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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Undoing Unschooling

I spent a considerable amount of time looking on the internet yesterday for information regarding how to detox from unschooling. I found next to nothing, no matter what key words I employed. Naturally there is a lot of information out there about how to "deschool" and "deprogram" from the effects of institutionalized education. Parents find that they have to deeply question their notions about what education means when they begin to homeschool, and if children have been pulled from the school system, they need time to decompress and to figure out what their interests are and what to do with their time. All of that makes sense.

But what if you need to undo the effects of unschooling? In many ways I have followed unschooling principles in my parenting, even before I actively researched this philosophy and purposefully worked it into our household. I was attracted to the promise of increased joy and creativity, a more relaxed and natural way of living. Ironically, this led me to an interest in the French concept of la joie de vivre, finding deeper meaning through living with more formality, elegance, and passion. Between the French lifestyle and becoming Catholic, I found myself longing for tradition, which is not something often advocated in the unschooling world.

So I am now onto ideas gleaned from French parenting. One hot button topic in unschooling is "food freedom". Children know when they are hungry and what their bodies need, so they should be allowed free choice concerning when and what to eat. French children, on the contrary, eat what is put before them. There is no snacking save at 4:00 p.m., similar to the English tea time. Families eat at table together, and there isn't a separate category of kid foods, like we have in America. Children aren't forced to eat everything on their plates, but they must try what has been prepared. Since French people don't graze all day, they are actually hungry at meal times. Including the children. And so they eat what is on their plates! Simple as that. Why is this so hard for us?

Just now, having not even eaten breakfast yet, my daughter began to open a piece of chocolate. The radical unschooling mother would have allowed this. But non. I did not. Eat a real breakfast, I said. Now she has an apple. Yesterday I made an omelette for lunch, which Beezy helped with by cracking the eggs and whisking them. She wanted just cheese in the omelette. I wanted broccoli, which she likes, so I added it, and also onions, which she doesn't like. I didn't mention that I was putting onion in. I used only a little and cut the pieces very small. She ate her entire portion and didn't even notice the onions! She was hungry because she had not been snacking.

This reminds me of a friend of Beezy's who has visited at our house. I was telling her dad that she had told me she didn't like vegetables, so I asked him for ideas about what foods she likes. He looked at his daughter and said, "You eat what's put in front of you. You know that." During dinner when she didn't want to eat her vegetables, I reminded her what her father had said, and she ate her meal without complaint. She wasn't the least bit upset by it, either.

Another story is a funny one from my own family growing up. My brother was a super finicky eater, and he had gotten alarmingly skinny. My mom took him to the doctor. The doctor set down a rule that my mom must follow. The kids were to eat whatever she cooked, and after dinner, the kitchen was closed. If you didn't eat your dinner, you didn't get to have something else later. After a couple of weeks, my brother was eating everything. This doctor was brilliant! It was his fault that the kitchen was closed, so my brother was mad at the doctor, not my mom. And my mom had the resolve to stick to the plan, because good mothers know what is best for their children, a truth that radical unschoolers would deny.

I have found myself feeding what amounts to an entire meal to my child at bedtime. This will not do. I think a small bedtime snack is fine, but it should not be a time to make up for not eating enough all day long. The bottom line is this: I am no longer going to make special food for children, neither my own nor anyone else's. They will at least try everything on their plates. I am going to cook with healthy ingredients that I enjoy, whether or not my child thinks she likes them. I am not a short order cook, and neither are you. Take charge of meal times! Sit down for dinner together as a family on most days of the week! Do not prepare special kid foods!! Do not allow snacking and grazing all day! But your family is too busy with extracurricular activities to sit down to dinner together, you say? Non, non, non, amie. Then you cut out those activities. Family time should be your priority, not wrestling, ballet, or gymnastics.

When my books come in that I mentioned in the last post, I will share the advice found therein and my own experiences, and together we can undo the unschooling/American lifestyle damage, if that is your wish.
Start today with baby steps. Start with developing good eating habits that will last a lifetime and provide precious, irreplaceable family memories.