There are a lot of options for education, and I have been fortunate enough to experience most of them. After attending kinder in Mexico, I had two years of public school in the US, and was then homeschooled through high school. I went on to study at public and private universities and became a teacher myself. I taught K-12 for five years in private schools and have been teaching at our community college for well over a decade. Honestly, I can see good things in any educational choice from an involved parent. But when it came time to choose for our own kids, the decision to homeschool was an easy one, thanks to my own experiences.
When my parents first started to homeschool me in the third grade, all we knew to do was a traditional school-at-home program. We ordered materials, I sat a table and did the work with my mom helping and explaining things. Unfortunately, we had chosen a boring curriculum. It was an endless series of little chapter-sized booklets, cheaply printed in black and white. I hated them.
We experimented with other curricula, some that were essentially correspondence courses and some that were entirely independent. And, I confess, our diligence declined as we went on. By sixth and seventh grade, I was mostly teaching myself, and taking advantage of the freedom I had to skip over anything that was particularly uninteresting. (I found all essay questions uninteresting.) Sound like a recipe for disaster? It wasn’t. I was learning far more in the time I spent doing what I really wanted to do—reading, hanging out with my little sister who was also my dearest friend, traveling all over whenever I could, and spending time with people I loved.
My mom was terrified. She was sure that I wasn’t disciplined enough, that I wasn’t going to be able to adapt well to college and deadlines and required assignments. She was missing a key piece of information, though. Focusing on learning the things I wanted to learn the way that I wanted to learn them was in many ways the best preparation I could have had. I had figured out my own learning style, and my motivation was not only intact, but thriving. I got a 30 on my first attempt at the ACT, and graduated summa cum laude. In over 160 hours of undergraduate and grad courses, my lowest grade was a single B, earned the semester that I was teaching seven college courses, taking five (one of which was my senior paper, winner of the outstanding senior paper award for the Modern Language Department that year), and planning our wedding!
In the decade and a half that I have been teaching since then, I have had the privilege of instructing wonderfully talented and dedicated students of all ages. Yet, sadly, I have also seen many of them burdened under relentless, externally-imposed pressures to learn material that they had no desire to learn. For others, it was the way they were expected to learn, with homework assignments that didn’t help or teacher-led approaches that necessarily catered to the majority. They were boxed in by a system that was too rigid to adjust to each individual, and in that confinement they gradually lost motivation. The year I graduated, my dean reminded me of the expression about leading a horse to water. Eyes fixed on mine, he charged me as a teacher, saying that my job was to make them thirsty. But what if their inborn thirst to learn had never been dulled in the first place?
I look at my four children and see the sparkle in their eyes as they are surprised by something new, the satisfaction when something they suspect proves correct, the constant sponge-like absorption of all kinds of information every day and in every way. For us, the beauty of learning at home is that we have the freedom to focus on wherever that natural thirst takes us. This last week, my second grader skipped an entire chapter in her math book because she already knew the material. If she had been forced to spend several weeks on busywork (not to mention mounds of homework!), the frustration and boredom would have been excruciating for her. Would she have done it? Probably. And she likely would have rushed through it as fast as she could, making sloppy errors and still resenting it. She might have learned to let her mind wander, to grudgingly feign attention and effort. Instead, we happily moved on to something more productive.
Having seen so many possibilities, I know that we can always tweak our approach, and there are many options available for the future. Most days, my kids spend far more time playing than they do with traditional schoolbooks. Some days, it might not look like they are doing school at all. But I have an advantage that helps when I am tempted to panic. I have been through it on both sides, and I can see their burning thirst to learn. All I have to do is offer them all the water they want.
Dulce is learning to walk in grace with her amazing husband and four wonderful kidlets. She is a perpetual provider of magic mami milk who practices gentle discipline, shares a family bed, homeschools, teaches Spanish, and blogs at Dulce de leche. Each day brings plenty of iced coffee and a fresh lesson in trusting her children, herself and the Love that surrounds and fills us. Sometimes it feels like livin’ a vida loca, but overall, life is incredibly sweet.