5 November 2012

unschool monday :: rules and regulations

Untitled

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.








37 comments:

  1. My eldest also struggles with what I would call a screen addiction. My middle with an obsession with sweets. After trying different approaches I have realised limits are appropriate for them. Radical unschooling and unschooling are not one and the same so don't be disheartened!

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  2. I really dislike labels too... we've been moving away from them as much as possible. We have been attachment parenting, but had terrible sleep issues with bedsharing, (i couldn't let de-school myself fromt he idea that I needed sleep) so have moved the youngest into his own bed and now we are all sleeping much better, but I suppose I shouldn't call myself an "attachement parent". I love Jesus and the Bible but don't go to church anymore, can I still be called a Christian? These are all questions I have been contemplating lately. So I kind of think that in trying to get away from rules and the like, radical unschooling still seems to have a set of guidlines to follow if you want to be a real deal unschooler. What if that doesn't work for each child (or adult) in the family? Some like, and thrive, with routine, some just like to go with the flow... If I'm going to have a label, then I'd like it to be... Parent, and if my children are going to have labels, I just want it to be Child. I no longer feel the need to identify myself as anything else.

    My eldest loves the screen too. And we used to have many restrictions on it (tv and ipod). But it made him more obsessed with it. Then I took away the restrictions and he self regulates just fine.

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    1. Thanks, Shara. I'm so happy lifting restrictions worked for you. It works like that for my self regulators too, but unfortunately they are not all one and the same...

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  3. i think you are fully right on on the path to simply learning. no labels attached. just learning. awesome.

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  4. That is it. Living it right now and following your heart. That is what unschooling is all about in my book!

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  5. Love this blog post. I often feel guilty for giving my kids rules and boundries - I should trust myself more. You are such a GREAT parent! And I love your timer by the way. We use a timer here too - my son would spend all day with a screen if I let him.

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    1. Thank you. Sometimes meeting their needs means setting some guidelines ... And yes, the timer works like magic!

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  6. I think that's why I prefer the term natural learning - because it encompasses the lack of learning from a curriculum, while still being open to the natural ebb and flow of each individual being. I mean, let's face it - we all need to call it something, and "home schooling" just doesn't cut it for me, because it sounds way too "kitchen tabley" or something.

    I have been told I can't call myself an unschooler, because my child isn't school-aged. I've also got a few Montessori activities on our shelves, because my child loves them, asks for them and really engages with them. We don't have a set bed time, but we do have "settle down" time each night, when we snuggle on the couch and watch tv, or read together. I see myself as her guide and advocate, and since she is still learning about her body and life in general, I think it is important that sometimes, I offer her my experience. I might not feel exactly what she is feeling, but she has been by my side for 3 years now, and for example, I'm pretty sure I know when she's tired - even if sometimes she herself hasn't yet recognised it. To me it then seems a cruelty if I don't point it out, and help her to rest. For some, this means I don't have the right to call myself something they don't think I am...which to me seems the exact opposite of the intentions behind the philosophy!

    We are all natural learners from birth. So if my child "can't" be an unschooler, for no other reason than the fact that she is only 3, then I don't think anyone can argue with her being a natural learner!

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    1. This is what I struggle with... setting clear definitions for what defines someone as an unschooler/unschooling family, based on arbitrary rules like age and approach. I see unschooling as a mindset, really, and a way of living respectfully and observing your family's needs. It can't really be determined externally by a set of rules defined by others, can it?

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  7. I think when people start lavishly adhering to definitions over the immediate needs of their child, they're missing the point generally. Observing your child, knowing them deeply and responding to their needs is what we're here to do. I, too, have one screen obsessed and one self-regulator. When people say "I parent my children the same" I cringe. That's not ideal for anyone, it's not a one-size-fits-all approach to life that's going to equip each child with the means they need to succeed.

    Definitions...pah. Isn't it ironic that unschoolers are debating definitions? Just say they're 'undefined learners' instead? :)

    You should probably link to where you bought the owl timer too, before you get inundated with requests!

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    1. Yep, I couldn't agree more. Not responding appropriately to your child's needs and using a 'one-size-fits-all' approach sounds disconnected to me.

      The owl timer came from a local shop, with no online presence. Cute, huh?

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  8. I am so glad to know that I am not the only one struggling with this! I especially loved where you mentioned your "Waldorfy leanings"! Oh. that is so us! When it comes to labels I have no idea where we fit. Are we Unschoolers with a Waldorf flavor, are we Waldorfy Unschoolers? Do we even classify as Radical Unschoolers anymore? Maybe we should just become eclectic! Regardless, thank you for this post! I love knowing that there are others who feel the same way!

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    1. Thank-you! Yes, waldorfy unschoolers seems to fit us pretty well, although we are not all that waldorfy most days lately. I think we are just life learners :)

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  9. Love this.
    I think the label is making more rules when we should be discovering more freedom!

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    1. Yes! Freedom! I think the defensiveness and authoritarian approach out there is destroying it. It doesn't allow for difference, which is just so ironic its comedic... Anyhow, onward and upward!

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  10. Love, love, love - thanks Lauren, you always hit the nail on the head :)

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  11. My boy has a really hard time with the screen too. We've also ridden the spectrum of imposed rules & self regulating. The end result is that I've had to step in and drastically reduce screen time otherwise (as you've discovered too) we all suffer with his moody/fatigued/scattered self. It does feel like the height of disobedience in a community where people will swear that "all" children can and will self regulate. I did my best to play by those "rules" and I've seen with my own eyes and in my heart that my son can't and won't self regulate when a screen is involved. It would be terrible parenting if I just let him go. Everyone is different, fer goodness sake! Yep, out with labels in with flexibility and acceptance!!

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