Saturday, April 12, 2014

How to talk to teenagers and young adults

A lesson or reminder for all who need it (including me).

  1. Happy to see her? Say so. Show it with your face. Light up your eyes.
  2. Unless it’s to offer an enthusiastic compliment, do not comment on his clothing, shoes, accessories, tattoos, hair, weight, or anything else appearance-related—especially in the first five minutes. If you don’t feel complimentary about any aspect of his appearance, go back to #1.
  3. Ask what she’s been up to. Listen to the answer and then DON’T JUDGE. If you don't like the choices she is making regarding college or career or how she spends her free time, do not say so or in any way reveal it. Don’t offer advice. If you can’t think of anything else to say besides judgment and advice, simply ask what she likes or doesn’t like about what’s been going on.
  4. Ask him for a movie, book, TV show, or game recommendation. Young people are often voracious consumers of media of all types, and the choices they make about what to consume are hugely varied from week to week. If he knows you at all, he is very likely to immediately think of something he’s seen or read that will be up your alley, or he’ll say, “I don’t think you would like what I’ve been reading,” and that’s a great conversation starter right there.
  5. If her skills lean that way and the timing is right, ask her for help with that problem you’ve been having with your electronics, car, cat, leaky faucet, whatever. This shows that you know what her skills are and that you value them.
  6. Listen, listen, listen. You are in the presence of a great mind that has matured in a completely different culture from the one you grew up in. Take a peek at his perspective on life and the world.
  7. If she doesn’t seem interested in talking to you, don’t take it personally. By the time most kids turn 16, they have given up on adults' ability to really talk to them. It might take a while for her to recognize that you are worth her time. Meanwhile, find a way to set her free. “Would you like to go out to the yard and see the dog?”
  8. Make yourself available for a conversation as equals whenever he gives you a chance to show what you’re made of.
Got more? Add them in the comments.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How to raise a good writer

The true alchemists do not change lead into gold;
they change the world into words.
~ William H. Gass

This is my tried and true approach to raising a good writer.
  1. Make words a fun, happy, safe, communal thing in your home. Play with words (knock-knock jokes, Mad Libs, magnetic poetry, any of dozens of genuinely fun, noninstructional card and board games, etc.). Point out clever phrasing when you notice it. Read great (fun!) novels and interesting (fun!) reference books together. Talk about how ads in magazines and signs on businesses are worded and why it might or might not generate any business. Laugh together over words and about words.
  2. Love words yourself and let it show.
  3. Fill your home with paper, notebooks, a large variety of pens and pencils, computers with word-processing software and access to the Internet. These are toys for writers! A trip to the office-supply store is bliss.
  4. Learn to distinguish between writing (content), handwriting, and adherence to rules for spelling and grammar. They are very different things, and a person can be great at any one of them without having any special talent for the others. Also, real writers have keyboards and editors; your child can rely on that, or get through life with spell-checkers and grammar-checkers like most of the known universe.
  5. Never, ever, ever point out spelling or grammatical errors in a young person's writing. Some people's passion for writing will stand up to this kind of abuse, but it shouldn't have to. Keep in mind that using creative spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure is a natural phase of early writing. Most of us do eventually learn where the period goes and that "cat" is spelled with a "c." Trust.

    And meanwhile, focus on content. Share your natural enthusiasm for that, and be cognizant of the fact that by sharing his writing with you, your child is bestowing an honor. Appreciate it!

    Note: There is one time when it's okay to offer yourself up as proofreader and that's when your kid is submitting his writing for consideration in order to meet his own goal: winning a prize, getting published, gaining admittance to college, things like that. Otherwise, wait to be asked.
  6. Protect your child's creativity from writing curricula and well-meaning friends and relatives. The approved essay format, with its rigid structure and counted sentences and paragraphs, can stifle creativity. And Aunt Martha's kindly meant comments to your seven-year-old about subject-verb agreement might serve only to dampen a budding writer's joy in all that is wondrous about writing. Step up and step in, if for no other reason than to show your child that she has choices.
  7. Respect every writer's privacy. The things your child writes are his to share or not share as he chooses. In the absence of an invitation—and, no, that paper or journal left in plain sight is not an invitation—do what you have to do to control your urge to peek.
  8. After creating a home where writing is valued and considered fun, check to see if your kid is a writer right now. She might not be, and that's okay! If she is, you will know it; writers write and nobody has to make us do it.

    If she isn't, repeat steps 1 through 7, not with the goal of making her into a writer but because words are a playground you can enjoy as a family.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Unschooling my cat, part 2: Letting go

My cat continues to remind me of unschooling lessons I had supposedly already learned.

We made the decision when Rigby was young (she's going on 2 now) that she would be an indoor cat. Indoor cats are safer, live longer, and have lower veterinary bills, and they tend to be cleaner and free(er) of fleas. It was a very sensible decision with her and our best interests at heart, and when she was a kitten, it worked beautifully.

But there developed a problem: Rigby loves the outdoors.

She began to cry to go out, sitting at our sliding glass door for hours--really--yowling like the Siamese she is for her freedom. She'd take periodic breaks from the yowling to come over and bite my ankles to make sure she had my attention. On the occasions when we would give in and take her outside, usually on a leash which she tolerated sort of as a fair trade for some outside time, she would romp and run and chase bugs and look like, well, a cat. A happy cat.

She loves it. LOVES it. Loves it. It is her favorite thing.

Like good unschooling parents, we've paid attention. We remembered that our comfort level is not the most important thing, and that being uncomfortable isn't fatal. We began to prepare for Rigby to be an indoor/outdoor cat, with some safeguards to make us feel better about the whole thing but primarily focused on this clearly communicated preference of our youngest, furriest daughter. We took her to get the feline Leukemia vaccine we had previously declined. We bought her a collar with a tag so kind people can help her find her way home should she wander. And we kitty-proofed the yard as much as it is possible to do, so that mostly she will remain in our yard.

Then we opened the door and let her out.

I wish you could see the changes in her. Outside, she moves with obvious pleasure around our yard, satisfaction in every step and radiating a clear sense that she is in her place. If you're out there with her (which she loves), she comes over to rub against you and head-butt and let you know how pleased she is with life in general. She climbs trees and stalks everything that moves and hides from loud noises. If I kick the soccer ball, she will sometimes chase it, and she has taken to sitting near me when I hula hoop, apparently not concerned by the fact that I drop the hoop nearly as often as not.

She has struck up a fascinating and hugely entertaining friendship with Roxie, the dog next door. They peek at each other through the knotholes and gaps in the fence, sticking paws or noses through, swat at each other, and then race together down the fenceline to the next peekhole to do it again there.

Inside, she's calmer, more affectionate, and just happier. I don't know how to explain it, but we can all see it.

We have seen the law of diminishing marginal utility very much in practice. She used to be desperate to go outside. Now, she still loves it, but if we leave the door open for her, she's in as much as out.

And she just thinks we are pretty darn cool. As I write this post, she is wandering the yard apparently giving me no notice. But when I went inside a moment ago, she immediately came to the door to call me back. Like most unschooled "kids," she enjoys being with her parents! :-)

Friday, April 12, 2013

My unschooler is interested in...

At the Wide Sky Days Unschooling Conference in 2012, Pam Sorooshian and Laura Flynn Endres gave a talk together and did a really cool thing: they put up posterboard around the room; asked people for kids' interests to put in as headers for the boards, such as Harry Potter, acting, Fibonnaci sequences, whatever; and then gave sticky notes to everybody in the room (about 100 of us, I suppose). We all went around the room putting sticky ideas onto the boards for ways kids can deepen their involvement in and exposure to the posted interests.

It was a remarkable experience, the hive mind at its finest. We created such a vibrant, varied library of resources. I wanted to do more and more.

So, after we got home from San Diego, I started a Facebook group that runs along the same principles. People create posts about something their kids (or they - we're not age-ist!) are interested in, and other members put in ideas for learning more. I have discouraged commentary on other people's suggestions, since you never know what a given family will find enriching and many families might use the same posts for ideas. I have also discouraged discussion of unschooling philosophy itself. There are many other places where that can happen; I don't think people need one more place to argue.

The result has been pretty freaking cool, far beyond what I imagined when I got it started. In a little over five months, we have gathered 1250 idea-makers together. People post topics ranging from... Well, I'll share a few of the ones at the top of the group today. That will give you an idea:

- physical comedy
- Japanese
- boats and water
- g.a.m.e systems and a.p.p.s (trying to avoid spam)
- narration
- Legos
- and much, much more.

It is fun, inspiring, and WAY too busy for me to keep up with. Fortunately, with so many contributors, people are assured of having some collaborators whenever they post.

If you're interested in some ideas for your kids or yourself, come join us. My unschooler is interested in...

Friday, February 8, 2013

What's on our coffee table today

Netflix - Beasts of the Southern Wild
VHS - Moonstruck
Magazine - Seventeen with Ke$ha on the cover
CD - Greybeards' LiG song list
DVD - Labyrinth
- Dinosaur A-Z: For kids who really love dinosaurs
- Calvin & Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book
- a few coffee table books that never leave
Hi-Q (a little puzzle game for one)
Coasters - because "Use a coaster" is one of the rules we do have in our house
My wrist brace (I never leave home without it)
MJ's bottom (attached to her body of course)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday night poetry

Long conversations at midnight.
Oh-dark-thirty, he murmurs,
as we cover our yawns
and take turns being


Didn't we do this before?
Were we here once before,
In this place of madness and pain,
Or was it only a dream?

It's all so familiar.