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More Thoughts on Deschooling

By Beverley Paine, 2003

Karen wrote: I pulled my two oldest sons out of school early last year and spent most of the year deschooling and having frequent freak outs by me that they "weren't doing enough" etc.

Deschooling is probably the hardest task we face as unschoolers. Someone once said it takes one month of deschooler for every year your child has been at school, but that doesn't take into account deschooling ourselves as parents. If I add up the years Robin and I spent at school (including uni), as well as the children, then the deschooling phase would last years!

We read through our home education curriculum statements on our philosophy, goals and methods every year to help keep us on track. I find that many unschoolers argue that documenting their family's learning journey isn't necessary, but I've found it to be an excellent way to build confidence in the learning naturally process, especially in the first ten years. I didn't ask my children to build up a collection of 'evidence' that they are learning and progressing - I did 99% of the record keeping as I was the one that needed it (and not for some authoritative educational bureaucracy. I needed to prove to myself that home education works for my children).

It took me well over ten years to feel confident that unschooling works, and then only because looking back I could see it had! Knowing that didn't stop the occasional panic attack that I was harming my children by letting them learn in what looked like a very undisciplined manner...

Personally, I loved school and have had to work hard to get the desire to "play schools" out of me. Homeschooling didn't seem to make sense some days, knowing that I loved school, that I was and still am an excellent student, and that, on the surface, school hadn't done me any harm. So why was I fussing so much about the children's education?

Karen wrote: Now I actually feel like we have the opposite problem. We have become SO unstructured that I feel like the boys are becoming really undisciplined and they also seem highly unmotivated to actually learn. 

This is a stage we all go through. It's okay. Encouraging really. Hard to see that when you are in the thick of it though!

It simply means that YOU have a LOT more deschooling to do... deschooling yourself, that is. It's perfectly natural to feel insecure at this stage. If you have any John Holt books, or can borrow some, have a read. I always found his ability to TRUST that children will learn, can learn, want to learn, can't help but learn, very encouraging.

Question your motives for wanting your children to 'learn'. Question exactly what it is you want them to learn. Are you valuing this learning over that learning? Think about skills and processes as well as content and products as you reflect on what your children are doing throughout the day.

I believe that the insecurity you're experiencing has its roots in not being clear about what you value - educationally speaking. This is where reading my home education philosophy statement (part of my learning plan) each year helped me. I had written things like self-esteem, confidence, etc, as priorities and goals. I hadn't written specific objectives, such as reading by age 6, doing calculus by age 16, etc. I wanted my children to be able to communicate effectively and confidently, and yep, they were actually getting much better at communicating each and every day. I could see that OUR goals were being met within OUR timelines (not the school curriculum guide's framework timelines).

Karen wrote: The main thing they like is anything involving a screen i.e. X-box, computer or TV (they love documentaries & educational programs & retain heaps of knowledge from what they watch). 

Ahhh, the tyranny of addiction to the small screen! So-called passive entertainment... I overcame this by translating those games and programs, movies etc, into educational jargon. Once I could see that his was just another learning tool my paranoia that my children were 'wasting their time' diminished (but never disappeared!) However, it was very important to me that the children balanced their time. Developmentally they needed just as much outside play, running around, as they did computer or TV time. Maybe more. They also needed to make things - keep busy with their hands - so art and craft projects were a big deal in our home. And then there were chores. Sure, they could play the computer or watch TV but we insisted that these other things were important too.

Home education is nestled within a family context, which means that education is a shared responsibility between child and parent. It's not a 'child-led education'. It's a family led education, within the social context of the wider community... It's based on the fact that there are definitely things we need to learn to survive as individuals and together with others in groups. Sometimes we don't want to learn or do these things or take responsibility for them: learning doesn't have much to do with 'want', it's mostly based on 'need'. We learn because we are naturally driven to learn by these needs. Working out the timing - when to encourage children to step up and embrace this responsibility for those things they don't want to do but need to - is something that we eventually work out as we learn to learn to respect and trust each other more fully and truly get to know each other. Remember, our children's personalities and abilities are only just developing. It's up to us to help them identify and meet our needs.

Karen wrote: I am very disorganised and often find it difficult to actually achieve anything much with the kids. 

I suggest you forget about the children for a while and concentrate on your own education. What do you want to learn? Perhaps, like me, you want to establish a routine in your life, so that you feel more organised and in control of your own destiny (rather than have fate and circumstance bounce you around all the time!) This is something I am STILL learning!

I write out lists: what I want to achieve, how I can do it, how I will know I'm actually getting somewhere. Will I reward myself (never works anyway, but I still con myself that I can actually bribe myself to learn new tricks, routines, etc).

There are lots of ways to organise yourself. I always start with my environment. That usually means tidying up. Rearranging furniture and use of rooms so that life flows more efficiently. We use space differently at different times in our lives. I usually rearrange once or twice a year... Clear the clutter. That's always the first step. Getting rid of the physical clutter magically eliminates a heap of mental clutter.

Lists. I have dozens of lists. Start with a 'must do' ONE thing each day. If you think of another twenty-three put these on another list out of the way where it isn't going to bug you all day. I try to get the one thing done early in the day and then surprise myself by knocking off three or four more... Don't focus on the kids, or home educating them. You'll be educating them without even realising it simply by getting on with your own busy life.

Make a point of interacting positively with the children. Don't nag them - it only gets under your skin and depresses you. State what you want/need and leave it at that. Ask them if they can help you achieve what you want/need. If they can, say thanks and ask when can they do it? If they give you a time and after that time they haven't done it, and you are disappointed, state that you're disappointed that they haven't met their commitment to you, and ask do they still think they can do it and if so, when, and if not, can they please tell you earlier next time so that you can organise an alternative? I like to 'negotiate' with my children. Doesn't always work and I'm disappointed more often than not. But then, again, I model this behaviour to them, as I'm always forgetting to do what I said I'd do! We're all human. I aim for a cooperative existence. As I don't nag too much, and I require their attention and assistance infrequently, they are usually able to meet my wants/needs.

Karen wrote: I have lots of good IDEAS but am really bad at making them happen.  i.e. I'd love to investigate organic veggie gardening in our (small) yard but just always seem to get stuck at the stage of investigating possibilities. I'm not really good at pulling it all together. 

That's where the 'one thing on the list' each day habit comes in useful for me. I aim SMALL. One small achievable thing. It sounds to me like you have a habit of thinking BIG. Don't grow vegies in a garden - grow them in a pot or box. Don't grow ten vegies. Grow ONE. Don't start a compost heap in the corner of the yard. Help the children build a worm farm in a bucket in your kitchen!!! Grow six carrot stumps in six pots on your window sill (apparently Jacky French recycled the same carrot over and over again!) Grow sprouts. But do ONLY ONE of the above suggestions a day. Keep it simple, keep it small, keep it manageable.

If you can do this in one area of your life you'll find the ability starting to spill into other areas, especially your expectations of yourself and your children regarding home education.

Karen wrote: I think the kids are sick of me saying, "Hey, I've got this great idea" or "Maybe we could do this..." but then it doesn't happen.

So look at WHY you are saying this... what are your motives? Question your beliefs about education. Where do they come from? What do you believe education is? What do you value? Do you really value those things, or have you been taught to value those things?

Were you taught that you had to be jack of all trades? Were you taught that you had to be good at everything you tried? Maybe you don't ever get to the 'doing' stage because you know you're going to fail... you're not going to finish. It's all too much, too hard, too BIG. If this is the case, you have to stop yourself from thinking big (or put all that stuff down on paper and then file it somewhere out of sight for a day or two!) and take the first step. Pick one small, easy, simple thing that you can that will builds towards the whole, and then DO it. It usually only takes a few minutes anyway. We tend to spend hours nagging ourselves to do it.

But back step here a bit - you're probably overstating the situation. Make a list - right now - of all the things you do start and finish every day. Don't be shy - write absolutely EVERYTHING you can think of. All those parenting things, housework things, personal care things, things you do for friends, relatives, strangers, keeping life flowing smoothly things. You are a very BUSY person! Don't underestimate just how much your children are learning by being in the same vicinity as you!

Karen wrote: So it is any wonder that THEY seem undisciplined?! 

This is where you need to define 'discipline' - thoroughly. Use a dictionary and an encyclopaedia. Question the values and beliefs that underpin your definition of discipline. How many different definitions of discipline can you come up with? And then ask yourself, discipline or motivation?

Karen wrote: I still toy with the idea of buying something like Math-U-See or other manipulatives because I like the idea of having lots of resources lying around for them to muck around with etc. 

I love those toys too. I was always buying educational reassurance instead of educating... But they're fun. And make great toys... You can always make your own of course - way more educational too. I liked the structure, the books, the scope and sequence, the instructions. So I bought them and we played school with them, then we simply played with them. And it was ALL good! I didn't kid myself that the children NEEDED this stuff to learn. I accepted that I needed them to reassure ME I was an okay teacher...

Karen wrote: Also wondering how to encourage them to read more.  We always get heaps of books from the library but they often just sit there without even being looked at!  Should I introduce "reading time"?

You could spent two or three hours a day reading them. Then sharing a snippet or two about the story or content at the dining table in casual conversation. They'll get the idea that books are interesting. I used to leave the books lying around open - the pictures would attract my non-readers who would then spend time flipping through and usually end up talking for hours... Forget story books unless your children love to read them, or unless you love to read them aloud. Most kids enjoy flipping through non-fiction books if they are about things in which they are naturally interested. Kids are usually only interested in a few things - how things work, how the world works, how bodies work, etc. Definitely have these books floating around the place all the time. And then select books on specialist topics to coincide with 'hot' topics or current passions to add to the collection from time to time.

Only introduce reading time if you love reading. Or if only one child loves reading, make sure he or she gets time to indulge in that passion (but not to the exclusion of exercise, playing with others, doing the chores, etc!)

Karen wrote: "Reading time" sounds so schoolish! 

Why? If your family is anything like mine we always make time to watch the telly at night... And we eat at regular times too. Why should scheduled reading together be any different? Believe me, deschooling is never-ever finished!

I've always found that as I write my questions and pour out my doubts and fears the answers begin to appear - often just asking someone else is enough to illuminate what I really want and need, and paves the way to working out how to achieve them. We're all wise beings - deschooling ourselves helps us learn how to tap into that innate wisdom.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

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 supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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