Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Home Schooling

Lately I've been thinking a lot about home schooling in general and unschooling in particular. The planner in me wants curriculum. I want lesson plans, I want books, I want proof of what has been learned and a plan on how to teach it. My inner hippy completely embraces unschooling. I truly believe we can learn from everything, as long as the desire to learn hasn't been squashed by The Man. I believe that we should pursue things that fascinate us, and learning can be a totally organic, happy, and enjoyable experience. I'm feeling torn between my different thoughts on schooling, so I'm stuck, not really going with either one. I guess right now we're unschooling by default. Not so much because we chose to do it that way, but because I haven't chosen to do anything else. It's frustrating. I hate struggling over this. I feel like I'm not living up to my parenting potential.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately for a couple of different reasons. The first is that we've completed our first year of home schooling. Boy wonder went to half of pre-k and all of k, and then we pulled him out and he did first grade at home. It's naturally a time to reflect and examine what went well and what didn't. On the plus side, I learned quite a bit about what options are out there for home schooling, and I feel quite confident that it's something we want and can continue doing. We've learned that we like being together as a family all day long, and no, it doesn't (always) drive me crazy to have him home all day. I personally love the freedom it gives us, and if I never have to wake up before the sun rises to get a grumpy child out of bed and into the cold world in the middle of winter, I will be a happy mother.

On the negative side, it's a lot of pressure. If boy wonder turns out to be a loon or a drug addict, you know every one's gonna blame it on home schooling, right? These are things I lose sleep thinking about. When we realized we were only going have one child, all I could think was: THIS IS IT. THIS is my ONLY shot. If I screw this kid up, I don't get a do-over. It's a little overwhelming sometimes. Adding home schooling into the mix ups the ante quite a bit. But, you know, that's really the only downside - a fear of failure. A fear of ruining my child, of not doing the best job I can do. What parent doesn't have that fear from time to time? What parent hasn't replayed a situation in their mind and thought, 'you know, I could have handled that better...'? So really, I guess there is no downside for us when I think about it like this. That's good to know.

But back to unschooling and curriculum based home schooling....Last month grandma came to see a play boy wonder was performing in, and then we went to Austin so bubby could have a visit with his mom (a story for another time), and on to the Texas coast to stay with my aunt and then house/dog sit while her and my uncle went to a family reunion. While on our trip, we went to Inner-Space Caverns in Round Rock, NASA in Houston, and the aquarium and rain forest pyramids (I think that's all Moody Gardens) in Galveston. We had a vague idea of what we wanted to go see on our trip, and I had all sorts of ideas for creating lesson plans for each event. You know - a study on cave formations, space exploration, sea life, and different ecosystems. I have this vision of our learning being centered around trips to exciting destinations, where we'd read fascinating books about certain places and then go see the location in person to really understand what we'd read. When it was time to learn about how our state government worked, we'd read about it and then head to Austin to see it all in action. Next, it would be off to D.C. to look at things on a national level. We'd study volcanoes and ancient civilizations and then follow it all up with a trip to Pompeii and Athens. We'd travel the globe, become students of the world, learning the cultures of the places around on our adventures. Just call me Angelina Jolie.

Unfortunately, these things will not happen nearly as often as I'd like them to. We don't have the disposable income to globe trot. Motorman just plain doesn't have the vacation time, and even though boy wonder has a lot of freedom, I still have to live around my school schedule until I graduate three years from now. Even though I have all these great ideas to create lesson plans around the places we do manage to visit, I rarely, if ever, get it done. On bad days, these are all things that really bother me. It's upsetting that I'm still tethered to a traditional school situation, even though we've removed our son from his. I can't tell you how many times we've missed out on things because motorman couldn't get off work - in fact, we just missed his brother's wedding due to a training class motorman had to attend. It sucks. And I can't begin to tell you how depressing it gets to realize that being full of great lesson plan ideas does not actually translate into creating said lesson plans. Go figure.

The Virgo in me loves to plan and organize everything to death. I also love to dream and fantasize and create all kinds of 'what if' scenarios. This month, it's living off the land and raising cows for fresh, organic milk. (If you know me, you understand why this is so funny.) I'm good at dreaming, and I'm great at planning. I'm not so wonderful at actually doing all these things. Wanting to plan everything out flies in the face of unschooling. And since we're not actually planning to unschool, I feel more like we're just not getting anything done, and I don't like that feeling. And just when I start worrying about emerging signs of insanity (he's seven, too young for drug addiction, I've got years to watch for that one), boy wonder comes to me and tells me he wants to read me a book. And he reads it, all the way through. And he only needs help with a few words. And I'm thinking, wow, when did this happen?

When I think about it, boy wonder surprises me all the time with these little founts of knowledge. He references trips we've taken, places we've been, things we've done, books we've read. This child has been to Hawaii, New York, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, Washington D.C. and many places in between. We lives our lives with him, he goes where we go. We talk about things that interest him and things that interest us. He golfs with his daddy and goes to museums with me. We read books together and play video games and watch cartoons and The Discovery Channel. We talk about sharks and put together skeletons and create power point presentations about platypus (platypi?). We have a garden and look for bugs and try new foods and go to the library. He's taken horse back riding and drum lessons. He's gone to theater camp and starting a trampoline and tumbling class. He's learned from everything he has done. And he's (mostly) had fun doing it.

Why put all of this pressure on making a vacation with grandma all about learning? What's the point? There may come a time when we want to do something a little more formal with his learning. In a few years when we see what kind of interests he has and what he thinks he may want to explore as he grows older, we'll figure it all out. But for right now, he's seven. He really does learn from everything we do. And I don't want to be the one that makes learning an unpleasant chore. Now is the time to enjoy this wonderful little boy - while he's still a little boy. That's going to end all too soon. Sometimes I'm so worried about screwing up the future, I forget to enjoy the perfect moments happening all around me. That's something I need to remind myself more often.

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