Choosing Home in Boston Globe!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Our e-book, Choosing Home, is featured today in The Boston Globe! Click here for the article link.

I was interviewed several weeks ago by the reporter who was fascinated by the HBS study about working mothers that found that daughters of working mothers have higher salaries and better job titles than daughters of stay-at-home mothers.

My co-editor, Rachel Chaney, discusses this study in the introduction of our book. In fact, the study was a primary catalyst for our decision to compile the stories of the amazing mothers featured in Choosing Home

Today's overwhelming cultural conversations seem to focus on work above all else. We moms wrote this book as a statement and an affirmation. We believe that children, home, and family should matter more than work, money, and consumption. And we also believe, very strongly, that the latter should not be considered the ultimate measure of success. Certainly not for our daughters.

We want much more for our children.

Natural Reading: Beyond Dick and Jane

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My father has gratefully always been very supportive of our choice to homeschool, and has witnessed the joys and benefits of this lifestyle.

He saw my oldest daughter, now almost nine, teach herself to read when she was four.  She would be categorized as a precocious reader, according to Boston College psychology professor, Peter Gray, who studies natural reading and uses the term to describe children who learn to read before typical school-age. We never taught my daughter to read, but surrounded her with books and literacy, read to her often, and modeled a love of reading.

My father always said that he would truly, deeply believe that natural, self-directed learning and unschooling work when he saw my son, now six-and-a-half, learn to read. My oldest two children have very different personalities, very different interests, and very different learning styles. My daughter always loved books and writing and other behaviors we would think of as "school-ish." My son, on the other hand, showed no direct interest in reading, other than enjoying be read to often. 

There were times over the past couple of years, in those moments of self-doubt and lack of trust, when I would give him a Dick and Jane book or a Bob book and plead with him to read me just a few words. He would usually resist, often saying a defiant no. So I would swallow my pride and back off. And try to trust some more. Dick and Jane wasn't going to do it for him. There was no interest, no meaning in those words.

My son is passionate about music, specifically Classic Rock. He would listen to music for hours on my husband's old smartphone, and gradually asked us to help him find the lyrics of some of his favorite songs. His phone also led him to become much more interested in technology and applications, and he would play around with customizing his device's interface. Then, a couple of months ago, he started texting his grandparents and aunt and uncle. 

As I watched his interests, and saw how technology and the Internet--our modern culture's most important tools--propelled his literacy, I added further proof to Dr. Gray's theory that children teach themselves to read when they are good and ready. Gray writes: "Each child knows exactly what his or her own learning style is, knows exactly what he or she is ready for, and will learn to read in his or her own unique way, at his or her unique schedule." Dr. Gray goes on to assert, based on his research, that "attempts to push reading can backfire." I saw that possibility in those doubtful-mama moments when I lost trust in natural learning and thought I needed to teach. If I had kept pushing, kept doubting, I could have easily destroyed my son's natural reading instincts.

By restoring my trust in the natural ways in which children learn and discover and use the tools of their culture, I was able to allow my six-year-old to learn to read on his own time, in his own way, using his own interest-driven platforms. There was no Dick and Jane here. You know what he read (most of) out loud to me this morning? This New York Times article about iOS9, Apple's latest iPhone upgrade, and Apple Music. And he learned to read in exactly the same way as so-called preschool "precocious" readers do: in a whole-language, all-of-a-sudden-reading-the-New-York-Times kind of way. 

The point that Dr. Gray makes, and that I now have twice the proof of, is that all children are precocious readers. All children (except in very rare instances), will learn to read in their own way, on their own time, when surrounded by literacy and the tools of their culture, and allowed to pursue their own passions and interests. They may not read until they are 11 or 12, which could be hard for some parents and educators to grapple with, but they do learn to read. In his article, "The Reading Wars: Why Natural Reading Fails in Classrooms," Gray writes about his research on unschooled children, stating: 

"In sum, these children seem to learn to read in essentially the same ways that precocious readers learn, but at a wide variety of ages.  They learn when and because they are interested in reading, and they use whatever information is available to help them, including information provided by people who already know how to read.  They are not systematically taught, and the people who help them generally have no training or expertise in the teaching of reading."
Gray goes on to explain why natural reading cannot work within the context of institutional schooling:
"No matter how liberal-minded the teacher is, real, prolonged self-direction and self-motivation is not possible in the classroom.  In this setting, children must suppress their own interests, not follow them.  While children out of school learn what and because they want to, children in school must learn or go through the motions of learning what the teacher wants them to learn in the way the teacher wants them to do it.  The result is slow, tedious, shallow learning that is about procedure, not meaning, regardless of the teacher’s intent."

If we parents can trust our children, even during (especially during) those moments of doubt when we question if natural learning really works, we can preserve our children's joyful curiosities and sense of wonder about the world. If we can trust our children, and ourselves, then we will witness how humans' innate desire to explore our world leads to skillful mastery of the tools of our culture in our own ways, and on our own authentic timetables.

We now have a second joyful reader in our home. 

And he loves reading books to my dad.

Schools haven't changed. Can they?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Dunce (Harold Copping, 1886) - wikimedia commons
This morning I was glancing through my fall issue of Ed. Magazine, the alumni magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). 

In the cover article, "Beyond Average," it states: 
"Schools were designed during the industrial age by people who were 'absolutely obsessed' with averages because averages worked so well in managing factories. The goal wasn't to nurture creativity and develop individuality. The system mostly accomplished what it set out to do: prepare students for standardized jobs in an industrial economy." 
At least there's the acknowledgement here that America's compulsory schooling system was created--not for noble, egalitarian ideals--but to form a compliant, standardized, average workforce. Not much has changed.

It always startles me when I hear people talk of the great promise of public schooling in that they don't acknowledge the true roots of this societal construct. It was never meant to be a cradle for opportunity and upward mobility. It was intended to keep the masses--namely, the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants in the early to mid-nineteenth century--corralled, controlled, and trained to do mindless, subservient factory work. Bells and buzzers, straight lines and prompt attention, hierarchy, arbitrary rules, a lifeless and irrelevant curriculum--these are all very real reminders of the less-than-rosy origins of universal government schooling. 

One of my favorite articles, appearing in Forbes and written by fellow HGSE alum, Cevin Soling (of War on Kids (2009) fame), states:

"Learned helplessness is a vital feature and takes place very early when children discover that they will never be permitted to follow their passions.  This is axiomatic due to the inexorably rigid curriculum, structure, and design that must accompany processing large numbers of students.  Every aspect of student life is controlled, including their surroundings, what they can do, how they can act, and what and how they may think.  Public school students are under constant surveillance.  Hallways and classrooms are monitored.  Permission must be obtained to talk, leave the classroom, and even to use the bathroom.  Lockers, backpacks, and persons are routinely searched.  In many schools, police patrol the building and grounds."

What is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the compulsory schooling experiment is the fact that some students say they like it. They accept their subservience, grow fond of their "learned helpnessness," and willingly let go of their own individuality and unique passions. Except when they don't. Some students--those "naughty" ones--try to fight against their plight in their own small ways. They are often the ones who are cajoled, disciplined, labeled, and increasingly drugged into subservience. As Soling writes: "It is remarkable that parents voluntarily subject their children to conditions that would be considered war crimes if their children were enemy combatants."

I was one of those kids who "liked" school: who learned quickly how to play its game, to win the teacher's affections, to do what I was told, to be the good girl. I think of those bright-eyed and boisterous kindergarteners who weren't so lucky: the ones who always got in trouble for being too talkative, or fidgety, or exuberant. They were the ones who were not so acquiescent to the oppression of forced schooling. They had real passions, real energy, real originality. There was no place for that in government schooling, and most of them learned the hard way that resistance was futile.

I think that in order to make any meaningful change to the way the majority of children learn in this country, we must first acknowledge that schools were never created as places to learn. They were never intended to cultivate individuality and creativity. Schools were designed to do the exact opposite: to impose control, order, and sameness on an increasingly diverse American population. 

They have succeeded.

Class Dismissed Documentary

Monday, September 7, 2015

Maybe school has already started for your children and you are having doubts. 

Maybe school is about to start and you have that nagging feeling inside that it is not the right choice for your family.

Maybe you are already homeschooling and are feeling a bit stuck.

Maybe you are a committed homeschooler and are looking for some inspiration and affirmation.

Wherever you are on your path toward embracing alternatives to schooling, I strongly encourage you to watch the acclaimed documentary, Class Dismissed.

It is now available to watch online for $5.99!!

The movie came out last year and there were a couple of showings in Boston earlier this year. With a nursing toddler it was tough for me to make these evening events, so I was delighted to hear recently that the documentary is now available to watch online or to purchase as a DVD. 

Last week, my eight-year-old daughter and I watched the movie together and I just can't say enough good things about it. In fact, the more I reflect on it, the more phenomenal I think it is. The film follows one typical California family's journey from attendance at a top-rated public school toward homeschooling. Sprinkled with commentary from homeschooling advocates and authors, it is incredibly well-done. I have already recommended the film to several people, including one family who made a similar leap from public school to homeschool and was feeling a bit "stuck" in replicating school-at-home, and another family with children in private school where the parents see that love of learning--so apparent in young children--evaporate, as schooling steadily makes learning less and less enjoyable.

If you haven't already seen the film, I really hope you will. Then, shout from the rooftops just how powerful a documentary it is. Life-changing, in fact.

Unschooling, Defined

Friday, September 4, 2015

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions -- if they have any -- and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” ― John Holt

What is unschooling and how does it compare to homeschooling?

The short answer is that all unschoolers are homeschoolers but not all homeschoolers are unschoolers. In fact, it's estimated that only about 10% of homeschoolers in this country are unschoolers, but that number is steadily growing.

Broadly defined, unschooling means placing the highest priority on self-directed learning by avoiding packaged curriculum and using the world as our classroom. In this way, it is different from traditional "school-at-home" homeschooling which brings schooling formats, expectations, and curriculum to the home, and "eclectic" homeschooling, which means using packaged curriculum for some subjects (math, for instance) but not others.

Unschoolers agree on one thing: curriculum hampers natural learning. Beyond that, we're a ragtag bunch.

Some unschooling families categorize themselves as "radical unschoolers," who extend the concepts of unschooling beyond learning to all aspects of living. Check out the work of Sandra Dodd and her Big Book of Unschooling for more about this lifestyle. Some unschoolers prefer the term "life learners" to capture the essence of learning without schooling. As the excellent article in this month's issue of Cincinnati Magazine states: "For unschoolers there is no deferral -- life is now and education is forever." Explore Life Learning Magazine for great articles and resources, and Laura Grace Weldon's book, Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything.

The term "unschooling" was coined by the legendary educator, John Holt. His influential books, How Children Fail, and later, How Children Learn, exposed the inherent flaws of institutionalized learning and similar "school-at-home" approaches. He once said: "What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn't a school at all."

On this blog's Facebook page, a reader asked me recently if I thought she would be considered an "unschooler" because her child takes classes, that he chooses, several times a week at a self-directed learning center for homeschoolers. I can't speak for all unschoolers, but many families who identify as unschoolers do this. The key to unschooling is not that children don't take structured classes or sometimes learn specific things from an instructor; the key is that they choose to do it (and to quit doing it if they want), and their parents help to facilitate their learning by identifying their interests and connecting them to community resources.

If I had to give a label to our family's unschooling approach, I would call it "whole-family learning." While we value and nurture the individual passions and gifts of each of our children, and connect them to individual classes and mentors as appropriate, at this point in time our world revolves around our family and we make it a priority to spend most of our time learning together, rather than apart. Right now, we all enjoy spending time together at museums, libraries, parks, beaches, trails, farms, gatherings with friends -- and of course, home. 

Semantics aside, my best advice for deciding what kind of unschooler you are is simply to trust the process of natural, self-directed, non-coercive learning. Dr. Peter Gray, Boston College psychology professor and author of Free To Learn, writes: "Learning is so easy, and such fun, when it occurs naturally. We make learning hard and dreary in our classrooms by depriving children of the opportunity to use their natural ways of learning and by replacing them with coercion."

Discover the joy of natural learning and you'll never go back.

Insourcing: Embracing Natural Self-Reliance

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The September/October issue of Natural Mother Magazine is available online now.

Click here to read my article, Insourcing: Embracing Natural Self-Reliance.

"Insourcing--producing within our homes--brings with it an extraordinary sense of satisfaction, self-reliance, and personal responsibility that has been steadily degraded in our culture as we increasingly rely on factories to produce our food and home-goods, experts to deliver, teach, and heal our children, and mainstream cultural messages to guide our thinking and doing."

September gratitude

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The sun is hot and bright and we have many more swimming and sand-playing days ahead of us, but September is most certainly here. 

The apples are dripping from the trees, the pumpkins are as orange as can be, the sunflowers tower over us, the autumn raspberries ripen, the colorful leaves fall with greater frequency. The signs of a new season are everywhere. 

Today, in between morning apple-picking and afternoon swimming, my kitchen fills with the unmistakable scent of simmering applesauce, the aromas of autumn and abundance. It's a joyful time, these last three weeks of summer. It's a time to soak in the beaming sunshine and warmth, to cool ourselves in the mild September water, to spend most of our days outside, in awe of the natural world and the changing seasons. 

This is the time of year to be grateful: grateful for good soil and full harvests, grateful for warm days and cool nights, grateful for children playing in the sunshine while the applesauce simmers. 

This is the time of year to be grateful that our children's days are spent in nature and not institutions.