On the other side of the world from us, homeschoolers are ‘going back to school’.
Catalogues have been browsed; curricula, resources, and books have been bought; plans have been drawn up; and hope and excitement are in the air.
When I was a fairly new homeschooling mother, I had similar feelings of excitement and anticipation at the start of the new school year. After weeks of preparation, I was ready. I had a stack of perfect must-have resources. I’d written the perfect plan. I got up on the first morning of the new school year thinking, “This is going to be a good year! This time I’ve got it all worked out.” I hoped that the excitement I was feeling wouldn’t quickly disappear.
But I soon discovered I didn’t have everything worked out perfectly after all. Sometimes we hit a crisis on the very first day of term. Other times we made it to the end of the first week before a melt-down occurred. What was the problem? My children didn’t seem to appreciate my well thought out plans or my must-have resources. They wouldn’t cooperate.
“But why do we have to do that, Mum?” they moaned.
“Because it’s in the plan.”
After my children had moaned and groaned some more at these senseless words, I’d add something like, “It’s good for you to do things you don’t like doing. It will teach you to persevere when the going gets tough. Life isn’t all fun and games you know. Some things you need to know whether you want to learn them or not. Now sit down and do what you’re told.”
It usually didn’t take me very long to cave in and abandon my ‘perfect’ plan. I couldn’t take the stress. Instead I returned to my default ‘plan’ of making things up as we went along, following the interests of my children and concentrating on enjoying both my children and the learning adventure. But, although we were much happier homeschooling this way, some worrisome thoughts lingered in the back of my mind:
Was I encouraging my children to be self-centred and lazy by not insisting they complete the work I’d planned for them? Had I given in to them when I should have stood firm? And aren’t there some things that every child has to know? Would there be gaps in their education if I didn’t make them stick to my plan that covered what I considered essential areas of knowledge? How would they ever get into university?
And so I made another plan and tried to enforce learning again, and failed, and then I tried again… But one day I broke the cycle. I managed to banish all those worrisome thoughts. I was beginning to understand how children learn…
Children are naturally curious and love learning (until adults start to interfere). This self-motivated learning is much more valuable than that which results from an external motivator, such as a determined mother armed with her ‘perfect’ plan. It’s the type of learning that will be retained and enjoyed for its own sake. Children aren’t lazy. They will choose to learn about all kinds of things, even those that are very challenging. They will learn everything they need to know, including things mothers consider essential. They can even get into university if that’s what they want.
There is another reason I gave up forcing my own plans upon my children. It can be hard work making a child learn something she just doesn’t want to know. Tears and anger can result as both mother and child get frustrated. To me, such frustration is just not worth it. It gets in the way of good relationships. “Yes, there might be tears today, but your kids will thank you later,” someone might say. But what if they don’t? I prefer not to take a risk. Instead I am relying on love.
So I decided to abandon my perfect plans once and for all.
Of course, it’s not the start of the new school year here in Australia. Our school year began months ago, in February. We are heading towards the end of the third term of the year. There’s only one more term until the long summer break.
“It’s only a couple of weeks until the holidays,” I tell my youngest daughter, Gemma-Rose.
She screws up her face and sighs loudly, and then asks, “Why are the school terms so short? It feels like only three weeks since the last holiday.”
“You don’t want holidays?” I ask.
“I prefer term time. The holidays aren’t nearly so interesting.”
“We won’t have time to do our usual activities but Dad will be home for a couple of weeks,” I say. “We could go on a few outings and picnics…” (My husband Andy is a school teacher.)
Gemma-Rose smiles. Maybe holidays aren’t so bad after all.
I’m looking forward to the holidays. I won’t have so much time for my own activities and I’ll miss helping the girls with theirs, but I will be able to spend lots of time with my husband. And I’m not going to waste a single moment of that time writing a complicated homeschooling plan for next term.
On the first day of next term, Andy will return to school and we’ll just slide quietly into our usual term time routine. Charlotte, my high schooler will return to the many activities that absorb her, sharing with me from time to time. My younger girls will happily reclaim both my time and attention. With my mind swirling with ideas, children who have ideas of their own, a world full of interesting things to discover, and a keen love of learning, I just know it will be a good, productive and enjoyable term.
There is a feeling of excitement in the air. It’s not a huge loud attention-grabbing kind of excitement. It has nothing to do with ‘going back to school’. I know it won’t suddenly disappear, seizing my hope as it departs.
Instead, this excitement is quiet and gentle. It hovers over every unschooling day. It is accompanied by peace and love. And it makes me glad I was able to let go of my own ‘perfect’ plans.