"On our message board, one mom confronts her jitters and Joyce answers ..."

That was the intro to the following writing, years ago at a forum called unschooling.com (the first and best version of that, long gone).

Joyce Fetteroll responding to worries

BOLD is the jittery mom.
Indented text is by Joyce Fetteroll.

I worry a lot when they don't seem to be "doing anything". lately, they've been playing a lot of computer and nintendo...
It's not that they aren't doing anything -- unless they aren't moving and you hook them up to an EEG machine and the readings are flat. 😉 It's that we have been conditioned by society to only see certain activities as worthwhile and learning.

All of your concerns stem from seeing the world divided into learning and playing. It *is* a tough place to get unstuck from. The occasional voices we find in society that tell us that everything is learning get drowned out by the overwhelming and loud voices that are certain that learning is difficult and unnatural and must be performed in a specific manner that can be tested and measured or it isn't real. Those loud voices fill us full of fears that if we allow kids to pursue what seems to be playing they'll never do anything other than play.

Remember how your kids learned to speak? It was an enjoyable activity shared with those who loved them. It was useful. They were immersed in it so could pick and choose from a wealth of ideas to pay attention to what they needed *for themselves* to meet their needs *right now*. We knew that whether they talked about their red cup or Tellytubbies or T. Rexes or amazing deposits in the toilet that they weren't limiting their future selves to those subjects. They were learning all sorts of things about language and interacting with others while communicating about their interests.

Now, if you contrast that with sitting in a classroom trying to learn Spanish, which way seems like *real* learning?

Computer games may look like wasting time but they're learning meta-lessons: interacting with someone on a project (though perhaps it doesn't seem so sometimes!); self-confidence that they can solve a new problem (game) despite how confusing it seems initially; that problems rarely have one right answer (unlike the majority of problems in school) but are a series of compromises and weighing of pros and cons and deciding which cons are more dealable-with, and a great deal of important math that schools ignore for the more testable mechanical skills of arithmetic—3D mapping they have to do in their heads, strategy, etc.

And it's really too limiting to list "lessons" learned from computer games because there's much more going on. If that's all there were, kids wouldn't be so drawn to the challenge of the games. They'd quickly get bored after mastering those few lessons. Real life experiences are rarely limited to a simple set of lessons.

If you can open yourself to what's going on in the games you can draw on that in their real lives. If one son is facing something he can't do, you can say "You know how confused and untalented you feel when you start a new game, like you're never going to get it?" Though I'd sit down with them and ask questions about how they are handling a new game so you do know. Not with any agenda for them in mind, but an agenda of learning something you don't know from them. It also gives them an opportunity to communicate something complex to someone who has no knowledge. Though I wouldn't treat it as a lesson! They'll catch on to that pretty quickly!

There's also the factor of limiting the games. Anything limited is more desirable. If your husband only let you read a really great book for half an hour a day, what would you feel? We convince ourselves it's okay for us to do it to kids because we know what is right and we need to make them do what's right until they're old enough to understand, but just because your husband felt he knew what was best for you would that make it right for him to impose it on you? Why is it right for parents and not for one adult to do to another?

The more they feel the games are potentially controlled, the more they'll feel the need to glut themselves when the controls are (temporarily, they undoubtedly feel) removed.

But they also need an environment to come out to that has potentially engaging opportunities for when they are satiated on computer games. *Not* entertainment (though it carries that potential) but a rich environment. Movies that might stretch them a bit while being entertaining. (Check The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies and The Family Video Guide and ScreenIt.) Family board and card games. Places to go to ride their bikes (or whatever). A walk in the woods. Music playing in the background. Parents pursuing interests and demonstrating that learning never stops. A family read-aloud. A small garden of things they like (strawberries picked right from the bush, the amazing experience of plunging your hand in the dirt, fishing around and pulling up a potato, a couple of corn stalks so they can see the whole process.)

Those are just ideas. They aren't important learning ideas that "should be imposed on anyone or they won't learn anything worthwhile.' They need an environment where they have the potential to draw new interests from. This is the hard part. 😉 It's tough not to have this whole agenda of things you feel they need to know about and knock yourself out trying to figure out ways to make them interested. It's also tough to not divide the world into good things to learn about and wastes of time. Eg, it is "good" when my daughter wanted to know the different cloud formations and a "waste" when she memorizes all the different Pokemon formations. I have to see that both are equally good. If I see Pokemon as bad, then I blind myself to how they intersect and use numerous skills and knowledge and how they connect with the greater world they are a part of.
When they aren't playing computer games, they quickly complain of being bored.
Think of being bored as a problem seeking a solution. Not a problem for *you* to solve, but a problem for you to help them learn to solve themselves. (It will serve them for a lifetime.)

Sometime when they aren't bored and seem receptive to thinking -- perhaps when they're in the car -- ask them if they'd like to come up with a list of things to do when they get bored. And share with them some of the strategies you use when you feel boredom coming on. (Okay, boredom isn't a "luxury" most moms get to feel but maybe you can remember! 😉) And, just as in real life, don't see the solution as the final one for all time and if it doesn't work then scrap it because there is no solution. Help them to refine the solution or find new ones that might work.
They don't seem very motivated to learn things on their own.
And how often do you feel motivated to learn something on your own that others who are watching you and judging you feel is a worthwhile employment of your time?

Real learning looks very different from schoolish learning. Real learning looks like playing. Even when it matches something kids do in school (learning the names of the different clouds for instance) it still looks more like goofing around because it stops as soon as their interest is satisfied. They don't push on like they're "supposed" to. No, what they do is revisit it when the feel the need to build on it and they draw on it (though not necessarily making it obvious to us) to help them understand more of the world. *Everything* connects to everything else. Yes, even computer games. 🙂
I feel like I always have to be thinking of things to amuse them or places to go, waiting for a spark of interest.
*Don't*. Don't be their entertainment director. Be their learning facilitator. Remember when you talked to them about what was going on around them when they were infants. You didn't bend over backwards to entertain them, but you helped form a bridge between them and things they were interested in or things you felt might interest them. It wasn't an attitude of "this is something you need to be interested in", but pulling something out of the chaos of the world they were in and saying "I think this in particular is interesting and I'd like to share it with you."

Begin where your children are and build from there. Play their games with them occasionally. Unless you give them a fair chance and really don't like them. See if they can find some they think might interest you. If you're familiar with what they are involved with, you'll be able to pull in some connections from the world into their gaming world that they might not realize existed. (History, pop culture, music, etc.)

Share things that *you* like with them. *Not* as lessons for them to learn because you think it would be good for them. But because you want to share something with them. They may be resistant at first if you've always imposed things you think will be good on them. Or just get involved with pursuing your own interests. Your enthusiasm may infect them. Though don't expect it to. Don't use you enthusiasm as a way of making them like something you want them to like. That's an almost guaranteed way of making them not like it!
They are interested in things, but it just doesn't seem to last long.
That's okay. That's they way children learn. Depending on the child, the pre-high school (or pre-college) years really should be about dipping into a lot of different experiences and building outward from experiences, not about studying everything in depth. They are creating a framework to build on later. I could sit down with my 8 yo and study Roman history from the beginning and next year she'd probably remember very little. Or I can make sure her environment provides her with opportunities to encounter interesting things about many different things so she has intriguing tidbits to build from. (She's encountered Julius Caesar on Histeria and Xena and somewhere someone quoted Shakespeare's "Et tu, Brute" and she was born in July which was named after him. (And those references also are part of the framework where other things will build from like calendars and Shakespeare.) She has a point of familiarity to build from, so when she hears Julius Caesar she can say "Ah, ha, I know him," and that will make her pay attention so she can see if this is an opportunity to gather more interesting tidbits to add to her store house. And the more she builds there, the more intriguing and familiar the connections to him become and the more she'll build on those when interesting things wander by.)
They want nothing to do with writing, although my oldest reads a lot.
Just as most 9 month olds want nothing to do with walking. Yet we don't worry that they'll never walk. It *isn't* natural for kids to communicate something in writing. (That's not an excuse to make them do it any more than it's an excuse to make a 9 mo walk.) The physical process of putting words on paper for a child is difficult. (Time cures that. Not practice. Just time.) Writing requires a real need to communicate through words on paper (or a screen.) Email. Thank you notes. (Not as enforced writing practice though!) Shopping lists. Wish lists. (It also includes stories they dictate to you. Stories they tell you. A recap of a movie. Conversations.) Teachers tell kids to imagine an audience they're writing for. It's bogus, of course. The only audience is the teacher. When people are doing real writing, they don't need to contort themselves to imagine. If they feel a burning need to write a letter to the editor, or a letter of complaint or an email to their friend they *know* who they are communicating with and why they are writing.
My 8 year old is very resistant to reading, and although he can sound out simple stories, he says it too hard and he's not good at it. (a result of intense phonics instruction last year in grade 1).
Or just because he isn't developmentally ready yet. Despite what schools lead us to believe, reading isn't something that must happen early or it never will. Only in schools where kids are singled out and (hopefully unintentionally but there's no way around it) made to feel as though there is something wrong with them because they can't do what "everyone" else can do that kids get the idea they can read and therefore decide they are dumb or reading is dumb. If kids are immersed in an environment where reading is useful (Nintendo magazine, directions for anything, signs, etc), is enjoyable (snuggling up reading *to* him, books on tape for the car, etc) where they aren't feeling shamed for progressing at a pace that is natural for them, they will read. It may not be on a standard school schedule, but they will read. (There are undoubtedly some threads about late reading around the message boards.)
I also have a 14 y.o. boy in school, who is very bright, but doing poorly. He tends to get bored and thinks the assignments are dumb and so puts very little effort into them.
Well, he's right. They are dumb. He's being told to not listen to the little voice inside his head that's questioning the usefulness and purposefulness of what he's being asked to do, and to listen to those who supposedly know better. "As long as you do what we tell you to we'll get you where we have determined you need to go." 😜

*Real* work is meaningful. It's is something someone needs to do for themselves right now for a reason that's meaningful to them. (Which does include doing something assigned by a boss. Even if we don't enjoy the assignments, we can see why, in the larger scheme of things, they need done. Businesses don't hand out work that ends up in the trash. Or if they do, they don't stay in business long.)

Your son knows that everything asked of him in school is just pretend. The school won't stop functioning, he won't stop functioning, the world won't be a worse place if he doesn't do his assignments. That's why schools need to impose made up punishments. There are no real consequences for not doing the work. Whether someone gets an assignment right or wrong, whether someone spends 3 hours or 5 minutes, it ends up in the trash. (For all my 17 years of schooling, all I have to show is some art work. Not much to justify 17 years.) He *knows* this and he's immersed in an environment that's telling him he's wrong. It's a familiar plot of science fiction: put the character in a situation that is self-consistent but doesn't match what he knows of reality and what happens? Either he goes crazy or he squashes himself down and conforms.
We have basically told him that if he chooses to be in school, he should follow their rules and do his best (do assignments, study for tests, etc).
Then perhaps don't tell him that anymore. Tell him how he learns is up to him. If he wants to go to school for the social aspects, let him do that. Where's the rule written that if we go to school we must do it only to learn school subjects? Isn't it a sign of creativity that he wants to use something so pervasively used for a single purpose and for him to use it for something else?

What if you let him decide which assignments are worth his time and which aren't? After some initial time of deciding they're all bogus, it's possible some will spark an interest in him. *Don't* expect them to. But freedom of choice makes a *huge* difference in how we view something.

In some districts is also possible for him to enroll in school part time for just the classes he wants. You could also actively seek outside activities for him since he's undoubtedly concerned that homeschooling will cut him off from other kids. Also make it easy for him to invite friends over. How about pizza and a movie marathon? video games?

What if you decide, despite the fact he's in school, that he's home schooling and help him pursue his interests outside of school? That can be tough to do since school sucks up the best part of the day, but if you want him to homeschool, he needs reasons why he should. If he sees a goal worth working for, he'll be able to work out ways around what he's feels he'll have to give up (easy access to friends).

Though it's written for teens and it won't do much good to make him read it, Grace Llewellyn's The Teenage Liberation Handbook could be useful for *you*. (Leave it out when you're done. He may pick it up.) It will help you see learning in a whole new way. There are also book recommendations available through Unschooling.com's homepage as well as loads of posts on the message board. 🙂

Those responses were by Joyce Fetteroll, in 2000 or before.

The original is here, in the internet archives, but I fixed some typos, and dug the first "question" out of the html code; it wasn't showing, but I figured it had existed. A glitch or error had hidden it.

Joyfully Rejoycing, Joyce's website

Similar format, responses from Sandra, 1995.

Real Learning, mostly by Joyce, but some commentary by Sandra, and many clueful photos which are also links.

Title art by Devyn Dodd