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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I have been working recently on Samantha's yearbook for CHEA...This happened last year too... I started feeling like we didn't do enough. But as I was going through all the photos (which don't even skim the surface this year because I didn't have a good camera for a majority of it) I started realizing how many amazing opportunities we have had and how many cool spur of the moment things we have done that turned out to benefit S so much!
All the trips to the park where S painted pictures and read books or played games. All the opportunities she has had through CHEA that sparked an interested like birdwatching or field trips to plays where she realized how much she loves theatre. I thought back to the beginning of September where we were still hiking and camping. And S was super into her You Tube channel and she was making videos left and right. Or the time we went to the library  and spent the whole day working on a book. S looked at books and decided on a style of drawing she liked. Or the time we spent the entire day at the library (again) reading Dr. Seuss. Lots of days volunteering. Lots of days spent on You Tube looking up how to loom. Or the day we spent at S's Nanny's learning to crochet.

After I started working on her yearbook I realized I wanted to check out another book on unschooling. So I did. It was called "Radical Unschooling" by Dana Martin. And everybody who is anybody in the unschooling community knows exactly who she is. So I was a little skeptical at first. Let me lead with this: I have the complete inability to let go when it comes to television and video games because I tried that briefly and was unsuccessful, so aside from that, I believe many of her beliefs completely apply to how we do or should be living for our family. She really made one thing clear to me, something I have struggled with for years. Just because I do not like something does not mean I should drive S away from it. Just because I do not like the shows she likes does not mean S does not find value in it. So if it is not negatively impacting her, why not? I really had to put that into practice the other day at McKays Book Store. S and I went up to look at the posters. (She wanted some posters of famous paintings in her room.) The only one she liked that she didn't have was called the Scream by Edward Munch. To me, it is a creepy poster and I did NOT want it on her wall, but I must pat myself on the back because I told her she could have it. (I was going to let her have it if it was Sunflowers or another painting I liked, so why not one she finds value in?) So....I did it. And she is SO happy. She feels like I value her interests and that is important to me. I want her to always feel that way. She hurried to put it up in her room and has been admiring it ever sense. Not only that, she has been trying to interpret it. She can't quit figure out why the man is screaming. But one day as she was looking at it closely she noticed there is a blur shaped like another person in the background so she started to wonder if the two were connected. Connections. That's what education is. Connections.

I have never felt so confident about unschool. I am soaring. I have my ups and downs. We have productive days and our rough days. But everybody does. Today. Today is a good day. A day where I can feel confident in saying, "This is doing her more good than I could ever imagine."

And we have so many plans for the upcoming months! (Our "school year" won't end until September 1st!)

First thing is, as Samantha grows older, she has a deepened interest in art. She has recognized famous paintings all her life. At 2 years old, she would say to me, "Look Mommy, it's you again!" as she pointed to the Mona Lisa. I am not sure why she always said that.  To this day she still thinks it is a painting of me. Around the age of 3 she would point out paintings that she remembered from her Baby Music video. (A video that played classical music-her favorite-and displayed famous paintings across the screen with a light hearted interactive character scurrying across each painting. She napped to it. It was all that would put her to sleep.) But now, after reading a story book on Impressionism, which sparked her newfound love of Monet, she is recognizing paintings everywhere on a higher level, "Look Mom!  I bet that one is an Impressionist painting by Edgar Degas. Those ballerinas are his style." "Look Mom,  another watercolor by Monet! I haven't seen this one." I bought her a Usbourne book of famous paintings at the book store the other day, and she was asking who painted each painting and what style it was our what they used. The book is cool because it helps you analyze the paintings and look closer in. It feels you the History and about the painter. I even caught her curled up in a chair yesterday thumbing through it and talking to herself about it.

Side Note: At this age,  I know children can start to hide more or be embarrassed to share certain things with their parents, but I was happy to know that SO FAR we have built a solid foundation of communication. Enough so that S was able to tell me about a painting in her book that made her uncomfortable. (It had several naked men spread across 2 pages.) Part off me wanted to tell her not to be embarrassed. It's art and she will see a lot of that, but I didn't want to break that communication so I told her we would definitely tape the 2 pages together so the book does not fall open on them. (It is the center of the book.)

Speaking of art,  one of her new hobbies is making furniture for her Our Generation/American Girl dolls. She is currently working on an art gallery and a hammock. Some parts are more complex and involve a hot glue gun. I do those and she does the rest. It is a good little team project we have going. Not expensive and she gets doll furniture as well as practice painting and following directions and sewing for some things. She will display all her pieces in her art gallery when she is done. (We are looking at Fall at this point)

Also,  as she grows older, she has a deeper interest in nature and geography. She just completed her Geography Fair Project for CHEA. On England. She always gets excited about it, but I lead the charge on the project by telling her what needs to be researched and we look together. This year she was REALLY excited and wanted to do it pretty much all by hand. And, well, I am a perfectionist and wanted to print it all out, nice and neat, so I cringed when she told me that, but she is helping me let go. So I told her, "Sounds good to me!" And she upheld her end for sure. She cut out her own letters. She cut out and put together her own flag. She wrote all her information down and cut it out. She even drew the landmarks she wanted on there by herself. The biggest feat of all,  was in the days after when we were at the bookstore-yes, a lot happened that day-and she casually said, "You know how I finished my England project? Do you mind if I still do some more research on it, just for me?" That was when I knew we had an unschooling win.

She loves Geography, and with all my recent FB posts,  I'm sure everyone knows that. So a friend of mine who lives in Arizona, whose son is only 6 months older than S and they have SO much in common,  text me and asked if they could be pen pals-about Geography! (Now, S has a pen pal, but it had been so slow going. Very elementary.  "How are you? Want to be friends?  I have dogs and cats.  I like to swim." That sort of thing.  Which will be great to practice her writing/pleasantries and to have a friend as she grows older,  so she will definitely continue writing her,  but a GEOGRAPHY PEN PAL?  I knew she would be excited.  So I told S. And my friend and I discussed the details. When they camp or hike they can take pictures of stuff,  research it,  write about it,  and send the pictures and information in the letter.  Obviously they won't be writing but maybe once a month,  but think of all their is to learn!  S will research her environment.  And then she will read and learn about his! Maybe even research more. The land, climate,  animals, plants....Geography and Science all in one! Not to mention Reading/English! We can't wait to get started.

On top of all those things she is an avid reader. She loves story books. And is in the process of reading a few chapter books: Kit American Girl-the 3rd book in the series,  Boxcar Children the 2nd one, and she dropped Tinker Bell and replaced it with a biography on the painter, Van Gogh.  Trips to the library have just become a lot different.  Used to she would wander around looking for books she wanted and studying them and picking them out based on the cover. Pretty much throwing everything with bright colors in the basket. And that's okay with me.  I didn't want to stifle her love of reading by telling her she couldn't read or check out the books she thought she might enjoy just because she didn't know what they were about or they weren't on her level Etc. But now when we go in,  it is hard to put in to words.  She goes in with a purpose.  She knows what she wants to read and usually I have already put it on hold for her.  If not,  she searches it on the computer and I help her find it. Then she looks at the storybooks and reads the titles. If she likes it, she keeps it. If not, she doesn't. Then she wants to sit and read either by herself or together.

I have sat back and watched her grow a ton this year. Some days I feel guilty that I let her guide herself while I just facilitate, and then I see how independent she is. That she will walk outside and gather her own materials for her new fairy house on her own, go up and down the isles at the library or bookstore while I look at my stuff, or write her own pen pal letters workout my assistance.  I see how creative she is. Coming up with most of her own projects. I see how she can work with others whether we are bouncing ideas off of each I other, volunteering with people we have never met before, or she is working out compromises with my little brother while they work on their elaborate ideas together.

While watching her grow, I have also seen growth in myself. I have seen myself learn to back off and let her clean up her own messes and write her own letters and numbers without hovering over her. I have seen myself accept the messes for what they are: "an unschooling artist at work." (That is quite a combination.) And I have seen myself grow as a parent in how I talk to my child. And always asking myself what the underlying need is for certain behaviors.

We have both done a lot of growing this year.  And that just isn't something you can describe in a yearbook.

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