Life Lessons (Taught By a Hamster?)

My son had two pet mice a couple of years ago that were his birthday present. All he wanted. Cute little girls who lived for about a year, as mice do. He was heart-broken when they died and it took him a while to recover.

Recently, he’d been asking for another pet mouse. We’d been keeping an eye out for one through our local humane society. B spotted a little hamster Wednesday night after adoption hours were over. We went home, talked about it and filled out the adoption form together. We would go Thursday, after work, to pick him up. B was so excited!

We went in Thursday, after anxiously waiting all day. The volunteer got the hamster’s tank down, set it on the floor and B reached in to greet his new pet. Chomp! Blood was drawn. B was shocked, in tears and headed to the bathroom to wash and bandage his finger.

The next half hour was spent in that bathroom; talking, crying and listening. His heart is so much like my own, I understood how hurt he was. Not so much his finger even. He’d already developed feelings of love for this tiny creature, he’d only just seen the day before. Why didn’t the hamster like him? He was torn.

We talked about going back in to just watch the hamster and B was adamant he didn’t want to do that (partly because the human volunteer would see him cry.) I offered to go home and we could think about it until the following day. He thought about it and through tears denied that option. B still wanted to take this cute little finger biter home. I suggested we could always wear gloves to handle him while he adjusted to us.

Paperwork was filled out, a hamster was deposited into our plastic critter cage, and we headed out into the store area to pick out food for him. I grabbed a small package of what he’d been eating and let B choose a treat. He also picked a packet of ultra soft nesting material.

Once we were home and had him all settled in, B gave little hamster the goodies he’d chosen and thankfully “Mouse” loved them. B beamed that his pet liked the things he’d gotten for him. The day ended on a positive note. Phew!

I’m proud that B was so solid in his resolve to love and care for Mouse, even after he’d been hurt. My hope is that this serves him well in his life.

Why Don’t You Just Get a Better Job?

I’m often asked this question and it’s not as simple to answer as it might seem. The reasons I’m asked are valid; I don’t get paid well, two bedroom places in my area run $800-1000 per month, I don’t particularly enjoy what I do and I use food stamps and state health care. So, this fictitious better job would be mostly in terms of pay.

Since my son was born, I’ve worked as a nanny for several families. My “education” and much of my experience has been working with children. For me, it’s an easy job to get. It’s semi challenging to find families who are amenable to me bringing my son with, but it can be done. There aren’t very many other jobs where this is the case. Especially things that I’m good at, would enjoy or are qualified for.

My son is with me all the time and always has been. His father isn’t part of his life so caring for B and working must go hand in hand. As someone who followed the principles of attachment parenting, these pieces fit well. I didn’t want to hand over B’s daily care to anyone else. No one is more qualified for that than I.

Now that he’s older and of school age, in order to legally homeschool, I need to be with him and I still want to. There’s no job or amount of pay increase that would compare to getting to see daily growth, learning and sharing silly moments. He gets to spend his days largely as he pleases and I’m happy to be able to do that for him.

The work I do should be worth more than it is. I don’t decide that, Many of the most important jobs aren’t properly valued. If they were, I’d be able to cover all of my grocery costs and provide insurance for my son. There are plenty of people who feel strongly, one way or the other, about government assistance. I utilize it to take better care of my son. Not out of laziness or so that I can sit home all day. I don’t feel that makes me a bad person at all.

Here’s the most important thing. B doesn’t know we’re poor. That’s a financial state and he doesn’t see it because he has everything he needs. He sees kids who live in big fancy houses and have more than they need. He also sees how little those same kids get to be with their parents and/or how little they mean to their parents. B will never be that kind of poor.

What in the World is Unschooling?

If you’re not an unschooler or even a homeschooler in the know, you may be wondering what exactly is “unschooling?” I can only explain what it is for us, since unschooling varies as much by family as any other method of homeschooling. We certainly can’t be lumped in with the image most people have of homeschoolers sitting and doing school at home. So, what do we do?

We live our lives as if school doesn’t exist and B learns naturally as the day unfolds. There are no workbooks, required reading, math timed tests, handwriting lessons or pre-packaged curriculum. Some of you may be cringing and picturing my child running feral at this point. (For those that have met him, he has his moments. hehe) Learning can and has taken place without all of these things for most of human history and for the seven years of B’s life.

If B finds an interest or has a question, we pursue it. We read about it, watch videos and find events related to it. I facilitate with as much help or materials are needed to delve into it. We have maps and a globe for anytime a location is discussed. Math often finds its way into our day in the form of game play or spending cash in real life.

B has learned to read by being read to from day one and from living in a language rich environment. I’m not ashamed to admit that his love of video games has spurred the majority of his reading acquisition. He read because he wanted or even needed to.

He writes when he has a purpose to do so; a list of materials, a note for me to find or an explanation of a drawing. He learns what he needs when he needs it.

I don’t worry that there will be gaps or that he’ll miss a bit of history or that he won’t have a math fact memorized. We all have these, regardless of how we acquired knowledge. What he will have are problem solving skills and the strategies to learn what is necessary in his life. This is the most meaningful learning and what will stick with him.

From my life experience, I know that what was interesting to me and that I pursued because I wanted to, stuck with me my whole life. I learned the names of all the plants that grew in my area and I still know them. I know, really know, a lot about  insects and animals because of an insatiable need as a  child. Can I tell you what year something happened in history? No. I may have “learned” it for a test in school but it held no interest or purpose so it didn’t stick.

This authentic, interest led learning is the most meaningful. No, he won’t keep up with his peers or be taught all the things they are. He’ll know more on some subjects and less on others. Though he will know how to think for himself, to question everything and to listen to his own heart. Think about it. If instead of being taught, in mass, to conform to outside standards, we were all listening to our own heart, what a very different world this would be.

Un-pumpkin Patch

Yesterday, we were supposed to go to the pumpkin patch. My son and I have gone every year for the past four years. There are lots of things to do, we have fun together, and we eat some awesome seasonal treats. It’s like a tradition.

But we’re unschoolers and we do things differently. When B woke up at two in the afternoon, I was already dressed and ready to go. I was kid-like in my excitement. He, however, did not want to go. So we didn’t go.

I was sad that he didn’t want to go and realized I’d formed an attachment to this outing. It costs a lot to go so I always have to wait until I get my monthly paycheck or save up. I’ve never wanted him to feel left out of all those “normal” things that families do, so I find ways to make them happen.

He was content to be home. So our day wasn’t the fall family fun, photo-op kind of day. He had neighbor friends over, played video games with them and me, went with me to get groceries, picked out pumpkins and painted some tiny ones.

The one neighbor had never been over before and was in awe of how many pictures there were of B on the walls. “You must be pretty popular.” These eleven and thirteen year old boys played with Legos, a magic kit, spy gear and it may have been said that B has more toys than anyone in the neighborhood. I forget how evident it is that our home reflects how much B means to me. We didn’t need to go anywhere or spend any money to prove that.

After the boys left, while B and I played video games, I was told how good I was at the games and got some high fives. A couple of times he said, “we make a great team!” We really do…and that is why I do what I do the way I do it.

pumpkins

Sometimes There Is Fear

As parents, we worry about our choices; how they’ll affect our child, whether they’re what’s best, etc. There are unique fears that come with certain lifestyles though.

Those of us who are single parents, those of us who live in poverty, those with mental illness, or those of us who unschool may all have some concerns. They can become very real when we reach out for help or when we interact with the outside world. Yes, there are always going to be people who judge us for the way we do things or how we live. You may say, “so what, who cares what other people think?” This would show me that you’re outside my perspective.

An example happened recently that tied this all in nicely. Something so innocuous for most; a trip to the dentist for my son. It was just a routine cleaning. No big deal right? Maybe.

While B was getting his teeth cleaned, casual questions about heading to school come up. Well, my son is proud that he doesn’t go to school and beams when he says he doesn’t go. He rarely says he homeschools, because it’s not really an accurate description of what we do. I usually add that in to end the conversation. “We homeschool.”

The dentist comes in after the dental hygienist has filled her in and asks B what he does since he doesn’t go to school. He’s seven. “Play video games.” She looks at me with concern and asks, “you homeschool?” I said yes. Then she asks what curriculum I use. With my son’s shared unschool pride, I reply that we don’t use a curriculum and follow an unschooling philosophy. It’s much more flexible with my work and bringing him with me, him being very active…

She wasn’t interested in learning something new though. She was judging us. We were being judged for being poor enough to need state healthcare for his visit. We were being judged for not only homeschooling, but for not confidently rattling off some curriculum name. As though that’s the only alternative to sending your child to school, schooling them at home. I was being judged as lacking.

You may still be wondering, what’s the big deal? The deal, to me, was that I may warrant a phone call, a visit from child protective services or worse. People in the outside world, not only get to pass judgement on my parenting but they also get to act on it.

Is my house clean? Yes. Is my son well cared for? Yes. Do we have food? Yes. Beds? Yes. Is he learning? Yes. Did I still have fear? YES. Whether we like it or not, children get removed from their homes, lives get disrupted and people get hurt because of judgments.

So, I take nothing I do lightly. I make decisions for my family with as much thought, research and conviction as I can muster. Hopefully, that’s what will matter most.

Single Mom Unschooling Has Received the Liebster Award!

As someone that’s so new to the blog world, I’m pretty excited about the nomination for the Liebster Award. I’m very appreciative to Unschooling Momma and Poppy for bestowing this distinction, especially since I really admire their site. Thank you!

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So, here are the eleven questions they posed and my answers. Enjoy!

  1. What was your purpose in starting your blog? I started my blog because I enjoy writing and I think I have some unique things to say. It’s often cathartic for me because I tend to write personally. I also want my son to see me doing things that I enjoy.
  2. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? I’d live somewhere that’s warm all the time so that I could garden year round.
  3. What is your favorite time of the day? My favorite time of day, at the moment, is morning. This is my time to myself to drink my coffee, do chores and ease into my day.
  4. What do you do when you feel like you have writer’s block? I’m new to writing this blog so I haven’t experienced writer’s block yet. We’ll see what the future holds.
  5. Is there any routine or ritual you have before you begin writing? My routine before writing is to get settled at my desk, light a scented candle, then write out a potential blog post on paper. I’m old-fashioned or this is how my brain works best. Pen to paper flows much easier for me.
  6. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Honestly, my favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. I love it for its potential as a blank slate for add-ons and that it goes well with so many other desserts.
  7. Do you have any pets? My son and I have a few pets; three cats, three chickens, two fish, a crested gecko and a fire bellied newt.
  8. Are you a morning person or a night owl? I’ve always been a night owl, preferring to sleep in late and stay up late. Now I get up at 8 am by choice, to have time alone (imperative to an introvert.)
  9. What chore do you procrastinate doing? I procrastinate cleaning the bathroom. Yuck.
  10. What one thing about yourself do you think makes you unique? My brutal honesty. My mother used to use that phrase to describe me but she didn’t mean it in a kind way. I embrace it as a strength however.
  11. What was the last thing you watched on tv? I watched Wild Kratts, with my son, since he’d found an episode that had our gecko in it and wanted to show me.

My nominations are as follows;

  1. The Peaceful Papa
  2. Dadosaurus Rex
  3. A Momma’s View
  4. Salted Raisins
  5. A Typical Son
  6. Thecrazyunschoolingparentofthenorth
  7. A Muddy Life
  8. Child of the Trees
  9. Mothering Gently
  10. A Spark. A Fire.
  11. CarolAnn, Badass Mommy

Go check these people out and give them some internet love. Most have Facebook pages as well if you’d like to like them there too. Do it!

My eleven burning questions for my nominated bloggers are;

  1. What’s one thing you’ve learned from blogging?
  2. Who do you most admire?
  3. What activities do you enjoy?
  4. Favorite place to be?
  5. Where do you do your blogging?
  6. What could be your theme song?
  7. Favorite book and/or video game?
  8. Coffee or tea?
  9. What is your biggest fear?
  10. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  11. What’s your favorite movie?

Letting Go Of Schoolish Thinking

The biggest obstacle to the unschooling process is in shedding old ways of thinking. Learning can take place any time or anywhere. We’ve all seen it happen. However, most of us have been trained to think that certain environments or activities are more “educational.” I heard a neighbor allude to this over the summer, when someone asked where her daughter was. She said that she was at summer school because they have activities for the kids to do and they make it fun for the summer. Many subconsciously believe that they can’t provide the best environment for their own child to learn.

I’m here to tell you that if you provide interesting materials, varied experiences, books and get out of your child’s way, you’ll be amazed at what they can do. If you are attentive and available they’ll ask questions or enlist your help as needed. You don’t have to sit over them and instruct. This is actually the quickest way to quell interest.

When my son doesn’t seem like he’s “doing anything,” I know it’s time for me to evaluate my own thinking. It’s hard not to doubt that he’s learning, if I’m looking at his days through a schoolish lens. The process isn’t going to look the same. Most days I’ll have no product to look at or show off. This is just as true for my own days. It’s not an indicator of how much I learned or accomplished. That’s LIFE.

If I do get nervous that I’m raising B all wrong (yes we all have those days,) I try to relax and focus on what I can see. Right now, I see B asking me daily how to spell words. I catch him reading signs or titles of YouTube videos, and I know he’s making progress. When we go to a store, he can count his money and make change, remembering to include tax. He knows wild foods to eat and to watch out for poison ivy. These are all valuable skills and he is doing stuff.

I feel proud when I think of it that way and remind myself that none of it came to him by force or worksheets or hours at a school desk. This journey may be vastly different from schooled children, but it’s working!

Once a Teacher, Never Again

I could start at the beginning, but it probably makes no more or less sense to do so. When I graduated from high school, I was off to college to learn to teach. That was 1993 and a lot has changed since then.

I did enjoy college and did my best to glean as much as possible from my time there. Proudly, I put myself through Western Illinois University and graduated with honors. When my education was complete, I was full of great ideas and determination. I would make a difference. The Kool-aid was tasty there and I drank heartily of all that I was told.

I believed that children needed to be educated and that I was going to spend my life doing just that. For years, I did some of that. I was good at it, too; managing chaos,creating unique learning experiences, having fun and being silly.

Then I had a son of my own, at the age of 33, and the real learning began. Heck, even before he was born, I was doing research on things I’d never given a passing thought. Things like vaccines, circumcision, attachment parenting, baby wearing, natural child birth, and probably even homeschooling. I read about positive discipline and ages and stages of development. I devoured everything I could think of to help me be the absolute best parent I was capable of being.

As much as I read, I also watched and listened to my son, B, and intuited what was right and best for us. He taught me to let go and trust, myself as well as him. Babies are amazing at knowing what they want and how to get it. The more in tune we became with each other, as he grew, I read up on homeschooling more. This little person had such a fire inside him to move, explore, learn, enjoy and experiment that I couldn’t imagine sending him off to school. I didn’t want him to lose even the tiniest ember of that fire.

Our days have been spent stoking his curiosity and profound uniqueness. School seemed like it would be a very square hole that my round peg should have no part of. The more I’ve read and trusted and watched B grow and learn, the more I’ve come to think of schools and schooling very differently. So,  B and I don’t home school in any traditional school at home scenario. We “unschool,” as it’s termed, which means we continue to learn as B has since day one. He learns what he wants, when he wants or as he deems it necessary. I facilitate and learn right along side him. I don’t teach. I may have once been a teacher, but never again.