Sunday, May 15, 2011

In the lens

It seems as though every spring in our town the photo journalism students swarm out from their home near the campus green to photograph everything of interest in the surrounding area. Sometimes it's the local community garden, sometimes it's the small organic farms dotting the hills, and this year it seems the homeschool community is one of the subjects in the lens.  A masters student from China came to photograph some of the kids at our homeschool choir on Monday.  

Homeschooling is unheard of in China, so she came with many questions: why do you do this? how do you do this? will you continue to do this through high school?  Those of us gathered had different stories for each question.  Jen unschools her young kids on their farm; Erin's husband was homeschooled, and they homeschooled their 19 year old all the way through and are currently homeschooling their youngest, age 8.  Their middle child chose to attend public high school two years ago and loves it.

"Wendy" (she chose her english name after her the character in Peter Pan, which she loves) asked if there might be time for her to come and visit us, take photos, ask more questions.  I immediately felt the contrast between the culture she likely grew up in - academic rigor, highly valued structure and push for excellence - and what she would see in our days: a meandering through interests, sudden bursts of energy, discovery or inspiration, and the daily work of life that is cooking, cleaning, planning, communicating, getting along. The thought made me anxious and self-conscious, when what I wanted was to feel welcoming and secure, proud of our days.

I finally got over my inhibitions about having someone observing us and decided to invite her over on Thursday afternoon.  I thought about orchestrating some fantastic art project or choosing that moment to have a rare math lesson with Eliza, but then thought better of putting on a show and decided to go with the flow, as it were. As we do.  I feel as though I struggle with reconciling my deeply felt ideas that children learn when they are having fun, that they will learn everything they need to learn that way, with the way I grew up, working hard to excel in a traditional school, figuring out the tricks I needed to answer the questions and navigate my way to good grades (Have you read How Children Fail by John Holt? It is illuminating...).  There is a strong urge in me to organize lessons, structure the heck out of our days, and document it all.  It rarely works. What does work is paying attention and giving time when it is required, usually spontaneously right now.  Making suggestions and letting go if  your idea doesn't catch right away.

So, Thursday we had a wonderful morning of hiking, followed by lunch and some quiet time.  When Wendy came over, this is what she found: Ani wrapped in a blanket, reading to herself in the pappasan chair, willing to look up for a moment to say hello, but otherwise engrossed in The Courageous Princess.  Eliza and I were sitting in the kitchen, working on botanical drawings that sprung out of a project idea we had on our walk, of drawing and writing about some of the many plants we know in the woods around here.
Eventually the afternoon shifted, and after giving Wendy a tour of our house, Eliza came to finish taking care of the worms in our worm bin, and help me make dinner while Ani took her turn at the watercolor pencils. It was a lovely afternoon, with a lot of good flow.

 It was a good reminder that letting go of my need for things to appear one way while reality leads us another, always brings us to a better place of learning and being with each other.
Wendy joined Dan and the girls at the Farmer's Market on Saturday, and will be at our friends' for the spring chicken slaughter that we've volunteered to help with.  She genuinely seems interested and not critical of our learning life, which is really just our Life, after all.


Stacy said...

Wow! I can't wait to see her pictures ... I'm curious how they'll look!

slim pickins said...

I know - look at that lens!!! I'm hoping she'll let me share some of the photos she gives us here...

denise said...

Very cool! It is hard to let people in for a few hours - this life we lead has so much learning packed into it, but it might not appear on cue for the moments people pop in. I always feel like I need to say "BUT" ... which sounds like excuses, so I smile and go with the flow. And anyone with half a brain and an open mind sees the PEOPLE not the activities and realizes they have learned. :) Bet the photos are great!

rebecca @ altared spaces said...

It's tricky, this letting someone new in who holds a camera, to "judge" your life. It brings up all kinds of feelings. It's
interesting to watch you deal with those feelings and know I would be the same if I were in your shoes.

But what a wonderful cultural exchange for your children!

I'm finding you via Mama Om.