Tag Archives: respect

Mindful Learning and What You Can Miss if You’re Not Present

Mindful Learning and What Parents Can Miss

Mindful learning involves being present in our children’s lives, trusting them to learn, and enjoying the process.

Maybe it’s because I spent some time on the vendor section of a virtual homeschooling conference website. Or maybe it’s because I read an article in the business press referring to homeschooling as “an industry.” Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about what we miss because we’re too busy planning the next “educational” outing for our life learning children. Or watching out for the next “teachable moment.” Or chasing what we think is the correct unschooling definition or the ideal life learning lifestyle.

And, yes, we life learners are prone to getting in our own way as much as the parents who are the target market for the conference vendors that make up the industry. Our concern that we’re not doing enough for our kids can result in busyness that we mistake for facilitation. Our momentary lack of confidence in the process can lead us to seek out products and advice that will supposedly help us do it “better.”

But what if success lies with doing less rather than more, with being rather than doing? Think “mindful learning.”

I’ve long been focused on mindfulness and mindful learning. And I’m pretty sure I enjoyed my life learning daughters as much as I could when they were children. But I’m also sure I was often overly-involved with writing, magazine production work, and community activism – or, as one of them reminded me recently, advising new life learners over the phone while the rest of the family ate dinner. And sometimes, I was just too tired or burnt out to be present for, let alone appreciate, each precious moment of our family’s life.

I know I trusted my daughters to develop into the adults they now are, and I respected them as individuals from the time they were born. But the years went by quickly. And I wish I had even more of those wonderful moments to marvel at now. On many days, I forgot to record about the good times in my journal; don’t you do that.

Here are some more keys to mindful learning and living that I suggest you consider:

  • Stay in the present with your children. Enjoy them where they are right now. Share their wonder at a snail making its slow way across the sidewalk. Celebrate with them their video game victory. Notice the feel of their hand in yours as you walk to the park. Play; be silly with them and laugh.
  • Keep in mind that childhood is a real stage of life, not a rehearsal for adulthood.
  • Trust your kids. Remember that the hour of playing with their pet bunny holds lots of learning.
  • Trust yourself to do what’s right for your kids. (Remember that most of us went to school and need to deschool ourselves before we can fully trust ourselves and our kids to learn without school.)
  • Stop trying to control or measure your children’s learning. If they take your lead and remain engaged with the present moment, they will learn. Remember that you don’t really have much control over their learning anyway – it’s mostly in their hands.
  • Pay attention to the difference between manipulation and facilitation. Your kids are watching you, so model learning behavior. Your role is to introduce them to the wonders of the world but not to try and force their interest in any one of them.
  • Remember that learning happens best when it’s not the goal but the byproduct of living.
  • Don’t overcommit, either your kids or yourself. Do they really need all those play dates, classes, and clubs? Examine the real purpose behind them all: Are you signing them up because they really want the activity or because you worry they won’t get enough socialization or stimulation?
  • And lastly, look after yourself. While taking care of everyone else and their learning, make time for you. When you’re not burnt out, you’ll be more apt to stay in the present and not miss all those wonderful moments with your kids. You will have to trust me on that one.

Mindful learning involves being present in our lives. Those learning moments (as opposed to teachable moments!) that we all pursue will happen on their own without your fretting or planning. Pay attention to them – and all the other moments of your family’s life – and you will not regret missing anything.

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Adultism: The Last Frontier of “isms”?

Adultism

I want to talk about adultism. It is one of many “isms” in our vocabulary – racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, and so on – which address discrimination on the basis of things like ethnicity, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical abilities. Many of us try to overturn these “isms” in our own lives and in the broader culture. But adultism is one “ism” that isn’t so often dealt with – even by progressives. In fact, I think that it may be the last frontier of “isms.”

In our culture (and many, if not most, others in the world), adults have a special status of control over kids. Adults make decisions for children (their own and other people’s), create rules that govern children’s day-to-day lives, and generally tell kids what to do. That often manifests in ordering, yelling, directing, preaching, disciplining, demeaning, embarrassing, questioning, patting and other touching without permission, yanking, ignoring, and referring to children in the third person.

This behavior isn’t usually undertaken with abusive intent; indeed, most adults wield power over kids because they assume it’s their duty, as well as their right. Adults are thought to be entitled to these behaviors on the assumptions that they are superior to children and young people, and that they know best what’s good for the younger generation.

Scratch below the surface, and you’ll find that this sort of adult disrespect is inherited. It’s how we were treated as children by our parents and in our schools…and how our parents were treated by the generation before that. And it’s reinforced by other social institutions like churches and medical systems, as well as by laws. The context of the adult-child relationship in our society is power, hierarchy, mistrust, and coercion.

One of the places that adultism manifests itself is our education system. Most people believe that children and young people must be made to go to school or else they won’t learn. So we have created factories in which children are processed and warehouses where they are stored until it’s convenient for adults to have them around. Getting rid of the factory model of public education challenges not just our assumptions about how children learn, but a variety of agendas related to adultism and other sorts of power.

I wrote about this in the introduction to my book Challenging Assumptions in Education – From Institutionalized Education to a Learning Society:

“By our very use of words like ‘teaching’ and ‘schooling,’ we seem to accept the idea that some people at the top are doing things to other people farther down the totem pole. Public education reflects our society’s paternalistic, hierarchical worldview, which exploits children in the same way it takes the earth’s resources for granted. That is no way to help children grow up into compassionate citizens who think independently and participate in the life of their communities and countries.”

Arguing against adultism is difficult. Giving up power can make people fearful and leave them feeling threatened. They think “unschooling” means unparenting, and life learning means uneducated. But life learners are at the leading edge of an important attempt to broaden the definition of childhood, to respect children as whole people who are functioning members of society…and to improve our education system along the way.

Since we are already living the opposite of adultism, I believe that we life learners can contribute to the defeat of adultism by being conscious about how we speak to (and about) children, and by how we treat them.

Avoiding Sleep Training as a Precursor to Unschooling

Sleep TrainingCheck out any online book store and you’ll see over a hundred titles about how to “sleep train” your baby. These books are about getting kids to sleep at times that suit the adults in their lives, not because babies that weren’t trained would stay awake 24/7! That thinking/wishing which leads to sleep training is also where our need to control our children’s learning begins, and where understanding unschooling can begin.

As an article about sleep in our Natural Child Magazine explains, how we sleep depends on a wide variety of factors related to our environment, family, genetic make-up, moods, general health, and even hormonal changes. And, as the same author wrote in another article, “Your baby sleeps and wakes in a certain way because that is how babies are.” Likewise, children learn in certain ways because that’s how they are. When we fight their natural instincts and curiosity (in the same way we try to manipulate their sleep needs via sleep training), we get in the way of what we want to happen, and ultimately can cause them harm.

I remember coming to that realization a few weeks into the life of my first daughter in 1972, although I had already begun to form some strong opinions about children’s need for autonomy in learning. Accepting that how she would sleep on her own schedule wasn’t much different than how she would learn made life for both of us so much more pleasant. (Sure, I wasn’t sleeping any more than before, but I also wasn’t fighting or trying to control her, and that freed up my energy and my soul just to love her in each moment…and for better sleep when I did manage to get some).

That decision not to try and control things that weren’t mine to control was one of the foundations on which my philosophy of life learning/natural family life/radical unschooling/autonomous living (however you want to label it) was built. It led to me learning to recognize my daughters’ other patterns, personalities, and passions. And, following their leads, I was able to provide support, companionship, and much more – always respecting their needs and finding ways to mesh theirs with mine.

So here’s where understanding unschooling can begin. Let your babies sleep and stay awake as they are wont to do, without fighting them. Be alert to supporting their needs, but trust that they’re doing what works best for them and aren’t trying to manipulate you (which infants aren’t able to do). And, as they grow, allow them the freedom to pursue their curiosity, their interests, and their passions. Respect that, with your support, they can learn to recognize their own needs, and trust that they’ll learn how to fulfill them. They’ll grow up to be healthy, happy, and well-educated. And I’m betting that you all will be able to sleep well at night.

Unschooling Lets Kids Control Their Own Minds and Activities

teen-boy-relaxing1Appearing to hang around and do nothing at all is dangerous – whether you’re a teenager in a public place, an adult at work, or a child in school (or even in some homeschool settings). Inactivity is perhaps one of the most frowned upon states in our culture. And certainly, many parents get nervous when their kids don’t seem to be accomplishing anything – especially something that the parents have organized or mandated. Adults are “supposed” to organize, and kids partake…at least until they turn a certain age (18 maybe), at which point they’re supposed to miraculously know how to take control of their own lives. In fact, the danger of allowing kids to control their own minds and activities may be one of the main concerns many people have about unschooling.

I can recall sitting at my desk in school as a child, pretending to read a text book as a cover for thinking (or “daydreaming” as it was derisively called), or practicing looking attentive while the teacher was talking and my mind was somewhere else entirely. I knew that she wasn’t in charge of my mind or my life, but I had internalized the message that such realizations were subversive, and that it would be disruptive for me not to hide that knowledge. Nevertheless, unlike some of my peers – most often boys – I got away with going my own way in school because I was an otherwise well-behaved girl who got good marks.

And now, because I’m a well-dressed and groomed adult, I get away with “loitering” in public places listening to music, observing the passersby (because that’s what writers do!), or scribbling in my journal.

Years ago, my unschooling daughters weren’t always so lucky when they spent time in public seeming to be nonproductive, and found themselves being looked upon distrustfully by many adults. But their freedom to direct their own childhood thoughts, time, activity, and learning helped them become the productive, balanced, happy, inquisitive, aware, free-thinking adults they are today.

Not all kids are so lucky. As I was loitering this morning at my favorite sidewalk café, I listened to a couple of moms feverishly programming their children’s upcoming activities, apparently unwilling to leave a single minute unorganized and dangerously nonproductive. Not for those kids any time to watch ants crawl along the sidewalk, to play in the snow, ride their bikes, or skate aimlessly around the rink, just for the sake of enjoying skating; no time to consolidate or expand upon any bit of information they might remember from the whirlwind of facts jammed into their brains at school, no time to think or to daydream. No, they might miss an opportunity to “learn,” to advance their school careers, to compete in an organized, skill-building activity. No time to learn how to think for themselves. That would threaten adults’ erroneous belief that they are in change of their children’s minds and their learning.

Now that is dangerous, as I knew so well as a child in school. But just think what a world it would be if we could embrace that danger and any risk why might think it entailed…if all adults respected children’s ability to think for themselves and trusted that they could learn what they need to know. What if adults could put aside their doubts about kids and their need to control them and, instead, could partner with them in everybody’s best interest? What a world it would be, indeed.

Avoiding Sleep Training as a Way to Understanding Unschooling

Avoiding Sleep Training as a Way to Understanding UnschoolingCheck out any online book store and you’ll see over a hundred titles about how to “sleep train” your baby. These books are about getting kids to sleep at times that suit the adults in their lives, not because babies that weren’t trained would stay awake 24/7! That way of thinking/wishing is also where our need to control our children’s learning begins, and where understanding unschooling can begin.

As an article about sleep in one of Life Learning’s sister publications Natural Child Magazine explains, how we sleep depends on a wide variety of factors related to our environment, family, genetic make-up, moods, general health, and even hormonal changes. And, as the same author wrote in another article, “Your baby sleeps and wakes in a certain way because that is how babies are.” Likewise, children learn in certain ways because that’s how they are. When we fight their natural instincts and curiosity, we get in the way of what we want to happen, and ultimately can cause them harm.

I remember coming to that realization a few weeks into the life of my first daughter in 1972, although I had already begun to form some strong opinions about children’s need for autonomy in learning. Accepting that how she would sleep on her own schedule wasn’t much different than how she would learn made life for both of us so much more pleasant. (Sure, I wasn’t sleeping any more than before, but I also wasn’t fighting or trying to control her, and that freed up my energy and my soul just to love her in each moment.)

That decision not to try and control things that weren’t mine to control was one of the foundations on which my philosophy of life learning/natural family life/radical unschooling/autonomous living (however you want to label it) was built. It led to me learning to recognize my daughters’ other patterns, personalities, and passions. And, following their leads, I was able to provide support, companionship, and much more, always respecting their needs and finding ways to mesh theirs with mine.

So here’s where understanding unschooling can begin. Let your babies sleep and stay awake as they are wont to do, Be alert to supporting their needs, but trust that they’re doing what works best for them and aren’t trying to manipulate you. And, as they grow, allow them the freedom to pursue their curiosity, their interests, and their passions. Respect that they can learn to recognize their own needs, and trust that they’ll learn how to fulfill them. They’ll grow up to be healthy, happy, and well-educated. And I’m betting that you all will be able to sleep well at night.