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UNSCHOOLING.COM ONLINE NEWS
Mid-October 2002

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In this Issue:

John Holt on Motivation
Rules/No Rules
The Squirrels and the Elephants
Send Your Kids to Mars
National Toy Design Challenge
NHEN Unveils New Message Boards
WEB Snacks
Learning Language

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Motivation

This took place in the 1920s, when very few Westerners had ever been to Bali. Margaret Mead was talking to some Balinese, trying to learn about this strange and very different culture. At some point she asked about their art. The Balinese were puzzled by this question. They did not know what she meant by art. So she talked for a while about art and artists in Western cultures. The Balinese considered this for a while. Then one of them spoke.
"Here in Bali we have no art," he said. "We do everything as well as we can."

Very little children are like the Balinese. Just about everything they do, they do as well as they can. Except when tired or hungry, or in the grip of passion, pain, or fear, they are moved to act almost entirely by curiosity, desire for mastery and competence, and pride in work well done. But the schools, and many adults outside of school, hardly ever recognize or honor
such motives, can hardly even imagine that they exist. In their place they put Greed and Fear.

But what about people who have taken out school children who have been numbed and crippled in spirit by years of "reinforcement," petty rewards and penalties, gold stars, M & M's, grades, Dean's Lists? How can unschoolers revive in their children those earlier, deeper, richer sources of human action? It is not easy. Perhaps the only thing to do is to be patient and wait. After all, if we do not constantly re-injure our bodies, in
time they usually heal themselves. We must act on faith that the same is true of the human spirit. In short, if we give children enough time, as free as possible from destructive outside pressures, the chances are good that they will once again find within themselves* their reasons for doing worthwhile things. And so, in time, may we all.

John Holt in Teach Your Own (1981)

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Rules/No Rules

What do you do instead of ________________ (fill in the blank)?

The answers to these questions so often don't seem to be heard or are sort of overlooked. I think that's because they don't entirely sound like "answers" to people who are looking for another concrete rule to replace the one they're giving up. What we really give them are very general principles and examples of how those play out in our own specific and idiosyncratic lives - but that's hard to "get" when you're looking for a rule.

If we don't have a rule that says "bedtime is at 9 pm," then what bedtime rule DO we have? Lost of times people think that the new rule is then ONLY, "bedtime is whenever it happens." They think that means the parents stop thinking about the child's sleep needs. But, in all the families that I know who have no rule about bedtimes, the parents are consciously and actively
helping their kids get a good sense of taking care of their sleep needs. The rule doesn't just flip-flop from bedtime to "no bedtime" -- there is a whole huge different way of handling and learning about sleep needs that replaces the entire concept of a "bedtime."

To change the subject but make the same point...

People at park day were having a conversation about video games and some of us were talking about not setting limits on them. As usual, someone assumed that that meant that our kids would be spending 24 hours a day, day after day, only on that with no other interests developing, etc. So we were talking about that - about all the OTHER stuff that we do and how they learn, etc. (You've heard it all before, here, so I'm not repeating all that -- but it was a lot of discussion there at the park.)

Then - there was this startling moment when one person said, "But it is so expensive to buy video games -- how can you let them have unlimited video games without going broke? We could never afford that."

Silence.

Wow. Talk about flip-flopping. She took us arguing against rules like "You may have exactly one hour per day of video game time," or "You may spend the afternoon playing absolutely anything you want as long as it doesn't involve TV or videogames" as saying that we'd buy our kids an unlimited stock of whatever videogames they wanted?

Well - some of the kids happened to BE there right then and heard that bit and THEY reacted immediately with, "We usually have to buy our OWN games." She was somewhat bewildered, I think. In fact, I think it was news to her that we didn't control the videogame time of our kids with arbitrary rules.

The thing that amused me was that she'd heard "unlimited videogames" as meaning that we would BUY them whatever they wanted whenever they wanted them.

Talk about a failure to communicate!!! When we say what we do NOT do (we don't have bedtimes, for example) we sometimes can't even imagine what people might be thinking we do do <G>.

Pam Sorooshian in a conversation on the Unschooling.com email list.

Join the conversation! Send a blank email to:
[email protected]
Or visit the email list website at:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Unschooling-dotcom

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The Squirrels and the Elephants

"Relating control issues to 'squirrels and elephants" is helpful in deciding what's worth making an issue about with a child -- what is safe autonomy and what is dangerous -- and what behaviors are really necessary to control. The parents have a big gun, but they only have a limited amount of ammunition. They've got to save that ammunition for the elephants, and not shoot the squirrels. So if a child tries to run across the street or put his or her finger into the light socket, that's something that warrants shooting off the gun. Those are dangerous, elephant-size issues.
They involve serious, potentially life-threatening consequences, and they warrant a loud, fast, clear, and very firm reaction -- a very large bang.

On the other hand, if you start using your elephant ammunition on every squirrel that runs around your house -- every mess the child makes, every food the child eats -- you're going to run out of ammunition when you really need it for life-and-death areas.

Practice letting the squirrels go by letting food issues go. In the context of the child's need for experimentation and independence, eating sugared cereal or an extra cookie at age two, or five, or ten is simply not a dangerous behavior -- certainly not the equivalent of stepping out into traffic or drinking household poisons."

from Let Them Eat Cake! : The Case Against Controlling What Your Children Eat: The Pediatrician's Guide to Safe and Healthy Food and Growth by Ronald E. Kleinman, M.D., Michael S. Jellinek, M.D., with Julie Houston (1994) (Later republished as What Should I Feed My Kids? : The Pediatrician's Guide to Safe and Healthy Food and Growth)


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Send Your Kids to Mars

4 - 3 - 2 - 1 - Ignition - Liftoff !
In 2003, twin Mars Rovers will be launched towards the Red Planet. Once on the surface, the Rovers will be able to travel significant distances and use several instruments to help scientists determine the climate and water history in Mars' present and past.

"Everyone on Earth who has ever dreamed of being an explorer on an alien planet will want to go along for the ride as we explore the surface of Mars" invites Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for the Office of Space Science. So please join us on this exciting journey of learning and exploration by including your name on the Mars Name Disc!

You can send your name to Mars by filling out the form online at:
http://spacekids.hq.nasa.gov/2003/details.htm
Once you have done this you will receive a "Success" page where you will be able to print a commemorative certificate and bookmark it for later viewing. All the names collected will be recorded onto a small DVD disk that will be attached to the lander that will travel to the surface of Mars.
The DVD disk and its mounting assembly are being provided as part of the Red Rover Goes to Mars educational experiment on the Mars Exploration Rover-2003 mission. Each rover will photograph and return to Earth a picture of each DVD disk of names as they rest on the Martian surface.

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National Toy Design Challenge

The Sally Ride Science Club and Smith College have announced the launch of TOYchallenge, a national toy design competition that through fun, play, and imagination, will encourage girls' and boys' interest in engineering and inspire them to pursue careers in this area. The winners of the contest, which is sponsored by Hasbro, Inc. will be announced at a National Showcase in June, 2003.

TOYchallenge is based on the first-year engineering design course at Smith College and will challenge teams of middle school-age kids from across the country to design their own toys.

TOYchallenge guidelines and application forms are available at
http://www.toychallenge.com/

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NHEN Unveils New Message Boards
http://nhen.org/forum

The National Home Education Network (NHEN) is incredibly excited to announce the creation of new online message boards. These boards, devoted entirely to legislative topics, will allow participants to discuss a wide variety of issues. Recent conversations include an in-depth look at standardized testing in which one participant writes: “I think it's ludicrous beyond belief for state laws to require homeschooled students to score at
or above a certain percentile on a standardized group achievement test that is norm-referenced…” In response, participants offer research and analysis, answer questions, and engage in spirited conversation. This is just one of many conversations taking place.

Discussions range from lists of books on education, to educational reform, to homeschooling regulation, and beyond. Six distinct forum areas contain numerous folders for discussion of wide-ranging issues. These boards are easy to search and are conveniently segmented to allow on-topic, in-depth discussion.

You may be wary about utilizing message boards. You may believe, based on other experiences, that they will be unwieldy or difficult to use. Not true at all! These boards are loaded with features that make navigation a breeze. For instance, you can sign up to get new messages sent to your e-mail address. You can edit or delete your posts. You can add a hyperlink to your posts, track all activity since your last visit, and search posts for specific topics. There is even a FAQ to help you learn about all
the features:

http://nhen.org/forum/faq.asp#format

What, you might be thinking, happened to the Legislative List that was so active? Most of its activity has been transferred to the message boards, but the Legislative List remains, albeit in a somewhat altered format. The Legislative List has been transformed into an announcement type list where brief announcements or requests for information can be posted.
During this time of transformation all posts will pass through our capable moderator, Kay Brooks, as she helps members discover what is appropriate for that list and what is more appropriate for the new message boards.

Please join this new online community at http://nhen.org/forum.

National Home Education Network
http://www.NHEN.org
Changing the Way the World Sees Homeschooling!

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WEB Snacks

http://gslc.genetics.utah.edu/units/activities/
Do Try This At Home! How to Extract DNA from Anything Living

http://www.howstuffworks.com/unsolved-history.htm
How stuff Works takes a look at the Discovery Channel's new series, Unsolved History - a show with "a little something for the history buff, the science fan and the tech-head."

http://www.cut-the-knot.org/index.shtml
Interactive Mathematics Miscellany and Puzzles - play along

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Learning Language

You have to look at the world through the eyes of children to find out how much children learn. If you look from the point of view of an experienced adult you will pay too much attention to those things that children do not yet know, rather than giving them credit for the intellectual feats they have already achieved. Take the elementary matter of working out that written language says things.

How do children get the idea that written language is worth paying attention to in the first place? How do they learn that there is a difference between print and the pattern on the wallpaper? Before children can learn anything specific about reading and writing, they have to work out that writing does
things that decoration does not. Most three-year-old children can show where it tell you that the contents of the package is corn flakes. They point to the "words," not to the decoration. They may claim the words say, "Corn Flakes," when the word they are pointing to reads, "Cereal," and what they are showing is that they have learned the distinction between the print and the decoration...

....Parents can see the development of insight into written language by just watching the changing way children use markers and paper. The first marks are likely to be balls of spaghetti, tangled scribbles and stab marks, whether they represent writing or pictures. But while the "drawings" tend to organize themselves into strokes and loops in the middle of the page, "writing" becomes unraveled into individual lines, horizontal or vertical depending on the conventions of the community in which the child lives. Soon the lines get breaks in them, as children discover the existence of words, and in due
course the individual words are broken up into "letters," even though the child may have to invent many of them. The young author may even ask you to read the story that has been written in these lines and squiggles. Meaning comes first -- the process of understanding written language starts with understanding entire stories or statements and then goes on to understand-
ing sentences, words, and finally letters, the reverse of the way most children are expected to learn to "read' in school.

Frank Smith in Insult to Intelligence (1986)

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Final Thought

"The most important question any thinking creature can ask itself
is, "What is worth thinking about?" When we deny it's right to decide
that for itself, when we try to control what it must attend to and
think about, we make it less observant, resourceful, and adaptive,
in a word, less intelligent, in a blunter word, more stupid."

John Holt in Teach Your Own

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[email protected]

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