Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Day in the Life

Photo: My view to the east, still a bit frozen
There aren't many things I can do when my head is so congested I walk with a slight lean to the left and grunt, "Huh? Wha?" in answer to every question, but I can only plant myself on the couch for so long. And besides, thanks to sleeping while sitting up for 3 nights straight, my sciatic nerve is all achy and pinched. Oh, and I'm suddenly 94 years old and keep tissues stashed in my sleeve. Whine whine whine.
Turns out, being homebound is good for certain managerial tasks that get shoved aside when life moves at a faster pace, and having clear sinuses is not a pre-requisite for filing away 2007 pay stubs and credit card statements. I might cough like a 3-pack-a-day smoker and sound like Eeyore, but I can do a mean sorting of the medical receipts.

I've also been doing a lot of reading, at least during the rare moments when my head doesn't throb so badly that my eyes cross. I'm almost through Book 5 of Harry Potter (I know, I know already) and I dug out all my unschooling books to help a homeschooler-turned-highschooler with resource material for the essay she's writing on misperceptions about homeschoolers. *Yay her!* Reading about unschooling is always inspiring. Never before have I felt so at peace with a philosophy. In these days of Brady pondering a return to unschooling, I'd do well to fill my head and heart with all this unschooling wisdom again. Within just a few pages I got up to nab a pen and journal. Some things are too good to be read without scribbling in the margins and on a fresh journal pages.

And then I took a look around. Even though I was sick and rather inattentive, the boys were busy as ever, happy as ever, doing their projects. While I thrashed around on the couch like a manic sea lion, trying to unplug my left ear, they contentedly pursued their interests and once again, the beauty of this unschooling lifestyle was revealed to me.

Jonathan began a project that started like this:

and turned into this:
After removing a few Pokemon cards from their binder (a thick collection of cards the boys researched and priced to sell) he decided to sort all of his cards. This took several hours. Occasionally he would stop to tell me about a card, and occasionally he would exclaim, "I've been looking for this one!" Sometimes he would take a card to the computer to look it up and see what it's selling for on ebay. Other times he would check his Pokedex (a Pokemon reference book) for information.

He also worked a long while on this:Jonathan and Rob have been avidly watching the NCAA basketball tournament and following their picks closely. They even made me fill out a bracket. I'm not faring so well - surprising since my strategy revolved around things like, "Oh, I've been to that school before - I'll pick them!" and "I've never heard of that school so I'll pick the other team" and "They have that one player who's really really cute, so I'll pick them." Hey, some people just have the gift.

But Jonathan also worked on his football project. The project is his brainchild, the result of his new interest in all-things-NFL. He's designing an entire fantasy season of games where say, the '85 Bears play the '66 Packers. He decides which team will win based upon the quality of players they had that year and each team's strengths. And here's the kicker - he knows the actual facts on these teams. For real. He has read three adult books on the Green Bay Packers and has read a book on Super Bowl teams throughout history. He follows the sports section. He does research online. He knows which players were on each team and when. He knows what the teams' records were leading up to the Super Bowl. He knows the scores of the Super Bowl games. He knows about the famous players and their abilities. It's amazing. In addition to the season and who wins each game, he's listing game stats, naming MVPs, and writing commentary. Today he said, "Remind me tomorrow because I'm going to work on one week every day." He's currently on week 5.

I told him he should work for ESPN.

He also spent some time working on his "Top Secret" kit, watching the Disney Channel, and playing with the dog. He brought me cups of tea when I whined for them, fed the dog when she began to howl, and set up the TV/VCR combo to watch Master of Disguise while taking a bath, a favorite bathing ritual of his.

Brady was home too. He had a 17-day spring break which was WONderful. He spent a LOT of time working on his music, writing new lyrics, designing t-shirts to sell (get your paypal accounts fired up a ready), writing new songs, recording instrumentals and vocals, and editing the recordings. For most of the day he had his bedroom door closed while he sang. For most of the day I smiled as I listened. He has asked for vocal lessons and guitar lessons again.

He also decided to make a loaf of homemade bread and learned to use our breadmaker.

We had warm oatmeal bread for dinner that night. Yum yum yum.

And as always, he spent most of his time working at his computer; this time, working on 3D models. He also came home with an idea for a software program he could build for schools to use for homework management. He's always thinking of ways to assimilate his true interests into his school experience. We talked for a long time about how the program would work, who would use it, and, most important, how much he could charge. I love it when he describes his latest ideas for computer projects. His eyes light up and he gets very intense. He paces around as he describes them in detail. He can't think about anything else so his responses to such questions as, "Can you unload the dishwasher please?" are along the lines of "Mom, should parents be able to access it or just students?"

That evening, it suddenly turned warm. The wind shifted and came from the south, bringing with it some warmer air. When I complained of being chilled and Rob explained it was warmer outside than in our house, I asked if he'd take a walk with me. I suddenly needed some fresh air. As I bundled to go, Jonathan decided to join us. As I got the harness on Duchess, Brady decided to join us too. We went on a family hike, the boys 'going long' to catch football passes while the dog raced from poop-scent to glorious poop-scent.

Matt Hern says it well:

"I believe it is a worthy and honorable goal for every human to be genuinely able to design themselves - to self-manage, self-direct, and self-evaluate their own lives. This means people, including kids, living their lives according to their own peculiar and unique sensibilities, becoming who they want to be."

As I watch my kids become who they want to be, I am in awe...

When Rob hauled firewood inside upon our return from Florida, Jonathan piped up, "I'll haul wood because I'm so happy to be home!" He's decided to do a kids' triathlon this summer in addition to a 5k run.

When I asked Brady if he'd miss playing fall soccer if he dropped out of school, he sat thoughtfully for a moment and replied, "I have so many things I am interested in and want to do, I'll be very busy. I won't miss soccer." He's decided if he doesn't make enough money playing music he'll operate a recording studio too.

While schools work to force-feed learning to children, my kids don't have enough hours in the day to do all the things they want to do. As my kids engage in their activities and projects, all self-chosen and self-designed, they are vivacious, curious, and deeply engaged; often excited and chatty, sometimes quiet in deep concentration. I remember how my 4th grade students looked when I was a teacher - bored, apathetic, distracted; at best sitting straight in their chairs in obedient attention but that was more to please me than due to genuine interest - and I was a teacher who tried very hard to make school interesting and enjoyable.

What's even better about the way my kids engage is they never stop to say, "Is this good enough?" or "Am I doing ok?" Their level of participation is rarely (if ever) dependent upon what I think about it. They take it to the depth they desire, following whatever tangents pique their interest. They don't do it with thoughts of what they're learning except in how that applies to what they want to do next.

It's really difficult to explain, and to someone who only has room in her consciousness for the school paradigm, it may sound like gooey, wishful thinking or simply a frivolous description of what they think all children 'ought' to look like when they are 'learning.' But learning isn't separated out in an unschooling life. Learning is an unconscious side effect of living a joyful life. As kids get older and our culture's beliefs on learning and education permeate their consciousness, they may be aware that certain things may better 'qualify' as learning than others, at least to society. But it doesn't seem to hamper them.

The reason we unschoolers don't like to focus too much on education or learning is because those words have been co-opted by the system to differentiate what is good (acceptable, desired) from what is bad (unnecessary or harmful). If we speak of learning when our child is looking through a microscope, but not when he's reading a comic book, we subversively send approval for one activity over the other. Unschoolers know it's unwise to praise one activity as more worthy than another, in part because we just never know where a good stint with a comic book will take us! But also because as soon as we add our subjective commentary, unsolicited, we steal away a bit of their focus, and, as a result, a bit of the happy magic they felt before we interrupted. The focus they originally gave, unfettered, to their project now has to be shared - at least a small percentage - with us, tending to our codependent need to weigh in. Things were going along just fine and suddenly some attention must be given to mom's dis/approval of their activity.

Without schools, and without subjective evaluation, the potential for our children is profound. Free of arbitrary grading and assessment, they will develop and grow into the unique, complicated, multi-faceted people they are destined to become. All we have to do is be good models, healthy and caring and supportive, and get out of their way.

Or, in my case, back to the couch.


Sandy Feet said...

That was a wonderful inspiring read. And that was when you were sick!!?? Your kids sound so happy and fulfilled Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


lori said...

Oh my god, thank you for writing this! As I'm exploring the idea of unschooling, this is the kind of post I need to help illustrate what an unschooled life looks like. Fabulous.


lori said...

Oh, and I'm suddenly 94 years old and keep tissues stashed in my sleeve.

My grandmother did this. Now my mother does it, and she's only in her 60s.

The genetic component is so strong, I might have to lobb off my hands when I turn 59 so I don't start doing it.

Mrs. G. said...

You house seems like such a warm and loving place to live.

Not June Cleaver said...

I'm still subversively sending approval for "educational" activities over other activities, because I cannot seem to get out of that school mindset. Kudos to you as a former teacher for being able to do it.

Get well soon.

denise said...

Well, it at least sounds like you are feeling a bit better! Sounds like both boys are back into the groove after the vacation! :) I went to a special program in LA just for audio engineering and built/lived in a recording studio for a few years (in a past life, it seems). Not a bad gig. ;)

piscesgrrl said...

Christa - you're welcome. Several days on the couch and some juicy reading gave me the writing bug. I've been pretty quiet on my blog lately, so now I just made up for it with a good long musing.

lori - glad I can help!

lori - Confession time: I stuff tissues in my sleeve. There, I said it.

mrs. g. - most of the time!

not june cleaver - well, the good news is, it's not too late - you can start right now. ;-)

denise - what haven't you done? And I'm not being facetious either! Seriously, grrrl, you've been around the block and back a few times (no, not like THAT...). So what are you, like, 72 years old? You've packed a lot of living into your few years! Or wait.. have you been cloned?!

bonnyjayne said...

Right on, Laura!

Lynn said...

it is posts like this that persuaded me that unschooling was the way forward for us over a year ago and it is posts like this ( and the wonderful comment you left me) that help to get over the wobbles and doubts that have cropped up over the last year.Get well soon;-))
Thanks for sharing xx

Tina H. said...

Wow, all that and you don't feel well? I can barely manage to take a shower.

This reminds me of our kids so much. The interests and the paths they take are so different. Each length of time is different also. Some for years. Others they pick up and let go quickly.

Unschooling is definitely the best of life, imho.

Chris said...

I enjoyed reading this, Laura. That is exactly what Tyler does with his cards. He lays them all over the floor to sort them, look at them, etc. :O)

Guess what? Great news! Tyler is home schooling again! Yay! Maybe he can get together with Jonathan more often now.

I hope you feel better soon!!!


K. said...

One of the many signposts along the road to unschooling for us came from the times I guiltily stayed in bed, sick, and noticed that the kids were actually more creative and constructive with their time then ever they were with my carefully structured and planned and oh-so-terribly geared toward their interests supervised lessons.

Right now we're stuck in a huge video game loop of doom, though. I'm trying not to judge it, but...

Hope you're feeling better!

kelli said...

That was amazing! And you're sick! Hope you're feeling better soon :)

Stephanie S. said...

I hope you're feeling better.
I noticed that you cleaned up the mountain of tissues off that table before you took the picture!

Thanks for sharing this with us.

It's nice to get in-depth and thoughtful glimpses into what unschooling looks like for teens and preteens.

I never dissect what's going on in our learning (too exhausting for me) but I do like to read about what can/is happening from time to time.

So thanks for sharing your contemplations.


Becky said...

Thanks, Laura...that was great. Very well said.

Hope you are well.

whimsigal said...

Laura, I almost cried when reading this. It really is a wonderful recollection and example of what a truly good life can be.

Sorry, I'm feeling very emotional these days. :)

My youngest was in awe of all the Pokemon cards that yours have. And just ran off to get his big brother so he can see it, too. They've only begun to get interested in Pokemon and card collecting.

Thank you so much for sharing this, Laura. You filled my cup today and now it's overflowing with good feelings. Thank you for that!

Pi said...