This morning I had my aha moment. So I’ve always kind of been what friends would call the “radical hippy” because I love art, want to change the world, envision utopia, challenge authority and preconceived ideas, am not satisfied with the structures of government institutions and the pharmaceutical world, I birth my babies at home unassisted, and am homeschooling my children without any set curriculum. In fact, we aren’t “schooling” at all at this point. We are what I’d like to call “living free.”
Lately I’m feeling inspired by the infinite variety in the world. Look at all the awesome things we humans can create! We are so creative in using what’s around us in our world, and alchemizing (yes I think I just made that word up right now) them into new forms that support our daily living. We are social creatures. By nature, we thrive when we are enjoying life. When we are having fun. We learn by playing!
Trusting my kids in this learning process, it means that I let go of constraints I put on them about what to learn. I don’t make them sit down for a lesson anymore. Instead, I engage in their curiosity by engaging in my own. I want to know what they think of the world, how they see it, and how they want to do things. I may be their mom, but who says I ultimately know exactly what is best for them? I know what is best for me, and I’ve got a pretty good idea about what may be good for them. We all do, as individuals, for the most part I suppose. Just because I grew up being told “this is how things are” by those who have come before me, does not mean I need to impose those limiting beliefs on my children. They are creating this world just as much as you or I. That means they get a say in deciding “how things are” or how things will or should be.
So over the last month, I decided to not put any forced limits on what they choose to do throughout the day. That means they have mostly chosen to alternate between watching TV, watching movies on Netflix, or playing games on the Kindle or other tablet. Part of me that grew up with the notion that too much of those things is dangerous: you’ll go brain dead, you’ll be lazy, you will be the demise of society, you won’t get an education, you won’t learn anything, you’ll become fat and sick. But instead of threatening them with those potential outcomes, when I felt like they’ve been sitting “too long” (vague), I’ll joyfully suggest we go outside and play. Not just telling them to go outside and play, but “LET’S go outside and play.” I am doing my best to take responsibility by actively engaging with them. It’s hard sometimes, especially balancing my own needs as well. I understand that they are also going through a saturation period, having had limits on these things before, they are now taking full advantage of not having them. We still go places, hang out in nature, exlpore other avenues of learning. We read and write, we play sudoku and word searches, we play with grammar, we make up stories, we build stuff outside, we observe plants, we draw and paint, we explore music. But it isn’t served up as a lesson anymore. We do it because we enjoy it.
Instead of undermining the games they play, I sit and watch them play. I ask questions, “What is that for, what does this do, how did you make that?” and they LOVE showing me things. They have recently caught on to the Minecraft craze, and the more they play, the more creative they get in what they build and make. I am discovering that they are way more creative than I’ve ever given credit for. My younger son makes these really elaborate houses, that are actually quite sophisticated, with tunnels, trap doors, giant glass window walls, basements with cool furniture made out of surprising materials, tree houses, and “paintings” made out of different color bricks. He even made a room entirely out of glowstone for me because he thought I’d like it. It has a double bed with a lot of books, paintings, torches, and even made me an easel to paint on!!
His sense of design is amazing! I announced to him this morning that one day I would LOVE for him to help design a house with me. And I am serious. His sense of architecture is beyond what I could have imagined. When he runs into “problems” he is so nonchalant in finding solutions, and his enthusiasm is inspiring. I am enamored witnessing this passion. Not to mention, they are great at time management, keeping track of how long they’ve been in one area, how much time they have to complete something, how much time one or the other has had a turn to play, etc. They also search out tutorials on youtube, and are getting better at reading, trying to find the right ones to suit their purpose.
I am thankful that instead of brushing it off as him just sitting in front of a screen wasting away the day, when he could be learning more specific math and reading, that instead I engage my own curiosity about my son’s interests. I sit with him and support him. And this quality time is priceless. And you know what I discovered? He’s actually doing quite a bit of reading in other games he plays. Spiderman and Batman in particular, involve a lot of reading, and both my boys are reading MORE when they play these games than when I sit down with them to read a book. Sure, we still read books together, but I’m seeing how a lot more lasting learning is happening when it is on their own accord, and something they love.
I am learning that the world is not separated into subjects. Math is in everything. Language is in everything. Creating is in everything. Understanding is made up of an integration of so many factors, that to separate it into subjects takes away from the big picture. When we cook together, we are reading the ingredients, we are working together cooperatively, we are planning ahead, we are looking for supplies, we are cleaning, we are adding measurements and figuring out fractions, we are witnessing the science behind combing foods in certain ways, we are enjoying consuming something that we created, we are engaging our senses, we are growing closer together and the quality of our relationships goes deeper. The world is an integrative one, not separated into subjects, nations, races, colors, etc. There is so much more on the spectrum that we don’t see when we try to categorize the world.
I am learning that just because my boys spend hour after hour on the tablet or watching TV, that doesn’t mean they are lazy or unproductive. They are learning by doing what they enjoy, they are following what intrigues them, and they are learning much in the process. Some of the greatest scientists, artists, musicians, and executives started out by following their passions and obsessions as children. They stared at the stars for hours and hours (and some may have chastised them for being dreamers, wasting away their days). They played video games and sat at computers all day before they developed those complex computer programs that allow us to do the things we do today. They played doctor on their pets for hours a day before they became veterinarians. They experimented with all kinds of weird things before they came up with that great invention that changed the world. They painted and wandered and doodled before they developed into masters of art and design. They were picky eaters who loved their food a certain way before they became master chefs. They sat in their room or with friends playing guitar and coming up with music they liked, even if their parents or society thought it was a dangerous and irresponsible thing to do, before they became “accomplished” and prosperous musicians.
What is my responsibility as their parent? To love and support them. Really that is the core of all of it. To keep an open mind. To release judgment and preconceived beliefs that I have collected in my own life. To ask what they are learning, not test if they are learning. To value what they love to do. To value what I love to do. To follow my own passions and nourish them and myself, so that we all have the energy to support each other. To grow and live in this world with them, not for or against.
I realize that trusting myself, and trusting my boys, is a choice, and this is all coming back to choices, and curiosity. If my boys express a desire to go to school some day, I will support them in their choice. If they want to start their own business at age 8, who am I to say they can’t? Let’s work together to find a way! Little steps and moments, all add up to the big picture. They won’t get to do everything they want to do, but I will support wherever I can. As they witness me following my own creative passions and nourishing myself, and finding ways to accomplish my goals with what resources I can gather, they will learn also to support themselves and get creative about how to pursue what they love.
As I let go and trust more, I am enjoying being a parent more and more each day. Yes it is still challenging, especially when it feels like others question and criticize our choices, or when my own anxieties kick in with old limiting beliefs. However, the increased quality of my relationship with my boys is priceless, and I wouldn’t trade it for any structure or curriculum deemed acceptable and appropriate by others.