coaching and practice

Is there a place for 'coaching' within the unschooling paradigm?
I'm going to reframe the question from an unschooling perspective: how do your kids feel about "being coached"? Is it something that gets them inspired and excited about what they're doing? Does it make hard work into a slog? Does it set them up to weigh and measure their own worth as human beings against a set of external standards? Does it build them up, give them a sense of capability and confidence?

Coaching can mean a lot of things and happen in a lot of different ways, but "good" coaching, like good teaching has to meet the needs of the person being coached, or it's damaging. That means some people are going to have great experiences being coached and others not so much.
I'm also aware that being a musician and performer requires a certain level of attitude and discipline.

Not "a" certain level of anything. People are different. Skilled artists and craftspeople don't all fall out of the same mold or take the same path to excellence. In fact, many very capable, talented, successful artists and craftspeople follow rather eccentric routes. Reading or listening to biographies is actually a great way to wrap your head around how natural learning works in real life! Because for every artist who follows some stock school model there are a handful who fell into art while doing other jobs, or took a break in the middle to try something else, or dabbled until something changed and they took a leap of faith.
As per some experts it takes 10000 hours of practice to become a good musician.

It's tragic that that gets used to promote the idea that to be good at something you have to slog through a lot of shit you hate. In real life, the real take-away of that particular study was this: passion matters. People who derive joy and pride and fulfillment from what they do, do it a whole lot. Thousands of hours. It's not: "work hard and you'll be great." It's: "doing what matters to you is worthy." Talent matters. Personality matters. Luck matters. Feeling like you deserve to take an hour away from your responsible adult life and to make art, that matters, too. The thousand-hour study is a plea to everyone who's ever thrown up their hands and said "why can't you be more responsible instead of playing those damned drums all the time" to chill out and back off and let artists spend the time it takes to feed their art and their souls.
And this is where 'serious' musicians (or sportspeople or business people etc. etc.) hire coaches.

"Hire coaches" is too narrow a way to describe it. When people want to get better, they look for ways to do that. Sometimes that means finding other people to help... but that doesn't always look like coaching. Sometimes it means finding a new friend, or friends, to hang out with and make art with and/or network with. Sometimes it means biting off more than you can chew and asking everyone around "holy shit, wtf am I doing?" and getting lots of free advice. Sometimes it means watching youtube videos or listening to a million old records. Occasionally it looks like traditional coaching, for a little while, but often that's a very little while - long enough to get over a hump, learn one new thing - a workshop, a class, a weekend with someone who's passing through town.
Can an unschooling parent be a coach as well?

Depends. On you, and how much of your ego is tied up in your kids, on how good you are at watching and listening for the cues that say "this isn't helping", on how adaptable you are to the needs of others. It depends on how your personality dovetails with your kids'. It depends on the extent to which your kids are doing what they do out of joy and how much they're doing it because it's what you want - making themselves who you want them to be to get your love. As parents we have a whole heck of a lot of power to hurt our kids by seeing who they could be rather than who they are.

Something to ask yourself is how much it would hurt your feelings (make you angry) if your kid wanted a different coach, or no coach, or wanted to take a big long break from something they were really good at.

Rather than seeing yourself as a coach, try seeing yourself as a friend. Friends learn from each other. Among artists and craftspeople, learning from friends can be a really wonderful part of the process... but it can also be fraught when our personalities and insecurities clash. Often, life involves discovering which of our friends we can turn to for what kinds of help - there are friends I won't call for financial help and friends I won't call when my art needs a kick in the keester. Imposing the words "parent" or "coach" on the relationship can make the input of a particular friend seem more valuable than it really is.


easier for 4yo

My kids span a large age range - some grown, the youngest 4. Sometimes my husband an I want to do things as a family, but the 4yo doesn't want to go. Like recently, we all wanted to go support our eldest at an event and the 4yo refused. I finally packed him into the car anyway, but he cried the whole way there and then fell asleep in the car, so I missed everything. How can we find a middle ground that honors everyone?
Rather than thinking in terms of middle ground, think in terms of making the inevitable easier on your kids - because there certainly are things in life that are... if not inevitable then at least major limits in life, and it goes a long way to look for ways to make it easier for kids to navigate those.

So, in terms of taking a 4yo someplace they're going to be bored and frustrated when they'd rather be home, I'd look for ways to make the experience less onerous on the 4yo. Pack fun things in the car. Plan to bring special snacks and activities that are all about the 4yo - stop for ice cream, maybe, or get a bunch of glow sticks and run around the parking lot in the dark. Get a new video game for the occasion to play in the car. Treat it like... going to the doctor's office - how could you make the experience less unpleasant for everyone?

All that being said, it's good to keep in mind that some kids have a harder time with transitions than others - and 3-5yos often find transitions hard. You can try to soften them, but it's worth asking "is it actually worth bringing a little kid to something like this?" I mean, no-one enjoys a bored, frustrated little kid, and having one along can really ruin an experience for everyone. That's not a "discipline" thing, that's real life with little kids. They don't Belong everywhere. So it's not really productive to put them through a hard transition for something that's just going to suck.

For something like the event, then, it would have been helpful to try and brainstorm ways for the 4yo to get to see the big event without having to be in a place that's really, really not designed for young children... like maybe live streaming, or making a video to watch at home. Or just taking lots of pictures. Then the experience could be about the kid to whom the event really matters, rather than the needs of the 4yo, and there'd be mementos.

It takes some practice to get used to dealing with kid stuff like that, thinking and planning ahead with realistic expectations, but it's sooooooo worthwhile because making things easier on your kids makes it easier for the whole family.


value of children

"getting one's just deserts"

That kind of language implies that people who don't work so hard don't deserve their lives... which by extension includes children. It's part of the premise that says kids should be made to do chores - they need to "pitch in" and "be part of the family" by dint of their labor, or they're just moochers, not deserving. Human worth measured in "contribution".

In some times and places, that's valid. Non-contributing members of a group are literal burdens, and as such less valued, less worthy. They're drains on resources. As appalling as that idea may seem from a more privileged perspective, there's a rationale and even a morality to the idea. And that idea clings in the common psyche long after it's no longer necessary to measure persons in terms of economic or social value. Parents feel morally justified in requiring kids to do chores - kids *should* be made to do them.

That's one of the privileges of unschooling - kids get to be valued even when they don't contribute. They get to live wholly undeserved lives. And that turns out to be a good thing, psychologically and emotionally. It doesn't ruin kids to live undeserved lives, it doesn't stop them from being good and gracious and generous. It lets them be those things on their own terms.


angry, resistant child

My 5yo seems to be angry a lot of the time, these days, and has no discipline. She says please and thank you rarely, doesn't want to say hi to people we know, and always wants her own way. It almost seems like we've raised a spoiled brat.

Something to keep in mind... do you know the saying "when your kid is giving you a hard time they're really Having a hard time?" If your child seems angry much of the time, then she's not going to be able to see beyond her own needs very well - that means she Can't be friendly and accommodating very easily. She's little. The world is big and overwhelming, and she's trying to deal with the few skills she has. And right now courtesy is just a song and dance to make other people happy - not something she can access when she's not in a good place, herself. So a big part of making it possible for her to be her best self is going to involve helping her get to that good place.

It took me a long time to realize that a big part of unschooling was actually making kids' lives easier. It seems so counter-intuitive - mainstream culture tells us over and over, that "kids have to learn" and that most of that learning involves setting them up to be challenged. But that's not how learning works! People learn better when they're the ones choosing their own challenges - and kids certainly will do that. But just like anyone else, when they're not the ones picking the challenges they're up against, they tend to hunker down and get grumpy

So it can actually be really helpful to look at what's setting your kid up to be angry so much of the time and see what you can do to make her life a little sweeter and easier. For a 5yo, there may be a whooooole lot of things that seem really trivial from an adult perspective - like not wanting to say hi to someone - that are huge sources of frustration from their point of view. So a big part of helping your kid involves looking for their point of view.

One particular aspect of making life easier for kids that parents overlook is flat out doing things for them. Again, we've gotten all these teachy messages from the world around us saying "oh, they have to do things for themselves so they'll learn". But, once again, that's not how learning works. That's something I saw over and over with my first, when we were still fumbling our way toward unschooling. When I put him in situations where he was expected to do things he didn't want to do, he didn't actually learn anything beneficial in the process. Instead, over time, he learned he wasn't a nice person
But when I started stepping in and doing things for him when he wanted - even things I knew he could do - he was happier, and he learned more from the experience. His social skills were better when I said please and thank you for him then when I tried to coax him to do it for himself. So don't hesitate to help your child directly like that if it will make life easier for her - she'll learn better things from your assistance than from digging in her heels, not wanting to do whatever it is.

All that being said, I don't want to give you a false impression that making your child's life easier will turn her into something she's not. She may never be an agreeable little babydoll - she may be someone who's going to disagree with you and challenge your assumptions at every turn. And part of living happily with a strong personality is to get comfortable with disagreement and having your assumptions challenged. The great thing about strong minded kids is that they can take you places you never thought you'd go! The down side is that it's not the smoothest ride in the world


little kids and "boundaries"

It can help a lot to step back from the idea of "setting" boundaries and think about what boundaries really are and how we can communicate about them. While you're deschooling, in fact, it's useful to look out for the ways you may tend to override your kids' boundaries without thinking about it. There are plenty of natural boundaries in life - hunger, fatigue, personal space - that we don't so much "set" for other people as look for ways to communicate effectively... and by communicate I don't mean saying no, necessarily.

When you think about it, kids lives are packed full of boundaries. They're living in a world that's too big, too complicated, full of assumptions they don't understand and expectations they don't even know exist until someone tells them they've failed. A lot of unschooling is actually about helping kids find ways over and around and through boundaries so that their lives are easier. You almost certainly do some of that already - every time you pick up a kid so they can see something, you're helping them around a boundary.

One of the biggest boundaries for little kids is that they're little kids. They struggle to communicate because their brains aren't fully developed, they don't understand their own feelings, and the world keeps throwing them curve balls. A young child who is, for instance, hitting, often doesn't need a boundary set for them - they're desperately trying to communicate that the darn world is broken again. The toy got taken! The dog won't do the thing! The cup fell! I don't remember which way the shoe goes! They need help navigating the boundaries that are in their way - help understanding, help not getting into that situation in the first place, help change gears, help understanding what's going on. And a lot of that help happens before the child runs into that boundary in the first place. So as a parent, part of the process of helping kids deal with boundaries involves learning to be proactive - thinking and planning ahead so that our kids don't run into so many walls.

That may sound counter-intuitive - how will kids learn to deal with those walls if they don't run into them? But a lot of those walls are developmental - they go away. Most kids just plain grow out of the hitting stage as they get used to uncomfortable feelings and learn to predict human behavior a little better. Others are a lot easier to navigate when they're just little barriers - dealing with one or two new people is less overwhelming than ten. We can look for ways to keep barriers small and manageable so that kids have a chance to think and learn how to navigate without getting overwhelmed.

If this isn't sounding like the kinds of boundaries you have in mind, then you may be confusing boundaries with a sort of soft-edged version of rules. "The boundary is: no jumping on the couch." But seen another way, you've got a kid who needs a bunch of big muscle movement and the real boundary is that you don't feel comfortable with the couch being used to meet that need. That might be a boundary you can stretch or even get over - some boundaries really are just in your head. Or you could look for other ways to meet that need that don't involve the couch - a mini trampoline, some special cushions just for jumping. We had a designated "jumping chair" for a few years. The boundary of adults not being comfortable with ruined furniture didn't go away, but we found a way to deal with that boundary that wasn't all about finding the perfect way to say no.

A lot of deschooling for parents involves learning to do this kind of problem-solving so that "boundaries" aren't end points or road blocks, but opportunities to try something different. At first it can seem kind of overwhelming - a learning curve is a kind of real life boundary! But with time and practice it gets easier.



I see a lot of questions about transcripts, so I thought I'd put this out here. I decided to register with The Farm School as our umbrella program in TN for the "high school" years, in part so that I could do exactly this, and generate a transcript as we went. At the end, if we want, The Farm will create a diploma for us. The transcript is generated via a simple online program - I'm sure there are tons of the darned things, but the one they use is homeschoolreporting.com in case you're looking for one. One of the handy features is that when you go to type in a "class" it gives you a long list of suggested high school classes so you can use something that sounds nice and normal. You can also assign grades and credits if you want.

So this is what the transcript looks like for Morgan's "freshman year of high school":

English 1
Math- logic
Computing - graphic design
Physical education
Ancient history//World Geography

But we're unschoolers, right? So how the heck did she manage that? Do we do online classes or something? Nope. Not a bit of it. I keep an eye on the sorts of things she's doing - what she's reading, writing about, drawing, watching, playing - and I take notes on that when I think about it. Then around the turn of the "semester" I look through my notes and see what would be a good fit. I compare what high school say students learn to what colleges assume high school graduates retain, and I take that pretty heavily into account. I'm not interested in holding my kid to a superior standard, just providing a reasonable "translation" of natural learning into a simple, lowest-common-denominator sort of format.

Mostly, it's pretty easy. Natural learning really does lead kids in all sorts of wonderful directions! It even leads to a fair amount of intellectual rigor in terms of questioning sources, analyzing information, expressing ideas clearly, even examining the ethics of decision making. It does because natural learning isn't about doing just enough to pass a test, it's about following the rabbit trails of curiosity and discovering where they lead. So that even when the "subject matter" derives from fan fiction and video games rather than textbooks and approved reading lists, curiosity itself leads kids to develop the kinds of mental skills that schools work so hard (and often with such futility) to impart.

If you're looking for more information about creating transcripts, portfolios or other kinds of reporting for unschoolers, here's a really good collection of resources

December 2016 update!

Well, it's the end of another reporting period, time to cobble my notes into something that sounds reasonable. Last year, things changed a little between the "mid year report" and the final version, and I expect that will happen again this year. Remember, this is an interpretation of real life, natural learning, which twists and turns and doesn't follow a plan. And I'm trying to cram all of that into some fairly narrow categories provided by my reporting program. This is how it looks so far - with commentary, because I'm in that kind of mood.

English 2. By which I mean, she reads stuff, encounters literature and literary references, talks about stuff, compares and contrasts, and is generally articulate and aware. I'm debating changing this to "contemporary literature" but maybe next year.

English, writing - creative writing. I'm irritated to discover that the reporting program doesn't actually have a "creative writing" category, so I'll figure out how to tweak it later on. There's also a "composition" category, and I might use that. She writes A Lot, and not all of it fiction. And communicates about writing A Lot on various websites. So I'll see where I want to go with this.

Computer programming. This is something she's dabbled in, on and off, and needs to end up on the transcript somewhere. I've done some casual research into high school programming courses, and she's dabbled all over that stuff. Apparently school programming classes aren't all that impressive. See my complete lack of surprise.

Drawing - intro to animation. She does a lot of drawing and some animation, so once again this needs to end up on the transcript somehow, somewhere. And yet again I'm having a hard time fitting it into a category. Don't they have "basics of animation" classes in high schools? They should. It's the 21st century for crissakes.

 History - modern. Lots of stuff going on in her world connecting to the world wars these days. I'll keep this for this "semester" but it's possible I'll list something else next "semester." That's what I did above for world history/ geography - each was a half credit, "single semester class." As it were. In real life, of course, there's lots of swirling around, overlapping ideas.

Math - applied 1. What a delightfully uninformative category! Perfect for unschoolers. Realistically, her math is coming from computer stuff - programming, animation, and video games. So you can see, it's sometimes hard to know where to "record" things. At this point, I'm thinking of keeping programming separate from math because it can be used as a "foreign language" for some universities, and that might be handy.

Psychology - gender studies. Not that "gender studies" is a category, but I'm going to make it fit somewhere. This has been a Big Topic of Conversation in our house, and for a kid who doesn't really "make conversation" by nature, that's significant.

Physiology. Hmm. Might be a stretch, but maybe I'll dig out the old "physiology coloring book" to add to what's happening around this topic. Or maybe I'll find a better category by June. We'll see.

Physical education - because all those hours on the trampoline might as well count for something, right?

So as you can see, the "mid semester" point is more of a rough draft than a finished product. A lot of what she's doing is ongoing. A lot of it can be categorized in multiple ways. And she's going in a bunch of directions at once. Also, the program I'm set up with, via the Farm, isn't very oriented toward tech-savvy kids. I will contrive!


unschooling math

My 8yo has never had an interest in math. He's very bright, but won't apply himself to learn it. Any suggestions for something FUN - a family game, etc., that we could gift him for Christmas that might help him? I'd like to unschool math, but can't imagine how that works.

Step back from ideas like "he's not applying himself" - that's the kind of language schools use to make kids feel bad about the fact that they don't dovetail conveniently with a particular educational method. Kids don't fail at school from not applying themselves, schools fail to meet their needs. Tell him that - it will help his self-esteem.

That being said, math is everywhere, all the time. Schools mostly ruin it for people, so the best thing you can do is offer fun things that don't "look" like math.

Video games are a great example - they're pretty solidly math, certainly a much better way for kids to internalize the concepts.

Art is a math-rich endeavor, if he's artistic. Music, obviously, but all kinds of art depend on an intuitive grasp of mathematical principles.

Any kind of goopy, messy activity involves and exploration of chemical properties, and therefore math. Making "potions," making mud, cooking and baking.

Playing with flight involves a ton of intuitive math - airplanes, frisbees, balls, rockets, zip lines, parachutes, balloons. And things with wheels depend on a lot of the same concepts - bicycles, scooters, skates, skateboards, toy cars. Ramps and jumps and loops. Bunny hops and ollies.

All the juggling arts are enormously rich in physics, and therefore math: balls, clubs, poi, devil sticks, contact juggling, diablos. Yoyos. Hula hoops.

Magnets and electricity are good fun, full of math, and make easy gifts. Snap circuits. Things with motors. Magnetic toys and kits. Compass experiments.

Building toys of all kinds are great for playing with mathematical principles. Legos and lego-compatible K'nex are fantastic, but for added fun there are also marble runs, race-car tracks, kits with wheels, gears and pulleys, simple robot kits.

The main thing is to recognize that learning about patterns, connections, and interactions - real world math - isn't going to look anything like school math. And that's a good thing because schools ruin "math" for most people. Really playing with math often involves separating the idea of "math" from actual math so that you don't get bogged down in school damage and can actually learn something interesting.