I have to admit that home schooling (for me at least) has been fraught with struggles. The turmoil goes so much deeper than the classic “what curriculum should I use?” or “what should I teach this year?” questions. It comes from the disparity within me about school in general.

Why do we choose to home school? For many of us there are a variety of reasons and a fairly long list that one could rattle off. There are two biggies for me that stand out. One is that someone else is teaching my children their ideals, their morals, their non-spiritual beliefs. The other, the crux of my internal strife, is the rigidness of it all and an expectation that students will learn what someone has decided is important for them to be able to regurgitate. School is for developing good workers, employees that will follow instructions and not ask too many questions. The free thinkers that survive this system are rare gems and, frankly, usually considered outcasts and misfits.

We have many opportunities for learning including group activities and field trips such as this recent trip to Project Perry, exotic bird rescue with a 4-H club.

We have many opportunities for learning including group activities and field trips such as this recent trip to Project Perry, exotic bird rescue with a 4-H club.

If you think about it, school is a relatively new social invention. For thousands of years children learned for themselves by watching, doing and researching and they turned out just fine. Then, we invented “school” – just recently – and in my mind it is severely lacking when compared to the methods we used for millennia. In our two parent (or single parent) working world (again a very recent development – this century) it has become a necessity, hasn’t it? A sort of guided daycare. We’ll drop them off and you, the government, will turn them into viable working adults so they will get jobs, marry and leave home and we can retire.

Interestingly, I see homeschooling families that have a very rigid, very school like system with routines and schedules very similar to the public school system. We tried this at first, but my children and my brain rebelled. The burning question in my mind was “what am I doing here that is different?” Nothing! The only real difference was I chose the curriculum and my children weren’t being subjected to the rash of wonderful things that kids pick up in school, from illnesses to bullying techniques, to bad language, and so on. While this method of home schooling was also helpful in allowing my children to proceed at their own pace, and allowed us to incorporate spirituality, they were still being spoon fed and forced to memorize and/or learn what we thought they needed. Those ideas came from our own entrenchment in the “system.”

Thomas asking expert questions on a learning expedition.

Thomas asking expert questions on a learning expedition.

Gradually, I was forced to let go. Out of busyness with work and eldercare issues, my kids were, well, sometimes on their own. There were more and more days where no rigid school was expected and guidelines were given instead. Things like “no TV or Netflix until some learning has occurred” and “I’d like to see how far you can go with math today.” So with one foot in the system holding on for dear life (there are expectations, you see) and one foot belligerently in an (dare I say it) unschooling methodology, I found that we haven’t been moving forward very well. Surprisingly, the only real progress at all was made on the unschooling side of things. Honestly, I began to be amazed at what I saw and heard, what they were learning on their own, and the progress they were making without strict supervision, without us telling them what they had to learn.

Even with that, I have been unwilling to let go of the modern ideas about school even if I am certain it doesn’t work. It is, after all, what I know. The unschooling side was so nebulous, intimidating in its freedom, and from what little I read and gathered (with minimal research and knowledge), painted a picture of happy go lucky kids who played all the time and learned just what they were interested in… So my question then became “how do they learn what they need to survive in the real world?”

Thomas gets comfy with his iPad and read-along books. This time Smokey joins him.

Thomas gets comfy with his iPad and read-along books. This time Smokey joins him.

The more I let go, the clearer the answer to those questions become. I have to be honest and admit that I am still gripping the system with my big toe, but I can see very clear advantages of just letting go, and having some real fun with this project. Our son, who has struggled with the abstractness of letters and what they are supposed to represent, has become an avid “reader” of his iPad read along books and wonderful ABCmouse videos. It is his choice to play educational games. Suddenly, without effort he can tell me what all of the letters are and their sounds and his word recognition is coming along much better than when I sat down with him and attempted to teach him to read. He understands math concepts that include basic math, geometry and the beginnings of algebraic thinking from geoboard, base ten cubes, and other logic and dramatic games that we’ve been playing. This, in stark contrast to the earlier attempts at worksheets, etc. which were met with adamant disapproval and obvious boredom.

Eryn researches, interviews, shadows vets, and posts and monitors message boards and blogs to get the answers she needs. Here she is banding her first male market goat. She is the expert here - I'm simply holding the goat. She administers all meds, minerals, vitamins and shots!

Eryn researches, interviews, shadows vets, and posts and monitors message boards and blogs to get the answers she needs. Here she is banding her first male market goat. She is the expert here – I’m simply holding the goat. She administers all meds, minerals, vitamins and shots!

Our daughter, Eryn is the research queen. Her interests are strong in the science of living things and genetics. At 12 years of age, she has written a business plan, obtained a loan and launched her own goat breeding business. She carefully tracks each animal, it’s breeding and lineage, actions taken, pasture and herd maintenance, expenses and income, and so on. When there’s a problem, she finds the answer to solve it. She claims that she cannot stand math, but without any prompting dove into algebraic concepts and problems on Sophia.org and Khan Academy. She’s fascinated by geometry, algebra, and abstract math. She is learning to write reports, blog articles, and more – learning to organize her thoughts into something coherent and to be able to share those thoughts. Her entrepreneurial skills are constantly being developed and she recognizes if she wants to be a vet, horse breeder or animal conservationist, that there are skills she will need to achieve those goals.

It is, amazingly, all coming together. This week, I’m straightening my virtual big toe and letting go of that last little grip on the system. Our curriculum will be put away. And, we will start the rest of this learning adventure as explorers in a new world, learning as we go what we need now and will need for the goals and passions that awaken in them. I have extreme gratitude for this opportunity to both lead and follow our children on this journey and I will keep you posted!