Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Unschooling Teens: “All He/She Wants to Do Is…”, by Shannon Stoltz

 

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“All she wants to do is…”  The first time I heard this phrase a friend was lamenting about how she wanted her then 15 year old daughter to get a summer job or do something similarly “productive”.  That was to be the first of many times I’ve heard a parent of a 12/13 year old or 15/16 year old say, “All she/he wants to do is…”    

Parenting and homeschooling, no matter the style, changes around 12/13 and again around 15/16.  The relationship between parent and child, particularly if you are coming from more conventional philosophies, changes.  Our children are more independent, exploring ideas and activities that interests them.  And that doesn’t always match up with our own expectations.

When how our vision for our children’s path is different than what our kids’ are actually doing, fear creeps in and we get statements like:


“All she wants to do is sit in her room reading and writing in her journal.”

“All she wants to do is draw.”

“All he wants to do is hang out with his friends and skateboard.”

“All she wants to do is hang out with her friends and party.”

“All he wants to do is work.”

“All he wants to do is play basketball and hang out at church”

“All he wants to do is play games with his friends on the computer.”

But in reality, what our children are pursuing is actually building a foundation for their future. We just don’t yet know what that future looks like, and that can be scary.

For us as parents, this is a time to let go of our agenda for our kids and embrace their journey in becoming the unique individuals they are. It’s a time to learn how to support our children differently than we have done before, to see them as their own person and support them where they are at. It’s not an easy parental transition, especially if you have had compliant kids or come from an authoritarian background.

For our teens, this is a time of learning who they are as people, experimenting, developing relationships, and testing ideas, forming and discussing ideas and opinions with others outside the family. Unschooling at this age level is fabulous because it is all about trusting the process, building relationships, and supporting the kids where they are at.

My kids have deep dived into interests from 12 and up. We’ve gone through periods of intense focus into manga, anime, robotics, blacksmithing, cake decorating, working, Minecraft, archery, gaming of all types, survival skills, art, writing, digital drawing, herbal medicine, horses, chinese light novels, theater, the list goes on. Weeks, months, and even years of a focus and then it shifts or fine tunes further.

I’ve seen their friends do the same. And their parents, across all styles of education, struggle with the change – that their kids are no longer malleable to what they want them to do – and then have to figure out how to support their kids where they are.

Early on this journey of being a mom of teens, I remember literally sitting on my hands and biting my lip, as I watched my son, then 13, working through a difficult task, approaching it differently than I would. But instead of telling him what and how to it, I restrained myself and honored that he wanted – and needed – to go through the process of figuring it out himself. He knew that he could ask for input, instead he asked me to bring him food and to sit with him as a companion and listen to his thought process, and be there for support. I needed to respect that. Now, at nearly 17, he still often asks me to bring him food, and to be there to listen to him share his ideas, stories, and thought processes.

One of the big differences between unschooling, especially radical unschooling, and other styles of education and parenting is that word RESPECT.  With unschooling, especially in the teen years, it’s not about our kids respect for us and their showing respect to us or other adults. Instead, it’s about us showing respect to them — to their ideas, interests, and needs. It’s another level of giving, of pouring into. It’s about respecting their needs and supporting them.

For a social kid who wants to hang with their friends, it’s about providing an environment to do so. For a kid with an online community, it’s about respecting that’s where their friends are and treating them with dignity and respect, and supporting their collaborations and time together. For a kid who likes to spend hours by themselves (often in the middle of the night), it’s about letting them and making sure they have the resources they need. And when they want to talk and share, to be there for them – to listen, encourage, support, and help them find the resources they are looking for.

For an unschooler, “All he/she wants to do is…”  becomes an opportunity – an opportunity to engage and connect, to encourage and support, and to facilitate your child’s interest – no matter how obscure. And it becomes an opportunity to grow yourself, as a parent and as a individual. At the end of the day, it’s all about trusting the process, embracing the learning as it happens, and, most importantly, building wonderful relationships with your teens.

Want to discuss Unschooling teens? Visit us at the forums to talk more about the ideas in this post here.

 

Shannon Stolz Bio Pic

 

 Shannon Stoltz is an unschooling mom to four fabulous kids, ages 19, nearly 17, 14, and 12.  You can read more from Shannon here at her website.

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The Traveling Unschooler, by Liza Rumery

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So you have decided not to send your child to school — not because of illness or trouble or family obligation or whatever. Rather, you decided not to send your child to school, because you wanted to do something else instead of it. You wanted to realize what might happen if your child grew and learned in a free environment, in his or her own unique way, on his or her own time. You actually turn your back on school — the system of education — and walk away with your child’s hand in yours and go forth into a completely open realm of endless possibilities of learning, because you can, and you want to see it come to fruition, understanding that it will. You decide that faith and trust and love and respect are enough ingredients for the process to work. You let go of the reins and move out of the way, exhaling all the while as the socially-created pressures of conformity, regiment and expectation melt away from you, making space for a different kind of relationship between you and your child, your child and the family, and the relationship that the child has with the Self.

That is unschooling.

But it isn’t about school anyway, it’s about the child and family first. It is a new road, a new approach. So what would you do if the hours were yours for the unpacking? How would you lead your life? What would your days look like? What might be the things of interest to your child that would last until he or she feels full? What would you like to expose your child to seeing or doing now that your calendar is free? Would you and your child stay home, make play dates, go to museums, go fishing, knit, mold clay, bake cookies, play tennis, draw, watch movies, read, build something, learn a language, learn to weld or, perhaps, do “nothing?” Just hang and be? Relax? Tune out? Sleep in? All of the above? It is fun to consider for sure, being immersed in the things that bring you and your child joy, maybe even finding out something completely unexpected.

That is also unschooling.

Our daughter has never been to school, so essentially she always has been an unschooler, going with the flow of what comes naturally to a child — play, learning and discovery. As she grew up, we did things in our hometown and surrounding areas, occasionally going out of town for a bigger scene. We looked for people and groups that do what we do, but we weren’t always successful. Often, Midwest winter weather created hinderances to gathering, and our rural setting created distance. Eventually, we yearned for more as a family. We wanted to go out in the world.

Now, at the wonderful age of seven, our daughter is a full time traveler. For us, this is unschooling.

Liza Trailer Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the years before having her, my husband and I traveled often, able to pack a small carry-on and fly off somewhere at a moment’s notice. We traveled to Spain and Mexico, Hawaii and Las Vegas. We’d meet friends or family wherever, whenever. But after we had our daughter, we traveled rarely. When we did, the small carry-on became a suitcase full of baby stuff, then kid stuff, and it wasn’t as much fun. In fact, is was work. Like most parents, I was exhausted. Furthermore, having a home and stuff kept us tied to one place, limiting our ability to travel. We missed traveling for pleasure, we missed traveling as lifestyle, and we no longer wanted to be obligated to our things. We wanted to honor experiences, so we decided to do something about it — this time, with kid in tow.

We sold all of our stuff, bought a travel trailer and decided to meander this giant country that is the United States until we’ve had our fill, and then we will head abroad. Because we work for ourselves and we are an unschooling family, we can travel freely, where time and the road are ours and being together is a priority.

Most of the unschoolers/homeschoolers we know stay in once place, because they are tied to job or committed to their communities. It is wonderful to feel rooted and part of something, and we like to meet folks like us in various places across the country living in this way. It’s a great way to become familiar with a region and see how other families live out their lives of doing things more naturally. But we feel that, given the opportunity, traveling as an unschooling family creates amazing bonding experiences and a world view unlike anything we have ever known. Freedom and experience make for a heart-pounding elixir.

Through travel, our daughter has an open mind about the next adventure — the next playground, the next zoo, the next hike, new people. She used to lament that she didn’t want to leave this or that campground or playground, but now she knows that we will find something new and/or unique somewhere else. Amazingly, she doesn’t want to go back to where we have been; she wants to continue going forward. She lives in the moment, which is a such a great aspect of unschooling, and is reinforced through travel.

We have experienced more intellectual conversations with our daughter since we have traveled; she is more mature and aware of the world. Although she sees other kids at campgrounds, she integrates on her time, because she enjoys hanging out with people of various ages or with us or by herself. She ponders what she wants to do, because she can. She is starting to be more self-serving regarding her activities, taking initiatives on creative projects, because she knows there are no time constraints. Her schedule is open. So much of this is true for unschooling families in community settings in a brick-and-mortar home. In fact, it is likely the way of life for most unschoolers. But traveling adds a few more layers to the experiences of the unschooling family, and we continue to witness it firsthand.

Liza and family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no doubt that unschooling found us and it is a path that we chose. It is also something that we strongly advocate now. Add the layer of travel and the unschooling world opens up to you that much more. If you are able to travel as a family, do it. Do it often. It is a wonderful, exciting, grounding, freeing experience to see the world with an unschooling lens. We know that this family is invested indefinitely. Hopefully, we’ll see you on the road!

Would you like to discuss travel and unschooling? Visit our forums here to discuss this post.

Liza Rumary Bio Pic

 

Liza likes to do a lot of things. Currently, she really likes to travel, write, read, swim, practice yoga and meditation and cook. She dreams of Spain and quiet places. She loves spending so much time with her family. And she believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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The Road to Unschooling: A Welcomed Journey, by Liza Rumery

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I believe that unschooling found us.

Our daughter was almost two when folks began asking me and my husband pretty regularly what we were going to do about her schooling. “Is your daughter in daycare?” “Is she going to preschool?” “Will she be in preschool?” What about kindergarten?” I felt pelted by these questions, all this worry: “Well, what are you going to do?” I still was awakening into a slightly less drowsy life with a toddler and was liking our routine more and more; I was enjoying motherhood. So when people bombarded me with what felt like pressure to conform — to know her future so surely and absolutely — now that family life post-infancy was really rolling, I felt uncomfortable, like I was expected to join the endless rat race of limited quality family time. So much hustle to be hurried. Everybody board the train to the future; forget about now. I repeat: She was only two.

This got me thinking and considering. What if I didn’t want to send her to school right away? What do I do with these feelings of wanting to spend time with her, of wanting her to be near me, of exploring mom and child, of letting the child explore for herself? Why would I have a child just to have her be raised and cared for essentially by others, especially those who are likely caring for many more simultaneously? And what about the culture of school? What about tests and early morning rising and late nights filled with homework? What about the assumptions we make about successes of — or failing at — school? Or the idea that only learning comes in the form of a standard curriculum? I knew what that was. I went to school. I taught. I walked the system. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted my daughter to do the same. There seemed to be more to parenthood and familyhood than the same old thing. I wanted whatever that was. My family wanted it, too.

So what was I saying? Homeschooling? Even considering it for our family was new to me and my husband. Could we do this? Would we be off-the-grid? It felt daring. I certainly was “qualified” to teach many things, and I had been around homeschooling communities while teaching language in Michigan. But homeshooling per se didn’t feel right either — that is bringing standard “educational” curriculum into the home. I further dismissed the idea of traditional homeschooling after I imagined interrupting my daughter’s own exploration or play — or mine — or snuggles for 9:00 AM spelling or afternoon math. What if that wasn’t her thing? Or her time? What if it was a perfect day to go to the beach? What if we just didn’t feel like doing what everyone else does? Conventional forms of schooling wore like ill-fitting clothes and would not work even if tailored to suit. Thankfully, unschooling found us in the form of an old friend.

It happened during the summer. This friend of mine was home for a visit with family. He, like many, asked about my daughter’s schooling. I told him, not so confidently yet, that I was tinkering with homeschooling … maybe. He sputtered and winced and moved around a lot in the chair, clearly disliking the notion. He said, “My sister unschools my niece … and she can’t even read yet and she’s nine.” I was immediately intrigued, mostly by his absolute disgust with something that was clearly not a crime, or evil or even bad. And, knowing his sister — who is also my friend — I figured that what he was saying could not be completely accurate. Furthermore, I was taken aback by his lack of open-mindedness. Clearly, he had evolved into a person I no longer knew so well, nor did he really know me.

With that, we said goodbyes and I began researching, while simultaneously emailing my unschooling friend to find out more. And what I learned boggled my mind, because it spoke to my heart. Radical unschooling. It seemed to be the perfect fit.

Why? Because it puts the family first, especially the relationship with the child. It fosters faith and trust in the abilities of the child. It advocates principles over rules. Something doesn’t work? Let’s try something else. Inherent in it is the idea that learning happens all of the time, anytime and from anywhere, particularly at the readiness of the child. It promotes peace, joy, patience. Unschooling makes space for a child to flourish, for the family to flourish. It is friend of togetherness, not separateness. It is thorough. It is exploratory. It lacks in stress and competition. It is abundant in helping a child thrive on her own terms, with help from her family.

And now our child is seven, and she has never been schooled. Unschooling for us is like breathing. It is lifestyle, it is love. Unschooling — “natural learning” to my husband — has given us the freedom to travel full time, to be together almost all of the time, to help each other grow. Extricating ourselves from the traditional model of child rearing has opened doors for us that would never be possible if our daughter went to school. She is thriving and learning in all ways. We all are.

If my dear friend knew that he was the one who introduced me to unschooling, he quite likely would choke on his beer. But thanks for the keys, man. We are on a beautiful, wild ride.

So unschooling came to us because we knew what we wanted for our family, rather than what was assumed of us. We put the family first, not in the hands or the expectations of the conventional culture, and it truly is wonderful. We experience sustained joy, peace and happiness on a regular basis and our daughter is expanding in ways that we understood to be true of her, that could be true of her, as well as in ways that we never saw coming. We continue to find ourselves as family and individuals through unschooling. It is a truly perfect fit.

Please join us to discuss this blog post in our Alternative Living and Learning Community here.

Liza Rumery Bio picLiza is a passionate mom and wife, writer, linguist, painter, home cook, foodie, practitioner of yoga and meditation and student of life. She and her unschooling family travel full time and write about it at http://lifeuntethered.net/. You can follow her on Twitter @LizaBethRumery.

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Guest Blogger: Saira Siddiqui

My Biggest Problem with
Modern Day Education

By Saira Siddiqui

Some one asked me what my biggest problem with schools was.  I replied that my biggest issue was not one specific to schools, but to education in general. It is the idea that learning must stem from the teacher.

I have heard dozens of women say that they could never homeschool because THEY couldn’t do it. To me, this reflects a much bigger problem than simply feeling that one doesn’t have enough energy or patience. It reflects a belief that learning must stem from a teacher.

There is a pyramid model in the world of education and at the top is the teacher. All learning, it is believed, comes from her. But this is incorrect. A phrase I love to say (that bears repeating) is that the whole world is a classroom. Learning can, and should, come from a number of different directions and sources. Imagine a historian who only reads the historical records of one individual. No, true learning MUST come from multiple directions if one is expected to have a well rounded education. And in order for true learning to take place, it must be initiated by the learner.

We, as a society, need to shift the way we view education as a whole, regardless of whether we homeschool, or send our children to private or public school. We need to realize that learning does not, in fact, lie in the hands of the teacher. Rather, it lies in the hands of the student, whether she be five or fifty. The learner takes in what she wills from multiple sources.. Teachers, books, technology, and mostly from her experiences in the real world.

Only when we make this necessary shift, can we start viewing and aiding our teachers with their most viable role; as facilitators. We will no longer discharge the task of learning solely on their shoulders, whether she be our child’s classroom teacher, or whether she be us, in a homeschool setting. Great teachers are not those who ‘teach’. They are those who inspire, who motivate, who encourage and push their students to explore new places.

Saira Siddiqui is a freelance writer/life coach who holds a Masters in Education. Previously she taught for several years in the public and private sector. She currently lives in Texas with her husband and three never-been-schooled, unschooled children. When she is not writing for others she enjoys writing for her own blog, A Square Peg in a Round World: The Confessions of a Muslim Mommaholic.

Read the original article, “My Biggest Problem with Modern Day Education” here at her website.

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Guest Blogger: Saira Siddiqui

Former School Teacher Turns to Unschooling

Why Having My Own Kids Changed Everything

For some time now my family has followed a ‘relaxed’ approach to homeschooling, also know as unschooling. There’s been a lot of curiosity about what that term means, and what actually happens in our home. Mostly, though, people that I meet are curious about what made me, a former school teacher, turn away from methods I’d studied and practiced for years, and why I felt it wasn’t ‘good enough’ for my own kids.

“Unschooling” simply refers to the absence of a traditional curriculum. What is a curriculum? Curriculum is something tells you what to learn, and when to learn it. (Actually, your state standards really tell you what to learn, but this is a moot point.) Most schools and traditional homeschoolers pick one or more curricula and ‘teach’ from them. This could come in the form of a textbook or a kit. But essentially, a set sequence is followed. You teach/learn this, followed by this, then this.. etc

In our house, we follow a learning path that’s more in accordance with what our kids want and where their natural curiosity leads. They steer the ship. And while I might provide them with a general direction, for the most part, they decide where their education leads.

So how did I end up following such an untraditional path? A path different from the majority of schools (and even homeschools)? The truth is, I didn’t begin this way. When my children were young I had visions of turning them into little Einsteins and spent time and money on the ever popular ‘teach your baby to read’ type programs. I completely subscribed to the idea of ‘bigger, better, faster’, and was hoping to accelerate their ‘learning’ as much as I could. It didn’t take long, though, for me to figure out that this just didn’t feel right. There was something unnatural about it. I soon put these gimmicks aside in favor of playing with my children, reading together, and talking about the world around us.

When my kids were young, I had planned to enroll them in school like everyone else around me. But when I walked onto the campus, I started to get emotional. I had created a warm, fuzzy den of learning at home where the kids were read to frequently and were encouraged to ask questions and wonder about the world around. Walking into the stark classroom, desks arranged in isolated rows, worksheets with perfect penmanship on the walls, I felt as the the ‘wonder’ was missing. I wasn’t ready for my kids to get a dose of ‘learning in the real world’ just yet. I didn’t want them to lose their natural curiosities. And so we began homeschooling.

Like many teacher-turned-homeschooler, I began by trying to replicate the classroom I had just shunned, at home. I decided what we would learn, and when. Over time, though, I noticed that the kids were curious about a lot of things on their own. So I did what I could to facilitate their learning. I bought books, showed them videos, took them on field trips, etc. I soon realized that I didn’t really have to do much to help them learn. I didn’t need to sit down and do lessons. When my kids were interested in something, I just needed to stay out of their way. THEY were doing all the work! Learning was not something I needed to force them (or tell them how) to do. It was something I had to learn to keep up with!

And, now pay attention because this is the real clincher, when they took the lead about something and wanted to learn about it, they learned more and retained more than when I initiated lessons with them.

Now, I know that’s kind of common sense. I mean, the same is true for adults. When we WANT to learn something, when something is interesting to us, we really learn it. But when we really don’t have any personal interest (I can think of many college classes like this), we really don’t retain anything we ‘learned’. If we KNOW this about ourselves, why do we expect our kids to be any different?

This was a major lightbulb moment for me: My kids have to learn what they WANT to learn. Alright, this I could accept. But how do I make sure they learn EVERYthing they’re going to need to know?

This was the issue that I struggled with for a long time until I realized: when they need to know something, they’ll learn it. Just like adults do. I read countless stories of other ‘unschooled’ kids who didn’t take traditional high school classes, but when they learned the requirements they needed to enter a college they had chosen, they started ‘teaching themselves’ calculus and chemistry. When they ‘needed’ to know it, they learned it.

The question I asked myself next was, ‘What about all the subjects taught in high school?’ Would they learn all that content using this philosophy? The answer, I know, was ‘probably not’. But I began to wonder, does it matter? If I look back at my high school career I can think of several classes where I retained nothing. NOTHING. Not much was really learned. So did I NEED to take those classes? Were they pivotal to my success as an adult?

At the end of the day I want my kids to go to college, to do well there, and to do great things with their lives. But if I look around at all the people that surround me who fit that exact definition, I can’t think of any two that share the exact same knowledge bank. Different people know different things. People have different skills, different assets, etc..

When I really reflect on THAT it makes me realize that perhaps I need to start shedding this notion that all children must know the SAME set of facts or information. Perhaps their time would be better spent developing their skill sets – problem solving, being able to draw inferences and make conclusions, making observations, being able to communicate effectively in oral and written form, knowing how to effectively work and interact with different personalities, etc.

My philosophy regarding my kids education is something that has evolved quite a bit, and no doubt it will continue to change over time. For me, the hardest part has been shedding the ‘way things have always been’. Just because we’ve always done things one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

Although we currently unschool, I still support our public education system. I know that homeschooling, and unschooling, are not solutions that will fit in every household. But what I DO think needs to happen, is a return to true learning in the classroom. Learning that engages students’ natural wonder and curiosity and creativity. I do believe there is a way to marry these ideas within the confines of our free, public education system. But until major changes take place, this school teacher will continue to unschool her kids at home.

“We need a curriculum of big questions, examinations where children can talk, share and use the Internet, and new, peer assessment systems. We need a pedagogy free from fear and focused on the magic of children’s innate quest for information and understanding.” -Sugata Mitra

Saira Siddiqui is a freelance writer/life coach who holds a Masters in Education. Previously she taught for several years in the public and private sector. She currently lives in Texas with her husband and three never-been-schooled, unschooled children. When she is not writing for others she enjoys writing for her own blog, A Square Peg in a Round World: The Confessions of a Muslim Mommaholic.

Read the original article, “Former School Teacher Turns to Unschooling – Why Having My Own Kids Changed Everything,” here at her website.

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