Homeschooling Why and How

No Longer a HomeSCHOOLER

No Longer a Homeschooler

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Once upon a time, I was prepared to be the best teacher my son could possibly want.  My husband and I took a course that taught us how to teach with joy virtually everything to our son:  reading, math, encyclopedic knowledge, physical excellence and more.  We set out to apply what we’d learned and at first got exactly the results promised.  The first time I checked my son’s reading by asking him to point to the word I asked for of two words printed on cards, he got 8 of 8 correct.  Doesn’t seem like much, except for the fact that he was only 8 months old!

Yes, I admit it, I was a “Better Baby” junkie and was exuberantly determined that my son would receive the best of educations.  I was totally sold on the idea that the early years were the most important and that if he missed out on all this education while his brain was still growing, he’d never reach his intellectual potential.

However he began to let me know quite early on that, while our learning activities were fun for a while, he was ready to move on to something different.  Between observing his cues and reading lots and lots of books and magazines and watching many children and talking to more parents, I gradually but steadily moved to a very different approach.  I began dropping my preconceived ideas of what he ought  to be doing and turned  my focus to following his lead.  He loved the water, so we went to the beach nearly every day.  He wanted to explore the yard, the house, stores, the TV, the kitchen, paints — everything  was now a fascinating learning experience. We had always done these things, but now I did them without worry or apology for what we “should” be doing.   Life with Thumper was more fun than ever.  We spent all our time exploring the world, life, and our relationship and, always psychically tuned to each other, we became even closer friends.

His development proceeded along and while  other children were sometimes better at letters or counting at a younger age, certainly none were more curious, more eager to learn or more delighted to be alive.  And I doubt there was a happier mother anywhere.

When school age came around, I sometimes felt a little intimidated by what the school system expects and by what other homeschoolers were teaching their children.  When each new “school year” began, I would feel an urge to bring out my “educational” supplies and set specific hours to do them.  I would consider tutored classes and organized activities.  I even started to do some workbooks in phonics in an attempt to speed up the learning-to-read process.  Each year these would be put away sooner and we’d be back to simply living and trusting that learning was occuring.  Then in May, with a year-end report due soon, I’d again worry about whether we really had “accomplished anything”.  I’d again be tempted to bring out “educational materials” and to do schooling in my home.  But when I would sit down to do my year-end report, and look over all the things Thumper had learned in the past year without any formal schooling, how his abilities had improved and at the sort of person he is, my faith would be restored and my schooling materials would be put away again and we would look forward to a glorious summer of play.

I noticed that last year, none of the “educational materials” ever made it out of the cupboard and I recognized that schooling  is really not a part of our lives now.  (By schooling  I mean anything that a person studies because someone else says they ought to and/or someone else tells them when to study it.  If it is the student who wants to study the subject and the students’ choice of when to do it and the student can quit whenever he or she wants to, then I don’t consider it schooling.)

This “want to” is a relative thing as an experience last summer taught me.  We had about 15 kids or so doing classes with a teacher for one or two hours once a week and everyone was saying how wonderful it was, how great the teacher was,  how much the kids were learning and how much they enjoyed it.  But once the kids were given a choice to go or not, they all chose not to go.  They had really been cooperating and participating in this schooling  only as the price they had to pay to get together with the other kids there once a week.

Now, I know that I am in a very small minority of a very small minority here.  Only about 1-2% of school age children are homeschooled.  And of those, probably less than 10% are completely unschooled.  I also recognize and admire the product that homeschoolers  get with their kids.  No doubt about it, they usually read sooner, do math on paper better, have better handwriting, and know alot of facts.

But as with everything in life, there’s a trade off.  One example is something I read once about an unschooling mother whose kids were late to learn to read wrote that when children who could read visited their farm, those children seemed not as tuned in to the world around them as her kids.  Hers would see a bird, for instance, and would really be there in the moment with the bird, while the readers were already running into the house to look up the bird in an encyclopedia to see what other people had observed about birds.

Similarly, from my own experience:  I did very well in school and I loved to read as a child, devouring books from the library.  But when I look back, I see that my childhood was not a particularly happy one nor was it anywhere as rich in options as Thumper’s.  I now see my voracious reading as an escape, just as TV is for some people.  When I got away from my unhappy family life, I found I was much more interested in exploring the world and people around me.

This is not to say that we don’t pursue anything intellectual or academic, because we do.  For example, I know children are studying geography in some classes around the island.  They have assignments to research and report on to the class the next week.  Our version of this is that I thought it would be fun to put pins on a map of Maui marking all the places we have been.  Thumper thinks this sounds fun, too. We’ve also gotten to know some US geography because of our yearly flights to Michigan — last year we spotted the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers from the airplane and saw some of the flooded areas we’d read about in Newsweek.  We also saw Yosemite and its conspicuous landmark, Halfdome,  from aloft, an important site because Thumper’s brother was hiking it the next week.  We mark interesting locations on the US map — like dinosaur parks, Disneyland and the Smithsonian Museum where the head of Mangas Coloradas is — so we can plan future vacations.  When the Gulf War started and was dominating all our lives, Thumper, all on his own idea and volition, took out his Risk  game and amassed the game pieces in the countries involved in the war.  So he’s learning lots of geography because it is intimately connected with our daily life and because he wants to, not because we have set out to study a subject called “geography”.  His free choice from among a large variety of options determines his activities.

My own experience is that while my son does not know the same  things as schooled  children (whether schooled at home or in an institution), he knows as much, but about different things.    I try not to judge the value of what he’s learning, be it about playing basketball or computer games, how to get along with girls or how to defend himself from bullies, how to braid or how to shoot a BB gun, how to find his way around Maui or how to get to a distant mainland destination and back, how to figure out how much money he has or what is his favorite book.   I know he’ll take the same persistence, energy and concentration into anything he pursues.  I have no doubt whatsoever that should he decide to go to Harvard, that he will be able to easily learn all the college prep requirements and will excel in that or any other university when and if   that time comes.  Right now, I am happy to see him so happy, thriving, and learning about what is important to him now.  He has a whole lifetime in which to experience, learn and do what he needs to do in order to fulfill his destiny.  So I’m happy to relax and enjoy his childhood along with him.

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