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winter singer 07-18-2014 04:03 PM

In need of a pep talk on unschooling
Hi all,

I'd really appreciate your comments. Our DD will be 6 in September and so far hasn't attended school (we live in France, where most kids start at age 3). Initially we kept her out of school mainly because she was very introverted and sensitive and had a hard time separating from us. Then I read up more on the whole education 'thing', including some of the great resources listed on this forum, and got more and more into the philosophy of unschooling.

So basically we've been unschooling her for the last 3 years, if you can apply a word like 'unschooling' to such a small child.

She's a very different girl now from 3 years ago, much more confident socially, in particular with adults but she also has some good friends who are kids. That reassures me a lot. Another important plus is that she's learning tons and is very open and curious. At times it really feels like a big privilege to be able to accompany her so closely in her education since I'm actually learning lots as well.

I can't help wondering though if she's getting an unrealistic idea of what life is like by being looked after by us so much. The main thing that makes me worry is her behaviour with us. She can be very imperious and demanding and often seems to have the idea that we can just drop everything and play with her at any time. This is despite explaining to her many, many times that we sometimes have to work or for whatever reason, simply can't always be available to play.

I realise she's expressing a need for attention and contact which is valid, but we can't always seem to find good ways to fulfill that need. She's still essentially introverted, despite her increased confidence, and is reluctant to play with kids she doesn't know well (and for that matter, has no interest in going to school), so even though we know several other homeschooling families around here, that doesn't help much.

What often ends up happening is that we end up 'giving in' and playing with her, but that creates time crunch problems for us since we do have work responsibilities too. And also, a part of me can't help wondering if we're spoiling her (I had a rather traditional upbringing myself and haven't totally managed to rid myself of the idea that kids need to be forced to behave well in order to become social. Intellectually I understand that that's wrongheaded but I'm still tuned into it emotionally).

Apparently when she's away on playdates her behaviour is fine - she's only bossy and ungracious with us. But it's very wearing for us at times and I do also wonder if we're giving her an adequate preparation for life out there.

Any thoughts?

SweetSilver 07-19-2014 07:37 AM

I understand your frustration. I wouldn't worry about additional things like whether it's "unrealistic" or not. That adds a entirely new level onto this, and it isn't necessary. For your peace of mind, stop worrying about what's realistic and what isn't. (That's why a lot of kids are sent to school! Apparently it's "realistic"!)

Stick with a very basic problem you are having: she has demands on your time that you can't always give her. The first thing I would do is set some parameters on your time. Morning is my time. I eat, sip coffee, veg in front of my computer while they veg in front of their TV. I might have a minute before I start chores, but I need to "get ready for the day" and start a few chores before I am available. One chore we share is tending to our flock of chickens. It's nice to have something together. They are welcome to join me in my chores, but they need to get started.

I'll admit that I can "hide behind" my chores on some days, but I make an effort to make myself available after lunch. "After lunch we'll do your stuff together." It's a bit harder with one, I imagine. If my girls are busy when I am ready to give them time, I try to put myself in their area-- on the couch to read, out in the chicken coop. Inevitably they bring the results of their play to me, though increasingly I hear "Get up, mom, you're in the way!"

My struggle is being ready to be available when they are ready for me. I try (try try try) to do only the chores that can be interrupted. Lately that's been hard because we've been remodeling the basement and now we are trying to move in and I feel like I *need* to get this done! But basically, "I'm interruptable" works when I'm ready and they aren't. And for the most part, "after lunch" works when they are ready and I'm not.

Try as best you can to make sure that your work can include your daughter, when you can't be torn away from it. I can't think of anything offhand that is strictly off limits to kids and doesn't allow them to engage in at least a side activity. Maybe my husband's chainsaw? :p

We are isolated where we live, and doubly from the fact that we homeschool. But we've found social outlets in activities such as Girl Scouts. We have a great troop, meet weekly during the school year. We've welcomed parents with open arms and because of that we've kept a couple of very quiet, introverted girls in it for 2 years and they've really blossomed. Another girl, selectively mute, left for scheduling conflicts, but she was relaxing with our group as well. This group has become very close, though don't meet up too often outside meetings or activities,

AAK 07-19-2014 08:18 AM

I am rarely on this board since I identify as an eclectic homeschooler vs unschooler. I love the concept though. After reading your post, it seems to me that this is less about unschooling and more about raising an only child. Several of my friends with one child have made remarks during these early years about behavior that you have mentioned. I think that even introverted only children can crave the company of others.

How much time do you need to devote to work each day (without interruptions)? Do you and your dh? work from home? Is it possible to not work exactly the same hours? I ask because I was thinking you could overlap a bit. Like one of you work from 8-2 and the other from noon-6? She would need to be independent during only 2 hours then. I also am wondering if it goes against your idea of unschooling to provide work for her too? For example, the two of you can sit down together and come up with things to do while mommy works. They could include chores, reading, art, mazes, dot to dots, etc. You could create a workbox for her --things available for these times. Is your work at a desk? If she had a desk nearby, would she feel more connected as she played with playdoh or worked a puzzle? Finally, does she have a concept of time? Would she understand if you told her that you need 2 hours to work? If so, she could wear a watch/use a timer/etc. to "countdown" the time until you are available.

Finally, you mention playdates? Are these on a regular basis? Are you able to take advantage of these times to get work done? Could they be set up more often. I don't mean to always send her someplace to play. I find that if my child has a friend over, that I can get a lot of work done.


winter singer 07-19-2014 04:35 PM

Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. I think you're right, AAK, in thinking that this is really mostly an issue of having an only child. It's reassuring to read that others have had similar issues - and that it doesn't mean that she's a complete monster!

She does do some playdates which are great in terms of me getting work done, whether she's at her friends' place or her friend is at our place. She also has some regular activities during the school year which she loves - last year she had dance classes and circus club and this coming year she wants to keep those up and also add a music class, and possibly something else too (one of the nice things about unschooling is that it leaves lots of energy for doing these kinds of things!). Girl scouts, or the equivalent here in France, might well be worth looking into.

I think part of my frustration - and hers - at the moment stems from the fact that we're on holiday right now so those regular activities aren't happening, and also a lot of her friends are away or otherwise unavailable (family visiting etc).

I'll definitely work on putting together an activity box with her. I'll also try to explain more clearly that I need a certain amount of time to work and give her something to help keep track of the time.

She'll be taking some swimming lessons next week which may help.

Sweetsilver, your suggestions about establishing a clear daily rhythm are also very helpful. I'll think over how best to approach this. DD does sometimes join in on our work activities - today she helped me do some cleaning - but I also do some computer-based work that I haven't been able to share with her very effectively up till now.

However your comments made me think about this situation more carefully. She's beginning to read now and her overall comprehension of 'the way the world is' is getting so much broader that I think I should try to explain properly to her what exactly it is I do on the computer (it's editing and research for an environmental non-profit, work I'm fortunate to have and that I really love). I bet she'll have some interesting things to say about it.

Thanks again to both of you!

starling&diesel 07-19-2014 10:45 PM

Hi winter singer,
I'm a parent to two kids, aged 2 and 5, so I don't have the experience that comes with BTDT, per se, but I wanted to mention something that comes up a lot in conversations in my circle, about kids your daughter's age.
Have you heard of Gordon Neufeld? He wrote "Hold Onto Your Kids" (about preserving the attachment between parent and child so that it remains stronger than the draw of peers), and often talks about how children's pre-frontal cortex isn't fully developed until age 6 or 7, which is when (and only just) children can hold contradictions, as is, they can feel angry about ____, but at the same time they understand that do need to do _____.
That's a very shoddy nutshell, so do please look into his theories further, if you're interested.

However, the long and short of what I'm getting at is that SO MANY folks hand over their children to the school system just before this developmental shift happens, when they're experiencing their children as demanding, or defiant, or intense, or exhausting, or what have you, and then 'school' seems to 'cure' the child of whatever behaviour that aggravated/frustrated the parent/child dynamic leading up to enrolling.

Many of my homeschooling parent friends say that they're so glad that they kept their kids home, because shortly after, everything got a lot easier.

Perhaps I'm not being clear, but I wanted to chime in to say that the only sure thing is change, and that your daughter will not always present the challenges that seem so intense now.

I second the routine idea, especially because your daughter is getting to that age where she can understand the idea of 'mama' time, even if it annoys her.

Each morning, I make my kids and myself breakfast, make my cup of coffee, and while they eat at the table, I go to my armchair and eat my breakfast and drink my coffee and read for 1-2 hours. This time is essential to my sanity, truly.
I started with ten minutes, and built it up from there.
Mind you, I have two kids, and often they lean on each other for feedback, help, or entertainment.
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that your post got me thinking.
Take care, mama.

winter singer 07-22-2014 06:07 AM

Thanks, Starling&Diesel! I absolutely love that book by Gordon Neufeld - I have a copy - but it's amazing how I can forget all about some of the most interesting parts of it, such as the cognitive development stuff you mentioned! I just re-read that section now. It does put a whole different perspective on things.


However, the long and short of what I'm getting at is that SO MANY folks hand over their children to the school system just before this developmental shift happens, when they're experiencing their children as demanding, or defiant, or intense, or exhausting, or what have you, and then 'school' seems to 'cure' the child of whatever behaviour that aggravated/frustrated the parent/child dynamic leading up to enrolling.
We have a friend who's in the process of doing just that - she was burnt out from looking after her kid and from some other very stressful things she was dealing with and has now convinced herself that her kid's behaviour is highly problematic and abnormal and that she (the mother) needs to move away from the nonviolent-communication-based relationship she had with her and become much more authoritarian (and also put her in school).

I can certainly sympathize with her but I really don't think her daughter's behaviour is unusual at all for a child of her age.

And I can just see how likely it is that her daughter will soon become much easier to handle - because she's on the cusp of that development shift you mention - and my friend then putting this down to her being in school etc. :serious:

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