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Friday, May 4, 2012

The journey to School, from the Homeschooling view

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted here.

Over the last while I’ve been writing different posts in my head, but have been failing to actually get my fingers to the keys. We’ve been busy folks lately, and quite honestly it’s got me reeling ever so slightly.

As many of you know we’ve been a home schooling family for the past 4 years.
I’ve loved it since the beginning and it’s been a fascinating journey, watching my teaching techniques change as my parenting techniques shift to the spiritually aware perspective. 4 years ago my daughters and I would sit at the kitchen table, we had workbooks, pens, pencils in front of us, I had big rolls of paper hanging from the wall, and a white board.
We did brainstorms, projects, worksheets. We had weekly schedules arranged from yours truly, and monthly themes. I ran a great school. Now our eldest daughter LOVED it! She would push herself to the extreme, jumping ahead in workbooks, playing school and raising her hand to ask questions, she learnt how to read quickly and absorbed information like a sponge to water. Our other daughter would often be found with her head on her workbook, the same page open for at least half an hour. Then she would feel stressed and upset when her sister learnt things fast. She would drag her heels to the kitchen every morning, and many a time in those early years (before I knew any better) “I’m going to HAVE to send you to school, if you don’t do the WORK here!”
Somewhere in my head, even though we were home schoolers, I was convinced that there were targets I had to meet and of course in some states and provinces this may be the case, but the Unschooling movement is well on course to being huge.
It felt so off to TEACH our younger daughter. It felt so forced and then there was our elder daughter literally begging me for more. I was starting to get burned out.

Then our son was born and they were put on a strict diet of workbooks daily. I bought really thick ones and we broke the week into subjects. I still tried to teach in a school setting and offered projects and school videos that I discovered on Youtube at night, nursing our baby. But something else had changed to. With my journeying into Spiritually Aware Parenting and my new found, full blown commitment to feeling good and trusting in my instincts, I found myself not wanting to force any more. Rather I wanted to encourage them to discover knowledge, to be excited by it. I wanted to gently open doors rather than open them, push my girls in them and then describe to them what they could see. At the same time I found that the girls weren’t interested in the projects and shows I was putting before them. They did their workbooks, sometimes asking to do them instead of reading at night, sitting up in bed way too late until I told them they really had to put them down.

The result was interesting to say the least. I became our younger daughter’s dream teacher. She learnt what she wanted to, and she discovered the amazing ability that she has to grasp information when she wants it. She didn’t just learn how to read step by step, she woke up to reading and could suddenly read. Suddenly she was doing math sums and telling me answers when I didn’t think she even understood the concept of it yet. She was dropping information to me as common fact, without any pretence or sense of pride even. Rather it was second nature to her. She had learnt through some hidden passages in her head and all my work at Forcing schoolwork to her had probably been holding her back.
Her sister however was getting bored. I’ve been trying to fill the void. We joined a homeschooling group, they took swimming, skating, they made life long friends. They kept farm animals and had responsibilities. But no matter what I had found something inside myself that screamed “let them learn at their own pace, through their own passions. LET THEM PLAY.” And so they got to play… and play and play.

Since practicing letting go of my need to control what they learn, to meet outcomes and BE the teacher (I still sometimes have control issues that I work on, I still sometimes think that everything would be easier if everyone would just listen to me and I don’t understand why they don’t, but then I remember that not only does that make everyone else deny their own voice, it also puts a whole lot on my shoulders that I really don’t want!) Since practicing all that, we’ve become the family I’ve always dreamed us to be. The girls play and laugh. They read like maniacs, and recite poetry. They had their own school this fall (named weird fish school after some sweatshirts they own so it could be their uniform) and a really nasty teacher (which WAS NOT ME!) They are 8 and 9 and they still play with their 2.5 year old brother and will willingly watch his programs with him and enjoy them at the same time they will sit and watch Jane Eyre with me and enjoy it. We go to beaches and their father tells them about sea life and about tides, crabs and coasts. They explore and learn every day, even if its just by playing a few computer games (which they are constantly told they play too often as it makes them space out and brings adrenaline into the house), but they can find their way around machines better than me. I’ve been loving watching them grow and explore at their own pace, their own plan with us supporting them.

And then Sunday happened.
I sensed they were bored, so suggested that I set up some work for their pretend school and they could take what they wanted and leave the rest. (they still do a year worth of workbooks, its just that they like the brand I get (Brainquest) so they finish it fast.)
Our eldest turned to me and say, “I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I’ve decided I want to try school.”
I was pretty proud of my self containment, and told her alright and I would talk to her father about it and we would set it up. It had always been made clear that if anyone wanted to go to school they could and homeschooling was only the Happy option not the only option. If it didn’t make someone happy, then it would stop. I was proud of her to, that she had thought it out and stated it to us.

The next day we went to the local school, and were happy to find it small, run by lovely people. The children seem happy and I appreciated how the teachers talked to our daughter, not just us. She was enrolled quickly after and we’re waiting until the school’s special centennial event next week takes place so she can start when it’s a bit calmer of atmosphere.

Our daughter is so excited she can’t wait to start. Meanwhile for most of the week I’ve had to hold back tears or run to the bedroom for a sob. I felt like a hole would be made in the home, that nothing will be the same. The first few days I pondered if I had failed her as a teacher and then an inner voice reminded me that the principal had looked surprised when I told her what our daughter was studying and had assured us that she would be well on par as the class. As I kept looking for better feeling options, things started to clear and I soon realized that parenting is a different thing than we often imagine. Somewhere it stops being about Taking care of and tending to, all at once it becomes about trusting and supporting.
This was her decision. Ironically, or perhaps powerfully, that Sunday morning after meditation I had written in my journal that I was worried our eldest daughter wasn’t being fulfilled “I’ve always felt deep down that she needed official schoolwork, unlike her sister who thrives and learns with play.” I had written I had then asked for help, help to feel my way to new options, and right choices. A few hours later, our daughter said those famous words. “I want to go to school”.

I also became aware of my own desires. That for ages I’ve wanted her to be inspired, challenged and broadened. I’ve also felt frustrated that I couldn’t take her where I felt she wanted to go in learning. I also had felt her sister feel left out, and awkward, even her wanting a chance to feel younger to play more with her brother, but often felt rushed to grow up because her sister wanted to. She’s needed some parental one and one time to sort things out. This school enrolment was perhaps taking place because of a bigger picture than just a child’s whim.
I then reminded myself that it doesn’t need to be permanent. She can change her mind. She’s starting incredibly late in the school year and in September she can return to home schooling, but with new knowledge of what she is missing. Rather than the fear of the unknown. How exciting is that prospect?
Now, I also know our younger daughter may feel like she has lost an arm. At 10 months between the two girls, it’s like separating twins. So her and I’ve decided to start her on a new curriculum too, one that I’ve been wanting her to get involved with, known for its imagination, its freedom, its creativity and sense of adventure. We’ll do it together, her and me, at whatever pace she wants. We’ll be ordering from Oak Meadow next week, so they can start new school together and do homework together.

There’s a sense of great new beginnings around here. And as I told my eldest daughter tonight, she needs to know that as a family we will miss her terribly in the day, but she’s not going into this alone. Her father, myself and her younger sister are spiritually behind her, in front of her and beside her always and we will experience this as a family. We are becoming more and more the family we’ve always wanted to be.

And then there’s her brother who taught me a valuable thing today as I watched him draw. At 2.5 he draws with no intention, but looks at his paper with wonder when he sees what wonderful thing has appeared. As we get older we tend to reverse that, we draw with intention, but are harsh on our final work, saying it’s not how we wanted it. Although we can often create moments in our lives out of pure intention, perhaps if we were to let go and draw first, we would be surprised and overjoyed to see the wonderful things we had created and enjoy them in their manifestation, rather than disappointed in being different than we expected.

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