Falling Off My High Unschooling Horse

Even before I was even pregnant with my first, Medina, I found out that a family member homeschooled and started asking questions at a party. “So what curriculum do you use and how do you plan your days?” her response was “We unschool, so we mostly just follow his lead” I was confused. UN-school? Never heard of it. Sounds stupid. As open minded as I was (sarcasm, folks) the conversation didn’t last very long. I didn’t think much of it afterwards since the thought of homeschooling wasn’t even on my radar at the time and she lived out of state so I didn’t see them often.

Fast forward a few years and life lessons later, Medina was turning 5 and I was going to have to sign her up for kindergarten but…It didn’t feel right. She didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to send her. It wasn’t just because I didn’t want to let go. It really didn’t feel like the right thing to do and I didn’t know why. We had moved to a neighborhood with a great elementary school. I took the time, toured the school and even liked it. But it still didn’t feel right. They had to have key cards to get into the school building then also for every room inside, including the gym. When I went, there were teachers standing in front of the locked cafeteria where I assume the kids were eating. The school was clean, quiet, and well decorated. The teachers had smiles on their faces but…something still didn’t feel right. So began my research. I stayed up late into the night reading google results for “should I homeschool my kids?”. Then, In the weeks that followed, homeschoolers suddenly seemed to be everywhere! A friend of mine decided to pull her son out of public school to homeschool and, completely by chance, I met a homeschooling family in my neighborhood…who then introduced me to their amazing homeschooling friends. Amidst all of that, It became clear to me that it was worth giving a shot. I thought Medina was still young and, if it didn’t work out, I could always send her to public school the following year.

My husband, Sameer, is always super supportive of my many endeavors. He will sometimes need a moment for it to sink in and to be able to adjust but he didn’t even need that this time. He asked me if I had thought about the commitment it would need from me and how that would effect our day to day lives- which I had- so he was fully on board with the idea. Then we put a movie on….and I couldn’t tell you which one because I didn’t watch a single moment of it. Instead, I spent the entire time researching curriculums and supplemental programs.

We began homeschooling the following Monday!

This is the thing, though, I had made a rigid schedule for all of us. There was little room for error. It worked ok at first but life happens, and it happened HARD when baby Lana started keeping me up all night and wanting to be attached to me all day. The house suffered, schooling suffered (so I thought at the time), our meals suffered, and – most of all- my sanity suffered. I felt like I was failing everybody and everything.

I had a meltdown…or two…or more…..until I realized that I just had to restructure our days. I started with what was important to me and what I wanted to accomplish with home based schooling:

  1. Help them develop a true love for learning
  2. A well rounded curriculum including life skills
  3. Encourage a love and appreciation for nature and all living things
  4. Nurture independent thought, creativity, and self awareness/confidence
  5. Encourage natural curiosity, open mindedness, kindness, and acceptance
  6. Travel. Placing value in people and experiences over things
  7. Autonomy. Guiding them into keeping control of their bodies, thoughts, and experiences

Once I had these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I went back and narrowed down the “homeschooling styles” that might suit me. Turns out it’s Unschooling! I just didn’t understand what it was before. You hear “child-led learning” and you think ” unstructured play”. When that’s not the case at all! I mean, play is included but here is what a real life unschooling unit looks like-

Medina on Sunday: “Who was Martin Luther King?”

Monday: Go to the library and get all the books we can find on MLK. Read about MLK. Print out a lesson on what it means to be a good citizen and draw pictures of what being a good citizen looks like. Color a picture of MLK and write his name.

Tuesday: Watch a movie on MLK’s life while painting a picture of a bus and talk about what a boycott means and why they are important. The kids cook their own meals on Tuesdays, fold their own clothes.

Wednesday: map out all of the locations for MLK’s major protests and speeches and discuss each one. Visit MLK’s birth home. While we are out, we discuss what his significance is and how the world would be different without him. At the home, they are encouraged to talk to the adults in charge and ask questions and explore independently (within reason).

Thursday: Read aloud together. Color pictures and put together presentation board.

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Friday: Rehearse presentation on MLK to teach the family. (Presentation is then rehearsed daily until they feel ready to present to a small group)

They work on their math, reading, and science books every day on their own time. They have access to my phone or computer for educational games and videos for an hour a day and they have full access to all their art supplies. They are always enrolled in 1-3 classes/sports outside of the home with other children. We go outside every day. They help with chores around the house every day. They help me budget and understand, at a reasonable level, what it means for money to be earned and spent. We live life together everyday and I make sure to make the time to explain everything as we go.

THAT is unschooling. It wasn’t easy to get here and when people ask me about what to expect when transitioning to homeschool I like to tell them that it takes a full year to really figure out, through trial and error, what will work best for their family…and things continue to evolve over time. For some people the first year is a complete wash. But there is plenty…PLENTY of time to catch up when you’re working on your own time so it’s nothing to worry about.

If you’re wondering about what happened with my homeschooling family member, I saw her again last year and we had the BEST time talking about unschooling and I was able to get some pretty awesome ideas from her and an uplifting sense of comfort meeting her kind, intelligent little ones.

Funny part is, not only was this not an option for me 4 years ago, I thought it was ridiculous. Things change. People change. Opportunities change. we just have to open up our hearts and Seize them.

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Nothing is actually better than Something

About a year ago I watched the documentary “The Minimalists”. Its all about these two friends who worked in the corporate world and, just like so many of us, lived and breathed work, money, and the general hustle. They talked about how they came to the realization that it just wasn’t bringing them joy and from there the journey to minimalism began. Obviously, it’s much more detailed and interesting but it was this documentary that spurred my year of personal growth.

Like I do, I watched the documentary and, literally, the moment it ended I was already filling bags and getting rid of ALL excess things. It clicked for me. Not only did I understand it but I knew that I needed it. One of the most significant things I’ve learned this year is how important support is. First of all, I have my husband who has always not only supported me as in “allowing” me to do things my way but if, after I explain the what and whys to him, it makes sense….he joins in on the fun (and sometimes sits back and laughs at how quickly things change around here). There is nothing better than truly having and being a partner to your partner. Beyond that, when I am interested in learning more about something and making life changes, I immerse myself in knowledge. I read the books, I watch the videos, I Listen to the podcasts, find like minded friends, and join support groups online. I rarely actually participate in these groups but knowing there are people out there more experienced than me is comforting. They provide excellent guidance to people who are taking the time to ask questions (that I get to read and learn from) and sometimes they’ll share relative articles that answer questions I didn’t even know I had. Knowing I don’t know everything about absolutely anything and constantly seeking information has opened up my world. I’ve found that people want to share their knowledge just to share it and make the world better. I am grateful for these people!

There is one question frequently asked to The Minimalists that I hear on their weekly podcasts and that is “How can you be a minimalist with kids?”. I am happy that they continued to answer this question week after week because it took months for it to really sink in for me. Basically, it’s no different than being a minimalist without kids. You go through all things and get rid of the things that don’t bring you joy or add value to your life. The trick is, though, that the “you” in that scenario is the child. It’s not ok for me to go through their things and toss out the things I don’t like (those God forsaken tiny shopkins!) if it still brings joy to them. The good thing to know, though, is that kids are smarter and more intuitive than we give them credit for. A couple times a month I’ll give the kids a bag (reusable or a box now that zero waste is a part of my journey!) and ask them to work together and put all the things away that they think they don’t care for anymore or that someone who has no toys would really appreciate more than they do now. The only rule is they have to ask each other before putting anything in the bag or else Medina will put all of Amaya’s favorite toys in the bag and vice versa. They always come back with a full bag that they’re happy to part with. On more than one occasion I’ve had to take a toy out because it held sentimental value to me. I held on to it for a bit longer then, after seeing it just sit on my dresser for a few months, I realized it doesn’t serve any real purpose so I took a picture then got rid of it when I was ready. When I was ready. Minimalism means something different to everyone. It absolutely should not feel torturous. It should feel like a weight is lifted to bring you more joy. It takes time and can be done in small steps. Over the year I’ve learned that something can seem important today and that same thing is worth donating next week. So it is a constant evaluation of the things coming into and leaving your home…..or your life. Minimalism applies to people and situations too. If it/he/she isn’t ADDING value to your life or is something/someone that brings you joy then it’s time to part with it/them.

It’s taken a full year for me to get to a point where I truly, deep down, don’t desire anything more than what I need. I didn’t think I would ever get to this point (and still have ways to go, I think). For example, My wardrobe now consists of 2 black pants, 4 tshirts, 2 hoodies, 2 nice tops, 2 long sweaters, 1 skirt, and a pair of jeans. Granted, I’m a stay at home mom so this wouldn’t work for everyone but it works for me. I wash every morning and start again. For the kids: I took them shopping and let them pick out a few of their favorite things at a good quality store. So they were a little more expensive ($8 for a tiny tshirt) but since they’re only getting a few tops for the season I want them to be good quality and something they love (think sparkles, sequins, and unicorns). Their wardrobe now consists of 8 shirts, 2 sweaters, 2 dresses, and 5 pants. They don’t like jeans so I don’t buy jeans. Even with just these clothes, they wear the same 2 shirts 90% of the time. They have no desire (and therefore no need) for anything more!

So…What’t the point?

The idea here is, especially for me, that I spend too much of my life worrying about my things (cleaning them, organizing them, buying them, etc. ) and not enough time doing the things i love and add value to my life and the lives of those around me. Also, I am an anxious person and nothing triggers my anxiety quite like a mess and when I’m anxious I have less patience, and when I have less patience this house is not as peaceful and joyful as it can be. When my to do list is short (or even non existent!) then I have all the time in the world to just sit and play with the kids. 9 out of 10 times I say no to playing (or spending time with Sameer) because of household chores that need to be done. Less stuff=less chores. Less chores=more time with my loves. More time with my loves=more joy for all of us…and who doesn’t need a little more joy in their life?

Preschoolers: Let them (not) eat!

Every day was a struggle. Every. Single. Day. It didn’t matter what I served them or when. It didn’t matter if it was one of their “favorite” foods or not, The girls just never happily finished their food. They sat down in front of their plates three times a day with a grunt of disappointment and an hour or more or complaining, bargaining, mess making, and goofing around. I was 5 months pregnant and at my limit. I gave the girls a bowl of rice and daal (lentils), something they sometimes love and sometimes hate and, unfortunately for me, that turned out to be a hate day. Both Medina and Amaya whined as I put the bowls in front of them. I was low on patience and just turned around to take a breath. As my back turned towards them, a bowl crashed to the floor- then silence. Amaya somehow knocked her bowl off the table and all the food was spread out across the freshly mopped floor. I wanted to cry. I was literally holding back tears over the spilled food. At this point the girls, ages 2 and 3, had mostly stopped napping but I decided to end lunch and send them to bed. They weren’t happy about it but I needed a moment to think about what was happening and, quite frankly, to cry a little bit without little judging eyes watching me. I knew there had to be a better way. There had to be something I could do differently because I just couldn’t go on fighting with them every day. As it turns out- there WAS a better (and so much easier) way!

 

I sat down to do a little research and there were a lot of things I learned that day. I studied the food pyramid and realized I was feeding them too much of the wrong things and that, most days, they were probably not getting much more than grains and dairy. I learned that their bellies are small and that a full sized serving for them is TINY. So much less than I thought it was. Do you know what 1/4cup of loosely packed rice with chicken looks like? It basically looks like crumbs. However, learning about what to feed them wasn’t my biggest takeaway. My epiphany of that day was that I wasn’t respecting my children. Not only was I ignoring their feelings, I was teaching them to disregard what their bodies were telling them too! Let me explain….

 

Here are some examples mealtime conversations we would have:

 

Medina: I’m not hungry

Me: you haven’t eaten in hours, just eat your food please

 

Amaya: I don’t like this

Me: Well, I’m sorry but that’s too bad. That’s what we’re having for lunch today so you have to eat it

Amaya: *Takes a few small bites while crying*

 

Medina: I’m full

Me: there are just a few more bites on your plate, don’t waste your food

 

Amaya: I’m thirsty

Me: You can have something to drink when you eat some of your food

 

 

Typing that out made me cringe. There is so much wrong with the way we, as a society, treat our children. Like they know absolutely nothing. As though we know what they’re feeling better than they do. I stumbled upon an article while the girls were “napping” that day. It explained how we have such a broken bond with our own bodies that we don’t know how to tune in and listen to what we need to nourish it. We are actually born with the ability to know when to eat and how much. When a baby is born they literally need only drops of food. They know this. But even then, we sometimes try to get them to eat more. WHY?! Why do we do these things?? What is our obsession with not only over eating, but also OVER FEEDING?! Over the years we ignore our kids when they tell us they’re full. OR they don’t like something, or that they’re not hungry and over time they start to just ignore what they’re feeling. How sad is that? We actually teach our kids to ignore their own bodies. We are essentially breaking that bond for them. It broke my heart. Once I realized that it was my approach that was causing all this chaos in our lives, I started to think about how I could give them back their power and autonomy. I immediately implemented a few meal time changes:

 

  • Best decision EVER: I bought portion plates. They’re plates that have 5 small sections. So a typical lunch plate would be half a chicken sandwich, three raw spinach leaves, 5-6 strawberries, 4-5 raw almonds, about 2 ounces of yogurt (half of a kid’s yogurt cup). This way, they’re getting the nutrition they need from all their food groups every single day. The reason this made such a difference is that I realized just looking at a pile of one food was very overwhelming to the girls. The variety gives them the feeling of choice and when they finish the small portion size in a little section makes them feel accomplished! They eat the food in any order they like, and however gross their order might be to me sometimes, they love it! It’s especially fun if I put pudding or some other sweet in one portion and they have the choice to eat it first if they’d like to. Funny thing is, they realized all on their own that eating sweet first is no fun because it makes the food taste differently so they almost always save it for last now.
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  • I ask them if they’re hungry. If they say no, I don’t serve them. I want them to feel hungry and know what that feeling is.

 

  • They always have 2-3 choices to choose from. “would you like a chicken sandwich or veggie pasta” Always things I already have on deck.

 

  • They have to try at least one bite of EVERYTHING on their plate. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it but they’re not allowed to say they don’t like it if they don’t try it. This has worked SO much better than I could have ever imagined it would and has added a whole new world of foods to Medina’s list. But the key is truly being ok with them not eating it. They have to trust I won’t make them eat all of it or make them feel badly about their opinion in order for them to take the bite. My research taught me that sometimes a kid has to try the same food 10 times or more before they develop a taste for it. So as long as they take that one bite I have hope. I keep putting new things in their plates and having them take that one little taste. My biggest fear doing this was that it might teach them that it’s ok to waste food. But the truth is that they definitely waste less overall and every time they don’t want to eat it I just remind them that it isn’t nice to waste food so that they have it in mind. I trust that, in the long run, if they have a healthy relationship with food they will be less wasteful adults.

 

  • If they say they’re full. They’re full. I have no way of knowing why they don’t want to finish their food so I have to trust what they tell me. I don’t want them to ignore their sense of being full just to satisfy my need to make them eat. My response to “I’m full” before the plate is cleared is always “That’s fine, but no snacks until the next meal time” Sometimes they’re ok with no snacks so they’ll walk away and sometimes (especially if a sibling is eating a yummy snack) they’ll go back to the plate and finish it on their own!

 

  • ALWAYS provide water. They need it and are most likely not getting enough of it. I give them one kids cup full of water with their meal (more if they feel it’s spicy) and as much as they’d like whenever they’d like the rest of the day.

 

  • They have full access to healthy snacks all day. Yogurt, fruit, veggies, and nuts are available all day everyday (except when they don’t finish a meal).

 

 

We are going on 2 years of this new approach and this has been completely life changing for all of us! I no longer dread meal times and both girls try any where from 1-5 new foods every week. More than that, though, I love to see them making good food choices all on their own. I make it a point to keep a food pyramid in the kitchen so that they can point out what food groups they’re eating from and we can talk about the effects of sugar and fats and how eating has an impact on how they feel now as well as how they’ll feel in the future.

 

The concept of children and their bodily autonomy goes so much deeper than food, too. I’m still learning how to go about it just the right way but my goal is to guide my girls into trusting their feelings and intuition. As they grow into young women and make their way out into a world that likes to make women second guess themselves, it can provide them with a comfort and confidence….and that can be their super power.

Minding words and guiding love

A topic that often comes up among my mom friends is how to avoid jealousy between siblings. As with everything, I believe we, as parents, plant the seed. Many times, unknowingly, we do and say things that encourage siblings to resent each other- sometimes before they’re even born! It is up to us to help nourish a loving bond between them. It’s most helpful if it begins before a new baby is born but, if you’ve already passed that stage, it’s not too late!! There are always improvements to be made!

*This post is all important but a longer one so if you don’t feel like you have the time, or want, to read it all then just skip to number 4 for one that can quickly be implemented today!*

Starting out, I hadn’t intended on making these posts in bullet points but its easier to organize my thoughts that way… so here are a few ways (in no particular order) that we can help build a better bond between our children:

 

1.Participation

Our days are busy and there is always so much to be done and, if you’re pregnant, all these things take ten times the amount of effort to accomplish. It’s understandable that you don’t have the time to let a toddler help you complete your tasks. However, it’s SO important that, when you’re preparing for baby, big brother or sister gets to help. Putting together a crib? Let them hold the instructions. Let them try to screw something in or hold up a piece of the bed. Anything. It’s going to make the process a little longer but it’ll be well worth it in the end. Anything that has to do with new baby should include big brother or sister as well. Shopping for clothes? Pick two outfits that you love and ask them to choose the one they like best. Then let them fold it and put it away (or hang it) once you get home. If they show interest in anything that has to do with the pregnancy or the baby, don’t dismiss them. Answer their questions and ask them follow up ones. Do anything you can, before baby comes, to make big brother or sister feel like it is just as much their baby as it is yours (also, make sure to make it clear that they are big sibling and not mommy or daddy because I’ve seen this go overboard in the other direction and the big brother or sister wants to take over being the parent and gets upset when the parents try to do anything because they’ve been told it’s “Their” baby. Balance and clarity is key). Keep in mind that there are going to be times that they DON’T want to help or talk about the new baby. That’s ok too. Let them take the lead on their feelings and run with it. If you get offended when they don’t want to participate it’s going to feel like they’re being forced into it.

 

Same goes for older siblings. It’s all about participation. When one has something special, the others are there to encourage them. The reason for this, is that it isn’t always possible to have them all in the same amount of programs or get the same amount of presents, or whatever. Things cannot always be physically or monetarily equal. So, we have help them encourage each other. Help them see their place in what everyone else is doing. For example, When Medina (5yo) plays soccer, the younger ones have “jobs”. Amaya (3yo) is the water girl and Lana (1yo) is the cheer leader (she claps and screams). When Amaya has a class, Medina and Lana are waiting to give her hugs when she’s done and I help Medina come up with questions to ask Amaya about her class. Whatever it is, they’re all involved in it together in one way or another.

 

2. Honesty

 

Here it is again! Honesty is the basis off which all that I do with the kids. It’s definitely difficult sometimes, that’s for SURE! But, really, it makes things more simple in the long run and being honest with them has a great effects all around. If you want to teach them to be understanding, you have to give them the opportunity to understand. Just like adults, they wont always accept the truth gracefully. That’s perfectly ok. Just because they’re crying over the truth doesn’t mean they didn’t need to hear it. For example, Amaya and Medina share a bedroom. Amaya has to go to bed at 7 and Medina at 8. As you can imagine, Amaya was NOT happy about this recent change. I had to talk to her and tell her that she’s 3 and Medina is 5 and she needs more sleep than Medina does to be able to grow and once she’s 5 she can stay up another hour too, if she wants to. It took a few days of explaining it again and again but now it’s normal. She knows what’s happening and she understands the reason why. Also, It is now a part of Amaya’s routine that Medina hugs her sister goodnight and walks her to bed (participation). It would be so much easier to dismiss Amaya’s sadness about the change, or lie and say Medina will be in bed in a few minutes or something but the unintentional repercussions of that is resentment between siblings. Amaya will not understand WHY it’s happening and it’ll seem like we are favoring Medina. If something is seemingly unfair, explain to the kids why it’s necessary. Over and over again if they need it. Eventually they’ll get it and they won’t blame each other.

Same goes for siblings of babies. Explaining that babies have different needs (and maybe adjusting a little so that they can help with those needs if they want to) can have an immense effect on their connection to each other. Again, when things are seemingly unfair, take the time explain why they are necessary. I know some people will try to make things fair by saying things like…”ok you can stay up until the baby falls asleep”….but you’re only hurting yourself in the long run. Things can be fair without being the same. The earlier kids know this the better it is for all of you.

 

 

3. Get rid of unnecessary competitions

I restrict competing to actual competitions. Which is rare. So rare, in fact, I’m not sure they’ve competed against each other in anything other than a race across the yard. Not that I don’t find value in competing but I do think there is a time and a place. Neither of which are at home amongst the family while doing family things. A common competition is “who can finish their food first?!”- but it doesn’t matter. As long as they finish, who cares who finishes their food first? The problem with this is that, generally, one child always just eats better and faster than the other. For me, Amaya gags if she eats too quickly or takes bites that are too large, so she just naturally has to eat slower. It also really crushes her spirit when people point out how slow she is….but she almost always finishes everything on her plate so it’s unnecessary to do that to her. All it does is make her annoyed with her sister for being able to eat so quickly. Btw, it’s also a really unhealthy habit to eat quickly, so this is a bad competition all around. I was going to take the time to list a number of other competitions that need to go but, really, I can’t think of any that are good for a sibling relationship. A competition is literally a rivalry- and a rivalry definitely has no place within a family. If you find yourself saying “look ________is doing it better/faster than you” or ” lets see who can ____________first” just to get them to do things more quickly then take a moment to evaluate why you needs these things done quickly- if for any reason at all! Sometimes we just get into the habit of rushing for the sake of rushing. Slow down a little and help them encourage each other instead of wanting to “beat” each other see how quickly that’ll change their relationship!

 

 

 

4. Taking the name out of excuses

 

A small change in the way we speak makes BIG difference in how kids interpret a situation. When you say:

“I can’t help you right now, the baby needs to be fed”

they hear:

“I’m giving my time to the baby and not you”

instead you can say:

“I’m busy right now, I can help you in about 10 minutes, I’ll set the timer for you”.

Then no one gets the blame for you being unavailable.

Always rearrange your words in such a way that you acknowledge what they need and let them know when you will be able to attend to them. It’s very difficult for kids to understand how a parent’s time needs to be split amongst the family so instead of saying where else your attention is going to right at that moment, let them know when the attention will be back on them. Instead of “I need to help Amaya right now, I’ll read to you later” I simply say “I’m sorry I can’t read to you right this moment, but if you wait for me in your bed, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” then I make sure to do just that.

 

 

The right thing to do isn’t always the easy thing to do. These little beings are watching us and responding to everything we do so, even after we’ve responded to everyone’s needs all day, we have to pull it together and continue respond to their needs with love, kindness, and compassion and hope that we do a good enough job that they learn it and send it back out into the world as they grow. OH! And of course- chocoalte. Lots of chocolate, coffee, and Target are involved in the success of this….and all other things.