I’m taking a no-holds-barred approach to homeschooling these days. I feel that it is imperative that we succeed, that we stretch ourselves to our limits, and then reach beyond even that. Of course, it should be noted that, as with life, I measure our success by the amount of joy we feel.
This measurement of success is so unlike anything I experienced in school that it feels almost reckless at times. In all my years of schooling, no one ever asked me after a test or completed project how happy I felt about it because of course I didn’t, with a few exceptions. Happiness just didn’t enter into the equation of education. But I can’t imagine what could be more important to a human being of any age than happiness. I consider joy to be the primary indicator of whether or not I am doing a good job as learning facilitator.
I suppose that most of us, myself included, have made the assumption that education can’t be an inherently joyful process, but I am here today, doing what I do, to challenge that assumption. I remember clearly that the few exceptions of joyfulness that I experienced in school all revolved around things I loved to do. There was the literary magazine, the cartoons for the newspaper, the story-writing, and endless stacks of horse-drawings, their anatomy refining bit by bit. So I have to pay careful attention to what really engages my children, Here’s what it looks like, so far:
Sleeping late; Reading poetry, prayers, or meditations; Talking about the night’s dreams; Reading Harry Potter in bed, sometimes for hours, while they finger-knit or snuggle; Jumping on the trampoline (while practicing multiplication facts); Playing piano; Crafting in our craft lounge; Reading beautiful books together; Watching Dragonball Z, then writing about it in the Dragonball Z Journal; Having interesting discussions about ethics, sustainability, and politics; Drawing; Trips to the skatepark; Playing Super Mario Brothers Wii, Quarto, Qwirkle, Made for Trade, or another of our many fascinating games; Looking at photographs on the web or in books; Sewing projects; Hanging out laundry together; Watching movies together; Snuggling in the evening
We also practice math daily, five problems a day in their notebooks. I myself am practicing the method used in Japanese schools, where the word problem is presented first, as a group project, with manipulatives. After spending good money on assorted math books I’ve observed that we can make more headway with this minimalist hands-on approach. I also have a little guideline: math, reading, and two other things, every day. Those two other things usually take care of themselves. Often we look at news photographs, talk about our favorites, and point out where they are on the globe. Today we looked at the book “Love Thyself: the Message from Water III” by Masaru Emoto, and talked about how our emotions can have a powerful but invisible impact on the world. A few days ago we watched Joel Burns’ message to gay youth, wherein I burst into tears when I explained to McKinley that one of the boys that committed suicide was just three years older than him. Last night we pulled out the sewing machine.
Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, it’s imperative that we stretch beyond our limits. More joy! More joy! Here’s what I think more joy might look like:
Walks to the river; Stargazing; Dream journals; Game nights with friends; Getting friendly with the sewing machine; Going on bicycling outings; Getting that microscope working!; Setting up the pottery studio; Making Christmas presents, Cooking snacks, cookies, and breads together; Traveling; Enjoying podcasts and new music together; Girl outings to the Tea Shop
And of course, just when I think I’ve got it all planned out, my kids remind me that they are the first and foremost authorities on what makes them joyful. Yesterday they spent a good part of the afternoon working on their treehouse up in the woods. I can’t imagine anything better than that.