Thursday, June 14, 2018


Brennan's 8th birthday interview
We really didn't want more pets, but honestly, I think letting Brennan get a parakeet was one of the best parenting decision we've ever made.  Letting him get a 2nd one was another great decision.  The third one... well she's kind of a jerk, but we love her anyway.  And the 4th one helped them all simmer down a little.  4 is where we draw the line! hahaha
No more fighting parakeets
This kid literally cries with happiness when he holds his birds.  He tells me all about how each one makes him feel different energies, and how they comfort him.  He cried when we were away for the weekend because he missed Bubbles.  Then he got Kiwi to keep her company, and she's a completely different personality.
Coco is very anti-social, but he always tells me he never once thought of giving her back.  Even though she bites really hard and is afraid of people "she bonded to the other birds and she'd be too sad... it's not her fault she got traumatized by being caught in a net".  She has mellowed out a ton since we got the new cage and a 4th bird.
This parakeet adopted Brennan. Its name is Cyan (pronounced ki-ann)
Cyan (he says it's pronounced Ki-Ann) walked up to him in the pet store so she technically adopted Brennan.  He has learned a lot from being a budgie owner over this past year.  He also builds  interesting play areas for them.
Brennan's parakeets Brennan's bird cage
Brennan is thoroughly enjoying the differences between his budgies, how they feel, how they make him feel, how they interact with each other.  He is being their parent, which carries with it the added bonus of a sneak preview into the type of Dad he's going to be (should he choose that path).  I'd also like to think some of what he does is emulating his own parents.  If that's the case we rock at this!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

First Year Reflections

I started writing this a long time ago, but am only just now finishing it up...

One of the most difficult undertakings for all people, is that of critical self analysis.  As April approaches and we near our first official meeting with the school board to justify our learning philosophy, I'm both excited and terrified.  I still struggle very much with my own feelings of self-doubt, especially as it relates to my intellectual abilities, but I'm getting a little better every day.  This year has been an amazing experience for all of us, trying at times, but overall very beneficial for our little family.  So what are my perceptions on what were the highlights?

Mental Health:  We now have 3 happy kids who feel confident, loved, valuable, and respected as people with their own agency.  Before we began this process we had one very depressed child, one incredibly angry child, and one overwhelmed and confused child.  What I've realized is that traditional schooling was inhibiting their ability to form personal boundaries: physical, intellectual, social, and emotional boundaries were being drawn for them or worse, they were forming boundaries and having them completely disrespected or crossed in the name of "that's just how it is".  Well, that doesn't mean it's right.

I was so sure the portfolio review process was going to be awful.  I had convinced myself the whole education system was against me and was going to interrogate me under a critical spotlight.  My own insecurities activated that saboteur side of me that was going to basically show up as a suicide bomber and destroy myself and everything around me.  Thankfully, I spoke to reasonable and knowledgeable people ahead of time to calm myself down and just get ready like a normal person.  If you're wondering how to do a review as an unschooling family, here's what I did.

I went back and looked at my photos, and made an album specifically for all our field trips accompanied by a printed out list of them and what subjects(s) they were focused on.  I did a write-up for all three of the boys in each subject of what they have been up to during this time and how they have shown their learning in each area.  I also made a watch list of what they have all seen and what subject(s) were covered and a little write-up of what we learned from each.

Next review I am going to bring more examples of writing or art (if they actually have done any) and bring a reading list of the books they have looked into.

The reviewers were so kind and accepting of alternative ideas.  They didn't judge me at all.  They wanted the assessment to go well and for everything to be approved.  They were incredibly helpful and positive.  I will not be nervous again for sure.  I'm annoyed with myself that I go to that place of expecting criticism when I'm feeling vulnerable.  However, I know I'm not alone!  It's just how humans are.  Getting to know ourselves is paramount to being able to work within our limits.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


I haven't posted in forever. This first "semester" of unschooling has been quite a learning experience. I didn't realize it would be the parents, not the kids, who had the most difficulty deschooling!

I have to laugh at my previous post.  Those charts didn't even last a day, and they definitely weren't for the kids. Those charts were for my own comfort. The anxiety about having to DO SOMETHING or I'm somehow neglecting the kids was really pervasive and insistent.  The reactions and concerns from others influenced our comfort level.  We parents had some heated debates... and fights.

Eventually something changed. We were able to look back and see how much happier we ALL are because of this. Most of the reactions I get from people when I tell them we're self directed learners, is "my kids would drive me crazy".  If your goal is support instead of control, it's pretty easy actually.  It's so much easier than school!  We had spent our entire lives trying to live in the approved societal time slot 9 to 6 on weekdays and weekends.  That's just not enough life for me.  I don't want to wait until I'm retired to live.  As we are deschooling (because I'm not sure it ever really finishes) I find myself asking questions.

I found a lot of interesting patterns in the information I was seeking.  The ideas of  "obedience" and "compliance" are pushed really hard onto children (and onto their mothers), but are not considered beneficial to mental health.  Personal boundaries are definitely important to mental health!!  However, having someone else set your personal boundaries, or not allow you any input whatsoever about your own comfort, is the definition of an abusive relationship.

Picture a successful adult.  Are they mindlessly droning on and following orders?  Hell no!  So, why are we pushing this on our children?  Do we expect to raise them to be compliant and then they'll magically become independent, confident, and creative?  There's a huge difference between moral and obedient.  Obedient children are more likely to be targeted for molestation because they are taught to never question adults, to keep their voices down, and never say NO to a grown-up.  Why do you think predators flock to religious organizations to find their victims?  Compliant, obedient, defeated people are easy targets.  We are hurting our children by projecting our own fears onto them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Building Achievers - Part of How I Came to Embrace SDE

Five years ago I was struggling with some pretty severe depression so I entered therapy.  I was introduced to a character strengths test that was developed by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, and used the results to begin my arduous road to recovery and self-discovery.  I shifted my focus and continued to grow and change... still am.  So what does this have to do with unschooling?  I'm currently reading the book Flourish by Seligman, who is one of the founders of positive psychology and well-being theory.  This book is taking me forever to read because I can't stop taking notes, pausing to think, and looking up additional information.  Here's a nice tidbit taken from page 80:

He outlines a formula for achievement and goes into great detail about how his team has defined each element, and how anyone can build the strengths needed to achieve.  Grit (perseverance), patience, and resilience are huge factors in achievement and in well-being.  As a parent, I feel it's my responsibility to encourage my kids to build these strengths, to recognize their own personal strengths, and to find any number of ways to use those strengths to achieve.  I think developing these strengths will help them as adults far more than learning typical school subjects.  I definitely find value in facts and knowledge, but I don't think so much emphasis should be placed on these subjects anymore.

Consider the rise in school shootings, intense bullying, drug usage, and child suicides.  It's obviously time for a shift in goals and priorities... ACTIVELY, not passively.  It's not enough for us to say words like "family values" but expect people to work 10+ hour days, not treat children with respect, put money on a pedestal, serve your job first, buy all the right things, and expect misery as a part of working adult life.  What are our actual goals?  Are we actively pursuing them in ways that are proven effective?  There are 2 ways to change behavior: incentivize change or de-incentivize the behavior.  Our school system is all about de-incentivizing (punishments), which don't effectively target the behavior and foster more negativity in the environment.  Punishment creates incentive to avoid the punisher, not the behavior.  It encourages lying and secrecy.  Look at any moment in history (or even the present) - illegal behaviors are surrounded by violence and shrouded in secrecy, and illegalization doesn't decrease their use/abuse.  If we expect punishment to work, why do we teach at all?  Why not just keep punishing someone until they learn to read or do better in math... because we know that's insane and it would never work.  We are making things worse.  The more you were repressed as a child, the more likely you are to take it out on your kids and hide behind the labels "discipline" or "punishment" to justify violence.  I know because I did it.

We used punishment with our first son and we're still trying to mend our relationship with him at 13.  He was so miserable in school, and we never knew until he couldn't hold in the pain anymore and broke down in front of us.  He doesn't trust us and he's gotten very good about lying or joking his way out of a tense situation.  He never chooses to talk to us about difficult topics.  Punishment has broken our relationship and it never worked to change his behavior.  He still never did homework no matter how long he was grounded.  Punishment made him feel unaccepted by everyone in his life... isolation lead to depression.  Now we're working on figuring out his motivations so he can help himself change his own behavior (if he even wants to), and it will last beyond his time around his parents.  Hopefully we can reestablish communication with him by fostering an environment of love and acceptance that will allow him to openly come to us with issues.

I'm not a parent who doesn't believe in consequences or discipline, but punishment is not an effective tool for changing behavior.  It's been tested many times, and it doesn't work.  Why do we still use this?  I desire a learning environment that is open and inviting, and encourages children to explore their interests and consider their own motivations, beliefs, and values.  Our school system didn't offer that kind of environment for the grades our children are in, it was more about punishment and control being the answer to these problems.  Worse, the school system makes rules that assume children will be bad and therefore need to be controlled: dress codes, 0 touching policies, 0 talking in lunchrooms, enrollment in classes without student input.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Scheduling Routines to Make Room for Creative Chaos

Did you ever notice how everything seems to function on a bell curve?  Instinctively we know this to be true, which is why we have sayings like "too much of a good thing is bad".  I believe there is a point at which every relationship within a system hits its capacity for positive increase and begins falling (which sounds an awful lot like Newton's 3rd Law of Motion).  We have bell curve models for household income and happiness, class size and student achievement, and number of choices and satisfaction (to name a few).  Overarching message is: applying limits to the infinite is the only way we create any definition (and there's Newton's 1st Law of Motion).  Physics, y'all.  There are universal laws of energy and structure AND entropy and chaos all around us.  I'm going to try really hard now not to diverge off-topic into all the other realms where I see this playing out!  It's painful.  My brain really wants to share.  Find me later and we'll talk.  Ahemmm.

Free Bell Curve Vector

Freedom to choose is great, but only to a point.  Having every single option in the world available to us actually creates an intense pressure to "choose correctly" and overwhelms us with anxiety over perceived expectations.  To mitigate the anxiety of endless choice unschooling offers, I felt there should be at least some scheduling, limits, and expectations.  Expectations provide comfort in the chaos.  I came up with some ideas to relieve us in the places we were feeling anxiety.

What do we learn?  When?  How?  I chose 9 possibilities for the kids.  Why?  Because 8 is the number of subjects on which the State wants to do portfolio checks, but 9 fits nicely in a 3x3 table and it's a perfect square: science, mathematics, art, music, health, physical education, writing, and reading.  The kids have experience with all these "subjects" so it's a nice comfortable middle ground to begin the de-schooling process.  Already they're finding their own lessons that incorporate more than one subject (because that's exactly how the world functions) and they're excited about the connections.  I made them each a chart and laminated it so they can use it as a checklist.  I also gave them daily limits I felt were necessary for the well-being aspects of our goals: 1hr of alone time, 1hr of physical exercise, 1hr of unplugged time, and chores.  They can combine whatever they want, however they want or not at all... including their "subject" learning.  Daily, weekly?... not important.  They have all chosen different ways to check their subjects off the chart.  They have goals, but they still feel free to choose, and they're learning how to find those connections between subjects.

What if I can't think of anything to do?  If they run out of ideas, we have idea jars with vocabulary words and people known in those fields of study that they can research.  There are also lists of pre-approved websites where they can find theme-appropriate materials and idea lists: watch a show or documentary, read a book or article, play a game, build something, design something etc.  We're still working on them so no photos yet.

How do we get the ball rolling?  There was also the problem of introducing new information as a catalyst for learning.  At first I assumed it would present itself through everyday life, and while that is often times true, it also helps to try new things.  I know college has fueled many of my own follow-on research.  Field Trip Friday was born!  The kids are on the schedule and know what day they each get to choose and plan a field trip for all of us.  We get to enjoy each others interests and learn new things, and the pre-planning relieved a lot of anxiety in me about where to go and when.

Who's in charge of food?!  Tuesdays and Thursdays are my school days so the kids were concerned about lunches.  It's funny because while they were going to school I never made their lunches, but now that the option for hot food is there everything has changed.  So, we have planned lunches chosen from a small selection of meals I know they can handle.  They take their 10 options and place them however they'd like in the calendar... or just randomly choose one for the day.  The first official week has been great!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Summer is Ending

With every new "1st day of school" photo in my newsfeed, I'm admittedly more nervous about unschooling.  I'm also really excited about my own schooling starting back up.  This is going to be an interesting adventure for us all.  Rather than focusing on my doubt and discomfort, I'm going to remind myself that we are capable and resourceful.

Here's just a few of the resources I've found over the summer that we might be giving a try.  Most of them are science... because I love science.  There's a broad smattering of everything else, including Minecraft and Legos!

The most creative community for kids in the galaxy. Use DIY to learn new skills and keep a portfolio.      MEL Science       advanced learning developed by Stanford University – Discover the premier online resource for helping students unleash their inner genius!      

Great for ages 8 and up. Skills you can't get in school. Minecraft, Illustration, Animation, Engineering, Cooking. Learn what you love and love what you learn.               Steve Spangler Science        My dashboard - School Yourself

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Fear of Losing Control

I can tell there has been a parenting shift in our house because the kids are so different!  They still ask permission for everything (because I am still the parent), but their requests have gotten more bold and interesting.  Not only that, but they do these things without hesitation or trepidation when I say yes.  Tristan's self confidence level has risen enough that he will not only try something new, but he'll do it without supervision!  This is a remarkable shift for him especially.

"Mom can I make a scented hand sanitizer from herbs outside?" -B
"Mom can we buy lemons so I can make lemonade for everyone?" -T
"Mom can we go on a jog through the neighborhood in the morning?  It just feels right." -T
"Mom can I make a cake?" -B
"Mom can we make a video of how many rubber bands it would take to break a lemon?" -T
"Mom have you ever been obsessed with something and you just couldn't stop until you beat it?" -N
"Mom can I have a YouTube channel?" -N

The most difficult task has been to let the obsessions happen.  I really really want to kick Noah off of his games, but why?  If he was building with Legos instead of Minecraft would I feel the same?  No... because I would see him and what he is doing, and because Legos don't have a negative connotation in society.  Minecraft is social at least.  When I let him be, he takes breaks.  In fact, he spent an entire day off of the games without it being Saturday because he had run out of achievements to earn and it had become boring to him.  He's about to be 13, and I remember everything about all those teenage years.  None of it centered around my family.  I remember watching my older sister go through it and she was the same, all about friends, and that's when I got very close to my younger brother.  This is a natural part of the process of growing up.

Teen-hood is the time we begin exploring beyond our family unit and into the realm of how do I want to interact with the world outside.  I remember the freedom I had!  What a gift!  All I did all summer long was call my friends and take off on my bike... no cell phone required.  Come home when the street lights come on.  We were all over the place, meeting up with other kids from the neighborhood.  I couldn't tell you what most of their parents looked like.  We were far from home and unafraid, and we rarely spoke to an adult.  We came home when we were starving and couldn't take it anymore.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons about interaction, emotions, what motivates people, and communication.  I screwed up a bunch of times and I had to fix it myself or move on.  I stayed up all night long in chatrooms and on fake worlds where I felt liberated by people liking me for my personality, not my appearance.  I was empowered by the lack of physical threat if I flirted and didn't follow through.  When Josh was 13 he had his own business mowing lawns complete with employees, self-bought equipment, regular clients, and he used all his profits for video games and Legos.  He was driving and dating very early and juggling full schedules of work and play.  We both joined the military young and got married really early because we were lucky to have parents who let us grow up.  Technology is how they meet up now, and it's not necessarily better or worse.  It's where we are as a society.  Maybe this generation will be the ones who finally are OK with everyone working from home.  No more traffic or commutes or set working hours.  No more buildings to maintain... food for thought.

When I look back at those memories they help me re-gain perspective and re-dedicate myself to the self-directed cause.  We do not need to control our children.  They will be safe and fine.  They can be trusted not to be total jerks or wildly dangerous.  They can be trusted not to jump into a paneled pervy van or play with a loaded gun.  They just want to go be kids and play at being adults.  They will play all the dumb games we did like Truth or Dare, Spin the Bottle, 7 Minutes in Heaven, sneak peeks at nudie pictures and each other, and have ridiculous secret conversations about sex... because exploring that aspect of ourselves requires outside motivation to overcome the fear.  We don't have to catch them or prevent them.  We don't have to outsmart them (we already know).  We protect and we guide.  The hardest part about being a parent for me is allowing mistakes to happen so they can learn about the process of fixing it and moving on... resiliency doesn't come from discussions, it comes from experience.

They cannot learn to fly if they never leave the nest.  Teenagers are those fledgling birds hopping around on the ground, finding places to hide and wait until Mom comes around to feed them once in awhile.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Our generation is at a unique crossroads.  Technology is advancing quickly and we're left squirming in the discomfort of trying to solve a new parenting dilemma - how much screen time is too much?  This is especially difficult when you're trying to encourage self-directed learning, and imposing control and regulations can get in the way of that process.  So what do we do?  I don't know, but I can tell you what we did.

Saturday Unplugged is something we started back in 2011 as a means to prioritize family time (and curb obsession with screens in the process) for all of us.  It was very hard for the parents to do, probably more-so than the kids.  We were pretty religious about it up until all the kids were in school and spending so much time away from home and devices, it seemed no longer necessary.  We did still do it every summer though.  Long story short, we're bringing it back full time.  Since everyone is used to it at this point, no complaints happen.  We're all pretty good about entertaining ourselves or each other.  It's been great.

We had a family discussion where we asked the kids themselves what they think about screen time and what should be done.  They all had completely different opinions so we're letting them self-regulate.  I encouraged them to notice how they feel physically and emotionally throughout the day to see where their own limits lie.  I'm trying really hard not to put too fine a point on it.  We're looking at it like an experiment that we can compare results later on.  There's no immediacy, just curiosity.  This should be a great learning experience for self-awareness, self-regulation, self-control, and goal-setting.  Our goal is to notice when we become anxious or agitated, and to see if maybe too much screen time is the reason we feel unbalanced.

Balance is a funny thing... people assume it means "evenness", but that's untrue.  Balance is simply the point at which both sides are having an equal effect within the system.  I need a ton of nature time to feel balanced, Josh and Noah don't.  Tristan needs way more exercise than we do, and more time with others.  Brennan needs a lot of alone time for building and creating.  We are all completely different people with different needs, so setting an arbitrary limit wasn't going to work for us.  Thankfully, our kids aren't babies anymore and can form complex thoughts and self-analyze... otherwise this would be a pointless exercise.

We also used different scientific studies to make our decisions.  This video was a big help in showing the importance of allowing our entire brains to be utilized.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Entering Summer - The End of an Era

No one has been more excited about the prospect of self-directed learning than our 8yr old.  He wants to start NOW NOW NOW and I tell him "go ahead!! anything you want, you've already been doing this your whole life!".  After his normal school day he rushed home and read about fossils, designed a deck for the clubhouse (really ecstatic to use graph paper for the first time), and baked 2 loaves of french bread from scratch.  So... him I'm not worried about justifying the learning experience.  He's hopefully going to have time to write his series of young adult novels he's been reciting to me for years.  He's going to want to take art classes with Grandma, which I absolutely approve of wholeheartedly.  A week with the grandparents completely immersed in art and nature.  OMG he'll be in heaven.

Our 9yr old, is a worrier and gets terrible anxiety about doing well in school.  He hated standardized testing and follows the rules above all else, so if he ever suffers group punishment (a daily occurrence in elementary school lunch rooms) it is devastating to him.  He feels he has been betrayed by the adults and doesn't understand why he must be punished if he wasn't the one guilty of an infraction.  He tries so hard to be good, and still gets punished.  He gets very angry about the fairness of the rules and doesn't understand why they aren't allowed to talk to each other, even during lunch.  They run the school like a prison, according to him.  He gets incredibly upset when a friend is punished, especially when they aren't allowed to give their side of the story.  He is part of student council, but hates it because they don't actually do anything.  He doesn't approve of the belief that children are not allowed to defend themselves or their motivations to adults.  He has earned his freedom through continuous displays of responsible behaviors, and yet it was not being granted.  His self-esteem cannot take this beating!!  It's precarious enough!

He might have a hard time with self-governance and enjoying his autonomy at first.  Since he respects the rules and believes in self-discipline, my plan is to task him with designing his own code of ethics and daily schedule.  He's so ingrained in that mindset, I just want to hand him back the reins.  My other challenge will be to present him with enough teammates because he's highly motivated by group tasks.  He loves to be a contributing member, to use his emotional intelligence, and to feel needed by others.  He especially loves being mature and hangs back with the adults to converse and be included.  I have to find ways to involve him in activities with others who will respect his contributions.  Most likely, he'll do a lot of supporting his brothers as they delve into their interests and learn alongside them, maybe even be their motivator.  He's our ultimate observer.  He sees and hears all, and tells us where to look!  He is constantly taking in and analyzing information and he's very good at it.  He is also fearless when others are there to witness it.  He's so interesting.

Our oldest... he's been in public school from kindergarten through 7th grade and is turning 13 soon.  I have no idea what he will do.  I suspect he will want to spend most of his time finally being free to explore what he's interested in, which is on an Xbox or the internet.  My task will be to let go of the need to regulate out of fear of what others think.  Youtube videos of kids playing games while watching youtube videos.  I don't get it.  That's what he likes.  He likes gaming and I doubt he will ever grow out of that.  I have to really think critically about the ACTUAL ramifications of this instead of the societal belief about it... and then find what I believe to be a healthy balance, and ask him what he thinks about it.  Better yet, I can ask him to do it instead.  "Noah, I was thinking of regulating your screen time, but I am not sure what the right answer is... what do you think?".  I don't think any of us knows how much time we spend on our devices anyway.  Perhaps another place to start is by logging all of our screen time so we know what's really happening.

Regardless, It's important to us that he start noticing how he feels physically and mentally, really paying attention to how his actions influence those things as he enters into puberty.  Perhaps he can use his need for screen time as an experiment in self-control and self-regulation... emphasis on the self part.  I'm so glad we have our family Constitution!  That's a good place to start.  He is an engineer and a problem solver.  His super-fast brain loves the complexity and speed of gaming, and the strategy and interaction with others.  He says the only thing he's going to miss is Lego Robotics.  He is only interested in doing things that pose a challenge to him physically or mentally (just like his parents!).

The great thing about this process is that none of us has to have the right answers.  The questions haven't even presented themselves yet, but when they do I think we'll be ready.  The whole point is that we're finding them together through critical thought and experiences.  

Creating Portfolios - Dealing with the State

There currently is no body of laws governing unschooling (aka self-directed learning).  It is categorized/covered under normal homeschool regulations, which don't actually fit the philosophy.  Unschooling is kinda hard to explain to others, and I'm betting the school board will be no exception.  People ask questions about what you're going to teach, and they use the word student all the time.  It's really hard to talk about in terms others can understand because it's still categorized "schooling" and people expect that vocabulary and hierarchy of teacher and student.  Until we get better at this, I'm giving my kids "calls to action", which was a fabulous tool my chemistry professor used to logically link task to purpose, giving us clear motivation and goals.  This is necessary for me to do because I have to create a portfolio to prove the kids are being adequately taught the approved subjects covered in the State regulations.  The exact verbiage is incredibly vague: Provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in public schools to children of the same age.  Include instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education.  Take place on a regular basis during the school year and be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program.  The only clear expectation of homeschooling from the State is "emulate public school at home", which is going to be tricky since I disagree with how they regulate the process of learning (and that's why we left in the first place).  I think we'll be fine though.  Maybe the assessment board will learn a thing or two from us.  Wouldn't that be amazing?!

My plan is to simply provide calls to action they would likely be interested in, and then keep track of their creative problem-solving on this blog.  Hopefully that will serve as a good enough portfolio to justify our learning experiences.  My prediction is that the kids will become deeper thinkers and better problem solvers as they gain experience.  I also predict they will find their own tasks or problems to solve as time rolls on.

What I noticed from my recent foray back into college, is that far too many students are paralyzed by the task of finding answers.  They also have a real problem defining the questions themselves.  Many become stressed and angry by the request, expecting the professors to provide answers, because that's what they pay them for!  I became stressed and angry too, but not about finding answers or asking the right questions... I was angry that we were rarely asked to try anything on our own.  Memorization and testing is still the norm in many college classes, and for some subjects and portions of lessons there's no real way to avoid that.  However, there was a serious lacking in practical application.  It probably wouldn't have bothered me as much if I hadn't had the distinct pleasure of being in at least one college class that was the opposite.  A chemistry lab that gave me a problem and a lab partner, a deadline, a grading rubric, and resources.  It was like learning how to ride a bike, and when it was over I felt empowered.  However, the general consensus was one of insecurity.  If I had been fresh out of High School where I was still required to ask for permission to go to the bathroom, I may have felt the same way.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Family Goals - Intentional Parenting

I'm sharing with you all the first draft of our family Constitution that will be amended and ratified over the course of our lives together I'm sure :)  This provides us with a clear reference point when making decisions for our family so we keep living intentionally with clear goals in mind.  This allows us to make decisions that fit our goals instead of being on "autopilot" based on cultural norms.  Having clearly defined parenting goals allows us to critically evaluate our actions and motivations, and to change if needed.

What are our goals for our children? What values do we wish to instill in them before they venture out into the world? What is a “successful person” to us? 1. HAPPY - “feeling pleasure and contentment” is the definition of happiness. What tools can we give our kids that will help them find and keep their happiness? Start with the strengths test from authentichappiness. This will give us a personal platform to begin from with each child. This goal encompasses all other goals. a. Gratitude - be able to show gratitude for their present situation and focus on reasons to be thankful rather than critical, without condemning their ability to judge something critically or be unhappy with a situation. Help them work through the discomfort of unhappiness as a normal process that isn’t wrong, and highlight the practice of finding gratitude as a way to cope with anxiety.
b. Personal Responsibility - be able to take responsibility for your own actions, understanding that every action has a reaction. There is always a consequence, and it’s not always bad! Point out all the reactions and consequences, not just the “bad” ones so they can see the balance that is struck at all times. Point out the inherent control over only ourselves, and not every part of ourselves, and find peace with the lack of control on every other front. We are part of nature and nature is always seeking a balance… what part are you playing right now? How can you change it? c. Self Regulation - Start off with guidelines and controls and taper them off to complete independence. Have them personally log things like screen time, sleep, diet, exercise, hydration… so they can really see where their time is being spent and get a clearer picture of their day-to-day lives. Time management is a part of this! How long does it take me to do ___? How much time do I spend on my tablet? d. Self Awareness - The five senses: Body, Feeling, Perception, Intention and Consciousness. Use meditation and midfulness to bring their awareness to their physical body and how it feels, their own emotions, their inner thoughts, their motivations, and their manifestations/actions. Bring back the alone time. We want them to be thoughtful and deliberate people who see themselves and others clearly. e. Self Confidence - Conquering fear starts with learning your own strengths. Start with the strengths test and use their biggest assets to help them improve and grow. Take a look at what they believe their biggest weaknesses are and see if they feel anxious or accepting of them. Allow them to try and try again. Keep practicing the art of failing, analyzing, re-designing, and re-trying. No matter the task… NO MATTER THE TASK! This very much includes mental health and stability practices. Encourage tiny victories. Cheer each other on. f. Self Care - Help them establish care plans that work for them. They can look stuff up online, take more quizzes, have conversations, go to therapy, whatever they come up with to discover what methods and tools work best for them. g. Sense of Purpose - It’s important for us to show them, in this world that highlights ultra-achievers, that just being yourself is an amazing accomplishment. Highlight the very smallest to the very biggest of things. Have them understand that all things are equally important, and no one job is more significant than another because all of it is interconnected. Interconnectedness and comfort with self leads to a sense of purpose. h. Connection to World - Interconnectedness, highlighting their own existence as an important and integral part of the gigantic universe. Establish this connection by teaching empathy, kindness and compassion. We are all important. 2. HEALTHY - Much of this can be accomplished through reaching our first set of goals, which is the mental side of healthcare that often gets lost in the civilian world. The other side, the physical side, is taught through study of how the internal systems function and how exercise and good eating habits affect those systems. a. Health - Understanding how the body functions and why healthy choices are important. Spend equal time on both physical and mental health! Look at the physical changes of poor mental health as well to show the connection. b. Diet - Building blocks of our entire bodies are molecules we get from what we eat and drink. Digestion and integration, food web, lifecycles. c. Activity - Look at building muscles, endurance, creating healthy habits. Look at the extreme ends of the spectrum and discuss where each one feels they fit in. Adventurous? d. Time in Nature - Resetting your senses is always a great idea. Both physical and mental health responses to time in nature. Importance of green spaces to health and welfare of biological organisms. Connect with ecology and instill love of nature and stewardship. 3. EMPOWERED & CAPABLE - facing fears willingly, being outside of your comfort zone in order to learn and grow. Believing in yourself and your abilities to accomplish something, or if not, to learn from failure. Resiliency! a. Personal Growth - Mastering the goals we laid out for happiness and understanding it is a lifetime practice and will always be changing. Be excited about that! b. Conquering Fear - Knowing what it feels like to be afraid and no longer allowing it to control what we want to accomplish. Be open and honest with them about how it’s hard even for adults. Let them see us conquer our fears. Communicate. c. Setting Reasonable Goals - Show them how to set small goals so that they can be successful. It’s great to focus on the future, but understand that it’s very hard to walk all that way without ever focusing on what’s right in front of you. Teach them how to look back at what they’ve done to give them a boost when they most need it. It’s completely normal to feel like a failure sometimes, and we’ll show them how we try to silence the saboteur. Learning the tools needed for resiliency. d. Independence - Managing time, working with finances, knowing your strengths, taking responsibility, having goals and knowing how to make a plan to reach them, being professional, working with others (because no one does anything truly alone and social skills are a must-have). Letting them take control of their own learning. 4. CREATIVE - We want our kids to be able to disconnect from (and recognize) society’s groupthink and boxes. We want them always asking themselves “why” or "what" before blindly believing something. Find the questions again. Art not required. a. Imagination - Let it run wild! Provide whatever resources we can to allow them to explore their imaginings. Give them lots of blank slates for their masterpieces. Say yes to trying new things. Be interested. Be inspired. Be excited. Listen. b. Originality - Using your own strengths and experiences to create new ideas and information. Exposure to all kinds of cultures and methods that can help them break free of the traditional American societal norms, and help them see alternatives exist… what other alternatives can you think of? c. Critical Thinking - What do I think, and why? What do I feel, and why? The art of thinking about thinking, and then effectively expressing your thoughts and opinions on a topic. Being willing to change your mind. d. Inquisitiveness and Skepticism - Intro to Logic, how to spot fake news, reliable sources, fact vs opinion, scientific method, creating an experiment based on an initial observation.

Reverse Engineered Parenting

When we first decided to finally try unschooling, I had already been toying with the idea for 2 solid years.  Insecure about my own abilities as a parent (and a human being in general), I set out to build my self confidence through facing my fears of inadequacy.  I finally enrolled in college.  An honor's college.  At 35yrs old.  It was very difficult and emotionally draining... until it wasn't.  My confidence was growing with each new experience.  Every fear shrunk until it became powerless.  During this time I had many personal revelations about the learning process versus the schooling process, and what I wanted it to be like.  I noticed some trends I hated, and some I absolutely loved.  I broke down the experiences and asked myself what practices were working and why.  That's when I knew unschooling was right for us.  I realized I had been "supplementing" with it my entire life and theirs... and those were the experiences that were most meaningful and memorable.  However, there was still the task of "coming out" to everyone about my decision.

I knew I personally had to do a lot of research and groundwork so that I would feel comfortable with the decision.  I had to have information written in my own voice that I could refer back to when the gremlins in my head start making me doubt myself.  Preparation is not so that I will know what to do with the kids... it's so that I can maintain my faith in this very different process when I start getting questions and comments.  I need to be prepared, as a parent, to defend my choices to myself and others.

Change terrifies us, and can cause us to become defensive and angry or jealous.  Living an honest and brave life is not an easy task.  Being different is really challenging!!  I do not judge this defensiveness as good or bad, I simply acknowledge its existence... because it most certainly is in me.  I used to get so jealous of parents who were traveling with their kids.  It's time for me to take that leap and finally do something I've been longing to try.

I began telling a few select people my intentions to unschool.  They were people who had only known me over the past 5 years or so, after the time I dramatically changed my core beliefs and grew as a person.  They were only people who had experience as teachers or therapists who had worked with children and whose opinions I valued on the topics.  They were people who had healthy relationships, believed mental health was just as important as physical health, and who were serious critical thinkers.  I knew they would give thoughtful comments rather than fearful opinions.  They were peers and mentors, so they were not going to kiss my butt or placate me with empty compliments.

One by one they expressed excitement and utmost confidence in my ability, and my children's ability, to tackle unschooling!  They found me peer-reviewed articles that supported my beliefs.  They shared books with me.  They shared pages of resources.  They asked me questions.  They gave me amazing perspectives.  They gave me confidence and reminded me of all the things I tend to forget about myself and my children: we're awesome.  I was determined.

My first step was to write out some goals.  I wanted to have clear goals in mind when dealing with the kids so I could ask myself what actions would help me.  I sought to answer the questions:
What are our goals for our children?
What values do we wish to instill in them before they venture out into the world?
What is a "successful person" to us?

We came up with 4 main goals and clearly defined each one.  Goal-setting is paramount to success!  So much of what we do can be aimless, but we wanted to transform our lives and our actions through thoughtful intention.  Oddly enough, one of the most profound pieces of information and inspiration we got was from an episode of Chef's Table on Netflix.  We all grew up in the States being told the 5 senses were: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing... but this Buddhist chef recited them quickly to her students, and they were completely different.  The 5 senses in Buddhism: Body, Feeling, Perception, Intention, and Consciousness.  It was only seconds, but it was so profound to us that we had to rewind, write it down, and pause it for a bit to really absorb what had just been said.  The whole of one's existence was in those senses, and we really wanted to incorporate that completeness into our family goals.  So we did.

Now armed with a detailed outline of goals for our parenting, we have a clear direction and an agreed-upon point of reference, ready to be interpreted in moments of change or disagreement.