Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A 'radical unschooling' challenge

Hannah loves dancing. It is her joy. She asked to take a dance class this fall so that she could 'dance with lots of other girls'. Since she's preschool age, there are few girls her age around that can come over for dancing, so we agreed to look for a class.

It is amazing how structured and disciplined teachers expect such young girls to be and how displinary and structured the girls' parents want the teachers to be with their young girls.

There are not many options in the rural area we live in. We were able to knock out two of the three available classes since they don't allow parents to watch or be in the same room. They have their reasons, but it would not have worked for Hannah. That left us with 'Miss Katrina'.

After a few months of this class, Hannah's motivation to dance at home changed. It was no longer all-encompassing and the dancing she did was frequently followed by "that's how Miss Katrina told me to dance".

When Miss Katrina ramped up the dance class time spent on rehearsing for the recital, Hannah would leave the dance class periodically to come sit beside me saying "this is boring". They would spend 30 minutes rehearsing the same 45 second dance over and over and over. No fun for a three year old.

We stayed for the recital since it had been so talked up in class and Hannah wanted to be part of it. Thankfully it was an underwhelming experience for her and she doesn't want to attend that class anymore. This was a welcome development for me since I had some real issues with certain discipline tactics the teacher used and wanted to pull Hannah from the class because I didn't think she was old enough to deal well with being treated so disrespectfully and I hated seeing her inner dancer be stifled at such a young age. So my issue had been "Do I trust that she knows what she wants to do and allow her to keep attending a class that I think may be harming her or do I say that I'm the mom, I know best, and pull her out which would eat away at her autonomy?"

Hannah seemed to be dealing with most of the teacher's discipline tactics well since she's so strong-willed and we talked about them outside of class. She had no problem leaving a tense or controlling situation to come sit by me. The one issue that was causing her angst that she couldn't work through on her own was the teacher telling the kids to calm down, listen, and behave "or I won't think you're big enough to perform and you won't get to". Hannah wasn't used to that type of manipulation and explaining it to her (that the teacher WOULD let them perform) didn't help. She doesn't understand adults lying. After two weeks of this, I went to class prepared to talk to the teacher about it and ask her not to say it anymore, but the situation had resolved itself - the teacher quit using that control mechanism.

It turns out that my "unschooling issue/challenge" wasn't as cut and dried as I thought it was. After brainstorming with Hannah, we've decided to look for a class in a bigger city about 45 minutes away, a class more compatible with our daughter since she still wants to 'dance with a lot of girls'. Hopefully we can find a class that's some free dance, some tumbling, and lots of giggling. It will be worth the drive for us - and since my sister lives there, we'll get to see her more frequently!

Since the end of the class, about a month ago, Hannah's free-form dancing at home has come back full force. She incorporates moves she learned in class, but they have become part of her dance instead of the only moves she feels she should do.

First day:

Heading to dance class:

Throughout the fall:

Dance recital. I've only got backstage pictures since I couldn't get any good pictures of her from the side where I was standing. Matt was out front but used our camera there for video (and the video shows a bunch of indistinguishable three year olds in white bird costumes running around a stage).

Playing with other girls before the performance:

Waiting to go on:


green said...

I can't empathize much... only suggest maybe a tumbling class as opposed to a dance class. Much less rote choreography and more exertion of energy: cartwheels etc. I imagine.

... and those would look cool incorporated into her home dancing.

The outfits/pics are cool! Thanx for sharing.

Stephanie S. said...

I'm glad for you that you didn't have to make the decision to pull her out - that she is coming to decisions on her own regarding dance.
I'm sure it was sad to see her lose her creativity and sparkliness in her regular impromptu dancing. And her love for it.
Glad you're hopeful again.

Anonymous said...

We've gone through this with our daughter's violin teacher. We've really tried to be open with her about the teacher's motivations as well as our/her own. She has also always been included in all decisions about the lessons.

Realistically unless I learn every skill she mentions myself we're going to have to come in contact with people who don't treat our children the way we would and within reason I think it can be really positive. My dd knows that other people don't always think the way we do and exposing her to that truth in small, safe doses is part of exposing her to other realities.

Granted, if the lessons or teacher were really challenging our ideals, we'd find another option for sure.