Clarification on Explorations

There are some good responses here, from a discussion in February 2014 on Radical Unschooling Info on facebook. I'm removing the original poster's name. I will call her SusieMay (not anyone's real name as far as I know), and put her words in a different color to make this easier to follow:


I am in my first year of homeschooling my 5 year old son and my 10 year old son. We have moved toward unschooling and are still in our deschooling phase. I contemplated asking how one knows when deschooling is over, but I believe the answer is, "If you have to ask, you're not done."

I would like to ask how to handle this specific situation that arose this morning: My 10 year old son came to me with an unrealistic, but not poorly thought out, solution to global warming. I listened and didn't give him the opinion/information that it's probably not realistic because ultimately, who am I to say that what he's thinking could *never* happen? What I did do was admit that I knew very little about the causes of global warming, what it precisely and abstractly has to do with the earth's physical relationship with the sun, and encouraged him to learn more about those things to test his theory and grow his solution..or perhaps happen upon a different one.

These types of discussions are happening more and more, but he doesn't seem to do any investigating after the fact. I am realizing as I'm typing this, maybe I'm missing the investigating he is doing OR that some of the things he's continuing to think on are actually left over ideas from when I was homeschooling in a more traditional way. My question is how does one know when to give guidance and actually hand resources out to encourage investigation? Is that never the 'right' thing to do? Based on my 7 months experience of homeschooling my kids thus far, it seems the more information I collect FOR them to look into their interests together and with me, the less interested they are in it. At the same time, though, I haven't seen a lot of independent information seeking behaviors.

Are they seeking information from me when they share their theories? Would this morning's specific conversation been better handled by me opening up some resources right then? It isn't as though I never do that, but I'm more comfortable doing that when it's an actual question that's been asked versus an idea.

I think I'm scared that I will discourage their creative thinking process if whenever they come to me with an idea, I share resources with them, BUT I want them to further investigate and either validate or invalidate their ideas. Perhaps I am misunderstanding "unschooling" as "independent learning" in these examples.

Sandra Dodd:

I really like your question. I'm going to tear it up, but it's a good one!! First, about deschooling: Each person's deschooling is internal. Your children will be ready to learn in natural ways before you're ready to recognize it. They haven't been in school as long. When you are schoolish with them, you slow down their deschooling AND you slow down your own. You need one month per year of your schooling spent now on really wanting to get it, to see learning differently, and to learn differently yourself. Each time you step toward schoolishness instead of away from it, it's a big step backwards. Add a month. It's like recovering from a broken leg. Some people will recover more quickly than others for various reasons, but NO person who stands on a broken leg is going to do it any good. It will make it worse. If you want to recover from school stop stepping on it. Stop thinking of it as the model for your future.

I think I'm scared that I will discourage their creative thinking process if whenever they come to me with an idea, I share resources with them

Good. You're right to be afraid.
Don't do it. If they want more info they will ask, or IF you can begin to consider how you might provide other info to a friend of yours, or to your spouse, or your mom, or to one of us here, that might be what you could do.

I'm interested in wheelbarrows. People send me photos of wheelbarrows sometimes. Nobody tried to talk me out of my curiosity. Nobody has suggested I should buy stock in a wheelbarrow factory or that I should become a sheetmetal engineer. It's just a curiosity I have.

The connections I've made about wheelbarrows are "just for fun." But they are also very real. They tie in to the roadway systems in China, and masonry work in France and England. Somewhere I have a photo of a wheelbarrow strapped to a houseboat in Amsterdam. When I find it I will put it here:

I suspect perhaps some people are getting sparking thoughts as they read this, about a wheelbarrow they own, or used to, or have seen, or about something else I mentioned above. They're making their own connections, just for fun.

I suspect perhaps the original poster is wondering why I'm not answering her question, but I am.

Tam Palmer:

Sometimes people just want to wonder, rather than *know*. Or maybe they will want to know in the future, but right now they're just thinking on it and wondering.

My seven year old got frustrated with me a couple of days ago, as he chatted about frog anatomy. He said something about whether or not their digestive systems are the same as humans, and I said, interested, Ooh I don't know, I'll look it up when we get home!

His frustrated reply was that 'sometimes he just wants to guess.' I realised when I thought about it that I do have a tendency to try and find answers, as that's the way *my* brain works: exactness, facts, minimal loose ends. I've since focused on trying to tune in more to his creative wonderings We had a conversation about anti gravity after we'd read about current research with anti-protons, and he was thinking out loud what the applications might be if anti-gravity did become a possibility. Before, I might have suggested finding out what the potential applications were thought to be, but instead we had an exciting, interesting chat about what he thought the possibilities were, from personal anti-gravity to antigravity bullets. The whole conversation he was animated and excited and, whether or not the things he was talking about would be possible, he was pulling in things he already knew about and the things he'd just heard about and making connections and thinking on it all.

None of it had to lead to cold hard facts for it to be an amazing conversation where we both learnt loads. And when he comes across different things in the future that might link in, he might think about it again and make different connections and refine his ideas. Or he might not.

Joyce Fetteroll:
See what they're doing as valuable just as it is. Think of what they're doing as drawing pictures. You don't think the pictures are enough. You want them to add more, make them more complete, more "legitimate" art. Trust the pictures they're bringing you are enough for their needs. If you have some ideas on better art materials, better paper, some books or shows that seem connected, that would feel to them like you're supporting *their* needs rather than your needs for them.
Karen Aye Angstadt:
Sometimes, when I am not certain if more information is wanted, I will ask, "Do you want to see if google has any more info on that?" without any attachment to the answer. Sometimes, the answer is yes, but often, it is just a wondering and then we talk about the "what if's" like what if his idea about global warming could be implemented? How would that change things? Then what? Wow, I'm excited jus thinking about it.
Robin 'Ehulani Bentley:
If you are interested in what your child is asking/talking about, you can explore it *for yourself.* Then, you can increase your own knowledge base that might help your child (or not). It rests with you, just in case. Either way, *you* know more.
~ At the same time, though, I haven't seen a lot of independent information seeking behaviors. ~
Don't look for "behaviors." Look for learning and thinking and pondering and excitement and happiness!

There's a misconception about unschooling that causes some parents to think it isn't "working". Some believe that they should just leave their kids alone to figure out the world, to learn all. the. things. without any help or interest on the parents' part.

It's true that some kids want "to wonder" as Tam said, without interference. It's also true that kids want their parents to be interested in what they are exploring, to support them. Not to be the "expert" but to be their sounding board, sometimes exploratory partner. When that happens, it's amazing the learning you can see.

Some people also want the "independent information seeking" to look like school subjects. "Why won't my kid learn math on his own?" is a reason why parents panic and put their kids back in school. It's unrealistic to expect that unschooling learning looks like what school considers "learning." Unschooling learning can be so much more!

Laurie Wolfrum:
"My question is how does one know when to give guidance and actually hand resources out to encourage investigation?"
Purposely "encouraging investigation" is trying to get them to do something you want them to do, possibly for reasons that matter to you, not them. If you went to school, likely doing research and investigation were praised or thought highly of. So if your kids do this, it might make you feel better (like your kids are learning).

Trust that your child will look up more information when he feels a need to. People don't research everything they are interested in. Some let fires burn for a while and then if the fire burns brighter, they will look it up then, or not. Don't judge them on whether or not they want to find out more or less about any given interest, idea or subject.

Instead, realize that thinking and making connections and coming up with ideas is the learning that already took place even before he came to you to share what his thoughts were. He now has whatever knowledge and ideas and bits and pieces of information to add on to as needed.

It is great that your son came to you to share his latest ideas. Maybe he trusts you to thoughtfully listen to him and take his ideas seriously. That is important. Keep that good part of your relationship by continuing to listen to him and not pressuring him to think he should look up more about each of his current interests. If he feels you want him to look up more about each of his current ideas and interests, he may be discouraged from telling you about them.

" seems the more information I collect FOR them to look into their interests together and with me, the less interested they are in it."
They aren't going to want to go in depth into Everything! It can take the joy away if one feels they have to dig deep on every little thing.
"I haven't seen a lot of independent information seeking behaviors."
It sounds like you have expectations that your kids will do research. Get rid of your expectations in that way. They will probably find out many things they are interested in whenever they are curious enough to do so, but only when they want to do it for themselves. That doesn't mean they aren't learning.

Don't equate "doing research" as the only way or main way they will learn. Some people learn by doing, watching, listening, thinking (and don't undervalue thinking!), playing, and yes, reading too (but it isn't the only way).

Learning often comes in bits and pieces, not always large chunks (though sometimes, depending on how much one is into something or if they are driven to find out a lot right away).

I think that if you expect your kids to do research on all their ideas, that it isn't a healthy expectation for unschooling to thrive. Try to get rid of your expectations that they will do any. Let that go. Instead, answer their questions and listen to their ideas. If they want help in finding out more, help them to find more information.

"BUT I want them to further investigate and either validate or invalidate their ideas" - Again, that sounds like you want them to do things to prove to you that they are learning. Breathe! Read more about how people learn. (Free to Learn by Pam Laricchia is excellent and How Children Learn by John Holt might be good too.)

If you aren't sure whether or not they want you to help them find out more about their ideas, ask them. No pressure though on your part. Get your frame of mind to a place where you are pleased to help if they do want more info, but also just as pleased if they are satisfied.


Meredith Meredith
One of the big ways my daughter learns about the world is through stories - books, movies, cartoons, songs, fan fiction, comics. She gleans a lot of information from them, but it rarely looks like "independent information seeking". Last night it did - she was reading some fan fiction and asked "who is Michael Phelps?" - but that's rare. More often she'll make some comment about the world and I wonder where she picked it up - where did she learn about Area 51? the difference between a cyclone and a hurricane? White day? Most of the time, I have no idea unless it's a book I've also read or an episode of something we've both watched.

In some ways, the bits of information she picks up are the least of what she's learning. She's not memorizing disconnected facts, after all. In a single episode of an animated adventure, for instance, she may be learning things about dialog, character development, and setting along with some tidbits of history and culture, some literary references, some insights into human behavior. And she may be comparing those ideas to those in other stories and wondering: what is the nature of friendship? how much has human nature evolved from its animal roots? are there absolutes in life, or just shades of gray?

I'm not trying to say that fiction is better than non-fiction but that learning in general isn't as straightforward as asking questions and looking up answers.

What are the feelings/beliefs on praise in an Unschooling framework?
Joyce Fetteroll:
It depends on its purpose and how it gets interpreted. And that's true regardless of age.

If your praise says essentially, "What you did made me so happy," then it's really about you. It's about them pleasing you.

If you say, essentially, "You must feel really great!" then it's about them and how they feel.

Thank you, Joyce. I agree that praise should be about the person receiving it, not the person giving it. (But, as I re-read, I could be wrong my assumption that that is what you mean to imply?) How is praise/approval communicated in unschooling without pushing one's own agenda either consciously or unconsciously? If I'm pleased about something my children do, how do I express that happiness without making it about me and/or do I only express my happiness when it's clear they are proud of whatever transpired as well? Perhaps I feel uncomfortable assuming what they personally would/should be proud of. I've read some things (not about unschooling, but about parenting) that have suggested that even thanking a child for an action or behavior is too much praise.
I am happy with the freedom of communication and the amount of mutual love in my home. I'm not sure if anyone will confuse those things with praise/approval or not, but I want to make it clear that that isn't my confusion. A comment above got me thinking about the things I clearly praise in my home, whether it's consciously or unconsciously, and whether or not there is even room for praise in an unschooling philosophy. Can I say "hey, thanks for reading out loud to your brother while I made dinner?" Or "nice work getting along at that play date?" One thing I obviously must work on is unconsciously praising reading by paying more attention when they synopsize a book versus reporting the latest development in their "MythBusters" obsession.
Meredith Novak:
It can help to think about how you'd talk to a grown friend. After all, you thank friends, compliment them, ask them for favors, offer to do them kindnesses - all without the kinds of expectations you project onto your kids (usually). You're not thinking about Teaching your friends, you're interacting with them as people.
Colleen Prieto:
When it comes to praise, I'm likely to say Awesome or Cool or Wow when my son (now 11) shows or tells me something interesting, or especially when he tells me something I didn't know (which is happening more and more lately, as he is spending more time reading about birds or historical events or battles, etc., on his own, and then excitedly sharing the info afterward).

I'm not sure that's technically praise per se, but I really enjoy seeing what he's built in Minecraft, or hearing what he knows about owls, or looking at the new Lego creation he's made - so they're genuine exclamations of happiness.

I am not one to say "good job!" or "good boy!" to my son, and never have been. I do tell our dog Good Girl - so it seems odd to me to praise my son like I would our pug

Joyce Fetteroll:
Why do you want to praise or approve? Would you say to your husband or a friend?
If they're happy, share in that. A "Cool!" when they're happy with something they've done is connecting.
If you're happy, is it because they're happy or because what they did made you happy?
It isn't that I want to, per se. It is just something I naturally do, not unlike Colleen described above. It is sometimes that I'm happy because they did something that made me happy and it's certainly often that I'm happy they are happy. I just wondered because I've seen so much research on the dangers of praise and can understand how especially my unconscious 'praise' of reading could be a pushy message.
Colleen Prieto:
****Are they seeking information from me when they share their theories? ****
On any given day, my son might tell me he's got an idea related to extinction (particularly of birds), global warming, factory farming, overpopulation, border disputes and wars, religious disputes... so very many ideas are swirling around in his head .

Often though not always, his solutions have to do with time travel, interplanetary travel, alien intervention, or such. At our house, we all watch a lot of Star Trek, recently got into Dr Who, and he's always loved Star Wars - so it's not too hard to see what has inspired those lines of thinking.

Neither my husband or I say anything to discourage him from thinking Big, Complicated-yet-Improbable thoughts - it's fun to get a window into how he sees things, by hearing about what he puzzles through and how he does so. He finds the world to be a fascinating place, full of Possibility - and he is still very much in touch with his imagination. Pulling out the encyclopedia or popping onto Google or suggesting he look for more Facts before he shares his excited ideas would ruin the moment for him and for all of us.

Vulcans will probably not come bearing answers to our tough questions one day, and my son might not answer any of them either in a practical, real-world solution sort of way. But he has *so* much fun thinking about what Could Be - and we support that fun (and by extension, we support him :-)) by listening, smiling, and enjoying the possibilities right along with him.

Sandra Dodd:
Yes! "Sometimes people just want to wonder, too, rather than *know*."

If a child says "I wish I could fly," he doesn't want to hear that he can't. And he probably doesn't want his mom being so "supportive" that she suggests that he can do anything he wants to do if he wants it badly enough.

He might just like to hear "Wouldn't that be cool?" or "You could see inside the neighbors' back yards," or something simple and conversational.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-Some people learn by doing, watching, listening, thinking (and don't undervalue thinking!), playing, and yes, reading too (but it isn't the only way). -=-

Doing, watching, listening, thinking, playing—yes! (Laurie W's list)
And collecting.
And connecting.
Imagining (comes under thinking and playing).

/connections might be a good page for the original poster.

Sandra Dodd
-=-What are the feelings/beliefs on praise in an Unschooling framework?-=-
From the page on "Tone":

Even the nicest of words can be ruined, though, if they're spoken in a condescending, treacly way. It's not bad for infants, and it's great for French poodles. It's that talking-to-a-French-poodle voice, and the thoughts that go with it, that should be avoided when parents are talking to their children. Dan Vilter shared this story on the AlwaysLearning list in 2001:

At a park day, we were having a discussion about the usefulness of praise and sincerity. The unschoolers in the group were trying to point out the fallacy of over and insincere praise, and indirectly about treating your children as people first. After much talk getting nowhere, one of the other unschooling parents turned to me and in the French poodle voice started thanking me for all the things I had done for the group that day. Something like,"Oh Dan, thank you for bringing the stove for hot cocoa. You did such a good job setting it up and heating the water! You're so strong carrying that big jug of water all by yourself!" Everyone had a good laugh and the point was succinctly made.
—Dan Vilter


Lots of feelings and beliefs. Be looking for "why" rather than "what."

If a parent is about to speak to a child, it's good for them to speak to him as a whole, real person rather than "as a little kid." If the tone of voice is condescending or babying, he won't gain as much as if the communication is sincere and spontaneous, rather than scripted and manipulative, or smarmy and "soothing."

This is something written by me, with a Dan Vilter quote in the middle and a link to more below.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-Can I say "hey, thanks for reading out loud to your brother while I made dinner?" Or "nice work getting along at that play date?" -=-
I would do the first one. I have done the first one.
"Thanks for reading to Marty." I have said that.

The second one, I wouldn't. I would invite conversation, and be fine if he wasn't interested. "Seemed it went well," I might say, or "I'm glad we were able to be there today."

Alex Polikowsky:
What would you say to your husband?
Would you say "good job honey for taking the trash out"


"Thanks for getting that honey"?
One is gratitude.
I tell my kids:
"hey thanks for..."
When I am grateful and "Wow" or "Cool" and "awesome" if they accomplished something they set themselves to.

I definitely appreciate the feedback. I think re: praise, I was more curious if it was a viewed as a way to push an agenda...not so much on what to say, although the suggestion about reframing the praise into an open ended conversation starter was helpful. Given the amount of feedback re: using praise, I'm assuming the answer to my main question of whether or not praise is part of an unschool philosophy, I'm going to go with, "yes, praise as part of a respectful dialogue with your child is in no way detrimental to the Unschooling process." If that simplified answer is lacking, please modify.
And yes, it's fair to say that the questions I asked didn't reflect what I actually wanted to know. I just didn't realize that my suggesting praise translated into me throwing out "good boys" all the time, but I can understand why it would. I definitely meant "praise" in a less traditional way. Both verbal and non verbal cues of interest, gratitude, and acknowledgment of effort.
Sandra Dodd:
When we write here, we're not writing just for the benefit of the person with the question, but for everyone who's reading now or might in the future.
-=-And yes, it's fair to say that the questions I asked didn't reflect what I actually wanted to know.-=-
it's quite common for people to ask a question not having any idea what they actually need to know.

Unschooling is not easy to understand. Even people who are ready and really want it will take years.

The examples weren't necessarily about you.

The list is about ideas, not about people.

Think of ideas like balls and the list like a ball court. If someone tosses an idea worth discussing into the court it's going to get batted about. At that point what's going on is no longer about the person who tossed the idea in. It's about the idea and how well and cleanly it's being tossed about. (Unless the tosser keeps jumping in and grabbing the idea ball saying "Mine!")

The story in the yellow box here might help: /lists/alwayslearning

This discussion is working the same way as the Always Learning list, and Joyce describes it better than anyone.

Thank you. That link did provide clarity in the goals here. I see that people's questions are less about problem solving and more about a spring board for discussion to give that person and others things to think on.
Alex Polikowsky:
There are no rules for or against praise in unschooling'
Don't look for rules, look for principles.
The question to ask yourself is why are you praising?
Are you expressing gratitude like you would to a friend?
Are you rejoicing with your child and their accomplishment?
Would you say that to your friend?

Now I have seen parents use praise in a very manipulative and coercive way and for everything a child does and they want to create this positive reinforcement like a rewarding system as praise as a tool.

I am not sure I am expressing this right but I think there are definitely a difference.
I think asking yourself "Would I say that to my friend /partner" ?

Words matter. Intentions matter.
There is a difference between
" Hey thanks for picking that up"
And " Good boy" said in a syrupy voice to a child that is helping you.
One is gratitude, the other positive reinforcement

I think saying" Pretty cool" if a child shows their drawing is better than " You did a good job."
One is a celebration of his acomplishment and the other is what?
Would you say "bad Job" if the drawing was awful for some reason or you thought it was awful?
Alex Polikowsky:
When kids come to you to show you their work they sure do want feedback!
Celebrate and rejoyce!
Wow! CooL! Awesome! You liked doing that didn't you?
I have heard some people are against any of that . I think that is sad.
When my kids do something that I am thankful I honestly thank them. They do the same when I do it for them!
I have said "good job" to my kids when they did something they were aiming to do like beating a boss on a video game! IT sounds totally different when you say " good job" because you want them to always put their plate on the sink!
I would say thank you in the latter example because indeed I was grateful for the help and not because I am using praise as a tool to make sure my child learns to take their plate to the sink.
I agree with you, Alex. I think words are incredibly powerful and I've also seen "praise" used to manipulate.

I really value the suggestion of speaking to your child as you would any other human. That is definitely a principle for us.

I think in terms of the discussion here, I would like to admit that I might, in fact say, "hey, well done remembering to take the trash out," if my husband were struggling with that task and working really hard to change in the same way I would tell my child," hey, I heard you suggest new play activities when your friends were getting too rough. Nice problem solving!" if my child is working to have better play date dynamics. I would actually intend for that to be uplifting and motivating. If someone noticed something I did that they knew was hard for me and shot a "good effort" my way, I'd feel great...but would I feel great because I've been conditioned to thrive in that type of praise as a "schooled" person? Does that cross a line into manipulating or perhaps it seems condescending?

Some of the comments have certainly given ways to reframe those statements to avoid any question of ulterior motive. In the case if the trash example, I might instead say, "thanks for getting the garbage out before dinner." To my child, I might say, as Sandra suggested, "I'm glad we got to play with our friends today." These ways of speaking make it clear that the speaker has no ulterior motive.

The trouble I'm having with the rephrasing is that it doesn't acknowledge the effort to overcome the challenge and sometimes isn't it good to validate that something is/was difficult? I think yes, but I don't think the challenge needs to be verbally acknowledged to be validated. If it was difficult for the involved party, than they already know that. Would be better to provide a praise that is wholly positive, in the name of gratitude, or allow for a conversation to start around the challenge so they have an opportunity to speak on the subject and congratulate themselves either externally or internally?

Alex Polikowsky:
Are you talking about feedback?
Apparently. I think praise and positive feedback might be the same thing in my brain. I might not praise my kids at all, now that I think of it like that. I may just be providing feedback based on past and present conversations, positive, neutral, and (probably, unintentionally) negative.
I think that you have distinguished feedback as something that is solicited and given sincerely and praise as something that is simply given, solicited or not and sincere or not. I don't default into making that distinction in my own world, but I think it's an important one in terms of group discussion and clarity. I'm obviously becoming "that new person" in this thread at this point though, so I'll just be turning off the notifications and possibly revisiting later in the week.
Joyce Fetteroll:
Clarity. If one person reads "praise" and pictures sharing a "Cool!" with a child, and another pictures "Good job! I'm so proud of you!" they're going to take very different messages from any statements about "praise".

So the suggested wordings and situations communicate far more than a word that means different things to different people.

Words are "idea boxes". They're a handy way to pass on a whole pile of ideas. Saying "radical unschooling" is a lot easier than repeating back everything on Sandra's site But saying "radical unschooling" doesn't automatically convey that understanding to someone else. (Be a whole lot easier if it did!) When two people have very similar contents in their "idea boxes", then they can communicated clearly. If they have different contents in "idea boxes" with the same label it's difficult to know what the other person might be taking from the conversation.

Using words with clear, commonly shared meanings is important for clear communication. It's especially important when there's only words. No body language. No vocal tone. No shared local experience. (There's people from all over the world reading here.) What different collections of ideas do people in Boston, Delhi, Amsterdam and Johannesburg have in their "idea boxes" labeled "praise"?

Sandra Dodd:
-=- In the case if the trash example, I might instead say, "thanks for getting the garbage out before dinner."-=-
Why add "before dinner"? It seems too particular.
If your husband is trying to get the trash out "on time" is that because of a time frame you created? Are you requiring/requesting that HE take the trash out (not you) and by a certain time (before dinner)?
-=- I think yes, but I don't think the challenge needs to be verbally acknowledged to be validated. If it was difficult for the involved party, than they already know that.-=-
Why is it "a challenge"? Who challenged him?
-=-or allow for a conversation to start around the challenge so they have an opportunity to speak on the subject and congratulate them selves either externally or internally.-=-
MAYBE they already feel good. Maybe they're feeling resentful and don't want to be engaged in a conversation deigned to manipulate them into congratulating themselves.

What if some of the people from this discussion knew you in person and started saying to you "Well done! You're being less condescending"? It seems that your self-improvement is your own. It should be done because it helps learning and peace in your family, not so that someone else will say something to you about it.

The kind of unschooling that can start flowing once it starts is not like school learning at all, and doesn't need "reinforcement."

Kinds want to learn.

I think the way adults learn is the best way to learn — ask questions, look things up, try things out and get help when it’s needed.

Kids want to learn. When people unschool their kids, the relationship with the kids becomes the driving force, and it becomes the environment for more learning and more happiness, which primes the pump and you can’t stop it. Try not to learn. You can’t do it.

I'm not clear on whether some of the questions in the group or rhetorical or not. I guess in my examples, I was trying to imagine a scenario in which the people I was communicating the "praise" or "feedback" to said specifically TO ME that THEY wanted to meet a certain goal by this time.
Sandra Dodd:
My husband is working on a big art project. It involves painting heraldic arms on canvas. I like watching him. Sometimes he's frustrated, and sometimes he's having a great time. When something looks really pretty I say so, because it's exciting to see color and form come out of plain materials. These are 14" or so circles and escutcheons (shield shapes) that will be sewn onto the dags (little hanging flaps around the roof) of a big tent. It's a big job. Some others are helping, but Keith is the coordinator. He's not doing it for me, or for anyone except the project itself. It will be cool when it's done, and he'll be happy with himself. The art represents the people who donated money to the buying of the tent, for the group.

Personal satisfaction can be marred by too much outside commentary, either positive or negative. What I've said is that he's a really good guy to take on the coordination of all that, and they're lucky to have him, and I smiled right into his eyes.

I would feel good if someone said to me "Good job, I've noticed you're less condescending," IF i said to them, "Hey, I'm gonna work on being less condescending. It's tough for me to think about the words I'm using and how they might impact others."
Sandra Dodd:
You don't need to respond to anything you don't want to. The only time I've ever pressed for an answer was when asking whether someone was unschooling or not. You've already said you're new to it, and that's fine.

*IF* you are requiring something of your husband like taking the trash out by a certain time, I suggest that instead of reinforcing the struggle, you stop doing that altogether.

If he has no option, the praise is faint payment. If he HAS an option and does it, then a "thank you" would be sincere. If you want trash taken out before dinner, it might be much better for everyone if you take it out yourself, without resentment, and without wanting people to thank you. That would eliminate all struggle and all (what sounds like) training.

Ok, well to be clear, the trash thing was completely made up and in the scenario I was making up, I imagined that HE presented the goal.
Sandra Dodd:
PLEASE do NOT make up hypothetical situations.
Sandra Dodd:
-=- I would feel good if someone said to me "Good job, I've noticed you're less condescending," IF i said to them, …-=-
Deschooling should help you overcome the need for outside acknowledgement of progress.

If that would feel good to you and that's why you want to do it to children who don't have your history of 12-20 years of schooling, please stop. Allow them to start fresh and unhampered.

I sort of wonder, though, if it's my personality, not so much my miseducation. I really do thrive on words of affirmation. I like notes, cards, and song lyrics rather than gifts. I would like someone to say, "You are a great cook" rather than make me a meal. That's how I would read that I'm appreciated and loved. I don't think it's hindering...FOR me. I can see how people who don't draw energy that way would find words not only not useful, but actually harmful. Which, is why I asked in the first place.
Joyce Fetteroll:
Real people have real needs behind their actions. Hypothetical people's needs can shift and twist to suit the point the hypothesizer wants to make. They're not useful for clarifying how to help real people.
I don't really see how my hypothetical situation of someone setting a goal to get the trash out is any more or less hypothetical than a child bringing a picture to me for acknowledgement. Or the request to communicate by examples. I don't actually struggle with praise in my house, so I don't have specific examples that I'm working on. As I said, I LIKE how we communicate in my family. I'm just wondering in terms of an unschooling framework, HOW praise is viewed and thought about. And I'm getting answers and things to think on, which are appreciated.

^^^so, I guess I'm saying in my brain, my question is entirely abstract and hypothetical. Not my original question, but the question of "praise" or as it now has been re-worked, "Feedback," is quite fluid in my head.

Colleen Prieto:
A long time ago, I read through some of the Men Are From Mars/Women Are From Venus books. I clearly remember the author saying (though his exact words escape me) that most men love to be recognized and acknowledged for things they do around the house, for the family, etc. - and that acknowledging what they do and appreciating what they do leads to them doing more of those things on their own without requests, reminders, or resentment.

He suggested saying things like "thank you for doing the dishes" or "thanks for taking out the trash" or "thanks for giving the baby his bath tonight." As I remember it, he wasn't talking about showering praise on men - he was talking about showing gratitude, even for "simple" things that you might do all the time without a word of thanks from anyone else. I liked what he had to say about that - it made sense, the idea that simply noticing and thanking someone would have such an impact on family happiness and harmony. I think the same idea applies to kids - it's not praise, but rather it's noticing and thanking that keeps happiness flowing

Joyce Fetteroll:
Have you seen Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages:

He says they're: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch.

It's important to realize other people's love language may not be yours. Words of affirmation to someone whose love language is physical touch won't feel loved.

Yes, years ago. It did give me the ability to identify myself as a "words of affirmation" kind of person My spouse is a "physical touch." I have been meaning to pick it up again to see if I could identify some things in my kids to see how they best read love and appreciation, but since it's not secular and we are I think I back burner it subconsciously.
Sandra Dodd:
Your children might not need feedback. And the problem with beind dependent on outside praise is that if others aren't providing it (because it's not in their personality or they're not as grateful as the "praisee" thinks they should be or something) the person becoems resentful and angry. That's not good for relationships.
-=- I would like someone to say, "You are a great cook" rather than make me a meal. That's how I would read that I'm appreciated and loved. -=-
Would it not be enough for you to see them eating the meal enthusiastically and smiling and saying "thanks!"? What if they just ate and said "that was good!" Would that be enough?

When you're old and cooking for yourself, will you still cook without anyone else telling you you're a great cook?

That might be why you seem to think your children will want praise, though, if you're set up that way (for whatever reasons).

I certainly don't think you are wrong. And I certainly woun't say that I *do* think my kids *want* praise, even though it may have come across that I *seem* that way. I was just curious, since I personally, am apt to give it, HOW unschooling thinks of it. I've read that, even as people have outlined it in terms of gratitude and 'about the receiver,' it can be detrimental to motivation and esteem. AND since the unschooling philosophy is so careful to avoid pushing agenda, I wondered if there was any kind of thought on expressing gratitude, appreciation, or feedback. I'm discerning that genuine communication with no hidden agenda is really not defined as "praise" at all.
Joyce Fetteroll:
The picture was a analogy. It was offered to clarify an idea. The motivation of the child should be pretty clear! It happens 10s of thousands of times a day.

What's your husband's hypothetical problem with taking out the trash? And why would he appreciate your acknowledgement? A dozen people reading it could come up with a dozen different scenarios.

I don't know. Maybe he forgets to do it and gets irritated when it spills. Why would it be clear that a kid would want to show a picture? Shouldn't he be proud of his accomplishment without having to share it with the world just as I shouldn't need anyone to tell me I'm a great cook to want to continue cooking meals for myself?
Joyce Fetteroll
SusieMay, you're over thinking this. Kids *do* bring pictures to show their parents. Right now dozens of kids are happily bring pictures to show their moms.

But a husband announcing he's going to be more diligent about taking out the trash before dinner? It's just not an everyday common situation that nearly everyone has experienced. I could rattle off a dozen different scenarios why that might happen, some of them not particularly healthy.

Joyce Fetteroll:
*** I was just curious...HOW unschooling thinks of it. ***
Unschooling isn't a person. It doesn't have thoughts.

I'm not being snarky! But it is a good example of a vague idea put into words that don't mean what they say.

Unschooling is a collection of principles for supporting kids learning through pursuing their interests.

Some ideas -- some ways of interacting with kids -- move closer to the goal. Some ideas move away. This forum is for helping people understand how an idea will move toward or away. You're asking -- even if you don't realize it -- for the ideas to be put in the form of rules of what you should and shouldn't do.

At this point I think what will help you most is to sit on the ideas and not [try to] EDIT: write in order to clarify anymore. A big part of natural learning is absorbing ideas and letting them swirl around in the background. They clarify. They form connections. If the subject comes up again in a few months, you may be surprised how differently you're looking at what you were wondering about.

Sandra Dodd:
-=- I was just curious, since I personally, am apt to give it, HOW unschooling thinks of it-=-
Unschooling doesn't think. People think.
Thoughts are based on beliefs, experience, principles.

You're wanting approval and rules.

We're asking you to read a little, try a little, wait a while and watch. There is no other way to learn this than gradually. There is no other way to learn to see clearly how it works than by trying it a bit at a time and seeing how putting learning first changes other things—how putting peace ahead of schedules changes things.

-=-AND since the unschooling philosophy is so careful to avoid pushing agenda-=-
Please stop personifying "unschooling." Unschooling philosophy is not an entity with the ability to be careful or to avoid. You're creating a scaffolding that is keeping you from seeing outside of it.

My agenda with unschooling was to create and maintain a peaceful learning environment. My agenda with this group is to deal with sincere, honest questions in ways that help anyone who reads understand unschooling better.

The last comment by Sandra was finally exactly what I was looking for. Thank you! I will re-examine the thread and attempt to determine where I could have been more clear about my curiosity.
Leah Rose:
I really do thrive on words of affirmation. I like notes, cards, and song lyrics rather than gifts. I would like someone to say, "You are a great cook" rather than make me a meal. That's how I would read that I'm appreciated and loved.
This reminds me of The Five Languages of Love, by Gary D. Chapman, which makes the point that different people have different ways, or "languages," through which they experience love - being seeing/heard/valued - so that, in a marriage at least, the way we express our love needs to match our partner's language in order to be experienced by him/her as love. I wonder if this can be applied to all relationships, and especially those with our kids...?

On a different note: I think a huge piece of deschooling is moving away from the idea that learning is a performance. Alex's words above: -=-I think saying" Pretty cool" if a child shows their drawing is better than " You did a good job"-=- illustrate to me a subtle difference in focus. The first acknowledges the child's accomplishment and the second reduces that accomplishment to a performance. I think a lot of school anxiety is performance anxiety - the fear of being evaluated. So in our efforts to deschool, as we learn to speak with our children the way we do with our peers, we move away from that evaluative relationship, and away from the language of performance and praise that supports it.

Meredith Novak:
I've read that, even as people have outlined it in terms of gratitude and 'about the receiver,' it can be detrimental to motivation and esteem.
Teaching isn't the same as learning. That's important.

What a person learns from a given situation depends on how that person feels, what they're thinking, what's the context and background. So if a person feels good, that's going to affect what's being learned in a positive way. If the person doesn't feel good, that's also going to affect learning, maybe get in the way of learning because feeling bad is a big distraction. So saying nice things to people, doing them favors, expressing gratitude and kindness, those are all ways to improve learning. But! Learning isn't teaching! And that's where people get into trouble, thinking about "praise" - they start mixing up ideas about rewards and positive reinforcement - thinking about Teaching, rather than learning. Step back from wondering what you're teaching with your smiles and thank yous and kindnesses. Instead, be kind to be kind. Thank people because you care about them and value their feelings as well as their actions.

I think the reason this thread/group may read outside of "the yellow box" Sandra shared with me is because the word "you" is used and questions are directed at me. It's confusing if the intention is "batting around an idea" and not "problem solving." It motivates me to make it clear that I don't have a "problem" with praise or the way I use it, or the way I don't, for that matter, I just wanted to talk about the idea with some unschoolers.

^^or rather, I. with an emphasis on the I. read it outside of the concept of the yellow box.

All the same, Meredith, I think that was insightful and interesting.

/lists/alwayslearning the yellow box here.

And just for the record, cuz it bothers me a little, Alex Polikowsky brought up the concept of saying "good job" to a husband for taking out the trash. I merely proposed a scenario in which that might be construed as appropriate.

I know myself well, and I know that if a goal I was struggling with was literally taking out the trash, I would absolutely not be put off by someone telling me I did a good job meeting my goal. BUT, I think in that case, someone who knew me well enough to "praise" me, would communicate the idea out of kindness, just as Meredith said. So, I think that "praise" is an individualized concept and we get to learn all we can about those closest to us and love them in the way that's best for them. Which is frankly what I've thought all along.

Based on the feedback that I have to stop trying to build a scaffolding around unschooling (or to reach unschooling or whatever), I think it's good that I've discovered something that is true about my state of being and current relationship with my kids through this conversation. It's certainly a degree in my cyclical process of "deschooling."

Alex Polikowsky:
I suggest you save this conversation somewhere and in a month , two or six that you re-read all of it.

I say that with the best intentions because I can see you really want to get it but there are still too many ideas that are in the way and only with more time and deschooling you will be able to see. Take the ideas and try them. Talking and talking here is not really going to go any further.

"Read a little. try a little, wait a while, watch."
There is a reason Sandra wrote that.

Many of the things others pointed out in this thread about what you are writing you keep repeating. You're still writing about taking out the trash as a struggle. Sandra pointed that out . If you keep seeing it as a struggle you can't see that saying "good job" could be sounding like positive reinforcement so someone learns that lesson or finds taking the trash good because they received it.

You are still seeing positive reinforcement, praise, feedback as the same, it sounds like.

Now I know it can be hard to see the nuances when you have not deschooled yet.

There are some great things written here in this thread and I think you cannot see it just yet but with your willingness you probably will. In order to do so you need more deschooling and not more reading at this point. You need more doing and watching and thinking about it but with some concrete examples and not made up scenarios.

I totally getting being eager to get it all and talk about it and wanting to get it. I have been there. But it will help you far more to stop, try, think, observe and then reread all this.

I think you are actually misunderstanding my understanding, but I'm ok with that.
Alex Polikowsky:
It is OK SusieMay, this discussion is probably helping many others reading here and that is the intention of the group
I think I will be sharing these ideas at a mini unschooling play date with next week, too. I'm really interested to see if some of my close friends will have some insight as to how I can word things better and help me find what I am missing. So...may be it will even help some people outside of this group
Sandra Dodd:
-=-I know myself well, -=-
You know yourself as you are now.
IF you want to unschool, you will need to change.
If you are unwilling to change, you will not be able to become an unschooling parent, and unschooling will not work for you.

Deschooling is about changing how you see learning. You are clinging and arguing, even though several people have asked you to stop.

We will still be here if you want to ask more questions later, but right now you are this guy with the teacup: /deschooling

-=-I sort of wonder, though, if it's my personality, not so much my miseducation. -=-
Not "miseducation." Conditioning.

Connections Precisely How to Unschool Being a better partner (to a child, to a co-parent)