Posts Tagged ‘homeschooling’

Sunday Surf: Alternative Parenting Info for Family and Friends

Holidays and celebrations usually mean family get togethers and all that comes with those situations.

For many, this is a joyous time when perhaps people who rarely enjoy sharing the same space have a day or more to “live together” in some ways. What happens when the small family unit chooses to live differently than the family at large? For parents who subscribe to alternative/gentle/positive/natural/attachment whatever you call it parenting, the coming together of different styles of raising children can cause tension and frustration. Some families also have a hard time over the phone or the internet.

A few things I think cause trouble are a lack of compassionate understanding of the various “sides” and feelings of judgment and defensiveness that block communication. This happens for everyone, but it seems that the hows, whats and whys of a less typical type of parent are less known (and also, therefore, respected?). I know I wish that my family could read some of the articles that shape my parenting choices.

What follows is a rough draft of my dream list of 10 blog posts to give someone a sense of where I am currently coming from as a mother. (Yes, I reserve the right to change and learn and grow.)

***Last minute addition!***

I just found this post on the 10 RIE principles of caregiving, and it addresses all the main issues I’ve been trying to raise with my own family. I may even share it with said family…….

10 Articles to Help Understand My Parenting Aspirations

Wordless Wednesday: Making a Sensory Bin of Leaves!

Pick up the leaves....

Put them in/near the bin!

I Helped Mama! (She is signing "help.")

Crunch!

More Interested in Raking

My Plan to Be a Better Mom: Update!

This is where I get to focus on the things I have done (right) in the last week! Mostly I just wanted to share a few activities I tried spontaneously that ended up working out well.

My daughter seems to have been having some fussy days lately. Needless to say, necessity is the mother of invention (and creativity). As I said in the latest Better Mom post on activities, I want to create and offer more hands on learning/play activities. Here are three things that came to me after all I read all the awesome things other mamas are doing with their littles. (See activities post for lots of resources for learning/play ideas.)

Sensory Bin: Paper

I get these circulars in the mail that frustrate me because I don’t want them and it’s such a waste of paper. The other day I felt like ripping them up. Just after, I walked by the bin I wanted to use as a sensory bin. I decided to have my daughter help me crumple them up and toss them in the bin. Then I let her play. She got to explore texture, sound, her body and more, turning an annoyance for me into a wonder to explore for my daughter!

Crumple Crumple

Stomp Stomp Stomp

Squish, Smash

Scoop and Pour Activity

Then the other day I had my daughter help make Vietnamese spring rolls by giving her the bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, and chopped lettuce to put into separate bowls for my husband to assemble. I went to put the peanuts in a bowl myself and realized it was the perfect scoop and pour “Practical Life” Montessori activity that I read about all the time. She was so into this. After an initial spill (see the peanuts on the counter?) she realized on her own how to be more careful and spilled not a single peanut more. It was quick but a great learning experience for us both, I think.

Scooooop

Pour

Open and Close Activity Bin

More recently, she had gotten her pep back after a cold and wanted to play. I was doing dishes, washing out a ketchup bottle, when I decided to look around for “open and close” jars, boxes and things for an activity box. I surprised myself by easily finding a number of things. I had fun along with her realizing how fun and different containers are to open and close. She did ask for help with the inner spice top, but ended up actually opening it once herself. The best part was hearing her ask for help and then say “Try it” to who I thought was me. After initial frustration, she actually told herself to try opening it, and she did try a couple of times rather than giving up as easily as she initially intended.

Some of the open and close materials, found around the house....

Little screwtop

Fliptop

Larger screw top (spice jar)

Was more complicated and exciting than we thought!

Yet another unexpected open and close experience awaited us!

It even came with a smell that led to a cooking conversation. (Plus we needed to put something inside. See it?)

My Plan to Be a Better Mom: Spaces and Organization

I know everyone always says their house is messy (when it’s not), but I really am organizationally and spatially challenged in some ways….like the ways that keep a house clean and put away.

I love to see things organized, love baskets and boxes and labels and rows of things. It’s just that doing whatever it takes to get to that point doesn’t come naturally to me. Whether or not it is my strength, I need to develop a clear sense of organization and purpose in the spaces in our house, for the sake of every family member and friend who inhabits those spaces. Plus, with a little one on the way and due during the middle of winter, I want to make sure my daughter has an engaging and comfortable space to play inside when it’s hard to go outside. I have one room she can kind of take over, but otherwise I have always liked and tried to have a little play space in every room (including the kitchen). This calls for different structures for different spaces. I have some moving around of stuff and furniture to do, but more than that I needed to think on what those play spaces look and feel like.

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I know I want them to be organized.

I would like for it to be easy and clear for my daughter and any adult to know where everything goes. “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” If there are baskets and bins with clear purpose, everyone can use them. Eventually I would love to make my own labels (in English and Spanish and maybe even ASL), like Christine from The Aums did when organizing her clothing station. [Oh goodness, a clothing station was one of the things I wanted to maintain…..and haven’t. Clothes are my own worst offense, and now I’m in charge of someone else’s clothes?!]

I, and my daughter, need the space to be as YES as possible.

The more YES the space, the less “no” I have to say. When she was smaller and just starting to get mobile, everyone was telling me about child-proofing, which we don’t really do much of. Every child is different, and some children need more safety boundaries than others. My daughter has always been a rather safe explorer with a will that can be reasoned with. (Who knows what #2 will be like…could change everything!) She began moving around, and we went through the house trying to make things as YES as possible. This meant that if she could reach it, we had better consider whether we wanted her to be able to reach that thing or not. Well, we need to do that again. She is considerably more mobile now, and I find myself saying “No” more than I need to just because of the way my space is organized and set up…..or not. Ideally everything in reach is touchable and ok for play.

The space, the things in it and the way they are set up should encourage and support opportunities for my daughter’s independence, confidence and sense of belonging.

Once she has a clear, organized space that is mostly YES, I want to make sure the things I put in there and the way it is set up fit her developmental needs. Right now, she wants to do everything she can for herself. One thing I would like is for her to have greater access to food and drink items so that she can pour for herself. However, this means, I need a developmentally-appropriate space for her to be able to do these activities. For instance, right now, there isn’t really a child sitting/work space. Having a more functional, child-centered space will most likely be good for her and good for us (and the new little one).

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Now that I had a sense of what I’m looking for, I wanted to do some research and see what other folks want out of their spaces.

I liked what Childhood 101 had to say about creating a child space that is inspirational:

  • Inspires them to play in more purposeful, meaningful ways.
  • Inspires them to learn through those play experiences.
  • Inspires them to value what they have.
  • Inspires them to help maintain the space in an organised way.
  • Inspires who they become…

Reading about Montessori principles and home/school spaces inspired me to get more clearly organized so that my daughter can take more ownership of the activities in her life. Here are some guidelines for spaces:

  • They are attractive, orderly and clean.
  • They have a place where children can store and organize personal items, as well as keep complete and in-progress projects.
  • There is adequate open space for children to easily move around, and for everyone to sit together during group time.
  • Children can independently access their Montessori materials from low shelves. They can also help maintain the order on these shelves. It is also important to have appropriately-sized tables and chairs so the children can sit and move with ease.
  • There should be a few interesting, real-life pictures at child’s-eye level, a few beautiful objects that could break easily, living plants, and pets (even small, non-poisonous reptiles and fish are fine).

Reggio Emilia history, philosophy and approach, in addition to the concept of the environment as a child’s “third teacher,” gave me aesthetic ideas for an overall feel and look. Here are some aspects a Reggio class might have:

  • indoor plants and vines
  • natural light
  • open to view
  • capture the attention of both children and adults through the use of mirrors (on the walls, floors, and ceilings), photographs, and children’s work accompanied by transcriptions of their discussions
  • displays of project work are interspersed with arrays of found objects and classroom materials
  • ample space for supplies, frequently rearranged to draw attention to their aesthetic features
  • encourage community

In addition, there are some RIE principles I’d like our spaces to facilitate. Similarities across the board, here. You are surely seeing a theme emerging.

  • Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer and a self-learner.
  • An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing.
  • Time for uninterrupted play.
  • Freedom to explore and interact with other infants.
  • Involvement of the child in all care activities to allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient.
  • Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand his or her needs.
  • Consistency, clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline.

With a better understanding of the principles and values I’d like to encourage, I was ready to look at actual play/learning spaces other people have set up.

NEXT STEPS: Move things around, go through “stuff” (post to come), set up spaces!

I am inspired!

Potluck with Sandra Dodd

We went, as a family, to a potluck at Amy Child’s house on Wednesday. It was a full house but not so many people as she probably gets in conferences and such. This was an intimate setting and an opportunity to meet and talk face to face with a major force and voice of unschooling. She is soon marking 25 years of unschooling experience–that includes decades of hearing and gathering stories and experiences of thousands across the nation.

Sandra Dodd, in my experience, was a true advocate for unschooling. She said many things that I already believed and understood, but what surprised me was her inherent belief in attachment parenting and her description of it. Here’s a simulation of how it went when I got a chance to ask my question:

Me: How important is it to be there on the ground playing with your child and the object they are playing with; some people look at me funny when I let my child walk around and interact with her world on her own without following her around.

SandraDodd: Is she clear about communicating what she needs?

Me: Yes, incredibly clear.

SandraDodd: If she is communicating with you, then I would trust her to come get you when she needs you. [She is looking at me breastfeeding my child in an Ergo baby carrier.] When you attachment parent, you usually know your kids needs. [Pause.] And I mean attachment parenting of the 70s when it meant simply:

  • When your child wants to be picked up, pick them up

  • When they want to be put down, put them down

  • When they want in your bed, let them in the bed

  • It’s about respecting them and allowing them a voice

This all seems logical, but I was struck by the fact that she so naturally went from unschooling to attachment parenting — two things previously separated in my mind. It made me realize that my philosophy about both raising my child and “educating” her are the same. I trust my child’s innate curiosity and drive to learn through play. I will do by best to nurture those by creating a rich environment for her to explore and discover independently and with me.

Absolute Trust

Ideally, absolute trust starts with the process of birth.

Mothers trust their instincts and intuition around eating, exercise, and all around wellness. Mothers trust their bodies to grow a child and trust their hearts to welcome a new spirit to the world. All this means a calming of the mind, silencing of the chatter and the shoulds and the musts: a listening.

Humans are animals like any other, and an animal mother knows and trusts — with their every ounce of her being — in her ability to birth. There is no question. They birth in the silence of trust and follow their instincts. Human mothers are not exceptions to this rule. Even a mother’s kisses are instinctual acts with biological and chemical drive towards optimal health and wellness.

Ideally, a mother’s trust in herself extends beyond her power in birth into motherhood as she learns, simultaneously, to trust her child.

Despite teaching for years, I still find it hard to wrap my head around trust in a child’s ability to self-direct learning. Having a child and watching her learn and grow has made it clear to me:

Humans are learning machines.

Our brain’s are designed for the task. Astra Taylor’s talk “The Unschooled Life” blew out any remaining limitations on my understanding of that truth. I encourage anyone who wants to have more trust in their child’s ability to learn:

  1. Watch any baby or young child try to do something they want to do.

  2. Watch all the way through Astra Taylors  “The Unschooled Life” (1:15 min)

Ideally, we have absolute trust in each and every child’s ability to learn.

The Nature of Family

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of family and what family means in our modern world and in the United States in particular. This questioning arises most naturally when the way I have chosen to live, how I have given birth to and am raising my child and what I believe and hope for seems, at times, radically different or even diametrically opposed to the vast majority of the people around me and society at large. What does family mean to a first generation East Indian who grew up in rural Kansas but now lives outside a major city? What does family mean to a homebirth, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, EC-practicing mama?

We are born into our families, rather than choosing them, as we might our friends, based on similar personalities, interests or belief systems. Every family is different, but each family must navigate the waters of relationship. More than ever, now that I have my daughter, I believe that family is created intentionally. This is clear even from the fact that some children are given up for adoption; in those cases, family is intentionally not created at birth for whatever reason but, hopefully, is created with great intent later in life.

What does it mean to create family? As a mother of a one-year old whose parenting choices alone often relegate her to minorities within minorities of society, I find myself thinking about this often. In India, both of my parents had time in their lives where they lived in a more universally traditional way, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and distant relatives all packed in under one roof in a family compound, so to speak. Understandably, family was whoever lived in the “house.” Though extensive, it was indeed immediate family, and, by the nature of life, often included neighbors or other non-blood relatives. Stories of huge groups of children and adults literally gathered around light in the darkness listening to stories made up on the whim of my own grandfather or singing bhajans led by my mother’s cousin’s cousin’s wife, stories that seem out of some version of a book called Laura Ingalls Wilder Goes to India where everyone’s working by candlelight and going hungry.

Here in the United States at this time, immediate family often means the parent(s) and child(ren). What a fraction of the people that family once was! Those few people surely would spend all their time together, more than their counterparts of the past, would they not? No! It somehow means fewer people to share the load of living. Granted, the sea of societal structures and self-destructive sloganism brutally bombard these tiny rafts of familial relationship. In fact, many of us feel ourselves floating alone through the trials of life. What happened to family?

Creating family requires conscious intention. How do I do this when my small, immediate family of four is strewn across three states and thousands of miles? Then again, today’s technology allows me to blog, Skype, Facebook, email, scan, fax, and phone my child’s grandparents as well as mail them things next day or even same day! My mother raised me in Kansas while my Indian grandparents, eight times more distant had to have someone go down the block to the corner store to get on the phone call list so they could call us. Logic and reason suggest that creating loving and close family bonds with access so many methods of connection should be relatively easy, a matter of effort rather than intention.

Family for me has felt both immediate and elusive. Barriers of culture, communication, emotion, and perception pop up to block connections I intend to make. Hurt feelings and confusion abound, but perhaps this is part of my parents having raised me in a country and culture with such opposing values to the ones of their own upbringing. Respect, seeming simple and singular in definition, somehow contradictorily means hearing out ideas and agreeing to disagree versus doing whatever I say or letting me do whatever I want in the face of disagreement. Vertical and horizontal hierarchies create very different feelings of family.

For me, creating family for my daughter has meant that I have intentionally explored and chosen to implement a number of independent ideas that work together cooperatively to create a community around my little raft of a family despite differences and difficulties with my immediate family. Indeed, creating a family, even within the intimacy of our three-piece immediate family, requires all my intention and spirit when I find myself having to give the very energy I would devote to creating family with my loving husband, who is a wonderful father to my precious daughter, while I am, essentially, a mother to other people’s children. In the environment and structure of this country and culture, driven by time and money, it is actually more efficient for me to think about Living Family rather than creating family.

Living Family means many things to me, but all help me stay focused on the goal of creating a  sea of family and a community in which to live and ideally thrive. Living Family means:

  1. being in and living from the present moment
  2. creating structures and routines that support family bonds
  3. expanding the limits of family to other families that support the family life I intend to create ….. in essence, creating a community of others who want to consciously create family in a vein similar to ours
  4. make a living…as opposed to making “it,” whatever “it” is…in a way that allows my “selves” to not be so separate from each other and/or from family
  5. living our family life in such a way that allows us, others as well as the natural world to live and thrive while being mindful of resources and relationships

Having this goal feels lofty to me. It requires that I shift my whole focus and think broadly and creatively. It also feels vital, however, if I want to reach any semblance of traditional family connections and experiences of shared living. My daughter has just turned one. Now, with this intention, we begin the journey towards a Living Family….

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