|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
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."