Life. What is it supposed to look like? All the many facets of experiences create a different life for each person. Like stained glass, each experience is soldered together to create a unique picture of life, some magnificently beautiful, others dark and tragic and still others mediocre and common. Jesus, in John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In my mind, an abundant life would be a stained glass that not only was a joy to piece together, but also ends with a picture so brilliant and steeped in the colors of God’s love and mercy that people look and say “I want my picture to look like that!"
When we first started homeschooling, there were lots of reasons why we wanted to not sign onto the experience of public schools. We had encountered and seen the direction that schools were heading and didn’t want our children rendered in that manner. No matter the reason’s behind our decision, I knew that I wanted our children’s childhood to be abundant in joy, learning, love and hope. I wanted them to find the thrill of learning. I wanted them to be inspired to go beyond a picture of mediocre and common to the magnificently beautiful. I’m not talking about raising the next Einstein or Doogie Howser. I’m talking about discovering the pieces of life that God has for them that creates the life abundant in joy, love, peace and mercy, whether that’s as a mechanic or a ground-breaking marine biologist.
Once Tucker was old enough to start Kindergarten, I was incredibly excited to start this homeschooling thing. I couldn’t wait to emulate all those wonderful homeschoolers that seemed to have everything together. I choose a curriculum that was based on picture books that incorporated all the subjects one was supposed to include. About halfway through the first semester, my image of homeschooling quickly disintegrated. I stressed about all the points he was supposed to be learning, but wasn’t. I stressed about how he wasn’t getting this reading thing down. I mean, come on, it’s so easy. I love reading, so he shouldn’t have such a hard time picking it up. I’d get frustrated when he would lose all interest and focus after one or two activities. All he wanted to do was play, and I couldn’t blame him! All I wanted to do was play, too.
Deciding it must be the curriculum, for 1st grade I chose a different curriculum, started the year with enthusiasm and petered out about November. Then I’d start the process of finding a new curriculum for the next year while struggling to complete all the necessary work in the current year. And the cycle continued each year. It was such a let down. I must be horrible at this if I can’t get my kid to get with the program and enjoy this learning business. Seriously, everything we tried, while based on the traditional school system, was so much more interesting and fun than I ever had in school. Why couldn't my kids see that?
I can’t remember if it was the end of first grade or the beginning of second that I stumbled across a video on the Sudbury Valley School and this movement within homeschooling that was different from anything I’d ever heard. Yet as I watched and read, I was intrigued and drawn to a lifestyle of learning that seemed so natural and compelling. But this couldn’t work in real life. Even if it worked, I was not strong enough to take the criticism that would surely come from this approach to learning. We live in a very homeschool-oriented area, so surely we can figure out something that makes both the kids and me happy. So we continued the cycle.
This year started the same as always, a new curriculum I was hopeful for, Tucker in 4th grade, Titus in 1st and me geared up to make school as interesting as possible. It started out all well and good, but burn out started even earlier than normal. Tucker was fighting every other minute, crying, whining and getting frustrated. Titus, the kid who is so easy going, was starting to have the same revulsion that Tucker had acquired for learning. Our days were full of yelling, threats, crying, opposition, then avoidance. We’d struggle through the schoolwork with me vacillating between fake enthusiasm or threaten coercion, then practically avoiding each other because we were all so unhappy with each other, we didn’t want to be with each other. My frustration would spill into the rest of the day, making life tense. It was exhausting. It was hopeless. It was heartbreaking. This is not how I wanted my children’s childhood to be. This is not how I wanted our family relationships and dynamics to be. But what were my options? I’d already tried so many curriculums and schooling philosophies that I couldn’t see anything as the answer anymore.
On November 24th I read an article that made the lightbulb go on. It was an article on the deficiency of play children are suffering today and lo and behold, Sudbury Valley was mentioned in it again. I decided that I would give this whole autonomous/unschooling thing a closer look. I searched and read article after article and surfed blog after blog and prayed and scoured the Bible trying to reconcile the basis of the philosophy with my own beliefs. Could my kids learn the things they will need for the path they will eventually choose? Could they find the joy in learning I so desired for them? My research showed a resounding yes. But would I be able to suffer the image and criticism? For the sake of my children and our family, a resounding yes.
So I sat Stretch down, showed him research I’d done, talked to him about what I was thinking, then talked some more…and more, and decided that we would do an experiment. For the next six months, we are going to allow the children the freedom to choose what they want to do. We are not going to follow any curriculum, any schedule, any list of musts. We are just going to let the kids explore and discover and play on their own terms. Does this mean we will be letting them become spoiled, horrible brats? No, we are hoping they will start to become the people that God made them to be, not the cookie cutter version that society thinks we should be. Will it ruin their entire lives if we take six months off to repair our family and find a learning lifestyle that fits them? I seriously doubt it. Even if at the end of this experiment we feel we should go back to traditional schooling, it is not going to put them so far behind they won’t catch up.
Yet, if this experiment works, we will be moving towards a layering of facets that could lead to that magnificent masterpiece of life. We’d be moving away from the cycle of frustration and disappointment, away from the mediocre and common. We’d be moving away from a learning style that had been stealing, killing and destroying the joy and peace of our family. If the only thing this experiment does is strengthen our family in love, joy, trust and peace and moves us toward an abundant life, I’d throw all worksheets and quizzes away forever, unless a child wants to do one, of course.
To make sure this experiment is well informed, I’ve decided to just jot down the things I observe them learning. I need to know, at the end of these six months if they are truly learning in order to move from a theory to fact, at least for our family. My observations so far have me very hopeful. So for anyone who is interested, here are a few of the things we’ve learned the last three weeks without school.
Math: Sadie said she needed one more olive after I only gave her four. Why? Because she has five fingers and four plus one is five, of course. Tucker and Titus wanted their sandwiches cut into isosceles triangles, rather than rectangles, which they learned while playing DragonBox. The boys bought drinks at the coffee shop with their own money. Sadie counted my felt flowers up to 20. Tucker, Titus and Sadie wanted to buy a toy at the store today, but after counting and recounting, looking and searching, they couldn’t find anything they could get for $1.09. Guess they learned that a buck won’t get you much anymore. I told them that it was better this way, because every penny they save instead of spend on a junk toy is a penny closer to getting their dirt bike in the spring. We looked up how far it is from Babylon to Bethlehem, converted the number from kilometers to miles then calculated how long it would take you to walk it if you walked continually, 12 hours a day and 8 hours a day. Titus counted to 99 as he did his karate kicks. Sadie measured ingredients and counted. She helped me convert measurements from cups to ounces, then pretended she was doing the same later. While she was tearing foil, she suddenly got excited because she tore a triangle. “Look, Mama! It’s an iso…iso…what kind of triangle?” “Is it an isosceles triangle?” “Yep, it’s an isosceles triangle.” She played DragonBox 5+ and was doing algebraic equations, which I didn’t even realize she knew how to play that game. “Look, Mama! I can do it!” “Wow! That’s incredible!” She sang several skip counting songs with the computer and knew all the words! The boys raced to the skip counting songs. They each started dot-to-dot pages in the book for adults that I got at Barnes. “Mama,” Tucker said, “this book says it’s for adults!!” “Yep, but you guys don’t seem to be having a problem doing it.” “Cool! I can’t wait to see what it is!” We talked about tearing the paper towels into fourths and thirds. After building his sandwich, Titus wanted me to cut it into an isosceles triangle. Tucker explained to Sadie how she needs to calculate her next level of algebra in DragonBox. Measurements in the lengths of jumps and heights of balls for Native Youth Olympics. Greater and lesser in the comparisons of the lengths. Economics when I gave them money for the concessions and they had to spend it wisely.
Language Arts: Read books from the library. Sadie ‘read' Baby’s First 100 Words. The boys read lots of great books. We wrote letters and cards to send out.
Social Studies/History: Learned about the judicial system after I was called for emergency jury duty that I declined. We then spent a little time later today talking about where scholars believe the wise men came from and how Babylon (which no longer exists) was located around 60 miles from Baghdad, Iraq. We discussed climate and terrain, what it would be like to travel across the desert and Tucker asked about if there were ruins of Babylon. We discussed building possibilities for teeny homes in the woods. How are we going to put a roof on? What kind of heating source will they have? How many windows should there be? We learned about the native culture through the meaning and purpose behind the Native Youth Olympics.
Science: Watched videos about hermit crabs and other crabby sea life. Kids watched the specials on the Epic movie, which we surprisingly haven’t ever watched, and learned about how animals and bugs camouflage in their environment. We chatted about the energy force that Dr. Octopus created in Spiderman 2 and how it’s similar to our sun. We talked about gravity and magnetism and how creating a sustainable energy source would benefit the world. We also discussed how one might be able to use robotic prosthetics that communicate with your body by being connected to your nervous system. Very enjoyable talks. The boys during co-op were studying snowflakes through the loupe and recording a representation of them on their paper. Titus enjoyed it so much he stayed outside longer than anyone else. It was so ‘cool’ having all of us squinting over the paper, looking at how amazing God’s design is. Great mammal videos in the 90-minute drive to Northway and back both days. Amazingly insightful discussion on evolution theory versus creation, what and why scientists don’t believe in the truth and how we can trust that God’s truth and timeline is true and the millions year old myth isn’t. How we need Christian scientists to show through scientific exploration the magnificence of God through HIs creation. The boys learned physics through the different NYO events and the angles, force and balance needed to perform them. Observed the Northern Lights on the way home the first day.
Art: Made masks out of scrap paper. Created fairy houses. Made cut-out cards.
PE: They ran crazy back and forth while singing their skip counting songs (which I guess would go under math). They attempted to do karate after watching Karate Kid. The boys hauled wood, pretending they were in a battle and needed to gather wood to help defeat the enemy.
Home Ec: Sadie helped me make Jello Jigglers and wash the dishes. She becoming such a good helper in the kitchen and it’s truly a blessing seeing her gain more and more new skills.
This list isn’t exhaustive, just a smattering. So, I’m hopeful, for the first time in a long while.
Links I’ve found insightful:
https://aeon.co/essays/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play - article that shifted everything
http://www.sudval.org - Sudbury Valley’s website
http://www.storiesofanunschoolingfamily.com - The lovely Sue Elvis’ website on unschooling. Great information by a wonderful woman I’d go all the way to Australia just to visit.
http://www.christian-unschooling.com - One of my favorite websites. Cathy puts into words my feelings on so many subjects much more eloquently than I ever could.
Until next time, God bless!
|Just in case you think I'm crazy...here's a sweet picture to soften you up!|