Monday, September 14, 2015

the hardest part of homeschooling

I was inspired by the recent posts on Simple Homeschool about the challenging parts of homeschooling, and took a crack at writing about what I'm finding challenging right now in our journey. Head over to Simple Homeschool today to read what others have written about. It always helps to know you aren't the only one pushing up hill somedays!

When I look at my journal to recall how we spent our time last year, I get tingly.  It was juicy, there was flow - all that you would expect from curious, engaged people doing what they love to do.  Yes, of course we had our hard days - usually on the heels of any particularly wonderful day, as Murphy's Law would have it - but they were not in the majority. We read Trumpet of the Swan and Ella Enchanted, and Terry Pratchett's Hatful of Sky. Some days we didn't do anything but read, together, apart, together, apart.  We played games, on the computer, at the kitchen table, on the floor. We listened to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Number the Stars. We read Shakespeare and stories about ancient Rome. We looked at moss under a microscope until we found a tardigrade! We traveled to Virginia, to Maine, to Wisconsin.  We hiked and swam - on school days! - and drew plants. There was dancing and costume sewing and we wrote poetry, watched movies in our 100-year-old movie house, and we talked and talked and talked about everything. Puberty. Religion. Evolution. Family. Friendship. Important stuff.

I feel really good about this last year.  We spent most of our time doing what we were drawn to do, learning as we went along - you know, like humans do - and we worked on building some traditional academic skills like math and clear writing, moving in and out of structure as felt helpful.  

As I write this I can hear Ani upstairs in her room, using her desk as a playhouse for small creatures, the books piled carefully to create rooms and corridors.  The story is elaborate and animated and it's been going on for over half an hour.  She is in her bliss.  The storytelling happens almost daily, and it is not an "extra curricular" part of her day, she is fulfilling a need to speak a story aloud, to use her amazing imagination and vocabulary to tell a story to herself.

So, here is my hardest part of homeschooling: where does this activity, so central to who she is and what she is good at, fall in the checklist of Ohio Learning Standards?  It is one of many ways that we spend our days that fall outside of the box that someone else has deemed important.  Why do I care? Well, for most of the year I don't. But we live in a state where we are required as homeschoolers to provide proof of progress, either through standardized testing or by presenting a portfolio of work to a certified teacher to approve.  We send in the results of either option and have met our legal obligation to the state.  It sounds really simple, and it is so much easier than what is required in many other states, but I can't tell you what a mind-wreck it is having that constantly in the back of my head. Instead of making a decision to skip something that is traditionally deemed a priority, let's say grade-appropriate math, in favor of approaching the learning in a different way, through play and narrative instead of drilling, I feel pressure to stay in line with where my kids would be in school.  

To even write that feels ridiculous, because as soon as I've got my head back on straight, I remember how we want to do this - follow the joy and curiosity, take it at our own speed, engage, stay connected - and the juice starts flowing again.  Grade levels are a dim concept in the background, not the driving principle.

But I'm human, and several times throughout the year I find myself doing the mental checklist, wondering how we will measure up during our hour-long evaluation, forgetting that we have opted out of that particular pipeline.  That didn't matter when we sat down with the woman who does our evaluations. Suddenly I was seeing everything through a different lens and I forgot the joy.  I started to sweat when she asked about Ani's math, and though I have written at length about math here, I think I mumbled about living math and window crayons.  When she left I had about two weeks of detox, where I had to fight to get my brain and my mojo back.  Not to be too dramatic, but it was a scary place, overwhelming and dark, and that experience of feeling vulnerable to that world view takes me out of my role as facilitator and turns me into somewhat of a tyrant, operating out of fear and judgement.  

I had a moment of this the other day. Ani has discovered Khan Academy and was totally delighted with it for about a week and a half, and I got so attached.  YES! She is happy AND look at me checking off those boxes!! This is fantastic!!! Let's do it every day! All the time! Yes!!!  At first it was because she was so tickled, but then it was because I loved being able to write that down every day: Khan Academy MATH - check!  So, there comes the day when she decides it's not how she wants to spend her morning and she disappears while I'm doing something else and I find myself hounding her off and on until lunchtime when she appears in the kitchen to tell me her favorite lines from A Midsummer Night's Dream, which she holds in her hand.  It's a graphic novel version but it uses the original text of the entire play, so I kind of look at her a little squinty and say, "Did you kind of skim it? Follow the story but mostly just look at the pictures?" and she gives me this look that says, "What kind of dummy do you think I am, of course I read it. I love this play. In fact, it's my second time through!" 

While I was having my math fit, she was reading an entire Shakespeare play. Shut. My. Mouth.

The hardest part of homeschooling for me is when I forget to listen to what is actually happening around me and decide that I have the better plan. Sometimes I do, but it's usually because I'm paying attention to the questions and observations around me, not because I'm checking on what fifth graders around the state are memorizing this week.  We are learning when we are engaged and interested, not when we are bored or hounded.  I can check their boxes and not make them mine. They're just boxes. We've got the juice.


merry said...

Now do you have to figure out how to get the juice into the boxes?just kidding! I think it's very obvious that what you are doing is working and I would bet that, put beside an 8th grader and a 5th grader taught in the school system, your girls would come out ahead in many ways. They are so curious and knowledgeable and interactive with people of all ages! And they're eager to learn - just maybe on their own time line! It's got to be hard to know you have to plan a curriculum that fits a certain criteria and that someone is going to be checking to make damn sure you do it! But you've been succeeding for how many years now? You've just got the first-day-of-school jitters!!

Alicia said...

Aw, I love this so much and really needed to hear this right now. I am surrounded by homeschooling early readers and my child at 6 is still struggling with letter recognition. So I dropped reading. We would be so far behind in a school system that expects K to know all their letter sounds plus memorize SIGHT WORDS (WHAT?!) I have a hard time with this nagging feeling we are behind even as I make the best decision to her to just be patient and wait. And listen to her make up song lyrics and poems and know more about animals at 6 than I did at 10. It was really good to read your post, it was just what I needed today.

Alicia said...

Ha, that sound say "I did at 30".

slim pickins said...

I had a "late" reader too, and the nagging feeling never went away, but I felt so grateful that she was able to come to it on her own time, and now she really enjoys reading. It is such a joy to be able to see what really turns your kid on and occupies their attention!! I'm glad this resonated with you!

Sarah said...

I love the paired imagery of dissecting the flower and holding the sprouting seed. So many metaphors for the imagination! I wonder how you see it... I see it as such: The flower is awe-inspiring. We can examine and study the physiology of a flower...cut it into pieces...look at it closely. We can try to understand the ways in which they grow but there is nevertheless something mystical about it. There are so many factors that contribute to the growth and development of plants. You've planted quite the garden Mamma D and the seeds of that garden will continue to bloom and flourish! Your girls are like plants in an urban food forest, not a manicured lawn. They are figuring out how to grow and thrive in their environment and learning what they need, what they like, and the excitement of constantly learning.

Yes, you're human! I'd be worried if you weren't fearful. Thank you for sharing what is inside your head and heart. Keep writing and reflecting on your journey. Maybe have tea with homeschooling parents, with similar teaching styles, who now have kids that are grown?

The mumbled window crayons passed, right? PROCESS! Content comes and goes and is constantly changing!

P.s. Graphic novel Shakespeare!!!!! I don't know if I would have the patience for that although I do love graphic novels. So proud of Ani and am glad that I can totally picture her face in that moment.

Camie said...

Beautiful post! I have never lived where I had to show proof that my children are learning. I know if I did, it would always worry and nag the back of my mind. You're doing a wonderful job, mama. :)