Homeschool / Outschool / Unschool
When faced with trauma, like covid-19, acute environmental trauma, divorce, addiction, abuse….. humans can’t learn. Before we can open our minds enough and have the bandwidth enough to explore new ideas, new thoughts, new information, knowledge, and the absorption and assimilation of new information (essentially, learning), We need to build the foundation of security, attachment, connection, esteem, and belonging.
Before higher levels of learning can be reached; academic learning; self realization and actualization, we need to be sure base-level needs are met: the hirrarchy of needs baseline are things like:
Physiological needs – breathing – food – water – sleep
Safety needs – shelter – employment – family health and sense of security at home – resources and access to rudimentary care
Love and Belonging needs – friendship, family, intimacy, connection, attachment, security
Esteem – respect towards others, respect by others, healthy relationships, confidence, competence, independence
Self Actualization – morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, acceptance of facts, information-seeking, integration of new ideas, “learning”.
This blog post is about our journey as Lifelong Learners – self-directed learners – magic makers. Together, we created the foundation necessary to grow forward: meet our baseline developmental needs so that we can continue our journey towards higher level learning, compassion, confidence, respect, connection, and self actualization.
These areas have been the core to our curriculum so that we could maintain security, attachment, embrace connection, and grow forward, together.
Our lifelong learning practices have primed and prepared us for learning during a pandemic. The tools and practices we discovered and use to stabilize and maintain connection are the exact tools and practices needed by all humans faced with growing forward during times of adversity and trauma.
I continue to calibrate and recalibrate (pause and reflect, play and connect) to figure out what we are needing in our lives. I check in with our baseline needs regularly and cultivate our curriculum, rhythm, and practices according to the reflection – connection to ourselves and each other is at the core of our lifelong curriculum – and play – because I know the healing powers and potentials of play both developmentally and as a means through trauma.
Be gentle with yourselves and your people. Through grace, self love, self compassion, compassion, and connection we will continue to get through the changes we face in this new version of normal. Through these practices, rituals, and rhythms we will begin to piece ourselves back together; fortify our connection; love, and grow forward, together.
Want a peek into the values of living The PlayFULL Way? How I came to discover the tools, practices, and rhythms that would help heal us, stabilize our family, and help us grow forward, together?
We began our official “homeschool journey” about 5 years ago. My oldest at the time, was five. She had attended a preschool on mornings a few days a week. I was not committed to her going to a full time / full day kindergarten. In fact, I had intended on homeschooling her. But she had another plan in mind. All her friends were “going to school” and she didn’t want to miss out. I didn’t make too big a deal about it and let it go….but she wouldn’t let up. She kept saying she wanted to “go to” school. One of the main reasons I wanted to homeschool in the first place was so that she could have a say in her own learning path. Self-directed education was something I had heard of in theory and it really resonated with me. That being said, her persistence in her desire to “go to school” made me feel like a hypocrite. So, that Summer we enrolled her in the local, public, city kindergarten. She lasted about 5 weeks before we had the opportunity to travel to my sister’s house in Florida for a month. I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. With a five year old and an infant I headed South.
We wrote a letter to the school stating our intent to learn while we traveled. I asked for “school work” to bring along with us (for my then five year old) so we would “get credit” for “learning”… and off we went. While we were in Florida, we decided to “give homeschool a try”. We explored. We went to aquariums, the beach, the pool, geocaching…..at this point I was more “homeschooly” than “unschooly” and each adventure we went on was followed with worksheets, writing samples, or an activity to reinforce “schooly” “informational” kinds of materials – to show proof t and legitimize to myself (and others) that what we were doing was actual, real, life learning. We couldn’t just LEARN for the sake of learning. We had to prove we were doing it – with worksheets and writing samples. Fortunately, she loved it. And I loved hanging out with her, getting to know her better; exploring with her; getting to know myself better; and connecting through experience. We drove home from Florida at the end of our trip with a paper map of the United States. As we passed each car on the highway we took notice of the license plate and where it was from; located it on the map; and colored it in. We did that the whole way up the East Coast back to Philadelphia. We haven’t been back to public school since.
I remember handing in our “resignation” letter to the school. A school I had worked so hard to get her into because we were out of catchment. A school that was a “Great flagship school” – a “neighborhood gem” in the Philadelphia school district. I felt sick. I wondered if I was doing the “right” thing. I wondered if I could accept the challenge of “teaching our youth” – adding the hat of “teacher” alongside that of “homemaker”; “business owner”; and “Mama”. I was so scared I was making the wrong decision.
I vividly remember signing the affidavit with our “intent to homeschool” and carrying it with me in my wallet – everywhere. I was worried strangers and authority figures would stop and ask why my daughter wasn’t IN school. I thought I would have to provide proof that all was okay, we were just “homeschoolers”. At that time, mentioning the fact that we were in the homeschooling camp was enough to get some eye rolls and odd stares at the playground. People associated it with some kind of religious cult and had no idea why I would want to spend so much time with my children all day every day – as if Momming wasn’t enough. Honestly, I had the same worry. I wasn’t sure how I was going to juggle it all. But the more I read about PLAY, the less I worried. The more I gave myself permission to show up. Be communicative. Be present. And learn ALONGSIDE my children, the easier it became. It wasn’t some forced curriculum or process. It was innate….like my parenting style had always been. It was an extension of peaceful parenting and Being Mom.
I would constantly grapple with whether or not we were “doing enough”. I would hold our learning and “education” up alongside the learning and education I received from my traditional school as a young person. I knew we were learning, but I was somewhat terrified to think my children wouldn’t know “the same stuff” as their peer group. It took me awhile to untangle that limiting belief. I was incredibly apprehensive about the end-of-the-year portfolio review. We had to submit information proving we had finished a “successful year” of homeschooling to the state education department. The first couple years I had a binder – a portfolio of sorts – I saved every drawing, writing sample, and proof that my child could write, count, and make logical sense of her world. Proof that I was “doing a good job”. Proof that I was equipped to handle the role of “teacher” – and if I was taking a class on it, I would definitely want to prove I would be getting an “A”.
I “Teachered” like a boss. I created lesson plans; took field trips; incorporated learning opportunities anywhere I could. Connected with co-ops and workshops and museums and extra curriculars and classes. It. Was. Exhausting. And overwhelming. I found myself with a hoard of amazing UNTOUCHED “schooly” resources. Things left in their boxes or packages for the perfect time to pull them out. By then, my family had grown. I was taking care of a 2nd grader and a preschooler and a new baby – I couldn’t keep up. I kept planning to do all of these amazing things, but wasn’t actually able to implement them without anxiety or panic about doing it the “right way” or the “perfect way” or “all the way”. Which meant, I didn’t even start the amazing lessons I had in queue.
My perfectionism was getting in the way of me showing up, authentically. The anxiety kept me from being present and actually PLAYING with my littles. I was trying to do all the things necessary to prove I was an amazing teacher, homeschooling, homemaking, business owning mom ….. instead of just showing up, engaged, and doing the thing. I kept scheduling more and more and feeling like I we still weren’t “doing enough”. One day my daughter asked if she could use one of those packaged, untouched, amazing “schooly” materials. And I almost said “no”. This YES MOM almost said no because it “wasn’t ready yet.” It wasn’t the perfect time or environment or opportunity. And just like that, I realized…..it might never be ready. Instead of providing the space or the opportunity to try it, test it, play around with and gain information from it right here, right now….. I was actually creating a block to the learning potential just because it wasn’t the “right time”. Realizing that felt like a sigh of relief. The awareness had become a permission slip. This simple awareness began to open a pathway to learning that was way less stressful; more imperfect; more intuitive; more reflective; and more PlayFULL. It was so freeing. From then on, I promised myself I would SHOW UP. MESSY. To be imperfectly present. To follow our curiosities, just because we could. To embrace the imperfection. To tinker and toy and play with whatever came our way. To follow our feet. Say YES to ideas and thoughts and adventures. If we were curious about something, we sought information, right then and there. Just like that. We became Imperfectionists. Unstructured. Free to Learn.
I would later realize that learning happens in cycles and spirals. I could use the same themes and over and over again without ever really tiring of them because I would have different ages and stages of children engaging in the information. At different parts of the learning spiral. Some would be just starting out – they would have the attention span of only a few minutes and only want to engage with the sensory or tactile application of the theme…and then as children age, they begin to question and their investigation is composed of questions and wanting answers — all of this is innate and intuitive if you allow it to unfold on its own time — and if you practice modeling getting curious, asking questions, experimenting, failing, reflecting, and trying again. That’s the process of learning. The idea or concept of “achievement” – letter grades, gold stars, rewards are just a distraction and external validation of the real, intrinsic reward – which is natural and reward itself —- learning. It’s organic and innate and happens without prompting or external validation. We circle around to the same themes season after season, year after year, but I find that depending on a child’s age & stage (as they define it, as they are ready) they engage with the material in completely new ways. Spiraling out in bigger, more expansive knowing and understanding of the same concept or skill. And if they aren’t yet ready to cross a milestone of cognitive understanding, they meet the experience and spiral inwards a bit to develop a deeper understanding of the theme from that place on the spiral.
I believe we all learn this way – even as grown up – I think of all the life lessons I am still circling around — still, trying to grasp and understand. I keep growing up. I keep growing forward. My awareness and ability to comprehend more happens with a big wide open mind and some historical wisdom in that theme based on my life experience and the information I have come across up to that point. And I circle around the theme, growing towards knowing, expanding my experience and knowledge base until I master it and move on. Or, perhaps, it’s a lesson I may never truly “master” and I keep coming back around to it for the sake of self grown continuation or self actualization. Whatever the case, I envision each of us on learning spirals, at different points and places – vibrating with anticipation – and learning exactly what we need to learn from the experience at any given time. And then circling back around to it again when we are ready to know/learn more.
The more I lived life this way – not just in our learning – the freer I became. The more in touch with my intuition I became. The better a Mom I became. The more connected WE became. It was less pressure and more easy-going. Less stress and more relax. With permission to make mistakes, try new things, say yes, we had no agenda for a specific “outcome” — not fishing for “good grades” or “proof” we were doing it “right”. Instead of planning, we were DOING. We were choosing presence / perfection.
That New Year my Resolution was to invite PLAY Back into MY Life (as a grown up). I was great at helping to facilitate play for young people. I taught classes, cultivated creativity, encouraged curiosity, made space for my kids’ varied interests……before this time, I saw PLAY as something children did. Something I “didn’t have time for.” Something I didn’t make time for. Something I didn’t give myself permission to do. I had to many, “much more practical and important things to do.” *eye roll at myself for that internal dialog and narrative.* The few, rare times I allowed myself to play were wrapped in guilt about other things I “should” be doing. And I wanted to experiment with what would happen if I, too, played with reckless abandon. If I invited Play back into my life.
Bit by Bit, I had begun the process of de-schooling myself. I was beginning to learn that our deepest; truest; most authentic; and valuable life lessons weren’t things you could find in a book; or a curriculum; or worksheet; or workshop. The most brilliant connections and AHA moments were born from the moments of “boredom” – the times of great exploration – imaginative thinking – curiosity – and collaboration. When I began to release my own perfectionism, taking myself and all my roles a little less seriously and I began PLAY and to SHOW UP. MESSY. Unafraid to be “wrong” or make mistakes. That is when the MAGIC materialized.
The more I learned about PLAY, the more it became an active, intentional, every day goal of mine – for myself – and for my children. The more play became a center focus of the “work” we were doing … And by “work” I don’t actually mean “work” ….. Play IS the “work” of childhood. Though, by definition, play is not work AT ALL. I was beginning to learn, intuitively, by experience and experimentation, that every act of play helps us acquire knowledge; make sense of our worlds; and better understand ourselves and each other. Play soon became the medium we used to acquire information; knowledge, understanding, and build connection. It wasn’t until a few years later that I stumbled upon the work of Stuart Brown: Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul – that I began to piece together what we were learning for ourselves, through practice, to be true. “Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” – Stuart Brown. If you think about it, Play is the driving force behind all invention, creation, artistic expression, innovation, and connection. At the heart of understanding is the openness and vulnerability to play with yourself, others, the environment, your thoughts, and your world .
Stuart Brown defines play as:
- – Apparently purposeless (Done for its own sake)
- – Voluntary (No one is making you do it)
- – Inherent attraction (It’s fun and makes you feel good)
- – Freedom from time (Lose sense of time)
- – Diminished consciousness of self (Don’t worry about how you look)
- – Improvisation potential (Ready to break the rules, or include new aspects)
- – Continuation desire (You want to keep doing it)
Our “school days” became less structured; less jam packed; less organized; less scheduled and more … in flow. As I began to include more TOOLS for my own deeper understanding, and well-being my anxiety diminished and was replaced by sparks of Joy. I began to incorporate SOUL CARE and SELF CARE and GRATITUDE and MINDFULNESS into what we would call our daily and weekly rhythms. A schedule is set….a rhythm is more fluid. It fluxes and flows.
We began to focus on CONNECTION at the heart of our “curriculum”.
In our home that looked like an emphasis on recognizing, acknowledging, and understanding BIG FEELINGS; practicing gratitude; leaving space for “boredom”; making time to “follow our feet”; reminding ourselves we can do hard things; saying YES; and engaging with ourSELVES and our community in a more open, less judgmental (less perfection-seeking) way. It meant making mistakes and trying new things and remaining open. It meant being curious, playFULL, imperfectionists.
Our “schedule” was replaced with tools to live a more holistic and well- rounded existence where the end-goal wasn’t to PROVE anything to anyone. It was to create the space for PLAY. We each enjoy different kinds of play. Our PlayFULL journey has allowed us the space to get to know each of our own, unique, individual, play profiles –self-reflection
Our “objectives” became Awarenesses about our current interests. Our Awarenesses turned into daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal Intentions.
We set out each day, to do something good for our bodies, minds, hearts, and community. Which looks different – every day – for each person.
(We have found many different tools work to help us on our cycles of intention, reflection, and learning journey. This is one of many tools.)
Connection to ourselves through our autonomy and our independence. The ability to direct our own time. Each of us gets to decide how we would like to use our time. If our intentions aren’t met, we get curious about why. (without judgment or blame)
(Kan Ban – tools we learned from the Agile Learning Community)
Our rhythms focus on connection. Connection to ourSELVES through rituals of pause and reflection – Like the practice of gratitude.
(Gratitude Blurbs can be downloaded at Mama May I – handmade toys).
Connection to others. Like Building friendships.
Connection to our community by sharing our time, energy, resources….and kindness.
Connection to who we are, uniquely. The practice of Being heard; listening to ourselves; and gaining confidence in our voices.
(Table Talk – Connection, one question at a time. $49 at www.MamaMayi.Shop)
Connection to our World.
Connection to our bodies.
Connection to our hearts.
Acknowledging and Honoring our feelings.
Connection to each other.
Pause; take time to give thanks; be grateful; show appreciation; speak your kind; and love. (Gratitude is the pathway to JOY.)
It’s not WHAT we learn that turns us into innovators, creators, developers, movers, shakers, world changers…… it’s the process by which we learn. It’s the ability to remain open to all the different possibilities.
The threading together of awareness, information, and need –the connections through and between.
We live in an age where facts are at our fingertips. But what to do with the information takes fluidity and curiosity. Asking questions. Testing hypotheses. Having awareness. Reflecting. Collaborating. Listening. Sharing. Trying. Failing. Trying again……. A willingness to PLAY.