Yes, that’s a real needle my 6 year-old has there

So, if you know me, you know I get pretty excited about so-called old-fashioned pastimes. Ipads and ebooks may be life-changing and all, but what really gets me excited is a musty-vanilla smelling, hundred year old book, or a family sewing or playing music around the living room after dinner. I know, I know. I am ancient on the inside, and I am absolutely okay with that.

Anyway, I’ve been hearing from homeschooling friend-Mamas about unschooling a lot lately. At first I wasn’t a big fan of that word: unschool. Is that really a good thing? I thought the point was to SCHOOL my children at home, right? Why would I want an un in there? And then I thought, read about, and considered the concept more, and it finally and slowly clicked that it is a pretty great concept, and not at all a bad word. I mean, the word is unschool, right? Not unteach or unlearn or undo. So without pretending to be an expert on unschooling or making this post turn into a thirty page thesis on unschooling, let me just say that what I like to take from the concept of unschooling is this: education at home does NOT need to mirror, compete with, or imitate the learning and routine of the school systems around us, AND education can be effective, challenging, and competitive by being child-led. And no, that doesn’t mean that my children are in charge of our days or our home or our schoolroom, but it does mean that rather than sticking to a lesson plan or some state’s standards, it can be very effective and pretty darn beneficial to look to our children’s passions, interests, strengths, and weaknesses for a guide to what we are learning about and focusing on in our learning time. That said, if you have an interest in or questions about unschooling, then I encourage you to research it. There’s some great, inspiring, and even some cautionary tales about unschooling out there. It can be a great thing to stray from the path. Now that doesn’t mean that I am bashing schools here at all. I hope you all know that I am not homeschooling my children simply because I don’t like schools. That is not the case.What I am saying here by discussing unschooling in a positive light is this: If I am going to teach my children at home, then I want to get away from constantly looking to the school systems for standards, plans, and a guideline for my day. If we are going to do this thing ourselves, then let’s do it our way. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Now I need to take a sec and read back a bit of what I just wrote to remember where I was going with this. Brittany’s on a soapbox again.

Okay, I was going to talk about so-called old fashioned pastimes and unschooling, specifically, letting my children’s interests spark and guide our learning time, which leads me to art. So, my oldest daughter, the one I have referred to over the last year as Kindergarten Gal, saw some examples of cross-stitching, and she also has a love of all things Pride and Prejudice and all things Caroline from the American Girl Series.

Please note: I am currently believing that she really likes these things, and doesn’t feel she has to just because I do. I mean, her other sisters don’t tote around heavy, antique hardbacks. This is her, not me, right? End note.

She recently decided she wanted to take up embroidery, like her favorite literary characters, BUT since her Mama doesn’t know much about embroidery, we started with cross-stitching, which I had a brief stint with as a kid myself, so at least I know where the cross-stitch aisle is in the store. Long story short: the kid is a cross-stitching maniac. Score. Our home art time is going to be full of stitches next year. And that, my friends, is a small piece of what unschooling is about to me. I didn’t say, “No, no. We are going to make Easter bunny crafts and splatter paint this year in art.” I said, “Alright, kid, let’s go get some more thread and some needles.” Kindergarten Gal was ecstatic, and so, so very proud of herself as she saw the first signs of an image appear on her material. She is using a real needle, which seems to spark interest with passersby when she takes her hobby out in public. But this is another example of what I think of as our society dumbing things down for our kids. It amazes me that some people freak out a bit when they see she has a real-life needle. Is a play plastic needle really necessary? Why couldn’t she use a real needle? She is calm, patient, and determined. She would sooner have a nasty fall on a playground than poke herself with a needle. Little girls have been sewing for generations, why not her now?

So then we have our soon-to-be Kindergarten gal who is going through a little sister “me too” stage. She wanted to have a “grown up” craft or hobby too, so I steered her away from cross-stitching (so she can have her “own” thing) and let her choose from knitting, crocheting, quilting, etc.., and she was all about the knitting aisle, and like Sister Bear in one of the Berenstain Bear books, she found a knitting spool to help her learn the craft. Knitting is much more her kind of thing, since it is bigger and flashier than her sister’s stitching, And she is finishing up her first knitting project: a cute little knitted butterfly. She’s four. And while I would like to claim she is a prodigy since she is my child, I have to be honest and say, she is a four year-old, and four year-olds can do these things. They can knit, they can sew, they can clean up their rooms, they can look adults in the eye and say hello, and they can write letters. We as parents and as a society just need to start trusting them to learn these things, otherwise they’ll miss the window of mastering skills at a young age and enjoying them and/or using them throughout their lives. They’re smarter and much more capable than we think them at times, and whether they want to spend their time learning about and using old-fashioned skills like stitching or knitting (which I would not really think of as old-fashioned myself, but, ya know…) or if they want to take apart an old radio and put it back together again, why not let them do it? I can’t think of a reason.