truisms - "proven" strategies

proven parenting strategies

There's a fundamental problem with this premise, which is that it assumes that
rule-based parenting is proven effective when it's results are actually pretty
random. In fact, the body of evidence provided by "proven parenting strategies"
is that there are good seeds and bad seeds and it doesn't matter if you do all
the right things, some kids will turn out bad.

The problem is that conventional parenting and educational strategies are
divorced from rational analysis. Parents and teachers continue using the same
strategies and sharing them as "proven" even when they fail spectacularly. Part
of that comes from seeing child psychology and behavior as divorced from adult
psychology and behavior - children are seen as students or subjects, future
adults, future people, and as such everything known about human nature is set
aside in favor of tactics for training or educating them.

Where radical unschooling gets radical is that it applies what is known about
human nature and cause-and-effect relationships to children. There have been
educational methods, over the years, which apply those principles in classroom
situations to great effect. And there have been parents and movements of parents
who have applied such principles in the home, also to great effect. These
principles have been applied to normal kids, gifted kids, troubled kids, and
kids with a wide range of disabilities. The idea that children are human beings,
with the needs of human beings and reactions of human beings, and that adults as
well as children can learn from adult-child interactions to the betterment of
both parties has been proven true over and over. But none of that is reflected
in conventional parenting lore or common educational methodology.

it seems that parents still need to steer their kids in the right direction,
not based on biased world view...

The human brain is designed to notice patterns and there are patterns everywhere
- in speech, in social interactions, in shapes of things, in the relationships
between physical characteristics. Some sets of related patterns we call
"language" some we call "mathematics" some we call "ethics" and "courtesy". Kids
can't help but notice those patterns and think about them because that's what
our big convoluted brains do best.

The trouble with trying to "steer kids in the right direction" is it ignores the
human capacity to see patterns - it's the "do as I say, not as I do" fallacy.
Adults try to write knowledge onto kids to protect them from having to learn
"the hard way" - noble sentiments! but the human brain isn't a tabula rasa. It
doesn't work that way, and so kids become aware of the fundamental gaps between
what's being taught and the real patterns of real life. That's why teenagers
fight with their parents! They have enough perspective by then to see all the
ways that adults are impulsive, foolish, self-deluded, contradictory, and rude,
and contrast that with how they're told they should behave "if you want to be an

If you step back from the idea that kids need to be steered and see what they
do, they explore and respond to the patterns of their environment. Adults can
help them - and should! Unschooling is absolutely Not "hands off parenting" it's
very engaged, thoughtful parenting. Kids, like adults, don't want to be set up
to make disastrous mistakes, but they do want to make their own decisions.
Unschooling parents help by offering up other portions of the patterns around

from a related discussion:
What methods [of evaluation] would you suggest, that aren't subjective?

There are no methods of measuring what a person has learned which are not subjective - none whatsoever. The idea that it's possible to measure learning objectively is part of the problem, and one of the reasons so many parents, educators and administrators are opposed to the use of standardized systems of evaluation. That's why more responsive methods of education rely on a mix of different kinds of feedback, both qualitative and quantitative - feedback which allows the "teacher" to know if he or she is doing well or needs to modify his or her approach, focus, and/or goals to better meet the needs of the student(s). The greatest horror of the push toward more "objective" methods is that it prevents teachers from doing exactly that - modifying the curriculum to the real needs of the people being educated. That kind of ongoing, inherently subjective, assessment and modification is the hallmark of good teaching anywhere, under any conditions.

false truisms - money

I have a hard time with just handing money to my children for no reason what so
ever on a regular basis. I feel it teaches....

The trouble with focusing on teaching is that it ignores what and how people
really learn. There's a grand parenting myth that in order for children to learn
what's right and good, you have to be stern and strong, put your foot down, make
them work for it, make them prove they're worthy. The marvelous thing about
unschooling is you get to see that none of that is really true. You actually Can
be sweet and kind and generous and gracious to your kids without "teaching" them
to be rotten little monsters who don't give a crap about anyone but themselves.
I'll repeat the important part of that:

It's Okay to Be Nice to your Children! It won't ruin them for life.

just handing money to my children for no reason

Generosity is a reason and a darned good one. Kids don't become "spoiled" by an
abundance of generosity, they grow bitter when attention and care are replaced
with things.

I also do not pay them to do the regular chores around the house ... as a
family we all have to contribute to things.

Why did you have children? If it was to make more workers for your family
economy, then your philosophy is perfectly consistent and reasonable (and this
is why unschooling doesn't work in some environments - if children are necessary
to the financial solvency of a community it is not possible to unschool).

But if you have the luxury of valuing your children other reasons - for their
love of life, their fascination with the world, their personalities and
uniqueness, then they are already contributing to your family and your life. You
don't Have To make them earn anything else - they've already succeeded in
enriching your world.

Probably, you're thinking in terms of teaching, though, and getting stuck there.
It seems reasonable that you have to teach children to be good workers, because
they don't start out that way... except that's not the case. They Do start out
motivated and well able to learn what they need... until teaching sabotages
their learning, interrupting what they care to learn until mindless, silly tasks
are accomplished. Over time, without being taught or required to "contribute"
kids do discover the value of some of those mindless, silly tasks and start to
take them on - they Voluntarily begin to help. That's a consistent finding
across families that don't require "contributions" but are open to them.
Openness matters, for sure! Homes where kids are not Permitted to contribute are
different matters - and those are often the homes people point to when they say:
see these kids weren't made to help and they're helpless. They weren't "not
made" they were "not allowed".

I guess for me it is important for my children to know that money is earned

But it isn't always earned - and certainly money is not always earned in
proportion to work. People receive money from trusts, insurance, investments,
inheritance, spouses, grants, and gifts. And there are people who work for no
money or very little compared to what they do.

There's no correlation between making kids sing for their supper and a strong
work ethic. The laziest, most money-grubbing people I've met were raised doing
work for their parents and taught that money had to be earned. Some of the most
generous people I've met were raised with no expectations they "contribute to
the family". Which isn't to say that chores will necessarily ruin your kids -
teaching isn't learning no matter how you slice it. What kids learn from
parental expectations is personal - some will learn they are valued as good
workers, others will learn that work sucks and it's better to bilk the system
for every penny.

and that it is not easy always

This is another fantastically huge parenting myth: that it's somehow possible
for kids to learn that life is easy and they can have anything they want. There
is not a shred of reality in that myth. Really, you could bend over backwards
saying yes to everything all day long and kids would still run into a hundred
roadblocks, frustrations and disappointments. The sun will go down no matter how
hard you wish otherwise. It rains on picnics. Squirrels eat the tulips, the deer
fail to show up not matter how long you wait, and the hummingbirds eventually
fly off until next year. People get tired and are uncooperative. Bodies change
and old things no longer fit. Beloved toys and blankets wear out and fall apart.
Life is so full of hardship and disaster that parents don't need to add a single
"no" for kids to figure that out... usually by age 2. It's that obvious.

And - and! it's impossible to say yes even to all the things which are
theoretically possible. Parents aren't always as capable, creative, and have
enough energy for everything (although we're often better than we think,
especially with practice!). Parents aren't perfect - they're human beings! And
that's really fine because so are children. Never, every worry that a child will
grow up thinking life is easy.

One of the fascinating aspects of radical unschooling is getting to see the
biggest parenting "have tos" proved wrong. You don't have to be stern and hard
for their benefit, you don't have to teach them life is hard, you don't have to
teach them the benefit of work - you don't have to teach anything at all. You
can live with them as friends - you the more together, capable friend who is
graciously offering your resources to your less informed, less capable friend
who needs a lot of help for awhile. What a great friend to be! What a great
friend to have! I didn't get that good of a friend as a child, so I'm finding it
a special honor to get to be one. It's marvelous.

I also think that it is so important to learn to wait for something.

Delayed gratification is one of the many things adults think comes from teaching
which is actually developmental - and like anything developmental that means
some people learn it much sooner than others, based on unique qualities. When
kids are required to wait too often and for too long, some of them learn to be
resigned, some to be resentful, some that they aren't worthy, some that when
they grow up it will be their turn to make Others wait. A lot of that will have
to do with personality.

What you can do is set kids up to succeed and don't make them wait for things
unnecessarily when you can avoid it and help kids wait gracefully - either by
helping them find a distraction or commiserating gently and supporting their
emotions. Which one is more appropriate will depend on the child and situation.

My point is that in general my kids know that money just buys things and we
really do not need all those things to survive and be happy!

Yes, kids can learn things like that even in conventional parenting situations,
if parents are generous and engaged in other ways. Being generous and engaged
are the big things - and that's good to know if you're daunted by these crazy
radical ideas that kids can learn grace and thoughtfulness and responsibility
without being taught.

As with any situation, I think talking, talking, talking with your children
and really with them and not at them is the most important tool to helping them
see where you are coming from.

This is a piece of advice that works so well for some families and is utterly
disastrous for others. What Is important is creating an environment where
communication is open and flows both ways, but how that happens Rarely involves
lots of talking. When it does, it's a personality thing.

A big part of what makes communication work is actually stepping back from
trying to get someone else to see your point of view and considering theirs -
and that's all the more important when "they" are children. There is development
to consider and the innate power differential between a parent and a child. So
it is all the more important that parents can see a child's perspective if they
want to open up the lines of communication.

fully exposed

Q:how do you go about exposing your children to things that you value, but that
they don't immediately understand the value of--without burning out, giving up,
or resorting to methods that don't feel quite right?

The biggest, most important thing to realize is that all the exposure,
exposition and explanation in the world won't produce interest or a sense of
value. Those things only come from within. You can't Make someone else care
about what you care about, or learn what you want her to learn.

That's the problem with education itself - not you, not your kids, but education

Start someplace else - how do kids learn what they need to know if no-one is
showing them what's important?

Kids learn because they are observant. I don't only mean modelling, I mean the
human brain is designed to notice patterns and there are patterns everywhere -
in speech, in social interactions, in shapes of things, in the relationships
between physical characteristics. Some sets of related patterns we call
"language" some we call "mathematics" some we call "music" etc. Kids can't help
but notice those patterns and think about them because that's what our big
convoluted brains do best.

Think about the things you're considering valuable in terms of education -
they're Prevalent. That's why you want your kids to know them, so they're not
lost and ignorant and helpless. I used to worry that my kid wouldn't know
anything about religion because I wasn't "exposing" her to it in any kind of
systematic way. But religious and mythological ideas are very prevalent - in
books, movies, tv shows, puppet shows, random conversations in the grocery
store. She can't avoid learning about a dozen different religions just from
going about her daily life, observing the patterns she sees.

In addition, kids learn because they are full of curiosity and wonder. That's
big. It's a marvel. Wondering is what takes people - including children - from
observation to something else, to asking questions and looking for answers. To
trying and finding out. Wondering is one of the reasons people push through
challenges - climb real mountains and metaphorical ones. You can't Give someone
that kind of motivation; it only comes from deep within. Sadly, you can take it
away, and teaching someone who doesn't really want to be taught is a proven way
of doing so.

how do you go about exposing your children to things that you value

Step back from the word "children" and replace it with "friends" - how does the
question change?

If you value something, make it part of your life. If you value music, play
music, listen to music, dance and sing. Invite the people you love to join you -
maybe they will. If you value scientific thinking, think like a scientist. If
you enjoy math, play with numbers and relationships. The catch is to live your
own values without trying to foist them off on other people - because that's not
a very good way of sharing what you love, and because personality matters. All
your singing and dancing won't make your kids musicians if they're not so
inclined - but they'll know a few things about music. If you push music at them,
they may associate what they know with drudgery and unhappiness - and then
you've failed and failed more utterly than if you never sang a note in their