After finishing a meeting in the community, the woman who sat next to me, after hearing in my introduction that I homeschool my children, eagerly asked if she could have a conversation with me about homeschooling. She has an only daughter and has consistently been interested in homeschooling her, but has some worries as well as wondering how homeschooling works. Having discussions regarding a person’s passing interest and curiosity about homeschooling happens frequently and is fairly easy for me to fulfill that person’s intent for information. But, when a person is sincerely interested in potentially homeschooling, and is looking for deeper enlightenment on the topic, and specific how-to’s, it often leaves me floundering.
The lifestyle of homeschooling, or in our case, unschooling, is similar to any lifestyle choice, such as how we live our religion or spiritual beliefs . . . it is not a set product that can easily be explained, as I feel most people are hoping for when asking, “How do you homeschool” or “What does a typical day look like?” Instead, because unschooling is a lifestyle, it is incorporated into who we are, how we relate to each other and the world, and represents a process that will, therefore, naturally “look” different day to day or moment to moment or week to week. I have had to figure out what learning and facilitation and collaboration and mentorship means to me in my life in relation to those of my children. I have had to figure out what learning styles, timeframes, stages, interests, focuses, and gifts were emanating from each individual child and how my role in their life as previously listed supports their learning and life paths. How do you summarize that to someone? How do you even begin to help them understand why you can’t share a “day in the life” when the perspective they have coming from school is that you can outline a learning day that starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 3:00 p.m.? How do you help them understand individual learning stages and gifts instead of a packaged scope and sequence?
Throughout the hour-long discussion that ensued, various threads emerged. Here are some, as I remember them, that had an impact on the seeker:
One of the first questions she had was if homeschooling was legal. She had no idea that it was so and she was interested to know when it occurred. That was actually surprising to me. I helped her understand that homeschooling was part of our history before public schooling, and so homeschooling was always “legal”. With the advent of public education and as it became prolific in our culture, each state specifically created laws in order to maintain that right to exist. I first recalled to her an earlier era when most children didn’t start formal education until about 10 years old. At that point, a tutor was employed and they studied for several years before deciding on university. Of course, that was the wealthy. However, I shared with her my belief and understanding that an “education” would be able to be accomplished in about 2-3 years of intensive study, but that our 13+ year program that we have instituted today is a result of our current cultural needs and expectations. The woman asked if I felt it was mainly a babysitter, and I reinstated that I feel it exists to the level it does to support our current culture, not saying it is good or bad. I reminded her that the beginning one-room schoolhouses established its rhythms based on the then current culture as well, with the children being a needed commodity during farming season, so that the schools conducted business during non-farming seasons. Not good or bad, simply the way it is.
However, in lieu of this, I reminded her that in times gone by, the years of being a child, and treated as such, were much shorter, and that young people took on adult responsibilities and value around 8-10 years of age. However, today that is not true and childhood extends to at least 18 years of age; so, in our culture of dual-income families and global movement, there had to be a place for them. All of this said, school is not where our children need to be but where our society and culturechooses to place them. As parents responsible for the upbringing of our children, we can choose a different path to learning. At this point in the conversation is where I tried to help her understand that I could not share a “day in the life” because each stage of learning my children entered was different at various ages and for each individual child. I did try to help her understand my belief that there are stages of learning. For instance, since her daughter is 5, I helped her know that from ages 2-4, she was figuring out her daughter’s temperament, as her daughter was also by experimenting with how she emotionally interacted with the people in her life, and how they reacted to her. From ages 5-7, she will be revealing to her caregivers how she learns, and she will be reaching out in her play how she likes to learn and what interests her. I explained to her that even though she was looking for some “product” of what I did with a 5 year old, I couldn’t provide that with the homeschooling lifestyle we live, even when more formal academics naturally started around 10-11 years old. Various stages bring its own learning to each child with its own way of bringing that learning to fruition. As I pointed out previously, I shared with her that I did my own figuring out through experience about how children and people learn; for instance, by relating to her my snake story found here.
The conversation then moved to the socialization question. Thanks to some great articles here at LWOS about this very topic, especially the one from Marsha, I was able to gently shift her question from socialization to socializing. I let her know that homeschooling makes it much easier to be involved with the socialization aspect of being a contributing member of shaping one’s society because the children are interacting with their communities as part of the lifestyle of homeschooling. She quickly concurred with that realization as we then discussed socializing. Being that her child was an only and one that was considered “shy”, that was where I went with my focus. First, I let her know that every choice we make, whether that’s homeschooling or public school, country or city living, only child or large family, there will be hard things about it and great things about it. I shared my belief that we live in an imperfect world as imperfect people and that struggles will occur, and it doesn’t have to be about our choices per se but that something will be hard regardless. I then went on to relate that I had questioned various persons who had been “shy” as school-aged people, and each person emphatically shared that being in that setting did not make them “not shy”, but if anything, it exacerbated the issue.
The discussion shifted and I shared my experience with my children about how they learned various social skills that crop up in living life. I let her know that difficult things still surfaced in their homeschooled lives, but because they had adult mentors in their lives to turn to for information and skills, the children learned what they needed to in order to feel like confident and competent social individuals. I asked her to think about the adults in school, and although they could provide this service as well, most often the teachers separate themselves from their students in order to maintain the authority that is necessary to retain order. Only a few teachers allow themselves emotional contact and mentoring with some students. I also related how well the homeschooling environment can create more successful encounters because of the support we can provide and that my children each naturally were able to move from that support-based model to independence. In school, it is a sink-or-swim mentality at best and a dog-eat-dog mentality at worse. It is often failure-based. I shared with this woman that I met each of my children where they were socially and based on temperament. We both talked passionately about giving value to the type of people our children are without labels such as “shy”, which often connotes negative ideas instead of highlighting it represents a sensitive nature or an intuitive style which should be seen as positive and can be in a homeschool atmosphere of giving value to individuality.
The overall attitude throughout our discussion was one of bringing to light conditioned ideas and thinking that most of us bring with us as products of institutionalized shaping and to hold it up to light to see if it shines. This was in no way a bashing of schools or our society, but simply an opportunity requested to think of an alternative way of considering educating one’s child. In these conversations, a comparison naturally occurs as we allow our natural eyes to focus on various ideas about how we learn, how we interact with each other and in our world, and the path of living and learning that feels most authentic. This conversation only touched on some areas of forming new ideas and validating hidden feelings of doubt about following the mainstream. I shared with her my opinion that the best resources about pursuing this path were other parents doing it. Most of what I shared with this lady came from others or from figuring it out myself. I am grateful for those parents whose coattails I hung onto in the arena of homeschooling and unschooling, and I offer mine to anyone who needs one.