The wonderful thing about unschooling is the journey. By stepping off the well-beaten path you are forced to stop and reassess your position every now and then, to question the direction you are going in, where you want to end up, and how best to meet your goals. It is a wonderful process, though difficult at times. We’re not long into our journey and yet I’ve had enough opportunities to stop and ponder that I’m seeing a pattern. In the end, the answer always seems to be to Let things Be. To take away the restrictions, the controls, and allow the children to grow and blossom as they are designed to do.
With my son, after having given the issue I last posted about much thought, I am increasingly feeling that the preschool environment is just not right for him. The agressive behaviour has worsened in so many aspects of his life, and I feel the issue threatens to define him and how he views himself in this world should the it continue much longer. So while I have decided to go ahead with the assessment and evaluation to see what this person has to say, if there is no agreeable solution as to how to make the situation easier for my son, or if I see no progress over the next few weeks before Xmas, I am prepared to withdraw him over the holidays. If we can find tools to help him truly deal with this issue then I want to give those to him, but if they don’t work then I’m not willing to push it any further. I think he would benefit greatly from a break from this type of environment, and a chance to focus on something other than this issue. In my heart of hearts I feel this issue boils down to a lack of impulse control, which time and maturity will solve all on its own.
I’ve had to do some similar soul searching with my Daughter, who has recently declared that she no longer wishes to continue with her art class. This class is held at an arts academy, a midday class for homelearners that is geared towards children but teaches them real techniques and theory (in this case, it’s a painting class). I have been absolutely delighted with the place and at first Daughter was really enjoying herself. They spent the first eight weeks working on a Matisse-inspired painting and it was after she completed hers that she told me she didn’t want to go back. My reaction was swift and strong.
First, the course was expensive, over $200 for the term and it was not covered by our learning funds b/c we registered in the summer. I was upset that this money was going to waste. But then when you think about it, wouldn’t sending a kid to a class they don’t want to be in also be a waste?
Second, Daughter has a habit of quitting classes and I worried that I’m raising a quitter who cannot commit to the end of a process and see it through even when things aren’t so much fun. These are the fears instilled by a society that values institutionalized learning. The truth is, my daughter has shown commitment to those things that interest her: she’s been into dinosaurs and mushrooms for years, for example. And she isn’t quitting because things are too tough; on the contrary it’s because she is bored. Her interests are being captured by other things and she yearns to go explore those instead. Lately her crafting has turned away from painting and drawing to sculpture and collage. What will result if I force her to keep painting for the next eight weeks? What will she learn from that experience? Nothing positive that I can see.
Third, I had invested my own emotions in the place. I gushed about this arts academy to anyone who would listen, and especially to family who always want to know what Daughter is learning these days. It may be that I was more in love with the place than she was, and leaving the class is more upsetting to me because of that. Or it may also be because I took ownership of the class from her by getting so emotionally involved myself, and talking about it to so many people that it became mine instead of hers.
At first I tried to use a combination of reason and subtle force to get her to commit to the class. But ultimately this road led to a brick wall, as it always does and you’d think I’d learn by now. I could threaten to not enroll her in any other classes, but that punishes me more than her! She’s perfectly happy to hang around with me more. And to be honest, this past week when we’ve all been sick and haven’t gone anywhere, I’m impressed with her ability to self-learn. She has been very creative with her crafts lately, she brought out the chess board and played a few rounds with Husband…the truth is that she doesn’t Need these classes at all. And I needed to remind myself of that.
So after coming down too hard on her I told her that she doesn’t need to keep going to the class if she is done with it. The last thing in the world I want to do is sour her on art, or any other subject. She will not be losing anything more than 1 hour of a 25 hour learning week, which she can easily make up for at home or with other activities. It was actually the only class she was taking this term anyways. And the place will still be there next term or next year or two years from now when she is older and able to commit to a longer term project. She was the youngest in her class and frankly, I’m very proud of her for sticking through this long Matisse project and seeing it through ’till the end. I suppose an intensive painting class was asking a bit much for a six year old!
The issues with Daughter and Son are very different, but ultimately the solution has been to sit back and look at the big picture. To trust in their natural abilities and the natural process by which they develop. My son doesn’t need preschool any more than Daughter needs a painting class. There is ample evidence all around us of their continual learning and I need to just trust in that and let it be.