It’s a lovely new year, with many new days and months to create new adventures for yourself, your family, and your children. You can start over or keep things the same. You can make big or small changes, or appreciate the things that are going quite well just as they are. You have more time to appreciate life, to appreciate your children, and to delight in who they’re becoming. You don’t need to worry about what you didn’t accomplish last year or what you think you should accomplish this next year. You can appreciate right now. Each new day, month, and year you have together is time to grow together and love each other. Your children will learn new things every single day. You will also learn new things every day. Enjoy your new year!
I once again came across this wonderful quote from John Holt, and thought it deserved sharing:
“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent – is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.” ~ John Holt, Teach Your Own ~
If you haven’t read any of Holt’s books lately (or ever), do yourself a favor and take some time to do so. You’ll be glad you did. Here are a few to get you started:
Learning All the Time: How small children begin to read, write, count, and investigate the world, without being taught
John Holt was one of the first homeschooling authors I read. His books were full of insight about children and learning, and I loved everything he wrote. As a former teacher, he was the bridge from my education background, to help me see the need for self-education and unschooling. He spoke my language. I could relate to all of the anecdotes he shared about his classroom experiences, and then how he grew and changed to appreciate all the learning experiences outside of the classroom, too. I could tell how much he liked and respected children, and how much he trusted parents. He had tried and tried to make educational reforms in his classrooms and on a broader scale, but eventually he realized that families were in a much better position to create the educational change children deserved.
After years and years of homeschooling together, five families from our local homeschool group decided it would be fun to throw a graduation party for our lovely young adults. We thought it would be a nice way to commemorate all the big and small experiences they’ve shared with each other over the years.
Each of them has explored the world in their own ways, finding their own paths, learning and growing toward adulthood. They’ve studied a variety of different topics, focused on their own independent projects, and pursued their own passions throughout their teen years. Because of this, holding some sort of formal or traditional graduation ceremony was not something any of us had planned on or felt necessary. Then at some point earlier in the year, a couple of them thought it would be meaningful to create a personalized graduation, or coming of age ceremony, and after sharing a few ideas with the others, they all decided to join in the fun.
This was such a great way for our families to collaborate and create something memorable for ourselves. We started by brainstorming simple elements that were important to each individual or family. We decided on the following details to create a simple gathering: an informal ceremony followed by a relaxed open house for family and friends, a slide show of favorite photographs, personalized diplomas, a speaker who knew them and could relate to their unique experiences, graduation caps (but no gowns), fun and meaningful music, a potluck meal, a home-made cake, and time for socializing and badminton in the back yard. It sounds like a lot, but everyone contributed a little, and our efforts went a long way.
The photos we took give the best view of some of the special moments during the party. Each family took time to say a few words, and it’s easy to see the love and attachments that have formed over the years. Here’s to creating our own home grown celebrations!
Ben is here with Evan, a longtime mentor and staff member from Not Back To School Camp. Ben and his friends asked Evan to speak during the graduation ceremony.
As a fun, memorable addition to the celebration, Don carved wooden ‘graduation’ spoons for each of the graduates. There’s a bit of history to this from Sarah’s family. When Sarah was younger, she asked how she would know when she was graduated. At the time, Larisa told her that when the time came, she would use a favorite magic wand-like spoon, tap her on the head, and declare her graduated. We all loved the idea, and so Don decided to carve special graduation spoons for each of them. Just to make it official.
”A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein
Nina and Tanner have some fun with the graduation spoon ceremony.
Ben with his spoon and diploma
The day before the party, a few of the kids got together to make some special cakes!
Don, Steve, and Thornton, from their band, ThorNton Creek, played music for part of the evening. Ben has been listening to their music for most of his life, so it was a fitting tribute for them to help us celebrate.
This is Reilly’s delighted reaction when she realizes the band is playing one of her favorite U2 songs in her honor.
A wonderful day for mother and son!
Kevin, Nina, and I enjoy a warm moment together after a full day of celebrations and many years of sharing our homeschooling adventures together.
A final photo of the five fabulous families!
Sometimes people question the ideas of unschooling because they wonder how kids will learn to work hard if they’re not forced to do things they don’t want to do, or if they’re not given regular assignments or arbitrary tasks to accomplish throughout their lives. People wonder how kids will grow up, how they’ll learn to find their way in the world. Well, I think kids like to learn things and work hard for the same reasons all humans do. We find something interesting, something worth learning about, and work we want to do, and then there’s no stopping us. We find people who inspire us, and we want to learn from those people as much as we can. We find fascinating things to do, and we want to keep pursuing those things.
This is what we noticed with Ben throughout his younger years as well as more recently as he’s grown older. He found interesting people to learn from and interesting things to do to make his life full and good. A couple years ago, a friend was participating in a local fire service program, a career and tech prep program through the local school district, and he thought Ben might it enjoy, too. It sounded like good, hands-on work, and knowledge worth pursuing. So Ben tried it. And he loved it. For the past two years, he has worked really hard, learning new skills and new content related to fire service work. He tackled things that were not common to him before–lots of textbook reading, regular written assignments, and numerous multiple-choice tests. At first, he wasn’t sure how he’d do with it all, but he learned the ropes (and hoses and ladders), kept at it, and did very well!
This year, at the year-end fire service graduation breakfast and awards ceremony, Ben was recognized with their highest award for his hard work throughout the program, both academic and on the drill grounds. We’re quite proud of him! Mostly, however, we’re happy for him, because he’s met good people and found important work worth doing. And so the learning will continue.
Ben has been participating in a fire service technology class for the past couple years at the Fire District 1 headquarters and training center in Snohomish County. There are about 20+ other students from various high schools in the area who also participate. Together, they learn as much of the hands-on skills and academic content needed for fire service work. This trip to the state training academy was a full day of live fire training–essentially a hands-on culmination of what they’ve been learning throughout the year. It was a day filled with excitement, determination, hard work, and many smiles like the one in the photo above.
“And when the kids are old enough, we’re gonna teach them to fly…”
Thank you, Dave Matthews.
This song was playing as I watched Ben and his friend, a couple years ago, standing tall and carrying their backpacks as they walked slowly away toward the Amtrak train, getting ready to board for a long journey to Not Back To School Camp together. Granted, at that point in their lives, it was only a train, not a plane, but they were definitely learning to fly in the independent, leaving-the-nest sense of things. And my friend, Laura, and I were learning to let them go.
That was the beginning of some amazing travel experiences for each of them, and it’s been great to watch the accompanying growth, confidence, and maturation. Since then, Ben has taken several trips by train or bus to and from that same Oregon camp. He has flown by himself or with friends by plane from Seattle to Phoenix, Reno, and Kansas City, and has enjoyed road trips through Washington, Oregon, and California. Given these travels, he has had the chance to see the Grand Canyon, experience a wilderness camp in California, backpack in Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada, explore new cities, and enjoy many interesting landscapes. He’s been able to try new things, find mentors, and nurture many friendships, both old and new.
During the week of Thanksgiving this past year, Ben had the chance to visit friends in Kansas City, Missouri for a NBTSC camper reunion. There were several friends coming in from many different states and descending upon the homes of two welcoming families for a big Thanksgiving feast and week-long gathering. He really wanted to go, and thought carefully about if it would be possible, related to both costs of travel as well as taking time off work.
Whenever he has had the opportunity for an adventure like this, we’ve tried to figure out ways to help him make it happen. In this instance, at first I thought it would be nice to have him home during Thanksgiving, but I also knew that as he grows older, and as his life gets busier with more commitments like work and studies, he’ll want to venture out on his own during times like this when his friends are also available. So I realized this was one of those opportunities, and started brainstorming with him about how to make it work.
One of his first hurdles was needing to take a little time off work…during a holiday…as a courtesy clerk at a grocery store. No small task. He has been working at PCC Natural Markets since last summer, and really loves it. He gets along quite well with the staff, is flexible with his schedule, and frequently offers to cover other people’s shifts. He started early with his request for time off, knowing it might take a while for his manager to make this kind of scheduling decision. Ben reassured him that he would have a good deal of time in December to work extra shifts and cover for other people’s needs for time off then. Ben had to be quite patient while waiting for an answer, but his manager likes him and was able to make it work. Lucky kid.
Since he’s been working for a while now, he had the money he needed to buy a plane ticket, however I knew he was also thinking about various building projects he was saving money for as well. We told him we’d be willing to contribute a bit, and this was helpful when he realized that tickets would cost more depending on the holiday dates he traveled. I like helping him with these kinds of adventures when we can afford it, because I know how exciting and valuable they can be for him. It’s also fun when he comes back home, telling us about people he’s met, places he’s explored, or new observations he’s made. This time, one cool thing he noticed was how the architecture of the various homes there was quite different. It’s a small thing, but it makes his world, and ours, bigger.
This is how it happens. One trip, one new adventure, one opportunity at a time, and soon he’ll be grown, off on his own, living his own independent life. I’m glad it doesn’t happen all at once, but gradually, so I have time to get used to it. I’m excited for him, and happy I get to watch the process.
My sweet son, Ben, turned 18 a little over a month ago. I’ve been thinking about what a pleasure it has been to be with him and watch him grow all these years.
When Ben was six years old, I remember thinking very clearly about how much he had grown as a boy during the first six years of his life. He went from an infant, to toddler, to young boy in such a short period of time. Then it occurred to me how much more he would grow and change in the next six years of his life. So when he was twelve, he would be much different than when he was six.
At age six, Ben loved playing with Legos, climbing trees, doing any kind of hands-on work, and playing outdoors with friends at parks and lakes. He enjoyed all kinds of board games and card games, and loved listening to stories even though he didn’t yet read independently.
By the time he was twelve, Ben still loved Legos, although instead of bricks, he played with Lego Technics and robotics. He had become an avid independent reader and still enjoyed listening to stories. He played computer games more than board games, participated in wilderness programs, and continued to climb trees. His love for hands-on work took the form of learning glass flameworking, electronics, robotics, and simple woodworking.
Now, at 18, he’s studying in a fire service technology program and pursues a variety of hands-on projects both at home and in the community. These have included glassblowing, metalworking, and building custom longboards and electric bass guitars. In the past, he was a homebody, but in recent years he has traveled by air, rail, and car to several states around the country. He’s worked a variety of jobs, including a high ropes course assistant, art festival vendor assistant, summer day camp assistant, and most recently as a courtesy clerk at PCC Natural Markets. He likes to hike, run, read, cook, bake, watch movies, hang out with friends, and he still loves climbing trees.
It’s been amazing to me how much Ben has grown as a young man during these past several years. I couldn’t have imagined when he was twelve what he would be like at age eighteen. And I must say I am so happy to see who he has become.
At the end of August, when most teens are getting ready for school, Ben and a few of his lucky friends are happily anticipating Not Back to School Camp at Camp Myrtlewood in Bridge, Oregon. It’s a terrific camp for unschooling teens, created by Grace Llewellyn, author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook and one of our first inspirations for considering life without school.
Every year now for the past five years, Ben has enjoyed wonderful camp adventures. He has met new friends from all over the country, learned new things, found mentors to challenge and inspire him, and gained a greater sense of self as he makes his way toward young adulthood. Each year, we look forward to hearing his stories, seeing camp photos, and noticing how he has grown and changed in just a short period of time. Enjoy!
Photo credits: Celina Dill, Kate Geurrero, Sophie Biddle, Sophie Thompson, Benji B’Shalom, Blake Boles, and Qacei Gold
It’s the best not-back-to-school gift an unschooler could ask for: the newly revised www.holtgws.com site!
All the back issues of Growing Without Schooling are now available online for free, as well as many articles, videos, and recordings by and about John Holt. Thank you, Pat Farenga, for bringing this all together for us!
* Photo by Kate Guerrero *
Ben just finished a full year program, 1 ½ hours a day, of a fire service technology class. It was offered as a part-time elective program through the local school district, and classes were held at a nearby fire station, facilitated by active and retired firefighters. One of Ben’s friends had really enjoyed it the previous year, so he thought he’d try it out.
During the course of the program, Ben learned about basic hands-on fire service skills and a tremendous amount of fire science knowledge. He got up at 6:15a.m. every day, made his own breakfasts, never missed a class, and worked hard all year long. He dealt with the newness of regular assignments, a thick professional text with weekly readings, chapter tests, and working as part of a 5-person team within a class of 35 other students. He learned to use a variety of fire hoses, ladders, search and rescue techniques, as well as first aid, CPR, team building and communication skills. On top of all this, he got to drive a fire truck a few times. How cool is that!
At the beginning of the year, his peers voted to honor him with an achievement award, known in the fire service community as the Bulldog Award, to recognize positive individual behavior within the fire service program. Throughout the year, he worked alongside a variety of other students, developed a great relationship with the Chief and other mentors within the program, and enjoyed a sense of pride and accomplishment regarding all his hard work. By the end of the year, he had earned a comprehensive grade of 98%, was second in the class, and runner up for their student firefighter of the year award. He also earned ten college credits that can be applied to a fire science degree if he chooses to pursue that path.
It was an excellent experience, and he’s looking forward to participating again for a second year next fall. The program is available for juniors and seniors, and next year he’ll get the chance to be a company officer, leading a team in their hands-on drills and daily classwork.
I wanted to share about this adventure here because (along with finally getting a few good photos to post!) it shows one way that a young adult might venture out into the big wide world. It’s a program Ben wanted to try because it sounded fun and interesting, and now he’s carefully considering whether or not he’d like to pursue a fire service career. If he does, that’s terrific. If not, then it will still be a great experience from which to learn and grow.
Also, parents wonder about how their homeschooled or unschooled kids will fare as they grow and mature. In this case, by many other people’s standards and measurements (and ours too), Ben is doing just fine. More importantly, by his own standards, he is doing just fine. This was a kid who played with Legos, climbed trees, built things, listened to stories, read books, and played all day long for years and years. He didn’t have years of schooling, or years of formalized curriculum, before this experience. He had real life experiences. And this is a wonderful continuation of that.