Plunging into the Unexpected
This past week I did something I did not expect to do until June. I sent a letter to our local school superintendent with my intent to home-school my child – in the middle of the school year! We had been home-schooling together from grades 1 through 6, but I enrolled her in middle-school in September of 2017. The guidance counselor decided that it was best for her to start from the ground up, so she entered school as a sixth grader.
From that time until the present, I heard earfuls of grief about how miserable she was at school. Some children have made the transition from home-schooling to public school learning with relative ease, but my child was not one of those. She had supportive teachers, but that was not enough to keep her going. On top of that, last month she fell and has since been recovering from a concussion. That caused her to miss an extra week of school and to fall behind in her schoolwork. I wasn’t sure if she would ever recover. I was also done with the constant worry about her emotional well-being. I missed home-schooling as much as she did and was ready to return.
It wasn’t the schoolwork that she found hard, except for math. Math has been her most challenging subject, but that can change with time. She was doing well in all of her other subjects. It was the social scene she didn’t like or trust. She couldn’t figure out who was a potential friend because everybody was mean to everybody else and put each other down constantly, with few exceptions. They were also fickle. They changed their allegiances at the drop of a pencil. She was so bothered by the culture on the school bus that she asked me to drive her home every day instead of making her take the bus.
The one argument most people make in favor of formal schooling has been around socialization. But, are our children learning things we may not want them to? Are they emotionally and physically safe there? Is the predominant culture all that healthy? Unless there is an extreme case of bullying, I don’t think teachers or administrators notice if a child is feeling unsafe. This type of thing builds up quietly until it is too late. There is tremendous peer pressure to go along with the norm of what classmates think is funny, cool, etc., or be harmed by rumors, teasing, practical jokes, or worse. If my daughter did not want to learn in the environment that she encountered at school every day, she wasn’t going to. If a child is under tremendous stress, her receptivity to learning new things is diminished significantly by that stress. A sense of safety is important to learning new things. My daughter will learn more with her fellow home-schooling friends, travel, and random gatherings with other youth than if she kept attending public school.
The environment of most public schools is not one conducive to inspiring all children to become lifelong learners. Sitting at desks does not engage their imaginations. Their curiosity and wonder are crushed by long days with limited movement. Perhaps not all children experience this because they somehow thrive in the academic environment and succeed, but that experience does not serve all students. We have read many stories about what happens to the students who cannot fit in.
Curiosity, Wonder and Unschooling
My philosophy about life is that we only have the chance to live ours once. We need to do it right. Why not make it the happiest life there is, and generate the fondest of memories to warm us on cold, dark, wintry nights? I wanted to give my daughter back her happiness and to lighten her spirit. I wanted her to love both life and learning again.
During our former years of home-schooling, I sat beside my daughter and worked with her to develop skills in observation, experimentation, and recording what she saw. She learned how to draw what she observed, think about how two substances interacted together and wrote down questions she wanted to find answers to. This time around, I know that she is old enough to take responsibility for her own education. She will start by reading some books in each of the subjects that we already have at home, and then supplement those resources with library books, field trips and other fun activities. She will use our local library’s web site as a free portal into the world of learning new languages, such as Spanish. I will need to work while she reads, writes and explores, but will make time to listen to her share what she has learned. She will also be responsible for keeping up-to-date records of her learning experiences – just enough information for me to write the progress report in June.
My daughter’s spirit and energy are returning to her, more quickly than she expected. She has expressed curiosity about the content she is reading and wonder about what she notices happening in the world around her. That is because she is given the room to demonstrate agency when choosing her own curriculum at the highest level she is capable of learning. She knows herself best. She takes lots of initiative in beginning and completing projects, such as painting ivy around our back doorway (above). She is also given time to exercise her body, because physical activity also feeds the brain. I am excited to see how she works through the learning activities she sets up for herself, and look forward to working with her on projects such as painting wall murals now and then.