Guest Post: What Deschooling Means to Me, by Lune

The last day of school came and went quietly. I stood outside the school gates as usual, under an umbrella in a sudden and violent downpour so typical of these mountains in the summer. My eldest daughter came out of the classroom as she always does, with her dripping school books and paintings under one arm and a piece of paper that told us she had officially completed three years of maternelle pre-school here in France in a grubby hand. She showed no remorse at leaving, just a preoccupation with small things, as any typical five year old has.

I had hugs and kisses from the wonderful mothers at the crêche, where my youngest daughter has spent her last two years. The mamie told me that it had been an honour for her to look after my daughter and that she is a darling child. She is. I felt really, really sad to be leaving them.

And in the emptiness of these departures we came home and the children threw their school bags on the floor, kicked their shoes into the corner and ran off to watch t.v. and I sat down and took stock of the situation. I thought, “now the de-schooling begins.”

But although I had read about de-schooling, I wasn’t really sure what de-schooling meant for me specifically. In general, it is about taking a period of time directly after school has ended to readjust to a life centered around the (extended) family; forgetting the dogmas, timetables and rules of public schools, forgetting about ‘measuring up’ to other people’s standards and forgetting about having to learn what someone else tells you to, when they tell you to. It is about finding one’s own rhythm, one’s own pace in life and what one finds important and truly valuable within the family. All these things may apply more to the parent than to the child in the beginning, as new boundaries are ‘felt out’ out home. Kids can just relax for a while, parents somehow are more prone to worry and start  nagging and niggling their children. The watch word here is—let go—at least for a little  while.

My way of coping over the last few days—our first three de-schooling days in fact—was to bury myself in some books whenever I had a spare moment and I have been returning again and again to John Holt. God of the homeschooling movement for many. I think I have been trying to reaffirm to myself the reasons why I decided to do this in the first place by going back to the classics. And coming across a passage in Teach Your Own today made me think very deeply about exactly what de-schooling may mean for me personally:

I remember my sister saying of one of her children, then five, that she never knew her to do anything really mean or silly until she went away to school – a nice school by the way, in a nice town. —John  Holt. Teach Your Own

I have seen this in my eldest who is also 5 and I must say, I have also seen it to some extent in my youngest, although she is only 2½. This meanness and silliness, (expanded upon in the next quotation by Jud Jerome about his son on the same page) really confirms the way in which I think school may have deleteriously affected my children already:

Though we were glad that he was happy….we were also sad as we watched him deteriorate from a person into a kid under peer influence in school……silliness, self-indulgence, random rebelliousness, secretiveness, cruelty to other children, clubbishness, addiction to toys, possessions, spending money, purchased entertainment, exploitation of adults to pay attention, take them places, amuse them, do things with them – all these things seem to me quite unnecessary not “normal” at all (note: except in the sense of being common)………and while they develop as a result of peer influence, I believe this is only and specifically because children are thrown together in school and develop these means, as prisoners develop means of passing dull time and tormenting authorities to cope with an oppressive situation.” —John  Holt. Teach Your Own

De-schooling to me means giving my children the time to reverse most of the same characteristics seen above, which I see so often in them nowadays. Giving them the space to know that we are not here to act as ‘disciplinarians’ towards them, to continually enforce strict rules that have been set in order to be broken through some idea of ‘tormenting authority’. Nor that they need to act out their dog-eat-dog playground traumas around us or our family friends, being defensive against others in order to protect themselves from harm. We are here to gently nurture and support them in every single way we can, within this supporting framework called ‘home’, a million miles away from the school gates. This is what they need to learn right now.

And judging from the way today that my eldest daughter has behaved, (with broad friendly smiles for her sister, where before there may have been rivalry; generous accommodation for her parents, where before there may have been challenges to authority; openness to questions, where before there may have been back-handed lies) I think that she is already putting the oppressiveness of school behind her and  coming back into the fold of her family, who only after all, have ever wanted to do the best for her.

A little about Lune: Myself, my dear other half and my eldest daughter moved from England to the French Alps three years ago. We lived for a while in a tiny hotel room in a part of France sandwiched between Switzerland and Italy, overlooked by the oldest shadow of them all – Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in Western Europe. Then we moved to a slightly bigger apartment, where I had my second daughter and now we reside in a chocolate-box wooden chalet in a small valley not so far from there.

Its idyllic here, yet we struggle daily with a wanderlust that continually calls out to us from pastures new. In an attempt to answer this call, we recently decided to take our children out of school at the end of this June and travel around Eastern Europe in a caravan. Though before this can happen, we have to spend next winter trying to earn enough money to pay for the trip. Dear other half will work full time night and day, whilst I will have sole charge of two girls age five and two, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for five long snow-bound months.

If my eldest daughter is anything to go by, I know she will be bored pretty quickly with a ‘regular’ homeschooling curriculum. Coercion is not her thing and I have to live with this child through all her moods, good and bad. If we are snowed in for any amount of time here, we may not make it through to spring without having to flee to a tropical beach (hey, shouldn’t we be doing that anyway?). However, I read on the net a few months ago about something much better than a curriculum; something that engages the child with vim and verve. It’s called un-schooling.

Un-schooling means no rules. Now that sounds a lot more promising, but where do I begin? I know, I’ll start by trying to convince my dear other half, who is an ex-school teacher.

You can read more about Lune’s deschooling adventures at her blog, Quatre Pattes.

Reviews of Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling

(Edit: Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble!)

Summerm had an advance review copy of Deschooling Gently. She wrote a review of it on her blog. Here’s a snippet:

In Deschooling Gently you explore the many important topics that frequently come up in homeschooling. From choosing the “right” curriculum, to goal planning, to just keeping track of it all. Plus how to find support and how to deal with the ever present doubters and haters. She shares a lot of great information plus lists useful websites and books for you to check out to learn more.

Head over to Summer’s blog to read the whole thing.

Sunshine Alternative Mama has a review as well. Here’s a snippet:

Tammy also shared other insights; in particular I loved that she talked about how much she loved to plan things out, and how life didn’t really seem to work that way, so she would make her plan and put it in her back pocket. She felt safe winging it knowing that the plan was there, just in case. I totally related to that. Another gem Tammy shared was that spending a lot of money on a curriculum has the potential to create an emotional/financial attachment to the curriculum, whether or not it is working for your family.

Go to her blog to read the rest of this review.

If you feel inspired, well, you know where to go 🙂

Education and the Search for Truth – June 8th, La Crescenta

On June 8th, Tammy Takahashi will be speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills.

She’ll be addressing the topic of Education and the Search for Truth, an exploration into the reasons people homeschool, and what we’re all really looking for in a 21st century education.

At this event, you will also have a chance to get a sneak peek at her new book Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling. Books will be available for purchase.

This is a free event. The talk will be presented during the middle of the church service, and will last about 30 minutes.

All are welcome. If you are going to bring children, please call the church ahead of time, so they can make accommodations. Their children’s program is generally small.

Education and the Search for Truth
by Tammy Takahashi
Sunday, June 8th
10:30am-12:00pm

Unitarian Universalist Church
4451 Dunsmore Ave, La Crescenta
818-248-3954

Perfect Homeschooling, Curriculum Choice, and Regretting Decisions

A new homeschooling mom on our local list had some questions about tutors, curriculum, and generally freaking out because she can’t figure out the perfect way to get started because she’s afraid of regretting her decisions

I responded to her, and I thought I’d pass this along for those of you who are struggling with fear, regret, perfectionism, or self-doubt. Or, if you are interested in being a stronger, more resilient homeschooler, this post might interest you.

Dear “Alysa”,
I have been reading this thread with interest. After your last email, I thought of some things that might relate to your situation:

1) There is no way to make everything perfect. Letting go of that expectation now will go a long way in making life as a homeschooler, and as a parent, less stressful. Also, expecting things to be perfect is a great excuse for not taking any risks and avoiding responsibility. Own your decisions by knowing that every choice has a risk. Even choosing public school.

2) I understand about the idea about not wanting to regret your choices. The best way to not regret your choices is to understand two things: 1) That you ALWAYS have the option to change course. When you make a bad choice (and you will eventually, we all do), it’s not about the result of that choice that makes us who we are, but whether or not we have the resilience to stand up, dust off the dirt, learn from what we did, and move forward. If you know that you can recover from any choice, then making choices is easier, and more empowering. You’re also more likely to make good choices, because they will be made based on your integrity and love of life, not from fear. 2) You can’t possibly know whether a choice is going to be a good one or not until you’ve made it. Doing research is important. And listening to others’ with experience is also important. But in the end, the choice you make is yours to own. Even if other people might wag their finger at you and say “I told you so,” sometimes we have to make certain choices to really understand where to go next. Listen, absorb, then make a choice, and know that you have lots of other options available for you if that choice doesn’t pan out.

3) Tutors and curriculum: It’s obvious you are very very new to homeschooling. I say that because once you get involved in the homeschooling support groups, go to a couple conferences, subscribe to a few magazines, read a few books, and generally get some experience in the HSing world, you’re going to look around and say, “OMG, how can I possibly choose from everything there is to do???” and you’ll probably look back and laugh at yourself that you didn’t know how to get started with tutors/curriculum. Remember, there is NO rush to get started with these things except in your own mind. Wanting to have a handle on exactly who to follow, who to pay, and what path to take is like trying to hold on to the sand on the beach so as not to get swept away by the tide. It’s better to stand up and let the sand be there to make a sandcastle, not to save you. Tutors and curriculum are FINE. Use them, do them, but don’t let them be your master. Don’t rely on them to show you the way or to make you feel less panicky. They won’t. They will only be a baindaid for that fear. The fear doesn’t come from not having these things. Figure out where the fear is REALLY coming from, and the tutors/curriculum/classes and other concrete learning tools will be there for your enjoyment.

It’s totally normal to be hyper when you’re starting out something SO new, an interesting, and BIG, and fun, and scary, and all that. So, enjoy it. Sign up for everything, get really going. Then, when you feel yourself burning out, back out, do less stuff, and relax. Whether you start by relaxing or start by going into overdrive, you’re still doing a great job and learning about your role as a homeschooling parent.

In the end, there are only 3 things that matter for a child in today’s world of technology and global culture:

1) Relationships, relationships, relationships. This trumps everything. All the tutors and curriculum in the world cannot make up for relationship issues in the family. So, when making decisions, always choose to favor strengthening the relationship you have with your child.
2) Love and curiosity about the world. If a child has this, it doesn’t matter how much or what a child learns. A child who is in love with the world, and curious about it will succeed.
3) Knowing where information is. It’s not what you know, but who, where and when you know. If you know where to get info, that is a much more important skill than actually knowing things. In fact, knowing too many facts can give us the false impression that we don’t need to know any more. (This is part of why kids in school often don’t do a lot to study above and beyond what’s taught to them.) It’s important for people to know they don’t know everything, and that it’s not a life requirement to know it all. Having a strong grasp of available resources allows us to let go of feeling like we aren’t good enough because we don’t have all the president’s names and dates memorized like our cousin Sam does.

Good luck to you and enjoy your child. I hope you’ll come to the HSC conference. There you’ll find out more than you ever want or need to know about curriculum, tutors, and other things you can teach with. Until then, relax and enjoy your new life of freedom.

Encouraging Your Child to Take Responsibility

948912_ico_id_2.jpgThese quotes are from the Five Love Languages of Children, by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. They were such great gems, coming from a “mainstream” source, I just have to share them with you.

Read the rest of this post at the new Just Enough Blog.

Cameron’s New Desk

775220_classroom.jpgWe bought Cameron a new desk. Doesn’t that sound so “home-schooly?” Well, this desk is different.

The desks in school do not resemble any other kind of desk or workspace that we encounter in “real life”. These kinds of desks are also the least conducive to learning and working as a group. The way desks are set up in a school room, indicates very clearly that these children are not part of a group, but they are individuals who are expected to go along with what the rest of the group is doing, without actually interacting or thinking with them. It’s not allowed to cross the desk line and chat with your neighbor, work together (unless specifically OK’d by the teacher), or communicate in any way, including passing notes or texting. Once a child is sitting in that school desk, he is in is own isolated place, where the only looking out is directed and controlled.

When I see a picture of a school desk in a homeschool house, this is what I think of – a child who is sitting in his own world, ready to be directed and told what to do, surrounded by invisible walls.

Granted, not all homeschooling families treat a school desk as such. But if this isn’t how we are going to use a school desk, why get one at all? Why use our space so inefficiently?

The kinds of desks adults, and people who feel free, choose, are desks with drawers, space, plugs, and places to put up pictures. The desks we work at represent the kind of thinking we are doing. Working at our desk should feel like it’s setting us free, not like an invisible prison, no matter how comfortable or “normal” it seems.

My husband and I chose not to get our kids desks. They work on the floor, the various tables in the house, and on the couch. Their projects can be anywhere, and they are free to decide where.

My husband and I also work in these spaces, on our own projects. The space is available, free, open. But we also have our desks where we have our “stuff”. These desks are our sanctuary, and we choose sometimes to work there. (In fact, I’m working at my desk as we speak, after having worked on the couch for a half-hour or so.)

Modeling, as we know, is the most impressionable teacher. Our 9-year-old son, Cameron, proved this to us by deciding last week that he, too, needed his own space to do projects. In particular, he needed a space where he could leave his projects 1/2 done, and nobody would bother them. He decided he needed a desk.

img_1655.jpgTo me, this is what a desk should be. This is the kind of workspace that encourages learning and exploration. It leaves the possibilities open. It requires no permission or dicta of what to do there.

Cameron still works on the floor, and on the general spaces. It’s his choice, and he knows it. There are limitations of what he can do in the shared space, and there are limitation of what he can do on his desk, but these are limitations set by practical experience: using water on his desk will ruin his books, leaving out a domino project on the living room table will end in dominoes everywhere at the hands of a curious 4-year-old sister.

When Cameron asked for a desk, I waffled, because I thought the idea of sitting at a desk and working was such a homeschool cliché, it almost hurt. Then I realized, that him having a desk like mine, is freeing, not confining. So, we ended up buying him the same exact desk I have, and put it in his room. It has lots of space, he sits at it when he wants, and it can be used for many different things – not just hunching over workbooks and taking notes.

In my opinion, school desks should be outlawed, and replaced by tables. I can see how teachers would want children to use desks so they don’t socialized during class and “mess around.” But using desks is a very primitive way of making sure kids are paying attention and interested in the task at hand. If that’s what it takes, then the problem is bigger than desks.

I realize that many schools do use tables instead of desks. I think that’s great, and these schools are a good example of one small way that they can give power to choose their own learning back to the kids. Let’s give our kids tables and open space, not a chair with a little piece of wood to write one. Give them space to learn, and they will learn bigger.

One Homeschooler’s Socialization

867648_jumping_over_waves.jpgThis morning I told my children what our plans were for the day. Here is part of the conversation:

“Kids, we’re going to the museum. Our friends Joe and Sam will be there.”

“YAY!” they shouted. And all three of my children threw their arms in the air and hopped around.

“Also,” I added, “there’s going to be another family there. They have two kids. I don’t remember if the kids are your age, though.”

Cameron, who is 9 1/2, turned to me and said, “It doesn’t matter how old they are, Mom. We can still make friends.”

I smiled. I guess I still have some deschooling to do.