Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Introducing the Mensches

We are Deborah (41), Tim (43), Petra (7), and Theo (3). Tim and I (Deborah) first heard of unschooling around 2000, when Tim was guardian for his 12-year-old sister Julie, who really wanted to be homeschooled. We read The Teenage Liberation Handbook, but our work schedules wouldn't support unschooling then, so Julie opted to work with an Internet-based school and mentor teacher.

Fast forward to January 2011. Petra was in first grade, and though she was mostly doing well, she and I were both starting to chafe at the daily homework grind (!), the super-early mornings, and the lack of family time. I was also volunteering in Petra's class once a week, and while there was learning going on, I was reminded how much school time is not about learning, and especially not about learning things you're actually interested in at the time. I happened to reconnect with a high-school friend who, I learned, had two daughters in their late teens, both of whom she'd unschooled all the way through. We talked about it, and I started checking out the unschooling group in Boulder and the Always Learning list. It sounded like what we needed—more time to spend together, pursuing our interests and learning in the real world, without the strictures of the school routine and schedule. Our unschooling life is getting better bit by bit as we all deschool, and as I re-pace myself and grow gradually more mindful in my parenting.

I grew up very devoted to school and academics. I had some very good friends, but high grades were the main focus of my world through college. I became a science and math teacher and found that while I was good at explaining things to people who wanted to learn them, I couldn't manage a classroom very well and still feel like a good human being at the end of the day. (I've met a few teachers who manage this, but I was not one of them!) Tim, then my fiance, convinced me to quit because the job stressed me out so much. Looking back on my school career, I see a lot of opportunities that I missed in pursuit of top grades. I appreciate what I did learn, but it's easy to see that that path wasn't for everyone, and that it probably wasn't the best path for me, either. When I went to grad school in education, having worked two years as a teacher and four as a science writer, I was more able to focus on what kinds of learning and connections I wanted to get out of the experience, rather than just what grade and degree I wanted. I'm glad I had that experience before encountering unschooling -- it made the ideas of unschooling a lot easier for me to understand. Now, with both kids out of school, I'm enjoying learning alongside them. My own interests include fiber arts (knitting, spinning, weaving, sewing, etc.), running, science fiction, gardening, interface design, technical writing, and figuring out how to become more the kind of person and parent I want to be.

Tim was never much invested in school. He did what interested him and mostly ignored the rest. He became interested in computers and programming as a young teen (back when 16K of RAM was the norm), and though he went to college in cognitive science, he's been mostly self-taught as a programmer, with most of his career spent in making video games, as well as the software tools game programmers use. Last year he went independent as a game developer for Android and iOS devices, which is its own roller-coaster ride. The good part about it, besides being his own boss, is that his schedule is more his own, which makes more family activities and trips possible than when he was on salary at a game company. He has a casual game, Hamster: Attack!, on the Android market. His other interests include photography, woodworking, maker stuff in general, competitive badminton, and playing the piano.

I asked Petra what she'd like to say by way of introduction. She says that she is a good reader, but doesn't feel like reading much these days. She likes playing with Theo and seeing her friends for playdates. She is devoted to our elderly cats. She likes birdwatching, being out in nature, and watching videos, her most recent favorite being Phineas and Ferb, and she likes several casual video games. I would add that she loves imagining vivid, elaborate situations for herself and Theo or for her dolls and stuffed animals, and that she really enjoys hearing fantasy novels, folk stories, and fairy stories read aloud. She likes to draw, paint, make things with clay, and write stories. She's starting to learn to sew and is looking forward to helping me make warm robes for her and Theo. She goes to beginning gymnastics classes and sings in a local children's choir.

Theo loves playing with, having books read to him about, and watching videos about cars, trucks, construction toys, and trains; he also loves pretend and/or dress-up play as an animal, dinosaur, prince or princess, character from a favorite show (Go, Diego, Go and Wild Kratts) or fairy. He loves going to playgrounds and swimming pools, exploring new places, staying in hotels, petting the cats, and asking lots of questions about all kinds of things. Many of his questions these days are about words and how to spell them; this is fascinating for me to watch and participate in from the perspective that beginning to unschool has brought. Theo also likes videos and video games; he and Petra are digital natives. Theo takes gymnastics classes, too, and both he and Petra like going to open gym times.

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