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.