Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unschooling: Where do they dig up these "experts"?

I've heard a lot of ridiculous things said about education, but this one takes the cake.  In Australia's Sydney Morning Herald's article Unschooling truly in a class of its own an "expert" is quoted as follows:

''Children on their own without external intervention will never learn to read and write or do mathematics, the three most difficult things that any child will ever learn,'' he said.
''That is why we leave these things to well-educated professionals. That is why we no longer go to witch doctors for medical issues or try and fix our cars, fix faulty electrical systems ourselves.''

Okay, let's take this one piece at a time....

"Children on their own without external intervention will never learn to read and write or do mathematics"

Really?  I think we've all known people who apparently learned to read before they started school when they were 3 or 4.  These days such things would probably be attributed to preschool or possibly an iPad app, but in past generations like my own apps didn't exist and preschool wasn't nearly so common.  What about those people?  What about unschoolers who have have shared their stories of their children learning to read naturally?  Or the story of illiterate Ethiopian children who learned to use and even hack tablets given to them?  
And what's so difficult about math?  The concepts are pretty easy and are part of daily life.  If I have 1 thing and you have 1 thing, when we put them together we have 2 things.  If I have 3 things and give you 1 thing I only have 2 things left, etc.  It's not rocket science after all.  For goodness sake my daughter picked out a little preschool math concept workbook for $1 at the store yesterday!  She did it in the car for fun.

Reading, writing, and mathematics "the three most difficult things 
that any child will ever learn"

Really?  I'd say the most impressive thing a child ever learns is how to walk or talk...this "expert" would probably agree if we lived in a society where children went to school at 6-months-old to be taught those things too.

Meanwhile there are so many more difficult things to learn out there!  What about children who learn to play instruments?  Children who build robots?  Children who dabble with computer programing?  Ask the young teen that invented a solar powered water purification system if learning to read was more complicated.  Personally I found learning to knit at the age of 7 or learning to code HTML at the age of 15 more challenging than learning to read when I was 5.

''That is why we leave these things to well-educated professionals."
Well he might...but I don't!  I am certainly educated enough to answer my child's questions, provide resources, purchase materials, request books from the library, and seek out any help they might need.  My daughter didn't need a "well-educated professional" to sit with her while she read the first Bob Book this morning...she didn't need a professional to count to 100 with her in the car...or a professional to print off handwriting sheets of her name and the names of family and friends per her request....she just needed her mom.  All she needs is a loving parent to listen and follow her lead.

"That is why we no longer go to witch doctors for medical issues..."
I get the feeling this fellow is the sort that would consider a homebirth midwife a witch doctor...but that's a whole other issue.  
Honestly, that is one hell of a jump!  There is a lot between witch doctor and modern medical professional....there is also a whole range of "medical issues" and some of them don't require a doctor, witchy, or otherwise.  For instance a cold is not cancer.  I can deal with a cold without professional help.  If I break a leg I'll see a doctor.  If I sprain my toe I'll tape it up and keep walking.  If my child wants to be a doctor they will go to medical school, but if they want to sing the alphabet song or write a business letter I've got it covered.

"...or try and fix our cars, fix faulty electrical systems ourselves.''
Wait...what?  Apparently I've been doing this all wrong!  I guess I shouldn't change my own oil ever again, huh?
My father is a marine mechanic.  He's not an auto mechanic, an electrician, a contractor, or a plumber....but that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to do all those things.   I'm not a mechanic, an electrician, a contractor, or a plumber either, but that never stopped me from helping my father with all of those things!  When one of the walls in our home was rotting out I helped my father tear it out and rebuild it from scratch.  Yes, we even ran electricity to it!  I also helped remodel the kitchen and bathroom.  After I graduated I got a job doing wiring for a government contractor.  Why the heck can't we do these things ourselves?!  No, I can't replace a transmission myself (my dad probably could, but might not own the appropriate tools for the job...), but there are a lot of other basic repairs and maintenance I can handle on my own.  My husband is an IT guy and still figured out how to pull apart our dryer and replace the motor when it was on the fritz.

Personally I think this "expert" needs to be a bit more self-reliant.
Here's the thing:
There is nothing magical about education.

This is what we need to get through our thick skulls.  Learning does NOT have to be separate from daily life.  Learning does NOT have to be presided over by professionals.  Learning does NOT have to take place in an institution.  Learning does NOT have to be tested, graded, tracked, and recorded.  Learning does NOT have to be a chore!

And thus I am going to go read my child a book about the solar system because she asked me to.  :)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas in a Santa-free home

Every year starting towards the end of November I start to see a lot of discussions pop up around the Internet regarding Santa.  Often these discussions take a rather sour and sometimes angry turn...when people like me chime in on how we don't do Santa a lot of assumption are often made, many of them negative.

I think the problem is that people see Christmas and Santa and almost interchangeable.  If you don't "do" Santa people wonder what is left.  The one exception is when people are against doing Santa due to religious views, in which case people know what is left: Jesus.  People accept that, though often grudgingly, because you kinda have to while remaining polite.  And if you're Jewish?  Well then it's obvious and most people will avoid the topic.

Then there are people like me: non-religious but still not doing Santa.  What's the deal?!  Why wouldn't you do Santa?!  How cold-heard and cruel that is!  Those poor children!  What of their imagination?!  People like me are met with confusion and often anger.  I mean, really, what sort of monster ruins Christmas for their kids?!

Here's the miscommunication: Not "doing" Santa with your kids does not make you anti-Santa.

The Santa pajamas.
My children know about Santa.  We read the stories and watch the movies.  The only difference is that my kids are not under the impression that Santa actually exists.

People who are anti-Santa (usually for religious reasons) actively avoid Santa.  My mother is apparently somewhat anti-Santa (though she did Santa with us when we were little, now she objects to it for religious reasons) and goes so far as to avoid wrapping paper that features the character.  I am NOT anti-Santa at all, however.  I think he's a perfectly fine character.  In our home he's no different than Frosty the Snowman or Thomas the Train.  My daughter has Santa Pajamas and we read The Night Before Christmas almost nightly during the month of December.  The ONLY difference is we are not telling the kids that he is real.  That's it.

It's about what we do, not what we don't do.

Someone once asked me "if you don't do Santa how do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you watch Christmas movies???"
Decorating sugar cookies with Grandma.
The answer is simple: we celebrate the way anyone else does.

We decorate our home.
We pick out a tree.
We string lights.
We sing songs.
We read Christmas books and yes, watch Christmas movies.
We drive around to look at Christmas light displays.
We buy and make gifts for our family and friends.
We do holiday crafts.
We bake cookies.
We decorate gingerbread houses.
We wrap presents.
We stop in to see the Santa at the mall if the kids ask to.
We count down the days to Christmas and get more and more excited as it grows closer.
On Christmas Eve my kids are bursting with excitement and can't wait til Christmas morning.
As soon as they're off to bed their father and I set to work, picking up the living room, redecorating the Christmas tree (since my toddler UN-decorated for me...), adding candy canes to the tree, filling stockings, putting out all the gifts we'd had stashed away, etc.

This year's Christmas spread.  I don't think it's you?

And then morning comes...the kids wake up, bounce out of bed, and insist we get up because they are just so excited that it's CHRISTMAS!

Christmas 2009.  This was the first year Dani knew what was up.  The red table, the foam chair, and the train track in the floor were all unwrapped gifts that she was immediately excited over seeing.  Look at that face!

Christmas 2011.  Oscar didn't really "get it" yet, but he still had fun.
Christmas 2012.  Dani went straight for stockings this year.
Christmas 2012.  Oscar's favorite thing was pulling stuff off the tree.

Much fun is had by all and then we go off to Grandma's house for even more Christmasy excitement.

So why not "do" Santa anyway?  You're not religious after all...

Quite simply we do not feel comfortable telling our children something we know to be untrue...........

 STOP RIGHT THERE!  Do not get offended!  This is about what we are comfortable's not a judgement against anyone else!

Well what about imagination?  Magic?  Fairy tales?

All those things are great!  My kids are very imaginative.  We are also big fans of fantasy in our home, but they are not presented as's that simple.  My daughter is a big fan of The Avengers, but she is not under the impression that there is really a team of superheros residing in New York City and defending the planet from alien invaders and super villains.  I assume other people don't insist to their children that trains really talk or that there is really a school for wizards somewhere in the UK...though I could be wrong.

Well what's the harm in it though?  Santa's fun!

It's not a matter of harm, it's just not something we feel is necessary (although some people don't have a good experience with finding out Santa isn't real...).  Yes, Santa IS fun!  We enjoy Santa as a character just as much as anyone else, but I don't feel the need to present Santa as fact when I know otherwise.  Frosty the Snowman is also fun, should I tell them he is real too?  Why is this one particular character SO important anyway?  What's the harm in NOT doing Santa?

Well they just better not ruin it for MY kids.....

Don't worry, I will clue my kids in on the fact that a lot of kids DO think Santa is real.  We won't argue about religion or Santa, okay?  Cool. 

Christmas 2012.  At Grandma's for even MORE holiday stuff!
What about the other holidays characters like the Easter bunny?  What about the tooth fairy?

We don't "do" those either.  However, we still give the kids a basket of candy and fun stuff in the Spring and whenever they start losing teeth we will give them quarters in exchange.  A basket of candy is still awesome even if it just came from your mom and dad.  Losing teeth and getting quarters for them is still exciting without fairy involvement.

In the end...

...does it really matter how you celebrate at the holidays?  Every family I've ever met had their own unique holiday traditions.  My husband's family opened stockings first at breakfast.  My family opened them last and were too busy tearing stuff open to worry about breakfast at all.  In some homes Santa brings tons of gifts.  In others he only brings a few on is only responsible for filling the stockings.  In some homes he wraps gifts, in some homes he doesn't...if kids all sat down and compared how Santa behaves in their house they'd probably figure out something was up.  Either way, it's not worth fighting over.  We don't do Santa.  No biggy.  Christmas is still Christmas and I should probably start working on next year's gifts I'll just say:

Merry Christmas Anyway!