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Kimi & Shaun - On Top of the World!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"But you're missing the point!"

I'm reading (and listening to) more fallout from our TV appearances, and I find myself saying "you're missing this point!" way too much. So, once again I try to go at it from the other side. What's the point? How do I say it more clearly so that others will hear it more clearly?

First, I hear a couple of times that unschooling (and homeschooling) parents are the ones who are more likely to be more involved in their kids' education, rather than less, just by the simple act of making a specific, and uncommon, choice on their education (and I even hear some of the critics agree with that point!). Next, I hear that "no kid will chose to learn algebra" or "how will they learn history" or "they need to get the fundamentals" before making their own choices. Then I hear that kids "don't know what they don't know, and need to be exposed to a lot of things" so that they know what they like and should focus on.

Too many people seem to make the following assumptions:

1. 'Kids make choices' means 'Parents do nothing.'
2. 'No arbitrary rules' means 'Free for all.'
3. 'No school teachers' means 'No learning.'

All of these assumptions must be accompanied by the assumption that the parents do not care about their kids.

So, since I'm a math/logic guy at heart, I ask that at least for a moment we accept the following assumptions:

1. Parents who unschool care about their children's education.
2. Parents who unschool want their kids to succeed.
3. Parents who unschool live in the real world, and are aware of all the concerns about unschooling and are aware of the rules and norms of society.
4. Parents who unschool spend a lot of effort and energy on their kids' education.

Let us then postulate that:

1. Unschooling parents want their kids to be exposed to as much as possible (assumptions #1 #3, and #4). Unschooled kids who are exposed to a lot must see some part of the world, and by extension, have to learn about it.
2. Unschooling parents demonstrate behaviors they want their kids to emulate (assumptions #2, #3, and #4).
3. Unschooling parents will seek out what they believe is the best for their kids, and will take advantage of all forms of learning, including classes, books, lectures, programs, other experts, and whatever else they need to get their kid whatever s/he needs (assumptions #1-4).
4. Unschooling kids who are using many forms of learning, and who are exposed to many things in the real word must live by the rules of society (and the museum, and the movie theater, and the bookstore, and the library, and so on...) (assumptions #1-4).

Is this a stretch? Is the acceptance of my assumptions an unreasonable request? If not, are the results of those assumptions too much to swallow? If not, then is it at least likely (maybe as much as the school system) that the kids will in fact learn the basics, see a lot, get the opportunity to find their passions (even though they may change over time), and that they will be ready to enter the real world as productive adults?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

But how will they learn .......

Based on the feedback we have been getting from our appearance in the media, a few of the big concerns voiced by parents who follow a more traditional education process include:

- Socialization
- Following rules
- Learning how to do things you don't want to do

One interpretation of these concerns:

- 'Socialization' - if you homeschool or unschool your kid, they will spend all of their time at home, and will not meet anyone else who doesn't live with them.

- 'Following rules' - especially if you are a radical unschooling family, then kids will never see any rules, and therefore will never be able to understand and follow rules.

- 'Learning how to do things you don't want to do' - if you unschool, and kids are able to make educational choices, they will never be presented with a situation where they have to do something they don't want to do.

I found that the answers that I gave to these questions didn't seem to satisfy those asking them, so I tried to think about it a little more - from the perspective of the person asking the question. While I don't feel the need to defend the choices we've made for our kids, I do think it would be helpful for others to understand some of what we're living.

1. The socialization aspect of schools that are touted as advantages are "spending time with other kids your own age, learning how to deal with people you don't like, and interacting with a variety of adults." My concern that this definition of socialization is not really applicable to the real world. Specifically:
a) In school, you are forced to spend most of your time with kids who are exactly your age (plus or minus 6 months, except for a small number of kids). In the real world, you don't have to spend your time with people your own age. You can, but you don't have to.
b) In school, you are spending time with a pretty homogeneous set of kids - you're all from the same town or area, which means you already have a lot in common. In the real world, you are rarely with a group of people who have that much in common. Our kids spend a lot of time with other kids (of a variety of ages) in many different settings - classes, activities, gatherings, family get-togethers, etc. They relate well with kids of all ages. For us, that is much better socialization than what they would get in a classroom.
c) In school, all adults are authority figures, and kids have to treat them as such. Note that this is not the same as treating them with respect. In the real world, adults can be peer-like to kids; in other words, they can talk to them about varied topics, and interact with them in many ways, without the fear of punishment. They interact with adults all the time, and have learned to respect them as people; in addition, they have many opportunities to interact with authority figures, and they have easily learned to respect them. In fact, respect is one of the core values that we've imparted on our children.

2. Many of the specific rules (raising your hand to speak; asking for permission to use the bathroom; having no choice about what you'll do each day) are not true in the real world. Now, for some jobs - I'm thinking factory work, as one example - you may find these same conditions; but who amongst us as parents want our kids to strive to work in that kind of job? Most parents imagine their kids as doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, business professionals - all jobs where the you set your own hours (based on criteria that is important to you personally); where you are expected to creatively solve problems or provide goods and services; and where you are expected to 'think outside the box' by, to a large extent, going against the common thinking in order to innovate your way to success. This is not what you learn in a school setting - in fact, it is truly the exact opposite.

3. I think 'learning how to follow rules' has two aspects to it. First, you have to learn how to do things you don't want to do. In the real world, this seems to translate into the fact that in your job you will have to perform tasks or assignments that you don't like. What seems to follow in this line of thinking is that if there is something that a person likes that there will be no aspect of it that s/he doesn't like. As a simple example, my daughter likes specific foods that are not always available in the grocery stores where we shop. In order to make sure she gets what she wants, she has to come shopping with us. Grocery shopping is not fun - she doesn't enjoy it at all. However, in order to get what she wants (food), she does something she doesn't like (shop). Did she have to learn it? Well, the real world presented her with a situation, and she addressed it. This happens all the time for kids and adults. These kinds of examples are way too numerous to list.

The second aspect of learning how to follow rules is that if you don't have a structured environment that you won't learn how to follow rules. There is an implication that without putting a kid in a structured environment that they will never see any rules. In the real world, there are rules all over the place. We have mentioned several times that we have no arbitrary rules, and that we use some basic principles to guide our behavior. For example, we respect each other. That means, by definition, that one kid can't do something that will upset the other. It should be straightforward to translate that into behavioral guidelines that are the equivalent of rules, without having to list the rules. So, if playing the drums is going to interfere with the person already reading in a room, then drum playing is out right now. What is most interesting about that is that it causes negotiations between the kids so that they are both able to do what they want; this is much more valuable (and useful in the real world) than a simple rule that says no drum playing. With respect to an issue that is of great concern to others: if the kids don't have a set bedtime, and aren't forced to get up at a certain time, how will they ever be able to get up and hold a job? Well, I'm confused as to why someone would have to 'learn' to get up early. However, as a couple of real world situations - first, on a regular basis, our kids or family have activities that require the kids to get up. We don't have a bedtime or a regular wake up time, but if we need to get up early, then we do. Both kids get up at whatever time they need to when it's important for some reason; either something they want to do, or something they need to do. Our favorite example is that the kids both go to a fantastic summer camp called Wizards and Warriors (learn more about it at During the 2 weeks, they have to be in bed by 10pm and get up every morning at 7am. For the week leading up to the camp, the kids get up progressively earlier each day in anticipation of the camp; and for the entire 2 weeks, they get up at 7am with no problem. How do we explain this? It's pretty simple - there is a reason for the early wake up, so they wake up.

The belief that without school, kids cannot possibly be socialized, be able to do tasks that they don't want to do, or follow rules, seems quite unfounded when you look at the way the real world must exist. Now, I will agree, that if we lived in such a way as to keep our kids completely away from society, and have a homestead large enough so that they would never have to interact (and therefore interrupt) each other, and we spent no time whatsoever with the kids to provide them with guidance and values, they could miss out on all of that; why anyone would assume that we did that, or that we could even do that living in the suburbs, is beyond me (especially in light of the fact that we put our kids on TV).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Let my Love Open the Door!

When everything feels all over
When everybody seems unkind
I'll give you a four-leaf clover
Take all the worry out of your mind
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart  

~ Pete Townsend, "Let My Love Open the Door"

As an unschooling parent I want my love to open the door to my kids' hearts & minds.  I want them to feel confident that my love will always be strong, supportive & unconditional.

When we open their lives to the amazing world we live in they have the opportunity to truly grow, learn and explore.  They don't hear "we're not studying that now", or "that's not the way to answer the question on the standardized test".  They explore deeply, they explore widely, & they explore using whatever tools they choose that helps them to understand what they are learning about.  

My love & respect for them tells them every day that I trust in their abilities & potential. 

Let your love open the door...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Are children capable of making 'good' choices?

We've heard many times over the past couple of weeks that, basically, if not forced, kids will always make a choice that is 'easiest' on them (with the implication that 'easiest' means the choice which requires the least amount of work, or is the most fun). The most common one is that kids will always watch TV instead of reading. It caused me to pay attention to some of the choices that my kids have been making (and wonder about how we ended up with so, so many books in the house). Here are some recent examples:

Options: Sleep late or get up early to help take the RV in to get serviced. Choice: go to the RV dealer.
Options: Anything on the menu at Applebee's. Choice: salad.
Options: Chocolate croissant vs. watermelon. Choice: watermelon.
Options: A donut at Dunkin Donuts. Choice: no thanks.
Options: Watch TV or help Mom by washing the dishes. Choice: wash dishes.
Options: Play the Wii or help dig a garden. Choice: dig the garden.

This by no means represents all the choices that my kids had the opportunity to make recently, but it helps to confirm my faith in my children. It's also not meant to assert that our kids make way better choices than any one else - just that they don't have to be forced to make them.

We've also heard the assumption that if kids aren't assigned chores, then they won't do any work around the house. Again, the implication here is that kids are lazy and will always take the easy way out. Some tasks that our kids do that have become the 'norm' even though we don't have chores:

Take out the garbage and recyclables.
Empty the dishwasher.
Put away the groceries.
Go grocery shopping.
Do her own laundry (my daughter).

Now, this isn't meant to be earth shattering information, or for that matter an exhaustive list of what our kids do around the house - it's meant to represent just small points. When we talk to the kids about chores (or more accurately, about helping around the house), it becomes a matter of choices - they understand that if the parents do all the work, then the parents will be tired and will have less time available to spend with the kids. They also understand that helping others feels good - and that helping those you love feels really good. This is something that they are quite able to learn all on their own, with the guidance of their parents.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Children are the center of our universe

'Ann Pleshette Murphy, parenting expert and "Good Morning America" contributor, questioned the unusual approach. "This to me is putting way too much power in the hands of the kids, something that we know kids can often find anxiety-producing, and it's also sending a message that they're the center of the universe, which I do not think is healthy for children," she said. '

The above lead in and quote were included during our first segment on GMA on our unschooling lifestyle. I was stunned reading this - I didn't know how to react; it seems so, so wrong. So many questions!

How much power does Ms. Murphy think we're putting in their hands, and at what point in their lives? Does she think that asking the kids to help decide on a location for a vacation at age 7, or to decide where we'll take a field trip at age 9, or what they want for dinner at age 12 is anxiety producing? How about deciding how they want to learn about a topic, or that they want to take a class, or that they want to read yet another book on Greek mythology? Or does she think we are asking them to set the entire family budget at age 5, or decide whether or not to pay the mortgage at age 10? And does she think that in a family where we spend so much of our time focusing on the kids' wants and needs that we can't spot any anxiety if our kids exhibit it? We know what the kids aren't comfortable deciding - they tell us. We don't say "you have to make a decision or else..." - it's so against the unschooling way of life. Perhaps she thinks we force them to make all of the decisions for the family? Like I said, it's a bit mind boggling.

The comment about the kids being the center of the universe was equally stunning. My kids are the center of my universe! (Well, they do share the stage with my wife.) They know it. It empowers them. It gives them confidence, allows them to take chances because they know we're here for them. They have also learned over time that all kids are (or should be) the center of their own parents' lives - so, they have come to understand that while their own family provides them with unconditional love and support, they can't expect the same from the rest of the world. Maybe Ms. Murphy would consider it shocking that the kids continue to learn and develop, and that they mature into understanding the difference between being the center of the whole universe as little children versus being the center of their parents' universe as they get older.

Our unschooling philosophy is based our understanding that people continue to learn throughout their entire lives. They learn about traditional school subjects; about interesting topics; and about living in a society. Our philosophy is also based on the parents providing guidance to their children - for example, helping them to understand that they are not the center of the entire universe. After all, our goal is to do our best for our kids, and to help them develop into successful adults. Why would we not teach them this? Why would we do something that would cause them anxiety?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

And they sleep all day?

From The National Sleep Foundation:

Teens and Sleep


  • Sleep is vital to your well-being, as important as the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat. It can even help you to eat better and manage the stress of being a teen.
  • Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence -- meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
  • Teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough). Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.
  • Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week — they typically stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends, which can affect their biological clocks and hurt the quality of their sleep.
  • Many teens suffer from treatable sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea.


Not getting enough sleep or having sleep difficulties can:
  • Limit your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems. You may even forget important information like names, numbers, your homework or a date with a special person in your life;
  • Make you more prone to pimples. Lack of sleep can contribute to acne and other skin problems;
  • Lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior such as yelling at your friends or being impatient with your teachers or family members;
  • Cause you to eat too much or eat unhealthy foods like sweets and fried foods that lead to weight gain;
  • Heighten the effects of alcohol and possibly increase use of caffeine and nicotine; and
  • Contribute to illness, not using equipment safely or driving drowsy.
Notice anything?  I sure do!  Everything known about normal sleep requirements for the average teenager is at odds with the typical high school schedule.  Why is this done to teens?  Because the schools' schedule can't adequately accommodate these needs.  One of the recommended solutions is to start school at a later time, but teens do not have a say in when they can attend school.

Unschoolers (& homeschoolers) are able to get the proper rest required for good physical, mental & psychological health when they are able to go to bed when they are tired & waken when they are ready.  

Does this mean they never get up early?  Of course not!  My children get up early when there is a reason - just like most adults.  How many adults get up early on the weekend or during their vacation "just because"?  Few - because unless they are getting up for a particular reason, they will stay asleep until they are naturally ready to waken.  Kids are no different.  So don't judge the night owls & assume laziness on their part - they are only doing what is natural.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What we wish the media shared about us...

We’ve been proactively exposing our kids for years to the many different ideas & things that exist in the world & they do choose to learn about interesting & complicated stuff, such as mythology, forensic science, geography, geology, opera, Shakespeare.  They have been reading since they were little - before school-age - & read every single day from numerous types of literature.
Kimi & Shaun can learn organically or formally - it’s their choice how they get their information.  They didn’t need classes to learn those things already mentioned as well how to swim, ski, hike, climb rock walls, read, figure out math problems, type, spell & write.  Things they have chosen to attend classes for include zoo school, a NASA simulation, sword fighting & historical weapons, gymnastics, Japanese culture, French, creative writing & robotics.  
There are a large number of radical unschoolers who are currently in college or already part of the work force.  They are positively engaged in society, not lost souls who can’t hold a job or take care of themselves.  Most 13 or 15 year olds don’t feel ready for college, no matter how they are being educated, so judging unschoolers differently is hypocritical.  Our kids will pursue whatever form of higher education they want because of specific goals they have set for themselves, not just because that’s what everyone is supposed to do.
There is a huge difference between no rules and no arbitrary rules.  When rules feel arbitrary people of all ages will fight back, sometime subtly, sometimes blatantly.  Our family “rules” are actually principles, with trust, respect & honesty always supporting the decision-making process.  As they internalize these principles, they are armed with the character tools needed to make logical, informed decisions and behave with honor and integrity, no matter how amazing or mundane the task.
Typical day?  Fortunately, unschoolers don't have a monotonous routine 5 days a week, 9 months out of the year!  "Typical" depends on the type of day.  

When we’re traveling, we have places to visit & things to do based upon whether the place is new to us or not.  This could include going to museums, zoos, national parks, cities, beaches, or musical or theatrical events.

When we’re home, the kids have various activities that they are engaged in, which could be done alone, with each other or us, or with a group of friends.  Activities include reading about, researching or exploring something that they are currently interested in, socializing with friends, working on projects, running errands or helping around the house.  Some days they have their classes to go to.  It varies & they are always busy & engaged in some activity.

Our kids are thoroughly engaged in their community - not being in school frees them to interact with many different people, doing different jobs, of different ages & backgrounds.  Their friendships & acquaintances provide them with a wider point of view of life styles that are different from their own.  The issues of bullying, cliques & negative peer pressure are not a part of their lives - they can't imagine why people would treat others that way.

Why can't learning be a joyful thing?  Why do so many people want children to "endure" - what does that say about their own lives?  And why do so many people think so little about the capabilities & work ethic of children, teens & young adults?  If so many are so lazy, well, were they unschooled or schooled - & if they were schooled (which we all know most were) then how can you attack unschoolers instead of the school system that begot these "lazy" adults?

I'm not saying the public school is all bad, even when it doesn't have a 100% success rate.  There are families that are not equipped, for various reasons, to unschool their children.  But the system is far from perfect.  Unschoolers are not perfect, but somehow we are expected to do better than what the school system is able to do.  I hope that those families looking for alternatives can find useful, factual information to help them make decisions that enhance their lives & the lives of their children.

JK Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure | Video on

JK Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure | Video on

What powerful words from an extremely talented wordsmith!

Live, Love, Learn & Trust!

In Massachusetts, we celebrate Patriots' Day, a yearly holiday that commemorates the Battles of Lexington & Concord on April 19, 1775.  

On April 19, 2010, our family unexpectedly found itself in a different kind of battle - a battle to defend our reputation & the image of radical unschooling.  We had allowed a national news organization, Good Morning America, to film us in and around our home as we explained the educational & parenting philosophies that are encompassed by Radical Unschooling.  Due to some heavy editing & some staged scenarios, as requested by GMA, our family ended up looking like a bunch of lazy uninformed crazies.  The word "crazy" was even used during the intro by George Stephanopoulos.  Their version of our lives didn't resemble what we do at all!

Fortunately, after a huge uproar on their website, they realized that they could have done a better job & had done us a disservice.  We were contacted soon after the segment aired & were invited to fly to NYC to appear on their show the next morning - they wanted to provide us with a do-over.  With more than a little trepidation, we decided to go.

We are so glad we did!  Everyone we met at Good Morning America treated us with respect & kindness.  They had us stay at a nice hotel right next to the studios & comp'ed our meals while in the City.  Juju made a point of talking to all of us before we went on air & was very kind & encouraging.  Meeting George right before the segment, he was warm & self-deprecating.  I have to say, I was impressed that he was willing to figuratively "take it on the chin" for the bias they displayed the previous day.

Even though we only had a few minutes to address so many issues raised by our original segment, we think we were able to get at least some key points out there.  The last thing we want is to make it harder for other unschoolers to be respected & understood as they live their lives & care for their children.

We're hoping that this new media interest will lead to healthy dialogue about learning & education, respectful family relationships, & helping all children find their inner passions and abilities.

Thank you for reading - we hope you join in the discussion with an open heart & an open mind.