As HEM moves into our exciting future in full support of each person – whether child, teen or adult – creating thoughtful, electric, passionate, peaceful, wild, innovative, unique, serene, exuberant, productive, caring lives … each in our own way, we invite you to take a look at a preview of what’s coming up in our next issue, below.
Please Note: Print subscriptions begin with the upcoming May-June 2014 issue. Digital subscribers have access to the May-June 2014 issue as well as the previous year of the issues in our digital archive.
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How My Children Push Me to Grow, by Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko
Life is about learning and growing and changing. Most times, we’ll resist like the dickens. Having to change is unpleasant. It’s hard. But with unschooling, there is less chance of evading change because the kids force us to.
So. You’ve set the wheels in motion: you’ve invited your children to explore, to investigate; to question everything. Don’t be surprised when that fine probing ability you’ve helped them to cultivate, focuses on you! Perhaps you were secretly hoping they’d turn out like you? A tiny bit? Ha! Their interests and concerns, what they dream about may be very far from what you hoped for them.
What’s more, in my case, I’ve always been described as “stubborn” by family members and more kindly as having a “strong personality” by friends. I’m an outspoken person when it comes to issues I’m passionate about–like freedom in education, for example–and I’m not one to ‘give an inch’ when those views are contested. As it happens, this description fits my daughters–each in her own way–to a tee.
I’ll also admit there’s an edge of self-righteousness I have around how things are “supposed to be” that rears its ugly head every now and then. So what happens when the kids challenge your beliefs? What happens when they’re in opposition to what you uphold? In an unschooling context, how do you deal with that?
Thinking About Freedom, by Kate Fridkis
The question I circle around until I’m dizzy is always this: how much freedom is too much?
Before I had Eden, the question was more of a theoretical exercise, an indulgent investigation of my own character. How important was it that my mom reminded me to write in my journal every day when I was a little kid? Maybe she should’ve made me do more math? Would I be better at life now, if she had? Even though of course I could be better, I’m mostly comfortable with myself the way I am. But when it comes to my daughter’s upbringing, the stakes feel higher, the question less casual, more crucial.
I should pause here, and try to define what I mean when I say “freedom.”
It is an individual’s ability to choose.
For me, in the context of my everyday life, freedom is the ability to choose to avoid arbitrary restrictions.
It’s not easy to identify enormous, familiar, popular restrictions as arbitrary, but when you do you can suddenly tell the difference between the necessary and the merely normative. What a refreshing, lonely distinction.
The homeschooling community has been known to reassure itself and everyone else, “Look! Homeschoolers are winning awards all the time!” Sometimes grateful alt-ed parents write to me, relieved that I got into the Ivy League. It’s nice to prove that we can rise to the top of society, that we can fit in, even when we start out unconventionally.
Character Development: Life Education, by John Taylor Gatto
The first quality of virtuous character mentioned by Aristotle is COURAGE. When I proposed to my classes that we attempt to develop this, they responded enthusiastically. But how to begin? Since courage is the opposite of COWARDICE, each student had first to identify as many areas of physical and psychological cowardice he or she was possibly subject to, so what followed in practice could be custom-tailored to meet individual needs.
Suppose, for example, that Jose was a physical coward who found pain in any quantity unendurable? Then one likely approach might be to embed Jose in an environment of mild physical pain in company with comrades who disregarded pain and could be emulated, perhaps membership in a sandlot football team or in a long-distance hiking club. Group imagination can be drawn upon for other ideas; suppose the cowardice to be “treated” lies in inability to talk with members of the opposite sex?–a common malady among teens. Forced fraternization of boys and girls on interesting adventures–say, a day at an amusement park or a long-distance train ride–usually worked to ameliorate the condition.
Among other character elements Aristotle singled out for special attention in building noble character were: PATIENCE, possession of PROPER AMBITION, MODESTY, the skill of FRIENDLY CONVERSATION, TEMPERANCE, GENEROSITY, an ability to CUT A FINE FIGURE, CONFIDENCE, ADEQUACY in all social situations, POLITE MANNERS, a SENSE OF SHAME, RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION when principles are violated, SELF-RESPECT, AMIABILITY without obsequiousness, and JUSTICE.
The World Really is My Oyster, by Jennifer Miller
I’m Hannah Miller, a 17 year old lover of life and learning, and I’m the oldest child in a family of six. I’m known for my fascination with musical instruments and literature, as well as my tendency to look a bit like a forest elf. I have a serious case of wanderlust, and it only seems to be growing stronger the longer I travel.
Five years ago, my parents, Jennifer and Tony Miller, whisked me and my three younger brothers off on an adventure that would change our lives. The plan: to cycle around Europe and Northern Africa for a year, living simply (we camped in tents the entire way) and learning about the various cultures we interacted with along the way. My parents believed (and still do) that it was important to our educations that we travel early on in life, in order to see the world for ourselves and be able to draw our own conclusions about the things we learned along the way. Afterwards, we would return to the States and go back to living a “normal” life. Ezra, my youngest brother, was five at the time. As you might imagine, making the transition to living on the road was not easy to begin with. I was a reluctant 11 year old who’d only read about the European countries and wasn’t sure about leaving my friends behind. I was in love with the forests surrounding our lovely house in New England, and selling the place for an uncertain future was a drastic change.
The Heart Follows the Eyes, by Erin LaBelle
I recently decided to register for a fiction writing class. The class is designed as a weekly writing workshop and although I have written along the way as a journalist, I thought this would be more imaginative and creative. I hoped it would put me in the midst of writers talking writing and would inspire me to create the children’s books that have resided in my mind for too many years to count.
For the past few weeks, I have gathered with a small group on campus and talked about the craft of writing while analyzing short stories our teacher assigned, mostly from The Best American Short Stories 2013. The first week’s reading pretty much put me in a state of shock and I began to wonder if in order to be successful, a story also had to be disturbing. The next week’s stories proved to be as disturbing, if not more so, than the first assignment, and after discussing the short stories during our next meeting, I asked my professor this question. Do stories have to be disturbing to be considered successful? She looked surprised and said that an ordinary, functional life would not be interesting and the reason she reads is to know that there are others with problems, which assures her she is not alone in the struggle of life. What I find disturbing actually comforts her. Odd, I thought, and went home to ask my husband if there was something wrong with us.
I am Open to Conflict, by Nadine LeBean
Whenever I need to learn something really well, I teach it. That is what has brought me to you today. I need to remember and fully believe what has worked and what has not worked with helping my children to resolve conflict. Even among unschoolers it is not uncommon to hear that people are struggling with their children not getting along…
As I write this, winter seems to have us inside a lot. Lately, our house has been tense. I cringe at the sounds of children fighting in the next room. I squish up my face and wish it would just stop. Why can’t they just get along? Because they are children? Sure, but I have met adults who need to learn to resolve conflict, too. It seems almost to be an epidemic as people angrily project their emotions and expectations on to one another and my wonderful children have been no exception.
As unschoolers we are together a lot, a lot more than most families. Much of that time is spent without a directed activity or goal. Without the distractions we are forced to really learn how to live with each other without violence, aggression or control. That is my goal. Also, when we do want to do an activity, there is much to be decided. It seems when one spawns an idea, the other three immediately want to do what that person is doing. What an amazing opportunity to learn!
My Faith Led Me to Unschooling, by Julie Polanco
While I had consulted many Christian parenting books about how to handle Hawk, we weren’t seeing the results that were promised. He wasn’t becoming more obedient and compliant. The “lessons” he was supposed to be learning weren’t sticking and he was being punished more than he was being loved. I was worried. I didn’t like what I was doing nor did I like how I felt. It seemed wrong somehow, but we did not know what else to do with him because no matter what we did, he still did the opposite of what we asked and then laughed about it. I am not proud of how we handled him. Something inside me felt that he was closing down and moving farther away from us. We were exhausted, frustrated, and at the end of our rope.
Finally, we cried out to Jesus for him and heard Him say, “Is that how I treat you? Love him unconditionally and give him grace.” We had made a big mistake in looking to other people, even well-meaning people, for advice on how to discipline our son. We had neglected to consult the person who created this boy and gave him to us. Three specific times Christ talks about children and they are all preceded by “do not”: do not offend, do not despise, and do not hinder them. We were guilty of all three. We eased up on our expectations of him, gave him grace, and loved on him. He gradually responded and now happily complies with our requests because, as he says, he loves us.
Climbing Mountains, by Kimberly Scheimreif
A couple of springs ago I read aloud the very inspiring story Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure by Patricia Ellis Herr. This true story is about a mother and her six year old daughter that climb mountains. The 48 mountains they climb are the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire. They manage to climb all 48 in one year. One day as I was starting to read the next chapter in Up, my son was putting wood in the wood stove, and my other child that was home at the time suggested we try to climb all of the 4,000 footers in NH. This idea of climbing the White Mountains did not seem that far fetched. The White Mountains of New Hampshire are our neighbors at about three hours away, and my inner unschooling self did not want to say we can’t do that. So I suggested that maybe we could plan something, especially since summer was approaching with more moderate temperatures, and their older two siblings would be away spending time on other mountains. Their older sister, Kayla, was a junior in college taking an ecology class in the Sierra Nevadas in California, and their older brother, Kenny, was volunteering for Student Conservation Association in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. So when we finished reading the book our planning began.
As I was going to lead our children through the woods of NH, I must admit I felt a little nervous about this. In the book there were encounters with bears, close calls with hypothermia, children getting lost, and the author mentions many other tragic historical accounts in the Whites.
You Don’t Have to Unschool to Benefit from Unschooling, by Carolyn Brown Steninger
I discovered unschooling about five years ago and had been gradually changing the way I did things with my own daughters at home. I’d begun to question why, as a parent, I believed there was always only one right way and many wrong ways to do things, and that as the parent I knew better than my child which was which. Where had I learned those “answers” and what was the real purpose of training my girls to follow in the same paradigm I was raised in? The more I questioned, the more I was able to let go of things that had no real value and were unnecessarily restrictive. Some people would call it letting the kids run wild, but I was beginning to understand that it was letting the kids be kids, and that it was more than OK for kids to be kids; it was downright unfair to ask them to be anything else!
In our therapeutic riding program we have a wide variety of ages and disabilities present. Each client deals with his or her own set of challenges on a daily basis and each one has had to struggle to succeed in a world constructed around people with abilities sometimes vastly different than theirs. Most have been through a school system where they must have experienced a great deal of pressure to accommodate a system where conformity is the goal and for them it may have been a monumental task to try to measure up.
Thanks to Phil Donahue, My Immersion into John Holt Continued, by Penny Tuggle
In a previous issue of HEM I wrote about the food for thought John Holt’s appearance on a 1981 episode of The Phil Donahue Show provided me. At the end of the article, I wrote that I wanted to continue this learning trail by reading the book My Country School Diary by Julia Weber Gordon, by finding out more about some of the show’s homeschooling panelists, and by learning more about what John Holt was like personally.
John Holt recommended My Country School Diary in an interview videotaped in Pullman, WA. In an email exchange with Pat Farenga, John Holt’s close associate and successor at Growing Without Schooling magazine, I learned that John had written an introduction to one of the editions of this rare book. The book and John’s introduction can be found in their entirety at www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/SchoolDiary.pdf
Julia Weber started her diary when she was about 25 years old. From 1936-1940 she taught in a one room schoolhouse in a town of fewer than 400 people in rural New Jersey. She stated at the outset that her mission was to help the community by improving the intellectual, social, and physical lives of her students and their families.
Rethinking Competition: discovering its real value, great fun, and natural rewards, by Suki Wessling
When I first became an unschooler, I was surprised by the number of parents I met who were against allowing children to compete in any way. Activities in our public homeschool program were designed as “everyone wins” events. We hardly saw any homeschoolers at our county science fair, despite the fact that it was very welcoming to our kids. Parents were always on the lookout for cooperative games so that their children wouldn’t have to compete with each other.
The rare competitive homeschooler seems to be the exception: often they are homeschoolers specifically because their achievements leave little time for school. A high-level competitive gymnast seems more common amongst homeschoolers than a child who just likes the challenge of competition at any level.
In our family, however, we have an instinctive enthusiasm for competitions. It isn’t that our kids are generally high-achievers; in fact, they don’t necessarily place in competitions they enter. But we all feel the excitement and fulfillment of identifying a target, working toward it, and seeing our work alongside others who share our interests.
The science fair is a good example of a competitive event my children love. It is a huge payoff for project-based learning. Whereas other projects might gather dust on a shelf or become presents for Grandma, the science fair moves from independent exploration, to documenting the work, to sharing with fellow young scientists, and on to speaking with (and hopefully receiving awards from) judges.
Is Unschooling the “Easy Way Out” of Education?, by Mark Hegener
To some, unschooling seems like the “easy way out” of education and parenting: no structured curriculums enforced, a life without parent-set rules, no grades, no classes.
I used to hear this from time to time, that unschooling was “the easy way out,” especially from those whose kids were struggling with lots of homework, were unmotivated, dealing with ever-increasing school (or homeschool) rules, etc. Compared to all that, yes! unschooling is definitely the easy way out and I am very happy about that. I like the feeling of easy and fun and flow. It feels like things are working and joyful.
Let’s get real about this notion, however: consciously choosing to spend 24/7 with my children from birth through potentially adulthood is clearly challenging, perhaps the most challenging role anywhere. For the uninitiated, spending this amount of time with a child and taking the personal responsibility for creating an environment that nurtures their always changing and developing curiosities, drives, learning styles, etc. is no small task! Personally, I was in an almost constant state of observing, engaging, thinking, researching and experimenting with my kids to help them develop good communication skills, learn to resolve conflict, use the world to resource their many interests, challenge themselves to stretch and experiment. While the feeling of “flow” when it was all sweet and working well was wonderful–an unbeatable feeling–our family experienced many moments of confusion or struggle or even impasse as we tried to figure out what was out of sync, what new ways could be tried to resolve an issue, what was next for us or for one of our kids. This is darn right challenging and not easy.
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