Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's working!

We've got a whole lotta readin', writin', and knittin' goin' on at our house. Last night, as I was doing the dinner dishes (okay, breakfast and lunch, too) and chatting on the phone, I realized that each one of my kids had found their own little corner of the house and was completely absorbed in a project. Janey, 11, was upstairs in her room knitting and listening to a book on tape. Charley, 6, was sitting at the table writing out a note for Santa to paste on the front window. This from a child who had zero interest in letters and reading until 4 days ago. Macy, 9, was parked on the couch (as she had been all day) playing herself in a game of Monopoly. (fascinating to watch, she actually knew who was winning - "I'm winning and losing, Mom"). From time to time she would take a break (perhaps to let her other half contemplate her next move?) to read the chapter book she's almost done with. It was an amazing moment, when I hung up the phone and dried my hands, to realize that my kids have reached that stage of being able to occupy themselves. Sometimes for more than a few minutes!

The most amazing piece in all of this awareness for me, is that these are the times when I know for sure that what we do is "working." This is very different than saying that it always works, of course. I have multiple moments most every day where I question my ability to even be a parent, let alone raise kids as unschoolers. Especially when we are driving each other bananas or are irritable or bored. But regardless of the mood in the house or the events of a particular day, I look to moments like this for the validation that I need in order to carry on in this way another day.

Unschooling, for me, is about taking what works and running with it. My kids have no need for me to teach them in an academic way. They are perfectly capable of asking questions when they want answers and letting me know in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that they need something from me. To me, unschooling is simply an extension of the kind of parenting most parents do when their children are very young. Young children have needs, lots of them. Most parents spend the bulk of their days attending to and meeting those needs. The learning (schooling, in this case) happens organically. A toddler has a need to get outside to run around and play. A parent may use that time to show the child how to hold hands crossing the street or how to share a favorite toy. The child may point up in the sky at an airplane passing overhead, which may lead to a conversation about things that fly. We still do that. It just gets more involved.

Today we were standing in line at the post office. A man several people in front of me had a very unhappy toddler in his arms. The little boy was squirming and whining and kicking his feet. He had major needs. His needs were being ignored. These moments are always tough for me. I smiled at the boy, who was facing me. The woman behind me played peek-a-boo with him, hoping to distract him from his discomfort. As I forced myself to suspend all judgment of this man's lack of attention to his child (we've all been there), I reflected on the ways that we tend to ignore the needs of children, especially those who cannot yet speak. In my experience, sometimes all a child needs is to feel heard. I wanted so badly to validate that small child's needs in line at the post office. I wanted to reach out and touch his sweet face and tell him that I heard him. That I could see how uncomfortable he was and how hard it is to wait. He didn't need words to tell me. I could see that he had something to say.

Unschooling has taught me that kids often have something important to say. My challenge is to help provide an atmosphere where their voices can be heard.

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