15 April 2010

As a homeschooling mom I spend a lot of time with my kids. I'm with them practically all day every day, and while it's an enormous blessing to witness the multitude of moments and the slow unfolding of their personalities, sometimes I realize that I'm in too close to really see their true present selves.

I notice it most with Olivia because her changes are so rapid. In my mind, she is firmly set in the "Baby" box. She's brand new, my life revolves around her needs, and she's really not her own person yet. And then I find that she's crawled across the house and is playing in the open toilet and I realize "Holy crap, this child here in front of me isn't a newborn. She's a baby blossoming into a toddler!".

With Lily, she was for so long my baby girl. She was independent but her youngness was magnified by the 5 years between her and Nick. Physically and emotionally she was nestled right in next to my heart all the time and then all of a sudden Olivia was here and Lily was bumped over a bit. When Lily was born and Nick got nudged over, I remember feeling such guilt. But with Olivia's birth I recognized that it's normal and that there isn't any way that a relationship between a mother and an older child can be quite as intense as the one between a mother and her new baby.

So these days when I look at Lily I feel like I'm searching to see who she is. At 4 1/2, she's got one foot in the preschooler world and one foot dipping into the world of big kids. Sometimes I see her as being my young baby still, and at other times I expect her to be more independent than is fair.

And then my Nick! I used to know every tiny speck of him so intimately. I knew where he picked up that phrase, when he'd pooped last, how many bites of supper he'd eaten. And now he has this swirling depth to him, this whole level of experience of the world through his own adventures and readings that I'm not a part of. So many times I've seen him as such a big kid only to have Lily reach that age and make it look so young. Is it because Nick feels older than his age? Is it because as my oldest I always expect more of him? Only time will tell I suppose.

All of this really makes me wonder who my kids really and truly are. If I were to take away the filters of who I expect them to be now and the shadows of their past selves, what would those kids standing in front of me look like?

10 April 2010

Tonight I was chatting with some homeschooling moms during a child's birthday party. One of the moms and I had just met for the first time and we ended up talking about our family's transition into unschooling.

Unschooling, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a type of homeschooling and an approach to learning and living. Every unschooling family seems to have their own definition of the label but the basic premise is that the learning which takes place is delight-driven and done without coercion. Learning and exploring are not seen as activities which are limited to classrooms or workbooks. In our family, I view myself as a facilitator in my children's education. I offer resources which I think might be of interest, I answer questions, I help out when I'm asked.

The mom I was talking to asked me what a typical day in an unschooling home looks like, and I gave a really basic description of how we have screen time til 8 or 9 am then we have breakfast and then...we do stuff. Later on as I was driving home, I was thinking over the conversation and realized that I really could have been a lot more clear on what exactly it is we do.

Upon further reflection, I've come up with this far from exhaustive list of what we, the unschooling Johnstones, do:

We read. We read comic books, chapter books, reference books, and poetry books. We read cereal boxes and newspaper articles. We read traffic signs, name tags, t-shirts, and grocery lists. We read on the couch, in bed, in the van, and at the kitchen table. We read to ourselves, we read to each other, and we read together.

We create. We build sculptures out of clay and robots out of boxes. We draw pictures of our family, we make puppets out of sticks, and we create poetry and stories as we recite them out loud. We draw on the white board with felts, on the pavement with chalk, and on our bodies with pens, felts, and make up. We put on puppet plays and invent gymnastic routines. We dig into the dress up box and fill our house with characters and stories who do whatever we want them to. We build space ships and swords with Lego, vehicles out of K-nex, and animals out of paper.

We spend time with others. We visit old friends in their homes and talk with new friends at the grocery store. We play and talk with children and adults of all sorts of ages. We spend time with some friends on a regular basis through Cubs, swimming, and music classes and we see some friends infrequently when we go on trips or host guests.

We talk. Oh my goodness do we talk! We talk about our plans for the day, why some dogs have puppies, how cereal is made, and why Dad goes to work. We talk about our feelings, our ideas, our questions, and (sometimes) our fears. Lily asks Nick questions that only a worldly brother could answer, Nick talks to Lily about the most exciting thing he just did in his Pokemon game, and I talk to Olivia about how much that bump on her head must hurt. We talk from the moment we wake in the mornings til the moment their eyes close at night and they are swept away by childhood dreams.

We do housework. I cook oatmeal, Lily cuts up vegetables, Nick sets the table. I wash the laundry, Lily sorts the socks, Nick puts clothes into drawers, and Olivia throws everything on the floor. We tidy the livingroom, we unload the dishwasher. We sweep, mop, dust, wash windows, and vacuum. We work together, we do our own thing, we clean happily and sometimes begrudgingly.

We live. We learn. We explore. We enjoy. We work our ways through the ups and downs, the growth and the regressions, the fun and the boring. We do and we try and we ponder and we expand. Left to our own devices, we are constantly doing something.


Copyright 2010 In desperate need of entertainment.

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