was my son's enthusiasm dwindled, his confidence shattered, and his life's goals just thrown out the window. But, because he had little else to do, he continued drawing, rendering, and composing. Within months of self-teaching from his bedroom, he had mastered rendering to such an extent that he found a volunteer job rendering a space station for a show being produced by the College of Southern Nevada's planetarium. And now, nearly a year after he dropped out of college and failed to be admitted to university, I am finally seeing a resurgence of his enthusiasm for learning. 

Rhiannon
She was born communicating. She smiled her first gigantic toothless grin at only two weeks old, as she watched her big brother walk by and followed him with her whole upper body. Stories, music, and social interactions are her lifeblood. As young children, she and her brother sat for hours looking at books together every day, but while he was tracing the mechanisms of the machines, the families, the buildings, or whatever else he could find, she was telling the stories. She was looking in the little faces of the characters and feeling their feelings. By the time she was six or so, she frequently stopped her brother from telling about science, declaring, "science boils my brain!" 

Like her brother, she was unschooled for many years, until social interactions became too infrequent, and she went to school. She attended a part-time Distributed Learning program, and then the same democratic school as Taliesin, but focused more on writing and musical theatre than anything else. Over the years she enjoyed many personal projects, including publishing magazines online, working and volunteering for local childcare centres, reviewing books for middle grade readers, and babysitting every chance she got. By the time the pandemic hit, she was nearly finished preparing her first novel for publication, and finally self-published it just this past winter.

It's funny how people often struggle with the things they excel at. Despite being a highly social person, or maybe because of it, Rhiannon's struggles have mostly been social, and the pandemic isolation has been the worst of it. Her decision to quit school entirely and register as a homeschooler, returning to a fully self-directed unschooling life was difficult for a girl who thrives on social connection. So she wrote! She's still reviewing novels on the website she built herself. She's expanding that website to include relevant articles about writing for children and teens, and she's just begun the process of publishing another magazine for middle-grade readers. She's not going to graduate from high school. She's just living.

But what about university? Well, Rhiannon still hopes to study Early Childhood Education at Capilano University, so before she quit school she made sure that would still be an option. I helped her find a contact, but other than that, this process is hers. She had a conversation with someone in the ECE department and discussed how she might apply without a highschool diploma. Capilano University doesn't really have much of a homeschooler admission policy, but they were delighted to hear that at fifteen she was already enthusiastically pursuing her goals, that she already knew enough about those goals to know exactly what her own educational values are, and that she intended to apply. They will, eventually, look over her activities and projects from the last few years and admit her according to whatever those have been. There's no guarantee, just like her brother wasn't guaranteed a spot at UBC despite an honours-standing graduation, a scholarship for his biology-related community work, and significant long-standing attendance at UBC lectures. But then, there's really never a guarantee about life, is there?

University
That brings me to what I've learned. I've learned that not only is there no guarantee of admission to university, but there's no need to worry about it, either. I've learned that university, like school or a job or a friendship, offers a lovely and important opportunity for learning, but it's not everything. 

When I was a kid, we were expected to go through the gamut of school until high school graduation, and then either get a job or access further education if our career goals required it. University has now been tacked onto that expectation as a part of the gamut. But why? What's the point? Not only do most kids not have firm career goals by the time they finish high school, but increasingly, people are having a multitude of different careers over the course of a lifetime, and accessing further education only as needed. There's little point in spending four years in training for a job that may not even exist when we finish. There's equally little point in spending all that time in school, when we can be learning and growing on the job, or while working on other pursuits.

So what's university for? A friend of mine pre-read this article and asked me to explore this a little more. Her comments made me realize that many of the skills and experiences I gained from university are now unneeded in our society in general, like outdated job-search skills, now-antiquated writing conventions, and working in a pre-social-media world. Other skills I gained, such as time-management, a sense of self and community engagement, mature social skills, real-world career-building skills, and--most importantly--independence have already been mostly acquired by my unschooled kids, simply because they spent their teen years exploring rather than schooling. During one of the many parent meetings at the democratic school both of my kids attended, the principal explained that at a democratic school kids are encouraged to do whatever they like, even when that means spending every day playing video games or sitting out on the grass chatting with their friends. She then said something to the effect of "we let them do this in their teens, instead of during their first year of university, when they're paying high tuition fees just to sit out on the lawn chatting with their friends." Right. At the time, with a couple of unschooled teens I could already see had more "adulting skills" than I did at twenty, her words hit home.

This current expectation that everyone should attend university for four years just to have a degree that allows us to apply for the next degree, or for a particular job is not a long-standing tradition. Universities used to be simply a hub for research and discovery. They still are, and in addition to that, they offer kids who haven't already had a chance to gain independence a space to do so. More excitingly, they offer a place for people to gather in pursuit of common interests, and because of this (and their ancient position as research hubs) they still hold more resources for the exploration and pursuit of those interests than other parts of the city. The only particle accelerator in this little part of the earth is at our university, for example. It's good to have a place to gather in community and pursuit of knowledge and understanding! We need that! Universities still offer this, and the greatest professors are those who show up not to impart knowledge, but to gather people together in pursuit of it, sharing their enthusiasm as they do. The best classes are not rungs on the ladder towards a degree, but those that welcome in the public and people of all experience levels to just get excited and share ideas. I hope and imagine that as humans and education continue to evolve, universities cease to be an expected part of "growing up", and continue to be, as they have been for many centuries, a hub for growth.

I love how my kids are making their way into adulthood without following the prescribed route. My son feels he needs some education in rendering, so he's just now beginning an online course. My daughter is about to begin a job running a book club for middle-grade readers. Both my kids are on the precipice of their adult lives, and finally free to jump. Maybe one day university will be an important part of my kids' lives, but I imagine it will be just one strand in a great weaving--definitely not something to spend their teen years fretting about. It turns out they can spend their teen years doing what they love and each of those other activities will be equally valuable strands in the same big weaving of their lives.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

how the language we use matters to progressive education and parenting


My little one looked up at me with a livid glare from where she had tumbled into the creek. I reached out my arm and she raged: "I do it self!!!" And she clambered herself back up the muddy bank. By the time she was two I knew better than to ask if she was OK or offer her a hug. I felt so disempowered that she wouldn't accept my attempts at comforting her, but I was trying my best to unschool her, so I refrained.

You probably didn't flinch when I said I was trying to unschool her; neither did I, when I wrote it. But I should have. Parents like me talk about unschooling our kids, as if it's a thing we do to them, like picking them up, changing their diapers, or schooling them. It's not. It's our conscious choice to not do things to them, but to simply offer companionship and support, and allow them to grow, themselves. And if we're honest with ourselves, nothing should be a thing we do to our kids, because growth that happens from external prodding is usually reactive; reflexive... and frequently in the opposite direction. "Counterwill" isn't a negative reaction to be discouraged; it's the most natural reaction of a child pulling away from demands in order to make space for her own learning.

Words
We forget the meaning of our words, when we speak. I say "I nursed my baby", but actually my baby nursed herself. I just held my breast out and we wriggled together to find mutually less painful positions, and she did the work of nursing. If I think about picking up my kids, even--which can be an act of total domination--does it need to be? In fact, my little ones pulled up their legs and tightened their shoulders when I lifted them. They nestled their little bodies onto my side and hung on with whatever skills they had at that age. When they didn't want to be picked up, they became loose and noodly, easily slipping out of my grasp. If I persevered and picked them up anyway, then that was truly an act I did to them, instead of with them. I asserted my dominance--sometimes to keep them safe. But it always provoked a negative reaction. Is that how I want to parent them?

Language matters. I recently read this wonderful article from the Tyee about decolonizing language. Tara Campbell writes not only about the need for correct use of language in reference to Indigenous Peoples, but also about the need for ongoing growth and engagement with the topic. Language isn't a fixed target; it moves as we learn and evolve, and it shapes how we learn and evolve. I didn't send my kids to school; I allowed them to go, when they chose to. I didn't nurse them; we nursed. Language can empower the subject, or disempower it. 

Power
Kids who attend school experience many things. Try though they might, the teachers, curriculum, and system cannot truly "school" our kids. Kids learn from all school experiences, primarily about how to exist in a large group and become or retain their concept of self, and then they learn to play the system. So if nobody really "schools" our kids, and they are in fact just learning, themselves, how can we "unschool" them?

Unschooling is the process of training our minds to be free from an imposed way of learning. I have been unschooling myself for nearly three decades, now, since I started thinking critically about mechanisms of learning (and engagement) and how those are supported or hindered by my actions as a teacher or parent. I admit to having imagined I had a more directorial role than I actually did. I'm slowly learning to see my role as a friend and co-experiencer, but it's taking me longer than I hoped. It's a slow process to remove my own school-based ways of thinking and make way for progress.

Think about the words "teacher" and "parent". Both are also verbs. I teach you; I parent you. Where is the mutual respect? The terminology creates an active (superior) person and a subject. Where is the space for the subject's agency in that experience? If we want our children to run towards learning, instead of pulling reflexively away from it, our terminology has to change. Maybe that's too big of an ask, right now. But it does matter, and thinking about it will help us make choices that empower our kids.

Myths
Part of the myth that keeps us tethered to "school" thinking is a myth of superiority: Adults are superior to children. Principals are superior to teachers. The government is superior to the school. There's always somebody who knows better, to whom we should look for answers. And somehow the voices of people with superiority are always more important. The fallacy goes that adults have more knowledge, and that we learned that knowledge from more superior people, ourselves. Now we can pass that knowledge on to children. Well where were we adults when our kids were learning to nurse, or crawl, or climb, speak or sing? We were just there, being available to wipe up the spilled milk, kiss the bruises and listen intently to the first words. We oohed and aahed but hopefully didn't instruct our babies in moving their little limbs or forming their vowels! We just gave them space, and they learned. Nobody taught them. They watched us, and they tried things out, and they learned, themselves. The myth of school is that somebody has to teach the children, and the myth of unschooling is that somebody has to unteach the children. But those are myths.

Progress
What it comes down to is this: We can't teach our kids. We can only teach ourselves to listen to their needs and make space for their innate learning to happen. We can't unschool our kids. We can only unschool ourselves, by looking critically at all the ways the mythology of "school" has shaped our lives and choices. Just like when they were learning to nurse, and crawl, and communicate, our kids are watching us, and they will learn too, on their own time, in their own way, and frequently they'll learn things we never knew, ourselves. That's progress.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

farmschool into spring

Rhiannon and the Splash, our cuddly rooster, taking a break from building his new digs.

Well I can hardly call it farmschool, since we're back to being absolutely 100% unschooling, but it seemed like a nice title, because we're learning SO much!! We're all being schooled by the seasons and all the organisms we live with. In some ways it feels like we're coming full circle, as we round the year into the spring, and there's much to report!

As you know if you're a regular reader, we all buckled into an indefinite isolation last spring, my partner has been working from home, and the kids quit high-school and college completely. As food became much more expensive and income diminished, we doubled the size of our vegetable garden and, at our daughter's urging, got chicks. All four of us got involved in various ways, and we raised these little fluff-balls until they were grown. Then we put all but two of the roosters into the freezer, and eventually began getting a few eggs, just as winter began. We really hoped to develop a hardy self-sustaining flock of birds that would feed us, feed our garden, and generally enrich our lives, but knew we'd have to wait until the next spring for any of our hens to hatch chicks.

As climate change would have it, "next spring" came in early January, when we had a tiny warm spell, and one of our hens went broody! We debated whether to try to break her of her broodiness, and decided she was just too sweet to break, so we let the others build upon her tiny clutch of eggs for three days (which they did by unceremoniously sitting on top of her, to lay). And she diligently sat on her total of seven eggs for three weeks until... hatching day! We documented the process of our family's first chick hatch, and all the decisions we had to make on our video channel, so I'm sharing, here. I hope you'll be as delighted as we are!

Next up: Weeding out the annual influx of invasive buttercups, readying the garden for planting, starting many seeds indoors, and starting the peas outside. With frequent breaks for visiting our adorable chicks.

Hatching Day #1


Hatching Day #2 


 

Hatching Day #3


 

Hatching Chicks Q & A