Today marks our official start of “break” from our morning lessons until the new year. I wasn’t expecting to feel this juncture as profoundly as I am, but here it is and I’m feeling it! The sowing of a homeschooling dream started before children, before marriage, before Stephen. I was in college enjoying one of my favorite pastimes, browsing the library shelves. I came across a book by John Holt, a prominent reformer in education. Disillusioned by what he experienced as a teacher and more importantly inspired by what he saw with children, he challenged the status quo. He sought to make school classrooms places where confidence grew and learning took place in deep ways. I read two of his books sitting right on the floor of my college library and was absolutely inspired. In countless ways his ideas resonated with my own education– largely intrinsic and unfailingly personal and rewarding. Yet, much of this type of learning was at stake in American classrooms.
People are often taken aback at my background in education, years of teaching and yet… a decision to homeschool? Some are not confused, but many see it as a contradiction. I went into teaching like most, with ambition and excitement. I taught in 3 high schools, my first day on September 11th 2001 in Boston. Admittedly, the first two schools I worked at allowed me to dig deep with kids, explore material beyond the exam and grow immensely as a teacher. Both of the schools were fairly unique American schools. The last school I worked at, unfortunately, embodied many of the standard and descending elements that characterize education. AND, it was a very good school. Teachers had ZERO autonomy, students were not trusted nor respected (nor teachers), curriculum was tightly monitored, common exams were enforced and if and when teachers strayed, as I often did, I /we was/were reminded that those “extras” could be taught after school or during lunch. Like, remedial reading or 9/11. Not with the exams ahead…
I digress! I’ll say, even though my window was closing as an educator and I had fewer opportunities to teach with essential questions, I hadn’t given up on public school completely, nor have I. However, at the elementary level, ESPECIALLY, I am compelled to keep present in education that which I believe is essential– this is a time of foundation. Age appropriate material and tasks (there’s nothing like setting your students up with unrealistic goals to make them despise school), artistic endeavors, unhurried days, hands on exploration, biking, climbing, hiking, games, time to play…a sense of the whole beautiful world, a sense of worth and deep engagement.
Lastly, while there are a multitude of ways to parent, there are a multitude of ways to homeschool. Our approach is one that attempts to put into action OUR values and priorities. So while I haven’t written “my manifesto” YET, in addition to these general tenets, is the belief that HOME should be the center of my young children’s world. Family and home is the heart; it is where I think I can best achieve my goals and to hopefully establish within my children, a foundation of inspiration and engagement. This is NOT to say that this is impossible within families who send their kids to school. I do know that’s possible! I’ve met those families, worked with those kids. However, I know that I would struggle with balancing it all if I were working full-time and my children were at school. More profound though is I know that a certain calling deep within me would be smothered and that the ideals I’ve been brewing for decades would be stifled. I’d be disengaged from these dreams. So, again it is about lining up my values with my actions. Homeschooling truly sits atop the bedrock of vunerability of taking chances to grow and living deeply and with courage.
So this IS a momentous time for us. I set out on this journey decades ago, have ridden years of doubt and maneuvered many obstacles. Stephen and I from the beginning have leapt big, risked a lot and today, continue to make it thrive. I sat down months ago and planned out half our school year. I sketched out broad objectives, listed books we would read, projects we would work on, food we’d bake and cook. I organized a calendar. I planned our festivals. I tweaked here and there.
We made beautiful drawings during our form drawing blocks, we learned many fairy and folk tales along with all our letters, painted, recited seasonal poems and songs, practiced mathematics, advanced our knitting and sewing, took on Spanish with mucho gusto, hiked new trails and old, rode horses, played with new and old friends, BIKED 8 miles one day! Spent days at museums, even tried out German! Time in the mountains. We chopped wood and made teepees. We had lazy mornings with lots of reading. Warm baths.
Today we celebrated the coming together of a dream, the end of a lot of hard work and meaningful months with: a puzzle filled leisure morning and pancakes.