Fake It ’til You Make It: Unschooling and PPD

Jayden is almost eight years old now, and while I consider myself to have overcome my battle with PPD, I cannot say that we have overcome the effects of that experience. While I was struggling with postpartum depression, my mom was Jay’s primary caregiver. I wanted nothing to do with him, and I felt nothing towards him. While it pains me to say that, that is exactly what I felt. I went through this for the first eight months of Jay’s life until I realized what was going on with me, and it took a very extreme and scary experience for me to come to that realization.

Jayden was about eight months old, and I was home alone with him. I could not put him to sleep or get him to stop crying. The crying was driving me completely and uncontrollably insane. I was rocking, shushing, re-swaddling, checking the diaper, trying the bottle, and all to no avail. After hours of this, I had pretty much lost my sanity, and this visual passed through my mind that if I just threw him against the sliding door, that might somehow help. As soon as that passed through my mind, I became very afraid. I put Jay on my sofa (crying and screaming), walked to my room, grabbed my iPod and put on a playlist of soothing music. I turned the volume all the way up, put on my headphones, took a few minutes to get his crying out of my head, and calm myself down. I also texted a good friend at the time telling him I was afraid of being with Jay alone because I was afraid of what I might do. After a couple of minutes, I came out, picked up my baby, and rocked him to sleep. My friend came over shortly after and stayed with me for a few hours.

It was in that moment that I recognized what my problem truly was, and that I needed to take decisive and serious action from that point forward. I always knew something was wrong, but I didn’t really know much about PPD, and it is not something that is talked about very much. I will say we talk about it more than we did when I was battling it, so I feel for all of the women prior to even eight years ago. Anyway, after that experience, I made the expression “fake it ‘til you make it” my motto. Why? Because that day, I decided that I was going to do the things that I didn’t feel like doing for him: feeding him, bathing him, playing with him, etc. (Thank God for my mom because I don’t know what would have happened to Jay had she not been there basically as his sole caregiver. He was well taken care and well-loved by her.) So I started doing everything I should have been doing all along. Slowly but surely, I came out of it. It was when Jay was about 1.5 – 2 years old that I felt good and that I really cared for my son.

With all of that said, Jay and I have never had a strong bond. He was more attached to my mom, and rightfully so. As he has gotten older, and those first two years of his life are further and further behind us, things have definitely gotten better; but, I have to say that there are still times when I feel the strain on our relationship because of the PPD from those early years. So how does unschooling fit into all of this?

First off, we have to consider the time line. It wasn’t until Jay was about two years old that I would say I was completely over the PPD. Keep in mind, I am a single mother and at the time worked full time and traveled for my job. Jay started school when he was five years old. That leaves us at three years of me actually being an attentive mother, but still only for limited time. He still spent, on average, more time with my mom than with me. Enter five years old, and Jayden goes to school for about four hours/day. I usually dropped him off, but had to work, so someone else – usually my mom or sister – picked him up from school. I spent a lot of time volunteering in his classroom, and he really liked that, so that was a plus. However, when I would get home from work, guess what I always had to fight with him about? Homework, taking a shower, and going to bed. Move onto first grade, and take the previous year’s problems, and magnify them. What it boiled down to was that the very small number of hours I was spending with Jay, was spent arguing and fighting over school. Fighting about homework, bathing, going to bed, getting up for school, getting him out of the house and getting to school on time. Add in being sick all of the time from the germs at school, and receiving threatening letters from the school district about attendance, and I’m sure you can visualize our misery, or maybe you know that misery first-hand.

Again, how does unschooling fit into all of this, and how does it relate to my relationship with my son? Unschooling means that Jay is with me a lot more. I work part-time, and my boss allows me to bring him to work, so he comes to work with me a few hours a week. When he is not with me, he is still with my mom or my sister, but I have to emphasize that he is with me way more than ever before, and this has made all the difference.

I have to admit that I have delayed writing this post because the past two weeks have been a living nightmare with Jay. It has been so bad. He is like a teenager in a little boy’s body, and I could not reconcile in my mind how I could write about this topic when I felt like I could not stand my child. And, yet, unschooling fits perfectly well into that scenario as well. Why? Because unschooling REQUIRES you to spend a lot more time with your children. If you want to have these everyday life learning experiences available to your child, guess what? They need to be out and about with you to learn! And when you spend a lot of time with your child(ren), a lot of things happen; one of which is developing a tighter and closer bond with your child. Since I pulled him out of school and started unschooling, Jayden WANTS me to do things with him. In many ways, he has really become attached to me, and it’s really weird for me because I am not used to him wanting ME. And as sad as that is to say, read and write, it is 100% true.

Regarding our hellish last two weeks, they fit into unschooling too, but I did not see that right away. In fact, it took a facebook memory to remind me how these last two horrible weeks fit into my unschooling plans because honestly, I was wondering why I would ever choose to unschool. My facebook memory reminded me that a huge reason for me to unschool was to focus on behavioral health. The last two weeks was ample opportunity to work on behavioral health, but I do have to say that I failed pretty miserably to capture the many opportunities that became available almost non-stop from the time he woke up until the time he managed to fall asleep. We came out of these two weeks alive and in my case, I feel a lot better. In fact, his horrid behavior continued on through last Wednesday, and I had enough energy and clarity of mind to overcome the awful behaviors in a healthy and productive way at that point. Prior to that, not so much. I was losing it, and pretty much a basket case. But, I had to think about the past two or so weeks, and consider how much worse these past several days would have been if he had also been going to school. On top of his behaviors, I would have to deal with all of the stresses that kinder and 1st grade brought us, and I realized just how grateful I was to have the ability to handle this particular situation without something else adding to it. As crazy as that sounds, it really is a blessing, and no, I did not see it that way until the end. Unschooling gives me that. School would have taken away from that. Instead of two weeks of the nightmare, I could have been looking at potentially months of it because the arguing and fighting over school work, attendance, bed time, and alarm clocks would have all contributed to shifting the focus away from that. At least in this way, we can get to the heart of the matter instead of delaying and covering these serious behavioral issues with other irrelevant, time-sucks.

So, whenever I meet another mother who is experiencing PPD herself and they ask me how I got through it, I always say: fake it ‘til you make it, because you will make it.  Is it hard? Absolutely. Will it take time? It will take so much time. It requires a ton of patience, but you know what? The feeling that comes with your child actually wanting you part of their experiences is amazing. Is unschooling a miracle? No, but I truly believe that this feeling would have come a lot later in our lives, or never at all if we didn’t have this much time together, and I can say that choosing to unschool has given me that time.

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Patience is Key!

The other day I was texting my best friend and we started talking about my experience unschooling. One of the things I mentioned was that it is so nice to not be tied to a grade-specific curriculum or any curriculum for that matter. The flexibility and natural approach to learning is so awesome.

I have to admit that, as a new unschooler, it’s kind of weird having such relaxed days. Honestly, Jay and I have been gaming it up (very frustrating), going to bed super late, sleeping in late in the mornings, and we have been playing a lot of card games. Playing games with Jay is super challenging, though. He is such a poor sport whether he is winning or losing. It is so painful, and so hard to be patient sometimes!

Unschooling can be a lot of work, although I suppose that might depend on your circumstances. As a single parent, I could not do it without the help of my mom and sister. I take Jay to work with me for a few hours a week, and they cover the rest of the time. I try to get him involved in everything that I’m doing because that is when we get a lot of hands on learning and conversations going. He is learning to cook, tell time, get creative, etc., but honestly, sometimes I do not feel like I have the patience and I don’t want the mess or whatever is required at the time because I am simply tired some days.

With all of that said, patience is key! Jay is not even eight years old and he lacks creativity and imagination. One thing that I see unschooling is doing for him is getting him to be more creative. He rarely used to build Lego sets, but lately, he has been doing a lot of building with Legos, and not just the sets! He is starting to build things of his own imagination, and it has been cool to see that change come about slowly. The more creative he is the more he does independently. (In my next post, I will talk about my battle with PPD, and what unschooling has done for my relationship with my son.) While playing with Jay and spending more time with him is great, it is equally exhausting, and sometimes I just need him to do things on his own. So when he is creative, he works more independently, which allows me to fill up my well of patience. As I was writing this, he had a stack of paper that he was folding; some are being turned into paper airplanes, others fans, and still others are mistakes. He did that for about 45-minutes. And QUIETLY!

When all is said and done, patience is required for how you deal with your child, but it is also required when you are beginning to unschool. As you will probably read on every unschooling blog, there is a deschooling period that you and your child go through, and that can take months in some cases. In our case, school was out in June (2017), and I think we are still deschooling to some degree. So it is true; be patient and let the learning process happen naturally, and stress-free.

 

Lastly, I believe that children learn by watching their parents handle various situations. So when you are running low on patience, or your patience tank is running on empty, just remember it is a good opportunity to model for your children how to handle that situation. When it’s really bad, I walk away and tell him I need to be alone for a little while. Other times, I call for a quiet time or do something to disrupt the thing that is draining my patience, and still at other times I may be described as an erupting volcano. So stay strong and keep on!

In another post, I will write about how I am feeling the need for structure, not in curriculum, but in our home life with regards to unschooling.

Slime is Fun!

PBS calls it Gooey Gak, Jay calls it slime, and I call it flubber. Whatever you choose to call it, it is fun to make and not a huge mess (whew!). The fact of the matter is that Jay has been begging me for Borax for months. MONTHS! I almost never go to the store because I buy all of my household items through Amazon’s Subscribe and Save feature. So today, I actually needed to go to Target, and he was determined to get Borax. We got Borax. He then proceeded to harass me to make slime the moment we got home. Didn’t happen.

Roll around to about 9:00 pm, and I finally felt ready to make slime. The cool thing is he had fun, and got to work with measurements. He learned that 4 ounces equals a half cup and one ounce equals two tablespoons. Learning is fun and awesome!

 

On the other hand, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. We have had some frustrating days and moments, which I will write about next because I feel it is super important to “keep it real.”

In the meantime, I’m going to help Jay with his notebooking for the day while you take a look at our slimey pictures! ‘Til next time!

 

Missing in Action & TESOL Certification

To say that the last two weeks have been interesting is an understatement. Jay was sick for a full week a week after school started. Yikes! Because Jay was sick, naturally, I caught his illness as he was completely recovered!

Last week, I finished a class to receive my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification. This was a very cool, fun and hilarious class! I learned so much in such a short amount of time, and it really made me rethink homeschooling, unschooling and what that all looks like. More than that, it made me think about myself as a teacher, and how I could utilize FORTY-TWO DIFFERENT TEACHING METHODS! Talk about being inspired! While the class was about teaching the English language, it really teaches you how to be a good, effective teacher.

I won’t get into details about each method, and I won’t even list the 40+ methods, but I will say that it teaches you to teach through the senses. Listening, speaking, singing, juggling scarves (who juggles scarves?!), games, repetition, community learning, drawing, acting,  music, gestures, videos like Mr. Bean, dictation (which can actually be really fun if you do it right!), walking around and talking with your peers or whoever is around, etc. Unbelievable! It was absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait to get Jay back home so I can experiment on him! I actually started this afternoon over lunch, and it got a lot of giggles and laughs out of him.

He has a Bible reading coming up the first week of August. I am going to add gestures to the reading when he practices so he can get comfortable with the words, voices, etc. It should be fun!

Unfortunately, I cannot post pictures or videos because we were asked not to. However, it is a hands-on course, filled with fun and laughter, and I met friends from all of over the country in addition to people from Italy and Brazil!  If you are interested in the teaching course I had the pleasure of taking, visit: The Canadian Institute of English.

 

The Rainbow Fish Musical

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, you have to check out some of the productions by Bay Area Children’s Theater because they put on awesomely fun shows for kids! Our first show was Piggie & Elephant’s: We Are in a Play! and we have been fans ever since. We try to catch a show any time we can, and for this year, I actually grabbed us flex passes for the season for six shows.

This evening we went and saw The Rainbow Fish Musical, and it did not disappoint! Here are some pics from our evening. Enjoy!

 

P.S.
Have you ever walked through a shoe? Jayden has!

Unschooling: Week One in the Books!

The first week of unschooling is a wrap! Since school got out last week, my stress levels have dropped significantly, and a more relaxed schooling option has started off well. I do have this little voice nagging inside my head nagging at me to do something more “school-like,” but I have been silencing that little voice fairly well. It’s kind of funny how you can remove yourself from public school and choose unschooling just to fight the tendency of recreating that same school setting at home.

Now, most unschooling blogs will tell you to give yourself a month or two to undo all that traditional school has done to you and your child. I have to admit this very hard, but very true and real. The idea is that after your child has had the time to deschool, they will want to start learning on their own. Now, we are only a week in, but all I have to say is, “It is true!” Jay has not had to sit down and learn anything, has been watching an atrocious amount of some vlog called “Hello, Neighbor” (insert gag reflex here, and, no, I’m not proud of this); yet, he has taken four swim classes this week, has been more helpful than usual with things like chores, working on being able to tell time ALL BY HIMSELF, having discussions with me about multiplication (even though he doesn’t know he’s talking about multiplication), AND yesterday he moved away from Hello, Neighbor to watch videos about how to build things out of everyday items, which has now inspired him to build something out of Popsicle sticks!

Our first week looked like this:

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Unschooling a Perfectionist

First things first! The perfectionist in this family is me, not Jay. Previously, I wrote about tracking progress and why I do it, but if it hadn’t been the perfectionist in me to start tracking progress at an absurdly young age, I would not have found the benefits of it nor would I be able to say that it was quite ridiculous in hindsight.

I first started tracking Jay’s progress at the age of 3. I had forms that they use in ABA to determine mastery of skills and progress, etc. I’m not an ABA therapist, BCBA or anything like that, but the form helped me to achieve the results I wanted by tracking his progress. At the end of each “session” I did the calculations, marked the date, the percentages and my observations. Silly, I know.

Why is it silly? Well, for starters, Jay was only three. At the end of the day, I don’t truly believe in measuring success by a series of calculations and numbers. I also don’t believe that good, bad or mediocre numbers equate to successful people, failures or average people. From that little bit of background, you can imagine how difficult it has been to wrap my mind around unschooling and how to do it.  Hence, I have used the word “journey” a lot, and will continue to do so because this is as much of a journey for me (if not more), than it is for Jay. He is already a care-free, little guy; I, on the other hand, am not.

How can I unschool myself? That’s a question I’ve been pondering and praying over for months. I’ve done a lot of research, and many of the unschoolers are so cool and chill. They really help you to understand that it is hard to let go while still making sure your child is learning. At the core of unschooling is education. It may sound as if it’s a whole lot of nothing going on, but actually it’s a whole lot of doing without really thinking about it. For example, have you ever been asked something along the lines of, “Hey, where’d you learn to do that?” And you say, “I don’t know. I just do it. It’s what we did growing up.” My family gets that a lot when it comes to cooking. And when those are your answers, guess what, you were unschooled. I have a friend who was raised in Peru until she was about 10 years old, and she can wash all of her clothes by hand really well. She actually started learning when she was around five years old. I asked her how she learned to do that because she had a lot of knowledge about it. Her answer: It’s just what we did. We didn’t have washing machines or dryers, so you have to learn how to wash your clothes.

So now, imagine, that is how you go about learning everything. There aren’t tests about it, you aren’t graded on it, you don’t have homework for it; you just do it. There is no time limit on how long you can learn about this concept, explore this idea, etc. And the things you learn become part of you, and they stick with you. Can you even imagine that? I have hard time imagining it, yet I’m expecting it to be my reality very soon! But,  back to answering the question: how can I unschool myself? Here’s my plan:

  1. Pray for patience;
  2. Remember what I’m doing and why;
  3. Don’t expect perfection from myself or from Jay;
  4. Take it easy;
  5. Have fun;
  6. Keep it light;
  7. Let him use his creativity;
  8. Don’t be rigid;
  9. Be patient, and;
  10. BE PATIENT!!!

I’ve decided to officially start our 2017 – 2018 school year on June 19th. Our last day of 1st grade is June 14th, so you may be asking, “Why so soon?”

  1. Unschooling is not the same as traditional school. It’s not going to be hardcore and intense, filled with homework, worksheets and tests. Oh, and guess what; we don’t have to start school at 8:00 am! We can sleep in!
  2. I need as much time and practice as I can get with this method!

To add to point #2, I truly believe that unschooling is really a way of life. The biggest and toughest aspect for me to get over is my own mentality, so the sooner I can make those mental shifts and changes, the  better off we’ll both be. I have been trying to train myself a little bit, but it’s really difficult when we have school things to do, like homework and PTA. Once school is out, we’ll have more time and be able to utilize more of each day and weekends better. I don’t believe that education happens Monday – Friday between the hours of 8:00 am and 3:00 pm, nor do I believe it is a laborious and burdensome chore. Rather, I see it as a series of wondrous, curious moments that can shape our appreciation of the world and people around us. It truly is a beautiful thing!

And that’s how I plan on unschooling this perfectionst.