For some time now, I have been aware that the dreams I had for my sons education, and the reality were on divergent paths!
Like most families who embark on the journey of educating their children at home, I started with a collection of lofty and noble ideals.
Having briefly worked as a high school History and English teacher I knew exactly what I did not want for my sons!
In almost every classroom I entered I would despair over the lack of joy my students showed. They were completely disconnected from that I was attempting to engage them in. For the most part they resisted the curriculum and did only what needed to be done, without any enthusiasm.
I remember one boy in particular, Wesley who obviously loved history, but hated the curriculum. He broke my heart! He had so much potential, but he just didn’t care. I would often wonder what we as teachers needed to do to engage him. Years later I found the answer! (More on this later.)
I knew then, that I did not want my boys to learn in this mind numbing environment. But I hadn’t a clue as to how to avoid it.
A few years later when I learned about home education I knew that it was exactly what I had been searching for. I believed it would be the perfect antidote to the mediocrity of the school environment. Or so I thought!
I was now confident that my children would not end up like the teens I had taught in high schools. They would love learning and not be boxed in by what they were told to learn. They would excel simply because they would have one to one instruction. How could they not? They would love reading because they would not be forced to deconstruct boring novels. They would not have to worry about how they were performing against their peers, which would mean that they could learn at their own pace without pressure. I thought I had it all figured out!
Therefore, it came as a gradual shock, that Bilby wasn’t thriving at home in the way I had anticipated. It took me a long time to realise that simply changing his physical place of learning didn’t automatically wipe out the difficulties he faced at school. Some of us are slow learners!
One day it hit me like a ton of bricks that the very things I was trying to avoid about the school system, I was simply replicating at home. I was thinking like a natural learner, but acting like a classroom teacher! I wanted my sons to be passionate about learning, yet I was squashing that with all the book work that I assumed was absolutely essential. But realising it, and acting on it, were two very different things! So we struggled on.
Almost daily I would wonder if I could sustain home schooling for much longer. I often thought about sending one or both of my sons back to school, if only for a short time. I even had an interview with a school principal, just to test the waters. But the thought of sending them back filled me with dread. School would be a last resort.
By week 6 or 7 of term, I would unfailingly have extremely tense neck and shoulder muscles and frequent tension headaches, as a result of my striving to tick all the boxes, and from the reluctance of my boys to comply with my wishes. Added to this were the numerous therapy appointments for Roo, and attempting to keep up with is home programme for speech and occupational therapy.
I was stressed out and burnt-out, my house was a mess and no one was happy! Five weeks into this new school year I knew I just could not continue in this vein. I was beginning to loath home education. Something had to change at home, or my boys would be returning to school. Something they most assuredly did not want!
I decided to take some time out. We stopped almost all our book work and I began to read unschoooling blogs and web sites. I talked with natural learners in my home education community, and began to read unschooling books.
Unschooling has always been something I have supported and even learned towards despite my actions. I was just too frightened to step away from formal education and relax. I now feel ready to take on some of the principles of unschooling.
My children and my neck muscles have begun to relax! For the first time in a very long time, the joy of being with my boys is returning. I’m not about to become a radical unschooler, but my toes are in the water, and I’m enjoying the sensation!
My passion for home education is beginning to return. I am excited about where natural learning may take us, but scared witless at the same time! What excites me most, are the opportunities for strengthening the connection I have with my children. What better way can there be to achieve this, then through re-discovering together, the joy of learning?
Back to Wesley, my history loving student. What did he need? To be left alone! He didn’t need teachers insisting he only spend 4 lessons or less on a particular topic before moving on so that he tasted everything before the big exam. He certainly didn’t need to answer endlessly dull questions about primary and secondary sources. He needed to have the opportunity to read about things which interested him, not what the Education Department told him he needed. Wesley freely admitted to me that he loved history. Unfortunately, I am now confident that the school system would have done a great job of squashing that love. Unschooling undoubtedly would have fostered Wesley's passion for history.