Monday, February 27, 2012

So, what are they learning?

At the end of my last post, I mentioned that children are learning all the time, and it's only a matter of what they are learning. When it comes to unschooling, I find that I don't have to get out the flash cards or set aside a specific time to "do academics." When I pay attention and connect with them in their daily play, I find out that they are getting all of the education they might need as they grow. Math comes naturally. Letters come naturally. Though they are still young, in a literature-rich culture, I assume that reading will come naturally. Perhaps one will learn earlier than the other or be more attracted to reading or writing or math or art or science or athletics than another, and this is also natural, based on a person's interests and talents. I'm glad to know that I will not be forcing my children to do something against their will based on my ideas of what is best for them. I believe that they will know what is best for them based on the life they live and what they grow to see is important in their lives. Of course, I give them constant feedback and my opinions, and I stop them if I think they are being unsafe or hurtful to others, but for the most part, I let them live the lives they see fit.

So, that brings me to something else children are learning all of the time: ethics. I try to make parenting choices based on a set of principles rather than based on "expert" advice or what others are doing. I want to Love my children unconditionally. I want to Respect my children as I would want to be respected. I want to model Authenticity to my children. In my daily interactions with my children, I try to ask myself what living by my principles would look like. This is a challenging journey, because it is vastly different from how I was raised, and from what seems to be popular. On TV shows, online, in magazines, and lining the parenting bookshelves, I find advice to control and dominate my children in one way or another. However, over time, I've also found a few books to support what I believe, discovered a community of parents who are on a similar journey, gleaned wisdom from older mothers' stories and pieced together an evolving collage of what I feel reflects my principles.

I try not to have a steadfast and extensive set of rules that my children have to live by, because hardfast enforcement of rules seems to be the antithesis of respect. Some parenting gurus advocate consistency of rules and consequences, but I believe this leads to more unfairness and resentment. If I were going to respect another human being, I would look at each individual circumstance and decide together with them what should be the right action. I recently received a traffic infraction over an honest mistake. I felt that the police officer treated me with respect, because he was kind and compassionate and offered advice on how I could clear my record if I chose to take that action. I did follow through, taking the opportunity to explain my circumstances to a judge, who then was able to look at my particular situation and clear my record, "in the interest of justice," as the paperwork stated. I don't believe that being just to our children means that we have to be consistent with our rules. I believe that being just and respectful takes their circumstances and understandings into consideration. This is constantly changing, and right action can only be determined by giving each person a chance to be heard.

I know that "consequences" are very popular, especially in line with the consistency of rules that I mentioned before. A lot of experts say that parents should set up a list of consequences that their children can depend on being executed if the child misbehaves, in order to have clear limits. Again, that does not give way to the gray area and flexibility of life. Do adults really live like that? There are natural consequences in life and there is usually little to no need to add another punishment on top of the suffering the child has already inflicted upon himself by his poor judgement. I have found that talking about what happened is far more effective at avoiding a future misstep than inflicting a punishment. For example, I assume that my children have the best intentions and do not mean to cause damage, so we talk about how we can avoid the same mistake again in the future. Children will learn much more when they feel their parent is their partner and friend rather than someone who corrects them. When they are being reprimanded, they will perceive it as an attack and become defensive. Human nature shuts down learning when we are in survival mode.

Rewards are very popular among parents who want to move away from spanking and other forms of punishment, having seen that reprimand can be negative and spiral downward, building walls in a relationship. Rewards seem to keep things positive and be just as effective as punishment in getting the desired behavior. But as an adult, I try to think about how I would feel or how I have felt by the underlying pressure to perform a certain way for a reward I did not choose or really have no control over. I am not particularly motivated to perform at my best under these circumstances. If I get motivated at all, the motivation wanes quickly. In the same way, when we get our children to perform for our rewards, perhaps also in an effort just to please us, their efforts are not whole-hearted, they learn to seek outward approval, and can grow resentful. This is not part of the curriculum I want to live in our house. Along the same lines, I am trying to move more towards genuine praise and compliments. One internal check I make is to ask if I am sharing my genuine pride and joy over their accomplishment, sharing in their pride and joy, or am I just praising them in hopes that they will repeat the behavior in the future?

As children are learning all the time, I do not want them to learn the negative lessons I've outlined above. I want them to stand proudly in their own power, loving themselves. I don't want them to learn that it's okay to use their power to control those who are weaker than they are. This is why it is so important for me to move away from these behaviors/parenting practices and adopt practices which reflect my principles and treat children the same way I would treat an adult. I constantly ask myself if I would treat another adult the same way. Would I treat my husband the same way? Would I want to be treated the same way?

Sometimes, when my children are acting very unreasonable (in my opinion), I tend to think that they don't deserve the same consideration, because an adult would not behave that way. But in reality, they deserve just as much compassion. If I were in a world that I didn't understand, in a situation that I was uncomfortable with, subjected to a set of rules I didn't find fair, burning with a fiery passion to experience this wonderful life, as children are, I'm sure I would get easily overwhelmed and behave inappropriately. And I would want my guardians to meet me at my level, guide me gently and talk to me respectfully, knowing that above all, I truly do want to do the best I can and contribute to this world.

Treating children with respect and compassion takes more time, especially in the beginning of change, and as I said in my last post, the world is moving at a break-neck speed, but I think this is a question of foregoing instant gratification for the long-term good. Even better, we can find gratification in knowing that the time we take with our children is the greatest thing we can do for the evolution of humanity.

May your life be filled with wonder!

Jolene  =)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wait for me!

After reading some of Peter Gray's writings on hunter-gatherer systems and the way children learn, I got to thinking about slowness and how very impossible it seems in our culture. Based on his writings and so many others that I've read, like John Holt, John Taylor Gatto and Grace Llewellyn, children not only need their own time and space to explore the world around them, but they also need the adults around them to slow down and include them. In modern culture, adults are used to pushing themselves at a break-neck speed. Multitasking isn't something we just do in a crunch; exhaustion has become a status symbol and getting things done a measure of our self-worth (thanks Brene Brown).

For me, when I am home, of course the kids seem to constantly want my attention, a snack, help with an activity, but then there is also the laundry, which never gets completely done, and something to clean around every corner, the endless creativity of my children that leaves more to pick up, the desire to cook healthy food and the time that takes, the books I want to read, the blog notes I want to post, the exercise I should be getting, the friends I want to see (and impress).... My mind is constantly multi-tasking even when my body is still. And I hear from my peers that I am one of the most calm and grounded people they know, so it makes me wonder what state the rest of the world is in and what our children are really learning if I am still feeling I need to slow down in order to give the children in my life the maximum benefit.

Including children in any activity makes that activity take longer. Taking longer means less productivity and less time to just do what we want, if the activity is a "chore." Ironically, it seems like that relaxed time to just do what I want never really arrives, because I'm constantly thinking about how much time I have or how much time I "should" be allotting a given activity. And living with children is like living with a pager on at all times, putting a bit of an edge on my nerves.

The answer may seem to be that I need to scale down my life, eliminate stuff, eliminate activities, move to a smaller house, carve out more "me time," etc.... But the dilemma is that I enjoy so many activities, all the things we have, doing as much as I can for my children, the benefits of living in a larger house, and including children in my life.... What a conundrum!

The only thought that brings me any respite is that all we have is Now, and the relationships within this moment. When I bring myself into this moment and focus on the relationships in this moment, I feel peace and the certainty of knowing that All Is Well, and all is unfolding as it should. Decisions make themselves. Now is the only moment that I can truly effect, and Now is the only moment in which I can connect, and Now is the only moment in which anything matters. Here I am Now in relationship with myself and with any of you who might be reading this. At other times, when I have a list of chores and all 3 children needing something from me, I can bring myself into the Now, putting one foot in front of the other, savoring all the richness of my senses and drenching myself in that Now. Suddenly, when I am just in the moment, everything is as it should be, and life gifts me with fullness. I am able to be a sort of superhero, woman of steel, but as flexible as Mr. Fantastic. Yet, every superhero has vulnerabilities. Problems arise and dissolve. Laughter bursts through, spontaneously. Anger and hurt break down the door. Compassion arrives to carve a new, more ornate door, installed with Love. Things get done... or not. And the children in my life learn about what real life looks like as I let it unfold before us.

Children are learning all the time, as we all are. Even when we sleep, we are still processing and assimilating what we have learned. The only question is usually what we are learning. For me, being present is one of my biggest priorities so that I can see what my children are learning, better facilitate their innate curiosity, and continue to learn and grow with them.
Thank you for reading.

Jolene =)

Peter Gray blog

I recommend reading some of Peter Gray's blog on Psychology Today. Here's a link to one of his articles about how children educate themselves, but there are several others.

What I've seen from him are articles on freedom for children, child-led learning, benefits of video gaming, and the overuse of phychological labels on children (ADHD, etc...).

Have fun!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wintertime Update

Ninja training begins early here.
Ninja snowball
We had a lot of snow, suddenly, but now it's gone, in traditional Northwest style.
Saber and Jasmijn
We also call him Medicine Cat, because he curls up with the kids when they're sick and helps them feel better.
See how they team up!
Time to cook up something good.
A few wintertime updates:
We had a wonderful time with John's dad and youngest brother during Christmastime. John's dad got a tatoo (a heart with USA written across a banner on the heart and then our names written around the outline of the heart).
We had a massive snow (14"?) and spent a week at home.
We've all been sick a little too often this winter.
Unschooling is coming along well. Jasmijn enjoys traditional forms of learning, such as workbooks, while Joran will still run in the other direction if I sound the least bit teacherly. I have to be a detective in order to figure out what he's actually learning. This is one of the things I love about unschooling -- it pushes me to respect and trust my children, knowing that their intrinsic human curiosity will take them to knew levels of creativity and intelligence that I could not possibly design myself or with any curriculum.
Joran enjoys playing Spore and Minecraft, cooking, getting outside, visiting Grandma and Grandpa, playing with a handful of dear friends. He recently found that he loves bowling! He's also a really great brother, playing a lot with and watching out for his sisters.
Jasmijn is starting to learn gaming with Lego Batman and Viva Pinata, but she mostly enjoys playing in her kitchen or with her dolls, coloring, working with stickers and crafts. She prefers being with me over anyone else. She adores Joran and has been known to hug her sister a few times.
Aurora is into everything and especially loves to put things in her mouth. She just got a handle on the staircase, so we removed our gate, which I reinstalled in the doorway to the cat's room, so she won't play in and eat the cat's food. One of Aurora's happiest moments is when she hears Daddy coming home, being the first to greet him every evening. One of Aurora's favorite activities is to harass Jasmijn. She'll sneak up to Jasmijn, snatch Jasmijn's pacifier from her mouth, and run away, giggling with glee. And Aurora doesn't even take a pacifier! What a little rascal!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blogging Weirdness

For some reason, I was having trouble publishing posts and I recently figured out how to get the last 2 to publish. Hopefully, I'll be publishing a few more soon. It's been an interesting summer with lots to report, and photos of the kids are filling the camera.
Jolene =)

Story Waters quote

Here is a piece from Story Waters that a friend just posted to our Yahoo group. It feels like a celebration of Life, to me!
Freedom is not superior to limitation;
with this realization I am able to choose freedom.

Happiness is not superior to suffering;
with this realization I am able to let go of suffering.

Abundance is not superior to poverty;
with this realization my abundance flows.

Nothing is superior to anything;
with this knowing I step out from
hierarchy, competition, and struggle.

In this state I do not judge life;
therefore I do not feel separate from it.

I am so glad of the diversity in the world;
in its reflection I see my own freedom
to be whatever I wish to be.

We are not here to be one;
we are here to be many.

Through seeing that beyond this illusion we are all one,
we free ourselves to be the many.

I am not tied to any singular path to be a certain way.
I am diverse.
I am ever changing.
I am an explorer of All as truth.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Inner Work

Sorry I haven't been keeping up on this blog.

For me, parenting is nothing short of a complete inner overhaul. I find that my children give me myriad opportunities to look at each one of my emotions, sometimes daily. In my estimation, the only choice is to stuff them or integrate them. Believing that integration will benefit my children and humanity to the greatest degree, I'm doing my best to let those emotions out of prison.

Been feeling like a little bodhisattva. Will there ever be a day of "enlightenment" in which everything is easy? I'll be dead that day, I guess. :-p

Wishing you delight!
Jolene =)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why Unschool?

This bit from a 17-year-old unschooling blogger is so sweet that I'm crying over here. To me, it just shows how I can best treat my child like a person, and contrasts with how the acceptable way of treating a child in mainstream culture is like treating them as less than a whole person.

Once, when I was just beginning to garden, a lecturer at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show reminded everyone in the audience that seeds and gardeners have the same goals. As a gardener, we don't have to fret and fuss so much, just make sure there is good soil, water and sunlight, and that seed, by it's own will and knowing, will GROOOOW!!!

We are happiest here in our house when I treat the children in my life the same way. I am real with them, I am thoughtful with them, I provide the basics (roof, food, clothes, love, friendship...) and trust them to succeed by following their hearts.

My children are learning all that they need to know to get where they want to go!

Jolene =)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Only Love

Yummy toes!

Jasmijn makes herself heard...

...and gets results.

We got a trampoline!

Yummy balls!

Jasmijn wears her baby, too.

Saucy face!

Love is life.
All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.
Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.

Leo Tolstoy

Can you feel it?

There are SO MANY things that we do not understand! (Are you still trying to?
It's not possible, you might as well give up now.) Or we can trust that THIS IS
A BENEVOLENT UNIVERSE... we are each a seed, and the universe is like the gardener. Both participants in this relationship want the same thing: for the seed to grow.

Just have faith...
Follow your gut...

All of these statements point to the truth. Can you feel it?

Jolene =)