I also felt like sharing that while many children have a visible graph to what they are connecting with and how they are connecting. Many children have tangible form to their interests. And there are children who show no visible or tangible signs of any connection to anything outside. And then suddenly one day there is a burst of stuff.
In unschooling many times such children do not get mentioned in blog posts, Facebook posts, or on public forums. Some children are quiet, seemingly disinterested in anything, they sigh around, or live in their own caves, it looks like nothing in this world attracts them or makes them curious. Parents who are beginning to unschool find these kind of children the hardest to deal with. These are the children who put most fears and restlessness in the hearts and minds of parents who want to unschool, especially if the parent himself or herself is not like that or is being pressurized by spouse or other family members.
To such parents I would recommend meditation, relaxing techniques, Pranayama, Yoga, swimming, walking a lot, seeking out listening buddies in other unschooling mums and dads, engaging in their own interests more, getting a life of their own where they can pursue their own passions or interests that they left or did not have time to follow when they were younger, or take up a home project or art project or some classes that they always wanted to do but could not. It is vital that parents love those children unconditionally without offering ‘exposure’ thinking they are not interested in anything and need more stimulus. These children need not be hurried.
A lot of children live in subaltern worlds of their own minds and spirits. They are deeply engaged with their inner worlds. So they are busy connecting things inside out rather than outside in. They are figuring things out in their own very quiet ways. They are more like those trees which grow deep roots before they can spurt above the ground. They are drawing in ground water, they are growing downwards into the soil of their soul’s earth.
I have been blessed to have two kinds of children in my family and they both teach me to stay in the middle without freaking out either way.:) My older one spend a lot of time in her cave, drawn inward for some years between the time she was 9 and 13 years old. She herself would ask me, ‘mum I am not sure what really interests me’. It took a lot of self control from me as a parent to just listen to her apparent confusion. It was hard for me to watch those fears which would say to me, ‘She won’t ever amount too anything.’ Even harder to listen to the father’s worries and the worried look on other family members. But somewhere I was also able to draw patience and a different perspective from inner wisdom and other unschooling parents which motivated me to stay calm and waiting.
But things changed, when she became clearer, it was far more definitive than I had imagined. She is so focused and dedicated to her chosen interests. Her sense of self driven discipline about almost everything she does sometimes puts me to shame. 🙂 She is much clearer about her feelings and emotions and can express them clearly now in her writing, her poetry and her verbal expression with me and others. And yet I know now that she will need her cave now and then.
It is easier for an extroverted, explorer of an unschooling parent to engage with children who are making connections easily out there in the world, but the real challenge for such parents is this other child, who is exploring the inner landscape of her heart and mind more, and making the connection from inside to outside!
I want to always bring out what Unschoolig is NOT. Exposing children so that they can find out what they want to follow, is yet again born of the schooled mind. Children need to value what is present in the immediate environment and they always figure out.
There is often a need in parents to ‘give’ exposure to their children. There is a huge zeal to offer a lot of stuff to the children, even when the child is not asking. The hope is that the child when exposed to many many things will figure out what he or she is interested in. It matters to me to point out often what unschooling is NOT rather than answer the question ‘what is unschooling?’
Bringing experiences or tools or resources to enhance their interests is one thing. But to proactively expose is another. I often feel to expose with the intention to find out what the child is interested in stops the child from following his or her impulses. Parents often assume that the immediate environment is not stimulating or good enough to excite the child or support the child in showing a spark. Many parents who live in Indian cities feel if they lived in a more natural environment, the child would need less attention and engagement from parents. But what if it is not possible to move to a more rural surrounding? In that case it is vital to explore, what at home can create meaningful engagement for the child?
I recall my son was fond of Thomas the Engine as a toddler. One day he asked me to draw train engines. So I bought books and started to copy draw for him. He would simple watch me draw. Then he would request for certain kinds of engines. Then he was dissatisfied as he wanted the one dimensional drawings to look real and long, like real trains. So we figured out a method where I would tape in A4 size papers into a long trail and then draw the engines with cabins. Then he wanted trees and mountains and tunnels too. He also wanted the cabins to be of different colours. He chose the colours. That is how he started to identify colours.
Then one day he wanted to see real trains. Of course we did train travels. But he wanted trains day in day out. Now I cannot obviously travel by train all the time, can I. So I started getting BBC documentaries on trains and engines documentaries from the British Library. Or more films and cartoons with trains in them. And whenever we went to the library we went by the Delhi Metro Rail, which was really exciting for him. We also made monthly trips to the National Rail Museum. We live in New Delhi at that time.
He soon wanted to know about different fuels that ran the engines. He was about 4 by then. So we started talking about coal, diesel, electricity. He then asked me which other mode of transport used coal. I showed him Titanic, the film. Well he was hooked to Titanic for years. Day in and day out all he knew was Titanic. He has made incredible sketches of Titanic, also of Titanic hitting the iceberg, Titanic sinking, build Titanic with cardboard with help from me, we got 3 D puzzles of Titanic in its 100th year. He watched a lot of documentaries on Titanic by looking it up on Internet. That is how he got interested in ships. Both historical ones and the modern day ones. Since then we have collected models of ships he liked, he watched innumerable You Tube videos on ships like Cutty Sark, HMS Victory etc. He was fortunate to actually get on to the Cutty Sark last year in his 11th year, with his dad when they went to England.
Ships and trains can lead a child to a lot of world history. And that is what happened with my son. I feel his interests attracted the exposure he needed and not the other way round. Well all I did was provide Thomas the Engine to start with, but not with any intention, but just as an animated series on TV, as it gave him joy.
From the film Titanic he got interested in Statute of Liberty. There is a glimpse of it in the film. So then we moved on to world architecture, a passion he still is immersed in today. We used a lot of Google Earth live images to do tours of places in the world including going under the Eiffel Tower and walking the streets of New York or standing at the Pantheon and Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Now he builds ships, buildings, castles, trains etc on Minecraft and Lego Designs online. He sketches them on paper. We have files of his sketches. I can go on and on. But through all this, as a parent, I have remained actively engaged with his budding need to seek knowledge, not a passive one. I have brought the resources to him when he asked for it or was struggling to go past his current knowledge. I would say trust that the current environment has a lot to offer already, keenly follow his or her impulses/preoccupation and occupation and try to offer more of that not less of it.
Over zealous exposures can actually silent the inner impulses of the child. I would say try not ‘give’ exposure, just allow it to happen.
Sharing two summaries of the circles on Unschooling: Ask, Share, Reflect that I hosted and facilitated at Learning Societies UnConference at Bhoomi College, Bangalore.
As a parent I do not deliberately ‘teach’ my children. I have been facilitating their learning. And at times that means just standing aside to watch and observe what they pick and what they are drawn to. It means asking them if they want more of what they pick. The most interesting has been watching both my son’s and daughter’s reading explorations. I never told them to read the ‘usual’ suggested readings or books. Ishaan has a natural affinity towards fantasy, architecture and factual knowledge. So I provided material based more on that. He is now reading Three Musketeers, because of his interest in France and popular video game Assassin’s Creed. It all started when he was three years old with Eiffel Tower. His favourite book so far is BFG by Dahl, it all started with his interest in Lord of the Rings and Hobbits. His interest in exploring giants, elves and other creatures.
Gourika, didn’t enjoy reading books for a long time. Her first self read completed book was the Twilight Series. I thought she was interested in Vampires. But she was actually interested in love, emotions, adolescent emotional issues and relationships. She started watching web series, reading blogs, watching YouTube on these themes. Suddenly she is reading full novels. She recently read, Girl Online by Zoe Sugg. And from Zoe Sugg she got her recommendations of the next few books she wished to read. Zoe Sugg has a book club on YouTube. So now she is reading ‘Eleanor and Park’. And she already has a list of books she wished to pick up next!
And of course Ishaan will read anything to do with Star Wars!
I conduct circles of sharing and listening. I am a single parent. And I have felt the need to create a space of sharing and listening for other single parents of all genders. Yesterday, I had my first circle for single parents. One parent showed up.:) And this parent, a single mother, thanked me for inviting her. She told me,’thank you for inviting me, as most people forget that even though my daughter lives with her father, I am a single parent.’ She added how because people do not ever ask her about mothering, she herself forgets that for 11 years she has been a full time mother to her child. Incidentally she also homeschooled her daughter, and she finds that no one ever asks her about homeschooling. Her daughter is now appearing for public exam as a homeschooler. A huge chunk of the credit for her daughter’s education and learning goes to her mother. And yet she feels sad that perhaps her contribution to her daughter’s infant years and formative years will go unrecognized and perhaps even unacknowledged.
As we both shared and listened to the challenges of being a single parent, we touched upon the pain of being a parent (single or otherwise, man or woman) and also touched upon the greater pain of holding the pain of our children as they walk through life and towards their destiny.
I am a single parent and my children are living with me. That has both huge challenges and joys. As a single mother, I feel the freedom of being creative with parenting, as I do not have a spouse to tell me what is best for the children. Along with that immense freedom I feel the immensity of the responsibility that is also vested in me. The chances of going ‘wrong’ and being blamed for not making the right choices for my children vest heavily in me. I walk the path of imperfect but peaceful parenting, trusting my intuition and that of my children about life and children.
I feel angry with myself for having to depend on my ex-spouse for finances and from there stems my fear of being judged for ‘things not turning out perfect as the world sees it’. This factor pushes me to be open and compassionate towards my ex-spouse, pushes me to strengthen myself to hold his fears and doubts with love and care. I feel vulnerable as I see how despite being divorced I need him and he needs me. And this factor pushes me to transcend our past pain, it pushes me to practice forgiveness and to see him as a fellow traveler beyond his role of being my ex-husband and father of our children. My vulnerabilities push me to hold the conflicts we have with love. But this love is larger and stronger, it is not attached to him being my ex-husband and not attached to the pain we created together for ourselves.
I expressed how I am learning to accept reality as it is and how I am humbly bowing to the larger inter-dependence of relationships.
This lady shared, that she feels she needs to strengthen herself to hold those moments with love and compassion when her daughter will express anger and rage at her for the trauma and pain of growing up in a broken home. She also shared how, she feels empowered now to see that children do not come to us for over-protection from pain and sorrows. She shared how her journey into deeper pain and coming out of it entirely by herself, empowers her to be ready when her daughter faces the world and the inevitable heartbreaks that come with explorations of one’s authentic self. She feels ready to embrace her daughter when she goes out there and falls in love and breaks her heart, when she goes exploring and stumbles, when she makes that turn which turns out to be a path full of thorns. She feels ready to receive the anger, rage and sorrow of her daughter as she learns to navigate through life and its inevitable suffering. She also shared how she sees her ex-husband’s need to be loved which makes him control their daughter and her.
We both shared how for us parenting is not about telling our children what is good for them and what is not good for them. We both shared how parenting for us is not about making sure our children never make mistakes and never get hurt, never meet the wrong kind of people, never experience violence, never get used, misused or abused, never fall, never fail, never be rejected. We both shared how for us parenting was about a deeper knowing that all that is inevitable and we want to be present for our children to come home to recuperate and rejuvenate from heartbreaks, rejections, failure and pain.
It is easier to share the joys and successes of our children. It is easier for parents to proudly take credit for the highs in our children’s lives. But I feel the real challenge of parenting is to take equal ownership of the lows and pain of our children’s lives.
See you for the next circle.
I conduct Listening and Sharing Circle for Single Parents and other Parents in Pune, India. These sessions can be one-on-one or for couples or for men and women, for groups. Please write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org, if you wish to be part of such sessions/circles. You may write to me if you are facing any parenting challenges with your young and adult children. And we can together work out possibilities of sharing and listening.