I've been doing a LOT of learning lately: whatever I can get my hands on. So I thought I'd share a little about what I'm learning and how it affects where we are now...
“Recess is vacation, summers off, weekends, retirement. It’s the belief that the majority of your life is drudgery endured for brief glimpses of freedom and indulgence.” (Seven Ways School has Imprisoned Your Mind) This is so true. I was just the other day worrying about my "retirement plan" (or lack of one) when, if we think about it, retirement in and of itself, is a mental construct that we've bought into. Why wait for retirement (or vacation or the weekend) to do/say/be what we love? (I continue to ponder this.)
I'm reading a book called "Free to Learn" by Peter Gray. In it, he writes, "Children come into the world burning to learn. They are naturally curious, naturally playful, and they explore and play in ways that teach them about the social and physical world to which they must adapt. They are little learning machines. Within the first four years or so they learn, without any instruction, unfathomable amounts of skills and information. They learn to walk, run, jump, and climb. They learn to understand and speak the language of the culture into which they are born, and with that they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, and ask questions. They acquire an incredible amount of knowledge about the world around them. All this is driven by their inborn instincts and drives. Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off without our system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson school is teaching is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible, not joyful play as children would otherwise believe." (page 71)
Our children spend the first few years of their life innocently soaking up all that we can give them, all the while clueless to the fact that the next 12 years of their lives will be in incarceration. 'Incarceration?' you may ask. 'Isn't that a bit dramatic?' You tell me...
"A basic premise of our democratic system of values is that it is wrong to deny anyone liberty without just cause and due process. To incarcerate an adult, we must prove, in a court of law, that the person has committed a crime or is a serious threat to self or others. Yet we incarcerate children because of their age. According to our democratic system of values, it should be immoral to incarcerate children because of their age unless we have proven that children - all children within the specified age range - are a danger to themselves or others without such incarceration." (Gray, page 69)
So, we force them to abandon all creativity in learning by indoctrinating them that adults must be blindly obeyed. We mandate that they be in an environment entirely made of peers and then we create, within that environment, an element of competition (grades and standardized testing) by which all children are measured. And we are surprised by bullying? "By segregating children by age, by caging them in so they can't avoid those who harass them, by indoctrinating them in a setting where competition and winning - being better than others - are the highest values, and by denying them any meaningful voice in school governance, we establish the breeding ground for bullying." (Gray, page 79) Is it any wonder that bullying programs don't work and school-age suicides are higher than they've ever been?
What're we're doing right now = de-schooling. De-schooling? "Basically, it's taking a break, when you stop going to school. That might be for a couple weeks, or a couple months, or even more. It's a time when you stop 'learning' in the traditional sense, take all the pressure off the student, and just relax. Just be." Here's where my planner-mind struggled. 'But don't we NEED curriculum?' 'Doesn't he NEED a plan?' Why the rush to have busy-work? What does that accomplish besides increased tension, arguments about getting the work done, etc.? So, we are de-schooling. We're setting our own pace. We're not marching. We're....skipping. And then dancing. And then laying down on our backs in the grass and finding shapes in the clouds. And talking about fulcrums. And listening to Christmas songs. And giggling about that part of that movie we watched. And getting gas in the car. And....well, you get the picture. There's no more race. No more competition. No more comparisons, because, let's be honest, there's waaaaay too much of that! No more squeezing a square peg into a round hole in order to meet someone else's "standard".
5 Ways to Transcend the School Mindset is a great read! At one point, the author says, "Research shows us that the rules necessary to keep a classroom full of kids in order all day, like being quiet and sitting still, can overtax a child’s ability to resist other impulses. The mismatch between school-like expectations and normal childhood development has resulted in millions of children being diagnosed with ADHD."
My interest was immediately piqued! Why? Well, my now (almost) 11-year old was diagnosed with ADHD, among other things, when he was (newly) 5-years old. He had attended his first three months of public pre-Kindergarten and "because of behaviors" he was "going to be expelled from pre-K". Yup...you read that right. My kid was bright as they come! He already knew how to read chapter books and they were going to kick him out of ABC/123 coloring class? I was told that I needed to "just take him home and parent him better". I choose to believe that person was simply having a bad day, or possibly year.
It wasn't long after that a professional psychiatrist sat with us for 45 minutes and determined that he had ADHD, among other things. Medication was immediately recommended but I was still absorbing the diagnosis and wanted to try other more natural approaches first. After a lot of research, I tried dietary restrictions like avoided food dyes and gluten. While this did help some, it definitely wasn't the complete answer. I also tried homeopathic/supplements like omega-3 and Hyland's Calm tablets (which we still use). Again, these helped some, but not enough for them to be the only course of treatment. (I did learn some new parenting things that helped to stop some behaviors before they started. More on this in future posts.)
NOTE: One thing I had to realize was that we weren't JUST dealing with ADHD. While I do think that many kids are given a slap-on label like ADHD simply because their active, creative kids can't adapt to a prison-like environment, I also recognize that my kiddo was dealing with more than just antsy pants and a short attention span. My child did struggle with anxiety and meltdowns and social situations and elopement whether he was or wasn't in school.
Finally, after lots and lots of trial and error and reading and implementing and researching, I knew that something more needed to be tried. So, I opted to give medication a try, with the understanding that I wanted the very lowest dose of the most gentle of medications. Thankfully, and beautifully, it worked! Almost seemingly overnight, my multiple-meltdowns-per-day kid was able to function and go through the day happier. (Over the years, and as he has grown, we have adjusted medications, tried new medications, immediately stopped new medications, adjusted medication doses, etc.)
But, now that he is older and we are beginning a (prayerfully) better path of learning, I'm beginning to wonder, once again, if his medication is a crutch that is holding back his true potential. Is "treatment" the answer or the fundamental problem? It remains in the back of my mind for now, as I continue to research.
"Learning happens all the time. The brain never stops working and it is not possible to divide time up into “learning periods” versus “non-learning periods.” Everything that goes on around a person, everything they hear, see, touch, smell, and taste, results in learning of some kind.
Learning does not require coercion. In fact, learning cannot really be forced against someone’s will. Coercion feels bad and creates resistance.
Learning feels good. It is satisfying and intrinsically rewarding. Irrelevant rewards can have unintended side effects that do not support learning.
Learning stops when a person is confused. All learning must build on what is already known.
Learning becomes difficult when a person is convinced that learning is difficult. Unfortunately, most teaching methods assume learning is difficult and that lesson is the one that is really “taught” to the students.
Learning must be meaningful. When a person doesn’t see the point, when they don’t know how the information relates or is useful in “the real world,” then the learning is superficial and temporary – not “real” learning.
Learning is often incidental. This means that we learn while engaged in activities that we enjoy for their own sakes and the learning happens as a sort of “side benefit.”
Learning is often a social activity, not something that happens in isolation from others. We learn from other people who have the skills and knowledge we’re interested in and who let us learn from them in a variety of ways.
We don’t have to be tested to find out what we’ve learned. The learning will be demonstrated as we use new skills and talk knowledgeably about a topic.
Feelings and intellect are not in opposition and not even separate things. All learning involves the emotions, as well as the intellect.
Learning requires a sense of safety. Fear blocks learning. Shame and embarrassment, stress and anxiety—these block learning."
Lastly, I want to share this because it is the best explanation of what unschooling is (and isn't) that I have found so far. Unschooling may not be right for every family but every child does learn through play and freedom for creativity. This we know. And it is because of this fact that we are on this journey. And, whew, it is truly a journey! Did you know that journeys involve risk, trial and error (sometimes more of the latter than the former), good days, not-so-good days, even-worse days, meltdowns and timeouts (more-so for myself than my son), and lots of patience (of which the level changes frequently)?
Ultimately, I want what is best for my son. Period. This journey is a learn-in-progress.