We Are Unschoolers

We are unschoolers here.

With my older kids, we were relatively rigid, with textbooks, workbooks, lots of reading and writing, etc.

With my youngest three, it’s a whole different lifestyle. For one thing, I’m no longer with the abusive ex, who demanded that the kids get high “grades”, and if they didn’t, we all paid for it.

For another thing with my youngest three (currently aged 10, 7, and 6), I was working from home full time, getting very little sleep, and was constantly exhausted. There was no way I could squeeze in “book work”, so unschooling became very appealing as an option. (Public school isn’t something I’d ever consider. I have lots of reasons.) The more I looked into it, the more fascinating it became to me, and pretty soon I realized that was what we were doing. It was and remains a lifestyle of learning, even though I can no longer work due to fibromyalgia and other health concerns landing me on Canada Pension Disability.

As for what a typical day looks like around here…

My kids usually get up before me, around 7-8 a.m. I’ve got their computers set to come on at 9:00 a.m., so prior to then, they eat (they’re all capable of getting their own food now, yaaaay! In prior years, I fed them breakfast, of course, but I was up earlier for work, too.) They can watch TV (we don’t have cable) or movies, or just hang out together and hopefully not fight, because if they fight, Mom gets mad, and they don’t like that.

It’s hard for me to get up, as I wake up stiff and in pain most days. The kids know that, and if they need me, they’ll come up and talk to me, often just coming in for a hug, a kiss, a smile, and to share some sweet words. I’m usually out of bed between 9 and 10, and then it’s cleaning, cooking, bill-paying, phone calls, and the rest of the business of a household. If there’s a lot of mess, I get the kids involved in helping.

Once the computers come on, they’re all over Roblox, Club Penguin, Minecraft, and a few other games they enjoy. I’ve had some programs for them that are particularly education-oriented, and they’ve enjoyed them, but the games are good learning for them, too. They communicate with other players, and they extend their reading and spelling efforts in order to do so. Many times a day, I’m asked how to spell one thing or another. If it’s too many letters, I’ll write it for them in a notebook they each have.

In good weather, the kids play outside in the yard. We live sort of out in the country-ish with an acre of yard. They play on the trampoline any time of year, even sometimes when there’s snow everywhere.

My 10-year-old and 7-year-old sons are diagnosed as being in the autism spectrum. It’s not that big of a deal, as they’re high functioning, but with the diagnosis, we get some funding, so for a few hours a week, we have a behavior interventionist who comes to take them out to do things in a program designed by a behavior consultant. The boys usually go one at a time with her, but occasionally they go together.

The only “schoolish” thing we do is reading lessons, and even that is something I have not pushed too hard. With my 10-year-old, he wasn’t getting the hang of reading by the age of 8, and so I took him to get assessed because his daddy has dyslexia and we were concerned he might have it, too. The tester said that yes my son had dyslexia and that she could help him with a special reading program, and the costs would be covered by the place where we are enrolled for home-school (here in BC, Canada, that’s the rules – you just have to be enrolled somewhere, and depending on where you enroll, there is a bit of reporting to do, but not much.)

So, we did that reading program via Skype for an hour a day, and within three months, that son was fully reading. Maybe he didn’t have dyslexia after all? I don’t know, but he has no trouble sounding out even unfamiliar words now, and figuring them out by the context of what he is reading.

The reading program we did via Skype is something I can now use on my other kids, as we have the materials and the teacher’s outline. I have done a bit of it with them, plus some other reading lessons, and I’d like to do more, but my health is up and down. If I can’t get myself to work on it more, I’ll use some of the homeschool funding next year to do it the Skype way with the teacher.

I’ve read about some unschoolers not even wanting to teach their kids how to read, but as for me, I don’t feel comfortable leaving it up to them to figure it out.

Oh, and there’s math. We have a set of books called “Life Of Fred”, which are stories I read out loud, usually while snuggled up on my bed, with my kids. The stories have math lessons woven into them, but they are so entertaining, the kids don’t even consider them to be “school”. Because we usually do Life Of Fred as a bedtime story, it is another excuse for the kids to get to stay up a bit later, so I suspect they also enjoy it because of that.

Our days always end with “tucking in”. Usually, I go to each child’s bedside, but when I’m too worn out, they’ll come to my bed and tuck me in. We giggle over our inside jokes. We do some hugs, some kisses, sometimes some prayers, and we always finish with “I love you”.

When My Son Went Missing

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Photo: My front yard, 8:30 a.m., January 30, 2013

At 7:45 a.m., I woke up and realized my boys were abnormally quiet, so I went to check on them.

My eight-year-old son was fast asleep, but my five-year-old was not in his bed.

I climbed the ladder to the loft in their room and looked for him there.  I did not find him.

I checked the girls’ room. I did not find him.

I checked all over the middle floor. I did not find him.

I checked everywhere I could see in the basement.  I did not find him.

I was still half asleep, barely standing upright, stumbling around the house, searching in every room, closet, and cupboard, lifting up blankets, looking behind and beneath furniture, gently calling my son’s name so as to not awaken my other kids, but panic was starting to set in and I raised my voice a little.

I felt a mixture of anger and fear, but strangely I was mostly calm.

That might have been shock.

After combing the entire house twice, I called the neighbours.  He had wandered over to their place a couple times before in the summer, but the snow this time of year is well over his boots so I doubted he’d go through the field.  Still, I left them a message just in case.

I tried to reach my husband at the mill where he works, but it is a noisy environment and he doesn’t keep the cell phone on him.

I called the mill’s office and they tried to reach a foreman, but nobody answered.

While I continued to re-search my house, I called 911.

Within minutes, a police officer was at my door.

Soon, another officer showed up.

Then a third, and a fourth, and I’m not sure if there were more in that blur of blue uniforms.

There were two RCMP cruisers and an RCMP pickup truck parked in my yard.  A third cruiser was out on the street in front of my property.

One officer informed me that a police dog was being brought down from a town an hour away.

Cops were all over my house, my yard, and my quiet semi-rural street, searching for my son.

I called my husband’s work again, letting them know it’s urgent and that our son was missing.

A few minutes later, my husband phoned me.

“I can’t find J anywhere,” I told him.  “When did you last see him?”

“He came into the kitchen around 5:00 this morning,” he said.  “I told him to go back to bed, and he headed up the stairs, but I didn’t follow him, as I was leaving.”

We exchanged words of horror, shock, fear, and prayer.

“Well, I guess I’ll just finish the shift,” he said, but I could hear the worry in his voice.

“Yeah, there’s no point coming home.  There’s probably nothing you can do, either,” I told him. “But as soon as he shows up, if he shows up, I will call you.”

My eight-year-old son and my three-year-old daughter were now awake and involved in the hunt for their brother.

“Check the deep freeze,” I told my son.  “I haven’t looked there yet.”

My 18-year-old daughter heard us and also joined the search.

Tromping through the snow in my yard, I called and called for my son.

I alternated between uttering whispered cuss-words through my teeth and softly begging God to please keep my little boy safe, and that we may find him.

I went back inside and up to the middle floor, where I suddenly heard the cheerful voice of my three-year-old daughter shouting in the basement, “I found him!”

Not sure if she was just playing around, I ran to her, my heart racing, and demanded, “WHERE?  Where is J?  Show me!  SHOW ME!”

She led me to a closet, where I’d checked a few times already.

She had to have been kidding.

She reached into the bottom of the closet and pulled back a pile of egg-carton bed foam.

She sang out, “He’s right here, Mama!”

And yes, there he was, peering out with a mischievous grin.

It was 8:30 a.m.  I had been hunting for him for 45 minutes.

I was relieved, but I was also angry.

“J!  You must NEVER hide on Mama again.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

“I was just playing hide-and-seek,” he said, trying to act innocent.

My boy didn’t seem to have any idea how serious this was.

“You stay right there,” I told him as I ran outside to talk to the cops.

“We found him,” I said.  “But you guys can take him, I’m so mad at him.”

They wanted to see where he’d been.  One officer said he had looked in there with his flashlight and did not see him.

All the cops looked sternly down at my son.  There were no smiles on their faces.  Two of them gave him a short but serious talk.

My son stood there with his arms crossed, trying to look tough, putting on a fake scowl.

I thanked the police and they went on their way.

I was about to call my husband to let him know all was well, but he called me first.

I called and left a message with the neighbours, and then I called the Child & Youth Mental Health clinician to leave a message for her to call me.

Then I called my son’s Behavior Consultant (he has a diagnosis in the autism spectrum, high functioning, with symptoms of ADHD, so we have government funding to cover her costs).

The BC told me she would contact a colleague of hers who might have some other ideas, but that until we hear back from her, I should have my son sit in a chair right beside my desk while I work so he cannot be out of my sight.

If he has to go to the bathroom, I would have to go with him.

He can eat his meals right beside me, and he will be watched with the video monitor when in his room for a nap.

His Behavior Interventionist, who works with him two hours a day, three days a week, came over, and he was allowed to work with her, but when he was done, he was in the chair.

Any time my son tried to talk, I said in an even voice, “No talking.  You are sitting there because what you did this morning was very bad, and you must never hide from Mama again.”

As I write this, he is having a nap, but when he gets up, he will return to the chair until bedtime.  Our only discussion will involve reminding him how important it is that he stay in bed, except for toileting, until he is told by his dad or me to get up.

Before the cops had left, I had taken a picture of the three police vehicles in my yard.  I posted it on my facebook wall, and then went to make breakfast.

My 15-year-old daughter saw the picture and called from her dad’s house nearby, asking what’s up.

When I told her about J having to sit in “the trouble chair”, she said, “That should be ‘a thing’.  We should call it ‘The Trouble Chair’.”

She also suggested that we decorate the chair by drawing teeth on it, and that we should paint it black, or red, to make it look scary.

I said, ‘Yeah, and we can write words on it, like, “HA HA.”

She said, “And draw arrows on it, like they’re pointing at whoever is sitting in it.”

She also added, “We can put Velcro on it, and make a pair of Velcro pants for the person to wear when they sit in it.”

I said, “Yes!  So it makes it harder for them to get up.  I like it!”

We had some fun with it, but realistically, for now, The Trouble Chair just has a name.

I hope we won’t have to use The Trouble Chair very often, preferably never again, but knowing my kids, I’m not sure that’s likely.

j and me apr 2012c_edited-2a (2)

J and me, spring 2012

(This post also appears on my other Holy Sheepdip blog at Blogger).