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Negotiable, Open Ended Schedules and Learning Programs

by Beverley Paine, July 2013

When I wrote learning plans/programs for my children they were usually open-ended and flexible. Everything was negotiable. This was a lesson I learned fairly quickly in the early years of homeschooling. In our curriculum/learning programs I based my educational expectations and goals on what I knew about child development, a subject I kept seeking information about because I began parenting knowing very little and what I did know was next to useless and not at all child-friendly!

We didn't have rigid schedules or time-lines at home, except perhaps 'by the age of eighteen' (an arbitrary age which we figured represented the onset of adulthood - and when it came around realised just how silly that idea was!)

I was guided by my own expectations, and each child challenged the assumptions my expecations were based on. For instance, I wanted my children to know the times tables as they are such a useful mathematical tool and had expected that we'd have them conquered at around age 8 or 9. We played around with learning the tables and I learned a lot about how each of my children think and work mathematically. I'm not sure if any of my children know their times tables or if they use them at all.My expectation was the starting point for a relaxed exploration that lasted quite a few years. We didn't impose deadlines to learn by, although these often come thick and fast in 'real' life. I realised that my desire for my children to use this useful mathematical tool was based on my rather limited experience and knowledge caused by own schooling. My children taught me that there are other ways of thinking mathematically. Nonetheless, I'm pleased I exposed them to this particular tool, and how and when to use it.

I wrote goals and kept records because I need to feel organised: I have so much going on in my head and life that without some kind of structure I quickly lose my way and then feel overwhelmed and begin to lack confidence in what I'm doing. Sometimes I forget why I'm doing something and can be easily distracted or disuaded from a path my heart had been set on. I have lists all over my desk and goals on notice boards around the house. I find that I tend to slowly achieve 90% of my goals this way.

The goals and objectives I had for the children were based on our family values, the children's needs, and the availability of resources. There were many times we didn't work to build on the child's interests. For instance, at age seven our daughter wanted a horse. We knew nothing about caring for a horse. We were underemployed at the time and owning a horse was an expense we couldn't manage. We cut back in other areas and managed to find enough cash to allow her to have horseriding lessons at a nearby riding school for a few months until her father's hours at work were cut back further and we could no longer afford it. I watched my daughter's interest in horses attentively: it wasn't something she was passionate about so we chose not to encourage her interest. Perhaps that was wrong of us. Her memories of that period are that we wouldn't let her have a horse, even though she recognises that she isn't, and wasn't, a 'horsey' person. We made the jugdement at the time that it was a romantic affiliation and wouldn't last. She remembers it differently.

Our youngest showed an interest in racing cars from an early age. Remembering how we didn't follow his sister's interests with horses, when he was about eight years old when the opportunity arose to buy an old petrol go-cart we did and set about making a track on our property. Gokarting is an expensive hobby: the cost of keeping the cart running, even making bits for the engine and frame ourselves, was disconcerting. Our son eventually gave up any notion of becoming a racing car driver as he realised just how much money and effort is involved.

It's hard to know what might have happened had we been able to financially resource these interests. Our children have innate talents that are not at all related to horse riding or driving fast... They had the opportunity to dabble but ultimately it was our decision as parents to dissuade them from the paths they wanted to travel. We could have altered our lives to resource their interests: sell our home, for example, and find a lower cost house we could rent or a cheaper area in which to live. It's hard catering for everyone's interests, especially if we all have expensive hobbies. Our hobby was to continue building our house, look after our many pets (which the children were reasonably passionate about), and have the children's father available most days a week, which meant choosing to live on a low income.

No matter how hard I try to give my children room to grow unhindered by my expectations I know it's impossible. They know I want certain things for them and would prefer them to behave in particular ways according to my values. I know I've done an imperfect job of parenting and educating them, but that's okay. I okay with the fact that I wasn't always capable and didn't always do my best and that I made decisions that worked for us as a family, or for me as an individual, rather than the children. They couldn't always do or get what they wanted or needed in a timely fashion or even at all. I worked hard to make our home a child-friendly home although for many different reasons it wasn't always that way.

I think what I'm trying to say is that I think it's impossible not to, on occassion, impose our will on them against their needs/interests/desires. My experience is that it doesn't do long-term damage to their development, particularly if we foster open and honest communication with them and if we work hard at understanding our own motivations. I always made a point of apologising when I recognised I'd trashed their feelings, desires, aspirations, dreams, boundaries, etc, or overstepped the mark and become an overbearing authoritarian parent. I think apologising to my children helped a lot in building respectful relationships, though they're always telling me to stop apologising now!

Now, with two of my children now parents, I understand that my expectations got in the way of peaceful parenting. It's hard not to have expectations as a parent: we've been specifically trained to have expectations. Letting go of expectations takes considerable effort. I'm working hard at letting go of expectations of my grandchildren, taking my time to be observant, noticing who they are and what they do easily, what is hard for them, what they like and respond to, as well being attentive so that I can help them identify and meet their needs. Letting go of my need to focus on what I want from the relationship or need from the situation still isn't easy.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!

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