As an Unschooling parent, I don`t follow a curriculum or teach lessons. I don`t look for ways to turn our experiences into `learning moments`. But I don`t take my responsibility for the futures of my children lightly. Unschooling is not the lazy sister of homeschooling. This series of posts will highlight some of the lessons that I hope my children will learn in their Unschooled lives.
Lesson #5: A child with a goal can probably handle it.
Probably among the deepest core values that I learned from my parents is that 'hard work' is nothing to be afraid of. In many ways that attitude served me well. I worked hard at school to get good marks, I had a job beginning at age 13 (and I wasn't unemployed once in the following 24 years), and I paid for 4 years of university by myself, without any gifts or loans. As a teacher I always performed at a high level in my jobs, and often took on additional responsibilities. And in my life with my kids I have no problem doing the work necessary to give us a comfortable life: cooking, cleaning, laundry, going here and there, making a garden, etc, etc.
There's a bit of irony in the way the school system seems to value students who work hard to achieve good marks, yet the same system is committed to making the work accessible to all kids. Teachers call this process 'dumbing it down.' Essentially, it means that even though the curriculum documents are written with a specific list of outcomes and expectations, the teachers are expected (instructed!) to modify the content so that all the children can successfully complete the work. In fact, students in Special Education Programs are taught from a curriculum specifically created so that each child can achieve a mark of 'B' or 'B+'.
So I'm not going to go into a long explanation of all the reasons why schools are sending out mixed messages to kids about the meaning of hard work and how this is not good for kids. What I am going to point out is that whatever goals I set for myself (such as living a greener lifestyle) I have to be willing to do the work to achieve the goal. And whatever goals my children have, I have to be willing to do the hard work to assist them. (Actually, when I first decided to try to live a greener lifestyle, my plan was to turn my lawn into a vegetable garden. This plan was completely derailed when it became apparent that nothing will grow in our lawn due to the presence of two enormous Manitoba Maples. So sometimes revising the plan is part of the hard work. We are now going green in other ways.)
I actually think it's only adults who define work as hard, since children are more likely to persist at an activity or goal that is really meaningful to them. Children can have some pretty interesting goals. For example, my daughter Jasmine was determined to learn how to swim when she was just 2 years old. Every week we took her to a pool where she would jump in and swim to the best of her ability. Now, at 3.5 years old, she is a better swimmer than either of her older sisters. She had a goal and we facilitated her desire by providing access to a pool on a regular basis.
If I had told her that she was too little to learn to swim, or if I had acted like helping her with her goal was too much work for me (getting to the pool, getting cold in the water, trudging back home) then I'd have been sending her the message that goals which require hard work are not achievable. I would also be sending her the message that she is not important enough for me to help. Obviously I would not want to send either of those messages.
What I really hope is that the tenacity and resilience that my children (all children, perhaps?) seem to naturally possess will not be undermined by exposing them to only simple, very achievable goals, such as they would experience at school. By letting them set their own goals while still young and then giving them the tools to pursue their goals, I hope their tenacity and resilience will remain intact throughout their lives. And I think they will discover that factoring in the hard work is part of setting the goal in the first place.
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