Go Ahead- Change your mind

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We all want what’s best for our children, don’t we?  The answer is ‘yes‘.  Even parents whose short-term motives and tactics I question have the same long-term goal – healthy, well-adjusted, caring, ‘successful’ adults (we can debate the qualities of this last one some other time). 

When we were transitioning our suburban life to one on the road as an RV traveling family, I received two specific messages from acquaintances who expressed their concern for our children’s well-being and long-term happiness.  At first I took them as the routine concerns of observers that have cropped up whenever we’ve made a choice that is not along the lines of what ‘regular mainstream’ families do – of which there have been many.  Further discussion revealed that these people had, themselves, lived a traveling life during periods of their own childhood.  This got me to thinking.  I could not reconcile how a decision that we had made enthusiastically as a family would result in our adult children looking back with anger or regret.  I needed to process.

What makes someone wish in retrospect that they’d had a different experience? 

One thing:  Choice.

When we feel empowered in our own experiences and that we have control over the decisionmaking process, there can be no regret.  The outcome may not be what we had anticipated but, in the long run, we’ll not lay blame on others for what we’ve experienced or what has become of us.

The key? We can always make another choice.

This applies to everything.  If a child chooses a food and doesn’t like it, do we scold him and force him to eat it anyway?  This takes out the empowerment of the choice.  Next time there is no choice- opt for something he knows he’ll like.  And then we wonder why our children aren’t more adventurous in their food intake?

If a child decides to take ski lessons and opts out after a few sessions because it’s just not her cup of tea?  Do we shuttle a miserable child to and fro until the end of the season because it’s been paid for and committed to?  Again, a child who is not allowed to change their mind is disempowered from the beginning.  Learning at every bend, they fear then that their next ‘choice’ may result in extended misery and/or disappointment from their parents and opt out of trying a new activity.

Think on this: if a friend asked you to come and try Tai Chi but you knew you’d have to go to every single session for six weeks whether or not you ended up hating it, would you try at all?

 Choice.

Children are always learning.  Some are adventurous in their choices and are trying new things all the time.  Others exercise just as many choice muscles but in a more reserved way (saying ‘no’ is a choice).  How many foods your child eats or activities and experiences your child participates in is not indicative of their level of comfort and independence in making the choice.  It’s our unwavered support of their decisionmaking that results in confident, fulfilled children and adults. 

When a group decision needs to be made, children are capable of seeing the broader perspective with the help of supportive adults who can share objective wisdom gleaned from more life experience.  Children are naturally caring and do not wish for their choices to negatively impact others.  (Impulsivity for younger children is just that- there is no intention to harm or offend those around them.)  Even infants can communicate their needs and desires effectively when their parents are tuned in. 

Choice doesn’t mean always getting what we want.  Compromising is a choice when it’s done rationally and independently.  Children do this all the time during play.  Yes, sometimes assistance is helpful.  And that’s our job!  Not to judge but to facilitate when we’re needed.

So ARE we screwing up our kids by traveling?  As long as it continues to be the choice of everyone involved, no.  They will always feel that their input matters and that they have control over how and where their personal journey takes them.  We CHOOSE to be together.  We CHOOSE to travel and see the world.  We CHOOSE to listen to, accept, and communicate with each other whenever situations are difficult and reevaluate as needed.

Love it…. till you don’t.  Then choose something else.

Finding Personal Connections

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“We are the only unschoolers in the greater _____ area.”  I hear this all the time from unschooling parents feeling isolated and seeking like-minded community.  My first question to them is whether they have actually looked… and where.  There are many ways to locate unschoolers and connected/respectful parents but, being that this is not traditional educational/parenting methodology, we need to think outside the box.  We probably won’t find these traits in our neighbors, the other parents on the soccer sidelines, or in our workplace cohort.  There is definitely a need to come out of our shells to an extent and seek the support and connection we desire.  The life of an unschooler can be extremely isolating for introverted parents and even more so for their children who may not share this personality trait and are left wanting more social interaction than is made available or comfortable for their parents.

Many of us find a reliable friend in the internet and support in the faceless names and personas portrayed on-screen in chat rooms and on groups.  Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a fabulous tool.  I have connected with loads of interesting people and garnered much in the way of support and food for thought through groups, essays, blogs, and websites.  However, nothing can replace the camaraderie of regular face-to-face interaction with families living and learning similarly.

I never said it was easy.  How bad do you want it?  I can tell you from personal experience that local connections are worth every moment of the trials and tribulations of the search.

Where do I start?

Internet search– Open your favorite search engine and type in your area with ‘unschooling’ or ‘unschool’ and see what comes up.  You may need to enter your county, metro area, nearby city, or state.  The first step toward making connections may be as easy as this.

Yahoogroups– This is a great resource for groups of all varieties of interest and support.  There are a great many unschooling groups- both international and local- to be found here.  You can once again search for your area or begin joining international groups for a start in internet-based support. Setting up an account or starting your own group are both free.

Meet-Up–  Finding unschool groups here will be a bit more rare (there is a fee for starting a group) but worth a shot since I happen to know there is a Dallas/Ft. Worth Whole-Life Unschoolers Meet-Up that began almost a year ago. 🙂  Setting up an account is free and your search results will reflect your locale.

International groups and lists– There are many groups (see especially unschooling Yahoogroups or local homeschooling info groups) and lists (like Radical Unschoolers Network) on which you may be talking to people who live right near you!  Generally, it’s very acceptable to post an inquiry about unschoolers/radical unschoolers from your area.  You may want to include a request for them to contact you offline so as not to bog down the group.

Start your own group- If you build it, they will come.  I am on my third time at this and it has been successful each and every time.  In southern NH, myself and 4 comrades- meeting through perfect serendipity (and a post on a national unschooling yahoogroup :))- began a larger area unschooling group called LEAP which continues to grow exponentially.  Upon moving to Texas, I began a small, local yahoogroup of similarly aged children and like-minded parents of the same name.  This group has since dissolved but those of us who bonded through that experience have gone on to other things and remained close.  Last year, myself and 4 other DFW unschooling mothers got together to form the DFW Whole-Life Unschooling Meet-Up to fill a need for growth, discussion, and networking in the area.  It continues to be a tremendous success and we look forward to each and every get together for play and focused discussion.

A Few Notes

You may not feel it.  As with anything, it is entirely possible and even likely that you will meet many people with whom you do not connect deeply before you find one with whom you do.  Just because they’re radical unschoolers or (insert common descriptor here), doesn’t mean that you will have other things in common.  Many times it has felt worth it to continue to find common ground with people if only because it has been important for me that my children have friends who are used to their parents being kind to them.  There is a difference in those children and the friendships and play have always been stronger and more joyous as a result.

Be willing to travel.  Getting together with other unschoolers/respectful parents often requires us to drive greater distances.  It has always been worth it.

Be open.  My first meeting of unschooling friends was (as I said) completely serendipitous.  The story can be heard in HB #2- Finding the Real World.  We connected because we were all very open about our beliefs and goals when we met and were talking.  The more open you are about unschooling and respecting your children, the more apt you are to find others who do the same.

You’re Not Alone

Recently, I noticed a thread on one of the national boards of someone asking for good areas to which to relocate as they were searching for unschool community.  I was pleasantly surprised to see members from all areas of the country piping up to throw their area in the running.  There were dozens of areas represented- both rural and urban- by people who deemed their locale to be supportive and socially connected for unschoolers.

So when people come to me and say that they are the ‘only’ unschoolers in their local area, I have to believe that there is a pretty good chance they’re wrong.  I’m not being an optimist.  I speak from experience.  Southern New Hampshire now has a group of 255 members as I write this post.  Yup- southern New Hampshire.  I quickly and easily formed a group of 13 families (there were more who wanted to join and I was of the mind to keep the group small at the time) within a 1-hour radius all with children around the same age as mine when we moved to Texas.  Our Meet-Up group (granted, it is the entire DFW metroplex) now boasts 128 members- some of whom travel an hour or two happily to make these connections. 

Granted, it is certainly possible that, even after exhausting all of these possible avenues for finding like minds, you will come up dry.  I have come across many lately who are considering relocating for this purpose.  While this may seem drastic, to know deep, personal connections with others who strive to live a positive, connected life may be worth it for you. 

As we make the transition to a life on the road, we’ll be seeking whole-life unschooling families and groups with whom to connect as we explore North America.  We’re looking forward to meeting you!