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.