Homeschool,  Learning,  Living with Children,  Parenting

We Were Already Homeschooling. This Quarantine is Not What Real Homeschooling Looks Like.

We homeschool. However, the word “homeschooling” is a misnomer.
We do not spend all of our time at home doing school work. Our choice to skip school was not taken in favor of simply replicating school at home by dividing life and learning into subjects, inflexible time blocks, and bells. We chose to homeschool. It was not forced onto us. More specifically, we chose self-directed education because we wanted to expand the definition of education to include everything a person does and experiences. I wanted my kids to understand learning as something you do every, single day. And I wanted to move learning outside of classrooms, walls, rigid schedules, and state-mandated curriculum.

To all those who were suddenly thrust into being home with your children during school hours, here is my homeschooling promise to you: Your children are learning and growing despite “missing school”. As a matter of fact, they are probably learning and growing way more than you could ever measure, test, or grade. The coolest part? They are doing much of it without your constant assistance or input. Isn’t that amazing?

If this sounds a little too Pollyanna to you, allow me to explain. I was once a skeptic and when I was working in schools, teaching children just like yours, I did not think of myself as the “homeschooling type”, whatever that meant. However, what became clear to me over time is that the school model leads us to believe that children need trained adults to teach them. Learning is sold as worksheets and workbooks. “Valuable” learning is billed as learning that is created for the child and then the child produces something. In this model, children are instructed and children are led. The prevailing philosophy is that these trained adults are the only ones who can create lessons, projects, and assignments. Worse, the system is rigged in such a way that fear is a motivating force to get students to do their work– fear of bad grades, fear of missing recess, field trips, or special events.

Trust is not part of the equation. Neither is collaboration.

But there is another model, another philosophy. One that you may not be as familiar with (or even aware of at all) and it is called Self-Directed Education. This model recognizes that children are competent partners in their own education. This model sees learning as impossible to separate from life itself. Life and learning are a hand in hand, connected experience.

What does that look like in practice? Think about what your children naturally gravitate towards. How do they spend their time when no one is directing or orchestrating their day?

Now, observe. That’s right. Sit back and watch.

No bossing around, no interrupting, no fussing.

See how their eyes light up? See how their brows furrow in concentration? See how they bite their tongue or scrunch up their nose as they think, create, strategize, or play? See how they get frustrated then try again? Notice how they fail, take breaks, then make more attempts?

Watch how they run, move, and play. Notice how they naturally have bursts of energy, then a need to rest. Notice how they nibble or snack or eat when they are hungry versus eating because a clock says it is time.

SO MUCH learning is happening during all those moments, but you have not been trained to see it. The general belief is that children’s learning must be measured. That there must be some tangible product to prove new information or knowledge has been gained.

The stress over checking off school mandated workboxes is usurping the beauty of a child’s biological desire to wonder, be curious, playful, and adventurous. I hate to break this to you, but there is nothing magical that happens in relation to learning at “school age”. Children are taking in information, developing, and growing way before kindergarten begins.

Think about how much a child learns by age 2 or 3. There are no classes for toddlers on how to speak their native language, but they do it. How is this possible? Because they are immersed in language day in and day out. How did my children learn how to spell and read without ever attending school? They were immersed in a world of books, words, stories, games, and play. When they had a question about how to read or spell, there was a caring adult ready to help them directly or point them to the necessary resources.

Children can and do pick up an extraordinary amount of information without being corralled into buildings, classrooms, or logging onto Zoom with 20 plus other children being led by an overwhelmed teacher.

Children want to know things. They desire to take in the world around them and to emulate their parents and the culture they are immersed in by using the tools of the time. When they don’t know something it is much more beneficial for them to have access to reliable, supportive people who are able to assist them. Parents are not only caretakers of their children’s basic human needs, but also guides, mentors, and loving collaborators. Doesn’t that sound so much better than bossy dictators over skills-lists?

Meeting a capybara in a backyard zoo

You are much more capable than you give yourself credit for. Don’t let anyone tell you you CAN’T teach your children. You do it all the time and believe it or not, you were following the principles of self-directed education before your child ever entered a classroom.

WILL your children learn anything during this time of unexpected homeschooling? The amazing, wonderful, fascinating truth is YES.

The confronting question is, will you trust that meaningful learning is happening even if it doesn’t look like schoolwork?

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