Summer Solstice

June 20-23 is Summer Solstice. I've always enjoyed celebrating the seasons and it's something I love sharing with my children.
Here are some links and ideas for activites and rituals that can be used with your own children. If you know of any others, feel free to share in the comment section. :-)

Go outside:
Go outside and experience the summer. Watch some sunrises and sunsets together as a family. Make it a special event. Prepare a special meal for the occasion. It doesn't have to be fancy, perhaps just a special treat. While the kids may be on summer vacation, many of us still have to work. Nevertheless, try to take some time to spend a day under the sun at the beach or the park. Summer weather is the perfect time for outdoor activities. Help your children get in touch with nature. Look around you. What's different? What birds are in your area now that weren't there a few months ago? Which flowers are blooming? Go hiking, explore, and learn about your local wildlife. Visit a farmer's market and pick up some seasonal fruits.

Make solar images:
Bring the outside in and let creativity flow. Making round, golden shapes that mimic the sun is a wonderful, old tradition. You can help the kids make wreathes decorated with flowers and bright ribbons. Make little suns out of clay from your local craft store. Use toothpicks or chopsticks to make rays and happy faces. Make suns out of paper plates, construction paper, or paint wooden disks. The possibilities are endless and the only requirements are that they be round and that colors evoke the sun's radiant splendor. Hang them around the house afterwards.

Have a bonfire:
Midsummer celebrations have traditionally included bonfires to keep away bad spirits and to encourage fertility, purification, health, and love. Having a bonfire in the backyard makes for a great family evening. Play drums and other instruments, sing songs, and tell stories of the sun, the Gods, and heroes. Burn the remnants of your Yule tree or a Wicker Man that you've created out of dead branches tied together with cotton twine. If your fire in small and your children are big, they can leap over it for good luck.

Play with fairies:
Midsummer is a great time for fairy magic. Older children interested in divination might enjoy being introduced to a tarot deck with a fairy theme. Smaller children will get a kick out of building a fairy shelter. It's easy and fun. All you need is a small box that is open on one end (a shoebox will work). Paint it or decorate it with ribbons and whatever you can find in the yard -- sticks, feathers, flowers, leaves. Place it outside and leave out some milk or honey for the fairies. Little kids always get very excited to find the offerings gone and the fairy house turned upside down from their wild parties. You can also leave a small gift for your child as a thank you from the fairies -- a shell, a flower, a pretty rock, or perhaps a small trinket that had been "lost" around the house (everyone knows they faeries love to play tricks).

Decorate the altar:
Cover your altar with flowers and other greens. Roses are symbols of the Goddess at this time of year. Add fruits of the season, images of the suns, sunflowers, and other symbols of the summer.

Let go:
Letting go of things and people is never easy and it doesn't have to mean you're getting rid of something. It's another step towards change and growth. If you've been putting off your spring cleaning, now is a good time to do it. Give away the items that you and your children have outgrown -- toys, clothing, books. Give them to friends or donate them to charity. Just as the Sun King begins to lose his strength, the summer solstice reminds us that nothing last forever. We are part of a constant cycle of life and death. It is the Wheel of the Year.

A solar summer solstice project

Celebrating the sun

Solstice ideas

Scroll down for recipes and crafts

Related Tags: ,

Kennedy Space Center

We just got back from a three day mini-vacation to Cocoa Beach (in Florida) and the Kennedy Space Center. If you read this blog with any regularity, then you know that my youngest daughter Jacqueline has a passion for space and that passion was one of the reasons we went. My husband is also a space cadet (LOL) and the two of them enjoyed themseves very, very much.
Some of the cool highlights was Jacqueline meeting and taking her picture with
John Blaha, watching the two 3-D imax films, the moon walk simulation at the Astronaut Hall of Fame and all the cool stuff we bought at the reasonably priced gift shop.
We went a day early and stayed at a place called
Wakulla Suites, which is right off the beach. Nice place, heated pool, lousey beds. LOL
When we were leaving KSC, they told us we could validate our passes for the next day and come at no extra cost. If we had known that ahead of time, we would have booked an extra night at the hotel. The next morning, after changing our mind several times we decided to go back. :-)
If you have a chance to come this way, I highly recommend it. We all had a great time.

Day 117

If you've been planning on sending a submission to Unschooling Voices (the unschooling carnival), don't forget to do it before July 1st, which is when it comes out. :-)
I've received some really great entries so far! Here's the details if you're interested in participating.
Queana is working on distributing it via a podcast so that should be exciting! She's going to be contacting those of you that submitted a post to get your okay. In the future, we'll probably ask that you give your okay when you send in your submission. I'm looking forward to it!

Related Tags: ,


Day 116

We finally made the slime I blogged about last month. Billy did it with them last night. It came out so...slimey!! The kids loved it! I bought neon food coloring so the colors would be nice and bright. If you haven't done it yet, please do and let us know how it went. :-)

A few blog carnivals, that we participated in, were posted in the last couple of days. First is the Carnival of Family Life, where I blogged about our time capsule that we did earlier this year.

Next is the Carnival of Homeschooling and my post on deschooling for parents.

And last, but not least is the Country Fair. You'll find two of our posts there...one is a typical unschooling day and the other one is about our mentos geyser.


Day 115 (Giving back)

When it comes to giving back, I've always prefered helping in a personal way, rather than just writing a check. In the past, I've sponsored a child and donated food to homeless shelters. Here are some current ways we're giving back and helping others.

Cimion was having yogurt one day and read that 10 cents will be donated for each pink lid that is mailed in. He rinsed his lid and saved it in a baggie and asked us to do the same. So far he have about 25 lids saved and we'll be mailing them next week.

While surfing the 'net one day, I came across a site called
Make a Child Smile. They feature three children each month that have life threatning illnesses in the hopes that people will send them a card or letter. I showed my kids and they thought it was a great idea. :-) We're finishing up our letters to the featured children for this month and will be sending them out this week.

I was cleaning out a bedroom closet last week and realised we have to many blankets. Now that we live in Florida, 15 blankets is just a bit to much. LOL I called our local Humane Society and asked if they could use them. They said yes, they did and I asked what else they needed. The woman who answered said dog/cat food, bowls, towels and newspaper. My kids decided to take some of their money and buy some food and chew toys and donate them when we bring the blankets. Shawna also wants to ask them if she can spend some time with the animals there, giving them some love and attention. :-)

It doesn't take much to give back, and it seems we get more than we give when we do. :-)


Day 114

Some goings on in our home....

We hosted a pool party for Jacqueline's Brownie troop last week as a year end party. Everyone had a great time. :-) We had about half the troop here (which was good because there's over 20 girls in the entire troop!) and they played in the pool and also on our playset and trampoline. Two of the moms stayed and the rest dropped off their kids and then came back a couple of hours later.
The girls were so cute, they kept telling me what a good time they were having and that they loved the watermelon! For some reason, it was a big hit. LOL

In other news...
The other day we went out to eat (which we do only rarely...it gets expensive for the five of us and my kids don't eat kids meals-not even Jacqueline). So we're eating and about halfway through our meal, a woman from another table came over. I don't recall what she said initially, it was something like she was enjoying watching us because we looked like we all got along so well. She told Billy that it was great to see a father and teenage son have an eye to eye conversation. :-)
It was so nice that someone to not only take notice, but then to actually come over to our table and tell us. She said that the kids were well behaved and that the girls were beautiful. :-)

Don't forget to submit your post (before 7/1) to Unschooling Voices...(the Unschooling Carnival revived). Here's the details.

Justifying Bad Educational Practices: pt 1

I came across this article and thought to share it here. Part two follows in the next post because it's quite long.

Getting Hit on the Head Lessons
Justifying Bad Educational Practices as Preparation for More of the Same
By Alfie Kohn

Suppose you have a negative reaction to a certain educational practice but you’re unable to come up with any good reasons to justify your opposition. All is not lost: You can always play the “human nature” card. Never mind whether it’s a good thing to help students become caring and compassionate, for example, or to work at reversing segregation. Simply assert that everyone is ultimately driven by self-interest, or that people naturally prefer to be with their own kind. Presto! All efforts to bring about change can now be dismissed as well-meaning but unrealistic.

Conversely, no logic or data are necessary when you find a practice you happen to like. Just insist that what you favor is rooted in the natural inclination of our species. A search of the archives of this very publication reveals that various individuals have taken this tack in support of many different policies, including standardized testing (“It’s just human nature that when performance is measured, performance improves”) and extrinsic incentives (“Human nature . . . has always demanded, for peak performance, a potential reward consistent with effort put forth”). A lack of interest in school policies on the part of parents, a resistance to change on the part of teachers, even the practice of holding adolescent boys back a year to enhance their athletic prospects (“redshirting”) have all been casually attributed to human nature.

While such assertions are never accompanied by evidence (presumably because it doesn’t exist), they do prove remarkably effective at shutting down discussion. Those against whom this rhetorical ploy is used find themselves stymied because it’s not easy to defend something utopian, or to oppose something unavoidable.

Here’s another option for those who would rather not have to offer a substantive defense of their views: In response to a humane and respectful educational practice, they can say, “Yeah, but what’s going to happen to these kids when they learn that life isn’t like that?” Invoking a dismal future, like invoking human nature, can work both ways – to attack practices one opposes and also to promote practices one prefers. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard someone respond to the charge that a certain policy is destructive by declaring that children are going to experience it eventually, so they need to be prepared.

This kind of reasoning is especially popular where curriculum is concerned. Even if a lesson provides little intellectual benefit, students may have to suffer through it anyway because someone decided it will get them ready for what they’re going to face in the next grade. Lilian Katz, a specialist in early childhood education, refers to this as “vertical relevance,” and she contrasts it with the horizontal kind in which students’ learning is meaningful to them at the time because it connects to some other aspect of their lives.

Vertical justifications are not confined to the primary grades, however. Countless middle school math teachers spend their days reviewing facts and algorithms, not because this is the best way to promote understanding or spark interest, but solely because students will be expected to know this stuff when they get to high school. Even good teachers routinely engage in bad instruction lest their kids be unprepared when more bad instruction comes their way.

In addition to forcing educators to teach too much too early, the current Tougher Standards craze has likewise emphasized a vertical rationale – in part because of its reliance on testing. Here, too, we find that “getting them ready” is sufficient reason for doing what would otherwise be seen as unreasonable. Child development experts are nearly unanimous in denouncing the use of standardized testing with young children. One Iowa principal conceded that many teachers, too, consider it “insane” to subject first graders to a 4½-hour test. However, she adds, “they need to get used to it” – an imperative that trumps all objections. In fact, why wait until first grade? A principal in California uses the identical phrase to justify testing kindergarteners: “Our philosophy is, the sooner we start giving these students tests like the Stanford 9, the sooner they’ll get used to it.”

What we might call the BGUTI principle -- “Better Get Used To It” – is applied to other practices, too:

* Traditional grading has been shown to reduce quality of learning, interest in learning, and preference for challenging tasks. But the fact that students’ efforts will be reduced to a letter or number in the future is seen as sufficient justification for giving them grades in the present.

* The available research fails to find any benefit, either academic or attitudinal, to the practice of assigning homework to elementary school students. Yet even educators who know this is true often fall back on the justification that homework – time-consuming, anxiety-provoking, and pointless though it may be -- will help kids get used to doing homework when they’re older. One researcher comes close to saying that the more unpleasant (and even unnecessary) the assignment, the more valuable it is by virtue of teaching children to cope with things they don’t like.

* Setting children against one another in contests, so that one can’t succeed unless others fail, has demonstrably negative effects -- on psychological health, relationships, intrinsic motivation, and achievement – for winners and losers alike. No matter: Young children must be made to compete because – well, you get the idea.

**continued in the next post**

Justifying Bad Educational Practices: pt 2

**continued from above**

I realize, of course, that many readers regard these practices as desirable in their own right. They may believe that competitive struggle brings out the best in children, that grading students is a constructive form of evaluation, that standardized tests accurately assess the most important aspects of learning, or that, after a full day in school, kids ought to take home more assignments regardless of whether the data show any advantage to doing so. My beef here isn’t with people who hold such beliefs. It’s with those who admit these practices may be damaging but defend them on BGUTI grounds.

Even if a given practice did make sense for those who are older – a very big if – that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for younger children. Almost by definition, the BGUTI defense ignores developmental differences. It seems to assume that young children ought to be viewed mostly as future older children, and all children are just adults in the making. Education, in a neat reversal of Dewey’s dictum, is not a process of living but merely a preparation for future living.

But the issue here isn’t just preparation -- it’s preparation for what is unappealing. More than once, after proposing that students should participate in developing an engaging curriculum, I have been huffily informed that life isn’t always interesting and kids had better learn to deal with that fact. The implication of this response seems to be that the goal of schooling is not to nourish children’s excitement about learning but to get them acclimated to doing mind-numbing chores. John Holt once remarked that if people really felt that life was “nothing but drudgery, an endless list of dreary duties,” one would hope they might “say, in effect, ‘I have somehow missed the chance to put much joy and meaning into my own life; please educate my children so that they will do better.’”

Another example: It’s common to justify rewarding and punishing students on the grounds that these instruments of control are widely used with grown-ups, too. And indeed, there are plenty of adults who do nice things only in order to receive some sort of reward, or who avoid antisocial acts just because they fear the consequence to themselves if they’re caught. But are these the kinds of people we hope our kids will become?

This leads us to the most important, though rarely articulated, assumption on which BGUTI rests – that, psychologically speaking, the best way to prepare kids for the bad things they’re going to encounter later is to do bad things to them now. I’m reminded of the Monty Python sketch that features Getting Hit on the Head lessons. When the student recoils and cries out, the instructor says, “No, no, no. Hold your head like this, then go, ‘Waaah!’ Try it again” – and gives him another smack. Presumably this is extremely useful training . . . for getting hit on the head again.

But people don’t really get better at coping with unhappiness because they were deliberately made unhappy when they were young. In fact, it is experience with success and unconditional acceptance that helps one to deal constructively with later deprivation. Imposing competition or standardized tests or homework on children just because other people will do the same to them when they’re older is about as sensible as saying that, because there are lots of carcinogens in the environment, we should feed kids as many cancer-causing agents as possible while they’re small to get them ready.

To be sure, we don’t want students to be blindsided by destructive practices with which they’re completely unfamiliar (although this seems rather unlikely in our society). But how much exposure do they need? Must they spend months preparing for a standardized test to get the hang of it? Sometimes preparation can take the form of discussion rather than immersion. One need not make students compete, for example, in order to help them anticipate – and think critically about – the pervasiveness of competition in American culture.

Perhaps the preparation argument even fails on its own terms by virtue of offering a skewed account of what life is like for adults. Our culture is undeniably competitive, but cooperative skills are also valued in the workplace – and competitive schooling (spelling bees, awards assemblies, norm-referenced tests, class rank) discourages the development of those skills. Similarly, adults are more likely to be evaluated at work on the basis of how they actually do their jobs than by standardized test results. Nor, for that matter, is there much after graduation to justify the practices of same-age groupings or 50-minute periods. In short, we’re not making schools for little kids more like “real life”; we’re just making them more like schools for older kids.

So if these practices can’t be justified as pragmatic preparation, what is driving BGUTI? One sometimes catches a whiff of vinegary moralism, the assumption that whatever isn’t enjoyable builds character and promotes self-discipline. Mostly, though, this phenomenon may be just one more example of conservatism masquerading as realism. When children spend years doing something, they are more likely to see it as inevitable and less likely to realize that things could be otherwise.

“You’d better get used to it” not only assumes that life is pretty unpleasant, but that we ought not to bother trying to change the things that make it unpleasant. Rather than working to improve our schools, or other institutions, we should just get students ready for whatever is to come. Thus, a middle school whose primary mission is to prepare students for a dysfunctional high school environment soon comes to resemble that high school. Not only does the middle school fail to live up to its potential, but an opportunity has been lost to create a constituency for better secondary education. Likewise, when an entire generation comes to regard rewards and punishments, or rating and ranking, as “the way life works,” rather than as practices that happen to define our society at this moment in history, their critical sensibilities are stillborn. Debatable policies are never debated. BGUTI becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Finally, there is a remarkable callousness lurking just under the surface here: Your objections don’t count, your unhappiness doesn’t matter. Suck it up. The people who talk this way are usually on top, issuing directives, not on the bottom being directed. “Learn to live with it because there’s more coming later” can be rationalized as being in the best interests of those on the receiving end, but it may just mean “Do it because I said so” and thereby cement the power of those offering this advice.

If a practice can’t be justified on its own terms, then the task for children and adults alike isn’t to get used to it, but to question, to challenge, and, if necessary, to resist.

Copyright © 2005 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page.


links to Unschooling Voices

Now that the first Unschooling Voices carnival is planned for July 1, the next step is getting the word out. :-) (A carnival, in the blogging world, is a collection of posts on a related topic, this topic being unschooling)
Here's the link with all the information.

Thank you to:
Cher at Adventures in Living,
Lesa at Learning in Freedom Everyday,
Andrea at atypicalhomeschool.net,
Kate at The Amazing Adventures of Us
Doc at Doc's Sunrise Rants
Henry at Why Homeschool
Helen at Home Education Magazine
Ann at A to Z Home's Cool
Lilacmoon at Witchy Mama
Stephanie at Throwing Marshmellows
Every Waking Hour
...for adding the link to their blogs!

If anybody else links to the information page, let me know in the comment section of this post, so I can add your name to this list.


Two other carnivals, that I've submitted a post to, have just been posted. Check out the Carnival of Family Life and the Carnival of Homeschooling. As with any carnival, the posts submitted by others may not reflect my opinions and thoughts.

Also, I don't think I've posted about this yet but The Truth Laid Bare has a new homeschooling community page. Check it out when you have a minute.


Deschooling for parents: pt. 2

I wanted to add this to part one, but it was getting long. This is a discussion from an unschooling e-mail group I belong to.

A member asked: How long does deschooling take?? I am trying so hard to be patient but my spirit is restless. I am trying to relax.

Anne Ohman replied: What are you waiting for? *Your* spirit doesn't have to be restless...DO something! Live!! Follow your passions!! See the world anew again and follow your curiosities. And let your daughter heal. Think of it as healing, not deschooling.
And let it happen in its own way, in its own time, and celebrate it all along the way. Celebrate *her* and all that she is choosing to do that will help her find Who She Is again and will allow her to know for certain that her purpose here in this world is to follow her heart and her passion...even if it doesn't look like something you *think* should be a passion. It's *your* perspective that needs to be shifted at this point.

Same member again: She's much better but we are still struggling.

Anne's reply: What are you struggling with? Why is she struggling at all? Her days should be Joy-Centered and nothing else. She should be living and healing and un-learning all the falsities that were handed to her when she was in school. You should be doing all you can to allow her to feel she is Safe and Whole and that she has people she can Trust with whom she can completely be herSelf, no judgment, no expectations...only respect and celebration.
How does she Shine? Go there with her. Go into that place where her heart Sings and her Spirit Shines and Light up the WORLD together!! Follow that...walk in the direction of her Light, her Shine, her Joy...

Amy's reply: The way that this question is phrased, I'm guessing that what you might be actually asking is, "When is she going to stop watching so much TV or playing on the computer so much -- when is she going to do something *more* and stop needing to just *do nothing*?" Is that right? You've read stories, maybe, of unschooled kids doing interesting and fun things, and you're *waiting* for that to kick in?

If that is the question, then the issue is probably more with how you're seeing things than what's actually happening.

So now the question becomes, "How do *I* (Mom) let go of my pre-conceived notions about what her learning should look like? How do I connect with my child right this moment? How do I enjoy her learning for what it is and trust her? How do I stop waiting for her to do something else -- how do I change *myself* so that she and I are doing what she's doing, together and with joy?"

And then the answer gets much easier to answer. You just do. You take a breathe, you bring a favorite snack or drink to where ever she is, you draw up a chair, and you sit by her. Every time a judgment arises in your head ("We aren't *doing* anything), breathe and let it go. Instead, watch her face and feel her presence and just kind of drink her in. *She* is more important than the stuff she's doing -- all that is going on inside of her, all that she *is* -- that's where the learning and unschooling really takes place, takes root and grows and heals her. Learn to observe *that* process, and to trust that she knows how to heal and to learn. Then you can offer things that might connect to that process.

Deschooling takes place every time you're able to make this choice -- the connected, trusting choice, instead of the worried, waiting choice. And when you do it enough, then you get over the big hump of it -- the schooly thoughts might still pop up once in a while, but you'll know better how to deal with them, once you create that pattern within yourself and within your home.


About Us

Hi, I'm Joanne. Welcome to An Unschooling Life. :-)

We're a multi-racial, unschooling family of five; My husband Billy & I are native New Yorkers (from Brooklyn) and we moved to moved to Florida in 2002. We have three children, Cimion (15), Shawna (12) and Jacqueline (9). Our non-human family members include Buddie, a 11 year old, very cool free-roaming green iguana, Mini, an overly attached, 8 year old black miniature poodle and TJ, Mini's sister (they're from the same litter) who became ours after my mother passed away in (07/07/07).

The majority of my blogging here will be related to unschooling (meaning homeschooling without a curriculim) and 'radical unschooling' or 'whole life unschooling', which extends the principles of unschooling into the rest of your life.

In 2003, we adopted our three children (they're half-biological siblings). They had been in foster care for four years and were 5, 8 & 11 years old when we adopted them. Our unschooling journey started in 2004 and we've never looked back or regretted it. You can read our
adoption story by clicking the link in the sidebar and although I'll blog about it from time to time here, most of my adoption writings will be at Forever Parents.

This blog is also home to
Unschooling Voices, a monthly collection of submitted blog posts sent in by fellow unschooling families from around the world.

Comments and questions are always welcomed. :-)

Unschooling Carnival

**UPDATE** Okay-let's do it! I'm thrilled so many of you want to revive this like I do! :-) Let's do the first one on July 1st and then on the 1st of each month after that. Click here for the who, what & where. ****

Would any of you wise, witty, intelligent (okay-I'll stop now) unschooling bloggers be interested in participating in the unschooling carnival if I started it up again? I used to really enjoy reading it when Ron & Andrea were putting it together.

For those of you that don't know what it is...a blog carnival is a bunch of related blog posts on one topic, such as unschooling. It's a great way to find new blogs, read some great posts and let other people know about your blog. Not to mention, it kinda build a nice unschooling community feel among the bloggers. :-)

It would be held once a month for now and we can always increase that if participation increases. Let me know by commenting in this post and we'll see where this leads. :-)

If you can also ask on your blog and direct your visitors to this post to reply, that would be great too

Day One Hundred Eight

Jacqueline is at a weeklong Girl Scout Day Camp, which ends today with them putting on a show. She's having a good time, even though it's quite "schooly". When I pick her up in the afternoon, there are always counselers yelling "GET IN LINE-ONE STRAIGHT LINE!! DID YOU HEAR ME???" And I'm thinking- how much did I pay for this again? LOL

With us being free of the school system for over a year now, I had forgotten what it's like to have other adults tell me about my child, or tell me what my child is doing or should be doing.

For example, when I picked her up yesterday, the counseler (and I know she meant well), told me "Jacqueline was very good today". As if I didn't know or needed her to tell me. My reply was "Jacqueline is good everyday".
If Jacqueline wasn't ready to be in a group setting without me helping her, I wouldn't have sent her in the first place. I would make sure she knew enough about the social atmosphere of being in a group before I sent her. And I certainly wouldn't have sent her in the hopes that she would learn it there. Not with all the screaming and yelling at the kids that was going on.

Then, the day before the counseler told me to make sure I give her a healthy snack on Friday because they're learning about making good food choices. I told her that Jacqueline already knows about making healthy food choices because she makes her own food choices everyday and that I don't make sure she eats anything. She looked at me like I had three heads, and then told me that her daughter eats sprinkles out of the container when she's not looking. I told her that Jacqueline chooses cheese and carrots over cake and ice cream and I got the three-headed look again.

All in all, Jacqueline enjoyed it and got to be color guard on Wednesday. She was excited about that. :-) They made a lot of crafts and went swimming. They gave them a camp t-shirt and today they're putting on a play for the parents.


Deschooling for parents

I had saved some posts from various boards/e-mail groups over the last year or so on the topic of deschooling for parents.

Each time another long-held assumption fell away, my reaction was, "Oh! Wow! NOW I see more clearly." It was the strangest thing. As those layers peeled off, one by one, the world got so much bigger and brighter!

I want learning to be a lifestyle, not just some thing we did for several hours out of the day.

As teenagers, my two kids educate themselves pretty much the way adults do. They read books, ask questions, try things out, practice and practice, look things up, seek out experts, search the 'Net, etc. In other words, they pretty much copy what they've seen us do! It's a far, far cry from what's happening down at the local high school.

Public school doesn't work at home mainly because it puts mom in a different role than what she was called to be. Now all the sudden, mom is not the nurturing MOM but a TEACHER complete with lesson plans, and a timer. This change in roles blows kids away. They have a hard time accepting it and this is why moms see their kids becoming intolerable.

I had to start looking at our lifestyle. I saw that our home was not conducive to learning and that "learning" and "life" were two separate things. "Learning" only happened during those dreaded school hours. No wonder my son was bored and unsatisfied. I was presenting an erroneous picture of how true, natural learning
is supposed to be.

I will never, ever forget the day I realized (I mean REALLY realized, all the way down to my toes) that every single curriculum in the world is drawn up by a human being just like me! There ARE no meta-people out there with a special genius for deciding what everyone should know. I live on the Earth just like those curriculum planners do, and I'm every bit as smart as they are! Now THAT'S empowerment.

I like the idea of, as a parent, following your own interests, because (1) you'll be setting a GREAT example, (2) your enthusiasm will, to a large degree, be contagious, and (3) you'll quickly see how one interest often fans out to include many "subject areas."

Children who have attended school frequently require a considerable amount of time to recover their innate curiousity and desire to learn, particularly if school was a negative experience.

Instead of focusing on whether or not your child is learning, during the detox period, focus on shaping your home into an environment in which it is easy to learn new things.

Most of us were taught at school to see a false dichotomy between "learning" and "fun".

The main goal of education should be for a child to learn HOW to learn, to become an independent learner and a lover of learning,

Check out Sandra Dodd's
deschooling page for more information and throughts.
You can also read
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich online.
Part two of this post
is here.

If you've just removed your child from school or are re-thinking your school-at-home setting, take some time to relax and look at your children, and education, through new eyes.

How not to get into college: part one

Ren Allen shared this article on one of the unschooling e-mail groups I'm on and I thought I would share it here.
Part two is in the next post below.

How Not to Get Into College
The Preoccupation with Preparation

By Alfie Kohn

Education…is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.
-- John Dewey

In 1981, while I was teaching at an independent school, this journal published my very first article about education. It was an ironic commentary, perhaps a tad short on subtlety, entitled “How to Make the Least of Your College Years,” and it consisted of ten rules that had already “helped literally millions of students successfully avoid meaningful learning experiences.” Among them:

Let grades control your life. All decisions about how to spend your time and plan your academic schedule should be arrived at with grades in mind. Anything that increases the probability of an A is time well spent; conversely, anything that distracts your attention from boosting a grade is time wasted. . . .

Most important of all, always think in terms of “product.” . . . If an activity most likely will not lead to a tangible reward…you’re better off without it. Under no circumstances should you allow yourself to enjoy something for its own sake.

These bits of paradoxical advice were intended to satirize something that I continue to write about, more than two decades letter. Now, however, the sensibility in question shows up long before students even get to college. Indeed, teenagers are making the least of their high school years in large part because of their desperate attempts to get into college.

There’s another respect in which my article might need updating. It seemed to imply that students simply choose to act this way and ought to wise up. In effect, I was blaming the victims rather than looking at the systemic factors that turned them into grade grubbers: pressure from teachers and parents, broader social forces, and the existence of grades themselves. The students’ behavior may even be an indirect result of well-meaning articles advising educators how to be more effective at preparing each student to triumph over his or her peers and get into the most selective colleges. Such advice distracts us from the terrible costs of that process, particularly when it eclipses other values and goals. Take a step back from discussions about the relative benefits of SAT I and SAT II, or the effects of early admission, or other aspects of the search for more efficient methods for grooming students’ transcripts, and ask the deeper, more subversive question: What are we doing to our students in the name of college prep?

A friend of mine who counsels high schoolers in Florida once told me about a client of his who had amazing grades and board scores. It remained only to knock out a dazzling essay on his college applications that would clinch the sale. “Why don’t we start with some books that had an impact on you,” suggested the counselor. “Tell me about something you’ve read for pleasure – not for an assignment.” A painful silence followed. There were no books to be listed; the very concept of reading for pleasure was unfamiliar to this stellar student.

A number of years ago, I wrote about an experience I had while addressing the entire student body and faculty of one of the country’s most elite prep schools. I spoke, by coincidence, during the cruelest week in April, when the seniors were receiving their college acceptances and rejections. I talked to them about the implications of the race they had joined. For many of these teenagers, it was no longer necessary for parents to stand behind them with a carrot or a stick: each had come to internalize this quest and see his or her childhood as one long period of getting ready. They were joining clubs without enthusiasm because they thought membership would look impressive. They were ignoring – or perhaps, by now, even forgetting – what they enjoyed doing. They were asking teachers, “Do we need to know this?” and grimly trying to squeeze out another few points on the G.P.A. or the SAT, in the process losing sleep, losing friends, losing perspective. Many of them may have been desperately unhappy, filled with anxiety and self-doubt. Some of them may have had eating disorders, substance abuse problems, even suicidal thoughts. They might have gone into therapy except they had no spare time.*

None of this was a secret to these students, but what few realized was that the process wouldn’t end once they finally got to college. This straining toward the future, this poisonous assumption that the value of everything is solely a function of its contribution to something that may come later -- it would start all over again in September of their first year away from home. They’d scan the catalogue for college courses that promised easy A's, sign up for new extracurriculars to round out their resumes, and react with gratitude (rather than outrage) when a professor told them exactly what they would have to know for the exam so they could ignore everything else. They’d define themselves as pre-med, pre-law, pre-business -- the prefix pre- signifying that nothing they were doing had any intrinsic significance.

Nor would this mode of existence end at college graduation. The horizon never comes any closer. They would have to struggle for the next set of rewards in order to snag the best residencies, the choicest clerkships, the fast-track positions in the corporate world. Then would follow the most prestigious appointments, partnerships, vice-presidencies, and so on, working harder, nose stuck into the future, ever more frantic. . . until, perhaps, they might wake up one night in a tastefully appointed bedroom to discover that their lives were mostly gone.

And those are just the successful students.

These are the sorts of things I said to this prep school audience, sweating profusely by now and sounding, I began to fear, like a TV evangelist. But I felt I also needed to offer a message for the teachers and any parents who were present. If you know from experience what I’m talking about, I said, then your job is to tell these kids what you know and help them understand the costs of this pursuit – rather than propelling them along faster. They need a cautionary view about what is threatening to take over their lives far more than they need another tip about how to burnish a college application or another reminder about the importance of a test.

When I finally finished speaking, I looked into the audience and saw a well-dressed boy of about 16 signaling me from the balcony. “You're telling us not to just get in a race for the traditional rewards,” he said. “But what else is there?”

It takes a lot to render me speechless, but I stood on that stage clutching my microphone for a few moments and just stared. This was probably the most depressing question I have ever been asked. This young man was, I guessed, enviably successful by conventional standards, headed for even greater glories, and there was a large hole where his soul should have been. It was not a question to be answered (although I fumbled my way through a response) so much as an indictment of college prep and the resulting attenuation of values that was far more scathing than any argument I could have offered.

When I conduct a workshop for educators, I like to begin by asking these questions: What are your long-term goals for your students? How would you like them to turn out? What word or phrase best describes what you want them to be like after they’ve left your school? The answers that come back are strikingly similar, regardless of whether they come from parents or teachers, regardless of whether the students in question are toddlers or teenagers, and regardless of the community’s demographics. People usually say they want their kids to end up happy and fulfilled, ethical and decent, successful and productive, independent and self-reliant but also caring and compassionate – and (to continue the alliteration) confident, curious, creative, critical thinkers, and good communicators. Also, someone invariably expresses the hope that students will always keep learning and wanting to learn.

The reason I mention this – and the reason I urge readers to consider (with their colleagues) how they might answer the same question – is that such reflection has the potential to challenge our practices. Never mind thought-provoking; it can be change-provoking. Of course, some people might say their long-term goals begin and end with getting students ready for, and into, high-status colleges; this may well be the raison d’ĂȘtre of their school. In such a case, we must concede that the means match the end. But I’m concerned with the far greater number of teachers and schools that say they are committed to other objectives, such as those listed above, but act as if all they cared about was college prep.

With such a tension between goal and practice, something has to give. Inconveniently, there are only two possibilities. Either: the objectives are pushed to the side, regarded as a pleasant-sounding but functionally irrelevant ideal confined to mission statements and P.R. materials. (“It’s not really that important to us whether our students are happy, ethical, reflective lifelong learners, but we’ll keep that rhetoric in the admissions brochure because it sounds reassuring.”) Or: the goals really do matter, in which case the preoccupation with preparation has to be seriously reexamined.

Immediately comes the objection: It’s not our fault! Some of our students’ parents would have hired fetal tutors if they’d thought that could improve their Apgar scores. Some of them have dedicated their lives to preparing their children for Harvard (a process I’ve come to call “Preparation H”). Some pursue this agenda with the best of intentions, and some are mostly concerned to derive a vicarious sense of triumph from the success of their offspring, to trump their friends when the talk turns to whose kids made good. What are we supposed to do, given pressure from parents who seem to care less about their children’s well-being than about their SAT scores and the thickness of the envelopes that arrive senior year from Cambridge, New Haven, and Providence?

Do some people think like this? You bet. Some people also judge individuals by the size of their houses, or nations by the size of their armies. Since when is that a reason for us to do likewise – or to become enablers of their warped values?

What’s more, while the faculty blames the parents, there are also plenty of parents blaming the schools with equal passion. (“We try to keep things in perspective for our daughter, but it feels like a losing battle because the school culture is so steeped in grades and scores and admissions.”) The only thing teachers and parents can agree on, it seems, is that they are both utterly helpless, caught in the grip of colleges. The colleges, meanwhile – or at least many of their professors – blame the K-12 educational system that deposits eighteen-year-olds in their classrooms whose interest in learning has already evaporated. Fingers are pointed in all directions, understandably in each case, but the upshot is that none of the parties takes responsibility for trying to restore a measure of sanity.

People who work in schools have a responsibility for leading, not only following. Pressure from college admission offices notwithstanding, educators are not being forced at gunpoint to make college preparation the overriding priority in adolescents’ lives. Pressure from families notwithstanding, educators have an opportunity to educate parents, not only children. Of course, we can also learn from them, and we must be respectful of their concerns and beliefs; finding a balance here is an art and sometimes an agony. But part of our job is to help students and parents understand that the difference between acceptance to a moderately elite college and acceptance to an extremely elite college does not justify sacrificing everything (health, happiness, friends, love of learning) in a desperate effort to gain access to the latter.

What happens when college preparation takes over the upper school, squeezing out other purposes? Pre-K-to-12 schools become increasingly traditional as the students get older, with more rating and ranking and a curriculum that is more predefined and less driven by students’ interests. But don’t adolescents need and deserve student-centered instruction as much as younger children do? And, if so, is it impossible to change what we’re doing, or merely difficult?

Even those unwilling to question the emphasis on college preparation ought to realize that this goal may not require all that is currently done in its name. Take the SATs. (I resist the temptation to add, “…please!”) Those scores often count for less with admissions committees than we think, suggesting an opportunity to rethink those time-consuming, stress-inducing, money-wasting coaching sessions designed to teach tricks for raising scores on a bad test. In fact, about 400 colleges and universities, including Bates, Bowdoin, and Mount Holyoke, have stopped requiring the SAT (or ACT) altogether. (For more information, go to the appropriate page on Fairtest's website.)

**Part two continues below**

How not to get into college: part two

**Continued from previous post**

What else can we dispense with? As Fieldston and other schools have discovered, students get into terrific colleges without Advanced Placement courses, and that provides an opening for us to think about whether we really need them. The fact that a course is difficult does not mean it is worthwhile. (Indeed, the confusion of harder with better helps to explain an awful lot of what is wrong with the “raise the bar” mindset that currently dominates school reform.) Some courses merely accelerate the worst forms of lecture-based, textbook-driven pedagogy: they have high standards but little room for deep thinking. A.P. courses allow the College Board to determine our curriculum. By virtue of the fact that they are geared to an exam, they are typically more about covering (material) than discovering (ideas).

The list goes on. Schools don’t have to give out awards or otherwise create artificial scarcity. Learning doesn’t have to be turned into a quest for triumph, and students don’t have to be made to regard their peers as rivals. In fact, there’s good reason to think that students truly flourish, intellectually and otherwise, in schools that are less (or even entirely non-) competitive, those that feel more like a caring community than like a rat race. Query: What policies in your school might contribute to an adversarial mindset that could be changed without costing a single student a single college acceptance?

Class rank is one answer that comes to mind. True, plenty of admissions committees seem to be looking for winners rather than learners. But relatively few colleges actually insist on this practice. When a survey by the National Association of Secondary School Principals asked 1,100 admissions officers what would happen if a high school stopped computing class rank, only 0.5 percent said the school’s applicants would not be considered for admission, and four out of five colleges said it would have absolutely no bearing on students’ prospects.

The next step is to look at grades themselves, and especially pressures to raise them, which likewise may be based on false assumptions (see SIDEBAR: “Grade Expectations”). Some schools have eliminated grades entirely – all the way through the upper school – as a critical step to raising intellectual standards, and they have done so without jeopardizing their graduates’ chances of getting into selective private colleges or large public universities. To find out what it means to shift the balance of a school from grade-oriented to learning-oriented – and, yes, research does confirm that these tend to pull in opposite directions -- speak to the folks at the Poughkeepsie Day School (New York), the Carolina Friends School (North Carolina), the Waring School (Massachusetts), Saint Ann’s School (New York), or other schools that offer thoughtful assessments of students’ accomplishments without traditional letter or number grades.

The preceding paragraphs make a relatively nonthreatening argument: Even if preparation for college is paramount, it’s still possible to phase out some of the most egregious school practices. Students may even be better prepared for college as a result of an education that isn’t defined by tests, grades, competition, and the like. But in the final analysis we must concede the possibility that there will occasionally be a trade-off. In some instances, the most efficient way of getting into certain colleges may be to do dubious things, and, conversely, the activities most conducive to intellectual, social, and moral development may not give them an edge with an admissions committee. What then? What matters most? Here we return to the place we began, to a question that defines who we are as educators.

* If this portrait seems too dark or melodramatic, consider that it is now corroborated by empirical research as well as anecdotal evidence. Affluent, suburban teenagers exhibit higher rates of substance abuse and anxiety than their counterparts in the inner city. A brand-new report entitled “Privileged but Pressured? A Study of Affluent Youth,” published in the academic journal Child Development this past fall [2002], confirms the prevalence of drinking (especially among boys) and depression (especially among girls) among wealthy middle school students. The researchers explicitly link these symptoms to the pressure these kids are already feeling to get into college. Moreover, seventh graders who reported that their parents place a lot of emphasis on academic achievement were considerably more likely (as compared to those whose parents were more concerned about their children’s well-being) to show signs of distress and “maladaptive perfectionism.”


Grade Expectations: Examining a Chain of Assumptions

(Adapted from The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), pp. 188-89.)

To read the available research on grading is to notice three robust findings: students who are given grades, or for whom grades are made particularly salient, tend to (1) display less interest in what they are doing, (2) fare worse on meaningful measures of learning, and (3) avoid more difficult tasks when given the opportunity – as compared with those in a nongraded comparison group. Whether we are concerned about love of learning, quality of thinking, of preference for challenge, students lucky enough to attend schools that do not give letter or number grades fare better. Where grades are still given, students benefit from a concerted effort to make them as invisible as possible. The more they can forget about grades, the better the chances they will be engaged with ideas. (For more details about all this research, see The Schools Our Children Deserve, or the article “From Degrading to De-Grading.”)

Still, some may fear that students will be unsuccessful in life if they haven’t been graded or if those grades aren’t impressive. After all, most people – notably admissions officers and employers – care about those marks regardless of how useless or destructive they may be. There is some validity to this concern, but perhaps less than is normally assumed. In fact, the argument rests upon a chain of assumptions that is only as legitimate as its weakest link.

1. Does encouraging students to get good grades make them share that concern? It depends. Heavy-handed techniques, such as public recognition or other rewards for good grades, may lead kids to feel resentful and to try to reclaim a sense of autonomy by staging a quiet rebellion. The harder you press, the more they resist. One study, by Adele Gottfried and her colleagues, found that parents who push their children to get good grades cause them to be less interested in what they’re learning, which, in turn, appears to have negative effects on later school achievement.

2. Assume a student comes to share her parents’ or teachers’ concern about getting good grades. Does that actually produce good grades? Often, but not always. Some stressed-out grade-grubbers end up undercutting their own effectiveness, while some students who are able to take pleasure in learning wind up with good grades that they weren’t directly chasing.*

3. Assume a student does get good grades. Does that translate into acceptance by a good college? Below high school, grades are essentially irrelevant to college admission. (Of course, one could argue that making students work for A’s at age seven will create a habit that will be firmly in place by age seventeen – and more’s the pity if that’s true.) But while colleges obviously look at high school grades, that is not the only thing they care about, nor does a high G.P.A. guarantee admission to the most selective institutions. Ivy League schools, for example, typically reject most of the high school valedictorians – and, incidentally, most of the students with perfect or near-perfect SAT scores – who apply. That’s worth thinking about in advance: if acceptance to such a college is the sole reason for sacrificing everything else in high school in order to get straight A’s, then what happens if it doesn’t work? Of course, we’re talking here about the most elite colleges, but that fact cuts both ways: at least half of American institutions of higher education accept just about everyone who applies, so again one wonders about the wisdom of devoting one’s early years to a costly, nonstop effort to get better grades.

4. Does getting into a good college ensure financial success? While there is undoubtedly a correlation between the two, that doesn’t mean the first causes the second. It may be that certain factors associated with one (such as family income) also happen to be associated with the other. If that’s true, then admission to the school of one’s choice (or one’s parent’s choice) may be neither necessary nor sufficient for financial well-being. People without the usual credentials, but possessed of determination and a genuine love for what they’re doing, often manage quite well in material terms, while people with superlative credentials may be summarily sacked. (Tough economic times make many nervous parents push their kids even harder to get good grades – and, in effect, to see education as little more than a credentialing ritual. But if the conventional approach offers no guarantees, perhaps we should respond instead by questioning basic assumptions about the purpose of school and the role of grades.)

5. Finally, we shouldn’t forget to ask whether economic success is the same as, or even positively related to, fulfillment or psychological well-being. The degree to which one spends one’s life in pursuit of material gain reflects one’s basic values. However, researchers have found that the more people are driven by a desire to be wealthy, the poorer their mental health tends to be on a range of measures. (I reviewed this evidence in “In Pursuit of Affluence, at a High Price,” New York Times, February 2, 1999.)

In short, the more we’re apt to take for granted that it’s good to emphasize grades so students will be successful, the more important it is to probe each step in the argument. If there is reason to doubt any of these connections, the ostensible advantage of focusing attention on getting A’s – or a school’s decision to give grades in the first place -- may be outweighed by the demonstrated harms of doing so.

* The study of affluent middle-school students mentioned in the footnote in the main text found that “a disproportionate emphasis on children’s achievement, not uncommon in upwardly mobile, suburban communities, not only has the potential to engender distress among children but also has real constraints in terms of the capacity to generate the successes so pervasively exhorted.” Specifically, the researchers found that students whose parents especially valued academic achievement were less likely than their peers to score high on teacher ratings of academic competence

Copyright © 2002 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page.

Day One Hundred Four

I just found out about two new carnivals. (A carnival is a collection of blog posts on a related topic.)

The first one is the Mom Bloggers Carnival and is being hosted at Joyride Through Insanity.

The other one is the Carnival of Family Life.

Billy & I went to see X-Men 3 this past weekend. It was the first time we saw a movie since we moved to Florida and our first movie since Summer of Sam. We went for our anniversary and it was such a nice evening. The movie was okay but what I really liked was the theater had loveseats in certain areas for couples to sit together. We didn't realise it until the movie was half over and they were all taken but I'm going to remember that for next time. :-) After the movie we went to Barnes & Noble (my favorite store!). We were going to have something in the Starbucks in there but ended up shopping for books instead. :-)


people's questions & comments

I get questions from both ends.....there's the homeschooling/unschooling questions and then there's the adoption questions. It's not that I mind, I love talking to people about the choices we've made. Most people are genuinely interested. But there are those people who just want to give their opinion without having any experiences to back them up. And then there are the ones that only want to tell me their horror stories.

I'm just going to post about the homeschooling/unschooling questions/comments for now and I'll get to the adoption questions (oh boy will I get to that!!) another time.

My favorite one was from a mother of two children, that were former classmates of my kids. Last summer I saw her a few days before school finished and she said , to my kids, how happy they must be that school was ending (if school is so great why is everybody so thrilled when it's over?). They reminded her that they don't go to school (my middle daughter loves to tell people that she's 'to cool for school' LOL). Then she asked me if we take a break for the summer. I told her that my kids are learning all the time and that I couldn't stop them if I tried. As they walked away I heard her tell her daughter "Wow, they have to do school work all year!!". *sigh* Some people just don't get it.

I still get the socialization question, although not as often. I think as more people realise it's a myth, that question is becoming less and less asked. Maybe I should print out what I
blogged about here and just hand it to them the next time I'm asked.

I read a post from a member named Judy at one of my unschooling groups that I'd like to share part of here.

".....I finally experienced the "what about socialization" question(much laughter ensued here as my 11yo is the most social party organizing child they all know) , along with "well, you make them learn something everyday don't you? You're not just letting them hang out around the swimming pool all day are you?" and then the topper......"how will they learn to stand in line and deal with all of those other
frustrations that we have to deal with in real life?" I almost laughed out loud....by living real life, of course!

I tried to reply a bit, but could tell that when I didn't cave and had reasonable and rational answers that posed a different perspective on living life and learning, these people weren't really interested in hearing in depth answers and having their beliefs challenged. All of them were expressing disappointment with the school systems they had their children in and that is how we got onto the subject of home
schooling in the first place. I felt sorry for them. They seemed trapped in the mindset that they can't do it. Someone even brought up that I couldn't possibly be qualified to teach all the subjects because I'm not an expert on them all. My husband and I had a good laugh as we reminded them that the elementary teachers that they leave their children with are probably less qualified than we are as they are certainly not experts on the subjects they teach, most of them don't even have children themselves or much life experience!
When I reminded them that I'm just there to help them learn how to
learn and support them and be a resource, they were dumbfounded. I could see them wondering, how is she possibly going to fill them with all that information that they would get in school. I went on to remind them that they and I learn things all the time without being taught or forced to learn by someone. That no one chases them around telling them, you better learn how to do this or that. That they do it
because they are interested.
It was amazing to watch some of them start to think a bit and then shut themselves down with some of the questions listed above and go back to a more comfortable place. This exchange was good because it started with all of them expressing dissatisfaction with the educational system, then taking a brief look at our lifestyle and method and, if only for a nano second, opening to a different possibility or way of doing things."

Most people are very supportive of our homeschooling and I enjoy answering their questions. It's the ones that can't understand how my daughter will learn how to count money without being in school, that I can do without.

My kids & I have had several conversations on how they can answer these questions themselves. I feel it's important for them to be able to discuss and conversate about our lifestyle choices and I want them to feel comfortable doing so. My husband suggested, to our seven year old, that when people ask her why she's not in school, to tell them she dropped out. LOL That's not quite what I had in mind, but it's a start.

And for the record, she learned how to count money by earing, saving and spending her own money. She learned unit pricing by shopping with my husband and how to spot a bargin by shopping with me. She's bought herself a camera (a very cool Disney Princess one) and a walkman with her own money. She gets money every month from us and she recently negotiated a raise with me.

Next question!

Related Tags: , ,


Day One Hundred One

* I just realised the links in the left side bar were not accessible. I'm not sure if anybody has tried to click on them, but they're fixed now. :-)

The kids & I went to Chuck E. Cheese's the other day to play some games and hang out. That place is such a blast for kids! If you have one near you, go to their web site and print out some coupons for your next visit. I always bring a book to read but end up hanging out with them instead. LOL!!

We've just started getting into making Artist Trading Cards. We've each made a few and we joined a trading group for kids. I like them because I'm so not the artist type and you can do so much more than just draw, which I'm not good at. We've made quite a few so far and we're participating in our first trade soon. :-)