a roundup

It’s at this point that I usually feel panicked. We have all our gifts sorted (mostly) and our plans in place, but my goodness, I am working very hard to finish all these orders.

I had a cold a couple of weeks back that lasted for a week and knocked me a bit off schedule. But the real reason I am once again chained to my sewing machine and needles is largely due to the fact that I have a totally unrealistic sense of time. Three years and two children in and I’ve still not adjusted my expectations.

So I think to myself, sure, I can knock out a hand embroidered, personalised stocking every night for two weeks. But I’m forgetting that the two kids now means my evening does not start at 5.30pm but at 9pm, if things go smoothly (which is rare) and is then interrupted by milk needs and waking toddlers and comes after a day spent looking after those same two children, which means I am usually tired if not exhausted. And the 5 or 6 hours it might take to do one stocking is not realistic then, when the most you can muster is an hour in front of ‘Freaks and Geeks’ with a mug of tea.

I do this across the board. I find it hard to believe that a day is really so short. I have a constant need to cram things in and I’ve fallen into this habit mindlessly this year. It’s on my list of Things To Sort Next Year. I need to do less, and be more mindful with the things I do spend my time on.

It’s hard to see past the next week though. Christmas has been full and lovely so far. We’ve been to the theatre to see a very magical Cinderella show. Ava has had a sleepover. We’ve had a lot of hot chocolates. I’ve been making All The Things. A lot of elf hats, and stockings. Bedtime bags, bird wings, aprons and oven mitts, a couple of dresses, a crown, felted nativity sets as well as other felted bits and bobs. I’m in my little craft room ’til midnight every night.

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The pile of gifts under the tree grows and grows and I’m aware that I’ve once again perhaps overdone it a little…not so much for Ezra, who only has three presents (not counting their joint gift) but for Ava it’s so hard not to just get things as I see them because I know she’ll love them. I justify any splurging by telling myself that it’s okay as long as I’m buying lovely, ethically made wooden things but it’s still stuff and I so want to de-emphasise the present part of Christmas and focus on the being together part.

I guess we can just do both. We have a cinema trip planned, a Solstice walk this evening and visits from friends and family. I have a couple more elf hats to knit this weekend, a stocking to make for a friend, Ava’s Yule dress, another wool cloak and I couldn’t help but start a little scarf for her too.

As is the way, my thoughts are beginning to stretch out to next year. This year, the last few months at least, have been full on, busy, challenging. I’ve been thinking nearly constantly about something or other to do with unschooling and driving myself crazy trying to clear up what I think about certain things which has left me feeling overwhelmed and wiped out.

I’ve decided that next year I’m going to read a lot and continue talking to a lot of unschooling people but I’m not going to try to figure anything out. I’m going to stop looking for answers and just take in as much as I can whilst responding to Ava. Really, I have time. She’s 3.

I’ve not written much about it recently because I’ve felt so totally confused about a great deal of things, and at the same time I’ve become quite immersed in a few very active online unschooling groups.

We decided recently to take all limits off TV/screen time, food, bedtime etc. This has really been an obvious next step to our belief in what is at the heart of unschooling – trust, respect, freedom. But it is also scary and totally not what I’m used to, or how I used to feel…particularly about screen time.

Ava is so unbelievably strong minded. She knows what she wants and feels with such force. The older she gets, the more she is frustrated when we tell her she can’t do something. I’ve thought a lot about this. About what rights we have as parents to determine boundaries and limits and it’s this area that has caused a near constant headache for so long.

I know it’s about mindfulness and respect and NOT permissiveness but I’m trying to walk that line.

Anyway. The taking limits off really resulted from two things. One – I can be a total snob about how and what I think is the best way for Ava to learn something. And I have to stop this. I have to realise that just because I like lovely wooden handmade toys doesn’t mean Ava has to. If she wants to play with My Little Ponies…fine. I truly believe that real learning can only occur when someone is enjoying what they’re learning and when they are playing, too. Who am I to say what that is for Ava?

When I think, ‘Oh but isn’t this lovely felted set better?’ Or,’Maybe let’s not wear a sparkly princess dress again’ I remind myself this is her life, not mine. She has every right to do what she enjoys. One thing alone doesn’t define her and besides, as a kid I used to wear big puffy dresses a lot. I read nothing but point horrors solidly for about two years. I watched an inordinate amount of films. That didn’t stop me from also reading a great deal or drawing or writing or whatever. It would be hard to argue that I’ve learnt any more from ‘classic’ literature than I did from those point horrors.

We’ve seen quite a shift already with food. Ava was getting quite picky and I think it was angering her every time I told her she couldn’t have one thing or another. When we started this no-limits, obviously she responded to this sudden freedom by overindulging – like someone just off a diet, and used to having restrictions. But quickly she has regulated herself. I’m actually surprised this has happened so quickly. She’s asking for savoury food more, trying new food often and usually choosing the healthy option over the unhealthy one.

Right now she is watching a lot of films but actually this is beginning to even out too and she’s developing quite a critical responsiveness to them. She often narrates the film or acts it out, almost always changes costume several times depending on what character is on screen. She rarely just sits and watches a film unless she’s tired. She’s learning songs from films, she’s drawing pictures of them. And as each day passes I am feeling more and more confident in our decision to take the limits off these things and I am seeing less and less frustrations in Ava. I sense she is feeling much more respected and listened to. It’s pretty awesome.

She’s also started to draw and write a lot. Mostly with writing it’s her name . Although sometimes ‘Mama’, ‘Daddy’ ‘Ezra’ too. When she draws it’s often upside down, and she likes to try to copy other images. This is such a cool development to see. Even though many of her friends are doing just the same, it still feels so special to see in your own kid and particularly awesome for us because the nature of the way we are with Ava – the way we will always be as we continue to unschool – is that we never prompt or ask her to do anything. We’ve never given her letter books or asked her to try to write something. We’ve drawn with her. Written with her and responded to her requests. We’re aware that with this kind of approach learning often takes longer to be regurgitated, if you like, because it’s learnt indirectly, through doing and witnessing, osmosis and imitation and it comes our purely when it’s good and ready. So we were quite surprised that the writing has started already. ..and the experimenting with letters and their shapes and what that might mean.

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It’s been exactly what I needed after a period of wobbles and uncertainty. I know these periods will happen often with homeschooling but I feel like I’m emerging out of it a little now having realised a few things and started to shed my need for black and white answers. Unschooling doesn’t really look like that. Things aren’t split into subjects, so there are no textbook results, no tests to tell you you’ve learnt just what you’re meant to have. This is something I’ll be getting used to for a long time. I’m used to all my learning being validated and rewarded by those deemed The Authority and being told I am unequivocally right or wrong.

The more I really consider who Ava is…the more I feel this is right for her. She seems to have no need whatsoever of that kind of validation. She doesn’t like to be told anything. She figures things out best on her own or at least on her own instigation and she detests being told what to do or think. Something people often say when they spend time with her is that she knows her own mind.

It’s my intention to write a lot more about unschooling as it continues to unfold next year. But right now, we’re launching into the last days before the new year with a renewed excitement and a feeling of determination for next year. I feel a great need for a lot more mindfulness. The more I think on unschooling, the more I see a correlation between it and zen buddhism, perhaps because at the heart of both is mindfulness.

I feel excited, anyway, and not entirely sure why, but grateful. And feeling grateful is always the best place to end a year, and begin a new one.

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About Kendal

I'm Kendal Mosley-Chalk. I live in York with my husband and two children.
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One Response to a roundup

  1. mshannahw says:

    We don’t do limits (or punitive discipline) either, and get a lot of comments on how placid, non-aggressive and easy-going F is! I think unschooling can be hard to get your head around as you have to detach from so much of what we are used to hearing about education and parenting, but already I have seen it is so right for us and for F. He maybe is a little “slower” than some other kids when it comes to things like talking, which i try not to think of too much, but I’ve noticed the ones who are most “ahead” are often (though not always) the ones who are most asked to perform and act in certain ways. So I am already dealing with feeling his learning is taking longer than a “traditional” approach, and it is hard sometimes, but I remember all the good things about the approach, and also that every child is different and that he communicates really well in his own way (signing and so forth).

    What online unschooling forums etc are you in? I’ve been thinking of joining some, but I don’t really have the time/inclination to be online more than I am already. I am going to join my local home ed group at some point this year though as they do a lot of trips out and things that I think will be good for F to get a chance to socialise with other children as he gets older and wants to do so more as we don’t have the already existing wide social circle of families that you do 🙂

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