Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ho Hum

I believe in Unschooling.

I agree with Mr. Einstein's words of "It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."

It's also cause for yet another of the puzzles my life.

Like that I believe in not harming any living creature but that I eat meat.
And that people who don't follow the rule of using their turn signal piss me off, but that I happily drive 80 miles per hour (or so) on the freeway.
Or that I'm a pacifist, and would like to smack people upside the head sometimes (and once in a while even do).
I have a peculiar set of rules that I adhere to-- ones made up by Me, in accordance with what I deem as sensible or honorable.

I think I'm learning -and accepting- (in my vast wisdom) that two or more opposing things can be true at the same time.

Because my son loves to ride his bike.
And my son did not want to learn to ride his bike.

Being a domineering and authoritative parent who has children live and behave because they are bullied and made to feel it's the only way they can receive my love and acceptance is probably my greatest parental fear.
Coersion and manipulation are not things that I want associated with me.
And as it happens, I am bossy by nature.

On the other hand... I am human.
And my children came to me to have a Human Experience.

Sometimes the call is an easy one. "Am I doing or thinking or feeling this out of Fear?" And if the answer is Yes, then I know it's not something that is True.

But sometimes the answer is not so clear.
Sometimes it feels like the answer is To shake things up. Or For a sense of adventure. Or Because I think he will enjoy it. And I have to dig deeper into my motivation.

So a Mama finds herself saying "Oh, come on, Bud, come snuggle with me! Come, let me read to you for a minute...." and so we end up reading (at his request and his delight) the next five chapters of Georg's Key.

And he learns to ride his bike, and discovers a whole new world - riding and whooping down hills, Independent Play (without his Mama nearby), neighborhood exploration, and growing up.

And he learns to feel satisfaction with something he's Created or drawn with his hands. Something that makes him smile.

And he learns that being challenged and adding numbers in his head is fun.

And he plays with baking soda and vinegar in the sandbox for the next two days.

I have been thinking on these things for a few weeks, now.
For a long time I wondered if I was justifying bullying my children into doing something they didn't want to do "for their own good".

My children have very real interests.... and never would I discourage their explorations and dedication to their pursuits and discoveries.
Never would I consider taking them away from an animal or dinosaur book or video (something they love) and toss them a Mathematics cdrom.

On the other hand.... when my son is standing around and waiting for his friend to get done with her chores so they can go Explore, I'll say, "Here... how about a ten minute game of Bingo?" and then "Addition or Subtraction today?"
And the thing is... we have a good time. (As long as I don't get my head into a "Let's just finish this" place. That robs the joy of something, but good.)

So a couple of questions arise.
Is it alright (with me and my subscribed philosophy) to interfere if the children find themselves in a lull?
I've found (through interacting in such a way with my son) that since I am (I believe) connected enough with my babes to recognize when they are "resting"- ie processing, needing a break from lots of activity, internalizing something, etc - that the answer is a surprising Yes.
Somehow, some way, getting them out of a place of Complacency... seems to work- and by "work" I mean it benefits all of us. As incongruous as it seems.

But... is that a good reason for doing it?
Am I robbing them of the Joy of Discovery?
If we play math Bingo at age 7, am I subverting his possible discovery of love for Math at age 9? or 12? or 17? (Provided I can hold out that long, of course.)

Does everything under the sun have to be discovered in absolute joy?

I know that these things seem so simple and probably so ridiculous to others.
And in regard to sweeping statements like "You are the parent" I say yes, but it's my job to aid and support them, not make them into something that I think they should be. Even at this young age, I don't get to choose their lives for them.

I think I have to ask myself the hardest question of all (and truthfully see myself) and ask myself if I'm just justifying something that doesn't sit well with me.
Does the end justify the means?

This is the question I haven't answered yet, and the reason I haven't posed (and posted) these questions before now.

Just because we have fun playing Bingo, does that make it alright to wheedle Trev into playing in the first place?
Just because one of his new Heroes is now Davey Crockett, does that make it alright that I said "Yes, you do have to watch it... for fifteen minutes."?
Just because he went through two gallons of vinegar in two days, does that make it alright that initially I said, "Come on, Bub, time for volcanoes...." and gently insisted when he drug his feet?

As I read this and think about it (and sift through the ill feelings) I come to the conclusion that the deciding factor is.... Motive.

Whether I'm choosing it out of dreaded Ego, Fear.... or Joy.

Aaaah...that's what it comes down to.

And if I'm not doing it out of Joy (and/or a sense of "I -honestly and in Love- believe you'll like this and I want to share it with you"), then I'd better damned well change my motivation. I'd better get damned good at swiftly stopping myself in my tracks, and taking the higher ground, instead.

Yup. I think that's it.
Let's bring it in... as long as the motivation is filled with happy Love.


Jumbleberry Jam said...

Really wonderful post! thank you. I already struggle with this and my DS is just 2 1/2 (lol). He's constantly bored. And, to be honest, so am I. But, I'm also frustrated, too. I work hard to engage him, often to have him completely bored anyway. Lots of internal work for me to do, it seems. Thanks for encouraging me to get on it!

Sarah said...

Fantastic post, Steph.

For the first part of your post, the quote "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." by Walt Whitman popped into my mind.

When you were talking about introducing things to your children, I thought of my parenting journey. In the beginning, I was going to be pretty mainstream. Sure, I'd breastfeed for nine months because any fool raising animals could see the difference between bottle-raised and momma-raised lambs. Nine months, though, no more.

Slowly, through introduction by various people - some who didn't even agree with what they were introducing me to - to different ideas and resources, I was able to form my own parenting style.

Because of the introduction to 'out-of-the-box' thinking, I now have an interest in (and an ability to) finding out alternative methods of doing things and ideas for stimulating growth in my children and myself.

I think you're on the right track with the idea that it's the purpose behind the introduction (and the method of introduction) that matters.

Stephanie said...

Sarah - thanks for the quote. I love it, of course. :)

It was very helpful to hear "I was able to form my own parenting style."

For some reason I feel like I need to adhere to particular rules, or else reject the idea in its entirety. Which isn't like me. Indeed it goes against my nature - that's why I'm not religious. I believe I need to figure things out on my own.

What made me pause with RU in the beginning (three or four years or so ago) was that it seemed awfully dogmatic for something that wasn't supposed to be based on rules. :)

I think that I cherish the ideals so much that I'm afraid I'll screw them up.
And rob my children of the benefits of growing and learning naturally. And therefor knowing that they are limitless.

ladybug-zen said...

yes, lovely post. that's what it;s all about really. finding our own way. that works for us. isn't it?

Mon said...

I'm becoming less and less enamoured with the term 'unschooling', and have used natural/organic learning more anyway, bceause of too many strict philosophies.

As you know, I'm all about the intuition, and when unschoolers get their knickers in a twist b/c someone dared to bring in a book or worksheet, then I thnk, hmmm, where's the whole freedom philosophy in this?

I believe parenting and learning) have to make sense in your world - you, your kids, your environment, your society, your culture, your resources, your social life..... What makes sense and feels right to you can only ever be yours and no one else's. So philosophies are only tools to me.

What you have between you and your children belongs only to you.

Great post.

Andrea said...

I think my boys "sense" when I am trying to get them to do something with educational undertones, and also "sense" when I introduce something from a place of joy. I am new at this, but we did go through a rather boring month or so not too far back, where I really wavered. Just when I thought maybe I was kidding myself about being able to do this, they shifted again, and now they are dragging me around.
Best wishes, Andrea

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

HOW did I miss these recent H and F posts? I have had this exact conversation with myself.

This free learning can be such a fine balance -- how much "strewing" is too little or too much? When is it okay to let them watch TV (our Complacent behavior) because they're enjoying it and need some down time -- and when are they watching it because I'm not engaged with them and it's a Habit for when they haven't (yet) thought of something else to do.

I have recently decided to give myself permission to say, "Hey, guys, I'm tired of listening to the tv. Why don't we/you go do (something else)?" (I do try to wait until the commercial between shows, though, so as not to be obnoxious.)

Lucky for me that's really the only time I feel I need to give a little nudge. My kids are more likely to whine when they're bored than just sit and be. But then, I don't have a Phlegmatic, and it sounds like you do. :) My hubby is one. He can sit on the couch with nothing on tv, no book in his hand, and just stare. Drives me INSANE (though I'm trying to get over it). I'm like, "Hey, I'm trying to do 30 things at once, maybe you help me out with one of them instead of sitting like log?"

Regarding the rules of unschooling... oh, yes, it is a problem. Like, is it okay that I'm making plans for activities that fit into categories such as Herbology, Potions, Astronomy and Transfiguration? Can we accept assignments from Hagrid and Snape and still be unschoolers? Am I interfering in their own pursuits simply by filling their free time with social engagements and planned fun? Argh.

I often feel like a Radical Un School dropout. Mainly because I really need my toddler to go to bed before I do, and I go to bed at 10. Don't RUs have to be night owls? It felt like it at the RU conference I attended. And because I ask the boys to help with the dishes so I don't have to spend all day in the kitchen. :P

Okay, I've totally rambled all over your comments. I do pray you continue to navigate this modern territory of Parenting, and follow one of the many paths of Joy and Love. :)

Stephanie said...

He's not a "sit around" kid.
Even when he watches television, unless it's a prehistory documentary, he's up and grabbing toys and doing actions along with the show.
Often with the prehistory shows, he'll grab one of his encyclopedias, and look things up while they're talking about it.

We had a while there that night patterns were uncomfortable for us - Trev was up late, and disruptive to everyone else.
He was fine, as long as he was quiet, but then he'd get wild at 10pm, when everyone else was dozing off. That didn't work for the rest of us so well.
But eventually, it came back around, and now he goes to sleep at about 10 or a few minutes after.

We were okay with it as long as he was quiet - he was only physically about 8 feet away from us, and we knew he was safe.

I don't know why I worry.
SOmetimes I just do. :)

Sherry said...

great post!

why am i only just now stumbling upon this blog of yours!?...oh well, better late than never :)

Valerie Willman said...

Thank you.

ema said...

i think if coercion happens because you know they will enjoy it then it's fine, it's encouragement to try something rather than dictatorship. my now 12yr old didn't want to climb and we knew it'd suit her once we just got her to do it, she cried the first 2 times and now begs dad to take her at least once a week. i have a 3yr old with a poorly heart and as she gets tired she could sit all day and do nothing but if i coax her into the craft/dining room she has all sorts of fun.

exactly as you said, it's the motivation behind the coaxing that matters