Unschooling: Living Without School; Living Free Range-Freedom to Learn What One Wants When One Wants

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Memoirs of an UNschool Mom

I don't have what most Moms have. I don't have what most Moms wish for. I don't have A+ spelling tests stuck with cute little alphabet magnets to the refrigerator. No gold stars either. No report cards brought home in little colored folders labeled "Take Home." And no cut and paste color by the numbers art. I don't volunteer at a school. And I am not part of a PTA. Although, at one point that is what I wanted, I know that now I have so much more.

My house is a learning zone. Not a mess by any means. (I am too OCD for that.) But my house-our hous- is a safe place to learn and experiment, explore outdoors. In the famous words of Teacher Mrs. Frizzle, "Take chances, get messy, make mistakes..." It is a place where S is free to live and free to learn. Free to be treated as an equal and not as "just a child," which society deems as "beneath adults."

There is recycling down stairs that S is allowed to go through at any time that upcycling appears on her lists of  "to dos" for the day. There is a small army of organically grown vegetable and fruit plants on the back porch, free for exploration. From planting to observation with a magnifying glass, and even using for cooking afterward, our garden provides a plethora of learning opportunities. We have a closet filled with art supplies and piles of books about so many things, from story to reference, from picture, to classics, all at her fingertips, and which she uses frequently. Her bedroom is decorated with marker boards covered in drawings, math problems, and stories. A chalkboard covered in the same. Globes, posters about space, the human body, and animals. Comic books, building materials such as blocks, Legos, and a marble roller coaster. And don't get me started on the kitchen-a card table set up as a little area just for S. At any given moment it might be covered in supplies to build a volcano or a model of the solar system. Books about the weather along with her latest experiment or creation. Currently the table is over taken by a stack of books about artists in history, famous pictures of paintings, and books on building drawing skills. Not to mention the baskets of acrylic paints, professional water colors, pastels, and the pile of used sketch paper-along with a fresh new blank sketch book since she used her last one up already. My refrigerator is covered in real, live art and held up by magnets purchased at the places we get to go and explore during the day when nobody is there-museums, historical locations, and parks. It is covered in pictures drawn by my child who was inspired by moments of silence, times of nature study, times of play, times of boredom even. There is a loaf of freshly baked bread sitting on the counter. Peanut butter loaf for lunch. And a dozen cinnamon muffins for this week's breakfast. (Later we will make homemade noodles for our spaghetti! Yum!) We don't do gold stars. We do hugs and kisses, not for an "A+ job well done," but for a creative work inspired by relationships and experiences.

I scale my child's progress on the way that I see her growing daily from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to bed. I see her learning to use her time wisely. I see her learning to solve problems, make friends, and resist peer pressure. I see her drawing stick figures one day, and the next day she has watched 20 "how to" videos, and adjusted them to her style. The next thing I know she has created a uniquely drawn-and colored-human being with intricately finished eyes, hair, and other body features-even boobs. ;) I see her getting involved with her community, building relationships with adults and kids, volunteering, and learning about how to do things like they used to be done. I see her asking for bee pollen during allergy season. Asking for silver when she feels an infection coming on. or saying, "Where is the coconut oil? I am about to go outside and my skin is feeling tender from yesterday."

I just take it all in, because no matter how much the battle within rages-not so much anymore actually, my fears of mainstream "warnings", judgement, and condemnation are constantly assuaged when I see her doing all these things. And I realize, people are right. We will not reach the same goal. She might hace what some people consider "learning gaps." Maybe she won't be skilled at sitting in an office for a full day's work. Maybe she won't even be considered "normal."

But we are reaching out for a different goal, and that is for a life long love of learning. The ability to follow her dreams and know where to start. A passion to work for God and His World. And to question-always question WHY. Why does society say this? Is it true? Why should I conform?  Are things what they seem? And before it is asked, yes, I allow her to question me, respectfully, as I would her, when she doesn't know why I say something. I didn't care for the phrase, "Because I said so" growing up, and I would never dream of saying it to my child. It goes back to my belief that we are equals. I am here to guide her, but I am not here to control her. I digress before I get started.

To end, here is an excerpt from a book called "The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Education" The author tends to be a little bitter in her descriptions, but rightfully so. I look back at the 13 years of my public education, and I am enraged too. But I am taking my anger and trying to transform it into a 13 year lesson learned as I try to provide a better life for my child and family as a whole. That is all we can do, decide what is best for our OWN family, and go from there....

"ON A SOFT green planet, a smiling baby was born in an orchard resplendent with
every kind of fruit in the universe. The baby's parents called her Tanika, and Tanika
spent her days roaming the warm wet ground on hands and knees. Spotting a clump
of gulberries off in the distance, she'd crawl after it and crush the sweet fruit in her
mouth, red juice staining her brown chin and neck. A muavo would fall fatly from
the high crown of the muavo tree, and she'd savor its golden tang. Each day revealed
new wonders—bushapples, creamy labanas, the nutty crunch of the brown
shrombart. The orchard's fruit sparkled in the dew and sun like thousands of living
moist jewels against the green fragrance of cushioning leaves.
As her eyes grew stronger Tanika lifted her gaze. The opulent branches above
her hung heavy with fruits she'd never dreamed of, globular and glistening. Tanika's
mother and father wandered the orchard too, sometimes, and she watched them reach
out easily and take a shining cluster here, a single green satinplum there. She'd
watch them eat and imagine being tall enough to roam and reach so freely as they.
Sometimes one of them would bend down and give Tanika one of those fruits
from up there in the moving leaves. Fresh from the branches, it intoxicated her, and
her desire to know and taste all the fruits of the orchard so consumed her that she
began to long for the day she could reach that far.
Her longing strengthened her appetite, and the fruit strengthened her legs, and
one day Tanika crawled to the base of a mysterious bush at the edge of the stream
that watered the orchard. She leaned carefully forward and braced her arms as she
positioned her feet. Unsteadily she rose and groped for the shrub's pale fruit.
Tugging knocked her off balance and she sat down hard in an overripe muavo, but
she barely noticed the fruit squishing under her thighs: in her hands she grasped a
fruit thin-skinned and silver, fresh and new. She pressed it to her nose and face
before she let her teeth puncture it.
No sooner had she tossed the smooth pit into the stream, than she heard a
rustling behind her. A jolly bespectacled face grinned down at her.
"Well, well, well! You're a mighty lucky little girl! I've come to teach you to20 The Teenage Liberation Handbook
get the fruit down from the tall trees!"
Tanika's happiness unfurled like a sail. She could hardly believe her good luck.
Not only had she just picked and eaten her first bush fruit, but here was a man she
didn't even know offering to show her how to reach the prism of treats high above
her head. Tanika was so overcome with joy that she immediately rose to her feet
again, and plucked another of the small moonish fruits.
The jolly stranger slapped the fruit from Tanika's wrist. Stunned, she fell again
and watched her prize roll into the stream. "Oh dear," said the man, "You've already
picked up some bad habits. That may make things difficult." The slapping hand now
took Tanika's and pulled her up. Holding on this way, Tanika stumbled along behind
the stranger.
She wanted to ask questions, like, "Why didn't you just show me how to pick
those berries hanging above the bush where I was?" But she kept her mouth shut. If
she was going off to pick the high fruit, she guessed it didn't matter where, or that
she'd sacrificed her one beautiful moonfruit. Maybe they were going to a special tree
melting with juicing fruits, branches bent almost to the ground, low enough for her
outstretched fingers. Yes! That must be it. Excitement renewed, she moved her legs
faster. The stranger grinned and squeezed her hand.
Soon Tanika saw the biggest, greyest thing she'd ever laid eyes on. In quiet
fascination she tripped along as they stepped off the spongy humus of the orchard
floor onto a smooth sidewalk. "Here we are!" beamed the guide. They entered the
building, full of odd smells and noises. They passed through a pair of heavy black
doors, and the man pushed Tanika into a loud, complicated room full of talking
children and several adults. She looked at the children, some sitting on the floor,
some crawling about or walking. All of them had trays or plates in front of them
heaping with odd mushy lumps of various colors. Also, some of the children were
busy coloring simple pictures of fruits, and some wore pins and tags on their shirts
displaying little plastic pears and mistbulbs. Baffled, Tanika tried to figure out what
the children were doing in such a dark, fruitless place, what the lumpy stuff was, and
above all, why her guide had stopped here on their way to the bountiful tree.
But before she had time to think, two things happened. First, one of the kids
took something metal and used it to scoop a lump of dull pinkish stuff into his
mouth. Tanika opened her mouth in panic to warn the kid. Maybe there was
something wrong with him; he was much bigger than she was, old enough to know
better. But just as she began to yell, a new hand, slick, pulled her up again. "OK,
Tanika," said the cheery woman that went with the hand, "This is the cafeteria.
We're looking forward to helping you grow, and we're certain we can help you learn
to pick tree fruit, as long as you do your part."
Tanika felt confused. She didn't see what this place could have to do with
picking gulberries, and at the moment she was particularly hungry for more of that
shining moonfruit. But she had no time to think. The slick-hand woman put Tanika
on a cold chair at a table. "Here," she said, and nudged a box of crayons and a black
outline of a plum at her. "Today you will color this, and it will help you get ready for
eating tomorrow." Tanika started to feel foolish. She'd never guessed that learning to
pick fruit would be so complicated. She colored the plum with all the colors in the
box, trying in vain to make it round and enticing like the fruits of the orchard.
The rest of the day passed in a daze. Tanika was made to color more of theA Nice Little Story 21
pictures, and to her disgust most of the children ate the formless mush on the plates
in front of them. Some of the fat and greasy children asked for more and stuffed
themselves. Whenever this happened, the adults ran in and put gold stars all over the
kid's arms and face. Many things happened—children fought, napped, sat quietly
fidgeting with the stuff. Finally, the jolly man took Tanika's hand and led her out of
the dark building. As her bare feet met the orchard grass, she caught the scent of ripe
labana. She asked the stranger if he would get one for her, but he merely laughed.
Tanika was far too confused to put any of her questions into words. By the time
they arrived at the tree where Tanika slept with her parents, the evening light had
turned the leaves to bronze, and she was exhausted. Too tired to look for fruit, she
fell asleep and dreamed fitfully.
In the morning her mind was clear. She still wanted to reach the high fruit, but
she did not want to go back to the noisy smelly dark cafeteria. She could already
reach the bushfruit; maybe in time she'd grasp the high fruit too.
But when the spectacled person arrived, he told her that she'd never reach the
trees without many years in the cafeteria. He explained it—"You can't reach them
now, can you?" and "Your parents can reach them. That's because they went to the
cafeteria. I can reach them, because I went to the cafeteria." Tanika had no time to
think this through, because he'd pulled her to her feet again and they were off. She
hadn't had time to find breakfast, and her stomach rumbled painfully.
Tanika went in the room and sat down politely. "Please," she asked one of the
adults, "Can you help me pick tree fruits today? That's why I'm here, and also today
I didn't have time for breakfast."
The tall lady laughed. "Well, well, well! Aren't we cute! Tree fruit! Before
you're ready for tree fruit, you have to prepare!" She disappeared behind a curtain
and returned carrying a tray with a scoop of greenish stuff. Tanika jerked back. She
looked around wildly for an escape route. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a boy
watching with soft dark quiet eyes. The lady grabbed her hand.
"Don't be afraid, Tanika," she laughed. "How will you ever work up to eating
tree fruit if you can't handle plate fruit?" She put the tray on the table, and took the
metal thing, spooning up a piece of the stuff and holding it in front of the small girl.
Tanika pushed the spoon away violently. Then she put her head down on the table
and cried.
The lady's voice changed. "So you're going to be a tough one, Tanika? Just
remember, you're only hurting yourself when you refuse to eat. If you want to
succeed, you'd better do as we ask." She walked away.
When Tanika stopped crying, her stomach was desperately empty. She sat up
and looked at the tray. She was afraid of the stuff. She bent down to smell it and
caught a faint, stale whiff of limbergreen berry. The smell, even distorted, was a
familiar friend. She picked up the spoon and ate her first bite of cafeteria food.
Tanika was relieved. Although the goop was slimy, far too sweet, and mostly
tasteless, it wasn't as bad as it looked. And it did seem to be made from limbergreen
berries. She ate it all, and felt a little better. The lady came back. "Very good," she
smiled. She stuck a green star on the back of Tanika's hand. "We'll do some more
exercises and then later on you can try something new to eat."
Hours later, Tanika had been the apple in "Velcro the Stem on the Apple," and
had drawn a muavo tree and listened to an older student explain what fruits22 The Teenage Liberation Handbook
contained vitamins P, Q, and Z. Apparently she had done all these things right,
because the lady came back and put more green and gold stars on her hands and
cheeks. Some of the children looked at her angrily, though, so perhaps she'd done
something wrong.
At this point a man rang a little bell. Immediately all the children sat down at the
tables and folded their hands neatly. A girl grabbed Tanika's hand and shoved her
onto a chair. Then six children walked into the room carrying stacks of trays. They
put one in front of each child, and Tanika saw that each tray contained five purple
and blue wafers. "Yum!" said the girl next to Tanika, "Violetberry cakes!" Tanika
jumped. She'd seen her parents eat violetberries, and also seen the accompanying
ecstasy on their faces. She easily pictured the graceful coniferous trees on which they
She picked up a wafer. It was warm, but not with the gentle warmth of the sun.
She put it in her mouth. Dry, sandy... she chewed obediently but sadly. This was it?
Disappointment sank her stomach and she put the cake down, mentally crossing
violetberries off her wishlist forever.
In the end Tanika was made to eat the violetberry cake—all five hunks of it—
before the spectacled man would lead her out the door. Her stomach throbbed all the
way home. That night she crawled into her mother's arms and sobbed. Her mother
rocked her, then whispered something to Tanika's father. He disappeared, and
returned a minute later with an armload of tiny, glowing violetberries.
"It's time," said her mother sweetly, "For your first fresh violetberries."
Her father dangled them teasingly above her lips, but Tanika only cried harder.
The berries' fragrance, though delicate and sweet, clashed with her distended heavy
stomach. She was far too full, and it was violetberries' fault. Both parents teased and
offered, but they finally gave up. Her mother laid Tanika down to rest alone, and the
two adults stood whispering while the moon rose, worry in their voices.
At the cafeteria the next day the adults met Tanika with an unpleasant stare.
"You're making things difficult for yourself," scolded the woman with slick hands,
"Your parents have reported that your attitude at home is not meeting standards for
girls your age. You need to eat much more thoroughly." A girl brought a plate
crowded with dried out, wrinkly little fruits. Tanika ate them, tough and tasteless.
Her stomach hurt again. After they dissected a preserved bushapple, she ate another
tray full of canned gulberry. Then she went back home and slept.
Days passed, and months. Tanika ate obediently and earned lots of stars. There
was a picture of a bright green tree painted on one of the walls, and when the whole
roomful of children ate their food quickly, the adults had them play a game. They
taped three or four cut-out paper fruits to the tree, and then the kids were made to
take turns jumping or reaching to try to take them. Whoever reached a fruit got to
keep it, and also was called a winner and plastered with dozens of gold stars.
One day when the spectacled man walked her home he told her the cafeteria
would be closed for two days for cleaning. He handed her a little white carton and
said, "Be sure to eat all of this while I'm gone, and I'll pick you up in two days."
As he waddled away, a strange inspiration seized Tanika's brain. She touched
her swollen belly and flung the carton away. Out of it tumbled cakes, red mush, hard
little biscuits smelling flatly of labanas.
When she woke the next morning her stomach rumbled and she got up to lookA Nice Little Story 23
for breakfast. Leaving the clearing, she accidentally kicked a biscuit. Out of habit,
she picked it up and almost put it in her mouth, then caught herself and aimed instead
for a bush full of gulberries. Furtively she snatched a handful and crushed them to
her lips. Sweet and wild, they made her want to sing.
Tanika's father saw her then, and called excitedly to her mother. Both of them
ran to their child and squeezed her. "Look what you've learned at the cafeteria!"
cried her mother. "My baby is growing up!"
"Be sure to eat all your homefood," said her father, "So you won't be behind
when you go back." Then his tone of voice changed. "What's that?" he said. He
sprinted off and grabbed up the white carton. Tanika watched in horror as he
searched the orchard floor. A few minutes later he returned with everything—
biscuits, cake, mush.
Tanika ate it all.
The cafeteria opened again and Tanika went back. Every day she ate faster, and
gradually stopped resisting, even in her own mind. One day she reached the highest
paper fruit on the painted tree. All the adults patted her head and she could barely see
her brown skin under all the gold stars. She started walking to the cafeteria every day
by herself. The adults started giving her food for the evenings, and usually she'd eat
it like they said. One day, walking home, she flung her hands to the sky and they
touched, accidentally, a muavo hanging down from its branch. Tanika jumped back.
"I can pick it," she said slowly, "It worked." She thought for a minute. The cooks
had said it would happen, someday, if she ate what they gave her and jumped as high
as she could during the tree game.
Tanika gracefully severed the muavo from its stem, examined it, and tossed it
neatly into a shadow.
She wasn't hungry."