We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started.
And know the place for the first time.
One of my favorite quotes, and a fitting description of the way we change our perceptions and ideas as we go through this adventure called life. We are constantly evolving beings, expanding ourselves through the joys, triumphs, trials and tribulations of pursuing our dreams, passions, ideas, and trying to be who we are as individuals in a shared world created by collective consciousness. We are blessed as humans to have the freedom to take whatever path we choose in order to pursue happiness, growth, and the change that allows us to expand. It is through my strong belief in this freedom of choice that has brought me to the path I am on today.
So I value freedom. And love. Two of the most basic and important human rights, that get taken for granted by humans so often. When I brought children into the world, as those with kids know, those two rights became even stronger values. I made even more of a commitment to following a path based on those values, as I see in my children a most beautiful spark of light and joy when they are allowed to be who they truly are, and they are allowed and encouraged through love to expand on that. Through abusive relationships with their fathers, crisis of self-identity, and the struggle of becoming a single mother raising my children on my own with very little resources, I have maintained my commitment to those values. It is through freedom, love, and the joy I see when I give these to my three children that has made me come through with strength, and in turn, has shown me who I am, and has given me the new perspective I needed to find joy within myself:) More on that later, but now for a bit about my children’s educational journey, and how we were led towards our new path of “unschooling”, or life learning.
When my oldest, now 12, was in kindergarten, he had a great time learning about letters, doing creative crafts, and transitioning to the idea of going to school. He did well, and enjoyed his time there, for the most part. When he hit first grade, things changed. Expectations were higher. He was expected to sit still for most of the day, and focus. The pressure to learn to read and write was high, as public schools have state standards to adhere to, and funding is partially dependant on test scores in reading, writing, and math. His teacher did not seem to understand young boys natural need to move and explore, and did not know what to do with those that acted out and interrupted class when they could not focus, or were bored. My son was one of those, and he repeatedly was sent to the hall to just sit when he couldn’t be quiet during class. Of course, this did not solve the problem, and he continued “acting out”, and was sent to the principal several times. I had several meetings with both the teacher and principal, during which my comments about boys needing more active and creative learning activities were met with blank stares. After several months of my son having a stomach ache every day and me having to drag him to school, I decided something had to change. I knew that I lived in a good county as far as variety of schools, and the option of choice, so I started looking into new ideas. I could not afford a private school, but through research found several charter schools that were interesting. I liked how the charter schools had their own voice in how to teach and a bit more freedom in curriculum (though they do follow state standards and have curriculum) because they are only partially funded by the state, and therefore could offer better strengthened programs in certain areas such as the arts and science. I was able to get my son in to one of the charter schools in our area that focus on science and technology, two of the things my son is interested in, and excels at. He was blessed to have several teachers during his elementary years that gave him extra support and understanding with his struggles in writing, etc., and though he doesn’t always sit still, and can be known as the class clown, he is really interested in what he learns there and has excelled with his school work, and truly enjoys going to school.
Then came time for my second child to go to school. Very different from my son, my daughter could care less about technology, and is instead immersed in the connection to physical and being creative. She is always moving her body, dancing, playing, doing incredible gymnastic stunts, singing, playing dress up. She went to kindergarten at my son’s school, but had no interest in anything that did not involve movement or creativity. She did not want to read, write, or do math, and would basically just shut down and refuse to take tests, as they did not interest her. Her teacher repeatedly told me she wasn’t “meeting standards,” and at the end of the year I was told that it would be best for her to repeat kindergarten. I knew that my daughter would not excel any more if she repeated kindergarten with the same teacher at the same school, so I enrolled her in a different school, this time a public school that has a focus on integrated arts. The idea that the school highly values creativity and encourages using the arts throughout lesson plans was very appealing to me, and I thought that that would help get my daughter interested in learning. She had a great kindergarten teacher, and had a wonderful year of learning and being creative, coming home with folders full of artwork and poetry and fun activities completed. I finally thought she had found her place of learning, and I was happy. My happiness around it all was short-lived however, as I noticed almost immediately going in to the next school year how unhappy my daughter was. Now in first grade, students were expected to sit still all day, and academic expectations were much higher. The pressure and expectations to be able to read well, and write several paragraphs at a time, and do complex math worksheets (always worksheets, worksheets, worksheets, and no creative ways to learn) was very high, and my daughter, who prefers to be singing and dancing to reading and writing, could not live up to the expectations, no matter how hard she tried. She hated being told what to do and how to do it (always has and probably always will), but she tried to play the role of good student as she was told to. She was always trying to please her teacher, and it broke my heart to see all the love notes written to her teacher being ignored as she was repeatedly told she wasn’t reading and writing well enough. They gave her special tutors, who just forced her to read more, which just reinforced her dislike of reading as it was forced on to her, she wasn’t made to feel like she was doing well with it, and she didn’t have anything to read that interested her. Towards the end of the year, my daughter was now the one being dragged to school with a constant stomach ache. When I would ask her what she liked at school, the only thing she ever said was “recess and P.E.” At the end of the year, when once again they told me my daughter hadn’t met the standards of her grade level, I realized that nothing was going to change for my daughter with the way public schools are set up, and I was going to take matters into my own hands. I called her school and told them she would not be returning and I was pulling her out of the school system.
Whew! I felt so free!…and also terrified. I had no idea how I was going to home school my daughter who did not want to be schooled. All I knew was that she needed something different, and as a parent I am committed to trying to provide for those needs in the best way I can. Since I was already at home with my 3-year-old, working only part-time at creating art and establishing myself as a fiber artist, but really in a sort of place of not knowing exactly what I need to do for myself or family, I thought, why not start this adventure, and maybe it will lead me to a new path for my own life as well. I started researching about various homeschooling ideas, curriculums, and groups in the area, and through word of mouth was told of a free program that allows homeschooled kids to go to school one day per week and take classes that may be hard to teach at home, and also provides a support network for homeschooling families. I thought this would be perfect for us as a bridge between school/homeschool and would give me much-needed support and networking/social connection to other homeschooling families. We went and registered, and chose only those classes that my daughter was interested in. Creative Drama, Piano, Musical Theater, P.E., Literacy through Puppets and Plays. We were jazzed! Finally, maybe the subjects would hold some interest with my creative diva daughter.
At home, I began thinking about what our “homeschooling” would look like. Those two values…freedom and love…kept coming up in my mind. My daughter needs freedom to learn the way she needs or wants to learn. She also needs love. Love can come in the form of support and encouragement. Really, those are the only two requirements for a person to be able to begin to explore and learn themselves. We teach ourselves all the time. Life teaches us on a constant basis. School does not teach us but a few things that a certain group in our society has deemed necessary for everyone to learn, all in the same way. It tries to mold students into a standard that is one-size-fits-all, but this is not how we as humanity work. We are all individuals, adding to the magnificence that is the world through our own way of being, doing, and creating. I look back at my school years, and though I was blessed to attend a very small school that fostered individuality and creativity, it is the travelling, and life experiences that I had that I remember the most, and feel I learned the most from. Any subject can be learned through real life experience. Children have the natural ability, and desire to expand and learn on their own, and really all they need is support and resources that help them expand that desire and ability. Once I thought about this, the answer I was seeking became clear. I started doing some research on self-directed learning. Blessed are we to have the internet! I found lots and lots of information and groups dedicated to allowing children to follow a self-directed learning path, without “school.” Many call it unschooling, but I like to call it life learning. It is not only an education philosophy for children, but really a whole way of life. I am life learning right along with my children. There are many people out there that feel the same as I, and it was so liberating and also connecting to know that this way of being can, and is being done. I knew that my daughter would flow perfectly into this way of learning, and would flourish. I knew this because I see the magnificence that is her expanding and growing when she is given the opportunity to explore something she loves. I knew this is the way to learn deep in my heart before I ever set out on this journey with my children.
So here we are. I have no idea where this path will take us or even what our next move will be. That is the beauty and fun of it. We live in the moment. If we are interested in something, we do it. Sometimes we dont do anything. There is something to be learned in all of it. I have a three year old that is also very different than my other two children. She seems to have an interest in the structure of school and how information is given in that way, so maybe that will be her route. Who knows. I am open to whatever learning path my children may need or want. I am here to support and encourage them in their expansion, and through it all, I am expanding myself. The embodiment of T.S. Eliot’s quote, I am knowing myself and the world for the first time, on a daily basis. It is a constant, neverending cycle. I hope to use this blog to share our adventures, ideas, and inspirations, as well as our trials and tears, as I’m sure there will be those as well. One thing I am certain of is that at the core of it all there is freedom and love.