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The axe falls on unschooling

post #1 of 129
Thread Starter 
In another thread, I wrote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post
My kids have all been completely unschooled (until today -- the axe has fallen today, courtesy of the dad in this house, and things will be changing tomorrow for the older kids).
And Dar wrote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dar View Post
... and I want to hear more about the axe falling, but perhaps you should start a new thread...
So here I am. Some background first, concerning the gist of our unschooling over the past few years.

Dd15 has become exceedingly driven and passionate about her violin studies. She also entered school part-time a year and a bit ago, doing a small selection of advanced academic courses, mostly outside her areas of natural interest. She's got major weirdness going on in her sleep-wake cycles, preferring to pull all-nighters once or twice a week, then sleeping until dark to catch up. She rarely lifts a finger to help around the house and doesn't interact much with the rest of the family. (She lives in the city part-time to study violin, and even here has her own detached cabin for a bedroom.) She's extremely introverted and stubborn, as well as highly sedentary. She is, despite her various issues, a very high achiever. She scored almost 100% on her courses and provincial exams, and is very advanced as both a violinist and pianist. She also has a part-time job (6-10 hours a week).

Ds13 has become increasingly immersed in computer gaming. He rarely lifts a finger to help around the house. His habit is to stay up until 4 a.m. gaming, then sleep until noon. He has almost no interest in social interaction, physical activity or hobbies. He used to enjoy being outside, training the dog, building things, messing about with tools and toys, hanging out with friends, going on hikes, but those things have gradually got squeezed out of his life as his computer use has gone from 3 to 6 hours a day up to 12 to 15 hours a day. On the plus side -- he is a good viola player and practices every day, and he sings in a youth choir. He enjoys both of these, but hates leaving the house (and the computer) to go to rehearsals and lessons. He sits sullen and half-asleep in the van for up to 8 hours as we drive to his various musical things, refusing audiobooks, music or conversation.

Dd11 is pleasant and sociable. She helps around the house occasionally. She has some interests like knitting and baking, which she's quite accomplished at. She enjoys reading and likes academic bookwork. In the past few months, though, she's got more and more interested in the gaming her brother is into, and often stays up way past midnight watching him play. She is now spending about half the time she did a few months ago on her hobbies, book-based learning and social activities. She sleeps in very late and would rather curl up with her iPod watching videos than do most of the things that used to interest her. She usually declines to get involved in things like hikes, craft projects and other activities.

Dd6 is a little dynamo who is full of interests. She is sociable and helpful and is game for almost anything. She stays up until 10 pm but is raring to go at 8 in the morning.

Dh is a small-town doc, and is on-call for the ER a lot. Meaning he's home a fair bit of the time on weekends and in the evenings but on edge, needs to be ready to respond to a phone call at an instant's notice, and really values what sleep he can get. We have a relatively small home (1600 sqft). He's rarely expressed any opinions or concerns about the kids -- whether general parenting stuff or unschooling. Even if I ask him what he thinks, he usually just says "yeah, that sounds okay" to whatever I say.

But the past year or two has got him increasingly concerned about the older kids. They're academically fine in terms of literacy, writing and math -- easily on grade level, probably a good bit beyond in many respects. His concern is really about their lifestyle and work ethic -- the chaotic evenings, late nights which feed into his insomnia troubles, the sleeping the day away, lack of meaningful family interaction, obsessive computer-gaming, negligible contribution to the household, etc..

The truth is, I worry about the same things. But I worry privately and just deal with my worries. The kids and I often hold democratic family meetings where we discuss these issues and others, but nothing ever seems to really change. They make half-hearted attempts to change; they seem to want to be more helpful, more productive members of our family and community. But they don't follow through. They want to play Team Fortress 2 or to watch YouTube videos more than they want to be helpful and productive.

When dh voiced his concerns to me I told him he should bring them to a family meeting. Not in an authoritarian way, but so that the kids would understand his worries and frustrations and be able to help find solutions. Being considerate of others' feelings is part of what we work for at our Meetings. And that should include dh's feelings.

So we had our meeting yesterday. At one point he said to the middle kids "I think homeschooling isn't working and I really think you kids should go to school. It would structure your days and you'd probably be happier."

The middle two kids are emphatic about not going to school. Ds13 burst into tears at that point. He has some pretty huge anxieties about evaluations, competition, comparative learning, benchmarks and the like. He's dysgraphic, perfectionistic and output-challenged. He would not be a good fit for a school that relies on written output for evaluation. Dd11 would probably do fine, but her skills and interests are very advanced for her age, and there's no way she'd be challenged by anything other than the workload. And she hates the idea of spending all day at school.

So we spent a lot of time exploring alternatives, compromises that would help put daddy's anxieties and frustrations at rest, whilst preserving the kids' educational autonomy. In the week before the meeting, we'd pretty much solved the evening chaos / sleep issue with an agreed-upon 11pm bedroom-curfew. The kids are fine with this. Ds13 (who moaned a lot about the idea at its inception) actually volunteered that he likes it now.

So I hoped we could find a similar compromise for work ethic issues. I asked "can you think of anything that you'd be willing to do a bit differently to help daddy be less worried and frustrated by this?" But the middle kids could not come up with any suggestions for compromises. None at all. They would not go to school. They did not want to adjust anything about their daily lives to appease their dad's concerns. Ds just wanted to be left free to play games on the computer for 14-16 hours a day. Even though he understood that, for example, family members should help each other with the running of the household, his response was "I know I should, but I just don't want to. I like playing on the computer more."

So what was left? I was pretty sure dh was on the verge of dragging them across the street and registering them all school (our meeting was at a café looking over the schoolyard). So I suggested 2 hours a day of structured home-schooling, and one significant chore a day. No computer use until that is done. A two-week trial, then a re-evaluation.

Dh said okay. The kids said "do we have to?" And I said "yes, you have to."

So there goes Consensual Living.

Today was day one.

Ds was in tears for an hour. He finally did some good math work. A little prose work / editing. And finished up watching a Teaching Company physics lecture. Dd11 had some tears over handwriting which wasn't as neat as she hoped. She was minimally enthusiastic but compliant. She did some algebra, AP biology, handwriting, music theory and watched a history lecture on DVD. Dd6 did some Hands-on Equations, handwriting, music theory, history and math drill and she loved it all and asked for extra work.

Tomorrow will be day two.

Years ago I read a post by someone who said "I'd love to unschool, but my son really needs the structure." I thought about that a bit. I wondered "what if my kids really need structure too? How would I ever know?" I figured I'd help my kids create their own structure if they wanted it. But what if they never wanted it, but needed it? Like they needed that nasty-tasting Clarithromycin when they had whooping cough? I'm willing to reserve judgment at this point. Perhaps this is my family's opportunity to discover that we need structure, even if we don't necessarily want to create it.

Miranda
post #2 of 129
I am a bit confused by the 2 hours of structured homeschooling. I can understand your DH and you feeling concerned but as you said that academics weren't the issue the homeschooling solution seemed to come out of left field. Not sure how it helps meaningful family time or why your DH didn't come up with something to do as a family.
ETA: not sure how sending them to school was going to address those concerns either. As I said, I can understand the worries but was left feeling puzzled by the end of your post.
post #3 of 129
Thread Starter 
The issues he wants to see addressed are of developing self-discipline and a work ethic, and the ability to cope with structure and challenge. Obviously the medium used for developing those skills could be anything. Since he's rarely available in any prolonged, meaningful way (the on-call thing being what it is) he can't initiate structured projects or activities with the kids. It's got to be me doing it. By meaningful family time he means children who speak at the dinner table, or say hello when he arrives home, rather than bolting to stare at a computer screen.

The kids like working solo, being mostly introverts, so for structured expectations they want things they can do by themselves anyway. And they are actually quite interested in most academic areas, being rather academically inclined. So the combination of academics and chores seemed like a reasonable starting point.

I suppose we could have gone with three hours a day of wood carving or baking or dog-training or a marathon training program. And we may end up with something like that. But in the absence of suggestions from the kids this is what we ended up with.

Sending them to school would give them a daily structured routine, plus the challenge of dealing with assignments and deadlines. I think it would address those issues reasonably well. At a big cost, though.

Miranda
post #4 of 129
That's hard. I mean, consensual living means coming to some accord that works for each member of the family, and for the goals of the family as a whole, if I understand it correctly. Not contributing in any way toward family life, isolating oneself, spending 75% of the day on the computer playing games...that's all very individualistic rather than consensual, it seems. Consensual can't be all take with no give...nor can it be all give and no take.

I don't have any answers. I'm pretty new at this. But I thought maybe reframing it would help you gain some perspective? Maybe your dh could reframe what he wants to happen, and maybe your children could rethink their understanding of consensual living? It does seem like something needs to change, if this isn't working for everyone.
post #5 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post
By meaningful family time he means children who speak at the dinner table, or say hello when he arrives home, rather than bolting to stare at a computer screen.
I don't know how school would change this particular bit. In fact, given their personalities couldn't it be realistically possible that going to school would only make it worse? I know as an introvert I found school positively draining which could potentially make them more isolated when it comes to other family members instead of less.

I'd also agree with earthmama369 I don't think what you're describing is very much like what I would picture when I hear the term "consensual living". I think part of being in a family means you have to share some of the responsibility that goes along with that. They benefit from the meals that are made, the laundry that is done, the house that is cleaned, etc - why shouldn't they be helping with it? And if they don't help, what would be the harm in experiencing some of the consequences that go along with that (i.e. no dinner, no clean clothes or something along those lines)? For the 15, 13, 11 it's not like you're talking about a toddler.

We don't practice consensual living so I can't say for sure what would be the most appropriate way to handle it, but perhaps it's a start?
post #6 of 129


I hope the next two weeks work well, if they don't I hope you will contnue to problem solve. The solution to your problesm, do not, I think, lay in school. Work ethic, self-desicipline, quality family time? Those are not school issues or problems that can be solved in a school.

I do think structure would very much come about from enrolling in school - but I do not think structure is something everyone needs. Some people need structure to thrive and some thrive on a more organic peaks and valleys way of being and both are fine. Do your children need external structure? I don't know.

I do know I am often a little frustrated when someone decides USing isn't working so enrolls their child in school,particualrly if their child does not want to go to school. There are so many other ways to HS and I am glad you and your DH are open to investigating them and finding another way of HS that works for everyone. Going from USing to PS without DC's consent would be quite the culture shock -there is middle ground.

In some ways it sounds like your son is addicted to screens. Perhaps focusing on reducing or breaking the addiction will bring about the changes your Dh would like to see? Maybe he will once again engage with friends and family when his addiction is lessened?

I think if he play viola and sings in a choir (particularly the viola) he should have some work ethic and be challenged - but perhaps not?

I do know as the parent of a bright children I find finding meaningful challenge for them (or them finding it for themselves) a huge challenge. That would not change (and would be worse in my case) if they were in school. Sure - they would be challenged as they filled in gaps in their knowledge and increased their writing skills - but that would not take too longto do - and then what???

All of the above was meant as food for thought - take what works and ignore the rest. Sending all sorts of hugs and support across many provinces....

Kathy
post #7 of 129
Thanks for sharing the journey with us. Sometimes rough bumps like this actually bring about good changes. It sounds like the middle kids might awaken to an awareness of their family responsibilities by having to do a few things that aren't their ideas. Not fun, but sometimes necessary, like your medicine analogy.

I'm not sure how schooling will look for us in the future. My kids are still so young. But it is really good to hear about the adjustments and changes others make in their approach as something to think about as I go along.

Let us know how the next two weeks go... and hang in there! To me, structured homeschooling is hardest on Mom.
post #8 of 129
Yes, thank you so much for sharing your journey. I hope you will keep us updated during the trial period.

I remember a while ago someone saying that a key to homeschooling/unschooling is about setting the environment up for success. To that end, have you considered keeping the unschooling but ditching the TV/computer/iPods and letting them figure out an alternative?
post #9 of 129
Since the academics aren't an issue here, I think that instead of structuring the learning more, I'd structure the environment more. Ditch the computer time- essentially. Sure, play for an hour or so each day, then shut them off and interact as a family. When meals are served, eat dinner together, everyone can take part in preparing the meals etc...
post #10 of 129
I wish you well in finding the answers and a solution that works for your family It does sound like the kids need to wake up to their family responsibilities. That is a challenge no matter how kids are schooled!
post #11 of 129
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by earthmama369 View Post
That's hard. I mean, consensual living means coming to some accord that works for each member of the family, and for the goals of the family as a whole, if I understand it correctly.
Yes, I agree. And that's what I've been trying to do for years ... to build that tradition of co-operation and mutual support through collaborative problem-solving -- and to work together to define the goals of the family as a while.

In many ways it works pretty well. Here's the good stuff. The kids are funny and interesting people. People out in the community think they're the best things since sliced bread. They are well-spoken, respectful of each other and of others. They are very talented and are wonderful in group-learning environments like aikido, orchestra, choir and the like, where they are paragons of virtue -- focused, responsive and fine examples to others. We have made some creative decisions about prioritizing outside-the-home activities, several of which have involved big sacrifices from siblings in order to support other siblings' interests and desires. Such sacrifices have been made cheerfully and willingly. The kids are amazingly patient, and generous within the community with their time and their money. They seldom argue with each other. They are extremely trustworthy, never getting into mischief and have been left "home alone" with lots of responsibility from quite a young age. We have never used punishment as a parenting tool, and all our rules and limits have been collaboratively derived, rather than issued by parental decree. I say all this not to brag, but to put some perspective on the negative stuff I've shared to this point.

In the area of sharing the household responsibilities our success has been minimal with the older two. They have experienced the consequences of not helping -- and they honestly don't seem to mind wearing the same clothes for weeks on end or eating granola or dried apple slices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most things it's not so easy to let the consequences happen. If no one brings in firewood, we all get cold. If no one feeds the animals, the animals suffer. If no one ploughs the driveway dh can't get to work. If no one takes out the compost we get problems with vermin.

So it's really the screen time (the middle two) and the lack of contribution to household management (the older two) that are the issues at this point. Although I agree with others that this isn't an academic issue at all, what I notice is that my kids tend to get locked into particular solitary activities to the point of obsessiveness. Sometimes their obsessions have been more "acceptable" by mainstream standards -- my eldest's obsession with reading (12+ hours a day at age five), my ds's obsession with formal math when he was 10, my 6yo's obsession with piano these days. But they do tend to get "locked into" things.

My husband's theory is that if we can get them wrenched out of their patterns of obsession with some sort of strict daily routine, they will rediscover other interests and begin taking a greater part in the world around them. I do see evidence that there may be some truth in that. When we've had brief stints of heavy structure, like, say, during music school weeks, or while on a volunteer vacation at a agricultural gleaning operation, the kids have been much happier and more sociable, and have come away with more energy and more interest in the world around them, a situation which carried over for at least several weeks afterwards. And then there's the recent example that ds actually likes having an imposed bedtime! He would never choose for himself to shut down the computer at 11 pm, but after a week of having that rule imposed on him he has said "Keep making me go to bed at eleven, okay? Even if I say I don't want to."

Miranda
post #12 of 129
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by confustication View Post
Since the academics aren't an issue here, I think that instead of structuring the learning more, I'd structure the environment more. Ditch the computer time- essentially. Sure, play for an hour or so each day, then shut them off and interact as a family.
I forgot to mention the other big decision we made, which was to re-institute our tradition of Screen-Free Days. One day a week -- no screens at all, except for dh at work for his charting. This has proven very helpful in the past at breaking cycles of computer-obsession.

We have difficulty with severe restrictions on computer time because we do all use the computer as a tool -- dd15 for her writing class moodle, me and the kids for reporting for our umbrella school, my music publishing work, everyone doing digital imaging, DVD lectures, music-listening that is part of their music studies, all the academic-related stuff that is on the computer like Rosetta Stone, Discovery Streaming, the writing the kids do through blogging, etc.. And the things my ds does on the computer, some of them are really amazing. He's big into game-modding, scripting and a bit of more pure programming. So there is a lot of value that comes from the computer.

Which reminds me, we just picked up a spinning wheel from a friend and my girls want to search YouTube videos so we can figure out how to use it.

Miranda
post #13 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by confustication View Post
Since the academics aren't an issue here, I think that instead of structuring the learning more, I'd structure the environment more. Ditch the computer time- essentially. Sure, play for an hour or so each day, then shut them off and interact as a family. When meals are served, eat dinner together, everyone can take part in preparing the meals etc...
I agree with this, and it seems like you're making some changes in this direction as well.

Good luck! It might take some time, some trial and error, but with you all working together you can figure this all out and all be really satisfied with the outcome. You know, one of the principles of consensual living is that in every situation, there is a solution that works for everyone involved. Even though you're stepping away from the CL aspect, I think that keeping that in mind and striving for that, even as you bring in imposed bedtimes and parent-guided schedules, will really help you to feel confident and trusting that your family is terrific and capable, and that good things are afoot for all of you as a unit.

Your kids sound wonderful and simply amazing.
post #14 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post
But what if they never wanted it, but needed it? Like they needed that nasty-tasting Clarithromycin when they had whooping cough? I'm willing to reserve judgment at this point. Perhaps this is my family's opportunity to discover that we need structure, even if we don't necessarily want to create it.

Miranda
Not trying to start an unschooling debate...but this hits on something I've wondered about. Instead of whooping cough, let's say something like a child has an ongoing problem like being winded and not getting good deep breathes. If you once were someone who could breathe well you'd likely know the difference when you started being winded. But, if you'd always been winded or if it came on gradually wouldn't that really just be your normal and not know how much better you'd feel if you could breathe well? So, I wonder without having the experience of feeling routine/structure/rhythm is it reasonable to expect the kids who may need it to recognize that and have the skills to create it?

Miranda - I'm wondering with your son how the viola practice works. Does he on his practice before he turns on the computer or turn off the computer in order to practice? I'm wondering if there was parental help to get to a routine there or if it was self constructed. Given it sounds like the viola part works, I'm wondering if there are any clues why that works when other stuff doesn't seem to work so well and if there may be ideas that could help with other parts of his life.

I'm also wondering if there was a time when the computer took up less of a presence what changed - age? number of computers? less out of the house commitments? etc.
post #15 of 129
Makes perfect sense. Homeschooling is all about being flexible and adaptable to me, sometimes things work well one year and don't the next.

I am constantly revising our situation and making adjustments.
post #16 of 129
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roar View Post
Miranda - I'm wondering with your son how the viola practice works. .... Given it sounds like the viola part works, I'm wondering if there are any clues why that works when other stuff doesn't seem to work so well and if there may be ideas that could help with other parts of his life.

I'm also wondering if there was a time when the computer took up less of a presence what changed - age? number of computers? less out of the house commitments? etc.
Great questions. I was talking about the first question with a friend today. Her family is also unschooling and doing music lessons, and her kids are also practicing well every day. We think that the main reason it works is that the kids "pretty much almost have to" practice. It's non-negotiable in that if you want to continue lessons, you have to do what the teacher asks. Which is to take the guidance you're given and the instructions for further practice and do something with it. And since the relationship with the teacher is a valued and respectful, and the kids don't want to forgo that relationship, they practice. In other words, practicing is almost verging on coerced. Required. Dictated by the teachers and the parents and the circumstances. The whole equation being agreed upon by the children as reasonable at the outset, but parental and teacher 'requirements' being the ongoing impetus. The kids would be perfectly entitled to quit their lessons rather than practice, but none of them would ever do that. So they just practice.

When did the computer use escalate? When the kids got old enough to opt to stay home when I had to be elsewhere. Meaning they no longer had to travel to community events, sibling activities or on family social visits that the majority of the family, including the adult(s) needed or wanted to attend. That "home alone" age coincided with pre-adolescence, when they've tended to turn inwards anyway.

Miranda
post #17 of 129
I'm just curious as to what your child would do if you said "yeah, I know I should feed you (or go to the store), but I just don't feel like it. I think I'm going to hang out at Mothering.com all day long."

I'm all for following your interests but you're a family. I think part of living in a house with other people is taking responsibility for things. They need to help. They need to SPEAK WITH EACH OTHER.

I'm definitely not a radical unschooler...and I believe in rules. Yes, I believe that you're the parent and you should have a say-so in how things go.

It just seems like a sad place right now. I hope things will get better.
post #18 of 129
We started with a similar music practice policy but pretty quickly it took over as something the child wanted to do not because he didn't want to disappoint the teacher or lose the lessons. Rather it was because he learned that it felt really good to have this routine. The music feels good and getting better is satisfying. So I'm wondering do you have to revisit the music practice limit with your kids and issue reminders? Does the teacher need to do so?

If part of what makes music work is the relationship with the teacher and the regular opportunity to be engaged with others around this interest, I'm wondering if he may need something like this with academics as well. That doesn't mean school necessarily but maybe more mentors or outside teachers if that's a possibility. Even with a pretty extreme introvert, we reached a point where we started to see lack of direction and loneliness if there was not enough outside.
post #19 of 129
Quote:
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post

My husband's theory is that if we can get them wrenched out of their patterns of obsession with some sort of strict daily routine, they will rediscover other interests and begin taking a greater part in the world around them. I do see evidence that there may be some truth in that. When we've had brief stints of heavy structure, like, say, during music school weeks, or while on a volunteer vacation at a agricultural gleaning operation, the kids have been much happier and more sociable, and have come away with more energy and more interest in the world around them, a situation which carried over for at least several weeks afterwards. And then there's the recent example that ds actually likes having an imposed bedtime! He would never choose for himself to shut down the computer at 11 pm, but after a week of having that rule imposed on him he has said "Keep making me go to bed at eleven, okay? Even if I say I don't want to."

Miranda
Ah, that tells you a lot.

It sounds like you've identified the problems and once you've done that it is good to revisit what has worked in the past and try it again.

I'll be interested to see what comes from this experiment especially to hear what the kids have to say next time you meet to discuss this.
post #20 of 129
Growing up we never had imposed bedtimes. But one of my siblings would ask my mom to tell her to go to bed...

Sometimes I feel like my ds gets in a bit of a rut (more minor than what you described with your kids). I always felt like a road trip was good for knocking him out of it. But he is easy in some ways, an extrovert who generally accepts invitations to do things with other people.

Good luck!
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