5 November 2012
unschool monday :: rules and regulations
Did you have a chance to read Shae's post last week? I hope you did. It sums up where I'm sitting with unschooling right now. I've been here a while actually. Since I had a break from Unschool Mondays and felt like letting go of the labels. Within the unschooling community there is certainly a drive towards letting go and embracing radical unschooling philosophy. As if we are all at different stages on a journey to that destination. Towards supporting and going with your child's needs and towards removing all regulations and restrictions from your child's existence. Life without limits. Essentially, you are treating with the respect you bestow upon other individuals and you are going with their flow. In theory it's fantastic. In theory I agree with it. In theory it may be an approach that suits the average unschooling family. But what if it doesn't?
I live with two individuals who, for their whole lives, have been unable to self regulate one particular thing. For Huz, it's sugar. Try as he likes, he cannot, for the life of him, self regulate it. If sugar (particularly chocolate) is on the menu, he will always go for that first. He will eat vast quantities of it and still not be satiated. Even if he feels unwell for it later. If he allows himself to eat one tiny bit, he may as well eat all the sugar, right? Try as he might, making sugar legal just doesn't work and rather than self-regulation, he has enforced self-restrictiction, accepting that life without refined sugar is healthier for him and better in the long run. He needs a bit of help to stay on the right track, a nudge toward healthy alternatives, but otherwise self restriction is working well. He's healthier and happier now.
Big Owlet is my other one who has always struggled with self regulation. I've documented well our ups and downs with her attraction to the screen. If you've been reading here a while, you'd have seen us waft and wane between lifting and placing restrictions and regulations on screen use... We've talked and thrashed it out over and over. We've sat and listened and watched and waited. We've lived with lots of screens and only a few and right now, we seem of have found something that works. Rather than lifting restrictions, rather than providing a life without limits, here we are firmly setting them. And we have a much more happy household for it.
Big Owlet could watch all day. Everyday. We can walk into a shop and if there's a screen there, the world stops. She's like a deer caught in the headlights. Sometimes it's not such a bad thing. She absorbs a huge amount of information. She can remember facts about animals that I've barely heard of, just from watching documentaries. She's found a happy, constructive and creative social world on Minecraft and manages to tick several of the education department's boxes at the same time. Theoretically it's brought her a lot of great things. But what it also does is disconnect her from her body. She has forgotten to listen to herself more times than I can count. She has forgotten to eat and sleep and sometimes toilet. She emerges from her time on the screen angry, aggressive, unhappy. Her body stiffens and she is difficult and moody. Dark circles appear around her eyes and she loses her spark. It's the first thing she thinks of and the last thing at night. She loses big chunks of time, and it affects all of us.
So a couple of weeks ago, we sat down, as a family, and talked about regulation. About self regulation and the type of regulations that are imposed on you. Big Owlet could see how that many hours at a screen were making her feel. She didn't like it, but she couldn't stop. She was frightened. So she asked for help. We bought a little timer and set a framework and away they went. One hour per day for play. One hour for watching. Then the computer goes off. If it doesn't and Big Owlet requests extra time, it is often given, but we'll remind her when it's time to move on. And so she happily hops off again and moves on with her day. And our house has found harmony again, thanks to a kitchen timer.
For Little Owlet and Tiny, I can see that life without limits works. Remove restrictions and they self regulate beautifully. They have done since birth. But for Big Owlet, and Huz, it's different. They need support and a framework. They need guidelines and even rules and within that they find what works for them. When they allow themselves to stray too much, they fall right off the wagon.
I can hear the advice on the radical unschooling forums drumming loudly in my ears. We need to let go of our expectations, we need to let go, shift our perceptions... We're doing it wrong... This is our Waldorfy leanings talking... We need to deschool some more... We are seeing her passion as obsession... But I can also hear the sound of a child in turmoil, who feels helpless. Who needs (pleads for) her parents to set clear boundaries for her and show her the way forward. This time, she wants us to tell her what to do. Sometimes embracing or children's freedom and autonomy and true selves can lead us to places we didn't expect to go. Sometimes it can steer you away from popular thinking, or even towards the mainstream. And to truly embrace it, you have to go with it. There is no rule book.
So, here I sit, like Shae, unsure of what to call this type of life and learning journey we have chosen. I'm sticking with Unschooling and I'm happy with it as it stands. I firmly believe there is no right or wrong, or more enlightened, way to do it and that we are not on a journey to becoming better at it. We are living it right now with our individual families and there is no advice to give, other than to follow our hearts and listen and learn together with love.