lunes, 30 de diciembre de 2013

No need for solomonic decisions

Whenever I bump into someone I haven't seen for a long time, one of the questions I get asked is whether I am still homeschooling. Other questions are: Are you good at it? Do you enjoy it? Don't the children want to go to school? What are they learning now?

For clarity's sake, I've stopped saying we don't really homeschool, but rather unschool. I only go into some depth if the other person has time for a long chat, which is not usually the case because she has to rush and pick the kids up from school or some other thing.

Do I enjoy it? Yes, in fact, I love it. I enjoy being in Dave and Alex's company. To this day, having children is the best thing that it has ever happened to me. That doesn't mean we don't interact with other people; they do mainly with other children after school hours. During the day there are lots of times when they do their own thing and I do mine. They basically play all the time; that's how they learn. And we read a lot because the three of us love it; it's not a chore, it's a pleasure. They are learning all the time. (I know I will have to keep saying this.)

Dave will be 8 next year, and of course, some people think it might be time to get a bit more serious with his schooling. A friend asked me whether my kids are ahead academically of other kids their age. I don't know the answer to that because I don't consider it that important. They know a lot of stuff because they're interested. They are fluent in two of the most widely spoken languages in the world, have been to a handful of countries, and can distinguish Korean from Japanese writing, although they still don't read alone, or write. They know the names of the planets and the fact that the sun is a star, and they ask themselves questions like: if all stars are suns, does that mean there are lots of earths revolving around the stars? They know how babies are made and that humans are linked to apes by descend. They live in a rich country but they have seen the effects of war and disease in countries where amputated beggars are a common sight on the streets. They're pretty knowledgeable about animals too, because they love them. They experiment with nature (Dave recently learned how to make fire like a caveman). And many other things. But honestly, I don't keep a journal, test them or anything like that. I don't check what kids their age are doing at school in order to keep up with them because I'm not interested in competing with anybody. I just hope my kids remain enthusiastic learners forever, without comparing themselves to others.

One day, after they had been at a friend's house for a couple of hours, Dave said to me, 'Kai's mum asked if we want to go to school. You won't believe this: She thought we do and you won't let us.' Seriously? I was so surprised, I laughed. My kids have been asking their friends for years now what school is like and all of them say it's boring and they don't like it. Most say the only thing they like about it is recess, when they get to play with their friends. I've told Dave and Alex they're free to go to school if that's what they want. They don't. Dave said so to Kai's mum and Kai said, 'I don't want to go either.' She said, 'Well, you have to. There's no other option for you.' Dave asked her why. She said, 'Because you must go to school to learn.' Dave said, 'We don't go to school and we're still learning.' She said, 'But if you go to school you learn faster.'

Do you really? Maybe... You learn fast to get ready for the rat race. But I don't want that for my kids. I hope they're happy and have inner peace now and always, and that means being passionate about what they do all the time. Kids who go to school in order to get an education, to make money, to buy things are being deprived of living in the present moment. And there are lots of kids who are not happy at school. Two mums recently told me they were considering homeschooling because their son was so depressed about school. Another one told me her son, in year one, is already saying he hates school. She told him to be quiet about it and suck it up because it's going to get worse.

I think emotional education is a lot more important than academics. The latter is so easy to learn (and forget) and you can do it at any time. But communicating, expressing your true feelings and emotions (both positive and negative) and being empathic are social skills Dave and Alex are very good at. I realise how other kids may not be so good when an adult asks me something like: Won't they fight if they don't have the same?

No, they don't usually fight to have the same thing, although this, which was never a problem, is becoming one due to other adults' influence. They are different. They don't ask for the same things. If Dave wants me to buy him a toy, I can do so. That doesn't mean I have to buy Alex one too. When they were littler, Dave would never say, 'If Alex has this, then I must have it too,' but now he does! I always ask him why, if he didn't want it in the first place. We have one tablet, one phone, one computer, and one ebook reader to share between the three of us. Before I bought the tablet they asked me to get them one each, so they wouldn't fight. Again, I knew they were repeating what they had heard some other adult say. I asked them why would they fight for the tablet, when up until then they had been able to share everything, take turns and negotiate without me having to intervene. Of course, I've seen many adults act as judges when two kids fight over the same thing. The simplest and quickest solution is to take the toy away, so neither one of the kids can play with it. The outcome is two unhappy children. To witness this breaks my heart every time. But when the victims of this solomonic solution are my own kids, something in me dies: years of hard work gone out the window.

I taught them to negotiate at a very early age, as young as two or three. I had read in a book it was possible for kids this age to learn this skill, and I was totally blown away when I found out it was true. At first it was me who suggested solutions, like 'How about you have it for five minutes and then he has it for another five? Or how about you have this instead, or you have it today and he has it tomorrow?' Sometimes it took a long time to reach an agreement, but it was always worth it, because in the end, I had two happy children. Soon it was Dave who started coming up with solutions. Now they hardly ever ask me to step in and help them solve their own problems.

So, yes, I love 'homeschooling.' It is becoming more challenging, but not because the kids need to know more stuff (that's easy, and we are regular library goers and Google searchers) but because of the mainstream external pressure. I knew it would happen and I'm ready for it, but for the record: my children are truly free individuals. That means they have the right to choose.