We taught our kids to read, think, play and explore without anyone telling us how to do it.
Although our Mom never home schooled I think that our confidence in taking over the education of our kids came from her. I bet our Mom would have home schooled if she thought she had a choice.
She was a very active and busy mother always teaching us details about plants or trees or about art, literature or politics as she cooked and cleaned. She taught us how to be brave and explore new experiences and places.
My sister and I came from the same home, in a sense. Although she had the young mother who gave dinner parties for her CBC producer husband and sometimes drank martinis with the neighbours and I had the divorcee who rented rooms and smoked pot with her lover, we had the same creative and energetic woman running our lives.
She was not one of those moms that dreaded summer and the return of the children from school. In the summers we lived in a cabin in the woods by a lake where there was no running water or electricity. We ran in the woods and played in the water and let our imaginations guide our play.
She read aloud and got out paints and games when it rained. She herself was always creating: painting cool designs on our rowboat, illustrating little stories, or sketching our portraits as we played. And when we all left for school in the fall, she actually missed us.
We had a bit of a bohemian mother, but she was competitive too, and not one to be left out of society. She would put on her best skirt and jacket, a Vogue pattern she sewed herself, when she had parent teacher meetings. We had porridge every morning and pulled on our sensible boots over our sensible shoes and walked to school on our own. We went to school every day and we were expected to do well.
I did not like school, and as far as I can tell, my sister did not like it either. But in those days one just went to school. The first few years of school were just plain torture, but I toughened up and my shyness was conquered mostly by grade three. It may have been good for me, I don’t know. But when my first child said she did not want to go I accepted her opinion.
As a parent I liked being free from the arbitrary rules of an institution and I loved leaving her little brain to develop without grading or peer- pressure. She dreamed, decided what she wanted to learn, pursued her own projects and charged forward. It was a beautiful sight.
It is true that some kids fair better on structured schedules than others. Some kids like the constant socializing of school, and some kids really enjoy structured school learning. Not all children thrive in home schooling. But my overview is that children benefit from free play and unhindered exploration especially between the ages of four to twelve years.
Presently I have two kids enjoying school (mostly) and my sister has an empty nest. In the last eight years or so we have both being pursuing education for its own sake, just for fun and because we like to keep engaged. I finished a long distance certificate in Library Studies and she is a few essays short of a MA.
What we have discovered about ourselves is that we tend to be very good at working for grades and the approval of our teachers. And what we find irritating is that we cannot seem to apply that same discipline and energy to projects of our own choice.
We need someone to say, ‘do this thing, and then hand it in and I will tell you how good it is’. And frankly, we are embarrassed by this characteristic that seems so deeply ingrained by our parents and the school system.
We are shocked and disgusted by our Pavlovian response to approval. Right now, as our dynamic and powerful Mom is gracefully traveling to the other worlds, with cryptic comments and magical hallucinations, we are left examining who we are and what we should do with ourselves that best expresses her lessons and her rich teachings.
As we step into the world without our mother, I think we want to fulfill some of the artistic gifts that Mom and Dad have given us. Our mother was a good painter and filmmaker, our father was a good actor and playwright. When they were young they may have had dreams. But they did not pass on those dreams. When we dreamed of being a writer or artist, we were quickly brought to earth.
Ironically, it was often pointed out that good art was produced by people who worked hard. My Dad told me when I was a twelve year old poet that good writing was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I wondered why he told me that and concluded that he must have thought I was not hard working enough.
Now with so much of my life behind me, and so many dreams buried by hesitant living, I think that the best thing you can say to a child is that they do in fact have the talent to do whatever they want. Hard work is the easy part. Believing that you can produce something of value is much harder.
It is possible that the best part of home schooling is being free of the crushing judgment of others. And now that we are older women, my sister and I need to home school ourselves. We need to be the parents we wanted, so we have formed a bond of unconditional support.
If we can ask our children to believe in themselves, the best thing we could do is be a good example. Our parents did not pursue their artistic dreams, and may have crushed ours by their attitude. My sister and I have inadvertently been following the same path and need to remember that what we really want is to play without judgment and to explore without fear.
There is always time to dream, write and paint.