Feb 23, 2022
Philip is a former elementary school teacher who now offers parenting advice for busy and frustrated parents. He and his wife home school their three young children. He’s a regular contributor to Fathering Together and First Time Parent Magazine.
You can also hear an interview with him on the podcast Front Row Dads. There are two parts:
He is interviewed by Living Joyfully With Unschooling on the Exploring Unschooling podcast. View here on YouTube:
In today’s episode Jenna and Philip have an open and honest conversation about how each of their households handles things like screen time, bedtime and other common hurdles in unschooling.
Before we begin Jenna reminds listeners that she is always looking for new topics and questions you would like to hear addressed on the podcast. For instance, would you like to hear more from Jenna herself, more experts, other ideas? Also, remember to please leave a review as this helps grow the community.
Jenna begins the interview by asking Philip to explain his journey into self-directed learning.
Philip says that he began reading a lot about child development, student engagement, and why students are not fully engaged. He realized that he was becoming the teacher he himself would not have wanted when he was a student. His experience in school was not a good one which was one reason he wanted to become a teacher himself. At that time he felt he had fallen into an authoritarian role. After doing some reading he began to try to make his classroom more child centered. But he says that the writings of Magda Gerber, a parent child advocate who founded the Resources for Infant Educarers usually referred to as RIE, was a great inspiration for him. He found this resource when his child was thirteen months old and followed her advice on letting the child lead in play and learning. He had always followed a self-directed path in his own learning but hadn’t made the connection that it would be the same for even very young children. He and his wife were surprised and pleased that a child that young could be so self-directed. This was when they became hooked on self-directed learning and knew that they wanted that for their family.
Jenna notes that she is always surprised at how many educators there are who have an epiphany and says that she can relate to the feeling of becoming that teacher that you don’t want to be. She says that it felt uncomfortable and wrong but was brought on by stress and expectations which were out of her control.
Philip agrees and says that when he was teaching fifth grade at an online school he was on a team that kept him from implementing some of the things he wanted to try. He did create a program he called ‘Connect’ in which he would engage with students in order to build a relationship beyond just academics. He tracked grades during this time and saw that the extra engagement with his students did improve their interest and success in class. But, it still didn’t make up for the fact that trying to teach everyone the same thing at the same time was really not working. The curriculum keeps teachers bound to a timeline teaching specific skills at specific times.
Jenna asks if there is in his opinion any time that any one skill MUST be learned.
Philip says that it is less about when or even what is absolutely needed to be known or learned, but is much more imperative that the child not be made to feel inadequate if they fail to learn something at the time we expect them to learn it. Even if parents don’t criticize or punish their child for not learning a skill, they receive the message of unworthiness from standardized testing, the grading system etc.
Jenna mentions that some teachers put the scores on the board following a test. She wonders if this is supposed to motivate the students.
Philip says he wonders if it has become more valuable to beat another person rather than to learn and nurture relationships. He says that some of the philosophical reasoning within racism and feminism can teach about children and learning. He mentions the book ‘For Her Own Good’ by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English. The book addresses the wife having no say, and kids often find themselves in the same position. A power over vs power with mentality.
Jenna mentions a podcast episode by Brene Brown, where she discusses the Power Over vs Power With paradigm.
Jenna goes on to ask Philip if is familiar with Peter Gray’s assertion that language is the only subject that must be learned by age four and does he agree.
Philip says that in his own experience it has been the case that timelines on learning are very individual. He gives the example of his own learning. As he said before he was not a good student even in high school. But, in college he was ready to learn and did well. He supposes that exposure to one’s native language would most likely occur naturally.
Jenna says she was speaking with a friend recently and they brought up the fact that as students they didn’t learn much about technology as it hadn’t been invented yet. Now, everytime new tech comes along they all learn to use it. An example of learning when the need occurs.
Philip mentions that people are even learning things about how things were done ages ago. There are many YouTube channels dedicated to learning skills and tasks of old. Jenna mentions a project in Germany where they’ve used period-appropriate tools, materials, and techniques.
Philip says it is impossible to be the same parent to all of his kids. His kids are very different people.
Jenna mentions that she isn’t even the same person around her different groups of friends, so of course it makes sense that it is impossible to parent each child exactly the same way.
Philip says that his wife came back from the store one day and said that she needed to remember what it was like to shop with a three year old. This conversation reminded him that we even tend to label age groups of children. We put expectations of behavior and more on them. He says we need to look at it more individually. This is not A child, this is MY child. She isn’t a problem, she is having a problem.
Jenna agrees and says that it might be you that is projecting and actually creating a problem. Everyone has good and bad days.
Philip says we need to not be hard on ourselves as parents, since there are no ‘perfect’ parents.
Jenna says that within self-directed learning there is a tendency to strive for peacefulness and avoid conflict at all costs. She asks Philip’s thoughts on this.
Philip states that there are only two things in their household that they are firm on. Bedtime and Screen Time. As for bedtime they have ‘room time.’ The kids have to spend time in their rooms at night, but there is no requirement as to when they actually go to sleep.
Jenna says that for her, sleep is a number one priority. In her household with her kids, as they are older, and with some experimentation they agreed that everyone would be in bed by 9:30 PM. They don’t have to go to sleep, but they need to be quiet.
Philip says he really likes that Jenna discussed her need for sleep with her kids and asked her kids to help her out with that.
Jenna prompts Philip for his thoughts on screen time.
Philip states that he and his wife didn’t initially agree on this subject. (She wanted to limit it.) Now that his kids no longer have nap time, this has become Screen Time. They also have another screen time session in the evening. Although it is limited, it has not been a problem. Screens are now part of our culture and kids will most certainly be using them a lot in their futures.
Jenna says she is glad that he and his wife were able to negotiate as it demonstrates what everyone goes through. Parents are hardly ever in complete agreement on every issue. For her family they had years of limited screen time. She says she wouldn’t change that because it is impossible to explain to a two or five year old how video games are designed to be addictive. Now that her kids are older, she can discuss it at a higher level. Her son now spends the majority of his time on a screen since his main interests include gaming, tech related everything, 2D animation, 3D modeling, YouTube, Twitch etc. If she sees that he is losing interest in all of the other things he loves such as basketball, rock climbing and swimming, then it would be time to have a conversation with him. She says that one of the superpowers of self-directed parents is that they know their children so well that they notice more when something is off.
Philip discusses the fact that even if a self-directed parent were concerned they wouldn’t panic or try to solve the problem on their own. They would as Jenna stated have a conversation with the child and participate together in a solution.
Jenna and Philip wrap up the interview by agreeing that there are so many variables in play. Personalities, ages, etc. There is no rulebook. Parents have to be kind to themselves and their children.
Jenna asks Philip the four questions that she asks all of her guests:
Some of the classes he has tried are Graphic Design, Cooking and Guitar Playing.
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