Messy homeschooling

When I was a teacher, I started meetings with parents by asking them to tell me about their child. I wasn’t trying to quiz them, though some may have felt that way. I mean, they hadn’t written everything down for the past five years and come in with a special 0-5 report especially for their child’s kindergarten teacher – I wish! That’s just not what parents do!

Documentation is embedded in the best practices of a teacher, and (rightly so) more formal than how a parent brings up a child. That doesn’t automatically make it better than what a parent does every day. I consider parents to be their child’s first and most important educator. Period.

It’s part of that built-in bond that really can’t be denied; even in the worst circumstance, it’s still there. In a sense, our role as parents makes us “homeschoolers,” even if we go to work, even if our children are enrolled in a program, or learning institution.

Now that I’m a parent and at home full-time, I’ve chosen to homeschool all the time, at least for now. My oldest is six (law says I sign nothing until she’s eight), so I’m not doing much of anything “formal” right now. But I know that learning is happening nonetheless.

It would be a pleasure for me to apply my formal teaching habits to my own children. I’ve been trained to think that way, and I do love to be organized. So many of my homeschooling friends make plans, and they come up with some great stuff! I honor their hard work and dedicated focus, and I really do think they know what’s best for their household.

But like all the parents I’ve mentioned above, I know my child, too. Right now she wants to self-direct. Color. Imagine. Read. PLAY. Ask a lot of questions. Be with her sisters.

If I were to put a learning program in front of her right now, she’d grimace, stomp all over my beautiful plans, and then use them for scratch paper for her art next project.

And I’d feel like crap.

So why would I even go there?

Why would I do that to her?

To myself?

Because it is also about ME (not to sound selfish or anything). When I consider all the other ways that I have to organize in order to manage household projects, meals, routines, and even daily chores, I’m glad I have chosen to hold off writing lesson plans on top of it all.

It’s partly why I quit classroom teaching. I knew I couldn’t parent and be a full-time classroom teacher at the same time. I was way too stressed. Maybe I’m still adjusting. Perhaps I’ll be able to up my game – maybe even add a side career – in the future. Maybe I’ll stay this way.

Either way, my goal is to maintain sanity in the NOW.

She’s so busy right now, I’d probably just hold her back if I tried to plan out her learning. While certain landmarks are developmental and desired (and believe me I’m watching out for all those and helping her take the next step), there are other things that just don’t need a time table or special sequence. I mean, if she’s not interested it a subject right now, it’s probably a waste of time anyway.

I want her (and her sisters) to be marinated in ideas and authentic experiences so she can grab onto subjects and ideas that interest her, choosing when and how to go deeper.

At the age of six, she probably won’t go very deep before moving on to the next interest. But if she had the freedom to grab on in the first place, hopefully she’ll know she can go back and learn more about it again. Any time she wants.

I remember the teacher-satisfaction I felt each June as I packed up my classroom, knowing that my students had progressed in reading, writing, math, and could talk about metamorphosis…

But as I put certain materials back up into the cupboards I would feel depressed that they hadn’t painted, worked with their hands, or explored nearly enough. The freedom that a child ought to feel about learning just hadn’t been part of the program.

The satisfaction that I feel now is different. It is a deep sense of pleasure which comes from knowing I’ve changed the learning paradigm for my kids. God willing, each of my daughters will have the time and the opportunity to direct her own learning. She may miss things, learn them later, or maybe even sooner than the average kid her age, but I think she’ll have the skills and abilities to find a way to fill the holes.

In the end, it’s important to know that we did the very best by our kids. There will of course be regrets, things we might have done differently, and stuff that simply was outside of our realm of control. But hopefully the evidence of our love and passion for them will be undeniably apparent, and we’ll be able to rest at night knowing that they’ve grown up to become capable and functional adults.

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