A few weeks ago, I was asked by a friend with younger children and plans of homeschooling them how I went about our days and how I was able to homeschool the bigger kids with a little one in tow. As we spoke, I was reminded of those early years of parenting–reading everything I could about child development and parenting and education, worried about doing the best by these little people entrusted to my care, so desperate to do a better job than my parents did. I was reminded of myself, ten (and a half!) years ago, and I felt acutely aware of one thing as we talked–everything I had learned about how to parent and educate and be a mom to my children I learned from my own kids and our life as we lived it. All the ideas were there for guidance and inspiration, but in the end, parenting and homeschooling for us have become a blend of both my intentions and my responsiveness. As we spoke, this was the real answer I wanted to give her, “don’t worry too much because you will figure out what is best for your family as you go.”
Because for all the reading I have done about educating these four, all of it very helpful and insightful and necessary for keeping me fresh and present and aware, one thing has made itself abundantly clear–my children are all unique and as such, our homeschool has been formed around each of them and their individual interests and learning styles.
Starting out with a fiercely independent and highly creative boy, one who did an amazing amount of natural learning in his early years but not only took no interest in compulsory learning but adamantly disengaged in attempts on my part to “teach” him things on my time table once he was of “school” age, I quickly had to adapt. I found out the things I really would patiently insist on (reading, writing, basic math) and let go, for the time being, of other things (Oregon history). He is truly a genius, but this may not be revealed on any standardized tests. He waited until nine to really start reading, but started with the Harry Potter books, so in the end he didn’t really miss much (that early reading material can be rather dull). He is clever and quick, and I do not worry about how he will do in life even the littlest bit now (I used to, tremendously, that is the job of new parents I think!).
This is a self portrait (sorry for the blurry photo!) he recently made of himself showing how he will look when he is eighteen! If he believes this about himself as whole-heartedly then and through all his years as he does now, then he can make anything happen.
The point of all of this, really, is that sometimes our ideas of our children must make room for their ideas of themselves. In the early years, they are so little, it is really our ideas that so significantly guide them. But as they grow, they become. Our early parenting years are not only formative for our children, but for ourselves as well. What I realized as I tried to explain our homeschool, which has evolved to look very little like “school”, is that there really are no cut and dry answers for any of us, and that my friend’s homeschool will look very different from mine as they go on their path.
As for ours, it too will evolve and change as the children get older and new little people step up to the plate. Our one girl, almost six now, likes to sit and do lessons in a way that both of the older boys still fight against. I can’t even say it has anything to do with gender, but more to do with the fact that they are all so different, it is as equally amazing as it is disarming when trying to parent them.
As a former straight A student and lover of all things “school-y”, I can say that it can take some letting go, both homeschooling and parenting in general. Still, it is the best job in the world.
As for how we manage it, it is an ever changing challenge and solution. Yesterday, we worked hard on multiplication, spelling, grammar, and phonics both in ways that probably worked and ways that probably didn’t. Sometimes, those lessons I most formally bring to the table end up being the worst for everyone. Today, we counted smashing rocks, unearthed from our giant mud pit, with hammers to see what was inside of them, attempts at finding themes and making statements with altered art and mixed media, and copying animal sounds out of baby brother’s favorite board book as “school”…and those were the parts they drummed up themselves while I taught the baby to do the dishes. I keep at it both ways, but I secretly think that the only learning that matters is the learning they are deeply vested in.
This is the one thing I have learned without a doubt–if we remain open to it, we are always learning. That is what I hope for my kids to keep with them after they have up and gone from their schooling with me. That is the most important thing I can teach them. It’s what they have taught me.