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Aug 19

Asked and Answered

I recently put out a call for questions.  Questions about unschooling, parenting, me, my blog, whatever you’d like … and you guys rose to the occasion!  Here’s the first batch of questions and answers, and the first of what I hope will become a regular feature on my blog.  If you have questions, send em, and I’ll answer them in an upcoming post.  :)

I would love to hear some thoughts on how far to push little kids to do things? I know it would be age dependent, but I’m thinking ages 1-5 especially. Eg if a child is shy or scared or anti-social or clingy or negative about doing something where’s the line with making them do it, or respecting their feelings. Sometimes in life it’s good to do things we don’t want to. How do we help kids understand that?

I think this is one of those times that really knowing your kids is key.  I personally wouldn’t push my kids into doing something they didn’t want do… but there is a world of difference between forcing something that’s unwanted, and gently encouraging when you know it’s something that they do want, but are hesitant because they are nervous, unsure, etc.   Last summer, my daughter (four years old at the time) took her first-ever swimming class. She was very excited about the class, and about learning to swim.   The morning of the first class however, she was super nervous, to the point of asking if she could skip it.   I know my daughter, and I was 99% sure that once she got in the class she would really enjoy it.  I was also 99% sure that if she didn’t do the class that she would regret it, especially when she watched her big brother having fun in the pool in his own class.  So I was honest with her and told her, “I know you’re nervous, but I think you’re really go to love it.  And you can do it!  I bet they’re going to make it super fun for you, and I’ll be right there watching the whole time.  Why don’t you give it a try this one time, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back.”  I wasn’t bluffing either:  I would have had no problem pulling her out, and letting her learn in another way.  She agreed to try it, and to make a long story short, she LOVED the class, and has since become a fish in the water.

Yes, sometimes we need to do things we don’t want to do, but life provides plenty of those opportunities all on its own.  I don’t think it’s my job as a mother to actually provide the things they don’t want to do, but to help them feel safe, comfortable, and confident when they do arise.  Going to the dentist for instance isn’t super high on any of my kids’ “Things I love to do” lists, but sometimes it’s necessary.  So we searched until we found a wonderfully kind, patient, and respectful pediatric dentist, and no one has any issues seeing her when the time comes.

I don’t have a school age child yet, but am very interested in unschooling. I have been wondering if you felt you did anything differently with your children before they were school age. I’m reading a lot about the RIE philosophy and some of it seems to be in line with the basic idea of trust that seems inherent in unschooling to me. Thank you!  

I learned something new when I got this question, so thanks! :)  I hadn’t heard of RIE, so I Googled a little bit.  (This article had a nice breakdown of its main tenets.)  I connect with a lot – not all – of the principles of RIE.  I think that the ideas of trust, respect, choices, and personal autonomy are so important to both unschooling and gentle parenting.   As for whether or not I did anything different when the kids were young… only to the extent that our relationships/activities/conversations grew and evolved as the kids got older.  For me, unschooling was just a natural extension of attachment parenting, and it was all so organic that I never really had a feeling of, “Okay, we’re going to start unschooling now.”  We already were… they just weren’t officially school age yet.  I do strongly feel (and many others feel this way as well) that unschooling can’t be truly understood and implemented until the parenting component is understood.  Once you “get” gentle parenting, unschooling just makes sense… and it’s a much more seamless transition than if you try to do it the other way around.

What advice would you give an unschooling mom whose 5 yr old is begging to start kindergarten?

Ask lots of questions!  What is it that they’re wanting from school that they don’t think they’ll get/are getting from home?  Is it more time on crafts?  Riding a school bus?  Being around other kids?  Recess?  It could be something really simple, especially at five years old.  Most of my kids have at one time or another asked about school.  After a conversation, careful listening, and honest sharing, I learned that it wasn’t school they were after, but something else.  Something that I could remedy through more playdates, more field trips, more one on one time, etc.  If that were ever not the case, and they truly wanted to go to school, I’d like to think that I would be 100% supportive and let them try it.  I can’t say with complete certainty though, because I’ve never been there (and if I’ve learned nothing else as a parent, it’s to never say “never”)

(on being a Christian who does not regularly go to church) I’m wondering how you keep the faith? How do you keep your relationship with God fresh and alive? Have you found a community, a “body of Christ”?

I love this question.  I have been thinking for a long time about writing a permanent page for my blog about my faith, and about where that journey has taken me.  I will say first that my faith has always been super personal to me.  Not personal in an I-don’t-want-to-talk-about it kind of way (I love talking about it), but personal in that I’ve never really felt like I needed a strictly “Christian” environment in order to nurture my relationship with God.  In fact:  I grew up going to church, went to a Christian summer camp, went to a Christian college… and those were all things that I had to heal from in many ways as an adult.  I felt like my faith was so much stronger, and finally my OWN, after I left those environments.  We do have a church “home” now, although it’s been many months since we’ve gone with regularity.  We love the church though, and it was the first one that we ever actually chose to place membership with since we’ve been married.  When we feel like it’s something we’re needing, we go, but on a day-to-day basis, I don’t know… I feel like it’s just me and God, and that relationship is no different than any other in that it stays alive with attention, with intention, and with spending time together (and you don’t have to be in a special building to do that :))

One thing that’s been hugely instrumental to me in the past several years has been finding like-minded fellow “outside the box” Christians, most of whom I only know online.  While I don’t feel like I technically need the support of others to hold up my own faith, it’s incredibly helpful just to know that they’re out there:  other people like me who fiercely love Jesus, but pretty steadfastly reject most of what conventional “religion” has to offer… Everyone from big authors/bloggers like John Shore, to dear personal friends that I’ve made through various online FB groups and forums…they’re a very appreciated breath of fresh air (and sometimes just straight-up oxygen), especially on those days when I’m feeling alone.

So our kid is 3 and we are starting to get questions about Kindergarten. I am scared to death to tell some people what we are planning!!! It does not help that I work FT and my husband stays at home with our son, which already gets enough looks as it is because it is so different. I am just scared in a year or two we’ll get people calling CPS on us or something. Some of our family is very academically minded and I am just afraid they will think we are setting our son up for failure or something. I’m just not good at confrontation. I know all the answers ‘in my heart’ but I know when accosted about it… I just don’t know quite how to deal with it. How do you deal with that type of thing, esp when you first kid ‘missed the bus’ (haha) for the first time.

I completely know how you’re feeling!  I was there myself several years ago.  I was fairly lucky in that even though many of the people in my immediate family were not particularly supportive of unschooling, they kept pretty quiet about it (save for a passive aggressive comment here and there).  One of the most helpful pieces of advice I ever read on the subject was something called the “bean dip” approach, a completely non-confrontational way to deal with naysayers.  I wish I knew where I read it, and who said it, so I could give credit, but all I remember is that I read it on some unschooling forums many years ago.  It goes like this:

Family member:  (Negative/derogatory/judging comment)

Response:  ”Oh, he’s doing great!  Can you please pass the bean dip?”

Or

“This is working really well for our family right now.  Can you please pass the bean dip?”

Or

“That’s an interesting perspective.  Can you please pass the bean dip?”

Politely changing the subject can work wonders.  Honestly though, the biggest solution to this problem is just time.  Two really big things happen over time:

1.  Your kids learn and grow and mature in ways that can’t help but be seen, even by those outside your family.  They’ll see how much they’re learning, and they’ll have tangible “proof” of unschooling’s success.  And

2.  You’ll gain confidence in your kids, and confidence in the process.  It won’t be so scary when others disagree, because you’ll trust unschooling, you’ll trust your children, and you’ll trust their learning process.  In the meantime, focus on your own little family, and be ready to pass the bean dip.  :)

I read that you almost went to the Rethinking Everything conference and I’d be interested to read a post/answer on conferences you’ve went to in the past and how you think they benefited you and your kids.

I really love unschooling conferences.  I find them sort of terrifying, just because… well, introverts and large crowds… but I love them too.   We’ve only been to a handful so far, but definitely plan to attend more in the future. We’ve gone to three of the big conferences (two in San Diego, and one in Alburquerque), and a few smaller ones.  Conferences are really cool for lots of reasons, but if I were pressed to name only a few, they would be:

1.  New information.  You can’t go to an unschooling conference and not learn something new.  You can’t.  I don’t care who you are, or how long you’ve been unschooling.  We’ve all learned so, so much from the conferences we’ve gone to… both from the official scheduled “talks”, and incidental interactions we had along the way.

2.  New friends.  Some of my nearest and dearest friends are people I met at conferences.  The 12 year old is playing an online game with a conference friend as I write.  And there’s something big to be said just for being around other people who “get it”, even if it’s only for a weekend.   Which brings me to:

3.  New inspiration.  In case you didn’t get this from reading other posts on my blog, I am hugely passionate about unschooling.  But while my normal mode of sharing may be quietly standing on a street corner (or typing in my pajamas that I’ve been wearing for two days, sitting on my couch as it were) saying, “Yay!  Unschooling!”, immediately following a conference it’s more like standing on the rooftops shouting,

“WOOO HOOOOOOO!!!!  UNSCHOOLING!!!!!!!”

They just get you pumped up, and fired up, and EXCITED about unschooling.

All of that to say, if you ever get the opportunity (and you should make the opportunity)  go!  You will love it.

Sounds silly but what pets do you guys have now? I miss your funny animal posts!

My husband and I disagree on exactly two things:  politics and pets.  If it were solely up to me, we would have to build a second house to hold all the cats/dogs/rabbits/rats/reptiles we’d acquire because I so love animals, and can never resist a rescue-able furry (or scaly) face when I see one.  If it were up to Mike, we would have zero pets.  Ever. Rescued from anywhere.  So we compromise.  Right now, we have just a few pets – although the kids and I are holding out hope for a turtle in the near future.

There’s Sophie, who with the exception of jumping, and sometimes peeing, when she gets too excited, is the world’s most perfect dog.

IMG_0276

Then there’s Linny and Ming-Ming, the two mice I picked up with the kids one day when Mike was at work:

linny

And finally, our ball python Waldo, who is sweet and funny, and loves to hang upside-down from his branch:

Waldo

And that’s it!  We have about 1900 square feet of house here.  Clearly there’s room for so very many more….

Thanks to everyone who have sent questions so far!  That was fun.


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  • Kim

    Thanks for answering my question. I have another one! What do you think is the deal with kids and sleep!? Do they have different sleep needs, will some naturally be ‘good’ sleepers and others not, will some easily fit into a routine or respond to sleep training while others won’t? (some context – my kids are 2 and 3 and both needed a lot of extra support with sleeping, from day 1, especially the younger one. They still don’t sleep through the night, although they mostly stay in their own beds now. We didn’t want to sleep train them or leave them alone to cry so I did a lot of breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping etc. it was great. But no they’re a bit older, they’re still hopeless and still need support to go to sleep and stay asleep in the night). I find the whole thing so discouraging and confusing, particularly hearing other people stories is hard (especially when my mind is muddled by sleep deprivation.)

    • Kim

      Can I also just add that I’ve definitely valued the way we have handled this part of parenting and I would do it the same way again.

    • http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/ pathlesstaken

      That is a great question, and good timing too, because someone else messaged me about sleep about a week ago, and I’m going to devote a whole post about it :)

      • Kim

        cool thanks. I look forward to it. It’s such a difficult one!