Friday, January 6, 2012

Unschooling Life

Every once in a while I read a book that changes everything, and Parenting a Free Child by Rue Kream is one of those. Before reading this book, I would have said our kids are already free, certainly compared to the majority of kids who are in school all day long, being told what to do and when. We unschool, so aren't enforcing any kind of curriculum on the kids at home, while they happily learn all day long doing activities for the most part of their own choosing. Nik & I are very flexible and we only make rules that make sense and are in the children's best interest... but we make SO many rules! Apparently I am something of a control freak; it always seems simple and efficient to declare a rule about something from on high, but rules made in this way are solely intended to make adult lives easier. They do nothing for the kids except to make them feel controlled. Resentment builds in relationships where one party exerts dominance over the other.

This book reminded me that it's possible to trust kids to make the right choices, that if you discuss things with them and give them respect, they will be respectful. Children are wise and kind and lovely, they are not ignorant and rude and needing to be controlled.


happily unschooling

One issue I have had with how I saw "radical unschooling" was that I didn't like anyone saying there is one right way to unschool. Every family is different, and I saw unschooling as a way of meeting the needs of each family in whatever way works for them. Radical unschooling, however, seemed to have a narrower definition and a lot of rules to follow in order to "do it right". Rules like: no bedtimes, no limits on candy or TV, no telling the kids what to do, ever. These were not things I felt like would be advantageous to our family.


I still have an issue with unlimited junk food and TV. They are both designed to be highly addictive, and both are pretty much bad for you. We don't think it's reasonable to eliminate sugar--they go out in the world and want to eat what their friends and family are eating, and we don't make a big deal about any of it. Also, the kids have a huge supply of Halloween candy that they enjoy organizing, counting, and collecting. They currently have a deal that Nik & I came up with (after reading this book, in the future we will come up with these arrangements with the kids, not for them) where they get 1 hour of screen time each day, and they can trade it for up to 3 pieces of candy if they choose to. Although they have total access to the candy, they never eat it inappropriately, which I think shows that they feel the arrangement is very reasonable. It gives them a lot of control over their choices each day. I know that Loki likes having a limit on candy, because it ensures that they won't run out before next Halloween, and that is an important goal for him.


I'm not ready to let go of the restraint on screen time. It's something Nik & I will have to explore with the kids in the future. I grew up on sitcoms, and I feel that between school and television, that was many years of my life wasted.

our unschooled child

The other issue I had with radical unschooling was that it seemed like parents were expected to give up their responsibility as parents. (And, yikes, to give up control.) To frolic with the kids instead of making sure their teeth got brushed, to follow every whim of the child instead of teaching responsibility. What this book has reminded me, though, is that you don't have to make top-down rules in order to teach anything. The only thing rules teach is that kids can't be trusted to follow their own intuition, planting the idea that children are bad and will go astray if left to their own devices. In addition, they grow up worrying about breaking rules, or if they're not particularly keen on following rules, they worry about getting caught. Neither state enhances your parent-child relationship in any way.

Rules from a position of power are always for the grownup, and only give the appearance of being effective. What works in the long term is coming to decisions together; if our kids help to make informed decisions about how something is to be done, how a toy is to be treated, what to eat, or whatever, they are going to feel better about the whole thing, rather than looking for a way around the rule or feeling resentful for being told what to do.


So if it's not the parent's job to create and enforce rules, what's left for us to do? Is this not just a lazy parenting method? On the contrary, this parenting method is about saying yes to our children, and most of what children want from us is our time and attention and love. This is important work, and it's not the "easy" way. It feels right for all involved though. So often when we make a rule that gets broken, or when we have a plan that the children won't go along with, people are left feeling like bad parents or bad children. What is the use of creating this feeling in your family? Parenting a Free Child reminds us that we need to be trusting partners with our children, that it helps to be close and loving, that being friends with your kids should be our greatest aspiration rather than something to avoid in order to maintain control.


My plan from here is to avoid making arbitrary rules, and when a change or a decision needs to be made we will discuss it together and do what makes sense. My goal is to reassess every "have to" as it comes up, and redefine it. There are so many times each day when Nik or I will declare that we as a family "have to" do something. Our kids trust us, only occasionally grumbling about stuff we make them do but always going along, so we feel like our current methods mostly work-- but reading this book has made me realize that our lives could be more joyful, loving, and free if we make less decisions for our kids and discuss things with them more, as the rational, loving, reasonable, caring people that they are.


unschooling with love

Beyond issues of control, this book really reminded me of another aspect of parenting: just loving my children... watching them be who they are without judging or correcting; letting them grow without determining their path; trusting.

I didn't realize how liberating it would be to embrace these principles. I mean liberating for me, not just for the kids. As a small but poignant example, this morning as Odin ate his toast he called to me while I was in the bathroom, saying "I didn't want the crust on my toast!" Well, in the past I would have considered it my job to remind him that he should really be eating his crusts so we don't waste food, bla bla bla. I have always thought it was ridiculously picky for kids to not eat their crusts, and have a hard time with that behavior in my own kids. However, Odin always resists compulsion. It's one of his greatest strengths, and one of the biggest sources of my challenge in parenting him. Here is my liberation. I don't have to compel him to do anything. It's OK if he chooses not to eat his crusts. It is better that he feels responsible for his own choices in life, not forced by me to do what I have decided is right.  So this morning, after reading and discussing the ideas in Parenting a Free Child, I answered Odin with an idea rather than a "should". I said, "Can you eat around the crusts, then?" And you know what? When he was left to make his own decision, to work it out for himself what he thought was right or yummy, he ate those crusts.


Coercive or controlling language backfires. With Odin it is readily obvious. He walks away, closes up, or tears up when his freedom is infringed upon. My older son, Loki, is less obvious about how this coercion bothers him, but I know the resentment builds inside him. He tries to do what we want him to do, because he likes us, but it gets old always doing what you're told! What kids really need is for us to want them to be themselves, to just support them in that, and not try to form them to our own molds. This is something I am finally getting; we are all learning all the time.


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41 comments

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October 16, 2012 at 7:01 AM

Wow, such important things to ponder here. I love that when you let go of your control a bit, Odin went ahead and ate the crusts. Amazing, really!
This provides a lot to ponder as I think about my future children...this is what I would like to do, too.
Thanks for sharing!

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October 20, 2012 at 6:58 PM

Love, love, LOVED this post, Mellow! Our little Monkey is just 16 months old but we've already decided we're homeschooling him and his future siblings. As a former teacher myself who now stays home with him, it just makes sense. But only recently, I've been dabbling in the idea of unschooling and up until reading your post, I never saw it so clearly. Your reflections just make so much sense and are so logical. I'm already parenting in this way, but to expand into the schooling aspect sounds very interesting! Thanks for sharing. I've pinned this to share with others. :)

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October 28, 2012 at 6:49 AM

That last paragraph really hit home....I went back and reread the entire article because of it. We have two daughters, and our youngest has the strongest personality I've ever seen on a three years old. It is very hard to "control" her, it seems like I always have to explain my actions to her in a logically way so that she will agree to go along with my decisions. Wouldn't it be lovely if I could just overwhelm her brain with decisions that she has to make on her own? What I would really love to do is come up with a system that works for both kids, but we have real extremes in children (one autistic, one genius)! Unschooling is working beautifully for the three year old, and we have discovered that she is an extraordinary artist; the seven year old really thrives on the structure and schedule of being a a school. Gotta roll with what works, right?

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October 28, 2012 at 7:18 AM

I too was surprized by how different my two kids are. They definitely don't need the same things, but we just try to find a balance that meets both their needs.
I honestly never realized what an authoritarian parent I was until my second child wouldn't allow it. I didn't want to battle him over everything, so I've tried to change my style!

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October 28, 2012 at 7:20 AM

Thank you so much Sarah! I'm glad you feel the same way. Unschooling was the first parenting decision we made, when we just suspected we might be pregnant. I've learned more and more about attachment parenting along the way, and they just really go together so well!

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November 2, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Thanks so much for sharing your "unschooling" thoughts with us at ‘Or so she says…’. I would love to have you back again to share even more of your great ideas. There’s a link party kicking off in the morning (every Sat. through Tues.) Hope to see you there! www.oneshetwoshe.com

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November 4, 2012 at 8:18 PM

Great insight! Thanks so much for this. There is so much to learn as we go through this parenting journey and i love reading what others do with their kiddos.

Thanks for linking up on Natural Living Monday! Your post has been featured. I can't wait to see what you have going on this week. http://wp.me/p2pBvv-F8

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November 4, 2012 at 9:39 PM

Thank you Amanda, I appreciate the feature!

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November 6, 2012 at 6:30 AM

I really enjoyed this post. I will have to find that book as it sounds like something I could learn from. It's so easy to get lost in the rules, especially because I was raised with them. Enjoy your journey with your little ones.

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Jen
November 9, 2012 at 7:26 AM

I completely agree with you stand on this. I think some of the unschooling stuff I have read is not conducive to giving kids the skills they need to survive a rule based society. There is a balance to everything. I like some of the ideas of unschooling, but not the extreme. Good for you Mellow!

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November 9, 2012 at 8:06 AM

Thank you Jen. Yeah, we all have to find the balance on this, and do what's right for our kids and our family, and not be too dogmatic. It's always insightful for me to read what others are doing, but then we just take what works for us. Even though (or maybe because?) we don't have a lot of rules, my kids are very well-behaved and "mind" me when I need them to. I don't know if it's their natural temperament, or how they were raised. Who knows? I think they trust me not to tell them what to do unless it's actually important ;)

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November 15, 2012 at 7:37 AM

Wonderful post on parenting and guiding children ~ parents are the first 'teachers' and probably the best if loving ~ teaching them choices and how 'to parent themselves' eventually is what I read you are doing ~ Sounds like an effective book ~ ( A Creative Harbor) ^_^

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November 15, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Interesting. I'd be okay with not eating toast crusts, but no way would I allow unfettered access to tv. It's just not in their healthy mind-building interests. They'll thank me for it later ;-)

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November 15, 2012 at 12:12 PM

I know- just like junk food, tv is designed to be addictive. We make it easy by not having tv at all. We watch nature dvds, and they see cartoons at grandma's house, but no mindless staring at the tube for hours on end (like I did when I was a kid!)

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November 19, 2012 at 5:44 PM

Really interesting post! It's given me a lot to think about for my own (one day in the future) children. I've said myself sometimes that I might prefer to home school, so it's interesting to hear another's perspective.

Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday :) I've pinned it to my WNWN board and don't forget to check back on Wednesday to see if you've been featured.

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November 29, 2012 at 6:11 AM

Hi Mellow! A beautifully crafted post and I do very much agree with the points you make. We would love to welcome you over at Seasonal Celebration Sunday linky each week athttp://www.naturalmothersnetwork.com. Hope to see you there:-) Rebecca x

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November 29, 2012 at 7:20 AM

Thank you! Your website looks wonderful!

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December 28, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Interesting. With our kids so spread out this wouldn't work for us, but I am glad it works for you.

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December 28, 2012 at 8:28 AM

I just met a family that unschools their three boys, ages 7, 12, and 17. With that age spread, they never thought homeschooling would work for their family. However, when they discovered unschooling they realized how easy it could be! They are very enthusiasitc about unschooling now. Good luck!

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January 15, 2013 at 4:13 AM

A wonderful, thought provoking post Mellow- thanks for sharing this with us at Seasonal Celebration Wednesday! Rebecca x

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January 15, 2013 at 7:29 AM

Thank you for putting these thoughts to paper. Our oldest will be five in April, and we're wrestling with the idea of sending him to kindergarten. The more perspectives the better.

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January 15, 2013 at 12:25 PM

Thank you! We pulled our youngest out of preschool last Fall, when he still had a year left of the program, and we have never looked back! It's so liberating having our schedule back, and we have so much free time together now!

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Anonymous
February 2, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Thought provoking! My daughter is 2 and her independence is blossoming quickly. This post has given me ideas how to adjust my parenting style and watch her bloom. Thank you!
Also, just started my ginger bug.

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February 2, 2013 at 2:05 PM

That's wonderful, thank you!

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February 12, 2013 at 8:56 PM

Thanks for the review and your thoughts. I just ordered the book and was looking for people's perspective on what they read. I'm really excited to get it now! We are also unschoolers of a sort. But I am shying away from that term because I believe it is reserved for those that really follow the philosophy. So I'm with you. No curriculum sure, but we also don't "teach". So in that we are following the guidelines John Holt laid out. They are free to explore and we support them in their ideas and passions no matter what they are. They follow their own beat. But I 'encourage' a bedtime that is best for their little minds and bodies. I use snuggling and reading and stories and journaling as a way to end the day peacefully. I don't 'limit' sugar, I just don't buy it and when a treat is offered or they buy it with their own money it is theirs to enjoy. But the spending money I give them is limited and they clearly understand that so some weeks it's used for candy and some weeks it's saved for a toy or upcoming vacation. I don't dictate this - they learned it on their own. Nor do I judge when purchases are made with comments like "that's not a very good use of your money". If someone said that to me I'd be annoyed. However I will point out where they can capitalize on a sale or opporuntity I'm aware of in their future. Such as "you have a birthday party to go to next week - where there will be sweets. Did you still want to spend your money knowing that's around the corner?" If the answer is yes then the decision in their mind is clear. They have free access to T.V. but rarely will choose it over other opportunities when offered. Sometimes they just need to know they can come back to the show they were wanting to watch later. Easily done. Gaming we "reserve" for one full day a week and I offered that with the understanding that it comes with my undivided attention and support. They are 9, 7 and 5 year old boys, so sometimes video games produce tears and frustration. I was inclined to take it away because they were clearly not coping with the experience. I thought I "allowed" this too young. Which could very well me. Now I sit with them and we work it out together. Only the little one asks for it all week long and that's because he's bored and it's winter. I can usually offer something else and he now says "mommy I'm bored and would be happy to play a video if you don't want to play with me". Funny kid. Nice to find you on the web! Your blog has been really fun to read!

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February 13, 2013 at 7:47 AM

Thank you! It sounds like we have very similar parenting styles. Our kids do get video game time every day if they ask for it (they probably ask for it 3 or 4 times a week) but only for about 30 minutes at a time. I don't time it, but after it's been a while I just suggest that it should be the next kid's turn, if they haven't already done that. My kids are younger though, maybe once we have a 9 year old it will be important to let them play longer to really get into complex games. I don't know- we just try to stay flexible and revisit any "rules" that seem to have outlived their usefullness ;) We recently started having one big gaming session a week where we can play as a family (usually something like Donkey Konga).
Video games can be intense! Some other moms I was talking to mentioned how their kids always had a hard time, emotionally, after playing a lot of game time. They can definitely be useful and fun, but I would look at them differently if they consistently left my kids feeling bad.
Thanks for your comment!

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March 5, 2013 at 7:12 AM

Sounds like a worthwhile read. I was homeschooled and am more of an unschooler with my littles. Finding a balance between freedom and rules is a challenge...

Thanks for sharing with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday. I hope you stop by again today! http://likemamalikedaughter.blogspot.com/2013/03/stamping-fun-at-eco-kids-tuesday.html

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April 2, 2013 at 8:03 AM

What an informative {great} read. Thank you so much for sharing at Project Inspire{d}.

Have a wonderful week!

Hugs,
Mary Beth

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April 7, 2013 at 8:23 AM

I'm the Nana. I enjoyed reading this. Each child is so different though....

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April 8, 2013 at 6:08 AM

That is an interesting blogpost! I totally agree about the junk food and unlimited tv And I don't want to cause any problems here, but depending on the ages of your children, I feel like you do need to "impose" some "rules" or "guidelines". The older they get, the more responsibility they need to be given and expected to do. Otherwise, how else will they learn these skills to care for or provide for their own households one day? I've homeschooled for 18 years ~ some subjects we "unschooled"...like History & Science both of which my children love and devour. Math, not so much but it has to be learned so they can function in the world.

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April 13, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Great way to grow into a mutually respectful relationship with your family :)
Thank you so much for sharing this on The Creative HomeAcre Hop! I hope to see you again tomorrow. :)
http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/04/creativehomeacre11.html

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April 13, 2013 at 6:59 PM

Terrific post! Thank you for sharing. I will go check out that book. Your post alone gave me alot to think about. I was more open with trusting my kiddos when they were younger but now I notice that I am making "rules." I love it when things hit me in the face at just the right time! :)

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April 29, 2013 at 6:07 PM

Sounds like the book had a really good impact on you and how you reflect on your parenting. Thanks for sharing your perspective on Tuesday Greens!

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May 16, 2013 at 12:02 AM

I think it's good to frequently reevaluate our parenting habits. Reading these kinds of books helps remind me of the kind of parent I try to be, and think about what my goals are and all that. Some rules are needed, but it's so easy to get into the habit of adding more!

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May 16, 2013 at 12:06 AM

I agree. I think every family totally needs to plot their own course here, when it comes to how much to unschool. We recently decided to have a "workbook time" ever morning. How unschooley is that?? But mostly my kids are into it, and they fully get to choose any kind of workbook (the 5 year old picks dot-to-dots or mazes quite often). But we feel like just the habit of doing some work like that every morning (even just for 10 minutes if that's all they want) is useful for our kids. It's not what I expected we'd be doing, but it's working for us right now!

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July 20, 2013 at 10:18 AM

That's so awesome! I love a new take on parenting. I'm so glad you came to share at Super Saturday Show & Tell last week... this week I'm co-hosting a HUGE bash with 2 other bloggers! Come on over http://www.whatscookingwithruthie.com and share again! xoxo~ Ruthie

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August 19, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Thanks for linking up my Friday Flash Blog on The Jenny Evolution. I'm back from vacation in central Colorado and ready for a great party this week. See you there!

Jennifer
thejennyevolution.com

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