"We are all wanderers on this earth...our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams." ~ Gypsy proverb

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Learning around here...

It has been awhile since I wrote about the learning we do around here. When we were going through massive amounts of change in our parenting and homeschooling (from authoritative to peaceful parenting and from traditional homeschooling to unschooling) styles, the unrest spawned many posts about that change. The revelations we were having were groundbreaking for us, which warranted screaming from the rooftops about the transformations we were undergoing. Since then we have settled down comfortably and what was new has become normal, with an occasional reminder of where we came from and how far we had come.

The truth is, we have a beautiful melding between everyday learning and everyday living, and the rickety rackety pinball feeling I had the first two years is not as pronounced.  There is flow and rhythm to our days, but not like the predictable beating of a heart.  Our days flow more like the music of jazz --harmonic, versatile, free flowing, and improvisational.  Not always easy, especially for a structured mama like me.  I still have tendencies to want to sit and do book work for 3 hours. For me, it's easier that way. But, that is me, and it's fitting that my children are completely opposite, and far better teachers than the ones I have ever had. It could be that they are getting older and taking greater responsibilities, and it could be that I've relaxed on worrying if they are learning or not.  I know they are, and so am I :).

While in Seattle, I was tagged by lovely Suzy of Scraps of Starlight for a homeschool meme. (Sorry I haven't posted it yet Suzy!) This meme asks us 8 questions related to our homeschooling life, which started my wheels turning again about defining what we do. We've evolved quite a bit since leaving the public and private school system in 2009. Unschooling was the turning point for me for understanding the possibilities for how learning could happen. But here's a shocker, I have grown to not like the word "unschooling" at all.  I think the term "unschooling" shuts out the notion that kids can still learn from structured learning, and even in brick and mortar settings. The truth is, kids will learn no matter what setting they are in. They are amongst the most adaptable creatures on this planet. Sure, they will learn better given particular circumstances, and as homeschooling parents we set out to provide these particular circumstances based on our beliefs and our abilities. Yet there is still so much complexity and variability to how each of us learn, that to suggest that there is one best way is unfair, from all sides.

I think what unschooling has given me though is the permission to start over from the ground up and really take a look at how learning works in my family. By shutting out the shoulds and the fear-mongering voices that say I'm ruining their futures, I have tried to wash away all the assumptions about learning I grew up with. I spent a year trying to observe with with fresh eyes on how my children learn best.

One: My children learn better when there is interest, and even better when there is passion.

Two: My children learn better in smaller groups settings and certainly with one on one attention.

Three: My children learn better when they have autonomy over following their interests, whims, and passions, rather than strictly within a structured framework.

Four: Sometimes, my children do better with structure than without.

If there is a brick and mortar setting that could tailor to my children's specific ways of learning, then that would be perfect wouldn't it? But we know that is not realistic. We know that a brick and mortar setting has the responsibility of teaching hundreds, even thousands of children, and cannot do this.  I have met too many passionate teachers to know it is not their fault and that if they could change the system, they would.  And this is why I don't like the word unschooling. I think it undermines what so many talented and hard working educators are trying to do for our children. Bringing my children home to learn, has given me an enormous amount of respect for our educators, as well as a little sadness for the lack of support they receive to make education better.

And what does this say about my belief in freedom in learning. I do believe in freedom, but we live in a society built on structure and rules. One day my children will be a part of this structure regardless of how they were brought up and how they learned. As much as I love the idea of free-spiritedness, it does not negate the fact that this society is getting more competitive by the minute.  As much as I would love to say college doesn't matter as long as my children follow their passions, I also know that without a college degree sometimes people drown in their passions.  I do not want to mislead my children. I do not want to say that as long as they do what they love that all will be well.  Nor do I want to say that as long as they have a good college degree that all will be well either.  There is a risk in every choice we make, with no guarantees either way.

So where does this leave me, and my uber long post.  It all comes down to the rhythm of jazz again I think. I equate the rhythm of jazz with the rhythm of life and learning. We flow, then improvise, then change the beat again in search of soul and harmony. Sometimes I lead, sometimes they lead then we adapt and evolve together. I have learned that I cannot depend on any one method of learning to answer all my questions, and that experience, trying, failing, and trying again is the best teacher of all. Work hard, and do what is necessary to find the sparks that lead your way. That to me encompasses what learning is all about. It's life and learning all rolled into one. Yeah, I like that...we are life learners :).


p.s. next week I'll post the answers to the meme :)


  1. oh i love this. and i agree with you so. life learning is what we have tried to cultivate in our home as well.

    can't wait to see your answers to the meme (that's how i found you... when suzy tagged you!)

  2. I so long to provide this sort of education for my children. Unfortunately it's unlikely as my kids have another mommy who doesn't necessarily agree and we depend on my paycheck. But it's beautiful to see this in action.

  3. mj, i definitely have my share of misgivings about the word unschooling, and mostly i wish someone had come up with a better term before now and that had caught on instead. i find unschooling useful as a term to give someone the general vibe of what we do, because it's "not school" as most people think of school, and not even homeschool as most people think of homeschool. but it's only useful because it's a term people have heard. on the other hand, i wish our way of learning was defined by what it IS instead of what it is NOT. the un really bothers me. i also have a lot of respect for hard working school teachers in the system, and i'm not in a frame of mind of "oh we're doing this so we don't have to do THAT" i just like the way we're doing it. we're not doing it to be "un" or "other". we're just us.

  4. I love interest-lead learning! I try to plan my school schedule around things that my son wants to learn. Since I have older children, I am required by my state to teach certain core subjects, but after that we are on our own. xx

  5. Love this post MJ. I still feel a bit like that pinball you first described as we are only in our 2nd year. I love child led learning but hesitate to label us as unschooling or not. We do some math and grammar pretty regularly along with weekly spelling. Beyond that we are a bit all over the place following our interests wherever they lead us.

  6. "There is a risk in every choice we make, with no guarantees either way."

    I believe this wholeheartedly. I think you are so BRAVE to take on the education of your children, at this point in time. It take a lot of confidence and guts to do what you do.

    As a girl who never went to college, I can say that maybe my life would have been a bit easier if I had but I hated school. I did not want to sit and learn about "crap" that I feel would never apply to my life or my life goals. I learn by doing, and asking questions, and following the things I interested in. I have been fairly lucky in the fact that I have always worked (even right out of high school) and I've put in my time and make a fairly good living. (Better than some college graduates, ehem). Is it my DREAM job of a lifetime, no. Can I change that? Yes. I'm becoming more and more interested in web/graphic design and one day I may go back to school but I would much rather find a mentor, that I could work closely with similarly to what you do with your children. Someone as passionate about it as I am. Not some burnt out professor in a room full of 50 people.

    I am definitley a student of life and always will be.

  7. Having a formerly unschooled child who chose the brick-and-mortar route for herself, I agree that the most important part is seeing how Your Child learns best and is happiest (although, I have to say, I hope her two younger siblings don't follow in her footsteps). I like the term 'life-learner'.

  8. love...

    "Our days flow more like the music of jazz --harmonic, versatile, free flowing, and improvisational."
    - the best description of home rhythm that makes sense to me. thanks.

    "that to suggest that there is one best way is unfair, from all sides"

    "I also know that without a college degree sometimes people drown in their passions."

    "experience, trying, failing, and trying again is the best teacher of all."

    I'm also with you on the term unschooling. i do use it occasionally, but usually as unschoolingish. for the reasons you put so beautifully and for what it has become - a system with it's own doctrines.

    i use the term organic learning but no one knows what that means. life learners is more sued?
    anyway, just terms.

    i'm also not anti-school. homeschooling has to work for everyone as far as i'm concerned. if schooling makes for a better all-round family system, then schooling it is!

    excellent post. right on the day i chat with my husband how i just don't know if i can do it, despite wanting to so very much. ;)

  9. Beautiful post, MJ. I have a very good friend who home schooled her children ... all now grown, one married with 2 children. I listened to how she *taught* and thought many times ... *golly, I wish she had been my teacher*!!! What fun it would have been to study with her ... to be able to tie in *english, literature, math, art* all in one place. She is a wonder and You are too!

  10. So beautiful, MJ. I remember that rickety rackety feeling too, in the beginning (and still now, some days!). I know the moment I found and read about the word "Life Learning" and thought, Ah. Here's a term that's closest to how I feel and how we Do. I LOVE that you link how you learn and live to jazz—which is like breath in our house, as part of us as skin and blinking.

    Oh, I love it all, MJ, every word here because I kept thinking me too, and yes, and that's right! And again I wanted the space to be small between us, and to be sitting at your (or my) table smiling at you over a cup of tea. Which, in a way—in this way here and now—I am. Do you see me smiling, MJ? I sure hope you can :)

  11. you're so eloquent mj. i totally get you and agree with you. it is so great that you are the kind of life learning guide that you are - not sure what to call you now - : ) - because you're well thought out, objective, and able to see both sides of the coin.

  12. This is beautiful, MJ! I love the honesty, and so much wisdom you have to offer.

    I wish I could homeschool/unschool/life-teach my kids. While I did well in school, I hated the environment. But, I lack the confidence in myself to make sure they become well-educated, well-adjusted children, teens, and eventually adults. And, it doesn't help to come from a narrow-minded family that I know would judge and criticize all the time, telling my how I'm doing a great disservice to my children.

  13. You always talk about things so beautifully. I learn so much from you. Thanks for all of the inspiration. I look forward to your homeschooling answers!

  14. What a beautiful post MJ! To hear your description of your growth over the years is simply amazing.

    Bravo to you!

  15. What a wonderful and thoughtful post (how many times have I posted this same comment?? ;-). Really, though. I think your observations and reflections are, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts you give your children. Such lucky, lucky children!

  16. I loved this. I grew up in the typical public school system and constantly struggled to be heard, to express what I was or wasn't learning, and I hated every second of it. It's beautiful when parents really take the time to figure out what works best for their child rather than what is easily available! I hope I am just as thoughtful and careful about schooling (or unschooling!) when I have some babes of my own to look after.

  17. Yours is always the first blog I go to catch up on when I have had a week with little reading time, and this is exactly why. I have nothing to add to this, really, but could not help but say I love it. And thanks.

  18. I use unschooling less and less, but as my kids get older and the longer we travel down this road (we are in our 4th year), the easier it is to see how they take on their own learning expectations. I am more and more a guide. They are very clear about what they find important to know and what is not important for them (right now). Best wishes on your journey, it is fun to share with you.


“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
~ George Bernard Shaw