Friday: Life Is Good Conference

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday morning rolled around fast. We were all a little blurry eyed getting out of bed. The first lecture we were attending started at 10 a.m. We ordered room service and ate pancakes. John was ready to go quickly. He wanted out of the room to find Gemma and to play. He picked out his toys he wanted to take with him for the day and we decided the backpack we brought might work better for him. I loaded him snacks, got his name tag on him and let him out. The cool thing about this conference is letting your kid leave your sight. It was hard to just let him go explore on his own but I felt safe in the environment. I followed behind him about 5 minutes later. I had to check on him before I could focus on the first lecture. On my way to find John, I passed the registration table where his king kong was sitting to be claimed. It didn't take me long to find him in the thick of it all. I didn't bother him and I just observed for a minute - he was playing hard and taking it all in. He was really happy. So off I went to the first lecture by Alison McKee Learning To Unschool Ourselves.
Alison started off with what school really taught us....which is to not trust our instincts, that personal differences should be ignored, hard work was unpleasant, do not trust adults and do not trust ourselves. I could really relate to this because on my spiritual journey back to myself, I had figured out a few years ago, that my disconnect with myself began at school. I hadn't put it all together until I started reading some of the unschooling books Brad had purchased for us. I started making the connections of feeling isolated from myself and doubting myself beginning in school. Alison moved to point out that we all really trust our children from the age of birth to 5 years. We trust they will crawl, walk, eat and talk. We trust their time lines. When we put them in school, we start to doubt our kids and their ability. We no longer trust their time lines because the schools say they have to be reading by this age/grade. The schools will label the child as a problem kid because the child is not meeting the school's time line. Alison also said that learning a skill is a personal process unique to that person. I know that is true because once I was out of the school system, the way I process and learn new things is not the way I did it in school. I remember thinking I was dumb because the school way of learning things didn't work for me. It always took me more time and longer to do it their way and most of the time it just didn't stick after the test on that subject matter.

Alison talked about how kids know how to learn. Humans are programmed, out of the womb, to
learn. She said that when kids are interested in something don't step in and take it over or direct it. It then becomes a parent project. Kids like to experiment with a lot of different things. Kids are naturally protective of what they are trying to create and if you interrupt their flow they will hide their real desire from the parent.

Alison gave many examples of unschooling her two kids. Her son was a book learner. He liked to read about what he was interested in and then decide from there if he wanted more. Her daughter was completely different. She learned totally different. She really enjoyed books on tape and spent hours listening to them. She would memorize and act out the parts in books. She taught herself piano to help herself with her singing. Her daughter was an experimenter and had to try many things to find a few she liked. Some examples she gave about unschooling her kids....1) When her son decided he wanted to do a habitat study in the area they lived, he really got into it until she stepped in to 'help'. She was providing charts and graphs and other visual aids for his study. After about 6 weeks, he didn't want any more to do with it. It was no longer his project and he was no longer learning the way he started out to learn what he wanted to learn through his habitat study. 2) When her son was 15 he started saying he was really bored. Alison said he started nagging her and her husband about being bored. She gave him 3 options: a) figure out what he wanted to do; b) go to school; c) do a correspondence course. He decided he wanted to fish and learn about fly fishing. He checked out a bunch of books and started learning about fly fishing. This interest, in fly fishing, lead to a 5 year venture. He got into tying flies at a professional level, started a guide business and lectured on fly fishing. If she or her husband had tried to teach him at this time anything about fishing, he would of lost interest. Parents just need to stay out of the way. Alison said that when her kids showed an interest in anything that was her cue to shut her mouth. 3) Her kids decided to go to college. Since unschooling is not curriculum based, her kids didn't learn school math. It is a standard stat that is takes 20 hours to learn all the math school teaches from K- 8 grade and that is what it took her kids.

A few more ideas that Alison spoke about included
making your household user friendly for your kids. Find a happy middle ground for your kids to be self-sufficient and you to have your sanity. Alison said that when her kids come to visit, they always say this isn't the house they grew up in because when they left, Alison made it her sanctuary. She recommended when dealing with friends and family pressures about school to respond kindly, to remind them it is your decision to unschool, and if they want contact with your kids then they need to support them and not judge, criticize, and question them to no end. She recommended finding other home schoolers to network with that are not using a curriculum because you will have more in common with them than those home schoolers who are trying to get through a text book by June 1.

Al
ison also touched on the issue that seems to always come up - what about friends for my kids? She said that friendships always change so don't worry when your kids friends change. School is not a guarantee your kids are going to have friends. Some people in school make friends that last a life time others don't. (I know that is true for me. I spent 12 years with the same core group of kids and I have nothing in common with them. I hardly keep in touch with them). It is not school structure that creates the friendships. Alison's two kids were very different with friendships. Her son would have one or two friends that would last awhile and then change. Her daughter was the center of 6 - 9 friends all the time. She was very outgoing and decided in her teens to attend each lunch hour of the local high schools and hang with her friends and make new ones. She still stays in touch with many of them. Her son stays in touch with one of his childhood friends.

Meanwhile, John was playing hard and I was ready to allow my mind to soak up all that information I just got from Alison. The next hour, Brad and I were going to watch the movie The Business of Being Born but they had technical difficulties. That worked out well because that was when these two cool big ships sailed up to the hotel on the Columbia River. They were amazing with all those cords for the sails. I have no idea how you would keep track of all that without getting it into a giant knot. One of the tall ships was alleged to be the ship from Pirates of the Caribbean. I looked at them briefly but decided I needed some down time while they enjoyed the ships.

Lunch time! I was starving. The hotel provided a snack cart during the morning and then provided lunch for a small fee each day. Today's lunch was an Italian pasta lunch. So we all headed over to the lunch area. It was Dianna Jenner's birthday and she visited with us and about her upcoming Funshop Condom Art. We sat and visited with another family whose daughter was named Olivia. John decided he was a cat and she decided he was her pet. So John ate his dinner bit by bit under table. They had great fun!

We took some time to talk and purchase Scott Noelle's new book
The Daily Groove. Scott recruited Brad into the Unchoir. I think he will enjoy doing it for the talent show. They have a rehearsal scheduled for this afternoon. I am going to take John to a Funshop called Let's Build A Fort.

Next I went to a circle chat with Alison McKee on
When Teens Are At Loose Ends. I really wanted to go to this talk because unschooling works in my mind when the kids are young but I didn't get how it worked for teens. I was getting a better understanding about teens and unschooling by being around teens at the conference and from the morning lecture. Unschooling is a lifestyle not a teaching style. Teaching doesn't work only learning. Starting out, Alison said that kids start to have more focus between the ages of 10 and 12 and that unschooling allows authentic living in the community and it gives the opportunity to be real in the community. Teens need downtime so don't worry about it. Teens usually focus on something and then take it as far as they want - which then can lead to other things or something totally new. I was the only one in the circle chat without a teen. The other parents mostly had just taken their teens out of school and were at a loss at what to do with them. Alison told them that it takes between 6 months to 2 years to deprogram from school. Each teen needs their space to do it their way. They were not going to be engaged. Many parents were expressing concerns that their teens were just watching t.v. and doing nothing. Alison said don't worry and let them decompress. They will come out of it. Remember, it is deep in our psyche that not going to school means you are stupid. The talk really centered around this issue so I left early to hook up with my family.

I took John to the Funshop
Let's Build A Fort while Brad went to the Unchoir practice. The room was mainly dad's and the kids. Everyone was given cardboard boxes - big ones - and these connector things. Then you built your fort and decorated it. This was a cool idea in theory. The big problem was the dads. They were getting frustrated quickly. Some kids got their boxes up quick and there seemed to be this competition thing going on as an undercurrent. Many of the kids (ahhhh like mine) was to excited about the boxes and those already build to bother with building one of their own. Just imagine a sea of boxes in a room. That is the coolest! We stayed for about 20 minutes until John and some cohorts tore through a window cut into one of the built forts. Several dads were sitting still with bleary eyes and the look of lost hope. I had not realized this but most of the dads were not on board with unschooling, were new to it or half way into unschooling. There were a few dads like Brad, who were really into unschooling. Brad is the one who has done the research for our family and organized everything for the conference. So why would that be important in this situation? Well, it was hard to let the kids do their thing with the fort. It really became a daddy project and their fort. Kids were losing interest quick because of that reason.

So John and I went into the Unchoir rehearsal where Brad asked us to leave. We were distracting him too much, although there were other kids and parents in the room not rehearsing. That is OK. There was always something to do so we went into the lobby and play room while we waited for the next Funshop which was
Telephone and Balloons. We ventured into this Funshop and immediately John was jumping up and down with excitement. Balloons everywhere! I never did see the telephone part of the Funshop but balloons were plentiful. Somewhere along the way, John removed his pants and shoes and had his shirt on backwards. I knew his clothes would turn up because all his toys have been found. After lunch we found his snakes wrapped around the stair post and the lost and found had a constant stream of his toys. So no worries. Brad came in after his Unchoir practice and helped blow up balloons. I was really starting to get blurry eyed and so was John. There was no way he was going to stop so Brad said he would stay with him and I could go nap. Thank goodness!!

I went up to the room and slept for about 45 minutes when a knock came at the door. John was at the door knocking and I guess I didn't hear him. Scott Noelle was passing by and knocked louder for him. Ahh!!! So John came in and I tried to get him to lay down and nap but no doing. OK! I left the room with him and hooked up Heather McDonald. Her husband Bill and Brad went for take out chinese food. Their son, Dylan was also a dinosaur lover so John and Dylan had been bonding since Wednesday night.
The food was taking awhile and the evening concert was starting. There was a great opening act by a fellow unschooler band and then Amy Steinberg would play. I decided to settle in to the video concert. John had found his Gemma and was dancing around with the other kids. Brad texted me as soon as he got to the hotel. He went up and got some of our Two-Buck Chuck wine from Trader's Joe to share with the McDonalds. Management let us set up a takeout picnic in the room across the hall so we could still enjoy the music. Amy had started her portion of the concert so I went in to listen and John joined the dancing. Heather joined me and we listened to the concert. At this point, I lost track of John and Brad. Brad is the music buff and he had missed the concert. Hmmm. I stayed after and purchased a cd and had Amy autograph it. I really enjoyed her music and lyrics. Her voice was great and she really was funny! Check out more info on Amy at her website: www.amysteinberg.net

So where was Brad? And John? I was almost out of steam so I headed back up to our room. At the door was John's shoes and we had found his pants earlier in the evening. I entered the room to lot of activity with John, Brad, Bill , Dylan and Mataya McDonald having a blast. John and Dylan were jumping between the beds because there was a river of alligators they had to avoid. I loved all the playing but I was so tired. Heather joined the room gang after awhile and I decided to just lie down. It wasn't working so I had to call the party off. I felt bad because everyone was enjoying themselves. I was asleep in 10 minutes.
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