School Survival

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Unschooling is Quality Time

Unschooling means never having to say you don't have time to help your kids explore the world.
by Lill Hawkins

"Come on. Come on. We don't have all day," someone says to their kid at the supermarket. The kid is holding a piece of fruit and asking her mother what it is. "Is this a pomegranate, Mom?" she asks again. Her mother is throwing peppers into a bag and her patience is wearing very thin. "I guess so," she says, "Now, let's get going so we can get home and get supper over with. American Idol is on tonight."

I felt like whacking Mommy Dearest upside the head with a bunch of celery, but she's more to be pitied than celeried. Yes, we DO have all day. Well, we have all day unless we keel over and she looked pretty healthy to me. Frazzled, but healthy. We have the same amount of time as gurus who spend all day gazing at their navels or multitasking CEO's who jet back and forth to Europe while talking on two cell phones, typing on their laptops and ordering around minions. (By the way, I'd love a minion. But can I have only one? It always seems to be plural. I'll have to look that up.)

Coincidentally, I was shopping with my daughter. She's a flitterer and a chatterer and I'm... Well, I'm 56 and I've shopped a few times. Let's just say that weighing veggies and comparing unit prices have kind of palled for me. Not for her though. Even if we didn't want any potatoes, they got weighed because she bet me that they weigh more, each, than sweet potatoes do. By golly, she was right too.

She's not much of a fiction reader, but she likes to read about "real stuff", so when she wants to read something, I'm all ears. That's how we both learned more about fresh spices like cilantro and parsley than even Alton Brown knows. She read every word on the packages to me, until I was afraid that our cheese might molder or our chocolate bread would go stale. I didn't really need to hear about spices as we started our weekly shopping at 4:30 in the afternoon, but I listened.

If she had wanted to know about pomegranates, we would have picked up a couple, examined them, weighed them, checked out the produce dictionary that the store displays and then taken a couple home to experiment on. Bwuah-ha-ha! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Unschooling - which is what we do - means never having to say you don't have time to help your kids explore the world. It's very hard for kids to learn and explore if you rush them through their days. It's very hard for us to learn and explore if we rush through our days, also, but that's what so many people do.

If you outsource much of your child's upbringing to daycare and/or school, I think it's even more important that you connect with your kids whenever there's a moment like the pomegranate one. I don't think "getting through supper" is as nurturing as sitting around, sharing a stew you made in the crockpot so it was ready when you got home, and really listening to your kids and sharing yourself with them. (I share the cleanup with them too. I tell them it's a bonding moment and say it with a straight face, because I really think it is. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

As you can read, I'm really opinionated, so I'll throw out another opinion so the world can see just how out of step I am. I think this whole "busy, busy" culture we see written about and studied and touted as the norm is completely bogus. The busiest people I know, make damned sure they're busy. They let their kids overschedule themselves with sports and scouts and arranged play dates and let the schools load the kids down with hours of homework and then they brag about all of it.

Sure, they call it complaining, but it's bragging. I think being so busy makes them feel like they're really living life to the hilt. Just filling up those empty days with so much, well, filler, that there's no room for anything real. Like connecting with their kids. Reading a good book that they found when they spent an hour browsing the library stacks. Lying on the lawn, looking up at clouds, or watching ants in the grass or making a house of cards, just for the hell of it, then knocking it down also just for the hell of it.

Okay, I know unschooling isn't an option for everyone, but I wish more homeschoolers would consider looking into it with an open mind. It would also be nice, I think, if everyone would step back from their busy lives and take some time to think about what they really want to fill their days with. When a bunch of pixels making make-believe on a lightbox keep us too busy to identify a piece of fruit for our kid or relax over supper, we're making a statement about what's important to us. Whether we say it out loud or not, our kids hear it and they take it to heart. If you don't believe me, just ask them.

Author's info/links:
Lill Hawkins lives in Maine and writes about family life, home education and being a WAHM at Get the News From Hawkhill Acres: A mostly humorous look at home schooling, writing and being a WAHM, whose mantra is "I'm a willow; I can bend."

Written by: Lill Hawkins
10 July 2008

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