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Monday, August 22, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} it's a lifestyle

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience.” 
– Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher

a disclaimer - the views,opinions and thoughts are completely my own and based on my personal experiences of raising my kids and interacting with my community. I am in no way meaning to prescribe a particular method of lifestyle. I want to share my journey and open up a discussion and safe space for each of you to explore this subject, either for the first time or to go deeper into you current practice. 

How we began homeschooling

I never intended to homeschool, although looking back, I can now see how everything led me to this point. I did fairly well in school, but early on felt that I was just putting in my time. I knew I was in a flawed system and I figured out how to work with in it to stay under the radar, get good grades and even cultivate a positive reputation among my teachers. But I was not learning much. I memorized content and completed projects which I immediately forgot.

I came alive when traveling with my family, hearing the rare engaged history or humanities lecture, and while working at one of the many jobs I held from the time I was 14. The real world was where I wanted to be and school seemed like an institution bent on keeping me out of it. So, I paid my dues, started college early and wondered what my future would hold. It wasn't until my upper undergraduate classes that my mind was reawakened. My major was art history and I studied gender and power constructions, historiography, mythologies, photography, costume, performance, and low art. I worked with an amazing array of professors who were challenging and pushed me until my mind cracked. I was able to travel to NY and spend several summers in Paris meeting and working with artists who through their examples of engaged and discursive living helped me rebuild my brain and create my own approach to life.

Later, in graduate school, I taught humanities and American studies courses to freshman and sophomores. I was under impressed with most of them who came straight from the school system. They lacked creative and independent thinking skills. In fact, they were right where I had been a few years earlier, punking the system for a grade. (I had thought I was the only one who went through this). The most interesting and engaged students were older, had lived, worked and traveled and hungered for knowledge and conversation. 

I even tried teaching 5th grade for a semester at a local public school. While I loved my students (who were severely socially and economically challenged) it became apparent that the system I had contempt for had gotten even worse. The constant testing, implementation of new learning schemes, and complete lack of understanding of my childrens' actual needs was eye opening. Luckily, I was at a school that was so bad, the principal was just happy to have someone in the classroom keeping the kids safe and contained. I had a little freedom and would try things like reading chapter books aloud, mediation, watching and responding short art films and unstructured outside time.  I will never forget the time we were watching a Little Rascals episode and I looked at the face of my favorite student (troubled and brilliant, he was). In the flickering light he has relaxed, put down his ever present posturing and defenses and was laughing. Laughing like a real kid. It broke my heart because this is what these kids needed. Space and time to connect to something safe and fun. And it was nowhere in the curriculum. His drug-addicted mom took that from him, his community with its crime and guns took that away from him, and the school system was taking it from him. 

When I started having my own kids a few years later, I spent so much time watching them explore and experiment. They were natural scientists and learners. My job seemed to be to support them and offer resources. To be there and witness their process.  When they approached school age, I could not fathom taking their time from them. They were so happy, healthy and connected to each other, their extended family and larger community. (I know some have really great school communities - but there was not a great option for us at that time). So, our decision was not necessarily to "homeschool." It was really a decision to not add school to what was already working so beautifully. School did not seem like it would add as much as it would take away. 

The lifestyle and its benefits

Homeschooling is not an education method, it is a lifestyle and has the potential to change everything. If explored deeply, it becomes a lifestyle of curiosity and questioning. Homeschooling has led us to rethink nearly all of our automatic thinking from housing, to health care, to sleeping arrangements to jobs and careers. Many people have told me they could never homeschool (I guess assuming it is way too much work). I usually respond that I could never adhere to a typical school and work schedule. Homechooling is intense and hard work, but there are some sweet, sweet luxuries built in. Here are the benefits for our family:

We sleep in our natural cycles. Typically, we have slept with the sun cycle. As the kids enter teen years this might be changing. I love the fact that they are able to sleep in when their bodies need the extra rest. Experiencing puberty in your own comfort and boundaries has been wonderful. This is total luxury, but I love the fact that during certain uncomfortable times, we can rest and take care of ourselves. 

We eat better than we would with a more typical schedule. We eat home cooked meals together as a family (for the most part!). We can eat when we are hungry and take as long as we want. 

We learn in multiage groups. Not only within our family, but also in various home schooling groups and classes. Kids are attracted to each other because of common interests not simply because of arbitrary ages or school grades. The past two summers, my son took a master naturalist program intended for adults and learnt along side school teachers and retirees. 

We follow interests as they arise. We are always up to try something new and not held to a schedule of when things need to be learned. A deep interest in Egypt can be studied right away. In school or within a strict curriculum, this is not as easy to accommodate. 

Life becomes an experiment - the ultimate lab. I love that we are able to try new approaches to life. We can experiment with where we sleep, when we read, how we eat dinner, where we meet friend to learn, anything. It is all open. We can try and adjust all we want. 

We can adjust days easily when illnesses arise. We are not sick to often, but I have often felt a deep sense of relief that when I am up with a sick kid all night, I know I  can recoup the next day. I can not imagine how hard it would be to go to work, find care for a sick kid and fit in doctor's appointments. I know this is a privilege and I appreciate it immensely. 

More physical exercise. I will never forget when my daughter was at her 5 year check up. The doctor, noticing how tall she was, was relieved when he knew she would be homeschooled. He shared that when kids enter school (especially bigger kids) they are prone to gaining weight right away due to sedentary days. Because she was homeschooled and would be more active, this was not a problem. As my boys were born and also active and outdoorsy, I knew that they would have a problem in school too. When my kids were young I read about Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educational reformer. She believed that children should spend at least 6 hours a day outside. That number stayed with me, and I made it my goal to get them outside for the majority of the day. That could never happen with a school based lifestyle. 

More quiet and self focused (and even bored) time. We can schedule tinkering/reading/hanging out days as often as we want them. These are some of my favorite times when the best ideas and plans are hatched.

Better integration into daily chores. They can cook their own hot breakfast. I have noticed that when we are in a heavily scheduled camp week (one that seems to most closely represent a typical school schedule) they are less able to help with chores. 

Peer pressure seems to be rare. I rarely see serious bullying or peer pressure in homeschool groups. For the most part, the kids are helpful and supportive to each other. And I have never (ever) heard anyone tease another for what they are wearing, the backpack they are carrying or what they are interested in. Seriously. For much of my kids' life they dressed in costumes (or the same outfit everyday). And they are accepted. They have, at times, weird and esoteric interests. And they are accepted.  

Deeper sibling relationships can be cultivated. Early on, I read several articles explaining the impact and importance of sibling relationships (even over parent relationships). For the most part, my kids are very close and I hope that their bond continues and offers them support long into their lives. 

Education is not parceled out or divided into discrete subjects. When it is working the best, learning is a vital part of everyday living, part of who we are, a family of autodidacts. 

Every homeschooler knows about taking advantage of sites when everyone else is at school or work. For a long time my husband worked shift work, so we were already used to the luxury of midweek shopping, eating out and site seeing. When we had kids, it got even better. We have spent long quiet afternoons at the zoo and aquarium talking in depth to the animal care workers, we go to Disney during the week and DC right after school is back in session. The off season and off times are our favorite times to do stuff. We tend to stay close to home on the weekends and holidays. A lot of homeschool groups have back to school parties to celebrate the emptying out of the science centers and bowling alleys. 

Write down what benefits you will have (or already have) from homeschooling. Get as detailed as possible. Include selfish benefits (like, I don't have to wear a bra first thing in the morning!). 

Is there a big goal or dream that your family would like to work towards? (a year of travel, moving to a farm, starting a family business...)

What is the biggest drawback? (be honest here, many people worry about time to themselves, loss of income, lost of status, what others might think...)

What are your biggest worries?

Write down what a perfect day would look and feel like for you and your kids. (this is a great journaling activity to do as a family. I am always surprised at what is most important to my kids. I try to ask them this a few times a year).

If images move you, I highly recommend creating a collage of words, magazine images, original art and text exploring what it might be like (or what it is like) to live a life outside the mainstream. 

Share you thoughts in the FB group or the comments here. 

+also, if along the way, you are digging the content, I have added a donation button at the top of the page. I am trying something new (always trying new things...). Instead of having every lab be a paid for thing, I am interested to see if I can create and share content in this way. Thanks for any support (monetary, notes or good vibes :)

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