Living Life & Learning!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Technology and Unschooling

It is so easy to vilify technology -  it looks nothing like school, right?  I mean the kids are having fun, they are engaged to a point of not wanting to do anything else - so it must be detrimental to their learning and motivation.  Look at the articles all over the place that say that technology is bad for kids.  You know, Steve Jobs never let his kids have tech. (FWIW, Steve Jobs kids were young children long before the iPad came out)

First and foremost an unschool parent MUST deschool.  Often you hear talk of deschooling as something for the kids to do.  A time when kids detox their 'school' time and get back to figuring out how to love learning again.  It can last months or even years (but for most kids, they are eager to get back to happy learning so it's not so long in the end).  What you rarely hear talk of is Parental deschooling. Parental deschooling is far more important, and far harder than anything the children need to do.

Parental deschooling requires, first and foremost, that a parent question all the schoolish ideas about learning that they experienced throughout their lives.  There are many of these.  A large one is that learning happens in some activities more than in other activities.  Or that somehow learning that happens in one place is more valuable than in another place.  That is false.  Self-directed, self-motivated learning happens everywhere - and most importantly this type of learning is non-linear.  That means that the learning does not look like information download and regurgitation like in school.  The information comes in pieces and parts and the kid creates mind maps for the disparate pieces of information over time and in thoughtful moments throughout the day.  Over the years, these maps become a filter for new information, so culling through new ideas/data/thoughts becomes easier and faster and more complex over time.

So let's talk about how that wibbly/wobbly learning comes in.  That learning comes in through play by any means at the kids disposal, playing in nature, playing with friends, playing with dolls, legos, blocks, etc. or doing crafting projects, cooking, shopping, play dates, play groups, reading books, the list goes on and on. And for most unschoolers, via many sources of technology.

There is nothing inherently bad about reading or crafting or doing legos, and in my experience, there is nothing inherently bad about technology either,  but there are quite a few parents who want to posit that idea.  Having had my kids engage technology as their main source of learning for the last nearly 5 years, I don't see a down side, except that our family does not look like standard schooling families very much nor do we look like homeschooling families very much either.  But I do believe that my children have a huge advantage over both of those factions of people.  (Jobs in the future will not look like jobs today -- all jobs will be tech jobs)

So, when I think about setting my children up for the future, I think about what skills they need to succeed and I quickly recognize that most of what schools do does not meet these requirements.  I think that any situation where a child must kowtow to an all-knowing authority is detrimental to creating a solid, critical thinking human being.  So that includes no only school, but most homeschooling (eclectic or otherwise) families as well.

I want my kids to be independent thinkers, I want them to have "life learner" skills - which means when they are faced with wanting to know/learn something new they inherently know how to acquire that knowledge.  I want them to be self-motivated, and self-directed so that they know, deep down, what feels right to them and conversely what feels wrong.  I want them to have critical thought - to be able to look at stories in the news, historical data, advertisements, promotions, political rhetoric - and to be able to suss out the info that is being left out or hidden to 'sway' them.  I want them to feel respected so that they can be respectful to others.  I want them to feel confident in their choices, I want them to know that they are trustworthy.  I want them to be digital natives so that they are not swayed by marketers or politicians who influence public debate, I also want them to know how to navigate the online world.  I want them to feel that they alone have the right to make choices about what is important to them, and how to spend their time and what they consider fun or engaging.

To achieve these goals requires me to deschool, deschool, deschool all of those ideas that the conventional world presents as "good learning" and "Good parenting" - I recognize that many of the constructs of what is "right" are actually false.  In my goal to create solid humans, I must really learn to understand WHY I feel so strongly about things and understand the truth about my own FEARS long before I start blanket controlling my children's learning resources.  And in doing so, I recognize that everything is learning and that technology is a pretty compelling medium for learning.  When I put myself into my kids' shoes, I can start to understand this from their point of view and not from my own fears.

It is common in our society to LIMIT things.  We have a view that limiting things ("everything in moderation") is somehow a worthwhile value.  It's so woven into our culture that we don't even stop to question that idea.   I've decided that limits have their own downside.  Limits create forbidden fruit syndrome - when I limit something, I increase the marginal value of that activity in the person for whom I want to limit -thereby, in the case of technology, increasing the cycle that I don't want (all my kids want to do is be on the computer, my kids get angry when they have to come off the computer, my kids stay on the computer even when they don't really want to be there because they don't want to lose the time, they don't want to share their time on the keyboard because it's limited).  I see this exact pattern of behavior in friends who have limits.  I don't see this in unschooling friends who are not limited in screen time.

Having a husband who loves technology (he's made money writing software since he was 14 yrs old) and having kids who love technology, I have had to really parse this idea and think about whether limiting anything, but technology in particular, would support our unschooling life.  In the end, I decided not to limit.  And what I've experienced is yes, my kids have dove deeply into their gaming lives - for years. But they've gained such amazing knowledge through their time on line that I could never have provided them through books (something they have little interest in because of their few years of school) or through programs (again something they have little interest in because of school) or through outings.  Now, at ages 11, 11, and 9 they are looking out into the world and applying that knowledge into real world situations and looking to make real world connections from their on-line world.  For example, one son loves and sword smithing and history and languages and foreign cultures so we go to Renaissance Festivals and ethnic restaurants and travel to investigate and compare his on-line knowledge to the real world experiences.  Another son loves challenges/competitions and mysteries and logic puzzles which has us doing escape the room games, traveling to different food trucks and watching old Agatha Christie movies, and mapping out our travels and tons more.  My daughter plays tons of role playing games and does crafting projects that she finds on you tube - like glue gun flip flops and slime recipes and artistic techniques for collages or paintings.  She loves costume makeup and regular make up and does musicly videos and has her own You Tube Channel.  She loves inhabiting other personas too - and has many social outlets.  They all find it very easy to step away from their computers when it's something that they want to do or find interesting.

In the end, arbitrarily limiting things or placing more value on certain activites over others in their world indicates a lack of trust on my part, and in doing so I remove my child's ability to find a way to regulate those activities/foods/passions on their own - which is important learning all on its own.  That does not mean that I don't provide my guidance throughout the process nor that I grant this "freedom" and then secretly hope that they lose interest in that passion and come back to other things some day...  I meet my kids where they are -- I engage with them in all their pursuits and I am passionate about those pursuits for them.  My support, over the years, means that they are not doing things in "reaction" to me - they are just doing things they want to do and traveling down rabbit hole after rabbit hole as competent investigators. They love that I am supportive and knowledgable about their daily lives.

But doing something that looks so different from others in our society is hard -- shoot, just applying unschooling principles is hard and it's easy to buy into the fact that using technology to learn is somehow "inferior" to REAL learning.  But in my experience, that is just not the case.  Gaming taps into the 30+ learning principles that ensure information is being grasped and understood.  Gaming has respect for the learner and constantly keeps a player pushing their regime of competence - which is the outer edges of what they know vs what they don't know - and giving them chances to acquire knowledge in order to incrementally level up.  All in a fun, challenging environment where the stakes are not high and where mistakes are not "the end of the world."  Mistakes are where learning happens and it's all iterative and incremental and fun - and engaging.  Schools would do well to understand these principles and rewire their own methodologies to look more like gaming.

What I have learned as a parent of unschooled kids is that they are immensely capable of meandering through and finding knowledge that is relevant to them - and because I don't judge how they acquire the knowledge (books, tech, outdoors, outings) they are intensely interested in sharing their knowledge and conclusions with me - at many different times throughout the day.  Their conversations with me are all part of their learning as well -- as they use the "sounding board" of mom to cull their mind maps and place snippets of information into the right places and remove other snippets or move them to another place.

What I could not have known is that, because we do not judge our kids' choices in media for learning, my kids have become digital natives who can find pretty much any tidbit of obscure data they want and who inherently know how to filter that information for its validity based on source, for its comic affect or for its social normative construct.  They are far more astute about the downside of the internet than their peers and they are much more knowing about how society works, what pitfalls there are and how to avoid them and in doing so they've developed a strong sense of self that they are invested in.  They do not look to an authority figure (parent or teacher) to tell them how to be -- they have developed their own barometer for how to be and they are firm in their resolve about that and can communicate that to other humans in which they come in contact.  In this world of so many complex problems and lots of uncertainty - I can say that this is, by far, the biggest win that has come from trusting my kids.

All of this said, I recognize that some of these ideas are so outside of people's comfort zones that moving from limits to no limits can feel like a huge step into the abyss.  I completely understand. For those folks - maybe an incremental (but not too long) approach to relinquishing control is valid.

What I want to emphasize is that for unschoolers - the only way to get to unschooling FLOW (a time when learning feels as natural as breathing and the main emotion around the house is overall pretty happy and empowered) is to TRUST the process and TRUST the learning and ALLOW kids to figure out how to incorporate all different styles of learning into their repertoire.  We cannot predict nor force our children to gravitate to one medium over another without potentially damaging their ability to learn this for themselves.  In granting our kids the space to find their own way, we must deschool ourselves so as NOT to unconsciously influence their choices. (through our negative energy on some choices and positive energy on other choices).  We must, in the end, view all media as valid avenues for learning and create a rich, supportive home life that allows our kids to UNFURL naturally.  Not doing this does not mean you are a failure,  it just makes you an eclectic homeschooler and that is still far better than any family who has their kids in school.  Your kids will be all right - they will likely be thoughtful creatures...  but I don't think you'll ever get to unschooling FLOW and that is where the magic is.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Surprising Side Affects of Unschooling

When we embarked the unschooling life four years ago, little did we know how many parts of our life would be affected and made better by that one small choice to step away from the conventional idea of school and schoolish learning.  Every year since 2013, we have shifted one aspect of our lives that has cascading beneficial consequences to many other aspects of our lives. Much of these changes were made as an outcropping of our deschooling process.  And for those of you who see the word deschooling and think that I am talking about ridding your kids of their schoolish ideas, know that the deschooling I speak of is that of parental deschooling, which is far more important and a "key log" that must be identified, investigated and removed for unschooling families to ever experience unschooling "flow." 

Our family's choice to unschool began as a reaction to my sons' challenging school experiences.  For all intents and purposes, they both were successful in school - their challenges were common among their peers and their ability to conform to school was not an issue.  But there was something off, something that felt wrong to us.  When broken down, at the core was the recognition that a government institution had somehow infiltrated our family life and wanted to dictate to us how we must live our lives for the next 12 years.  An institution that, itself, had changed little in 100 years of societal evolution wanted us to willingly adopt strategies and methods of interacting with our children that ran counter to the choices we had made as parents.  It did not take long to decide that we had to part ways.

Little did we know that one choice, to leave school behind, would have such profound implications on the trajectory of our lives.  In the years since we left, we have shifted our mindsets to joy over sadness, health over sickness and constant improvement over stasis.  All because we chose to question conventional wisdom and follow a different path.

Choosing JOY is really about learning to look for the positive side of most things in life, even in the harder times, even when its easy to focus on the negative.  I chose to shift the way in which I looked at situations in my life.  Instead of focusing on those things that were not being done, I chose to look at what WAS being done.  I gave up many of the "have to's" in my life and I shifted my focus on what felt right at that moment.  I became much more accepting of having a messy house. I allowed myself to spend entire days playing Minecraft with the kids.  I reacquainted myself with my creative side and did crafting projects that brought me immense joy.  I also made sure that I cleared the way for my kids to experience the same.  In doing so, over time, we came to a place where most days were pretty darned joyful, we looked to the "joy" barometer before signing up for any activity and we found that most of the time, just staying home and engaging with each other was the best place to be, what maximized the joy for everyone.
It's funny how such a small mental shift can have such large impact on our lives.  Over time, our family has seemed to blossom, parents and kids included!  Our kids know inherently what lights them up and what tamps them down.  They fervently fight to move toward joy and rarely stay unhappy for long.  We all enjoy each others' company and there are few conflicts.  Conflict has no place when everyone's needs are met.

Living joyfully easily opened the door to wanting to ensure a healthy life over the years.  When you have a joyful life, you realize that you want to be at your best to embrace all that is presented to you. Where years of living in a world of "requirement" had left me unhappy and at an unhealthy weight, I chose to move toward fitness and health.   I began working with personal trainers and eating more mindfully, losing 40+ pounds over the last 2 years.  For the first time in my life I felt strong and capable of pretty much anything.  My body shed pounds and inflammation, I learned what foods bothered my body and what foods fueled my workouts.  Over time, I fundamentally changed the way I live, eat and celebrate.  It's been such a wonderful learning experience for me.

Getting healthy illuminated a path towards personal improvement.  As I learned from a few years of high intensity exercise, a strong mental game is required to push yourself to achieve your goals.  In the last year, I've learned how to meet a fitness challenge, break it down into smaller, digestible chunks and find a way through to the end with the ability to "kick it in" in the final few minutes to finish strong.  Honing my mental game has given me the ability to tackle so many areas of my life including choosing what friends and energies I'll allow into my life, recognizing that no one deserves to dampen your shine and has allowed me to manifest the passions I want in my life easily, with little effort.

The world is our oyster and our family is ready for the challenge!!  I can't wait to see what the next few years brings!!