Archive through July 22, 2003

Unschooling.com's Message Boards: Conversations With Sandra Dodd: Help.....Very Confused!: Archive through July 22, 2003
By Catherine on Monday, July 21, 2003 - 11:23 pm:

Hi,

I have a friend of mine who unschools and suggested I ask you all some questions. I am confused about unschooling and wondering if it can help me in our situation.

I have always homeschooled my son who is nine. We have never followed a formal curriculum, but we usually try to do math, reading, phonics, but not even everyday. He has no interest in spelling, geography or history, so I have not done much with these subjects. Whenever we read books, if he thinks for a moment that he might be "learning" something, he doesn't want to have anything to do with the book.

Often when I try to get my son to do work, he pitches a fit about it and makes things so miserable that sometimes I just give up and let him get out of his work. I had a baby a few months ago and my family thinks I should put my son in school because now I don't have the time or the energy to argue with him. I don't want to do this, but I am very frustrated. I have tried asking him what he would like to learn and he says "nothing!". He is a very smart boy. He can do math way above his level, but he gets frustrated if things get too hard. He started piano and then quit. He is very gifted at chess, but he doesn't put a lot of effort into it. I think he is very afraid of failure.

If a workbook has the word "Test" on it, he panics. I didn't even do an IOWA test on him this year like the state of Georgia says we must do because I didn't want him to worry. I have thought about unschooling, but I don't know if it is just because I am looking for an easy way out. I am worried that he won't have the discipline to be successful as he grows up. Also, how will he ever become a good writer, speller, etc. if I don't teach him?

If he had his choice he would want me to just play with him all day. Which sounds wonderful and also what we did ALOT before the baby was born, but impossible right now b/c of the every day aspects with the baby. Whenver my little one (she is 3 months) takes a nap, I quick read to him or play a game. However, this doesn't last long at all. There is little or no support at all from my husband with any of this. He is working 60+ hours and went back to college this month. He isn't there for us physically or mentally at all. I have no support from any family members with the children or homeschooling. I am 110% the only one involved in the every day life of them.

He is very social and wants to have friends over everyday, so I thought maybe he would enjoy school, if only for that reason. Maybe he is too lonely at home. We do outside activities, but there aren't really any kids in the neighborhood for him to play with on a day to day basis. I would so appreciate any ideas anyone has.

The family members say that school would be so much better for him b/c "he is spoiled with all my attention" and he needs to learn that "he isn't the center of my world" and other comments like that. Granted, since the baby has been born, he has had his moments but it is a big adjustment for all of us. I don't see it the way "they" do and this is causing major problems and frustrations on my part. It is causing me to self doubt everything that I have been doing with him.

Please let me know whatever suggestions you all have. I am so lost right now and I don't know what is the right thing to do. Do I just let "life" happen this year and not worry so much about the reading, math etc? Or, am I doing him a disservice by not putting him in school? I don't want to give up homeschooling!!

Thanks!
Catherine


By skreams on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 01:22 am:

Hi Catherine -

>>I am confused about unschooling and wondering if it can help me in our situation.

**I think so.

>>He can do math way above his level

**I’d say he does math exactly at his level :0). Really, he’s at where he’s at, and I'm sure he's perfect just the way he is.

>>I think he is very afraid of failure.

**My six year old heard the word ‘fail’ the other day and had no idea what it meant. That is what unschooling can do!

>>I didn't even do an IOWA test on him this year like the state of Georgia says we must do because I didn't want him to worry.

**Good for you!

>>how will he ever become a good writer, speller, etc. if I don't teach him?

**Maybe he won’t we a wonderful writer, or win the national spelling bee. Given time to follow his dreams I’m sure he will learn to communicate effectively. Do you read a lot? Does he see you enjoying writing?

A child who reads and writes purely for pleasure (not for a book report, or a test, or to have their writing ‘corrected’) will be a much happier reader and writer.

>>He is working 60+ hours and went back to college this month. He isn't there for us physically or mentally at all. I have no support from any family members with the children or homeschooling.

**Can you look outside of your family for help? A homeschooling group, church, friends? Are there any changes your husband would be willing and able to make?

>b/c "he is spoiled with all my attention

**I think the important thing is that you and your child are happy with the amount of attention he's getting.

>>since the baby has been born, he has had his moments

**Doesn’t everyone? That’s a huge change, as you said. Don’t doubt yourself! Trust your heart.

>>Do I just let "life" happen this year and not worry so much about the reading, math etc?

**Try it for the year, and see how it feels. I can’t imagine anyone not loving it. Enjoy your son and your new baby, and ignore the naysayers :0). ~Rue


By Newbie on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 05:54 am:

Catherine: I've unschooled my granddaughter since she was in kindergarten...BEFORE that, actually! She's 13 now. Nine is young, still, to be so worried! Your son is DOING something all the time! Someone said a couple weeks ago on a different unschool board...just do ONE hour of some kind of formal schooling a day...ONE hour....and at your son's age, playing is very very important. Watching "Reading Rainbow" and "Mr. Rogers" and "Magic School Bus" are all very educational without their knowing it! Watch it with him! My gd learned to read by reading "Garfield" books!! And she is an excellent and voracious reader. We DID take a unique math class last year...but I know now, that given a little more time, she would have caught on with the basics. If you want to email me about the unique math we learned (no memorization) let me know here, and I'll give you my email. Hope to chat later. :o)


By Jfetteroll (Jfetteroll) on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 08:13 am:

**I have thought about unschooling, but I don't know if it is just because I am looking for an easy way out. I am worried that he won't have the discipline to be successful as he grows up.**

Sit back and think about that for a minute. Here’s a website and message board and email lists full of words -- perhaps *millions* of words -- from people helping people whose greatest desire is an easy life who don’t care if their kids have discipline or succeed.

*Might* there be something wrong with that picture? ;-)

What we have is deep caring about our children, the ability to give them all that’s important, without coercion and pain and struggle.

When parents end up hurting their kids (like making them angry or cry over doing school work) we need to justify that it’s necessary or we’re hurting them for no reason.

But it isn’t necessary and we are hurting them for no reason.

Everything a person needs to live life can be learned by living a full and interesting life in a safe environment that encourages exploration of interests and provides opportunities to form new interests.

**Also, how will he ever become a good writer, speller, etc. if I don't teach him?**

How did he learn to speak?

Think about all the pain and boredom and teacher hours spent teaching kids foreign languages in school. Think about how much people remember from that instruction.

Then think about what you did to help him learn how to speak. (And remember he began without even realizing language existed!) What did you do? Talk to him about things that might interest him? Answer his questions? Were there weekly struggles and crying and anger over these “lessons”?

Kids learn how to speak because it’s more effective than pointing and grunting. They *want* to speak so they learn to speak by speaking.

People spell properly because they are writing something that they feel it is important for other people to understand.

People write because they have thoughts they need to put onto paper. If writing is never promoted as difficult, then it isn’t any more difficult than speaking. (And actually easier for some people! ;-)

**Whenever we read books, if he thinks for a moment that he might be "learning" something, he doesn't want to have anything to do with the book.**

I suspect you see this as a character flaw.

But maybe you should examine why he has an adverse reaction to things he has labeled “learning.” And why has he labeled some things learning and not others?

In real life *everything* is learning. Yet he sees there are some parts of the world that are learning which are to be avoided. Why does he want to avoid them? What’s been going on that has created a negative association with things he sees as learning?

**Often when I try to get my son to do work, he pitches a fit about it and makes things so miserable that sometimes I just give up and let him get out of his work.**

What if your husband knew that learning Mandarin Chinese would be good for your future. What if all his explanations of why it would be important for you made no sense to you. How joyfully would you sit down to do the lessons he’d picked out for you?

**I had a baby a few months ago and my family thinks I should put my son in school because now I don't have the time or the energy to argue with him.**

So they’re saying that when you no longer have time for a child or he becomes inconvenient, he should be put on a shelf until you can find time for him. They’d deny that’s what they’re saying, but lots of standard parenting “wisdom” is really disrespectful of kids. Standard parenting advice is all about putting parents in the role of molders and children in the role of objects to be molded.

Even better, if you don’t have time to argue with him, then stop arguing with him ;-) Remove the things you argue over and there will be no arguments.

Even better than that is to see him as a whole person who needs help living in the world rather than an incomplete adult who needs shaped. I’m sure you don’t feel you see him that way, but the attitude is unconsciously pervasive in our society. We can’t help thinking that way without even realizing it. It’s just the way things are.

Until you step back and look at them objectively. There’s lots of examples here of what the world would look like if other people treated us as we treat kids. They’re very eye opening.

** don't want to do this, but I am very frustrated.**

Because you’re certain you’re right and can’t understand why he doesn’t understand the world the way you do. It’s always frustrating when others can’t understand our point of view and seem to be acting foolishly.


**I have tried asking him what he would like to learn and he says "nothing!".**

My daughter has said “I don’t know” the few times I’ve asked her.

What would *you* like to learn? What subject would you like your husband to get books and videos and arrange field trips for? What would you like to study in depth while he hovered over judging how well you were learning?

Don’t ask, observe :-) What are his interests? What does he like to do when he isn’t doing work? Help him do more of that. And strew things through his life so he knows that other things exist. Leave picture books laying around. Offer to read them. It’s okay if they go back unread. Look for things on TV that he might like. It’s okay if he says no thanks or watches only for 30 seconds. Go places. Go to places you think he’ll like, not because they’ll be “good for him.” Share the places you like but do it on his level. Don’t expect to spend 6 hours in the art museum ;-) Wander about exploring what he finds interesting and visit the gift shop.

**He can do math way above his level, **

And I think he’s doing math at his level.

**but he gets frustrated if things get too hard.**

And if you enjoyed cooking and someone made you do a recipe you felt was too complex for something you had no desire to eat would they be right if they guessed you were afraid of failure?

**He started piano and then quit.**

I hope it was because he had explored it enough to discover it wasn’t a passion and not because a teacher created negative associations with the piano.

**He is very gifted at chess, but he doesn't put a lot of effort into it.**

My 12 yo daughter loves solving chess problems but doesn’t like playing games. Look at what he *does* do rather than what he doesn’t do.

**I think he is very afraid of failure.**

I think he’s a person who finds enjoyment in doing what he enjoys. That’s a concept people pay therapists big bucks to help them recapture.

**If a workbook has the word "Test" on it, he panics.**

Why? What has been the atmosphere around tests in the past? What are the attitudes in the house towards his performance on a test? To some doing poorly on a test is a challenge to do better. To others it is indication of being “less than”. It’s just a matter of personality and one isn’t better than the other. (Though some personalities are more *convenient* for parents seeking feedback that their child is learning.) One personality can’t be changed into another by force. He is who he is and can only end up feeling bad about who he is.

**I didn't even do an IOWA test on him this year like the state of Georgia says we must do**

I don’t know what the situation is in Georgia, but there are ways around the testing without actually breaking the law. If you must test (as in they can remove him from your home) then you need to do something. Check in the Georgia folder and see if others have discussed testing. If the results are only for you, then you can probably do the test for him. Find what the results are used for and what score he needs, then read the Meeting Your State’s Requirement’s folder.

**He is very social and wants to have friends over everyday, so I thought maybe he would enjoy school, if only for that reason.**

Which he won’t get in school. He’ll get other kids. He’ll get to interact. It will be a poor substitute for what he needs. If that’s all he has available, he’ll make do but it won’t be what he really needs.

School is a convenient way of feeling like the friend and other problems are solved because they get sent off out of our view and we can imagine and convince ourselves that they’re getting what we want them to have. They’re reality is usually quite different.

Classes? Sports? Church? 4-H? Scouts? Homeschooling groups?

If he has a particular interest, then find a state email list, the library, the food coop/health food store (or other areas unschoolers are likely to be found) and post a notice that you’d like to start a club or weekly get together for others sharing the same interest.

The social needs will be easier for some families because their needs are lower and might be satisfied just in the family or they may have loads of kids or easy access to activities the kids enjoy. But for you and your particular family and situation it will mean extra effort on your part to help him get that kid time.

**The family members say that school would be so much better for him b/c "he is spoiled with all my attention" and he needs to learn that "he isn't the center of my world" and other comments like that.**

Would you want your husband to send you off away from him for the majority of the (little) time he’s home so that you could learn that you aren’t the center of his world and so he wouldn’t spoil you with his attention?

How many homeschooled kids do they know who have had their mother’s loving attention all day long who have turned out badly? I’m betting zero. What they know is what they *imagine* must be true. They are projecting from stories and movies and people who *were* sent off to school who appeared to have been “coddled”.

**I don't see it the way "they" do and this is causing major problems and frustrations on my part. It is causing me to self doubt everything that I have been doing with him.**

Would they enjoy having their life’s choices scrutinized every time you dropped by? I bet not. There are threads on the board about reluctance that have loads of advice on how to handle family and friends who just don’t get it. You need to stop them from making you worry with their ignorance. They don’t know what they’re talking about. (And I mean that literally.) They have no experience with children who are unschooled and parented respectfully.

**Do I just let "life" happen this year and not worry so much about the reading, math etc?**

Yes! :-)

With a caveat! Unschooling is not neglect. It isn’t sending him off to live his life and entertain himself as many of our mothers did with us when school vacation hit. It’s playing together, living together. But also giving him the space he -- and you -- need for yourselves. :-)

Joyce


By Kelly Lovejoy (Kellyinsc) on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 09:03 am:

And you're too close to miss the Live & Learn Unschooling Conference in Columbia, SC August 22-24, 2003.

Bring the whole family (if you can get your husband to come)---or just the kids. You son will get to see MANY other unschooled kids and realize that life can be filled with learning and joy at the same time.

You can have all your unschooling questions answered by many on this message board.

Check it out here:
http://www.schoolsoutsupport.org/2003conference.html

I hope you'll join us! And bring your friend!

~Kelly


By AnneO (Anneo) on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 09:23 am:

Hi Catherine. I'm glad you're here wanting to learn more about unschooling. Your son will be so very thankful, too.

Whenever we read books, if he thinks for a moment that he might be "learning" something, he doesn't want to have anything to do with the book.

Oh, this makes my heart so very sad. My children, almost 13 and 9, have always unschooled. Learning is just a natural part of their lives. It's never something that's separated, categorized, pushed, judged or graded. It's what they DO in life, because it's an innate part of them. They rarely even use the word *learn*, because it's just a natural part of their joyful, free lives.

Often when I try to get my son to do work, he pitches a fit about it and makes things so miserable that sometimes I just give up and let him get out of his work.

Imagine the joyful and trusting connection you could have with your son by not even trying to get him to do work. Imagine eliminating that stress and anxiety from both of your lives. What's left? Joy. Love. Trust. Real learning from real living.

I think he is very afraid of failure.

These are the most powerfully sad words I've read in a long time. And powerfully true.

Yes, he is afraid of failure. But not for himself. He's afraid of *failing* in his parent's eyes.

Look at the weight this child is carrying at his young age. He has SO much potential, he has SO much passion for things, but they are quickly snuffed out because of his fear of being judged, graded, coerced.

Maybe he is too lonely at home.

I'd say, yes, he is lonely at home. But not for other children. He's lonely for himSelf. He's lonely for the unfulfilled longings in his own heart.

First of all, stop listening to other people. Your heart is speaking LOUDLY to you ~ you cannot ignore it! Your heart is seeing clearly that your boy is unhappy, and would love to be Free. Follow that message. How can you not?? Look into the eyes of your child and see him as a Free child, learning through living joyfully, able to follow his passions and pursue what he loves ~ even if it's something that doesn't look *educational* like chess or the piano. There is so much REAL learning in the REAL world ~ my children learn so much from everything in life, including (perhaps especially from) video games and television.

What does he love? Let him do that. Go into that world with him and let him Shine in your eyes. Let him be Who He Is, and don't ask him anymore to perform up to your expectations. Love him right now at the place he is in his life right now. He needs that so much. Especially with a new sibling. Honor him and nurture his passions. Learning will happen, but only when his mind is free from the pressure and the anxiety that years of schooling at home has put on him. How can learning happen amid anxiety and anger? It can't.

Learning happens when children make real connections in their real worlds, because it has real meanings in their lives. In their Joyful, free lives.

Listen to your heart. Look at your child, and listen to his heart. Connect those messages, and set him free. Learn about unschooling yourself from these boards, and from watching what your son does with his freedom. Shift your perception to see value in everything in life ~ not just learning value, but the value of Joy and Trust and Love and Contentment. Everything has value.

~ Anne


By Lyle on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 09:53 am:

~~Whenever we read books, if he thinks for a moment that he might be "learning" something, he doesn't want to have anything to do with the book.~~

This is what any type of 'formal learning' does to kids, I think. I know you said you don't follow a cirriculum, but that you do "do math" and other subjects. It's the HAVE TO that makes learning unpleasant.

~~I have tried asking him what he would like to learn and he says "nothing!".~~

Joyce is right. Don't ask. Asking puts pressure on him and may make him think that he SHOULD be learning something and that goes back to him not liking the word 'learn'. Just watch him. He is learning constantly, no matter what he's doing. He may not be learning 'school stuff', but most school stuff is only useful in school.

~~I am worried that he won't have the discipline to be successful as he grows up.~~

If he has the DESIRE to be successful, the discipline will just happen. I don't think you can MAKE a person be disciplined. You can force the actions, but if he doesn't feel the need for discipline, he will just be going through the motions.

~~I think he is very afraid of failure.~~

I think this is the cirriculum thing again. He will only feel like a failure if he feels he's SUPPOSED to be performing at a certain level and is not able to. Have you ever wondered why the ridiculous expectations that school puts on kids suddenly stops when you're out of school? Why aren't the same expectations put on adults?

~~Also, how will he ever become a good writer, speller, etc. if I don't teach him?~~

I'm not a very good writer, and my spelling is so-so. I went to school. Why am I not a good writer? It's because it has never mattered to me that much. It's not a big part of my life. If it weren't for these message boards, I would rarely ever write anything. Writing and spelling are only important if it's important to HIM.

~~I have thought about unschooling, but I don't know if it is just because I am looking for an easy way out.~~

I think this is a common misconception about unschooling. Unschooling isn't necessarily "easy", but people may see it that way because it's so much FUN! Skateboarding isn't easy, but when you see someone having fun doing it, it always looks easy. Why does learning have to be tedious and boring?

~~I don't see it the way "they" do and this is causing major problems and frustrations on my part. It is causing me to self doubt everything that I have been doing with him.~~

Yeah, I've been there. I still have little to no support from our outside family. But when you see the difference in your kids, it will be enough to keep you going. Eventually you will even chuckle to yourself when the naysayers are beating the school war drums. Don't let them get you down. This is your life and this is your son. Do what you think is right.

The only thing that unschooling will do for you and your family is remove the frustration, the distaste for learning, the fear of tests, the miserable days, the feelings of failure, and the overall worry that your son NEEDS to "succeed". He is a success now, let him enjoy it!

If you can't find support in the people around you, keep coming here until you do. There's a lot of good stuff on these boards, and I recommend that you do as much reading here as possible.

Unschooling takes a little patience, a lot of 'letting go', and a whole lot of love, trust and understanding that your son WILL find his own way in life.

Your son doesn't need a teacher, all he needs is you and the world around him.

Lyle


By Jennifer V. on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 10:54 am:

I would suggest ultra-relaxed homeschooling for awhile. Take those formal lessons and do two a week for a total of 3hours. That's it. Then sit back and observe all the things he does when he's NOT doing formal lessons and see that he's growing and learning. That was my major break. Seeing that the kids really were learning those crucial skills when not doing formal lessons. I , like you , had the misconception that we had to teach things like writing.

My ds would throw the most amazing fits if I asked him to sit with a workbook and do the drills. One frustrated day I tossed out the workbook. A month or so later he was reading a book and didn't like the ending. I told him to write his own ending. He did. On his own. Write three chapters building the story up to a great climax and the ending was incredible. I threw in a few words I knew such as *climax, foreshadowing , epilogue * etc... He asked what those words meant and I was able to show him with his own work ! I told him he was already doing it and that it had a fancy name. We were watching a movie later and he told me the ending was 'bittersweet'. What public schooled 9yrold boy would know what a 'bittersweet' ending is ?

As you relax the homeschooling and see that he's learning without the formal junk , unschooling will be much easier.

As for the naysayers....ignore them. Since the term 'unschooling' generally strikes great fear in the hearts of naysayers , I'd just say 'homeschooling' for now.


By Ren Allyn (Renstar) on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 11:33 am:

Catherine,
You've gotten such awesome replies above, I really have nothing to add right now about how wonderful unschooling is, nor about the damage that schooling inflicts.
But I did want to reassure you that it's very normal and natural for most kids to dip their toes in the pool so to speak. They often think something looks interesting until they try it, that's how they gain experience.
And just because someone is interested in, say piano, does not mean they want formal lessons. That is often the best way to kill an interest!

My oldest ds, Trevor, was one that tried things and quit usually. For many years it was this way. Last year he decided to try guitar and after almost five months of lessons he still LOVES it and can't imagine quitting. He's 13. So don't feel badly that your ds wants to try things and quit, it's perfectly normal and a truly useful learning experience.

Part of why Trevor is now happily taking lessons has to do with my letting go completely a few years ago (almost three) and the fact that we searched very hard to find a teacher that would fit with our unschooling philosophies.
Also, the fact that Trevor has matured and been able to try things and quit, has helped him decide what he truly loves.

Anyway, I think you've found a gold mine here. Unshcooling is not "the easy way out" , it's the joyful way IN. The way into peaceful family life, happy children and meaningful learning that lasts a lifetime.

Ren, unschooling Mum to four


By jonniann on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 12:20 pm:

This thread is helping me with my doubts that are creeping in today. Thanks much everyone for being here and thanks Catherine for posting your questions.


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