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Unpreschooling, part 2 tuning in and trusting
February was tough. Six of your friends from playgroup had little ones starting preschool at the beginning of the month. You thought the end of last year was hard as you fielded dozens of questions from fellow playgroup parents after bravely 'coming out' with your decision to home educate. You'd felt the need to justify your decision many times over, which lead to much rethinking and going over the pros and cons again. Someone had compared it to swimming against the tide but on some days it felt as if you'd been caught in the rip, your confidence severely undermined by the never-ending unsolicited opinions. A friend, a veteran unschooler, smiled knowingly and complimented you on how well you'd rode the waves, putting your trust firmly in your natural ability to parent your child to meet her needs, not what everyone else thought was right and good for her. And reminded you that this is what unschooling is all about: learning to trust in ourselves and our natural learning abilities.
Still, you hadn't been prepared for what happened at Mums Night Out at the local café. The chatter was exclusively about preschool: the structure, routine, activities, staff, the tears at the gate, what the kids wore and had for lunch. You had nothing to offer and sat and listened. It suddenly struck you that not only were you swimming against the tide but that the current was taking you to a completely different country! The more you listened the more you reflected on your week with your awesome little person and felt glad she'd been spared some of the woes and misfortunes her little playmates had endured.
While they'd been learning to sit still, not fidget and be quiet, wait patiently for their turn to speak, your awesome little dynamo had been chanting nonsense rhymes lying half on, half off the couch upside-down 'reading' the Aldi catalog. She then happily started tearing out pictures and stacked them neatly on the table and declared loudly it was her shopping list. You'd offered the glue stick and some paper and she asked for paints. After a very quiet period she emerged triumphantly, completely naked, skin painted in all the colours of the rainbow! Luckily the floor was tiled, not carpeted. As it turned out, her doll had been painted too and needed a shower, accompanied by much singing.
You found and placed her decorated shopping list with yours under your purse, ready for the afternoon's outing. And then spied the box of puzzles and laid a few out on the rug, which she gravitated to immediately after being patted dry. Suggestions of clothes were put aside until the alphabet puzzle was completed. You sat and breastfed the baby, gently nudging your deeply concentrating daughter toward the next piece with hints: "What colour is that edge, what does it match; does it have a large lug or a small one; do you need a big piece or a small piece; I think that might be the letter A - where is the rest of the letter A?" and so on. At one point you reached across and helped because you sensed her growing frustration at two pieces that wouldn't click together, noting that she was probably getting hungry.
You reflect that it's easy for parents to tune into their children's needs and meet them in a timely fashion. Being mindfully attentive, observing them closely, reflecting on the patterns of behaviour and their changing moods and preferences are key components of an unschooling approach to education.
Last week you'd bought a special knife that was safe for little people to use and ever since she's been insistent on cutting up her own fruit. Her friends at preschool had probably sat down half an hour ago around shared bowls of pieces of fruit cut up by the volunteer parent. You wince as she slashes and stabs and saws her way through the apple, ready to jump in and take over but hold off, biting back those helpful suggestions. The apple is a mess but she doesn't care and happily - proudly - plonks the pieces into her favourite bowl and precociously carries it to the table. And later, when she climbs on the step-stool and fills her cup with water from the tap you're grateful she's so independent because you really do have your hands full meeting her baby brother's needs.
Your house is organised, relatively clean but messy compared with your friends. Sometimes you lament the ever-present clutter as you step carefully over the toys, play props, puzzles and books to get to the kitchen or bathroom, but you know that if you spend a few moments picking up a few things here and there and putting them away it's a habit your daughter will eventually develop. And provided you stick to just a few things she's usually happy to chip in and help. The open shelves, trays and coloured boxes with their picture labels make it easy for her to find things and put them away again too. It does take extra time cleaning the bathroom if she sponges down the shower, but it's worth it. Last week you sat on the edge of the bath with bubs and watched her 'write' all your names on the tiles with bubbles.
Sometimes, standing in the newsagent your hand hovers over the reading readiness activity booklets but then you remember that she's learning her letters anyway, in her own way, without any fuss or special attention. She doesn't know she's learning, to her it's simply living. It's natural. But she did love the activity book Grandma brought though: they sat for almost an hour working through the pages, doing the puzzles and placing the stickers where they needed to go. And afterwards, at bedtime, you had to 'read' the booklet to her.
There are times when the two of you clash and angry words fly: it's hard then to pull back and remember to be respectful and not dominate this fledgling human exercising her tiny wings of self-determination. There is much you can learn about being assertive from this little person and it's important to help her learn to understand, accept and be comfortable with managing her emotional life. It's hard to trust that she can do that when you've not had that same trust extended to you as a child and feel so uncertain around your own emotions and don't trust yourself. But you're getting there. You look for the win-win in every conflict, knowing that the solution to the problem is there, it just needs a little more sleuthing and because you've had the most life experience of the two of you it's only natural you end up doing most of the legwork looking for it. Open heart, open mind is your mantra when times get tough.
Today you're feeling confident: you've banished the doubts that crept in after listening to your friends. You've worked out that even though you are heading somewhere else you still have lots in common with them. Their choices don't have to undermine your confidence in yours. As you close the bedtime story book and kiss your little one goodnight you start making plans for a busy day together tomorrow.
Next issue, Unpreschooling part three will look in depth at some of the principles and strategies that underpin an unschooling lifestyle in families with young children.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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