Screens, “Doing Nothing” and Being “Behind”

From a question in the Unschooling Special Needs group on Facebook.  Reposted here with permission from the original poster quoted.

The original question was (in part) about her child who Homeschooled for several years, but the struggle over school work was too much so she sent her child back to school.  He thrived for 2 years in “positive private schools,” but once he had to change to a public charter school, much of the progress he had made was lost.  They’ve begun Homeschooling again, but here’s what mom says about it:

“Homeschooling sucks. The only thing my son will do is listen to stories. He can read himself but will only do so at bedtime. It is video games and if I try to moderate and take him off he will literally do nothing all day. I have to be online a lot of the day and if he sees me online he wants to be able to use electronics too. I am so heartbroken . . . .  He is a zombie at home. And he is “behind” on a lot of math skills for his age.”

There was also a post from someone else in that group the day before, asking for help in letting go of arbitrary limits on “screen time.”  The problem for her was that even watching 1-3 shows seem to correlate with out of control tantrums.

Here’s my response to both of these posts:

Unschooling is trusting your child to show you the way they learn best – and then LISTENING TO and HONORING THAT.

If a child is drawn to screens it’s because they are getting something from it.  When we can look past the “evil screen” and see that the screen is actually a window to a wider world of experiences, it is easier to see what kids might be getting out of it, and see what they are learning from the activity that just happens to be delivered through this vehicle we call a screen. 

Now I know some people say the screen itself has negative neurological consequences for their child, and that might be true in the case of a very few kids with neurological differences or other special needs, but often times we parents blame the thing we don’t like for the behavior we don’t like. 

If we’re already biased against “screens” (or television content or video games or another “unacademic” thing) then it’s much more likely that we will see connections between that awful thing and the awful behavior or symptom.  When we can step back and more objectively look at the situation and behavior, it might become clear that there are many contributing factors, and screens might or might not be among them.

Another thing that often happens with a bias against screens (or anything else deemed “unacademic” like listening to a story instead of reading it) is that we will see activities involving screens as inferior to activities that are traditionally considered educational.  We will then blame these “unacademic” activities for any behavior or result that we perceive as negative.  (Doing nothing, being behind – again a judgement that seen through a different lens wouldn’t be negative.)

EVEN “special needs” kids can be trusted to show us how they learn best.  Even my “barely verbal” 7 year old who has yet to potty train and can tantrum like a PRO can show me what he needs.

But I’ve had to learn to listen in a different way than I would listen to my other kids (or really to every other human being I’ve ever dealt with in my life) so it’s a steep learning curve for ME, but that’s just it – MY lesson to learn. 

It’s MY work to let go of my biases – whether they are about screens, or math exercises or reading “on time” or the importance of college or when it seems my kids are “doing nothing” all day or the zillion other things Unschooling parents worry about when their kid is “behind” according to mainstream educational standards.

In actuality there is no such thing as “behind.” There’s just where you are – where your kid IS. A wise woman, Danelle LaPorte once said “Comparison kills.” When I read that I said “YES that’s IT!  It’s the key to SO much of the trouble parents have with Unschooling.  Ms. LaPorte was talking about the difficulty that arises when we compare ourselves to others but it applies to EVERYTHING and ESPECIALLY children. Comparison is damaging. Period.

Whether we’re comparing siblings against each other, or students in a 3rd grade class, or all 8 year olds in the world, or my yoga pose to the teacher’s pose, or my car or house to my neighbors’ . . . comparison to another person is NEVER helpful. Even when we compare and think we’re better, or our child is better, we create a FALSE sense of superiority.

If we simply work with what we have right in front of us, and take the LONG view (not assessing progress in days or weeks, but in YEARS) we can relax and live in the moment. We can SEE our children better. We can hear THEIR NEEDS more easily. If we want to truly honor our child and THEIR natural way of learning and growing and developing, we have to work hard to let go of our biases and baggage. We have to stop comparing them to any on else and REALLY SEE the child in front of us.

Unschooling is both easier AND more challenging than school-at-home Homeschooling.

It’s easier because the battle between you and your child is diffused. But the internal battle for parents is often intensified. The battle between our instinct and what society has taught us is “responsible parenting” or “appropriate education” is often a daily or even hourly challenge. 

Unschooling is also harder sometimes because we can’t just follow a prescribed set of beliefs about education and we can’t just use a curriculum straight out of the box to make sure “all the bases are covered.”  We have to follow and TRUST our children’s way.  They WILL cover all of the “bases” that are important to THEM.  We have to trust that other “bases” will be covered when the child sees a need.  When the child’s life experience has caused them to ask the questions and develop genuine curiosity about that topic.

Unschooling is hard for many of us because we have to put faith in the process and detach from the outcome.  We have to take a leap of faith that many around us will say is “crazy.”

But Unschooling is MUCH EASIER than Homeschooling once we do a certain amount of work on that internal battle and let go of our biases, programming and brainwashed beliefs that certain subjects or vehicles of learning are superior or inferior to others.  

Once we are more comfortable with following our instincts AND our kids’ instincts Unschooling becomes just an exercise in managing the flow, finding the right resources for our kids and then letting them expand and grow in their own way and in their own time.  No pressure to perform or measure up against anyone else.  The only measure of success in Unschooling is the amount of JOY we and our kids are able to experience!

Retreat Workshop: Peaceful Parenting from the Inside Out

Osunlade Photo crop

What is Peaceful Parenting?  How can I move from an Authoritarian parenting style to a more peaceful (and less stressful) way of living with my kids?

This will be a very experiential, hands on joy-shop lead by Daphne “Osunlade” Edwards-Emi using Byron Katie’s The Work (thework.com) to align with our inner peace – which is where all true peace resides.

We can ACT as peaceful parents, but that doesn’t make us truly peaceful. We can act non-controlling or non-authoritarian, but that doesn’t make these things so. These strategies/philosophies are a start, but what happens to the triggers that we are suppressing while “performing” as “good” parents? What happened to the stories, the trauma, and the deep seated emotions?

Come and find out how questioning our old beliefs and inquiring into our stressful thoughts can actually bring us true freedom. Come and see how this freedom gives us clarity. And then see how this clarity gives us the ability to act from a true place of peace. No philosophies necessary. See you there, my loves, with an open mind and heart!

Click here for the Speaker’s page to read Osunlade’s Bio.

Click here to see other Workshop Topics.

Click here to REGISTER for the Radiant Living & Learning Retreat.

Autism, Elopement and the Power of Community

I’ve already talked about this a bit in the About section of the website, but last night as I was lying in bed (not sleeping because I’m so excited about this retreat) I started thinking about WHY I’m even doing the retreat in the first place and figured I should share.

As you may have seen, this event is a fundraiser for an Autism Service Dog for my son Tristan.

I love this kid SO much.

I know all of you parents can relate to that, but what’s unique about being Tristan’s mom is the overwhelming fear that Autism brings to the table.  I know all parents worry for their kids’ safety or their future at some point (or all the time!) but imagine the “normal” amount of worry and multiply that times a hundred . . . or maybe a thousand.

I actually vacillate between feeling hopeful about Tristan’s recovery and confident in my ability to care for his “extra needs,” and feeling pretty deep despair concerning his future and the day-to-day challenges Autism presents for our family.  I’m learning how to focus on the hope and magnify that in my life, but those nagging fears often tap me on the shoulder.
Or smack me in the face.

One of my biggest fears is that Tristan will run off and get hurt . . . or worse.  I’ve known for a while that 1/2 of individuals with Autism are “elopers,” meaning they easily wander or run away from safety.

Tristan definitely fits into this category.   And he is a runner.

The older he gets the harder it is to “corral” him, especially when we leave the house.  Imagine what it would be like if your kid never grew out of that “toddler phase” where they just run indiscriminately in any direction.

Tristan’s 6 so we’ve been in the “toddler phase” for 5 years now.  And he’s fast.

Another complication to this elopement issue is that many individuals with Autism are drawn to water.  (It’s a sensory thing in Tristan’s case at least.)  So things like our neighbor’s pool, which is often left unlocked, 🙁  creates even more concern.

Just to add to my anxiety around this whole issue, I recently read that wandering off is thought by some to be the leading cause of death for children with Autism!  We have “lost” Tristan for very short times in the past and that has been enough to convince us that we need some extra help in keeping him safe.  Service Dogs are trained in Search & Rescue functions as well as a tethering function where the child and the dog are connected so that Tristan can’t run away when we are out and about.  For a while we have wanted to get a Service Dog, but they are very expensive and the idea of fundraising was just too overwhelming on top of everything else that Autism brings to our daily lives.

During one of my most recent bouts of “Autism-induced depression,” some of my wonderful Home Educating friends rallied around me and offered to help raise money so we can get Tristan a Service Dog.  I cannot begin to tell you how much it means to me that these wonderful women have offered to support Tristan and our family in this way.

It’s true that “it takes a village,” but I often joke that in the case of severe Autism, it takes three.

Since we announced the retreat, even more amazing Unschooling friends have stepped forward to help in some way.  I am truly overwhelmed and touched beyond words.

So together we are putting on the Radiant Living & Learning Retreat both to serve our Home Education community and to hopefully chip away at the $13,000 we have to raise to get a dog with the skills necessary to help keep Tristan safe and enable our family to leave the house without the fear that it could end in tragedy.
(Sounds dramatic doesn’t it?!?  But that’s just one of the things we “Autism Moms” worry about on a daily basis 🙂 )

There are also many other ways that these service dogs help individuals with the various challenges of Autism and you can read more about that here.

So that’s my story (part of it anyway).
That’s why you will probably see a zillion posts between now and November reminding you to sign up and share the retreat info.

I love this kid.
And rather than letting the despair take over, I am (with the help of so many fabulous friends) focusing on what I can do to help my baby while creating a fun event to support families who are living (or considering) this amazing life of Unschooling.  I am SO excited to be combining these two passions in my life – Autism Recovery and Unschooling, and I feel SO energized by the excitement that many of you have expressed about the retreat AND Tristan’s dog.

Hope you can join us!!!

3 ways you can stay in touch regarding the event or Tristan’s dog:

  1. click on the “follow” link at the top right of the page to receive email updates
  2. join our Radiant Living & Learning Facebook group here
  3. RSVP to the Retreat Event on Facebook here

If you just want to donate toward Tristan’s Service Dog or
share our fundraising efforts with your friends on facebook
here’s the link to the fundraising page.

You can also share this post using the links below.

Heaps of Love to you All!
Christina