sábado, 30 de junio de 2012

How's the Homeschooling Going?

This is the number one question I get asked these days. I used to get sheepish and say, 'Great! We are still just playing and having fun all day.' The person who asked the question would give me a quizzical look, as if to say, 'Shouldn't you be teaching them something by now?' I still give that answer, but I feel no shame or need to justify myself. Sometimes people who ask are genuinely interested in knowing what I do with the kids all day. Then I take a big breath and ask myself, 'Where shall I start?'

So I guess it's time to tell you the truth: we don't homeschool. I know I said we were doing that but I changed my mind and now we're not.

Dave was nearly 3 when I first thought of homeschooling as a possibility for us. I had to decide on a school for him. I was feeling under pressure and was not ready for him to go to school. While I was on the phone to one of the schools he was yelling from another room, 'I don't want to go to school!' I was trying not to laugh. I didn't want him to go to school either, so it was decided that he would skip kindy, giving me another year of having him at home with me and baby Alex. A few days later a friend said, 'Why don't you homeschool? You'd be good at that.' I was a bit apprehensive and asked the usual questions: Do you need a teaching certificate? Is it legal? What about socialisation? That same night I spent hours on the Internet reading about it. I felt as if I had found a gold mine. This homeschooling business was totally meant for me. I liked everything about it. It suited my lifestyle and my view of life, and agreed with my ideas about education and how children learn. Dave and Alex's dad, Brad, was also excited by the idea and totally supportive.

So even Dave was still only 2, I bought some workbooks to get us started. I was surprised there were exercise books for children as young as 2, but yes, I found lots. I called them homework and told Dave we would do a little bit every day. I read the instructions and asked him to colour in a circle in yellow, draw a straight line in blue, trace number one... He complied and seemed to enjoy it, at least the first few days, although he wouldn't do some activities and I let him pick the ones he did want to do. After a week I was bored stupid and thinking, 'What have I got myself into? There's no way I can do this for the next eighteen years.' By the second week Dave himself was showing less interest in the activities. He just wanted me to read him the stories at the end of each unit. For a few months we did just that, on top of the reading we did and still do every night before falling asleep. After three months we had parked the homework aside forever. Alex never did any.

In the meantime, I kept reading and researching about homeschooling and soon came up with two other terms that better described what the boys and I were doing: unschooling and radical unschooling. The idea is not to take school home but to get rid of school altogether. If you believe that learning is something that is inherent in each individual as opposed to something that is forced upon the individual, then unschooling is easy. With unschooling you don't have to coerce the children to do something neither they or you want to do. They follow their own interests and you serve as a guide. So Dave and Alex do what they enjoy doing, as I do, and we are all learning something new every day. I love reading, so I've always read to them, both in Spanish and English (I used to read to them in Catalan as well, until sadly one day Dave asked me to translate because he didn't understand what I was reading). We read at least for one hour every day, and this is how they are learning to read. They have also always been fascinated with numbers and are constantly asking me, 'What is two plus three?' or 'What is three times four?' They are interested in animals, volcanoes, geography, dinosaurs, nutrition, music, where babies come from (yes, they already know the truth, not the stork myth), space and 'How did it all began and when will it end?' Dave is not convinced by the Big Bang theory and when I tell him it won't end, people will die, others will be born, it's the cycle of life, he says, 'but mummy, everything has an end.'

We read, we google, we question, we discuss - we are critical thinkers. We do it all for fun. They love drawing, doing mazes, painting, modelling with playdough, and inventing new games and toys. Dave wrote his name for the first time when he was 3. I was blown away, as I had not 'taught' him how to do it. He wrote it every day, signing his drawings, for several months. Then he stopped and got focused on some other activity, probably building with Lego. Then one day I asked him to sign a drawing and he said he didn't know how to anymore. He's 6 and still claims not to know how to write his own name. He doesn't even want to try it. I don't know why, but I'm not worried and I don't insist. I don't want to think of what would happen to him if he was in a regular school and refused to write his own name.

Dave and Alex also help in the kitchen, light the fire, gather wood, feed the chooks, do the shopping with me, put the dishwashing powder in the dishwasher, pull down the blinds, put their dirty clothes in the hamper... They do all these things that you might call chores for nothing (no pocket money or gold stars). They do them because they enjoy them or because we have to do them and there's no other option, like the shopping. They refuse to do some things, like hanging up the washing. It used to be fun, but it's not anymore. That's fine. I don't mind doing that myself, but then they understand that it's more of my time invested in that and less spent in some other thing together that they enjoy more. For this reason, Alex sometimes still helps me with the washing.

Dave also refuses to do some activities that other kids his age are doing and enjoying, like playing soccer or riding his bicycle without training wheels on. Again, there is no pressure from me. I don't care if he's the only six-year-old in the world with his training wheels still on. He's pretty good at other things, like rock and tree climbing. Again, I let him follow his interests, at his own pace. Alex tends to emulate his brother, so he enjoys climbing as well. But he's also shown an interest in soccer and ball games in general.

Most of the time Dave and Alex play, which is what they enjoy the most. They don't separate work from play, like most children already do. When they are adults I would like them to really love what they choose to do for a living, rather than do something they don't like but pays well. That's why I let them pursue their own interests and offer them no rewards for something they don't want to do.

I still enjoy researching and reading about other people who unschool, although I have found yet a better term to describe what we do: Autodidacts, that's what we are. My father's father had to go to war when he was 17. Even before that, he didn't have much schooling. He was an avid reader, though, and taught himself pretty much everything he knew. When I was little, my mum used to tell me that my grandfather had been an autodidact and he was the most knowledgeable person she had ever met. I would listen in awe and wished I could also be an autodidact and not have to go to school. I am happy that I can now give my children this option.

Dave and Alex are also happy about not having to go to school, even though all their friends do. A few days ago I heard Dave tell another boy that he doesn't want to go to school because you have to be quiet and are told what to do all day long. 'How do you learn, then?' asked his friend. 'I learn by myself,' said Dave.

We just got back home from three weeks cruising around in a campervan. In Kalbarri the boys learned to fish with Brad, and they loved it!