Originally published at Life Without School June 15, 2007
I have trying to think of advice and encouragement for a friend who has just plunged into home schooling after several years of public education. Pondering what we have learned in our 3 years of life without school only confuses me. The more I learn on our journey, the more aware I become of how much I don’t know.
Is there any way to articulate how to discover what balance of “schooling” and natural learning works best for a particular family? How does one cope with periods of boredom and panic about “whether we’re learning enough?” How much is “enough?” How do we come to understand our kids’ unique learning styles and adjust our steps in the dance accordingly? I have even more questions that I had when I started, and few tangible answers.
I found myself wondering, “What would I do differently if I could begin again?” What would I change if I could go back to that point when we pulled our nine-year-old daughter out of school and started this experiment? What do I regret, aside from the fact that we didn’t start sooner?
First, I would have resisted the impulse to “hit the ground running.” I didn’t know about the concept of “deschooling” then. But I think if I had been less concerned about “succeeding” at this endeavor, and more in tune with my instincts it would have happened naturally.
There was one glorious Fall day, a few weeks after we took River from school, when I decided we should walk to the park instead of “doing school.” My daughter and I walked to the park, with several day care kids in tow, gathering Fall leaves. Then River climbed a tree while I sat on the twirl-around-thing with the little ones. I spent a few hours relishing the fact that my daughter was sitting in a tree instead of filling in worksheets and listening to math lectures. I reveled in the seemingly infinite possibilities offered by learning at home, without feeling a need to have a plan. I remember one day like that, and dozens of days of academic planning and trying to “do things right.” I wish I had reversed that ratio. An occasional day of parsing out learning goals among dozens of days of reveling in freedom? That would have been about right.
I have a love/hate relationship with learning standards and curricula. I distrust them, feeling real learning cannot be found in a box, and can certainly not be created by government mandates. On the other hand, I find them irresistible. If I could communicate with the version of myself who started home schooling almost 4 years ago, I would tell her: “Go ahead! Read everything about home schooling you can get your hands on. Religious home schooling. Secular home schooling. Classical. Charlotte Mason. Unit Studies. Home Learning Year By Year. Scrutinize the state learning standards. Get all that out of your system; I know you won’t rest until you do. *Laugh* Then put all that stuff into a box, seal it with packing tape and do not ... whatever the temptation ... do NOT open it for at least a year.”
If I could do it over again I would not expect my nine-year-old, who was decompressing after four years in public school, to know what she wanted to do with her newfound freedom. “What do you want to learn?” “How do you want to learn it?” “What are you excited about?” If there is anything almost as bad as not allowing River to discover and follow her own passions, it is trying to push her to do it. It is kind of like trying to make someone fall in love. It just can’t happen.
I’d spend countless hours in the library, with no particular goal in mind. We’d read, take walks, and talk. We’d get a new pet. We’d rent loads of movies. We’d play board games. Do stuff - like playing with stuffed animals and “playing store” - that she was “too old for.” We’d cook together, draw, and do crafts when the mood struck.
I’d keep a journal of all this. Not the kind I like - with a section for each subject (so it looks “schoolish,” I just can’t resist that.) Just a cheap wire bound notebook where I could jot down favorite books, things we liked to do, good experiences, bad experiences, frustrations, and moments when I saw glimmers of River's natural desire to learn resurfacing. Later, in one of my many analytical moments, I would have gone back and studied those “glimmers.” Maybe we could have connected the dots and created the “right” path to learning.
Of course, as soon as we found it, it would change. That’s how life and learning works. Discovering how to live and learn is a continual, fluid process. As soon as we find the answers we’re looking for, those answers change, or the questions change, or both. We find ourselves reflecting on what we’ve learned, so far, in the journey and creating everything anew.