My Unschooling Manifesto

unschoolers-manifesto
Sometimes it helps to get really clear what we believe about unschooling. Here’s my list of 25 items that are important in my own personal Unschooler’s Manifesto.

Would you add something to my list?

Would you be interested in creating your own manifesto? 

1.) Stop dividing the world into Educational and Non-educational. Everything is educational!

2.) Nothing is more important than the relationship between you and them – not some worksheet, not a banana peel on the floor, not what time they go to bed, not when they learn to read.

3.) You don’t have to artificially divide the world up into subjects. One thing really does lead to another when learners (children and adults) follow their interests.

4.) Figure out what your family’s rhythm is – and recognize that it may change over time. And! It may not look like someone else’s. But that’s the beauty of truly being able to individualize for your family too!

5.) Be curious about the world yourself. Invite your kids to be curious with you. Support them as they begin to wander with their own curiosities.

6.) Be Interested and Interesting. Unschoolers focus on living a rich, stimulating life with their kids.

7.) Role model critical thinking skills.

8.) Unschoolers recognize that the schoolish ways of lesson plans, curriculum, assignments, quizzes or tests, required memorizing, and grades are totally unnecessary and more about the “teaching” than the “learning.”

9.) Don’t suck the fun out of something by turning it into a “teachable moment.” Take your cues from your kids – a little conversation about it may be fine with them.

10.) Create a support system for yourself – people you can turn to when you’re not sure what you’re doing is working. Best if local, still good if online.

11.) You don’t have to use the term “unschooling” if it bugs you. A lot of options exist. And you may use different terms when you talk to different people – based upon their level of understanding. “Homeschooling” is fine for friends/family who don’t know what the heck you’re doing! Unschooling, at it’s simplest definition, is a homeschooling method. But if you want to call it Whole Life learning, or say, “We’re doing an experiential, individualized approach to learning,” that works too.

12.) Do everything you can to stay focused on TODAY… don’t beat yourself up about screw-ups in the past, and don’t play the “what if” game about all the things that could happen in the future.

13.) Take your cues from the child standing right in front of you. Staying tuned into who they really are (not that imagined story in your head) , will point you toward how to support them to grow and learn.

14.) Deschool yourself as well as your child. Read about how schoolish thoughts creep in, simply because they’re familiar – and because we are inundated with them from society.

15.) Ask yourself Why? And Why Not? Move away from arbitrary reasons. It may not have to go the way your knee-jerk thought wants to take you.  Think about the rationale behind the decision – does this work best for your family today?

16.) Get rid of comparisons. Every person is unique – their interests, their experiences, their internal wiring! The sooner we embrace people for who they are today and not wish for them to be something different – the better!

17.) Recognize that when you are making comparisons or wishing they were different, they’re picking up on your disapproval, your disappointment. If you’re trying for unconditional love – don’t make it conditional.

18.) Observe without judgement. You’re taking in data so you can be the best resource finder or facilitator for them.

19.) Learning is naturally hard-wired into humans. It’s possible that your child has had that negatively affected by schoolish techniques – but it can return if you’re supportive and patient. It’s human nature.

20.) Parents have to have a lot of trust in the process of learning – and in their own children – when external pressures are so strongly pushing for traditional schooling.

21.) Stay flexible and continue to learn about unschooling. What sounded insane in the beginning, may make more sense to you later down the road. That’s ok. What you embrace is entirely up to you. We all evolve as parents and as learners ourselves. Thank heavens, right?

22.) Because unschoolers aren’t following a typical scope and sequence, they will likely have gaps in their learning… at least according to what schools expect. But truthfully, we all have gaps – either we weren’t paying attention, or we transferred schools, or we were out for an illness.  And everyone can easily close up a gap with a quick google search or Siri question! 

23.) 18 is not a magic age – they will learn when they are ready. Sometimes before 18, sometimes after. But the pressure to get It all done by 18 is gone.

24.) Your days will look more like summer vacation – with all the fun, connection, and exploration that can go with it.

25.) Enjoy your life with your children. If this is hard for you, talk with someone to see where your obstacles are.

 

If you’re new to unschooling and wish you had a little extra support, I have a couple of great options for you!
Creating Confidence – A private membership group approach
Stress-Free Start – a 1:1 Coaching plan with a free ebook.

Chaos to Confidence: For New Homeschoolers

 It’s Time!

Homeschooling helpA Group Mentoring/Support Program starting August 1st, led by Sue Patterson.
If you’re a new homeschooler/unschooler, Chaos to Confidence is perfect for you!

  • Everything a new homeschooler needs to know to be successful
  • Get answers to questions you have and didn’t know where to get them answered
  • Join a community of new homeschoolers exploring this path together
  • Group coaching from me for those critical first 12 weeks!

Don’t miss out!!!
Space is limited, so sign up soon!





From Chaos to Confidence

You can do this – and I can show you how!

If you’re just embarking on this homeschooling journey,
I want to invite you to this mentoring program:

Chaos to Confidence.

Chaos to Confidence is for you if:

~You’ve just removed your kids from school and you’re unsure about your next steps.

~Your kids are now “officially school age,” so you’re ready to commit to homeschooling/unschooling.

~You’re overwhelmed by all the info on the internet – but wondering who to listen to.

~You have plenty of people who think homeschooling is nuts, but something deep down is telling you that this is right.

~You’re wishing you didn’t feel so alone.

I’ve created this group mentoring/support program because I know what it’s like to be so new that you’re not even sure what questions to ask!

In our 12 weeks together, I give you the foundation you need to be successful and take you from chaos to confidence!

I can help you.  Every Day.  Walking beside you.

I’ve been where you are now – I remember it clearly. I was so afraid I was going to screw up my kid, or that they’d hate me when we were all done with this. But I knew that school wasn’t where they needed to be. I had to figure out what the heck was the right thing to do – and fast.

I saw what worked and what didn’t. Over those years while my three kids were homeschooling, people began to come to me looking for support and advice. They’re grown now, in their 20s. They are not screwed up nor do they hate me! (In fact, they’re successful, socially savvy and really happy with their lives!)

But maybe you want to know more about them…

The oldest went to community college, transferred to a university and graduated Magna Cum Laude. He also spent a lot of time doing community service, got his Eagle Scout award, went to Japan as an exchange student at 16, joined the Peace Corps after college and worked in Nicaragua, moved back to Texas, got married and just bought a house.  He is 27.

The second spent most of her teen years doing community theatre, taking acting, dance and vocal lessons. She took community college classes and went to an acting conservatory in New York City. She finished her conservatory classes in Los Angeles and ended up with an associate degree in fine arts.  She lives and works as an actress in Los Angeles now. She is 25.

My youngest loved people and all the pop culture type of things. After only unschooling, she went to the local high school for a year and half, made the dance team, did fine in school, but decided it wasn’t worth it. She left to go to cosmetology school and now works in an upscale salon in Austin, Texas. She married a local firefighter, bought a house and had a baby in 2015. (Adorable, I might add!) She is 22.

I’m not saying your kids’ paths will look like my kids’ paths. I shared this for you to see how different they each were and yet we were able to support them in ways that were totally individualized – not the cookie cutter one-size-fits-all (even though it’s called an IEP) ways schools have to use.

I can show you how you can focus on YOUR kids’ strengths and help them unfold into the person they’re meant to be. I focus a lot on helping you, the parent, undo the fear and the assumptions that the school way is the only way. It’s not. My kids are living proof of that.

If your kids have been miserable in school, I want you to know that a better way DOES exist! And I’m so happy we’ve found each other because I want to show you how to make this work!

Sometimes families made the leap to homeschooling but got distracted by curriculum and headed off on the wrong path. They ended up feeling isolated, frustrated, and disappointed in their homeschooling experience. Many ended up putting their kids back in school. They wished they had had someone who could have been a guide or a mentor to them – just someone to help them start off on the right foot or guide them along the way if they get stuck.

So that’s 2 types of families that Chaos to Confidence is built for:

The Brand New Homeschooler who is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t want to waste time going in the wrong direction.

The New-ish Homeschooler who started probably last year and ended up unhappy with their approach.

Here’s My Plan…

INFORMATION & KNOWLEDGE

You need practical information. Operating in the dark is scary and the info that you’ll get in this program will wipe out a lot of your fears. We will start with the basics – getting legal, thinking about what “learning” really means, finding reliable resources.

CONNECTION & SUPPORT

Sometimes homeschooling/unschooling moms can feel really isolated. They really need to feel connected to other parents on this path. So, I’m creating a private Facebook group for you and the other new homeschoolers in the 2016 Chaos to Confidence program. Over these 12 weeks, we’ll be able to get to know each other and give support. Members can pop into the group to share success stories as well as fears that show up. Learn where to find support locally, in your state, regionally, globally, and online.

REASSURANCE & INSPIRATION

Chaos to Confidence is the reassurance you’ve been looking for! I want to share everything I know with you so you have success and confidence when you feel like you’re swimming against the tide. As you work your way through the program, you’ll find yourself on steadier and steadier ground. Your anxiety and fear will begin to evaporate. Your kids will be happier and more engaged. You’ll see changes in the way the entire family gets along. You’ll be able to see learning in a way that might be different from what you’re used to – richer, exciting, much more enjoyable. And I’ll be with you every step of the way!

Here’s what we’ll do each week!

(I’m soooo excited!!!!)

Homeschool Coaching

And here’s the framework for the entire course!

homeschool coaching

Sounds great, right?

Sometimes we just need a little hand-holding to get started.

I’ve made the price super affordable – just $90 total for 3 months of reassuring support and boatloads of information.  That’s group coaching from me on our private FB group for a $1/day!

But I want to keep the size of a group manageable, so don’t delay.

And now, it’s time to sign up!





Before working with Sue I had tried every method I could think of to make my son’s traditional schooling work for him. I was feeling confused, defeated by all the bad advice I was getting, and very alone in my decision to teach my son at home. Sue helped me to realize that other options existed that were actually better for my son and his situation. I now feel confident and excited about his learning experience. He is now thriving and enjoying this unschooling experience in ways he could never have done in the traditional environment. It has been an amazing transformative experience!
~ Becky M., Michigan

A Wonderful Coach + All That Knowledge = EXCELLENCE!
~Tracy M., Kentucky

Before working with Sue I had tried every method I could think of to make my son’s traditional schooling work for him. I was feeling confused, defeated by all the bad advice I was getting, and very alone in my decision to teach my son at home. Sue helped me to realize that other options existed that were actually better for my son and his situation. I now feel confident and excited about his learning experience. He is now thriving and enjoying this unschooling experience in ways he could never have done in the traditional environment. It has been an amazing transformative experience!
~ Becky M., Michigan

5 Tips for Homeschool Success

 

Homeschool Success!

 

These five tips will help you no matter what you face on your homeschooling journey – and beyond, really. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the day-to-day activities or trying to provide that “just-right” learning environment, the biggies like this get swept aside.

After all these years of parenting, I can tell you that paying attention to these particular points will make all the difference in your family.

Let’s talk about why. And! If you have others that you think I’ve forgotten about, I’d love to hear what you think should rank right up there in Top Tips!

Stay Flexible

We get so caught up in how we WANT things to play out that we hang onto ideas long past their expiration date. We do what we can to make educated guesses about the future, but we have no idea how the path will bend or what new variable might be tossed into the mix. Maintaining flexibility helps us stay connected with what IS and not what we WISH was happening in our lives right now. And that includes staying tuned in with that child standing right in front of you. Being able to make adjustments can save your entire day!

Their Path Is Not Your Path

We only want the best for our kids, right? But sometimes they have to make choices that we wish they wouldn’t make. Our own personal experiences certainly give us some wisdom… we can often see “the handwriting on the wall.” And then toss a heaping dose of parental fear into that mix, and we find ourselves predicting dire outcomes. What we haven’t factored in is their experiences, their surroundings, their support systems, their motivations. All that experience of ours may not predict accurately at all!

Additionally, sometimes mistakes help us learn what to avoid next time, how to adjust our course. Their life experiences – the good and (what we consider) the bad – become part of the intricate weavings of your child’s life.

Stay Focused on the Now

It sounds cliché, but “now” is really all we have. We can’t undo the past and there’s no telling what’s in the future. Wasting time focusing on either of those is exactly that – wasting time.
If you find that this is a habit of yours, dig around a little deeper and see if you can figure out why that is. Here are some reasons that might sound familiar:

  • Making plans for the future to avoid some of the mundane-ness of the present. Maybe you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be doing with your kids?
  • Using “I’m searching for resources” as a way to procrastinate
  • Allowing fear to be in the driver’s seat: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of messing up your kids, fear of looking bad as a parent – and the list can go on and on!

Truly, that child standing in front of you is giving you all the cues you need as to what to do. Get out of your head and tune into them.

Relationship Above Everything

Do you notice that you push your kids a little hard? What does that do for you? My guess is that in your mind, you think you’re helping them prepare for their future. And there’s two things wrong with that notion: it might not even be true; and is it worth the price?

When we sacrifice our relationship because of… well, anything… it has long term implications. Do you really want to be one of those parents whose kids phone home with the obligatory weekly call – or not at all? Do you want them to be those young people who can’t wait to get away from their controlling/overbearing family?  They have plenty of time to learn anything they’ll need as adults. There’s no “finish line” where we have to squeeze in all their learning for their lifetime – so why wreck the relationship for something that really doesn’t matter? And, if we do, we lose the opportunity to guide them or to have them value our experience. We listen to people we respect – and we respect people who respect us.

Be Their Biggest Supporter

If you listen to interviews of people who excel in their fields – from movie directors to scientists, you’ll find that they have one thing in common: They had someone rooting for them.  Life is full of so many opportunities. And we want our children to be brave enough to venture into new territories and make discoveries on their own. But when anyone takes risks exploring options, failures are inevitable. It’s much easier to have courage – and to dust yourself off from a misstep – when you know that you have a parent helping you see your strengths, encouraging you to try again, loving you no.matter.what.

I know that new homeschoolers may have hoped my list would give them great insights into organizational tools or tips about finding resources.  I have those – and I’m happy to share them! But it’s the “thought work” that’s going to lead to homeschooling/unschooling success. Getting clear in your thinking – and a lot of it is revisiting how we parent – these are some critical first steps. It’s what weaves itself through our choices and decisions, making our family lives so much better.

All the rest will work itself out.

_______________________________

C2C
If you’re new and wishing you had someone to walk you through the first steps of homeschooling, you’re in luck! I’ve created a group mentoring program that will start in August. Leave me your name and email, and I’ll keep you posted about it.
Or click here to read more

 

 

 

10 Tips to Help You Deschool

1  Focus on the Learning instead of the Teaching.
When you notice that you’re thinking about planning lessons, turning interesting movies into “educational experiences,” creating a cute school room in your house – these are all examples that you’re losing touch with the most important focus: The Learner and their learning. What interests them? What brings them joy? What could you help them explore more fully?

2  Don’t worry about “gaps” or “keeping up” with kids of similar ages.
Comparison can really do a number on us! But it doesn’t matter if your child learns anything by a particular time frame set by schools – that’s THEIR issue, not yours anymore! If your child is interested, they will remember it. If not, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Gaps can be easily resolved when they need to be. “Hello, Siri?” 😉

3  The 1 month for every year of school is a good starting place.
Don’t rush through deschooling. Find out what triggers your “schooly thoughts.” Focus on undoing some of that irrational thinking.  Some people say that you should anticipate deschooling one month for every year you went to school. Sometimes it’s not exactly like that though. Children go through different developmental stages, and then various stories and expectations can pop into our heads that set us back. We may understand deschooling well while our kids are all playing and learning at 6, 7, and 8 years old. But then when adolescence rolls around, we start worrying again…gaps in learning, getting into college, missing out on high school events… and we’re back to Square 1 on Deschooling again. But that’s ok, because you know how to undo this kind of thinking. Still, if you want a ballpark idea, 1 month for every year of school is a good starting place.

4  Continue to read about unschooling and how children actually learn.
It’s always been interesting to me how schools don’t (or can’t) implement some of their own best research about learning. Homeschooling/unschooling parents can though!
Stay current – here are few good links:
Unschooling Mom2Mom (FB)
Homeschooling/Unschooling Your Teens (FB)
Homeschooler Post
Sue’s Notes

 

5  Plan a fun outing when typical school year activities tug at you.
Do “Back-to-school” ads get under your skin? Or maybe it’s those end-of-school year parties or even prom that makes you wistful. Those school experiences can pale if you plan a great trip or do something particularly fun when those events roll around. Perhaps it’s time for a beach trip or a campout? Maybe a road trip or some theme park hopping? The lines are usually so much shorter once school has started – take advantage of that! Remember, it won’t be long before the parents/children are all complaining again about how they find school to be boring/annoying/cumbersome… so distract yourself and your family in the meantime!

6  Remember that deschooling can sometimes be harder for the parent than the child.
It stands to reason that you spent a lot more years entrenched in the school system than your child. You’re likely to have far more stories in your head of what learning is supposed to look like. Also, parents sometimes feel an additional stress when they share what they’re doing with their friends, family and co-workers.Removing yourself from the competitive/comparative discussions that happens between parents, can be isolating too.

7  Make a list of your own school experiences, identifying how the school expectations interfered with the learning that interested you.
Sometimes we can go straight to the grievances we had with our school experience. We know what we wanted to do and how we didn’t get time to do it. We know how we have not used those things we were promised we’d need in our adult lives. What would you have spent more time on?
Sometimes we glamorize our school experiences, focusing on a hand full of great memories. Try to really examine how “great” they were – was it because everything else was so dull? how does it compare with what you can offer your child? Could it actually happen more frequently without the limitations of schools and schedules?

8  List (with your kids) all the places you’d like to explore but were too busy before.
Let me get you started: museums, parks, festivals, downtown areas, nature centers, the beach, the lake, picnics, camping trips, day hikes, bike rides, yoga classes.

Chambers of commerce have brochures about interesting places near you – as do interstate info centers, websites like (365 Fun Things to do in… ) <- yes you can write that in the URL and it will give you some ideas, and even Pinterest!

A few surprise benefits exist when you choose to do this.  Everyone practices a little cooperation and consensus, and gets a little clearer idea about family members’ interests and curiosities. Sometimes, one child *thinks* they aren’t interested in something their sibling wants to try. But after going, they discover they enjoyed some aspect, and a new interest begins.  (Or, maybe they just learn that it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be, and they can focus on happy it made their sibling that they participated. 😉 )

9  List (with your kids) all the fun things you all might like to do together and apart while you’re home.
Movies, board games, card games, videogames, TV shows, painting, drawing, collage, building projects, meditation, blogging, art journals, skyping with friends, going on walks, walking the dog, playing with pets, cooking, creating YouTube/vimeo videos, photography, daydreaming, planning. The list can go on and on! 🙂
Spending time identifying activities that anyone can do at home – that is interesting to them – is a fabulous skill that many wish they had. You have the opportunity to help your child figure out how to spend their own time, not waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

10  Start a journal writing what you notice about your children’s natural inclinations.
Get in the habit of slowing down and watching your children. We are always in such a rush to be sure no one “misses anything.” And, in doing that, we miss out on what’s right there in front of us. Your kids are really giving you clues and cues as to what interests them – there’s no need to look to outside experts for lesson plans or curricula. Find out what they like to do, what makes their eyes sparkle! Spend more time with them and you will find that you are growing the connection with them. THIS will be the biggest benefit of deschooling.

More Info About Deschooling

Lean Into the Love

Parents with children older than mine would look at me when I expressed concerns and say, “Don’t worry,” or “They’ll figure it out.” Sometimes they’d tack on, “Just have fun with them.” They were so right. And I LOVE that they were!

Still, I worried about gaps. I worried about getting into college, or whatever higher learning they’d want to pursue. I didn’t want doors to close on them – I wanted them to have all the choices in the world.

In spite of my lapses in trust, or my occasional meltdowns about facts, they did have every opportunity they wanted. After a (mostly) radical way of unschooling our lives, they have been able to pursue whatever they want.

I applaud those moms of babies who are reading and learning about unschooling BEFORE they need to know. So many of their school-induced thoughts about learning can be dealt with before their kids are even school age. To deschool themselves before they’re in the thick of it will help so much.

I didn’t know any homeschooling, let alone unschooling, families the year before we decided to take the plunge. The idea that keeping your kids home to learn and live would actually be good for them – and not just an act of self-indulgence by a mom who couldn’t let go – was not on my radar at all. I was a suburban soccer mom – although then it was T-ball and Tiger Cubs. I was surrounded by moms who were trying to find the right preschool or mother’s day out. I only knew people who encouraged distance from children so they could go back to work or follow their own pursuits or just get a little sleep! No one talked to me back then about leaning into all these feelings that come with having children.

This month, I’m hear to tell you to just lean into the LOVE. Look at your babies and toddlers and children and teens. See how they trust you. See how they look to you for support. See how you are their rock. Please notice the math: You will probably live to be about 80. Your kids will need you as their sole support for maybe 20 years of that. That’s only 25% of your life. Most likely you’re over 20, so you’ve already spent the 1st 25%, kids are the next. That leaves 50% of your life to pursue whatever you want! And regardless of your first 20 years, if you REALLY focus on your children for the next 20, the second half of your life will be full of wonderful relationships with them as well as memories and plans for the future. It will be so much richer for focusing that one little 25% on them.

So here’s my list of LOVE

Some of it I did well. Some of it, I wish I had done so much better. And if you’re still raising little ones, you have such an opportunity to learn from our choices and have an even better experience at this.

❤ LOVE who they are now.

Don’t try to shape them. Just sit with them and listen to their ideas. Share your opinions without squashing theirs. Stop yourself when you feel like you’re making judgements about them. Let them unfold naturally. If you focus on the LOVE you can let go of the FEAR.

❤ LOVE that you have the entire day to do with as you wish.

Create a home that is full of excitement and interesting things to explore – be it books or videos or pinecones or magnets. Play with them yourself. You’d be surprised how your own ability to play can come back. It’s human nature to play with things. It’s just that if you had to go to school, you were told to stop playing and settle down in your seat. In order to succeed in that setting, you had to learn to curb all your enthusiasm. It might take some time to entice those feelings back. But they’re there.

❤ LOVE that you live in a time and place where so many opportunities abound.

Use your community, and the community next to yours! Find cool places to explore. Learn with your children. Even if you think, “I’m not that interested in that,” it’s worth a try to check it out. There might be something there that you DO like. Or it might spark a new passion for your child. Show them that there are all KINDS of interesting adventures just outside your door. And now, looking them up on the internet makes it so much easier to find.

❤ LOVE that they can go see and touch and hear things in the real world.

Children who are tied to lesson plans or curriculum – whether they’re in the school or the home – can only read about these adventures. They have to wait to start their exploring later in their life, or after their “real work” is done when their brains are exhausted or worse.

❤ LOVE their interests.

Even if you’re not into video games or horses or Justin Bieber or BMXing, love it anyway. Show them you value their choices. Ask them questions about it. Nurture their passion instead of putting timers on to say how long they get to enjoy that. Take them to get that game they’re longing for. Ask them what game could you start on to learn what they love. Take them to horse stables. Take them with a friend to concert of their choice. Drop by the bike shop with them once a week to see what’s the latest. Find a magazine on BMX-ing.

 

Before you say, “I don’t want to put more money toward those choices,” maybe you should rethink that. It’s their passion! Even if it’s fleeting. It really will lead to something else – it always does. And they will have had the opportunity of seeing that they can look for passions without someone telling them how to find it or where to find it. Or what’s a good passion to have and what’s not.

Your LOVE will build their CONFIDENCE.

And as an unschooling parent, your job is to create an environment for them to learn and grow. They’ll need tools to do that. AND it will improve your relationship. In the end, that’s what matters most: the LOVE between everyone in your family. When there’s a disconnect there, look to see what you’re afraid of happening. Because it all boils down to two things: Fear or LOVE. Just practice bringing it back to love. After all, learning their times tables by a certain age really doesn’t matter that much at all – their phones have calculators and for anything else, there’s GOOGLE.

“And in the end…the love you take… Is Equal to…the Love you Make”

~Paul McCartney

 

Dealing with Naysayers

xlrw1459717Here we are in the holiday season celebrating with friends and family, some of whom we haven’t seen in a while. While that’s exciting, it can also be a little nerve-wracking. No one can push our buttons like family, right?

When your sister asks why your 9-year-old isn’t reading yet or your uncle wants to know when your teen is starting classes for the college prep track, you begin to shrink a little. Some of us are quickly transported back to old social patterns with relatives. But you’re not a kid anymore, and your own children need you to step up to the plate and help them navigate through this family maze. I’ve often found deflecting to be the better alternative to engaging with these naysayers.

It’s worth it to take a few minutes beforehand to figure out what’s going on with you when these situations arise. Do you feel judged or criticized? Is this an issue that occurs in other areas as well? Do you feel uncertain about your decisions, and they sense it? Does your family compare the “success stories” of the children of similar age?  Try to figure out what triggers you in these situations and then you’ll be in a much better position to work on it.

The truth is, you have something at stake here. You’re more at risk of getting your feelings hurt as they insensitively lob potshots at your choices. Try to remember that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. They don’t get a vote in your family choices.

Sometimes family members want to know more about this approach to education. Ask them if they’d like some reading suggestions – books or online. This will separate out those who were simply making conversation from those who are truly curious and want to learn more about unschooling. Maybe their child isn’t having the best school experience?

Remember that sometimes they are simply uninformed and worried about you and your kids. If this is the case, thank them for their concern and tell them that for now, it seems to be working. Remind them that school will always take them back if it stops working for your family. This might reassure them that even though you’re making what they consider to be a wacky decision, you’re still the reasonable person they know you to be.

Then change the subject. disapproving-1

People love to talk about themselves. Take the opportunity to find out what’s happening with them! Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to convince your naysayers of the brilliance of your decision to unschool. That may be your cue to simply ask them, “Could you Pass the Bean Dip, please?” This is a familiar trick used by many unschoolers through the years.

And remember, as your children continue to grow and thrive with your unschooling approach, criticisms will decrease. Time will pass and your own confidence will grow. Don’t be surprised when, down the road, doubting relatives offer you as the example to a parent whose kid is struggling.

Because this can be so stressful for many new homeschoolers, I want to share a webinar I did that can help you.

To arm your kids with some snappy comebacks and help them cope with the naysayers that may cross their path this month (or any time!), check out:

When People Quiz Your Kids
50 Comebacks for Naysayers

6 Steps to Parenting Teens and Young Adults

The internet is full of tips for parenting younger children. Either they expect that you’ve figured it all out by the time they’re teens, or you’ve just put up the white flag of surrender. Unschooling families tend to prioritize the relationships between parents and children, so hopefully this transition to adulthood can go more smoothly. How you deal with teens and young adults and the situations they present will make all the difference in how your relationship is going to be. Even if your child is younger, these tips will help you as your children approach adolescence and beyond.

1. Let go of the story in your head for how everything ought to be.

Some of us learned this early on with parenting teens and younger, but we may need a refresher course. As a parent, you may have created scenarios in your head of how it will be when they get jobs, find a mate, move into a place of their own. Maybe because these stories often warm our hearts, we get locked into them. We think that if we nudge a little bit, we might get it to work out the way we envision. There’s a price to pay for all that nudging though. You may just be pushing them away from you, instead of toward what you had hoped. AND, you might not even have the best story in your head – they are, frankly, creating one for themselves. Sit back and watch it unfold.

2. Get out of the way,
even if you see the handwriting on the wall.

Mistakes happen. But usually, they present the biggest learning opportunities. I know it can be scary, because some of these mistakes can be life-altering. Try to remember back when you were in your own 20’s. If you’re like me, you made a TON of mistakes. But it helped shape me into a really interesting multi-dimensional adult. We can’t get in the way and undermine our young adult’s opportunity to make the same progress. Also, who’s to say we are right and the young adult is wrong? Many times, they’ve morphed their decision into something really wonderful that I didn’t even see coming.

3. Giving Advice or Not.

Lot’s of people say that a good way to share all that wisdom you have, is to cloak it with “Would you like my advice?” And I suppose for some kids, this works. Not for mine. That simple question – depending on the situation, mood, people involved – can be seen as wonderfully helpful or full of judgement about the direction they’re heading. Still, others say that they have young adults who are fine with simply saying, “Nope!” and walking away. Even if mine did say that (because I have tried this approach), they circle back later asking, “OK. So what was it you were dying to tell me?” And suddenly, the dynamic has shifted in a bad way. My new way – or at least what I aspire to – is to say, “You know what? I think you’ve got this. You are a good decision-maker overall. And, sure, you’ll make mistakes – I did. But unless you out-and-out ASK me for advice, I’m not going to give it unsolicited.” So, my own young adults laugh and say, “Oh REALLY? THIS is what you’ve been working on? Could use a little more focus here, Mom!”  Obviously, this is the one that trips me up the most. But when I get it right, we have a lot smoother sailing.

4. Who they choose to be with is Their choice. Embrace it.

Years ago, a friend of mine was struggling with her mother-in-law. The M-I-L was super critical of her and adored “her baby boy.” She simply didn’t think this woman was good enough for her son. As time passed, my friend and her growing family included the mother-in-law less and less. At best, they saw the mother-in-law, and eventually grandmother only once or twice per year.  My friend shared the lesson she learned from this: “When my sons grow up, I will befriend the daughters-in-law! I will be their BEST FRIEND – even no matter how I feel. I’ll focus on what my son loves about them. Because what I know is that I never want my boys out of my life. And if I alienate the women they choose, that is exactly the path I will be putting us all on.” Very sage advice.

5. Don’t allow your own anxiety to crowd out the love.

At the risk of turning people off with too much hippy-dippy talk, I have to include this. Sometimes I get irritated with my grown kids’ decisions and I SOOO wish they would simply do it my way. I have to admit, not only do I think I’m right, but I also know that it will remove my anxiety if they will make the decision I want. Truth is, that’s not THEIR job, it’s mine. Anxiety can be felt by other people and it really pushes them away. As parents, when we show our anxiety at their decision-making, it’s undermining their confidence and conveys that we don’t have faith in them. It’s the start of the communication line shutting down. That’s not what either of you need or want at all. Instead, when you’re really wishing they would “do it my way!” take a deep breath. Or two. Or three. And look at them. Think about how much you love them. If it’s their friend/spouse/partner, think about how much your child loves them. Think about how far they’ve come and all the wonderful things that will happen to them in the future. Remember something cute and sweet from their childhood – because that little boy or girl is still in there. And he or she really does care what you think about them.

6. This is your new Mantra:
“Not my path.”

You will want to repeat this over and over to get it to sink in. You had your opportunities for mistakes and successes in your young adulthood – now it’s time for theirs! And, if you’re like me, you may have even put off some of the more difficult activities that you’d like to do for yourself – because you were focused on parenting. Now is the best time of all to dive into that hobby you neglected, or that interest you were a little nervous about pursuing. Time to focus on your own path!  You’ve got a lot to do!

Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

Years ago, your child was up at 6 a.m., peeling eyelids back, ready for you to help him greet the day. But not so with your teen. Maybe you’ve been up puttering around all morning, fixing yourself some lunch when you notice your teen is still snoozing. What the heck is going on here?

It turns out, quite a few things.

We all know that when children reach puberty, their hormones change. What we sometimes don’t know or remember is that these hormones have an effect on a person’s sleep cycle. Nocturnal melatonin production decreases significantly during adolescence.  It actually shifts, making the adolescent’s body more awake in the evenings, not feeling ready for an early bedtime, and then leaves them groggy in the mornings with the melatonin still onboard. Add to that, light – artificial or natural – also inhibits the production of melatonin. Teen body clocks, their circadian rhythms, are shifting.sleeping teen

Translation: Teens’ bodies are physically geared to staying up later at night. Because they still need a good nine hours of sleep, that means they’ll need to sleep later in the mornings. Lots of data on this can be found at the National Sleep Foundation.

This certainly doesn’t correlate with a typical high school schedule. Research shows that teens in school settings are basically sleep deprived.  This sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, impaired memory, and inhibited creativity. It certainly interferes with learning! And those behaviors that people consider “typical teen difficulties?” They’re worsened if teens are in desperate need of more sleep. They may even be created by their lack of adequate rest!  It’s not about power struggles or undermining authority, as some parents fear. It’s something physical happening to their bodies.

When parents of teens opt out of school, their families are no longer forced to duplicate high school schedules. Teens can stay up late and then sleep in. This ensures that they get a full night’s sleep to be well rested and ready to explore and learn. A new study by National Jewish Health found that homeschooled teens had a big advantage because of their healthier sleep habits.

When parents ask their children to go to bed earlier so they can all get up earlier, they may be working against nature.  It’s not the end of the world to do it, but why set up a problem situation? Why turn it into a power struggle?

mother daughterAnother benefit to parents working with their teen’s natural, inner body rhythm is that some of the best teen-parent conversations happen during those late hours! My teens were often feeling more relaxed and winding down from their day around 11 p.m. Those late night conversations were real treasures, often giving insight into what was happening in their lives – what they were nervous about or looking forward to. They were open to listening to my suggestions or stories about what I’d seen in the past.

When my kids were teens at home, I let them sleep late in the mornings and go to bed at whatever hour they chose. It often looked upside down when compared to the rest of the world’s schedules. Homeschoolers (and “schoolers” – as my kids used to call them) would ask me, “How will they be able to hold down a job, follow a schedule, adhere to expectations, if I never impose any schedules on them as children?”

It’s a non-issue. It would have been like practicing the act of waiting in line. Do we really need to set up an arbitrary practice for this?Don’t we do that at grocery stores, at the post office, at the DMV, at the restaurant… multiple opportunities every day? Or maybe they’d suggest that everyone practice eating or sleeping or walking? Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

Honestly, when they were younger, I’d think, “Well, they just won’t work a job that conflicts with their natural rhythm. Lots of people work evening and night shifts.” I kind of expected that they’d continue to follow their internal body clocks.

But that’s not what happened.

My teens found jobs they wanted and made their rhythm cooperate. They learned what “a good night’s sleep” felt like, and they wanted it! So if they had to get up early on some mornings, they’d go to bed a little earlier the night before. They’d set their alarm clock, take their showers, and head out the door. It wasn’t long before they were poking their head into my room, waking me briefly to say they were off to their 7 a.m. shift! The naysayers’ predictions just didn’t play out. My teenagers managed just fine.

One summer, my daughter Katie went to stay with her grandmother in Dallas so she could attend a month-long intensive drama program. She got herself up at 5 a.m., checked her email, fixed her own breakfast, showered, got dressed and caught the city bus to go downtown. She was 15. My daughter Alyssa attended cheerleading competitions and had to be completely ready and backstage by 7 a.m. This meant getting ready before 6 a.m.! Two of my teens worked early shifts at Barnes and Noble for several years and never had any problem with being punctual. They took early morning classes in college and had no problems making it on time.

I share all of this to reassure you about your teens and their “wacky” sleep schedules. Parents really have nothing to worry about. Take advantage of those late nights with your teens. Chat with them about life, in the kitchen over nachos – even if it’s midnight! Talk to them about what you’ve read or learned about sleep and body rhythms. No one needs to rehearse getting up early. They will do it when they need to.

teensleeping

“I’m Not Your Friend, I’m Your Mother!”

 

When people are uncomfortable, they tend to rely on axioms and phrases that may or may not have any validity at all.

Raising teenagers can sometimes put parents in this position. But if we really look at the advice people have shared through generations, we might discover that much of it isn’t even applicable.

For instance, we’ve all heard,

“I’m not your friend! I’m your mother!”

But what does that really mean? Is it impossible to be both? Do we really want both?

Instead of getting caught up in some globalized phrase about parents not being friends, let’s examine both to see if we could implement the characteristics or if there’s a conflict.

Friends trust each other, share information about what they’re doing, who they’re with, what they’re trying – why would a parent not want that? If you have your child’s trust, you will be in so much better position to guide or offer advice from your experience. As parents, you will be able to react to situations with less anxiety, if you have spent time developing that relationship. Building trust takes time, and how we parented them when they were younger will have a direct effect on the relationship we have with them as teenagers.

When parents find themselves pulling The Mom Card, often what they are saying is that they want blind obedience. They want their teen to value what they have to say, and follow their instructions.

But remember when they were three and they were making their bed on their own (or fixing a sandwich later, or building a fort)?  We recognized the importance of not jumping in “fix” what they had done. We realized that that was how they learned, their confidence would grow, and they would get better with time.

The same applies with teens: Getting more confidant with their ability to make decisions in their world, comes from getting to make those decisions. Operating from an authoritarian position creates obstacles in the relationship.

When teens know they can bring their problems and concerns to you and not fear your judgement or punishment for choosing something different, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. And, as parents, you’ll get another glimpse into their world and how they’re handling it.Alyssa & me in Austin We can’t expect our teens to tell us everything. That’s part of their development.

Nor can we, as parents, share our own problems with them – that’s something we need to do with our own peers and friends. So, while I wouldn’t call it a two-way street, I would suggest that becoming friends with your teenager is a good thing.

And, think about how you define being their mom. What characteristics are important to you? And maybe it’s time to share that with your teens. Is it something they see or want from you?

Opening up this communication will be so helpful for both parents and teens to understand each other.

Take a look at some of those parental tips that get passed down through the generations and see if they really apply. Don’t buy into them, just because it’s an easy phrase to use to basically dismiss looking at a situation more closely.

There is no need for either/or, us against them, friend vs. mom.

 

Out and About: Using Your Community

I was asked if we used the community much with regards to how the kids learned.
Short answer: Yes. Long answer (and I mean LONG)…read this: 
 One of the BEST reasons to homeschool is the ability to get out into the community with your children during the daytime.  Lines are shorter. There are way less crowds to deal with.  Plus, you and the kids will have so much more energy to go off exploring in the daytime, instead of waiting until they’ve already done 8 hours of school and trying to wedge it in those oh-so-short after school hours.
But maybe you’re wondering just what community outings I’m talking about. With three very different kids, we’ve had a lot of different experiences.  And, since the Air Force moved us several times, we had the opportunity to discover more cool activities in new communities. Now that my kids are grown, we can wander back down memory lane and see some if any of these ideas might inspire you!
 We started homeschooling in Alaska. The kids played in a hockey league and a Coaches Pitch baseball league. They tried Indian Princess and started in Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts.  Each of the scout troops took them out into the community, especially for service. All three joined the Sunshine Generation, a group that sang and performed in parades, malls, nursing homes. We went to the start of the Iditarod, and followed our neighbor who was mushing. We helped our friends with their 14 sled dogs and went on the trails with them mushing. We ice skated at the mall, took monthly classes at the Eagle River Nature Center, the Anchorage Museum, and the Imaginarium (a hands-on Science museum). AND, we got to stay as long as we wanted instead of being hustled back into the bus after just dipping our toes in those different explorations. Our veterinarian let us watch our cats be spayed and declawed. We learned about how the cat’s body works, including how quickly their pads pink up when the oxygen level is increased. We went to the Earthquake Museum and talked to people who lived through the Quake of ’62. We saw baby polar bears at the Zoo, bald eagles at Homer Spit, and penguins at Seward. We swam at the indoor pool during the daytime, took ceramics class, went to the Opera, and listened to a Symphony. We spotted belugas and 20 foot tides in Turnagain Arm, salmon jumping in the air from the Russian River, and Native Alaskan history in Ketchikan. We picked berries in the mountains, talked to artisans in Girdwood, and pet a baby octopus who was living in a tank the Cordova Visitor Center,
We went on a whale watching excursion and we survived a drunk ferry captain in Valdez. We camped and hiked and ice fished and built snow-caves. We went to Denali and saw grizzly bears. We saw black bears in our campground there! We gasped for air when we dipped our feet in the icy Chena River in Fairbanks and stopped off to hear elves working in Santa’s workshop in North Pole.
 When we moved to California from Alaska, we took the Ferry, a 3 day ride. We went to the Fish Market in Seattle and hiked around Mt. St. Helen’s volcano. We drove through redwoods – yes,  the forests, but also some of the trees that were big enough that cars drove through their trunks!  We picked apples in Sebastapol, saw where The Birds was filmed in Bodega Bay – and watched people’s tents blow into the ocean when they couldn’t withstand the wind. We got carsick on Hwy 1, touched stingrays at the aquarium and saw sea lions in Monterrey Bay.  We went to park days that lasted all day and astronomy outings that lasted all night. We camped on the beach in Santa Barbara and drank Fig Shakes on Seal Beach. We took Mad Science classes at the Library and more classes at various science and art museums nearby. A “museum pass” could get us into any museum in California – including the big ones down in San Francisco, so we went there too!  We saw Alcatraz and walked on the Golden Gate Bridge. We took a 108 foot Square Rigger named the Gaslight on the
San Francisco Bay, and Michael and Ron spent the night with a group at Angel Island, reliving history. We ran the spotlight and the Tinkerbell light when Katie first started in community theatre, and often drove to Sacramento to watch Improv. We hung out at Barnes and Noble and Jamba Juice and we never missed the monthly farmer’s market in Davis. We watched sheep be sheared at the county fair and took hay rides in pumpkin patches and apple orchards. We ate peaches that fell off the tree after the “shakers” came by to harvest. We smelled the almond and plum trees in bloom. We took horseback riding lessons and helped at ManMar ranch, an A & M veterinary training ranch. The kids learned about race horses, and in vitro insemination, and “crazy mares.” They watched foals be born and old horses die. We helped build a barn and bought a horse. They rescued an injured Barn Owl, and saw the Raptor Center in action.  Weeks later, we went to a park and watched them release our little owl, ready to go back to the wild. We held unique birthday parties, including a “Bring Your Pet” party – even Alyssa’s Dentist and Hygienist came with their turtle and kitten! We watched Harry Potter premieres and hosted birthday parties that were totally Hogwart themed. We went to Rennaissance Faires and held Halloween parties with dry ice experiments. We hosted a Japanese Exchange student and took him to San Francisco to eat at the Bay, to ride roller coasters in Santa Cruz, and to a homeschool conference in Sacramento. We camped and hiked and learned to sail on Folsom Lake. We learned how the locks work in Lodi. We made the local news with our support group’s Civil War Reenactment and we starred in a homeschool documentary.

Then we moved to a ranch in north Texas where we had horses, cows, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs and a donkey. We had a lot of veterinary excursions with those! We participated in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Alyssa even delivered Girl Scout Cookies by horseback! We saw hydroponic farming with live fish, worked in pecan orchards, ate fresh  peach ice cream in the Peach Festival in Charlie. We had air soft wars in neighboring fields, took cattle to auctions, and talked with the people on a real covered wagon train that had pulled over at the edge of our pasture. We participated in 4H which exposed us to SO many people in the community. The kids participated in elections, held offices, and met so many different people.  We bought a calf and started a cockatiel business. We birthed a calf with our neighbors. We met local news people,  were interviewed a few times for the community service projects we did, and participated in a film school offered by the public television service out of Dallas . Michael got his first job at Target and Katie got her first lead role at the community theatre. We spent a lot of time in various community theatre projects. We visited with a woman who had no running water, but collected rainwater in buckets. She was nearly 90 and could tell us about what it was like when Burkburnett was really a Boom Town and how rough the oil field workers were living in tents nearby. We handed out toys every year with the Toys for Tots program through the Salvation Army, and we organized huge blanket drives for the Linus Project. We built houses with Habitat for Humanity and worked the soup kitchens on New Year’s Eve. We went on camping trips, and rock climbed, and zip lined. We walked through emu farms, prairie dog mounds and participated in small town Christmas parties. The girls took tap and jazz and ballet and hip hop. Michael took a girl to her prom and started community college classes.

When we moved to the Austin area, we went to concerts, large and small. We continued with dance classes and theatre classes. We learned to use the bus system. We watched high wire acts at Cirque du Soleil and watched the Ringling Brothers unload elephants in the middle of town. We talked to legislators and worked on political campaigns. We learned about bats and watched them fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge. We traveled with Alyssa’s competitive cheerleading team, got involved with the SCA, and joined writing groups with NaNoWriMo.   We saw WW2  re-enactments in Fredericksburg and we watched how fast the sun sets from the top of Enchanted Rock. We spent a lot of time hanging out with friends and their families.

Vacations were always filled with learning, whether we meant it to or not! We watched bison and geysers at Yellowstone, Revolutionary history in Alexandria, and national monuments in D.C. We explored New York City with its rich immigrant history and fascinating architecture.  We messed with the fish at a hatchery in Arkansas and danced with the jazz culture in a rebuilding New Orleans.
Their teen employment took them out in the community with jobs as cashiers  and instructors (dance, make-up, swimming lessons), baby-sitting and pet-sitting, bookstores and movie theatres,  life-guarding, house-cleaning  house-sitting, and even radio D.J.-ing.
Alyssa took on an internship with an organic make-up company. She learned to run the store, work with customers and teach Girl Scout troops. She learned to do make-up on fashion shows, walked the runway herself (once!), and assisted photographers. Her love of eyeliners and color combinations led her to a Vidal Sassoon cosmetology program where she will be paid to play with all that.
Opening up our home to the exchange student when Michael was 12, led him on a path of cultural and foreign travel. He started with his own exchange student program – 3 months in Japan at 16. He took Archaeology/Anthropology classes in Belize, and is now on an assignment for the Peace Corps. Ironically, the boy who never stepped foot in an American high school now teaches English in a Nicaraguan high school!
Katie’s love of “putting on a show!” started with backyard theatre productions with our support group kids in Davis and Dixon, Califronia.  From there, she moved  to community theatre, then to local films and commercials and now she’s enrolled in a conservatory in NYC.

The point is simply that involving your kids in the community helps them discover what THEY would like to do. What adventure interests them? There’s no telling what it will grow into. While you may not have lived in as many places as we did, you could. We chose the military so I could be a stay-at-home mom. And that enabled me to get out and about and become the best tour guide around!

Sure, when someone says, “Do you do things in the community?” or “What do you do all day with kids?”,  I just smile. My days are only limited by my stamina!   If you will just look around and be willing to drive a bit, involving your child in your community (and your neighboring communities) will be the best homeschooling choice you make.