Re-remembering (not to burden our unschooled kids with our
expectations) By Kim Weaver
When my partner and I decided to follow the path
of child-directed learning, we did so with the faith that kids are
naturally intelligent and curious, and would lead themselves into all
sorts of wonderful learning and playing opportunities if given the right
resources, encouragement and time to do so. Ours haven’t proved us
wrong, and I love learning and experiencing life right along with them.
Sometimes, though, I get overly responsible. I
try to direct them to what I think they need to know at that moment,
with an expectation that they will arrive at my conclusion. At these
times, their “education” generally begins to look like I am stuffing
information into them for my reasons, not theirs. But my children gently
remind me that though they will happily journey with me, they will do so
in their own unique way, at their own pace, regardless of my
expectations. This lesson was recently brought home to me when we
attended an art gallery exhibit.
I had taken Zoey and Luke to see a much promoted
and much anticipated (by me) exhibit at our local gallery called “Post
Impressionist Masterworks.” It consisted of 15 original paintings by
well-known artists, including a couple by Cezanne, one by Matisse, a few
by Derain, and even one by Vincent van Gogh! As my eight-year-old
daughter has a much-loved print of van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on her
wall, I thought she’d enjoy seeing some originals from the same period.
Actually, “enjoy” is too modest a word for what I
hoped she’d feel. I was almost gaga at the prospect. I hyped the show to
the kids with phrases like, “...once in a lifetime”, and “you might
never again see...”. Not subtle, I admit, and a bit of a set-up for a
let-down. I had a lot invested in their responses. I wanted Zoey and a
bit of a set-up for a let-down. I had a lot invested in their responses.
I wanted Zoey and Luke to see and love these paintings through my eyes.
As we walked through the gallery, I enthused, “These colors are so much
brighter, the style so much looser, the paintings filled with so much
more energy, than any done before them!” The bold and free brush
strokes, the vibrancy, life and joy of these works never fails to
electrify me, and to see the originals, rather than the coffee table
book reproductions, did indeed fill me with light.
I wanted my kids to share my excitement, my awe,
with a bit of delirious happiness thrown in for good measure, but what I
got was.....bickering about who would get to use the exhibit program to
make a comic when they got home. “No, I got it first! I said I wanted to
make a comic, and now she’s copying me!” Luke hissed, with Zoey quickly
defending, “No I’m not; I want to make a story, and I want to use the
words, too.” In the serene interior of the gallery, with crowds of
people basking in the magnificence of the masterpieces, my children
I hushed Zoey, shushed Luke and tried to distract
them with pretty paint colors and leading questions. “Tell me which of
the paintings you like best?” I pleaded, stooping to quiet them with my
proximity. “The boat one,” stated Luke. “The one with the big
shapes,..... and the boat one,” beamed Zoey, which caused a flare-up of
the copycat argument. I felt deflated, my enthusiasm thoroughly doused,
and I was ready to head for the nearest exit.
I quickly herded them out through the side doors,
into the adjoining exhibit of drawings, etchings and lithos from the
same period. I was sure we’d sail through the rest of the gallery, have
a quick look at the Emily Carrs, and head out for lunch. At least I
could count on their enthusiasm for bagels, I thought. But guess what?
My two little critics spent a huge amount of time strolling around,
gazing, and appreciating the smaller, less vibrant, more concise
subjects. I watched as our five-year-old walked and hummed to himself,
hands behind his back, taking in the simple landscapes, discussing a
line portrait with his sister. “Where’s his other eye?” he asked Zoey.
They searched for a minute, then Luke answered his own question with,
“Oh, that skinny line there, see? I thought it was hair – it’s his eye!”
He giggled his approval. They even condescended to listen to a
description of the woodblock printing process, and to learn the name of
Emily Carr’s monkey, Woo, before pulling me into yet another exhibit
(what, no lunch?). Here the kids shared what they saw in the paintings.
“Mom, see this one? It has that triangle that Pat showed us, with the
cloud and the horses!” Zoey traced the shape as she spoke. “Hey, cool!”
Luke approved. “Way cooler than those famous ones!” And then it was time
If you are thinking that I had learned my lesson for the week, well,
read on. The next evening, my daughter and I began the chore of
excavating her room. Generally this is not a pleasant task for either of
us. We tend to bicker and snap at each other while we scoop handfuls of
beads, Beanie Babies and Barbie shoes into their appropriate bins.
Rarely is her floor visible beneath the toys, clothes and books, all
mushed together like minestrone soup. I resent the time and energy this
task requires. But as she had generously agreed to share her room with a
visiting Japanese student, something the whole family was looking
forward to, I agreed to help. This time, I vowed, would be different
than the last: This time the room would be cleaned by a loving Mom and a
happy, grateful daughter, with the reward of tea, popcorn, and a video
afterwards. I prepared myself by breathing deeply and visualizing a
serene, quiet process of tidying with happiness and loving pink light
You can guess what happened, right? I became tense as we made little
progress by my standards, an endless evening of hamster poop and candy
wrappers stretched out ahead of us. My irritation bubbled up and out in
a nasty stream; “Why don’t you just put your Barbies away when you are
done with them? Why do they have to be left on the floor to be walked
on? Do you like your room to look this way?” I cringe now, remembering
my words and tone, and her hurt feelings. Zoey duly defended her right
to keep her room as she wanted it, retorting, “I like my having stuff on
my floor! It’s always where I can find it!” No pink love in sight, only
purple, angry, hurt feelings. I realized with Zoey’s defence of her
space that she had a right to feel her miserable feelings; cleaning her
room wasn’t fun! And although the room needed to be cleaned, I didn’t
have the right to impose my false, sparkly mood on her, or on the process.
I had to surrender once again. Needless to say, the evening didn’t go as
I had “planned”, although the job did get done.
So maybe I am beginning to learn the lesson that my children so easily
embrace. Whether we set out to see a van Gogh original, or undertake
mundane household tasks, I want to remember and re-remember that my
children will take away something from that event that I cannot
predetermine, and may never know about. They do not need the burden of
my expectations, nor my reaction (be it excitement or disappointment),
to experience, be nurtured, and grow from any encounter or activity we
undertake, together or alone. If they choose to feel miserable about a
necessary chore, it is their right to do so. And if they want to cut up
the exhibit catalogue to make comics, they have been touched in a way
that I could not have orchestrated, and want to express their views
about it. I want to remember that fewer expectations create the space
for unexpected delights along the way, for all of us.
But you might have to remind me.....
Kim Weaver is an unschooling parent of Zoey and Luke
(who were ages nine and six when this article was written), living in
Victoria, BC. She and her partner believe that children will find their
passions and take flight when given the space to do so. She is finding
her own wings through writing.