(I am part of a beautiful homeschooling community that is based on mutual respect as well as a love of our kids. What I’m about to write is my opinion, yours may differ, and that’s ok. I respect you for the path you choose, and I trust that you feel the same xx)
I often hear in homeschooling circles the idea that children should never be coerced to study. That learning should only happen when, where and how, the child chooses. Tied in with this is the idea that we should never teach, only provide opportunities for learning. Apparently, this is trusting our children.
The thing is, we need to trust ourselves too.
There is a focus on being child lead, and rightly so. My son and I regularly explore his random questions to their conclusions, and we love learning together. Going on the treasure hunt for answers together is one of the joys of homeschooling, along with education fitting in with life’s adventures, rather than the other way around. But part of my respect for him is respecting that he is a child, and just as I have learned what he needs when he’s hungry, tired, or sick, it’s also up to me to learn what he needs when it comes to education.
Sometimes that’s freedom; other times it’s a gentle push.
You see my five year old is as beautiful and complex as any other kid out there, and part of that is that new things scare him. He is not the child who will find the workbook and begin trying to figure out the exercises, or the child who will pickup a notepad and try to write, just as he’s not the kid who will try to master a new skill at the playground or to figure out his bike. For him there is joy in learning something only when he feels like he can do it.
He also possesses a unique laziness. He’s proud of it, so wouldn’t mind me telling you that. Be it a long walk or writing a letter it is often ‘work’ best avoided. The other day at the zoo he walked joyfully for three hours before reaching the car, when his face dropped and anger filled his voice “Oh no!” he breathed, as though about to deliver terrible news “I just exercised by accident! I hate exercise.” Exercise too, as you can imagine, is ‘work’.
So if left entirely to his own devices he would avoid school work all together. He’d also avoid brushing his teeth, making his bed or exploring new places that he now adores. He is my gorgeous boy and his positive qualities are endless, but get up and go and mastering the new are not amongst them.
That’s why I’m allowing my child to lead me to what he needs. He needs a Mum who will tell him to make his bed and go and brush his teeth, he needs a Mum who sets rules and boundaries, and he needs a Mum who will tell him it’s time to sit down and do school for a bit – even if he’d rather be playing LEGO.
There is the myth that homeschooled kids live in a perpetual bubble of joy about learning. Life is learning, and they get more time to explore the richness of it so in a lot of ways they do, but they’re still kids, and there will likely be days when they tell you school is BORING, or RIDICULOUS, or RUBBISH and that it should be thrown in the BIN.
This is not an idyllic world and it’s unfair on each other to pretend that.
More often than not my son runs to his desk when it’s time to do his school work, he sits down and he giggles and he focuses and he tries hard. He has a ball. But other days it just doesn’t go like that, and those are the ones when I need to dig my heels in a little. We don’t do as much on those days, but we still do school, and it’s because of that that his enthusiasm for the rest of it grows. It’s because of the consistency that he’s finding reading and writing and spelling and math become easier – he likes easy.
The more he learns, the more he wants to. He’s bubbling with ‘I can do it!’ But because of who he is I will probably always have to push a little from time to time. I will probably need to take a deep breath here and there when he decides he HATES his books one day and ADORES the very same ones the next.
My son is very lucky, not only because he has the better part of his days to follow his passions and interests and explore the world, but because he has before him the gift of an education. And it matters. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t.
Around the world, hundreds of thousands of children would give anything for the opportunities our kids have. Some walk for hours to sit in dusty classrooms just to gain a little of this precious gift of knowledge and the skills that make it possible.
This reading and writing business? That’s the access code for everything they could ever want to know. In giving them that you’re opening up a bit more of the world for them that they couldn’t have accessed otherwise. The grammar matters, the spelling matters, the vocabulary allows them to wonder a little more vastly than they could have otherwise.
This maths business? Those are the numbers that underlie our finances, our sciences and the schedules of our days. They are not only useful, but exciting, and our mastery of them can lead us to places we can only imagine.
When you give your child an education you give them a gift that is probably too big for them to unwrap right now, so don’t be surprised if they don’t always appreciate the magnitude of it. They will in time, just as the skills you help them build and the virtues you encourage in them will help shape their world.
By all means give them opportunities for self-learning, but don’t be afraid to teach any more than you’re afraid to be taught. A child needs to learn the value of listening, of focus, of gaining knowledge from another. You don’t go to a language class and have the teacher sit down and say “Ok, now you figure it out.”
Being taught is a skill, just as self-driven learning is.
I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out, but I am saying that I’ve been there. I’ve been an intelligent child in an environment that went out of its way not to teach (I attended a democratic unschooling style school for four years as a child) and as smart as I was there was a MASSIVE amount I missed out on learning before I moved to a more structured approach at home.
You wont harm the thirst for knowledge in your child by setting a little structure for an hour or two a day, you may even spark more of a thirst in them, or give them more tools to explore their wonderings. A child who knows little of history cannot find their passion in it, a child who knows nothing of geography may miss out on fascinations about the world.
A child who picks up a book and teaches themselves how to read is remarkable. But so is a child who needs a bit of encouragement to give it a go. Both will have strengths, weaknesses, challenges and joys. It’s our job to help them navigate those.
When you home educate your child you are taking on something amazing. I commend that. And I admire anyone who trusts their child to guide their education… but more so those who put the same trust in themselves.
Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2013