Monday, January 23, 2012

Surprise confidence

Anderson, age 5

I've been reflecting on how different I feel compared to last fall, when we were just pushing the ball down the hill of uncertainty. Back then, I'd stay up half the night wondering if we were doing the right thing, worried we were starting down an irreversible path that would lead to failure and heartache. Deciding to keep the kids at home for school was a scary choice, and even though we never quite made it to seriously considering choosing a traditional or private school instead, it's been headache-inducing, nonetheless.

But here we are, a few months in and hitting our stride, I think. It's more than the academic progress, although that helps. I've been doing some assessment lately, mostly out of curiosity. I know where Anderson is, for the most part, with various skills, but I was curious where he measured up lately. While I'm not overly concerned about "grade level," it is a goal for me to make sure he's in the ballpark, just in case. If something unforeseen happened and they wound up in a traditional school setting, the last thing I want them to have to worry about is being way behind. Anyway, he's doing great across the board, working at 1st and 2nd grade level in Math and Science, and reading at approximately 3rd grade level. I'm sure those are not precise measurements, but based on things like the San Diego Quick Assessment for reading. His writing is improving weekly, and most importantly, he's really starting to apply critical thinking more and more.

The best part is that the "organic" part that I was so attracted to when making this decision, is working. I love, love, love that he takes a seed of interest and then nurtures it to an entire garden of knowledge. I can barely keep up with trying to help him find the tools he needs to explore all kinds of topics, and the coolest part is that without a lot of input from me, the seeming chaos always, always culminates in something ordered and valuable. His brain is working the way it's meant to work, and it might not seem clear to me what is going on there at first, but ultimately, it's always clear. After witnessing his process, as it were, for several months now, I can say confidently that he'd have a hard time switching gears all day long in a regular classroom. He is the kind of learner who wants needs to have the freedom to go in a direction for as long as he is able. He sometimes will study the same science concept for 3 days in a row, and not just in the time we set aside for work. He gets completely engrossed, and I don't dare try to switch it up and explain that now it's time to practice spelling or do a set of multiplication tables. Why would I? We'll get to that.

I don't fully embrace the "unschooling" mindset, at least not from the Radical standpoint, but I absolutely support the idea of organic learning. It is hard to deny that a child is fully capable of piloting his own plane when it comes to the method, especially, and harder to insist that we are all served well by the same teaching environment. It's like me and math. I floundered through so much of it in high school, feeling like a complete failure and behind everybody else, an unfamiliar experience for me and one that made me extremely stressed out. I came to loathe math. Years later, I was studying for the Michigan Basic Skills test while working on a master's in teaching, and lo and behold, math really wasn't that bad at all. Given the freedom to approach it in a way that made sense to ME, I actually found it enjoyable. Ironically, I figured that out while working on becoming a traditional teacher. It wasn't long after this experience that I dropped out of the program.

As always, I'm not bashing schools or teachers, especially. I earnestly believe there is more good than bad happening in the public school system, and the connections teachers make with students is often inspirational and life-changing. I'm looking at the whole concept with a wary eye. Maybe I've just read too much Holt, but I'm less and less convinced that what we've always done in terms of education is the right thing for right now.

These days I'm not as timid when I get questioned about what it is we're doing with these kids. I have more confidence and the whole thing isn't quite as mysterious or scary. My stomach doesn't drop to the floor every time we hit a stumbling block. I can breathe through it, respect the power of a little break, and most importantly, I have confidence in Anderson (and David, too), to be the final judge of what he needs and how he needs it.

We simply keep moving forward, and isn't that what life is all about?

"The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him, He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense ... School is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning."

~John Holt~ 


Leanna said...

"He gets completely engrossed, and I don't dare try to switch it up and explain that now it's time to practice spelling or do a set of multiplication tables. Why would I? We'll get to that."

Well said! Glad to see you've found your homeschooling groove.

Sandra J said...

First, Anderson's tree is beautiful. Second, I envy the gift you're giving your children. I don't think there is any one "right" way to educate a child, but this organic approach makes so much more sense to me than traditional classroom learning.

Melinda said...

The good or bad news is I spend lots of time thinking and over-thinking and changing my mind on the educational choices I have made for my children.

I have come to the conclusion that there are no permanent "right answers" regarding education- it's what works right now followed by reassessment and reevaluation for what hopefully will work next year.

Anderson is an amazing little sponge and you are doing a great job giving him knowledge to soak up!

Sarah Hunt said...

I think we have common ground when it comes to ideas about learning, but if there's one thing I've really discovered while navigating through various false starts with this stuff, is that there are so many ways to encourage organic learning. There are so many parents who basically are homeschooling, right alongside traditional schooling, to meet their children's interests, to provide enrichment or even just making sure they get the most out of their time together. In the last case, I've been so inspired by working parents who make a real commitment to making sure the time spent with their kids is mindful and engaging. That's what it's all about no matter what the day-to-day looks like. Your little ones will thrive when it comes to "schooling". I'm sure of that. I truly and honestly don't think for a second that they will be deprived of any gifts when it comes to learning.

Sarah Hunt said...

Amen, sister. There are so many valid approaches here. The pros and cons list for any choice when it comes to education are endless and at some point you just have to jump. I used to get so tense and worried when I'd read the latest comments thread on some half-baked article about homeschooling, to read nasty comments rooted in a complete misunderstanding of what we're doing here. At first it made me defensive and defiant and anti-school, but now I realize the problem isn't really about the specifics of what we're each doing for our children. The problem is rooted in the fear that whatever we're doing isn't the right thing. It's so easy to feel threatened, I think.

You hit the nail right on the head here. It's not a black and white or wrong and right choice, and more importantly, it's a constantly moving target. I'm not sure why that is so surprising when those dang kids change so much by the day, but it is so wise to acknowledge that we have to be flexible and willing to evolve when it comes to these decisions. I think in a way, homeschooling finally made sense because it took a lot of the fear of change out of the equation. To a point, at least, we can bend and flex as needed, and to me, that's a lot of angst saved. I wouldn't do well if I felt I needed to address the need for change within the school system. Graham & Lily are extremely lucky to have such a vocal and willing advocate.

And thank you. I appreciate the words of encouragement. :) Sometimes it's a little lonely on the island of misfits!

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