How to Prep for “Unschooling”?

People keep telling me that the hardest part of switching from “regular” school to homeschooling is “deschooling” oneself. I’m not yet sure if we’re going to end up “home schooling” proper, i.e., where I figure out what PK needs to learn and get it to him . . . somehow, or if we’re going to permanently “unschool,” which I don’t know what the hell that would look like, really, beyond “leave me alone.” Which I’m not willing to do, what with that whole “being his parent” thing. That and the fact that, for now at least, what he does when left to himself is spend all day playing video games/reading video game-related videos.

However, The Professionals have advised me to “start slow” and “maybe unschool at first” and “relax.” And I’m pretty sure that saying to PK “okay, starting now you are doing One Hour of Math Every Day” would be a quick route back to the days of Enforced Homework and screaming at each other across the dining room table, which, no way.

So. I told PK a couple of weeks ago that we wouldn’t “start” until September. I’ve done a couple test runs, mostly for my own sake, to see if I can actually motivate myself to do shit with him. Really, I think the biggest issue is me: I can’t stand continuing to be a couch potato indefinitely (even though that’s what I want to default to), but I feel like I can’t actually “do” anything because I need to . . . somehow be around for him?

In other words, I have no idea what I’m doing here.

But I have figured out a few bottom line rules, which I explained to him today. Here they are.

  • He has to get at least 30 minutes of exercise–not just walking around, actual exercise of some sort–per day.
  • Every two hours spent sitting down (let’s be honest, this means “on the computer”) requires a 30-minute activity break–walking, chores, wandering around the front yard talking to himself, whatever.
  • At least some of his time every day has to be some kind of “learning activity” that isn’t just playing video games–though I’m willing to let it be something that’s video-game related, as long as he can explain what he’s learning.
  • He and I have to sit down at the end of every day and spend a few minutes keeping track of whatever “learning activites” happened. This can perfectly well include “I learned how to do X in minecraft” or “I thought of an alternate narrative line for how things should really have happened in Half Life II,” but I at least want us to keep some kind of records.

For now, that’s it. I think I’ll also ask him to spend a little time with me next week looking at some of the resources I’ve collected that I think he might be interested in, and he’s agreed to a field trip to the Holocaust Museum (his choice!) in Los Angeles at the end of the month. We’ll also have a field trip to San Diego next month in connection with a business trip for his Papa, and I’m collecting some ideas of things we might do there. I’ve found a local homeschooling group that meets at a park nearby every Thursday afternoon, and I like the other parents; PK is still not thrilled about meeting other kids or Scheduled Activities of any kind, but I think I’ll drag him most weeks. He had a pretty good time running up and down hills last week by himself, even though he didn’t really interact with the other kids except to say hi.

Mostly I seem to be doing nervous collecting of ideas, followed by very tentative suggestions to him, because even mentioning the idea of Doing Things to him tends to result in him raising his voice and “getting stressed out” at me. Which reminds me that another thing I need to do is make a few appointments with child psychiatrists, figure out which one(s) seem decent, and schedule an appointment for him, because I really am beginning to suspect that his anxious tendencies might need something more than just a “break from school.”

(Don’t tell me I Need to be Firmer With Him–one, I’m doing the best I can and I’m sure you would be a much better parent than I am but sadly, the poor fucking kid is stuck with me; and two, I’ve tried the Being Firmer approach and in the long run it makes things much, much worse. So what I’m doing now is trying to follow the methods recommended in this book. Which at least have the advantage of not leading to a bunch of yelling. Also, we have at least gotten to the point where he accepts that it’s his job to clean the kitchen every day, and does so, along with most other chores I ask of him–again, sans the yelling. So, progress.)

In other words, prepping for homeschooling seems to involve a lot of nothing, looked at from the outside. But inside my own brain, at least, is working pretty much 24/7.

Sadly, that hasn’t involved my ass getting off the couch very much, so this morning I did some yoga. I’m pretty sure that keeping myself healthy and sane is going to be the most important part of this new adventure.


17 responses to “How to Prep for “Unschooling”?

  • jroth95

    It seems to me, based on my brief window into your interaction, that the joint walks you do to perform errands are really good opportunities for “productive” (that is, educational) conversations that don’t stress him out. You might even want to come up with a loose set of things to talk about based on how he wants to direct conversation – IOW, if he’s noticing his surroundings, be ready to talk about the built environment or plantings or how people interact with their surroundings, or even local history; if he’s talking about his games, you have your ways of making him think critically about those issues; I know you talk about internet identity, which is a great triple play of personal interaction, practical information (how to be a good person on the internet), and educational discussion. He’s a little old for counting games, but I wonder if there’s even math that you can integrate into the walks, whether talking about gas prices or doing some simple geometry about your routes.

    Plus, of course, errand walks are time away from the computer that is neither chore nor “activity”, just PK and Mama, spending some time together, talking about stuff.

    Would it be pretentious here to mention that Plato’s Academy was mostly guys walking around and chatting?

  • tedra

    This makes me smile. Yep, the “walk with me to the grocery store/dinner/Target” thing is definitely a Thing I Do (both to get him off the computer and for the sake of conversation), and you’re right–it’s part of his education as well. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

  • Ingi

    Oh wow. It’s like you got my son and got into my head (complete with lack of activity on my part). Left to his own devices, that is exactly what my DS13’s day looks like. So I guide gently. After nearly two years of homeschooling, we have much less yelling, tears, meltdowns etc.

    For me, the beauty of unschooling is that you can take those little conversations and record them as learning – the lines become blurred between “school” and “life”.

    Just lately DS has been enjoying Khan Academy for maths and he loves watching Minute Physics and V-Sauce almost as much as YouTube vids of computer games. Might be good for you son?

    Nice to find your blog – I’ll be following along :-)

  • poprice

    Have you thought about trying mind-mapping exercises? We do them periodically. My son suggests a theme and then we work through all the ways that theme could be addressed using a mind map app. (You can do it with paper and pencil, too.) Then I “strew” things in front of him related to the map.

    Also, have you heard about Epic Win? It’s an app that helps nurture executive functioning skills–which are valuable to everyone. Plus it puts the “to do” list into a useful, game-style format.

    Pamela @RedWhiteandGrew

  • tedra

    Hi Pamela–I’ve collected a fair number of ideas from your pinterest page, btw.

    PK has used mind-mapping in school quite a bit, but it hadn’t occurred to me to use it as a way of helping him “pick” topics to look into while homeschooling. Right now, when I ask him, he pretty much just says he wants to learn “cat-fu” (how to get the cats to like him better. Short version: stop chasing/grabbing them!) and maybe cooking. But I’m hoping that will change…

    I think I had heard of Epic Win, but had forgotten about it. Will bookmark/pin it–thanks!

  • tedra

    @Ingi, thanks–it’s nice to “meet” other parents in the same boat…

    PK’s been introduced to Khan and Minute Physics. I’m thinking of “requiring” him to spend, say, 20 mins/day watching some kind of science videos instead of computer games–it sounds like we think alike!

    I agree about the conversations (and am hoping to get him to start using dictation software because honestly? being his captive audience is exhausting!). He’s totally squared away on the “critical thinking” front–he’ll have no problem writing college essays once he gets to that point, I don’t think. It’s the learning new material, especially when it requires him to overcome initial difficulty/disinterest, that really concerns me. I’m trying to be patient about it….

  • Sue Patterson

    Hi Buffalo Mama,
    I’m not sure what led me to your blog, but I just wanted to give a couple of comments and suggestions.
    First – Kudo’s for bringing your kid home from school when he had a rough time with it. And more kudos for going the unschool route when people say “get tougher on him.” I’m with you on that, tougher is NOT the way to go. We unschooled 3 kids, now 23, 21, 18, and I have a couple of blogs where I write about family life as well as unschooling.
    Suggestions – Think of doing stuff WITH him. Overcoming habits are hard, but do-able. Brace yourself that you’ll have a couple steps forward and a step or two backward. Nothing goes in a straight line in real life. But think about approaching your community like a tourist – what’s going on there? what’s interesting? Walk around together and check it all out.
    Honestly, your 2 hours sitting time to 30 min walking time, will be hard to pull off. And probably land you into either a power struggle, or you feeling unsuccessful. So you might want to rethink that one a little.
    Keep your mind open to all kinds of examples of “learning.” It’s happening.
    Also, you might want to read, “Reality Broken” – a very cool book about the benefits PK’s generation will have BECAUSE they spend so much time on video games.
    Oh oh oh! There’s a very cool conference coming up near you – Wide Sky Days – it would be worth going to.

    Wow…that’s a lot of commenting, so I’ll stop. lol
    I hope this goes well for you both!

  • Anne

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog, but I had to chime in. If I’ve learned anything as a teacher & a parent of a DS with his “own agenda”, it’s that no one understands your life like you do and people who are hostile and judgemental are usually avoiding examining their own lives. So when people criticize–take anything that feels helpful and let the rest roll off (sounds a lot easier than it is).

    I’m starting unschooling myself this week. I’ll be checking your blog often. I feel less alone now. Thanks!

  • tedra

    @Sue–thanks for telling me about that conference–I had no idea it was happening. It might be just what I need.

    I think everything you’re saying is right. The real reasoning behind the “30 minute break” rule is the new research about sitting and long-term health–I’m not being super rigid about it, but am using it as a “rule of thumb”. It’s semi-working and I’m trying to be mellow about it….

  • tedra

    Thanks, @Anne! Do let me know if you have (or start) a blog…

  • Ritsumei

    Good luck. Sounds like a tough spot. If I may recommend 2 things (cuz blogs are all about perfect strangers giving their opinion… right?):

    1. Nature Study. Some folks make it a Structured Activity, but we head to one of our local parks and look for Interesting Things. I have a sketch book I like to draw stuff in, but my kids are little enough I usually spend all my time watching them. When we’re curious, we look stuff up. I have a couple field guides on my phone, and some more at home. But, mostly, it’s all about Interesting Things. It’s amazing what some time outside looking for Stuff a couple times a week does for us all. It may be that going out and finding something cool might be unstructured enough not to set off his alarms, yet it’s something that’s awesome, as far as education goes.

    2. Another book you may be interested in is Transforming the Difficult Child: the nurtured heart approach. You’ll know it on Amazon because the author’s preschooler did the cover art. There’s an excerpt here:

    Good luck in your journey!

  • Lydia

    Good morning buffalo Mama,

    I am now calling myself and the way I educate the kids a buccaneer mama. I feel you sister. Last year was our first year home education. I call it that because if I call it school my now 8 year old son gets hives! :) Last year was spent with a lot of me feeling like a failure and my son screaming I hate learning!

    The spiral to hell started in Kindergarten. First grade I was sending him to Satan’s den on a regular basis. To be bullied by four big third graders. Who found joy in surrounding him, and telling him they where going to kill him. He shut down completely,stopped doing all class work. His teacher mini mouse ( that is what she sounded like) started to focus on him not completeing his class work. She humiliated him by seperating his desk from everyone. She might as well put him a corner with a fucking dunce hat on.

    Long story so I will shorten it. She turned out to be the person heading the gate program. What a joke! She wouldn’t know a gifted kid if he walked up and bit her in the ass!

    I became what they call the crazy mom,because I care for my child. I was part of the stupid cheer leading club they call the PTA. Only thing I got out of that was breakfast. I also was a room volunteer sequestered to a table stapling papers.

    Deschooling in my head is time in = time out. He served a three year prison sentence starting in preschool to 1st grade. So I figure we will be home free by 5th grade.

    If I could title my year last year would be “finding Owen”. He suffered PTSD from all the mistreatment. It is much better now. He still grumbles about learning,which we started last week. I got into a home study program this year with a charter here called Scvi. It is all for the money. I remind him how lucky he is that I can get books filled with science experiments and hands on math.

    Last year I was rouge. I used the library for every subject.

    The only thing I am firm with is love. And helping him learn how to be safe when we are out. He loves older kids. Do you think your boy would like to mentor a very head strong 8 year old boy?

    I decided to take care of myself better, exercise,practice my Buddhist meditation and really be grateful.

    Everyday we take a moment of silence and take turns saying what we are thankful for at dinner. It helps the kids.
    My daughter is the lucky one. She will never know the hell of compulsory learning.

    Sorry for my rambling maybe I need start my own blog.
    Remember you are doing your best. You are in the de schooling processe, lots of field trips, discussions, documentaries, reading with stealth writing. We are writing letters to each other to motivate my science guy to find the joy of the written word.

    if someone is going to yell at my kid it is me not some stranger. I tell him when it happens I come from a place of love, and it is usually frustration that lead me there,

    I have a quot on the wall. If you are not willing to learn no one can help you. If you are determined to learn no one can stop you.

    Buccaneer mama

    A great book I read recently is why I call myself a buccaneer.” secrets of a buccaneer scholar”

  • tedra

    Thanks @Ritsumei. One of the things we are definitely going to do is go for long walk/hikes–luckily we live in an area where there are plenty of beautiful places nearby to do that. Will check out the book, thanks!

  • tedra

    Thanks, @Lydia. I’ll try checking out the book! And I do recommend starting a blog ;-)

  • Malea

    Do you have a hidden camera at our house? This sounds so much like what we do. :) This post made me smile.

  • Flexibility! « Buffalo Mama

    […] One new reader suggested that I check out an unschooling conference here in So Cal–this […]

  • tedra

    @Malea: Yay! I am all about being honest about our lives…

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