Listening to the body; listening to the mind
The best laid plans and all that jazz; and napping is the height of civilization.
At the learning community I work at, when you reach ten years old, you can opt into a self-managed learning programme and spend more time reflecting on your self-directed education. We make a detailed plan for the term in the first week and then have a weekly review where each week we ask:
What goals did you make progress on and how?
What goals did you not make progress on and why?
What could you have done differently?
As we come to the end of this year I had promised that I would be wrapping up the first of the modules on my Unschooled Masters of Arts (UMA): a study on planfulness. Ironically, I haven’t planned this well enough and I am currently writing to tell you how I am postponing the project for another term. But let’s practice what we preach and reflect on why that is.
What goals did you make progress on and how?
There was no real purpose to starting this substack. No clear specified intention. However, when introducing the unschooled masters I stated this as the purpose, and I believe it is worth repeating in full:
I believe that a certain direction and clarity might help drive learning forward in a way that I want to explore. I think the conscious collation of reading material will help keep my reading on track. I am a sporadic reader, reading across a variety of topics as and when they take my whim. Often I move from this to that because this or that takes my fancy. Putting in some time to create a reading list to pick from may allow me to be sporadic in what I choose to read, book to book, article to article, but to do so within the confines of a predetermined list that is still narrow enough to connect more dots together. Writing about the process is a way to demonstrate learning to myself and offer accountability, but also to engage openly in a dialogue with others. Unschooling is a lifestyle choice, that says this is the way that humans learn best, but unschooling doesn’t preclude choosing to engage in specific structures at certain times such as a college course, for the structure of a taught course and a reading list has a real value.
Despite making no progress on the goal of writing up an essay on planfulness what I didn’t realise at the time was that writing about self-direction itself would tick so many of the boxes of what I wanted to achieve in the above quote.
I am thinking most specifically about my essays on work and unschooling reading. Here I took books that I had read parts of online and listened to talks on previously and invested in purchasing them, reading them in full and reading around them as I chased different sources down and expanded my argument. The idea that I would write on these topics crystalised a small amount of time into deeper research and thinking on a particular subject. Most entries for Musings on Self-Directed Education was akin to a micro UMA, a briefer but still intense version of an unschooled masters that Sophie Christophy has also explored.
What goals did you make no progress on and why?
I started this module on the back foot. I had already drafted a few essays that needed finishing. I thought half term would be a good opportunity to start, but the above essay on work ate that week up. I thought that the recent five days alone when the family went on holiday would be a catalyst. However, I played Minecraft instead: partly for fun, partly for aims to connect with my daughter over it when she returned and partly because writing and reading had taken a lot of my time over the last few months and I needed a rest, mentally and physically. Maybe I could instead spend my Christmas break… the futility of that thought was apparent as soon as work finished and the first Christmas sherry was poured.
As I said to the young people when I told them I had played Minecraft: I still wanted to spend my time alone consciously. I wanted a project, something that I could get my teeth into for a large period of that time. I didn’t want to while it away with relaxing here and there1 and find the time had all gone, but when it came to it I was tired of writing, tired of reading, tired of note taking, tired, in some ways, of thinking and reflecting.
Sometimes we need to rest and retreat, accept that life has fallow periods and through them we come back rejuvenated and stronger. But to do that we need to know to listen to the body, or the mind, or more often than not both, and this is unschooling work. We can laugh all we want at online hustle culture and that mindset, but it is not orthogonal to society, it is instead a caricature, capitalism is a hustle somewhat and therefore latent in capitalism is this extreme manifestation. Furthermore, the hustle starts at school, where almost every hour is timetabled for “work” and there are no classes on loafing, flaneuring, or a especially heavy lasagne with potato salad timetabled for lunch in the canteen on Wednesdays followed by a mandatory hour long nap.
The rhythm of focus for an hour, stop, move on to another subject; focus for an hour, stop, move on to another thing; focus for an hour, stop, move on disrupts our natural rhythms. Or rather it disrupts us from getting to tune into them. Understanding how your body works energetically is fundamental to being a healthy adult and it requires the freedom of practicing it.
This is the reason, like most unschoolers, our children do not have bedtimes. They choose to go to bed later than their peers and therefore wake up later. The freedom of not having to go to school is the freedom of having that choice.2 But as with anything we learn most from our mistakes.
As well as a later bedtime, compared to her peers, my seven year old also naps much more frequently. And this is where the learning is. The ability to self select a bedtime is the opportunity to burn the candle at both ends, but also the ability to recognise that fact and to nap of an afternoon or go to bed a few hours earlier.
I celebrate the nap3 as it is a sign of this learning. But the other parents who I have asked if their children still naps, bemoan the nap, infrequent though they are, as they throw the child off the steady rhythm that is required to wake up for school.
What could you have done differently?
In essence to complete this project I need to structure my writing around it. What happened last term was that all the things that I needed to say, all the things that I have been pondering on for the last few years came out instead. This is fine.
So, for the next few months I am going to be continuing to write the Fortnight in the Life Of series, alternating that with reflections on my reading around planfulness.
In conclusion what I could have done differently is plan beforehand, but that doesn’t mean that in retrospect I would have done anything differently. This reflection on the unschooled masters is in a way a reflection on this substack and the journey of the last four months and it's purpose and as we go into the new year. I am grateful that I move into January thinking about how as a writer I need to connect not just with my mind but my body too. And an understanding that writing essays and the unschooled masters project are similar but still very different and they have different needs, and I have different wants, and that to meet all those accordingly takes some time, thought and planning. And I am grateful again for the fallow period of the last few weeks in which I could plant those seeds and I’m looking forward to seeing them grow in 2023.
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I spent my University days relaxing here and there and soon found that five years had passed. Looking back now, post-children, I can’t believe the freedom I squandered, or didn’t appreciate.
The learning community we attend is only three days a week and does not start till ten, a good hour at least after schools do.
I actually told someone just this Christmas that you can measure someone as successful in life if they can both go three days without sleep and essily nap three afternoons in a row.