So, we've been trying to figure out where the "school" fits into our homeschooling. Generally it crops up here and there, when it seems useful, but not because it is a total fit with our family. Joy-based anything is what appeals to me, and if joy can be the driving force behind What We Do, I can get behind it. Sometimes that looks like math on the computer. Sometimes it looks like sewing doll clothes. It means lots and lots of games. Hours spent outside. And sometimes I forget what has worked for us, and get caught up in the new-year excitement of planning all sorts of things for us to do, activities, schedules, projects, curriculum.
This fall has looked like a whole lot of structure where before there was play. I was needing it, and Eliza is enjoying having a certain amount of structure and challenge, but Anika, while she played along for a few days, finally had it out with me during our drive to Eliza's dance class, the drive home and the whole hour before we went to pick her up. It was a long conversation, heartfelt and focused, and she did not give up until she was certain I had heard her, and not just in the "yeah, yeah, I got it" way, but as in "Wow. You are feeling this deeply. I am hearing you!"
The gist of it was this: I am down with the home part, but enough of the schooling. I want to spend my time playing, and if I am learning something, that is great, but let's not call it that. I am a great reader, I can read anything I need to read; I know how to write and I can do it if I need to, but I want to do it when I want to do it, not because you tell me to; and math, well, I can do math if it's a matter of life or death, but I do not want to work on it All.The.Time.
If you want to read through that again, you could do it the way I told it to Dan, over a margarita, with several emphatic expletives peppered throughout in my attempt to capture the real heart of the message. Plus it made me feel better; you can imagine that my ego was a bit wounded throughout this delivery. She told me I didn't play enough with her, and that it wasn't fun. I can hear some of you saying to yourselves, "Well, life isn't always fun, so what?", but I really, really believe that Fun works. Not "woohoo, isn't math fun?!" fun, but laughing, delighting, eager gobbling up of life kind of fun. It's when we all learn best, and that is never more true than when you are eight years old.
When I got over myself, I sat there amazed at her ability to present this message to me so clearly and so emphatically. She has not always been willing to converse with me (as opposed to talk at me), or to follow through a discussion so completely. It can be exhausting and frustrating and doesn't always make a difference, and she is more likely to just shrug her shoulders and just do what she wants to do without having a conversation about it. What I realized is that she was advocating for herself, and for the kind of learning that she knows works for her.
To give myself some balance and perspective on this whammy, I spent some time that night, looking back at the posts I wrote when Eliza was her age. What did we do? How did we school? Do you know what I found? We didn't. We played. We created. We talked, hiked, explored, danced, snuggled and read books. Eliza wasn't a solid reader, so we played games that involved simple reading and writing. We went letterboxing. We made scavenger hunts for each other, we sang songs. It was fun!
The last few weeks have felt stressful, off-balance and cramped. I woke up the morning after this revelation feeling free and open. Joyful. The first thing I noticed was that Ani had found her pad of paper from our trip, where she had written Chapter One of her first story, and was working on the first couple lines of a new chapter. Later in the day she showed Dan a drawing she had worked on for a long time while listening to a story; she was really focusing on the "facial details, especially the eyebrows" and had discovered something about her usual approach that wasn't working for her, so she was experimenting on how to change it. She also beat me at Blokus and then preoccupied herself with fitting all of the pieces of the game onto the board at once while I made lunch. And we got outside. Ani visibly relaxes and opens during our hikes, chatting and narrating the path, showing me what she finds and running ahead and returning to press her face into my belly. Her self is recharged, and she is Happy.
I want that for all of us, don't you? I want us all to be able to ask for that, to notice what isn't working and dammit, say something! Anyone who knows Ani might be shaking their head, for she is not one to hold back anything that comes to her head, but this was different. She cared whether or not I was listening, whether or not I was hearing her, and while she hasn't needed to talk about it since, she is warm with me, connected and softer than her usual self. We are finding a new path...