Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Unschooling younger children: an interview with Meredith

I'm trying a different approach to posting the unschooling interviews, so I hope this works out better for my readers :-)  This interview will be dedicated to all of Meredith's answers.  Some of them will be repeats from the first unschooling post, so you may need to skip down a few questions to get to the new ones.  If you have questions or comments, do share!

Meredith Ryan- unschooling, stay at home mom of 3 kids, ages 7, 2, and 6 months. I am a trained doula and aspiring childbirth educator who enjoys natural living and instinctual parenting. My family lives in Beaverton, Oregon and we love being out in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest whenever we can!

What is unschooling to you and your family?

For us, unschooling is allowing our children to follow the natural path of curiosity to learning. It also means more family time, more time asking and answering questions, and freedom to learn however works best for us without having to compete with 30 other kids for attention.

How did you decide to unschool?

The reason I started researching homeschooling was because I'm not comfortable with the government being in charge of teaching my child what they think he should know. I'm also not comfortable with the current state of our public schools and the things kids face there. I feel like generations of kids are growing up too early and in violence and confusion. It's too much to ask for public school teachers to be an ever-present positive role model for my that leaves the other children to be his role models. Considering the wildly differing ideas of what acceptable for children, I wasn't ok with that. Unschooling was and idea that I stumbled upon quite by accident. I'm definitely into attachment and intuitive parenting and the idea behind unschooling felt right to me, based on my ideals for my relationship with my child.

How do you get a kid that refuses to do his work to sit down and do it?

Unschooling isn't about presenting worksheets and setting deadlines. Sometimes my child will find a worksheet online or in a book that he wants to complete, so he does. But I don't use worksheets to teach my children or reinforce ideas. Right now my son is working on a project about mythical creatures, dragons specifically. He found some coloring sheets online to complete along with some stories and facts about dragon mythology. He spent most of this afternoon coloring the pictures and telling me about what he'd learned in his research. I didn't have to force him to sit down to do it because it's something he's interested in!

How do u stay on track? Be consistent? And keep up with multiple children and do housework?

This question assumes that there is a "track" we should be on. We don't have a "track", or if we do have one, it's one that is all over the place where you sometimes go backwards, sideways, and spin in circles. We don't strive for a specific brand of forward movement when it comes to learning. Some things are understood after the briefest highlight and some things we spend weeks obsessing over. As far as housework and other kids...well my oldest helps with chores throughout the day because he's not at school and our schedule is very flexible. My other two children do their own thing as well. They are babies and so are just starting to explore play-dough, coloring, toys and such so it's when I have the children doing things I do housework, cook, laundry etc...

How do you handle higher-level academics in science and math?

We haven't approached this much yet but the idea is to seek out people who have the answers you want. For example, I am not a math wiz, in fact math made me cry when I was kid. So when we get to the point where I can no longer help him I will attempt to do some learning myself and then we'll look for support from someone who LOVES math. My mom is a computer genius and a very high level thinker when it comes to numbers so maybe my son will collaborate on a project with her or follow her to work for a bit.

How do you unschool multiple children, especially if there is a baby or toddler in the mix?
Since unschooling is all about letting your children be curious and follow that, it's easy! My daughter loves to do art projects, painting, coloring, so we have an "art studio" set up in our garage where all of the kids can play around with things and do their own projects.

Can you ever unschool a child who needs routines and visual schedules?

Of course! There is an entire spectrum of unschoolers, some use curriculum and guides and others don't. Do what works.

How do unschooled kids adapt in society when they have grown up? How do they get a job and can they go to college?

This isn't something that I have had to deal with too much yet but in my own experience... the school system DOES NOT prepare kids for REAL LIFE. I know when I left high school, I was totally shocked by what was required of me so I don't feel like kids are missing much by not completing the government's idea of an "education". I feel like my children will be free thinkers and flexible enough to adapt to whatever they run into, and I am confident that they will choose their direction rather than let social norms dictate to them what they "should" do.

How do unschooled kids adapt to a structured work environment?

Anyone who thinks school is great preparation for work is operating under an illusion. I have a questions, how does anyone who completes high school prepare themselves for a creative life? It takes years of unlearning to be able to embrace the lack of structure that artists and entrepreneurs enjoy! There is plenty of time for my children to learn the doctrine of the working man. They can learn structure by taking part in sports teams, formal classes, and group instruction.

How do you know you have given them all the tools and experiences you could so they can have a well-rounded education in many subjects?

You have to look for the different components of learning in the every day. If we bake bread for example, they are learning math and science as we discuss measurements and chemical reactions. By living a full life you learn about all sorts of things!

How do you work with all the state requirements for states that have very rigid requirements? 

Our state doesn't really have rigid requirements so I'm not sure about this one...

How do you balance the home duties, multiple children and your own passions/interests?

Since my children are very independent and allowed to do their own thing much of the time, I don't have to spend time constantly entertaining them...this frees me up for some of my own things. 

Has your child ever expressed a desire to go to public or private school, and how would you handle that?

Not yet

How do you cope with lack of support from family/friends?

We just use the term homeschooling and everyone is very supportive of that. I rarely get any questions beyond where my son goes to school.

What kinds of social interactions do your children get? Do they ever have a hard time being accepted by others who see them as “different” for unschooling?

My son has an entire neighborhood of friends where we live and takes part in activities in our community every week. Other kids have never even asked why he doesn't go to their school and he has no problems making friends. Parents might make this an issue but I doubt other kids would make disparaging remarks about the fact that he doesn't attend a regular school. Other kids think he's lucky!

Do you worry about the child who wants to do nothing but play computer games all day? If you can see it doing them harm, how do you discourage it?

There are days when my son wants to play video games. I give him a time limit if I see him lingering on the games. Usually he gets bored of the games on his own and goes to do something else but there are times when we have a lazy day. Most of the day the tv, games, computer are off and they find things to do on their own. If I feel like they've had enough of being "plugged in", I just turn it all off. Simple as that! We don't have cable so there isn't much to watch anyway and we only have 1 video game that our son can play so it gets old. Just don't have it in the house if it's a problem.

Are you socially shut out?

NO!!! Well, no more than any other stay at home mom with 3 kids. I'm lucky that I live in a neighborhood with lots of SAHM and we're all friends. When our kids are outside we chat and my husband and I go out when we can. My kids have lots of friends and LOVE playing with them.

Can you be a working parent and unschool?

Working outside the home? Wow, that's something I've never even thought about.

Since autism is an issue relevant to so many families today, what are your feelings on unschooing for a special needs child, specifically, an autistic child?

No idea but I think it would be great if you have support from experts in the field that you can turn to.

Can you apply the principals of unschooling alongside the structures of homeschooling (or traditional schooling)? Like, teaching your kids using their surroundings, but still teaching them paper writing and test taking skills?

Of course! I don't think an hour a week (or whatever) of formal instruction makes you a bad unschooler. Teaching a child to write an essay can be fun if they get to choose the topic and it enriches their knowledge of something they're passionate about. Same with test taking...I don't know a kid on the planet that doesn't love to be quizzed on something they LOVE to share or something they feel they know a lot about.

Are there any unschooling misperceptions you’d like to address?

My kid doesn't get donuts for breakfast or watch tv ALL day...he has responsibilities and he is curious. Unschooling doesn't equal a free for all.

What are some of the most common questions and comments you get about unschooling, and how do you feel about them?

I welcome questions but I loathe judgment disguised as questions. You know what I'm talking about...the question that is really more like a statement on how you suck as a parent!?  Or the "I just don't think I could do that, my kid wouldn't learn anything"..I feel like those statements are people's way of saying that they disagree with what I'm doing. If you disagree, fine, but be educated on the issue.

Do you spend extra money because of unschooling, to make sure your child has the things they need/want to explore their interests?

Two words: Library Card. We can check out book about ANYHTHING and do research for free before we decide if it's something we want to pursue and invest in. We can check out movies, magazines, and even borrow passes to local museums and events for FREE! This is a great way to learn and get inspired. Educational toys and manipulatives can get really expensive but if you invest in some good quality things it's totally worth it. Also, we don't have to go "back to school" shopping every year so we save there. My husband and I are always on the lookout for free expos and events around town as a way to spend time as a family AND to expose our kids to different things. Some things your child will take to like a fish to water and you'll find that investing some money in and item or in lessons is totally worth it and other things they won't really think twice about so do all the free stuff you can!

What are some resources you’d recommend?

Internet, Library, other parents, your own gut, and TALK TO YOUR KIDS. A book that I really enjoyed was The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith. GREAT inspiration and practical information.


Outspoken Tomato said...

I like this format a little better. It makes it a little easier to read... for my distracted brain, anyway. Ha, ha! I can't wait to read the rest of them! ^_^

Kaila said...

Love it! Good questions and answers to some pretty common concerns!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I wish I didn't have to go to public school when I was a kid. Getting picked on and seeing other kids get picked on incessantly doesn't make it a nice learning environment. Many teachers didn't care, or just showed us videos and film strips and gave us busywork anyway. Plus anytime I was interested in a subject, the teacher would suck the joy of learning out of us anyway.
Luckily, my kid won't have to go to public school, though we're going to do the cyberschool thing, probably.

Wrap Your Baby said...

I really enjoyed this interview. I unschool my kids too and felt that my philosophy is pretty similar to Meredith's. I look forward to reading the other interviews with different viewpoints on unschooling!

Anonymous said...

"Working outside the home? Wow, that's something I've never even thought about."

Really? Well how lucky for you that that is something you have never had to think about. For most US families, having two working parents is a necessity. Staying home with your kids is a luxury not everyone can afford. I am sick of articles like this one that offer no advice for parents who work outside the home, even make us feel like we are inferior parents and incapable of practicing this type of natural parenting.

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