My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.

I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.

Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Afterward




Hello, friends!

This is the last post I'm writing on this blog, which has chronicled in words and pictures bits and pieces of my now-6-year-old son Woody's learning as an unschooled child over 180 or so days.

But it's possible that you're reading this as the first post, and I'm so glad you found us. While the posts were written chronologically, almost all of them stand alone, so I might recommend that you use the labels to the right to poke around, clicking on subject terms that are most interesting to you. The search box, too, might be helpful.

I think writing this blog helped me to be a better parent. When I'd sit down to write a post, I'd be thinking of one or a handful of learning moments in isolation, but also in the bigger context of our whole year of learning, sometimes even Woody's life so far. This was good. It kept the big picture in my mind: the point is to live with kids with curiosity, love, understanding, happiness, and feelings of gladness and plenty. Even when I was writing about the mother of all meltdowns--mine or Woody's--or my worst doubts and insecurities, I thought about it as only one of 180 moments--our life together could still look like that beautiful big picture, and the next moment I wrote about could be a happier or more gentle one. I had to decide to make that so, and to get myself the tools I needed to do it.

And now I have a record of our first year of unschooling--many, many instances that were wonderful, fun, magical, sad, disappointing, silly, hard, scary, amazing, sweet, and surprising. We made it through all of them, and got better at doing this unschooling thing--hell, this family thing--together. I am grateful for that.



This blog was also my almost-daily writing practice. I loved it. I treasured it. Now I'm going to be happy to focus on other kinds of writing, though doubtless the same themes that came up here will feature in whatever comes next. Writing what you love may be trite, but it works for me.

Wherever you are on your own learning journey, I wish you well. I like to imagine that we're all traveling the roads and off-roads together, carrying knapsacks in which we keep the ideas, pictures, phrases, realizations, memories, poems and stories that we pick up, the ones that seem worth holding on to and that make us happy or thankful or known or hopeful to look at. They're all over, these little gems, and I'm most thankful that others graciously share their collections through writing, songs, talks, videos, and other ways of communicating.  If you've found one or two here, I'm glad. It's good to travel these less-charted paths with kindred spirits.


Fondly,

Teresa







180


Here we are! Post 180. Today was a sweet homeschooly day. Our friend Samuel came to play for a couple of hours in the morning, and all three boys bounced most contentedly from one activity to another, letting each other know clearly when there were perceived injustices, and recovering just as fast to go on to play again together.


At one point, Fox brought me two Scooby-Doo books to read to him, and within a minute Samuel and Woody were also on either side of me to listen, too. Knowing the mystery-story formula, the boys guessed at various points what would happen next: the house would be haunted, Shaggy would yell "Zoinks!", the shadow would turn out to be only the farmer, the gang would unmask someone.


Evidence like that of cultural dissemination, how even young children can know with a few clues how things typically go in certain contexts, is fascinating to me. We perceive patterns in our real lives just as we do in stories. Samuel's mom, Joy, who is a great student of human ways of being, talks a lot about personal "narratives" that we construct around our experiences, the stories we tell ourselves about what happened and how it fits in to our bigger understanding of how the world works and our place in it. It makes me glad that the preponderance of material my boys have to work with in real life is nurturing and fluid and supportive of the ongoing search for meaning.

Not all kids have that. My kids might not have had that, if I hadn't have walked the path I walked up until the point that they came into my life.

At the park, they expect other kids to be friendly, and they'll usually walk away or come get me if they're not. When they come to me and ask to read a book together or draw or look up something on the computer, they expect that I'll help them --maybe not right that second, or in the exact manifestation they're asking for, but in some form, sooner rather than later. They expect stories that Daddy Honey and I tell from our lives to feature the helpers and the lessons, the interesting, uplifting, bizarre, funny, and cool. We don't brag about put-downs or play up violence or speak admiringly of winning arguments or besting someone else in a way that's hurtful.

This is good. Many days, it feels like even if I get nothing else right (and sometimes, it feels as if that is exactly the case!), the fact that I have presented to them a vision of the world that is full of possibilities  gives me great comfort.

I am working on an Afterward, a wrapping-up post to end our project. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.

I'm a little sad about it.






Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Something that Helps

This is one of my favorite pieces of writing about handling tough moments. It's from the Parenting Peacefully page on Sandra Dodd's site. I visit this page a lot. I can point to probably ten posts here that  would have been much better if I'd been practicing these strategies more! But then again, I can point to ten or more posts that were much better than they might have been because I had these ideas in my mind. Here's the piece, written by Ren Allen:


It's Going to be Good
Someone had written:
I tend to "hide" from the kids when I'm overwhelmed and of course it's just a vicious cycle.
Ren responded:
Being sensitive to stimulation makes it difficult as a parent....I think being very proactive in a situation like that really helps.  Don't wait for the "overwhelmed" thing to happen, take steps when you're feeling calm and centered. 
Having many tools in your toolbelt helps...like the stash of toys, Pam's chopsticks, new games etc..., taking time to sit quietly with a cup of tea or a bath when everyone is sleeping, whatever feeds your spirit so you can connect with your children from a loving center. 
I have found that when things get tense, a short "meditation walk" will really help re-focus my energy...or if the kids come along, we all see new things, find our joy again by being in a new setting. 
Just a quick shift into a different place, or different situation can really change the energy in the house.  Going for a drive can do the same thing. I have a big enough van to keep the children that are having issues, FAR away from each other.:) 
Being present isn't always easy, heck, I forget to listen to my own advice at times!! We're human, we get cranky, we have hormones and life issues and frustrations. Luckily, we also have an incredible web of support (thanks to technology) and a chance to do better every day.  
I wake up sometimes and really think about how I will respond THIS day. Just today I'm going to be utterly present for my children, I'm going to be in their world (not just doing my own thing while they do theirs), I'm going to really hear them, I'm going to prepare myself to be present starting right now. I drink my tea, breathe deeply of the new day, think about preparing some yummy food they will love to help start their day off on a positive note.  
All this helps me really BE there when they awake and come out for hugs. Those are the days that things really flow, that I'm not getting as frustrated (even when challenges arise), because I've made a CHOICE.  Every day isn't going to be smooth...that's just life. But when we choose mindfulness, choose to be present in each moment, choose to prepare ourselves for the most important role in our lives...it's going to be good.  

Ren

Monday, April 23, 2012

179

Daddy Honey went in late to work today. I've been doing more work at church lately, and also writing more, and he's just gotten elected to the board of directors at our food co-op, in addition to working more than 40 hours a week at the library, so our family time has felt stretched lately.

But this morning, there was ease.

Daddy Honey woke up first and made eggs and hash browns for everyone. The boys played around the house. Daddy Honey and I sat at the table and talked. We all got ready for our day slowly, sprinkling in plenty of hugs and conversations and playing and watching cartoons amid brushing teeth and getting dressed and packing bags.

Just before noon, Daddy Honey left and the boys and I headed south to the Ozark Folkways Heritage Center.The Center demonstrates and hosts classes in all kinds of folk and fine arts and crafts, in addition to selling and displaying examples of these arts and crafts, and we'd been meaning to check them out for a while. But we went expressly today to pick up some art supplies that they were  graciously giving away for free to anyone who wanted to do some art. (Awesome, right? They consider it part of their mission to inspire creativity in the Northwest Arkansas region!)

Watercolor and sketch pads, packs of construction paper, card stock, and mat board!

We made a new friend--Rebecca, the director of the Center, who won Woody's heart instantly for her very cool cammo pants--and had plenty of interesting and funky pieces of art to look at.





Afterwards, we stopped by Candice's house just down the road for some taco lunch and play time. The day was gorgeous. Kids played outside on the tire swing and trampoline and in the garden and inside on the computer and with dinosaurs as Candice and her husband Cheyne and I talked and talked about unschooling.







This was such good stuff. It's good to hear about other families' epiphanies and joys and struggles. It's good to see how other parents interact with their free-learning kids, how their kids interact with each other, and how their kids interact with other kids and adults. It's good to talk to people who recognize how big a deal it is that your children trust you, trust themselves, and are willing to approach the world from a place of trust and security. And it's good to be in the company of comrades with whom you feel safe, loved and known enough to laugh at yourself and your mistakes.

I would still have happily done unschooling if I'd had only my computer and books to read, and maybe the occasional conference to attend, but it brings so much good into my life to have real-life friends who are out here soaking up the sunshine and feeling the breeze with me.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

178

Tonight there was a block party in our neighborhood.


Daddy Honey has gotten to know Daniel, one of the hosts of the party, and a chef. Daniel was making crepes for everyone on a cool crepe grill. The tool he used to spread the batter out super thin looked like a mini squeegee. Raspberry or chocolate filling with whipped cream on top. Woody had been having a hard time warming up to the party, but the crepes definitely helped.


But after a little while, I found that I was of the same opinion as Woody. The social vibe was a little off for us, especially with the other parents and kids, so after an hour, we went home. 


I like this part of homeschooling socialization, which is to say real-life socialization. If a social scene isn't enjoyable, you can leave. 

It's odd that that isn't a basic freedom, but of course it's not for most children. If a social scene isn't enjoyable at school,  you put up, shut up, or push back. You probably learn many permutations of these three to get through. But just walking away to do your learning elsewhere isn't really an option in the school system. You have to work in the group the teacher assigned. You have to sit in the assigned seat in front of whomever the teacher put behind you. You have to ride on the bus with whomever lives near enough to you to be on the same bus route. 

Some people would argue that the challenge inherent in being stuck in a wretched social situation is helpful in building character. Maybe that's true sometimes--being effectively assertive is one of the toughest things to pull off. Many adults struggle with it. But even if adversity does help people practice assertiveness--and I'm not convinced that it does, or that school is the best place for that practice-- there's too much other ugly stuff you learn along the way trying to cope with that much dysfunction. Also, the kind of behavior that's prevalent in schools isn't tolerated in other places in society. It's not a realistic model of the ways people tend to act or the options you have for dealing with them. People get thrown off the city buses for acting like they do on school buses. Security guards escort people out of stores for being rude to clerks. There is legal recourse for assault and harassment. 

Sometimes, it makes the most sense to just go home or somewhere else--the library, the museum, a friend's house, the park, the coffee shop, for a walk--where you have a little more space and power to be who you are. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

177

Woody, going to bed last night: Mom, I'd like you to tidy my sheets and covers when I get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes my covers get twisted while I sleep.

Me: Would you like me to teach you how to make a bed?

Woody: No, I'll probably just be doing my thing and you can do your thing and make it for me.

Me: I'd be happy to make your bed for you tomorrow. Maybe you'd like to watch just in case, though. You know, in case some day I do my thing and don't have time to make your bed, or I forget. You might want to know how to do it yourself then.

Woody: Maybe.

Chores are a big thing for some parents. It wasn't a big thing in my house growing up, but it was a quietly tense thing that blew up now and again. From the time I was 11, mine was a single-mother home, and none of us three girls did much to help. I don't know why that was. When my parents were together, chores were angry obligations performed (or not) alone and with resentment. Load the dishwasher or you can't go out and play. Clean your room or you don't come with us to the movies. When they split when I was 11, I didn't want to do a single chore ever again in my life.

There were a few Sundays after my dad left--before my mother got a second job--that my younger sister, my mom and I would go around cleaning all together listening to Bob Marley and singing and dancing through the rooms carrying garbage bags, feather dusters, laundry baskets, and brooms. It's one of the times that I remember things being whole and OK. I can still smell in my memory the lemon Pledge and remember how the wind sounded through the open windows when it was cool enough to air out the house. But then, when my mom started working on the weekends and it was just me and my little sister, chores went back to going mostly undone with all of us stalking through the house angry for the dysfunction in our environments and in our relationships with each other. My mom did all the cleaning herself in big, hard bursts when it got to be too much to bear.

It took me a long, long time to learn how to clean and tidy and fix-up, and even longer to see it as a pleasant part of being a functioning human being. I'm still working on it with dishes, but I love putting things back in their places, and I love wiping surfaces with nice-smelling cleaners (which I learned how to make on my own, another part I love). I like shaking out rugs in the front yard and the satisfaction of a shiny stovetop. Folding clean towels. Hanging little boys' clothes on the line. Sweeping off the front porch.



So this morning, after hot cocoa (on what feels like it may be one of our last mornings cool enough to enjoy it), and after he was finished watching cartoons, I showed Woody how I made my bed. Then he climbed up on his bed and I helped him do the same.




Thursday, April 19, 2012

176

Today I have been in a state of mild distraction. To tell the truth, one may say that I was obsessing just a little bit about a health issue I probably don't even have, so when I caught myself staring off into the distance with my mind fixed on symptoms real or dreaded, I started cooking. I went right for the gorgeous fresh produce and good meats. We had eggs with buttered green beans for breakfast. Cole slaw with a white bean salad for lunch. Yogurt and red pepper strips and little sausage patties for snacks. Dinner may be more cole slaw and roast chicken.

We made the mayonnaise for the cole slaw together using eggs, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and cayenne pepper whipped into emulsion in the blender. That was fun, but was messy and really loud, and took longer than any of us expected.


On days like today, it feels like this with the boys: 



It was mostly peaceful coexistence with stretches of doing things together and then doing things apart, sometimes circling back to find one another again. 

Yesterday, when Daddy Honey came home, Woody told him that he wanted to start a leaf collection. (I think he may have gotten this idea from a Franklin episode?) So they went through the back and side yards looking for cool leaves. Daddy Honey can identify a fair number of trees, and we looked up some others in our tree book which, while written for Floridians, still is full of good information pertaining to trees here in Arkansas. (And also, it was written by our dear friend Hope's dad, Gil, and he inscribed it to me, and so it will always, always have a place on our shelf, even if we move to New Zealand.) Daddy Honey's favorite is a Catalpa, so they went down the street to where the one is that he passes every day walking to and from work. Its leaf is the big one down there.