My homeschooling experience often feels like I’m in the middle of a Dr. Seuss book filled with lots of confusing characters and creatures, all embarking on an outlandish journey culminating in something that actually makes sense in the end, all tied up with a great life lesson. I decided to homeschool Jaden and Rowan three years ago for all sorts of reasons, a few of which I will highlight here. Reason number one – mommy intuition. My gut was telling me that traditional schooling for Jaden, my third grader at the time, was slowly squashing his bright little spirit. Jaden is brilliant. No really, he is genius; those of you who know him understand what I’m saying. I’m not bragging about his brilliance, I had nothing to do with it. He is who he is thanks to nature and the awesomeness of the universe and because he just is, however; super bright children can often be the most challenging. With this in mind, when it was time for Jaden to start kindergarten, we opted for a Spanish immersion charter school (yet still part of the public school system) in hopes that this would offer the stimulation this kid’s massive brain would need. For the first three years of his public school career, it all seemed to be ok. I loved the community of families, loved the program, but what I did not eventually love was the constant structure and rules and guidelines of what exactly had to be learned coupled with the lack of freedom to explore what life is really all about beyond taking tests and learning how to memorize (useless) information.
Second, Jaden was not as happy as he had been when he wasn’t in school. It was as simple as that. His happiness had receded and it just plain sucks to see your happy, bright, amazing child lack a bit of the happiness that every child so deservingly needs! Third reason, there is this kid named Rowan, our youngest child. Rowan is not Jaden. Not even close. Rowan is also brilliant but in such a different way. You see, Jaden started reading at age 3. At age 3 I’m quite certain Rowan could have climbed Mt. Everest unattended successfully had we let him. Rowan is the conqueror of all things risky, scary, athletic, and crazy. Rowan is fun to the power of 10,000 and putting this kid in a desk for 6 hours a day would have crushed him. He has no problem with attention and he’s extremely in tune and in touch, for example, when at gymnastics practice, he’s one of the few kids that can stand and listen without spastically throwing his body about. However, have him SIT DOWN and WRITE IN BOOKS for any long period of time, forget it. Rowan has mountains to climb and cartwheels to do and kitchen countertops to balance on before leaping to hang from the molding on our walls. And no, I’m not kidding.
So those being our top two reasons to homeschool, we jumped into the world of homeschooling with both feet. Our first year of homeschooling was through another local charter school that is set up specifically for homeschooling families. With this model, we would check in with a Personal Learning Assistant (credentialed teacher) once a month to turn in assignments that fall into the guidelines of public schooling requirements. We were given curriculum from the school and had to do the necessary amount of work that all other public school kids are required to do but with way more freedom and time for exploration through learning rather than just sitting and listening or toiling through worksheets. This model worked pretty well for us but we still found it to be a bit too constrictive but the amazing thing was that we could get a days worth of school work finished in usually under 3 hours rather than the average 6 hours that most kids spend strapped to a desk in a school environment! However, this was also the year we started traveling and after dragging boat loads of schoolwork with us to Italy (to sit in a hotel and do worksheets instead of seeing ITALY??) felt totally backwards and strange to me. So, the next year we went totally rogue. We decided to unschool.
This was the craziest hippiest dippiest thing I have ever done but it was also incredibly liberating. Truly, it’s my own angst that I had to get over in order to feel ok with the lack of schedule. The lack of structure. The lack of SCHOOL! Rowan of course thrived with this model and it was amazing to see how much he learned minus a traditional “learning environment” but with Jaden, he didn’t seem to catch on as quickly. Jaden is my guy who wants to follow a set of rules, wants to cook right from the cookbook without any modifications, wants to read the rules of monopoly every time we play to make sure we don’t veer to far from the way the game was intended to be played so therefore I implemented more of a schooling type structure for him by using the online resource called Time for Learning. However, after our second year adventure of homeschooling and more trips out of the country, we decided to re-enroll into the homeschool charter school in order to give Jaden a bit more of what he craves with the balance of freedom he has to do his “own thing” while homeschooling.
So far so good, however I still miss the absolute freedom of letting my kids just be and to learn through living. We still have a massive amount of ways to do this, even with the more structured program of the charter school. It’s been interesting to see Jaden however, be a bit unsure about going back into the public school inspired homeschool program. I think the taste of freedom he received during our last year of unschooling has helped him ease up a bit on his need to always follow rules all the time and now, I’m not entirely sure what next year will bring for us. As of now we plan on sticking with the charter school and to the public schools curriculum that they provide, and this still provides so much more freedom than an actual public school, so we can kind of “real school” and “unschool” all at the same time.
We also are working with an amazing teacher at the charter school who totally gets us and gets IT! She understands our lifestyle and our travel schedule and our free-spirited nature and is willing to let us have a bit more leeway with curriculum, which is especially important for Rowan’s style of learning.
In future installments, I’ll tell you a bit more about what our homeschool days typically look like and who knows, maybe next year we will go back to our unschooling model and step away from the more traditional path we are currently on. I guess that’s the beauty of homeschooling in general. We can change what we are doing if it’s not working, unlike in traditional schooling, there’s not a lot of choice in that department. In the meantime, I’m grateful that my two charismatic, adventurous, very different boys have the freedom to be who they need to be, and let’s be honest, Dr. Seuss was a brilliant man and I’m totally ok being part of a crazy story with odd twists and turns, surrounded by wild unruly creatures, that always somehow end up with a happy and positive life lesson filled ending.
As always, enjoy!