It’s the dog days of August. School has started back. What this means is that Rae (18) and Bert (nearly 17) are off to school every morning before I get up. What’s new is that Renee and McKinley are not off to school every morning, because we are homeschooling.
I’ve done this before, with Alex and Rae and Bert, for four years. Looking back it was insane and our saving grace at the same time. Insane, because having three kids home for schooling and two babies (while also helping run your husband’s business) is enough to make anyone crazy. Saving grace because I came so late into the lives of my older three kids (the oldest was 9, the youngest was 6), and we definitely needed time to bond. That wasn’t my motivating reason when I decided to do it. The deplorable schools they were attending made me do it. But there was also this gut feeling that it was just something I needed to do. And I can see now how it really did help us bond in a very deep and meaningful way, and we all needed that.
Now, of course, it’s a little different. I’d been thinking about homeschooling all summer, when I noticed how McKinley seemed to blossom back into happiness once school ended. He’d been eating his shirts daily at school. I’d buy him new shirts and they’d come back perforated around the neck. Plus he was saying he wanted to homeschool again, “As long as you don’t push me so hard, Mom”, he said. We had tried it, just he and I, at the beginning of the last school year, but it unraveled in mutual frustration. Plus there was the fact that he would have the same perforating-inducing teacher this year, as she was moving up with the class. And though I didn’t know what teacher Renee would have in her class, I know she’s been bored. Both my kids are wonderfully creative, and though our little mountain school is brimming with lots of loving teachers–and great student-teacher ratios–like most public schools they just don’t have any real creative programs for the kids. It’s music half the year, art the other. That’s it. The only really creative teacher there was Renee’s teacher last year.
So, we’ve decided to homeschool. Actually, we’ve decided to mostly unschool. The idea there is to let the interests of the children be the north star of their learning, rather than dictating to them what it is they need to learn. There’s a lot of experiential learning, too. But what I want to do most is to really just enjoy life with my kids. Because kids are great at reminding adults that life is supposed to be joyful. Let’s throw age out the window here. We all have things to learn from each other. We are all eternal beings. I teach you to respect your elders, you teach me to appreciate the moment.
Last Tuesday we went to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, the last (?) stand of virgin timber in the East. This led to a conversation about the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears, a subject which has held their interest since then. So last night we read a little about the Trail of Tears on Wikipedia, and then I ordered a collection of books for our reading, some about the Cherokee’s way of life, some about Cherokee history, and some about the Trail of Tears. I also found some books at our library–a Cherokee cookbook, a book of Cherokee arts and crafts, etc.–AND I found a podcast that teaches some basic Cherokee language.
What I find interesting thus far is how large a role conversation has played in our unschooling. On the way to Joyce Kilmer, for instance, we had a long conversation about the atomic bomb–the damage that it did, how it was dropped, why it was dropped. It seems such a natural way to learn–you have a question, you explore the answers.
The other new thing is we bought a Wii off craigslist, something I said I’d never do. But I started to reconsider when earlier this summer Bert borrowed a friend’s PS2 for two weeks. For the first few days he and McKinley played on it constantly. I got a bit irritated with this imbalance and instituted a reading rule. Read to play, basically. And it worked! I’d come down stairs and there they would be, noses in books. So far I’ve been massively pleased with the Wii. The package we got included the balance board and Wii fit, and I’ve had a lot of fun utilizing it for exercise every morning. And it’s so much more interactive than the PS2–there are boxing matches at our house every night now, as opposed to shouting matches. A change for the better, I’d say!